By M. Pappas and J. Covington
WARNING: This story does contain adult themes including a sexually explicit romantic involvement between two adult women. If this offends you or you are not an adult, please do not read any further. If this doesnt and you are, and youve always wanted to see the God of War get his but kicked, then youre reading the right story.
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo are owned by MCA/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended.
"What do you want? You never come here unless you need something. No other god comes here unless they need a favor." Hades sat down behind the table in his fortress deep in the underworld. After the overthrow of Cronus on Olympus, Hades and his two brothers had drawn lots to divide the world under their rule. Poseidon drew the oceans and all contained within. Zeus controlled the world and ruled as the King of gods. Hades drew the worst lot.
The goddess before him was in no mood to put up with his brooding. "I think you will be more than a little bit interested in my being here," Artemis informed the god of the underworld. "Ares is up to his childish games again. I overheard him planning a visit to the Amazons. Now he is treading on my territory. I am the patron goddess of the Amazons."
Hades sighed his disinterest. "So why could I possibly care about your problem?"
The goddess smiled. "Because it is becoming our problem. Ares plans to kill the Queen of my Amazons without warning. He has gone too far. Im not going to let that brat overstep himself and step on my toes."
"So what do you want me to do about it? My nephew and I arent exactly on friendly terms anyway," the god stood and fingered his helmet of invisibility. The helmet gave Hades his power over others in this realm or any other. He rarely left the confines of the underworld, however. He felt more than just exiled from sitting on Mount Olympus.
"Yes, but you have the endearing habit of spoiling his plans just when he thinks he is rewarding himself with what he desires most . Xena." The goddess watched as Hades eyes narrowed.
The god sat judgment on all who died. The damned who are imprisoned in Tartarus and the redeemed who live on in the Elyssian Fields. The warrior princess judgment was of special interest not only to him but to all the gods she has constantly defied. "Once again, Artemis, what do you expect of me?"
"You have a, shall we say, special interest in the warrior princess. Hmm? Well, in case you dont know it her little friend happens to be the Queen of my Amazons! There is more than one god who will refuse to admit to being frightened by Xena. She is too clever and is owed too many favors to make them comfortable. There are few who would be opposed to Ares claiming victory over her. But despite her disdain for the gods, she is the protector to my Amazon Queen. Their hearts are joined as one and if one dies, so will the other. It is just a matter of time."
Hades nervously walked around the table to take his seat again. "What kind of plan do you have?"
Gabrielle struggled through the first day of Xenas test. It wasnt because she was not allowed to eat, although even if the opportunity had been available she could not have managed it. Thinking about her friend and soul mate being hunted by the skilled Amazons was too unsettling for her stomach and her heart.
The first of the hunting party arrived early that morning, without her ritual symbol. She was in good shape so the Queen could only assume that stealth had achieved the task. Gabrielle was relieved for a short while. No other word arrived for several hours.
Ephiny stayed out of Gabrielles line of sight on the few occasions the girl stepped out of her hut to watch the road into the village for a sign of her warrior. Hoping against all that she would not see Xena or it would mean the warriors death. By afternoon, seven more huntress arrived. Some were without the ritual sash completely. Two were injured and had to be taken to the village healer. That left twelve more striving to capture or kill the warrior princess.
At sunset, no more had returned. Food was brought to the Queen after her day of fasting ended. The young woman ate sparingly, not interested in food. Then her guard arrived to escort her to the temple of Artemis to begin her praying and solitude.
Ephiny appeared just as she was to leave. "My Queen," Ephiny bowed solemnly. "I have some word that I think you will want to know. One of the warriors brought back this afternoon gave me this and claims that Xena is injured." Holding out one of the distinctive bracers Xena always wore on her arm, Ephiny handed it to the visibly upset Gabrielle. Continuing, her friend revealed, "she may have a broken arm. It will make it difficult to use the trees for escape and hiding."
Gabrielle took the personal item in her hands, holding it close to her. "Why are you telling me this?" the Queen questioned. Ephiny had avoided her all day, knowing how upset the girl was with her betrayal of trust.
"Because I will never keep anything from you again. You have the right to know." The Amazon turned and walked into the shadows. The guards urged the Queen to begin her journey to the temple. Stumbling several times from physical and mental exhaustion Gabrielle was relieved when the group finally made it to the temple some distance to the south of the village.
Entering the temple alone, the young woman walked to the altar and kneeled. She carefully untied her bracelet and lay the beautifully designed strand of gold and silver on the smooth slab of stone before her. All who pray before the gods must present a token for their approval. It was her offering.
"Artemis," her voice croaked. "Patron goddess of the Amazons. Please accept this gift and my prayers." Gabrielle lay her head against the stone and a single tear escaped. Artemis stood, unseen a few feet away. Listening. Watching. After a while, the disheveled girl lifted her head and whispered, "Please protect Xena. I know she is strong, but even she can fail. If Xena is to die, then I dont think I could go on. You have the power to help us. I know there are few gods who Xena respects, but she has no quarrel with you. I have heard her pray to whomever would listen to her on my behalf. She must believe theres good somewhere to offer those prayers, which is so difficult for her." Artemis walked around the dais and considered the words of the leader of her chosen followers. Gabrielle was a special favorite of the goddess. She would lead her Amazons into continuing prosperity and peace. "Hear her prayers and mine."
Artemis was touched by the young womans devotion and love. Xena was fortunate indeed. If Artemis had her way, Hades would be taking care of that fiend Ares very soon. The goddess left the temple and her Amazon Queen to check on those plans.
Xena stealthily watched the two Amazons that searched the area below her hiding place. She had been lucky that her arm was not broken by the last womans sword. Having had to block the flat of the blade with her bracer, the buckles had snapped with the force of the blow. Her arm stung for quite some time. There was no time to recover the accouterment and she only hoped she could find it again later to repair it.
The Amazons were good but she was better. Keeping ahead of them, however, had proved a challenge. This would not have been as difficult if the boundaries had not been so confining. The test was designed to give every advantage to the hunting party. Xena knew the strategies of the Amazons. The small area allowed them to separate into groups and patrol in patterns, thus keeping her on the move without rest. The intention being to exhaust the ritual participant and thereby taking her captive or killing her easily. Xena was not the usual participant. Being hunted by your own people who are sworn to carry out their duty for a test was an irony Xena did not appreciate. Many customs were barbarous as far as the warrior was concerned. Honor was one thing, killing a person just for a test was no longer acceptable to the woman who sought atonement for her deeds as a warlord.
One of the Amazons ventured further away an Xena took the opportunity to take the remaining woman by surprise. Jumping from her perch she landed behind the now alert warrior. Kicking her feet out from under her, Xena dropped the woman and applied her pressure point technique to keep her from crying out. Removing the symbol from the stunned and struggling womans sash without a word she picked up the huntress bow and threw it as far as she could before releasing the blood flow. Before the woman could react or cry out, she was gone.
Eleven more to go.
The goddess of the hunt watched silently. She did not understand what her favored Queen was worried about. After all, this was Xena.
By the time night fell again, the Queen of the Amazons was so exhausted she had to be carried from the temple of Artemis. Ephiny sat with her when she was returned to her quarters.
Her friend vowed that if anything happened to Xena, she and her son would devote themselves to taking care of the bard. It was the only thing she could do for Gabrielle and Xena.
The Queen slept fitfully through the night. Waking several times in a daze, Ephiny soothed her friend and promised that all would be well in the morning. She hoped she could keep that promise.
When the sun rose a guard quietly announced herself and Ephiny went outside to speak with her. Returning she woke Gabrielle with a gentle shake. The bards eyes opened, finally focusing on Ephiny. "What .what is it? Oh no, is it Xena?"
"No! No, Gabrielle." Ephiny took the young womans hands in hers. "I wanted you to know that while you slept all but one of the group returned. It is almost over."
Gabrielle hugged her. "Was anyone hurt badly?" she asked, concerned.
"No. Xena has been very careful to minimize anyones injuries. They have been minor since yesterday. Apparently she tired of toying with them after midnight. The latest six returned at the same time."
Gabrielle smiled. That was her warrior! She was ready for this to be over. Xena, Ill never put you through anything like this again, she promised.
Two hours later while she and Ephiny waited, an Amazon warrior walked through the trees. She worn no sash. Behind her was the figure she had been waiting for seemingly all her life. She carried the metal ritual symbols of twenty warriors in her hands. The warrior princess smiled that brilliant smile when she saw her friend, her companion, her love rush to her side.
"Xena!" was all that passed the lips of the bard as she ran to embrace the warrior woman. Just as she reached her, Gabrielle felt light headed and as she reached out for Xena, she collapsed into her arms.
"Gabrielle?!" Dropping the symbols she picked up the small woman in her arms. She looked to Ephiny who had followed. "What is wrong? Is she ill?"
"No, Xena. I dont know why . " Ephiny struggled for an explanation. "She was still exhausted from the ritual and her fear for you."
Carrying Gabrielle back to her hut, Xena placed the limp woman on the bed. "Get some water and a small amount of food," she commanded a guard. Without hesitation the guard left to do as she was asked.
Stroking her face and neck, Xena softly called to her friend. "Gabrielle? Im here now, everything is fine."
Worry creased the brow of the mighty woman warrior. The water and food were brought quickly. Ephiny entered and asked what she could do for Gabrielle. Xena asked to be alone with her.
Dipping a cloth in the water, she lightly applied the water to Gabrielles face and neck. She began humming as she stroked the bards face with the cloth. Gabrielles eyes finally fluttered open at the pleasant sound. "Xena," she whispered. "There you are."
Xena smiled back. "Here I am."
"What happened? How did I get back here?" The exhausted woman tried to sit up but her caretaker refused to let her.
"I carried you. I think this was a little too much for you without enough food. I admit, Im starving right now, as well. I should have had you carry me!" Xena put aside the cloth and reached for some water to give her friend. "As soon as youve had a little food, and Ive had a bath well need to go before the Council."
Gabrielle sat up when Xena turned to get the food tray. "Xena, I need to hold you right now . please?"
Drawing the young woman to her, Xena held Gabrielle quietly as they both considered the trials of the past few days. "They dont make this very easy, do they?" the bard asked, wiping away a stray tear.
"No. It was never supposed to be easy."
Pulling away, Gabrielle swatted at Xena a little harder than she had planned.
"Ouch! What was that for?" Xena frowned. She rubbed her upper arm where the fiery girl had slapped her. Xena swore that even the red highlights in the her friends strawberry blonde hair were on fire.
"Why didnt you tell me about the ritual? You wouldnt even let Ephiny tell me! Aarrgg . Sometimes, you can be so secretive. I had a right to know. When are you going to start treating me like an adult? Just because youre the big tough scary one doesnt make you the . Hrrummp-"
The nonstop tirade was ended with the lips of the woman she loved. Several slow minutes later, Xena commented, "You still talk to much."
Gabrielle hugged her. "I feel better now."
"You feel pretty good to me, too," Xena offered as she rubbed the bards back. "You eat some more. How about I go take that bath," she said, watching as Gabrielle started to comment. "Alone. Well never make it to the ceremony that way."
For the last time of the ritual, they stood before the High Council. A beaming Arysia called them forward. "You have each successfully completed the ancient ritual of joining. This is the last opportunity you have to halt the ceremony. If you are still of one mind, turn and face your sister Amazons and begin the preparations for the joining ceremony."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and slowly turned to face the Amazon Nation before them. Music began and the cheers that followed were joyous. Two woman approached the pair and requested that they follow them for the preparations. Going separate ways, they were left to their own thoughts.
The rest of the day was spent being pampered, bathed, perfumed and dressed. It flew by for them both. Gabrielle dressed in Queens ceremonial outfit, soft fawn colored leather and cloth adorned with decorative swirls and trim. Her hair was braided and pulled back with a few braided tendrils down one side of her face. Xena dressed similarly with the adornments of an Amazon warrior. Her hair was left loose by her request, flowing wildly as she preferred. She looked as if she had been born into the Amazon world.
"Are you nervous?" Ephiny asked Gabrielle. Stopping her obvious pacing the bard turned to her friend and said, "Nervous? Me? What makes you say that?" She began to wring her hands.
"Oh, I dont know. Could it be because you wont stop pacing and Ive heard about every Xena story you know condensed into the last two hours?" Ephiny laughed. "There were quite a few things in there that Id really rather not know about your warrior."
Gabrielle grimaced. "Oops sorry about that. Dont tell Xena. Just forget what I told you, okay." Pacing once again, she asked, "When are they going to be ready? I cant stand waiting around."
A woman announced herself just as those words were spoken. "It is time."
"Finally! Lets go."
Ephiny went ahead to take her place.
The two women were escorted to the village center. Xena saw Gabrielle and thought again how beautiful the bard was. The clothes she wore revealed quite a bit of that firm body. This is going to be more enjoyable that I had thought.
Seeing Xena in the Amazon leather and cloth took her breath away. Unlike the darkness of her usual dress, the lightness of the outfit brought out the starkness of her hair and eyes. A blue feather was braided into a thin strand of that midnight hair hanging low across her well displayed cleavage. These clothes left much more exposed skin than Xena was used to but she looked as comfortable as if she wore them everyday.
Ephiny stood waiting for them. Being Queen by Gabrielles order when she was absent, the woman presided over the ceremony. When the crowd of women quieted around them, the ceremony began. "Queen Gabrielle," Ephiny spoke. "Xena. You have chosen to bind your lives together." Taking a long, soft leather strip, Ephiny held it before them. "We shall witness this now." The two women held out their arm, closest to each other. Ephiny wrapped the leather around their wrists as she spoke. "As women, you are equals. As lovers you have committed yourself to each other and no other. As Amazons, you "
The words and ceremony were interrupted as screams were heard from all around them. Fire flashed over head. Women began running in every direction to avoid the arrows falling everywhere. Quickly, Xena unwrapped their arms and yelled at Gabrielle to take cover. Ephiny grabbed the young womans arm and said, "This way!" They ran to the Queens hut to gather their armaments. The Queens guard followed trying to protect them.
Xena zig zagged across the open area, avoiding arrows and people as she returned to get her weapons. Half the village was on fire when she came out of the hut. What is going on? Who would attack us now? The Amazons were finally organizing a defense and beginning to try to fight the fires. The unseen enemy was just beyond the village causing havoc with those trying to deflect their arrows. Several women lay wounded or dead and she had no time to stop to help them. Come out in the open you cowards!
The smoke was thick now and Xena ran to the edge of the village and scanned the area just beyond it. Suddenly a figure appeared through the smoke. Dressed in black leather and wearing a wild grin, the bearded face laughed a greeting. "Hello, my warrior princess. Oh, excuse me. I mean my Amazon warrior princess."
"At your service, my dear. Forget about me already? Tsk, tsk, Xena. You didnt invite me to the ceremony. Is that any way to treat an old lover? Bye the way, I like your old outfit better."
Xena yelled at the god of war, "Stop this Ares! Killing these women will not earn you the power you want."
Ares walked towards Xena, speaking as he came closer. "I already have the power I want. In fact, in just a few minutes, Ill have you as well."
The cryptic statement confused Xena for a moment. Suddenly it dawned on her. "Gabrielle " she whispered then turn and ran back into the village.
"Its too late, Xena!" Ares called after her, laughing, "What Ive begun you have no power to stop this time!"
She knew that the others would give their lives to protect the Queen but Xena also knew that Ares would kill everyone to get to her love. He would want Xena to watch her die. To take the heart that was joined with hers and make her suffer for it.
She ran through the village looking for Gabrielle. The smoke and confusion made it difficult. Suddenly, looking up she saw Ephiny and Gabrielle helping some others put out a fire. Momentarily relieved, a childs scream was then heard coming out of the hut nearby. It was on fire as well. Gabrielle turned and without a thought to her own safety ran inside the burning hut. Xenas legs exploded into a run. Ephiny turned as well and tried to get close to the burning structure but the flames held her at bay. Xena ran past her and ignored the sparks falling around her. Inside, the smoke was thick and she doubled over, trying to stay below it. "Gabrielle!" There was no answer but she heard the child crying and a low voice tell her that it was okay. "Gabrielle, where are you?"
A wall of flames separated the hut as the ceiling fell in the center. The smoke rose out the opening and Xena could see the two figures just beyond the flames. They were surrounded by fire! Gabrielle was holding a little girl about four years old. Gabrielle looked around frantically, not finding a way out. Suddenly she saw Xena beyond the flames. "Xena! Ill throw her to you. Save the child. Its too late for me." Before Xena could react, Gabrielle tossed the child through the flames into her arms. Xena quickly doused the flames that had caught on the girls clothes as she had passed through the fire. Ephiny finally made it inside and took the girl from Xena. Looking across the chasm of fire their eyes locked. It looked impossible for even Xena to reach her. "Ephiny, you have my right of caste. I love you, Xena. Let me go now."
Just as Xena was about to run through the flames, a figure appeared beside Gabrielle. It was Hades. "Trust me, Xena. Shes with me now. Ill take good care of her." Then they disappeared.
"Gabrielle," Xena screamed and Ephiny grabbed her arm to keep her from running into the flames. It took everything she had to drag Xena back outside the burning hut.
"Shes gone," she repeated several times to Ephiny. In a daze she watched the structure fall down and flame even higher. "Ive lost her," she mumbled.
The attack had stopped and the women were doing their best to put out the fires and attend to the wounded and dead. Xena refused to move from the spot she collapsed on.
The new Queen had much to do. There would be time for grieving later. She ordered an Amazon guard to stand watch over Xena, putting a blanket around the unseeing womans shoulders. "Ill be back. I must help the others."
Xena sat unmoving until Ephiny returned. "Help me get her to the to my hut," the new Queen requested the guard. Once inside the still standing building, the smaller woman made Xena lie down on the bed and covered her with the blanket. She knew of the deep love the warrior had for Gabrielle and she was concerned that it might be the downfall of the woman. Sitting beside her she held Xenas hand. She was shivering like a leaf in the wind. Looking into Xenas darkening eyes she saw the despair that gripped the warriors heart. Seeing the warrior like this frightened her. It may already be too late for her. "Im so sorry, Xena. She did what she thought she must. She saved the girls life."
Xena turned her head and tried to focus on Ephinys face. "Shes gone. I couldnt get to her . he didnt even let me try. He just took her."
"I know. I saw." Turning to the still present guard she said, "Bring some wine."
Taking her hand back she told Xena, "Just rest now. I have to find out who attacked us and send a patrol to track them."
"Its no use, Ephiny. It was Ares."
Ephiny was shocked. "Ares? Why?"
"Because hes determined to get me back by his side. He knows I love Gabrielle above all else. He killed her so I would go back to him. I saw him at the edge of the village just after the attack. He said I would be his shortly. Ares will destroy everything I love to get me back. Including this village."
"What can we do? How can we fight a god? What will you do?"
Xena closed her eyes trying to hold back tears. The effort was useless. "I will never go to him. Especially now. Ive lost what makes my life necessary. I will have you kill me first."
Ephiny drew in a breath sharply. "No, Xena. I wont."
"You, too, will do what is necessary to protect this village and your people. I dont doubt that."
The guard returned with the wine. She took Ephiny aside and spoke with her quietly. When she was finished, Ephiny handed Xena a mug. "Here, drink some of this and rest. Ill be back."
Outside the hut Ephiny ordered two women to stand guard. "Dont let anyone but myself inside and do not let Xena leave, do you understand?" The women nodded.
Inside, Xena sat the mug on the table and lay back on the pillows. "Gabrielle ,," she whispered. "Im sorry, my love. I should have stayed with you. I should have known " she wept openly now. Ares had succeeded - he had crushed her heart and destroyed her soul. There was nothing left now except the pain.
"What a pitiful sight this is," Ares commented from across the room. "Shes history, Xena. Let her go. You belong with me now."
Xena did not even react. She ignored the god taunting her. This only made Ares angry. "This does not become you, Xena. Youre a warrior! You dont cry for some girl. She died in a blaze of glory didnt she? I at least gave you that." Ares smirked, feeling generous.
Artemis appeared then, sitting beside the warrior woman. "Did she Ares? Are you telling me that you killed the Queen of my Amazons?"
"What are you doing here, Artemis? I have no quarrel with you. The girl was not Amazon." His eyes gleamed as he thought about Xena. His plan was foolproof. He had made none of the mistakes that he had before and he had made sure that he was rid of the bard that kept Xena from him.
Xena watched as Artemis rose and stood in front of the arrogant god of war. "She was as much an Amazon as any woman here. And she was their Queen! You didnt think youd get away with it did you? Gabrielle is a favorite of mine. Xena did not watch Gabrielle die because she isnt dead you idiot."
Ares screamed, "What!" No not again
Xena sat upright, blinking rapidly. "What are you saying? I saw Hades take her!"
"Hades? Of course! I should have know." Ares eyes flashed with anger and he pointed a finger at Artemis. "I wont forget this," he growled and disappeared.
Artemis turned to the now alert warrior. "Gabrielle did not die, Xena. Hades has her. I asked him to protect her until Ares could be dealt with."
Xena jumped up and stood in front of the goddess. "I want her back. Now."
"It isnt that easy, Xena. Ares still hasnt given up. Your love is safe in the underworld for now."
"Take me to her, Artemis." Xena paused, then kneeling before the goddess, said what she had said to few, god or not. "Please, I beg you."
If the other gods could see you now. "I dont think that is part of the plan." At Xenas desperate look she added, "But maybe its time to change the plan a little."
"Hades!" Xena yelled as she entered his throne room. Hades entered from another room off to her left.
"Xena youre not supposed to be here. Artemis! What have you done?" The god of the underworld raised his fists in the air and there was anger in his eyes.
"Where is she, Hades? I want to see her now!" She took a menacing step forward and he retreated behind the large table, shaking his head.
"Shes safe, Xena. I told you to trust me. I would let no harm come to your friend." He sat in his chair and studied Xena as he attempted to decide what to do next. What was Artemis trying to do to him? What was she up to? "Xena, you just have to trust me its the only way to stop Ares and save Gabrielle."
Approaching the table, Xena leaned her fists against the table top, staring pointedly at Hades. "And why should I trust you? Gods cant be trusted."
Hades met her gaze and challenged back, "Is it just gods you dont trust, Xena? I dont think so. Youve never trusted anyone not even yourself." For once it was Xena that looked away first.
A door opened and Gabrielle appeared. Seeing Xena, she cried out and rushed to the suddenly outstretched arms. "Xena! How did you get here?" She held on to her warrior like she never wanted to let her go. Xena had tears in her eyes as she held the bard. Hades watched silently and was touched by the emotion Xena obviously felt at her reunion with the young woman. Pulling back slightly to look in her eyes, Gabrielle added, "What a stupid question. Youre Xena."
"Dont you ever tell me to let you go again, do you understand?" Xena warned her through the tears in her heartbreaking eyes.
"I never will, Xena. I promise."
Hades stood and spoke, "Im not so bad, Xena. Is it so hard for you to believe that Id actually just want to help you?" Xena caught a glimpse of his eyes as he said this. They were filled with compassion and for a fleeting moment she saw something else was it love? Was he as infatuated with her as Ares was? Or was it with Gabrielle?
Xenas eyes narrowed and she released Gabrielle to protectively stand in front of her. "Why cant you just leave us alone - all of you? We didnt ask you to interfere in our lives."
"If I wouldnt have interfered, shed be here for a different reason right now. Why is it so hard for you to trust me?" His voice was stern, demanding her full attention.
Xenas anger and frustration at the situation took its toll and she literally snapped at Hades. "Do you know how many people died today because of this game that you play? How many more souls do you need, Hades?"
Sighing, Hades did not know how to answer her. "This is pointless. Youll never be able to see my point of view. There comes a point in everyones life where they must rely on trust alone. This is your time to trust, Xena. Trust me."
Xena turned away. Gabrielle looked at Hades and saw hurt in his eyes. "Xena I remember something." Xena looked down at her friend. "Ademenia she told you that you would be forced to trust another. She said that trust would have to be complete and that it would change your life."
" and only the one whom death calls friend holds the key You! Youre who she was talking about." Xena turned back to Hades and leaned back over the desk to look into his eyes.
Hades looked away and briefly laid his head in his hands as if he was at war with himself over his reply. "Artemis, this is your doing and will be my undoing " He muttered under his breath.
"Answer me now. What was she talking about? If youre not willing to tell me then why should I trust you? Trust has to be earned, Hades. What is the "key" that you hold that will change my life?" Xena demanded.
Hades finally looked up and met her angry glare. "Yes, Xena. Youre right. Trust has to be earned. I am going to tell you the truth. I have never lied to you, I think you know that. Xena ..I am you father."
Gabrielle gasped as she watched Xenas face grow deathly pale and she recoiled from his words as if she had been struck. "No .. this is some kind of cruel trick " But Gabrielle saw the fear in Xenas eyes.
"Xena," Hades began, "You know it is the truth." His voice was soft and his eyes were filled with sadness.
"No mother wouldnt have she would have told me " Xena sat down wearily on a bench across from Hades. Gabrielle sat next to her and placed her arm around the other womans waist in the hopes of offering her some comfort and support.
"Cyrene has no fault in this, Xena. The blame is entirely mine to bear. My heart has always belonged to Percephone and I have never strayed from that devotion before or since my affair with your mother. It was at a time in my existence when Ares had convinced Hera that I should not be allowed to sit with the other gods atop Mt. Olympus and Percephone was banned from staying with me here "
Xena took note of the fact that Ares seemed to be a common thread in their lives.
Hades paused to rake his fingers through his hair and his eyes took on a far away look. "I had resigned myself to my fate until I saw Cyrene. She was so beautiful, Xena. I was so lonely and so was she... trying to raise your brother alone. His father had gone off again to fight in some battle or such. So I seduced her and spent three wonderful days and nights there until my guilt at having betrayed Percephone got the better of me. So I fled and erased any memory of our affair from Cyrenes mind."
Xena considered this possibility. It would explain why she was never told.
"Then I learned of you, from Artemis. She knew when you were born that you were mine. Fortunately for me though, Atrius, the man you thought was your father, had returned home shortly after our affair. It provided the explanation for your arrival but I knew. I knew from the first moment that I saw you that you were my daughter, Xena. My only child born of my love for your mother. I did love her and in a way I always will." He lifted his hands in a small gesture of supplication as his eyes pleaded with her for understanding. "I never intended for you to find out. I never wanted this to hurt you. I care about you too much for that."
It was then, as he finished, that Xena turned on him. "Because you care? Where were you all the times that Ive suffered? Where were you when she suffered?" She turned and indicated Gabrielle. "You tell me, Hades, if you cared so much, where were you?" Xenas voice was cold and hard with that edge to it that Gabrielle had often heard when Xenas darkness shown through.
Hades slowly raised his head and squarely met Xenas hostile gaze. Gabrielle noticed that his eyes were filled with unshed tears. Great Zeus she had the power to even make a God cry
"I was always there, Xena I was there when it counted. I watched you grow up into a beautiful woman. I held my breath and waited when you made your choice when Cortezs men attacked Amphipolis. No matter what path you would have chosen that day, you and your mother would have survived. It was the only time that youve been completely under my protection and no one could have touched you "
"Under your protection you protected mother and I but you couldnt protect Lyceus? You just stood there and watched as the person that I loved most died?!"
"It was his time. I had no direct connection with Lyceus and even I could have no influence over his destiny. I had to protect you and Cyrene. She is the mother of my only child and I protect her still. Lyceus chose his own path just as you did. I have never influenced your decisions. Ive only offered you options and then helped when I could. No matter what choices you made, even " A single tear escaped from the corner of Hades eye. "Even when you went to Ares and broke my heart."
Xena turned her back on him. She couldnt let him know that it hurt her to see him cry. "Oh, that is so touching. A fathers concern for the child he will not claim!" Her anger at his deceit ran too deep to hide.
Hades rose and approached Xena stopping just short of her. "You would never hurt the one you love," he indicated Gabrielle. "I will not hurt Percephone."
"Youve never protected anyone else in my life, Hades, besides mother why are you protecting Gabrielle?" Xenas eyes narrowed at the god of the underworld.
The god walked over to the sitting woman. "Do you remember when you died during the Thessilean war?" Gabrielle nodded. "You were judged and sent to the Elyssian Fields as it should be."
Gabrielle replied, "Yes, I remember. I saw everyone I had lost. But I came back." Then it dawned on her. "You sent me back "
"Do you think that I want to condemn my only child to an eternity in Tartarus?" he asked. Turning back to Xena he said simply, "Remember when you came here to help me get my helmet back and to change Marcus destiny? I told you then that every mortal can only be judged once. Gabrielles fate has already been decided, now it is up to her to help you change yours. You are not completely mortal. You were judged once and sent to Tartarus but you chose to return to change your destiny and to stay with the one that you love."
Xenas head turned sharply at the sound of Gabrielles sudden intake of breath.
"Ademenia said I was your redemption," Gabrielle repeated. "I didnt understand what she meant."
Hades was about to continue when Artemis appeared. "Its time we left. Ares is on his way and I dont think you want them here when he shows up."
Turning to his daughter, Hades told her, "Go with Artemis, she will protect you both while I deal with Ares. I promise you this, Xena. I have always watched over you and I will not stop now. I hope someday you will understand why it had to be this way. You have become everything I could have wanted for you. I am proud of you." Turning to Artemis, "Go."
The three left Hades to his preparations for his confrontation with Ares.
Hades was ready for the god of war when he arrived.
"Hades! We need to talk well, uncle, have you enjoyed your little joke? I myself, am not amused. You see, I finally had her."
Speaking quietly, the god of the underworld inquired, "Oh? It didnt look like it to me. I believe she asked her friend to kill her first. I notice things like that, nephew."
"How dare you interfere with me!" Ares warned.
"Or what? Youll tell my brother? You sound like such a child, Ares. Someone spoiled your fun and now you want to run and tell Daddy! Youre obsession with Xena is going to be your undoing."
"I dont think so, Hades. Xena is no concern of yours. So why do you keep interfering with my plans? What does she have on you, uncle?" Ares walked around the god, looking him over as he searched for a clue as to why his uncle had just interfered directly with his own plans. "You seem to be helping her a lot lately," Ares narrowed his eyes. There had to be something more to this
"I admit that I owe her a few favors, Ares. Im not the only god to say that. Without her help I would not have gotten my helmet back," Hades stated, holding the helmet of invisibility under his arm. "She even helped you get your godhood back and what did you do? You refused to give her body back to her. You were going to let her stay in Callistos body forever. I think we settled that one pretty quickly." Hades almost smiled at the memory of that confrontation with his nephew.
Ares shook his head. "Whatever. Dont think that means anything now. I kept my promise, she got her body back. I never could get used to her in that body anyway."
Ares remark was all that Hades could take. Grabbing him by the shirt front, Hades lifted the god of war up off of the floor until his feet dangled. For a fleeting instance, Hades was tempted to throw him into the opposite wall for all the pain that Ares had caused Xena.
"Ares, heed this warning," Hades threatened. "Im not the only god watching over them. Stay out of their lives or myself and every other god that owes her will make sure you have a difficult time enjoying being mortal again! And dont think that I cant do it, Ares. You know better than that." At that, he released his hold and gave Ares a hard shove.
"You think you are so powerful, and maybe you are in this realm but I will do as I wish without interference from you again. This isnt over, uncle. Just postponed." With those words, Ares disappeared.
Hades looked grim faced. "Oh its over all right, Ares. Youll never hurt my daughter again "
Artemis brought Xena and Gabrielle back to her temple outside the Amazon village. She walked to the altar and picked up the offering that lay on the stone. Walking over to Gabrielle she held it out to her. "I believe this belongs to you. You are very fortunate, my dear. Not only do you have someone who loves you so much they would give their life for you," she paused and looked at Xena, "but you have the rest of your life to share that love." Then she was gone.
Gabrielle looked at Xena who was deep in thought. "Xena? Are you all right?"
"How many things did he set up? Dont you see? He may have even controlled our meeting!"
Looking a little confused the young woman said, "Hey, I have no problem with that. Ill even send him a thank you gift. Im just glad we did meet."
Xena shook her head. There was so much to think about. How much of her life did he influence .? "Things are making more sense to me now. There were a lot of things I couldnt explain before."
"Like what?" Gabrielle asked.
"He re-judged Marcus when he died again and sent him to the Elyssian Fields because I asked him to. He told me how to get my body back, using the ambrosia. It also explains why I wasnt turned into a god when I ate it like Valasca. My ability to heal so quickly. Those many skills ."
"I kind of like him," Gabrielle stated.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Well, out of all the gods to have as a father, I imagine he is a better choice than most. I mean, its not like he sleeps around like the rest of them, you are his only child and he has always been honest with you. I think he loves you."
Nodding, Xena acknowledged the statement. "Maybe. This is all so overwhelming. Ademenia was right. All that I am is not what I always believed."
Walking over and taking the warriors arm she asked what was in her heart. "Xena, does this change how you feel about us? I need to know."
Looking down into those soft blue-green eyes she answered honestly. "Nothing could change how I feel about you. But how do you feel about me now?"
As if this thought hadnt occurred to her before the young woman tilted her head and looked up Xena. "I knew your hearing was unnatural! Wow, youre part goddess. Im better at this romance stuff than I thought."
Xena laughed briefly. "I can always depend on you to keep my head out of the clouds."
"Lets go back to the village and tell everyone were okay," Gabrielle suggested. "They could probably use some help with the damage Ares caused."
"Youre right. I guess you know we have to keep this secret to ourselves. I may not like the idea of what Hades did, but Im stuck with it now."
Walking back to the village hand in hand, they were greeted by several women. "Xena! Weve been looking for you By the Gods! My Queen, we thought you were dead," one woman exclaimed.
"I sort of had an out of body experience, do you know what I mean? No? Uh, just tell Ephiny were back, okay."
"Yes, my Queen." The women turned and ran back to the other side of the village exclaiming that their Queen and Xena had returned.
Ephiny came to meet them. "Gabrielle," she said, shock showing on her face. She hugged the woman tightly. "What happened? I saw Hades take you."
"It was Artemis. She had Hades take me to the underworld to keep me from being killed by Ares. Let me tell you, shes really ticked at Ares."
Ephiny blinked. "Artemis protected you from Ares? Gabrielle, are you saying that a goddess, the goddess of the Amazons, protected you from being killed by the god of war?"
"Um yeah. Something like that. Listen, this kind of thing happens a lot around us. You get used to it. Can we move ahead now, were pretty tired."
"Of course. We have been dealing with the damage to the village and the wounded since youve been . uh, gone."
Concern showed on Gabrielles face. "How many were killed, Ephiny? How many wounded?"
Walking with them back to the Queens hut she informed them of the single death and the ten wounded.
The returning Queen insisted on seeing the wounded first. She spoke with each and told them that their bravery would be recognized by the Amazon Nation. Speaking words of comfort to the family of the dead she ordered their funeral pyre to be made immediately so that their soul may begin their journey. She prayed to Artemis to see them to Hades and the Ellysian Fields.
The next several days were spent rebuilding what could not wait, and tending to the wounded. Xenas special skills in medicine made a big difference in their recovery. She almost thanked Hades out loud for that particular skill.
The Queens triumphant return was heralded by all. Her commands were precise and well thought out to ease the situation. Gabrielle was a natural leader. Her concern for all shown with every thing she did. She expected the women from the other villages to begin their journeys home after what had happened but they refused to leave until they witnessed the joining ceremony of their Queen. She promised them they would finish the ceremony as soon as things were mended in the village. At a gathering that evening she spoke with an open heart to her people. She apologized for endangering their lives. They refused to hear of it. Chanting her name and praising Artemis they began their lives again.
There were quiet moments with Xena, of course. They had both stayed in the Queens hut. That night they lay close together, not wanting to speak of the deeds of Ares and how it had affected them. Xena had much to think about and was not prepared to talk about it yet. Gabrielle decided she needed that space to come to terms with the news of Hades being her father.
The next morning just before dawn, Gabrielle awoke and looked at the woman laying beside her. Xenas eyes were closed but something told her that she wasnt asleep. "What are you thinking," Gabrielle asked, stroking her loves arm.
The blue eyes remained closed. "How beautiful you are," Xena stated simply.
Gabrielle smiled. "Thats nice to hear. Ill have to make it a law to hear that from you every day."
Xena laughed at that. "You dare to command me?"
"Yeah, sure. Why not? After all, I am your Queen," came the haughty reply. "Those ants are probably pretty hungry by now, dont you think?"
Xena opened her eyes and rolled towards Gabrielle, taking her in her arms and looking into her face. "Do you really want to feed me to the ants?"
"Definitely. But first I think I would like spend the rest of my life with you. Does that sound good?" Gabrielle kissed her soul mate softly. Then growing bold, she slipped a leg between the warriors and pushed her onto her back. "You know, lately, I havent been able to tell if youve even noticed me. Do you think we might be able to remedy that situation? Hmmm?"
Instead of the witty answer she expected she received silence. "Xena, what is it?" she asked quietly
Sitting up on the side of the bed Xena answered her. "I think its time, Gabrielle. Ill be ready to leave soon. I want us to go on with our lives and deal with what we have to together. Like we always have."
"Okay. You already know that whatever you decide, Im right there with you."
Standing, she stood before the warrior. "Do you still want to have the ceremony, Xena?" she asked quietly. "Do you still want me?" She hoped the warrior wouldnt notice how important her answer was to her. She would be willing to put it off or even cancel it if that was what Xena wanted but it would hurt her beyond words.
Xena stood and reached for the young woman who waited with held breath. "Of course I do. As soon as we can. For some reason the Amazons wont leave until it is finished."
"What? What did I say?" Xena was concerned. Gabrielle turned away to hide her face.
"Is that why, Xena? So everyone can go home?" Then she said brightly to hide her feelings, "Thats okay. I understand. A lot has happened and it may not be what you really want anymore . "
Xena blinked. *Is that what she had said?* "That isnt what I meant. You know how I feel about you. I want us to be joined. If it isnt what you want youd better tell me now."
Gabrielle shook her head. "This is so stupid! How could we possibly have doubts about this after all that has happened?"
Sighing, Xena asked, "Do you have doubts, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle stepped towards the warrior with a purpose in her eyes. Xena took a step back. What was she doing? Bringing her hand up, the young woman reached out and pushed against Xenas chest until she fell back onto the bed. Standing over her with her hands on her hips, feet wide apart, Gabrielle spoke with determination. "Listen, you overgrown, stubborn, reticent, many skilled daughter of Hades, and listen good. I dont give a fig who you are or where you came from. All I know is that we love each other and there is going to be a ceremony tonight in front of all those women if it kills me . uh, sort of. I didnt go through combat, no food and almost no talking for two days for you just for fun. So stop youre whining and get with the program!"
"Yes, maam," Xena replied with a grin. "I love it when you get tough."
Just as she had promised the ceremony continued that evening. After tying their wrists together again, Ephiny spoke the unfinished words from before. When she finished the two faced each other and spoke what was in their hearts.
Gabrielle was first. "Xena, so much has happened in our lives. But it has brought us together and thats whats important. I couldnt live without you anymore." Turning to Ephiny she took what the smiling woman handed to her. Holding out her gift to Xena she said, "Here is my gift to you at our joining."
Taking the leather pouch from Gabrielles hand she opened it and saw that inside were two things. A silver comb for her hair and a lock of strawberry blonde hair tied with a piece of ribbon. She smiled brilliantly. "I will never be without these," she promised.
Xena was next. "Gabrielle, you are the other part of my soul. I love the gentleness of your heart, the wisdom of your words and the laughter in your eyes. I am not always who you want me to be, I am only what you want me to be. Yours. I will protect you the rest of my life." Taking her gift from their friend, Xena held out her gift. Gabrielle took the light pouch and emptied it into her hand. A single item landed in her palm. The silver and gold object sparkled up at her. It was a ring, with the same design as Xenas chakram engraved into it. When had she gotten this? Taking the ring from Gabrielles palm, Xena took the stunned womans hand and slipped the ring onto her finger. Taking Gabrielles chin in one hand, she pulled her face up for her kiss. Ephiny smiled, waiting for them to finish, then untied their hands and turned them both towards the waiting assembly of women. "Know that these two are joined in heart and spirit for the rest of their lives."
The celebration began. Music, dancing, food, wine. The feast was a blur for the two women. Xena watched everything around her but was only aware of who sat by her side. Gabrielles laughter and delight with the celebration was worth the wait. The warrior had never seen her so happy. There was an inner glow that shone through her eyes as she shared that happiness with everyone around her. Once, when the young woman stood to accept a gift from a group of women who had traveled from a far away Amazon village, she reached down and took Xenas hand, pulling her to her feet. The Queen did not want to leave out her love in accepting the gift. Xena felt a little awkward but as always managed to look unruffled by the attention.
As the feast continued, Gabrielle would often turn to her warrior and offer a drink of wine. The personal gesture was not lost on Xena. Little things suddenly became very noticeable. As she talked, the Queen played with the ring on her finger, as if not wanting to forget it was there. She had already told Xena how perfect it was.
Ephiny sat close by, talking with Gabrielle most of the evening. When they would suddenly break into laughter, Xena would give them the look. This only caused more laughter and finally Xena decided there had been enough wine for her bard. "I think youve had enough, Gabrielle." Xena took the womans wine goblet and set it aside.
A wonderfully relaxed Gabrielle leaned into her warrior love and rested her head on her shoulder. "Wow, is it hot tonight or what?" Gabrielle fanned herself with a woven plate.
"Do you know what incredible eyes you have, Xena?" The younger woman gazed up at her as if she just exposed some tremendous secret.
"I think I may have heard that before, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle twisted around and lay across Xenas lap, looking up at her. "Say that again "
The young woman sighed. "My name, silly. I love to hear you say my name."
"Oh, okay. Why dont you sit back up now."
"Say it first."
Xena carefully said what was asked of her. "Gabrielle."
With her eyes closed, the bard drank in the voice she loved. "Thats perfect. Uh Xena?"
"Would you help me up. For some reason I cant seem to get my body to respond to what I ask."
Xena laughed. "Too much wine, my love. I hope I wont have a similar problem getting a response from that body."
Opening both eyes wide, Gabrielle responded a little too loudly, "Gods, Xena. I dont think well have to worry about that. Remember the other day when you had me against the wall "
Ephiny caught Xenas sudden look of embarrassment as she tried to quiet the bard.
"Gabrielle! Thats enough."
Laughing so hard she was bent over in pain, Ephiny was helpless as she listened to Gabrielle continue.
"Oh, Xena. I couldnt believe what you were doing to me I thought I was going to melt right there when lifted me up and pressed against " Gabrielles recollection was abruptly halted by a hand over her mouth.
Xenas voice was low in warning, "Gabrielle. I dont think everyone wants to hear about that."
Ephiny piped up, "Oh, no, Xena. Were finding it most interesting. Let her continue."
Swinging her head around she pinned the part time Queen with intense blue eyes. "Ephiny. Im going to remember this."
Bravely, the younger woman managed to stare her back down as she held back the laughter that still threatened to explode in her throat. "I dont think were going to be able to forget it either, Xena. Honestly, the image will probably leave several of us a little more than bothered for quite some time."
"Did I say something funny?" the bard inquired after prying Xenas hand away from her mouth.
Both women looked at her and broke out into laughter.
Much later as the assembly thinned in numbers, Gabrielle was feeling a little less light headed. Ephiny told them they wouldnt be missed if they retired for the evening. She wished them happiness and sent them on their way.
Supporting the bard with one arm, Xena walked with her back to the Queens hut. When they passed by the two guards and through the doorway, the sight that greeted them was a surprise. Candles were everywhere. There was more wine and food arranged on the table. Handmade gifts of all sorts were tucked into every corner. A hot bath awaited them in the draped area at the end of the room. Sweet smelling flower petals were tossed in strategic places about the room.
"How nice," Gabrielle commented, walking around the room. "Isnt it beautiful, Xena?"
Xena never took her eyes off Gabrielle. "Yes, it is."
Turning to face her, the young woman scolded her, "Im talking about the room, Xena."
Feeling a little uncertain, Gabrielle asked, "Are you hungry?" Xena opened her mouth to reply, but Gabrielle quickly recovered from what she knew was coming. "I meant for food. Or maybe a bath?"
"I would love to have you in the bath."
Gabrielles voice was a squeak. "What?" A ringing started in her ears and she felt a melting start somewhere low in her body.
Thinking back to the inn at Thymic when she was forced to watch Gabrielle bathe she knew what she really wanted. Reaching out to hold her by the arms, the woman with the beautiful dark flowing hair and ocean blue eyes repeated, "I said I would love to have you-"
"Uh yes. Thats okay, I heard you. I just wasnt sure I heard you correctly. My mistake," Gabrielle chattered nervously. "Why dont we take a ba " her words went unfinished as Xena pulled her close and placed her hands firmly on her bottom.
"Hmmm?" She looked into those fathomless eyes and listened to the voice that could out sing the sirens and was lost.
"Thats enough talking. Remember, talking is your department. Action is mine."
Xenas hand entwined in the red-gold hair of the bard, gently pulling her head back so she could kiss the upturned lips. Gabrielle was surprised when the kiss was brief and soft. She had expected something more powerful.
Taking her hand, Xena led her over to the bath. Slowly, the warrior undressed the young woman, stopping occasionally to take her breath away with a caress. She quickly undressed herself and lifted Gabrielle into the large container of scented warm water. Stepping in after her, Xena sat down and tugged the bard down to sit between her legs with her back against her chest.
They had bathed together many times in the past but never like this. Suddenly, Gabrielle felt as if the whole world had stopped for them. There couldnt possibly be anything more important than what was happening in this one room. Taking a sponge from beside the tub, Xena held the beautiful hair away from the pale neck in front of her and began to wash Gabrielles shoulders. Soaking up water with the sponge, she made gentle strokes down her arms. Anticipating the next application of the soft, wet stroking, Gabrielle leaned back into Xena. The breasts at her back were warm. Gabrielle had noticed that Xena was always warm to the touch. The sponge slowly caressed her as it moved across the soft curves of her own breasts and down to her abdomen. "Xena I umm ," the stroking continued as Gabrielle attempted to communicate what she was feeling. Seeing that long arm wrapped around her in the bath was enough to incite a flood of images she hadnt considered. "When you said oh! that you wanted umm Xena, youre driving me crazy!" Gabrielle exclaimed as the sponge carefully ministered to the sensitive flesh standing at attention at her breast.
"No, Im not. Not yet. I promise youll notice when you reach that point."
"I think I understand now why you said you, uh, wanted me in the bath. What an incredible, Ohh . experience," she gasped, her voice rising an octave as the sponge reached the spot that had been clamoring for attention since the bath began.
Grasping the sides of the tub, the young woman held on while Xena erased all thoughts of being uncertain. Xena kissed her neck as Gabrielle threw her head back, the rhythm of those strokes increasing. A strong warm hand cupped the underside of one breast as she struggled to maintain her minds equilibrium. The sponge floated away as the ecstatic bard rolled her head from side to side, exulting in the pleasure the warrior was lavishing between her firm thighs. Those long fingers parting her were about to drive her insane. "You dont have to we can wait until we get dryyyyy, the bard panted. The warmth of her warrior invaded her body and her senses. "Oh Gods! Forget I said that, okay. Just dont stop," Gabrielle begged.
Teasing the sensitive center of the breast in her hand with her thumb, Xena smiled and assured the young woman that there was no chance of her stopping. As she approached a pinnacle of sensation, Gabrielle let go of the tub and held on to Xenas legs on either side of her. "Xena I ," Gabrielle attempted to speak as the rush of her desire overtook her. "Just let go, Gabrielle," the older woman advised huskily.
Long minutes later, the young woman opened her tightly closed eyes as she became aware of her surroundings once again. Her limp body was being gently stroked by the graceful hands of the woman behind her. "Gods! Where did I just go?"
"Hmmm. A place reserved for very special bards who know when its time to let go and fly," Xenas voice lowered.
Gabrielle grasped one of those exquisite hands and linked her fingers with Xenas. "Holy Zeus, I think Im going to feel right at home in that place."
"I hope so. Ill try to see you visit often."
Looking down at their clasped hands, a stray thought occurred to Gabrielle. "Xena?"
"Where did you get my ring? I know you couldnt have had it made so quickly. Its so perfect. The pattern matches your chakram so closely and I know theres not a smith or craftswoman here who could have made it."
"I knew you would ask eventually. You notice everything."
Taking her weight off the warrior behind her, the young woman sat upright and turned to look at her love. "So where ?"
"Hades. It turns out that my chakram wasnt made by who I thought but by Hephaestus, the god of the forge, specifically for me. Hades had arranged for me to have it so long ago. He brought the ring this afternoon saying that he had Hephaestus duplicate the design because he wanted me to have something to give you that would show those who knew what to look for that you belong to me and are protected by himself as well. He knows your gentle soul, Gabrielle, so instead of a weapon, he commissioned something he thought would suit you and me."
Gabrielle cupped Xenas cheek with her hand. "I know that must have been hard for you. Accepting not only this gift but acknowledging that your father wants to be a part of your life when he can."
"I dont know if Ill ever get used to that. I made no promises to him. He said he understood."
Gabrielle maneuvered herself into a position so that she could kiss her self-reliant soul mate. "I think it was sweet of him. And you, for allowing him to do it."
"Why dont we get out now, hmmm?" Xena asked. "The bed is probably going to be a little more comfortable."
Gabrielle looked into Xenas eyes. "More comfortable? Yikes, what was this, uncomfortable? I dont think Ill ever think of a bath the same way "
There was that voice again. The sound of her name in that special tone captured her attention. This woman could have anything she wanted as long as she kept saying her name that way. "Yes?"
"I seriously doubt that Im going to be through loving you for most of the night and I dont think you would appreciate how your skin would look if left in the water the entire evening."
Gabrielles lips formed an O as her eyes widened. "Yes I see what you mean. Uh, why dont we get out now then."
Standing as she pulled the girl up with her, Xena stepped out and held out a drying cloth for Gabrielle. Stepping out also, Gabrielle took the cloth from Xena. Wrapping it around herself, she picked up the matching one and held it out to Xena but as the older woman reached for it, she pulled it back. Raising her own eyebrow, Gabrielle had a sudden idea. "Wait. I want to do it for you."
Taking the cloth in both hands, she began to dry the dripping warrior. Starting at her shoulders, Gabrielle rubbed the cloth across the broad expanse of her back. Next, she dried the long graceful back and hips. Now this isnt bad work if you can get it. Xena stood still as she waited for the bard to finish. Does she have any idea what she is doing to me? Patience. Ive got to show some patience. Walking around the tall woman, Gabrielle took a deep breath and began to dry the warriors womanly torso. She paused a moment as she suddenly noticed the unmistakable reaction her ministrations were having on Xena.
Gabrielle continued to caress the firm breasts under the cloth, enjoying the power she held, and not just figuratively. "I knew your breasts were dangerous, Xena, I just never realized that I would be in danger by them." Forget patience! Xena suddenly grasped Gabrielles hands and pulled the bard against her body. "I think thats dry enough. Come here," she said dangerously as she bent down to capture the lips of the surprised bard. The material fell away from them both as they stood skin to skin enjoying the feel of each other. Xena was a good eight inches taller than Gabrielle but at the moment neither minded the height difference.
This was the powerful kiss Gabrielle had expected before the bath. Xenas lips drank from hers greedily as she crushed the woman against her own body. Suddenly aware of how tightly she held the young woman, Xena relaxed her hold. "Im sorry. That was too rough."
"Oh really? Maybe youd better show me the difference again so that next time I can be sure and not stop you."
Xena smiled down at her lover. "I doubt you had enough air left to even breathe, much less tell me to stop."
Gabrielle reached around the warriors waist and she looked up at her. "I doubt youre going to hear the word stop tonight, or anytime soon."
Taking Xenas hand she led her over to the bed. Xena sat and watched as Gabrielle walked over to the table to prepare a tray of food and wine. "Are you hungry now?" Xena asked.
Looking over her shoulder, Gabrielles reply was coy. "After that bath, you could say my appetite has been whetted."
A slow smile transformed the warriors face as she contemplated those words. Her eyes swept up the body of her lover. Gabrielles skin was still fair everywhere her clothes had covered her body. The rest had a mild tan that contrasted nicely. Blue eyes traveled up those firm thighs to a nicely rounded derriere that she found quite engaging. For a fairly small woman, the bard was proportioned very well. A chill went through Xenas body as she watched Gabrielle turn with a small wooden tray laden with the goodies. She thoroughly enjoyed the sight of those firm breasts tipped with dark aureoles of pink coming closer to her. Xena could just imagine their taste as Gabrielle handed her the wine.
"Im glad I brought the wine. You look thirsty " the bard commented.
The smile spread as she replied. "You have no idea." Taking a drink of her wine, Xena thought of something she had wanted to ask. "The beautiful comb you gave me must have been hidden away for some time," she commented.
Sitting beside her, Gabrielle replied, "Well, yes. I got it a long time ago actually. I cant say it was made by a god, but I knew that someday the time would be right to give it to you."
"I dont care who made it, Gabrielle. I only care about who gave it to me. Thank you. It was a nice surprise."
Relaxing back on a pillow, the younger woman chewed thoughtfully on a piece of fruit. "I always knew there was something different about you. I just never expected the truth. Not that it matters," she added hastily at Xenas frown. "I just mean, I always knew you had some sort of destiny that would involve the gods. But since the gods are constantly playing with your life, that wasnt so hard to come up with."
"I suppose not. I think theyre just ticked off that I dont care what they think." Xena watched the juice from the apricot spill over Gabrielles lips and trail down her chin.
Unaware of the attention focused on her mouth, Gabrielle closed her eyes as she reminisced. "I remember when I followed you from Potedeia, I thought how incredible you were for taking care of those awful men bent on destroying our lives. I didnt want to admit how attracted to you I was. I just knew I had to follow you to see what you were about. I do admit that I was pretty impressed, and not just with your fighting skills, either!"
"Hmm. I guess I knew that, but just figured it was hero worship." Taking another bite, Gabrielle licked the juice around her lips. Xenas eyebrow was back at maximum attention.
"I suppose it was at first. I thought what an adventure it was going to be to get to know you if I didnt die first, of course."
"I will thank the gods you didnt," Xena sobered a moment. "And of course Hades for returning you to me at Thessily."
Gabrielle smiled. "I wasnt ready to let you go anyway. You needed me to keep an eye on you. Protect your rear, as Joxer would say. And cook your dinner of course."
"Of course," Xena acknowledged. "Argo would have even been heartbroken without you around."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Ill bet. Shes not so bad. Weve been through a lot together too. I think she likes me more now."
"Lets change the subject. Argo isnt whats on my mind and I dont like talking about youre not being here. I dont plan on letting you get too far away anyhow." Reaching over she took the fruit from Gabrielles hand and laid it back on the tray.
"Hey, I wasnt through!" Gabrielle swatted her hand and Xena bent down to kiss the juice away at the corner of her mouth. "Umm, strike that. Im definitely through." Bringing her arms around her lover she pulled at Xena, trying to get closer.
"Hold on a minute. Let me get rid of this tray." Xena practically tossed the tray off the bed. Obligingly, Xena covered the exposed body of the young woman waiting impatiently. "Thats much better, dont you think?"
"Think?" she laughed. "You want me to think right now?" The weight of the larger woman was a pleasant anchor to her emotions. Looking up into the fathomless depths of Xenas darkening eyes she surrendered what little control she had left.
"Gabrielle " Xenas voice was edged with passion.
Closing her eyes, Gabrielle knew she would never tire of hearing her name said just that way from the woman she loved with all her heart. "Anything " she huskily promised.
That was all the encouragement the warrior needed to take control. Instead of the kiss she expected, Gabrielle felt Xena slide lower over her body until her lips possessed the peak of one breast. She inhaled sharply, the tugging of her heart felt succinctly all the way to her toes. With one hip resting snugly at the juncture of Gabrielles thighs and her leg separating them, Xena took her time torturing the quickly responding flesh under her lips. One hand bringing that flesh even closer to her mouth she heard the sounds of pleasure the bard could not hold back.
Gabrielles hips would not lie still underneath the exquisite pain/pleasure. Flexing against Xenas hip above her she endured the torture of the mouth that set her on fire. Xenas long dark hair fell across Gabrielles chest depriving her of the sight of what her lover was doing to her being. "Please I cant stand anymore I think Im gonna die Oh! Xena," Gabrielles disjointed words were punctuated with throaty groans that gave every indication that dying was a very good thing.
Lifting her head when she felt a leg across the back of hers, Xena watched as Gabrielle struggle to catch her breath. "Are you sure you still want anything?" she practically growled. Sliding lower, she kissed the bards flat trembling stomach as her hands continued their tender assault on the breasts above her head.
When she could finally speak, Gabrielles eyes were wide. "Did I say that? I must have meant everything, warrior mine." Grabbing her arm she pulled at Xena. "Come back up here a minute," she insisted.
Pulling herself back up and over the woman beneath her, she looked at the desire in those blue-green eyes staring back at her. Xena could feel the dampness of the bard and knew she was anticipated in another area very soon.
"Okay. I think its more than a little obvious how I feel about you and what youre doing to me." Xena smiled. "Now, how do you feel about giving up a little of that control?" Gabrielle asked.
"What do you mean " Xena started to ask when a hand in her hair insisted she wanted to roll over onto her back. She rolled. Their points of view now reversed Xena raised the inquisitive eyebrow.
"Lets see if I cant raise a little more than that eyebrow, hmmm?" Gabrielle began her pleasurable task of bringing Xena to the same condition she herself was in. She brought her lips a breath away from Xenas but held them there. Xena remained very still, letting the bard play with her. "Hmm, not tempted, huh." Xena smiled until a hand in a very sensitive spot made her draw in a quick breath. Surprised, she couldnt recover before her lips were captured by the confident young woman exploring her flesh so skillfully. Between kisses both light as butterfly wings and deeply searching, Gabrielle promised, "Well see who is the victor on this battlefield. Now I have you right where I want you."
"I was about to say the same thing," Xena groaned. The one thing she did not expect was that Gabrielle was not at all hesitant about her loving. She knew exactly what she wanted and she made sure she got it. Those talented hands which she used so effectively when telling a story were being more than expressive at the moment. As she began to reach the point of mindlessness, Xena felt a nip at her ear. "Its your turn to let go," her lover whispered. And let go she did.
Gabrielle was pleased that she could get the stoic warrior to yell a different war cry this night. She briefly thought about the guards behind the heavily draped doorway but decided it didnt hurt her image any as Queen for them to hear the surrender in her warriors voice.
As reality began to refocus, Xena felt the love of her life draped across her sated body and knew she would never be any happier than she was at this moment. The past was just that. Past. She could never escape it but now there was the future and her life with this incredible woman to make that journey bearable.
"What are you thinking?" her lover asked.
Xena looked into those eyes and all pretense of a defense was gone. She was no longer Xena, Warrior Princess, destroyer of nations, or Xena the reformed or even daughter of Hades, the god of the underworld. She was just a woman who was as vulnerable as any other. Tears began to well up and she did not fight them. "I love you, Gabrielle," she said simply.
Hearing the words directly from Xena for the first time, Gabrielle was visibly moved. Blinking, she held herself very still, the words still echoing in her mind.
Sensing the change in Gabrielle she asked, perplexed, "What?"
She stared at the woman she loved with all her heart. "You told me you loved me," the young woman repeated, amazement written on her face.
"Oh, no you dont! You cant just say that and then go back to your usual crisp answers." Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena. "Tell me again!"
"I dont want you to get bored hearing it."
"Bored! Are you nuts? Thats the first time youve really said it to me. Tell you what, say it a few hundred more times, you know, just until you get it right, then Ill decide if thats good enough." She smiled at Xena as she wiped the rest of her tears away.
The change in the mood was what she needed. Xena said, "I suppose you could make it a law that I tell you, like Im supposed to tell you how beautiful you are too, remember?"
"You do have a good memory for someone so old " Gabrielle decided it might make Xena feel more comfortable with her difficult admission if she lightened the mood.
Blue eyes flashed. *You want to play?* "Thanks. Why do you think I seek solace in the arms of someone so young? Ive killed everyone my own age."
Gabrielle laughed hard. "That really shouldnt be so funny, Xena. Besides, youre not really as old as that are you?"
"You mean you dont know? How old do you think I am, anyway."
Thinking a moment she admitted, "I have no idea. I guess I never really thought about it. I suppose youre at least ten years older than I am."
"Ouch! Apparently, I need to start exercising more. How about I start right now " she put her hands around Gabrielles waist and hoisted her above her.
"Whoa! I know youre strong, Xena. You dont have to prove that to me." Gabrielle thought about how playful Xena could be and how often she surprised her.
Lowering her slowly until she lay across her again, Xena admitted, "Around you Im not so strong. In fact, I feel very weak when I look at you."
"Hmmm. I never thought I would hear you say that."
Picking up one of Gabrielles hands she brought it to her lips. Kissing her palm she gradually turned their bodies until she and the fascinated bard were on their sides. "What else do you want to hear, my love?" Xena asked.
"For once, I dont think we need to talk, Xena." Enjoying the way Xenas hands were stroking her back and hips she pressed closer to the woman. Bringing one leg over that of the warriors she smiled as Xena buried her face in her neck. Rolling them over the rest of the way, Xena allowed those legs to curl around her hips as she pressed Gabrielle into the bedding.
After her own surrender earlier, Xena felt the desperate need to bury herself in more than Gabrielles heart. Taking complete control back from the willing young woman, Xena touched her body with the caresses of an experienced lover, driving Gabrielle back to the edge of madness. Even as her lover begged for satisfaction she held back. "Xena dont. Dont leave me empty."
"I wont. I promise."
Gabrielles response was passionate as she tightened herself around the welcome invasion. Xena concentrated on the younger womans pleasure as she felt the flood of that passion overtake them both.
Later, while trying to regain her breath, Gabrielle asked, "Arent you glad I made us wait?"
"Youre kidding, right?" Xena turned onto her back and felt the exhaustion begin to seep into her muscles. "You had me at Thymic while I watched you bathe."
"Oh, really. And I thought it was that girl, Kiala that had you bothered."
Xena laughed. "I know you think Im strong, but really, Gabrielle. Two? Even I would have trouble handling that."
"You wont ever get the chance " Gabrielle promised.
For the first time since she could remember, Xena slept well past dawn. She awoke to butterfly kisses that opened her eyes. "Good morning, warrior mine. Did you enjoy your battle last night?"
Soaking up the brilliant smile of the passionate young woman, she admitted, "Theres a lot to be said for hand to hand combat."
Gabrielle laughed softly and curled against Xena, laying her head on her shoulder. "Well, I feel positively captured."
"Hmm. Im not sure who did the capturing."
Blue-green eyes opened suddenly. "You wouldnt want to treat me again to those lovely words, would you?"
Xena sighed in exaggeration. "I told you, youll get bored hearing them."
"I have a very long attention span. Go ahead, dazzle me."
"Gabrielle, I say those words every time I look at you. You just arent listening."
Taking Xenas hand in hers she promised, "Im not a mind reader, Xena. Im a bard. We need words."
"Why are you so afraid of saying it? I really want to understand " Gabrielle offered.
Xena closed her eyes. "I suppose because whenever Ive said it to anyone, I always lose them. Im tired of losing people. I love you, Gabrielle. I never want to lose you."
Gabrielle kissed her softly. "I understand. Now, listen carefully. Im not going anywhere. Got that?"
Smiling, Xena kissed her. "I dont know about you, but Im going to have to leave, at least briefly."
"Okay." Gabrielle stretched luxuriously.
Rising, Xena dressed in her own clothes, leaving her armor off. "Ill be right back." She pulled back the door covering and disappeared. Gabrielle lay quietly, thinking of all the lovemaking they had both enjoyed. An announcement at the door broke her reverie. Making sure she was covered, she announced, "Come in."
Two women entered carrying water buckets. "May we prepare your bath, my Queen," one of the women asked. "That would be nice. Thank you," Gabrielle answered. The two busied themselves with the draining and filling of the water. Another voice called out for permission to enter.
"Come on in, Ephiny."
Her smiling friend entered carrying a tray. "I thought you two might be hungry," she began looking around for Xena.
"Shes taking care of business," Gabrielle assured her. "The food sounds great," she added, trying to sit up without losing what little modesty she had left. "Bring that food over here and sit down."
Ephiny looked at Gabrielle as she sat down, noticing the glow she had acquired. Looking down briefly at the hastily discarded tray on the ground beside the bed she said, "You look like a well loved woman, Gabrielle."
"Uh Hmm. I think you could safely say that, Ephiny." Taking a large bite out of a split grapefruit she revealed, "I have never been so deliciously tired in my entire life."
Ephiny laughed with her. They quietly talked a while not even noticing when the two women left and Xena returned. They were laughing at something particularly funny when she spoke. "Am I interrupting?"
They looked up and stopped laughing looking guilty. "Uh, hi, Xena. We were just talking about " Gabrielle poked Ephiny in the arm.
"Ow! Oh, uh we were talking about the village."
"Yeah, thats right the village," Gabrielle confirmed the lie.
Xena raised the infamous eyebrow. "Whats so funny about the village?" she asked knowing full well what they had been talking about.
"You know, Gabrielle, I really need to be leaving now. Ive got to get started on those ideas you had for the village," Ephiny hastily stood. Xena stood between the her and the door. Whoops. How am I going to get past her? Deciding that bold action was called for, she approached the waiting warrior and threw her arms around her in a hug. Xena was quite surprised but returned the hug briefly. Stepping back, Ephiny told her, "Thank you, Xena. For making my friend so happy." She practically ran out the door.
"What was that all about?" she sat on the bed.
"Oh, just girl talk. You know. Er, maybe you dont know. Youre not exactly like most girls. Anyway, we were just talking about things."
"Am I one of those things?" Xena put her on the spot.
Gabrielle uncovered herself and raised her arms invitingly. "Do you really need to know?"
Xena, knowing defeat was imminent at the sight of the naked bard, replied, "I guess not."
Much later they bathed again, with a lot of splashing and intimacies. Xena had discovered the night before that although somewhat shy at first, Gabrielle really didnt mind a bit of roughness occasionally. In fact, after the bath it was the bard who initiated a particularly intense round of pleasurable torture of Xena. The cry that split the air was heard by the entire village. Wisely, no one gave it much thought. They finally dressed and decided to leave the hut. Xena was getting claustrophobic surrounded by walls for so long.
They stayed for another day, talking with friends, helping with decisions about the village. Gabrielle was enjoying being Queen. The attention suited her and she was very good at carrying out her duties as Queen. On some level, she felt equal with Xena, more so here than anywhere else. When she mentioned this, Xena chided her for not knowing that she was always thought of as equal by her.
That night, as they lay spent from their lovemaking, Xena admitted that she felt Gabrielle was too good for her. Somewhat surprised, Gabrielle assured her that being good was not what she had in mind, before seriously informing the warrior that she had better rethink those feelings. Gabrielle felt that Xena deserved a different life than she led in the past, and her own happiness. Knowing of the struggle the warrior lived with every day, trying to control the evil that was always hidden away as a reminder of the life she had led, she knew it would not be easy. She hoped that she was part of that happiness. Xena showed her exactly how happy the bard could make her. A very different cry was heard that night.
The next day, Xena was past ready to leave. Although they were both comfortable with their surroundings, especially being able to show more passionate affection around everyone, they couldnt stay much longer. It became difficult to for Xena to not show her impatience with staying in one place.
Searching for Ephiny, they talked about their plans to leave as soon as possible. Gabrielle would have preferred to stay awhile but she knew Xena was ready to leave. Finally, they found their friend and explained their situation. Ephiny said she understood. Making them promise to return soon, she said she would send a messenger immediately if they were needed. After gathering their things and collecting Argo, they left the village.
"I hope they dont think our leaving was too abrupt," Gabrielle noted.
Xena looked down at the woman walking beside her. "I think they understand that we just want to be by ourselves again."
A few hours later, Gabrielle looked up at her warrior on horseback and noted, "How come I still have to walk?"
Xena, tongue in cheek replied, "Youve got to keep those young legs in shape if you plan to keep up with this old lady."
Gabrielle laughed. "Some things never change."
In the distance, a dark robed figure smiled as he watched his daughter continue on her difficult journey, with her love at her side. "My love travels with you, Xena."
We hope you enjoyed this, um, very long story. For some reason every time I said, "Its too long! Cant you fix it?" my editor and co-author, M. Pappas, said, "No its not. I want it long." Okaaay. Whatever. Actually, were lucky to even get finished since I kept wanting to rewrite it every time I reread it. Being only my second story, I know I have a lot to learn about writing. If you have comments, please remember Im very sensitive, >ouch<, but I would like to hear from you.
Notes: M. Pappas, my fabulous partner at The Scroll Society, is working on a Mel and Janice story (how appropriate) and will keep "yall" updated on her progress. If I dont get booed off the Fan Fiction scene, Im going to be working on the next chapter of this story. Something a little shorter, I think. With whips. Just kidding. Hmm, actually that gives me an idea
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