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Disclaimers: You know what they are
Content: Two women, who love each other very much defending not just each other? But the love they worked hard for.
This story takes place after the episodes: The Bitter Suite, and One Against An Army.
Violence: Oh yeah, Xena, amazons...what do you expect?
Sex: Yes, yes indeed, and quite graphic.
JUSTICE
BY: DARKONE


A well worn path that leads through a well travelled section of forest.

"I wish we had sent a message to the Amazons that we were coming. The last time we were here, things were...strained."

Gabrielle frowns at her own understatement.

"Strained? Love, I almost....I almost..." Xena leans on the pale warhorse as she remembers the past 2 weeks.

Anger, mistrust, hate...and fury. She remembers how she let Ares torture her grieving mind, twisting that grief, and then?  

She did the unspeakable. She directed that...all of it at the one person she loved most. Gentle arms hold her tightly a soft cheek pressed to her back.
She shrugs off the memories. She looks at Gabrielle, draws her sword, then drops to one knee, her hands on the pommel.

"Xena? What are you doing?"

"I'm making you a promise...a solemn vow, on my honor as a warrior. My love, I will never raise a hand to harm you ever again, and I will

never allow another to do so either. Stranger or loved one. I so swear, and if I break my vow? I will fall on this sword." She takes her swordhand,  gripping the blade, sliding her palm down.
Gabrielle stares as Xena's life's blood baptises the blade to seal her vow. Xena then twirls the blade up, offering it to her.

"Take it, Gabrielle." Stunned, the little amazon takes it, her eyes travelling along the stained blade. Mesmerized, tears slowly trail her cheeks. Such a symbol of love, how can she not do the same?

Gabrielle then kneels, down...her hand on the sword.
"I love you, my warrior. I make a solemn vow, on that love, my love for you? That I will never do anything to shame that love...or you. If I break this vow? I will fall on this sword." Following Xena's example, Gabrielle does the same...her blood now mixing with her love's essence as they flow over the blade. She then offers it back...smiling at the look of wonder on Xena's face.

"Oh, Gabrielle...that was beautiful...you didn't have to do this." She gently kisses the injured hand, then wraps it in soft bandages. Gabrielle does the same...rubbing her cheek along the now bandaged palm of her warrior. A warrior who turns away, trying to regain control of
emotions threatening to overtake her.

"Xena? Yes, I did. I forgave you, you forgave me. Let it end. Please? The last 2 weeks have been wonderful. The night on the beach? Was more than I dreamed possible. I...I'm glad we faced Illusia together? It was worth what we gained afterward. Turn around and hold me. Please?"

A request easily answered as the warrior does just that.

"You are so smart, so brave, Gabrielle. Thank you. I really do love you with all my heart and soul. I guess we better be ready. We have some explaining to do."
The couple stop and raise their hands over head in the sign of peace. They are startled to hear Amazons screaming warcries.
Nets are dropped over Xena as 4 amazons protect Gabrielle.

"Wait! Stop! You don't know what you're doing!" she screams.
An amazon smashes the pommel of her sword into the side of Xena's skull. As she goes down, she recognizes the smile on her attacker.

"Oh, we know exactly what we're doing, MY queen." the mask is lifted and Ephiny smiles.

"Ephiny?! What the Tartarus?!" Gabrielle manages to throw the 2 amazons off her, rushing over to hold Xena's unconcious form.

"Xena is on Amazon land. Now she faces Amazon justice, for her crimes against you!" They seperate Gabrielle and Xena, tying her to the backs of 2 horses. As the 2 amazons mount up, Gabrielle runs in front of the horses.

"What are you doing?!" She screams.

"She dragged you, now she receives the same!" Ephiny shouts. The other amazons all cheer.

"No! No! You will not drag her to the village! Anyone torturing Xena will be skinned alive! Personally, by me!" She looks at all of them...Ephiny included. The cheering stops.
"You say she faces trial for what she did to me? Fine? I am not accusing her of anything. No charges? No trial. Let her go...Now!" Gabrielle shouts.

"No...she committed a crime against the throne, Gabrielle, you cannot excuse her...this time!" Ephiny grins as they tie Xena's arms behind her back, and make her walk.

"Ephiny, is this really necessary?" Gabrielle winces as Xena is kicked to a walk.

"Yes, I do believe it is." Ephiny's sword arm is still heavily bandaged.

"Ephiny, I'm asking you? Please, let her go? I'm asking you as my friend?" She gently touches Ephiny's arm. So upset, she doesn't see the shudder run through Ephiny.

"And as your friend? I say no. She hurt you, Gabrielle. She dragged you from the safety of our village! I don't know what this power she holds over you is? But you need to think about your safety, instead of...her."

She looks at the bandaged hand, eyes smoldering with anger.
"I see she has hurt you once again?" She holds the hand up, she can feel it's warmth, the pulsing.

"No, Eph, Xena and I were just..."

"What, she attacked you again, and you had the audacity to defend yourself?"

"Ephiny? We have blood on Xena's sword!" One of the amazons presents the weapon to her.
She walks back, locking eyes with the confined warrior.
"You are so very stupid. You attacked her again? On Amazon land?" A backhanded slap barely tilts Xena's head.

"By the gods, Ephiny. "
Gabrielle walks back to Xena. She can see the amazons have been taking pot shots at her warrior, taking advantage of her defenselessness. One draws a chobo to hit Xena's back, when it is caught by Gabrielle's hand.

"Did you miss anything I said? One more punch, kick, stick, or blade against this woman? I will skin you, alive. Understand?!" She pulls the chobo away and tosses it.
"Leave me...and the accused." She says sharply.
The amazon nods and walks ahead. Gabrielle pulls Xena close, whispering.
"Let's get out of here? They can have their damned masks and thrones. I only need you." She stares into those deep blue eyes, hoping to hear the answer she wants.

"No...Gabrielle...maybe it's time I faced up to what I've done. Not just to the world, but to you."

"Me? Xena, we've hurt each other so much, when is there enough pain? Enough heartache? I won't be part of hurting you more."

The village is all cheers as the criminal is brought through the village. Cheers that die the second Gabrielle looks at everyone who does so.

"The accused will remain in my custody." Gabrielle says to the assembly.

"My queen?" Solari says softly.

"Is there a problem, Solari? Or do I have to put you on kitchen detail?"

"No, my queen." She hands the rope to Gabrielle, and she leads Xena to a hut...completely bypassing the royal quarters. Once inside, the ropes are untied, and an inventory of the warrior's injuries are taken.

"Oh love, your eye...your beautiful eyes." She cries softly.

"Ssshhh, it's ok, Gabrielle, i heal quick. Please, you've shed enough tears over me, lately." Once seated, they hold each other tight.

"I love you, so much. I wish I'd never asked you to come here. I shouldn't have expected everyone to be happy for us." Gabrielle's hands seem locked around the warrior, in a protective embrace so tight she can hardly breathe.

"Ssshhh, we'll get through this. Can I hold you?" Whispered softly, a sniffle and a nod are her answer as they lay back, the young queen snuggling into her favorite spot. Xena

strokes soft golden hair, closing her eyes.
Sleep is shortlived as the door bursts open, Ephiny, Solari, and 2 more amazons stand in the door. All 4 stare as Xena protectively sheilds Gabrielle.
Ephiny sneers at the scene. Grabbing Xena's arm to pull her away, Gabrielle grabs her wrist instead.

"Eph, you had better have a good reason for bursting in here, and assaulting my beloved while we sleep?" A collective gasp is heard as Ephiny stares in shock.

"Your...lover? You...and she? Gabrielle, this is ridiculous! She tried to kill you! How can you continue to defend her?!"

"I can, because I love her, and at the trial? If it is fair, and just? I will defend her." Rising up off the bed, Gabrielle looks at the women.
"She's agreed to go through with this...whatever you want to call it. I begged her to let us both run away, but she said no. Now, since she is not trying to escape, and she has agreed to this? Get out!" The other 3 leave, but Ephiny stays.

"Gabrielle, please. You don't understand what you're doing?"

"I understand exactly what I'm doing. An amazon protects what is hers. Isn't that what you always preach?Well? She is mine!" Gabrielle grabs Xena's hand, pulling her to her feet. Xena stares in disbelief, she's never heard her sweet bard so angry...so...possessive.

 

"Now, we have a few hours before dawn, I suggest you get some sleep." Still stunned, Ephiny stiffens, then marches out. Once outside, she looks at the ground.

"Stupid, childish..."

"Eph? A word, please?" Solari whispers, leading her from the hut.

"What is it, Solari? Can't you see I'm..."

"That you're furious, taking advantage of an already bad situation? Are you sure angering the queen like this is going to work in the nation's favor?"

She jerks her arm away. In the darkness, she doesn't see the hurt look pass over Solari's face.
"What do you know?! She's being childish. She's letting this...this...silly crush guide her instead of common sense!"

"Are you sure? You couldn't have missed the way they looked at each other? Xena's first instinct was to protect Gabrielle. Xena had a chance to escape, the queen was going to fascilitate it, but she chose to stay!"

"She will grow up after this, she will see that...that...woman, is not right for her. She needs.."

"What...you? Are you sure you're doing this for the nation? Or are you doing this so you can lay claim to the queen?"

"Shut up! I will not be preached to by you! You...you don't understand. She's so gentle...so sweet...beautiful. And the woman she loves? Almost killed her! I will make her see how wrong she's been. I'll show her that she can do better!" She stomps off, leaving the captain of the guard to watch her walk away.

"I understand more than you think. She's not the only one who's gentle, sweet, and beautiful." Solari wipes away tears as she goes back on patrol. Neither knowing,
icy blue eyes have seen this exchange.
Morning comes...a council is called.

"Are you certain You wish to speak on the accused's behalf, my queen?"

"Yes. I'm sure. Let's get this joke of a trial over with." Gabrielle walks over to Xena, gently taking her hand in her smaller one.
She walks her warrior out of the council hut, and back to the one she chose. Solari walks over, she speaks softly.

"Gabrielle, the queen's quarters are prepared and waiting. Why not go enjoy the bed and service of your guard?"

"My guard? My guard did this!" She points at the bruises, cuts, and the gash over Xena's eye. "Tell me, Solari? This 'trial'? Is it really because Xena tried to kill me? As you can see? I'm alive. Don't you think if Xena wanted to kill me? I wouldn't be here now? Or is this some attempt to bring her in line with the 'amazon way' that everyone here preaches?"

"Please? We're just doing what we think is best for you?"

"No! Everyone makes that excuse. My father used it to mistreat me. Xena used it as an excuse to abandon me. Now, the amazons, my sisters? Are using it as an excuse to abuse the woman I love!"

"Please, if you would just enjoy the quarters?" Offered once more.

"Is Xena allowed to stay with me there?" Wide eyes and a panicked look are her answer.
"Fine! Common quarters it is then!" She takes Xena's hand once more and leads her to the small hut.
Once inside, the warrior looks at her brave lover, she sees it...all this hurt is dragging her under. She chooses her next words carefully.

"I'm sorry. I never knew your father mistreated you, I knew he didn't see you for how special you are, but I never believed he was capable of hurting you. As for leaving you behind? I'm sorry for that too." She opens her arms and a small bundle of arms and legs jump instantly into her embrace.
"OOff..." Landing on the bed, Xena smiles as she holds her precious cargo.

"Oh...I'm sorry...Did I hurt you?" Gabrielle gently runs her hands over Xena's arms and back.

"No...just caught me offguard." A big white smile is the little queen's reward.

Across the village...
Ephiny paces the royal quarters, becoming more agitated as she does. The door opens and she smiles. A smile that dies as soon as she sees Solari in the door.

"Where is she? Where's Gabrielle?"

"She refused the quarters, if Xena can't stay here? She won't. Eph? I thought loyalty to those we love was to be prided and appreciated? You must see it?"

"Fine...have all this food taken back to the commissary!"
Looking over the food, Solari smiles and shakes her head. Venison chops, carrots, melon, and port.

"You thought you would buy her away from Xena? Seduce her with food?"

"It's all her favorites? I...It was worth a try..."

"Gabrielle hates port, she only ever drinks cider, or milk when they stay here." Solari goes silent at the glare she gets from Ephiny.
"I'm just saying, maybe you don't know her as well as you'd like to think?" More glaring. "Fine, I'll take it all back to the commissary."

Ephiny sits there...fuming. How could her friend, her queen, be so blind? The more she thinks? The more angry she becomes.
"Fine. This has gone on long enough! I'll drag her here if I must!" She grabs her sword and heads to the common quarters.

"Mmmm...I love how your skin tastes." Gabrielle has her warrior pinned to the bed, her hands trailing white hot heat over bronzed skin. She gently bites Xena's throat, sucking

softly.
"It's all for you, love. All for you." Xena's moans fill the hut as Gabrielle guides those strong, elegant hands over her hips...over her tight tummy...then her full breasts.

"I love the color too. Would you like if I tried tanning my skin...for you?" Bright green eyes smile brightly.

"MMMM...you are perfect as you are. But? We can go back to the beach after all this? If I..."
A hand covers her mouth as those green eyes now blaze.

"Do not go there, warrior princess. You and I are leaving here..together. We will go to that beach? And we will lay naked for Apollo's kiss together...got it?"
A nod is her answer. The hand is pulled away, but the warrior catches it. Sliding the fingers, one at a time, into her warm wet mouth, sucking softly. Her blue eyes on her love's green.
Wet smacking sounds are heard as she sucks softly. She then guides that hand down over her muscled body..smiling as Gabrielle gasps softly.

"Touch me....make love to me...please?" This time, it's a request that the bard answers with ease, and confidence.
First one finger, sliding gently...swirling around her swollen clit. Then..a second, green eyes flow over the naked form under her, the look of ecstacy on Xena's face makes her so happy, feel so loved.

"Open your eyes, Xena...look at me? I want to watch your face and eyes." Gabrielle smiles as those eyes snap open.
"You are so wet, my warrior. Is that for me?"

A frenzied nod. Sweat already forming on their bodies.

"Only for me?" A teasing smile.
More nodding. The warrior couldn't say no if she could speak. Her hips, her eyes, and her nod all confirm the answer her lover wants.

"Touch me, Xena....show me I'm yours.."

The warrior's calloused fingers move softly over her lover's sensuous form, hearing the low moan coming from deep within Gabrielle's throat.
Toned calves, sumptuous thighs, a tight tummy, delicious full breasts, and strong arms are all for the dark haired warrior to explore as Gabrielle takes her warrior to the peaks of love, and beyond.

Once again...the door is ripped open.

"That's it, this has gone on long enough. Gabrielle, you are coming to the queen's quarters. For your own good!"
Ephiny looks up and stares...her queen, her beautiful, naked queen, is making love to that woman.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Gabrielle gets up...throwing a sheet over Xena's naked form. She knows what she saw. Those amazons at the door were leering at her lover's body. Only one person does that, and that person is the queen herself! Wrapping another sheet around herself, she turns to face the regent.

"Gabrielle, you have to think straight, your misguided affection is letting Xena gain more control over you!"

"Control over me? Ephiny, have you ever known me to let anyone control me?! Let me answer you? My father tried to beat me into submission, to be what he wanted. It didn't work. Xena has tried to tell me what she thinks is best, and she never could control me. You even tried!So tell me about being controlled?"
Furious, Gabrielle walks up, eyes blazing green fire, looking up at Ephiny.

"Gabrielle? Obviously she's forced herself on you. I know her reputation! To her, your just a bedwarmer! A means to get at the nation's throne so she can have another army! Obviously, she's taking advantage of your childish love of her." The low growl of the warrior's anger is heard as she stands, fully naked.

"Ephiny...watch what you say.." Xena grinds out through clenched teeth. Ephiny steps around Gabrielle, looking up into blue eyes that seem to carry the fury of Zeus' thunderbolts.

"Or what? Tell me it isn't true! Tell me that you don't see Gabrielle as just another notch on your chakram!"

"Ephiny, you don't know what you're saying! I am not a child! I..." Gabrielle gently touches Ephiny's arm.

The next moments seem to go by in slow motion. Ephiny's sword arm...still bandaged, comes up...backhanding Gabrielle, knocking her over the dining table, and to the floor!
As she hits the floor, Ephiny stares, shocked at her actions. She barely gets to register what she's done when she hears the feral growl from behind.
Xena has leapt clear across the room, landing on the blonde amazon...jamming her fingers into her shoulders!Ephiny feels her arms go limp as Xena draws back her fist.

"Xena?! No...get off her! This is over!" Solari and the 2 amazon guards rush in to see Gabrielle helping Xena off Ephiny.

"She's gone mad! She's attacked the queen and the regent!" They help the blonde up...as her arms lay limp.
"Get Xena and take her to the prison cave!" Solari shouts.

"No! No, you aren't taking her anywhere!"

"But, my queen? She's obviously struck you.."Solari lightly touches her cheek, looking at the blood trailing the little queen's lip, already swollen and purpling. Gabrielle winces.

"Oh....she was struck alright! Care to tell them who did it, Ephiny?!" The warrior screams as she steps toward the 4 amazons.

"What are you saying, Xena?!" Solari looks at Gabrielle.

"I did it...I struck her. I...I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. Please?just come with me to the queen's quarters and we can talk?" All the amazons stare in shock.

"Ephiny? You didn't?" Solari asks.

"I...I was just trying to talk sense to her, I didn't mean to.."

"That was my excuse too. I was grieving, I was hurting, Gabrielle was the cause and I sought to punish her for something that was never her fault!" Xena walks toward Ephiny. "So tell me? What makes your sin so forgivable?"

Ephiny's arms regain mobility...she stands up...she walks over to Gabrielle. She holds out her hands to her, and almost buckles in sadness as Gabrielle flinches.
"I...I'm sorry...please, don't be afraid. I never meant to hit you. I...I love you. Please forgive me?"

"You...love me?! Is that what all this was?! An attempt to kill Xena?! And what? I was supposed to fall into your waiting arms for comfort for the sake of the amazon nation?" Her words are sharper than any sword, and more damaging than any arrow.

"I just...Gabrielle, when she did what she did. I lost my mind with worry. I was so sure she had killed you. Then we received word that you and Xena were leaving Amphipolis to come here..."

"You decided to ambush us, in the name of protecting the queen?! That's it! I have had it! Tomorrow at the council? I will give up the mask, and my rite of caste!"
Everyone is struck silent. Ephiny steps forward.

"Please...there is no need of that. You have to understand? I did all this...because I love you, Gabrielle. You can rule here, and everyone will appreciate you more than she ever did."

"No...you don't understand! Do you have any idea how hard we have worked to get to this point? Do you think I would trade my body just for pleasure?
And do you think Xena would take advantage of...a 'child'? This is ridiculous! You all say I'm your queen?You all say I'm a woman who knows her own mind? But when you find out who I love? I'm childish? Mistaking simple physical pleasure for love? You do not know me as well as you think! And you are not my friends if you think either of us would do these things! No, for the last time! Get out!" Gabrielle places her hands on her temples..shaking violently.

"My queen?" Solari steps forward. Xena slides her hands over the smaller woman's shoulders, concern in her eyes. She shakes her head at Solari.

"She has these when she's upset...the best you can do, is leave." Xena says softly...picking Gabrielle up and depositing her on the bed. She turns to see the 2 amazons in back looking her naked form over...smiling.

"Take the gawkers with you." she growls. Solari makes them leave as she looks back.

"Feel better, Gabrielle." she says as she closes the door.
Xena sits on the edge of the bed, using her fingers to comb out the smaller woman's hair.

"Gabrielle, I'm here...let me take care of you. Lie on your stomach..." Gentle hands guide her over. She extinguishes the candles and pulls the curtain...darkness. This always helps soothe the pain of such things.

"I meant it...they can have their damn mask. I am so sick of this!" Gabrielle moans as Xena begins a slow, gentle massage.

"Thank you for what you said, love. I...I've never had anyone defend me like you do...and Gabrielle? You are a very beautiful, sensual, desirable woman. You stopped being a child long ago. Looking back now? You were a woman the moment you stood up to my village for me."

"I couldn't let them do that to you. Xena? I know you don't believe in fate. But i knew, fate brought you into my life, to make me whole. I was so very empty before you came and rescued me, I could see the pain in you, the emptiness. I thought, how can the gods create something so very beautiful, then mar it with such pain?
I told myself you needed someone, and as a child? I thought it could be me." Gabrielle's eyes are heavy with exhaustion as the headache fades.

"No, you're wrong. I did need someone. I needed you, but as I am want to do? I convinced myself that keeping you at a distance? I was keeping you safe. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. I love you, Gabrielle, I guess I always have...I was just too wrapped up in my own darkness, that I couldn't see the light. I couldn't see you." She finishes her massage as she gently caresses her bard's neck and shoulders. "Ready for bed, love?"

"Yes...I...I'm sorry. I wanted so much to make love to you just now. And I had no idea that Ephiny was feeling the way she is for me would lead her to do this to you..to us. I mean, she never let on, I've always been this child she has seen as an intruder."

"I can't blame her? Gabrielle, you inspire love, you draw people into your heart, and they bask in it's joy. You may not know this? And I'm to blame. But your love? Makes you stronger than I will ever be." A soft smile. Gabrielle looks up at her, amazed.

"Xena...I've seen you do things that would challenge Hercules! How can you say that?"

"Gabrielle? I am filled with so many things. Anger, Hate...shame. Those things give me the fuel to do what i must? But you? Your love? That gives me the spark, the spark I need to ignite those things in me to action. Never doubt the strength that you have."
Another smile and she lifts her little queen into her arms. Sitting on the bed, she lies back, drawing Gabrielle ontop of her. She smiles as her love rests her head on her shoulder, her arm across her stomach, legs wrapped around hers.

"MMmmm...my favorite spot." The queen whispers as she nods off to sleep.

"Mine too." A soft kiss to the top of the head and the warrior too, fades into sleep.

Morning comes and 2 figures walk to the council's quarters.
"Eph, this can't go well. Can't you see this is only going to push her further away?" Solari asks.

"No....I've never lost a fight, so after I beat her, and can proclaim my love and devotion. She'll see, she'll know I am the one for her." Ephiny smiles.

"Alright...I...I guess I'll be your second."

"Thank you, my friend." Ephiny hugs her gently.

"Yeah...that's what friends do." Said with a forced smile.

They arrive at the council hut. Gabrielle and Xena stand, facing the assembly. Ephiny stands beside Solari as Gabrielle speaks.
"All my time as your princess, then as your queen? I have heard all about the 'amazon way'. Courage, strength, loyalty, devotion, love. All are highly prized here. And yes, they are worthy of such praise. But their is one that is overlooked, not even mentioned. One that, when expressed? It can open even more doorways.
That word? Forgiveness. For with that quality, it opens the door to others as well. One of those, the one I beg for the woman I love? Is mercy."

"My queen, she assaulted you, dragged you from the safety of your people, seeking to do irreparable harm. Perhaps even to kill you. Why should this council do so?" The council all nod in agreement, the 5 wise women all hold the key to this proceeding. But she knows? all it takes? Is 3 to stop this.

"Why? I will tell you why? You say I am the wronged party? But what about the wrongs I committed? I lied. As a coward who hides what they have done wrong? I betrayed the woman I love, to save a child born of hate.
All to prove that if I could love her, she would be saved. But when based in lies, cowardice, and betrayal that love? Is tainted...stained with such glaring impurity?
That it is a mockery of the very emotion it should have been.
My lies? My cowardice? My betrayal? Lead to the murder of a beautiful, sweet, innocent boy, a child who never got to know the love of his mother. The adventure of growing into the man he could be. The hope of having his own family."

Gabrielle stops...tears flowing...body wracked with sobs of pain and regret. She looks up into clouded blue eyes, eyes holding tears. The warrior shakes her head, climbing over the stand, she pulls the little queen close.

"Gabrielle, stop...you don't have to do this." She pushes the strong arms away and looks back at the council. Xena watches as her love, her sweet beloved Gabrielle, is now punishing herself. Not just for her warrior? But for the entire tribe to see.
The little queen reaches up her still bandaged hand to caress her warrior's face. Nodding, expressing that this is how it must be.

"That boy, was her son. And to a lesser degree? Mine as well. And my actions? Based in love or not? Lead to his death. His murderer? My own child. Who here would not feel that rage? That soul rending agony of the loss of their child? Who wouldn't have that grief consume them? Add in the temptation of an angry god? Who here could have resisted it? Faced with the possibility of punishment from the Furies, a fate she had alrady suffered and conquered. How many of us could survive it once with their soul intact, much less a second?
You, Ephiny? If it had been Xenan, what would you have done? What course would you, any of you, saught to ease the pain, the emptiness?
In a land, a place of spirituality and magic, Illusia, we
saw the lies for what they were. Obstacles to us, to our love. I learned to trust Xena again, and she learned that as well. Even after all that pain. She still loved me. We woke up on that beach. And I had never been more relieved to see those blue eyes, than in that moment.
After the ordeal, Xena and I stood on even ground, for the first time in many moons. Then, we did the only thing we could do to save any scrap of unity we had left.
We forgave. We forgave one another for the betrayals each had committed to the other. That lead to the next step. Mercy. We showed each other mercy for what we had done to one another.
Do you know what the very meaning of mercy is? You express it...you give it, because it is not deserved, but because it is needed.
That night on the beach? I showed mercy to Xena's broken soul and heart, even though she swore she didn't deserve it. And then she did the most miraculous thing?
She expressed mercy to me for all I had done. Even though I knew I didn't deserve it either. Forgiveness, mercy, love, those saved our relationship. But it took courage, strength, loyalty, and devotion to show them.
The amazon way is a hard path, very hard. But when you add forgiveness, mercy? That path becomes so much richer, more meaningful. So it is with that in mind? I ask that the amazon way have the courage, the strength, to add forgiveness, and mercy to that path. So that they may help loyalty, devotion, and love grow even stronger." Exhausted, Gabrielle collapses in her seat at the council table.
The wise women all nod and talk among themselves.
After long hours, a decision is reached.

"By the queen's very words, we agree. Forgiveness, and mercy shall be shown to her beloved. Xena of Amphipolis? Rise so you may hear your judgement?"
The warrior stands, no arrogance, no bravado, but courage to face the coming words.
"Xena, this council finds you innocent, of all charges. Be thankful to our queen. Be true to her love for you. This council is called to session."

Ephiny stands, walks to the table.
"I will stand by the council's decision. But in all due concern for her safety ? I challenge Xena for the hand of the queen!"
Everyone stares in silence. Several whispered "Is she crazy?' are heard. Gabrielle steps forward, looking into Ephiny's dark brown eyes.

"Ephiny, this is over. Please? I love her. There is nothing that will change it.

"You'll see, my queen? Once i beat her? You'll be free of her influence, you can rule here, and be safe." The council, all tired of the proceedings look at Xena.

"I accept." She says in a clear voice

"Xena has accepted. Since Ephiny made the challenge?Xena chooses the style of combat." Everyone looks at her, waiting.

"Wrestling." She says softly.
Everyone gasps as they realize, there is going to be quite the fight to see.

"The duel will convene after evening meal."
The rest of the day is spent preparing. Xena refuses her meals for the day, instead opting to stretch, warm up, and prepare. When the fighting leathers are brought, Gabrielle takes them, smiling.

"May I, my champion?"

"Of course, my queen." Xena watches as her love removes her boots, leathers, and shift She was right, of course, she had healed very well. The gash over her eye is almost non existent, her bronzed skin shows no sign of bruising.

"Gods, Xena...it doesn't matter how many times I see you naked? You still take my breath away." She slides the leather thong up over sculpted legs, buckling the leather loin cloth into place. Next, the leather bra, taking special care to adjust it to fit the breasts she loves so much.

"Gabrielle? About the things you said in the council room? I know how much that hurt you? But.." a small hand rests against her lips, a singular shake of the head.

"SShhhh, it had to be said, Xena. They needed to know how much i had hurt you too." Xena gently pushes the hand away, holding it in her own.

"No, i just wanted to say? It was never to a lesser degree. I saw Solon as our son, too. And yes? You did deserve forgiveness and mercy. As you said? It has to end." A gentle kiss to the hand, and a soft nod from Gabrielle.
The arm bands next...and the leather garter...on the left thigh. She then braids Xena's hair, thin tight braids to get it out of her eyes. She then takes them, pulling them to the back to braid them together, holding the remaining mass back.

"This is a good look for u, love...u look so beautiful." Gabrielle whispers.

"Thank you...I will try to make you proud." She bows her head for a quick kiss before wrapping her ankles and wrists.

"I'm already proud of you, Xena...so very proud." Some rapid punches, quick kicks, spins and short somersaults.

"Oh yeah, I can fight in these. Ready?" A wrapped hand held out to her little queen. It is taken as they walk out together to the pit.
Ephiny is already there, doing loose punches and kicks

"Okay, Eph, just stay out of her reach, and use your kicks." Solari says, trying to coach her.

"Xena, Eph has really good kicks, just try to stay out from her feet. Also, she rolls her left shoulder." Gabrielle smiles at the puzzled look.

"I watch you fight, drill, and practice all the time. It only makes sense to watch other fighters too. Oh yeah? Ephiny uses her kicks so she can save her arms for chokes."

"Always looking out for me, huh?" A soft smile.

"Always! Xena? Please? Try not to hurt her too much?"

"I...I will try not to, but that's up to her."
Xena flips down into the pit. She smiles up at Gabrielle, blowing her a kiss. Ephiny just shakes her head.

"How do you do that? Control her like that?"

"It's not control...I gave that up when I knew I loved her. Ephiny, I swore I'd never hurt her again, and I meant it. I also swore no one else would hurt her either. I meant that too."

"Then what was the blood on your sword? Her injury? Explain that, warrior princess?" She smiles, she knows she has her now.
Raising her voice, the crowd goes silent as the warrior looks up at Gabrielle, a soft smile on her face.

"The blood on my sword was mine...ours. I made a blood pact with Gabrielle, your queen. I got on one knee and i swore, I would never bring harm to her again. I also swore I would let no one else either! Swearing to fall on my sword if I broke it. I then ran my hand, my sword hand, down the blade to seal it." She holds her sword hand up, smiling at the little queen. The crowd is silent as they stare at her in amazement.
"That was what I needed to do for her. I surrendered my sword to her. And then? In the most amazing show of love anyone has ever shown me? She got on her knee, and vowed to never shame our love, or me. Or...or she would fall on my sword if she broke it. She then ran her hand...her sweet, loving, writing hand down the blade to seal it. " Everyone then turns to Gabrielle, who is smiling through tears as she looks down at her. Once more, Xena falls to her knee and locks eyes with her beloved friend, her bard, her amazon queen.

"Gabrielle? I do not fight here today for my pride, or my honor. I fight for the love you have shown me, and for the love I plan to give to you." She stands and turns to face Ephiny.
"Unfortunately? That means I have to hurt you, Ephiny. I hope we can somehow be friends after this."

"I don't see a horse for you to drag me behind, no whip, no chakram. " She smiles.

"I will spend the rest of my days making that up to her. But you, I have to make good on my vow, or it's pointless. I don't understand, why? If you love her? Why did you hit her?"

"I said why...it was an accident. I was angry at you, at her not seeing how dangerous you are. My hand just...just..."

"As you've been preaching to me? That is no excuse. This is your chance, you can beat the Tartarus out of me? But you will never touch her again!" The bell rings.

Ephiny comes out with a flurry of kicks, Xena blocks the first few...but one gets past, snapping her jaw to the side. It stings, but it's not enough to put her down.
"Pretty good, let's try that again." She waves the blonde to attack her.

"Arrogant bitch!" More kicks, then a vicious punch combo. Xena tastes blood as she lets the last one, a straight lead from the left, get through. Oh yeah, her beautiful bard is so on the dinar. Ephiny does roll her left shoulder before a follow through. And that tell tale twist of the knee.

The next 10 minutes, Xena lets Ephiny wade in, the crowd is stunned that she only blocks, occassionally taking hits.
Then, it happens, a hard knee to the chin..and she's down! Ephiny throws her hands up, playing to the crowd.
Gabrielle panics...she watches as Ephiny turns and waves at her, blowing a kiss at her. She feels tears about to flow, but smiles as the crowd goes silent, all cheers stop.

"You're very good, Ephiny. Now I know how good!" Ephiny turns to see a bruised and bloody Xena standing.
A look of intense focus on her face.
Ephiny roars as she charges with a vicious thrust kick, Xena blocks doing a pancratia kick to her pivoting support leg...causing her to buckle.

"Don't make me hurt you, Eph. There's someone here who adores you. For her sake? Don't make me cripple you." Ephiny gets up, kicking the injured leg loosely to get movement. Xena just shakes her head.
An axe style kick this time as Xena shifts forward, the calf, not the heel of the foot lands on her shoulder. Bringing her hands up, she forces the knee downward, a loud snap is heard. She then grabs that ankle, and spins sideways, a form of judo flip, again damaging that knee.
Gabrielle sees Solari as she stares...her face having the same look as her own. Dread...worry, for the woman she loves. She makes her way around, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"You love her, don't you?" she asks softly. Solari looks at her, then a slow nod.

"Since we were kids. She's never noticed. She's never said anything." She looks down as Ephiny takes more punishment.

"Stay down, Eph. Please." She whispers.

"No! I don't have anyone...and I love her!" She charges,
Xena snaps another kick to the knee, dropping Ephiny. A quick, jump, locking her ankles around Ephiny's neck, and Xena flips sideways, dropping her dazed opponent. Xena sits her up, standing behind her.

"You have no one? Watch and learn!"Xena steps over the blonde amazon's shoulder, and drops back, locking her ankles as she jerks the arm straight.
Ephiny screams as the arm is stretched tight, forcing the air from her lungs!

"Look up on the edge of the pit, Eph! Look and tell me no one here loves you!" She tilts sideways as she lets the blonde look up.

"Tap, nap, or snap, Ephiny...don't make me hurt you anymore. Gabrielle needs all the friends she has!"

"Oh, Artemis! She's gonna break her arm!" Solari panics.

"She won't, Sol, all she has to do is submit, or Xena will put her to sleep." Gabrielle whispers.

"She won't! She's got to much pride...please? Make Xena stop?"

"I can't, Sol. You know the rules, only she, or her second can end this fight." Gabrielle pats her arm. "Is Eph's pride worth more than her not being hurt?"
Solari jumps down in the pit, she unties the garter on Ephiny's right leg, and holds it up for the queen to take. Gabrielle takes it, holds it up.

"This duel is over! Ephiny submits!" She calls out for all to hear. Xena releases her opponent...and stands.
Ephiny, gasping for air, her shoulder dislocated, tries to get to her feet.

"No...no, it's not over I can still..." She falls as Solari catches her gently in her arms. She looks up into Solari's dark eyes, and sees the truth at last.
"Oh gods...Sol....I...I am so..." She is silenced as the dark haired amazon kisses her softly.
Gabrielle is lowered into the pit, and she jumps in Xena's arms. The warrior princess hugs her tight, pulling her so very close.

"Thank you for not hurting her..." Gabrielle whispers softly. Her warrior sets her down gently, kissing her with open passion.

"Anything for my queen, love." She gently boosts Gabrielle up and out of the pit, then does a standing flip out. They then both help Ephiny and Solari out
of the pit.

"Thank you...thank you for not hurting her anymore." Solari hugs Xena tight.

"You're welcome. Take care of her...love her well." Xena steps back.

She looks at Ephiny, smiling, she offers her arm. After some hesitation, she takes it. She then hugs Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. Truly, I am."

"It's alright. I'm glad you finally saw it. Sol has loved you a long time." She smiles at a blushing Solari.
She turns, looks down at her, smiling softly, she tilts the captain's chin up to look in her eyes.

"Why have you never said anything?"

"I can't believe you couldn't tell? Remember when we were 6? That toy horse got broken by Analia?"
Analia was a bully, 10 summers old, picking on the smaller kids. She had taken Ephiny's favorite toy, and broke it simply to torment the little girl. Ephiny was heartbroken, running home, she never saw what happened next.
"Did you ever wonder why Analia had a black eye at evening meal that day?" Solari smiles.

"You...you did that for me?" She smiles, crying. The smaller woman smiles, nodding.

"The toy horse you got 3 weeks later? You found it on ur bed? I...I traded my toy sword, my jungle cat, and my armbands for it." She looks down at the ground, smiling shyly.

"I...I still have that toy horse...it's on my nightstand in my bedchamber. I...I've loved 'Thunderhoof' since i found him. oh, Sol...I...I'm so sorry." She hugs her tight, smiling, happier than she's been in a long time.

That night...in the tiny hut...

"You were amazing. Not that i expected less. I...I was really scared for a minute? I thought Eph's stupid pride was going to get in her way and you'd have to..." She sets down the mug of cider...looking to the bed.

"I wouldn't have liked it. But, Gabrielle, I would have, I love you too much to let you go. Do you understand?"
A soft nod and sweet smile as she walks over, setting a plate of food on the bed, she then swings a leg over to sit in her champion's lap. She offers a cup of cold cider to her lips. An offering accepted willingly.

"I brought some goodies over?" a wrinkled nose and a happy smile. She squeals as she's pulled closer, hands under the leathers on her hips.

"I like these goodies?" Smiling azure eyes twinkle up at flashing green.

"Mmmmm...those goodies are all yours."

"All mine?" A smiling nod.

"Always."

Food is eaten, cider enjoyed, gentle conversation is made. Gabrielle gets, goes around the hut, putting out candles, closing doors, she sticks her head out to the 2 guards.

"Good night, ladies. Do not open this door for anything? Do I make myself clear?" That sweet smile is so nice, but those green eyes make it known, there is a threat.

"No, my queen....I mean, yes my queen!" The guards look at each other nervously.

Closing the door, she gives a wicked grin in the warrior's direction. It gets bigger as she sees Xena look around, then swallow nervously.

"Now? where were we last night? Oh yes." Walking over, Gabrielle effects a regal saunter to her walk, giving a rakish grin as she stops in front of her lover,
"Xena? Stand." A slow nod and she does as commanded. She watches as her little amazon runs her hands along her body. Neck, shoulders, arms, tummy, hips...down over legs. She tries controlling the tremors running through her, failing miserably. She watches as those green eyes light up with passion and mischief. She then watches as the armbands, both sets of wraps, the garter, then the leathers are removed.
Gabrielle smiles as she can see Xena's heart pounding.  "Do you know why I am removing your leathers instead of having you to?" She can't believe the command her bard has taken, she shakes her head, wanting an answer.
"Because it pleases me. I get to touch your magnificent body and explore it. How does that make you feel?"

"So very loved, desired...wanted." She gasps as the little queen brushes the back of her right hand over her breasts, fingers lightly flicking nipples.

"You are correct, my love." That smile again, the one that wrinkles her nose, gods, she loves that smile so very much.
"I have loved you since the day we met. First as a child
idolizing a hero. Then, as a young woman who felt the first stings of love, a crush. And now, as an adult woman, who knows who she loves, and what that woman truly means to her." She gently pushes her warrior til her knees touch the bed.
"Lie back, Xena...I plan to love you, long, well, and passionately, all through the night." She smiles as her lover does just that. The moon shines through the window, highlighting the little amazon bard's beautiful form as she removes her queen's leathers. She sees Xena sit up, and shakes her head.
"No, stay there, I'll join you shortly." The warrior nods and sits back, enjoying the show she is seeing. After what feels like forever, she feels the firm, compact, well muscled form slide over her, she moans softly.

She then feels her legs parted as the bard's heated center presses into her own. Her eyes open wide, she looks up at her love, groaning as Gabrielle begins grinding into her softly, slowly, driving her mad with their passion. Soft, slow grinding motions feed the desire between them, green locked on blue, never breaking contact.
The bard takes her still bandaged writing hand, reaching between them, taking the warrior's still bandaged swordhand, locking them tight. Knuckles turning white, the bard smiles at her warrior. She leans down, placing a soft kiss on those pefect lips. Soft and gentle, then deep and passionate, the warrior feels a soft tongue against her lips, unable to deny it's entrance.
The grinding sensation becomes deeper, more insistent, the bard snaps her hips side to side, grinding roughly.

"Ohhhh, godssss, Gabrielle...please...I need you so..." Xena thrashes, her aching need driving her to move her hips, harder, faster.

"Yes, Xena, can you feel it? My love, my passion? They're yours...and? You never had to ask. I love you, Xena."

"And I love you, Gabrielle...always."

All through the night, their affirmations of love are made, mixed with soft gentle play, and passionate, fevered hunger. Finally collapsing into one another's arms unable to deny sleep, but wrapped around one another...

The very next day, Gabrielle smiles as Xena hands her a bottle as she finishes setting up their camp on that same beach. The beach that saved them, their love, and their hearts and souls.

"What's this, Xena?" she uncorks it, breathing deep, eyes popping wide. "Xena, it smells divine...it...it smells like you. "

A smile comes to her face as the warrior walks over, another bottle in hand.
"It's a special oil I started making when i was 16. It combines plants, oils, and certain spices. The...the one in your hands? Is what I use, I want you to put it on me." Another smile.
"This one? I made just for you." Opening it, she offers the bottle for her bard to smell.
Her eyes sparkling, she caresses Xena's left cheek.

"Is...is that lavender?"

"Yes, you use that in your hair, so I put some in here, with some other things.. I...I hope you like it?" A shy smile.

Xena starts unlacing Gabrielle's top, then unbuckles her skirt. She guides her to sit on the linen sheet, and lays her back. The boots are last.
"Let's start with your back first, ok?" She pours some of the oil in her hand and smiles as she begins spreading it over the smaller woman's shoulders, arms and back.

"MMMM...that feels so good, Xena....is that vanilla?"

"Yes, I made it from aloe plants, lavender, vanilla, and some chamomile. It will help you heal, and prevent burning." Softly, gently, moving her hands over her lover's body, it soon becomes more erotic. Finishing with the feet, she sits on the linen she laid out for herself.
"MMmmm, i knew i picked the right ones for you, you already smell so good, Gabrielle, this will add to your own sweet scent." She gives the firm tight butt a gentle squeeze, getting a soft squeal out of the bard.

"Thank you...I hope you like it? I want to be the best I can be for you."

"SShhhh, you don't have to worry about that. You are all I could ever want. Now? Can you do me?" Xena smiles

"Ohhhh, gladly." A mishievous grin.

"Gabrieeelllle"

"Love how you say my name. On your tummy." She feels the soft weight on her hips, soft caressing motions, oh yes, she was going to love every moment of this...

THE END