Letting Go

by

Ambyrhawke Shadowsinger

August 25, 2000

Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and everyone else in this story are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal MCA. This story is not intended to infringe upon the rights of the copyright holders. The only thing I'm making from this is myself and hopefully, the readers happy.

This story is an offshoot from the episode "Return of Callisto."

Subtext: Ah, yes, my favorite disclaimer. This story depicts a loving relationship between two women. In case you haven't noticed, Xena and Gabrielle have only said, "I love you" about a million times or so on the show. If the idea of two women loving each other offends you, is illegal in your state, or you are under 18, you have my heartfelt condolences.

Placing Blame: This story is the fault of Ambrosia. A little over a year ago, she was carelessly tossing questions out on a Xena board in front of a new bard....me. We were supposed to choose a character to be in one episode. We would be that character for however many days the specific episode lasted. She wanted to know who we would choose to be, in what episode as well as if we would do anything differently. A simple answer posed itself to me when the storyteller took over and started exploring the ramifications of one little change. Well life and other stories happened between then and now, but here's what I wound up with.....

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The day had been so long. Callisto's army had gotten out of prison and attacked a village. After the battle was over, there was the endless stream of bodies to consign to the funeral pyres. There were no wounded to mend this time, otherwise Xena would still be tending them. No, in this battle everyone who had been caught by Callisto's men took a death-blow. Even Xena received one. However, it was the little bard who had driven the sword through the warrior's heart when she decided to marry Perdicas.

The warrior finally admitted to herself in the temple at Thessaly that she was in love with her companion. Oh, she had known what her feelings were before then; she just hadn't acknowledged them. She had many skills, and denial was one of them. Now her heart, so long ignored, sat breaking without hope of repair.

The wedding would take place the next day in a nearby temple of Cupid. Normally, Hera's temples were used for marriage, but this one was closer. Besides, neither Gabrielle nor Xena were comfortable with the goddess who so tormented their friend, Hercules.

Thus tonight was the last night Xena would spend with her best friend. She couldn't stand the thought of having to watch Gabrielle and Perdicas together or listen to Joxer's tales of heroism. Thankfully, the dreaded ceremony provided the perfect escape. Masking her despair behind a chuckle, Xena shooed the men off to a different campfire, reminding everybody of the bad luck which would plague the marriage should bride and groom see each other before the ceremony.

Now Xena sat staring into the orange flames of the campfire trying to silence the screaming voices inside her head. They were all different, some calling out for Perdicas' blood, some crying out to Gabrielle in despair, some cursing herself as a fool for never having revealed her feelings, and some demanding to tell the bard right now of those feelings.

The azure eyes glistened with unshed tears as a single, quiet voice slowly made its way through the cacophony, hushing its louder counterparts one by one. It was the voice that had always made Xena step back and let Gabrielle leave; never influencing the decisions she made.

So the warrior sat on a log, as still as a stone during the painfully slow process. Her elbows rested on her knees, and the strong chin balanced on her joined hands. Xena vowed to remain silent. It wasn't fair to reveal her love after Gabrielle had chosen to marry.

The fire had burned down most of the way when Xena felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Gabrielle sat down next to the brooding woman, half facing her. The warrior turned her head to her friend's gaze. She hardened her eyes, lest the bard look through them and see the gaping wound in her heart.

With a gentle finger, Gabrielle brushed a lock of dark hair out of Xena's eyes. "You've been glaring at that fire half the night, Xena. What's wrong?" she asked in a low voice.

The woman I love is about to marry someone else. "Nothing."

As the Warrior Princess turned back to the fire, Gabrielle caught her chin with two fingers, pulling the face back. "That's not nothing."

The blue eyes flickered to the ground for a moment before she found an answer. "I'm just worn out. It's been a long day." She returned her chin to its perch, exhaling slightly, looking through the sullen flames.

The protesting voices grew with the blonde's presence so close. She had to get Gabrielle away. Xena glanced sideways at her, speaking once again, "You should go get some rest. You have a big day tomorrow."

The young woman's voice trembled, "I'm nervous."

"Don't be...Perdicas is a nice man." Xena's mask slipped ever so slightly, "He's lucky to have you." Jade eyes darted up at the incongruity of that statement, but the mask was already slammed back into place as its owner retreated to the safety of contemplating the flames.

Leaning her head against the broad shoulder next to her, Gabrielle sighed, "I'll miss you, Xena."

It took all of the warrior's control not to react to those four words. As earlier, humor provided a much needed cover for very different emotions. "Naw," she drawled with a smile that could almost have been a grimace, "you'll get used to married life before ya know it."

The small head butted into the muscled shoulder, "I'll still miss you."

Gods, what do I say to that? The blue eyes gone violet in the firelight flickered down. She had plenty she wanted to say, but nothing that she dared speak of. So Xena remained silent. After a few moments, she jerked her head toward the bard. "G'wan, get to bed." The tone was final.

Xena could feel Gabrielle studying her. "Are you coming, too?"

Thankfully the fire burned low enough that Xena could risk turning to her friend. "In a little bit," she reassured softly.

Gabrielle looked down for a moment. Glancing back up, she rose, "Don't be long." Xena nodded.

When the young woman left, she stared moodily into the campfire again. Her brow furrowing, Xena bit lightly down on the flesh of her index finger. Shortly after she heard her friend settle down, Xena surreptitiously wiped a tear off her cheek with a finger. She banked the fire, rose and turned around for bed. Her heart immediately sank at the sight awaiting her. Xena had forgotten that Gabrielle had lent the guys a set of their furs. She looked around for someplace else to go.

An exasperated sigh fell on the keen ears, "Xena, I won't bite. Get over here."

Looking up, Xena silently implored the gods for strength. She settled down under the furs, carefully keeping space between her body and that which could never be hers. Azure eyes snapped open when she felt the small form curl up against her side. Xena forced herself to lie still as she greedily, despairingly soaked up the sensations of the light head pillowing on her shoulder while an arm snaked over leather-clad ribs and a knee rested against her own. Gabrielle had never curled up to her like this before unless she was in the midst of a nightmare when they happened to share a bed at an inn. Xena saw the honey-crowned head turn to the sky for a moment. "It looks like a bear," came the wistful murmur.

The warrior shut her eyes tightly against the tears that threatened. This particular debate had become a cherished ritual between them over the course of their travels. Every stargazing session ended with this exchange; each trying to convince the other of the image painted in the sky. After a moment, she whispered, "It's a dipper."

Xena felt a small smile form against her shoulder as the bard settled down into Morpheus' embrace. Closing her eyes, Xena waited for sleep to claim her. She wished fiercely that, just this once, she could have seen Gabrielle's bear up in the sky. A single tear slid down into the dark mane as she gave up her heart. Sometimes things just weren't meant to be.

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By the time Xena woke up the next morning, she had resigned herself to fate. It was the best thing to do. She spent the morning helping Gabrielle get ready to marry Perdicas. Now she stood next to her best friend in the temple as the priest went through the ceremony.

"If anyone has a reason why this joining should not take place, speak now or remain forever silent." The priest’s words hung heavy in the temple.

Joxer drew in a lungful of air. After a moment he quietly let it out, looking down with a sad frown pulling at his mouth.

Xena stood in silence, a slight tremor running through her body. Her eyes were riveted to the profile of the honey-blond before her. A cold wave of despair welled up in the warrior's gut, making her nauseous.

It seemed like an eternity, but only a small moment later, the priest once again spoke up, "Then...."

"Wait!"

Everyone turned sharply to the voice, no one in the room believing for a time what was actually happening. Gabrielle's brow furrowed in confusion; her jade eyes darting slightly from side to side. "Xena?" she called out with a soft, low voice.

Xena gazed at the bard intensely. Her heart pounded in her ears as her breathing suddenly came fast and shallow. "Don't do this," she spoke up for the second time.

Gabrielle shook her head slightly, "Xena, what are you doing?"

The warrior took a small step forward, "You can't marry Perdicas."

Of course she can," said the man in question. He placed his fingers on Gabrielle's forearm. "Come on honey, let's finish the ceremony."

Xena reached out, her hand drawing the small arm away from Perdicas with a tender firmness. "Gabrielle...I need to talk to you." She nodded toward a small alcove, "Can we go over there?"

Right now?" Troubled green eyes saw the warrior nod slightly. She searched her friend's face, and never breaking eye contact, turned halfway toward the others. She spoke slowly, "Excuse us for a moment."

The bard pulled the warrior into the semidarkness of the alcove. When they were out of sight, she spun around on the tall woman. "Alright, what is going on with you, Xena?"

Xena studied the soft glow on the bard's face coming from the few candles nearby. She had lost her nerve during the short walk to privacy, but seeing the shadows play over the beautiful features before her, she rediscovered her resolve. Her heart would not be dictated to on this most important matter. Taking a breath, she spoke, "Please, don't marry Perdicas."

Gabrielle looked at her friend as though she were touched in the head. "Why not?" she asked confusedly. "Xena, just yesterday you were telling me to marry him. What could have changed in one day?" The green eyes pled for an answer that would make her understand.

Letting go of her silent heart, the warrior stepped blindly into the void, whispering, "I love you." She glanced down and took the young woman's hands, willing her own to not shake. She didn't quite succeed. Lifting her gaze to the bard's, she added, "Gabrielle, I'm *in* love with you."

Gabrielle's mouth fell open slightly as she leaned back. Breathing hesitantly, she quietly studied the azure orbs that no longer hid their emotions. "You're in love with me?"

Xena dipped her head in a small nod. She felt like she was falling down a bottomless abyss. "I have been for a long time," she admitted.

Why didn't you say anything?"

Why indeed? Dark eyes darted around, searching the floor for an answer. Stammering, the warrior found one, "I...I didn't know how you felt,...and...I...didn't want to make you uncomfortable."

Gabrielle stood quietly, and Xena knew she was waiting to hear the real answer...the core of truth from which all other explanations stemmed. Caught in the candlelit gaze, her breath rushed out of her body. "I wanted to many times," she sighed, "but I never had the courage."

Yet you found it today." The bard's voice still gave Xena no clue of how she felt.

I wasn't going to say anything....but when he...." Xena angled her head in the priest's direction. "Gabrielle, I just couldn't stay silent. I had to let you know how I feel...to find out if...." She licked her lips and looked down at their clasped hands, "I had to make sure you knew all of your choices."

The silence stretched between both women as Xena's heart pounded in her throat. Finally, Gabrielle broke the quiet, "What if I choose to marry Perdicas?"

Her gut twisting, Xena looked up. "What I said to you yesterday is still true.... I want you to be happy. Listen to your heart, Gabrielle...and if it tells you that Perdicas is the one who will make you happy....you have my blessing."

Gabrielle glanced at their hands and then looked out to the main chamber of the temple. "We have to get back. They're waiting for us." With those words, Xena's fall came to an abrupt end; her hopes crashing down, broken. Her hands grew cold, and she drew them away from the bard's. When Gabrielle next spoke, her words were filled with sorrow, "Oh Xena, what do I say?"

You don't have to say anything. I underst...." The protest died in her throat when she felt small, warm fingers on her hand. She looked up to see Gabrielle gazing into her eyes.

"How do I tell Perdicas that I can't marry him?"

"What?" Xena held her breath, not daring to hope again.

"I'm in love with you, too."

Xena was on the verge of tears, and her chin quivered. With a smile, she whispered the bard's name and moved to wrap her in a hug. But Gabrielle forestalled her with a quickly raised hand, "No, Xena. I have to tell Perdicas first. Please?"

The tall woman nodded and blinked back her tears. She reached out to stroke Gabrielle's face with her knuckles, stopping when she felt the air warm from the smaller one's body heat. She paused, then pulled her hand away without touching the bard. They both took a deep breath and walked towards their waiting friends.

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Xena walked a step behind Gabrielle as they approached the three men waiting expectantly in the front of the temple. She was elated beyond words, but it didn't show for she was also worried for her friend. She knew how hard it was going to be for Gabrielle to break the news to Perdicas. She glanced at the bard and saw the slight shoulders stiffened with tension.

When the two women reached the others, Perdicas stepped forward with a tight smile on his face. "Honey, can we get this finished now?"

Gabrielle flinched and spoke quietly, "Perdicas, come with me. We need to talk."

The brown eyes flickered as his smile faded. "What is it?"

"Not here."

Small hands took the young man's and tugged, but he didn't budge. "No, Gabrielle. Whatever it is, you can tell me right here."

"Don't do this...."

Shaking his head, the would-be groom said firmly, "If you've got something to say, then just say it."

Gabrielle bent her head quickly. When she lifted it, tears were sliding down her face. "I'm sorry, Perdicas, but I can't marry you."

He stood in shock, "What?" Then Perdicas' brow furrowed and his face darkened. He glared at Xena, "This is your fault! What did you say to my fiancee?" Xena held his gaze but didn't answer. He moved up to the warrior and yelled in her face, "What did you say?"

Calmly, Xena answered him, "I told Gabrielle that I love her."

Perdicas spun around and saw Joxer's jaw laying on the floor. While Joxer tried to recover, Gabrielle's eyes were caught by the groom's. "What about you?"

The bard barely whispered, "I love her, too."

He flung his head back, looking at the ceiling. A stunned laugh erupted from his throat, "I can't believe this!"

Gabrielle took a step toward the young man, but was stopped by a high pitched shriek piercing the back of the temple. As the bard whipped around searching the shadows frantically, Xena moved in front of everyone. With a hiss of metal on leather, she drew her sword and held it at ready. Suddenly the owner of the shriek jumped out of a back alcove and ran toward the group.

Callisto. She looked positively overjoyed as she rushed the altar. Her sword was still sheathed, and her fingers were splayed out. She came skidding to a halt when Xena aimed the point of her sword at the blonde's heart.

The insane brown eyes widened, and Callisto put her hands on her hips. She wriggled her body into a perfect pose and spoke to the warrior, "Put the sword down already."

Xena couldn't figure her enemy out, but she wasn't taking any chances with the woman. "Not on your life, Callisto."

"Why I..."

There was an exasperated huff from behind Xena, "Mom!" Though the warrior just barely managed to remain still, Gabrielle turned a stunned face to Joxer. She mouthed the word, "Mom?" as she saw him standing there, arms folded across his chest. He looked pointedly at Callisto, "Fashion check."

The warrior queen glanced down and giggled, "Oh!" Gabrielle looked back to the madwoman who spoke again, "Chill out warrior-babe." She raised a gauntleted hand, snapping her fingers. A shower of sparkles filled the air around the leather-clad blond. When they faded away, another blond stood in Callisto's place...one dressed in a gauzy pink negligee. "Oh much better. Black is so not my color!"

"Aphrodite!" Turning, the bard saw Joxer morph into the God of Love, "And Cupid?"

Aphrodite looked at Xena, who hadn't moved one inch. Then she glanced down to see the warrior's sword. With the change in bodies, the blade became firmly lodged between two rather full breasts. The goddess smirked at Xena, then gently lifted the tip of the sword out of its nest. The tall woman held it numbly in her hands as it was moved slightly to the side. Still holding the tip between her fingers, Aphrodite moved up to the armored figure. Her fingers slid up along the length provocatively, "Nice sword, babe." She plucked the weapon out of Xena's hands, and pressing her body fully against the warrior's, slid the blade into its sheath. She bit her lower lip and gave the warrior a wink before sighing, "Too bad you're already taken." Then the goddess backed off a step.

A dark brow arched up lazily as Xena drawled, "Mind explaining what is going on here?"

Aphrodite pouted, "You know, Xena, you really need to lighten up a bit. This whole 'get right to the point' kick is just not sexy."

Xena's eyebrow crawled the rest of the way into her hairline. With exaggerated slowness, she crossed her arms over her chest and gave the pink-clad woman "the look."

The goddess held her ground a moment before huffing. "Oh all right, already. If you must know, it's not so much a question of what's going on as what wasn't going on." She pointed between the warrior and the bard, "Like you two."

The two women in question just looked at each other and turned back to the blond.

Aphrodite's voice rose in pitch with frustration, "You two are the most clueless mortals I have ever met in all eternity. What's a girl gotta do, spell it out on Mount Olympus? Cupie's had no better luck!"

At this, Gabrielle rounded on Cupid, poking him in the chest with her finger. "So the two of you just cast some little spell?"

"Ow!" Cupid cried out, protecting himself with his arms. "Not cool! For your info., it wasn't like that. You don't go shooting arrows at a love match that's already bitchin'. That was totally you two."

"Wait," Xena interrupted the explanation. "Where exactly is Callisto?"

"You mean Miss 'Couple People Short of a Menage a Trois'?" Aphrodite waved her hand distractedly, "She's cooling her jets in that cell, same as always."

"You've been Callisto this whole time?" the bard asked.

"Hey, that wasn't my idea! I'm not into the leather thing...it chafes in all the wrong places." Aphrodite glared as Cupid.

"Like I chose to be Joxer?"

"Hey, if I've gotta suffer, so do you, sweetcheeks."

"Stop bickering!" Everyone turned to Gabrielle, who was not happy. "You mean to tell me you murdered an entire village just to get us together!?"

"Whoa!"

"As if!" The goddess kept going while Cupid sulked. She smiled innocently, "When the nymphs in the area heard what was going on, they all wanted to help out. Everybody there was immortal."

Xena rolled her eyes. However, Gabrielle wasn't amused. When she looked at Perdicas, he shrunk back. "And what was your role in this little farce?"

Perdicas swallowed hard, "Well, Cupid and Aphrodite came to me for some help. I couldn't believe it when they said you weren't together yet. I mean the way you ran off after Xena and all. I just figured the kiss at Troy was us reliving old memories." He saw the growing fury in the jade eyes.

The love goddess backed the young man up, "You two are like the poster children of true love. Except neither one of you would pipe up. We figured if you didn't have like forever to say something, then you'd move a little faster. Perdy was a sweetie to help raise the stakes."

Azure eyes sparkled in mirth as Xena knowingly purred, "And what was in it for you, Perdicas? Hmm?"

The man suddenly found his boots quite interesting. "Umm, Helen and I could have a peaceful life without everyone hounding us," he murmured.

The bard's mouth hung open. "You're involved with Helen?" Perdicas looked up hesitantly and nodded. Gabrielle became livid and bludgeoned her fiancee and the two gods verbally. "I cannot believe this! Did any of you think about what would have happened if Xena hadn't said something?" She focused on her childhood friend, "You and I would be married right now. Is that how you show your love for Helen?"

Gabrielle backed away form the group, "You all disgust me." With that, she ran for a door at the side of the temple, throwing down her bouquet as she went.

"Gabrielle!" Xena started after the distraught woman.

"Leave me alone!"

The warrior came to a halt, not knowing what else to do. She rounded on the others, stalking up to Aphrodite, eyes ablaze with a cold fire. "Are you happy now? When are you gods gonna learn to stop meddling in our lives?" she yelled.

"Exsqueeze me?" The Goddess of Love's face took on an expression of anger. Her voice was raised now, "In case you've forgotten, if we hadn't meddled, you'd still be wondering what your precious little Gabster's feelings were! Tell me, warrior-babe, if it were up to you, would you have said anything to her in this lifetime?"

Xena stood there, glaring at the goddess. Her hands were clenched in white-knuckled fists, the veins popping out in bas-relief. The muscles of her jaw jumped furiously.

"That's what I thought," Aphrodite muttered after a few moments of silence. "I'll have you know, I didn't go anywhere uninvited."

"What?"

"You heard me. And I heard the both of you." The goddess' face softened considerably, and she began to pace slightly. Her voice rose and fell as she tried to explain to the warrior. "There wasn't a night this whole past year when one of you didn't pray to anyone who would listen to help you win the other's love. Sappho's got nothin' on you in that department. And the kicker was that neither of you had to win anything...only speak up. But I didn't get involved because I *know* how you hate that."

Aphrodite turned fully to the silently listening warrior and spread her arms out, "How long is a goddess supposed to just sit there? Xena, I'd give up all my powers to just *once* be able to create the kind of love that you two share. But that's something that can't be created; it has to happen on its own." Xena saw a few tears slipping down the goddess' face. "It was breaking my heart to see you. Would you really rather live life not knowing what you do now than have us meddle a bit?"

Xena couldn't think of anything to say. Her anger had subsided as the story was told. She sighed, shaking her head a bit.

"Can I give you a friendly piece of advice?"

"Why do I need your advice?"

Aphrodite put her right hand on her hip, placing her weight on her left leg and cocking her head to the right. "Look, I am the Goddess of Love. I think I know *something* about the subject?"

Xena sighed, "What?"

The blond glanced the way the bard had gone, then tossed her head in that direction. "Don't leave her alone for too long." She shrugged her right shoulder and sounded contrite, "It's us she's mad at, not you." Azure orbs studied her from beneath dark brows. Aphrodite asked sweetly, "G'wan...trust me?" Xena cocked her head, chewing the inside of her lip.

The goddess shifted her balance to her right leg and held out her left hand. "Awe, c'mon! I've never been wrong about the mushy stuff. Gimme a break." She gave the warrior puppy eyes, "Please?"

Xena stared at those eyes. **She does that almost as well as Gabrielle. No wonder she's Zeus' favorite.** "Okay," she nodded.

"We'll be here when you get back."

Glancing at the other two matchmakers who prudently remained silent and shuffled their feet, Xena started hesitantly after her bard.

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Gabrielle had fled out to a courtyard garden of the temple. The whole garden was set up with a small series of meandering pathways traveling to secluded gazebos or glens. Nothing in the complex was overdone; even the most manmade looking of the gazebos. Each separate area had a water source and a statue of lovers. But where Aphrodite's temples often depicted erotic scenes, the statues in Cupid's temple were all romantic.

Xena found Gabrielle in the spot farthest away from the temple proper. It was also easily the most naturally landscaped area. A brook chuckled through the corner of the small glade. Instead of a stone statue, two trees grew together, an oak and a maroon-leafed prune tree. Their trunks and branches were so entwined that they seemed to become one...a tree with both red and green leaves.

Gabrielle sat against a moss covered stone, her knees wrapped in her arms. Her chin rested on her knees, and the wreath from her hair lay on the ground at her feet. Xena rubbed the back of her neck, softly approaching the bard from around the rock. She called out quietly to the woman.

"Go away," came the hurt response.

Taking a steadying breath, the warrior knelt down beside her friend. "Hey, this is me remember? I'm not the enemy here." Her hand touched Gabrielle's shoulder, rubbing it with her thumb.

The bard looked over into concerned blue eyes. Her face was set in anger mixed with sadness. After a very long moment, her expression softened and she whispered, "I'm sorry, Xena. I shouldn't be taking this out on you."

One shoulder shrugged up, "That's ok. I'm just glad you're not mad at me."

"No." Gabrielle rubbed her cheek against the hand on her shoulder. "I'm not." She shook her head, muttering, "I am so mad at them for doing this."

Xena hoped her bard would keep an open mind about the next thing she said. She cleared her throat, "I'm not."

Green eyes stared at her incredulously, "You're kidding, right?"

"Aphrodite said something in there...and she had a point."

"You're joking...." Xena gave the small woman a "be nice" look. "Tsk, I didn't mean it like that."

The dark head nodded in acceptance. "She reminded me that if it hadn't been for them, we'd still be wondering how the other felt. She's right, you know."

Gabrielle furrowed her brow, thinking about what had just been said. Then she made a face, "I hate it when they're right."

"Tell me about it."

They both grinned, and Gabrielle moved into Xena's arms for a hug. The warrior settled down as she pulled her love close. For the first time, she let herself openly enjoy the feeling of the other woman snuggled against her. Suddenly, Gabrielle pulled out of the embrace. Xena didn't know if she had done something wrong. "Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle rose to her knees with her fists on her hips. Xena swallowed hard at the accusatory look she was getting. The bard poked her in the arm. "It sure took you long enough to say something, warrior!" she growled.

"Me?" Xena's jaw fell open, pointing at her own chest. Then her eyes narrowed, "Well I didn't hear you professing undying love, bard." The voice held a hint of mischief.

Their gazes dueled fiercely then Gabrielle burst into laughter. "Ok, so we're both pathetic." She looked down at Xena and sobered, "Do you realize how terrible it could have been if you didn't speak up? Perdicas and I both married to people we didn't love...."

Xena nodded, "Or what about if Callisto really *had* gotten out? No telling what she would have done."

Gabrielle rested her forearms on Xena's shoulders. Gazing deeply into the loving face of her warrior, she whispered, "I'm really glad you spoke up."

"Yeah?" Xena was lost in the jade pools so close to her.

"Uh-huh," the bard nodded. "There's something I've wanted to do for a long time."

"What's that?" Xena's heart hammered in her chest.

"This...." Gabrielle leaned in and pressed her mouth against the soft lips of the warrior. Xena gasped at the electric feeling the contact brought. They kissed softly for a time until the bard's tongue flickered against Xena's lower lip, asking for more. The request was readily granted, and the two explored each other's mouths.

The two entwined themselves like the trees nearby. Their hands roamed over skin and clothing, eliciting soft moans and gasps. Silently, they agreed to go only so far, backing off to stare into each other's eyes when the passions rose too high. They didn't want to be embarrassed by an unexpected interruption. Besides, they were rather enjoying their state of half-arousal.

After an endless length of time, Gabrielle twined her fingers in the dark locks and stilled her advances. "Xena?"

A hand brushed back a cascade of honey hair. "Yes, my love?"

The bard shifted nervously, "I umm...I know this is pretty quick and all....unless you consider that we've been traveling together for so long." She bit her lip and ducked her head. The hand on Gabrielle's waist squeezed her encouragingly, and Xena tilted the small head up a bit. She gave the bard a small smile.

Seeing this, Gabrielle took another breath. "I was wondering...ummm...could we go and...finish the ceremony?" The last bit was a bare whisper.

Xena's heart stopped beating for a long moment, then pounded in her ears. She couldn't believe she had just heard correctly. Her voice shook in wonder, "Gabrielle...I'd love that. But are you positive? There's no rush...." Xena's words were stopped with a soft kiss.

You told me to listen to my heart, to find out what will make it happy. Xena, this is what I've wanted for such a long time. Yes, I'm positive."

A tear fell from the blue eyes, and Gabrielle caught it. Xena's smile shone like the first ray of sun after a storm, "I would *love* to go finish that ceremony with you."

"Good, because," a wicked grin crossed Gabrielle's face, "I'm suddenly looking forward to my wedding night!" The warrior laughed and kissed her love soundly. Gabrielle studied the two trees for a bit. "You know, Xena...those trees remind me of us. They're so different, yet they fit together perfectly."

Xena helped the bard get up and considered the oak and prune trees thoughtfully. Then she grinned down at her love, "Yeah, you're right, they do. After all, you are a fruit."

She got a slap on the butt for her efforts. "That just means you're a nut, my warrior." The two made their way back to the temple with happy hearts.

Fini


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