Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
Gabrielle’s parents and Xena’s mother were the first to arrive for the wedding. In the days that followed, they were joined by Hercules, Iolaus, Ephiny and Solari. And, of course, Joxer. Even a few people showed up from a surrounding village that Gabrielle and Xena saved the week before... Gabrielle, Xena and Kenneth, actually.
Xena was in an irritated mood as she directed the decorators in the hall. It had been a month since the engagement was announced. Gabrielle was so excited. She had only known Kenneth for five months. He tagged along after a village rescue refusing to leave. Xena watched painfully as their love grew and blossomed. Now he was going to marry the woman Xena loved in one days time.
"No!" Xena yelled. "The blue parchment goes this way," Xena explained showing them how to roll it around the column. "And the white parchment goes that way."
"Xena," Hercules called with a keg of ale under each arm, not straining in the least, "Where do you want these."
"Right back there," she replied point toward the bar. "There should be space under the counter."
With a nod he walked away, watching Iolaus and Joxer struggle with their keg. "When I sit these down I’ll come back and help," he teased.
"Ha.Ha," Iolaus replied. "Very funny. Come on Joxer follow me."
Xena shook her head and smiled as the two men fumbled and stumbled their way behind Hercules, working more against each other, than with each other. It was one of the few smiles she had in a month and she was fortunate she had her friends near her at this time. Even if none of them knew it, she was uplifted by their presence.
Xena felt a hand on her shoulder and she turned her head. Her grumpy look dissolved when she saw the face.
"Dear, can I speak with you?"
"Of course mother."
Cyrene lead Xena out of the hall by the hand, waiting until they were away from the groups that was preparing for tomorrow’s event.
"I’m not sure how to begin," Cyrene smiled. Xena tightened her grip on her mothers’ hand.
"Tell me what’s wrong?" Xena asked concerned.
"You tell me," Cyrene prodded. "You’ve been stomping around here since I arrived. You look like you could gnaw the legs off every table in that hall... Tell me what’s wrong... Please."
Xena released her mothers’ hand and walked away making sure not to face her. "You wouldn’t understand mother."
"I wouldn’t be too sure of that Xena. I’m a very understanding person. Now tell me what’s wrong."
Xena grinned. "At least I know where my lack of patience comes from."
Cyrene grinned too but continued. "You’re being evasive my daughter."
Xena didn’t reply. She looked to the sky, to the banquet hall, to the pebbles below her feet. Everywhere but her mothers’ eyes.
"You love her," Cyrene said matter of factly. Xena rubbed her eyes before letting her fingers travel through her long dark mane. "Have you ever told her?" Cyrene whispered.
"I’ve told her I love her," Xena replied casually.
"Yes," Cyrene replied. "But have you told her you love her."
Xena grinned, this time meeting her mother’s gaze. "No."
Cyrene waited for an explanation but she knew it wasn’t going to come. "Maybe you should tell her."
"She’s getting married tomorrow mother! . .You should see the way she looks at him." Xena could hear the weep in her own voice and it caused her to shift her position, distancing herself slightly farther away.
"Xena," Cyrene began. "Have you looked at him? If I didn’t know any better I’d say he was your twin brother. He looks just like you – blue eyes, long dark hair; even the same cheekbones."
"What’s the point mother?" Xena snapped.
"Perhaps she’s marrying Kenneth because she doesn’t think she could have the real thing."
"Don’t be ridiculous!"
"It’s not just me. Hercules agrees with me."
"You discussed this with Hercules!?" Xena was shocked.
"He was the only one I felt truly comfortable with in discusses this matter," Cyrene said quickly.
"He’s got that affect on people." Xena grinned. "What did he say exactly?"
Cyrene paused. "He thinks you’re walking away from the love of your life... He sees it... I see it too... Actually the last time you and Gabrielle came to visit I thought for sure you two... " Cyrene trailed off – her cheeks growing red. "Let’s just say we weren’t full at the inn that weekend. I put you two in the same room so you wouldn’t have discuss things you weren’t ready to discuss."
"So he sees it and you see it. Tell me mother... is there anyone else who sees it?"
"I don’t think so... He and I know you pretty well dear."
"Gabrielle knows me better than anyone, no offense. Why can’t she see it?" It almost sounded like a plea from Xena’s lips.
"Who says she hasn’t?" Cyrene smiled coyly. Another trait passed down to her daughter no doubt. "Like I said, maybe that’s why she’s with Kenneth. If she doesn’t think she can have the genuine article perhaps she’s willing to settle for the false copy."
Xena didn’t reply. So Cyrene continued. "You owe her the truth Xena. You owe it to yourself. If she doesn’t feel the same and she still wants Kenneth you can move on with your life. But if she does want you, you could save her from making a big mistake... Think about it. That’s all I ask... Please find a way to end your pain my dear... before it consumes you again."
Cyrene took Xena by the upper arms and gave her a light kiss on the cheek before heading toward the hall again. Hercules was coming out and swept Cyrene into his strong arms. "Fair maiden," he jokingly proclaimed. "Are you in need of a rescue?" Xena smiled at the display.
"Where were you thirty years ago?" she said stroking his cheek.
Hercules pondered the question. "Getting my elementary education." He smiled.
"It figures," she played along, "All the good ones are either too young or too old."
With a laugh he placed her gently on the ground again as she lightly caressed his arm. She pulled him down and whispered in his ear. "I think she needs a friend now more than ever."
Hercules looked over at Xena quickly and nodded to Cyrene before making his way over to the warrior. "How ya doin’?" he asked putting his arm around Xena who was now leaning against a boulder.
"Good." She smiled.
"You’ve become a lousy liar Xena." Hercules grinned.
Xena smiled. "Mother told me about the talk you two had."
"She did huh?" Hercules replied.
"Yes. She did... You really think he looks like me?"
"Absolutely... Well not exactly like you," he said mischievously. "But I have to admit there’s more than a striking resemblance."
He was in the courtyard, helping with a canopy tent as Xena and Hercules examined him. Hercules could see the jealousy in Xenas’ narrowed eyes as she watched her masculine mirror image. "Follow your heart Xena," Hercules whispered. "I’ll be here for you no matter what the outcome."
Xena turned back to Hercules with a warm smile. "Thank you." She stroked his face in deep friendship when I voice from behind startled her.
"I need my maid of honor. No running off together until after the wedding."
Hercules walked over and hugged Gabrielle. He was going to say something until Iolaus interrupted him.
"Hey," he shouted from the hall doorway, "These bottles aren’t going to get in here by themselves. How ‘bout a little help Herc?"
"Duty calls." Hercules smiled to Gabrielle before turning to Xena. "If you need anything you know where to find me," he added with a nod to Xena.
After Hercules made his way inside, Gabrielle took his spot on the boulder next to Xena. "How you holding up?" the bard asked.
"Why do you ask?" Xena questioned.
Gabrielle shrugged. "I don’t know, you seem distant. You’ve been putting in a lot of hours the past week, helping with the wedding... You look tired."
"I am tired," Xena confessed.
"Then go rest. The rehearsal party is tonight. I want to see you enjoying yourself – not nodding off in some corner. Go on," Gabrielle insisted with a shoo of her hands.
"Are you sure?" Xena asked. "The decorating isn’t finished yet."
"I think I can handle a few streamers," Gabrielle joked. "Go ahead. Get outta for awhile."
Perhaps some sleep would help clear my mind of these racing thoughts. At least for a little while. "Okay," Xena agreed with a yawn, beginning to walk away. "I’ll see you tonight."
Xena didn’t notice the intense scrutiny of Gabrielle’s’ eye upon her as she made her way to her room. Xena didn’t notice... but Joxer did.
After everyone learned their positions, along with what would happen the next day, the party began. The band arrived that evening and took some time to practice. It worked out rather well. They had food, drink and now music. Everyone was dancing. Then in between songs, Cyrene suggested that Xena do a song. The crowd was encouraging the reluctant Xena to take the stage.
"I don’t know." Xena smiled uncomfortably. Her heart was breaking. The last thing she wanted to do was sing a song about the happy union.
"Please Xena," Gabrielle asked. "For me. Please?"
Will I ever be able to resist this woman Xena thought to herself. "Okay," she whispered. "For you."
Slowly as she took the stage the small crowds’ encouragement grew larger. Only when it subsided did she speak. "This is a song I wrote a few years ago." She briefly turned back to the band to get them in order. Once the music began she turned around to face the gatherers.
"There comes a time in everyone’s life... when they get tired of fooling around... Juggling hearts in a three ring circus... Someday will drive a body down to the ground... I never imagined that love would rain on me... and make me want to settle down... But baby it’s true, I think I do... And I just wanna tell you that I wanna with you ... And baby if you do too, ohhh forever... forever... Baby I want you forever... I wanna keep you for the rest of my life... All that’s wrong in my world you can make right. You are my savior, you are my light. Forever I want you ... in my life... "
The words struck Gabrielle and she tried her best to not look so affected. She said a few years ago Gabrielle told herself remembering Xena’s opening statement. Hercules she convinced herself. It’s about Hercules. She smiled at that thought – relieved it wasn’t about her. Then Xena continued.
"There comes a road in everyone’s journey... A road that their afraid to walk on their own... I’m here to tell you... I’m at that road now... I’d rather walk with you than walk it alone... You are my hero... You are my future... When I am with I have no past... Baby my one and only desire... is to find someway in this zeusdamned world to make this feeling last... Oh, baby it’s true... I know I do... And I just want to tell you that I want to with you ... Oh and baby if you do to... Ohhh forever... forever... Baby I want your love... forever... I wanna keep ya ... for the rest of my life... all that’s wrong in this world you can make right... You are my savior ... You are my light... Forever I want you... in my life."
The music died down and the crowd applauded wildly. Kenneth’s voice over powered the cheers. "Thank you Xena," he shouted, bringing down the noise level. "That was beautiful." His voice made Xena grin in discomfort and look toward the happy couple. Gabrielle wasn’t smiling as whole heartedly as him.
The bard was convinced the song was about Hercules, until the part about the road and not wanting to travel alone. It took her back to their very beginning when Xena considered her a young, native girl. With the realization of the wedding she knew those days were over... and a large part of her ached. Being with Xena made her truly happy. She wouldn’t be with Xena anymore. She’d be with Xena’s look-a-like. At least that’s what Lila called Kenneth. Gabrielle thought her sister was losing it but the more she watched her betrothed, the more she saw the resemblance.
Xena walked down from the stage and headed straight to the bar. Two hours and twelve mugs of ale later she realized she needed to get some air, not to mention away from human contact. Any more drinks would make her tongue loose. Mother and Hercules knowing the truth was one thing. She was sure any affectionate outburst would put Gabrielle’s father in his grave.
Not bothering to finish her thirteenth port, she carefully walked outside into the night air to see Ephiny and Solari in a tender embrace, away from the commotion but close enough to hear the festivities. Xena debated about whether to disturb them. Oh what the Tartis she thought as she staggered over.
"Hoz my two favorite amazons in the whole wide world?" Xena slightly slurred.
"Xena!" They said in harmony.
"Have a seat," Ephiny said patting the rock beside her.
"Are you sure?" Xena asked. "Looks like things were progressing rather nicely until I showed up."
"Of course we’re sure," Solari said watching Xena sway. "Here sit down... before you fall down."
"How many have you had Xena," Ephiny asked sympathetically.
"I lost count at 10." Xena smiled.
"You look terrible," Solari observed.
"Hey!" Xena replied, reaching haphazardly for her sword, unable to find it’s location. "Oh forget it," Xena laughed. "I’ll just have to take solace in the fact that I was the first Miss Known-World."
"I thought the first Miss Known-World was a man," Ephiny remarked.
Xena pulled Ephiny close and whispered in her ear. "He won by default... That’s our little secret, ‘k?"
Ephiny shook her head at Xena’s drunken state. "Okay," she replied with a chuckle.
"I have a confession to make," Solari told Xena.
"What is it now?" Xena said trying to keep her eyes focused.
"We thought you were the lucky woman," she replied.
"Me? . . What?" Xena was disoriented.
Ephiny explained. "When you and Gabrielle came back to the village... And Gabrielle said she was busy making wedding plans we assumed it was for the two of you... I mean that’s why you came to the amazon village – to become bondmates."
Perhaps it was the alcohol. Perhaps it was the fourth person to remark that Gabrielle was so much a part of her life that it was unnatural for her to be with anyone else. In any case, Xena felt herself beginning to sob and Ephiny pulled her close. She looked at her bondmate, Solari, as she began to rock the warrior in her arms.
"Shhhh ... It’s alright Xena ... We’re sorry... We didn’t mean-"
Xena pulled away and stood up, wiping her eyes.
"You must love her greatly," Solari complimented. "Being able to let her go so she can find happiness. It’s very respectable."
"No," Xena replied. "It’s very lonely." The warrior turned and began to walk toward the beach.
"Xena," Ephiny called out. Both amazons took a few long strides to stand beside the raven-haired beauty. "Maybe you shouldn’t be alone tonight ... Stay with me and Solari."
Xena looked at both women and pulled Ephiny closer by the waist. "Just what did you have in mind?" Xena asked seductively, planting a kiss on Ephiny's earlobe.
Ephiny cleared her throat. "Believe when I say I find this thought very intriguing... However, you my friend, are in love with my queen. It wouldn’t be proper ... Yet the offer of staying does stand."
"Don’t worry," Xena said pulling back from the embrace and walking over to Solari. The warrior placed a similar kiss on Ephiny's bondmate. "If you don’t want me I’ll find someone who does," she joked.
Ephiny and Solari didn’t find it very funny and called out as Xena continued to walk away.
"I’m okay," Xena said as she stopped and turned around. "I’m a big girl I can take care of myself." Without any more words the amazons watched Xena begin her stroll along the beach. They shook their heads and returned to their rock hand in hand.
"What’s a beautiful woman like you doing in a place like these?" she heard a voice call from the dune.
The alcohol was already beginning to wear off. Xena was a fast healer. Her power to regain her good sense after many ports was also one of her many skills. Slowly she walked up to meet the shadowed figure. "I thought I recognized that voice." She smiled. "What are you doing out here all alone?"
"I could ask you the same question?"
"Yes you could Autolycus but please don’t," Xena said taking a seat next to him. He was lying back, looking at the night sky.
"It’s peaceful out here isn’t it?" he asked.
Xena decided to lye back too. She watched the stars for a few moments then replied. "Yeah it is ... See that formation over there?"
"Where?" Autolycus asked.
"Right there," Xena pointed.
"You mean the one that looks like a big dipper."
Xena laughed and clapped her hands together once. "Finally someone who sees it too!"
"What do you mean?" Autolycus asked with a growing smile.
Xena continued to look at the stars. "Gabrielle could never see it," she finally replied meeting his eyes.
"Do you and Gabrielle spend a lot of time looking at the stars?" he asked, raising his eyebrows up and down.
"Did," Xena corrected him. "We did and not the way you’re insinuating."
He rose up and his shoulder began a little roll as he spoke. "It wasn’t an insinuation. I thought it was a reality... As a matter of fact I’ve been wondering why she’s marrying the Xena wannabe. I mean after the kiss and all."
Xena went back to looking at the stars without responding.
"What?!" she asked impatiently.
"What did Gabrielle say about the kiss?" He asked quickly.
"What kiss?" Xena replied.
"You know damn well what kiss," he said offensively. "The one I got smack in the face for."
"You got smacked because you had your hand on her ass."
"Well I wasn’t the one who put it there." After a short silence they both started to laugh at the absurdity of it all. But soon it was quiet again. "Really Xena?" he asked sincerely. "What happened?"
"Nothing. She never asked and I never mentioned it," Xena replied softly.
Autolycus pondered Xena’s words. "Why not?"
"I figured she just wanted to avoid it ... Keep things on a friendship level... It was okay with me."
"Was okay," Autolycus pointed out. "Now it’s not okay is it?"
Xena looked back up at the stars. "No it’s not."
Autolycus laid back down next to Xena. "You should tell her Xena. Maybe she never mentioned it because she thought it was me ... Maybe she thought I was taking advantage of her desperate state... You may think I’m a nice person but a lot of women think differently. Gabrielle may be one of them."
Xena sat silent for a few moments digesting all of his words. "You’re right. I can’t believe I never thought of that. Maybe she didn’t realize it was really me. Maybe she thought you were just pathetic."
"Thanks," he said sharply.
"No offense," Xena offered.
"Too late," he replied. "I’m offended. But don’t worry I bounce back quickly."
They smiled at each other and Xena leaned over giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "You really are a prince," she replied.
"No," he argued. "I’m a king. The king of thieves."
Xena rose and dusted herself off. "Where are you going?" Autolycus asked.
"I’m heading back. I’m in a wedding tomorrow ... Come to think of it, the wedding is today. It’s late," she replied as she walked away.
She stopped and turned around to face him.
"What are you going to do?" Autolycus asked.
Xena grinned but he knew it was for show. "Watch Gabrielle’s destiny unfold tomorrow."
"Yes," he offered. "But will you be in it."
"Guess we’ll just have to wait and see."
Without further discussion Xena made her way back up the beach. As she walked, she noticed a small campfire burning not far from one of the many area caves. Quietly she pulled her sword and crept to the location. She watched the figure in the dark and when she recognized him she made her way over silently. She suppressed a chuckle as she planted her feet, ready to spring into action.
She landed two feet away from the camper who was now scrambling to his feet. "Hello Joxer," she giggled.
"Hello Xena," Joxer managed, struggling with his breast plate. "You just scarred the life out of me. I hope you’re happy.""
"I have to admit it was one of high points of the evening... What are you doing out here?"
"There’s no room at the inn," he remarked. "And since hay makes me sneeze, the stable was out of the question although it was offered... Hey, why aren’t you at the party?"
"Why aren’t you?" Xena countered.
"Well, you know, us warriors have to make sure the common people are protected. I was just patrolling the beach to make sure tomorrow goes off without a hitch," he announced in his best style of bravery.
Xena shook her head and smiled. "That’s real thoughtful of you Joxer," Xena replied. "Mind if I have a seat. Too much ale and too long a walk this evening has made me a little tired."
"Sure Xena," Joxer said happily. "Maybe we could trade warrior tales!"
"Not tonight Joxer. Maybe some other time."
They sat in silence for a few beats. "It’s a surprise that Gabrielle’s getting married."
The comment seemed to come out of nowhere but then again this was Joxer. Comments came out of nowhere repeatedly from him. Okay Xena thought. I’ll bite.
"What makes you say that?"
"I was sure you guys would be together forever. Gabby really loves to travel and tell stories. I never thought she’d settle down. Next time we see her she’ll probably have four kids and another on the way," Joxer chuckled at the thought.
"First," Xena said annoyed. "Her name is Gabrielle not Gabby and second, Gabrielle would make a wonderful mother. She’s intelligent, nurturing, compassionate and idealistic."
"You love her, huh Xena?"
"You’re crazy," she replied rolling her eyes.
Joxer studied the stress in the lines on the warriors’ face. "She loves you too Xena," he whispered. "I’ve seen it in her eyes ... At first I thought it was admiration. Like a student looks up to a teacher but as time goes by ... I know it’s much more. She really loves you."
Xena didn’t reply to the comment. And Joxer continued, even in fear of his life expectancy being drastically shortened. "Do you know when I first noticed how you felt?" When no answer came he continued. "When she married Perticus... You tried your best to look happy... You might have fooled her and him but you didn’t fool me... Why didn’t you ever tell her Xena... Why are you letting her go again?"
Xena felt like she was going to cry ... again. But she suppressed it. She wouldn’t in a million years let Joxer the Mighty see her tears. She knew he was waiting for an answer. "It’s her life. She has to do what she thinks is right."
"But if you never give her all the options how is she going to make the right decision?"
Xena was getting irritated with the questioning. "Gabrielle’s friendship is important to me. I don’t want to lose it if she doesn’t feel the same way," she snapped.
Joxer paused. He wasn’t sure if he could continue but he found the strength. "What I’m about to say may cost me my life Xena but I have to say it ... You’re a coward. I never would’ve believed it but you’re a coward. A bigger coward than me."
Xena jumped to her feet, sword in hand. "Take it back!"
"No," he replied. "Do what you will Xena but this needs to be said ... At least I was once able to tell her that I loved her; that I was attracted to her. You never could. You still can’t even though you’re faced with the reality that if you don’t ... you will lose her."
"It’s not about Gabrielle," Joxer said defiantly, cutting the warrior short. "This is about you. You - the mighty warrior princess, feared by everyone from kings to mere servants - are scarred to death of little redhead who stole your heart."
Xena dropped her defensive stance, lowering her sword. "What am I supposed to do?" she pleaded.
"Stop the wedding. Tell her the truth. Let her heart know all the option."
Xena considered the words and without saying anything, began to make her way home for the night.
"Xena," Joxer called. "Remember if you say nothing you’ll lose her anyway. Be brave tomorrow."
When she didn’t reply and continued to walk, Joxer went back to his fire to finish his jerky he was eating before Xena’s arrival. "Stubborn warrior," he muttered to himself.
"How do I look?"
Xena stood behind Gabrielle, studying her reflection in the full-length mirror. Xena stepped closer, putting her hands on Gabrielle’s bare shoulders, "I think you’re absolutely beautiful. Kenneth is a very lucky man."
The impulse to lean over and kiss those creamy white shoulders was so strong, Xena could feel her pulse pounding in her head. The overwhelming power to pull that ivory colored gown all the down to floor was immense.
"So is Hercules." Gabrielle grinned. "I’ve seen the way you two have been acting this past week... Are you next?"
"There’s nothing between Hercules and I. We’re just friends," Xena replied softly.
"Why not?" Gabrielle asked. "After all the man is half-god. What more could you ask for?"
You Xena thought. And with the thoughts came a growing ache. She knew Gabrielle expected an answer. "I’m not in love with him," Xena replied. "Not like you and Kenneth," Xena pushed.
The warrior wasn’t sure if it was wedding jitters that made Gabrielle twitch at the last statement. In any regard, Gabrielle was thrown by the words. "What’s wrong?" the warrior asked.
"Nothing," Gabrielle replied a little too quickly. "Just nervous I guess."
Xena grinned. "You don’t have to do this if you’re not sure," she offered. The music interrupted the conversation and Gabrielle went to the door.
"Are we ready?" the bard asked.
"I’m ready if you’re ready," Xena replied.
"Okay then," Gabrielle said holding the door for the warrior. "It’s time."
With each step Gabrielle and her father took down the aisle, Xena could feel her heart break crack by crack. As her father gave her hand to Kenneth, Gabrielle met Xena’s eyes. They looked misty and racked with pain. The sight was a little too much for her to bear so she looked at her bride-groom.
He was dashing in blue. His armor was replaced by robes yet he still wore his sword on his back. Gently, he took her hand and helped her to the altar. As the priest began to speak, Xena felt nausea swelling inside her. "Thank you friends and family of Kenneth and Gabrielle. We are here today to witness two hearts to be joined in love for all of the days of their lives. If anyone is opposed let them speak their heart now or forever be silent."
All of Xena’s friends sat on edge, waiting to see the warrior’s next move. Suddenly the temple doors thrust open and the rattling of tin echoed off the walls. "You can’t do this Gabrielle!" Joxer shouted. "You can’t marrying Kenneth. There’s someone here that loves you far more than him."
"I don’t believe this," Gabrielle whispered to Xena. "Get him out here now."
"With pleasure." She grinned.
Xena walked down the steps as Joxer continued his journey forward. "Listen," he insisted. "There’s someone here. Someone who loves you deeply. Someone who on the outside is the bravest person alive but on the inside is running scarred."
Xena walked behind Joxer, grabbing him by the belt loop. She began to pull him out with ease. "That’s enough Joxer!" Xena whispered.
"Joxer," Gabrielle said, the sweetness returning to her voice. "I’m flattered but I’m not in love with you."
He looked momentarily confused before realization struck. "I’m not talking about me!"
"That’s enough JOXER!" Xena said louder as she tossed him outside before latching the door shut.
"Should I continue?" the priest asked.
"Yes!" Kenneth answered quickly. Gabrielle looked at it as his deep commitment. Xena looked at it as his way to rush things along. After a few strides Xena was standing next to Gabrielle again.
Suddenly Xena felt a presence behind her. "Don’t turn around," the voice said. "No one can see or hear me but you." The man moved in front of her so no one would suspect a thing.. "Times up pretty boy," he told Kenneth.
Xena’s desire to know just what the Traits was going was strong but she couldn’t act on it. Everyone in the temple would think she really lost it, chatting alone to herself at her best friends wedding. She knew in time Cupid would give her the answer. "Casually look behind you Xena. Look at Kenneth’s family."
Magically the relatives began to change. With Zeus and Herr in the front row. Aphrodite. Artemis Hades. They all lined the benches. Cupid moved close to Xena’s ear. "All the Gods are in this temple Xena. All of them. Look carefully."
Xena looked back at Cupid. She had her clue but she didn’t quite understand it. But suddenly her head shot back and she scanned the room with scrutiny. Where is he? Xena thought. Where is he?! After her eyes made their journey all around they focused back on Gabrielle and Kenneth... Kenneth!
Xena pushed Gabrielle down the steps and pulled Kenneth’s sword. "Xena what are you doing? Have you – "
He didn’t have the chance to finish. Xena drove the sword deep into Kenneth’s chest. Gabrielle shrieked in terror as the room roared in horror. Soon however the room grew silently still. "By the Gods," Gabrielle cried. "What have you done Xena? How could you?"
"Get up," she said kicking the dead man. "Get up now. Your little games’ over."
"Xena!" Gabrielle raged as she pulled herself of the ground.
"Stay there!" she ordered.
The crowd gasped again as Kenneth stood up, the least bit shaken by the ordeal. The whispers and sighs continued as Kenneth transformed himself into the God of War. Gabrielle felt her legs go out from under her and was on the floor once more.
"What’s the meaning of this?!" Xena ordered.
Hercules stood up and walked over toward Zeus. He could now see the other Gods as well. As far as the rest of the temple was concerned he was talking to Kenneth’s dad. "You owe them an answer father."
The crowd was confused yet grew increasingly frightened as they witnessed the transformation of all the gods and goddesses. "It’s a long story," he said casually.
"We’ve got the time," Hercules retorted boldly. King of the Gods or not, he would answer to Hercules, this one time.
"Perhaps I should answer this question Granddad," Cupid replied. Not waiting for an answer he continued, "Ares made a bet with mom six months ago. Six months to this minute actually. He had to wed Gabrielle if his identity was to remain a secret. From that point he had one year to win Xena’s spirit once again."
Xena’s eyes burned into Ares. "I’ll never join you of my own accord again... Never."
"Come on folks," Zeus said beginning to rise.
"No!" Xena shouted. "You’re not walking away that easy. If it’s a game Ares wants to play than a game it is ... But I want power."
"I refuse to make you a goddess," Zeus proclaimed.
"I’m not asking for Godhood," Xena replied. "I’m asking for strength. If we’re going to play I want the playing field to be even this time." Xena looked seductively at Ares, "Wanna play?"
"I’m listening beautiful," Ares replied, stoking Xena’s face with his fingertips.
Xena looked a Zeus, taking a few steps closer to him. "A battle ... The cave by the farthest dune... If he wins he gets me back forever – "
"Xena no!" Gabrielle said taking her by the upper arm.
"And if I win, he’ll never walk out of that cave again. The world and I will be rid of him forever."
"Sounds interesting," Ares said slyly. "But you’ll never defeat me. I’m the God of War."
Xena strolled back to Ares. "You’re clever Ares -disguising yourself to look like me to win Gabrielle’s affections... But my heart and commitment are true. If Zeus offers me the same powers that you have... you’re going down," the warrior sneered.
"In your dreams," the God of War laughed.
"No. In reality," Xena prodded. When he didn’t answer Xena challenged him with the ultimate dare. "What’s the matter Ares? ... Chicken?"
"To the cave!" Ares shouted storming toward the door.
"You’re agreeing to this?" Zeus asked for clarification.
"Everything!" Ares yelled. "If that’s the way she wants it. Give her all the power," he said as he tromped away.
"So be it," Zeus uttered, laying his palm on Xena’s cheek.
A light blinding light flashed and Xena was thrown back four feet but managed to stay up right.
"Are you okay?" Gabrielle asked through the ohhhs and ahhhs of the crowd, trying her best to steady Xena .
"Never better," Xena smirked. "Now if you’ll all excuse me I have a God of War to imprison."
She made her way to leave but Gabrielle stopped her. "Don’t do this ... I can’t lose you."
Xena couldn’t find any words to tell the bard. Besides she was a woman of action. And being one...
Xena swooped Gabrielle around the waist, planting her lips firmly on the bards. Hesitant at first Gabrielle pushed Xena’s hips away. But when Xena deepened the kiss with her tongue, Gabrielle released her fight, even drawing the warrior closer. "Come with me," Xena whispered as she broke away. "Inspire me to win."
Gabrielle only nodded and let the warrior lead her by the hand, trying to mingle in with the exiting gods and goddesses.
"Gabrielle!" She heard her name being yelled and they both stopped and turned hand in hand. It was Gabrielle’s father. "If you leave with her again, I no longer have two daughters."
"Father please-" Gabrielle begged.
"No. I mean it Gabrielle. You’ll no longer be of my blood if you leave with that ... woman."
"That’s okay," Cyrene interrupted with a smile. "I’ve always wanted two daughters." Slowly she walked over to Gabrielle. "You’ll always have a home at my house. Always," she whispered. "Now go."
Gabrielle kissed Cyrene on the cheek and Xena followed suite. "Thank you mother," the warrior whispered.
Ephiny and Solari smiled at the display. "Looks like we’ll have to start helping with another wedding," Ephiny winked.
As Xena and Gabrielle walked out with the gods, they could still hear the bards’ father shouting his disapproval in profanities and vulgarities. "I see where you get your love of language from," Xena teased. Gabrielle giggled at the comment.
"Yeah. Dad always had a way with words," Gabrielle replied.
"Should I call him dad next time we see him?" Xena asked seriously before cracking a smile.
The Gods finished their exit but when it came time for Gabrielle’s’ side of the family to leave, the doors to the temple shut tight, not allowing a single body go. Hermes appeared by the door, speaking to the crowd "When this is all over, then and only then, will you be released." In a blur of speed he vanished. Hercules ran to the door and pulled with all his strength but it wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes he turned to the crowd which was growing restless.
"Settle down people," he replied. "Everything will be alright. We’ll be out of here soon. Okay?"
Nods and voices of agreements went around the temple as people began to take their seats, chatting to themselves in small broken groups. Cyrene walked over to Hercules with a despondent look resembling death. "She’ll be fine," Hercules tried to reassure her. "She now has a greater strength than Ares, although neither one of them know it." Cyrene looked confused. Hercules smiled down on the older woman and whispered, "She has Gabrielle’s love." Cyrene smiled and nodded in agreement before Hercules pulled her into a tight embrace.
When Xena walked into the cave with Gabrielle on her arm she found a dark casket and an orb overhead. "What’s this?’ Xena asked Zeus.
"Ares tomb," he replied. "Should you win," he added without judgement in his voice.
Ares pulled his sword. "I told him not to bother but he thought it was necessary," he sneered.
Xena lead Gabrielle to a corner of the cave, locking hands and eyes with her once they stopped. "I need you to stay put. If at any time it looks like he’s winning I need you to promise me you’ll stay out of it."
Gabrielle nodded and tightened her grip, showing the warrior her deep love. "He’s not going to win," Gabrielle declared. "You’re my champion and my savior. If he won, it would end my life... And we both know how you feel about people who try to end my life."
Xena smiled recounting the many times she came to Gabrielle’s aid. She’s right Xena thought. This is no different. Another thought occurred to her as well and she found herself down on her knee.
"Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Queen of the Amazons. When this is over ... may I take you before the amazon nation to become your bondmate?"
Gabrielle looked deep into the crystal blue eyes humbly before her. "Yes," she whispered. "A thousand times ‘yes’."
Xena rose before the queen and lifted her head with her fingertips under her chin. This kiss was soft and gentle. They took the time to feel the velvet softness of the light pressure; the smooth texture of the flesh and the taste of their yet expressed desire. As she pulled away Xena whispered, "I’ll be back."
"Enough with the mushy stuff already!" Ares yelled.
With that she walked over and took a battle stance across from Ares. "What are the rules?" Xena asked.
"There are no rules - just a ‘battle to the death’. The first one to strike a mortal’s death blow wins. You know - through the heart, the stomach or perhaps a decapitation ... I think you get the picture," Ares remarked as he twirled his sword.
"You’re forgetting Ares. I am a mortal," Xena replied. "Or is that the point?"
"No," Zeus interrupted. "You will not die Xena. Hades has agreed to bring you back to serve Ares if you lose... Of course you will feel pain... but you will not die as a result of this contest. You have my word as a God."
"And since when does the word of a God mean anything?" Xena replied shortly.
A few of the deities looked offended, some getting quite vocal. "I understand you reluctance based on your dealing with my son Ares," Zeus said with a raised palm to quiet the godly gatherers, "But I promise what has been said ... will be done."
"Well then," Xena said unsheathing her sword. "Let’s get to it."
She attacked first. It was a simple over the head strike. Nothing fancy. And Ares stopped it with ease. "You’ll have to do better than that," Ares sneered.
"Just getting’ warmed up," Xena countered. With that she clashed three more times with Ares, each in a different direction.
"Don’t tire yourself out," Ares warned. "I’ll need you strong to lead my army."
"Don’t count on it," Xena pressed on in her pursuit with skill, not letting the words or her fear effect her. Her blows were growing stronger and more forceful. The god found himself taking two steps back. Looking over Xena shoulder he could see Artemis grinning.
"What’re you smiling at?" he shouted.
"She’s going to win," Artemis replied. Xena could hear the voice but couldn’t recognize it. She continued in her attack yet Ares continued to block every advance.
"Oh yeah?!" he replied. He charged blow after blow push Xena toward a corner of the cave. Being boxed was something she couldn’t let happen if she wanted to win. As Ares settled himself for the next round of attacks, Xena sheathed her sword.
Ares and the other gods watched as Xena somersaulted over Ares head. In a flash she pulled her sword again and began a barrage of swift swings and calculated strikes. Ares could feel his sword loosen from his grip with each hit. He noticed he was the one now cornered. And his rage took over.
He swung fiercely, making Xena work to stop every move thrown at her. Seeing an opening to his left, Ares took advantage of it.
"Arggggg," Xena shouted as she stumbled backward. She didn’t have time to clutch her arm to stop the pain. Ares charged continuing the assault. But he still couldn’t find the space he needed to strike the death blow. Xena’s skilled swordsmanship prevented every avenue he tried.
Gabrielle’s tears began to flow like the blood from Xena’s arm but she kept her voice quiet. The last thing she wanted to be was a distraction to the warrior. Quickly she wiped them away. It hurt and angered Artemis to see her queen in so much pain. Xena was the one bleeding but the goddess knew it was Gabrielle who really felt the sting. The Goddess of Wars’ eyes flashed from her brother and the betrothed of her queen to Gabrielle repeatedly.
Ares blows came harder and quicker, knocking Xena off balance. The God of War took his advantage, kicking Xena square in the chest, knocking her to the ground.
As he raised his sword to bury it in Xena’s ribcage, Xena swung hard and fast, slicing Ares legs. Ares looked like he was in shock and Xena took the opportunity to scurry out from under him. But soon she was the one in shock, blood dripped from Ares leg, cascading down his leather covered thighs. "What’s the meaning of this?" Ares yelled to Zeus.
"It has to be a fair fight Ares," Zeus replied. "If Xena can feel pain and tire then so must you."
The new knowledge enflamed the God and he tried to charge Xena. At least as well as his legs would allow. Xena continued to jog backwards, avoiding him. She continued to move until she bumped into someone behind her. It was Artemis.
"Don’t search for the quick end like Ares," she whispered. "Wear him down with cuts and bruises. Enrage him with his frustration until he’s weak. It takes a lot of energy to sustain hate." Xena flashed her a knowing grin. "Sorry. I forgot who I was talking to," the Goddess of War joked.
As Ares sword came down from over his head, both Xena and Artemis move to avoid the blow. Xena positioned herself on the other side of the room quickly. She watched as Ares began to puff, laboring in his breathing.
"You can run Xena!" he shouted as he gained closer. "But you can’t hide."
Xena’s wicked grin formed on her lips as he approached. "You are really out of shape for a god."
Ares screamed and swung. Xena jumped back avoiding his blade. The momentum of his thrust made him wobble and Xena ran up his body, kicking him in the face before flipping over, landing on her feet. Ares swung again from the other direction and Xena proceeded to give him the same treatment once more.
"You’re right Ares," she teased. "I can run. Would you like me to run some more?"
Ares’ anger reached a new level. His scowl rivaled that of Xena’s smile. She remembered Artemis’ words as she watched the blood trickle from his eyebrows, interfering with his vision.
"Hey Ares?!" Xena shouted as she moved back to position herself.
"What?!" he shouted in frustration.
"I’m over here," she giggled.
He menaced over toward her with a hobble, his breathing ragged. When his attack came Xena volleyed them with greater ease. She knew if she could just distract him long enough she could win. She considered all the avenues she could use to enrage Ares even further. Nothing was coming until she looked at Gabrielle. Her beautiful Gabrielle. Those desire-filled emerald eyes, that taunt exposed stomach, those creamy white shoulders. Stop it! Xena told herself. You’ve got your idea. Now use it! She winked at Gabrielle and positioned herself in front of the casket so Ares’ backside would be facing it.
"I had a dream about us last week Ares’," the warrior began seductively. "You visited me like you did those night so many years ago. You visited me and you loved me like never before."
Ares wasn’t going to buy into the seduction trap. Xena wanted him gone and he knew it. "Oh really?" he said sarcastically.
"Oh yes," Xena hissed. "In fact it was a wonderful dream. You were a full candlestick in length," she said affectionately before transforming into mockery. "... A full candlestick instead of one that’s been burning for five hours."
Slicing his leg was one thing, kicking him in the face was another. But his ‘godhood’?! How dare that mortal bitch make fun of his ‘godhood’?!
"Arggggg!" He screamed as he attacked, thrash after thrash. His aim was off but he continued on, trying to find a way to end this battle once and for all. His sloppiness still had its affects. Xena’s thigh was badly scrapped as well as her forearm but the death blow that Ares was searching for still eluded him. His swings continued and in a flash she saw it. The opening he was hoping for. With all of her strength she could muster Xena swung. Her sword sliced across Ares throat long and deep. The God was stunned as his blood gushed down his chest of hair and leather. With that Xena kicked him into the casket.
Artemis ran and placed the cover quickly over it as Ares began to heal, the wound beginning to disappear, along with all the blood. "She’s won father," the goddess insisted. "Seal the lid."
In a flash of blinding light the crypt was locked, forged tight against any kind of entry or exit. As Ares pounding began and she knew he couldn’t get out, the warrior dropped to the floor in exhaustion. "Thanks for the pointer," she told Artemis.
Artemis walked over and touched all of Xena’s wounds until they were nothing but small scratches. "Of course help from the gods doesn’t come without a price." She grinned. Xena looked up in anger and in fear of the goddess’ words. "You must promise to take care of my queen forever." She smiled.
At that point Gabrielle made it over to Xena and gathered her in her arms. "I promise," Xena whispered looking at Gabrielle. "With all my heart I promise."
"Promise what?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena gazed lovingly into the eyes of her bard. "Nothing you don’t already know."
When they looked up to speak to Artemis she was gone. Along with all the other gods... All the other gods, except for Zeus.
"The power that holds Ares inside is the orb. He can only be freed by you or your kin Xena... And only if you destroy the orb... I know I promised he would stay away from this world forever but that just can’t be done. Even I can’t possess the power to keep him a prisoner forever... I can’t... But you can... if you stay away from here and let no one know of the secret ... ". He handed Xena a scroll. "Take this. This will unlock the tomb. Once your travels are done and you’ve found your peace. Leave your mark behind however you see fit. You may only enter once. Any more and Ares tomb shall open. Is that understood?"
Xena nodded and took the scroll. "Thank you," she whispered. "You might want to fill the position of God of War," Xena smirked. "He’s not leaving here anytime soon," she added giving Gabrielle a quick kiss on the cheek.
"I’ve already decided Artemis will hold the reins on war... But perhaps Callisto or Valasqua would make a better choice."
"No!" Xena and Gabrielle yelled in harmony.
Zeus laughed. "I owe Hercules a lot of debts from the pain in his life... Helping you may be a step in the right direction... Artemis it is."
Xena and Gabrielle both sighed and watched the God of Gods leave quietly. After he left Gabrielle took Xena’s face in her hands before kissing her passionately. Xena could feel her mind beginning to spin from the embrace until the rattling of tin distracted her.
"Who’s the old guy?" the voice called out.
Gabrielle and Xena pulled away looking into each others’ eyes with a smile. "Joxer," they agreed in harmony and disgust.
Joxer took another look at the two women wrapped in each other’s arms realizing he was interrupting them. "Oh... " He stumbled on his words. "After you threw me out, I was down by the lake and I thought I heard voices when I passed ... and I ... I mean ... I wasn’t sure-"
"It’s okay," Xena reassured him. "I’m glad you’re here."
"You are?" he replied.
"Yes." Xena smiled, rising up and grasping him by both arms in commradary. "You were a brave man today. Perhaps even braver than me. I couldn’t speak my heart so you tried to do it for me... It was the bravest thing anyone has done for me in all my years... Thank you."
Joxer tried to suppress his growing smile, reminding himself that warriors didn’t smile on a regular basis. "Yes well," he began, trying to sound bold. "I couldn’t let Gabby marry ‘what’s his face’. I mean... he was all wrong for her."
"You don’t know the half of it," Gabrielle laughed, looking up at Xena. Xena kissed Gabrielle playfully on the bridge of her nose, "And we never have to worry about him again," she added.
"C’mere," Xena said pulling the bard by the waist. The kiss wasn’t bashful at all and Joxer found that he was the one blushing. When they broke away, they both laughed at Joxer’s reaction. "Better get used to it Joxer if you ever stop by for an adventure," Xena teased as she began to lead Gabrielle out.
At the entrance, they let Joxer go ahead of them. Then Gabrielle. Then Xena. Once all of them were in the light of day, the cave behind them sealed magically with stone and rock. Joxer was amazed and, although it was quite a spectacle, it didn’t phase Xena or Gabrielle too much.
Walking hand in hand in silence, Xena and Gabrielle approached the group of people exiting the temple. Autolycus spotted them first. "Xena!" he yelled loud enough that everyone could hear him. They all raced over. All except for Gabrielle’s family. Once the crowd was in motion and moved away, Lila began to join them. "Where do you think you’re going?" her father asked.
Lila stopped and faced her dad. "You may have only one daughter father. But I know I have a sister." Without waiting for an argument she rushed to meet Gabrielle. Watching Lila defiance, sparked something in Gabrielle’s mother and she too began to make the journey. "Oh no!" he spat. "Not you too."
"She’s my daughter!" she argued. "And based on the stories Gabrielle’s told me I know she’ll be safe and cared for with Xena. Xena would make a fine... ’whatever’ ... daughter in law."
He threw his arms in the air and stormed off in the other direction, as his wife left. Cyrene was on her fifth kiss to her daughter when Lila and Gabrielle’s’ mother pushed through the crowd surrounding them. Lila and her mother, wrapped their arms tight around Gabrielle in a group hug. "Where’s father?" she asked.
"He’s not ready yet," her mother whispered. "I can’t say that I am either but... Give him time." Gabrielle simply nodded at the words, thankful that at least part of her blood family tried to understand her ties to Xena. She looked over and noticed Ephiny and Xena whispering to each other.
"That’s wonderful!" Ephiny shouted.
"Shhhh," Xena exclaimed. Gabrielle smiled at the two of them, understanding the topic of conversation was the proposal. And Ephiny gave the queen a knowing wink. "I don’t have to battle anyone or make any sacrifices to do this, do I?" Xena asked agitated. "I don’t think I’m up to it today."
"You’ve proved your worth many times over Xena," Ephiny said sincerely. "You won’t have a problem. We’ll forgo the stoning ritual of all prospective suitors."
Xena and Gabrielle’s eyes both grew wide before Ephiny cracked the tiniest of smiles. "If we live to be 100, I’ll never know when you’re joking," Xena replied with a grin of her own.
"So what happened in there?" Iolas asked. The crowd followed his lead with many ‘Yeah. Tell us’ remarks.
"Take it away storyteller," Xena said proudly to Gabrielle.
The bard smiled at Xena and then turned her attention toward Joxer. "In the interest of Joxer, who was escorted out – "
"You mean thrown out," he corrected her, which brought a laugh through the crowd. Even Xena chuckled a little. "I was thrown out."
Gabrielle cocked her head in acceptance. "Yes. Since Joxer was thrown out, I’ll begin at the point when Xena returned to the altar... It started like this... "
As Xena listened her heart overflowed. Gods how she loved this talented, beautiful woman. I promise Artemis Xena thought. I promise.
I know you will my child the warrior heard her reply from Olympus. I know you will.
Ephiny stood at the altar in the center of the village as she raised Gabrielle’s Queen mask. Once removed from her head entirely, Gabrielle handed it to Solari. All three faced the tribe and Ephiny began to speak.
"Queen Gabrielle has chosen a suitor and a bondmate. Is there anyone here who wishes to challenge her suitor, Xena of Amphipolis, for her hand?"
Knots tied in Gabrielle’s stomach as the crowd looked on. Thankfully and intelligently, no one offered the challenge. "Alright then." Ephiny smiled. "Xena of Amphipolis, please come forward to begin the union."
Gabrielle watched as Xena exited the hut. The sight took her breath away. The warrior wore blue, making her beautiful eyes stand out in spite of the distance. Her hair was braided and held tight to the sides in the ceremonial ribbons and feathers of the amazons. Xena looked so much younger – more to the truth to say her actual age – in the attire. Once she arrived at the bottom of the platform, she pulled her sword and she kneeled on one leg, her head bowed humbly.
"Do you, Xena, come here freely and willingly? Do you promise to defend the honor of the queen with your blessed sword for all the days of your life ? Do you promise to keep the queen of the amazons as your bondmate for all the days of her life?"
"I do," Xena replied, raising her head to meet Ephiny as she responded.
Ephiny's seriousness melted away into a smile. "Then rise now and take your place at the side of our queen, Gabrielle."
Xena sheathed her sword as she made her way up the steps. Her legs felt like liquid as she watched Gabrielle. She never saw Gabrielle look more beautiful, more womanly ... more regal. The Queen wore red. The color was chosen to honor the dead warriors of the nation as well as the ‘birth’ of new members to the tribe – members like Xena who took the oath the night before.
"Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked breaking Xena’s intense gaze on the bard. "Do you come here freely and willingly? Do you promise to sing the praises in honor of this amazon for all the days of your life? Do you promise to keep this amazon as your bondman for all the days of her life? "
Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s eyes as she answered. "I do," she whispered just loud enough for the stage to hear her.
"It is now time for the exchange," Ephiny declared. Solari rested Gabrielle’s mask as she searched for Xena’s offering. Ephiny reached into her side pouch and gave Gabrielle, Xena’s gift. Xena waited anxiously until Solari found it. "Here ya go," she said placing it in Xena’s hand. Xena tried not to scowl but her nerves were already on edge. Thinking that Solari lost the offering didn’t help any. "Sorry," Solari apologized when she saw the look.
Xena warmed in the expression. "It’s okay," she whispered.
"Xena. Please give Gabrielle your token and explain to her it’s meaning." Ephiny asked.
"This is a quell." Xena grinned. "It doesn’t look like much... It’s rather old... I’ve been carrying it around for many years... It belonged to my late brother. He was a writer and this was his favorite one... After his death, when I left Amphipolis it was one of the few things I took from home... When all was said and done and my ‘journeys’ came to an end, it was the only thing I hadn’t lost... It seems only fitting that I offer this to you. One, because I know it will be put to good use," Xena smirked. "And two because it once belonged to someone I cherished and loved almost as much as you."
Gabrielle placed her fingertips on her lips to stop their quivering, as her eyes filled with tears. Xena wasn’t one for words but the words she just spoke stopped Gabrielle’s’ heart momentarily. She’d never heard Xena so expressive. In the two days since Ares had been trapped Xena told her repeatedly that she loved her. She just never told her how much until now. And Gabrielle knew, as she heard the warrior’s words, she would be bonded with her forever.
"Queen Gabrielle," Ephiny said pulling the bard from her thoughts. "You’re offering please."
Gabrielle sniffled and pulled herself back together. "My offering isn’t old. I recently completed it so it hasn’t seen any ‘years’... But it’s been years in the making... It’s a bracelet... .The green gem represents the day we met. The red gem is there for the countless times you’ve saved me... The blue gems represent the number of years I’ve looked into those lovely blue eyes, waiting for this day to come... The remaining white gems are meant to signify the decades that have yet to be – and like the gems themselves these decades will be bright and they will shine upon us."
Ephiny smiled at the couple and felt a swell in her heart, happy and content in the fact they had truly found each other for the first time, in spite of years of travelling at each other’s side.
"Do you each accept these tokens?" she asking, already knowing the answer.
"Yes," they answered in harmony.
With that, Ephiny held out her hands and Xena and Gabrielle each took one. In a graceful movement she placed them together so the warrior and the queen locked forearms. Ephiny then took the ceremonial bonding ribbon, wrapping it securely around them.
"What Artemis has seen fit to bring together shall no mortal or God tear apart." Ephiny said triumphantly. "I present to you Queen Gabrielle and her consort Xena of Amphipolis."
The crowded cheered as Xena turned to Ephiny. "Now can I kiss her?" she asked impatiently, with a joking grin on her face.
"Now," Ephiny nodded with a smile.
Xena blocked Gabrielle’s growing smile with her lips. They had been separated, per amazon custom, since the night before and it was the first time she had seen Gabrielle. All the longing and passion from lack of contact seeped into the kiss – the desire in it almost bringing Gabrielle down to her knees. Even though it was only 12 hours apart it was too long for Xena. She never wanted to sleep without Gabrielle at her side. And by the Gods, she never would.
Ephiny released them of the ribbon’s hold before they made their way down the stairs. They smiled and nodded to their friends and family that had joined them – Cyrene, Hercules, Iolaus, Autolycus, Gabrielle’s mother and sister and of course, Joxer, who for his ultimate courage, was given a front row seat. As the crowded began it’s well wishing Xena noticed something outside the stage area. "I’ll be back," Xena replied as she began to move away.
"Where are you going?" Gabrielle asked trying to pull her back. "We have more people to receive."
Xena kissed her lightly on the lips. "I know you can handle it. I won’t be gone long."
Cyrene was approaching as Xena left. "Where’s she off to?" she asked.
Gabrielle shrugged. "Who knows? After all these years I’ve learned to let Xena have her way ... well most of the time... She’ll be back."
Cyrene kissed Gabrielle on the cheek. "Yes. We can count on that."
Once through the crowd, she caught up to the figure that snagged her attention. "Hey!" she shouted. "Just where do you think you’re going?"
"Home," Gabrielle’s father replied.
Xena didn’t give up even as the man turned his back. "Your daughter loves you very much... why, I’m not sure. But the fact remains the same."
"I could say the same thing about you," he replied as he continued to leave.
Xena wanted to make things work - not for her but for Gabrielle. Xena didn’t care if the man despised her or not. But she hated to see Gabrielle in pain.
"Do you know how much grieve you’ve given her?" Xena called out. That stopped the man in his tracks. Xena approached as she continued. "Maybe you and I are a lot more alike than different," she said non-confrontational.
"Really? How’s that?"
"We both love Gabrielle; we both would die for her and we both want to see her lead a happy life... You came here for a reason."
Words were not Xena’s strong suit but again she seemed to be doing quiet well today. She could see him mulling the words over in his mind. "You don’t have to like me," Xena offered. "Just love of your daughter."
"I don’t think I’ll ever accept you," he remarked.
"Fine by me." Xena replied coolly, beginning to lead him back. "Just don’t shun Gabrielle. She’s too wonderful a person to let slip out of your life."
Gabrielle was talking with Hercules when she saw Xena and her father walking over. Her eyes shot wide open and she felt her jaw clink to the ground.
"Told you I wouldn’t be gone long." Xena grinned.
Xena stopped and let the bard’s father complete the journey on his own. Hercules walked over and hugged Xena. "Congratulations!" he exclaimed, whirling her in the air.
"Thank you,’ she replied. "Now please put me down."
"Oh," Hercules startled, resting Xena on her feet again.
They watched as Gabrielle and her father talked. Finally he gave her a hug as the rest of the bards clan came over. "Maybe there’s hope," Hercules said optimistically.
"There’s always hope," Xena said. "As long as there’s love."
Hercules smiled down on Xena. "I’m so proud of you. You’re not the same girl I met Xena... I may have convinced you to find a better path but I know Gabrielle’s the one who taught you love... I’m your resurrection but she’s your rebirth and that’s what matters most."
Xena grinned. "And I know someone as good as you will be smiled upon too someday. And it will last a lifetime."
Hercules pulled Xena closer, kissing her on top of the head. "There’s always hope," he replied.
The party went on late into the evening. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Joxer and Autolycus spent most of the evening ogling the beautiful amazons although they knew they had a snowballs chance in Tartarus with them... well at least Autolycus knew it.
The music was still playing, although the hour was late. Gabrielle took Xena by the hands and began to walk backwards to the Queen’s hut, locking her eyes with Xena.
"I’ve dreamt of this night," Gabrielle whispered. "I’ve wanted to look at your beautiful body for more than a quick glance. I’ve wanted to feel all those curves, trapped behind that armor you wear."
Xena swallowed hard. Her mutual desire present. Desire and ... nervousness. Why am I nervous? Xena thought to herself as she studied Gabrielle’s lovely features. It’s not like I’ve never done this before. Then a realization came to her. She never had done this before – made love to someone she truly loved. The thought was exciting yet stressing.
As they entered the hut, Gabrielle let go of her grip and walked over to the bed. Xena only watched her movements. She felt like a rooted tree. The sound of Gabrielle’s voice freed her and she walked to the bed when she heard the slight distress in it.
"Xena I have a confession to make."
Xena took her hands in hers. "It’s okay Gabrielle. You can tell me anything. I’m your wife."
"I like the sound of that," Gabrielle replied. "‘Your wife’," she said letting the words float in her mind a bit, until her look of happiness changed to one of uncertainty.
"Let me guess," Xena said. "This is the part where you tell me you’ve never made love to a woman right?"
Gabrielle smiled but it was her nerves more than amusement. "No. This is the part where I tell you I’ve never made love period." Xena looked at her in confusion. "By the time, Perticus and I got back to the inn it was late. We talked for awhile, we kissed for a while, and we cuddled for awhile... then... we fell asleep. Then the next morning it was so late we had to get on the road if we were going to make Poteidaia by nightfall... And ... well you know the rest."
Xena lifted Gabrielle’s chin with her fingertips so their eyes met. "Just what are you worried about?" she asked softly.
Gabrielle sat silently, thinking about the question, until she had everything in focus. "I’m not sure what to do... I know you’ve had a number of lovers – I’m sure some of them were women – I don’t know if I can ... measure up to the past."
Xena smiled. "Aren’t you the one always telling me to forget the past?... To let it go?"
That brought a smile to the bards’ face as well. "Yes," she whispered.
Xena didn’t respond immediately. She took time to admire Gabrielle’s beauty and innocence. "For the record I’m worried too."
"Xena," Gabrielle interrupted. "You know I’m going to try my best to please you physically. I don’t want you to think you’ve made a mistake by joining me. I have – "
"Gabrielle," Xena replied, drawing out her name. It always put goose bumps on the bards neck. This time was no exception. "I’m worried because ... although I’ve had a series of lovers – yes both male and female – I know I’ve never loved another this much. I’m worried because I don’t want to disappoint you. This is something I want to do for you. Not something I want for myself. I’ve never experienced this feeling before. In that respect, I’m a virgin too." Xena paused and slyly grinned, "An experienced virgin but a virgin just the same."
Gabrielle smiled as well. "Then I guess this is a first time for both of us."
Xena lost her grin with seriousness replacing it. "Yes it is," she whispered. "You’re my life. I want to make you happy ... in every way." That devilish grin Xena displayed, as she finished, kick-started Gabrielle’s desire.
"Make me happy," Gabrielle breathed as she pulled Xena’s lips down to meet hers. "And I’ll make you happy."
Desire surging through her body like lava, slow and scorching, forced a moan from the warriors lips as they made first contact. She could feel her skin tingling from every nerve racing uncontrollably. She told herself to slow down. It took all Xena’s strength to stop herself from pushing the amazon queen to the bed and begin feasting on her.
Apparently, Xena wasn’t the only one feeling these emotions. Before she realized what was happening Gabrielle had Xena’s back on the bed, the bard’s hands frantically working to remove the warrior’s wedding attire. The shocked played across her face at how passionate her wife really was. A virgin huh? Xena thought sarcastically. Gabrielle noticed the expression on Xena’s face.
"I’ve waited too long to feel your naked skin against mine," Gabrielle huskily replied as she freed the last of Xena’s clothes. "I want you," she whispered seductively. "I want you right now."
Xena’s nipple stood at attention the second Gabrielle’s mouth made contact – the wetness of her queen’s tongue on her warm skin began to create a wetness of her own between her long legs. The moan Xena expelled prompted the bard to switch to the other side to see if it had the same effect. And as she expected, Xena sighed deep, holding her breath for a few heartbeats.
Gabrielle struggled to remove her clothing as she continued to caress Xena’s nipple with her mouth, tongue and teeth. Realizing with disappointment that she would have to break her contact, the bard rose on her knees and stripped away her clothing. Her skirt flew one direction. Her tunic another. Xena would have helped if she wasn’t so mesmerized by what she was feeling and seeing.
Once her wife was naked, however, the warrior went into action. She pulled the bard down on top of her, before rolling her over on her back. Xena’s thigh settled comfortably between Gabrielle’s center and she was amazed by the wetness she found there. Her mouth seized Gabrielle’s neck as she poured out all of her passion on the bard.
"Ohh," Gabrielle cried out as the force of Xena’s desire began to brand her.
Xena pulled back, afraid she was injuring the small woman beneath her. "Are you alright?" Xena asked concerned.
"Yes," Gabrielle hissed, pulling Xena’s head back to it’s location. "Gods don’t stop. It feels wonderful."
Xena’s passion resurged with greater force than before. Her lips and mouth unstoppable on the bards neck. Gabrielle pulled Xena closer.
"Harder Xena," Gabrielle managed to whisper. "Bite me harder."
Xena couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t give Gabrielle what she was asking. Judging by the purplish/blue impressions already on her neck, if Xena did as she asked, she would break the skin. Gabrielle didn’t want harder ... she wanted more.
Xena moved her thigh a little higher to give Gabrielle’s center the contact she knew it craved. Instinctively the bards hips rose to meet the warriors leg. Xena moved closer again. The same reaction ... again
She continued the repetition until they both had a steady rhythm building. On accident the bard’s thigh pressed against Xena’s engorged nub. Slackness covered the top of the bard’s thigh as Xena sighed passionately. Ah Ha the bard thought. She raised her leg again, rubbing Xena in perfect time. Xena’s breaths grew shallower with each stroke. Xena knew her own body well. It was only a matter of minutes until she would fall of the edge of reality. She struggled with continuing the sensation or pulling away so she could continue the sweet assault. Reluctantly, she moved away.
Disappointment flooded Gabrielle’s eyes and she began to argue. Xena quieted her with a gentle kiss.
"Move to your knees," Xena softly ordered. She wasn’t sure what to expect from her wife’s’ eyes at the request – perhaps uncertainty, maybe even a tinge of fear.
Total unadulterated passion wasn’t what she expected but that’s what she got. "Anything," Gabrielle said as she rose on the mattress, fulfilling Xena’s request. "Anything you want," she added closing her eyes lazily.
Xena watched as Gabrielle’s hands traveled through her own long, red hair, over her breast, across her center; then down her thigh. Xena’s hunger for the lovely queen was insatiable. Gabrielle could feel the mattress move as Xena’s head settled underneath her, between her thighs.
"Ohhh Xena," Gabrielle cried out as Xena’s tongue made contact with her innocent femininity. Xena tried to bury her smile so she could continue with the contact but she couldn’t help it.
"You like?" Xena asked playfully.
Gabrielle smiled at the voice, keeping her eyes closed. "I love!" she exclaimed.
"Good," Xena hissed seductively. Knowing Gabrielle’s passion was in full gear, Xena’s tongue responded quickly, flicking lightly at the queen’s pearl. The warrior’s hands reached up, caressing her young lover’s breasts. Gabrielle’s hands covered Xena, helping her in her efforts. The contact of Gabrielle’s hand on hers, the taste of Gabrielle covering her mouth, set Xena ablaze.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked down at Xena. Her beautiful body looked absolutely delicious. Her firm, full breasts. Her flat stomach. Her long, tanned legs. It was the true definition of perfection if ever Gabrielle saw it... And the unseen mouth and tongue doing wonderful things, making it more and more difficult to kneel – evoking deeper grunts and groans. Sounds she never thought she was capable of making.
The sounds from the bard’s throat, increased Xena’s wetness and Xena found herself reciprocating the vocal nature of her lover, although her sounds were muffled. Gabrielle enjoyed the blocked sounds. The vibrations carried through her body with every moan Xena made and the fact that she knew why she sounded muffled – Xena’s mouth pressed firmly against her sex – made the bard begin to shake.
"Ohh yes," Gabrielle sighed as she began to topple forward, weak from the sensations Xena was sending through her. Seconds after her descent she realized where she was – perfect center with Xena’s triangle. Two can play this game Gabrielle thought triumphantly.
Xena’s eyes shot open and a deep moan escaped her mouth as Gabrielle’s tongue began to explore her saturated slit. "Oh Gabrielle," she exclaimed, trying to hide her shock.
Gabrielle giggled as she intertwined her arms around Xena’s thighs. "You like?" she teased back, letting her tongue playfully tickle Xena’s evil spot.
"I love," Xena replied, letting her tongue move deep and slow along Gabrielle’s slit. She carefully kissed the bard’s thighs tenderly. "I love you Gabrielle," Xena added sincerely.
The words prompted Gabrielle. She would show Xena her response, forgoing words. Xena’s head hit the mattress as Gabrielle began to administer all of Xena’s moves. It took all of Xena’s strength to lift her head to continue what she started with Gabrielle. By the Gods she would bring this woman satisfaction, even if it killed her. Xena’s tongue drove forcefully and quickly around Gabrielle.
"You’re so wet," Xena remarked, drawing out the words for emphasis. She could feel her own desire being lapped up by the hungry bard.
"Look who’s talking," Gabrielle replied. The voice was deep, much deeper than Xena had ever heard. And more ardent than Xena ever expected. She could tell by the tone, Gabrielle was ready to make the full journey away from her virginity.
Slowly Xena inserted one finger inside her bard. Warmth and wetness surrounded Xena. She began to move slowly until Gabrielle began to increase her hips’ speed; not to mention the speed of her tongue across Xena’s center.
Xena inserted another finger, driving deeper and harder this time. The bard welcomed the feel.
"Oh Gods," Gabrielle moaned. "More Xena. Faster please... Please... Please."
The need in Gabrielle’s voice and the sudden feel of Gabrielle’s fingers inside of her, rattled Xena down to her foundation. Gabrielle was moving quickly in and out of her. Too quickly, in fact. The sound, the tastes, the feel of the flesh – Xena was at the point of no return and she knew it.
"Oh Gabrielle," Xena cried out as her hips bucked against her wife. The spasms shot through the warrior with abandon yet she continued to give Gabrielle what she needed – more... faster... please. With her eyes shut tight, Xena rode the wave all the while working to bring Gabrielle the same satisfaction.
"Yes Xena," Gabrielle moaned, as she moved back to her knees. "Yes... oh please... oh yes... Xena?"
The warrior understood the last comment and held Gabrielle hips in place over her as she worked furiously on the bard’s sex. Gabrielle had never felt the tingling of an approaching orgasm.
Feeling Xena, holding her, guiding her, put the young woman at ease and she gave into the foreign sensations washing over her. Gabrielle’s eyes grow wide as the approaching rumbling grew more powerful, unstoppable. As she approached the pinnacle, her eyes snapped shut and her head dropped back. Xena felt the bard’s back arch seconds before the quivering of her feminine lips began.
"Oh Gods Xena," she cried out as she collapsed downward again. "Oh Gods," she murmured against Xena’s thigh.
Xena smiled in satisfaction. Not in the satisfaction of having her body spent but the satisfaction that she brought Gabrielle. Slowly she worked her way free and moved to lye next to Gabrielle. She gathered the young woman in her arms and placed a gentle kiss on her sweat soaked bangs. Gabrielle didn’t move, except to stroke Xena’s arm in loving admiration.
"Is that the way it always feels?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena smiled. She may not be ‘innocent’ any more. She may not be ‘naïve’. But the question endeared Xena’s heart. Gabrielle would continue to govern all her new experiences with wonderment.
"It’s never been this wonderful for me," Xena replied pulling her closer.
Gabrielle snuggled deeper into Xena’s shoulder with a grin. "Honestly?"
"Honestly," Xena replied, planting another kiss. "I’ve never loved like this before... I never thought I was capable... to feel this way."
Gabrielle smiled. She may not tell her everything. She may not know just how to say it if she tired. But the statement endeared Gabrielle’s heart. Xena would continue to be a woman of action yet now she was making a conscience effort to put feelings behind it.
"Oh," Gabrielle rose a little to meet Xena’s eyes. "In response to your earlier comment – I love you too Xena... I would have told you sooner but I had other intentions at the time."
Xena grinned. "I love your intentions."
"Oh yeah," Gabrielle replied, seductively.
"Yeah," Xena countered playfully.
"We’ll I’ve got plenty more where those came from... but first let me check something."
Xena looked at Gabrielle questioningly as Gabrielle inspected the sheets. "What are you looking for?" she asked.
"Blood," Gabrielle said nervously.
Xena shot up. "Did I hurt you?" Xena said examining Gabrielle’s body, with that of a healer not a lover.
"No you didn’t hurt me," Gabrielle continued. "But there’s no blood."
Xena couldn’t understand the fear she was seeing in Gabrielle’s eyes. "Tell me what’s wrong, please?"
"I’m a virgin... At least I mean I was... There should be blood."
Finally Xena put things together. "You think because you’re a virgin you’re going to have blood."
"Yes," Gabrielle answered.
"And you think that since there isn’t any, you think I won’t believe what you said earlier?"
Gabrielle felt ashamed. She couldn’t look at Xena so she hung her head. "Yes," she whispered.
Xena forced Gabrielle to lock eyes. "First of all, I believe anything you tell me because I know you won’t lie. And second, the ‘blood’ that you refer to can be released in different ways."
"Like how?" Gabrielle asked.
"Like falling," Xena began. "You can rupture your innocence pod with a hard fall."
Gabrielle paused. "So let me understand this. Last year when I fell off of Argo, I could have ‘lost my virginity’?"
Xena smiled. "Yeah, Gabrielle. You lost your virginity to my horse instead of me."
Gabrielle playfully smacked Xena on the arm. "Cut it out."
Xena laughed. "It’s not that bad. Ephiny probably lost hers -"
"Well," the warrior replied throwing her hands in the air. Gabrielle just shook her head. "C’mere," the warrior added, pulling the bard back down with her on the bed. "I know you speak the truth. Please don’t think I ever doubt your word."
Gabrielle never felt so loved and she felt herself tearing up. "Oh no you don’t," Xena warned playfully. "There will be no tears shed here tonight. By my count we’ve got seven candlemarks until the sun comes up... and we’re going to make the most of them."
Gabrielle rose on her elbow to gaze down at the beautiful blue eyes she had come to adore.
"Is that a promise my warrior wife?"
Xena tightened her grip before pulling Gabrielle into a tender kiss.
"I promise my bard wife."