The water bucket pulled at her hands, and Gabrielle wondered again how she’d been talked into cleaning the floors. She imagined it was the guilt Lila had laid on her at lunch, but deep inside, Gabrielle knew it was simply that doing hard chores kept her mind off having to tell her parents about Xena. She didn’t know why telling them bothered her so much. In so many ways she’d moved past needing their approval, but for some reason she wanted them to still love her, and telling them that she’d decided to spend her whole life with another woman was not something they were going to like.

"How could they?" Gabrielle muttered to herself as she hefted the dirty water bucket over the railing.

It bothered her that her parents would be so disapproving of her choice, yet they seemed to support what had happened to Lila. ‘Lila,’ Gabrielle thought. When had things gotten so bad between them? Gabrielle couldn’t blame her sister for feeling the way she did. The bard had run out, leaving her younger sister to fill both their roles. She’d never thought what it would be like for her sister to have to handle that. She looked out across the yard, her eyes settling on the outline of Tyrone napping the backyard hammock.

"I didn’t do right by her before," Gabrielle said, putting the bucket down and starting towards Tyrone. "But I can make sure she’s going to be all right this time."

Tyrone didn’t move when Gabrielle approached, and she thought that perhaps he was asleep, but she resolved herself to waking him up.

"Nice day, isn’t it?"

Tyrone grunted.

"I was noticing on the way home that the town is overrun with sheep. Shouldn’t they be in a pasture or something. I mean, that is your job, right?" She didn’t know why she’d started out so aggressive with him, but realized that she really didn’t think he was good for her sister.

Tyrone answered again with a short grunt.

"You know, I live with someone who does the grunting routine. I’ve gotten very good at working past that. Want to know how?"

Instead of grunting, Tyrone rolled over onto his side, the swinging motion of the hammock almost knocking into her.

"Well, I just keep talking and talking until you are so annoyed with the sound of my voice that you just start talking back. It usually works in a couple of minutes, which might say something about the tenor of my voice, or just the way I can go on and on. What do you think?"

This time Tyrone made no sound or movement.

"Oh, so you think you’re a tough one, huh? I guess I don’t really need you to talk back, so just listen," Gabrielle said, taking a step closer. "Lila has told me about this arrangement, and the reason for it. While I won’t say anything about that ... I will tel you this. She is my sister, and if you treat her badly ... even once ... you’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble. I have the ability to make your life and your father’s life miserable."

Tyrone swung around in the hammock and stared at her. Gabrielle gave his a hard nod to confirm what she’d said.

"You’d do that? You’d really make my father’s life miserable? How?"

Gabrielle blinked. She’d never heard him say so much, and she hadn’t expected him to respond at all. Now she didn’t know what to say.

"Off the top of my head," she began. "I don’t know. But I’ve got some pretty powerful friends ..." she let the sentence dangle.

"Would you do it ... even if I don’t treat Lila badly?"

"Why would I?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly confused by the turn in the conversation.

"If I asked you. Would you?"

"Don’t you like your father?"

"No!" Tyrone cried. "He’s a jerk. Always trying to control me and make me do stuff I don’t want ... making me do things he knows I hate. Like sheep. I hate sheep."

"And he’s making you marry my sister, right?" Gabrielle drew the logical conclusion.

"No! I would’ve married Lila anyway. I love her. What happened ... well, I would have done what was right with or without my father."

"Tyrone ... treat her well and I’ll always help you two, but stop that and you’ll find yourself looking at a long line of enemies," she said, putting the final touches on what she’d wanted to say. "But as for your dad ... if you don’t like the way he treats you then leave. Start a new life away from him and his money. You and Lila can do it."

"I do want to be an actor," he said quietly. "Dad thinks it’s stupid, but Lila’s the only one who ever thought I could do it. She believes in me."

Gabrielle just stared, knowing a stunned look played upon her face. Tyrone shook his head. "I knew you wouldn’t understand. You probably think it’s a stupid idea, too."

"No!," Gabrielle protested. "It’s just I guess I didn’t give my sister credit for seeing something that may be hidden from everyone else."

"Lila’s special like that, I guess," Tyrone said, with a half grin.

"She is," Gabrielle agreed.

"Course she was scared to death of your coming home. It’s all I’ve heard about. Your parents think you’re something else, you know. And all they talked about was how you’ve been corrupted by that Xena."

"That’s something I’ll have to talk to them about."

"Course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, I think I’m kinda glad I met you ... finally."

"Well, I’m glad we had this talk," Gabrielle said, running her hand through her hair.

"Gabrielle ... I’ll treat Lila right. I promise."

"That’s all I wanted to hear. And I know that whenever you ..."

Gabrielle stopped speaking, a loud excited scream coming from the house. She turned just in time to catch Hecuba and Herodotus practically running from the house, with Lila and Joxer close on their heels. Tyrone climbed out of the hammock, and Gabrielle found herself backing up from the look of anticipation on her mother’s face.

"Gabrielle!" Hecuba cried, her arms thrown wide as she rushed at her daughter. "Why didn’t you tell me!?!"

"Tell you what?" Gabrielle said, holding her hands up to ward off her mother’s advance.

"Daughter, we are so proud of you," Herodotus said, a smile lighting his otherwise emotionless face.

Hecuba wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she pulled Gabrielle into a tight embrace. "I’m so proud of you, my little pumpkin. My little girl, my sweetie."

"What’s going on?" Gabrielle breathed, crushed in the hug.

"As if you don’t know. Very clever playing us like that, Gabrielle ... but we finally got it out of Joxer."

"Joxer?" Gabrielle said, her green eyes flashing towards her friend, who was trying very hard to look sly.

"Of course, you’re dress is all wrong now. We’ll have to have a white one made up immediately. No bridesmaid’s dresses for a bride!" She turned to Lila. "Now, you ... run to the seamstress and have her start immediately. We’ll pay whatever, so long as it’s ready by tomorrow."

"But momma ... what if Gabrielle ..."

"Lila ... you and your disgusting ideas about your sister and that horrible Xena. I won’t listen to you bad mouth her anymore. Gabrielle has proven herself!" She turned back to Gabrielle. "Honey, why didn’t you tell me at least? I’m your mother!"

"Momma ... listen ..." Lila tried again, but Hecuba turned on her. "Enough, Lila. Go have the dress taken care of, and not another word ... you hear me?"

"Daughter, you know how happy it will make us to see you happy and settled. Joxer loves your very much, dear ... and that makes us very happy."

"But Daddy ..."

"Gabby, let your parent’s have their moment, honey," Joxer said, stepping closer, but still standing at arms length. "This is what they want, you know."

"Such a good girl," Hecuba said, before throwing her hands up. "Oh, I have so many things to do! But first I have to tell those old pea-hens about you getting married. They had some strange ideas about you ... but now everything’s all worked out." Hecuba turned and started off across the yard. Gabrielle watched, her mouth slightly open, and her heart pounding in her ears. Her father reached out and touched her shoulder.

"Well done, dear. I’m glad you finally came to your senses."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"Nothing, dear. Now, I’m back to my book." He walked back towards the house, mumbling to himself, "very proud. Very proud, indeed."

Gabrielle turned and pinned Joxer with her eyes. "You’re a dead man," she said, taking a determined step towards him.

"Um, I think I should leave you two alone," Tyrone said, stepping away. "Maybe I’ll go look for the sheep or something."

"What on earth are you thinking, Joxer? Telling my parent’s we’re getting married! Have you completely lost what little bit of your mind you have left?"

"Now, Gabrielle ..."

"I don’t believe this! Now how’m I supposed to tell them? Did you see the look on their faces? Gods, Joxer ... what have you done to me?"

"But I thought maybe ..."

"If we got married, I’d love you. Not likely."

"Oh, I see," Joxer said, crestfallen.

"Joxer," Gabrielle said, feeling a little guilty. "I do love you. Like a brother. Nothing more. It’ll never be anything more."

"But ..."

"No, buts, it just ain’t gonna happen. And now you’ve put me into quite a situation." She looked at the house. "So, which way do I break my parent’s hearts?"

--- XI ---

The evening was quite festive in the house, and Herodotus surprised everyone by lifting a toast to his two daughters. Hecuba kept wiping at tears, and Lila rolled her eyes. After dinner, Gabrielle found she had a terrible headache, and excused herself from the party. Lila offered to come with her, but the bard shook her head, trudging her way up the stairs to her room.

"So, Joxer," Herodotus said, patting a spot on the sofa next to him. "Where do you and my little girl plan on settling down?"

"Um, well, you see, it’s like this ... we haven’t talked about that."

"You can always live in Poteidaia," Hecuba chimed in with a smile. "It’s a nice place to live. Good schools, nice parks, and we could use a strong warrior to protect us."

"Uh, that’s really very nice of you, um ... I’ll talk to Gabrielle."

"Shouldn’t you talk to Gabrielle about something else first, Joxer?" Lila said, handing a cup of wine to Tyrone. "I don’t like my sister’s feelings messed with."

"Lighten up, Lila," Hecuba said. "It’s a party. Quit being a stick in the mud." A knock at the door drew her away from Lila, and her face lit up. "I bet that’s some more neighbors wanting to give congratulations." She stood. "Joxer, you stay here. They’ll want to meet you."

Hecuba crossed to the door, throwing it open with a smile, only to lose her happiness in an instant.

"Oh, it’s you," she said, blocking the door with her body. "What do you want?"

"I’d like to see Gabrielle, please," Xena said, her face the picture of control.

"She’s busy. You can see her tomorrow at the wedding, if you promise not to break everything up."

"I know, and I want to congratulate her."

"I’ll give her your message," Hecuba said, trying to close the door. "Poor girl has a headache from all the excitement. Thanks for stopping by."

"Mother, let Xena in ... she’s a friend of the family," Lila said, almost prying the door away from her mother’s hand. "Xena, it’s good to see you. Please come in."

"Thanks, Lila. I also wanted to congratulate you," Xena said, stepping into the room, and ignoring the cold look from Hecuba. "You’ll be a beautiful bride."

"They’ll both be beautiful," Hecuba said, stalking over to retrieve her wine glass. "Does that bother you, Xena? Gabrielle getting married, that is?"

"Um, Xena ..." Joxer said, pulling at his armor, and swallowing hard.

"Joxer, I’m happy for you both. It’s okay."

"Damn straight, it’s okay. Gabrielle is free of you now."

"Hecuba," Herodotus said, touching his wife’s arm. "Calm down. This is a happy time, and Xena is a friend of our daughter. She’s, of course, welcome."

"Gabrielle is upstairs in her room," Lila said, motioning to the stairs. Xena nodded and moved towards the stairs.

"Why don’t you leave her alone?" Hecuba said, pointing at her with her wine cup. "She’s better off without you."

"And I’m sure you’d know," Xena replied, stopping on the first step. "Why don’t you just keep drinking that wine, Hecuba, from what I hear you’ve got quite a taste for it."

Xena shook her head and continued up the stairs, Hecuba staring after her. "Why the nerve!" she said, sitting on the sofa in a huff. "What in the name of Hades is she doing here anyway? Can’t she get it through her head that Gabrielle doesn’t want what she’s offering?"

"Mother?" Lila said, taking a seat next to Tyrone. "Shut up."

Hecuba blinked twice and stared at her daughter. Joxer leaned forward and picked up a deck of cards. "Anyone for a game?" he said, waving the cards.

--- XII ---

The knock at her bedroom door made Gabrielle pull the pillow tighter over her head. "Go away," she mumbled into the feathers. The second knock was louder, and the bard threw the pillow at the door. "Go away! My head still hurts!"

"Gabrielle, it’s me."

"Xena!" she whispered, throwing herself off the bed and across the room. She pulled back the door, and threw herself into the warrior’s arms. "I knew you’d come!"

"Whoa! Not so tight. I like my ribs in one piece."

"Xena ... damn, I’m mad at you!" the bard said, pushing off the warrior, and storming back into her room. She grabbed her stuffed bear, holding it tightly to her chest, and sank onto the bed. A slight smile crossed Xena’s face as she closed the door and leaned against the wood.

"What trouble are you in this time?"

"Like you just didn’t get an earful downstairs? How’d you ever get past my proud parents?"

Xena shrugged. "I insulted your mother, I think."

Gabrielle stared at her for a moment and then nodded. "Good. She deserved it."

"I leave you for a few days, and you fall into Joxer’s arms," Xena said, affecting a hurt tone. "So much for true love."

"If you joke now, I’ll kill you," Gabrielle said, her green eyes flamed for a second before she took a deep breath. "What am I going to do?"

"Looks like your game went bad on you," Xena commented nonchalantly. "I told ..."

"Don’t you dare tell me you told me so! I didn’t have any options."

Xena crossed the room, and sat down next to her lover. "There are always options, Gabrielle. Always." She resisted the urge to push back an errant lock of blonde hair. "But you played your game, and now it looks like you’ve created quite a mess."

Gabrielle shrugged, determined to not admit to her faults.

"So, what color is your wedding dress?" Xena asked, barely keeping the mirth from her voice.

"Don’t joke, Xena," Gabrielle said, gently slapping the warrior. "This is serious. I don’t know what to do."

"Looks like you’re going to marry Joxer."

"I told you to quit joking! I liked it better when I thought you didn’t have a sense of humor. Now I know it’s just sick."

Xena raised an eyebrow, but bit back the retort. ‘I’ll let that one pass," she said, touching the bard’s hand. "But it looks like you have to tell them."

"About us? And kill them? No, thanks. I’d rather just sneak out in the middle of the night, and wait for this to all blow over."

"Didn’t you already do that once?"

"Well, I found you. You complaining?"

"Gabrielle ... they’re your parents. They’ll love you no matter what you say," Xena said, with a weak smile. "I don’t need their acceptance, so telling them or not doesn’t matter to me. But it does to you. Why?"

The bard scooted away on the bed, pulling the stuffed bear tighter against her chest. "They’re my parents, Xena. Are you trying to tell me that you don’t want your mother’s forgiveness and love? Or what about those years you hoped and prayed you’d see your father again?"

"Fine," Xena said, holding up a hand. "I’ll admit to that, but I wouldn’t let what my mother might think about us make me love you less." Xena took a breath. "And why do you really need their approval so much?"


"Meaning they are just as messed up as everyone else. Maybe a little worse. Your dad lives in his own world. Your mother dri ... has her own problems. Lila is trying to find out who she is outside the family. So, why does the idea of telling them about us frighten you so much."

Gabrielle looked away. "Because maybe they’ll stop loving me."

"But I won’t."

"I know," Gabrielle said, reaching a hand out to Xena. "But it’s not the same. I know that your love means more to me than anything, but their love means something too. It fills a place in me, and it defines a lot of who I am."

"And it’s worth it to deceive them?"

Gabrielle dropped the warrior’s hand. "I don’t understand why Joxer would say that. I know he’s ..."

"Gabrielle ... it’s not Joxer’s fault you’re in this situation. You created it, and you have to deal with it. I’ll support you ... you know that. But you have to finish this."

The bard looked at her for a very long time, and finally nodded. Xena returned the nod, an understanding passing between them. The warrior got to her feet.

"Well, I’d better go before they decide I’ve abducted you, or something."

"I’ll take the or something," Gabrielle said, holding out her hand, and settling back against the headboard. "C’mere," she said, pulling Xena down onto the bed. "I’ve missed you."

Xena settled back, her hand falling across Gabrielle’s thigh. "Me, too. Other than your ... um ... plan ... how’s the homecoming been?"

Gabrielle’s head settled against the warrior’s shoulder. "It’s been a living nightmare, Xena. Really."

"Uh-huh. You want to tell me about it, don’t you?" Xena said, feeling a quiet peace settling over her.

"Well, I am a bard," Gabrielle replied, her fingers running up and down Xena’s arm.

"I’m listening," the warrior replied, determined to concentrate on her love’s words and not her actions. Maybe.

--- XIII ---

The sunlight sparkled across the ice statue of Aphrodite as the delivery man maneuvered it into place in the center of the buffet table. Two waiters began arguing over the placement of several dozen flower arrangements, and the one waiter pushed at another which almost took out the rose trellis set up at the end of a long runway. Joxer just missed become a part in an altercation between the bartender and the chef who were fighting over which wine to serve with the lamb.

The wanna-be warrior straightened his puffy white shirt, and then pulled conspicuously at his tight pants, which were obviously riding up his crack. He look around quickly to see if anyone saw, and then proceeded to walk over to where Tyrone and Herodotus were sitting at a table under an expansive oak tree.

Herodotus stood, and pulled Joxer into a tight embrace. "My sons," he said, smiling down at Tyrone, who ran a hand nervously through his dark hair, his face a little green. "I’ve always wanted sons!"

"Our babies are getting married, Hero. Can you believe that?" Hecuba said, walking up. "And to such good ... strong ... men." She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes.

"Um, well," Joxer said, backing up slightly. "Maybe I should ..."

"No! You can’t see Gabrielle until the ceremony," Hecuba cried, waving her handkerchief before his face. "It’s our town’s custom, and it’s considered back luck to see the bride before the ceremony."

"But I think I should tell you something."

"We know you’re not a great warrior who has terrified everyone. We don’t want that," Herodotus said, taking a seat next to Tyrone. " We’d rather you and Gabrielle ..."

"Not a great warrior! Where’d you hear that? I’ll cut the liars tongue out!"

"Has my father arrived?" Tyrone asked, holding a wet napkin to his perspiring forehead.

"He sent a messenger. He can’t make it, but wishes you the best," Herodotus said, patting the boy on the shoulder. "Something about business in Phoenicia, I think."

"How typical," Tyrone spat.

"I need to see Gabrielle," Joxer said. "I don’t think that we ..." He stopped speaking as Xena walked up to the table. Herodotus gave her a brief nod, and Hecuba smiled with an air of blatant superiority.

"Morning," she said, plucking a grape off the table arrangement and popping it into her mouth.

"You and Gabrielle seem to have spent the night talking," Herodotus said, his eyebrow raised slightly.

"Um ... yeah, she likes to do that," Xena replied, trying to hide a smirk

"This must be rough for you, Xena. I bet you never thought Gabrielle would dump you and get married," Hecuba said, crossing her arms, and daring the warrior to reply.

"About that ..." Joxer said.

"... No, I’m very happy about Gabrielle’s choice. I only ever wanted her to be happy."

"Do you mean that?" Herodotus asked warily.

"Don’t you?" Xena challenged. "Wouldn’t you rather see your daughter, or daughters, happy instead of forcing them into your ideas of a perfect life?"

"What are you saying? That I don’t want what’s best for Gabrielle? Or Lila?"

"Me?" Xena said, pointing at herself. "No, I’d never come between you and your daughter."

"You did before."

"Enough," Hecuba said. "This is a wedding day. Be happy."

"As long as Xena is here ..."

"... Well, I’m not leaving."

"Can I say something?" Joxer asked.

"No," Xena answered. "Joxer, you should be supportive of Gabrielle when she needs it."

"At least I believe he will be supportive of my daughter. Not like you," Herodotus said.

"And what haven’t I done to support Gabrielle?"

"She has a duty ... to me, to her mother, and to this family. You took her away from all that."

Xena took a menacing step towards Herodotus. "And after getting to know you all better, I’m glad I did."

"That’s it, Xena," Hecuba cried, pushing at the warrior’s shoulder. "We tolerate you because Gabrielle seems to think you’re her friend ... but I won’t stand by and let you insult us."

"And you insult her ... which I can’t stand," Xena replied.

Hecuba blinked, until she felt Herodotus’ hand on her shoulder. "Dear, go check on our daughters. Xena and I are going to have a good talk."

--- XIV ---

The girl’s bedroom had seen better days, and if the variety of clothes strewn across the bed wasn’t a good indication of the tension in the room, then one had only to look at the two sister’s faces. Lila stood behind Gabrielle, the brush moving down the blonde hair with soft precision. Each time she lifted the brush her mouth opened to speak, but then closed with the down stroke. Gabrielle sat staring blankly at the wall, her face devoid of any emotion.

"You’re not going to go through with this, are you?" Lila finally asked, putting the brush down.

Gabrielle shrugged, her shoulders pinching before falling in despondency.

"You can’t, Gabrielle! You have to stop it before ... I may be trapped here, but you’re not."

The bard turned around, her green eyes searching her sister’s face. "You’re not trapped either. If you want to be something different, then do it. Leave this town ... with or without Tyrone."

"But I love him," Lila said, sitting on the end of the bed.

"And he loves you. That’s all that matters. Follow your heart ... do what you want ... and don’t care about what Mom and Dad think."

"Look whose talking."

"I know," Gabrielle said, turning back around. "I have to tell them. I just don’t want to disappoint them again ... Hurt them again."

"But ... Oh, Gabrielle ... How’d we get ourselves into this, huh?"

She turned to answer when the door opened, and Hecuba walked in, a huge smile on her face. Gabrielle took a deep breath as her mother’s smile faded.

"What’s this? You’re not dressed! Hurry, girls ... mustn’t keep your men waiting. Your first lesson as a wife is to never make your man wait."

"I can’t do this," Gabrielle said, pushing the flowered garland away. "Momma, I have to tell you something ..."

Hecuba crossed the room, and pulled Gabrielle’s head against her ample bosom. "I know, dear. You don’t have to say anything. I know you only want to make your father and me happy. And, Gabby, honey, this is making us happy. Seeing you married and settled will make our last years joyous."

Gabrielle resisted the urge to hug her mother back, not knowing if this might be the last time she’d be able to hug her. Instead, she pushed back slightly. "No, Mother ... I can’t do this. It’s not .. it’s not what you think ... I’m not what you think."

"Aw, sweetie ... you’re just nervous. Once you say your ‘I do’s’ then everything will be fine. You’ll see."

The bard stared hard at her mother, and finally shook her head. "Is Xena outside. I need to see her."

Hecuba grabbed the brush and began driving it down Gabrielle’s head, making the bard wince. "She’s talking to your father. He’s going to ask her to leave ... and I can’t blame him."

"No!" Gabrielle cried, standing up. "She can’t leave me."

"I’ll go get her, Gab," Lila said. "You and Mom ... well, I’ll be back."

"You’ll do no such thing! Get that dress on, and let’s get your hair done, Lila." She pointed at the bard. "You, too, Gabrielle. I have to get some hair pins, and I want you both dressed when I come back."

--- XV ---

Xena lifted her cup of wine, her eyes watching Herodotus over the rim. The older man fiddled nervously with his cup, and the warrior couldn’t help fearing what her friend’s father might say. She knew they had no good feelings for her, and while it bothered her that Gabrielle’s family disliked her, she’d managed to learn to live with it. That was part of loving Gabrielle, and she promised herself that she would remain civil and in control with Herodotus. She drained the cup, and set it back on the table.

"I want her to be happy, Xena," he began, his gray eyes lowered. "I’m not like her mother. That’s why I didn’t come after you both when she left."

Xena raised an eyebrow at the admission. "I almost sent her home ... many, many times," she confessed in return.

"Why did you let her stay?"

She shrugged. "Because she wanted to. And I realized that I wanted her to stay also. I’d never really had a friend like her. She just accepted me ... defended me ... and she ... " She stopped speaking before adding any more fuel to the fire she could see spreading in Herodotus eyes.

"I know what you are," he said, his voice hard. "And I don’t like it. It’s not for my daughter."

"I don’t follow," Xena lied, knowing exactly what he was saying.

"You’re a woman of the world, Xena. I can see where your ... um ... preferences lie, and I don’t want that to be Gabrielle."

"I see," she said. "So in other words, as long as Gabrielle does everything you want ... then you convince yourself she’s happy. But the minute she strays, ... you’ll make her decisions."

"You’ve confused her. Admit it, Xena. You manipulated a simple village girl into thinking she’s in love with you ... all to satisfy your carnal lust."

Xena swallowed hard, her hand clenching and relaxing under the table as she fought every urge to grab this man’s throat and squeeze. She saw him adopt a defensive pose, and she let his fear spread in his cowardly body before she began to speak. "It is only because of Gabrielle that you are still breathing, old man," she said, the tone of her words carrying her lethal intent. "Your daughter has never been a simple village girl, and she’s never been confused. The best move she ever made was leaving here, and the gods be damned if I’m going to put her back into this prison. For whatever reason, Gabrielle loves you all very much, and I’m trying very hard to see why .. so for that reason, I’ll forget what you’ve just said."

"She’s going to marry Joxer. Don’t try and stop her."

"I’ve never stopped Gabrielle from doing anything she wanted. If she wants to marry Joxer, then she will. I’ll do nothing to change that."

Herodotus stood. "That’s all I wanted to know."

Xena looked up. "If she doesn’t want to marry him ... then she’ll have my support," she said. "Will she have yours?"

"Are you questioning what I really want for my daughter?"


"You have a lot of nerve."

"So, I’ve been told. But your daughter means a lot to me, and I won’t force her into something she doesn’t want. Seems you will, though."

"That’s it, Xena. I want you to leave this town. Your welcome has ended."

The warrior pulled a long leg up on the bench, and curled her arm around it. "Sorry, Pops, can’t do that."

"Then I’ll have you thrown out," Herodotus said, pointing at several burly men.

Xena affected a yawn. "I’d like to see you try."

"You’ve corrupted my daughter with your disgusting ways, and now you’re going to stop her one chance at having a normal life. Some friend you are."

This time Xena stood, and leaned across the table, her hand reaching for Herodotus’ shirt, but falling to the wooden surface below. "Don’t ever question my friendship with Gabrielle. I have and I will go to the ends of the earth for her."

"Then do what’s right, and leave her alone."

"When she tells me to leave, I’ll go. But I won’t leave her because her father can’t accept. And I certainly won’t go because her mother wants to believe everything is perfect."

"Then I’ll have Gabrielle tell you to leave shortly," Herodotus said, his eyes narrowing.

"Fine, you do that," Xena replied, resuming her seat.

--- XVI ---

"I’m not going to let you do this, Gab," Lila said, settling her dress over her shoulders.

Gabrielle was fingering her own dress, and with a shrug pulled it on. "I’ll handle it, Lila. Trust me."

"How?" Lila asked, turning around so Gabrielle could secure the back of her dress.

"I’ll do it, Lila. I promised Xena I would, so I will. I’ll tell them right before, then there’s not much they can say, right?"

"Are you always this much trouble?"

Gabrielle smiled. "Xena thinks so ... But I know she loves it."

"You really love her, don’t you?"

"I don’t know where she ends and I begin," the bard replied with a shy smile.

"Then tell Mom and Dad now."

"I will, Lila. I never wanted it to get this far, and for the life of me I don’t know why Joxer would ... I’ll tell them."

A noise outside the door drew the girl’s attention, and both sisters exchanged knowing looks as the door opened and Hecuba walked into the room, her mouth stuffed with hair pins, and her arms full of baby roses.

"Afh gwood, yourf drewsed," Hecuba mumbled, laying her flower bundle gently on the bed. Her eyebrow raised, and her gaze darted between the girl’s.

"Mom? Where’s Dad?" Lila asked, taking a step closer. "Gabrielle needs to talk to you both."

"There’s no time for talks now. We can talk after."

"No, Momma, we can’t. Lila is right, I need to talk to you. And I want Xena there, too."

Hecuba narrowed her eyes, and Gabrielle watched her mother’s body tense. "Sit down in this chair this minute, young lady. I’m going to do your hair, and there will be no more talk about Xena. Hear me?" She grabbed Gabrielle’s arm and pulled her towards the chair. "Honestly, I’m starting to think the stories about you two are true."

Gabrielle ripped her arm from her mother’s grasp. "Would that bother you if they were true? What if Xena and I were lovers? Answer, Mother."

"I’m not going to listen to this! You’re getting married today, and that’ll put a stop to those vicious rumors. They only started because everyone’s jealous of our position."

Gabrielle ran a hand through her hair, fighting for control. "You’re too much, Momma. It’s always about you, isn’t it?" She started to remove her dress. "Well not this time. I want an answer, Mother. What would you do if I told you I loved Xena?"

Hecuba slapped the bard’s face, and Gabrielle’s hand went immediately to her stinging cheek. Lila came up behind Hecuba and tried to pull her mother away, but Hecuba shrugged off her efforts.

"Mother ... don’t ... " Lila pleaded. "Listen ..."

"You’ll shut up, Lila. There is nothing going on between Gabrielle and that horrible woman!" she said, softening her eyes and smiling at her oldest daughter. "I don’t know what spell she cast on you, sweetie, but you’ll forget. I promise. Joxer will make you happy."

"I’m already happy. Happy with her," Gabrielle said. "Where’s Daddy? --- And Xena?" The bard started walking towards the door, but Hecuba grabbed her arm.

"Gabrielle, honey ... my little girl ... Don’t say anything to your father. His heart ..."

"What about his heart?" Gabrielle said, her own heart freezing in her chest.

"He’s been having pains, Gab," Lila said. "The healer gave him some herbs, but he’s supposed to take it slow."

"So, telling him will probably kill him. Do you want that?" Hecuba demanded.

"Don’t do that to me, Mother. Don’t make me choose."

"He wants to see you married, settled and happy."

"In that order? Or would he rather see me happy?" Gabrielle said, taking another step towards the door.

"Why do you have to be this way? Can’t you just stop? Was it something I did when you were a child? I knew it! It’s all my fault. I didn’t give you enough love ... or attention. You needed constant attention. And the things you’d get into. I should have known you’d turn out this way. I’m so embarrassed."

"Momma ... that’s unfair," Lila said, stepping between her mother and her sister, who looked like she was about to charge.

"You can blame whomever you want," Gabrielle said, with control. "But it’s not going to change anything. I love Xena. I always have. Being with her is all I’ve ever wanted, and I’m not going to sacrifice that for what you think is right. As far as I’m concerned, what I feel is right."

"Why doesn’t Gabrielle talk with Daddy," Lila asked, trying to arbitrate the situation. "I’m sure he’ll ..."

"Lila, you’ve always been so naive," Hecuba said. "It’s why you’re in the condition you’re in. You never listened to me ... either one of you. I’ve got one daughter pregnant, and another who likes ... Zeus help me, but I can’t even say it."

"I like women," Gabrielle said. "I love Xena. Physically, emotionally, and everything. She is everything to me, and Mother, ... I’d like your approval ..."

"Well, you’ll never get it. I’m not going to condone that! It’s wrong, Gabrielle. Can’t you see that?"

"Mother," Lila tried again. "This is ancient Greece, and ‘that’ type of lifestyle is okay here. It’s the one god followers who hate it."

"I don’t care if we’re cavemen," Hecuba said. "I still know loving another woman is wrong!" Hecuba took a slow step towards Gabrielle. "Baby, think about this. You could have so much with Joxer. He loves you, and he’ll make you happy. I’m sure of it. You could give me grandchildren for the god’s sake!"

Gabrielle shook her head, and turned back towards the door. "I’m going to find Daddy. I have to stop this before ..."

"Gabby, don’t!" Hecuba cried. "Don’t disappoint your father. He doesn’t need to know. We can think of something else to tell him."

"No, Mother. I can’t, and besides ..."

Hecuba was holding up her hand when the door opened and Herodotus entered with a huge smile on his face. Gabrielle felt her words choke in her throat when she saw her father, and for a long second they all just stared at each other.

"Gabrielle ..." Lila prompted, giving her a slight nudged in her back.

"Ah, my daughter," Herodotus said, leaning forward and pulling Gabrielle into his arms. "I’m so proud of you, sweetie," he whispered in her ear.

"Daddy?" Gabrielle says, her voice barely registering.

"When you ran off with Xena," he spit the warrior’s name out. "I thought I’d lost you for sure. But now you’re home, and ... I’m just so happy, Gabrielle."

"But, Daddy ..."

Herodotus pulls back, and runs his finger down Gabrielle’s check. "I’m going to ask you to do something for me, pumpkin. Will you do something for Daddy?"

"What?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly feeling like she was five again, and blessed to have her father’s total attention.

"I want you to go ask Xena to leave this place. To leave us in peace." His eyes became hard. "She won’t go unless you ask her to, she says. So, Gabrielle ... go ask. For Daddy."

Gabrielle just stared, the words barely registering.

"Do what your father says," her mother said, appearing beside her.

"Where’s Xena?" Gabrielle whispered, the room suddenly spinning around her.

"She’s outside, honey," Herodotus answered. "Go tell her to leave, and then you’re wedding day will be perfect."

"Lila ..." Gabrielle said, trying to find her sister’s face.

"I’ll be right back," Lila said, starting to leave the room.

"No you won’t! Lila!" Hecuba cried, trying to grab her daughter’s arm. "Come back here, Lila!"

"What’s going on?" Herodotus asked, as if he was suddenly aware of the tension in the room.

"Daddy," Gabrielle began. "I can’t marry Joxer."

"Gabrielle ..." Hecuba pleaded, but the bard didn’t look at her mother.

"Sweetie, you’re just nervous. I felt the same way on my wedding day, but Joxer loves you, and ..."

"But I don’t love him, Daddy. I love someone else." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I love Xena."

She kept her eyes closed, waiting for what seemed forever, desperate to hear her father tell her it was okay, and that he still loved her. But all she heard was tense silence.

"You love her like you love Lila," Herodotus finally said. "That’s fine. You can still love Xena and marry Joxer."

"I’m not marrying Joxer!"

"Gabrielle, don’t do this to your mother and me," Herodotus said.

"Remember what I told you," Hecuba said, her hand over her chest.

Gabrielle drew a deep breath. "Mom. Dad. I love you both ... very much. I want you to be proud of me. I want you to always love me, and I want Poteidaia to always be a special place for me. But I will give all that up if I have to."

"We are proud of you," Herodotus said, but Gabrielle saw his hand clench.

"But only if I do what you want me to do, right?"

"That’s enough, Gabrielle," Hecuba said.

"It’s only the beginning, Momma. I can’t be what you want me to be. Even trying would be losing everything I am. Everything I care about. Everything I love."

"That’s not true! Joxer will let you be who you are. He wants to see you grow, and he’ll encourage that. That’s what you do with people you love," Herodotus said.

"You mean like you’ve encouraged Lila to do what she really wants? Like you encouraged me before I ran away? Don’t you know I ran away because I didn’t want to be what you were encouraging me to be?" Gabrielle cried. "I don’t want to be a farm wife. Tied down to a life I hate. Never seeing anything of the world. Never knowing that there is so much more out there. Is that the type of encouragement you’re talking about, Daddy?"

"You’re making no sense," Herodotus said, dismissing her speech with a wave of his hand. "Now, finish dressing and hurry. Our guests are starting to talk."

"Let them talk! I really don’t care what anyone in this town thinks anymore. Don’t you see? I’m not changing who I love, who I am, and who I love."

"Is that double repeat for me?" Xena said casually from the doorway.

Herodotus spun around, facing Xena. "See what you’ve done? You’ve ruined our little girl."

Xena took a determined step into the room, her eyes hard and cold. "I’ve got news for you ... She stopped being your little girl a long time ago."

"No, you went and made her your little girl, didn’t you Xena?" Hecuba yelled.

"I only want what is best for Gabrielle. That always comes first."

Gabrielle reached out and took Xena’s arm, pulling herself closer to the warrior. "I could never marry Joxer. I never would. Everything I want in the entire world is ... her."

"Don’t do this, Gabrielle. Think, honey. You’re life will never be the same. People won’t understand. They’ll treat you differently. Hate you even," Hecuba said, her eyes pleading.

"Perhaps," Gabrielle replied, feeling Xena’s fingers intertwine with her own. "But what does that matter when you know you’re truly loved?" She looked up at Xena. "I’ll get my stuff."

"So, that’s just it?" Hecuba said. "You’re just going to leave us ... like that? If you choose to go with Xena, then do not return, Gabrielle. You will be dead to us."

"Mother? I ..."

"Mother," Lila said. "That’s not fair."

"Not a word from you, Lila! If you hadn’t gone and gotten yourself in trouble, then none of this would have happened."

"That’s unbelievable!" Gabrielle said. "After hearing that, I’m not sure I want to be a part of this family anymore. I’ll always love you all, but I won’t stand for that crap any longer."

"Don’t you turn away from us, missy," Hecuba said, her face red with anger. "We have rights over you."

Xena released the bard’s hand and took a step closer to Hecuba. "Obviously you haven’t heard about me. I get a bit crazy when people threaten Gabrielle. Before you know it, I might turn this ..."

"Xena, it’s okay."

"They don’t own you," Xena replied, her eyes still hot.

"No, they don’t. They never did," Gabrielle said, pulling her boots from under the bed. "I don’t know why I was so afraid of coming home and telling you all. In the end it really doesn’t matter what you think. In the end I have what I want most, and she has me."

"That’s pathetic," Hecuba spat.

"No, Mom. Pathetic would be living the life that you do. Or living in Dad’s dream worlds. Or living in the cage you built for Lila. That would be pathetic."

"Apologize to your mother," Herodotus said.

"Apologies don’t seem to be this family’s strong suit," Gabrielle said, laying her bag on the bed.

"Gab ... stop. Stop before this gets out of hand," Lila said. "Mom, Dad, leave ... okay?"

"Lila ... come with me. I’ll take you to the Amazons. You and your baby will be well cared for there."

"But Tyrone."

"Now you have to choose. Where does your heart lie?"

"I love him."

"Then leave with him. Get out of this town, Lila. Go to Athens. Be a dress designer. Tyrone can be an actor. Be something more than what our parent’s want us to be."

"Quit putting notion like that in your sister’s head!" Herodotus said. "She doesn’t need you corrupting her."

"As far as I can see ... she does," Xena replied tersely.

"Why haven’t you been killed yet?" Hecuba growled.

"Oh, now we’re getting nasty," Xena said. "And I have been."

For a brief second Gabrielle enjoyed the looks that passed over her parent’s faces, but then she gathered her strength to finish. "Xena ... that’s enough," she said. "I’m sorry that you can’t accept my life, but it is my life, and I will lead it in whatever way I want. If that means I don’t have a home anymore, then Xena will be my home. She already is."

"You’re ungrateful ... you know that?" Hecuba said. "My own daughter, turning on me. I’m ..." Hecuba turned and left the room.

"How can you do this to us?" her father asked.

"Please ... get off the cross cause I’m sure someone needs the wood. This isn’t about you. It’s about me. I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t want to, but ... never mind."

"It ... Gabrielle ... I ... just go," her father said, turning from her. "I have to see about your mother. You’ve brok ... good-bye, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle stood quietly, the once hostile room now deadly quiet. She could hear her mother’s tears from down the hall, and if it hadn’t been for Xena holding her hand she knew she’d have started crying, too.

"C’mon," Xena said, "Let’s get your stuff, and take off, okay?" Gabrielle heard the gentle tone in the warrior’s voice, but for some reason it didn’t help. "You looked very beautiful in that dress," Xena said, her fingers gingerly touching the fabric on the gown.

"Was that before or after I broke my parent’s hearts?"

"They’ll get over it. They need time."

"Yeah. Time ... the godly cure for every ailment." Gabrielle looked at Xena. "So, do you feel better now?"

"Me?" Xena said, her eyebrow raised.

"It was your stupid idea that I tell them."

"Gabriell ... you’re upset and angry right now. Let’s not get into this, okay?"

"Why not? Nothing to say?"

"I’m not going there, Gabrielle. Let’s drop it until you’re calmer."

The bard narrowed her eyes, her hand darting out to pick up the hair brush, and threw it at Xena. The wooden handle bounced off the warrior’s shoulders, and Xena glared at Gabrielle. The younger woman reached for a flower vase.

"Don’t," Xena cautioned.

Gabrielle sneered, and threw the vase with all her might. Xena ducked, and the vase shattered against the wall.

"Feel better?" Xena asked.

"Not even close," Gabrielle said, grabbing a glass.

"Then shouldn’t you be throwing that at yourself?"

Gabrielle pulled her arm back and launched the glass at Xena, who barely jumped out of the way. "Why? It’s your fault. I figured it out, you know," Gabrielle cried, her eyes looking for more objects.

"Figured what out?"

"You rigged the whole thing!" Gabrielle cried, her hand closing around a small wooden treasure chest. "You had to force me to tell them, didn’t you."

"You’re making no sense," Xena said, holding up her hands.

"Do you really think I’m stupid enough to believe Joxer came up with that whole story about us getting married by himself?" Gabrielle said, lifting her arm.

"I dunno. Are you?" Xena said, and then found herself ducking to avoid the latest projectile. When she looked up, Gabrielle had grabbed a small clay figurine, and was waiting. "Okay," Xena admitted. "You’re right." She stood, just as the object began it’s arc, but this time Xena reached out and snatched the figurine from the air, setting it unbroken on the bedside table.

"You didn’t think I had the guts, did you?" Gabrielle demanded. "You had to throw the whole marriage thing into the mix to force me to decide. That really blows, Xena!"

"Gabrielle ... honey ... I ..."

"You didn’t trust me. Damn it, I was going to tell them!"

"When?" Xena said, her blue eyes carefully watching her lover.

"As I was running out the door after the wedding, Miss Nosy. I was even thinking of leaving a note explaining it all."

"I see," Xena said. "That’s the old personal touch."

"And what should I have done?" Gabrielle cried. "I know maybe I could have just hugged everyone hello and then blurted it out." The bard shook her head. "That would’ve gone over well."

"You didn’t have to tell them at all, you know."

"Yes I did. I’ve never lied to my parents, and letting them believe that I was just unlucky in finding a man to marry ... it was lying to them, Xena."

Xena took a deep breath. "I’m sorry," she said. "I should have waited and trusted ..."

"No," Gabrielle said, shaking her head. "It was stupid what I did. You were right, and I played a game ... It was a stupid idea."

Xena took a step closer and opened her arms. That was all it took before Gabrielle had nestled herself into the warm embrace. "No, not stupid."

"Um ... I guess I should say thanks," Gabrielle whispered

"I know it was hard. I do."

"You didn’t make it any easier, but you made me face it. Now ..." Gabrielle smiled.

"Now, you just have to wait and see how much they want their daughter in their lives. That’s all."

Gabrielle pulled back. "No, I was going to say ... now onto Amphibolis, and your mother."

A look of shock settled on Xena’s face, and she dropped her arms. "Now ... Gabrielle ... weren’t we going North? Something about a border skirmish? No? I remember being invited to that Amazon festival next week. I know how you love those parties. Or what about some shopping in Athens ... yeah, you’ve been wanting some new ..."

A finger settled over the warrior’s lips. "Darling, if I have to do it ... you have to do it."

"This wasn’t’ part of the bargain. It was your mother’s stupid note that got all of this started. I never remember talking about telling my mother!"

"Do you really think it’s going to bother her?"

"I dunno. It could," Xena said, a large lock of dark hair falling over her forehead. "C’mon. My mom and I are just starting to make progress. Can’t this wait ten or twenty years?"

"Is the great warrior princess afraid of her wettle mommy?"

Xena’s head shot up. "The Great Queen of the Amazon’s was."

"Don’t worry, Xena ... I won’t make you marry Joxer to get you to talk. I’ve already got one parent confession under my belt. I guess I could just talk to your mom, too."

"Gab - ri - elle ..." Xena tried her warning voice, but the bard just patted her on the chest and smiled.

"Let’s finish packing. I want to get out of here. We could be in Amphibolis by early next week if we hurry."

The warrior reached out and seized the bard’s hand. Gabrielle looked up into the sky blue eyes that always brightened for her. "That was very brave, Gabrielle. It may seem rotten now, but it will get better," Xena said, squeezing her hand. "I promise."

"The only way it could get worse would be if we were stoned out of town," Gabrielle replied, with a crooked smile. "I just wish is didn’t have to end like this. I’m losing my childhood ... and I can’t ever go back."

"Give them time. They do love you, and I bet they would rather accept me than lose you."

Gabrielle’s face lifted. "You think?"

Xena reached out and touched her face. "Oh, yeah. I’ll even bet you two months of firewood duty that you don’t get out of town without your father at least hugging you good-bye."

Gabrielle smiled at the challenge. "After that scene? You’re on. My father is so stubborn, and he’ll never change his mind."

"Then let’s go," Xena said, picking up the bard’s bag and motioning to the door. Gabrielle stopped at the door and took one last look around.

"Thanks for catching that figurine," she said. "My aunt gave it to Lila, and she’d ... well, I can’t imagine her being any madder at me than she already is. I ruined her wedding day."

"Then let’s go talk to her."

--- XVII ---

Most of the guest had begun taking their leave, and Gabrielle watched as her parents tried to shake hands and smile. She could hear their promises of rescheduling the weddings as soon as their daughter felt better. Xena touched her shoulder, and the bard looked up, shaking her head at the story. The warrior shrugged, and smiled.

Lila and Tyrone sat under a tree holding hands. Lila looked up as Gabrielle approached, and the bard suddenly felt at a complete loss of words. Her sister sat there in her wedding gown, with no wedding to attend. It was all her fault.

"Lila ..." she almost stuttered. "I’m sorry."

Lila gave her a half smile. "Hey! I half expected something drastic from you. Never could stay out of trouble, could you?"

Gabrielle looked at the ground, and shrugged.

"I know it’s for the best, Gabrielle," Lila continued, standing and touching the bard’s chin. "I’m glad you told them ... and the wedding doesn’t matter."

"I hurt them, Lila. I disappointed them, and they’ll never ..."

"Then live for you ... not them. If they can’t accept you as your are ... or," she looked at Xena. "Who you’ve chosen, then that’s their loss." Lila leaned in closer. "I like Xena better than Joxer," she whispered with a chuckle.

Gabrielle smiled broadly. "Me, too."

Lila held her arms open, and Gabrielle stepped into the embrace with trust. No matter what she and Lila fought over, they would never stop being sisters. Lila seemed to feel the same, because her arms tightened. "I know you have to go," Lila said, releasing her. "But know that you’ll always have a home with me. It might be in Athens, or here ... but you’re both always welcome. You’re both my family, and I want to see you whenever you can come. Understood?"

The bard clenched her jaw to fight back the tears that were climbing, and she nodded. "Don’t let this place suck you in, Lila. You need to find your own road. Seek it, please."

"I’m glad you came home," Lila said. "I didn’t want you to, but now I’m glad you did."

"So am I," Gabrielle said, glancing over at her parents. "Let me know if anything happens to them, okay? I’ll come home ... whether they want me or not."

Her sister pulled her into a hug. "I will," she whispered, releasing her again. "Now go before I don’t let you."

Gabrielle’s eyes drifted to Tyrone, who was watching the interaction with interest. They stared at each other, and Tyrone slowly nodded. "Remember what I said, Tyrone. I’ll be like a bad fungus if you hurt my sister ... and believe me, I know what a bad fungus is like. --- Be good to each other," she said, as a hand touched her shoulder. "I know, Xena. We have to go."

"Gabrielle ..." Her father’s voice sounded a touch off key, and the bard stood still, afraid to turn around. His hand tightened on her shoulder, and Gabrielle lifted her own hand to cover his. "Gabrielle ... take care. Let us know if you ever need anything. You’re mother and I ... well, we don’t understand your choice ... we don’t approve ... but ..." He turned her around. "C’mere," he said, pulling her into a tight hug.

"Daddy, I’m sorry I hurt you," Gabrielle said, into his chest.

"Ssshhh. No more of that. I think I’d rather know you’re happy away from us, than miserable here," he said, releasing her. "Now ... go."

Gabrielle stumbled back from the embrace, her eyes seeking her mother, but Hecuba turned her back. She looked back at her father, who just nodded his head. Lila reached out, and grabbed her hand.

"I’ll miss you, Gab. Write often, please. And remember, you’re going to be an aunt, so plan on being here a lot. Both of you," Lila said, letting her eyes wander to Xena who was standing with the horse.

"We will, Lila. Promise," Gabrielle said, giving her sister one last hug. "Take care of them," she whispered.

"I always have," Lila responded, patting the bard’s back before releasing her. "Take care of yourself ... and her."

Gabrielle smiled, and with one last look at her father, walked over to where Xena stood. The warrior said nothing, and they silently began walking out of town. It wasn’t until they’d passed the last house that the bard realized that they were heading towards Amphibolis, and she turned to stare at Xena.

"I know, so save the speeches. What’s fair is fair," Xena said, tugging on Argo’s reins.

"You don’t have to," Gabrielle said. "I was only ... I was angry at you."

"You had every right to be. I did force you into that ... only I didn’t think you’d wait until twenty minutes before the wedding to say anything."

"Speaking of my wedding, where’s Joxer?"

Xena shrugged. "Want to go back and find him?"

"With his homing tendencies? We’ll be lucky to make camp before he stumbles in."

"Then should we ride to make it harder?" Xena asked with a smile.

Gabrielle’s hand slinked around Xena’s waist, and she pulled the warrior closer. "Not just yet. I’ve had a rough enough day without being tossed around on a horse."

They walked on for a bit in easy silence, until Xena chuckled softly.

"What?" Gabrielle asked.

"You’ll let me know if you get any splinters, right?"


"Getting all the firewood. You lost the bet, and I’m off firewood duty for two months."

Gabrielle seriously considered releasing her hold on the warrior and debating the subject, but instead she just shrugged, and pulled her closer. "Since my arms can’t carry as much, we’ll have to think of other ways to stay warm."

"Uh-huh, and how should we cook our food?" Xena asked, and then laughed. "Wait, don’t tell me. I’d rather see what you’ve thought up." Gabrielle smiled. "So, do you think you’re mother is going to send anymore bad poetry?"

"Why when she knows I’ve finally found my star light, star bright ..."

"Ugh, that was terrible Gabrielle! But maybe she’ll start writing poems about the grandchildren. I’ve already thought of one for Tyrone and Lila’s child. Wanna hear?"

"Like I could stop you."

"Little Bo Peep lost her sheep ... and she didn’t know where to find them. She ..."

"... You think my sister is going to name her baby Bo Peep?"

"Could happen," Xena said, with a grin. "It does rhyme with sheep."

Gabrielle laughs. "Yes it does," she said, leaning up and kissing the warrior’s cheek. "Thanks, Xena."

"For what?"

"For being you."

"Likewise, I’m sure."

"So," Gabrielle said. "Got any other bad poetry lurking in that armor?"

The warrior shrugged. "I know a bunch of limericks. There once was a man from Crete, who didn’t know what to do beneath a sheet, so he pushed and he pulled ..."

"That’s more than enough, thank you. Why don’t we leave the poetry to the expert here."

"Your mother?"

The warrior received a gentle slug for her response. "There has to be a reason I love you," Gabrielle said.

"Sparkling personality? Conversation skills to die for? Life of the party?" Xena supplied.

Gabrielle hand slowly slid down Xena’s back, causing the warrior to stop speaking. "All of those and more," she whispered, her lips grazing the warrior’s shoulder. "Now, finish that limerick. It’s giving me ideas."

Xena turned and pulled Gabrielle against her, lowering her lips. "One cannot live by literature alone, Gabrielle," she said before kissing the bard, the outline of Poteidaia now a shadow in the background.

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s, Xena."

"For what?"

"For being you."

"Likewise, I’m sure."

"So," Gabrielle said. "Got any other bad poetry lurking in that armor?"

The warrior shrugged. "I know a bunch of limericks. There once was a man from Crete, who didn’t know what to do beneath a sheet, so he pushed and he pulled ..."

"That’s more than enough, thank you. Why don’t we leave the poetry to the expert here."

"Your mother?"

The warrior received a gentle slug for her response. "There has to be a reason I love you," Gabrielle said.

"Sparkling personality? Conversation skills to die for? Life of the party?" Xena supplied.

Gabrielle hand slowly slid down Xena’s back, causing the warrior to stop speaking. "All of those and more," she whispered, her lips grazing the warrior’s shoulder. "Now, finish that limerick. It’s giving me ideas."

Xena turned and pulled Gabrielle against her, lowering her lips. "One cannot live by literature alone, Gabrielle," she said before kissing the bard, the outline of Poteidaia now a shadow in the background.

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