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Xena opened her eyes sometime later, surprised to find herself
staring up at the thatch of Elkton's cottage. Apparently, she wasn't
dead after all. The room was darker than it had been earlier. A dying
fire gave little light, but on the table, an oil lamp and several
candles burned cheerfully. There was a faint, acrid odor in the air
which Xena could not identify. Her ears took in the soft crackle of the
fire and the lowing of a cow out in the yard. But except for these
sounds, all was silence.
Turning her head to the side, she saw Gabrielle sitting on the floor
nearby, her knees drawn up to her chest and her head resting on them.
The golden hair spilled down, hiding her face. Xena slipped her hand out
from under the sheepskin that still covered her and touched her lover's
arm. "Gabrielle," she said quietly.
The bard lifted her head and smiled. She said nothing, but the joy in
her eyes spoke volumes.
"You did it," Xena said, returning her lover's smile.
"You saved me."
"Yeah, I guess I did," Gabrielle said, and took Xena's hand
in hers. "How are you feeling?"
"Quite a bit better. It's amazing how much difference it makes
being able to breathe."
Gabrielle's smile widened and she squeezed Xena's hand. "How's
your arm?" she asked.
"My arm?" Xena considered for a moment. "Well, now
that you mention it, it hurts."
"That's good, Xena! Pain is good! It means that the feeling came
back." Gabrielle reached out and uncovered the warrior's right arm.
"Can you move it?" she asked.
Xena raised her arm slowly, cautiously flexing her fingers.
"It's a little stiff, but it shouldn't take long to get it back in
shape," she said with a grin. Then, raising the arm slightly
higher, she studied the bandage just above her elbow. "What have
you done to me?" she asked.
"Oh. That's where I cut your arm to drain the venom out. I
haven't stitched it yet, so be careful. I wanted to make sure every drop
of venom was out first."
"Good idea," said Xena as she rested her arm again on the
pallet. "Where's Elkton?"
"He went out to milk the cow and take care of the other
"How long has he been gone?"
"Not long, I guess. He left shortly before you woke up."
"Good," said Xena, pushing herself up to a sitting
position. "Help me get dressed before he comes back."
Gabrielle put her hands on the warrior's shoulders. "Xena, are
you sure you feel like sitting up?" she asked. "Not very long
ago, you were lying here practically dead, you know."
"I know, but I really feel much stronger now," said Xena.
"I'll be fine. It's not like I'm going to do flips or anything, and
I promise to lie down again if I get tired." She grinned and pulled
Gabrielle close for a quick kiss.
"Okay," said the bard with a smile of surrender, "but
don't overdo it." She reached for Xena's leathers and helped the
warrior put them on. Then, kneeling behind her, she began lacing the
It seemed to take her longer than usual, and by the time the laces
were tied, Xena could feel that her lover's hands were trembling.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" she asked, turning her head to look
Gabrielle didn't answer, but instead wrapped her arms tightly around
Xena and buried her face in the warrior's dark hair. Xena felt rather
than heard the sobs that shook the bard's body.
"Hey," she said softly, and pried Gabrielle's hands loose.
Turning around, she put a hand under the young woman's chin and lifted
her face to the light. "What's going on?" she asked. "Why
are you crying?"
"I was so scared," Gabrielle said in a low voice. "I
thought I was going to lose you."
Xena put her arms around her lover and pulled her close. "I
know, Sweetheart, but it's all over now," she said, gently stroking
the red-gold hair. "Somehow we squeaked through again, and we're
both still alive and kicking, so let's just enjoy that, shall we?"
Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena and pressed her face against the
warrior's neck. "I really thought I could let you go," she
said. "I accepted that you were dying, but I just wanted to touch
you. And when you responded to my touch, I started hoping again. Then
you had that orgasm and I really thought you were going to be all
right." She stopped speaking and pulled away to look at Xena.
"But after that, you just quit breathing and I couldn't find any
pulse. "I thought--" She swallowed hard. "I thought you
were dead," she finished in a whisper.
"I guess I was," Xena said quietly, as she pulled Gabrielle
into her arms again. "Or at least I almost was. I got as far as the
banks of the Styx, but I didn't cross over."
"Why didn't you?"
"Well, a couple of things kept me from doing it. First of all,
Ares showed up."
"Ares?" said Gabrielle, looking up. "I suppose he
offered to save you if you would just come back to him."
"You've got it," Xena said with a grin. "He told me I
was going to Tartarus and that I'd never see you again. He said I might
as well come conquer the world with him, since I was going to Tartarus
"How does he know where you're going? I thought that was Hades'
"It is. I think he was just trying to scare me. Anyway, I told
him I'd rather die than go back to him." She paused long enough to
kiss the top of Gabrielle's head. "And I also told him that even if
I was separated from you forever, I would still carry your love in my
"Yes, Xena!" Gabrielle said, sitting up again. "That's
exactly what I was trying to tell you. I kept saying it over and over,
but I didn't know if you could hear me."
"I did, I heard you. I guess I just didn't realize until that
moment how true it was. At any rate, as soon as I said that to Ares, I
started hearing your voice again, and it was like I was being pulled
back to you." She smiled and reached out to wipe the remaining
tears off her lover's face.
"Xena, after you came back," Gabrielle said, hesitating a
little, "you had another orgasm. Did you know that?"
"Yeah, it was nice," she said with a half grin. "But
that's the last thing I remember."
"Well, I knew you were going to be all right after that because
the venom was just pouring out of you, and you were breathing normally
again. I called Elkton in to help me, right at the end. That poor man.
He was so worried about you, Xena. He was just sitting out there on the
doorstep, looking so sad and praying. You should have seen his face
light up when I told him you were going to live. He came inside and held
your arm while I cut it to drain the venom. Then we burned everything.
You can still smell it a little bit."
"Yeah, I noticed the smell when I first woke up."
Gabrielle reached up to touch Xena's cheek. "I'm just so glad
you're alive," she whispered.
"Me too," Xena said, leaning forward to kiss her lover. And
as their lips melted together, she thought it was one of the sweetest
kisses she had ever known. How long it lasted she wasn't sure, but the
two women pulled apart when they heard a sound outside. They looked
expectantly at the door, but it did not open, so after a moment Xena
wrapped both arms around Gabrielle again. She held the young woman
tightly against her, breathing in the warm scent of the gold hair.
"It's nice to be able to hug with two arms," she murmured.
"Mmm-hmm," Gabrielle returned. "And it's also nice to
be able to kiss you without worrying about whether I'm choking
Xena smiled into Gabrielle's hair and held her for several moments
longer, then said, "I hate to break up this little love fest, but I
just realized that I'm really thirsty. Do you think there's any water in
"Oh. Yeah, there is. Elkton brought in a couple of buckets of
water from the well while we were cleaning up the venom. I'm sure
there's some left. I'll get it for you." She scrambled up and went
to the bucket sitting on the floor near the shelves that held Elkton's
As soon as she was gone, Xena pulled herself slowly to her feet,
moving somewhat stiffly, and holding onto one of the chair backs for
"Xena," Gabrielle said, as she brought the dripping dipper
to the warrior, "I don't think--"
"Gabrielle, let me be the judge," Xena said, accepting the
water. "I'm not going to stand for very long because I still feel a
little shaky, but I'm not dizzy anymore. And I'm not going to pass out.
I promise." She winked and then lifted the dipper to her mouth and
quickly drained it.
"Okay," the bard said with a soft smile. "I guess I'm
being a bit overprotective." She reached up to wipe away the water
that dribbled down Xena's chin. "Want some more?"
"Yes, if you don't mind."
"Anything for the Warrior Princess," Gabrielle said with a
grin. But as she started back toward the bucket, the cottage door
The women turned to see Elkton standing there, a basket of eggs in
one hand and a bucket of milk in the other. "What a beautiful sight
this is!" he said softly, smiling and shaking his head. He closed
the door and crossed the room. Then, setting the eggs and milk on the
table, he took the warrior's hand in both of his. "Xena!" he
exclaimed. "You're looking much better!"
"I'm feeling much better, too, I can assure you."
"This is like a miracle," he said, shaking his head again.
"I really thought we would be standing by your funeral fire
"Yeah, well, I kind of thought the same thing," Xena said,
grinning, "but sometimes things turn out better than you think they
will. I owe you my life once again, Elkton. Mine and Gabrielle's. That's
a debt I won't soon forget."
"No, no, no," he protested. "You don't owe me
anything. There's the one you should thank," he said, nodding
toward Gabrielle. "She saved you, not I. And you saved her up on
the mountain. I've rarely seen such wonderful devotion between two
Xena looked at Gabrielle and smiled.
The young woman moved closer and put a hand on Elkton's shoulder.
"It was your wisdom and knowledge that made everything possible,
though," she said. "I think that's what Xena is talking
"Well, I'm just glad I could help," he said, reaching out
to clasp Gabrielle's hand while still holding Xena's. He smiled broadly,
first at one of them and then at the other. After a moment, he released
their hands and quickly wiped his sleeve across his eyes. "Would
you two like some milk?" he asked. "It's nice and fresh. How
about you, Xena?"
"Yes, I'd love some!"
"Let me just get a mug." He took a clay mug from the shelf,
dipped it into the milk bucket, and handed it to the warrior.
"Mmm, it's so warm and sweet," Xena said, licking the milk
off her upper lip. "It's not every day we get fresh milk. This is a
"Gabrielle, do you want some, too?" asked Elkton, already
reaching for another mug.
"Yes, please!" she said, then slipped an arm around Xena's
waist and said to her, "Why don't you sit down, Sweetheart? You
just look a little unsteady to me."
Xena grinned and lowered herself into the chair Gabrielle pulled out.
"My healer has spoken," she said. "I must obey."
Elkton laughed as he handed the mug of milk to Gabrielle, then
stooped to roll up the pallet and lay it aside. "How about if I
make us some supper?" he said. "Is anyone hungry?"
"I'm famished," said Xena promptly.
"You ought to be. You haven't eaten anything all day," said
Gabrielle. "And I think I might be able to eat a little something
myself," she added with a grin.
"Good," Elkton said, peering into the basket of eggs.
"I could just scramble up these eggs with onions and maybe some
cheese. Does that sound like something you could eat?"
"That sounds wonderful," said Gabrielle. "I'll help
"No, you just sit down," he said, waving her away. "I
don't need any help, and you two should rest after all you've been
through today. Here," he added, taking a loaf of dark bread from
the shelf and unwrapping it. "This ought to keep you from starving
until the eggs are ready." He set the bread on the table, along
with a crock of butter and a small wooden paddle.
"Thanks, Elkton!" Xena exclaimed, seizing the bread and
tearing off a sizable hunk. Then she held out the loaf to Gabrielle.
"Sit down," she said. "Relax. Eat some bread."
The bard took the bread and held it thoughtfully for a moment.
"I was just thinking," she said, "that if Elkton doesn't
need my help, maybe I could go ahead and sew up your arm now. Or would
you rather wait until after we eat?"
Xena shrugged. "Now's fine," she said, her mouth already
full of rich, buttered bread. "Or later. I don't care."
"I think I'll do it now then," Gabrielle said, setting the
bread on the table. "Elkton, where did you put our saddlebags when
you brought them in?"
"I just left them on the floor by the bed," he said, then
turned to the braided onions hanging from the rafter and cut two off.
Gabrielle looked around, seemingly confused. "Where's the
bed?" she whispered to Xena.
"It's in the little room over there," the warrior said
gesturing. "Just go through the curtained doorway."
The bard hurried away, and Xena reached for another piece of bread,
then noticed Elkton's puzzled look.
"Gabrielle doesn't remember anything much that happened while
she was under Ares' spell," she told him. "That's why she
didn't know where the bedroom was."
The Mystic set the onions and a cutting board on the table, then
pulled out a chair and sat down. "So she doesn't remember being
here before? Or meeting me?"
"And she doesn't remember your fight with the serpent?"
"No, nothing before she ate the kaya leaves." Xena glanced
up and smiled as Gabrielle returned with the sewing kit and a hairbrush.
"I was just telling Elkton that you don't remember much of what
happened after you were drugged."
"Yeah, that's right," Gabrielle said to Elkton with a
sheepish grin. "It makes me feel kind of stupid, actually."
She laid the pouch with the needle and thread on the table, then went to
stand behind Xena and began to brush the dark hair with long, gentle
strokes, stopping now and then to work the tangles out.
"Well, Gabrielle," Elkton said as he deftly peeled one of
the onions, "I know how it feels when your memory isn't working
right. But at least you have a good excuse. Me, I'm just getting
old." Then, before either of the women could answer, he went on.
"Now I don't know about you," he said, looking up at
Gabrielle, "but I would really like to hear the story of how Xena
killed the serpent. If she feels like telling it, that is."
He looked hopefully at the warrior and she laughed. "Well,
Gabrielle is the real storyteller here, and she's heard the tale
already, so maybe she'll tell it."
"I only heard it once and that was a pretty sketchy
version," the bard responded. "So I'd really like to hear it
again. Please, Xena?"
"All right," Xena agreed reluctantly. "Now that
Gabrielle has made me presentable, I guess I owe her a story." She
smiled her thanks at the bard, then quickly stuck one last bite of bread
into her mouth, chewed, and swallowed it. A long drink of milk served to
wash it down.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, finished brushing the warrior's hair and sat
down next to her. "Put your arm up here on the table," she
said. Then she carefully unwrapped the bandage.
"Nice incision," Xena said, peering at the wound in her
arm. "Very clean and neat."
"She did a good job, didn't she?" asked Elkton. "And
she didn't have to cut very deep, either. The venom was right there
under the skin."
"I told you I had many skills," Gabrielle said with a grin
as she pulled a length of thread off the spool.
"Yeah, but at the time I thought you were talking about
something else," Xena said, cocking one eyebrow.
"Just tell your story," Gabrielle said.
* * * * *
Xena laughed and took another sip of milk, then drew in a deep breath
and let it out, composing her face into an expression more suitable for
storytelling. "We started our journey at dawn," she said,
"Gabrielle and I leading Argo up the rough mountain track. It was
so dark at first that we could barely see where we were going."
Then she told about the attack by Hera's warriors and how she killed one
of them, but kept Gabrielle from killing another one. She did her best
to keep her mind focussed on the story so that she would not feel the
sharp sting of the needle piercing her arm.And by the time she began to
tell how she had convinced Gabrielle to go the rest of the way up the
mountain with her, the stitching of the wound was done. The bard leaned
back in her chair and devoted all her attention to listening. Elkton
listened closely, too, cutting up the onions and cheese meanwhile, and
then breaking eggs into a large bowl.
Xena went on to describe the battle with the serpent, throwing in a
few more details this time, but ending as she had before, by saying she
had slipped and that was how the serpent had escaped to bite her.
"I strangled it with my left hand," she said, "and you
should have seen how it flailed and flopped around. But I hung on like
death until I had choked all the breath out of it." She smiled
grimly. "After that, my right arm went totally numb and I couldn't
move it anymore."
Pausing again to take a drink, she watched Elkton set a heavy, footed
iron skillet in the coals and drop a big scoop of grease into it.
"Xena," said Gabrielle, "there's something about this
story I don't understand."
"Well, you said you had the serpent trapped with the forked
staff and you were about to get ahold of it and then you slipped."
"But why? Why did you slip? It's not like you to be careless at
such a moment. I can't believe you would just 'slip.' Is there more to
this story than you're telling us?"
Xena was silent, considering what effect it might have on Gabrielle
if she learned what her own role had been.
But before she could decide, the bard, as if reading her mind, said,
"And you haven't said much about what I was doing this whole time.
You told me you might need my help to fight the serpent, but did you
ever really let me help?"
"Sure I did. You were a big help. You held things for me, like
my whip, and handed me whatever I needed."
"That's all I did?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.
"Well, yeah, I-- I couldn't let you get too close. I couldn't
risk having the serpent bite you."
"So I was perfectly happy just to hand you things?"
"No, not exactly. You got bored after a while and started
talking about going back to the campsite. But right after that, I
finally managed to trap the serpent . . . and strangle it."
There was a loud sizzling sound as Elkton poured the eggs into the
skillet and began to scramble them.
"Mmm, that smells wonderful!" Xena said. "I'm so
hungry I think I could eat a horse! But not Argo," she added
"Xena, don't change the subject," Gabrielle said. "You
still haven't told us how you slipped after you had the serpent
The warrior regarded her friend for a moment, then noticed that
Elkton was watching her, too, an expectant look on his face.
She sighed. "I slipped," she said, "because at the
moment I was about to get my hands on the serpent, you grabbed my sword
and said you were going to help by hacking the creature to pieces."
She stopped and took a deep breath. "I told you not to, but you
started swinging the sword anyway and I had to use my left hand to stop
you. That's when the serpent broke free and bit me."
Gabrielle stared at Xena, an expression of horror on her face. For a
few moments she didn't speak, but finally she said, "Didn't I know
that you had to kill the serpent without shedding its blood?"
"Yes, I had told you that, but I'm not sure if I told you
"But I knew that you couldn't use the sword to kill it?"
"Yes, I'm sure I told you that much."
"Then I'm responsible for your getting bitten," Gabrielle
said softly. "It was all my fault. I almost killed you."
"No, Gabrielle, it wasn't your fault," Xena said, laying a
hand on her lover's arm. "That wasn't you up there on the mountain.
It was someone else--a person of Ares' creation. In fact, there were
moments when I looked into your eyes and I could have sworn I saw Ares
himself looking back at me. He wanted me to fail in my quest to save
you, and he tried to stop me by using you against me. Don't you see
"I-- I guess so, but-- I don't know. I just feel like it's still
my fault somehow."
"It's not your fault," Xena said again. "Don't think
that even for a minute."
"She's right, you know," said Elkton. "You're not
responsible, Gabrielle." He pulled the skillet out of the coals and
onto the hearthstone. Then he looked at the bard. "The young woman
Xena brought here two days ago was a very different person from the one
who's sitting at my table now," he said. "That Gabrielle was
selfish and rude and didn't seem to care about anyone or anything. I
found it hard to believe that she was the friend Xena had risked her
life for in the dreamscape passage." He smiled at her and then
turned to take three plates down from the shelf. "But the Gabrielle
who came down from the mountain-- That Gabrielle is a wonderful, caring
person, full of devotion and concern for others." He filled a plate
with eggs and set it in front of her. "That Gabrielle could never
have been responsible for Xena's getting bitten."
Xena squeezed her lover's hand. "I hope you're listening to
this," she said, "because I couldn't have said it any better
"Yeah, I'm listening," Gabrielle said. She smiled and
squeezed Xena's hand in return. "I feel better now," she
Elkton set a steaming plate in front of Xena. "Thanks," she
said with a grin, "and I don't just mean for the eggs."
"My pleasure," he returned. "Now eat up, you two,
before your food gets cold."
He filled his own plate and poured a goblet of wine for each of them.
Then three hungry people began to eat and there was no further
conversation for several minutes.
"This is so good," Gabrielle said finally.
"Oh, this is nothing, really," Elkton said. "Anyone
can scramble eggs."
"Anyone except Xena, maybe," Gabrielle said with a sly
The warrior glared at her.
Elkton looked from one to the other and then laughed. "Well,
anyway," he continued, "I hope you two will stay a few days so
I can do some real cooking. We haven't had much of a chance to visit,
and I'm always happy to have company."
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Oh, could we stay?" she asked
eagerly. "It would give you a chance to rest up and I'd like to
hear all about Elkton's work as a Mystic."
Xena smiled and looked at Elkton. "Well, there's no place in
particular we need to be for a while, so we'd love to stay," she
said. "You and Gabrielle can trade cooking secrets, and maybe I can
do a little fishing and hunting to get you some extra meat to dry for
"Oh, you don't need to do that," he said. "I'm just
glad to have the company."
"You'd better let her do it," Gabrielle said, leaning close
to Elkton and speaking in a confidential tone of voice. "She'll get
bored in a hurry if she has to sit and listen to us talk about
"All right, Xena," he said with a grin. "I accept your
"Good," said the warrior. "Is there any more
"Yes, of course," he said, reaching for the jug.
"There are grapes and figs, too, and I'll be glad to fry more eggs
if you want them."
"Not for me," Xena said. "I'll just have some fruit
and then I think I'll be full at last."
"Same here," Gabrielle said. "But Elkton, I wanted to
ask you, how did you learn to cook? Xena told me you served a delicious
meal when we were here before. I just wish I could remember eating
"Well, I'll tell you what," Elkton said, laughing. "If
Xena can hunt down some more partridges, I can probably recreate that
meal for you. And as to how I learned to cook, well, I used to like
watching my wife prepare food, and after she died, I had to do it
myself, so I just started experimenting and trying to figure out how it
"When did your wife die?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, it was a long time ago. Over thirty years now, I guess. She
died in childbirth."
"Did the baby die, too?" Xena asked quietly.
"Yes, unfortunately, it did," Elkton said. "And we had
lost our first child about a year before that to a fever, so it was a
difficult time for me."
Gabrielle reached out and put her hand over his for a moment.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "That's such a sad story."
He smiled at her. "Well, most of us know sorrow if we live long
enough," he said. "And even though it's painful at the time,
in the end, I think it has a way of making us more human somehow . . .
more able to help others." He pushed a large bowl across the table
towards them. "Now here, have some of this fruit," he added.
"Thanks," said Xena as she broke off a bunch of grapes.
"So you never remarried?" asked Gabrielle, reaching for a
"No. I suppose I could have, easily enough, but I wasn't certain
I could ever love in the same way again. And anyway, about that time I
started getting involved with the Mystics. I became a priest and that
work became the focus of my life, rather than family."
"You must have loved your wife a great deal," said
Gabrielle. "How did you meet her?"
"We just grew up together, right here in this same little
village. We never got out to see the world, like you two have." He
grinned, then asked, "How about you and Xena? How did the two of
"Oh, that's a wonderful story!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Would you like to hear it?"
"I'd love to!" he said.
Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Do you mind if I tell it now?"
she asked. "Or do you want me to wait until you've gone hunting or
Xena spat out some grape seeds and smiled expansively. "No, go
right ahead," she said. "I'd actually like to listen because,
as it happens, I had to tell you this same story a few days ago when you
had no memory of it, and I want to find out if I got it right."
Gabrielle laughed. "Xena doesn't usually like to be around when
I tell stories about her," she told Elkton. "She says I
exaggerate too much."
"Oh, I see," said the Mystic, smiling as he refilled their
Xena leaned back in her chair and sipped the dark, red liquid. She
felt pleasantly tired and wonderfully content, watching the way the
candlelight played off her lover's face and hair, and listening to the
emotive tones of Gabrielle's voice. Rarely had life seemed as sweet and
whole as it did just now. But if she had never met that young girl from
Poteidaia, what then? How would her life have been different? Would she
even still be alive? Gabrielle had saved her life today, but it wasn't
the first time she had done so. In the end, who could really understand
how the Fates worked to weave the tapestry of existence?
Lost in thought, Xena didn't realize that Gabrielle had stopped
speaking until she heard Elkton say, "You were right. That was a
"Well, there are plenty more where that one came from,"
Xena said, grinning. "And with a little bit of encouragement, I'm
sure they'll all come spilling out." She winked at Gabrielle, then
tipped her goblet up and drained it. "Now, if you two will excuse
me, I think I'll turn in for the night."
Gabrielle reached out and squeezed her hand. "Go ahead,
Sweetheart," she said. "I'll be in as soon as I've helped
Elkton clean up."
"You go on to bed, Gabrielle," he said quickly. "I can
take care of cleaning up. If I'd been through what you two have today, I
would have been in bed long before this."
"No, I insist on helping," Gabrielle said. "I was once
known as the best dishwasher in Poteidaia, and I have my reputation to
"Well," said Xena, laughing as she stood up. "There's
a story I've never heard before!"
"Oh, did I forget to tell you that one?"
"Yes, you did. Especially on all those nights when you made me
clean up the dishes!" She bent and kissed the top of Gabrielle's
head. "But I'll be sure to remember it in the future," she
added. "Good night, Elkton."
"Good night, Xena. And the sweetest of dreams to you."
"Thanks," she said, letting her hand linger for a moment on
Gabrielle's shoulder. Then she crossed the room and ducked into the
curtained alcove. Unlacing her leathers, she slipped out of them and
climbed into bed. The blankets felt chilly against her bare skin, and as
she lay waiting for her body heat to warm them, she listened to the
murmur of voices and soft sounds from the other room. After a time, she
closed her eyes and drifted into the quiet realm somewhere between
waking and sleeping. But as soon as she heard Gabrielle's step in the
alcove, Xena opened her eyes again. "I'm awake," she said
"I thought you'd be asleep by now."
"No, I waited for you." She watched her lover's silhouette
against the curtain as she unlaced her bodice and shrugged it off, then
unfastened and stepped out of her skirt. Xena turned back the covers as
Gabrielle felt her way to the bed.
"It's kind of narrow, isn't it?" the bard whispered.
"Yeah, but that way we have a good excuse for sleeping close
"As if we needed one," Gabrielle laughed as she slid under
Xena snuggled up to her lover, wrapping her right arm around her.
"Just be careful about my arm," she said.
"Oh. Right. Is it hurting you, Xena? Do you want me to get you
some willow bark?"
"No. I'm fine. It hurts a little bit, but definitely not enough
to keep me awake."
"Okay. Are your feet warm?"
"Yeah, they're great," Xena said with a grin, as she
tickled the bottom of Gabrielle's foot with her toes.
"Hey! Stop that!" Gabrielle exclaimed softly.
Xena obeyed, laughing as she buried her face against her partner's
neck and breathed in the soft scent of her. For a few moments, neither
of them spoke, then Xena said, "That was quite a feat of lovemaking
you did today."
"Mmm, I was good, wasn't I?" Gabrielle said, running her
fingers lightly across the warrior's breast.
Xena raised herself up on one elbow and then leaned down so that her
lips were almost touching Gabrielle's. "You were excellent,"
she whispered, bringing her mouth down to cover the bard's. The kiss was
sweet and deep, but after a short while, Xena broke away gently.
"I'm too tired for this tonight," she said, brushing a light
kiss on Gabrielle's cheek, "but I want you to know that as soon as
I get rested up, I fully intend to reciprocate what you did today."
"I'll look forward to that," murmured the bard. "But I
did owe you one, you know."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you forget? When we were making love at the inn and we got
interrupted and you said 'just remember who was doing what to
Xena laughed. "Yeah, I had forgotten all about that. Well, I'm
still going to return the favor very soon," she said. Then she laid
her head on Gabrielle's chest.
In the other room, she heard Elkton unrolling the pallet again in
front of the fire. Then he put out the lights, one by one, and the house
settled into quiet darkness.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Remember when I came to you in that dream?"
"Yes. How'd you do that, by the way?"
"I don't know exactly. I just somehow realized that I could, so
I did. Anyway, I was wondering-- If this whole thing hadn't worked out
the way it did, would you have killed me, like I asked you to?"
"Maybe," Xena said slowly. "But I think it would have
been the hardest thing I ever did."
"What do you mean, 'maybe'? Xena, you promised me."
Xena raised up again, but she could not see her lover's face in the
dark. "I promised I would do it if there was no other way,"
she said, "but I had another plan, too."
"What was it?"
"You're not going to like it."
"Tell me, Xena. What was it?"
"It was to go back to Ares--"
Gabrielle drew in a sharp breath.
"Wait. Let me finish," Xena said, putting her fingers over
the bard's lips. "I would go back to Ares, just until I was sure
you were safe, then I would get killed in battle."
"That's suicide," Gabrielle said softly.
"Oh, and asking someone else to kill you isn't?"
Gabrielle shuddered and pulled Xena back down against her, holding
her close for a few moments without speaking. Finally, she whispered,
"I still can't believe it."
"That you're lying here, alive and warm in my arms tonight,
Xena propped herself back up on her elbow and touched Gabrielle's
cheek with gentle fingers. "Don't go there," she said.
"If we start thinking about how things might have turned out, we'll
go crazy. Just accept the gift and enjoy."
"I'm trying to."
"Good. But I do want you to promise me one thing."
"The next time we run into a bard in a tavern, promise me you
won't talk to him, okay?"
There was silence and Xena knew that Gabrielle could not see her
"Xena, I can't promise that."
"You said you'd promise anything."
"I know, but not that. I'm always going to want to talk to other
bards, and most of them aren't going to drug me."
"Hmm. Well, okay. Then promise you won't talk to any bards who
are really Ares in disguise."
Gabrielle laughed. "Okay," she said. "If I see a bard
who's really Ares, I promise I won't talk to him at all. In fact, I
promise I'll start running the other direction as fast as I can!"
"Thanks," Xena said chuckling and laying her head down
again. "I feel better now that I have your word."
Gabrielle stroked the warrior's hair for a few moments, then said,
"I want you to promise me something, too, Xena."
"Promise me that if you ever decide to get bitten by a serpent
again, you'll pick one with a different color venom. That
yellowish-green stuff was really disgusting."
"Oh. Well, what color would you prefer?"
"I don't know. Just something more pleasant, like maybe lavendar."
"Yeah. Lavendar's a nice color."
"All right, I'll keep it in mind," Xena said, smiling.
Gabrielle yawned. "I'm getting kind of sleepy," she
"Then go to sleep, Sweetheart."
"Okay. I love you, Xena."
"I love you, too. Good night."
Within moments, Gabrielle's breathing deepened, and Xena lay pressed
against her lover's warm body, listening to the steady heartbeat. She
knew that very soon she, too, would let Morpheus bear her softly away,
but for right now she was content to savor this beautiful moment . . .
this moment in which she felt so safe and warm, knew love was hers, and
that life was very, very good.
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