Picture yourself seated in a tavern in ancient Greece . Candles and lamps illuminate the surroundings keeping the darkness at bay. In the fireplace logs are burning invitingly whilst outside the wind howls, rattling the door in its frame and splattering rain drops heavily against the window panes. Like the other incumbents, you are nursing a drink; a mug of ale for some, port for others. The air burbles with conversation and the occasional burst of laughter.
Suddenly the conversations start to quieten down and you notice eyes being drawn to one corner of the room. You look across to watch as a travelling bard gets organised on the small, raised dais preparing to entertain the now expectant audience with a series of tales about magic, craziness, romance and spine tingling events. Whatever the nature of the story there will be one constant; the heroes of the tales, Xena and Gabrielle, well known throughout the land and always a favourite with the audience.
You settle back and sip your drink, already looking forward to perhaps hearing some new tales about your favourite adventurers.
This is a small collection of such tales as might be told. Each story is completely independent and bears no relationship to the others nor to any other stories about the pair with which you may familiar. That said, perhaps, when they are finished, if you have been entertained and feel so inclined maybe you will offer a virtual dinar or two to the bard at: email@example.com .
Most of the tales included herein require no warnings for content, they are suitable for even the tender ears of the younger ones in the audience. However, the bard's final story in this collection, “Playthings” is definitely NOT appropriate for young ears, nor is it for those who live where explicit descriptions, such as are included within it, are not permitted by law. If you fall into one of those categories you are advised to avoid the final story lest you or any other person be upset or incensed by its words. Be so warned!
All of these short stories, except for “Playthings”, were inspired by fanfic challenges posted in the Talking Xena, Subtext forum. Consequently they all have subtext to a greater or lesser extent, even encroaching on maintext in one or two cases.
So now, onto the first tale.
The challenge that inspired this very short piece was, quite simply, a Halloween story.
Gabrielle fidgeted underneath her sleeping furs again. She sighed, her breath causing a small cloud in front of her face in the cold air of the late Autumn. A quiet grumble sounded from her throat as her eyes opened, swivelling around from side to side, peering into the blackness around the camp site, almost totally dark now that the banked fire had died down to just a few, barely visible embers. She looked across at the somewhat larger mound of sleeping furs to her left, just barely able to see the slow rise and fall as the source of the mound breathed deeply, clearly in a deep sleep.
“Hades!” the blonde head exclaimed quietly to itself. “Why did Xena give me that extra mug of tea tonight?” Gabrielle wriggled her hips again and glanced around once more, somewhat furtively. Ever since that adventure with Bacchus only a few days ago her imagination had become very good at creating monsters behind every bush and in every shadow, especially at night. She sighed again, exasperated with herself for being such a baby. She slid out from under her furs, being careful not to expose them to the cold air and cause them to cool off, and quietly crept into the group of bushes that she and Xena had agreed to use for the purpose.
As Gabrielle stood upright again she sighed with relief… and froze, listening intently. Had she heard a quiet groan from over by the lake shore? The lake was only about twenty paces from the their camp and that really had sounded like a groan, totally unlike the sound of any animal she was familiar with. As she listened, a prickle shimmied its way up her spine and she shivered violently just a the sound of a splash reached her. She jumped and opened her mouth to call out to Xena, stopping herself just in time. She closed her mouth again with a muffled click of teeth.
“Oh for goodness sake.” She chastised herself under her breath. “Xena will have a field day ribbing you over this for waking her up in a panic over a fish jumping in the lake or a twig falling from a tree.” She turned to go back to her bed… and froze… again. There it was again, definitely a groan, and a clank of metal as well this time. Gabrielle opened her mouth again and then closed it again as her ego took command, reminding her of the consequences of a false alarm. She shook herself and stood up straight, squaring her shoulders. “Come on, you wimp, go and see what it is before you call in the cavalry.” The words, spoken quietly, carried more conviction than the feeling in her chest as her heart decided that one hundred and fifty beats per minute was an appropriate level for the task at hand.
Gabrielle had taken fours strides towards the lake shore before she realised that the ground under her feet was actually quite solid and it was her shaking knees that were causing her to be a bit unsteady. As she moved closer, a rustle of dried leaves off to her right almost caused a whiplash injury as she spun her head around to peer into the bushes. She thought she saw a shadow move out of sight, just as she focussed on it, but it didn't reappear. A drop of cold sweat ran down her ribs from her left armpit and she swallowed, hard. “Probably only a little animal.” She persuaded herself. “Or something.”
She took another few steps. A twig snapped behind her and any semblance of control also snapped. Gabrielle sprinted to the water's edge, convinced that a surviving bachae was about to sink its fangs into her neck at any moment. The option of crying out was no longer a possibility from a throat suddenly as dry as a Tartarus desert.
Reaching the water's edge, Gabrielle slid to a halt and spun around to face the hideous terror that was only a stride behind her. Her eyes widened as there was nothing there. She looked frantically left and right, straining her ears to catch any hint of where the attack was going to come from. Her heart was pounding in her chest and her breathing was coming in rapid gasps. Gradually she realised that there really was nothing there. “Gods!” she breathed as her breathing slowed and her heart stopped threatening to break one of her ribs.
That was when a cold, clammy hand grasped her ankle.
Gabrielle's heart thumped painfully and all of the air in her lungs suddenly solidified. She took off at a pace that Argo would have been proud of, charging back into the camp site at full tilt. She slid to a halt beside Xena's bed furs and without any hesitation drew them back and slid under them, squeezing herself tightly up against Xena's warm and now wide awake body, pulling the furs back over her head. Xena slid an arm around the shivering, compact body and pulled her close, a wide, satisfied smirk pulling at her lips.
Gradually, Gabrielle's breathing and heart rate returned to more like normal levels and she started to relax, realising where she was and starting to enjoy the feeling of warmth and safety emanating from the strong body she was tightly snuggled into. Her mind also started working again and she started to work out how she was going to explain this to her, no doubt bemused, friend.
“I suppose you're wondering what this is about?”
“You mean it's not that you find me irresistible and couldn't keep your hands off me?”
Gabrielle's thought processes left the rails briefly as she couldn't simply deny outright the light-hearted accusation. “Erm, no, it wasn't that.” She eventually said, shyly, struggling to find words that wouldn't make her sound like a silly, frightened teenager. The shoulder under her head shaking gently made her pause as she realised that Xena was chuckling. Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbow and peered into Xena's face. “Are you laughing at me?” she accused.
Xena snorted as the chuckle forced its way out of her throat. “I'm sorry, Gabrielle. Happy Hallow's Eve?” She gently stroked Gabrielle's back, hoping that her feisty companion wouldn't be so mad that she'd debunk and go back to her own bed.
“You… you… you set this up, didn't you?” There wasn't any humour in Gabrielle's voice.
“Mmm, sorry. I couldn't resist it. Forgive me?” Xena squeezed her cross friend gently against her, gazing intently into eyes just visible in the dark.
Gabrielle felt the squeeze and realised that she really didn't want to move away. Her anger subsided as she put her head back down onto Xena's shoulder. “Only if I can stay here and you keep me warm.” She tried to put as much indignation as she could into her voice.
Xena chuckled again. “I think I can manage that.” She said, not at all put out by the condition of forgiveness.
A minute or two passed, both friends relaxing into their embrace and gradually easing towards sleep.
“Xena?” Gabrielle said, somewhat dreamily.
“I can see how you could have done the groaning and the bush rustling and twig snapping, but how did you do the wet and clammy ankle grab?” Gabrielle felt the muscular body wrapped in her arms stiffen.
There was a pause of several seconds.
“I… didn't.” Xena said, very quietly.
Two sets of arms tightened around suddenly wide-awake bodies while eyes searched the darkness and ears strained for any sound. Dawn would not come too soon that night.
=== The End of A Bard in the Hand… ===
For our next story, the fanfic challenge was for a story that built upon the message that Xena and Gabrielle received in Between the Lines, that is that their souls had been and would forever be entwined in each other's destiny.
I had a bit of fun with characters and their names in this one, as you'll see…
“Alright, alright. We'll agree to disagree. I think it's a bear, you think it's a dipper.” Gabrielle muttered, reluctantly. “Now, that one,” she pointed her finger up to the darkened sky, “you've got to agree it's a queen in repose.”
From her bed roll, alongside Gabrielle's, Xena swivelled her eyes to see where her friend was pointing, an amused smile spreading from her lips to her eyes. She followed the indicated direction quickly spotting five bright stars in a ‘w' formation. “Looks like the letter omega to me,” she said.
Gabrielle dropped her hand to her bed roll, sighed mightily and looked across at the tall form lying beside her. “I give up,” she said. “You have no imagination.”
That stung. Xena fell silent.
It only took a heartbeat before Gabrielle realised what she'd unintentionally done. She propped herself up on her elbow and put her free hand onto Xena's forearm. “Xena, I didn't mean that. You have loads of imagination. I was just frustrated that you didn't see the magic in the stars that I saw. I'm sorry.” She squeezed Xena's arm gently.
The brooding warrior felt the hurt dissipate under the tender touch and gentle words from the young woman who had worked her way into a long neglected corner of Xena's heart. “That's alright, I know,” she said, unable to prevent a smile colouring her voice.
Gabrielle smiled back, a brief flash of teeth just visible in the starlight, and gave Xena's arm another gentle squeeze before withdrawing her hand. She stayed, propped on her elbow, for a few moments more, just looking at her friend's barely visible profile before flopping back to look up at the sky once more. “What do you think the stars are, Xena?”
Xena thought about that for a few moments. “When I was in Chin there were some astrologers there who said they were suns.”
That surprised Gabrielle who propped herself up on her elbow again to peer at the warrior. “You mean like our sun? They must be really tiny then.”
“They reckoned that they were just like ours, only a long way away.”
Gabrielle thought about that. “Well, I suppose they could be, although they would have to be a really, really long way away. If you could journey there I'll wager that it would take days and days of travel.”
“Maybe even more than that.” Xena replied thoughtfully. It was something that she hadn't really contemplated before.
“Just think, Xena. If we had a chariot that could fly, I wonder what it would be like to journey to one of those other suns. Would we find a place like this near it, do you think? Would there be people like us there? Or perhaps they'd be completely different, even more different than a centaur perhaps.”
Xena turned her head to look bemused at her excited friend. “Okay, you win,” she said.
“What?” said Gabrielle whose thoughts were still out amongst the stars.
“Your imagination is better than mine.” She chuckled. “Now can we go to sleep?”
“Oh! Yeah, sorry. I guess I got a bit carried away there, eh?”
“Mm!” Xena closed her eyes.
“Just think though, Xena. What would it be like if in a future life we could travel amongst the stars.”
Xena rolled her eyes beneath her eyelids. “We?” she said. “How do you know that we'd even know each other in a future life?”
Gabrielle dropped down onto her back again and closed her eyes. “We'd be together, I just know it.” She wrapped her arms around herself, enjoying the warm feelings that came with the thoughts as she closed her eyes, a smile on her lips.
Xena smiled. “I hope so,” she whispered to herself as she too slipped away into her dreams.
- - -
“Yes, Naevia, what is it?” Lucretia looked up from her scrolls where she was assembling a list of guests for the upcoming celebration in honour of one of her husband's gladiators achieving victory to become champion of Capua .
“The playwright from Rome is here,” the slave responded.
“Oh, very well,” the tall woman, with a shock of bright red hair, said impatiently. “Show him in, although if he thinks he is going to receive any patronage from me, he has wasted a journey.” She turned back to her scrolls.
Naevia frowned briefly before turning to leave, returning only a few moments later with a petite woman alongside her. “Domina, this is Lucia Pomponius.”
“Well, I hope…” Lucretia fell silent as she looked up, casting her gaze on her visitor for the first time. The moments stretched out in silence as Lucia became increasing bemused by her hostess' reaction. Eventually the tall red head regained her composure. “Apologies,” she began, a little embarrassed. “I was informed that you were called Lucius. I didn't realise that you were…”
Lucia smiled. “A woman? Well in fairness, there are only a very few female playwrights so the mistake is not unreasonable. Please, do not concern yourself. I am not insulted.”
Lucretia felt the ground shift under her feet as Lucia's smile landed in the pit of her stomach and it took her a few moments more before she could organise her thoughts. “Naevia, bring us some wine.”
“At once, Domina.”
“Please,” Lucretia said, her blue eyes catching the green ones of her guest. “Join me.” She indicated a couch at the other side of the room.
“Gratitudes.” said Lucia, inclining her head slightly.
The two women sat at opposite ends of the couch, both feeling a little awkward although neither able to indentify what it was that was causing it.
Lucretia cleared her throat quietly. “So, a playwright. And what is the nature of your productions?”
Lucia smiled again, recognising familiar ground. “My works are comedic, satirical. Some might say anti-establishment.” She looked directly into her host's eyes, looking for some reaction.
“Hmm, you don't look like a troublemaker to my eyes,” observed Lucretia, a hint of humour colouring her voice as she returned the gaze.
Lucia laughed gently. “Do not let appearances deceive. I can be quite a handful when I set my mind to it,” she replied.
Lucretia narrowed her eyes. “I do not doubt it,” she said, hoping that she would hear her guest laugh again.
Naevia returned with the wine and the two women spent the next candlemark discussing Lucia's latest play that she was hoping to have performed in Capua . Neither of them realised that, as they talked, laughed and sipped wine they slowly inched towards each other on the couch, becoming more and more comfortable in each other's proximity.
“You will be needing patronage for your play.” Lucretia broached the subject.
“Um, yes, of course. I…I was hoping that, perhaps, you might consider…” Lucia lowered her eyes. She was puzzled. She didn't usually have a problem discussing the matter with prospective patrons.
Lucretia was absolutely charmed by the woman, who up until now, had been extremely confident and positive in her discussions. She extended her arm and gently lifted Lucia's chin with her fingers until their eyes met again. “It would be my great pleasure to pledge the support of the House of Batiatus to your production.” She smiled broadly, not because she wanted to, simply because she couldn't prevent it if she had tried.
Lucia's face lit up in delight and she returned the smile with her own broad grin, her nose crinkling alongside her shining eyes.
- - -
Gabrielle opened her eyes, the memories of her dream still fresh in her thoughts. She looked across to Xena to find her looking quietly back. “Can't sleep?” she asked.
“No, I was asleep, I just woke up. I was having an odd dream,” her tall warrior-friend replied, puzzled.
“Really? Me too. What was yours about?”
“Um, well, I was a woman of some position, in Rome I think… no, it was a place called Capua . You were in it too… at least I think it was you.”
Gabrielle's eyes gradually got bigger and bigger as Xena spoke. “You were called Lucretia and… you had shocking red hair,” she giggled, both from amusement and also from a certain amount of uncertainty.
Xena pulled a face, then relaxed again, thinking. “You were a playwright.”
“That's right, and I was asking for your support to put on one of my plays.” The two friends looked at each other for some time without speaking.
“Xena, we both had the same dream. What do you think it means?” Gabrielle broke the silence.
Xena sucked in a breath and blew it out. “I don't know, Gabrielle. It's not anything I've experienced before.”
“Do you think it was a past-life? Or maybe a future-life? You know, we were talking about that just before we went to sleep.”
“Could be. Maybe that's it,” said Xena more confidently. “We were talking about being together in the future so that's what we dreamt about.”
“Hmm.” Gabrielle was not convinced but couldn't come up with anything better. They stared at each other in silence for several moment longer. Eventually Gabrielle yawned. “Oh well, I'm going back to sleep. Night Xena.”
Xena smiled. “Goodnight, Gabrielle.”
- - -
“Shit!” whispered the blonde to herself as her eyes, a brilliant green in the bright morning sunlight, swept up and down the busy street in the centre of Auckland . “Why do I always do this? Why didn't I listen to the hotel receptionist and take a street map.” She frowned and looked left and right again hoping to recognise something that would help her get back to the hotel. She sighed, resigned to the fact that she was going to have to ask someone for directions. That's when she heard the distinctive clacking of hooves walking on the road.
She waited until the mounted police officer drew level with her and then she stepped forward, lifting her hand. “Excuse me, officer.”
The officer stopped her horse and looked down into the open face below her, one eyebrow hiking up under the rim of her helmet. “Yes miss. Can I help you?”
The blonde blinked in surprise at the dazzling blue eyes looking at her and sucked in a breath to ask directions when she was interrupted by the police radio, fastened to the officer's lapel, crackling into life. “All units. Assault in progress. Windlake Alleyway. Please respond.” She closed her mouth as the officer sat up straight and looked around, taking her bearings.
“Control, this is officer Ryan. I am fifty metres away but I am alone. Request backup.” The officer released the transmit button on her radio and smoothly dismounted. “I'm sorry, Miss. I have to go,” she said, quickly fastening her horse's reins to a sign pole and turning to trot up the street.
Without consciously thinking about it, the blonde woman turned to follow, walking briskly in the officer's wake. She reached the entrance to the alley and continued in without pausing. It was quite a narrow space and deserted apart from a couple of rubbish skips and several discarded boxes and other pieces of rubbish. She distantly realised why the officer had left her horse behind; in such a confined area it would have been more of a hindrance.
Looking ahead, the scene twenty paces in front of her caused her heart to leap into her throat as she saw the police officer shielding a clearly petrified woman from three fairly large thugs, each brandishing a weapon of some kind. The officer was holding her nightstick defensively and trying to talk the men into standing down, although the blonde could see it was without much success.
Glancing around she spotted a metre-length piece of two-by-two discarded on the ground and stooped to pick it up. Then she walked quietly up behind the men who were on the point of launching their attack on the officer. Without hesitation she whacked one across the side of the head, sidestepped as he dropped to the ground, smashed the stick onto the weapon-holding arm of the second thug causing a resounding crack as the bone gave way and then faced the third assailant as he turned, surprise in his eyes that rapidly turned to fury as he took in five and a half feet of stick-wielding woman. He yelled and charged, his own crowbar swinging towards the blonde's head.
The police officer had only vaguely noticed the blonde's approach, being somewhat focussed on the triple threat in front of her. Her focus altered though as the first two thugs were incapacitated and the third shifted his attention. Caught as she was on the back foot, she realised that she could not reach him before he reached her saviour. A loud cry of “No!” was all she was able to do before the impact.
The thug put his entire weight behind the swing anticipating the satisfying thud as his bar embedded itself in the irritating blonde's head. Regrettably, for him, it never found its target. Instead, the woman parried the swing, sidestepped neatly, tripped the thug and smacked him hard on the back of his neck as he fell. His head bounced off the cobble of the alley surface and he lay still, groaning feebly.
It was some time later that the thugs had been carted off, under guard, to the hospital and statements had been taken by the other police officers that had arrived shortly after the excitement.
“Thank you, Miss. We have everything we need for now. We'll be in touch if we need anything else.” said the kind-faced, male police officer.
“You're welcome officer.” replied the blonde.
At that moment the mounted police officer walked over intending to speak to her blonde rescuer for almost the first time since the incident. As she approached, her male colleague turned and noticed her. “Hey, Zee, you okay?”
“Yeah!” she replied. “No worries, Mac.” Mac waved his arm and continued on his way. She was left alone facing the blonde and caught herself staring as she looked properly into the gentle face for the first time. She shook herself and spoke. “Ah, I just wanted to thank you again for…” Her face pulled an expression that was a combination of a grimace and a smile and she held out her hand. “Name's Fran by the way.”
The blonde took the offered hand seeing her own swallowed up in the larger one. “I'm Evie,” she replied with a gentle smile. “That other guy called you Zee. Where does that come from… if you don't mind me asking?” A small frown crossed Evie's forehead.
Fran rolled her eyes. “Short version… I mentioned, ages ago to a bunch of the guys over a few beers, that I used to watch a TV programme called ‘Xena'. Unfortunately, a few of them had seen it as well and…” she waved her hands up and down in front of her, and then raised her eyebrows.
Evie scanned the tall, well-built frame in front of her and looked at the blue eyes six inches above her own and at the dark auburn hair above them. She nodded. “I used to watch that too and I see what you mean.” The two women shared a chuckle.
The short silence was broken by the tall police officer. “What you did back there… that was pretty impressive.” Eyebrows hiked upwards again.
The blonde shrugged. “Texas State Kendo champion, a few years back.”
“Kendo? Isn't that the martial art that uses… um…”
“Big sticks, yeah. They're called Shinai actually.”
“Well, you certainly know how to use one. Glad you were on my side.”
The blonde flushed slightly and looked down. Fran's eyes glazed as she thought back to the earlier events. “That was pretty stupid of me actually. I should know better than to go into a situation like that, alone.” She mumbled in disgust, almost to herself.
Evie looked up into the glum face. “You weren't alone. Besides, that lady was in trouble. What you did was good. You protected her.”
“I guess so.” Fran's eyes cleared as the truth of the blonde's words sunk home. After a moment, she snickered to herself. “Regular little Xena and Gabrielle we are, huh?” Her voice trailed off as she stared into the face in front of her, taking in the long, blonde locks. “Uh, you're not from a town called Potidaea , are you?”
Evie snorted. “That would be just too weird. No, I'm from just outside Houston actually. You?”
“Born and bred around here. What are you doing over here? Vacation?”
“Partly, but I'm here mainly for the folk festival.”
“Um, no, I'm a writer and singer.”
“Get outa here! A folk singer! You're a bard.”
“Well, I suppose you could say that.” Evie replied a bit taken aback. “Equally, I suppose I could call you a warrior.”
The two laughed with each other, then fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts. Evie spoke quietly after several long moments. “Xena and Gabrielle… did you think they were…” she broke off, feeling a little embarrassed, wishing she hadn't verbalised her thoughts.
“Too right! No question.” Fran's instantaneous reply betrayed where her own thoughts had been. Silence fell again.
“You know that whole soulmates thing? You don't suppose we…?” Evie whispered, shyly. Their eyes locked together in silent contemplation.
Fran took a deep breath and opened her mouth, then closed it again shaking her head. “Nah! If they had been real… Nice idea though.” She gave the blonde a crooked smile.
“Yeah, of course. What was I thinking? Sorry!” Evie smiled back.
The two were quiet again for several seconds, the silence just starting to get a little awkward. Fran cleared her throat nervously. “Erm, would you like… I mean… oh bugger. Can I buy you lunch or something… by way of a thank you of course?” She added hastily, fidgeting uncomfortably and looking down.
Evie looked at her new friend affectionately and placed a small hand on the tall officer's forearm causing the blue eyes to glance back up into the warm, friendly, green ones. “I would like that, very much… Xena.” She grinned.
Fran returned the grin. “Choice! Come on then… Gabrielle.” She said, draping her arm across the folk singer's shoulders and turning them towards where her horse stood patiently at the roadside. “Argo awaits.”
The two women laughed heartily as they strolled off together.
- - -
Xena opened her eyes and sat up, staring into the darkness across the campsite. “What in Hades was that?” she whispered.
“Xena? Are you alright?” said Gabrielle.
“Uh, sorry. Didn't mean to wake you.”
“You didn't. I was already awake when you sat up.” Gabrielle also sat up.
“I've just had another weird dream,” said Xena.
“Oh no, not again. Me too. Were you a…a…member of a militia?” Gabrielle was now getting just a little freaked out.
“Yes, a…police officer I think it was called, but yes, it was my job to uphold the law. And you saved my ass.” Xena's voice carried a subtle tone of pride.
“I did, didn't I,” Gabrielle preened a little, but the questions in her mind cut that short. “Xena, it was you and I again, wasn't it. In the future, I think.”
“Well, it certainly wasn't the past. There were some things in that dream that just don't exist here and now.”
“I'm getting a bit scared over here.”
Xena looked over at her friend and easily came to a decision. “Bring your bedroll over here,” she said, cocking her head slightly before laying back down.
Gabrielle didn't hesitate. She scooted over and laid her bedroll up against Xena's then snuggled back under the furs, wriggling across until she was just touching her friend. She fumbled around with her hand until she found Xena's and clasped it. “Thanks,” she said, quietly.
The two friends lay silently for a while, each remembering the dream and their feelings from it.
“Do you remember, in the dream, what you were thinking about?” Gabrielle's voice was barely a whisper.
Xena turned her head to look at her friend. “Yeess?”
Gabrielle swallowed. “I really liked you in it,” she whispered, shyly.
Xena stared at Gabrielle's face before answering, carefully. “I liked you too.”
Gabrielle raised her eyes to look directly into Xena's. “No, I mean…” she puffed out a breath. “I really, really liked you.”
“Oh!” Xena swallowed, then turned her head away. “It was a dream, Gabrielle.” she said, a little too offhandedly. “It'll all seem different in the morning. Go back to sleep.”
Gabrielle sighed sadly. “Yeah, you're probably right. ‘Night!” she said.
Neither woman realised that they were still holding each other's hand.
- - -
“Red alert. Shields up. Ready phasers, Lieutenant. Target engines and weapons.” the Captain of the USS Galahad barked in a voice that seemed odd coming from the petite, blonde woman sat in the Captain's chair.
“Aye, Captain. Phasers at full power, locked on target.” The tall, female Lieutenant responded, efficiently.
The bridge shuddered as an energy bolt from the raider's ship, displayed in all it's glory on the large viewscreen at the front of the bridge, struck the Galahad's shields.
“Shields holding at eighty percent.”
“Let's show them that they've messed with the wrong ship, Lieutenant. Fire!”
Two phaser banks on the top surface of the saucer section of the Galahad erupted with beams of bright red light that arrowed unerringly across space to hit the attacking ship, causing a number of explosions, silent in the vacuum of space.
“Raider ship's engines are offline, Captain. Weapons inoperable.”
“Excellent. Open a channel, Ensign.”
“Hailing frequencies open, Captain.”
A slightly fuzzy image appeared on the viewscreen showing a rough-looking individual of dubious heritage, a scene of carnage in the background behind him.
The Captain stood up from her chair and faced the screen. “I am Captain Kate Johnson of the Federation Starship Galahad. Your ship is damaged. Surrender and prepare to be boarded under the authority of the Federation of Planets.”
The raider's captain looked to his left, obviously listening to what one of his crew was saying. He turned back to glare into the viewscreen. “Agreed!” he snarled. The viewscreen blinked off, resuming the view of the ship from the outside.
“Lieutenant Hansen,” the Captain turned to her tall, dark-haired head of security. “Take an away team across to that ship and secure it.”
“Aye, Captain.” The Lieutenant turned away from her console and headed towards the turbo-lift. As she entered she gave it directions, “Deck ten,” and turned, not greatly surprised to find the Captain stepping through the doors just before they closed.
The two women stood facing each other, almost touching. “Computer, emergency stop!” said the Captain. The lift silently came to a halt and the blonde took a step forward closing the gap between them. She raised her hands and pushed gently on the Lieutenant until the taller woman stepped backwards, her back pressing up against the wall of the lift.
The Captain pressed herself up against the firm body in front of her, looking up into the startlingly blue eyes. “Be careful, Anni. I have plans for you tonight.” She husked quietly.
The Lieutenant swallowed, unable to tear her eyes away from the green ones below her. “Of course, Kate.” If she had intended to say anything more it was muffled by the soft but insistent lips that pressed over her own.
“Computer, resume!” The Captain had pulled away from the kiss, smirking at her crewmate's closed eyes and dreamy smile.
- - -
Gabrielle rolled her head towards Xena, not at all surprised to see wide-awake eyes staring back at her. “Another one?” she said.
“Mm!” the tall warrior responded with a small frown on her forehead.
“Where were we?”
“I think we were on a ship… between the stars.” Xena sounded as if she could hardly believe it herself.
“Wow!” said Gabrielle, looking back up into the sky, which was now showing just a hint of colour in the East, her imagination taking her back out onto the USS Galahad. After a short while she turned back to look at Xena again. “I was in charge, wasn't I? Up there I mean,” she said quietly, her smile reflecting itself in her voice.
Xena rolled her eyes before turning her head to return the regard, unable to prevent a smile from curving her own lips. “Yes, you were… Captain.” If a tone of voice could be made to stick its tongue out, Xena's would have achieved it.
“And you had to do what I told you to do, didn't you?”
More eye rolling.
Gabrielle went quiet for a moment, her thoughts turning inwards. “I… I kissed you.” she whispered nervously.
Xena squinted her eyes slightly, looking closely at her friend in the slowly increasing light. “Ye-es?”
Gabrielle swallowed before continuing even more quietly. “Did you like it?”
Xena's expression softened and her mouth formed into a crooked smile. “If I did, what would you do about it?” She held her breath.
“I… I might do it again.”
Xena rolled her head back and stared up into the sky, smirking. “Nah! You're not in charge down here. You wouldn't.”
Gabrielle's temper flared and she opened her mouth to retort but she caught herself just in time and closed it again. After a heartbeat's thought she took a deep breath and rolled over so that she was half lying across the tall warrior, glaring down into her eyes, grey in the dim light. “Oh, wouldn't I, Lieutenant!” And she kissed Xena; not gently but with a firmness and confidence that quickly moved from being simply assertive to passionate as the soft, silky warmth ignited her feelings and her fingers entwined themselves in the warrior's long, dark locks.
Xena was surprised. She had hoped and half expected Gabrielle to react to her teasing but not in her wildest dreams did she think that she would end up being kissed with such passion. Without consciously thinking about it, she returned the kiss, her hands sliding up and around Gabrielle's back, pulling the compact body in tighter against herself.
Eventually the kiss came naturally to an end with the friends easing away from each other, both slightly breathless, gazing into each other's eyes.
“So,” began Xena, a little hoarsely, after several slightly-faster-than-normal heartbeats, “what were those plans that you had in mind for me?”
“Mm?” sighed Gabrielle, dreamily. “Oh! Well..” she paused, collecting her thoughts. “I think it would be simpler if I just showed you.”
“Aye-aye Captain!” Xena said enthusiastically as Gabrielle boldly went where no bards had gone before.
=== The End of Together, Forever ===
This next one is a little different in that it is set in an alternate timeline, one in which Xena did not save Gabrielle from Draco's men.
The Amazon oracle felt herself drifting in that place between sleep and wakefulness that she recognised as the sign of an approaching prophetic vision. She sighed, mentally, wondering what portents of doom or elation she would see this time. On balance, she acknowledged, her visions had been very helpful to her adoptive sisters and the Amazon tribe to which they belonged. With that acceptance, she relaxed and let the vision appear and flow around her.
A warlord. Dark, menacing with eyes holding no compassion. Advancing. Her tribe. Her friends. Ephiny! Fighting, bravely. Dying. Hopelessness all around.
The oracle stared, horrified at her vision, helpless, wishing it to be over and yet, knowing that, once it was over, the reality would be following hot on its heels. A day? A moon? She could never tell. Only that it would, eventually.
Another warlord arriving? A woman! A whirling dervish of steel, of kicks and punches. Turning the tide. Victory from defeat. Cheers from her sisters: ‘Xena! Xena!'
The oracle now knew the purpose of her vision; her sisters had to find this ‘Xena'. She was all that stood between them and annihilation. Satisfied that the message was complete, the oracle waited to return to full wakefulness.
Two naked bodies, slick with the sweat of arousal and physical effort, writhing together. Skin sliding against skin. Hands caressing, touching, teasing. Lips and tongues seeking out sensitive areas. Sensual intensity growing, climbing. Pressure building. A mane of dark hair cascading across a pale abdomen. A blonde head above with lips parted, breath coming in short gasps. Green eyes with hooded lids gazing unfocused in enraptured passion. The oracle's eyes…
“NO!” The oracle wrenched herself from the vision and sat up in her bed, her breath coming in deep gasps, arousal still high as her body calmed itself. She ran her hands through her blonde hair, her hands shaking now with the adrenaline in her blood and from the fear of what the vision foretold for her.
- - -
The council of elders sat in the meeting hut; Queen Melosa, at their head, was speaking. “So, Gabrielle, you are quite clear about the meaning of your vision?”
Gabrielle sighed. It was always like this when her visions told of painful or difficult events to come. It was as though, if she was asked if she was sure enough times, then eventually the meaning of the vision would change so that it wasn't going to be as painful or as difficult. “Yes, there was no doubt. We were being wiped out until this ‘Xena' arrived. She was a formidable warrior. She fought with us. She made the difference.”
The queen's shoulders dropped slightly as she finally had to accept the truth of her oracle's vision. Gabrielle had, after all, never been wrong. “And there was nothing more in your vision?” she asked.
Gabrielle's eyes dropped to the floor at the queen's feet. She swallowed hard as the memory of the final part of her vision simultaneously caused a warm flush and a stab of fear to course through her body. “No. Nothing else” she mumbled quietly.
The queen turned her head to her right and looked squarely into Ephiny's eyes. Ephiny returned the look and raised her eyebrows, shrugging slightly. They both knew that Gabrielle was not telling the truth, but knowing of her life before she had joined the Amazon tribe, they also knew that pushing her, especially in the public environment of the council meeting, would be pointless and would simply make the oracle withdraw into herself for days.
The queen raised an eyebrow to Ephiny who gave a simple nod and a half smile. Ephiny was the closest that Gabrielle had to a real friend in the tribe. She was the only one who could challenge Gabrielle and ask what she was really thinking and feeling and not risk getting her head knocked off. For though she was quiet and petite, Gabrielle had a fierce streak and had become extremely competent with the staff; quite capable of giving Eponin, the tribe's weapons master, a run for her money on the training ground.
“Very well.” The queen concluded the meeting. “Solari, send out five scouting teams to seek out Xena and, please, ensure that you impress upon them that they must ask her to help us. Some of us know of Xena, and believe me when I say that any form of coercion or strong-arm tactics will result only in a very painful lesson in diplomacy.”
A few of the elders snorted quietly at that pronouncement, but Gabrielle simply closed her eyes and a small shudder passed through her body. Ephiny watched the emotion ripple through her friend and wondered whether it had something to do with the untold part of her vision.
- - -
“ Lake 's nice today.” Ephiny took a seat beside Gabrielle on the fallen log near to the edge of the lake and peered out across its surface.
Gabrielle turned her head to look at her friend and sighed, dejectedly. “I'm a lousy liar, huh?” she said, quietly.
“Mm, yeah, kind'a.” Ephiny replied gently, turning to look into the oracle's face. Her eyes scanned Gabrielle's face trying to judge how far she could push. “Do you want to talk about it?” she tried.
“Not much to tell” came Gabrielle's immediate response as she turned back to look out over the lake once again. After a moment or two, she turned back to find Ephiny still looking at her, compassionately. She took a deep breath and blew it out. “Eph, I don't want to see this ‘Xena' when she gets here.”
Ephiny's eyebrows shot up into her hairline. “Well, assuming that she does get here…”
“She will.” interrupted Gabrielle.
“Okay, when she gets here, what do you want to do?”
“I'll just stay in my hut. Can you arrange for some meals to be sent in, please?”
Ephiny cocked her head slightly to one side, a puzzled frown on her face. “Gabrielle, what's wrong? Was there something else in your vision that's spooked you?”
Gabrielle ignored the question. “Look, this ‘Xena' is a warlord, right? You know how I feel about them !”
Ephiny briefly thought about where Gabrielle had been when an Amazon scouting party, headed by Ephiny herself, had come across a small warlord band several years ago. Alerted by cries and whimpers from a roughly erected tent, the Amazons had surrounded and approached the warlord's camp to discover Gabrielle tied up and in quite a state. The Amazons had made short work of the warlord's men, many of whom were heavily inebriated, and had taken Gabrielle into their care. It had taken several moons before Gabrielle had recovered enough to start to take her place within the tribe.
“By all accounts, Xena isn't a warlord any longer.” Ephiny countered. “She's supposedly out there, helping people. I've heard that she has fought alongside Hercules. Besides, she wouldn't hurt you. Not in the village.”
Gabrielle was quiet for a little while before she said, very quietly. “It's not getting hurt that I'm worried about.” She looked down at her feet.
Ephiny was puzzled. “Not getting hurt? Then wha… Gabrielle? What else was in your vision?” A glimmer of understanding started to glow in Ephiny's brain.
Gabrielle felt her cheeks burning and she kept her eyes down and said nothing.
Ephiny reached over and took hold of one of Gabrielle's hands. “Gabrielle, honey, you can tell me. It's all right.”
“In my vision,” Gabrielle whispered, “Xena and I were…” she sighed, deeply.
Ephiny felt her anger growing, her voice rising. “Was she…” she struggled for the right words. “Forcing you…” she broke off not wishing to upset her friend any more than she already was.
“Uh, no. Nothing like that.” Gabrielle became even more coy and embarrassed.
“Oh!” Ephiny simmered down, a small smile appearing on her face. “It was nice then.” The smile became broader.
“Oh, Gods, Eph! Shut up! Look, it's not going to happen. I just won't let her see me. I'll keep out of her way. She can come, do her thing and go away again, and that's it.” Gabrielle got up and stalked off along the lakeshore.
Ephiny watched her walk away. Still smiling, she shook her head. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” she muttered before standing herself and wandering back into the village.
- - -
The buzz went around the Amazon village like wildfire in a stiff wind. A scout had returned with news that one of the scouting parties was returning with Xena. The older members of the tribe talked in hushed whispers with some fear and trepidation, wondering what events would come with the Warrior Princess this time. Younger members talked more excitedly about the rumoured danger that accompanied her wherever she went. Some of the more arrogant, young warriors wondered if they would get the chance to make a name for themselves by besting the ex-warlord, who surely wasn't all that the stories made her out to be. A certain blonde oracle felt a flush of anticipation, a stab of fear and a desire to hide in the darkest corner of her hut.
The scouting party strode into the village with Xena leading her horse in the centre of the group. She looked relaxed and unconcerned, casting casual looks around her as they approached the queen's hut.
Melosa appeared in the hut's doorway with Ephiny at her side as the group stopped a handful of paces away from them. “Xena, welcome to our village and thank you for coming to our call. I am Melosa, this is my second, Ephiny.” She said, indicating the Amazon standing beside her.
Xena met Melosa's eyes and held them for several heartbeats before she allowed a small smile to quirk the corner of her mouth. “Your scouts said something about a warlord attacking.” She looked around, “Must be a stealth attack as far as I can see.” She returned her gaze onto Melosa's face, her eyebrows lifting sardonically.
“Our oracle has foreseen the attack. We are making sure that we are prepared.” Melosa had the grace to look slightly awkward.
Xena's eyebrows climbed even higher as she dropped Argo's reins and took two paces forward. “Your oracle? You mean you've dragged me dozens of leagues on the basis of an old crone's dreams?” Her voice was a mixture of annoyance and amusement. The now substantial crowd around them clearly didn't know how to interpret the warrior's attitude; a subdued rumble of whispers rippled through it.
Melosa flinched slightly but maintained her composure and replied. “Gabrielle is hardly an old crone and her prophesies have been very helpful to us for several years and in many different ways. We have great trust in her visions.”
“Hmmph!” Xena's demeanour relaxed a little. “Alright, I accept that… for now. What do we know from this… vision? Army size? When do they get here? Who's running them?” Her eyebrow hiked up in question.
Melosa raised her hand. “Time enough for details. You must be hungry after your journey. Please.” She waved her towards the cooking area where several tables and seats were set out.
Xena didn't move. “You don't know, do you?” she challenged.
Turning back to face the warrior, Melosa replied “You must know, Xena, that an oracles visions are not always clear or specific about details.” Her own eyebrows raised in question.
“I do know that all oracles are not truly oracles and that all visions are not necessarily prophesies.” Xena's voice took on a note of resignation. “Let me speak with this oracle. Let me be the judge of this vision's accuracy.”
Ephiny now spoke for the first time, an urgency in her voice. “That won't be possible.”
Melosa turned her head slightly to look quizzically at her second, a movement not lost on Xena.
“And that would be, why?” the warrior asked when nothing more was forthcoming from Ephiny.
Ephiny's eyes flicked briefly to meet her queen's and then looked back to the tall figure in front of her. “She, um, is a very, um, private person. She won't talk to strangers. I will be the liaison with her. Tell me what you want to know and I will get the answers for you?” Her voice rose in pitch, slightly, at the end.
Xena rolled her eyes and closed them, taking a deep breath and sighing deeply. Amazons! She opened her eyes again and cocked her head towards the eating tables. “Okay. Let's go.” She breathed, resignedly.
A pair of green eyes watched the proceedings from a hut window across the village.
- - -
Xena sat beside Ephiny at the eating table nibbling at some fresh bread and venison. She took a swig of what tasted like a weak ale, pulled a face and turned to her companion. “So, this oracle of yours. You put a lot of faith in her.”
Ephiny swallowed her own mouthful and swivelled her eyes to meet the warriors. “We do. She's been with us for six summers now and, amongst other things, she's helped us avoid a lot of problems one way or another.” She turned back to her plate of food.
“Six summers? So, she's not an Amazon then?” Xena found the subject of the oracle oddly interesting.
“No, she is! Um, it's complicated.” Ephiny hesitated.
Xena shrugged. “Look, you want me to listen to this oracle. Don't you think if I understood a bit more about her it might help me accept what she has to say?”
Ephiny sighed. “Yeah, I suppose so.” She took a drink from her own mug before continuing to tell Xena the story of how her Amazon party had rescued Gabrielle from a warlord's band.
“So, we brought her here and, gradually she recovered physically and mentally and started to integrate into the tribe.”
“Where was she from? Didn't she want to go home?”
“No home to go back to,” Ephiny replied with a shrug. “When she was captured, just outside of Potaedia, her entire family was captured with her and sold off to slavers.”
“Potaedia… Six summers…?” Xena's thoughts turned inwards for several moments, back to a time six summers ago when, in the depths of despair, she had ridden towards her home and had passed quite close to Potaedia. She had almost run into one of Draco's raiding parties, she recalled, and, not having the stomach for a fight at the time, had turned West and avoided the village. She shook herself out of her reverie and looked up to find the Amazon watching her, curiously. “And the visions? Where do they come in?” Xena continued.
Ephiny raised her eyebrows. “Well, Gabrielle came to us one day, a little while after she had arrived, and gave us a warning that a scouting party would be attacked and that several warriors would be killed, including…” her voice dropped as she glanced around. “… Melosa's daughter, Tereis. Of course, no one really believed her, even though she insisted that she had the gift of prophesy. Four days later, we learned the hard way that she really did.”
Xena looked thoughtful. “She have these visions often?”
Ephiny thought for a moment. “Sometimes.” She replied. “More often now than at first. The elders think that one of our aromatic herbs that is burnt at ceremonies increases her abilities, but I'm not sure.”
“Could be,” Xena smirked, remembering her own experiments with various herbs many years ago.
The pair lapsed into silence as they finished their respective meals.
- - -
The remainder of that day had been frustrating and irritating to say the least. Ephiny had visited Gabrielle several times, each time with questions to which Gabrielle didn't really have any answers. Some of the questions had even seemed pointless and Ephiny hadn't been able to explain why they were important. “I'm just the messenger” she had said on more than one occasion. This had gone on for several candlemarks until Queen Melosa had eventually drawn a halt for the day and ordered a resumption for the next day.
Xena had been more amused than anything else and had entertained herself by inventing questions just to see what the answer might be that came back from the mysterious oracle. Fortunately, no one else seemed to catch on to the Warrior Princess' game.
Some time after the village had settled for the night, Gabrielle poked her head out of her hut door and, seeing that no one was about, crept quietly out of the village and down to the edge of the lake, to her favourite thinking spot. She sat staring out across the moonlit water, struggling with her dilemma of wanting to help the tribe but not wanting to get close to the warrior.
Xena watched quietly from the shadows of the forest edge having discovered which hut the oracle was in and then following her when she left for the lake. She had found herself enjoying the sight of the swaying hips in front of her. She really isn't an old crone. Xena confirmed to herself as she approached the figure sitting by the lake.
“Mind if I join you?” Xena said, quietly.
Gabrielle levitated off the fallen tree. “Aghh!” she squealed. “Gods! Don't creep up on me like that.” Then she realised who it was that had spoken. “Oh no.” She cowered away, tripping over a tree root and falling onto her backside, the moonlight giving the warrior an exceptionally clear view of her quarry for the first time.
Xena froze. “I…I'm sorry” she stuttered. “I didn't mean to...” Her mouth dried up. The instant attraction she felt to this woman literally took her breath away.
The same moonlight also provided Gabrielle with her first, up-close view of the warrior and, as she took in the stunned face in front of her, she didn't notice that all of the fear she had felt in relation to the woman, suddenly evaporated to be replaced with curiosity and an almost overwhelming desire to get closer. She worked her mouth several times before any sound came out. “That's okay. I'm alright.”
Xena leaned forward, holding out her hand. Gabrielle took it, allowing herself to be pulled gently back to her feet. “Thank you,” she said, shyly.
“You're welcome.” Xena realised that she still held Gabrielle's hand and at the same time also realised that she didn't want to let it go.
After several heartbeats, Xena found her voice “Gabrielle, can we talk?”
“I'd like that.” came the reply as the pair seated themselves side by side on the fallen tree.
Two halves of one soul eventually found their way to each other six years later than fate had intended.
=== The End of Fate's Second Chance ===
The origin of this next story is quite unique. The forum members contributed 10 random items or events (a member was only allowed to contribute one) and the challenge was to weave all of those into a story. To avoid spoiling the story I will list the ideas at the end but maybe you would like to try and spot them as you read.
It was the sneeze that caused it, really. Not one of your common-or-garden, run-of-the-mill sneezes, mind you, that starts off as a nasal tickle and gradually builds up making you fully aware of its approach. This was a full-body, almost orgasmic in its intensity type of sneeze that leaps out from behind a tree, grabs you by the nostrils and launches you off the ground. Hardly Aphrodite's fault at all. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves a little here. Let's just take a step back a little.
“How far is it to Amphipolis now, Xena?” Gabrielle asked as she started removing their things from Argo's back. “We're not going to be late for your birthday are we? I'll bet all your relatives will be there.”
Xena rolled her eyes and smiled, once again amused by Gabrielle's enthusiasm for anything remotely like a party. The scroll from her mother had been a complete surprise, inviting her home to celebrate her thirtieth birthday. She had been about to shrug it off until Gabrielle had read the scroll over her shoulder and had forestalled her rejection with a shriek of excitement and insistence on immediately making plans for the journey to Amphipolis.
“Oh, no!” Gabrielle groaned, shaking out her blanket. “One of the waterskins has leaked. My blanket is soaked.”
Xena looked over and shrugged. “That's okay, we can share mine tonight.”
“Oh,” said Gabrielle hesitantly, “great. Thanks.” She hung her blanket over a bush to dry and continued unloading Argo and setting up the campsite.
- - -
“Gosh, Xena, isn't the sky clear tonight?” Gabrielle whispered some time later and reached across the small gap between them and gently grasped Xena's forearm, pleased with herself for making it seem like a completely natural touch. “Look how bright the stars are.”
Xena smiled and looked up at the points of light as her skin tingled at her companion's touch.
“Ooh, look, a falling star, Xena. Make a wish!” I wish I knew how you felt about me. she thought to herself.
I wish I knew whether or not that touch was just friendly or… Xena mused.
Aphrodite grinned. “Your wishes are my pleasure, munchkins.” she said. Her brow crinkled in thought working out the necessary spell. Satisfied she raised her right hand and waved it theatrically over her head before snapping her fingers in the direction of the two women lying beside each under at the far side of the campsite.
It was at that very instant that The Sneeze made its appearance, literally knocking Aphrodite off her feet to fall onto her backside. The magical sparkles from her spell-casting, instead of landing over Xena and Gabrielle, sprayed high up into the air and spread out, blanketing the entire campsite.
- - -
Aphrodite looked up at the stars and blinked. Then she turned her head and nearly jumped out of her skin as she saw Gabrielle lying next to her. She watched stunned as Gabrielle swivelled her head back and forth with nothing short of panic in her eyes before climbing clumsily to her feet and bolting across the campsite, disappearing into the trees.
Gabrielle sat up and looked around, wondering how she had managed to move away from her bedroll, before watching herself stand up and run off into the trees. She then saw Xena sit up and look around. She clambered to her feet and walked back into the campsite. “What's going on?” she demanded of her friend, startling herself with the odd sound of her voice.
Xena turned and looked at her, her eyes slowly getting wider and her jaw slowly dropping. Eventually she shook herself and cocked her head slightly to one side, a smile slowly sliding onto her slips. “Damn, I look good.” she said. Then she looked down at herself. “Ooh, leather. I could get used to this.”
“Xena, what are you talking about?” Gabrielle stopped and put her hands on her hips, glancing sideways as Argo snorted loudly, before returning her regard to her friend.
Xena looked up quizzically, noticing Gabrielle's pointed glare. “Oh, you mean me, sweetpea?” she said. Slowly a look of understanding crawled across her face. “Oops!” she giggled.
Gabrielle suddenly became aware that she was no longer wearing the same clothes that she had gone to bed in. In fact, that she was hardly wearing any clothes at all. “What's this?” she demanded, plucking at the sheer, diaphanous material. “I look like I've been shopping for Aphrodite's cast-offs.” Her eyes widened as she looked down and caught sight of somewhat larger than expected breasts underneath the sheer material. She looked back up at Xena, her friend's comments eventually sinking in and a suspicious frown settling on her face. “Aphrodite? Is that you?”
Aphrodite had the grace to look a little embarrassed. She nodded slowly.
“What have you done? And where did I…” Gabrielle frowned and shook her head. “Where did my body go? Why did I… it… run off?”
“Um” Aphrodite began, slowly piecing the situation together as she spoke. “Well… I'm in Xena… so to speak,” she giggled. “You're in me.” She paused and swallowed. “I think you… your body has Argo.” She fell silent.
Gabrielle's eyes opened widely with a growing sense of shock. “So that would mean…” she turned to look at Argo. “Xena?” she said, tentatively.
Xena snorted, shook her head and pawed the ground, glaring at Aphrodite.
- - -
“We've got to find me… Argo… you know what I mean.” Gabrielle stated, exasperated.
Xena blew out a breath and nodded her head.
“Won't she just come back on her own?” said Aphrodite sounding bored.
Gabrielle looked at the tall, dark-haired woman, finding the distracted look in her blue eyes somewhat disconcerting. “She'll be frightened. She won't understand what's happening to her. Hades, I don't understand what's happening. We have to find her.”
Xena lifted her head, her ears swivelling around like radar dishes, then she took a deep breath through her nostrils and walked slowly towards the gap in the trees where Argo, in Gabrielle's body, had disappeared. She stood still a moment and then turned her head to look back.
“You can smell her, Xena?” asked Gabrielle.
Xena nodded her head.
Gabrielle walked over to her. “Come on then, let's go.”
Xena snorted and butted Gabrielle gently in the chest, then shook her head.
“You want me to stay here?”
Xena nodded then resumed walking into the trees.
Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest but she stopped suddenly realising that, in Aphrodite's body, Argo wouldn't trust her anyway and would probably run off again if she approached. She blew out a sigh and walked back over to face Aphrodite. “Are you going to fix this, Aphrodite?” she demanded.
Aphrodite seemed more interested in watching her own body walking towards her and then checking it out in detail once it stopped. “Mm, mm! I didn't realised I looked quite that good.” she said appreciatively.
Gabrielle put her hands onto her hips and glared at the goddess.
Aphrodite looked up into Gabrielle's eyes, her own softening as she took a step forward and placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. “Come on, Gabrielle, now's your chance. You've been wanting to kiss Xena for ages and I won't object.”
Gabrielle's face slowly morphed from showing indignation to surprise, briefly moving into interest before settling on horror. “Aphrodite, you'd be kissing yourself!”
“Mm, I know.” came the slightly dreamy response.
“Eww! No!” Gabrielle brushed past the disappointed goddess and sat down on her bedroll, thinking as she did so that it was Xena she wanted to kiss, not Aphrodite, whatever she looked like. “So, are you going to fix this, or not?”
“Well,” started Aphrodite as she too sat on Xena's bedroll, “I can't.”
“What?” Gabrielle almost shrieked.
“I don't have any powers in this body.” she replied. “But… you do.” she smiled at the shocked expression on her own face opposite her. “Can I just…” she reached out her hands towards Gabrielle, “I've always wondered what they felt like to someone else.”
Gabrielle slapped away Aphrodite's hands. “No, you cannot.”
“Well, they are mine you know.”
“Not while I'm in here they're not.” retorted Gabrielle.
“Look, you said I have your powers. How do I undo… this.”
Aphrodite puzzled for a moment. “Hmm, well it was a fairly simple spell to start with but… I don't know for sure.” She was a loss as to how to describe what Gabrielle would have to do.
“Simple? What were you trying to do anyway?”
“I just wanted to grant your wishes, that's all.”
“Grant our wishes?” It was Gabrielle's turn to be puzzled. “What wish…” Realization dawned. “I wanted to know what Xena was thinking.”
“Mm hmm! And the warrior babe was too.”
“So you cast a spell so we could hear each other's wishes?”
“Meh… something like that. But then I sneezed.”
“Well… I'm not sure.”
“Alright, alright. I don't know.”
“Oh Gods!” Gabrielle buried her face in her hands.
Aphrodite giggled. “You do realise that you're calling upon yourself there.”
“This isn't funny, Aphrodite. Can we get any of your kin to help us?”
Horror cast across Aphrodite's face. “Nope, nada, not a chance. They would laugh themselves silly and I wouldn't hear the last of it.”
A thought suddenly struck Gabrielle. “But Aphrodite, you're in my body. Doesn't that make you mortal… and me immortal?”
Aphrodite's eyes widened. “I hadn't thought of that.” she said. “Perhaps we should try to get you to cast something to fix things.”
Just then there was a rustle from the trees and Xena and Argo walked slowly into the campsite, Argo swishing Gabrielle's head back and forth, her eyes wide and wild. Xena nudged Argo over to the place where she had been tethered earlier and snorted at her before turning and walking slowly over to others.
Gabrielle stood up as Xena approached and casually ran her hand up Xena's neck and started fondling her ears. She started to bring Xena up to date with the conversation that she had been having with Aphrodite, completely oblivious to the fact that Xena had started rubbing Argo's nose against her chest.
“Exc-yoos me!” Aphrodite butted in. Gabrielle and Xena turned to look at her. “So I'm not allowed to do that but she is? That's just… grody. I'll smell all horsey.”
Gabrielle and Xena suddenly realised what they had been doing and hastily stepped away from each other looking somewhat awkward. A moment later, Xena lifted her head and looked at Gabrielle's chest, then at Aphrodite and back at Gabrielle's chest again. Eventually, she shook her head and sighed.
- - -
After a few abortive attempts at trying to get Gabrielle to cast some simple spells the previous night, Aphrodite had thrown a paddy and sulked off into Xena's bed roll. Gabrielle and Xena had decided that they might have more luck after some rest and had turned in to get some sleep. In the morning they had set off to complete their journey to Amphipolis, not wanting to worry Cyrene by not turning up for the celebrations.
“Are we nearly there yet?” whined Aphrodite. “Can't I ride on Argo?”
Xena glared at her.
“Aphrodite, just keep walking. It's not far now. And, no, you can't ride on Xena and you are certainly not piggy-backing on my body.” Gabrielle emphasised.
As she walked, Gabrielle held out her hand and frowned, thinking hard. There was a shower of sparkles and an apple appeared in her hand. “I think I'm starting to get the hang of this.” she said, offering the apple to Xena, who took it and munched it happily.
“Well, at least we won't starve.” sniped Aphrodite, sniggering.
“Hey!” retorted Gabrielle, “How many millennia have you been doing this… and you still can't get it right.”
Aphrodite stopped and faced Gabrielle, crossing her arms over her chest. “I'll have you know that most of my spells work just fine, thank you.” she jutted out her chin in defiance.
The sight of Xena throwing a hissy-fit was too much for Gabrielle. She roared with laughter, leaning against Xena for support.
Xena didn't know whether to be amused or insulted so instead she just enjoyed feeling Gabrielle pressing up against her.
- - -
Amphipolis really wasn't that much further and the mixed up quartet made their way to Cyrene 's inn by mid afternoon.
“Xena!” Cyrene called out, seeing her daughter's approach. She hopped down from the inn steps and wrapped her arms around Aphrodite, hugging her warmly, not noticing that her daughter had become somewhat rigid.
“Gabrielle!” Cyrene released her daughter's body and stepped towards Argo with her arms wide.
Argo's eyes widened impossibly before she turned and ran off at full tilt down the street.
“Um, Cyrene ,” said Gabrielle. “We need to talk.” She turned to Xena. “Xena? Would you mind?”
Xena sighed and bobbed her head before trotting off after her spooked horse.
- - -
“So, let me see if I've got this straight,” said Cyrene , for at least the third time. “Gabrielle, you're now the Goddess of Love. Aphrodite, you're now my daughter… and Xena's a horse?”
Gabrielle took another long draught of the cider she had been nursing, not caring about the slightly woozy feeling it was creating. She took a deep breath and started again.
- - -
Xena managed to get Argo into the stables and wandered back outside, much to the consternation of the stable boy, looking for something to eat. Hungry as she was, she just couldn't bring herself to start munching on grass. It wasn't long before her keen sense of smell located a barrel of apples. She realised that they were a bit over ripe, but they tasted quite tangy so she dived in, eating her fill.
Her hunger sated she lifted her head only to feel the world slowly rotate around her. She decided that she needed a lie down, so she headed back into the stable, found an empty stall and slowly folded her legs underneath her.
- - -
“Lishten, Affrodity. You got us all into this messss.” Gabrielle swung her arm expansively around. “You need to work out how to f… f… fix it. Alright?” she glared, in a not-quite-focussed way at Aphrodite. “I'm going to find Zeena and make sure she's alright.” She nodded, turned and stomped out of the inn.
Aphrodite watched her leave and then turned to face Cyrene , a look of helplessness on her face.
“So… Aphrodite? Right?” began Cyrene with a puzzled expression.
The look of helplessness on Aphrodite's face, turned into despair.
- - -
Gabrielle eventually reached the stables, although it took her about four times longer than it normally would, and she entered looking around. She stopped, startled at the sight of her own face looking quizzically at her from over the door of a stall. She stared, mesmerised for several moments before shaking her head, which she immediately regretted, and looked further until she spotted the golden horse sleeping soundly on the floor of an adjacent stall.
She walked slowly into the stall and sat herself down beside Xena's head. She reached out a hand and gently stroked the broad neck. Xena opened an eye and peered up at her friend in a strange body.
“Oh, Zeena,” she said. “I'm sorry. This is my fault.”
Xena lifted her head and shook it gently before placing her nose in Gabrielle's lap.
“No, it is. If I hadn't made that wish, Affrodity would never have cast that stupid spell. I just wanted to know how you felt… about me. Now I'll never know.” Tears brimmed in Gabrielle's eyes. She was quiet for several heartbeats then made a decision. “Well, at least I can still tell you how I feel about you.”
Xena went very still and held her breath.
“I love you, Zeena. I think I always have since I first saw you. I look at you and I want to touch you. I want to hold you. I want to,” she sniffed, “kiss you.”
Xena couldn't hold her breath any longer and blew out through her nostrils, forgetting for the moment where her nose was pointing.
Gabrielle's eyes sprang wide open and she looked down into the dark brown eye looking up at her. “Oh, Zeena!” she sobbed, leaning forwards and hugging Xena's head tightly to her.
- - -
“I'VE GOT IT! I'VE GOT IT!” Aphrodite burst into the stables yelling at the top of her quite substantial, Xena voice, startling all of the horses, bar one, plus one very confused blonde human. She walk over to the stall containing Xena and Gabrielle only to find her own body wrapped around Argo's head.
“Ew!” Aphrodite cried as Gabrielle gingerly raised herself to a sitting position and Xena ever so carefully clambered up onto her feet. “Please tell me you didn't.”
“Didn't what?” said Gabrielle quietly, gently massaging her temples with her fingers.
Xena just glared at Aphrodite and snorted crossly.
“Okay, okay, I don't want to know.” She grimaced. “Anyway, I've got it!”
Gabrielle looked puzzled. “You'll have to give me a chance to catch up here,” she said. “What, exactly, have you got?”
“How to fix things.”
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other and raised their eyebrows in synchronisation.
- - -
Gabrielle and Aphrodite sat on a bench outside of Cyrene 's inn with Xena standing in the street leaning her head over the hitching rail.
“So, this Sword of Chronos will allow us to go back in time and prevent this from ever happening?” Gabrielle checked her understanding.
“Not quite,” said Aphrodite. “One of us can use the sword to return to a past point in time. Everyone else will be unaware that anything's happened… only the person who used the sword will remember.”
“Okay, I suppose that will have to be me then.” said Gabrielle. “I can go back to before you cast the spell and simply not make the wish. Then you won't be inspired to cast the spell.”
Xena nodded her head slowly and looked at Aphrodite.
“Well, it won't be quite that simple.” said Aphrodite.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “It never is.” she said.
“Use of the sword is forbidden by Zeus under penalty of… well lets just say, not nice. So we have to make the absolute minimum change to what happened so that, hopefully he won't notice.”
Aphrodite sighed. “That means you can't not make the wish, otherwise I won't ever hear it and go to your campsite. That would be too much of a change.”
It was Gabrielle's turn to sigh. “So, how much time do we have between you appearing at the campsite and casting your spell?”
Aphrodite winced. “About five heartbeats.”
“What! How in Tartarus can I change anything in the space of five heartbeats?”
Xena had been listening quietly to the exchange and sucked in a deep breath, snorting it out loudly and pawing the ground.
“You've got a plan?” asked Gabrielle.
“You want to use the Sword?”
Xena nodded again.
Gabrielle puzzled a moment. “But if you go back as a horse, what can you do?”
The lights went on in Aphrodite's eyes. “No, she's right. If she goes back to just before the spell is cast, she won't be in Argo's body. She'll be in her own.”
“Well, if you're sure, Xena?”
“Alright. So, where's this sword, Aphrodite?”
“It's in Zeus' private chamber.”
- - -
“Listen, Gabrielle, you've pretty much mastered materialising objects out of thin air. All you have to do is to teleport the sword, not create it.”
Gabrielle looked sceptical. “Alright, what do I do?”
Aphrodite thought a moment. “Just hold out your hand and visualise the sword appearing in it.” She then spent some time describing the sword to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle held out her hand and frowned. Her hand was covered in sparkles which dissolved to reveal Xena's sword.
“Well, that was a good practice.” said Aphrodite, encouragingly.
“I wasn't practising.” grumbled Gabrielle.
“Hmm, well try again. This time try to imagine the sword coming from Olympus .”
Gabrielle sighed, held out her hand and frowned again. In moments her hand was filled with a large, ornate sword.
Aphrodite's eyes widened. “Oh my! That's Ares' sword. Oh well, hopefully this will all be over with before he notices that it's gone. One more time Gabrielle. Try to imagine the sword coming from Zeus.”
Gabrielle held out her hand again. This time a very simple, short sword appeared, no longer than Gabrielle's forearm.
“YES! You did it, sweetpea.” exclaimed Aphrodite.
Gabrielle looked somewhat askance at the diminutive weapon in her hand. “It's not very big for something so powerful.”
Aphrodite smirked. “I guess you're too young to know, but it's not the size that matters, you know.”
Xena snorted and neighed loudly.
- - -
I wish I knew whether or not that touch was just friendly or… Xena mused, then her eyes snapped wide open. She sat bolt upright, grabbed her chakram and flung it towards the trees at the edge of the campsite.
The chakram thunked loudly into the trunk of a tree barely a handspan from Aphrodite's head.
Aphrodite froze in the act of snapping her fingers – then sneezed.
- - -
“Now that Aphrodite's gone, are you going to tell me the details of what happened? It sounds like it would make a great scroll.”
Xena rolled over onto her side, propping her head up on her hand. She looked affectionately down into her friend's face. “I will, later.” she said. “First though… I know what you were thinking just before Aphrodite arrived.”
Gabrielle puzzled for a moment. “Oh!” was all she said.
“Mm hmm. You wanted to know what I felt about you, didn't you?”
Gabrielle swallowed. “Um, yes.”
Xena leant over, gently pressing her lips against Gabrielle's. She lifted slightly before dipping again to kiss her more firmly, feeling Gabrielle yield and respond accordingly.
After several dozen heartbeats Xena slowly lifted again and leant back, never breaking her gaze from Gabrielle's face. “Does that answer your question?” she whispered.
“Mm hmm.” Came the reply as Gabrielle reached up with her hand to pull Xena's head back down, just to make sure that she fully understood the answer.
=== The End of Nasal Follies ===
The items and events? In no particular order…
1. Body Swap
2. Promise of Immortality
3. Wet Blanket
4. Shooting Star
5. Xena's Birthday
6. Time-Shifting Sword
7. Family Get Together
8. Xena/Gabrielle Drunk
9. First Time
How many did you get?
The inspiration for the next story was a fanfic challenge with the premise that Callisto had not killed Perdicus. More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that the idea for the story came to me at about 3 a.m. on my way back to bed from taking a bathroom-break. Interesting, or just plain sad? I'll leave that for you to choose. In any event, this one is my favourite of the collection.
“Twenty summers.” A gentle smile lifted Gabrielle's face as she slowly shook her head, murmuring to herself in disbelief, watching her two sons sparring with each other. Talus, the eldest at nineteen summers and Gregus just one summer and one winter younger were very skilled with a sword; a legacy from their late father, Perdicus, who had taken great pains to ensure that his sons had not only the skills to protect themselves but also the moral concepts and strength to ensure that those skills were only used when absolutely necessary.
Her eyes tracked to the left to settle on the small memorial situated underneath an old, wizened olive tree overlooking a vista across the valley, its variety of colours almost glowing in the late afternoon sun. She felt a lump in her throat as she gave herself a few moments to grieve a little more for the passing of her husband who had fallen to a vicious, but thankfully quick-acting illness the previous winter. “I miss you,” she whispered into the faint breeze blowing across the porch of the cabin that had been their family home for the last fifteen summers. Her heart felt empty at moments like this when she missed Perdicus, the ache in her chest being almost a physical pain in its intensity.
“Mother!” Talus' shout shook Gabrielle alert and she turned to see what it was that had caused her eldest's concern. She followed his pointing arm, her eyes scanning the trail leading up to their home. The sight that she found there almost caused her legs to fold under her. It was a sight that was, at once, so familiar and yet only a distant memory. A tall, elegant, dark-haired woman leading a beautiful, golden horse was slowly walking towards her.
“Mother, are you alright?” Gabrielle was startled as Gregus gently took hold of her arm; she hadn't noticed him moving up alongside her, nor that Talus had also moved across to stand just in front of her. She turned slightly to glance at Gregus, bemused that she should find this moment to admire his handsome face that owed much to his father.
“Yes, Gregus. I'm fine.” She patted his hand gently and looked back to the approaching figure to discover that the woman and horse had stopped some fifty paces away. The tall woman was staring intently at the family scene in front of the cabin, clearly uncertain whether or not she should continue her approach.
Gabrielle stepped down from the porch and placed a gentle hand on Talus' sword-arm as she stepped past him. “It's alright, boys.”
“Do you know who that is, Mom?”
“Oh yes. And so should you. I've told you enough stories about her.” Gabrielle took another few steps towards the visitor and stopped, gazing at the unexpected but very welcome friend from her past; a friend that smiled shyly and restarted her slow approach.
“Is that Xena?” Gregus croaked incredulously.
“Mm-hmm.” Gabrielle couldn't hold herself back any longer. She broke into a sprint, not slowing until she crashed, full bodied into Xena's open arms, nearly taking them both to the ground.
They hugged each other tightly, rocking gently; Xena on her heels and Gabrielle up on the balls of her feet. Gabrielle buried her face into the side of Xena's neck and Xena nuzzled her face into Gabrielle's hair. Slowly the hug loosened and Gabrielle drew back looking up into bright blue eyes that she hadn't seen for more than half of her life. Suddenly the awkwardness of the situation seemed to make itself felt to both of them and they released the contact and stepped back from each other.
They stood for long moments just soaking up the sight of each other. A few extra lines around the eyes and mouth, a few paler strands of hair – at least in Xena's case. Whether or not Gabrielle had any, Xena couldn't immediately tell, although her hair colour in general was far lighter than she remembered. Xena still wore her hair long but Gabrielle had shortened hers to shoulder length, no doubt in deference to practicality.
The two young men slowly approached, watching their mother and the woman she had described many, many times in reverent tones, interact. They glanced at each other and shared a small shrug before coming to a halt just behind and one to each side of Gabrielle.
Eventually, Xena glanced to each of the young men in turn, taking in their appearance before returning her gaze back to Gabrielle's eyes, which now shone, accompanying the small smile on her lips. Xena quirked an eyebrow in question.
“Xena, these are my sons, Talus and Gregus.” She indicated each in turn.
Xena held out her arm, first to Talus, looking up slightly into his eyes an inch or two higher than her own, then to Gregus whose height fell short of her own by a similar amount. “Has it been so long?” she whispered looking back to Gabrielle, her head shaking slightly in disbelief.
Gabrielle's eyes flashed stormily for a briefest moment before she pointedly turned to the horse that stood patiently just behind Xena. “Is this Argo?” she asked, puzzled.
Xena had seen the storm appear in her friend's eyes and knew that, eventually there would be a reckoning, but for now she was happy to leave it for later. She chuckled. “Observant as ever, Gabrielle.” she said, teasingly. “No, this is Jason, although he is Argo's.”
“Oh!” Gabrielle's cheeks flushed a little and she couldn't help glancing down at the horse's rear legs. “I see that.”
Xena looked around wondering whether another person was going to make an appearance, not wanting to assume that it would be Perdicus, just in case. “Um… is… um…” she tailed off not sure how to finish her question.
Gabrielle smiled, a wicked glint in her eyes. “Still not quite got to grips with the sensitive stuff, eh Xena?” She paused, looking Xena directly in the eyes, delighted to see her cheeks redden slightly. She waited only a moment before letting her off the hook, her own face turning serious. “Perdicus passed on near the end of last winter from a sickness.”
Xena's face took on an odd expression. “Oh! I'm… sorry to hear that.” She reached out to gently rub the top of Gabrielle's arm.
Gabrielle smiled up at her, sadly, before turning to her younger son. “Gregus, would you take care of Jason, please. Xena, let's get something to drink and we can have a proper catch-up.” She reached out her hand in invitation.
Xena felt her heart soar at the friendly, welcoming gesture and she smiled back as she took the offered hand and allowed herself to be led into the cabin.
- - -
Soon after entering the cabin, Xena began to feel a little uncomfortable as Gabrielle's movements became abrupt and forceful. She remembered this as an indication that her friend's anger was rising and she resigned herself to the pounding she knew was coming and equally knew she deserved.
Gabrielle led them into the kitchen and indicated that Xena should sit at the large table, never once looking at her. She filled a pot with some water and placed it over the smouldering fire, adding an extra piece of firewood and stirring the embers energetically with a poker. After a few moments she stopped and stood, staring silently at the flames beginning to blossom around the newly added wood.
“Twenty summers, Xena. You promised me you would visit. You promised that I wouldn't be able to get rid of you.” Gabrielle spun round, glaring at her, the anger pulsating through her body.
Xena swallowed, wishing that her friend would put the poker down. “Gabrielle… I'm… sorry.” Xena was clearly distressed and desperate for her friend to understand.
Everything just seemed to drain out of Gabrielle. She slumped her shoulders, turned around to replace the poker in its place and then walked slowly over to stand in front of Xena. “Why, Xena? Why didn't you come? Why are you here now?” She sat in the chair, facing Xena, an arms length separating them, an open, enquiring look on her face.
Xena swallowed again, her eyes stinging. “I… couldn't.” she whispered, closing her eyes, tears squeezing out and trailing down her cheeks.
Gabrielle sighed and reached out her hands, cupping Xena's face between them. “Xena, please, look at me.” She waited until blue eyes opened and focussed on her. “Xena, we have not seen each other for twenty summers. I have missed you so much. Please don't hide from me any longer. Tell me. Please.” She stroked the tears away from Xena's cheeks with her thumbs.
A half smile flickered onto Xena's lips and she blinked, a little startled by the confidence and maturity radiating from the person in front of her. “I've missed you too.” she whispered, losing herself in the green depths of Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle ran her hands down from Xena's face, over her shoulders and down her arms until she took the larger hands in her own and held them, giving them a little squeeze in encouragement.
Xena took a deep breath. “When you married Perdicus…” she swallowed. “I wanted to yell out, No! I wanted to keep you to myself. I…” she closed her eyes, steeling herself. “I loved you. Still do.” She finished, shrugging her shoulders slightly.
Gabrielle was speechless. She had known, of course, that her friend had deep feelings for her, had loved her, but as a good friend or sister perhaps. She'd had no clue that Xena's feelings towards her went beyond that, even though her own feelings had, at times, led her to naively fantasize such things.
Xena continued quietly, shyly. “I couldn't come to visit you. If I had, I don't know what I would have done and I didn't want to get in the way or spoil the happiness that you obviously had with Perdicus.”
“Oh, Xena!” Gabrielle leant forwards and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. She smiled. “You have no idea how that little kiss you gave me at the wedding confused the hell out of me.” She shook her head slowly, reliving the memories of a very happy but confusing time. “Why now?” she asked, eventually
Xena frowned, a puzzled look settling on her features. “I don't really know. I've had a growing feeling over the last few moons, that you needed…” she paused, looking up at Gabrielle before continuing. “that you needed me. It's just got stronger and stronger until I just had to come.”
The pot of water rattled on the fire as it reached boiling. Gabrielle stood to retrieve it and make two mugs of tea. Xena took the opportunity to try to recover some of her composure, scrubbing her face with her hands and standing to stretch her legs.
The back door to the kitchen opened at that moment and a blonde-haired, green-eyed Amazon stepped into the kitchen. “Hi, Mom. I've got a small doe hanging out…” she stopped, frozen as she noticed the other occupant of the kitchen.
Xena actually staggered as she looked into the face of the Gabrielle she remembered from twenty summers ago. She found her way back to her seat and sat down, unable to look away from what she gradually realised was not a trick of the Gods, but what must be Gabrielle's daughter.
Gabrielle watched, bemused, the interplay of emotions on her friend's face before turning to her daughter. “Teresa, I'd like you to meet Xena.” She turned to Xena. “Xena, let me introduce you to my daughter, Teresa.”
Without hesitation, Teresa stepped forward, her arm extended. “Xena! It's so great to meet you at last. I've heard so much about you from Mom.”
Gathering her completely shattered composure together, Xena stood and shook the offered arm. “Wish I could say the same.” she said, pointedly looking at Gabrielle.
“Hey, it's not like I've had much opportunity to fill you in with all the little details from the last twenty summers, you know.” retorted Gabrielle, defensively.
Teresa turned to her mother. “Oh! So I'm a ‘little detail' now, am I?” One raised corner of her mouth gave away the humour that she felt.
Xena winced. “Uh, okay, fair point.” she conceded. Her eyes drifted back to take in more of her friend's daughter.
Teresa was so much like her mother it was uncanny. Hair, eyes and facial features almost identical, at least as they had been twenty summers ago. She was slightly taller than Gabrielle but her build was just as solid and powerful. Xena realised that Teresa was actually quite a bit younger than Gabrielle had been when they had met; around fourteen summers, she guessed. She would find out for sure, later.
“So, what's with the Amazon get-up?” Xena asked, clumsily.
Teresa opened her mouth to retort but Gabrielle jumped in quickly to forestall the outburst she knew was coming. “Teresa is a full Amazon princess, Xena. I have taken her to be trained by my tribe every year since she was five summers and she has spent at least three moons each solstice cycle with them. She was formally invested as princess two summers ago.”
Teresa listened quietly then turned to Xena with a broad smirk. “So, Xena, does an Amazon Princess outrank a Warrior Princess?” she challenged, cockily.
“Teresa!” Gabrielle's tone brooked admonition.
“Sorry, Mom.” Teresa looked down, briefly, before looking up again directly into Xena's eyes. “Sorry, Xena.”
Xena was genuinely impressed. This girl obviously had a strong sense of her own strength and position but, at the same time, clearly had respect for others, especially her mother. With a few more years and the maturity that came with it, she would be a great asset to the Amazon nation. “No problem.” she smiled to reinforce her acceptance of the apology.
“Teresa, Xena and I need to talk. Would you please go finish preparing that doe… thank you for that, by the way… and then see if the boys need any help with the animals.”
Teresa smiled at her mother. “You mean make sure they stay out of your hair for a while.”
Gabrielle just placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders, spun her around to face the door and swatted her backside with her hand, propelling her through the door.
“Smart kid.” Xena nodded approval.
Gabrielle sighed. “Too smart, sometimes. Tea?” She placed two mugs of tea onto the table and sat down, settling in for a long, sensitive chat.
- - -
The two friends talked for two candlemarks about their lives while they had been apart. Gabrielle had never had a problem talking at length and Xena, who had always tended to be terse at best, was surprised to find that she had no difficulty talking openly about her own actions and feelings.
As they talked the closeness that they had once shared soon returned and was actually surpassed. The extra years of maturity and life experiences enabling them both to be more open and honest with each other. Small touches and hand-holding gradually became a regular feature as their conversation delved into painful, joyous, frightening and downright embarrassing episodes.
At length, Talus' powerful voice broke into the reminiscences. “Mother! Raiders!”
Gabrielle jumped to her feet. “Damn! It's been moons since we last had any.” She exited the kitchen heading for the front of the cabin, grabbing her staff on the way out of the front door.
Xena followed, feeling like she was in the wake of a whirlwind, unsheathing her sword on the way, eventually joining Gabrielle on the porch.
Talus and Gregus stood about ten paces from the porch facing the trail, on which a group of a dozen or so raiders approached on horseback. Teresa was nowhere to be seen and Xena quickly scanned the area looking for any indication of where she might be. Unable to locate her and hoping that she was safe, she focussed back on the approaching riders.
Gabrielle stood calmly on the porch, leaning lightly on her staff, also watching the riders as they moved closer.
The raiders stopped about ten paces from Talus and Gregus. One of the leading pair turned to the other. “You were right, Poxius, it is her. Time for a little bit of reputation building, I think.”
Xena sighed, knowing what was coming. Twenty years had not diminished her reputation as a warrior much at all, although she had to acknowledge that her exploits ‘cleaning up' Greece, both with Hercules and on her own, hadn't helped her fade into the background much.
Putrius, the raiders' leader, looked at the small group in front of him, eventually deciding that the small woman leaning on a staff for support was probably the matriarch and hence in charge. He glared pointedly at her for a while before snarling out. “Okay, here's the deal. All we want is Xena.” He pointed at her, just in case it wasn't obvious who he was referring to. “Just take your little boys here and back off inside your little hut and leave her to us, and no one will get hurt. Well, no one else that is.” He laughed at his own joke, turning to Poxius who snickered evilly.
Gabrielle, and her two sons, waited calmly for several heartbeats until Putrius started to squirm a little in his saddle. Xena glanced sideways at her, wondering what she was going to do. Twelve against her, the two young men and, maybe, Gabrielle were not very good odds, especially these days when reflexes were slower and joints a little less supple than they used to be.
Gabrielle stepped off the porch. She twirled her staff through an exhibition of drill movements as she strode forward to stand two paces in front of her sons where she stopped, legs slightly apart and her staff resting lightly on the ground.
Xena's eyebrows raised up into her hairline as she watched the show, mentally revising her assessment of the of the odds to definitely include Gabrielle. She jumped slightly as an arrow thunked into the stop of the staff in Gabrielle's hand. Almost before she could react, another followed it, sinking deeply into the wood.
Gabrielle hadn't moved at all, unlike the raiders who were nervously scanning their eyes around the area looking for the shooters.
“What's going to happen,” began Gabrielle in a relaxed, confident voice, “is entirely up to you at this point. However your choices are severely limited. On the one hand, you can continue your action against my friend, although in that case I cannot say how many of you will be dead before you even reach me.” She waggled the staff with its embedded arrows to emphasize her point. “The rest of you will surely follow soon afterwards, though, so you won't be lonely on Charon's boat.”
The bulk of the raiders were clearly losing the will to help their leader gain little more than a bit of reputation.
“Alternately,” continued Gabrielle, “you can turn around and leave the way you came. In which case you will all live to terrorize someone else another day.”
Putrius glanced around nervously, realising he had one chance to keep his motley band together. “You're bluffing,” he snarled. “You can't stop all of us.”
Gabrielle raised her staff above her head. Another arrow whistled through the air to embed itself in Putrius' saddle, a finger-width from his crown jewels.
Xena's eyebrows hiked up once again and she noticed Gabrielle flinch slightly. Clearly that was not part of the well rehearsed plan. She suspected that there would be a certain Amazon princess hauled over the coals later that evening.
Putrius didn't really have a decision to make after that since most of his band began to slowly ease back and turn their horses to retreat. He pulled out the arrow from his saddle, snapped it in half and threw it onto the ground before turning around himself and hurrying, while trying to look like he wasn't hurrying, to catch up with his men, all the time his back prickling with anticipation of the arrow that wasn't pursuing him.
- - -
Gabrielle, Xena and the two brothers watched the raiders disappear around a bend in the trail. Only then did Gabrielle blow out a breath and tease out the arrows from her staff.
“Nice one, Mom”, said Gregus with a smile. He turned to Talus and the two threw their arms around each other's shoulders and walked off, laughing to each other, no doubt already exaggerating their own contributions to the encounter.
“Impressive.” said Xena.
Gabrielle snorted derisively. “I just wish it wasn't necessary any more. Unfortunately, for all the good that you and Hercules have done over the summers, there are still bandits out there ready to prey on others.” Her voice turned hard. “Perdicus and I made sure that we would not be easy prey to anyone.”
Xena turned and looked carefully at her once gentle friend. “So I see. And if they hadn't turned away?” For some reason she had to know the answer.
Gabrielle stopped and turned to her friend, her face determined, her voice quietly confident. “You heard what I said. This is my family, Xena. It wasn't a bluff.” She turned and entered the cabin.
Xena watched her disappear inside, accepting completely that Gabrielle was no longer the idealistic, young woman she had known. Instead she felt a pride for her friend in how she had grown. Self-reliant, confident and capable, but still with that strong sense of right and wrong, albeit overlaid now with a good slice of pragmatism which showed no quarter where her family's well-being was concerned. She made a mental note to herself, as she followed into the cabin, never to do anything that could be perceived as a threat to Gabrielle's children.
“I wasn't sure you'd come back inside.” Gabrielle said quietly, standing at the kitchen table preparing some vegetables for the evening meal. She looked up, searching her friend's face.
“You did what you had to do, Gabrielle. Hades, you did what I would have done.” She paused a moment, her thoughts drifting back in time. “Was a time when I wouldn't have given them an option.”
Gabrielle's face lifted in relief. She dropped the knife she had been holding, wiped her hands on a cloth and walked over to Xena, wrapping her arms around her, feeling long, strong arms return her embrace. “I was afraid I might lose you again.” Her voice shook slightly.
Xena buried her face in the pale, blonde hair and took a deep breath. “No, never again.” she whispered.
Gabrielle leant back to look up into the blue depths smiling down at her. “You'll stay?”
“I'd like that, very much.”
It was a little while before preparations for the evening meal were finally completed.
=== The End of Twenty Summers ===
And so we have reached the final story of this collection and the one that I suspect some may have been looking forward to since reading the warning at the beginning. However, it's time for the youngsters in our audience to get off to bed, now.
To reiterate, this story contains explicit description of same-sex sexual activity. If you are under age (like that's going to stop you!) or it is illegal where you are, please stop here.
Unlike the other stories, the origin of this one was quite simply dredged from the depravity of my own brain without any particular inspiration.
The story takes place shortly after the events depicted in The Quest.
Gabrielle lay, naked, on her back in the middle of the bed, her long blonde hair cascading in a golden halo around her head. She had her eyes closed, her arms were stretched out away from her sides, her hands open, palms towards the ceiling. Her legs were together and a small smile gentled on her lips as she waited.
Xena stood at the bottom of the bed, also naked, looking down at the recumbent bard. Her lips arched into a broad smile and then separated in a wide grin, her white teeth shining in the glow provided by the two candles at each side of the bed. Her eyes caressed the length of the bard's body taking in all of the delicious curves and tempting features spread before her. She made her decision and slowly a pink tongue licked her lips, leaving them glistening with moisture.
Xena placed her knees on the bed, one each side of Gabrielle's legs, and leant forwards taking her weight on her hands. She shook her dark mane of hair loose, letting it fall down towards the bard. Its ends draped across Gabrielle's hips and, as she slowly crawled forwards on all fours, they trailed up across the flat abdomen beneath her. Gabrielle's smile broadened and she chuckled silently, the shaking of her chest making her breasts jiggle slightly. Xena watched them in amusement before making a choice and lowering her head towards the left.
Pursing her lips Xena blew a jet of air onto the small, pink nipple and watched, delighted, as the areola pebbled up and the nipple's tip stretched up towards her. She opened her lips and lowered her head, sucking the nipple into her mouth and teasing the firm point with the tip of her tongue. She closed her eyes focussing on the sensual sensations in her mouth as a faint “Mmm!” of pleasure whispered from the bard's lips.
She released the nipple from her lips' tender attention, to the accompaniment of a faint sigh of protest from its owner, and transferred her oral caresses to its twin. At the same time she shifted her weight onto her elbow to free up her opposite hand to continue teasing the first nipple by pinching it firmly between her thumb and first finger. As she sucked and licked one nipple she rolled and pulled gently on the other.
Gabrielle groaned as a bolt of energy shot directly from her nipples into her groin, igniting a fire in her belly. She arched her back, pressing her breast into more contact with Xena's mouth. Xena sucked and pulled a little harder, stoking the fire.
Slowly, she lifted her right leg and gently slid it between Gabrielle's. The bard opened her legs fully allowing the warrior to slide herself between them. She lowered herself carefully, her breasts touching Gabrielle's lower belly. Slowly, releasing her lips from the captured nipple, she moved herself forwards, placing butterfly kisses all the way up the bard's chest and neck, trailing her breasts up the firm abdomen, her nipples drawing twin thrills of sensation across the bard's skin.
Xena lifted herself up on her arms and pressed her own tensed belly onto the mound of golden curls below her, feeling a moistness dampening her skin. Another, deeper groan arose from Gabrielle's throat as the bard tilted her hips forward to increase the pressure, fuelling the ache that had started deep in her groin. Xena ducked her head and captured the bard's lips in a deep, passionate kiss that started the bard rocking her hips rhythmically and moaning in time into Xena's mouth.
The warrior drew back a little and caressed Gabrielle's moist lips with her tongue, at the same time adjusting her weight onto her elbow and sliding her now free hand down the bard's side and onto her stomach. She slid her hand lower until her fingers entered the golden curls. Gabrielle's breath caught and a small whimper emerged from still open lips.
Long fingers continued their decent entering the warm, silky folds of the bard's swollen and very wet sex. Xena traced her two middle fingers along either side of Gabrielle's slick valley, carefully avoiding the sensitive nub and circling the deeper entrance. She slid her fingers back and forwards, teasing and pressing as she moved. The bard emitted a low, guttural groan between ragged breaths as her hips synchronised their rocking with the stroking of Xena's fingers.
Xena's own breathing deepened as she watched, listened, smelled and felt Gabrielle's body responding to her caresses, and she had to resist the growing urge to plunge her fingers deep into the bard's centre to bring her crashing into orgasm. Instead she held her fingers circling at the entrance and gently rubbed and teased the now engorged clit with her thumb.
The noises coming from Gabrielle's throat took on a note of urgency with a hint of frustration as the groans became an odd mix of cries and grunts, her breaths coming deep and irregular and her hip movements becoming more violent, her body searching for the penetration that would bring her a desperately needed release.
Xena was, at once, enthralled with her bard's rapidly climbing arousal and also having to work hard to keep herself under control and focussed on Gabrielle with her own arousal also climbing to an almost unstoppable level, her own groin aching for attention of its own. But she wasn't ready yet to release the bard, she wanted something more; something that she could tell she would very soon receive.
“Oh gods, Xena, please… please”
Xena smiled at receiving her reward. With delicious anticipation she slid her two fingers fully into Gabrielle's waiting entrance, opening them as widely as she could, pressing them firmly against the soft, silky walls, easing them slowly out and plunging them in again, her thumb keeping up its steady teasing.
Gabrielle's body almost immediately went rigid, arching itself upwards, forcing the centre of the sensations hard against Xena's hand. A flood of intense sensual feeling washed through her, radiating from her groin out to her feet and up to her head. The orgasm pulsed through her, again and again and again, loud cries emerging from her throat with each pulse.
Xena continued sliding her fingers inside Gabrielle for a few pulses, feeling the muscular walls around them clenching rhythmically in time with the rest of the bard's body, then she pressed her hand hard onto the wet, warm flesh, her fingers still deep within Gabrielle. She watched the bard's face, a broad smile on her own, and a depthless look of love in her eyes.
Slowly, the spasms in Gabrielle's body subsided. She was panting rapidly as her body drew in air to replenish the oxygen it had used up but gradually, her breathing slowed as her heart rate began to slow to more normal levels. Xena gazed at her as blonde lashes fluttered open to reveal forest green eyes, almost black with fully dilated pupils. “By the gods!” Gabrielle looked up into warm, sky blue eyes and opened her mouth, silently asking. Xena smiled and ducked her head to grant the unspoken wish, her lips joining with the bards in a tender, loving caress.
“You okay?” whispered Xena, as their lips eventually parted.
“Mm.” Came the quiet, contented reply.
Xena ever so gently eased her fingers free and slowly relaxed the pressure of her hand to the accompaniment of a faint sigh of almost disappointment from the bard.
Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's eyes not surprised to see undisguised passion and desire looking back at her, reigniting her own libido. “Your turn Xena.” She said, her eyes widening slightly in anticipation and a small smile catching at the corners of her mouth.
Without a flicker of hesitation, Xena lifted a leg back over Gabrielle's so that she now straddled one of the bard's powerful thighs, firm with well developed muscle. She pushed herself up onto her hands, extending her arms fully and tilted her hips to bring her own aching nub of sensitivity into contact with Gabrielle's skin. Gabrielle smiled and bent her knee to change the angle of her leg and increase the contact.
Xena began, slowly at first, sliding herself back and forth along the tense thigh, the slickness created by the moisture from her own sex causing explosions of sensation to radiate outwards from her clit as it rubbed against the silky, skin-covered firmness. Her breathing quickly turned ragged as her already aroused state rapidly climbed again towards release.
Gabrielle watched as blue eyes closed and a small furrow appeared in the forehead between them. She smiled again feeling a delicious echo of the sensual feelings that were painting themselves across Xena's face. She raised her hands and gently cupped Xena's breasts that were dangling temptingly just above her. Xena gave a deep throated whimper as she twisted her shoulders, trying to increase the pressure. Gabrielle's smile broadened as she pressed her hands against Xena's chest, squeezing the heavy breasts tightly against it. She carefully but firmly began to massage them. Xena's whimper became a groan that Gabrielle could feel vibrating through her hands.
Xena's movements quickly became more urgent as her hips rocked increasingly rapidly and pressed harder onto Gabrielle's leg. Her breathing came in short gasps as her face scrunched in focussed concentration.
Gabrielle waited for the telltale twitches in Xena's body and then relaxed her hands and grasped Xena's hardened nipples in her fingers, rolling and pulling them firmly. Xena emitted a loud groan and opened her eyes to look directly into the smiling green ones below her. Her body tensed as her own, long awaited orgasm crashed through her in wave after wave of ecstasy, each accompanied by its own quiet grunt from deep within her throat, finally calming into a drawn out groan as she relaxed her arms and collapsed onto Gabrielle.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the warrior and hugged her tightly, two tears sliding from the outside corners of her eyes as she closed them contentedly.
- - -
A pair of eyelids beneath a mop of shaggy black hair slowly flickered open, the eyes staring up at the ceiling, closely followed by a quiet groan of frustration.
“Hmm? Did you say something, Auto baby?” A silky, deep voice asked.
Autolycus turned his head to his right and could just make out the long dark hair in the glow from the red lamp over by the window. “Mm, no. Just a dream” he said.
A hand belonging to the owner of the hair slid across towards Autolycus stopping as it encountered a firm obstruction, currently causing the bed sheet to take on the appearance of a rather squat tent. “Ooh, Auto,” the silky voice continued. “I've never known anyone have so many ‘interesting' dreams.” The hand took a gentle hold of the tent pole.
Autolycus looked back up to the ceiling and groaned. “Xena, I don't know whether you did this deliberately or not, but it's costing me a fortune.” he mumbled, pondering the seven days he had spent almost living in the brothel.
A lighter, slightly husky voice spoke up from his left. “Mm, again?” There was a hint of anticipation in its tone.
Autolycus looked over, able to make out the long, blonde hair cascading over the pillow beside him more easily in the dim light. “But worth every penny.” He chuckled raising his arms above his head as dark and blonde heads turned towards him. He didn't hear the gentle giggle from the far corner of the room.
Hades winced slightly as he watched. “You're going to kill the guy if you keep this going, you know. Not that I'm complaining of course.” he smirked.
“Oh, Hadey, don't be silly. That's just an old wives tale spread by… well… old wives I suppose.” Aphrodite giggled again, her breasts jiggling slightly under her diaphanous dress.
“What in Tartarus gave you the idea to do this anyway?” With an effort Hades turned away from the entertainment to look at his deity kin.
“Well, after you told me what the three of them got up to while Xena was enjoying…” she made little quote marks with her fingers, “…your hospitality, it sort of… came together.” She giggled again, pleased with her little pun.
Hades looked back at the energetic activity going on nearby. “I still can't believe you got Morpheus to help you do this either.” he mused, somewhat distracted. He shook his head after a few moments and continued. “I know that you're into this sort of thing, but what do you get out of it?”
Aphrodite had her head cocked over to one side as she watched the proceedings. “Oo, I'll have to remember that one.” she mumbled. “Hadey, you have no sense of fun.” she replied, reproachfully.
Hades shook his head again before vanishing. Aphrodite, giggled again as she watched the tangle of legs, arms, dark hair, blonde hair and a moustache writhing in the centre of the large bed. “I just can't wait to watch his reaction when he next meets up with Xena and Gabrielle for real.”
=== The End ===
(…and it may well be for Autolycus unless he can control himself!)
Well that's all for now, folks. I hope that you've enjoyed my little tales.
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