ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMERS FOR THIS PART:
Subtext/Maintext: No graphic body part descriptions here, but the final love scene gets pretty intense, earning this last chapter a rating of R/NC17. Yep, X & G are in love. If that offends you, you might not want to read this story because you could find yourself enjoying it.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
CLEOPATRA 4 A.D.
Part 12 - CONCLUSION
Put me like a seal over your heart ... For love is as strong as death.
-Song of Solomon 8:6, the Bible, New American Standard Version, copyright by God.
She was chiefly aware of the pain, that lingered on the edges of non-descript troubled dreams. As she drifted into consciousness, she could feel cool satin sheets against her skin and a soft pillow under her head. Finally, she opened her eyes and looked up at a high ceiling that was covered in ornate pastel tapestries which were framed in white tiles. Next, she surveyed the four wooden bedposts that rose up into her line of sight, and knew she wasn't in her own bed in the Amazon village. Where am I? And how did I get here?
Her mouth was dry and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She tried to swallow and almost choked instead. Gods. I feel weak as a newborn baby. Her thoughts were fuzzy and everything seemed slightly out of focus and far away. Her leg throbbed in a continual dull ache, that periodically escalated to brief, sharp, shooting pains. She vaguely remembered the battle and her resulting injury.
She heard a faint scratching noise and concentrated, before turning her head toward the source of the sound. Gabrielle. Her partner was seated at a desk across the room, bent over a scroll, deep in thought, a single flickering lantern illuminating the table. Several candles in sconces, scattered along the four walls of the room, provided additional light. Gabrielle? Why won't she respond to me? Gabrielle? Oh. Wait. I didn't say that out loud, did I?
"Gh ... Gh ..." Damnitalltohades. The minute sounds stuck in her throat. She took a deep breath and forced her lover's names from her lungs. "Gubrlll?" She watched the quill drop from the bard's fingers and float to the floor, as Gabrielle's head snapped toward her and two green eyes grew wide with surprise. Xena tried to raise up, using stomach and leg muscles in the process, and felt excruciating pain radiate down her left leg. "Auuuhggh."
"Easy, love." Gabrielle was at her side in an instant, stroking her head and peering down at her with a relieved yet concerned expression. "Try not to move too much."
"Water." The warrior whispered, and was rewarded with a water skin that her partner held to her lips. She sucked at the refreshing liquid greedily, enjoying the sensation of the cool trickle across her tongue with great pleasure.
"Careful there. Don't make yourself sick." The bard removed the water and smiled briefly at the scowl she received, indicating the warrior was at least coherent enough to express displeasure. "How are you feeling?" She sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed, laying a hand on her lover's linen-clad stomach.
"Hurts." The alto voice rasped. "Where ...?" She lifted a hand and weakly gestured in a circle before dropping it back down onto the mattress.
"We're back in our room in Cleopatra's palace in Cairo. Recognize it?" Two blue eyes slowly panned the room, as best they could with the warrior laying flat. She focused on her partner again and nodded affirmatively, just a slight shake of her head.
"Time?" Dark lashes blinked in question.
"It's almost dusk. The sun will be going down real soon." The bard got up and opened the terrace door wider, letting in the rain-cooled breeze, along with the fresh earthy scent that rose up from the wet desert sands. She returned to the bed and resumed her position.
"How long ...?" Xena was having trouble forming complete sentences, and she was grateful her partner seemed to be following her.
"You were injured four days ago, honey." Gentle green eyes grew misty, the candlelight sparkling in unshed tears. "We've been here for three days." Gabrielle watched the wheels turn behind the slightly un-focused eyes and waited.
The warrior tried to comprehend the time-frame her lover presented. Thought it was a three-day trip from where we were. But ... She wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "Can't think straight right now. Head injury?"
The bard saw the flicker of fear on her lover's face. "No, love. Just your left leg. Well ... that and another bout with your upper left biceps." This earned her a weak chuckle, as Xena looked down at the stitches in her arm.
"Why's my head so scrambled?" Xena blinked and then closed her eyes, as the bard idly rubbed her stomach.
"Lots of pain-killing herbs, honey." Gabrielle slid her hand underneath the sleep shirt to stroke the soft skin of her lover's toned abdomen. The action always seemed to comfort the warrior. "The palace healers have been giving you some pretty strong stuff. It kept you pretty much knocked out twenty-four candle marks a day. We just started decreasing the dosage this morning. You were really hurting."
"Still am." The warrior opened her eyes, just a slit. "Tired."
"Xena, go back to sleep." The bard continued to caress her lover's firm stomach. "I don't think you're quite ready to get up just yet."
"Stay." The hoarse voice persisted, as Xena fought her fatigue.
"I'm not going anywhere, love." Gabrielle crawled up onto the mattress next to her lover, laying down on her side and draping one arm across the warrior's torso. "I'll be right here when you wake up."
"Promise?" The dark head turned toward her partner. A vaguely apprehensive expression on her tanned face conveyed her lingering confusion regarding her circumstances.
"Promise." Gabrielle felt a large hand cover the one she had resting on Xena's stomach.
"Good." The blue eyes fluttered closed and Xena's breathing deepened.
Gabrielle watched until she knew her partner was completely out. Only then did she finally allow the relieved tears to spill out, dampening the pillowcase under her cheek. You're going to be just fine, Xena. You have to be. It was the first time the warrior had been truly coherent since the day of the battle.
A few candle marks later, Xena opened her eyes, her thoughts much clearer. She slowly turned her head to the side and studied Gabrielle's face. The bard was still laying on her side next to her, her forehead lined with worry, even in sleep. The warrior reached across and lightly touched her partner's cheek with the backs of her fingers, frowning at the dried tear streaks. She's cried way too many times on this trip. How many sacrifices are you going to make for me, love?
Gabrielle felt her lover's touch and reflexively moved closer, wrapping her arm more tightly around Xena's waist and burying her face in the warrior's shoulder. Xena laid her own arm on top of Gabrielle's, and idly stroked the blonde hair with her other hand. She smiled as she watched the bard's face relax. That's it, sweetheart. You can quit worrying now.
The warrior could still feel the continual dull pain in her leg, and she raised her head, trying to see her wound, only to find her lower body covered with a light blanket. Her head dropped back down onto the pillow and she sighed. Why do I have the feeling this is a lot worse than a basic flesh wound?
Gabrielle stirred and drew in a breath, inhaling the scent of her lover's skin with vague pleasure. Xena? She slowly became aware of the body her arm was draped across and opened her eyes. She looked up and found two pale blue ones gazing fondly back at her. "Xena, you're awake." The bard sat up. "How are you feeling now, honey?"
"A lot less fuzzy." The warrior tried to sit up, but was stopped by gentle pressure from the bard's hand on her stomach. "Want to see my leg."
"Careful." Gabrielle scooted around and placed one arm under her partner's shoulders. "Here, let me help you."
The warrior allowed the bard to bear her upper body weight, as she slowly sat up. She felt a momentary spinning sensation as her equilibrium adjusted to being upright for the first time in four days. Xena watched the black spots disappear, and then tentatively lifted the flaxen blanket, bracing herself for the worst. Several layers of bandage were wrapped around her left thigh. "Can you ... um ...?"
"Sure. Let me just ..." Gabrielle grabbed all the pillows on the bed and used them to prop her partner up in a semi-reclining position. She moved down and began unwinding the bandage, carefully lifting Xena's leg slightly each time she had to slide a layer away. The warrior watched in silence, determined not to flinch or otherwise react to the extreme pain those simple actions were causing.
The bard reached the last layer and looked up. Xena's jaw muscles were clenched tightly and her hands were balled up in fists. "Oh gods, Xena. Honey, I'm sorry. That must have hurt you."
"S'okay." The warrior forced herself to relax. "Hardly felt it."
"Uh-huh." Gabrielle shook her head from side to side. So stubborn. Gods forbid she admit she's in pain. "Xena ... before I take this off ..."
"Gabrielle. I can feel that it's probably pretty bad, okay?" The warrior gently touched her partner's knee, which was pressed slightly into her hip. "Just get it over with. Please?"
The bard said nothing, and slowly removed the final layer of bandage. She turned and looked into a stoic face that she couldn't read. "Xena?"
The warrior studied the wound with a good measure of detachment, as if it belonged to someone besides herself. A long row of neat even stitches ran almost the entire length of her upper leg, from just below the apex of her hip to the top of her kneecap. The skin around it looked healthy, and there didn't appear to be any drainage. In fact, the surface wound was already healing, evidenced by new pink tissue interspersed with the scabbed-over parts of the cut. A faint dusting of herbs clung to the surface, a testament to Gabrielle's diligent care of the large gash.
"Um ... how many stitches?"
"Around fifty, I think." Gabrielle pursed her lips.
"Good work." The warrior tried to raise her knee and immediately regretted it. "Damn that hurts. How deep is it?"
"Xena." The bard scooted up closer to her lover's head. "I didn't really take time to measure it, you know? I think it may go almost to the bone, but I'm not sure. There was a lot of blood. And that was our main concern, getting it closed up before you bled to death."
"Mmmm." It was all coming back to her. The sting of the sword when it first sliced her leg open ... her fear that she would die ...Gabrielle's brave care of her ... the searing pain as the bard cauterized the wound ... Gregorias' betrayal ... that sai flying past her head ... Her eyes grew wide. Gabrielle killed someone to save my life. Again. "You ... Gregorias. Gabrielle, I'm sorry you were put in that position."
"Xena, let's not have that conversation right now, okay?" The bard traced her partner's face with her fingertips. "Can we save it until you're feeling a little bit better?"
"Okay." The warrior did feel extremely fatigued. "We can do that."
"Just know that I don't regret what I did." Xena turned her head and Gabrielle felt the warrior lightly kiss the palm of her hand as it rested against her face. "And I don't want you to regret it either."
"I'll try not to." The warrior smiled. "Um ... I don't suppose you might be able to go get me something to eat. My stomach feels pretty hollow."
"Can't imagine why." Gabrielle ruffled the dark hair. "I think I can find something. Be right back. Don't go anywhere."
"Hardee-har-har." Xena made a half-hearted sideways swipe of her arm at her partner, who managed to back out of the way. She watched the bard disappear into the hallway and grew pensive.
Okay. I'm alive. Anything is downhill from there. The warrior considered this for several long minutes, remembering her own morbid fear when she first saw the wound and watched her own blood spilling onto the ground. Can't believe I survived that. No one ever ... not any of the soldiers in my army ... She'd never seen anyone with a wound that severe live to tell about it.
Gods. It's going to take forever to recover. I won't be able to walk. No running, no jumping, no flips. Gods only know how I'm going to be able to defend myself ... She thought about that for a moment and smiled sadly. You've got Gabrielle ... A tiny voice nudged at the edges of her mind, forcing her to acknowledge that the bard was indeed able to take care of both of them, if she had to.
There was a time, if something like this had happened, I would have made her leave me because it wouldn't have been safe for her to stay. Would have sent her packing back to Potadeia. Because I had to protect both of us. The small voice bubbled up in mocking laughter. Warrior, you know she wouldn't have left you, even way back then. She's stuck by your side through death twice. What makes you think a little thing like a set of stitches would scare her away?
It's not as bad as having two broken legs. She studied the uncovered stitches and shivered, remembering one of the darkest times in her life. A time when one small but significant decision had carried her through years of anger and heartache and irreparable destruction. Years that part of her knew she could never atone for. I destroyed more than property. I ruined thousands of lives. And it all started when Caesar betrayed me and broke my legs.
How would things have been different if there had been a Gabrielle in my life when Caesar crucified me the first time? Would Gabrielle's love have been stronger than the love of Lao Ma? Gods know Lao Ma tried. Maybe I had to reach the end of my rope before I was ready to accept love in my life. Maybe it's good that I didn't meet Gabrielle back then. Would I have rejected her, or would she have wanted to be my friend at all? Or would something in both of us, the part that makes us soulmates, have overcome all of that anger?
Of course it's a very good thing I had Gabrielle in my life four days ago. Damn. Wonder how she's really feeling about killing Gregorias? And what kind of emotional pain has she been in since then? She briefly wondered what had transpired during the time she had been out, and frowned again at the puzzle, knowing that the number of days they had supposedly been back in Cairo didn't add up. She made a mental note to question Gabrielle at length about everything that had happened, and then returned to the problem of her left leg.
Okay. Let's see what I can do. She looked guiltily around, as if perhaps her partner had left spies behind to make sure she behaved herself. Her face twisted in concentration, and she gently swung both legs to the side, until the good one dangled down, touching the ground, and the injured one stuck out straight, resting on her heel on the thick rug that covered the tiled floor next to the bed. Her entire leg was throbbing, pulsing in time to the severe pounding of her heart.
Xena braced her weight on her hands and shifted to the very edge of the mattress. Here goes nothing. She pushed up, taking her full weight on her right leg. Her left leg screamed, just from the effort of holding itself up. After several gulps of air, she hopped forward a few times until she cleared the rug and hit the smooth floor. Gaining confidence and propelled by sheer momentum, she continued her journey across the room, hopping on one foot, until she reached the fireplace on the far wall and leaned heavily against the mantle while she caught her breath.
She turned to go back to the bed, hoping her partner wouldn't return too quickly, and suddenly her supporting leg turned to spaghetti. "Whoa." She collapsed to a sitting position on the hearth and worriedly examined her stitches, sighing with relief that none of them had pulled lose.
"Meow?" Her small tabby friend appeared, and stopped halfway through the patio door to rub its body from nose to tail against the door facing. The dainty animal picked its way across the floor and stopped next to the warrior, resting one paw on the foot of her injured leg.
"Hey there." Xena smiled, in spite of her situation. "You come in here to make fun of me?"
"Meow?" The cat proceeded to brush its face against the warrior's lower leg.
"Pretty stupid, huh?" Xena leaned back against the wall behind her, stretching her left leg out fully in front of her, gently nudging the little feline out of the way. "Careful with the leg there, buddy. I'm in enough trouble already. If I don't get my rear-end back in that bed before Gabrielle comes back, I may be sleeping in it alone tonight."
The tabby peered up at her and then flopped over onto the floor, stomach-up, begging for a belly rub as it wriggled around, pawing at the air with all four feet. "Meow?"
"Oh. You're not a he. You're a she, aren't you?" The warrior got her first good look at the little animal's white underside, noting the decided lack of male parts. "Uh-oh." She studied the cat's slightly-swollen torso more closely, leaning over, ignoring the pain the action caused. "And you've got a tummy full of little ones, don't you?"
"Xena!" The warrior had been so busy talking to the cat, she hadn't heard her partner's soft foot-steps in the corridor outside, nor had she noticed the door open. "What in the name of Artemis do you think you're doing?"
"Sitting down? Resting my leg?" Xena feigned innocence. "Hey. Did you know this cat is a girl, and she's pregnant?"
"You are in so much trouble, warrior princess." Gabrielle fumed, as she set a tray of food down on a table and stormed over. "And I don't give a flying fig if the cat's ... did you say 'pregnant'?"
"Yeah." The warrior gestured toward the thoroughly contented feline, who had curled around her right ankle and was tickling Xena's skin with heavy purring. "Just starting to show."
"Oh how sweet." The bard momentarily forgot her anger and dropped to the floor, gently stroking the short brown, black and grey-striped coat. "Can we take this one home with us? Please?"
Given her situation, Xena was in no position to deny her partner anything. "Yeah." She sighed. "If Cleo's willing to part with her." She glanced at Gabrielle and put on her most charming grin. "Am I off the hook?"
"Not hardly." The bard scooted up next to her on the hearth, and laid a hand on a broad shoulder. "Xena, what were you thinking?"
"Just wanted to see if I could get around." The warrior pouted.
"And you couldn't wait until I got back?" Gabrielle gently poked her partner in the ribs. "What if you had fallen down and split the gash open again?"
"Didn't happen." Xena muttered under her breath, idly petting the cat, who, sensing the discord, had jumped up next to her and laid halfway across her good thigh, apparently taking the warrior's side.
"But it could have. Xena, I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you. I ..." She placed her elbows on her knees and buried her face in her upraised hands. "I almost lost you a few days ago. Twice in less than one day..." She sniffled. "... thought you were going to leave me, Xena. I can't take it. It's too much."
"Sweetheart." The warrior watched her partner's small frame shaking with silent tears, and draped an arm around her, pulling her close against her side. "I could never leave you. Gabrielle, even if we are ever ... physically separated for a while ... I plan to sit under that tree and keep an eye on you."
"Not the same." The bard buried herself more firmly into Xena's body, uncomforted by the warrior's words. "I can't hug a ghost."
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Xena kissed the pale head. "Look. I'll get a pair of crutches. I won't do that again."
"Will too." Gabrielle smiled against the spicy-scented warm skin. "I know you Xena. If you are supposed to wait a moon to try to walk, you'll be trying it in two weeks. If it should be a season before you run, you'll be out for a jog in a moon. If flips are out of the question for six moons, you'll be doing them by winter solstice."
Nailed. The warrior looked down into green eyes that had finally looked up at her. "Am I really that bad?"
"Yes." The bard brushed dark bangs out of her partner's face. "And I know why you just had to try to get up when I wasn't around."
"Oh yeah?" Two black brows rose. "Why?"
"Pride." Gabrielle smirked.
"Not true." Xena scowled.
"Yes. It is." The bard smiled and patted her lover's upper chest. "You had to be alone the first time you tried to get up, because deep down inside, you were afraid you might fail. And you couldn't do that in front of me. Or anyone else for that matter."
Gods. The warrior blinked in admission. She's absolutely right. "Guess that comes from growing up with two brothers. They'd ... I was always better than them ... at physical stuff I mean."
Gabrielle giggled and waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"Hey." Xena tickled a bare midriff. "I hadn't tested those physical skills yet. Not back then. But when it came to running or jumping or climbing, or anything else that required strength or speed or dexterity, I could beat them almost every time. Pretty much from the time I was just a few summers old. So any time I goofed up or lost, they let me hear about it. For days."
"It got really hard for a couple of summers. I was always tall, but around eleven summers, I started to shoot up really fast. One minute I came up to mother's shoulder, the next I was looking down at her to talk. Took some adjusting to not trip all over my own growing feet. I managed, most of the time, but Lyceus and Toris, they could be pretty cruel with the teasing. Oh gods, and when I started to develop breasts and hips, they gave me such a damned hard time. I was all out of balance for a while."
The bard gently rubbed one of the hips in question, and kissed the upper swell of a breast through the soft worn linen shirt. "Glad you grew them, honey." She smiled.
"Yeah. Me too." The warrior chuckled. "But back then ... I'd sometimes climb up in the hayloft and cry, begging the gods to make me a boy. I hated feeling so awkward and self-conscious. Guess I still do. Can't stand for people I care about to see me make a mistake. Or people I don't care about, for that matter."
"Xena." Gabrielle wrapped one arm around her partner's waist and squeezed it loosely. "You know I would never laugh at you if you fell down, at least not unless we were just playing around, wrestling or playing tag or something. I certainly wouldn't make fun of you if you were to fall down while you recover from this injury. If anything, it would scare me to death, most of all. It's a long way from your head to the ground. I'd hate to see you hurt yourself even worse than you already are."
"Thanks." The warrior brushed her lips across her partner's forehead. "I can't make any promises I might not keep, but I'll try not to be so stubborn."
"That's all I can ask for." Gabrielle smiled and sniffed the air, taking in the meaty scent of a lamb stew she'd brought from the palace kitchen. "You want to try to make it over to the table?"
"Help me?" Xena grinned and settled her good arm more solidly across the bard's shoulders. "Okay, this is gonna be a little bit difficult, since it's the left arm and the left leg that are both in bad shape. Just ... take it slow over to the table, and I'll try to carry most of my weight on my right leg and just use you for balance. I have to hop, so just bear with me. You've had plenty of practice at that."
"True." The bard smirked. "Hey!" A large hand playfully swatted her stomach.
"Brat." Xena rubbed the spot she'd just slapped at.
"Right back at you." Gabrielle stuck her tongue out and then yelped as Xena took the opportunity to lean in and kiss her, covering the tip of her tongue and her lips for a few moments.
After several stops and starts, the warrior finally landed in a chair with her left leg propped up on another chair along one side of the table. Her stomach growled audibly as Gabrielle dished up two healthy bowls full of the stew, along with some of the herbed flat bread that was a staple of the Egyptian diet. "Thank you, sweetheart." Xena dipped a piece of the bread into her bowl and bit down hungrily. "Gods that tastes good. I think I was starving."
"That's partly why we tapered off the herbs." The bard spoke around a mouthful of lamb and vegetables. "It was a toss-up between pain and hunger. You hadn't eaten anything solid since breakfast the morning of the battle. We decided that if you are going to heal properly, your body needed to get some fuel in it."
"Good decision." The warrior grew thoughtful. "Gabrielle, if we fought that battle four days ago, how can we have been back her for three? It should have taken three days to transport the army back here from that far."
"Xena, you were very close to death." The bard's eyes took on a far-away look." That first day you developed a horrible infection. And right after we got you through that, it started to rain, the monsoons hit. Gabrielle nodded out the open terrace door, where the steady downpour continued to fall. I was at the end of my rope. I sat down next to you, and began to mentally prepare myself for the very real possibility that you might die."
"So how ...?"
"Ares." The bard watched the blue eyes narrow, and could almost see her partner bristle at the mention of her father's name.
"What do you mean 'Ares'?" The warrior fought to maintain control of her voice. "Gabrielle, please tell me you didn't call upon him for any favors."
"He offered." The bard pushed down a wave of anger. "Xena, I was desperate. I sat there in that healer's tent, crying and pouring my heart out to you. And he just ... appeared. Told me he had asked Zeus if he could heal you but Zeus wouldn't let him. So he offered to do the next best thing, transport us back here where you would at least have a fighting chance to survive. Please don't be angry at me for that. I certainly wasn't going to turn him down. You wouldn't have done any differently, and you know it."
"I'm sorry." Xena's demeanor visibly relaxed. "I just wouldn't want to see him show up to call in any debts from you. He's been known to keep running tallies. But if he freely offered, that's a different thing. Wonder why he did that?"
"Xena, he told me he cared about you. And I'm starting to believe him. When we got here, we sort of materialized right here in this room. He carried you over and tucked you into bed himself, and spent several minutes just watching you sleep. I think he was genuinely afraid for your life. After that, he personally went and found Cleopatra, introduced himself, told her what had happened, and brought her down here." Gabrielle paused to collect her thoughts. "Xena, honey, Ares told me that you're his only daughter."
"Really?" Shock was evident in the blue eyes. "Wonder if he has any sons, or if I'm his only child?"
"I should have asked." The bard bit her lower lip. "At the time, it wasn't high on my list of mysteries to solve."
"Understandable." The warrior tucked the information away to ponder at a later date. "Where is Cleo, anyway?"
"She's been by a few times each day." Gabrielle looked over at the desk where she'd been writing earlier. "She's very worried about you, and extremely grateful to you and Octavian for the way things turned out. Octavian got back early this afternoon. We spent some time with Cleo discussing treaties and other issues. I had them meet right here at this table. Didn't want to leave you."
"Gods. Hope I didn't snore or do anything embarrassing." Xena covered her face with one hand.
"Honey, you don't snore." The bard giggled. "See that folded screen over in the corner? While they were in here, we put it up at the foot of the bed to give you some privacy."
"Thanks." The warrior smiled gratefully at her partner. "So what kinds of plans did you all make?"
"Mostly very basic ones. They wanted to wait until you were up to meeting with them before they finalize everything. Apparently they want your input. I've been working on writing up an outline of what we've already discussed regarding the relationship between Rome and Egypt, as well as another set of plans for the people of Egypt themselves, some of the stuff we talked about when we were walking to Mary and Yosef's house that first time."
"Why do they want to talk to me?" Xena frowned. "You're the one who has experience actually running a nation. I just led an army."
"Xena, my experience goes back about two seasons. You led your army for over ten summers. They respect your opinions." Gabrielle rubbed her partner's forearm that was resting on the table top. "Um ... speaking of Octavian, he and several others told me they want to come by once you feel up to seeing visitors. Mary and Yosef ... Eli ... Cleo ... they've all been very concerned about you."
"How do all those people know what happened?" The warrior's voice held a teasing note.
"I kind of sent messages to them to let them know what was going on." Gabrielle blushed. "Mary came for a visit once. Eli has actually been here each morning, mostly as moral support. He plans to stay here in Egypt for a while and help Saqqara in locating all the Egyptian dead that still haven't crossed over. And he said after that he plans to go south of here with some of his followers. He said there are some tribes who live in the uncharted jungles that he may be able to help. I made him promise he'd be back in Greece in time for our joining ceremony."
Oh gods. Xena had forgotten all about the joining, which was less than a season away. I may not be able to walk by then. "Gabrielle." Please don't go ballistic, baby. "About the joining ceremony ..."
Two green eyes grew wary. "Are you ... having second thoughts?"
"No. Oh no, sweetheart. I want to be joined with you more than anything in the world. But I would really like to have two good legs. There are some things I've been planning for the ceremony that I need to be completely healthy for." The warrior winked at her partner.
"What kind of things?" Gabrielle ran her thumb up and down against the fine hairs on the warrior's forearm, watching tiny goose bumps raise up in her wake.
"Um ..." Xena enjoyed the pleasant distraction. "Secret things, my bard. But nothing embarrassing, I promise. Just things that would make it even more special for both of us. Would you mind terribly if we postpone it for a bit?"
"Hmmmm. I don't mind, but after the harvest festival, the weather gets cold pretty quickly. I'd hate to ask our friends and family to travel in the snow." Gabrielle rested her elbow on the table and laid her chin in her hand. "We could have it at the spring equinox instead of the fall one."
Blue eyes shone with hope. "Do you mind waiting that long?"
"Xena." The bard took her lover's hand in both of her own. "In my heart, we are already joined. I began to spend the rest of my life with you over five summers ago. I want the ceremony, mostly to make things legal. But waiting a few more seasons will not diminish what we share."
The warrior lifted her partner's hands and kissed both of them. "My love ... my life ... my bright shining light. Thank you. I want so much for the ceremony and our time at the cabin afterward to be perfect. You deserve my very best."
"Right now I'm just happy to have you alive, honey." The bard blinked back happy tears. "You ... really have some plans you've made all by yourself for our joining ceremony? Not the cabin afterward. I have no doubt you've made some plans for that. But the ceremony itself?"
"Gabrielle." Xena grinned. "You better believe I have plans for the cabin. But yes, I thought of some things I'd like to do for the ceremony too. I only plan to fall in love once. I want it to be something we'll remember for the rest of our lives. Besides, you're the Amazon queen. I think it calls for something more than just what is written in the legal scrolls."
The bard was touched to the core of her soul that her partner was planning on anything beyond the basic vows they were required to exchange. "Who knew you'd turn out to be a romantic?" She felt more tears spilling from her eyes and smiled as Xena wiped them away.
"Only for you, love." Xena felt uncharacteristically shy about her plans for their joining and decided a change of subject was in order. "Gabrielle, I'm pretty tired. Do you think we're safe from any healers or anyone showing up this late?"
"Yes." Gabrielle smiled. "When I went to get the food, I told Cleopatra that you were awake, but that we were not to be disturbed until tomorrow after breakfast. Told her you needed to rest before you'd be ready to see anyone."
"I ... am ... exhausted." The warrior felt the strain of her earlier minor exertion, a bone-deep weariness that suddenly settled into her body. "Think you could snuggle up with me while I fall asleep? Maybe tell me a story?"
"I'd love to." Gabrielle helped her partner get up, assisted her in her trip back to the bed, helped her clean up a little and change into a fresh sleep shirt, and replaced the missing bandage from her leg. Finally, she crawled into bed next to the warrior, and gently tucked herself against Xena's right side, and felt a long arm pull her in close. "What story would you like to hear?"
"Something happy, I think." The warrior yawned and closed her eyes, as the bard launched into a fairy tale about a young village girl who lost her heart to a strong and brave warrior. Xena smiled sleepily, recognizing the two main characters immediately. As her partner's familiar soothing voice washed over her, she found that she didn't have the strength to fight the sleep that was trying so valiantly to claim her.
Gabrielle finished her story, knowing that the warrior was already sound asleep. She sighed, tracing a patch of smooth skin on her partner's chest. "That was the happiest story I know. And I live it every day of my life."
The bard slipped out of her lover's grasp to go around the room and extinguish the candles, finally blowing out the one that remained on the nightstand. She turned back toward the bed and smiled as she saw the cat curled up on the foot of the mattress. "Okay. Guess you can sleep there. But I'm not responsible if Miss Long Legs over here accidentally kicks you in the middle of the night."
"Meow?" The tabby raised its head and blinked into the darkness.
"Yeah. Consider yourself warned." She carefully laid back down next to her partner and smiled as Xena once again reeled her in. It was a totally subconscious move on the part of the warrior, and something she had done through the previous three pain-filled nights as well, instinctively reaching out for the only source of comfort she had known in her adult life. The bard leaned over and kissed her lover's cheek. "Welcome back, Xena. I really missed you." She snuggled in close and joined her partner in the first good night's sleep she'd had in days.
Gabrielle awoke to a gentle trail of kisses across her forehead and cheek. She opened her eyes to find two bemused blue ones peering back at her at close range. "Good morning, gorgeous." Xena's deep voice rasped.
"Mmmm. Good morning to you too. You must be feeling bet ..." The bard's words were cut short, as the warrior ducked her head and nibbled softly at her lips. "Gods I've missed waking up like this."
"Oh yeah?" Xena smiled and kissed her again. "Don't know if I'm up to much more, but this is nice, isn't it?" She wrapped her arms around the bard and pulled her halfway across her body until Gabrielle's cheek was resting against her chest.
"This is more than nice." The bard nipped at the warrior's exposed throat and then moved up higher, engaging her lover in a lengthy exploration of lips and tongues that left both of them breathless.
"Now there's some incentive to recover." Xena chuckled. "Wouldn't want you to think I've lost my touch."
"Not a chance." Gabrielle smiled. "I suspect when our children are all grown and have given us grandchildren, you'll still be chasing me around our hut."
"Count on it." The warrior ran her fingers through short blonde hair. "I can just see it now ... I'll be tottering around with a cane at top speed, and you'll be fending me off with your staff."
"Nope." The bard captured the hand and kissed the scarred knuckles. "I'd want you to catch me." Her eyes grew dark green with banked passion. "I can't imagine the day when I won't crave your touch."
"Oh, my love. You can always have that." Xena ran her hands under her lovers sleep shirt and gently rubbed her back. She smiled as Gabrielle practically purred, and closed the distance between them, sharing another kiss. "I'll give you more real soon, I promise." The warrior whispered into her lover's ear.
"Worth the wait." The bard mumbled against her partner's neck, nuzzling the soft skin contentedly.
"I think those herbs must be working their way out of my system." Xena continued her idle patterns against the bard's upper back. "Head's a lot more clear this morning. I'm thinking I might need to buck up and do without the pain-killers for a while."
"Xena, just be careful, okay?" Gabrielle knitted her brows in worry. "If you need to sleep through a few more days in order to avoid being in agony, I'm not going to complain."
"Sweetheart, I want to go home." The warrior traced her partner's brow until the wrinkles disappeared. "And to do that I need to get myself into some active recovery as soon as possible. Can't do that with my brain all fogged up."
"Have you thought about how we're going to get you home?" The bard pursed her lips.
"We'll take the boat back down the Nile and then find another boat headed back for Greece. Same way we got here." Xena's tone was no-nonsense.
"True, but Xena, it's a long way down to the boat dock from here. And another long trip from the mouth of the Nile to the Alexandria harbor. At least it will be a long trip for someone who can't walk." Gabrielle peered down at her partner's injured leg. "And you can't ride either, I wouldn't think. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to stretch your leg around a saddle."
"Well we'll hire a wagon or something." The warrior smiled.
"Honey." The bard couldn't help but smile back. She'd missed the way Xena's eyes lighted up whenever she appeared to be happy. "Once we get back to Pirgos, we still have a very long trip home to the Amazon village. And Argo and Star are stabled with your cousin in Pirgos. How are we going to get through that leg of the journey?"
"Guess we'll have to see if there are any one-way wagons for hire in Pirgos. Or maybe we can even buy an inexpensive one if we have to." The warrior shifted, sitting up and leaning back on her elbows. "Don't worry, love. I am determined to get home, one way or another."
"I trust you to find a way." Gabrielle reluctantly let go of her partner and stretched, before she rolled off the bed and stood up. "How about I go find us some breakfast?"
"Sounds good. And then I'd like to take a bath, if you can help me get to the bathing room." The warrior tentatively sat all the way up and placed both feet on the floor. "I wonder if Cleo could send a runner to the market area to find a pair of crutches?"
"I'll ask her while I'm gone." The bard leaned down and kissed her lover on the top of her head. "I'll be back as quick as I can. Be good."
Xena rolled her eyes. "I'll be sitting right here when you return."
"Uh-huh." Gabrielle took off her sleep shirt and donned a more modest dark green tunic. "I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about whether or not you'll be sitting there while I'm out of sight."
"You know me way too well." The warrior chuckled.
"Yes I do." The bard paused at the door. "And I love you anyway." She blew her partner a kiss and slipped into the hallway.
One week later ...
Gabrielle sat at a marble table in the central courtyard of Cleopatra's palace. Warm late morning sunlight shone down onto the pages of her journal, which she had spread out in front of her, recording her thoughts and feelings about everything that had happened to them recently. She occasionally took sips from a tall mug of orange juice, and looked up frequently either to take in the beauty of the gardens around her, or to watch her partner, who was busy making circuits of the large enclosed area on her crutches.
"Gabrielle, watch." The warrior called out from the other end of the yard.
Oh gods, now what? The bard paused in her writing and looked up with great trepidation. In the week since they'd bought the wooden crutches, she'd quickly learned to dread hearing her partner say the word 'watch.'
When she was certain she had her lover's undivided attention, Xena braced her weight on her crutches, tucked her injured left leg up, crouched down on a bended right leg, and then leaped straight up into the air, the crutches sticking out at her sides, making a lazy flip before she landed on the right leg again, quickly placing the crutches back down solidly next to her. "How was that?" She grinned broadly.
Gabrielle felt her heart resume beating and released the breath she had been holding. "That was really good, honey." She responded sarcastically. "You keep that up, and I'm gong to take the crutches away from you."
"Oh yeah?" The warrior pivoted to face her partner, and then made her way rather quickly across the garden, smoothly maneuvering herself across sand and grass, until she was standing over the table casting a large shadow across Gabrielle's scroll.
"Yeah." The bard looked up and frowned, shading her eyes from the sun with her hand.
"Well if you do that, I'd just have to do this." Xena tossed the crutches to the ground and proceeded to hop on her right leg all the way back to the other side of the yard. When she reached the tall sandstone wall, she looked evilly back over her shoulder at her partner and then released her war cry, causing the bard to jump several inches off the bench at the unexpected noise. The warrior leaped up, pushed powerfully off the wall in front of her with her right leg, did a back flip, and landed on the right leg again, bouncing lightly until she regained her balance. "Still want to take my crutches away?"
"Pleeaassee." Gabrielle covered her eyes. "Come get them. You are going to be the death of me." She smiled in spite of herself, and then bent back over her journal, twirling the quill in her hand as she re-read her entry:
It's been eleven days since Xena was injured. To see her now, you'd never believe how much pain she was in for a while. Not that I'm complaining. She's being ... well, she's being Xena, just like I knew she would be. I swear she moves faster on crutches than she did walking on two feet. Her arms are so long that she can scoot way ahead of me before she even realizes it.
We're going home tomorrow, or at least we're headed back to Alexandria and then we will finally be bound for Greece. It seems like we've been gone a year, when it's really only been about a moon and a half, if you count the trip to Zakynthos. A lot has happened and we've learned a lot about each other on this trip.
We still have so many things to talk about. I think she thinks I've forgotten about that cryptic comment she made about drinking blood when she was with the Northern Amazons. I haven't. I just can't quite bring myself to ask yet. I've seen enough blood for a while and have little desire to talk about it. But eventually I'll have to know. There is so much more we need to hash out ... Her past problems with the Colitas ... My abuse at the hands of my uncle ... How we're going to help Lila recover from all of that, and my own feelings of guilt.
Xena suggested we ask her to come stay with us for a little while, and I think that's a good idea. And a generous offer on Xena's part considering her history with my family. I thought maybe I'd invite her to travel to the village a moon before our joining, and have her help me with final preparations. That would give us some time to talk and become reacquainted. Lila and I haven't spent a lot of time together since I left home to follow Xena.
Xena has been so attentive to me and she's tried so hard to spend time with me in the midst of everything else we've had to do. We have managed to have some fun. She taught me how to boom-dive. We've discovered the joys of chocolate. And we found our joining rings. They're perfect. I look down at my hands sometimes and forget it's there until I see it. It makes me feel all warm inside. A constant reminder that I belong to someone I love. And who loves me. I've caught Xena gazing at hers too. Then she'll look up and just smile, and sometimes wink at me. Or if we're sitting close, well that can lead to all kinds of things.
I came so close to losing her. My hand is shaking just writing that. I barely remember fighting off that last soldier that attacked me. I could hear Xena fighting over the next rise, just out of sight. Her war cry is a little hard to miss. But then it got much too quiet and I knew something had gone terribly wrong.
When I saw all that blood ... gods. I could see it in her eyes and in Octavian's eyes too. They both thought she was a goner. I couldn't accept that. Then she got that infection. And I felt like it was all my fault for falling asleep and not taking care of her. I honestly don't know what I would have done if she had died.
It's not like I'll ever be prepared for it. And it's always a possibility with the way we live our lives. But now, when we're planning our joining ceremony ... And when we both finally have a chance at love and happiness, and all those elusive things that we both wondered if we'd ever have ... When we've held each other so close and dreamed of our children. The future has never been so bright for either of us. I can't bear the thought of having all of that snatched away from us. We've been through so much. It's our turn to have some happiness.
We had discussed having children before, but I always thought she was going along with it because it was something I want to do ... am required to do as queen of the Amazons. But now Xena really wants them too. That made me feel so much better, to know that we really are going to be a family, that they will be our children, not just my children with her helping out. It's not something I plan to do any time soon, but it's nice to know we share that desire.
I hope so much that we can figure out a way to have children that are physically part of both of us. I want them to be a part of Xena. I want to carry something inside of me that belongs to both of us, and I want to see her when I look at them. I know that is going to mean calling in a favor from one of the gods, or Xena figuring out how to use her powers as a demi-god. She would love any child I have, even if we do end up using some guy to provide his seed. But I can hope and dream for a miracle, can't I?
Right now we need to concentrate on getting Xena completely healed, and on planning our joining ceremony. We're putting the ceremony off until spring. She has some plans up her sleeve that she won't tell me about, and she gets the cutest little grin on her face whenever I tease her about it. I wonder if I should be worried? Actually, I'm relieved that now we will have the winter to settle in and take our time making plans.
I hope it's a quiet winter. It would be nice to go home and live a normal life for a while. At least as normal as can be expected where Xena and I are concerned. I'd love to spend some time just curled up in front of the fire with her. I've got it pretty bad, I guess. I'd be happy if we were snowed in for the entire winter, just as long as we're together.
And our trip to Lesbos is on hold too, for obvious reasons. Well, obvious reasons to Xena, anyway. I told her as far as I was concerned we could go there directly from here, as planned, and spend a weak lazing around on the beaches there while she recuperates. I haven't seen her laugh that hard in a long time. When I asked her what was so funny, she laughed even harder. Finally, she told me that she has no intention of wasting a perfectly good trip to Lesbos by laying around on the beach. Then she kissed me and told me that she wanted to be in top form for my first visit there.
I can't believe how well she's healed already. The stitches need to stay in for another week, at least, and she'll be on crutches for a while until the insides are healed up, but the cut is now completely covered with new skin. I'm a little worried about long-term effects for her. That was the deepest cut she's ever had, I think. But she swears that she only feels a little bit of pain every now and then. Her threshold for pain is amazing, so I don't have any way to gage what she means by a 'little bit of pain.'
And I'd forgotten how easily she gets bored. Thank the gods we found those crutches. She spends a good deal of her time just running around on them, trying to figure out new tricks she can do on them, and giving me minor heart attacks in the process. I think I've told her every story I know at least twice this week, just trying to keep her occupied.
The nights have been nice. We've spent every night before we go to sleep cuddling up and talking about just anything and everything. Xena has been sharing her dreams with me. Yes, the warrior princess actually has hopes and plans for the future. Who knew? Xena discussing the future is a new concept for me. She told me that until recently, she never thought about the future because she didn't believe she would live to be old. That made me cry. Then she held me and told me that I had given her a reason to want to grow old. Which made me cry even more.
A couple of nights we went to Cleo's game room and Xena taught me some board games. I've never played games like that before. I even managed to win my fair share of rounds, and it turns out that Xena is a very gracious loser. That was another surprise. I asked her where her competitive nature had disappeared to, and she said it was hard to muster it up. She said that since she had taught me to play the games, she considered me beating her to be a compliment. She's such a goof. We've had so much fun that Xena plans to buy or make us the boards and pieces for some of them when we get home. That could be fun on a winter's evening. Games, mugs of cider, a nice fire, and Xena. What more could I ask for?
Eli came by yesterday to say goodbye to us. He's finished up with the spirits in the pyramids over in Giza, and he and his people are going into the jungles south of Egypt. It went a lot faster in the pyramids than he thought it would. He said that Saqqara stayed with him the entire time and sort of acted as interpreter between him and the dead. It gives me the creeps if I think about it too hard.
Saqqara was the last one to cross over. She didn't come back here to thank us personally, but she told Eli to tell us how grateful she is. I think she's afraid of Xena after she kind of tricked us into the whole thing, and then Xena ended up in that strange place between worlds. I'm glad we were able to help, but I don't wish to repeat the experience anytime soon.
I helped Octavian and Cleopatra with the final draft of the agreement between Rome and Egypt. Xena sat in on part of the negotiations, although I think she really didn't want to be there. Her input was good, but I get the feeling that she likes to fight the battles and then let someone else work out the aftermath.
Given the circumstances, Octavian and Cleo got along really well. Egypt will be part of the Roman Empire now, but Cleo will stay here as the regent on behalf of Rome, and has been given permission to continue using her title of queen. The Egyptian citizens will be taxed, but otherwise their lives will go on as they always have. Octavian is a good man.
Octavian met Caesarian, the boy who would have been ruler as Caesar's only direct heir, if it weren't for Caesar's posthumous directives. They took to each other immediately. And they are cousins, after all. That was probably the longest discussion we had. I think Cleopatra is lonely. No surprise to me, since she doesn't seem to have ever had true love in her life. That's sad. But the one person she does love is her son, so she was pretty touchy during that part of the talks.
Octavian has offered to take Caesarian back to Rome with him and enroll him in the finest academy they have. Caesarian would be groomed to someday hold a diplomatic position in the Roman Empire, most likely ambassador to Egypt. I could tell Cleo was reluctant to let him go so far away from home. At the same time, it sort of gives her what she wanted in the first place, a dignified position for her son as Caesar's blood-offspring.
After we worked out the details of the relationship between Rome and Egypt, I delicately brought up the conditions that the people are living in on the outskirts of Cairo. Cleo bristled at first, and insisted that those people were foreigners, and if they don't like their situation, they can go home. That was exactly what Xena told me she would say.
But thank the gods Xena was there for that talk. Between the two of us, we managed to convince her that many of them truly wanted to stay and that even if they wanted to go home they don't have the means. I suggested to her that they would probably be more productive and less of a problem for her if some programs were set up to educate them and provide opportunities for them to work and possibly have a way to study to become citizens if they want to.
Cleo thought about all of that and finally agreed to let me come up with a proposal and she would look at it. I worked on that for a couple of days, and with a few minor changes, she liked all of it. Xena told me she was really proud of me for doing that, and that I had done something that would make the lives of hundreds of people a whole lot better. Gods, she can still make me blush whenever she expresses her approval.
The part of the talks that perked Xena's interest most were how Octavian plans to deal with the men who fought in Antony's army. The truth is that his triumvirate fell apart while he was away from Rome, with us and the Amazons, in treaty negotiations. It may not have been the smartest thing for those men to follow Antony, but he had been part of the leadership council that ruled the empire. It may have been partial treason, but not total treason.
After a lot of discussion, Octavian decided to completely pardon all of the soldiers except for Antony's generals. He even plans to give each of them the opportunity to gain back their original position in his army. And for the ones who were enlisted from outside of Rome, he plans to simply let them go home. He will deal with Antony's generals on an individual basis, and unfortunately he will need to incarcerate them until he can do that. I don't really blame him. His main concern is to determine where their loyalties lay, now that Antony is dead.
Xena seemed pleased with his decisions. And he did finally make her the offer he had discussed with me, and asked her to move to Rome and be commander-in-chief of his entire army. I was sitting next to her when he approached her, and she didn't even hesitate for a second before she turned him down. And then she pulled him aside out of my hearing. From the look on his face, I could tell she was giving him Hades about something.
When she came back, I asked her what that was all about. She said she told him that first of all, he was a fool to offer control of his army to someone with her past. She said that kind of power in her hands would be a very dangerous thing. Then she told me that she had told him that as ruler of the Empire, he needed to get the guts to be direct. That it was cowardly to talk to me about making her commander before he talked to her, and that if he ever did anything to upset me that badly again, she would personally kick his butt in a formal challenge in the coliseum.
Later he came over and apologized to me and thanked me for my help with negotiations. In front of Xena. And then he thanked her profusely for her help. He tried to offer her dinars but she told him to keep it. Said she was just doing her job and didn't deserve any special reward for protecting her own country. She said that she would have gone after Antony, with or without Octavian, and said she should actually be thanking him for the use of his army.
She's so unaffected by what she's actually accomplished. She is, for all practical purposes, responsible for saving a good part of the civilized world from dictatorship by a greedy, selfish, inept bastard. Antony almost managed to pull off a final stunt from the grave. Seems that he figured out before he left that Cleo wasn't completely supportive of him, and he had arranged to have a basket of deadly asps delivered to her.
Asps are these poisonous snakes that will kill almost instantly with a single bite. Luckily, Xena was visiting with Cleo when the basket was delivered. Her hearing is super-sensitive, and she detected the tiny snake hisses that no one else could hear. She snatched the basket away, just before Cleo was about to open it. Let's just say the asps became the victims of some chakram slice and dice action.
Last night Cleopatra had a going-away banquet for Octavian and us. Xena hates those things. At least this one was a lot less tense than the one we went to when we first arrived here. I didn't perform at all and was able to sit back and enjoy myself. We got a chance to say our good-byes to Octavian. He and his men left this morning before daybreak. It was a nice meal, and some Egyptian minstrels sang stories to us. Different ones than I heard on the boat coming up the Nile.
And of course Cleopatra kept her hands off of Xena this time. Now Xena keeping her hands off me is another story. And she's so subtle that no one else can tell what's going on. It started during dinner, with her teasing me mercilessly under the table. Later, when most people got up to dance, she found us a spot on a low bench in the corner where we could watch, since dancing wasn't an option with her leg.
Anyway, she was pretty ... frisky. I guess that's a good word for it. She leaned back against the wall and pulled me against her, so that I was leaning against her stomach and her legs were on either side of me, both of us stretched out long-ways on the bench. She held me really close and kept kissing my neck and shoulders. And she kept whispering in my ear, telling me how much she loves my body and describing some things she wanted to do to me. In great detail. Needless to say, that got both of us pretty worked up. She's good. Not that I didn't enjoy it, and we ended up excusing ourselves a little bit early, feigning exhaustion. I don't think we had anyone fooled.
I don't know what's come over me. I've always been quick to touch her and hug her, but it seems like I'm even worse now. Never completely satisfied unless we're all wrapped around each other. It feels so safe and warm and peaceful when she holds me. And when we make love ... wow. She can turn me inside out with the smallest touch. I need to feel her next to me as much as I need air and food and water.
She's been pretty insatiable too, ever since we figured out that we are in love. But she's been a little bit shy this past week. Shy for her. Last night was the first time we made love since she was injured. Those first few days she just didn't feel good and it would have not been a good idea, given her injury, but after she started feeling better, poor Xena, I think she's been afraid of not having her usual stamina. Looking at her right now, I don't think she needs to be worried about that anymore. She's making me tired just watching her.
And last night ... gods. Stamina was not a problem. And she was so incredibly sweet. She took her time, and told me she wanted to re-memorize every inch of my body. I think we spent about a candle mark just kissing and touching each other before we took it any further. She was trembling. Xena! She hasn't hesitated that much since our very first time together.
I held her close and told her how much I love her and need her, and how much I wanted to feel her, what I wanted her to do to me, repeating some of her suggestions from earlier in the banquet hall. And that was all she needed to hear. After that she was pretty much back in the saddle. We were very careful with her leg, but she's pretty creative in working around that.
Afterward, she held me for a long time, and we talked some more about me killing Gregorias. It's funny. Before the crucifixion, I had killed three times. I killed Meridian and I killed Hope. And I consider Crassus' death to be my responsibility too. I chose to withhold his ring after I had promised I'd give it back, and I chose not to identify him when they took him out to behead him. I felt extreme guilt over all three of those deaths. I can look back at all of them and think of how I would have done things differently if I had them to do over again.
But the men I killed before Caesar crucified us, and killing Gregorias ... I'm sad at the loss of life, but I feel no personal guilt. Those were very swift and simple decisions, that meant the difference between life and death for Xena. When I play them over again in my mind, there is nothing I would have or could have done differently. I guess that should frighten me, that under certain circumstances, I am able to kill without much remorse. But it doesn't.
I think it scares Xena to death. It's almost as if she is bearing my guilt for me. She blames herself and thinks that because of my life with her, that I have been forced to compromise my values. I thought about that. Perhaps if I had stayed in Potadeia, I might have never known what it is to have blood on my hands. But this I do know ... if someone had come to our village and tried to kill Lila or my parents, I don't think I would have hesitated to kill to save them either.
I explained this to Xena and I hope she understands. I am not a killer. I don't enjoy it. I loathe it. But when it comes to the people I love, if their lives are in jeopardy and the only way to save them is to take the life of the one who is trying to kill them, I will not hesitate. I can't. It's the lesser of two evils. Guilt over killing a potential murderer or guilt over not doing everything I can to save someone I love. When those are my choices, decisions become very easy to make.
And after I have children, that will apply to them too. Gods. Between me, Xena, and the Amazon nation, I pity the person who is ever foolish enough to try to harm our children. But that's where my killing instinct begins and ends ... solely for the purpose of saving the lives of those I love.
Xena seemed to accept that, and admitted that she felt better knowing that I had already decided under what circumstances I will or will not take the life of another person. She was pretty quiet after that, and then I realized she was crying. Now if you want to frighten me out of my mind, all you have to do is make Xena cry. She kind of lost it then. She re-apologized for a bunch of stuff that we both know we've already worked through. But I just let her because she seemed like she needed to. And she said that even though she understands me, she still hates it, that I can and will take a life now.
When she finally got all of that off her chest, I just held her for a while. And then we ended up kissing some more, and then that led to ... well. It had been almost two weeks, so I guess once wasn't enough, you know? Xena is a very physical person, at least with me she is, and I've come to understand that sometimes she conveys through physical contact things that she can't articulate verbally. There was an intensity to her touches that second time around that told me she needed the physical connection with me at that moment to help her feel grounded. It was her way of finding assurance that she and I are going to be okay, when all is said and done.
We should be soooo tired this morning, and we did sleep in a little bit. But she's in a very good mood this morning and that's a good sign that she's getting past the things that were bothering her last night. She's been an absolute imp, and she's constantly grinning at me. Don't know if it's the talking or the sex, but I suspect it's both. Not to mention that she's feeling a lot better. And the fact that we're finally going home and we won the battle. We saved Greece and now we can rest easy. Until something else happens that we have to fix.
Yesterday afternoon before the banquet, Yosef and Mary came by with Yeshua and Yameh. Mary sent word that they had a surprise for us. I had no idea what it could be. I knew she loved the poem I wrote for her. It made her cry, but she said they were happy tears, because she didn't feel so alone in the world anymore. I can't imagine what it must be like to believe the things she believes about her child. How heart-breaking it must be, and what an awesome burden to carry.
I don't know if I could have that kind of faith anymore. I've followed blindly so many times. Meleager, Krafstar, Eli, even Xena. I certainly know the Greek gods have their faults. I can't imagine believing in a god without question. Especially one that seems to teach that not all people are equal.
It hurts to think that people see the love between Xena and I as being wrong. I don't understand that. We certainly aren't hurting anyone. But beyond that, we truly are in love with each other. She completes me. I am a better person with her than without her. And I think she would say the same things about me.
If you had told me five summers ago that I would fall in love with Xena, and be betrothed to her, and be discussing things like forever and family, I would have thought you were insane. It just happened. Xena and I didn't go searching for love. We found it quite be accident and it just happened to be with each other. How can something that feels so right in every way be wrong?
And why do some people care so gods-be-damned much who other people love? We live in a very hard and frightening world. If, in the middle of all of the true horror that often makes up our lives, we manage to find a small slice of happiness in each other, why would anyone deny us that? If you find true love and happiness, you should grab onto it, no matter what its source.
Anyway, Yoseph and Mary showed up, and guess what their surprise was? It was Tobias with a harness and hack hitched up to him. Mary had visited a few times while Xena was unconscious, and remembered me talking to her about my concerns over how we were going to get home, since Xena can't ride or walk. Mary talked to Yoseph, and he made the hack and told us that he was giving Tobias back to us, that he had served them well, and it was time for him to do some more good. So it looks like we won't have to buy or borrow a cart after all.
I could tell Xena was overwhelmed. She isn't used to people doing nice things for her. She inspected the little two-wheeled cart and made several comments about the good workmanship. Yoseph even made it a little wider than a hack like that would usually be, so that both of us can ride on it. And he built a tiny little bed on the back where we can store our bags. It's perfect.
We invited them into the courtyard, and I could tell they were uncomfortable. I don't think they've ever been inside a palace before. We sat out here where I am right now, and shared some mugs of orange juice. Yeshua and Yameh ran around chasing each other, and even managed to wrangle Xena into playing with them. Which of course caused more headaches for me. I should know better than to watch her on those crutches.
Mary and Yoseph talked to me at length about my background and Xena's background, how we met, and all of that. I was kind of surprised, because they asked me some pretty personal questions. Not about sex or anything like that, but more about my feelings for Xena and how our relationship had progressed.
Yoseph was very thoughtful during all of that. Then he said something pretty amazing. He told me that he had been very impressed with Xena that night when we first visited them, and that conversely, no one had been as kind to Mary as I had. He said that even in their own home village, Nazareth, that the people had treated Mary very badly after she turned up pregnant with Yeshua, and that no one believed that Yeshua was anything special.
They both said it made them re-think some of the things they had been taught about same-sex relationships, because they said that as far as they were concerned, that Xena and I had shown them a greater example of the kind of love their god is supposed to represent than anyone else had. Yoseph said that he didn't understand how a god who is supposed to be all-loving, and who they believe created all things could condemn people like Xena and me, and that he believes that two people that love each other as much as Xena and I do, that our love must have been a gift to us from their god.
Then he said that despite their religious teachings, that they intend to teach Yeshua and Yameh that people like Xena and I are okay, that their god does not condemn us. That our love is just as right and good as the love between a man and a woman. Wow. I'll at least agree with him that our love is a gift. But I couldn't believe that they are willing to go against teachings that they told me are thousands of years old.
They are planning to go back to Nazareth, now that the threat of Antony is resolved. It is a very long trip, from what I gather. I can tell they are afraid. Not of the journey itself, but of the reception they will get when the arrive. I look at Yeshua, and what a bright and cute little boy he is, and I don't understand how people could treat him badly just because of the way they think he was conceived.
They finally had to leave, and Mary hugged me. And Yeshua was so sweet. He grabbed onto Xena's leg, her good one, and acted like he didn't want to let go. Right before they left, Yeshua came running back and demanded that Xena lean down. He whispered something in her ear, something pretty long, actually, and she turned white as a banshee. She didn't say anything, but she pulled him to her and it was her turn to hug him like she would never let go.
After they left, she was quiet until we started to get ready for the banquet. At first I thought she was just tired after playing with the boys, but then I remembered her exchange with Yeshua. When I asked her what he said, she just shook her head and moved out to the terrace outside the room and stared out at the setting sun for a long time.
Finally, I went out and stood next to her and scratched her back while she worked through some stuff. She swallowed really hard and I could tell she was about to cry. She turned and she said that Yeshu told her he knew she had done some really bad things in the past. I asked her how he could possibly know about that and she said she didn't know. Let me tell you, I got some major chills when she said that
Then she got the most far-away happy look in her eyes and she was practically glowing. She pulled me into a hug and she was shaking all over and she told me, "Gabrielle, he told me that I was forgiven. I ... I want to believe him more than anything. Do you think I should?"
I told her that absolutely, she should. And I hope she does. I don't know how a little boy of four summers gained so much wisdom, or when he became an oracle, but if he can give Xena hope or even a small measure of peace, then I am not about to question it. I can't imagine her ever truly feeling like she's paid for her past, but if a tiny spark of belief in Yeshua's words will make her slow down a little bit, and believe in her good side even a little, I will be eternally grateful to a small boy from Nazareth that I may never see again.
"You've been writing for a long time this morning." Xena sat down on the bench next to her partner and peered over Gabrielle's shoulder, not really reading, but rather studying the length of her partner's musings.
"Guess I've had a lot on my mind." The bard laid her quill down on the table and swung one leg over the bench, straddling it and turning to face her lover.
"You okay?" The warrior cocked her head and gazed intently into Gabrielle's eyes.
"Yes." The bard scooted forward, until she was close enough to reach out and softly caress Xena's right arm. "Now I am."
The arm curled around her and snagged her in, pulling her head firmly down against the warrior's shoulder. "You ready to pack up our things and go say good-bye to Cleo?"
"Xena, I am just ready to go home." Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed heavily.
"Home." The warrior repeated. "I can't remember the last time that word sounded as good as it does right now."
"Whew." Gabrielle flopped down on her back across the bed and threw one arm over her eyes. "I'm beat. I didn't think Cleo was ever going to let us go."
"She's just grateful, Gabrielle, and I think she's also embarrassed about her behavior when we first arrived here." The warrior leaned her crutches against the hearth and then hopped over and sat down next to her lover and tugged off her boots.
"What was that? Going-away banquet number two?" The bard sat up and helped her lover unbuckle her armor.
"Yeah. A private banquet for three." Xena chuckled. "With you serving as the entertainment."
"I never thought I'd say this, but I almost ran out of stories, Xena." Gabrielle's voice cracked slightly. "How long did she keep me going? Three candle marks?"
"Pretty close." The warrior grinned. "I think she just wanted to make sure you know that she respects you."
"Wish she'd just say so instead of begging for 'just one more story'." The bard began to unlace her partner's leathers from behind and then a thought occurred to her. "Hey." Her hoarse voice took on a more smokey note. "I almost forgot. I bought you a couple of surprises when I went shopping, way back on that morning when you had to stay here and talk to Cleo alone."
Xena immediately perked up. "What kind of surprises?" She shrugged as she felt her partner pushing the leather shoulder straps down her arms.
"Lift." Gabrielle moved around, pulling the leather the rest of the way off of the long lean body, as her partner braced her weight on her hands and raised her hips off the mattress.
The warrior had become accustomed to the extra help the bard had been giving her since her injury, and found nothing overtly sexual about Gabrielle peeling her clothes off. Until she looked up and read a familiar glint in her lover's eyes. "Am I gonna like it?" She grinned.
"Oh." The bard quietly appraised her lover's mostly-nude body, allowing the desire she felt to show on her face. "I think you are going to love it." Gabrielle slowly pushed the warrior back until she was laying flat, and then made a show of sliding the remaining undergarments down Xena's legs and off her body.
"Don't move." The bard got up and retrieved one of her bags from the table in the middle of the room. She quickly returned to the bed and teasingly leaned over her partner until their lips were almost touching. She smiled and whispered. "I'll be right back"
Xena started to sit up and was pushed back down onto the mattress. She gasped, enjoying her partner's teasing game. She looked unwaveringly at the bard, as she slowly raised her arms up and then placed them behind her head, leaning back as her dark hair cascaded across the pillow. "Not going anywhere."
"Remember, if you move from where you are, you don't get to see your surprise." Gabrielle shook her finger from side to side in Xena's face, a mock-serious expression in her eyes, and then she sauntered behind the privacy screen in the corner, her bag tossed over her shoulder. Before she disappeared completely, she turned around one last time and cocked a coy eyebrow at her lover, and grinned wickedly.
The warrior immediately began to feel quite warm, despite her naked state, and watched with increasingly aroused interest, as the bard's boots were tossed from behind the screen, one by one, landing on the floor with solid thuds. Quickly following the boots, Gabrielle's skirt and top flew across the room, hitting the far wall. The bard's hand appeared, twirling her underwear on one finger. "Pick a color, red or black." Gabrielle teased, still hidden from view.
"Um ..." Xena hedged, wishing she could pick both, guessing at what types of items might be red or black. "Which one shows the most skin?"
"Hmmm. Very astute, Xena." Her lover's voice lilted. "Let's just say both are very very small."
Gods. "Are you trying to kill me?" The warrior's imagination came to life, along with her suddenly-raging libido, as she pictured her lover's well-toned body in various states of undress. "How about you show me both, and then I decide?"
"Nope. One now, one some other night." The bard giggled. "Come on, Xena, don't you like surprises?"
The warrior sighed dramatically. The only thing holding her in place, keeping her from just getting up and taking the bard, were Gabrielle's playful threats if she moved. Even the slightest possibility that the bard was serious wasn't worth the risk. "Gabrielle, I've spent a good deal of my adult life avoiding surprises. There haven't been that many good ones, and some were downright painful."
"Well I promise you, this one won't bite." Gabrielle continued to taunt her partner. "Unless you beg very nicely."
Gods. She's getting way too good at this. "Okay, red."
"Red?" The underwear came flying, landing on the pillow next to Xena's head. "You're sure?"
"Gabrielle, if you don't hurry up, I'm going to come back there and ... by the gods ..." The warrior's eyes grew wide, and she momentarily forgot how to talk, as her partner slowly stepped out from behind the screen, clad in a very tiny red satin ..." I don't know what that thing is called, but I can't wait to figure out how to get it off of her.
"What do you think?" The bard suddenly felt shy, briefly meeting her partner's dumb-founded gaze and then looking down to survey her own body. She was wearing the red one-piece number that she had purchased in the Cairo market place, which consisted of smooth satin that hugged her body and left very little to the imagination. It plunged low in front, rose up high around the legs, and tied at both shoulders with strips of red lace.
Twin fires blazed in the blue eyes, which were hungrily taking in the vision before them. "C ... can I see the back?" Xena swallowed, as she finally found her voice.
Gabrielle slowly turned around, to reveal the back of the ensemble, what little there was to it. The red ties basically crossed over in the back, coming together at her shoulder blades where they met in a single braided strip, which disappeared in a thong that tied between her legs with more red lace. "You still haven't answered me." She spun back around and moved closer to the bed.
Xena was seized with raw passion, a desire to take Gabrielle into her arms and let all of the hunger she suddenly felt have free reign. She wanted to taste her lover, and touch her deeply, grind herself against Gabrielle and make her feel exactly what she was feeling ... take her to a place where all they could do was hold onto each other and let the emotions carry them away. She raised up on her elbows and beckoned her partner toward her. "What I wouldn't give for two good legs and a strap-on right now."
"Huh?" Blonde brows furrowed in confusion.
"Nothing." Xena smiled, banking the fire just a bit. More things to teach her. Some other day. "Come here, love." She patted the mattress next to her.
The bard moved with cat-like grace, and slowly sank down on the bed next to her lover, who immediately pulled her close. "Gabrielle, you look good enough to eat." The low husky voice rasped in her ear with a tickle that was much more than skin deep. "And that's exactly what I intend to do."
The bard shivered, a sensation that settled in her groin and demanded satisfaction. "My turn to be dessert?" Gabrielle laughed, as her hands began to explore Xena's skin with light tentative touches that added fuel to the fire, seeking out contact with the warm body that was already moving into her, claiming her in a way she had no power to resist.
"Oh, yeah." The warrior wrapped one hand behind her lover's head and pulled her in closer, kissing her slowly and sensually, gradually deepening the contact as their tongues met in a dance that was a promise of things to come. "Mmmmm. The sweetest dessert I've ever had." Xena's other hand curiously inspected the smooth satin that covered her lover's torso, eager to discover what was hidden underneath, and then slid around to the bard's hip, pulling her forward until Gabrielle's body was pressed firmly all along the warrior's right side.
Gabrielle's stomach did flip-flops, as she pressed herself against Xena's hip-bone, and wrapped one leg over the warrior's un-injured right one. "Xena, you ... you ..." The bard's own irregular breathing betrayed her, and she could feel her blood pumping through her veins.
"What is it, love?" The warrior's hand found purchase on the back of her lover's thigh, lightly teasing very sensitive skin with blunt fingernails. Xena watched her lover's lips part, as a tiny whimper escaped, and Gabrielle's body reacted to her touch. "What do you need?"
"Oh gods that feels good." The flip-flops settled much lower, as the bard's lips gradually moved of their own accord across the warrior's chest, sampling the salty skin, and then up her throat, until their mouths met again, this time in a quick exchange of eager kisses that demanded more intimate contact. "Want you so ... oh ..."
Gabrielle felt strong hands lift her up, resettling her so that her hips were straddled across Xena's stomach. She was vaguely aware of long fingers untying the laces at her shoulders and the red satin being pushed down her body, and then a very warm sensation flooded her senses, as those same fingers traced her breasts and her lover pulled her down until skin met skin.
"I want to be so close to you, baby." Xena's voice whispered in her ear, as her hands moved down Gabrielle's sides, touching her lover in familiar places she knew would drive the bard's passion higher. "So close ... wanna crawl inside you Gabrielle ... show you how you make me feel." The warrior shifted, raising her good knee to gently push her lover's legs further apart.
The bard buried her face into sweet musky skin, nipping at Xena's collar bone and then getting lost in emotions too deep for words, as their bodies began to move together, and the warrior gripped her hips with a firm but gentle hold, guiding their bodies in a sensual rhythmic dance. "Oh gods." One hand moved lower, and Gabrielle felt the tie between her legs pulled loose.
The warrior sighed deeply, as the last barrier between them was removed. She started to shift, wanting desperately to roll her lover over and take charge, and she almost did, stopping short as she remembered her stitches. Her hands glided over Gabrielle's backside and then slid lower, wrapping around the backs of the bard's legs. "Move up, sweetheart."
The bard paused and raised up, dark green eyes looking down at blue in question. "Xena?"
"I just want ... I can't move around a whole lot ... my leg." Xena swallowed and with trembling hands, urged her partner higher. "Hold onto the headboard, Gabrielle."
The bard's breath caught, as she finally understood her lover's intentions. She felt suddenly alone and vulnerable, suspended over her lover, the loss of physical contact in sharp contrast to the desires raging through her body. The feeling was short-lived as strong hands wrapped around her hips and pulled them down, and the sensation of her lover's lips kissing and nipping at her inner thighs caused her to grip the headboard in earnest.
"You taste ... so good." The warrior slid one hand up Gabrielle's torso to trace the underside of her lover's breasts, as the other hand splayed across the bard's backside, guiding her partner's movements as they explored a new and very intimate experience together. She looked up and watched the flush on her partner's skin grow deeper, as the bard closed her eyes and surrendered completely to the myriad of sensations the warrior evoked with her lips and tongue.
"Xena ... " The bard whimpered as Xena's kisses slowly, achingly, reached her goal. Gabrielle's mouth was so dry she was surprised she could talk at all. "... I need you ...oh gods." The warrior's touches became deeper, and Gabrielle felt inner muscles flutter and curl up, preparing to explode.
"Was that what you needed, love?" The warrior whispered softly, drawing skilled fingers across heated flesh, bringing her partner closer to her release with each touch, each kiss. "I'm right here with you, Gabrielle. Let go for me baby." Gabrielle arched her back, and she cried out, as her lover's touch carried her over the edge on waves of almost painful pleasure.
Long minutes later, Xena pulled the bard's muscular body down against her, sensing her lover's need for closer contact. Gabrielle peppered her chest and face with tiny breathless kisses as her hands continued to explore the warrior's body, gradually slowing as she came back down to earth. "Xena ... ."
The bard found herself at an uncharacteristic loss for words, as the reality of where she was and who she was with overwhelmed her. My soulmate ... the love of my life ... I almost lost this. She finally curled into her side, and the warrior wrapped both arms around her partner, idly rubbing her back and whispering in Gabrielle's ear.
"I love watching your face." The warrior kissed the blonde head. "So beautiful."
"Gods, Xena." The bard laughed shakily, still catching her breath as her fingers traced patterns through the fine sheen of sweat on her lover's torso. "Your reputation doesn't do you justice."
"How so?" The warrior waggled dark brows and produced a rakish grin.
"You just managed to set me on fire, send me soaring above the clouds, and turn me inside out, and you only had one good leg and one good arm to do it with.
Xena kissed her forehead. "Let me tell you a little secret. You're the only one ... I was always a taker, Gabrielle. You're the only one I ever wanted to give anything to."
Gabrielle sighed and snuggled in close, studying the tanned skin and the liberal array of scars across the warrior's body at close range. Suddenly, the bard rose up on her forearm and leaned over the warrior, looking intently into surprised blue eyes. "Xena, what's a 'strap-on'?"
Damn. Thought I'd gotten away with that little slip-up. The warrior grinned. "I can't believe you still remember that comment. Um ... here, sit up, across my hips, and I'll explain."
The bard arched one blonde eyebrow and then complied, straddling her lover, careful to avoid jostling her stitched-up left leg as she settled her legs against the warrior's sides. "So. Explain." Gabrielle rested her palms flat on Xena's torso, just below her breasts.
"It's a harness, that you buckle around your hips ... here ..." She circled her lover's waistline and then trailed her fingers across the bard's hip bones. "... and then around your legs ... here." The fingers played across and underneath Gabrielle's thighs and then danced around to her lower back. "And then you buckle it behind you."
"I don't get it ..."
"Wait. There's more." Xena paused and then grinned. "In the middle, right about here ..." The warrior traced the apex of her lover's thighs and then stopped directly between them, enjoying the almost undetectable shiver she earned. " ... there's a set of buckles where you fasten on a dildo."
"Huh?" The bard was thoroughly enjoying the lesson, but this was a word she'd never heard before. "What's that?"
"It's a ... um ... a model of the male's part." Xena smiled at the priceless expression on her lover's face. "Sometimes they're made of ivory, or wood, or soapstone, or covered in smooth leather, and they come in all lengths and ... widths, but I think you get the general idea."
"Oh." Gabrielle processed the information and then looked earnestly into shiny blue eyes. "So earlier, you wished you had one of those?"
"Uh-huh." The warrior lightly caressed the spot where her fingers still rested, and watched her lover's eyes close reflexively at her touch.
"You've used them before?" Green eyes opened and re-focused.
"Mmm-hmmm." The fingers continued with their idle strokes.
"And you enjoyed it?" You are not going to distract me, warrior princess.
"Very much so, yes." Gods, I want her again already.
"Why?" The bard was trying to reconcile this new revelation with all the things she and Xena had already shared. "I just thought ..."
"You're wondering if it's about having the man's part, right?"
"Yes." Gabrielle was relieved that she didn't have to articulate her confused thoughts.
"No, sweetheart, it's not." The warrior smiled and used her un-occupied hand to lift her lover's hand, gently kissing the bard's knuckles. "It's about being able to make love to you, be inside you, and still have both hands free to touch you, and my lips free to kiss you ... to be able to hold you in both arms and be face-to-face with you, body to body with you, and look into your beautiful eyes while we're together."
"Oh." The bard bit her lower lip in apprehension.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Xena reached up and traced her lover's jawline.
"Xena, I ..." She stopped and sighed with frustration. Gabrielle could tell this was something her partner really wanted to try ... eventually. "I ... when Perdicus ... I don't know if I can ..."
Oh gods. I am such a thoughtless idiot sometimes. The warrior closed her eyes, mentally slapping herself. Early on, after they became lovers, Gabrielle had told Xena about her wedding night. It hadn't been entirely pleasant for the bard. In fact, it had been rather painful.
"Gabrielle. I know that Perdicus hurt you. I also know that he didn't mean to." She pulled her lover down until the bard was laying on top of her and their faces were inches apart. "I don't care what he told you about being with other women. He may have been, but he obviously didn't learn a whole lot from them. He just ... he didn't take enough time with you, that's all. We've talked about that, right?"
"Yeah." Blonde lashes blinked shyly as a faint blush graced the bard's cheeks.
"I would like very much, sometime, to make love to you with a ... toy." Xena smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "But I would never do anything that would hurt you. You believe me, right?"
"Of course I do." Gabrielle drew closer, and lightly brushed her lips across the warrior's.
"First of all, I would make sure we found one that is a good fit for you." Long fingers grazed her lover's inner thighs. "And ... I would never use it until I spent a great deal of time making sure you were ready. I would talk to you the entire time, just like I did that first time I ever ..." Xena stopped and licked her lips, remembering the conversation about Perdicus, and the new places it eventually led them to. "I didn't hurt you then, did I?"
"Oh, no." Gabrielle leaned in and kissed her partner again. "That was the first time anyone ever touched me like that, Xena." Soft lips pressed against the warrior's ear. "No one ever made me feel like that before ... so deep inside of me. It was the first time I understood why that was a part of loving someone. I felt so close to you."
"And I felt very close to you too, love." Xena released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, as she felt her partner's heartbeat pick up, and Gabrielle began to softly kiss and nip the skin on the side of her neck.
"Xena ..." The bard moved lower. "We don't have any toys right now ..." A small but strong hand gently nudged the warrior's legs apart. "... but I think I can improvise for you until we get one ..." Gabrielle felt a firm grip close around her wrist, effectively stopping her.
"Gabrielle." Earnest blue eyes commanded her full attention. "Your touch will never be a compromise or an improvisation or a substitution to me."
"What are you talking about?" The bard frowned and scooted up, bracing her forearms on either side of the warrior's shoulders.
"Just this ..." Xena held her partner's face in her hands and brushed her thumb across Gabrielle's lips. "Toys would be great, but only because I would be sharing them with you. When I feel your lips on my skin, and your body pressed against mine, and you ... inside me ... that is as real as it gets, baby. You excite me. All that other stuff is just fluff. Lesbos is fluff. I don't want to go to Lesbos because of what is there. I want to go to Lesbos because you will be there with me."
"Well then ..." The bard's face glowed softly in the candlelight. "... let's see where I can take you right now, Xena."
The warrior laid back, and closed her eyes, and surrendered to her lover's touch, as Gabrielle used her lips and fingers to bring her up, and then later spoke gentle, calming words to bring her back down. And much later, crawled into Xena's arms. As the warrior felt the compact body mold against her, she reflected upon the gift she held. This. This is what I came to Egypt to protect.
The next afternoon, Xena and Gabrielle arrived by passenger barge in Alexandria, and ran into Ronan in a tavern. The sailor from Eire was, indeed, preparing to make a run to Pirgos to trade some goods, and was ecstatic to welcome his friends back aboard his vessel. He even told them that they could have the first mate's cabin for the entire voyage, since the ladders down below deck might prove to be difficult for the handicapped warrior. Late that evening, a warrior on crutches, a relieved bard, a weary Tobias, and two pregnant cats boarded Ronan's ship and began the long journey home. Not a single drop of rain fell during the entire trip.
THE END (Yeah, right <G>)
The Next Story in the Series is "Divinity"