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Welcome back! I hoped you all enjoyed The Queen, The Coquette and the Conqueror. Once again these characters belong to MCA/Universal and I'm just having my fun with them.
Some of you were unhappy at what I was hinting at with Ephiny in the first part, so I accept the challenge to make two versions of the same story! This is the threesome version.
OF AMAZONS, WARRIORS AND LOVERS the threesome version
by shatterpath (the artist formerly known as walksfar)
A blast of cold air woke Gabrielle suddenly. The room was nearly as dark as when she had fallen asleep. Thunder grumbled outside and the air was uncomfortably damp. Then she noticed her companions and blushed furiously. Just like on the horse, she was pressed tightly to Ephiny's slim back. Xena was curled around her own back and her strong arms were wrapped around both smaller women. It was sweet and comforting and intimate to be cradled so carefully between her two favorite people. Both were wearing thin shirts and their under-breeches and they were warm and relaxed with sleep. How Gabrielle wished she could see their faces, but she was effectively pinned into place and could feel only their closeness. Then her bladder reminded her exactly why she had woken so suddenly.
"Xena? Ephiny? One of you wake up. I have to get up."
A low grumble sounded near her ear and Xena's body quietly came to life. "Well good morning sunshine."
Gabrielle giggled and stroked Xena's smooth hip. "Believe me, I don't want to move, but I gotta go." When Xena moved away the cold became more pronounced and Gabrielle shivered. It was freezing without a night shirt. Then she rolled onto her back and the cold was quickly overshadowed by pain. Muscles had stiffly settled into one position and objected violently to the sudden movement. Both warriors reacted to her moan of agony, but did not touch her.
"Sore, huh?" Ephiny asked as she faced them and propped herself onto an elbow. After a long moment Gabrielle carefully wrapped an arm around each of their necks and pulled them to a shoulder.
"Thank you. Both of you, for just being you. I slept like a baby, despite my ribs, despite the strange bed, despite the miserable weather. Thank you." A gentle kiss first for her beloved Xena then Ephiny was surprised by a quick kiss as well. "Now help me to my feet before I have an accident." Once upright, Gabrielle pulled on a discarded robe and shooed them both away before creeping stiffly to the door. A startled exclamation from Solari earned wheezing laughter from her Queen. Then the heavy door slid shut and silence settled again.
At first Xena did not respond to the gaze on the side of her head and remained sprawled easily on her back.
"You remind me of the forest predators. Especially sleepy like this," Ephiny commented quietly.
All that earned was a smile. Then Xena finally glanced at her out of the corner of her eye before she grinned. "I guess that would make you a bird of prey."
"And Gabrielle would be a singing sparrow." They were still chuckling as they drifted back to sleep.
Solari snapped awake when someone stumbled inelegantly into the long hallway. "Rats," muttered a brassy voice and heavy footsteps approached. Rubbing her eyes to focus them, Solari saw an irritated Xena stomping towards her. No wait, not Xena, but one of the doubles. Obviously this was the cook, who obviously had breakfast. Or was it lunch? Who cared, she was starving.
"Do you have enough for me?"
Meg jumped in surprise and nearly dropped her tray. "Hey, what're you doin' sittin' outside Xena's door?"
The dark woman grinned and stretched luxuriously. "I'm with the Bard."
Memories of last night fought past Meg's hangover and she nodded. "One of the Amazons, right?"
"Well, I was only expectin' to feed two, but I'll come right back with more."
The Amazon grinned winningly at her and settled back into her chair. "Thanks."
Any noise Meg made creeping into the room was covered by the storm raging outside. She spotted a head of pale hair in the dim light and shook the shoulder beneath. "C'mon Gabby, get up. I got lunch." There was a low protesting mumble and Meg's eyes narrowed. Then blue eyes met an unfamiliar hazel gaze and Meg jerked back in shock. "By Aphrodite's gauzy dress, who are you?!" Lunch met the floor with a resounding crash. Ephiny jolted back and dumped Xena onto the floor with a grunt of surprise. Panicked hazel eyes looked first at Meg and then towards the irritated sounds issuing from the floor.
"If you're there, then who...?"
Xena's head slowly peered over the edge of the bed. "It's been a long time since I've been kicked out of bed," she chuckled wryly. Hoarse laughter dissolved into a moan and all three women turned to the door. Not surprisingly, Xena reached Gabrielle's crumpled figure first. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, oh, ouch. The looks on all your faces... Gods, I have got to stop laughing before I die..."
Meg was still glowering at the vaguely familiar blonde woman who helped Xena lift Gabrielle to the rumpled bed. Then the tall Warrior draped an arm around her two friends. "Meg, this is Ephiny. Don't you remember being introduced last night?"
"Nope, drank too much."
That was the other thing Warrior and Tramp shared. They were blunt. "Meg," Gabrielle whispered, "c'mere." With a last glare at the stranger, Meg carefully sat beside her bruised friend and took her hand. "I appreciate you defending my virtue, but Ephiny is my friend and second in command among the Amazons. She's okay." That earned a sheepish grin.
"Right, sorry. I need to get more food, I dropped lunch."
"I don't think I'm going anywhere."
By the sounds in the hallway, Solari had just been volunteered to help retrieve lunch. Roaring thunder shattered the day once again and all three women flinched. "Zeus must be having a lousy day," the Bard observed wryly. Then she smiled warmly and gestured to her companions. "Come here Xena. Could we be alone Eph? But later I'm going to want to speak with you." The Amazon scooped up the sheepskin pants and yanked them on with an amused expression. Once she had stepped silently outside the soulmates were left alone to cuddle. "I'm sorry last night didn't quite go as I planned."
That comment made Xena raise her head and query, "what you *planned*?"
Gabrielle was mockingly indignant. "Of course I had something *planned*. After being separated from you for so long, I decided I wanted my way with you. Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn, but I'm a quick study and you're the woman of many skills. I'm sure we both could have learned something new. Unfortunately I'm incapacitated until Olympus knows when." Both pairs of eyes had grown dark with need and they melted into a kiss for only a moment before Gabrielle gently held Xena away. "Not enough breath for this," she rasped. So they cuddled until Gabrielle's compromised breathing settled.
"Do you like being around Ephiny?"
That stopped Xena up short. "Umm, yeah. Why?" Curled up along the tall woman's body with her head on her shoulder, Gabrielle could not see Xena's face. Or more importantly, her expressive eyes.
"She's always found you facinating, you know, and you've been *very* relaxed around her since we showed up last night. As usual, I'm trying to figure out your motives, dear heart." Xena was torn between amusement at the question and the distraction of Gabrielle's now wandering hand. Quickly she explained her recent revelation that Meg, Diana and now Ephiny could enter her personal space with no reaction. "It just feels so good to not be jumpy around them..." Her voice trailed away.
"Why them? Why just those three?"
Xena thought about it before she responded, "because I like them, and so do you."
Then Gabrielle rolled onto her back so that Xena could lean over her.
"You value my opinion that much?"
"Of course!" Xena was honestly astonished at the question and hastened to reassure her companion. "You have much better social skills than I do, and I trust your judgement about people most of the time."
"Why only most of the time?"
Wicked humor glittered in blue eyes when Xena laughed and gave Gabrielle a quick, hard kiss.
"Because for many moons there, you had your head turned by every pretty boy who crossed your path! Good or bad! You were giving me a complex every time you did that."
Gabrielle gave a sharp snort of laughter and winced. When she pulled Xena down to kiss her, she was further shocked and aroused by the burning need she felt from both of them. Again Gabrielle had to push her away far too soon and labor to try to catch her breath. Now the house robe was gaping to reveal pale skin and white bandages. A knock shattered Xena's concentration and she pulled away with a growl.
That distraction heralded the arrival of the Amazons and soon they had scattered about the room to eat ravenously. Pillows had been propped up beneath Gabrielle so that she could eat in comparative comfort. After just a few mouthfuls of the hearty stew, Solari wrapped her arms around her raised knees and rested her head against them. "Have you slept?" The dark woman jerked her head up in surprise at her Queen's question. It took a moment to collect herself before she shook her head.
"Oh, Solari," Gabrielle whispered with sympathy, "go to sleep. Anywhere."
Little Ophelia set aside her meal and grabbed Solari's hand. "You kin sleep in my bed. I'll show you."
"Her mother's daughter," Tomyris chuckled and Lysia elbowed her in the ribs.
Lysia sighed and decided to attempt to be diplomatic.
"What are your plans now Gabrielle? Now that you are no longer incomplete, I'm assuming you'll be moving on again."
That earned sharp looks from both Xena and Ephiny, but no other comment. How Gabrielle would miss the closeness she had shared with her curly haired Regent over the last fortnight. She swallowed her regret and answered, "most likely. But I was wondering if you could do me a favor first." A sandy brow rose in question, making the tall woman look even more like another of Xena's doubles. "Before that, though, I have a question for Ephiny." Hazel eyes met hers curiously and Gabrielle adopted her best gentle voice. "The only time we've spent together outside the Amazon Nation was a trial." Those golden eyes darkened with pain and Ephiny unconsciously crept to Gabrielle's comforting warmth and voice. Bard, Warrior and Regent would never forget the horror of the Thessalian war and what they had suffered there. Their fingers twined together as Gabrielle spoke again. "Come with us. A few days, a few weeks, it doesn't matter. Please Eph, you need a break and we'd really like to spend some time with you." Despite herself, Ephiny glanced over at Xena who was seated on the other side of the bed. Something warm and persuasive and almost shy danced in those impossible blue depths.
"But... what about our tribe?"
"That's my favor of Lysia." A hand rose to forestall the immediate protest. "I'm not asking you to stay with them. Just swing by on your way home and catch them up on events. See how Eponin is doing. Stay a few days if you'd like. It's not that Solari isn't capable, but you've got rank."
Tomyris was desperately trying not to laugh. This wonderful, talented, manipulative little slip of a Bard was maneuvering everyone exactly where she wanted them. Lysia shrugged and agreed to Gabrielle's plan with a careless, "sure, no problem." A strangled cough poorly disguised Tomyris' bark of laughter. A sharp glance from her liege only earned a shake of her dark head. The small woman was amazing.
A squeeze around her fingers reassured Ephiny and her look of panicked indecision faded. "You don't need to decide yet. Just think about it. I'm not going to be ready to move on for at least a few days, not to mention this weather." A strong hand gripped Ephiny's shoulder and she once again looked into clear blue eyes. Each with a hand and reassuring warm eyes on her, Ephiny truly felt the force of their bond for the first time. Even from the outside, it took her breath away and left her dizzy from the intensity. Spend time around that, huh? She would never be the same.
Diana woke with a start at the sound of unfamiliar female laughter echoing through the castle. Careful not to disturb her husband, she slipped from their warm bed and winced at the soreness of body and mind. Time always made her forget how alcohol made her feel the morning after. Red color tinged her cheeks at the memory of how the alcohol had made both her and Philomon act like last night. Small wonder she was so sore! Laughter again reminded Diana why she had awakened. A warm houserobe and slippers kept the chill of her ancestral home at bay. Only a few guards watched over the castle, but they were bright-eyed and alert. Four weeks under the tutelage of the famous Warrior Princess had turned her castle guard into a formidable force. Each nodded acknowledgment to their quiet liege as she strode past. At an intersection Diana paused and wondered where the laughter had been coming from. As if in answer, the sound rang out again and made the two guards smile.
"Xena and the visiting Amazons are in the dining room, Highness. And in remarkably good spirits this day."
The men were rewarded with a smile from their beautiful Queen as she headed for the dining room.
Gabrielle was enjoying this. It was not worth getting thrown from a running horse, but she was enjoying herself nonetheless. The Amazons had thrown together a comfy nest of furs, blankets and pillows near the great fireplace. Now she could be as social as her hurt ribs would allow. Xena was being a remarkably gracious hostess to the visiting Amazons. Just another of her many skills, no doubt. Without being prompted, Xena had bathed quickly that morning and carefully dressed in the blue outfit Gabrielle had brought her. She was stunning, beautiful, intoxicating. It was blissfully distracting to see Xena looking so... so... feminine. Not that anyone could mistake her for anything else, but this was a soft, warm feminine. Neither the Amazons or the two guards at the archway could keep their eyes off her. Even little Ophelia was smitten. Much to the amusement and delight of the small gathering Xena had been weaving the tale of Kassius' defeat at her hands. While sparse in the telling, her delivery was engaging and humorous.
"It'll be a cold day in Tartarus before that fool comes back. The good citizens of Treis made sure of that," Xena chuckled. Again the Amazons laughed and raised glasses to the tale. It was then that Gabrielle noticed Diana hovering in the shadows. A gesture brought the woman to her side to sit and relax. Sit Diana did, relaxing was another matter. It was painfully obvious the delicate Queen was suffering from a raging hangover.
"Rough morning, huh?"
That soft comment earned Gabrielle a queasy smile. So she reached up and began massaging the tense muscles in Diana's neck. That brought on a moan of relief as the ache faded somewhat. Moments later the tall woman had dropped herself across the small Bard's lap and fallen asleep. It was with a definite sense of dilemma that Gabrielle continued to stroke Diana's dark hair. Wake her and save them both some embarrassment, or let the obviously suffering woman sleep it off? Gabrielle's good nature won out.
Tomyris looked over the Warrior's shoulder after congratulating her on both the tale and the deed behind it. Gales of laughter escaped her and made Xena step back in surprise.
"What's so funny?"
Tears were rolling down the big woman's face as she gestured behind Xena. There was Diana comfortably asleep like a big cat across Gabrielle's lap. That blue gaze earned a sheepish look from her soulmate. Tomyris finally wound down from her hysteria and gasped, "every time I've seen her accomplish the impossible, she does something even more amazing. You really can charm anyone, can't you little Queen?"
A snort of disbelief escaped Lysia from her perch at the table. "And to think I brought you along because you always behaved yourself. One look from Artemis' pretty little Queen and you're acting like a big dog on a leash..."
Ephiny began choking as she inhaled instead of swallowed. Despite the blue gaze headed her way, Lysia smacked the smaller woman hard across the back. "You okay?"
There was no response for a moment as Ephiny wheezed into the tabletop. "Goddess," she finally rasped, "none of us will be able to breathe by the end of this trip. You really haven't learned any tact since getting the Queen's mask, have you?"
That earned her a glare, but Lysia knew she was right. Meanwhile, Xena had switched her gaze from Lysia to her uneasy Second. Despite herself, Tomyris stepped back and raised her hands to defend herself. Not that the gesture would do her any good if even half the stories told of this ex-warlord were true. There was a frightening stillness to Xena's body as she processed the implications that Lysia had voiced. Then that golden voice pulled her away from the potential explosion.
Just her name spoken on a soft breath. That was all it took. Confused and vulnerable, Xena turned to her young love.
Long moments passed before Gabrielle cupped her hand over Diana's ear and sighed, "nothing happened, love. Tomyris was persistant, but not intolerably pushy. From the moment I arrived it was obvious our tall northern sisters were a hot commodity. Lysia had rank, Ophelia and that granite facade to keep the suitors away. Tomryis on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying encouraging the locals before spurning them. I realized they were testing us. So I copped an attitude."
Gabrielle paused to catch her breath and saw Xena's expression soften.
"By gaining Lysia's respect I silenced many of the grumblings that still circulate about my Queenship. By stringing Tomyris along when no one else could I proved myself as a Amazon. So many of my own sisters still see me as the little kid tag along adoptee who brought down the wrath of the single worst enemy the Amazon nation has ever had. Add that to the facts that I'm gone so much and that so many of them followed Velasca when given a choice between us..."
"Sounds like lousy odds," Xena breathed around the loosening ache in her chest. At Gabrielle's beckoning, Xena went to her side, and knelt beside Diana's prone frame.
"The gamble paid off, no challenges, no wars, no deaths and I've made three new friends." Gentle fingers on her chin made Xena meet those intense green eyes.
It took a moment for a spark of humor to light Xena's serious eyes. Then the hand on her chin coaxed her in closer until their breathing mingled and she could see the flecks of gold and blue in Gabrielle's gaze. Desire warmed the youthful face, turned her look intimate and caressing.
"If it weren't for these damned bruises, I would have dragged you from this room by the force of your own desire when I had first arrived. Don't you understand how much I need you? Emotionally, mentally, physically. And as soon as my body's up to it, I fully intend to have my way with you. Just remember that Warrior Princess."
Xena was openmouthed in astonishment at this bold stranger. If Gabrielle kept teasing her like this, she would be a quivering wreck before too long. A sleepy mumble from Diana made the two of them pause and look down at her. Their intensity coupled with the strenuous night her mind was currently replaying elicited a soft sound halfway between somnolent and sensual. Xena choked back laughter as her double burrowed further into Gabrielle's comforting warmth. Now both hands and head were in potentially embarrassing places. Gabrielle looked a bit alarmed and Diana smiled peacefully in her sleep.
That pained comment finally cracked Xena's laughter loose. She choked it back until she scrambled away from the sleeping Queen. Tomyris jumped back in response and was abruptly stopped by the heavy wooden table behind her. Xena laughed even harder. None of the confused Amazons could figure out what was going on.
"What's so funny?" Tomyris asked tentatively and Xena waved at her soulmate.
"We never stood a chance did we? Diana never stood a chance, Meg, Joxer, Cecrops, the list is endless. That one's charm is a force of nature!"
A weak smile eased across Tomyris' face as she realized the Warrior was not going to kill her for flirting with Gabrielle. Watery knees dropped her onto the nearly bench and she put her head in her hands. The laughter wound down and a hand on her shoulder made Tomyris glance up into surprisingly warm blue eyes.
"I'm not angry with you. Gabrielle has been proving to me from the day we met that I continue to underestimate her. You'd think I'd learn."
The night brought on truly miserable temperatures and a rainstorm that made its earlier cousins look like trickles. Lysia and Ophelia were flirting with Hercules while Solari did the same with Meg. Neither seemed to mind the Amazon's attentions. A very subdued Tomyris chatted neutrally with Iolus and Philomon. Xena was rough housing with Palomon while Vidalis caught up with Gabrielle. It was a warm, cozy scene and Ephiny felt apart from it. She was not being excluded but her roiling emotions kept her away. Sometime earlier, Gabrielle had made good her promise to speak with her. The Bard's offer to travel with them had thrown her for a loop.
Bright gold eyes roved over Xena's graceful figure across the room. Only a corpse would *not* find that one facinating. Then her gaze flicked over to where Gabrielle reclined regally in her rag tag nest of furs. It was still amazing to Ephiny to see the incredable transformation the Bard had gone through over time. Dark and light, they both burned with that inner fire that somehow made them more vibrant, more... alive than most mere mortals. Would that intesity change her forever? Was she brave enough to take that chance? Second guessing yourself was exhausting work and Ephiny laid her head on the table, cushioned on her crossed arms.
The sharp squeal of a startled female woke Ephiny with a violent start.
"Goodness child, you startled me so! Hidin' in the shadows like a sleepy kitty!"
Fuzzy from sleep, Ephiny shied away from the big woman and her comforting hands. Round and matronly, the woman was oblivious to the sharp dagger Ephiny slid back into its sheath at her hip. The woman continued to fuss over the ruffled Amazon. "...sleepin' in this corner, and only half dressed! You'll catch your death of cold for certain. You come with me now and we'll get you warmed up right quick. Some warmer clothes for you are certainly in order, this is such a frightfully drafty old place."
Before she could interject so much as a word, Ephiny found herself bundled from the room and deep into the bowels of the castle. All the time, the woman kept up a steady stream of chatter.
"You're a bit longer than the Warrior's little sunshine, but not so much built like a gladiator! She must not have known you would be escortin' or she'd had warm clothes stitched up for you too. Probably doesn't even remember askin' me to make 'em. Had to make sure my Queen herself reminded that one to dress warmer. A bit o' work on those brown leathers and we'll have you fixed up right quick. They'll look better with your coloring anyway. Here we are! Now get in and let old Callia take care of you."
It was a bathing room. A simple one with heavily curtained walls to keep the cold away. The warmth made Ephiny notice her bone deep chill for the first time. Moments later she was stripped to her skin and neck deep in the steaming water. When she twisted her body around to thank the woman, she was gone.
Some time later the friendly woman returned to sit beside the tub and continue her never ending flow of words. In a half candle mark Ephiny learned more about this community of strangers than she would have ever believed. Thick, sure fingers expertly modified a full suit of warm tawny leathers lined in rabbit fur.
"That boy has always been such a klutz! But determined to be a soldier and nothing would turn his head from the idea! Can't imagine where he got his stubbornness from. So Xena watches him try and suddenly strides over like some great dark beast of the night. Now Athius blanches like any sane person would, but bravely holds his ground. Just a self satisfied nod of that one's head and she's showin' him how to wield that sword proper. Now he's gone on and learned to be a proper guardsman. Might even teach others one day. There now, that ought to do it."
Abruptly the flow of words stopped and Ephiny raised her head in silent question. The leathers had been set aside and Callia was approaching the tub with a large towel.
"Up and at 'em girl. I need your help with the Warrior and the Bard. Let's get you dry and dressed and on the move!"
The older woman gently bullied Ephiny into accommodating her wishes and soon the quiet Amazon was following her back to the castle proper. Ephiny could not remember of ever being so covered up in her life. At least she could not feel the cold anymore.
"Now remember to pull up that hood if you start feeling chilled. Those won't shed water, but they clean right easy. There's oiled leathers in the stores if you need them, you just come to the kitchens and I'll take care of you. Here's the kitchens and we'll collect breakfast for your liege and the Warrior. Just keep hold of those clothes and follow me girl!"
The kitchen was a noisy, colorful blur and suddenly they were back in the hallways. So many people crammed into so chaotic of a space. Then she recognized Xena's heavy door and was nudged through by Callia's cart. Hazy dimness filled the room within.
"Xena? Gabrielle? Wake up," Ephiny called quietly and stepped closer. The bed stirred and an indistinct noise carried to her ears. A glance over her shoulder proved that Callia had once again vanished, leaving only the tray of food. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ephiny went to the bed and dropped her bundles onto it. A hand shot out and curled into the sturdy leather between her breasts. All Ephiny could get out was a squeak of surprise before she was effortlessly yanked onto the bed. That strong arm held her upper body aloft while her knees found purchase among the tangled limbs under the covers. What sounded like a grumble from Gabrielle spoke of the thumping Ephiny's knees had inflicted. Then she was wrapped in a big, warm hug, covers and all.
"Bless you Eph! This is the first morning since I arrived that woman hasn't chattered me to death and stuffed me full of food! She probably did just that to you though."
The adrenaline was subsiding, so Ephiny relaxed into Xena's long frame and chuckled, "a little, yeah. She's very informative and showed me the bathing room downstairs and made me change into warm clothes. I like her."
"Yeah I do too."
There was a soft sound near the side of Ephiny's head and now her companions were each warming an ear with their relaxed breathing
"It's cold," Gabrielle slurred quietly as she burrowed into their combined warmth. Xena wriggled one arm around her and enjoyed cuddling the two blondes. No one wanted to move from where they had melted together in a relaxed heap. No one did until Ephiny felt a curious hand on the new leathers and was mildly surprised to hear Gabrielle's voice ask, "what're you wearing?"
"Brown leathers lined in rabbit fur. I've never been so constrained in my life, but they're surprisingly comfy. Yours are by my feet."
"Cool. Done any more thinking about my offer?"
"Yes. But I'm still not sure."
Xena released Ephiny as some unspoken signal passed between Regent and Queen. She scrambled to her feet and moved away while she tugged her clothing straight. A shudder ran through Xena's long frame when she felt Gabrielle's open mouth press sensuously against her temple.
"Eat something and rest, we'll be back soon enough."
When Gabrielle stood, Ephiny helped her into a warm houserobe and knelt to place heavy slippers on her feet. Neither spoke as they slowly made their way to the water closet at the end of the hallway. After settling her bruised Queen, Ephiny stepped outside to wait. Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh and stared up into the small candle in its glass cage. Lost in thought, she was distracted by voices throught the heavy wooden door. The deep timbre of Ephiny's voice was unmistakable. The other was an enigma.
"Curse it," Gabrielle muttered to herself when she realized that she could not get to her feet in the confined space of the cubicle. Pulling the houserobe tighter around herself, she gingerly kicked at the door. "Eph. Help. Please."
Heartbeats later Ephiny slipped into the small room and knelt at Gabrielle's feet. She set aside the bundle of leather and fur she held and rested her hands on the smaller woman's bare knees. The lowered blonde head did not move. Then abruptly Gabrielle looked up and Ephiny was taken aback by the mixture of intensity and misery on her face.
"Damn those archers and that blasted tree!"
Again she looked down and an uncomfortable silence settled over the two Amazons.
"I'd do anything for you. You know that don't you?"
Those whipered words made Gabrielle glance up again. Gold in the dim firelight, Ephiny's eyes were intense. "There was a time when I was not so willing, and only obeyed you because of tradition. But now... I want to do as you command."
One strawberry blonde eyebrow arched in an intrigued expression.
"Help me up and get these bandages off." A sharp green eyed glare abruptly cut off Ephiny's automatic objections. "If I need to be wrapped up again fine, but first I need to find out if I can breathe at all normally."
Strong arms wrapped around Gabrielle's battered torso and slowly drew her to her feet. Again Ephiny dropped to a knee and rummaged through the bundle there. Embarassed, Gabrielle allowed her vassal to trade the underbritches around her ankles for a new pair and settle them against her body. Then the long pants of forest green leather lined in white rabbit fur slid sensuously up her legs.
"These are the warm clothes Callia made for you. I caught her right before she would have knocked on Xena's door. They're a beautiful color."
Weapon caloused hands carefully pulled the laces snug across Gabrielle's flat abdomen. She watched Ephiny shake her head suddenly as thought she were putting her mind back on track. It was so odd to have this proud woman at her feet willing to do anything. Even a full month among the Amazons had not insulated Gabrielle to the feeling of command. The Amazons had doted on her, the adoptee who ruled primarily in name only. Here was their true leader, helping her dress. Ephiny stood and gently turned Gabrielle to the back wall before kicking the toilet closed. The scent of rosepetals and warm bodies swirled through the small space. Hands ran down Gabrielle's arms, making her bite her lip to keep from giggling in response. Then her hands were resting on the cold stone at shoulder level after Ephiny carefully drew her robe and shirt away. Then the pain began to bite in harder and Gabrielle tried to fight the swirl of agony assaulting her senses. Every line in her body fought the urge to gasp in acknowledgement of the sensations. Finally the wrap fell away and Ephiny gently stroked her pressure striped belly and drew their bodies together. Little by little Gabrielle took deeper breaths, head hanging betwen her raised arms. Somehow she kept from coughing as stone stiff muscles gradually relaxed into her companion's warmth.
"Wow," she finally whispered.
Ephiny chuckled and moved away to grab the warm green shirt from the floor. "Your breathing sounds really good. You must have not been as badly hurt as we all thought. Hey, what's this?"
A tangle of leather straps and buckles had fallen from the neat folds of the shirt and boots. Gabrielle glanced at it and smiled.
"Looks like tack. Xena must have finally noticed how worn Argo's reins and halter were getting. Hope your freind Callia made them sturdier than the last set. Hey silly, quit tugging at them and help me cover up before I freeze."
Again pain washed over Gabrielle as her arms were lowered and her muscles shifted again. Soon the furry shirt was drawn up her arms and over her shoulders.
"Turn around and I'll lace you up."
Gabrielle rested both hands on the taller woman's wrists for balanceas she painstakingly threaded the laces through their eyelets. After a half-dozen eyelets, Ephiny noticed the glazed look on her friend's face and chuckled.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Hmm? Oh. I wish there was a way to prove to Xena that she's still underestimating me."
Ephiny chuckled again and crouched to retrieve the tack from the floor. Gabrielle's attention sharpened suddenly and her expression grew wicked and crafty. "So Eph, were you serious when you said you'd do anything for me?"
Hazel eyes jerked up to hers in reaction to that comment. What a scary expression that was.
"What did you have in mind?"
"Remember, we're only going to get one shot at this."
Only a nod in response as they slowly pushed the heavy door open. It was dark on the other side of the shutters but the single night candle still burned cheerfully. The wicked grin deepened across Gabrielle's face as she crept soundlessly to the bed. It was as if Xena were unconsciously accomadating her soulmate's wishes. She slept deeply, arms flung away from her body, determined to crowd the whole bed. With huntress' stealth the two Amazons set to work.
A sudden grip around each wrist and well-honed reflexes kicked in automatically. As Xena snapped awake the leather bindings squeezed with a python grip.
Alarm subsided as she focused in on Gabrielle's laughing eyes. Ephiny hovered on the other side of the bed.
"Very funny you two. You've proven you can sneak up on me. Now let me go."
The two Amazons looked thoughtfully at one another and Gabrielle spoke in a blantantly fake innocent voice, "sneak up on her? Is *that* what we were trying to do?
All Ephiny could do was give an exagerated shrug and try to hide her mirth. Xena's eyes narrowed with irritation until Gabrielle looked at her hungrily. Slowly the small woman climbed onto the bed to straddle Xena's thinly clad body as Ephiny yanked the covers away. Forest green leathers lovingly hugged every sensuous line of the Amazon Queen's lucious young body. Xena's detailed memories of her companion had indeed served her well. The shirt gaped open to the bellybutton and framed the shadowed lines and curves cradled in white rabbit fur. With teasing slowness, Gabrielle gripped Xena's body with powerful legs and settled her weight onto the Warrior. Arms crossed across her chest, she looked haughtily down at the trapped woman.
"Lovely Warrior, proud, calm and commanding. So determined to always be in control. Pull on them, pull hard. Show me what you're made of."
More than a little curious as to where this was going, Xena wrapped her hands around her bindings and resettled her upper body. Years of battle and extensive travel had honed her like a well-sharpened blade... and she pulled.
She pulled with the determination of a draft horse and the the strength of a sturdy old tree. Leather creaked and wood groaned and she growled at the challenge. The tendons in her neck stood out in stark relief and her skin flushed with the effort. Long moments passed as the struggle wore on and the strong leather curled with the strain. Then abruptly it was over and Xena dropped limp with a gasp. Gabrielle grinned wickedly and she carefully leaned over to capture that restless blue gaze.
"I knew those reins would be the strongest human hands could make. And I guessed that Diana would bunk you up in a room you couldn't easily trash. So now you want to know why? I'll tell you why. Did I not say proud, calm and commanding? I want you to beg for my touch, I want that iron self-control to shatter like glass. I want to feel that lusty energy you only let loose when you're in battle. And... I want you to trust me to bring you safely back to yourself."
Blue eyes were round in astonishment at the calm words. Small hands began to explore Xena's trapped body. Gabrielle's heat burned immercifully into her ribs and belly. A hissing breath escaped Xena and her companion sensed the first step to compliance.
"My dearest Xena when I said earlier that I had plans for you I meant it. Plans that included watching your beautiful eyes darken with passion and hearing your sexy voice get low and rough with need. I know you want it, your poor body's begging for mercy."
Slowly the small hands on her began to weave an irresitable spell. By the time Gabrielle finally lowered herself down for a kiss, Xena was already writhing in response. But she fought the loss of control as Gabrielle knew she would. So she continued to tease her until her muscles began to cramp from the strain and she was bathed in sweat.
"Why fight it my love? Why torment yourself so? Just let go and trust me, I love you and would never hurt you. Just let go..."
Then suddenly the erotic touch on chest and face was gone. Dazed and frustrated, Xena looked up to her soulmate with imploring eyes. Gabrielle smiled with sympathy and turned her head when Ephiny stepped up with something in her hands. A quick manuver and Xena's nightshirt was pulled up around her midrift and the warm leather settled onto her naked skin. Now Xena moaned in earnest and sharpened her attention. Gabrielle held Xena's eyes and reached out to wrap her hand around the object Ephiny held. The familier ring of sword in scabbard made Xena's heartrate buck like a skittish horse. That short, narrow blade the dragon had carried glittered in the dim firelight. Ephiny melted into the shadows and a moment later the door whooshed open and closed, leaving the soulmates in solitude. Gabrielle spoke in a low, intimate storyteller's voice.
"The Amazons made this for me. They knew I would never use it, but they needed the symbolism of it. So I learned to use it. Small, sturdy and easily underestimated. Sounds like a certain Bard I know."
There was a low whine of protest as Gabrielle lowered the sharp blade towards Xena's vulnerable belly. Corded muscles quivered and jumped when the cold metal rested lightly against her skin. Gritting her teeth against the temptation to do something violent, Xena watched the sword slip carefully benieth her shirt. Its lethal edge slid past the curve of breasts and nestled against her warmth. Every tiny little hair on her body stood on end, her self-control stretched to the breaking point. Then she looked up at her beloved and stopped. How unexpected the girl's presense in her life had been and how nessessary. There had been times and there would come times when Xena could not go on and there would be this sweet creature to help her back to the light. Trust her? With her body, heart and soul.
Something had changed, Gabrielle sensed it. Tension drained from Xena's body and her intense eyes grew soft and vulnerable. The sharp point resting at the hollow of her throat was no longer an enemy, not in Gabrielle's hands. Two fingers pinched the tip of the sword and Gabrielle pulled upward at an angle. The thin white fabric rasped in protest as it split cleanly. Pain echoed faintly through the Bard's back at the effort. Carefully she pulled the few loops free on her own shirt and set both hands on either side of Xena's head. Once again Gabrielle leaned in close to her Warrior. Their breath mingled and their body heat became one.
"Now come with me love, I will be your guide. Feel my touch and the language your body speaks. Come with me..."
Curious lips began a journey down Xena's strong body. Every curve, every scar, every tense line of muscle was lovingly caressed. Gabrielle's feline smile deepened as she suckled lightly at a full breast and bit down lightly. She was not expecting the growl she recieved in response.
"Don't get feisty Warrior, you're not going anywhere. Not until I'm done with you."
"Dammit, this isn't fair... Where did you learn to..."
Pleased at Xena's rapidly dwindling vocabulary, Gabrielle carefully squirmed her body lower on her beloved's long frame. Again pain echoed in her back, but with even less velmence than before. Taunt stomach muscles danced benieth her teasing mouth and the small noises became more intense. Xena finally moaned when Gabrielle spoke quietly against her skin.
"For so long I've wanted to touch you like this. Freely and with no holding back. I restrained you so you don't need to restrain yourself. Later, when I'm healed I promise to be just as vulnerable with you."
Blazing green eyes looked up and rivited Xena into absolute stillness.
"You've never allowed anyone complete access to your body, have you?"
Again that self-satisfied feline smile and Gabrielle lowered her mouth to Xena's skin yet again.
"Then hold on, hold on tight."
Those velvet soft lips began tracing the lines of strong thigh muscles and teased the sensitive hollows at the back of Xena's knees. Silky hair drifted against her skin after it. Subtle moisture left on her skin heightened Xena's awareness and she felt her body responding in ways it never had before. Then that touch wandered higher and Gabrielle's body cuddled up between Xena's knees. Some tiny part of Xena's mind listened to the animal noises she was making, felt the anticipation in every muscle, tasted the need on her tounge, smelled Gabrielle's soft scent surrounding her. What *was* that girl doing?
"Look at me Xena, and don't look away. You'll need me to bring you back, so don't look away..."
Her whole reality became those green eyes, now almost blackened by the dimnessand the teasing touch. Finally Gabrielle's curious mouth settled where she burned hottest and Xena's expression earned a smile from her soulmate. She was climbing that peak and was getting there fast, hit the point of no return... and kept climbing. Confusion and fear clouded blue eyes and Gabrielle slowed down her caresses for a moment. Soft suction and gentle stroking at her core wound the need tighter and tighter. The cold air snaked around Xena's face and chest and burned into her heaving lungs. Gabrielle's small hands held tighter to Xena's thighs as she burrowed deeper into the wetness. That got the first ripple of release and a rumbling groan. Gabrielle's muffled voice encouraged her on and Xena made a strange sound that could have been urgent need or desperate protest. Then that sound grew higher and louder and powerful thighs sqeezed down around Gabrielle's head. Unable to move, she clamped her mouth around Xena's deepest source of pleasure and bit down firmly. The gutteral scream shattered the morning and the convulsions shook Gabrielle like a ragdoll. Calm slowly settled over Xena like a blanket.
"Come back... please come back."
Azure eyes fluttered open wearily and Xena took a long, deep breath. The last time Gabrielle had whispered those words...
Tears softened Xena's eyes as she gazed up at the woman who had once before called her back from death. Now she had effectively shattered the last few walls between them and indeed left Xena's fragile emotions intact. Perhaps even stronger in the sharing.
"Gab... rielle... love you... love you... love..."
After watching Xena slowly drift to sleep, Gabrielle had finally let the pain show. A few minutes later the door opened and Ephiny soundlessly crept over to the bed. Without a sound she smiled and coaxed a glass of strong wine into her liege before pressing the young woman down beside her soulmate. A gentle kiss on her cheek earned a smile from Gabrielle and she snuggled into Xena's warmth. Then Ephiny carefully untangled the big woman's wrists from the strained tack and covered them both. Ephiny slipped out as silently as she had entered.
After she left the castle proper the sound of clashing swords and male voices caught Ephiny's ear. None of the soldiers even noticed her hop up onto a nearby low wall and watch. Swords were still a bit clumsy in their youthful hands, but it was obvious they had been well trained. Swing, parry, thrust, sidestep, the old exquisite dance of danger and death. The raw, lusty energy pouring from them only reminded Ephiny of her own body's nagging want. How pathetic this was. If she didn't leave now she would end up ogling these... boys. A chuckle and a quick shake of gold curls caught one of the young soldier's eye. A quick grin and the woman was gone. Ephiny never saw him smile in return before he turning back to his fellows.
Ephiny found herself at the stables and spent a few minutes talking quietly with her mount. A few minutes turned into a leisurely brushing. At that point Ephiny was in the groove and moved to the next stall to brush down Tomyris' dun stallion. Then Gabrielle's white mare and Solari's battered brown gelding. A young villager had brought the spooked beast to the castle the day before after he had run off quite some distance. Now soaked with sweat benieth her suddenly too warm leathers, Ephiny patted the gelding on the nose and headed outside. Tense energy still coursed through her body even though she was now tired from the exercise. Maybe those boys would appreciate a new sparring partner.
Abruptly someone grabbed the back of Ephiny's shirt and effortlessly jerked her to a halt. Instantly she tried to twist around and defend herself and was shaked roughly for her efforts. A snort broke through her growing alarm. Dark, intelligent eyes regarded her with obvious amusment.
By the goddess that was a big horse! When Ephiny tried to bash the animal with an elbow she was shaken until her teeth rattled in her head. The handling also knocked her feet out from under her. Once again she was hauled closer with no apperant effort. Then recognition broke through the fear at being roughed up by such a large animal.
"Argo! You scared me!"
Now the warhorse let go and began to snuffle the familier human. She smelled strongly of the rest of the herd, especially the dark one who must be obeyed. A giggle escaped Ephiny as the big mare sniffed her all over. Stubby whiskers tickled her face before a wet tounge swabbed across cheek and forehead.
"Uggh! Licked by a warhorse."
Argo continued to nuzzle at her while Ephiny scrubbed her sleeve across her wet face. A squeal escaped the Amazon when the wide nose slipped into her half-open shirt and she was licked again. That time she finally leaped out of reach and glowered. Argo stretched her neck out and whickered coaxingly. The sour expression on Ephiny's face deepened.
"Goddess Argo, you're as bad as your traveling companions."
Actually the poor animal looked bored out of her skull. A well-kept saddle was draped over a nearby rail with empty straps for bedroll and bags. A sudden thought made Ephiny look from the saddle to the prancing horse.
As if sensing the woman's thoughts, Argo nickered again. If she could have spoken she would have begged shamelessly for a ride. Again Ephiny stepped up to Argo and let the horse continue to snuffle and murmur.
"Oh how I would love to ride a magnificent animal like you..."
Both of their gold heads rose at the sound of someone coming into the barn. It was now or never. The reins and tack tucked in her shirt were an added temptation. Finally she could not stand it any more and grabbed Argo's halter.
"C'mon girl, before they see."
The moment the woman grabbed the saddle, Argo stopped prancing and let her do her job. The big animal eagerly took the bit in her teeth and prodded the woman out of the too-small stall. As the tall beast surged past her, Ephiny grabbed the saddlehorn and threw her body into the well worn saddle. Argo squealed at the shocked stableboy and he scrambled out of her way. Rearing up, the mare pounded the big doors with powerful hooves and they swung open to let the bright sun and wind stream in.
"Argo! Don't! If the locals don't kill us, Xena will!"
It was to no avail. The castle gate was open and Argo headed for it as though the furies themselves were plucking at her tail. An expert dodge around a farm cart, a quick twist around a startled guard and they were suddenly on the open road. The horse's stride lengthened out and Ephiny squinted into the wind. Laughter bubbled up despite her feelings of guilt. Xena was going to be angry at her audacity and rightly so. Right now she could only soak up the incredable sensation of speed and power. Argo was ecstatic with the lightweight on her back and opened up.
Many candlemarks later the two exhausted females finally approached the castle walls. Argo snorted happily and raised her head up at the prospect of food. Ephiny swatted her lightly across the withers and growled, "serves you right you maniac, running off like that. It's near dusk and I still have no idea what terrain we covered today. At least we know there's no more of that army left lurking around."
Soldiers on the wall had spotted them and created a stir. The dread Ephiny had been ignoring blazed up again. Xena was going to kill her. First Tomyris and Lysia had kicked the Warrior in the equalibrium and now Ephiny had gone and swiped her beloved horse. Not that it hadn't been an unforgetable ride, like clinging to a force of nature. Curious eyes followed Ephiny's every move as she dismounted just inside the archway into the courtyard. How was she going to face the angry Warrior Princess who even now stalked towards her with obvious intent? Then a bolt of inspiration worthy of her Bard Queen hit Ephiny like a thunderbolt.
Xena was irritated yes, but she was also worried for both of her friends. They had been gone most of the day and anything could have happened. Much to her amusement Argo tried to guiltily hide behind Ephiny. The obviously tired Amazon drew herself to her full highth and looked Xena square in the eye. When she spoke her voice was clear and could easily be heard by the scattered soldiers.
"As you asked Xena, I patrolled the surrounding terrain for stragglers from Kassius' army. My mount was still worn out this morning as you pointed out. Thanks for your loan of Argo, she was magnificent."
Astonishment registered in Xena's eyes even as her face was expressionless. A desperate plea for forgiveness softened Ephiny's own gaze as she stared up at her tall friend. With surprising deftness Ephiny had just allowed Xena to save face in front of the soldiers she had trained. Desperately the woman of few words struggled to come up with an appropriate response to the totally believeable yet utterly bald faced lie.
"You should have come back sooner. I was worried."
The embarrassed flush and the dropping of the gold eyes was not feigned.
"We got lost."
Chuckles broke out among the armored men and they moved on to their patrols. A gentle touch on her chin made Ephiny look back into Xena's azure eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered quietly and earned a weary smile. Then louder, "now go tend to my horse and I'll see you in the dining hall." An understanding look passed between them. Leadership was a tricky game and only the ones that played it well were afforded respect. A sharp look made Argo cringe. "I'll deal with you later girl. Behave yourself this time."
Xena watched horse and rider slouch over to the stables and had to smile. That one had diffused her irritation almost as effectively as Gabrielle could. Payback for this morning's surprise was shaping up to be very interesting indeed.
When Ephiny stepped into the dining hall she halted in her tracks. Every single person she had met in this place was there. Self-consciously she slunk over to Xena's chair that was placed at Diana's side. Twin pairs of blue eyes reguarded her kindly and Diana spoke first.
"Glad to see that you are well. I can only imagine that monster Xena calls a horse was difficult to control."
The scowl was turned on the Queen, who merely smiled daintily at the empty threat. Then Ephiny realized that Gabrielle was not there and the seat beside Xena was empty.
"Relax, she's sleeping. Sit down and eat before you fall over."
"What are you? A mind reader?"
"No, but you think as I do."
Xena grinned and pulled Ephiny down to the bench before handing her a wine goblet. The hungry Amazon nodded to her curious sisters as she helped herself to the scattered trays of food. Soon enough they would hear about the morning's adventures. Some of them anyway. As if sensing that train of thought, Xena reached under the table to pat Ephiny's knee. Somehow she did not choke in surprise but merely squeaked ignobly. Warrior and Queen continued their discussion about castle defenses, the latter oblivious of Xena's teasing pat. Ignoring the Warrior, Ephiny caught Lysia's eye.
"When are you leaving?"
"Tommorow at dawn. I'm eager to get home after so long. Does this mean you aren't accompianing us?"
A sharp glare earned a chuckle from Xena.
"Wheather you stay or go, I'm still going to get you for sneaking up on me this morning."
"I didn't think you had anything to complain about."
Amazons and royalty were curious at Xena's embarrassed flush and Ephiny's peals of laughter.
While on the road, Ephiny gets to see first hand how Xena and Gabrielle live.