A hard rain drummed the roof. Though still cold, the weather had warmed up enough for the snowfall to change form, slightly. As she crossed the cabin, the Bard looked up at the increasing noise. Kneeling at the fireplace, she reached for one of the small logs piled on the hearth. The figure in the bed across the room watched as the Bard went about her task. Soon, yellow and orange flames limned her figure in a golden nimbus and illuminated the angles and planes of the watcher's face. The recumbent Warrior smiled as Gabrielle idly poked at the coals.
"And?" she asked impatiently.
"And what Xe?" the Bard replied absently, looking over her shoulder.
"And what happened then?"
Gabrielle sighed as she pushed herself off the hearth. Walking back across the cold floor, she giggled once at Xena's impatient look. The bard jumped into the cozy bed and wriggled her way back under the quilts. She giggled again at Xena's grimace as she wriggled cold Bard toes under a warm Warrior thigh. Xena raised an eyebrow and Gabrielle sighed again.
"Was it that bad?" the warrior asked, in a wonderfully concerned tone.
"Yeah, it was bad Xe. I can't figure it out." The Bard settled the quilt more securely around her shoulders.
"She's scared of you." Xena said firmly.
"Scared?" Gabrielle's brow wrinkled "Of me?"
"Of THIS person?" Gabrielle pointed to her chest "This one, this one right here?"
"Yesss, this person, my bard." Xena replied, grinning "You can be pretty scary sometimes? when you want to be?"
Gabrielle laughed, half-pleased, half-appalled. She didn't think of herself as scary. Xena was scary, not Gabrielle. "How am I scary?" she asked in a small voice.
"Uhm?" the Warrior paused, grinning at the Bard's coy look. "Are you fishing Bard?"
Gabrielle snuck a hand under the cover. "No" she said slowly, hand snaking toward Xena's leg. "Well, no I'm not, not really." Xena captured the hand and bringing it to her lips, kissed it.
"Oh," she said, grinning at the captured Bard.
"Okay, okay. I AM fishing. How am I scary?" Gabrielle struck a mock-heroic pose- chin lifted to the ceiling, chest thrust out, her free hand fisted at her hip. The effectiveness of the pose was marred somewhat by her sidelong glances. After the third of those, a tug from Xena on the hand the Warrior still held captive, destroyed the tableau entirely and brought the would-be statue tumbling down. Gabrielle laughed softly and snuggled in. Her head at it's rightful place, on Xena's chest, her arm wrapped securely around the Warriors's waist, and one leg thrown across the delighted Warrior's thighs. "I have you trapped, answer my question." The giggling Bard demanded. Xena's hand came up and began stroking the bard's hair. Gabrielle lay silent awhile, listening to Xena's heartbeat and closing her eyes at the comforting touch.
"Mmmm, yes, my bard?" Xena mumbled sleepily.
"First don't stop, that's nice. Second, how am I scary?"
Xena chuckled and, as commanded, continued to comb her fingers through the bard's hair. "Well, you get a look on your face sometimes." Xena grinned at the twitching of bardly facial muscles. "Not *that* look, that's my look."
Gabrielle's head popped up and she regarded the Warrior with amazement, then dawning comprehension, she smiled. "You felt my face move."
"Yup." Xena chuckled.
Gabrielle wiggled to another position, one where she could look at the warrior and still continue to enjoy the petting. She looked at Xena solemnly; one hand under her chin, the other tucked under the warrior's shoulder. Xena's hand continued it's slow rhythmic motion as she returned the Bard's gaze.
"That's the look."
Gabrielle's brow furrowed "What's the look?"
"Sometimes when you're working on a story, really deep in the, uhm?flow?" Gabrielle nodded. "You get this look" Xena continued, "Of absolute and utter concentration."
"But?" the bard interrupted.
"Wait." Xena said giving a light tug on a golden lock. "So when you're scary," she continued, warming to her subject, "You have the same look. It's? well, you're focused."
"Focused is scary?"
"Sometimes it is?To some people. She likes to play games with people. And doesn't like getting caught."
"Oh, so if I'm focused?"
"Right. She knows you see her, really see her? and aren't fooled."
"Good." The Bard smiled wickedly. "Good." She repeated with satisfaction as she lay her head back down on Xena's chest.
"It worked," Gabrielle mumbled after a few long moments.
"What worked, my bard?" Xena asked softly.
"Your plan to relax me."
"Oh, THAT plan," Xena chuckled sleepily. "Good."
Xena had returned home, later than she had expected, from her tour of the town's outlying areas with the town council. After shouldering her way through the tavern's swinging door, she paused to dust the snow from her shoulders and to stamp the worst of the thick mud from her boots. She was surprised to not see the Bard waiting for her inside. "She's gone home" the barkeep yelled across the din, "Looked a bit white around the gills if you ask me...said she was tired and didn't?" he stopped, realizing that his audience had disappeared. Shrugging, he picked up another mug from the drying rack and began to dry it with a rag.
Xena hurried across the square. The Bard had gone to see THAT woman again. *Even though I insisted there was no point.*
*She's lonely, Xe* the Bard had said after the last visit. *Deserves it,* the Warrior had replied tersely as she worked the tension knots from Gabrielle's neck and shoulders. Gabrielle had tried time and again to make friends with the woman. And each visit resulted only in an exhausted and saddened Bard and a very angry Warrior.
"Gabrielle, she's not worth it. She doesn't like any one; it's not just you. She's a meddlesome, irritating?"
"Xena, I think it's just that she's forgotten what joy is."
"If she ever knew." The Warrior muttered, disregarding for a moment the calming hand Gabrielle placed on her forearm. The memories of the woman's trouble making were fresh, despite the many years that had passed. "She sucks the life out of things," Xena growled "Looks for ways to make people unhappy."
"I know Xe, but she also raised two wonderful boys into fine men?kept herself and her family together after her husband left?"
"Come on Xe" the bard had said softly, "There must be something good about her."
"She's not twins."
But of course, Gabrielle kept trying. The bard was nothing if not persistent.
Xena's hands tightened into fists as she crossed the far side of the square with long, angry strides. *If she's hurt Gabrielle again, I will strangle her, she thought squaring her jaw. No, I will kick her until she's dead. Or tie her to a tree and?* Xena's internal battle meeting was interrupted by a cheerful "Hey." *Oh, gods, Amazons, just what I need.*
"Hey yourself" she replied tightly. There, blocking her goal, in front of the cabin door were three, no four young amazons. *A whole litter, just fantastic.*
"Hi, uh? Xena, I mean HAIL XENA!" stammered the tallest. And as the echoes of her shout died away, the rest of the troop chimed in with greetings. *A gaggle of enthusiastic, young amazons? what am I going to do with four Amazons?*
A small amazon, head topped with an unruly mop of brown curls, pushed her taller compatriots out of the way and waving at Xena said, "We're here!"
*Five amazons, what can I do with five young amazons? That's one too many to stuff in a barrel.* Xena thought furiously as she scowled at the troop. *And what does curly want- applause? *She thought disgustedly, lip curling. *Amazon girls, by the gods.* "I see," she said aloud.
Undaunted by their less-than-warm reception, (Ephiny had warned them that the Warrior Princess was slow to respond to surprises, even pleasant ones) the Amazon-lets smiled at the scowling Warrior. "Yep, here we are!" Another of the group chimed in.
*Clever variation on a theme* Xena thought, a wicked smile curled up the corners of her mouth. She said nothing however, only crossed her arms at her chest and continued to stare at the troop.
"Came to visit," said a blonde after a long, uncomfortable pause.
*Six,* thought Xena, *Well... with six amazons, I could?*
"To see you," added a redhead helpfully.
*Make that seven, a set of four and a set of three?* An unformed thought tickled at the edges of her brain.
"And Queen Gabrielle," came a voice from behind. Xena looked over her shoulder to see two more. A brunette with two tangled braids and a blonde sporting the same disheveled hairstyle, but marked by a smudge across one cheek.
*Nine,* Xena sighed, *By the gods, they're EVERYWHERE? an infestation of amazons.*
"Only no one answered the door," Xena turned back to look at the first, still watching the braided twins out of the corner of her eye.
"Even though we knocked and knocked," the smallest amazon said sadly, gesturing at the door.
Xena was starting to feel a bit dizzy at the chorus and shook her head to clear it. *What could I do with NINE amazons?* She felt a tug on her tunic and looked down. *Ten.*
"The tavern man thaid thee din't wanna be dithurbed" lisped a cherubic tyke. Xena wrestled the urge to tousle her white-blonde curls. Wrestled the urge, sat on it, hog-tied it and locked in a box. *Never pet an amazon,* she reminded herself, *no matter how cute? unless, unless it WANTS petting.* The thought that had been tickling began to dance a jig. Despite herself, Xena felt her smile soften into something kinder, something gentler.
"She didn't?" The Warrior asked softly, squatting down to look the amazon sprite in the eyes.
She missed the grins and winks and knowing nudges from the crowd in front of the door. Missed the amazed whisper "Ephiny was right", missed the hissed answer "Of course she was right, she's always right, hush."
"No, ith thee thad?" asked the woeful cherub.
"I think tho," Xena winced, "I mean, I think so." *What am I gonna do with an embarrassment of Amazons?* she thought again, rising and glancing around the street. The thought, having gotten little response from its dance, began to jump up and down in the Warrior's mind, waving its thoughtful arms and yelling at the top of its thoughtful lungs. *What can I do with a?ahh, what can I do with a bevy of amazons, what COULDN'T I do?*
"You wanna see the queen, huh?" She grinned at the enthusiastic nods. "Cheer her up, maybe?" More nods. "Think you can?" *They're gonna nod their little heads off,* she thought wickedly. "Go ahead." She finished, gesturing at the door. The exhausted little thought slumped tiredly in her mind, then perked up briefly to add the smallest suggestion.
Xena's grin grew wider as she pushed the door open and followed the flock inside.
Ya know I've had lotsa questions about "what happened then..." that's the bard's bane, ya know (grin)... the truth is I don't know what happened next, or first, or even in the middle ... so let's play a game... if ya like the paradigm, YOU finish the story... go ahead, it'll be fun (grin)... post 'em my friends... I for one, am MOST curious about "What happens next..."