DISCLAIMER: Please refer back to "Step 1" for specific disclaimers

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Step 9

Mallika stopped wiping the counter and put down her rag for a moment to watch Lakme as she worked in the dining room. The mahogany skinned woman had just spilled some port she was trying to pour into a patron’s glass and was fumbling with her own rag trying to wipe up the puddle. Lakme had the most beautiful, apologetic smile on her face; Mallika could not help but stop to soak it in.

The tavern owner’s daughter made contact with her friend’s eyes and together they shared a private laugh. The blond woman did not mind in the least that her friend spilled every thing she touched and tripped over all obstacles in sight. In fact, it was one of the things she found most endearing about her friend. She could sit and watch the dark woman all day long and, if not for her father constantly urging them to work, she would do just that.

In fact, she often found herself imaging what it would be like if she and Lakme could run the tavern together, without the overbearing presence of her father. Not that she didn’t love her father, but it was time for him to retire and she would be more than willing to take over the business (especially if Lakme were by her side).

Sadly though, her father, Naderus, indicated rather strongly that he would not retire the tavern into her hands until she was properly wed. The tavern, you see, was to be her dowry and whoever the lucky man turned out to be, he would inherit the business.

The blond woman sighed, knowing deep in her soul that her father’s dream was not about to happen anytime soon. Especially since her thoughts about her best friend bordered on the obscene. Mallika secretly wondered if there wasn’t something wrong with her.

After all, two women couldn’t fall in love and live a happy life together, could they?

Mallika’s thoughts wandered naturally to consider Xena and Gabrielle just as the bard and the apprentice burst through the door of the tavern.

Both Gabrielle’s and Chemeclees’s expression bore more than a little panic, stopping Lakme dead in her tracks and causing Mallika to rush around the counter towards her new friend.

"Gabrielle! What’s wrong?" Mallika asked as she rushed over, Lakme joining her a few seconds later.

"Did you find Xena?" The waitress whispered.

Both Mallika and Lakme noticed immediately that the mention of the warrior’s name caused the color to drain from Chemeclees’s face.

Gabrielle waved them quiet with her hands, "Shhh! Not here!. Let’s go upstairs to my room. Quickly!"

The bard pulled Mallika along, Chemeclees and Lakme in hot pursuit. They ran up the stairs like a stampede of wild bulls, causing every head in the tavern to turn in their direction. Luckily, the food in this tavern was too good to ignore. Curious stares quickly returned to their plates as soon as the cause for the distraction disappeared from sight.


Gabrielle rushed them through the door to her room and quickly closed it behind them. She looked to Chemeclees, who wiped his brow and let go a heavy breath and then she turned to face Mallika and Lakme.

"You’re not going to believe it." was all the bard could say.

Mallika’s expression turned curious. Lakme unable to contain herself, blurted out the question.

"Did you find Xena? Is she all right?"

Chemeclees looked at Gabrielle.

"Yes, we found Xena." The apprentice confirmed, "but.....we have a llllitttlle problem."

Gabrielle snorted at the remark and looked down into her bodice. Lakme and Mallika followed the bard’s gaze into her top, curiosity making their noses point.

The bard pulled at the middle of her top and then carefully lowered one finger down into the delicate recesses. Lakme’s and Mallika’s expressions turned from simple curiosity to total confusion.

Xena latched onto Gabrielle’s finger with two strong, but tiny hands and nodded her readiness. The bard smiled and lifted her treasure slowly and carefully out of the warm safety of her amazon top.

Gabrielle pulled Xena up into view, and you could have knocked Lakme and Mallika each over with a feather. They watched in amazed disbelief as Gabrielle dangled a very small and vulnerable Xena over to the table and ever so gently lowered her down. The bard waited until Xena’s footing on the table top was secure and her hold released before pulling her finger away.

The warrior stood, barely half a candle tall and naked as the day she was born.

Mallika and Lakme could do nothing but stare with their mouths open.

The warrior scratched her nose, a little embarrassed by the close scrutiny of everyone in the room. Not because she was naked mind you, her own inherent boldness and confidence made being naked a mute point. It was the obvious vulnerability and lack of control in the situation that caused the warrior unease. She waited patiently for the examination to end and the planning to begin.

It was Lakme who first noticed Xena’s natural thermometers reacting to the cool air of the room.

"She’s freezing, poor little thing!"

Xena blanched. She had been described in many ways in her turbulent, violent life, but never, ever has anyone ever called her a ‘poor little thing’.

The warrior couldn’t be angry, though. Lakme’s observation caused Mallika to quickly tear a corner off of the blanket on the still ruffled bed. She passed it over to Gabrielle, who kneeled next to the table and held it out to Xena.

The warrior grabbed it out of her partner’s hand and wrapped it around her body like a bath towel.

"Thank you."

When Xena spoke, her small, tiny voice caused both women to jump.

"I can’t believe it! She’s really real!" Lakme explained, examining Xena a little more closely.

"How did this happen! The gods are involved, aren’t they?" Mallika said, joining Lakme at the side of the table. Soon they were all around the table again staring down at the warrior as though she were the main attraction at a side show in a circus.

Finally, Xena could take no more.

"Okay! That’s it! Show’s over!"

She lifted her hands to wave them away, causing the simple wrap to drop around her ankles. She picked up the cloth quickly, wrapping it around her body in a huff and sat down on the table in exasperation.

"All right, everyone. Why don’t we all relax for a minute and we’ll tell you what we know and try to come up with some plan." The bard ushered them all away from the table, glancing back at Xena with worry etched all over her face.

"We’ve just got to find some way to get her back to normal."

Xena adjusted a bit of the torn blanket to cover her crossed legs, then drew the fabric tighter around her breasts as she sat huddled against the cold.

The warrior’s expression turned sour watching the four conspirators chatter as they tried to formulate some kind of plan.

"I’m in BIG trouble."

The tiny warrior mumbled to herself, not even listening to the discussion.



Continued in Step 10


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