Reunion by Nancy

Reunion
by Nancy

 
Part 1
It was a fitting, if somewhat ironic, position for her to hold. Though it would take longer than a thousand lifetimes, she would atone for the atrocities perpetuated by her armies and by her. The many centuries had provided her with opportunities to find redemption. She had taken as many of them as she could, fighting the evil so prevalent in the world with her soul and her heart.

With all the wonders of technology she had witnessed as they were invented, this was the age to live in. This computer driven world contained an anonymity that she needed. It was easy enough to forge the documents necessary to avoid questions about her past. Questions that she could not allow to be asked, let alone answered. Easier still to get them to the right people so that she could take her place amongst those on the front lines of corruption.

Like all civilized societies, this one had injustices to be fought, murders to be avenged and innocence to be protected. Technology claimed to bring the world together but it also held people apart. Human contact from strangers was dreaded. Neighbors no longer knew one another.

Good Samaritans were hard to find in the depths of the city – never mind a hero.

****************

Xena walked the street confidently, thick black heels clicking along the sidewalk. Her silk dress clung to a strong body, its revealing slit etching halfway up a muscled thigh. Dark hair hung carelessly over her shoulders, falling to the middle of her back. A light, matching silk jacket covered strong arms and hid a lethal marble dagger strapped to the inside of her left biceps. Security would be tight and there shouldn’t be an x-ray machine to walk through but she never took chances. Wearing a gun would be just that.

Many admiring eyes turned to watch as she passed and not all were male.

It was a lonely existence. She fought evil as best she could and for a change, she was doing it from within the system. For the most part Xena worked alone, something her superiors allowed only due to her high arrest record. On this particular mission, however, there was a partner. One who had protested violently about not going in with more protection. He was a good man but this was her show and would be run her way. Even a Federal agent with the weight and power of the US government backed down when pierced by her ice blue eyes.

So Xena arrived in front of the very expensive hotel where the event was being held alone and without the safety net of a wire. Many people were being ushered in by limousine and all were decked out in fashionable array. She handed the invitation to the doorman who immediately opened the door for her. She gave the young man a smile for his courtesy and he looked back at her, dumbstruck. That widened her smile and she sailed past, moving easily through the metal detectors. Someone offered to take her coat and she declined, moving through the breezeway to the ballroom on the right where music drifted out.

All manner of men and women were in attendance – the wealthy and powerful of many different fields represented. This is what made the operation a difficult one. Their prey was slippery, swamped with legitimate businessmen and women from many nations. He was also an evil one that dealt in slavery and drugs, two things that always seemed to go together. She spotted him at the other end of the room, talking with two couples and moved into his line of sight but not towards him.

Turning her back to him, Xena moved casually towards the bar. He had spotted her, she could feel his black eyes lingering on her. She exactly his type: exotic, strong and beautiful. Xena didn’t go for false modesty and used her beauty like every other weapon in her arsenal. In an age where beauty was the standard, this man surrounded himself with the best of everything; especially his women.

“Rum and coke please,” she murmured to the bartender.

“Um, sure, right away,” he stammered moving away to fill the order.

Before he returned, her prey walked up beside her and introduced himself. “Jeremy Stafford.”

Xena turned to face him, eyeing him through lowered lashes. A handsome man, Jeremy Stafford had golden hair and black eyes that combined for a stunning effect. She hadn’t been certain if he wore colored contacts or not but now suspected not. “Elena Sims. It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Stafford.”

“Jeremy, please. May I call you Elena?” he returned, capturing her palm and kissing it lightly.

Giving a sultry smile Xena purred, “Of course, Jeremy.”

“I haven’t seen you before,” he commented, placing a twenty dollar bill on the bar when the drink was served.

She picked up the drink and sipped. “No. I’m a friend of Carla’s.” Xena knew that he dealt with more than one Carla. Of course he wouldn’t inquire as to which Carla she was talking about, he wouldn’t want to show weakness in any form. Having dealt with so many like him in the past, Xena could almost predict what would happen next.

“Would you care to dance, Elena?” he asked, gazing into her eyes.

She took another, longer sip of the drink and felt its warmth race down her throat. “I would love to, Jeremy.”

He led her onto the floor with expertise. They made a striking couple, gliding over the floor with ease and moving effortlessly together. The music was soft and slow, perfect for getting to know someone. “I understand you’re in the stock market?” she asked politely.

He smiled, a rakish look bestowed. “Among other things. My true love is art and beauty, though. I must say you are both personified.”

Smooth, Xena thought, returning the smile. She pressed a bit closer as though in thanks for the compliment and moved her hand down from his shoulder to his waist, resting it there lightly. This was supposed to be a reconnaissance mission to get him interested enough in her to bring her back to his highly guarded home outside the city. Not that she expected any trouble in those regards.

Stafford maintained a bit of distance between them where most men would have pressed her close. He talked softly of inane but witty things to keep her mind occupied. They left the dance floor to eat and drink but always returned to enjoy the music. At least he was an intelligent villain, someone who might present a challenge. To keep things interesting, at one point in the evening she even said, “I’m taking up all your time, I’m sorry. I know these things are to mingle and meet people for business.”

He recaptured her hand and said, “Don’t go anywhere. These people can be hanged for all I care. You are what I’m interested in at the moment.”

It was then Xena spotted the woman and her mind went numb with shock. Brilliant green eyes searched the crowd. Dark, reddish brown hair was cropped short in a stylish fashion, tendrils curling up becomingly around the ears. Petite with a strong body so unlike the alarming waif trend in young women these days. She even moved the same way, hips swaying as though to an inner music only she could hear. It had been decades since Xena had seen anyone resembling Gabrielle and never anyone so exactly like her.

“Elena? Are you all right? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” Jeremy asked with concern, trying to follow her gaze.

Xena looked back at him having completely forgotten where she was and why – a dangerous thing to do in her present situation. She glanced quickly back to the dance-floor but the woman had vanished. “I’m fine, thank you.” Laughed a bit self-consciously and said, “I think perhaps I’ve had too much to drink. Would you mind if I freshened up?”

He stood as she did and smiled. “Of course not. I’ll wait here for you.”

She lightly touched his hand. “I’ll be back.”

“I can’t wait.”

Xena walked carefully through the crowds of people who, even though she no longer wore battle armor or wielded a sword, parted as though sensing danger in crossing her path. It had gotten late without her realizing it and she knew she’d have to leave soon or her “partner” Will would get worried and do something foolish. Her eyes constantly scanned the area for that woman, needing to find and talk to her.

She knew it was an impossibility that this woman would be anything like Gabrielle except physically. There had been plenty of look-a-likes over the centuries but none had ever come close to measuring up to her sweet soul-mate. Xena had thought about the privilege and curse of being immortal millions of times and always, the only true regret she’d ever had was in losing Gabrielle.

Gazing into the mirror, Xena’s thoughts drifted back to that happiest of times. She and Gabrielle had traveled together for many years. So many years that their names became linked together. Gabrielle had been her rock, her love and life. They had gone through everything together, even been to hell and back.

The looming shadow of being Ares’ daughter had been a constant worry in the back of Xena’s mind. She knew that one day Gabrielle would grow old and die where she would not. She had wondered how it had happened, her death on the cross with Gabrielle. To this day the only thing she could think up was that she had willed herself to die with Gabrielle in order not to be left behind.

When they had been together for almost twenty years, Xena knew people were starting to question her ageless appearance. She hadn’t been certain at first but then her mother had died. Lila grew up and got married and had children. Gabrielle’s parents died. When it had come time for her to leave, Xena almost hadn’t been able to do it. It had been a simple comment from Gabrielle that had strengthened her resolve. Something she had never forgotten in all these many centuries.

“You look as perfect and beautiful as the day we met,” had been the soft words whispered in her ear. Gabrielle had been lying in their bed, legs entwined with her own and her hand tracing patterns across Xena’s breasts, making her dizzy. Gabrielle’s golden hair had grown back in for the hundredth time and tickled Xena’s shoulders. “I love you so much.”

Inside, Xena had died a little knowing it was time to leave. It would hurt Gabrielle deeply, Xena knew that because it was like the life had been sucked out of her. She had spent the rest of the day making love to Gabrielle, memorizing every curve and every crevice of that sweet body. In the dark of the following night, Xena had crept out of their home and disappeared.

Leaving Greece altogether, Xena headed for Africa knowing that Gabrielle would search for her and so not daring to stay. She had ridden Argo’s daughter away from their home sobbing bitterly, feeling her heart break apart with every step. It was to protect Gabrielle that she left, was the refrain that she forced to repeat in her mind. Xena knew that Gabrielle would start aging and become, perhaps not fragile but certainly unable to keep up with an immortal lover who battled almost every other day. It would only take one time for Gabrielle to lose her strength for a sword to plunge into her heart.

After almost thirty years, Xena had returned to Greece and found Hercules, the only one whom she knew would understand. He had told her almost immediately that she’d been wrong to do what she had. That Gabrielle had been heartbroken, worse, her soul had been torn apart. For years Gabrielle had searched for Xena, always returning to their home to see if Xena had come back. Over time she had just faded away and remained in their home, waiting for Xena’s return. Hercules and Iolus had stayed with her as often as they could and been there for her funeral.

Xena had cried that night in Hercules’ arms and felt the rest of her heart die with this news. He had comforted her and then told her that Gabrielle’s last thoughts had been of her, that she had died whispering Xena’s name.

“Are you all right, Miss?” someone asked.

Xena snapped back to the present and realized that she was crying, tears slipping quietly from her eyes. Swallowing against a hot throat, she replied, “I’m fine, thank you.”

The motherly looking woman nodded and moved on.

Splashing her face with cold water, careful not to get any on her dress, Xena dried her face and returned to her prey. She wanted to get this over with and go home. All the energy of the hunt had been taken from her with that one glance at the woman who’d resembled Gabrielle. Across the ballroom one last time she found him in exactly the same place except talking with two men, bodyguards from the bulges in their jackets. Conversation stopped immediately and the men faded into the background.

“I’m terribly sorry,” Xena apologized, taking Jeremy’s hand. “I’m not feeling well all of a sudden. Would you mind if I left the party?”

“I would absolutely mind. However, if you promise me a date for tomorrow evening, I will forgive you,” he flirted.

Xena smiled and replied, “That would be lovely.”

“I’ll have my driver pick you up around seven,” he offered. “Where do you live?”

“That’s not necessary,” Xena refused easily. “I’ll come back here to meet you. How about seven thirty?”

He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “I shall be walking on air until then. Good night my sweet goddess.”

Xena allowed the smile to reach her lips though she couldn’t force it into her eyes and left. It was about three blocks away from the hotel that a van pulled up beside her and she saw Will’s impatient face in the passenger’s window. “Well?” he demanded.

Just before stepping into the van, Xena felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and she looked around for whoever was watching. Finding no one after a tense search, she climbed in and strapped on the seatbelt. “We have a date for tomorrow night. I won’t have any trouble getting this stuff from him. He was practically drooling over me the whole night. Ick. I feel like I need a bath.”

The drive back to her apartment was quiet. The van pulled up in front of an apartment building in the Beacon Hill district of Boston. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Xena repeated. “Just a little tired is all.”

“See you tomorrow for the briefing at three p.m. sharp. Be on time please,” Will ordered pointedly.

Xena grinned. Everyone knew her penchant for strolling in whenever she liked. It was a running gag around the precinct. Every Christmas and birthday she was given a watch from at least one person. “Maybe. If you’re lucky.”

Unexpectedly, he grinned back. “That’s better. I was starting to worry that something had really happened in there.”

He drove away and Xena sighed, and thought, ‘If you only knew.’ But no one did. That was part of her penance in being alone. Oh there had been a few sexual encounters over the centuries but no one to love. She didn’t deserve it for the heartache she’d caused Gabrielle. It was a form of self-imposed exile that she normally didn’t have much trouble with.

Until tonight and that vision of Gabrielle.

On the fourth floor, Xena unlocked her door and shut off the silent alarm automatically resetting it for the night. It was a loft apartment and she paid through the nose for it, both for its location and its spacious interior. More than once she’d been questioned about how she could afford such a place. There was a premium on good housing in Boston and Xena knew she’d been lucky to get this place when she had, five years ago. Not that she couldn’t afford better but any better and there would probably be an I.A. investigation. So far her “inheritance” had been enough of an explanation.

Hardwood floors in the main room, which was twenty feet by twenty-five feet. Her large, iron-post bed rested in the corner to the left, capturing the morning sun each day from the large windows. Directly before her was a large, overstuffed leather chair, a glass coffee table and run-down but very comfortable pull out couch. To the side of that was a television and computer set-up in a wooden entertainment center.

Beyond the living-room furniture and further to the right was a small kitchen that she seldom cooked in. Beyond the furniture to the left was her prized room: the bathroom. And it was, literally, a bath room. There was a shower stall, sink and toilet like any other normal bathroom. But also located in the ten by ten enclosure was a hot tub big enough for four people. It was a kind of tribute to the loving times she and Gabrielle had spent washing each other’s backs – and everything else.

Tossing her keys on the coffee table, Xena stripped as she went through the apartment, leaving her clothes where they fell and going to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, Xena found some okay cheese, half a loaf of bread and leftover soup. Shrugging, she reheated the soup and threw the bread and cheese on a plate.

After bringing everything over to the coffee table, Xena grabbed her short silk robe and turned on the television for an hour of mind numbing but nothing would erase the image of Gabrielle. Trying to shake off the funk, Xena grabbed the remainder of a bottle of red wine and drank straight from the bottle. Almost choking as some of the too-sweet liquid hit the wrong pipe, Xena left the empty bottle on the floor.

Green eyes, open and loving, echoed in her mind as she lay back in the chair. Sighing heavily, Xena crossed the room and threw herself on the bed. Creamy netting was tucked up along the overhead poles, waiting to be let down. Xena had bought the bed immediately upon seeing it. It had reminded her of the bed she and Gabrielle had shared all those years together. Now it was an aggravation tearing at the wound in her heart and she flipped onto her stomach to avoid looking at it.

**************

“It’s really her,” Gabrielle whispered, mind reeling with shock. She stood rooted where she was, watching as a van pulled up to Xena. Panic forced her back into the anonymity of darkness when the other woman turned to search the area, and Gabrielle’s heart beat erratically. The centuries apart hadn’t changed Xena one bit. Desire and need shot through Gabrielle’s loins and she clenched her teeth together.

When she looked again, the van and Xena were gone. Cursing herself, Gabrielle spun on a delicate heel and strode back to the hotel. It hadn’t been chance that brought Gabrielle to Boston. After eons of searching for her lover, it had been Hercules to come across Xena a few weeks ago and immediately told Gabrielle. She had reminded him, forcefully, of his promise not to tell Xena that she was alive. He had assured her that he hadn’t said a word but only because he hadn’t trusted himself to see Xena and not tell her.

Now here she was and Gabrielle was shaking like a leaf at the prospect of coming face to face with Xena. The doorman flashed a concerned look to her for which she smiled gratefully as she walked by. He was a nice young man who had taken a fancy to her on one of her previous visits. Gabrielle still couldn’t believe that she’d been in Boston over a dozen times and never once run into Xena by sheer chance.

Sliding her electronic key in the slot, the door opened silently and Gabrielle stepped into her luxurious suite. Plush carpets, soft and expensive decorations on the walls, a huge bed and incredible bathroom. She pulled off her dress and hung it in the closet then kicked her shoes off there as well. Pulling on a large t-shirt, Gabrielle hopped onto the bed and turned on the television, trying to escape the vibrant image of Xena.

Completely unsuccessful, Gabrielle turned it and the lights off and tried to sleep.

**************

Things couldn’t be worse. Her night had been filled with torturous dreams of Gabrielle and their time together. She’d woken up wet and hot more than once. She’d woken up crying more than once. Many times she had simply woken up. So she walked into the precinct that afternoon red-eyed and feeling hung-over though there had been no benefit of alcohol.

“You look like hell,” Will commented.

“Thanks,” Xena said sarcastically.

“You’re welcome. Rough night?”

“None of your damned business,” she snapped.

“I see. Are you up for tonight?”

Xena sighed and answered, “I’m fine for tonight. And I’m sorry for that. Trouble with an old flame. I hardly got any sleep.”

Will nodded in understanding. “I’ve had that sort of trouble recently myself. Plays havoc with your nightlife. Or the lack of it in our case.”

Xena’s mouth twisted. “It sure as tar- as hell does. But don’t worry, I’ll be ready for tonight.”

“Good. Look, if you aren’t doing anything after all this is over, ah, would you like to get some dinner? Maybe take in a movie?” Will asked casually.

Or rather it would have been casual if the grip he was using on the coffee mug wasn’t turning his knuckles white. She gave him a gentle smile. “I would love to but I’m not quite over my last break-up yet. Maybe in time…” she let the sentence drift off.

He coughed and nodded. “Of course. Sure. I’m a jerk. Here you just got through talking about your old flame and I jump in like a barracuda.”

Xena touched his hand. “It was sweet. Thank you.”

“If high school is over, I’d like to start this briefing,” the captain’s voice interrupted.

Xena gave him a mild look and a flying kiss. He scowled but Xena ignored it, pouring herself coffee and lounging on her desk. Will sat on the chair beside her. There were five other men in the room and one woman. There followed another boring synopsis of the case so far. About how they needed certain documents they believed to be held in Stafford’s estate office. They had received an anonymous but (somehow) reliable tip and needed to follow up every avenue available.

Not that every person in the room didn’t already know all of that, Xena thought sourly. The captain just liked to blow steam when there was a situation he couldn’t control. And her going in alone was something he couldn’t control. They couldn’t wire her in this case because it would be an intimate setting and if she wore one it would be immediately apparent. It didn’t matter how small those transmitters were getting these days, a third nipple would be fairly obvious any place on her body.

“Hey! Ares! Are you paying attention?” the captain barked.

Xena’s head snapped over to him at the use of her current last name. With infinite amusement at her own cleverness, Xena had taken Ares’ name as her own. It would, and had already, become a beacon to law and order in this time. The name was whispered in fear and awe from those of the illegal persuasion and she just loved the irony. She was sure it pissed Ares off though he had as yet to call her on it. “Of course, Captain. Heard every word you said.”

He scowled at her trying to determine the amount of sarcasm then gave up. “Good luck tonight and don’t get yourself killed.”

Xena nodded and stood up. “Time to go make myself beautiful. See you all later.”

“Like you need any help in that department,” a female voice commented as everyone broke up.

Xena looked up at Sasha’s voice with a grin. “Everyone needs help in that department.”

Sasha snorted, brown eyes glinting with mischief. “Yeah right, Ares. You know, I’ve got someone that I really want you to meet.”

Xena groaned. “Not another blind date!”

“Just listen to me,” and her enthusiastic voice dropped so that no one else would hear it. “She’s gorgeous, funny and intelligent. She’s an artist and a friend of a friend that’s in the area for a month or so. C’mon, tell me you’ll just meet her? We’ll do a double date with me and Ron playing chaperone. Xena, you really need to get laid, even if you don’t want a relationship!”

A picture of Gabrielle flashed through her mind and Xena felt herself flush. Ignoring the now curious glance from her friend, she said, “Sorry, Sasha, I really can’t.”

Sasha gave her a concerned look. “Are you all right?”

Xena shrugged. “Had a rough night last night. Look, if it will make you feel better, then I’ll meet her for lunch sometime but not this week. I really am too busy.”

Grinning triumphantly, Sasha exclaimed, “Great! Her name’s Jocelyn.”

Xena watched Sasha leave with a shake of her head. Sasha was the only person at work who knew her real preference and was very discreet about it. Of course, the fact that Xena didn’t date anyone caused a lot of talk in and of itself. She had heard the half-whispered dyke insults many times over the years but had ignored them. Grabbing a couple of files off her desk, she was met there by Will.

“Pick you up at 6:45?” he asked.

Nodding, Xena replied, “Sounds good.”

“What are you doing between now and then?” Will asked.

“I’m going to go home and try to catch up on some paperwork,” she answered, waving the files in front of him before putting them in her briefcase.

“Oh. All right. Well, I’ll see you tonight then,” Will said.

Xena sighed. Another one in love with her, just great. Her mind flashed back to a memory of Gabrielle talking about her wardrobe being the cause of most of that sort of trouble. Grinning, Xena hefted her briefcase and began the walk out to her car. It was nice to think of Gabrielle, something she normally tried to avoid at all costs. Last night’s dreaming had brought out all sorts of memories, laughter and love dominating the images.

*************

“Excuse me but can you tell me where to find Det. Ares?”

Sasha looked up to find a young woman standing uncertainly before her. Green eyes and dark red hair combined for a stunning effect. “Det. Ares isn’t here right now. Is there something I can help you with?”

Disappointment etched in the pretty face and the woman shook her head. Her eyes scanned the name plate and she answered, “No, thank you, Det. Moskovitz. It’s a personal matter.”

Intensely curious, Sasha stood and exclaimed, before the woman could turn away, “I’m her friend if you want to give me a message for her?”

The woman looked at her a long moment then smiled faintly. “That’s all right. I’ll try her at home.”

Sasha watched her go, curiosity eating her up inside. Who was she and what did she want with Xena?

**************

From the police station, Gabrielle caught a cab and directed him to Xena’s address. She was determined to find Xena and have this over with. All night the only thing she could do was dream of Xena, imaging their bodies moving together in heat and need. It had been so forceful, so real that Gabrielle had even come just picturing it in her mind. She had to touch Xena, make sure that she was real and alive.

The years after Xena had first left her had been devastating for Gabrielle. Xena had vanished off the face of the earth and no matter where Gabrielle looked, she was nowhere to be found. Lila had been great, Gabrielle remembered with a wistful smile. Her sister had watched over Gabrielle fiercely during that time, helping her shredded heart mend if only a little.

After it became apparent that Xena was not going to return, Gabrielle had continued to search for her. She had strayed into increasingly dangerous territory in the hopes that if she couldn’t find Xena, maybe her life would end in some heroic fashion. Much of that time was a blur to Gabrielle for which she was grateful. All she really remembered was the darkness eating at her soul, betrayal and pain mixing together for brutal effect. The short-lived joys she’d found with Lila’s family had been tiny oasis’ in an ocean of suffering.

The cab jerked to a stop, bringing her back to the present. Gabrielle paid the man and got out of the cab. She walked to the entrance and found Xena’s name, listed ‘X. Ares’ and pressed the buzzer. When there was no response, she pressed it again. Knowing how quick, Xena was, Gabrielle knew that she wasn’t at home. Glancing at her watch, she saw that it was 6:51pm and sighed. She should have gone over to the precinct earlier in the day, maybe then she would have connected with Xena.

But after a night of little to no sleep, Gabrielle had finally succumbed to the darkness after dawn and slept until well after lunch. Once awake and realizing how late it was, Gabrielle had cursed her way through the shower and yanked on clothes as fast as she could. By the time she’d gotten ready and eaten, it was almost three p.m. Then there had been a conference call from her London office that had taken almost two hours, no matter how much she tried to speed it up. Finally grabbing a cab, which originally brought her to the wrong precinct, had brought her to roughly 5:45pm. Where, of course, she’d missed Xena.

Pulling out her cell phone, Gabrielle first called information then Xena’s precinct, praying that detective was still there and would help her out.

The phone was picked up on the third ring and a breathless voice answered, “Det. Moskovitz.”

“Hi, my name is Gabrielle, I was there earlier looking for Det. Ares. Has she checked in yet this evening?” Gabrielle asked.

“Det. Ares is on assignment tonight, is there something I can help you with?” Det. Moskovitz replied.

Gabrielle sighed. “I know this is a complete breach of protocol but it’s imperative that I get ahold of her. Please, can you help me?”

There was a long pause then, with a lowered voice, Det. Moskovitz said, “I can put you in touch with her partner but she definitely won’t be able to talk to you right now.”

“Thank you!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

“His number is 617-555-3654. Good luck, I hope you can reach her,” Det. Moskovitz said sincerely.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle repeated and hung up. She dialed the number and found that it was busy. “Perfect!”

Hanging up, she dialed her Boston office.

“Warrior Enterprises, Christine speaking.”

“Hi Christine, it’s Ms. Amphipoulos,” Gabrielle greeted.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Amphipoulos, what can I do for you?”

“I need you to have Rob do a cell phone location and then tail this number, 617-555-3654,” Gabrielle ordered. “Call me back at my hotel when the tail is in place. Tell him to use stealth mode because it’s an FBI agent.”

“Right away, Ms. Amphipoulos,” Christine said.

Gabrielle hung up and started looking for a cab, pulse racing. This was going to be an interesting evening.

************

Dinner was in the most expensive restaurant in the city. Conversation was light and probing at the same time. He asked her everything conceivable from her favorite color to her favorite food. From there they went dancing at an exclusive club and things got more intimate. The music was loud and fast, a combination that drove Xena wild. Dancing with a handsome man who lusted on her every movement, wound her up even further. It had been a long time since she’d taken her satisfaction.

Maybe she’d do so with him before getting the incriminating documents and arresting him. Dismissing the thought right away, Xena continued to be outwardly attentive to her date. It was almost midnight before she returned with him to his estate outside the city. The limousine ride was smooth and Xena had all she could do to keep his hands off her body. By the time they had reached the mansion, Xena knew it was a good thing she hadn’t worn a wire

“This is a beautiful place you have,” she commented as they walked inside.

“Thank you,” he replied. “I have something I especially want to show you Elena.”

They walked down a long, marble laid hall and into a study. His body guards were there and then she spied another man sitting on a leather couch, reading a book. Dark hair and eyes looked up at her from a handsome face made ugly by hate and fury.

“Hello. Detective Ares I believe is the name you’re using these days, isn’t it?” Ares demanded standing up.

The two guards leveled automatic weapons at her and Jeremy grabbed her arms from behind. “Mr. Smith here was kind enough to let me know who you really are, Detective Ares. I’m afraid that as clever a diversion you are, this is one situation from which you are not going to escape. Take her upstairs and chain her, we don’t want her to escape now, do we?”

Xena was furious but had no choice except to comply. If she didn’t and were shot, she would be playing into Ares hands because she wouldn’t die. On the other hand, she definitely didn’t like the idea of being chained up, either. They walked down the hall and into another room where she sat in a straight-backed chair and was chained. She’d have to wait until they tried to transport her. Will would be waiting for something like that. He may have already gotten a warrant to try and rescue her.

She hated being rescued.

It was a few hours later, her head drooping with sleep, that she heard the door whisper open. She tensed but didn’t raise her head, keeping her breathing even and steady as though she slept. Almost silent footsteps moved across the floor and black clad legs moved into her sight. Black clad legs that looked very familiar. Slowly, heart thumping, her gaze moved up the legs to a narrow waist and ample breasts coming to lock with green eyes that glared at her.

“Gabrielle?” she whispered.

“Who else would be saving your butt at this particular moment? That moron Will who let you walk into a trap without even thinking to check his sources?” Gabrielle exclaimed. Now that she was in Xena’s presence, she felt unable to move, entranced by the blue eyes she had dreamed about so often during their separation.

“What-how did you find me?” Xena asked, eyes drinking in the sight before her.

“The wonders of modern technology,” Gabrielle answered dryly, moving to the back of the chair to unlock the chains. Hands stopping before the lock-pick could finish its job, Gabrielle returned to face Xena, fists on her hips. “No. I think that while I’ve got you nice and strapped into one place I’m going to get some answers.”

Xena swallowed at the deceptively soft tone; Gabrielle was furious.

Gabrielle forced herself to stop shaking, this was something that she needed to know first and foremost, even in the precarious situation they were in. “What in Tartarus did you think you were doing? Why did you leave like that? One second we were perfectly happy and then you vanished without a trace! I looked all over Greece, all over Chin, all over creation for you! On top of that, I had to fake my own death and put Lila and her family through grief at least ten years early! Not to mention Iolus and Hercules and everyone else we were friends with. Why did you leave me?”

The suffering in Gabrielle’s voice sent the tears that had welled in Xena’s eyes cascading down her cheeks. Guilt flooded her being and she barely held back a sob. “Gabrielle,” Xena’s voice choked and she cleared it. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle, I was trying to protect you. I knew that you would grow older, our friends would grow older and I wouldn’t. I didn’t want you to resent me for being immortal while you…I didn’t want you to have to always be on the move with me, fighting every day while your strength left you as age took over.”

“You can be such an idiot sometimes,” Gabrielle whispered. Kneeling, Gabrielle buried her face in Xena’s lap, inhaling her rich aroma more precious than the most expensive perfume. The black dress stopped well above Xena’s knees and she wasn’t wearing stockings. The soft skin beckoned and Gabrielle couldn’t resist pressing her lips against Xena’s thigh. Xena’s moan was music to her ears.

“Gabrielle, we have to get out of here,” Xena finally managed to say, the heat from Gabrielle’s mouth almost banishing thought.

Gabrielle knelt up and touched the side of her face whispering, “I know. I’m glad that I finally caught up with you even if it is here.”

“You’ve been looking for me?” The words were barely a whisper. “After everything I put you through?”

Gabrielle leaned forward and after an impossibly long moment, their lips touched. Only a split second after meeting, lips crushed together with bruising force, conveying the loss and need each felt. It was when Gabrielle wanted Xena’s arms around her that she realized Xena was still chained. Pulling reluctantly away, she answered the disbelieving question with words. “Always and forever, warrior. I will never give up on you.”

“How touching!”

Gabrielle’s head snapped around and she got quickly to her feet. Voice filled with menace, she spat, “What do you want?”

He walked closer, eyeing Xena’s bound form with a leer. “Let’s see. One shout and the two of you are discovered trying to escape. Shot on sight I would expect. Now, I know that neither of you would really die but Detective Ares would and that’s what I want. How dare you take my name and use it like some…some…some flag of honor!”

Gabrielle rushed around to unlock Xena’s chains as Ares let out a shout for help. Moving as fast as she could, Gabrielle picked the lock while Ares watched on with a grin. Finally the handcuffs came free and Gabrielle pulled them off. The door slammed open and five men rushed inside.

Xena screamed her battle cry and leaped forward to kick the weapons out of the front men. Gabrielle grabbed a metal lamp brandishing it like a staff, knocking the weapons from the other men. While Xena’s arms and legs flashed out in punishing form to drop first one then another man, Gabrielle clobbered the man immediately in front of her over the head and he dropped unconscious to the floor.

The fourth man managed to grab ahold of her unlikely staff and threw her against the wall. Her head spun for a moment after connecting with the stone wall but her leg kicked up between the man’s legs and slammed into his groin. He fell, clutching himself and moaning in pain. Looking for someone else to fight, adrenaline pumping furiously through her blood, Gabrielle found there was no one left. Even Ares had disappeared. Xena was standing over the last man, blood dripping from her nose onto the expensive dress.

“Are you all right?” Gabrielle asked in concern, rushing over to her.

Grinning, Xena wiped her nose and walked to the large bay window across the room. “Fine, he got in a lucky punch is all.”

Footsteps pounded down the hall and Gabrielle saw at least ten more men running towards them, automatic weapons in hand. She shut the door and pulled over a heavy chair to bar it. Joining Xena at the open window, she swallowed upon seeing the fifteen-foot drop. “Xena, I don’t think…”

“Come on, Gabrielle, let’s get out of here!”

Xena clasped Gabrielle’s hand in her own and pulled her out the window, landing in the bushes below. Hand in hand, they ran across the yard to the gatehouse where the alarm was just being raised. Sneaking inside, Xena knocked out the guard before he could radio to see what was going on. Looking around the area, she said, “We need a car!”

“There isn’t one!” Gabrielle exclaimed looking back. There were men streaming out of the house to search for them. She should have told Rob to stick around after dropping her off. But no, of course she’d assured him that she wouldn’t need anything else. “We’re going to have to run for it.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Xena sighed. She opened the gate and they ran for it. Surrounding the estate were acres of tame woods and they plunged into its concealment immediately outside the gates. Running swiftly through the trees in an easterly direction, branches slapped at them and roots tripped them. Pausing for a short break, Xena leaned against a tree and exclaimed, “This is ridiculous. I was never this clumsy when we ran through forests in Greece.”

Moving closer, Gabrielle trailed her fingers up Xena’s arm, enjoying the hissing intake of breath. A wicked grin and the comment, “Well you are getting old after all.”

Xena arched an eyebrow at her and grabbed her, pulling her into an embrace. Looking down into the dark green eyes illuminated by the moon, she murmured, “Oh really? You’re not exactly a spring chicken yourself, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle looked up breathlessly into Xena’s eyes, waiting for her lips to descend, willing for it to happen. It was then they both heard sirens wailing in the distance. Sighing in relief, Gabrielle said, “It’s about damned time they showed up! I called Will to tell him you were in trouble over two hours ago! I bet he waiting for the paperwork to finish before even getting in the car!”

Xena eyed her speculatively. “Really. You and I need to have a serious talk.”

Lips twitching nervously, Gabrielle said, “We do. How about a ride back to your apartment first, though?”

Letting the issue slide temporarily, Xena nodded and they began the walk back to the main road. She took Gabrielle’s smaller hand in hers, delighting in the way it fit as perfectly as she remembered. After a few minutes, Xena pulled Gabrielle against her side, slinging her arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders.

When they reached the road almost fifteen minutes later, Xena said, “Stay here and I’ll get a car.”

Gabrielle nodded and stayed among the trees alongside the road.

Walking down the road, Xena was greeted by several of her fellow officers and ignored by the FBI agents. It didn’t take long to find Will and his face lit up upon seeing her.

“What happened?” he asked, reaching for her hand. “I got a call that you were in trouble from some woman who wouldn’t identify herself.”

Xena avoided his grasp and moved back slightly. “I was made by someone named Smith though I doubt that’s his real name. They were going to kill me, yada, yada, yada. Listen, I want you to take care of things for me, is that all right?”

Surprised, Will frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s just that something’s come up and I’m not going to be at the precinct – at least for a couple weeks. I don’t want to worry about being interrupted. If you take care of the paperwork and follow up with the D.A., I’m sure things’ll go fine.”

“But Xena, you’ve worked like a dog on this for months!” Will protested.

“You’ll be doing me a huge favor by taking over. Please, Will?” Xena asked quietly.

Taken aback by her words, Will nodded.

“Great. Now I just need a car. I’m wiped with the run into the woods to escape and everything,” Xena said.

“Take the van,” Will offered, holding out the keys.

“Thanks! See you in a couple of weeks!” Xena said. She walked jauntily towards the van, which was seriously out of place among all the sleek FBI and cop cars. After a couple of tries, the engine turned over and Xena drove the short distance to pick up Gabrielle.

“What took so long?” Gabrielle asked, strapping on the seat belt.

“I found Will and explained what happened,” Xena reported. She glanced over at Gabrielle and found herself drowning in the green depths of her eyes. Controlling herself with great will, Xena looked back at the road and started driving.

*****************

Seated on the couch, Xena looked wordlessly at Gabrielle. Now that they were in her apartment with no more obstacles, both felt awkward and uncertain where to start. “Do you want something to eat or drink?” Xena asked suddenly.

“I’m not thirsty,” Gabrielle refused, although that was not entirely true. She was thirsty except her thirst had nothing to do with drink, she wanted to feed on Xena’s body, worship her until the warrior couldn’t remember her own name. Coming to a decision, Gabrielle stood and said, “I’ll tell you what I do want, though. I’d like a bath.”

Blinking in surprise, a slow smile spread over Xena’s face. “Whatever you want, Gabrielle. Follow me.”

Taking the offered hand, Gabrielle walked across the open space into the bathroom. She was pleased to find a large hot tub there and waited as Xena turned the faucets on. Closing the door behind her with finality, Gabrielle leaned back against it, watching Xena leaning over the tub, playing with the controls.

Xena turned back to face her and Gabrielle pulled off her shirt revealing that she wore no bra. Then the jeans were peeled off to reveal no underpants. She shivered at the smoldering desire in Xena’s eyes, impaled and whimpering with only a look. “Xena, I need you.”

Xena pressed against her, joining their lips gently. Her tongue slipped between Gabrielle’s lips to invade their moist depths. Teeth knocked against teeth as she strove to capture all of Gabrielle’s mouth in her own. Gabrielle’s moan pushed her to go further and her hands landed on the cool skin of Gabrielle’s hips.

Brushing her fingertips ever so lightly up and down Gabrielle’s sides, Xena felt Gabrielle shudder against her. Pausing momentarily in her explorations, Xena unzipped her own dress and let it slide to the floor in a whisper of silk. Finally her bare skin lay against Gabrielle’s and their bodies molded together as they always had and returned to gently ravaging Gabrielle’s mouth. Gabrielle’s arms went around her neck and Xena’s arms around the bard’s waist while their legs twined together.

“So long,” Gabrielle groaned against Xena’s mouth as Xena’s hands massaged her buttocks, kneading them with her strong hands. Her sex throbbed, wetness seeped out of her and Xena’s hands gripped her hard against the warrior’s hard body. Xena thrust her leg against Gabrielle who cried out at the contact.

Needing to reciprocate, Gabrielle blindly reached down and entered her finger into Xena’s sex. She was startled to find the opening so tight that Xena gasped at the intrusion. “You were waiting for me?” the question soft but insistent as Gabrielle pulled back. She had to see those sapphire eyes for the answer.

Gazing deep into Gabrielle’s eyes, Xena whispered, “I hoped, eternally hoped, that maybe you would be reincarnated and find me. There have been others but – not many and only when I couldn’t bear to be alone a second longer.”

Moved by the confession, Gabrielle wordlessly slid her fingers deeper, rubbing back and forth against Xena’s clit. Breathing heavy, Xena’s head rolled forward to rest against Gabrielle’s shoulder, hair streaming over Gabrielle like a blanket. She tried to move closer, wrapping her arms around Gabrielle’s shoulder to hold tight while Gabrielle’s fingers worked their magic.

Harder and faster they went, stabbing as deep as Gabrielle could go. Xena’s hips ground down onto the hand, moving in a rhythm Gabrielle remembered extremely well. Holding Xena helpless against her sent Gabrielle over the edge at almost the same moment Xena screamed out her name. Carefully withdrawing her fingers, Gabrielle put her arms around Xena’s waist, locking her fingers together on the curve of Xena’s behind.

Crying softly, Xena kissed Gabrielle’s throat then trailed kisses up to her soft mouth. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

Tears of her own wet upon her cheeks, Gabrielle murmured, “I love you, Xena.”

They stood there a long moment, relaxed in each other’s arms and leaning against the wall. After awhile, Xena said, “I think the tub is ready.”

Grinning, Gabrielle reluctantly unclasped her hands from around Xena’s waist so the warrior could move away. Xena gave her another quick kiss on the lips then backed away and stepped towards the tub. Gabrielle suddenly realized that the scent of gardenias had mingled with that of their sex and looked questioning to Xena.

Eyes lit, Xena said, “Bath oil, your favorite kind of flower. It’s automatic when I turn on the tub.”

Gabrielle breathed in appreciatively then flashed Xena a smile. “It’s wonderful!”

Smiling shyly, Xena took her hand and led her into the tub. “You’re wonderful.”

The heat enveloped Gabrielle exquisitely as she descended into the tub and she turned to sit with her back against Xena. It wasn’t long before she felt a sponge rubbing against her back and sighed. “Artemis but I’d almost forgotten how good it felt for you to wash my back.”

Xena kissed the back of her neck. “Me, too.”

Running her hands over Gabrielle’s muscled back, Xena followed every touch with a kiss. “Tell me why you aren’t dead, Gabrielle. Not that I’m complaining but it’s been killing me not to know how this happened. Now that I can think that is.”

Gabrielle turned around and raised a leg over and around Xena’s hips. Placing arms around her neck, Gabrielle began kissing Xena’s throat. She sucked and licked at it then gently pierced the skin in such a way that Xena instantly remembered, though the first time had happened centuries ago. Gabrielle’s mouth sucked at her neck while her hand traced its way lightly down Xena’s stomach to the fold of skin between her legs.

Caught between the two sensations, Xena moaned with pleasure and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s waist, pulling her even closer. Fingers moved with increasing pressure and speed, competing with the erotic sucking on her neck until Xena couldn’t stand it any more. “Gabrielle! Oh, Gabrielle!” she shouted, coming in a blinding orgasm and collapsing against her lover.

As her breath slowed and life returned to her limbs, Xena looked up into green eyes tinged with red. Two small fangs showed themselves through Gabrielle’s open mouth before retreating to a normal length. A wicked smile on her lips, Xena purred, “Time for me to return the favor, bard.”

Before Gabrielle could respond, Xena turned them around so Gabrielle’s back was to the hot tub wall and she was positioned between Gabrielle’s legs. She held Gabrielle’s arms to the side while she suckled on the hardened nipples. She devoted her tongue and mouth to each nipple in turn, reveling in the beautiful skin beneath her mouth. Gabrielle moaned immediately.

Xena turned her attention to the sweet mouth open and waiting to be plundered. She kissed and kissed until both sets of lips were swollen with pleasure. Xena thought she could go on forever just drinking of Gabrielle’s mouth. Tongues entwined in a passionate dance, in turn hard and needy then soft and pliant. After a timeless interlude, Xena released Gabrielle’s arms and moved down the muscled stomach with her lips, nipping here and there with her teeth. Her hands were never still, moving over and around Gabrielle’s body the whole time, touching and grasping the sweet flesh that she had needed for so long.

“Oh Xena,” Gabrielle breathed.

At that Xena stood, lifting Gabrielle into her arms and carrying her to the bed, water dripping from both of them. She placed Gabrielle carefully onto the bed then crawled towards the juncture of Gabrielle’s legs. The sweet taste that lay enticingly before her had been an intense craving of Xena’s for centuries and now, at last, it was all hers again.

She kissed the mound gently at first then her tongue darted inside the soft sex. Gabrielle’s hips moved, giving Xena better access. Her tongue moved in the dripping, satiny flesh, finding the hard nub and sucking on it. Clutching her hands to Gabrielle’s waist so that she wouldn’t be dislodged with the other woman’s passion, Xena kept up the pressure until Gabrielle screamed in pleasure and her seed spurted out like a waterfall.

Xena moved up her bard’s body to lie on top, snuggling her face into Gabrielle’s shoulder and wrapping her arms around Gabrielle’s neck, breathing in the heady scent of Gabrielle now mixed with Gardenia. “I’ve missed you so much, Gabrielle. You are my life.”

Gabrielle’s chuckle was warming as the bard’s arms moved to clasp Xena tightly around her back, enjoying the weight of her lover’s body heavy upon her. “I’ve missed you too, Xena. I will never let you go again, believe me.”
Part 2
Xena looked at the sleeping form beside her, a goofy smile spreading across her face. Lying on her stomach, Gabrielle’s face was mashed into the pillow and her dark red hair, now cut stylishly short, was sticking up all over. It was hard to get used to the new coloring, Xena’s memories all had Gabrielle as golden blond with light red highlights. It suited her fair coloring though, made her green eyes all the more brilliant.

Xena’s hand twitched to touch the bare skin that beckoned but she resisted. Gabrielle was not a morning person and if Xena woke her before dawn, even for that, she would be pissed. They’d spent the last four days getting reacquainted, in every way, after too many centuries apart. They hadn’t even left the loft apartment to buy more food. Last night they’d been reduced to peanut butter and cheese on crackers with red wine and chocolate covered strawberries for supper.

‘Not that that was necessarily a bad thing,’ Xena thought with a grin. It had been an interesting night.

Gabrielle had rescued Xena from a murdering drug and slave lord under investigation by Xena’s department. The day after the arrest, Xena had called in to use two weeks of her hundreds of vacation hours not giving her captain any explanation as to why she wouldn’t be coming in. He’d been more than aggravated, he’d been furious that her caseload was being dismissed from her mind so easily. Her blatant refusal to come in had ended with, “Then fire me, I don’t care.”

That had given him pause and there was silence on the other end. She could sense, then, his hurt that she wouldn’t tell him what was going on. They had worked together for ten years and developed a strong friendship but Xena hadn’t the time or inclination to make up an excuse as to what had happened. Relenting a bit, she’d said, “I’ll see you in two weeks, Captain.”

“Fine,” he’d barked and hung up in her ear.

Gabrielle sighed and flipped onto her back, recapturing Xena’s attention. Small and compact with exquisitely toned muscles, Gabrielle was a thing of beauty. Xena had missed everything about Gabrielle, believing her to be dead all these hundreds of years. Her love, her compassion, her wicked sense of humor, her acceptance of everything Xena was and had been.

It had been a torture to be without. A self-inflicted, completely unnecessary torture as it turned out. Instead of being mortal, as Xena had thought, Gabrielle was bacchai, or vampire in the local colloquialism. Xena shivered in erotic memory of how Gabrielle had pierced her throat the first night of their reunion to show her how it was that she still lived. It had certainly been a revelation.

Her hand lightly brushed bangs off Gabrielle’s closed eyes as she moved closer, snuggling into the smaller woman’s body and draping her arm over Gabrielle’s stomach. Gabrielle moved towards her, arms reaching out even in sleep to pull Xena closer. Because her apartment was silent except for their breathing, Xena heard the snick of the lock as someone carefully tried to open it. A light began flashing to the side of the bed, her silent alarm.

Just because she was immortal didn’t mean she took chances.

Looking at the clock showed it to be 5:03am and Xena nodded in professional approval; the time of morning when sleep was deepest for most people. Placing a hand over Gabrielle’s mouth woke the other woman instantly. Green eyes met blue and Xena motioned towards the door. Gabrielle nodded her understanding and Xena took away her hand. Both women stood, dressing quickly and Xena shut off the alarm.

She withdrew her gun from the holster that hung on the bedpost and clicked off the safety. With catlike movements, Xena moved to the side of the door, waiting for whomever it was to finish breaking into her apartment. Gabrielle walked to the alcove just across from Xena, ready to support her if necessary. Xena flashed her a smile, which was echoed back immediately.

The door inched opened slowly. Xena grabbed the hand on the doorknob and yanked the intruder the rest of the way inside, slamming him into the wall. She heard Gabrielle shut the door. Twisting the arm up and around his back, Xena stood close, her gun pressing painfully into the back of his head and demanded, “What are you doing here?”

The man was silent.

“Fine, have it your way,” Xena said. She frisked him and handed a 9mm Glock with silencer and a wicked looking dagger to Gabrielle. She spun him around and holstered her gun. Lightening fast fingers stabbed the pressure points on his throat and the man dropped to his knees, gagging for breath. “I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. If you don’t tell me what I want to know in the next thirty seconds, you’re going to die. Let’s try this again. Who do you work for?”

“Stafford!” the man gasped out. “He’s got a contract on you.”

Xena’s lips twisted in a scowl and released the pressure points. She ignored the man, who fell the rest of the way to the floor dragging in air to deprived lungs, and turned to Gabrielle. “So much for our vacation.”

Gabrielle touched her arm. “As long as we’re together, that’s all that matters. Although, I could use some breakfast after last night’s workout.”

Xena felt a blush spread along her cheeks, grinning at the reference to their lovemaking of the night before. It had been rather active at that. “No problem. I’m going to have to deposit this piece of dirt to the office but there’s no reason we can’t go out for some breakfast after.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Gabrielle agreed.

The failed assassin was handcuffed to a kitchen chair and locked in the hall closet so they wouldn’t have to worry about him while getting ready. Just before shutting the door completely, Xena read the man his Miranda rights. “Just so you don’t get off on a technicality, scumbag, you have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, jerkoff, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”

Taking separate showers so as not to get distracted, it was about an hour later that both were dressed and ready for the day. Gabrielle ended up in cut-off shorts and a loose fitting t-shirt that she’d raided from Xena’s dresser with sandals to keep cool against the coming ninety-degree heat. Xena, meanwhile, had pulled on a light pair of slacks and beige camisole top.

When they reached the outside of the apartment building, assassin in tow, the heat already dripped with humidity. Boston was like that in the summer. It didn’t matter what the time of day, it was almost always humid with a shimmering heat that made the roads seem to dance. Xena handcuffed the man to the back-seat door handle in her dark blue mustang convertible. “Don’t mess up my car or you’ll be sorry.”

Gabrielle grinned as Xena held open the door for her. “I should’ve known that you would end up with another powerful horse.”

Xena laughed and dropped a light kiss on Gabrielle’s lips. “What else would I be riding?”

She ignored the startled and/or disgusted looks from pedestrians and shut the door once Gabrielle was settled. Sliding behind the wheel, Xena started the motor and pulled easily into traffic.

“What are you going to tell people about me? Should I just wait out in the car?” Gabrielle asked hesitantly. She looked back at the perp, wondering if they should discuss this in front of him.

Xena gave her a quick look, correctly discerning Gabrielle’s concerns. “Who’re they going to believe, him?”

“True enough,” Gabrielle agreed then prompted. “So?”

“I’ll tell them exactly who you are if they ask, even though it’s none of their damned business. My lover from Greece who has come back to make my life complete.”

“Won’t that make your job…difficult?” Gabrielle was obviously bothered.

Xena snorted. “Like I don’t have that reputation already anyhow? Please. This will just be confirming suspicions for ninety-five percent of the department. The other five percent will probably be uncomfortable but I could give a damn.”

Gabrielle’s smile was so brilliant that it took Xena’s breath away. “I especially want you to meet Captain Rockland. I’ve known him for about ten years now. He’s a good man, fights hard to make things right. Of course I’m never going to hear the end of it now, having a girlfriend, I mean. All those times I’ve teased everyone else about their love life and now it’s mine that’ll be public property, probably for months.”

Gabrielle laughed unsympathetically. “That’s what you get.”

“Thanks a lot!” Xena laughed. “Hey, what last name are you using these days, anyhow? I need to know how to introduce you.”

“It’s Gabrielle Amphilpolos, thank you very much,” Gabrielle answered haughtily.

Xena’s eyes filled with tears. Gabrielle had taken the name of her own beloved village where she’d been born. “Thank you.”

Gabrielle took her hand. “I never gave up on finding you. I thought if I used the name of your village we might connect sooner but…”

Xena brought Gabrielle’s hand to her mouth and pressed a kiss onto it. “I love you.”

“I love you.”

The car rolled in front of the precinct, parking in the employee section denoted by the large white and green sign to the side of the building. Xena brought the man out of the car then re-cuffed his hands behind his back and dragged him inside. Gabrielle walked beside her, keeping pace with Xena’s much longer legs.

“Hey, Ares! Thought you were on vacation!” the desk sergeant asked. Even though it was still early, a little after 7:00am, the building was alive with activity.

“I was,” Xena answered with the obligatory scowl. “This one tried to kill me this morning. Mind processing him for me? B & E and attempted murder.”

The sergeants’ face hardened as he motioned two other officers to take the man. Xena took back her handcuffs and put them in her back pocket. Suddenly more nervous than she’d thought she would be, Xena signed Gabrielle in as a guest and handed the nametag to Gabrielle. “Here we go.”

Gabrielle touched Xena’s arm. “We can do this later if you need time to adjust. Our reunion was rather unexpected, at least for you.”

“Thanks, Gabrielle but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Xena answered gratefully. She placed her hand over Gabrielle’s for a moment then took it firmly and led her back to where the undercover department was located. She could see that Gabrielle was taking in every detail. ‘Probably for a future story,’ Xena thought with a grin.

“Ares! What’re you doing here?” a woman asked in surprise when they entered the department.

Xena smiled and said, “Hey, Sasha, how are you? My vacation was cut short by an attempted assassination.”

Sasha’s brown eyes widened. “On you, is what I assume you mean.”

Xena nodded. “I’ve got a mark on me from Stafford.”

Whistling in appreciation, Sasha said, “Sucks when that happens. Hey, who’s this?”

As though their clasped hands hadn’t given it away already. Xena was grateful for the other woman’s tact. “This is Gabrielle Amphilpolos, my partner. Gabrielle, this nosy woman is Detective Sasha Moskovitz.”

Sasha’s eyebrows raised at the open declaration then a wicked grin crossed her face and she purred, “Really? Well, well, well, I think this deserves a bit of celebration! The ice-woman has finally melted, and how!”

“Sasha!” Xena protested.

“Oh no, you aren’t going to get out of this one by picking and choosing who you tell. Not after that little…uh…present you gave me the night before my wedding!” Sasha grabbed Gabrielle’s hand and pumped it up and down a few times. “It is so very nice to meet you! We need to chat just as soon as I take care of something. I hope you don’t embarrass easily!”

Gabrielle snickered as the woman ran off. “What exactly did you do to her? And the night before her wedding?”

“It’s not my fault that a troupe of dancing, mostly-naked men showed up at her doorstep! I was framed I tell you!” Xena exclaimed, a grin crossing her face as she remembered Sasha’s mother fainting from shock upon opening the door.

“I know that look! You did so do it! Shame, woman, shame on you!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

Giving a martyred sigh, Xena took Gabrielle’s hand again and led her further into the department. They made it all the way to the back where the captain’s office was located without meeting anyone else. Xena peered inside and found him going over paperwork as usual. The poor man was always doing paperwork. She hoped that she never made Captain if only for that reason, she had enough paperwork in her present position. She knocked on the door and he looked up, face changing to surprise as he waved her in.

“What the hell are you doing here, Ares? After that fuss you made about getting time off I thought I’d have to drag you back by your hair,” he greeted. He stood automatically upon seeing Gabrielle. “Who’s this?”

“Captain Josh Rockland, I would like you to meet Gabrielle Amphilpolos, my partner,” Xena announced holding her breath. She wasn’t positive how he’d react.

Ever the gentleman, Captain Rockland held out his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Amphilpolos. You just arrived in town, I take it?”

Gabrielle nodded, startled. “I did, and thank you, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Xena has told me wonderful things about you. How did you know…”

“That you’d just arrived? Well, Ares here has never taken a day off unless forced to by HR, until four days ago when she drops everything, and I mean everything. I knew there was something important involved. It’s nice to see that that something is you,” Captain Rockland answered.

Recognizing the compliment, Gabrielle again said, “Thank you, sir.”

“So what does bring you here?” Captain Rockland asked, motioning for them to sit.

Xena was warmed with the matter of fact way he was taking the news. Although she suspected that he’d been part of the ninety-five percent of the precinct anyhow. “Stafford had someone try to kill me this morning.”

That sobered him immediately and he glanced at Gabrielle. “Are you all right? I mean, I assume you were there as well.”

Gabrielle smiled. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“So am I,” Xena said pointedly.

Captain Rockland snorted. “You’re always all right. Do we know for sure that Stafford set it up?”

Xena nodded. “The would be assassin gave him up after some persuasion.”

“Christ, Ares, not another excessive violence suit, please tell me you didn’t rough him up,” Rockland exclaimed.

“Didn’t touch a hair on his head, did I Gabrielle?” Xena asked innocently.

Gabrielle grinned. Technically, that was true. “She barely laid a finger on him.”

Rockland stared at them both suspiciously for a moment. “Where is he now?”

“He’s probably in lockup by now,” Xena answered.

“Well, we knew there would be repercussions for taking down someone as big as Stafford. And I heard he was cussing you up one side and down the other the entire ride to the station,” Rockland sighed, rubbing his eyes. Life with Ares was never dull, that was for sure.

“Where’s Will these days?” Gabrielle asked suddenly. Both sets of eyes looked at her and Gabrielle realized the Captain would now wonder how she knew Will. “That was your partner’s name, right? Wouldn’t he be in danger, too?”

Xena’s eyebrow moved in a “nice save” gesture and Gabrielle hid a grin, chiding herself to be more careful.

“That’s true. Why don’t you go check on your other partner and make sure he’s okay,” Rockland teased.

‘Thus it begins,’ Xena thought in resignation. “Sure.”

“I’ll go down to interrogation and see what else we can get out of the perp you brought in,” Rockland said. He stood and held out his hand to Gabrielle again. “It really is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Amphilpolos. Anyone that can snag Ares attention in such a big way has to be someone special.”

“Call me Gabrielle,” Gabrielle offered. “We should get together and talk sometime soon.”

“That’s a good idea,” Rockland agreed.

“All right, all right, break it up, you two. C’mon, Gabrielle, we- I’ve got work to do,” Xena said. As they walked to the door, Rockland called out innocently, “You will be joining us in the department cookout tomorrow, won’t you Ares?”

Xena froze, wanting to cringe as she remembered the monthly cookout their department had come hell or high water. A few years before, after some tremendous losses to the department, the Captain had instigated mandatory attendance to the cookout at his house, unless out of the state or ill. She looked at Gabrielle but all she found there was a broad and unrepentant grin. Xena stuck out her tongue and turned back to the Captain. “Of course we’ll be there.”

“Great! I can’t wait to tell Ruth to set another place,” he said, eyes twinkling.

Xena groaned and whisked Gabrielle out of the office before any other comments could be made. She walked over to her desk and pointed to the seat beside it. “Park it, Ms. Troublemaker.”

Gabrielle gave a, “Who, me?” look at which Xena snorted feeling happier than she had in forever. Picking up the phone, she dialed Will’s apartment number. It rang a few times before the answering machine picked up. “Hey Will, it’s Xena. Just wanted to check in with you so give me a call as soon as you can. It’s important.”

Hanging up the phone, Xena met Gabrielle’s green eyes that were watching her carefully. Lost in their depths, Xena leaned forward until someone broke the spell by clearing their throat. Startled, not having heard anyone approach, Xena found Will standing a few feet away.

“Will! Glad you’re here, I just called,” Xena said, standing.

“I heard you. What’s up?” Will asked, looking curiously at the woman in Xena’s chair. For a second it had looked as though they were going to kiss? He shook his head mentally to dismiss such a notion and paid attention to what Xena was saying when the word assassin crossed her lips. “Someone tried to kill you this morning? I should’ve known that would be the only reason you’d make it in early. Especially on a day off.”

Xena grinned ruefully, acknowledging the hit and said, “Just about. I thought maybe Stafford would make a try for you too since you were the arresting officer.”

Will felt his face flush and said, “Actually, you’re the officer on record.”

“Excuse me?”

“I knew this was an important bust for you and you’d worked so hard. It didn’t seem right for me to steal the glory,” Will explained, face getting redder with each word. How to explain the effect she had on him and that he’d have felt like a heel for taking credit on her work?

“Oh. Well, thanks,” Xena said after a moment. She noticed Gabrielle observing their interaction intently and figured that she might as well shoot him down now as later. She felt bad, knowing how he felt about her. “Will, I want you to meet Gabrielle Amphilpolos. My partner. Gabrielle, this is FBI Agent Will Jefferson.”

Will’s red face rapidly drained of color as he absorbed the implication. He recovered but barely, holding out his hand to Gabrielle. “It’s, uh, it’s nice to meet you, Ms. Amphilpolos.”

Gabrielle smiled but her tone was formal. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Agent Jefferson.”

There was an awkward silence until Xena asked, “So what were you doing coming over here?”

“I’m here on something completely unrelated, actually. You heard about the rash of bank robberies over the last few days?”

Xena shook her head. “I’ve been…occupied.”

Will swallowed as he realized what she meant and continued, “Right. Anyhow, I’m on loan to your department again. They figured that since we worked so well together before, we would again. They’ve been hitting all the major banks, completely professional, in and out in under three minutes making off with between twenty and thirty thousand each time.”

“Interesting,” Xena murmured.

Will grinned suddenly. “Thought you might like the challenge. Though with this new business with Stafford, you probably won’t have time for it.”

Xena scowled. “Probably not.”

There was another silence and then Will said, “I should be off, need to brief the Captain about this.”

“Sure. Watch your back and if anything unusual happens, let me know,” Xena ordered.

“Gotcha. See you later,” Will said. He nodded briefly to Gabrielle before moving on to the Captain’s office.

“Looks like you broke another heart,” Gabrielle commented softly.

Xena’s mouth twisted and she sighed. “I know. I feel bad but he never had a chance anyhow.”

Gabrielle’s eyes shone as she stood and asked, “Really?”

Xena moved closer, keeping contact with those incredible emerald eyes and whispered, “Really and truly.”

Suddenly surrounded by catcalls, hoots and whistles, Xena jumped away from Gabrielle to find most of her coworkers surrounding them, Sasha in the forefront. Groaning, she nodded and waved her hands as though building up the sounds like an orchestra conductor. “All right ya bunch of damned jackals, take a hike,” she exclaimed good-naturedly.

They were attacked by water pistols, everyone ignoring the expensive computer sitting on Xena’s desk. Xena and Gabrielle shrieked with laughter and Xena moved in front of Gabrielle to take the worst of the soaking. Then came the multicolored string foam and whipped cream. Xena let out a yell and grabbed the nearest body which happened to be a young detective named Jackson and tore the water pistol out of his grasp before gently shoving him into the path of someone else.

Gabrielle followed suit and soon the entire department was covered as the two women struggled to escape their attackers, laughing in fits. When Rockland finally roared at everyone to shut up and start acting like adults, some five minutes later, everyone was in tears and could hardly dodge whoever was aiming at them. Xena collapsed into a chair and pulled Gabrielle onto her lap, enjoying the sparkle in her lover’s eyes.

“Jackals!” Xena repeated much to everyone’s delight.

“Tit for tat, Xena!” Sasha exclaimed.

“It’s about time you got some, Ares! Maybe now you’ll show some mercy to the rest of us!” Alvarez piped in. “No offense, miss.”

Gabrielle only laughed harder. “None taken, none taken,” she gasped out at last.

“Everyone, this lovely woman that you have so hospitably welcomed to Boston is Gabrielle Amphilpolos. Gabrielle, this is everyone. Sasha, Alvarez, Jackson, Stewart, Michaels, Cannon, Morales, Opal, Suz and Allen.”

Gabrielle waved to each as Xena introduced them, noting the easy camaraderie in the department that she’d never before seen in a police precinct. And she’d been in many over the last fifteen years or so as a security consultant. The fact that they were so accepting seemed strange to her but she supposed that was due to their obvious closeness. “It’s great to meet you all.”

“The cleaning crew is going to hate you, Sasha,” Xena commented, observing the wreckage that was the department as everyone filtered out to start the day.

Sasha took the chair opposite them and shrugged. “That’s okay, they can put it on my tab. Wouldn’t be the first time. So how did you two meet? C’mon, tell me all about it! I want details!”

Gabrielle looked into Xena’s eyes and raised her eyebrow. “Why don’t I tell the story, dear?”

Xena growled but held her tongue.

“I was just a young maid in a tiny village in Greece when Xena helped us out with a bunch of gang types when she was passing through. I tagged along with her for several years during which we had many adventures. She was quite the wild woman in those days,” Gabrielle said fondly. Another growl made her continue, “Anyway, we were separated by a nasty twist of fate and misinformation and I only just now found her while here in Boston on business. You can be sure I will never let Detective Ares out of my sight again.”

Xena growled softly at the possessive tone and tightened her grip around Gabrielle’s waist. Looking over at Sasha, she groaned at the wistful expression on the woman’s face. That would be the hopeless romantic in her friend coming out in force.

“Xena, why didn’t you tell me all this before? I just assumed you hadn’t met anyone or that you didn’t want to meet someone. No wonder you turned down all my attempts at blind dates since we met. You were waiting for your true love to find you. That’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” Sasha sighed.

“Actually, I thought Gabrielle was dead all these years,” Xena corrected. She kissed the back of Gabrielle’s neck. “I guess you could say I was in a permanent state of mourning.”

“Oh my. I think I’m going to cry. So she showed up out of the blue five days ago. I knew something was up when she showed up looking for you. And now I know why you made such a stink about taking time off! I would say the world be damned too if my only love came back from the dead!” Sasha said firmly.

Xena chuckled. “Unfortunately, the rest of the world won’t wait. Or at least not Stafford. We need to shake him up, get that hit taken care of or our lives are going to be a bit too unpredictable for comfort.”

Sasha’s face darkened as she remembered the reason for them showing up in the first place. “That’s true. Look, I’m swamped but you know anything I can do to help I will make time for. Especially now. I gotta go, it was great to meet you, Gabrielle, thanks for being such a good sport about all this.”

Gabrielle took her hand and answered, “It was my pleasure, believe me. I haven’t had this much fun in ages.”

“Well, you’ll have even more fun tomorrow at the cookout,” Sasha promised. “I’ll see you guys later.”

Gabrielle’s stomach rumbled as Sasha walked away and she leaned back in Xena’s arms. “Feed me before I collapse, woman!”

“Yes, I must feed my bard,” Xena agreed. She tried to stand up but found Gabrielle wasn’t moving. The wide-eyed, teary look from Gabrielle stopped her heart. “What?” she whispered.

“Say that again,” Gabrielle whispered back.

“My bard. Mine. Forever,” Xena said fiercely, knowing exactly what she referred to and hugging her tight.

“Forever,” Gabrielle whispered. “Yours.”

Sapphire and emerald eyes remained locked together, both women aching to plunder each other’s mouth but knowing that in public it just wasn’t acceptable. Especially not with the laws of the land and them being in a police station on top of that. “Let’s go,” Xena whispered.

Gabrielle nodded wordlessly and hopped off her lap. First they went to the ladies room to clean up. More laughter there as they took turns washing each other’s faces and pulling off the foam string from their clothes. Once again looking respectable, they headed for the car. The walk outside was uneventful though there was the occasional wolf whistle and teasing remark from people they passed. Xena took the ribbing with good grace. She froze out the ones giving them disapproving looks with a glare of her own that dared them to say something. Of which there were more than Xena had expected but she shrugged it off.

“So, where are we off to?” Gabrielle asked once again ensconced within the car.

“There’s a great diner just outside of town that I know you will love,” Xena promised starting up the car. Maneuvering into rush hour traffic was a bit more difficult as the streets were clogged with morning traffic. The ride was stop and go the whole way out of the downtown nightmare but once they hit Route 93 North, it was smooth sailing. Traffic lightened up considerably just a few miles outside of Boston and Xena pressed her foot to the gas, speeding by at 74 mph.

“Are we in a hurry?” Gabrielle asked with amusement.

“Mustn’t keep my bard hungry longer than absolutely necessary,” Xena teased.

Gabrielle rested her head back against the seat with a sigh and took Xena’s hand. “Any excuse for you to speed, right? I just knew you were going to be a lead-foot.”

Chuckling softly, Xena answered, “Absolutely. Did you know I toured a bit as a race care driver in the seventies? Never went far but it was a great experience. I can drive anything with an engine.”

“I wish I’d been there to see it,” Gabrielle said wistfully.

“So do I,” Xena said regretfully. If only she had talked out her fears to Gabrielle before leaving. All this wasted time would never have happened.

“Stop blaming yourself, warrior,” Gabrielle admonished gently. “You did what you thought was best for me.”

“And I was wrong, as usual,” Xena said, mouth twisting in quiet bitterness.

“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself,” Gabrielle said, sitting forward and leaning towards her. “I do wish you’d talked to me before you’d left. The years apart were hard ones for me, I won’t lie to you. I think, I think though, that they were necessary; at least the first couple of hundred. I had a lot of learning to do about my powers and how to live with them. If you’d been with me, I might have put it off indefinitely.”

Xena kept her gaze on the gray patch of road ahead, not yet willing to relinquish her guilt and responsibility for causing Gabrielle yet more pain. The sun beat down mercilessly, the august heat trying to soak through the air conditioned car without success. She pulled off the highway as the exit came up then was able to remain quiet, dealing with leftover morning traffic. Gabrielle’s hand on her leg was a constant reminder, a connection to the love that had always saved her.

Finally, Xena pulled into a parking lot and stopping in the back under the shade of tall oaks.

“Look at me, Xena,” Gabrielle commanded.

Unable not to comply, Xena turned so that they faced one another.

“I love you. Nothing that has happened in the last two thousand years has changed that. Nothing ever will change that. Whatever bloody foolish mistakes you’ve made since last we met, the last mistake you made when we were together, all of it is in the past. I want our future together to start now free of guilt or regrets.”

The clarity in Gabrielle’s eyes and voice wrapped around Xena’s heart and soul. She jerked off the seatbelt and flung herself into Gabrielle’s arms. Their lips met, pressing against each other fiercely. Hands roamed free over each other’s body, rubbing over smooth skin, under shirts and pulling each other closer. Gabrielle’s stomach rumbled angrily, interrupting them and sending them into more fits of laughter.

“Okay, okay, I get the message!” Xena exclaimed. She placed a kiss on Gabrielle’s nose then got out of the car and rushed across to open the door for Gabrielle.

They walked arm in arm to the small restaurant that occupied a modest spot in the strip mall. The inside was clean but small with only twelve tables and a counter with stools. There were two waitresses and Gabrielle could see at least two cooks working behind a wall with an open window cut into it. There were only a half dozen patrons in the whole place and both waitresses gave Xena happy grins. One motioned her to sit wherever she wanted and Gabrielle was led to a booth in the back of the diner.

“Welcome to Sarah’s Place,” Xena said, sitting with her back to the wall.

Gabrielle grinned. Some things just never changed. Even though it was highly unlikely there would be trouble in this little restaurant, Xena sat with her back to the wall and in the booth with the best vantage point.

“What? What are you grinning at, bard?” Xena demanded.

Gabrielle shook her head. “Nothing. I just missed you is all.”

Xena took her hand, resting them on the table and they stared at each other until an amused throat clearing sounded nearby. Gabrielle looked over to see one of the waitresses, a petite, dark-haired woman in her mid twenties, staring at them with a grin. She was pretty and quick, gray eyes not missing a thing and Gabrielle couldn’t help but grin back. “Hi there.”

“Hello yourself,” the waitress greeted. “Xena, you’ve been holding back on me, girl! Wherever did you pick up this lucious little gem?”

Gabrielle couldn’t believe it but she actually blushed at the woman’s obvious assessment and question. Her eyes flashed to see how Xena would react but her lover was leaning back lazily against the booth keeping ahold of Gabrielle’s hand. ‘Good friends indeed,’ Gabrielle thought. ‘Xena’s never that relaxed unless she knows someone well.’

“Janis, this is my partner Gabrielle Amphilpolos,” Xena introduced. “Gabrielle, this is Janis, the most fabulous waitress and burgeoning restaurateur you could ever hope to meet.”

Gabrielle was taken aback at the happy shriek from Janis who promptly enfolded her into a hug.

“Oh my God!” Janis exclaimed, sitting beside Gabrielle who moved over to make room. “I can’t believe it’s you! Xena, you told me she was dead!”

Gabrielle’s eyebrows wanted to arch off her face as she looked at Xena. Xena shrugged and Gabrielle grinned at her typical lack of explanation.

“I thought she was. She reappeared five days ago,” Xena said.

Janis sighed and exclaimed, “How romantic! I just can’t believe it! Girl, you lead the most interesting life of anyone I know! This calls for a celebration so breakfast is on me! Nope! I won’t hear about it!”

“I don’t know Jan, Gabrielle can put away an awful lot of food and she’s really hungry,” Xena warned, still grinning at Janis’ reaction.

“Xena!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

“Shame on you, teasing her like that!” Janis exclaimed. She stood and said, “I’ll just bring out two of everything, how’s that? Oh, you’re not a vegetarian, are you?”

Xena looked at her with interest obviously wondering how Gabrielle was going to answer the question and Gabrielle shook her head emphatically. “No, I definitely like meat.”

Janis gave another shriek, this time of laughter and Gabrielle suddenly realized how her statement sounded. Gabrielle joined in the laughter and watched as the woman retreated to the kitchen, bellowing orders out as she went. Still chuckling, Gabrielle returned her attention to Xena and asked, “Where on earth did you find her? I just love her!”

“I thought you would,” Xena said. “I wasn’t doing so well a few years back and met Janis at a bar. I’d lost a case I’d been working on for months because the bastard walked on a technicality. I was missing you terribly and just wanted some company. So I went prowling though I didn’t know where it would lead me. I ended up in this little bar that played too-loud music and served way too much alcohol. Jan was working the bar. I sat there with a drink in front of me, watching it like you do, you know, and started crying, remembering you all too clearly that night.

“Jan knew I hadn’t been drinking yet since she was the one who’d served me and brought me upstairs. She listened to me talk and cry for hours. I think she saved my life that night because I really was desperate,” Xena said softly. Her eyes darkened, remembering that horrible night with intensity. “I think she sensed that and didn’t let me leave until I was smiling. Of course that took until seven the next morning but she didn’t care. We’ve been best friends ever since.”

Tears welled up but Gabrielle refused to let them fall. Xena had to have been desperate if she’d cried in front of a complete stranger. Although looking at Janis as she swayed impudently back towards them, Gabrielle realized that the young woman reminded her a lot of Tara. Maybe that had helped Xena to open up when she’d needed to. She glanced back at Xena and tightened her grip on Xena’s hand. “I wish I’d found you years ago.”

“So do I,” Xena whispered, struggling with emotion.

“Okay ladies, here we go to start. Pancakes, bacon, sausage, toast, orange juice, tomato juice and black coffee for our fair warrior here,” Janis exclaimed setting down each item as she spoke.

“Warrior?” Gabrielle teased.

“Oh yes, she told me all about her warrior days with you back in Greece and other exotic lands,” Janis said, rolling her eyes. “Do you know how many Gabrielle stories I’ve listened to since knowing oh-tall-one over here? She told me you were a writer but I think she’s the one who ought to be published.”

Gabrielle laughed and began eating, her stomach demanding the meat first. It had been four nights since she’d fed on Xena and that had only been a very light drink. Fortunately, as old as she was, Gabrielle didn’t need to feed every day or even every other day. “Do you have any steak?” she asked hopefully. “Rare?”

“Medium rare’s the best I can do,” Janis offered. “Regulations and all.”

“That’s fine,” Gabrielle assured her. Janis walked away and she said, “She’s great.”

Xena nodded. “So are you.”

“Ooh, flattery will get you everywhere you want to go, warrior,” Gabrielle purred, leaning over the table. Xena met her halfway and the kisses were deep. Pulling back reluctantly, Gabrielle whispered, “If I don’t eat this, I’m going to eat you. Oh no, don’t you give me that look! That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

Xena’s belly laugh was contagious and Gabrielle barely restrained the mouthful of sausage from flying across the table. Although it would serve Xena right for making her laugh in the first place. Breakfast passed far too quickly, especially when Janis sat down to join them. Conversation was laced with innuendo, quick wit and laughter and before they knew it, the eleven o’clock hour struck and Janis was off shift.

“What are you ladies doing today?” Janis asked, taking off her blue apron.

Gabrielle looked at Xena who answered, “I’ve got some work to do, unfortunately, but after that I don’t know. Why?”

“Carolyn’s having a bash and ordered me to bring you,” Janis answered. They walked to the door, Janis between the two with her arms linked through both. She stopped in front of a beat up Oldsmobile and fished out keys from her huge purse.

Xena grinned. “Oh, absolutely. Assuming we make it out of the apartment once we get home, we will head directly over to Carolyn’s.”

“Tease. Have a great day, you two,” Janis said getting into her car with a wave.

Gabrielle waved back feeling as though she’d been hit by a hurricane. Janis’ personality was forceful and yet soothing at the same time, leaving her a bit bewildered. Fingers intertwining, she and Xena walked the remainder of the way to the car. She pulled Xena’s arm around her shoulder and said, “So you’re heading back to the precinct?”

Xena nodded, eyes clouding over thoughtfully as she leaned against the car, pulling Gabrielle against her. “I need to find out if the Captain got any more info from that guy. If he hasn’t then I need to go back to Stafford and somehow make him see reason. Or at least my version of it,” she finished dryly.

“Well, since you’re going to be busy, I should clean up a few loose ends of my own,” Gabrielle said, arms around Xena’s waist.

“Do you realize we haven’t once talked about what you do for a living, Ms. Amphilpolos?” Xena asked pointedly.

“Oh I pull down a seven figure salary as a highly respected security consultant,” Gabrielle answered airly.

Xena gaped. “Excuse me?”

Laughing, Gabrielle said, “You’re in the wrong business, warrior. It is possible to help people and make a decent living you know.”

Xena scowled playfully. “Figures. I’ve been doing things backwards again.”

Not fooled in the least, Gabrielle nipped Xena’s chin playfully and said, “Yeah right. I know how much you love the hunt. C’mon, warrior mine, let’s go.”

********

After being dropped back at the apartment to change, Gabrielle called a cab and went downtown. She had always loved Boston. Thought fondly of their strange roads as over-grown cow-paths with their completely illogical layout. If you missed the street you were looking for, you could end up lost for hours on all one-way streets. Depending which route you took, you could be on a road that said North or South and actually be travelling east and west. The Boston drivers were another matter altogether. You took your life in your hands trying to cross the street on foot and people routinely used their car fenders to nudge other cars out of the way in the heated battle for off-street parking.

Still, she loved the incredible public gardens, Boston Common, Newbury Street and Downtown Crossing. Especially in the summer when carts were filled with colorful baubles and clothing, displaying wares almost like an old fashioned market. For the most part, people were friendly and she only rarely experienced any rudeness. She also loved the sarcastic wit she always overheard between friends and coworkers. Gabrielle had decided that it was a local phenomenon, retained by Massachusetts in all its vibrant charm.

Striding into one of the impressive downtown buildings in the business district, Gabrielle was immediately greeted with surprise by the reception desk.

“Ms. Amphilpolos?” the young woman asked incredulously.

Not that Gabrielle could blame her. Always before, Gabrielle was immaculately dressed with nary a hair out of place. She had showered at Xena’s to get rid of the last of the stickiness from the mornings foam spray battle but that was about it. Gabrielle was dressed in khaki shorts and a black t-shirt that sported a “Wicked Pissa” phrase that most people outside of Boston found hilarious, and her hair was barely styled in any way, shape or form.

“Hello Christine,” Gabrielle greeted. “Any messages?”

“No, ma’am,” Christine answered. “Everyone wanted to leave you a voice mail.”

“Thank you, Christine,” Gabrielle said, walking past her into the plush office beyond. Sure enough, the light on her phone was blinking furiously, demanding attention. Turning on the computer, she found almost a hundred emails from clients and employees all over the world. Warrior Securities was a multi-million dollar business that catered to the rich and famous no matter their location.

Sitting at her desk, Gabrielle absently opened her emails and began reading. Her mind wandered, though, and soon she was just sitting in her chair, thinking about when she had started the business. It had been in the early eighties and she’d had to fight tooth and nail to get it into the prominent position it now held. She’d been determined, mainly, to use it to find Xena.

Gabrielle had gone home for a bittersweet trip down memory lane in the spring of 1979. While attending the theatre, someone had called out her name from down the hall. Unable to think of who might know her in Greece, Gabrielle had turned and found the world spinning as she looked up into Hercules’ eyes. He had been equally as stunned to find her alive and they had talked the rest of the night.

Hercules had told her that Xena was alive, that Xena was Ares’ daughter. He had told her about the anguish that Xena had put herself through after finding out Gabrielle was dead. He talked about Iolus and how even after so long, his heart ached at the loss. It had been a night of tenderness and connection that Gabrielle hadn’t felt in too many centuries.

They had exchanged ways of getting in touch with each other and parted. Gabrielle had made him swear not to tell Xena that she was alive if Hercules found her before Gabrielle did. She was bound and determined to find the warrior princess and reunite with her. Hercules had promised to contact her the second if and when he caught up to Xena. He’d also promised not to tell Xena about her though Gabrielle knew it had been a hard promise for him to give.

The phone rang, bringing Gabrielle out of her memories and she answered it absently.

“Ms. Amphilpolos? There’s a gentleman here to see you,” Christine announced.

Breaking the rest of the way out of her reverie, Gabrielle pressed the button and answered, “Is it a client?”

“Not a current one, no. He said it was important, though. Said to mention someone named Xena?”

Gabrielle’s heart beat fast as she considered the possibilities.

“Ms. Amphilpolos?”

“Have him wait a couple of minutes then send him in,” Gabrielle said, hanging up. She took out the pressure baton hidden in the bottom of her drawer and rested it in the chair beside her thigh. Then she activated the security cameras to record the entire conversation and potential problem. The doors opened and a young man walked in. He was well dressed, walked with confidence and Gabrielle was positive she didn’t know him. She stayed seated while motioning him to sit.

“Is there something I can do for you?” she asked.

“You’re Xena’s bitch,” he said without preamble.

“Your point?” she asked, mildly amused.

“The point is that if you want the contract to go away, you’re going to have to fork over a lot of money.”

Gabrielle laughed disconcerting the young man who frowned uncertainly. “Listen to me, little boy,” she hissed, vaulting over the desk in one fluid motion. She let her lust to feed come out, her eyes were glowing a disturbing yellow, rimmed in red. Her gaze held him much as a deer in headlights. Grinning so that her elongated eyeteeth, her fangs, showed clearly, she continued, “If you have any desire to live, you will do exactly as I say. I want you to go back to Stafford and tell him that if any harm comes to my woman, he will pay for it in ways that neither of you can imagine.

“Oh, and just to convince you of my sincerity…” Gabrielle grabbed the young man’s jacket in both hands and yanked him to her, biting into his neck and sucking out his strong blood. It was hot and salty, ambrosia to her hungry body. She enjoyed eating but blood was the essence of what sustained her. Tearing at the skin so that it wouldn’t heal right away, she released him with a shove that sent him flying into the wall. Gabrielle licked her lips and teeth, feeling warm and full.

Terrified now, the man ran out the door and didn’t look back. Gabrielle laughed, enjoying herself immensely.

********

“Any luck?” Xena asked walking into the captain’s office.

Rockland glared at her and said, “I don’t know what you did to him, Ares, but he was singing everything but the national anthem. He gave up Stafford, the contact man, the money, everything. All with a lawyer present, too.”

Xena grinned. “That’s great but it doesn’t get rid of the contract. Not until Stafford cancels it.”

“True enough,” Rockland agreed. “What’s your next move?”

Xena sat back in the chair and thought about it for a minute. “I think I should pay Stafford a visit.”

Rockland looked suspicious. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”

“What else am I going to do? I can’t keep dodging would-be assassins. Especially not with Gabrielle back in my life,” Xena pointed out.

“No, no you can’t. Just make sure we don’t get another suit slapped on the department from your visit,” Rockland said dryly. “I think we’re still paying for the last one.”

“I’m just going to talk to him,” Xena said innocently.

“Yeah right.”

Xena left the office and then the precinct altogether as Stafford had been transferred to a maximum-security prison. The drive over was uneventful. She signed in, deposited her weapon and followed the guard to the visiting station. She sat in front of the double paned, bulletproof glass and waited for Stafford to show up. It was about five minutes later that he did and his eyes narrowed upon identifying her.

Xena smiled and picked up the phone used to communicate with the prisoners. After a moment, Stafford sat down and picked up his phone. “Why good afternoon, Jeremy. I can still call you Jeremy, can’t I?”

“Bitch,” Stafford spat.

Xena laughed. “Now now, where are those manners you prize so highly? I’ll get to the point, Stafford. Your assassin was so inept I didn’t even break a sweat to stop him. Do yourself a favor and save your money on trying to get me killed. It just isn’t going to work.”

A sneer crossed the handsome face and Stafford answered, “I might not be able to get you but what about your dyke girlfriend?”

Stafford was obviously shaken by Xena’s laugh.

“Stafford, I’m telling you right now that you’re even less likely to get her than you are me. Let me promise you something,” she continued, voice turning menacing, eyes showing that she had, and would again, deliver death. “Give up the contract or your life won’t be worth that chair you’re sitting in.”

Xena held his eyes with hers then slammed her hand into the glass between them with such force that cracks split out from the center of the blow. Stafford jumped back, pale and shaken. Xena held her hands up to the guard and waved him back, assuring him that everything was all right. Stafford swallowed heavily and stayed where he was until she motioned for him to pick up the phone.

“We’re clear,” Xena stated, voice low.

Stafford licked his lips and nodded. “Contract is null and void.”

“Good. Make sure it stays that way and remember what I said.” Xena hung up the phone and left the visitors room. Gabrielle was right, she loved the hunt far too much to ever give this up. She picked up her weapon and headed back to the car, whistling as she went. It was one less thing that she had to worry about. Maybe now she and Gabrielle could have some quality time and go off on a little vacation somewhere. A trip back to Greece?

She drove automatically back towards the precinct, weaving in and out of traffic with barely a thought. By the time she returned to her desk, Xena found more than half the department gone and was glad of the privacy. It had been too long since she’d had the place to herself, especially on a regular workday. Being a summer Friday had a lot to do with the missing detectives, Xena suspected.

After only fifteen minutes, Xena heard footsteps and looked up to see Will walking towards her purposefully. Repressing a sigh, Xena leaned back in her chair and waited. Will stopped to the side of her desk and glared at her.

“Yeah?” Xena said.

“You threatened Stafford,” Will stated.

Looking around at the few people who were in the office, Xena stood and said, “Let’s talk privately.”

They went into the conference room across the hall and Xena shut the door. While there were large windows, at least no one would be able to hear them. Unless of course, things got loud. “What do you care if I threatened Stafford?”

“You don’t go around threatening people that you’re tying to put into jail for life!” Will exclaimed.

“You do if they’re trying to kill you,” Xena exclaimed, just as heatedly. “What did you want me to do, wait for someone to finish the job? Like actually being convicted would have stopped Stafford from trying to kill me or Gabrielle?”

“You never acted like this before she showed up,” Will spat.

Xena’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Leave her out of this.”

“I won’t. I don’t know what she’s got over you, Xena, but she isn’t worth breaking the law! No one is let alone some woman you haven’t seen in over a decade that’s probably after your inheritance!”

If he had left it at that, Xena would’ve just walked away. But a split second later, he muttered a nasty phrase and without thinking, Xena’s fist connected with his jaw. Will was thrown across the room and into the wall, then crumbled unconscious to the floor. Xena stared at him a long moment then, before her hot blood demanded more punishment for him, she walked out of the conference room. Several people moved hastily aside to give her room having witnessed the knockout through the window.

Xena shook her fist out as she walked down the hall, knuckles bruised from the force of the blow. It had been awhile since she’d done any fist fighting. She heard someone calling her name but kept walking until that someone actually caught up to her and grabbed her arm. Xena spun around, yanking her arm out of the grasp and snarling, “What!”

A young woman backed up a few steps, swallowing in fright.

Taking a deep breath, Xena apologized, “I’m sorry. What can I do for you?”

Still hesitant, the woman said, “M-my name is Jenny White, I’m with the D. A.’s office. We’ve been trying to reach you all day, Det. Ares. We need for you to come by on Monday to prepare for the arraignment against Mr. Stafford which has been scheduled for Wednesday next week.”

Teeth grinding in aggravation, Xena nodded and replied, “Fine. What time?”

“Eleven o’clock if that’s all right?”

“It’s fine. Thank you. And again, I’m sorry about blowing up at you like that,” Xena repeated.

“Sure.”

Xena watched her walk quickly down the hall and sighed. So much for getting away to Greece for a brief vacation.
Part 3
“Did things go all right with Stafford?” Gabrielle asked as Xena walked into the apartment. Sprawled in the overstuffed leather chair, Gabrielle had been staring at the laptop computer humming quietly on the glass coffee table. After the encounter at the office, she’d found it impossible to concentrate and returned to the apartment. On the way back, she’d stopped at the hotel to get her things and check out. Upon reaching the apartment, she’d put away her clothes then opened up her laptop to work. She couldn’t really concentrate and ended up staring at the screen instead of working.

Xena’s smirk reassured her, banishing the tension left in her shoulders.

“Glad to hear it,” she commented as Xena knelt in front of her, leaning against Gabrielle’s legs. Gabrielle stroked the soft dark hair with both hands then began rubbing shoulders much more tense than her own. “What’s wrong?”

“I just wish we didn’t have to deal with all this crap,” Xena said, rolling her head forward.

Gabrielle waited, her fingers moving obligingly to Xena’s neck.

“I have to see the D.A. Monday to prepare for Stafford’s arraignment,” Xena sighed. “I really wish Will hadn’t put me down as the officer on record. I’d have been called to testify but I wouldn’t be a major witness. At least I don’t think so. I’m not privy to the D.A.’s strategy so who knows. I am, however, going to put in for two weeks once the trial is over and done with. Then we are going away somewhere private.”

Gabrielle could tell that wasn’t the whole story. “What else?”

Xena looked up at her and smiled. “I never could pull one over you, could I?”

One of Gabrielle’s hands moved from Xena’s neck to her cheek. “Nope. Never could.”

“It’s Will. After I took care of Stafford I went back to the office and we met up. He started lecturing me about threatening witnesses and taking chances. Then he made a comment about you and…I punched him,” Xena finished reluctantly.

Gabrielle groaned softly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, so am I because we’re going to have to work together in the future,” Xena said. “I’m lucky I don’t get reported for hitting him.”

“See, now, if you came to work for me, you wouldn’t have this problem,” Gabrielle teased, planting a kiss on top of Xena’s head.

“Yeah, yeah,” Xena grumbled. She turned around and planted her own kiss on Gabrielle’s lips. Playful turned passionate as Gabrielle opened her mouth to suck in Xena’s tongue. Groaning, Xena reluctantly pulled away and said, “We have somewhere to go tonight, remember?”

“Hm? Where?” Gabrielle asked, eyeing Xena’s mouth possessively.

Xena got to her feet, pulling Gabrielle up with her. Wrapping her arms around the small waist, she reminded, “Carolyn’s party. It starts in about an hour. I know that by now Janis has spread the word that I’m officially off the market and everyone will be expecting me to make an appearance with you.”

Gabrielle laughed, resting her head on Xena’s shoulder and slipping her arms around Xena’s waist. “You make appearances?”

“I try not to but Janis drags me to parties whenever I don’t have the willpower to resist,” Xena answered, enjoying holding Gabrielle in her arms. “And don’t forget about the cook-out tomorrow. That should be fun.”

Laughing outright at Xena’s dry tone, Gabrielle pulled back enough to look up into Xena’s eyes. “It sounded to me as though you’re going to deserve whatever those people dish up for you as punishment.”

“Oh please,” Xena muttered.

They stood together then, as one, began moving slowly, dancing to music only they could hear. After several quiet minutes, Xena said, “We really should get ready for the party.”

“You did mention to Janis that we’d only show up if we left the apartment,” Gabrielle pointed out wickedly, pressing a kiss to the exposed skin of Xena’s throat. She nibbled her lover, teasing. “We haven’t left it yet.”

“Gabrielle, don’t do that,” Xena warned.

“Or you’ll what?” Gabrielle asked, tracing her tongue along the collarbone.

“I’ll think of something,” Xena muttered. Breaking away firmly, she continued, “Get your cute butt in the shower now while I figure out what to wear.”

“Oh, I like that. You’re getting descriptive in your old age,” Gabrielle teased. She ducked the lazy swat Xena aimed for the back side of her head and chuckled on the way to the shower.

Xena walked to the dresser, which was set on the far side of the room, and rummaged through it for almost ten minutes before giving up. She knew that Carolyn didn’t care what women wore to her parties and, in the past, neither had Xena. Usually outfits ranged from jeans, boots and t-shirts to slinky dresses depending on the woman. Xena had dressed in the middle of the spectrum with slacks and nice shirt but tonight she chaffed at her wardrobe.

It didn’t help that she had seen the incredible dress that Gabrielle was likely to wear: a short, cream dress made of silk that would show off her body to perfection. She must have got her things while Xena was finishing up at the precinct this afternoon because they’d certainly not spent a second apart until today. She finally settled on tight black pants and a shimmery black camisole top. She heard the shower shut off while laying the outfit on the bed, which really did need to be changed, she mused silently.

“Nice,” Gabrielle approved coming out of the bathroom buck-naked to stand beside her.

Xena swallowed heavily against the pulse that came roaring awake at the sight. Inhaling the fresh, clean scent of Gabrielle with pleasure, she cleared her throat and said, “What are you wearing?”

“Oh, I thought I’d wear the cream dress. Is that too fancy?” Gabrielle asked, completely aware of her effect and enjoying it immensely.

“No, nope, that should be fine. We’ll look good together,” Xena said.

“We always do,” Gabrielle agreed, trailing fingers down Xena’s arm. “Sure I can’t get you to change your mind about going out?”

Xena closed her eyes and prayed for strength. “I’m going to take my shower now.”

“Spoilsport!” Gabrielle called after her rapidly retreating figure.

Xena tore off her clothes and threw the shower on, leaving it cold, and stepped into the icy stream of water. Shouting with the impact of the cold jet, Xena was nonetheless grateful for the distraction. Not that it would save her later because she knew Gabrielle was determined to have her way when they got home from the party. She knew that look in those mischievous green eyes all too well. Of course, there was nothing saying that they had to stay long. It was almost seven now, by the time they got to Carolyn’s it would be at least eight. They could stay for an hour to be polite and then leave.

Xena made the water warmer and washed her hair, which would take the longest to dry. Thank goodness for the invention of the hair dryer! No matter how often she’d fought with herself to cut it; it would be easier to manage, take much less time, not get in the way, she just couldn’t do it. Now she was glad that she hadn’t because she knew Gabrielle loved her hair.

Stepping out of the shower, Xena dried off quickly and wrapped her hair tightly in a towel. Wrapping herself in a warm fluffy towel, Xena left the bathroom and stopped short, eyes drinking in the sight before her. Curled up on the overstuffed chair, already dressed and set to go, Gabrielle appeared to be sleeping. Short wisps of red hair gently framed her face and a delicate gold chain and pendant rested against curving breasts.

Crossing the distance silently, Xena knelt in front of Gabrielle and her eyes pricked with tears upon discerning that the pendant was a miniature quill crossing over a sword, set in a chakram. Gabrielle must have designed it personally. She brushed her fingertips across Gabrielle’s forehead, moving aside some stray bangs. “I love you, bard.”

“I love you, warrior princess,” Gabrielle answered, green eyes opening to lock with blue.

They stared at each other for a timeless moment then Xena said, “I should get dressed.”

Gabrielle nodded. “You should.”

Neither moved, continuing to gaze into each other’s eyes instead. They might have stayed that way indefinitely had the phone not rung. Shaking her head to clear it, Xena stood and walked over to the phone.

“Hello?”

“Ares?” It was Captain Rockland.

“Yeah Captain?” Xena asked. She made a face at Gabrielle who grinned, sitting up. “What’s up?”

“Stafford is dead,” Rockland informed her bluntly.

Pausing a second, Xena said, “And this should upset me because…?”

“Funny. They found him stabbed in the heart.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

“That’s not the best part,” Rockland warned her.

“I’m not going to like this, am I?” Xena said flatly.

“I.A. wants to run an investigation with you as the focus. Did you threaten Stafford?” Rockland asked.

Xena groaned, knowing that her hand almost breaking through the visitor’s glass was on video. “We came to an understanding.”

“Which was?”

Already thinking with the paranoia that had saved many lives, Xena answered, “You don’t want to know. When is this supposed to start?”

“Monday, bright and early,” Rockland said. “You’ve got an interview with Dickenson at 9am sharp.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Xena promised sourly.

“I bet. Hey, you and Gabrielle are coming tomorrow, right? Ruth is just dying to meet her,” Rockland said, changing the subject.

Xena chuckled. “I don’t think Gabrielle would let me get out of it even if I begged.”

“Great! See you at one,” Rockland said before hanging up.

“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked, voice low with concern. She had walked over at the first sign that the phone call was trouble.

“Stafford’s dead. Someone stabbed him today and I.A. thinks I had a hand in it,” Xena reported.

Gabrielle laughed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh but weren’t you in the precinct all afternoon? Doesn’t that count as an alibi? Not to mention that he was inside prison walls?”

Shaking her head ruefully, Xena said, “Doesn’t mean I couldn’t have arranged it. And if whoever killed Stafford wants me out of the way, what better way to do it than sending me to prison for murder?”

Looking thoughtful, Gabrielle said, “I suppose so. What are you going to do?”

“Tonight we dance and party. Tomorrow I get my ass handed to me in volleyball at the cookout. Sunday we laze around doing whatever. Monday I go for an interview with Dickenson in I.A. and after that, who knows?” Xena answered flippantly. “And now I really am going to get dressed.”

“Brat!” Gabrielle exclaimed watching her move away with a grin.

“Always,” Xena replied.

It didn’t take her long to get ready and within a half-hour they were leaving the apartment. While a little after eight, the sun was still strong and hot as it set. Xena held open the door and Gabrielle scooted into the car. She leaned across to unlock the door while Xena walked around to get in. Xena looked at her then leaned in to brush Gabrielle’s lips softly with her own. “You look beautiful.”

“So do you,” Gabrielle whispered back.

Another long heated look later, Xena shook her head and said, “We’ve got to stop doing that or we’ll never go anywhere!”

Chuckling, Gabrielle leaned back in her seat as Xena started the powerful engine. As Xena pulled into traffic, Gabrielle asked, “Where is this party, anyhow?”

“Arlington. We’ll just cut through the city to Rt. 2 and be there in a jiffy,” Xena answered. She swore at a driver that tried to cut her off and shifted gears.

‘Xena in battle again,’ Gabrielle thought with a grin. It was how she had always looked, minus the insane part, when fighting. Blue eyes completely focused on the other cars and the road, hands moving with certainty on the steering wheel and gearshift.

“What are you thinking about?” Xena asked quietly as they zipped along the four lanes of Rt. 2.

“You,” came the quiet answer.

Xena glanced over and saw Gabrielle staring at her intently. Knowing they’d be on the highway another five minutes at least, Xena took her hand off the gear and captured Gabrielle’s hand. “I’ve missed that.”

“What?”

“Having someone think about me the way you do,” Xena answered. “You always know what I need and when to worry, even when I don’t.”

“You’re my life,” Gabrielle said simply.

“And you mine,” Xena echoed. She raised the hand to her lips and kissed Gabrielle’s knuckles, one by one. Reluctantly, she released Gabrielle’s hand as she turned off the exit and downshifted. Though Arlington was close to Boston, the housing improved tenfold. Large and well-kept homes replaced the multi-family units and apartment buildings of the immediate suburbs of Cambridge and Somerville.

“This is nice,” Gabrielle said in surprise.

“I thought you’d been to this area before,” Xena questioned.

“I have but I stay in the city for the most part,” Gabrielle replied. “I’ve done the tourist thing, of course but it never covered this area. Mostly maple syrup and Walden Pond.”

“Ah, then I’ve got much to show you,” Xena promised.

The car pulled in front of a large, two-story chateau styled home with a big front yard and women milling about on the lawn, talking and laughing. Already heads were turning as the blue mustang parked on the side of the street. Xena looked at Gabrielle. “You ready to meet the gang?”

Grinning, Gabrielle answered, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

“Figures,” Xena muttered under her breath as she got out of the car. She walked around and opened the door for Gabrielle. She stopped in surprise when Gabrielle took her hand and then refused to move. “What?”

Gabrielle looked up into her eyes and ordered, “Relax. These are your friends, aren’t they?”

Biting her lip, Xena answered, “Most of them. I just want you to like them.”

“If you like them warrior mine, then I will like them. Don’t worry so much,” Gabrielle assured her.

Xena’s breath came out in an explosive sigh. “You’re right, of course. See what I mean about knowing me?”

Gabrielle moved closer, pressing her hips into Xena and purred, “Of course just because I like them doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of your punishment for bringing us here in the first place.”

Xena swallowed heavily, heart skipping faster and drowning into a sea of green and not wanting to come up for air. “Gabrielle,” she whispered.

“Xena,” Gabrielle whispered back, heat surging through her body with unexpected force at the contact. She should have known better than to do that, especially in public. She too swallowed heavily.

A shriek, unmistakably belonging to Janis, rang through the air and they both looked over, reluctantly separating. Hands joined, they met Janis halfway across the yard. The other woman was dressed in tight jeans and a clingy white sweater that accentuated her rather large breasts. Her dark hair was pulled back into a braid and gray eyes were outlined in black, making them large in her pretty face.

“I can’t believe you made it!” Janis exclaimed. “I didn’t think you would. Of course, I can see that you can hardly keep your hands off each other so maybe you should’ve stayed home. I know I would have.”

“See now, I told her that but she just wouldn’t listen. She insisted on dragging me out here to a party with people I don’t know. I thought a cozy little dinner and the night in bed would’ve been a lot more fun. No offense,” Gabrielle finished, giving Xena a cheeky grin.

Xena groaned as Janis laughed in delight. “Now I’ve got two albatrosses.”

“That’s not what you were just saying,” Gabrielle said, leaning against her.

“Yeah, right,” Xena muttered, enjoying the attention.

They walked across the yard and into the house, Janis and Xena waving to various women they passed. Everyone gave Gabrielle interested looks as they passed by. The inside of the house was well lit, music pouring from hidden speakers. Gabrielle looked around in approval at the tasteful decorations, many bookshelves and hardwood floors.

Xena and Janis led her through the front rooms and into the kitchen situated in the back. Gabrielle wasn’t surprised to find many couples dancing and kissing throughout the house as they walked. She thought it one of the strangest things about the 20th century. With all the advances in technology and medicine and all the sciences, that such parochial thinking against gays still existed was just bizarre. Actually, it had been better during their days in Greece because no one really cared who was with whom as people survived the hardships of life.

Shrugging mentally, Gabrielle looked at the small circle of women who had taken over the kitchen and to whom, she assumed, she was about to be introduced. The one at the stove was tall, easily Xena’s height though slender and without the muscles, and had short blond hair. An exotic black woman with wide eyes and shaved head sat on the countertop beside the stove, handing ingredients to the cook as she asked for them. A third woman lounged in a chair at the table, she was short and plump with light brown hair and pretty brown eyes. The last woman was average height with gray-blue eyes and dark hair.

They all turned to look as Xena and Gabrielle entered with Janis. Simultaneous smiles broke out on all the women’s faces as they took in Gabrielle and nodded approval. The black woman hopped off the counter and strode over, thrusting out a hand to Gabrielle who accepted it immediately. To her surprise, the woman clasped arms with her instead of hands and Gabrielle found herself smiling in her own form of approval.

“I’m Michelle,” she greeted, dark eyes warm. “You’re Gabrielle. It’s great to meet you.”

“You, too,” Gabrielle replied. She liked the gentle, lilting quality of Michelle’s voice though she couldn’t place the accent.

“I’m from England,” Michelle supplied with a knowing grin.

“That’s it,” Gabrielle said. She sat in a chair at the table, Xena standing behind her and the introductions began. The blond woman was Carolyn, a sharp woman with a biting wit but friendliness enough to keep her comments from being insulting. The short woman, Marie, was motherly and kind with a generous sense of humor that kept everyone in stitches. The forth woman was Kita, short for Nikita, and she was quiet for the most part, watching and enjoying silently in everyone else’s fun.

Xena watched as Gabrielle interacted with everyone, her needless worries evaporating right away. Of course Gabrielle fit in without even trying, charming everyone with her ready humor, kind nature and fast-talking. Gabrielle could charm a rattlesnake out of its rattle if she had a mind. Xena stifled a chuckle at the image then noticed her lover’s curious look and shrugged.

They spent most of the night in the kitchen talking, time moving fast in the good company. Xena felt as though she’d returned to the head of the Amazon Nation of so long ago, privy to the highest echelons of power and their discussions. Politics, the scorn of whom was with whom, self-deprecating laughter and earnest interchanges from the heart. Xena could see that Gabrielle was enjoying herself immensely and gave a happy sigh. If only the damned Stafford case went away, her life would be complete.

Gabrielle looked up at her, faint lines of worry creasing her forehead and Xena smiled to reassure her. “Let’s dance,” Xena suggested.

Gabrielle’s face lit up and she stood, taking Xena’s hand. They excused themselves only to find the other women follow them outside to the small, impromptu dance floor where soft music played over the speakers. Long since gone was the wild music to save the ears of neighbors. Women danced together in couples to the slow music and Xena pulled Gabrielle close.

Xena’s hands rested at Gabrielle’s waist while her bard’s arms wrapped around Xena’s neck, her head laying against Xena’s shoulder. Xena rested her cheek against Gabrielle’s soft hair as they swayed in time to the soulful music. It was like being in the Elision Fields for Xena to hold Gabrielle this way, bodies pressed together.

The music turned suggestive with the next song and Xena’s blood began to heat as she took the lead. She moved Gabrielle back and looked into shadowy eyes glinting in the outdoor torches. Gabrielle gave a slight nod and Xena let loose. Moving in time to the slow, sensual music, their bodies undulated and swayed erotically, hips grinding gently, electric shocks running through both.

It didn’t stop with the next song, which was faster than the last though still quiet enough not to disturb the neighbors. Xena and Gabrielle were oblivious to the women who had stopped dancing to watch them in open-mouthed amazement. A few of the braver ones attempted to follow their moves after watching for a few minutes. The sexual charge in the air was palpable.

When the music finally came to an end, Xena and Gabrielle were breathing hard but not from exertion. Gabrielle licked her lips and Xena followed its path with her eyes. Grabbing Xena by the hair, Gabrielle pulled her down and locked their mouths together, tongue plunging into Xena’s wet mouth, sucking on it. Xena’s hands gripped Gabrielle’s firm butt, pulling Gabrielle hard against her.

Wanting more, Xena pulled back and whispered, “We should go home.”

Gabrielle nodded wordlessly, suddenly remembering where they were. She looked around but the other women had discreetly left the back yard. When that had happened, Gabrielle had no idea. They walked inside after somewhat regaining their composure and found their friends back in the kitchen.

“Ever get the feeling that some people don’t even know you exist?” Carolyn observed innocently.

“Nah, not around Xena and Gabrielle,” Michelle quipped with a grin.

“The song, “I Only Have Eyes For You” suddenly has new meaning for me,” Janis agreed, fanning herself with her hand.

“Are you finished?” Xena asked, blushing slightly. She hadn’t ever lost control like that, even when she and Gabrielle had been together in Greece. Well, not in public at least.

“Not by a long shot,” Michelle assured her.

“Well we’re going home now so you can talk go ahead and about us behind our backs all you like,” Xena said, mouth twisting.

“Finally! We’ve been dying for you to leave!” Carolyn exclaimed.

“Yuck it up all you want ladies, payback’s a bitch,” Xena warned.

“Promises, promises,” Janis teased.

Good-byes were said and hugs exchanged. Michelle pulled Xena aside in the hall for a quick second. “I’m happy for you, Xena. You and she obviously belong together,” Michelle said softly. She knew how much Xena hated emotion and restrained the surge trying to break free. She and Xena had become close over the last two years when Michelle had needed someone to talk to about the horror that was her life. It had been Xena to turn Michelle and Carolyn into a couple. Well, she’d started the ball rolling at least.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to find her again and she’s the one to find me,” Xena said with amazement.

“Don’t let her go again.”

“There is nothing on this earth that will separate us,” Xena promised.

Michelle shivered at the deadly vow in those intense blue eyes but nodded agreement. She knew a little of what had happened from various comments Xena had made over the past few years but none of the details. Janis would never betray that confidence and Michelle would never ask her too. “I guess I just wanted to say congratulations on being together again.”

Unexpectedly, Xena smiled. “Thank you, Michelle, that means a lot.”

They hugged and rejoined the group at the front door. Xena saw Gabrielle’s questioning glance and gave her an, “I’ll tell you later,” look. Gabrielle nodded and took her hand. They walked out to the car in silence. After Xena had started the car, Gabrielle sighed and Xena looked over to see her head back and eyes closed.

“Tired love?” Xena asked, backing out of the driveway.

“Happy. They were wonderful, Xena. I wish I could say that I had as good friends as that but to tell you the truth, I don’t really have any friends except for Hercules,” Gabrielle answered.

“When did you meet up with Hercules?” Xena asked in surprise.

“Let’s see, the last time was April in Florida,” Gabrielle recounted. “We rented a beautiful cottage in the Keys and swam and snorkeled and sun-bathed for almost two weeks.”

Xena chuckled. “Hercules likes to sun-bathe, hm? I never would’ve guess it.”

“Please. Why do you think he is always that delicious bronze color? You don’t think that’s the natural pigment of the Gods, do you? It’s a good thing he’s immortal or he’d’ve had skin cancer by now,” Gabrielle exclaimed with a laugh. “Unlike me. I just gaze at the sun and burn a bright red.”

“You’re cute when you’re all jealous like that,” Xena teased.

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

Xena broke into a fit of laughter. “Okay, okay, you’re not cute.”

“Hey!”

Xena caressed Gabrielle’s cheek with the back of her hand and said, “Sorry, love, it’s Carolyn’s bad influence working. I’m always a bit sarcastic after seeing her.”

“I guess,” Gabrielle said. She leaned against the hand then captured it with her own. She brought the hand to her mouth and began sucking on the long, beautiful fingers. A moan from Xena brought up the fire inside her own body and Gabrielle continued to lick and kiss the hand.

“Gabrielle,” Xena whispered in need. The warm mouth surrounding her fingers was driving her slowly insane. “If you don’t want us to have a major accident, you’re going to have to stop.”

Gabrielle gave one more lick to the fingers in her mouth then released them. She heard Xena’s explosive breath and smiled with satisfaction. “That’s what you get for saying I’m not cute.”

“Oh! You little…”

“Uh-uh-uh, watch the road!” Gabrielle interrupted as Xena glanced over at her, outraged.

Xena’s head returned to the road, bringing the car back into the lane instead of in two lanes. “Just remember, Gabrielle, payback’s a bitch.”

“And so am I,” Gabrielle recited with a laugh. How many times had Xena said that over the course of their lives together? She couldn’t even remember. It usually preceded a long bout of lovemaking, dominated, literally, by Xena. Though come to think of it, wasn’t that what Gabrielle had been trying to provoke?

The rest of the ride was spent in comfortable silence but as soon as they entered the apartment, all bets were off. Xena grabbed Gabrielle and shoved her against the wall, hands pulling the dress up and off. Their mouths locked together, sucking and biting as Xena ripped off Gabrielle’s lacy bra then the flimsy underpants. Dropping her own pants almost as quickly, Xena returned to Gabrielle’s mouth as fast as she could.

Her leg thrust between Gabrielle’s, pushing into Gabrielle’s center and catching the other woman hard, forcing a gasp from her. Strong hands surrounded breasts, pulling and pinching and kneading them. Gabrielle moaned with need, sensations overwhelming her as Xena plundered her mouth and body. Throwing one hand around Xena’s neck, she slipped the other into Xena’s underpants and grabbed her, pushing her fingers inside the wetness. Xena gasped at the intrusion and ground her leg harder into Gabrielle.

“Mine,” Xena said fiercely, pushing harder, feeling Gabrielle press down against her leg, riding it hard.

“Yours,” Gabrielle gasped, moving her fingers against Xena’s sex. Her own was throbbing and screaming for release as she pushed down against the rock hard thigh. Her muscles clenched and grasped at the steady thrusting of Xena’s leg against her. Almost unable to think, Gabrielle retained enough of herself to continue the hard and fast motion of her fingers inside Xena. They both screamed, coming intensely at the same time.

Gabrielle hung limply in Xena’s arms, felt Xena pick her up and drop her softly onto the bed. Xena climbed in behind her, spooning against her and holding her tightly. Fingers lightly traced the long lines of Gabrielle, eliciting shivers. Xena’s hand finally came to a stop at Gabrielle’s still-wet sex, cupping it gently. Gabrielle moaned in protest and need.

“Sleep love, there’s plenty of time now that we’re together again,” Xena promised.

Gabrielle cuddled into Xena and fell asleep.

********

“Rise and shine!”

Gabrielle rose reluctantly from the depths of sleep having a sudden flashback to the day Joxer had said that phrase over and over again as the day had repeated itself. Not that she had known it at the time because only Xena had been able to remember the day. “I’ll rise but I refuse to shine,” she grumbled, turning onto her stomach and pulling the pillow over her head.

Apparently her reference didn’t go unnoticed by Xena who straddled her back and pulled the pillow off her. “Oh I think you’re going to have to, bard. The morning is almost over and we’ve got a cookout to attend, remember?”

Gabrielle groaned and stayed where she was. Xena’s hands began massaging her shoulders, almost lulling her back into sleep. “If you want me up, this isn’t the way to do it,” she commented at last.

“No, but I think this is,” Xena murmured. She got off Gabrielle and lay beside her, dragging Gabrielle on top of her. “It’s time for you to eat properly.”

Gabrielle looked at the enticing throat laid bare for her and her fangs moved automatically forward. No matter how trusting Xena was, Gabrielle could not let herself feed on her lover. “I don’t need to eat.”

Xena looked at her closely. “I can see your eyes glowing, bard, you need to feed.”

Gabrielle breathed shakily, feeling the blood coursing through Xena, her heart pumping the magical fuel throughout her incredible body. “I fed a little yesterday, I can wait until I find someone else.”

“When did you feed?” Xena demanded. “On who?”

Realizing that she’d completely forgotten to tell Xena about her visitor, Gabrielle proceeded to do just that. Xena looked at her, obviously annoyed, then rolled out from under Gabrielle.

“What? What did I say?” Gabrielle asked in confusion.

Xena stalked to the other side of the room then paced like a trapped panther. “It’s stupid, I know. Absolutely unfounded and ridiculous.”

Gabrielle moved to her knees and faced her lover. “What is wrong?”

Xena stopped in front of her and her voice was plaintive. “I wanted to be the one to feed you.”

Gabrielle’s mouth dropped open in surprise at the unexpected answer. “Oh, Xena, that is…very sweet of you. But sweetheart, if I truly fed on you, I don’t think that you would survive more than a couple of months, even immortal as you are,” Gabrielle said, getting off the bed and taking Xena’s hands. Xena growled and wouldn’t look her in the eyes. “Xena, listen to me carefully. I’m an old bacchai. While it’s true that I don’t need to feed as often of the younger children, when I do feed I can drain someone in less than a minute. Especially if I’m hungry.”

Xena looked at her, clearly disconcerted as she soaked in the new information. “I see.”

Grinning, Gabrielle said, “How about I use you as a light snack every so often? Would that help?”

Shaking her head at her own bizarre request, Xena chuckled. “Strangely enough, yes it would.”

“Good. Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s get ready. I can’t wait to see you get your butt whipped at volleyball,” Gabrielle teased.

********

Having already gone through a form of initiation at the precinct, neither Xena nor Gabrielle were very nervous as Xena stopped in front of a three level multifamily. Xena parallel parked expertly on the street leaving barely two inches both in front and back of the car. Gabrielle looked at the car and whistled. “Damn, warrior but you’re good!”

Xena laughed. “I have many skills.”

Gabrielle groaned then laughed, linking arms with Xena as they walked across the street. They walked up the short path to the stairs and knocked on the door. It opened and they had to look down to see the young girl who had opened it. “Hi there, Casey, how are you?” Xena asked, picking up the seven-year-old and throwing her into the air.

Casey shrieked with laughter then ran off when Xena put her gently back on the ground.

“Ares! ‘Bout time you showed up!” Rockland roared from across the room.

“Josh, behave!” a woman’s voice scolded from another room.

Gabrielle smiled at the captain as they shook hands. “It’s good to see you again, Captain Rockland.”

“Call me Josh,” he corrected. “Ares, you better go help your teammates before they completely get the asses clobbered. Well, not that you’re much help. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Gabrielle here.”

Xena eyed them both suspiciously and answered, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Gabrielle gave her a push in what she assumed to be the right direction and watched her lover disappear down the hall with a grin.

An older woman, about Rockland’s age with light brown hair and beaming hazel eyes passed Xena in the hall on her way into the living room. “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Josh?”

“Gabrielle, this is my incredible wife Ruth,” Rockland introduced.

Gabrielle shook the woman’s hand and they exchanged hellos. “You’ve got a lovely home,” Gabrielle complimented sincerely. It was lovely with warmth and charm in its decorations.

“Thank you, Gabrielle. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I should get back to the kitchen. Don’t keep her too long, Josh, the fun’s really starting out back,” Ruth admonished.

“I won’t,” he promised, kissing her cheek before she left the room. “Drink?”

“Whatever you’ve got,” Gabrielle answered agreeably. She took the can of tonic from him and popped the top open. They sat on a couch in the living room that was curiously absent of people and Gabrielle waited for the inquisition.

“How long have you known Xena?” Rockland asked after a short pause.

“A long time,” Gabrielle said. “We traveled together in Greece.”

“That was over ten years ago,” Rockland observed. “What happened?”

‘Right to the point,’ Gabrielle thought. Of course, if someone had shown up out of the blue and her best operative suddenly took a leave, she’d want an explanation too. “We lived together for many years in Greece. Traveled a lot, actually. She was my world so wherever she wanted to go, whatever she wanted to do, that’s what we did. Then…we were separated. She just disappeared off the face of the earth. I looked everywhere for her but nothing. I didn’t know it but she thought I was dead. After awhile, I thought the same thing about her and stopped looking.”

“What happened to change that?” Rockland asked respectfully.

Gabrielle gave him a smile, touched by his tone. “A mutual friend of ours saw Xena last month. Told me where she was, what she was doing. I couldn’t believe it. The first week I was just in shock and didn’t do anything. Truth be told, I was scared. After all this time, I didn’t know how Xena would react to seeing me again. Maybe she’d moved on and had a life that I shouldn’t disturb. But I knew that I couldn’t stay away so I set things into motion for my company to take care of itself for however long it took to get her back. That took at least two weeks, it’s a pretty big company. Last week I flew into Logan Airport and found her. It was a shock to her, I know.”

“I knew that there was something in Xena’s past that had hurt her,” Rockland said seriously when it became apparent that Gabrielle wasn’t going to continue. “She’s a great detective, intuitive, incredibly intelligent and ruthless when you get down to it. Once she has her teeth in something, she doesn’t let go. I’ve been worried about her. I knew that she didn’t have…a support system so to speak. I hate these touchy-feely words but there’s no other way to describe it. Every cop needs a support system or they get burnt out. Or worse, they end up dead. I knew that she didn’t have one it worried me.

“It’s only been the last few years that I saw her lighten up a bit, make some friends. But she was still one hundred percent into her work and that wasn’t good. I was afraid that she would make a mistake at the wrong time and she, or someone else, would end up dead. She worked like a maniac and it just wasn’t healthy. We had lots of talks about it,” he laughed suddenly. “Actually, they were screaming matches for the most part. I shouted at her to get a life and she’d yell back to mind my own damned business. Got some bruises in our sparring matches that took a long time to heal, lemme tell you.

“I was almost glad when FBI man showed up a few months ago. They seemed perfect for each other: dedicated to the job, young and strong, had a great working relationship. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing did. I knew he was interested but Xena kept on as she always did, ignoring him except when it came to the job. Then I saw her leaning just a little towards him and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally Xena was going to let someone in.

“Then she makes the big bust with Stafford and leaves the scene, leaves everything to Will to wrap up. It was so not Xena that I was worried. When she called in the next day and wouldn’t tell me what was going on, I got scared. I’m sorry to confess that I went down to her apartment that very day.”

Gabrielle looked at him blankly. “No one showed up that day.”

A flush crept over Rockland’s face and he coughed with embarrassment. “I demanded the super let me into the apartment building, showed my badge and everything. I was determined to see what was going on. I got off the elevator, stopped in front of Xena’s apartment and was about to knock when I heard her scream out your name in such a way it left no doubt what was going on. I never beat a retreat so fast in my life, lemme tell you!”

Gabrielle laughed and touched his hand. “You’re a great friend to her, Josh. Don’t worry, it’ll be our little secret.”

“What’ll be your little secret?” Xena demanded, choosing that moment to enter the living room. She was winded and sweaty, her t-shirt clinging to her. She sat on the edge of the couch beside Gabrielle.

“None of your business,” Gabrielle said, grinning up at her lover. “That’s what secret means, remember?”

“Oh yeah, I think I remember something like that,” Xena exclaimed. She kissed the back of Gabrielle’s neck.

“You’re all sweaty!” Gabrielle exclaimed, playfully shoving her away.

“I thought you liked it when I sweat,” Xena murmured into her ear.

Gabrielle swallowed and abruptly stood, needing to be out of contact with Xena before she jumped her. There was a shout from out back for Ares to get her butt back into the game for some more ass kicking. “Go on, go join your playmates,” Gabrielle ordered.

Xena placed a quick kiss on her cheek before jogging back outside.

Gabrielle watched her leave then looked back at Josh. She was startled to see his mouth agape, staring at her. “What?”

“Nothing! It’s just…I’ve never seen her like this before,” Josh answered, a smile spreading across his face.

“Like what?” Gabrielle asked curiously.

“Relaxed. Completely happy,” Josh said. “Gabrielle, aside from the fact that you’re in private security, I think you must be perfect.”

Laughing, Gabrielle linked her arm with his and said, “Why thank you, Josh. And I won’t ask how you found out so much about me in such a short time. At least not until we know each other better.”

They walked to the back porch by way of the kitchen and Gabrielle was astounded to find a tiny back yard, maybe fifteen feet by fifteen feet, set up with volleyball net and jumping, laughing and swearing police officers. Xena was in the back and Gabrielle watched as she deliberately missed the ball, letting it slam off her shoulder instead and go out of bounds.

“Ares!” her teammates shouted at her in obvious aggravation.

“How can they not tell that she’s faking it?’ Gabrielle wondered in amazement. She sat on the picnic table to watch, drawing her feet up under her. Josh introduced her to the wives and husbands not participating in the volleyball contest and Gabrielle was warmed by their immediate acceptance. Apparently if she was good enough for Xena, she was good enough.

“For all the fact that she’s a great cop, Ares has no coordination when it comes to sports,” Josh observed with a laugh. “Ever since we started these games. And you’d think that after a few years she might actually improve but nope, not Ares.”

Gabrielle laughed with him and wanted to tell him not to get into a sword fight with Xena. Or a chariot race, or a javelin contest or any other number of sports that Xena excelled at. Including, as it was obvious to Gabrielle, volleyball. For whatever reason, Xena had decided to fake being inept at sports to her coworkers. She caught Xena’s eyes and laughed uproariously when the ball really did bounce off her head.

Xena rubbed her head and glared at her teammates who just laughed harder.

“Food’s ready!” Ruth called after another hour. The net was taken down and chairs brought out to make room for people to eat.

Sporting a towel to soak up the sweat dripping from her shoulders, Xena sat next to Gabrielle, straddling the bench so that their bodies touched. “Enjoy the game?”

“Oh absolutely. Klutz,” Gabrielle teased, rewarding Xena with a french fry.

“You know better than that,” Xena reproved.

Eyes twinkling, Gabrielle said innocently, “Know better than what, oh warrior of mine? All I saw out there was you getting bonked on the head. More than once, I might add.”

Growling, Xena put her arms around Gabrielle’s waist and answered, “That was your fault. You distracted me.”

“All four times?” Gabrielle asked, feeding her another french fry.

“Absolutely,” Xena agreed, nipping Gabrielle’s fingers lightly with her teeth.

“Watch it!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

“That’s what happens when you tease,” Xena murmured into her ear.

“Oh really?” Gabrielle murmured back.

“Spare me from honeymooners,” someone groaned.

“Shut up, Alvarez,” Xena said lazily without even looking.

“At least try to keep it PG-13,” Rockland said pointedly. “There are children around after all.”

Even after spending almost twenty years in the United States, Xena was slapped with culture shock. Sex and showing physical love between partners had been a part of life growing up. Granted it hadn’t been in her own household since she’d killed her father at a fairly young age, but she’d seen it all around her in the village. Here in the United States, though, children were kept from such things for as long as possible. She moved slightly back from Gabrielle and swung her leg over the bench to face the table. She murmured, “Sorry,” before attacking her hamburger.

“If I have to tell you to behave one more time, you’re sleeping on the couch,” Ruth exclaimed slapping her husband sharply upside the head, obviously annoyed. “Xena, don’t worry about the prude over here, you and Gabrielle just go on ahead and be yourselves.”

Xena was warmed by the support but didn’t take her up on the offer, at least not so obviously. She did move so that her leg touched Gabrielle’s, but remained facing the table.

“So when’s the wedding?” came the unexpected question from Sasha.

Gabrielle and Xena both looked at her blankly for a moment before succumbing to blushes.

“Yeah, Gabrielle, are you going to make an honest woman out of our Detective Ares, or what?” Suz agreed with a grin.

“Uh, we hadn’t really talked about it,” Gabrielle stammered.

“Don’t even listen to them, Gabrielle, they’re just trying to make trouble,” Xena said, rolling her eyes.

“Xena, we love you! We would never do anything to make you uncomfortable,” Sasha promised sweetly.

“Yeah, right,” Xena said. She threw a pickle at Sasha who ducked it neatly.

Unfortunately, it landed splat in the center of Will’s shirt who had just walked onto the porch. There was a tense moment as he and Xena looked at each other. Everyone knew what had happened the day before and waited to see what would happen. Gabrielle gripped Xena’s thigh in warning and Xena consciously relaxed at the touch. Xena stood and walked over to Will then held out her hand. It was another tense moment before Will accepted it and everyone breathed silent sighs of relief.

“C’mon, you’re missing the food and Ruth’s cooking is to be enjoyed at every opportunity,” Xena said quietly.

Will nodded awkwardly and followed her to the picnic table. “Hey, thanks for the invite, Captain.”

Rockland nodded and said, “No problem. Eat up, boy, you’re too skinny.”

Smiling more naturally, Will answered, “You sound like my aunt.”

The ice was broken and things went back to normal.

********

When twilight settled over the city like a mantle, the dancing began. Quite a few of the detectives were newly married or about to be so shortly. The music alternated between fast and hard to slow and sensual. Xena and Gabrielle kept the dance moves more sedate than the previous night, imitating those around them. Even the briefest of touches set their bodies aflame with desire.

When the sweet torture became too much, Xena stopped dancing and pulled Gabrielle even closer. “I need you.”

Gabrielle looked up into hot blue eyes and nodded, taking Xena’s hand and leading her back to the porch.

“Leaving so soon?” Rockland asked with a grin.

“Xena’s taking me sight-seeing tomorrow and we need to get an early start,” Gabrielle lied easily.

“Yeah right,” he laughed.

“I’m not telling you again, Josh,” Ruth exclaimed, slapping him on the back.

“Ow! Watch it, woman!” Rockland growled.

“You girls have a nice night. It was lovely to meet you, Gabrielle,” Ruth said, enfolding her into a hug. “Thanks for rescuing our fair damsel, here.”

Touched by the sentiment, Gabrielle returned the hug and answered, “It was great to meet you, Ruth. I’ll see you again.”

“Count on it,” Ruth promised. Looking up at Xena, she declared, “You take care of this woman, Xena or I’ll tan your hide.”

Saluting, Xena answered, “Yes ma’am!”

“Smart-ass,” Ruth insulted fondly.

“I love you too, Ruth,” Xena said, hugging her.

There were called out good-byes and waves, which both women returned as they left the house. Fortunately, the drive back to the apartment wasn’t long and they were back inside within a half-hour. Once there, Gabrielle held off Xena’s advances and ordered, “Strip, warrior, because tonight you’re all mine.”

Tensing at the unexpected command, Xena pulled off her clothes and stood in the center of the room while Gabrielle inspected her. Licking her lips, Xena ached to grab Gabrielle but didn’t.

“You’re perfect,” Gabrielle whispered, circling Xena. “Perfect body, perfect hair, perfect muscles, perfect proportions. Everything about you is perfect. No, stay there.”

Xena halted her movement before she’d gone a step. “Gabrielle.”

“What warrior? Did you want something?” Gabrielle teased, eyes smoldering as they drank in the sight of the nude warrior.

“I need you,” Xena whispered.

“I still haven’t paid you back for making me go out last night,” Gabrielle said suddenly. “I think I’m going to take my time and play with you. We haven’t done that in a very, very long time.”

Xena’s breath hissed sharply between her teeth. She didn’t think she could take that sort of punishment, not in the aroused state she was in.

“Oh you can take it, warrior, and you will take it or suffer my wrath,” Gabrielle promised. She had correctly deduced what Xena was thinking at the moment from the desperate need in her blue eyes. “Go and lay on the bed, face down, and wait for me there.”

Gabrielle watched as Xena obeyed her, growing hotter in anticipation of the pleasure to come. She was going to make Xena scream and beg for mercy until she couldn’t even think. Then she was going to do it again, and again, and again. It was going to be a long night for her warrior but it was something she deserved, something that she needed. Gabrielle knew it as surely as she knew the sky was blue.

Slipping out of her own clothes, Gabrielle left them in a pile on the floor and walked over to the bed. Josh’s confession suddenly echoed through her head and she grinned thinking that maybe they would have to sound proof the apartment. It was for certain that Xena’s neighbors wouldn’t appreciate the screaming. Although, maybe she would gag Xena, that always released the few inhibitions she had. Gabrielle wasn’t sure why, maybe it gave Xena permission to scream without the worry of anyone hearing.

She climbed onto the bed and straddled Xena’s waist, sitting there a long moment, letting Xena feel the wetness seeping from her to dampen Xena’s backside. Artemis but she was already hotter than she could remember and they hadn’t even started. First she rubbed Xena’s neck and back, massaging tense muscles and kissing the small bruises that had come from that afternoon’s volleyball match.

“I love the feel of your skin, so smooth and soft,” Gabrielle whispered, continuing to move her hands over the muscled back and shoulders. A soft noise came from Xena but she lay still under Gabrielle’s touch. “I missed everything about you all these long years. Your eyes, your hair, your muscles, your tickle spots.”

“Gabrielle!” Xena protested the sudden tickle attack, convulsing in laughter.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” Gabrielle said unrepentant, moving her hands back to Xena’s shoulders. For long moments, she simply kneaded the flesh there, running her hands firmly into the muscle, squeezing and rolling it. Her hands roamed back down the length of Xena, coming to stop at the base of her spine. She rolled forward, laying flush against Xena, her check to Xena’s shoulder.

“I think I missed this most of all. Being with you, feeling your weight, your presence beside me, under me, on me,” Gabrielle whispered. Pressing her lips into the hot skin, Gabrielle first nibbled then breathed on the red spot she had just created. Xena shuddered beneath her and a sensual pout crossed Gabrielle’s full lips. Moving slightly, Gabrielle against pressed her lips to the other shoulder blade and repeated the process. Another shudder.

“Oh my. So responsive,” Gabrielle murmured. “It’s only been, what, less than a day since we made love?”

Xena moved restlessly under Gabrielle who smiled, her pout broadening. “My sweet
Warrior Princess, what am I going to do with you? I think I’ve been too lenient with you these last few days. There is a lot to make up for, after all, aeons upon aeons of need and wanting you under my touch, under my…control.” Gabrielle breathed the last word, making it into a physical caress. She was rewarded with Xena’s whimper.

“Tell me, Warrior Princess, where do you keep your…whip?” Gabrielle breathed. “I know you would never give that up.”

“Closet, top shelf,” Xena gasped as Gabrielle raked her nails down her sides.

“Don’t move,” Gabrielle said unnecessarily. She bounced off the bed, more thrilled than she could remember, humming on her way to the closet. They actually hadn’t played at these games the last few years she and Xena had been together. Gabrielle opened the door and reached up, feeling blindly for the leather bullwhip. Her hand grasped it at last, in the back corner, and she pulled it down.

Gabrielle thought briefly about Xena’s original whip with a smile. She remembered being aggravated with Xena for ruining their only good cooking pan and had traded Xena’s whip to an awestruck woman, Minia, as a form of payback. Although really, she had been more furious with Xena for using part of her scroll as toilet paper than ruining the pan.

As she hefted the whip in her hand, Gabrielle remembered almost the same weight and pattern against her palm the last time she had used Xena’s whip. Amazing that she could remember that far back. Her breathing caught as she truly remembered the encounter and she swallowed. Maybe not so amazing after all: it had been a spectacular morning after all.

“All right, Warrior Princess, let me see if I can remember how to use this thing,” Gabrielle said, returning to stand beside the bed. Her hand snapped out, the whip cracking against the inch-wide fabric holding up the netting. The band disintegrated, allowing the netting to fall down. “I guess I do remember after all. I seem to recall someone in need of punishment for making me leave this warm haven to go out to a party last night. Get up.”

Xena rolled over and then off the bed, standing and waiting for Gabrielle’s next command.

“How about you grab each bedpost, they don’t look too far apart for those incredible arms of yours,” Gabrielle teased. She bit her lip at the grin Xena flashed her way and chuckled warmly. “Don’t be impudent.”

“Never, my bard,” Xena vowed fervently. She had to stretch to hold a bedpost in each hand but did manage it.

Gabrielle moved close, rolling up the whip then dragging it down the length of Xena’s back. “Feel this, Warrior Princess? You’re going to be begging for more very shortly.”

Xena moaned and her head rolled forward.

“That’s right, my sweet Warrior, anticipate what I’m going to do to you,” Gabrielle promised, running the leather over and around Xena’s buttocks. Looking around, Gabrielle found the fabric that had held up the netting and wrapped it twice around Xena’s mouth. “It isn’t much, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances,” Gabrielle apologized. “We’ll have to pick up some…toys…later.”

Xena moaned through the gag.

Gabrielle stood back and cracked the whip to the both sides of Xena, causing the warrior to jump, startled. “Surprise,” Gabrielle murmured. Another crack, this time marking Xena’s back, reddening the flesh immediately. Not waiting, Gabrielle dealt several more and licked her lips as Xena cried out in ecstatic pain. “Is that good, Warrior Princess? Would you like more?”

Nodding, Xena grasped the bedposts tighter.

“I thought you might,” Gabrielle said. This round she took her time with, casting forth one at a time, spacing them out so that Xena couldn’t anticipate the blows. Xena’s cries were taking on a desperate tone and Gabrielle paused to get close. She licked her way up and down each of the long welts while Xena shuddered and groaned under her.

“You taste so good,” Gabrielle breathed. She fell to her knees, dropping the whip to the floor and clutching Xena’s buttocks. “Face me.”

Xena turned, leaning against the bed for its very needed support. Her head lolled back when Gabrielle roughly shoved her legs apart. Her knowing and skilled mouth tasted deep between Xena’s legs and fire shot through her loins as Gabrielle’s tongue rolled around her clit. Small fingers thrust inside Xena and she thought that she would die with the sensation. Between the tongue and hand, the hot ache on her back and buttocks, Xena was overwhelmed and screamed out as the orgasm exploded from deep within.

Gabrielle listened to the scream with pleasure, closing her eyes as her tongue went even deeper, her own sex throbbing with desperate need. Her thighs clamped together, squeezing and bringing her close but she didn’t allow herself the orgasm. Taking her face out from between Xena’s legs, Gabrielle stood and grabbed Xena around the waist, pulling the weak woman hard against her.

“We’re not done yet, Warrior,” Gabrielle promised, looking up into unfocused eyes. It took several seconds but the eyes did focus, resting on Gabrielle’s determined face. The eyes were compelling in their pleading but Gabrielle only smiled. “I’m not done having my way with you, Xena. Sit.”

The command was gentle and Xena fell gratefully back onto the bed, wincing slightly at the scratching of welts on the quilt.

Gabrielle knelt on the bed, facing Xena, straddling the warrior’s legs, their sexes molding together. Knowing how erotic Xena found her bites, Gabrielle leaned close and breathed in the smell of flesh and blood, closing her eyes to concentrate on it more fully. Her fangs extended, breaking through the roof of her mouth with familiar pain to trap her tongue if she wasn’t careful. Bacchai had many powers, one of them hypnotic suggestion, much like a snake with its prey. Gabrielle never used that power, relying instead on her words and quick thinking unless circumstances were dire.

Another power was heightened erotic pleasure, both giving and receiving. It was a survival technique, Gabrielle knew. Without the pleasure of having blood taken, the victim would fight and perhaps escape to leave the Bacchai without sustenance. Running her lips over Xena’s throat, Gabrielle found the faintest mark her teeth had left from her last “snack” on Xena. “How about that little bite you promised me?” Gabrielle whispered hotly into Xena’s ear.

Xena’s hands surrounded her, grabbing her buttocks and pulling her even closer.

Chuckling softly, Gabrielle licked Xena’s ear and murmured, “I’ll take that for a yes.”

Xena’s throat beckoned and Gabrielle answered the call eagerly, her fangs unerringly finding the vein hidden not so deeply under the skin. She was careful not to tear the skin, using her expertise to simply puncture the skin and suck the blood into her mouth. They both moaned in pleasure this time, Gabrielle feeling her sex swell and her hunger reduce just a little. After only a few seconds, she stopped, withdrawing as Xena shuddered against her.

Lips beckoning this time, Gabrielle tore the gag from Xena’s mouth and pressed their lips together, letting Xena taste her own blood. As they kissed, Xena’s hands roamed freely on Gabrielle’s backside, her fingers tracing lightly into Gabrielle’s crack. Gabrielle was the one to shudder this time as Xena’s finger bore into her from behind. Gasping, Gabrielle’s head fell back and Xena’s mouth latched onto her throat, reversing their positions.

Gabrielle fought it and shoved Xena back onto the bed, grabbing the other woman’s hands and holding them over Xena’s head. Bacchai and half-goddess fought for control, wrestling on the bed, limbs flying and grunting with effort. The force of the struggle landed them on the floor with a heavy thud, Xena on top, using her brute strength to pin Gabrielle under her, her legs thrust between Gabrielle’s.

“Is this what you want, bard?” Xena whispered, her face a mere inch from Gabrielle’s.

Green eyes bore into blue as Gabrielle licked her lips, forcing her fangs back into their place of dormancy. “Take me,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

Immediately, Xena’s mouth plundered hers and her hands grabbed under Gabrielle to jerk their mounds together. Gabrielle’s legs wrapped around Xena’s, her sex thrusting up to meet Xena’s. Inside a hurricane of feeling and need, both women ravaged each other, passion and darkness meeting in each drive and plunge together. Their mouths were locked together when the shattering climax arrived, sending them both out of themselves.

When Gabrielle returned to her senses, she stretched until bones cracked, even under Xena’s weight. She was completely relaxed and satiated though she knew it wouldn’t take much to get her going again. Gods above when had she become so horny? Not to mention so lasting! The only thing that had even remotely come close to being with Xena over the empty years had been the blood. Now she knew even that didn’t compare.

Kissing Xena’s sweaty cheek, she whispered, “I love you.”

Not even cracking an eye, Xena replied, “I love you.”

“How about we move to the bed, it’s getting a bit drafty down here,” Gabrielle suggested with a yawn.

“Can’t move,” Xena muttered, snuggling closer.

‘Of course not,’ Gabrielle thought with a grin. ‘You’re on top of comfy me and I’m on the floor.’

Pursing her lips, Gabrielle wondered how she might accomplish this. She carefully turned over, cradling Xena in her arms, which didn’t wake her. Gabrielle gently picked her up and walked the short distance to the bed. Climbing into bed next to her lover, Gabrielle pulled the covers up over them and snuggled against Xena’s long, hot form.

********

Gabrielle gasped as her stomach stabbed with painful hunger. Except for the blood-need, she was pleasantly sore everywhere. Xena was still unconscious to the world, sprawled a few inches away on her stomach. Xena’s back was a lovely array of fading welts. The hunger burned through her, Xena’s throat beckoned enticingly, the memory of her earlier feeding exacerbating the problem. She glanced at the window and saw it was still dark, the clock confirmed it as being only 3:17 am.

A groan of denial sliced through Gabrielle. No matter what Xena offered, Gabrielle would never be able to feed off her when hungry, there was too much risk that she would lose herself and take too much blood. Even as old as she was, when the blood hunger called, Gabrielle was as much a slave to it as any newborn Bacchai.

She knew that it was past time to feed, truly feed, unlike the mere pint she’d taken from the would-be extortionist in her office or the tiny bit from Xena only a short time before. That had probably been a mistake. Gabrielle might’ve been able to last another day or so without, had she not teased herself. She moved carefully off the bed and pulled on some clothes. With any luck at all, Gabrielle would return before Xena woke. After pulling on her sneakers, Gabrielle grabbed her keys and locked the door behind her.

Making a beeline for the red-light district, Gabrielle walked swiftly in the darkness. It was there that she found her food and didn’t feel guilty: not as much at least. Preying on those who preyed on others was a bonus in Gabrielle’s mind. She had long since come to grips with the fact that she was a predator and while she tried not to kill those she took from, sometimes the need was just too great and she lost herself in the blood.

Of course it was for more than one reason that she tried not to kill. Besides a lingering belief in the sacristy of human life, no matter how depraved and evil, leaving a trail of bloodless corpses would bring unwelcome attention to the existence of the Bacchai as a whole. Stopping in a dark ally, Gabrielle waited patiently for her food to come to her.

It wasn’t long before a man dragged a woman into the ally, slapping her as they walked. The woman was screaming at him to stop, that she was sorry, but the man continued to deal out the blows. Gabrielle stepped forward and said, “You should stop that before something bad happens to you.”

The man spun towards her, snarling at the interruption. He blanched upon seeing her face, releasing the woman who immediately ran off. Lightening fast, Gabrielle closed the distance between them and easily pulled his struggling form to her. Her jaw clamped onto the artery in his throat with deadly accuracy and intoxicating blood flowed into her mouth.

To anyone looking, it would have appeared as though they were caught up in a lover’s rendezvous.
Part 4
“Where have you been?”

The quiet question startled Gabrielle as she locked the door re-entering the apartment. Turning slowly, she saw Xena stretched out on the couch, dressed in a nightshirt and facing the door, waiting for her return. Gabrielle couldn’t look her in the eyes. “I went out to feed.”

“You snuck out, Gabrielle. What’s going on?” Xena demanded, standing up impatiently.

“Nothing,” Gabrielle denied. She neatly avoided Xena’s hand on her way to the comfort of the leather chair. She felt Xena’s eyes upon her but closed her own and curled up on the chair. Gabrielle heard Xena kneel on the floor in front of her as Xena took her hands.

“Gabrielle, please tell me what’s wrong?” Xena whispered.

The hurt in her voice was too much for Gabrielle to bear. Opening her eyes, earnest confusion in the blue eyes stared back at her. “I’m ashamed.”

Startled Xena asked, “Why?”

Gabrielle looked away, pulling her hands free and rubbing her temples. “I’m a parasite. The lowest form of life on the planet. I survive by taking someone else’s lifeblood.”

A sigh of comprehension from Xena. “You killed in your feeding.”

Gabrielle nodded raggedly. “It’s not like anyone is going to miss him, a pimp and drug dealer whose body is now buried deep below the city. But I should have had more control. I haven’t slipped like that in many years. I shouldn’t have killed him!”

Gabrielle slid off the chair onto Xena’s lap as her lover gathered her close. She let the tears come, crying into Xena’s shoulder, strong arms supporting her with comfort and understanding.

“Gabrielle, we all kill to survive. You know that,” Xena whispered softly after the crying had stopped. “It’s just that these days, it’s hidden and done in the darkness. People kill with guns and bombs and nothing is personal anymore, it’s business. Street business, corporate business, it’s all the same. The fact that you kill to eat, to live makes you different. You are the best person I know and that you weep for your victims after all this time is the most compassionate thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I’m no better than an animal,” Gabrielle mumbled into Xena’s hair.

“No, Gabrielle, listen to me! You are Bacchai and there is no changing that. It’s what you are and I would never change you because…if you weren’t then we couldn’t be together. I would truly be alone and I couldn’t bear that,” there was a tremor in Xena’s voice as she finished speaking.

Gabrielle pulled back to look at Xena and was amazed by the tears welling in those blue eyes. Cupping Xena’s face, Gabrielle gently kissed her. “Thank you, Xena, I needed that. I’m sorry to fall apart on you like that, normally I don’t. I know this is what I am and I wouldn’t change it for the very same reason. It’s just that sometimes…”

“I know,” Xena whispered. “Sometimes you remember what it was like to be human with no thought of the decades ahead never mind centuries.”

Gabrielle nodded and again buried her face into Xena’s warm shoulder, arms wrapped around Xena’s waist. Xena sat back off her knees, pulling Gabrielle with her and leaning her cheek against Gabrielle’s soft hair. They rested that way until Xena said, “Much as I love holding you like this, my leg’s starting to fall asleep.”

Gabrielle chucked ruefully and stood then offered her hand to Xena. “So what are we going to do today?”

“How about you cook me something delicious for breakfast and we just hang around for the day?” Xena asked.

A faint smile and Gabrielle observed, “We need food for something like that.”

“So we go shopping,” Xena replied.

Which was a lot easier said than done. Though over her self-loathing, Gabrielle was slow to return to her cheerful self. Xena spent the next hour teasing and touching her lover out of the hurt mood until finally the smile on Gabrielle’s face was genuine. Xena was touched that killing still bothered Gabrielle so deeply. It reassured the vague fears in the back of her mind that perhaps time had changed the other woman inside where Xena couldn’t see.

When they finally left the apartment, Xena didn’t bother with her car, knowing a great market just down the street.

“You know, I would have thought you’d have taken some sort of culinary course over the years if only in self-defense,” Gabrielle teased as she walked with Xena down the street.

“Aren’t you the cute one,” Xena said, scrunching her nose.

“Always.”

Chuckling as they entered the market, Xena nodded hello to the clerk whom she saw at least twice a week. She might not cook well but Xena always bought fresh fruits and vegetables for her food.

“I suppose I should be grateful you know where the market is?” Gabrielle continued.

Xena grabbed her by the waist, pulling Gabrielle’s back against her and growled in her ear, “Any more comments like that and you won’t be able to sit down for a week!”

Gabrielle melted against her. “Promise?”

Xena nipped the enticing ear then playfully shoved her forward. “Find us some food, woman!”

They wandered the small, whole foods market for almost an hour, taking their time as Gabrielle spouted out recipe after recipe from memory. Most of them combined ingredients for economy. When they finally left the market, both women carried two bags each.

“I can’t believe how hot it is here!” Gabrielle complained as sweat dripped down her nose and into her eye. She tried unsuccessfully to rub it away with her shoulder. “It was never this hot when I was here before!”

“At least it’s a humid heat,” Xena said dryly.

Gabrielle hip-checked her and exclaimed, “Don’t even start with that!”

Laughing, Xena said, “Okay, okay!”

They went another block when Gabrielle dropped a bag. Xena set hers down and knelt to help pick up the dry goods. “We’re being followed,” Gabrielle murmured.

“I know. Since the market,” Xena agreed.

“L.E. or other?” Gabrielle wondered.

“I think they’re too good to be law enforcement,” Xena speculated quietly, big grin on her face as she gave Gabrielle a playful shove. Wouldn’t do to let their tail know they’d been made, after all. “Did you get the tags?”

Nodding, Gabrielle shoved her back then they picked up the bags and continued on to the apartment. Once inside the apartment, Gabrielle set the bags on the counter and asked, “Do you have a secure land-line?”

Xena nodded. “All my phones are secure except my cell.”

Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle said, “How silly of me to even ask!” and went to the kitchen phone. Dialing Rob’s home phone, she waited two rings and it was picked up.

“Talk to me.”

“Hey Rob, it’s Gabrielle.”

“Oh! Hey boss lady, what’s going on? Thought you were on vaca,” Rob said.

“I am, sort of. Got some more trouble for you to run down,” Gabrielle answered.

“And here I was sitting around on this beautiful Sunday morning thinking, “Gee, Rob, you just don’t have enough work to do. Why don’t you bring your lovely wife to the beach?””

Gabrielle snorted. “I’m sure that’s exactly what you were thinking.”

“So? What’s the trouble this time?” his voice was martyred.

“Look, Mr. I-Get-Paid-Triple-Time-On-Sundays, don’t give me any lip or you can find yourself another boss to harass,” Gabrielle ordered sternly.

“Yeah, yeah, promises, promises,” Rob laughed. “Lay it on me, boss lady.”

“We’re being followed. Tag#5555 ZZ, blue ford taurus, early nineties, I think,” Gabrielle said.

“They know that you made them?”

“Don’t think so,” Gabrielle answered.

“Oh, and who is “we”, anyhow?” Rob asked suddenly. “You’ve never gone on vaca with someone before.”

Gabrielle was startled then realized that she hadn’t told Rob the details of why she was in Boston. Especially where she normally worked out of the London office. “I’ve found Xena,” she said softly.

There was an impressed whistle on the other end. “Damn, boss lady, it’s about time!”

Gabrielle met Xena’s questioning eyes and smiled. “It is, isn’t it? That’s why this is so important, I think someone’s trying to frame her for murder.”

“I’ll get right on this. Did you want to fax or email me any details?” Rob asked.

Pursing her lips, Gabrielle finally said, “Not right now. Technically it’s police business at the moment so just work with what I gave you.”

“Gotcha. Hey, Gabrielle?”

“Yes, Rob?”

“Go have some fun, will ya?”

Smiling into the phone, Gabrielle answered, “Oh I am, Rob, I am. Call me back at 617-555-3396 when you have the info. If one of us doesn’t pick up, leave a voice mail.”

“Will do.”

“What was that last part about?” Xena asked from her perch on the kitchen counter. “Besides me, I mean.”

Gabrielle smacked Xena’s thigh. “Rob has been my right-hand man for about six years now. We’re pretty good friends, good enough that he knows the mission statement about finding you anyhow.”

“I’m a mission statement?” Xena asked, amused.

“Only to my best people,” Gabrielle assured her. “In any case, he’s going to check the plates then call back. So, why don’t I get breakfast going?”

“Are you going to eat?” Xena asked hesitantly.

A faint smile then, “Not really hungry but maybe I’ll nibble on you for awhile.”

Grinning Xena hopped off the counter and walked over to wrap her arms around Gabrielle. “I think maybe I should nibble on you for awhile,” she murmured before pressing her lips softly to Gabrielle’s. Startled by the intensity of Gabrielle’s response, Xena immediately opened her mouth further, giving Gabrielle better access. Their tongues played over and around each other, mouths sucking hard.

For a change, it was Xena’s rumbling stomach to interrupt them. Gabrielle softened the kiss then withdrew altogether, eyes twinkling. “I guess I’d better feed you before you faint away on me.”

“Well, it has been over twelve hours since I’ve eaten anything,” Xena agreed stealing a quick kiss from her lover.

Gabrielle swatted her on the behind and said, “All right, out of my kitchen then and let me work in peace.”

Xena tweaked Gabrielle’s nose then scooted out of the kitchen before the smaller woman could return the favor. She puttered around on the computer while Gabrielle hummed her way through making brunch. The smell of cooking eggs, peppers and even muffins wafted through the air making Xena’s stomach rumble fiercely. It was a long half-hour later that Gabrielle called her back to the kitchen.

“Why don’t you set the table?” Gabrielle ordered, scraping scrambled eggs from the frying pan to a large plate.

“Yes ma’am!” Xena replied with a salute. She grabbed plates and silverware then brought them into the living room and set them on the coffee table.

“What’re you doing?” Gabrielle asked, brow crinkled in curiosity.

“Setting the table,” Xena answered.

“You’re setting the coffee table,” Gabrielle pointed out.

“Yeah? So? I’m feeling like an intimate little breakfast. Got a problem with that bard?” Xena demanded haughtily, hands on hips.

Laughing, Gabrielle shook her head and said, “No my warrior princess, whatever you say, my warrior princess.”

Xena joined in the laughter and took the eggs from Gabrielle, bringing them into the living room. She returned to the kitchen and poured out some juice while Gabrielle popped the muffins out of a pan Xena only vaguely remembered owning. When everything was finally on the table, they had scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins, toast and jam, bacon and home fries. Xena dug in right away, scooping food onto her plate.

“Gods, Gabrielle, you are still a wonderful cook,” Xena said after finishing off her first plate.

Grinning, Gabrielle answered, “I’m surprised you could even taste it you ate so fast.”

“I always taste whatever is in my mouth,” Xena countered suggestively.

“Mm-hm,” Gabrielle agreed, leaning against her lover. She moved her legs on top of Xena’s and rested her head on Xena’s shoulder while the other woman had seconds. The warmth and comfort level was high enough to make her drowsy.

“I finally figured out what’s different,” Xena said, putting her empty plate on the table and slipping her arm behind Gabrielle.

“Different about what?” Gabrielle murmured curiously.

“About you,” Xena answered. She ran a hand up Gabrielle’s leg, drawing out shivers from Gabrielle as she did so.

“And that would be?” Gabrielle asked, now completely awake.

“You’re smooth, there’s no hair on your legs or under your arms,” Xena observed, moving Gabrielle’s legs further up her own.

“I never would have thought of that,” Gabrielle admitted, shifting to keep contact with Xena. “Don’t you like it?”

A sensuous smile crossed Xena’s mouth and she answered, “It’s a change. I haven’t decided yet which way I like you better. How about you? Which way do you like me better?”

Gabrielle was still affected by the smile and had to concentrate for a moment before realizing that Xena had asked a question. “Um, I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”

“Problem, bard of mine?” Xena asked innocently. She slowly ran her hands up and down the smooth skin. “I think I like you both ways, actually. Being smooth makes it easier to get closer, of course. On the other hand, there’s that delightful friction when you’re soft and downy with that pale gold hair along your legs.”

Gabrielle gave up trying to think and lay back on the couch, reveling in Xena’s touch, which continued to roam higher up her legs. Her breath suspended when Xena’s hand stopped at her inner thigh, lightly stroking the soft skin just below the edge of her shorts. Strong fingers moved over and around Gabrielle’s mound, skimming the fabric to send shoots of fire inside Gabrielle. “Xena.”

“Yes, bard?” Xena replied, before her lips pressed onto Gabrielle’s knee, sucking the slightly roughened skin.

“Don’t tease me,” Gabrielle pleaded.

“I would never…well, all right, I guess I would tease you,” Xena conceded, mischievous glint to her blue eyes. “But only if you deserved it.”

Her hands made quick work of Gabrielle’s shorts, pulling them and panties over hips and off legs. From there they returned to Gabrielle’s legs, rubbing gentle circles into her calf, massaging tense muscles. “Relax, Gabrielle” she murmured. As though only needing to hear the command, Xena felt Gabrielle’s legs loosen and her muscles unwind. She moved to the other leg and massaged that calf as well. “I think someone needs a little TLC. C’mon, into bed with you.”

Confused and just a little dazed, Gabrielle opened her eyes at the brisk statement and gave Xena a look.

“That’s a good one, Gabrielle, almost as good as my Warrior-is-Pissed-Off look,” Xena congratulated with a grin and suggestive eyebrow wriggle as she stood. “And you heard me right. Get up and into bed. Strip on the way, if you please.”

“Warrior if you…”

“Trust me, Gabrielle?” Xena asked.

Sighing at the long-standing question, Gabrielle eyed her another long moment then reluctantly stood to walk over to the bed. She could never refuse Xena when she used those words and the warrior knew it. Her loins were afire from Xena’s touch and her legs felt rubbery but she managed to make it to bed, pulling off the t-shirt as well. She plopped onto the bed face down, suddenly not caring if Xena finished what she started. Gabrielle supposed she was still worn out from the emotional outburst of the morning.

And where had that come from, anyhow? She hadn’t done anything like that in several decades. Maybe because she had someone to express herself with instead of having to hold it all in? Either way, she was glad to have it out of her system. She felt the bed dip a few minutes later as Xena climbed onto it but didn’t move.

Strong legs surrounded her as Xena straddled her to sit on Gabrielle’s buttocks. Something cold and wet was squirted onto her back and Gabrielle gasped in surprised. Right away Xena’s hands rubbed into the liquid, hands moving with certainty up and down Gabrielle’s back. Settling in for a miraculous massage, Gabrielle pulled the pillow under her head and closed her eyes. Up and down, circle patterns and tapping raindrops connected with each part of her body as Xena’s hands traveled everywhere on Gabrielle’s exposed flesh.

“Turn over for me,” Xena whispered the command, lifting herself onto her knees to allow Gabrielle the room to change positions.

Groaning at having to move, Gabrielle managed to push herself over then collapsed on her back, arms sprawled out.

“Tell me a story, bard,” Xena asked as her hands began their magic on Gabrielle’s fingers.

“What?” Gabrielle cracked an eyelid.

“Tell me a story. It’s been too long since you’ve done that I think,” Xena commented.

Yawning, Gabrielle searched her memory for something that might be interesting. “There was once a lonely spinster living and waiting for her true love. She had a small cottage near the cliffs of the ocean. The children all whispered that she was a witch, the adults shook their heads in pity at her solitary state. It was a time of miraculous discovery; inventions such as the telephone were sweeping the world like a brushfire. Still this spinster remained untouched by the excitement, alone in her lovelorn state.

Gabrielle gasped, distracted by Xena’s hands encircling her breasts.

“Keep going,” Xena urged.

Swallowing against the distraction, Gabrielle closed her eyes again and tried to think where she’d been going with the story of her time in California. “Oh yeah. Years passed and finally one of the children who had grown to an adult watching the lonely spinster approached her. He was a brash and handsome young man, liked to charm the young women and make off with their jewelry if possible.”

“Autolycus??” Xena gasped incredulously.

“Shush, I’m telling this story, remember?” Gabrielle scolded.

“Sorry,” Xena murmured contritely.

A grin now on her face, Gabrielle stretched under the luxurious massage then continued, “This brash young man had heard there was a fortune hidden in her walls and was determined to find it. He came to the spinster and offered his services as a handyman. The spinster knew right away what he was up to but hired him as an amusement. It diverted her from her grief and seclusion.

“For months she watched as he discreetly tried to find the fortune. He charmed her, telling her his tales of adventure in far away places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. During those months they became friends after a fashion and one day, she let slip a hint as to the location of her treasure. It was a very small part of her fortune, a mere pittance compared to what she truly had. It was a diamond necklace set in gold and silver surrounded by rubies and emeralds.

“She waited in the study for him to steal it that night, waiting behind the curtains and not moving a muscle for hours until three in the morning when he showed up. Her feet were killing her when he finally did arrive. He opened the safe hidden in the floor boards under the desk and took out the necklace. He held it up to the light and checked its authenticity. He held it in the candlelight for a long time then swore a blue-streak at himself and replaced it into the safe.

“The spinster stayed where she was until after the brash and handsome young man left the room. Her smile was broad and her spirit light as she contemplated that bodies might die but souls live on. The following day the brash young man had disappeared leaving only a note stating there had been a family emergency and he’d had to leave. The spinster wrote a note of her own and shipped the necklace to the brash young man’s address. The note read, “For the thief with a heart of gold. Don’t get into too much trouble. If you ever need help, send word.”

Gabrielle felt Xena shaking with laughter and opened her eyes to find her lover perched over her thighs. “I kept an eye on him, you know. But either his skills improved during each lifetime or he decided the necklace was enough because he never got into trouble that I could tell.”

“That was wonderful, Gabrielle,” Xena sighed. Her hands were on Gabrielle’s thighs, then she lay forward, covering the smaller woman with her body. “I’ve missed your stories.”

“I’ve missed telling them,” Gabrielle admitted, arms linking around Xena’s back.

Xena rested her head against Gabrielle’s shoulder and their breathing quieted until both fell asleep.

********

The phone woke Xena and at first she couldn’t remember where she was or why there was a warm body under her. Mentally shaking off the disorientation, Xena snuggled back against Gabrielle, ignoring the phone to revel in the intimacy of being held in Gabrielle’s arms while she slept. She listened as someone left a message.

“Gabrielle? It’s Rob. I’ve got that info you asked for and it doesn’t look good. I traced the plates back through a dummy name and corporation then connected it with another dummy corporation. I finally backtracked it to Rizello Holdings which, as you know, is a front for laundering, drugs, and all sorts of nastiness. I don’t know how Xena pissed them off but they are definitely keeping an eye on her. I know you said not to but I snooped around and discovered that there is a link between Rizello Holdings and Stafford but it’s tenuous at best. I can’t see why they’d make a hit on him but who knows. Anyhow, that’s all I’ve got for now. Let me know if you want me to keep digging. Bye.” There was a brief dial tone then the machine cut off.

“Crap,” Xena muttered.

“I heard,” Gabrielle said.

Xena met Gabrielle’s green eyes then lowered her mouth onto the inviting lips and feasted there for a long time. When she finally pulled away, Xena said, “I guess I should call Josh and give him the new info.”

Gabrielle tightened her hold and Xena stared down at her in surprise. “Let’s not just yet, okay Xena? Wait and see what develops first. The Rizello’s aren’t stupid, they wouldn’t be watching you without a reason. If we tip our hand too early, we could lose the whole pot.”

“Since when did you start talking in gambling references?” Xena asked with a grin.

Smiling self-consciously, Gabrielle answered, “I was in Las Vegas for several years awhile back and for some reason it just stuck with me.”

“I like it,” Xena said, nibbling on Gabrielle’s ear.

“Oh. Ah, then keep it up and this hand’s going to be a winner,” Gabrielle exclaimed when Xena’s mouth moved down to her breast.

The phone rang again and Xena paused in mid-caress.

“Hey, Ares, it’s me,” Will’s voice said. “I really need to talk to you about something right away. Give me a call when you get in. Do me a favor and don’t bring Gabrielle with you because it’s classified. You do still remember that word, right? It’s not on your offensive list? Talk to you soon.”

Xena groaned and lay her head on Gabrielle’s breast. “I really don’t want to deal with this right now. I want to make love to you.”

Gabrielle ran her hands through Xena’s hair, sighing herself. “I know, I want the same thing. I think this might be a tad bit more important, though.”

“Oh all right,” Xena muttered. She captured Gabrielle’s mouth for another long kiss then rolled off her lover and the bed and stalked over to the phone. She punched the numbers into the receiver, still aggravated and waited for Will to pick up.

“Jefferson.”

“Hey, Will, it’s me,” Xena said.

“Xena, I’m glad you’re there. Can you meet me?”

“I guess. What’s the urgency?” Xena asked curiously.

“I’d rather not say over the phone. How about Harvard Square in fifteen? By the newsstand?”

“Make it twenty and I’ll see you there,” Xena agreed. She was surprised when Will didn’t even say goodbye, hanging up in her ear instead.

“What’s up?” Gabrielle asked from her perch on the edge of the bed.

Xena shrugged with a frown. “I don’t know but something’s wrong. I’m meeting Will in Harvard Square in twenty so I’m going to take a quick shower.”

Xena basically stepped in the shower and washed in a minute then dried off and jumped into her clothes within five minutes. She braided her hair quickly, tying it off with an elastic at both ends then pulled on a baseball cap. When she returned to the living room, Gabrielle was dressed as well.

“It sounded like you need back-up,” Gabrielle offered at Xena’s raised eyebrow.

Xena touched the side of her face and smiled. “I’ll be fine but thanks for the offer. Relax and hang out for awhile. I’m sure I won’t be long.”

Worried, Gabrielle said, “Are you sure? This doesn’t feel right to me.”

“I’m sure, Gabrielle. I’ll leave my cell number so if you need anything, just call,” Xena said, walking to the kitchen and writing down the number. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

She kissed Gabrielle lingeringly, pressing softly against the pliant lips then groaned and pulled back. “I’ve really gotta stop that. I’ll see you later.”

Gabrielle shook her head with a grin at Xena’s parting remark then began to take off the hastily yanked on clothes. Maybe a bath would be just the thing to relax her.

********

Xena hopped on the red line of the Boston subway, known as “The T” to locals and rode the short trip standing against a pole. The subway car moved this way and that, brakes screeching as the drivers routinely took corners at breakneck speed. Still, it was better than the green line where you could barely hear yourself think; more comfortable too since a lot of the cars were new and hadn’t been defaced yet. She got off at Harvard Square and strode through the Sunday crowd to the stairs that led up to the surface.

Harvard Square was a world unto itself for the most part. Street musicians and performers grated against each other in their demand for attention. The red brick underfoot was uneven in parts and gone altogether in others. The people were a mix of gawking tourists and locals with kind but condescending looks for the tourists. Even in the heat of summer, the Goth population was evident in their black. As were the nuvue-hippies in flowing light cotton tops and skirts, both the men and women. Not to mention the yuppies with their packages and workers on their way elsewhere.

Immediately to the right of the red line exit was a newsstand that was a landmark. You could get any kind of paper and magazine from all over the world and it had been around practically forever, unchanged and unchanging with the times. Xena spotted Will standing out front and walked over to him, eyes scanning the crowd for trouble but not seeing anything unusual. A redundant thought that made her smile as she reached her partner. “What’s going on?”

“I got a lead that you’re being set up,” Will said without preamble.

He began walking and Xena moved to keep up with him. “You couldn’t have told me this at the office tomorrow morning? Or over the phone?”

“It’s internal, Xena, someone inside is trying to get rid of you,” Will said urgently.

Xena’s face froze and she turned hard eyes to Will. “You better be sure of yourself before making a statement like that, Will. These are people I’ve worked with for many years, friends that I’ve trusted my life to. I’ve known them a lot longer than I’ve known you.”

He flinched at her tone. “I know, believe me, Xena. But my source is very reliable.”

Mouth twisting, Xena demanded, “What, specifically, does your source say?”

“The people you’ve been bringing down, especially the last two years, are big players. Like we don’t know that already, I know. The thing is, there are connections to the Rizello family that we didn’t know about before. You know how they’re into everything…even cops sometimes. I don’t have any names yet but my source says that you’re heading for a fall, a big one that’s going to make the papers.”

“Shit,” Xena spat. She looked into the crowd, seeing but not seeing everything all at once. She heard a lover’s argument, a mother scolding her daughter, a father praising his daughter, a singer pouring his heart into the music and creating beauty in the process. Letting her consciousness drift, Xena felt the energies of the people who were going about their lives content or despairing yet untouching those around them.

Intensely aware of Will beside her, Xena found that there was something wrong with his energy. Unlike charlatans and shamans both, Xena didn’t see auras, she merely felt when someone was holding back or lying. Of course living over two thousand years was bound to hone anyone’s senses even if they weren’t a demigod.

“Walk with me,” Xena murmured, returning slowly to her immediate surroundings. She turned and walked down Mass Ave. not waiting to see if Will followed, knowing that he would. The crowd thinned out the further from the square they went. The streets were still busy but the sidewalks were easier to walk without bumping into people. It was late afternoon by this time and sweat trickled down Xena’s throat and between her breasts as she walked in the stifling heat.

Turning into a small side street by a convenience store, Xena stopped only when she reached the backside of the store. Without warning, she grabbed Will’s arm and threw him against the building, shoving his face into the brick as she brought his arm up around his back. Pressing up against him, she ground into his ear, “You aren’t telling me everything, Will. And I thought we were such good friends, partners almost. What aren’t you telling me? Be a good boy and get it off your chest…you’ll feel better!”

She pushed his arm up to the breaking point with the last statement and he gasped with pain. “All right! All right, I’ll tell you! Ease off already!”

Xena relaxed her hold but only a fraction of the way. “I’m waiting.”

“It’s Suz! That’s the name I was given. The contact in your department that’s setting you up on Rizello’s orders,” Will exclaimed. “I wanted to check it out before I told you anything else. I didn’t want to believe it.”

Xena dropped Will’s arm and stepped back, stunned. “No, I don’t believe it. We’ve save each other’s lives more times than I can remember!”

Rubbing his shoulder, Will grimaced and said, “I know. I checked his record. He’s a decorated officer with commendation after commendation and not a few of them from you. I haven’t even told my superiors what’s going on because this could ruin his career if my source is wrong. Xena, I’m sorry.”

She waved aside his attempt at consolation and pinched the bridge of her nose, thinking rapidly. “Okay. This is what we’re going to do. You are going to go back to your source and find out where he or she got this information. I don’t care how you do it but do it. Then triple check their sources and confirm everything. I have to meet with I.A. in the morning which will give us some time at least. I’m going to feel out Suz and see if he lets anything slip. Not a word of this to anyone, Will, I mean it!”

“I know, I know!” Will exclaimed, almost angrily. “Xena, I’m trying to figure this one out too, don’t forget that.”

Xena touched his shoulder, massaging it a little. “I’m sorry, Will, I know you’re only trying to help. It’s just…”

“I understand,” Will said quietly.

They shared an understanding look then began the silent walk back to the square.

********

“You look like hell,” Gabrielle commented when Xena collapsed silently on the sofa beside her. She moved so that Xena’s head rested on her lap and gently stroked Xena’s hair. “What happened?”

“Nothing good,” Xena murmured softly, relaxing under Gabrielle’s ministrations.

Gabrielle continued her soft massage, moving her fingers to Xena’s temples.

“There aren’t going to be any happy endings to this, Gabrielle,” Xena whispered at last. “According to Will, I’m being set up by the Rizello family.”

“Which we already knew.”

“Which we already knew,” Xena echoed in agreement. “What we didn’t know was that they’re using one of my co-workers to do the dirty work.”

Gabrielle’s breath hissed in surprise. “Who?”

“Suz.”

Gabrielle tried to remember which one he was and came up with a man in his late thirties with graying dark hair, hazel eyes and a ready smile. “Is he sure?”

“He says the source is good but is going to try and get more information. Can you have your man check out Suz? See if anything suspicious might be going on outside his life in the department?”

“Sure,” Gabrielle agreed softly. She could see the bitterness Xena felt from the pinched corners of her lover’s mouth. “I’m sorry Xena.”

“Don’t be sorry yet. For all we know this could be a feint to throw us off the real perps,” Xena said, opening her eyes.

Gabrielle nodded then bent over and gently kissed Xena. “I’ll call Rob right now.”

Rob picked up on the second ring as always and listened as Gabrielle soberly gave him the instructions. “And be careful, Rob, these are bad people we’re looking at,” she finished.

“I know, boss lady. You take care, too, hear me?” Rob admonished.

Gabrielle smiled into the phone and said, “Yes sir! Talk to you later.”

She walked back to the couch where Xena still lay sprawled out, her heart aching at the betrayal so evident in Xena’s face. She knelt, resting her head on the couch and watching her lover closely. She took Xena’s and drew it to her, wrapping both her smaller hands around the one large hand. She kissed the knuckles then said, “I love you, Xena.”

A split second after she lowered her head to kiss Xena, silent and powerful bullets shot through the large window to slam into the top of the couch, ripping the upholstery to shreds. Both women dropped to the floor almost instantaneously, Xena automatically shielding Gabrielle with her body. The coffee table exploded into a shower of glass as bullets hit it and Gabrielle hissed in pain as shards embedded into her flesh.

They crawled from the exposed position to the other side of the room, barely avoiding the bullets sinking into the walls and furniture mere inches from their heads. They stopped in the small hall on the other side of the door and Xena again put herself between Gabrielle and the source of the bullets. Though if the bullets were strong enough to go through the walls, Gabrielle knew Xena wouldn’t be enough to protect her.

She also knew it could only be the angle of the attacker that saved them from a bloody death. He or she probably couldn’t get a better view and was firing blinding, hoping to kill them. While neither of them would be permanently dead, Gabrielle had no wish to go through the pain of recovery once awakened from the short death of her body. Not to mention there would be awkward questions if their bodies just up and walked out of a morgue.

It was only three minutes later that the storm of bullets ended and silence reigned once more in Xena’s apartment. In the haven of Xena’s arms, Gabrielle watched as Xena took out her cell to call someone, probably 911 from the sound of it. Now that the crisis was over, Gabrielle allowed herself to punch the wall with her pain, putting her fist through the plaster with a satisfying crunch.

“Thanks, Gabrielle, that’ll be easy to explain,” Xena said dryly after hanging up the phone.

Sighing explosively, Gabrielle pulled out her fist and flexed her fingers, seeing the bruises form even as she watched. Grimacing, she said slowly and carefully, “I’m trying to take my mind off the glass.”

“Oh Gods, you’re hurt!” Xena exclaimed, obviously just then noticing the blood dripping down Gabrielle’s arms and legs.

“You’re an observant cop, you know that love?” Gabrielle commented, resting her head against Xena’s shoulder.

“There’ll be an ambulance along with the reinforcements. They’re going to sweep the building across the street and this one just in case,” Xena told her, voice worried.

“How about you? Are you hurt?” Gabrielle asked, eyes looking over Xena’s long form.

Xena shook her head. “I’m fine, I over-dressed for the meeting with Will and it deflected the glass from the table.”

Xena moved to sit against the wall and Gabrielle maneuvered herself between Xena’s legs, trying to find a position that didn’t hurt. After a few minutes she succeeded and they remained that way until someone pounded on the door.

“Ares! You alive in there!?”

“Captain!” Xena exclaimed. She helped Gabrielle to her feet then opened the door. “I am glad to see you!”

“I bet. Gabrielle, you’re hurt! We’ve got wounded here, guys, back up so we can get her downstairs to the med unit,” Josh shouted.

Embarrassed at the attention, Gabrielle allowed Xena to bring her downstairs to the waiting ambulance. The entire street was cordoned off and police officers were still making rounds. The EMTs looked her over and began the process of taking out the larger glass pieces and patching her up. Media crews had appeared at the edge of the blockade. Feeling a bit lost in all the attention, Gabrielle searched for Xena to find her in animated conversation with Josh.

“Miss, we’re going to have to bring you to the hospital to get the rest of the glass out,” the EMT told her.

“Sure. Just let me get my friend’s attention,” Gabrielle said. “Xena!”

“I’m sure she’ll follow in one of the police cars,” he assured her, moving to shut the doors.

“No, wait, Xena!” Gabrielle shouted, panicked out of the blue. “Xena!”

Xena’s head spun to her voice and she raced through the police, shoving some aside in her rush but making it to the ambulance before the door shut. She grabbed the door, holding it open. “Where are you taking her!” she demanded furiously.

Swallowing at the ferocity, the EMT stammered, “M-Mass General. She needs to get the rest of the glass taken out. Y-you can ride in here if you want.”

“Good idea,” Xena said, climbing into the van and sitting beside Gabrielle on the stretcher.

Gabrielle leaned against Xena, pulling her strong arms around her, not caring about the pain. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I panicked like that.”

Xena cradled Gabrielle protectively. “Don’t worry, everything’s fine now. We’ll get you taken care of then head to the safe house Josh is arranging for us.”

Gabrielle knew she should be angry with herself for reacting like a hysterical teenager but the stress from the attack, the scrapes and gashes digging painfully into her, it was too much to combat alone. Xena’s presence was exactly what she needed and she turned to her soul mate for the freely given comfort.

********

“I look like a patchwork quilt,” Gabrielle complained ruefully as they left the emergency room.

Xena grinned. “I won’t argue with that description. You’re the bard after all.” She turned serious then said, “I’m just glad there wasn’t any serious damage.”

“You think it was a warning?” Gabrielle asked.

Sighing, Xena said, “Well, they found the apartment where the shooter was and it’s not an exact match for firing into my place. It’s as close as you can get but there isn’t really a good line of sight. So it could’ve been a warning or bad logistics. I’m counting on the warning, though from whom, at this point, is anyone’s guess. The good news is I’m off I.A.’s hit list, at least temporarily. Josh called while they were cleaning you up and said he explained matters to Dickenson personally. I can just imagine the words he used, too.”

Gabrielle chuckled and Xena ushered her to Will’s car then sat beside her, pulling her close, careful not to press against any of the bandages. Will had shown up almost an hour before while the doctor was finishing with Gabrielle. The Captain had called Will from the crime scene and told him what happened, requesting the FBI take Xena and Gabrielle into protective custody until things could be sorted out.

So Will had called his superior and told him what had happened, skipping the details about Suz and his source. His superior had agreed that the case required intervention and assigned Will to take care of arranging a safe house. After that he’d driven to the hospital and found Xena, explaining what he’d done over the last hour or so. He and Xena had quietly bounced ideas off each other during the remaining time, sitting in the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room.

Xena didn’t pay attention to where they were going but knew it wasn’t that far outside of the city since it was only fifteen minutes until the car stopped. By that time Gabrielle had succumbed to the painkillers and dozed against Xena’s shoulders. She carefully got out of the car then picked up Gabrielle and followed Will inside an apartment building. They took the elevator up to the fourth floor and were shortly in apartment 405.

Xena looked around the apartment and saw what she assumed to be the bedroom door and walked towards it. Will beat her there and opened the door, going into the room and looking around first. He withdrew and Xena went straight to the bed, depositing Gabrielle gently on the small mattress.

‘It would be a twin,’ she thought ruefully, bringing the covers up and over Gabrielle. She hoped that Gabrielle wouldn’t end up literally kicking her out of bed in her sleep. Her hand lingered on Gabrielle’s face, caressing the cheek gently. “I love you, bard.”

She went back to the main room where Will was sitting on the couch, tv already on. She plopped down on the couch beside him, pulling her legs up and sitting cross-legged.

He glanced over to her and set the remote on the coffee table. “So what now?”

“I don’t know. Keep the same plan, I guess. Right now I’m tired and just want to get some sleep. I just wanted to say thank you for helping us with all this. You’re a good friend, Will and I appreciate everything you’ve done,” Xena said, reaching out to touch his arm.

Will looked at her, covering her hand with his own and half-smiled. “I’m sorry how I reacted about Gabrielle, Xena. I want you to know that I’m here for you if you need me.”

And suddenly Xena found herself staring into the warm blue eyes of Iolus. She flashed back two thousand years to a dark cavern and an injured Iolus taking her hand in forgiveness, half-smiling through his pain to reassure her.

“Xena? Are you all right?” Will asked with concern.

“Uh, I’m fine, thanks Will. I guess I’m more stressed than I thought,” Xena managed at last, still stunned with the realization. Why were they all gathering together now? All they needed to make the circle complete was for Hercules to show up. “I’m going to hit the sack.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Will agreed, still concerned.

Xena got up and went to the bedroom then climbed in beside Gabrielle, snuggling close to the warm body and wrapping her arm around Gabrielle’s waist. “You are never going to believe this, Gabrielle. Then again, with everything you’ve been through, maybe you will. I was sitting on the couch with Will just now and found Iolus’ soul staring back at me. How could I have been so blind?”

“Not blind, just unseeing,” Gabrielle murmured, hand clasping Xena’s.

“Awake, bard of mine?” Xena asked, pressing a kiss to the delicate throat.

“Almost,” Gabrielle answered sleepily. “Where are we?”

“In an FBI safe-house somewhere in either Cambridge or Somerville, I’m not sure which,” Xena answered. “Will brought us here.”

“I remember that,” Gabrielle said. She paused then continued, “So all we need now is Hercules.”

Xena chuckled, twining her legs with Gabrielle’s and settling down to sleep. “I was just thinking that very same thing.”
Part 5
“Did I dream it or was it the painkillers?” Gabrielle mumbled into Xena’s shoulder. She was warm and comfortable in Xena’s arms in the small bed they shared in the safe house.

“Dream what?” Xena murmured, resting her cheek against Gabrielle’s soft hair.

“Did you say something about Will being Iolaus last night?”

“Oh that. No, you didn’t dream it,” Xena confirmed. “You seemed to agree with me at the time.”

“I did?” Gabrielle was surprised, everything a bit vague from the previous evening. She felt Xena nod and looked up at her lover thoughtfully. “So you really think that, hm? What happened?”

“We were sitting on the couch after I put you to bed and just suddenly it hit me as he looked me in the eyes. It was Iolaus,” Xena said certainly.

Gabrielle was silent a long moment then breathed deeply. “So what’s the plan for getting ourselves out of this situation?”

“I think Will and I are going to take a trip to the precinct so I can get Suz alone for five minutes,” Xena said darkly.

“And I have to stay here because…” Gabrielle prompted.

“This way I know where you are, that you’re safe,” Xena answered.

“Xena, you don’t have to worry about me like that anymore, remember?” Gabrielle assured her. “I’m not sure what happened to me last night because you know I’m a lot cooler than that under worse circumstances.”

“I know, Gabrielle, and you don’t have to explain yourself to me. But it would make me feel better if you just rested for a day or so. If only to heal up,” Xena finished.

Scowling, Gabrielle pursed her lips then reluctantly nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay here. But there better be a list of take out places nearby for me to order from. And you’re buying.”

Xena chuckled, pressing her lips to the top of Gabrielle’s head. “Thank you, love.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gabrielle muttered. She didn’t want to admit that a day or two to rest would be welcome. Though not in active pain anymore, she did heal at an amazing rate after all, Gabrielle was still sore all over from the glass cuts. And she felt lethargic, probably due to the leftover painkiller medication in her system.

There was a knock at the door and, “Xena? Are you up?”

“Yeah, Will, be right out,” Xena called back. “Time to go.”

Gabrielle nodded but didn’t move except to press her lips against Xena’s throat. She wasn’t going to make this easy for the warrior. She was pleased by the groan that answered her kiss and moved her lips to another location further down Xena’s neck.

“You are trying to kill me, aren’t you?” Xena muttered. She captured Gabrielle’s lips in a light kiss then pulled back and raised herself onto an elbow. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“I love you, Xena,” Gabrielle answered. Her hand reached up to caress the side of Xena’s face and the other woman leaned into her touch. “Go on. I’ll see you when you get back.”

Xena nodded then rolled off the bed decisively and left the room. Gabrielle pulled the covers tighter and let sleep call her back into comforting darkness.

********

“Hey Suz, how’s it going?” Xena asked casually. Her eyes watched every move and nuance the older man made as soon as she was in his line of sight. Will was standing behind her, moving unobtrusively to fill the doorway to the lunchroom. She walked closer to where Suz was making himself a bagel.

Brown eyes looked her over casually and he grinned. “Good to see you in one piece, Ares.”

“Good to be in one piece,” Xena answered, leaning against the counter. “How’s your wife doing these days? Still putting up with your sorry ass?”

Xena saw him hesitate for a split second before chuckling. “Don’t know why but yeah, she is.”

“I’ve been thinking, Suz,” Xena paused expectantly for the familiar banter.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Suz supplied.

“Yeah, yeah. So it occurred to me this morning that you’re in the wrong profession,” Xena continued.

“Oh?”

She turned to face him and said, “Yeah. You should be an actor.”

Puzzled, he said, “Why do you say that?”

Xena grabbed his wrist, digging her fingers into the nerve endings so that the bagel dropped from his fingers. “Because if you weren’t such a good actor, I’d have found out a long time before this that you’ve been setting me up,” she hissed, throwing his hand away from her.

Suz stepped back, rubbing his wrist and licking his lips nervously. It was then that he noticed Will standing in the door, blocking his escape route. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Xena. We’ve been friends a long time. You’re going to believe G-man over me? After all these years?”

“Since he’s not trying to get me killed, yeah, I am going to believe him over you, Suz,” Xena said, stepping closer. “Why’re you doing this, Suz? As you just pointed out, we’ve been friends a long time, saved each other’s lives more than a few times. What happened? Lose at poker with the wrong people?”

Finally backed against the wall, Suz stubbornly shook his head and insisted, “I’m not doing any such thing, Xena, believe me!”

Xena’s fingers whipped out, triggering the pressure points in Suz’s throat. She watched coldly as he dropped to his knees, clutching his throat and gagging for breath. She also ignored Will’s fascinated look and said, “I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. If I don’t undo it within thirty seconds, you’re going to die like the miserable coward you are.”

“They’ve got Macy!” Suz gasped out.

Xena immediately released the pressure points and Suz breathed in the air in great gulping draughts. “Why the hell didn’t you say something, idiot!” Xena exclaimed, helping him to stand. They walked to a wobbly table and each took a seat.

“They took her a couple of days ago. But they threatened her life just after you really started getting into Stafford,” Suz explained. “I guess they thought I wasn’t properly motivated or something.”

“The Rizello’s,” Xena said.

“The Rizello’s,” he confirmed. “They didn’t care about him but thought he might tip you or higher powers off to some of their score. Not to mention that with him out of the picture and you in jail for it, it would be two birds with one stone. I’m sorry, Xena, I really am but they’ve got Macy! You can’t imagine what it’s like when someone you love is being held hostage, their life in your hands, in whatever you do or don’t do.”

Smiling without humor, Xena’s voice was like a glacier. “You’d be surprised, Suz. Go on.”

“That’s it. They said once you were behind bars they’d let Macy go,” Suz answered.

“Suz, you know that’s impossible to count on,” Xena pointed out. “So do they. That’s why the hit last night, a lot more certain than a jury. How do you get in touch with them?”

“I’ve got a phone number but they said to use it only in emergencies,” Suz explained.

Xena nodded. “Okay. Then we’ll just cook up an emergency for you to call them about. You go on back to work, we’ll think of something. And Suz, I’ll get Macy back for you, I promise.”

Suz held her eyes for a long moment before nodding and leaving the room. Will took the seat he vacated. “What now?”

“How has the attack from last night been portrayed in the news?” Xena asked.

“Lone gunman acting alone against the City’s Finest. Still being searched for. Police officer’s condition unknown but taken to a city hospital for treatment,” Will recounted.

Xena nodded slowly. “Good. Leak my location to the press. I think we need to have a chat with one of the Rizello boys.”

“Sure. Before I do though, how did you do that?” Will asked, obviously dying of curiosity.

“Do what?” Xena replied innocently.

“That thing with your hands!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Xena said, eyes twinkling.

Scowling, Will exclaimed, “Fine! Be like that. I’ll go and place the call. Any particular hospital you want?”

“Nah. I trust your judgement,” Xena answered airily waving a hand.

“Gee, thanks a lot Xena,” Will said sarcastically.

The more Xena watched Will, the louder his mannerisms spoke of Iolaus. How had she not seen it before in all the months they had worked together? Even his faux temper-tantrum had been with twinkling eyes. Shaking her head, Xena was about to rise when Josh entered the room.

“I thought I saw you. What’re you doing here? Why aren’t you looking after Gabrielle?” he demanded.

“She’s fine, Captain. I just came in to take care of some loose ends,” Xena assured him.

Squinting at her suspiciously, he wagged a finger. “You are up to something.”

“No I’m not,” Xena denied, all wide-eyed innocence.

“That was convincing,” he said dryly. “C’mon, you know you’ll feel better after confessing to your old captain.”

Grinning, Xena stood then walked over and patted him on the shoulder. “Maybe, but you wouldn’t. See you later, Captain.”

“Xena.”

She turned back.

“Be careful.”

Xena nodded and gave him a wry smile. “I always am.”

At that he snorted but let her go without further comment.

“We need to get in place,” Will greeted her in the hall.

“Let me just call Gabrielle and let her know what’s going on,” Xena said, moving towards the department. “Did you tell Suz what to do?”

Will nodded, sitting in the chair next to her desk, grinning at her expectantly when she picked up the phone then hung up again. “Want the number?”

“Smart-ass. Yes, I want the number,” Xena said, holding out her hand.

Will dangled a card out of her reach before she snatched it away. He laughed.

“Watch it or I’ll put the whammy on you,” Xena threatened.

“The what? What’re you talking about?” Will teased. “Now, I might feel scared if I knew what you were referring to. But since something like that doesn’t exist…”

Shaking her head exasperatedly, Xena dialed the unfamiliar number and waited. Gabrielle’s voice answered almost immediately.

“Hey there,” Xena said, turning away from Will for a little privacy.

“I was hoping you would call,” Gabrielle said, a smile in her voice. “How’d it go?”

“Perfectly. I just didn’t want you to jump to conclusions if you watch the twelve o’clock news and find I’m in critical condition in the hospital,” Xena explained.

“Ah. I see. Flushing someone out are we?” Gabrielle questioned.

“You are just too smart,” Xena teased lightly, voice caressing through the phone line.

“What can I say? I do catch on quick. Oh wait, I’ve been in the business for almost fifteen years now, maybe I’m slower than I thought.”

Xena chuckled and said, “I’m not sure what time I’ll be back, it might be late.”

“Well, I’ll wait up for you,” Gabrielle said.

“No, I want to find you in bed when we get back if it’s that late,” Xena ordered. “You’re supposed to be resting, remember? Are the FBI officers on duty?”

“Yes. I offered them a danish since they are a step above cops, after all. An expanded palate and all that,” Gabrielle said.

“I’m going to have to make you pay for that remark,” Xena promised.

Gabrielle’s answering chuckle was warm and low. “I’ll be waiting.”

The phone cut off and Xena jerked away from the receiver in surprise. Did Gabrielle hang up like that to tease her or was something wrong?

“What’s wrong?” Will asked instantly.

“I’m not sure anything is wrong yet,” Xena said, tensing as she hitting the redial on her phone. It rang several times with no answer. “Call your friends and make sure everything is all right. She isn’t picking up now.”

Will took out his cell phone and dialed a number. “Hi Jack, it’s Will. Listen, can you check on the bird for me? We can’t get through on the direct line.” There was a pause then Will turned a pale face to Xena. “Okay. Check the area, standard procedure. Call me with any news. She’s gone. The window’s open but that’s a four story drop and no fire escape.”

“I gathered that. They’ll probably hold her with Macy,” Xena said tersely. She stood and walked over to Suz. “Call them in ten minutes. Tell them I’m in critical condition at Mass General and give them room number, Will, what’s the room number?”

Right behind her, Will answered, “723. Tell them she’s just been upgraded from critical to stable and moved to a private room.”

Suz nodded and began to stand. “I’m coming with you.”

Xena pressed her hand onto his shoulder, pushing him back into the chair. “I can’t have you there, Suz. You’re way too involved in this and you know it.”

“And you aren’t?” Will asked as they strode purposefully down the hall.

“The difference is that when I get my hands on whoever took Gabrielle, I’m going to rip out their heart and feed it to them,” Xena said quietly. “Suz is too emotional to be ruthless.”

Will shivered, knowing somehow that she was entirely serious. “Xena, you can’t just kill whoever we find.”

“Oh I won’t,” Xena assured him darkly. “I’ll save that for the one behind this entire mess.”

********

Gabrielle’s head was killing her. One second she’d been talking to Xena and the next something hard struck her in the back of the head and darkness claimed her. The next thing that assaulted her was the pervading smell of garlic, stinging her eyes with its pungent odor. Coughing on the fumes, Gabrielle opened her eyes and squinted painfully against the overhead light.

The good news was that she wasn’t alone. There was a woman sitting on a cot against the other wall, reading. The bad news was she was heavily chained to a chair that was, it seemed, chained to the wall. Taking a closer look, she saw the chains were made of silver and grinned. Someone was definitely mixing up their legends.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked upon seeing her awake. She was in her mid thirties with honey-blond hair and blue eyes.

Gabrielle cleared her throat and nodded. “Thirsty more than anything else. Is there any water?”

The woman nodded and put the book down then walked over to a closed door then returned with a plastic cup filled with water. Gabrielle drank greedily, spilling some down the side of her mouth. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” the woman answered. “I’m Macy.”

“Gabrielle.” Looking around the room, Gabrielle saw no mirrors and her grin got bigger. Whoever had her was definitely suspicious enough to employ every myth they’d ever heard of, regardless of how silly.

“What are you smiling about?” Macy asked curiously.

“Oh nothing much,” Gabrielle replied. “Just thinking about how Xena’s going to kill everyone in sight trying to get me back!”

“What are you shouting for?” Macy exclaimed, stepping away as though she was demented.

“Sorry. Just wanted to make sure they heard me!” Gabrielle said, shouting the last few words. “Not to mention that if I get free they’ve really got something to worry about!”

“Are you all right? I think they hit you a few times on the back of the head before chaining you up,” Macy said with concern.

“No wonder my head is killing me!” Gabrielle exclaimed. The water had helped but what she really needed was blood to finish off the healing process and get herself free. Looking around the room, Gabrielle saw only four solid stone walls but couldn’t be certain there weren’t cameras. “Macy, would you do me a favor?”

Macy looked at her and nodded. “What do you need.”

Trapping Macy within her powerful gaze, Gabrielle pressed her will onto the woman and ordered softly, “I need you to sit here on my lap and put your neck to my mouth.”

After a few halting steps, Macy did just that. When her fangs pierced the soft skin of Macy’s throat, Gabrielle gently drew out the hot blood. Macy swooned against her, arms going around Gabrielle’s back so she could press closer with a moan. Restraining herself, Gabrielle only took enough blood to get rid of the pounding headache and banish the remaining soreness from the glass cuts.

Withdrawing, Gabrielle licked the tiny marks clean then gently kissed the neck. “Thank you, Macy. Go and drink as much water as you want and then go to sleep. You won’t remember any of this when you wake up.”

Moving like a robot, Macy did as Gabrielle ordered. Gabrielle settled in to wait, replenishing her strength during the forced vigil with meditation and sleep.

********

The bed was occupied by a long form, dark hair splayed out over the covers but the occupant was turned away from the door, resting on their side. The door crept open, centimeter by centimeter until a large man entered the room on silent feet. A pistol, laden with silencer, was pulled out as he moved closer. He aimed at the bed.

In a blur of motion, Xena jumped out of the closet and grabbed the hand with the pistol, spinning him face first into the wall. Her fingers pinched into nerve endings and the gun dropped to the floor. Spinning him around again, Xena’s finger stabbed into the paralyzing pressure points and he fell like a stone to the floor.

Will rolled out of the bed and went to stand beside Xena. “How do you do that?” Will exclaimed with admiration, watching the man struggling to move but unable to.

“Just a little something I picked up over the years,” Xena answered with a grin. “If you’re a good boy I might teach you some day.” She knelt beside the would-be assassin and cupped his throat in her hand. “If you want to live, you will tell me where your people are keeping Macy Suz and Gabrielle Amphipolos.”

“Warehouse down on the waterfront,” the man exclaimed, eyes wide with panic. “2065 Anderson Avenue.”

“How many there?” Will asked.

“Eleven. Rizello’s younger son Jack is heading up the operation,” the man answered.

Will turned hardened, eager eyes to Xena and she grinned, echoing the feeling. “Bonus! Okay, I think he’ll be safe enough here waiting for someone to pick him up.”

“What? You’re just going to leave him like this?” Will asked.

“Nah.” Xena denied. She took the gun from off the floor and slammed it into the man’s head, instantly knocking him out. Her fingers flashed out again, releasing the pressure points, and she stood. “But I’ll leave him like that. Handcuff him and make sure no one comes in here. I’ll meet you at the warehouse. There’s a few things I need to pick up first.”

Frowning, Will said, “I don’t think we have much time, Xena. If this guy doesn’t check in…”

“I know. I’ll be there in half an hour, promise,” Xena assured him.

Will nodded and pulled out his handcuffs.

********

Traffic was a bitch. As much as Xena cursed, the midday snarl would not move any faster. “What the tartarus are you people doing here? Why aren’t you at work, dammit!”

It took longer than she anticipated to get to the warehouse but Xena knew she was at least twenty minutes ahead of Will. She didn’t want him around to worry about restraining herself. If she could get in and overpower everyone on the QT, things would work out just fine. She could find Gabrielle and Macy, get them out and have everything wrapped up before Will even showed up.

Parking in an alley half a block from the address, Xena checked her two guns, spinning on the silencers and nudging off the safeties. The docks were busy in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t do to have gunfire attracting attention. Hopefully she wouldn’t need to use them, considered it a failure when she did, but ten to one odds against were a little steeper than she’d dealt with in awhile.

The warehouse was set at the end of the dock and she walked boldly around the back of the three-story building. It was a dilapidated wooden building, the gray paint peeling off in streaks and the windows knocked out in places. As she’d thought, Xena found a rear entrance next to an old metal fire escape. She climbed the fire escape and peered in a window on the third floor.

As far as Xena could tell, there was no one posted on the third floor but the lighting was poor, especially with the sun coming from behind her and shining on the dirty windows. She waited a few minutes then opened the window and climbed in. Moving slowly, Xena walked straight forward, sweeping left to right through rows of crates to make sure no one was around. Scanning the entire floor only took a few minutes and then she moved down to the second floor. The second floor was just as empty as the third but she could hear men talking and laughing from below.

Her boot scraped across metal as she moved towards the stairs and Xena looked down to find an old fashioned grate. Grinning at her luck with the Fates, Xena lay down and silently pried off the rusted metal. It gave her a clear view of the first floor and her grin turned feral upon seeing a group of six men with automatic weapons gathered mostly around a table in the corner playing cards. Looking the other way showed two men in the office in the east wall and another guarding the door. That left two unaccounted if her source hadn’t been lying. She guessed they were guarding Gabrielle and Macy.

So how to do it? Pursing her lips, Xena thought for all of two minutes. The stairs were completely open so if she went that way, they’d definitely see her coming. Of course she could take out most of them right where she was and not even kill them. Just nick them in the shoulders and/or legs. That left the two in the office, the one at the door plus the two out of sight that would probably come running at the commotion.

If there were some sort of diversion, she could make it down and around the stairs without being noticed. From there, it was only a matter of finding the door that led to Gabrielle and Macy…assuming they were being kept in the same room, of course. But how was she going to create a diversion? Being in two places at the same time was not in the list of demigod powers. Not that she’d discovered yet, anyhow.

As though in answer to her prayers, there was a pounding at the front door that startled the men below into attention. Xena jumped to her feet and ran lightly to the stairs. Moving swiftly, she took the first ten stairs in a jump, landing easily on the platform in a crouch. Eyes constantly checking out the position of the men, Xena took the next group in another jump and pitched herself over the side of the stairs for the final fifteen steps.

“Where is the manager! I demand to see the manager!” a loud, nasally voice demanded.

Xena repressed a laugh at Will’s over-exaggerated, New York accent and his ranting. As she walked to the first door and peered inside, she heard him insisting that his car had been damaged by one of the overgrown louts employed by this facility. It was the perfect diversion and she got through four doors before reaching the right one.

The dark red hair was the first thing she saw and Xena breathed a sigh of relief as she moved further into the room. The next thing that caught her attention were the shackles holding Gabrielle tight and…her nose wrinkled in protest taking in the smell of way too much fresh garlic. “Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle strained to look but could only manage to twist part way around. “It’s about time you got here!”

Chuckling, Xena said, “Sorry. Had to find out where you were first.”

“You must be slipping, Xena, it doesn’t usually take this long to catch up with me,” Gabrielle teased.

Xena knelt by the chair and pulled the garlic ropes up and off, tossing them into a corner.

“Thank you so much!” Gabrielle gasped, heartfelt, taking in a deep breath of garlic-free air.

Grinning, Xena took a firm hold of the two links clasped together by three locks. “Are these silver chains?”

Gabrielle snorted. “Yeah. I guess they forgot silver is for werewolves.”

Shaking her head, Xena pulled the chains apart, the soft metal grinding and twisting apart under incredible force. When they finally severed a minute later, Xena was sweating with the effort. “Tartarus that smarts!” she exclaimed, shaking out her hands.

Gabrielle was already shrugging out of the chains that had slackened without the locks. Just after they clattered to the ground, the door opened. Xena instantly whirled around, grabbing the man who stood slack-jawed with surprise at finding her there. She knocked him out before he could shout.

“I think it’s time to get out of here,” Xena said. She looked at Macy and frowned, seeing the woman still lying on the bed, eyes staring vacantly up at the ceiling. “What’s wrong with Macy?”

Gabrielle flushed, answering, “I needed blood to get rid of the concussion our friends were nice enough to give me.”

“You fed on her?” Xena asked incredulously. “Gabrielle, if she says anything…”

“She won’t remember,” Gabrielle interrupted. “I told her the whole thing was a dream. It’s hypnosis, she really won’t remember much of anything.”

Eyebrows raised, Xena observed, “Handy talent to have.”

“I try not to use it,” Gabrielle said walking over to Macy. She took the woman’s arm and said, “Macy, wake up. It’s time to go now.”

Blinking rapidly as though coming out of a deep sleep unexpectedly, Macy shrieked before Gabrielle could put her hand over the scared woman’s mouth. “It’s okay, Macy. Do you remember me?” Gabrielle asked. Macy nodded slowly. “Xena’s here, she’s going to get us out. We have to leave now.”

Standing with Gabrielle’s help, Macy looked over to Xena and managed a smile. “Xena! I’m so glad to see you! It’s been horrible!”

“I know, Macy, but we don’t have time to discuss it. Our diversion is pretty much over and we need to get out of here,” Xena explained gently. The woman seemed confused and dazed. It occurred to Xena that Gabrielle had more powers than she knew about and they really should go over the whole catalogue at some point in the near future.

Opening the door a crack, Xena found Will still arguing heatedly only this time with Jack Rizello. They were in the center of the large space, Will making wild gestures with his hands. The other men were gathered in a semi-circle around the two, half protectively and half amused. If he had blonde hair instead of brown, Xena would’ve been hard pressed to tell between this Iolaus and the old one. Funny how mannerisms took over the image when you knew what to look for.

She led Macy and Gabrielle out of the room and towards the stairs, keeping Macy between them, the unprotected chink in their chain. They were mostly to the stairs when the lights went out and the warehouse dropped into darkness. The only light now came from the dirty windows near the ceiling.

“Bob, John, go check it out!” someone barked out. “You, jerkoff, stay right here where we can see you.”

“Shit,” Xena breathed. She pressed her arm against Macy, pushing the woman against the side of the stairwell.

“Now what?” Gabrielle asked, sotto voce.

There was a soft shimmering of light and Xena turned to find Ares leering at her. “Ares! What are you doing here?”

“Just checking up on my favorite daughter,” Ares said, arms crossed as he leaned against the opposite wall. “Funny thing electricity. It sometimes goes out when I show up. I keep forgetting that little detail.”

“Right,” Xena said, voice drier than sandpaper.

“Xena, who’re you talking to?” Macy whispered.

“No one, Macy, just thinking out loud,” Xena assured her. Scowling at Ares one last time, Xena returned her attention to the situation at hand.

“Xena, what about that window down there?” Gabrielle asked.

Following Gabrielle’s finger, Xena saw a window set at shoulder height instead of up by the ceiling. She nodded, “That’ll do. Make sure she gets out, Gabrielle. I’ll stay, to be sure they don’t follow.”

“Xena.”

Xena gave her a lopsided grin and said, “I’ve got business to take care of, Gabrielle. I’ll be right behind you, I promise.”

Gabrielle’s eyes flickered to Ares then she pressed a quick kiss to Xena’s lips and took Macy’s hand to lead her rapidly towards the dimly illuminated window. On her way passed the God, Gabrielle jabbed him hard with an elbow and he hunched over, trying to regain his breath.

“Why are you really here, Ares?” Xena demanded, watching until Gabrielle began opening the window. Then she turned her attention fully back to her father.

“You know, it’s been too long since we’ve had a real chat, Xena,” he began. Moving to stand inches from her, his hand reached out to caress the side of her face then trailed down her throat to rest against her breastbone. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

Upper lip curling as though she tasted something bad, Xena gripped his wrist and peeled it off. “Please.”

Expression mirroring hers, Ares said, “You know me so well, Xena. I’m not here for you at all, actually.”

A faint frown marring her features, she demanded, “Why are you here then?”

At that point, Will exclaimed, “This is outrageous. I only came in here to get insurance information. What are you doing? Get your hands off me!”

Eyes flashing to Ares, Xena saw his satisfied smile and horror ripped through her. He was here for Iolaus!

“Boss he’s packin’!”

“What? Hold him!”

“Hey, a guy’s gotta have protection, you know what I’m sayin’?” Will explained hastily. “It’s just a little gun after all, nothing you big boys need to worry about.”

“I’ve got ID here, boss, he’s a fed!”

“Shit! Everyone fan out and make sure there aren’t more of them around. I’m gonna take care of this one personally.”

Knowing she had to do something, Xena pulled out both guns, took a deep breath and stepped forward. “Hey Jack, looking for me?”

The shadows concealed her but she could see the men running towards her. Taking careful aim, Xena dropped one right after the other until they were all moaning in pain on the ground.

“Drop it, Ares or your partner here gets it!”

Xena saw the glint of sun off the gun pointed at Will’s head and raised her hands, guns hanging from each pointer finger. She slowly bent over and put them on the cement floor.

“Good move. Now kick them over to me,” Jack ordered.

Straightening, Xena kicked first one and then the other over to the two men. He shoved Will a few feet away and ordered, “Back off G-man or I’ll blow you away right here.”

Will stepped away, hands also visible.

“Now what, Jack? Daddy’s not going to be happy with this little fiasco,” Xena pointed out. “A decorated officer like myself and Mr. FBI can’t just disappear. Not to mention the multi-millionaire and cop’s wife you’ve got stashed.”

As Gabrielle helped Macy out of the window, she heard the trouble with Will start. Glancing back, she saw Xena pulling out both guns and her heart jumped into her throat. Xena moved out of sight and she heard the solid thuds of bullets entering flesh. Then the thug started threatening Will. When guns clattered to the ground, Gabrielle practically shoved Macy the rest of the way out the window. She ran silently to the edge of the stairs and peered out from behind the corner, watching for the right moment to jump in.

“You got a point, Ares. And I could let you go with the threat against the woman and your bitch. We got her once, there’s no reason we can’t get her again. And we would, eventually, figure out how to kill her, too. Plenty of reading on the subject, if you know what I mean,” Jack said. He looked at Will then back to her, pursing his lips. “Then again, international waters aren’t that far away. Screw it.”

Xena’s eyes widened as he took a track she didn’t expect and aimed the gun at her head. Three things happened simultaneously. Gabrielle appeared out of nowhere, crashing into her and slamming them both to the ground. Will seized the opportunity to jump Jack, wrestling him as the gun went off with a loud echo. The door burst open and police streamed in, shouting and overwhelming the building.

Looking up into Gabrielle’s eyes, Xena tried to focus on something other than their green, eternal depths but couldn’t. She didn’t truly want to and when soft lips descended, Xena opened her mouth to receive their blessing. It was a short kiss as someone toed Xena’s shoulder a few seconds later. Dragging her mouth away from Gabrielle’s with great effort, she saw Josh staring down at her with a big grin.

“Sorry to break up the reunion but I thought you might want to know that your partner has been injured and is asking for you,” Rockland informed her.

“Ares balls!” Xena swore.

Gabrielle immediately rolled off her and they both rushed over to where paramedics were working on Will.

“Hey you, what the hell were you thinking, jumping on him like that?” Xena demanded gently. She brushed the bangs off Will’s pale face with a smile.

“If I’d seen the size of his gun I wouldn’t have,” Will assured her, heroically trying to ignore the man testing his shoulder. He gasped at the prodding and accepted her hand. “I thought for sure you were dead, Xena. Something inside, I couldn’t let it happen again. I know that doesn’t make any sense but I feel like I let you down some other time that I don’t remember and you were badly hurt because of it.”

Xena knew he was struggling to remember her death on the cross aeons ago. Iolaus had confessed to her that both he and Hercules had struggled to make it to her and Gabrielle. It had badly wounded him that they hadn’t made it in time even though things had turned out okay. She squeezed his hand and kissed his cheek. “It’s fine, Will, believe me. Next time, just don’t get shot in the process of trying to save me, okay?”

Laughing weakly, Will nodded and said, “No problem with that.”

Ares appeared behind Will, a snarl of hate frozen on his face. A glowing hand reached out towards Will’s unsuspecting throat. Xena stepped forward, thoughts filled with venom. “Don’t even think about it, Ares or I’ll hurt you so bad, it’ll take centuries to recover!”

His dark eyes flashed to hers and they stared at each other a long moment. He stepped back, hand dropping to his side. “This isn’t over, Xena.”

“It never is,” she muttered as he disappeared in a sparkle of blue stars.

“Sorry, Detective but we have to get him to the hospital now,” the paramedic said, giving her comment a curious look.

Nodding, Xena stood back to let them do their jobs, calming her breathing from the silent battle of wills with Ares.

“Oh the paperwork and headaches you cause me, Ares!” Rockland complained, moving to stand beside her.

“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Xena said with a grin. “We just took down part of the Rizello family and I’m sure if you look, there’s bound to be something highly illegal to help soothe your carpal tunnel syndrome. Oh, and how did you know where to find us, anyhow?”

“Unlike some people, Jefferson knows proper procedure and called for backup. Of course the little bastard was probably already here when he did it, but at least he did it,” Rockland said pointedly.

“And on that note, Gabrielle and I will be going now,” Xena said. “Wait! Did you find Macy?”

Rockland nodded and answered, “She’s in the arms of her husband who is going to get almost as big an ass chewing as you are. As of right now, both of you are on leave. For as long as your earn time allows. Get it?”

Xena gave his weathered cheek a kiss then ducked as he tried to slap her away. “Thanks, Captain!”

“Get your skinny ass out of here!” he bellowed.

Grabbing Gabrielle’s hand, Xena led her out of the warehouse and into the hot sunshine. As they walked to the car, Xena slung her arm around Gabrielle’s waist. “What now, oh bard of mine?”

Leaning against her, Gabrielle answered, “I’m thinking a nice vacation elsewhere would be divine.”

“Any particular place in mind?” Xena nuzzled Gabrielle’s ear with her lips.

“I seem to recall a lovely spot in the Florida Keys that’s got our name written all over it.”
Part 6
Xena lounged in the chair, eyes closed, soaking in the sun and heat and enjoying herself immensely. Gabrielle was swimming lazily in the pool and Will was playing one-handedly with the barbecue by the house. Though mostly recovered from his injury, the gunshot was fresh enough to need a sling and he was going crazy trying to do everything right-handed. She felt so stress free that it was really incredible; she couldn’t remember being this carefree since Greece so long ago.

“Is this a private party or can anyone crash?” a voice boomed out.

Xena froze, recognizing Hercules’ voice immediately even though it had been centuries since she’d last heard it. Jumping off the chair, she shrieked in happiness and ran towards the large man filling in the doorframe. She leaped through the air, throwing her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. He grunted under the impact then spun around, laughing and holding her tight. It occurred to her briefly that she was picking up too many of Janis’ mannerisms but she dismissed it when Gabrielle’s shout joined hers and wet arms wrapped around them both.

A few moments later, they disentangled and started talking over each other in their eagerness.

“How on earth did you find us?” Xena exclaimed.

“Where have you been? I’ve been leaving messages for you everywhere!” Gabrielle exclaimed, punching his shoulder.

Hercules rubbed the sore spot and held his hands up in mock-surrender. “Easy ladies, give a man a chance to explain!”

Xena took one arm, Gabrielle the other, and they led him to the patio, leaning on his tremendous strength as they walked. “I am so happy to see you!” Xena exclaimed as they sat around the small wicker table. “What have you been up to?”

“Yeah! I’ve been leaving voice mail and emails all over the place for you!” Gabrielle accused tartly.

“I’m sorry but I was called home unexpectedly so I’ve been out of the loop,” Hercules answered. His hazel eyes twinkled tolerantly at the thoughts that mention of his family brought up and his large frame eased back in the chair. His hair was still golden brown and longish to his shoulders but he was dressed in jeans and t-shirt. “You know how demanding my family can be.”

“And how aggravating,” Gabrielle agreed.

Xena nodded and was about to comment when she noticed Will discreetly going inside the house. She felt like smacking herself on the forehead and stood up, waving him over. “Will, come here and meet our good friend, please.”

When Will joined them, Hercules stood up and held out a hand. “Good to meet you, Will is it?”

Will stared at him silently as their hands clasped. He frowned as though trying to place something on the tip of his tongue. “I’m sorry but, do I know you?”

Hercules shrugged, shaking his head negatively but their hands remained linked as Hercules contemplated the friendly face before him. “Name’s Hercules Zusson. And I don’t think we’ve met, no.”

“Hercules? As in the legendary hero?” Will asked with a grin, looking up into Hercules’ eyes. “You look more like a Herc to me.”

Hercules’ mouth dropped but he recovered quickly. “My best friend used to call me that a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

“No, it’s okay. It’s silly really,” Hercules interrupted. He suddenly realized they were still clasping hands and let go. He pulled out a chair for the injured man. “Sit, join us.”

“Thanks but I don’t want to intrude or anything,” Will said. “I can go take care of the rest of the food while you three catch up.”

Xena and Gabrielle met eyes as the men interacted with Hercules trying to convince Will to stay. Xena pursed her lips questioningly. Gabrielle shook her head and Xena nodded agreement. They hadn’t really discussed whether or not to tell Hercules about Will/Iolaus but Gabrielle seemed to think it not a good idea. Xena was curious as to why but would wait to ask her lover in private.

“So what happened to you?” Hercules asked after finally getting Will to sit.

“I was shot being an idiot,” Will said, disparagingly.

“He was shot being a hero,” Gabrielle contradicted firmly. “He saved my life by jumping in front of a man who was trying to kill me.”

“Well, actually, he was trying to kill me if you recall. You jumped on me and Will tackled the guy and got shot in the process,” Xena corrected.

“It was dark. If I’d seen the gun he was packing, I probably wouldn’t have.” Will repeated his words from the crime scene with wink.

“I’m surrounded by heroes then,” Hercules said, smiling broadly. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? Care to tell me the whole story?”

“Gabrielle? You’re the bard, why don’t you do the honors?” Xena suggested, sitting back to enjoy one of her favorite things: Gabrielle’s voice.

The next hour passed quickly as Gabrielle told the story of their reunion and the subsequent action and problems. Towards the middle, Xena got up and went to get something for them all to drink. By the end, she openly watched Hercules and Will in fascination as subconsciously they fell into their old positions. Hercules was sprawled out a foot or so from the table, legs crossed out in front. Will leaned on his good arm towards Hercules, nudging the bigger man every so often with his elbow to emphasize something. He also jumped in the narrative when he felt Gabrielle had missed something.

Gabrielle finished up with, “And that’s how we got here in the Keys. I figured that if you ever got back in touch, you’d be able to find this place again.”

“I still can’t believe that I get a free vacation out of all this,” Will said with a chuckle. His tone turned slightly self-deprecating. “And all I had to do was get shot.”

Hercules twisted to look at him with a frown.

“What? Do I have something in my teeth?” Will asked, returning the gaze.

“Maybe we have met,” Hercules said finally, brow crinkled in puzzlement. “You seem very familiar to me now.”

Will stared back at him and said, “I know I know you from somewhere, I just can’t place where. Give me time, though, I have a very good memory for faces. Although you’d think I’d remember a giant named Hercules without any trouble. Right big guy?”

At that Hercules’ paled, openly staring at Will. After a shocked moment, he hastily got to his feet. “Excuse me, I-I forgot something. I’ll be right back.”

Xena watched him go sympathetically. She knew what it was like to find your world turned upside-down when the impossible was not only possible, but suddenly transpired.

“Was it something I said?” Will asked, concerned gaze following Hercules inside the house.

Gabrielle leaned forward and patted his hand. “Not at all. Xena, why don’t you go check on Hercules and we’ll get supper finished.”

Nodding, Xena stood and walked inside. She found Hercules in the sunroom, staring out at the aquamarine water that stretched out in all directions. Walking up behind him, she placed her hand on his arm and stood there, comforting him with her touch. She could see that he was struggling with powerful emotions and waited silently for him to take it in.

“Why…why didn’t you tell me?” he asked at last.

“How would you have liked us to do so? Send you an email saying, ‘Hey Herc, we found Iolaus. He’s reincarnated here and dodging bullets in the FBI?’ And you showed up so unexpectedly today, we didn’t know when or how to tell you,” Xena said softly.

“What’s he like?” Hercules asked quietly. Brown eyes stared into blue, silently asking what his words did not.

“He’s Iolaus,” Xena answered simply. “He’s warm, funny, honorable, caring and has a good luck streak with the ladies a mile long. I’ve noticed that he’s a bit more decisive and thoughtful this time around, though. And, strangely, very by the book when it comes to procedure.”

“Really?” Hercules chuckled weakly. “That’s a new one.”

“Well, I did say when it comes to procedure,” Xena tempered with a grin. “With life, that’s another story I think.”

“You think?”

“I’ve only known Will for a few months, Hercules. We crossed paths during an investigation and on occasion we’ve crossed blows, too. I didn’t even realize it was Iolaus until a couple of weeks ago,” Xena explained. “This is the first chance we’ve had to spend time together outside of work.”

Hercules sighed, looking back at the water. “I don’t know if I can do it, Xena. I don’t know if I can lose him again. The first time it happened, I was in so much pain. Then I was given him back, sort of, from the alternate universe, you remember, where the Sovereign ruled? But it wasn’t really Iolaus so I had to be satisfied with friendship. Then he went off with the mermaid, what was her name? I can’t even remember. I wasn’t as hard off because I knew it wasn’t really my Iolaus. When I got him back the third time, and I mean really got him back, life had meaning again.

“When he died of old age that last time, everything was empty and gray. There was no joy to living and I retreated from everything. That’s when Hercules really died. I stopped caring about helping others. By the time I recovered, the world had changed and I was out of place. There were no gods and goddesses, just the one god and mankind meaner, more ready and able to kill each other in the name of that god. Kindness was a thing of the past and survival not always desired by those crushed under the boot-heels of the powerful.

“I’ve lived life this last aeon, really lived it and helped others, made a difference again in many peoples lives. I like how I have my life now. If I let myself…I don’t think I could bear it again,” Hercules finished in a whisper.

“I understand,” Xena said softly. She walked in front of Hercules and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her face into his shoulder, breathing in his masculine scent. His strong arms locked around her and his head buried in her hair, resting on her shoulder.

They stood like that until an awkward, “I’m sorry. I’ll come back.”

Xena looked up, pulling away from Hercules. “No Will, it’s all right. We were just talking about an old friend and things got emotional. What did you need?”

“Gabrielle sent me in to fetch you for dinner. Everything’s ready,” Will answered, still obviously uncomfortable.

“We’ll be right out,” Xena promised. She watched him leave then returned her gaze to Hercules. “It’s up to you how far you take Iolaus into your heart again, Hercules, or if you do so at all. It’s your heart. Personally speaking, before Gabrielle showed up again, I thought I had a grip on life. I was lying to myself. Life has no real meaning without love, without the other half of my soul. Now that we’re together again, I will never let her go. If Iolaus was that to you, you owe yourself and him another chance at that kind of happiness.”

Stony-faced, Hercules nodded and said, “Give me a minute. I’ll join you when I can.”

She caressed the side of his face. “I love you Hercules, and so does Gabrielle. We’re here if you need us.”

Xena walked out of the house, rejoining Gabrielle and taking the small hand with a gentle smile. “He’ll be out shortly. He just needs to compose himself.”

“That must’ve been some friend,” Will commented.

“He was,” Xena agreed. She looked to Gabrielle and brought the hand up to her lips, kissing the knuckles.

“Did he…die?” Will asked hesitantly.

Nodding, Gabrielle answered, “It was a long time ago but he was very special to all of us.”

“I hope you all don’t mind but I have to see to some business,” Hercules said upon returning to the table. “I really just came here to check in with you.”

“You just got here!” Gabrielle protested. “You can’t leave so soon.”

“Hercules, stay for a couple of days. Please?” Xena asked. She could see the pain in his eyes and knew he was lying about the business appointment.

Will stood, clasping Hercules’ arm and added, “It’s a beautiful beach, the weather is perfect for lazing around, Herc. Relax here with us for a while.”

Lips tightening, Hercules looked away then his eyes settled back on Will’s face. “Okay. I guess it can wait a day or two.”

“Great! Let’s eat because I’m starving!” Will exclaimed, sitting back down, rubbing his hands together eagerly.

“You always are,” Hercules commented ruefully with a shake of the head.

“Huh?”

“Sorry, I just meant that you seem the type to be…have a hollow leg,” Hercules saved.

“Like Gabrielle,” Xena said, diverting Will’s attention.

Gabrielle joined in with, “Hey! It’s not my fault that I have an efficient metabolism!”

“Oh is that what they call it these days?” Xena teased.

Comment forgotten, Will ordered, “All right, everyone, dig in.”

********

“I love private beaches,” Xena sighed as Gabrielle rubbed lotion on her back, hands moving long and soothing over her muscles. It was at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit with the sun beating merciless on them from a crystal blue sky. A few days after Hercules’ arrival, Will had finally been given the okay to remove the sling. So now Hercules and Will were fishing a ways down the shore from them. Or at least Hercules was trying to show Will how to fish. Will hadn’t looked too thrilled at the prospect of actually catching something.

“Some things never change,” Gabrielle observed, eyes resting on the two men.

“Some things never should change, you mean,” Xena said.

“No, I said what I meant. Look at them, Xena. They’ve totally fallen back into the buddy role we first knew them in. I didn’t realize Will had such a sense of humor when I first met him at the police station,” Gabrielle said.

“Well, you didn’t exactly meet under auspicious circumstance,” Xena pointed out. She felt Gabrielle chuckle then lay on her, breasts crushing into her back and her lips at Xena’s ear.

“The first time I met Iolaus, it was the other way around. You and Iolaus, and Hercules come to think of it, had been lovers and I was an awestruck girl. Things have changed but they’ve definitely stayed the same,” Gabrielle said. She licked Xena’s ear suggestively then nibbled on it.

Xena shuddered at the erotic caress and gasped, “Gabrielle, please don’t do that right now.”

“And why not? We could run inside and take advantage of the fact that if Hercules has a fishing pole in his hands, he’ll be gone for hours,” Gabrielle breathed the last word.

Xena swallowed heavily then flipped over, pinning Gabrielle beneath her. “Is that so bard? And what would we do during those hours?”

Gabrielle twined her fingers through Xena’s hair and pulled her down for a long, wet kiss. Tongues played and circled each other. “I’m sure we could find something to do,” she murmured against Xena’s lips.

“Take it inside!” a playful shout from Will drifted downwind.

Laughing against Xena’s lips, Gabrielle pushed her away and said, “Well that was subtle.”

“Very,” Xena agreed with a chuckle of her own. Standing, she helped Gabrielle up then waved to the men who she knew were both grinning ear to ear. As they walked the short distance back the house, Gabrielle turned to face Xena, walking backwards and taking Xena’s hands in hers. “Yes, bard of mine? Was there something you wanted?” Xena asked as they reached the patio.

Stopping suddenly, Gabrielle put her hands on Xena’s waist and looked up at her lover. “Just you, Xena.”

“That can definitely be arranged,” Xena replied huskily. Leaning down, her mouth gently covered Gabrielle’s, soft and demanding against the full lips. Gabrielle’s mouth parted, allowing Xena’s tongue entry, and fire flickered within Xena’s loins. A needy moan from Gabrielle and it burst into a bonfire, overwhelming her yet again.

No longer thinking, Xena put her hands under Gabrielle and lifted. Instantly understanding, Gabrielle put her arms around Xena’s neck and pulled herself up, wrapping her legs around Xena’s hips. Xena walked inside the house, briefly thankful that the door pushed open, and to the guest bedroom on the first floor. She dropped Gabrielle carefully onto her back and knelt on the giving mattress, between Gabrielle’s legs, to look down at her lover with a half-smile.

“What?” Gabrielle asked, eyes humid with passion. Her hands roamed up to tug unsuccessfully at the swimsuit Xena wore.

“I can’t believe we’re really back together,” Xena answered. “I keep expecting to see Ares with a big “April Fools” sign and for you to vanish. Or to wake up and find the same.”

Pushing up on her palms, Gabrielle stared into the hesitant blue eyes and whispered, “I’m real, Xena. I’m real and here and I will never leave you again. Ares has no power over us any more; neither do any of the other Gods and they know it. We are together and forever is looking better and better to me.”

“Promise?” Xena’s voice shook with unaccustomed insecurity.

“I promise. Trust me?” Gabrielle turned the question on Xena, her love shining out like a beacon.

Releasing her doubts with a long sigh, Xena nodded and answered, “I trust you.”

Gabrielle reached up and tucked her hand under Xena’s hair to bring her down in a kiss, sealing the vow with their love. Her need rising up, Xena pushed Gabrielle down again then stood, slowly pulling off her swimsuit in a tease, hands roaming over her own breasts and down a muscled abdomen to a flat navel and finally revealing dark hair between her legs.

Tossing her black suit away, Xena returned to Gabrielle and inched the blue suit off her exquisite body; it landed in a tiny heap next to her own without a glance. Xena’s hands traveled longingly over Gabrielle’s body then she straddled Gabrielle’s hips for better access. The heat gathered as shimmering sweat in beads across Gabrielle’s pale skin. Xena bent down to lick the salty water all the way from Gabrielle’s throat to the hollow between her breasts and then down to her belly button.

“I knew there was a reason I didn’t want air conditioning,” Gabrielle gasped as Xena’s tongue caressed her.

Smiling, Xena pressed kisses into the soft skin as an answer. She moved back up and took a nipple into her mouth, sucking it and rolling her tongue over and around the hardened bud. Not to be forgotten, her hand squeezed and rolled the other breast while her mouth played, wringing moans from Gabrielle.

“Xena, please, oh gods!” Gabrielle exclaimed when teeth bit into her nipple. Electricity shot through her and her hands grabbed Xena’s head, pressing it harder into her.

Xena moved, switching mouth and hand to opposite breasts. When Gabrielle’s hips jerked in response to her teeth, Xena felt her own clit throb in sympathy. The hands twined in her hair tightened involuntarily as Xena played and teased her lover into whimpering need. Legs wrapped around Xena’s hips, begging along with wordless cries.

Answering both the heat in the woman below her and the heat within herself, Xena finally touched their mounds together, rubbing slowly. Swollen and hardened, the contact wrung gasps from both women just before Xena captured Gabrielle’s mouth with her own in a devastating kiss. Gabrielle’s hands released her hair only to wind around Xena’s back as she ground their centers hard together in an overwhelming motion.

Though she tried to hold back, tried to prolong the intense pleasure, Xena couldn’t stand it any more and her pace quickened. Hips thrusting and pumping against Gabrielle, Xena kept their mouths locked, plundering the treasure so willingly offered up to her. Wetness slipped between them, mingling and filling the room with the scent of their sex. Gabrielle’s hips and mouth returned the pressure, legs tightening around Xena, hands clasping and releasing muscled shoulders, urging her on.

“Come with me, Gabrielle,” Xena moaned.

Gabrielle gasped, eyes closing in defense from too many sensations.

“Come with me, Gabrielle,” Xena pleaded desperately, her body wracking with orgasm, seed spilling on and into Gabrielle.

Gabrielle shouted, body stiffening in orgasm almost the exact moment Xena cried out. Xena collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily and Gabrielle wrapped her arms lovingly around her shoulders, kissing her warrior’s cheek tenderly. “I love you Xena.”

“I love you, Gabrielle.”

********

“I envy them,” Will said, watching the women saunter back towards the house. “I would give anything for that kind of love. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it before, no, I know I haven’t. They would die for each other.”

Hercules glanced at him, squinting against the sun.

“There’s that look again,” Will exclaimed, catching Hercules’ stare. “Is there a huge defect on my face that I’m not aware of?”

Looking away, clearly embarrassed, Hercules apologized, “I’m sorry, Will.”

“That’s the fourth time you’ve apologized to me today. What exactly are you sorry about? And why do you keep staring at me like that?” Will demanded. He stabbed the fishing pole into the sand and faced the larger man, arms crossed belligerently.

“Calm down, Io-Will. That friend that Xena and I were talking about the other day? Well you remind me a lot of him,” Hercules explained, holding up a placating hand. He took a deep breath and plunged on. “So much. His name was Iolaus and he was my best friend. I loved him and when he died, well, I was shattered. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable by staring but sometimes you catch me off-guard, saying or doing something that Iolaus would do all the time. And that’s why I’m apologizing.”

Will looked at him thoughtfully for a long moment then said, “You aren’t making me uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, and this is going to sound very weird, but it’s…oh I don’t know…comforting in a way. I can’t explain why but having you around feels good to me.”

As though he’d made himself uncomfortable with that revelation, Will punched Hercules on the shoulder and said, “Anyways, I think this fishing thing is a bust. I’m going to catch some waves. Coming, Herc?”

Shaking his head, Hercules answered, “You go on, I’m going to stay dry.”

“Wimp,” Will called, pulling off his shirt to run into the water.

“Another touching reunion.”

Hercules didn’t even bother to respond to his half-brother’s scathing insult. “What do you want, Ares?”

“Oh nothing. Just came to check in on my favorite daughter only to find her in the arms of a woman. Shocking things going on these days, don’t you agree?” Ares answered. “But while I’m here, let me give you a tip. He doesn’t dig guys this time around, least of all you.”

This time, Hercules snarled and spun to face Ares. “What do you want, Ares?” he repeated angrily, moving closer threateningly.

“Hey, I try to do my brother a favor and what do I get? Rudeness,” Ares said, stepping back a little from the fury. Dark eyes narrowed as he faced Hercules. “The Fates have it in for Iolaus. He’s not long for this world, if you get my meaning. They aren’t too thrilled with how you stepped on their collective toes last time. Just as well you don’t get too attached to him.”

Hands reaching out for Ares throat, he grasped only air as Ares disappeared in a shower of blue sparks, and ground his teeth in frustration. Why would Ares warn him? If the Fates were going to cut Iolaus’ life-thread, why not just let it happen? Eyes skimming out over the water, his heart jumped when he didn’t see Iolaus. Unless Ares hadn’t been warning him but distracting him instead!

Without thinking, Hercules ran to the water, diving in towards the last place he’d seen Iolaus before Ares’ visit. “Iolaus! Will!” he shouted, mentally kicking himself for the slip. Scanning the clear water, Hercules saw a dark shape several meters away and immediately swam in that direction. Long, powerful arms ate up the distance in seconds and Hercules pulled Iolaus out of the water and swam towards shore.

Picking up the limp form, Hercules walked out of the water then set Iolaus on the sand and started CPR.

“C’mon, Iolaus, don’t die on me again! Breathe, damn it!”

As though in answer to his prayer, just after Hercules’ started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, water bubbled up out of Iolaus’ mouth and into Hercules’. Startled at the blue eyes finding their mouths together, Hercules pulled away and helped Iolaus sit. “Are you all right?” he asked quickly. “I thought I lost you. Xena and Gabrielle would’ve killed me, that’s for sure.”

Once he’d stopped coughing, Will nodded and eyed him curiously for a long moment. “It was the strangest thing. I noticed you talking to that man and then a woman appeared out of nowhere; long dark hair, pretty in a cruel sort of way. She dragged me down into the water. I couldn’t get rid of her and believe me, I tried. Next thing I know, I’m here and you’re bringing me back from the dead.”

“Discord!” Hercules muttered furiously.

“Well, I would’ve called it attempted murder, but okay,” Will said, eyebrow raised.

Why was Ares so bound and determined to kill Iolaus? Hercules racked his mind but couldn’t come up with anything. “But you’re okay,” Hercules repeated.

“I’m fine, Herc. Better than a dead-man should feel anyhow,” Will answered. He accepted Hercules’ hand up and they started walking back towards the poles. “I think I’m going to take a break though. Hey, who was that guy, anyhow?”

“Just some jerk who shouldn’t have been here,” Hercules said. His mind was still in turmoil, his emotions more shaken than he realized. Even though they’d only been friends a few days in this lifetime, Hercules knew that he was coming to depend on Iolaus being there again. Cursing the whole situation, immersed in his thoughts, Hercules didn’t see Will’s intent gaze as the other man went to lay on his towel.

Will watched as Hercules cast his line over and over, the large man obviously not paying attention to what he was doing. Why did all his actions seem so familiar? That smile triggered memories he could feel but not remember and it was driving Will crazy. He knew that he had never met Hercules because there was no way Will would forget him, even if it had been decades ago.

Shaking his head in frustration, Will closed his eyes and drifted into an uneasy doze, soaking in the heat. He heard the whizzing of the wire as Hercules continued to cast his line and the gentle lapping of water against the shore. It was hypnotic and sleep firmed its grasp, pulling him down into darkness and the depths of Morpheus’ realm.

A knife hurtled through the air towards the beautiful black woman and Will threw himself in its path. Pain sliced through him as the blade found a different target in his breast and heart instead of hers. He heard Hercules’ roar of despair and denial tear through the room as Will staggered back into the woman’s arms. She was crying as she lay him down, cradling him in her arms. Then Hercules was there, kneeling beside him, pain etched into every line on his face. He called to Iolaus but blackness claimed Will before he could answer.

Everything shifted and Will was dead again and yet not; his second death and, as before, Hercules was there. Pained emotion clouded Hercules’ face, more pain than even a deep friendship would warrant. Will caught a glimpse of his reflection and was startled to find he was blonde and a good deal shorter, coming only to Hercules’ shoulder. Something warm enveloped his body and he told Hercules not to be afraid, that it was wonderful and they would meet again.

The worlds collided and yet again Will found himself dying, this time the natural death of an old man. For the third and final death, Hercules was there yet again. He sat on the bed, youthful and formidable as he had been all sixty-odd years of Iolaus’ life. With a strong yet gentle grip, Hercules’ clasped Iolaus’ frail hands in his own. Tears hovered in Hercules’ eyes and that same hopeless pain was etched into his handsome face. Death this time was like falling asleep but when he heard Hercules’ anguish, Will tried not to descend into the darkness.

Opening his eyes, Will couldn’t tell who he was for a long moment, time and place warring with each other. Resting his eyes on Hercules’ back, solidity returned and things settled into place. Including the memories that came flooding back. Traveling with his best friend through ancient Greece, fighting warlords and monsters and Gods. Hercules’ marriage and then his family’s deaths, his own marriage. Meeting Xena and then Gabrielle, more traveling, always moving but feeling centered because Hercules was there with him.

Hercules had gone into the land of the dead twice for him. Fought and moved heaven and earth to get him back but inevitably, had been forced to accede to the laws of the universe. It had been Iolaus to return, sneaking out of heaven for one last battle against the Four Horsemen that had rendered him mortal again. Mortal and again with Hercules.

As though feeling his stare, Hercules turned around in mid-cast. Their eyes met and the fishing pole dropped from a lax hand. Moving as though in a dream, Hercules walked over to him and asked hesitantly, “Iolaus?”

“It’s me,” Iolaus confirmed. Obviously shocked and unable to take in the revelation, Hercules just stood there, staring in disbelief. Not relinquishing Hercules’ eyes, Iolaus stood and took a firm hold on his wrist. “It’s me, Hercules. I remember everything.”

Hercules’ mouth opened but nothing came out.

Grinning suddenly, Iolaus said, “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

“Iolaus!” Hercules shouted grabbing him in a bear hug.

“Hercules! Hercules!” Iolaus gasped, pounding him on the back.

“What?”

“You’re crushing me!”

“Sorry, got a little carried away,” Hercules apologized, letting go and stepping back a little. “What, exactly, do you remember?”

Looking into Hercules’ brown eyes, Iolaus was enveloped by their familiar, intense warmth. “Everything. Traveling Greece, Xena and Gabrielle, all of my deaths. I remember our life together.”

As Iolaus finished his statement, Hercules reached out, placing his hands on Iolaus’ shoulders to slowly draw him closer. “I missed you.”

“I missed you.”

********

Dinner was a boisterous affair that night. Laughter and drink flowed equally as the four friends talked and talked. Xena and Gabrielle were thrilled to discover Iolaus back among them, memories intact, and gave him delighted hugs and kisses upon the announcement. The air was filled with gentle warmth and tropical flowers shared their light fragrance with the friends. Stars began winking out of a darkening sky and torchlight took over for the sun.

“So now what?” Xena asked as Gabrielle leaned against her shoulder. Their fingers played together under the table. “What are you two going to do?”

Iolaus looked over at Hercules and shrugged. “We haven’t thought that far ahead. I think I’ll take a leave of absence to start with and then we’ll figure things out.”

“We’ve got a lot to catch up on,” Hercules confirmed.

“Did you ever figure out why Ares was trying to kill Iolaus?” Gabrielle asked suddenly.

“Actually, the Fates let is slip during my little brush with death,” Iolaus said with a grin. “I didn’t remember it right away with everything else coming out of my head but the younger Fate said, ‘Surrounded by love, War will fail.’”

“Which I figured out to mean that if Iolaus and I were reunited, we’d be fighting Ares like we did before and Ares, of course, wouldn’t want that. Especially not with the two of you together again, too,” Hercules explained. “Not that you can ever really figure out what the Fates say to you. It’s like talking with the Oracle only not as clear.”

“It makes as much sense as anything else,” Gabrielle commented. Pursing her lips thoughtfully, she repeated, “Surrounded by love, War will fail. I like that. It sounds like the title of a good book.”

“Uh-oh, watch out everyone, the Bard is at work again,” Xena teased with a smile.

“Maybe it’s time to redefine my life,” Gabrielle pondered aloud. “I haven’t written anything in too long. Rob’s certainly capable enough to handle the operation. If I were writing again, it wouldn’t matter where we were living and you could stick with the department.”

“Don’t forget that the FBI is always looking for good recruits,” Iolaus recommended. Staring into Hercules’ eyes for a long moment, he continued, “You aren’t the only ones who needs to think about what comes next.”

Xena pressed her lips to the soft skin below Gabrielle’s ear then rested her cheek in the same place. There were so many possibilities now that the scope was almost frightening. The four of them reunited would be virtually impossible to defeat. No wonder Ares had been so hot to kill Iolaus before he regained his memories and/or met up with Hercules again. Iolaus’ suggestion lingered, tantalizing her with its potential.

“The FBI, hm?” she murmured at last.

Gabrielle looked up into brilliant blue eyes and a smile crossed her face. “It sounds like you’ve made a decision, warrior princess.”

“I guess I have, bard,” Xena confirmed, soaking in Gabrielle’s emerald depths as electricity filled the air.

Hercules cleared his throat. “I think it’s time we retired, Iolaus.”

“Good idea,” Iolaus agreed.

The women barely noticed their departure, so wrapped up were they in each other. “Have I told you how glad I am that you found me?”

Gabrielle nodded and murmured, “You may have mentioned something like that recently.”

Xena turned and pulled Gabrielle onto her lap so they were facing each other. “It doesn’t really matter what I do, Gabrielle, as long as we’re together.”

Cupping Xena’s face, Gabrielle said, “Same here.”

Leaning forward simultaneously, their lips met, renewing their vow of forever.

 

The End

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