Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess and all other associated with the television series of the same name are owned by MCA/ Universal Pictures. This is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.
Subtext: A story written by the Queen of Maintext and T.Novan and we have to put something in this spot? Oh phuleeeeze! Thereís nothing sub about it. Itís like season six itís all MAINTEXT now folks!
Sex: Thereíd better be or weíve done something wrong.
Violence: Not yet. But give Xena time and she may bust Virgil in the nose.
Language: Xena. Language. Xena. Language. Gotta go with a yes here.
Spoilers: Yeah we spoil a little bit of everything in this one so if for any reason youíre trying to remain spoiler free. You might want to find somewhere else to play<G>.
Other: This story takes place after "The Return of the Valkyrie" and before "The God You Know" of Season Six.
The warrior glanced sideways at her partner as they rode along toward Amphipolis. "Yeees?" She offered playfully.
"Promise me, when we retire weíll go some place warm. Canít say Iím wild about that northern region."
"Aww, but gee, Gabrielle you had so many Ďadmirersí up north. All of them perfectly willing to keep you warm. Brunhilda did it for over a year." She continued to tease.
"Would you please knock it off!" The bard took her foot from the stirrup and gave Xena a little shove. "Your Majesty, OíMighty Queen of DenmarkÖ" A blonde brow rose, challenging the warrior to dispute it.
"I was dethroned." Xena smirked. "Sentenced to death," She turned suddenly, playfully grabbing Gabrielleís arm. "AGAIN!" She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Will they never learn?"
"Probably not. Just canít keep a good woman down."
"Oh yes I can." This time Xena leered at her partner and licked her lips. "One way or another."
Gabrielle slapped her hand over her eyes and pulled down slowly trying to keep the heat from appearing in her cheeks. How does she still manage to do that after all these years?
"You know, youíre still gorgeous when you blush."
"I AM NOT BLUSHING!" She squirmed around in the saddle trying to regained some small sense of her dignity
Xena rolled her head and shoulders, the popping that accompanied that action actually startled Gabrielle in its intensity. The warrior groaned a bit. "Iíll be so glad to get home so we can sleep in our own bed."
"We have a bed somewhere?" Gabrielle grumbled a bit.
Hmm an extended nap does not agree with her. Step carefully warrior or youíll be sleeping in the barn. "You know Gabrielle...at Motherís. She always kept a room for us. Our room, our bed. Thatís all."
Gabrielle only nodded. "Iím sorry Xena Iím just tired and grumpy. New saddle you know." She sighed. "New saddle, new horse, new everything." She mumbled.
"Then letís take a vacation." Xena offered with a shrug.
"Youíre kidding right?"
"Nope. Letís go home. See if by chance the kids are there or if there is any word of them and if everything seems okay, weíll take some time off. Hopefully, Eve and Virgil wonít be in any trouble that they need moms or favorite aunts to bail them out of."
"Ahh, time off for good behavior." The bard smiled. "I like that."
Xena leaned over and nuzzled her partnerís ear. "Or bad behavior. I like that even more."
"Yes that sounds appealing, howeverÖ"
"Yes?" Xena drawled.
"Can we call it something other than a vacation? Our last Ďvacationí in North Africa was far from what either of us expected."
"Well this is Amphipolis," Xena countered. "What could happen there?"
"Oh I donít know. The portal of hell could open up in your backyard," Gabrielle retorted sarcastically.
"Geeze, someone really did get up on the wrong side of the bedroll today," Xena sighed.
"Iím sorry," Gabrielle replied. "I know youíre trying here. Like I said Iím just tired. You know how cranky I get when Iím worn out."
Xena smiled at her lover, which in turn brought a grin to Gabrielleís face. "I know," Xena answered. "We could both use a little rest and relaxation. Speaking of which, letís walk the horses for a bit. They could use the break," Xena said swinging herself from the saddle with Gabrielle following suit.
"Okay so itís settled then. Amphipolis it is," Gabrielle replied with more optimism and a firm nod of her head.
"Well look at what we have here? Two lovely maidens for the taking."
Xena and Gabrielle broke their affectionate gaze to see five burly, grimey highwaymen in front of them.
Gabrielle sighed and rolled her eyes. "What was that you were saying Ďbout trouble finding us?" the bard teased.
"Letís try this the easy way," the leader of the thugs called out to them. "Give us your purse and youíll pass without harm."
Xena and Gabrielle continued to walk closer. Xena leaned down to Gabbyís ear, "Okay whoís gonna take care of these guys Ė you or me?" she asked.
"I think Iím more in the mood to give someone a good ass kicking than you are," Gabrielle replied coldly.
Yeah she looks like she could pull the wings off a harpy Xena considered silently as she watched Gabrielleís eyes narrow and her jaw set as they approached closer to the outlaws. Heraís curse must be coming on soon.
They were now only a few feet away and Xena turned to face their Ďwould be attackersí. "We could give you our purses but your colors are all wrong. It would break up that lovely ensemble youíve got going on," she grinned as she pointed out their attire.
The group of men chuckled. "Thatís very funny," the leader grinned. "But seriously," he said suddenly sneering, "Your money or your life?"
Xena casually turned to Gabrielle, "Well we did give them a choice."
"Yes," Gabrielle growled. "That we did."
Gabrielle took three strides until she was nose to . . . chest. . . . with the leader. "Iím only gonna say this once - Get outta our way," she said looking up as she threatened him.
"Youíre awful cute when youíre angry," he replied, moving up to condescendingly pat her on the head.
As the soon as the words left his mouth, Xena winced. Ohhhh that was NOT the right thing to say, she thought silently. I told her that once. . . Just once.
Before the man could touch a hair on the bardís head, she grabbed his hand, breaking the manís fingers with such force it brought him howling to his knees. With her grip still firm on her Ďtaunterí, Gabrielle kicked left and then right knocking both men on either side of him to the ground.
Ooooh . . . Argh . . . Ouch . . . .Oh yeah that will leave a mark . . . Look left Gab-thata girlÖBoy is he gonna feel that in the morning. Xena continued to watch the bard, silently commenting in her mind. When the last man fell and wisely decided not to get back up again, Xena took the horses through the human litter on the ground. She casually stepped on one man, disregarding the Ďoohmpí noise he made, until she was at Gabrielleís side.
"Here you go," Xena said handing the reins back to her partner.
"Thanks," Gabrielle answered a bit winded.
"Feel better?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle paused a moment to truly consider the question, "Actually yeah . . . I think a morning workout is just what I needed."
Xena nodded her acceptance. "Thatís good . . . Shall we?" she asked with a grand gesture of her hand up the road.
"After you my warrior princess," Gabrielle countered.
* * *
"Wow!" Gabrielle turned small circles as they walked into the village. Village actually was the wrong term now. Xenaís home had actually become a town in the time they had been gone.
"To say the least." Xena looked at all the new structures, turning her head to watch just a moment as several men raised the wall on another. "Theyíve been busy."
"Itís nice to see so many people and so much prosperity."
"It certainly is."
Xena suddenly darted to the left where the men were hoisting a wall into place. Noticing the sway of the structure, Gabrielle was hot on Xenaís heals. They managed to add their backs to the wall to keep it from falling further than it already had when Xena heard the rope snapping.
Gabrielle adjusted her shoulders, gaining more footing. "You could give a little warning next time!" She grunted, pushing back against the structure.
"If I have warning, Iíll give it to you!" Xena pushed, hoping that one of these fools would get a new rope strung quickly.
"How long does it take to say Ďrope breakingí for Godís sake!"
"Gabrielle, yell at me later! Like when thereís not a wall falling on us." She gave a relieved groan when she finally felt the pressure give off her back. Her lower back just hadnít been the same since that whole being nailed to a cross thing.
The women checked a couple of the men who had actually seemed to be hurt when the structure had started to give but found them to be more shaken that anything. "Just put a cloth on that cut, itíll stop on itís own. Itís not that bad." Gabrielle told one man about a small cut to his forehead.
Bending another manís arm, Xena gave him a pat on the back. "No serious damage done."
The group of men murmured their thanks as they walked away. Xena turned at the waist, groaning while her hand massaged the small of her back.
"You strained it again didnít you?" Gabrielle eyed her lover, daring her to try and lie.
"Uh-well I donít think itís officially strained. I think itís just badly stretched."
"Uh-huh." The bard rolled her eyes. "Letís go see if the inn is functional and get you in a hot tub of water. Then Iíll rub some of that horse lineament on it."
"Weíre all out. I need to make some more. So weíll need to pick up some supplies while weíre here."
"Thereís something I havenít done in a while."
"Haggling in the market."
Like Iíd unleash you on the vendors right now with the mood youíre in. "Well Iím sure we can find something at the inn for now. Besides a long soak in a tub just might do it."
Turning the corner, they discovered that Cyreneís inn had indeed been restored and seemed to be in the best shape the pair had ever seen it in. Xena looked to Gabrielle and lifted her brows in surprise. "Guess it really did just need a coat of paint."
"It looks great!" Gabrielle smiled and pointed at the sign. "Look."
"Cyreneís Tavern and Inn, Finest in all of Greece. Well, now, thatís nice. Wonder who took it over after we left?"
"Oh Dunderhead!" a voice shouted out.
Gabrielle smiled. "Iíd recognize that voice anywhere. Thatís Evie."
"Sure is. Wonder who Dunderhead is?"
"Donít call me that!" A male voice called back.
The warrior and the bard intoned at the same time. "Virgil."
The pair continued to argue as they attempted to place some kind of banner near the entrance. Eve sat on Virgilís shoulders as she tried to position it Ďjust perfectí above her.
"A little to the left," Gabrielle shouted toward the duo, razzing them just a bit.
Virgil turned around quickly making Eve sway on top.
"For the love of Eli, Virgil would you-."
Eveís eyes got wide and her jaw nearly conked her Ďladderí on top of the head. Virgil instinctively started toward Xena and Gabrielle and in doing so Eve nearly lost her balance. She hooked him around the chin to keep from falling. Quickly Virgil remembered he had Eve on his shoulders Ė a fact that was momentarily forgotten upon suddenly seeing the warrior and bard before him.
"Put me down Dunderhead," Eve ordered.
"How Ďbout I throw you down if you call me that one more time?" he threatened as he began to kneel.
As fast as she could, Eve jumped off Virgilís shoulders with such force it put him on his backside. As he sat in a cloud of dust Eve ran to their visitors.
"Mother! Gabrielle!" she squealed.
Both women had to smile. Eve was a grown woman but she sounded so young sometimes, this being one of them. The three of them embraced as Virgil rose and dusted himself off.
"Itís been so long. When I didnít get a scroll I . . . I thought the worse," she said, deciding to change her choice of words at the end. In truth she thought they were dead. She couldnít bring herself to say it however.
"Well weíre just fine," Xena told her. "How you doiní Virgil?" Xena asked, calling over Eveís shoulder as the young man came over.
"Canít complain," he smiled as he walked over, giving Gabrielle a hug.
"Eli above," Eve began, "Itís been over a year. Where have you two been?"
"Getting some much needed beauty rest," Gabrielle replied with a grin.
Eve and Virgil both cocked their heads unsure of what Gabrielle was talking about.
"Come on," Xena said taking her daughter by one hand and her bard with the other, heading into the tavern. "Itís a long story."
"Arenít they always." Virgil joked as he followed them inside.
* * *
Gabrielle watched Xena and Eve at the bar talking and laughing, doing some serious mother daughter bonding. As she blew on her stew, she had to smile at the picture, hoping that maybe their lives would remain quiet for a time, so they could all become the family they deserved to be. She was also very happy to be home again for the time being. She knew Xenaís need to move on wouldnít let them stay for long, but if she could talk her partner into just a few weeks, she herself, felt like she might be ready to go then too.
Virgil brought a mug and sat down with her. "What do you dream about when you sleep for a year?"
"I dreamt of Xena. A lot." She gave a little grin before taking a bite of her stew.
"Musta been something." He gestured. "You gonna leave it long?" he asked pointing at her golden locks.
She reached back to her hair which was pulled back at the moment, in a tight ponytail. "Well, I want to leave it and Xena wants me to cut it again. She says sheís gotten used to it being short, so weíre negotiating."
"That should be interesting."
"It is. Every night she has to give me a reason why she wants me to cut it and I have to give a reason not to. The first person who canít come up with a reason or repeats a reason, loses."
"Very imaginative way to handle it."
"I thought so. Since itís my hair and I have the best reason, which I still havenít given yet. Iím saving it for when I finally want to win and quit playing with her."
"Which is . . .?"
"Itís my body and I say so." She chuckled, sticking her spoon in her stew. "She still isnít quite sure how to handle it when I do that and it leaves her speechless every time."
"Thanks," she grinned conspiratorially. "When youíve been together as long as Xena and I have, you learn how to be sneaky. You have to." She favored her warrior with a smile, which Xena saw and returned from the bar.
The warrior picked up a basket of bread, then strolled over to the table. "Is this a private bard party or are warriorís allowed to join?" She placed the basket down then took a chair across from the bards.
"Well, someone has to be here to keep the peace when we get drunk and rowdy." Gabrielle lifted her mug of mead, before taking a long drink.
"Riiiiiiight." Xena grinned, tipping her chair back slightly. "I donít intend to let you get that drunk Gabrielle."
The bard decided it was time to flirt with her partner, something she hadnít done in a while. "Why how drunk do you intend to get me? Just enough to make me loose?""
"Okay thatís enough for me." Virgil piped up. He rose from his seat and gestured to the bar. "Iíll be in the back if you need me."
The warrior and the bard had locked eyes when Gabrielle had trailed her tongue over her lips after that last question to Xena. "We wonít." They answered together, their gaze on each other unbroken.
"You didnít answer my question Xena," the bard countered as she took her time licking the stew from her spoon, trying to pique the warriorís interest. It didnít take much. Xena took an unsteady breath and shifted a bit in her chair at the seductive gesture. Sheís not gonna win, the warrior said steadying herself. At least not yet.
"I donít have to get you drunk to make you looseÖVirgil on the other hand," Xena smirked.
"A momentary lapse of judgement," Gabrielle countered. "My darkside coming out to play."
"And far too much wine," Xena countered, sticking her finger into Gabrielleís bowl and licking it off her finger. Two can play this game my bard. "But Iíll never have to resort to wine."
Gabrielle watched as Xenaís tongue rolled around her digit, soaking up the stew. "Oh really?" Gabrielle asked, trying to hide the crack that came to her voice.
"Mmm Hmm," Xena nodded slowly. Gotcha my bard.
"Youíre awfully cocky tonight arenít you?" Gabrielle chuckled.
"Iím not cocky Gabrielle," the warrior answered with as much honesty as she could muster. "Iím just as good as I say I am . . . Are you gonna tell me different?" she added.
I could but youíd never believe it because we both know youíre right. "Yeah," Gabrielle grinned. "Youíre good Ė youíre very, very good."
"See? I donít need wine. All I gotta do is flash my baby blues," Xena countered, wiggling her little finger in Gabrielleís face as a sign of how Ďwrappedí the bard could be at times.
The bard tossed her napkin at the warrior, hitting her square in the face. When it hung there on the warriorís head, blocking her lovely features, the bard grinned. Gabrielle began to imagine Xenaís expression underneath the cloth the longer it stayed there and the bard started to chuckle.
"Direct hit," the bard teased her.
Finally Xena pulled it down with one quick swipe. "Youíre gonna get it Gabrielle."
"Promise?" the bard answered wiggling her eyebrows and continuing to chuckle.
You betcha I promise. Xena smiled and rose from the table. "Didnít you promise me a hot bath first?" she asked. "I think MY promise comes first."
"That I did," Gabrielle said rising from the table. "You rest that Ďslightly strainedí back of yours for a moment and Iíll set things up for you," Gabrielle said as she walked around to the warrior.
"Ahh, youíre too good to me," Xena answered, pulling the bard closer so she could lean down and give the bard a tender kiss which she happily accepted.
"Yeah, I know," the bard countered in a playful monotone, dashing away before Xena could offer a retort.
The warrior watched her partner walk away and tilted her head to appreciate the lovely view. "What a woman."
* * *
"Ohhhhhh yeeeaah." Xena exhaled appreciatively as she slid into the steaming hot water. "This is great." She slipped completely under the water as Gabrielle watched from across the room where she was gathering towels and robes to warm by the fire.
The bard placed everything near the hearth and poured two cups of warm spiced wine. Then she moved slowly to the edge of the tub and waited for Xena to surface. A pale brow rose when the warrior didnít come back up. She placed the cups on the ledge and peered into the tub. "Xena? Come on warrior this isnít funny." Just as she began to reach into to the water a strong hand shot up and caught her by the wrist. She pulled back laughing but not capable of breaking the iron grip. "Oh no you donít!" She tried harder to back off only to have Xena shoot up out of the water and pull her back.
"Comeíre my bard!"
No matter how many times Gabrielle saw it, it never ceased to amaze her and leave her breathless. The warriorís body with water dripping down it had to be the absolute sexiest thing in the known world. The fact that it made her weak in the knees only served to defeat her purpose this time around. "Xena!" She yelped when she got pulled into the tub, clothes and all.
When they resurfaced, the bard pushed her bangs from her eyes and spit the water in her mouth directly at her warrior. "I hate you!" She teased.
"Do not." Xena reached over and untied the string at the bardís neck. The weight of the water in the material caused it to fall away all on its own. "I knew there was a reason I liked this new outfit. It slides right off when wet." There was an evil chuckle followed by a slight splashing as Xena moved forward to give a warm kiss to a very erect nipple.
"Oooo XenaÖ" The bard sighed, long and hard as she felt a familiar burn start long and hard. "Your back."
"Is fine." She mumbled continuing to explore her partner. "Hot bath," Her head moved up just slightly nipping at tender flesh of a bardly collarbone. "And a hot bard help a lot."
"Glad to hear it." Gabrielle moaned, giving her warrior a slight push down on the shoulders so she would resume her previous activities. "You should be in REAL good shape by morning."
"If Iím lucky I wonít be able to walk by morning." Xena chuckled, resuming her taste test.
"If youíre lucky I wonít be able to walk in the morning." Gabrielle released her soaked skirt and tossed it from the tub even as Xenaís hands slid between the bardís legs, parting them so she could get comfortable.
They were so happy and consumed by their mutual needs and desires that they didnít hear the door open.
"Oh I am soooooo sorryÖ" Eve covered her eyes and tried to get out of the room gracefully but after bumping into the door frame three times, she just finally removed her hand from her eyes and dashed from the room. Leaving the door open to anyone who might be passing by.
Gabrielle groaned and pulled away from Xena, reaching for a towel. When she turned back to hand it to her partner her elbow caught the warrior right in the eye.
"Oww! Damn!" Xena managed to grab the towel, her eye and wrap the cloth around her body. She huffed, a bit climbing out of the tub to grab a robe. "Evie!" She called making a quick exit to look for their daughter.
The bard climbed out of the tub, only to have her feet slide out from under her on the wet stone floor. She hit the floor with a sickening thump. She groaned when she realized she had just thrown her own back out and it was completely out, not just slightly strained.
She lay there contemplating how long it would take someone to find a wet, naked bard who couldnít get up on her own. "Shit," the she groaned out loud in a Ďgo figureí tone. The fitting end to a fitting day.
She didnít have to wait long. She heard a voice enter the room.
Gabrielle knew her feet were probably exposed while the tub shielded the rest of her body. She also knew that she recognized the voice. She heard the footsteps approach but knew she was helpless to move.
As Virgil peered around the tub, his eyes widened.
"Wha-wha. . .What happened?" he finally managed after a thorough examination of the bardís body.
"Better hope Xena doesnít come back in here to find you looking at me like this," Gabrielle warned.
Quickly, Virgilís eyes darted around, looking everywhere else but the bard. His finger absently played with the tub as he muttered, "Did you need help?"
"Help would be nice," Gabrielle answered sarcastically. "I fell and threw my back out. I canít move."
Virgil knew how serious hurting ones back could be. He saw many of his friends laid up for days when horses threw them. He even had a friend who couldnít move his legs again as a result. With that knowledge his awkwardness melted into concern and he looked at the bard again.
"Can you feel your legs and arms?" he asked, kneeling down at Gabrielleís feet.
"Yes," she answered. "I just knocked a few things out of place."
He picked up one of her feet by the ankles. "Can you feel that?" he asked poking her sole. Gabrielle nodded and he did the same test on the other leg. Without haste he grabbed a towel and draped it over the bard.
"Letís get you to your room," Virgil said as he carefully picked the bard up in his arms. She gave a little groan. He began to give a light chuckle as they moved down the hall.
"What?" Gabrielle asked.
"Last time I carried you around was in the temple," he blurted.
"Yeah, I remember. Worst mistake of your life. Donít forget that Virgil. Without Ďdarkness in your heartí you might just end up on the business end of a chakram."
"Yes maíam," he answered obediently as her carried her along.
While Virgil had been tending to Gabrielle, Xena managed to corner Eve in the kitchen. She too was finding a hard time making eye contact.
"Eve, look at me," Xena ordered. For a brief moment the young woman looked up to her mother. "You canít stand here and tell me you had NO IDEA about Gabrielle and I." Immediately Eveís eyes shot away again.
"Honest mother I didnít know," she muttered. "I mean I know Gabrielle gave me her rite of caste; I know youíve been buried next to each other for 25 years; I know you refer to me as Ďour daughterí . . . But I didnít . . .know."
Xena looked flabbergasted Ė totally amazed. Xena wondered if Eve sacrificed one Ďlightí for another. The castleís lit but obviously no one is home. How could anyone in their right mind NOT see her with Gabrielle?!
"Look Eve, point is I love Gabrielle. She and I have been . . . intimate. . . for many years."
"Are you married?"
"No," Xena asked a bit confused by the question. "Does that matter?" she added when she couldnít think of why the young woman had asked.
"Does that matter?! Of course it matters! Donít you think you should make an honest woman of Gabrielle?!" Eve chastised, trying to keep her voice down but her intent clear.
"Gabrielle is an honest woman in her own right. She doesnít need me to do it for her," Xena answered.
"No mother," Eve said shaking her head. "You donít understand. I know Gabrielle is honest. What Iím talking about is making it official Ė declaring before God that you will love her for all eternity."
"The only person I need to declare that to is Gabrielle - regardless of any God."
Eve looked truly appalled. "Mother how can you say that?!"
"Eve," Xena said rubbing her temples. "My head hurts, my back aches and Iíve got an itch that needs to be scratched by a certain blonde bard, heathen that I am, I know . . . We can finish this conversation later," she said before walking back to the washroom.
With any luck the bard would still as . . . wet . . . and the water almost as warm. Xena opened the door to the washroom to find a hairy, burly man sitting in the tub. She realized her luck wasnít holding out very well and prayed that this Ďpersoní before her wasnít Gabrielle Ė some cruel transformation of her blonde beauty by some petty god. Given the luck she was having she had to make sure by speaking to himÖ
"Sorry," Xena grinned. "Seems I misplaced a small blonde woman around here," she said looking around the room.
"Long hair?" he asked.
"Yeah. You saw her?"
"Just a few moments ago. Passed them in the hall way."
"Them?" Xena asked her eyebrows shooting up into her bangs.
"Some young man was carrying her, talkin Ďbout the two of them in a temple or something like that."
Virgil! What the hell is Virgil doing carrying her?
"Iíll tell you what," the man laughed heartily. "He was in a rush to get her back to that room down there. I donít blame him. She was as naked as the day she was born under that towel and let me tell you-."
What the hell is Virgil doing carrying her around naked, talking about the temple? The temple where the two of them . . . Thatís it!! His scrawny little ass is MINE! Xena saw red.
"Thanks," Xena said briskly, closing the door, not listening to the man finish. She stormed down the hallway. Carry my bard around naked huh? I might have a sore back but that doesnít mean that pretty boy is gonna step in after my departure. Nah ah. No way. When I get my hands on him . . .
Xena opened her bedroom door to find Gabrielle sprawled out naked on the bed and Virgilís fingerís wrapped around her bardís britches around mid thigh.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!"
Gabrielle could have sworn she heard the rafters crack at the boom in Xenaís voice. Virgil jumped about 10 feet from the bed, nearly knocking over an oil lamp on the bureau behind him, setting the whole place ablaze.
"Itís not what it looks like," Gabby and Virgil said in perfect harmony. Gabrielle sounded totally annoyed by the situation; Virgil sounded totally petrified. Heíd heard all of his fatherís stories. He knew what the woman was capable of . . . especially when it came to Gabrielle. He began to towel his sweaty forehead but came to an abrupt stop when he realized it was Gabrielleís britches he was using, which he still held.
"She fell. I helped. She needed clothes. I-."
"Settle down," the bard ordered the young man casually to saving him from his fast paced nervous babbling. "Xena, after you left I fell down and Virgil found me. He brought me here and he was getting me dressed when you came in. Now could you do that Ďpop thingyí you do and put me back together so I can at least sit up?"
Virgil took that has his cue to leave and started toward the door. As he began to pass Xena, she took him by the shoulder Ė with a grip a little firmer than necessary Ė and held out her other hand. He seemed baffled at first but realized in his haste that he was still holding Gabrielleís britches. With a nervous chuckle and a bashful grin, he handed them to Xena and made a hasty retreat.
Xena closed and locked the door. She crawled on the bed, being careful not to move it too much.
"Are you okay?" Xena asked as she adjusted the britches.
"Yeah, just a little sore right now," Gabrielle grinned. Xena returned the smile but Gabrielle could tell there was something more behind it. "What is it?" the bard asked.
"I saw a man in the tub who passed you. He said the two of you were together and I thought . . ." Xena didnít finish the sentence. She started to chuckle at the ridiculousness of it . . . at least it seemed that way now.
"The two of us together and. . . ?" Gabrielle asked, the irritation rising in her voice.
Xena could tell by that tone, Gabrielle was not pleased. Why couldnít you just keep your big trap shut? Stupid warrior. "Nothing," Xena muttered. But she knew it was too late. She knew she was busted.
"You thought I was fooling around on you? Is that it Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well you two did get quite cozy the last time we were here," Xena defended as she rolled the bard over carefully. She began to go to work and Gabrielle seemed oblivious to the poking and prodding of Xenaís fingers trying to align her spine again.
"I donít believe it!! Xena, after everything weíve been through. After all these years together you think I would just-."
"It crossed my mind is all," Xena said cutting her off. "And I know you find him attractive."
A series of loud pops ensued as Xena pushed down on the bardís back but that didnít stop Gabrielle from responding.
"Youíre really serious," Gabrielle sighed. "I donít believe this. Have you no faith in me at all?"
"Come on Gabrielle, itís not like that. You know I trust you," Xena answered as she administered a final Ďpopí. "Now howís that?" she asked as she moved so the bard could try to sit up.
Gabrielle did sit up, coming eye to eye with the warrior. "Obviously you donít if you think Iíd just hop right into bed with Virgil the minute your back was turned."
"Iím sorry Gabrielle but Iíve never seen you . . . Ďsexualí with anyone except Virgil."
"And what about all those times with you? They went unnoticed?"
Now sheís fishing for a fight. Okay! Fine! Just shut up now while youíre behind. No sense in digging yourself in deeper here. "I think we should just drop this conversation right now okay? Forget I mentioned it alright?" Xena tried to stroke the bardís cheek but Gabrielle pulled back.
"Oh no," Gabrielle answered, all playfulness removed from her voice. "You have to get over this. I got over you getting hot and heavy over Lucifer. You have to get past this."
"Yeah well you didnít get a coat upside the head," Xena countered.
"Would that make you feel better?" Gabrielle added. "Will that make you trust me and Virgil to be alone in the same room?"
"Gabrielle youíre blowing this all out of proportion," Xena answered.
"THE HELL I AM!" came the response.
Oh shit. Now youíve done it, Xena sighed in her mind. She tried her damnedest not to roll her eyes but failed. The bard saw her do it and it only fueled her anger more. This just isnít my day. "Look can we just calm down here a moment?"
"Sure," Gabrielle said as she rolled up the bedspread and threw it at the warrior. "Go be calm in the barn tonight," she ordered. She walked over and opened the door, pitching a thumb outside.
"Gabrielle," the warrior said trying to reach her. But with Gabrielleís toe tapping and her arms crossed, Xena knew that wasnít gonna happen anytime soon. She resigned herself to her fate and got up walking outside. She turned around to say one final word to the bard for the night and got the door slammed in her face.
"Youíre welcome for fixing your back," Xena called through the door.
"Thanks," Gabrielle shouted back. "Now go away."
Xena rolled up her bedspread a little tighter and started down the long hallway. . . Shit . . .
Xena groaned. Eve and Virgil had indeed done a wonderful job restoring the tavern and the rooms there. So good, in fact, that there hadnít been a spare room for her to occupy and she had indeed been relegated to the barn. And now her back really hurt. "Got to soothe a grumpy bard." She groaned again, rolling over in the hay.
Eve, apparently miffed at her Motherís reluctance to get married had refused to let her into her room. And Virgil had the door to his room blocked with a heavy piece of furniture and her back just didnít feel like shoving past it to toss him out and sleep in his bed.
And she most certainly was not going to go back and beg to be let back into to their room. Gabrielle wanted to sleep alone, she could just sleep alone. As a matter of fact she just might let her sleep alone again tonight, just to prove a point.
One blue eye opened as she lay on her stomach and watched below as the barn doors opened. "Mother?"
"Up here Evie." The warrior made no effort to move. This is what mother guilt was all about. It would do her daughter good to see her own mother despondent and dejected and laying in a pile of straw like the family dog. God, Xena youíre so full of it. You should be ashamed of yourself.
The young woman climbed the ladder stopping at the top and looking to her mother. "Breakfast is ready."
"Am I invited? I thought everyone inside was mad at me."
"Virgilís not mad, heís terrified. Iím not mad, just disappointed. Now, I have to admit Gabrielle looks madÖGurkhan raving mad actually. She looks pretty pissed. What did you do it her?"
Xena sucked air in through her teeth. Flowers. Take her flowers. "So terrified, angry and disappointed huh? Iím three outta three it seems. My average for offending my family is pretty good . . .Why are you disappointed?" The warrior asked even as she crawled over to the ladder and motioned Eve down so she could climb out of the loft.
"Well," She backed slowly down the ladder. "Iím disappointed in you reluctance to marry a woman you claim to love so much. Seemed to me that if you loved her youíd want to marry her."
Xena looked up to the ceiling and rolled her eyes. "Eli help meÖ"
"Oh no Mother donít you bring Eli into this."
"Donít you tell me when I can call on Eli for strength. I actually KNEW him, donít you forget. And even HE knew about Gabrielle and I and he didnít push us to get married."
"Iím sure he would have."
"Evie, I love Gabrielle and she loves me. We donít need a ceremony to prove that to each other."
"All right, all right." The young woman dusted her hands. "I donít want you to think Iím nagging butÖ"
"Then donít." Xena slid off the ladder and turned for the door. "Just be happy that I have her in my life and that weíre a family." She wrapped her arm around Eveís shoulders. "She loves you as much as I do. You should have seen how protective she was of me when I was pregnant for you. Sheís always been there for us and she always will be."
"Then why is she mumbling under her breath that youíre a horses ass?"
Xena sighed. "Because I was. I kinda made some comment about her and Virgil being together," Xena mumbled in shame.
"Why not? Sheís a free woman. She can see who ever she likes. No ring on her finger. No siree-." Eve smirked.
"Enough Evie," Xena said firmly. Or Iím gonna choke you. ". . .Any place around here to buy fresh flowers?" she tried to add diplomatically.
"The market. Come on. I need to buy some spices for the kitchen. Iíll go with you."
Xena followed her daughter out of the barn and the duo walked slowly toward the center of town. "So Evie, what brings so much prosperity to Amphipolis?"
"Well, I like to think itís a blessing from Eli, but in all honesty it probably has something to do with the fact at he turned into a little bit of a tourist trap."
"How did Eli turn it intoÖ"
Eve gave her mother a playful slap to the arm. "Not Eli. SalmoneusÖ"
"Salmoneus? He must be at least seventy-five!"
Eve laughed. "Actually he is, but Iím not talking about Old Man Salmoneus, Iím talking about his son."
Xenaís head dropped. "Show me."
"Mother you donít want to see it. Itís not something youíd approve of."
"Iím sure of it. Show me."
Eve sighed taking the lead. "Come on." She led her mother about a block from the inn, where an area had been blocked of with heavy beams and ropes but a large sign had been erected proclaiming that spot to be the ĎPortal to Hellí.
"Oh good grief!" Xena sputtered as she made her way through the crowd to the front. She looked around until she spotted a young man. She raised her hand and beckoned him to her by crooking her finger. "You! Come here!"
The young man smiled and made his way over to the woman. "Yes, how can I help you?"
He wasnít expecting to be grabbed by the front of his tunic. "What do you think youíre doing?!" She yelled at the top of her lungs.
"IímÖ IímÖ" He stammered.
An aged man leaning on a staff slowly made his way out of a small shack. "I may be half deaf but Iíd know that bellow anywhere." He paused looking sideways, like a man whose vision is failing is want to do. "Xenaís here somewhere."
The warrior let go of the young man and stalked over to the old man. "Salmoneus is that really you?"
"Whatís left of me Xena." He offered her his arm and she took it gently.
"Iím sorry Sal, but I really figured youíd beÖwellÖ"
"I would be, but I refuse to go until I can figure out how to take it with me."
Xena couldnít help but laugh. "Trust me my friend, youíre gonna live forever because Iíve been there, done that and thereís just no way to do it."
"So I heard and that suits me just fine. Do you know how much money the boy and I are making here?"
"Do you realize that this is not the spot?"
"Yeah but Eve and Virgil wouldnít let me near the real thing. They refused to be a part of the scaÖummÖbusiness opportunity."
"Good for them." Xena fingered a tunic then pick it up and unfolded it. ĎMy mom went to the Portal of Hell and all I got was this lousy tunicí, Oh Sal come on! This is ridiculous."
"Actually itís our second biggest seller."
"I donít think I want to know the first," she muttered.
"Brimstones Ė the rocks of hell!" he said holding one up.
"The only man I know who can sell dirt to farmers," Xena sighed. She tossed the tunic down and looked at him. "Sal, you had better hope that portal doesnít open back up because if it does, you are going straight down." The warrior looked around at the crowd wishing there were some way to disperse them. She rubbed her temples, feeling her headache coming back. Taking a deep breath she looked to her old friend. "Iíll be back."
"Iíll be here."
* * *
Eve and Xena returned to the inn. Eve put the bag holding her spices over her shoulder and headed for the kitchen. Virgil gulped and nodded nervously from the bar. He took a step back when Xena wandered over to him. She leaned on the bar and motioned him closer. He stepped forward expecting this to be his last moment to live.
"Iím sorry." She said quietly.
"Huh?" He wasnít sure he could believe he was actually hearing this.
"Iím not gonna say it again. But thanks for taking care of Gabrielle. Iím glad you got there before the next occupant of the room."
"YouíreÖyouíre welcome. Ah Xena?"
"I grew up on stories of you and Gabrielle. I love you both like aunts. You know that right? I mean Iíd do anything for you butÖI know that youíre umm sorta exclusive to each other."
"Thanks. Try to explain that to my daughter will you."
"Like sheíd listen to me. For a follower of Eli she is the most stubborn human being in the known world."
The warrior chucked the young poet on the shoulder. "She comes by it honestly. Be patient. Whereís Gabrielle?"
"She said she was going to go out back and do some yoga."
Xena head dropped. "God! Yoga! Sheís still pissed." She lifted the flowers she had brought and looked at them. "Shoulda bought the whole rose bush."
"If a fight with her is like a fight with Eve, sheíd just get mad cause it had thorns." Virgil joked.
Xena nodded, took a deep breath and headed out back in search of her bard. Okay Iíll beg and grovel. I donít want to sleep in the barn again tonight.
Gabrielleís eyes snapped open and the sais were clear of her boots and in her hands without a second thought as she whirled around in a defensive pose.
"Whoa! Just a Greek bearing a gift." Xena thrust the flowers out in front of her.
With one quick swipe the petals all cascaded to Xenaís feet and she was left holding barren stems.
"Lemme guess," Xena began, "youíre still upset?" Oh yeah, sheís raging. Maybe I taught her the pinch a little too soon. I gotta feeling thatís coming next.
Gabrielle re-sheathed her weapons and took two strides to come inches from Xena.
"You walk out here with flowers and thatís supposed to make it all better?"
"No," Xena sighed. "Itís supposed to be a peace offering so I can at least speak to you," she added as she looked at the stems before tossing them over her shoulder.
"You wanna talk then talk. I donít need party favors," Gabrielle replied.
Tell her the truth. "I love you," Xena said.
"Yeah, but you donít trust me," Gabrielle answered cutting her short.
"Lemme finish okay?"
Gabrielle relented and nodded for Xena to continue.
"I love you. I do trust you. I just donít trust my luck or the fates."
"We make our own destinies Xena, remember?" Gabrielle said breaking in. Xena gave her a disapproving glare and Gabrielle held up her hands of a sign of truce for the time being so the warrior could continue.
"Thatís true but I also know that some things are beyond my control. You see Gabrielle, Iíve lost everything I ever loved. Borias, LaMao, Marcus, Hercules, Solan Ė I loved them all and I lost them for one reason or another. Sometimes it was my own doing. Sometimes it wasn't. And sometimes I get so scared at the thought of losing you that . . . I see shadows that really arenít there.
I mean . . . I know that when the darkness had you and Virgil in its grasp you both did things Ďout of characterí. And I know that you wouldnít do anything like that in a Ďnormalí frame of mind. But sometimes that little voice comes back saying that Ďyou and Ií are just too good to be true. One day youíre gonna wake up and decide what a waste your life is with me Ė youíll go to the academy again or go home or find some desert boy to wash your feet," she added with a grin. "Point is, I trust you. Sometimes I just doubt my luck and I think the blessings Iíve been given will fade away like so many others have gone. So Iím sorry for offending you. Iím sorry for hurting you. And if I could make it up to you I would. Thatís all I had to say," Xena added before turning around to make her way back to the inn.
The sound of her name halted her steps and she turned back around to face Gabrielle.
"I love you too. . . And Iím sorry. I should have talked to you last night rather than sending you out to the barn. It was very childish of me and I apologize," Gabrielle replied.
"So we can call a truce then?" Xena answered.
Gabrielle grinned and she took a few more strides to come up to Xena. "Truce," she said offering her hand.
Xena took it and Gabrielle pulled her down into a tender kiss, which Xena happily accepted. "I understand that youíve been through a lot. But know this Xena," she grinned widely. "Iím in this for the long haul. No academies, no hometowns, no desert boys . . . Just you and me. Thatís all I dreamed about for a year on that Norse rock and I know thatís all Iíll dream about for the rest of my life."
"See? Thatís wonderful. You need to tell Eve that," Xena answered.
Gabrielle chuckled. "Eve? I donít understand."
"Sheís told me twice since Ďfinding usí that you and I should get married. I told her that a ceremony isnít going to make us love each other anymore and weíre happy with the way we live our lives."
"She thinks we should get married?" Gabrielle asked. Xena simply nodded. "I donít wanna get married, no offense."
"None taken. And thatís good because Iím not asking, no offense."
"Well Iím glad thatís settled," Gabrielle replied with a smile. "Come on, maybe I can Ďset her straightí so to speak."
Xena and Gabrielleís arms naturally went around each otherís hips as they headed toward the inn.
"Didnít get much sleep last night did you?" the warrior remarked as they walked.
"What makes you say that?" the bard asked.
"Because those dark circles under your eyes are becoming black," Xena answered. "Iím worried about you."
"Really Iím okay," Gabrielle answered. "Iíve been having trouble sleeping is all."
"Whyís that?" Xena asked concerned.
Gabrielle paused. "Youíd think itís stupid."
"Whatever it is, if itís been robbing you of sleep, it canít be stupid. Please tell me. You might feel better."
Gabrielle stopped short of the door and let out a long sigh. "Okay, but you canít laugh."
"Okay," Xena said, looking to Gabrielleís eyes with sincerity.
Xena sighed in frustration. Cut to the chase bard. "Yes I promise, now tell me."
It was Gabrielle turn to sigh as she debated whether or not to tell Xena. Finally she just spit it out.
"Iím afraid I wonít wake up if I sleep for very long. So if I wake during the night I stay up for awhileÖjust in case."
What?! Thatís it?! "Look Gabrielle, it was a spell Brimhilda put on you. You will wake up after youíve rested for the night and-."
"Told you it was stupid," Gabrielle answered.
"Well itís odd," Xena agreed, trying to be as diplomatic as possible. "But based on the life weíve led, I can see why you might be concerned. But really Gabrielle, youíre safe now. So donít worry."
"Iíve tried, but every time I do I just . . . Iíve already lost 26 years and I donít want to lose anymore," Gabrielle explained. "So every two hours or so if Iím restless I get up and do Ďsomethingí."
"Like work on a scroll, sharpen your sais, round up more firewood than necessary for the morning-."
"You know about those things?" Gabrielle asked in surprise.
"Well . . . yeah. I mean I do have to live with you ya know."
"You HAVE to live with me?" Gabrielle asked. "You donít HAVE to live with me Xena. If thatís how you feel then-."
"Now hold on," Xena said putting her finger across the bardís lips. "Before this turns into another war over jargon let me rephrase. Since I live with you, I can hear or see you doing these things at night. I wasnít sure why but I didnít want you to think I was Ďpryingí into your personal time or space. I didnít know there was a fear behind the things you were doing to keep yourself busy. Now donít take offense," Xena warned. "But I think a big part of why weíve been at each otherís throats has a lot to do with this Ďsleeping problemí so WE - not just YOU - have to find a solution. Agreed?"
Gabrielle considered the words, "Yes I think youíre right. And again Iím sorry."
"Thatís okay," Xena told her. "I know how it is when youíre tired. Your reflexes are off, your emotions sour Ė itís very difficult to function without rest. So well have to see what we can do to fix this, okay?"
Gabrielle gave a small grin to her warrior, "Thank you. It doesnít feel so stupid now since you put it that way."
"Well itís important that youíre well rested Gabrielle. Especially with us being on the road the way we are. We have to be alert and ready. So letís spend a few weeks here and see what we can do."
The duo walked inside where Xena saw Virgil in the kitchen and Eve cleaning off a table.
"Well there she is," Xena pointed out their daughter. "Youíre up next," she teased the bard, nudging her over to Eve with her elbow. Gabrielle just grinned and started on her way.
"Hi there Virg," Xena said, slapping the young man on the back.
He nearly jumped out of his skin at the contact. "Hmm, Hi Xena," he answered nervously unsure of what the warriors intentions were.
"Relax," Xena told him. "I know that nothing is going on with you and Gabrielle." She heard the man physically sigh in relief. "But know this, if you ever lay a hand on her again in a sexual way, Iíll cut off both your hands and feed your fingers to the fishes. You got that?"
Virgil looked wide-eyed and he gulped loudly. With that, he gave a quick enthusiastic nod of his head.
"Good boy," Xena answered. "See? We now have an understanding and you and I will continue to get along great!" she said cheerfully before giving him a pat on the back and walking away. Heís just as gullible as his old man.
Once Xenaís back was turned, Virgil finally released the breath heíd been holding. Xena for her part looked out from the pantry to see Gabrielle and Eve at a table. Gabrielle was running a finger through her long hair, obviously frustrated with Eve. Seems sheís making as much progress as I did. Ha!
Xena was about to go over and give the bard a good teasing but a man burst into the tavern, short of breath.
"They did it again last night!!"
"Youíre kidding?" Eve answered. "Again?"
The man nodded firmly as he stepped closer.
"Who did what again?" Gabrielle asked as Xena walked up to join them.
"Horse thieves," Eve answered. "They come into town and they take one horse and goods from the bakery. Itís the oddest thing. It would be quite humorous if it wasnít for the fact that people are losing the horses they need to farm," she answered.
"Who got hit last night? It wasnít here in the stables of the inn," Xena answered. At least I hope not. I canít be slipping that BAD can I?
"No, it was just outside of town at Emmettís farm. They got a stallion but they were here in town because Joshua the baker said all his nutbread was gone again."
"Maybe Gabbyís your thief," the warrior joked, nodding her head toward Gabrielle.
That got her a chuckle from Eve and a slap from the irritated bard.
"So thereís a horse thief on the loose? How long has this been going on?" Gabrielle asked as she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and tied with a small piece of leather.
"Almost three weeks now. Eight horses have been taken in that time." The man took a seat at the bar. Virgil poured him a mug of cider and set it in front of him. "Thanks Virg."
"Welcome Thad." Virgil leaned in on the bar, scratching his cheek. "What I donít get is that they disappear without a trace."
Xena lifted a brow. "What do you mean without a trace?"
"Just that. No tracks, no trail. Nothing. Itís like they just vanish or fly away or something."
Eve noticed both her mother and Gabrielle flinch just a bit. She sighed and shook her head. "And we know horses canít just fly away."
"That depends." Gabrielle mumbled. "Xena, we should check into this. These people are still farmers at heart. They canít afford to lose these animals."
"Agreed." The warrior sighed as she considered that to get a real vacation she was going to have to go live on top of a mountain somewhere with no one but her bard around. "Wonder what else is going to crop up while weíre here."
"Xena?" The bardís brow arched.
"Well, as per usual there are just all kinds of odd little things going on." She extended her hand to the bard. "Letís go tackle them one by one shall we?"
"Xena what arenít you telling me?" The blonde inquired even as she took the proffered hand.
"Would you believe Salmoneus and his son have a little enterprise going here in town?"
"Oh Xena!" The bard turned around, walking backward out of the inn so she could face her warrior. "Salmoneus must be eighty."
"Early to mid seventies actually. Youíll never believe it," Xena reached out and turned Gabrielle around, firmly wrapping her arm around her waist as they walked toward the stables. "No, I take that back. Iím sure youíll believe it; itís very Salmoneus. But first letís go out and check into these horsenappings."
* * *
From across the square a large man took notice of the two women headed for the stables. He drew a deep breath and headed to the inn. "Eve!" He called as he wandered inside.
The young woman exited from the kitchen wiping her hands on a rough towel. She rolled her eyes slightly. "Yes Darus? What can I do for you today?"
"Those women who just left here. Who are they?"
She tilted her head just a bit. "That was my mother and her friend Gabrielle."
Darus moved to the bar and leaned in close to Eve. "What kind of friend is she to your mother?"
"I donít see where thatís any of your business."
"Yes it is my business. As magistrate of Amphipolis I make the laws here and you know we have certain lawsÖ"
"Yes, I know of your laws. The laws of man. Not of God, not of natureÖ" Eve closed her eyes, silently asking Eli for strength. "You came here six months ago and declared yourself magistrate. Then you began creating lawsÖ"
"Laws for the good of the town." He reminded her.
"I have to agree with you to some extent. Some of the laws you put in place have been very beneficial. But others are wrong simply on principle."
"Eve." The older man took her hand. "You know how I feel about you. Youíve been very supportive of me and the work Iíve done here and Iím very fond of you. You know whatís right and whatís wrong and if your mother and her Ďfriendí are living that kind of life thenÖ"
She pulled her hand away and rubbed between her brows, closing her eyes. "Darus, my mother, is not someone who takes well to being told what she can and canít do. Trust me when I say it will just be better if you donít challenge her on this."
"Is she breaking our laws?"
Eve sighed. "Not her own and certainly not mine. I love Gabrielle too. Theyíve always stood with me, even when they were against me."
"Itís good that a daughter has such love and devotion to her mother. Youíre a good daughter Eve. Itís your job to make your mother see the err of her ways."
She just nodded and smiled at him. "Donít you mean the err of your ways Darus?" Donít say anything to him. Just keep quiet. . . Iíll get them married if itís the last thing I do.
Virgil entered from the back with a cask of wine on his shoulder. He tried not to look annoyed at the older man leaning on the bar but he wasnít very successful. The poet knew his feelings for Eve bounced all over the place. One minute he was very fond of her then the next minute he simply wanted to kill her, but no matter how he was feeling about her, he truly hated it when Darus showed any interest in her. He didnít like the older man, there was just something about him he didnít trust.
He moved behind the bar and sat the cask down next to Eve. "There you go. Whatís next on the list boss?"
Eve looked to Virgil with a bit of shock on her face. When did I become boss? Normally itís not that nice.
Xena and Gabrielle dismounted their horses and tied them to the posts at the front of the house. Looking around, everything looked pretty normal.
"Youíd think that people would be more upset after have a horse stolen." Xena stated as she made her way toward the barn.
"No use in crying over spilt milk." Gabrielle sighed.
Xena slowly turned her head, eyeing her partner. Instead of saying anything she just shook her head as they continued toward the barn. The warrior was inspecting the ground as she made her way to the barn. "Well, there arenít any fresh tracks so far."
A tall man came around the corner of the barn, looking tired and frustrated. "Who are you?" He grabbed a board from the side of the building.
"Easy." Gabrielle raised her hands. "Weíre here to help. We heard you had a horse stolen last night."
"Yeah, my stallion. I was going to use him for stud service this season. But nowÖ" His shoulders slumped. "I donít know whatÖ"
"Well with any luck at all weíll be able to find him and get him back for you."
"Iíll bet heís half way to Athens by now, headed for the horse auction."
Xena looked down a small path before scanning around the farm. "I wouldnít take that bet," she answered cryptically. As she started to walk away, taking the path, the farmer looked to Gabrielle for an answer to just what Xena meant.
"Weíll get back with you," Gabrielle offered as she took a few quick strides to catch up to the warrior. "Xena," Gabrielle whispered as not to be overheard by the farmer. "What in the hell are you talking about? We both know that horse is long gone."
"Look at these tracks," Xena pointed out. "They donít go off and unlike what they said at the inn they donít disappear . . . Theyíve doubled back."
Gabrielle followed Xenaís gesture and sure enough Ė the tracks went out toward the pasture and stopped. When they closely examined them, however, they saw the second set of tracks that went backwards, right toward the barn again.
"Youíre right." She paused, giving her head a good scratch. "Are you saying he stole his own horse?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nope. He was robbed all right. But the person that did it wanted to make it look Ďmysticalí. To the normal eye it certainly does look like the horse took flight but if you look just close enough here you can see the animal was backed up," Xena says pointing to a hoof print which looked a bit oversized. "Anyone who was worth anything as an investigator would pick up on this. Come on," Xena said with a nudge of her head, "Letís check out the barn."
"What are we looking for?" Gabrielle asked.
"Anything odd," Xena answered as they entered the barn.
"Like what? Left over crumbs from the nutbread raid?"
Xena smirked. "Very funny."
Gabrielle gave a soft chuckle as the duo continued to look around. The farmer stood behind them watching their movements. When Xena opened the other side of the barn she looked to the ground and turned to face the man.
"Did they take your wagon too?" she asked.
"I donít have a wagon," he told her.
Xena walked out with Gabrielle on her heels. Sure enough, wagon tracks. Headed to Amphipolis Ė not Athens. But that makes no sense, Gabrielle considered. "Xena?"
"I donít get it either," Xena confessed understanding Gabrielleís unspoken question. Xena turned back to the farmer. "Weíll keep searching. Thanks for your help." With that she turned back to Gabrielle. "Letís follow and see where these go."
And follow they did Ė right back to town.
"Xena with all these tracks-."
"Itís impossible to tell where they went from here," she finished.
"Well now what?"
Xena considered it for a moment. "Letís go back and talk to Eve. See if anyone new has popped up since sheís been here. She might be all light and sunbeams but Iím sure she still knows how to smell a rat. Letís see if sheís got any ideas. While weíre at it perhaps we can speak to the local sheriff and see if they have any hunches."
Gabrielle nodded to her partner and they headed back to the inn.
* * *
Eve looked up when she heard Gabrielleís chuckle and Xena who appeared to be nuzzling the bardís neck as they entered. Darus cast a disapproving look to Eve, which she tried to brush off. She rushed over to her mother as quick as her feet would carry her.
"Mother!!" she exclaimed.
The overzealous greeting wasnít lost on Xena and she scrunched her eyebrows in examination of her daughter, trying to figure out what she was up too. "Yes daughter?" Xena teased.
"Iíd like you to meet someone," she said grabbing both Xena and Gabrielleís hands, leading them to the small bar. "This is Darus, the town magistrate."
"Just the person I was going to look for," Xena grinned, extending her hand. "I hear youíve got a horse thief on your hands around here."
"And I hear youíre living in sin with the blonde," he answered coming to his full height.
"Excuse me," Xena answered, retracting her hand before he could take it. Damn it Eve. Do you really feel the need to blab this to the world? Now I might have to knock his teeth out for lack of manners.
"We heard what you said," Gabrielle piped in. "You opened your mouth and put your foot in it."
"And I might have to put my fist in it next," Xena answered taking a step closer.
Eve stepped between her mother and the magistrate. "Please, Iím sure that Darus meant no offense. Heís only trying to uphold the law that says lovers are to be rightfully wed is all. And since you and Gabrielle are engaged thereís no cause for concern. Right mother?" The Ďplease play alongí tone wasnít lost on Xena as she looked at her daughterís pleading eyes.
Youíre lucky itís my little girl standing here pal, Xena thought as she examined the man with a smug look on his face. "Riiiiight," Xena drawled.
Xena didnít dare look back to Gabrielle who was at her shoulder. She was sure the bard was spitting mad behind her. And the sudden snorting pretty much confirmed it. It was definitely Gabrielleís ĎIím going to make you regret that Xenaí snort.
"Well," Darus began. "Thatís good to know. We have to maintain balance and order in these parts you know? I have to mention though, I donít see either of you wearing a promise ring."
Gabrielleís hands were now clinched in fists of rage and her breathing was growing labored. Xena could hear her. She had to do something before the bard erupted.
"Well if you had half a clue and KNEW how amazon custom works youíd know that amazons donít exchange rings. They exchange anklets, which is inside her boot. And no, sheís not taking off her clothes for ANYONE in this room. Especially for a man as unmannered as yourself," Xena hissed. The warrior silently prayed that last act of defiance would be enough to appease the bardís temper.
"Point taken," he said with a grin and a nod. "Eve," he said nodding to the innkeeper in a gentlemanly fashion. "Until later. "
The three of them walked out and Eve released a sigh of relief. "Thank you for going along," Eve told them.
"You! Me! Kitchen! Now!"
Eve looked truly frightened, hoping for support as the bard stormed toward the back.
"Donít look to me," Xena told her. "I bailed your ass out once already. Youíre all out of favors from me for today," she told her daughter.
Eve sighed and with shoulders slumped she went to meet her fate. Her Ďfateí looked snorting mad Ė arms crossed, toe tapping.
"You made your mother lie," Gabrielle began.
"It was that or send you both to jail. Besides I know someday youíll come to your senses and the two of you will get married. I know that youíll do the right thing."
Gabrielle was already shaking her head before Eve finished. "You just donít get it Eve. Xena and I are doing the Ďright thingí. The thing thatís right for us might not be what you or even this town wants. And who the hell is HE to dictate what your mother and I do with our bodies. Itís wrong and you know it!"
"Youíre right. I donít agree with him. But with him in charge thereís little I can do about it."
Gabrielle pulled on her bangs in frustration, willing herself not to get too upset with their daughter. "Evie . . . Donít you see? If people donít stand up for what they believe then theyíll fall for anything that this man says. And I canít believe that youíre standing there, telling me you canít do anything about it. Thatís crazy. Hell you were the champion of Rome for Eliís sake."
"Donít take Eliís name in vain," Eve warned. "And donít tell me what I was. I know what I was. I have to live everyday with what I was. I donít need your help to be reminded I was a terrible person."
"But donít you see Eve," Gabrielle began. "Even in that darkness there was something good about it. It made you strong, it made you stand up for what you believe in. Granted your path was misguided but now youíve found a path that could help mankind instead of hinder it. However, you wonít raise a voice against those who speak evil because perhaps itís a little too close to the darkness. I mean . . . is that it Eve? Are you scared of becoming what you once were?"
Eve backed away and started to grab some potatoes. "I have lunch to prepare. I donít have time to discuss this."
Gabrielle literally ripped the vegetables from Eveís hands. "Answer me Eve! What are you so worried about?"
"Me!" Eve screamed. She didnít add anything else. Gabrielle could see the young woman collapsing inside and in moments Eve was sobbing. She started to fall to her knees and Gabrielle grabbed her, making the decent to the ground with her, holding the young woman tight. "I donít wanna be a monster again," she sobbed into Gabrielleís shoulder.
"Everyone has darkness," Gabrielle told her. "EVERYONE. Itís what we do with it that matters. You can let people walk all over you Evie or you can tap into that darkness and make a stand. Your mother does it. I do. Everyone who believes in fighting for whatís right needs that. The balance is not letting that darkness overtake you. Do you understand what Iím trying to say? Darkness can be your ally to fight headlong into tyranny. It will make you battle bravely to the death if need be. But as long as you have love and you have your path . . . you donít need to be afraid of your darkness. You just need to be aware of it. You can love Eli. You can love your God. You can also stand for what YOU think is important. Eli couldnít walk my path, the way of the warrior. But he accepted me for the person I was anyway. Do you see what Iím saying Evie? Do you sweetheart?"
"Yeah I think so," Eve said trying to grin. "Quit being a whimp?"
Gabrielle had to chuckle. "Well thatís not exactly how Iíd put it but just like your mother youíve cut to the quick . . . Yes dear, quit being a whimp." Gabrielle smoothed back Eveís bangs and gave the girl a long, affectionate kiss on the forehead.
"Iím not sure where to start," Eve confessed.
"Well think back to a few moments ago. If Darus had started trouble with you the way he did with me and your mother how do you think your mother and I would react?"
"Sais flashing, chakramÖchakraming," Eve answered.
"Well Iím not sure if it would be as bad as all that," Gabrielle chuckled, "but you can bet that she and I would certainly make some comment on his rude behavior and send him packing until he got some better manners. Itís things like that Eve. Once you learn that balance between being a decent soul and not one that gets walked upon youíll do better. By rights this is your inn, your home Ė and you let him walk all over your family."
"Thanks Gabrielle and just when I couldnít feel any worse," Eve said as she began to rise.
"Itís true Eve. I only meant it as an example. Sometimes you have to take a stand. Learning to balance the light and the dark is difficult. It will be a long road but realize that your mother and I are here to help. Okay?"
Eve gave a nod.
"And also realize that your mother and I will not marry. Not for you. Not for Amphipolis. Not for anyone, but she and I, if thatís what we decide someday. Okay?"
Eve gave another nod.
"Good," Gabrielle grinned. "Now weíll have to start working on a plan to catch this horse thief. Itís impossible to watch every farm in town but if we could have some means of tracking them . . ."
Eve and Gabrielle thought it over a moment until an idea occurred to Eve. "I have an idea of how to Ďmake a standí as you put it."
"Well the baker is always getting robbed of his nutbread. What if we tainted some nutbread with something? Nothing that would kill them - just enough to make them sick. It would certainly slow down their departure thatís for sure."
Gabrielle considered it. "You know that might actually work."
"Yeah, but what could we use?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment before a growing smile came to her face. "Henbane."
"Henbane is lethal! Iím not sure Iím up to killing anyone just yet Gabrielle."
"In large quantities yes it is. But with the right dose it will make the person appear drunk as hell with one Tartarus of a head ache in the morning," she chuckled. "You start baking and Iíll go speak to the baker and tell him what weíve got Ďcookingí. He can put it out in place of the untainted bread each night. I just hope heíll remember to change it in the morning."
"Sounds good. Grandmother still had a bunch of old recipes here in the kitchen. Iím sure I could whip something up."
"Okay in the onset Iíll stop by the chemist shop and see if heís got that. You start baking and Iíll tell your mother what weíve decided," Gabrielle added as she made her way back to the dining area.
Xena saw her approach and rose to meet her. "Everything all settled?" she grinned.
At first Gabrielle had forgotten that she had gone out back to read Eve the riot act. "Oh yeah. We wonít be having any more marriage woes," she grinned. "Weíve started to work on a plan that involves henbane laced nutbread. And even before you take another breath Iím warning you Ė not a word warrior."
Xena chuckled. "My lips are sealed. . . So whatís the plan?"
Gabrielle hooked Xenaís arm and led her out the door, "Well, it goes something like this. . ."
* * *
Xena took a deep satisfied breath of the freshly baked nutbread as Eve put the last loaf on the table, covering the four Ďlacedí loaves with a towel to keep them fresh and warm. "Well, Evie seems you have inherited your grandmotherís skill in the kitchen. This smells wonderful. Too bad we canít sample it."
"Those no. But I had enough ingredients left over so I baked a loaf for us. Itís right there." She gestured to a loaf of bread on a shelf next to the oven. "Help yourself." She busied herself with cleaning the kitchen. "Mother, how did grandmother feel about you and Gabrielle? Did she know?"
Xena led her head drop and her shoulders slump a bit. Boy when this kid get into an issue she knaws on it like a dog with a bone. "Yes, Evie, your grandmother knew about us and she loved Gabrielle very much." The warrior slowly sliced through the loaf of bread then stopped and looked to her daughter. "Do you have a problem with it?"
"No. I was just curious thatís all. I can see that you two love each other very much." She dusted the flour from the tabletop to the floor. "I wonder if Iíll ever find someone I can love as much."
"Oh, sweetheart, of course you will. Just when I thought my life was truly over I was blessed with Gabrielle. But let me tell you, itíll sneak up on you and bite you on the bottom and itíll be the last person in the world youíd think." She laughed a bit, spreading a heavy cream on the fresh bread.
Eve twisted the towel in her hands. "Thatís what Iím afraid of." She mumbled, glancing out the window and chewing on her lip.
Gabrielle, being led firmly by her nose and her grumbling stomach entered the kitchen and went right for the bread Xena was about to put in her mouth. "Hmmm thatís good." She grinned at her partner even as she swallowed the bread.
"Help yourself there, bard o mine." She tore off another small piece of the bread. "You should be a thief." Her gaze was playful and loving as she fed another piece of bread to Gabrielle.
"Thanks I will." The blonde hummed with delight as she ate the bread. "Eve this is really good. Youíre a wonderful cook. A skill you must have acquired from your grandmother and me."
"Hey!" Xena gave her a little swat on the arm. "I cook!"
"No dear, I cook. You turn everything into shoe leather."
"Itís called jerky Gabrielle, and itís supposed to be that way so it lasts while weíre on the road."
Gabrielle gave Xenaís hand a condescending pat. "You just keep telling yourself that." She winked, taking the another piece of bread from the warrior and joining Eve at the window. "Whatís got your attention now Eve?"
Xena chuckled. "I donít think itís a what, Gabrielle, I think itís a who."
"Oooo really now?" The bard snickered. "Is there a who in your life sweetheart?"
"God I hope not." Eve moaned. "Thatís the last thing I need right now."
Gabrielle looked back as Xena who grinned and wiggled her brows. Then she turned back to Eve. "So when you see this person does your stomach drop?"
"Un-huh." Even slumped onto a stool.
Xena tried not to laugh and had to shove a piece of bread in her mouth to keep from it.
"Do you get kinda light headed whenever theyíre around?" She gave an evil look over her shoulder. "Like theyíre sucking all the air out of the room?" She was rewarded with Xena sticking her tongue out at her.
"Yeah." The young woman sighed.
"Yup," Gabrielle nodded before going back for more bread. "Thereís a who."
"Told you." Xena grinned.
"Heaven help me." Eve just let her head drop to the table, which sent both her mothers into a fit of laughter.
"Xena come on and lay down here with me. We need to take a nap so we can be awake for our little trap to work tonight."
The warrior tossed a bracer on the table. "If I come over there, we wonít get to the nap part for at least an hour or so."
A pale brow rose slowly. "You were planning on rushing things?"
Xena sat up straight in her chair and drummed her fingers on the tabletop as she sucked air through her teeth. "Is this a trick?"
Gabrielle giggled a bit as she adjusted the covers on the bed. "Now why would you ask me a question like that?"
"Because for the past few days youíve been a right harpy thatís why. And I donít want to come over there and get my face slapped."
"No, no face slapping. I promise. Iím feeling better now and Iíd like to play a nice round of bite the warrior and then take a nap, but I want to do it with you."
"Well, youíd better not be planning on doing it with anyone else."
"Well," The bard drew the word out in a long seductive breath as she raised up on one elbow and looked to the warrior. "I could do it by myself."
Xena grinned as she adjusted in her chair. "Could you now?" Xena challenged smugly, crossing her legs and folding her arms across her chest.
"Mmmhmm," Gabrielle answered.
Xenaís cocky expression began to wash away; replaced by a close examination as the warrior-bard began to part her legs ever so slightly and arch her back. Xena licked her lips slowly as she watched Gabrielle reach behind and untie her halter. Xena blinked just once when it came flying in her direction, landing in her lap.
In all the years they spent together, Xena had never once watched the bard perform for her. For a brief moment that fact surprised her but she pushed it away. She wouldnít let the missed opportunities of the past tarnish what she had here and now.
She knew the bard enjoyed touching her own body. Sometimes at night she would wake to hear the bard Ďcoming downí from her natural high but she was never fortunate enough to witness it from start to finish. By the way Gabrielle was oohing and ahhing as pleasured herself beneath her skirt, the warrior doubted that she would get to see Gabrielle Ďfinishí Ė sheíd be on her bard grinding against her before then. But for the moment she would sit back and enjoy it for as long as she could.
Gabrielle could feel the affect she was having on the warrior. She loved it and she cursed herself for not doing this sooner. She could swear the warrior was now salivating as she watched her little show. In her mind Gabrielle envisioned them in a room full of people as she lay on a stage enticing a crowd of on-lookers. They would all want her. They would all want to pleasure her but Gabrielle knew there was only one that could do her body justice. Xenaís hands, her fingers, her teeth, her mouth, her tongue, herÖ ĎOh hell, all of her,í Gabrielleís mind considered as her own hands passed over her flesh. ĎAll of her turns me on and turns me out.í
By this time Xena had uncrossed her arms and legs. The chair she sat on was wet from her arousal and her fists clinched the bardís halter-top. She brought it up to her face and deeply inhaled the scent of her bard Ė a mix of rose petal oil and her own unique smell. What I wouldnít give to have those britches, she thought as she took an uneven breath.
The bard took notice of the warrior filling her senses and she decided to give her something else to enjoy. Much to Xenaís delight, the bardís soaked britches landed in the warriorís lap. Damn this woman knows me well, Xena grinned just for a moment. The small smile didnít last long. The britches now filled her grasp too and the smell of her bardís sex made her groan out loud in her desire. Her tongue reached out to touch the material, tasting juice the bardís fingers had worked into it.
Gabrielle began to move quicker. Her noises got louder. The warrior could feel her own sex beginning to contract at the sound.
She was torn. Should she go over to the bard or stay in the chair in sweet agony? When Gabrielle began to pant Xenaís name, the warrior accidentally ripped the halter in two, as she willed herself to stay seated and continue to examine the show.
"I canít hold it," Gabrielle whined. The sound - a mixture of utmost pleasure and impatience - pushed Xena over the edge. Xena could no longer hold it either and she gripped the arms of the chair as her orgasm ripped through her body. She made me come. She didnít lay a finger on me and the woman made me come, Xenaís mind cried out as she shook in the chair. All she could force from her lips however was the bardís name.
When Gabrielle realized that Xena had spent herself in the chair Ė the rapid rising and falling chest, the flushed skin, the damp bangs across her forehead Ė she felt herself explode. And upon hearing the bard climax Xena promptly got up as quick as her unsteady legs could carry her and hooked the chair under the doorknob.
Gabrielle could still feel the contractions deep within her as she started to chuckle. "What on earth are you doing?" she asked the warrior.
"No daughter of ours is gonna interrupt us this time," Xena snarled as she dove toward the bed.
Gabrielle gave a small yelp and a chuckle as the warrior made her descent to the mattress. Neither seemed too surprised when the whole bed caved in and nor did they care.
* * *
Gabrielle yawned for the umpteenth time that night.
"Stop that," Xena ordered. "Youíre making me sleepy."
"You wore me out," Gabrielle countered. "We were SUPPOSED to take a nap remember?"
Xena chuckled heartily. "Hey I wasnít the one who couldnít keep her hands to herself Little Miss Exhibitionist."
Gabrielle chuckled. "You say that as if itís a complaint. Donít worry. Iíll never do it again."
"Donít you dare," Xena growled, leaning over to nibble on the bardís ear. She might have continued but a sound made both of them halt any movement. Someone was coming into the barn. And by the look of things they were staggering quite a bit.
Gabrielle and Xena grinned. This was it. The plan worked. They got on opposite sides of the loft and waiting until the right moment - than BAM!! They jumped down in synchronicity tackling the bandit. Xena pulled him up roughly to his feet and pulled back the cloak he wore.
"Virgil?!" they both said in surprised harmony.
"Heeeeyyyyy," he drawled trying to stay upright. "Itís my two favorite gals in the wholllllllle wiiiiiiiide worlllllllld."
"Are you drunk?" Gabrielle asked.
"No," they heard a voice behind them answer. "He ate the nutbread. Iíve been trying to keep him quiet in the house but I see he Ďgot awayí," Eve added.
"What is it with bards and nutbread uh?" Xena asked Gabrielle.
"Why are you getting mad at me?" Gabrielle asked, sensing the hostility in Xenaís voice. When Xena didnít answer she added. "For your information, IíM a BARD and heís a POET."
"Thereís a difference?" Xena asked.
"Yes thereís a difference. You know Xena-."
"Look Iíd love to stay here and listen to this intellectual debate all night," Eve interrupted, "but we gotta get him outta here immediately."
"Eveís right," Xena answered. "Letís get him back to the house."
"I WANT THE WHOLE WORLD TO KNOW I MADE OUT WITH THIS WOMAN!" Virgil yelled. Oh shhhhhhhhit, Gabrielle thought as she tried to steady his steps outside with the help of Xena and Eve, who were now trying to cover his mouth.
"Shut the hell up!" Xena hissed. "Youíll wake up the entire village."
"Sheís a great kisser isnít she Xena?" Virgil asked the warrior as they staggered along. "You are," he said turning to Gabrielle trying to look as serious as possible. "You are a fantastic kisser AUNT Gabby." At that point he burst into a fit of schoolboy giggles.
"Heís damn lucky heís stoned or Iíd rip out his tongue," Xena snarled.
"Letís just get him into the house and let him sleep it off," Gabrielle told them.
"And that daughter of yours," Virgil continued. "I know she offed Pop and all but. . . Damn you gotta admit sheís a sexy little number ainít she? Sheís kinda skinny thou. Must get that from her other momís side huh Xena? I mean youíre mighty. Really, really mighty. That reminds me of a song."
"Eli give me strength," Eve sighed as they neared the house.
"If he sings THAT song Gabrielle heís a dead man," the warrior warned. Both were fully aware of what THAT song was.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Virgil the Mighty. Heís very-."
"Thatís it!!" The warrior started to draw her breast dagger.
"Xena?!" the bard cried out, stepping between the two of them.
Before Xena could even raise a hand, a sound from the barn made them all turn.
They all stood as a horse and rider raced from the barn. A tan horse. With a white mane.
"Son of a bitch!" Xena screamed.
"Maybe it wasnít Argo," Gabrielle said optimistically.
"How many Palominos are in that barn Gabrielle?" the warrior said walking toward the barn.
"Iím trying to be hopeful here!" Gabrielle shouted.
"How about being realistic?!" Xena argued.
Gabrielle began walking after the warrior. In doing so she let Virgil go and Eve was unable to balance him alone. The duo ended up falling to the dusty street.
Xena and Gabby did a double take to see Eve and Virgil in a tangled mess Ė Eve on the bottom and Virgil on top.
"Oh shit!" Gabrielle said as she raced back over to help them.
"Get off of me!!" Eve yelled as she pushed.
"I donít feel so good," Virgil said as he swayed on top of her.
Eve knew that look. "Donít you dare get-."
She didnít get the change to finish. Xena and Gabrielle had to turn away.
"Sorry," Virgil said as he rolled over onto his side.
Eve couldnít move. She was totally paralyzed. "I donít think our plan is going very well," Eve told Gabrielle.
"You can say that again," Xena said as she helped Eve to her feet, trying to avoid touching anything Ďdampí on her daughter courtesy of Virgil.
Virgil heaved again and then again. Gabrielle knelt down to examine him.
"I gotta get my horse," Xena hissed as she started to stomp off.
"Xena," the bard called out.
"What?!" she said impatiently.
"He doesnít look too good," Gabrielle answered. "His eyes are really red Xena. How much did he eat?" the bard asked their daughter.
"Two loafs," she replied, suddenly her state of disarray melted away. "Is that bad?"
"Itís not good," Gabrielle answered. "Xena we have to get him into the house."
Xena stood a moment and whispered, "Argo. Virgil. Argo. Virgil."
"Xena!" the bard chastised.
"Oh all right," Xena replied getting him to his feet. She looked at him and Gabrielleís assessment was true. He wasnít looking very well at all. "We gotta get him inside. Eve, go get cleaned up. Weíll tend to him."
Eve raced ahead to the inn as Gabrielle and Xena took his shoulders and his feet, carrying him inside. They carefully carried him out behind the pantry.
"We have to stop him from vomiting," Gabrielle remarked. Eve returned with a clean sleeping shift on.
"On the contrary, Xena answered. "We need to make him as sick as possible. Eve get me the worst concoction you can come up with. Weíre gonna have ole Virg here drink it. That boy is gonna be so sore in the morning heíll think a speeding chariot hit him but we have to get as much of that stuff out of his stomach as possible."
With a nod, Eve was off to the kitchen.
Gabrielle looked him over, "Xena . . . Is he gonna be alright?"
Xena ran her fingers through the young manís hair who now lay unconscious in her lap, head tilted to the side so he wouldnít choke. "Weíll do our best," she replied softly.
Eve brought back a mug holding it at arms length, scowling and trying to keep her eyes from watering. "Donít breath in the fumes."
"Oh Gods!" Gabrielle gasped as the foul smelling mug passed by her. She fanned the air around her trying to clear it as quickly as possible. "What is in there?"
"You donít want to know." Eve commented as Xena pushed Virgil upright.
"Okay boy-o," She snickered as she tilted his head back and opened his mouth. "Down the hatch!" She held out her hand for the mug.
"Oh Mom let me." Eve smirked as she approached. "Hold his nose. I want to enjoy this."
Xena pinched his nose shut as Eve poured the liquid into his mouth. Xena clenched her jaw, feeling her own stomach roll at the smell of the concoction. "Holy smokes Eve, thatís the second most disgusting thing Iíve ever smelled. What is it?"
"Geeze Xena," The Bard smirked, watching the mother daughter team give the elixir to the young poet. "If thatís the second most disgusting thing youíve ever smelled, considering everything weíve been through Iím not sure I want to know what the MOST disgusting thing is."
"Well all Iím going to say is I hope that his fatherís recipe for radish stew has been lost to history."
A look of recollection crossed the blondeís face. "Oh yeah! I second that. Youíre right that was gross."
Eve finished pouring the liquid down his throat and Xena closed his mouth. Then she stood up, laid him out on a bench and placed a large pot by his head. "Letís get out of here and let that work."
"Should we leave him alone Xena?" Gabrielle scratched her cheek, she could almost she the eruption that was about to take place.
"Do you really want to stick around and watch him throw upÖagain?"
"No." She shook her head. "Not really."
"Iíll take care of him." Eve looked back and sighed. "I kinda owe the little dunderhead. You and Gabrielle need to go see if you can find Argo."
"Argo!" The warrior perked up. "Right, my horse. I want my pony!"
Gabrielle scratched her shoulder. Suddenly she had flashbacks that were less than pleasant and she could just feel the ghost of creeping crud hanging over her head. She shivered the thought away and turned for the door. "Come on Xena letís go find Argo."
Gabrielle extended her hand to Xena. "Oh no, my horse - I drive, you ride." She offered her hand again.
"Weíre wasting time arguing about it. The longer you stand there being stubborn the further away the thief gets with Argo."
The warrior growled, taking hold of the saddle horn and the back of the saddle, she pulled herself up behind Gabrielle. She found herself making a quick grab for the bardís waist as Gabrielle spurred the horse forward. "Who taught you how to drive?"
"You did!" Gabrielle growled back.
Xena just tightened her hold and held on for dear life as they raced out of town. Following tracks that Xena could easily identify as Argoís, the pair continued along the road until Xena nudged the bard. "Off the road here Gabrielle, toward the old riverbed."
Gabrielle guided her horse carefully into the meadow, over a short rocky bank and down into the dried up riverbed. She slowed the horse, allowing Xena to dismount first then she followed suit, leading her horse and walking next to her partner.
"Xena look at all these tracks. It looks as if an army came through here."
Xena knelt down and fingered the dirt. "Maybe one did Gabrielle. There are some old caves not to far from here that my brothers and I use to play in. Theyíd be perfect for making a very well fortified camp."
"So you think maybe the thieves are an army, stealing the horses to outfit their men?"
"It makes sense." Xena stood up and lifted her head into the breeze. "Oh yeah we got horses. Lots of them. Question is why is an army forming around Amphipolis?"
"Amphipolis is prosperous again. Lots of dinars exchanging hands everyday. Lots of goods coming into town."
"New magistrate who wants to control everyone and everything." Xena mumbled. She placed her hands on her hips and looked to her partner for her opinion. "What if itís not an army per say Gabrielle but more of a militia?"
The bard raised a brow. "An armed militia to Ďkeep the peaceí?" Gabrielle closed the last the words with a motion of her fingers.
"Yeah, like weíre Ďjust friendsí." Xena chuckled, repeating the action.
"Riiiiight." Gabrielle nodded, looking back to the ground. She knelt down, running her hand over one of the tracks in the dirt. "Theyíve definitely got Argo. Here are the tracks from her shoes that Virgil marked with the ĎXí."
"Letís do a little reconnaissance shall we?"
* * *
Eve sat with Virgil in the kitchen. He had stopped throwing up and now he just sat on a bench with a blanket wrapped around his shaking shoulders. His eyes were red and watery and he looked as if he had been to hell and back.
"Donít feel so very good Evie." He mumbled.
"I would imagine not." She said gently, brushing her fingers through his bangs, pushing them from his forehead. "You nearly poisoned yourself."
"What was in that nutbread?"
He groaned. "Whose bright idea was that?"
"Well it was part of a plan Gabrielle and I put together to find out who was stealing the horses and the nutbread. Until you came along and ate two loaves before I could take them to the baker."
"Sorry." He wiped his nose on the blanket and sniffed. "I didnít know. Iíd been working out back and on the roof all day. When I came in I was hungry andÖ"
"I know." Eve sighed, pulling him close to her and putting her arm around his shoulder, allowing his head to rest on her own shoulder. "You work awfully hard around here. Thank you."
"Itís sort of a family tradition." Virgil joked, even as his eyes closed in comfort.
Eve felt her stomach drop just a little when he rested against her. Eli help me, I do not need this. Mother will never let me live it down.
* * *
Lying on their stomachs the pair, watched several dozen men and women move around the camp that was well hidden in a horseshoe formation of old caves. Xena pointed and whispered. "See only one way in and one way out."
"Dunno Xena seems to me like there may only be one way out but there are definitely two ways in. We are most definitely at the backdoor here."
Xena raised a dark brow, giving her partner a hint of a smile. "Well, havenít we become quite the little strategist?"
"Itís a very useful skill Iíve picked up over the years." She deadpanned, keeping her eyes on the camp below them. "Looks like close to a hundred or so."
"Two against a hundred. How do you like those odd?"
"Weíve faced worse."
"Very true, my love, very true. You want the tall or the short ones?"
"I say we just go for the ones that are dumb enough to stick around for the fight."
"Simple, yet effective. I like it." Xena was about to get to her feet when Gabrielle pulled her back down and pointed.
"You were right. Look."
Xenaís eyes narrowed as Darus entered one of the caves, tying Argo outside on a hitching post. "That horsenappingÖdaughter intimidatingÖgirlfriend insulting son of a bitch."
"Yeah, that about sums it up," Gabrielle smirked.
"Well, when we get down there just remember, heís mine," Xena growled.
Gabrielle smiled. "On three then?" she said pointing to the commotion below.
"One, two, three," Xena said quickly, before leaping into a summersault giving her powerful war cry.
"Thanks for the warning," the bard mumbled as she started on her journey toward the camp. Gabrielle knew sheíd have to make the trip on foot. Sheíd grown into a fine warrior but she still didnít have those acrobatic skills of Xena.
Xena landed firmly with a final, "Chiiiiiiiya!", before pulling her sword. Three men rushed her. Just three huh? she considered as they charged. They werenít much to speak of as fighters and she took them down with easy. Five more heard the commotion and raced to join in. But the one Xena wanted most still hadnít shown his face.
By this time Gabrielle made it next to Xena to join the melee. Two of the five saw the bard as easy pickins and headed toward her. Unfortunate for them. Soon they all lay either moaning or unconscious on the ground.
Gabrielle looked at the men around them. "I donít see the magistrate," she remarked.
"Iím sure heís tucked well inside," Xena replied.
"Well then, letís go," Gabrielle answered starting toward the cave entrance. She picked up a nearby torch and carried it along with them. In spite of the light the fire shown, it was still fairly dark but soon enough their eyes adjusted.
They saw about 50 men and perhaps 6 women inside. The men were certainly the solider types but the women looked like they worked for Meg. Xenaís eyes searched, coming to rest of Darus. He had one of the women on his lap, a smile on his face as she fed him grapes.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. "So this is the guy whoís teaching morals huh?" Gabrielle whispered.
Xena grinned and moved from the shadows taking the torch with her. A few folks looked up from their Ďactivitiesí to see the warrior princess standing smugly in their domain.
"So much for Ďfamily valuesí huh Darus?" Xena called out.
Darus nearly choked when he saw Xena. He dropped the Ďlady of the eveningí from his lap in his haste in trying to stand.
"Get her!!" he yelled.
Gabrielle came out of her hiding spot to stand behind the warrior. Xena tossed the first two men behind her for the bard to deal with as 5 more charged toward her. With a few slashes left and right the bard and warrior took down the first Ďwaveí.
"Whoís next?" Xena asked the group, waving her sword in front of them.
All eyes fell on Darus for an answer.
"What are you doing just sitting there?" he said. "Go after them!"
They all looked at each other but no one moved.
"Looks like you oughta hire better help," Xena taunted him.
Darus grew madder and began to pace. "Who do you think you are?" he asked Xena. "I am trying to keep the peace."
"No," Xena countered. "Youíre trying to inflict your will on these people."
"Youíre nothing but a heathen Ė living in sin with that woman," he said pointing toward Gabrielle.
"Last I checked stealing was a sin, lying was a sin-."
"You donít get it. Iím doing this for the greater good."
"You wouldnít know the greater good if it came up and bit you on the ass."
Darus was out of options. "Enough talk! Kill her!!" he ordered.
When no one moved Xena made a suggestion, "Iíll made a deal with all of you. Those of you who agree to return the horses youíve taken will be pardoned. But youíre never to show your face near Amphipolis again."
"And those that donít?" Darus replied smugly.
"Those who donít get to experience the chakram first hand. Itís a tale few live to tell about I should add . . . So itís your choice folks. Whatís it gonna be?"
"I am the LAW in this town," Darus answered. "You canít pardon anyone."
Xena walked deeper into the cave until she was a few feet from Darus and could see the whites of his eyes. "Watch me," she hissed. She looked around the cave and knew no one was going to make a move against them. "So, whatís the answer?" she asked the soldiers.
Slowly, men began to rise and both Xena and Gabrielle headed toward the exit of the cave following them. Darus began to rant as a result, still babbling about the law and his plan for the greater good. Xena and Gabrielle paid him no heed and helped the folks get in line to take the animals back to the village.
In the midts of getting the soldiers settled for their return Xena heard Darus running up behind her, screaming his frustration.
"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled pulling her sais.
Xena unsheathed her sword and without turning around, thrust the weapon behind her, under her arm, driving it deep into Darusí chest.
"You made your choice," Xena told him as the blood began to drip from his mouth. "Damn fool," Xena muttered shaking her head. She turned and kicked him from her sword. The group said nothing. They just looked on in speechless wonder. They also realized they made the right decision. So horse by horse, rein by rein the group began their journey into Amphipolis.
Dawn was just approaching and delighted farmers and town folks got reunited with their lost animals. Apples went all the way around as well as hugs to a few fillies here and there. A lot of Ďhigh tailingí for the soldiers occurred, much to Xena and Gabrielleís satisfaction. Upon giving Argo the attention Xena felt she needed after the Ďtraumatic experienceí of being stolen, the duo made their way to the inn.
They walked into Eveís room to find Virgil asleep on her lap. The messenger of Eli was running her fingers through Virgilís short hair. Eveís fingers shot away upon seeing her mothers in her doorway, as if she was guilty of a wrongdoing.
Well Iíll be, Gabrielle smirked silently. Maybe weíll have a grandchild someday who looks like Joxer. Now that would be something to see.
"Everything go okay?" Eve asked.
"Yeah," Xena remarked. "We got Argo. Found the other horses. Saved the day. Same ole same ole. . . Looks like youíve got your hands full," Xena added, teasing her daughter.
Eve smiled. "Yeah, heíll be okay."
"Thatís good. If itís okay with you Evie I think Gabrielle and I are going to head off to bed. Itís late-."
"Well, technically itís early," Gabrielle corrected.
"Late, early, whatever. Point is Iím tired and Iím heading to bed," Xena grinned. "You coming?" she added to the bard.
"Right behind you," Gabrielle answered.
Moments later the duo were snuggled into their broken bed.
"Xena will you make me a promise?"
"Whatís that?" Xena asked settling in with the bard.
"Will you wake me up when you get up? I mean, I think as long as I know youíll wake me Iíll be able to sleep."
Xena smiled, "Yeah I can promise that. Do you mind if I hold you for a little bit first before I wake you? I miss watching you sleep lately."
Gabrielle blushed at the sentiment from the usually unsentimental warrior. "Yes you may," Gabrielle replied cuddling closer.
"Itís a deal then. Oh, and Gabrielle . . . Itís your hair Ė do what you want with it. . . Sleep well my bard."
Gabrielle smiled. "You too Xena."
In a matter of minutes both women were out.
* * *
Xena woke up to feel the bard nuzzling her neck.
"Hey," Xena exclaimed in a sleepy voice. "I was supposed to wake YOU up."
"Donít worry. I slept all morning long. Didnít wake up once," Gabrielle answered. "Besides I had something to do."
"Oh yeah?" Xena said rolling completely over on to her back. As her eyes opened, she couldnít believe what she saw. "You cut your hair," Xena grinned. "For me?"
"But I told you that you could do what you wanted with it," Xena answered.
"And thatís why I cut it. Youíd love me regardless of how I kept my hair. And since I love you, Iíll give you what you want. Besides, itís only hair," she replied.
"You look so sexy with short hair. Mature. Beautiful," Xena answered.
"Well youíll have to show me later," Gabrielle answered. "Right now I told Eve Iíd go back down and watch Virgil so she could get some rest."
"Is he still sick?" Xena asked.
"No, but heís not feeling real well. But sheís still concerned and Ė letís say sheís rather fond of Virgil although she wonít admit it," Gabrielle chuckled.
"Did you ask when SHEíS going to get married?" Xena prodded.
"Yes, many times and she was annoyed beyond belief," Gabrielle laughed.
"Thatís my gal," Xena said as she rose, giving Gabrielle a kiss on the nose. "You know what Virgil needs?" The warrior chuckled.
"A nice big breakfast. Best thing in the world for a hangover."
"You are a wicked, evil woman." Gabrielle offered, taking the time to slap her partnerís backside as they both got dressed.
"Youíre just now figuring this out? Leeetle slow on the uptake my warriorbard?"
"Bite me." Gabrielle grinned.
"You name the spot and tell me how hard Gabrielle." Dark brows wiggled.
"Later." Gabrielle slipped her sais into her boots and looked to her lover. "Ready?"
"You go ahead." Xena gestured, lacing up her boots. "Takes me a little longer to get dressed, more clothes you know."
"Yeah. Why is that by the way?"
"I dunno. I figured it was in the sidekick rule book or something?"
"Thereís a sidekick rule book?"
"If thereís not you should write one."
"I may just do that. Rule number one: Always let the warrior think theyíre right."
"Rule number two: When in doubt see rule number one."
The bard laughed and gave Xena a kiss, which was on the verge of turning into a no holds barred stripping off the clothes and going back to bed kiss when there was a knock on the door.
"Awww son ofó" Xena groaned as Gabrielle stopped and pulled away with a whimper.
"Iím gonna kill whoever is on the other side of that door." The bard growled, moving toward the door.
"Now, now Gabrielle, could be a future son in law." Xena grinned laying her hand on the bardís shoulder.
When the door was opened, they found Virgil. He didnít look great but he was on his feet. "I just wanted to let you know that Iím okay and Iím going to go work on the boiler room. And I wanted to apologize for fouling up your plans."
Xena bit back the smile. "Well donít worry about that. It wouldnít be the first time someone messed up one of our plans. Weíve become pretty accustomed to changing them on the run."
Virgil looked at his boots. "Thanks. Iím really sorry if I caused you two any problemsÖ"
"Virgil, you didnít cause us any problems. If anything, you helped us get past a couple of them." Gabrielle assured him.
He looked up, with a slight smile on his face. "Thatís good to know. Guess it doesnít matter how long a couple is together they still have problems from time to time huh?"
"Oh yeah." Xena nodded. "But if you do it right, the make up sex is great." She huffed when she felt a firm elbow land in her ribs.
The young man put his hand up. "More information than I needed Xena." He took a deep breath, straightening his shoulders. "Well Iím gonna go back to work. Still a lot to be done around here."
"Thanks for helping Evie out here Virg."
"I just donít want someone like Darus to take advantage of her. Sheís a little too ummÖ" He shook his head. "I donít want anyone to hurt Eve."
"Thank you for that." Xena smiled. She could see that the unspoken attraction seemed to go both ways. "It makes me feel better to know someone is looking out for her."
"Iím happy to do it just donít tell her."
"Oh we wonít." Gabrielle linked her fingers through Xenaís. "I have a feeling weíll be leaving soon. The road is calling us back."
"Itís in the blood." Virgil nodded. "Oh by the way, the baker found out who was stealing the nut bread."
"Not who, what. Seems he caught a little mutt dog making off with a loaf this morning."
The bard and the warrior looked at each other and just gave mirroring Ďwho knewí shrugs.
* * *
The fire was banked and burning down to the embers that would keep the camp warm all night. The horses grazed off in the meadow, chewing up the sweet grass that was covered with the evening dew.
Xena and Gabrielle found themselves alternately snuggling, and then after a little rest or maybe even a quick sleep doing things that had scared the birds out of the trees hours ago.
The blankets were finally moved to a position that allowed both parties snuggled tightly under them to breathe without restriction. Gabrielle blew out a warm, happy breath and snuggled closer.
"You know, home is nice but this, this is us." She murmured into her warrior pillow.
Xenaís fingers combed gently through the bardís short locks, stopping to tickle the back of her neck. "Seems like weíre most comfortable here. On the road, out in the open.
"Some people just werenít meant to be tied to one spot Xena. Weíre two of those people."
"I think youíre right Gabrielle. Feels like anything less would be a lie doesnít it?"
"Un-huh. This is all you and I have ever known. Iíve gone home. Youíve gone home. Weíve gone to the Amazons. Nothing feels as right as this. Weíre complete here."
"This is were we get our strength. From each other." The warrior pressed her lips to the bardís forehead. "From the open space. We belong here because this is what brought us together."
"Umm-hmm." Gabrielle cuddled even closer, pulling the thick fur over her backside. "What ever we find here, we face together."
"Together." The warrior agreed. "Forever?"
Gabrielle opened her eyes and lifted up on her elbow to peer into her partnerís eyes. "Forever Xena. I promise. This lifetime and all the others that will follow. No matter that happens. We will find each other."
Xena linked their hands and pulled then up to kiss Gabrielleís. "We belong together."
"Like night and day. I love you Xena."
"I love you too Gabrielle."