Disclaimers and Stuff: All the characters here belong to Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal.
There is some violence and some (romantic if graphic) lovemaking between women. If you don't like that sort of thing, don't read it.
* Anytime you see an asterisk, the paragraph it appears at the end of is referring to events that occurred in the story ENEMY MINE, of which this is a direct sequel. You really don't have to read that to enjoy this but it might help.
Any and all feedback greatly appreciated.
by G. L. Dartt
The whole world seemed to have stopped in that moment before dawn, when everything was still and silent as those that prowled the night found themselves places to hide while those which thrived under the day's aegis had not yet began to stir. There was no breeze to rustle leaves, no sound of insects breaking that dawn hush as the first glimmers of light began to tint the eastern horizon.
She looked down on the warrior woman who was still caught in Morpheus's power. Lightly, at a knife's edge to awaken at the slightest hint that things were not right, but sleeping none the less. Luxurious dark hair spread over the bedroll and the classic, beautiful features were peaceful in their repose, eyelids that cast butterfly touch shadows of dark eyelashes upon the bronzed skin of high, proud cheekbones. The full lips were parted slightly, the barest hint of white teeth bared as Xena breathed easily and evenly through the sculptured nose, the chest rising and falling with steady monotony.
Beside her, tucked up against the warrior's side as if she belonged no where else, a smaller woman with coppery red hair slumbered deeply, curled up in the other's arms. Both were fully dressed, a wise precaution in this area of bandits and wildness, but the redhead had sometime over the night wormed her hand into the warrior's tunic and now it rested peacefully on the larger woman's right breast, rising and falling with the steady motion of the chest.
The tall, slender woman dressed in black leather which left her long legs and mid drift bare, her blond hair flowing wild about elven features, sniffed, rubbed her nose with the back of her hand, and rolled her eyes briefly.
"Well, isn't this just precious?" she said acidly as she reached out and kicked Xena soundly on the base of the foot with one booted toe.
Instantly Xena was rolling away from her sleeping companion, snatching her sword in one smooth motion and springing upright. Standing almost six feet tall even in bare feet, Xena was magnificent in her fury and surprise. Then she saw who was standing there, and she lowered her sword.
And her brows.
"What do you want?" she said with disgust.
"That's why I always look forward to our little get-togethers, Xena," Callisto said silkily. "You're always so charming."
"That doesn't answer my question," Xena said, a little more evenly now that she had finished shaking the sleep from her head.
"Now why else would I be here?" Callisto responded and as one, the two warrior women looked down at the redheaded Gabrielle, who still had not stirred.
Six years before, while Xena had still worn the mantle of warlord, her army... and therefore, by natural extension of command, Xena herself... had been responsible for the torching of a small village named Cirra. Callisto was a survivor of that holocaust and had dedicated her life to trying to destroy Xena and everything she was or loved. However, by the time Callisto had implemented her plan for revenge, Xena had turned her back on her old life and had begun to make repartition for her evil acts. It didn't even slow the blond down and their encounters had been both bloody and soul searing. Callisto had even ended up dead at one point.
That hadn't slowed her down either.
But in the course of regaining her life, and through a series of circumstances involving Hera, Hercules and an apple from the Tree of Life, not to mention some ambrosia, Callisto had ended up somehow as a goddess. That had lasted for all of a minute before Xena managed to send her plunging into a flow of lava where she was seemingly doomed to eternal captivity.
That merely gave Callisto pause for thought.
The discovery that her sister had not died six years before after all, and a deal with Artemis had resulted in Callisto in becoming an Arrow of Artemis, a servant to the Goddess of the Moon in return for maintaining her immortality and all the advantages that entailed.*
The main geas of that service was protecting a certain Amazon Queen from immortal threats. An Amazon Queen who spent most of her time trailing about the countryside at her warrior's side, gathering material for all her bardly tales and getting into more trouble that one would think possible for one small woman.
Callisto frowned as she looked down at the slumbering bard and prodded her not so gently with her toe. Xena was looking at Callisto worriedly. She was suddenly very aware of what Callisto's presence portended.
"What is the threat?" she asked with decided tension in her voice.
"Tell me Xena, does your little friend always cop a feel in the night?" Callisto asked impishly, not answering the warrior princess's worried question.
Xena rolled her eyes. "What has brought you here?" she tried again. Maybe if she asked it in enough different ways, she would eventually get an answer.
Callisto ignored her, crouching down next to the redhead. She nudged the bard to wake her up, then again, harder when there was no response. She smiled at Xena who was watching with no little trepidation. "She really is difficult to get up, isn't she?" Casually she bent down and screamed.
Xena started abruptly as the shrill shriek shattered the dawn's peace, birds exploding from the trees surrounding the clearing, echoing throughout the small valley where they camped. The effect on Gabrielle was equally as shattering, the bard sitting up abruptly, groping for the Amazonian staff lying beside her on the ground. Green eyes clouded with sleep looked fuzzily at Callisto who was leaning back on her heels, giggling helplessly.
Horror and fear mingled in Gabrielle's sleep dazed face as she desperately scrambled away, not stopping until she had reached Xena's feet, sheltering behind her friend's comforting form. Without taking her steely gaze from Callisto, Xena reached down and grabbed Gabrielle's arm, gently helping the bard up until she stood beside and slightly behind the warrior princess, staff thrust forward threateningly.
"If we're quite done amusing ourselves," Xena said aridly.
Callisto, vastly entertained by this, opened her mouth to respond.
"Calli, do I have to stay in the woods anymore?"
From the underbrush, a whip-thin ten year old poked her head over a log. Astonished, Xena and Gabrielle watched as the girl with long flaxen hair and familiar brown eyes strolled casually into the clearing. The was a an old burn scar along her jaw which enhanced rather than detracted from her elven features, a smaller version of the blond warrior's.
"I thought I told you to stay put until I came and got you." Callisto's tone was an aggravated mix of exasperation and affection.
"I thought you were in trouble when I heard you scream," the child said calmly. She stopped in front of Xena, staring at her insolently. "So you're the one who killed my mama," she said coldly. "You don't look so tough."
And promptly kicked the warrior princess in the shin.
Xena yelped and Callisto immediately swept the child up and tucked her under one arm. "What do you think you're doing, Cassiope?" Callisto scolded the outraged child. "Kicking her in the knee isn't going to get you anywhere. A knife in the guts maybe... But kicking her in the knee is just gonna make her mad and you don't wanna see her mad. What am I gonna do with you?" She lugged her over to a convenient boulder and sat her down firmly. "Now stay there until I tell you to move."
The child kicked her feet rebelliously but stayed on the rock when Callisto turned away with a last warning shake of her finger. The little girl did make a rather obscene gesture at the retreating back however just to show what she thought of the whole thing.
"Your sister, I presume," Xena said sardonically, reaching down to rub painfully at her shin.
Gabrielle, recovered somewhat from her rude awakening, peered curiously at the girl. "Is that Cassiope?" she asked wonderingly.
"You think I'd be dragging her all the way out here, otherwise?" Callisto queried darkly. She shot a glance over at the child who was now staring, fascinated at Xena's golden palomino, Argo, which grazed a few feet away. She looked back at Xena. "Can she pat Argo? She won't hurt her. She likes horses." Her tone indicated there were quite a few things Cassiope didn't like, much to those things' dismay.
Bemused, Xena nodded her permission and Callisto called over to the child. "Xena says you can pat her horse. But don't try to ride her. And don't leave the clearing. Don't go out of eyesight. Don't pick up anything that doesn't belong to you. And don't kick anyone else."
She turned back to the two women, hoping she had covered everything, very much afraid she hadn't. She sighed deeply. "I couldn't find anyone to stay with her," she complained. "She's got half the village terrified of her and the other half want to string her up. She's burnt down two sheds and beat the stuffing out of the blacksmith's two teenage boys. We couldn't get out of there fast enough."
Torn between amusement and wariness, Xena raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you're here?" she asked. "You're looking for a babysitter?"
"You wish," Callisto said, regaining some of her normal aplomb. "I got one word for you."
"Gabrielle. Gabrielle, are you all right?"
The words seemed to be coming from very far away and with an odd reluctance, the bard slowly opened her eyes and looked around woozily.
"Xe..Xena," she muttered, discovering she was sitting on the ground, head leaning forward over her bent knees. Her staff had fallen in the grass a few feet away. "What happened?"
"You fainted," another voice said with more than a trace of disgust.
Gabrielle looked up to see Callisto and felt the dizziness spin around her once more. So it was true. Her unwanted and definitely unpleasant protector was here for a reason. And the reason came in the terrifying form of a rogue Amazon named Valasqua.
Valasqua had killed the previous Amazon Queen, Melosa in a challenge; chilling when one realized the Queen had raised Valasqua as her own daughter after her own mother has been killed in the Centaur wars. She had preached the old ways, convincing more than a few to her vision of returning the Amazons to glory through the spilling of blood. When Gabrielle had returned to the village on the way to returning Xena's body to Amphipolis, the Amazon first tried to convince the princess, Gabrielle to give up her Right of Caste and renounce the throne, handing over the mask to her. When Gabrielle refused, Valasqua tried to kill her. Fortunately, Xena was able to use Gabrielle's body (her own being somewhat incapacitated at the time, being dead and all) to fight the woman and drop her onto pikes before gaining a piece of the ambrosia they all had been after. The bard was saved, Xena returned to life and the Amazon, Ephiny was crowned interim queen in Queen Gabrielle's absence.
The peace lasted for all of three minutes when the fatally wounded Valasqua staggered into the village and before their horrified eyes, consumed some ambrosia, becoming a goddess bent on destroying Gabrielle. That was when Xena had first called on an immortal Callisto for help.
Gabrielle had never been hunted before, never been targeted for the sole purpose of being exterminated. At least, not with her being aware of it at the time. It was a singularly unpleasant experience and not one she was eager to repeat. Yet here they all were and it seemed the nightmare was starting again.
Gabrielle shook her head and allowed Xena to help her to her feet. She swayed a bit, her warrior's arm supporting her comfortingly about her waist. Gratefully she leaned against Xena's strength, drawing on it as freely as it was given.
"What about Valasqua?" Gabrielle was amazed at how steady her voice sounded.
Callisto claimed the rock that her sister had vacated to play with Argo, sitting cross-legged as she propped her elbows on her thighs. She flicked a quick glance to check her sister's whereabouts then stared at the other two intently, resting her chin on the back of her laced fingers. "She's out," she said flatly.
"How do you know?" Xena asked, eyes glacial chips.
Callisto rolled her eyes. "Don't you ever get tired of asking that?" she asked rhetorically. "I know because two days ago, Artemis showed up and told me that she was. I thought this geas had ended when I found my sister. My mistake. I suppose, I should have realized that as long as I am immortal, the goddess thinks she owns me."
"Yet here you are," Xena said pointedly.
"Yet here I am," Callisto agreed blandly. They stared at each other a moment.
"How did Valasqua get out of the lava?" Gabrielle asked after unsuccessfully trying to decipher that cryptic look between the two leather clad warriors.
"Olympian intervention," Callisto answered shortly.
"Ares," Xena spat bitterly.
"You would think that," Callisto grinned. "And you'd be wrong. It was Artemis herself."
"What?!? Why?" Xena and Gabrielle spoke together.
"Because Valasqua's an Amazon and as one of her sworn chosen, Artemis had no choice but to listen to her petition to be freed," she explained. She held up a hand to forestall any questions from them. "Don't ask me, it's some kind of 'god' thing, something about owing their worshipers. Now I'm not saying that maybe Ares didn't put the idea in Valasqua's head or that he didn't have a hand in reminding Zeus of the small print they're required to follow, but it was Artemis who had to release her. And it was Artemis who sent me here to protect Valasqua's most obvious target."
"Where...where is Valasqua now?" Gabrielle asked.
"Apparently she's in the southern village of Kavalla, the pirate's stronghold, gathering up a band of followers. Her first target, according to Artemis, is Potedeia," Callisto revealed. She glanced over at Cassiope who was now trying to get Argo to eat some wild flowers from her hand. "The village we were staying in happens to be between Potedeia and where Valasqua is right now. I didn't want the Amazon bitch making a little side trip and going after Cassiope. Valasqua's not too fond of me, either, you know...." The 'thanks-to-you' was implied if not actually said.
"How close is she?" Xena asked. The bard felt warrior's hand tighten on her shoulder comfortingly.
"From what Artemis tells me, we have about a week before she reaches Potedeia and slaughters every one of Gabrielle's relatives," the immortal said cheerfully.
Gabrielle made a small sound deep in the back of her throat. "How powerful...is she still a god?" she asked, not wanting to hear the answer. The memory of those maddened eyes, milk-white with barely contained power, the sound of her name on lips that dripped poisonous intent...it still gave her nightmares on occasion.
Callisto laughed. "Oh, hardly, Gabrielle," she said. "It's not like Valasqua was ever really a god, you know."
"No, she's more like a....a godling," Callisto explained. "Honestly, if we had really been gods, like say Artemis herself, do you really think a couple of mere mortals like you could have dumped us in a lava pit? No, ambrosia can get you started but most of the Olympian's power is based on their worshipers. The more they have, the more powerful they are. Who's ever heard of Valasqua, let alone worshiped her?" Callisto spread out her hands expansively. "No, she's got some tricks; the lightning bolts, the whirlwinds, the enhanced senses, and the ability to heal real quick, but she's beatable....very beatable, as a matter of fact."
Xena raised an eyebrow. "How?"
"Artemis told me about this crystal," Callisto explained, getting to the heart of the matter. "It reverses the effects of ambrosia. Our only chance is to get it and use it on Valasqua. She'll be mortal again. Then we can take care of her. I know where it is but it's not going to be easy to get it."
"We'll leave in an hour," Xena stated.
"Oh, not so fast." Callisto held up a hand. "There's one other thing. Somebody's gonna have to watch Cassi," she added lowering her voice. "I'm not going to risk her in the caves where the crystal's kept." She glanced sideways from beneath sly eyes as the other two followed her gaze to the little girl in the meadow. To where the little girl was supposed to be.
"Oh, for Zeus's sake," Callisto cried, leaping off the rock. "Where's she gotten to now?"
"What about Cyrene?" Gabrielle offered, as she and Xena stood beside the now saddled Argo, watching as Callisto frantically searched for her wayward sister. They had offered to help but Callisto had told them that bringing new players into the game would just make the kid hide better. It was a skill Cassiope had developed while a slave and she was extremely good at it.
So while they waited, the bard linked her arms tightly around her warrior's waist, Xena's arm resting warmly across the redhead's shoulder. Sighing, Gabrielle leaned into Xena's neck, taking the opportunity to breath the woman's scent deeply, nuzzling the sharp rise of collarbone beneath bronzed skin.
"Gabrielle," Xena warned fondly as she leaned away. She returned the bard's impish grin with a raised brow and answered the question. "I don't think so. There's that thing with Callisto capturing the village, taking over my body and trying to kill her. Mother wouldn't forgive that. She's funny that way." She looked to where Callisto beat the underbrush. The slightest of movement at the top of a tree caught her attention.
"Oh yeah," Gabrielle allowed. She thought hard. "Well, it definitely can't be my parents. They adored Perdicus and I haven't.....they don't know about...you know."
Xena did know. The last encounter with Callisto had revealed the fact that Gabrielle's dead husband had in fact, been a rapist of young girls while a part of Helen's army. He had married Gabrielle in an attempt to run away from it, hoping Gabrielle's innate goodness would 'save' him. Cynically, Xena thought it was more the bard's innocence that attracted him. In any event, the information had profound repercussions, not the least of which was the two women finally revealing their true feelings for each other. Xena supposed she owed Callisto for that.*
"Besides, that's where Valasqua is headed," the warrior reminded dryly. Her gaze never left the shadow lying outstretched on the branch.
"Oh yeah," Gabrielle offered, who had been trying very hard not to think about that. "What about the Amazons?"
Xena frowned. "I think Valasqua is going to make a point of seeing them," she reminded pointedly. "Sooner or later." Keen eyes traced the small form crouched in a tree.
"I'm sure," Gabrielle explained. "But if we can't stop Valasqua at Potedeia, do you really think it matters where our loved ones are then? And I think Eponin will be a perfect guardian for Cassiope."
Xena raised an eyebrow, considering the thought of the tough Amazon who had taught Gabrielle the basics of the staff. The bard was right in that if anyone could handle the little terror, it would be her. The warrior princess allowed herself a moment of amusement as she realized Cassiope was perched in a perfect vantage point to watch every second of her sister's search. Furthermore, the child had stayed within the clearing albeit in a tree at the very edge. It seemed the child was as good at skirting the line of honesty as her sister.
"Un, Callisto," she called over finally, deciding the game had gone on long enough. "Look up."
Callisto turned to her, confused, then looked up in time to see Cassiope gleefully launch herself into midair and plummet towards the startled immortal. With her heart in her throat, Xena took an involuntary step forward, seeing Callisto catch the thin bundle with difficulty, the pair of them falling on the ground as the older sister used her body to take most of the impact.
Xena pounded over, Gabrielle a step behind her. Cassiope was sitting on Callisto's midsection, looking down with an unmistakable air of triumph and joy. The breathless woman stared back at the child with astounded aggravation.
"Gotcha," Cassiope chortled. She poked her sister in the chest. "I win, I win, I win," she giggled, adding an enthusiastic jump at each word. Callisto let out a little grunt every time the child landed.
Xena had seen Callisto in many guises, in many moods. She had never seen her flustered before.
"I don't think I can survive this," the blond confided to Xena in an aside as she got up and dragged the recalcitrant child to the horses.
Xena looked over at Gabrielle who was watching with wide green eyes. The bard had both hands clamped over her mouth to stifle the laughter that threatened to escape. The warrior raised an eyebrow and Gabrielle had to turn away, shoulders shaking silently.
Clearly Cassiope had turned out to be far more than the immortal had expected. However, Xena could see that the child did have an oddly endearing charm, a mischievous embrace of life that slavery had not taken from her. And despite the way she continually aggravated Callisto, the blond warrior clearly and totally adored her little sister. The fact Cassiope adored her right back was apparent in the way her dark eyes followed her sister when she wasn't looking.
Xena shook her head and followed the two blonds, gathering up Argo's reins and mounting smoothly. Callisto lifted her sister to the top of a large bay pony, then got on a big black gelding with a white diamond on his forehead.
"The Amazons are on the way," she said to Callisto who glanced at her curiously. "I think Cassiope will enjoy spending time with them."
"Didn't Valasqua cause enough damage to their little town?" Callisto said sardonically. "Cassiope is all they need." Despite her words however, there was a definite note of fond pride in her tone.
"I'm sure they can handle her," Gabrielle interjected, having gotten her burst of merriment under control before joining them. She took the hand Xena reached down for her and allowed the warrior to pull her up onto Argo, settling behind her on the palomino's back. "And they'll be able to protect her if we, well if we can't...." Her voice trailed off as she realized how unwilling she was to finish the thought.
Callisto nodded and they rode east out of the clearing towards Amazon lands, limiting their pace to that of the pony's shorter legs. Cassiope was thrilled at the thought of meeting the tribe she had only heard about in legend and had to be physically restrained from pushing her sturdy little mount into a headlong gallop in an effort to get there quicker.
It took the morning and part of the afternoon to reach the forest which was the Amazon's territory's primary border. They pulled up shortly after entering the woods, Xena and Gabrielle going through the ritual greeting of dismounting and raising their hands over their heads, crossing them at the wrists as Callisto and Cassiope watched curiously. To the child's wide-eyed appreciation, four masked warrior women dropped out of the trees to surround them, drawing their swords and crossing them respectfully. Two of the border guards escorted their Queen and her guests to the village where Ephiny, alerted by a runner, awaited them in the central square by the village well.
She hugged Gabrielle tightly and nodded respectfully at Xena. Callisto and her sister she stared at in open astonishment.
"I don't understand," the interim queen said. Her curly ash hair flowed around strong features that were apprehensive as she gestured towards the blond warrior who was walking towards them. "Isn't that Callisto?"
"It's okay, Ephiny, she's with me," Gabrielle said, and boggled inwardly at the words coming out of her mouth. She never figured she'd ever be saying anything like that. Callisto who had joined them just in time to hear this last part, favored her with a double take but did not press it.
Ephiny was confused. The last time Gabrielle had been here during the mess with Xena's dying and subsequent resurrection, Gabrielle had poured her heart out to the Amazon. Everything had come out then, how she felt about Xena, how lost she was without her...everything. And she had told her about Callisto's murder of Perdicus. Ephiny was about to respond when Gabrielle used her royal prerogative to forestall any further argument, holding up a hand.
"Callisto is an Arrow of Artemis," she told the Amazon. Which basically finished the conversation as far as the Amazons were concerned. Artemis was their patron goddess after all.
"My apologies," Ephiny said stiffly, bowing slightly to the bemused Callisto. The slender blond had not had any dealings with the Amazons outside of her brief encounter with Valasqua. She was totally unaware of their customs and rituals. Being an Arrow of Artemis placed her high in the Amazonian culture, just beneath the queen herself. "I ask forgiveness for any offense I have caused," the Amazon added awkwardly.
Callisto opened her mouth to offer her normal sarcastic opinion on that when she became aware of her sister watching intently from her perch on her pony. It was an unusual position the young woman found herself in, that of being a role model for her sibling. It had significantly altered her behavior in the recent past. With an effort, she clamped down on her first biting reply and quickly formulated another.
"No offense taken," she said graciously. Then, for good measure, added, "It honors me to fight on the Amazons' behalf."
Gamely she ignored the odd look directed her way by Xena and the odder one she got from Gabrielle as she turned and helped her sister off the pony. "And this is my sister, Cassiope," she introduced. "I need the Amazons to protect her while we go after Valasqua."
That name definitely got Ephiny's attention and at her urging, they moved to the palace where they were joined by the other Amazons who served on the tribe's governing Council. That included Eponin, Solari, the Healer, Marnleus and the tribe's domestic administrator, Philipus. The last two had been followers of Valasqua but they had been present for the rogue's last mad rampage and as Gabrielle quickly brought them up to speed on the events of the day, they realized the threat she presented. Willingly, they went over everything they knew about Valasqua and the abilities of ambrosia. Then Callisto described caves which, according to what Artemis had told her, were the hiding place of the crystal. The area was known to their historians, and they went over those legends as well.
Eponin, upon being informed privately by Gabrielle that it might be a good idea that she became Cassiope's guardian while the child was in their village, had introduced herself to the young girl and regaled her with tales of Amazon battles long past, promising to teach her about the staff. Cassiope, completely captivated by the gruff warrior woman, fell asleep in her lap, and after asking Callisto's permission, the royal guard bore the little girl off to the dormitory where most of the Amazons not yet bonded resided.
That gave Ephiny the signal to wrap things up as well. They had pretty much covered all they could and after consuming a light supper, they all went off to their assigned huts for the night. Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto paused briefly near the well, the dim square dancing with shadows from the torches scattered about the perimeter.
"We should leave at first light," Xena instructed, looking at the immortal.
"I'll be awake," Callisto said dryly. As an immortal, she no longer needed to sleep and for her, the hours until dawn would be tedious at best.
Xena nodded briefly and looked at Gabrielle who brushed a tired hand across her eyes. "I'm going to check on Argo," the warrior explained. "You go ahead."
"I'll be in our hut," Gabrielle responded, resting her hand fleetingly on the warrior's arm before moving off into the night. "Don't be too long."
"I won't," Xena promised. She gave the bard a gentle little shove towards the line of structures outlined in the flickering torch light, looking after her until she abruptly became aware of Callisto's sardonic gaze.
"What?" she said sternly, an eyebrow raised warningly.
"Oh, Xena, I'm guessing we won't be worrying about any immortals looking for virgins anymore," Callisto allowed with an annoying smirk. "Finally got her to do the deed, did you? Tell me, how soon did you pounce after I revealed all about Perdy-boy?"
Xena stifled a sigh. "Jealous?" she asked in a bored tone.
Callisto was clearly disappointed at not getting a rise out of her longtime antagonist. "You know, you're starting to take all the fun out of this," she pouted. "Getting to torture you was part of the reason I protect the irritating little bard."
"Sorry, Callisto," she said in a tone that revealed how little she really was. She grinned suddenly. "I would have thought you wouldn't have the energy anyway. Cassiope keeps you on the go."
The blond's face underwent a remarkable transformation, softening perceptibly. "She''s a handful," she agreed with a note of pride. Then she frowned as she realized Xena was trying to divert her. With another, less convincing leer, Callisto tried one last time. "Tell me, Xena," she said, moving closer. "Does the bard really look past the warlord, or is that part of the attraction. Do you...'punish' her?" She reached out and stroked the warrior's bared arm with a slender finger, glancing at her from beneath slyly lowered eyes.
Xena regarded her with tolerated amusement. "Oh, we punish each other. And what a sweet pain it is," she responded with a slow, deliberate drawl. She reached out and lifted the narrow chin with a strong forefinger. "You know, Callisto" she said, not unkindly as she studied her with sensual eyes. "Perhaps you ought to try it some time. It certainly would make your nights pass faster. And you might learn a whole new way of living."
The warrior favored her with a parting caress on her cheek and strode regally towards the stables, her actions stunning the blond and rendering her momentarily speechless. For long moments Callisto stared into the darkness where Xena had disappeared, then with an irritated shake of her head, she reluctantly went off towards the hut which earlier had been indicated as to where she was expected to spend the night. As she got there, she was surprised to see a female form sitting on a bench beside the door. Eyes narrowed, Callisto allowed a hand to drift to the hilt of her dagger, frowning as she got close enough to recognize the tall, brunette Amazon.
"Solari, isn't it?" she asked as the woman stood up. Callisto did not perceive any threat but then again, she really wasn't sure what she was supposed to be sensing here.
"Yes, Honored Arrow," Solari nodded, holding her hands out to show she was unarmed.
"What do you want?" the blond said as she released her grip on the dagger.
"To speak with you," Solari offered.
"Really," Callisto said without interest.
She brushed past Solari and went into the hut. There she found a flint to light the lamp and did so. She was surprised when she turned to see the Amazon had followed her and was now leaning against the door, watching her intently in the soft glow of the flame.
"Well, it's clear you don't take a hint," Callisto allowed. She sat on the bed and leaned back against the headboard, arms crossed, knees up. "What did you want to say?"
"I would share your bed this night," Solari offered. The words were formal, clearly a ritual offer of deep meaning. It was totally lost on the blond.
Callisto frowned again. "Don't you have one of your own?" she said with annoyance. She got up and sat on the bench next to the window. "Fine, go ahead, it's not like I sleep anyway." No one had told her she was to have a roommate. Well, she supposed that they were probably still rebuilding from Valasqua's last attack and space was limited.
It was Solari's turn to be a little confused. "No, I mean I wish to offer myself to you," she elaborated. She took a few steps closer and daringly put her hand on the slender blond's forearms, looking intently into the dark eyes. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I would be honored to share pleasure with you."
Callisto blinked. For all her experience in battle and hardship, Callisto had avoided anything like this with a rabid apathy. She viewed love and all its little games with contempt, a belief that it was a trick nature played on humans to get them to reproduce. And of course, any who tried to take her by force rapidly ended up dead. So the combination of an obsessive psychotic personality and a reputation earned in blood was such that only the most courageous... or foolish, approached her. And her brief experience with the war god Ares while she occupied Xena's body had only proved the point. If he was unable to satisfy her, then mortal men were not even worth the attempt.
She had not been a warlord in Xena's mold, using her body to reward and control her followers. Instead she ruled her small band of cutthroats by being completely ruthless and inspiring their fear. She had never hesitated to terminate anyone who displeased her in any way. In fact, when Theodoris, her old lieutenant, had attempted to make an offer she had been totally revolted. She had derived great pleasure in killing him for that affront. By killing him, she believed she was killing finally any love, any affection, any...of this that would ever be directed at her.
Solari took this silence to mean assent and since she had little idea of Callisto's reputation or past, she took the opportunity to lean forward and kiss the blond. Astonished, Callisto's opened her mouth to protest. Solari construed that as an even greater invitation and quickly pulled the slender woman closer, deepening the kiss with delicious passion. The next thing Callisto knew, she was being swept up in strong arms and carried to the bed, the Amazon never losing contact with her mouth.
Dazedly, Callisto wondered how much practice that move had taken to perfect. Actually, the blond was in a bit of a quandary. She needed the Amazons to protect her sister and she was pretty sure that her first instinct to violently throw the woman through the hut wall would probably not go over well with the tribe's ruling council. Then there was the unmistakable fact that her first instinct had been fleeting at best and another, more primal desire had rapidly taken over, one she had never felt before. It didn't help her thought processes either that her leather and armor seemed to be disappearing at a phenomenal rate. It was terribly distracting.
This was absolutely unthinkable. Love was a weakness. A vulnerability she could never afford, it's physical expression of pleasure a foolish indulgence of the mindless. Callisto had no time for it and certainly no desire for it. It was something she could exist without for eternity if need be.
And if the Amazon would just stop kissing her and doing that thing with her tongue, and oh, that other thing with her left hand...ooh, not to mention what she was doing with her right....and gods, what was she doing with her legs....well, if she would stop all this for a minute, Callisto would tell her just that. Except, when Solari finally did release her mouth and began to trail down the blond's neck to her breasts, Callisto found herself curiously breathless and unable to utter a word.
And then, pretty soon, she found herself not wanting to speak at all.
Xena quietly entered the hut she customarily shared with the bard during their visits to Amazonian land. She stopped in the doorway, seeing the huddled form beneath the sheet in the silvery sheen of the full moon. It hung heavy in the sky to the east, pouring its brightness through the open window to her right and falling gently across the peaceful face. She spent a few moments silently observing those lovely features. She marveled, as always, at the woman she loved more than life itself, her light in the darkest of existence. At the fact that the bard loved her back. Finally she entered, pulling the woven straw door closed behind her. She removed her armor and leathers by the light of the moon, disdaining the use of the lamp waiting by the bed. She deposited her equipment on a convenient chair sitting next to the far wall. Her sword and chakram she placed close to the bed where they would be easily reached.
With a sigh of weariness, she slipped in next to the bard, carefully sliding her arms around the firm waist and snuggling against the warm, silky smooth back. She felt the woman stir and she smiled gratefully, burying her face in the coppery hair. She hadn't meant to disturb her but of course, the ease with which the bard woke meant she had been merely dozing.
"Xena?" Gabrielle muttered sleepily.
"Hmm, should I be worried you had to ask?" Xena rumbled with a hint of amusement. Idly she slid her hand under the bard's light linen nightshirt, running lovingly over the muscled stomach, and down a firm thigh.
Gabrielle moaned softly and stretched like a cat in the embrace. Still half asleep, her body nonetheless responded as Xena's hand lazily made the return trip up to the bard's breasts, pausing to fondle them, the nipples growing taunt beneath her palms.
"You will never need worry about that, my love," Gabrielle assured her, pressing back against the warrior, tilting her head to the side to offer her neck to her lover.
"Are you sure you're not too tired, love?" Xena whispered, nuzzling the bard, brushing feather light kisses along the shoulder and up to Gabrielle's ear. "I know it's been a long day."
"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle responded. She rolled over so that she was facing the warrior, staring into shadowed eyes that glinted brilliant blue even in the dimness. "Do you know how long it's been?" she cried plaintively.
While on the road, they'd only make love when Xena was totally convinced that the surrounding area was completely secure and safe. Those times were few and frustratingly far between. To be in a place where they knew they didn't have to look over their shoulders and to have a large comfortable bed to boot, was a luxury beyond measure.
"Actually I do," Xena allowed with a rueful smile. "Too long." She reached up to cradle the bard's face in sword-calloused hands as she kissed her deeply, lingering over soft lips and the taste she craved constantly. "Far, far too long," she groaned, trailing down over the chin to the throat which throbbed with a pulse ever increasing..
Gabrielle drew her back up, reclaiming the strong lips, letting passion find it's own pace without effort or insistence. Despite the difference in their heights, when they were together like this, the fit was amazingly perfect, melding them together in a rock-solid union of love and want. It was comforting and passionate and everything fine wrapped in a silk cocoon of warmth and adoration.
Xena regretted the need for them to stay apart, regretted the times when she had to hold the younger woman at arm's length for their own protection. When she was with the bard like this, feeling the strong lithe form moving against her, the slender arms about her, she was home in a way she had never been anywhere else. Or with anyone else. Sometimes it felt as if her heart would literally explode out of her chest so great was the emotion she felt for this woman. It was the Elysian Fields just to lie there, kissing the sweet lips, holding her without reservation or distraction. It was something she could spend an eternity doing.
But the bard had her own demands and they parted long enough for Gabrielle to sit up, allowing Xena to remove the shirt, raising her arms so that the warrior could pull it up over her head before tossing it casually aside. Gabrielle lay back, looking up at Xena with such devotion that the woman's breath caught in her throat. The warrior took a moment to admire the compact body in the silver light, smiling as she drew feather light fingertips down over the redhead's breasts and stomach, stroking the firm abdomen and over the top of her thighs.
"You are so beautiful," she murmured, bending down to kiss each nipple with tender longing, tonguing them gently before reaching up to that wonderful mouth, capturing the small sounds humming from the long smooth throat, prompting a responding purr as Xena carefully lowered herself onto the waiting body.
A strong, olive-skinned leg pressed between the smaller, tanned thighs, moving to spread them apart, opening the bard up to a skilled caress which gently touched the sensitive nub. It swelled and hardened in immediate response, small hips rising to meet the adoring fingers, welcoming them into the wet heat. The dark-haired woman was forced to draw back by a less skilled but much more insistent hand so that it could find its own goal, sliding down between them to fondle the warrior, bathing in the hot pool of readiness waiting there. Xena moaned into the bard's mouth, supporting her weight on her knees and elbow as with a languid, gradually increasing pressure, they built on each other's desire. Together they sought out and requested entrance, pushing deep inside to find smooth places which drove urgency beyond the ability to bear it, creating a rhythmic rocking that quietly and steadily built until it was time to surrender to it's irresistible command....
"Xena." The bard turned her head, freeing her lips to breathe the beloved name into the night, whisper soft and achingly sweet as spasms surged through a small form which maintained it's need to please even as it was pleasured.
"Oh, Gabrielle. My beautiful Gabrielle." Voice throaty, Xena's muscled body arched and tensed with a sensual cry of delight. A velvet slick interior clenched in strong waves that held marvelously tight the small fingers which continued their motion despite the muscles gripping them. Shaking, she struggled to keep from collapsing on the bard, letting only her head slip down to the bard's chest.
Pulsations finally ceased as slowly, ever so slowly, they withdrew with reluctant hesitation, making sure desire was totally sated before sliding around sweat dampened backs. Xena fell down on her side, pulling the bard close, removing the small space that had been between them. Breathing eased and the need now was to hold on as tightly as possible, clinging in the glow that surrounded and filled them.
"Yes, my heart?" A vibration rather than words that rippled through the bard.
"I love you."
"Gods," was the reply, a prayer of thankfulness from one who tended to use the word as a curse. "Oh gods, I love you too." The warrior kissed her gently.
Gabrielle smiled and buried her face in the dark, raven-thick hair, tightening her hold on the elegant neck. "Now, go to sleep, little one," Xena commanded softly. "We have to leave early tomorrow."
And the bard was glad to follow that command, letting her warrior's love surround her
in a protective embrace that drove away all her fears and all thoughts of a rouge Amazon.
Xena woke in darkness, shortly after the moon had set and before dawn heralded the day's arrival. Carefully she eased herself from beneath the bard's slumbering form and grabbing a linen tunic, she went outside, heading down to the river. The water was chill and refreshing, dashing away any hint of sleep and she finished quickly, pulling on the tunic and wringing the excess water from her hair as she walked back to the village.
She loved this time of morning, unlike Gabrielle. All her senses seemed at their absolute peak and every nerve ending was alive and ready for whatever came their way. Though the threat was very real and she had to deal with Callisto once again, there was a spring in her step and her heart was light at the challenge that lay before her despite it's seriousness. A plan was in place, the obstacles defined, the end goal clear and beckoning. That made it manageable. She would triumph and in doing so, protect the love of her life. Life was good.
Xena was surprised to find Callisto sitting outside the guest hut on a bench. She was positive she hadn't been there when she went down to the river. Any other time, she would have passed by, using her many skills to remain unnoticed. Except the blond's face was curiously blank and pale. It bothered her, curiosity an irresistible lure.
Cautiously, Xena approached the slender woman. Callisto was clad in a thin robe and she huddled within it, seeming very small. The immortal did not move until the warrior was in front of her. Then slowly she looked up and Xena could not help but react to the terrible shock those brown eyes held.
"Callisto?" Xena queried anxiously, her hand reaching out but not quite touching. "What's wrong?"
At first, it seemed the blond warrior had not heard, then slowly she motioned back into the hut with a bare flick of her eyelids.
"Un...last night. This woman....Solari? She was...waiting for me....and we...ah...." Callisto's voice trailed off dully.
Her blood ran chill and Xena swiftly entered the hut.
Continued - Part 2