Finding My Way Home

Category: XWP: Alt

Author: Kerry

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Note: Feedback is desired. Much thanks to CPT Skip.



The snow came up to my calves and gave new meaning to the word "cold." A gust of chilled wind brought another aerial wave of snow swirling around my wool cloak and winding sneakily between my legs.

"Come on! Just a little farther. You can make it, can't you?" she called from in front of me.

"If you keep plowing through the snow, I'll keep following!" I shouted back at her. For the last several candle marks, she had taken the lead position and was using her powerfully strong legs to create an easier path for me to follow.

It wasn't as if I couldn't have done it on my own. I could have. It was just her simple way of showing she cared. I let her. This wasn't the place to argue about my capabilities. Besides, if we wanted to get out of this weather, stopping to bicker about who should be in front was a stupid waste of time.

I cocked my head to the side and heard various mumblings from ahead. I took a few hurried steps and a skip, ending up next to her.

"Sorry? Didn't quite catch that!" I said with a smile.

She turned to look at me. "What are you grinning about? Its cold enough to freeze live dear and you're smile stretches right across your face. Maybe the cold's just gotten to your head and your brain is starting to freeze," she said teasingly while tapping my temple with a finger.

"Well, I heard you muttering and it sounded unhappy. I thought I'd try to…," I said, trailing off. I was at a loss for words. How come she could always leave me speechless? It just wasn't fair.

"It doesn't matter. Your smile made me forget what I was muttering about," she said with a smirk as she paused in her stride to turn and face me.

While I had known that she was joking before, her most recent words struck a nerve I didn't know I possessed. Now her soft grin made me melt internally despite the frigid temperature. I smiled at her and, somehow, found myself throwing my body towards her in hopes of a hug.

She caught me in her strong arms, as if there were any doubt that she wouldn't. She gave me a quick hug and a dazzling, yet shy and reserved smirk while placing her hand at my back. We turned and continued out trek toward Athens to pick up Argo and get out of this snow storm.

"So, what was it you were muttering about?" I asked again, breaking the amiable silence.

"I was just remembering the last time I was in snow this deep," she said.

"And?" I prompted, loving it when she told me a story for a change.

"And.I got sick from the cold and from being tired and from being wet. I was muttering curses to any god who dared let me get that sick again," she said with a frown.

"Well then, Xena, I suppose that stopping in a cave for lunch is out of the question. If its snow that gets you sick, I want you in a nice warm inn as soon as possible. You're a horrible patient and I don't feel like listening to you complain for a week just because you have a sniffle." I said brashly. With one hand holding my cloak shut, I took my other hand and tugged at her sleeve, pulling her along faster.

"I am NOT a horrible patient," she said firmly, "And I DON'T complain!"

"You most certainly are and you certainly do," I said.

"Do not!" she said.

"Do too!"

"Do not!"

"Do too!

And as we walked on, bickering over trivial things, the snow fell around us, softly blanketing our words and hurrying bodies in a layer of white.


Chapter 2


"That's it! I'm too tired to go any further," she said suddenly. It was a comment that made me stop dead in my tracks and turn and look at her. Her face wasn't pale and there were no dark circles that foretold illness.

‘"Xena? Did you just say that or am I hearing things?" I asked her, placing my hand to her forehead, looking for a sign of fever.

"No, Gabrielle, I just can't. My legs are killing me. I just don't know if I'll make it to Athens," she said, obviously disgusted with herself. Finding a rock, she dusted the liberal covering of snow off its surface and sat down.

"This is my fault. I shouldn't have let you act as a plow horse for so long. I should know better than to let you suffer in silence," I said, sitting down next to her.

"No. Its my fault. You're capable of walking in snow, just as I am. You're legs are just as strong as mine, if not stronger because you walk instead of ride all the time," she said, frowning with self-disgust.

"Come on, Xena, I've heard you tell me that riding strengthens your muscles. You're not fooling anyone. What's really bothering you?" I asked her as I reached down and picked up her snow covered boot. I lifted her leg until it rested across mine and massaged her calf firmly trying to work the unexpected knot out of the back of it.

"I don't know. I guess I just feel old," Xena said softly.

"I've never heard you talk like this. Where did all this come from? Do you think you can make it to Athens? The gate's not far from this next hill," I said, seriously concerned about her.

She smiled, sensing my unease. "Yeah. I'll be fine. Don't let me slow you down," she half-teased as she pulled her leg from my grasp and stood up stretching in the cold air. "Seems we've got a break in the snow. Let's make the most of it, hmm?" she asked, offering me a hand up.

She had set me off balance with this new bout of sulking. It was completely out of character. But none the less, I smiled in response and took her hand, not letting go of her warm grasp until we reached the gate to Athens.


Chapter 3


"What's wrong?" I said, breaking the silence that has surrounded us since we had entered the warm inn's room a few candle marks ago.

The sun had set and a dark chill covered the townspeople as they hurried around town. Small flurries of snow drifted down from the heavens and stuck to anything in its path.

"What do you mean?" she said, speaking for the first time since we had seen the gate to Athens.

"Outside. On the way here. What was that all about, Xena? I've never seen you do that before," I said quietly, arranging my cloak on a hook near the fire to dry.

"I'm not allowed to get muscle cramps?" she asked in a tone filled with bitterness.

"Of course you are. You're probably more entitled than anyone else. You push your body to limits I've never seen. I'd just never heard you mention it before. Don't get me wrong," I added, seeing the look of question on her face, "I was glad you told me. I'm glad we stopped to rest. My legs were killing me, too! And I got to work that knot out of your calve, which made me feel somewhat useful."

"You're very useful, Gabrielle!" she said.

"Oh yeah. Those stories I tell sure do help you in battle, Xena," I said sarcastically.

"You really underestimate yourself. They do help. After all, Gabrielle, if I run from a fight, its not going to make you a very good story, will it?" she said with a ribbing chuckle.

"Sure it will. I can turn anything you do into a heroic adventure, Xena. And while fiction isn't as fun as telling the real fearless stories of your everyday adventures, I think I could do it every now and again. Next time you feel like running, Xena, let me know and I'll start preparing the fable in my head," I said to her with a chuckle.

She laughed at me and shook her head. "Good stuff," she muttered as she sat down in the chair next to the window. She was sipping a mug of mulled wine and taking in the scenery. The snow covered streets were a mix of white drifts and muddy brown holes made by passing merchants.

"Its always pretty when it snows," I said off hand, coming up behind her chair and resting my hands on its back.

"Even when we wind up trapped in a cave, surrounded by snow?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at me with something that seemed like regret on her face.

"Even then," I said with a little force to my words. "Especially then. There aren't any other people and its so quiet. You can hear all the beautiful things outside," I said, stepping away from the chair and towards the fireplace. I took off my boots and set them on the hearth to dry out. I scooted over to the foot of her chair and began to unlace her boots receiving an odd look in return. "You remember the first time we got snowed in a cave? You taught me the difference in all the animal sounds. By the end of those two days, I could tell a snow hair from any other thing that might "thump" in the forest," I said casting her a smile. "Its one of my best memories, Xena. And so are all the other times that its just the two of us out there." I added honestly.

"You really mean that?" She said quietly, looking out the window.

"Of course I mean that. Why would I regret spending my life with you?" I asked, puzzled.

"I don't know. I know you don't want to settle down, Gabrielle, but I do know that you'd be safer at the academy or in a village somewhere," she admitted, casting her eyes to the ground.

I chuckled, getting a startled look in response. "Do you honestly think I'd be safer anywhere other than with you? Come on, Xena, I think that a village girl is quite more likely to be killed by a warlord than I am. After all, you're the best body guard in all of the known world!" I said, smiling at her.

"So you just follow me for protection? Is that it?" She said in a teasing voice. Hidden under her joking tone was a hint of honest curiosity that other people wouldn't have picked up on.

"I follow you because you're my best friend. I follow you because spending my life with you is the only thing I could ever want, Xena. Where you go, I go. You do know that, don't you? I can tell you very day if you'd like me to," I said sincerely.

"I guess I know it, Gabrielle. I guess I just needed to hear it," she said, looking away in a somewhat insecure manner that was far from her typical way.

"Its my fault. I should be more diligent about telling you. I *should* say it every day!" I said. I reached up and carefully took her face in between my two hands. "You're my best friend, Xena, and I'll follow you to the end of the world, if you'll let me." I said, looking her square in the eye and wondering what was causing this sudden sullen disposition.

"I'll lead you wherever you want to go, Gabrielle. You're my better half," she said, leaning down and resting her forehead against mine, something she hadn't done in a while.

"Better half?" I queried softly, pulling my head back in quiet surprise.

"Don't you know?" She asked, taking a sip of her wine.

I shook my head no.

She took a deep breath and rested a hand on my chin. "You're the reason I try to be good. To do good. If I fall even a little in your eyes, then I'm no better than the evil that I try to battle."

My eyes began to water and I could feel the crying start in my stomach. I wrapped my arms tightly around her neck and hung on for dear life as the emotion wracked my body.

"Shhh," she said rubbing my back with her strong hands. "I didn't mean to make you cry," she said, trying to soothe me.

I pulled back and wiped my eyes dry with the back of my hand. I could sense that my crying sometimes made her uncomfortable and while I was still floored by her honest words and the desire to cry still weighed on me, I wasn't going to push her away with tears. Some home I managed to mutter a feeble "sorry" without starting to cry all over again.

"I didn't.I mean." she stuttered, obviously at a loss for words.

"I should know better than to cry on your leathers," I said, trying to lighten the moment with a sad excuse for a joke. I dried my eyes and slid off her lap. "Water marks are a pain to get out. I'll clean them for you in the morning."

"You don't have to do that," she said, glancing at me out of the corner of her dazzling blue eyes as she took another sip of wine, seeming addicted to the sweet brew.

I sighed. How could I explain that it wasn't a problem? With unspoken words we had established an invisible line that neither of us crossed. I never talked about certain things and neither did she. It was the fear of rejection that kept me from crossing that line and deep down I sensed that to be her reason as well. I took a breathe and steadied my nerves. Since we're being so honest tonight.I thought to myself before speaking.

"I don't mind, Xena. Really. I like doing things like that for you," I said, being as cautious as I could. I knelt down on the hard wood floor, careful of the sore knee I had hit last week in a road-side skirmish. I unlaced her boot and pulled it off her foot.

"I know you don't mind, Gab, but I mind. It makes me feel like you're.I don't know, some kind of servant. Don't do that," she said pulling her other booted foot under the chair, trying to keep it out of my reach.

I glared at her. "Gimme" I said firmly as I tugged her foot forward. She didn't debate the issue and allowed me to remove that boot as well.

"Thank you," I said quietly, walking to place the sopping wet boots next to my own on the hearth. While there, I tossed another log on the flames, causing them to crackle and spit in agitation. "We both know I'm not your servant, Xena," I said to her, rolling the nickname of "Gab" around in my mind and deciding as long the name emerged from her lips, "I didn't mind."

"Other people think you're my slave," Xena said, capturing my wrist as I tried to cross the room to get the bowl of dried fruits and nuts that rested on the table.

She tugged me over so I'd be forced to look at her and see the honesty and concern in her eyes.

I studied her for a moment before tugging my wrist free gently. "I know they do," I said simply. I got the bowl that I had been headed for and returned to her side, popping an apricot in my mouth. "Doth Flpth bofr oo?" I asked around the tangy fruit, setting the bowl in her lap and leaning my hip against the side of the chair.

She about spewed her most recent mouthful of wine across the room. "Swallow first and then try again," she said, looking at me with a wry grin.

The fruit slid down my throat and I said again, "Does it bother you? What other people think about us, I mean. Does that bother you?"

She paused in thought, staring out at the darkening sky and the snowy streets. "Yes. It does," she admitted in a sad tone.

"Why?" I asked, puzzled by this revelation.

"I don't want them to think that way of you," she said.

"WHAT?" I said, just about choking on a prune. The last think I would have thought was her worried about my image. "Why are you worried about MY reputation, Xena?"

She looked at me and took another sip of wine. "You're smart, really smart. You could be. you are so much more than an ex-warlord's servant. You're an Amazon Queen, Gabrielle. But no one knows that about you. No one ever sees just how intelligent you really are. Its not right."

I decided to try to lighten the moment a little. "Would you like me to make a sigh that says "Amazon Queen, not servant?" I'll wear it all over Greece if you'd like," I said, popping a piece of apple in her mouth.

She smiled at me. One of her big, beautiful, dazzling smiles. "You would, wouldn't you?" She asked with a chuckle and I nodded in reply. "You know how to cheer me up, don't you?" She said, the apple bit tucked in her cheek like a squirrel.

"By now I'd sure hope so!" I retorted. "not that you get significantly gloomy too often." I said, trying to steal the bowl from her lap.

She reached up and, quick as a wink, snaked a powerful arm around my waist. In one solid motion she had tugged me down into her lap crosswise and had set the bowl on the floor with barely a clatter.

I let out a feeble "Eeep" she tugged me down. There was no reason to be afraid of her or her actions and I knew it. With a girlish giggle and a sigh, I tucked my head against her shoulder, feeling her arm encircle my body.

"Comfortable?" She drawled.

"As comfortable as a slave-girl can get," I teased.

"Not funny," she said firmly.

"Who'd have thought it? `Xena: Warrior Pillow!' Kinda comfy. Good thing I like my pillows firm, huh? There's not a bit of fluff on you. I'd lay on you all the time if I could," I said, not realizing just how that sounded until it was already out of my mouth. I clamped my jaw shut, not even trying to retract the comment, knowing I'd only make it worse. Daringly, I snuck a peak up at her just as she glanced down at me; eyebrow arched and all.

She grinned.

"Good think you're a light weight, huh? You won't smother me," she said cautiously.

I chuckled.

"Gab, you're welcome to sleep on me whenever you want to," she said, reaching over and taking another sip of wine from her free hand.

My next move was rather stupid. Did I make an advance on this beautiful creature? No. Worse. I challenged her senses.

I stood up, sliding off her very comfortable lap. "Ok. Enough wine for you, Princess. No more. You'll do something you'll regret." I said, taking her warm mug from her.

I got a very deep set frown as a reply. "You think I'm drunk?" She said in a tone that meant this was more of an accusation than a question. Fearless, I responded.

"Not drunk, no. I just don't want you saying something you won't mean when…I mean, saying something you don't mean because of the wine." I said, choosing my words carefully.

"DRUNK! You think I'm DRUNK!" She said, standing and tossing up her hands. "I don't need this. Especially not from you!" She said, spitting the word "you" as if it were a curse.

She sheathed her sword which had been laying next to the chair and grabbed her chakram, slamming the door on her way out. Slamming it so hard, in fact, that the water pitcher fell off its stand, shattering on the floor.

The mug slipped from my hands and clattered to the planking. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I headed to the saddle bags, ready to pack my things.


Chapter 4


"I'd like a room for the night, please." I said to Melphus, the innkeeper.

"Thought you shared with the warrior," he said with a grunt while looking me up and down.

"Change of plans," I said abruptly . "There are two other inns in town. Do you have a room or not?"

"Aye. Top of the stairs, three doors down from where ya were," he said gruffly, handing a burly customer a large mug of ale.

I handed him is coins along with a few extra. "Thanks." I said before heading up to my room, staff, bags, and frying pan in tow.


The room was large but cozy thanks to the huge fireplace. A large bathtub sat in one corner and the back wall that a large window just to the side of a table.

The bed was big enough for three people, no doubt.

Completely furnished. But it seemed empty. There was no clutter of armor and weapons. There was no saddle, laden with saddle bags and pouches. Just a bed, a table and a chair and a wooden bathing tub. Filled with things, but still empty. I tossed my staff against the foot of the bed. It was just within reach but still out of the way of foot traffic.

I sat down on the bed and neatly penned a note for Xena.


You're mad. I don't blame you. I just didn't want you to say something and then take it back. I was trying to protect myself from being hurt. But that was kind of dumb since you'd never hurt me. After the snow clears a little, I'll be heading to the Amazons. Hopefully they'll take me. Take care of yourself,


I folded the parchment and walked to our room. Her room. I left the note on the pillow where it sat in full view.

I glanced around the room to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. One of my scrolls sat forgotten on the side table. I walked over and picked it up, opening it as I walked back to the bed. With a smile, I reread the words, rolling the sounds and images around in my mind.

She'd like this, I thought to myself. It was a poem about her. The one constant good thing in my life. I didn't know if she'd read it or not. I didn't know if I should even leave it for her. Despite my uncertainty, something made me roll up the poem and put it down on the bed next to my note.

I wanted her to read it, that was for sure. But did I want her reaction if it was to be a negative one? Maybe I just wanted a reaction in general.

With a sigh I glanced back at her room as I stood in the doorway. Argo's saddle sat in one corner, fur blankets draped over top. Her cloak hung from a peg above the fireplace. She's going to catch a cold, I thought to myself, realizing that she had left in such a hurry that she would be out in the frosty weather without her woolen layer of protection. She's going to get sick and it’s going to be my fault. A small shudder ran through me as I realized how she'd keep going until she was so sick that it was impossible for her to continue. That would be my fault, too.

She'd put up a brave front just so that I wouldn't worry about her. Little did she know that I worried about her all day, every day no matter how healthy she was or wasn't.

So that was that. I shut the door to her room and walked back down the hall towards mine own room, flopping down at the table and devouring the soup and bread. I didn't taste either one, my mouth filled with the bitter taste of regret.


Chapter 5


The morning found me curled in a tight ball on the edge of the bed, the sun's early morning rays trickling through the window and onto the empty pillow beside me. A small sob escaped from my lips as had many others over the night.

A soft knock at the door pulled me from my bed. I cracked the door and saw a disheveled head of black hair and piercing sleep starved blue eyes looking back at me.

"Its beautiful," she said softly, holding out the scroll to me.

"Its about you," I said, placing a foot carefully over the invisible line that always obstructed conversation.

"I know," she said leaning against the door jam, obviously exhausted. "I don't see what you see in me, but its still a beautiful poem."

"I only write what's there, Xena. I couldn't make that kind of thing up," I said, opening the door even wider in an invitation for her to enter.

"I think your vision's clouded, Gabrielle," she said.

"I know you do. I know that's how you see me! You see a silly little tag-along bard with warrior princess envy," I said, a little anger in my voice. A rather burly and odorous man walked by, leering at Xena lustfully. "Would you get in here before the entire inn hears us?" I said, reaching out and pulling on her armor plate, tugging her inside.

You don't do jealous very well, Gabrielle. Stop being so possessive. Its not like she's YOUR warrior, I thought to myself.

She smirked and it was reassuring. I shut the door behind her and went to put a kettle of water on the fire for tea. "Want some?" I asked her, holding a tea leaf up.

"Please," she said with a nod, sitting on the edge of the bed, noting the slightly rumpled covers. "Didn't sleep well?"

"Didn't sleep at all." I said, putting the pot over the flames and trying to settle into a somewhat sociable banter with her. "You?"

"Not a bit," she said. "Gabrielle," she said after a pause, "I don't see you like you think I do."

"Sure you do. I'm just a quaint village girl to you, Xena," I said. "That's why you think my perspective of you is so off."

"I see you as a very capable woman with a great talent for many things, Gabrielle."

"Oh really?" I asked, not sure if I believed her or not even though she had never lied to me before.

"Really. You're the best negotiator that I've ever seen and you rule the Amazons from afar, something that hasn't happen in a long time. And you obviously have a wonderful talent for writing down things that you feel to be beautiful. After reading this one, Gabrielle, I was surprised at myself! And your my best friend; something that takes talent all in itself. I'm not easy to put up with and I certainly haven't been pleasant company lately," she said softly.

"No, you sure haven't. But neither have I. I shouldn't have traded your whip to Minya even if we did need a frying pan. And I shouldn't have pushed you to accepting my death at Tripolis. That wasn't fair to you," I said as I looked out the window with my arms folded across my chest and sighed before turning to look at her, "And I shouldn't have questioned you last night. I was wrong, Xena. You're a grown woman and you can handle yourself better than anyone else I know. Drunk or not. And you weren't drunk last night. I know that. I guess I.I don't know why I questioned you."

"It wasn't the questioning that bothered me. You're allowed to question me, Gabrielle. If you didn't we wouldn't be a team. Your word is just as important as mine!" She uttered with a pause.

A team? She really thought of us as a team? Wow.

She continued, looking at the floor, "I wish you hadn't questioned my sincerity, Gabrielle. I meant everything I said last night," she said.

It wasn't as if we had admitted to being secret agents for the Roman army. It wasn't as if we had told each other our names were actually aliases. We hadn't said anything of drastic importance to each other last night but for some reason things had changed with just the simple sentence: "Gab, you're welcome to sleep on me whenever you want to." Nothing profound. Nothing extreme. But one sentence that had made my heart leap into my throat.just as this moment had.

I swallowed the bulge in my jugular and walked over to her, crossing a room that seemed this size of Greece itself. I set my mug down on the table and placed my fingers under her chin. I looked her straight in the eye. "After tiptoeing around it for months, we just crossed the line, didn't we?" I asked with a small, barely perceivable and hesitant smile on my face.

"Yeah. Guess so," she agreed, leaning into my hand a little. "How do you feel about that?" she asked after I quirked my eyebrows questioningly at her.

"So we're leaving this up to me? Not fair, Xena!" I said a bit hesitant to be the one deciding everything. She just stared at me, her face unreadable even to my expert eye. I took a deep breath, obviously going to have to talk my way through this. "Something's changed. I don't know what it is, but I don't think I can go back. You're my whole life. And there's no doubt that I have these…feelings that I don't know how to handle anymore. But if what you want is to forget this whole issue, then I can do that."

"That's not what I want. You're a part of my life. You are my life, Gabrielle," she said.

Her words made my breathe catch in my throat for a moment. Only a moment. "Really?" I finally said with a huge smile as I tried to catch the tear before it ran down my cheek.

She wiped my cheek with the back of her work-hardened hand and smiled at me. "Really. I've told you that, haven't I?"

I shook my head ‘no’.

"Without you, Gabrielle, I would have given up on life a long time ago."

I chuckled and hugged her, somehow keeping from spilling her lukewarm tea all over us both. "I'm glad you haven't given up."

"Me too. And if the fates give me a few more years, I want to spend them with you," she said to me, hugging me in return, while speaking about the future for the first time since China. "Gabrielle?" she asked softly into my hair.

"Yeah?" I replied.

"Don't go stay with the Amazons."

"Why?" I asked her, curious as to why I was given such a direct order.

"Because I need you. I know I don't say it much, but I really do need you."

"Good. I'm not sure how long I would have lasted alone with them," I replied honestly, placing a hand gently on her knee.

"You lost a lot of weight the last time you were there. I was worried," she said, covering my hand with hers.

"I couldn't eat."

"You? Really?" Xena said with a half-chuckle.

"I lost my appetite when I lost you."

"I'm not that important, Gabrielle," she said to me with a modest.

"You are to me, Xena. You really are," I said honestly.

She paused and seemed to mull over a comment in her head. This was nothing new to me as Xena always choose to think before she spoke. Had I remembered that fact last night, this conversation wouldn't have been happening because our argument wouldn't have ever occurred.

"You know, Gabrielle, one room is cheaper than two," she finally said.

"That's true," I said coyly, pushing a piece of dark hair back so I could look at her startlingly blue eyes. "You want to share?"

She nodded slightly.

"That's good because damned if I can sleep without you around to sing me to sleep!" I said, hearing her laugh and watching the corners of her mouth turn up into a smile while she escaped from my girdling hug.

"I'll get the rest of my things...the rest of our things," she said, correcting herself halfway through.

I couldn't help but smile, realizing that she had just made the final step toward making us a truly inseparable team.


Chapter 6


Tonight, the air was thick with unfallen snow and we passed the time by each resting in a warm and cozy part of the room and attending to our own activities.

My dark-haired companion had pulled out one of her few puzzle-boxes and was sitting at the table, concentrating with furrowed brows.

"Xena?" I said, not taking my eyes off my parchment as I penned out a poem.

"Mmm?" she said, still trying to solve the puzzle.

"Did you eat dinner yet?" I asked, my protective tendencies towards her showing through in all their annoying brightness.

"Not yet. When this is done. Promise," she muttered, trying to fit a octagonal piece into a space it obviously wasn't intended for.

"You are so stubborn!" I said in a tone that I normally reserved for unruly and stubborn children. In a huff, I set my parchment aside and stomped over to her side. Leaning over her shoulder, I took the four remaining puzzle pieces and systematically put each one in its proper spot. "There!" I said.

She gawked at me, slack jawed, "I've been working on that all night! How did you Do that?"

I laughed, glad to finally have the opportunity to turn the tables on her. "I have many skills," I said, imitating her almost perfectly.

She looked at me with a bit of perturbedness and a bit of confusion on her face. "You've been holding out on me! You're really an ex-warlord, aren't you?" She said, not at all serious. "Come on, Gabrielle! Those puzzles were designed to occupy some of the most ruthless minds in all of Greece! They were supposed to keep us busy so we wouldn't attack villages! I've had that box for years and every time I try to solve it, I get stumped. And you did it, just like that!" She said, emphasizing with a snap of her fingers.

"And?" I asked, taken aback by what was perhaps the most she had said to me all afternoon if not all season.

"Well, I knew you were smart but I didn't know you were a genius! Last I heard, Caesar hadn't figured this one out yet!"

"It wasn't that hard, Xena. You would have figured it out soon enough. You're just tired is all. After all that anxiety yesterday and today, I took a nap this afternoon, remember? You didn't. And you're hungry because you haven't eaten since that cup of tea and trail bars we had for breakfast this morning. I bet you'd gotten farther on that puzzle than Caesar has," I said, trying to compensate for having solved her hardest puzzle accidentally.

"But I've dealt with no sleep before and food isn't usually a problem for me, you know that," she paused and smiled a genuine smile, "But it doesn't matter. Caesar can spend as much time on his as he wants to. He doesn't have a partner to do all the hard stuff for him, does he?" She taunted, standing up and stretching. Her shoulders settled into their joints with an audible pop as she reached her arms high above her head.

"Is that why you keep me around? To gut fish and solve your puzzle boxes?" I said with a smile as I took her cloak off the hook and settled it over her strong shoulders, getting a surprised smile in return. "I suppose that is a fair trade. I do keep you around as a personal body guard, don't I?" I teased her, fastening her cloak.

"That's true. You know, I should start charging you for that body guard service, shouldn't I?" She teased, reaching around and snatching my cloak from my reach.

"Oh yeah? What's your fee? I'll deduct my cooking charges from my bill," I retorted as she set my cloak around my shoulders.

"Hmm…Three years of body guard services as well as being your own personal huntress. I'd say that's worth-" she said, pretending to figure a price out in her head. "That's worth one night of uninhibited shopping in the Athens market, isn't it?" she said with a smile, reaching behind her with one hand and tugging a coin purse off her belt.

"You hate shopping!" I said, hearing the clinking of many, many coins in the heavy leather pouch.

"Yes, but you love it. And seeing you enjoy something is payment enough," she said, catching me speechless yet again.

"…you're confusing me," I said, managing to utter the first thing that came to mind.

She said gave me one of her best saucy smiles.

I laughed and let her finish fastening the cloak's clasp with her quite warm fingers that brushed my collarbone. "I'll go shopping..but only if I get to spend that money on whatever I want," I said.

"You're a greedy little thing today, aren't you?"

"Oh definitely," I said, already deciding that some nice blue linen would make a great pair of light weight leggings for the fall. Of course, some red tanned hide for her during the spring months when we were scheduled to stay with the Amazons. Yum. Xena in red leathers. Now that was something that I would definitely have to see.

"Fine. You can spend it all on whatever you'd like. Lets go," she said, steering me towards the door, grabbing my staff for me on the way out.

"Xena," I said, as we exited the inn.

"Yes?" She drawled in that quite appealing way she had.

"What do you think of red leathers?" I asked quietly calculating the cost of all the things I'd like to buy her.

"Red's not really a good color on you, Gabrielle," she said with a laugh, placing a hand around my neck and resting lightly on my far shoulder in a display of public affection I thought I'd never see.

"Who said it was for me?" I asked her.





"We don't know anyone else who'd look even close to good in red leathers, Gabrielle," she said.

"I do," I retorted, looking at her as we walked, waiting for the candle to light up in her head.

"No we don't. Ephiny wouldn't look good in red! Red's more my color...Oh No, Gabrielle. No. I don't think so. I'm strictly a black leathers kinda girl. Color ruins the entire intimidation aspect!" She said, laughing as she realized who I had in mind.

After a pause, I decided to divulge my source, "You know the last time you left me with Ioalus? He mentioned something about the first time you two met," I said.

"HE WHAT?" She said, stopping in the middle of the street and spinning me around to face her; panicked as if there was some story that she was afraid of me finding out about.

"What? Don't get all excited, Xena," I said, laughing at her reaction. "He said that when he first watched you fight, you wore some incredible red leathers. I'd like to see you in red leathers. I think it would definitely make…quite appealing. Not as if you aren't now, but." I said, trailing off, shyly letting my finger trace the bottom point of her breast plate. She smiled at me, seeming embarrassed.

"Xena, are you blushing?" I asked her, trying to see if her cheeks were turning pink or it was my imagination.

"I don't blush, Gabrielle," she said with a growl.

"Oh Gods! You most certainly do! You're blushing! I can't believe it! I made you blush! See, Xena, red is definitely a good color on you!" I whispered to her, leaning in a little.

She bent down slightly and rested her forehead against my own, "I've never blushed before you started calling me attractive."

"Then I think I should say things like that more often!" I said to her, touching the tip of my nose to the tip of her nose.

"Oh yeah? You do and I'll..I'll." she teased, not knowing what to say but leaning in even further.

"What will you do, mighty warrior pillow?" I asked, edging her on and placing my hands on her hips, somehow knowing that invading each other's personal space was no longer an issue.

She leaned in and kissed me. Soft and full on the lips. It was tentative and cautious and quiet hesitant. She pulled back slightly and kept her eyes closed. Was that fear of rejection? Silly warrior. Did she actually think I would reject her?

Certainly not.

"Xena?" I asked her, placing my hand on her cheek.

"Uh. Yeah?" She asked, still with closed lids.

"I think that making you blush is going to fit into my schedule quite nicely if that's the kind of reaction I get," I said, leaning up and brushing my lips against hers just as softly and cautiously, allowing myself a bit of a curious linger before breaking away.

Blue eyes looked down at me with startled precision. She smiled a radiant smile that made me, quite literally, weak in the knees.

"Xena? Do you realize we just kissed in front of hundreds of people in the middle of the main road in Athens?" I asked her, noting my surroundings for the first time.

"Is that a problem?" She apprehensively questioned me as my forehead became buried in her cloak-front out of embarrassment.

"Not for me," I said with a smile. "It was perfect, despite the onlookers. And this makes a memorable story, doesn't it?"

"Oh most certainly. Then again, all of your stories are memorable."

"When did we turn into a pair of gushy school-kids?" I asked her with a chuckle.

"Just now, I think."

"I think the mushiness is only going to get worse, Xena," I said, laughing at us.

"Good. It'll give me an excuse to spoil you. Not that I needed one before, but." my blue eyed companion said just as her stomach let out a conspicuous rumble causing her to roll her eyes at herself.

"Hungry much?" I teased her, poking at her belly gently. "Let's go get you some dinner. On our way in yesterday, I thought I saw some of those pot things that you liked so much when we were in Chin."

"Pot-stickers?" She asked laughing at me.

"Yeah, those. You gobbled them down when we were there. I practically told every story I had just to make enough money to keep feeding them to you!" I teased her. "Hungry little warrior."

"Hardly anything little about me, Gabrielle."

I looked her up and down, pretending to need to re-check every feature that I had already memorized. "Not too little. Not too big, either. Just right," I said, hugging her tight to me and fitting my head into her shoulder, right where it nestled perfectly. "See? Perfect fit!"

"Almost like we were made for each other?" She asked with a bit of a laugh.

"We were, Xena, or haven't you figured that out yet?" I asked her.

"I see that now," she told me with a glint of what seemed to be happiness in her voice as she kissed the top of my head. "Lets go get some food and let you do all your shopping."

I laughed. "Hungry little warrior," I repeated, tucking my hand around her waist and walking with her, hip to hip, through the market of Athens toward the food merchants.


Chapter 7


"These are so good! You sure you don't' want one?" She asked me, licking her fingers after polishing off her 7th or 8th pot-sticker.

"No thanks. I was full after my second," I said to her. She leaned against a cart while I shopped for fabric, picking out several measures of blue linen and some gorgeously woven blankets that would serve nicely as new saddle blankets for Argo.

"Whadda ya think?" I asked her, holding up a deep yellow fabric. "Maybe a head scarf?"

"I definitely don't think so," she said. "Yellow looks good on you but I think a head scarf would get in the way with fighting," she said with a chuckle. "What about this?" She asked, picking up a rose and burgundy fabric with embroidery on it and holding it over her stomach.

"Makes you look pregnant," I said seriously, barely having to look at her.

"That's not funny, Gabrielle! I do sit-ups every morning to keep my stomach taut," she said, putting the fabric down with a pout.

"See? I knew it was all vanity and didn't have to do with making you spin faster when you do a flip!" I retorted to her, solving the friendly debate that had been going on for the last few weeks. "Its true! The fabric does make you look pregnant! Besides, I'm sure you were sexy when you were pregnant," I said, not realizing it was the first time I had used her and the word "sexy" in the same sentence.

"Did you just call me sexy?" She asked, whispering in my ear.

"Well, you are," I said with an honest blush. I picked up a piece of deep red leather. "Armor for me?" I asked her, changing the subject.

"Hmmm. I think you'd look fabulous in armor. A little skirted orange leather and some deep brown for the top? Oh yeah," she said. "But I don't want you to ever have to wear armor."

"I could be a warrior if I wanted to!" I said indignantly.

"I know you could. You are a warrior, though you couldn't be in a war wearing that shrinking green top. You'd be too much of a distraction."

"Don't you know that's why I wear it, Xena?" I asked her, completely joking.

"It attracts the attention to me so you won't be the focus of the fight."

She rolled her eyes at me and moved down to the next shop where the tanner had hung several huge pieces of leather outside to dry and be on display.

"How bout this, Gabrielle?" She asked, plucking out a hide that had been died so richly in blue hues, that it practically sparkled in the evening sun.

"That would look really great on you, Xe," I said, finishing my dickering with the weaver and passing him the appropriate coins and asking for some yardage of the red fabric that Xena had admired as well.

"Excuse me, did you just call me "Xe"?" She said, a smirk twitching at her lips.

"Yep, I sure did," I said, turning and getting a price from the tanner. Costly. I looked at Xena, catching the dusk's light off her eye at precisely the right angle to convince me that this hide was dyed especially for her. "I'll give you 15," I said to the older man, trying to talk him down even though the work was done exquisitely.

He looked at me and stood, walking into his shop's back room. "Odd," I said to myself before turning to my taller companion. "If you can call me "Gab" then I can call you "Xe" can't I?" I said to her, getting a set of rolled blue eyes in return. It always amazed me how we could carryon three of four conversations with each other.

"I'll take 20 for them both," The man said to me, showing up out of no where, a set of rust colored leathers in his arms. "I made these years ago and have been unable to find someone they'd fit, lass. You? You'd fit them perfectly, be true," he said to me, handing the leathers to me.

"But I don't wear leathers!" I said, looking at Xena with my confusion surely on my face.

"Well, I won't sell you the hide unless you take the leathers, too," the man said.

"She'll take them both," Xena said, reaching into the pouch that hung from my hip and getting out the 20 dinars, tickling my thigh in the process.

"Hey!" I squealed, feeling her fingers brush my leg through the leather pouch.

Xena took the leathers from the man, smirking at me. "These will be just your size, Gabrielle. That's odd that he had them on hand and we had been talking about them, don't you think?"

"Do you really think its odd? I think its as if there's something in my future and all these pieces are just falling together," I said, my good mood hardly destructible.

"You're awfully happy tonight, aren't you?" she said, her eyes flicking over to the silver smith's stand.

"I'm very happy. Why wouldn't I be?" I said to her, leading her to the silver smith's stand, a place I knew she wouldn't go on her own. It was just to frivolous for her image.

"I don't know. You're just not usually this perky for no reason," she said to me, watching as I picked up little earrings and such, examining the goods. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her reaction to different pieces, trying to see if there was something in particular that she liked.

"I have a very good reason, Xena!" I said, exasperated, "I was just kissed by the sexiest woman in the world in the middle of Athens! Not only does that make me the luckiest woman alive, it makes me the envy of every single Amazon who's ever heard about you. And that's not mentioning that it happened to be the best kiss I have ever experienced in my entire life with the person I care about the most! I would say I definitely have a few reasons to be happy!" I said to her.

She just smiled at me, having been accustomed to my rapid flow of words over the years.

"And I'd say you have reason to be happy too, warrior pillow," I continued.

"Why's that?" She asked me, reaching over and fingering a strand of silver beads, a sparkle in her eye as a child before solstice time.

I sighed. Fine. Apparently she just wasn't as happy about this as I was. Maybe I had misjudged her on the whole issue. Possibly she wasn't at all interested. No.

That couldn't be true. I refused to believe that thought. When she gave something, she gave it all. Not in pieces. And a part of me knew that she had given me her entire heart, no strings attached.

"I'd say finding a merchant with those Pot-stickers is something worth being happy over," I said to her, lifting an ear cuff and dangling the blue lapis stones and quite enjoying the clink the sliver catches made as they bumped.

"Hey! You think that's all I have to be happy about?" She asked me. All of a sudden, warm fingers lifted my chin up so my eyes met hers. "I have you, Gabrielle! If I know that you care about me even half as much as I care about you, then I have more to be happy about than I deserve! And that kiss? Wow! I never knew you could kiss like that!" She spoke in a slight undertone, making me blush. She dropped her voice to a conspiring whisper, "Autolocus kinda blocked out some of my sensations."

"Xena!" I said, chastising her for some unknown reason before falling victim to a helpless fit of giggles. "You know, his mustache did scratch. And while I do have limited experience with your kissing technique, you're a much better kisser than he is."

"Let's not tell him that," she chuckled, kissing my forehead quickly and giving the gawking silver merchant one of her infamous glares.

I looked down at my hand and saw a large silver bracelet that I had picked up. It had pieces or deep red stone set in its sides in stripes. It was perfect.

"Xena." I said flashing her a smile as an evil plan popped into my head. "I'm starting to get hungry after all. Do you think you can find me some of those sticky pastries with the cinnamon? You know. The round ones that look like Leha's buns?" I asked her, using my best convincing look and referring to how Priestess Leha had worn her hair once, a long time ago and very far away.

"I think I can do that. Those do sound like they'd be good," she said, perking up her ears and heading off as if in hunt of buried treasure.

"I'll take the set," I said, turning to look at the merchant and have him wrap up the other matching bracelet and the two arm bands that matched. "And throw in those strands of silver beads, too," I said. He didn't argue with the price I offered and he didn't question me when I asked him to add in the beads at no charge.

Maybe kissing warrior princesses in public wouldn't be so bad for my reputation after all.


Chapter 8


"What are we going to do with all this stuff?" She asked me as we walked into our room, arms laden with things.

"We can stop by your mom's on the way to the Amazons. Maybe she'll let us keep some of this in a trunk in the barn until we need it?" I suggested, not having mentioned anything like that before. Storing our things until later was something you just didn't do when your future wasn't promised to you. But now, it seemed, we had made unspoken promises to each other and storing small things here and there didn't seem like an unreasonable idea.

"You want to go visit my mom?"

"Don't you?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"I guess. You sure you don't mind?" She asked me.

"I don't mind at all, Xena. I prefer your mother to my own," I said with a laugh.

"I wish it hadn't been like that for you. My childhood wasn't great either, and I wish you had better as a kid," she said softly, setting some of my purchases down on the bed.

"By letting me come with you, you took a huge problem away from that house," I told her, trying to shut the door with my heel and not fall flat on my face or drop any of my things, some of them breakable.

"You're not a problem, Gabrielle. And if that's what your family thinks about you, then they're missing out on the best thing they could imagine. I know that my life would be totally different if not for you," she said to me, stepping over and taking some of the things I held.

She coughed and I frowned.

She never coughs, I thought to myself. I knew she'd get sick. I just knew it!

She continued, chewing slowly on a piece of dried pear that I had handed her, "If I had never taken you with me, you'd still have your blood innocence and you'd be married to Perdicus and happy with kids by now."

I laughed. "You're kidding me, right?" I said, trying not to be rude to her by laughing. It was hard not to just start rolling with laughter and fall to the floor, but I somehow managed.

"Don't laugh! I'm serious!" She said, tossing a piece of apple at me and hitting me smack on the nose.

"You're ridiculous. We both know I would never have been happy with Perdicus. And do you honestly think you would have stopped me from following you? You'd have had to kill me before I turned away. I knew you were my destiny. And as far as my blood innocence goes, Xena, I have no regrets." I said, stunning her with an admission of acceptance.

"I don't understand! You've lost so much!"

"But look at what I've gained, Xena. While I will never like having killed Meridian, I can't go back and change it. Regretting it won't help me at all. I have to move on and learn from my mistakes. You taught me that. `Don't be sorry, just improve.' That is what you said, right?" I asked, walking over and sitting on the bed next to her.

"Yes. I did say that didn't I?" She said, rubbing her eyes.

"I'm not sorry, Xena. I don't like the memory of the event. I don't like Dahak or any of his minions. But I know that I can't go back and change anything. I've got to keep going forward in life and just take knowledge with me as I go. Besides, I would gladly trade my blood innocence for you. I'm your equal now. Before Meridian and Britania, I was a side kick, not a partner. But since then, things have changed and I'm more of your equal than your errand girl."

"You've always been my equal!" She said to me, looking at me as if I were daft.

Her skin was paling slightly and she coughed again. Someone's getting sick, I thought to myself as she tried to discretely clear her throat.

"No I haven't and we both know it. It wasn't always like it is now. Just the other day, you were saying how good I'm getting with my staff. Your exact words ere `Gabrielle, in a few more weeks, you'll be able to take me down with that thing.' Do you know how important that was to hear? Do you know how much I cherish those words, Xena? They've made me happy ever since you said them because it meant that I'm getting to be close to your caliber."

She chuckled, "Gabrielle, you passed me long ago! The only reason I can still pin you in a fight is because of brute strength. And even then, we're pretty much evenly matched. Technically, you're a far superior fighter and the fact that you have respect for life means you'll avoid a deadly hit until the last minute. People don't expect that and they block it more. You're much better than I am with your staff," she said to me, placing a warm hand over mine.


"Really. Do you think I would let just anyone guard my back during a fight? Do you know how many times you've saved my neck in a fight? I owe you."

"From here on out, no score cards. Not between us. You don't owe me anything and I don't owe you anything. No debts. Ok?" I asked, hoping for her to agree.

"Sounds more than fair. Here. Let me get that," she said with another small cough, taking my last bundle and setting it on the table.


"Gabrielle?" she asked suddenly, as she set a small linen wrapping on the table and placed her hands on its edge as if to steady herself.

"Yeah?" I asked, trying to find a place to put all our stuff. I had purchased two new saddle bags, knowing that I had over shopped again and that there wouldn't be room for everything in our current carrying cases. No matter how well and strategically Xena packed.

"Would you fix me a cup of tea?" she said as a bout of coughing shook her upper body.

I didn't reply. Instead I headed to the fireplace and set the water to heat before returning to the bed and getting her to sit down.

"Here. Sit down. Drink this until the tea's ready," I said, handing her a cup of water. She sipped at the cool beverage while I knelt on the floor at her feet.

"What's this?" The package from the sliver-smith was at her side and she fingered it, not recognizing the wrapping.

"Its a surprise. I bought you a surprise," I said, struggling to pull the bundle from her grasp.

"You did what?" she asked me laughing and coughing at the same time.

"I bought you a surprise!" I said, reaching for the weaver's bag as well. "Two of them." I corrected. One of my hands held the bundles and the other hand rubbed her back, trying to stop the coughing.

"Two?" She asked, her voice becoming somewhat gravely from the harsh coughing.

"Two." I repeated, stuffing her two special bundles into my saddle bag.

"Gabrielle, do you know the last time someone bought me a surprise?" She asked me as she sat softly on the edge of the bed, fingering the covers and sipping her water, keeping her parched throat moist.

"Yes I do. Last Solstice when I gave you the new armor repair kit!" I said, recalling her reaction to the present with clarity.

"That wasn't a surprise. I mean, it was Solstice. We both exchange presents on Solstice. It wasn't just a gift without a holiday or festival to go along," she explained.

"But this is different because there are no dancing virgins?" I asked her sarcastically as the water began to boil for her tea.

"Yeah," she said, not even noticing that I had been joking with her.

"Xena.." I started to say and then stopped. I walked over to the bed and knelt in front of her, fixing the cup of tea. Tea leaves, and lots of honey. Just the way she liked it. "If it'll make you more comfortable, I'll keep my gifts with the Amazons. And when we go back before Solstice I'll pick them up and give them to you then. That way it won't be something special. Will that help?" I asked, not really liking the far-off look in her eye.

"No, Gabrielle. You do whatever you want to with those things. You don't change your plans just because I haven't had a surprise in a while. And thank you for thinking of me and remembering me while you shopped," she said, showing vulnerability in her voice.

"As I if could ever stop thinking about you," I said softly, picking up one of her warm hands and kissing its palm in an unconscious act. After my lips parted her skin, I placed her cup of tea into her hand. "Let's get this cloak off of you, hm?" I said, reaching up to unfasten her clasp and hang the cloak next to mine near the roaring fire.

"Gab? Will you tell me a story tonight?" She asked me as she started coughing again, her shoulders fiercely shaking by the convulsions of her lungs. "I have a feeling I'm not going to fall asleep easily."

"Put this shift on," I said, handing her the warm linen and then turning to stoke the fire. When I turned back around she was curled in a little linen clad ball, her leathers neatly folded and set on the linen press. "Xena?" I asked her, sitting on the bed so that I was facing the same way she was and I could see her face by looking over her tucked up shoulder. "What's the matter?" I asked, pulling a bit of hair out of her eyes.

"I hate being sick," she said in a somewhat defeated voice.

"I know you do. I do, too. But you always take really good care of me. I'll take care of you, ok?" I asked, trying to get her to open up to me. I hated it when she was quiet and melancholy like this. The night was deathly quiet and the only sounds in our room came from her heavy breathing and the snapping of the fire.

"Just stay with me, Gabrielle."

"I'm not going anywhere, Xena. If you can't protect me," I told her as I tucked my body up behind her longer one. I wrapped my arms around her rib cage and pulled her up so that she was cradled in my arms. "Then I'll protect you. I'll make sure nothing happens to you."


Chapter 9


Her groan and slight stirring woke me from the light doze that had finally

overtaken me around dawn.

"Ugh," she muttered, trying to stretch but I had my arms around her too

tightly and my muscles were stiff from a long night.

"Hey. You feeling all right?" I asked her cautiously.

"What's going on?" She asked, sitting bolt upright and yanking herself from

my arms so quickly that she nearly knocked my elbow backwards.

"You've got a fever. I think you caught a chill when you went out without your

cloak the other night. You had a bit of trouble falling asleep because your fever

made you feel cold, so I climbed in with you. And by that time I had drifted off, too,"

I said to her, more awake than I should have been for only getting about a half

candle mark's worth of sleep.


"Why?" I asked her, rubbing my eyes with my hand and propping myself up

on an elbow.

"You must have been uncomfortable," she answered, coughing around her


"Not really. You're a good blanket. I'd say it was the best nap I'd ever taken,"

I told her with a tired groan. "Come on back to bed, Xena. Its snowing again and I'm

tired and you're sick. Come on," I said, trying to tug her back down.

"So what exactly happened last night? Did we, um-" She asked, fumbling and

playing with the fringe of her night shirt.

I smirked and chuckled a little. "I think I'm insulted! I hoped you'd have

remembered!" I teased.

"Oh, gods," she said, dropping her head into her hands.

"I'm kidding! Really! You just curled up and I curled up behind you and tried

to keep you from freezing your warrior butt off. That's all!" I explained, knowing that

fever could often cause deception.

"Really?" She asked, hope in her voice.

"Yeah. Really. Don't sound to glad. You might offend me," I said in a slightly

more bitter tone than I had intended.

"No! That's not it at all, Gabrielle!" She said, her R's rolling around my name

in that really adorable way she had. "I WANT to remember that! For the rest of my

life I want to have that memory!"

"Yeah?" I asked her.

"Yeah," she drawled.

"Good. Because I plan on making it a quite memorable occasion."

"'ve thought about.that?" she asked with surprise.

"You haven't?" I asked her blushing furiously.

"Well, yeah, but I didn't know you had."

"Xena, I've been thinking about that for a while now." I said honestly. Better

not lie to her about this subject.

"So have I."

"Typical of us, don't you think?" I commented with a chuckle. "We're both

thinking about the same things, feeling the same things, and anticipating the same

things and we're both too scared of rejection to mention it."

"If I weren't such a chicken, we'd have had this conversation a long while

ago," she said to me with a small smile.

"Equal blame, Xena. I'm just as at fault for avoiding this subject as you."

"I suppose. But aren't I supposed to be the aggressive one here?" She asked

with a chuckle.

"I'll overlook it," I teased.

"You're too considerate," she said, rolling her eyes at me. She started

coughing. I thumped her back, trying to help get some of the fluid out of her lungs.


Chapter 10


"You ok?" I asked. I didn't get a response but I hadn't really expected one,

either. She groaned as her lungs tried to recover from having spasmed so quickly.

"Here. Sit up. I'll get you some tea with that relaxing herb in it."

"Don't bother. It won't help. I built up a tolerance when I was leading my

army. They would have used it to kill me," she explained in a whisper.

"Lots of honey, then?" I asked.

"Definitely. You spoil me rotten, Gabrielle. There isn't another soul on earth

who would do for me what you do."

"I hope so. Otherwise, I'm out of a job, aren't I?" I said, handing her the hot

tea. I sat down next to her on the bed. She had leaned back and propped herself up

against all the pillows, half laying down and half sitting up. An intriguing slug-like

scar ran up the length of her upper arm. I allowed my eyes to follow it until it

disappeared under the night shirt's cuff. "Where does this go?" I asked her, boldly

tracing it with my finger as far as I could and edging my finger under the sleeve.

"Down my back," she said in a tight voice.

"How'd you get that?" I asked, slipping the sleeve up slightly as she gazed at

me in wonder.

"Caesar found whips amusing," she said with a trace of anger in her words.

"HE did this?" I said, stopping my finger's path in mid motion.

"Don't sound so angry, Gabrielle. It was a long time ago," she said to me.

"Doesn't matter. Its not right, Xena. You're not an animal and you don't

deserve to be treated like one."

"I was an animal Gabrielle," she said to me softly.

"No you weren't. You might have been a warlord but I don't think you were

ever an animal. Its not something you're capable of," I corrected, finding myself

exhibiting a bit of bravado and leaning over and lightly kissing the scar.

She moaned. At least I think it was a moan. My ears had become suddenly

filled with a buzzing noise as soon as my lips touched her skin.

"Did you say something?" I asked, resting my forehead against her shoulder


Her head leaned down on mine and we shared a moment of quiet. "Not a

thing," she said with a snigger after a while.

I chuckled a little. "Xena?" I asked her after a few more minutes of sitting in

reflective silence.

"Yeah?" She asked, a hand reaching up and stroking my back in a relaxing

and yet stimulating motion.

"Isn't there anything I can do for you?" I asked her, trying not to just curl up

in a little ball and let her stroke my back this way for hours. "You're positively

glowing with fever and you can't stop coughing and there's fluid in your lungs."

"No. I don't want to take anything. Fever is your body's way of battling

whatever's wrong and I don't want to stop that internal fight. I'll just have to deal

with it," she said, turning and placing her two feet on the floor, trying to stand but

wavering slightly.

"Xena, I don't think this is any ordinary cold. This is serious. Its happening

way too fast to be taken lightly!" I scolded.

"I'm fine! Its just a cough and a fever! I've dealt with worse!"

"Come on! Get back in bed, please!"

She pouted.

"That pouty lip isn't going to help anything, Warrior Princess. Get yourself

back to bed right now!" Pointing my finger at the bed. I walked over and turned the

covers down and was in the middle of fluffing up the down pillow when I was

attacked from behind. Her strong and lithe body knocked me flat on my stomach as

she tackled me, taking me down to the bed in a tangle.


Chapter 11


"I don't want to go to bed," she growled in my ear in a playful way.

"I don't care, Xena. You're sick and that means you're staying in bed. Its cold

and wet and snowy out. You said yourself, this is the same kind of weather as when

you got so ill last time. Get in bed!" I ordered her, rolling over in a well practiced

move she had taught me and pinning her to the bed. I knew that with but a sneeze, I

could go flying across the room but I also knew that she wouldn't do that. Ever.

"Since when did you get so demanding of me?" She asked me with a sigh.

"Since three years ago when we met and I demanded that you take me with

you," I replied to her, easing up on my grip, sensing she would stop fighting.

"Do I really have to go to bed?"

"Yes. You really have to. We don't have to go back to visit the Amazons till

after Solstice and you'll be much better by then," I explained. "I know you get

fidgety when you're sick, but I'll try to keep you occupied while you rest. How about

stories? I've got some new ones for you!" I offered, knowing just how twitchy she got

when she wasn't able to move around all the time.

"That'd be nice," she said, her fingers uncurling from my wrist and moving up

my arm slowly.

"I've got a few poems, too. And I bet you, if you behave, I'll go back to the

market and get those two puzzles that you had your eye on." I said, feeling her soft

finger tips trace up my arm till she reached my elbow where she tickled slightly. I

was having quite a hard time concentrating with such attentive fingers tormenting

my skin. "That's not behaving, Xena," I said, trying to keep from giggling as she

tickled me. I shifted my weight, trying to escape her tormenting fingers.

"I think this is more fun that a puzzle."

"Sto-aaahhhH!" I said, screaming as she moved her finger and tickled my rib

cage, the highly tickle sensitive area on my body. "Xena!" I managed to get out,

before collapsing on top of her in a fit of giggles as she relentlessly continued to

brush my skin with twitching fingers.

"Yes?" She drawled, appearing to enjoy herself.

"Stop," I said, breathlessly, still trying to escape her torturous hand.

It was instantaneous; as soon as I asked her to stop, she did.

"Did I hurt you?" She said while carefully turning my arm over to examine

them for bruise marks.

"No. You didn't hurt me. You never would, you know that. Of course, I could

take you on in a full out tickle war, Xena, but I won't. After all, you're sick. And I

refuse to take advantage of you."

"You think you'd win?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Today? Maybe," I said honestly while she simply smiled and indulgent smile

in response. "Come on, Xena. Let's get you under the covers and I'll go down and

see if Melphus has any chicken soup. That's what Ephiny orders the cooks to feed

the Amazons when they get sick." I said, scooting off her belly and reaching under

her and pulling the covers to the side. I motioned for her to crawl under.

"You do realize if anyone but you were asking me to go to bed because I was

cranky, I'd laugh at them and then kill them," she said, crawling between the linen

sheets and the down quilt.

"I know. You're being a very good patient," I said, smiling at her as I pulled

the cover up to her chin. "Stay here. I'll be back in a few minutes, ok? And I'll see

what I can do about a bath, too. I think we could both use one."

"Are you saying that I smell?" She asked me as I grabbed my staff and

headed to the door, having slept in my clothes.

"No. I'm saying that I smell!" I said, shutting the door behind me, hearing her

chuckle as I walked downstairs.


Chapter 12


"You know, I think a bath wasn't such a bad idea, Gabrielle," she said to me,

before she dunked her head under the water to rinse the lavender smelling soap

from her hair.

"Oh yeah? You know, I do have good ideas once in a while," I replied as I

wrote furiously in my scroll. She, being the sick one, would get first bath in the nice

warm water and I'd go second.

"Gab?" She asked me as she stepped out of the tub and dried off for a while

before wrapping a towel around herself.


"You're not avoiding bathing just because we kissed, are you?" She asked

with a hidden hint of regret in her voice.

"Nope. I just wanted to get this story down while it was fresh," I replied,

putting the finishing touches on my tale. It was pointless to be humble in front of

her. When you spend 3 years with a completely immodest person, you tend to lose

your own sense of modesty as well. I was fine being undressed in front of her, but to

be honest, I was just a bit more concerned about how she'd look at my body now. If

there was even a hint of lustful abandon in her eyes, I was a lost cause.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I'm sure, Xena," I said with a chuckle, letting the scroll air dry.

"Did you want separate rooms after all?" She asked in a hoarse voice as she

grabbed her linen shirt and slid it on, crawling immediately under the covers to keep

the night's fierce chill off.

Her question stopped me in mid roll, "No!" I said, setting my quill down and

looking at her in surprise. "Of course not. I just wanted to write that down."

"Oh," she asked, a bit of doubt in her voice.

No one else would have been able to detect the tiny intonation change, but I

could read and every movement and know that every slight sound meant something

to this woman of few words. And that small raise in her voice and pause to swallow

meant she was hurt.

"Honest. I'll take one in the morning, Xena. I want warm water for my bath," I

teased. "You took so long that its cold now," I got up and walked to the bed where

she was already snuggled. "But now you're clean, so you'll sleep better. I'll forgo a

bath if it means that you'll get rested and well sooner."

"You're too kind."

"Will you just rest? My sitting here talking to you all night isn't going to make

you feel any better," I said as she coughed. Again.

Here dark eyebrow arched in the way I loved and she looked at me as if my

entire face were covered in odd mud. "I think that would make me feel much better

than you could imagine," she said to me with a chuckle.

"Xena!" I said with a half- reprimanding, embarrassed laugh.

"What? Its true!" She said. "You never know, Gab, it just may cure me all

together," she said, half teasing. "I'll wash your hair for you tomorrow, ok?" She

offered, her hands running through my blonde hair.

"Mmm. I've always liked it when you do that."

"I never knew that."

I smiled and blushed at her, unable to explain just how soft her touch on my

scalp was and how that softness illustrated her innate gentleness in ways that no

one else would understand. "Yeah. `Liked it' may be an understatement," I admitted,

lifting her hand into my own and turning it over, examining the powerful palm. "Your

hands, Xena, they're just so strong and they have all this power in them. But you

don't use it. You're one of the gentlest people I've ever met and whenever you touch

me, that shines through. You're just so gentle, your touch relaxes me so much. But it

stimulates me at the same time," I said with a chuckle as I sat on the edge of the

bed and silently shivered.

"Hey, take off your boots," she said to me, her blue eyes piercing me and

letting me know she meant business.

I frowned. Where did this come from. First we were talking about hair and

then I'm taking my shoes off? Well, trust is trust, and there was no doubt that I

trusted her.

As I leaned over to unlace my boot, I felt the bed shift and noticed her out of

bed and heading towards her saddle bag, close to the hearth. She dug around inside

and pulled out another one of her sleep-shirts, bringing it back to the bed with her.

One boot fell softly to the floor and soon the other followed with a dull thud. I

looked up at her quizzically as she unfolded the sleep shirt and handed it to me.

"We both need a nap."

"I'll sleep on the floor. I don't want you having to smell me since I haven't

bathed yet."

"First off, you always smell good to me, even if you smell like 5 day old pig

slop. Come one. You can have a bath after our nap. I'm tired, Gabrielle. Please," she

said, not only admitting to being tired, but saying "please" in the same mouthful of

words. To those two things, I couldn't say no. I rolled my eyes at her and smiled.

I reached up and unlaced my shirt's lacing, lifting it over my head and tossing

it onto the trunk top at the foot of the bed. I did the same for my skirt, stepping out

of it and tossing it with disregard, not really caring where it landed. I dove into

Xena's shirt with abandon, enjoying the smell of the scented soap she used to wash.

Most people thought she'd be the type of woman who used spice soap but, in

actuality, Xena really preferred lavender soap because it kept her leathers from

smelling like a kitchen cabinet.

I took a deep breath of the cream colored fabric and let out a soft moan as I

smelt her body's scent and the soap as well as the smell of clean pressed linen. All

in all, a very intoxicating aroma.

I smiled at her and crawled under the warm covers, allowing her the side

closest to the fire place so she'd stay warm. Since we had spent so many days out in

the cold, whatever kept Xena so naturally warm had stopped working and she was

constantly wrapped in layers of blankets or next to a blazing fire, just to stay warm

enough to keep from chattering her teeth.

"Xena?" I said as she smiled and slid under the covers next to me.

"Yeah?" She remarked, trying not to yawn, but failing to hide her drooping

eyes from me.

"Do you think I should call the healer?" I asked her.

"No. I'm only cranky when I've got a fever and your body only produces a

fever when there's infection to fight somewhere," She explained. "You've done more

than any healer, Gabrielle. I don't the healer in Athens would agree to getting in bed

with me when I get tired."

"I don't know, Xena," I said, a bit of tease in my voice, "If you washed his hair

for him, I betcha he would."

"Gabrielle!" She said, exasperated but laughing.

"Get some sleep, Xena. Melphus said that he'd have the chicken soup ready

for dinner, ok?" I commented, my finger's lazily running through her long, dark hair.

"Gabrielle?" She said softly, turning to look at me.


"You don't have to stay if you don't want to. I can nap by myself. You can go

to the market or go downstairs and tell your stories if you want," she said to me

before she coughed slightly.

"No, Xena. You know better than that. I'm staying right here. I need some

rest, too," I said. "You never left me when I was sick. What makes you think I'd leave


"You don't owe me."

"We already said that. No such thing as "owe" between us," I agreed,

drowsiness evident in my voice.

"So why stay? Go have fun."

"I'm tired, Xena. More importantly, you need me right now. I won't go far.

Ever," I said, my inflection growing tired as we spoke.

"Gabrielle?" she said to me, seeming unsure if I was still awake, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," I replied. "Come on. Let's get some sleep, ok?" I asked,

shifting my body and snuggling down into my usual spot in the hollow of her

shoulder. My leg was slung over hers and tucked neatly between her two legs.

"Sleep," I ordered.

She smiled down at me, something I didn't see, but could feel. Her eyes

unconsciously checked to make sure her sword and chakram were within reach.

"Wake me around dinner time, will ya?" She said before closing her eyes and

slipping into peaceful rest.


Chapter 13


"Looking good, Princess," I said to her as she woke up from her nap. A

steaming bowl of chicken soup sat on the bedside table and a mug of cold milk had

been placed next to it.

She rolled her eyes at me as she started to fully wake up. Even when sick,

Xena was more than deadly. And when pulling out of such a deep, illness-induced

sleep, she did have trouble focusing her eyes.

"I feel horrible," she muttered, rubbing her eyes with her hand as she tried to

gather her wits before moving anymore.

"You look rested," I offered, walking to her bedside. I reached over and

brushed my hand against her forehead, removing some sweat dampened hair. "Your

fever's gone, too!" I said in surprise.

"I heal fast."

"Good. I don't like it when you're sick," I said with a shy grin.

"I don't like being sick. I hate making you take care of me like this."

"No, this is the part I like. When you actually let me do things for you without

arguing. But I hate seeing you suffer and in pain," I said, watching her struggle to sit

up. I moved so I sat beside her and pulled her up, using my shoulder to brace her as

she half-sat up.

"You like caring for me?" She asked with a frown.

I nodded.


"You don't let me do it very often, so it gives me a chance to really take care

of you. Make sure you eat your vegetables and drink tea and milk and stay away

from the aged stuff that you love so much," I replied as she began to grimace.

"My head is pounding. You aren't banging rocks near my ears, are you?" She

asked, putting her hands to her temples and rubbing in small circles.

I chuckled slightly as she groaned in pain.

"Here. Let me help," I said, scooting her down a bit so her head was resting

on my thigh and she looked up at the ceiling. I rubbed her temples in soothing

circles and watched as her entire body relaxed. "Feel good?"

"Oh yeah," she said in a groan.


"You're really good at this."

"I know. When I was staying with Ephiny last time, she kept getting these

killer headaches that made her sick to her stomach and made her vision blurry.

Eponin showed me how to rub on her temples to make the pain stop," I explained.

"Eph and Pony?" Xena asked, opening one eye at me and looking up with an

indescribable look.

"So it seems," I chuckled.

"Who knew?" She asked, not really expecting an answer.

"I did."

"Did not!"

"I really did, Xena!" I said with a chuckle as she looked up at me, not

believing me. "Honest!" I said to her with a giggle.

"Why didn't you tell me? We should have gotten them a present or

something for their joining celebration."

"They aren't having a ceremony. Ephiny thinks she's bad luck," I said with a

giggle as I slid my hands over Xena's warm brown. "You're still a little warm even

though you're not as feverish anymore."

"She thinks she's bad luck?" Xena asked, ignoring my comment about the


"That's what she said. She thinks that because Phantes died trying to protect

her, Pony will be in the same danger."

"That's dumb," Xena said as she rolled her eyes before closing them again

and moaning as I massaged her temples.

I chuckled at her responsiveness. "Is it dumb, Xena? You do the same thing.

We're just now admitting to having feelings for each other. You didn't say anything

because you were afraid of my getting hurt by someone else. I didn't say anything

because I was afraid of rejection."

"You're right. Again. Its not dumb for Eph to be wary. It is dumb for you and I

to try to hide stuff from each other."

"I know. I'm always right, aren't I?" I said with a chuckle. Xena stuck her

tongue out at me and winked. "You're awfully playful today for a sick girl, aren't

you?" I asked her with a chuckle, barely able to resist the temptation to lean down

and nip her tongue with my teeth.

"I feel lots better now that you've worked on that headache."

"I haven't even done anything!"

"You've kept me company and your fingers are magical," she said, grasping

my hand and kissing the palm, making my body shiver. "Next time I get one of these

headaches, you're definitely getting asked to do this again."

"You don't even need to ask," I replied, getting a warm smile in return. I

changed the subject, not knowing where the current one would have led and not

having the energy to find out, "What do you think, Xena? How many more nights

before we head to your mother's?"

"I think we could move out today if we went slow and stopped early this

evening. That would mean you'd have to ride," she said, frowning.

"We're not leaving tonight!" I said, shocked she had suggested it.

"Why? Riding Argo isn't that bad!"

"Xena, you almost passed out last night because of your fever and you're still

coughing!" I said. As if on cue, she coughed, struggling to catch her breath. I helped

her sit up and rubbed her back as she tried to even out her breaths. "We'll stay a bit

longer," I said with a frown as she struggled to breathe due to the fluid in her lungs.

"I want to get on the road. We'll miss the Amazon winter festival and Solstice

at my mother's if we don't leave soon," she said with what looked quite like a pout.

"We're not leaving tonight, Xena, and that's an order from your Amazon

Queen!" I said, leaning her back down on as many pillows as I could find.

"Since when did Amazon Queen out rank Warrior Princess?" she asked,

bringing up the silly question that we always used on each other.

"Since you agreed to be my champion against Melosa, " I commented. "I did

some digging through the library and according to Amazon law, when you become

champion, you agree to take orders from the Queen," I said while fluffy her pillow

behind her and tucking her in snugly.

"And you're the Queen."

"Yes I am," I said with a giggle.

"This is so unfair, Gabrielle. Don't pick on the ill."

"I'm not picking on you. I'm taking care of you. There is a big difference." Her

skin was returning, slowly, to its original color and her eyes looked much more

vibrant than before. But the nagging cough that had settled in her lungs, worried

me. It rattled and thudded around in her chest until I had to cup my hands and

pound until anyone but Xena would have cried out in pain.


Chapter 14


"Gab?" She said after a long pause wherein she ate her lukewarm soup and

finished her cold milk.

"Yeah?" I asked from the fire where I was heating up a cup of tea. I had a

blanket set by the fire to warm in case she got cold and some of her favorite

munchies, oatballs, warming up as well.

"Would you tell a story tonight?"

"Did you just ask me to tell you a story?" I asked, almost dropping the cup.

This was a rare occasion indeed. "I thought you'd be sick of my stories by now."

"Nope. I love hearing you tell a story. You get so involved, its almost like you

become part of the story," she said to me with a smile as she folded her hands

behind her head and relaxed back onto the pillows.

"Really?" I asked, wrinkling my nose in disbelief.


"But you're always telling me to stop when we're on the road."

She chuckled. "Hearing the same story 50 times while you tweak one

sentence tends to give me a headache. But hearing you tell stories regularly always

makes me feel better."

I smiled and handed her the cup. "If you really want a story." I handed her

one of the oat balls that I held in my hand and waited for her to eat it. "Which one

do you want to hear?"

"Not just to me, Gabrielle. I'd like to hear you tell one to the entire inn."

"You're too sick to be out of bed, Xena. I don't want you going down there

and having some drunk approach you and start something."

"You could take `em," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"I don't WANT to take them on. I want you to get better so we can get back

on schedule."

"Please?" she begged, giving me her best puppy-dog look. Her lip stuck out

and slightly quivered and her eyes softened and she batted her lashes.


"I'm begging, Gabrielle. I bet it would make me feel better," she said, trying

to hide a smirk.

"No. That's it! No...Xena, don't look at me like that. Come on. You're just too

sick. Stop. Stop! Xena," I groaned, trying to resist the adorable look that she knew

would win in the end.

She looked at me even more pathetically. How could I resist that look? Her

fever had broken and her color was slightly better than before. She wasn't near as

pale. The sparkle had returned to her eyes and even though she was coughing quite

a bit, I didn't really think keeping her in bed for another day would be a good idea.

"Oh, fine!" I said, tossing my hands up.

"Yes!" Xena said, rolling to put her feet on the floor.

"Stop!" I said, coming around and handing her a pair of thick leather

leggings. "Wear these. I'll pick out the rest of your things."

"I'll roast in these!" She said, holding the pants out as if declining them.

"You'll wear them or we're not going downstairs!"

She gave me "the look."

"Oh, save your strength. That doesn't work on me and you should know

better than to even try," I said, rolling my eyes and tossing her one of my oversized

woolen sweaters. She never needed too much winter clothing because of her natural

ability to produce body heat, so most of the warmer clothing was mine. Even though

her fever had dropped, Xena hadn't been able to stay warm for long amounts of

time and I wasn't going to let her catch a chill down in the inn's main room.

"I'm going to overheat!" She whined.

"Just put them on, you big baby," I said, walking over and handing her her

favorite blue tunic to go under the sweater. She glared at me again. "Fine," I said,

reaching down and grabbing the leggings. I put them over her feet and pulled them

up, struggling to tug them over her bottom. She laughed. "You think this is funny?

Pick your rear up, Xena, or get dressed yourself!"

"Oh, no. I think you're doing a great job" She said to me, tickling my rib cage

lightly and causing me to collapse on top of her, pushing us back onto the bed.

I looked down into her cerulean blue eyes and almost lost myself in all the

dreams I saw there. "You know, you really are comfortable," I said seriously. Her

hands rested on my hips lightly and shifted me up so we were nose to nose. "You

wanted to go hear stories, remember?" I asked with a smirk.

"Tell me a story."

"You wanted to go downstairs, didn't you?"

"I think the atmosphere here is better," She said, her fingers playing with the

waistband on my wrap skirt.

"You were getting restless here," I said, trying to resist leaning into her soft

touch, knowing that if I did, there would be no return.

"True. I think you can keep me busy," she said.

"You're right. I'll make you re-read all of my scrolls and help me edit them for

spelling," I said seriously.

I was promptly rolled over onto my back.

"Downstairs it is then," She said, leaning down and kissing my nose.

"Hey!" I said as she pulled away.


I reached behind her neck and tangled my fingers in her hair, pulling her lips

back down to mine and retrieving a proper kiss.

My lips brushed hers once. Then again. And finally attached themselves to

hers, researching their territory, finding all the dips and valleys and memorizing the

sweetness of her skin.

I cleared my throat as we separated and tried to stop the room from spinning.

"Well," I managed to say.

"Yeah," she said to me in a heady voice. She rolled off of me and onto her

back, lacing up the front of her leggings as she lay there.

"The more we do that, the more I want to do that," I said to her with a grin. I

rubbed my eyes quickly, allowing my hand to trail down and rest on my warm lips

for a few moments.

"Mmm," she agreed, here eyes closed.

"Two stories and then back to bed," I said after a few moments pause. She

raised an eyebrow at me in a teasing unspoken question. "Don't even go there,

Xena," I warned, waggling a finger at her. I had seen the look in her eye that meant

she was going to make a suggestive comment.

I chuckled and so did she.

"Let's go. Put your tunic on and wear that sweater," I said, foregoing her

cloak at the door.

"And what are you going to do if I don't?" she threatened, holding the

sweater up.

"I'll come down off the stage and point you out to the audience. Then if you

don't put it on, I'll take my top off until you do," I said, dead serious.

"You wouldn't!"

"Wouldn't I?"

"YOU WOULD!" She said with something between a grin and exasperation on

her face.

"I would," I agreed.

"Hmm...which would be better? Seeing you without your top or hearing

stories?" She said, tapping her chin with her forefinger.

"Xena!" I said.

"Fine. I'll wear the sweater. I just expect a private screening of THAT

particular story later," she teased, telling me she wanted to see me without a top


"That could be arranged," I said, putting my arm around her waist and

helping her walk down to the inn's first floor. We laughed a bit as we turned the

corner and made it down the stairs. Boundaries had been all but dissolved by this

illness and it seemed a good thing to me. I looked up at her and smiled, receiving a

very healthy looking smile in return.

And then she coughed.

And sneezed.


Chapter 15 (OUAM- warning. Not mine)


One story rolled into two as the ale and cider began to flow.

Xena behaved herself nicely and sipped a mug of milk, having placed herself

in the corner.

The crowed called for a third story and the bowl that was passed around for

coins was overflowing so much that Melphus had set aside a large coin purse for the


I looked at Xena. She sat with her head leaning against a rafter support and

the mug in her hands. Her eyes were closed and to the uneducated eye she might

have appeared asleep; but she wasn't. She was just resting. Her baby finger on her

right hand drummed slightly against the side of the mug; a habit l had long since

found annoying.

Her eyes opened a bit and caught my stare. She smiled fully, the same smile

she often gave me after I made a joke. She winked and I smiled her way, well aware

of what a wink from me could be interpreted as if intercepted by a half-drunk


I passed along a raised eyebrow look that questioned her ability to withstand

another story. She nodded vigorously in reply and I smiled again, clearing my throat

to begin another story.

"Many moons ago, in a far off place lived a handsome prince with a gloomy

face, for he did not have a bride," I began. I easily settled into the familiar rhythms

of storytelling. And from the stair corner, I saw a pair of marvelous blue eyes,

shining with enchantment as they absorbed a new story for the first time.

The crowd enjoyed the tale very much and, honestly, so did I. Telling a story

for the first time was always invigorating. There was the risk of failure and rejection

and also the possibility of a marvelous crowd who loved your story. Either way, I'd

always end up running a gamut of emotions by the end of the story.

To whoops and hollers, and much to my embarrassment, I ended my story-

telling session and agreed to settle up commissions with Melphus later on. I also

took the opportunity to arrange a few buckets of water to be left outside our door

the next morning so I could bathe.

"Ready?" I asked, tying the bulging and heavy coin purse to my belt and

walking over to Xena.

"Where did you get that last story, Gabrielle? It was great."

"Thanks. I just thought of it one day. I've been working on it in quiet to

surprise you," I said, smiling at her. The circles under her eyes had returned and I'd

bet just about every coin in my newly filled pouch that her fever would be back

within the night. "You're still sick, Xena. I shouldn't have told 3 stories. It kept you

out of bed too long," I said, pulling on her elbow and leading her upstairs.

"I'm fine," she said just before tripping on a floor board. I caught her by the

elbow just in time and prevented one very attractive nose from being smooshed into

a very grimy floor.

"You're lying," I countered as we tried to tackle the stairs with her keeping

most of her body weight shifted to me as she had slung an arm over my shoulder

and held onto the hand rail. She merely groaned as we slowly climbed the steps. "If

you weren't so heavy, I'd be carrying you right now," I teased as we got to our door.

"If you weren't so strong, I'd have crushed ya by now," she said back with a

grin while I kicked our door open, both my hands occupied with keeping her


"Nah, you'd never let that happen. You wouldn't let anything hurt me," I said

with a smile as we walked to the bed. I helped her sit down, sliding her arm over my

head. "Feet up, please," I asked, picking up a foot and tugging her boot off as I

watched her eyes become heavy. Then came the other boot. It fell to the floor with a

thud. "Come on, Xe, sit up so I can get you ready for bed. You're about to fall asleep

right now."

"I'm too tired. I'll change in the morning. Just leave it," she said, brushing me

off with a wave of her hand.

"That's not like you. You like everything organized and orderly. Sleeping in

your clothes when your sick is not an option. You'll never forgive me if I let you do

that," I said to her, tugging on the lacing to her leggings. I slid them off her hips and

down her legs, noting the round curves to all of her leg muscles as the leather slid.

"Leave it, Gabrielle," she said, more of an order this time.


"You're so annoying," she said to me, tossing an arm over her eyes to block

out the light.

"You're sick. You're cranky. But don't call me annoying. You sound like Ares

when you do that," I said, referring to how he always called me an `irritating blonde'

and other such phrases. She stuck her tongue out at me. I waggled my eyebrows at

her as her pants came over her feet. "I wouldn't stick that out at me unless you want

me to keep it!" I tossed the leggings onto the trunk to be folded later. "Sweater

please," I said reaching up and pulling it over her head, taking the tunic at the same

time. I reached behind her and grabbed her sleeping shift. I held it out so she could

slip her hands through, which she did.

"Why are you doing this?" She asked in a weak voice.

"That's a silly question," I said. "Why do you take care of me?" I countered.

"Because I lo-" she started to say before beginning to cough so much she

doubled over.

I thumped her back again while she struggled for breath. All her physical

training, discipline, and strength wouldn't be able to help her this time. Her body

was battling itself and she was struggling to stay on top.

"You ok?" I asked when the spasms subsided.

She nodded, still trying to catch her breath.

"You need to get some sleep," I said softly as she leaned back, exhausted.

She nodded again, emotionally drained from battling her pride against her

illness drained body.

"Let me," I said, tugging her shift down some more so I could cover her up.


"You're welcome," I said with a sad grin. "Get some sleep. I know you're

getting restless, but you really need to recuperate."

"I don't want to sleep," she sulked, her lower lip sticking out a bit.

"Sure you do, Xena. You're tired and you want to just curl up and relax, don't

you?" I said, pushing her hair out of her face.

"No," she said obstinately.

I bent over and unlaced my boots, kicking them to the floor. In my bare feet, I

scooted across the bed till I was next to and somewhat behind her. "Sit up a little

and I'll fix your hair."

She grumbled. "You know that puts me to sleep."

"Sit up," I said again with a knowing grin, reaching behind me and pulling the

bleached bone comb from the night table. She pulled her shoulders forward and I

tugged a piece of leather strapping from the underside of my braids, setting it on my


My hands worked at her sweat dampened dark locks, gently unweaving the

tangles and smoothing her slightly rumbled hair out with the comb. In a matter of

moments, her head drooped forward and her neck relaxed considerably. My fingers

separated her hair into sections and I began at the top of her head, braiding her hair

tightly to her skull.

With my fingers flying quickly, I got down to the middle of her hair and wove

in the strip of leather, leaving some tails so that when I was done, I could tuck the

bottom of her braid up and tie it off, keeping it off her neck.

"There," I murmured, as I tied the leather strip off, making all her hair into

one little bun of braided hair. "That should help."

"Mmm, that feels good," she said as she reached around and rubbed a hand

across her neck.

"Stiff?" I asked, seeing the taut muscle chords in her neck.

"A bit."


"Is this my day for massages from the Amazon Bard?" She teased me as my

fingers began to get the kinks out of her neck.

"You're just a lucky girl. I don't let just anyone experience this," I joked.

"I am lucky, aren't I?" She said seriously, though she chuckled slightly.

"What do you mean?" I asked as I worked my well muscled hands against the

obstinate knot in her neck.

"I've got you everyday. You take care of me when I'm sick, put up with me

when I'm cranky, calm me when I get out of control and give me perspective when I

lose it. I'd say that makes me very lucky," She said. "You keep me safe and

balanced, Gabrielle."

"Good. As long as I've done something for you. You've done so much for me."


"Oh, please. You know you have. If it wasn't for you, I would have never

gotten to compete in Athens at the Academy. I surely wouldn't be an Amazon, much

less their Queen," I paused, my hands moving down to her shoulders, trying to get

the strained muscles to loosen. "More important than that, I wouldn't have found my

best friend and fallen helplessly in love with her," I said quietly, leaning down closer

to her ear.

In an uncertain and panicky tone, "In love? Who are you talking about?"

I smiled and blushed slightly, feeling my cheeks redden. "You."

"ME?" She asked, almost snapping her head off as she whipped it around to

look at me. Her forehead came in contact with mine and the force of her head

turning caused my temple and hers to collide with great force.

"Ow," I said simply as I fell backwards, thrown off balance. My hand shot to

my head and covered the place that had connected with hers.


Chapter 16


"Damn, Gabrielle, are you ok?" She asked, moving quicker than I had seen

her move in the last two days. "Hey, Hey, let me see that," she crooned, trying to

pry my hand away from my temple which was already oozing blood I could feel

against my fingers.

"Its just a small cut," I muttered as my fingers came away from the wound

covered in red. I winced as I pulled my hand away. She reached for my head to

examine the cut, but I flinched away. "Its nothing," I said. "Leave it."

"But.." she said, reaching again for the wound.

"I said leave it!"

I sat there for a moment, looking at her, trying to decide what to say. Luckily,

she eased that decision as she was the first to speak.

"Did you say you love me?" She asked after a moment or two wherein it was

obvious she was considering either forced care on my wound or a conversation.

"I did say that, yes," I said shyly.

"Did you mean it?" She asked me.

I barely managed to keep myself from flinching at the sting of her words. "Of

course. I wouldn't have said it if I didn't," I said in a voice more calm than I actually


She smiled at me. Her lips turned up on the ends and she reached to brush

my hair away from my cut. "Good," she said softly.

"Good?" I asked, not expecting that for a reaction.

"I think that me loving you and you loving me is definitely a good thing, don't

you?" She asked with a grin as her other hand found my own and intertwined our


" Oh, yeah. That sure is good," I said with a helpless grin on my

face. I could feel the trail of blood from the cut trickle down my face but at this

moment it had no meaning. It wasn't important. She was the only important thing

right now. She loved me.

"We should really clean that cut," she said, swallowing a cough.

"Yeah?" I asked, smiling.

"Yeah," she said.

"Who cares?" I muttered before leaning up slightly and kissing her full out. "I

love you," I said into her mouth.

"Love you, too," She said back against my lips. We spent a few moments

exploring the texture of each others' mouths. This was definitely something I could

get used to.

I pulled back a little after a few minutes. "We should probably fix my face

now. Otherwise I'm going to get blood all over you as well as having a nasty scar."

"Won't be the first time you've been wounded and bleeding on me," she said

with a grin.

"First time we both caused it, though," I chuckled.

"Lemme look at that, will ya?" She asked, her worry for my semi-self-inflicted

wound her top priority.

"Ow," I said again as she touched my wound. Where her head and mine had

met, the force of impact had broken the skin on my forehead and it was gushing


"I think it could use stitches," she muttered to herself while examining the

wound so gently that I could hardly feel her fingers on my skin.

I chuckled. "You know, for this, I don't think I'd mind having a scar. Its not

exactly how I planned on telling you, but it serves the same purpose. And I get a

nice memento of the occasion, too," I said with a laugh as she examined my wound.

She frowned at me, not finding it funny. "Hold still," she growled, trying to

get out of bed to get her healer's kit even though she was still quite unsteady on her


"It'll be fine, Xena. Relax," I said waving her off. "Lie down," I said, putting

my clean hand out and pushing her back towards the pillows, "I'll get it."

"But." she stuttered as I got out of bed and grabbed a clean rag from my

travel kit. "Let me do that," she said, reaching out for the kit. I smiled at her and

passed off the kit and the bandage as I sat back down next to her on the bed. Her

fingers lightly brushed the area, cleaning the hair out of the way. I sucked in a

breath as the cold air hit my wound. "Sorry," she said as she cleansed the opening,

causing me to flinch slightly.

"S'ok," I said as she worked delicately. I barely felt her hands fiddle with the


"There," she said as she put two stitches in the skin for good measure and

cleaned it again, wiping away the blood with a piece of cloth.

"Thanks," I said when she finished and her hands fluttered about nervously. I

picked up the kit and put it back, having noticed that her head was fine. "You feel

ok? That was a pretty hard hit," I asked, sitting back down on the bed.

"I'm fine. You going to be ok? Are you Dizzy? Do your eyes hurt?" she asked

in a rush of worried words, waving a hand in front of my eyes.

"I'll be perfectly fine, Xena," I said with a giggle, shrugging off my injury, as I

reached over and grabbed the comb, reaching back to tug out my two braids.

She rolled her eyes at me. "Can I do that for you?" She asked me, putting her

hand out for the comb.

"Please," I said, handing her our comb. She scratched the back of my scalp

with her fingers. It was an act I'd always found relaxing, but now it was somewhat

sensual as well. I must have groaned because she chuckled at me.

"Like that much?" she teased, gently tugging out my braids and brushing out

my hair in smooth even strokes.

"Oh yeah," I said, ignoring the throbbing from my temple, "Probably about as

much as you like having your shoulders rubbed."

"That much, eh?"

I grinned, "Oh yeah."

"Leave it down or braided?" I heard her ask me as she twirled a lock around

her finger in a fidgety act.

"Leave it down, I guess," I said, turning to look at her. She was smiling and

her eyes were out of focus but trained on my hair. "You ok?" I asked her, touching

her cheek.

"Huh?" she said, startled. "Oh. Yeah. I'm fine. Just thinking."

"About what?" I asked, wondering what could get that kind of far-off look to

her eye.

"Nothing specific. Just you and me."

"Was it a good thought?" I asked with a smile, my hand resting on her neck.

She grinned. "It certainly was," she said before leaning in and kissing me





"What's today?" She asked when she pulled back.

"Um.second quarter moon, I think," I said, glancing to the window and

checking the moon's position and shape.

"Its a four day trip, top speed, to mom's house. We'll never make that in time

for the winter party. I can't go full out yet, Gabrielle. I know I'll make a mistake and

get us into trouble," she said. "Might fall or trip or sleep so deeply that I won't hear


"Its ok, Xena. Your mom will understand. And besides that, we don't need to

go back there if you don't want to," I said.

"But I thought you were looking forward to going to the inn for Solstice?" She


"Oh, I am. But not at the risk of your health. If you're not better, you're just

not better. That's all there is to it," I said. "We'll be fine if we wait a while. I'll send a

messenger with a note to your moms. I thought I saw an Amazon scout in town last

night, so I can have her run ahead. Queen's privilege," I said with a grin.

"You sure you don't mind being late?"

"Not at all," I said as she nudged over in the bed. "I don't need anything on

Solstice but you, Xena."

"You're such a sap," She said.

"That may be true, but at least I'm your sap," I countered, gently poking her

in the chest with my finger.

"Mine?" She said tugging on the bedding and sliding under the covers. "I

think I like the sound of that. My bard. My Queen. My warrior. My Gabrielle," she

recited, rolling the sounds around on her tongue.

"Does that mean I still need to wear that sign saying I'm not your slave?" I

teased, getting up and changing to my sleeping shift with lightening speed as both

the floor and air were cold.

"No. You're more to me than merely someone who isn't my slave. You're my

life, Gabrielle. My heart," she said as I walked back to the bed and dove under the


"You have such a way with words for someone who refuses to speak more

than three sentences while in public," I said honestly.

She snorted.

"I love you," I said.

"I know you do," she teased, glancing at me with a bit of tired

mischief in her eyes.

I chuckled and shifted so I could look her in the eye without my neck

snapping. I made sure she was situated on the pillows so she wouldn't have a

coughing fit in the middle of the night and not be able to sit up.

"You done fidgeting with me now?" she asked when I stopped fluffing her


"No," I said as I curled up next to her, my leg tucked tightly over hers and my

arm snugly crossing her chest and hanging on her shoulder. "Now I'm done," I said

as I snuggled into the hollow her shoulder made.

"What do you think I am? A pillow?" she asked before a small cough escaped

her lips.

"Yep. My warrior Pillow," I said with a sigh as I just enjoyed our closeness and

tried to drift off to sleep.

She sniffed in indignation but looked down at me and smiled, kissing the non-

injured part of my forehead.

"Good night, Gabrielle" she said softly before sniffling. It was our customary

night-time ritual and illness or no, we always carried it out.

"Good night, Xena," I said, before adding, "I love you."

"I.I love you, too," she said after a pause.


Chapter 18


It was warm. Warm and good. Warm and good and highly stimulating. I didn't

even have to open my eyes to know what it was that was waking me up on this

wonderful morning.

"You going to do that every morning?" I asked when she was done sampling

my lips.

"If it gets you out of bed without me throwing water on you," She teased,

kissing me again.

"I think this might actually cause me to stay in bed longer," I said with a grin,

rolling over and sprawling on top of her in a very familiar way. "How do you feel?" I

asked, placing a kiss or two on her collar bone and nibbling on the skin slightly.

"When you do that, I feel fabulous," she said around a groan.

I snickered but didn't stop my loving exploration of her neck.

"The coughing is there, but it isn't as bad. How's your head feel?" She asked,

running her hands down my ribs till they rested nicely on my waist.

"What about my head?" I asked her, quite enjoying the sensations I was

receiving from her hands simply resting on my hips.

"The gash from last night," she chuckled.

"Oh that," I said, one of my wrists flicking passively, "Can hardly feel it."

"Good," she said, her hands roaming across my lower back.

I sighed. Damned if that didn't feel good. But rushing things never got either

of us anywhere. She knew that as well and that was probably why we were both

taking this so slowly. "I should really take a bath," I muttered, realizing that it had

been three or four days since I had taken a full bath and I must be quite fragrant by


"Can I come, too?" she asked teasingly.

"Only if you wash my hair," I said with a smile before kissing her on the chin

and rolling out of bed.

She stretched, her arms reaching high above her head and her feet pointing


"Do you want breakfast?" I asked, noting her eyes weren't underlighted with

dark circles and her skin had lost some of the paleness the last few days had

brought. I reached back and rested a hand on her forehead. "No fever. That's a good

sign," I said with a smile.

"I'm not really hungry, but I should eat anyway," she said thoughtfully. "If

you'll let me leave the inn, we can go to the market and see if anyone has those

roasted nuts you like," she said, knowing I couldn't resist her getting out of bed if

she was feeling so much better.

I looked her over. She was looking much better. "Stand up," I ordered.

She quirked an eyebrow at me but did as she was told, standing without so

much as a hint of dizziness. "Anything else Her Majesty wishes?" Xena said with a


"Your color's good and your eyes look..remarkable as always," I said with a

blush, "You're not dizzy. But you're still coughing," I added just as she started to

cough again.

The rattling in her lungs was lighter and the spasms didn't make her double

over. I frowned as she recovered her breath and looked at me sheepishly.

"If you wear your leggings and a long-sleeved tunic and you're cloak. Then

you can go outside," I said recalling just how much I sounded like my mother.

"But Gabrielle!" Xena whined, about to protest.

"No buts, Xena!" I said, raising a finger at her. "All or nothing. Its your

choice," I said as the water for my bath heated up on the hearth.

"But." she tried again.

"No! You either wear your leggings, one of your thick long sleeved tunics,

and your cloak or you can't go out side!" I said. "And I bet Argo misses you! She

hasn't seen you in almost a moon."


"One more word out of you, Warrior Princess, and you'll have to wear that ear

cover that your mother knitted you!" I threatened, dead serious on enforcing these

conditions. Her open jaw snapped shut and she gave me a scowl. "Sit down, Xena.

Don't waste your energy glaring at me. You know I'm immune to that look," I said as

I hefted one of the water buckets and dumped the steaming water into the wooden


It was smaller than what I was used to at the Amazons and it was definitely

smaller than the hot-springs or waterfalls that Xena often found while on the road. It

would do, however, for all I really needed was a place big enough to rise myself and

my hair.

I set the bucket down and reached for a second, only to have it snatched out

from my grasp. "Hey!"

She glared at me. "I feel much better and I don't intend on having to work

twice as hard to get back into shape because I sat on my ass for three days in bed!"

I laughed a bit and smiled, lifting another bucket as she dumped one in. We

both lifted the last, large bucket and dumped it in together.

"Could you get the soap for me?" I asked her, turning to pull my shift off and

step into the tub, ducking under and getting wet.

She made a noise that must have been somewhere along the line of

compliance because the next thing I knew, she was kneeling behind me and gently

washing my wet hair. Her hands roamed over my shoulders, soaping them up and

then trickling water down to rinse them off. My back came next and was scrubbed

with gentle care as my breath grew shorter.

Her hands stilled on the rise of my neck and I could feel her callused, soft

fingers and palms against my skin.

She leaned down a bit and kissed the top of my head. "Would you mind if I

went to get a cup of milk from downstairs?" She asked in an all too quiet voice.

"Go ahead," I said, trying to hide the quiver to my words, "Just stay out of a


She got up and padded outside, shutting the door quickly behind her.

"Oh gods," I groaned, dunking my head under water in a vain attempt to

calm the fire that was coursing through me, completely forgetting that I had let Xena

go downstairs in nothing but a rather short sleeping shift.


Chapter 19


I finished my bath and got up to dry off just as the door burst open.

"What the-" I said, one hand on my linen wrap and the other reaching for my

staff, all as my body turned around.

"You let me go down there in this?!" She screeched at me, gesturing with her

hands to her shift.

"Um.." I said, not knowing how to respond.

"Do you know what three of those guys tried to do to me?" she said, shutting

the door behind her and stalking across the room.

"Something I probably would have done?" I asked with a half grin. She

stopped in mid stride and turned to look at me, her jaw hanging down. I sniggered at

her. "Well, its true," I said with a chuckle. "That shift isn't very demure and it isn't

hard to notice that you're body is quite close to Aphrodite's," I said, trying to reach

behind her and grab my leggings. It had started to snow again and there was no way

I was wearing a skirt through snow drifts up to my knees. "Move," I muttered as she

stood between me and my clothes.

She reached behind herself and snatched my clothing. "After you forgot to

remind me about being in only a shift, I should send you down to the market to get

new clothes wearing only that towel."

"You wouldn't dare," I replied, trying to get the clothes.

She waggled her eyebrows at me and raised her arms bringing the clothes

over her head and too high for me to get.

Her upraised arms lifted the hem of her shirt quite a bit and I averted my

eyes. "Xena," I said, trying to get some liquid back into my suddenly dry throat.

"Sorry," she muttered, tossing me my clothes.

"With the way we're acting, someone would think that we'd never been

naked around each other before," I said.

"Things change," she said cryptically.

"They have, haven't they?"

"If you're turning beat red because my shirt rode up, yeah, things have


I stepped into my leggings. "Do you mind?" She frowned at me. "Things have

changed. Do you mind that?"

"No. I think it can only be better from here," She said with a smile, kissing me

soundly after I pulled my top over my head.

"I think you're right," I said, allowing my hands to travel around her waist and

pull her in closer. A small bit of pressure at the back of her neck and all thoughts of

going to the market vanished as our lips met.


Chapter 20


"We should go," she said after a few minutes more of the seeking kisses.

"Yeah," I said, kissing her again. "Do you really want to?" I asked, one hand

on the back of her neck and the other resting on her hip and playing with the fabric

that lay under my fingers.

"Not really."

"Me neither," I said, suckling on the skin under her jaw. "Its cold out," I


"Sure is," she said, playing with the back of my tunic.

"But you're hungry," I said, trying to pull back from the wonderfully sweet

skin that I had been feasting on.

"I'll get over it," she said, putting her hands under my tunic and tracing the

muscles up and down my back in a very exciting way.

I frowned at her, trying to weigh my obvious desire for her against the

growing hunger in both our stomachs.

"We should eat," I said again, looking at her beautiful cerulean eyes and

knowing I could happily go days without food if we were to continue our current line

of activities.

"We should," she agreed but neither of us really had any appetite for food

right now and she knew it.

"We're pathetic," I said with a chuckle that ended up as a full out bout of

giggles and soon she joined in with her own happy chuckles. I pulled back, patting

her on the chest as I turned around. "Get dressed. I'm hungry and so are you. We'll

go down to the market for a little bit."

I tossed her the leggings that had been put on the trunk last night and moved

to grab my comb to untangle me damp hair.

"Thanks," she said, catching the pants in mid air and stepping into them. She

shed her shift for the long sleeved tunic I had set out for her and dressed herself

with only a few sparse coughs to be heard throughout.

I set a pot of water on to boil, hoping the steam would be thick enough to

alleviate some of her discomfort upon our return. "Remind me to pick up some of

those leaves you gave me last time I was sick, ok?" I said to her as she finished


"I'll be fine, Gabrielle," she groaned just as bout of coughing overtook her

and made her grab the end of the bed frame in support.

"Apparently, you won't be fine," I commented, making her sit so I could put

her boots on. "I know you're not going to stop pestering me until we go for a walk

outside. That's the only reason I'm letting you go out, mind you," I said, frowning at

her from the floor. She scowled back, still coughing. "You know, you're the only

person I've ever met who can give me that look while coughing that hard," I teased,

tickling her foot lightly before sliding the other boot on.

Once her breath had been caught, she gave me her "look" and muttered,

"You're no help."

"Oh really?" I asked, standing and offering her a had up. "I thought I was very

helpful to you. I cook, I clean, I wash, and all for nothing. I feel very unappreciated

.Oh gods, Xena, I'm starting to sound like my mother," I groaned, smacking my


She chuckled, reaching for my cloak. "Here you go, mom," she teased,

clasping it in the front for me as I reached for her cloak to do the same.

"Thank you, Princess," I said, teasing her with the name that only I was

allowed to use.

"You're going to get me in trouble with that one day," she said as I did the

clasp to her cloak.

"Me? Get you into trouble? I think not," I said sarcastically. "I never get you

into trouble, Xena. I don't even know how to start trouble!"

She snickered and I chuckled as I took her elbow to help steady her and we

walked out of the room.

I took my staff and she had taken her boot daggers as well as her breast

dagger. It was odd how we both felt somewhat naked without our weapons nearby,

but it was a occupational hazard that couldn't be avoided.

"So we're looking for what again?" She asked as we stepped out of the warm

in into the frigid white of the snow covered market place.

"I think we were going looking for roasted chestnuts," I reminded. "But I'll

entertain requests."

"I do have a request," she said as we wove slowly through the milling crowd.

"What's that?" I asked, leading her away from the baker's cart full of sticky

buns as well as the pot-sticker merchant.

"I wanna go check on Argo."

"She was scheduled in for a visit on our way back," I replied with a laugh,

"Someone might mistake that look of want for you missing her, Xena," I teased, my

arm sliding around her waist and pulling her closer as we mingled in and out of the

merchants and shoppers.

"She's very special!"

"Yes, Xena, we all know how much you love your pony," I said cynically.

"Hey!" she said, poking me in the side with the strong hand which had woven

around my back and now rested on my ribcage. "Watch how you talk about my


"Watch where you poke me!" I retorted, poking her back and watching her


"Oh!" she said, having spotted the merchant with the beef jerky. Her body

started heading that way and I tried to stop her by digging my heels in and refusing

to move.

"Xena. No!" I said, pulling back on her cloak.

"But, Gabrielle," she whined.



"No, Xena. You're still sick. No."

"Aww.." she whined, really starting to put on her pouty face.


"You're so mean!" she said.

I had to do a double take to make sure she hadn't stamped her foot like a


"I know. But you love me for it, don't you?" I asked sarcastically as I walked

along, practically dragging her away from the meat merchant's stand. "Come on," I

said, stopping to buy two servings of roasted nuts.

Even before we turned the corner to the stables, you could smell horse. And

while I'm not normally a horse-lover, the smell of warmth, hay, and horse was

reassuring in a way.

"Hey girl," Xena responded to a welcoming snort from Argo.

I chuckled and sat down on a bale of hay while Xena went over to check on

her horse. Munching on my package of nuts, aware of the sweet tang they left in my

mouth, I watched her sway with dizziness and turn her head so as not to cough on

the mare.

"You done?" I asked after a few minutes of her crooning to the attentive

horse. She looked like she would fall over right there, but trying to make her rush

wouldn't help things any.

"I haven't seen her in a whole moon, Gabrielle!" She said, Argo nickering in


"She'll wait till tomorrow," I said, having already paid the bill with the livery


She frowned at me, scratching Argo's forehead. "You're mean. You're

depriving me of quality time with my horse."

"Not mean, Xena, selfish. I just want you all to myself," I said sarcastically.

She rolled her eyes and I chuckled, standing up and offering her a few pieces of nut.

Argo butted her head into Xena's chest, causing a bit of coughing. I rolled my eyes

at the horse and steadied Xena while she fought with her lungs.

"Come on, I hear a bed calling my name," she commented, settling a weary

arm over my shoulders as she gave Argo one last pat before heading back to the inn

with me.


Chapter 21


"Ow," I groaned, turning and getting the dead weight, formally known as the

Destroyer of Nations, off my shoulders.

"More tired than I thought," she said in a very drained voice that she tried to

hide with a chuckle.

"More heavy than I thought!" I teased, pulling her boots off and going

through much the same undressing ritual as we had the night before. She frowned

and managed to muster the strength to hurl a pillow at my head causing me to yell

"Hey!" in a very outraged tone.

"What?" She said, trying to play innocent, quirking an eyebrow at me.

"You know, I could always let you get undressed all by yourself!"

"Now that wouldn't be any fun, would it?" she asked, grabbing my wrists and

pulling me in for a quick yet searing kiss.

"I suppose not," I agreed, enjoying the tang the roasted nuts had left behind.

A few moments turned into a section of time that, as other moments with

Xena have, would forever remain a part of my soul. Her lips and mine tangled

amongst each other, chasing and testing and tasting.

Boundaries were forgotten and smooth skin was explored by warm hands. My

fingers found small areas of skin that had otherwise been left alone and her strong

touch traced paths up and down my back, leaving paths of both chills and fire in

their wake.

Her breath grew shorter, as did mine, and while I didn't want to stop this

session of discovery, I realized that this wasn't the best time to continue this kind of

exploration. She was far from well and I was sure to fall asleep as soon as my head

hit the pillow, middle of the day or not.

"We should stop," I managed to gasp out, though I couldn't refrain from

stealing a few more tasty kisses before pulling back.

"Do we have to?" She asked, seeming to enjoy herself more than I had


"We really should."

She moaned a bit before finally ceasing in her fiercely passionate assault on

my lips. "You're no fun," she said, flopping back onto a nearby pillow.

"You're not healthy," I said, leaning back and pulling her tunic the rest of the

way off.

She scowled again, causing me to chuckled.

"Hey! Don't look at me like that! If you were healthy, you could spend all

week kissing me like that without any objections from me. But you're not, Xena, and

I'm not willing to risk your health for a few moments of extraordinary kisses."

"Extraordinary?" She said, opening an eye and raising a brow all in one


I flushed, and got up to fold her tunic while she put on her sleeping shift.

"Isn't that what you'd call it?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yeah," she said with a smile before she pulled her shirt over her head. "Just

surprised that you would."


"Dunno. Just never thought I was your type, I suppose," she said, only half


"And what did you think was my type?" I asked with a chuckle as I set the

spare package of roasted nuts on the bedside table and began to pack our things,

merely out of habit.

She frowned a moment before opening her mouth to speak.

"Oh, wait, let me guess," I said, walking over and resting a few fingers on her

lips. Fingers she didn't hesitate to kiss. "A tall blonde farmer from Potedia or some

other back-woods village? Or a fellow bard with a heart condition? How about a

crusader with a sling shot who believes in "one true god?" Are those who you think

my types are?" I asked her, glaring just a bit.

"Yeah," she admitted somewhat sheepishly, "I suppose so."

"Well, you are quite wrong, Warrior Princess. You are my type. You're my

best friend, Xena. That in itself makes you the cream of the crop. You're devoted

and giving and kind-"

"You're making me sound like a family pet," she interrupted.

I chuckled. "Nope. Much more attractive than a family pet. And besides, they

slobber. You're much more attentive with your kisses," I teased, leaning in for one of

the kisses I had just spoken of.

I sat back and struggled out of my warm leggings, tossing them onto the floor

and not caring where they landed. She waggled an eyebrow at me, something she

had been doing all day. "Enough of that," I chastised, poking her on the tip of her

beautiful nose. I struggled out of my top and managed to put on a shift even if not

before she was able to slide curious fingers across my bare ribs.

She poked her tongue out at me and I leaned down, inviting it into my own

mouth eagerly.

Upon the release of my captor, she pushed my shoulders up and looked at

me in an odd way. "Where'd you learn that?"

"Why?" I asked, stroking her jaw-line with my fingertips.

"Because its remarkable!"

I blushed. "Glad you think so," I said, leaning down to nibble on the same

path my fingers had just abandoned.

"Are you going to sleep tonight?"

"When I'm done here," I managed to say between tastes. Her skin was so

clean and appetizing that I really didn't want to stop my mouth from testing every


This was the point of control that I teetered on every time I touched her.

Every time we made contact, I stood on this same cliff, unsure if I could stop myself

from going over the edge. And not knowing if I wanted to stop myself.

She managed to stifle a moan as I suckled on her pulse point. "And when do

you think you'll be done?" she whispered as I ran my fingers along her collar bone.

I stopped and looked up at her. "About now, I suppose."

"You are so cruel," she said to me, pulling me in for another seriously ardent

kiss before letting me go.

"Oh yeah, as if I like stopping anymore than you do," I commented, tossing

her a saucy look before rolling off the hips I had been straddling.

"So why did you?" She asked me as I lay down next to her on the bed, my

head resting against a warm shoulder.

I blushed and turned my head, burying it "Because. if I hadn't have

stopped, I don't know if I could have."

She snickered. "At least we have the same effect on each other."

I glanced up at her, a questioning look plain on my face. "Really?"

"Oh, yeah. When you kiss me like that, Gabrielle, I think the word `control'

leaves my vocabulary."

I smiled. "That's nice to know. Makes me feel better about you being so


She chuckled. "Now, I've been called many things, but I don't think addictive

is one of them."

"Well you definitely are," I said to her, my fingers making small patterns in

the fabric that covered her belly.

She snickered again and tried to stifle a yawn. I sighed, debating letting it

pass or not.

Not. "Tired much?" I asked her, taking my other hand and pushing the hair

from her face.

"Not really," she lied.

"I am," I said, trying to kick the covers up higher so I could reach them. Her

cough had subsided greatly, though it still peppered her speech. Her coloring was

almost exactly normal and her eyes were sparkly if not quite tired. "Take a nap with

me. We'll both feel better later on."

"I should stay up in case someone comes in," she said.

Oh yeah, She's feeling much better! I thought to myself. I chuckled and

patted her belly lightly in a friendly gesture. "You've never doubted your reflexes

before, Xe, don't start now," I said, slinging a leg across her longer one and

snuggling up into the warmth she always radiated when healthy. "I trust you. I have

faith in you," I whispered before leaning up and kissing her chin and laying back,

eyes closed.

"You're just comfortable and don't want to move," she said cynically with a


"Yeah," I said, mirroring her yawn, "That too."


Chapter 22


It wasn't the afternoon light that woke me. Nor was it a stirring from my bed

mate. It was the sound of humming.

What the-? My mind asked itself, registering the sound but not placing its

origin by hearing alone.

I rolled over, stretching my arms above my head as I did so. My body sensed

no danger and was completely at ease in its surroundings.

Standing over the fire, log prod in hand, was a tall leather-clad warrior.

I smiled. "Are you Humming?" I asked right before I yawned.

She froze, seeming to reflect upon the past few moments. "I guess I was,

wasn't I?"

I laughed. "It was beautiful," she smirked at me in the way she had.

"What are you doing out of bed already? You're supposed to be sick!"

"I feel much better," she said with a grin, reaching down and taking a cup of

hot beverage off the flame.

"You look much better. You're dressed in your leathers and everything," I

said, trying to decide if I had the will power to face the bitter cold air that the room


"Just a bit of a cough. No need to stay longer than we have to," she said with

a shrug, bringing me the apple flavored tea that I loved.

I poked a toe out the side of the bed linen. Oh, No. Certainly not. Way too

cold for me, thank you very much. "Mmm," I said, sipping the warm liquid. "Always

make it the way I like it, don't you?"

"You do the same for me."

I smiled, taking another drink. The tang of the apple and the sweetness of the

honey rolled around in my mouth and I savored the taste, knowing she had brewed

it only because it was my favorite.

"Thank you," I said, sitting up the rest of the way. She reached over and

pulled the covers up higher, keeping the cold air out. I chuckled and said cynically,

"Someone might think I was the one who had been sick the last two days."

She scowled. "It just kills you to let me do something nice, doesn't it?" She

got up and went back to the fire.

"Xena!" I said with an open mouth and a sigh. That reaction wasn't quite

what I had anticipated. Her eyes didn't leave the flames as she prodded it with the

poker, keeping a nice, warm fire roaring.

I slid out of bed, leaving the cup on the night stand. I walked up behind her,

my body involuntarily shivering in the frigid air. I stood above her while she poked at

the fire. She looked up and sighed. "I." she started to say before stuttering and

stumbling over her words as she stood up and looked me in the eye.

I placed a finger at her lips to silence her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have

sounded like that. I love everything you do for me."

"You're shivering."

"I'm cold," I said, realizing that all was right again. We each had taken

responsibility for our over-reactions and moved on, knowing grudges between us

was an impossible thing.

"Com'ere," she said, pulling me into an enveloping hug.

I buried my face in her leathers, glad she had waited to put her armor on. It

tended to poke me in the cheek.

My arms snaked around her slender body and pulled her close, enjoying both

the immediate physical warmth I received as well as the warm fuzzy feeling my

spirit got as it touched hers. "Did you feel that?" I asked, wondering if it was just the

same energy you got as you scuffed your feet across a rug in winter.

"Yeah. It felt nice," she said with an audible smile.

"Yeah. It does." I paused. "Xena, you sure you're up to traveling tonight?" I

asked, not sure if I liked hitting the road so soon after her having a fever.

"I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"First sign of me getting worse, you say the word and we'll pull over and find

a place for the night, ok?"

I smiled. That was more than fair and certainly more than I had expected.


"Will you help me with my armor? I always have trouble with that damned

bracer," She said, referring to her right arm bracer that she couldn't ever get quite

snug enough with her left hand. She ran her hands up and down my chilled back as

she spoke, warming me up with a simple act.

"Do you really have to ask?" I teased, kissing the patch of bare skin on her

arm and watching goose bumps form.

She chuckled and squeezed me tighter before releasing me. "Come on. Let's

get going, huh?"

I smiled, glad of the way things were between us. They had changed slightly.

Enough so that we could explore our new relationship without feeling awkward or

out of place.

"You know, I'd feel a lot better if you wore your pants," I said while lacing up

her bracer.

She rolled her eyes. "I don't think so, Gabrielle."

"Please? You're still getting over being so sick. I would consider it a personal

favor," I said, leaning in front of her and batting my lashes flirtatiously. I saw her

crack. "Please?" I said again.

"Fine!" She threw up her hands. "But if we get in a fight and I have to do a

kick and my pants split, I'd better not hear you laugh!"


Chapter 23


She wore the black leather pants that I had given her a few winters ago. Her

armor breastplate fit snugly across her leathers and went nicely with her pants. She

let the skirted piece hang over the waist of the pants, so her outfit wasn't much

different than normal; only her legs being covered.

"You look cute," I said as she finished adjusting the lacings of the pants.

"I don't do cute, Gabrielle," she said, ignoring my snicker of disagreement.

"Oh, you most certainly do," I said, stepping into my own leggings and tying

them off, glad of their warmth on such a cold day. The snowing seemed to have

stopped, but the wind was blustery and biting. "You do cute quite often!"

She chuckled. "If you say so."

"I say so! Besides, I wouldn't mind if I was the only one who considered you

cute. I know that'll never be the case, but I wouldn't mind. It just means no good

looking warrior will come along and steal your affections," I said with a small laugh

as I slid into my warm woolen gray sweater, a present last Solstice from Ephiny.

"First, no one is going to steal me affections. They're all yours." She said,

walking over and flipping up the collar on the sweater. "Secondly, that's a good

color on you," she said, walking over and handing me two of our six saddle bags.

"Thanks," I said, blushing. She bumped me with her hip playfully. I chuckled

and bumped her back, bouncing off the solid surface of her body. "Oof."

She laughed. "You should know better than that by now," she teased.

"You're right, I should," I agreed, lacing the top of my sweater high against

my neck and reaching for the cloak Xena held out for me. It sat on my shoulders

over top of the saddle bags I was carrying and buckled at my neck. "Think I've got

enough layers on?" I asked, feeling like a walking wardrobe. Just about every piece

of clothing I owned was on my body right now.

"No. I think you're missing something," she said with a mischievous smirk.

She reached behind her back and into one of her belt pouches. She pulled out a bit

of a soft cloth bag, sealed with a string. She tossed it to me and I caught it with one

hand in mid air with a chuckle. "You're getting good at that."

"Gotta learn to catch arrows soon," I said with a chuckle as I turned the

pouch over in my hands, "What's this?"

"Just open it, will you?" She said with false annoyance in her voice.

I smiled and chuckled, unable to not laugh at her face as she put on her

cloak, picking up the remaining saddle bags.

I pulled the string and the fabric in my hand unfurled, revealing a ring. The

silver metal glinted in the afternoon sun and there was a bright blue stone, the color

of her eyes, set in the middle.

"" I said, unable to function properly at the site of this

wonderful gift.

"Well, see if it fits, will ya?" she said.


"Go on!"

I hesitated and she sighed, walking over and sliding the metal carefully up

my finger. The feel of the metal against my skin and the twinge of the symbolism

against my heart brought tears to my eyes.

"You didn't have to do this," I said with a smile as I looked at her.

"I know," she said, shrugging it off.

"Its unnecessary, Xena," I said, trying to stave off tears. It was fruitless and

they rolled down my cheeks anyway. "You didn't need to-" I said, but was silenced

by a finger at my lips.

"I know. I wanted to."

"Its beautiful," I managed to say without breaking into happy sobs. "But


"I wanted you to have something that will remind you of me."

"But, you're always around," I said, shaking my head at her.

"But someday I won't be," she said. "But you'll have this." Her fingers rotated

the ring on my finger, spinning it lightly and

I shook my head fiercely. "No. It wouldn't matter. My possessions would be


She frowned, wiping the tears off my cheek with a callused, yet remarkably

soft thumb. "Please don't say that."

"Its true. You're my heart. If you leave, Xena, I don't have anything to.I

wouldn't be able to." I trailed off, not knowing exactly how to phrase it.

"You really mean that?" she asked, cutting me off.

I nodded, genuine in my words. My hand covered hers on my cheek. She

blushed and looked up at the ceiling, obviously at a loss for words.

I smiled, looking down at the fierce blue stone on my finger and then back at

the identically blue eyes that were the window to the soul I cherished. "Its perfect.

Thank you," I said, "Come down here for a second," I stood on tip toe, pulling her

head down a bit so I could reach her lips. I brushed my lips across hers, testing and

tasting in wonder. This is mine, I thought, proud by the fact that she had just given

me such a deep symbol of her heart. I earned this. She trusts me and I deserve this.

She loves me. She's all mine. I opened my lips against her mouth, pulling and

sampling and suckling. It was a magnificent sensation as our tongues intertwined

and twirled about. They chased and taunted, one being pulled in with slight urgency

and then the other being suckled on with loving care. It was highly enticing and

deeply thrilling. I smiled against her lips as she broke off to catch her breath.

"I'm beginning to think that you've had more practice at that than you're

letting on!" Her blue eyes spoke volumes as she spoke breathlessly in a voice that

was low and sensuous.

I snickered a bit. "Nope. I guess I'm just naturally talented."

"Lucky me," she said, leaning in again. This time it was me who broke off the


I smiled and held the finger with the ring on it between us. I studied it for a

moment, marveling at the match in the stone's color and her eyes, before sliding

away and reaching into the saddle bag and pulling out her surprise gifts. "You know,

now I don't feel so bad about buying you this." I handed the bundles to her. She

looked at them and then at me.

"I thought you were waiting till Solstice."

"I lied. Open them," I urged, hoping beyond hope that she'd like the presents.

She sat on the edge of the bed, peeling away the tie that held the bundle

shut. She unfolded the layers and stopped suddenly as the silver that was inside

glinted up at her. "You must have spent hours bargaining for this, Gabrielle!" she

said in awe, fingering the bracelet with the red inlays.

"Not that long," I said casually, not sure if she was pleased.

She stared at the strand of silver beads that lay in front of her. "They're

beautiful. Thank you."

Were those tears in her eyes? Did I just make the Destroyer of Nations get

teary eyed? In a matter of mere moments I was kneeling at her feet, watching her

try to compose herself. "Xena..Xena?"

"I.I didn't expect this," she said, looking at with quiet wonder in her eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't think you'd do this. Buy me things. They're so beautiful, Gabrielle.

You don't have this kind of money to spare. You should have saved it and not spent

it on me," she said.

"You're worth it," I said, my hand resting lightly on her knee.

"But.I don't wear jewelry," she said, grasping at straw faults.

"I saw you admiring the set and I thought I'd get it for you. It'll look good on

you, too. And it won't kill you to get dressed up for a night. Maybe we can make a

night of it at the Amazon village. You can wear a dress made from this," I said,

handing her the other surprise; yardage of the maroon fabric she had hand-picked

at the weaver's stand. "And wear your jewelry and I'll borrow something fancy from

Ephiny and we'll go out at the festival and be the life of the party. Throw all the

other Amazons off their keel because we'll look so stunning."

She smiled. "You really want me to have all this?"

"I really want you to have all this. Honest."

"Why? I just don't understand," She asked, looking at me weirdly.

I chuckled at bit, "Xena, with all the stuff you've put up with from me, you

deserve a little something nice."

She smiled and let out a small laugh. "Well, when you put it that way."

I laughed and smacked her knee playfully. "Here," I said reaching up and

putting an ear cuff on her ear. "Looks good."


"Oh, yeah."


Chapter 24


It had taken a few more minutes for me to put some of the silver beads into

her hair, braiding it back away from her face and braiding the metal on a few pieces

and into a few loose braids that hung down as well.

The strands of metal beads clanked slightly as we walked.

"Good thing we're not sneaking up on anyone," I teased as Argo plodded

along next to us in the cold. She had taken four of the six saddle bags, leaving one

for me to carry and one for Xena, too.

She turned and smirked at me. "Lets just hope I won't have to stop and fix

my hair before a fight, huh?"

I laughed. "Oh I can see it now!" I said, picturing her making me comb out

her braids and beads before a battle. It caused me to laugh even harder and got a

snicker from my companion as well.

We walked on in silence for a little while, disturbed only by the crunch of the

snow under our feet and a sporadic cough.

Every few coughs I would look at her questioningly or ask if she was feeling

ok. In return, without fail, I would receive a look of annoyance or a short voiced "I'm

fine!" After about the fourth time she bit my head off, so to speak, I sighed and

decided to walk the rest of the night's trek in silence. I would remain concerned

about her even if she was fine and starting a fight really wasn't worth the effort.

The quiet lasted a long while.

Argo snorted and butted Xena with her head, the force causing the warrior to

bump into me with her hip. It threw me off balance and tossed me into a snow drift.

"Oof," I said, falling face first into the snow.

I heard laughter from behind me as I struggled to sit up. A pair of strong

hands clasped my waist and pulled me up. "You ok?" she asked, her hands roaming

over my arms and legs, looking for broken bones.

I smiled a bit. "I'm fine."

I chuckled, realizing that this was the same conversation we had ceased

having, only in reverse.

She smiled at me, breaking the tension. "Sorry I've been so cranky."

"Sorry I've been so over protective," I said.

"You have every right. If you didn't take care of me, no one would," she said

with a small smile.

"You've got a right to be cranky. Its got to be annoying to have someone

check on you every time you sneeze," I said, smiling back.

"Nah, its nice to know you care. I guess I'm just not used to being sick," she


"Well I'm not used to you being sick, either!" I teased with a laugh that she

echoed. A quick but deep felt hug was exchanged, both of us obviously relieved that

the little tiff was over with. "You know, if we walk fast enough, I bet you we can

make it to Cairria before night fall."

"I bet you're right. Let's go," she agreed, knowing that our halfway mark was

a long haul away. Sleeping in the snowy weather wouldn't be a problem because

Xena knew just about every cave around here. But with Argo needing blankets and

fresh fodder, it was always nice to find a nearby village so that the pony could stay

in a warm and dry stall.

Cairria was about a half days walk; a bit less if we rode part way. But Argo

was out of shape having not been ridden in a moon and it wouldn't be fair to her to

ask her to carry two riders for a half day so soon after leaving her vacation in the

stables in Athens.

We'd walk. Sure my legs would ache, as would Xena's. No doubt she'd be

exhausted and fall right into bed when we got to the inn, but it would be worth it.

Another night before we reached her mother's place and Xena could sleep in her

own bed again.

Not as if she had slept there in almost ten years, but it was still her childhood

room and her childhood bed and would still be something that I hoped comforted

her. Besides that, maybe Cyrene could help me get Xena to rest a few more days.

Apparently my companion was under the impression that because her fever had left,

she was now perfectly fine. Hopefully a word from her mother would clear up that

misconception straight away.

"Do you miss her?" I asked, breaking the silence as we walked down the trail,

wool covered shoulders touching.


"You're mom."

"Yeah. Don't you miss yours?"

"Not really. You're more of a family to me than they ever were," I said to her

with a small smile.

"Really? Guess that makes my family your family, too, huh?"

I smiled. "I'd love to have your mom! I bet she was get when you were

growing up."

She shrugged. "I wouldn't know."

I frowned. "Whaddaya mean?"

"I left home when I was 15 or so. Before that, she wasn't around much. She

spent all her time running the inn and I helped. There wasn't much interaction.

When we weren't waiting on customers, we were asleep. Then Cortese came and I

left with Lyceus and Toris and joined the army in the fight."

"So you never spent much time with her?"

"Not a lot. She was always there when I needed her, but we didn't have much

spare time together," she said in an even tone.

"She's a good woman, Xena," I said, "I know because if she wasn't, you

wouldn't be such a good woman."

"I'm hardly what you'd call good," she said with a chuckle.

"I would. You do the right thing. You know the difference between good and

bad and while you sometimes do a little bad to be able to do good, the end result is

the same. Its not the path you walk so much as the place you wind up in the end," I


She looked at me. "Since when did you get so profound?"

I giggled. "I've always been this profound. You've just never noticed it


She laughed and it echoed off the tree tops. It was a happy sound that

warmed my heart.


Chapter 25


"There it is," I said, seeing the candle lit village in the distance.

"Looks cozy."

"I think a freezing cave would look cozy right about now," I agreed, pulling

my cloak tighter around me.

The frigid wind had over taken the blustery snow and, it seemed, the snow

had retreated back to its corner in defeat. The icy air bit hard. My nose was cold. A

while ago I had given my saddle bag to Argo to carry and since then both my numb

hands had found their way inside my cloak; one of them tucked under my arm and

the other gripping the wool shut.

She looked over at me, noting my huddled form. "Pretty much anything with

a fire place, huh?" She teased, knowing that I loved the way a huge fire warmed a


"Anything with a fire and you," I replied with a cheeky grin.

She upped an eyebrow and her hand snaked out of her cloak and came

around my shoulder, pulling me so we finished our journey hip to hip.


"I don't even have the energy to get undressed," I said to an empty room.

She was at the stables taking care of Argo. A fire had already been made in the

room and the bed linens were nicely turned down.

The inn was clean and the tavern next door was placid as far as taverns go.

The bed smelled richly of spices; obviously ones used to keep the sheets smelling

fresh since line drying them in a snow storm wasn't a good idea.

I set my saddle bags down near the hearth and my cloak hung on a hook in

the corner. My staff, as always, rested by my side. It was a habit deeply ingrained

into my mind and the hard wood had become as much an extension of me as Xena's

sword was an extension of her own strong hand.

It used to strike me as odd that we were both so emotionally attached to our

weapons. She would get livid if someone did so much as scratch her sword and I

would get equally as upset if anything happened to my staff. After mulling over my

anger one day I came to realize that what other people saw as cumbersome

weaponry, we viewed as intricate pieces of our lives. It came with the job and giving

up our way of life was something I wasn't ready to do just yet.

I sat down in one of the comfortably made chairs, still dressed in all my many

layers. My feet tucked up under me and I rested my head on the back of the chair,

closing my eyes out of pure exhaustion.

The transition from the cold outdoors to the nicely heated inn's room was

drastic. The roaring fire kept the room more than toasty and my body didn't have

the time to compensate the temperature change and I was quickly becoming over


I heard the door open and shut but heard no footsteps. Only one person I

knew could walk soundlessly and I trusted her completely. I didn't even need to

open my eyes to know that she had returned from the barn. I heard a soft rustling of

fabric and the sound of two boots hitting the floor. She padded lightly over to my

chair and knelt down in front of me. I cracked an eye and saw two dazzling blue ones

sparkling back at me.

"Argo down for the night?" I asked quietly.


"You hungry?"

She shook her head. "Not really. You?"

"Too tired to be hungry," I said with a chuckle.

"You're not hungry? I'll call the healer!" She said teasingly.

"Shut-up," I groaned, nudging my foot out and gently kicking her with it.

She smiled and grabbed my foot, undoing the boot's lacing. It fell softly to

the floor and she took the other foot doing the same. She reached up and tugged at

my sweater. I put all my energy into getting my hands above my head so she could

take the now too-warm sweater off my body.

The woolen shirt slid off my over heated body and was promptly tossed to

the floor. "Here," she said, sliding a linen shift over my arms and pulling it down.

"Feels good," I muttered, loving the softness of the fabric.

"I thought it might," she replied. She tugged at the lacing of my leggings,

sliding them over my hips and down my thighs with ease. They rode down my legs

and off my feet with little trouble and soon I was enjoying the cool air against my

skin. She leaned her head down, resting it on my leg above my knee. Her finger's

made little stroking motions on my skin and what seemed like a contented sigh

escaped from her lips. My hand ventured down to her hair and softly stroked her

dark locks.

"If we weren't so tired, that whole undressing thing could have been fun," I

said softly to her.

She smiled. "Maybe when we get to mom's we'll be able to rest a bit."

"I don't care how rested I get, I am not having that kind of fun at your

mother's, Xena!" I said. "Those walls aren't that thick!"

Her laugh, surely, could be heard two rooms over and she blushed to the

roots of her hair. "Gabrielle!" she chastised through her laughter.

"What?" I said giggling. "Its true!"


"Oh, since when have you been modest about that?" I asked logically. She

wasn't opposed to listing sexual conquests when it suited her purpose.

"I wouldn't brag about being with you," she said. "You're wouldn't be a

conquest, Gabrielle."

"Really? How do you figure?" I asked, my heart warmed by her small

admission. I wound a piece of hair around my finger and marveled at how wonderful

it was to just sit quietly with her.

She looked up at me, eyes full of honesty. "It'd just be different."

"What do you mean?" I asked, not following.

"It'd be different with you," she said.

I bit off a huge grin. "Yeah? How so?" I asked, my heart leaping.

"It would actually mean something. More than just a war-game," She said


I caught her eye and I saw something flicker behind it. Maybe now wasn't the

time to ask what had made that bit of emotion run so close to the surface.

She leaned down and kissed my leg. "When I was with my army, sex was

something that happened all the time. I used people to get what I wanted. Supplies,

weapons, tactical positions, victories; you name it and I got it with my body. I never

thought twice about it. I didn't have the time or the reason." She paused, her

thoughts seemed to draw her back and it looked like she was struggling to stay on

top of them.

I stroked her back more, letting her continue at her own pace. Damned if I

was going to push her through one of the most deep and intimate talks we'd ever


"Sex was just as common as dinner, Gabrielle," She sighed and leaned down,

lightly kissing my leg again.

I ran my hand up to her neck, kneading out the tension I found there. The

silence was thick but not uncomfortably so. "Have you had many women?" I asked.

"What?" She said, spinning around and looking me in the eye as if I were


I repeated myself deadpan. "Have you had many women?"


"I think its a fair question!" I said with a grin. My hands found their way to her

face and a finger traced a path across her cheek, loving the texture of her skin. So


"I." she stuttered.

"Never mind," I said, smiling and brushing it off with a shrug.

She paused and turned so her entire body faced me. "You've got to

understand," she paused, her face tumultuous, "I was barely scraping by at first and

my army was starving! I owed those men everything I could give them. And.if the

only way for me to get that was to use my body to my advantage, it wasn't fair to

them for me to put my scruples before their hungry stomachs. I did what I had to do.

Then I learned that I could use sex to my benefit. I could take what they were

offering, turn it away, and then have them begging for me!" her eyes shone with

hidden uncertainty.

I grinned a bit and reached out, my fingers covering hers. She held my hand

as if it were a life line.

She sighed, "I did what I had to do. Men or women it didn't matter, Gabrielle.

If I needed it and they had it, gender wasn't a problem."

I leaned over and kissed her lightly, a deeper understanding of my friend

burned into my soul. She pulled back a bit, puzzled.

"You don't mind?"

I shrugged. "I knew you had been with people, Xena. Men and women. I know

its a thing that warlords do. Its a part of the life," I explained. "To begrudge you your

past is stupid. Its something I can't do. I wasn't around to change it and being mad

at you now isn't going to help anything."

"You sure?" She asked, obviously not trusting that I was taking this so easily.

My fingers rested on her pulse point and I could feel the flutter of her heart as she

doubted both herself and me.

It was true that my insides were a bit in knots over the idea of her having

slept with so many people other than me. Probably that jealous streak that was

showing up more and more.

What I could muster probably wasn't convincing, but the small smile that I

gave her was all I had to offer at the moment. I nodded slightly. Why lie? To save her

pain. Truly there's no hiding things from her so I should just save us both the

trouble, I thought before opening my mouth to speak. "I'm sure I love you, Xena, all

of you. That includes your past and all your experiences that help make up who you

are. I.I asked and you gave me an honest answer," I said hesitantly.

It was clear on her face that she didn't think much of my response. "How

much does this bother you,?"

I faltered again. "Just enough for me to be self conscious." Honest was the

best policy with us, right?

She frowned. "I won't have that."

I smiled, "I'll get over it," I said, kissing her and exploring her mouth. "It'll just

take time," another probing kiss, "and a bit of practice," again I found my tongue in

her mouth, "until I feel that I meet up to your prior experience."

When we parted it was quite obvious that her breathing had shallowed and

her face paled slightly, "I can honestly say, Gabrielle, that no one has ever made me

feel the way you do with just a few kisses."

I blushed, "Maybe that's because no one's loved you the way I do," I said


She shook her head. "More because I've never loved anyone the way I love

you," she countered, making my heart leap into my throat and my face blush

deeply. She touched my cheek again, "I want to know if you're upset. I want to fix it

if I can," she said.

I looked down, trying to find the right words. The evaded me and I was stuck

muddling by with only adequate phrases. "I'm not upset." I blushed deeply, figuring

that I should just get it out now. "I'm inexplicably jealous."

"You shouldn't be," She said, stroking my cheek with her thumb.

"I know. I know there's no real reason, but.I can't help it."

She leaned it, resting her forehead against mine. "I'm all yours, Gabrielle.

They didn't matter. No one else ever will," she said, her blue eyes boring into my

own. I looked, searching their depths for some small thing that would make my

jealousy validated. Nothing. Nothing to hold onto but the overwhelming love that

shone back.

I chuckled, letting the wave of enviousness roll off me and allowing her warm

presence to engulf my tired soul.

"Who was it we were talking about?" I said, purposefully forgetting about her

previous lovers. My hand traced small patterns down her cheek, neck, and chest,

admiring the tanned skin of her torso. I felt her pulse quicken and watched as her

eyelids involuntarily fluttered. I didn't suppress my chuckle as I watched her


She smiled a small bit. "You're an awfully quick learner, you know that?"

I blushed. "Well I hope so! I've got a few things to learn, don't I?" I smiled and

let my hand travel along her collar bone, tracing the freckled flesh.

She chuckled before turning serious and reverting back to the previous

conversation. She tucked a finger under my chin and lifted my eyes to meet hers.

"You do know that it wouldn't be like that with you, don't you?"

Her eyes bore through to my soul and I saw nothing but honesty. I smiled

fully, glad to have earned such a wonderful position in her heart. "That's nice to

know." She smiled again, and returned to her earlier position, her cheek resting

against my leg. I felt her muscles pull up and her lips tug into a grin that didn't quit

for a while.

"Xena?" I asked after a few moments of amiable silence.

"Mm?" she murmured as I stroked her scalp with my fingers, scratching


I ran my hand up and down her back in a soothing motion, "It'll be perfect."


Chapter 26


"You ready for bed?" I asked, her breathing having softened out to the point

where she could have been mistaken for asleep.

"Do I have to?" She asked. "I'm comfy here."

I chuckled and muttered around a yawn; "If I could carry you, I would."

She sighed. "I suppose I'll have to move eventually."

"You can curl up like this on the bed if you want," I laughed. She was so cute

when she was as open as right now.

She rolled her eyes. "And I suppose you're going to steal the covers again


Oh boy. Another one of my bad habits revealed. I blushed. "I can sleep on the


"I think not," she said, standing up. One of her strong arms found its way

behind my back and the other under my knees.

I let out a feeble squeal and decided it wasn't worth the protest. My elbow fit

nicely around her neck as she carried me to the bed. "Its not as if I haven't slept on

the floor before," I muttered to her, my head lolling off on her shoulder.

She smirked at me and deposited me with care on the cushy bed. I didn't let

go causing her to roll onto the bed with me. I rolled over on top of her, straddling her

hips. "And just what do you think you're doing?" she asked.

"I am getting," I said, pulling her leather tunic off her arms, "you undressed."

She quirked an eyebrow at me and I quirked one right back, perfectly imitating her.

She chuckled and I felt the rise and fall of her ribcage under me. It was a very

unique feeling that caused me to smile broadly. "Do you have a problem with that?"

I asked, leaning down to nibble on some wonderfully attractive collarbone. I felt,

rather than heard, a groan. "I'll take that as a no."

I slid her pants down her legs, loving every minute of it. I stopped and

nibbled at bit around her belly button, getting a raised eyebrow and another groan

in reply. I grinned and continued my assault on her waistline.

"You're barbaric," she muttered, getting her armor pieces off in quite a hurry.

Her rushed motions made me laugh. "Take your time," I said, moving up and

kissing her deeply and letting out tongues dance. "I'm not going anywhere."

She smiled and ran her hands down my hips, tugging on my shift a bit.

"This isn't fair," she said, trying to finish getting her armor off and getting her

out of her leathers.

"Is it my fault you decided to wear your armor?" I teased, watching her

fingers fumble with a clasp. I received a wry look in reply and I chuckled as I reached

up and undid the clasp she was fussing with. "There," I said, placing the shoulder

piece on the night table. It was the last of her armor and now she was left in just her

leathers and leggings. I slid off her lap, allowing her to roll off the bed.

She peeled her leathers off, hanging them by the fire to dry as they were

currently a bit wet from melted snow. I threw her a shift and she pulled it on, taking

the marvelous view of her naked body from my eyes. The bed dipped under her

weight as she settled back down on her spot. As she lay down, her arm folded out,

inviting me in to what had recently become "my spot."

It was an unspoken understanding that neither of us were ready. I didn't have

to say anything and she didn't either. I knew that there were still things we had to

talk about. I knew that there were still wounds that had to heal between us both

before we could each give ourselves so freely to one another. I didn't push her

because I wasn't ready and she didn't push me because she wasn't ready. With time

we would each find the balance where we could become as much a part of each

other as we could and still remain individuals. It was so close to what we had now,

but yet there was that final hurdle to cross that neither one of us to jump over just

yet. It would happen, no doubt, but it would take a bit more to get us both there.

And it wouldn't be the final step I our relationship, but rather the step that would

open up a whole new path to us both.

Cuddling up at her side and finding the nice patch of warm skin to use as a

pillow, I sighed and let a hand rest on her stomach. The night grew more quiet, it

seemed, as my eyelids became more and more heavy.

"Don't you feel better now that you've changed?" I asked, finding a spot on

the linen of her shift more interesting than it actually was.

"Mm," She agreed, playing with my hair.

"I feel better," I said softly.


Think fast, Gabrielle, "Leather's look uncomfortable to sleep in," I said,

hoping it would work.

"You know they're not that bad. You've slept in your Amazon Leathers

before," she said while allowing her fingers to knead me neck. "What's the real


I looked at her bluer than blue eyes. "I don't like it. It just really bothers me

when you do that," I admitted shyly.

"Why," she asked, her hand moving down to caress my neck slowly.

I paused, not really sure why it bothered me so much. All these times it had

just been a deeply inherent dislike for watching her sleep in her traveling clothes.

And then, like a rock to the butt, it hit me. "Because you're always ready to

leave. You're weapons are close and you sleep in your armor and." I paused, trying

to find the proper words to fit my feelings. I looked down at her taut stomach

muscles, watching them ripple as she inhaled and exhaled. "You're always so ready

to leave."

Her fingers stilled on my skin and one hand moved around to under my chin,

making me look at her angular face and get lost in her eyes.

"Are you afraid I'm going to leave you?"

I shrugged.

"Gabrielle?" she asked again, trying to get a straight answer out of me.

"I." I couldn't admit to that. I wouldn't admit to that. She didn't need any

guilt over me. I cleared my throat, dislodging the lump that had settled there, "You

need to get some sleep."

Subject change. That might work.

She sighed and I saw pain in her eyes. Did I cause that? I certainly hope not.

"Gabrielle?" she said, her hand stroking my hair from my face in what was a

very soothing gesture.

Or not.

"Mm?" I moaned, not needing to form a real word to convey my expression.

"I'm not going to leave you," she said softly. "I promise."

I smiled. "Good. I don't know what I'd do with myself if you did," I said with a

bit of a chuckle as I kissed her shoulder, snuggling closer as she pulled the warm

quilt up over us both.


Chapter 27


Outside a rooster crowed. Apparently snow didn't keep farm animals from

acting as alarm clocks.

I groaned and tried to bury myself deeper into the warm shoulder that was

being used as my pillow. A hand roamed up and down my back and through the

linen fabric I felt warm fingers tracing small patterns. Another groan escaped my lips

but this was definitely one of pleasure and not annoyance.

I yawned and stretched my legs. "Good morning to you, too," I said as she

played with the hem of my shift.

She chuckled. "Ready to go see mom?"

"That requires moving," I said lazily. "And to be honest, I am quite

comfortable right here."

"I could carry you, if you'd like," she offered, a finger edging under my tunic

and slyly maneuvering along my lower back.

"I'll volunteer to ride Argo before I let you carry me all the way to

Amphipolis," I said, trying to bite off a laugh as she tickled the small of my back.

"You're volunteering to ride?" she asked skeptically.

I squirmed and laughed as she continued to torment my back. "Only if you

ride with me," I said, finally admitting my small secret of loving double riding.

She chuckled again, "I think that can be arranged."


My layers of clothing could have been absent and I wouldn't have known the

difference for what I was hugging was surely more warming than any fabric.

"You doing ok?" she asked, one hand rubbing my knee through all the folds

of cloth.

"I'm great. How are you?" I asked, squeezing a bit with my arms.

She chuckled against my wrists. "I'm fine. I think Argo'll make it to

Amphipolis, too."

"Good. I'm way too cozy to get down," I said, leaning up and kissing the back

of her neck where her cloak hood had fallen.

Time seemed to pass as slowly as the snow drifted to the ground. The air

whistled through the trees and the white drifts resembled the normally green rolling



"Yeah?" I said, caught off guard. She wasn't usually the one to start a


"Do you..think there are things we should talk about but don't?" she asked,

hesitating at first and then almost rushing all the words out.

I knew what she was talking about. Surprisingly enough, approaching the

subject didn't sting as much as I had it didn't sting as much as I had thought. "Its not

like we shouldn't ever talk about certain things. Its just that we kinda choose not to,"

I said with a small sigh.

"Do we really have to?"

"Yeah. Eventually we do."

"It still hurts," she said softly.

"It still hurts me, too."

She sighed and dropped her head down before speaking. "It wasn't your

fault. I want you to know that."

I smiled a bit, a great weight having been taken off my shoulders. "That

means a lot, Xena."

"Does it?"

"Yeah. It really does. Just because I never bring it up doesn't mean I don't

think about it. I think about Solon everyday," I admitted a bit hesitantly.

"I do too," she said softly. "Its nice to remember him even though I didn't

know him that well."

"I wish you had known him longer."

"It was such a waste, Gabrielle. Its such a waste for any child to die!" She

said with a touch of anger in her voice.

I looked down at the snow, watching Argo's feet fall and crunch through the

virgin white. "Yeah," was all I could manage to say. Hope wasn't something I could

even talk about due to all my conflicting emotions. Besides that, Hope and Solon, I'd

readily admit, were two different situations. Each our children, but very different

children to say the least.

"If I could have I mean. If I could have another baby, I think I'd

do things differently," she said very hesitantly.

"You were a great mother, Xena. He just didn't know it. If you had another

baby, you'd be a great mother to it, too," I said, recalling my comment earlier in the

market about how a fabric made her look pregnant. "Do you want another baby?" I

asked, not even sure if that was something we should talk about.

I watched from the side as her mouth opened, seemingly of its own accord.

Then it shut. Opened again and then shut. She thought for a few minutes this time

before the wonderfully shaped lips opened and said softly, "I don't know."

I smiled. "I think you should think about it," I tapped her ribs lightly, getting

her attention and letting her know I was serious.

"But we're on the road so much, Gabrielle. That's no place to raise a baby.

And I don't think my lifestyle is something that is good for a kid to see on a daily

basis." she faltered again.

"Think about it for a few weeks, Xena. This isn't something that you should

make a snap judgment on. If you really want another baby, you could do it. You

could settle down somewhere for a few years. Just long enough for the child to be

old enough to travel. Put away the sword for a while," I said even though the idea of

Xena without her weapons was a seemingly silly one.

"Where would I go?" she asked me, looking back at me as if I had a third eye

growing from my forehead.

The idea wasn't all that preposterous. It was do-able if it was something she

really wanted. The only problem was her deciding if she really wanted this or if it

was just guilt over Solon.

"You could stay with the Amazons."

"I'm not an Amazon," she said. "I wouldn't just be allowed to stay for a few


"You're my champion and that makes you an Amazon. But.some of the rules

are might not be a full fledged Amazon, But I am." I said with a

twinkle in my eye. "And not only am I an Amazon." I said, leaning against her

shoulder with purpose.

She caught my meaning and finished my sentence for me. ".But you're the

queen!" She rolled her eyes and chuckled. "You really think it would work?"

"Yeah. I do. If its something you really want."

"No. Its a silly idea. Something horrible would happen and the whole thing

would fall apart," she disagreed, showing her usual pessimistic self shining through

at full force.

"Xena, think about it. We'll work out the details later. If you want to settle

down, let me know. After all, aren't you the one who's always saying that I need

village life to be truly happy?" I teased.

"You'd stay with me?" she asked incredulously.

"Of course! This kid will need two parents, wouldn't it?" I asked, leaning up

and kissing her cheek as she gawked over her should in stunned silence. "What?

Don't look at me like that! You stuck by me when I was pregnant with Hope. It might

have only been a day long, but that didn't matter," I said with a smile. "Its the same


She snickered. "You know, we're missing something to this whole plan."

"What's that?" I asked, thinking that everything had already been covered.

"A father."


Chapter 28


A small woman, almost shorter than I, with hair that had once been as dark

as Xena's, stood on the front porch of a large log building. A colorful wrap hung from

her shoulders, obviously forcing away the winter wind.

"Gabrielle?" She asked me, a bit hesitant.


"My mother is waiting for me on the porch," she said with a frown.

"Yeah? And?"

"I'm 30!" she said with exasperation.

I laughed, trying not to fall over as we walked the last bit through the open

field to the inn.

"Its not funny!" She insisted as we continued closer to the building.

"Its very funny, Xena," I said. At least her mother was considerate enough to

wait up for her daughter. My mother never did.

She scowled at me. I ignored her look, reaching my hand high above my

head and waving to my partner's mother. She waved back, her shawl slipping down

her shoulders slightly.

"You go talk to your mother, I'll take care of Argo," I insisted, taking the reins

from Xena and practically shoving her out of the way.

"But that's my pony!" she said, whining in a very un-Xena-like way.

"That," I said, pointing at the inn's porch, "Is your mother. She's the next

step up from Argo," I said, receiving a warm nose butted into the small of my back.

"Its not personal," I said to the horse, steering her away from the inn and to the back


The smell of warm hay greeted us as we entered through the large door. I

found the stall in the back that seemed to usually be empty and where Argo had

stayed previously and allowed the mare to preceed me in. Grabbing a section of hay

and tossing it at her feet, the door swung shut behind me. I went through the

surprisingly relaxing routine of removing her tack and grooming her and making

sure that the faithful horse was taken care of for the night before I headed back out

into the wind storm and towards the inn.

The smell of richly spiced food hung on the afternoon air and I could feel the

warmth of the inn's fire before I even opened the door, something I didn't end up

doing as it was done for me. Two strong hands grabbed me and pulled me inside to

the warmth of the main room.

"Get out of that wet cloak right now, young lady," I heard. I looked up slightly

into a pair of familiar blue eyes looking back at me. I lifted an eyebrow, not sure how

to react. "Well, I won't have you getting sick! Come sit next to Xena by the fire,"

Cyrene said, pulling my cloak off and shoving me lightly towards the fireplace. I

landed in Xena's lap, my legs wild.

She chuckled, "Comfy? Mom, I see you've re-met Gabrielle."

The older woman nodded slightly and scurried off toward the kitchen,

obviously torn in 50 million directions at once.

I frowned at her and wiggled off her too comfortable lap and onto the hearth

near her feet. "Is she always that motherly? And that busy?" I asked, not having

gotten that kind of attention from my own mother.

"It seems so," she replied, a hand lazily reaching out and pushing the snow

flaked hair back from my forehead.

"Must be where you get it from," I said with a smile.

"I am not motherly," she disagreed, her fingers straightening out the collar of

my sweater.

"You most certainly are!" I said, indicating her hands.

She pulled back as if she hand been burned. A look of realization came over

her face and she frowned.

I reached my hand up to her knee and let it rest there. "I kinda like it," I

admitted, my thumb absently stroking the fabric of her legging.

She blushed just as her mother came out of the kitchen with two mugs of

steaming tea in her hands. "You two must be chilled to the bone!" Cyrene said. She

handed us our mugs and then disappeared, hustling about and tending to the

customers that had straggled in behind me.

"You did have a cloak when you came in, didn't you?" I asked Xena with a


"She took it," she muttered.

"I'm sorry? I didn't quite hear that," I prodded, trying to start something.

What, exactly, I still wasn't sure.

"You heard me. She took it."

"The Destroyer of Nations had her cloak stolen by her Mommy?" I teased.

She tried to give me "the look" but it just didn't happen and I watched her

laugh lines wrinkle as she refrained from chuckling. "You don't seem to have a cloak

either," she said, pointing out the obvious and waggling a finger at me.

I chuckled. "I know. She took mine, too. I think it means she wants us to

stay," I teased.

"Like when a puppy tugs on your boot laces when you try to leave?" She

asked, in a conspiring whisper.

I laughed, barely avoiding spewing tea out my nose.

"Stop," I said, smacking her on the leg just as her mother approached.

"Did you two have lunch yet?" she asked, wiping her hands on her apron.

I shook my head no. "I just wanted to get in and out of the cold," I admitted.

"How does stew sound then?" she said, looking between the two of us.

I didn't comment, allowing Xena the chance to decide. She glanced at me

and then back at her mother. With a smile and a laugh, "It'd sound nicer if you let us


The graying woman shrugged slightly and waved Xena's comment off. "No

can do. Its already made."

"I want to help," Xena said, rising from her seat on a footstool.

"We want to help," I corrected, grabbing my companion's wrist and hauling

myself to my feet.

Cyrene frowned. "You both look exhausted. You can help with breakfast after

a good night's sleep," she said, her tone resembling someone else's no-nonsense

voice. "Your room's where you left it, Xena. Go take a nap, dear, and I'll wake you

for dinner." And with that, Xena's mom was back hustling about, waiting on her

tavern's customers.

I reached up and gently closed Xena's mouth which hung open. "You'll catch

flies," I said softly.

"Staying in my room?"

"What did you think? She was charging admission to see the room where the

Warrior Princess grew up?"

"I didn't think she'd kept it! I thought it would have been cleaned and rented

out. She needs the rooms!" Xena said, obviously dumbfounded.

"Xena. You're her daughter. I know what she said when you came back,

but." I paused, "If it had been Solon's room, would you have rented it out no matter

what he did?" I asked, knowing that would explain it.

She looked down at me in wonder. "No. I should know better, huh?"

"She'll forgive you. She'll make you do dishes for two days straight, but she'll

forgive you," I teased, elbowing her softly in the ribs right before yawning. The lack

of sleep I had gotten while she was sick was still catching up with me. "She's right,

Xena, I'm tired. Show me this room of yours?"

She walked to the back corner of the inn and passed through the pantry to

what appeared to be the living quarters. Cyrene's room, identified by the curtain of

beads that hung in the door frame, was off to the right, and faced the barn.

Xena paused, facing the last door on the hall.

"This one?" I asked, my hand resting on her back.

She nodded and her fingers tightened on the latch, lifting and opening the

door to her room.

The bed, long and wide enough, possibly, for two, was carved from rich oak

and a matching set of shelves hung above the bed. The headboard rested flush with

one wall and the side of the bed flush with the adjoining wall, leaving only the one

side to get in and out of bed from. I walked over to the fire place that was tucked in

the far corner of the room and giving a rounded effect to the room's structure. On a

shelf over the bed sat a small knife, obviously used for whittling as next to it lay a

piece of wood, half-carved.

A pencil sketch of a young boy hung above the mantle, framed in an

intricately carved piece of wood. Twirling vines and ivy swirled through the design,

highlighting the beautifully done drawing.

At first glance it seemed to be a picture of Solon. My heart leapt into my

throat and I forced myself to do a double take, realizing only on a second careful

look that it must have been a drawing of Xena's brother, Lyceus.

Moving right along, I thought as I realized that staring at such a close

resemblance of Solon wouldn't be good for my spirit. I continued my small walk

around the room, taking in the atmosphere that helped shape my partner into the

woman I had grown to love.

My fingers traced the bottom line of the mantle that hung over the fireplace

and I barely resisted the urge to remove the stuffed blue rabbit from its perch and

hug it.

"So this is where you grew up, huh?" I asked softly, noting as I walked around

the room, that our saddle bags had been brought in from the barn by a stable boy

and placed near the bed.

"Yeah. This was my room," she said softly, sitting down on the edge of the


Patch-worked squares of brightly colored fabric made up the covering of the

bed. It was obviously well worn and much cared for, smelling faintly of dried flowers.

"Looks to me like its still your room," I said with a smile, sitting down next to

her and resting my head on her shoulder. Her arms wound around me and I was

comfortably pulled into her lap. "How's it feel to be home?" I asked her, my hand

reaching up and tracing her cheek line.

"I've been home, Gabrielle. For the past three years, I've been home and

loved every moment of it."

My breath caught in my throat and my hand slipped down and gripped her

leathers for support. I tucked my face into the crook of her neck and just bared my

soul to the knowledge that she needed nothing but me to feel at peace.


Chapter 29


She stretched her legs, her knees cracking loudly as they settled back into


"Feel better?" I teased having woken up at her movements.


The sun was still fairly high in the sky and my guess was that we hadn't slept

for more than an hour or so.

My arms wrapped around her middle and I pulled her closer, relishing in the

contact of our still-clad bodies.

"I slept in my leathers," she said a bit sheepishly as I nuzzled my head under

her chin.

"I know."

"You upset?"

I shrugged a bit. "No. You would have woken me if you'd moved," I smiled

against her throat.

"So that's why you do that? To make sure I don't leave?"

She was teasing and I knew it. I felt her hands shift up to my lower back and

she scratched lightly, "To make sure you don't leave, yes. And because you're a

very, very comfortable pillow," I said before turning slightly and suckling on her neck

in a really tasty spot.

She chuckled as I tried to nibble a piece of skin that, apparently, was a bit

ticklish. I could feel the muscles under her skin jump as I made a little path down

towards the top of her leathers. I decided to be brave and allow my fingers to play

with the edging of the black leather, trailing down and dipping under it, teasing the

skin there.

She reached down and grabbed my hand just as I looked up, about to kiss her

and take it a bit further.

"Wha-?"I started to ask, a finger landing on my lips stalling my words.

"Shh," she hushed me just as a heavy rap hit the door.

"Girls? You awake?" Cyrene called through the door.

"Come in, mother," Xena said just as I rolled off of her stomach, missing the

wall only because Xena's hand stopped my head from smacking into it.

Unfortunately for me, her hand wasn't on my butt which hit the wall at a high

velocity and made me bite my tongue to keep from shouting.

I rolled onto my side, tucking my arm up and letting my head rest on my

hand in a very casual pose. One way to casual for the nervous flutters that were in

my stomach.

Being caught by your mother with your hand in your lover's shirt was very

much like being caught by your mother with your hand in the cookie jar. The only

problem was, I was very aware that my hand had been mere inches from something

that, no doubt, was considerably more tasty than an oatmeal raisin cookie.

"You two didn't have to share such a small room," she said, cracking the door

open and peaking through to see us both on the seemingly narrow bed. Of course,

taking into account the fact that I didn't sleep on the bed, but rather on Xena, the

bed was the perfect size.

"We're used to cramped quarters," Xena muttered, scratching her belly

through her leathers.

"I have a room you can stayed in, Gabrielle," Cyrene said to me, opening the

door the rest of the way and stepping in.

I glanced at Xena, trying to feel her out quickly before answering. I sighed.

On my own again. She had allowed her "I don't give a damn" look to settle over her


"Thanks," I said. "I.if you're sure you don't need to sell it, that is," I said

finally, hoping that would save me from being separated from Xena.

She frowned just as a very odd look crossed her face. A well-used hand

reached up and pushed a lock of graying hair back behind her ear and for a brief

moment I caught a glimpse at what Xena would look like in twenty years or so. It

made me blush a bit, presuming that I'd even be around her that far from now. As

my hand rubbed my cheek absently, trying to remove the red that I knew was there,

I felt a toe easy its way along the front of my calf and I had to bite my tongue to

keep from giggling.

"Well, I could use the rent," Cyrene admitted, still frowning. She rubbed the

back of her hand across her sweat dampened forehead.

I tried not to smile, but I do believe it was in vain as I couldn't resist the grin

that tugged at my lips. "Good. Its settled then. I'll stay here and you'll sell all your


Cyrene chuckled as did Xena and I. "Pushy, isn't she?" Cyrene said to Xena

with a wink at me.

"Oh yeah," Xena said, sitting up, leaning on her elbows. "You busy out


"Dinner crowd's picking up. Snow's bringing them in," Cyrene said, leaning

against the door frame a bit in a way that must have rubbed off on Xena.

I sat up at this, knowing this woman, Xena's mother or not, had to be

exhausted. "I'll come help," I offered, trying to daintily pick my way over Xena's

sprawled body to get out of bed. Realizing that it was useless, I just ended up sitting

on her calves before sliding off the edge.

"Oh, you don't have to," Cyrene said, standing up and brushing her hands on

her apron.

I smiled. "Yes, I do. If you're giving us free room and board during the busiest

time of year, then yes, I do have to help," I insisted, tugging a fresh tunic out of my

bag and trying to decide between a long skirt and a pair of leggings.

Xena chuckled, sliding off the bed and grabbing the leggings from my hand,

placing them in the chest of drawers that rested against the far wall. "Give us just a

few minutes to get unpacked and changed, mother, and we'll both be out to help,"

She paused, turning to look at her mother. "But you'd better not give me my last

job. I refuse to stand over a hot fire and sling hash all night," She said providing her

mother with a first hand glimpse of "the look."

Cyrene stepped forward and whacked Xena on the arm; the slapping sound

reverberating across the room. "I thought I broke you of that look when you were

still a little girl!" she said, waggling a finger at Xena as if she were a naughty puppy.

My knees about gave out as my belly shook with silent laughter.

" break her of that?" I managed to get out with a straight face.

"Well haven't you?" Cyrene asked.

"No!" I said somewhat seriously. "That look has gotten me out of more scraps

than you can imagine," I admitted to her.

Cyrene sighed, her hands on her hips. "Well, as long as it hasn't gotten her

into any trouble.just don't you look at me like that again, young lady!"

Xena sighed and muttered, "Yes, ma'am."

I raised my eyebrows at Cyrene in surprise as she grinned a bit and turned,

shutting the door behind her.

I walked over to Xena's bag, rummaging and pulling out her clothes, tossing

them on the bed.

"Here," I said, finding her one nice long skirt and pulling it out, throwing it at


She caught it in mid air with one hand. "I'm not wearing this!"

"Well you're certainly not wearing your armor out there," I insisted, pulling

my traveling clothes of and stepping into my rich brown leggings and pulling on a

soft cream embroidered shirt she had gotten me last year. The shirt hung down to

the middle of my thigh and I took the two ties that were attached to the sides of the

shirt and pulled them to the back, sinching them and giving the shirt a more

flattering fit.

"And why not?" she asked, stretching out onto her bed and watching me strip

down and change.

"Because you're not going to scare away all of your mother's paying

customers! No weapons, Xena. At least nothing that people can see," I said, knowing

that she didn't feel comfortable without at least a breast dagger on her. "Just

pretend to be the simple village girl." I walked over and she sat up, swinging her

legs off the side of the bed. I straddled her legs and sat down, cupping her face

between my hands and kissing her softly. "Please. Just for while we're here? For


"Gabrielle?" she whined, breaking easily under my soft kisses.

I allowed my thumb to stroke her cheek a bit and I gave her my softest and

most puppy-dogish look. "Xena," I crooned to her, allowing a bit of a somewhat

seductive rumble into my voice.

She sighed and I could see the relenting in her eyes even before I felt her

shoulders sag. "All right."

"Really?" I asked, pulling back a bit and making sure we were agreed. "Boot

daggers and breast dagger. Everything else will stay here?"

"Really. Nothing else," she agreed with a crushed look.

"Oh stop," I said to her, trying to get her to wipe that awful look off her face.

"You know I'll make it up to you later."

"Now, now," She teased, highly inspired by my assurance. "Don't make

promises you don't intend to keep!"

And back came our usual banter. "Oh, I intend to keep it," I said, "I'll make it

up to you." I kissed her, sealing the deal. "Exactly how much does a few nights

without your sword and chakram mean to you, Xena?" I asked, waggling my

eyebrow at her.

She paused, musing it over in her head. "Its worth at least one night of

whatever I want."

I kissed her again. "I can definitely handle that." Trust was not an object for

me. "In fact, I look forward to it," I said with a grin, sliding off her lap and finding her

a matching shirt to go with her skirt.

The skirt was rich in blue hues, starting out deep blue at the waistline and

fading down to a brilliantly light blue, matching her eyes, at the hem. I threw her a

white shirt, one of my own, that had a bright red ribbon that ran around the middle,

weaving in and out of the shirt and making a cinch for the waist.

"How do I look?" she asked, spinning about and letting her skirt flair out a bit.

"Been a while since I wore anything this. dowdy."

"I'd hardly call it dowdy, Xena," I said, barely keeping from drooling over the

scrumptious sight in front of me.

"Oh yeah?"

She never saw herself as I did. Oh yeah, she knew that some people found

her attractive, but she didn't really see exactly what they found to be attractive. And

while I would be the first to admit that she was drop-dead gorgeous, there were

other things that made me love Xena. Her humbleness among them. "Oh yeah," I

enforced, "More appetizing than dowdy."

She chuckled a bit. "Well its good that you think so. Your the only one who's

opinion matters."

I smiled. "You're missing something," I said softly. I stepped forward and

reached up, pulling the beads gently from her hair. I walked back to her bag and

took out the linen wrap that held the silver set I had bought her as a gift. Finding

what I needed, I walked back. "Here, lean down a bit," I said, standing on tip tow and

maneuvering two silver combs through her hair, pulling it gently back from her face

and twisting them so that they held. I stepped back, watching as her face was

framed by, what was to me, the perfect hair style for the perfect outfit for the perfect


I smiled and she returned my grin. I looked around and noticed that the

room, previously spotless, had just been trashed by a bit of unpacking. I sighed.

"You put everything away and I'll go help your mother," I said to Xena, knowing this

would allow her a few moments alone in her room to adjust to everything, including

having to wear "peasant" clothes.

"Hey Gab?" she said as I started to open the door and head to the kitchen.

"Yeah?" I said, turning to her and smiling as I looked over the image of who

she might have been, knowing in my heart that I would have fallen equally in love

despite appearances.


It was simply said but deeply meant, I knew. I smiled, glancing down at the

floor and feeling myself just bubble inside. I nodded at her, "Unpack and then meet

me in the kitchen to help." It was a request, she knew, and I allowed the words to

just roll off my tongue, tasting the sweetness that love gave to language.


Chapter 30


I tossed the fried chicken legs onto the plate that sat before me and scooped

a helping of veggies, too, placing those on the plate. I set them both on the table

and opened my mouth and bellowed: "Order's up!"

I turned around and tossed two more cut-up chickens into the sizzling lard

just as I heard a menacing whisper in my ear.

"You shout that one more time and I'm going to cram those chicken legs up

your nose," she said, her mouth inches away from my ear.

I don't know if it was the feel of her body pressing up against mine or her

voice reverberating in my ear or the mental image of her cramming fried bird up

someone's nostrils, but I shivered.

Her chin rested on my shoulder. "Got me?" She asked, wanting to make sure

I didn't shout anymore things at her from across the crowded inn.

I spun around and placed my hands on her shoulders, looking deep into her

eyes. "Oh I gotcha," I said, leaning up and kissing her full out.

She pulled back and licked her lips while her face pulled into her thinking

look. "Been sampling the sauce?" she asked, leaning down and dipping a finger into

the pot over the fire.

I chuckled. "After walking through all that snow, I can stand to indulge for a

bit without having to worry about putting on weight."

She patted my hip, "If you put on a few pounds, I won't mind." She poked

lightly at the skin.

I smiled a bit and turned back to my cooking, "You're only saying that

because you know that you're going to put on some weight while we're here," I


I didn't even have to turn around to see her scowl.

"Its true!" I said, hearing her grumble a bit. "Last time we were here, you had

trouble fitting into your leathers when we left!" I said, knowing it to be the truth.

She pouted, just as I expected. "Damned Furies," she muttered.

"Don't blame it on them, Xena. You were perfectly fine when you decided to

eat an entire layer cake!" I held out a spoon with the chicken sauce on it and she

dipped her tongue into the rich red liquid.

She swirled it around in her mouth, her brow creasing as she tasted the


"I think I like it on you better," she said, leaning down and nuzzling the back

of my neck as I stirred the sauce and tried to resist turning into her touch.

"You're order's getting cold," I said to her, patting her thigh with my free

hand and trying to get back to our current tasks.

"They'll wait," she said, her hands finding my rib cage and exploring lightly.

Part of me wanted to laugh at her persistence and another part of me wanted

to sigh with exasperation. I turned around again, one hand resting on my apron

covered hip and the other waggling my wooden spoon at her in a very motherly

gesture that I must have picked up somewhere along the line. "Xena, they're going

to start getting rowdy. Then there's going to be a fight, and as much as I love

watching you work, I don't really feel like pulling splinters out of your adorable

behind tonight!"

She frowned, "You are no fun, you know that?"

"Oh yeah?"


I turned around and quickly fixed up another order of chicken and veggies.

The plate clattered to the table, chicken and rehydrated fried green beans rocking


"ORDER'S UP!" I shouted, knowing that drumsticks wouldn't fit up my nose

no matter how hard she tried.


The crackle of the fireplace had a calming effect on me as it always did and I

rested my chin on my folded arms, slouching like an eight year old. The wooden

bench was, no doubt, going to leave marks in my backside as I rested mostly on the

edge, too tired to maneuver my drained body more towards the middle of the


The bench about tipped over backwards when she plopped down next to me,

also putting her weight all on the front corner.

"Whoa!" she muttered, righting the bench with a steadying hand and

chuckling to herself.

"Serves you right," I said softly, trying not to yawn.


"It'd serve you right if we fell over. You didn't really have to break that plate,

Xena," I scolded.

"Let it go, Gabrielle," she muttered, rubbing her eyes with one hand, the

other fingers drumming on the table.

"Well you didn't."

"Let it go!"

"Xena, he didn't mean to-" I said, glaring at her.

"He most certainly meant to!"

"I'm sure it was an accident!"

"His hand did not accidentally squeeze my butt!"

"He said he was reaching for the bread basket!" I protested, having seen the

frail old man's face.

She scowled. "From across the isle?"

I shrugged, "Well, you didn't have to smash the plate over his head!" I


She smirked at me, raising a daring eyebrow. "It was an accident!"

"It was your mother's favorite plate," I countered.

"Its your favorite butt," she said, raising a very good point.

"So if I grabbed it you wouldn't have had a problem?" I said, lifting my chin

from my arms and looking at her teasingly.

"If you grabbed it I would have broken the plate anyway," she said with a


"Oh yeah?"


I smiled, now somewhat glad the man had grabbed her ass. "How do you


"Because you grabbing my butt would have surprised the pants off me,

Gabrielle," she laughed, reaching over and rubbing my lower back and causing me

to emit a low moan of pleasure.

"I think your mom's gone to bed already," I said softly.

"Can you blame her? Its been a long day. Fighting the Persians didn't leave

me this tired," she admitted.

I laughed. "Fighting the Persians didn't leave such a mess, either!" The inn's

main room was a mess. There were still dishes in the large wash-tub in the kitchen

and they'd have to be done in the morning before breakfast could be served.

"Dishes can wait till morning," she said, trying to stifle a yawn.

"Can I just sleep here?" I said softly, not really having the energy to move.

"Nope. That means I would have to sleep here, too, since I have no desire to

sleep without you. And, honestly, I'm looking forward to that nice soft bed."

"You, the queen of finding camping ground with rocks sticking up, is wanting

a bed?" I teased, standing and stretching my sore arms high above my head and

feeling my shoulder pop.

"Those rocks build character," she argued, standing and yawning, reaching

around and untying the apron I had borrowed from Cyrene.

"They build bruises on my back," I complained, lifting the apron over my

head and hanging it on the peg next to the dirty kitchen.

She smirked as we walked into the bedroom. "Well, now that you sleep on

me you won't have to worry about it, will you?"

I thwacked her stomach with the back of my hand and glared up at her.

"Knock it off. Remember who fixes your food out there!" I teased while changing

into my shift.

She peeled out of her food soiled tunic and skirt and flopped onto the bed,

pushing over and letting me curl up in my spot.

"What are you going to do, poison it?" She asked, not even trying to conceal

her yawn.

"Worse. I'll let you cook," I muttered, snuggling into her shoulder.

She chuckled. "We're doomed."


Chapter 31


The creaking of the door handle woke me from my pleasant dream. I cracked

my eyes, my body reflexively staying utterly still. I felt Xena's hand press against my

lower back and I knew that she, too, was awake. I allowed my open eye to remain

merely a slit as I watched the door open and Cyrene step through.

At first I silently sighed a bit in relief. For once we weren't being attacked in

the middle of the night by mercenaries or drunken hit-men. Then I realized that I

was sprawled completely on top of Xena, just about every inch of my body was

touching hers in some manner.

My heart jumped as I realized just what a catastrophe this could cause to

Cyrene and Xena's still fragile relationship. I started to stretch and roll over, trying to

make it look as if I was just moving in my sleep. I felt two strong arms encircle my

waist and a chin tuck my head underneath it.

What the.? I thought, not understanding why Xena would let her mother

catch us in such a personal position.

It was at that precise moment that I realized just how much she actually

cared. She was willing to risk her association with her mother just to keep this

somewhat intimate moment with me. A moment that could easily be recreated else

where. I hugged her back and nuzzled my head into her shoulder, smiling against

the skin there and planting a tiny, hardly perceivable kiss there.

"Time to wake up, girls!" Cyrene said as she strode across the room, pulling

open the curtains and tossing another log onto the dwindling fire. She paused on her

way back and looked at us on the bed.

I waited for some sort of shout of disapproval or look of anger or disgust on

her face. I felt my body involuntarily stiffen and wait for the emotional blow that I

felt was sure to come.


Just silent regard from the woman who had raised my lover. Her hands

moved up to her hair and pulled the salt and pepper locks away from her face. She

twisted it into a loose knot at the back of her neck, pulling the stray pieces away

from her face and tucking them behind her ear. Her eyes creased as she smiled and

a small approving sound came from her throat as she nodded softly. She turned on

her heel and walked out, the door shutting soundlessly behind her.

My body relaxed and I took a deep breath, amazed at how much of a weight

seemed to be now absent from my shoulders.

A bit of air tickled my head as she sighed.

"That was unexpected," I muttered, pulling back and watching her think.


"You ok?" I asked, not really able to read her face.

She paused. "Yeah. I think I am."

I smiled. "At least it was a pleasant way to wake up," I said, leaning down and

kissing her.

Her hands shifted from my lower back to one cradling the back of my head

and the other edging up underneath my linen shift and making very arousing

strokes across the bare skin.

"I'd like to wake up like this instead," she said with a smile as I paused in my

kissing expedition.

I blushed deeply, able to feel the heat radiating from my cheeks. "Me too," I

said. Oh gods, this is divine, I thought, feeling her fingers caress the sides of my ribs.

The fire crackled, devouring another log and I smelt the hickory sent waft from the

fireplace. I felt my heart start to rise into my throat and I knew that if I didn't move

now, I wouldn't move anytime soon. "You know, she probably needs help cleaning

that mess I left in the kitchen last night," I said, trying to find some excuse to

remove myself from the warm body that had become my own personal mattress.

"It can wait," she muttered, suckling on my neck.

I groaned, fighting my inner battles. Patience verses whatever the Hades it

was that her attentions were doing to me.

I groaned again before leaning over and nabbing her lips in a passionate kiss.

She rolled us over, her knees pinning me to the bed with firm purpose. One knee

eased between my own and the other steadied her balance outside my legs. She

had one hand on the base of my skull, her fingers moving in small relaxing circles.

The other hand had eased itself up my tunic and was tracing lines across my


My hands roamed across her body and tugged on her tunic, pulling it over

her rear end and revealing her lower back. She moaned as I bit her shoulder lightly,

tasting the skin with my teeth. The highly erotic sound caused me to smile, realizing

that, quite possibly, I was having the same effect on her that she was currently

having on me.

I tugged more on her shirt, pulling it up to her shoulder blades and letting my

hands run wild on the skin I had just revealed. Her kisses left little paths of raging

fire and I wanted to drive her just as crazy as she was making me.

She shifted and I felt the bed move with her weight as she pulled at my shirt,

trying to free me from its confines. I moved with her, trying to adjust myself so she

could easily tug the linen off my body. My weight went to my left. So did hers. Our

body parts, already tangled, weren't able to compensate and re-balance us and we

rolled off the bed with a resounding thud.


Chapter 32


"Damn it," she muttered, tugging at her shirt which had captured her

upraised knee under its hem.

"Ow," I said, reaching up and rubbing the side of my head where I had

smacked it against the bed leg.

It was really quite funny if you looked at it from an outsiders point of view,

however neither one of us was too amused with our recent coupling habits.

Salmon swimming upstream didn't seem to have as much trouble with

mating that we had.

"You ok?" she asked quietly, obviously having realized that this was not the

best time to curse the Fates regarding our sexual difficulties.

"I'd be better if we were still in bed," I admitted, hoping that the huge bruise I

got from this fall would only smart for a few days.

She squatted, having finally gotten her leg and arm free of her tunic, and

lifted me up and back onto the bed. "Feel better?" She said with a smile, reaching

back and examining the small lump that was forming on the back of my head.

I grinned, reaching up to trace her cheek with my fingers. She caught my eye

and leaned down, kissing me quickly. "Now I feel better," I said.

She sniffed a bit in agreement and then continued her medical exam of my

head. "Eyes ok?" She asked, looking in them and tilting my head towards the


I grinned a bit and let her continue to gaze at me as it allowed me a perfect

moment to admire her face.

Extraordinary. Beautiful. Magnificent. I'd end up creating new words just to

describe her. I smiled and she tilted her head. "What're you grinning at?"

"You're so beautiful," I said with a chuckle as she blushed.

"You're wacked out on Henbane again, aren't you?" She asked, dead serious.

I laughed and she moved her hand, finding the soar spot on my skull. I

sucked in a breath involuntarily as her fingers hit the tender area.

"Ow," I said again, reaching back to cover the area out of mere reflex and

refusing to cry as the sharp pain soared through my skull like .

She frowned. "Why didn't you say it hurt?" She hissed at me, sliding in

behind me and sitting me against her shoulder. I rested my temple on her shoulder

and she re-checked my bruise.

"Because I wanted a kiss!"

"Kissing is what got you hurt in the first place!" She said as she probed

around the tender spot with painstaking carefulness.

I frowned as she accidentally felt out the bruise. "Xena, that wasn't just

kissing," I said, feeling her pause and her fingers still as she digested my sentence.

Her face contorted into something that was a cross between a frown and a

grin. It was an odd occasion such as now that I couldn't read her thoughts merely by

seeing her expression. She sniffed, "It sure was, wasn't it?" she asked.

I frowned, flinching as she ran her finger tips across what was surely a nasty

fluid-filled bruise. She paused her fingers and looked down at me.

"I'm not complaining," I said.

"I am," she said, making me scowl.

"What? Why?"

I felt her shoulders square as she released me and slid out from behind me,

walking to the fire and using the iron rod to poke the last log back to life. Ok.

Something's wrong. What's going on in that head of hers? I thought, seeing the

distinct difference in body posture. "Xena?"

She continued to poke at the poor log as the fire crackled and spit.

"Xena? What's the matter?" I asked, not sure if it was something I had just

caused or not.

"You got hurt," she growled.

"And? I've been hurt before!"

"You were hurt because we.because there is a WE, Gabrielle," she said,

putting the poker down and hanging her head.

"So you're saying that before you and I started rolling around on the bed in a

ball of passion, I never got hurt?" I asked, completely sarcastic in my tone of voice. I

sighed, not having thought we'd be going through this entire conversation all over


"We've got to stop, Gabrielle," she said in a soft voice, turning to see me just

as I flinched from her words.

Her simple words held more meaning than anyone else would have known.

I knew she was still working things out regarding our relationship. I knew that

it would still be a while for us both to adjust to these changes that, truth be told, had

been occurring over the last few years and not merely over the last few days.

And even though I knew those things, her words stung.

Worse than a bee.

Worse than an arrow to the lungs.

Worse than a blow from a mace.

Her words seemed to put a huge crimp in my heart and I started to ask her if

she meant what I knew she meant.

"What do.?" I started, stopping to put my hand up.

This was futile.

I was dealing with Xena and certain things were obvious. She was backing off

because she was scared. Scared for me. I knew it and she knew it.

I refused to play into her by even acknowledging the comment. "No. I'm not

having this conversation with you," I said, refusing to even go there with her.

I knew she had issues with my getting too close to her, but it had already

happen. I had warned her that there was no going back. She knew. She knew and

now she would NOT renege on her promise.

I heard her sigh as I turned around. "I'm going to help your mother in the


"Gabrielle!" she said, standing as I started to pull my tunic off and step into

the same leggings I had worn the night before.

She got no reply from me as I laced the strings in the front of my pants.

"Gabrielle," she said softer.

Nothing. I'd give her nothing if she would take everything from me.

She came over and put her hand on my chin.

As I stood there with but nothing other than a pair of leggings gracing my

legs, I felt the light morning's chill sweep over my bare chest.

I yanked my face away, tugging my sleeping shift over my head.

"Gab," she said again, her voice catching in her throat as she let her hand

drop back down to her side as if it had been burned.

"No," I said softly as I jerked the linen of my work-tunic over my head. "No,


"But its for your own good!" She insisted.

It was ridiculous. The same circular argument we had been battling since I

met her three years ago kept popping up. I had a serious feeling this particular

battle wouldn't end any time soon.

"Damn it, its not!" I yelled, keeping both feet firmly on the ground though I

had every desire to stamp one against the wood floor. I took a breath and tried to

return my voice to its normal calm. "You've got to stop this," I said with barely a

quiver to my voice. "You've got to stop trying to protect me from you! I'm not

scared, Xena. I'm not a little girl who's needs you to protect me from evil monsters

that hide under my bed. I know what I'm getting myself into and I'm not running


She sighed and looked at the ground.

I took a half step forward, landing right in front of her. Chest to chest. I let my

hands reach around her waist and I pulled her in close, letting our bodies touch and

that wonderful bit of sparkle flow between us.

"Do me a favor?" I said softly, watching her face contort into a questioning

look. "Think about that. Think about how much I love you and how more than a

knock on the head won't stop me from loving you. Please? Think about it, Xena," I

begged while I didn't release my grip any. We stayed toe to toe, pelvis to pelvis and

heart to heart.


"Would you please shut up?" I asked softly, I took a step forward and she

backed up and sat on the bed. "Just sit for a few minutes and realize that I love you.

Regardless of anything else, ok? I'll be in the kitchen when you wise up." I leaned

down and put my hands on her cheeks, kissing her thoroughly and tenderly, but not

restraining any passion.

I turned on my heal and left a very bewildered looking warrior princess sitting

on her bed. I shut the door after me, feeling oddly like a mother who had just set

their child to their room to "think about what they had done."

I sighed and wiped my hands on my shirt, steadying my nerves for a busy

morning of cleaning the kitchen in between serving the breakfast guests.


Chapter 33







It had started as soon as I had shut the door to the bedroom.

The image of Xena sitting there so forlornly was vivid in my mind and my

head was hurting both where I had hit it and from a fierce headache. Beginning with

a small ache behind my eyes, it had grown into this incessant pulsating that started

in the center of my head and ebbed outward in waves with every beat of my heart.

"Headache?" Cyrene asked, dipping a plate in the water and washing away

the grime from last night.

All I could manage was a grunt.

"I heard yelling."

I didn't respond. It took too much energy.

"You two fighting?" She asked, trying to figure out why I was sprawled

against her cutting table, moaning at every little sound.

Ok. That question at least deserved some sort of verbal response. "Yeah."

"You know, when Atrius, Xena's father, was still around, we used to fight, too.

Every time we argued, I used to get these throbbing headaches that wouldn't quit."

As reassuring as that sentiment was, her voice was driving huge spikes into

the back of my head with every syllable she uttered.

I sucked in a bit of air and tried to shift my head on my forearms so that the

throbbing in my temples would ease.

I groaned as she set another dish was down to dry with what seemed, to my

sensitive ears, like excessive force.

"Gods be damned, Gabrielle, if you're that sick, go to bed!" Cyrene said, her

hands settling on her hips as she turned and scolded me.

"I can't," I said.

"You've got a room. You've got a bed. What exactly can't you do?" She asked

me, sitting opposite me at the large cutting counter.

"I can't because she's in there," I said to her

"And this `she' would be my daughter? The same person who you seemed

quite happy to be lying on top of this morning?" She asked, causing me to blush


"You saw that?" I asked, deciding to not let her know that we were awake at

the time.

She nodded as I looked up at her.

I sighed. "Oh."

She placed her hand on my elbow. "You're healthy?"

I nodded.

"You're happy?"

I chuckled, though not really amused. "Most of the time."

She looked into my eyes for a long moment. "You two have been through a

lot, haven't you?"

"You could say that," I said, rubbing my eyes again as they strained to focus.

"But you're still together? Still a team? Still best friends?" She asked me

gently, her hand unconsciously pushing a strand of graying hair behind her ear.

I nodded. "We're more than that. And I think that every day we stay together,

we grow stronger and closer," I admitted. While I didn't know Cyrene that well, she

was Xena's mother and I did value her as a person.

"Then what's the problem?" She asked, frowning in obvious confusion.

"She's worried about me. She thinks that because we're.because we."I

stuttered, not really knowing how to phrase this.

"Because you love each other," the older woman supplied patiently.

I grinned a bit, both surprised and embarrassed at how easily we were

scanned. "Yeah. Because we love each other, she thinks I'm going to be a target."

"But you've traveled with her for three, almost four years, right?"


"So what, specifically, makes you more of a target now than you were three

years ago?"

This was one smart woman. "Exactly my point," I said with a sigh.

"You're able to defend yourself, aren't you?" She asked.

"I didn't used to be. I used to have to hide whenever there was a problem.

Now I'm right in the thick of it. That's where I like it, guarding her back."

"You fight with that staff you carry?" She asked me, starting to dry the dishes

as she sat.

I nodded. "I'm not bad, either. Xena told me the other day that I was probably

better skilled than she was."

Cyrene chuckled. "Do you know that when you just said that, your whole face

lit up?" I blushed and looked down and she continued. "Xena was never one to dish

out comments just for the sake of saying something. If she thinks you're good, then

you're good."

I nodded. "I know. Which is why this silly argument is bothering me more and

more. If I'm able to take care of myself out there and she admits that, then why is

my safety even an issue?" I asked Cyrene. I didn't really want an answer, already

knowing the correct one in my heart.

"Gabrielle, if you were being chased and there was the possibility that Xena

would be a target just because she was friends with you, you'd be worried, wouldn't

you?" She asked me, watching me closely as I answered.

"Of course!"

"And you'd feel absolutely horrible if anything happened to her because she

was your friend, right?"

"Right," I said, knowing exactly where she was going with this.

She put her dish towel down on the table and grabbed a large basket from

underneath the cutting area. "So why don't you understand how she would feel if

something ever happened to you?" I sighed and she reached over, patting my hand.

"Xena's had a rough life, as you well know. Just like any mother, I used to hope that

I'd be the one to put the bright spot in her life, but since I'm not the one who makes

her smile or who gives her reason for living, I'm glad its you."

I smiled and blinked hard, trying not to cry at the wonderful gift of words I

had just been given.

"I know she's concerned, but.." I stuttered.

Cyrene placed a warm hand on my cheek in a very familiar manner, stopping

me in mid sentence. "Gabrielle, you're the bright spot in her life. If she looses you,

she's gone. She'll just be a shell of who she used to be. I know you understand that.

You're something so special to her. I can see it in her eyes when she looks at you.

She's scared. My sword wielding, Bacchae slaying, I-don't-take-attitude-from-

anyone, daughter who has faced some of the toughest warlords in the world and

beat them all, is afraid of you and what she'd do without you."

I looked at this woman who had practically single handedly raised my lover.

She had seen turmoil and serenity and hunger and feasts. She had managed to pass

many a winters and many a summers by hard work and wits. There were small lines

set into her skin around her mouth in the same area that folded back when she

smiled broadly. Furrows near her eyes seemed to resemble the same markings

made by crows' feet in the sand. Not nearly old enough to have forgotten all she had

learned nor young enough to have learned all there was to know.

I smiled up at her. She was quickly becoming more to me than "Xena's mom"

and I longed for this kind of relationship with my mother. But that would never be

and I knew it.

"Thanks," I said honestly. "I'll fix this headache and then go talk to her," I


She looked at me with a grin on her face. "In my experience, those

headaches are often only fixed by the one who caused them."

I smiled and blushed.

Cyrene reached behind her into the larder and retrieved a bundle of dried

rose hips, a loaf of onion bread and a rope of garlic, placing all three into the large

basket and lining the top with a cloth having been warming by the oven. "I've got a

few errands to run."

"In this weather?" I asked worried about the snow that had descended on us

again, though this time the drifts were higher and the flakes bigger.

"Its got to be done!" She said, tossing a wrapped package of tea leaves into

the basket before closing it. "Weather has never stopped me before from doing what

I need to do. And now that you and Xena are here, you'll be able to take over for me

if I get snowed out. I have to head to the other side of town and visit Auriel, the

seamstress. She needs some company."


"No buts, chicklet. You and Xena are in charge. I've written down the lunch

and dinner menus. That parchment is tacked to the inside of the pantry cabinet next

to the flour, just in case I'm late. I should be home by midnight at the latest, but if

not, lock up and bank the fire. If it looks like I won't make it home, I'll stay the night

at Auriel's," she grabbed her shawl and tucked it under her neck before hooking her

thick woolen cloak over top of it.


She grinned and walked around to me, kissing me softly on the forehead.

"Dishes need to be washed, floor needs to be swept, and I need wood split for the

fire. I know your head hurts, little-bit, but the only thing that'll fix that is in your

room, not out here. Chores can wait. Go find some pain reliever, ok?" she advised,

smacking me in a motherly way on the rump, effectively pushing me off the stool,

towards the kitchen exit, and the hall that housed the door to my room.

I heard a chuckle behind me and the back door shutting behind Cyrene as

she headed out into the snow storm to visit her friend.


Chapter 34


My arms were elbow deep in almost boiling warm soapy water as I scrubbed

the remaining plates and pans and mugs.

The throbbing still plagued my head but I was starting to not feel it anymore

as my body focused on the pain from standing up and not moving for a long amount

of time settled into my lower back.

A back rub would be nice right about now, I thought. The lunch crowd was

beginning to pack into the dinning area and as I finished washing and drying the

dishes, I'd have to serve up the stew that Cyrene had left on the fire. Then, while

they were eating, I'd have to sweep the floor and clean the larder.

The door to the kitchen creaked open and a dark head popped in before a

slender body followed.

She grabbed the broom and began to sweep the dried straw stalks across the

wooden floor, making a small pile of dirt near the door and then sweeping it out into

the cold.

She dusted off her hands on the blue skirt she was wearing. Sauntering into

the pantry, she clanked around for a few minutes, the sounds being a bit heavier

than they should have been for someone with her deft hands.

I shifted my feet and groaned as my heel sent a shooting pain up my leg and

into my lower back. At the same time as the small sound escaped my lips, I heard a

huge rumble and a clatter come from inside the pantry. I pulled my hands out of the

water, grabbing a towel on my way to see what had gone wrong.


"Don't you dare come in here," I heard growled at me.

I placed my hand on the half-shut door, unable to see into the pantry all the

way. "You ok?"

"Fine," She growled.

"If you need help," I offered, opening the door a little, only to find it stopped

by a powerful body part. "Xena?"

"For once would you just listen to me and not come in?" she said, her voice

having fallen from a growl to more of a pleading half-snarl.

"But." I said, desperately needing to know she was all right.

She must have heard the urgency in my voice because I heard a sigh and the

door swung open.

I brought my hand to my mouth, biting on a finger to keep myself from


She was covered from head to toe in white flour.

Her normally tan skin had been doused in fine white powder that washed any

trace of ebony from her hair, leaving her looking much like a ghostly apparition. It

was comical but I tried to hold me tongue for the sake of her pride.

I honestly tried not to laugh. I swear. And I could have made it, too, had her

lips not twitched. If her face hadn't cracked, I would have been fine. But no. She had

to go and let that bit of humor show through and leave me with my stomach shaking

so hard that I had to slid down the wall and sit on the pantry floor because my knees

had given out.

"Its not funny," I managed to gasp out while trying to silence my still

chuckling inner child.

"Its not," she agreed, shaking her head solemnly.

I looked up at her, making eye contact and raising an eyebrow at her in

question. She cracked, laughing hard and ending up on the floor right next to me.

It was few minutes before we were calm enough to talk. I leaned over and

tried to wipe the flour off of her eyes, but with my hands being wet, I only made

more of a mess, leaving a white pasty goo behind on her face. I chuckled at my

mistake and used the towel to dab at her eyes and face, getting as much of the flour

off as I could before the rag, too, was covered in the cooking staple.

"Thanks," she said to me, smiling a bit.

"Welcome," I said softly, stirring to stand and go back to my kitchen work.

She placed an hand gently on top of my own, making me pause and look her in the


"I've been thinking," she started and I settled back down next to her on the

cold floor.


"I've been thinking and maybe we shouldn't stop," she said softly, looking at


"Yeah?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Maybe I'm just.just-"

"Scared?" I provided.

"Scared," she said, looking down.

"Xena," I said, raising her face up by hooking a finger under her chin. I met

her eyes with my own and leaned in a bit closer. "I'm scared, too. You should know

that. Do you really think that I'm not worried about what'll happen next?"

"Yeah.No. I dunno," she stuttered.

"I'm terrified!"


"Of course. Just because I'm enjoying myself and enjoying us, doesn't mean

that I'm not scared," I admitted, longing to kiss her but knowing this wasn't the right


She smiled and leaned in, somehow knowing I needed to feel her lips against

my own.

I pulled back after a moment or two, not wanting to over-do it.

"I do love you," she said.

"I know you do," I replied. "I love you, too." She grinned and it warmed my

heart. "Slower maybe?" I asked, hoping to find a happy medium.

"Have you ever known me to do anything slowly?" She asked with a chuckle.

I blushed, a few racy comments coming to mind, though only one of them I

chose to voice, "I sure hope there's at least one thing that you do slowly."

She laughed out loud, her eyes crinkling on the edges just as her mother's

did. It was endearing, though it was hard to imagine Xena becoming any more

endeared to me than she already was.

I rested my forehead against hers. "I'm not going anywhere, Xena."

"You can't promise that."

"You remember when I was so sick? You told me that even in death, you'd

never leave me. Did you think that was one sided? That it only worked for you?

There's no way I'd ever leave you, Xena. Even in death," I said, stroking her cheek


It was a look of astonishment and wonder that crossed her face. In the

amount of time that it took for her to open her mouth, I had already placed a finger

there, silencing her unspoken words.

"Don't debate it. You're just not going to get rid of me that easily, Xena. You

got that?" I said, my best no-nonsense tone of voice coming through with full force.

She looked at me, a bit taken aback it seemed. "Yeah. I got that."


"But you listen to me, bard. No more seducing me, you hear? That means no

more waking me up with dainty little kisses or those pleasing little tracing patterns

you're always making on my skin. Deal?"

I grinned. "And what if I don't agree? You're going to throw me out on my


She put on her most feral look and lunged at my head, nipping a bit at my

earlobe. "Nope," she said, suckling on the ear I had just spoken of. "I'll tie you down

and ravish you."

I laughed, both from her tickling teeth on my ear and the silly statement.

"Who says I won't like that?" I asked, realizing that if we couldn't keep without

sticking some body part in our mouth for five small minutes, we were in big trouble.

"Oh yeah? I never knew you were into that kinda thing, Gabrielle," she said,

pulling back and playing with the hem of my shirt.

I waggled my eyebrows at her. "Well I hooked up with you, didn't I? That

must mean that I like things rough."

We laughed, standing up and heading back out into the kitchen. I returned to

my dishes and she went to wash and change out of her floury clothes.


Chapter 35.


"Feel better?" I asked, seeing her return, this time wearing her snug black leather leggings.

"Less like a baking product and more like a human," she muttered, tugging her

warm sweater down around her slender hips.

I smiled. "The dishes are done," I muttered, drying my hands and tilting my

head slightly toward the stack of dry dishes.

"I would have helped," she commented, finding a bowl and serving herself

some beef stew.

I grabbed a fork and speared a piece of meat out of her bowl and popped it into my mouth, chewing slowly and realizing this was the first meal I had all day. "I have to split logs later," I commented.

"I'll do it."

"Nah. You need to go take care of Argo and then make sure everything's ok

here. Tossing people out on their ear if they act like children and that sort of thing. I

can do the chopping. I used to cut firewood in Poteidia," I said, stabbing a carrot and

chewing it greedily.


"I'm a perfectly capable adult, Xena," I said around the carrot mush that was

in my mouth.

She smiled a small smile with just the ends of her mouth curling up. It was a minuscule smile, but it was enough to make me happy as I watched her dip her fingers into the bowl of stew and nab a chunk of meat. She bit it in half and held the other piece out towards me with a raised eyebrow. I took the portion of meat with my teeth, pulling her fingers into my mouth and suckling for a moment before releasing them.

It was sudden when she leaned down and kissed me, bringing my tongue into

her mouth with pure force of suction. The bowl had been forgotten after being

tossed onto the counter and her hands reached behind me and pulled me tight

against her.

Wait a minute…my mind screamed. I put my hands on her shoulders and

pushed back. "Didn’t you just decide to take this slowly?" I asked, trying to restrain myself.

She smirked. "You didn’t really want to go slowly, did you?" She asked somewhat sarcastically, her hand sliding down my back and lightly squeezed one of my lower cheeks.

Glad to have her hands exploring me once again, I leaned in, nuzzling my head so that it rested perfectly under her chin. "You really have got me figured out, huh?"

Her hands stilled and pulled me even closer, finding that we melded together in all the right places. "I should after all these years."

"Three years isn’t really that long a time, Xena," I commented with a bit of a chuckle. I felt her body relax as I massaged her lower back in the same spot that mine was still aching.

"Its longer than I imagined myself being with someone," she admitted as I rubbed my fingers in circles, trying to release stress from her muscles.

I sighed. This conversation was obviously long overdue. "Its longer than I thought you’d keep me around," I admitted.


I nodded against her throat.

"Did you really think I’d send you home?" She asked, pulling back to look me in the eye.

"I really did."

"Do you still think that way?" I heard her ask me.

"Not…no…Not so much as before," I stuttered, not quite sure of how to answer.

She raised an eyebrow.

Fess up, Gabrielle. Holding it in isn’t helping anyone, I thought.

"There’s still a part of me that thinks that the next time I mess up or cause trouble, you’ll leave. But deep down I really know you won’t do that," I said, knowing it was a weak statement even though it was true.

"Do you know that in your heart?" She asked me.

I nodded. "I feel it in my heart."

"Good. I’m not going to leave you," she said. "I might go for a ride to cool down so I don’t yell or say something I don’t mean, but I’ll always come back, Gabrielle. I promise," She said, looking me so deeply into the eye that I knew she could see to my soul if she wished it.

A smile tugged at my lips and I let it take over my face, feeling the skin near my eyes crinkle.

Xena’s head, ears perked, snapped around and faced the door just before I heard a very loud "HEY" being screamed in the direction of the kitchen.

"Do we get any lunch or what?" A rather disgusting and burly man pushed his way through the door, yelling at us the entire time.

I stepped back from Xena’s arms and wiped my hands on my apron before turning back half way to the pot and the other half to the man who blocked the door way. I could feel Xena staring him down from over here.
"Sir, if you’ll just take a seat, one of us will be with you shortly," I said calmly, ignoring the nasty look he was passing between the two of us.

He sneered, obviously unaware of who exactly he was dealing with. "If you two want to fool around, do it on your own time! I’m hungry and stuck in this hovel that’s mistaken for an inn. I want lunch and I want it now!"

She took a step forward and it was by pure luck that I managed to intercept her before she got to him. I had to place a hand firmly on her chest and almost push her away from me before she stopped her advance.

"Sir, as I said," I calmly repeated to the repugnant man, "If you’ll take a seat, one of us will be with you soon,"

"I’ll sit here," he said, motioning to the kitchen stool. "Make sure you two don’t dally about it."

Ok. I was nice twice. I even kept her away from him. That’s enough of that. He’s all yours, honey, I thought as I released my restraining hand from Xena’s chest and watched her pounce on the unsuspecting man.

I shrugged as he was lifted unceremoniously off his perch and held against the wall by my dark hared partner who could have crushed him with but one hand.

"Lookie here," she started as the man’s eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped. "I grew up in this inn and its anything but a hovel. You get great service from people as beautiful as her," she said, jerking her head at me and causing me to blush, "Not to mention the fact that this inn is owned by my Mother!" She growled and it was obvious that her arm was restricting his flow of air and I felt a pang of sympathy for him before remembering what a putz he had just been.

"Mother?" the man stuttered.

"My mother," She restated, pushing him higher up on the way with only one hand.

"Xena?" I said softly, knowing this might get out of hand in a few minutes. She glanced over her shoulder at me and I smiled a bit. "Why don’t we ask this gentleman to leave quietly through the back door after paying his bill and everything will be taken care of?" I nudging her along on this course of action.

She sighed and gave me a very "Do I have to? I won’t get to pummel him?" look.

I cocked my head to the side and she knew that I meant business.

"5 dinars," She said, her free hand held out. He placed the coins into her hand and was slowly released to the floor. I walked over and opened up the back exit, holding the door for Xena as she guided him out.

Her booted foot was planted firmly against his rear end and she pushed, propelling him out the door, barely missing tossing him into a snow drift.

"Have a good day!" I called sarcastically after the man as he walked through the snow, hand rubbing his severely bruised backside.

She leaned across and shut the door with her heal, hugging me again in the process and walking towards the cutting counter with me wrapped in her arms.

"Make a pretty good team, don’t we?" She asked.

"What? You pick ‘em up and I yell at ‘em?" I teased, hopping backwards onto the counter and sitting there, allowing her eye-to-eye contact.

"Equal partnership?" She said, somewhat a question and somewhat a statement.

"Sounds good to me," I replied, leaning in for a deep kiss, hands groping each other for more than lips could immediately provide.

"WHEN’S LUNCH!?" Some voices screamed from out side of the kitchen, just as my lips were about to brush hers.

Our foreheads rested together and we both groaned.


Chapter 36


She held the door open with her heel as I rushed through it, two steaming plates of bread and stew held high above my head. She had a rather large stack of dirty dishes in her hands and was only managing to hold on to them because she had planted her chin on the top dish, effectively pinning them in place.

"Next year we’re going to your mother’s," she groaned as I left the kitchen rushing to deliver the food to the customer’s at the table near the fireplace.

From the kitchen I heard a rather loud sneeze followed by the loud clattering of dishes being fumbled into the sink and its soapy water.

I managed to muster a grin for the polite family I was serving and ran back off to the kitchen, leaping over a drunkard who had just recently toppled onto the now dirty floor.

"You ok? What broke? You hurt?" I asked shoving the swinging kitchen door open and skidding to a stop, bracing my hands against the cutting counter to slow my speed.

She turned to look at me, her entire sweater front covered in soapy dish water. Her face was the same that I had seen on a reprimanded puppy some years back.

I snickered a bit, trying not to laugh. "Your poor sweater," I said, grabbing a towel and wiping her off as much as possible. I even got the water from off her leggings before looking back up at her.

She was scowling.

"Just not your day, is it?" I asked cutting off my laughter.

She just glared at me, blue eyes snapping at the world which seemed to have turned against to her today.

"Don’t look at me like that!" I said, my hands going to my hips, "Its not my fault you can’t stack the dishes nicely in the sink! And don’t even think that my mother’s house would be any better! She wouldn’t put up with your attitude, either!" I said, not at all upset, but not really seeing the need for her to look at me in that tone of voice.

She gave me one of her ‘Oh yeah?’ looks.

"Its true! Warrior princess or not, she’d pick you up by your ear if you looked at her the way you just looked at me. You’d be leaning over the wood pile with a belt to tanning your backside!" I said, not realizing I had probably just said too much about my old life. More than I wanted her to know right now. More than she had ever assumed, no doubt.

Xena’s look changed from one of annoyance to one of concern. She opened her mouth to say something that I didn’t really want to hear. I raised a palm and staved off her words.

"Look," I started just as she raised her hand up even to mine and laced her fingers through my own. I sighed. Avoidance was something I had just about mastered over the years. "Xena, the Fates are just against you today," I said.

It was a deep frown that crossed her face before she sighed and allowed a small smile to tug her lips. "As if they haven’t done enough to me in the past."

I grinned and suppressed a chuckle. "I can handle things here. Why don’t you go check on Argo. If it keeps snowing like this, I don’t know if you’ll have an easy time of getting out to the barn tomorrow morning."

It was a light tickle to my heart that told me I would soon be having a serious talk with her about the little secret I had just divulged.

"Fine," she said, spinning on her heal and heading outside without her cloak, sparing me a backwards glance with worried eyes.
I didn’t try to stop her. She still had that horrible cough from her sickness, but I knew that trying to take care of her now wouldn’t be very smart.

The world was, it seemed, against her today and everything she did was going wrong. Her blue eyes were aflame with unsettled nerves and agitation that I hated to see lighting her face. Damned if I was going to contribute to her upset just because I wanted to put a layer of warm wool around her shoulders.

With a small grin on my face I turned and grabbed a pitcher of ale and headed out to the dinning area, a new respect for tavern keepers deep in my soul.

The drunkard whom I had previously leapt over grabbed my ankle as I tried to step around him.

I sighed. One of those customers, it seemed. "Sir," I started. He tried to tug on my leg so I would have landed on him. No such luck. After trouping around Greece with the best reflexed warrior in the known world, I had long since stopped being pulled over by stray tree roots never mind a half-strength drunk.

"Damnit," I said, setting the pitcher of ale down on the bar and reaching for the broom that sat just out of my reach. "Sir!" I said again, this time much less politely. With a sigh, I just did as my body had been trained to do. I pulled my foot back a little and then pressed my heel into the man’s throat. My voice dropped to a rumble that was very similar to my partner’s. "Let go of my foot," I said, enunciating every syllable with menace. "Now."

The man’s hands unclasped from my ankle and he struggled to sit up. I kicked him lightly in the side, providing enough modivation for him to speed up his motion. "Get up," I growled, nudging him with the toe of my boot.

I saw a flicker of motion out of the corner of my eye and heard the almost inaudible foot falls of tall-dark-and-deadly. She paused on her way in from the kitchen. I saw her body still as she saw me handling the man with as much self-confidence as she would have.

He scurried to his feet, swaying under the influence of his booze. "Get out. Get out and don’t ever come back until you’ve learned to hold your liquor and listen to a lady when she speaks to you."

"You’re no lady," he said with a hiccup.

"Damned right, I’m no lady," I said with a sardonic grin, "I’m an Amazon Queen. As far as I’m concerned, that’s even more reason for you to listen to me."

First time you used that one to your advantage, Gabrielle, I thought to myself.

The man stepped toward me, body language sending bells off in my head. Trouble!

I grabbed the broom and spun it about in an obvious display of power. I cocked and eyebrow at him. "Get out while you’re still able to walk out of here under your own power. I’ve thrown one bastard out today by force already and I don’t want to make it a habit."

His foot shuffled forward and then back, seeming as if he was trying to decide weather or not to test my claim.

He turned with a grumble and headed towards the door. My sturdy friend had already made her way stealthily across the room and held the door open for the man. The white swirling wind had calmed down and he could, no doubt, find another shelter for the storm without freezing his drunk arse off.

She closed the door behind him and turned to the people in the tavern, all of whom were staring either out the door, at Xena, or at me.

"All right, listen up," she started, grabbing their attention and not letting go, "This is a respectable inn. It always has been. But for some reason, people are acting like Jerks today. I won’t have it. This is my mother’s inn. That makes it my inn. And that makes it her inn," Xena said, pointing to me. My heart skipped a beat as I realized the impact that simple sentence made on our ever-changing relationship. "You don’t listen to us and behave respectably, you’re outta here. Got that?"

There was a wave of nodding heads as people vigorously agreed with her comments.

I saw her grin, obviously satisfied with the encouraging cooperation from the crowd. Her head turned and she winked lightly at me. I returned the sign with a grin as I saw her turn and head back out towards the barn.

I chuckled and dusted my hands on my apron, having replaced the broom in its old spot. I grabbed the pitcher of ale and continued on my rounds, filling glasses and waiting for the night to be over so that I could get a few warm kisses and a much earned back rub from my mate.


Chapter 37


"Mom’s still not back?" She asked me, finally coming in from the barn. "Snow’s starting again."

"Nope," I muttered, holding fiber between my teeth.

"Wonder what’s keeping her." Blue eyes turned to the window, and looked out through the slowly thickening white.

"I got the distinct impression that she’s leaving the inn to us for a couple of days," I said with a chuckle as I let the fiber fall from my mouth and into my hand. I had begun weaving a basket out of materials I had found in the spare store closet.

She grunted in acknowledgment as she sat down opposite me at the counter.

"Want some?" She offered, holding out a hand full of roasted nuts she had snatched off the fire pan.

I reached out to grab a warm nut only to have my fingers snatched by hers. I looked up into her intense blue eyes and found a bit of curiosity in them. I smiled mischievously and squeezed her fingers, pulling the nut from her clutches, plunking it into my mouth, rolling it around and savoring the taste.

She put her head in her cupped hands and sat, watching me for a few minutes. "Heard from Eph?" She asked after a bit of us just absorbing each other’s quiet presence.

I shook my head no, "Sent a note saying we’d be there for the new moon festival, though. Doesn’t look like we’ll make it after Solstice like we had planned."

She snickered. "Amazons and their festivals. Never need an excuse to party."

I smiled. "Neither do we." It was true. Anytime we had a grand time, there was never an excuse handy. "Just because" was as good a reason as none at all.

She laughed and I saw the skin around her eyes crinkle in a very attractive way. The customers had gone out or to their rooms or were playing chess in the dinning area. They were all docile and I had left a pitcher of ale out so they could help themselves and I could have a few minutes alone.

"You handled that drunk guy well." A soft voice said and I felt a hand on my elbow as I continued to weave the round basket with the special design in it.

I looked up and met her gaze with a smile. "I learned from the best," I said.

"From me?" she asked.

"Who else?" I countered.

"Your dad."

It was sudden and a fierce blow. Unexpected. Completely unexpected.


"I know I’m not typically one for talking, but I’d consider it a personal favor if we could talk about this."

I frowned and set my basket down behind me on a close by counter. "Now?" I asked.

Damn. If only my mind hadn’t betrayed me and allowed such a slip of the tongue.

I couldn’t be dishonest with myself nor with her and I knew it. "I hate this, Xena," I started. "I don’t like this part of my past."

She sat, unwavering. Her gaze was true and I still had her hand holding mine; a small gesture, but something very meaningful coming from the woman who seldom liked close public contact. "You’ve taught me that we all have things about us that we don’t like, Gabrielle."

I blushed and looked down at the table top.

A finger was hooked under my chin and I met her eyes with my own. "I’m not going to judge you. I just want to understand you. More," she said, seeming to throw that last word in for reinforcement.

I nodded against the hand that cupped my chin. "What do you want to know?"

"Start at the beginning." Her voice was soft and without a trace of pushiness in it. I didn’t feel pressured and, deep down, I knew that I’d feel better letting her in on a few of my well kept secrets.

It was a deep breath that steadied my nerves before I began. "He didn’t beat us. I’m not just saying that, he really didn’t. He was stern and demanding of us. When we were little we’d get spanked when we were bad just like all the other kids did. Lila and I," I amended, not sure if Xena realized I was referring to my sister.

My love sat across from me patiently waiting for me to continue. No pressure. Nor forcing looks. Just patience and resolve.

I grinned at her, a bit more at ease about this. "It wasn’t dad. Dad used to leave on trips. He’d be gone for a couple days at a time. You know. The whole village farmer life. Mother would stay home with Lila and I and we’d all do chores until dad came back."

Breathe, Gabrielle. This only lasts for as long as you let it, I said, forcing a deep breath of air into my lungs.

"When I was about 7 or so, mother caught me going to sleep without saying my prayers to Hestia. That was a big no-no at our house. She picked my up by my hair and drug me out to the side wood pile, dropping my breeches in front of all the village men who were on their way home from the tavern." In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Slowly. Deeply. It was the simple mantra that kept me telling this story to her. "She took a set of reins from our plow horse and switched at my backside until she was sure another stroke would mean scarring. And all while she was switching at me, she made me say my prayers over and over again."

I paused to catch my breath not aware of how telling this would leave me so internally raw. I looked up at her.

All of it, Gabrielle. All of it or none of it at all. "It was first time but not the last."

As if a board was against her spine, she sat straight up and down with an icy gaze.

"She did that to you?"

I nodded. She set her jaw firmly and I pushed my hand across the table, letting our finger tips touch and hoping that the feel of our love would pull her away from the invisible darkness he was staring at. "Xena? Don’t look like that. Its was a long time ago."

"But you were a child! You couldn’t defend yourself!" She argued, holding my hand between her two warm ones.

"I know. But she was my mother. I don’t know if I would have done anything even if I could have."

"How? Despite all that abuse?" She said, seeming flabbergasted. "How did you not grow up angry….like…like me?"

It was the fond memories how we used to go apple picking and she’d tell me all about how to make apple pie that flashed through my mind at the moment. I remembered sitting at the hearth with Lila and hearing all about father’s day and the price of wool and how mother would come out of the kitchen and just gaze at us all fondly. Even then I knew she loved me but just had a horrible way of expressing it.

"I loved her. She’s my mother. Yes, she did bad things. Yes, they hurt me, physically. But what would have hurt more is if I thought she was doing them out of spitefulness. She wasn’t, Xena. Every time she hurt me, she was doing it because that’s how she thought I would be corrected. How I would learn. Its was what she thought would make me grow up to be a better person."

I paused to take a breathe and before I could continued my story, she interrupted me. "Do you want to go for a walk?"

"You’re asking me if I want to go for a walk?" I said completely confused. "But its snowing out there! And who’ll watch the inn?"

"Toris," She said with a grin.

"What? Your brother? He’s not here. Did I miss something?" I stuttered, having been thrown for a loop.

"He’s here now," she said smoothly giving me a wink just as the door opened and a tall hooded and snow covered figure walked in, looming in the door, obviously taking in our two figures seated at the table. "Hey bro." It was casual. After all, what else did you expect from the queen of cool?

I tried not to snicker at the flabbergasted face Toris wore when his hood fell back.

"HEY!" he said enthusiastically, dropping his bundle of wood and saddle bag and running over to pull Xena into a hug. "What are you doing here?"

"Celebrating Solstice," I supplied, somewhat glad we had been interrupted and somewhat upset that I couldn’t get this present horrid topic off my chest all at once.

"We were invited," Xena said to him, trying to defend a blow she felt coming in advance.

"I’m sure you were! Its just a surprise!" Toris said with his present obnoxious enthusiasm bubbling over.

Mental note: Remind Xena just how annoying her brother really is.

I picked up my basket from the counter, the movement bringing Xena back to our previous conversation. "Tor, we’re going on a walk. Mom’s gone to Auriel’s for lunch. She said she’d be back but didn’t say when. I need to get out of here. Damned weather’s driving me crazy."

I chuckled. "And here I thought I had gotten the cabin fever out of your system."

Toris looked at me, obviously still unsure of me as a person, none the less his sister’s daily companion. He cleared his throat and unhooked his cloak, hanging it on the door-peg. "So you’re asking if I’ll watch the inn while you guys take a break?" he said sarcastically, his back to her.

Big mistake. Not today, Toris.

She put a hand on his shoulder, spinning him around so fast I heard his neck snap into place. "No. I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Watch the inn, Toris. We’re going out for a while." Her hand squeezed his shoulders and I rubbed my eyebrows aware of the stress that I had caused her.

She let go of his shoulder and headed back to the room at a quick pace. She returned barely a few minutes later with one of our packs on her back and out cloaks in her arms. She held out mine and fastened it for me, tugging the hood up and, with an honest smile, pushed my blonde hair back under the woolen cowl.

I smiled and placed one of my hands over hers and passed a small smile her way; one which she returned four fold, dazzling me with such warmth. She pulled her cloak over the pack and over her shoulders, closing it with the leather ties. She took my hand and we headed out the door, backs getting, surely, glares from a pair of familiar blue eyes.

I paused her as we stepped out into the swirling snow. "Where are we going?" I asked, almost shouting over the wind.

She turned and looked at me as if it were a silly question. "To our house!" She turned again, taking my hand in her own and leading me toward a hillside just to the outskirts of town. She pointed and in the distance I could, just barely, see a section of snow that was above the ground. It came into focus after a moment and I realized it to be snow captured by the pitch of a roof. A roof of a cabin. I turned to her and raised both eyebrows questioningly.

She nodded and we started up the steep hill, the wind and snow at our backs.


Chapter 38


The door stuck a bit as she leaned on it, pushing with both her shoulder and her hip. I touched her back with one hand before sliding up behind her and also leaning on the door, causing the wood finally to give. It popped audibly as the moisture swollen wood slid free of the casing and swung into the cozy cabin.

She stepped inside, holding the door for me and shutting it behind us both.

I smacked her on the shoulder lightly. "What did you mean, our house? And did you have to beat up on your brother? Come one, Xena, you’re killing that good reputation I’ve been working on!" I said, only half joking.

"It is our house!" she retorted. "Grams lived here when I was little. She died and that means its my house. And since its my house," she said, taking off my cloak and hanging it on a hook over the door, hanging her own next to it. "That means its your house. Which makes it our house. Right?"

Step lightly. This is dangerous territory.

"But…that means that I’m family," I said cautiously.

She frowned, setting our pack down on the somewhat dusty floor. "Didn’t you know that by now?" she asked. That was all it took to make me get the hint and realize we were about to clean the dusty cabin to make it livable.

I shook my head. "I knew your mom kinda thinks of me like a stray she’s taken in. But I didn’t… no. I didn’t."

She chuckled at me, squatting down and removing my favorite candles and some rags and some other nick-nacks. All the essentials would remain packed.

"You’re not a stray, Gabrielle. Mom thinks of you as a daughter. Just as if you’d popped from her hips just as I did. To her, the only difference is that you eat more and get angry less. Toris is just…well, …Toris. He doesn’t have an opinion until someone gives him one."

I snickered at her last comment and stood there as she handed me a dust rag.

"Gab?" She said softly, standing up and looking at me oddly. "You’re so much more than family to me. I…I wanted to be sure I told you that. I mean, I know you have family in Potedia and all, but…" she stuttered.

I saw her faltering and was afraid she’d, honestly, tuck her tail and run back out into the snow. "You’re my only family, Xena. I have a mother and a father and a sister, but none of them are anything compared to what you are to me. I…I don’t know if they have an adequate word for you. You’re more than a best friend or a sister and definitely more than random cousin or other relation. You’re everything. You’re…ingrained into my days and my nights," I said casually, reaching and starting to clean the mantle and its sparse decoration of a lone huge purple crystal. "You’re bonded into my soul. You’re kinda like half of my whole."
I saw her blush from across the room as she took a pile of wood from the built -in access to the outside lean-to. It had stayed well stocked full of wood over the years, no doubt one of the "little things" Cyrene had done during the slower summer months.

"Thanks," she muttered and I smiled, starting to re-make the bed with clean linens Xena had stuffed into the impromptu travel pack. I pulled the dirty ones off and tossed them into a large barrel that was at one time, no doubt, a bathing tub.
I finished making the bed with our own linens, not realizing just how intimate an act it was until I looked at it and saw how I had place the larger pillow in the center, aware of how I’d surely be sleeping on her.

I felt a bit of heat at my back and leaned into it, knowing it was her presence that warmed me.

"Whaddaya think?" She asked, standing behind me and wrapping her arms around me snugly.

"Nice," I said, not really caring one way or another.

It would be warm as soon as we got the fire going and it was dry. The furniture was sparse but cozy. There were a few nicknacks and decorative items around, but it just wasn’t homey.

"I don’t believe you."

I laughed. "Well," I said, not wanting to lie about something so trivial, "I like it. Its really nice looking. But is it really you?" I asked, knowing that even Xena like a small touch of the familiar.

"No," she said after a beat. "Its us, though, I think."

I looked at her as if she were daft. "Us?"

"Us," She agreed with a small outlet of air that obviously sealed the subject for her.

I took a step forward and tugged free of her arms, stretching out on the bed, finding it much more comfortable than one might have thought for an antique.

She wandered to the fire place, getting a roaring fire going with the striker and flint that was tucked into the firebox. A pail of fresh and clean snow was scooped from outside and placed over the fire to melt for tea.

On her way back to the bed, she stopped by the informal travel pack and pulled out my favorite blanket; a creme colored woven wool with swirling designs woven in.

I felt her body weight shift the bed and a warm pair of hands reach over and fit themselves around my ribs, pulling me into her lap. She leaned against the pillows and I leaned into her, cradled by those powerfully strong arms.

I sighed and kissed her neck, liking where my lips reached her body. She hugged me closer, allowing her fingers to tangle in my tunic.


"Hmm?" She muttered, her chin tucked about my head. Her eyes reflected the fire that she was gazing into and her look was one of serious reflection.

"Thanks for getting me out of there."

"Whenever I used to need some quiet time I’d come up here. After Grams died, I mean." Her voice was soothing and eased the ache in my head somewhat. "Wasn’t really the place to be having that conversation," she muttered.
"Mm," I said.

"Finish your story about your mom?" She asked me softly?

"Later," I said. "I think my head is going to explode," I confided.

"Head ache? Why didn’t you tell me! It could be serious!" she said, her fingers moving to prod the area where I had landed earlier that morning.

"Its not serious," I said with a chuckle as she over reacted.

The area was still a bit tender but I didn’t need to flinch as she was just as gentle as ever when handling me.

"How did you know?" she asked, her fingers finding the tender areas. Her eyes closed as she prodded my skull; almost as if she could see the insides of my head better if she couldn’t see the outsides.

"My head didn’t start hurting until you and I started to fight," I admitted softly. I softened under her soft touch and found my eye lids drooping a little as her exam turned into a very relaxing scalp massage.

She let out a bit of breath and scratched my head lovingly. "Head aches, huh? I get sick to my stomach when we fight."

It was an admittance I wasn’t prepared for. And, honestly, I think that’s what made it even more intense.

I rolled over, my face tucked against her shoulders. I tugged on the front lacings of her sweater and pushed it back, off her shoulders, allowing my lips more of that sweet surface to nibble and suckle on.

"Maybe," I started, pausing to taste her skin, "Its our bodies’ way of telling us that separation and anxiety are not good."

She snickered. "Yeah. Maybe."

"Or…Maybe," taste. Taste. "We just fight too much," I offered, hearing her groan as I bit into her collar bone lightly.

"Gab?" she muttered, tugging on my leggings, having already pushed my shirt up past my breasts.

"Hmm?" I could only mutter as my lips were otherwise occupied exploring relatively low and new terrain on her chest; inching lower and lower towards the rise of her chest with every moment that passed.

I felt her hands flutter along my lower back as she pulled my leggings lower and lower, teasing the skin of my butt with her fingertips. I took in a bit of breath as she stroked the skin teasingly, not allowing her hands to linger for too long in one spot.

Sparks coursed through me when I finally kicked the pants to the floor as did she, and my legs tangled with her own, flesh to flesh. I heard a sharp intake of breath and realized it came from my own lips. Damn. Never felt that before, I thought vaguely as a ripple of incessant heat rose through me.
My hands puled at her sweater before she finally yanked it up and over her head and then did the same to mine, but with much more care it seemed. Our bare chests rubbed together and I heard a deep, throaty groan from her. I smiled and let my hands travel down to her thighs, testing the area they had never been before with cautiously daring touches. I ducked my head and nipped at the light skin surrounding her nipple before I allowed a hesitant kiss at its center. She gasped and her back arched in a seeming reflexive motion.

"Let’s not fall off the bed this time, hm?" she muttered before pulling my chin up and claiming my lips as her own territory, her hands roaming all over my sensitive flesh, not leaving a spot untouched.

I smiled against her face as our hands roamed and we abandoned ourselves to each other and the sensation of pure love that we had been fighting for three years.


Chapter 39


"I don’t even want to know where you learned that," she muttered, her one hand stroking my hair while the other pressed into the curve of my back.

I was sprawled over top of her, my body nestled against hers like two pieces of the puzzle-boxes she was so fond of. Funny how that is, I thought, we’re a perfect fit.

I smiled against her skin and planted a soft kiss. "Remember what you tell me when I use my staff? Go with your instincts?" I said softly.

She groaned a bit as my naughtily roaming finger traced the curvature of her still sensitive breasts. She managed a rather breathless "Yeah."
"Well my instincts kinda just took over," I said sheepishly, still unsure of the success of my recent attempt at pretending to know what the Hades I was doing.

She smiled and tilted my head up towards her own, grabbing a quick kiss before commenting on my performance. "Your instincts sure seemed to be well versed in how to make me loose my mind."

I felt my face crease into a huge smile and my insides bubbled with happiness. If I had made her feel even half as good as she had made me, then any insecurities were well worth it.

I leaned down and kissed her, taking her tongue into my mouth greedily and getting a serious jolt as the linen sheet shifted and our bodies came into full contact again. I played with her hair, loving its texture.

I slid off her body after a few minutes of kissing and walked over toward the fireplace, not at all aware of my nakedness until I felt her eyes upon me.

I turned my head only to find her eyes filled with something unexpected. I had thought, at first, they’d be brimming with lust. I had been wrong. Very wrong. There wasn’t a lewd speck in her blue eyes as I saw her take in my body in a slowly sweeping gaze. She paused not on my breasts or on my hips but rather on my face. It surprised me to see an expression that saturated with love and devotion.

I blushed under her scrutiny and dropped my head unconsciously, turning again and heading over to the pack she had set on the small and aged table. I reached in and found my small satchel that I always carried with me when we traveled. Why she had thought to bring it, I still don’t know. None the less, it was there. And its contents were there, too.

I reached my hand into the soft leather pouch and pulled out a small stone. It was gray. And always seemed to be warm even in the coldest of weather. I held onto it with care and walked back to my life who was resting on the bed.

"Do you know that I love you?" she asked me with a smile as she stretched her arms above her head and inadvertently gave me a mouth watering look at her body.

I must have smiled and admired that celestial physique because she blushed. It was the first time I had ever seen her blush under someone’s scrutiny and obvious approval of her physical condition.

I didn’t answer her question but I did slid onto the bed and straddle her hips, sitting on her midsection lightly. Picking up her hand and uncurling her fingers, I placed the shinny pebble inside. With very little effort I closed her fingers around it and leaned down slightly, kissing the curled fingers.

"What’s this?" she asked quietly.

I smiled. "Remember that kiss? With Autolycus?" I asked, knowing it to be a silly question. Of Course she did. "That night, when I sent your sarcophagus down river, I watched you float away until long after I couldn’t see you anymore. I knew right that if you didn’t come back…if I failed you on that then I wouldn’t have any reason to go on. Because as you floated away, you took my heart with you."

She looked at her closed hand and waited for me to finish.

I took a deep breath and stilled my nerves against the onslaught of emotions that memory brought about. "The moon was casting this really beautiful design on the water and I watched it ripple and move for a few minutes before it stopped on this," I placed my hand over hers and looked into her eyes. "I’ve had it with me ever since."

She unrolled her fingers and let the fireplace’s light reveal a small blueish gray stone that had been water tumbled over many tides and was smooth as a baby’s skin.

The stone’s color was not far from that of her eyes and it’s shape so perfectly matched that of a heart that it take all my strength that night to merely pick it up and carry it with me instead of crumbling into a pile of sobbing Amazon.

She turned it over in her hand. And over again. And again. It was as if she were trying to absorb its entire essence with her eyes.

I smiled at her, glad it had the same effect on her that it still had on me. "See, Xena, I told you that you had my heart. Now you really do!" I said, referring to the heart in her hand.

She smiled and gazed up at me with what seemed like wonder on her face. "I…I…This is remarkable," she said. "But how did it…and so blue! I don’t…" she stuttered.

"I stopped trying to figure you’re quirks out, Xena," I said with a smile, cupping her cheek in one hand. "I don’t have to anymore. I just take you on faith. The miraculous things that you do. The fact that you love me. I can’t explain them or justify them with any logical reasoning. I just know that there’s something about you that is above logic and reason. And I figure that this rock is just one of those enchanted things that you’re able to do."

"I’m not miraculous, Gabrielle," she said, rolling her eyes.

"There’s just no other explanation for it, is there?" I said, poking her belly lightly, "You knew how much I was hurting for you so some part of you left me this." I cradled her hand that held the pebble and didn’t even debate her on it anymore. I was right. She’d just have to get used to that.


I placed a finger on her lips. "Don’t argue with me. I know you better than you know yourself."

She smiled and rolled the rock around in her hand for a few more minutes before seeming to just accept it with a shrug as "just one of those things. "

"Now that you really have my heart," I said with a grin, "Wanna neck?" I said with a growl as I leaned down at playfully bit her on the jugular.
"We did that once, remember? You took a huge bite out of me," she teased, tickling my bare ribs.

"I don’t remember and you know it," I retorted with a giggle as she flipped us over so she hovered over me.

"Hey," she said softly, gazing at me with a very unique expression on her face.



I knew what she was referring to without having to think at all. Blushing, I curled my arms around her shoulders, pulling her down to me in a fierce hug. "You are more than welcome," I said honestly, rolling over again and stretching out on her chest, letting her explore the dips and curves of my body that she seemed to be fascinated with.

"Thank you," I said, rolling over and laying on my back, my head pillowed softly on her chest.

"Why are you thanking me?" She asked, playing her fingers across my abs. It was erotic and ticklish all at once and I stiffened against the touch and I felt her body chuckle beneath me.

"Ha!" I said. "You make me feel like I’m on Mount Olympus handling ambrosia itself and then you act as if its an everyday occurrence!"

"Well, you know, Gabrielle, if you really want to, I can make this an everyday occurrence for you. I do plan on being around for the rest of your life, soo…" she said, a tease to her voice.

"Don’t make promises you can’t keep, princess," I said, my hands falling past my sides and tracing the line of her hips that were right under mine. "I’ll wear you out if you do that to me every day." I smiled and laughed as she put a hand on my abdomen and one on my breast.

"You’re the one who’d be exhausted, love, not me," she teased, tweaking the sensitive skin between her thumb and forefinger.

"Why do I think you’re probably right on that?" I asked around a groan, feeling every sexual inch of my body stand up at full attention.

In a stealthy and supportive move, she flipped me over on my back next to her. A very feral smile was on her face and I chuckle as I realized that I would be her next prey.


Chapter 40


Raspberries. No. Blackberries.

It was the zesty smell of Orange and …. Yep, definitely Blackberries, that woke me from my doze. I rolled over, having been covered protectively in the soft cream blanket. It just barely covered my mid-breasts to my feet. The cabin was drafty due to cracks in the foundation that had obviously gone a while without repair.

I stretched my arms high above my head and felt the blanket fall, exposing my skin to the chilly draft.

She was in front of the fire, resting on her heels. A large wooden mug in her two hands and spoon drizzling honey into the steaming liquid.

I gazed at her, not really sure why I always found her body posture so fascinating. Her long legs were tucked up under her and she squatted near the hearth. Feet poised and ready for her to stand on a moments noticed.

She turned, a brow raised as she noticed I was awake.

"Sleep well?" she asked softly, smelling the mug’s contents before bringing it towards the bed with her.

I nodded a bit, watching the fabric of the tunic she had tossed on settle and move around her as she walked and then sat down on the bed next to me.

Pushing with my hands, I sat up, letting my shoulder brush against hers gently. She scooted over, tugging up the blanket around my shoulders. I quirked an eyebrow, surprised that she was covering me up after the last few hours that we had spent freely indulging in each other’s bodies and our own nudity.

"Cold?" she asked.

"Not really," I said, feeling the current of air against my skin but not caring in the least.

"I think I should replace some of the old mortar," she commented, handing me the steaming cup.

I took a breath, smelling the scent of freshly brewed tea with some of the dried orange peels and blackberry leaves that we had stored in my spice kit. "Why?" I asked, not quite sure if I should assume she was planning on settling down or just trying to find something to do if we were ever with free time on our hands.

"Thought you might like some place nice to…stay for a while."

"To call home?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said, putting her arm around my chilly shoulders and tugging me close so that I just about lay against her chest. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

That was the most comfortable spot to lay against that I’ve ever known, then or since.

"Xe?" I said softly.

"Mm?" she replied, not even a word, just a tone.

"I don’t need a home," I said, turning and looking up at her. It was a cross between hurt and surprise that flitted across her divine features.


"Are you planning separate vacations?" I asked her, snuggling into her warm presence and deciding that it was something I didn’t want to escape from. Ever.

"So we’ll always be together, right?"

"Well- yeah," she said, pausing slightly.

"Then I’ll always be home."

I felt a long held in breath ease out of her lungs and she buried her face in my hair. After all we had been through, she still doubted my love for her. Even after we had just expressed it in the purest way that two people could, she still had questions regarding my faith in her.

I shook my head slightly as I stretched to set down my cup of tea. I turned and kissed her chin.

"Xena…Xena?" I said as I watched her shoulders go from their normally erect position to more slumped. "Xena, listen to me. I love you. I love being with you…both in battle and in life. You’re the most caring and trustworthy person I’ve ever met. If you want to come here, to this cabin, or any other cabin, to relax a bit, I don’t mind at all. But if you’re offering this because you think that its what I want, then don’t. The only thing I want is you. Just you, that’s it," I said, one hand cupping her cheek slightly as she finally absorbed what I had been trying to say for all these years.

I saw the recognition in her eyes as she finally took heed to the depth of my loyalty towards her. Towards us.

"I’m sorry.. I…"

"For what?" I interrupted. "You don’t have anything to be sorry for."

"For not believing you. You told me and told me but I just didn’t really listen, I guess."

"Its ok," I said softly, leaning up a bit and kissing her, allowing the fruity taste of my tea still on my lips to pass on to her.

"For thinking you wouldn’t want to stay if we didn’t settle down. I guess I…"

I sighed and kissed her again, effectively silencing her. "Xena. Its all right! I knew you didn’t believe me. I know you have doubts. Have issues. I’m ok with that. Take as long as you need. I’ll be here when you finally realize it. I promise."

She looked at me with a smile on her lips and she leaned down, barely brushing her lips against mine. "Thank you."

I smiled.

"I don’t know why I have you in my life. I must have done something good somewhere along the line."

"Yeah. You did something good. You stopped by Potedia one day."

"I’m thinking that was a good choice after all, huh?" She said grinning as she took a swig of my tea before rolling us over and nibbling on my earlobe, causing me to groan.

"Oh, yeah," I moaned as she moved her tongue down my throat and played her lips across my breasts.


Her head was pillowed against my chest and I was cradling her in much the same way she had cradled me earlier.

An empty scroll was stretched out in her hands and she had a quill poised between her long fingers.

My hands pulled back her hair and braided several sections together and close to the scalp, leaving only her bangs framing her eyes.

"What next?" she asked.

"Just write!" I said with a chuckle.

"But there’s got to be more to it than that."

"Nope. Just let your heart do the speaking," I reassured with a chuckle.

"My heart?"

"Yes, your heart." Was this the fifth time I’d been over this? Most likely the sixth. I looked down and the pen was being held out to me. "What’s this?"

"You said for me to let my heart speak. You’re my heart. Speak."

I bit my lip to keep from bursting into semi-irrational tears. "How come you’re so romantic? Were you like this with Marcus and Borias and M’lila?" I asked, finishing my braid quickly before leaning down and kissing her face.

"I’m not romantic. And who said anything about M’lila?" She asked, taken aback.

"You ARE that romantic. You can make my heart leap to my throat at a moment’s notice. And do you really think I’m that stupid? I mean, you wouldn’t take a slave with you for over a year just because she could teach you the pinch. I know you better than that."

Her face wrinkled as I said that and she pouted a little, almost a defeated look crossing her face. "Come on," I said, poking her in the side slightly. "Its not a big deal to me. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve got you now," I said with a chuckle, wrapping one arm around her and squeezing slightly in a possessive act.

"You most certainly do," she said with a chuckle before letting the frown creep back onto her face.

I sighed in exasperation. "What now? What are you frowning at this time?"

"I don’t like you thinking about me and M’lila like that."

"Why not?"

"I just don’t. Kinda creeps me out," she said, wiggling her shoulders a little.

"Something creeps YOU out, Ms. Oh-let-ME-kill-that-spider?"

"Thinking about you and Perdicus creeps me out!" She said defensively.

I snickered. "There was no me and Perdicus, Xena. That never happened."

Her head just about snapped off with the force "WHAT?" Her jaw dropped. "But…married and then Callisto. Not even once? I thought…"

I laughed. She frowned. "Don’t laugh. I’m serious! This is important! Why didn’t you ever tell me?"

"You never asked," I said simply, getting a glare in return. "He was tired. I was…I was…in love with you. I thought it would go away once I married him. It didn’t. It only got more intense that night when I realized that we were about to do…that." I paused to chuckle. "I finally felt just how much you meant to me when he kissed me. It just wasn’t right. It felt …horrible. I tried to just play along with it, but I think he knew something wasn’t right. He thought we had the rest of our lives. So we just slept. He tried to hold me that night. I guess I must have pulled away or something because he just," I paused, watching her face as I explained this last part. I knew she was visualizing as I was remembering, "kinda patted my hip and rolled over. We didn’t. It was just wrong and I knew it."

"You’re telling me that…I’m your first?" she asked with an odd expression that crossed confusion and wonder.

"That’s as it should be!" I said with a smile, stroking her hair in a motion that I found soothing.

Shaking her head, she tisked. "Why didn’t you tell me?" She asked again, though this time it was a bit less enthusiastic.

"Because it didn’t matter to me. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the only person I should ever be with. That’s the only important thing." I paused. This was really bothering her. I could feel the tension washing through her body in little pulses. "Why? Why’s this bothering you so much?"

"I don’t know. I just wish I had known," she said, sitting up and turning to face me, our bodies no longer melded together; or touching at all for that matter. It was an interesting sensation to go from having her relaxed body cradled against mine to not being in contact at all. It was almost as if I had my breath pulled out of me when she pulled away.

"Would it have made a difference? Would you have turned me away?" I asked, worry edging unhindered into my voice.

"No! No. Not at all," she said, scooting up and leaning forward a bit. "I guess it would have been nice to know. That’s all."

"Do you really wish I had told you?" I asked with concern and worry evident, thinking I had ruined the moment for her.

She paused for a second before shaking her head. "No. I think it was perfect just the way it was."
I shook my head in frustration, "Then why are you making it seem like the whole thing was ruined just because you hadn’t been warned of my sexual experiences prior to?"

"I didn’t mean it to come out that way, Gabrielle. Don’t think that making love to you wasn’t wonderful. It was! It was… the best I’ve ever experienced, honestly."

"Oh, please," I muttered, not believing a word of it.

She snickered. "I don’t ever recall being left so weak that I couldn’t mutter a "thanks" at the end."

"That was just from all that reciprocating you insisted on," I said with a smile at the memory.

"Oh, no. That was definitely from all those instincts you pulled out of nowhere," she said, snaking a hand behind my head leaning our foreheads together in such a manner that we were both comforted by the touch.

"Hey. I’m good at what I do!" I said with false bravado. My comment got a snicker from my companion and I snuck a quite kiss to her lips, tasting the flavor of the aged cider she had found stashed in the pantry. She had been sipping on it while I still slowly nursed my tea as I tried to explain how I wrote poems. That was at the beginning of this whole thing and now my tea sat cold on the table and her cider was forgotten on the floor near the bed.

"You most certainly are," she said with a grin as she closed in on my oh-so-neglected lips and began to tease me until I rolled her over and pounced, marking my territory with some love bits to her neck.

Chapter 41


"So, do we get to stay like this all day?" She asked, trying to pick pieces of fur off my backside.

How we ended up on the floor, I’m still not sure. But there we lay, sprawled on the somewhat decaying bearskin rug that stretched in front of the fire place.

My head was tucked into the hollow of her neck and shoulder and her arms held me in place as I stretched out on top of her. There was, really, no need for that securing arm because our bodies melded together perfectly and there was no way I was going to slide off.

"Your call," I said, passing off the decision.

"Hey!" she half-protested.

"Well I don’t want your mother mad at me if she gets back and finds Toris running the Inn. But damned if I want to leave, either," I said, "So its your choice."

"But…I don’t want to leave. And I don’t want to get yelled at by mom," She sighed deeply and I felt it. "We will have to go back eventually. I didn’t bring anything to eat other than that tea you like so much."

"I liked that. Thank you for remembering it," I said softly, kissing her chin.

"I liked it, too," she admitted with a chuckle.

"You didn’t have any," I said.

"Yeah I did. I’m sure it tastes better on you than it does out of the mug," she quipped, making me blush in the process. She kissed the top of my head and smiled, taking in a deep smell of my hair.

"Why do you do that?" I asked softly, not really understanding the behavior.

"I…its comforting, I think," she said in almost a whisper.

"Why? I’ll always be here. Its not like I’ll be gone one day and you’ll have to remember what my hair smelled like on the day we first made love," I explained, letting one my of my hands trace the side of her breast with a lazy finger.

"One of us is going to die first, Gabrielle," she said with a chuckle.

"Not as far as I’m concerned. When you go, I go. That’s just the way it is," I said softly, kissing her neck to punctuate the statement.

"You’re too good to me, your Majesty," she said, her hands kneading the muscles in my back with practiced motion.

My backside was warm as I rolled over, releasing my body from the heat provided by the dancing yellow flames. "You’re brother must be going crazy by now. That inn was packed when we left…and he’s all alone. At least you and I can work as a tag team."

"Toris’ll manage."

"Xena!" I said, my voice a playful growl as I stretched and stood up, towering above her still sprawled, naked body.


"Be nice to your brother. You may need him some day," I said only half-joking.

"What would I need Toris for?" She asked, rolling her eyes.

I paused for a moment, thinking that was a very good question. "What if you were called away on a trip and was stuck here and then I got hurt and Toris was the only one who could take care of me. You’d want him in your favor then, wouldn’t you?" I asked, knowing it was a pathetic try and would never happen.

She frowned. "I’d never leave you behind, first of all. And second…."

"Second?" I asked.

She groaned and sighed, knowing she was out of luck with a number two reason, "Fine. Let’s go. Ruin my little vacation." Pushing up off the decaying bear-skin rug and standing up, her tanned skin received a coppery glow in the firelight.

"I’m not ruining anything," I said with a smile as I walked up and, placing my hands on her bare shoulders, pulled myself up for a long and dangerously passionate kiss. Then again, I thought as our tongues danced and my conscious thought began to move to the background, I could be ruining an evening of great fun.

Her hands roamed my body and, somehow, I ended up, held only by my strong legs being wrapped around her waist. That one kiss had taken over my senses and I was barely aware of my surroundings as she staggered towards the bed, carrying me with her, and fell backwards onto the plush creme blanket.

"How do you do that?" she asked as I pulled back from her lips to feast on her breasts.

"Do what?" I muttered around a nipple.

She groaned and was out of breathe when she replied: "Drive me as insane as the Fates did?"

I smiled and moved on to newer territory of her belly button. I nibbled and licked and suckled a trail leading downward. "Its a gift," I said before moving lower with an evil grin of surprise on my face.

I continued my assault on her senses with a few more teasing kisses to her thighs before I caused what had to be the loudest shout to come from the mouth of the Warrior Princess.


Small beads of sweat were gracing her forehead by the time she finally released my face from her hands.

She just looked at me with a searching and thankful look. "W…" she managed to say before running out of breath.

I snickered, happy to have done to her, what she did to me with but a kiss. "Glad you liked it," I muttered, kissing her soundly on the lips. I lay down next to her, slinging a leg across her own and tucking my body into the hollow where her arm and body met. "I guess now I know that the Amazon’s are going to have to make those walls extra thick when they rebuild my hut this year, huh?" I teased, tracing those silly little shapes on her ribs. A sheep. A fish. A small bird. I moved my eyes from her stomach to her face and saw her looking down at me with a smile. "What? What did I do?"

"What did you do?" She said softly. "You just made me so out of it that an entire army could have come in here, attacked us and I wouldn’t have known. Do you know just how many people can do that? Not many, that’s for damn sure."

I smiled against her skin, leaning in slightly to kiss her shoulder. "Do me a favor, Xena," I asked her.

"Sure," she said without missing a beat.

"You don’t even know what it is yet!" I said with a chuckle.

"Don’t care. I trust ya."

I smiled and snuggled in letting my hands pull her closer to me. "I need a day off. Can you do that?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you go work in the inn for a day and I rest here for a day," I said, a plan already unfolding in my mind.

"But…ok. If that’s what you want," she said, her face contorting into a horrid look of hurt.

"No! Xena, no. I’m not mad or anything…I just kinda wanna work on something for you," I said softly. "Would you trust me please?"

She frowned and her blue eyes barely poked out of her lids as she mulled it over. "I trust you. Honest. I’m just not sure I can handle being away from you for a day," she said with a laugh and a blush.

I snickered. "I think you’ll manage," I said, getting out of bed and tossing my shift on. "Get dressed. I’m kicking you out as soon as you’re able to leave."
"You’re mean," she said with a smile as she got up and threw her travel clothes on after scrubbing down lightly with the warm water we had been heating by the fire.

"I know. But you love it," I said with a chuckle, smacking her rump lightly as she pulled her shirt on.

She dressed and I kissed her goodbye, knowing this would now be one of the hardest nights I’d have to endure. "Sleep well," I called after her with a smile and a wave as she headed back to the inn with a still confused look on her face.

I spun around as soon as she was gone, plotting my attack on this pig-sty of a cabin, knowing that damned bear-skin rug was the first thing I was throwing out.


Chapter 42


Two children, not much older than six or seven winters, ran past the front of the cottage, playing in the snow. The skirt of the little girl had been pulled by the back hem and tucked into the front waist giving the same free leg movement that her brother’s breeches provided.

They had a blown up pig’s bladder between them, batting it back and forth and making a game of never letting it hit the freshly fallen snow.

I watched through the freshly cleaned window as they played, winding around the house several times in joyous loops, laughing and cheering the whole time. My hand, unconsciously found its way to my lower abdomen and I laughed when I looked down and saw it resting so protectively there, as if longing for a burden to guard with but five fingers.

"Yeah Right," I muttered, "As if that’s even physically possible, now!" I chuckled at my mind’s oversight. Not a bit of bitterness was in my heart as I reflected on how kids wouldn’t be a possibility for me anymore. Well, not unless Xena had some hidden talent that I don’t know about.

I opened the door, my creme blanket around my shoulders as a shawl. The kids heard the creak of the hinges and froze in their tracks, snapping their head around as if expecting to see a ghost.

Seven. She can’t be older than seven, I thought. Her dark curls fell in her eyes and she shly reached up to brush them away as I stepped from the dark shadow’s of the cabin’s overhang.

I smiled kindly in her direction and noticed the threadbare portions of her dress. Her brother, maybe nine winters old, stepped forward, makeshift balloon in hand and the light caught his trousers, showing their well worn fabric.

His brow furrowed as he put a hand on his sister’s shoulder and tried to push her away from me. "We’re sorry," he said softly to me. "Didn’t mean any harm. Won’t be on your land no more."

I smiled and held out a halting hand. "Its ok. I’m not angry. I thought you might want to come inside and warm yourselves by the fire." It was a simple offer but a warm fire was a gift I had learned to cherish on cold winter nights.

The young girl looked as if she wanted to step into the cabin, but her brother’s hand forestalled her. "Thank you kindly, but we don’t take charity," the young boy said as if it were a mantra, recited many times.

I sighed and let my mind think quickly for a few seconds. "I’ve got some work to be done. If you help me with it, it wouldn’t be charity, would it?"

The brown curls, seeming to be dusted with blonde stripes, shook as the girl agreed with me. I stepped back and she broke free from her brother’s hand and ran inside, skidding to a halt at the hearth, and plopping before it with her hands outstretched and warming in front of the dancing flames.

I laughed and walked inside, letting the young boy follow me at his own pace. I set my pouch of Dinar’s on the mantle.

"So. Work first or second?" I asked the young girl as I broke my remaining piece of bread in half and handed it to each of them.

She gobbled it down and the boy tucked his away in a pocket, her response of bread demolishing an answer enough.

Well this "he" and "she" business has gone on for long enough, I thought after realizing I had just gone about ten minutes without using a proper name. "My name’s Gabrielle. What’s yours?" I said to the little girl, handing her a piece of trail jerky.

"Arianne," She said softly before biting into the jerky.

"That’s a very pretty name," I said to her, sitting down on the floor next to her, waiting for her brother to speak up.

She, Arianne, looked up at her brother, and frowned. "That’s Danic. He don’t like strangers."

I smiled. "That’s ok. I have a very good friend who’s not too fond of strangers either. In fact, she gives them the same look he’s giving me right now!" It was true. Danic’s imitation of "the look" was so dead on that it was hard to keep from laughing.

He broke contact and turned to the front door again. Arianne scurried to her feet to stay next to him.

Now or never, I thought, seeing him ready to leave. "I need some help. I can’t go into town because I’m trying to surprise my friend and she works in town. So I need someone who’ll run back and forth for me. I’m willing to pay them," I said honestly. "Would you two know anyone who’d like a job?"

"I’ll do it." The body and voice were small but the heart willing and I smiled and stood next to the young girl, who, in many ways looked like a young version of Ephiny.

"You’re very eager," I said with a chuckle.

"Mamma’s sick."
"ARI!" Danic, shouted, obviously upset that she had shared more than he had intended for her to.

She hung her head, hurt at her brother’s tone of voice before squaring her shoulders and taking a step toward her much taller brother in defiance. "But the healer can’t help her without the money, Dan!" she said.

I placed a hand on her shoulder. "Ari, I know a very good healer. And I bet that if you helped me out today, she wouldn’t charge you a single Dinar to help your mother."

So Xena would glare at me for offering her medical services. So what? So she’d be mad before hearing the story. So what? She’d get over it. So would I.

"How do I know you’re not lying?" Danic asked bravely on his shoulders.

"Because I’ll pay you weather you want my friend to help your mother or not. Five dinars for the rest of the afternoon."

He studied me, his face contorting into serious thought as it seemed that he weigh the pros and cons of each action. He nodded slowly and I smiled, rising from the dusty floor to my feet.

I grabbed my scroll case and used a bit of parchment. "I need this note delivered to the man who works at the inn. His name is Toris."


I need all of our things. Both Xena’s and mine. All of it. Don’t forget the nik-naks in her room. Bring it over to your grandmother’s old cabin. Let’s just call it an early Solstice present for Xena and keep it our little secret.


I handed the parchment to Ariane and held the door while she scurried off toward the inn.

"Can you go to the market for me, Danic?" I asked before retrieving my coin purse.

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "I don’t steal."

"Well, good. I don’t want you to. I just need you to go do some shopping for me while I stay here and clean."

"I can do that," he added with a nod of his head.

"I figured you could."

I made a short list of my needs and set him on his way with enough coins to cover it before standing up and pulling the hideous bear skin out the back door and to the trash pile.

"Gross," I muttered as the aged skin started to crumble in my fingers.


Chapter 43


"Well, that doesn’t look half bad if I do say so myself!" I said, hands on Arianne’s shoulders as we stood looking over the room we had just scrubbed from top to bottom.

"So clean!" Arianne said in wonder.

"Where do you all sleep, Arianne?" I asked her with a deep breath.

"Momma sleeps in the barn loft," Arianne said in a whisper, "But don't tell Danic I told you. He'll get mad."

"I won't tell Danic," I promised with a smile as I brushed an invisible piece of dust off the nearby table.

There was a quick knock on the door and Arianne stood where she was as I rushed to look before opening the door.

"Get in here!" I said, pulling Toris in by his sleeve. "She didn't see you, did she?"

"She was too busy feeling sorry for herself. She's pouting in the kitchen," Toris responded. "I don't even think she knows that I'm gone!"

"Good. If we get this done, then she can stop pouting and move out here toniight instead of waiting till morning."

Danic snickered. "This is a lot of stuff to get ready in one night."

"Cynic," I said, plucking the childhood blankets from his arms and placing them, with Arianne's help, on the bed.

"You want me to unload the rest of it?" Toris asked.

"Of course. How'd you get it here?" I asked as Arianne hung our largest cooking pot on the fire hook.

"Argo, of course. As if I'd be stupid enough to trust any other horse with my sister's personal belongings."

"You put a Harness on Argo?" I teased with a chuckle.

"It wasn't an easy task, let me tell you. Apparently she's not used to anyone but you or Xena handling her."

"She's not used to me, either," I muttered, stepping outside with Danic and Toris and helping them unload the rest of our belongings into the cabin.

Trunks were strategically placed near the end of the bed. The ladder-accessed attic was converted into storage space by sweeping out the rotted hay and placing our extra saddle bags and such on nice hooks.

Danic had succeeded on his shopping trip and I hung the dried meats and ropes of garlic and onions on nails in the attic rafters while the pantry was being stocked with all the good food the young boy had purchased in the market.

Toris showed me the access door to the small kitchen that had served his grandmother as a medicinal storage room. I saw the older herbal jars, long since emptied by roaming thieves and vowed to restock them with all the proper herbs Xena tried to keep in stock.

The kitchen was large enough to hold a jar rack, a metal back-door to the fireplace that heated the front room, and a rather large cutting table.

I turned to Toris with a smile on my face. "Its a good thing she doesn't cook, huh? I don't think she'd fit in here."

He chuckled and we stepped back outside only to find Danic and Ariane sitting on the floor by the fire, patiently waiting.

I turned in a circle, taking in my new house. "It looks wonderful, guys. Thank you so much."

"Anything for you, Gabrielle," Toris said with a sarcastic smirk as he quickly hugged me before taking Argo back to the inn's barn.

"I'm glad you two decided to help me," I said to Danic and Arianne. "Time for those Dinars, huh?" I walked to my coin pouch and emptied out 7 dinars, two more than I had promised. "Thank you for your help."

Arianne walked up to me, trying to return her extra Dinar. "I don't need this."

"Its ok, honey, take it. Your mother might need it," I said, folding her fingers back around the coin. Danic just looked at the gold in his hand, as if it was the most he had seen in a while. "Just how sick is your mother, Danic?"


"How sick is "Sick"?"

"She's been coughing for a moon or so. Can't get up to work no more. Had ta leave her job at the armory."

"She worked at the armory?" I asked, surprised. Most placed didn't allow women to work in the armory as it was strictly men's only job.

"Yeap. Made leathers for warriors."

A woman making leathers…the only people who make leathers are warriors. The only women warriors are the Amazons. With a few exceptions being Xena and Callisto. Hmmm. I’d have to think about that one a little longer. "That’s a very interesting job for a woman, don’t you think, Danic? There aren’t many women leather makers out there."

"Momma said that where she came from, women did everything."

Ah ha! "Do you know where she came from?"

"She’s never said. Just said we weren’t allowed to go back because I was a boy."

"She was exiled because you’re a boy?" I asked him, trying to solve the puzzle in my head.

"That’s what she says," Danic said as he helped me move the largest trunk to the foot of the bed and then left it for Arianne. Her job was to fill it full of the extra blankets and linens that would be aired out come spring time.

"What’s your momma’s name, Danic. I might know her," I said as he stood, wiping off his hands of sweat.

"Rahlna." Nothing more offered by him and nothing more requested from me. I nodded, not wanting to seem as if I was tugging information from him. We moved the small table next to the bed and set a fresh candle on it, leaving it ready to be lit by my partner.

After a few minutes of various household chores such as stocking the wood pile and cleaning the abandoned kitchen, the cabin was in perfect shape. "You two worked very hard today. I think your mother would be quite proud of you," I said to Arianne, finding a small piece of wool and turning it into a cloak for her with a spare button that I had in my repair kit.

"You think?" Arianne said as I fastened the cloak around her shoulders, silently vowing to make one for Danic as well.

"I know she would," I affirmed with a smile and a nod before reaching over and taking both his shoulders in my grasp, squeezing gently in something close to a hug. He smiled and I took the opportunity to ask what had been on my mind for a while. "Danic, can I meet your mother? Bring my friend so that maybe your mom can get well?"

He shook his head, obviously debating his love for his mother and his loyalty. "I dunno. She done told us not to let anyone know she was sick in the barn. They’d make us leave, she said."

I smiled at them both, "I can garuntee that won’t happen. I know the woman who owns that barn. She won’t kick you out. Let’s go get my friend and help your mom, ok?"

He nodded and I offered my arm out, extending my cloak and allowing he and his sister to huddle underneath before we headed to the inn.

Chapter 44


"Go inside and tell Toris I said to give you some warm cider. I’ll be in soon," I said, pushing the door open for them before wandering around to the other side of the house and peering through the window frame to Xena’s childhood room.

She sat on the bed, her armor piece in hand and a small detail tool she used to clean the fine metal designs in the other.

I watched but for a moment before lifting the ledge and crawling through the window. Her head spun around and she got to her feet a second too late for my liking. Looks like someone still doesn’t feel good! I thought, noting the slowness of her movements, that to anyone else would seem lightening quick.

"What are you doing sneaking up on me like that? And I thought you had banned me from you for the night!" She said, her armor piece clattering on the floor.

"I didn’t mean to scare you," I said softly, leaving my cloak on. "And I didn’t ban you. I was just working on a surprise for you, that’s all."

She rolled her eyes and sat back down, reaching to pick up her breast plate. I snagged it from her grasp with a flick of my boot toe and handed it to her with shy eyes.

"I need a favor," I said softly.

"Anything, you know that," she said, hand held out and the metal moved from our way as I sat on her lap lightly.

"I met these two kids-"

"I’m not adopting kids, Gabrielle," she interrupted with a sigh.

"First off, that wasn’t even my favor. Secondly, kids aren’t like lost puppy’s. You can’t just up and adopt them because they have soft hair and sad eyes."

She snickered and I placed my finger on her nose, loving how her muscles moved under my own. "Ok. Go on."

"Their names are Danic and Arianne. He’s about 9 or 10 and she’s not more than 7. They’re sleeping in your mother’s barn, Xena."

"Why?" She asked, surprised.

"Because their mother’s very sick and lost her job at the armory."

"Armory?" she said, her mind doing the same thing mine had earlier.

"Yeah. Armory. And I don’t know that many women who aren’t Amazons or You who know how to make leather armor. Do you?" I asked, sliding off her legs and noticing how drab the room looked without all her belongings. It seemed that she hadn’t even noticed that the only things left were her armor pack and her weapons.

"Not many, you’re right."

And since Danic said his mother was sent away because her first born was a boy, I think-"

"That maybe this woman is an Amazon. And if she’s an Amazon, she’s your responsibility as Queen. Right?"

"Actually, I didn’t even think about the responsibility part, but yeah. And if she’s sick, Xena, I’d like you to take a look at her. Please. You’re the best healer I know and … I …Please?" I asked, turning to face her, my hands unconsiously wringing in front of my chest.

"Did you honestly think I’m going to say no?" she asked, standing up and stretching, her joints snapping loudly. "Getting old," she muttered as she grabbed her cloak and reached for her travel kit which usually sat by the door. I handed it to her before she could even realize it was out of place, having tucked it inside my cloak pouch before leaving the cabin.

"You not old, Xena. You just haven’t had anyone to take care of you for a long time. And now that I don’t have to hunt for a reason to give you back rubs and help you get stitched up after a fight, I think you’ll do just fine to live to be old and grey," I said, wrapping my arm around her waist, walking downstairs with her to find Danic and Arianne.

"I’ve seen your sewing. Is it my fault I don’t want scars that look like your hem lines?" She teased, tickling my waist as we rounded the corner into the inn to see two young kids sitting on the bar stools, mugs in hand, sipping away and laughing as Toris made shadow puppets with his fingers against the far walls. "Oh, isn’t that cute?" She asked with a sarcastic chuckle as we headed toward them.

"Behave," I said softly, poking her side.

"Danic!" I called. The young boy turned around while Arianne continued to play with Toris. "Danic, this is my friend Xena. She’s gonna have a look at your mother and try to help her, ok?" I asked with a smile.

"She’s in the barn," he said, starting to get up before Xena’s strong, yet gentle, hand forestalled him.

"Why don’t you stay here. Rest a little while. I’ll go see what I can do, ok?" Xena said, patting the young boy’s shoulder as he nodded and turned back around to finish his cider and watch Toris’s finger play.

We stepped outside, and I tugged her cloak tight around her and we headed the short distance to the barn. I wanted…no, I need to see if I was indeed responsible for this woman and her children.


"Rahlna?" I called, stepping into the barn. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Xena listened for any sounds that I might not be able to hear. I called again; "Rahlna?"

Xena’s finger pointed up to the loft and I headed to the ladder, climbing up with confident movements, Xena right behind me.

In the hay, a pale woman stirred softly in a fitful sleep. Her red hair was wavy and damp with sweat. Probably as curly as her daughter’s, I thought, knowing curly hair straightened when it was wet.

Xena walked over and knelt at her side, her hand placed on the woman’s forehead. "Fever," she muttered, feeling the woman’s cheeks as well.

"Bad?" I asked, reaching for the healer’s kit and opening it up.

"Not good," she said, forestalling my motions with a hand. "There’s no way she can stay up here, Gabrielle," Xena said to me. "Its not clean. There’s no hot water. We’ve got to find a room for her. Somewhere."

I nodded, closing the satchel back up with a deft movement. "I know just the place. We just need Argo and a litter and she’ll be fine," I said. Here eyebrows quirked at me in question. "Don’t argue, Xena," I said. "I wouldn’t risk this woman’s life just to be right. Its out of the way, warm, and clean. Come on!" I stood up and got down the ladder with little effort, jumping the last three rungs and landing with ease on the hard ground.

I knew without even asking her that Xena would jump off the loft with the woman in her arms. My knees, on the other hand, weren’t reliable enough to do such a feat, so I left that up to my dare-devil friend.

Sure enough a few seconds later I heard a soft thump and turned to see Xena with the sick woman in her arms, standing not two arms lengths from me. I smiled at her and she grinned back. "How far are we going?" she asked.

"Our house," I said, getting Argo’s bridle off the hook and fastening it to the mare with practiced motions.

"That place isn’t fit for the ill, Gabrielle!" Xena said, glaring at me.

"But its fit enough to take me and make love to me?" I asked, getting a shamefaced blush and hung-head from her.

"I…I…I" She stuttered as I cinched the girth.

"Forget it," I said with a half-smile. "We’ll talk later about it if you really want to, ok?" I said, getting a nod in return. "Do you really need a litter or do you think she’ll make it on horseback?" I asked, changing the subject.

"She won’t make it alone. We’d have to double up," she said walking to the left side and lifting Rahlna up onto Argo’s back.

"It isn’t far. You get on with her. I’ll walk." I said, holding Argo steady as Xena steadied the ill woman before smoothly mounting the horse herself.

"I need my things from our room," She said, still not realizing that during her pouting session all her belongings had been moved.

I nodded, ignoring her request and led the horse out of the barn, shutting the large doors after us.

There was no internal debate as I removed my cloak. I’ll be fine for the quick walk to the cabin. Passing it up to Xena who placed it around the trim Redhead, I knew that she would need it more than I.

I glanced at Xena, seeing the dark circles under her eyes and made a mental note to make her get some extra sleep. She still wasn’t completely well and I’m sure all our affectionate attentions earlier hadn’t left her completely rested, either.

She kneed Argo along into a brisk walk and I guided the loyal pony along in the blinding snow, only my thin tunic separating my chest from the driving white.


Chapter 45


Xena slid off Argo’s back as I held Rahlna up with two hands. "You take her in. I’ll run back, put Argo back in the stable," I said, opening the door for Xena before mounting Argo, deciding it was too cold to be afraid of either heights or horses, and nudged her into a cautious trot all the way back to the barn.

I felt her surprised look at my back as I headed back to the barn. Very seldom did I get on Argo’s back voluntarily. The gentle pony was just too damned high for my liking. And big, too!

Once Argo was safely in the barn, I ran back to the inn.

Toris was in the kitchen, getting some food served onto a plate. He dribbled onto the floor without a look back.

"Toris," I said, my breath short, "Xena and I are at the cabin. The kids’ mother, is with us. Keep the kids here over night. They can stay in Xena’s old room if you don’t have any spares. I’ll come by in the morning as soon as I can and let you know what’s going on, ok?" I turned, grabbed a piece of stew out of the pot, plopping the warm meet into my mouth without giving Toris a chance to reply before I headed back outside into the swirling snow and up the hill to the cabin.

The cabin’s window let off a yellow tinge and I could see smoke rising through the somewhat leaning chimney as I came up to the front door. Inside was warm and cozy even though small little drafts of wind still snuck through the infrequent gaps in the mortar.

"How’s she doing?" I asked Xena, seeing the patient on a pallet near the fireplace.

"Nasty fever."

"Will she make it?"

"Its too soon to say, but if the fever breaks and we can get the fluid out of her lungs, there’s a good chance," Xena said, tucking the blankets up high around Rahlna’s neck before turning to me with a weird smile on her face.

"This place…I…Its wonderful, Gabrielle. Thank you," She said, reaching out a hand to cup my cheek. I leaned into her touch, glad that her hands were warm, unlike my skin. After being out in the snow for so long, I was rather chilled and I saw her realize that as she touched my freezing skin. "Damn, Gabrielle! You’re like Ice!" She grabbed the cream blanket I was so fond of and wrapped it around my shoulders before pulling me into a tight embrace and rubbing my back with energy.

I smiled and leaned into her slightly, still aware that she wasn’t completely recovered from her bought with the illness she had a few days ago. "Xena, not like I’m not enjoying the attention, but what are you doing?" I asked.

"I’m trying to warm you up so you don’t get sick!" she said with some tinge of exasperation in her tone.

I pushed her back a half step and reached up, grabbing her at the base of her neck and drawing her head down to my own. I seized her lips with a passion she hadn’t know from me till that very moment. When we finally parted, my skin was just as flushed as hers and I took her hand, pressing it to my cheek. "See? That’s all you have to do to warm me up."

She grinned and kissed me quickly before fiddling with the blanket around my shoulders. "Imp," she muttered, smiling my way.

"I try," I said, hugging her and enjoying the quiet moment we shared as the snow fell around us.

"Gab?" she said, breaking the quiet with the low roll of her voice.


"I really mean it. Thanks for the cabin. Its perfect," she said, kissing the top of my head softly.

"I’m glad you like it. I know you haven’t had a place to come home to in a long time. Since before Cortese. I wanted you to have that. To have a place to store your gear while we’re on the road. You deserve that at least, Xena," I said softly.

"No. I don’t. I don’t deserve a home, Gabrielle. I have burned so many from their houses. I’ve left so many people without a home. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve you," she said, her hold on me tightening slightly.

I snorted in indignation and took a step back, weaving out of her hold. "Excuse me? Excuse me?!" I said, my fury showing in my stance, no doubt.

She made no comment but just hung her head instead.

"Xena! This is not a pity party! We’ve been over this again and again. How dare you assume that just because you were a undeniable terror for many years you haven’t made up for it now! You’ve done so much good, Xena. So much more than you’ll ever know! I refuse to let this self pity you have eat you alive. I’m not ready to let you go, damnit," I said, stamping my foot, the blanket falling to the floor. She looked up, obviously shocked at my violent outburst. "I love you too much to let you think of yourself as some monster, Xena. You’re not. You’re kind and caring and gentle. You’re the only person I’d ever trust with my life and I do that on a daily basis. Doesn’t that tell you anything? Doesn’t the fact that I’ve happily devoted my life to be with you, roaming the countryside and how I prefer to be with you than any other person in this world show you that you’ve done something right? What is it going to take to convince you that you’re a good person?" My temper tantrum dwindled down as tears of frustration and sadness cascaded down my cheeks. "I can’t take this anymore. I just can’t!" I whispered to her, going outside and around back of the house, leaning against the wall and crying, feeling the wet tears come close to freezing on my cheeks.


I steadied myself against the wall, my body shaking as I sobbed. My forearms rested against the log wall and my forehead against that as my back was towards the snowy night.

How many more nights am I going to do this? I thought, knowing the answer in my heart before my head came up with it. As long as it takes. Every day for the rest of you life if you have to.

I sighed, and took a deep breath, feeling the shaky sobs still in my chest.

A weight settled over my shoulders as I let out the air in my lungs and with a quick smell, I knew it to be Xena’s cloak around me.

"Come back inside," she said softly, her hand tucking a stray lock of my hair behind my ear.

I turned to look at her and I saw the hurt on her face. I didn’t know why it was there but all I wanted to do was make it leave. I only wanted her happy. "Xe-" I started, but she shook her head at me, stalling my words.

"Come back inside. Its too cold out here. And its too cold in there without you," she said softly.

I turned and put a pair of fingers on her lips, tracing them as I spoke. "I love you. I always will, Xena. Right now I see this woman who is special. So special that I can’t even fathom it. I just don’t understand why you can’t see all your beauty and love yourself as much as I do." With a cautious step, I leaned up and kissed her cheek. "Let’s go inside. My ass is frozen out here," I admitted, feeling her hand go to cover said body part protectively as soon as the words had escaped my lips.

The door swung open and we saw a very dazed patient sitting up on her pallet, sweaty hair plastered to her forehead.

"Oh, good, you’re up," I said, taking ‘my’ cloak off and hanging it on the hook-rack Toris had hung next to the door. "How you feeling, Rahlna?" I asked, walking over and kneeling next to the pallet, Xena right behind me.

"Who are you? Where am I?" She said, looking around worriedly. As she reached up and fingered an amulet that hung around her neck, she looked relieved to still find it there.

"You were sleeping in my mother’s barn. That makes you my responsibility, so you’re in our home and you’re staying here until you get better," Xena said, her no-nonsense attitude coming through clearly.


"Don’t argue with her," I said, reaching onto the mantel and pulling down my amulet that matched hers exactly. "As an order from a sister Amazon."

Rahlna let her head drop back to the pillow for a moment before she sat up. "My children. They won’t know where I am. I’ve gotta-" She started before Xena put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down.

"Stay," she growled at the red-head.

I chuckled at Xena as she turned to the fire to turn the boiling water into a pot of tea for us all, "Your children are fine. They’re both at the inn having a hot dinner courtesy of the house. Toris, Xena’s brother, is going to take care of them until you’re well enough to travel," I explained.

"Travel?" She said, coughing around the word.

"We’re going to take you home."

Xena turned, carefully mixing some healing herbs into a mug. She looked up at Rahlna’s confused face. "Amazon country," she explained.

"I can’t go back," she said softly, slumping against the pillow in exhaustion. "Danic…I can’t."

Xena poured her tea and swished around before motioning for me to lift her head. "Drink this," I said softly as she sucked the liquid from the mug. "We’ll work something out with Danic, don’t worry," I said, pushing the hair from her face and watching as she nodded slowly, giving into the fast acting herbs and her body’s complete exhaustion. Her eyes closed and I set her head back gently onto the pillow.

"The fever’s gone down a lot since she’s been near the fire." Xena commented, washing the mug out in the bucket near the fireplace.

"And yours has gone back up," I said, seeing her eyes a bit glazed. "Get in bed," I said standing and taking the mug from her, turning her towards the bed.

"I’ll live, Gabrielle," she said.

"Not if you don’t get your cute butt in bed right now, Princess. You’re sick still and I’m not risking your health just to coddle your pride. Go!" I said, tugging her pants off as we spoke. I turned to get her a fresh tunic and when I turned around, I about swallowed my tongue as she stood naked in front of me.

"What?" she said coyly, a seductive smile on her lips.

"That’s not fair. We have company," I protested, thrusting the tunic at her and turning to get into my own sleep wear.

"Fine. We’ll just wait till we get to the Amazon village where everyone can here me make you scream," she with an evil glint in her eye.

"You forget, Xena," I said, rushing her and knocking her back on the bed with an audible "oof" as air was forced out of her lungs. "You forget that the Amazon’s have a very comprehensive library and I can learn a few things about giving as good as I get while I’m there," I said, seeing her eyebrows rise in startled pleasure.

"Sounds like fun!" She said, scooting us over as I pulled the blankets up to our shoulders.

I smiled into her skin as I settled myself on top of her, head tucked into my spot on her collarbone.

"Gab?" She said after a few moments of quiet.

"Yeah?" I asked, kissing her neck softly.

"Thanks for giving me a home."

"Thanks for being mine," I replied, hugging her to me in happiness.