No Room At The Doghouse, Er…Inn

by Lawlsfan
lawlsfan@aschweb.com

No. 5 of the: Foibles and Follies, The Misadventures of the Warrior and Bard Series.

Author’s Notes: For those who may not know, a "three dog night" is a cold night requiring no less than three snuggling dogs to radiate enough heat to keep the chill at bay. And Kamouraskan is of course a talented Xenaverse bard and not an ancient Greek playwright. But this is my way of paying homage to her for her help in motivating me to work through my writer’s block and finally finish this little tale.

For certain character introductions, you may want to read the other stories in this series first, they can be found at my website: XenaEyes Fan Fiction Collective, or on MaryD’s Australian Xena Information Page in the Bard’s Corner under the author listings for Lawlsfan.

Alternative Sexual Content: Yeah, you should know the drill by now. There are some intimate intimacies between two grown women because I believe they are in love and that’s just part of it. So if you are not at least 18 years of age or this type of material offends you then please run away now and read something else post haste.

Spoilers: None. This is my story, my timeline, and my creation. But

Xena:Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures 1995-2000. I’ve borrowed a couple of their characters, but the story idea for "No Room At The Doghouse, Er…Inn" is solely the property of the author (me). " No Room At The Doghouse, Er…Inn " was completed on 2/25/00.

Feedback is always welcome at: lawlsfan@aschweb.com . Don’t be shy; tell me how you feel.

Now on to the story…

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The sun was just beginning to dip toward the horizon when they finally emerged from the woods and set out upon the open road toward the city of Athens. Autolycus was busying himself out ahead with stirring up an occasional hare from the brush alongside the trail, giving short chase, and then abandoning the pursuit after a few bounds only to immediately begin rooting out another. Somewhere during their travels his natural predatory urges had mysteriously blossomed into a canine version of the cat and mouse game. Perhaps now that he’d found a home and was privileged to a cooked meal every night, it was time to simply have fun with these furry little creatures he used to know only as food. Of course the hares failed to be amused and certainly could not see themselves as beneficiaries of this change; they were still running for their lives.

Gabrielle grinned broadly and sighed as she watched the wolf’s carefree antics. Suddenly feeling the cold, she shivered and pulled her cloak tighter around herself then snuggled contentedly into the back of the warrior in front of her, lovingly seeking the warmth she knew she’d find there. The air was definitely starting to feel of winter now, with a deepening chill extending from the darkness well into the daylight hours. Leaning her head on Xena’s shoulder, she sighed as she watched the wolf start yet another rabbit from a clump of reeds and give short chase, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth and his breath wafting in misty puffs into the chill air. She mused at how he almost appeared to be laughing.

"Xena, I wonder how old he is?" she said quietly to the tall dark one in front of her.

The warrior remained silent, her body rocking and rolling slightly to the gentle rhythm of the big mare’s gate beneath them.

"XENA," Gabrielle said a little louder and squeezed her arms tighter around her companion’s waist in emphasis.

"D-huh?" The warrior snorted as her head suddenly snapped upright, her eyes blinking blearily in the setting sun. Scratching her cheek and yawning, she quickly glanced around trying to orient herself. "What is it, Gabrielle?"

The bard raised her head and gazed up at her companion in amusement while she gave the waist under her arms another quick compression. "Were you sleeping?"

Xena turned around and offered her partner a crookedly sheepish grin. "Nah, just meditating. What’s on your mind?"

Gabrielle leaned forward and placed a lingering kiss on Xena’s cheek then suddenly reached around her and grabbed Argo’s reins, pulled back, and brought the big mare to a stop beneath them. The warrior swiveled around in the saddle and gazed at her companion with a befuddled expression; the bard returned the look with an inquisitive frown etched across her forehead.

"How do you know we’re on the right road, Xena?"

The warrior glanced thoughtfully at the road then at the surrounding countryside. Finally, after several eyebrow-arched moments of pondering her seeming predicament, her eyes took on an impish twinkle. "Argopilot," she declared while fighting hard to maintain her usual stoic expression. ‘Yeah, sounds good…I’m not lost…no way.’

Gabrielle blinked several times then stared at her partner in dumbfounded silence. Quietly reflecting on the irrational sound of the response, she finally shook her head in resignation and handed the reins back to the warrior. ‘Well, we’ll get there sooner or later,’ she quietly reassured herself.

"So you’re trying to tell me that Argo knows we’re on the right road and heading in the right direction?"

"Sure, she’s been to Athens enough to know." Xena smirked at Gabrielle’s ‘buying it’ and turned around to gently urge the big mare forward again. "I just tell her where, give her an apple, and off we go."

"Ah-huh." Gabrielle shook her head again in disbelief as she settled in against the warrior’s back and deciding she was just going to enjoy the ride, absently watched Autolycus dashing and zigzagging through a nearby meadow. "Who’d of thunk it; we’ve got us a homing filly." She muttered and smiled wryly. ‘Warrior, you have absolutely no clue where we are.’

Argo tossed her head and whinnied.

"Ah, Gabrielle," Xena whispered over her shoulder. "She’s not a filly any more."

"Oh yeah, right. Pardon me Argo…homing MARE." ‘Argo must be reading my mind,’ the bard mused and rolled her eyes. "Xena, do you KNOW how crazy that sounds?"

The big palomino tossed her head again and snorted. Gabrielle grinned broadly.

Xena was just about to open her mouth to interpret her trusted mount once more when she noticed Autolycus rapidly approaching from seemingly out of nowhere and about to do a full-speed fly-by rabbit shuffling. She barely had time to hold her breath and cringe before it happened. Of course her companion didn’t have the benefit of either breathing or cringing. Startled by the abrupt sonic wolf whooshing and flash of gray, Argo unexpectedly bolted to the side and nearly tossed the unawares and unprepared bard off her back and onto the road beneath them.

After struggling for several moments to get the big war-horse back under control, Xena glanced down at Gabrielle’s hands, which were white-knuckled and firmly grasping her breastplates. ‘Uh-oh.’ She turned around and grinned sheepishly at her bewildered partner who was now seated behind her in an extremely askew position on the mare’s back.

"You still with us, Gabrielle?" the warrior inquired sheepishly.

"Yeah," the bard said through a shaky grin as she clung to the warrior for dear life and realized where her hands had haphazardly ended up in the confusion. In the interest of better stabilization, she slowly and rather reluctantly slid them downward to rest again on her partner’s abdomen. Then remembering how she’d almost become an unwitting human projectile, her grin abruptly faded into a frown. "Just what was THAT all about?"

"Oh, that was the Argopilot’s Auto avoidance system," Xena smirked. "Pretty cool huh?" She held her breath again and waited in silence for the response.

Gabrielle shook her head as she straightened and settled herself in once again behind the warrior. "Yeah, if I felt like flying through the air with the greatest of ease to get to Athens in a hurry. But really Xena, I much prefer the slow, scenic overland…"

The warrior’s eyes suddenly relaxed and lit up as she quickly exhaled and interjected, "Gabrielle, you just might have something there."

"What, that a sidestepping horse is a quick way to get to Athens?" While she spoke the bard absently reached up with both hands and shifted her breasts back into their normal position then methodically adjusted her twisted and crimped skirt which was threatening to cut off all circulation to one of her most vital organs. "I’m sorry Xena, I just don’t get…"

"No…flying," Xena continued.

Finally satisfied that every part of her had been primped and put back into its proper place, the bard casually returned her arms to the warrior’s waist. "Xena, what in Tartarus…?"

"FLYING, Gabrielle." Xena clucked to Argo and they started forward again.

"I heard you. But listen warrior, in case you haven’t noticed I don’t do a steady diet of bugs and seeds…"

"No. Don’t you remember the flying parchment?"

"Yeah but…" Gabrielle hesitated when she saw the almost gleefully psychotic expression growing on her partner’s face. Her own face creased into a frown. "Hey wait a minute warrior princess. I’ve seen that look before and it still scares me."

"I figure if we can make it big enough…"

"No, Xena."

"Then find a really high cliff…"

"NO, Xena."

"Strap you in…"

"NO, XENA!"

"But Gabrielle, you’re so much more…petite than I am. It would have to be you."

"Xena, there is no way in Hades I’m going to let you strap me into a piece of parchment and toss me off a cliff. Been there, done that," she shook her head and shuddered at the memory, "only without the parchment…"

"Not toss you off…you’d have to run and jump…"

"XENA! Have you lost your…?" The bard hesitated, suddenly distracted by a rapidly approaching rider. "Hey isn’t that…" She pointed down the road and the warrior followed her gaze. "…Hercules?"

They both squinted at the figure riding toward them. Sure enough, soon they were able to make out the unmistakable form of the Son of Zeus on horseback, a rather odd site. He smiled broadly and raised his hand in recognition as he approached.

"Well if it isn’t the mighty Hercules," Xena said with a wry grin and extended her arm comradely while he reined his mount to a stop alongside them.

He grasped Xena’s forearm with his own in warm greeting and cast the bard a chivalrous smile.

"Xena. Gabrielle. How are you old friends?"

"Ve-e-ry, ve-e-ry fine, thank you," the bard purred as she contentedly snuggled into the warrior’s back and grinned coyly at the handsome demi-god.

Hercules gave the bard a knowing wink then squeezed the warrior’s forearm once more before releasing it.

"What’s with the horse?" Gabrielle asked as she surveyed his mount.

"I found him bogged down in a swamp. Must have wandered in by mistake. He was nearly dead when I came across him; probably had been struggling in there for days." Hercules reached down and patted the bay stallion on the neck. "Nice looking animal."

Argo snorted.

"Yes he is," the bard said quietly as the wheels began spinning in her mind. "Gonna keep him?"

"No, I’m planning on taking him to market."

"Where are you heading then?" Xena inquired.

"Athens."

Gabrielle’s expression suddenly shifted into a sneer as without warning she reached up and grabbed the warrior’s earlobe, giving it a hard yank.

"Ack! GABRIELLE!" Xena grasped frantically at the bard’s wrist trying to free herself from the sudden onslaught upon her auditory appendage. Just what was it with people’s sudden fascination with her ears anyway? "What in Tart…?"

"ATHENS," the bard quickly interjected. She slowly released her grip but held the warrior steadfastly in her glare as she continued speaking in a low tone dripping with light-hearted sarcasm. "Why Xena, it seems Hercules is heading TOWARD Athens."

Xena glanced uneasily down at the demi-god’s handsome bay mount, which just happened to be headed in the opposite direction from her own. She turned and grinned sheepishly from the bard to Hercules and back.

Herc sat back in his saddle and crossed his arms, quietly studying the two women with puzzled and somewhat bemused intensity.

After rubbing her ear in silence for several long moments, the warrior finally cast him a slightly embarrassed look.

"Ah, Hercules?"

"Hmm?" He fought the smile that was threatening to crack.

"Mind if we travel your way? At least until we get to Athens?"

"Not at all. Would love the company." Then with an amused shake of his head, and another wink toward the bard, Hercules urged his mount into a trot and headed off down the road toward the city. "Besides, I wouldn’t want you to get lost out here," he shouted over his shoulder.

Xena watched him ride away before grinning sheepishly at the scowling bard. The show-no-mercy look on her partner’s face sent an odd shudder radiating from her toes to her head and back. She hurriedly turned around and leaned forward to whisper into Argo’s twitching ear.

"What was it girl, a bad apple?"

The big mare snorted once then lowered her head with her ears pointed dejectedly backwards and stood quietly swishing her tail.

"Uh-uh, don’t give me that look." Xena abruptly lifted back on the reins and turned Argo’s head toward Athens. "It’s getting mighty crowded in the doghouse. And I do hate crowds," she hissed under her breath as she urged their mount into a smooth canter and glared at Autolycus darting hither and yon across their path with his nose pressed against the ground. As an afterthought, she glanced over her shoulder at the bard with a flirtatiously appeasing grin and flashing blue eyes. "Although YOU can crowd me anytime you like.

Gabrielle smirked and buried her face lovingly into her partner’s shoulder as they rapidly closed the gap between themselves and the retreating demi-god. "Big dummy," she muttered under her breath into the warrior’s cloak. Then sighing deeply, she quickly added, "but gods, you’re so forgivably cute."

"What?" the warrior inquired over her shoulder.

"I love you, Xena."

"Love you too, Gabrielle." Xena smiled and reached up to tenderly pat the bard’s hand resting at her waist as they finally caught up with the Son of Zeus and she reined Argo back to a walk. "Hey, Hercules. Did I ever tell you about my flying parchment? I’ve got this great idea…"

The bard rolled her eyes and abruptly squeezed the warrior’s waist with all the might she could muster.

"Ooof!" Xena managed through the abrupt rush of air from her constricted diaphragm. "Hey Gabrielle, you want to loosen up a bit. You’re cutting off the circulation to my brain."

The bard grinned maniacally. "All right warrior princess you’ve got thirty seconds to distract that brain of yours from where it’s heading."

In response and quite without warning, Xena spun around and seized Gabrielle’s lips in a scorching kiss that burned its way through the bard’s mouth and shot straight to her loins. When they finally separated a somewhat flushed and flustered Gabrielle nearly swooned her way right off the mare’s back.

"Mmmm, yes that certainly works..." She opened her eyes and blinked several times at the warrior before things suddenly became clearer. There was Xena grinning impishly from ear to ear; the bard’s hand immediately went for the one on the right. "Hey, wait a minute warrior princess…"

"Ack! Gabrielle…."

*****

The threesome arrived in the bustling city of Athens just after nightfall. Hercules leapt from his horse and started toward a tavern down the street. "I’ll go see if they’ve got any leftovers." He strolled off leaving a group of startled and murmuring passersby in his wake. The tall, well-muscled, and extremely handsome Son of Zeus definitely cast a recognizable shadow anywhere and everywhere he went.

Grasping Xena’s forearm, Gabrielle slid down off of Argo and looked around in amazement at the crowded streets filled with people milling about and having a raucous good time. Apparently there was some sort of festival going on. ‘Oooh what great timing.’ She clasped her hands together in front of her chest and grinned broadly.

Xena quickly dismounted and landed lightly on the ground beside the bard. She smiled whimsically at the look on her partner’s face then immediately began scanning over and through the crowd for a place to spend the night. Her eyes literally twinkled with delight as they fell upon a sign directly across the street.

Three Dog Inn

Arching her eyebrow and glancing amusedly down at the wolf sitting at her feet, the warrior muttered softly. "Well Auto, maybe they’ve got a spare just for you." She reached down and patted him on the head. "You little monster."

The wolf thumped his tail gleefully as he watched Xena reach over to tap the spellbound bard on the shoulder and draw her out of her reverie. She pointed toward the inn. "I’ll go see if they’ve got a couple of rooms. You and Autolycus stay here and wait for Hercules."

Gabrielle nodded mutely then turned around to retrieve the saddlebags from Argo’s back. As she released the last of the bags from their bindings she heard a quiet murmuring erupting from the crowd behind her. Without turning around she sensed that the Son of Zeus had returned.

"So what’s for dinner Hercules?" she said with a sly grin, not looking back. There was a moment of silence.

"She’s starting to rub off on you isn’t she?" the demi-god finally responded.

The bard turned around and cast him a look of playful incredulity. "Do you think we’ve been spending too much time together? Is it really contagious? Should I be worried?"

His lips curled into a half grin as he placed his hand on her shoulder to steer her toward the tavern. "Well Gabrielle, I think you’ve already got it, and…" he hesitated and shook his head in feigned tragedy. "Well, I’m afraid there just isn’t a cure. Looks like you’re stuck with it."

The bard sighed deeply then reached up and patted the big guy’s hand. "Thank the gods."

The pair could be heard chuckling softly as they entered the tavern. Stopping just inside the door, Hercules hesitated and turned to warily study something outside.

"Oh by the way, Gabrielle. Do you know you’re being followed?" he inquired quietly.

Gabrielle responded with a knowing grin. "You mean the little guy in the gray coat?"

"Yeah, big brown eyes and sharp teeth." Hercules continued to study the ‘stalker’.

"That’s Autolycus."

"I’m sure there’s a story, right?" Hercules asked as he turned around and looked at the bard with a whimsical smile.

"Sure is. And you know what, you just might be the guy to help us with a little problem we’ve developed." The bard reached up and placed a hand on the demi-god’s shoulder as they headed for an empty table. "You see Hercules, there’s this green-eyed monster…"

*****

Xena’s icy blue eyes were flashing with frustration as she paced back and forth in front of the cowering innkeeper. Every so often she’d stop and glare at him then mutter some sort of barely recognizable string of obscenities before starting to prance and swagger again.

"So you’re telling me that this is the last room in this entire stinking city?"

Having finally heard the first coherent statement from this woman since…well he wasn’t sure he could remember when, the short balding man opened his mouth to speak only to have her immediately turn and glare at him again. He was instantly stunned back into silence.

"I know, I know…the festival…bad timing…" the warrior huffed and rolled her eyes. "Bad timing…" She continued pacing. "Yeah, you can say that again."

He opened his mouth to comply but she immediately raised her hand and motioned for him to stop. An idea had begun to formulate in her mind. He decided it was in his best interest to be quiet and hear her out.

"What about your stables out back?" she asked quietly.

The innkeeper continued to gaze at her, looking and feeling quite a bit like a fish out of water, his mouth repeatedly opening and closing and not a sound breaking out. Was this a signal? Did she really want him to speak now? It was many agonizing moments and several swipes of the back of his hand across his brow later, before he felt sufficiently assured that she was through with her rant and he would probably live to see yet another rise of Apollo. Only then was he able to muster the courage to clear his throat and try again to form some words.

"Ahem-m-m." He hesitated and eyed her suspiciously, waiting for her to twitch in his direction. But she surprisingly stood motionless, staring at him with those merciless blue eyes boring a hole to his core. His own eyelid began to spasm convulsively as he sighed and continued. "There is a hayloft. But of course, no fire and no heat." He cringed and waited for the next explosion.

"That’s the best you can do?" the warrior asked in a calm tone while never altering the intensity of her glare.

He shrugged and shook his head affirmatively.

"One bed in the room?"

He shifted uncomfortably trying to avoid her eyes, then nodded again.

Xena suddenly envisioned the image of a handsome demi-god, her friend, the Son of Zeus, shivering miserably through the night in a cold hayloft.

"Fireplace?"

Another affirmative nod.

"Bath?"

"Yes," the innkeeper responded meekly.

The dismal image of Hercules quickly faded into a vision of the bard bathed in nothing but the soft glow of the firelight. The warrior felt a flush rise into her cheeks. She suddenly flashed the innkeeper a charming smile. "All right, how much for the room AND the loft?" ‘I guess it’s the least I can do for ya, Herc,’ she mused while hurriedly pushing a slight twinge of guilt to the back of her mind.

Finally feeling the tension filled air around them seeming to lift, the innkeeper boldly held up eight fingers and casually returned her smile.

Without warning, there erupted a flash of leather-clad muscle in motion and the startled and befuddled innkeeper suddenly found himself suspended off the floor with the warrior’s hands tightly gripping the front of his tunic.

"Are you inSANE?" Xena hissed as she thrust the little man backward against the wall in emphasis. "Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I’m here to celebrate my anniversary. And you’re going to extort from me eight dinars to do that?"

He swallowed hard and considered playing dead. Yeah, she surely wouldn’t kill a dead person would she? But hey, on the other hand he was a businessman and if she chose to let him live -- well then he had to make a living. She just had to be made to understand that. Gazing uncomfortably into her icy eyes he wondered simply ‘how?’ A bead of sweat rolled slowly down his forehead while he pondered that question. He shuddered and closed his eyes to consider his potential demise even further when somewhere, lodged within the terror that fogged his brain, the businessman’s answer appeared. He suddenly knew she wouldn’t kill him. After all, he had something she needed; it was simple supply and demand. Yeah, she’d pay the price for sure. He tentatively opened his eyes, puffed out his chest, grimaced, swallowed hard again, then forced a sheepish grin through which he stammered miserably.

"L-l-listen, a m-man’s g-g-gotta make… Ack! By the gods woman…!" His eyelid fluttered uncontrollably.

Xena thrust him higher into the air and back against the wall again, harder this time, her face and eyes taking on an unmercifully vicious sneer. When she spoke again it was with a low, whispery, terrifying timbre.

"Listen, I’m fully intending on making something tonight and I don’t want to have to MAKE that something in a drafty, cold hayloft, which seems to be all I can afford at your unreasonable prices. Of course, that will not MAKE me happy." She pushed him with more force against the wall eliciting a loud ‘oof’. "And, If I’m not happy, other people tend to be unhappy as well. You’re presently at the top of that list because I was really looking forward to a hot bath and a warm bed at a reasonable price. That would MAKE me very happy. What d’ya say? Wanna MAKE me happy? For a start, here’s an idea…" She lifted and pushed again eliciting a loud ‘ugh’ from her captive. "…STOP winking at me."

The innkeeper, his eyelid suddenly still and wide open, reluctantly relented to her merciless manner of bargaining. ‘Yeah, I do want to live a long, happy life.’ He began a silent mantra. ‘MAKE her happy, MAKE her happy…’

"Six d-d-inars…and I’ll throw in a c-c-omplimentary bottle of wine?"

The warrior suddenly dropped the little man back onto the floor and with a smug smile, casually began straightening the front of his tunic. "Two bottles, extra blankets, a bitch, and you’ve got a deal."

Without hesitation the innkeeper shook his head affirmatively.

"Good man." Xena patted him on the shoulder, grasped his arm in confirmation of their deal, then cast him one last smirk before heading for the door.

Suddenly a realization struck him and he tentatively called out after her. "Wait a minute…" He fought desperately to keep his fluttering eyelid under control as she stopped and turned back with a knowing grin.

"A bitch?" he continued.

The warrior pointed at the sign over the door. "Says three dogs, right?"

He shook his head in confusion. "Yes, but…"

"Well we need a bitch."

"But I’ve only got three males."

She started toward him with a sneer. "Hey, we had a deal…"

He stepped backward and held up his hands in submission. "All right, I’ll see what I can do."

Xena smirked and headed for the door again. "We’ll be back in about a candlemark." She hesitated again just inside. "Oh, and by the way, my friend has a good nose for counterfeits, so don’t try anything funny."

He nodded in assurance as he watched her exit the front. Then shaking his head, he quickly slipped out the back door and started down the street, subconsciously ‘winking’ at everyone he passed while he pondered his mission. ‘Now where can I find a bitch in this town?’

*****

"Xena! Over here!" Gabrielle shouted.

The warrior looked across the crowded tavern to see the bard jumping up and down hailing her. She headed across the room ignoring the occasional odd stare and mutterings as she passed the tables that separated them. Finally reaching their table, she eagerly grasped the tankard of mead offered her by the bard and took a long drawl from its contents, then settled down on the bench next to her partner grinning.

Gabrielle reached over under the table and gave the warrior’s knee a gentle squeeze. "You hungry warrior?" she inquired coquettishly as she casually slid her hand up and down the length of Xena’s thigh.

The two lovers gazed at each other longingly for a long time leaving the demi-god seated across from them to squirm uncomfortably in their erotic aura. He finally worked up the nerve to reintroduce his own presence back into the moment.

"Ahem." Hercules cleared his throat and set his tankard down on the table with a loud clunk. "So Xena, how’d you make out at the inn?"

The warrior casually settled back into her seat and smiled sheepishly, a soft light literally dancing a jig in her eyes. "Haven’t yet."

Hercules returned her smile with one of his own disarmingly charming best. "They don’t have thin walls do they?"

Xena’s smile suddenly faded into an uneasy glance toward the bottom of her tankard of mead as she took another long swig. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat before looking back at the demi-god.

"Hercules, have we told you that it’s our anniversary?" she said quietly.

Gabrielle gazed at her partner with a suddenly troubled expression. She could tell a stall and diversion tactic when she saw one, especially when such tactics were radiating from a certain warrior princess; on that subject she was most assuredly an expert. She clamped her hand around Xena’s knee and gave a questioning squeeze.

Xena glanced at the bard and smiled reassuringly before turning her attention back to her friend across the table. Hercules was still grinning at her.

"Congratulations," the demi-god toasted and raised his mug to his lips.

Xena fidgeted uncomfortably for a brief time under her companions’ intensely inquisitive gazes before finally deciding to come clean. Of course the not so gentle prodding in her ribcage from the little blonde seated next to her was helping to move her along as well. She absently swatted the bard’s hand away as she spoke.

"Listen Hercules, there was…"

"Not a problem," he quickly interjected, casting her a knowing smirk.

She eyed him in surprise.

"You’re lucky you got a bed, with the festival and all," the demi-god continued as he rose and stood towering over the table. "So where am I?"

"Hayloft over the stable," Xena said sheepishly.

"Xena!" The bard grabbed the warrior’s arm. "We can’t let him sleep out there on a night like…"

"It’s all right Gabrielle," Hercules quickly interjected. "Really, I’ve slept out in worse…"

"I won’t hear of it," the bard declared matter-of-factly. "You’ll stay with us."

Xena cast the bard a mildly irritated glare. "But G-a-briel-l-le…"

"Xena, Hercules is not going to stay out in the cold when we’ve got a perfectly good room…"

"With one very small bed," the warrior interposed.

"Well the room’s got a floor doesn’t it?"

"Why yes it does," Xena said with a quirky smirk. "And a bath, and a nice warm, glowing fireplace, and a bottle of wine chilling. Yeah, should be very…chummy." She casually took a swig from her mug and waited for her words to work their magic.

"Oh," the bard said diffidently while the thought of a warm bath, wine, and firelight dancing across a naked warrior princess, a very potent combination, momentarily possessed her mind and her body. She glanced sheepishly toward the demi-god. "So Hercules, what have you got planned for the evening?" Not waiting for an answer she quickly continued. "I hear there is a great Kamouraskan play down at the theatre. I believe the poster said it’s a farce in sixty-five acts. Hmm, that might run rather late huh? Hope you’re rested up. Oh, and didn’t they just open that new raw fish bar down at the far end of the city. Quite the delicacy apparently, although I much prefer raw squid myself." She grimaced and shivered. "Yeah right, did I say that? Of course you’ll probably need to stop at the tavern afterward to wash down those little piscine delights. And then after that you could…"

Breaking himself out of the trance he’d suddenly found himself caught in as a result of watching the bard’s lips move, Hercules raised his hand and cast her a wry smile. "Gabrielle, it’s all right. Really." He started backing away. "I’ll just make myself at home in the hayloft."

The bard cast him her best pouty face. "But if you get cold you’ll come…?"

"Oh yeah." He nearly stumbled over a table behind him and a drink crashed to the floor. "Sorry, pardon me folks…"

"Knock first," added Xena with an impish grin.

"Right."

"Real loud."

"You got it," the demi-god said over his shoulder as he turned and headed for the door.

"So Hercules, where are you heading anyway?" the warrior called out after him.

"Going to see a horse about a horse…" he declared as with a wave of his hand he disappeared through the doorway.

"To see a horse about…?" Xena pondered quietly for a moment. "Gabrielle, what’s he talking about?" The bard cast her a crinkled-nosed grin and Xena’s eyebrow arched abruptly toward her hairline. "Argo?"

Gabrielle shook her head affirmatively.

"You told him about the green-eyed…?"

"Yep."

Xena took another long drawl from her mead. "Well, that’s one down and two to go."

"Two?" Gabrielle arched her own eyebrow.

"Sure, you and Autoly…"

The bard slammed her mug of apple juice down with a loud thud. "Now wait a minute Xena, that little deal with Whyla was just a fluke. I know, without a doubt you’re mine."

"Always."

"And I’m yours. So I have absolutely no reason to be jealous. I just didn’t like her…"

Xena nonchalantly turned her head and gazed about the room while the bard spoke. Suddenly her eyes lit up and she pointed across the tavern. "Hey look, isn’t that Whyla?"

Gabrielle sprang from her seat, her hands clenched immediately into tight fists and her eyes taking on a sinister dark green shade as they searched the faces in the crowd. "Where? Let me at that little girl! Where’s the harlot? She lays a hand on you again, I’ll rip her…"

The bard suddenly realized that the warrior was studying her eyes and grinning smugly. She slumped back down into her seat with her eyes instantly softening, and gazed lovingly at her partner. "Oh, you are so-o-o good when you’re bad," she crooned.

Xena leaned in toward her and smiled, her eyes flashing playfully. "Correction, WE are so good." Then, feeling an ardent heat suddenly rising between them, she abruptly grabbed the bard’s hand and pulled her to her feet. "Come on, let’s go find a bitch."

"A wha…Whyla?"

"No Gabrielle…" the warrior chuckled slightly as she guided the bard through the crowd toward the door. She stopped momentarily, looked at her partner, then shook her head and started for the exit again. "Eh, never mind. I’ll explain on the way."

They met Autolycus lying on the front stoop patiently waiting for them. His ears perked at the site of his friends while his tail starting thumping out its usual happy rhythm. Xena snapped her fingers and he immediately sprang to his feet and came to a heel at her side. She grinned down at him.

"Well, you ready my friend? Cause I’ve got a little surprise for you."

Autolycus eagerly licked the back of Xena’s hand as she locked her arm in the bard’s arm. Then the threesome steeped off the stoop in unison and headed merrily through the crowds and down the street toward the inn.

*****

"Oh look…how cute!" Gabrielle exclaimed as the innkeeper returned from the back room with his ‘prize’.

Xena was not nearly as amused. "You really are insane aren’t you?" she hissed as she took a menacing step toward him.

"Xena! Wait." The bard quickly reached over and grasped the warrior’s arm bringing her partner’s momentum to a stop. "Why don’t we let Autolycus decide?"

Xena glanced again at the tiny yellowish-brown dog at her feet. It was only slightly bigger than a large hare and as it sat on its tiny little haunches, its beady black eyes suspiciously and unrelentingly stared her down.

"Why I oughtta…" The warrior hesitated as the bard tightened her grip on her arm. She crossed her arms and huffed. "Ooooh! Gods, Gabrielle, look at it. It looks like a little rat. Now what is a wolf going to do with…?" She sneered again at the cowering innkeeper. He held up his hands in meek defense.

"LET’S…" Gabrielle forcefully interrupted while reassuringly rubbing her hand along the warrior’s forearm, "…ask the wolf. Ok warrior?"

Xena reluctantly but affirmatively shook her head, never once dropping her scowling gaze from the little man’s face.

For the time being assured that Xena would remain at least semi-calm, Gabrielle hurriedly went to the door and opened it. "Autolycus, come in and meet," she hesitated and cast the warrior a sidelong smirk, "little Callisto."

Without hesitation Autolycus bounded in with his eyes flashing and tail wagging but immediately stopped dead and motionless in his tracks when he set eyes upon the strange dog sitting at Xena’s feet. In seeming confusion he quickly stole a glance from the warrior to the bard then back again before allowing his eyes to finally rest on the little canine in front of him. Not a muscle twitched in his lean body as he studied her, though the hair was beginning to rise along the length of his back.

Xena cast the bard a whimsical smirk. "So what’s he saying, Gabrielle? Love at first bite?"

"Hmmm…" Gabrielle absently rubbed the side of her chin as she pondered the wolf’s mysterious body language. "Could be love, could be hunger. I’m not sure."

"Yip yip!" The little dog suddenly squeaked out what one might, at a stretch, call a bark then waddled defiantly across the room to stand within inches of Autolycus’ muzzle.

The bystanders held their breath as the two canine cousins stared at each other for several long moments, neither twitching a whisker -- not a sound was heard in the room except for the occasional loud sniffing noise. Then suddenly and seemingly without provocation, Autolycus flipped over onto his back with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth and an odd sparkle in his eyes. In response, the tiny dog started running in circles around him, every once in a while stopping to give him a swipe across the muzzle with her little tongue.

Xena and Gabrielle glanced at each other in wide-eyed wonder. The innkeeper released an audible sigh of relief.

After watching for quite a while what appeared somewhat like a sort of wild foreplay, the bard’s face suddenly broke into a crooked grin. "Xena, do they sort of remind you of anyone?"

No sooner had the question escaped the bard’s lips then Autolycus abruptly leapt to his feet and started toward the door with little Callisto happily bounding in circles around him and yipping endlessly into his ears.

Xena watched them go with a whimsically arched eyebrow. "Yep."

******

"Mmmmm Xena…"

The room was glowing in firelight and love as the bard snuggled deeper into the warrior’s strong embrace. She wasn’t exactly sure if the fuzziness in her brain was due to the wine or the warmth of Xena’s lips against the flesh of her neck. All right, maybe it was the combination, which was gently soothing her into an extremely rapturous state. Regardless, she was rapidly losing herself and she did not mind at all if she never found her way again. "Gods warrior, what you do to me," she crooned as Xena worked lower and lower, kissing and tasting her way across the flushed skin of her lover’s firmly aroused breasts.

Suddenly the warrior hesitated and pulled back, her lips suspended mere inches above the bard’s yearning flesh. She remained that way for a long time before finally shaking her head and releasing a deep sigh of frustration.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and lifted her head to gaze down upon the warrior’s face. "Something wrong? Too much lilac?"

Xena rolled over and flopped back onto the bed, covering her eyes with the palms of her hands. "Nothing’s wrong, I just can’t do this," she said in a huff.

The bard raised herself up onto her elbow and gazed down at her partner with confusion written over her face. "Ah warrior, you taught me remember?"

"No Gabrielle, I don’t mean I can’t do this. I mean I can’t do this now."

After a brief moment of pondering it suddenly dawned on the bard what was troubling her companion. She smiled knowingly and tenderly ran her finger along the warrior’s cheek and jawline. "Xena, go check on him. I’ll wait."

"Are you sure?" The warrior finally uncovered her eyes and turned them toward her lover’s face. "I mean I could try to put it out of my mind…"

"Don’t worry, I won’t start without you." Gabrielle took Xena’s hand reassuringly into her own and placed a lingering kiss on the back of it. "I promise."

After a long time of simply basking in the exquisite warmth of the bard’s lips against her skin and hating to leave it, Xena reluctantly rolled out of the bed and started searching for her shift among the litter of clothing haphazardly strewn about on the floor. "I’ll be back before you can say Proxidicae, Gabrielle."

"Proxidicae?"

The warrior hurriedly threw on her shift, grabbed her cloak, and started for the door. "All right, never mind. I’ll be back…" she hesitated and thoughtfully turned back toward the bed, "…really soon."

"Mmmmm," the bard purred and nonchalantly stretched her arms over her head to expose her pert breasts from beneath the blanket while batting her eyelashes coyly. "I miss you already."

"Gabrielle stop that." The warrior grinned devilishly. "Of course, I could stay…" She took a step toward the bed.

"Go." The bard waved her hand in a shooing motion. She lifted her nose haughtily toward the ceiling. "You’ll be no use to me warrior until you’ve cleared your mind. I want your full and undivided attention. Now go."

Xena bowed obediently to her Amazon Queen, backed toward the door grabbing an extra blanket off the chair as she went, then smirked and strolled out into the hallway closing the door softly behind her. ‘I haven’t taught you anything little bard,’ she mused as she headed for the back door of the inn, ‘ you my dear, are a natural.’

 

*****

The stable was dark except for a single lantern hanging on the support beam at the center. Xena stepped inside the door and hesitated long enough for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the lighting inside. Hearing a familiar whinny coming from the stall at the back, she immediately headed in that direction, grabbing the lantern from its nail as she passed by.

"Argo." She said quietly in greeting as the big palomino reached out to nuzzle her arm. "How are you girl? I see you’ve got a new friend." Argo snorted and bobbed her head up and down.

The bay stallion stopped munching his fodder long enough to affectionately run his muzzle along the side of Argo’s neck before contentedly returning to his feeding.

"He’s a looker girl. Enjoy." Xena smirked and patted the big mare on the haunches then turned and looked around for the ladder to the loft. ‘Now on to clearing my mind by orders of my queen.’ She shivered and pulled her cloak tighter around her form before heading for the ladder and beginning to climb.

Reaching the top, she looked into the loft and almost couldn’t believe her eyes. There was the Son of Zeus with Autolycus tucked neatly under one arm, the little yellow-brown dog literally wrapped around his head, and the three other dogs from the inn lying across his legs and feet. She even thought she saw a grin on the big guy’s face as he slept soundly amid all that fur and fluff.

As she stealthily bridged the gap between the ladder and the sleeping demi-god Callisto lifted her head and began growling. Hercules opened one eye to gaze upon their intruder.

"Sorry." Xena grinned sheepishly and held up the extra blanket. "I just thought you might be needing this but you look like you’ve already got everything covered."

The little dog yipped and growled again. Hercules rolled his eye upward toward his little head-covering guardian. He grinned. "I think she likes me. Never thought I’d say that about someone named Callisto."

Xena cast him a smirk then unfolded the blanket and lay it across his shoulders, being careful to stay out of range of the snarling and snapping jaws of his tiny protector. She tried sneering back but it only made the snarling more pronounced. "Eh you little rat, just like your namesake."

"So why are you out here in the stable instead of in there celebrating your anniversary?" Hercules inquired with both eyes open now.

"I couldn’t relax until I knew…"

"I’m fine."

"Are you sure? Can I get you…?" The warrior persisted.

"Xena, it’s only a three dog night and I’ve got five…" he hesitated and rolled his eyes upward again. "All right, four and a half. Really, you go."

She hesitated and adjusted the blanket around his shoulders. He reached out from under it suddenly and grasped her wrist.

"I’ll toss my hat at you if you don’t go now."

Xena grinned devilishly. "I still feel rather guilty because I’ve got a bed and a beautiful, warm woman waiting to make wild, passionate love and all you’ve got is…"

Without moving a muscle the demi-god launched his attack. "That’s it! Callisto, get her!"

As though shot from a catapult, the little dog sprang up onto all fours and immediately sank her teeth into the hem of the warrior’s cloak. Xena cast one last smirk at her friend and headed undaunted toward the ladder with the little dog in twisting and flailing in tow. Autolycus raised his head, yawned, and for a few moments lazily watched the sudden swirl of activity around him before falling back into a contented sleep with his head resting on the demi-god’s chest. When she reached the ladder Xena tried shaking the clinging varmint from her hemline but to no avail, the tiny teeth remained clamped tightly in the cloth as the little body was flung from side to side. Seeing no other recourse short of the pinch, which she wasn’t quite sure she could accomplish on such a small target without causing major damage, she deftly slipped out of her cloak and tossed it aside. Then while Callisto was busy viciously dragging and shaking the discarded item, the warrior casually somersaulted out of the loft to the floor below. As the dust settled, she glanced back up toward the loft and saw the little dog’s face suddenly appeared over the edge. They sneered at each other viciously until Hercules’ voice broke the silence. Instinctively Xena knew he was smirking.

"Give that little blonde a hug for me will you."

"Right." Xena replied jocularly. "Oh and Hercules, thanks for clearing my mind of all that useless guilt. I’m sure Gabrielle will be quite thankful too."

"No problem. Now, get out of here or else."

And as if in emphasis Callisto yipped and snarled one last time before scampering across the loft to take up her place again at the grinning demi-god’s head.

"Rat," the warrior hissed as she felt the chill settling into her sparsely clad body and turned toward the door, heading toward the warmth awaiting her inside the inn.

*****

"Theena, Ife bin waitin thor you." The bard stumbled across the room and heaved her naked body into the warrior’s arms.

"Gabri-i-i-elle, you’re drunk,’ the warrior said in exasperation as she swept the bard up into her arms and carried her over to the bed. "I should have never left you alone with a full bottle of wine."

"Oh Theena, I noth…(hiccup), I noth dwunk…" The bard placed a sloppy kiss on the warrior’s neck just before her head lolled backward out of control. "Aha!" Her eyes lit up and she pointed toward the upside down bed behind her. "I’m gay (hiccup), and waz wrong wit this picture, Theena?"

Xena lay the bard on the bed and struggled with her to get her flailing limbs under the blankets. "Yeah, yeah you’re a happy drunk."

"Uh-huh (hiccup), that too… Hey! I not dwunk." Gabrielle’s face took on a serious expression, which in a flash became a drunken leer as she wrapped her arms around the warrior’s neck and tried to draw her down into the bed with her. "And I’d be efen gayer ith you would join me (hiccup), Theena."

"Gabrielle, you’re too drunk…" The warrior tried to disentangle herself from the bard’s squid-like tentacles.

"The-e-e-ena! You got cen…(hiccup), centaur poop…(belch), in your ears? I said I not too…" Suddenly the bard’s eyes clamped shut as though a painfully bright light had hit them full on. She abruptly released the warrior’s neck and flopped her hands over her orbs. "Theena, stop dat spinnin and lithen to me!"

‘Uh-oh.’ Xena frantically searched around the room for a bucket, just in case. She found one near the bathing tub in the corner and set it next to the bed. "Gabrielle."

The bard gingerly opened her eyes and looked at the warrior. Xena pointed at the bucket. Gabrielle rolled over and gazed whimsically over the side of the bed then grinned sheepishly up at her companion through her bangs.

"Oh Theena, you take (belch), suth good care oth me. I luf you. But I won’t be needin that. You see I am g…(hiccup), gay not dwunk silly." And with that final declaration the bard’s eyes fluttered once then rolled back into her head as she flopped back onto the bed and quickly settled into a deep snoring pattern.

Xena smiled and leaned over to place a tender kiss on her inebriated companion’s forehead. Then she picked up the half-empty wine bottle and drank deeply. "Happy anniversary, Gabrielle." She grinned and took another long swig. "Might as well be gay together." After quickly emptying the bottle she felt her own head becoming quite a bit fuzzy so she quickly stripped out of her shift, crawled under the blankets, and drew the bard into her arms. "I luf you (hiccup), Gafrielle."

Within a candledrip, the sound of soft snoring immediately overtook the room.

 

*****

Xena felt a dull throbbing in her head and was acutely aware of the intensity of the light streaming through the window onto her face. She reached over toward where the bard should be but her arms came up empty. Sitting up in bed she gazed around her with one eye open, the other simply refusing to face the day.

"Gabrielle?"

There was no answer. She settled back onto the bed for a moment trying to gather her senses and clear her foggy mind. ‘Where can she be? Breakfast?’ She leaned over and reluctantly glanced into the bucket and noted that it was empty. ‘All right, could be breakfast. That stomach of hers…’

There was a soft knock on the door. "Gabrielle?" She tossed the blankets aside and eagerly sprang upright in the bed.

"Xena, it’s Hercules."

"Well what are you standing out there in the hallway for? Get in here. Have you seen my bard?"

The demi-god opened the door a few inches and peeked inside. "You decent?" Immediately seeing the answer to that question he quickly stepped back outside.

Xena looked down and realized she was still quite naked and scrambled out of the bed to search for her shift. She found it near the foot of the bed and quickly slipped it on then opened the door. "Sorry," she said sheepishly as the demi-god entered the room with a wide grin on his face.

"Might I say you’re looking lovely as ever."

She smirked and closed the door behind him. "Thanks. Now have you seen Gabrielle?"

"She’s fine." He casually handed her the cloak she had discarded in the loft the night before. "Put that on."

"Where is she?"

"Just put that on and come with me."

Xena draped the cloak over her shoulders and started for the door. They headed for the back door of the inn.

*****

The warrior gazed at her sleeping partner huddled on her side beneath a blanket in the loft. Autolycus was snuggled up next to her back with all four of his feet up in the air and Callisto was neatly tucked under her arm. All three were snoring softly.

Xena glanced at Hercules who was resting his chin on the top rung of the hayloft ladder grinning up at her. "She stumbled in right before daybreak mumbling something about ‘the doghouse’ and passed out where you see her. I just threw a blanket over her and figured I’d let…"

"Sleeping dogs lie," Xena quickly interjected with a wry grin. She turned her gaze back toward the bard and her two snoozing companions who were just beginning to stir. Autolycus flopped over onto his side, opened his eyes, and looked blearily around him while Callisto yawned loudly; if one could call it a yawn, it sounded more like an obnoxious squeak to the warrior princess. She snapped her fingers and Autolycus leapt to his feet and sauntered over to her with Callisto following closely at his heels. When the wolf tried to sit down on his haunches he nearly sat on his little trailing companion but Callisto yipped and leapt clear at the last moment. Xena grinned with pleasure at the near mishap and patted Autolycus on the head. "Almost boy." She sneered at her little nemesis who held her ground defiantly.

Slowly regaining consciousness the bard moaned and rolled over, absently scratching her butt and yawning as she valiantly tried to open her eyes. Her tongue felt like ancient parchment and the pounding in her head reminded her of Amazon drumming. "Your queen says stop that drumming," she muttered under her breath. Then finally forcing her eyes to open, she looked around trying to orient herself. Realizing she wasn’t alone, she attempted a wry smile in the direction of the scowling warrior princess she found towering over her. "Morning Xena," she said quietly. The itching on her butt was getting more intense and she looked around again and realized that she was nude and lying on a bed of hay, a combination quite conducive to prickly rashes. Grinning sheepishly now at the warrior and hoping for the best she tried to keep her hands away from her inflamed backside as though nothing were amiss, replacing scratching with subtle squirming.

Xena stood with her arms crossed trying to maintain a stern expression but finding it rather difficult as she watched the bard’s desperate maneuvering under the blanket.

"Problem Gabrielle?"

"Oh no," The bard’s hands were beginning to shake as she gripped the blanket tight and continued to fight for restraint. "No problem."

"Um, I’ll just leave you two alone." The grinning demi-god interjected.

"Hercules would you take the other two with you?" Xena said quietly through clenched teeth as she continued to fight the chuckling which was threatening to break forth from her throat at any minute.

"Sure," he clapped his hands and motioned for Auto and Calli to come to him. Then with the wolf wrapped around his neck and the rat dog under one arm he cast the warrior a wink and descended the ladder. "I’ll just meet you at the tavern later."

"Right." Xena continued to watch the bard squirm for several moments before she finally knelt down beside her. "Roll over," she said in as stern a tone as she could muster through her amusement.

Gabrielle eyed the warrior suspiciously. "What are you…?"

"Roll over, Gabrielle."

The bard tentatively complied, exposing her milky white backside, which was now covered with little red welts. She clenched her teeth with apprehension and waited for the warrior’s retribution.

Xena grinned and raised her hand. ‘Bad bard, you must be punished.’ She grinned devilishly and was about to bring it down playfully upon the welt-covered flesh when…

"Xena? Mmmmm, will you scratch my itch?" the bard suddenly purred seductively while nonchalantly spreading her legs and quite knowingly exposing all of her charms. "Please," she added breathlessly as the notion she was entertaining suddenly gripped her and caused her heart to race with anticipation of pleasures heretofore unexplored between them.

Instantly feeling a surge of desire at the mere sound of the bard’s apparent longing, the warrior glanced at her own hand poised in midair, looked down at the treasures uncovered beneath her, then slowly lowered her hand down to her side. ‘Yep, you are definitely a natural, Gabrielle.’

"Hmmm, how bout I start behind your ears?" Xena crooned as she bent down and tenderly nuzzled the bard’s earlobe then in slow, tortuous motion ran her tongue down along the side of her lover’s neck. Reaching the nape, she pulled away only long enough to toss her cloak aside and pull her shift over her head before quickly returning her tongue to the bard’s neck and retracing the path she’d just taken. "Then your back…" she whispered as her mouth began a leisurely exploration as promised, down along the bard’s shoulder blades and spine, then side to side she worked lower, tasting every inch of aroused flesh and feeling her partner beginning to tremble uncontrollably beneath her.

Gabrielle groaned softly as the warrior’s hot breath followed quickly by her tongue, lightly grazed the flesh at the small of her back. "Ah-h-h, Xena?"

"Hmmm?"

"Have you ever…?" she hesitated as Xena’s hands stroked the inside of her thighs and gently urged them further apart.

"What, Gabrielle?" the warrior murmured and softly kissed the backs of the bard’s thighs while her hands tenderly caressed the younger woman’s taut calves from heal to knee and back again.

"You know…um…" Gabrielle squirmed in uncomfortable frustration with her sudden inability to express in words what she so clearly envisioned in her mind. "…Um…" ‘Zeus Gabrielle, just say it,’ she silently chastised herself.

Meanwhile, Xena straddled the bard’s legs and began massaging the tension out of her lover’s thighs and buttocks while she continued to kiss her way back and forth across her lower back. "Hmmm?" she urged softly with her hands as well as her words. "Tell me bard."

"Xena, I want…" Gabrielle’s breath caught in her throat as her hips involuntarily began displaying her need for her in slow, subtle gyrations.

The growing intensity was certainly not lost on the warrior and even though the bard’s words just would not come, she knew even without them what the yearning body in front of her was saying. Slowly positioning her hands underneath Gabrielle’s hips, she lifted her lover upward, bringing her onto her knees in front of her. Then she lightly trailed her hands across the bard’s back and sides before reaching around to cup and gently massage her breasts eliciting a low moan from her lover. She thrust her hips forward and their passions gently collided as they began to move together, rocking slowly back and forth, melding together into an easy, flowing, erotic rhythm.

"Oh gods, Xena! Yes…!" were the only words to escape the bard’s lips before she completely lost the ability to form any semblance of a coherent sentence. And when she finally felt the warrior slowly enter her, she leaned backward into the love and eagerly accepted and devoured her champion’s advances, the resulting new sensations taking her to heights unimaginable before this moment. It was too much and she couldn’t help herself, the literal howl of pleasure escaped unbounded from her lips and reverberated around the loft. Then she closed her eyes, and lost herself completely to simple feeling.

Their lovemaking was slow, and sensual, and complete, and afterward it took every ounce of reserve strength just to gather one another into loving arms. They lay for nearly a candlemark simply gazing into each other’s eyes, tenderly caressing every familiar curve and bend as though it was the first time they’d been introduced to this wondrous afterglow.

"Gods Xena, welcome to the doghouse," Gabrielle crooned, breaking the silence only when she realized that the gift of speech had finally returned to her. "That was…"

"Appropriately amazing," Xena sighed into the bard’s ear.

"Hmmm, so does this mean…?"

"You’re forgiven."

"Wow."

"You can say that again."

"Wow."

Xena grinned wryly at her partner then quickly glanced over her shoulder toward the ladder. "Ah Gabrielle, do you know we’re being watched?"

"Uh-huh."

"At least he wasn’t the one howling this time."

The bard feigned a scowl. "Hey, maybe he’s cured."

"Want to test that theory?"

"Of course." The bard began kissing her way down the warrior’s neck.

"Mmmm. Hey, maybe he’s just been fascinated into howlessness because he recognized something familiar…"

The bard could feel her face flush, and placing her finger over the warrior’s lips, quickly interposed, "Or maybe he just feels more like part of the family now." Slowly removing her finger, she smiled lasciviously and allowed her hand to drop downward across Xena’s abdomen, lower and lower, teasing and taunting. "Now Xena, that’s a lot of maybes so about this test..."

"Hmmm, oh-h-h yeah," The warrior’s voice held a raspy tone as the bard worked her hand in between her thighs and found her mark there. "Ah-huh, you’re right the definitive could be in there…mmmm…somewhere. Oh yeah…"

The air in the loft was shortly thereafter filled again with the deeply ardent sounds of pleasure. Autolycus cocked his head to the side and studied his two friends for a brief moment before quietly laying his muzzle down on his paws and falling off to sleep with visions of little Callisto yipping and nipping her way about in the green meadows of his mind.

The wolf was the picture of perfect contentment when Gabrielle stole a quick glance over her lover’s shoulder toward him. "Xena?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank the gods for Callisto." She couldn’t help but shudder slightly as the words left her lips.

"Hmm, you can say that again."

"Thank the gods…"

"Gabrielle, please don’t say that name again. Just shut up and kiss me will ya."

The bard was more than eager to oblige as silence, except for the occasional snore arising from the wolf, once again fell over the loft.

 

*****

Hercules stood up and waved at them from across the crowded room. After quickly weaving their way around the intervening tables and through the crowd, the bard and warrior finally plopped down on the bench across from the grinning demi-god. He casually picked up his spoon and returned to enjoying his stew as he eyed the two women with a twinkle in his eye. No one spoke immediately. Xena was busy gazing at the bard and the bard was gazing longingly at the demi-god’s food.

"So, how’d you make out in the loft?" With a wry grin, Hercules finally broke the silence between mouthfuls, yanking the warrior and bard out of their respective reveries.

"Amazingly well," Xena replied with a smirk. "By the way Hercules, weren’t you supposed to be keeping an eye out for Autoly…"

"Ah-h-h, so that’s where he got to." He attempted to look apologetic. "Any problems?"

"Oh no. He’s cured, thanks to Callisto…" The bard hesitated as she reached over under the table and gave the warrior’s knee a gentle squeeze. "…and Xena."

"Ahem." Xena cleared her throat and cast Gabrielle a wicked grin. "You were there too."

The bard reached down and lightly scratched the little red welts that had popped up across her knees and the front of her thighs. "Mmmm, yes I was. And I think I’ve got the scars to prove it."

The demi-god studied his two friends in bemused silence then shook his head. ‘I think I’ll just let that dog lie,’ he mused as he picked up his spoon again and took another bite of his stew.

Suddenly a loud growl radiated from beneath the table and both Xena and Hercules leaned over to look underneath expecting to find either Autolycus or Callisto. But finding nothing but empty space they grinned at each other, then in unison returned to an upright position and turned to the bard accusingly.

The bard was grinning sheepishly. "Guess I can’t blame it on the dog, huh?"

Xena simply arched her eyebrow whimsically in response to her partner’s confession.

"I’ll go get two more bowls," Hercules said wryly as he stood and headed toward the bar.

He returned within moments with two steaming bowls of stew and set them down on the table. Then he and Xena sat back and watched in amazed silence as the bard quickly emptied hers then glanced sideways at her partner’s untouched bowl. Xena reached up and casually slid it out of the bard’s reach before picking up her own spoon and taking a bite.

"Would you be needing another, Gabrielle?" Hercules inquired.

The bard continued to eye Xena’s bowl. "Oh no, no. Thanks, I’m fine."

The warrior took several more bites, slowly chewing and intently savoring each one as she watched the bard intently following every move of her spoon from bowl to mouth.

Gabrielle continued softly. "You know Hercules, one mustn’t eat so much that it will slow one down." She hesitated and watched another spoonful rise to the warrior’s lips. "Especially when you live the life that Xena and I do."

As she spoke, the bard casually picked up a piece of bread, and while gnawing on it continued to focus on the warrior slowly eating her fill. "One just never knows when one may be attacked and have to react with lightning quickness."

She followed another slow bite with her eyes. "And overeating is simply not conducive to quick reflexes. Oh no, it makes one quite sluggish."

Xena finally placed her spoon down on the table and slid the remains of her stew across the table toward Gabrielle, her blue eyes flashing out an unspoken ‘I surrender’.

The bard smirked and picked up her spoon. "You know Hercules, it’s a good thing Xena almost always gets in that first punch to slow them down for me." She grinned playfully then quickly finished off the warrior’s leftovers and two more slices of bread before settling back, belching loudly, and scratching her knees quite contentedly.

The warrior and the demi-god sat quietly and gazed at their little companion in wonder. A moment of silence engulfed the table.

"So-o-o then, what have you two got planned for the remainder of your visit?" Hercules suddenly said through a grin.

Xena finally broke her eyes away from the bard and turned to the demi-god. "Ah, I think we’re going to do some shopping, then have a picnic, then probably take in a play. And you?"

"Take that stallion to market, then meet up with Iolus at…"

"NO!" Gabrielle interjected loudly.

Xena and Hercules turned toward her in befuddled surprise.

Quickly regaining her composure, the bard continued softly. "I mean, maybe Xena and I should keep him. Argo has become rather fond of him. And I…" She glanced at Xena imploringly. "Well, I always wanted a horse of my own."

Hercules and the bard both looked at the warrior princess and waited for a response. A maniacal grin slowly stole across Xena’s face. "All right, Gabrielle. And I’m glad you’re watching your weight cause here’s the deal…"

*****

Hercules grinned and shook his head as he watched his friends heading out of the city for their afternoon adventure. He couldn’t help but think that they certainly were the picture of a happy family. Gabrielle was grinning from ear to ear as she proudly lead her new mount down the street, occasionally turning around to pat him on the neck and coo into his ear. Autolycus was trotting merrily along behind gazing up at little Callisto who was resting comfortably aboard the stallion in one of the bard’s new saddlebags. The little dog would occasionally cast the warrior a vicious snarl and Xena would sneer back but then look at the bard and grin broadly. And of course Argo was carrying their newest acquisitions which they’d picked up at the market: several large pieces of parchment, some light poles, a few strips of thick leather banding, and lots of leather twine. The demi-god shook his head again in amazement at the sight, then laughed when he saw the warrior and the bard casually reach down and scratch their asses in unison.

"Good luck my friends," he said quietly, then turned and headed out of the city to return to his own relatively ordinary life.

 

***************************************

Disclaimer: The impeccable reputation of one Son of Zeus was not harmed during the writing of this story. However, his relationship with the warrior princess and a certain blonde warrior nemesis may never be the same.

To be continued in upcoming Foibles and Follies: The Misadventures of the Warrior and Bard Series.


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