No Place Like Home by CN Winters

No Place Like Home
by CN Winters
Part 4 in the Homecoming Series

Chapter 1

The Amazons ripped through the warlord’s camp, desending upon them like locus. Some women work their way into the surrounding tents; others took their prey in the open.

“Queen Gabrielle,” the regent shouted, “This way.”

Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena’s waist as the warrior kicked Argo into a gallop.

“We’ve secured the leader,” Ephany informed her. “Over here.”

The three women dismounted and walked into the command quarters to find Kelioteus, the leader of the war party. All three stopped in their tracks, taking in the view.

His upper arms and chest were scared with arrow and sword wounds. His hair line was receeding quicker than Hera’s bad temper. What teeth he had left were more maize than last years corn harvest.

Gabrielle took a long look at the warlord. Then her bondmate.

“No way,” the bard replied animentally. “Nah ah. Nada.” Quickly she turned to Ephany, “We’re outta here.”

Xena couldn’t help but smile as she followed her bondmate outside.

Ephany turned to the captured warlord. “You are released,” she informed him. “You may go about your way freely.”

Ephany turned to leave but Kelioteus stopped her. “Wait a minute! What was all that about?!”

Ephany turned on her heels with a smile on her face. “My queen finds you unworthy of reproduction. She’s rejected you as a potiental mating partner. You may go.”

Ephany turned to leave again but once more was stopped.

“What?! Are you kidding?! I’m the pick of the litter!” he exclaimed. “Surely you have a ‘second in command’ that I could perhaps ‘service’,” he added, trying to act suave.

Ephany realized just what Gabrielle felt moments before and her stomach turn. “No,” Ephany answered nausously. “We don’t. Believe me.”

This time she finally made it outside and walked over to Xena and Gabrielle. She cleared her throat to make her presence known.

“You know Gabrielle,” the regent began with a grin. “This is the third raiding party in as many weeks. If you’re waiting for the male equivalent of Xena you aren’t going find it.”

Gabrielle smiled. “I’m not looking for the male equivalent of Xena. She’s my one in only. However, I would like to find a mating partner that doesn’t repluse me with their stench or haggeredness. . .Be honest Eph’. Would you touch him?”

Ephany smiled back. “He offered,” Ephany confessed.

“And?”

“I declined,” Ephany admitted with a grin. “To be honest I don’t blame you one bit. . .Especially if I was used to lying next to this body every night,” she added, playfully latching onto Xena’s arm, looking up to the warrior.

Xena just scowled down at Ephany until she had to grin. “Thanks,” she replied patting the regents hands that encompassed her forearm. “But I’m taken and very much so.”

“Well, were does this leave us?” Gabrielle asked in frustration.

“Plan Beta,” Xena replied.

“Plan Beta?” Ephany asked.

Xena nodded. “We hit the road again,” she replied.

Ephany couldn’t explain or understand the effect those words had on her. They would be leaving again. She had grown accustomed to having them around the village since Zagreus attack and she was already mourning their departure, although they still stood in front of her.

Gabrielle nodded in agreement. And Ephany knew she would be telling her friends good-bye again.

Three nightfalls later they returned home. The summer festival that Ephany had planned before the Zagreus’ attack, was in full swing. It was a party to celebrate the recent victory over Zagreus, their latest ‘attacks’ on war party camps and the departure of their queen and her consort.

Xena slipped ale most of the night, wanting to be clear and focused for the next morning when they would leave. Eponin did her best to try to get the warrior drunk by refilling her tanker often. Only trouble was, Eponin would finish hers completely while Xena’s remained half empty at the most.

“Ya know Xena,” the dark amazon slurred. “I bet I could take ya.”

Xena just smiled and nodded her head. “Is that so?”

“Oh yeah!” Eponin exclaimed. “Why don’t we go out to the practice field right now? I’ll show what a real amazon’s . . .”

Xena waited a moment but she could tell Eponin lost her train of thought. “Made of?” Xena offered, trying to finish the sentence.

“Yeah! I’ll show ya what a real amazon’s made of!” she repeated, leaning over the table in challenge.

“I made it a point long ago to never take advantage of a woman who’s drunk,” Xena teased.

“Drunk?! I’m not drunk! I’ll prove it!” She shot up and spilled ale all over the table and Xena. As Eponin unsheathed her sword, Ephany ran over.

“Hey there Ep’. Let’s take it easy,” Ephany answered, taking the sword away and handing it to Diteria behind her, who in turn gave it to a young amazon with instuctions on putting it in their chambers. “Why don’t you go talk to Allena?” she offered. “She’s been bragging about you all night. I’m sure she’s getting lonely right about now.”

Eponin smiled at the thought. Allena. ‘Now that’s a real amazon. Long dark hair. Piercing green eyes. High, firm breast and . . .Yeah’, Eponin thought.

“Good idea,” the dark-haired warrior agreed, staggering off.

“Are you okay?” Ephany asked Xena as she and Diteria took a seat.

“Okay? Yes. Dry? No,” the warrior answered. “I think I’m going to change out of these wet leathers,” she added standing up. “I’ll be back.”

As Xena made her way to the royal hut Ephany spotted Gabrielle watching the warrior move to their chambers almost as if she were hypotesed by Xena’s walk. Gabrielle excused herself from the small circle she was in, making her way to the hut. Judging by the look in her queen’s eyes, Ephany knew she wouldn’t see the queen or consort until later in the evening, if at all.

Xena stood naked next to the basin, trying to rid her skin of the ale that managed to soak through. She felt, rather than heard, a presence behind her.

“Having fun?” she asked casually.

“Enjoying the view,” Gabrielle answered.

Soon the warrior felt the bards hands reach around, clutching both her breasts; fingers teasing her nipples.

“Like I told Eponin,” the warrior answered, trying to keep her voice steady. “I never take advantage of drunk women – be it sparing or. . .other matters.”

Gabrielle couldn’t see it but she heard the grin in the warrior’s voice. The bard squeezed harder to ephasisize her reply. “It would be to your ‘disadvantage’ if you didn’t take this woman.”

Xena moaned at the contact as her head fell back gently against Gabrielle’s forehead, soaking in her capture. The towel fell from Xena’s fingers splashing into the soapy water as Gabrielle lips lay demanding claim to the warrior’s strong shoulders.

“Gods! You are beautiful,” Gabrielle added, her deep raw with passion. “The things you do to me.”

She took Xena’s hand, leading it under her skirt, into her wetness. Xena was surprised to find she had no britches on underneath. “A little underdressed I see,” the warrior tried to answer smuggly. It didn’t work. Gabrielle could hear Xena trying to keep her desire in check.

“Oh yes,” Gabrielle insisted, spinning the warrior around fercely to face her. “I’ve had plans for you all night.”

The bard urgently tugged the warriors head down, welding her lips to her lovers. Tongues fought for control. Neither side winning or losing; only building their passions higher. Gabrielle felt her suede, amazon binkin top ripped forcefully from her body. Her whimper of surprise and desire only inspired the warrior more.

Lust – plain and simple. That’s what each woman aspired to at this point. The bard loved the warrior. The warrior loved the bard. But tonight both could feel something primal in their need for each other as their tongues continued to do battle in each others mouth. Xena broke away first, fixating herself on Gabrielle’s neck as she sweeped the bard into her arms.

She walked a few feet before she threw the bard on the bed. Gabrielle landed with a soft thud but before she could rise the warrior had already leaped, pinning the bard back down on the mattress with her strong naked form. In one strong heave and tug, the thin skirt that clung to the bards waist was nothing more than tattered cloth – a casuality to her warrior’s longing.

As Xena’s thigh crept between the bards, Gabrielle reached down to the back of the warriors leg. She ached for more contact, harder contact; her hips began to show the level of her arousal. Xena for her part, did nothing to stop it. She wanted the bard just as much. She had to have her.

There was nothing loving; nothing affectionate in their motions. Hips thrust and rotated, as grunts and cries of want escaped their mouths. The sound of their bodies slapping together forcefully filled the large hut. Xena loved it. She was always a very physical person; very rough. She was delighted by the way the bard could tenderly carasses her when she need it. And she was even more thankful for nights like tonight when the bard could take whatever she gave. Not only take it but enjoy it – want more of it. Begging for it. Harder and Harder.

Xena could feel the sweat beginning to pour from her body as she grind against Gabrielle. The bard glissened in the candle light as well; her strawberry blonde bangs darker from the wetness around her forehead. The wetness on her face however was nothing compared to that between her legs. Xena’s thigh was total soaked and the smell of their desire hung heavy in the air.

“Gods Xena,” the bard said between passionate grunts. “Harder! Give it to me. Harder!”

Xena was unsure if the bed would hold them at this point. The creaking becoming louder as her movements became even more heated. In truth, the whole damn thing could fall apart but she wouldn’t stop ramming her body against her lovely bard. Xena speeded up her efforts, earning lustful praise.

“Gods yes!” Gabrielle exclaimed, her hands firm on Xena’s broad shoulders pulling her in closer with each thrust. “Gods Xena yes!”

There were amazons wandering all around outside. The warrior knew they could hear their queen’s cries of pleasure and it started her blood racing again. She knew many women in the village watched Gabrielle with great interest. Many of them wondered what a night with the queen would be like but none would be stupid enough to challenge Xena to ever find out. But it was more than that too. Gabrielle would have none of them. Xena was assured in the fact the bard wanted her and her alone. The thought of the bards devoition and the idea that her admirers could hear them going at it, sent the warrior over the edge.

“I can’t hold it,” Xena muttered. She wanted to wait for Gabrielle. She wanted Gabrielle’s pleasure to come first.

The bard understood. “Don’t hold it,” she ordered, her fingernails now digging into the warriors leg. “Scream my name!”

That did it for Xena. Any reserve she felt ran away with the bards request.

“Oh Gods Gabrieeeeeelllleee!”

Her name cried out in what sounded like agony (yet knowing it was all pleasure) pushed Gabrielle over her climax.

“Oh yessss Xena. . .Yesssss!”

Exhausted but total happy, Xena slummed down next to the bard. Instinctively, Gabrielle rolled with the warrior, snuggling in her arms.

“You are incredible,” Xena whispered, placing a long, affectionate kiss on the top of Gabrielle’s soaked head.

“Not so bad yourself there warrior mine,” the bard answered, making figure eights on Xena’s sweat coated stomach.

“You realize in all the battles I’ve ever been in, I’ve never sweated as much as when you get into these ‘moods’.”

Gabrielle moved to her elbow to meet Xena’s eyes. “And what mood would you be talking about, umm?”

“Absolute lust,” Xena grinned.

“That doesn’t sound like a complaint,” the bard teased.

“Oh no,” Xena agreed. “Not a complaint at all. I love it when you’re on fire like that. When you ache for my touch. . .Don’t get me wrong I love taking the time to caressing every part of each other but some nights. . .”

The warrior trailed off so the storyteller finished. “Some nights you just want action. A hot ride between your legs and nothin’ more. No endearments. No promises. Just sex for the sake of sex.”

Xena smiled and had to laugh. The bard knew her – she knew her well. “Yeah,” she agreed pulling the bard back to her shoulder.

“Lucky we’re usually on the same trail,” Gabrielle smiled against Xena’s shoulder.

“Gabrielle,” Xena sighed. “You have no idea how much I love you; how thankful I am that we’re so much in ‘tune’ with each other.”

“I think I have more of an idea than you think,” Gabrielle teased, going back to drawing her number on the warriors skin.

“I’m glad you do Beautiful. But that isn’t going to stop me from telling you,” Xena answered. “Not at all.”
Chapter 2
Xena wasn’t feeling very well – too much ale the night before at the festival, she was sure. The warrior’s upset stomach, however, didn’t stop the duo’s travel plans. They left the amazons promising to return for Ephany’s bonding ceremony. Ephany was sad to see her friends leave, as were many other amazons, but she was hopeful at their soon return. Perhaps by that time the queen would be carrying an heir to the throne within her womb.

Night had begun to fall in the tiny village they had stopped in for the evening. Xena sat sipping cider as they summed up the locals at the tavern.

“What about him?” Gabrielle asked, point to a young man, dressed like a farmer.

Actually they all dressed like farmers Xena deduced. He just didn’t look unique enough for the warrior.

“Too plain,” Xena shot down.

“Okay. . .Him?”

Xena looked over at prospect number two. “Too young. . .He’d faint before we even got him to our room,” Xena smiled.

“Alright. . .How about that guy?”

Xena noticed where the bard pointed. “Too old. His heart would attack him.”

Gabrielle signed in frustration. “Fine. . .you pick,” the bard replied giving up.

Just then a man walked in – mid-twenties, handsome face, tall, dark features. He even had decent teeth. Now this has potiental Gabrielle thought. “What about him?” she asked the warrior.

Xena sized him up. Hoping; searching for some negative aspect. . .yet coming up empty. Sure enough. If ever there would be a man in this town who could fit the bill, they had just found him. “Okay,” Xena said relucantly. “But what do we do?”

“You go upstairs,” she told the warrior. “I’ll walk over. I’ll bat my eyelashes and lead him to our room. From there we can play it by ear.”

Xena studied the warrior for a moment. “I’m not so sure I should leave you down her alone,” the warrior answered.

“I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself and if he plans on taking me somewhere else I’ll simply walk away, going straight back to our room alright?”

Xena nodded and downed the last of her cider. “Yell if you need me.”

“Always,” the bard grinned.

Xena walked up the staircase and looked down at the bard one last time before slipping into their room. As she closed the door she prayed things would go alright. What exactly was alright, she wasn’t sure. Gabrielle was a beautiful woman. Any man would love to have her as a prize on his arm. And Gabrielle did have a thing for guys like the stranger down stairs – pretty boys. Men who looked young with dazzling smiles. What if she decides she wants. . .

“No,” Xena replied, noticing that she was pacing. “We’ve been over this. She wants me. Only me. And a baby. And since I can’t give her a baby, I’ll just have to let some stranger. . .do that. . .I’ll just put the ground rules down.”

As Xena finished talking to herself the door opened. It didn’t take Gabrielle nearly as long as she thought. The man froze when he saw Xena.

“Who’s that?” he asked timidly.

“That’s my bondmate,” Gabrielle answered. “She’s very open-minded. She knows that I need a man now and then so she lets me. Besides she likes to watch. . .Is that a problem?”

The man wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. The warrior didn’t look too friendly or keen on the idea of him being there. But he took another look at the beautiful blonde seducing him and he succumbed. “No. . .no problem.”

Xena could feel her stomach turning again like earlier in the day but she knew it wasn’t the same reason. She and Gabrielle decided that they wouldn’t disclose the true nature of this rendeouz with any man they encounter. The man may have second thoughts if he knew the matching may (hopefully) result in producing a child. The false story was now very unsettling for Xena.

“Here are the rules,” Xena threatened. “You can touch her. You can. . .take her. . .But don’t you dare kiss her.”

“Look, I’m not sure if this is such a good idea. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re a beautiful woman but-

He didn’t finish. He turned to look at Gabrielle only to find the bard naked from the waist up. “You were saying,” she replied, reaching out stroking his already erect cock. When he didn’t answer, Gabrielle pulled her skirt away, along with her boots. “You’ve got something I need,” Gabrielle mewed seductively, leading him, literally to the bed by his anatomy.

Xena turned her head. It was one of the times she felt damned that her hearing was so acute. She could hear their breathing change – not just his but Gabrielle’s as well. She couldn’t watch this she decided and kept her head turned.

Again her eyes couldn’t see but her ears gave her a perfect picture. She was unbuckling his belt now. Soon after, his trousers fell to the floor. With a creak of the bed she knew he was on top of her. After a few minutes the creaking became rythimic and the warrior knew just what he was doing to Gabrielle. Her Gabrielle. Her bondmate. Her bard.

But even among these sounds, a new one struck her ear. She wasn’t even sure how she got there. One moment she was next to the window, the next moment she was standing over the man who was inside her lover. A man who was gasping for air while an irate bard shouted at her.

“Take it off Xena!” the bard yelled. “Take it off now or you’ll kill him!”

Xena wasn’t quite sure of where she was at the moment or what she was doing but the mans bleeding nose gave it away. Quickly she released the pressure points on his neck. And she realized finally just what she had done.

“I’m sorry,” Xena replied as the man scrambled to his feet. “But you didn’t play by the rules. I told you. NO kissing,” she said mencingly.

“You’re beautiful sweetheart,” he told Gabrielle as he quickly finished putting his clothes ‘somewhat ‘ in place. “But you ain’t worth my life.”

Xena jumped like she was going to dart at the man and he scrambled to the door, knocking himself in the forehead with it, in his haste to leave. Xena moved over and locked it once he was gone with a satsified grin on her face. When she turned she found Gabrielle looking less than satsified. In fact, she looked down right pissed.

“What is wrong with you?!” she demanded in a heated whisper. “You could’ve killed that man. Do you realize that?!”

The grin fell from the warriors face as she remembered just what that man was doing moments before. “He’s still alive ain’t he?” she replied, trying to act casual, arrogant.

Gabrielle reconginzed it – the warrior walls were going up. But she wasn’t going to let that happen. She lightened her tone and walked over to the warrior who was now looking out the window again.

“Hey Xena,” she said, wrapping around Xena’s arm. The warrior carefully slid away.

“Please don’t touch me yet,” Xena asked.

Gabrielle wasn’t quite sure how to place the sound in Xena’s voice. Was it anger. Perhaps hurt. Even a little disguist, maybe. “What’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked. “Why. . .why won’t you let me comfort you?”

Xena couldn’t answer. It was ridiculous. How could she tell the bard she didn’t want her to touch her after that man had. . .

“I’m going to stay in the stables tonight. Take the room. It’s paid for,” Xena instructed. Before Gabrielle could pose an argument Xena left.

The bard stood naked and slack jawed. ‘What in Tartarus just happened here?’ she asked herself. She didn’t wait long. She yelled once for her bondmate as she began collecting their belongings.
Chapter 3
Xena heard the thud of their saddlebags and turned around.

“What are you doing?” she inquired.

“Well since we’re staying out here tonight, I thought I should bring our things along too,” the bard replied. She picked the bags back up, bringing them closer to Argo.

“WE are not staying out here. I’M staying out here and YOU’RE taking the room. It’s going to be cold out tonight and the room is already paid for,” Xena argued.

Gabrielle shook her head defiantely. “No. . .I stay where you stay – be it here or in that room. Either way we sleep together.”

“I told you it’s going to be cold-

“Then you’ll keep me warm like you always do,” Gabrielle replied, shutting out any excuse Xena would give. She walked closer and put her hand on the warriors shoulder. The gesture, however, didn’t comfort the warrior. Instead she flinched. And this time the bard couldn’t ignore it.

“What is it?! Since that man touched me I’m not allowed to touch you?! Is that it?!” she shouted, throwing her hands up and starting to pace in front of her lover. “Really Xena! I am not going to spend the rest of my life having you brooding over the fact someone else touched me. And if you don’t want me anymore I’ll leave,” Gabrielle added. The reality of the words she just spoke sunk in and she began to cry. Not wanting Xena to see her tears she ran toward the door.

Xena realized if the bard made it out the barn door she may never see Gabrielle again and that spured her into action. She raced behind the amazon queen and turned her around by the arm. She clutched the bard tight to her chest as Gabrielle continued to cry.

“I love you Xena,” the bard choaked between tears. “But I can’t stay if you’re repulsed by me now. I can’t handle that.”

Xena stroked her strawberry blonde hair, trying to calm the shaking woman. “Don’t leave,” Xena whispered. “Don’t leave. . .C’mere.”

Xena lead Gabrielle to the blankets she had placed in the hay for a make-shift bed. The bards tears had stopped but her body still fluttered now and then as she lay on Xena’s shoulder. Xena inhaled the bards fragrance. “Lilacs?” she asked.

“I washed up after you left. I thought that maybe it would help . . .I mean I thought maybe you could tell. . . Oh, Xena-

“Stop please,” Xena answered closing her eyes. “You thought you’d try to wash away what happened, right?”

Gabrielle simply nodded at first. “I figured maybe that’s why you didn’t want me around – that his scent was still on me,” the bard began explaining all over again; sitting up.

Xena held up her hand stopping the bard; smiling all the while. “Actually, I have to admit I like the lilacs much better.”

Gabrielle smiled for the first time since she entered the barn and Xena felt relieved. Feeling more secure, Gabrielle nestled back into Xena’s shoulder again until a comfortable silence fell over them.

“Xena?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“Hmm?”

“What are we going to do?” the bard asked, the desperation evident in her voice.

Instintively Xena pulled Gabrielle closer. “Actually I’ve been thinking about it since I left. The thought of that stranger caressing you and . . .touching you. . . Let’s just say it bothered me.”

“Xena, we’ve been through this. I have to sleep with someone if we-

“It’s not just that Gabrielle. . .I think our child should know its father on some level. I think we should know him and have contact with him. I’ve noticed illness can carry down in families and if we have that information the child would be better off just from a healing stand-point.”

Gabrielle moved to her elbow. It was obvious Xena had given this a great deal of thought. She even seemed almost excited by the plan which is more than what she could say for their other ideas. “And just where do we find this all magical, wonderful individual?”

“Well see that’s the difficult part. It has to be someone we know. Someone we agree on. Someone who won’t be with us every single day but visits often. Someone who, although may not seem very brave, has always been there when we needed him.”

“Sounds like you have someone in mind?” Gabrielle asked sceptically.

“I do,” Xena beamed.

Suddenly Gabrielle’s expression of uncertainity scooted away as disgusted rage took hold.

“You even say the name Joxer and I am cutting off sex for the next 12 years!”

Xena had to laugh out loud. Gabrielle was not amused. “I’m serious Xena!”

“That’s obvious,” the warrior chuckled. The bard still didn’t look appeased. “Okay, okay! It’s not Joxer! Besides if you slept with Joxer he’d be around every week. And if you bear his child? Ha! We’d never get rid of him.”

“So what’s the plan?” Gabrielle asked with great interest, especially since Joxer was now out of the running.

“Are you sure you want to hear it?” Xena asked.

“It sounds like a wonderful idea so far,” Gabrielle commended.

The warrior gave a bashful grin. She wasn’t sure why. After all she was a woman of ‘many skills’. She figured it was just the beam of respect in Gabrielle’s voice for her that did her in this time.

“Thanks,” Xena replied with a nod, seating up too so they sat face to face. “Here’s what I’ve been thinking. . .”

****

They traveled for two days. Finally they reached their destination. Xena sent Gabrielle to the inn to get a room for the evening and Xena took to searching the streets of Arcada. It didn’t take long and she reached her target.

“What’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?” she asked as she walked up to a merchant tent to stand next to the handsome fellow.

“Why Xena! What you brings you here?” her asked polietly.

“I need a favor,” she replied, cutting right to the chase.

“Ohhh really? We’ll I’m a bit rushed at the moment. I’m just picking up some supplies before I head to Athens. I’m a busy man, people need my help all over the place. So if you’ll excuse me. . .” He began to walk away. But Xena had a solution.

“I need you to sleep with Gabrielle,” she offered with a brief pause. “Of course, if you’re too busy I totally understand. I’m somewhat in demand myself, times being what they are.”

In one fluid movement he rotated himself around on his heels to face the warrior.

“I’m listening,” he said dryly.

Xena smiled in victory. “Thought that would peek your interest. . .Let’s take a walk.”
Chapter 5
“But why me?” he asked.

“Why not?” Xena replied.

“Of course, I’m handsome and dashing. Quick and witty –

“Don’t forget long winded and egocentric,” Xena interrupted.

He grinned devilishly. “Always the sweet talker huh Xena? You really know how to turn a guy on.”

Xena giggled too. “You really wanna know why?” she asked, growing serious again.

“As long as it isn’t because Hercules is out of town this week, I’m willing to listen.”

Xena shook her head. “It’s because you’re perfect for our plan. Gabrielle and I trust you with our lives. . .we have intrusted our lives to you in times past. . .and like I’ve said before, under that smug, greedy exterior lies a very good man.”

Her rolled his shoulders as he sighed. “Not so loud okay? I’ve got a reputation to protect.”

Xena ignored the comment and went on. “You like your freedom so you won’t be a constant force in the child’s life. But you would care enough to visit a few times during the year. And I also know that if anything ever happened to me and Gabrielle you would still be there for our child. You lost your own family when you were young and you know what it feels like to not have that connection. . .Gabrielle and I have given this a lot of thought. . .So I’m asking from the bottom of my heart – Give Gabrielle what I can’t. Please help us Autolycus.”

The king of theives stood for a moment playing with his goatee, thinking of everything Xena had just said.

“Take your time,” Xena added. “It has to be something you’re sure of and if you decide that you can’t do it there’ll be no hard feelings okay?” Auto nodded his head in understanding. “We’re staying at the inn here in town. Why don’t you meet us for breakfast tomorrow. Then, at that time if you have any questions, you can ask us alright?”

“Sounds good,” Auto agreed. “And I will think about everything you said. About the responsibility. About the trust. And most definitely a beautiful, strawberry blonde with gorgeous. . .

He didn’t finish. Xena had him by his chest hairs. “Yes Autolycus. Think about it all but do it silently okay?”

“Sure Xena,” he answered fast pulling her hand from his chest, taking a few hairs along. “Owww! I’ll see ya tomorrow.”

Xena smiled before turning back to the inn. She was sure the bard would want to know all the details.
Chapter 6
“I think we should see a healer Xena?”

“It’s nothing,” Xena brushed off. “Just a flu bug. Nothing more.”

Gabrielle had that look. Xena recognized it. And she waiting. “Fine,” the bard replied throwing her hands in the air. “I just think that it’s unusual for you to be this ill. And besides that, it’s lasted much longer than your illness of times past.”

Xena closed her eyes and rested her fingers on her eyebrows, hoping to relieve the tension behind them. It was way too early to already start the day bantering back and forth. “I’ll make a deal. If I still feel sick when we get back to Amazon country, I’ll go see Terris okay?”

Gabrielle grinned. It wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear but it was a compromise. “Agreed,” Gabrielle nodded.

“Room for one more?” Autolycus asked as he walked up.

“Certainly,” Xena replied and motioned to a chair. “You’re up awfully early,” she chided.

“I have questions,” he replied.

“Shoot,” Xena remarked.

Auto took a deep breath first. “Okay. If I agree to do this where exactly will you be Xena? Is there any rules attached to this ‘union’? And if I happen to break a rule what will happen to me? I have my ‘assets’ to protect, if you catch my meaning.”

“Xena trusts us,” Gabrielle spoke up. “so we would probably be alone. . .although. . .I’d like to have her there.”

“You want her to watch us?” Auto asked.

“No. I want her to join us,” Gabrielle remarked, matter of factly.

Xena and Auto held similar expressions of shock. “Really?” they both asked in harmony after a few quiet heartbeats.

Gabrielle looked at both of them as she nodded. “Yes. I have my reasons.”

“Why you wild woman Gabrielle! Who would have thought such an innocent young girl could have such a naughty side,” Auto teased. “But then again what else could I expect from the consort of Xena: Warrior Princess.”

That comment earned him a slap behind the head from the warrior and he ducked to avoid another. Xena ignored him, once again focusing fully on Gabrielle. “Are you sure?” she asked.

Gabrielle nodded. “I want you there with me. Holding me. Loving me. I think that’s what a large part of the problem was before. . .We’re having this child because we love each other – we’re committed to each other – so I think it’s only right that we engage in the conception together. . .Of course if Autolycus doesn’t think he can take us both on at once. . .” the bard taunted.

“Now hold it right there,” Auto replied, waving his finger. “I’m more man than the two of you can handle.”

Xena snorted and rolled her eyes. With the smallest of grins, Xena turned to Auto. “Does that mean you’re up for the challenge?”

“I’m up for a lot of things at the moment,” he said adjusting his postion in the chair, searching for a comfortable way to sit. “Especially the challenge.”

Xena and Gabrielle locked eyes. “Okay,” the warrior said starting to rise from the table. “Let’s go.”

“Now hold on! Hold on!” Auto said motioning for Xena to sit back down. Silently she complied. “I still have a few questions if you don’t mind?”

“Go right ahead,” she answered pointing at Gabrielle,

Auto adjusted his shirt as if he were still offended and he cleared his throat. “As I said before, I want to know if there are any rules.”

“No rules,” Xena replied quickly before Gabrielle could reply. “As long as you don’t have any designs on winning Gabrielle’s favor that is.”

“Fair enough,” Auto replied.

“Anything else?” Gabrielle asked.

Auto thought for a moment. “One more question. How are we going to do this?. . .I mean I know ‘what to do’ but is this a one time deal? Or are we going to get a swingin’ little pad here in Arcada until she’s ripe?”

Gabrielle giggled. Xena wasn’t nearly as amused when she began to answer. “I figured you could stick around until she’s ‘ripe’. Perhaps for a moon or until Gabrielle fails to get her next cycle.”

Auto cringed. “Ewww. . .I really don’t want to discuss Gabrielle’s cycle. And you shouldn’t either if you expect me to be ‘in the mood’. Feminine problems never interested me and I have no intention of starting now.”

“It’s a part of life,” Xena retorted.

“A part for you two. NOT me,” Auto grinned.

“It is now,” Xena smirked while releasing the tinest of chuckles. “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

“Yeah,” Auto nodded. “Why a baby? I mean you two have a great independent life. You can go where you want. You can do what you want. Why be tied down to a child?”

“I love Xena. And the truth is that neither one of us are getting any younger,” Gabrielle grinned. “We won’t be here to protect the world forever. But if we have a child, raise the child with all we’ve learned then maybe . . .in some way. . .we will be here forever . . .and ever and ever. And since you’re helping Autolycus, so will you.”

Auto studied Gabrielle for a moment. Then he looked at Xena. “That’s was very eliquent and righteous. Wrong I’m sure. . . but eliquent and righteous. Now why do YOU want the baby?”

Xena smiled at his sarcastic nature. “Because she does. . .And I think she’s right.”

“Alright then,” he said standing up, hoping the warrior princess would take his antics in good humor and not as a reason to release any tension in those blood-flow-blocking fingers. “Let’s get this show on the road!”

“Relax,” Gabrielle told him. “We aren’t going to do anything until this evening. . .Besides we’re not just going to use you for stud Autolycus so have a seat. Get a drink. Tell us what you’ve been up to as long as it doesn’t involve stealing from old folks and orphans.”

“I would never-

“Autolycus,” Xena intrupted the offended man. “She was joking. You really gotta lighten up.”

He put his hand on Xena’s forehead. “Who are you and what have you done with the ever stoic warrior princess?” Xena smiled and swatted his hand. But soon he put it back up again feeling her skin once more. “Xena you’re burning up. No joke. . .Are you feeling okay?”

Xena began to argue that she was fine but Gabrielle reached over to have a feel for herself. Xena swattered her away as well. The bard however manage to touch the skin if only for a moment.

“He’s right Xena.”

“Maybe we should get a healer,” Auto offered.

“Enough already. I’m okay. Just give it a rest!”

The table fell silent. And Xena could feel them trying to look away from her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.” I don’t know why I shouted at you. I know you’re both concerned but I’m fine. Okay?”

No one spoke at the tiny table. And Xena went back to rubbing her migraine.
Chapter 7
“How are you feeling?”

As Gabrielle asked the question she crept behind Xena who was sitting on the edge of the bed in only her nightshirt. The bard settled behind the warrior; her legs along side Xena’s. She snuggled between Xena’s shoulder blades after placing a light kiss on each one.

Xena reached down and stroked the long legs beside her. “I’m a little nervous.”

“What exactly are you nervous about?” the bard questioned softly.

“I’m not sure,” Xena answered honestly.

Gabrielle grinned. “Me too. . .But I’m glad you’re here.”

“Are you?” Xena asked. “I know that last time-

“That was different,” the bard said cutting her off. “We know Autolycus. He’s doing us the ultimate favor by giving us this chance and I love him for that. I love him Xena but my heart – my soul – they belong to you. . .and you alone.”

Xena squeezed Gabrielle’s flesh. The bard always knew the right things to say and when to say them. She closed her eyes and melted into the safety her bard was providing. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Gabrielle said nothing but Xena could feel the thin straps of her sleeping shift escaping her shoulders. The bards fingers were delicate as they hooked around the material, caressing her skin as they traveled down her arms. Soon those fingers worked their way up Xena’s sides and over her breasts, teasing her nipples. Gabrielle’s lips began to care for the warriors back with feather softness.

“Are you sure we should start without him?” Xena teased.

Xena felt the bard change her position to sit on her knees. She leaned over and the warrior watched the red golden mane of her lover cascading over her own shoulder, feeling it tickle and intice her skin.

“Absolutely,” Gabrielle whispered seductively.

She took the warrior’s face in her hands and kissed her soundly; passionately. Xena twisted around herself so they could be face to face. Within a matter of a few short, desire-filled kisses the bard was pulling the warrior down on top of her. The feel of Xena’s weight upon her aroused the storyteller to no end. She could lay like this forever. Trapped beneath such tender power as their tongues explored each other. Gabrielle broke the kiss and lead Xena to her neck, arching back to insure that Xena knew just what she wanted.

“Mark me,” the bard ordered, burying her fingers deeper into the raven hair of her lover. “Control me.”

Xena latched onto the bards offered flesh with a small groan of desire. When Gabrielle released a wanton sigh of her own, the warrior thought she would soak the sheets with her arousal.

“That’s it,” Gabrielle cooed. “Tonight you control me. I’ll only do what you tell me to do.”

Xena didn’t get the chance to respond. There was a knock at the door. They both knew. It was Autolycus. Xena rose and Gabrielle took off her shift completely and the sight made her catch her breath.

Xena readjusted her shift on the way to the door, her arousal level still at an all-time high.

“Well,” Autolycus said smuggly as he was met with Xena. “Look at what we have here. You know-

Before he could add anything more Xena pulled him inside, kissing him fiercely. Gabrielle herself now felt a tinge of jealousy but she knew Xena would return to her. Always return to her. And in a matter of minutes she would be making love to her. Touching. Caressing. Kissing.

As Gabrielle watch Autolycus becoming stripped by the warrior she found her fingers had made their way between her thighs. She laid back on the bed and closed her eyes, thinking of Xena’s wonderful fingers and tongue caressing her intimately.

Auto was now undressed as well as the warrior princess. And it was only then that he saw Gabrielle on the bed, quite enthrolled with herself. This did not fit the picture of the innocent village girl he had always believed her to be. By the Gods. Not at all. This was no girl. This was a woman in every sense of the word and the thought of being inside all that sexual energy got is FULL attention.

Auto wasn’t the only one captivated with the sight. Xena watched Gabrielle for a while but noticed Auto was watching her as well. But instead of the jealousy she felt with the stranger, pride took over. She knew he wanted her but he would never truly have her. There were many things he wouldn’t do with her. ‘Things like this’, Xena thought as she smiled wickedly.

Xena’s passion took hold of her and she darted back to the bed, pulling the bard to the edge by her ankles. She threw the bards thighs over her shoulders and began to drink from the well of her lover.

“Oh Xena,” the bard sighed before her hand shot behind the warrior’s head to encourage her.

‘Oh indeed!’, Autolycus thought as he watched the pair. After a few moments of torture, he could stand it no longer and he found his own hand drifting down to his sex, mimicking the movements of Xena’s tongue on her bard.

When Gabrielle whispered ‘So good’ to Xena, Autolycus thought he just might actually die where he stood. Well perhaps not die but certainly ruin the plan they had settled upon.

“Xena,” Autolycus whispered.

He didn’t want to stop the fasinating display before him but he had to. He had no choice.

Xena turned to him. He didn’t say a word but she could read the look on his face. “Go lay down,” Xena said with a nod of her head. Quietly he did as he was told. It was only when the bed moved that Gabrielle remembered that they weren’t alone.

Xena leaned over Gabrielle meeting eye to eye. “I call the shots right?” she asked.

Gabrielle nodded without comment. And that wicked grin returned to Xena’s face.

“Mount him,” she ordered huskily. The tone set both Gabrielle and Autolycus ablaze.

Gabrielle crept up and stradled Autolycus’ hips. Xena followed right beside her and guide him inside. All three of them sighed as Gabrielle made her desent. Xena moved behind the bard stradling Auto’s legs, getting a firm grasp on her lover’s breasts. The warrior’s mouth latched onto the bards neck as she set the three of them in motion.

Autos’ hands reached back to grab Xena’s legs pulling her closer into the bard. Gabrielle moaned long and hard – the warrior was behind her, with errect nipples poking her back while Autolycus filled her fully down below.

The only other man Gabrielle knew was Perdicus. She felt the difference between them immediately. Perdicus never reached this deep inside her but instead of being alarmed by the difference she loved it. ‘Now if only-‘ the bard thought.

She didn’t have to finish it. It always amazed her how Xena could give her just what she needed. She felt the warrior reach down and play with her swollen nub as the three of them built a steady rythem together.

“Oh Gods!” Gabrielle began with an excited whisper. “Don’t stop Xena. Yes. Make me come.”

Gabrielle’s head shot back and she captured Xena’s lips driving her tongue into the warrior’s mouth, just like Autolycus was thrusting into her. Xena whimpered and cluched her own sex with her free hand. She rubbed both their clits in time with each other. She felt her hips bucking against the bard, wanting her release.

“You want it bad don’t you?” Gabrielle asked, thick with passion. The bard could tell Xena was aching at this point.

“I’m not going to hold out,” Auto warned. Xena moved away although it took all her power. Soon Auto rolled until Gabrielle was beneath him as he supported himself on his hands. His thrusts came harder and faster and Gabrielle felt her orgasm take hold of her.

“Oh God’s Xena,” she shouted. Her backed arched. Her eyes shut. And her sex contracted around Auto. That did it. With a final thrust, his head shot back and he groaned deep and long. Gabrielle pulled him down to her shoulder to rest.

“I do all the work,” Autolycus mumbled exhausted. “And she still gets all the credit,” he teased pointing to the warrior.

Quietly the women laughed. Gabrielle reached out and Xena was there instantly, curling up on Gabrielle’s other shoulder. Her raging passion of moments before subsided as she realized their first ‘mission’ was complete. She did it. She ‘shared’ Gabrielle and everyone’s blood was flowing just fine . . .well maybe not just fine but at least it wasn’t being cut off.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle whispered, placing a small kiss on Autos’ now sleeping head.

“And thank you,” Gabrielle whispered, kissing Xena much more passionately; commitedly. After a moment, Xena shifted so Gabrielle could get out from under Autolycus. The thief snuggled into the blankets as the two women looked on. After a few quiet moments Gabrielle turned to Xena.

“Now if I’m not mistaken there’s still something here left undone,” Gabrielle whispered.

“What’s that?” Xena asked innocently.

“You.” Now Gabrielle wore the wicked grin.

“What about Autolycus?” Xena asked, motioning over with her head.

Gabrielle looked over onto her shoulder. “He’s out . . . but I know you’re still rarin’ to go.”

“You know me well,” Xena observed.

“Like the back of my hand,” Gabrielle answered. And with that she took her warrior, giving her the release she craved while the King of Thieves slept soundly.
Chapter 8
The amazons decended from the treetops as in times past. Auto watched the gesture peace and joined Xena and Gabrielle in the movement.

“I guess this is the end of the road,” he remarked as the amazons settled around them.

The trio had spent three weeks together and Gabrielle had already missed her cycle by a week and a half. They felt it was time to go ‘home’ to the amazons. Besides Ephany’s joining was approaching and they promised they would return. They weren’t sure why but there was almost a feeling of sadness around the departure. Xena offered her arm.

“Autolycus,” she began as they grasped forearms, “you’re welcome here whenever you like. And I hope you do stop by from time to time. But I also realize how much of a ‘busy’ man you are.”

“I’m glad I could help Xena. And remember if you need my ‘services’ for future reference just look me up,” he winked.

Gabrielle stood on her tip-toes and brought Autolycus cheek down to her planting a soft, affectionate kiss. “Thank you,” she whispered. “And remember that signal we just did if you ever want to visit.”

“I’ll try to remember,” he grinned.

“You do that,” Gabrielle insisted. “Because they may be bringing you to see me in five pieces.”

Finally he looked around to see the welcoming party burning their best ‘hands-off the queen’ glare. Auto giggled nerviously. “I see your point,” he whispered. “So if you don’t mind, I’ll be going now,” he announced loud enough for EVERYONE to hear him.

Xena and Gabrielle locked arms as they watched Auto leave. Giving one final salute he walked from the tree line and out of sight.

“It’s good to have you home again Queen Gabrielle,” the guard announced, breaking the duos observation on the king of thieves. “May I escort you and the consort to Regent Ephany?”

“Certainly,” she nodded and within minutes they were met with a smiling Regent and her consort to be, Diteria.

“You’re back,” Ephany remarked. “Do you bring good news?” she added with a wink.

“Perhaps.”

Gabrielle wasn’t sure why but she felt herself blushing at the regents inquiery.

“That’s wonderful,” Ephany smiled and stroked the queens upper arm. “How was the trip in?”

“Okay. Is Terris here?” Gabrielle asked.

Xena rolled her eyes. But before she could respond Gabrielle cut off the argument with three words, “You promised me”.

A few minutes later Xena found herself sitting in the healers hut on the examining table, stripped of her leathers.

“Tell me again. How long have you felt sick?” Terris asked, pushing on Xena’s belly.

“Since we left. Two moons or so,” Xena replied watching the healer’s hands. “Would you stop that?” she added, moving her hands away gently.

“Please lay down,” Terris ordered softly.

Xena complied without argument and Terris started pushing again. “Tender?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Xena replied. “But like I said I’ve been sick every day. Muscles get sore. What’s the point?”

Terris asked Xena to scoot down to the end of the table and she gently spread the warrior’s legs.

“What are you doing?” Xena asked a little concerned.

“Trust me,” Terris answered as she tried to insert her finger inside. The warrior clinched tight. “Close your eyes and think of Gabrielle,” Terris teased. When she felt the warrior relax for the briefest of moments she gain entry. After a few more moments the warrior sighed with frustration.

“Are you done yet?” Xena asked impatiently.

Terris removed her fingers and turned back to the wash bowl. “Sure am,” she replied taking off her smock and washing her hands.

“What’s wrong with me?” Xena started. “Nothing. Right? It’s just a flu bug isn’t it?”

Terris slowly turned around and walked back to Xena. She didn’t know if Gabrielle was in the next room so she lowered her voice. “It’s not a flu bug Xena. . .You’re with child.”

Xena laughed out loud. “I think you should check again because that can’t be possible. I’ve had a child and I know what happens. I never got sick with Solan and I haven’t had sex with a man in . . .gods know how many years. . .”

“Well I can’t explain it,” Terris replied. “I only know what I see and feel. You’re a healer Xena. Have you examined yourself?” Xena shook her head and Terris waved her hand in a gesture that said ‘see for yourself’.

Xena laid back down and pushed her finger deep and high, feeling around. Terris watched as a sense of panic took over the warrior.

“Leathers been feeling a little tight lately?” Terris smiled in victory.

Xena nodded still somewhat in shock. “Oh my Gods,” she stuttered. “How can this be?”

“If you’re being truthful about not having a man-

“Look. I told you I haven’t been with anyone except Gabrielle.”

“Alright Xena,” Terris nodded, “but you felt the same thing I just did.”

“How far along do you think I am?” Xena asked.

“You’re a few months ahead of Gabrielle so you shouldn’t be having the babies at the same time, which is a relief,” Terris smiled.

Xena thought back. A few months. Right around the time she and Gabrielle decided to come to the amazons for help. ‘How can this be?’ Xena thought silently once more. But she realized she would have a much greater problem on her hands. ‘How will I tell Gabrielle? She’ll never believe me. She’ll think I . . .’

“I gotta go,” Xena said struggling with her leathers as quickly as she could.

Terris could tell what was racing through the warriors mind and as Xena began to make a hasty exit she called out to her. “Xena. If you need me. You know where to find me,” she offered supportively.

Xena walked out after a short nod. She had to tell Gabrielle and the sooner the better.
Chapter 9
“What did Terris say?” Gabrielle asked, breaking her conversation with Ephany. She could see the worry on Xena’s face.

“We need to talk,” Xena replied, looking directly at the bard.

“I’ve got stuff to see to,” Ephany answered quietly. She was fearful. Xena didn’t usually look scarred. Come to think of it she never saw the warrior look scarred. Hurt. Yes. Pain. Yes. Angry. Most definitely. But never scarred.

Gabrielle led Xena into the royal hut without comment and only when the door was shut tight did she speak.

“You ARE sick,” Gabrielle started to sob. “How bad is it?”

“I’m not sick,” Xena answered, trying to calm the bard. She debated about what to say next. How could she put this so the bard would understand? She realized there wasn’t a way to do it. ‘Tartarus’ Xena thought, ‘I don’t even understand it’.

“Well what is it then?” Gabrielle prodded when the warrior didn’t answer.

Xena took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant,” she answered.

Gabrielle’s face held no reaction. After a moment of silence, Xena waved her hand in front of Gabrielle but it was almost as if the bard wasn’t there. Finally Gabrielle made a noise. “Pregnant?” the bard asked.

She said the words but the bard still looked distant. She watched as Gabrielle slowly moved away, taking a seat on the bed.

“Terris said I’m about three months along. That’s why I’ve been sick without losing any weight. And as far as my cycle, they haven’t been as hard but they have been my usual three days and I didn’t think-

“Pregnant?” Gabrielle asked, as if she hadn’t heard a word Xena said. “How can you be pregnant?”

“I don’t know,” Xena muttered.

“Are you sure you don’t know?” Gabrielle asked, the accusation heavy in her voice. “Were you with Autolycus without my knowledge?”

“No!” Xena insisted. “Besides I’m too far along. Terris suspects I was pregnant at least one, maybe two months, before we even met up with him.”

Gabrielle seemed more coherent now. Xena watched and she could tell the bard was doing the math in her head. Finally her eyes glared up at Xena. “That town,” she said harshly. Xena could hear the acidity in her voice. “Just before we came to the amazons. We had that fight. I went to our room and you stayed out – quite late I should add.”

Xena thought back. ‘Oh no’ she thought. ‘She thinks I. . .

“Nothing happened in that town,” Xena insisted. “I told you I went down the river and did laps back and forth.”

“Likely story,” Gabrielle replied.

Xena moved closer to the bard but Gabrielle bolted from the bed, away from her grasp. “Gabri-

“No!” Gabrielle cried. “Don’t touch me! . . . Leave. . .Get out!”

“Gabrielle you gotta believe me,” Xena pleaded.

“No I don’t,” the bard whispered, wiping her tears. “Get out Xena.”

“Please Gabrielle. I need your help here. I-

“Guards! Guards!”

Within two seconds, two amazons were inside the hut – battle staffs ready. They observed the scene with a great deal of confusion. Except for the queen’s now blood-shot eyes everything appeared to be normal.

“Relax girls,” Xena told them. “I’m on my way out.”

Without argument or fuss the warrior walked out. But not before stopping to watch Gabrielle’s turned back for a moment. “I’ve been faithful,” the warrior whispered as she opened the hut door. When it shut with a slight bang, Gabrielle felt herself jump – her nerves totally on edge.

“Please send for Princess Lila,” she whispered to the guards. And being the excellent guards they were, they adheared to their queens request.
Chapter 10
“Gabrielle?” Lila called as she entered the hut.

She found her sister sitting in a chair facing a window, her back turned from the door. “She cheated on me Lila. Just before our last visit she. . .cheated on me.”

Lila could hear the pain, anger – even confusion in Gabrielle’s admission. Lila walked over and put her hands on the queen’s shoulders.

“Are you sure?” Lila asked for clarification. “Did SHE tell you that?” she added in a soft comforting voice.

Gabrielle turned her tear stained face toward her sister. “No. She insists that she didn’t but. . .she’s pregnant too.”

“She’s pregnant?” Lila felt overcome with shock and had to take a seat next to her sister. She couldn’t believe that Xena would betray Gabrielle in such a fashion. But they did say things were pretty bad between them when they had arrived at the Amazons the last time. “Where is she now?” Lila asked.

“I sent her away. . .She says she didn’t know how this happened.”

Lila had to ask. “Why do you doubt her?”

Gabrielle looked extremely offended. “Who’s side are you on?” Gabrielle asked harshly.

“I don’t want to chose sides,” Lila retorted. “I just want to know what’s going on. I mean if Xena says she doesn’t know then I honestly think she doesn’t know. I understand that you’re my sister but so is Xena and I’ve seen the love she has for you.”

“Oh really?” Gabrielle replied sarcastically.

“Really,” Lila returned. “She had the chance to be with Nagen and she didn’t take it. Perhaps once you cool down you’ll see things more clearly, that’s all.”

Gabrielle didn’t reply. She knew her sister was speaking rationally. She wasn’t acting very mature about the situation and she suddenly felt ashamed of her actions, sending the pleading warrior away. What if Xena were telling the truth? What if she really didn’t know and she needed her help? Could it be possible? Could it be. . .

Gabrielle didn’t finish the thought. She bolted from the chair and yelled for the guards who promptly entered. “Find Xena,” she ordered. “Look everywhere and bring her back here to me.”

They nodded with nobility and quickly went on their hunt. Lila rose and walked to the door where Gabrielle stood preoccupied with her racing thoughts. “I’m heading back to Ruth,” Lila smiled gently with reassurance. “If you need me just send for me okay?”

Gabrielle nodded and watched her sister leave. It already felt like forever as she waited for Xena’s return.
Chapter 11
Xena hadn’t gotten far. Ephany had spotted her stalking from the royal hut and promptly chased Xena down. Once she caught the warrior she talked Xena into coming back to the home she and Diteria were finishing up.

Xena just finished wiping her eyes for the fourth time when the two guards entered.

“Sorry to interrupt Xena but Queen Gabrielle requests your presence,” one of them said formally.

Ephany and Diteria both tried to give encouraging smiles but Xena saw through it. She herself put on a false air of reassurance. “I’m on my way,” Xena replied. And with that the warrior left the newly constructed hut.

When she entered Gabrielle was sitting on the bed. Xena couldn’t describe all the emotions within her at this moment. She felt her anger taking hold but she held her tongue. She knew she was innocent. . .well perhaps not innocent, but at least not guilty of doing the things Gabrielle accused her of at this moment. She took a deep breath letting it out slowly.

“You called for me?” Her voice was calm, reserved; holding no judgement.

“I did,” Gabrielle nodded in a similar tone. “I’m sorry for doubting you,” she added after a brief silence.

“Gabri-

The queen held up a single finger that quieted her consort. “I was remembering how far we had gone from where we used to be. I assumed that . . . you cheated on me. . .but I have to take you at your word Xena. Which means if you don’t know how this happened then we have to find out – together.”

“I honestly have no clue how. . .

“What is it?” Gabrielle questioned. She could see the wheels turning in Xena’s head as the warriors words trailed off.

“That night!” Xena answered. “After Zagreus’ sentencing. That night we were in the tub, remember?!” Xena pleaded.

Gabrielle grinned. Oh yeah. She remembered. “How could I forget?!” she giggled.

Xena smiled too. “I’m glad you remembered,” Xena replied seductively before becoming serious. “Something happened that night that I didn’t mention,” she added.

“What?” Gabrielle asked, now even more intregued.

“I FELT someone in the room with us. With everything that happened that week I just chauked it up to nerves – that I was still on edge. But now I wonder. . .”

Gabrielle let the warrior pause a moment. “The Gods?” she asked when Xena didn’t continue.

Xena nodded. “But who I don’t know,” she added.

“Well, it’s certainly not Ares,” the bard announced; a small grin starting to form. “Far be it for the God of War to give us anything we want.”

“No. . .I recogize Ares a mile away,” Xena replied smiling as well. “If it were him I’d know it in an instant.”

“Well who then?” the bard implored. If her bond mate was truly knocked up by some God she wanted to know and she wanted to know now.

The warrior thought a moment longer. “Athena,” she whispered. “Her temple isn’t far from her. Maybe we could leave tonight. We’d be there by morning and with any luck she’ll give us the answers we seek.”

“What about Ephany’s joining?” Gabrielle asked.

“It’s at the end of the week,” Xena replied. “We’ve got time if we leave tonight. . .Do you think you’re up for traveling?”

“I think you should be asking yourself that question warrior mine. You look tired Xena,” the bard answered, gently stroking a dark circle under Xena’s eyes. “Let’s stay here tonight okay? First thing tomorrow we’ll head out, alright?”

Xena knew she could never resist her bard. “I’m glad you’re always looking out for me – letting me know my limits. . .Okay, we sleep tonight and then we go.”

As Gabrielle moved into Xena’s open arms, the warrior wondered if they would find the answers they needed. It was a long shot. But who would have thought a chatty bard and a strong, silent warrior would be friends, much less bondmates. ‘Sometimes long shots pay off’, the warrior thought silently.
Chapter 12
Xena was up early and had to roust the bard. Gabrielle did little complaining though. She wanted to get on the road soon and find the answers they sought. After a day on horseback they arrived at Athena’s temple.

“Can I help you?” a young priestess asked.

“Yeah. I want answers,” the warrior replied, taking in their surroundings as the pair walked to the alter.

“Do you have an offering?” the priestess asked.

“Only my soul,” Xena replied with a grin. “Which I must confess, is very little.”

“How wrong you are,” a voice called from behind.

Gabrielle and Xena watched the priestess fall to her knees. As they turned around they saw the aged god – not as old as Zeus but not as young as Ares either.

“I have questions,” Xena began, trying not to sound too threatening.

“I know,” Athen said non-chalantly. She walked over and took some grapes off the alter, popping them in her mouth.

“Well. . .” Xena said rolling her hands, as the god chewed.

“I can’t help you Xena,” she said honestly. “The truth lies within yourself. You know who created this child if you look deep inside. YOU have all the answers.”

Gabrielle said nothing but a rage was beginning to boil inside her. ‘Xena knows! . . .She knows and yet she dragged us all the way out here. . .”

Athena, herself, said Xena knew of the baby’s father. But still the warrior didn’t want to confess her infidelity the bard summized. The longer she stood listening to Xena arguing her point to Athena and the more Athena denied Xena’s ignorance, the angrier she got.

“That’s it,” Gabrielle yelled. “Take me back to the amazons. This is pointless!”

“I need answers Gabrielle,” the ex-warlord insisted. “Only Athena can help us.”

“She gave you her answer Xena,” the bard bantered. “You know but you just won’t admit it. Or maybe you really don’t know because you were too drunk to remember. In any case, you’re pregnant. You deal with it.”

“Have faith,” Athena whispered to the pair before she vanished.

“Have faith?! What the Tartarus does that mean?!” Xena yelled at the ceiling. She would have ranted a little more but Gabrielle was racing to the enterence. A few strides later Xena caught up and turned her lightly by the arm. Gabrielle batted Xena’s embrace away.

“No,” Gabrielle began. “This settles it. I’m going back to the nation. You can go to Amphipolis or Athens or wherever. . .But you’re not coming home with me.”

“Gabrielle please listen to me,” Xena begged. “Please.”

Gabrielle didn’t reply. She mounted Ephany’s mare, which she borrowed for the journey. With a sharp click of her heels the animal headed into a gallop.

“I really hate it when you – Warrior Princess – plead with that irritating blonde.”

Xena felt her skin crawl at the sound of the voice. She slowly turned around and a thought occurred to her. “It WAS you,” the anger was rising in her voice. “You did this to me! Why you no good, sack of-

“Ah, ah, ah Xena,” he tisked. “Watch your language. You’ve got a child on the way and you’ll want to practice watching that filthy mouth,” the God of War grinned. “But seriously. . .think about it. . .Why would I want to give you and Gabby-Mouth a baby?”

“Oh I don’t know. . .an heir to your throne. Or perhaps just a plot to drive a wedge between me and Gabrielle.,” Xena countered.

“Okay. I can see the last part. And in truth I’m surprised I didn’t think of it first. The bard thinks you betrayed her. She thinks you’re unfaithful scum and yes there is certainly a wedge isn’t there?” he smirked.

“Yes Ares,” Xena agreed. “A void. A TEMPORARY void. And one that you will never be able to fill. So get lost would ya please? I have to figure this out.”

“She’s never coming back Xena,” he whispered close in her ear. Xena closed her eyes against the words. “Come back to someone who truly loves your talents – – believes in you.”

“You really are a soulless bastard Ares,” Xena said shaking her head. “But the only place I’m going back to is the amazons.”

“You’ve been banished by the queen herself Xena,” Ares countered. “If you walk back in there they just might kill you.”

Xena grinned as she mounted Argo. “Then I’ll see ya in Tartarus.”

Without delay Xena kicked the horse into a gallop, back to the amazons; back to Gabrielle.
Chapter 13
Athena stomped through the Great Hall of Olympus.

“I see you kept your word,” the God noticed as Athena made her arrival.

“I did,” she nodded. “I didn’t like it but I did it. I KNOW they belong together and this little challenge of yours is rediculous.”

“We’ll see my dear Aunt. We’ll see,” he replied with a grin. “You can’t know true pleasure without knowing some true pain.”

“They have suffered enough,” Athena pointed out.

“Perhaps but they will have what they want in the end – a child. No favor comes from the Gods without a price.”

Athena threw her hands in the air – giving up. The God was an idiot. She knew it but she also knew that Xena and Gabrielle would survive. They had time. The baby wasn’t born yet. In fact it was months away. All they had to do was profess their love inspite of everything and they would be free from petty Godly interference for the rest of their lives.

“They will come together before this baby is born,” Athena noted. “They have plenty of time.”

“Is that so?” he smirked miscevously before vanishing.

Athena grew concerned with his smug statement. ‘Could he perhaps. . . ? Would he maybe. . .? . . .Oh no!’ Athena realized she had to get to the Grand Throne Room and on the double. Xena and Gabrielle’s time was about to run out.
Chapter 14
Gabrielle rode most of the night; stopping to rest briefly before dawn. Xena followed behind her. She didn’t want to get involved in another confrontation. So she stayed back in her travels but close enough in case trouble arrived.

None did and they arrived at the amazon village just behind each other. Once Xena crossed the territory border, the patrol decended from the trees. Solari was on duty and stopped the warrior.

“I can’t let you in Xena,” she whispered trying to stay neutral. “Queen’s orders.”

As Xena dismounted Argo, it was then that Solari noticed something. Xena’s leathers were gone. She wore her sleeping shift. But what caught her eye the most was Xena’s enormous stomach.

“By the Gods,” Solari whispered in astonishment.

“Yeah that’s my theory too,” Xena said dryly. “Please let me see her. Let me talk to her. If she still wants me to leave at that point Solari I will. No discussions. No arguments.”

Solari knew she could be killed for disobeying the queen’s direct order, but she found it highly unlikely that Gabrielle could kill her sisters bondmate. Besides Gabrielle HAD to see this!

Solari motioned the patrol back into the trees. “Come on,” Solari grinned, giving Xena a friendly tug. “I’ll take my chances with the queen,” she added.

Gabrielle had finished pouring her heart out to Ephany for the last hour. A steady stream of tears came from the queen’s eyes. Ephany knew there was nothing she could do to comfort the bard except hold her. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Ephany looked angrily at the intruding noise. She released Gabrielle and walked over. “I thought I said I want no one to –

Upon opening the door, she saw Xena looking equally depressed and. . .much more pregnant than when she left just over 24 candlemarks. “Xena?!” she exclaimed.

Gabrielle rose from the bed upon hearing the name and rushed over. “I told you it was over Xena. Why are you-

Gabrielle stopped when she saw Xena’s excelorating state of pregnancy.

“I know what you said Gabrielle,” the warrior answered. “But please let me in. Talk to me and if you still want me to go I will.”

“Send for Terris,” Gabrielle ordered her regent as she helped the warrior inside. As Ephany left, Gabrielle led Xena to the bed. “Oh gods Xena. What’s happening?”

The warrior grinned. “I don’t know but I can guarantee this is not some local villagers handwork,” she said motioning to her belly.

Gabrielle had no choice but to agree at this point. “That’s okay. I believe you,” she said beginning to sob. “I should have believed you from the start Xena. Oh Gods please forgive me.”

Xena pulled the crying woman close. “It’s understandable,” Xena whispered into the bard’s bangs as she held her. “It’s not everyday someone gets pregnant and . . .” Xena trailed off. Dayhok. Hope. The tragic affair flood her soul with a feeling of dread. Gabrielle felt the warrior tense and she knew why.

“Ancient history,” she told the warrior. “All I care about is here and now.”

“Me too,” Xena smiled, relaxing once more. She didn’t relax long, however, a slicing pain ripped through her gut. As she winced Gabrielle knew something was wrong.

“What is it?” the bard asked. Xena didn’t answer she just held her stomach. “Is it the baby?” Xena nodded. “Do you think the baby is coming?” Xena nodded again.

“Oh Ephany!” the bard yelled in a nervous sing-song. She walked to the door as Terris and Ephany walked in, meeting at the door way. “The baby’s coming,” the bard announced.

“It’s too soon,” Terris answered. “She’ll probably lose the child Gabrielle.”
At least that was Terris opinion before she saw the warrior but after she looked at the bed she said, “Well. . .maybe not. She looks like she’s going to burst.”

Xena sat rocking her body trying to ease the pain as three sets of eyes staired at her. “Are you gonna stand there all day or are you gonna help me?” the warrior asked impatiently.

Terris shook off her shock and she rushed next to the bedside. “How long have you been having pain?” Terris asked.

“Just started,” Xena replied, trying to focus on her breathing.

“That’s good Xena,” Terris coached. “Keep it up. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. We’ll get through this.”

“Gabrielle?” Xena called out. Instantly the bard was at her side.

“I’m here Xena. I’m here. Can I do anything?” she asked.

“Don’t leave me,” Xena whispered softly before another contraction took hold.

“I won’t leave,” Gabrielle smiled.

“No. I mean. . .Don’t leave me ever. This baby-

“This baby is ours,” Gabrielle said firmly. “I don’t care who the father is as long as we’re together okay?”

“Do you really mean that?” Xena asked starting to sob.

Gabrielle wiped the sweat from Xena’s forehead. “With all my heart,” she whispered placing a kiss on the warrior’s cheek. “All I care about is you at this moment.”

An instant later Cupid appeared at the end of the bed and peered between Xena’s wide spread legs. “Oh yeah,” he grinned. “Annnyyy minute now.”

“This is your child?!” Xena exclaimed.

Cupid seemed a bit confused at first. “What?! . . .Oh no. That’s not my child. I helped of course but all I did was answer a little prayer. You wanted a child Xena so I ‘delivered’ so to speak. . .But first I had to be sure your hearts were true and guess what? You babes passed!”

“Come on Xena,” Terris said intruppting. “Time to push.”

Xena did as Terris requested. She wasn’t sure what she should do. Should she lay and continue with her labor as peacefully as possible or should she try with all her might to rise and choke the God of Love with her bare hands.

“She wanted to have the child you idiot!” Xena screamed. “She’s the one you should’ve knocked up.”

Cupid thought for a moment and then grinned. “Oops! My mistake. . .well, actually that’s not true,” he reconsidered. “Since techniquically, it’s Gabrielle’s child too.”

“What?” It was the collective voice of everyone in the room – warrior, queen, regent and healer.

“Oh yeah! Did I fail to mention it was the Gabmeister here that did the deed? Like Athena said look in your heart. The only one you love enough to have a child with is Gabrielle. You know that Xena, so you knew the truth the whole time.”

Xena yelled out again but no one was sure if it was from pain or from her frustration with the God standing before her.

“You mean you put us through all of this for nothing,” Gabrielle said leaving Xena’s side and mencing toward Cupid. The god of love slowly crept backward, leaning away from the closing bard. “You could’ve come to us and told us the truth,” Gabrielle added poking his bard chest. “You could’ve let us know what was going on.”

“It was a test,” he explained meekly. “I had to be sure you babes fit and sure enough you do so it’s a done deal okay?”

Before Gabrielle could respond again, Xena cried out again. Cupid took the chance to escape while the bards attention was divereted.

“We’re almost there,” Terris said. “One more push.”

Gabrielle turned around and watched Xena giving birth to her child – their child. Terris grabbed the shoulders and gave a light yank. The baby slipped gracefully into the healers hands. Quickly she cleared the air passages and gave it a light tap on the rump. The newborn, cried heartily and Xena couldn’t contain her laugh of joy.

“Congratulations ladies,” Terris announced. “It’s a girl.”

Gabrielle watched Terris finish up the necessary procedures. After the baby was cleaned she collected her in her arms, bringing her to Xena. The first thing Xena noticed was her hair. Thick and full like her own but the color. . .

“Look how red her hair is,” Xena pointed out moving the blanket down, stroking the softness of it. “She’s beautiful like her mother,” Xena weeped with happiness.

“Yes she is,” Gabrielle replied, stroking the warrior’s face. “So beautiful,” she added.

Slowly, their newborn daughter began to open her eyes. “Gee,” Gabrielle teased. “What an interesting shade of blue? Wonder were she got that from?”

Xena giggled softly and place a gentle kiss on the baby’s head before giving her bondmate a similar one on the cheek.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” Xena whispered. “Thank you.”

“Thank me?!” Gabrielle exclaimed. “You did all the work,” Gabrielle added.

“Yes but according to Cupid, I couldn’t have done it without you,” she teased.

Terris and Ephany realized it was time for the new family to be alone. And they began to quietly make their way out. But before Ephany made her exit Gabrielle called to her.

“Ephany,” she stated firmly, yet friendly. “Inform the nation. We have a princess and an heir to the throne.”

Ephany’s smile was just as wide as Gabrielle’s when she left the hut.
Chapter 15
The next day, the nation came to pay their respects to the tribes latest arrival. Lila and Solari were the first to arrive that morning along with Ruth, who had to see her little cousin.

The newborn had gone unnamed which was highly unlikely in the Amazon society. Names were usually chosen before the baby’s arrival but given everything that had happen, there wasn’t much time.

Xena was in the middle of feeding when Gabrielle returned from the tribal meeting late in the evening. “How’s my two favorite girls?” she asked as she walked inside.

“We’re hungry,” Xena replied. “It never fails. When I begin to eat, she cries.”

Gabrielle watched Xena balance the baby in one arm while eating with the other. “You’re pretty good at that.” Gabrielle remarked.

Xena grinned slyly. And Gabrielle saw it coming. “I have many skills,” Xena replied.

Gabrielle laughed softly and took a seat on the bed, losing her boots and clothes; trading them for her sleeping shift. Quietly she watched Xena and her daughter. HER daughter. A feeling of pride unlike anything she had ever felt washed over the bard as she watched the baby nurse.

She snuggled next to the warrior/new mom and rested her head on Xena’s shoulder. Carefully she stroked the baby’s soft crimson hair. “I never thought I could feel this . . . complete,” the bard whispered. “You know what I mean? The feeling that everything makes sense. That I made all the right choices.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Xena smiled. After a few moments of watching her family, Gabrielle chuckled.

“What?” Xena asked with a growing grin.

“Just thinking.”

“About what?” the warrior prodded.

Gabrielle sighed as she searched for a starting point. “Did I ever tell you about the goddess dream I had as a child?”

Xena paused brief in consideration. “No. I don’t think you have.”

“Well,” the bard began. “When I was young – about eight summers – I had a dream. A beautiful goddess came to me and told me that someone brave and noble would take me from Poetidaia. I asked the goddess who this person was but she said I would know when the time came. So for years I waited. Seven sunset before your arrival I had the dream again. The goddess told me my time was soon at hand. She said if I was courageous enough I had the power to change the world.”

Xena smiled. “That’s why you insisted upon following me. You thought I was your destiny.”

Gabrielle nodded. “Yes but there’s more. I knew you were my destiny because the goddess who appeared in my dream was you. . .The instant that I saw you, I recognized you. And I knew. . .I had to be with you. You were – you ARE – my destiny.”

Xena felt her tears well up in her eyes. “I’m surprised you never told me,” Xena confessed.

“What? That you’re my destiny? You should already know that by now,” Gabrielle teased.

“No silly. About the dream,” Xena remarked.

“I know,” Gabrielle admitted. “I guess I just never felt as ‘complete’ as I do now. Looking at you both made me realize how fortunate I am. I think all of our destinies are written out for us. But the choices we make decide how we’ll get there in the end. . . Like I said: I’ve made the right choices.”

“I’m glad you still think so. More than glad. I’m exstatic,” the warrrior yawned.

“Oh yeah,” the bard teased. “You sound real exstatic.”

“It’s been a long 24 candlemarks,” Xena replied chuckled. “Waking up every two hours, all night long, has drained my energy. But it’s done nothing in diminishing my love and admiration of you.”

“I’ll buy that,” Gabrielle replied lightheartedly. “Here. Let me see her,” Gabrielle said holding her arms out. Xena handed over the baby, who was now happily dozing. Gabrielle put her on her shoulder and rubbed her back. A few moments a latter a rather large burp came from the petite princess. Both women giggled. “She sounds like you,” the bard teased as she took the infant to her royal crib.

“Even I’m not that loud,” Xena countered. Gabrielle paused a moment at the baby’s crib and reflected.

“Yes, I have to agree with you. She much more ‘noisy’.”

Xena smiled and patted the bed as the bard came back over. Gabrielle moved the dining tray. Without any more prompting the bard snuggled tightly in the warriors arms. “Get some rest,” Gabrielle instructed. “I’ll bring her to you tonight okay?”

“Still looking out for me huh?” Xena replied in a sleep voice, closing her eyes.

“Always. . .I always will. After all. . .you’re my destiny.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes too and soon sleep claimed both of them. . .but only for two hours.
Chapter 16
Ephany paced in her hut, wringing her hands together. Xena smiled. It felt like yesterday to the warrior when she was in the same position.

“Nervous?” Xena asked.

“I shouldn’t be,” Ephany replied firmly. “I know this is what I want.”

“But you’re still not sure, right?”

Ephany looked concerned – almost afraid to reply. So Xena continued.

“I felt it too. I wondered if I was making the right decision. I knew I loved Gabrielle. She was everything I ever wanted but I . . . I didn’t know if I could measure up to any of her expectations. . . And I wondered if she would always be what I wanted. Looking back I know I made the right choice. I’m betting you will too Eph’.”

That made the blonde warrior release the smallest of grins – perhaps not grand in scale but it spoke volumes to Xena.

“It’s just jitters right?” Ephany began. “Because I know I love her. When I almost lost her in Zagreus’ attack. . .” Ephany trailed off remembering the pain and torture she felt watching Diteria cling to life, fighting her hardest to come back.

“But you didn’t lose her,” Xena replied reassuringly.

“Thanks to you,” Ephany grinned. “She’s alive because of you,” the regent said with pride as a realization occurred to her. “And you fixed me up with her too if I remember correctly,” she added jabbing the warrior.

“It was the least I could do,” Xena said softly; sincerely. But soon a mischievous smile crossed her face. “And if I remember correctly the reason I fixed you up with her is because you were starting to have eyes for your queen who, by the way, just happens to be my bondmate.”

“I most certainly did not,” Ephany replied soundly. “It was strictly a reaction to seeing her naked.” Xena watched as Ephany called up the memory. The regent couldn’t help but smile. “You have to admit she looks damn good naked.”

Xena laughed at the tone in the regents playful voice. “No arguments here,” Xena answered with a hands-up gesture. “She’s absolutely gorgeous,” the warrior added.

“What do you like most about Gabrielle?” Ephany asked. “And don’t say something like her ‘heart’ or her ‘soul’. We’re talking body parts here,” she added.

“Well, the body isn’t much without the woman inside of it but if you insist. . .” Xena considered the question. She loved everything but she knew that wouldn’t please Ephany. “The small of her back,” Xena finally answered.

“Really?! The small of her back?!” Ephany was amazed.

“You asked!” Xena said defensively.

“Yes I did,” Ephany countered. “I guess I wasn’t expecting that answer. . .What’s so special about it?”

“She’s very trim. . .toned. . .smooth.”

Xena looked across the room as she thought of the bards lower back and the way it felt in her fingertips. As she gave a small shake, she came back to the present conversation and Ephany had to laugh.

“You’re really not kidding about being worked up over her back huh?”

Xena let the comment go and turned the tables. “Now. . .What do you like about Diteria?”

“Everything,” Ephany answered sincerely meeting the warrior’s azure eyes.

Xena smiled. “You stole my original answer – everything – I would have told you that but I didn’t think you’d let me off that easy.”

“You’re right,” Ephany grinned. “I wouldn’t have,” she chuckled.

“What makes you think I’m going?” Xena countered.

“Because I’m nervous now and you wouldn’t be that cruel.” Ephany replied, trying to talk her way out of this confrontation.

Xena shook her head. “Nope. I’m not buying it. . .Come on. What part?”

Ephany thought a moment. “Her arms. . .She’s an archer so they get a good work out on a daily basis. And the shape is unique. Not as strong as a mans but not petite like a woman’s. . . Kinda in-between. . . Kinda wonderful.”

Ephany was now the one staring off. Before Xena interrupted her.

“Nice to see I’m not the only passionate woman here,” Xena teased. “Besides, Gabrielle, that is. She can be so passionate it scares even me.”

“Oh really?” Ephany asked with extreme interest.

Xena realized she may have put her foot in her mouth. Taking about favorite body parts is one thing but talking about activities with those parts was something else all together. She wasn’t sure if Gabrielle would be agitated if Ephany found out some intimate details of their life together.

Xena decided to nod her reply. Of course that didn’t stop Ephany from probing further. “Like what?” the regent asked.

Xena thought quickly. “Let’s just say that Gabrielle is the type of woman that when she sees something she wants she goes after it. And also seeing that she’s not always the most patient woman in the world that leads to . . .unexpected results.”

Ephany chucked but the sound was soon overshadowed by a wailing baby girl. Gabrielle entered the hut with the infant in her arms. “I don’t think she’s willing to wait until after the ceremony,” she said to the two warriors.

Xena held her hands open and Gabrielle brought their daughter over. Within seconds the infant was contently suckling from Xena, filling her empty belly. “Guess we’ll have to wait a while longer,” Xena apologized.

“I’m a mom remember?” Ephany grinned. “I know how things go — Usually never the way you expect or intend,” she laughed.

“But well worth it,” Xena added.

“Most definitely,” Ephany agreed.
Chapter 17
The joining went smoothly. Well. . .accept for the fact that Diteria almost passed out from the heat and Ephany threw up moments before she was supposed to walk down the ‘aisle’. Other than those small details things went well. Gabrielle now watched Ephany and Diteria feeding each other with large grins plastered on their faces. She had never seen her regent so happy. Watching Ephany’s joy made the bard grin as well.

“Any ideas yet?” Xena asked, taking their daughter back from Gabrielle’s protective arms.

“Huh?” Gabrielle asked, totally confused.

“Her name,” Xena smiled, raising the baby in her cradling arm. “Any ideas on what to name her or are we just going to say ‘hey you’ for the rest of our lives?”

“You’re lucky you’re holding that baby,” Gabrielle answered in a mock threat. “I’d have smacked you by now.”

“Knew this kid would come in handy for sumpthin’,” the warrior teased.

Gabrielle chuckled before resting her head on Xena’s broad shoulder, considering a name.

“We could name her Cyrene,” the bard offered after a bit of silence.

“Nah,” Xena shot down. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother but I want the child to have it’s own identity. . .Understand?”

“Okay . . .Let’s see. . .Oh wait! I’ve gotta list,” the bard said moving quickly to their hut.

Xena rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything and it went unnoticed. The bard had a list for everything – she was convinced. So much in fact that she was sure that Gabrielle stashed notes on their sex life. Kind of a do’s and don’t theme. The warrior chuckled at the thought as the bard returned taking her seat.

“Okay,” Gabrielle began. “I’ve narrowed my list down to these names and their meanings.”

“Meanings?”

“Yeah. What the name means?”

“Huh?”

Gabrielle sighed. “Let me explain. . .Let’s see – Maja. It means pearl. Aurora. It means golden dawn.”

“So names actually have meanings?” Xena inquired.

“Absolutely.”

“What does Gabrielle and Xena mean?”

“Well, Gabrielle is ‘God’s heroine’-

“That fits,” Xena answered. “You’ve saved their necks big time on quite a few occasions. What does Xena mean?”

Gabrielle paused a moment. She knew the meaning but she wasn’t sure if she should say it. However, she cleared her throat and found herself uttering, “Distant place.”

Xena smiled. “Once again, that fits.”

“You’re not a distant place to me,” Gabrielle offered sincerely. “In fact, you’re home. . . Poteidaia. Amazonia. These place aren’t home to me. It’s only when I’m with you do I feel at peace. And I always will Xena.”

“The feeling is very mutual,” Xena replied kissing the bards forehead. She looked over at Gabrielle’s list and tried to lighten the mood. “What else ya got there?”

“There’s Lexia,” Gabrielle said hopefully.

“Lexia,” Xena said the name out loud. This had potential. She liked the way it rolled off her tongue. “Lexia? What does it mean?”

Gabrielle smiled. “It means protector of humanity.” She smiled broader when Xena’s eyes lit up.

“I like that,” Xena nodded.

“I liked it too.” Gabrielle agreed. “It seems fitting with our ‘line of work’ and the fact that it’s a child ‘we’ created.”

Xena turned back to the infant. “What do you think . . .Lexia?” The baby cooed happily and that was all Xena needed. “Lexia it is!” she whispered excitedly.

Gabrielle giggled softly. “Now how about this one?” she said rubbing her stomach. “Let’s pick something right here, right now. . .I know we talked about knowing a child but really Xena. . .let’s just have something to start with. If it doesn’t seem fitting we can always change it okay?”

“You’re the boss,” Xena agreed.

“No. We’re a team so I’d like your input.”

“Alright,” Xena drawled. “How about is one here,” Xena pointed to the parchment. “. . .Karis. . .It means grace. And since you and Autolycus are both pretty ‘smooth’ it seems fitting.”

“You like Karis huh? Guess it could be a girl or a boy.” Gabrielle considered the name. It sounded like a fine name indeed. “Karis works for me,” she finally replied.
Chapter 18
Gabrielle was in her sixth month. She’d given up her royal amazon attire for something more presentable. Something that covered her growing belly. Xena, of course, loved all the curves that were taken shape in different regions and locales on the bard’s physical landscape.

Gabrielle now opted for long tops and skirts. It reminded Xena of the clothes the bard donned in their first year of travels together. ‘She even has her ‘glow’ back,’ Xena remarked to Ephany one evening. The warrior explained to the regent how content and carefree the bard seemed back then.

It wasn’t exactly the same however. Life experience had taught the bard much about the world. The ‘glow’ now came from a peace the bard had found – as a queen, as a mother – her overall self. The future may not be easy but it was bright and beautiful because they were a family now and in just a few short months their family would grow bigger.

One night Xena asked the bard if she was up for traveling. Gabrielle’s first concern was Lexia. But as Xena explained, the baby was sitting on her own and eating soft food, she should be just fine.

So with four royal guards the party set forth to Poteidaia and Amphipolis. The bards folks were the first to see the latest ‘arrival’. They promised they would return after Gabrielle’s child was born and after that they continued on.

When they arrived in Amphipolis, after the bards many ‘call of nature’ stops, Gabrielle went into the inn first.

Cyrene quickly put down her serving tray and rushed over to the smiling bard. They hugged but Cyrene pulled away quickly. Her hands shot down to the bards stomach and soon her eyes lit up.

“Yes. You’re going to be a grandmother,” she told the elder amazon.

Cyrene began to laugh and called Taria from the kitchen.

“We have another surprise,” Gabrielle announced.

“What could be bigger than this?!” Cyrene asked as Taria walked over.

“You’ll see,” Gabrielle grinned.

Moments later Xena walked in with Lexia in her arms. Cyrene didn’t move. She didn’t trust her legs to support her.

Xena did the introductions. “Mom. This is Lexia. Lexia. This is Grandma Cyrene and Grandma Taria.”

Cyrene thought she would cry but instead she opened her arms, gently snatching the infant away.

“How old is she?” Cyrene asked.

“Six months,” the bard replied.

“She’s big for six months!” Taria exclaimed softly.

“Look at her momma,” Gabrielle giggled as she slipped her arm around Xena’s waist.

“Six months?” Cyrene asked. “You’ve had this child for six months and this is the first I hear about it?”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Xena explained. “Besides, she wasn’t old enough to travel and I didn’t want you and Taria traveling alone to see her.”

“Sure,” Cyrene teased. “You can travel alone but we, grown women, can not?”

“Who said we were alone?” Xena smiled as she heard the Amazons come in behind her. “We’ll be needing three rooms by the way,” she retorted warmly.

Cyrene smiled and shook her head. “Always prepared huh little one?”

“Always,” Xena smiled. “Think you can put us all up for a few nights?”

“Of course! Come in everyone! Come in,” Cyrene replied happily, moving toward the living area. Xena reached out for the child but her mom walked away – not ready or willing to give the baby back. Gabrielle, gently put Xena’s hands back down.

“I think we’ve lost our daughter,” the bard smirked.

“Think you’re right,” Xena grinned as well. “But don’t think I won’t wrestle that old lady to the ground to get her back.”

The bard simply chuckled as they followed Cyrene’s lead.
Chapter 19
The stay had been a pleasant one and it was the final night of their visit. Taria spent most of the time catching up on the village gossip with the guards who arrived. She missed her friends in the village but she was more than satisfied with her life since she had Cyrene again.

Xena sat on the porch after feeding Lex. The baby snoozed in her arms, quite content listening to her mothers heart beat. Quietly Cyrene took a seat next to her daughter.

“So what’s it feel like little one?” Cyrene asked.

“Motherhood?” Xena clarified.

Cyrene simply nodded and smiled. Half-expecting the answer.

Xena thought for a moment. “Joyous. Wondrous. Frightening. . .Many things.”

“Don’t forget funny and tiring too,” Cyrene chuckled.

“Oh never,” Xena with a half-grin mischievously. “You must be thinking of Toris when you say that.”

Cyrene chuckled lightly not wanting to wake the baby. “You had you’re funny and tiring moments too little one.”

“Oh really,” Xena challenged.

“Uh ha,” Cyrene answered. “Remember that time Toris convince you to take a mud bath. Only thing I could see that night when you came home was the whites of your eyes and your smile.” Cyrene chuckled. “I remember the first trip we took to Lookout Canyon. You’re eyes got so big when you saw that waterfall for the first time – it was like I was looking at it for the first time myself.” Suddenly, however the glee soon became replaced by anguish. “I also remember that fever you caught the winter you were seven. You were rarely sick but this sickness you couldn’t seem to shake. . .I prayed to every God I could to see that you got well again. . .And of course I did.” Cyrene’s mood seemed to lighten. “And I pray to the gods once more that everything will work out for you and you’ll have many happy memories with your children. Kids aren’t everything in life Xena but the world wouldn’t be the same without them. ”

“I know that,” Xena answered soundly.

Cyrene chuckled. “Xena. . .You ain’t seen nothin’ yet dear.”

The woman continued to chuckle as she made her way into the house as Gabrielle was coming out. She put her hand on her daughter’s bondmate shoulder as they passed. “I’m tired,” she told them both. “Goodnight you two.”

“Goodnight,” the duo said in harmony.

Gabrielle quietly took her seat next to Xena and their sleeping daughter. “How you feeling?” the bard asked.

“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Xena replied.

Gabrielle grinned. “I’m good. Actually better than good. I feel. . .frisky.”

Xena gave a broad tooth smile. “It’s nice to know you’re increased appetite isn’t just for foods,” Xena teased.

“You mean I might get ‘lucky’ tonight?” the bard said with a giggle.

“You? Lucky?” Xena countered. “If anyone is lucky around here, it’s me Beautiful. You are the sexiest thing ever to walk the earth.” Gabrielle blushed at the compliment before turning away. Xena could feel a tension, flow over the bard. “What is it?” Xena asked

“Look at me Xena. I’m starting to get as big as a house. How can you say you find me sexy?”

Xena could hear the insecurity in the bards voice. “You’re kidding …right?” the warrior asked.

“No,” Gabrielle croaked back tears, remaining strong. “I’m quite serious.”

Xena took Gabrielle’s chin in her fingertips softly, gently forcing their eyes to lock. “You are and always have been the most beautiful woman in the world to me. The way your body is changing; growing – it is delightful! Every new curve, every valley – let’s just say I’m a very happy explorer.” Xena kissed Gabrielle softly on the lips – just once – before pulling back to meet her eyes again. “I truly feel like I’m the luckiest woman on earth or in the heavens. So yes Gabrielle, I think you’re sexy and yes I’m very lucky because I’m the only person you grace by letting me love you so intimately.”

Xena knew that was just what the bard needed to hear. And she was rewarded with a smoldering kiss.

“Let’s go to bed,” the bard whispered seductively.

It reminded Xena of the first time she’d heard the come hither tone in the bards voice. They were on Lesbo – drinking and dancing. But this time was not like the first. The first time there was great desire and indecisiveness. Her feelings were somewhat similar now. But unlike that time years ago, Xena was quite sure of what she wanted. Tonight she wanted her bard without reservation.

Gabrielle rose and walked to the door holding it for Xena and her precious cargo, whom slept soundly in the warriors arms. They traveled to the room. No sooner had Xena laid down their sleeping daughter she felt Gabrielle’s ‘attack’.

“Gods you feel so good,” Gabrielle whispered behind Xena squeezing the warriors mounds.

Xena moaned her response and covered Gabrielle’s hands, encouraging her exploration. That, however, was soon not enough. Xena felt Gabrielle stripping her of her linen garments, planting delicate kisses along her back.

When the warrior could take no more, she turned; welding her lips passionately to the bards. She pulled back long enough to removed Gabrielle’s dress – button by button. Once her task was finished she slipped the material off Gabrielle’s shoulders. Xena made her descent to her knees, along with the fabric. Carefully she pulled down the bards britches. She inhaled deeply. Gods how she loved the smell of her lovers arousal. ‘But it’s nothing compared to the taste’ Xena thought. With that she ran her finger through Gabrielle’s lips, making the bard sigh in excitement. Without wasting a moment, Xena tasted the bards sweet nectar on her finger, sucking it dry.

“Delicious,” Xena replied after she was done with the appetizer. She smiled because she knew the feast was yet to come.

That voice. Those words. It was doing the bard in. Her legs felt wobbly. “Bed,” she told Xena. “Now,” she added urgently.

Xena rose and scooped the bard in her arms. Xena thanked the gods it wasn’t far. Gabrielle hadn’t gained much weight but the warrior still felt unsteady herself – done in by her arousal more than anything.

She sat the bard down on the edge of the bed. Then she grabbed the pillows to make sure she was comfortable. Gently she laid the bard down. Her kisses started at the bards forehead and worked down inch by inch – her nose, her lips, her chin, her neck, her collarbone. Gabrielle was soaking up the seductive attention. It amazed her, even after all their years together, that Xena was such a careful yet passionate lover. Xena knew exactly what she needed and delivered tenfold.

Xena worked further southward. The bards breasts were next. They were heavier and fuller than ever and Xena loved the feel of them in her hands. She made no secret of her admiration as she emitted a groan from deep within herself. Hearing that sound made Gabrielle echo the warrior with a groan of her own.

Next Xena made sure to cover the area of Gabrielle’s growing belly. Her fingertips lightly stroked the skin, teasing the bard as the warrior’s hands came dangerously close to her center. Gabrielle could take it no longer.

“Please,” she whispered down to Xena.

“Please what?” Xena teased.

Gabrielle buried her fingertips in the black locks. Her tight hold was fierce and ardent and to tell the truth, slightly painful. Xena loved this ‘determined’ side to her lover. The side that demanded ‘proper service’. Xena stroked the arm of the hand that was behind her head.

“Just say it Gabrielle,” the warrior prodded seductively. “I wanna hear you say it Beautiful.”

Gabrielle moaned. She was hot. She was wet. She was racing with desire. “Do it,” Gabrielle ordered, giving Xena’s hair a light yank. “Do me,” she clarified, her voice dark and husky.

Xena sighed – both at the words and the feel of Gabrielle forcing her face between the bards legs.. She lapped at the bard like a kitten with a saucer of milk. And want glorious milk it was. She tasted so sweet, so magnificent. Xena thought for a moment or two she was actually purring.

It didn’t take much. Gabrielle had been more than ready. The constant lashing across her clit made her explode in mere minutes and Xena drank the bard of all she had to offer her lover. Finally as Gabrielle’s breathing steadied out, Xena made her way back up to her bard. Gabrielle licked Xena’s chin clean of her juices and the warrior couldn’t help thinking just how ‘feline’ the pair really were. Of course that wasn’t all she was thinking. Gabrielle’s lips batting across her chin made her think of the bards mouth on other caverns on her body.

She didn’t have much time to dwell on it. Soon she was on her back with Gabrielle over her. “I want you,” Gabrielle said almost apologetically.

Xena understood. Gabrielle wanted to taste her. She didn’t want to explore any other area except the one between Xena’s legs. ‘Who am I to deny my bard?’ Xena smirked silently.

Xena nodded her reassurance as she whispered her reply.

“Take me.”

Those two words were all Gabrielle needed. She delved deep into the warriors apex as her hands caressed the warrior’s full breasts. Soon however Xena took the bards hands and lead them to her center. She forced the bards fingers deep inside her, from which point the bard and warrior found a steady rhythm together.

“Yes Gabrielle. Yes,” the warrior panted. Gabrielle simply moaned at the growing cries, her mouth happily full at the moment.

When Xena arched and began to contract, Gabrielle pulled away. “Oh Xena,” the bard sighed. “Give it to me. Give it to me.”

Xena understood just what the bard meant. She watched as the Gabrielle returned, lapping up the explosion of juices that oozed as a result of her release. Gabrielle contently dined on Xena’s body until the warrior had little left to offer. Xena moved first and pulled back the bed covers. She patted Gabrielle’s space as she laid down. In silence the bard joined her. Neither woman needed to speak – the closeness alone spoke volumes as they snuggled.

Xena felt joyous that they had reached this point to where no words were necessary – where just a look or a caress was a tale in itself. Of course words were a nice touch Xena thought silently.

“I love you Gabrielle,” Xena whispered in a sleepy haze.

“I know. You just told me a few minutes ago,” Gabrielle grinned. “And in the most wonderful of ways,” she added slyly.

Xena’s chuckle was the last thing they heard. Well, at least for four candlemarks which was marked by Lex’s scream for her pre-dawn feeding.
Chapter 20
Another three months had passed and Gabrielle was getting closer. She drove Xena nuts. Every day when the warrior walked into their hut she found the bard cleaning, dusting or washing something. It was beginning to draw on the warriors nerves but Terris explained it was perfectly natural. She watched many amazons do the same thing – very bird-like in a sense. And there stood Sparrow Gabrielle, make sure the ‘nest’ was nice and secure.

Actually Xena was surprised Gabrielle didn’t have the baby already. Gabrielle had lost her mucus plug the week before when she tripped. Gabrielle, against Xena’s orders, decided to work out with her staff – just to stay in shape, when she took a header in the dirt after her third swing. Xena confiscated the weapon immediately upon finding out. And once more Xena was concerned. And again Terris told her she had seen it happen before but everything worked out fine. That, again, put the warrior at ease.

But for now, Xena was in the mess hall – after her morning run with Argo, eating some eggs and bread. Nagen, however, came running in, crashing into the table. “Queen Gabrielle . . .” she said trying to catch her breath.

“What’s wrong?” Xena asked.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. She’s with Terris. ‘This is it’ she says,”

Xena, Ephany and Diteria – with whom she was eating with – all looked at each other before bolting up from the table. Xena, of course, held the lead all the way to their hut.

As Xena came into the entrance, she saw Terris ordering Gabrielle to push. Upon seeing the warrior, Terris told Gabrielle ‘I’ll be back’.

Terris asked Ephany and Diteria to stay with Gabrielle. Quietly the healer took Xena outside by the arm.

“Something’s wrong,” Terris said.

Xena could hear the graveness in her voice. “What is it?”

“Her labor is coming fast,” Terris answered. “Almost faster than yours. I’ve only seen it once before and that was with a woman who had an infection in her womb.”

“What happened?” Xena asked fearfully.

Terris paused a moment. “I lost the mother and the baby,” Terris said remorseful.

“I’m not going to lose her,” Xena said defiantly, rushing back into the room. Terris followed and they found Ephany ‘coaching’ while Diteria wiped Gabrielle’s sweaty brow.

“She’s burning up,” Diteria said cautiously, trying to hide her level of fear. Women often ran warm during the strenuous part of labor. . .but not THIS warm.

Terris assessed the situation again, examining Gabrielle once more. “Okay,” she coached. “Just a few more pushes.”

Xena took Diteria’s place along with the cool towel. Diteria was right, Gabrielle was burning up and the warrior stroked the bards body, trying to keep her cool. Xena wasn’t sure how much time had lapsed. She was caught up in the bards condition. ‘If Terris is right then Gabrielle could. . .’ She didn’t finish the thought. Suddenly she heard a baby crying. She looked down and saw Terris grin.

“It’s a girl,” the healer said wrapping her up. Quickly she cut the cord and handed the baby over to Gabrielle.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Gabrielle asked the warrior as she snuggled the baby into her arms.

Xena did her best to muster a smile. “Yes she is.”

“Her hair is so dark,” Gabrielle remarked, at the little black fuzz on top of the child’s head. “You know for years people will think this is your kid, the way people say Lexia is mine.”

“Well, I say they are both ours no matter what anyone says,” the warrior menaced jokingly. She wanted, no – she needed to keep things optimistic. She wanted to be strong for Gabrielle.

Xena noticed that Terris had been examining Gabrielle through the whole conversations, but she hadn’t said a word.

“Are you still warm?” Terris asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle hadn’t paid much attention to her temperature. She was enjoying their new princess too much. “Yeah. I am,” Gabrielle replied. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Terris knew she had to tell the bard but she looked at Xena for ‘approval’ first.

Xena did the job for her. “Terris believes you may have an infection. You’re labor was very hard and very fast Gabrielle.”

“What does that mean?” the bard asked.

“It means I have to start some herb therapies as soon as possible to combat it,” Terris said. “I’m going to do everything I can.”

“You’re certain there’s an infection?” Xena asked the healer. It sounded quiet intimidating; challenging.

“Almost positive,” Terris answered. “Almost.”

Ephany, Diteria and Terris all left for the healers hut. Once they were gone for sure Gabrielle turned to Xena.

“Am I gonna die Xena?”

Xena felt like she could become a puddle of tears at any moment but she knew healing the body with a positive mind helped. She wanted to encourage Gabrielle to fight even though she was unsure of what the final out come would be.

“Of course not,” Xena insisted. “Of course not. . .because I won’t let it happen.”
Chapter 21
A week had past. The fever hadn’t broken. Terris didn’t want Gabrielle to nurse so Xena took on the task of feeding both babies. That was when she wasn’t wiping down Gabrielle’s sweat soaked body. The bard ate under protest, saying she wasn’t hungry. Terris and Xena however made her eat, trying to keep her strength up.

On the eighth day, Terris came into the healing hut to see Xena searching through her herbs and bottles. Gabrielle’s breathing was growing shallower and Terris knew the bard didn’t have long. So did Xena and the warrior looked frantic as she searched through Terris supplies.

“I’ve tried everything,” Terris said sadly.

Xena acted as if she didn’t hear her as she searched. After a few more bottles were examined she muttered, “There must be something.”

“I’ve tried everything,” Terris repeated.

Xena was angry. She couldn’t believe this was happening. This isn’t how it was supposed to end. After all the danger they face. After all the times when Hades had taken them – both – and returned them safely. This wasn’t Gabrielle’s destiny. The warrior was sure of that. Zeus be damned! They were a family now. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t fair. ‘How many more people do I have to lose?’ Xena thought.

And the more she thought the angrier she got. Suddenly, her arm lashed out clearing the table of its contents with a loud smash. As the last bottle teetered on the table’s edge, she wondered why she didn’t feel any better. How could she find release from this Tartaris?

“I’m sorry,” Xena sobbed as she looked at the mess she created. “I know you’ve done everything but I . . .I just can’t accept this. . .She’s supposed to grow old. She’s supposed to tell her grandchildren all her beautiful stories. . .It’s not supposed to end this way. Not for her.”

Terris didn’t say anything. She wanted to let Xena get everything out.

“And Karis. . . That poor baby,” Xena said turning around. “Sometimes I look at her and I. . .I hate her. She’s just a baby. . . It’s not her fault but I feel like I should blame her. If she wasn’t here then Gabrielle would be okay. . .Gods Terris! Does that make me a terrible person?”

“No,” Terris said honestly. “It makes you human Xena. And believe it or not, it’s actually a good thing that you recognize your anger with the child. It’s even better that you understand that it’s unfounded. Your anger with Karis will pass if you talk about it. . .And I’ll listen if you like; without judgement.”

Xena’s reserve of the last eight days fell apart. She’d been so strong in front of Gabrielle. Never taking the time or courage to cry. She found herself balling now with Terris joining her. Terris loved Gabrielle too. And she loved Xena. And she knew leaving someone you love is the hardest thing – no matter what the means to the depart may be.

After a few minutes of holding each other while they cried, Xena pulled away and wiped her tears from the dark circles under her eyes. She hadn’t had much sleep either and that wasn’t helping HER health or spirits any either. Terris recognized this.

“Lay down in here,” Terris instructed. “Even if it’s for only an hour. You need your rest.”

“No,” Xena answered firmly. “Gabrielle might call for me.”

“Xena, I’ll stay with her myself. If she asks for you or it looks like she’s . . . passing over. . .I’ll send for you. But for now – please – get some rest. You look like Tartaris Xena and that has to be hard on Gabrielle too.”

Xena didn’t want to but yet she grinned in admiration. Terris was really good at that ‘mind stuff’. If reassurance didn’t work she would throw in a little guilt. “Okay,” Xena replied, taking one of the medical beds. “You win.”

Xena snuggled in. And for the first time, in months actually, she slept for six hours straight. Terris was quite please with herself about getting the warrior to rest – at least until she had a reason to wake Xena.
Chapter 22
“Xena? Xena. You need to wake up.”

The warriors eyes shot open and focused on Terris.

“She wants you,” the healer informed the warrior.

Xena jumped up and moved swiftly from the healers hut. Lila and Ephany watched the consort sprint to the royal chambers as Terris walked slowly outside. Lila and Ephany looked briefly at each other before both resolved that they needed to speak to the village healer.

“Well?” Lila asked Terris, not adding more. She was still in shock over the whole incident. All Gabrielle wanted was a baby. Not this.

“Her time’s at hand. She knows it. Xena knows it,” Terris shrugged. She didn’t know what more she could add.

“I can’t believe this,” Ephany whispered.

Suddenly Xena emerged from the hut yelling, looking around outside. “Ephany! Lila!”

“On our way!” Ephany yelled back as the duo broke into a run.

Once they all entered the chamber they found the bard looking drained. She was white – snow white – and her breathing was labored even more than their last visit days ago.

Lila couldn’t control it and she started to cry. Gabrielle shushed her and held out her hand. They all came over but it was Lila who took the offered appendage.

“I’m giving Ephany my rite of caste until you’re confident to lead the nation Lila. When Lexia is old enough I’d like you to give her the throne but only if she wants it. Who knows? Maybe she’d rather trample the countryside telling stories.” Gabrielle giggled before becoming serious again as she faced Xena. “Make sure she’s free to make her own choices in life Warrior Mine – Lex and Karis both. Teach them everything about you – the darkness and the light. And tell them my stories,” she added with a weary smile.

“I’ll never be able to tell them as well as you,” Xena insisted.

“Sure you can. You have many skills,” Gabrielle encouraged. “Tell me my favorite – about how Zeus created man. Let me hear you.”

“Now?” Xena asked astonished. This was not the time or the place for the warrior to show her lack of bardic skills. “Gabri-

“Please,” the bard whispered. She didn’t have to ask twice.

“A long time ago,” Xena began as she took Gabrielle’s other hand. “People had two heads and two hearts. And Zeus, using his great thunderbolts, separated everyone so they had only one heart and one head. But something was missing. So for years people have been looking; searching for that ‘something’ – the other half of their soul. . .to make themselves whole once more.”

“See,” Gabrielle said proudly. “I knew you were always listening. . .You CAN do it Xena,” the bard added with a light squeeze of the warrior’s hand.

Xena understood that Gabrielle wasn’t speaking of just her stories. The bard was also talking about raising their daughters.

Xena squeezed her hand back. “I’ll do my best Beautiful.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes. “My other half. . .” Gabrielle grinned, fighting to get the words out. “I’ll wait for you.”

Xena didn’t have the chance to respond. Gabrielle – Queen. Bard. Mother. Lover – was gone. Lila began to cry again. She dropped Gabrielle’s hand and buried her face in her hands. Ephany, with a solitaire tear running down her left cheek lead Lila out of the hut.

Xena sat expressionless; numb. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She simply sat stroking the bards overgrown bangs away from her eyes. She didn’t even hear Terris enter the hut. It wasn’t until the healer put her hand on her shoulder that she knew she was there.

“Come on,” Terris said leading the warrior to her feet. “Ephany will take care of you. I’ll see to Gabrielle and make sure she’s ready for the pyre.”

“No,” Xena said harshly.

“She’s gone Xena. There’s nothing more you can do.”

“I’ll take care of her,” Xena argued. “I’ve always taken care of her.”

“Xena are you sure you’re up to this? I mean –

“Please go,” Xena interrupted in a softer voice. “Please.”

Terris nodded in understanding. It was just something the warrior need to do to let go and say goodbye. “I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

Xena cut Gabrielle’s clothes away and cleaned the bards body, taking the sheets away with the soiled garments. Once Xena had her dressed in her amazon regalia – breastplate and all – she brushed the bards long hair. It was a difficult task but she pulled the body up so it rested on her shoulder and she stroked the golden red tresses with great care and gentleness. ‘Not like she can feel it now’ the warrior had to remind herself.

It was at that point that the situation hit home. Gabrielle was dead. Her lover was gone. She left. She just. . .left. By Hades and the bard herself, was Xena mad. ‘How dare she leave me to raise these kids . . .alone. I have to raise these kids alone while she prances in the Elysian Fields.’

She began to feel guilty next. It wasn’t Gabrielle’s fault but she still felt angry. She had to be mad at someone or something. But the longer she sat there brushing her bondmate’s hair the more she realized something. Yes the bard was gone but someway; somehow they would be together again. And she would make the bard proud of her by raising happy, healthy daughters someway; somehow, even though she was alone.

Gently she sat Gabrielle’s body back down. She looked at the beautiful face of the woman she loved. ‘She can hear my thoughts’ Xena grinned. ‘Okay, I’ll say it again. . .Even in death Gabrielle. I’ll never leave you. . .never. . . never.’

 

 

The End
Finished in Home at Last

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