The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as various parts of the back-story, are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended. This story is not for profit and may not be copied without the authors permission.
This story revolves around the developing relationship of two women who are in love. Love is a precious thing and hard to find, so it should be celebrated as the miracle that it is. If women in love with one another offend you, please go elsewhere.
There is really no violence in this part, but I warn you, its going to make Wishes look like childs play when its all said and done. This is not going to be a nice story for Xena, Gabrielle, and hundreds of stand-ins. Hence the name. Youve been forewarned.
This is a continuation of If Wishes Were Horses, my first attempt. The story picks up where the last one left off. Thanks for waiting!
The first part is a re-introduction of characters, and a way to tie up some loose endsi.e. Autolycus and his family. We are exploring the new found relationship between Xena and Gabby, and expanding it a bit in this segment. The plot will really start rolling in part 2, so be patient.
Please tell me what you think! All of you! I love it when you feed the bard.
Special thanks to Norma and Sue, and happy 8th anniversary. Now thats LOVE.
Darkening of the Light
Wherever You Go, There You Are
The small group of travelers walked through Amphipolis, drawing stares and amazed murmurs. One or two women screamed and ran into their homes. All had seen the body of Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess, and yet she was walking through the town as casually as if shed just been away for the day.
Giving the horses to Ulric and Alea to be stabled, Xena paused at the door to her mothers inn, steeling herself for what was sure to be an emotional scene. Gabrielle lay a comforting hand on her arm, and she graced the bard with a tremulous smile. She tented her fingers on the door and gave it a gentle push. Bells tinkled as the door swung in.
The bar was empty; the crowd would start filtering in after another candlemark or so. The inn was impeccably clean as usual. Tempting smells wafted from the kitchen, and Xena grinned as Gabrielles stomach growled loudly. Smells like chicken.
Cyrene backed through the kitchen door, her arms laden with a tray of clean mugs. "Ill be with you in just a second," she said, without looking up, and placed the burden on the bar.
Xena felt her eyes filling with tears at the sight of her mother. Her hair had turned a bit more towards gray, and she had grown a bit more matronly. The way she held herself, though, was unmistakable, and the resemblance between Xena and Cyrene was clear. "Mom?"
Cyrene paused in the act of stacking mugs on the counter. Her back stiffened slightly, and Xena was inexplicably reminded of the first time she had returned home. She almost expected to see revulsion on her mothers face, and braced herself for it. It felt, for just a moment, like time had never passed.
Ever so slowly, Cyrene turned towards her daughters voice, but instead of hatred, there was wild hope shining in her eyes. "Xena?" Cyrenes eyes rested on her daughter, and at the bard standing at her side. Eyes the identical shade of blue met and locked, and in the next moment, Cyrene was running to embrace her much taller offspring.
Xena caught her mother and enfolded her in a hug, enduring the kisses that the usually unaffectionate woman bestowed on her cheeks. "Oh, Xena, we thought you were dead! Gabrielle brought your ashes back and and ." The words trailed off into a sob as Cyrene ran her hands over Xenas face, as if assuring herself that the vision in front of her was real. Her finger lightly traced a faint bruise, earned in the recent battle.
"Im all right, Momma," Xena said, reverting unconsciously to the word she used as a child. She tenderly brushed the tears from her mothers cheeks with her thumb. "Gabrielle and I were both lied to we both thought the other was dead." Her face took on a harder cast. "Ares tried to make me come back."
Cyrene didnt need to ask. "He failed."
Xena nodded. She exchanged a loving look with Gabrielle that didnt go unnoticed.
Cyrene beamed. "And you two are together. It took you both long enough to figure out that you were in love with each other. You must be starving. Ill be right back."
Gabrielle turned blood red and Xena stared at her mother, mouth agape. Cyrene waved her hand dismissively and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the two women to deal with the shock. Xena wrapped an arm around her bard and sighed. "I guess I dont have to worry about telling Mom about us, then." She sounded almost disappointed.
Gabrielle buried her head in Xenas shoulder to stifle her laughter.
Cyrene returned with two large bowls of stew, Alea and Ulric trailing behind with a bowl of their own. "These two said they belong to you, Xena. What does that mean?"
"I rescued them from Eastern slavers," Xena explained, relieving her mother of her burden and setting the bowls on a table near the fire. "I thought that they would have a better chance to start a new life here than in Chin." She accepted two mugs of ale, watching as Cyrene fussed over Ulric, lifting him to a stool near the bar. An idea blossomed. "Mom, do you have a stable hand?"
"Oh, no. Most of the boys around here have other responsibilities, and the position doesnt pay as well as others." Cyrene tucked a napkin into the childs shirt, and sat a mug of juice in front of him. Ulric gazed up at her with worshipful eyes.
A smile played around Gabrielles lips. She had figured out what Xena was up to.
"Ulric is awfully good with horses, Mom and I think Alea would make a great barmaid." She nodded towards the redhead, who looked up at the mention of her name. She gave Xena a shy smile.
The light of understanding shone in Cyrenes eyes as she looked the two youngsters over. "Well ." She made a show of hesitating. "Sure. I can use some help. Is that all right with you two?"
Ulrics eyes shone with happiness, and he nodded enthusiastically. Alea gave Cyrene a dazzling smile that turned her pretty features into something quite beautiful. "Thank you, lady," she whispered.
Cyrene turned to the warrior princess and her bard. "And you two will you stay for a while?" Her voice held a bit of a plea as she gazed hopefully at the women.
Xena turned her head to look into Gabrielles eyes, losing herself for a moment in the love she saw there. She gave Gabrielle a slow smile. "I dont see why not."
Gabrielle returned the smile with a brilliant one of her own, and almost knocked the breath from Xenas body. Gods, shes beautiful. And shes with me. Xenas smile got a little cockier. Her mother was talking to her and it took every bit of concentration she had to drag her eyes away from Gabrielle.
"Autolycus and Illyria will be thrilled did you ever find the stone?" Cyrene brought a bowl and mug for herself and sat next to her daughter. Every now and again, Cyrene would reach out and touch Xena, as if to make sure she was really there.
"Yes," Xena replied through a mouthful of stew. "It should be back at Ephadon by now. Maybe well take a trip down there and check it out."
Gabrielle felt a shadow slip over her heart, but was silent. "Sure." She shoved another spoonful of the delicious stew into her mouth and tried to force away the feeling of foreboding. "Autolycus is still here?"
"They liked the area so much they decided to settle here. They were afraid to go home, anyway, until things were resolved. Speaking of which ." Cyrene grinned as the door opened and a rambunctious toddler came charging into the inn, followed by her frantic mommas calls.
The little girl came to a screeching halt when she saw Xena. Xena raised an eyebrow at the little girl, and the child mimicked her. Gabrielle laughed.
"She does that almost as well as you do, Xena."
Illyria came running through the door of the inn, only to stop and stare at the small group. "Xena? Gabrielle?" The shock was quite apparent. She shook her head. "I heard you could come back from the dead, but ." Tears filled the womans eyes, and she sought to brush them away. "Oh, wow. Tolly is going to faint."
"Mama?" The little girl asked, toddling over to take Illyrias hand.
"Oh, my this is going to get confusing." Cyrene motioned to the little girl, bringing her closer. "Xena, this is Xena."
Xena looked awestruck, and the child looked solemnly at her. She raised her pudgy little arms in a silent plea to lifted into Xenas lap. Xena complied, albeit a bit nervously, and the little girl began playing with her armor, babbling what was mostly baby nonsense.
Gabrielle smiled at the warrior in reassurance. Xena stroked the little girls red curls hesitantly and then gave Illyria a wondering look. "Thanks Im really honored."
Illyria took her hand and squeezed it. "You saved my life, and when we thought you were gone we wanted to keep your memory alive. We call her Xe, mostly, because its easier for her to say. I dont think therell be much conflict."
Xe began humming to herself as she inspected the warriors breastplate. "Pretty," she said finally, giving her new friend a pat on the cheek.
Xena laughed, startled. "Me or the armor, squirt?"
Xe contemplated that, her little forehead creased and her bright blue eyes serious. "Me," she sighed with assurance, then snuggled into the crook of Xenas arm.
The adults shared grins, and Xena colored slightly. She noticed Gabrielles wistful expression, and made a mental note to ask her about it when they were alone.
Illyria remarked, "Ive never seen her warm to anyone so quickly. Would you like me to take her now?"
Xena looked down at the sleepy little girl in her arms, and felt a little bit of yearning spark within her. I never got to hold Solon at this age. "No Id like to hold her for a while, if thats okay."
Gabrielle gave Xena a knowing look, one that was sympathetic. Xena knew that if anyone knew how she felt, it would be her partner. Her eyes gave Gabrielle a warm caress, that said I love you without a single sound.
If Illyria was surprised, she didnt let it show. She slumped into the chair next to Gabrielle, and rubbed at her eyes. "Are you kidding? You can baby-sit whenever you want. Autolycus and I havent been alone for months."
"Wed like to take care of her for you sometime," Gabrielle volunteered. Xenas eyes met hers, and she saw the humor there.
Illyria perked up. "Whenever youre ready, shes yours."
"Illy, I Xena?" Autolycus voice ended on a hysterically shrill note, and he dropped the load of firewood hed been carrying. He stared at Xena holding his daughter, shook his head, and looked again. "Thank the Gods Xena, I thought I had killed you."
Without thinking, Autolycus embraced Xena. Gabrielle held her breath, expecting Xena to stiffen and throw Autolycus across the room. More amazingly, Xena embraced Autolycus back.
"Hey Itd take more than you to kill me. Remember that." Xena gave him a hefty pat on the back, then said, "You have a beautiful little girl, my friend."
Autolycus self-consciously wiped a tear from his eye. "Yeah. If it hadnt been for you, shed never have been born."
Xena opened her mouth to dispute that, then shrugged. Xe was snoring softly, unconcerned that the woman holding her had once been known as the Destroyer of Nations. "She was well worth any sacrifice, Auto. I dont have to tell you that, do I?" Xena took the ex-thiefs hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Autolycus and Illyria exchanged warm glances, and Auto pulled up another chair. "I think you have a story to tell, Gabrielle, and I know that wed all like to hear it."
There were murmurs of agreement all around. Gabrielle glanced at Xena, who gave her a nod of encouragement. With a sigh, she began tell the story of the long journey she and Xena had taken.
Xena and Gabrielle climbed the narrow stairs slowly to their room, glad that for a while, all the questions had been laid to rest. It had been nice to be surrounded by family and friends, but both bard and warrior were desperately in need of some time alone after all that had happened.
Xena opened the door first, as was her habit, and was surprised to find a steaming tub already prepared for them. Gabrielle moved to her side and wrapped an arm around her partners waist. "Long day," she commented, stifling a yawn.
Xena turned slightly and buried her nose in the bright hair of her love. "Yep."
Gabrielle leaned into the gesture, enjoying the closeness, and was rewarded with a feather-light kiss on the lips. "Mmm."
"Hows your leg, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, moving away long enough to remove her armor.
Gabrielle had put up with the dull throbbing most of the evening, and as a reward, was in quite a bit of agony now. "It hurts." She paused. "A lot."
Xena turned concerned blue eyes to Gabrielle. "You want me to help?"
Xena went rummaging through her bags for clean linen and herbs, as Gabrielle slid her breeches off and sat on the side of the bed. She winced as the effort pulled at her stitches. Xena watched quietly as Gabrielle undressed, then helped her slide into the bathtub. A small hiss escaped Gabrielles lips as she settled into the water.
Xena had been preoccupied with scrubbing the bards back, and didnt bother to look up. "Hmm?"
Gabrielle shifted a little, covering Xenas soapy hand with her wet one. She gazed up at the warrior with a worried look. "Are you all right?"
Xena shrugged and poured water over Gabrielles back. "I guess." She began lathering the bards hair gently, then rinsed it with a bucket of warm water. Handing her partner the soap, Xena moved to undress herself.
Gabrielle debated leaving Xena alone for now, but something about the warriors expression deeply troubled her. She finished washing and carefully pulled herself up out of the bath, clenching her teeth over the pain.
Xena was by her side immediately, strong arms holding the bard close as she lifted her out of the water. She sat Gabrielle on her feet and gently dried her, then helped her to the bed. "Lay here until Im done." She glanced at Gabrielle, then amended, "Please?"
Gabrielle nodded mutely, and proceeded to rummage through her pack. She found one of Xenas old tunics and slipped it over her head. Smoothing it down over her thighs, she glanced up to see Xena watching her.
With a sheepish smile, she said, "It smells like you."
Xena grinned. "Its okay."
"Xena, do you want to talk about it?"
Xena contemplated her battle-scarred knees rising out of the bath water, wondering what she should say. The truth, Xena. Always the truth.
She sighed, and looked at Gabrielle. "I just miss Solon really bad sometimes, you know."
Gabrielle nodded quietly, feeling a familiar pang of guilt. "Yeah." She played with the hem of the shirt.
Xena smiled at Gabrielle sadly. "I know you miss Hope."
"I miss what I thought she could have been under another set of circumstances, Xena." Gabrielle raised clear green eyes to meet Xenas troubled ones. "I wish she had been able to overcome that bad part of her, but I dont know if it was possible."
Xena flicked long fingers through the tepid bath water. "Do you want to have kids, Gabrielle?"
"Only if theyre yours."
Xenas lips quirked. "Thats a sweet thing to say, but I dont think its possible." She lathered up quickly and washed off, shaking the moisture from her body like a wet dog. She slipped into a clean shift and knelt beside Gabrielle to examine her thigh. "Ouch," she said softly.
Gabrielle grinned. "Tell me about it."
"One of us is cut, the other one bleeds. Isnt that how it works?" Xena gently smeared a salve on the evil looking wound.
Gabrielle laid a hand on Xenas head and stroked her hair away from her face. "Thats how it is, Xena. Remember that."
Blue eyes twinkled up at her. "I could never forget, love."
Love. Wow. Gabrielle leaned forward and gave her a kiss. It deepened from a show of affection to a ravenous kiss.
Xena sighed and pulled back very reluctantly. "Let me finish this now, or Ill forget what I was doing. Youll be half bandaged."
Gabrielle laid back with a grin, accepting the ministrations of the warrior silently. She closed her eyes, the gentle touch of her lover soothing her inflamed skin.
Xena finished her work, eager for a little loving, then noticed that the bard had fallen fast asleep. She shook her head and covered Gabrielle with a blanket. Oh, well. Weve got plenty of time to continue that.
A soft knock sounded, rousing Xena from her reverie. She listened for a moment, identifying the footsteps, then muttered, "Yes, Autolycus?"
"Xena, I need to talk to you." His voice was urgent.
Xena mentally groaned, and looked longingly toward the bed containing her mate. She sighed. "Ill meet you in the stable in a few minutes." Might as well check on the horses.
She found a clean tunic and breeches and slipped them on, then walked over to the bed. She couldnt help but notice the dark circles under Gabrielles eyes, and felt deep remorse. With gentle fingers, she smoothed the bards hair back away from her face. "Ill be right back," she whispered.
Gabrielle grunted something and rolled over, bringing a smile to the warriors lips. She walked out into the hall, shutting the door softly behind her, and made her way down the narrow back stairs to the stables.
Autolycus was waiting patiently, having an in-depth discussion about fruit with Argo. Argo seemed interested, snorting enthusiastically as Autolycus offered her an apple from his pocket.
"Trying to bribe my horse with treats, Auto?"
"Nah, just renewing our acquaintance." Autolycus wore a genuine smile. "Gods, its good to see you, Xena."
Xena leaned against the paddock and gave Storm a scratch, laughing a little as the horse sighed in pleasure. "Its good to be back," she murmured, giving Autolycus a look of affection. "Now, what can I do for you?"
The ex-thief winced a little. "Well I wanted to say Im sorry, first of all."
"Apology accepted, although it wasnt your fault."
"The other thing is this." He held out a scroll. Xenas name was clearly written upon the smooth parchment near the wax seal. "This was the reason I was coming to the inn I didnt know whether Cyrene would want it or not. I received it this morning, but I didnt want to say anything in front of Gabby. I didnt know if it was important."
Xena accepted the scroll and looked at the wax seal curiously. It wasnt a familiar crest. She ran her finger carefully beneath the seal to break the wax, then unrolled the scroll and scanned the contents quickly. A strange look flitted across her features, and she re-read the words. Soundlessly, she handed the scroll to Autolycus. It read:
I hope this finds you well and back in Amphipolis, for that is where I have sent this message.
Leaving Chin six months ago, I would have never thought that anything this horrible would happen to me. I disobeyed your instructions, and I handled the cursed stone.
I will not entertain you with descriptions of my worst fear, other than to say that the curse delivers all it promises to its unlucky recipient. I am now free, for the stone has been stolen from me, but I intend to end my life after assuring that this scroll is on its way to you. I have wreaked such havoc I no longer want to live.
I know retrieving the stone is of utmost importance to you so that you may clear your friend. Delios has the stone, and is using it as a weapon, forcing his enemies to touch it so that they succumb to their worst fears. I have seen the horrors myself, Xena. One man was immolated his fear was of fire. It is horrendous what this gem will do to a man.
I am honored having known you, Warrior Princess. Think kindly of this old man.
Autolycus had grown pale. "The curse is real?"
"Apparently." Xena laid her head against Storm, trying not to think of Marupis death. She took the scroll back from Autolycus and stuffed it into the deep pocket of her breeches. "Did you touch it?"
"No but I thought about it. After the episode with Hercules, I figured Id err on the side of caution."
Xena gave him a wry smile. "Good call this time."
"Yeah." He ran his hand through his hair. "Now what? What are we going to do?"
"We," Xena said, "are going to do nothing. Gabrielle and I will rest up for a day or so and then try to find Delios."
"Hush, Auto. You have a family to think about now."
Autolycus nodded solemnly. "I feel responsible."
"Dont. If it wasnt you who stole the gem, itd be someone else instead. Too irresistible to be left alone." She arched her back into a feline stretch and felt all the bones pop into place. "Im going to bed."
Autolycus nodded. "All right. See you in the morning." He paused. "Im glad you and Gabrielle are together. Thats how it should be."
Xena gave him a small nod, and watched as he made his way toward the small cabin he and his family shared. She gave the horses one last rub and headed upstairs.
Gabrielle was still fast asleep, curled up on her side, and Xena slid into bed next to her warmth with a sigh. The sleeping bard rolled over and wrapped herself around Xena like an octopus.
With a gentle smile, Xena settled Gabrielle more comfortably and closed her eyes.
Gabrielle awoke to the sound of snoring. Loud snoring.
Raising her head from Xenas shoulder, her eyes widened in amazement. Never has Xena slept longer then me. Ever. Ever so gently she maneuvered her way out of Xenas arms, then attempted to climb out of bed.
A strong arm looped around the bards waist, pulling her back onto the bed with a loud oof. Resignedly, she muttered, "I thought you were asleep."
Xena yawned. "I was. You woke me up."
"Oh." Xenas fingers were tracing a lazy circle on Gabrielles stomach, and she was finding it difficult to concentrate. "You overslept," she observed.
"Mmm. I was up late, talking to Autolycus." Xena frowned, thinking of the task ahead of them.
Gabrielle saw the concerned look on the warriors face. "Whats happened?"
Xena released her reluctantly and motioned to the scroll on the table. "Read that."
Gabrielle rose and limped stiffly over to the table. She pulled up a chair and sat down, stretching her sore leg out in front of her. She read it once, then re-read it again. "When do you want to leave?"
Xena was dressed and lacing her boots. Gods, Gabrielle thought, she moves so fast. I had forgotten .
Xena gave her an unhappy look. "I was thinking ."
Gabrielle struggled to her feet. "No," she said adamantly. "Youre not leaving me here. After everything weve been through, I cant believe youd even think it."
Xena saw the tears swimming in the bards eyes and felt horrible. "Im sorry of course youre coming I just dont want you to get hurt."
"Xena I theres something you need to know." Gabrielle wiped at her face, and gave Xena a determined look.
Xenas brow creased. "What?"
"Ive changed a lot in a year, Xena. In a lot of ways, but right before the battle with Mah Su, Artemis gave me the ability to fight with chobos."
Xena nodded. "I saw you with them, Gabrielle, remember?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, I dont think you understand, Xena. You saw me carrying them, you didnt see me fight." She took a deep breath. "Im very lethal with them." She sorted through her saddlebag and drew them out, then handed them to Xena. She had discovered after the battle that the blades on the chobos were retractable, a neat little bit of engineering on the part of Artemis. Now, she pulled the cord at the base of the fighting sticks so that the metal protruded menacingly. Xenas eyes widened in feral appreciation.
"Nice," she murmured, taking the chobos from Gabrielles hands. Xena looked at the craftsmanship of the weapons, and their heaviness. "Will you spar with me with these?"
Gabrielle looked a little uneasy. "If you want," she conceded. "I dont want to accidentally hurt you."
Xena was about to laugh until she saw the seriousness on Gabrielles face. So she thinks shes better than I am? Well see. The competitive nature of the warrior surfaced. A cocky little grin tugged at her lips. "I dont think youll hurt me." She looked at the bottom of a chobo and nodded her head as she figured out the mechanism that made the blades retract into the wood. They went home with a soft click.
Gabrielle bristled a little bit at Xenas confidence, but tried to remember that Xena was used to being the best. Still, showing her up wouldnt hurt, especially if it meant that perhaps Xena would relax a little and not worry so much about her. "How about after breakfast?"
"Sure." Xena bent and planted a firm kiss on Gabrielles lips. "Is it all right if we leave tomorrow morning?" She handed the chobos back to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sighed regretfully, placing her weapons on the bed. "Yes, thats fine. Do you want me to tell your mom?"
Xena winced. "Yeah please?"
"Sure, Xena, Chicken Princess." Gabrielle quipped, and Xena gave her a dirty look. Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle found a clean tunic and breeches and got dressed.
Xena gave Gabrielle another lingering kiss, eliciting a sigh from the bard, then left her partner to her morning ritual.
She went down the back stairs to the stable and saddled Argo. "Its time to find out whats going on," Xena muttered, and Argo whickered in agreement.
Xena dismounted in front of Artemis temple, looping the reins over a laurel branch. Without hesitation, she walked up the steps, roughly shoving the priestesses aside when they tried to stop her.
"Let her come," Artemis mild voice commanded. The vigilant priestesses left the room, but not before giving Xena an evil look. Xena grinned, and they scattered.
Artemis gave a husky laugh. "You should have been a goddess in your own right."
Xena snorted, leaning negligently against an ornamented column. Artemis continued to lounge on her couch, eyeing the warrior respectfully.
"Did you tell Gabrielle?"
"No." Xena didnt have to ask what she meant. "The debt you owe me is satisfied. More than satisfied. You brought her back to me."
Artemis shrugged, a very human gesture. "Shes my chosen for a reason, Xena--dont make the mistake of underestimating her."
Xena ignored the goddess pointed remark. "What do you know about this mess?"
"Delios is not a nice guy. I suggest you take the gem from him. The fool is trying to set up a monarchy on that little speck of an island hes on."
"Wheres the island?" Xena shifted a trifle impatiently.
Artemis saw the gesture and smiled. "A days sail east."
Xena thought for a moment and came up with the answer. I know exactly where it is. This should be fun. "All right." She turned on her heel to leave, calling over her shoulder, "Thanks."
"Take care of her, Xena."
Xena paused in the doorway, and when she turned to face the goddess, her eyes were full of emotion. "Id give my life for hers." She turned back around and was gone.
"I know." Artemis stared after her for a long moment. "You may have to, Xena."
Xena took Argo for a long run, visiting places she hadnt been to for years, and finally ending up at the family tomb. She pushed open the door and wasnt greeted with the plume of dust she had expected. A new sarcophagi was beside Lyceus, and she felt a shiver work its way down her spine.
She looked into her own face for an endless minute, and read the epitaph carved on the smooth surface of the stone. Daughter, Mother, Warrior, Beloved. She heard the soft footfalls behind her, and recognized them immediately. She wasnt surprised when Gabrielles arms slid around her waist, and she covered the bards interlaced hands with one of her own. Gabrielle laid her head against Xenas back.
Xena traced her own face with shaking fingers. "I didnt think anyone would give me this." She sighed and wiped her hand across her eyes. "The words are nice. Did you write them?"
Gabrielle gave her a little squeeze. "I was too addled to help much. Your mom did all the work, I think, and Autolycus helped." She cleared her throat. "I thought when I saw it that there would never be enough stone in Greece to carve what you meant to me."
Xena turned and pulled Gabrielle into her arms, just needing to hold her close. "Everyone thinks Im dead, Gabrielle, we could just go away somewhere and start over, and ."
" And youd hate it, Xena." She felt the warriors shoulders slump in defeat, and drew her closer, wanting to take Xenas pain for herself.
"I know." Xena straightened, and planted a kiss on Gabrielles forehead. "But I also hate this. I wonder if theres a happy medium."
Gabrielle rubbed Xenas back soothingly. "If there is, well find it one day."
Forcing her mind to take another path, she looped an arm around Gabrielles waist and tugged her towards the door. Once they were outside in the spring air, Xena said, "Delios is building a kingdom on a small island just west of here. The seas between here and there are rough, and well have to take a smaller boat part of the way."
Gabrielle felt queasy at the mention of water. "All right." She bent to pick a wildflower, then put the pink bloom behind Xenas ear.
"Thanks," she said dryly, but made no move to remove it. "Are you okay with this?"
"Yeah." She picked another flower, this one blue, and twirled it between her fingers. "Did you still want to spar?"
"Yep, but I need to get a hold of a pair of chobos, first."
Gabrielle nodded mutely, and her troubled expression didnt escape Xenas notice. "You really are worried youll hurt me, arent you?"
Xena contemplated that for a moment. "Really that good?"
Xenas lips quirked in a smile. "Then it should be fun, Gabrielle. I hope you go all out on me. Its been a while since Ive had a challenge."
Gabrielle sighed, and gave Xena a small smile. Her enthusiasmand less condescending attitudemade Gabrielle feel a little better.
Xena mounted Argo, and watched as Gabrielle mounted Storm. The bards movements were more fluid, and she sat the horse naturally. The appreciating glance Xena gave Gabrielle was not lost on the bard. She grinned over her shoulder at the warrior princess. "Race you!"
She was off, before even Xenas superior reflexes could respond, and Xena shook her head before following behind. There was no question that Argo would win the day, as far as she was concerned.
Xena was just having a hard time reconciling the warrior Gabrielle with the peaceful, bardic Gabrielle. Zeus knows, I dont love her any less what we have is too strong. Its just a matter of getting to know the person shes become since we parted.
Argos long gait caught Storm, but not as quickly as Xena had thought she would. Storm was fast, and Gabrielle was using every trick for speed Xena had ever taught her. And I thought she wasnt listening. Ha! Xena grinned at the bard as she passed her, then slowed to let Gabrielle catch back up to her. "Tie?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yeah." She looked up at the clear blue sky with appreciation, enjoying the spring breeze that cooled her skin. "Its beautiful here."
"Mmm." Xena agreed, sliding off of Argo to walk. A moment later, Gabrielle joined her on the ground; they held hands in companionable silence until they got to the stable.
Xena gave her partner a sideways glance. "Did you tell Mom?"
Gabrielle hefted the saddle off of Storm. "Uh-huh. That was fun. She wants to spend more time with you."
Argo butted Xena in the chest and she gave the horse a pat as she uncinched the saddle. "I want to spend sometime with her, too," she murmured, surprising herself. Mom and I never saw eye to eye but I think Ive finally grown up enough to appreciate her.
They finished tending to their horses, and Xena left in search of a pair of chobos. Gabrielle went to the practice yard that the militia used and began her warm-up, stretching her muscles, and feeling Artemis gift flow through her like warm honey. Extending her newly heightened senses outward, she sensed Xena long before she saw her move out of the trees and into the field.
Xena stood for a moment and watched Gabrielle drill, noting the fluidity of movement and the strength. She knew Gabrielle was aware of her, but the bard never lost her tightly controlled focus as she practiced. Very, very impressive, Gabrielle. Artemis was right to caution me not to underestimate you.
Gabrielle finally finished, and let her weapons fall to her sides. The gift was strong, and it would take practice to be able to maintain her skill at this level. Artemis didnt need to tell her that all she had to do was remember Xenas arduous drilling schedule.
Xena gave her an appreciative whistle, and Gabrielle gave her a strange look. "What?"
"You are good, Gabrielle. Sorry I doubted that." She held up a pair of chobos that she had pilfered from the militia building. "Ready?"
Gabrielles eyes narrowed as she focused on the warrior princess. "Yep. Still want me to go all out?"
A small smile flitted across Gabrielles face as she took the offensive, and Xena thought that that had to be pretty much what her enemies saw when she came at them. There was no humor in Gabrielles smile. It was the grin of a predator.
The first blow took her by surprise; she had seen it coming, but would have never imagined that Gabrielle had so much strength in her arms. She blocked it easily, and pushed back, knocking Gabrielle off balance long enough to give Xena a chance to compose herself. Then Gabrielle swung low, where Xena normally wouldnt think to defend herself, and Xena blocked her just before the weapons hit her left knee.
Gabrielle felt Xena give under the blow, just the tiniest bit, and came back harder to press her advantage. She actually forced Xena back a few steps until Xena began attacking back in earnest, then it was a matter of who could last the longest. In chobos, at least, they were equally matched. They traded blows that would have knocked an average man to his knees.
Their strikes maintained a constant cadence, a steady music. Suddenly, Gabrielle swung around and came at Xena from behind, and caught her in her lower back with a sharp crack. Xena fell to her knees, stunned, and the warrior bard dropped her weapons in shock. "Xena ."
Xena climbed to her feet slowly, a wry smile on her face. "Ow."
Gabrielle stood frozen, both hands knotted into fists at her side. She would have never thought that she would have gotten Xena with that move; it was a last desperate attempt to distract the warrior because her hands were aching from the strength of Xenas blows. "Im sorry ."
Xena held up a forestalling hand, then murmured, "Im the sorry one, Gabrielle. I underestimated you again." She stretched tentatively. "I deserved to get knocked silly."
Gabrielle plopped down in the soft grass, a dejected look upon her face. "Things just arent right anymore."
Xena gave in to her aching back and sat beside her, propping her elbows on her knees in an effort to take the pressure off her ribcage. "What are you talking about?"
"We I .We arent as close anymore, Xena even though we love one another, and weve been together I feel like somethings missing."
Xena reached out and put a hand on Gabrielles shoulder. "Gabrielle, we were separated for a year, and weve only been reunited for what, three days? Weve both changed a lot. Give it a chance."
Gabrielle rubbed her face briskly with her hands. "Maybe youre right. Im just insecure."
"Mmm," Xena grunted thoughtfully. "Is there anything I can do to make you feel any better?"
Gabrielle smiled a little. "I have a favor to ask."
Uh-oh. Xena leaned back, propping herself up with her arms. "Anything."
"Can we hold off on the intimacy until we get the friendship thing right again? I dont mean we cant hug, and kiss, and everything, just ."
" Just nothing with our clothes off, huh?" Xena sighed. "Do you think we rushed things?"
"Maybe so, but I was so glad to see you, it felt right."
"It was." Xena shrugged. "If you need time to adjust, thats fine."
Gabrielle turned troubled green eyes to Xena. "Are you sure about this?"
"No." Xena gave her a lazy grin. "I understand though, and so its okay." She arched her back a little and gave a grunt. "Even if you did just beat the snot outta me."
Out of the corner of her eye, Xena saw tears well in Gabrielles eyes. She grabbed the bard and pulled her closer. "Hush. Im proud of you, and I know you can take care of yourself now."
Gabrielle nestled her head in the curve of Xenas shoulder. "Did I hurt you bad?"
"Cracked a rib."
"Oh." Gabrielle stroked Xenas back gently. "Im still gonna feel bad."
Xena shifted, laying down on the damp spring grass, and drew Gabrielle down beside her. "Sokay, Gabrielle." She nuzzled the bards fair hair, drowning in the scent of lilacs.
Gabrielles hand drew lazy circles on the warriors stomach, enjoying the feel of hard muscle rippling beneath the soft blue tunic. Sighing contentedly, she let herself relax into a semi-doze in the warm sun, her favorite warrior pillow staring up at the sky.
Xena looked at the puffy white clouds floating slowly by, and digested the thought that Gabrielle had actually gotten through her defenses. She knew it wasnt a lucky shot; the bard was really that good. The thought made her smile a little despite her wounded pride. Guess Ill have to practice more.
She glanced down at her sleeping partner with affection, and debated on whether or not to get up. The question was answered for her when she detected the soft footfalls of her mother coming from behind and left. "Hey," she said quietly.
"Hi." An overstuffed basket was placed behind Xenas head. "Lunch for you two." Cyrene lay down beside her daughter, and looked up at the sky. "Its been ages since Ive done this."
"Me, too." Since before Gabrielle and I got separated. Xena looked over at her mothers profile, and thought that Lyceus had looked a lot like her. "Gabrielle tries to get me to stop and smell the flowers."
"You should. Time passes too quickly. You grow old before you know it." Cyrene sighed and shifted. "You may have to get Argo to help hoist me up. Im not as young as I used to be."
A smile touched Xenas lips as she thought about the aching rib that refuse to stop throbbing. A year or so ago, it wouldnt have bothered her as much. "Im not a spring chicken, either, but I think I could heave you to your feet."
Cyrene sighed again. "Youre not helping." She gave Xena a playful nudge on the arm.
"Uh-huh." Cyrene looked at Xena seriously. "Ill miss you. Promise youll come back?"
"Absolutely." Xena stretched her legs out a little. "Gabrielle told you that we have to go in the morning?"
"Yes. I understand, because helping others is part of who you are."
Xena gazed at her mother for a moment, debating on how much to tell. "Its not just that, mom. This guy has got an extremely evil weapon, and he wont stop until ." She left the rest unspoken, unable to give voice to her fear.
"I know," Cyrene said quietly. "I wish someone else could go, and you could stay here and be with your family."
"So do I, Mom," Xena said, and knew she meant it. To stop fighting was an irresistible lure. It got old after a while. "But Im the only one, it seems."
"Not the only one, Xena," a quiet voice murmured. Xena looked down into a pair of sparkling green eyes. "But we do what we need to do."
"Uh-huh." She kissed the top of Gabrielles head, then glanced over to see her mother gazing at them with a gentle smile on her face. She rose turned on her side towards them and rose upon one elbow.
"Ive always wanted two daughters," Cyrene said, running a hand through Gabrielles golden hair. "Welcome to the family." She got to her feet slowly, putting up a hand to keep Xena from rising, and straightened her skirt. "You two enjoy your lunch, now, and take your time coming back."
"Okay, Mom. Thanks." Xena grinned at Gabrielle, who was on the verge of bursting into tears.
She sniffed. "That was incredible, Xena. Why cant my family be like yours?"
"Everyones different, Gabrielle." She grieved for the bard, and for her family and their ignorance.
"I know," Gabrielle said mournfully. Her attention shifted. "Whats in the basket?"
"Dont know." Xena rose up on an elbow, careful not to jar Gabrielle too much, and peeked beneath the lid. "Uh-oh."
"Um here, I dont want you to run over me to get to it." Xena sat up and scooted the basket toward Gabrielle, who took one look inside and gave a delighted cry.
"Nutbread!" She picked up a big steaming chunk and popped it into her mouth.
"Mmmm. Gods, how I missed this. Your mom makes the best ever."
Shaking her head, Xena started rummaging through the contents of the basket. There was a skin full of ale, a haunch of meat, some grain bread, and pastry. She laid them neatly on a cloth and began slicing the haunch with her dagger.
They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. It was after midday when they packed up the basket to go back to the village; they made small talk until they reached the door to their room.
"Xena I I dont want you to think you cant say ."
Xenas lips quirked, and she brushed a kiss over Gabrielles mouth. "I love you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle tangled her hand in Xenas long hair, pulling her into an embrace. "I love you, Xena." She pulled back and shifted nervously. "Where are you going now?" Gods, please dont let her think I dont want her, its not that, Im just so scared because this feels too right .
"Im going to get supplies for tomorrow, check on the horses, and do some hunting for Mom." She pushed a strand of hair over Gabrielles left shoulder. "Then Im probably going to do drills."
"Oh, okay I thought Id work on my scrolls. Do ." She trailed off, at a loss for words.
"How about I come get you for dinner? Im sure Mom would love for you to tell some stories tonight." She gave the bard a serious look. "Do we have a date?"
"Do we oh, yeah," Gabrielle stammered, blushing. A date? "Ill see you then."
Gabrielle fairly ran inside and closed the door, leaving a grinning Xena in the hall. I thought so. She wants to be wooed. I can woo. Sure. Whistling happily, she headed downstairs to plot with her mother.
Gabrielle looked at herself in the polished metal mirror, nervously twisting this way and that. She was wearing a simple dress, green silk, she had found mysteriously tucked into her bag. Not surprisingly, it fit perfectly.
She gave a wistful smile to the woman in the mirror. I wonder where this came from it sure is pretty. She ran a finger over the gold embroidery on the hem. She jumped when a soft knock sounded at the door.
She opened the door and almost fainted. Xena was dressed in a tunic made of gray silk, with a black pair of breeches, and her hair hung loose around her shoulders. She held out a white rose. "For you."
Gabrielle gave her a brilliant smile. "Thanks Its beautiful."
Xena gazed at her solemnly. "Not as beautiful as you."
From anyone else, the line would have sounded phony. Not from Xena, though; the warmth radiating from her eyes spoke volumes about how she really felt. Gabrielle touched Xenas face lightly. "I could say the same," she whispered.
She was rewarded with a gentle smile. "If Im beautiful, its because you made me that way." She wrapped a hand around Gabrielles fingers and brought them to her lips for a soft kiss. "Ready for dinner?"
Instead of going downstairs, Xena led her to a room at the end of the hall, and gave the door a little push. The room was alight with candles, with flowers all over the floor, and a table laden with all of Gabrielles favorite foods.
Gabrielle covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a sob. Xena was there in an instant, her hands on Gabrielles shoulders "Did I do something wrong?" Her radiant eyes were focused on the bards face, full of concern.
Gabrielle gave a watery laugh. "No, you did everything right. I just realized Im such an idiot."
"Are too." She sniffled a little. "I just realized that what I said earlier was wrong, and I think I may have hurt you, and I feel stupid now ."
"Whoa. Slow down." Xena led her over to a chair, then pulled one up across from her. She sat so close to Gabrielle, their knees touched. "Now talk."
Gabrielle looked up at her with watery green eyes. "We havent lost anything, Xena I was so afraid that I had lost you as a friend, I didnt see that I have so much more than that, now." She wiped at her face impatiently. "What Im trying to say is ."
"That were lovers, and best friends," Xena finished gently, "but the line between the two is so blurred you didnt realize that you hadnt lost anything at all."
Gazing at Xena solemnly, Gabrielle nodded. "You knew."
Xena smiled a little. "Yeah." She took the bards smaller hands in hers and gave them a gentle squeeze. "I felt that way right after we made love. You had to find that out for yourself. Besides, with me, its all or nothing. Youre everything to me."
"I know that now."
"Youre right, though. Itll take some time to get used to being together again. We have time." Xena moved her chair over, and grabbed a loaf of nutbread. She broke it in half and gave part of it to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sighed. "I think itll be easier when we go back on the road. I miss that."
"Me, too." Xena shoved a plate in front of Gabrielle, loaded with cheeses, meats, and fruit. "Eat."
Gabrielle did as she was told, spending several long moments studying Xena in the candlelight. Shes so beautiful gods, I never would have imagined that shed love me.
Xena felt Gabrielles eyes on her. "What?" Xena raised an eyebrow. "Do I have something hanging out of my nose?"
Gabrielle almost choked. "Um...no I was just thinking how beautiful you are, actually."
Xena reddened, and the bards eyes widened. "I dont remember ever seeing you blush," she said with a grin.
"Well dont tell anyone, okay? Itll ruin my reputation," the warrior muttered, ducking her head.
"Uh-huh your reputation," Gabrielle deadpanned, flicking a olive at her partner. "Like you care what people think of you."
"Everyone does, to a certain extent. Think how many fights weve avoided because of my reputation."
Gabrielle snorted. "What about all the fights weve gotten involved in because of your reputation?"
Xena grinned. Shes got me there. "But doesnt that make things more interesting?"
"Endlessly," Gabrielle bantered, and fed Xena a bit of cheese. Xena captured the morseland Gabrielles fingersbetween her teeth.
Gabrielle laughed. "I am not food, Xena."
Xena gave the bard an evil grin. "Depends on what youre hungry for." The clear blue eyes turned sultry.
"Really ." The words sounded like a purr from Xenas lips, and Gabrielle shivered.
Holding her breath, Gabrielle reached forward and took Xenas hand. "I have a confession ."
"Hmmm?" Xena gave a gentle sound of inquiry as her eyes scanned the bare flesh revealed by the bodice of the Gabrielles gown. "What would that be?"
"All that stuff I said earlier, about not touching without clothes and all ."
"Uh-huh ." Warm strong hands caressed Gabrielles thighs through the thin silk, moving slowly higher. Lazy blue eyes met burning green ones.
" It was all centaur crap. Forget I said it."
Within a moment, Gabrielle was being lifted in strong, capable arms. A sweet, exploratory kiss made Gabrielle lose the little control she possessed, but not before she heard Xenas muttered response to her plea.
To Be Continued...
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