DISCLAIMER: See part one.

By romansilence


Chapter Four: Getting Closer

Janet woke to the sun shining through the big window. She was lying on something soft that was moving in a regular rhythm. It felt good, she felt at home, and for a moment she thought that she still was dreaming. But then she felt eyes on her and turned her head to be greeted by twinkling blue orbs. "Good morning, Janet."

"Sam," she said while trying to put some distance between her and the tantalising body. "I'm crushing you. Why didn't you push me away?"

"You were looking so peaceful and innocent and young. When I woke up it felt so right having you right there. I hadn't the heart to move you."

"So I won't have to apply for new quarters?"

"No, Janet. I want you to stay here. I need you to stay with me."

"It's against the regulations. Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Now close your eyes and try to get some more sleep, Xena said that nothing would happen before midday and it was close to dawn when the Queen put a halt to your questions."

"Wait 'til you get to work with the Consort in their science labs, and then we'll talk about a stream of endless questions, your nerdiness."

"Touché." Samantha answered still smiling while the smaller woman snuggled back to her, putting the head on her shoulder and closing her eyes. For a while the tall blonde basked in the sensation of the soft body pressed close to hers, rationalising that Janet's behaviour was probably nothing more than her way of dealing with the long day and even longer night they had had.

At the same time, a few minutes walk away, an Amazon warrior stood on very shaky legs facing a very annoyed Consort. "So what do you have to say for yourself, weapons' master?"

"I'm sorry and I'll go and apologise to our guests." She answered, warding off the dizzy spell that threatened to take her down.

"You'll have to do better than this, Niva."

"I'm sorry I got drunk and I'm sorry I shamed the entire nation. She took me down as if I was some first time apprentice, and a very clumsy one at that. I'm not worthy of being your second in command, your highness. Please choose someone not as irresponsible as I am." The woman answered while lowering herself to her right knee. "I'm expecting my punishment in humility, your highness."

"When I planned to come here this morning, I was of a mind to take you through a few sparring sessions to get your head back straight on your shoulders. The Queen convinced me otherwise. You have been emotionally unpredictable lately; you know this as well as I do. I hoped it would go away if I just ignored it, gave you the time to work through your loss. It didn't work. You're on a path of self-destruction. I know the pattern, I did it once myself. You drink to forget but the alcohol only makes you remember everything more vividly. It's a vicious circle and it has to be stopped."

"Please help me, your highness. I know what I'm doing is wrong but I can't help myself. I will take any punishment you deem appropriate."

"Will you accept corporal punishment, weapons' master?"

"Yes, your highness, of course."

"Good. – At midday, when most of our sisters have recovered from last night's overindulgence, you will apologise to our guests at the village square. You lost your temper and for this you will receive twelve strokes of the cane on your bare behind, and another twelve for attacking our guests. Then you will go to the temple and perform a full purification ritual. After your return you will be on probation for a full moon. You will return to your duties but you will not be allowed to drink anything stronger than apple juice, your spare time will be used teaching Samantha Carter and Janet Fraiser hand-to-hand combat. Do you accept this punishment, weapons' master?"

"Yes, your highness. You and her majesty are very generous. The warrior and the healer, do they want to learn?"

"Not yet, my friend. But they will, after your return. And now let's get you back to your feet, you're looking like crap. I know you don't like wine, so how many mugs of ale did you have?" Xena said offering the other woman a hand to help her stand.

"I lost count when the pyramid I was building toppled over at the fifth level. That was when I first approached the healer. She didn't pay me any attention but the eyes of the warrior eagerly would have sent me to Tartarus given the slightest chance. – She should claim the healer for herself. It's obvious that they belong together."

"They are not ready yet. It will take some time for them to see it as clearly as we do. But it will not be easy because they will also have to find the strength to act on their feelings instead of denying them. Such a relationship could ruin their careers in the military and even cost them a child they both dearly love. They may decide that it's not worth the risk. Sometimes it's scary to pass from pure friendship on to something else, Niva. – Let's go, the hot springs are waiting."

Shortly before midday Carter and her team were called to the village and found almost as many people there as the night before, though some of them still looked the worse for wear. They were shoved to the front row, all of them clad in BDUs and black t-shirts. A drum was announcing the Queen's arrival, her Consort three steps behind her. She took her place on a dais in front of something that looked like a tethering bar out of a western.

"Sisters, we came here to see justice satisfied. Yesterday, one of us lost her temper and thus insulted our honoured guests to the point that they had to defend themselves. There are extenuating circumstances; that's why it was decided that the culprit would undergo a combination of corporal punishment and the participation in a purification ritual. Come forward, Niva, daughter of Telana."

The woman stepping out of the crowd was about one or one and a half inches shorter than Samantha and much more heavily muscled. She moved with a purpose and confidence that made the Major understand that yesterday she must have been tanked to the rim, else she never would have stood a chance. She bowed before the Queen but quickly turned her attention to the tall soldier and the small doctor.

She knelt in front of the women, seeking first eye contact with Fraiser. "Major Janet Fraiser, I apologise for my behaviour. It was unworthy of an Amazon warrior. I never wanted to hurt or frighten you. I am sorry, Doctor."

"Apology accepted and offence forgotten, Niva, daughter of Telana." Fraiser answered with a smile, glad of having taken the time to read the regulation book more thoroughly.

Niva then turned her attention to the Major. "Major Samantha Carter, I apologise for my behaviour. I attacked you from behind and let myself be consumed by anger. This is not behaviour fitting for an Amazon. I never intended to hurt or frighten Major Fraiser. I am sorry, warrior."

Carter also had finished reading the book, so she answered. "I know there was no offence intended and none was taken. Apology accepted." Then she knelt down herself. "But I also have to apologise for deliberately pushing your buttons. I never intended to insult you or your sisters; I just wanted you to lose your focus. For this I apologise and I have to thank you for going easy on me during our short fight."

"No, thank you, Major. You did nothing wrong. Keeping an enemy mentally off balance is good strategy. I would be honoured if you would agree to be my guardian during the first part of my punishment."

Everything Samantha ever had learned about the proper conduct in situations like this screamed at her to stay out of it. They were here to study the culture and its technology not to become a part of it. But she didn't listen to the voice of duty, so finally Samantha answered. "It will be my honour, Niva, but you'll have to guide me. I know that I will have to count the number of strokes but that's all I know."

"You will have to strip me, take hold of my hands to prevent me from moving around too much, count the strokes, and help me to the temple where the second part of my punishment will take place."

"It will be my honour, Niva."

They both stood and walked over to the tethering bar. Samantha undid the belt around Niva's waist and pulled the short dress over her head. She was naked underneath. She bent over the horizontal beam and the blonde grabbed her forearms in a very firm warrior handshake. Xena hopped down from the dais, picked up the cane lying at the Queen's feet, and came to them. The first stroke left Samantha with a tingling sensation in her hands. She could hear a second blow but there was no reaction coming from her charge. From her perspective it took ages until she finally could count the last stroke. "Twenty-four."

Though the strong woman didn't really need the help she allowed herself a short moment of being cuddled. She apologised to the Nation and the Queen and then was led to the temple.

The rest of the day passed quickly, her team being despatched to different sections in the large research facility. Xena was going over the specifications of the energy field with Samantha, from time to time drifting to a more theoretical discussion of the principles behind the deceivingly simple mechanism.

From the numerous reports about SG-1 and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, they already had known that the tall blonde had more than just a quick mind. The Consort was delighted to see for herself just how absolutely brilliant Samantha Carter really was. She never needed more than one or two hints to understand how something worked. In a few weeks she would be able to do more than just learn, she would be able to actively contribute.

"You said that if you hadn't modified the shield the men simply would have been sent back – but how can this be? Wormholes are supposed to be one way." Samantha finally asked the question that had been bothering her almost since the beginning.

"I've been waiting for this question for candlemarks, Sam. – Radio signals aren't the only energy signatures that can travel both ways. Theoretically it's possible to transform human energy patterns and send them back this way but that's not how we do it. The easiest way would be to describe it as a hidden re-dialling process. The women pass through while the men are held back just a fraction before passing the event horizon. The Ring shuts down and re-dials the original address shortly after; with a delay of 0.21 nanoseconds."

Before the major could ask more questions, the taller women felt a familiar presence and continued. "Sam, Janet Fraiser and the Queen will be here any moment now. It's late, we should at least pretend to shut a few of the systems down."

"We just got started, Xena. It can't be that late."

"It's three candlemarks after sunset, Sam."

"Uh uh." She answered and began to shut down the computer she was sitting in front of; suddenly remembering her dinner date with the small doctor. She heard the door open and a slight brush of fresh air touching the naked skin of her lower arms.

She turned around and saw the Queen and Janet Fraiser entering the room. Gabrielle's voice was calm and low but wielding authority with a natural grace that would put even the best commanding officer of the Forces to shame.

"Xena of Amphipolis, you were to report to me a candlemark ago."

Xena immediately knelt in front of the smaller woman. "I'm sorry, your majesty. The time slipped away from us. I…, it…"

"I know you got stuck playing with your machinery, again. And your new playmate already seems to be as addicted to this technical mumbo jumbo as you are, so addicted that she forgot her dinner date with Janet Fraiser."

Samantha had the grace to blush when Janet muttered under her breath. "Happens all the time on earth."

"Xena of Amphipolis, Consort to Queen Gabrielle of the Amazon Nation, your probation has ended. Receive now, the kiss of forgiveness." The blond bent down and kissed Xena on the forehead. "But your behaviour gives me no choice than to punish you again, the both of you. Xena of Amphipolis, Major Samantha Carter." One look of these sea-green eyes had Samantha mimicking the taller woman's pose. "As a punishment you both will stay out of the lab for the next two days and tomorrow evening you will treat us to a picnic with all the trimmings."

"But your majesty, there's so much to learn." Samantha dared to protest.

"Should I make it four days, Samantha Carter?"

"No, your majesty, please don't. I accept the punishment." She answered with a certain amount of panic in her voice.

"Wise decision. We'll wait outside, you have five minutes."

When the door once again was closed, Samantha asked. "Why did you let her do this to us, Xena? I can't afford to loose two days."

"Let her? She is the Queen. She doesn't need anyone's permission, Sam. It definitively could have been worse."

"Worse? How?" The young blonde asked with a pout.

"Instead of simply preparing a picnic, she could have told us to cook dinner." Xena deadpanned.

"Uhh…" This definitively sounded like torture but her next thought brought a smile on Samantha's face. "No, Janet never would subject anyone to my cooking. I'm more likely to transform the kitchen in a chemistry lab than to produce something edible. One day, I volunteered to make some pasta and warm up the sauce going with it for Cassandra because Janet got stuck at the infirmary. I managed to put the pasta into the boiling water but then I decided to quickly check my emails. Well, the pasta was ready before I was and I had to order in, not to mention the trip to the mall to get Janet a new pasta pot. – Really, I'm a menace to any kitchen."

The dark haired woman smiled one of her half smiles. "I learned, over the years, but I still don't like it; so believe me, we got lucky. Let's get going before we get into more trouble."

"Xena, why doesn't the Queen share your love for science?"

"Oh, she does. Most of the infirmary's equipment is her design as well as some of our defensive technology. We simply have a different approach to things. When I am working on something, I easily lose track of the outside world, night and day, sleeping and eating, the people around me. She hates when I get too single-mindedly focused, especially when there is no urgent need to do so.

"Bottom line is, though she can sometimes get a bit bossy, it's really good to have someone to look after you, to care for you, especially someone who cares enough to take a stand against you if necessary."

In Samantha's mind an image flashed: Two airmen dragging her out of her lab and escorting her to her quarters on base to get at least six hours rest, on Janet's orders. She had been angry then but before she fell on her bed she had to admit to herself that it felt good to have someone care.

"Janet does this a lot." She whispered – and suddenly changing topic, she added. "So do we go tree walking tomorrow?"

"I always keep my promises, Samantha."

In front of the building a similar conversation was taking place. The brunette and the blonde were sitting on a bench about seventy paces from the entrance.

"I can't believe you did this, your majesty. Not even General Hammond ever got her away from her lab for more than a day."

"Call me Gabrielle, when we're alone, Janet. Samantha Carter's file says that she's a workaholic, just like my beloved Consort. But it also says that she didn't take a single day off in the last five months, except for medical leaves she always cut short one way or the other. And the last day off she took without being bullied into was when the two of you went to this forensic symposium. All in all, she has enough leave rolled up to stay at home for almost a year. In my book, two days off are exactly what she needs right now."

"You are wise beyond your years, your…. Gabrielle. But I still doubt that Sam will follow your orders."

"I am older than I look, Janet. And my Consort will make sure that my orders are followed. It's in her interest. As the senior of the two she will be held responsible for Samantha Carter's actions. – Ah, here they come, just in time."

Janet looked up, and for the first time was flabbergasted by the striking resemblance between the two taller women. With the exception of their complexion, they easily could pass as sisters. The moonlight was caressing their silhouettes and being reflected by twin pairs of silvery blue eyes. She shook herself out of her stupor.

"Sam, before I forget. Lieutenant Sabrina Harper has asked to return to earth tomorrow morning. Her sister's baby decided to hurry. Colonel O'Neill wants to know who should take her place."

"I feared something like this would happen, Janet." Samantha answered. "General Hammond insisted that I choose in order of seniority but Sabrina warned me that she possibly would have to return earlier than planned. She's her sister's birthing partner and has to go back."

She then turned her attention to the Queen. "I apologise for the inconvenience, your majesty."

"There is no apology needed, Sam. And please call me Gabrielle when we're alone. So, do you have someone in mind?"

"Yes, Gabrielle. Her name is Jennifer Hailey; she was just promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and has finished her SG training. She's a good soldier and an even better scientist. Having her here will make my life a lot easier."

"I know you like the kid, Sam, but don't you overestimate her abilities? Her file is full of reprimands for insubordination and she almost got thrown out of the Academy for getting in a fight."

"Oh, Janet, now you sound like the General. She was a model student after seeing what was waiting for her after graduation, and she didn't get into a fight, she just slugged a guy making disrespectful remarks about a fellow student. That's all, no big deal. Believe me, she'll do fine."

"I don't know. I just think she is too young; she's only twenty-two."

A smile lit up Xena's face. "I remember reading something about a very young resident at the ER of California Central, telling her supervisor to… what was it again?"

"I told him to stuff his head back in his ass and get out of my way so I could do my duty. The son of a bitch wanted to send a small boy with multiple fractures of his left leg away untreated just because his mother didn't have their insurance card with her. And except for my choice of words, I would do it again." Janet said in remembered indignation.

"And you're telling me that I'm pulling stunts when I get into a discussion with one marine or the other. I bet you got in a boatload full of trouble for this one, Jan."

"Yes and no, Sam. Five minutes after finishing with the boy I was suspended and the next day they threw me out. With this in my file no other hospital would take me and I found my career at an end before it even got started.

"I planned on going back to school and going into research but then I received an invitation to the Pentagon. As it turned out, the boy I had treated was the godson of General Robert Hayes of the Joint Chiefs. He sort of recruited me for the military. He told me that if I learned to hold my tongue I one day would make, and I quote, a damn fine CMO, bossy enough to get things done but bright enough to know when to back off. End quote."

"I guess he was right, my Napoleonic power monger." Samantha said with gentle affection and quite a hint of teasing in her voice.

Seeing the question marks in Xena's and Gabrielle's eyes, Janet explained. "That's one of the nicer terms Colonel O'Neill uses to describe me."

There was a dangerous glint in Xena's eyes. "Xena, you promised to take it easy on him. Remember, he's a friend."

"Of course I will, my love, but I also have a reputation to maintain. SG-1 is scheduled to arrive around ten. How about I'll get you at eight for some tree walking, Sam?"

"Sounds good to me."

Major Carter and the Consort arrived at the clearing when the last chevron was locked and the Ring came to life. SG-1 stepped through, with young Hailey in tow. "Hey Carter, the General thought you wouldn't mind four-foot-nine as the replacement for Harper. And he muttered something about blasted female instincts."

"Colonel, I'm glad you could make it on time." She answered, mortified by his blatant disregard of protocol.

Daniel stepped closer and whispered something in his ear. "Your highness, please forgive my rudeness," O'Neill finally remembered his manners. "Let me introduce you to Lieutenant Jennifer Hailey. She is to replace Lieutenant Harper. Hailey, this is Xena, Consort to Queen Gabrielle."

Hailey saluted, standing at attention. "Venerable Consort, I'm humbled to meet you."

"At ease, Lieutenant. I'm pleased to see that you obviously already had the chance to have a look at the regulation book we sent to Stargate Command. My assistant will see to it that a more detailed version will be made available at the SGC and distributed among Major Carter's team. While the address was a bit formal but acceptable; your choice of words should only be reserved for the Queen herself. We all are equal before the law but nonetheless we are a highly hierarchical society, and though I am the Queen's Consort and her Champion, I'm still nothing more than one of her subjects."

"Thank you for correcting me, your highness. I'll try to pay better attention next time." The small Lieutenant said with a bow.

"You are welcome, Jennifer Hailey. Aria here will escort you to your quarters and get you settled in. After the midday meal she will introduce you to our head scientist Cameria of Sappho. – Gentlemen, I think we have a sparring date."

Less than half a candlemark later, Xena was facing off against Jack O'Neill and Teal'c. They first tried to attack her one by one but even the experience of the Jaffa's long life and hundreds of battles didn't give him the edge to even touch the Consort. The men changed tactics, now working as a team but time and again Xena used their momentum and brute force against them without having to rely on her own considerable strength. It didn't take long for them to get winded and give up. The dark haired warrior woman, however, just seemed to be getting warmed up.

"Anyone else?" She asked with a cocky grin.

"I'd like to try." Hailey and Carter said almost at the same time. Hailey was dropping out of a tree, followed closely by a sheepishly grinning Aria. The consort also grinned having expected nothing else.

The blond women teamed up from the beginning. They were agile and quick, planning their moves in advance as if they were acting with one mind. This turned out to be fun, Xena thought when she only barely avoided a roundhouse kick by Samantha whose balance now was more than precarious. Instead of using her advantage, she turned around, dropped to the ground, and downed Hailey. Her next move sent the blond Major flying. She waited till they got back to their feet but before they could decide on another strategy a voice stopped them.

"It's close to midday; I think you had enough fun for the morning, Xena."

"Your will is mine, your majesty. Did you see Lieutenant Harper off?"

"Yes, and I made sure that she knew that we honour her reasons. I suppose your sparring partner is Lieutenant Hailey?"

The young blonde once again saluted and stood at attention. "Lieutenant Junior Grade Jennifer Hailey, your majesty, at your command."

"At ease, Jennifer Hailey. Our head scientist is already expecting you at the dining hall. Gentlemen, would you please join us for the midday meal."

On the way to the village, Xena was busy explaining some of her moves to a curious Teal'c, comparing them to elements in Jaffa training with O'Neill as an avidly listening public. Daniel Jackson was speaking with Gabrielle and Samantha held Jennifer's attention with her description of the research laboratory.

"Samantha Gabriella Carter," the blonde immediately snapped to attention, "you'll get my Consort in trouble if you don't stop talking shop. She will be held responsible if you don't obey my orders. No laboratory also means not talking about it."

"I understand your majesty. It won't happen again." She answered with a bow and then turned to explain the situation to the young lieutenant.

The midday meal was a leisurely affair, Hailey had been whisked away by the young head scientist; and Xena and Gabrielle easily joined in the light banter of the members of SG-1 and Doctor Fraiser who practically had to be forced to leave the infirmary. After handing over a preliminary report for General Hammond, Xena and Samantha returned to the practice field. The young blonde was eager to learn and Xena willingly complied. Four candlemarks into their workout, Aria stopped them.

"Your highness, I was to remind you that you have a picnic to prepare."

"Thank you, Aria. You may return to your normal duties now."

"Are you sure that you don't want my help with your preparations, your highness?"

"It is the Queen's wish that we do this ourselves, Aria, but thanks for the offer."

A candlemark before sunset, Xena and Samantha walked into the infirmary; they had everything prepared, had taken a shower and changed into fresh clothing. The black haired woman was wearing a set of Amazon leathers; it's dark, rusty brown complimenting her skin tone and leaving very little to the imagination. Her hair had been braided and adorned with several beads and feathers. She had explained to the younger woman that they identified her as the Queen's Consort and Champion and told everyone that this evening she would be her servant.

Samantha thought she looked incredibly beautiful. She herself had donned a pair of cream coloured slacks and a form fitting red blouse, the only civilian attire she had brought with her. A delicate gold chain with a locket had replaced her dog tags and as usual her short hair defied any attempt at keeping it under control.

Xena easily came down on a knee in front of Gabrielle. "My Queen! May I have the honour to escort you to the picnic site?"

"You may, my warrior."

Samantha mimicked her actions in front of Janet who had a look of utter surprise on her face. "Samantha Carter, stand up immediately. This isn't right."

"You first have to answer my question, Janet Regina Fraiser; please, will you let me escort you to the picnic site we chose?"

"You're welcome to do so, Samantha Gabriella Carter. And now get up." Samantha did as she was told and they followed the Royal couple out of the spacious room.

They walked for about half a candlemark. For the longest time obscured by a copse of trees they came in view of the secluded campsite. A fire was waiting to be lit with enough additional logs nearby to keep it going all night. Two blankets were on the ground with a couple of soft cushions. Only a few paces away a small stream was adding to the romantic scenery. The taller women guided their companions to sit on the blanket and began to unpack the basket with their supplies and lit the fire. Janet started to help.

"No, Janet, don't. Tonight is for you to enjoy. Just sit back and relax, I will do all the work. For tonight, you will be my queen and I'll be your humble servant." Samantha said softly.

"It's not right, Sam. You shouldn't be doing this. This picnic thing probably wasn't a good idea."

"Please, Janet, indulge me. See it as a scant repayment for all the times I stood you up because I simply didn't realise how late it was. Please." The blond soldier said with pleading eyes, a look the doctor was utterly unable to resist. So, she simply nodded.

The first course of their dinner consisted of a plate with pre-cut fruits, banana, apple, mango, and sweet peaches. They were sitting in comfortable, familiar silence. Gabrielle was finger-feeding Xena every other piece and after a few minutes of observing them Janet caught on and started to give the tall blonde her share of the meal, resisting the urge to also use her fingers to do so. At first she felt slightly awkward but soon got into the spirit.

"Would you like a glass of wine while we prepare the fish, mylady?"


"Yes, Xena caught them less than an hour ago. It was amazing. She just waded into the water and caught them with her bare hands. Her reflexes are so fast, it's incredible." Remembering that she wasn't supposed to speak unless asked, she continued. "Wine?"

"Yes, please."

Samantha got to her feet and filled two glasses with the sparkling white wine when she saw Xena's signal. She brought one over and returned to Janet's side. She then took the already cut up pieces of fish and wrapped them in big leaves after having packed them with lemon grass and other spices. Xena then brought them over to the fire where she buried them in the smouldering ashes.

"Tell me, Sam, what did you do today, apart from preparing all this?"

"I suppose you heard that Xena ran the colonel and Teal'c ragged this morning and then continued with Hailey and me. I asked her for some pointers and before we knew it, it was time to prepare the picnic. It was great, though I probably will feel it tomorrow."

"Xena, what did I tell you about training sessions?" The Queen reprimanded the taller woman.

"You told me to make sure that my students don't overestimate their reserves, mistress. Samantha Carter is in very good shape and she's a very gifted student. It's a joy to teach her."

"Thank you, Xena. It's easy to learn when one has such a good teacher." Samantha answered though she knew she shouldn't. "I can't wait for our next session. The Amazon Nation should be very grateful to have someone like her among them, your majesty."

"Don't worry, Sam. Her contribution to the Nation is well appreciated. Don't you think so, Xena?"

"You know that I always will be indebted to the Amazon Nation and its Queen." The raven-haired warrior answered solemnly and with sadness and regret in her voice.

"Xena, please don't do this to yourself. It's long in the past and you paid for your crimes."

"You know, I can't help it, my love. The guilt and shame are as much a part of me as my hands or my eyes." She answered softly. "It keeps me from being overwhelmed by my darkness."

"I know, my heart," the blond answered, the other two women temporarily forgotten. Her right hand cupped Xena's left cheek. "I don't have to like it, though. Get yourself something to drink, my warrior." Gabrielle only then turned her attention to Janet. "I apologise, Janet. The demons of the past have the annoying habit of popping up at the most inconvenient moments. I promise that one day I will tell you the story behind our words."

"It is me who has to apologise, Gabrielle. We disrespected your privacy by listening in." Janet answered while Xena knelt to the right and slightly behind the Queen, a mug of apple juice in her hand. "Could you please explain to me why we are playing this mistress-servant game? It certainly wasn't in the regulation's book."

"It's much more than a game, Janet. By serving us, Xena and Samantha are forced to focus on us and on us alone. It's easy to serve someone you love, someone you care for but at the same time it's very difficult because both of them are naturally dominant. It's a change of perspective that can be very cleansing and educating. I do it myself from time to time."

The fish was delicious and after watching a spectacular sunset they ended the meal with berries and nutbread. And though there wasn't much talking before they went to bed; all four of them had the distinct impression of being closer to each other.

Once again Samantha woke to the feeling of a soft body intertwined with her own. A quick glance at the clock told her that she still had more than an hour before she had to get up to meet with Xena at the training grounds. She was looking forward to the lesson but for the moment she intended to enjoy the feeling of the woman in her arms as best as she knew how. It felt so right, so safe. Janet was still dead to the world, so she didn't resist the temptation and ran her fingers through silky brown hair and caressed a slender neck. The smaller woman snuggled closer and Samantha marvelled at how perfect their bodies fit together.

She knew she shouldn't be thinking this way about her best friend, reciting to herself every reason why it was insane and dangerous and simply wrong. However, when she compared her perfectly reasonable reasons to the blissful feeling just holding Janet gave her they suddenly seemed unimportant. The doctor was still sleeping, so it was safe to tell her what was getting harder to hold in every day. "I love you, Janet Fraiser, I'm in love with you. I always was and I always will. I love you."

"Love you too, Samantha Carter." A sleepy voice answered. The tall soldier's confession had taken her by surprise, almost as much as her instinctive answer to it but she decided to stick to her gut instinct. "I lost my heart when you first entered the infirmary. If not for Colonel O'Neill's whining I would have drowned in your impossibly blue eyes."

"And I thought that you possibly were the most beautiful woman I ever saw. Then I got to know you better and learned that you are not only beautiful but also kind and smart and patient and funny. The more I learned about you, the more I fell for you. I know we will not be able to act on it but I'm glad that you know."

"You're right. There's more at stake than just our careers. We have Cassy to think of. I don't know how she would take this. But as long as we are here, in the privacy of this room, I refuse to hide what I'm feeling. I want you to hold me while we sleep; I want to feel your fingers on my skin."

"I want to kiss you, Jan." Samantha whispered.

They kissed, tentatively at first, undemanding. Janet opened her lips slightly and when their tongues danced around each other it was as overwhelming as seeing the Stargate open for the first time, no, it was more than that, the small brunette thought. It was like coming home after having spent her whole life out in the cold. They didn't stop until the lack of oxygen made them dizzy.

Samantha pulled the other woman on top of her body, wanting to feel her everywhere. "You're so beautiful but I must be squishing you."

"You're a light weight, my Jan, and I want to feel you as close as possible. I know this can't go any further, we can't afford to lose control but I want to make the most of the time we have together."

"You're so beautiful, inside and out."

They kissed again, pouring their very souls in the touch of their lips and tongues, content with just holding onto each other. They didn't know it at the time but this second kiss was much more than just a kiss, it was the beginning of something wondrously bigger.

At the same time in the Royal hut blue eyes found green and with one voice their owners said. "It has started."

Samantha spent the morning on the training grounds, working with Xena and a few of the other instructors. Her team met at midday to report to her and they ate together. The blond soldier had a hard time keeping her eyes off Janet; it was as if she were irresistibly drawn towards the smaller woman.

Xena had promised her another tree walking lesson after lunch and she happily set out to meet with the taller woman. They were making good time coming from a part of the forest where the trees were further apart to show her how to jump from one to the other and still stay invisible and silent and using momentum to go faster. Suddenly, Xena pulled Samantha to a stop and snatched a crossbow bolt out of thin air, whirled around and caught a second coming from the opposite direction.

"That's enough, you two. Show yourself or do I have to come and get you? We're going to touch ground and I want you down there before the count of ten."

Two young warriors, girls really, appeared shortly after Samantha had assured the Consort that she was all right. They fell to their knees. "Please, forgive us, your highness. We didn't see that you were not alone. We apologise for putting you in danger. Please don't show any leniency in our punishment, your highness."

"Do you really want to tell me that you didn't see Major Carter? I can't believe that you would be so sloppy in your assessment of the situation." She gauged the guilty expression on the young faces. "Or did you think that with someone else around I would be distracted enough for you to succeed? If that's the case you just lied to me. I give you one more chance to tell the truth."

There was a long moment of silence, then the other young woman said. "We lied to you, your highness." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "We saw you moving to the southern edge of the forest and we knew you would choose this way to return to the village. We saw the way Major Carter moved through the trees. We didn't think that she would get in the line of fire. We totally misjudged the situation, your highness. We didn't think this through."

"That's right, you didn't think, not for one blasted heartbeat. You blatantly disregarded an order, endangered one of our guests, and you lied. You should be treated with all the severity our laws have to offer, and you know it. Samantha Carter, do you want to press assault charges against these irresponsible kids?"

"No, your highness. I'm sure this was just an unfortunate mistake. I don't think that they wanted to harm anyone. Please, don't punish them too hard. As you said, they're nothing more than kids, eager to impress their commanding officer." Samantha answered.

"The incident will go in your records. For your disobedience you will do fifteen additional shifts of guard duty. For lying you will report to Euterpe and spend fifteen evenings of your spare time caring for the elders while wearing a sign plate naming your crimes. I hope this will make you think twice if you ever contemplate to pull such a stupid stunt again. And now, get out of my sight."

"Thank you, your highness." They whispered and were gone in the blink of an eye.

"You're a cruel woman, Xena. Am I right to suppose that the elders will give them a hard time, when they read about disobedience and lying." Xena only answered with a cocky smile and a raised left eyebrow. "Remind me never to get on your bad side. Can I ask you a question?"

"You can always ask and I can always choose not to answer but let's do it while walking. There's a council session I have to attend. What do you want to know?"

"Why do you so easily submit to the Queen? I observed you with the others; your mere presence let them try just a bit harder. You command every room you walk into. You're possibly the best fighter I'll ever know. If you'd choose to challenge the Queen, you could rule in her stead and everyone would follow you. Why, why do you submit to her?"

Xena studied the blond major's blue eyes before answering. "There's a difficult and an easy answer to your question. The easy answer is that I love the Queen. Without her my life wouldn't be worth living. She completes me; she makes me whole. She not only is in my heart and my soul; she is my heart and my soul. Her inner strength, her kindness, her love make the burden of my past bearable. It's easy to submit to someone you love. This is the easy answer. Now, for the other. Yesterday, when you were serving Janet Fraiser, what did you feel?"

"I thought you were nuts when you talked me into this servant thing. I felt utterly ridiculous when I knelt in front of her and at the same time thrilled to be able to finally do something for her. She gives so much and never asks for anything in return. At first I feared that serving someone, serving her would make me smaller, a lesser woman but it didn't. I felt free when putting her needs and wants before mine. I knew that I could trust her, that she would always take care of me."

"Then you have your answer, Samantha."

"I have my answer, not yours, Xena, but I understand if it's too personal or too painful to talk about."

"It's both but it also is too soon to reveal all the secrets of the Amazon Nation to you, Sam. I know it's hard but try to be patient."

In the infirmary a girl of about ten was treated for a broken arm she got from tree climbing. To take her mind of the bone knitters currently mending her limb, Gabrielle told her a story.

"When Prometheus created the humans he made them with four legs and four arms and two heads but only one soul. They were living happily and didn't have a care in the world. They didn't need the Gods because they had everything they ever wanted right there with them, in their souls. They didn't worship the Gods and Zeus, the father of all Gods, became very, very angry. One night, a very dark night, without any moon or stars to guide the mortals, he sent his lightning bolts down to earth. The humans tried to run but every bolt unerringly found its intended target. They split the four-legged creatures in half and they were so afraid that they didn't think of holding on to their other halves. When finally the night gave way to a murky morning, they looked at each other. Every one of them now only had one head and two arms and two legs…."

"But only half a soul," the child continued the story. "Since then every one of us is searching for the other half of one's soul. And when we are very lucky, like you and Xe, sorry Consort Xena, then we'll find our other half and will once again be complete; just like we were at the beginning of time."

"That's right, sweety. Now, hop down, and no tree climbing or wrestling or staff practice for the next three or four days." The girl smiled and left the infirmary. "Let's take a break, Janet Fraiser. We earned ourselves a cup of tea and some cookies. My wayward champion should be back with Doctor Carter in a few minutes."

When they were settled at the Royal table with two steaming mugs in front of them, Janet asked. "The story you told. It's more than just a children's story, right?"

"Yes, Janet, much more."

"What would you do if the other part of your soul were out of your reach?" The brunette asked while staring in her mug.

"The only way this could happen were if one of us were dead – and even then I know she would wait for me at the other side as I would wait for her." When she saw the dejected expression on the other woman's face, Gabrielle switched to storyteller mode. "I wasn't born as an Amazon, Janet. I grew up in a small pre-industrial rural village. One day, we, my younger sister, me, and a bunch of other young women were out gathering herbs and picking berries. We were attacked by a band of ruffians looking for slaves. I offered to go willingly with them if they let the other women go.

"They only laughed and one of them threatened to beat me with his whip. He took aim but his arm got stuck in mid-air. He turned around and was looking straight at a tall woman, holding the other end of the whip, looking at him with a disdainful smile – though she didn't have any armour or weapons. There were at least ten men but she defeated them as if they were nothing more than flies on the wall. I just stood there and looked at her, then her eyes found mine and I was lost in the deepest, bluest eyes I've ever seen.

"This same night I left my home and followed her. For a long time, my family thought that I just did it for the adventure, and when they finally understood my father disowned me. Neither my mother nor my sister was allowed to talk to me 'til the day he died but it was a price I willingly paid.

"From this first moment I knew that she was what I had been waiting for all my life. She also felt this connection from the first moment on but it took us years to finally admit our feelings for each other. We were too afraid to lose our friendship, and then we were afraid of letting anyone see our affection for fear of repercussions but it simply got too strong. We had some really hard times but I wouldn't change one single…."

Though Gabrielle was sitting with her back to the door she said. "Here they come!" Moments before the door to the dining hall opened for Xena and Samantha.

One look at the blonde was enough to make Janet stand, grab Samantha by the elbow and leading her firmly towards the infirmary. "You're hurt, Sam."

"It's nothing, Janet."

"That's for me to decide. So, what did you do this time, oh one-of-stupid-stunts."

"Being stupid," the taller woman grinned, "and overconfident. When we came out of the forest Consort Xena did a double somersault to come down and…"

"…and you couldn't resist the temptation to follow suite. Damn stupid competitive streak."

"Yes, only I landed wrong and sort of twisted my ankle – and it wasn't about competition. I'm not stupid enough to think that I'd even come close to beating her." Meanwhile they had reached the infirmary, Xena and Gabrielle in tow.

"Oh, warrior mine." Gabrielle growled.

"Please, your majesty. Your Consort is not responsible. She warned me that I wasn't ready to do any somersaults or double flips without her monitoring me. I wanted to show off and it backfired. Sometimes, I'm too ambitious and too reckless for my own good, just ask the good doctor here."

"So, Doctor Fraiser, what's your diagnosis?"

"She'll live, your majesty. It's really nothing more than a sprain. On earth I would prescribe a few days rest but here she will once again be up to par by tomorrow afternoon. – So, no tree walking and no sparring for you, Sam. Tomorrow evening I'll have another look and will probably declare you fit for duty."

"Yes, ma'am."

Part 5

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