~ In the Company of Warriors ~
by BardBlue

Disclaimer: This is a story of pure fan fiction. XENA and GABRIELLE as well as the secondary characters are fictional characters that are copyrighted to MCA/Universal. They are used here without intent to profit from or infringe upon this copyrighted material. The rest of the story is mine. This fan fiction contains explicit sexual content occurring between two consenting adults of the same sex and some scenes of graphic violence. If you are under the age of 18 or you do not wish to read such content then don't. Otherwise, enjoy? I hope.

Spoiler Alert: You really need to read the pre-quel: "Another Second Chance" for this story to make sense. This story takes place during the 5th season, after the visit to the town of Spamona, without Xena becoming pregnant, and without Gabrielle adopting a horse. My thanks to Ink Warrior for BETA reading my story and providing me with wonderful feedback and support.

The two women happily made their way to Amphipolis, where they informed Xena's elated mother of their plans. Cyrene had heard rumors of their crucifixion and was overjoyed to find the rumors false. Her daughter felt it wise not to inform her of the whole truth. Cyrene had always cared for Gabrielle and was more than ok with the thought of her as a daughter-in-law. Gabrielle had already decided to leave her folks out of the loop, for now.

Things seemed to be better than ever. Gabrielle had never seen such emotion from her dark haired companion. It was as if all of her bottled up passions had come uncorked. Still, the observant queen felt that something was bothering her love, but Xena had always been a bit moody. So Gabrielle chalked it up to that, which combined with the memories of the still recent horrors they had been through together was more than enough reason to be moody. No matter how happy she was at the moment, she still could not shake the darkness and pain of their crucifixion. She figured the same was true for Xena, tough though she was.

While Xena disappeared for a day, meeting with the builder of their home, Gabrielle discovered from Cyrene that the warrior had been sending money for her to keep over the past few years and had acquired quite a tidy sum. She knew that there would be more than enough for a dream house and then some. The Amazon Queen wondered at Xena who lived so sparsely on the road. She knew that she made money along their travels, competing in various contests, taking bets, and receiving small payments for services rendered, but never really paid attention to amounts or wondered where it went. They always had what they needed when they needed it, with Gabrielle filling in as a bard along the way. They lived quite comfortably on the road, neither needing much more than the basic necessities. Now Gabrielle could see how long Xena had felt a love for her. She had been planning for years. She shook her head sadly at the lost time, but smiled at the memory of the deep love Xena now openly showed toward her. Gabrielle used her day alone to tend to a few errands of her own in the marketplace of Amphipolis.

The pair left Argo stabled at Cyrene's tavern and started for the coast to secure passage to the Isle of Lesbos. The trip was one of continued pleasure for the two, they radiated happiness wherever they went and made others smile at their delight with each other. Gabrielle even managed to maintain her composure aboard ship, using her ability to meditate to help her past any queasiness that assailed her due to seasickness.

As promised, Xena knew of the perfect temple for their joining. The priestess who married them felt their union was one of which Aphrodite would be proud. It was a simple ceremony with no special rites, just the two women in love, exchanging their hearts before the priestess who could not help but smile at the couple's obvious and utter devotion to each other.

That evening, Xena took Gabrielle to a beautiful inn by the seashore. A room close to a scenic, white-sand beach had already been booked. A basket of fruit and breads awaited their arrival.

"I will never know how you manage the things that you do, my warrior," sighed Gabrielle with contentment. She was snuggling back into Xena's chest as the two sat on the beach, watching the sun turn the sea and sky indescribable colors before it sunk below the horizon.

"I cannot reveal all of my secrets to you at once, my wife, but there are a few I would like to share with you, now," Xena said slyly, pulling the hair back from Gabrielle's neck and nibbling behind her ear. At the same time, her other hand worked its way up from its resting place at Gabrielle's hip and cupped her breast. Xena felt her blood turn hot as the young woman's nipple contracted beneath her busy fingers.

Gabrielle's breathing became much more erratic as her new mate continued to tease her with lips and fingers. She groaned and pulled herself away from the passionate warrior and stood up, holding her hand out to Xena who suddenly looked very much like a young child whose cookie had been stolen.

"Hey, it's our honeymoon, you know," Xena complained, grasping the bard's hand and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.

"Come with me, my love," Gabrielle said mysteriously, "I have something for you." She walked back across the beach toward their room pulling Xena by the hand.

"That's what I'm hoping. Like I said, it is our honeymoon," Xena said with a leer that made her wife giggle.

"Don't worry, my big, bad warlord. Nothing will be denied you. I definitely have something to give you in that area as well." Gabrielle turned, walking backwards a few steps and gracefully planted a kiss on Xena's cheek. "Now just bear with me a moment, while I get something."

The pair entered their room and Xena sat, slightly pouting, on the edge of the bed. She wondered what Gabrielle had in mind, but she knew what was on hers. They had gone straight from the ship to the temple to be joined, and then enjoyed a romantic dinner at the inn. By then the newlywed warrior was fair to bursting to get her wife into bed, but had acquiesced to her request to watch the sunset that captured the bard's attention. Whatever this latest delay was, it better be good.

"Calm yourself, girl," Xena told herself. "She's all yours, now." The warrior shook her head in disbelief at the thought. A brief flash of darkness crossed the woman's face. She shook it off and looked up as Gabrielle reappeared into the bedroom, dressed in her silk robe. She knelt before Xena.

"What are you shaking you head for my love?" Gabrielle queried.

"I just can't believe this. You, me, all of it." Xena replied, touching her wife's cheek with a tenderness she rarely displayed. "I hope I can do it justice."

"Any regrets?" the kneeling woman asked, putting her head down on the powerful thigh of her companion.

Xena placed her hand in Gabrielle's hair and stroked it. "Only that we didn't do it sooner?getting married, I mean," she added, aware of the double meaning to her words.

Gabrielle looked up and smiled at the slightly flustered look on Xena's face. She knew she was one of the few people in the world who could cause such a reaction from this magnificent woman. The bard cleared her throat and said, "Look, Xena, I know you are not one for speeches, ceremonies and romantic mush, and you have come through the day well. I appreciate all of the thought you have put into making this time special for me, for us. I feel as if I have not given much to this whole deal?"

"Gabrielle?" Xena cut in.

"Xena, let me finish. I have something to give to you. It is not much, but I need to contribute something to our special day. Something from me, for you." The beautiful queen presented an intricately, inlayed, wooden box for Xena to take. "This is for you, open it." Gabrielle's voice was eager and a bit apprehensive; as Xena grasped the box and slid open the lid.

Xena removed a circle of gold surrounding a carved, slice of jade. The disc had a hole in the middle and a curious figure of gold at the top through which a chain was attached. She held the pendant from its golden chain up to the candlelight and dangled it before her eyes. "It's absolutely beautiful, Gabrielle. It's jade, isn't it? The royal gemstone?," she remembered.

"Yes, I had it made for you in Amphipolis. I read about this type of pendant once. It represents the sky and the heavens. The figure at the top is a Chin symbol for warrior. I chose this, because my love for you is as immense as the sky and the heavens. Like the gift you gave me, it is to remind you that you carry my heart with you, wherever you go. I hope you are pleased." Gabrielle stood before Xena with a humble look.

"Having the honor and the good fortune to have your love is everything to me, Gabrielle. " Xena reassured her, bringing the pendant to her lips and kissing it. "Thank you, I love it and I will cherish it forever," she said in all honesty and slipped the gift around her neck. The green jewel contrasted beautifully with the sun-bronzed skin of the lovely woman.

"But I will always love and cherish you more, wife." Xena was finished with talk and was ready for action. She took Gabrielle's hand and pulled her toward her while lying back onto the bed.

The young lovers found themselves enjoying the contact of bodies with bed. It had been a long day, and they both knew, it was going to be a pleasantly long night. Gabrielle started things by quickly and skillfully removing Xena's leathers, tossing them to the floor and kissing the skin of her lover as it became exposed. Xena responded by sliding her wife's robe off and pulling her to lie stretched out on top of her, enjoying the heat that the contact of their bodies was creating.

"Make love to me, Xena," Gabrielle breathed sexily, giving Xena a kiss that all but took her breath away. "I need you so much," she continued, tasting Xena's lips before nibbling at them. The slim, blonde woman pushed her body sensuously against the warrior beneath her, kissing her deeply, their tongues dancing eagerly.

"Ok, if I have to," teased Xena but was unable to disguise the lust in her voice. She pulled the bard to her cupping her shapely rear in her hands.

"Mmmm," mumbled Gabrielle, her mouth now full of Xena's breast. "I'll get you for that comment."

"I am counting on it," her lover replied, pushing into the contact and sighing deeply as she felt the kissing travel down her body. "Gods, I am about to explode," Xena thought as Gabrielle kissed her way slowly down her right leg and paid exquisite attention to her toes.

Gabrielle knew the restraint that Xena was exhibiting was immense. She could tell from her heavy breathing that she would not take much more of this. "Well, we'll just see how far I can go," she smiled to herself, and began to kiss her way back up Xena's left leg. When she reached the apex of the legs, she had to swallow hard to keep from diving in. Xena was moaning and had a hand on her head. She opened herself, inviting her wife to venture further. Gabrielle licked her lips in anticipation. She smelled the muskiness of her love's arousal. "Gabrielle, please, don't make me wait anymore," Xena begged. She motioned for Gabrielle to move around and the blonde adjusted her position for their mutual pleasure.

What ensued was nothing less than a battle of tongues, fingers and lust as both women took it upon themselves to drive the other over the edge first. It was only the first act of an incredible night of love and passion.

When they managed to pry their bodies apart sometime toward noon the next day, the pair dressed and went for a stroll through town. Gabrielle laced her arm through Xena's and positively beamed. Xena patted her hand, enjoying the contact as they walked.

"Look up ahead, Xena, over by the fountain, do you see her?" Gabrielle was pointing down toward the center of the market place at a figure dressed in Amazon leathers. "I think that is Saren. It has to be. Come on, let's go see!" Gabrielle quickened their pace toward the woman, whom they could see having a conversation with another Amazon.

Saren had been promoted from the royal guard to sharing the position of Chief of Warriors on the Queen's council with Eponin. An imposing figure, the tall brunette was as tall as Xena, though leaner. She had scars that spoke of many battles, but her brown eyes were warm for those she cared about. Those she did not care for received her unrestrained wrath. The Amazon had a short temper for people who did not follow the rules or for whatever reason got on her bad side. Her passion for fighting and adhering to tradition, along with her 'don't mess with me' attitude made her a good choice for the council. Because she reminded Gabrielle so much of Xena, she had always been one of the queen's favorites.

The surprise on Saren's face was evident but the happiness was greater as she recognized the pair approaching. She took the hand of her partner and quickly kneeled before Gabrielle. "My queen," she gushed, "we heard of your death. The nation is in mourning for you." She cautiously looked up at Gabrielle to measure her reaction.

"Saren, please stand," Gabrielle replied, pulling the Amazon to her feet and then into a friendly embrace. "It is so good to see you. Who is your friend?" she asked, nodding toward the tanned beauty with a thick mane of chestnut hair, staring at Gabrielle with her mouth slightly open.

"This is my mate, Leah, she comes from the territory north of us. Leah and I joined recently and came here for our honeymoon," she added, pulling the compact woman to her and wrapping an arm around her waist. "Leah, this is Queen Gabrielle, I have told you about her."

Leah bowed a graceful and sincere bow, and said, "It is an honor my queen. I have lived in your village since our joining, your people miss you very much."

Gabrielle's eyes teared at the thought and said, "Xena and I have been through a lot recently. It is a long story which I will share with my sisters upon our return." She glanced at Xena who smiled at this statement and nodded for her to continue. "Congratulations to you, Leah & Saren. You make a beautiful couple and I am sure you will be very happy. I am sorry I missed your joining ceremony."

Saren noticed the body language of her royal queen and Xena. She smiled as she replied, "Thank you, my queen, but it looks as if I have missed a joining also."

Gabrielle blushed slightly as she realized what Saren saw, then relaxed and leaned into Xena, her joy evident. "Yes, Xena and I have joined. We are here for the same reason as you."

"Congratulations, warrior," Saren offered her hand which Xena grasped at the forearm. The pair shook and shared an unreadable look. "You have captured the heart of a very special person."

"Thanks, Saren. I hope I can give Gabrielle everything she deserves. We are very happy and I wish you the same." Xena replied, she sounded sincere, but Gabrielle thought she heard something more, in between the lines. She shook it off as her imagination.

The two couples visited for a short time, Gabrielle eager to catch up on the latest with her tribe. Saren wisely gave Gabrielle an edited version of the truth before she and Xena made plans for an evening sparring session, both warriors feeling the strain of enforced inaction and needing to let off some steam.

After a heated afternoon session of love making, Gabrielle woke to the sounds of staff blows and warrior yells. She stretched out on the bed like a cat and yawned, listening to the sparring match out on the beach. The familiar sounds, brought back good memories, and she suddenly realized how much she missed her Amazon sisters. She hoped Xena would be ok with going back. At this point, she knew she must, out of royal obligation and personal desire.

Gabrielle grinned as a playful thought crossed her mind. While pulling on her clothes, she stood by the window and watched her warrior sparring with Saren. The two had obviously been going at it for some time. They were both covered in sweat and sand. Gabrielle had just pulled on her pants, when she heard a loud "whoop!" and looked up to see Saren on her back in the sand. Xena grinned triumphantly over her, planting a makeshift staff near the downed Amazon's throat.

"I concede, Warrior Princess. Enough already." Saren said as Xena hauled her to her feet. "I must be getting back to Leah, we are to leave in the morning." Gabrielle watched as Xena took Saren aside for a conversation that was just beyond her hearing. It seemed serious and Gabrielle feared that Xena was angry about something. She was relieved to see no anger from Saren who listened quietly, nodding occasionally.

"No problem, Xena, I definitely agree. I'll see you soon." Saren replied grabbing the two staffs from their resting place in the sand and leaning them against a tree before jogging off down the beach.

Xena went back to a series of meditation movements, her back to Gabrielle, facing the sea before her. Gabrielle giggled silently at her plan and proceeded to cautiously creep from their room, barefoot, toward the beach. She had played this game before and Xena had always found her out. But Gabrielle had gotten good over the past few months. She knew her own warrior skills had been polished until they shone. Xena continued her workout as Gabrielle approached the staffs. "Where did those two find these?" she thought. Pictures of disassembled bed rails flashed through her mind, as she silently reached through the bushes and gripped a staff in each hand.

"Ai-yi-yi-yi!" Gabrielle imitated Xena's infamous call, springing into action.

Xena spun to find her wife back flipping across the sand toward her. The athletic Amazon executed a perfect round off, brought up the staffs and tossed one to Xena. "Prepare to defend yourself, warrior," Gabrielle challenged with a glint of wicked humor in her eyes. She took a battle stance and began to warily circle the startled woman before her.

"Where did she come from?" wondered Xena, grinning with delight. "I'm going to have to watch out for this little handful." The warrior assumed her own crouch, feet apart, eyes fixed on the lithe body moving closer to her.

"Eeeyah!" yelled Gabrielle, swinging her staff at Xena's mid section then spinning away from the warrior's successful block. "Hiyahh!" she called as she charged in again, this time aiming for the head.

Xena brought her staff up to block the blow and swung around to face her opponent. "Good evening, wife, nice to see you feeling so? rested," she grunted, while continuing to block blow after blow. Xena was not used to being on total defensive, but could not find an advantage to turn things in her favor. "Damn, she's good," thought the warrior, spinning in the sand to meet the next blow. She suddenly saw an opportunity to take Gabrielle down, but did not think she could do it without hurting her. In that moment of hesitation, Gabrielle planted her staff and flipped over her, landing gracefully in the sand behind her. Xena was caught off balance and found herself being literally swept off her feet by the woman she loved. "Ooof," she grunted as she landed on her back.

The Amazon Queen quickly kneeled across the warrior's belly and placed her staff sideways across the defeated athlete's throat. "Give me what I want, or I will have to kill you," she hissed with laughter, triumph in her eyes. She rubbed her pelvis suggestively against Xena's abdomen.

"Then you will have to kill me, for I have nothing to give." Xena smirked, "Do I?" she questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh boy, do you," said her wife, leaning over to place an incredibly hot kiss on the thoroughly receptive warrior's lips.

Chapter Two

In many ways, the honeymoon ended too soon, but the two women enjoyed being on the road again. They swung back by Amphipolis, to pick up Argo and supplies before heading off to Amazon Territory. Cyrene wanted to plan a reception for the couple, but the newlyweds begged off, happy with each other and needing to move on.

Xena was openly delighted with her new wife but continued to carry a pensive attitude. No amount of careful prodding could divest the warrior of her troubles. Gabrielle knew that her mate would open up when the time was right. It just bothered her that she had no clue as to what the problem was. She hoped it wasn't that they were returning to the Amazons. Gabrielle had asked Xena if this was a concern for her, and Xena had assured her that it was not.

Argo was pleased to see them. She was so frisky one morning, that Xena took her for a hard ride down the road, while Gabrielle walked steadily along, enjoying the beautiful spring weather. The queen could hear heavy hoof beats pounding back up the road and expected Xena to be coming around the corner any second. There was barely enough time to realize that she was hearing two horses instead of one, and make a dive for the road's edge when the horses rounded the bend.

"Watch out, Gabrielle, there's two more behind me!" Xena yelled, charging by in pursuit of a wild-eyed ruffian on a sweaty warhorse. Gabrielle tucked and rolled to her feet with the momentum of her dive, and came up to find two more horses coming around the bend.

"Well, lookie what we have here, Jorman. A cute little blonde." The first horseman leered to his friend as they sharply reined their horses to a stop in front of Gabrielle.

"What about Darvok?" asked the second rider, concerned about their third companion. The riders dismounted and proceeded to approach Gabrielle, trying to get one man in front and one behind the wary queen.

"Ahh, he can take care of himself. Besides, I want to take care of this little prize right now." The greasy haired bandit looked Gabrielle up and down while moving toward her with his hand on his belt. "Come here, my sweet, I won't hurt you? much."

Gabrielle backed away from the man and found herself trapped with the second rider coming up from behind. "Look, I don't know who you are, but I don't want to have to hurt you," Gabrielle warned, flexing her hands into fists.

Loud laughter burst from the first man, "Did you hear that, Jorman? Little Missy here does not want to hurt us, isn't that sweet?" he asked, looking at his companion with an evil grin.

That look was his first and last mistake. Pulling her sais from her boots with incredible speed, Gabrielle sprang toward her aggressor uttering a loud battle cry. He reflexively put an arm up and backed away from the tigress that assailed him. Gabrielle downed him quickly with an elbow to the eye, catching him with the butt of one of the sais as he fell forward, effectively driving his nose into his brain. The man dropped like a load of bricks and hit the road flat on his face. Jorman stood as silent witness to this surprise turn of events. He had time to pull his sword before Gabrielle spun toward him, her eyes flashing green fire.

"I can't stand people like you," she grunted as she fended off his sword blows by tucking the sais along her forearms. "I have had enough of dealing with your type of scum." She spun to deliver a kick to the sweating man's face, but was surprised when he had enough wits to duck and bring his sword up toward her leg.

Gabrielle felt the hot slice of pain as the sword cut across the top of her right thigh. The injury only served to propel her into a frenzied attack with her sais, driving the man back toward the trees of the woods. She crumpled to one knee as her leg gave out and the man raised his sword for a mighty blow. Gabrielle held an arm up in feeble defense, when he suddenly stopped short. The thug's eyes popped wide open. The surprised Amazon watched the man fall forward, dead. She looked down to find a dagger in his back. Xena came running from the woods with fear on her face.

"Gabrielle, are you all right?" she breathed. The anxious warrior gathered Gabrielle into her arms and carried her to the road. She grimly noticed the body of the other bandit and looked back at her wife with admiration. Hands fussing, she checked the young queen up and down, centering her attentions on the gash on her thigh.

"What happened to the one you were chasing?" Gabrielle asked, grimacing as Xena pulled the edges of her wound together with her hand and applied pressure.

"Oh, he kind of fell to pieces, while I explained we don't like his kind in these parts." Xena said with a look on her face that Gabrielle had seen before. "Come on, let's get you out of here so I can clean this. You are going to need some sewing. I think he cut muscle."

"I was careless. I let my anger take over. I reacted instead of acted." Gabrielle admitted as the strong warrior lifted her again.

"You always were one to learn the hard?" Xena's words were cut short by the sound of an arrow. The tall woman dropped to her knees trying not to tumble her load, but was unsuccessful. Gabrielle found herself dumped unceremoniously on the hard path. Crying out in pain, she looked up at Xena. The warrior princess caught a second arrow with her left hand and wavered on her knees for a moment before sending the chakram flying off toward some trees just off the road. The bard heard it connect and saw a body drop to the ground from its treetop perch as the chakram sped back for Xena to retrieve.

"Good catch, Xen? Oh Gods, Xena!" the Gabrielle cried out and gasped in horror as she watched her lover clutch an arrow protruding from her side.

"The warrior smiled a sickly grin and whispered, "There was a fourth one, Gabs, missed him," before collapsing.

The stunned blonde lay sprawled next to her wife and screamed out in anguish. She yelled at every god she could think of and when her outburst was over, found herself in the same situation.

"Got to get us out of here," she panted as rational thinking began again. She managed to stand, already feeling faint from blood loss. Gabrielle knew her injured leg would not support her. She called Argo to her and managed to awkwardly climb aboard. Looking down at Xena, she could conceive of no plan in which to get the warrior on the horse as well.

"Go, Gabrielle. Leave me," Xena gasped as if reading her mind. "You can make it to the Amazons and bring back help." Blood seeped through her fingers as they continued to grip the arrow.

Gabrielle hesitated and looked down the road, then looked back at her life's love bleeding in the dirt before her. She dismounted, unable to restrain a yelp of pain as she hit the ground. The distraught woman leaned her head against Argo and sobbed. "I can't Xena. You know I can't just leave you here." She looked at her warrior to find her oblivious to her words. Xena had passed out.

The bard pulled the saddlebags from Argo, and stroked the mare's nose as the curious equine turned to watch her. Gabrielle openly wept, "Argo, I know you and I have had our differences. But you also know I care about you. And I know how you feel about Xena. She's hurt, Argo. We need your help. Go to the Amazons, girl. Go and get help." Gabrielle turned the mare and gave Argo a swat. The chestnut colored horse snorted and ran off down the road, disappearing from sight around the bend, bearing the brand of a bloody hand mark on her flank.

Gabrielle staggered back to Xena. Among her fears was the possibility that there were more than four men, so the injured Amazon, pulled and dragged the downed warrior, inching their way to the opposite side of the road until they were in the thick vegetation beyond. She left Xena under the shelter of a large tree in a small clearing and went back to retrieve the saddlebags and hide their trail.

The last tasks took their toll on the bleeding woman, and when she finally collapsed next to Xena, putting her back against the tree, Gabrielle felt a wave of dizziness pass over her. She leaned over to a nearby bush and vomited, struggling to maintain consciousness. She swallowed several times, taking deep breaths to calm herself and took a sip from the water skin. Gabrielle realized she had to get her bleeding under control before she could tend to Xena. The trembling bard withdrew the bandaging and stitching kit from the bag. She managed a small smile thinking how Xena did not go far without putting their medical supplies to use.

With steely determination, the blonde queen gritted her teeth and began to shakily stitch her wound together. The gash wasn't that large, but it was deep. She did not have the knowledge or the time to worry about muscle damage. Gabrielle would happily accept being lame if it meant her warrior would be all right.

"That's gotta hurt," managed Xena from where she lay. She had opened her eyes to find her wife fighting to maintain her composure while closing the wound on her leg. "I should be doing that for you, love." Xena weakly added, rolling slightly toward Gabrielle before coughing deeply and grabbing the still imbedded arrow in pain.

"Xena, don't move and don't talk. I'm almost done. I can do it." Gabrielle said through tight lips. She used a sai to cut the stitching thread and wrapped her thigh tightly with a clean bandage. She leaned her head back against the tree. Xena could see the young woman had broken out into a fine sweat.

Looking back at Xena, Gabrielle stated, "We need to get that arrow out, Xena, but I can't just break it and push it through like I have done before. It goes straight into your side." The warrior looked down to see the arrow moving with each labored breath. It had entered under the left arm into her side, right where her leathers came together.

"He hit me in a vulnerable spot, I had my arm up when I lifted you. You'll have to leave it, only a healer's knife should remove it." Xena managed to gasp before surrendering to a fit of painful coughing. She rolled to her back and gasped, "It is hard to breathe, Gab." Gabrielle noticed with alarm, a bluish tinge coloring the warrior's lips.

"Come on, Xena, let's sit you up. I think you'll be able to breathe more easily." Gabrielle struggled from her spot to assist her wife to a sitting position. Every movement caused them both immense pain. Working together, they managed to gain a semi-comfortable position back under the tree, Gabrielle, sitting against the trunk, Xena sitting before her, leaning back against the bard's chest.

The Amazon Queen got them both a drink and pulled a blanket over them before her head sagged forward to rest on the warrior's shoulder. She succumbed to her exhaustion. Xena's last conscious act was nuzzling the disheveled hair of her wife as she whispered her undying love to her.

Chapter Three

Xena awakened with a start early the next morning. She could feel her wife's labored breathing behind her, but could not find the strength to move herself off of the injured woman. Something had brought her from the arms of Morpheous and she struggled to grasp it through the pain clouding her brain. A cry echoed through the forest. Xena instantly recognized it as an Amazon search call.

Pulling in as much air as her injury would allow, Xena gave a rather weak answering cry. Within seconds, she found herself surrounded by Amazon warriors, paint, feathers, and leather filling her blurred vision. Reaching out a bloody hand to the first one to approach, Xena whispered, "Saren, don't let anything happen to her," before slipping back into a semi-conscious state.

When next she became aware, Xena found herself propped in a sitting position, bouncing along in the back of a wagon with Saren and an Amazon she did not know. Four members of the royal guard jogged along beside the wagon, and she sensed several more moving in the trees near the road. She glanced down, and saw an ashen Gabrielle, lying bundled in blankets on the bed of the wagon, her head bobbing slightly with the motion of the wagon. A sheen of sweat covered the brow of the pale queen. Xena watched as the unfamiliar Amazon leaned forward to wipe Gabrielle's forehead with a moist cloth, while she gently placing knowing fingertips to Gabrielle's throat, checking her pulse.

"How is she, Doc?" Xena mumbled with concern, recognizing the woman's leathers as those of a healer.

"I am called, Kameiro, Warrior Princess," the woman responded. "The queen is holding her own at the moment. Her will is strong, but so is her fever." The healer gave a slight nod in Gabrielle's direction, and then moved across to look at Xena. She knowledgeably checked the warrior's vital signs.

"You are named for a famous healer, but I don't know you, " Xena whispered, remembering her Amazon history, from one of Gabrielle's stories. She grimaced as Kameiro's hands prodded her wound.

"I am descended from a great line of healers. I come from the northern borders. You met my blood sister, Leah." The healer offered as she continued to examine Xena.

Xena pushed the healer's hands away feebly. "Don't worry about me, take care of my wife." Xena blustered ineffectively.

"You are in no position to give me orders," retorted Kameiro with none of the usual awe for the dark warrior in her voice. "I know who you are and I know of your legend. It means nothing to me. I am more than capable of caring for you both, although there is not much I can do until we get to the village. The two of you need my healer's knife," she added defiantly.

The weakened warrior had no choice but to submit to the treatment and leaned back once more into a fitful sleep. Xena woke later in the day and took some broth offered to her. She felt a bit of strength returning to her as she ate and wondered how far they had traveled, for she had lost track of time.

"Xena, what happened back there? We did not know what to think when a bloody Argo arrived at our gates." Saren demanded angrily from her position at Xena's feet. She had been impatiently waiting for this moment, frustrated that there was nothing she could do for her queen aside from sit in the wagon and wait. "You let four men do this to you and the queen?" she accused.

"We were ambushed. There was one in the trees waiting for us while we took out the other three. It should never have happened," she admitted looking with grief at Gabrielle who was so pale and feverish.

"Damn straight it should never have happened. What is up with you? You are supposed to be the Great Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, etcetera, etcetera. Queen Gabrielle deserves better than this." Saren continued her verbal attack on the sullen warrior.

"Well, what the hell were those four bandits doing traipsing around so freely right next to Amazon territory? Are your warriors getting lazy or what?" Xena challenged back, ignoring the pain each word caused her.

"There were only four because we had just taken care of the rest of the pack." Saren growled. "They were an off-shoot of some Roman slave traders sweeping through the country to the north. We lost several warriors to this cause."

Xena nodded darkly, "Romans? I should have known from their leathers. I'm sorry, Saren. I didn't know. This is not your fault. It is mine. Do what you need to do to protect Gabrielle. I have failed to do a proper job of it."

Saren watched the warrior princess warily with surprise. It was unlike her to give in so quickly, especially when it involved admitting defeat. The discussion continued with Saren filling Xena in on the slave traders' exploits. Apparently, these ruthless men had decimated Kameiro's tribe, killing many, capturing more. She and Leah escaped from the slavers' camp with the help of the few surviving warriors. When the men tracked the women down, the warriors protected Kameiro to the death, she being their healer. The sisters escaped into the frigid winter northlands with nothing more than the leathers on their backs, then painfully made their way south. They were near collapse, when Saren and a patrol group that was on the alert for slavers discovered them. Saren took it upon herself to nurse the two back to health and vowed vengeance on the men who had attacked the sister village. Ending her tale, she jumped down from the slowing wagon.

"We're here," she called.

Chapter Four

Kameiro proved to be skilled at her trade. She found that Xena's arrow had struck a rib, cracking it and putting pressure on the warrior's lungs, thus causing the difficulty in breathing. Xena felt great relief upon the arrow's removal and was only slightly disagreeable during the stitching and bandaging that followed. The healer was impressed with the warrior's strength and tolerance of pain.

Gabrielle's fate was a bit more involved. Her quick stitch job had indeed stopped the bleeding, but it had also sealed in dirt, which caused a massive infection. Kameiro reopened the wound to drain it and worked on rejoining the cut muscle that lay beneath. She gave an anxious Xena no guarantees as to the quality of Gabrielle's leg upon recovery, but felt that the young queen's strength and general good health would help her to overcome the infection and resulting fever with proper care and time. Xena approved of the no-nonsense personality of this talented refugee and the two began to develop a camaraderie during the time of Xena's convalescence. Saren's wife, Leah, ably assisted in the healer's hut, and Xena could see that the healer and her sister were very close.

Gabrielle came to during her second day in the village. She was weak, but the fever was breaking. The queen gratefully accepted medicinal broth from the healer and was filled in by Xena on all that had transpired. Word of her awakening traveled fast and before long, Shalaba and Saren appeared at the healer's hut. Gabrielle felt well enough to sit up and speak with the women, while Kameiro looked on in obvious disapproval.

Shalaba had been made acting regent upon Ephiny's death. She had assisted Ephiny in managing the village for several moons before the beloved Amazon was killed. During that time, she learned much about tribal procedures and her innate sense for politics quickly came to the surface. The soft-spoken, dark-skinned woman used words skillfully and found that they could be as powerful as weapons, often taking her victims by surprise, manipulating them with her gentle mannerisms. Given the right circumstances, she could rise to almost any occasion with the appropriate Amazon "attitude", but preferred to keep this in check for the most part. Although young to be a council member, she was a wise choice.

Shalaba and Saren had developed a prosperous partnership in managing tribal affairs during Gabrielle's absence. There had been much to rebuild and overcome, but they had been very successful. The general status of the village was good, moral was high. The immediate problem that faced them was that of the slavers, of which the first wave had been successfully and violently dealt with, the Amazon's suffering minimal losses. The two Amazons were eager for the queen's advice as well as her opinion on the flourishing village.

Gabrielle was pleased with her council and their accomplishments and said as much. Apologizing for her extended absence, the queen promised to take care of any pressing matters as soon as Kameiro deemed possible. She tried to hide signs of her fatigue, but was not able. The healer insisted that the queen get back to sleep and received no arguments from those present. Xena was allowed to leave the hut to continue discussing things with Shalaba and Saren.

"We were so happy to receive your message from Saren," Shalaba began. "It came on the heels of the news of your death. We had not even had time to prepare a mourning ritual for the queen, when we heard that you were returning," she added.

Saren listened stiffly with an attitude that did not go unnoticed by Xena. "Spit it out, Amazon," she snapped. "What has your feathers so ruffled? You have been aching to tie into me since you found us." The women arrived at the queen's council chambers and seated themselves at the table.

Saren's anger and frustration were evident and she did not hold back with her reply. "This village needs its queen. Shalaba and I have tried to do the right things, but we are always second-guessing ourselves as to whether it would be what Queen Gabrielle would want. This can go on no longer. We know that you are now joined, though not by our standards, and that even if you were not, the queen would never leave your side. So Warrior Princess, we want to know what your plans are, for if they involve taking our queen from us again, you will find that things will not go well for you." Saren ended her speech with nostrils flaring, red in the face. Shalaba nodded in silent agreement, keeping her brown eyes on the dark woman before her.

"I had a feeling that's what it was about," answered Xena, with surprising calmness, effectively dissolving a lot of the tension in the room. "I could not agree with you more. I mentioned as much in my message."

"We readied the queen's quarters as you requested. We had been making improvements on them anyway, hoping that upon her next return, she would see our love for her and decide to stay," Shalaba stated. "You told Saren that you would bring Queen Gabrielle home to us, and you have. But we still want to know what your future plans are. We feel we are owed at least that much," the acting queen added.

"We will be staying," Xena said quietly. "I have realized with our latest adventures and the events that occurred in Rome, that I cannot give Gabrielle the support and protection she deserves. For that, she needs to be in the company of her warriors." Xena paused, gauging the reaction of the two Amazons. "I wish to make her life complete. I know our joining will not be recognized as such by your laws. I ask that I be adopted into this tribe as an Amazon so that I can make the proper challenge to be the queen's champion."

These were the last words the pair of stunned warriors expected to hear from Xena. They shared a quick glance with each other before Shalaba spoke. "And what does the queen have to say of these decisions, Xena?" she asked.

"I have not shared these thoughts with her, but I know that it is what her heart would desire. Gabrielle would never ask this of me. She wouldn't want to tie me down. She has been torn between this village and her loyalty to me for far too long. I have promised her a home in the mountains nearby, and will proceed to build it. But her place is here with her sisters. We will use the home as a place to vacation, taking the appropriate royal guard along of course. If I am adopted, I feel I have much to offer this village. I would strive to be a productive and valued member of your community." Xena continued to amaze Saren and Shalaba with her words. The two could not have been told a more agreeable plan if they had written it down themselves for Xena to read back to them.

"We will discuss the matter among the tribe. You know that you are less than popular with some of our people, Xena." Shalaba felt it was best to say it and get it out into the open. "If there is agreement, when would you like to proceed?" she asked.

"I would like things to begin immediately. I wish our joining to be during the next full moon." Xena said decidedly. It was obvious she had thought about this topic long and hard before she presented her plan to the Amazons.

"But that is only two weeks from now," Saren said in disbelief. "That is a lot to prepare for. It won't be an easy thing, being adopted, you know. There are tests and trials, as well as passing the judgment of the Temple of Artemis. The procedure for becoming the queen's champion is even more arduous. Surely you know that, Xena! You want to take all that on after the injury you just received?" Saren shook her head in disbelief.

"I know, and I accept. I will be ready for all of it. Bring it on," she challenged respectfully. "It is time for your queen to have a life that suits her."

Chapter Five

Preparations were made after the village Amazons agreed to let Xena go through the Trial of Adoption. Though there were a few dissenting ballots cast, the majority of the women felt that Xena's past crimes against the nation were paid for by her more recent assistance, not to mention saving the life of the queen by taking an arrow for her.

Gabrielle was blissfully unaware of the plan in action. She was concentrating on getting her strength back and was overjoyed when Kameiro said she could leave the healer's hut and take up residence in the queen's quarters. It would be good to be back home and was surprised when she found herself thinking of it as home. The young woman was well on her way to recuperating, but still needed to take it easy. Walking was very painful for her. She accepted the temporary use of a crutch, hoping that the people of her village would not see it as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, her sisters were full of well wishes and admiration for their welcome queen.

As Xena walked Gabrielle home, the bard sighed, "The first thing I want is a nice hot bath. Sponges just don't do it for me," she smiled at Xena.

Xena smiled back at her, happy to see the color returning to her cheeks. "Kameiro knew that would be on your mind. She has issued strict instructions about a bath. Your attendant is preparing it for you now." The warrior told the queen as they reached their destination.

"Wow," gushed the bard, as she observed the improvements that had been made to her quarters. "Look at what they have done!"

Indeed, her Amazons had been busy. A new addition had been added to the house. The new rooms included a grand bedroom with an attached bathing room and an ingenious latrine area, which offered privacy and included outside access for attendants to change out the chamber pots. The former bedroom had been changed to a great room, complete with table and desk. Gabrielle could not help but notice the desk was well stocked with writing implements.

"Xena, this is too much. I don't deserve all this," the queen said quietly, with tears in eyes.

"Apparently, my love, they think you do, and so do I. Now quit being emotional and let's get you into that bath so you can get some rest." Xena picked up her wife and proceeded toward the bathing room.

"Xena, you'll hurt yourself, put me down," Gabrielle ordered. But the stubborn warrior did not comply until Gabrielle found herself in a cozy room decorated with flowers and lit with candles. A tub of hot water, big enough for two, awaited her. Gabrielle noticed the chair sitting in the tub. "What's with the chair?" she asked the lovely Amazon attendant who waited quietly to serve her queen.

"Healer's orders, my queen. We may wash your injured leg, but must not allow it to soak. It is too soon and may weaken the stitches. May I help you?" she gestured toward Gabrielle's nightshirt and robe.

The queen allowed herself to be pampered, conscious of her warrior watching the procedures from the edge of the room. Xena's eyes were full of passion as she watched the attendant soap Gabrielle's hair and then rinse it. She continued with her task, gently and efficiently cleaning the queen, taking care not to cause any pain when working on the injured leg. Gabrielle thought that a bath had never felt so good.

During this time, there was a knock at the door. Gabrielle, upon hearing that it was Kameiro, called for her to enter. The beautiful blonde was not as bashful as she used to be about people seeing her nude, besides, the healer had seen her in much worse condition than she was in now.

"I am checking to see that my instructions are being followed to the letter. I have the feeling that your warrior takes a few liberties now and then," she said with a smile, bowing to the naked queen, then shooting Xena a sly look. Xena rolled her eyes and scratched at her stitches, smirking slightly.

"Xena, you listened well," continued the healer, "I knew you could do it," she added, happy with the bath proceedings. "Let me look at your stitches, they seem to be troubling you." Without permission, she grabbed Xena's left arm, unlaced her leather top and pulled it open. In exposing the wound, she exposed Xena's full breasts. No one made a comment, but Xena felt Gabrielle's eyes burning a hole through her and shifted uncomfortably, clearing her throat.

"Does this hurt you," Kameiro asked, prodding the stitched incision and noticing Xena's movement. Xena shook her head, making eye contact with the soapy queen. They shared a heated look that would have melted a sword. This did not slip past the healer, who smiled at the couple and said, "I think these stitches are ready to come out. You have healed very quickly, and if they are itching, that is a good sign." Without a moment's hesitation, she pulled an odd looking knife from her pouch and hooked the curved tip under a stitch, effectively snipping it apart. She repeated this process several more times before grasping the opened threads and yanking them out, one by one. Xena flinched at each yank, but did not make a sound.

"My mother always said to 'pull the stitch and make it quick, upon an itch.' There now, all done. You were a brave girl," she teased, dabbing at a few spots of blood with a cloth. The healer turned, bowed to the queen and left as quickly as she had come.

Xena looked down at her new scar-to-be and then at Gabrielle who had an amused look on her face. The attendant had rinsed her and was slicking her hair back with a comb. "What?" snapped Xena at the silly grin her wife was sporting.

"I like her," Gabrielle said, "She's one of the few people who knows how to handle you."

"Oh you think so, huh?" growled Xena playfully. Unable to restrain herself any longer, she motioned for the attendant to leave. "Go now, I will help the queen finish," Xena ordered.

"Thank you for your time, Tianna," Gabrielle added, always gracious. She missed the young woman's bow upon exiting. Gabrielle had eyes only for Xena, who was approaching the tub with an interested look on her face. She lifted the queen from the water, set her on her feet and gently began drying her with the towel.

Soon the towel dropped to the floor and Gabrielle leaned back against Xena's bared chest. The warrior felt such love for this woman in her arms. She kissed Gabrielle's neck and brought her hands up to cup the queen's lovely breasts. "Xena," she whispered. "Don't stop."

"We shouldn't be doing this, Gabrielle. I'm glad you are feeling better. Overjoyed. But you need to rest. Kameiro will have my hide if you over exert yourself," Xena said, running a hand up Gabrielle's slender throat, pulling her face back for a kiss.

"All right then," conceded the blonde, "just lay down with me in the bed until I go to sleep. I just want to feel you near me, please?" Gabrielle pleaded. Xena nodded, unable to deny this lovely vision before her, helping Gabrielle into the next room and into the bed. She took a moment to remove her clothes, enjoying the feel of her wife's eyes watching her every movement.

Xena lay down on her uninjured side, carefully snuggling into the queen. The two remained quiet for a moment, admiring the quality of the new bed. "This is nice," commented Xena.

"So is this," replied Gabrielle turning to touch the tip of Xena's breast, before kissing it and nipping it with her teeth.

"Gabrielle? be good," Xena warned huskily. "You're going to get me in trouble." The warrior could not get her hands to obey her as they began to caress the soft skin of the passionate woman next to her.

The couple's kisses turned heated within seconds and uncontrollable moans issued forth. While managing to stay aware of the other's sore spots, each sent a hand down to explore. They continued to kiss deeply, tongues tasting, while their hands began a rhythmic dance. Outside, passersby paused and then smiled at the sounds of love issuing from the queen's quarters. Then all was quiet.

It was evening when Xena awoke, relishing the pleasure of holding her love in her arms again. She watched her wife slumber, the glow of a flickering torch outside casting a faint light through the bedroom window. Xena placed a tender kiss on Gabrielle's forehead and watched her stir, and then open her eyes. The couple shared sleepy smiles.

They snuggled comfortably for a few moments before Xena broke the silence. "Gabrielle, can I talk to you about something?" she asked.

"Well, that's a switch," the queen teased, "but I guess there is a first time for everything." Gabrielle stroked Xena's arm while she spoke.

"That's what I want to talk about." Xena said seriously.

Gabrielle was instantly alert. "What is it, Xena?" she asked, her voice losing its playful quality.

"Gabrielle, I have made some arrangements. I hope they will please you. But before I tell you what they are, I want you to know that I did it for my benefit as well as yours." Xena began.

"Go on, I'm listening," urged the queen, curious.

"I have made plans to join the tribe, become an Amazon. Shalaba and Saren have gone through the formalities and everything is ready to go." Xena paused at Gabrielle's sudden intake of breath and continued before the bard could interrupt. "I have made this choice for several reasons. First, it has been unfair to you to be pulled between two of the things you love most, this village and me. Second, I have finally realized that as skilled a warrior as I am, I cannot protect you to my satisfaction. The last few messes we have been in should attest to that. I feel better knowing you are here, protected by your warriors. I know they would serve you to the death if need be. As an old warlord, no one knows better than I, that there is strength in numbers." Xena paused to take a breath.

"Xena, I know how you feel about the Am?" Gabrielle began.

"No, you don't, Gabrielle. Things have changed for me since we were brought back. I will not let my pride rule my emotions any longer. Living with the Amazons will be a good life. Besides, we can continue doing what we have been trying to do, giving back to the world what we can, just from a more central location. This tribe needs its queen. You are destined for greatness, Gabrielle. It is suddenly so clear to me now. This is your path, and I intend to do everything I can to help you along the way. I love you, Gabrielle." Xena finished her speech with a hug and a kiss for her love and looked to find tears running freely down Gabrielle's cheeks.

"Xena, this is the most amazing gift I have ever received," she murmured.

"Well, there is one more thing. After I pass the Trial of Adoption, I plan to make a challenge to be your champion. Will you have me?" Xena asked, voice trembling.

"Yes, my love, forever." Gabrielle replied, her heart leaping with joy.

*Stay tuned for the third story in this series, "The Drums Beat for You"

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