Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television programs Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended.

Violence: We’re mixing Xena, Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Octavian here. What do you think?

Subtext/Maintext: PG-13. 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: texbard@yahoo.com

Setting: This story falls sequentially after "A Solstice Treaty." (Actually, "The Sixth Sense" falls between this story and "A Solstice Treaty," but Sixth Sense is a bit of graphic fluff. If you don’t enjoy that sort of thing and prefer the PG-13 stuff, you can skip Sixth Sense, as it has absolutely nothing to do with plot. <G>) I’ve taken extreme liberties with history and religion here, so you have been warned.

Gina Torres: She’s Hal on Cleopatra 2525 and she was Nebula on Hercules. For a visual, she was also Cleopatra on one of the more Xena-free episode of Xena ("King of Assassins").


Part 3

(posted April 25 , 2000)

By Texbard


Now, then, hear this, you sensual one,

Who dwells securely,

Who says in your heart,

I am, and there is no one besides me.

Sit silently, and go into darkness ...

For you will no more be called

The queen of kingdoms.

- Isaiah 47:8, 5, the Bible, New American Standard Version, copyright by God.


The Pyramid of Khufu was the largest of the three giant triangular structures, and the last that they explored. Gabrielle forged ahead of the rest of the party, boldly moving deeper into the long black tunnel that lead to the main burial chamber, her torch barely putting a dent in the almost palpable darkness. It was cool inside and a welcome respite from the intense desert heat that beat down upon them mercilessly whenever they left the shade of the buildings or the hospitality tent. She walked swiftly, her footsteps making a hollow slapping sound on the hard stone floor, as she disappeared around a curve and put a great deal of distance between herself, and Xena and Cleopatra, who were several meters behind her, with heads bowed together, deep in conversation about various defense strategies.

The bard’s mood was rapidly declining, and she ducked into a small square side chamber and closed the door with an echoing click, certain that she wouldn’t be missed for at least a few minutes. She placed the torch in a brass sconce beside the doorway, and leaned back against the rough cool sandstone brick, palms flat against the wall, taking deep breaths to steady her irate nerves. Come on Gabrielle. Get a grip on yourself. You’re on a very important mission here, so just go along with everything and stay out of the way.

They had shared a light lunch in which they had determined that Gabrielle’s presence in the Alexandrian marketplace had been one of those events that was greatly blown out of proportion by the time news of it reached the palace in Cairo. Xena had chuckled at that, wondering how her partner felt about being the subject of exaggerated gossip. It was something that happened to the warrior on a regular basis. She would rescue some traveler on the road and fend off say, four or five attackers, and by the time she reached the next village, she would hear stories that she had single-handedly defeated forty or fifty men. In this case, their totally innocent shopping trip had turned into the subject of speculation among bored merchants who had a lot of time to kill and nothing better to do. The jewelry merchant certainly knew Gabrielle was a queen, as they had told her flat out, and things must have progressed from there.

As they nibbled on salty olives, herbed flat bread, goat’s cheese, and oranges, it had become apparent that Cleopatra was very pleased that Xena had come to visit, and was annoyed that the bard was with her. During lunch, the Egyptian placed herself between Gabrielle and Xena, focusing her attention completely on the warrior and pointedly leaving the bard out of the conversation. Cleopatra leaned in, often touching Xena’s arm or leg briefly, laughing at anything the warrior said that was even remotely humorous, and continually raked her eyes up and down Xena’s long muscular frame, making it very obvious that she had more than friendly designs on her beautiful guest. The warrior had declined to comment on her relationship with Gabrielle, even going so far as to discreetly remove her new ring and slide it into her belt pouch when only the bard was looking.

It had stung, sending shooting pangs to the very center of her soul, but Gabrielle said nothing, refusing to even make eye contact with Xena and merely drawing up more inside herself as she studied her clasped hands in her lap and backed off from any further attempt at joining in the conversation. She understood that her partner needed to gain Cleopatra’s confidence before revealing the real reason for their visit. The bard briefly wondered just how far Xena would go to gain that trust, and felt a sick twisting sensation in her gut, which she did her best to force down, as she continued to munch on her bread and smile at all the appropriate places in the discussion between her partner and the Egyptian.

After lunch they had toured several of the smaller buildings and temples, and then the first two pyramids, and Gabrielle had thrown herself into studying the artwork and hieroglyphics, and marveling at some of the beautiful items that had been left in the smaller burial chambers of the pharaohs. Pyramid guards had been called upon to accompany them, as the main entrances to each structure were kept locked. The main burial chambers where the pharaohs themselves were laid to rest were sealed closed, and Cleopatra explained that it was believed that anyone who entered those rooms would be cursed. The smaller rooms were the final resting places of wives, servants, and family members of the pharaohs that were buried along with them.

The bard felt a hot tear trickle slowly down her cheek, followed by a few others, and she sniffled, angrily brushing the back of her hand across her face. Great. That’s all I need. For them to catch me crying. She took several shuddering gulps of air and ran her fingers through her short sweaty hair, which was plastered against the nape of her neck, the price paid for an afternoon in the Egyptian summer sun. She swallowed and then warily eyed the dark wooden sarcophagus that lay on a long low table near the center of the small room.

With growing curiosity, she hesitantly shuffled forward quietly, until she was next to the small ornate coffin. She brushed her fingertips along the length of the smooth polished wood, and then traced the gold inlays that decorated the carved features of what appeared to be a young girl. How sad. She knew that each sarcophagus usually bore the image of the person whose remains it contained, and that the dead pharaohs had often left instructions that certain people should be killed and buried with them. It was believed that anything a spirit would need in the next life had to be with them in their final resting place. Therefore, clothing, jewelry, money, furniture, decorative objects, urns of food and water, wives, servants, and children were found in the small anti-chambers that were reached by long winding tunnels that branched off from the main passageways through the huge brick structures.

She moved to one corner of the small arid room and knelt down. Her suspicions that the mummified body was that of a child were confirmed as she explored a pile of wooden toy animals, a tiny table with four small chairs, and several capped urns that bore glazed paintings of a young Egyptian girl with long black braids and big dark eyes. Gabrielle carefully blew a heavy layer of dust off one of the urns and bent lower, turning her head to the side to study the face that looked back at her. The girl looked happy, and was pictured sitting in a garden holding a doll. A large brown dog lay at the girl’s feet, and the bard wondered if the canine had met a similar fate and might be buried elsewhere in the pyramid. Poor kid. She must not have been in line for the throne. Many times the pharaohs took their entire families with them, except for their immediate heir, usually the oldest son, who had to be left behind to continue the line of rulership.

Gabrielle stood up and noticed that the torch was flickering wildly, as if it were being blown about by a strong breeze. But there’s no air current in here. She felt an icy chill, and could almost swear she felt something brush against the backs of her legs, like fluttering fingertips, causing a sudden adrenalin rush to spill into her system as every hair on her body stood on end. She grabbed her torch and beat a hasty retreat out of the tiny room, and found herself on an unavoidable collision course with a solid six-foot body that was inches from her own. "Arrff." She dropped her torch as her hands instinctively came to rest against two sworling brass breastplates in an effort to avoid an all-out body-slam.

"Hey. There you are. Um ..." Xena peered down at the small fingers that were curled firmly around the top edge of her armor, barely touching the skin on the upper swells of her breasts. "Glad to see you too." She chuckled as she gently clasped her partner’s hands and squeezed them. Pale blue orbs shone in the faint torchlight below them, as the warrior knelt down to retrieve the thick burning stick as it sputtered against the ground, threatening to go out. She briefly patted a curvaceous calf that was right in front of her eyes before she got back up and held the torch so she could see Gabrielle’s face. "Wondered where you went. We’re about ready to go on over to Cairo. We ..." Xena stopped, noticing the remainder of a tear-streaked trail on the bard’s face. "What’s wrong? You alright?" She used her free hand to gently stroke the clammy skin. "You’re cold, sweetheart. What’s in there?" She gestured toward the room.

"A ..." The bard sighed and closed her eyes, instinctively leaning into Xena’s touch. For some reason she wasn’t ready to talk about her supernatural experience just yet. "Little girl. It made me kind of sad."

"Oh." Dusky lashes blinked. "That why you’ve been crying?"

Two green eyes popped open. Damn. Caught. No more lies. "No."

"Didn’t think so." The warrior glanced around, and convinced they were quite alone, she ducked her head, gazing intently into her lover’s face as she closed the short distance between them, brushing her lips against her partner’s several times before she pulled back and placed her torch-less hand against Gabrielle’s side above her hip. Long fingers softly caressed the bare skin as Xena pecked the top of the pale head. "I’m really sorry about how things are going right now. I know it’s not much consolation, but you’re handling it beautifully. If I were in your shoes I would have beaten the stuffing out of old Cleo by now." The warrior smiled as this statement was rewarded with a tiny laugh. "I love you. Don’t forget that. We’ll talk later when we have more privacy, okay?"

She always knows exactly what to say. "Okay." Gabrielle leaned against the strong torso and buried her face into Xena’s chest, inhaling deeply of sun-warmed leather and Xena’s own musky spicy scent, as she wrapped her arms around the warrior, giving her a tight squeeze before reluctantly pulling back to a more platonic distance.

They padded out of the dark chamber into blazing sunlight, and both women stopped in unison, taking a moment to allow their eyes to adjust to the extreme change. A small party of people ... and ... camels were waiting for them at the end of the pathway that led from the pyramid down toward the Nile. The bard scowled as she observed the large tan-colored rough-haired creatures, whose long lashes blinked slowly over liquid black eyes as they peered curiously at the pair moving toward them. "Um, Xena." Gabrielle tugged at the scabbard on her partner’s back.

"Yessss?" The warrior continued to walk toward the group.

"Are we going to RIDE those?" The bard’s voice rose to a squeak.

"Appears that way." Xena’s tone was light, as her long legs carried her toward their goal, and Gabrielle stopped dead in her tracks and just stared, before she scrambled to catch up with her tall partner. The warrior looked down at her apparently frightened soulmate. "Don’t worry."

"But I’ve never been on a camel. Come on, Xena. It took me three summers to get used to Argo. Give me a break here. I ... ooof." A large hand covered her mouth and she darted her eyes to the side, doing her best to convey a glare.

"I said ‘don’t worry’." The hand dropped back to the warrior’s side.

They approached the waiting group where everyone was already mounted on their rides, save a few servants, who would by protocol be expected to walk, and two camels whose saddles were obviously empty, along with a footman that patiently held the reins of the unoccupied doe-eyed beasts. Xena eyed the animals and frowned. "What kind of camels are these, Cleopatra? The only ones I’ve ever seen had two humps. What are these? Some kind of discounted rejects?" The warrior laughed, indicating that her comment was not meant as an insult.

"No, Xena." The Egyptian rolled her eyes. "These are dromedaries we imported from Arabia. They are specially trained to be ridden in the desert." Cleopatra was sitting side-saddle and reached down to arrange her long white slitted skirt. She looked directly into Xena’s eyes and licked her lips, making sure to expose a long length of firm dark leg to the warrior in the process.

Xena groaned internally. She was not looking forward to the evening ahead and the continuing escalation of advances the Egyptian queen had been making all afternoon. Time after time, Cleopatra had gotten way inside the warrior’s personal space, unknowingly putting herself dangerously close to razor-sharp defenses. Each time she had touched her, it had been all Xena could do to keep from physically picking the queen up and tossing her several body lengths away. Despite the fact that the warrior had made no moves toward reciprocity, the Egyptian was making it very clear what she wanted, and Xena was still trying to figure out how to gracefully decline and still maintain the camaraderie that had developed between them during lunch and the tour that had followed it.

She moved toward one of the camels, ignoring the servant’s hand that was offered her in assistance, and deftly took the reins from him, placing her foot in the high stirrup and swinging her leg over the high back, landing in the overly-decorated saddle in an expert pose. She watched as her partner took small baby steps toward the other camel and made a quick decision. "Gabrielle. Why don’t you ride up here with me?"

A pair of blonde eyebrows rose and a faint smile played at the bard’s lips. "Okay." She suddenly felt twenty pounds lighter, and walked over, taking a firm hold on her partner’s outstretched arm as Xena leaned way over from the tall back of the camel, hauling Gabrielle up into the saddle behind her with negligent ease.

The warrior turned toward Cleopatra. "She’s never ridden a camel before, and I want to make sure she doesn’t fall off."

"Whatever you wish." The Egyptian’s voice held a slight note of annoyance as she tugged at her dromedary’s reins, guiding it toward the space in front of Xena’s camel.

The warrior smiled as she felt a familiar body scoot up against her back and Gabrielle’s arms encircled her waist. "Better?" The low voice rumbled against the bard’s chest.

"Oh, yeah." Gabrielle leaned around until she could see Cleopatra’s back, and stuck her tongue out at the unseeing Egyptian before she snuggled back up against the leather and armor with a long happy sigh. Take that, you home-wrecking slut-puppy.

"Be nice." Xena playfully chastised her partner’s action, reading the bard’s thoughts, if not her exact words. She draped the reins around the saddle horn and reached down, grabbing the two firm thighs on either side of her hips and pulling them forward, until a surprised bard was plastered so tightly against her back that there was no space left between them. She made a point of taking her time to drag her hands teasingly down Gabrielle’s legs before resuming control of the reins. "Hang on, and let me do the balancing. Don’t tighten up. Just stay molded to me and follow the movement of my body." A feral smile appeared on the tan face. "I think you’ve proven you’re more than capable of handling that."

"You betcha, partner ... Whoa!" The camel lurched as they started moving, and Gabrielle felt her body go rigid with tension for a split second, before she remembered Xena’s instructions and allowed herself to relax into the strange up and down rolling motion of the large docile beast they were riding.

"This okay?" The warrior glanced over her shoulder.

"Yeah. It feels kind of weird, but it’s not unpleasant. In fact ..." Small fingers tickled against a firm leather-clad stomach. "... I think I like it."

"Me too." Xena was indeed enjoying the sensation of her partner’s muscular body moving with her in a rocking rhythm that was vaguely familiar. She grinned.

"Um ... Xena." The bard looked ahead. "Not to state the obvious. But there’s a river between here and Cairo. How are we going to get these camels to the other side?"

"Ferry boat."

"Oh." What in Tartarus is a fairy boat?


As the camels plodded ashore from the ferry boat landing, the first thing the riders saw was a large temple that was built of pale red sandstone and bore a long row of columns that supported a covered walkway leading up to the solid square building. It had a flat roof that rose up high on the outside and dipped down in the middle above a simple rectangular doorway, and on the outside of the building was a rich detailed tapestry of etched drawings and symbols, some of which Gabrielle recognized and some she didn’t. As they rode by, she studied the writing over the doorway. Temple of Isis. "Xena, how many temples does Isis have?"

"Thirteen." Cleopatra replied dryly, answering the question before the warrior had a chance, which was just as well, since Xena didn’t know the answer anyway. The Egyptian had held back, waiting until the warrior’s and the bard’s camel caught up with hers so that they could ride side by side. "One for each of Osiris’ body parts that were recovered."

Hmmm. Gabrielle cocked her head to one side and studied the columns closely. She began to shake in silent laughter as she realized that some of the columns had carved birds hovering over them, and looked a whole lot like the column in front of the temple in Alexandria. She shook more violently as she remembered the playful conversation about the breastplates and the tongue.

The warrior felt the body vibrating against her back and turned her head, following her partner’s gaze. "What’s so ... oh." She immediately knew what the bard was thinking about and joined in, as they shared a moment of silent mirth until they realized they were being closely scrutinized by their host. Xena ducked her head briefly, wiping the smile off her face and trying to appear serious, without much success, as she felt Gabrielle continue to chuckle and felt her own cheeks puff out in an effort to keep from laughing out loud.

"Something funny ladies?" One perfectly plucked black eyebrow rose in question as Cleopatra feigned ignorance, while assuming she knew exactly what her guests were smirking at. She finally smiled. "Isis ... like most Egyptian royalty ... fully enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh ..." The Egyptian’s eyes roamed up Xena’s body for the hundredth time that afternoon. "... and greatly mourned its loss."

She tore her gaze away from the warrior and looked straight ahead toward a single-story white sandstone and marble building, that seemed to spread out in all directions for several acres, and was surrounded by a high spiked wrought-iron fence which had bars spaced closely together to keep out intruders. "There’s my summer home. It’s not nearly as large as my palace in Alexandria, but I find it quite comfortable and adequate to meet my needs. Unfortunately the guest quarters do not have private bathing facilities, so once I’ve had you shown to your rooms, I’ll send some of my hand-maidens to attend you at the communal baths, as I’m sure you’ll want to freshen up after our afternoon in the sun."

Rooms. Gabrielle started to protest when the warrior turned and whispered the two words that were fast becoming her mantra for the trip. "Don’t worry." Xena felt the small body against her relax and found her own body relaxing in response.

"I’m going to take a bath in my private quarters and then I need to spend some time on paper work for the rest of the afternoon." Cleopatra continued, having not heard the warrior’s reassurance to her partner. "I’ve planned a small banquet for this evening, so why don’t you two get cleaned up and rest, or if you’d like, feel free to take a walk in my gardens. Dinner will be served one candle mark after sundown, and I’ll have someone come to get you and escort you to my main hall."

The Egyptian turned and for the first time that day, focused her attention fully on the queen of the Amazons. "Gabrielle. I have heard you are an accomplished bard. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to entertain us tonight after dinner with a few stories of Greece? Some of my courtiers have never been outside of Egypt, and I’m sure they would enjoy hearing some tales of your country."

Only a discreetly firm grasp on her leg by the warrior kept Gabrielle from falling off the camel in startled surprise. She had gotten used to being a non-person in Cleopatra’s eyes, and the sudden acknowledgment of her existence caught her completely off guard. She swallowed hard before she turned and held her head up high, squaring her shoulders as she gave their host her best diplomatic smile. "I’d be honored."

The Egyptian’s eyes quickly took in the proud carriage of the bard’s body and it was her turn to be startled, as her jaw muscles twitched slightly before regaining her composure. Such intense eyes. There’s something more to this girl than I remember. Something has changed with her. There’s a confidence that wasn’t there the last time. "Very well then. I look forward to it."

"So do I." The bard replied, as she felt Xena’s leg, the one on the side of the camel away from Cleopatra, idly nudge against hers, and she smiled.


The warrior tried her best to ignore the two servants who followed her like twin shadows to the communal bathing room. It was a large open area with several rectangular sunken marble tubs and a cut-out space in the roof that let in the sunlight. She made her way to the only tub that was full, and inhaled of the warm steam that was scented with sandalwood and myrrh. Flower petals floated on the surface of the water and a collection of tall urns full of more warm water sat off to one side. Nice. With her usual lack of modesty, Xena simply let the loose tunic she was wearing fall to the floor, revealing her tall dusty lean frame to the eyes of the hand-maidens. She chuckled inwardly at the shocked faces of the servants, as she stepped to the edge of the tub and lowered herself into the welcome bath.

The warrior sighed with carnal contentment and closed her eyes, leaning back against the side of the small pool and stretching out her long legs to their full length, enjoying the sensation of the warm water on her grimy skin. It was the first hot bath she had had since they left Zakynthos, and she had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed them. I’ve gotten way too used to our tub at home. She mused to herself. I spend four summers bathing in ice cold streams and ponds from Britannia to Chin, but give me just one season in the Amazon village and I’m spoiled rotten. I’m getting way too soft.

Quiet footsteps interrupted her thoughts, and she turned to see her partner walking through the doorway, also being tailed by two more hand-maidens. She groaned inwardly in irritation. "Hey." An involuntary grin spread across Xena’s face.

"Hey yourself." Gabrielle tilted her head to one side and smiled a little uncertainly, as she sat down on the opposite side of the pool, dangling her muscular legs in the water and playfully wiggling her toes. "This is as nice as Aiden’s baths. And probably a lot less dangerous." In a more shy manner than the warrior, the bard quickly slipped her tunic off and slid into the tub, allowing her legs to tangle with Xena’s under the water.

"Definitely a lot less dangerous." The warrior ran one foot up her partner’s calf.

"Is it, Xena? Less dangerous, I mean." Gabrielle quirked one blonde eyebrow in question as she tried not to let the warrior’s underwater activities distract her.

The bard's voice was decidedly cool. Oh boy. "I did promise you we’d talk, didn’t I?" Xena looked down and made little circles in the water with her fingertips.

"Yeah. You did." The bard glanced at the servants, who sat off to one side, dispassionately waiting to attend them as needed.

"Come’re you." The warrior attempted a smile and grabbed her partner’s ankles and pulled her forward, wrapping the bard’s legs around her waist and enclosing her arms around her in a lose embrace.

"Xena." Gabrielle gave her partner a stern look and shook her head, glancing again at their audience of hand-maidens, whose eyes were suddenly riveted on them.

"Oh." The warrior stood up in the hip-deep water, and the servants quickly averted their eyes as steam rose off the planes and curves of Xena’s body and tiny rivulets of water made interesting patterns on the tan skin. "You may leave us now."

"We have orders from the queen to attend you during your bath." One of the servants spoke, still not looking directly at the warrior.

"We don’t require attending." Xena’s voice was a controlled growl.

"To disobey orders will result in punishment." The same servant still spoke for her mute comrades, her voice a little less certain.

"I will personally speak to Queen Cleopatra and tell her not to punish you." The warrior placed both hands on her hips and rolled her eyes.

The hand-maiden’s eyes finally met Xena’s pale blue ones, and the warrior read doubt in them. The girl looked at the other servants and they huddled together, as concerned whispers emanated from the middle of their group and a few hands waved about in wild gestures. They finally broke apart and the same spokesperson once again faced the warrior with renewed conviction. "We will follow our queen’s orders."

"Suit yourself." The warrior turned and slipped back down into the water and resumed her previous position, cozying up with her partner as she felt the bard’s heartbeat pick up speed.

Gabrielle looked into mischievous blue eyes. Uh oh. Xena placed one hand behind her partner’s head, pulling Gabrielle’s face toward her, and laid a scorching kiss on the bard’s lips. She continued the thorough assault as the other hand plunged below the surface and began a gentle teasing of various sensitive spots on Gabrielle’s body, eliciting a few muffled yelps from the bard against her mouth. The warrior listened with satisfaction, as one after the other, the hand-maidens made a hasty departure until they were alone in the room

"You are evil." The bard surfaced for air and tickled a patch of bare skin on Xena’s inner arm, causing the warrior to jump. "You’ve just scandalized those poor girls. They’ve probably never been around two women like us."

"Bet they have. This is Cleopatra’s palace, and her tastes seem to run the gamut. And if they haven’t, it won’t hurt them to have their horizons broadened some. Besides, I really just wanted to be alone with you for a little while so we could talk. In private. Is that a crime?" The warrior reached out and ruffled the short blonde hair.

"I suppose not." Gabrielle re-settled herself across Xena’s lap and let her hands rest loosely on the warrior’s broad shoulders. "Xena." She ran one finger along her partner’s upper chest. "I know you’re used to using whatever you have at your disposal to get what you want."

The warrior merely hung her head, unable to meet the green eyes she knew were full of hurt. She sighed heavily as she felt the gentle fingers comb through her hair on the side of her head.

"Xena, that’s how we’ve always done things. We play-acted and put on costumes and assumed different names and did whatever we gods-be-damned had to do to meet our objective. That’s what you’re doing right now. Cleopatra is attracted to you and you are using that to your advantage. I understand that. So when you took off your ring, I knew it didn’t really mean anything. I ..."

"I shouldn’t have done that. Gabrielle, the minute I saw your face, I knew it was a mistake. But I thought it would be a little too obvious if I slipped the ring out and put it back on. And you’re right. I am using her attraction to me to get into her good graces. I kinda knew that might be a possibility when we came here, and I should have talked to you about that. I’m sorry." Xena reached up and placed her hand on top of one of the ones on her shoulder.

"You didn’t have to. I remember how she reacted to you the last time we saw her. Xena, she’s dark, exotic, sensual, beautiful, worldly, self-assured." Everything that I’m not. "I almost wouldn’t blame you if you ..." The bard’s eyes dropped and she suddenly found the webbing between the fingers of her left hand to be extremely interesting.

"Blame me if I what?" Xena tilted her partner’s chin up and ran her thumb across the fair skin.

"Slept with her." Gabrielle mumbled. "It must have been really good the last time."

"I didn’t." The warrior smiled a tiny lop-sided grin. "Remember? I told you a while back that until you, I hadn’t been with anyone since Marcus."

"Oh, yeah." The bard managed a brief smile of her own. "Forgot about that. I just remember when we were with Cleopatra last time, I kind of assumed that maybe you had. I wasn’t sure, because you didn’t have a whole lot of time alone with her, and you did come back and share that room in the inn with me that night." Gabrielle looked seriously at her partner’s chiseled face. "Xena, why didn’t you?"

"I couldn’t." The warrior smiled sheepishly.

"Why not? There she was, throwing herself at you. You had gone without for a long time, and I know you’ve had your share of recreational pleasure. She’s so beautiful. What was the problem?" The bard looked down again.

"She wasn’t you."

Huh? Two startled green eyes met sparkling blue ones. "I don’t understand."

"I ... was already having feelings for you. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was still in that stage where I did my best to force that deep down inside and stay platonic. I was tempted by Cleo, and she and I talked for a while and she pretty much did what she’s doing now. But when it came right down to it, it felt wrong. Like I was cheating or something. That’s crazy, isn’t it? We weren’t even together then, but at the time, I thought that maybe someday we would be. Guess I was right huh?" Xena took both of her partner’s hands into her own and smiled almost shyly.

"Yes, you were right, and I’m so glad." Gabrielle lifted a calloused palm and placed a single chaste kiss on the inside. "And no, it wasn’t crazy. I think that is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. Not many people in that situation would be faithful to a possibility. Guess I don’t have anything to worry about after all."

The bard looked up and saw the pain on her partner’s face, as Xena allowed a self-protective emotional barrier to rise up, removing the shine from her pale blue eyes. "Is that what you thought? That even now, after all you and I have been through to get to where we are, that I would sleep with her to get her to withdraw her support of Antony?"

"Xena, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. It was my own stupid insecurity. I look at her and I see this powerful woman of the world, who has so much to offer, and I look at me and sometimes I still see a simple village girl from Potadeia. There are times when I don’t understand why you chose to be with me." Gabrielle’s voice begged forgiveness from her partner.

"Gabrielle." The low voice made music of the name, as Xena pulled her partner close to her and shook her head at the irony of their relationship. "Just this morning, when you were looking at the panels in the Temple of the Sphinx, I thought the exact same thing. Wondered why someone like you, who is so beautiful and talented and loving and intelligent would want to spend her life with me. We are quite a pair, aren’t we?"

"Yes. We are." The bard rested her forehead against the warrior’s. "I think that’s part of why we are with each other. We see each other the way we want to be seen. What I mean is, I see you the way you want to be seen and you see me the way I want to be seen. And maybe we really aren’t all those things at all, until we bring it out in each other. I know that you bring out the best in me, and I’d like to think I bring out the best in you ..."

"You do." Xena nipped at the pert nose inches from her own.

"... so it goes back to us being soulmates, and completing each other. But I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings. I should have known better than to doubt your fidelity toward me." The bard brushed her lips across a high cheekbone and felt long eyelashes flutter against her own cheek in a butterfly kiss.

"If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll put the ring back on and come clean with Cleo tonight." The warrior pulled her partner sideways, cradling her against her body. "I wouldn’t have proposed to you if I didn’t intend to be faithful to you, and that’s my own moral code. I know the Amazons are a bit loser, but that’s not my style. I don’t want you to ever doubt my love for you. Ever."

"I don’t doubt you. And it’s okay to keep on doing what you’ve been doing with Cleopatra." Gabrielle simply melted into her warm nest, her muscles feeling like jelly. "I feel better now. There’s no sense in blowing it, Xena. You seem like you’ve gotten pretty far with her. Why don’t we just keep up the platonic act a while longer until you have a chance to talk to her about Antony and Octavian?"

"And you’re okay with that?" Xena kissed the fair head.

"Yeah. I’ll live." Gabrielle smiled and turned her back, snuggling up against Xena’s chest and sighing as the long arms closed around her from behind.

"Gabrielle, you are everything to me." The warrior rested her chin on the bard’s shoulder, allowing their cheeks to touch. "I don’t want to ever do anything to hurt you. I love you. Cleopatra doesn’t hold a candle to you. No one does in my eyes. There is no one on earth who comes close to meaning what you mean to me and there will never be anyone else besides you for me. As soon as this is over, I have every intention of telling Cleopatra all about us, and if she’s still an ally, inviting her to our joining ceremony."

"Whoa." The bard turned and regarded her partner. "We have got so much to do when we get home. I just realized that as queen I will be required by protocol to make sure that any royalty from surrounding provinces are invited. There’s going to be lot of plans to make. The Amazon joining ceremony for the queen is a bit more elaborate than the one for regular citizens of the nation. A lot more bells and whistles, so to speak."

"Really? Can I help?" Xena suddenly found herself inexplicably looking forward to the ceremony almost as much as the time alone at the Amazon post-joining cabin afterward. Almost.

"Of course." Gabrielle smiled at her partner’s apparently new-found interest in the festivities. It wasn’t like the warrior to care much about things like that, and her comments thus far had been somewhere along the lines of ‘tell me what to wear, where to show up, and what time to be there.’ "It’s our ceremony, Xena. I want it to be just as special for you as it is for me."

"You know. I never thought I’d get to have anything like that. After Petracles and I broke it off, I kinda figured marriage wasn’t in the cards for me. That was for other people. I thought the fates weren’t going to allow me the pleasure of participating in the regular activities that make up most people’s lives." The warrior’s eyes took on a faraway look. "After all I’ve done, it’ll be nice to do something so normal and domestic."

"Um ... Xena. Amazons. Normal. Domestic. Oxymorons, love." The bard giggled softly.

"Yeah. You’re probably right. But it will be nice to stand in front of our family and friends and tell them how much I love you. And that I want to be with you forever. And ..." Xena drew her arms more tightly around her soulmate’s middle. "I’ve already got some great ideas for the cabin."

"You do, huh?" The bard felt two thighs pressing firmly against her hips.

"Yeah. It’s gonna make Zakynthos look like the pre-gladiators show." I want that night to be perfect for her. The warrior leaned over and tentatively tasted an earlobe with the tip of her tongue before she gently bit down on it. "Hey. You gonna wear that little white outfit I bought for you in Alexandria tonight? You’d sure look cute in it."

"Two conditions." Gabrielle shivered, despite the warm water.

"Name them." Xena moved to the other ear, lavishing it with equal attention.

"First, you wash my back and hair." The bard let out a sharp breath as the warrior licked at the nape of her neck.

"Not a problem." The deep voice purred right in her ear.

"And ... you wear the outfit I bought for you." Gabrielle had to force herself to concentrate.

"Okay. Anything else I can do for you?" The warrior’s hands rubbed teasing circles on her partner’s bare belly as she kissed her shoulders.

"After this bath ..." Gabrielle turned in Xena’s arms and ran her fingers slowly through the long dark locks as she leaned in, studying the pounding pulse in the hollow of the warrior’s throat before she moved closer and nipped it. "Take me back to your room, and remind me again how much you love me."

"Your wish is my command ... my queen." The warrior picked up a fragrant cake of soap and a plush bathing rag from the edge of the tub, and hastily worked to meet her partner’s demands.


Xena peered into the mirror over the wash basin in her room, and fussed with the head piece that had started their shopping spree a few days earlier. In order to keep up appearances for the warrior’s ongoing snare of Cleopatra, they had agreed that they would maintain their separate rooms in the palace, except for purposes of sleeping. They had spent a very pleasant late afternoon indulging in each other and in some of the rich chocolate from the Alexandrian market, testing Xena’s theory about the many uses of the sweet melted substance. After they had gone through half of the supply that the bard had purchased, Gabrielle had reluctantly left her partner to go get dressed for dinner. Right now though, the warrior was really craving the bard’s presence, not only for companionship, but for assistance in getting the unfamiliar piece of jewelry placed properly on her head. A knock at the door drew her away from the glass, as she picked up her chakram and moved to answer it. "Who is it?"

"It’s me." Gabrielle’s voice called out softly, and the warrior quickly tossed the chakram back onto the table.

"Come on in. I need your help with ..." Xena threw open the thick wooden door and stopped. And stared, taking in the vision of loveliness that stood before her. "I said you’d look cute, but I think I got it wrong."

Gabrielle’s face, which had momentarily brightened at the sight of her own partner, fell. "Is ... is something wrong with it? I put everything on that you bought. I can go back and change into something else if ..."

"No. No." The warrior pulled her partner into the room, drawing her into a loose embrace and gently kissing the full lips. "You’re not cute. You’re drop-dead gorgeous." Pale blue eyes shone with affection. And desire. "Can’t believe I’m gonna have to keep my hands off you during dinner."

The bard smiled, drinking in Xena’s appraisal. Gabrielle was wearing a white pleated skirt that fell to mid-thigh and was fastened around her hips with a gold chain-link belt that clasped together with both ends dangling half-way down the skirt. The top was a simple midriff that was sleeveless on one side and held up by a single strap at the other shoulder. On her feet were flat strappy gold sandals and both arms had gold bracers at the wrists and biceps. Around her neck was a simple gold choker and tiny gold earrings bobbed from her earlobes. "Thank you. You don’t look so bad yourself."

Xena’s outfit consisted of harem-style royal blue pants that billowed out loosely around her legs and then buttoned in close at the ankles. The waistline fit snugly and came to a V right below her navel, and the top was also a mid-riff, that was a solid royal blue off-the shoulder style with sheer royal blue long sleeves. She wore sandals similar to the bard’s, and the only jewelry Gabrielle had chosen for her was the head piece, which was sitting slightly askew in the warrior’s hair.

"Warriors." Gabrielle snorted, as she fiddled with the aquamarine setting, that was hanging in a lopsided manner over the warrior’s left eyebrow. "You can take them out of their leathers, but underneath it all, they’re still warriors."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Xena scowled.

"Come here. Let me fix this." The bard led her partner over to the mirror and re-arranged the head piece until it was sitting correctly with the blue stone hanging precisely in the middle of her forehead.

"Thank you, sweetheart." Xena moved to a table against the wall near the bed and looked at her assortment of weapons that she had laid out there after their bath. "I guess the scabbard is out." She tucked the breast dagger into place. "And there’s no loop for the chakram. Unless ..." She eyed her partner’s gold belt. "Can you? ... um ..." She reached down and unclasped the belt, lacing it through the round weapon before clasping it back together.

"Well ..." The bard looked down at the silver and gold chakram resting against her hip, tracing the inlaid gems with her fingertips. "At least it matches."

Xena dug through her bags and pulled out a small dagger that had a leather sheath and tiny straps with buckles. "Haven’t worn this in a while." She stooped down and unbuttoned one pants leg, securing the weapon against her outer ankle before re-fastening the snug cuff. She stood up just as another knock sounded at the door. "Who’s there?" She moved toward the high arched portal.

"Your escort to the banquet." A frightened voice trembled.

Xena opened the door and peered out at the same four hand-maidens who had accompanied them to the bath earlier. She grinned wickedly and all four women involuntarily stepped back a pace. "We’re ready." She motioned to Gabrielle and the bard followed her out of the room. As they made their way down the long torch-lit corridor, the servants made sure to stay behind them well out of reach.

"Tchh." Gabrielle gently chastised her partner. "Told you you scandalized them."

"I asked them to leave first. It was their choice to stay." The warrior resisted the urge to drape an arm around her partner, as they neared a well-lit room from which they could hear music coming, and a mixture of several tantalizing scents wafted out to greet them.

"Mmmm." The bard tilted her nose up and sniffed the air. "Whatever that is, I want seconds."

Xena merely chuckled and shook her head in amusement.

As they entered the large high-ceilinged banquet hall, they found themselves escorted to the head table. "Xena, Gabrielle. Come sit with me." Cleopatra stood and motioned to the dark wooden table top, where she had place-cards marked, indicating that the warrior was to sit immediately to her left and the bard would be seated on Xena’s left. She waited until her guests had taken their seats in high-backed leather upholstered chairs, before she re-claimed her own. "So, what did you two ladies do this afternoon?"

"Took a nap." Xena and Gabrielle answered in unison as twin smirks quickly crossed their faces and then disappeared.

"Oh. You didn’t get a chance to see the lovely view from my gardens. You must see them tomorrow morning. The early sunlight does them the most justice, and it’s much cooler at that time than later in the day." The Egyptian smiled.

"I had a beautiful view in my room ... er from my room." The warrior cleared her throat as she heard a familiar snicker to her left. "Yes, a most inspiring view from my room." She turned just enough to wink at her partner without Cleopatra seeing it.

"Good. I’m glad you like the rooms. We do our best to make them comfortable for our guests." The Egyptian preened a bit.

"I’ve really enjoyed it so far. It’s been a ... pleasure ... to stay in your guest quarters." Xena tried not to jump, as she felt a small finger poke her in her bare left side.

"And how is your room, Gabrielle?" Cleopatra made an effort to include the bard in the conversation. She had, after all, agreed to entertain them later, and the Egyptian was still trying to unravel the air of mystery that seemed to surround the younger girl.

"You know. I was so busy ... sleeping ... I haven’t really checked out the view from my room yet, but it does have a very nice dressing table." It was the bard’s turn to squirm as her partner managed to get a return poke in without Cleopatra noticing her.

The Egyptian returned her gaze to the warrior, as her eyes slowly moved from almost-bare feet, to totally bare navel, to the beautiful headpiece that sat in shining ebony hair. She detected a faint hint of myrrh rising from the tanned and oiled skin, and she unconsciously licked her lips. "My, my. I must say, Xena. You do clean up well." Cleopatra reached out and fluttered the sheer material encasing the warrior’s arms wither her fingers.

"Thank you. Gabrielle picked out the clothes. And the jewelry." Xena smiled as graciously as she could manage, and looked around the room, mentally noting guards, exits, number of weapons present, and several other statistics that she was so used to determining in a new situation, that it had become second nature to her. "Will Antony be joining us?" The warrior’s eyes finished their sweep of her surroundings, honing in on Cleopatra’s dark-skinned face.

It was the first they had spoken of Marc Antony, and just the slightest hint of surprise appeared in the Egyptian’s eyes before she relaxed her features. "I’m afraid not. He’s off in Arabia recruiting more troops for his army. He should be returning here sometime tomorrow. You did know that Antony and I are raising an army, didn’t you?"

"I had heard that rumor, yes." Xena’s face remained impassive, hoping for more unsolicited details.

"You know, Xena. Your warrior conquests are legendary. You should consider joining us. We intend to take the Roman Empire back from that little spawn of Caesar’s niece, Octavian. With you by our side we would be unstoppable." Cleopatra’s voice was also impassive, trying to read her guest’s reaction.

"I’m not in the business of leading armies anymore, Cleopatra. And I never was in the business of merely being a part of the infantry that followed. I’m not very good at taking orders." White teeth flashed in a feral smile. "Sorry. My priorities have changed." She allowed her left hand to slip under the table unseen, and fall to her partner’s thigh, caressing the soft skin just below the edge of the bard’s skirt.

"Too bad. You would have been a great asset to us." The Egyptian snapped her fingers, and two servers brought trays of wine tankards, placing three large pewter mugs in front of them. "Our loss."

Gabrielle gasped almost inaudibly, as she felt the band of metal around Xena’s finger as it brushed back and forth across her leg. She wore it anyway. She smiled and dropped her right hand down and gently interlaced their fingers, rubbing the pad of her thumb against the cool ring.

"I decided if she notices, she notices. I just don’t care anymore." The warrior leaned in and whispered into her soulmate’s ear, before she sat back up and lifted her mug, taking a long swig and rolling the dry red wine around her mouth before swallowing it. Gods. That’s strong. Better watch myself with this stuff. She sat the mug down and reached instead for a mug of water, guzzling half of it down before returning it to the table. Her eyes bugged out and she almost spit the water across the table as she felt a hand squeeze her right thigh.

"When can I have some time alone with you?" Cleopatra’s deep rich voice purred mere inches from the warrior’s ear.

"I ... um." Xena glanced at her partner, who had removed her hand from under the table and was busy munching on a selection of cold appetizers that had just been placed in front of her. "How about after breakfast tomorrow?" The warrior speared several olives on a short fork. Here comes talk number two. The warrior grimaced internally. Hope it goes as well as talk number one did.

"You can’t find some time for me this evening?" The hand wandered up to Xena’s bare side and one finger hooked itself inside the waist-band of the blue harem pants.

Xena’s defenses went on hyper-alert, and she quickly inhaled the olives, one after the other, while fighting the urge to grab the chakram from Gabrielle’s belt and slice off the offending body part. "I’m really tired. I haven’t had much sleep lately." The warrior heard a snort next to her and realized that the bard had at least caught her part of the conversation.

"But I thought you took a nap." Cleopatra raised one dark eyebrow, still not removing her hand.

Damn. "Um ... yes. But we had a really rough passage over." Xena proceeded to describe the storm they had ridden through for most of the trip from Pirgos to Alexandria, until she was fairly certain the Egyptian bought her plea of exhaustion. "So you can see, I’m pretty beat. After this meal and the entertainment, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be ready to go directly to bed." Oops. She realized too late that Cleopatra might have taken that statement as a cryptic invitation to join her. She watched a knowing look appear on the Egyptian’s face. Oh gods. Looks like she did.

"Well." Cleopatra trailed her hand down from Xena’s side around the curve of her hip, and down her leg before she drew it back up to the table and picked up her wine tankard. She swirled it and peered sensually over the rim. "I intend to spend the rest of this meal trying to convince you to postpone your bedtime." She took a sip, her large dark brown eyes never leaving the warrior’s face.

Xena grabbed her own goblet and drank down its contents in one gulp. "How’s your food?" She hastily turned to her partner, who was attacking a plate of roasted lamb and steamed vegetables. The lamb was floating in a spicy hot sauce that had curry and ginger in it, and to the side of the main plate was a smaller one with flat bread and a shallow saucer of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and ground pepper for dipping.

"Oh. Xena. This is fabulous. I need to talk to the cook and see if I can get the recipe to take back to Daria." The bard swallowed and peered at the warrior’s full plate. "You haven’t touched yours. It’s gonna get cold, honey."

"I got a little distracted." Xena tore a piece of bread in half and dunked it in the oil before shoving it in her mouth. She began to eat her own food in her usual methodical and efficient manner, and in an effort to catch up with her ever-ravenous, yet petite partner. During the rest of the meal, various people came by the table to greet Cleopatra, and the Egyptian introduced each one in turn to both Xena and Gabrielle. Judging by their demeanor, the warrior sighed as she realized most of them were people who obviously wanted power, position, or prestige, or all three, and were probably willing to do almost anything to get it. She was all too familiar with the type from her own past.

Her observations were momentarily interrupted by a server behind her to her right, and she grinned as a desert plate was placed in front of her, a ceramic saucer that contained a light custard covered in chocolate sauce. She glanced to her left and met a pair of mischievous green eyes that shared her pleasant secret memories of the afternoon with her.

After Gabrielle did indeed have seconds of both the lamb and the desert, the servers began to clear away the empty plates from the tables in the room and more rounds of drinks were brought out, as the bard finally got up to tell stories. She couldn’t remember the last time she had spoken in front of a crowd as large as this one. There were easily a hundred people in the room, composed of various attentive courtiers and prominent citizens of Cairo, all decked out in their finest summer splendor. The room’s decor was sparse but beautiful, with a few monochromatic tapestries scattered on the walls, and marble statues of various Egyptian gods and pharaohs from days long gone sat in the corners and against the walls. The high ceiling was covered in quilted gold material and the floor was strewn with fresh green rushes. The head table where they had eaten was on a raised carpeted podium overlooking long rows of tables that were perpendicular to the podium.

Gabrielle moved to one side of the head table where she could see both the royal party and the rest of the guests seated below them. She cleared her throat nervously as her green eyes flicked from face to face in the first few rows of chairs. Gods. If this is her idea of a small banquet, I’d hate to see a large one. Finding her voice, she smiled and began to speak. "This is quite possibly the most beautiful room I have ever performed in." She took a deep breath, steadying herself and collecting her thoughts, and then started in on her first story, easily drawing the audience in as only the bard could, using her eyes, facial expressions, and arm gestures, as well as variations in the tone and volume of her voice, to make her tale come alive to the enthralled listeners.

The bard had spent a good bit of time trying to decide which stories to tell, wanting to convey the message that sometimes the noble thing to do would be to put aside your own selfish desires in favor of acting on behalf of the greater good. A message she hoped would not be lost on Cleopatra. She had finally decided on three stories. The first one was when Hercules and Xena made the long journey up the inside of the mountain to unchain Prometheus, both thinking that when they were done, one of them would surely be dead. The second was when Xena chose the possibility of permanent blindness in order to rescue Gabrielle from certain death. The third was when Gabrielle had been hit by a poison arrow and Xena had chosen to stand and fight alone against an entire army of Persians that threatened to overtake Athens and ultimately all of Greece, instead of fleeing in time to find an antidote for her beloved soulmate, making the difficult decision to save the world instead of saving her best friend.

Gabrielle managed to hold the queen’s attention during the first story, but by the second one, the bard silently fumed within as she watched Cleopatra practically crawling into Xena’s lap in her attempts to gain the warrior’s physical affection and attention. However, as the bard launched into the third story, she saw her partner’s eyes tear up, and she made the ‘I love you’ sign to the warrior while she smiled directly at Xena, knowing that the story always struck a chord in her soulmate’s already tortured heart. With great irritation, Xena batted away the Egyptian’s wandering hands and managed to return the sign. Cleopatra looked miffed but nonetheless, she backed off, noticing the change in the warrior’s demeanor. A puzzled Egyptian queen returned her attention to Gabrielle’s story.

As the bard concluded the last tale, she was stunned by the sudden thunderous applause she received as she made her way back to her seat at the table. Even more surprising was a look of understanding on Cleopatra’s face as the bard passed behind the queen’s chair to get to her place. Gabrielle wasn’t sure if it was understanding of the greater good or understanding of her relationship with Xena, but either way, she felt she had accomplished something. She resumed her place at the warrior’s side and smiled as a large hand once again dropped to her leg under the table.

"Don’t know if the message got through to our friend over here or not, but you did a great job sweetheart." Xena leaned in and whispered in her partner’s ear, blowing in the small orifice before she pulled back, grinning at the goose bumps that appeared on Gabrielle’s neck in response.

They stayed at the banquet a while longer, and watched as a group of belly dancers took the center of the room, gyrating suggestively in time to some rather exotic music. As the dancers moved about in a large circle, each one would bow slightly, paying respectful homage to their queen as they passed directly in front of Cleopatra’s chair. The bard noticed her partner in rather intense observation of the entertainment, and she tapped her on the shoulder. "You see something you like out there?" Gabrielle’s voice held a teasing note.

"Oh. Um ..." An uncharacteristic blush appeared on the high cheek bones. "I was just trying to figure out how she gets her hips ..." The warrior inclined her head toward the nearest dancer. "... to move one way while she moves her ... um ... breasts in the other direction."

"Well ..." The bard laughed lightly. "It’s kind of like some of the Amazon’s choreographed dances. Maybe I’ll show you later on."

"Is that a promise?" Xena ran one seductive finger up her partner’s inner thigh.

"Only if you promise to observe my dancing as closely as you are theirs." The bard squeezed her legs together, momentarily trapping her partner’s hand between them.

"Oh. Have no fear, my bard. I promise to give you my complete undivided attention." The warrior managed to extract her hand and moved it higher up, resting it on Gabrielle’s washboard stomach. "You ready to get out of here?"

Green eyes twinkled in understanding. "Yeah."

They spoke briefly with Cleopatra and made plans to meet her on the garden terrace for breakfast. As they dismissed themselves and left the room, a thoughtful queen watched as they disappeared through the large doors. The Egyptian grinned.


They reached the bard’s room first, and as Gabrielle turned to open the door, she found herself embraced from behind by a warm body and two long strong arms. "Hurry up and get your cute little butt down to my room." A pair of moist lips trailed kisses across the bard’s right shoulder. "I don’t want to be alone in there for long."

The bard shivered and leaned back, turning her head to meet her partner’s exploring lips, and they shared a long leisurely kiss. "Got any requests?"

"Um ... requests?" A puzzled warrior pulled back and looked at her soulmate’s face in confusion.

"For what I wear." Gabrielle smiled as the puzzled expression turned to a more lascivious one.

Oh. That’s new. We’ve never really talked about what we like to see each other wear. At least not for love-making. "Naked is good." Xena grinned broadly.

"Yeah. It is." The bard half-turned and tickled the warrior’s own naked stomach. "But I gotta walk from here down to your room first."

Now there’s a vision. Xena groaned in appreciation at the thought. "And your point is?" The grin grew impossibly bigger.

"Xena!" Gabrielle back-handed the rock-solid stomach in mock scandal.

"Tell ya what. Why don’t you surprise me?" The warrior ran one finger across the bard’s jawline and under her chin, tilting her face up for another kiss.

After a few moments the green eyes fluttered open. "Surprise, huh? I think I can manage that." She stood up on tip-toes and pecked Xena’s lips quickly one last time before she darted into her room and closed the door.

Gabrielle made her way over to her bags and unceremoniously dumped one of them into the middle of her bed, picking up various clothing items and appraising them, and then tossing them one by one onto a nearby chair with a disgruntled shake of her head. She finally found what she was looking for, the green negligee she had first worn for Xena when they visited Amphipolis right after the crucifixion. She smiled with satisfaction and moved to the mirror, holding the satin material in front of her. That’ll work.

She decided she should probably stay in what she was currently wearing and carry the rather revealing gown with her to change into after she got to Xena’s room. She moved to the wash basin and splashed her face, drying it with a fluffy towel before she ran a comb through her short blonde hair. She then picked up a vial of the fragrant sandalwood oil mixed with myrrh that seemed to be a staple of the Egyptian palace, and tilted it into the palm of her hand. She lifted one leg to the mattress and then the other, rubbing the mixture into the parched skin of her sun-dried calves and thighs.

As she stood upright and began to work on her bare arms, the oil lantern that was burning from a stand near the window began to flicker rapidly with an almost pulsing beat. The bard frowned and moved to close the window against the intrusive wind, but as she reached the opening, she felt her throat tighten up and her palms begin to sweat, as she realized the window was already closed. She looked wildly about the room for the source of the current, and felt the temperature in the room suddenly plummet several degrees, chilling her mostly-bare skin. The same fluttering sensation she had felt in the pyramid began to play up and down the backs of her legs and across her upper back. As her nape hairs rose, she heard an audible whispering voice, "Help me."

Gabrielle grabbed her sais from the dressing table and slowly backed toward the door, sweeping the room with her eyes. "Who’s there?"

No answer.

The bard felt like her heart was going to beat right through her chest, and she screamed as she felt something cold press into the exposed skin of her back. She spun around and realized it was the door knob. She grabbed it and turned it fiercely, yanking the door wide open and running down the hallway as fast as her legs could carry her. She only made it a few steps when Xena came barreling out of her own room with sword in hand. "What’s wrong?"

Gabrielle slammed herself into the sword-free side of her partner and buried her face into the blue material the warrior still wore, almost knocking the tall warrior off her feet. "S .... s .... there’s ..... I heard .... a ..."

Xena’s arm reflexively closed around her partner’s back and she rubbed soothing circles on the small shoulders as she carefully lowered her sword to the ground and then wrapped the other arm around the bard. "It’s okay. I got ya. Calm down, sweetheart. I heard you scream. What happened?"

Taking large gulps of air, the bard raised her head and looked up at concerned blue eyes before she peered back over her shoulder toward her room, where in her haste she had left the door standing wide open.

"Gabrielle." The warrior pushed blonde bangs back off her partner’s forehead and felt tremors running through the compact body. "Please tell me what in Tartarus is going on. You look like you’ve seen a banshee."

"Maybe I have. Well. Not seen one. Heard one and felt one. I think." Gabrielle peered up once again at her partner, reading a certain degree of doubt. Great. She thinks I’m crazy. She licked her lips and briefly told Xena what had happened in her room. "You don’t believe me, do you?" She still saw a good deal of skepticism on the warrior’s face.

"No. I believe something happened. I’m just not sure it was a banshee. Come on. Let’s go check it out." She bent over and picked up her sword, and started to steer her still-shaking partner back toward the bard’s room.

Gabrielle dug her heels in. "Xena. I ... am ... not ... going back in there." She crossed her arms stubbornly.

"Okay. You stand right outside the door and I’ll go in." The warrior dragged the bard by the wrist and then placed her firmly against the hallway wall by the door frame. Xena entered the room and looked around, glancing behind the privacy screen for changing, checking the window latches, and getting down on her hands and knees to look under the bed. Other than that, there really weren’t any places in the room for anyone to hide. The room was no longer cold and she shrugged in perplexity.

She quickly re-stuffed all her partner’s clothes back into the empty bag on the bed and collected the rest of Gabrielle’s belongings, tossing them over her shoulder. She smiled briefly as she retrieved the last item, the emerald green gown which lay on the floor in a crumpled heap next to the mirror. Good choice, love. But I have a feeling you’re probably not much in the mood for that now. She quietly tucked the negligee into one of the bags and left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Well?" Gabrielle’s face was still pale and she warily eyed her partner as Xena emerged from the room.

"Couldn’t find anything." The warrior’s eyes were full of compassion and she placed her fingertips against the bard’s face.

Gabrielle leaned into the warm contact and then frowned as she saw her bags hanging over Xena’s broad shoulder. "What are you doing with my stuff?"

"You, my bard, are not staying in that room anymore. I want you safely in my room with me." The warrior placed a hand against the small of the bard’s back and gently directed her down the corridor to her room.

"Thank you." Gabrielle opened the door and moved toward the terrace doors, a feature her room had lacked. She opened them and stepped outside, leaning on her forearms against the waist-high wall that enclosed the patio, letting the dry, somewhat cool late-night breeze and the soft sounds of nocturnal desert activities calm her frazzled nerves. She felt a tall body press against her back, as Xena leaned over and her hands came to rest on the wall on either side of the bard’s arms. "Hey."

"Hey." The warrior pulled her partner back against her in a protective stance and rested her chin on the pale head. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I just ..." Her voice faltered for a moment. "The first time it happened I thought maybe I’d just been out in the sun too long. But ..."

"First time?" Xena’s body stiffened. "What do you mean?"

Oops. Dammit. Forgot. I meant to tell her about that. "When we were in that last pyramid this afternoon, something similar happened to me, but there weren’t any voices to go with it."

"Why didn’t you tell me?" The warrior fought back a pang of hurt, trying to keep her focus on comforting her obviously-frightened partner.

"I just did." The bard sighed.

"Not the same." Xena muttered and hung her head, but didn’t let go of her soulmate.

"I’m sorry, Xena. I was going to tell you. At the time ..." Gabrielle paused and led Xena over to a low chaise-style bench similar to the one they had in their back courtyard at home in the Amazon village. She smiled hesitantly. "Have a seat. I’ll be right back."

One black eyebrow rose, but the warrior said nothing and sat down, stretching her legs out and waiting as Gabrielle ducked back into their room. The bard re-appeared momentarily with a flask of sweet wine. She pushed Xena’s long legs apart, tucking herself between them, sitting sideways against the warrior’s torso with her head resting on Xena’s collarbone.

"Here, have a sip." Gabrielle un-capped the flask and held it up.

Xena draped her arms loosely around her smaller soulmate and accepted the offering, taking a small sip at first to wet her mouth, and then a longer one to soothe her still-throbbing emotions. Get over it, warrior. For whatever reason, she didn’t trust you. Deal with it. It’s not the first time you’ve made yourself so inaccessible that she was left to figure stuff out alone. She mentally chastised herself and closed her eyes.

"In the pyramid I was still hurting over everything going on with you and Cleopatra. When I came out of that room where it happened, there you were, and we started talking a little bit about you and her instead. It felt so good when you kissed me and told me you loved me, I forgot all about it. I’m not sure I was going to tell you right away, but I knew I would eventually. I just wanted to wait until I had sorted it out some. And then we arrived here and we’ve been so busy ever since, I still hadn’t had time to think about it. I was going to tell you, though. Please believe me." Gabrielle took a sip from the flask and kissed her partner on her upper chest.

"I believe you." Xena felt the tiny vise around her heart loosen its grip, as the tenseness vacated her shoulder muscles, and she took another drink of the warm sweet wine as the bard held it up for her. She kissed her partner’s forehead and sighed as Gabrielle tilted her head further back, and she felt the bard relax into her body. The warrior took her partner’s face in both of her hands and gently, almost reverently, brushed her lips over and over the bard’s, slowly deepening the kiss just a bit. It was a comforting exchange, not wanting anything, not demanding anything, merely intended to convey love. And protection. And an understanding that there were no more hard feelings between them about anything that had happened since they arrived in Cairo.

"It’s you, love." Xena kissed her partner again.

"What’s me?"

"The reason I get up in the morning. The reason I live. You’re still my heart and you always will be. Don’t you worry Gabrielle. We’ll figure out what’s going on with this weird stuff that’s happened to you, and we’ll knock some sense into Cleo, and then we’re gonna high-tail it outta here back home to Greece and get back to normal." The warrior traced full wet lips with her thumb.

Gabrielle giggled. "Xena. Oxymoron, remember? Amazon village. Normal."

"Yeah. But it sure feels more normal than Egypt, that’s for sure. At least the Amazons have the good sense to keep their grubby little paws off of me." The warrior winced, remembering the constant unwanted touches she’d endured over the past several candle marks.

The bard tilted her head to one side, studying the play of the bright desert moonlight in the pale blue orbs. "They sure better, or they’re going to have to answer to me."

"That should be threat enough, love." Xena chuckled and stood up, picking her partner up in the process, and made her way back into their room. She carefully placed the bard on her feet next to the bed and helped Gabrielle remove her clothes and jewelry, before she took her own blue outfit off and sat down on the edge of the bed, drawing the still-standing bard toward her, parting her legs to make room for Gabrielle until she was close enough for Xena to kiss her partner’s belly. "Come here, you." She lay down on the bed on her side, tugging Gabrielle down with her.

"Xena. I ... I know I made all kinds of promises about dancing for you and wearing something sexy and all, but I ... um ... just really tired. It’s been a really long day. I’m sorry. I ..."

"Shhhhh." The warrior drew Gabrielle’s back up against her own stomach until they were spooning. Xena wrapped both arms tightly around the bard’s waist, and draped one long leg across her partner’s upper thighs. "I know. Don’t worry. We’ve got the rest of our lives together. I just want to feel your skin next to mine, and hold you while you fall asleep. That okay?"

"More than okay." Gabrielle rested one hand on the long leg pillowed across her and idly stroked the fine hairs with the flat of her hand. "I love you, Xena."

"Love you too. Now go to sleep. I’ll keep watch for the boogey-monster." The warrior kissed her partner on the neck and listened, as she heard the bard’s breathing gradually deepen and even out into the familiar rhythm of sleep. She sighed in utter contentment, and remembered the first time they had slept naked together.

It had been bitterly cold. They had just left the near-paradise on the west coast of Greece where they had helped Salmoneous with the mysterious events that had threatened to sabotage the Miss Known World Pageant. They were on their way to Amphipolis, making the long journey toward northern Greece to check in on Cyrene, and had decided to take a short-cut through the higher passes of the central mountain range instead of going around it, hoping to shave several days off their journey.

It was late fall, and an unexpected snow storm had caught them only half-way through the range. Xena had cursed to herself, but it was just snow, not a blizzard, and she had silently chosen to move doggedly on, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t get too much whining out of her friend, whom she knew hated the cold. To the warrior’s surprise, Gabrielle hadn’t said a word. Xena had looked back at her traveling companion every now and then, noting that although the bard remained steadily several paces behind her, she didn’t seem to be falling back any either. "You doing okay back there?"

Gabrielle had only nodded her head, and drew her cloak more tightly around herself in response.

The warrior had grunted with satisfaction and kept moving, until she realized that it was late and they needed to find shelter. But none was forthcoming. Nary a cave or even a niche in the mountainside was to be found for the next full candle mark, and Xena had slowed down, waiting for Gabrielle to catch up with her. She looked over her shoulder as the bard approached. "Can you keep going a while longer?"

Gabrielle had not answered, but had instead plowed right into her and then had collapsed in a heap in the snow, which had been falling steadily all day. It was calf-deep on Xena, which meant it was almost up to the bard’s knees, making for a very difficult and tiring day as she continually lifted her legs almost to chest height to complete each of the hundreds of arduous steps she had taken that day.

"Gabrielle? You okay? Did you hear me? Can you keep going for a while?" Xena knelt down to help the bard back up to her feet.

"Yeah." The bard’s voice had been a bare whisper. "Sure. No problem."

"Gabrielle?" Not satisfied with the bard’s tone, the warrior had pushed the dark green hood of Gabrielle’s cloak back to get a good look at her friend’s face. She sucked in an angry breath as she saw frozen tear tracks on the bard’s very white face along with a frosty coating on her pale eyelashes. "Dammit, Gabrielle. Why didn’t you tell me you were hurting? What’s wrong? Are you tired?"

"Y ... yes." The bard’s teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. "Cold. My feet ... can’t feel ..."

"God-be-damned!" Xena had hauled the near-frozen girl over to a large fallen tree and sat her down on the log, pulling her feet up and tugging the bard’s boots off, which both had holes in the bottom. I shoulda noticed she needed new boots. Dammit. Why didn’t she tell me? Curses in several languages escaped her lips as she lifted Gabrielle enough to get her hips off the log and pull her thick woolen tights down.

"Xena. No. So cold. Please. Leave them on." The bard began crying anew as the freezing cold air hit her bare legs, sending lancing pain through her very stiff muscles.

"Sorry. But they’re pretty useless anyway. Seems the bottoms got wet and then froze to your feet." The warrior inspected Gabrielle’s feet, which were ice cold and totally white, save the beds of her toenails, which were blue. True fear gripped Xena’s chest as she continued to inspect the bard’s legs, and realized that both of them were just as cold as her feet were, all the way up to the apex of her hips. She gently lifted the hem of Gabrielle’s warm winter tunic and examined her torso. Not as cold, but not warm either. "What in Hades were you thinking?" She stood up and stepped back a few paces, clenching her fists tightly against her sides, waiting for the irrational urge to slap Gabrielle senseless to pass.

"Didn’t want to be any trouble." Small sobs wracked the bard’s body, along with a coughing fit. "Sorry. I was afraid if I acted weak you’d send me back to Potadeia."

"That’s exactly what I’m gonna do just as soon as we get out of these blasted mountains and out of this blasted snow." Xena saw the despair on her best friend’s face one sentence too late. She knelt back down in the snow and placed the bard’s still-bare feet across her lap, tucking her own cloak around them while she rummaged through Gabrielle’s bags for a dry pair of leggings. "Gabrielle. I didn’t mean that. I ... you’re scaring me to death. You could ..." She trailed off, catching herself before she told the young girl that in her present condition she was in real danger of death.

"Could what?" The green eyes were wide and red-rimmed.

"Catch the consumption." The warrior hastily amended.

Another coughing fit wracked the small body. "I think it’s too late to warn me about that."

Xena’s lips were a tight grim line, as she got the dry clothes on her friend and felt her forehead, the only warm part of her body. Really warm. Damn damn damn. The warrior bodily hauled Gabrielle up into her arms, cradling her against her own body and wrapping her much larger cloak around both of them. She began to trudge on through the snow with her relatively light bundle of bard, bedroll, and bags, when she heard a murmur of protest from beneath the cloak. She raised it a bit, peering inside. "What?"

"You can’t carry me. It’s too much." The bard whispered and then a chest-splitting cough cut her off.

"I can and I will." She dropped the edge of the cloak back into place. "Besides. Your boots are worthless. This is the only pair of dry leggings you have, and they have to stay that way." She kept muttering until she realized Gabrielle had fallen asleep in her arms.

After another candle mark, she finally found a cave. It wasn’t very deep and the mouth was so wide that it wasn’t going to be much shelter from the cold, but at least it would keep out some of the wind and most of the snow. It was getting dark, and the warrior gratefully deposited her travel companion on the cave floor while she spread out the sleeping furs and then laid the bard out on top of them. She began a rigorous massage of the frozen body, hoping that would get some warm blood flowing through Gabrielle’s limbs again while Xena tried to figure out what to do about a fire.

She had stepped back outside and found some dry branches buried in the snow. The bitter cold was a blessing in one respect, and that was the fact that it was so cold that the snow was not a wet snow, and even though the branches had been covered in it, they were not soaked as she had feared they might be. She went back into the cave and hastily built a fire and then retrieved several herb packets from her bags, mixing up a strong tea to give the bard for fever and coughing, along with something to help her sleep more peacefully. She also wolfed down a trail bar and made herself a cup of regular tea, realizing that warm-blooded as she normally was, even she had become quite chilled after a day of breaking the trail for them through the snow.

She moved back to the sleeping furs and raised her friend’s shoulders up in the crook of one arm, shaking her gently. "Gabrielle. Wake up. You have to drink this stuff."

The bard had groggily opened one eye and sniffed the tin cup just below her nose. "Ewww. Uh-uh." She shook her head furiously and turned it away from the nasty-smelling brew.

"Come on." Xena had raised her up a bit higher. "I know it’s disgusting, but I don’t have any honey to make it taste better. You’re sick, Gabrielle. You need this to get better. Please."

In her fever-induced fog, the bard had detected the desperate note in Xena’s voice, something she didn’t hear very often. Probably hadn’t heard since the war at Thessaly. It was the voice that had brought her back to life from the Elysian Fields, to find herself in the arms of a hysterical warrior, while a concerned Ephiny had looked on from a few pallets over, holding her new-born centaur son against her. "Okay." The bard wrinkled her nose and swallowed the foul-tasting potion. "That should scare the consumption right out of me." She laughed feebly, which sent her into another coughing spasm.

Xena had also remembered Thessaly, and looked around their meager cave. It was so cold, even with three walls and a roof to shelter them. The darkness and the howling wind seemed to close in on her, and she hadn’t felt so utterly alone and hopeless since she left Hercules to find her own way. She held the bard upright until the coughing fit passed and made a quick decision. There wasn’t enough wood to keep the fire going all night, and it was too dark to go find more. Even if there was a lot of wood, that alone wasn’t going to be enough to get Gabrielle warm again.

She banked the fire and began to gently remove all of Gabrielle’s clothes, and then rolled the bard tightly up in the sleeping furs while she removed her own leggings, leathers and armor, gasping as a sudden gust of snow-filled wind came through the cave opening, cutting through her like a knife. Once they were both completely naked, she had pulled the bedroll, with Gabrielle in it, as close to the fire as she dared, before she crawled between the furs with her. She took a deep breath, and in the process, drew in the scent that she suddenly realized was the smell of her friend’s skin. She had smelled it before, of course, but never this close. It was an almost heady experience, and that had surprised her.

Gabrielle felt herself being pulled up against a warm soft surface and then felt long limbs wrapping around her. "What are you doing?" She was half-way incoherent, but realized they were both without clothes and obviously very close together.

"I ... um ... you’re pretty much frozen, and the best way to get a frozen person warm again is to get naked with them under some thick covers and share body heat." Xena finished arranging their bodies until she was satisfied that she covered as much of Gabrielle’s body with her own as she possibly could. "Relax. I promise, I won’t bite."

"Mmmm. You can if you want to." The bard’s voice was so faint that only the warrior’s sharp ears barely caught her words.

Did she say what I think she said? Nah. Even if she did, it must be the fever talking. The warrior sighed, noting that her body was having a reaction to the closeness. A very warm and pleasant, and at the same time, frustrating reaction. She had known for a long time that she was attracted to her travel companion, and they had seen each other naked hundreds of times. They had bathed together, washed each other’s hair and backs, and they had even slept close together before for warmth. But never this close. And never without clothes. She grudgingly admitted that she loved Gabrielle. They had said that to each other before too. It was all so complicated, but it was a lot easier to keep those feelings under control in the light of a warm day. Much more difficult naked in the cold darkness.

Please, baby. Xena had allowed herself to use the term of endearment, if only in her head. You have to pull through this for me. I don’t want to think what will happen to me if you don’t. I need you. You’re my best friend. You’re my family. I love you.

For the next three days the snow had fallen relentlessly and Gabrielle had fought off the consumption. The warrior had listened as the uneasy wheezing breathes were forced in and out of the bard’s mouth, and she coughed up red-tinged sputum, indicating that the sickness had settled deeply in her lungs. Each time the furs were lifted for any reason, Gabrielle’s body had shaken with cold, as her teeth chattered and chills raced through her small body, which in reality was burning up with fever.

Xena had gotten up and dressed many times each day, to re-build the fire, or gather more wood, or make more herbal tea for the bard or herself. She’d even managed to snare a very small rabbit and cooked a broth, which she’d coaxed her very sick friend into drinking. She used the rabbit skin to sew some temporary patches on Gabrielle’s boots, so that she would be able to wear them until they could get to a town and buy her some new ones. And by the gods, she is gonna survive to walk outta here and need these patches. Xena's hands had trembled as she sewed the last stitch and tied it off. Each time she finished a task, she took all her clothes off again and got back into the bedroll to keep the bard warm.

Finally, on the afternoon of the third day, she woke to see the sun shining brightly outside the cave. She felt Gabrielle’s forehead and much to her relief, the fever was gone. A healthy pinkish tone had returned to the bard’s skin and she was breathing easily. Xena had carefully extracted herself from the bedroll and gotten dressed. She didn’t want the bard to wake up and be embarrassed by their closeness. She had then cautiously gotten some clothes on the bard, pulling a warm dry tunic over her head and her leggings on underneath.

The bard’s green eyes slowly fluttered open, just as Xena busied herself with arranging their bags and heating up some more broth. "Hey." The smaller woman’s voice rasped from sleep.

"Hey. How are you feeling?" The warrior quickly moved to her travel companion’s side.

"Weak, but a lot better." Gabrielle had vague memories of a warm body covering her own. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"Taking care of me." The bard looked up shyly.

"No problem." Blue eyes twinkled. "That’s what friends are for, right?"

"Right. Friend." Gabrielle carefully enunciated the last word, wondering how many shades of meaning could be read in her voice.

They had stayed in the cave for one more day, until Gabrielle re-gained enough strength to resume the trek through the rest of the mountain pass. Xena kept meaning to try to talk to the bard about her feelings, but her own fear held her back, and they easily slipped back into the familiar friendly banter that had characterized their relationship from their first day on the road together. It was before Krafstar and Meridien, before Valesca, before Dahak and Hope and Ming Tien and Najara, and so many other things and people that had threatened to rip them irreparably asunder.

Soon after that, Gabrielle would make another very different trek up the mountain in the snow, and Xena would appear to her in a dream scape, and tenderly kiss the bard, physically expressing to her friend feelings she thought she would never have the courage to explain in the glaring light of harsh reality.

And now here they were, wearing matching rings and sleeping together in a bed that earlier that day had served as a place for them, without inhibitions, to act upon their deepest feelings for each other, sharing and playing together in a way she would never had imagined in her wildest dreams only two summers before. How’d we ever survive all of that, love? Xena pressed her lips against a bare shoulder and then froze in place, as she heard the door to their room open.

She heard the soft click as the door was locked from the inside, and she reached up stealthily with a long arm and grabbed her chakram where it was looped around a bedpost. She concentrated and cocked her head, listening to quiet footsteps as they padded slowly across the room toward the bed. Cleopatra. There goes plan A. I think I knew I was gonna have to use plan B all along. Plan A being to make nice and get inside the Egyptian’s good graces. Plan B being to shoot straight from the hip, as only Xena could.

The warrior groaned inwardly and gently pulled the sheet up over her and the bard, tucking it just under their arms, but leaving their shoulders out so she could continue to hold her chakram. "Cleopatra." Xena’s voice was low. "Light a candle over on the table in the middle of the room, but be quiet."

"Oh Xena. You’re good. I can’t believe you heard me." The Egyptian started to laugh.

" I said ... be quiet." The warrior’s voice was commanding, and she growled as loudly as she dared, without waking her soundly sleeping partner.

"Okay, Xena. Whatever you say." Kinky. Cleopatra mused to herself, thinking Xena was playing some kind of game with her. I can play along. She had her back to the bed as she fumbled in the dark until flint and striker connected. The wick sprang to life as the flame began to hungrily suck up the wax on the long taper, casting a soft glow about the room. "But somehow you struck me as the kind of woman who would like things a bit vocal." She set the flint and striker back down on the table.

"I do." Xena gave up on quiet, realizing that thankfully, Gabrielle was out for the count.

"Well then ..." The Egyptian spun around. "Why are you keeping things so hush-hush? Oh ..." Her eyes quickly took in the two bodies, which were plastered together and obviously naked, if the two pairs of bare shoulders were any indication. Xena’s right arm was hooked under and around Gabrielle’s body, with her hand splayed across the bard’s stomach on the outside of the sheet. She unconsciously pulled her partner even closer in a very possessive gesture, and raised one menacing eyebrow as the fingers of her left hand drummed against the chakram, which rested against the warrior’s hip on top of the sheet.

"I do like her vocal. But right now she’s sleeping. It’s been a really hard day for her, so I’d like to just let her rest, if it’s all the same to you." The warrior allowed a bit of the dark side to seep out, tasting the warm roiling energy that was coursing through her veins. Ares’ gift. "And it’s a good thing my hearing is as good as it is and I was awake. This ..." She held up the chakram. ".... could easily have cut your head off if you’d woken me from a dead sleep. I don’t much care for people sneaking into our bedroom in the middle of night."

Cleopatra, whose mouth had dropped open, slowly closed it. "Relax, Xena." She looked down and flicked her clothing into place. She blushed a bit, realizing that the warrior was humorously appraising her gown, a long sheer strappy affair that left very little to the imagination. "I meant no harm. I only thought you and I might have a little harmless fun. But I can see you’re occupied."

"Yes. I am." Cool blue eyes sparkled with a hint of mischief. "Nice outfit."

"Thank you. Maybe tomorrow night we can ..."

"Where’d you get it? I’d like to buy one for Gabrielle. I think she’d look really sexy in it, don’t you? ‘Course, she could be covered in a layer of sweat and the desert sand, and wearing one of those damned saddle blankets from your camels and I’d still think she was the most beautiful person on Zeus' green earth." The warrior cut Cleopatra off in mid-sentence and a very feral smile played at her lips.

"I see." The Egyptian’s hackles began to rise as she realized there was much more to the couple before her than a simple physical relationship. "So this is how it is? Are you telling me you’re in love with her?"

"That about sums it up." Xena kept one eye on Cleopatra as she ducked her head and softly kissed her sleeping partner on the cheek. Gabrielle sighed blissfully in her sleep and rolled over toward Xena, snuggling up against her tall partner’s body. The warrior smiled with more than a touch of animalistic pride, and raised both eyebrows in a challenging gesture.

"Well." Cleopatra sat down on the edge of the bed. "That explains your reaction to me today. Or lack thereof, rather." She leaned in, brazenly touching the cool metal chakram, running one finger along the flat surface. "But there’s something else it leaves unexplained. You promised me some time alone tomorrow morning, and I have heard the warrior princess keeps her promises. So, Xena, I’m going to leave you at peace for now, but tomorrow morning there’s something I want to know. This obviously isn’t a social call, so why, exactly, are you really here? Think carefully about your answer, because it could determine whether you leave Egypt by boat or by wooden box."

"Oooo. I’m so scared." Xena mock cringed away from the Egyptian. "Look at me. I’m shakin’ in my boots. Oh. Wait a minute. I’m not wearing any boots." She grinned evilly as Cleopatra got up in a huff and left the room, not slamming the door, but not closing it quietly either. Don’t start with me Cleo. You will not win.

Gabrielle stirred in her sleep. "What was that?"

"Just some odd desert creature making an annoying noise. Don’t worry. I chased it away. I don’t think it’ll be back tonight. Go back to sleep, love." The warrior stroked the pale head.

"My hero." The bard murmured, tangling her legs with Xena’s and nuzzling the warrior’s chest before she fell back asleep.

Xena peered thoughtfully into the soft candlelight. Oh Cleo, paybacks are such a bitch, aren’t they?


Continued in Part 4

Return to Main Page