Disclaimer & Notices: See Prologue.

The Bluest Eyes in Greece
by Red Hope

Chapter 3 – Just How Godly?

Xena knelt and carefully studied the Athenian Army that was nestled in the valley. She sighed at being right. She carefully studied the camp’s overall layout and watched the campfires flicker in the moonlit night. She debated whether to sneak in the traditional way or use her invisibility. After a brief struggle, the warrior gave into her warrior creativity. She carefully and silently snuck down towards the camp.

Back in the Amazon village, Gabrielle was walking back to her hut with Ephiny. She expected Solari to join them shortly so they could discuss the plans to deal with the Athenian Army.

The regent walked closer to her friend. She whispered, “If the nation has to fight the Athenian Army, I don’t know how we’ll win.”

Gabrielle remained quiet and considered a decent response.

“The Amazons are talking… they fear a loss.”

The queen stopped and turned to her friend. “Ephiny, Xena and I are going to do everything we can to stop the war from happening.”

“I know,” Ephiny agreed. She grabbed the bard’s shoulders and reminded, “You and Xena can pull off some impossible feats, but you and Xena aren’t the gods.” She hesitated and further mentioned, “Sometimes it does come down to the battles to settle disputes.”

Gabrielle sighed at the Amazon’s dim words. “It should be the last option.”

“And it may just be.” Ephiny squeezed the distraught bard’s shoulder, then continued the walk. “If we didn’t have war, we’d forget what peace is like.”

Gabrielle sadly smiled at the truth behind Ephiny’s words. She soon came upon her hut, and she opened the door for them. She glanced at the fireplace, which was in full swing and was drying Xena’s normal set of leathers. Gabrielle also had set her normal attire near the fire to dry. She’d since donned her Amazon Queen leathers for wear until later.

When Xena had stripped from her soaked leathers, boots, and greaves she’d recalled Xena’s abilities as a god. She’d asked why the warrior hadn’t used her godhood to simply dry her attire, and Xena explained that it’d taken the fun out of things. Gabrielle smiled at the warrior’s consideration because Gabrielle would have felt cheated if Xena just merely dried her leathers with the godhood.

Besides that Xena had a spare set of leathers; older as they were, but they did the job. Xena had to burrow a set of boots from the Amazons while hers dried. The weapons and armor were easily dried after Xena wiped them down. The sheath though had to remain by the fire while Xena decided to carry the weapon.

Ephiny glanced at the drying clothes by the fire and grinned. She’d heard the entire story while at dinner with her friend. She’d always found childlike stories like this impossible of the warrior yet enduring. Ephiny found it hard to believe the amount of changes in the Warrior Princess ever since Gabrielle joined her. It’d been over a year since she’d met Xena and Gabrielle, and she was surprised by the changes within just the year.

“Sit down,” Gabrielle offered. She pulled out a chair for Ephiny then sat down herself.

The regent became comfortable then started the discussion about the Amazons’ forces. She explained that the Amazons would mostly be on foot. The Amazons best with arrows would take to the trees and cover everybody’s back.

Gabrielle suggested they use the traps in the ground. She’d always found those a perfect surprise for any enemy. Earlier at dinner, Solari also tried to suggest that Gabrielle wouldn’t enter the battle. Xena had been there during that suggestion, and she sat back with a grin. Xena enjoyed listening to Gabrielle lay into Solari for the idea. By the end of the lecture, Solari apologized and decided to go check on something or another. Afterwards, Gabrielle felt bad and silently promised to apologize to Solari, who was merely concerned for the queen’s safety.

And Solari did arrive in the queen’s hut later. She reported that the Amazons were well alerted and that they were ready to begin preparations tomorrow. Gabrielle promised she’d help prepare the traps and figure out where to position the archers. Finally the discussion ended and Ephiny and Solari said goodnight to the bard, who was obviously weary.

Gabrielle first tried to do some writing, but she couldn’t completely focus plus she was tired. She set aside her scroll and quill on the table then decided on a short walk. She left the hut and took in the glowing village that was fairly quiet. The calm before the storm, the bard mentally concluded.

Gabrielle wandered to the gates, which were closed because of the Athenian Army being so near. She ducked through the open door in the right gate and was saluted by two guards. She offered greeting then continued into the cricket filled woods.

After fifteen minutes or so, the bard stopped in the woods and found a nice, clear view of the crescent moon overhead. She felt a slight chill in the air so she wrapped her arms over her chest. Then a yawn tried to come over her, but she bit it back.

Gabrielle’s thoughts went out to her friend. She wished the warrior was with her, and she worried about how safe Xena was out there. She chided herself because Xena was a goddess now, yet she couldn’t help being concerned. Where she’d thought nothing could stop the warrior, she’d found out otherwise. Her fantasy that Xena was an immortal mortal had been shattered days ago and ironically the warrior transformed into a god. She shook her head at the unseen solution to changing Xena back to a mortal.

Regardless, Gabrielle was happy that the godhood hadn’t affected Xena’s mental state. On the contrary, it seemed like Xena was better aware of pending emotions in the bard. Gabrielle had to admit the warrior was more attentive than normal, yet Xena had been that way since her rebirth and before the godhood. Gabrielle couldn’t piece it all together because she was just too tired to think it through. She shook away her deeper thoughts.

Gabrielle then sensed a presence somewhere near her, but she didn’t see anybody. She somewhat tensed and worried an Athenian soldier was stalking her. “Xena?” she called. Unexpectedly she felt a warmth come around her, and she knew without fear that it was indeed Xena. She slightly smiled and warned, “You shouldn’t do that.” She inhaled sharply when a solid body formed behind her and strong arms around her waist.

“And you shouldn’t be out here alone,” the warrior challenged. She tilted her head to the right and took in the bard’s profile.

Gabrielle turned her head to the warrior. “I needed a walk.”

“Hmmm.” Xena stepped closer so that her front pressed into Gabrielle’s back. She’d felt how cold the bard was from the cool night. “Next time bring your cloak… and staff.”

“I’m fine now,” the bard teased and giggled at the warrior’s sour look. She leaned back into the warmth that was her partner. “Besides this is nicer.”

“Oh?” Xena prompted.

“Mmmm.” Gabrielle rested her head against Xena’s shoulder. She closed her eyes and inquired, “Find out anything else?”

“Nothing much.” Xena sighed and tilted her head back. She enjoyed the beautiful moon.

“You’re telling me you’re a god now, and you couldn’t find out anything else?” Gabrielle teased and furthered it. “What good are you? Can’t you read minds or something?”

“Actually no,” Xena argued, “I can’t.”

Gabrielle was remotely surprised and tried to figure out why Xena couldn’t because the other gods seemed to be able to do it.

“I think I’m more like a half god,” Xena informed as if she was reading Gabrielle’s thoughts.

“Are you sure you can’t read thoughts?”

The warrior smirked but lost it and filled in some gaps. “I can pick up bits and pieces if the thoughts are directed at me.”

Gabrielle now understood especially after she sent her nasty prayer to Xena when she was left with the Athenian scout.

“Did you really think I’d leave you there alone?” Xena argued.

The bard’s eyes widened, and she suddenly spun around in the warrior’s arms. “You can read people’s thoughts!” She poked the warrior’s chest. “Don’t lie either because it’s not very becoming of a goddess.”

The warrior arched an eyebrow at her partner. She shifted her hands to rest on the bard’s hips. “I can’t, Gabrielle.”

“Alright… let’s try this.” Gabrielle closed her eyes and directed her thoughts at Xena.

Xena rolled her eyes and hotly fought, “Yes, I know my leathers are still soaked in the village. And yes I know I could have used my powers to dry them. And you’re damn welcome.”

Gabrielle laughed and opened her eyes. “You can read my thoughts.”

“That’s because it’s direct at me,” Xena reminded in annoyance. “Try something else… not related to me at all.”

“Okay.” The bard shut her eyes and ran through a list of topics.

Xena caught a few topics because they were about her. She faintly raised an eyebrow.

Gabrielle finally thought about her childhood, her parents, and her sister. She went deeper into a memory about her and Lila playing just outside the village. They use to climb trees often, and Gabrielle recalled the one time she fell out of tree because she hadn’t been careful. She’d fallen, landed on her right side, and broke her arm for the mistake. She could still recall how much it’d scared her because she thought she’d hit the jagged tree stump, but she’d just missed it.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and took in Xena’s wistful expression. “What?”

Xena gradually frowned and softly replied, “I’m sorry, Gabrielle. If I’d known you’d fallen from a tree as kid, I wouldn’t have left you alone.”

The bard touched her friend’s arm and held onto it. “You didn’t know… besides it happened when I was a kid.” She shrugged and argued, “If you fall out of a tree, you have to get back in it.”

Xena sadly smiled, but she jumped when Gabrielle’s suddenly smacked her side.

“And you can read my thoughts!” Gabrielle pointed a finger at the god. “You are a liar.”

The Warrior Princess had controlled her initial reaction to toss Gabrielle from the surprise smack. She released a deep breath when the tension receded, and she scowled the bard. “Be careful.”

Gabrielle became sheepish. “You’re use to me doing that by now.”

“Mostly,” Xena admitted.

“And don’t change the topic,” Gabrielle fought. “You can read my thoughts.”

The warrior groaned and walked away from the bard with her arms flopping to her sides. “I can’t seem to read anybody else’s thoughts.”

Gabrielle hurried and caught up to her friend’s side. “That doesn’t make sense.” She brushed her bangs back and curiosity got the best of her. “Do you just always hear my thoughts or… How does it work?”

Xena shrugged and casually answered, “I have to actually listen to your thoughts if you’re not directing them to me.”

“If I’m thinking about you then you just… hear it?”

“Yeah,” Xena replied, “like you’re talking aloud to me.”

The bard grinned and slowed down now that she was at Xena’s side. “That’s pretty neat.”

“I could do without hearing them,” the warrior debated, “I can read you just fine without hearing your thoughts.”

Gabrielle was offended, and she came to a quick stop. “Are you saying I’m an open scroll?”

Xena was a few steps away, but she stopped and turned back. “I’m saying you’re a bard. Personally I could do without hearing your thoughts because it’s half bad just hearing you talk all the time.” She held back her wild smirk as Gabrielle’s temper developed. “Now it’s like having two of you.” She turned and continued back to the village.

Gabrielle grounded her teeth. “You know, I really-” She stopped her words when the dark warrior turned to her. She saw that blaze in the warrior’s bright blue eyes that shined silver in the moonlight.

“Say it,” Xena dared.

Gabrielle lost her temper and smiled sweetly. “I was just going to say I really find you fabulous.” She strolled up to Xena and lightly rambled, “What other god would put up with hearing me aloud and my thoughts? I’m just so lucky.”

Xena raised an eyebrow and rotated on her boots. She started walking again without Gabrielle.

Gabrielle stood still, tilted her head, and slowly a smirk shaped on her face. She decided on her revenge at that moment so she focused on Xena’s ass. She had a dark grin as her thoughts went out to Xena.

The Warrior Princess was shocked, and she spun around. She pointed a finger at her friend and hotly warned, “Gabrielle, I swear…” She lost her threat but kept pointing at the bard.

Gabrielle rocked her on boots and smiled innocently now. She sashayed up to her partner, halted by Xena’s side, and thoroughly teased, “At a loss for words, are we?” She winked and walked off.

Xena was at a loss for words. She was blown away by Gabrielle’s thoughts about… well what Gabrielle thought of her ass and wanted to do with it. She cleared her throat and wiped away her stupefied expression. She lengthened her strides and met the bard’s side.

Gabrielle was quite content with herself, and she enjoyed the silent walk back to the nation. She carried her hands behind her back.

The god was quiet and tried to get over Gabrielle’s last thought. She felt a slight flush creep over her. She was grateful it was dark out or Gabrielle would have caught the blush.

Gabrielle was first into the hut, and she closed the door when Xena entered. She and the warrior quickly readied for bed and Gabrielle was appreciative to have a soft bed tonight. She rested on her side and faced the warrior, who was on her back.

Xena hadn’t spoken a word since her last attempt in the woods. She stared up at the thatch ceiling and kept her hands tucked under her head.

“You won’t sleep, will you?” Gabrielle inquired. A yawn followed her words.

The warrior gazed at the bard now. “No, I don’t need it.”

“You don’t even feel tired huh?”

“No,” Xena told. “I don’t feel tired or hungry anymore.”

Gabrielle slightly grinned and joked, “I wouldn’t miss feeling hungry.”

Xena considered it then honestly confessed, “I do miss it.”

Gabrielle pulled her hand out from the pillow and rested it on the warrior’s arm. “I’m sorry, Xena.” She gently squeezed.

The warrior sighed and closed her eyes. “We’re both still here and alive… that’s all that matters.”

The bard wasn’t completely sure, but she squeezed Xena’s arm again. “Thank you.” She felt the stress from the days come over her.

Xena softly ordered, “Go to sleep.” She sensed Gabrielle’s hold on her arm loosen, but it didn’t leave. “I’ll be here.” She sensed Gabrielle pass into her dreamscape.

Gabrielle hadn’t removed her hand, but her grip wasn’t strong. She shifted into a dark dream, which caused her face to slowly tighten.

The warrior glanced at the bard and saw her features begin to darken minute by minute. She became worried and debated whether to awaken Gabrielle or not. She prayed that the dream would eventually pass, but she wasn’t so sure.

After awhile, Gabrielle’s grip returned on the warrior’s arm. It’d stirred Xena from her thoughts, and she studied Gabrielle’s upset face. Xena stretched out her hand and touched the bard’s burning forehead that was starting to coat with sweat. Xena frowned and considered what to do. She then wondered if she could perform a little miracle. She knew she could already read Gabrielle’s thoughts whether or not it had to do with her. Carefully Xena focused her godhood on Gabrielle.

Gabrielle was furiously battling three tribal warriors. She could barely keep them at bay. She stole one last glance down at Xena, who was slumped on the ground behind her. “Xena, get up!”

The tribal warrior made a lunge for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle barely stopped his curved weapon from cutting her chest. She stepped back once and closer to Xena’s slumped form. “Xena, please wake up!”

Xena remained motionless against a tree and bloodied at the right temple.

Gabrielle wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold off the three tribal warriors. She was also sure reinforcements would follow and that’s when she’d and Xena would be dead. She tried to desperately increase her efforts but the warriors were far more skilled than she.

The bard lost her foot and fell to her knees. She raised her staff just in time to halt a powerful ax blow. She heard her staff give into the blow with an audible crack. “Oh gods, no.” She’d never felt so desperate, but she wouldn’t give up. She cracked her staff’s end at the center enemy and hit his knee squarely. Her victory was short because the two tribesmen jumped at the bard with raised axes.

“Xena!” Gabrielle screamed when the first ax cut through her staff and came close to her chest. She braced for the second ax to strike her, yet a cling of metal sounded over her head.

The two tribal warriors held their breathes when they met the angry Warrior Princess’s face and blazing eyes. They found their axes locked by the steel blade.

Xena snarled and jerked her sword up and over. She effectively ripped the axes from their hands and brought them over her head. The axes spun in the air and landed solidly in the trees behind her. Xena gave a fierce battle cry then jumped over her friend and came between Gabrielle and the tribal warriors.

The earlier warrior, who had been knocked down was up again. He raised his curved blades and prepared to take on the Warrior Princess with his comrades.

The two weaponless warriors extracted daggers then together they came at the female warrior.

Xena easily battled them and put her every strength into defeating the enemy. She would never allow her and Gabrielle to be taken by them.

Gabrielle dropped her broken staff to the ground. She stared in disbelief that it was really Xena, who had just been unconscious and bloody. She slowly stood up and watched in amazement at how perfectly and confidently her partner battled the tribal warriors.

Xena soon defeated the enemy, and she left them banged up and unconscious on the ground. She turned around and faced the bard, who was on her knees.

Gabrielle was relieved, and she wistfully smiled. She took in the warrior’s beautiful, golden glow in the setting sun behind the warrior. She covered her face when the tears struck her.

Xena carried her sword at her side, and she walked up to her partner. She dropped to her knees in front of Gabrielle and touched the bard’s dirty and moist face. “Are you okay?”

Gabrielle removed her hands and held out her palms toward Xena. “Yes.” She bit her lower lip when Xena’s left hand took her hands. “Are you?”

Xena had a few scratches, cuts, and bruises but she never felt better. “I’m great.” She grinned at Gabrielle’s surprised laugh. “Come on.” She stood up and helped Gabrielle to her feet.

“My staff… it’s ruined.”

The warrior studied it but promised, “I’m sure we can fix it.” She knelt and scooped up the sliced weapon. She could think of a few solutions, but it’d have to wait until later. “Let’s get out of here huh?” She turned and lifted her right hand. She gave a sharp, distinct whistle.

Argo whined and appeared out of the woods. She cantered up to her master and stopped.

Xena quickly tucked the staff away, climbed into the saddle, and helped Gabrielle up. She set the bard in the front then took Argo’s reins. “We won’t go far, but we’ll get some distance away from them.”

Gabrielle didn’t argue and let Xena lead the way.

The warrior hurried Argo into a full gallop back to the road in the woods. She kept the ride steady down the road then slowed into a walk when it was getting too dark. She steered off the road and searched for a nice campsite.

“Over there,” Gabrielle offered.

Xena smiled and lightly teased, “You’re getting better at this.”

The bard chuckled and patted the knee near hers. “I have a good teacher.” She was happy to get out of the saddle once Argo stopped. She then took the saddlebags from Xena and went into the normal routine to ready camp.

Xena quickly brushed Argo down, which gave her a minute to catch her breath. She was glad her planned had worked, but she suspected a talk would some come too.

Gabrielle decided to make a soup since there was some dried meat in the saddlebags and vegetables. She readied the meat, vegetables, and herbs then called to Xena, “I’m going to get water.”

The warrior glanced over her shoulder. “Be careful.”

Gabrielle nodded and journeyed off with her empty pot. She returned soon enough and found that Xena had started the campfire. She was relieved because she didn’t feel much like doing it. She easily filled the pot with the contents then hooked the pot over the fire.

The bard then turned to Xena and offered, “How about I clean your wounds while the food cooks?”

The warrior was already removing the medical kit from the saddlebags. She nodded and handed the leather pouch to her friend. She walked over to the half remains of a fallen tree. She sat down and soon small hands were working over her body.

Gabrielle didn’t find any cuts that required stitching. She’d already removed the warrior’s armor and now carefully cleaned the wounds. “I really thought you were down,” she softly started.

Xena tilted her head to the right so that Gabrielle had better access to her shoulder wound. “Only for a few minutes.” She shut her eyes.

The bard studied her friend’s profile. “It was like last time… I thought you gave up again.” She knelt down and gingerly cleaned the cut on Xena’s back arm. The wine soaked rag was lightly blotched with Xena’s blood.

Xena lifted her head and opened her eyes. “Last time isn’t going to happen again.”

Gabrielle hesitated from her cleaning. She released a faint sigh then stepped around the log. She knelt in front of the warrior and carefully cleansed the small blade cut on the warrior’s right leg.

The warrior received no response from Gabrielle. She knew Gabrielle didn’t fully believe her. When Gabrielle finished with the last cut, she bent forward slightly and hooked the bard’s chin with her fingertips. She tilted Gabrielle’s head back until their eyes met. “I’ve come to realize there’s a good reason not to give up. I just didn’t see it before.”

Gabrielle wanted to know the reason, but she turned away and stood up. “The soup is almost ready.” She kept the rag with her and planned to clean it later when the stew pot needed to be cleaned.

Xena silently cursed at her half successful attempt to reassure her friend. It as rare that it was hard for her to get Gabrielle to listen to her. She’d have to push later.

The partners soon were sharing a silent dinner. Gabrielle mulled over the warrior’s earlier words, and she mostly believed them. She wasn’t sure what shook her up so badly. Lately she’d witnessed several times where Xena showed her imperfect, human qualities where as Gabrielle always saw Xena as the immortal hero. For once, Xena wasn’t fast enough and Perdicus died. Not long after, Xena let Callisto slip into the quick sand, and the guilt ate at the warrior. Then recently Xena simply gave up after being struck by a swinging tree stump.

Gabrielle was starting to realize that Xena wasn’t so perfect. The danger and death were real after all, and Xena couldn’t even cheat it or stop it. Gabrielle had to accept those facts and move on, she knew it. The fact that Xena had come back from the dead did tell her that something inspired the warrior. The inspiration was new though, that much Gabrielle figured.

By the time dinner was finished, the warrior and bard were fairly exhausted from the day. They’d pulled out their bedrolls and furs and set them up near the warm fire. Gabrielle wiggled under the furs and felt the warmth spread over her. She listened to Xena get comfortable as well.

The warrior tucked her hands under her head in usual fashion. She stared beyond the tree foliage above and observed the bright stars.

Gabrielle was doing the same and felt a sense of peace. A smile twitched at the corner of her lips, and she softly mentioned, “The sky was really blue today.”

Xena had drifted away into her thoughts, but she came back at Gabrielle’s words. “It was.”

The bard turned her head to the right and studied the warrior’s amber, soft profile. “Whenever I write about your eye color, I often use the sky for an analogy.”

The warrior’s interest peaked, and she gazed at the bard now.

Gabrielle slightly grinned at her partner’s curiosity. “It’s probably a little blown out of proportion because I’ve seen your eyes darker.” She shrugged yet added, “I’ve also seen them as blue as the sky when the light hits them right.”

Xena had a lopsided smile at the explanation. The bard’s description also struck a familiar note in the warrior.

“I won’t forget how angry I was when I thought you were dead after Callisto’s dart hit you.” Gabrielle saddened when Xena’s smile left, but she continued to speak. “Nor have I forgotten how amazing I felt when you were alive… and you stopped Talmadeus.” She recalled Lord Talmadeus dumbfounded expression after Xena got up from the ground. She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t understand what was different this time. You fought against the poison then, but you gave up this time.”

The warrior had to fill in the gaps. She rolled onto her side and propped up her head. She easily gazed down at the bard beside her. “It was the guilt this time,” she confessed. “I couldn’t save Perdicus. I let Callisto die.” She shook her head and sadly stated, “As a result, you ended up being hurt every moment. So it just seemed easier for me to remain in Tartarus this time, and I figured you would move on.”

Gabrielle licked her dry lips. She was nervous because they were back to the same point where they were in the earlier conversation. She finally had to know. She stretched out her right hand and pressed her palm against the warrior’s define cheek. “Why?” she hoarsely whispered, “Why did you come back?”

Xena collected the bard’s hand from her cheek. She neatly slipped her fingers through Gabrielle’s and whispered, “Because you asked me to… because you said you needed me.”

Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s hand. She then sat up enough and moved her face into Xena’s. She pressed her lips against Xena’s and emotionally murmured, “Thank you.” She sealed their lips again, and Xena responded to Gabrielle’s desire. Gabrielle moaned at finally having her long awaited kiss.

Then slowly Xena’s lips faded and so did the smell of the campfire. The trees’ leaves stopped rustling overhead, and it was no longer dark. Sunlight was warming against the side of Gabrielle’s face, but she was still plenty warm.

Gabrielle gradually opened her eyes and was surprised to find Xena’s face so close to hers. She recalled now that she was in her Amazon hut. It was just after daybreak and the sun’s morning rays were streaming through the open window and onto her face.

Xena revealed her striking blue eyes, and she raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle’s sleepy features. “Sleep well?”

The bard recalled the latest events of Velasca, the ambrosia, Xena’s godhood, and the Athenian Army. She slightly furrowed her eyebrows but replied, “Yes.” She hesitated when she realized Xena’s left hand was at the back of her head and tangled in her hair. “Did you…”

The warrior debated whether to explain now or later that she’d managed to enter Gabrielle’s dream. She decided it was best to wait for that talk. She simply replied, “No, I was just thinking.” She needed a quick reason for why she had her hand on Gabrielle’s head. “You had a nightmare… I was trying to get you to calm down.”

Gabrielle was almost positive the warrior was covering something up. Xena rarely stumbled in her explanations, yet she wasn’t going to protest. “Thanks.” She twisted her head some until Xena pulled her hand away.

Xena rolled onto her back and started to get up. “We need to get ready.”

“Five more minutes,” the bard joked, and she pulled the bedsheets over her head.

The Warrior Princess was out of bed. She smirked and pulled on the covers. “Come on, Queen Gabrielle… duty calls.”

Gabrielle rolled over with the blankets. “You’re a god now… go fix it.”

Xena arched an eyebrow and decided on another method to wake the bard. She devilishly grinned and walked to Gabrielle’s side of the bed. She easily yanked the blankets from Gabrielle, who protested with a yelp. “Now, now. I can’t be a true god unless I have followers.” She scooped up the bard. “You’re my only follower, and luckily for you that requires keeping earlier mornings.” Xena headed for the large washroom.

“Xena,” the bard hotly complained, “don’t do anything we’ll both regret.”

The god deeply laughed and taunted, “And what could I possibly do?” She entered the washroom and stood over the tub.

Gabrielle peered over her shoulder and grew bugeyed at how the tub was mysteriously filling with water. Then it struck her that she was about to be dumped into the water with her nightshift. “Xena, don’t you dare. You’ll have one less follower. I swear to…” She lost her words after she realized what she was going to say.

“You swear to who?” Xena tormented.

The bard smiled sheepishly and warmly asked, “You wouldn’t, would you?”

“What you think?” the warrior challenged. She didn’t wait for a reply and tossed the bard into the full tub.

“Xena!” the bard hollered. She splashed into the cold water and spilled out a better portion of it. She surfaced with wet bangs pasted to her forehead, which she yanked away. She glared at her partner, and her face was extremely dark.

Xena rested her hands on her hips and smiled quite smugly. “Good morning.” She decided an escape would be appropriate because with or without a godhood, Gabrielle’s temper was still dangerous to anybody’s health. She made it to the doorway, paused, and looked back at the bard. She chuckled at the still fuming bard, yet she snapped her right fingers and completed the requirements for a good, warmth bath. She then left the washroom.

Gabrielle felt the water was back up to the rim of the tub. The water was also soothingly warm and rather perfect to Gabrielle’s liking. Then a flowery scent filled the air and helped recede the bard’s anger. The bard then spotted a bar of soap on the ledge. She dramatically sighed and decided to give into the warm bath.

The warrior was soon dressed in her leathers from yesterday, which were dry and somewhat stiff. She easily loosened them back up and stretched her boots back out once she had them on again. Finally, she hooked her weapons into place.

The bard emerged from her bath and displayed a more positive attitude. She quickly dressed into her Amazon leathers then left the hut with Xena at her side. She remained a bit quiet until they came to the dining hut. “You think we’ll be able to meet with the Athenian commander?”

Xena nodded and let Gabrielle enter the dining hut first. “You and Ephiny should be able to meet him today.”

Gabrielle had stepped into the food line, and she hesitated from grabbing a plate. “What about you?”

The warrior studied the bard briefly, but she picked up a plate. “There’s no reason for me to go.”

The Amazon Queen was silent and still for a beat, then she yanked a plate free and started down the line.

Xena sighed yet followed down the line before she backed up the Amazons behind her. She followed Gabrielle to a table and sat across from her.

Gabrielle pushed her food around on her plate.

The warrior mentally grumbled and asked, “What?”

“You know what,” the bard argued. She set her fork down and decided to start with her flat bread. “I’ll need your help with this commander.”

“First,” started the warrior, “I’m not an Amazon. Second, my presence may hinder the talks more than help. And third, I think you can handle it fine without me.”

Gabrielle was between irritated and flattered. She set her bread down and picked up her fork again. “Xena-”

“Gabrielle,” the warrior cut off, “you know I’m right.” She stopped eating and studied deep into concerned green eyes. “If the army knows I’m here, then they’ll be more tense.”

“They may also back off,” Gabrielle offered.

“I doubt it, Gabrielle.”

The bard sighed but quickly reminded her friend about another aspect. “They may know who I am Xena… that we’re together.”

Xena had hoped Gabrielle wouldn’t bring that point up. Even she had noticed that people were growing accustom to seeing them together, and Gabrielle was an instant target. “Don’t get into that with him unless you can use it to your advantage somehow.”

Gabrielle could tell her friend was serious so she nodded.

Xena then decided on a compromise. “Go with Ephiny. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll make my presence known.” She hesitated but murmured, “Hopefully that won’t back fire.”

The bard sadly smiled and silently agreed to the plan. She went back to her breakfast and so did Xena. After she finished her meal, she and Xena left the hut and went in pursuit of Ephiny. Gabrielle walked closer to her partner and inquired, “What will you do?”

“I’m going to see how Solari is doing with the traps and getting the Amazons ready.”

Gabrielle nodded and was grateful Xena was helping. She soon found Solari and Ephiny down by the sparring fields and talking with a few other Amazons. Solari split away from Ephiny and took the three Amazons with her. Xena and Gabrielle planned out what Ephiny and Gabrielle needed to discuss with the Athenian commander.

Ephiny decided they had to go by horseback and that she would roundup several Amazons to accompany them. The regent headed off to find some able Amazons and left Gabrielle to get ready for the ride.

Once Ephiny was gone, Xena turned to her partner. “I want you to ride Argo.”

“Xena, Argo and I don’t exactly get along.” Gabrielle leaned against her staff. “She and I…” She dropped her argument when Xena’s face became quite serious.

The warrior touched the bard’s side. “I need you to take Argo for me. If they try anything, which is possible then you need to be able to ride off fast enough.”

The bard sighed and gazed off to the side. She straightened up and nodded. “Alright.”

“Come on.” Xena led the way to the stables, and she tacked up her mare. She and Gabrielle strolled out of the stables, and Xena took a beat to tie Gabrielle’s staff down.

Gabrielle stepped up to the mare’s side and grabbed the saddlehorn. She positioned her foot into the stirrup, but she hesitated and glanced at Argo.

Argo twisted her head around and studied the blond human about to get on her back. She huffed and switched her view to her mistress.

Xena raised an eyebrow at the warhorse, but she urged Gabrielle to climb into the saddle. She slightly tensed in case something went wrong.

Gabrielle sucked in her breath then hauled her body into the saddle. She easily made it thanks to her strong arms and legs. She received the reins from Xena, and she mentally recalled the riding lessons that Xena had given her in the past.

The warrior patted the horse’s neck then started to walk to the gates.

Gabrielle carefully tugged on the left rein and tapped the horse’s sides. She easily followed along side Xena. She slowly smirked and joked, “Now I realize why you ride on the horse.” She had a clear view of everything, which she hadn’t thought of until now.

The warrior smirked and peered up at her partner. “That’s not the only reason.” She picked up the pace when she spotted Ephiny and seven other mounted Amazons.

“That’s not the only reason…?” the bard muttered and thought hard about it. She tucked the idea away for later consideration. She halted Argo when she met the group. “Are we ready?”

“Of course, my queen,” the regent teased.

Xena stepped closer to Argo and rested her palm against Gabrielle’s muscular thigh. “Be careful out there.” She hesitated but quietly reminded, “I’m not far if you need me.”

Gabrielle smiled at the guarantee from her partner. She turned back to Ephiny when Xena stepped back. “Let’s go.” She directed Argo around the group, and they followed her out of the gates.

Xena briefly watched them leave, but she turned and hunted Solari down. She and Solari talked about the setup for the war, and they strolled out of the village into the woods. Solari and Xena marked out where the ground traps should be placed and any traps for Amazons to hide in too.

Midway through the conversation, Solari noticed how Xena became distracted. She stopped talking and asked, “Is everything okay, Xena?”

Xena had been having a nervous sensation in the pit of her stomach not long after Gabrielle left. She now felt it was increasing by the minute. “Yes, I’m sorry.” She set aside her notice of the feeling and focused back on the topic at hand. “You were saying, Solari…?”

“Well,” Solari started again.

Xena refocused on Solari’s voice, but another voice broke through her concentration.

Xena, I don’t know if this is going to work out okay, whispered the bard’s voice.

Solari stopped speaking and peered up at the distracted warrior.

Xena’s alarms were set off by the bard’s directed thought to her. She stepped back once, towards the woods, and offered, “I have to go, Solari.”

Solari became worried. “What’s wrong?”

The Warrior Princess was about to turn and make a fast run for Gabrielle and the others. “I have a bad feeling about that meeting.”

“Wait, I can get the horses and come.” The Amazon was prepared to follow the warrior because she knew Xena’s instincts were often right.

“There’s not enough time,” Xena protested. She quickly spun on her boots then started into a normal run into the woods.

“Xena, wait,” Solari called, but she was ignored. “Gods damnit.” She quickly raced back into the village and went for a few Amazons and horses.

Once Xena felt like she was deep enough in the woods, she used her godhood to run even faster. She became concerned that an Amazon on patrol may spot her so she used her invisibility to hide herself. She carefully focused on her run and dodged around trees, brush, and hidden roots.

Gabrielle tried to calm Argo, but the mare was as nervous as her.

Ephiny, like the other Amazons, was still mounted. She kept beside Gabrielle while the Amazons were behind her and Gabrielle.

The Athenian commander, his second in command, and several soldiers had rode up the valley to meet the Amazons. The soldiers were undoubtedly Athenian soldiers according to their attire. The commander wasn’t the figurehead of the entire Athenian Army, but this commander was true to his job.

The commander stopped his horse a few paces away from the Amazons. He signaled his soldiers, who were on foot, to halt. “I’m Commander Jericho of the Seventh Unit from the Athenian Army.”

Gabrielle adjusted Argo’s reins in her hands. “I am Queen Gabrielle.” She held out her hand to Ephiny. “This is my regent Ephiny.” She retook the reins. “You’re trending close to Amazon territory, commander. What is your business here?”

Commander Jericho grew annoyed at the Amazon Queen’s harsh questioning. He narrowed his eyes and curtly informed, “Recently a temple to Artemis was destroyed by an Amazon. We have been dispatched to apprehend the Amazon or Amazons that defaced the sacred temple.”

The bard leaned to her right in the saddle and observed the hefty army in the valley. She sat back in her saddle and remarked, “That’s quite a unit to send out just to… apprehend an Amazon.”

“I was given orders to use as much man power is it required to apprehend this Amazon,” the commander coldly informed.

“So I see,” Gabrielle muttered. She then raised her voice. “And exactly what are your orders if my nation does not come forward with this Amazon?”

Commander Jericho held back his smirk, yet his glinting eyes deceived him. “Then it is assumed that the Amazon Nation is punishable for this Amazon’s mistake.” He shifted in the saddles some. “I suggest, Queen Gabrielle that you bring forth the Amazon so that your nation does not suffer the consequences of her actions.”

“And what if I told you it wasn’t an Amazon?” The bard knew the response, but she felt like she had to hear it. She caught Ephiny’s brief glance at her.

The Athenian commander chuckled and replied, “You expect me to believe that?” He went more serious. “There were several witnesses that saw her. She also killed the two guards of the temple.”

The queen perked at the news and possibly found a way out of the mess. “How were they killed?”

Commander Jericho visibly became uneasy but shook it off. “This matter isn’t about their death.”

Gabrielle knew the commander had some information or he didn’t, but she was betting on the latter. She then tensed when the commander rested a freehand on his sword hilt. She didn’t like the commander’s movement, and her gut feeling told her to back away. She instantly sent out a silent prayer to her partner.

“We expect you to fully cooperate and hand over the Amazon.” The commander tilted his head and stared at the queen with hooded eyes. “It is your choice, Queen Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle grew more nervous than earlier. There were only two choices left for her and handing over Velasca was impossible. She cursed the trapped goddess for getting her nation into this mess.

“I cannot do what you ask, commander,” Gabrielle finally explained. “It is completely impossible. The Amazon you seek, Velasca, no longer is apart of my nation.”

Commander Jericho darkly chuckled and replied, “I find that hard to believe. You’re protecting her, Queen Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle quietly huffed at the irony. She’d gladly hand over Velasca if she was here. “I can assure you that I am not and that she’s no longer with us.” She tilted her head and studied the tense commander. “Do you think we would really keep an Amazon that’s destroyed a temple to Artemis? She is our patron goddess.”

The Athenian second in command glanced at his commander, who merely ignored him. He licked his his dry lips and gazed back at the Amazon Queen, who truly seemed honest.

Commander Jericho prepared to response, but he hesitated when a sudden gust of wind came and unexpectedly stopped again. He was briefly confused but focused back on the Amazons. “If you cannot willingly hand over the Amazon, then we’ll have to work out other… arrangements.” He swiftly withdrew his sword. “Get them!” he hotly commanded.

The first line of six soldiers withdrew swords and started for the queen and regent.

Ephiny withdrew her sword, which caused the other Amazons to do the same. “Gabrielle, go!”

Gabrielle first tried to steady Argo, who reared up at the nearing soldier. The bard held on and let Argo scare off the soldier. When Argo was on all hoofs, she reached back for her staff. She wasn’t about to leave her Amazons alone with the enemy.

“Get the queen!” the commander hollered over the din of swords. He moved his horse around his men and came close to the queen. He raised his sword, prepared to strike the queen, but he faltered at the odd whistle sound. Suddenly a round, flying weapon struck his blade and broke it.

Gabrielle had her staff ready for the attack, yet she was relieved to see her partner’s chakram. She smirked at the commander’s stunned face.

Commander Jericho watched the chakram return to its owner, who dropped out from a hidden spot in the trees. He became ridged when he noticed the female warrior’s distinct armor. He gazed back at the Amazon Queen. “By the gods, you’re that Gabrielle.”

The bard was quite smug, and she replied, “You got it, Plato.” She brought her staff up and swung the end at his head. Her staff solidly connected with the commander’s face.

The commander almost fell from his saddle, but he just held himself in place by the horn. He reached to his belt and ripped a dagger free. He released the reins and angrily cried out before he made the leap out of the saddle.

Gabrielle wasn’t fully prepared for the attack. She raised her staff, but Commander Jericho never made it to her.

Xena’s battle cry rang out just before she launched herself through the air. Her timing was perfect, and she crashed into the commander’s body in midair. She hit the ground with him under her. She tried for the dagger, however, Commander Jericho was smart, and he tossed it.

Commander Jericho hastily punched the Warrior Princess in the jaw, which should have been a hard blow. He was surprised to find that it hardly affected the warrior beyond annoying her. He then rolled them before she tried to reciprocate.

“Fall back,” the second in command ordered, “Back to the camp.”

The commander didn’t argue with his second in command for once. He climbed to his feet and ran, but he picked up his dagger.

Xena was up on her feet, and she slotted her eyes at the fleeing Athenians.

Commander Jericho was quite far, but he came upon his horse. He hastily mounted the horse, turned the gelding around, and he threw the dagger at the Amazon Queen. “You can’t hide behind her, Queen Gabrielle!”

Xena sprung up and neatly caught the blade in her palm. She tightly squeezed it once she landed on her feet. She flipped the dagger in midair, caught it by the blade, and prepared to return it to its owner.

“Xena,” the bard softly called. She didn’t want her friend to kill the fleeing commander with a dagger to the back.

The warrior released the dagger, yet she’d recalculated her angle.

Commander Jericho galloped off, and his dagger dug into the ground just behind his horse’s hoofs. He followed after his men.

“Gods. What’s happened? Is everybody okay?”

Ephiny turned in her saddle at hearing the familiar voice. She felt relieved to see Solari and five other mounted Amazons. “We’re fine, Solari.”

Solari slightly calmed then looked to the queen. She recalled that Xena was coming too. “Gabrielle, Xena was headed this…” She lost her words, yet her mouth remained hung open. She oddly stared at the Warrior Princess, who appeared by the queen’s horse.

“It’s okay, Solari,” Xena informed. She touched Argo’s side and willed her horse to settle down.

Solari closed her mouth and decided to let it go for now.

“We need to get out of here,” Gabrielle ordered. She released the reins, removed her feet from the stirrups, and pushed back in the saddle. She peered down at her partner.

Xena silently agreed, and she efficiently mounted the mare. She became situated in the saddle and took the reins.

“Let’s go before they return.” Ephiny signaled the Amazons to ride back to the nation. She let Gabrielle and Xena go ahead of her, then she and Solari followed at the rear.

Gabrielle carried her staff in her right hand while she used her left arm to hold onto Xena. She could read how tense the warrior was from what’d happened earlier. She leaned in until her lips almost touched Xena’s ear. “Are you okay?”

Xena didn’t verbally reply, but she freed her left hand and covered Gabrielle’s one on her stomach.

“Thank you for coming so fast,” Gabrielle murmured. Xena squeezed her hand in response.

The warrior slightly turned her head and whispered, “Always.” She returned her focus to the ride. She then tilted her head and picked out Solari’s low whispers.

“Ephiny, I’m telling you it is impossible,” the second in command insisted.

The regent sighed and leaned to the right in the saddle. “Xena is a fast runner.”

“She’s not that fast… nobody beyond the gods are that fast.” Solari licked her lips and shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Ephiny thought about how Xena caught that dagger. She was surprised the warrior hadn’t cut her palm, but Xena was fine, and it didn’t add up. She decided it was best not to encourage Solari’s curiosity. “She showed up and saved Gabrielle. I don’t question that.”

Solari grumbled because she wanted to know the mystery. She relented and went quiet.

Gabrielle noticed how Xena had been focused on something then stopped. She glanced behind and saw the tail end of Ephiny and Solari’s conversation. She sat normal in the saddle again and quietly questioned, “They’re talking about how you showed up so quickly?”

“Yes,” the warrior murmured.

“They’re going to figure it out.” The bard dropped her head to the side. “Why not tell them?”

Xena faintly shrugged. “I rather keep it quiet.”

Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply, but she said nothing because Ephiny came up to her side. She slightly grinned and mentally replied, “How long do you think you can keep it quiet, Warrior Princess?

The god grunted at the directed thought from her partner. She glanced at Ephiny beside them.

“That went well, don’t you think?” Ephiny joked.

Gabrielle sighed and shook her head. “I would say the commander has a specific agenda.” She caught sight of Xena’s profile. “They want us to hand over Velasca. No excuses allowed.”

“Did you notice how the second in command doesn’t seem to quite agree?”

The Amazon Queen quickly nodded at Ephiny’s observation and considered it more. “Maybe we can use that to our advantage.”

“As long as Jericho is in charge then nothing is changing,” Xena stated.

Gabrielle leaned to the left in the saddle. “Couldn’t the second in command sway Jericho?”

“How and when do you plan to win over the second in command and wait for him to sway the commander?” Xena paused and waited for any response yet there were none. “The Athenian Army doesn’t work like a warlord army. Commander Jericho has his orders and so does the army.”

“And he’s pretty dead set on them,” Gabrielle whispered.

The regent was quiet. She noticed that Solari now joined them on the other side of Xena’s horse.

“What about handing over somebody?” Solari shrugged and reminded, “They don’t know what Velasca looks like. Then we can setup an escape plan for the prisoner.”

Xena devilishly grinned and teased, “Are you volunteering, Solari?”

The second in command grumbled, but she honestly stated, “I will if it’ll save the nation.”

“Nobody is handing themselves over,” Gabrielle snapped. She was relieved when Solari let the idea go. “Regardless of what’s happened, we are responsible for Velasca’s actions. She was an Amazon.”

“Gabrielle, you can’t be serious,” Solari argued. “She was a psycho path.”

“She was our psycho path,” the queen hotly reminded. “We accept the good that the nation does… and we accept the bad too.”

Solari sighed and held her tongue. She glanced over at Ephiny.

The regent hated the idea of going to war. “We better prepare the nation completely. There’s no telling when the Athenian Army could attack.”

“We’ll do it as soon as we get back,” Gabrielle agreed. She’d noticed that Xena remained quiet, which told her that her partner was working out an alternate plan. She mentally asked, “What are you planning, oh godly one?

Xena developed a small grin, which she hid again. She squeezed the bard’s hand in silent promise to discuss it later.

Ephiny moved ahead of Argo and so did Solari. The regent met Solari ahead of Xena and Gabrielle, but they were still in earshot of the partners.

Gabrielle lowered her head onto Xena’s broad shoulder. She closed her eyes. She wanted to talk to Xena some, however, she knew Ephiny or Solari would probably hear her. She sighed.

“What?” Xena whispered.

The bard just grumbled. Then an idea came to mind, and she smirked. There was nothing wrong with a one sided conversation, right? Or rather a yes and no conversation. She focused her thoughts towards her partner. Are you thinking of another way to handle the Athenian Army?

The Warrior Princess softly chuckled at Gabrielle’s idea to communicate. She kept her voice down and answered, “Yes.”

Gabrielle opened her eyes and slightly grinned at the game between them. She liked this way of communicating. Does it involve me helping?

“Maybe,” Xena muttered.

Gabrielle grumbled and voiced her opinion. “That means it doesn’t.”

Solari hesitated in her conversation with Ephiny and glanced back at Gabrielle. She shook her head when Gabrielle’s words didn’t make sense, and she focused back on Ephiny.

The bard chuckled that she’d forgotten to keep the conversation to her thoughts. You damn well better tell me your idea. You know I hate being left in the dark much less behind. Do you still think we won’t have to go to war?

“Not sure,” the warrior muttered.

The bard lifted her head off her partner’s shoulder. She brushed her bangs back, but they returned. We are getting a vacation after this is over, right?

Xena just held back her laugh, but her smile wouldn’t be refused. “Yes, promise.”

Gabrielle dropped her head forward until her forehead hit the warrior’s shoulder. “Thank the gods.” She released a huge sigh. She briefly felt Xena’s hand squeeze hers. I do have one other question. Were you in my dreamscape last night?

The warrior tried not to fidget, which was a foreign action for her. She was surprised Gabrielle pegged her so well. “Later,” Xena only replied.

That’s a yes! Gabrielle grew smug at the fact that she’d been right. I knew it. You acted so guilty this morning. I didn’t figure it out until after the bath.

Xena’s eyes fluttered as she tried to focus on both Gabrielle’s thoughts, Ephiny and Solari’s conversation, and the horse ride. She finally stated, “Now my other reason for riding Argo has been shot to Hades.” She was happy when Gabrielle’s directed thoughts came to a complete halt.

“What?” Gabrielle mentally repeated Xena’s words. She quickly caught up that Xena was referencing back to earlier about why Xena rode the horse.

Xena removed her hand from Gabrielle’s and massaged her burrow. “Just talk normal, please.”

Gabrielle frowned and became worried. “Don’t tell me you’re getting a headache?”

The warrior took the reins into both hands. “What if I tell you that I am?”

“That’s…impossible,” Gabrielle stuttered, “but… everybody get’s headaches.” She wanted to slap herself for saying that with Ephiny and Solari nearby. She was quite worried and confused about how and why her partner was developing a headache. “Anything I can do?”

“Don’t think anything,” the warrior quietly begged.

Gabrielle sighed at Xena’s hint. She whispered, “Sorry. I didn’t realize…”

“S’alright,” Xena replied, “I didn’t either. Let’s just enjoy the ride.”

The bard understood that meant in silence. She rested her head against Xena’s shoulder again and closed her eyes. She thought about the pending war and what could be done to solve it. She didn’t see any options, and she could only guess what her friend had in mind.

The Amazon party soon arrived in the village and broke apart to the appropriate stables. Gabrielle and Xena then met up with Ephiny and Solari to discuss what to do next. They all huddled into the queen’s hut and became as comfortable as possible.

The nation would be put on alert and the final preparations for war would be made. The normal patrol would be increased for extra precautions along with a few scouts, who would monitor the Athenian camp for any mobilization.

The conversation took several candlemarks but Ephiny and Solari left the queen’s hut. They took care of setting the nation on alert and beefing up the patrol. Gabrielle and Ephiny had decided on the three scouts that could keep an eye on the Athenian Army. The three Amazons were excellent at hunting so they would be effective scouts.

Once the two Amazons were gone, Gabrielle sunk deep into her chair and groaned. She leaned the back of her head against the chair, turned it to the left, and stared at her friend. “How’s your head?”

Xena considered her head then nodded. “Better.”

“What caused it?”

The warrior sighed and stretched out her legs before she answered. “I was trying to listen to what Ephiny and Solari were saying, listen to you, and watch Argo.”

Gabrielle smirked and teased, “Not so godly, oh godly one.” She received a glare for her smart remark, but she went more serious. “How can you get a headache? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I guess even the gods are prone to them,” Xena muttered.

“At least this god is.” Gabrielle was concerned about that factor because it didn’t make sense to her. She couldn’t imagine how a god could get a headache. She straightened up and turned in her chair so that she faced her partner. She propped her left arm up on the back of the chair’s back. “So what’s your idea?”

“It’s pretty simple,” Xena replied. “I’ll have a little talk with the commander tonight.”

“Xena, that’ll probably just piss him off.”

“Maybe,” the warrior muttered, “maybe not.”

“And if it does,” Gabrielle started, “then I’ll be promised a war.” She bit her lower lip and lowered her head some. “This is ridiculous… for them to send an Athenian unit to punish the Amazons over a temple.” She shook her head. “Velasca must have really destroyed it.”

“Most likely,” the warrior agreed, “but we know how serious it is to deface much less destroy a temple.”

The bard huffed and muttered, “This must have been Velasca’s plan all along.”

The warrior stood up and stated, “She hasn’t won yet.” She came over to Gabrielle and stood in front of her. She held out her hand in silent offer.

“Well,” the bard rambled, “with a godly Warrior Princess on my side, I can’t see how I’ll lose.” She collapsed the warrior’s hand and was hauled up from the chair. She gazed deep into the blue eyes she seemed to be falling for more each day. “After this, we have to figure out what to do about this godhood.”

Xena debated whether to say it, but she finally stated, “I’m not too concerned about it.” She stepped around Gabrielle, who turned on her boots.

“Not too concerned about it?” Gabrielle put her hands on her hips. “As in you don’t plan on fixing it, right?”

The warrior picked up the staff by the door and turned her head sidelong. “If it’s another alternative to helping protect you, then it’s worth it.”

Gabrielle approached her partner and took in the seriousness of her partner’s words. “Xena, this isn’t a weapon or… or… some skill. This is a godhood.”

Xena gently sighed, and she set the staff back against the wall. She faced her friend and took in the bard’s worried features. “I know that… and I know what it could mean.” She hesitated but added, “What it does mean.”

Gabrielle swallowed against the soft lump in her throat. She stared at the floor and whispered, “It means that when I’m in my sixties you’ll still be in your thirties.” She peered back up at the calm warrior. “Xena…”

“I know,” the warrior murmured. “We’ll decide later.” She slightly grinned and offered, “We’ll weigh the pros and cons.”

Gabrielle stepped around her friend, grabbed the staff, and opened the door. “You mean flip a coin, right?” She listened to Xena’s chuckle behind her, yet she headed out the door.

Xena followed out and noticed the sky was darkening from the sunset. She could tell the bard was thinking heavily about something.

“It’s strange,” the bard mentioned, “that you haven’t lost any emotions or feelings. And you get headaches?” She shook her head, but tried to figure out the mystery. “Your eyes are blue instead of white… not that I’m complaining.” She grinned up at her partner, who mirrored back the grin. “I prefer the blue far more than the white.”

Xena shrugged and replied, “Maybe it’s different for mortals that become gods.”

“That still doesn’t explain why your eyes are blue.” Gabrielle shifted closer to her partner. “Velasca’s eyes were white.”

“Personality differences?” Xena joked.

Gabrielle grunted but remained serious. “I don’t think the ambrosia is selective.”

“And I don’t think we’re going to figure it out tonight, Gabrielle.” Xena touched her friend’s midback. “Right now the Athenian Army is our major problem.”

The Amazon Queen stopped in front of the hut door. She waited until a few Amazons passed, then she stated, “Don’t think for a second that I won’t forget your godhood.”

Xena held up her hands in defense. “I’d be hurt if you did, my follower.” She dropped her hands.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and smacked Xena on her stomach. “Come on, Warrior God.” She disappeared into the dining hut.

The Warrior Princess smirked and followed her friend. She took a spot in the line behind Gabrielle and collected her food. She was none surprised when Ephiny came up to her side in the food line. “How goes it, Ephiny?”

“We’re pretty well prepared.”

Gabrielle bent forward and met Ephiny’s gaze. “Where’s Solari?”

“She’s finishing up with the traps. She’ll be here shortly.” Ephiny walked down the line and collected her food.

Xena picked up a metal bowl of very steamy soup. She easily cupped the bottom of the bowl in her left hand. Gabrielle finished putting food on her plate for her.

The regent made a grab for a bowl of soup too, but she hissed when it was too hot. She hesitated after a thought occurred to her. She stared oddly at Xena and Gabrielle, who were headed to a dinner table. She narrowed her eyes at the fact that Xena so easily carried the extremely hot bowl. “What in…”

Ephiny was holding up the line so she gathered up her plate, filled it, and hurried to the table. She arrived in time to see Xena set the soup bowl down and there were absolutely no red marks left behind. She bit her tongue before her words came out. Several things didn’t make sense, and Ephiny recalled one of them when she met the warrior’s extremely blue gaze.

Solari soon arrived and joined the group. She had plenty to report about the traps being prepared. She mentioned that the scouts were sent out a few hours ago. She promised she only need a brief word of command, and the Amazons would be prepared for the war. It was a command that Gabrielle did not want to give.

After dinner, Xena and Gabrielle quietly walked back to the hut. Gabrielle was fairly worn, but she still had some fight in her. She urged Xena to let her follow her to the Athenian camp.

The warrior was close to the queen’s hut. She hesitated from replying in case somebody overheard them. She entered the hut and closed the door once Gabrielle followed. She loudly closed the door and stated, “I’m doing this alone.”

“Xena, you almost got caught last time,” the bard argued.

The warrior didn’t need the argument from her partner. She moved away from the door and approached the bard, who had her back to her. “It’s dangerous, and I can-”

“And you can move faster without me, right?” Gabrielle snapped. She spun around and dared the god to rebuke or agree to her point.

Xena sighed and waited a beat so that Gabrielle would calm. She gently grabbed the bard’s shoulders. “That’s not it.” She squeezed Gabrielle’s tense shoulders. “If something happens to you…” She let go of her words and only added, “There’s a lot at stake. If I screw up tonight then that puts me against seven hundred soldiers.”

“That’s about eleven minutes,” Gabrielle tried to joke. She recalculated with her Skill Formula. She didn’t smile though after her joke and let out a deep sigh.

“Eleven minutes or not,” Xena reminded, “it’ll be dangerous.”

The bard softly grumbled and dropped her head against her staff. “I just…” She closed her eyes and honestly confessed, “Since you’ve come back… I’ve just had a hard time letting you out of my sight.” She opened her eyes again and became lost in the concerned, bright blue eyes above her. “Call it separation paranoia.” She faintly grinned.

Xena also had a small grin. She lifted one hand off of Gabrielle’s shoulder and instead touched Gabrielle’s soft cheek. “I know… and thank you.” She read the confusion in the bard. “For caring.”

Gabrielle nodded and raised her head off the staff. “Just be careful.” She rolled her eyes when Xena became smug. “I know, I know.” She chuckled and straightened up more. “You should go soon… it’s dark enough.”

“In a minute,” Xena replied. She took Gabrielle’s staff and walked it over to the door. She propped it against the wall then came back to Gabrielle. “Sit down.”

The bard was perplexed about Xena’s immediate plans, but she took a chair. She then slowly raised an eyebrow when Xena squatted in front of her.

“About your dream…”

Gabrielle perked up at Xena’s mention. “I’m listening.”

“For once,” Xena muttered. She slightly jumped when Gabrielle landed her a smack to her arm. She chuckled yet focused on the topic. “I saw that you were having a nightmare last night so I entered your dream.”

The bard leaned back into the chair and stared at her partner. “You can do that?”

“It looks like it,” the warrior agreed.

Gabrielle was silent, and she replayed her dream from last night. “That explains why you just suddenly got up during that fight.” She watched Xena’s nod. “That was you? I mean you, you… not just a dream you?”

Xena touched the bard’s knee. “It was me.”

The bard was amazed, and she thought back to the one other time her and Xena shared a dream. She shook her head and muttered, “It was like the time with Morpheus.” She focused back on the present. “You remember how you entered my dream then?”

“I do… but this is different.”

Gabrielle slumped against the chair and leaned her head against her right hand, which was propped up by her elbow on the chair arm. “Gods.” She then pushed her bangs back with her hand and straightened up. “You were there the entire… the entire time?”

The warrior observed Gabrielle’s paled features, but she honestly replied, “Yes until you woke up.”

“Xena, my dreams they’re…”

Xena quickly dove into the conversation before the bard became upset. “I know they’re personal. I’m sorry, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle took a beat to settle down so that she could think clearly. She realized her friend was trying to help her sleep better and not nose into her more subconscious mind. She recalled that she’d kissed Xena during the dream just as she had several previous dreams. It was a recently reoccurring element in her dreams that she tried to ignore but miserably failed when Xena kissed her in that alternate reality.

“Gabrielle,” Xena called. She had Gabrielle’s focus back on her, and she had to tread carefully. “I know about a lot of what you’re feeling… have been feeling.” She couldn’t believe she was having a personal, deep conversation, but she figured she could wing it. “I had some ideas before. I didn’t realize how true they were  until I entered your body to help you fight Velasca.”

Gabrielle bowed her head and considered the information. She realized that Xena’s entry into her body did mean that Xena now knew her most intimate details and feelings. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Xena, I don’t…” She lifted her head and revealed her brimming eyes. She moved her hand off the chair arm.

Xena sadly smiled and lifted her right hand off of Gabrielle’s knee. She caught Gabrielle’s hand into hers. “Gabrielle, it’s okay.”

The bard shook her head and argued, “Everything has been upside down… ever since Perdicus and I married.” She dropped her head back against the chair. “Gods I should have never married him.” She lifted her head and sadly explained, “That’s when I started to feel certain things towards you. I figured you’d never reciprocate so when Perdicus asked me to marry him, I accepted. I just…” She shook her head.

“You settled,” the warrior summarized.

“Yeah,” Gabrielle murmured. “I thought I would be happy to be with him. I mean doesn’t every woman dream of a loving husband, a house, some land, and later kids?” She dipped her head again. “Why is everything about me not normal?”

“Gabrielle,” Xena urged, “you and I both know how boring normal is anyway.” She was relieved when her joke paid off, and Gabrielle softly chuckled. “It broke my heart to watch you marry Perdicus, but I figured you knew what you wanted.”

“I knew what I wanted and couldn’t have,” Gabrielle stated. “I settled for Perdicus, the normal life, and Callisto reminded me just how wrong I was to think I could have those things.” She bitterly laughed and whispered, “I don’t know whether to thank her or curse her.”

“I had to learn to stop carrying her weight around, Gabrielle.” Xena squeezed the bard’s hand and offered, “Maybe you have to learn to forgive her.”

Gabrielle thought it over then nodded. “You’re right.”

Xena felt slightly lighter at Gabrielle’s agreement, but she let out a sigh. “That still doesn’t solve the other issue.”

Gabrielle had a dark face and shook her had. “We don’t need to get into it, Xena. I understand.”

“And I don’t think you do,” Xena fought. She found curious, green eyes upon her. “I was honest about what I said in your dream.” She tilted her head and reminded, “I came back from Tartarus because you needed me… that was my inspiration.” She waited and let her words sink into the bard’s mind. She then finally added, “You’ve been my inspiration for a lot of things, Gabrielle. I was going to lay my sword down just outside of Potidaea… I only picked it up because I saw your spirit to fight Draco’s men when you had little chance.”

Gabrielle deeply considered Xena’s words. She softly questioned, “I always thought about that day and how you were in nothing but your boots and shift.” She shook her head. “It didn’t make sense at the time, but later I’ve realized you were going to kill yourself.” She didn’t need a verbal answer from Xena, but she saw the confirmation in those sky eyes she’d long ago fallen for. “Everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it?”

“Mmmm,” Xena softly accepted.

“Why did you kiss me in that alternate reality?” Gabrielle was confused and tried to understand. “Or was that my creativity again?” She knew her joke wasn’t that funny.

“It was me,” Xena promised. “And do I really need to spell it out, Gabrielle?”

The bard felt her heartbeat pick up, but she nervously joked, “Well you’re doing so well at this sensitive chat. Why stop now?”

Xena half glared, but she grinned and whispered, “I have a better idea.” She carefully lifted up on her knees and brought her face in closer to Gabrielle’s.

Gabrielle was glad she was sitting because her knees were already weak. She couldn’t believe this was real and not just another dream repeating for her. She closed her eyes when Xena’s lips were close to hers.

“Gabrielle,” called Ephiny’s voice. The regent barged into the hut and repeated, “I have… to… talk…” She lost her words when a very angry, kneeling Warrior Princess turned her fire blue eyes to her.

Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open, and she turned her head to Ephiny. She glanced at Xena, who she was convinced would killed her regent any second. “Ephiny.”

The Amazon smiled impishly and looked between the queen and warrior. “I really have bad timing, don’t I?” She knew the current position that Xena and Gabrielle were in was a very intimate one.

“You could say that,” Gabrielle agreed. She switched her attention back to Xena.

Xena slowly stood up and faced Ephiny’s direction. She looked as if she was going to attack the Amazon for the second disruption of lately.

Gabrielle gingerly touched her partner’s tense arm.

The Warrior Princess broke from her anger and peered down at Gabrielle. “I’m going to check on Argo…” She returned her dark glare to Ephiny and finished, “Again.” She felt Gabrielle’s gentle brush over her arm, which soothed her temper. She passed Ephiny, went out the open door, and closed it. Once she was outside, she released an annoyed breath, but Gabrielle sent a thought to her.

Sorry about Ephiny, Xena. Be careful in the Athenian camp… don’t take them all for yourself. I’ll see you soon.

Xena slightly grinned at her partner’s words. She hurried off towards the gates.

Ephiny sat on the bed and released a loud groan. “Sweet Artemis, I thought she was going to kill me.”

“I can’t promise you she won’t if you do it a third time,” Gabrielle informed.

The regent huffed and shook her head. She brushed back some of her curly locks.

“What did you need?”

“We heard from a scout… there seems to be some mobilization going on,” Ephiny replied.

Gabrielle tensed at the news. “You think they’ll strike tonight?”

“I doubt tonight but at dawn it could be another story.”

“We are completely prepared, right?” Gabrielle leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees.

Ephiny nodded. “Everybody knows their position and jobs.” She paused and shook her head. “I just don’t know how we’ll stop them.”

“I think with Xena here, we’ll be okay.” The bard lifted her gaze from the floor.

Ephiny opened her mouth, but she hesitated for a second. She sighed and honestly asked, “What’s going on with Xena, Gabrielle? She’s… she’s not herself.”

Gabrielle felt her stomach pitch at Ephiny’s words. “She’s her usual tall, dark self.” She saw Ephiny’s dubious expression. “Ephiny-”

“Gabrielle, I’m serious.” The regent stood up from her spot and walked away. She turned and stated, “How did she fight Velasca and come out unscathed? It doesn’t make sense because we all saw how she dislocated her arm here in the village before you two left.”

“And she fixed it,” Gabrielle debated.

“That’s not the point.” Ephiny came back to the bard and stood in front of her. “She hurt her arm in the first fight… Hades it was an escape even. Why didn’t she get hurt later, Gabrielle?” She wait for a response, but Gabrielle wasn’t forthcoming. “Her eyes are blue. She made it to the Athenian camp in no time and didn’t even break a sweat.”

“Ephiny, I don’t know.” Gabrielle’s defenses were rising, and she didn’t like how Ephiny was corning her. “I don’t know all of Xena’s tricks.”

“Centaur shit,” Ephiny snapped. She knelt down until she was eye level. “What are you hiding, Gabrielle?” She could almost shake it from the bard, but she could see she was on the losing side. “Gabrielle, we’re friends and I’m asking you not to hide anything from me that you may know.”

The Amazon Queen sighed and dropped her head forward. She lifted her head again and ordered, “Sit down, Ephiny.”

The regent slightly smiled when Gabrielle gave into her. She took the vacant chair and patiently waited for an answer to her question.

“You remember what I told you about how Xena and Velasca were fighting on the bridge?”

“Over the lava pit,” the regent recalled.

“Well Xena didn’t exactly make it across the bridge,” Gabrielle explained. “Velasca used her powers to throw Xena out over the lava pit. Luckily Xena caught the rope bridge and held onto it. I was already on the other side, but I wasn’t going to cut the ropes until Xena was safe.” The bard stopped and pulled up her memories. “Just before Velasca threw Xena out on the bridge, Xena managed to rip the small pouch off Velasca’s side.”

“The pouch that had the ambrosia?” Ephiny became wide eye. “She didn’t…” She dropped her shoulders at Gabrielle’s nod. “She’s a god now?”

“It was Xena’s only choice at the time. Velasca would have killed her and me.”

“Xena could have let go of the bridge rope and…” Ephiny halted her words at Gabrielle’s dark face. She realized her mistake because Gabrielle was still dealing with Xena’s death and rebirth. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle. I didn’t mean…”

“It’s okay,” Gabrielle promised after a second. She let go of her anger. “I think Xena knew if she died then I would have gave up too.”

Ephiny silently conceded. She’d hated witnessing how torn Gabrielle had been after Xena’s death, and she’d been plenty glad that the warrior was back. She just wasn’t sure how she felt about the warrior now being a god. “Well, I suppose we won’t have to worry about losing the battle.”

The bard quietly huffed and nodded once.

Ephiny thought more about the predicament then asked, “How are you two going to fix it?”

“We don’t know,” the queen replied. Slowly her lips thinned, and she revealed, “I don’t know if Xena wants to fix it.”

The regent’s eyebrows hiked up at the news. “That’s unlike Xena.”

“It is,” Gabrielle murmured.

“The godhood is going to her head?” she carefully questioned.

The bard shook her head and focused on Ephiny. “I don’t think so. She’s actually seems more focused than normal. I can’t explain it, Ephiny, but I think she’s more aware about everything.”

“Well she is a god,” the regent reminded.

“That’s not what I mean.” Gabrielle turned in her chair then put together her thoughts. “You know how the gods really don’t have much emotional depth?” After Ephiny’s nod, she continued to speak. “Well the opposite has seemed to happen with Xena. She’s more open about talking, and she’s really aware of my emotions all the time. She just knows.”

The Amazon lowered her head and massaged her brow. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“You’re telling me.” Gabrielle became brighter at the mention of things not making sense. “You know another thing that’s odd. On the ride back from the Athenian camp, she started to get a headache.”

Ephiny laughed but mostly because she found it hard to believe. “She must have not ate enough ambrosia.”

The bard leaned back in her chair. “I don’t know, but it’s really strange. She doesn’t seem to mind it either… and what scares me is that a part of me isn’t frightened by her staying as a god.”

Ephiny furrowed her eyebrows and studied her friend carefully.

Gabrielle brushed her hair back then sighed deeply. “I don’t know, Ephiny.”

“I think first we just need to worry about the Athenian Army.”

The Amazon Queen slowly nodded and broke away from her thoughts. “You’re right. Xena’s godhood will just have to wait until after.”

Ephiny stood up and approached her friend. She patted the bard’s hand and offered, “Get some sleep. Tomorrow might be Hades.”

Gabrielle glowered up at the regent. “Thanks.” She grinned at Ephiny’s low laugh. She watched Ephiny head to the door, but she called, “Goodnight, Ephiny.”

“Goodnight.” The regent briefly waved then slipped out of the hut.

The bard studied the bed and debated whether to stay up, work on her scrolls, and wait for Xena. She continued to debate with herself, and she thought about her partner.

The Warrior Princess was carefully moving through the Athenian camp. She was invisible, but she was far too use to being cautious. She didn’t need to be accidentally noticed. She neared the commander’s tent and hesitated by the tent flap. She heard two voices inside, and she knew it was the commander and his second in command. She wondered if she could pass through the tent flap without moving it.

Xena dared fate and walked straight towards the tent flap. Gradually a smug look passed on her face when her body merely passed through the tent flap as if she was a ghost.

“This is ridiculous, commander,” the second in command argued.

“Listen, Calchas you follow my orders. We have orders to return with the Amazon that destroyed the temple or we wipe out this nation for protecting her.”

“And I still say it doesn’t make sense why an Amazon would attack a temple to Artemis.” Calchas ignored the commander’s fiery gaze. “If we make a mistake then that’ll bring all the Amazon Nations against us. We could lose serious treaties.”

“Save the politics for Athens,” the commander snapped.

“I’d prefer to save lives.” Calchas straightened up when the commander came at him with a dagger.

Jericho placed the dagger’s tip against the soldier’s low throat. He stared deep into his eyes. “Does that include yours?” He stepped closer and growled, “Follow my orders, Calchas or I’ll find somebody that can.”

Calchas knew when to hold his tongue. He nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The commander quickly turned and threw his dagger at a map mounted on the other side of the tent. His dagger drove into the spot that represented the Amazon Nation. “We attack tomorrow at first light. Go and prepare the men for tomorrow.” He turned his head sidelong to the second in command. “I want the onagers prepared to wipe that village out.”

Calchas nodded then bowed his head. “As you command, sir.” He turned and marched out of the tent.

Xena had stood aside and idly listened. She stared at Commander Jericho and was quite tempted to run her sword through him without him seeing her. It was tempting, but she knew the results of murder. She instead came up with a new plan, and she left the commander’s tent.

The warrior moved quickly through the camp once she spotted her destination. She made it to the small corral of warhorses and workhorses. She neared the three onagers that would be used to siege the Amazon village and most likely destroyed the gates. She knelt down beside the rear of the first siege weapon and scanned her local surroundings. She waited until a few guards passed.

Xena gripped the wood rail that held the arm, which would shoot the heavy boulders. She gritted her teeth then forced her arms and muscles to crack the beam. Soon enough her ears filled with the sound of wood cracking under her strength, but she didn’t break it all the way through.

The warrior climbed to her feet and went to the other two onagers one by one and repeated the process. She hoped that when the Athenians try to use them tomorrow that the arm’s powerful swing would fully break the beam and render the siege weapon useless.

Xena hurried back into the camp and went on a hunt for a certain soldier. She was able to locate the second in command, and she tracked him back to his tent. She slipped into the tent after Calchas and took a seat in a wood chair. She crossed her legs and briefly watched him unhook his sheathed sword and set it down.

Calchas had his back to Xena, but he soon faced her and never saw her. He reached up and removed his helmet, turned, and set it down beside his sword on the bed. He walked to the other side of the tent and reached up to the large clasp of his armor.

“Your commander is a bit stubborn, isn’t he?”

Calchas spun around and became shocked to see the Warrior Princess in his tent. He observed her casual manner and how she sat in the chair like it was her tent. “How did you…”

“I have many… many skills,” the bemused warrior smugly stated.

Calchas briefly glanced at his sword on the bed. He was further from it than Xena.

“I wouldn’t.” Xena tilted her head and nonchalantly began to swing her crossed leg. “I just came to talk.” She held out her hand to the free chair on her right. “Sit down.”

Calchas didn’t trust her so he folded his arms. “I prefer to stand.”

“Suit yourself,” Xena muttered.

“What you want?”

The Warrior Princess sighed and stopped swinging her leg. “Are you always this pleasant to your guests?”

Calchas had a dubious look at the warrior’s joke.

Xena suddenly stood up and approached the second in command, yet she kept herself between him and his sword. “Don’t you find it strange that the Amazons would destroy a temple to Artemis?” She placed her hands on her hips. “It’s even stranger that an Athenian commander was given orders to wipe out the Amazon Nation if they didn’t hand over the Amazon.”

Calchas narrowed his eyes. “What’s your point?”

“My point is,” Xena explained, “that you will be punished if Commander Jericho isn’t stopped. You and I both know how severe the Athenian Army’s punishment system is today. The second in command’s job is to keep the commander in check.”

Calchas walked away but faced Xena again. “Tell me what happened?”

Xena actually smiled at the second in command’s offer. She briefed Calchas on what’d happened and gave him the real but glazed version of the story. She wasn’t about to reveal that she was a god because it was her only advantage point right now.

“So this Velasca is dead?”

“More like trapped,” Xena corrected. “She’s not a problem.”

Calchas lowered his head and considered all the information he now had from the warrior. He trust her too because he’d heard that she’d changed dramatically within the past year. He also could tell that Queen Gabrielle was a honest person. He mostly feared what would happen if Commander Jericho allowed the war to proceed.

“I’ll see what I can do,” the second in command resolved.

Xena finally stepped around Calchas and closer to the tent flap. “A lot of people will die otherwise, Calchas and needlessly. I can guarantee you that.”

Calchas carefully watched the warrior. “I know, Xena. I trust your words.” He bit his lower lip then nodded. “I’ve heard how you’ve changed… what you’d done to help.” He turned his back to the warrior and took a step towards the bed.

“Then do the right thing too, Calchas… stop the war before it starts.” Xena took her opening and used her invisibility.

Calchas spoke while he turned around to the warrior. “I plan to… Xena?” He scanned his candlelit tent, but the Warrior Princess was gone. He rushed out of his tent and stopped dead just outside. He didn’t see her anywhere, and the Athenian soldiers only continued to talk around their campfires. It was as if Xena was a ghost.

Deeper back in the woods, the Amazon village remained on alert. The patrol was heavy and the scouts were not far from the Athenian camp. In the queen’s hut, Gabrielle was halfway on the bed and completely asleep.

The bard hadn’t bothered to change because she didn’t think she would have fallen asleep. She’d tried writing yet the stories haven’t returned to her lately. So she’d merely sat on the foot of the bed then flopped down. She’d closed her eyes for only a minute, but a minute turned into ten and fifteen and eventually she drifted off to her dreamscape.

Almost a candlemark after Gabrielle fell asleep, Xena materialized in the hut. She stood a few paces from the foot of the bed, and she smirked at Gabrielle’s sleeping form. She had to admit it that the bard was fairly cute, and she could imagine that Gabrielle had accidentally fallen asleep.

Xena stepped forward and knelt down. She untied the bard’s boots and hoped Gabrielle wouldn’t wake up. She set the boots aside then prepared to get ready for bed too. When she was free of her weapons, boots, and armor she was only left with her leathers. She took a minute to wash her face in the washbasin, then she came back and changed out of her leathers and into a night shift. Finally she picked out Gabrielle’s nightshift and came back to the bed.

The bard stirred when warm hands gently touched her. She was drowsy and murmured, “Xena?”

“Hey,” the warrior greeted. “You need to change and get into bed.”

“You mean I’m not?” The bard was confused and tried to focus.

Xena chuckled at the question that reminded her from not too long ago. “No, you’re not.” She lifted the bard up and helped her get ready. She easily sat down behind the bard and set the shift down beside her.

“Everything go… okay?” Gabrielle slowly worked her soft leather halter. She had a hard time with it.

Xena pushed Gabrielle’s hands away and worked the clasp in the back of Gabrielle’s top. “I think so.” She finished the clasp just as Gabrielle unhooked her bronze shoulder straps. She and the bard finally had the top off.

Gabrielle was clearly tired. She just tossed her leather top onto the nearby chair, which caused a loud clank. She then fussed with her tied feather necklace.

Xena chuckled and swatted the bard’s hands away. “I got it. Get your nightshift.”

Gabrielle was again confused, but she realized Xena had set it beside her. She picked it up, organized it, and put it on after Xena removed the necklace. Last she wiggled out of her skirt and prepared to toss it to the chair too.

The warrior snatched the skirt from the bard’s hands. She slipped out of bed and took the skirt and necklace over to the table and chairs. She set the skirt down then picked up the top and put it on the skirt. Finally she set the necklace down on them.

Xena made quick work of the handful of lit candles then made her way back to the bed. She chuckled at Gabrielle, who flopped back down without getting under the covers. She crawled up the bed from the foot and grabbed up the bard. Xena easily pulled the bard up onto the bed then debated whether to fight with the covers or not.

Instead Xena drew Gabrielle into her warm body, which would be plenty for a summer evening. She smiled when Gabrielle snuggled her back deeper into Xena’s front side. Xena tangled her legs with the bard’s, and she kept her arms wrapped around Gabrielle’s upper and lower stomach. Xena rested her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. She wasn’t tired, but she could at least rest her mind.

To be continued.