DISCLAIMER: See part one.

By romansilence


Chapter Two: Getting Started

"Colonel, are you sure their offer is genuine?"

"Yes, sir. I'm looking forward to meeting them again." The colonel answered. "I think their sense of honour and discipline is by far greater than ours. The team will be safe there but I still like to send a few soldiers. I'm sure they can learn a great deal from these women, especially considering hand-to-hand combat."

"This still sounds too good to be true." General Hammond objected. "Major Carter mentioned some sort of hormonal imbalance. Doctor Fraiser?"

"Teal'c showed…" Noticing her commanding officer's lack of patience she shortened her answer. "Whatever the energy shield did, has long worn off. I found no indication of anything unusual in their bloodstream and the Queen supplied us with the specifics of an antidote to be administered before the jump."

"All right, Major Carter, you'll be in command. We'll try this for a period of two weeks, to see if it works out. I have your personnel request here. Doctor Fraiser? No, this isn't a good idea. She's needed here."

"Sir, they specifically asked for Dr. Fraiser. They obviously know that we are friends and good at working together. I already spoke to her. She sees no problem in the infirmary, and Cassandra just left this morning for three weeks of summer camp. She's looking forward to the trip."

Hammond still wasn't convinced.

"Sir, should there be a problem that requires her special touch we can get her back within the hour. We have permission to return to visit whenever we want. I really see no problems, expect for the question of how to replace Carter while she is on Gaia."

"There will be no replacement for Major Carter, Colonel. SG-1 will be reduced to a three member-team for now. All right, you all have your orders and a lot to do until tomorrow. I'll see you in the Gate room at 0800. Dismissed."

"Xena, are you finished with your diary?"

"Almost, my love. What is it?"

"Aria is here for her punishment."

"Oh damn, I almost forgot. Could you tell her to wait for a few candledrops. I'm almost done."

"We'll make some small talk. Take your time." Gabrielle turned away from the door to face the young woman waiting skittishly at the entrance. "Come on in, Aria. Xena's still busy. Sit down and tell me, why did you lose your temper."

"I already apologised to the Consort, the Colonel, and the Jaffa, my Queen." She answered defensively.

"I know, little one."

Coming from a woman a few inches shorter than most of her subjects, the term of endearment might have seemed somehow ironic but everyone knew that it came from genuine affection, and even the oldest of the elders were honoured being referred to as such.

"Xena told me what happened. Now, I want you to understand it. Tell me, why did you lose your temper?"

The young woman closed her eyes, recalling the scene step by step, as the High Priestess of the Amazons had taught her. "He was mocking us, by commenting on the escort being armed 'to the teeth'. I knew he didn't know any better. But then he insinuated that we were taking them to a man in charge, 'the guy in charge', that's when I lost it. I shouldn't have but some… No, there's no excuse to my actions." Aria fell silent.

"You soon will be forgiven, Aria. Don't think about it as an excuse but as an explanation."

"Sometimes my past comes back to haunt me, your majesty, and I feel helplessness and anger and hate and the need to hurt someone, anyone. This was one of these moments and Colonel O'Neill putting his hand on my arm was just a convenient excuse." She hung her head.

Half a heartbeat later, she felt a strong hand at her chin and looked into the Queen's green eyes.

"Some lessons are harder to learn than others, Aria; and some lessons have to be repeated every now and then to stay valid. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Xena said you did well, and she's not easy to please."

"Yes, you did well, Aria. Do you need some more time, your majesty, or can we begin?"

"Begin. Everything that needed to be said has been said. Aria, do you want me to leave?"

"No, my Queen. I would be honoured if you'd consent to be my witness."

"It will be my honour, little one."

Xena walked to a small closet and took a strap from one of the numerous nails inside. "Aria, child of Artemis, you now will be punished for disobedience. Your punishment is 12 strokes with the strap. Do you accept this punishment?"

"Yes, your highness, before this witness I accept the punishment with gratitude." She gave the traditional answer with a slight tremble in her voice.

"Take off your skirt and your breeches and bent over the desk, please. I will count the strokes; you just concentrate on staying still."

When the first stroke found the tender skin of her backside, she flinched. The Consort didn't pull her strokes but she also didn't use the leather strap to its fullest. There would be some welts for a couple of days but it could have been much worse. After the last stroke she just stayed in position to take a deep breath and relax her tense muscles, not really aware that her whole body had been as tight as a bowstring during the last blows. She finally gathered her strength, stood, and then came down on her right knee.

"Thank you, your highness."

"You did well, Aria. As a punishment for losing your temper you will go to the temple and meditate until midnight. Then you'll receive the kiss of forgiveness."

"Heading out already, Sam? I thought you would be there working on something singularly complex up 'til the last minute."

"Hey, Janet. There's nothing pending on my work list. The light duty you ordered after the last incident did wonders for my out box. I have to get to the dry cleaners before they close to get my dress uniform. General Hammond insists on making this as official as possible. At first he had been very sceptical but Colonel O'Neill's report, surprisingly, was full of glowing praise."

"Why don't we talk about it over a drink? I'll pay if you can get my uniform too. Let's meet at Murphy's, say in about two hours? That should give me enough time to finish up my instructions for Warner, pack my things, and call Cassandra. Is it really true that all we'll need are some clothes?"

"Yes, that's what Xe… the Queen's Consort said. I'll bring your uniform but let's meet at O'Malley's. I'm not in the mood to deal with a bunch of overzealous Airmen or Marines."

"I'm game, see you later. At least at O'Malley's we'll also get something to eat – something not swimming in grease."

"Aria, I want you to wait outside for a few candledrops. Xena will go with you; she also is in need of contemplation." Xena stepped closer to her Royal wife and whispered in her ear. Gabrielle continued, "Aria, Xena asks you to be the witness of her unofficial punishment."

The young woman was so stunned; she merely nodded.

"Xena of Amphipolis, Chosen of Athena, you now will be punished for disrespect, provocation and losing your temper. You'll spend the whole night at the temple to contemplate your actions, and now you will receive 12 strokes with the cane and 24 with the strap on your bare behind. Do you accept this punishment?"

"Yes, your majesty, before this witness I accept the punishment with humility and gratitude."

"Then take your position, and Xena, don't block the pain, feel it."

"Yes, my love." The tall woman opened the belt holding her soft shift and slipped it over her head, revealing her naked body. She bent at the waist holding onto her ankles.

Gabrielle's hand gently patted Xena's ass before taking aim and hitting her hard on the upper thigh. She gasped and uttered between clenched teeth. "One, thank you, mistress."

"Only every third stroke, Xena."

When the 'a' left Gabrielle's mouth the cane hit the most fleshy part of her buttocks. "Two."

"Six. Thank you, mistress."

"Nine, thank you, mistress." There now was a definite strain to Xena's voice, evidently fighting for composure.

One of the most persistent rumours about the High Queen was that she was well versed in the art of discipline, and now Aria was getting a taste of how good she really was. There now were eleven welts colouring Xena's skin, evenly spaced, evenly coloured.

"Twelve. Thank you, mistress." The penitent took a steadying breath. "May I now have the next part of my punishment, mistress?"

"Yes, my love." There was tenderness in Gabrielle's voice and a hint of sadness. She then whispered. "Don't forget: your pain is your gift to me." It was too low for Aria to understand but more than loud enough for Xena's exceptionable hearing.

And then it began again. By the time the tall warrior once again said, "Twelve. Thank you, mistress," both women were openly crying: One shedding silent tears as she always had; the other sniffling in the sleeve of her oversized shirt.

The day before, Aria never would have thought possible what she now was witnessing. This woman was not the imposing Commander of the Amazon Army, not the passionate, patient, but demanding teacher, not the confident ready to listen to the turmoils of her students' hearts. Suddenly she was more human than she'd ever seen her, not invincible, not indestructible, not infallible.

One would have expected that the young woman's respect for her commanding officer would be diminished but instead Aria felt it growing with every stroke Xena took. Suddenly, for the first time, one of her favourite sayings began to make sense: 'Not even the Queen is standing above the law' and she translated it in her mind to: 'Even the Queen and her Consort are human.' It was a revelation, one she would have to think about for a long time.

"Twenty-three. – Twenty-four. Thank you, mistress." Xena slowly stretched her thigh muscles and while still turning around sank on both knees. She kissed Gabrielle's hands and Aria suddenly had the impression of intruding on a very intimate moment. "Thank you, Gabrielle, my Queen."

The small blonde took another step towards her wife and kissed her on top of her head. "I love you, Xena. You will be forgiven after two days of probation."

"Kitchen duty?"

"No, don't forget it was an unofficial punishment. I want you to care for our guests. Leave the temple at dawn. I'll need help with these damned beads and feathers and you'll also need a few candledrops to slip into your uniform."

"Yes, my love. I'll be with you, shortly after dawn." An instant later she was back on her feet and belted her tunic. "Come, Aria, there's a temple waiting for us."

"Janet, over here. Glad you made it on time."

"Oh good, you already ordered, and exactly what the doctor subscribed." She took a healthy sip of her Chardonnay. "Sam, tell me once again why I let you talk me into adopting a child in the first place."

"Well," Samantha answered with her best imitation of a Texan cowboy, "there's the undeniable fact of her irresistible charm, and then there's your good heart that never would have allowed a child to become the victim of NID bureaucracy. And you're a really good mum."

"According to Cassie, I'm, and I quote, a selfish brat, traipsing through the galaxy on vacation, leaving her dying in a Gao'uld invented summer camp. End quote." She took another swallow of her wine.

"She has her cell with her?"

"Yes, of course but don't. Please don't call to read her the riot act. She's just a kid and the first day at summer camp always is somewhat of an ordeal."

"Told you, you're a good mum. When you call her tomorrow evening, everything will be back to normal."

"Sam, we'll be at the edge of nowhere tomorrow."

"Xe… the Royal Consort told me that the Stargate would be opened every evening to allow the transfer of data and private communication. There's a slight time difference but it won't be a problem. They don't want us to feel left alone or isolated while being on their planet."

"Whow!; gives the word 'long distance call' an entirely new meaning. – But what's up with you? That's the second time you slipped when speaking about the Queen's consort. Do you have a crush or something?"

"A crush…? She's a woman, Janet. It's against the regulations. And besides, she's head over heels in love with the Queen."

In Janet's head still rung the word 'regulations' but she had the presence of mind to insist. "So, what is it then?" Internally she was chiding herself that Freud had been right after all and women tended to masochism.

"Something… I don't know, Janet. I don't understand it myself. There was something in her eyes, in her voice, calling to me. When I first looked into her bright blue eyes, it was as if I had known her all my life. And since she left us at the gate, I can't stop thinking about her. I just don't know, Janet." Samantha answered dejectedly.

"All right, don't get your leathers in a wad. We'll get this sorted out. Describe her, every detail you remember."

Samantha knew it probably wasn't the brightest thing to do but she couldn't resist the temptation – and perhaps her best friend's medical experience would shed some light on her weird obsession with this woman. She didn't even notice Janet's strange choice of words.

So, Samantha Carter began to recall the day's events with a sense for detail and atmosphere sadly lacking in her report for General Hammond, not that he usually required such thoroughness.

"Daniel was standing with his weapon aiming at the girl, the Amazons were closing in on us; suddenly a low melodious voice ordered us all to stand down. When I heard this voice I knew that everything would be all right and that I was safe. Someone passed me by, someone almost as tall as Teal'c, with raven black hair and a narrow waist. She reprimanded the girl but I don't remember what exactly was said. I only knew that I wanted her to keep on talking. Jack acted like a son of a biscuit, being even more obnoxious than he usually is. By the way…"

"Oh no, Sam, no change of subject. The injections for the men to counteract the testosterone rush already are prepared. Tomorrow nothing will go wrong. What happened when you were on your own with her?"

"She took me tree walking."

"Tree walking? You mean tree climbing, don't you? Why would she do something like this?"

"I don't know why but it was great, and yes, I'm talking about tree walking. Well, you have to get up there first but she had some sort of springy rope that really made it easy. She taught me what to do and we were jumping from branch to branch, using the rebound to get further and further ahead of the men. It was like flying. It was like walking on air. I felt free. I felt at home. It felt like something I had done a hundred, a thousand times before. The thought to be able to have a another go at this alone makes me want to shout for joy."

For a long time, Janet watched her friend. The joy of her experience still radiating from her, though personally, the thought of having to climb anything higher than a foot-stool made her queasy. She hated to burst Sam's bubble but the question had to be asked. "Do you think it was another of Jolinar's memories?"

"Yes and no." The answer came alarmingly fast. "Yes, I'm sure it was a memory of sorts. No, I don't think that Jolinar has much to do with it. Jolinar's memories are different. On the one hand they are more intense, on the other hand most of the time they feel like I'm prying into the dreams of someone else. Whenever I think of Xena, it's like something that's really a part of me and at the same time it's just out of my reach." Samantha cast an apologetic glance towards her friend. "I'm sorry, that I don't make any sense. I'm spoiling your evening."

Samantha's left hand was kneading the napkin the waiter had brought, her eyes fixed on her fingers. Suddenly a small firm hand stilled her movements. She heard a soft voice, a voice that more than once had freed her of a dark dream -- and this time she allowed herself to believe.

"Sam, whatever happens, where ever we'll end up, I'll never regret the time we spent together. You are more than a friend and a second mother to my daughter; you are even more than my best friend. You can always rely on me. I'll be there for you. You are…" Janet fell silent, knowing herself well enough to be sure that even one measly, single word more would change their relationship forever – and this was something she never would risk.

Blue eyes, pale in the dim light of the bar, found her brown orbs. She didn't answer, at least not with words – but Janet instinctively knew that she would have done anything to see that expression one more time. She desperately wanted to say something but when she finally had the courage the waiter delivered their pastas and the enchantment was broken.

They spent the rest of the night talking about the newest gossip, discussing medicinal plants and Asgard technology – an evening like many others before. The waiters just had called for the last round to be served when they called a cab to spend the rest of the night at Janet's. Samantha crashed in the guest room and Janet fell face first and still clothed on her king-size bed in the master bedroom.

The next morning the alarm went off at 0530, blaring rock music in Janet's ears instead of her customary classic station, courtesy to a very sneaky teen currently at summer camp. Thanks to the noise disturbing their dreams both of them arrived just in time at Stargate Command, after getting both of their cars from O'Malley's.

It was midnight and time for her to leave the temple and get some sleep. She just had received the kiss of forgiveness; there was no reason for her to stay.

"Go and get some sleep, young Aria. You will be my assistant in dealing with our guests."

"May I ask a question, your highness?" Xena nodded. "Why? Why did you want me as a witness to your punishment? Why did you allow me to see you hurt and vulnerable?"

"You will find out, when the time is right, little one. For the moment, don't think about it, the answer will come when you are ready to hear it. Now, go to bed."

Part 3

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