DISCLAIMERS: Part 1
SUBTEXT: Yes, absolutely! In fact it has become main text.
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"Where are they? They should have been here by now."
"Relax, they'll be here." Iolaus knew patience was not the Conqueror's strong suit.
"I don't like glitches in my plans." The warrior locked eyes with her second in command. "You know that."
"I do, Xena." Do I ever. Gaul, six years ago. Nothing was going right. Iolaus was given the task of informing the Conqueror that something had gone wrong. He came within an inch of losing his life that day, for Xena's blade had been poised at his throat before he even had time to blink. In the end, the situation was resolved. The Conqueror had the ability to think quick, change and improvise, but Iolaus never forgot that day.
"Do you think the queen suspects?" The moment he said the words he regretted them.
"She had better not." Cold, calculated... this woman meant business. When will I learn to keep my big mouth shut?
Xena wasn't herself today, Iolaus understood that. They had been waiting for this moment for what seemed like weeks. Once the plan had been set in motion there was no turning back and it was important that all parties involved stuck precisely to the schedule. There was no room for error. And it was vital that the queen never suspect. Should she get even the slightest inkling that things were amiss it would ruin everything.
Looking out to the ocean, Xena spotted it. A small boat with two oarsmen and two passengers. The corner of her lip twitched in relief, the only outward sign that the Conqueror had actually been nervous.
They walked to the end of the small dock. It was dusk and no one was around. This was the royal family's private dock for short fishing excursions. Xena had made sure it would be clear of any unwanted guests.
The boat approached, parallel to the dock. One of the oarsmen threw a rope that was quickly caught and tied off by Xena. Iolaus helped the passengers up onto the dock.
"It's good to see you, Iolaus," the gray-haired man said while still grasping his forearm.
"Good to see you, too. How was the journey?" Before a response could be given, the Conqueror spoke up. "No time for pleasantries." She reached down and pulled the second passenger up to stand in front of her.
The young passenger looked back and forth, his eyes searching his surroundings. "Where is she?"
Innocent green eyes looked up at the tall grinning woman. "She's safe." She turned to her men. "We need to go." Clasping the boy's hand, Xena strode off the dock and up the hill towards the palace. The two men followed as the oarsmen began the short trip back to their ship.
Gabrielle was getting agitated. Ria was keeping the meeting from adjourning by going on and on about things that were common sense and didn't need discussion.
These meetings were routine. The palace staff met with the queen once a month to go over any problems or issues that needed her attention. Gabrielle usually enjoyed these get-togethers. They were kept simple and casual, for these were the people that directly served her and her son and kept their home running smoothly. Tonight, however, the queen simply wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible and retire for the evening. It had been a very long day.
"Ria," the queen interrupted. "I think we all understand your point. If you don't mind, I'd like to call a close to this meeting." The queen searched the others' grateful faces. "If there are no objections." Lots of nods and words of agreement followed, much to Ria's chagrin.
As she made her way to her bedchamber Gabrielle felt as if she was being followed. She rounded the corner and quickly observed that her regular guard was absent. In fact, there was no guard outside her door at all. For a moment the queen considered calling for assistance, but then decided that she simply had an active imagination. The guard probably needed to relieve himself. Those things happen.
Still, there was a sense that something was different as she opened the door and entered her room. The first thing she noticed was how bright it was. All the torches had been lit. Second, she noticed the table was overflowing with trays of fruit, cheese and bread. Xena. This had to be Xena's doing. That thought brought a smile to the queen's face.
That's definitely not Xena.
More giggles, muffled this time.
Following the sound, Gabrielle cautiously made her way to the balcony. Before her foot crossed the threshold she was engulfed in a fierce hug.
The shock of the boy's attack wore off and the queen couldn't hold back the tears.
"Orion!" Gabrielle picked the boy up into her arms and held him tightly. Orion wrapped his small arms around his mother's neck and held on as if his life depended on it. The boy didn't even complain when suddenly his face was attacked by the kissing monster, otherwise known as Mother.
"By the gods, I've missed you."
"I missed you too, Mama."
As she gave her son one more hug, Gabrielle spotted the tall warrior who had been watching the reunion. She mouthed a "thank you" to the woman whom she knew was responsible for bringing her son home to her. Xena smiled and nodded.
A knock at the door made them turn. "I'll get it." Xena gave a knowing grin as she walked past mother and son. She opened the door, revealing Ria, Gallus, Iolaus, Ephiny and Orion's Uncle Sal. As they entered the room Gabrielle put Orion down. He immediately sprinted to Ria's waiting arms, giving her a hug. He then found himself hoisted up and fiercely hugged by Gallus, causing the boy to laugh.
The sound of her son's laughter sparked more tears of joy from the queen. The past week's separation had been more difficult than she had dared let on.
"My queen." Gabrielle turned toward the voice of her friend. Ephiny handed her a cup of wine and smiled at the elated expression on the young mother's face.
"Thanks, Eph." Taking the offered cup, Gabrielle turned her attention back to her son, who was filling the others in on his adventures in the Conqueror's palace. "It's so good to have him home."
Xena kept her distance, allowing the young prince his due. She spied a glance at the boy's mother and found herself held captive by beautiful green eyes. In that moment two women shared their love and gratitude towards one another. Words were no longer needed.
It had been five days since queen and conqueror first expressed their love for each other. Gabrielle had refused to take it easy, which caused her injury to take several more days to heal. In truth, the wound still bothered her a bit, but Xena had kept a constant watch on it. The mother-hen had appeared faithfully every evening, making sure that Gabrielle rested.
Rest had not been what the queen wished to do. Especially when she had Xena all to herself and they could talk openly and freely. Xena sat next to the queen's bed every night. The two women spoke about the past, the possible future, their homes, their positions, the prince... and most of all, their love.
They still had issues they needed to deal with. Xena was still the Conqueror and her initial mission was still going forth, or so her army was lead to believe. She may have fallen in love, but she couldn't lose face with those that she ruled.
Xena did have two advocates - Iolaus and Marcus. They were entrusted with the Conqueror and queen's secret. Both men had done as much changing as Xena had over the last few years. She was pleased to find that they would stand beside her, wherever this might lead. "It's about time," Marcus had told her. He got a raised eyebrow in response, but in truth she was grateful her ex-lover was so understanding. The situation could have proved precarious.
Loyalty. The Conqueror demanded it. Yet Xena knew that most of the loyalty she obtained was out of fear. That was not the case with her two highest generals. They had been there before she had become the supreme ruler. Each respected her and would lay down his life for her. Lately Xena had begun to wonder how she inspired such loyalty from these men whom she was lucky enough to call friend.
Gabrielle found both of Xena's generals to be simply charming. Marcus had been very pleasant and respectful when she was the Conqueror's prisoner, and Iolaus had proved to be witty and charming. She saw the respect and loyalty that both men showed Xena - the same loyalty Ephiny showed Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had been worried about the Amazon's reaction to her queen being in love with the Conqueror. As it turned out, very little needed to be said on the queen's part. One afternoon, a few days prior, while walking along the beach, her friend broached the subject.
"You're in love with her, aren't you?" Ephiny questioned. "Yes," the queen answered, not having to ask who 'she' was. The Amazon had simply nodded. Gabrielle had let her friend take the time to process the information and when the Captain next spoke it was with an honesty that Gabrielle had always relied upon.
"I don't completely trust her, but I know that you do. As your Captain I will be keeping a watchful eye." Her features softened before commenting further. "As your friend, I only want you to be happy and I hope that Xena is sincere. If she's not..." Gabrielle watched as Ephiny's features changed yet again. The Amazon was not only loyal but was very protective of those she loved. "If she hurts you, no one will be able to stop me from killing her." It was Gabrielle's turn to simply nod, not at all surprised by the statement.
There had been many times over the past few days when Gabrielle dreamed of living in a simpler time - a time and place where neither she nor Xena were rulers. Where they could simply be together and not be afraid or worry about the reactions of others. She wanted desperately to take their relationship to the next level but there were so many obstacles.
They had tried to keep their feelings a relative secret but that had become almost impossible. A simple look, an innocent touch... anyone observing would know immediately that something was happening between these two women. Finally, it was brought to the queen's attention that some of her officers were concerned about the Conqueror's presence and possible influence over her. Gabrielle had found it difficult to reign in her anger.
The queen had stormed into the war room, interrupting a meeting between Tallius and Anton. Both men quickly stood and bowed their heads as the queen made her way to her designated chair. Taking a seat, she gestured for the men to sit. Then she placed her folded hands on the table and spoke in an even, no-nonsense tone. Gabrielle informed them that she would not permit any more discussions about her relationship with the Conqueror. All that they needed to know was that the treaty was close to being signed and the prince would soon return home. The queen made it known, in no uncertain terms, that she was still very much in charge and if they had any further problems they were to take them directly to her.
The two men looked contritely at their queen. When she was certain they fully understood the error of their ways, she left them to their deliberations.
Later that evening, Gabrielle had told Xena what had transpired. "They have a right to feel that way," the warrior quietly informed her. The queen bristled. She would not allow anyone to make accusations against Xena. They were implying that the Conqueror was using Gabrielle to her own advantage and that the queen was not intelligent enough to see it.
Was that what had her so distraught? Was she actually afraid that they were right? No. Gabrielle knew that Xena was not using her. The warrior loved her, of that she was certain. Xena wouldn't use her. Yet there would be plenty of people quick to believe she was using the queen. She kidnapped the prince, all in the name of power. What was the ultimate power over the queen? Love. They would believe that Xena would use her, make Gabrielle fall in love with her for the purpose of obtaining more power. Her blood began to boil. She isn't like that. But Xena had been like that. She had used love and sex as a tool. Not now, not anymore. She's changed. The queen was not going to let others look upon the woman she loved with suspicion.
Gabrielle let loose a tirade that evening in her bedchamber that Xena found quite amusing, although she would never reveal her amusement to the queen. Xena had witnessed the woman she loved defending her. It had warmed her all-too-often cold heart. But the warrior knew that the soldiers were doing their duty. She had been a threat to Queen and country. No warrior worth his salt would forget that simply because his queen fell in love with the enemy. Xena knew they would be in for a rough haul. Suspicion would follow them everywhere.
Now, as Xena watched mother and son seated on the sofa, she was filled with such happiness, the likes of which she had never known. Yet, at the same time, there was a hint of sadness. A tiny, empty spot deep inside that not even Gabrielle could fill. The warrior brushed it aside and focused on the here and now.
The evening had passed quickly. Sal had filled the Conqueror in on the happenings over the past weeks and gave her a scroll from Marcus. Her ex-lover had returned to Corinth 3 days ago, to oversee the running of Greece and its provinces. It seemed that Brutus' fleet was lost at sea during the violent Aegean storm. Two of his ships had washed up on a rock bed off Roman shores but there had been no trace of Brutus or his ship since. Xena hoped that was the last of her problems from Rome.
The warrior strode over to the sofa. The prince was falling asleep in his mother's lap.
"I'm going to put him to bed."
A genuine smile emerged from the Conqueror. "Here. Let me take him." Xena picked the child up and held him as his mother rose. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around the warrior's neck and nestled his head on her shoulder.
Orion mumbled something and Gabrielle heard Xena whisper, "Time for bed, kiddo." Never lifting his head or opening his eyes, the prince informed the Conqueror that he was not tired. That elicited a chuckle from both women.
They brought the prince to his bed chamber and Xena carefully placed him on his bed. Gabrielle pulled the blanket up and leaned over from the other side to kiss his forehead, then she made her way to the door. The boy was sound asleep by the time she got there. Xena lingered a moment longer, moving blonde locks out of the child's eyes and placing a small kiss on his cheek.
Gabrielle took in the sight of warrior and child. She couldn't help the chuckle that followed. The warrior's eyebrow rose in question and the queen struggled to contain her laughter.
"Something amusing you, Your Majesty?" Xena asked as she walked over to the queen.
"You think you're a big bad warrior, but Orion and I know better." Gabrielle moved a step closer. "What would people say if they knew that a 4-year-old boy had you wrapped around his finger?" This said with an affectionate smile.
Xena reached out and gently stroked Gabrielle's cheek with the back of her hand. The queen leaned into the touch and gazed up at the warrior. It was there that she saw the depth and diversity of emotions in the woman she loved. Without thought, Gabrielle leaned in and placed a light kiss on the warrior's lips. The kiss was brief, leaving Xena barely enough time to respond. Then the warrior leaned down and captured the queen's lips. That kiss also ended too soon, but as they parted, their mutual love and desire was unmistakable.
Neither woman said a word. Xena grasped the queen's hand and slowly they made their way back to the queen's room. Once inside, Xena tried to calm the fire inside her, but one look at Gabrielle made any thought of suppressing desires an impossibility. Xena barely closed the door and turned around when she found herself pinned against it. Gabrielle's aggressiveness fueled the fire deep within the Conqueror. This time the kiss was passionate and left both women breathless. Gabrielle couldn't believe what was happening to her. She couldn't keep her hands off of Xena.
The touches and kisses continued as Xena moved them both across the room. They stumbled onto the bed and Xena found herself on top of a giggling queen. She couldn't help it. Xena began chuckling.
The laughter faded as they gazed into each other's eyes. The warrior traced Gabrielle's lips with the tip of her finger, then slowly trailed down over her chin to glide gently down her neck, pausing only upon reaching her chest.
Xena's gaze returned to the face of her love. "By the gods, do you know how much I love you?"
The depth of emotion emanating from the warrior caused Gabrielle's breath to catch. She reached up with both hands and cupped Xena's face, gently bringing the warrior closer until their lips met once again. When they finally parted, the breathless queen made only one demand of the warrior.
An eyebrow rose at the challenge, as the queen grinned. Xena leaned in, determined to show beyond a shadow of a doubt how much she loved this woman. Then it happened. She heard Gabrielle wince. The sutures! Xena could have kicked herself for being so selfish. Immediately she moved off Gabrielle, rising to her knees.
"No, Xena, I'm fine." The desperation in Gabrielle's voice was not lost on the warrior.
"Gabrielle, you're hurt."
"You are not fine."
The warrior laid on her side next to the queen. Gabrielle closed her eyes as she felt a hand tenderly stroke her hair and an arm wrap gently around her waist. Then she felt soft lips press against hers. Her lips parted to allow entry as she ran one hand through the long raven hair that draped down upon her. The other hand occupied itself by moving over the length of the warrior's body. A soft moan escaped Gabrielle's lips as she felt her warrior's hand move further down her body. Her eyes opened as their lips parted and she found herself captivated by the love and desire that radiated from the woman looking down at her.
"I love you, Xena."
Xena smiled and leaned down once again to capture her queen's heart, body, and soul. The warrior's pursuits did not stop until she showed her queen just how much she did indeed love her.
The dull, consistent thud that penetrated her dreams could only mean one thing - morning had arrived. The servants obviously wanted entrance. We're going to have to put a sign on the door when we don't wish to be disturbed, Gabrielle ruefully thought. A voice in her ear told her that her lover was being persistent, so Gabrielle opened her eyes.
"Good morning." The queen said with a dreamy look on her face.
"Morning." Xena paused. How beautiful you are. Do you have any idea how happy you have made me? Another even louder knock broke the reverie. "You should answer that. I'll go into the dressing room and get changed."
Gabrielle lifted the silk sheet and peered underneath. "Don't you mean get dressed? There's nothing to change." The merriment in the queen's eyes was not reflected in Xena's. Gabrielle studied the face before her, then asked, "What is it?"
"I am changed - completely, and for always." Reaching out, Xena brushed a blonde lock aside. "Thanks to you."
Gabrielle was rendered speechless as her mind, heart and body wrapped around those words said with such conviction. Before any more words could pass between the new lovers, Xena gently kissed her queen, then quickly rose and headed into the other room.
Reluctantly, Gabrielle rose from the comfort of her bed and wrapped herself into her robe. When she opened the door, the queen was taken aback by the face staring back at her.
"Gallus, what's wrong?"
"The Conqueror is needed." It was then that Gabrielle noticed the parchment in the soldier's hand. She reached out and retrieved it, noting that it was properly sealed.
"Thank you, Gallus. I'll make sure the Conqueror receives this."
"Thank you, your Majesty. My apologies for disturbing you so early."
"That's quite all right."
Gallus nodded and bid the queen good day. Gabrielle shut the door and turned to deliver the message when it occurred to her that her highest ranking general just acted as a messenger, and that he had brought a message for Xena directly to her bedchamber. Gabrielle walked to the balcony and noted that the sun had not completely risen. No one would know that Xena was here. Gallus did and that brought pause to the queen.
Gabrielle turned, "This is for you."
Xena took the parchment and noted the seal. She immediately opened it and began to read.
"I have to go." The Conqueror stopped herself just short of asking Gabrielle to join her. This is Conqueror business, she scolded herself.
"I understand. Go on. I have to meet with Ephiny this morning." Xena noted the far off sound in her lover's voice.
"Gabrielle," she called out softly as if afraid to disturb the other woman's thoughts. When the queen turned, Xena continued. "What's wrong?"
Gabrielle shook her head, suddenly realizing how lost in thought she had been. "Nothing, Xena. Really. Go on. That looks important." She gestured to the note in Xena's hand.
"It could be." Pause. "Gabrielle, I want to take you with me, but -"
"Xena, don't be silly. You have business to attend to. There's no reason for me to go."
Xena pressed her free hand gently against Gabrielle's cheek. "How about simply because I want to be with you? Doesn't that count for something?"
The queen smiled affectionately. "It counts for everything, my love. I want to be with you too, but you have business to take care of. How would it look for the Conqueror to have a lowly queen accompany her?" This was said with mirth.
"Lowly?" Xena questioned, with one eyebrow raised. "If they only knew that this 'lowly' queen captured their Conqueror's heart."
"And their Conqueror captured mine."
They both leaned in for a kiss. When they parted, Gabrielle reminded the distracted Conqueror that she needed to go. Xena nodded and with one more quick kiss she headed out the door.
"Earth to Her Majesty!" This was said while shaking said queen's shoulder.
"What! Eph... oh... um..."
"You haven't heard a word I said."
"Yes, I heard... sort of."
Ephiny could only chuckle at the sheepish grin her friend was giving her. She had been sitting with Gabrielle for almost an hour, going over the schedule, and noticed from the start that the queen's mind was not on work.
"Everything all right with Xena?" she asked nonchalantly.
"Why do you ask?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.
Sigh. "Because you can't keep focused for two seconds, that's why."
"Oh." Another sigh, only this time from Gabrielle. "Xena is fine." At her friend's doubtful look, she added, "Really." Ephiny continued to doubt.
"Ephiny, may I ask you a hypothetical question?"
Uh oh. "Sure."
"Let's say very early one morning you find out that there is a message for Xena, but no one can seem to find her. What would you do?"
"In this hypothetical scenario, do you know where Xena is?"
"Would you ask me?"
"Naturally. I would abandon the search for Xena and go find you."
"Would you expect Xena to be with me or that I would simply know where she was?"
"Gabrielle, what are you getting at?"
"Just answer the question."
"I suppose, given that scenario, I would believe that Xena was with you."
"Even in the wee hours of the morning?"
Ephiny eyed her friend, trying to figure out where this conversation was leading. When a light dawned and she decided to take the plunge, "Are you sleeping together?"
"What? Well, are you?"
"Are you sleeping with Eponin yet?"
Ephiny's jaw dropped. Does everyone know Eponin has a thing for me? Gabrielle continued to stare at her friend, daring her to answer. Ephiny couldn't take it any longer. She shook her head and chuckled.
"No, I'm not."
Gabrielle was genuinely surprised. "Really?"
Ephiny gave a look of mock indignation. "Yes, really. You don't believe me?" Ephiny was keeping this lighthearted but the queen would not have it.
"I believe you, Eph. I just thought there was something... special between you two."
"There is. She's my friend and I love her."
"Nothing more?" Gabrielle pried.
"Nothing... well... not yet... maybe." Ephiny ducked her head down to try and hide the blush that she knew was rising.
"Give it time, Eph." Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on the Amazon's shoulder.
Once Ephiny regained her composure she turned back to Gabrielle. "And you?"
"Don't play dumb, Gabrielle. I know how much you love Xena."
Now it was the queen's turn to blush. "Very much so."
"And?" The continuing blush told Ephiny all she needed to know. "I'm happy for you."
"So, this hypothetical question?" Ephiny gestured for Gabrielle to explain.
"Well, you see, there was a knock on the door very early this morning..."
"Thanks, Heridus." Xena returned the soldier's salute and walked back behind the desk. She had been in the command tent on the west shore of the island for several hours.
"Xena." Iolaus paused at the entrance until his commander motioned him in.
"Anything?" Xena inquired.
"Nothing." The man jerked slightly as Xena's fist slammed onto the desk.
"I want him found, Iolaus."
"Yes, Xena, he will be." A faint nod from the Conqueror told him that he was free to leave and continue the search.
Xena rose to her full height and stretched her back. The day had begun so beautifully. She couldn't remember a night when she had slept more soundly and waking up with Gabrielle in her arms was more than she ever dared hope for. But now...
He must be found... He will be found... then he will face his worst nightmare... me.
To be continued... Part 11
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Thanks for all the feedback I've received so far! I promise this story will be completed... eventually. ;-) Unfortunately, life tends to take over and before I know it it's been a week or two since I've written anything. Right now, I am half way through part 11 then it will be in the hands of my wonderful beta readers.
Thanks again for all the support.
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse