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 program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my world, the Xenaverse intersects with the Buffyverse in a character I’ve created named Kallerine, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either.

Violence: This is Xena we’re talking about here. She doesn’t use that chakram to file her nails. Nuff said.

Subtext/Maintext: In this last section, X & G get into some rather suggestive conversation, but there aren’t any graphic descriptions of body parts, so I think it’s still PG-13. <G> If two women being in love rocks your world, too bad for you. Move on to something you can handle.

Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: texbard@yahoo.com

Setting: Gabrielle and Xena are living together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle is queen and Xena is her champion/consort. This story falls sequentially after my first story, "March the 16th." I’ve taken some liberties with history here, but then so does the show.


Part 8

By Texbard a/k/a Texbard


It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day,
It will begin to happen
Again on earth . . .
. . . women and women
Who give each other
. . . will get down on their knees
And while so tenderly
Holding their lover’s hand,
With tears in their yes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,
"My dear,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more

- from "It Happens All The Time in Heaven," The Subject Tonight is Love - 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1996, Pumpkin House Press, PumpkinH@aol.com.


They rode in companionable silence, as Argo’s hooves made soft clopping noises, striking the packed dusty trail at an easy unhurried pace. Crickets chirped from the nearby undergrowth and the occasional hooting of nocturnal owls joined in to create the night music that Gabrielle had always loved so much when she and Xena traveled together. A soft breeze brushed against their skin, ruffling the palomino’s main along with the leather fringe on the bard’s skirt. The moon was still full enough to create an ethereal light, casting odd shadows through the branches from the trees overhead onto the path in front of them.

"Beautiful night." Gabrielle smiled into the darkness, inhaling the scent of the leather and polished brass that was mere inches from her nose.

"That it is." The warrior placed one hand over Gabrielle’s that were resting softly against her stomach, holding her breath until one of the smaller ones slipped into hers.

"I’m really glad we decided to ride double, but I’m starting to enjoy riding, whether we do it together or I’m on Star. I can’t believe I spent the better part of four summers walking all over Greece. What was I thinking, anyway?" The bard idly stroked one of Xena’s fingers with her thumb.

"Don’t know. I used to wonder why on earth you would rather walk. Guess I’ve been used to riding for most of my life. That’s just how it is with horses. Once you get used to having them around, you don’t know how you ever lived without them." The warrior allowed her fingers to enter into a dance with her partner’s, playfully twining and untwining with each other while they talked.

"Same thing goes for pet warriors." Gabrielle giggled.

Xena chuckled in return. "Or pet bards."

The bard looked up, just as a shooting star made an arc across the sky, cutting a path through the twinkling milky haze, from one side of the horizon to the other, before disappearing beyond the tree-tops. "Oh. Xena. Look. Did you see it?"

"Yeah. I saw it." The warrior closed her eyes. Hope that’s a good omen. Let this night end the way I want it to. She opened her eyes again and laughed teasingly. "One shooting star, just as you ordered your majesty. You happy?"

"It’ll do for a start. I recall asking for more than one." Gabrielle teased back, purring seductively, her lips mere inches below Xena’s ear.

"You’re so demanding sometimes, you know that?" The warrior trailed one finger in a tickling motion up her partner’s forearm. "I’ll see what I can come up with."

"You haven’t disappointed me yet." The bard kissed the sensitive skin just behind Xena’s ear.

The warrior felt a tingling in her belly at the gentle contact. "Glad to hear that." Xena’s voice held just the faintest suggestion of a quiver as the low voice rumbled against Gabrielle’s chest.

The bard sensed her partner’s mood-swing. "Xe . . . what did you wish . . ?"

"You know I can’t tell you or it might not come true." The warrior squeezed the small hand she held before she resumed the dance.

They grew silent again, as their hands continued to play together and Gabrielle detected just the slightest increase in her soulmate’s breathing rate. She brought one hand around, lifting the warrior’s long hair up and pushing it aside, as she leaned in and planted several soft kisses at the base of Xena’s neck. "Dinar for your thoughts?"

The warrior’s eyes fluttered closed and she dropped her head forward slightly, as she felt little nips begin to mix with the kisses. "For now Gabrielle, I’ll have to keep my thoughts to myself. But I promise you, I’ll eventually let you in on it, okay?"

The bard wrinkled her forehead and her lips curled into a mock pout, an expression that was lost in the darkness. "Well, okay. But you seem like you’re really far away tonight, love. Chin or someplace."

"Or someplace." Xena sighed as Gabrielle brought both hands up and began a gentle neck and shoulder massage, one that was designed more to relax than to remove knots.

Gabrielle observed the solid muscled back in front of her with mild curiosity, and started to say something, and then thinking better of it, decided against it. She idly shrugged her shoulders and lifted one hand up in a gesture of letting go. She’s in a very mellow mood. Which is not normal for her. But I think I like it and I don’t get to see this side of her very often. I think I’ll just enjoy this while I can.

"Just around this bend up here and we’re almost there." Xena urged Argo into a faster pace. She pulled off the path, glad she had already cut away some of the heavy undergrowth a few days before. I’d hate to have to pick my way through here in the dark. They rode a little way further until they reached a thicker set of trees, and the warrior halted the mare and jumped nimbly to the ground. "Hey. Let me help you down. We need to walk from here."

"Okay." The bard slid out of the saddle into the warrior’s arms, and then fell in behind Argo, as her partner led the mare on the narrow path. Gabrielle heard the waterfall before she saw it, and laughed with delight. Xena had taken them to the pond she had discovered on her ride a few days earlier. As they broke through the trees into the clearing, the bard took in the sight of the large pond and the moonlight bouncing off the churning water near the falls. Bullfrogs croaked in the rushes off to one side and sleeping ducks could be seen bobbing on the surface of the pond. The smell of summer flowers lingered in the air, although she couldn’t see the flowers at the moment. "Oh Xena. This is gorgeous."

"I thought so. I think it’s even prettier in the dark than it was in daylight, although I’ll let you be the judge of that after the sun comes up tomorrow." She led Argo over to the large boulder she had used for sunbathing a few days earlier, and unsaddled her, removing the bridle and saddle bags, and slapping the mare on the rump. "Go kick up your heals, girl. You’re free until tomorrow afternoon."

The mare snorted and nudged Xena in the stomach with her velvety soft muzzle before she threw her head back and with a loud whinny, trotted off to graze in the thick grass near the pond’s edge. Xena hefted the saddle up onto the boulder and then shouldered the saddle bags and bridle, handing their bedroll to her partner. "Come on. I have a surprise for you over here."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and then mutely followed, until it appeared the warrior was about to lead them straight into the side of a cliff. She thought of Xena’s mellow mood and frowned. I need to check her for fever.

"Stay here for a minute." The warrior disappeared and the bard could hear the faint scraping sound of Xena’s boots against rock. The noise was soon lost in the roaring of the nearby waterfall. After several long moments, Xena returned and took the bedroll from her partner. She handed the bard the flask of strawberry wine. "Here. Have a drink of this. I need to take care of a couple of things and then I’ll be right back."

"Xe . . ." The warrior disappeared again, the deep hearty sound of her laughter trailing behind her. Damn. What’s gotten into her anyway? The bard looked around and sat down on a log, grimacing slightly as she realized it was covered with moss, the damp growth making the skin on the backs of her thighs feel faintly icky. Well. I guess nobody ever died of moss exposure. She sighed and uncapped the flask, taking a long swig and swirling the fruity liquid around in her mouth before she swallowed. That’s a little better. She took a few more sips and decided there were worse things than sitting next to a beautiful pond on a pleasant night drinking wine.

After what seemed an eternity, Xena came back and grinned, taking the flask and pulling the bard up by the hands, leading her toward the sheer rock face next to the falls. "You ready?"

"For just about anything at this point." Gabrielle was still trying to figure out what her partner was up to.

"Come on, then." Suddenly the warrior turned, pressing her back against the wall. "Here, love. If we press up against this wall we can move behind the waterfall, where your surprise is waiting. Just watch your step. It’s dark and a bit slippery, but just wide enough to pass through."

Cool. Gabrielle also turned and followed her partner as they inched along carefully against the cold damp stone. Slowly they moved behind the waterfall and the bard stopped for a moment, feeling the cool spray on her face and enjoying the play of the moonlight against the falling water from this unusual angle. She began to move again and suddenly they were inside the cave. The bard blinked as her eyes adjusted to what she realized was dim firelight, and then she cried out in amazement at the small crystal formations in many subtle shades of color, which covered the walls and ceiling of the cave. "What a beautiful place. How did you manage to find this?"

"The day before the dart hit you, I was out on a ride exploring when I smelled the water from the trail and decided to check it out. I went for a swim and decided to dive under the falls, and now here we are. You like it?" Xena grinned as the wonder on the bard’s face told her everything she needed to know.

"Like it? I love it." Gabrielle began a slow thorough exploration of the small enclosure, carefully touching some of the prettier formations that were in reach, and bending down to pick up the occasional loose shards of crystal that littered the cave floor. "It’s magical. Like it’s enchanted by fairies or something, don’t you think?"

The warrior cocked her head for a moment and decided that ‘it’s just a bunch of colored rock’ was probably not an appropriate response. "Gabrielle, your presence her makes it magical." Bingo. Xena watched as she was rewarded with a face-splitting grin. There. Not so bad for an unimaginative ex-warlord, if I do say so myself.

The bard looked up from the rose-colored formation she was bent over and gazed into the pale blue eyes, closing the distance between them, and wrapping her arms around Xena’s neck, pulling her forward and pecking her on the forehead. "Are you sure you weren’t a bard in a former life? Did Naimah mention anything like that to you when she was talking about our past and future lives?"

"No. I’m fairly sure I’ve never been a bard. Although I was pretty blown away at the prospect of being the mother of peace in a future life." The warrior wrinkled her nose and rubbed it against her partner’s.

"Speaking of bards, do you mind if I pull out my scroll and write down a description of this place? I want to write how it looks now, and how it looks again tomorrow after I see it by sunlight."

"I don’t mind at all. I think I’ll take a quick swim while you’re writing."

The bard dug through their bags until she found her scroll and a fresh quill. "Can I see your breast dagger, please?"

The warrior had already taken off her boots and armor, and was in the process of removing her various weapons. She fished down in her cleavage and pulled out the small knife, walking over and kneeling down where Gabrielle had seated herself. "Here." She laid the dagger down on their bedroll. "Can you help me with my leathers before you get started?"

"Sure." The bard rose up on her knees and loosened the leather laces, untying them and peeling the soft pliable material down Xena’s body. "There. All done." She placed a feather-light kiss on the warrior’s bare shoulder before she sat back down.

"Thanks." Xena finished undressing and stepped to the rocky ledge at the water’s edge, sitting down and dangling her feet in the water for a few moments before she eased herself down into the pool, careful not to splash her partner behind her.

Gabrielle took the dagger and sharpened the quill, and then dipped it into her inkwell and began an earnest description of the cave, furrowing her brow as she tried to come up with just the right words to describe the many subtle shades of pastel color that surrounded her, making her almost dizzy with its sensory stimulation. She wrote for several more moments and then stopped, re-reading what she had written. She shook her head and made a few changes before smiling with satisfaction. She started to put the quill away when the spluttering sound of Xena surfacing from a foray under the water made her turn her head toward the falls.

The warrior’s strong shoulders parted the surface of the pool, and she came up directly under the falls, the water streaming down the curves and planes of her long body into the waist-deep water. As she stepped a little bit forward, the moonlight cut through the water, hitting her at an angle and creating little sparkles on the rivulets as they ran down Xena’s tanned skin, bringing out bluish highlights in her long black hair, while making her face appear luminous against the backdrop of the waterfall. Gabrielle was certain any nearby cave-painting fairies had fled in shame, unable to create anything as stunning as the vision before her eyes.

By the gods. "Don’t move." The bard’s words caught in her throat.

"Gabrielle . . . What? Is there a snake in the water or something?" Xena looked around warily, her senses suddenly in danger-detecting mode.

"No. Just don’t move. Please." Gabrielle’s voice was a bare whisper. "You are beautiful."

The warrior smiled and cocked one coy eyebrow, and then glanced down in self-appraisal for a long moment before she raised her eyes and looked into her partner’s face, which was bathed in golden hues and mixed with soft shadows from the fire. "Thank you, love. But why can’t I get out of the water? I . . ."

"Xena. Please. Just for a few minutes." The bard bent over her scroll and wrote furiously, looking up every now and then at the warrior, her expression different each time their eyes met.

"Hey. I’m drowning here." The warrior’s voice was playful, indicating that she was going to comply with her partner’s request, but not quietly. "Well. Maybe not drowning, but I think my toes are getting pruney."

"Hold on." Gabrielle made a few more scribbles and then blew on the ink. "Okay. You can get out now."

Xena moved to the ledge and placed her hands on the edge, hefting herself up and flipping onto her feet, sending a slight spray of water droplets onto her partner.

"Hey!" The bard scowled and then stood, grabbing a towel from their bags and moving over to dry the warrior off. She started at Xena’s legs and worked her way up slowly, drying every square inch of the toned body until she reached her partner’s chest. She leaned forward and removed some of the water droplets with her tongue, and suddenly found herself wrapped in the arms of a water-cooled warrior, who was rapidly growing warmer. Xena tilted her head and brushed her lips against Gabrielle’s several times before she deepened the kisses, exploring her partner’s mouth with her own tongue, not coming up for air until the bard was a limp rag in her embrace.

"Can I read what you wrote?" The low raspy voice tickled against Gabrielle’s ear.

"Wrote?" Dazed green eyes peered up at the still-damp face.

"You know. Whatever it is you made me stay in that blasted cold water for?" The warrior chuckled and took the towel from Gabrielle’s hands, and finished drying herself off before she walked over and retrieved a sleep shirt from the saddle bags.

"Oh. Yeah." The bard blushed faintly in the firelight. "You distracted me for a minute." She sat back down on their bedroll, leaning up against the cave wall and patting the space next to her.

Xena drew the soft shirt over her head and plopped down next to her, before pulling the bard around and against her chest and surrounding her with her long arms and legs as she peered over Gabrielle’s shoulder at the scroll she held in front of her.

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent.**

"Wow." The warrior’s voice was very soft. "That’s beautiful."

"Not half as beautiful as the vision that inspired it." Gabrielle lifted one of Xena’s hands and tenderly kissed the inside of her palm.

The warrior’s pulse quickened as goose bumps danced up her arm. "Not sure I deserve some of that, though. Especially the stuff about purity and goodness and innocence."

"It’s how I see you. And it’s how you are now. You do spend your days doing good, and no matter how many people you were with before me Xena, your love for me is pure and unselfish, and therefore, innocent." Gabrielle kissed her way down the warrior’s forearm before laying the scroll aside and turning in her arms. She reached up and stroked the side of Xena’s head, pushing back the still-wet locks. "Xena . . ." The bard whispered. "You inspired me to write. The poetry came back. You brought it back for me."

"Gabrielle, I didn’t do anything but go for a swim." Xena leaned into the bard’s hand against her head. "The poetry was there inside you. You did that yourself. Just like I knew you would."

"Maybe it was inside me." The bard continued arranging the long wet tresses. "But it took you to draw it out. Thank you." She wrapped the hand around the back of the warrior’s neck and drew her head forward, not losing eye contact until their lips met in a long undemanding kiss.

Xena drew back and held her partner’s face in her hands. "If it’ll help you write your poems, I’ll stand under that waterfall all gods-be-damned night long."

"I’d rather have you right here next to me." Gabrielle kissed her partner again. "Hey." She sat up. "What was going on with you during the summit this afternoon? You looked like you were coming down with the fever or the consumption or something."

"Oh. That." The warrior reached over and retrieved the flask of strawberry wine. She uncapped it and took a long drink before she offered it over to the bard. "Here. You might need a sip of this."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrows and then took the flask, tilting it against her lips and taking a dainty little sip. "So?"

Xena sighed. "I was carrying your fear."

"Huh??" The bard took a more hearty drink and then a second one.

The warrior began to run one hand slowly up and down her partner’s back in lazy light touches meant to calm and soothe. "When I was studying with Lao Ma, I learned that two people who are very close can sometimes feel each other’s emotions and feelings, especially strong negative ones like fear or pain. It’s something Lao Ma seemed to actually have control over. She could will herself to feel another person’s pain. Sometimes she could take it a step further and take all that pain into herself so that the other person was free from the burden of it so they could concentrate on other things. She did it with me all the time while my legs were healing. She’d take on my pain so I could concentrate on doing some of the exercises I needed to do to get well."

"That explains a lot." Gabrielle looked thoughtfully into the pale blue eyes. "Xena, when Octavian started to challenge me on the mining tax issue, I panicked. I couldn’t think clearly. All I could think about was what might happen to the Amazons if I failed and couldn’t work out that one little detail with him. Then suddenly my fear vanished for no apparent reason. Right after that was when I noticed how pale you looked."

"Yeah." The warrior reached down and drummed the bard’s bare midsection with her strong finger tips. "I felt what you were feeling in here. When I figured out what was going on, I closed my eyes and concentrated on drawing the feeling into myself until you were free of it. It’s hard to explain, and I was never very good at it. It’s not something I can control like Lao Ma could. And it’s the first time I’ve ever felt that with you. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to learn to control it and use it to our advantage."

"I wonder if I could learn to do that?" The bard smiled. "Although you don’t seem to be afraid very often. And usually when you’re afraid, I’m already terrified out of my mind, so I’m not sure how much good I’d be able to do. I probably wouldn’t be able to tell where my fear ends and yours begins."

"S’okay." Xena changed the actions of her fingers, making light circular motions against her partner’s belly. "There are lots of times, especially when we’re making love, when I can’t tell where your emotions begin and mine end."

"Yeah. I feel that too sometimes." The bard shifted around and curled into her partner, resting her head on a strong shoulder and sighing as the long arms closed around her. She wrapped one arm around the warrior’s middle, pulling her close. "I like the way that feels."

"You do?" Xena purred into a nearby ear, her voice vibrating against Gabrielle everywhere that their bodies touched. The warrior took the earlobe between her lips, flicking it with her tongue and causing shivers to shoot out in all directions from the bard’s middle.

"Uh-huh." Gabrielle tilted her head up and met her partner’s waiting lips, getting lost in the warrior’s explorations, and hardly noticing when she was gently lowered to the bedroll. Suddenly she was gazing up into shiny blue eyes that were much more intense than she had ever seen them before. It wasn’t frightening, just different, and the bard tenderly reached up, stroking the tanned cheek. "Xena, are you okay?"

"Yes." The blue eyes watered, and a solitary tear escaped, trickling down the warrior’s face and dripping off the end of her chin onto the bard’s forehead. Xena brushed it away and sniffled as another one made a lone trail down her skin and fell near the same spot as the first one. "Sorry."

"Don’t be sorry. Xena. What’s going on?" Gabrielle gently pushed up against the warrior’s soft linen shirt. "Get up." She continued pushing until they were both sitting up, and she found herself sitting across Xena’s lap, as the warrior reclined back against the cave wall and held onto her tightly. The warrior was trembling. "Talk to me. You’ve had something on your mind all evening. Care to share with me?"

"I . . . um." The warrior kissed the fair head and pulled it back down against her shoulder. "I love you." More than anything.

"And I love you." Gabrielle kissed her partner’s collar bone. I know she’s said that before. And she meant it. But this time, the bard knew there was something more behind the three little words that always made her heart flutter every time Xena said them.

"Gabrielle?" The warrior ran her fingers back and forth through the pale blonde hair.

"Right here. Not going anywhere." The bard nuzzled the soft skin of her lover’s neck.


"Ever." Gabrielle felt her partner relax considerably. "Xena. Honey. Did you think I was leaving you for some reason? I thought you knew better than that by now. I don’t know how many ways I can tell you that. I’m in this for the duration. I want you to believe it."

Oh Hades. "No." The warrior ran her other hand lightly up and down her partner’s arm. "I believe it. I . . ." Dammit. "It’s just . . ." Xena struggled with her thoughts for a moment before she reached under her partner’s arms and lifted Gabrielle up until she was sitting in front of her, face-to-face on their bedroll.

The bard crossed her legs and scooted forward until her knees were touching he warriors’. Xena had also crossed her legs, and she reached out and took both of Gabrielle’s hands into her own. "There. That’s better. I’d like to be able to look at your face." So you can know if you need to back down, you big chicken.

Gabrielle looked up into the warrior’s eyes and saw a wash of emotions flicking across the chiseled face. Let’ see. Love. Happiness. Doubt. Fear. The bard reached up and placed the back of her hand against Xena’s forehead. Hmmmm. "Well, you don’t have a fever." She chuckled, and was relieved when she heard her partner laughing along with her.

Xena drew in a long shaky breath. "You remember when I was reading the Amazon scrolls a few days ago?"

"Yeah." The bard started another hand and finger dance, not unlike the one they had engaged in while riding Argo a few candle marks earlier.

"That’s where I read about rules for challenges and I knew I could challenge Maniah when she used her elder status to try to take over the treaty summit."

"Mmmm. I figured that." Gabrielle reached down and traced small circles around one of her partner’s kneecaps. The bard watched as Xena closed her eyes and her throat muscles moved while she swallowed a few times.

The blue eyes opened. "I read about a lot of other things that afternoon besides challenges and treaty protocol."

"Like what?" The bard drew her hand up and kissed her partner’s knuckles before dropping their clasped hands back down between them.

The warrior bit her lower lip. "Did you know that as queen you’re expected to try to produce an heir to your mask?"

"Um . . ." Light eyelashes blinked over almost smoky green eyes. "Yes. Ephiny told me that a long time ago. I just figured I had plenty of time. I’m only twenty-one summers old."

"Have you thought any about how you’re going to go about that?" A new emotion flashed in the warrior’s eyes. Pain.

Oh gods. Wish she would’ve let me know sooner that she was hurting over that. "Well. Before you and I became lovers, I always thought I’d eventually just find some cute guy and have an affair with him until I got pregnant, and pray to the gods I had a girl." Gabrielle laughed.

"And now?" The pain grew obviously greater, as the warrior’s chin quivered and Xena’s eyes averted slightly to the side and then back up.

"Xena. I’ve tried not to think about it. Until my father and I were talking this morning." It was the bard’s turn to take a long shaky breath. "Gods know I don’t want to be with anyone else. Even for one night to try to create a child. But I kind of think I’ll probably have to eventually. Either that or give up my mask. And I’d do that for you. I want you to know that. I don’t want to do anything to hurt you."

"But you do want children, right?" The warrior managed a faint trembling smile. "I know you wanted to keep Hope, so I always assumed that meant you wanted children. Gabrielle. I’m so sorry . . ."

"Hush now." The bard leaned in and tenderly pecked her partner’s lips. "We’ve already worked through that, Xena. Let’s not dredge it up tonight, okay? I’d rather talk about the future instead of the past, if that’s alright with you." Gabrielle waited, peering steadily into Xena’s face.

The warrior said a thousand silent ‘thank yous’ to whatever god might be guiding their conversation. She couldn’t have said anything better than that. "Alright."

"To answer your question, yes. I do want children. But not if it means I have to sleep with someone else. Xena. I don’t want something like that between us. Even if it is for a good reason." Gabrielle kissed her partner’s hand again.

I’d like children too. Very much. The warrior spared one brief remorseful thought for Solan. I’d like a chance to get it right. She smiled at her partner. And raise them with someone I love. "There are other ways."

"Really?" The bard brightened. I told my father she’d find a way. "How?"

"Well." Xena looked a bit sheepish. "One way is to get a man to . . . um . . . donate his seed, so to speak."

"You mean, like he’d have to . . . well . . ." How? Gabrielle blushed as several unspoken questions flashed through her mind.

"You are very cute when you’re embarrassed, you know that?" The warrior traced the flushed patch of skin from her partner’s throat up her neck and across her jawline. "Yeah. He’d have to pleasure himself until he . . . um . . . produces his seed. Either that or I guess we could get one of your adventurous Amazons to give him a little manual assistance, if you know what I mean."

The bard frowned in confusion and opened her mouth, and then closed it. She licked her lips a few times. "Um. No, actually. What do you mean?"

Oh great Zeus. I forget how naive she is sometimes. Guess Perdicus didn’t get a chance to introduce her to that. Xena’s face grew bright red.

"You’re pretty cute when you’re embarrassed, too." Gabrielle poked her partner in the stomach. "So explain manual assistance to me, oh warrior princess of much wisdom."

"Okay. Well. You know the man’s member?" The warrior delicately gestured down between her legs.

"Yes." I’m gonna enjoy this, I think.

"Um. Did you understand what I meant by the man pleasuring himself?"

"Not exactly."

Hmmm. "A man can use his own hand to . . . um get himself excited."

"Huh?" The bard’s eyes grew quite round.

Oh hades. "Let me think for a minute, okay?" The warrior grinned. "You know how I touch you, and you touch me . . . down there?" Xena smiled and gestured downward again.

"Oh. Yes." A new blush began to creep across Gabrielle’s chest.

"Have you ever . . . done that to yourself?"

"Xena!" The bard hid her face in her hands. "Of course not. Why would I want to do that?"

The warrior groaned internally. Someone just shoot me. "Sometimes women do that to themselves to relieve . . . tension. It feels good, just not as good as when someone else does it to you."

"If they’re tense, why don’t they just get a massage?" The bard lowered her hands briefly.

Well. It is kind of a massage. Xena grinned broadly. "Different kind of tension, love."

"Oh. Ohhhhh." Gabrielle covered her face again and peeked between two fingers. "Have you ever done that to yourself?" The bard’s hands closed over her face again.

"Gabrielle." Xena’s tone was low and gentle. "Until we came back from the dead, I hadn’t been with anyone intimately since Marcus was allowed to come back from the dead. And that was over three summers ago. Before I met Hercules, I was used to having sex as often as I wanted to, with men and women. There were more than enough people who were willing to give themselves to me in that way in return for being in my good favor. I’m not very proud of that now, and that’s a conversation I’d rather not have tonight, but the point is, after having an unlimited source of . . . pleasure, I suddenly found myself in the position of not having that anymore, so to answer your question, yes. I have. Many times."

"But . . . how? When?" The bard looked up with an exasperated expression on her face.

A feral smile crossed the warrior’s face. "Remember all those extended trips into the woods to check the perimeter? Even when I’d already checked the perimeter?"

"Oh gods. Xena!" Gabrielle’s eyes disappeared behind her hands again.

"Hey." She’s such a contradiction. Knows how to touch me in all the right places and in all the right ways. Takes me where I’ve never been before. Reacts to me in ways that drive me crazy. And yet there’s still this little part of her that is so pure and innocent. The warrior gently pried her partner’s fingers away from her face. She grasped the bard’s chin and traced a sensitive pair of lips with her thumb. "You’ve really never done that before? I mean, our first time together, I kind of figured you’d never had a um . . . but I had no idea . . ."

"No." The bard muttered and lowered her eyes.

Hmmm. The warrior stored the information away for future reference and the feral smile returned.

"Guess you must think I’m a real prude, huh?" Gabrielle looked up uncertainly.

The warrior shivered as several rather sensual images ran through her head and she shook it briefly. "No. Absolutely not." She leaned in and kissed her partner until she heard the bard whimper and her breathing grew quite ragged. "You are the most exciting person I have ever been with."

"I find that hard to believe." The bard’s chest was heaving slightly.

"Well believe it. Because it’s true. But to finish explaining about men . . ." The warrior sat back and resumed their prior knee-to-knee posture. "Then man can touch himself like that, too. Just . . . he has to . . ." Xena curled her hand into a loose open fist perpendicular to the floor and swiftly flipped her wrist up and down.

The bard followed her actions and the warrior chuckled as she watched comprehension dawning on her young lover’s face. "Oh Xena, that’s gross!"

"Hate to tell you this love, but most men and many women would probably disagree with you. Anyway, once he’s through, then we’d take his seed and insert it into you with a tube. That way you wouldn’t have to sleep with him."

"Would that work?" The bard’s eyes grew wide again.

"Works with cows and sheep."

"Cows and sheep?! Xena, how in Tartarus . . . ?" Gabrielle’s voice squeaked and then trailed off. "Never mind. I don’t even want to know."

"Just something we did sometimes when we had ewes or cows that had problems mating the natural way. Works on people too. That’s how Lao Ma had one of her children when Lao Tszu was in a coma."

"Gods." The bard frowned. "I hate the thought of going through all that. I just wish . . ."

"Wish what?" Xena reached out and tilted her partner’s chin up.

"It’s gonna sound ridiculous."

"Try me." The warrior briefly pecked the bard’s lips.

"I wish I could have a child with you. Have your child."

"I do too." Xena ran a thumb across the full lips again. "And I’m going to look into that. See what rights or powers I might have as a demi-god in that area. Or maybe call in a favor from one of the gods." Okay, warrior. You’ve gotten off track here Way off track. Xena stood up and pulled her partner up with her. She tugged gently at the bard’s hands, pulling her toward a low rock, and indicating that Gabrielle should sit down on it.

The bard sat down and felt her heartbeat pick up considerably, as the warrior dropped to her knees and inched forward, pushing against Gabrielle’s inner legs until Xena was kneeling between them. The warrior took both of the bard’s hands into hers and looked up anxiously. "Gabrielle. When you get ready to have a child. Or children. Whenever that may be. I am here for you if you want me to be."

"Of course, Xena. I’ll always want you here with me."

"And that’s what I want. I want to always be with you. I . . . Gabrielle, I’ve not done many things in my life that I’m proud of. And I’ve certainly done nothing to deserve the happiness that having you in my life has brought me. And I . . ."

"Xena, you have. You . . ."

"Shhhh." The warrior reached up and gently placed her fingers against her partner’s lips. "I’m on a roll here. Let me finish, okay?"

"Okay." Gabrielle mumbled against the long fingers before she kissed them.

"You’re the best thing in my life, and I want to be there with you when it’s light and when the sun doesn’t shine. And I want to be there when you find your first grey hair. And when your head’s covered with them. And all the days in between then. I want to wake up every morning and have the first thing I see be your beautiful face. And I want the last thing I remember before I go to sleep each night to be the feeling of your sweet lips against mine and the warmth of your body next to me. I want to be there to wipe away your tears when you cry and cheer you on when you succeed. When things seem so dark and so bleak that you think no hope is left, I want you to come to me and I will hold you quietly in my arms while our hearts speak softly to one another, and we find a way to make it through. I want to deliver your children and help you raise them. And call them my own if you’ll let me . . ."

Oh gods. I think she just used her annual allotment of words. No one would ever believe this if I could even begin to repeat it. It’s so perfect. Tears were streaming down the bard’s face and she sniffled several times, drawing in a handful of shuddering breaths as she pressed the knuckles of one hand against her own mouth while she reached out with the other one to stroke Xena’s cheek.

The warrior placed her hands gently on Gabrielle’s knees and leaned in, kissing the tops of the muscular thighs. "Don’t cry love." Xena reached up and wiped her partner’s tears away with the edge of her sleeve before she took the two small hands and closed her own tightly back around them.

"Gabrielle, you have been the one good thing in my life and you have redeemed my soul over and over again. You are beautiful to me now. And you will still be beautiful to me when your face is wrinkled with age. So . . . what I’m trying to say is that I promise that you will always be the most important thing in my life . . . and just like I promised in that inn at Mt. Ymarro, from now on the greater good is going to mean what’s best for you and for us, and eventually for your children, above and beyond anyone else. I will do my best to always honor and protect you and meet your needs. And I want you to know, that no matter what happens in this great big uncertain world, that there is one person who loves you more than life itself and who would give her life for you in a heartbeat. You are and always will be the love of my life and the other half of my soul. You complete me. So . . . if you’ll have me, Gabrielle, I’d like to be inducted into the Amazon nation and be joined with you under Amazon law, because I love you and I want to spend eternity with you."

Xena closed her eyes and held her breath. And felt herself tackled by a quivering sobbing mass of bard, that suddenly flung itself into her arms. "Hey." The warrior embraced her partner and rocked back and forth. She heard the muffled sobs and felt hot tears running down her neck. "Does this mean you’ll have me?"

Gabrielle let out several gasping sobs before she pulled back and peered lovingly into the pale blue eyes, that were also brimming with unshed tears. "Yes. Gods. I love you so much. Underneath all that leather and armor, you are such a romantic nutball, you know that?" She whispered softly before she tilted her head and kissed her partner across her jawline until their lips met and their tongues began a long leisurely exploration.

After several minutes, the warrior pulled back and grinned. She reached down and lifted Gabrielle’s left hand, kissing it sweetly. "I didn’t plan to do this this soon. I . . . knew I wanted to eventually. I just kept thinking it was too soon. And then I thought, you know, I know what I want. And that isn’t going to change, so why wait? I wanted you to know in the best way I could think of that I want us to spend the rest of our lives together and I wanted the rest of our lives to start as soon as possible." Xena laughed. "I don’t even have a ring for you or anything. I’m sorry. I’ll get you one as soon as I can."

"Xena." The bard sniffled one last time. "I wanted this too. And I might have asked you first if Artemis hadn’t cautioned me to let you take the lead."

"Really?" A dark eyebrow cocked in surprise.

"Yes. She said I needed to let you figure it out for yourself. So I waited, and not nearly as long as I thought I’d have to. And I’m glad you don’t have a ring because now we can pick out matching ones. Maybe while we’re on Zakynthos."

"That’s a great idea." Xena blinked almost shyly. "But you don’t have to get me a ring."

"I want to. And I’ve saved away some dinars from doing my bard thing. Now I have something to spend them on. I want us both to have something that we can look down at during the day and always know that we belong to each other." The bard untangled herself from the warrior’s tall frame. "I need to go wash my face. I feel a bit of a mess from all that crying. In fact, I think I’ll take a quick bath."

She pecked Xena’s lips and then moved to the edge of the pool, shedding her red top and skirt, along with her boots, before she looked over her shoulder and grinned. "Hey, come scrub my back, will you?" She slipped into the water and turned around to face her partner as Xena brought the soap and knelt down next to the edge of the pool.

"Come’re." The warrior motioned as Gabrielle scooted up near the pool wall and turned her back, sighing as Xena lathered up the soap and worked it gently over her exposed skin. The warrior slowly moved her hands up and also washed the short blonde hair. "Extra bonus."

"Thank you." The bard dunked under the water to rinse her hair and then took the soap from her partner and quickly finished washing. Xena reached over and retrieved the flask of wine and then sat down, dangled her long legs into the water, enjoying the feel of the cool wetness between her toes. Gabrielle smiled sweetly and paddled over, standing up in the waist-deep water and leaning against the warrior’s knees until they parted and she slipped between them. Xena held out the flask and the bard took a long sip.

The warrior also took a drink and then set the flask down, leaning forward and placing her hands on her partner’s shoulders as she bent to sample the bard’s lips, where the fruity strawberry flavor lingered, tickling her senses sensually. "Mmmm. You taste good." Xena deepened the kiss as her hands began to wander, pulling Gabrielle closer in the process.

Suddenly the bard felt strong hands lifting her from the water, and she found herself swept up into a pair of sturdy arms.

"I feel like celebrating." Xena whispered into her ear. "How about you?" She bent her head and ran her tongue up the bard’s throat as she carried her over to their bedroll and laid her down into the soft thick furs. The warrior dropped to her knees and quickly tugged the shift over head before she settled on her side next to her partner, resting her head on one upraised arm as she began a leisurely exploration of the bard’s body with her free hand, pausing to touch familiar sensitive spots and enjoying watching the bard’s face and eyes, which remained open sharing her wordless reactions with the warrior. "I love to touch you."

Gabrielle felt the emotions and sensations building and swirling inside, and she needed more contact. "Come here." She reached over and tugged Xena on top of her. "Xena, I love you." She tangled her hands in the long black hair. "I want to feel you as close as I possibly can." The bard whispered softly as she allowed her eyes to convey all the love she felt inside.

The warrior’s heart lurched in her chest, as she settled her body atop the length of her partner and tilted her head to the side, leaning down to tease soft lips. She lay one hand against the bard’s hard stomach muscles and felt them contract at the contact. The hand slipped down Gabrielle’s side to caress her hip before moving toward her inner thigh. The bard whimpered and Xena moaned low in her throat in response. "Gabrielle, I love you." She deepened the kiss and gasped when small hands grasped her shoulders and the bard wrapped her legs around the warrior’s body.

They spent a little over a candle mark in gentle exploration, with a tentativeness that hadn’t existed since their first time, and with a renewed sense of wonder at the love they shared and the future they looked forward to together. The warrior’s love-making was sweet and gentle, attentive and unhurried, as she did her best to convey with her touch things that she felt too deeply to say. Gabrielle relaxed into the sensations Xena was creating, and then allowed herself to float away on the increasing waves of pleasure that were building inside.

"Seeing any shooting stars yet?" Xena laughed sensually as her lips and hands worked expertly to create a constellation for her partner. "Close?"

"Oh yeah." Gabrielle felt herself being rocked gently through the powerful sensations until the stars exploded. "How about you?" She managed to gasp out.

"Right there with you."

After a while, Gabrielle felt her lover’s breathing slow, as she rested her head against the warrior’s chest, listening to the strong heartbeat. "Xena."

"Yes?" The warrior was lightly massaging her lover’s neck.

"Is it always like this? I mean this intense? Every time with you is just incredible for me. It’s like I can feel us merging into one person, like I’m inside of you and you’re inside of me. I know I’m not explaining it very well, it’s just that . . . I . . . It’s what I meant earlier about not knowing where we begin and end."

Xena reached down and took her lover’s hand, pulling it up and pressing her lips against the small knuckles. "No. It’s not always like this. It’s never been like this with anyone else before you. And I know what you mean because I feel exactly the same way. I’ve had a lot of sex, Gabrielle, but you’re the only one I’ve made love with. You know that . . . um . . . hungry look I sometimes get in my eyes when I look at you?"

The bard blushed and giggled. "You mean the one that makes me feel vaguely like the main course for winter solstice dinner?"

"Uh." The warrior smiled. "Hadn’t thought of it like that, but yeah. That one. When I look at you like that, what I am feeling is how much I love you, and what I am thinking about is what I want to do to you to show that to you. With all the others it was always two people taking whatever they could from each other, using each other. With us, it’s two people who are willing to give everything to each other. Do you understand the difference?"

"I think so. When we’re together. Like this. What I want most of all is to make you happy. To make you feel loved. And somehow by concentrating on that I end up feeling loved myself. I don’t have a whole lot to compare it to, but why do you think it’s like this for us?"

"Well . . ." Xena thought for a minute. "I think part of it’s because we have so much history between us. We really know each other and we were very good friends for a long time before we took things any further. When we crossed that line from friends to lovers, we didn’t have to spend time becoming comfortable with each other because we already were. And that gave us a lot of freedom in our love-making from the very beginning. We didn’t have a lot of the inhibitions that most new lovers do. And part is because we trust each other, and when you trust someone you’re more willing to let your guard down with them. And part, my bard, I can’t really explain. For some reason, the gods have seen fit to bless us with a very deep love for each other. That part is a mystery to me. But I’m really glad it happened. As for the intensity, don’t you think you’ve missed out on anything, Gabrielle. This is as new to me as it is to you."

"Xena. You have no idea how good that makes me feel. Going into this I knew you had a lot more experience than me. I used to wonder if I was boring compared to what you had known."

The warrior lifted up, propping her weight on one elbow so she could look at her partner’s face. "Oh no, my bard. When it comes to the ability to love, you were the one with the experience, not me. And there are many, many words I could use to describe what you and I share, but ‘boring’ is definitely not one of them."

Green eyes looked up softly into brilliant blue ones. "Xena, I’m really really glad we could learn about this being in love stuff together."

"Me too, my love." The warrior leaned down for a brief kiss and then sat up. "Was that your stomach that just growled?"

As if on cue, the bard’s stomach gurgled. "Well, it’s been a while since dinner, and we’ve definitely expended enough energy to work up an appetite."

"True." Just a second. Stay put.

"Where would I go?" The bard giggled as her tall partner stood up and padded over to their saddle bags, rummaging around until she pulled out a small parcel. She walked back over and sat down on the bedroll, unwrapping the package.

"Close your eyes." The warrior grinned as her partner complied. "Now open your mouth." Xena finished unwrapping the surprise and broke off a fragrant piece of . . ."

"Nutbread!" Gabrielle’s eyes flew open as the nutty treat touched her tongue. "You’re the best. I’ll definitely keep you around forever after this."

"Figured you might need a midnight snack." The warrior chuckled and finished hand-feeding her partner until the bard had consumed every last bite of the small loaf. Xena had asked Daria to make a fresh batch specifically so she could bring some along on the camp out.

Gabrielle smiled with contentment and patted her belly before she tugged at her partner until Xena collapsed down into the thick furs, pulling the bard down against her. The bard snuggled up and tucked her head against the warrior’s shoulder, reaching out and tracing Xena’s firm stomach muscles with her finger tips. "Xena, have you ever been to Lesbos?"

Where in Hades did that come from? "Yeah. A few times. Why do you ask?"

"What’s it like?" Gabrielle continued her finger movements and lightly kissed her partner’s shoulder.

"Um . . . that was sweet." Xena’s eyes fluttered briefly at the contact. "It’s all women. And very open and free. Women walking around out in the open holding hands, kissing in the street. Having sex on the beach. Stuff like that." The warrior reached up and stroked the blonde head.

"Did you like it there?" The bard kissed the salty skin again.

"It was okay."

"Just ‘okay’?"

"I enjoyed myself, if that’s what you’re asking."

"What did you do there?" Gabrielle nipped at the shoulder and then trailed kisses across the warrior’s chest.

"Gabrielle . . . you’re making it a little difficult to concentrate." Xena chuckled.

"Oh. Sorry." The bard laid her head back down and curled up. "So. Tell me what you did on Lesbos."

"Can I ask why you want to know?"

"Just curious, I guess. I’ve heard stories. About these inns there. With these rooms. Is that true?"

"Um . . . yeah." Please please please let this conversation end.

"Oh. Did you visit any of them?"

Aw. Tartarus. Lie? Truth? We promised no more lies didn’t we? Damnitalltohades. "Yeah."

"Oh." The bard bit her lip and pondered that for a moment. "What kinds of things are in those rooms?"

"Um . . . toys, and things like that. Different kinds of beds. Things that are designed to . . . um . . . enhance pleasure."

"Toys?!" Gabrielle’s brows shot up. "I don’t get it?"

"We’re not talking Senticles, love." The warrior went into a brief description of some of the tamer items, her amusement growing as the bard’s eyes got wider with each new item described.

"Who were you with when you went to Lesbos?"

"Different women. No one special. Sometimes I waited until I got there and then found someone to . . . um . . . experiment with."


"Xena." Gabrielle looked timidly into the pale blue eyes. "Are you sure I’m not boring?"

So that’s what this is all about. She’s still worried I’m going to lose interest. The warrior pulled the bard down and kissed her soundly, letting her hands wander freely over the small compact body until they were both gasping for breath. Xena pulled back. "Gabrielle, listen to me, okay? I’ve tried a lot of things . . . toys, aphrodisiacs, role-playing. You want to know the most arousing thing I’ve ever tried?"

"I . . . I guess so." Maybe I can find whatever it is and try it out with her.


"Huh?" The bard’s brows furrowed.

"You are the most arousing thing I’ve ever tried. Because let me tell you something my bard, love is a powerful stimulant. Combine that with your sweet smell and your soft skin, and the love you give back to me, and gods, what you do to me." The warrior growled and rolled her partner over onto her back, planting another long searing kiss on the bard’s full lips before she sat up and ran one fingertip lightly across the side of Gabrielle’s face, watching as her partner shuddered at her touch. "All I have to do is look at you Gabrielle, and I’m good to go, you get me?"

The bard’s face flushed, possibly deeper than it had several times earlier in the evening. "But Xena, you’re with me nearly all the time, practically twenty-four candle marks a day."

"I know." The warrior waggled an eyebrow. "So what’s your point?"

"I . . . uh . . .nothing." The bard smiled and turned her face, kissing the warrior’s hand that was still stroking her face. "I love you."

"Don’t worry, my love. Nothing and no one comes close to comparing to you. I could spend a hundred lifetimes with you, and I hope I do. And never ever get bored with you." The warrior laid down and pulled her partner back against her side. "Everything you and I have done so far has been gentle, and sweet, because I don’t ever want to hurt you or scare you. But there are so many things we haven’t done yet, explored yet, things I want to share with you. And we have the rest of our lives to do that. And I’m really looking forward to it. Making love with you just gets better and better, and I can’t imagine that it’s not going to keep being that way. I love you. And I love pleasing you. You make me happier than I’ve ever been. In every way." The warrior kissed the bard’s head and pulled the top fur over them. "Let’s get some sleep, okay? It’s only a few candle marks until dawn."

"Okay." The bard draped her arm across Xena’s stomach and threw one leg across the warrior’s longer ones, effectively pinning her and giggling. "I’ve got you now."

"You sure do."



"Could we go to Lesbos together sometime? Maybe visit some of those inns?"

"Um . . . sure. That might be fun." The warrior allowed her mind to wander along those thoughts for a few minutes and grinned. "That might be a lot of fun."



"There aren’t any . . . um . .. whips or chains in those rooms, are there? I heard some of the Amazons talking one night. I’m not sure I’d like that. I mean if you really wanted to, I guess I could try it, but . . ."

The warrior sat straight up and turned, resting her weight on one forearm and gently running trembling fingers through the short blonde hair. "You listen to me." Xena’s voice shook, almost, almost scaring Gabrielle for a brief second. "I would never . . . ever . . . in a million summers, ever lay a whip or a chain to your beautiful skin, you got me? That’s not my thing and it never has been. Even in my darkest days."

"Xena, calm down sweetheart. I’m glad." The bard touched her partner’s trembling lips. "Lay back down, love."

The warrior slowly sank back down and wrapped her long arms tightly around her partner. "No one should ever hurt you. No one. And I’m going to do my best to make sure no one ever does."

Gabrielle waited in silence until she felt Xena relax. She tentatively leaned up and over, and placed a tender kiss on the warrior’s lips, sighing as the warrior returned her attentions. The kisses were loving and comforting in nature, enveloping them both in a peaceful cocoon of security and warmth. "I love you Xena. More than you’ll ever know."

The bard nestled back down against her partner and both women were soon fast asleep.


She was first aware of a sizzling sound, accompanied by the smell of fish frying. The next sound was the warrior’s low melodic humming coming from the direction of the sizzling. Gabrielle smiled and slowly opened her eyes to see hundreds of pastel crystals overhead, which sparkled in what few shafts of sunlight permeated the waterfall into their comfy nest. The bard rolled over and spied her partner kneeling over the fire, tending to two large trout that were spitted over the low flames. "Hey." Gabrielle’s voice was raspy with sleep.

"Hey yourself." Xena smiled and reached over to a flat rock beside the fire ring, retrieving a tin tea kettle and pouring its contents into a sturdy mug. She picked up a vial of honey and drizzled it liberally into the steaming beverage, stirring it with her finger before she rose and made her way to her soulmate’s side. She knelt down and set the mug down, leaning in and clasping one hand behind the bard’s neck while she nibbled softly at her partner’s inviting lips. "Morning."

"Mmmm. Good morning." Gabrielle returned the small kisses and then sat up, taking the warm mug from the ground next to her. "For me?"

"Absolutely." The warrior laughed and ruffled the tousled blonde hair.

"Thank you." Gabrielle sipped at the sweet minty tea. She mentally replayed the previous night as the tasty liquid slid down her throat, and looked up at her soulmate and smiled. "Um . . . did we get betrothed last night?"

"Yeah." Xena’s face grew wary. "Having second thoughts?"

Oh honey. The bard peered lovingly into the anxious blue eyes. We still have some belief issues, don’t we? "Never." Gabrielle set the mug back down and crawled into the warrior’s arms. "Just making sure it wasn’t a dream. A wonderful dream. Because if it was, I was going to go back to sleep and hope I never woke up again."

"Good. Because I meant every word I said last night." Xena rocked the small body for several long moments.

"Xena." The bard looked over the strong shoulder she was cradled against, studying the smoke rising from the fire, and wrinkled her nose. "I think the fish needs turning."

"Oh." The warrior smiled sheepishly and reluctantly let go of her partner, moving back to the fire and re-arranging the long stake the fish were hanging from. "Glad one of us can cook."

The bard looked around the cave. "Hey. How did you manage to get dressed, re-start the fire, catch fish, scale them, pound those stakes into the ground, and make tea without waking me up?"

"Gabrielle . . ." Xena chuckled. " . . . once you’re out, you could sleep through a tsunami, love."

"Hmpph." The bard crossed her arms over her chest. "I suppose so." She scooted over to their saddle bags and pulled out a sleeveless cream-colored linen tunic, pulling it over her head and then fluffing her fingers through her hair to straighten it out. "Do I have a few minutes before breakfast is ready?"

"Yeah. I think so." The warrior poked at the fish with a pronged stick.

"Good. Be right back." Gabrielle disappeared around the corner of the cave, and carefully made her way along the narrow ledge behind the falls until she emerged into glorious sunshine. She gazed up into the cloudless blue sky and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply of the flower-scented air. This place is breath-taking. She opened her eyes and looked around, taking in the shimmering water and the quacking ducks that were flitting about across the pond’s surface, occasionally diving below the water to feed and then re-appearing with a shake of their tail-feathers.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a strong nudge against her back. "Yahhh!" She jumped and turned around. "Argo." The bard laughed and reached out to scratch the soft nose. "Hey." She whispered into a pricked ear. "Your mom and I are in love and we’re going to get joined. So I’m going to be your second mom. Is that okay with you?"

The mare snorted and nudged her again.

"I’ll take that as your stamp of approval." She continued to stroke the fine hairs and reached up, scratching underneath the hemp straps of Argo’s halter, getting another nudge for her efforts. "Ooo. You like that, don’t you? Feel good?" Another nudge and the bard giggled.

Gabrielle looked around and spotted some long purple lilies at the water’s edge. She picked her way through the tall grass and reached down, plucking a half-dozen of the fragrant blossoms and smiling to herself. She nodded silently and strode back toward the cave, inching her way behind the falls and peeking around the edge of the cavern’s entrance. Xena’s back was turned as she knelt over the fire, removing the fish from the spit and placing them on a tin plate.

The bard crept quietly up behind her partner.

"You’re just in time, breakfast is ready." Gabrielle started as Xena spoke, never having turned around. "And the lilies smell great."

"Xena!" The bard let out an exasperated huff of air. "How in hades did you know . . ."

"Many skills." The warrior purred softly as she stood up and turned around.

"I . . . I wanted to surprise you." Gabrielle shyly held out the bouquet and shook it a little before Xena slowly reached out and took it. "Here. For you. Beautiful flowers for my beautiful betrothed."

"Gabrielle." The warrior looked down at the velvety-textured petals and then looked back up into the sparkling green eyes. "You did surprise me."

"But you heard me. And you smelled them."

"No. That’s not what I mean." Long black lashes blinked over misty blue eyes. "It’s just that . . . no one ever gave me flowers before."

"Never?" Gabrielle’s mind reeled, remembering dozens of pretty bouquets that had been offered to her by smiling young village boys who were too shy to say anything.

"Never." The warrior reached out and stroked the bard’s fair face. "I wasn’t exactly the kind of girl that inspired romantic gestures. Most of the people I’ve been with, especially the men, pretty much wanted to get right down to business. Not many of them tried to wine me or dine me first. Thank you. You make me feel loved, not just wanted. Do you understand the difference?"

Oh Xena. Gabrielle moved forward until their bodies were pressed tightly together, Xena’s arms wrapping around her and holding the flowers behind the bard’s back as she enveloped her soulmate in a fierce hug. "Yes. And I plan to wine and dine you for the rest of our lives, warrior princess. You don’t just inspire romance in me, you awakened it."

The warrior pulled back and pecked her lover on the lips. "Guess I oughta put these in water, huh?" She took the empty tea pot and dunked it under the water, swirling it around to wash out any remaining mint leaves before she filled it and sat it down, placing the purple lilies in it and shifting them around a bit, playing with the long stems until she was satisfied the arrangement. She stood and moved over to the large flat rock that was to serve as their breakfast table, and planted them in the middle of the rock, walking all the way around it twice before she sat down and moved the plate of fish to the cool smooth stone. "Breakfast is served, your majesty."

Gabrielle looked on in silence, her heart half-broken and half-soaring, as she watched her partner enjoying her first bouquet. "That looks really nice." She padded toward the rock and leaned over, planting one kiss on Xena’s forehead before she took her seat across from her.

They shared a leisurely breakfast, planning their trip to Zakynthos and discussing strategy for the visit to Egypt. They also briefly discussed their joining, and decided that the harvest festival in the fall might be a good time for the ceremony. After breakfast, they spent a few more candle marks swimming and sunbathing, basking in the warmth of the early summer day and of their re-kindled love.

Gabrielle pulled out her scrolls and leaned against a large thick tree trunk, as she wrote down a lengthy description of the pond and composed a few more poems, overcome with happiness that they were coming so easily to her again. The warrior simply laid back on a long flat boulder, letting the sun warm her naked body and occasionally opening her eyes to gaze over at her lover, smiling as she found her furiously writing each time, and indulging herself in idle pleasant daydreams, something Xena rarely did.

After a lunch of leftover fish, Xena whistled for Argo, saddled her up, and they reluctantly mounted the former war horse to return to the village for the solstice celebration.


"Ahem." The weapons master cleared her throat as she stepped out into the middle of the trail from behind the large tree where she was on guard duty.

The warrior looked up from a heated exploration of her lover’s throat and shoulders, and grinned. "Oh. Hi, Pony." Gabrielle was sitting side-saddle in front of Xena, their arms wrapped around each other in octopus-like fashion, necking like there was no tomorrow, as they allowed Argo to follow the path back to the village with very little direction from her master, who was otherwise occupied.

"My queen." Eponin stood up tall and tried to keep the smirk off her face. "Glad to see you enjoyed your . . . um . . . outing."

The bard smiled, for once not blushing at being caught in her current position. "Thank you. I did. Very much. Anything exciting happen while we were gone?" She glanced up at Xena and winked, enjoying the delicious secret they had not yet shared with anyone.

"Well." The weapons master looked up, studying the enamored pair. Something’s different with them. "Chilapa woke up about a half-candle mark ago. She’s still in the healer’s hut. Cheridah didn’t want to release her until she observes her for a few more candle marks, but she’s been asking to speak with you."

"I’ll go see her right away." Gabrielle turned and swung one leg over the saddle, facing forward and grasping the saddle horn with both hands as Xena reached around her and took the reins. "How are Kama and Kallerine?" The bard’s brow cocked in question.

"Settled into a guest hut for a while. We thought the dorm might be too overwhelming for Kama just yet. Besides, she’s older than the rest of the girls in the dorm, and we thought they might drive her a bit crazy with all that giggling and whispering that goes on every night before they go to sleep."

"Good thinking. Guess I need to figure out what to do with them on a more permanent basis. Thanks, Pony." She looked up and over her shoulder. "Ready?"

"Yeah." The warrior smiled and bent forward, pecking her partner on the cheek before she clucked to Argo, squeezing her muscular thighs against the mare’s broad sides and guiding the palomino into a faster pace than before. "See you at the party tonight, Pony."

"See ya." The weapons master watched as they passed her and continued on down the trail. What the . . .? Eponin spied a bouquet of lilies lashed firmly underneath the back curve of Argo’s saddle. Something is definitely up with them.

As they approached the village, Gabrielle pondered her dilemma with Kama and Kallerine. No girl under the age of eighteen summers was allowed to live in a hut, unless it was with their mother or grandmother. Kallerine was only sixteen summers old and Gabrielle didn’t want to create any jealousy among the younger girls by showing special treatment to one of them over the others, even though she had to admit to herself that Kallerine was her favorite of the younger members of the tribe. Yet she knew that the dorm was not a good place for Kama to live and she sensed that the girl probably needed to be with her sister. Hmmm. Well, I am the queen. I’ll just have to amend the law to allow younger girls to live with any adult family member. She smiled with satisfaction, problem solved.

"You okay?" Xena nuzzled the blonde head. "You’re awfully quiet."

"Sorry." The bard leaned back into her leather-clad partner. "Just working through some queen stuff in my head."



"You get it figured out?" Xena’s words blew warm silky air into her ear.

"Yeah." Gabrielle concentrated on the tickling sensation.

The bard was finding coherent speech increasingly difficult, as the warrior nuzzled lower, running her tongue down her partner’s exposed neck. There are definite advantages to the short hair. She grinned wickedly and ran the tongue back up before she nipped a patch of salty-sweet skin, while she moved the reins to one hand, freeing the other to trail her fingertips along the lower curve of her lover’s breasts and under the edge of the red cropped top. "I’m thinking I like you riding in front." She whispered into a nearby ear as her fingers continued to explore.

"Um . . ." The bard’s breath came in short gasps. "Xena. That feels really good. Really good. But the gates are just up ahead. We ride into the village and the Amazons see us like this, we’re likely to set some hormones in motion that could cause our solstice celebration to erupt into an orgy."

Xena chuckled. "Like that hasn’t happened before." The warrior’s fingers brushed over some very sensitive skin, causing her partner to yelp. "Oh. That was fun. Can I do that again?"

"Xena. I’m serious. Please." Gabrielle’s voice took on a pleading tone.

"Oh okay. Just can’t seem to keep my hands off of you." The warrior withdrew her fingers and wrapped her arm around her partner’s bare middle, kissing her on top of her head. "But I’ll try to behave."

"Thank you." The bard relaxed and half-turned so she could face Xena. "I promise to make it up to you on Zakynthos."

"Mmmmm." The warrior flashed a sexy grin. "Hope you find some time before then."

"We’ll see." Gabrielle replied coyly. "If you’re good."

"For you." Xena purred sensually. "I can be very good."

They laughed as they rode through the gates, returning the salute of the two guards. As they approached the healer’s hut, the warrior stopped Argo. "Why don’t you go in and talk to Chilapa while I stable Argo and check on Star?" Xena jumped to the ground and turned to help her partner down.

"Okay." Gabrielle slid down and pecked her partner on her upper chest. "See you back at our hut?"

"Count on it." The warrior lifted a small hand and kissed it before she turned and led the palomino toward the community barn.

"Hello?" The bard pushed the wooden door to the hut open and peeked inside, looking around as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She spied Chilapa sitting up in a corner bunk, reading through some scrolls.

The regent looked up and smiled. "Thank the gods." She motioned toward her queen. "Come on in and tell me what in the name of Artemis is going on."

Gabrielle moved inside and closed the door behind her, dragging a small three-legged stool over next to the narrow cot and sitting down. "What have they already told you?"

"Not much. Just that I was attacked with a poisoned dart and have been asleep for a few days. Every other question has been answered with ‘wait until the queen returns and she will explain’."

"Let’s start with what you last remember." The bard rested her forearms on the tops of her thighs and leaned forward, assuming her best listening posture.

"Pony and I were sparring and I felt a stinging sensation in the back of my leg. Everything after that is a mystery." Chilapa sat back against a thick pillow. "So fill me in."

"Well. Let’s see if I can make a long story short. For starters, Maniah and Pheriny were behind this."

"Oh." The regent’s eyes grew wide.

"They attacked me too, but I reacted differently to the poison. While you slept, I was puking my guts up." The bard reflexively rubbed her midsection.


"Maniah tried to take over the nation and stop the peace summit, but Xena read some laws and found a loophole and challenged her. She backed down and Xena ruled the nation for about a day while you and I were incapacitated."

"Wish I could have watched that." Chilapa chuckled.

"She didn’t enjoy it very much. She doesn’t have a lot of patience with large groups of people." Gabrielle laughed inwardly, remembering her partner’s edginess.

"I’ll bet."

"A group of northern Amazons tried to kill Xena."

"Tcch." Chilapa shook her head. "That was pretty stupid of them."

"Tell me about it. Four of them against Xena and Pony. You can do the math on that one." The bard smiled. "Another group kidnaped my father and Xena and I and some others had to go rescue them."

"Great gods."

"Xena and Pheriny got in a fight and Pheriny fell on her own knife. She’s dead."

"O . . . kay."

"Maniah’s on her way to Amphipolis for a year of service in Xena’s mother’s inn, as punishment for her role in all the chaos."

Two black eyebrows shot up. "That’s different."

"Yeah, we thought so. But it just might work." The bard paused, thinking for a moment. "What else . . . oh . . . Kallerine found her bacchae sister and Ares helped us turn her back into a mortal."

"Ares, the god of war?"

"Uh-huh. He and Xena go way back." All the way back, as a matter of fact. The bard grimaced.

"So I’ve heard. Where are Kallerine and her . . .?"

"In a guest hut. They’re both fine. I’m going to talk to Kama about joining the nation."


"That’s her sister’s name."

"Oh. Wow. If she’s anything like Kallerine, she’ll sure be a welcome addition to the tribe."

"She needs some time, but I think everything will turn out okay. I’m going to amend our current law to allow young girls to live in a hut with any adult family member, so that we can get them a private hut away from the dorm."

"That’s a good idea."

"Thanks. Um . . . we signed the peace treaty with the Romans. Kind of a long story, but a man named Octavian is the new ruler of the Roman Empire. He’s Caesar’s great nephew. But he had to hurry back to Rome because Marc Antony and Cleopatra are trying to take over his empire.

"I missed a lot, didn’t I?" The regent looked disappointed.

"E . .. yeah. Xena and I are going on a vacation to Zakynthos, just to get away for a week. You know, work out some stuff."

"Anything wrong?" Chilapa’s eyes reflected deep concern.

The bard chuckled inwardly. "Oh. No. Couldn’t be better. We . . . well . .. we’re going to Egypt after that to try and talk some sense into Cleopatra."

"Wow. You know her?"

"We helped her out a while back, yes. Of course I’ll need you to rule the nation while I’m away."

"No problem. Anything else?"

"Um . . . the solstice celebration got postponed until tonight. We wanted all the Romans and centaurs out of the way so we could fully enjoy ourselves."

"Oh yeah. They did tell me about that. Cheridah said I can go as long as I just sit and watch, and don’t have anything stronger to drink than fruit juice.


"Yeah. But I’m not sure I feel up to ale or wine just yet anyway."

"Do you think you will be able to stand up in front of everyone for just a few minutes?" Gabrielle got up and moved the stool back to its original place, as she started backing out of the hut.

"Probably. Why?"

"Oh nothing much." The bard opened the door and stepped out, leaving only her head peering around the door inside. "Xena and I got betrothed last night, so tonight you can announce our joining ceremony, which we think we’ll plan for during the harvest festival in the fall. Gotta go." Gabrielle disappeared behind the closed door.

"Gabrielle!" Chilapa yelled after her laughing queen. "You little scamp. Get back in here! Dammit!"

When it became apparent the queen was not coming back, the regent collapsed back on the bed with an exasperated sigh. Can’t believe I slept through all of that. I’ll get her back for that. ‘Nothing much’ my feathered butt.


The sounds of drumming and singing rang out across the courtyard as the warrior and the bard stepped out of their hut. Gabrielle had returned to the hut after her talk with Chilapa to find her soulmate crashed across their bed, fast asleep. She’d soon joined her, grateful for a chance to make up a few candle marks of the sleep they’d lost the night before. Sleep well worth missing. She reflected with a large yawning grin before closing her eyes.

The bard was dressed in her rust-colored Amazon leathers, complete with beads and feathers that she had tied to long thin strips of leather worked through two combs that were tucked behind her ears. It was a compromise since her hair was not long enough anymore to put in braids. She had tucked her sais into their straps on the outsides of her boots, mostly just to complete the outfit. Dainty silver earcuffs with feathers and beads hung from her upper earlobes, the night breeze twirling them around and occasionally tickling her sensitive skin.

"Xena, can you help me with this?" The bard held up her wrist and the garnet heart bracelet the warrior had given her in the spring.

"Sure." The warrior was in her usual leathers and armor, with all her normal weapons on her person, less a few daggers she’d decided would be unnecessary for a party. She reached out and took the silver chain, fastening it around her partner’s wrist and running one finger up the bard’s forearm just for good measure. "Glad you like that."

"I love it." Gabrielle took Xena’s hand and their fingers intertwined as they walked leisurely toward the celebration. A long table had been placed next to the dance area for the queen’s party, giving them an excellent view of the festivities. Gabrielle had sent written invitations to Eponin and Raella, Kama and Kallerine, Amarice, Rebina, Loisha, Chaulzie, Chilapa, and Cheridah, to join them, making an even dozen to round out the queen’s table. She’d decided to invite everyone that had helped them out during recent events, and had hesitated a bit before inviting Chaulzie. Gabrielle knew the girl had actually been somewhat responsible for part of their troubles, but as a new resident of the village, the young Amazon hadn’t had a chance to make friends yet, so the bard thought it best to seat her with the few she had met.

As the queen and her tall dark partner approached the table, the guests who were already seated there stood up. Xena deftly pulled out a chair for the bard, waiting until Gabrielle was seated before she sat down herself. Just as they were seated, Amarice approached the table, the last of the invitees to arrive. She sat down in the last empty chair, next to Kallerine, and held out a long arm across the slayer to Kama. "I’m Amarice. I don’t believe we’ve met, though I’ve heard a lot about you." The tall redhead smiled warmly at the shy girl.

"Oh." Kallerine put down the tea mug she had been drinking from. "Kama. You’ve met everyone else here. This is Amarice, my . . . um . . . girlfriend." The slayer groaned inwardly as her sister’s forehead furrowed in confusion. "You know. Kind of like my beau?"

Kama’s brows shot up, but she made no comment, other than to take the extended forearm. "Pleased to meet you."

Well. That’s one way of being up front. A bemused warrior studied Kama’s face, recognizing the startled expression of a simple village girl who was unfamiliar with the concept of women loving women. Her amusement grew as she turned to look at Kallerine, who appeared to be ready to throw up. I’d like to be a fly on the wall in their hut tonight. That could be almost as entertaining as some of the things I had to explain to Gabrielle last night. "Here." Xena chuckled and pushed an untouched mug of ale toward the nervous slayer, who was the only one at the table too young to drink. "You look like you could use this, and I think the queen will cut you some slack for one evening."

"Of course." Gabrielle smiled. "After all you’ve done for us recently, I think you’re entitled to at least one mug of ale."

"Thank you my queen." Kallerine gratefully took the frosty metal stein and sipped tentatively while looking over the rim back and forth between her sister and Amarice.

Servers came by with rounds of ale and wine and a special order of port for Xena. Behind the drinks they delivered platters of small finger foods. The bard reached out and snagged several selections from the trays in the center of the table, nibbling with satisfaction on cheese and crackers, olives, small meat sandwiches, and grapes.

"Hey." The warrior teased. "You better pace yourself, your highness. The main course is yet to come."

"I’m making up for two days of no appetite, Xena. Give me a break." The bard managed to respond between bites.

Xena merely chuckled and bit into her own meat sandwich, washing it down with a healthy drink of port. Soon the main course was brought around, breaded herbed fish which the warrior had helped catch, along with fresh-baked multi-grain bread and a large bowl of tossed salad vegetables. It was a perfect meal for the pleasant summer evening, and conversation dwindled down as many tables of happy Amazons devoured the sumptuous feast, which was followed by fresh fruit covered in a light sweet cream sauce.

The musicians moved to the dance area and began the first of what would be many candle marks of both ceremonial and dance music. The first song was a choreographed number with dance moves performed in front of the queen’s table. The song and dance told the story of summer solstice and the longest day of the year, and was a tribute to the sun and to Artemis. A few more choreographed numbers were performed before the dance space was cleared for couples-oriented dancing.

As the space was cleared, Chilapa stood and made her way to the middle of the area, standing up on a small crate so that all the Amazons could see her. "Amazons." Her voice rang out clearly across the tables of seated onlookers. "I have an announcement to make." The regent smiled. "Our queen, Gabrielle, has chosen to take a consort." She waited while low murmurs erupted and then quieted down again. "In the fall, Xena of Amphipolis will be inducted into the nation, and our queen will be formally joined with her in a ceremony during the harvest festival."

Chilapa took her seat as cheering and whooping swept across the tables, and finally a low chant started up, that grew in volume, as the celebrating Amazons banged mugs and forks on the tables while stamping their feet. "Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, dance."

Eponin grinned widely in between joining in the chant. She leaned over and whispered in Gabrielle’s ear. "My queen. Any time two Amazons become betrothed, it is traditional for them to dance the first dance together at whatever ceremony their joining is announced at."

"Okay. As soon as they start the dancing, Xena and I will join them." The bard sipped from her mug of ale.

"Gabrielle." The warrior whispered in the other ear. "She means we, as in you and I, start the dancing. Just the two of us. Alone."

"Oh." The bard blushed from her chest all the way up to her hairline.

"Come on." Xena nudged her and held out her hand. "You’ll do fine. If I recall, we sure had some heads turning the last time we danced together."

Gabrielle slowly stood, to an even wilder round of cheers, and allowed herself to be dragged to the dance floor. "Play something slow, with good steady rhythm." The warrior called across to the musicians, which elicited a knowing round of laughter from some of the bawdier Amazons, along with a deeper blush from the bard. For good measure, Xena tossed her scabbard and chakram onto the table, and unclasped her armor, dropping it to the ground next to her chair. Might as well make myself comfortable for her to lean against. She bowed with a mock flourish as catcalls and whistles rang out across the courtyard at the sight of her leather-clad armorless body.

"Take the rest of it off Xena!" One inebriated Amazon called out from a back table.


As a sensual tune began, Xena reached out and pulled her partner’s arms up and around her own neck. She let her own hands slide seductively down the bard’s arms to her sides, and finally they came to rest on Gabrielle’s hips, as the warrior drew her soulmate in as close as she possibly could, their bellies touching, with one of Xena’s legs braced slightly between the bard’s. Several Amazons whooped as they began to move together, the warrior never taking her eyes from Gabrielle’s face.

"Relax, sweetheart." Xena leaned in until their cheeks were touching, whispering into a rather pink ear. "Forget about them and just go with the movement." She felt the bard’s tension melting, as the warrior ran her hands lightly up and down the small back and used her own body and the forward leg to guide them in some suggestive dips and swirls, their bodies gyrating together as one.

Gabrielle began to enjoy herself, laughing dizzily at some of the moves Xena put them through, before they finally settled into a slow swaying motion and the bard closed her eyes and laid her head against a strong shoulder and allowed herself to forget everything else but the spicy musky scent of Xena’s skin, and the soapy smell of the freshly-cleaned leathers.

"Kiss me." The warrior purred before nibbling at an earlobe and ducking her head down to meet her partner’s soft lips. As the music wound down, they shared a long leisurely exchange before coming up for air to thunderous applause and cheers.

"Gods." Gabrielle blushed and buried her face in Xena’s leathers. She took a deep breath, regaining her composure, before she turned to look at her subjects. "Please. Join us."

Several couples got up and made their way to the dance area, and the musicians struck up another tune, this one a bit faster. Xena and Gabrielle continued to dance together through several more numbers before an exhausted and thirsty bard led the warrior back to their table, plopping down in her chair with a happy sigh. Gabrielle pushed her sweaty bangs off her forehead and grabbed a fresh mug of ale from a nearby server and gulped down half its contents as the warrior looked on with a twinkle in her eye.

"Careful there. That stuff is pretty potent. Thank you." Xena looked over and accepted a mug of port from a shy young server who smiled at her ever so briefly before looking down and scurrying away. Amazons.

The bard raised a challenging eyebrow and quickly drained the mug before taking another. "I just got betrothed to the most beautiful woman in Greece, and I intend to party my butt off tonight. You got a problem with that, warrior princess?"

"Oh no, my love." Xena leaned in and pecked her partner’s cheek. "I beg to differ. I just got betrothed to the most beautiful woman in Greece. But I tell you what, celebrate away, your majesty. I’ll look out for you." The warrior smiled and shook her head as she watched her partner tackling what she was certain was Gabrielle’s fourth mug of ale, mentally calculating how many candle marks it would be before she would have to carry a limp bard back to their hut. I give her two more candle marks, at most.

Several well-wishers came by their table to congratulate them, and then the happy couple got up for another long round of dancing, followed by two more mugs of ale on the bard’s part. Xena chuckled as she watched the green eyes go slightly out of focus, and her partner got a glazed look on her face.

"Gods you’re gorgeoush." Gabrielle leaned her face on her upraised elbow against the table and looked dreamily up at her partner’s tanned features. "I could jush look at you all night long."

"You’re drunk." The warrior smiled and brushed her fingertips across the other side of the bard’s face.

"Drunk. Shober. Doeshn’t matter. I could shtill look at you all night long." The bard stood up. "Let’sh danshe shome more."

"Whatever you want, love." Xena got up and reached out, catching her partner just as Gabrielle almost took a tumble.

"On shecond thought, I think I’m done. Shena, lesh go home." The bard held firmly onto a strong biceps as she wavered on quite unsteady feet. "Coursh, I don’t know if I can walk shtraight enough to get there." Gabrielle looked toward their hut, pondering the distance in her alcohol-fogged brain with great trepidation.

The warrior chuckled and grasped the bard behind her knees and across her shoulder blades, hoisting her up into her arms. She looked down regretfully at her armor and weapons, which lay on the ground beside her chair. "Kallerine, can you bring those over to our hut in a bit?"

"Sure Xena." The slayer looked up from a somewhat comfortable three-way conversation between herself, Kama, and Amarice.

"Thanks." Xena bid the remaining guests at their table good evening before she began picking her way between the tables toward their hut.

"Hey." Gabrielle looked around in confusion. "I’m moving. But I’m not ushing my legsh. How can I be moving?"

"Because I’m carrying you." Xena smiled at the crossed green eyes.

"Oh." The bard looked down at the ground. "My hero." She laid her head against the warrior’s shoulder and was sound asleep by the time Xena reached their hut.

The warrior looked up at the moon and stars. Two candle marks exactly. She pushed her way backward through the front door and carried her slumbering partner into the bedroom, dropping her onto the down mattress and then getting up to light a few candles, expertly working the flint and striker in the darkness. She knelt down and tugged the bard’s boots off before carefully removing the intricate ceremonial leathers and the various pieces of jewelry that went with the outfit. She grabbed a water skin and poured some water into a mug before retrieving her healer’s kit from the desk and removing a selection of herb packets, pouring their contents into the mug and stirring it with her finger. She sniffed the concoction and then added one last ingredient before she made her way back to the bed. She sat down on the edge and lifted her partner into a half sitting position. "Gabrielle. Wake up. You need to drink this before you go to sleep."

"No. Shena." The bard mumbled, pushing incoherently at the strong body she was held against. "Let me shleep. Pleashe?"

"Gabrielle, if you don’t wake up and drink this, I’m gonna hold your nose and pour it down your throat. And then I’m gonna spank you just for the fun of it. You got me?" The warrior’s voice was half-teasing, half-serious, as she gently shook the limp body she held.

Two green eyes popped open and the bard groaned as the candle light hit her pupils.

"That’s my good girl." The warrior tilted the mug against Gabrielle’s lips.

"Ugghh. That’sh absholutley awful." Her face contorted as she choked down the foul-tasting potion.

"Yeah. Yeah. You’ll thank me in the morning when you’re head’s not pounding and you’re not tossing your cookies. Here. You’re not done." Xena grasped the water skin and uncapped it, offering it to her dazed partner. "Finish it. You need to replace all the fluid the alcohol is gonna burn out of your system."

The bard slowly drank all of the water in the full skin. "Can I pleashe lay back down now?"

"Sure." The warrior carefully laid the small body back down against the pillows. She stood and removed her own boots and leathers and pulled on a sleeveless sleep shirt. Hmmm. She’s gonna sweat some of that off in the middle of the night, and that’s gonna feel pretty yucky naked. Xena retrieved a second shirt from the wardrobe and moved back to the bed, gently pulling her partner back up to a sitting position and tugging the soft garment over Gabrielle’s head.

"Sheeena. Pleashe. I’m trying to shleep here." Small protests erupted from the bard’s lips while her eyes remained closed.

"I know." The warrior finished with the shirt. "There. All done." She lowered the bard back down to the bed and got one extra shirt from the wardrobe and laid it on the small table next to the bed. She’ll probably need a change at some point after she sweats through the first one.

A soft knock at the door signaled the delivery of her weapons and armor. She quietly walked into the main room and opened the door, accepting the items from the slayer. "Thanks for bringing these over."

"No problem. Do you need me to stand guard duty tonight?" Kallerine stood with her hands behind her back.

"No thanks. We’re fine. The queen’s already asleep. Go on back and enjoy the party." Xena looked over the slayer’s shoulder where the torchlight from the courtyard flickered in the light evening breeze.

"Thank you Xena." Kallerine turned and trotted back toward the festivities.

Xena closed the door and carried her weapons into the bedroom and placed her sword and chakram next to the bed. She blew out the candles and opened the window shutters wide to draw in the cool night air. She smiled happily and crawled into bed, the faint sound of the ongoing revelry drifting in through the window. Gabrielle rolled onto her stomach and the warrior stretched out in their favorite sleeping position, sighing with contentment as her cheek made contact against the linen between the bard’s shoulder blades.

"Night Sheena."

"Goodnight Gabrielle."


"For what?"

"Taking care of me."

"I plan on taking care of you for the rest of our lives."

"I love you."

"Love you too sweetheart." The warrior closed her eyes and drifted off, visions of the white sand beaches and blue waters of Zakynthos coloring her dreams as she allowed Morpheus to take her.


THE END (but not really <G>)

** A thousand apologies to George Gordon Lord Byron, may he rest in peace (1788-1824), for putting his lovely words into Gabrielle’s mouth. His poem, "She Walks in Beauty," is one of my favorites, and fit far better than anything I could come up with.

NOTE TO FOLLOWERS OF THE SERIES (as of March 27, 2000): The next long story will be "Cleopatra 4 A.D.," but give me about two weeks to post the first part. However, immediately after "A Solstice Treaty," I will be posting a short story called "The Sixth Sense," which deals with the trip to Zakynthos, and is very sexually graphic in nature (PWP - plot, what plot?), so if you don’t like that sort of thing, you have been warned. If you prefer PG-13, you can skip "The Sixth Sense" and move on to "Cleopatra 4 A.D.," and you won’t miss a beat. My long stories will remain PG-13. <G>

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