Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle are owned by Rob Tapert. Ephiny is owned by Rob Tapert and Steven L. Sears (g); Wade, Quinn, the Professor, and Rembrandt are owned by Tracy Tormé and Robert K. Weiss. No copyright infringement is intended.
The first fan fiction story I ever wrote was for Sliders, before I'd ever been on the Internet or had a computer with a modem at home. Sadly, that story is lost somewhere on a dead hard drive. Sliders lit the fan fic writing spark, but Xena kindled that spark into flame, so I thought it might be fun to see what would happen if Wade of the Sliders collided with Xena, Gabrielle, and the Amazons. And yes, I know there were no cell phones or iPods on Sliders - just having a little fun.
"Ooofff." Wade landed hard on her backside. "I hate that," she muttered, standing to brush the dirt off her bruised behind. "Hey!" She barely managed to jump out of the way, as Quinn, the Professor, and Rembrandt came tumbling out of the vortex, nearly landing on top of her. "Quinn, can we make some adjustments to the wormhole, maybe a braking system for our landings?" She rubbed her ass again and frowned.
"Sorry, Wade. I wish I could. Actually, I wish I could make an adjustment that would send us home." Quinn gracefully rolled up to a standing position, while the Professor and Rembrandt muttered behind him, both struggling to regain their footing. "Where are we?" Quinn looked up, squinting at sunlight that broke through high, dense tree-tops overhead. Looking down, he studied the timer. "Wherever we are, we have a little over 24 hours before we slide again."
"I don't see nothing but trees." Rembrandt looked around. "Ouch!" He slapped at his arm. "And mosquitoes. Don't tell me we're going to have to camp here. The Cryin' Man don't do the great outdoors."
"Wherever we are, I'd advise we start walking, and find someplace to take shelter. Perhaps there is civilization nearby." The Professor dusted off his jacket and turned in a circle. "There appears to be a path this way." He pointed toward a meager, though clearly visible trail through the undergrowth, which cut through the trees leading to dark, green shadows. "Shall we? Ahhhh!" Just as he turned and took a step, someone wearing a bird mask and not much else appeared from above him in the trees, landing directly in front of him.
"No, you shall not." The person was a woman, judging by her voice and her anatomy, which was covered by a leather bra and a very short, fringed skirt. She held out a sword, barely touching it to his chest. "Two more steps and you'll be on Amazon land. Tonight is the culmination of our Harvest Festival. No men are allowed."
"Amazon?" Quinn walked over and stopped dead in his tracks, as more women dropped out of the trees, forming a circle around them. "Don't tell me we're in South America." He shook the timer. "That's impossible."
"I know not of this South America you speak of." Another woman stepped forward. "But you're in Greece, surrounded on three sides by Amazon land."
"Greece?!" Rembrandt's eyes grew wide. "How did that happen? We've not crossed the ocean before."
"There was some major sunspot action when we slid here from Palm Springs. Maybe that interfered with the timer." Quinn shrugged. "It seems to be working okay. Best we can do is wait for twenty-four hours and see if we slide back to America."
Wade looked down at her filthy, sweat-soaked clothing. Palm Springs had been dirty and blazing hot, with dust storms and temperatures in the hundreds. It had been a world of chaos, of Civil War in the U.S. brought on by escalating political tensions. They'd been on the run for four days with no time to rest or shower. She itched in places she couldn't politely scratch and she was certain she stank badly enough to draw all kinds of disgusting creatures out of the thicket around them. Gathering her courage, she stepped forward. "You said no men." She spoke directly to the first woman. "Are women allowed to participate in your festival?"
The woman lowered her sword and crossed it over one shoulder. Slowly, she raised her mask, revealing long, curly blonde hair and striking brownish-hazel eyes. The woman appraised Wade frankly, the faintest hint of a smile tugging at her lips. Finally, she also stepped forward, meeting Wade halfway and silently signaling another Amazon to keep watch at the trailhead. She circled Wade once and stopped in front of her, her eyes twinkling, though her expression remained stern. "I'm Ephiny." She held out her arm, bent with her fist up, and Wade took her lead, holding her own arm up until they locked forearms. "I'll have to clear you through our queen, but I think she'll be agreeable to a guest visiting our village for the evening. She herself is a traveler and only stops by our village from time to time."
"I don't suppose I can get a bath and wash my clothes while I'm there?" Wade was glad she was downwind of the woman.
"We have a bathhouse and young Amazons to do the wash." Ephiny
smiled. "Assuming the queen
approves, we also have a guest hut with a bed you can use for the night. Though I doubt you'll get much
sleep. The last night of the
festival usually goes until dawn. It can get pretty loud. If
you're not adverse to a little dancing and drinking, follow me."
Wade hesitated for only a moment. Every safe, logical bone in her body told her to stay with the guys and wait out the twenty-four hours. Closing her eyes, she felt the pleasant breeze against her face and smelled the rich soil and the green scent of the pine trees in the forest around them. Mixed in with that was the aroma of the leather the Amazon woman -- Ephiny -- wore, along with a slightly spicy, musky scent that piqued Wade's senses.
It seemed like forever since she'd just let go of all her cares and had some fun. Who knew if they'd ever get home again, or what awaited them on the next slide? She'd been the only woman in the company of three men for so long, she'd all but forgotten what girl talk was like. Making up her mind, Wade opened her eyes and smiled. It was time to live a little. "See you back here in twenty-four hours, boys."
"Wade!" Quinn moved to her side, touching her arm. "Don't you think we should talk about this?"
"Yes," the Professor agreed with him. "We don't know this place. It could be dangerous."
Wade looked around at the Amazon entourage, all of whom were armed. "Dangerous?" She laughed lightly. "Long as I don't piss any of them
off, I'm feeling pretty safe. They
look very capable to me."
"Our village is well-guarded," Ephiny advised them. "In addition to our regular Amazon patrols, the queen's consort is also with us for the festivities. She can sniff out and dismantle trouble single-handedly for miles around. The only danger -- Wade -- is that your name?" Wade nodded. "The only danger Wade will be in is advances from inebriated Amazons."
"Advances?" Rembrandt scratched his head. "By other ladies? I don't get -- oh." He smiled knowingly. "I don't suppose you could make an exception for one of the finest musical talents on the planet? I'd love to come watch -- er -- participate in the party. Maybe I could provide some entertainment? Serenade all the lovely ladies?"
"Think again." Ephiny back handed his stomach.
"Ugh." Rembrandt stepped back, his expression indignant. "Hey now, watch the goods, lady. You pack a mean punch." He rubbed his belly.
Ephiny rolled her eyes. "You couldn't handle our brand of entertainment." Ephiny looked around. "Amazons, fall into formation." Immediately the women formed up into two lines, their backs erect and their swords at the ready. Ephiny gestured toward the trail. "Wade, are you ready?"
"Absolutely!" Wade quickly fell in behind the ranks of women. "Later, guys." She waved and blew a kiss, then faced resolutely ahead, not looking back. The call of a hot bath and clean clothing, not to mention a bed, was too great. If she received unwanted advances, she'd find a way to deal with it. For now, she was going to a party and she was going to get clean. It was all that mattered.
As they walked along, Ephiny was alert, constantly scanning the forest around them for any signs of trouble. Their patrols were well-known for strict and swift dealings with outsiders, and most people, if they had any sense, gave Amazon territory a wide berth. There were, however, those who had no sense.
At one time she would have placed their queen, Gabrielle, into that category, but now that she'd gotten to know the young woman, she respected her. The queen was intelligent, brave, and beautiful. More than one Amazon had tried to woo her, only to meet with six feet of protective, possessive warrior in Xena, Gabrielle's constant companion and finally, admittedly, her consort.
Ephiny herself had pushed aside small crushes on both Xena and Gabrielle. After the death of Phantes, her Centaur lover and the father of their child, she'd locked her heart away for a long time. Only recently had she been willing to so much as glance at another person in any sort of romantic way. She'd loved Phantes deeply, but it was time to move on and get her feet and other appropriate body parts, wet again.
As they walked along, she stole glances at the woman called Wade. It was an odd name, and the woman wore strange clothing, much finer-looking and well-made than anything Ephiny had ever seen. "What was that thing your friend kept looking at?" Ephiny finally asked, to make conversation as much as anything else.
"It's a timer. It programs our means of travel. It's kind of difficult to explain, but it's sort of like a remote control for a television set." Wade pushed aside a low-hanging branch.
"What's a television set?" Ephiny eyed her curiously.
"You're kidding, right?" Wade laughed lightly.
"No. I don't know what you're talking about."
"You've never seen a television? How far out in the sticks are we?" Wade looked around. "Surely you've been to a city and seen one."
"I've been to Athens and Corinth, but I've never seen a -- television set, is it?" Ephiny frowned. She didn't like being treated as if she were ignorant. "What is it?"
"It's a box. You can see programs and news from other places. It -- I know they have TV in Athens. You must have seen one -- " Wade trailed off. "The Olympics were on television," she stated, her tone slightly helpless.
"I've been to the Olympic games." Ephiny smiled. "Actually, I've spoken with Artemis on Olympus, once."
"You spoke with who?" Wade sputtered.
"Artemis. She's the patron goddess of the Amazon Nation. If she calls upon us, we do her bidding." Ephiny chuckled. "All of us except our queen, that is. The queen marches to the beat of her own drummer." Ephiny smiled. And the drummer was drop-dead gorgeous with striking blue eyes and a mean left hook.
"You've seen Artemis?" Wade asked incredulously.
"Yes." Ephiny studied the strange woman, who seemed stranger with every step. "And Ares and Aphrodite, and the rest of their family. Do you have different gods where you're from?"
"Um, yeah. Yeah, we do," Wade hastily answered. She looked around again, realizing the women carried a lot of weapons -- knives, swords, bows and arrows. But no guns. Not a one. Surreptitiously, she scrutinized each woman in turn. No watches, no cell phones, no iPods, not so much as a speck of nail polish. No modern trappings to be seen. Wade's nape hairs prickled and she felt her heart begin to beat faster.
"Who do you worship?" Ephiny continued the conversation, oblivious to her companion's rising discomfort.
"Me?" Wade swallowed, reminding herself that whatever she'd gotten herself into, it was only for twenty-four hours. After playing Mad Max in Palm Springs for four days, almost anything had to be better. "I'm an atheist, but most people I know worship God - you know -- Yahweh? The Spirit in the Sky? Mary's Baby Daddy?"
"Just one god?" Ephiny asked incredulously. "Our queen, Gabrielle, tells stories about her encounters with tribes that worship only one god. In one instance the god wanted a man to sacrifice his own son on an altar and in the other -- we don't talk about that much. It was a pretty difficult time for our queen and her consort. It seems like a bad idea to worship only one. It only makes the others angry and it always turns out badly."
"Believe me, the one my people worship isn't doing a very good job of things, either, and he gets pissed at anything that even remotely resembles fun." Wade laughed bitterly.
"Rest assured, our gods know how to have a good time. Sometimes too good of a time. You'll see for yourself. Our harvest festival is one giant excuse to have a party. We serve up the best wine, roast venison and wild boar, and dance until sunrise, among other things." Ephiny winked at her.
"Other things?" Wade gulped.
"Relax." Ephiny touched Wade's arm, lingering a little bit longer than necessary. "No one will make you do anything you don't want to do. Just be prepared. Some of my sister Amazons have no inhibitions on a normal day. Tonight, anything goes, anywhere, anytime."
"Is this like Lilith Fair or something?" Wade was beginning to see the light. "I can hang with that. I went to that once. All day concert with mostly women hanging out on the lawn, listening to other women perform. It was awesome. I even got drunk and kissed a girl. It was great."
"Kissed a girl?" Ephiny feigned shock, then laughed, hooking her hand through the crook of Wade's elbow as they continued to walk. "Wade, I think you'll fit in just fine with our Amazons."
In short order they reached a clearing and Wade heard several exchanges of strange bird calls. She looked around for the birds in question and finally realized the calls were coming from Ephiny and others in the trees she couldn't see. "What's that all about?"
"I'm letting the queen know that we're back, that you're a friendly visitor, that we left three men in the forest who are not to be harmed, and that we're bringing you to meet the queen." Ephiny gestured toward a hut as they rounded a bend in the path and came upon the village.
"You said all of that with a bunch of bird calls? Seems pretty complicated. Why don't you just call the queen?" Wade stepped carefully over an infant Amazon as she crawled across the path, a full-grown Amazon chasing after her.
"That was calling her." Ephiny responded in puzzlement.
"Don't you have ph -- oh, never mind. I have a feeling I'm not in Kansas anymore," Wade muttered.
"Kansas? Where's that?" Ephiny made a few hand signals and all the Amazons with them fell out of ranks and meandered off to various sides of the village.
"A very long way from Greece," Wade answered succinctly. "Is there any protocol I should follow when meeting your queen? A special way I should bow or address her or anything like that? "
Ephiny laughed for a very long moment. "No. Gabrielle isn't fond of formality. The main thing you want to avoid is getting off on the wrong foot with tall, dark, and deadly."
"Um, 'tall, dark, and deadly'/" Wade stopped as Ephiny held a hand up.
"Her partner, Xena. You'll see. She'll be the one with long dark hair, legs a mile long, and an attitude to match them. This is the queen's hut." Ephiny knocked at the door, then pushed it open a crack. "Gab. Xena. You decent in there? Gab?" Cautiously, Ephiny opened the door all the way and entered, motioning for Wade to follow her. She looked around, even going so far as to duck her head into the separate sleeping area, then shrugged. "Maybe they're out back." She led Wade to another door and opened it to reveal a beautiful little garden behind the hut, its intimate space protected from prying eyes by a tall, rock wall.
Wade followed close behind, then stopped and stifled a giggle, just as Ephiny cleared her throat. "I thought you said she was deadly," Wade spoke low, elbowing Ephiny in the ribs. Peering past her, Wade had a front-row view of a short, blonde woman sitting on a bench, and a much taller, dark-haired woman, who was sprawled lazily along the bench, her head in the shorter woman's lap, her mouth wide open as the blonde woman fed her grapes one by one.
"Shhhhh." Ephiny nudged back. "Xena. Gabrielle. Our guest is here. This is Wade, a traveler. She's seeking shelter for the evening and would like to participate in our festivities. Wade, this is our queen, Gabrielle, and her consort, Xena."
"Oh. Pleased to meet you, Wade. Where are you from?" Gabrielle set the bowl of grapes aside but otherwise remained relaxed, her hand dropping down as she combed her fingers idly through Xena's hair.
"Pleased to meet you, too, Queen Gabrielle." Wade silently wondered if the taller woman was about to lift her leg and scratch like a contented puppy. "From? I'm a student. I live in San Francisco, but I've not been home in a while. My companions and I have been traveling for some time now."
"San Francisco?" Gabrielle spoke the words slowly and tilted her head in question. "Where's that? I've not heard of it."
"Um --" Wade thought, scrambling, realizing that something was very different about the Amazons and her current circumstances. "It's all the way around on the other side of the world - you know, in California - the U.S.?"
"See." Xena sat up suddenly, her interest obviously piqued. "I'm not the only one who thinks the world is round." She nudged Gabrielle. "I think you should let her stay."
Wade's eyes widened, but she managed to keep her mouth closed.
"I didn't say it's not round," Gabrielle protested. "In fact, that time you took me way up on the mountain with the view for miles on all sides, I could kind of visualize the roundness. It's just, Xena, no one has proven it's not flat."
"Well, they've not proven it is, either. Everyone just assumes it's flat." Xena looked up, her eyes twinkling. "It's round, isn't it, Wade?"
"Um. Yes," Wade stammered. "Absolutely."
"See." Xena grinned and sat back, plucking a grape and bouncing it off Gabrielle's head, then catching it in her mouth.
"Brat! Cut that out!" Gabrielle snatched the bowl up and set it out of Xena's reach. "Sorry." She apologized to Wade. "Old argument. Plus, Xena got a rare nap in today and she's feeling feisty. Please, stay. We'd love to have you and I know Xena will be thrilled to have someone to discuss her round-earth theory with at the party tonight."
"That I will." Xena nodded her agreement. "Will be a nice change from talking hunting, fishing, and weapons with all these featherheads. No offense, Eph."
"Hey, none taken." Ephiny laughed. "Even I'm looking forward to something new." She glanced unconsciously at Wade.
"Thank you," Wade remembered her manners with the few brain synapses that had not been sent skittering off-track. Either she'd come upon a primitive tribe of women who had never seen modern society, or else this time they had not only managed to slide across the ocean, they'd also done some time-traveling as well. Considering Ephiny mentioned she'd been to Athens, which Wade knew to be a modern city, she could only assume the latter. "It will be nice to sleep in a real bed. It's been a rough week."
"Excellent." Ephiny smiled her gratitude to Gabrielle. "I'll have one of the guest huts made up for her and show her where the bathing room is. Oh, and she wanted to have her clothes washed. Shall I see if we have anything in the storage hut that she can wear?"
"Or she can just start the party early and go nude," Xena teased. "Half the village will be running around half-naked by the time the party is over anyway."
"Um." Wade blushed ten shades of red.
"Xena!" Gabrielle rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Wade, I'm sorry. She's kidding. Of course we'll find you something to wear. Go on and enjoy yourself. Will you join us at my table for the party?"
"I'd love to." Wade finally found a smile, liking both the queen and her 'deadly' consort. "Will you be there, too?" She looked over at Ephiny.
"Yes," Gabrielle answered for her, her expression curious. "Ephiny is my regent. She'll be sitting on the other side of me from Xena. Please, enjoy our bathing hut, or hey -- Eph, you could take her down to the hot springs. Bet a mineral bath would feel good after a day of traveling."
"You have no idea," Wade nodded vigorous approval of the idea.
"Very well, then." Ephiny place a hand on Wade's shoulder. "Give me a minute to find you some clothes and a couple of towels, and I'll join you. It will be nice to relax and have a little quiet time for a while before the party."
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged an unreadable look, then Xena grinned and winked at Wade. "Careful, Wade. That one might bite."
"Hey!" Ephiny answered indignantly. "Only if I'm asked nicely. Shall we?" She held out a hand, gesturing toward the door.
"Yes. Thanks." After one glance back at the smirking queen and her equally-smug consort, Wade followed Ephiny, wondering what had just happened.
"Ah, this is heavenly." Wade sunk down into the spring, up to her neck, her head resting back on a rock as pleasant, wispy steam rose all around her. "I have sand in places it wasn't meant to be."
"I hear you." Ephiny dropped her clothes and joined her, sliding into the water across from her. "It's been a busy day with the party and all, and then we got the call about you all being in the woods. I just happened to be near the weapons hut and decided spur of the moment to join the scouting party. Glad I did, though." She smiled.
"Sorry to cause you trouble," Wade apologized. "We don't have much control over our travels. And being the only girl, sometimes I'm lucky to get a word in edgewise about where to go once we arrive someplace."
"You're no trouble. And I understand. When I was with my husband, Phantes, I sometimes felt left out of conversations between him and his friends. Centaur males aren't so terribly different from human ones, though really, living with a bunch of women, sometimes you have to yell to be heard."
"Centaur?" Wade almost choked on a mouthful of water as she shifted in surprise. "Did I hear you correctly? You were married to a cen --- centaur?"
"Don't tell me you're one of those kind of people." Ephiny's features hardened and she rose out of the water, grabbing a towel as she exited the pond, water dripping from her thick, blonde curls and running down her back. "I thought I was a better judge of character than that. I thought if you were open-minded enough to go to an Amazon party and -- and you kissed a girl once -- but I suppose everyone has their prejudices. I just didn't take you for a centaur-hater."
"No!" Wade stood, light-headed both from the warm water and the conversation. "I -- Ephiny, don't be angry. It's not -- I -- I've never seen a centaur before is all. Didn't realize they were --" She trailed off. What was she going to say? 'Real?' That they were mythical creatures she'd studied in her literature class? That probably wouldn't go over well. "I didn't mean to upset you." Stepping through slippery mud on the bank of the pond, she joined her new friend and tentatively touched her on the back, feeling the tense muscles there. "I'd love to meet him. Does he live in the village?"
"No." Ephiny turned, wrapping the towel around herself, her eyes sorrowful. "He was killed trying to get me and our unborn son to safety during a war. Xena delivered him when I went into labor -- Xenon -- he lives a little ways from here in the centaur village. We don't allow males to live among the Amazons, but he's my pride and joy. He's got his father's strong face and my fair hair. He's growing up to be a fine young centaur."
"I bet he's handsome," Wade soothed. "I'm sorry your husband died." Without thinking, she reached across, stroking Ephiny's cheek. "Has it been very long?"
Ephiny's eyes fluttered closed. "Long enough that I don't think about him everyday anymore. He'll always have a place in my heart, but life goes on, you know?" She smiled, taking Wade's hand and kissing the inside of her palm. "Phantes would want me to live every day to the fullest, for me and for our son. He taught me to be more open-minded, and he was the most honorable person I've ever known. Through him, I began to see life as an adventure to be lived and savored."
"My situation is complicated," Wade responded slowly, her hand tingling slightly where Ephiny had kissed it. "We're never in the same place for very long, and we don't know when we'll ever get back home. I used to despair and finally I realized I was wasting my life, fretting over things I can't change. I learned to face each day and get what I can from it. So today, when you showed up and talked about your village, I had a choice: I could stay with the same three guys I'm with all the time and wait until time to move again, or I could do something new and different, and meet new people, even if only for a day."
"I wish you could stay longer." Ephiny was still holding her hand, brushing her thumb back and forth across Wade's knuckles. "My son will come for a visit tomorrow afternoon, after the party has died down. I made cookies for him and decorated them with icing so we could have our own harvest celebration together. They're in my hut. The children in the village will go from hut to hut collecting treats. It's a way of allowing them to join in the festivities with their own party. It would be nice if you could be a party guest."
"I wish I could stay longer, too," Wade answered wistfully. "I'd be honored to meet him. I like your people, Ephiny." Wade looked down, studying the mud squished up between her toes, and debating just how far she wanted to take 'new and different.' She looked up, her decision made. "I like you."
"Wade." Ephiny drew closer, until there was very little space between them. "Did you like it when you kissed a girl?"
"I -- I think I did." Wade smiled uncertainly, searching Ephiny's inviting hazel eyes and inhaling the tangy mineral scent of the water that clung to her still-warm skin. Reaching across with her free hand, she touched Ephiny's face again, cupping her cheek. "Maybe you can refresh my memory."
"I can do that." Ephiny smiled back and closed the distance, lightly brushing her lips across Wade's. Sighing, she went back for a second pass, this time making a lingering contact and closing her eyes as she wrapped both arms around Wade. "Mmmmm."
"Mmmmmmm," Wade echoed her, cradling Ephiny's head in both hands as she floated away on a rising wave of pleasure. Slowly, she pulled back. "I definitely liked that."
"You sure?" Ephiny ruffled Wade's short, brown hair, ordering the damp locks. "If you need another refresher, I'd be glad to volunteer."
"I might need a refresher or two before the night is over." Wade took Ephiny's hand, leading her back toward the hot spring. "How about we finish our bath and then you can take me to the party?"
"Will you be my date?" Ephiny leaned in, pecking her lips one more time.
"I haven't been on a date in forever. I'd be honored." Wade removed her own towel, trying not to stare as Ephiny did the same. Wade had never thought of herself as lesbian, or even bisexual, but she was certainly no prude and enjoyed observing bodies of all types, male and female. Frankly, she'd not thought of herself as much of anything at all in a very long time. Quinn did not return her affections, and so she'd shoved those feelings deep down inside. There was no place for them in the close life she shared with Quinn day in and out.
Now -- she studied Ephiny's body for the few moments it was exposed to her, before Ephiny sank back into the water with a blissful sigh. It was a nice body -- lean and muscular, and tan nearly all over, a golden glow to skin that contrasted nicely with the Amazon's sun-bleached hair and her warm, cinnamon-tinted eyes. She had an easy smile, and as Ephiny stood for a moment to soap herself up, Wade noted the neat, thin scar down the center of her lower belly.
It made her feel a tender protectiveness of Ephiny. Wade joined her, taking her place back across from her as Ephiny tossed her the soap, and Wade caught it. "Your son was born by C-section?" Wade grabbed a sea-sponge sitting on a rock, and lathered it up.
"C-Section?" Ephiny dunked under, rinsing her hair, then emerged again. "I don't understand."
"Caesarian section?" Wade added helpfully.
Ephiny's eyes darkened. "Xena has told some pretty ugly stories about her dealings with Caesar. He's an evil man and no friend to Greece or the Amazons. No, my son wasn't born anywhere near Caesar. Why would you ask something like that?"
"Sorry." Wade apologized. She wrapped her mind around the knowledge that Xena had met Caesar. So, Wade mused silently. They were not just in Greece, but ancient Greece. At least now she knew. Pushing aside the brain-strain factor, she briefly longed for a week or two to explore before leaving. Realizing Ephiny was staring, waiting, she forced herself to focus. "Sorry," she repeated herself. "We have a language barrier. Where I come from, it's a term we use when a woman must deliver a child by having her stomach cut open."
"Oh." Ephiny visibly relaxed. "I thought Xena had invented that method. It's the first I'd ever heard of it, but I was certainly glad she knew what she was doing. Giving birth to a breech centaur the natural way would likely have killed me."
"Oh, my God." Wade's jaw dropped. "I know I heard you say your son was a centaur, but I didn't think about the fact that you had to carry one around for nine months. You have brass ones, lady."
"Yes," Ephiny smirked, completely understanding her. "I do. Thank you for noticing."
"I notice a lot of things." Wade peered uncertainly at her through a cloud of steam.
"The scar on my stomach." Ephiny reached into the water, covering her own belly. "Do you think it's ugly?"
"No." Wade glided across, stopping next to her and placing her hand over Ephiny's beneath the water's surface, feeling the gentle rise and fall as Ephiny breathed. She felt the breathing accelerate, and the faint beat of Ephiny's heart beneath her fingertips. "I think everything about you is beautiful."
"You're good for me, Wade." Ephiny smiled. "It's been so long since anyone made me feel good about myself in this."
"You mean this?" Wade leaned closer, indulging in a leisurely kiss.
"Definitely that." As they broke off, Ephiny reached up, tracing Wade's eyebrows. "I could get lost in you for a while, Wade. I know you're leaving tomorrow, and I'm not ready for anything long-term yet, but -- " She paused, flexing her hand that was still pinned against her body by Wade's. "This is nice."
"It is." Wade smiled. "It's been a long time for me, too."
"You've been with a woman before?" Ephiny asked in surprise. "I though you only kissed one, once."
"No, you're right." Wade nibbled her lip. "I've been with a few guys. The one I loved once, he doesn't feel the same way. It's complicated. But I like you lot, Ephiny. I think I could get lost in you, too."
"You're sure?" Ephiny searched Wade's eyes, which were filled with warm, banked passion.
"Yeah." Wade nodded, closing the distance between them. "I'd like to do more than just kiss you."
"You can do anything you'd like with me." Ephiny pulled Wade to her, until their bodies came together in an explosion of sensation. "Oh, gods. Anything at all." She leaned close, kissing Wade's neck, feeling Wade's warm breath against her skin. Sliding one leg between Wade's knees, Ephiny sought out her lips, kissing Wade soundly and hearing a soft moan from deep in Wade's throat. "Feel good?"
"Oh, yeah," Wade gasped. With the hand against Ephiny's belly, Wade stroked upward, cupping a firm, round breast. It was different with a woman, all softness and curves, full of quiet sighs that only served to heighten Wade's passion. "This is nice." She urged Ephiny up until the breast in her hand was out of the water. Wade lowered her head, tasting it, taking it into her mouth and using her tongue to good effect.
"You're sure you've never been with a woman?" Ephiny managed to ask, her eyes slamming shut as Wade moved to the other side, lavishing it with equal attention.
"No, but I know what I like." Wade smiled against Ephiny's skin, giving her a little nip. "Kind of instinctive, I guess." She shifted, her own thigh sliding between Ephiny's and pressing upward, just as Ephiny returned the favor in kind, grinding insistently into Wade, stroking her and setting her body on fire.
"Good instincts," Ephiny gasped. And then they both surrendered themselves to the pleasure.
Much later they sat on a warm rock, tangled together and wrapped up in their towels. The sun was sinking over the tree-tops, and the few winter birds were rustling around in the trees, chirping in a fury as they prepared for bedtime. "The moon will be full tonight," Ephiny commented, her head resting on Wade's shoulder.
"Will you dance in the moonlight with me?" Wade kissed the top of her head.
"Will you feed me grapes like Gabrielle was feeding Xena?" Ephiny smiled, her voice teasing.
"Tell you what." Wade hugged her close, her lips next to Ephiny's ear. "From now until sunrise, I'll do anything you want."
"Anything?" Ephiny looked up, grinning wickedly.
"Anything." Wade mirrored her. "I'll be your love slave, if you'd like."
"Oh, this could be fun. Let's get dressed and go join the party." Ephiny stood, holding out a hand and hauling Wade to her feet. She pulled her into a hug. "You okay?" She pecked Wade on the cheek.
"I'm better than I've been in months." Wade lifted one of Ephiny's hands, kissing it. "You have a very gentle touch."
"And you have a very touchable body." Ephiny patted Wade's stomach, lingering there. "I'm glad your first time with a woman was a good one."
"It had to be." Wade smiled, nuzzling her hair. "I was with you."
After dressing each other, they twined fingers, walking hand in hand back to the village, where the party was already underway.
"Ephiny." Gabrielle called out, waving them over to a table that was situated front and center to a dance area. "Look." She nudged Xena, who had a mug of ale pressed to her lips, her head tilted back as she drained it.
"What?" Xena set the mug down, swiping the back of her hand across her lips. "I don't care for a lot of their foolishness, but I will hand it to the Amazons -- they do know how to make a good brew."
"They're holding hands." Gabrielle smiled, nodding toward Wade and Ephiny in an effort to remain subtle. "And doesn't wade look cute in that leather vest and pants? I just knew Ephiny was interested in her."
"Good instincts." Xena appeared suitably impressed.
"Eph just had this -- look -- haven't seen her like that in a long time." Gabrielle leaned against Xena, her voice dreamy. "Everyone should have a chance to feel this way."
"Oh, I think she's feeling the love alright." Xena chuckled. "I think they've been doing more than holding hands."
"Yeah?" Gabrielle squinted at the pair as they drew closer, trying to discern whatever it was her partner was seeing. "Why do you think that?"
"For one thing, Eph has that glow about her. For the other, her headdress is on backwards. I don't think she put that on herself. And Wade's shirt underneath that vest is inside out. I think they dressed each other" Xena spoke low, so as not to be overheard.
"Well," Gabrielle responded, "they did take a bath. Maybe they were just careless when they got re-dressed."
"Careless?" Xena snorted. "This is Ephiny we're talking about here. She's so meticulous she practically squeaks when she walks."
"Mmm." Gabrielle nodded. "Good point. Assuming you're right, I'm glad to see Ephiny getting her feet wet again. I hated seeing her lonely. She always looked so lost during the festivals, watching the couples dancing."
"Speaking of," Xena held out her hand, as the musicians cued up the first number of an all-night concert. "I believe you said the queen and her consort traditionally start off the festival dancing."
"Yes, they do." Gabrielle took her hand, their eyes already dancing as they stepped into the center of the clearing and came together, their bodies in perfect synchronization, born of mutual knowledge that was soul-deep.
As Ephiny and Wade reached the table, Wade stopped, watching respectfully. Was Xena deadly, as Ephiny described her? Maybe. Maybe not. Wade didn't really want to learn first-hand, but observing the dance, she could definitely apply another 'd' adjective -- 'dangerous.' Pure animal magnetism rolled off Xena in waves, her eyes all over Gabrielle as if there was no one else within a hundred miles. Wade wondered if Gabrielle felt like the long-anticipated dessert at the end of a very fine, slowly-savored feast. Quietly, Wade sighed. "They're simply a lovely couple."
"Yes, and given the Tartarus they've been through, deserving of every bit of happiness the Fates see fit to bestow upon them," Ephiny whole-heatedly agreed. She dropped Wade's hand and wrapped an arm around her waist, whispering in her ear. "How about a drink and then a dance?"
"And then dinner?" Wade asked hopefully.
"Yes, and then more dancing and drinking," Ephiny gleefully answered her.
Suddenly, Wade found herself joining Gabrielle on the dessert cart. "Dip me in whipped cream and throw me to the lesbians," she muttered, her stomach doing a happy, sensual tango.
A few hours and countless songs later, Ephiny and Wade were locked together, turning slow circles around the crowded clearing, careful not to bump into the other sweaty, swaying celebrants. Xena and Gabrielle had wisely left the mob scene and were comfortably settled together in the queen's chair at the head of her table, Gabrielle in Xena's lap. Wade looked up and observed them for a moment, then laughed lightly, shaking her head before she settled it once more against Ephiny's shoulder.
"What's so funny?" Ephiny stroked Wade's back, her voice vibrating against Wade's body as she spoke.
"Now Xena is feeding your queen grapes."
"She's not using her hands."
It was Ephiny's turn to look up, just in time to catch Xena and Gabrielle in a heated lip-lock. Once they admitted they were in love, they'd not been shy about limited public displays -- holding hands -- walking arm-in-arm -- the occasional peck on the lips. But making out in public was rare, and usually reserved for festivals. Judging from the empty pitcher of ale in front of Xena, now lying on its side, inhibition had ridden out the door on an alcohol-filled river.
But they didn't need to kiss to send sparks skittering in all directions. All they had to do was look at each other, and half the nation swooned before melting into oblivion -- the chemistry between the queen and her consort was that great. Being anywhere near them was often torture, but this time -- Ephiny smiled blissfully and closed her eyes. This time, observing them, there was no pang of longing or loneliness evoked. Only sympathy, and her own desire rising all over again.
She ducked her head, finding Wade's lips. "Who needs grapes?" She laughed lightly and came up for air, then dove back in. No, this was nice. Very nice, and warm, and inviting. It wasn't love. She knew Wade was leaving and more importantly, she knew her heart wasn't ready for it yet, but her body and her soul were finally awake again. When love did finally come knocking, Ephiny realized she'd be ready to unlock the door and invite it in for a visit. Wade had handed her the key.
"Grapes?" Wade answered fuzzily, her eyes soft and lazy. "I don't know about grapes, but you have some very nice peaches." She nuzzled Ephiny's cleavage.
"And you are toasted." Ephiny smiled, allowing the contact. She was, if nothing else, a red-blooded Amazon in the middle of what amounted to an Amazon orgy. Harvest festival was a celebration of bounty, fertility, and all the fullness of life. All around them were women in various stages of coupling, from hand-holding, to kissing, to a few that were giving vertical expression to a horizontal idea, so suggestive was their dancing. At least one couple danced by them, both women topless.
"Oooo. Good idea." Wade fumbled at the laces that held Ephiny's halter closed.
"Oooo." Ephiny stopped her, taking her hand and holding it. "Why don't we save that for the privacy of a hut?"
"If we must." Wade pouted, her cheeks flushed with dancing and drink.
"I may need to borrow a vial of Xena's hangover powders for you." Ephiny tisked, cupping Wade's face in the palm of her hand. "You're warm."
"And you're hot," Wade complimented her, her words slightly slurred.
"Definitely need those powders." Ephiny guided Wade back to the table. "Meanwhile, why don't we get you another roll. And a tall mug of water. That will help sober you up a little."
"Oh, hey." Gabrielle greeted them as they reached the table. "Wade, I forgot to mention. I had some of the Amazons take a tent and some blankets out to your friends. Sent along a basket of the food from the party, and a couple of large tankards of the ale. They built a fire for them. It can get a little chilly out there without one."
"That was really nice, Gabrielle. Thank you." Wade smiled. "I know they appreciated it."
"They couldn't build a fire for themselves?" Xena glanced from Wade to Gabrielle in confusion.
"They're city guys," Wade quickly answered. "Not used to living in the wild."
"Oh." Xena nodded, seeming to accept the answer without really understanding it. After all, even in the city, cook fires were needed for meal preparation. Then she shrugged. Maybe where Wade came from, that was women's work.
"Are you enjoying the party?" Gabrielle's eyes were slightly unfocused as she spoke, a testament to her own generous ale consumption.
"A little too much." Ephiny answered for her. "We need to get some food in her stomach."
"I'm not drunk," Wade protested. And truly, she wasn't. Buzzed a little, but mostly high on the rare chance to let go of the stress of the life she'd been living for so long, and enjoy herself, going crazy and shaking off the control she usually had to maintain, if only for one night. "I'm just happy," she whispered, drawing Ephiny to her until the regent was sitting in her lap in a similar pose to Xena and Gabrielle's. "You have no idea what this night -- what you -- have meant to me."
"Oh, I think I do." Ephiny pushed Wade's bangs out of her eyes, stroking her hair. "I think it's been way too long, for both of us."
"I don't want this night to end." Wade choked on her words, swallowing the rising lump in her throat.
"You know what I want?" Ephiny pressed her forehead to Wade's. "I want to take you back to my hut and show you just how much I appreciate you."
"Well." Wade smiled, then kissed her, nipping Ephiny's lower lip before she released it, and then rubbing noses with her. "What are we waiting for? Let's go."
"My queen," Ephiny addressed Gabrielle in a mock show of formality. "Request permission to leave the party."
"Permission granted." Gabrielle laughed lightly. "As if you needed to ask."
"So you can continue the party in your quarters?" Xena smirked.
"You would know." Ephiny grinned.
Xena merely nodded in acknowledgement, her eyes half-lidded, her expression almost feral. She held Gabrielle close, cradling her in a basket made of Xena's arms, legs, and body. Her attitude was almost possessive. Even half-full of ale, her body was alert, her face belying the constant stream of messages her brain was filtering from the noise all around them. Wade realized with startling clarity that she was getting a glimpse of 'deadly.' She shivered, wondering what it felt like to be surrounded by that much protection.
As for the queen, Gabrielle appeared completely comfortable, her eyes warm and glowing, her body relaxed against Xena's. Looking closer, Xena had one hand curled around Gabrielle's knee in a gesture that all but laid claim to her. Then Gabrielle took the hand, lifting it and kissing it, green eyes locked with blue, sharing something painfully and silently intimate. In that moment, with no words at all, Gabrielle staked her own claim -- to Xena's heart.
Ephiny audibly swallowed, squeezing Wade's shoulder. "You wanna --?"
"Oh, yeah." Wade tore her eyes from the scene, her libido in high gear.
Much later, or earlier, to be precise, Ephiny lay awake, watching Wade sleep, her head pillowed on Ephiny's shoulder. It had been a very long time since she'd woken up with someone next to her. They'd talked a little, pleasured each other at length, and at last had fallen asleep blissfully in each other's arms. Tilting her head, she kissed the top of Wade's, feeling the tension in her body that told her Wade was starting to wake up.
"Morning." Wade looked up, her eyes droopy and smiling.
"Morning," Ephiny responded, returning the smile. "Did you sleep well?"
"Like a baby." Wade stretched and sighed, then looked out the window, studying the bright sunlight. "What time is it?"
"Near the noon hour, I believe." Ephiny ruffled her hair. "I guess we need to get you dressed and ready, huh?"
"I don't want to, but yeah, we do, and you need to get ready for your son's visit." Wade answered, her voice full of regret. "I wish --"
"Don't." Ephiny stopped her, touching Wade's lips. "This was nice. More than nice. It's going to be hard enough to let you go, without making wishes we know won't come true. Unless -- you could stay."
"I -- maybe I could." Wade responded slowly, her eyes far-off in thought. "I'm not sure how that would work, or if it would work. I'd have to ask Quinn if I'd be messing up the space-time continuum or something."
"The space-what?" Ephiny frowned.
"Like I said, my situation is complicated." Wade slipped upward until they were face-to-face, indulging in an unhurried kiss. "I'm not sure if staying would make it more complicated, or if I'd finally be at peace. I -- may never see my home again. It's difficult to explain, but the disappointment of going place after place, never know if the next will be dangerous or not, and wandering around without ever getting home, it's wearing after a while."
"You have a home here, if you ever decide you want it." Ephiny patted the feather mattress, bouncing them both up and down a little.
"This may be as close as I ever get." Wade sat up, spying her slacks and shirt folded neatly on a chair next to the bed. "Hey -- they washed my clothes."
"And hung them up overnight to dry," Ephiny confirmed. "They brought them by a little while ago. I didn't wake you -- you seemed like you needed some uninterrupted sleep."
"I did." Wade reached over, squeezing Ephiny's leg. She looked thoughtfully around the well-ordered hut. It was a bit Spartan, but there were touches of hominess to it -- a few brightly-colored rugs thrown on the hard-packed dirt floor and some hand-painted pictures tacked up on the walls. A small table sat under the window, a pile of scrolls stacked neatly on one end and a basin and pitcher gracing the other. "Yeah." She nodded. "I could probably get used to this. I thought this was just a fling for you."
"So did I." Ephiny studied her. "Guess you got under my skin more than I realized."
"Are you -- it's too quick to be in love. Isn't it?" Wade searched Ephiny's face, noting a creeping blush to her cheeks.
"I don't know." Ephiny sat up next to her, taking Wade's hand and tracing the lines of her palm with her fingertip. "Maybe it is. I do know this -- I feel things with you I didn't think I'd ever feel again. You want to know the scariest thing about it?"
"What's that?" Wade bumped her thigh against Ephiny's.
"I'm not scared," Ephiny answered with a laugh.
"Bet I can change that." Wade's heart was hammering in her chest. For all the same reasons she suspected Ephiny wasn't scared, Wade was terrified. Quinn? Quinn who? For almost twenty-four hours, she'd all but forgotten he existed. And a big part of her didn't care if she ever remembered again. Now that was scary.
"Bet you can't."
"Bet I can."
"Try me," Ephiny purred.
"I'm from the future, about 2,000 years from now, to be exact." Wade closed her eyes, wondering if she should be prepared to run after Ephiny realized she was a freak.
"I think I knew that," Ephiny answered quietly. "Not how many years, but the future part -- just some things you said kind of hinted at it. And those men you were with and that gadget."
"You aren't afraid of that?" Wade asked incredulously "Because the thought of giving up my microwave and my blow-dryer forever is pretty terrifying to me, even if I can't get home to them right now. But you --" She looked deeply into Ephiny's eyes, finding a calmness there that shook her. "You aren't even phased by that, are you?"
"No." Ephiny's voice was emphatic. "I've talked with gods, given birth to a centaur, and watched Xena and Gabrielle bring each other back from the dead, at separate times, no less. What's a few thousand years between friends?" She shrugged.
"Xena and Gabrielle -- what?" Wade's brows rose into her hairline. "Never mind," she spoke just as quickly. "I don't think I want to know. It would be overload. Listen." She touched Ephiny's leg. "I have to go, but I have an idea. Will you walk me back out to where you found me yesterday, so we can talk about it with Quinn?"
"Absolutely." Ephiny stood, taking Wade's hand. "Let's get dressed and go get you something to eat, and then we'll be on our way."
"Sounds like a plan."
ONE YEAR LATER …
Ephiny stood in the clearing, Xena and Gabrielle nearby, leaning against a tree. Xena looked up at the sky. "You're sure this is the right time of day?"
"Yes." Ephiny answered impatiently. "Three hours before sunset on the day of the harvest festival. I'm certain."
"And this is the exact spot?" Gabrielle tentatively asked.
"Yes!" Ephiny lashed out, then looked down, shaking her head. Looking up, she crossed her arms and walked closer to her friends. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle. You didn't deserve that. It's just --"
"It's alright." Gabrielle reached out, gently touching Ephiny's arm. "You fell in love with her, didn't you?"
"Damn my foolish heart, yes, I did," Ephiny choked out. "And with every passing day apart, I fell even harder. I thought --" she trailed off, her eyes full of sorrow. "She'd be giving up an awful lot. I just hope nothing bad has happened to her."
"Don't give up just yet." Xena cocked her head to one side, listening.
"I don't think she's --"
"Shhh!" Xena held up a finger, closing her eyes and concentrating. Suddenly, she snapped up her chakram, holding it at the ready, as an eerie light filled the clearing and a strong wind almost took them off their feet.
"What in Tartarus?" Ephiny shaded her eyes, ducking down a little against the strong onslaught.
A pinpoint of light appeared and grew, morphing into a swirling, flashing vortex. A loud yell sounded and then a man popped out of it, followed by two others, all three of them landing in a pile nearby. "Whooaaaaaa!" A female voice sounded behind them, and Wade came sliding out, flying across the small space, landing at Ephiny's feet.
Smiling, Wade looked up. "Honey, I'm home!"
"You mean?" Ephiny held out a hand and Wade took it, as she was hauled to her feet.
"Who needs blow dryers?" Wade laughed. "I've got you. Don't I?"
"Always." Ephiny pulled her into a hug, which quickly escalated into several kisses. "Gods, I missed you."
"I missed you, too, terribly." Wade kissed her again, talking excitedly. "The neat thing is, Quinn has this location and date programmed into the timer, as he does all the places we've been." Wade grinned. "I don't have to give up anything. If they ever get back home, he can come get me here. I can slide between worlds. You could meet my Mom and I could take you riding in my car. It'll be awesome."
"And if they don't ever find home?" Ephiny asked gently. "Has a year been enough time to make certain of your feelings?"
"One year away from you has been one year too long. I'll make a new home, here with you." Wade hugged her close once more, pressing her lips against Ephiny's ear. "My heart never left this place. I love you, Ephiny."
"Wade, you're sure about this?" Quinn stepped closer, eyeing Xena cautiously as she studied him through narrowed eyes.
"Yes. I'll miss you guys, but I belong here. And I'm so weary of sliding. It will be nice to just live again."
"I envy you, Miss Wells," the Professor took her hand, clasping it between his own. "The best of luck to you. You'll be missed terribly."
"Oh, thank you." Wade stood on her toes, pecking him on the cheek. "You'll get home. I know you will."
"Wade." Rembrandt held his arms open and she grabbed him in a bear-hug. "The Cryin' Man is going to be crying for sure, missing your sweet face."
"Oh." Wade smiled sadly and touched his face. "Write lots of songs. I'll want to hear them when you all come back to get me."
Slowly, she turned again, facing Quinn.
"Wade, I'm so sorry," he faltered, looking down. "Everyday I've lived with the knowledge that I took you away from your family." He looked up. "I only hope you can forgive me."
"Hey." She moved closer, taking his hands. "It was an accident. You didn't know. Besides, if not for all this, I'd not be here now, with Ephiny. It was meant to be."
"Well." Quinn eyed her regretfully. "We've got to go. I was able to set the timer for only a short time. I'll not say goodbye, Wade. We will find home and I'll come get you. Both of you." He looked past her at Ephiny. "Take care of our girl, okay?"
"I plan on it." Ephiny held out her arm and Wade slipped beneath it, hugging her side.
"Safe travels." Wade waved, as Quinn hit a button on the timer and the vortex opened again. She watched, as her friends dove into it one, by one. As quickly as it had opened, it closed, the grass and leaves settling back down as the quietness of the forest washed the whooshing noise away.
"If they find your home, will you take all of us to see it?" Xena finally broke the silence.
"You want to see the future?" Gabrielle asked in surprise. Xena didn't usually go looking for trouble. It found it's way to them on a regular basis with no added help.
"No, I want to ride in that thing." Xena walked around the small space, hunting for anything the vortex might have left behind, and appearing disappointed when she found nothing.
"You ready for the festival?" Ephiny took Wade's hand, as they all walked back along the path toward the village.
"Yeah, enjoy yourself tonight." Gabrielle winked at her. "Tomorrow we start training you to be an Amazon."
"Yikes!" Wade's arm hairs stood on end. "What does that entail?"
"Well, after you drink a vat of boar's blood and climb a tree a naked, then we cover you in mud and feathers and take you on a five-day survival hike in the mountains." Xena deadpanned, then laughed as Wade grew pale. "Psyche!"
"Xena!" Gabrielle and Ephiny cried out in unison.
"Don't listen to her." Ephiny patted Wade's cheek. "We'll teach you Amazon history, train you in self-defense, and eventually, we'll have a ceremony to induct you into the tribe. No blood or mud involved, and only a few feathers. Now, if you want to get naked with me, that can be arranged as early as oh -- as soon as we get to my hut."
"Oh yeah?" Wade's eyes twinkled.
"Yeah." Ephiny grinned.
"Race you!" Wade took off.
"Hey!" Ephiny looked at Xena and Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, I need to --"
"Go." Gabrielle shooed her away.
"Yeah, if I'd gone without for a year, I'd be anxious." Xena helpfully sympathized.
"If you'd gone without for a year and I had you chasing me, I'd be scared," Gabrielle teased.
"Oh?" Xena circled her, as Ephiny left them in the dust. "How about if I've gone without for a day and were chasing you?" She stepped closer reaching out. "Run or be tickled, my bard."
"Oooo," Gabrielle got in her space, quickly kissing Xena on the tip of her nose, then backing off. "A game. Fun! Alright, catch me if you can, warrior of mine. But be warned, once you catch me, I’m going to have my way with you." With that, she ducked her head, following after Ephiny and Wade as fast as her feet would take her.
For a moment, Xena stood in the clearing, watching and admiring her partner's backside, savoring her incentive. "The Amazons, I could do without, but damn, I do like their parties." With a wicked grin, she took off. There was celebrating to be done and bards to ravish.