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 Changes of Heart Pt. VI


Disclaimers: These characters arenít mine. They belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. Iím just borrowing them to vent. Itís not a happy tale and it involves two women who once loved each other deeply. If either of these facts disturb you donít read this tale. Also it contains spoilers for the last few eps of season five.

This tale is set after "Motherhood" up until season six


CHALLENGES

"After 25 years youíd think that this place would have changed," Gabrielle commented to the group as they walked through Athens.

"Now thatís not true," Xena answered. "Itís dirtier, smellier and a lot more crowded than before."

Gabrielle grinned at the warrior as they walked through the merchant section of town. A small commotion began just outside the marketplace and the group all looked at each other. Perhaps we should check this out, Gabrielle thought as she looked to Xena.

"Right behind you," the warrior answered, reading the bardís mind.

The group went over to the scuffle to see that it wasnít a scuffle at all. In fact it was a friendly competition. It appears people were betting and cheering on two warriors in the ring.

"Tell me itís not a fight to the death," Gabrielle asked one of the patrons who took a momentary break from urging his warrior on.

"Good gracious no!" he chuckled. "The first one to end up off their feet loses. Iíve got the red one," he answered, as he pointed to the man with a red scarf tied around his biceps. The other man in the Ďringí had on a blue scarf. "Come on RED!!!" he shouted getting back into the action again.

Slowly a smile crept to the bardís face. "That looks like fun," she told Xena. "Letís enter!"

"What?!" Has she totally lost her mind?

"Oh come on," Gabrielle jabbed. "Whatís the matter warrior princess . . . chicken?" Gabrielle proceeded to make a clucking noise until her laughter prevented her from doing it any longer.

"You could get hurt," Xena answered.

"Itís just a little competition," Gabrielle argued. "What could happen?"

Xena sighed. "Why do the phrases, ĎJust one more flipí and ĎIt wonít kill me í keep ringing in my ears?"

Gabrielle laughed heartily and Eve found herself smiling as well. She had read her momís scroll about the Persian attack and how Gabrielle ended up gimp for the battle - all because she started Ďon the wrongí foot while practicing leaps.

"Weíll fight each other," Gabrielle answered. "Itíll be fun."

"Itíll be fun," Xena mimicked. "Beating each other to a meaty pulp?"

"Noooo," Gabrielle replied. "Beating each other into submission. Thereís a difference," she winked playfully.

Xena had to chuckle now. It was obvious there was no getting out of it. The bard seemed to have made up her mind. Xena knew there was only one way out of this and it was through that fighting ring. "Okay," Xena reluctantly agreed. "But we have to spar with each other. No one else. And if they say we canít pick a challenger we both walk away. Agreed?"

Gabrielle spat in her hand and offered it to the warrior. "Agreed!" she said optimistically. Reluctantly, Xena took it. As the match between the two men came to a close, with the blue warrior firmly on his behind, the speaker called for two more combatants.

Xena and Gabrielle both stepped forward.

"Weíll compete," Gabrielle told him.

"WoooHooo gentlemen," the announcer shouted getting the crowd worked up, "Two lovely warriors to place your bets on. Letís hear it," he yelled. "Blue goes to the lovely lady with blue eyes and red to petite but powerful blonde. What do you say gentleman? Place your bets! Place your bets!"

Xena and Gabrielle took the scarves they were given and tied them around each otherís arms.

"Listen to this," Xena said shaking her head. "Listen to them hooting. Have you no shame?" Xena chuckled.

"Nope," Gabrielle laughed. "Relax. Have fun. And try not to hit me in the face. I might need my lips later tonight," she added wiggling her eyebrows.

Xena felt herself blush slightly. "Better watch those eyebrows Gabrielle," she warned. "This better be a fair fight. No pulling any ĎTatakaísí on me."

"Why what ever do you mean Xena?" Gabrielle teased, batting her eyelashes innocently.

"What do I mean?" Xena smiled. "No face licking, no feeling yourself up in front of me, no feeling me up in front of the crowd-" she growled in the bardís ear.

She would have continued but Gabrielle stopped her. "Okay, okay. No using. . . ahem . . . sex as a weapon. Got it," she grinned. "May the best warrior win," she replied offering her forearm to Xena.

Lord how Iíve missed having that spirit of hers around. Xena took the arm offered her and gave a nod to her challenger.

"Okay!" the announcer boomed, "Rules are simple. Use any weapons you like but no deathblows allowed. Anyone who delivers one will be sentenced directly to jail for prosecution of murder. No hitting below the belt. If you leave the ring for any reason you forfeit. The first one to fall loses. The one left standing - the victor! Understand?!" Xena and Gabrielle both nodded. "Alright then ladies . . . FIIIIIGHT!!!!"

A cheer went up through the crowd as August, Eponin and Eve all watched Xena and Gabrielle face off in the ring. But even among the yells they heard one voice ring out, "Kick her ass Gabrielle!"

The warrior and the bard didnít break eye contact but both knew it was Eponinís voice that called out in the crowd. Despite themselves, both women grinned at the outburst as they circled each other looking for a weak spot to land the first strike.

Gabrielle knew Xenaís weak area - her back. She had witnessed it in countless battles. She could jab the warrior in the face or in the gut. She could kick the warrior in her shins. But none of these would make the warrior tumble. She would simple shrug it off. But a blow to the back would have Xena on her knees like a sack of potatoes.

Xena sized up her opponent as well. Gabrielle had no Ďweaknessí per say. She was graceful for the most part. But once she went off-balanced Xena knew any blow could bring the bard down. Getting Gabrielle off kilter was the hard part but if she could do it she knew she could win. It didnít have to be anything forceful just a slight leg sweep would set the amazon on her backside.

When Xena didnít make a move Gabrielle realized that she would have to strike first. She began by firing a round of punches and kicks that Xena easily deflected, in the hopes of working behind her. When Gabrielle paused just a moment to re-establish her footing, Xena took full advantage and began an offensive attack that step by step pushed the bard backward.

Xena stomped toward Gabrielleís shin but missed, leaving her legs spread wide, Gabrielle took the opportunity and slide between them. Now she was behind the warrior like she wanted and the crowd gave a hearty cheer for the maneuver. Even Xena had to admit she was impressed but she wasnít about to let Gabrielle win. She knew what Gabrielle was up to. As Gabrielle rose up behind her, Xena let out a powerful warcry and leaped backward over the bard.

Two paces, Gabrielleís mind called out. She knew after six years of watching her work, thatís how far Xena would land behind her. Without turning back Gabrielle took two steps back and without turning around drove her leg up, kicking Xena in the stomach before her feet could even touch the ground. The warrior flew backward and the crowd cheered again as they watched Xena land - both feet on the ground but teetering close to the end of the ring.

Gabrielle turned to face her and she could have rushed her to knock her out of the area but she knew that somehow, someway Xena would turn it around on her and manage to throw her from the ring. So instead Gabrielle watched, holding her breath, as Xenaís heels and toes teetered back and forth near the ring, hoping she would tumble out on her own.

Gabrielle released her breath as Xena got her footing and gave Gabrielle a playful grin. Soon however the grin vanished and the warrior charged. Gabrielle steadied her breathing and dug in getting her footing in place. A second later she too dashed toward the warrior. They both locked arms and in the same moment turned in opposite directions. Two seconds later, both women were lying in a cloud of dust, sprawled out on the ground.

The crowd grew a bit quiet until some spectators began to speak up. "Blue fell first!" someone yelled.

"No way! Red went down first!"

Gabrielle and Xena both looked at the announcer to see if he would call the match. "Sorry folks," he answered. "Itís a tie. Take back your biddings."

A collective sound of frustration and disgust went through the crowd at the news as the announcer apologized but quickly went to work in finding two more warriors for the ring.

Xena rose first and offered her hand to Gabrielle, which the bard took.

"Good match," Gabrielle grinned.

"Yeah. Good match," Xena replied. "We better find the academy before nightfall. Letís go."

Gabrielle watched as Xena walked away and she cocked her head at the warrior as she moved. Somethingís not right, Gabrielle considered silently.

"She get hurt?" Eve asked as she came up.

Gabrielleís eyes didnít leave Xena as she answered Eveís question with one of her own. "What makes you say that?"

"Iím not sure. It just seems like somethingís wrong with her," Eve answered.

Gabrielle looked to Eve briefly. "Iím glad you said that," Gabrielle replied. "I thought maybe I was over-reacting." Iíve gotta get her alone. "Look, why donít you three head to the academy. Itís two streets up and then two blocks south, okay? Weíll meet you there."

"Alright," Eve answered, as she motioned Ep and August to follow her.

Gabrielle followed Xena and jogged a bit to catch up to her. "Hey," she said getting the warriorís attention. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah Iím fine."

Gabrielle pursed her lips together for a moment. "Okay . . . Now give me the real answer. Whatís the matter?"

"Itís nothing."

"Did I hurt you Xena?"

"No I told you. Iím okay. Really. Itís nothing."

"Okay," Gabrielle answered with a nod. "We agreed to be honest with each other so Iíll believe you. Of course if youíre not okay then this would be the time to work on that Ďopening upí thing that weíve discussed," she grinned.

Xena saw the grin and gave a small one herself. "Okay," Xena sighed. "Maybe something is wrong. But itís pretty damn petty and I feel stupid for even feeling like this."

"Like what?" Gabrielle asked, trying to look into Xenaís eyes that were looking everywhere but to her.

Finally Xena willed herself to look at Gabrielle. "I got my ass kicked by a bard," she answered. "I think Iím losing it."

Gabrielle didnít know whether to be flattered or angry. Could she find humor in this situation or was it truly sad? She cleared her throat as she wondered how to reply.

"Instead of thinking that youíre Ďlosing ití as you say, perhaps you could see this as a testament to the fact that ĎIíveí gotten better."

"Yeah, better than me," Xena answered.

"Okay," Gabrielle began. "Iím starting to have a real hard time right now. I donít want to argue with you and I donít want to get upset. But Iím not sure how to put your Ďfearsí to rest without making myself look cheep in the process . . . Iím not going to tell you that youíre a better warrior than me. Iím not going to say that Iím a better warrior than you are. Neither of those points are true nor do they reflect anything in Ďreal lifeí."

"Alright," Xena sighed, "Explain this to the warrior because Iím just not following you," she added.

Stay calm Gabrielle, the bard warned herself. Donít get upset. Just explain. Calmly. Rationally.

"Xena," Gabrielle started. "I have strengths in battle. You have strengths in battle. What happened here today was NOT a battle. You didnít Ďgive it your allí and neither did I. I mean letís face it. If it was anyone else in that ring either one of us would have wiped the floor with our opponent or at least ended it long before we did. So donít think the Ďdrawí means that youíre any less of a warrior because thatís not true."

Xena nodded and felt a small grin to her face.

"But in the same token please donít think that Iím any less of a warrior. I put up a good fight like you did. I hope you can recognize that without feeling threatened by it. . . I did what I set out to do all those years ago - I became a warrior - like Xena. Not EXACTLY like her . . . but Ďlikeí her. I fight for the same things. I believe in the same things. I realize I might not every have the number of skills that she has," Gabrielle grinned as she played with the word Ďskillsí. "But Iím pretty damn good because I learned from the best . . . I just wish sheíd see that," she added in more of a sober tone.

Xena grinned and shook her head. "Gabrielle I do see that. In fact Iíd venture to say thatís part of the problem. Looks like the student has surpassed the teacher."

"No," Gabrielle answered. "I think the student and the teacher can learn things from each other . . if they are both willing . . . Are you? Are you prepared to truly see me as a warrior in my own right? I ask because I think you need to if weíre going to keep moving forward. Thatís not an ultimatum Xena. Itís a fact. You have to SEE ME if you want to be WITH ME."

"I want to be with you," Xena answered. "But just keep in mind that sometimes when I DO see you like today . . . well . . . it knocks me a little off balanced. . . But Iím more than willing to get back on track . . . as long as you have patience with me," Xena grinned.

"Itís gonna be a tough road."

"Yes it will."

"Itís not going to be easy in the slightest."

"No it isnít."

Gabrielle grinned. "Iím always up for a challenge. How Ďbout you?"

"Always," Xena grinned as she took Gabrielleís hand to catch up to their traveling party. "Always."

RESERVATIONS

Upon finding the academy and getting August registered for the upcoming poetry competition in two weeks, the group made their way to the inn. Before they set foot inside, however, Eponin pulled Gabrielle to the side.

"Mind if I speak to you?" she asked, gently capturing Gabrielleís arm.

"No not at all," Gabrielle answered.

Xena steadied her breathing. No jealous fits. Not now. Give her space. Calmly. Quietly. "Weíll see if they have any rooms open," Xena offered as she lead Eve and August inside. Gabrielle gave a nod then turned to Eponin.

ĎWhat is it?" Gabrielle asked.

Eponin looked unsure of where to begin. "I know youíll be staying with Xena tonight."

"Actually I hadnít considered where Iíd be stay but in truth youíre probably right. Xena and I -."

"Are giving it another shot. I know," Eponin finished. "I donít want to get in your way Gabrielle."

Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She closed it again and tried once more, unable to find the right words. "I feel bad in a way," she finally muttered.

"Why?" Eponin asked. "I knew the score."

"I feel like I used you," Gabrielle answered, unable to look at Eponin.

"You did use me," Eponin replied. That made Gabrielle look up. Instead of the scowl she was expecting Gabrielle found the amazon grinning. "And truth be known I used you too. Thatís what friends do Gabrielle. They use each other. They use their strength, their faith, their laughter and even their tears at times when they need it most . . . I Ďhid outí in that little town for so many years until you came along. You got me out into the world again. I used you as a crutch to come out. And I know that you used me as a test in your love for Xena. Iím not bitter about that. Disappointed yes," Eponin chuckled in a carefree tone. "But not bitter . . . Friends want whatís best for each other. As much as I hate to admit it, the best thing for you is Xena, warts and all. I just hope she does right by you . . . and not just because I wished I could be your lover . . . itís because youíre my friend."

Gabrielle was on the verge of tears. "Iím glad I have friends left . . . After being gone all this time I think about the people Xena and I knew - Autolycus, Salmoneus, Minya," Gabrielle smiled bittersweetly. "All of them wonderful people. All of them friends that I might not ever see again . . . Hell with all this business with Eve I havenít even made it home. My parents could be dead. My sister . . ." Gabrielle couldnít finish and Eponin didnít let her. The ex-amazon could only imagine what it felt like to lose 25 years of your life without a trace. She held the bard close and kissed the top of her head.

"I think your next trip should be home Gabrielle. Find some closure on all this," Eponin advised tenderly.

Gabrielle wiped her eyes. "It will probably be Amphipolis first," she answered. They would hit that town first before traveling southward to Poteidaia. "Cyrene, Xenaís mom . . . I wonder if sheís alive."

Eponin smiled warmly, "Well if sheís anything like her daughter Iím sure the old gals still around and kickiní."

Gabrielle smiled too. "Will you come with us?" she asked.

It was Eponinís turn to look around. "Like I said Iím not bitter, but I donít want to be the third wheel in your personal life. Youíll have a lot of catching up to do with Xena and your daughter. I think Iíll bow out gracefully," she added, finally meeting the bardís eyes.

"I understand," Gabrielle nodded. "But I have to ask . . . What will you do?"

"Iím not sure. Maybe stay here in Athens, keeping August out of trouble. Perhaps find another amazon tribe and settle down. Who knows? Maybe Iíll travel the countryside helping innocents along the way," she grinned playfully. "All I know is I wonít be hiding anymore . . . thanks to you."

"Come on," Gabrielle said leading Eponin into the inn. "Youíre gonna make me cry again," she teased. They walked in arm in arm, to see the trio sitting at a small bar. August seemed to be eating as Xena and Eve were . . . arguing? What on earth are they arguing about? Gabrielle wondered.

Eponin gave Gabrielle her space and walked over to August as Gabrielle took a seat between bickering mother and daughter.

"So anything new?" Gabrielle said casually, hoping one of them would bite.

"I want my own room tonight," Eve announced.

Gabrielle turned to catch the tail end of Xena making a disapproving facial gesture at their daughter. Of course Xena tried to play it off as if she had something stuck in her teeth but it didnít fool the bard.

"Okaaaaay," Gabrielle answered, unsure of what was transpiring. "Any reason why? Hot date tonight?" she teased.

"No," Eve answered. "I just think that you and mother could use sometime alone is all. I mean letís face it. You really havenít been alone since you got out of Ares deep freeze. I think you might need it is all."

"Time alone?" Gabrielle asked her daughter. "Hmmm . . . I guess so. Do you have a problem with that?" she asked Xena.

"Not at all," Xena grinned. "Weíre just running low on funds is all and I didnít want to be presumptuous to think youíd want a room . . . alone . . . with me."

Gabrielle couldnít contain her chuckle.

"Whatís so funny?" Xena asked.

"You," Gabrielle answered. "You sound like a bashful bridegroom."

Eve started to chuckle too but Xena just grinned and played it off.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Xena answered. "You two go ahead and laugh it up. I canít help that I worry I might offend you."

"Xena," Gabrielle answered putting her hand on top of Xenaís that sat on the bar. "Say whatever is on your mind. If you offend me Iíll let you know. Itís not like Iím gonna take your head off." Xena looked guiltily into her stew at the expression. "Sorry. Poor choice of words, okay? I didnít mean anything by it."

"Iím sorry for hitting you Gabrielle," Xena said looking over to Gabrielle.

The bard tightened her hand around the warriors. "I know Xena. Youíve told me every day since weíve met again. And I know each time you say it you truly mean it. But you have to move on here okay?"

"Sheís right," Eve piped in gingerly. "Gabrielle felt terrible about what happened between us. And Iíve forgiven her. I think you need to find forgiveness in yourself."

"I donít think Iím ready to do that Eve," Xena answered before turning back to Gabrielle, "I donít ever want to forget it. I want to be reminded so it never happens again," Xena added.

"You donít have to forget it," Gabrielle offered. "Just try to realize that I forgive you."

"Iíll try but I canít promise anything Gabrielle."

"Thatís all I can ask of you Xena," Gabrielle answered. "Just try your best . . . okay?"

Xena nodded and the trio finished their meal with minimal chatter. As night fell, August and Eponin retired to their room. They felt it was safer if the amazon bunked with the young woman in case of would be prowlers. True to her word, Eve made her way to her room for the night, leaving Xena and Gabrielle down at the bar.

"How ya feeliní?" Gabrielle grinned. A grin that refused to leave thanks to the amount of ale she had consumed.

Xena pursed her lips, looking around the room, nodding her head soundly. "Drunk," she answered.

Both women erupted into a fit of giggles. "I just pray nothing BAD happens tonight," Xena confessed in a whispered voice. "No warlords, no vengeful gods, nothing . . . BAD . . . I donít think Iím up to a battle at this point."

"Perhaps we should get the warrior princess to bed then."

Xena could hear the seductive tone in the bardís voice. She loved it and feared it all at once. Sheíd pray sheíd hear Gabrielle speak to her this way again but she didnít want it to be drug induced. The alcohol was doing most of the talking tonight and Xena knew that wasnít what either woman wanted or what they needed. Jumping into the sheets would be the cure for all that pent up need but she didnít want anyone hating anyone in the morning.

"I thought you said we should take things easy; slow," Xena challenged as she swayed slightly on her barstool.

"I can go slow," the bard said before capturing the warriorís earlobe in her teeth. "and I can go easy," she added as she proceeded to nibble on Xenaís jaw line.

Xena cleared her throat and yelled to the barkeep, "Check please!"

INEBRIATION

Xena was barely inside the door when bumbling fingers tried to unhook her breastplate. "Here," she said stopping the bards efforts to lend a hand. It took much focus but Xena managed to free herself from the armor and toss it across the room. Before the brass could hit the ground she was falling back to the bed with the amorous amazon on top of her, showering her with kisses.

Xena did nothing to stop the bards roaming hands and lips from conquering her body. She craved it. She desired it from deep within her. When playing the passive got to be too much, Xena rolled the bard over, passionately pinning her to the bed.

"Oh Gods Xena," the bard mumbled.

Oh yeah, Xenaís drunken mind exclaimed. She still wants me.

"Xena," the bard called again. "I want you-."

"Oh Gabrielle," the warrior whispered in her ear, making sure to leave a few light kisses on her lobe. "I want you so much too."

" No Xena. I want you to move," Gabrielle said pushing the warrior aside roughly.

Too much too soon, Xena realized as she watched the bard shove her away. She doesnít want me after all.

Gabrielle rose to her feet at lightening speed and darted across the room to the chamber pot.

I made it Gabrielleís mind congratulated herself as she fell to her knees. Seconds later the evenings ale she had consumed took up resident in the pot. "Oh gods," the bard moaned after the first few heaves.

Xena was on the verge of laughing. Not that she wanted to see the bard meet this sickly fate. Perhaps it was a much-needed diversion to something that neither of them was quite prepared for. She had to admit she was relieved. I know itís the alcohol and not me, she considered.

Xena slowly rose, since the room was spinning a bit for her too. Carefully she walked over, bringing a hand towel with her.

"Here you go sweetheart," Xena said handing it to the bard. She took a seat next to Gabrielle and pushed her hair behind her ear. "Feeling a little better?" she asked.

Gabrielle wiped her chin and tried to grin despite the fact her stomach was still doing back flips. "A little," she answered.

Xena just continued to stroke the bardís hair. "Itís gotten longer."

"What?" Gabrielle asked, unsure of what Xena meant. She raised her eyes and tried to focus on Xena, meeting with only minimal success, although she was perhaps only two feet away.

"Your hair. Itís gotten longer. . . I like it," Xena answered.

"I didnít think you noticed," Gabrielle replied.

"Yeah," Xena said kissing her cheek. "I noticed. Youíre very beautiful."

Gabrielle recognized the look in Xenaís eye. Oh no. Not tonight. "Xena I donít think Iím up to being affectionate tonight and I know what that look means . . . besides I just lost all the ale I drank tonight. You canít possibly find that sexy," she added with a slight chuckle.

Xena continued to stroke the bardís hair. "Well . . . vomiting can be a very intimate experience. Next to my mother, youíre the only one whoís ever seen me sick . . . ever. Youíre pretty damn vulnerable when youíre in that Ďpositioní," Xena laughed. "It might not be sexy . . . but it shows a level of trust. You can . . . be yourself so to speak and not have to worry about keep up Ďappearencesí."

"Trust me Xena," Gabrielle chuckled. "I didnít have much of a choice. It was you or the pot . . . But I get the point. I feel I can be myself with you. And youíd still love me anyway huh?"

Xena just simply nodded her answer. Forever and ever.

"You know Iíd never had that until you came along. Perdicus loved me because he was supposed to but I would have drove him crazy in the end. Iíd never be the good little wife. My parents loved me but . . . I was a brash, outspoken girl who never realized my Ďplaceí. My sister loved me too but we were never Ďequalí Ė I was older, smarter, prettier . . . I miss them Xena. Iíd like to see them but Iím scared to see them. Does that make any sense? Itís been 25 years and . . . And Iíd like to see them Xena. Could we see them do you think? Could we just go home for a little bit? Would that be okay Xena?"

Gabrielle might have emptied her stomach, but she was still drunk. She was rambling. Xena didnít often see the bard intoxicated in their journeys but she could still tell she was a bit tipsy. Overly affectionate and running off repeatedly about the same thing were always the clues to Xena.

"For you?" Xena replied. "Yeah I think we can do that. Did you want to leave tomorrow?"

Gabrielle bobbed her head up and down a little more than necessary. "Amphipolis is first. Iíd like to see your mom. I love your mom a lot. Sheís like my mom you know? She threw me a birthday party. My mom didnít throw me a party. Do you remember that Xena? Do you remember my party? After we dumped Discord we had a really good time. I love your mom a lot Xena. I wonder if sheís still alive . . .It would be great to show her our daughter. Wouldnít that be great Xena?"

Xena smiled. Yes it would . . . if sheís still alive. 25 years is a long time. "I think thatís a wonderful idea."

"Yeah but this time she canít try setting you up. Youíre mine warrior princess and if the lady tries to make it otherwise you set her straight this time. Got it? No beating around the bush, understand? Shouldíve told her then. Eve didnít need a daddy. Sheís got two mothers that love her very much. Right Xena?"

Oh my bard is on a roll tonight, Xena chuckled silently. Best if you just agree. "Yes Gabrielle."

"Damn straight!" the bard nodded firmly. Soon after however the rest of her body began to sway.

"Okay," Xena replied moving to her feet, gingerly taking the bard with her. "Letís go to bed now."

"But Xena I donít think I can . . . you know . . . tonight," Gabrielle said concerned.

"Sleep was all I had in mind," Xena answered. "Letís just rest tonight, okay?"

Gabrielle looked like she was going to cry. "Iím not a tease Xena. I donít want you to think Iím a tease. I do really love you and I do think youíre sexy," she said as Xena took her back toward the bed. "The blue eyes. The leather. Ares likes you in leather. I like you in leather too. I like you out of leather most of all. You have a beautiful body Xena. And blue eyes. Did I tell you youíve got these great blue eyes?"

"Three times now Gabrielle," Xena grinned. "Yes you did."

"Well itís true. You have beautiful blue eyes. In fact . . . What was I sayin? . . . Oh yeah blue eyes. Youíve got that Ďsteely gazeí that just does something fantastic to me. You know?"

Xena had to chuckle at this point while she took the bardís boots and skirt off. Yeah sheís totally gone.

"Xena?"

"Yes Gabrielle?"

"I have I told you lately that I love you?"

That questioned seemed to sober Xena up for a moment. "No you havenít Gabrielle," she answered honestly.

"Well I do . .. I love you Xena. You are my soulmate."

Xena was going to reply in kind but the bard was now out - dead to the world.

Carefully and with a bit of swaying Xena managed to remove her battle dress until she only donned her shift. She rolled the bard a bit here and there until the smaller woman was tucked under the covers then she climbed into bed too. She snuggled around the bard, her head on Gabrielleís shoulder and her arm protectively draped around the bards mid-drift.

"I love you too Gabrielle," the warrior said even though she knew the woman was in deep slumber. "You are my soulmate. My tree," she grinned.

She remembered the tale Gabrielle told once earlier in their travels about two trees in the forest forever being joined. She remembered how she joked about making a boat out of the trees and telling Gabrielle that someday she would find her tree. She never guessed back then that she would be the mighty oak that the bard searched for. But she was happy for the position.

"And Iíll never take it for granted again," she whispered into the bardís shoulder. She looked up and gently stroked the bardís sleeping face. "My source, my reason . . . my everything," she muttered to no one but herself.

With that she settled into the bardís arms as slumber fell upon her too.

REUNITED

Gabrielle sat up in bed, her back resting against the headboard. Her head was pounding but not nearly as bad as she thought it would. Xena finished opening the window to circulate some air in the room and turned back to the bard.

"Do you remember anything from last night?" the warrior chuckled.

"Everything," the bard answered. She watched as Xena reached down and picked up the chamber pot to take it outside.

"Even this," the warrior said raising the pot just a bit.

"Sadly yes," Gabrielle grinned.

Xena paused a moment. "Last night you said you loved me; that Iím your soulmate. I didnít get the chance to tell you but . . . I love you too and youíre still my soulmate. You always will be."

Gabrielle grinned and fidgeted a bit with the blanket. "You know . . . that would seem really romantic and sweet if not for the fact that youíre holding that bucket right now," Gabrielle joked.

Xena briefly looked down and back to the bard. "Bad timing huh?" the warrior nodded.

"Just a little," Gabrielle smiled.

"Iíll work on that I promise," the warrior grinned. "Iíll be back in a few."

Xena opened the door but paused in the doorway. "Iíd give you a kiss goodbye but . . .." she said as she motioned to her full hands.

"I wonít take it personal. Believe me," Gabrielle laughed.

Xena gave Gabrielle a bright smile. "Iíll be right back sweetheart."

No one was up but the innkeeper as Xena walked downstairs. "Gotta place I can empty this?" Xena asked.

"Yeah right out back," he said pointing to the back door.

"Thanks," Xena replied. She did has he instructed and emptying the pan. Upon cleaning it out and washing her hands by a well outside, Xena went back in. "Could I get some salt, cinnamon, ale and mint leaves?"

"Someoneís got a hang over eh?" he grinned.

"Just a small one," Xena grinned.

"Let me see what I can round up," he smiled warmly.

He seemed like a nice enough fellow, Xena considered as she watched him make his way to the back, toward the kitchen. A few minutes later he returned with a tray and all the items, except for the cinnamon.

"What do I owe you?" Xena said.

"Donít worry about it. You gals drank enough ale last night. Itís on the house," he winked.

Smart ass . . .but very true, Xena grinned. "Iíll let her know weíve kept you in business for the next month," she answered dryly before cracking a smile. "Thanks."

He gave a chuckle and a nod before he went back to his morning preparations. Xena climbed the stairs back to their room, doing a good balancing act. She managed to make it into the room and Gabrielle tried to dart over when she saw Xenaís hands were full but she didnít even make it to the end of the bed. She groaned and held her temples.

"I got it," Xena chastised. "Stay put." Xena slid the tray to the nightstand and put the pot on the other side of the room.

She inhaled deeply and turned to the bard. "Smells better in here already," she teased.

Gabrielleís hand rubbed her forehead, trying to hide her face as she blushed. "Iím sorry," she answered in a meek voice.

"Thatís okay," Xena replied, going to the stand to mix her concoction. She made a quick stop to her saddleback and pulled out some nutmeg. Iíd rather have cinnamon but this should do, she considered. Next she got out the white powder they used for pain now and then. She put a little in the ale along with the salt and mixed it up. "Here. Drink this."

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.

"Hangover remedy. Youíll feel as good as new."

"Whatís in it?"

"Donít worry about that," Xena smiled. "Just drink it."

Gabrielle gave a sniff. "Itís ale. Youíre giving me ale?"

"Nothing else will stay down believe me. You will feel better I promise."

Gabrielle gave a small sip and cringed.

"Take a big drink," Xena coached.

Gabrielle looked at the mug. Then at Xena. Then the mug. Then at Xena.

"Trust me."

Gabrielle took a deep breath before taking six healthy swallows. "Oh Xena, thatís sick," she said shoving the mug toward Xena, trying to breathe again.

"Here," Xena answered, giving her the mint. "Chew this. It will make the taste go away and settle your stomach."

Gabrielle didnít argue. Hell anything has to taste better than that ale, she considered. As Gabrielle chewed, Xena downed the rest of the mug. The bard grinned as she watched the warrior cringe. At least Iím not the only one who had to live through that, she thought as the warriorís face contorted. Xena grabbed the other leaves and began to chew like the bard.

"Well at least weíll be minty fresh now," the bard teased as she rolled the leaves around in her mouth.

Xena grinned with closed lips. She then spit the leaves in the mug and handed it to the bard to do the same.

"How ya feeliní?" the warrior asked.

"Well the inn has stopped spinning now," Gabrielle replied. "The room doesnít smell like an outhouse and I can actually see just one of you now."

Xena chuckled and took the mug from the bard. She placed it on the dresser near the chamber pot and returned to bed but not before stripping herself of her battledress and boots. Gabrielle was still propped up against the headboard, so Xena stretched out putting her head in Gabrielleís lap.

The warrior felt rather than heard Gabrielle chuckle as she lay there feeling the bard stroking her hair.

"What?" Xena asked.

"Youíre so big you donít fit our bed." Gabrielle smiled and pointed to the end where Xenaís feet were hanging over.

Xena looked down at her dangling ankles. "So I see. Perhaps I should scoot up," she replied as she leered up at the bard.

"You can scoot if you want," Gabrielle replied in a soft tone.

Xena slowly threw her leg over Gabrielleís and crept up her body until they were eye to eye. Gabrielle sat against the headboard while Xena knelt on all fours in front of her.

"Do I fit now?" Xena asked lecherously.

Gabrielle couldnít even blink. She was so captivated by the sight in front of her. She realized at some point she had begun to hold her breath in anticipation and released it with a single word.

"Perfectly."

"Mmm, good answer," Xena replied as her lips covered the bardís gently. Xena would have continued but she felt the bard was a bit tense. When she looked down to Gabrielleís hands she noticed the bed sheets were in a ball within the bardís tight fists.

"Nervous," the warrior grinned.

Gabrielle released her grasp when she saw that Xena took notice of it. No sense in lying. "A little. I mean . . . arenít you?"

Well now that you mention it . . . "I guess. But I know that I love you. And I know that you love me. And I know I desire you more than anything in this world. That just keeps my nerves at bay I guess," Xena concluded. When Gabrielle didnít add more, Xena spoke up again, "Look Iím not gonna push you Gabrielle. If youíre not ready-."

Gabrielle put her finger over Xenaís lips. "Believe me," she smiled. "Iím ready. Iím more than ready. Iím way past ready here . . . I suppose Iím just . . . worried."

Xena smiled warmly and sighed. Cool yourself down here warrior. Sensitive bard chat time. "What are you worried about?" Xena asked with a smile as she stroked Gabrielleís face.

Gabrielle started to blush and looked away for a moment. "Itís stupid," she chuckled.

"Come on," Xena prodded gently. "Tell me. Whatís got you worried?"

It was Gabrielleís turn to sigh. Just say it. . . ."It feels like the first time . . . all over again."

"I remember the first time," Xena smiled. "We kept the amazons up all night," she grinned. "You were a wonderful lover. Youíve always been wonderful."

"I might have been wonderful but I had butterflies in my stomach the size of seagulls."

Xena chuckled.

"What?"

"You," Xena said kissing the top of Gabrielleís nose. "Youíre so descriptive. I love you my bard. I really do."

A comfortable silence fell between them as they just stared at each other, admiring one another. Not just their physical beauty but the traits they each had that brought them together.

"I love you too," Gabrielle finally whispered in response.

She stroked the warriorís face and Gabrielle felt her heart skip when she watched the warrior soaking it up with closed eyes. Slowly Gabrielleís hand trailed down Xenaís neck. She could feel the warriorís pulse pumping harder and as a result she felt hers rise as well. When her fingers drifted to play with the cleavage line of Xenaís shift, the warrior was so warm. Her blood was racing fast. Suddenly Gabrielle too felt too warm for her undergarments.

Slowly Xena opened her eyes and focused on the bard who was so wrapped up in examining her body she didnít notice she was being watched. When they did lock eyes, Xena was grateful that the bard didnít shy away like before. She met Xenaís lustful glare with one of her own.

"Youíre everything to me," Xena whispered to the bard.

Gabrielleís fingertips reached up and traced Xenaís lips, feeling the warmth and fire that they promised. It had been months . . . in truth, years, since Gabrielle saw that kind of passion in Xenaís eyes when she looked at her. Xena wanted her unlike she wanted anything. Antony got some pretty lustful glances in Egypt. But it was nothing like the look that Gabrielle was getting this moment in Athens. Oh no, he never got this look. Not this one that says Iím it. Iím the one. . . God I have to have her.

With that thought Gabrielleís lips seized the warrior with abandon. Everything began to melt away - the trials they faced, the years they lost. All they had was this moment and in this moment all they had was each other. Hands searched and pulled and pressed and within minutes both women were totally nude and totally absorbed in each other. Both of their bodies started to become slick with excitement.

Glistened. That was the word Gabrielle used when describing how Xena looked when they made love. She glistened. On this morning however she glistened and shimmered and shined brighter than any star in the heavens. Gabrielle caressed Xenaís face moving the warriorís damp bangs out of her eyes. Gabrielle had to admit she only saw Xena like this in bed and after a hard fought battle - and both made her blood boil with excitement.

Gabrielle raised her leg, making just the slightest of contact with the warriorís center. The favorable moan she received as a result brought a grin to her face and a fire to her sex sheíd never experience before. She loved Xena with her all her mind, body and soul. Yet today, when months before she never thought sheíd have the warrior again, it had a greater depth and meaning to it. She felt charged. As if Zeus had struck her with a lightening bolt, rattling her soul to itís foundation. She had no choice but to moan in response.

Xena heard the sexy whimper come from her bard. Her bard. Not Najaraís. Not Eliís. Not anyone whom Xena saw as a rival for Gabrielleís talents or affections. Ares even tried his hand at taking her away with no success. Gabrielle had strayed from her path now and then but Xena knew that Gabrielleís heart was hers and hers alone. And sheíd work everyday from this day forward to prove that Gabrielle had made the right choice. But for right now the only work that Xena wanted to engage in was bringing the bard ecstasy.

She loved the way Gabrielle whimpered in her desire. She loved the way Gabrielle looked deep into her eyes trying to read her soul. Just like she was doing at this moment as their bodies began a rhythm - hot and slick.

With all her prior lovers not a single one could she meet their eyes. At least not for the amount of time that she let Gabrielle see her - the Ďrealí her. She wanted to be the best lover Gabrielle ever had. She wanted to be the only lover Gabrielle would ever have. People could admire her, fantasize about her, perhaps even touch her if thatís what Gabrielle wanted. But no one, NO ONE, would be better than her . . . ever. Xenaís athletic prowess on the battlefield would be nothing like the prowess that Gabrielle would experience in bed. People called Xena the best of the best. Of course they meant her warrior status. But Xena wanted to ensure that the term carried over into the bedroom in Gabrielleís mind - into her mind, over her body and down through to her soul.

As Xena felt Gabrielle take hold of her hips, guiding her across her thigh, trying with all her might to help the warrior climax, the warrior closed her eyes.

She, not so quietly, fantasized about times past - the extended stays with the amazons, nights out under the stars, the booth at the back of a darken tavern in many a town. Xena was always amazed at how daring Gabrielle could be sexually.

The time at Gabrielleís parents house was probably the best and most dangerous. They stopped by for a quick visit and the bard tortured her all day long with sexual innuendoes that went over her familyís head but were crystal clear to the warrior. The bard was gonna get it good when she got her alone, Xena decided. And Xena did get her chance.

In the early morning hours, Xena woke to find Gabrielle gone from her bed and a note on her pillow. ĎMeet me in the barní was all it said. Xena grabbed her leathers but didnít bother to put them on just yet. She walked out to the barn to find Gabrielle, stark naked. Xena couldnít believe her eyes. Any minute now Gabrielleís father would be rising to start the day and in all likelihood, be headed toward the barn first. Gabrielle sensed Xenaís indecision and gave the final prod.

"No guts no glory," she told the warrior, casually flicking her long blonde hair seductively over her shoulder.

That did it. Xena had guts. And sheíd have glory that morning too. Sheíd take that woman in the barn and she didnít give a damn if the whole town came in to watch. Both women were close when the rooster began to crow.

"Heíll be out here any minute you know," Gabrielle whispered in the warriorís ear as their fingers pumped in and out of each other.

Xena could only groan. She was well beyond the point of no return.

"Heís gonna walk out here and find you doiní his little girl you big bad warrior," Gabrielle teased in a heated whisper, moving faster and harder. "Heís gonna hear you come all over my fingers and heís gonna catch yours buried deep inside me. And you love it donít you? Donít you Xena? Donít you?"

"Yes," the warrior answered as her eyes shot open, returning from her fantasy. She looked down the see the shorthaired blonde smile up at her, feeling the quake that poured over both their bodies in the little Athenian inn this morning. So close Xenaís mind called. A little more Gabrielle. A little more. "Please," however was all Xena could manage to say.

Not wanting to break the rhythm or contact Gabrielle rose just a bit and slid her fingers between her thigh and Xenaís sex which rode her harder now than before. She knew that Xena liked things a bit rougher closer to her climax. Once her finger were able to take over Gabrielle could move to sit up a bit. Given her size she fit perfect to the warriorís bustline.

The bard seized the nipple in front of her with such force she was sure it would bruise. But she also knew that was something the warrior would love. Xenaís orgasm ripped through her body as she grabbed Gabrielle by the back of the head, burying her fingers into the blonde locks, crying out in a consuming pleasure.

The ripples still quaked through Xenaís body when she pulled Gabrielle from her breast and pushed the bard back to the bed. In one strong heave she picked up Gabrielleís lower half of her body, tossing the bardís knees over her shoulders until the bard was rested on square on her shoulders. Gabrielle looked up to the warrior who paused for a moment to teasingly blow on the bardís slick center.

"Please," Gabrielle whispered.

"Please what?" Xena asked slyly. Gabrielle groaned as Xena gave a single playful lick from her clitoris to her anus. "You gotta tell me," she bantered.

The bard took a shaken breath."Feast on me," she moaned.

With an arch of her eyebrow, Xena replied.

"As you wish."

Gabrielle hands reached out and grabbed Xenaís legs as Xenaís mouth went wild against her. Only a few moments had passed but Gabrielle knew it wouldnít take much more. Besides she wanted this release. She needed it beyond words at this point. Xenaís hair cascaded down and tickled her thighs and stomach. She loved every moment. Xena stopped the task with her mouth and gave a few light slaps and rubs to the bardís center.

"Come on Gabrielle. Come on sweetheart. Let me hear you. Come on sweetheart. Let it go. Release it. For me Gabrielle. Give it to me sweetheart . . . Let me drink you."

That sent Gabrielle over the edge. Xenaís hands and sexy request was all she needed. Wave after wave crashed over as she repeated the warriorís name over and over with each vibration she felt in her body. Xena lapped at her like a thirsty kitten at a saucer of milk. Gabrielle watched as Xena licked her lips, all the while not breaking eye contact in the slightest. Gently Xena returned Gabrielle back down to the bed.

"Mmmm" Xena hummed coming up to meet the bard face to face. "See how wonderful you taste?" she asked the bard before giving her a deep, soulful kiss. Gabrielle could taste her own excitement on Xenaís lips and tongue. It started a whole new set of fantasies in each womanís mind.

Hands began to roam anew. Minds began to jump from the present to the past to the present again. Hearts they thought were lost to each other were once again found.

 

Eve, August and Eponin all looked up from their lunch when they heard a door upstairs open. Quietly Xena and Gabrielle made their way downstairs.

"Iím surprised theyíre dressed," Eponin remarked with a chuckle that got her a nudge from both Eve and August who were on either side of her.

"Good morning," Gabrielle answered with a grin that refused to leave.

"Morning?" Eve teased. "That was about 4 hours ago. The sun is quite high at this point," she added.

Before Xena and Gabrielle could reply a warrior in armor walked in. "Iím looking for Xena, the warrior princess."

Oh no, Xena sighed inwardly. And the day was going so good.

"Iím Xena," the warrior reluctantly raised her hand. Not that she was fearful of the solider. She just didnít want to have to kick someoneís ass after such a beautiful morning.

"I deliver a message from Ares, the god of war," he said handing her a scroll. With a salute the solider walked out.

Xena unrolled it and read it. "Seems Ares needs us to meet him . . . Guess he'll have to wait," Xena answered.

Gabrielle took the scroll. "I know what I said earlier Xena but perhaps we should check this out. Besides, itís not like itís out of our way or anything. Letís see what he wants and then head to Amphipolis. Agreed?" Gabrielle asked as she rolled up the scroll while Xena and Eve nodded.

Outside however they didnít see the solider round the corner and vanish into thin air. Moments later the solider materialized at Ares camp in the amazon hills. He strolled into Ares tent without announcement. Ares looked up.

"Did you do it?"

Suddenly the armor melted away and a pink nighty took its place, along with the body of Aphrodite. "Yeah I did it . . . but I gotta ask . . . Are you feeling okay?"

"Since when did you care?" Ares replied sarcastically. "You could get me the ambrosia you know?"

She paused a moment with her finger to her temple in thought. "You know thatís a good idea. I could turn you back into the God of War and you could go off and kill lots and lots of people - - NOT!! Youíre better off this way Ares. Trust me."

"I donít trust you. I donít trust anyone. Except Xena. Xena I trust. Sheís coming right?" Ares asked.

"Chill out," Dite said. "Are you sure youíre okay because youíre acting a bit wigged there broí?"

"Leave me," he told his sister.

Dite took a moment but realized this conversation wasnít getting her anywhere. "Whatever!" she retorted before disappearing.

Xena will come. She has to come. She helped before. Sheíll help now. I just gotta get ready. I gotta prepare. . . She has to help. She has to. Iíve got no other choice.

 

The End

(and on to  Bonding of Souls enjoy)