These characters, and boy, are they ever characters, are mostly the property of Renaissance Pictures, Universal MCA, and whoever else owns stock and interest in Xena: Warrior Princess. This fiction was written for my amusement only, and not in any way, shape or form for profit - and it is not intended to infringe on the copyright holders of the characters.
Some of the characters are mine, and the story ideas.. well, who knows where they come from? Must be one weird place, that's for sure.
Specific Story Disclaimers:
Violence - this is a Xena: Warrior Princess story. This is not Teletubbies. Even though there are some rumors of similarities. Some of the violence is graphic, but we try not to dwell on it.
Subtext - Considering that the TV Series just aired an episode establishing Xena and Gabrielle as eternal soulmates, any disclaimer of subtext on my part is really kind of goofy in the extreme. The two characters are in love with each other, and have been for years. You can choose to see them as just friends, but then you might not want to read this fanfic, in case it changes your mind or anything like that.
Emotional Content - this is not one my more comedic efforts. There are moments of humor, however.
Dark Comes the Morning - Part 27
By Melissa Good
"Have you talked to Toris?" Gabrielle folded another clean tunic, and tucked it away in their garment press. She didn't get an answer, so she looked over to where Xena was fixing a table leg, the warrior's own limbs sprawled beneath the table's surface and providing an obstacle course for Dori. "Xena?"
A blue eye appeared. "I heard you."
Oh oh. Touchy touchy. "Okay… next subject." The bard gave her a tolerant grin. "I'm only asking because…"
"Because you're a natural meddler." Xena answered, with a wry smile that took the sting from the comment. "Toris and I have been fighting for thirty years now, Gabrielle… we'll survive. "
"Uh huh." Gabrielle rolled together two socks and put them away.
"We will." Xena repeated, stubbornly. "Listen, I did what I had to do.. if he can't deal with that, too damn bad. He needs to grow up, Gabrielle."
"He'll forget about it. Yeah.. I was a little tough on him, but I'm sure after a few days he'll forget all about it." The warrior argued.
"Of course." Xena replied. "He's my brother, isn't he?"
"Hm." They both reflected on that fact soberly.
"Gabrielle…" Xena peeked out from behind a chair leg. "Um…"
The bard leaned against the press, and regarded her. "Want me to talk to him?"
A sigh. "Yeah."
"No problem, honey." Gabrielle finished her task, and cracked her knuckles with an exaggerated gesture. "You fight, I talk. I think that's still true, even though you're a pretty good talker when you put your mind to it."
Xena leaned her cheek against the wood. "And you're a damn good fighter when you have to be."
"I learned from the very best." One slim finger pointed at Xena. They both smiled, then Gabrielle leaned on the table and chewed her lip. "It's going to be different around here, isn't it?"
Xena drew one knee up and circled it with an arm. "Yeah." She acknowledged shortly. "I'm not sure I like that. I heard talk of them establishing a permanent trading square across the river." She glanced at Gabrielle, who remained prudently quiet. "You should be happy." Now a wry smile edged over the warrior's lips. "Plenty of shopping."
"Ha hah." Gabrielle responded. "If I wanted shopping that bad, I'd talk you into a trip to Athens… I mean, yeah, it's sort of neat to watch all the growth, Xena, but I remember that city of Andreas." Her nose wrinkled. "I don’t' want to live like that.. I don’t' want to see my home become like that. It's too noisy. Too many people."
They studied each other. "Grumpy old warrior." Gabrielle stuck her tongue out.
"Country bumpkin." Xena returned the compliment. They both laughed. "If it gets too bad, we can just move, I guess." She sighed. "Might be a good idea anyway. Amphipolis as damn backwater didn't get much attention, even with me here. As a major trading city…." She shook her head. "It's a lot more to interest people."
"Isn't that a better reason for us to stick around?" Gabrielle reasoned. "They might need us."
"Mm." Xena rested her chin on her knee. "Maybe." She watched Dori scale her thigh and clutch her shirt with determined fingers, pulling herself up the warrior's body. "Where do you think you're going, short stuff?"
"Nice, not to be the shortest one in the family for a change." Gabrielle observed dryly, as Dori got a foot up on her partner's leg, and ended up nose to nose with her. "At least for a few years."
Dori very seriously reached out and grasped Xena's nose with one hand, tugging on it. "Bck."
"Yef." Xena murmured, curling an arm around the baby. She wiggled her nose and Dori released it, giggling. "You're gonna have a birthday party soon, arentcha?"
"Go." Dori stated.
"C'mon Dori… we went flying for over a candlemark this morning." Xena protested.
A pout. "Go!" Dori started climbing again, trying to get up onto her playmate's shoulders, grabbing any bodypart within reach to help her get to her goal. She ended up sprawled half over Xena's neck, with one arm wrapped around it as far as she could go. "Boo!"
Xena sighed. "D'you think if I taught her to ride Argo, she'd gimme a break?" She patted the tiny butt and stood, keeping hold of Dori to keep her in place as the baby squealed in delight. "Hang on, now." She felt her daughter wriggle into place and thump her bare heels into the sides of her neck and suddenly, that simple sensation brought a lump to her throat.
She captured Dori's feet and just held them, letting the baby tug her hair and ears, and listening to the infant's giggling behind her, and faced the understanding of how much she'd almost lost.
Xena heard the scrape of the chair moving as Gabrielle moved around the table, then felt the warmth as two hands pressed against her stomach. "Xena?"
A breath. "Yeah." The warrior slowly let her eyes drop, to meet the concerned green ones close by. "Sorry.. I um… " It was very unsettling, like an unexpected panic that turned her knees to water. "Here, take her." She handed Dori carefully to her mother and sat down on the edge of the bed, clasping her hands together and resting her forehead against them.
Gabrielle sat down next to her, putting a hesitant hand on her back. "Hey." She balanced Dori on her knee and moved a little closer, pressing her thigh against her partner's. "You okay?"
Xena's eyes were closed, and she kept them that way for a moment, then let them open as she stared across the floor. "Damn." They'd gotten most of their things put back together, and the cabin had taken on the familiar smells and sights of home to her.
A home she'd truly felt in her heart she'd left behind her forever. She felt out of place, out of time… so sure had she been that she wouldn't survive the war. Xena felt a shiver go through her body, and she had a flash of dark memory, turning her hands to blood red in her mind's eye.
Gabrielle set Dori down on the thick rug and turned her attention to her stricken friend, curling a hand around Xena's upper arm and wrapping her other arm around the warrior's back. "Easy." She felt the tremors and heard Xena swallow a few times. "It's okay."
After a long, uneasy moment, the dark head turned, and Xena looked at her bleakly. "Sorry.. just got a little strange there."
Gabrielle rested her head against Xena's shoulder. "I know… I woke up this morning while you were out on your run, and wanted to just hide under the bed….it just got too much all of a sudden." She thought about that. "Sometimes when stuff happened before I would feel like that, after it was all over." A pause. "For a while."
Xena nodded, letting her head lean against Gabrielle's. "Never used to bother me." She murmured. "Maybe it's because we stayed home for all that time before this…it's just hard to adjust going back to all that after.."
"After becoming an.. an animal again." Xena got the words out from between gritted teeth. Her hands shook. "How can I just go.. go back to this.. " She indicated the room. "To playing with her.. .like nothing happened." She felt irrational tears sting her eyelids. "Gods."
Dori toddled over and thumped into her knee, grasping it and peering up in puzzlement. "Boo?"
Gabrielle reached over and smoothed her hair down. "Leave Boo be a minute, honey… she's resting." She told her daughter, as Xena rubbed her eyes with shaking hands. "She'll play with you soon, okay?" The bard pressed her body against her partner's in silent comfort, and rubbed her back. "Take it a day at a time, Xena… that's what you taught me, remember?"
The warrior drew in, and released a breath. "Yeah." She nodded faintly. "Yeah, I know… it just got away from me there for a minute." She peered down at Dori, who was watching her with open, innocent eyes. The warrior's brow creased a trifle. "Do you know what I just realized?"
"What?"Gabrielle asked softly.
"We… we were talking the other day.. about.. explaining to Dori, about us?" Xena felt her mind go off in a tangent, and she gratefully let it, getting away from the remembered horror. "How we'd talk to her.. remember?"
"Sure." The bard nodded.
Xena offfered a finger to the baby, who grabbed it immediately. "I don't think we're going to have to say anything to her, Gabrielle."
The bard's head cocked to one side. "No?"
A breath. "In Chin… I don't know if you got a chance… to be around any little kids."
Gabrielle was uneasily silent for a moment. "No."
Xena exhaled. "When they're very young.. Boo is what they call their father."
The bard's jaw dropped in shock. "Y… b… " She rubbed her face. "Really?"
A faint nod. "Really."
A tiny finger pointed Xena's face. "Boo!"
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks.
"Doesn't it look festive in here." Cyrene leaned against the doorframe, and observed the brightly colored fabric draped over her weather worn rafters. It was nice, she admitted, to see people laughing and smiling though. A cleared area in the center had been prepared for the children, and now four human babies and three forest dweller ones were crawling around, creating havoc all out of proportion to their sizes.
Children were interesting to watch in a group, the innkeeper decided, observing Dori watching her playmates alertly, as Xena would have, but joining happily in their play as she knew her daughter never had as a child. She sat on the floor with her legs spraddled, tugging her stuffed dragon back and forth with little Butterbean on the other end. The two were almost the same size, Cyrene realized, though the forest dwellers were almost twice Dori's age, the same as Lila's Gabriel. Toris and Granella's boys were much smaller, though they gamely tried to keep up with their older and larger cousins and friends.
"Uh oh… I've been spotted." Cyrene chuckled, as Dori led a charge on her lower legs, and tiny hands tugged at her aprons. "Hey, you little monsters… hold on now. You'll spoil your appetites."
"Cookie!" Dori cheerfully provided leadership, causing a chorus to go up.
A soft laugh made Cyrene look up, to see Gabrielle leaning against one of the tables. "Would you look at that little pack of miniature pirates." The bard shook her head. "Good grief."
Dori's head turned at the familiar voice. "Mama!" She squealed in delight. "Come!"
The other children looked from Cyrene to Gabrielle, torn between treats and their favorite storyteller. Gabrielle made it easy on them by threading her way through the tables, and padding up next to where they were clustered, reaching down to greet the tiny hands that grasped at her tunic. "Hiya, cuties."
"Cow." Dori stated instantly. "Mama go cow, otay?"
Gabrielle sat down on the nearest bench, and the children clustered around her knees. "Again? How about another one, Dori.. how about a new story?" She glanced up at the chuckling Cyrene. "Xena's on her way over with a bagful of presents… good gods, what these kids aren't getting." Gabrielle pushed a bit of hair back behind one ear and tugged on Butterbean's chin fur. "You're a bunch of spoiled rotten kids, you know that?"
Butterbean's snub nose wrinkled up into a grin. Dori wrapped a chubby arm around her mother's leg and leaned against it, while Gabriel tried to sneak in an grab her toy. "Guff!" Dori snatched it back, giving her cousin a glare.
Gabrielle ruffled her daughter's hair. "Be nice, Dori." She eased herself down off the bench and into the circle of children. "Now, you guys let Grandma be, so she can finish making the cookies, okay? "
"Cookie." Dori agreed. "Now?"
Cyrene laughed. "She's something else." She advised Gabrielle. "Let me get out of here and get back to work… this thing's going to start in less than a candlemark."
Tiny eyes followed the innkeeper's retreat sadly.
"How about a story?" Gabrielle distracted them, getting squeals in response. "Okay…okay.. listen. I've got a new story, okay?"
The children crawled over her, and settled in a pile, bright eyes watching her face intently.
"This story is about Sparky the Rooster." Gabrielle began. "Once upon a time there was an inn…"
Xena carefully put the last, linen wrapped bundle inside the burlap sack and tied a rough piece of hemp around the neck of the bag. She hefted it experimentally, and chuckled. Ares trotted over and hoisted himself up on his hind legs, peering at the bag curiously and sniffing at it.
"Not for you." The warrior informed him. "Or you." She pointed at Argo, who flicked her tail. Xena smiled, and walked across the barn, hay crunching lightly beneath her boots to where the mare was stabled, running her hands over the soft, golden coat. "Hey girl."
Argo turned, and butted her in the chest, nibbling at her belt with friendly, ticklish lips. Xena scratched her ears, and leaned against the mare's side, enjoying the familiar warmth. One finger tangled itself in curls of pale mane, and the warrior sighed softly. "I'm sorry about Herc, Argo." She told the horse, in a low voice. Argo whickered.
Xena blinked. "Something else we have in common, you and I." She let her cheek rest against the soft hair for a short while. "But you don't really realize he's gone, do you?"
Argo shifted, and pulled a bit of hay from her net, chewing it thoughtfully.
The warrior exhaled, watching her breath move a few strands of creamy mane. "It's better to be a horse sometimes, Argo." Her eyes slowly drifted up, past the mare's back, to the loft. If she closed them, she could almost see that cool morning, smell the hay.
Hear her son's laughter, his wonder as the truth he'd been hoping for had come home to him.
But. Xena sighed, and straightened, raking her hair back off her forehead and circling the stalls, then climbing slowly into the loft and seating herslf on it's edge. One hand reached down and tugged a short knife from the top of her boot. She studied the wood over her head, then drew her knee up and rested her forearm on it, starting to whittle carefully in the hardened surface.
It didn't take long. There were only five letters, after all, just a touch longer than hers, and much shorter than Gabrielle's. When she was done, she blew softly on the fresh carving, the smell of cut wood tickling her nose as the curls drifted downwards to lodge in her shirt.
She lifted a finger, and touched Solon's name, now tucked under Lyceus' time darkened letters in the wood's scarred surface. Then she rested her forehead against the knife's cold hilt for a long, silent moment before she quietly resheathed it, letting her hands drop to her thighs to rest there limply.
Then the door creaked, and she raised her eyes to see her brother standing just inside, gazing at her with a wary, tense expression.
Oh Hades. Xena felt like turning her back and just curling up in the hay, to allow the painful memories to work their way out of her. She certainly wasn't in the mood to do a centaur hoof dance with Toris. Maybe that showed on her face, because her brother's stance relaxed, and he closed the door, leaning back against it as they soberly regarded each other.
Toris finally pushed off and walked over to the loft, climbing laborously up the side of the crib and seating himself next to Xena on the edge of wooden platform. His eyes lifted and gravely examined the timber over their heads, then he exhaled softly. "You know. I thought for a while there I kinda understood you."
Xena rested her head against the wall, and simply stared back.
"I don't." Toris continued. "I don't even know what the Hades to say to you anymore."
"So don't." Xena replied. "I don't have to explain myself to you, or to anyone else, Toris. I had a job to do, and I did it. How I did it is my business."
Blue eyes met. "You're a real bitch." Toris said.
"Sometimes." His sister agreed. "Slaughtering people for years does that to you." She tipped her head back and regarded the rafters. "Anything else you want to say?"
A disgusted sigh. "I should of just walked out on you in that damned camp." Toris started climbing down, moving away from the loft.
The faintest of smiles touched Xena's lips. "Did you ever consider the possibility that was exactly what I wanted you to do?" She asked mildly, not looking at him, one finger lifting to touch the carving overhead. She heard him stop climbing, the creak of the wood protesting his weight.
"No." Toris finally said, shortly. "What good would that have done, Xena? We were all in this, you know that… " He stopped, seeing the slowly shaking head. "What do you mean, no?"
"Everyone had a way out, Toris. Mom… Gabrielle… Eph…I made sure of that." His sister told him. "If it hadn't worked, they all could have run… gotten out."
Toris shifted his hold, staring at her. "Everyone except you." He realized.
The dark haired man slowly climbed back up and thumped down on the platform, clasping his hands between his knees and exhaling. "Damn you, Xena. You could have just said that."
The warrior rolled her head to one side and regarded him. "Would you have left?"
"Then the point of saying it would have been…?" Xena asked tiredly. "I should have just knocked you out and thrown you in a boat down the river."
Toris' face darkened in anger. "I had a choice, Xena. I'm not an idiot."
Xena shrugged. "Doesn't matter now, does it? Are we finished with this stupid conversation? We've got a party waiting on us over there." She slid off the platform and hung for a instant from the rafter, then released her hold and landed lightly in the hay, dusting her hands off.
Toris stared unhappily at her back, then glanced up at the new carving thoughtfully, before he climbed back down and joined her near the box holding the bag of toys. He watched Xena lift a worn box up and open it, removing a number of small wooden objects and setting them down.
"Forgot to wrap these." The warrior murmured.
Toris lifted one and examined it. A tiny bear looked back at him, it's wooden arms stretched wide. "You make these?' He glanced at his sister, who nodded mutely. Toris studied the floor pensively, then inhaled. "Thanks. The kids love those horses you gave them at Solstice."
"No problem." Xena replied, but her posture relaxed a little, as she accepted the tentative peace offering. She finished bundling the little toys and hoisted the bag to her shoulder. "Let's go." Her progress halted as a hand curled around her biceps, and she turned, to find Toris gazing at her.
Xena's eyes blinked, as she wondered when her brother had gotten the dusting of gray at his temples. "Yeah?"
He opened his mouth to speak, the slowly, let it shut again, and released her, pressing his lips together and producing a mere nod in response. "Kids are waiting." He agreed, edging past her and heading for the door. Xena eyed his back, then followed him out the door and into the teeth of a cold wind.
"That's right… the rooster chased little Xena all across the.." Gabrielle paused in mid word, her attention captured by a pair of pale blue eyes near the door, over folded arms and beneath a sharply raised single eyebrow. "Uh oh." Heh. "You were supposed to be wrapping presents."
"I finished." Xena remarked, fighting off a blush from the curious eyes fastened on her, as the audience noticed her presence.
"Boo!" Dori scrambled to her feet and toddled over, crashing into the warrior's knees and flinging her arms around one of them. "Codoodle doo!"
"More!" Butterbean tugged on Gabrielle's sleeve and begged, flapping furred arms in imitation of the rooster.
"Um.. " Gabrielle scratched her jaw, not sure she wanted to continue her somewhat embarrassing tale in front of it's now adult protagonist. "Honey, let me finish this later, okay?"
"Oh no." Xena put her bag down and took a seat, extending her long legs out and crossing them. "Don't let me stop you. G'wan." She gave her soulmate a smirk, and allowed Dori to climb up onto her lap and sit down.
"Xe." Gabrielle tilted her head, and spared a glance at her audience, comprised of villagers, soldiers and party planners, who had been listening avidly to her. They were all grinning now, enjoying her discomfiture as much as they had the story.
"All right." Cyrene suddenly threw the inner door open. "We ready to start? I've got lots of cookies here, and I need some help bringing them out."
The crowd laughed, and shifted, some of the getting up to help the innkeeper and circling the seated storyteller, and her mildly menacing companion.
"You.. got lucky." Xena pointed a finger at her, but smiled to remove any hint of sting from the words.
Gabrielle disengaged herself from the toddlers and crawled over, sitting down and letting her chin rest on Xena's knee. "It's a cute story." She told her. "And I didn't get to the good part.. you coming busting out of the barn to chase the little featherhead down with a draft horse."
"Uh huh." Xena let her fingers comb through Gabrielle's fair locks. "You looked pretty cute in that circle of kids." She told the bard, who had, indeed, presented an adorable picture as she'd entered, the children all clustered around her and the adults glued to her words. Gabrielle was dressed in the warm, embroidered forest green tunic she'd given her a winter or so past, the bright colors framing her paler than usual skin, and bringing out the tint in her eyes. "They love you."
"Wuv mama." Dori agreed, thumping her heels against her playmate's leg. "Wuv mama good."
"That's right." Xena watched her soulmate's eyes brighten with unshed tears. "I love your mama too.. even if she does tell silly stories about me." She put a fingertip on the bard's nose as Gabrielle's eyelashes fluttered closed, scattering a few crystal droplets over the rough wool of Xena's leggings. "You'll have to do a lot of funny things, Dori.. so we can listen to your mama tell stories about you to your kids, okay?"
The words weren't for Dori, and they both knew that. Gabrielle wrapped an arm around the long legs she was curled against and hugged them, as they floated for a brief moment in the golden warmth of the bond that linked them. "You spoil your kid." The bard drawled softly. "I can just imagine what you're going to be like with grandkids. We're in so much trouble."
"Nah.." Xena disagreed peacefully. "I'll just sit on the porch in my rocker and watch the world go by." She jiggled her knee, making Dori wobble and giggle. "Nobody'll even know who I am."
Gabrielle put her chin back down, and regarded her soulmate. "Do you really believe that?" She asked, running her fingertips idly across Xena's leg. Their eyes met, and she could see the warm sparkles of humor so long absent from her partner's eyes appearing, along with the tiny lines that etched themselves across her face as she smiled.
"Nope." The warrior chuckled. "Do you?"
Gabrielle snorted, then laughed. The door to the kitchen swung open, and bodies appeared, along with the pungent, delicious smell of baked goods. "Hmm… I smell a party."
"You got it." Ephiny appeared, licking her thumb. "You wanted a party? You got a party, your Majesty… complete with.. " She dodged past Gabrielle's defenses and daubed a bit of icing on the bard's nose. "Blue iceing."
"Uh oh." Gabrielle crossed her eyes to bring her nose into focus. "That's really blue." Movement startled her, and she almost jumped when her field of vision was suddenly blocked by a large object, which swooped down and engulfed her painted nose in a warm, wet sensation. "Urg."
Xena leaned back, and licked her lips. "Mm." She poked her tongue out, now a lurid purple blue color. "Nice."
The inn was filling now, villagers, Amazons, fighters, and forest dwellers all clustered inside, laughing and gathering around the tables filled with cakes and cookies, and bowls of spiced cider and punch. Gabrielle scrambled to her feet and motioned for her partner to stay put, then threaded her way through the crowd to the table, wiping the remaining icing off the tip of her nose. She captured two flakey honeycakes, and two mugs of cider, then returned, handing Xena one of each and settling in the chair at her side.
Dori immediately clambered up the warrior's body, intent on the cakes. "Mmm… " Her fingers grabbed for the pastry, which Xena elevated over her head. "Boo!"
"Ah ah.. that's mine." Xena teased, seeing the baby's misty green eyes grow round and indignant.
"No it's not." Gabrielle leaned over and took a big bite out of the cake, scattering flakes of pastry all over her partner's dark hair. "You snooze, you lose, tiger." Gabrielle grinned, as the crowd laughed, watching her attempt to keep her mouthful contained.
"Mama!" Dori stood up on Xena's thighs and reached for her mother.
"All right.. all right.. " The warrior broke off a corner of the remaining part of her cake and handed it to the baby, who crammed it into her mouth enthusiastically. "There… between the two of you, I'm in deep trouble."
"Hey Gabrielle.. how about finishing that story." Eponin perched on a corner of the nearest table. "I wanna hear about that bird pecking Xena in the..fmoff." The weapons master glared at the owner of the hand now covering her mouth.
Ephiny removed her hand, and lifted her mug, clearing her throat a little. The crowd quieted, and eyes turned to the blond Amazon, who drew in a breath as she surveyed the packed room. "I know a kid's birthday party's not the time or place for toasts, but you know… you take the opportunities you get, so… Now she turned to face Xena and Gabrielle. "My friends."
A stillness settled over the inn.
"Here's to the greatest pair of leaders any army could have hoped to have." Ephiny raised her mug, and the crowd let out a roar, startling the children. All of the war leaders had crowded inside, taking yet another opportunity to share the lingering glory of their victory. "And when these children are grown, they'll tell their children about how their parents risked it all in the cause of the greater good."
Xena lifted a hand and gave it a lazy wave. "Thanks.. you're not so bad yourself."
Now a round of laughter sounded.
"To the future." Ephiny lifted her mug again, turning in a half circle, and indicating the children. Mugs lifted to answer her, and everyone drank, then a buzz of noise rose as people clustered around the kids, and watched as Jessan started to unwrap the presents.
Gabrielle was content to simply watch, draping her arms over Xena's shoulders and resting her cheek against the warrior's sleek hair. She could feel Xena's collarbone under her wrists, and her thumb traced it idly as she listened to the squeals of delight as Toris' sons grappled over a large stuffed bear from their Amazon aunts. "That's cute." She murmured into a nearby warrior ear, which twitched slightly.
"Yeah." Xena had one arm around Dori, keeping the baby from wriggling free and leaping off her lap. "Got any more of those cakes around?"
Gabrielle clucked at her, but retrieved several of the treats from a nearby table, and handed them over, graciously accepting her portion as Xena divided the booty up. "Mm." After the long stresses of the battle, and the encampments, it felt almost decadent to taste the normality of Amphipolis, her body had become used to the privations of the road again and was pleasantly surprised to find itself being pampered with goodies.
She was, she acknowledged privately, a happier person for it. Gabrielle allowed herself a wry smile, as she watched Jessan hand over a present for Dori, a bundle of sturdy playsuits in bright colors that her daughter might actually fit in for a moon or two. "Thanks." She beamed at the giver, Amphipolis' venerable weaver. "Does she ever need them."
The woman laughed. "Grows out of them like a weed, I bet."
Gabrielle reached over and picked up one of Dori's arms, which sported a sleeve inched almost up to her elbow. "Oh yeah."
Xena chuckled. Gabrielle nudged her. "It's your fault." She measured out one of the warrior's long arms in pantomime, and raised her brows. Then she realized what she'd been inferring, and glanced around quickly, hoping no one was paying attention.
Which, of course, they were, but curiously, the expressions she found were indulgent, and unsurprised, and the laughter that greeted her comment gently knowing. She and Xena exchanged slightly startled looks, then the warrior shrugged one shoulder. Dori took the opportunity to snitch a handful of cake.
"Bck." The child scattered crumbs down Xena's shirt, and hunted for more booty. "Good."
"Good grief." Gabrielle wiped a bit of powdered sugar off Dori's cheeks. "You're insatiable."
"Hrm… wonder which side of the family she gets that from." Xena rumbled slyly. A round of chuckles, and low whistles went up, coinciding with the flush that darkened the bard's skin from head to toe.
"I can't believe you said that." Gabrielle got out through clenched teeth, the blood rush almost making her light headed.
"Why? Everyone knows you like sweets." Xena replied innocently. "What's so bad about that?" She reached up and tweaked her partner's nose, impudently ignoring the glaring mist green eyes.
A finger tapped her nose. "I'll get you for that later." Gabrielle allowed a grudging smile to creep across her face.
"Promise?" The warrior winked at her.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, as the crowd laughed, and gave up. She slid an arm across Xena's shoulders and decided to just enjoy her daughter's first birthday, leaving the past behind her at least for the moment.
Gabrielle leaned back on her hands, and turned her face to the sun, enjoying the spring air that blew across her. It was quiet up here, on a small bluff she'd selected with a good view of the river, not far at all from Xena's old tree house.
She turned, and looked at it, an affectionate smile crossing her face. Not far at all. In fact, she'd taken a walk over to it and climbed up, for old time's sake, and what do you know? She'd found herself an apple. It was resting by her side, it's red and yellow skin glistening in the sunlight just waiting for her to bite into it.
The sound of hammering drew her attention, and she looked down towards the river, her eyes tracing the new construction underway across from Amphipolis. It had been two months, and the changes were considerable.
New docks, for one thing. The channel had been deepened in the river enough to allow the big merchant barges sufficient draft, and there were two nestled in there now, tiny figures of men and oxen moving cartloads towards the rapidly expanding town on the banks.
That had been Xena's idea, to force the new construction onto that side of the river, leaving Amphipolis itself, on it's rise above the water, relatively untouched by the progress. The village had grown, of course. Doubled it's size with new settlers, who brought skills and hard work with them, producing a nice surplus for the merchants across the river.
Cyrene's inn was so busy, the innkeeper had to hire on a full time cook and a manager, allowing her to spend her time supervising, something Xena had been quietly nudging her to do at any rate. She wasn't getting any younger, the warrior had told her, almost getting chased from the kitchen with a wooden spoon for it.
Gabrielle chuckled, then laid down and put her hands behind her head, reviewing the march of the fluffy white clouds across the sky, allowing the sun to warm her pleasantly. She'd just finished working on one of her later stories and had sealed the scroll, getting it ready to send up to Athens for the library, and had decided to take a well earned break, allowing her body to relax after the hours of careful scribing just finished.
The Amazons had scattered to their homes, though Gabrielle's tribe had gained twice again it's numbers, and the forest dwellers had gone as well, but not far. Jessan's father had worked out a deal with Xena, to settle in the valley upriver, a quiet, remotely wild place that satisfied Lestan's need for seclusion, but allowed them to be close enough to trade, and visit.
She liked that. Having Jessan and his people close gave her a sense of community, that allowed her to go, and speak to people who understood a facet of her life that no one else in Amphipolis really did. She was glad the Amazons were making regular trips down here as well, though part of her was starting to nudge gently at her need to travel herself.
The wanderlust, Cyrene called it, which she was surprised to discover affected her more profoundly even than it did Xena. Maybe because Xena had been so many places, done so many things… that she'd pacified that need for a while.
Maybe Xena sensed that wasn't the case for her, though. The warrior had suggested, out of the blue last night, a trip to Athens.
Just the two of them.
Gabrielle knew she'd grinned stupidly, before she could even think about how to react to the question, and she'd seen the answering smile. She wondered if all the hustle and bustle were getting to Xena or…
Or did the warrior crave the time alone, with just the two of them as much as she did?
Mm. Gabrielle closed her eyes, and sucked in a breath of spring air, full of flowers, and the intense green scent of new grass. It would be a fun trip. A good trip, up the river and across the highlands, and they had a enough dinars to make a trip to the big market something she was really looking forward to.
Maybe there would even be a problem or two, just little ones, that they could take care of on the way.
Gabrielle yawned. Yeah. She wiggled her feet, and flexed her toes inside the new boots she'd just gotten for spring, and spent a few minutes planning what they'd need to get for the trip. The weather was warming nicely, which meant they could get away with only their light cloaks.. hey.. Gabrielle grinned to herself She could wear her old traveling outfit, as a matter of fact…she'd packed it away in one of their drawers, and had come across it the other day when she was looking for some extra quills.
It had been, other than all the progress, a quiet time for them. Xena had been kept very busy organizing what had turned out to be a regional defense, and arranging for a watch to be kept all up and down the river territory. She'd also become the defacto authority in the area, whether she wanted to be or not, and everyone kept bringing her all sorts of situations requiring her judgement.
Gabrielle had found it very interesting to watch that. She'd known Xena for years now, and trusted her partner's judgement herself, but to see everyone else accepting it as a matter of course was intriguing. Xena's reaction was intriguing too, halfway between pleasure and skepticism.
It felt good to have someone else making the decisions, though. Gabrielle gazed lazily up at the blue sky. It felt good just to be responsible for herself, and her precocious daughter, and her warrior, and nothing else.
Xena leaned her forearm against the rough bark of a tall tree, and spent a moment just watching the lone figure relaxing in the sun. Gabrielle's sprawled body was half buried in the thick grass, and as she stood there, the bard stretched luxuriously, and settled back down with a contented sigh Xena could almost hear.
With a quiet smile, the warrior continued on her trek up the ridge, and as she walked closer, she saw Gabrielle's head lift and turn, and a welcoming grin spread across her face.
"Nice spot." The warrior greeted her, as she came along side and dropped down into the grass, chuckling when Gabrielle immediately threw her arms around her and gave her a big hug. "Well, hello to you too." They rolled over in the grass, and Xena took the opportunity to kiss her soulmate, tasting a hint of apple and walnuts on the bard's lips.
"Mm…. Thought you were supposed to be going to meet that group of merchants." Gabrielle slid a hand over the soft, silky fabric of Xena's short tunic. It was a deep purple color, and contrasted nicely with Xena's pale blue eyes.
"I told them I had something better to do." Xena replied, leaning into the touch and ducking her head for another kiss. "Finish your story?"
"Yes." Gabrielle dismissed her story, and concentrated on the warm, nice smelling body rubbing up against her. Her hands slid under the silk and found soft skin, as Xena's bare thigh touched hers, and moved teasingly upward, easing her legs apart. She welcomed the touch, rolling over and pulling the warrior down as their bodies brushed, then made solid contact. She explored Xena's lips for a sensual moment, then broke off to gaze up into the passion darkened eyes inches above her own. "You'd think we were a couple of kids, rolling around out here."
"You are a kid." Xena reminded her, moving down to capture an earlobe, rolling it between her lips and biting down lightly on it.
"I am not." Gabrielle heard her voice squeak on the last word, as a knowing touch eased across her sensitive breasts.
"See? Your voice is changing." Xena teased, then had to bite off a yelp herself as the bard put her knowledge of her partner's body to very good use. "Erf."
Gabrielle repeated the nibble. 'Sorry.. what was that again?" A lock of dark hair draped itself over her shoulders and she reveled in the scent of it. Her fingers flexed, and found themselves touching a round, smooth surface. "Ah… " She lifted the apple she'd found and took a bite, glancing impishly up through half lowered lashes. "Wanna risk it?' Her tongue fished out an apple seed, and offered it up.
Xena's eyes focused on the fruit, then slowly lifted to meet hers. Two souls studied each other intently, then the barest hint of a smile appeared on the warrior's face. Eyelashes fluttered closed as Xena ducked her head gracefully, and closed her teeth on the bit of apple, biting it off, then meeting Gabrielle's tongue and sucking the seed from it. "For you, I'll risk anything." She whispered, rolling the small seed around her mouth then swallowing it. Then she lowered her head and their lips touched.
And Xena could suddenly feel the sun pass right through her, enveloping Gabrielle in a blaze of golden light as she opened herself to their connection and it went beyond the physical, reaching for chords inside her that sounded low and sweet. Gabrielle had asked, and she answered, surrendering to her soulmate's touch as she had to no other. There was no defense, no hesitation, no regrets… for that moment Gabrielle owned all that she was. And with a gentle touch, and a fearless heart, the bard carried her soul safely home.
The sun was slanting low, spilling crimson across their tangled limbs, and Gabrielle watched it creep slowly towards the horizon as her fingers moved idly through the dark hair half covering her chest. Xena wasn't sleeping, she knew. The warrior's head was pillowed on Gabrielle's belly, and she could just see the curve of her eyelashes as they flickered. "Pretty sunset."
"Mm." Xena studied the outlines of Amphipolis intently. "You know what I feel like, Gabrielle?"
Several things popped to mind, but the bard twisted a few more dark strands together. "What?"
"What we just went through… " Xena shaped the words with care. "It's almost like I've come full circle..only this time, it ended the way I…" She halted.
"The way you dreamed it would." Gabrielle murmured.
"Mm." Xena rolled over and settled on her back. '"Im glad you were here to see it."
"Me too." Gabrielle agreed. "Wish I'd been here the first time."
Xena indulged herself in imagining what it would have been like growing up with Gabrielle around. "I don't know that there would have been a first time if you were." Their fingers tangled together. "Maybe we'd have all ended up Cortese's slaves."
"We'd have found a way out of that." Gabrielle stated confidently. "Piece of cake."
Xena smiled. "Speaking of… we'd better get back down there before they send a search party out for us." The warrior sat up, swiveling to sit cross legged next to her partner. "You ready?"
"Mm…" Gabrielle yawned, and wriggled into the grass. "I don’t' know… it's so nice out here… a gorgeous sunset, nice weather.."
"Mom made nutbread.."
A blond brow lifted sharply. "And you think this is going to make me jump right up and run home?"
Xena nodded confidently. "Mmhmm."
Gabrielle stuck her tongue out. "Wench." She hoisted herself to her feet and brushed her now throughly wrinkled clothes off. "Just for that, I won't save you any." She tugged a lock of Xena's disordered hair, then stepped back as the warrior rose smoothly, dusting off her own shirt.
They started back down the ridge, wrapping their arms around each other as they strode through the knee high grass. "Hey, Xe?"
"Huh?" Xena tilted her head in question.
"You think we can stay long enough in Athens to see the Summer Festival?" Gabrielle asked. "They've got a new ring thing that's supposed to go on for days."
Blue eyes widened in mild alarm. "Days?"
"Yeah.. can you imagine it? Spending days listening to a story!"
"Aw, c'mon, Xena…you like stories, I know you do."
"I like your stories." The warrior admitted cautiously. "I can't vouch for anyone elses."
"Will there be pillows there?"
"Pillows? For what?"
"Me to sleep on." Xena sighed. "And only on one condition."
Gabrielle smirked. "And that is?"
Xena smirked right back. "You sit through the gladiator rounds with me."
The bard was trapped, and she knew it. "Oh well." Gabrielle drank in the setting sun, turning her face to it as she sucked in a breath of sweet air. "Life's just full of compromises, isn't it?"
"Oh yeah." Xena reached down and scooped up a handful of rich, black dirt and neatly dumped it down the back of her partner's shirt. "You gotta put up with me, for a start." She endured the outraged squeal, then bolted, before Gabrielle could reciprocate.
"You…you.." The bard threw herself into motion, gaining speed rapidly as she chased after her soulmate. "You're TOAST Warrior Princess!!!"
The End. (for now.)