The sun had not yet risen over Amphipolis, and the normal inhabitants of the small city were all still fast asleep in their beds, enjoying the hold that Morpheus' realm had over them. Xena, the mighty warrior princess, however, hadn't been 'normal' since the day she was born. Despite the late hour she had gone to bed the night before, her internal clock wouldn't allow her to sleep past sunrise. Judging by the sound of the door quietly opening, someone else was unable to stay asleep as well.
Xena listened intently as the intruder shut the door as quietly as they could, which ended up not being very quiet at all. She considered the intruder lucky that Gabrielle was a heavy sleeper, or else they would have been in a boat load of trouble. It was not wise to wake up the sleeping bard before the sun was up, and Xena had learned that the hard way.
Pulling herself out of her memories, she refocused her attention on her surroundings. She could hear the intruder walking with light footsteps, trying not to alert either woman in the room that they were there. Unfortunately for them, Xena was awake before they came in, and she had already begun to prepare herself to fend off the intruder's inevitable attack. She sighed softly when it came before sitting up and reaching an arm out, managing to wrap her hand around a skinnier arm before the tiny intruder could jump on her. She smiled as she gently brought the small body that the arm belonged to close to her torso.
"How'd you know where I was?" the small voice of a child asked curiously as Xena sat up and pulled her onto her lap. There was a touch of wonder in their voice that made Xena chuckle.
"I have many skills," she whispered into the blonde locks that were a few shades darker than the girl's mother's. "And what do you think you're doing up so early, Little One?" she asked, turning the girl around so that they were facing each other.
"Sneaking," was the reply she received. Xena raised an eyebrow as if to ask why. "You sneak on Mama lots, so I wanted to see if I could sneak on you," she explained with a smile. "I thought if I waked up early, I could do it. Jade said it would work."
"Ah, but there's one flaw in your master plan," the warrior told her in an extremely serious voice.
"Flaw?" The little girl wasn't sure if she knew what that word meant.
"Yeah... I wake up earlier than anyone in Amphipolis," Xena reminded the child with a cocky smirk, receiving a glare from sparkling blue eyes as a reward for her bragging.
"Just you see, Xena. I'll wake up before anyone in Ampi... Amphee... Ampip'lis... and then I'll sneak on you!" she told her determinedly before climbing off of Xena's lap onto the floor. "Jade and I will just have to start practicing more," she said. With that, she left the room. Xena could hear her talking to someone outside, most likely her 'friend', Jade, and telling them that she hadn't been able to sneak up on Xena. The warrior princess quietly laughed as she shook her head. Sometimes it sounded as if Nexa really was talking to someone that no one else could see.
"What's so funny over there, warrior?" a tired, somewhat grumpy voice asked from the bed that wasn't too far from her own. Xena looked over to see sleepy green eyes staring at her in question.
"Nexa's talking to Jade again," she answered, causing a small smile to appear on the blonde's face. They both knew about the imaginary friend that the bard's daughter had, and they had decided not to tell her that he wasn't really there. They both wanted the little girl to be just that. A little girl. "And apparently, they both think that Nexa can sneak up on me."
"So that's who that was," Gabrielle said, surprising Xena. She hadn't been aware that the bard had heard Nexa as well. Not missing the surprise that flickered briefly across the other woman's face, Gabrielle gave her a sad smile. "I'm not such a heavy sleeper anymore, Xena," she said with a shrug before pushing old memories into the back of her mind, where they belonged. An uneasy silence followed, one of them trying to push the memories back and the other feeling guilty for bringing them up. Luckily, the silence was broken by the sound of Gabrielle's stomach growling for food, making the blonde woman blush.
"I guess I'm hungry," she said with an embarrassed smile, averting her gaze towards the blanket that covered her up. She was silently debating whether or not she wanted to leave the comfort of the warm bed and freeze or simply stay in the bed and starve. Her stomach decided for her, letting out another hungry growl.
"Well, the sun is coming up. That's usually when that monster of yours wakes up," Xena joked as she threw her covers off. Gabrielle was out of her bed soon after, shivering as she got down on all fours and pulled a bag out from under her bed. She dug through it until she found the clothes she was looking for. "We really need to find you a better place to put your clothes," Xena commented.
"Well, we can't all sleep in our armor like a certain warrior princess," Gabrielle told her as she pulled her night shift off and replaced it with the warmest top she could find in the bag. She then pulled a leather vest on over the grey, sleeveless shirt, glad to feel the now familiar weight of the light armor resting on her shoulders. She quickly pulled a leather skirt on as well. The outfit was definitely less decorative than the one she had worn in the prison, and Xena figured that was why Gabrielle liked it so much. It didn't remind her of fighting in the prison. In fact, the bard had burned the armor she had been given in the prison as soon as she could. And although she hated to make the blonde relive those memories, Xena knew that Gabrielle would have to talk about it sooner or later. She had learned from personal experience that it was a mistake to run from the pains of the past.
"Ready to go?" she asked the bard once Gabrielle was fully dressed. She received a nod in response before they descended the stairs together. It had become a ritual since they had been reunited. Wherever Xena went, Gabrielle went; and vice versa. Both were too afraid to let the other out of their sight, afraid that once they looked away, they'd be alone again.
"Well, I see even all the work from last night wasn't enough to keep the two of you in bed longer than usual," the voice of an older woman greeted them once they reached the bottom of the staircase. Gabrielle gave Xena's mother a smile while Xena merely shrugged. "Nexa didn't wake you up, did she?" Cyrene asked, throwing a suspicious glance over at the child sitting at one of the empty tables as she ate her breakfast.
"No! Xena was already awake. She wakes up before anyone in Ampip'lis," Nexa defended herself.
"Ah. So you were going to wake her up, but you were a little too late, huh?" Gabrielle asked, although she had already heard the story from Xena. She almost laughed at the guilty look on her daughter's face.
"Sorry?" Nexa said, turning to Xena with an apologetic smile. The warrior princess rolled her eyes but soon after nodded her head as a way to show she accepted the apology. After Nexa happily returned to eating her breakfast, Xena and Gabrielle turned back to Cyrene.
"Well, tonight's the big night. Are you two ready for the harvest festival? Everybody is excited for it," the older woman asked as she busied herself with wiping down the counter. Sometimes she really wondered why she kept Tara around if the girl refused to do a simple task such as keeping the counter clean.
"Well, there are still a few things we need to get done before tonight, but they should be ready by tonight," Xena told her, leaning against the counter slightly.
"I didn't mean it like that. I meant to ask if you two are as excited as everyone else is," Cyrene told her before slapping her stomach away from the surface. Xena gave her mother a fake hurt expression before moving back.
"Well um... I guess so. Why wouldn't we be?" Gabrielle asked curiously, looking over at Xena who shrugged her shoulders, indicating that she was as clueless as the bard was.
"Just making sure you two are going to actually celebrate. Wouldn't want you turning in early just because you were tired from setting everything up," Cyrene mused as she finished her task and put the rag beneath the counter once more.
"We don't have that much more to do. All we need is a little more wood for the fire later," Xena told her. "Don't worry. We'll still be there, Mother," she assured the older woman.
As promised, the two of them did show up for the much anticipated harvest festival that night. Although Amphipolis was mainly made up of sheep herders, many of the villages surrounding it came to the small city to celebrate the festival. It was mainly a time for families from the other villages to come together, but it also served as a time to trade and bargain for other goods that they normally couldn't get until a trader came through. The celebration usually consisted of games for the children during the day time while drinks and food was served at night around a large fire.
"Problems?" Xena asked a fidgeting Gabrielle as they watched the couples dancing around the fire from afar. The blonde tilted her head up to look at her friend before looking down at the hands that had betrayed her.
"No. Just... thinking," she told the other woman. The look Xena gave her told her that that answer wasn't going to be good enough. Gabrielle sighed and looked up at the night sky. "I was just thinking about how lucky I am, Xena," she said truthfully before leaning against her older friend's shoulder. "Here I am celebrating a festival with the most important people in my life. My daughter, Solan, Lila, Leo and... you, Xena." Gabrielle tilted her head upwards and surprising them both with a smile that reached her eyes. Xena wasn't sure how long it had been since she had seen Gabrielle give her one of those without Nexa around.
"What about your parents?" she asked with a raised eyebrow, eliciting a now familiar sigh from the bard.
"My parents... Xena, I love them. I mean, they are my family after all. But you're my family, too. You're my best friend. You've always believed in me and you're there for me when I need you. More than my parents ever were..."
Xena watched as Gabrielle's expression sobered. Unable to stand being the one that brought up the subject, Xena gently took Gabrielle's hand and began leading her away from the deck of her mother's tavern. "Xena, where are you taking me?" Gabrielle asked curiously. Gabrielle narrowed her eyes when her friend didn't answer. "Oh no, Xena. You are not going to make me dance! You weren't there when I became an Amazon princess! I am a horrible dancer!" The warrior princess ignored Gabrielle's protests as she dragged the smaller woman with her towards the fire. "Xena, you don't understand. I don't know how to dance."
"I'll teach you then," the warrior told her as she gently took hold of the bard's hands.
"Xena, I've seen you dance. I don't think your style of dancing is very appropriate for a harvest festival. There are children around," Gabrielle pointed out as she nervously looked around her. Even though the couples were too busy dancing with each other, she still felt as if everyone was staring at her. 'You would think I'd be used to performing,' she thought to herself, although she was very aware of the fact that she never got nervous storytelling because she knew what she was doing then.
"Gabrielle, I highly doubt that you'd be ready to learn that style of dancing yet, even if that was what I was going to teach you," Xena told her, rolling her eyes before she began to lead Gabrielle in the dance. It wasn't long before she felt the bard stepping on her foot.
"Sorry. I told you I was bad. I think I was born with two left feet," Gabrielle apologized. Xena shrugged it off before continuing the dance. Again, she was stopped when the bard stepped on her other foot. "Sorry..."
"Gabrielle, it's okay. Just stop thinking so much," Xena told her before starting again. They were able to go a little bit longer before the warrior felt a familiar pressure on her foot again. "You were thinking again."
"I'm sorry, Xena. I just can't do this," Gabrielle told her, letting go of her hands. Xena grabbed them once more, however, and looked the bard in the eyes.
"Do you remember when you first started using the staff?" she asked, trying for a different tactic. She continued when she saw the other woman nod. "You didn't get that right the first time you tried it. Or the second. Or the third. Or the-"
"I get the picture."
"When did you finally begin to get the hang of using the staff?" she asked. Gabrielle thought back to the many years before, after she had just become an Amazon princess. She sighed when she saw what Xena was getting at.
"When I began to trust my instincts and stop thinking so much about what I was doing," she said, shooting a playful glare at the warrior princess.
"Exactly. Now, just try to do that with dancing. Let your body do the work," Xena told her before starting the dance once more. She watched as Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to take Xena's advice. Although it wasn't the most graceful dance, the two of them were dancing. And Gabrielle had managed to stop herself from stepping on her friend's toes.
Neither of them was sure of when it happened, but at some point in the middle of the dance they had begun to close the space between them until there was very little room between the bard and warrior. Neither of them were complaining either. At least, they weren't complaining until Gabrielle stepped on Xena's foot once more.
"Sorry," she apologized once more, although she was unable to stop herself from chuckling at her own clumsiness.
"It's alright, but I think it's time we stopped before I lose the ability to walk," Xena joked as they pulled away from the other. Regretting the loss of the contact, Gabrielle's hand took Xena's and they began to walk back to Cyrene's tavern to turn in for the night, neither noticing the older woman watching them as they walked through the doors.
Cyrene smiled to herself as she turned back to face the fire, a blonde child asleep in her lap. She couldn't believe that during the eight months they had been reunited, they still hadn't told each other how they felt. Of course, it was easy for anyone else to see that they had hopelessly fallen for each other.
"I guess love is just blind," the tavern owner thought aloud before laughing quietly to herself. "Now I sound like Gabrielle," she said with a smile.
"Mama?" The sound of her mother's name had woken the sleeping child in Cyrene's lap.
"Your Mama went to bed, Little One. And, I think it's time I took you to bed as well," she told the girl. A pout immediately appeared on Nexa's face as she turned to face Cyrene.
"No. I don't need to go to bed," she argued, crossing her arms in front of her chest in defiance. "I'm not tired."
"Is grandma trying to make you go to bed?" The sound of Solan's familiar voice made Nexa squeal in delight. The blonde boy blinked in surprise when the little girl got off Cyrene's lap and gave him a hug around the waist. She hadn't been able to see the older boy all day because he had been helping Xena and her Mama with preparing the festival.
"I'm not making her do anything. I just thought she'd like to go to bed now so that she could get up before Xena," the older woman told him. He raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Then I can sneak on her?" Nexa asked, turning her attention back to Cyrene. The older woman seemed to think about it before answering.
"I don't know. Xena does wake up pretty early." Before she knew it, small arms were giving her a hug and the child was kissing her on the cheek.
"'Night!" Nexa said before hurrying back to the inn, leaving Cyrene with her young grandson.
"And where have you been hiding away all day? I know working with your mother and Gabrielle couldn't have taken all day," Cyrene asked as the boy took a seat next to her.
"Would you believe me if I told you I was trying to teach myself how to hunt?" he asked hopefully. His hopes were dashed when Cyrene laughed and shook her head. "Well it was worth a try."
"Solan, if you're going to lie to me, use one that's believable. I was there the last time you tried hunting with your mother, and I remember it didn't turn out pretty," she reminded him. "But if you don't want to tell me the real reason, I guess that's alright for now. Just remember that I'm your grandmother, so I'm bound to find out sooner or later," she told him. "And if I don't, Xena will," she added on. He smiled in relief before standing back up.
"Thanks," he said, grateful that he didn't have to tell his grandmother that he had been gone all day was because he had been avoiding Amarice and Armon, who had come back to Amphipolis for the festival. ?Well, I think I?m going to follow Nexa?s example and go to bed, too,? he said as he stretched his arms. ?Good night, grandmother,? he told her before bending over and giving her a quick hug before heading off to the inn.
The next morning, before the sun was up, Xena was lying in bed staring up at the ceiling. Once again she could hear the sound of Nexa trying to sneak up on her. She didn?t plan on letting the little girl get as close as she had been the morning before. She was too comfortable.
Gabrielle had found her way into the warrior?s bed overnight, something she hadn?t done since she had been in Amphipolis, and Xena wasn?t complaining. She didn?t mind the fact that her arm had fallen asleep from the head resting on her shoulder, or the fact that Gabrielle?s arm had sprawled across her stomach. She didn?t mind one bit.
?Don?t even think about it,? she warned in a playful, low growl when she heard Nexa reach the end of her bed. She laughed at the disappointed groan the little girl made. ?Don?t you think you belong back in bed right now? I don?t think your mother will appreciate it if she finds you up before sunrise.? Silence followed the question for a few moments before it was broken by a sigh. Xena smiled when she heard the door close. Looking down at the sleeping Gabrielle, the warrior decided that she could probably go back to sleep as well.
?A little extra sleep never hurt anyone,? she reasoned as she closed her eyes again and allowed herself to be taken back into Morpheus? realm, not waking up again until she heard someone knocking on her door.
?Xena, there?s a woman here that says she needs to see you. Now.? Xena opened her eyes at the message her mother had delivered. Who would want come see her? ?Do you want me to tell her to come back later??
?No, Mother. Tell her I?ll be down soon,? she replied. Cyrene nodded before closing the door, heading down the stairs to deliver her daughter?s response. Xena sighed as she contemplated moving. As comfortable as she was, the woman down stairs really needed to talk to her. But there was the chance that it wouldn?t be anything important. Mentally groaning, she decided to do the right thing and get out of bed. Not long after her feet touched the floor, she heard Gabrielle stir under the blankets she had left covering the blonde.
Xena watched as the bard tried to cuddle with the pillow that she had been using while she slept. She had to stifle a laugh when she saw the frown that crossed the blonde?s face when the pillow was unable to replace the real thing. Green eyes fluttered open and stared down at the object in her arms. Then they looked over to find the warrior princess watching her. Blushing in embarrassment, Gabrielle quickly climbed out of bed and became interested in the floor.
?Someone downstairs is asking for me,? Xena interrupted her, saving Gabrielle from explaining. The blonde nodded before she started to get dressed. When she looked down, however, she realized she was already wearing her clothes.
?So much for me not being able to sleep in my clothes,? she muttered as she walked around the bed so that she was standing next to Xena again.
?I guess when you?re exhausted, you don?t care what you?re wearing in bed,? Xena told her with a smirk, earning a smack in the stomach from her friend.
?Maybe you shouldn?t work me so hard the next time we have a festival then,? Gabrielle told her. ?I guess we should go see what it is they need the warrior princess for.? Xena nodded and began to follow her friend out the door and down the stairs. They never expected to find a familiar Amazon sitting at the counter once they reached the bottom, however.