Characters and backstory from Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal/Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is an original (I hope) work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production. This piece of fiction is copyright of the author.
There are depictions of love/sex between consenting adult persons of the same gender. If this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or this isn't your preference, then stop reading here and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws.
Author's Note: The poem that I attribute to an anonymous author in this story is actually the lyrics (minus the chorus) from "Send Me A Lover" written by Rick Hahn and George Thatcher and sung by Taylor Dayne. I made the fortunate mistake of popping in the CD after I had watched Sacrifice, and this little piece flew onto the monitor faster than I could think.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com
Love's Sweet Face
Copyright May 26, 1998
Xena tried to ignore the hands that were pulling at her, urging her away from the fiery chasm into which Gabrielle had thrown herself, taking Hope with her. Her shock was a mixture of surprise of the bard's sacrifice and the fact that the small, unassuming woman had saved the world in one selfless move. She had to fight the urge to follow.
Through a haze of grief, she heard Joxer's soothing and comforting words as he pulled her to her feet. Without emotion, she scanned the room for those who would have witnessed Gabrielle's heroic actions. She wanted to shout, to scream, but the words were lost for any strength she might have put behind them. As lost as she was...without her bard.
She vaguely noted how Joxer stopped short of the temple entrance. But the familiar voice that ordered the clumsy warrior outside, forced Xena back to a harsh reality with an aching jolt.
"Xena...it's good to see that you survived...although, I knew you would. I never doubted it," Ares purred as he stepped around Joxer.
Xena's nostrils flared in challenge as she faced the betraying god. "Joxer, get Seraphin out of here. NOW!"
When the warrior had complied, Xena focused her total attention on the god. "What in Tartarus are you doing here," she growled as she found purchase on her sword hilt.
"You really don't know when the battle is over, do you," the god asked seductively as he ran a finger across Xena's cheek. He laughed evilly when the warrior jerked away from his touch. Ares shrugged and crossed his arms smugly. "You know, I didn't think she'd do that...I mean, I figured she'd just kill her daughter the usual way...you know...slice and dice, Warrior Princess style."
"Gabrielle wasn't like that," Xena snarled as she prepared herself for any battle that the war god was willing to give.
"It's a shame she's dead...really," he mused aloud. "I really don't know what got into that irritating little head of hers, to do something like that."
"You told her I would die if I killed Hope."
The God of War tugged on his short beard and narrowed his eyes. "Oh, I WAS telling the truth. You WERE going to die...even the Fates were cowed by the power of Dahok. I would have made sure that your thread was cut...I owed him that much. But don't worry...you still are going to die...some day," he drawled with a shrug. Then Ares' face lit in expectation. "Unless, of course, you want to join me...as a goddess."
"I thought you didn't like it when mortals became gods," the warrior reminded with a nod towards the goddess whose lifeless body was behind them, while her mind raged with the revelation of the god's deception.
Ares stepped closer so that he could feel the heat that always seemed to radiate from Xena. "Callisto was insane...not very good material to begin with." Running an appreciative gaze down brass armor and dark leather, the God of War sighed. "You, however, would make an incredible goddess."
Xena glared at him and snorted in derision. "You spent too much time with Callisto...her madness must have rubbed off somehow," she dared scornfully. "You must be crazy to think that I'll come back to you after you tricked my...best friend into sacrificing herself."
She turned her back to the god and conjured up soothing visions of her bard. "You better check your ambrosia," she advised as she began to walk away from Ares' dark presence. "I think you got a bad batch."
Ares' gritted his teeth in frustration. "You can't walk away from me, Xena. It just isn't that easy."
Spinning on her heel, the warrior confronted the god. "Yes, Ares, it is," she spat in suppressed fury. "You no longer have a hold over me," she swore vehemently.
The war god stepped forward, seething with menace. "You're wrong, Xena. You owe me everything. I own you!"
Xena stepped so close to Ares that they were nose to nose. "I owe you nothing...and you can't own something that is not even mine to give," she rasped.
"This is about that so-called bard, isn't it," he asked mockingly. The war god began to circle the warrior like a predator. "You can't be serious, Xena. What does she have that I, an Olympian god, do not?"
"My heart and soul," she replied with simple candor. "And now she's gone because of you...you selfish bastard."
Ares watched as Xena turned away from him and walked out of the temple. He admired the way that she still stood tall, her shoulders back, even though on the inside, he knew that she was dying. It had been a gamble...using the whole situation with Dahok and Hope to his advantage in trying to win the warrior back. But the God of War was anything but a quitter. He would be back. "I will have you, Xena," he promised softly as he vanished with a flash of smoke.
"Joxer, you go round up some firewood. Seraphin...Seraphin," Xena shouted to the young woman who was still in shock after her ordeal, "go refill our waterskins."
Knowing that the pair would do as she bid, the warrior walked calmly into the trees that surrounded their campsite. When she was sure that she was out of sight, she fled into the deep woods, trying to outrun the grief that was on the verge of consuming her. When she was far enough from camp, she fell to her knees and began to cry aloud. Her body shuddered with convulsive sobs as the numbness over Gabrielle's sacrifice began to fade. Not since Lyceus' death had she felt so empty.
When she realized that she would never again see her beloved Gabrielle, the woman who had devoted her life to walking a path of truth and justice, the woman she loved beyond all rational thought, Xena fell face-first into the leafy forest floor and began to rage. She dug her long fingers into the soft earth and cried forlornly for Gabrielle to return.
"Can't we do something?"
"I'm afraid not, Gabrielle. We must wait."
"But she's dying...I can feel it," the bard argued desperately. "Please?"
Artemis drew a thumb across her Chosen's brow and smiled. "I regret that it must be this way, little one, but we need to be sure that Dahok is truly gone from this plane of existence. You have been through too much because of that evil, and I will not let you be subjected to his horrors any more."
"But don't you know, I would gladly go through Tartarus for her, as many times as need be. I love her," she whispered.
The goddess sighed audibly when those three words prompted the entrance of another.
"Like, come on Arty. Look at the warrior babe. She's never been like this before...and it's really bumming me out...all those lost-love vibes."
"Aphrodite, it was agreed by all of us that their reunion had to wait until we were sure that it was safe," the huntress reminded her sister.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes and unconsciously adjusted her ample breasts. Planting her hands on her hips, she stuck out her chin. "Does it look like there's any demons around? Duh...like, let the little dudette go so that I can get grooving with their love thing."
"No," Artemis ground out between clenched teeth. "Why don't you go bother Hercules and Iolaus. I believe you were trying to...heat things up between them, weren't you?"
"Hmmf," the love goddess replied. "I'm just trying to prove that blondes do have more fun," she pouted as she dissolved into a shower of sparkles, knowing that she would get nowhere with her staid, virginal sister.
Gabrielle had been watching Xena quietly as Artemis and Aphrodite argued about their situation. Her own heart cried out for the warrior woman who had broken down. Seeing Xena's pain, Gabrielle was not sure that she had made the right decision after all. But, she had figured at the time, the world needed a great warrior more than a bard. And her love for the warrior had refused to let Xena die. Artemis had explained to her how the God of War had allied himself with Dahok in order to secure power and a position on Olympus for himself. With pride in her heart, Gabrielle remembered the huntress' words...of how Xena had defied god's demand that she return to him.
With a nod of self-confirmation, Gabrielle decided that she HAD done the right thing. Deceit or not, she had taken responsibility for her own mistakes and had finally ended her child's life on her own. Of course, at first, she had not counted on forfeiting hers when she had made the split-second decision to pull Hope into the chasm of lava. It had been an instinct, perhaps one that was foolhardy, considering the pain that Xena was going through now, but...it had been a solution. One that she had been glad to make at the time.
As she had been falling to her sure death, her last thought had been of Xena...how much she loved her. The sight of the warrior leaning over the edge of the chasm and screaming for her, had been burned into her soul. She had hoped that it would be enough to last her an eternity in the Elysian Fields, but she had not gone over to the other side...not really. How was she supposed to know that the gods had been looking out for them during the whole nightmare?
Artemis brought her back to the present with a light tap on her shoulder. "You wanted to see your warrior, and you have. We must get back to Olympus before Ares discovers that you are alive," she warned. "If Dahok is still here, my brother will stop at nothing to fulfill his desire for power. He will find a way to resurrect the evil, if at all possible."
Gabrielle nodded to the goddess, though her eyes remained fixed on Xena whose sobs had slowed and softened. "I'll be back," she whispered to the warrior as Artemis laid a hand upon her shoulder and spirited her away to Mt. Olympus.
When she could cry no more, Xena got to her knees and realized that she probably scared off all the game within a mile's radius, and it was too dark to fish. Drying her eyes on the backs of her hands, she retraced her steps to the camp. If they were lucky, the trail rations in Argo's saddle bags would not be petrified past the edible stage.
When she finally reached the perimeter, she slowed her breathing. More tears came unbidden as she listened to Joxer and Seraphin trade stories about the Gabrielle that each of them had known. How she wanted to storm into camp and tell them that the bard was neither an adventurous child, nor a clueless sidekick. Gabrielle had been a compassionate, loving, remarkable woman. Had been. Xena turned and walked silently back into the forest.
Finding a convenient stump, she sat heavily and allowed the tears to fall freely. She wanted to fall on her sword, to lose the pain. But knowing that Gabrielle would have frowned upon her lack of fortitude, Xena vowed to live, to carry the memories of the past three years within her heart. She would continue her search for atonement, if for only that some day, she would do enough to find a place beside the bard in the Elysian Fields. She had promised the bard that death would not separate them. She would carry her love within, until the time came that they would be reunited.
The next morning, Xena was wakened by the sound of clanking armor. She sat up casually, for she knew that it was only Joxer probably searching for her. Even without a mirror, she knew that she looked a mess. She could feel that her eyes were swollen from crying, and she was covered with dirt and forest debris. As the cacophony of noise began to fade, she called out, not wanting the inept warrior to get lost in the forest.
When Joxer finally found her, Xena was on her feet and plucking bits of leaves and branches from her tangled hair. "Um...Xena," he began, not sure how to approach the woman who had forgotten all pretense of stoicism the night before, "We still have to take Seraphin home."
Xena nodded absently as she began to dust off her leathers. "We'll have breakfast and then we'll be on our way," she replied tonelessly as she left Joxer behind to follow her back to camp.
Seraphin was asleep. Her fair skin was still mottled, as she too, had released her share of pain the night before. Without the shadows of the forest to conceal, Xena saw that Joxer's eyes were also red-rimmed and puffy. And we are only three, the warrior thought. She could not imagine how all the other people whose lives Gabrielle had touched, would react to her death. And her family...the warrior could feel the guilt weighing heavily upon her soul as she could already hear their accusing words. How could she make them see that the bard was a hero, that the once-naive Potedaian had sacrificed herself to save all of mankind?
And of course, she had to let the Amazons know. She would have a hard time convincing them that their Queen had sacrificed herself, instead of losing her life at the hand of an insane Warrior Princess. With a shudder, she remembered her last encounter with the Nation. Maybe she would take Joxer along to give his account. If she was lucky, she would make it out of Amazonia in one piece.
Sighing with the ramifications of notifying Gabrielle's two families, Xena strode with purpose to the river. Calling over her shoulder, she ordered Joxer to stir up the fire and wake Seraphin. When she reached the water's edge, she shed her armor, leathers and boots, and waded into the sluggish current. After she rinsed off the dirt and grime, she found a small eddy and waited patiently for a few curious fish to investigate her strange scent. There was no victory in her catch, nor an exasperated bard to throw them to, so she trudged back to the shore and dressed once more.
With a heavy tread, she returned to camp and methodically prepared the fish. She nearly broke down again when she realized that she would no longer enjoy the bard's fine cooking. There were so many things that she had appreciated, and yet, had never told Gabrielle. And now it was too late. "Watch those," she ordered curtly. "I'll be back."
Instead of finding solace in the forest once more, she escaped to the river where she found a flat rock upon which she sat. "Gabrielle, I know you can hear me," she began solemnly. "I just wanted to tell you that...that you meant so much to me. I never realized how much. Even in Thessaly, and when that poisoned arrow nearly took your life, I still had hope that you would live...that you would stay with me. But now...there's no way that I'll ever see you again...not for a while. So, I just wanted to let you know that you mean more to me than anything or anyone. You always will."
Xena looked up to watch the sun reflect off the ripples of water. "I miss your cooking already, Gabrielle, and I haven't even taken one bite of my own yet," she continued with a shake of her head. "I guess it can't hurt anything now to tell you...that I love you. I have since I first met you. You were a light for me, and in time, I was lost without you. I don't know how I'm going to go on without you, Gabrielle, but I will. I promise that I won't let you down...I won't fail you, my bard. I will carry you in my heart, and some day...I will join you. We will be together again."
Taking a breath, Xena realized that she felt much better after saying those thoughts out loud. She knew that she should have said them when the bard was around to enjoy them, but she had figured that there would be another time...a time when her courage would have helped her to admit her true feelings. Tossing a pebble into the water, Xena squinted at the sun that was already midway through the morning sky. "Well, I guess I better get going. Zeus only knows what Joxer's done with breakfast," she said with a chuckle. "But then again, he can't do any worse than I would have."
Gabrielle sat stunned in Artemis' realm, her eyes wide in disbelief as she had been watching Xena in one of the goddess' reflection pools. "So this is what it takes to get you to talk to me," she said with mild humor as she touched a finger to the warrior's image. "Oh, Xena...we wasted so much time."
"Hey, like cheer up, bard babe. You'll get your chance to tell her how you feel."
Cocking her head, Gabrielle turned to the Goddess of Love. "I wouldn't know how," she whispered. "I guess I make a pretty bad bard when it comes to telling Xena how I feel," she explained.
"Chill out, Gab. Look at it this way...while you're waiting for your ticket back home, you can sit here and think about how you'd tell your warrior babe that you have the major hots for her."
Gabrielle blushed crimson at the goddess' descriptive phrase. Sure, her body reacted sexually whenever she was close to Xena, but her feelings...the ones that kept her at the warrior's side for three years, were much more significant.
"Yadda, yadda, yadda," Aphrodite muttered as she read the bard's thoughts. "Think what you will about the love emotion thing, but trust me," she emphasized with a suggestive wink, "the sex is incredible, too."
Before the bard could respond, the goddess blew her a kiss and vanished. A moment later, Artemis appeared.
"Are you feeling any better now," the huntress asked with a gentle smile.
As Aphrodite's words were still tripping through her thoughts, the bard could only nod and return her gaze to the reflection pool.
"It shouldn't be much longer, little one. Hermes, as we speak, is searching the known world for any sign of Dahok or his priests."
Gabrielle nodded absently once more as she watched Xena, Joxer, and Seraphin start off for Potedaia. As usual, the warrior was astride Argo, occasionally scouting ahead for any trouble while Joxer and Seraphin kept each other company. She was so preoccupied that she missed the goddess leaving her alone.
Just looking at Xena, so strong and confident, caused a warm tingling to begin in the bard's chest. When she thought that her heart would explode from the sensation, it traveled lower. "'Having the hots' is definitely a descriptive term," she said aloud, to the mirth of the love goddess who was still within hearing range.
The day progressed without any incident, as people were staying close to home after the terror Dahok's priests had wreaked upon the surrounding villages. When the evening descended, Xena found a suitable spot for laying out their camp and directed her two traveling companions to their duties as she lost herself in the forest for the second night in a row. Before she stopped to mourn, however, she laid several snares so that they might have something to eat before sleep claimed them.
Finding a spot where she could see the stars overhead, Xena sat back against a fallen log and watched as the constellations were revealed. "I still miss you, Gabrielle. I probably always will until I'm with you again. I've known a lot of people in my life, but none of them ever affected me like you did. You gave me so much, and I returned so little."
Xena's hands reached absently for a strip on leather on her skirt. She continued her conversation as she began to play with it. "I thought that what had happened in Britannia was the worst thing that could ever happen to us, but then...you followed me to Chin. And then there was Hope and Solan, and what I did to you, tried to do to you.... When I thought that nothing worse could happen to us, to you, something else happened to prove me wrong."
Tears began to fall as Xena recalled all of the tortures of the past year. "I'm so sorry, Gabrielle," she rasped. "I should never have let Ares goad me into trying to kill you. I was weak and foolish. I let my darkness consume my love for you, and I hurt you. I want you to know that what you did in Chin didn't even come close to what I did to you. I hope you are free of your guilt, Gabrielle. I couldn't stand the pain that you were putting yourself through...even after what I did to you."
Wiping her eyes and taking a deep breath, Xena sighed. "I don't know why you stayed with me, Gabrielle. But then again, you are the one who taught me how to forgive. You are such a special person. I hope that you are with loved ones now, that you are happy. I'm afraid that you are going to have to wait a while for me...if I have anything to say about it. I want to make sure that I live long enough to make up for my past. I want to make sure that when I cross over, I end up with you, my bard. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
When the sounds of a rabbit being caught reached the warrior's ears, Xena stood and dusted off her seat. "Well, I better get going. Those two will starve if I don't get something for them," she joked. "I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered as she left the small clearing to find the rabbit that had been snared.
Gabrielle started at the gentle touch at her elbow. Turning, she saw that Artemis had seated herself on the stone edge of the pool. Clearing her throat, the goddess smiled. "I wanted you to know that when you return, and you and your warrior find the truths within your hearts...you have my blessing, Chosen One. Xena has remained true to her promise. Even as she feels the rage, her love for you overshadows it, even though she believes that you will no longer be with her."
"But what she did to Ephiny...to your Amazons," Gabrielle stuttered.
Artemis stilled the bard's words with a motion of her hand. "Xena is not the only who has learned from you, little one." With that confession, the goddess disappeared once more.
Blessed by the gods.... When she and Xena had finally become comfortable with one another, that's how she had felt. She could not believe her fortune then. She was living the life she had envisioned in the grandiose dreams of a little girl. She was traveling, honing her skills as a bard, and she had found love with a courageous warrior. It had been exciting and more incredible than the most vivid of fantasies. And now, here she was...in the home of the gods on Mt. Olympus. "Who would have thought," she said to herself, wishing that she had her scrolls so that she could record the events of the past few days.
Xena gave Joxer a gentle nudge so that he rolled onto his side. Snoring she could deal with, especially after three years of sleeping near Gabrielle. But his was much more nasal and deeper, not at all like the gentle sounds that usually lulled her into Morpheus' arms. She was about to rise to her feet to make another check of the perimeter, when she spied Gabrielle's scroll case next to her saddlebags. Without a second thought, Xena leaned over and snagged the bag with a long arm, pulling it onto her lap.
She cried and laughed alternately as she read the familiar handwriting in several scrolls. The bard had managed to capture their adventure with the Mystic Diamond with such humor, despite having been obsessed through it all. Casting a glance skyward, she found the North Star and thought of the radiant beauty that had often entranced her. "Gabrielle," she whispered as she wiped a tear from her cheek.
When she finally opened the last scroll, Xena was surprised to find an unsigned poem. The bard must have bought it at some time during their travels, for it was in a strange hand and dialect. The words, however, were poignant, and spoke louder than any the bard had ever said:
I wasn't searching
To end this hurting
But out of nowhere you made me feel
I cried about it
I lied about it
I tried to doubt this could be real
You've touch me far too much
I'm letting go of all the pain
I'm into you in every way
It still astounds me
The way you found me
It's almost too good to be true
From our first meeting
I've had the feeling
The rest of my life I'd spend with you
Now I just can't turn my back
On everything I heard you say
I'm into you in every way
I thought that love was only a word I'd never feel
All the passion I hold inside is simply just a dream
'Cause out of your heart you gave to me
I know its real
Because I've fallen so in love with you
And at the bottom in the bard's hand:
If you are reading this, then I finally found the courage to give it to you. I bought it in Athens when I was away at the Academy. I don't know why I purchased it at the time...I guess I was in a romantic mood, or maybe it was on prophetic impulse.
I was going to give it to Perdicus, but I realized afterwards that this wasn't how I felt about him...it is how I feel about you. It took me two years to figure it out, but I love you, Xena, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
Xena read through the poem once more and then hugged the scroll to her chest. Gabrielle had been carrying it around for over a year. Courage...the bard had found her courage, but it hadn't involved a simple love poem. "Oh, Gabrielle, I love you, too," the warrior vowed as she fell asleep, the scroll still clutched against her heart.
The goddess shimmered into view when the bard called for her. "Yes, Gabrielle?"
"How much longer?"
The goddess could feel the impatience that was making the bard fidgety. "Not much longer, little one. Hermes has returned, and his report is favorable. Zeus just wants to make sure," she stated.
Gabrielle began to pace, anticipating her return to the mortal realm and the warrior who held her heart. She longed for the smell of leather and the feel of the warrior's arms around her in sleep.
Chuckling, Artemis laid her hands upon the bard's shoulders. "Please, Gabrielle, you are making me dizzy."
The bard blushed at the huntress' gentle reprimand and returned to her usual seat next to the reflection pool. The waiting was beginning to drive her a bit crazy.
Artemis shook her head. "The first word I hear from Zeus, little one, I will take you back to her."
"Thank you, goddess," the bard whispered, raising her head to convey her gratitude.
Nodding, Artemis bowed her head in farewell. "As soon as I hear from Zeus, I'll be back to get you."
Gabrielle sighed and returned to her observations.
Xena rode ahead to scout the road, but as it had been the past two days, things were unusually quiet. She supposed that it would take a while before people forgot that they had barely escaped death at the hands of an evil god. Pulling Argo to a halt, she reined the mare to circle around so that she could watch Joxer and Seraphin make their way to her.
They could have made the rest of the trip to Potedaia this day, but she was moving slower and taking more breaks than was necessary. If the delaying tactic was noticed by the other two, neither mentioned it. It was if a pall had settled over them, slowing their steps and dissolving their cares. Knowing that they were not going to get much farther today, Xena began searching for an appropriate campsite.
By the time that Joxer and Seraphin caught up to her, she had a fire already started and had refilled the skins. Once she was sure that they were settled, the warrior left to find dinner. As she had the past two nights, she talked to Gabrielle as she laid her snares and waited for some unfortunate animal to entrap itself. The conversation was a short one, for this section of forest was teeming with wildlife, and two rabbits were cleaned quickly.
Joxer, who had assumed cooking duties, accepted the contribution with a hint of a nod and a quick word of thanks. "I'll call you when it's finished," he said before Xena even had the chance to disappear once more into the trees.
Finding a small hill, the warrior watched as the sun fell below the horizon, lighting it in hues of golden reds and oranges. The effect was startling against the fluffy clouds that were laying low in the far sky. "Oh, Gabrielle, it's so beautiful. I wish you were here so that I could hear you go on about it. I miss your voice. I never realized how much until I read your scrolls last night. I loved the poem, by the way. Thank you for saving it for me."
"You know, I can't believe that we felt the same feelings for each other...all that time, we could have been...and now, it's too late."
"It's never too late, Xena."
"Gods, it's almost like I can hear you, now. I'm missing you so much," the warrior whispered.
"Xena, I'm right here," Gabrielle called.
Spinning on her knees, the warrior found the voice that was not in her imagination as she had thought. "Gabrielle?" She stood shakily to her feet and reached out a tentative hand. The bard was bathed in the fading light of the setting sun, giving her an ethereal appearance. She watched in awe as Gabrielle reached out to touch her. When the apparition proved to be flesh and blood, she broke down in disbelief. "How...?"
"Artemis protected me. I wanted to come back right away, but the gods wanted to make sure that it was safe," she explained.
"Oh, gods, thank you," Xena cried as she pulled Gabrielle into a bone-crushing embrace. "I'm never letting you go. Not anymore."
The bard gasped for breath. Although she truly appreciated the enthusiasm that greeted her return, she really could do without the strength behind it. "Uh...Xena...you trying to send me back, or what," she grunted as the air was forced from her lungs again. "You know, you keep up with this, and you'll have to do that mouth to mouth thing again."
Xena pulled back when she realized that the bard really was suffering. "Geez, Gabrielle, I'm sorry...I didn't mean.... Mouth to mouth, huh?"
Gabrielle nodded as she stepped into arms more gentle. "Definitely, right now," she growled before she met the warrior halfway. A few moments later, she was gasping for air again. "And here, I thought that would help," she remarked as she took a deep breath.
When she went to embrace the warrior again, Xena stopped her. "Wait," she asked as she turned and embraced the bard from behind. "Please tell me what you think about that," she requested, pointing to the sunset.
Squeezing the arms that held her firmly, Gabrielle grinned.
"Soft, golden glow bathe love's sweet face.
Should ever I not see it again,
From her lips I would taste
Her words of passion.
Her arms' embrace
To carry me beyond
To that dream-filled place
In the glow of love's sweet face."
Joxer stood still as a statue, stupefied by the sight of the dead bard reciting poetry to the warrior who held her gently. When the ghost turned in the warrior's arms and claimed her lips in a passionate declaration of love, he nearly passed out from shock. Rubbing his eyes vigorously, he stumbled when the vision did not clear.
The sudden movement alerted the couple who had until then, been lost in themselves. Stepping apart and ready to fight, the couple saw the dumbfounded man immediately.
"Joxer," Gabrielle called as she pulled him into a friendly hug. "I never thought I'd be glad to see you," she joked.
"Gabby," he stuttered. "You're alive!" He was about to pull the bard into a more vigorous embrace, but Xena's hand on his chest stopped him short.
"She's mine now, Joxer."
The clueless one blinked his eyes in slow comprehension. When he finally recognized the possessive tone of the warrior's voice, his shoulders slumped slightly. His relief at seeing Gabrielle alive, however, was undaunted. "So, what happened, Gabby? How'd you get out of that pit?"
Gabrielle shared her unbelievable tale as Xena guided her back to their camp. She leaned into the warrior's body as a long arm snaked out to wrap around her waist. Her body reacted more strongly than it had in the past, but then, this was no casual contact. Their embrace was that of two lovers who were reunited after a long separation.
Xena allowed Joxer and Gabrielle to calm a hysterical Seraphin upon their return to camp, but she hovered close to the woman she swore silently to never let out of her sight again. Together, the four of them consumed the two rabbits for dinner as the bard repeated her tale, adding more detail than she had in the first telling.
After dinner was finished, Xena moved their bedroll out of the circle of firelight so that she and Gabrielle might have some modicum of privacy. Long after their two companions fell to sleep, they remained awake, sharing words of love and promises for the future.
Gabrielle had to stifle her laughter when she told Xena that they would have to make weekly offerings to Artemis for her help in the matter. But the warrior told her in concise words that she would do so every hour just to show how grateful she was to have her heart and soul returned.
That conviction, spoken so firm and sure, made the bard's heart ache with love.
Unseen by all, two goddesses were arguing between themselves.
"It's crude, that's why," Artemis retorted calmly.
"Love is never crude," Aphrodite replied with a pout.
"'The hots?'" Artemis fumed. "You told my Chosen, the Queen of the Amazons, that she had the hots for Xena?"
Aphrodite shrugged as she spied Joxer and Seraphin across the fire with a gleam of speculation in her eyes. "As the bard said, it's a descriptive term."
The banter faded slowly as the goddesses disappeared in a display of sparkles.
"The hots, huh?"
"Hmmm," Gabrielle replied as she suckled on Xena's neck.
"I thought I was just horny," the warrior groaned as Gabrielle's wandering hand found something to squeeze.
"Gabrielle, love...we can't do this now," she hissed, knowing that there were others right across the fire and fighting the pleasure that was coursing through her flushed body. "We have the rest of our lives," she added.
Gabrielle abandoned her pursuit as she pulled from the warrior's embrace and sat. "Okay, here's the deal. By mid-morning, we'll be in Potedaia. Drop Seraphin off, drop in to say hello to my folks, lose Joxer somewhere along the way, and then we find somewhere nice and secluded to finish this. All right?"
Xena nodded her agreement before pulling the bard to her once again. "I know just the place," she sighed as Gabrielle wrapped an arm and leg over her body.
"Uh, huh. There's this clearing, just outside of the village...."
"You're such a romantic, Xena."
"Yeah, yeah. Just don't tell anyone," Xena demanded with a chuckle as she nuzzled her lover's hair. "Don't want my reputation spoiled, you know."
"Never," Gabrielle promised through a yawn.
Within moments, both had fallen into a deep sleep, comforted by each other's presence and love. Up on Olympus, a meeting was called by Zeus to determine a course of punishment for the god who had betrayed them all.
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