Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, etc and their back stories are owned by Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Summary: Being a traditionalist, Gabrielle expects that receiving a Cupid's Day gift from Xena is her Gods'-given right. After all, it's a holiday designed for that very purpose; for Xena to lavish love and attention on her. And, Gods knows that a warrior would never want something in return, right? Right?
Note: Blame...uh...make that thanks. Yeah, THANKS to Steph and the Academy for asking if I can come out to play for the Valentine's Invitational. And, to my wife for letting me. Also have to give thanks to KS Harrington for the description of the knife.
WARRIORS NEED LOVE, TOO
"Oh, come on." Arms were folded across a chest in impassive disbelief. "Warriors are not that sensitive."
"I'm telling you, Gabrielle, I saw a tear in her eye."
"Was she bleeding?"
"Bleeding. As in injured, maimed, cut off an important extremity."
"Um, no, not that I could see."
"Did she lose her favorite weapon?"
Blonde brows rose so high they nearly touched the braided leather band that was the regent's crown.
"Broke her knife? Thrust her sword through someone's ribcage and couldn't pull it back out?"
Feather-encased shoulders helplessly shrugged and Ephiny's mouth soundlessly worked as she struggled for an answer.
"Windy out on the battlefield?" Gabrielle didn't even wait for a response. "Dust? Dirt? Someone's thumb, blood, guts or other foreign object lodged in her eye?"
"Uh - no?"
"Then you didn't see it."
"What you thought you saw. You didn't see it."
"Gabrielle, I - "
"No, I refuse to believe it." There was a swipe of a hand that said further discussion on the matter would not be tolerated. "Ephiny, warriors don't give a flying, flaming arrow one way or the other about Cupid's Day."
"You sure, Eph?"
"Yeah, Ephiny, maybe you're overreacting? I mean, Gabrielle said it was nothing, right?'
Ephiny paused from pacing the length of her hut just long enough to send her don't-mess-with-the-regent glare hurtling towards her two companions.
Solari was sitting in a chair, leaning back so that the two front legs were off the floor. Her ankles were hooked behind the wooden legs and she was making a game of letting loose her one-handed grip on the table, then catching herself before she could lean so far back she toppled over.
Eponin was stretched out on the bed, feet crossed at the ankles, head and shoulders braced against a feather-filled pillow. She appeared perfectly content in her regent's bed, looking as if she were about to settle down for a nap. Except that she was idly tossing her dagger into the air, flipping it end over end, lazily catching it each time it came spiraling back down.
"You didn't see Xena; the look on her face. And, for Gabrielle to be so dismissive of the subject?" Ephiny shook her head, tousling riotous blonde curls. "Xena and Gabrielle are what Cupid's Day is supposed to be all about. If they aren't celebrating..."
Ephiny's voice trailed off. Hazel eyes followed Eponin's knife as it was again tossed towards the ceiling. Ep caught it, flipped it, immediately sent it hurtling skywards again.
I summoned them to discuss a real problem and they're both acting like... Irritated, Ephiny reached out, batting at Eponin's open palm. The dagger flew across the room, then abruptly stopped, the blade vibrating slightly as it was embedded in the table where Solari's fingers had been only a scant heartbeat before.
Solari's arms flailed wildly, fingers trying to find purchase in midair as her chair gave way to gravity and fell back completely, smashing against the packed earth of the hut's floor.
Two sets of eyes stared fixedly at their regent. Satisfied that she now had their attention, Ephiny commanded her weapons master and her chief scout, "Whatever's wrong with Xena's and Gabrielle's relationship; it's up to us to fix it."
You work on Xena, I'll handle Gabrielle.
Those had been Ephiny's words as she'd shooed them towards the practice field where Xena was warming up. Now, the three of them were squaring off in an impromptu workout session. Solari and Eponin twirled their staffs as they circled Xena, both of them trying to work out exactly how to ask six-feet tall of deadly warrior princess about her love life.
Solari ducked low and inside in an attempt at tagging Xena's back. It was a move Xena anticipated and easily deflected. Solari shot Eponin a look, her brow rising as she flicked her eyes in Xena's direction.
Eponin performed an overhand strike, her staff rapping loudly against Xena's as the warrior princess blocked the blow. As Xena spun around to face another attack from Solari, Ep gave a quick tilt of her head.
Solari countered, but Xena pressed her with a flurry of quick strikes that had the scout on the defensive. It was all Solari could do to keep her staff up. Looking past Xena's shoulder, she mouthed out, "Ask. Her."
Xena pirouetted, giving Solari a reprieve. Eponin wasn't expecting the shift in attack and was barely able to leap high enough to avoid a low sweep designed to take her out at the ankles. She gave a resolute shake of her head and sent several rapid fire eye signals at Solari.
With an exasperated sigh, Solari finally took the plunge, "Hey, Pony," she asked, "you and Eph got your Cupid's Day gifts, yet?"
"Nah, still got time."
The chief scout waited for Eponin to say something more. Something she could build a conversation on. She could have worked with anything, really. A Not yet; how about you? would have been nice or even an I don't know what to get her. She could have used either of those as a segue to subtly draw Xena into the conversation.
Instead, she was reduced to blatantly asking, "How about you, Xena?" When no response other than Xena and Ep exchanging a series of hits was forthcoming, she tossed in, "You and Gabrielle are in a long term relationship. I'll bet you two have got some great gift ideas."
There was a nearly audible gulp as Xena turned and pinned Solari in place with an icy-blue stare. Xena twirled her staff with one-handed precision. "I already told your regent," Xena said, her voice deathly calm as she advanced on the scout, "Gabrielle and I don't do that."
"Xena, don't kill - "
Eponin winced as she realized too late that she should have just kept her big mouth shut. Instead, her plea only served to redirect the warrior's attention towards her.
"And, you two," The weapons master began backpedaling even before Xena took her first swing, "are about as discreet as a lightning bolt between the eyes."
Xena tossed the staff down on the grass and stormed across the practice field, easily vaulting over the perimeter fence in one leap. A young trainee had the misfortune of being in her way as Xena landed on the other side.
"Amazons," she grumbled beneath her breath, using a one-handed shove to push the hapless woman out of the way without breaking stride.
Silence hung over the practice field long after the warrior princess had disappeared in the direction of the stables.
"Pony?" Solari called out. The chief scout lay prone on the grass, one arm protectively cradled about her midsection, the other clutching at her lower back. From the huddled over position she was in, she couldn't see where the weapons master was.
Eponin didn't answer. She was down on both knees, her hands covering her nose. She had seen the blow coming. Had even guessed where it would land based on Xena's comment about a lightning bolt right between the eyes. She just couldn't get her defenses up in time.
Finally, she stopped seeing dancing stars long enough to respond, "Yeah, Soli?"
"I don't know about you, Pony." Solari tried to make it to all fours, but almost immediately gave up and instead opted for sprawling back out on the relatively soft grass, "But, I'm not feeling the love."
"No." Gabrielle gave a shake of her head. "There must be some mistake."
"I got it straight from Eponin. Gabrielle, I'm sorry."
And, Ephiny truly was. Sorry that it was true. Even sorrier that she had to be the one to deliver the news.
At first, Gabrielle hadn't been very receptive. As a matter of fact, Ephiny had thought she was in danger of being dismissed again. But then, when one of the guard reported that Xena had ridden Argo out of the stables at a full gallop, Gabrielle was no longer quite so flippant.
Ephiny had sent the guard away, citing she would look after their queen. As they moved away from the hut, neither guard made mention that as regent, Ephiny was also considered royalty. And, they were after all, members of the royal guard. No, they both silently weighed their options and came to the unspoken agreement that it would be far better to face the ire of the captain of the guard if they were caught away from their assigned posts than it was to invoke the wrath of their fire-breathing regent if they stayed.
As soon as they were gone, Ephiny wrapped a protective arm about Gabrielle's shoulders, pulling her in for a reassuring hug.
"Ephiny," Gabrielle forced up a smile that never made it all the way to her eyes, "Xena always gives me a Cupid's Day gift. Always."
There was a skeptical look. "Always?"
"Well, not the first season we traveled together," Gabrielle conceded, "And, there was that time she was dead. But, she did make up for that by taking me to that Socrates concert."
"And, you never gave her something in return?"
"I - uh - " Gabrielle's cheeks tinged crimson " - I thanked her in my own way."
"Ohh-kay. Did you ever give her anything besides a..." a pointed look from her queen had Ephiny editing her first thought "...physical expression of your gratitude?"
"Cupid's Day was designed by Aphrodite. It gives corporeal form to the Goddess of Love's spiritual essence by allowing our loved ones to lavish us - " Gabrielle waggled a finger back and forth, indicating both herself and Ephiny " - with gifts and attention."
"Uh-huh. You ever stop to think maybe Xena's tired of always being the one to do the lavishing?"
"Pffft. Eph, she's a warrior. Cupid's Day is sweet and sappy and laden with romantic clichés. What warrior's going to want a Cupid's Day gift?" She caught the look that flitted across Ephiny's face. Taking a firm stance, folding her arms over her chest, she challenged her regent, "Eph, do you give Pony something for Cupid's Day?"
"Yes, of course."
"Really?" Gabrielle's tone was heavily laden with skepticism. "Something other than a physical expression of your gratitude ?"
Ephiny gave an exasperated sigh. "Of course, there's that. There's always that." She noticed Gabrielle's smug look. "Hey, it's only polite to say thank-you. And, it's something Pony really enjoys. But, yes, I do give her something else, also."
Both eyebrows shot up. "I didn't know Eponin was that type of Amazon."
"It's not like I'm giving her flowers or an epic poem. But, if there's something I know she'll like..."
"You think that's it?" Gabrielle worried a fingernail with her teeth. "You think Xena wants a Cupid's Day gift?" She stared long and hard at her friend. "Eph, are you sure?"
The curly-haired blonde gave a shrug of her shoulders, followed by a reluctant nod.
"Ephiny," Gabrielle took a deep breath, let it out, "summon Eponin. Now."
"Are you cracked?"
Had probably not been the most appropriate thing to ask queen and regent. But, they'd been the ones that had ordered -
"You're taking Xena shopping."
So, now here she was, stuck traipsing to the nearest town with one warrior princess in tow.
"Ep, this is the third shop you've dragged me into. When you said we were going to town, I thought you meant drinking in a tavern."
"I told ya, Xena, I've gotta pick up something first." What that something is; I've no idea.
Blue eyes narrowed to tiny slits as she watched Eponin browse the display counters.
"You know, if you wanted to shop ," the word was forced out between gritted teeth, "you should've brought Solari along."
"Couldn't." Eponin turned on Xena, thrusting a finger into her chest. "You put her in the hospice, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember." Arms folded over a massive breast. "I also remember why I put her there."
Eponin wisely removed her finger, hand going to the plaster covering the bridge of her nose. She also remembered. They'd poked the bear. She'd gotten off lucky with a broken nose. But, poor Solari would be spending her Cupid's Day in a hospice bed.
Cupid's Day. She was about fed up with it. Her head was throbbing. She hated pretending. She hated shopping more. And, she still had to get Eph a gift, too. She aimlessly wandered the shop, trying to keep Xena in her peripheral vision.
"Can I help you?"
A shopkeeper popped up from behind the counter so suddenly that he startled Eponin. If he noticed the little jump she gave or that she'd drawn her dagger more than halfway out of its sheath, he wisely didn't mention it. Pony's ears tinged red as she caught Xena's muffled snort.
"May I assist you?" The shopkeeper wrung his hands as he nervously asked again.
"Just looking," was Eponin's automatic response.
"Yeah," Xena swatted Eponin's shoulder, pushing her forward. "She's looking for a Cupid's Day gift." At Pony's mortified look, she said, "What? Let him help you. It's his job."
Eponin found herself being led away by the enthusiastic little man. Her head felt like it was going to split from all the questions. Size? Favorite color? Price range? How many seasons had they been together? Did she want to go with traditional- or modern-Greek? She propped an elbow up on a glass display case, cradling her head in her hand.
The shopkeeper took that as a sign that she was interested in something in the case and began to point out several items to her. "That one. Let me see that one," she randomly said as his hand passed over one row.
Ep rolled her head to the side, covertly checking Xena's whereabouts. The warrior princess was down the aisle from her, perusing several shelves. She reached out, picking up an object, hefting it, turning it this way and that. Xena frowned, placing it back on the shelf. She reached for the object next to it, putting it through the same test.
Eponin watched raptly from the corner of her eye. The shopkeeper was still droning on. She nodded her head by rote, keeping her attention focused on her friend. She watched as Xena picked up two more items, then put them back down. Then, she picked up another, gave it the same treatment. As she placed it back on the shelf, though, Eponin saw her lips twitch, almost inching into a smile.
Finally. Xena looked up. Pony quickly averted her gaze.
Next thing she knew, Xena was standing beside her, nudging her. "That what you're getting?" she asked.
"Wha? Oh, yeah," Eponin nodded. "What do you think?"
"It's nice." Xena nodded her head in agreement. "I didn't know you two were that far along. Congratulations."
Eponin's brow furrowed in confusion. Then, she turned and saw the display tray of hand-fasting rings on the counter. And specifically, the one she'd apparently chosen for Ephiny.
"I - uh - " She felt herself break out in a cold sweat. Both the shopkeeper and Xena were staring. She wet her lips. "H-How much?"
Eponin's eyes went wide. "Dinars?"
"No, feathers." Xena nudged her again. "This ain't an Amazon village. Of course, dinars."
"Oh." Eponin's eyes darted back and forth between the expectant faces. "Um - " Her eyes lit up as she spotted something else in the display case. "Can I see that?"
The shopkeeper shrugged, pulled the knife out of the case. Eponin took it from him, hands caressing the hilt, gaze traveling over the blade. The blade had a visible grain pattern, almost like the pattern she'd once seen in mother-of-pearl. The guard was solid brass; the handle was alternated bands of ebony and amber separated by red leather spacers. Pony tested the blade's edge with her thumb, finding it had been honed to razor sharpness. Hefting it, she made a few jabbing motions with it. She placed the hilt right between her eyes, staring down the length at the blade. No doubt about it; the knife was perfectly balanced.
Her eyes fairly lit up. "How much?" she asked, unable to keep the sound of interest out of her voice.
"Hundred-twenty. Same as the ring."
Pony continued to stare at the knife, turning it this way and that, marveling at how the shiny blade caught and reflected the sunlight streaming into the shop.
She felt Xena leaning over her shoulder. "I don't think it's her style."
"What?" Eponin turned to find herself eye to eye with the warrior princess.
"Ephiny. I don't think she'd go for that."
"Who said - " Eponin's mouth clamped shut. Oh, right.
"Besides, your sweetie's an Amazon. She's probably got more pointed weapons than she can throw at you in a lifetime." Xena had to work to keep her grin in check. "I think she'll appreciate a ring more than another blade."
"But, Xena." Eponin's gaze drifted to the ring, then back to the weapon. "Don't you think that's a little steep for a ring?"
"You didn't think it was too steep for the knife," Xena pointed out. "Cupid's Day is about giving your loved one what she wants; not what you want to give her, right?"
Eponin chewed her bottom lip. "I don't know..."
"I'll knock ten dinars off the price of the ring," the shopkeeper said.
"Gods." Pony propped both elbows up on the display case, cradled her aching head in her hands. "I need a drink."
"Just as soon you pay up, Pony. Then it's off to the tavern." Xena slapped the weapons master's back. "We've gotta celebrate your upcoming nuptials."
It took two hands for Eponin to grasp the hilt of the knife on the belt at her waist. She'd just managed to latch onto it when she felt someone staring.
"Patience, my Queen," Ephiny advised, eyes narrowing, "She's drunk."
Eponin looked indignant. "I've been drinking. But, I'm not drink...drunk."
"Had to. Xena was drinking."
"And, if Xena had the sudden urge to run off and join the Hestian virgins," Ephiny folded her arms, glaring at the warrior seated before her, "would I find you decked out in white robes, too?"
"No, Eph, she's right. Xena's tricky. She would have been suspicious if Ep hadn't gone drinking with her." Gabrielle knelt down, gently placing a hand on her weapons master's knee. "Eponin, tell me. What else happened in town?"
"I took her to three shops. Nothing." At Gabrielle's crestfallen look, she quickly added, "I didn't see nothing I liked. But, there was something at the last place that Xena seemed really interested in."
Gabrielle was about to press Eponin for more details, but Ephiny held up a hand, stopping her. She nodded her head in Ep's direction. Gabrielle noticed, too.
"Eponin, is there something wrong with your knife?"
"Hmm? Honey-hued eyes blinked as the weapons master looked up at her queen and her regent. "Huh? I was just looking at the nicks." She fingered the blade. "It's getting pretty worn. Hope it doesn't break." Ep eyed the weapon skeptically. "Can't perform my duty if my knife's busted."
"Eponin. Look at me." Gabrielle reached out, cupping the Amazon beneath the chin, drawing her focus. "Tell me what you saw Xena looking at."
The shopkeeper was visibly startled when the door to his establishment slammed open and five women stormed in.
"We're closed..." died on his lips as he noticed how heavily armed they were.
One of them stayed outside, pulling the door closed behind her. Two more took up positions inside the shop, just inside the doorway. The two blondes walked up the aisle towards him.
Phineus was not a stupid man. He spotted them as Amazons right away. More importantly, he recognized the air of authority about them. No doubt about it; this was Amazon royalty.
"My dear ladies," He wrung his hands as he performed a bow before them, "How may I be of assistance?"
"There were two warriors in here earlier today. One Amazon. The other - " Ephiny caught Gabrielle's subtle shake of her head. Given her consort's colorful past, the Queen was always hesitant to reveal Xena's identity unnecessarily. " - not an Amazon."
"Yes," the shopkeeper's smile faltered and he appeared reluctant to answer, "I seem to recall a couple that fit that description."
"We need to know what they were looking at."
"Of course." Sensing a sale, a potentially lucrative sale, the shopkeeper's smile returned even brighter than before. His eyes twinkled as he openly appraised the two blondes, his gaze finally settling on the one with the sword. "You must be Ephiny."
Bracing her hand against a tree trunk, Gabrielle pushed herself up the last few feet. It had taken her well over a candlemark to navigate her way along the trail up the mountainside. Over two miles from the heart of the Amazon village, it was a steep hike up rough terrain to a desolate location.
Which is why Xena favors it so much.
As Gabrielle broke through the last of the foliage, the thick forest gave way to a craggy outlook. The warrior princess was perched upon a rock, her back to the forest, looking out over the expanse of wilderness below. The rays of the setting sun shimmered against her bronzed flesh and added a reddish tint to her dark tresses.
"Hey," Xena said, without turning around.
At one point in their relationship, she might have questioned how Xena knew she was there. Or, that it was even her. She'd learned from experience; her warrior had many skills.
She walked right up to Xena, wrapping her arms about her from behind, placing a kiss on her cheek.
"You left the celebration early. Sun's not even down, yet."
"Yeah, well," Gabrielle shrugged. "I wanted to spend what's left of Cupid's Day with you."
"Mm." Xena tugged on Gabrielle's arm, pulling her around to the front of the boulder she was sitting on. Gabrielle went with the motion, falling into and leaning against her consort. "Thought maybe you came looking for your present."
Blonde eyebrows shot straight up as Xena handed her a wrapped bundle. Like a kid on Solstice Eve, she hastily unwrapped the gift, revealing a new quill set.
"Xena, it's gorgeous."
"But, I thought you hadn't gotten me anything this Cupid's Day."
"Gabrielle, when have I ever not given you a Cupid's Day gift?" There was a pause as the answer suddenly occurred to Xena, "Other than when I've been dead?"
"I know. But the Amazons...I thought...Here…" Gabrielle handed over an object wrapped in parchment. "I got this for you."
"Gabrielle, you didn't have to."
"Just open it."
Xena undid the twine wrapped about the gift, slipped the parchment off. A whetstone fell out into her hand.
"Is it okay?"
"It's perfect." Xena grabbed her bard, pulling her in, planting a kiss on her. "Just like you." She drew back, eyeing her partner. "You know you didn't have to, though."
"Yes, I did."
"Because of the Amazons?"
Gabrielle sniggered. "You've been driving Eph nuts with that, you know."
"Because she thought there was something wrong with us if we didn't exchange gifts? Did you think that, too?"
"I felt guilty. Xena, you give me a present every Cupid's Day. And, I just take it for granted that you do. And, because you're this bigger than life, too tough for my leathers warrior, I've never given you one."
"Hey, stop that. Love isn't about possessions, Gabrielle. It's not about who gives or gets the biggest or the most or even the most expensive gifts. And, it's not for just one day. Cupid's Day, tomorrow, the next day, every day you show me that you love me. And, I don't need to unwrap something for you to prove it."
"Wow." Xena's face was bleary through Gabrielle's glistening tears. "For a warrior of little words, you sure say a lot when it counts."
Xena ducked her head, embarrassed about having shared so much. She shyly looked up through her lashes at Gabrielle. "Don't get me wrong; it'd be nice to get something once in a while. Just to let me know you care."
Despite her tears, Gabrielle was smiling. She turned around, settling back against Xena's frame, watching the setting sun on the horizon.
They stayed silent for a long time, holding each other, loving each other. The sounds of the forest provided a soft chorus of a gurgling brook, wind sweeping through the trees' leaves, a family of birds chirping. Beneath it all, just barely audible even to her sensitive ears, Xena heard the faint beating of Amazon drums.
Which reminded her; she nudged Gabrielle. "Eponin give Eph her Cupid's Day gift?"
"I'm not sure. Why?"
"Oh, believe me, my bard, you'd know if she'd gotten it."
"Xena," Ever protective of her regent, Gabrielle's voice dropped to a low rumble, "what did you do to Ephiny?"
"Nothing." Xena bit back her laughter. "Got Pony to buy her a hand-fasting ring."
"Xena!" She slapped her warrior on the arm. "You knew all along, didn't you?"
"Ow. Come on, Gabrielle; how could I not know? I mean, Pony – shopping; really? Honestly, by that point, I just wanted to put an end to the shopping ruse. Pony picked out that hand-fasting ring all on her own, though."
"So, you were baiting Eponin." Something suddenly clicked and Gabrielle snatched up the whetstone. "You never really wanted this, did you?"
"Hey, that's a perfectly good whetstone." Xena grabbed it back. "I went to a lot of trouble to pick this out."
"You?" Gabrielle's voice shot up. "I - "
Recalling how the shopkeeper had been the one to point out to her exactly what Xena had her eye on, Gabrielle gave up. With a resolute sigh, she sat back down on the boulder beside Xena. Then, she snickered. That snicker turned into a guffaw. And, that guffaw became an all-out laugh.
"Something you'd like to share?"
"I was just thinking. We might have to stay for Ephiny's joining ceremony."
"You didn't see her, Gabrielle." Xena pulled a face. "No way Ep's giving Eph that ring."
"Not even if Ephiny gives her something she really, really wants?"
"Ephiny would have to be the known world's greatest fu - "
" - Xena!" Gabrielle delivered a backhand to Xena's stomach. "I didn't mean that." At her consort's blank look, Gabrielle said, "The shopkeeper that guided me to your whetstone also showed Ephiny what Pony was interested in."
"You mean - ?"
Gabrielle nodded. "A very expensive knife. That is what she wanted, right?"
"Oh." Xena thought it over, then shrugged. "Guess Pony could do worse than joining with a regent."
The next morning, the Queen and her consort were still in bed well past dawn. Gabrielle was using her new quill to trace patterns on Xena's bare stomach. "You know, Xena, if you really wanted something for Cupid's Day, it's okay."
"Gabrielle, you are not returning my whetstone." Xena dropped a kiss on the top of Gabrielle's head. "Besides, I've already told you, your love is the only gift I need."
"I know. I know. And, I believe you really feel that way. It's just that Ephiny said when she mentioned Cupid's Day to you, well," There was a long pause before Gabrielle could say, "well, she said she saw a tear."
"Huh." A lone brow arched. "Must've been something in my eye."