Subtext Reports
Those crazy posts about the episodes originally posted to the nutforum and saved here for posterity in their error riddled entirety (since they were written 'on the fly'). 
Homecoming Series
A series of five (not so short) stories about Xena and Gabrielle building their life together as a couple. 
Magic Series
Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas find love as they uncover more writings of Gabrielle about her warrior princess. 
Conversations by Campfire Series
Set during Season Four, parts of the episodes are worked into chats between Xena and Gab, particularly the subject of Najara and the bard. 
Changes of Heart Series
My take on what happened after Gabby got Chakram'ed upside the head by Xena in the Season Five ender. 
Bonding of Souls Series
This series picks up where 'Changes of Heart' ends with Xena and Gabby back together. Each 'episode' is an expansion of the episodes of Season Six.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
How DID Ares get stuck in that tomb from the Xena Scrolls? This story answers that question. 
The Play
Xena and Gabrielle have to play the leads in a performance for a ruthless king to save Salmoneus' neck. Unexpected consequences and confessions are the result. 
The Queen, the Regent, the Warrior
Xena leaves Gabrielle in the care of the amazons, only to have Ephiny and Gabby fall in love. Xena does return and chaos and secret confessions follow.
The Contest
Ares and Aphrodite battle over Xena's spirit. 
Loss of Virginity
Romantic musings from one of our gals. 
Moment of Truth
Gabrielle does anything it takes to keep Xena out of a battle that's foretold to take the warrior princess' life. 
Thank the Gods For Henbane
At an Amazon festival Gabrielle has one too many henbane brownies, which results in a funny and sexy night for Xena. 
As It Should Be
The Queen gets taken by the Warrior Princess at the Amazon Village.
Family Ties
Xena takes Gabrielle back to home to spend a little time with the 'in-laws'. 
Dueling Cousins
Xena's look-alike cousin, Sappho, has always been competitive but now the Tenth Muse wants the ultimate prize - Gabrielle. 
The End
Alternate 'demise' of Xena and Gabrielle based on the Season Four crucifixion. 
Truth or Dare
Sexy romp between Callisto and Gabrielle set during 'A Necessary Evil' 
November 29th, 1942
A little romance fic between Janice and Mel. 
Inside Outside
Set after the events of 'A Family Affair', it's a scene told through the eyes of four people - Gabrielle's Father, Mother, Gabrielle herself and Xena.
Something To Talk About
Xena and Gabrielle's friends are all surprised that the pair aren't lovers so they consider why not.
Henbane, Horsenappings and Other Obstacles
A 'murphy's law' comedy where everything that can go wrong for Xena and Gabby but, of course, they still end up saving the day.
All That Matters
During Gabrielle's birthday party in' Takes One To Know One', Xena reflects on her love for the bard.  
Warlord
What if Gabrielle was actually the one behind all the folks who influenced Xena's journey toward good? 
Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice
A little Winter Solstice tale that's available in general (not lovers) and alternative (lovers). .
Little Moments: A Day in the Desert
A tale told through the eyes of Janice and then Mel while on a dig.  
Candy or Chaos
'Classic Xena' general Halloween story with Xena and Gabby return for the Potiedaia Harvest Festival.
Conquering Heroine
Gabrielle is the Conqueror in this piece. How exactly? Give it a read and find out. 
Watching and Waiting
Set after FIN II, Xena watches from afar as Gabrielle moves on with her life. 
1971
Police Office Carol and Protestor Erin clash but find they're fighting for the same things. A short story based on my novel, 'One Belief Away'. 
March 26, 1943
Sequel to November 29, 1942. This time it's Janice's birthday and Mel has some sexy plans for her lover. 
The 10th Muse
In this traditional subtext story that's part French farce; part musical, Gabrielle has a Doppelganger, the Poetess Sappho. It's up to Gabby, Xena and Sappho's friend Aphrodite to guard Sappho during the 10th Muse Competition...Of course they must also try to repair Sappho's damaged relationship with her lover (a woman, and bandmate, who's the spitting image of Xena).

Title: Coming Home Part 1

Author: CN Winters

Fandom: Xena Fanfiction, Xena fanfic, Xena fan fiction, Xena and Gabrielle fanfiction, Xena fiction

Rating: R

Disclaimers: As always Xena, Gabby and the gang arenít mine. They belong to MCA/Universal. This story is however mine and itís just for recreation. If the idea of two women in love (who show their affection explicitly and use some Ďnaughtyí words in the process) offends you please move on. Same rule applies if love is illegal where you live or if youíre too young.

Author Note: Please keep in mind this is the second story in the ĎHomecomingí series. Itís not necessary to read it the first story, but you may enjoy it and gain greater insight on my take of the Xena/Gabrielle love thang. A special thanks to Janet G for offering a godly idea for this story. I hope I live up to your expectations Janet.

Synopsis: After getting married on Lesbos, Xena and Gabrielle return to the mainland to visit family and the amazons, but not everyone is pleased with their new union.  

Feedback: I love feedback so if you felt moved by these words (either positive or negative) drop me a line at: cnwinters71@yahoo.com. I look forward to non-homophobic constructive comments. Thanks for reading.

Coming Home Part 1 of 2

CHAPTER I

"Iím nervous," Xena confessed softly.

They spent the last league traveling in silence atop Argo. As the small village came into sight Gabrielle could hear her wifeís sigh of uneasiness. It had been half a moon since they left Lesbo with the promise they would visit Sappho within the next 12. Gabrielle was taken aback by the confession of the brave and stoic warrior. She knew that she was going to have to be the heroic one this time. It was never a position she was comfortable with but one she could handle exceptionally well just the same.

Gabrielle cleared her throat before tightening her grip around the warriorís shapely waist. 

"Weíll be fine. We have each other," she replied.

"Yes. But what if he-."

"No," Gabrielle replied. "I donít care what he might say. You are my home. You are my life. Anything that happens here, stays here... when we leave."

"It could turn out to be a really short visit," the warrior pressed.

"Then thatís fine," Gabrielle answered. "I owe them the truth. They need to know Iíve chosen my future. And that future is with you."

Xena didnít reply vocally. She tightened her grip on the bardís arm and let her head lean back into the strawberry blond hair for a few moments. As they neared the village, they spotted the bardís sister straining at the sight coming before her. Gabrielle noticed and gave a wave.

"Gabs!?" Lila shouted, still unsure as they approached. "Gabrielle!" She broke into a run down the dirt road. "Mom; Dad! Gabrielleís here!"

Gabrielle smiled at the excitement of her sister. Xena smiled too, but she still couldnít stop the curing in her stomach. Quickly, as Lila approached, the bard slid off of Argo. The two young women gathered each other in their arms, as Xena made her dismount as well.

"Itís great to see you Gabs! Where have you been? What have you been doing? We got your last scroll. How long are you staying?" her sister rambled.

Gabrielle held her hands up to stop the barrage of questions. "Please Lila. One at a time, okay?"

Lila and Gabrielle met in another embrace. "Itís so good to see you," the bardsí sister beamed. As she pulled away, she noticed Xena watching with a great deal of interest.

"Oh. Hi there Xena," she replied casually, in the briefest of moments. The warrior nodded. Before Xena could offer her greetings, Lila turned and began to tug Gabrielle toward the house. Gabrielle looked back to catch Xenaís reaction. The warrior simply shrugged and followed along.

Hecuba and Herodotus were outside by now and moved to meet their daughter as well. "Come in! Come in!" her mother exclaimed. "Tell us how youíve been." As Hecuba led her daughters inside, Herodotus stood sizing the warrior up. Xena didnít falter under the glare.

"Stables that way," he said pointing as he casually strolled inside the house. Xena rolled her eyes in frustration. ĎThis is not going to go very goodí Xena reflected as she led Argo. ĎNot at allí.

When Xena arrived in the kitchen after seeing to Argo all eyes fixed on her. It wasnít the warmest of receptions, except for Gabrielle of course. "Here," Gabrielle said rising. "Take my chair." She practically had to lead Xena. "Tea?" the bard asked.

"Yes, please," the warrior answered softly with a smile.

Gabrielle brushed the warrior's shoulders upon traveling to the teapot, which didnít go unnoticed by the family, but no one said a word. The silence played on the warriorís nerves. She realized she liked it a lot better when they were telling her to get out of town. That was honest. This forced cordial business was taxing.

"So howís things around here? Do you have a fella yet, Lila?" the bard asked.

The warrior silently thanked the bard for the chit-chat. At least until she heard Lilaís response.

"No. I canít say I have," Lila answered. "What about you?"

Gabrielle nearly dropped the cup of hot tea in the warrior's lap, but Xena managed to steady her hands. Gabrielle met Xenaís eyes. Itís now or never, the bard thought. Xena gave the slights of nods as encouragement, reading Gabrielleís mind.

"Actually," she said softly, before getting her nerve up. "I got married last month."

The family looked at each other in confusion. "So where is your husband, dear?" her mother asked innocently.

Gabrielleís throat was tight. The only sound she could make was a noise between a hum and strangle.

"Youíre lookiní at Ďem," Xena answered. She reached out and took the bardís hand in hers. Sheíd be damned to let this all fall on Gabrielleís shoulders. She could feel and hear the bard exhale.

Gabrielle family studied the pair for a moment. Then looked to each other. Then back at the pair. 

"No Way!" Lila exclaimed.

Gabrielle nodded and Xena could feel the bard tighten her grip on her hand. "We were married, by the poet Sappho actually, when we were on Lesbos."

A few moments passed with no one added anything. Xena could see the pain growing in Gabrielleís eyes the longer the silence persisted, not to mention the pain in her hand from the bardís capturing fingers.

"Get out."

Xena and Gabrielle turned to see her father rising from the table, his tone was soft, but the message was very clear, not to mention the sight of his growing anger. He walked around the table as Xena stood up.

"You," he said, pointing at the warrior. "You! You ride into town. Steal my daughter. Then brainwash her into some kind of pervert!"

Xena saw it coming, but she did nothing to stop it. A right hook. It caught her square on the jaw, knocking her head sideways. 

Not bad for a man his age, she mused, trying to keep the situation light in her mind. If she gave into her anger, Gods only knew what she might do to her father-in-law.

Xenaís head shot back to see him menacing toward Gabrielle. 

"I didnít raise no harlot!" he yelled. He brought his hand back, but before he could make a connection he felt his fingers becoming bruised in the vice grip.

"Do what you want to me," Xena warned, "but harm her... and Iíll break every bone in your body to see that it doesnít happen again."

Gabrielle was in tears at this point. Quickly, Xena let go of Herodotus and spun him away from Gabrielle. Xena took his place in front of her bondmate and smoothed her forearms, kissing her on the forehead.

"Please get me out of here," the bard whispered.

"Anything you want, Beautiful," the warrior answered loud enough for the room to here. She gathered her sobbing wife in her arms and they walked out together toward the stable.

"I left Argoís saddle on," she whispered. "Just in case."

Gabrielle clung to Xena as they walked in to meet Argo.

Immediately, she noticed the distress of her two mistressí and gave a whinny. 

"Itís okay," Xena reassured with a love pat to her mane. She mounted the mare and offered her arm to Gabrielle, which the bard took. "Come on girl," she directed the horse, once the bard was secure.

Gabrielleís clinging didnít end. She held Xena tightly around the waist. The warrior, in like-fashion, gripped onto the bardís forearm. As they started to leave the small town, the bardís sobs quieted considerably.

"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered, turning to look into the beautiful green eyes.

Gabrielle smiled as her eyes grew cloudy again. "I love you too, Xena," she whispered snuggling into the strong shoulders.

CHAPTER II

"Letís stop for the night, okay?" Xena asked. "I donít think either on of us is up for Amphipolis yet."

"I have to agree," Gabrielle answered. "How about over there?" she asked as she pointed.

The mare trotted over to the clearing in the wooded area. A league down or so was a river. They stopped for water first. Then settled into making the camp. Silently Gabrielle went off to collect the evenings firewood as Xena searched for some game, both women preoccupied by the days events.

When Xena returned with two skinned rabbits, Gabrielle already had the fire going and water on for tea. Xena busied herself for a few moments, but the bard had yet to speak one word to her.

"You have to talk to me at some point, Gabrielle," the warrior started, as she brought out a cloth to polish her sword. After a few moments of stroking the bard still didnít say anything. "Please. We need to talk about this," she added.

Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. "Whoíd have ever thought YOU would be asking ME to talk?"

Xena had changed a lot in the last few months or so. Her need to engage Gabrielleís mind as well as her body surprised the bard at times. The once silent, strong warrior now often asked the young amazon to express her feelings. It still filled the bard with wonder even though it had become a natural occurrence since the joining. At times Gabrielle couldnít be happier with the change. But today it was something she wanted to bury deep inside her; never letting it escape. All the hurt. All the anger. All the pain. She wanted it hidden deep inside her heart. But she wonít let me will she, Gabrielle thought. Might as well get this over with.

"Itís not you," Gabrielle began. The warrior waited to see if she would continue on her own. "I canít believe he hit you... and lived to tell about it," she added jokingly.

Xena grinned. "Heís just lucky he didnít hit you... He may not be dead, but he certainly would have trouble talking. It takes a long time for a broken jaw to heal."

The warrior laid her sword down and opened her arms. Gabrielle snuggled in close. "I wish they could see what I see," she whispered. "I wish they understood everything you mean to me."

Xena slowly stroked the blonde's tresses, listening to the soft voice. A few moments passed in silence until the bardís movements captivated Xenaís attention. 

"What are you doing?" Xena asked.

The bard, who had started kissing the warrior's shoulder had moved to her neck. "Do you really need to ask?" she teased, resuming her soft administrations to the warriorís flesh.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked pulling the bard away. "I think we should discuss this some more."

"Whatís to discuss?" she said sarcastically. "I love you. My parents hate me... I told you whatever happens in Poteidaia stays there. I had every intention of loving you tonight and Iíll be damned if I let them take that away from me... or even you for that matter."

Xena was taken back by the threat in Gabrielleís voice. 

"Are you going to rape me?" the warrior asked with a growing smile.

"You think I couldnít take you if I wanted you?" Gabrielle asked pulling the tunic from her body, exposing the warrior to her bare breasts. "I could you know... take you, I mean... if I wanted. But what I really want is for you to make love to me. I want to know that Iím right; that their narrow minds wonít steal the love you have for me. I need to show myself that their disapproval wonít tame my arousal, my affection, for you."

Gabrielle skirt was now discarded, as well as her boots. She straddled Xenaís waist, physically placing the warriorís hands on her hips. "Gabri-"

"Shhh," the bard answered placing her finger on the warriorís lips. "No more talk... please... Just love me."

The first kiss was slow; lingering. Xena was convinced her amazon was in no shape for physical love. Funny. Why was the warriorís body giving her different signals?

Gabrielleís fingertips were so light as they caressed Xenaís shoulders, pulling down the straps of her leathers. The amazonís mouth captured her neck, sucking and licking the skin into abandon. Xena realized Gabrielle was right. The bard could take her... if she really wanted to... and Xena could feel, under the delicate yet passionate touch, the amazon most definitely wanted her. Slowly, she felt her self-defiance slipping away.

"Please Xena," the amazon whispered. "Please make love to me. Tell me Iím what you need."

Xena felt her heart skip at the words. She cradled the bardís face in her hands for a brief moment before her desire over came her. She stole Gabrielleís breath as her lips captured the bardís. Her passion was unmistakable. She would show this young woman just how much she loved her; needed her.

The warrior broke away first, before picking the bard up. As she walked to the bedroll, Gabrielle wrapped her legs around the warriors waist, while Xena supported the bard's weight by gripping her bottom. She laid her precious cargo down softly before rising to remove her own attire. Once she was naked, like her lover, only then did she return. Xenaís knees barely hit the ground when Gabrielle pulled the warrior to her with such passion, it knocked Xena off balance and the two tumbled to hard earth below. The crash still did nothing to unlock their lips.

They both smiled behind the kiss. Then they began to chuckle and reluctantly pulled away. 

"I love you so much," Xena whispered stroking the young amazons delicate facial features Ė her cheeks, her nose, her lips. 

Soon Gabrielle was on her back and the warrior's lips followed the same path her fingers just lead. The bard sighed at the contact, feeling the growing wetness at her center. Her hips rose into the warriorís thigh as Xenaís tongue began to massage her hard, pebble-like nipples.

"Yes."

The bardís whisper was so soft. It was only Xena acute hearing that could detect it. She could feel Gabrielleís want rising higher. She loved watching the woman arch to meet her expert mouth. The arching always made the warrior grow wetter, knowing the effect she had on the young amazon.

"Lower... Please... Take me."

The voice was faint, but the desire behind it was undeniable. Xena had never gotten so much pleasure out of giving pleasure. But Gabrielle was unlike anyone she ever had. At times, it still scared the warrior.

She could watch Gabrielle do the simplest of tasks like drawing water from a well or filleting a fish and all she could think about was how sexy she looked. Nothing says love like an overwhelming desire to kiss a woman covered with fish guts, Xena joked inward on one occasion. She realized, as she watched the dangling fish that day, it was really her who had been hooked. It was a frightening feeling, but she had to admit... incredibly wonderful too.

Her body moved down the length of the bard's body breezily and with such grace. Gabrielle loved to watch Xena move. She always did; even long before her admiration turned into love. This evening wasnít any different. Her fingers twined themselves in the dark mane pulling; guiding Xena to the heart of her sexual heat. Xena could tell Gabrielle was more than ready tonight. Neither woman needed nor wanted anymore build-up. Their desire was at a fever pitch. And in realizing so, she gave into the bardís unspoken demand.

"Gods, yes," Gabrielle groaned.

Xena smiled. That line was becoming a favorite of the bards' once the warriorís lips finally made contact with her sex. Xena could count on it and much to her amazement she knew sheíd never tire of it.

Xena held onto Gabrielleís hips as the amazon thrashed up and down and around on the bedroll. Her fingernails would be dirty in the morning with all the clawing she was doing into the ground below them. Gabrielle could feel the rumbling of her approaching orgasm.

Xena could feel it too. The heavy, short pants the bard made as she neared got even quicker. The shaking of the young womanís thighs was a sign satisfaction would soon come. Gabrielle stride for all the passion she could get from Xenaís lips and tongue until she could take no more.

"Oh Xenaaa."

The bard held the warrior's name as the shockwaves swept over her body making it slightly convulse. Xena eased up on her sweet torture as Gabrielleís body began to settle. Slowly she kissed up the length of Gabrielleís body. When she arrived at the bard's beautiful face the sight she witnessed froze her. The bard was crying, trying her best to hold back her tears and failing miserably.

"Come here," the warrior whispered, gathering the weeping woman in her arms.

"Why Xena?" she asked sobbing. "Why do they hate me for following my heart? Iím not hurting them. Iím not hurting anyone... I love them Xena, but now they hate me. What am I supposed to do? Leave you so I can be the perfect daughter... and be perfectly miserable for the rest of my life."

Xena felt three candlemarks tall. Should have followed your first instinct warrior, she cursed herself silently, holding the quivering woman close.

"I donít know what to tell you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered. "Except Iím sorry for what Iíve done tonight."

"Donít say that!" Gabrielle insisted. "I donít want you to ever regret the fact weíve shared our bodies with each other. Donít say that!"

All Xena wanted to do was comfort the girl, but she got just the opposite effect. The warrior rose to recline against the tree behind them and pulled Gabrielle into her lap. She stroked the amazon's hair until she finally felt the bardís head relaxed against her thighs. Only then did she speak.

"Iím never sorry for making love to you. I just wish the timing would have been better. Youíre on edge tonight and I canít help but feel that I took advantage of you... And thatís something I never wanted to happen."

"Donít be ridiculous," Gabrielle answered. "You didnít take advantage of me, Xena. If anything you brought all this to the surface. You helped me do that through your kiss and your touch... And I truly thank you."

"I never want to be a source of pain in you life, Gabrielle, and I feel like this is all my fault," the warrior confessed. "I donít want to cause you problems with your family."

Gabrielle grinned. "You are my family," she whispered. "Youíre my home, remember?"

All Xena could do was smile for the moment. "Itís a position Iím very grateful to fill, Beautiful. You know that, donít you?"

"Yes, I do," the bard whispered back.

Xena settled back down upon the bed roll and gathered Gabrielle in her arms. She listened as the bardís breathing deepened and became steady. Xena thought back all the events of the day but her last waking thought of was the day to come. Amphipolis, her mind called out as Morpheus over came her.

CHAPTER III

"Get me some of that slop you call stew and make it snappy!" The warrior's voice boomed through the tavern with a snarl on her lips. The bard couldnít help but grin. The customers, however, stopped their meals and discussions to watch the duo.

Cyrene turned and smiled as she saw the pair near the entrance.

"We donít serve your kind here. Youíll have to go elsewhere," she said losing her smile; walking toward them, just as menacingly.

When they stood within an arm's reach of each other, they dropped the false facades and began to grin.

"Well, perhaps you could suggest another establishment of fine dining in the area," Xena teased, her pearly whites blazing.

Cyrene pulled the warrior into a tight embrace, giving her a light kiss on the cheek. As she pulled away, she quickly pulled Gabrielle into a hug too. "How are my two favorite girls in the whole wide world?" she asked putting her arms around both of them. "Come in! Come in!" she insisted.

Xena and Gabrielle took a place at the bar and they turned when they heard some commotion at the side door. 

"Hey Mom!" they heard the yell.

Xena ran and pushed the door open. 

"Need some help?" she asked, taking one side of the keg, leading it inside.

"Hey Xena!" Toris exclaimed. "What brings you to town?"

"I could ask you the same thing," the warrior answered as she walked backwards. "I heard you were living in Athens."

"I am," he replied. "But with Amphipolis harvest festival here, I thought Mom could use some extra help."

They sat the barrel down and Toris pulled Xena into his arms. "Itís good to see you. Is Gabrielle here with you?" he asked inquisitively.

"Yes." The bard grinned. They were practically nose to nose. "Iím right here."

He moved around the bar to stand in front of Gabrielle, taking in her features. 

"By the Gods youíve changed," he whispered in amazement, picking her hands up and holding her arms out. Xena watched as Toris eyes washed over Gabrielleís body like a lovers hands.

"I hope itís not a change for the worse," the bard said casually as possible. She could feel Xenaís jealous glare from over her shoulder.

"By Olympus, no! Youíre absolutely beautiful. So... grown up," he answered. Xena swallowed down her growing anger. She realized she had no right to feel anger. Itís not as if Toris knew it was her wife he was drooling over.

"Thank you, Toris," Gabrielle replied diplomatically. "Youíre looking very well yourself."

"You think so?" he asked quietly. The sly grin of his sisters' flashed onto his face. Gabrielle came to realize just what the look meant when Xena did it, but she wasnít sure about Toris. "Well, maybe tonight after dinner the two of us could take a walk by the river?"

Oh yeah, Gabrielle thought as she grinned. One in the same.

Gabrielle wasnít exactly sure how to handle this situation. She glanced at Xena, who appeared to be dazed Ė except for her knuckles she continuously rubbed. Anymore wooing and Xena would be leaving impressions of her fists in her brothers face.

"Youíre being out of line, Toris," Cyrene warned her son. Xena dropped her hands to her side. She hadnít heard her mother come in from the kitchen with the stew. "Eat up," she instructed, giving them the bowls.

"Whatís wrong with asking Gabrielle to go for a walk? Sheís a free woman," he argued.

"Not as free as you think," Cyrene replied.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

Cyrene didnít want to continue this debate with her son. "Donít you have another barrel to fetch from old man Tericus?" she asked.

"Well, yeah but Ė."

"Go get it, please," she ordered in gentle yet threatening tone.

Toris paused a moment before making his way out the sidedoor again. Cyrene casually strolled around the bar, taking a seat next to Gabrielle.

She studied both women for a moment before she spoke. 

"Was I wrong to make that assumption?" she asked with a grin.

Gabrielle had never seen Xena blush Ė at least not like this Ė her whole body got as red as the famed rose garden of Athens. The warrior looked down at her feet trying to hide her growing smile. The bard's only reaction was shock.

"How did you know?" Gabrielle asked, pulling Cyrene from her study of Xena.

"About the two of you?" she asked for clarification. The bard nodded. Cyrene nodded at Xena. "She seems... settled, content... Sheís loved you for a very long time. But it wasnít until you came in today and I watched you look at her that I knew it was true."

"And youíre okay with this?" Xena asked raising her eyebrows.

"Why wouldnít I be? Gabrielleís a wonderful person... So donít screw it up," she said giving the warriorís arm a playful swat.

"Well, things didnít go very well back home," Gabrielle confessed. "My father hit, Xena. He almost hit me... It wasnít very pleasant to say the least."

"Thatís unfortunate... for them," Cyrene said, making the girl rest her head on her shoulder, stroking her hair consolingly. "Just remember youíll always have a home here, my dear... Always."

Gabrielle pulled back from the loving embrace to meet Xenaís motherís, HER new motherís, eyes. The eye contact, however, was broken by the sniffle from the warrior. 

"Thank you," the warrior whispered to her mom. All her joy. All her hope for the future filled the two words.

"No. Thank YOU... Youíve brought me a beautiful daughter-in-law... Plus, someone I can tell Xena baby stories to that will embarrass you thoroughly," she teased, making the warrior grin. "Like when she was two," Cyrene said leaning closer to Gabrielle. "Her and Toris were out back in this sand pit their father had made-."

"Oh no!" Xena interrupted. "Youíre not going to make me listen to the sand pit story and youíre not telling Gabrielle."

Cyrene stuck out her tongue. "Make me," she challenged. "Iíve been waiting years for this day." Xena threw up her hands and she went to the kitchen. She could hear her motherís voice behind the closed door. As she poured the wine, she could hear Gabrielleís laughter float to her ears.

Oh gods, Xena thought. Iím never going to live this down.

CHAPTER IV

When Toris had returned, Cyrene promptly took him to the back and set him straight, so to speak. When he had finally emerged from the kitchen, he walked over to the couple with a sheepish grin. He apologized and was warmly accepted.

But it was late now. The fire was dwindling and it was now Gabrielle telling Xena stories. The warrior had walked out onto the porch for some air, but she could still hear the bard. She was talking about Xenaís flying parchment and how the warrior refused to give up on the idea... and how she ultimately succeeded because of her perseverance.

"Itís kinda cold tonight," Toris remarked walking behind Xena, covering her with a cloak.

"Thank you," she replied sincerely.

Neither one said anything. They sat and listened to the nighttime sounds around them and the bardís voice behind them. It felt calm; peaceful.

"Youíre a lucky lady," Toris remarked. "Gabrielleís one in a million."

"You donít have to tell me," Xena smiled. "But itís still nice to hear."

A few more moments passed until Toris spoke again. 

"Iím jealous," he said honestly. Xena met his eyes, waiting for him to continue. "I always wanted a girl like Gabrielle and... Itís you who got her... my sister." He smiled uncomfortably at the thought.

"Toris, if you have difficulty with my relationship with Gabri-"

"No," he said quickly. "Youíre my sister, Xena. I love you and I want you to be happy. Itís just... I always thought I would have the girl like Gabrielle and youíd find some brave, strong warrior."

"I did." Xena smiled. "Gabrielle is very brave and very strong. And sheís a warrior too. An amazon warrior. You should see her handle herself in a fight now. Sheís unbeatable and Iíd bet she could take on anybody and defeat them... So what you said was true Toris, to a certain extent."

"Ahhh, but could she beat you?" he prodded.

"With a sword? No. With a staff?... Maybe," she quietly admitted.

"Really? She doesnít look the type," he answered.

"Thatís part of her skill... I mean, honestly, a beautiful woman carrying around a piece of wood. How much of a threat is that?" Xena teased. "Many men have thought the same and many men will never walk the same again."

"So I shouldnít upset her?" Toris joked.

"Not if you want to stay healthy... and father children someday? No."

The siblings smiled at each other before they heard the door open. Gabrielle peered her head out. 

"Mind if I join you for a little while before I head up to bed?"

"Of course not," Xena answered, patting her lap. "Have a seat." Instinctively, Xena took off her cape and draped it around the bard. "See," the warrior said as the bard cuddled up in her arms, the cloak tightly around her. "Already warm," she added speaking of the garment.

"This is nice," the bard cooed affectionately, snuggling into the warrior's shoulder.

"I know you just use me for my body heat," the warrior teased, trying her best to sound put-out.

"Thatís not true," Gabrielle smiled mischievously. "I use you for much more."

Xena chuckled and looked over to see her brother turn twenty shades of red. The sight made her giggle even harder.

"Goodnight all," the heard Cyrene call outside.

"Goodnight, Mom," they all said in harmony.

"I better get to bed too," Toris said. "I told the town council Iíd help build some benches for the festival," he added as he rose to go inside. "Donít do anything Iíd love to do," he said to his sister. "At least not too much... I may need your help tomorrow."

"Consider me there." Xena smiled. "Goodnight, Toris."

"Goodnight you two," he replied.

As Toris went inside, Xena and Gabrielle continued to cuddle on the porch listening to the crickets and light rustling of the autumn leaves.

"Today went much better than yesterday," the warrior remarked softly.

"Yes," Gabrielle agreed. "Yes it did."

Xena smiled. "You know my brother is jealous. Who would have ever thought anyone in this family would be jealous of me?... Ashamed... most definitely... but not jealous."

"Xena," the bard said sympathetically.

Xena raised her hand to silence Gabrielle. "I know what youíre going to say. ĎIt was a long time ago. Iím a different person now. I should just let it goí. Am I right?"

Gabrielle grinned and nodded.

Xena smiled too until it scurried away. 

"I just canít forget all the damage Iíve done. I canít forget all the people Iíve killed. Ė all the lovers I took from someone... I always knew what I had done, but since Lesbo itís haunted my mind even more... I donít want to see your life taken the way I took so many others."

Gabrielle didnít know how to respond at first. 

"Donít worry youíll have me around for a very long time. If Hades calls me, Iíll just have to tell him I already have other plans." She smiled.

"When itís your time to go Gabrielle. Itís your time to go," the warrior whispered.

"Oh right," the bard answered sarcastically. "Look whoís talking... How many times have you returned from Hades grip? Twice if I remember correctly."

"Thatís different," Xena muttered.

Gabrielle had to laugh. "Oh I see. Only the brave warrior princess can return. Is that it?"

Xena thought back to the healing temple during the first year of their travels. "Youíve come back to Gabrielle. Iíve almost lost you before. I would have if I hadnít beat the life Ďbackí into you."

Gabrielle was quiet for a moment. She wasnít sure how to respond to the memory - or more to the point - she wasnít sure if she should confess how much she learned from Ephiny regarding that day.

"What are you think about?" Xena asked the bard upon her silence.

Gabrielle considered a moment longer. 

"Ephiny told me about that day... The way you cried... The way you refused to listen to everyone around us telling you to give up... She said she had never seen anyone so determined, so angered... That scares me you know?"

"What scares you? Being gone?" Xena asked.

"No," Gabrielle grinned gently. "You being that angered again over losing someone you love. I donít want the darkness to come back if Iím killed... In some way it will seem like my life was useless... That I didnít make one bit of difference while I was here. I couldnít bare that."

"Youíve made a difference," Xena said pulling the bardís head down to rest on her shoulder. "I donít think I would have stayed on the path Iím on now if I hadnít met you... And I know that since youíve touched my life, Iíll never be able to walk in darkness again... whether youíre by my side or not... Of course, I want you by my side for as long as possible."

"Well, if I get to Elysia first, I promise to wait for you," the bard replied, kissing the warrior on the neck. Xena grinned at the gesture before yawning.

"Tired my brave warrior?" Gabrielle teased.

"Yes," Xena admitted.

"But I planned on returning the favor you did for me yesterday," the bard cooed, before kissing the warrior on the neck, the earlobe, the cheek... 

"Maybe tomorrow," Xena answered.

Gabrielle was slightly surprised. Xena was actually serious. "I guess the honeymoonís over," Gabrielle teased.

Xena chuckled. "No. The warrior is just exhausted," she answered. "Besides, once I have my rest," she added seductively. "... Iíll be so much better. Good things come to those who wait, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle considered the words. "Okay, Iíll let you know tomorrow if thatís true." She stood and held her hand out to Xena. Arm-in-arm they walked into the house and up to Xenaís room.

It wasnít long after they settled into bed when Gabrielle heard Xenaís nasal noise. The sound reminded the bard of a child playing joyfully saying Ďweeeeí ever so softly and repeatedly. Sheís out. Gabrielle grinned. The bardís libido, however, wasnít and she considered Ďtaking matters into her own handsí. But she quickly decided against it. You better be worth it, Warrior Mine. It was the last conscious thought she had as slumber fell upon her.

CHAPTER V

Gabrielle was having the most peculiar dream. She was sitting by a river when a wolf cub trotted up and began licking on her toes. Slowly, she opened her eyes, looking down at her feet. Azure eyes looked up at her with a guilty grin.

"Nice to see youíre finally awake," Xena replied, before going back to suck on the bard's right big toe.

Gabrielle giggled. "That tickles!"

The warrior raised her leg slightly and began to lick and suck on her calf. "What about that?" Xena asked slyly. "Does that tickle?"

"Not as much," Gabrielle replied, feeling herself growing wet.

Xena worked her way a little higher, to the bardís inner thigh. "What about now?" she asked before nibbling on the tender flesh.

Gabrielle moaned at the contact and the little jolts that rose through her body from the delicate touch. Xena worked even higher. The warrior was close enough to smell the womanís growing, passionate scent.

"Bet that doesnít tickle," Xena remarked with a grin. Her fingers reached up and took command of the bardís alert nipples, feeling the tautness. "Oh no," Xena teased. "This doesnít tickle at all does it?"

"No," Gabrielle whispered, reaching down to tangle her fingers in the warriors silken hair. "Not at all," she added in a moan.

"You smell divine," the warrior complimented, moving her head back and forth, her nose batting at the bardís sensitive nub. Instinctively, Gabrielle raised her hips to meet the warriorís face. She watched disappointed and frustrated as Xena moved away.

"Oh no. Not yet," the warrior scolded playfully. The warriorís hands caressed the bardís entire body Ė her arms, her legs, her breasts, her sides Ė every area except one. Gabrielleís ache was bordering on actually pain; her insides dying for release.

"Please Xena," she begged. "Please."

"What Gabrielle?" the warrior played. "What do you want?"

Gabrielle groaned in frustration and arousal. The warriorís finger tips pulled and twisted on her erect nipples, making them even harder than she dreamed possible. "You know what I want," Gabrielle replied in a short breath.

"Tell me," Xena ordered. She now supported her body weight on her arms, hanging over her bard. "I want you to tell me what you want," she added. The small battle of wills was making her as extremely wet as the bard.

Gabrielle felt Xenaís arousal drip onto her thigh. "Oh Gods Xena," the amazon cried, pulling her into a fiery kiss. Her reserve had been totally wiped away but instead of needing the warriorís touch, she found herself wanting to touch the warrior. "You," she breathed. "I need to fuck you."

Before having a chance to reply Xena was on her back, the bard pinning her to the mattress. A second later she felt two of the bards fingers plunge into her sexual cream Ė hard and fast. A third finger was added. Then a four. The bard was relentless as her finger prodded and her lips sucked the warriors nipples.

"Now you tell me," the bard whispered triumphantly as the bed creaked at the lusty motions. "You tell me. Do you like being fucked? Do you, Xena?"

Xenaís desire was raging. The look of pure lust shown in her loverís eyes. Gabrielle was fucking her alright. Fucking her good. The warriorís hips rose to meet every thrust the bard delivered. She couldnít reply to Gabrielleís question she could only moan an answer.

"Oh yeah," the bard said, her lips latching onto the warriorís sweat covered neck. Gabrielle herself was perspiring and the glistening of her skin only added to the warriorís arousal. "You love it donít you? Gods, I know you do... You love getting fucked by me."

Xena could only grunt an approval. She loved it when the bard was this hot for her; the passion uncontrollable. Anyone could walk in that door now and she knew Gabrielle wouldnít stop Ė couldnít stop Ė because she was consumed by her desire. At times like these she loved it when the bard used her mouth to pleasure her.

It took all of her strength but Xena pulled the bardís hand from her dripping sex and made the bard taste it. Her breathing was hard and voice was hoarse but the warrior did her best to speak.

"Taste me," she whispered.

Gabrielle licked her fingers clean but not before spreading some of Xenaís juices over her nipples. Xena loved to watch that particular ritual of the bards during one of their love sessions. Xena also loved the affect it had on the bard. She knew those soaked fingers alone werenít enough to satisfy the ever-hungry amazon.

Quickly, and with what Xena could only categorize as a growl, Gabrielle swooped down upon Xenaís sex, devouring all the cream she found there. The lusty, hungry sounds the bard was making did the warrior in. She had to delight her palette as well. Xena had to have the amazon too.

"You," Xena managed to whisper. "Let me have you."

Without breaking contact with the warrior, Gabrielle straddled her. Finally, they were stomach to stomach, breasts to thighs, and warm mouths to hot centers. Both women groaned in time with each other and when both inserted fingers at the same time the sighs were so similar they couldnít tell them apart.

Xena smiled as she felt her impending climax near... but not because of the overwhelming sensations, which she would admit were absolutely wonderful. She loved this because she knew this was Gabrielleís favorite position and it didnít take long at all for the waves to override her partner. And almost on cue she felt Gabrielleís hips buck and her back arch.

"Oh Gods, Xena!" she cried in ecstasy. "Oh yes. Oh yes... "

Xena loved the little 'oh yes' Gabrielle gave with each wave that washed over her. She loved them so much in fact that, those two little words, repeated over and over, brought her to her own climax. Listening to the bardís voice and feeling the bardís fingers sent Xena over the edge.

"Gabrielllllle!"

Xena rode each wave, striving for as much pleasure she could get out of them. Finally she settled into the mattress as Gabrielle moved to take her favorite place on the warriors left shoulder.

"Umm... That was fun." Xena grinned lazily, giving the amazon a light, affectionate kiss on the forehead.

"You were right," Gabrielle added, stroking Xenaís hair, twirling it around on her fingertips. "Youíre worth the wait."

"Told ya," the warrior teased, pulling her closer.

"Yes. You certainly did," she replied, moving up onto her elbow and giving Xena a sound, loving kiss on the lips.

"Come on," the warrior said rising and stretching. "Weíve got to get moving."

"Canít I just go back to sleep for a little while?" Gabrielle begged, snuggling into the pillow.

"Nope," Xena replied, ripping the blanket off the bard. "Mom, Iím sure, is going to be needing help in the kitchen soon and I promised Toris Iíd help him, so letís get going."

Reluctantly, and with a groan that didnít go unnoticed by Xena, the bard got dressed. The two walked down stairs to find Cyrene in the course of making breakfast.

"Good morning." She smiled. "Here - have some eggs. It sounds like you two worked up an appetite this morning," she teased.

Gabrielleís eye widened and her hands shot in front of her mouth in embarrassment.

"Oh, now she covers her mouth," Cyrene said, adding further embarrassment to the room, while loving every moment of it.

"Mother!" Xena whined in shock.

"What?! You two are the oneís making all the noise... But seriously, for future reference, I have paying guests here who donít need you as a rooster, my dear. Please keep it down or wait until later in the day before... well, you know... 

Cyrene walked out into the tavern and began to take down the chairs for the days business. Gabrielle still sat speechless, looking at the plate of chicken eggs. Xena shot a quick look over to the bard. 

"Eat your eggs," she ordered to the bard as she went out to help her mother.

Cyrene grinned at Xena, who at this point began to smile herself.

"Iím sorry," Xena said sincerely. "Weíve both been used to being alone and I didnít think... "

Cyrene held a hand up. "You donít have to explain... Besides, Iím sure nobody heard you... I mean except for me... And Toris... who incidentally came looking for you about a quarter of a candlemark... He left and asked that you meet him in the square."

When Cyrene finished her drawn out equation of the days activities so far, Xena apologized with a promise they would Ďbehaveí. 

"What exactly did you hear?" Xena asked.

Cyrene smiled. "Are you sure you want to know?" she teased.

Xena couldnít meet her mother's eyes. "No, Iím not sure." Xena smiled. "Iím going to say goodbye to Gabrielle and met Toris."

Swiftly, Xena went back to the kitchen to see the bard nibbling on the eggs. She gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before rising and heading to the door. "Iíll see you and mom later. Iíve got to met Toris."

"Wait a minute! Youíre not leaving me alone with your mother. I mean, not now... after this morning."

Xena grinned. "Itís okay. I talked to her. Sheís not mad or anything. Weíll just have to keep things quieter than normal. Okay?"

Xena could tell the bard wasnít convinced and she walked back to meet her. "Look, Iíll be gone for a few hours and then Iíll be back. If youíre still upset weíll talk then, alright?"

Gabrielle smiled at the feel of Xenaís hands stroking her arm affectionately. 

"Itís okay... I just... Oh gods, Xena! Your mother!" she whispered.

"So my mother heard me making love to my wife? Married people do it all the time. My mother understands so please relax, okay?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Okay," she agreed, sounding a little more at ease.

Xena winked as she made her way out. "Iíll be back soon... Oh and uh... Thanks for the payback this morning," she added slyly.

"My pleasure," Gabrielle teased. "Really."

CHAPTER VI

Cyrene noticed the two strangers moving toward the bar. Their shifting eyes, moving around her tavern made her nervous.

"Can I help you? she asked politely.

"Yes," the stranger spoke. "Iím looking for the inn run by a woman."

"Well, Iím the only female innkeeper in these parts. Is there something I could do for you?"

Gabrielle walked out from the kitchen with a lunch tray. Upon meeting the stranger's eyes she dropped the tray, spilling everything to the floor. Cyrene heard the commotion and rushed to help.

"Mother!" Gabrielle whispered with her heart pounding. "What are you doing here?"

Hecuba looked at Lila before she spoke. "We were hoping weíd find you here... We really didnít get a chance to speak with you."

"Whereís father?" she asked the pair.

"We crept out last night after he fell asleep," Lila answered.

"You traveled alone?" she asked amazed and slightly angered. She knew the dangers of two women on the road.

Hecuba nodded. "We had to see you."

Cyrene bent down and started to clean the mess. Gabrielle moved to help her, but Xenaís mother refused. 

"No," she said. "You have more important matters to attend to. Go."

Gabrielle wiped her hands on her apron and gave Cyrene a kiss before rising to face her mother. "Thank you," she whispered to Cyrene.

Just then Xena and Toris returned, laughing as they made their way through the tavern.

"You did not make more benches than me," Toris argued.

"Three is more than two," Xena countered.

"We built the last one together," Toris insisted.

Xena stopped and faced her brother. "You put one leg on it. One leg. That doesnít count."

Xena began to move to the bar again, but she stopped in her tracks.

"Whatís wrong?" Toris asked, sensing his sister growing tense.

"Hello, Xena," Hecuba offered as the two women locked eyes.

"Hello, Hecuba; Lila," Xena replied non-judgmental. "Whereís Gabrielleís father?"

She tried her best not to sneer when she said the word Ė father Ė but the memory of his raised hand about to strike her wife made it impossible for the warrior to stay diplomatic.

"Heís still in Poteidaia," Gabrielle replied, rushing over to stand before Xena. The warrior kept her eyes on Gabrielleís kin even after the bard moved in front of her.

"They came to see me." Gabrielle smiled.

She could see the joy on Gabrielleís face, but she couldnít muster the bardís light attitude. Theyíre probably here to talk her out of stay with me, the warrior thought silently.

"What do they want?" Xena asked, the mistrust present in her voice.

Gabrielle considered. "Iím not sure. They just arrived before you walked in... Could you stay and take over the kitchen duties while I speak to them?"

Xena wasnít sure she should be alone with them. What if they talked her out of her love? No, Xena reconsidered. She knew the bard loved her. But what if they tried to kidnap her and take her back home. No, she considered again. They would know Iíd come searching for her and I wouldnít be too pleased once I found her. After the warrior considered the question, she realized the bard would be safe.

"Okay," Xena replied, stroking the bardís cheek in support. "Take as long as you need. Iíll be here when you get back."

"Thank you, Xena," she replied pulling the warrior down for a soft, gentle kiss.

When they looked up they noticed the entire crowd that lined the bar was watching them Ė Cyrene, Toris, Hecuba and Lila. Xena grinned while Gabrielle blushed. It had been different on Lesbo. They were, for the most part, oblivious to the locals, who saw their displays of affection as nothing out of the ordinary. Gabrielle was aching to come back to the mainland but now she suddenly longed for Lesbo again. We definitely have to visit Sappho soon, Gabrielle said making a mental note to tell Xena.

"Have any trays that need to come out?" Xena asked her mother.

"Sure, honey," Cyrene replied, leading both her children to the kitchen. "This way."

Gabrielle strolled up to her family. "Want to go for a walk?" she asked.

They both nodded and soon the trio was on the streets of Amphipolis. 

CHAPTER VII

About an hour later, Xena watched her wife and in-laws walk back through the door, smiling at each other. 

Gabrielle went over to Xena as Hecuba and Lila took a table.

"Howíd it go," Xena asked.

"They would like us to take them back to Poteidaia after the festival. I told them we would, if thatís alright?"

"Fine by me," Xena remarked. "But what happened during the talk?"

"My mother was always worried about my safety on the road with you. After the incident with my dad, sheís convinced I made a good choice... Of course, she says sheíd like to have seen me settle down with a man, but... Sheís starting to accept things."

"And Lila?"

"Well, most of her questions I plan on answering tonight when she and I are alone." The bard blushed.

Xena smiled at the bardís reaction. "What did she want to know?"

"Things," the bard said shyly. "About us... and when you and I are alone."

"Look at those cheeks, Gabrielle," Xena teased whispering in Gabrielleís ear. "Itís hard to believe youíre the same woman from this morning who needed to fuck me."

Gabrielle swatted the warrior. "Keep teasing me and you may never have another morning like that again."

"Are you using sex as a weapon, Gabrielle?"

"You betícha," the bard retorted boldly. "And donít you forget it."

Xena smiled and ran her fingers over the amazon's cheek. "Iíll keep that in mind."

Gabrielleís admiration for her warrior was interrupted by a thought. "Does Mom have any rooms available?"

"Iím not sure, but I think sheís full up."

"Do you think we could give my mom and Lila our room? They need a place to stay... Besides we could go to the stables and be alone... and be as noisy as we want," she added seductively. "Itís gotten a little colder out, but Iím sure youíll be able to keep me warm."

"A roll in the hay tonight?" the warrior questioned. "Iím game."

Gabrielle smiled and stroked the warriorís arm tenderly. "Why donít you grab some drinks for the table and meet us over there, okay?"

"Okay," Xena replied. She grabbed the drinks and asked her mother about the sleeping arrangements. Cyrene took their bags upstairs to the room and came down to join the table at Gabrielleís request.

The five of them settled into a mutual comfort after a tense beginning. By nightfall idle chit-chat turned into stories and laughter. Tonight, it was Gabrielleís childhood in the spotlight and her chance for embarrassment.

Lila sat and yawned a few times. Gabrielle knew their Ďdiscussí would have to wait until tomorrow. Lila needed her rest and Gabrielle needed to experience a few topics sheíd be Ďdiscussí with Lila.

CHAPTER VIII

"Youíre up early," Xena commented as she returned to the stable with tea to find the bard already dressed. "I was hoping youíd still be naked," the warrior replied with a wiggle of her eyebrow.

"I promised Lila weíd do some shopping at the merchant stalls today." Gabrielle watched as the warrior cringed. "Donít worry. Youíre not invited," she added. Xena suddenly looked hurt. "Do you want to come?" the bard asked in disbelieve.

Xena reflected briefly. "Nooo... but it would be nice if you asked."

"Well, I told Lila weíd talk about Ďthingsí and it would be easier for me if youíre not there."

Xena pondered the comment. "You can do all these Ďthingsí with me but you canít talk about them with me?"

Gabrielle blushed. "Doing and talking are two different things," Gabrielle offered.

Xena smiled. "I do love the things you do," the warrior answered with a kiss to the bard's earlobe. "I love it when you talk too... when the occasion arises," she added with a wink, reminiscing about the night before.

"Lucky we were in the stables last night, huh?" the bard replied, slipping her arms around the warriors neck.

Xenaís lips captured the bards slowly and sensuously. 

"Absolutely," she whispered, before going back to control the bardís lips.

Gabrielle felt their body heat rising along with her tunic. Reluctantly she pulled away. "Iíve got to get going," she said, straightening her garment.

Xena groaned in frustration. "Donít be gone too long," she relented. "Thereís a place not far from here I want to show you... Very quiet, very secluded. Itís a place I think youíll enjoy."

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked impatiently.

"Oh no. Iím not telling. Youíll just have to get done with your little sex chat with your sister before the sun is high."

Gabrielle was enthralled by the mysterious and mischievous look in her wifeís eyes. "Okay," she drawled. "Iíll meet you at the inn then."

Xena nodded and Gabrielle walked out to meet her sister. When she arrived at the tavern, she met her mother and sister as they ate breakfast. Lila rose anxiously when Gabrielle entered.

"Are you ready?" the bard asked.

"Yeah. Sure," she replied. "Iím going shopping with Gabrielle," she said kissing her mother on the cheek as the two scurried away. Cyrene, who was washing a table behind them witnessed the exchange.

"Remember when we had that much energy and spirit?" the warriorís mother teased.

"It must be a dormant trait," Hecuba smiled. "I donít think Iíve ever had that much energy."

Cyrene smiled before a thought occurred to her. "Do you quilt?" she asked.

"Yes. From time to time," Hecubaa answered.

"They have a few quilt exhibits this year. Would you like to take a walk there with me after Xena takes over the kitchen?"

Hecuba smiled. "After listening to those stories last night do you think itís wise to let Xena do the cooking?" she mused.

"The cooking is done," Cyrene smiled. "All she has to do is serve. That, Iím sure, she can handle. What do you say?"

The bardís mother smiled. "That sounds pleasant. Thank you."

"No problem."


"Okay," Gabrielle said to her sister, while riffling through some scarves. "What do you want to know?"

"Gods, Gabrielle," Lila whispered. "Do you have to be so . .so... "

"So what?" the bard asked.

"So... Outspoken."

Gabrielle tried to comprehend just what Lila meant but it just wasnít coming to her. "I thought you had questions... about me and Xena?"

Lila studied her sister trying to think of a starting point. "Well, how do you... you know... do it?"

Gabrielle had to laugh at the comment and she watched her sister blush. Finally she settled enough so she could speak. "Okay. Letís See. How do we... do it?... Itís not all that different from what I did with Perticus... Thatís not true," the bard reflected. Thatís not even a good comparison. "With Xena, thereís more."

"Like what?" Lila asked inquisitively.

"I loved Perticus but it was more a friendship love. With Xena, she just looks at me the right way and my toes curl." The bard had to giggle at her sappy equation. "But as far as how we Ďdo ití we use other parts of our bodies for the same effects."

"Other parts?" Lila asked.

Oh Gods, Gabrielle thought. This is a lot harder than I thought.

"Yes," the bard finally replied. "Instead of a man... with his... " The bard found herself stumbling on her words, but she was relieved that Lila could comprehend. "... instead of that... we use other things, like our fingers... or our mouths."

Lila looked like sheíd been run down by a fully loaded horse and cart. Gabrielle had to laugh again Ė out of embarrassment for herself and her sister.

"You wanted to know," Gabrielle replied.

Lila broke from the haze she was in to reply. "I know. I know... I just never imagined... "

"Well, now you do," Gabrielle replied, going to another stall. Lila noticed Gabrielle had moved a few heartbeats later and bolted to catch up.

Lila looked past Gabrielle and noticed their mom with Cyrene.

"Hey, look whoís here," Lila pointed.

"Come on," Gabrielle said as she spotted them, tugging her sister by the arm.

Gabrielle crept up behind Cyrene about to cover her eyes.

"I wouldnít do that if I were you. You could get seriously hurt," she replied dryly.

Gabrielle dropped from her offensive stance. "How do you two do that? Xena is exactly the same way. Do you have eyes in the back of your head?" the bard asked searching through Cyreneís hair.

"Iíll never tell," she said pulling the bard close by the waist. "Find anything good?" she asked, peeking in the bardís satchel.

Gabrielle playfully smacked Cyreneís hand. "No looking. Solstice is coming up and there just might be a gift in there for you."

Cyrene and Gabrielle smiled at each other. Hecuba felt happy and nervous all at once. It was warming to know Gabrielle had a soulmate whose mother truly cared for her. It also made her anxious that she herself would no longer be needed as her true mother. She didnít have long to fester in the conflicting emotions. She heard her name yelled in the marketplace with hostility.

All four turned and watched as Herodotus appeared. Quickly, he walked over to his wife. 

"What do you think youíre doing here?" he spouted.

The fear showed on Hecuba and Lilaís faces. Cyrene and Gabrielle, however, stood stone faced. When the woman couldn't find her voice, Cyrene spoke for her.

"She just stopped by to enjoy the festival," Cyrena challenged. "Gotta problem with that?"

The voice was gravely, and oh so familiar, although the tone was deeper and older. For a brief moment, Gabrielle witnessed what Xena would sound like someday.

"Who the Tartarus are you?!" he asked defiantly.

"Someone who doesnít like to see women ordered around like a two dinar whore," she hissed.

Herodotus studied Cyrene for a moment before recognition washed over his face. 

"Youíre the mother of that butcher, arenít you?" Cyrena didnít let his words affect her. Thinking he had won, he reached for Hecuba, violently tugging her arm.

Cyreneís leg shot up breaking the connection. He looked shocked before she pushed him back. He charged and Cyrene whipped her hand back, stealing Gabrielleís staff. Like lightening, the man was on his back side, a cloud of dust settling around him. She tossed the weapon back to the bard and leaned over the fallen man.

"The way I see it you have three choices: I can beat you senseless and throw you out of town. You can turn around quietly and walk out of town. Or you can start acting like a mature gentleman and discuss your problems peacefully with your wife... So tell me... Whatís it gonna be?"

The townspeople and visitors watched the scene with a great deal of interest. Herodotus knew all eyes were on them. His eyes, however, refused to leave the deep blue of Cyreneís. As gracefully as possible he backed down from a fight. Sensing his defeat, Cyrene stepped back and offered her hand. Reluctantly, he took it and she helped him get upright.

"Wise decision," she commended with a grin. "Now letís all get back to the inn and talk things over."

CHAPTER IX

Gabrielle raced to the inn ahead of everyone. Xena was filling a mug of port when the bard rushed through the doors.

"Xena!" she said dashing toward the warrior, getting to the bar before Xena could even take a step.

"Whatís wrong?!"

"My fatherís here," she answered short of breath.

"Where?" she asked ripping the apron off. "Did he hurt you?"

Gabrielle smiled. "No. He didnít have the chance. Your mother... " the bard said trying to regain her wind.

"What is it?! What did he do to Mom?" Xenaís voice was urgent. By the Gods, she would have to kill that man.

"Nothing." Gabrielle smiled with a pause. "She was phenomenal. She did things with my staff I never even seen Eponin do... It was... amazing."

Just then the four returned, walking in casually. Xena started to stride toward them, but Gabrielle grabbed her by the arm. "Please donít," she whispered. "Let them talk things out."

Xena shifted her weight impatiently. "Gabri-"

"Please Xena," she urged again; this time grabbing both arms. "For me... Please." Xena sighed and hung her head low. Gabrielle lifted the warriors chin with her fingertips. "Besides didnít we have a date this afternoon?" she smiled shyly. "I gotta know the big mystery."

Xena smiled with the remembrance of the plan. "Okay," she agreed. "Let me pack a few things and then weíll go."

The bard nodded and joined the table with her family. As Xena brought the picnic basket over, she nodded toward her father-in-law. Gabrielle stood up and put a vise grip on Xenaís arm.

"Are you ready, Gabrielle?" she asked politely.

"Certainly," she smiled. "Weíll be back a little bit later. Weíll see you then," she commented to the table.

With a push and a gentle tug, the warrior followed Gabrielle out the door and to their mare. "So where are we going?" the bard asked with excited impatience.

"Youíll see, Beautiful." Xena smiled. "Youíll see."

CHAPTER X

"Whadda ya think?" Xena said proudly, pointing in the distance.

It was quite beautiful Ė the autumn hues of yellow, brown, red and orange surrounding them Ė but Gabrielle still wasnít quite sure what was so special. The sight that Xena pointed to didnít seem all that magnificent, but Gabrielle tried to be enthusiastic.

"Thatís nice," she replied. "A waterfall... but I donít get it."

"Come on," Xena replied, slipping off Argo gracefully. "Letís go for a swim."

Gabrielle eyes widened. "Are you nuts? Itís too cold to go swimming," she insisted.

Before she could pose another argument, Xena stripped off her clothing and jumped head first into the water, with so much as a splash. Gabrielle admired how much control Xena had over her body. When she jumped in it was like a bag of boulders being tossed, but Xena caused barely a ripple.

When she resurfaced, the warrior motioned the bard with her finger. "Come on in," she answered, stroking her wet hair back with her palms. "Or donít you have the guts," the warrior egged.

Gabrielle made her mind up. Soon her clothes were on the rocky ledge and she was contemplating just how cold that water was. Before she could talk herself out of it, she held her breath, jumping up as high as she could. She wrapped her arms around her legs and gave a huge splash that soaked the warrior. Xena smiled quietly and waited for her resurface.

"By the Gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed once she emerged. "I donít believe it... itís... itís warm."

Xena smiled and nodded.

"I donít think anyone knows it, but this pool is fed by a hot spring up there," she said pointing. "I wouldnít have know either, but Lyceus fell in one autumn when we were kids. We promised weíd never tell anyone so we could have this place to ourselves long after summer was over... We promised when we both found mates the four of us would come here some autumn and spend the day swimming." Xenaís voice had grown almost silent as she finished and she felt herself frowning. Quickly, she met Gabrielleís eyes and she began to grin again.

Gabrielle pulled her closer. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for sharing this place with me."

"I donít think Lyceus will mind that I showed you." The warrior grinned. "As a matter of fact, Iím sure he would have been quite fond of you. He had a wonderful habit of seeing the good in people... not unlike a certain bard I know," she added as she cocked her head.

Gabrielle grinned, but began to study Xena. The warrior felt the bardís examination. 

"What?" Xena asked in a chuckle.

Gabrielle shifted her head to the other side before she began. "Would you tell me more... about Lyceus I mean... I know you donít like to talk about-."

"What do you want to know?" Xena asked taking a deep breath.

"What was he like? How did he look?" Gabrielle replied, giving the warrior a starting place.

"He looked a lot like my dad from what I remember. Sandy brown hair, dark eyes... Toris and I favored mother more, but Ly looked more like my father... He and I would practice swords together Ė they werenít real; just sticks. We climbed trees. We wrestled. We rode horses... He was my best friend... We were inseparable... at least, I thought... A big part of me died the day he was killed... And I still think about him everyday."

"I wish I could have met him," Gabrielle replied, stroking the warriorís face.

"Me too," the warrior croaked.

Gabrielle moved to rub the tear that had cascaded down Xenaís cheek, but quickly the warrior ducked under the water. Xena popped up behind Gabrielle giving her a splash. Gabrielle grinned and turned around before paddling toward her lover. 

"Are you alright?" the bard asked concerned, given the recent discussion topic.

"Yeah. Iím okay," Xena grinned. "Besides I came here not to cry, but to play. Wanna play with me?" the warrior asked wiggling her eyebrow.

"Iíd love to play," the bard answered just as seductively, trying to get back to lighter conversation.

"Come to me," Xena whispered floating backwards toward the waterfall.

It wasnít a large fall by any means but it felt quite refreshing and relaxing against oneís back. It wasnít pounding or trickling. As Xena leaned into the fall with closed eyes, she became reacquainted with just how glorious this place felt. She could literally feel her tension floating away with the current.

Gabrielle paused a moment to admire how beautiful her love looked. When she could stand it no longer she eased in front of the warrior. Carefully her tongue captured a few droplets that were cascading down the warriorís breasts. The water; the skin. Both tastes delighted the bard and she couldnít suppress her moan against the sweetness of it.

With the water massaging her back and Gabrielle massaging her front, Xena felt like she was in Elysia. She looked down to meet the bards eyes. Gabrielle stopped her administrations to meet the ardent gaze of her warrior.

"Iíll always adore you, Beautiful," the warrior whispered. "Always."

"Me too, Warrior Mine," the bard replied, taking the warriorís earlobe between her lips. "Me too."

Xena rational thought escaped at that point. She simply gave into the sights and sounds and touches of her amazon queen. Yet again, she let Gabrielle weave her magic around her heart.

CHAPTER XI

It was late afternoon when the duo arrived back in town. Gabrielle and Xena both enjoyed playing in the warm spring. Getting out however was a problem. Chilly winds on wet bodies produce the most amazing affects on the female body. At least thatís the way Xena put it to the chattering bard.

When they walked into the tavern they noticed Lila serving some port to some obnoxious men, who pawed at her skirt. Xena as about to charge over, but Toris beat her to the punch. He walked over and causally told the men Ďthe brothel was that wayí as he pointed. He added Ďif thatís what they were after, thatís where they should goí. He tossed them a dinar and told them to have a little bit of fun for him. They all chuckled heartily and ordered another round of ports with the promise Lila was off limits.

Xena admired Toris. He brought the peace without cracking heads. She knew if she had gotten there first all three men would be in the horse trough by now. When Cyrene came from the kitchen, they walked over.

"Where are my parents?" Gabrielle asked.

Cyrene looked uncomfortable with the question. "She went back home with him," she replied softly. She didnít add more. She didnít need to. Gabrielle knew the answer.

"What about Lila?" Gabrielle asked.

Cyrene grinned. "She refused to leave without saying goodbye. I told your mom you and Xena would bring her back home... Here, your mother wanted you to have this."

Gabrielle examined the scroll before opening it and Cyrene turned to Xena. "Think you could help me move some things in the kitchen, little one?" she said to her daughter.

"Certainly. Lead the way," she motioned. She looked over her shoulder as Gabrielle began to read the scroll.

"Dearest Gabrielle," it began. "I wish I could tell you goodbye face to face, but your father insists that we leave. I donít have much time, but let me say that Iíve looked into Xenaís eyes and I see the love she has for you. You travel at her side and she sees all the brightness you bring to this world. I always hoped youíd find a man who could see you for who you are... You donít have a man to do that for you, but you do have someone Ė I think that someone is mighty special too. There are many sides to Xena I never saw until last night. You made the right choice, my dear Ė no matter what anyone tells you. Take care and visit me soon. Love, Mother."

Xena returned from the kitchen to find the bardís eyes filled with tears. "What did she say?" Xena asked, fearing the worse.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xenaís waist and rested her head on her bosom. "She sees," Gabrielle whispered softly. "I never thought it would happen, but she sees."

Xena read the parchment as the bard held onto her. When she finished she kissed her wife on the top of her head. "I think you made the right choice too." Xena smiled.

Gabrielle pulled away and took the parchment from Xena. "We should take Lila back tomorrow," Gabrielle stated. "I donít need to get her into any more trouble with my father."

"I agree," Xena replied. "Besides all these people in town make me edgy."

Gabrielle smiled. "Yeah, but at least itís not Athens. Youíre as jumpy as a cat there." The bard reached out, grabbing the warriors arm. In the same instant she made a hissing noise and sharp meow, which made the warrior laugh.

"Please, Gabrielle," Xena said trying to look serious. "Save those noises for when weíre alone."

Gabrielle smacked her playfully as Lila came up. "Now what are you two up to?"

"Not much; just a little tormenting." Gabrielle smiled. "How about we get outta here tomorrow and head home? Xenaís had about all she can stand of the festival life and I really donít want to keep you any longer with Dad already angry."

Lila looked at her feet, shifting nervously from side to side. "Actually, I was wondering if I could go with you back to the Amazons. I mean you were heading there next, werenít you?"

Gabrielle tried to get the stunned look off her face before her sister looked up. Xena sensed Gabrielleís discomfort and fielded this question.

"Why do you want to go to Arborea?" Xena asked, inquisitively.

"Iím not sure. Iíve never saw an Amazon and since Gabrielle said sheís queen and all... I thought Iíd like to see the place."

Sounded like a good enough reason to Xena, but that didnít mean that Gabrielle reciprocated. So Xena offered Lila an answer that was agreeable to everyone. 

"Iíll tell you what Lila. Gabrielle and I will consider it. Itís very dangerous on the road and Iím not sure if weíre up to watching over you. Itís been a pretty stressful week... Whatever we decide it will be for your own good. Understand?"

Lila smiled and nodded. At least they didnít flat out reject me, she pondered as she went back to the kitchen to begin serving again.

"Thank you," Gabrielle whispered. "I didnít know what to tell her. What are we going to do?"

Xena grinned. "Weíll talk about it tonight like I told Lila and then, in the morning, weíll give her an answer."

Gabrielle stroked her warriorís face. "I really love you. Always there for the save," she giggled.

"Like Iíve said, itís a position Iím very grateful to fill," Xena replied kissing Gabrielleís cheek. "So donít forget."

CHAPTER XII

Lila was surprised when Xena and Gabrielle announced they would be taking her to the amazons. But they insisted stopping by her parentsí home to let them know where was and that for the most part, she was safe. The first night was quiet with all three sleeping in the same bedroll for warmth.

When they returned to Poteidaia, Hecuba warmly greeted all three. Herodotus still barely acknowledged the warrior and spoke little to Gabrielle. They were going to leave that afternoon, but Hecuba insisted that they stay for the evening. Lila offered her room over the grumbling of Herodotus, but Xena insisted they would stay in the stables and be gone at daybreak. Hecuba agreed, but only if they came in for breakfast before leaving.

After the meal of potatoes, eggs and some pork, the trio readied for their departure. It was an educational experience for the warrior. She learned where Gabrielle got her cooking skills. As they packed Argo, they noticed Herodotus standing by the barn doors.

"Xena," he called. "A moment with you please."

Oh Gods, the warrior thought as she watched the man standing before her with his hand on his hips. "Sure," she replied vocally.

Slowly, the warrior walked outside to meet him.

"You know how I feel about all this... I canít help, but feel youíre stealing another daughter of mine... Just keep her safe too, okay?"

Xena could have sworn she saw the manís lips curl just as tad in the smallest of grins. 

"I will," Xena promised.

With a nod, he turned and walked back into the house. Gabrielle and Lila lead Argo from the stable. 

"Everything okay?" the bard asked. "What did he say?"

"He wants to make sure youíre both taken care off. I told him I would... Give him time, Gabrielle. Maybe heíll come around," the warrior added.

"Iím not gonna hold my breath." The bard smiled.

Xena had to smile too. "Me neither, but anything is possible... Are we ready?"

The bard nodded and the trio were on soon on the north road to Arborea.


"Heads up" Xena smiled as they entered the Amazon territory.

Lila looked at Gabrielle in confusion. 

"The guards are in the trees," the queen explained.

Seconds later the ropes dropped and they were surrounded. Lila grabbed Gabrielleís arm for protection. Gabrielle found herself grinning at the innocence of her sister. It seemed like ages that she had the same wide-eyed wonder and a part of her ached at that very moment at her Ďloss of innocenceí. Xena, noticing Gabrielleís arm was Ďoccupiedí, gave the friendly gesture alerting the amazons of their status within the tribe.

Xena recognized the mask before the woman behind it showed herself. "Hello, Solari." She grinned. The amazon warrior pushed the facial covering back and hugged Xena firmly.

"Hi there yourself stranger," she whispered. She turned to quickly to Gabrielle. "How are you, my queen?" she asked, beginning to bow.

"Cut the queen crap and get over her," she said opening her arms to accept Solari. "Itís good to see."

"You too. Iím sure Regent Ephiny will be pleased with your arrival." With that Solari, motioned the runner, who took off into a sprint. Solari then watched Lila peek out from behind Gabrielleís back. She seemed so shy, delicate. Long dark hair, bright blue eyes, petite nose and sculptured lips. Solari felt suddenly smitten. She tried to find a sense of peace as she asked, "Whoís your traveling companion?"

"Solari, this is my sister, Lila. My biological sister Ė not an amazon," she added for some unknown reason. Maybe it was the scrutiny of Solariís eyes that forced her to include the last fact.

Solari fell to one knee briefly before quickly rising. "Itís an honor to meet you," Solari nodded casually.

"Likewise." Lila smiled, but was still unsure of her surroundings.

That smile. That beautiful smile. Solari realized she was staring at the young woman, the sister of her queen no less. Although she knew she was a brave warrior who had seen many battles, she didnít feel worthy to be giving the queenís sister such an intense gaze. She cleared her throat before turning to the party.

"May I escort you all back to the village?" Solari asked formally.

"Of course," Gabrielle replied.

The walk to the village was relatively quiet. Solari and Xena took the lead with Gabrielle and Lila following behind. Neither noticed the other, but both women watched hypnotically, following the sway of the women in front of them. Lila began to wonder if Solari was familiar with the things she and Gabrielle had discussed. When Solari looked back Ďto check on her queení she gave Lila a lingering smile. Oh yeah, Lila figured with a sly grin. I bet she knows... and then some.

CHAPTER XIII

Ephiny was tickled to see the group arrive. She hugged all of them Ė even Lila to whom she was just introduced. Xena noticed the once Ďstand-offishí amazon regent had softened yet remained a powerful leader. She held the right combination of respect for her people without being a push-over and she did it without instilling fear. Xena admired that; even envied it.

After some brief conversation and catching up, Gabrielle turned to Xena. 

"Why donít you show Lila around while I discuss something with my regent?"

"Trying to get rid of me, are you?" Xena teased.

"Only for a little while and only if you promise to come back." Gabrielle smiled.

Xena walked next to Gabrielle who was sitting in a chair in the royal hut. "I promise. Iíll be back," Xena whispered.

Ephiny watched wide-eyed as the warrior leaned down and took the bardís lips with her own. She watched her queenís hands encompass the back of the warriorís head drawing her closer. As the warrior pulled away the bard sighed in approval. 

"Donít be gone too long," Gabrielle called as her wife and her sister, exited the hut. Ephiny couldnít find a single word to say and Gabrielle laughed at her expression. "Would you like me to pick your jaw up off the floor before someone trips on it?" the queen joked.

With a snap, the regent shut her mouth. "Iím sorry... I just wasnít expecting... THAT!"

"Yeah, sometimes I get caught by surprise myself... Xena is certainly not dull." The Queen found herself blushing at her own comment.

"Apparently not," Ephiny agreed with a teasing grin.

The two women studied each other for a moment. "Anyway," Gabrielle spoke. "The reason for our visit is not just social. I have a favor to ask."

"Ask away," Ephiny offered.

"This summer Xena and I were married on Lesbos. Iíd like you to announce that the queen as chosen a consort and we would like you to do the honor of making it official in the eyes of the amazon nation."

"Oh Gabrielle," Ephiny answered, rushing over practically smothering the queen in an embrace before pulling away. "Iíd be proud. You have no idea how much this will mean to the nation... Iím so happy for you."

"Thank you," Gabrielle replied. "Do you think we could do this tonight? I mean the announcement."

"Certainly," Ephiny answered. "Weíre having a banquet in honor of your return so it would be a wonderful time to announce the plans."

"Thanks again, Ephiny," Gabrielle offered once more. "Youíre a wonderful friend. There have been so many times I wouldnít have known what to do without you."

"You too," the regent replied. "You and Xena both helped bring Xenon into this world. I canít thank you enough for seeing me through the happiest yet most painful time of my life. I lost a husband and gained a son in the course of a few days. Iím glad you stood by me."

"Come here," Gabrielle said opening her arms, before the two embraced again. "So on to other important things. Whatís on the menu tonight?" she joked as Ephiny joined her in her laughter.

CHAPTER XIV

Ephiny rose from the table and raised her glass. 

"Sister amazons," she began. At that moment, Gabrielle felt a knot tighten in her stomach. "I have an announcement," the regent continued, glancing for the queenís approval. Gabrielle gave a nod of encouragement, letting her know to go on. "Queen Gabrielle has chosen a consort. She has asked me if I would do the honor of joining her and her suitor, Xena of Amphipolis, in a bonding ceremony."

A barrage of claps and whistles and war cries filled the square with approval. Ephiny expected the village would be supportive of the union.

"As a formality," the regent said teasingly, which brought a few laughs through the crowd, "I must ask if anyone would like to challenge for the queenís hand." No one made a move. "Oh come on," Ephiny continued to joke, "Isnít there anyone here whoíd like to take on the warrior princess for the hand of our lovely queen?"

In the distance someone shouted. "Hades no! We enjoy breathing!" That brought another roll of laughter through the banquet area, making the warrior blush.

"Okay," Ephiny smiled. "Point well taken... And one last point. Is there anyone here crazy and silly enough to speak out against this prospective union?"

As Ephiny said the final words an explosion rocked the tables and benches. A few huts even swayed with the impact tremor. The majority of amazons took cover on the ground - Xena, Gabrielle and Lila included. Looking up from the smoke and dust that began to dissipate, Xena noticed a figure emerge.

"You inferior mortal!" the figure said, stalking closer. "How dare you take something as meaningful as MY Queenís bonding so lightly?"

Ephiny found she was having a hard time breathing Ė a pressure tight around her neck refused to let any air flow. She sank to her knees, gasping for every little breath she could get.

"Know this amazons. I am your Goddess, Artemis... And I refuse to let the hand of my queen be given to this weak mortal! The Queen will be joined only to one of amazon blood."

Gabrielle listened to Artemisí words, but her eyes stayed focused on Ephiny, struggling harder and harder to breath. She shrugged off Xenaís protective arm and raced to Ephinyís side. Xena followed suite, ordering Lila to stay put.

"Your days of travel are over my queen. Only one of amazon blood is worthy for travel with you. You must stay in the village until you have wed under my requirement. Then and only then will you be allowed to leave Arborea with your consort."

With a wave of her hand, Ephiny began to breathe again in a huge gasp. She collapsed on the ground, trying to regulate the air back into her lungs. Artemis crept closer to the trio on the ground before turning before her nation.

"Gabrielle will rule as my queen. Any harm to her will be harm to all of you... And as for you, my queen," the goddess replied, reaching down stroking her face, "you will heed my wishes or your people will suffer a terrible price."

Gabrielle moved away and gathered Ephiny in her arms, stroking the regentís hair reassuringly. With a blinding blue light, the goddess disappeared. 

"Itís my fault," Ephiny croaked. "If I had treated this announcement more sincerely-."

"She still would have been here, Ephiny. Of course your throat would feel better than it does now, but... itís not your fault," Gabrielle replied.

The bard looked to Xena. She wanted reassurance. She wanted a plan. "What are we going to do?" Gabrielle asked, the worry and sorrow filled her voice.

Xena couldnít meet Gabrielleís eyes. "I donít know what we can do... I donít know."

"There must be something... " The bard said reaching out to grasp Xenaís arm.

"Argggg!" both women cringed in unison. Gabrielleís fingers were hot and tingling. Xenaís arm at the location the bard touched felt the same. They looked at each other in despair.

"I canít... I canít even touch you," Gabrielle managed to reply.

Out of reaction to see the bard tear up, the warrior reached for her once more, with the same effects.

"Oh gods, Xena. What are we gonna do?" the bard pleaded with more urgency in her voice.

Xena watched helplessly as the tears fell down Gabrielleís cheeks, unable to stop them or even wipe them away. 

"I donít know," Xena whispered honestly. "I donít know."

Continued in Part II

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