Solstice Gift

Chapter 1

Large snowflakes drifted steadily from the gray midday sky, blanketing the bleak landscape in a soft carpet of white. A peaceful quiet hung in the air as if all the creatures of earth had choose that moment to enter Morpheus's realm. One easily could have imagined a world at complete rest had it not been for the soft, steady crunch of horse hoofs on fresh packed snow.

Treading through the deeping snow the two riders found Demeter's winter offering more of an annoyance than a blessing. In fact, the smaller of the two took no notice of the peace offered by the snowy sanctuary as she brewed over events of the last few days. Turning her gaze skyward Gabrielle frowned at the gray haze. The snow had started just after sunrise and showed no signs of stopping. At this rate they wouldn't reach Poteidaia till after dark and if the falling snow kept up it's steady pace it could be the middle of the night. Stealing a glance at her large friend Gabrielle felt her temper start to rise at the memory of a less than gentle wake up call. Shortly after sunrise she had been drug from a nice, warm bed to go tramping through the snowstorm and no amount of protest could change the warrior's mind. 'Why does she have be so stubborn?' Sighing heavily at the thought she drew the attention of the large warrior.

"Yes?" asked Xena.

Gabrielle jumped slightly as the warrior's voice broke the heavy silence. Shaking off the startled feeling she refused to meet Xena's questioning eyes. "What?" snapped the bard.

"Is something bothering you?"

"No." lied the young woman.

Shrugging Xena buried her face back in the fur lining of her coat collar. If Gabrielle didn't want to talk she certainly didn't feel like forcing her. Shifting in the saddle the warrior bite back a groan as pain shot up her left side. Placing a hand against the bandaged wound she willed the pain to a dull ache.

The warrior's actions were not lost on Gabrielle and she frowned at the large woman. 'One more day, that's all she needed, just one more day of rest,' thought the bard with frustration. Watching Xena's huddled form gently rocking with the horse's rhythm, the bard feel her anger soften. The was truth it was her concern for Xena's well being that angered the younger woman more then the poor traveling conditions. Even though Xena tried to hide it Gabrielle knew she was in pain. Fighting back the urge to sigh again she tried to remember how they had ended up in this mess.

It had been nearly three days since their encounter with the raiders, though things had actually started before that with Lila's letter. A grim smile tugged at the young blond's lips as she remembered the day the letter arrived. After returning from the northern country, she had wanted to let Lila know she was still alive and well. Nearly a season had passed since the message was sent and she had forgotten about it, till a messenger found them near Athens with a message from Lila. Aside from being pleased at their safe return she wanted Gabrielle to come home for Solstice, adding that Xena and Eve were welcome as well. Desperately Gabrielle had searched her memory for the last Solstice she and Xena has truly celebrated. They hadn't enjoyed a real Solstice since the one spent at the orphanage. The orphanage she hadn't thought of that night in ages. It would be nice to spend a quiet Solstice with family for a change. All she had to do was convince Xena of that. To her surprise and delight Xena had not only been receptive to the idea, but actually seemed excited by it.

At the time Solstice was still a few weeks away, but Xena had suggested they start for Poteidaia at a leisurely pace. She then sent word to Eve of their plans and asked her to join them there. Gabrielle noticed that with each passing day Xena seemed more anxious about a reply from her daughter. The trip had been uneventful and even a bit boring, they figured to reach Poteidaia at least a full day before Solstice. Then three days ago they rode into a small village to find it under attack by a band of raiders. They soon found themselves in the middle of an all out battle. While the raiders had the advantage of numbers on their sides, that was about all they had going for them. They were poorly armed and several of them don't seem to know how to swing a sword, much less hit anything with it. Having dispatched several raiders she turned to search out Xena, she spied the warrior several yards away easily holding off three attackers. Behind the large woman was huddled an older woman with three small children clinging to her. As Gabrielle started toward warrior a raider charged into her path. With a more immediate threat at hand, thoughts of assisting the warrior where pushed aside. It had taken less then half a candle mark for the raiders to realize their mistake at choosing the village and begin beating a hasty retreat. Xena appeared at the bard's as the last of the raiders scrambled from the village.

The villagers had been grateful for the help and offered them a room and meal for the evening Gabrielle had been about to politely refuse explaining their need to move on, when Xena accepted the offer.

As the villagers moved off Gabrielle confronted her friend about the sudden change in plans. "I thought we were going to keep riding till dark?" snipped the bard.

"I know." answered Xena quietly. "But I think we'd better stay here tonight."

Gabrielle took a step forward, raising a finger toward the warrior's nose. But something in Xena's deep blue eyes froze the bard's words in her throat. Suddenly she realized the warrior was holding her left side and swaying slightly, as the bard's eyes traveled downward she noted a steady crimson stream flowing from beneath the leather skirt and down the warrior's leg. "Xena?" gasped the young woman meeting her friend's gaze once more.

"It's alright." assured the large woman with a weak smile. "The wound's not very deep, but it's going to need stitches and I may need to stay put for awhile.

Without another word Gabrielle had lead them to the tavern and set about treating the wound. Xena had been right about the wound needing stitches but it had also been much deeper then she originally thought. While the warrior had suffered far worse wounds there had been a great deal of blood lose. She would need a few days to rest. The next day Xena's color had returned to normal and much to Gabrielle's relief no signs of fever had appeared. While Xena had insisted that she was able to ride they had finally decided to stay in the village for the next couple of days, it would mean arriving in Poteidaia on Solstice day instead of eve but Gabrielle felt Xena needed the rest.

'One more day.' thought Gabrielle. 'I almost had her convinced to stay put one more day. Then that damn messenger had to show up.' With him came word from Eve that she would be waiting for them in Poteidaia on Solstice eve. That was all it took, Xena had been packed and ready to move before noon, much to the bard's dismay. Since that time Xena had been like a woman possessed. They had ridden till dark finally stopping at a small tavern for the night. Then before the dawn had barely broke the warrior was on the move once more. 'Stubborn as a mule.' thought the bard ruefully.

A grunt of pain woke Gabrielle from her wandering thoughts. She turned to see Xena shifting in the saddle once more, her hand still pressed against the wound. "Xena, are you alright?"

"What..." asked Xena as her head snapped up. "yeah, yeah I'm fine."

"No, you're not." argued Gabrielle. "You're in pain. Why don't we stop for a while and..."

"No." came the firm answer.

Gabrielle felt her patience starting to run thin. "Xena, you need to rest."

"I'll rest when we get there."

"That could be hours from now." Gabrielle paused trying to choose her next words carefully. "Xena...we may have to accept the fact that we might not be able to make it tonight..."

"We are going to make it." growled the warrior, before ducking back into the comfort of the fur.

Stunned by her friend's angry outburst Gabrielle pulled her horse to a stop.

It took Xena several moments to realize the young woman had fallen behind. Bringing Argo to a halt she looked back at the still figure. "What?" she asked when no explanation was forth coming.

Gabrielle paused a moment longer before coaxing her mount up next to Xena's. She studied the warrior's face for a moment. "Why are you so anxious to reach Poteidaia tonight? "

Xena looked away. "I thought you'd be excited about seeing Lila and Sara."

"I am." answered Gabrielle. "But one more day won't matter that much."

Xena still did not meet her friend's gaze as she spoke softly. "Another day won't be Solstice Eve.

"So?" answered Gabrielle making no attempt to hide her confusion. "Why are you so set to be there on Solstice Eve?"

Finally Xena faced her. "Because Eve will be there."

"Xena," softly chuckled the young woman. "Eve's not going anywhere, she won't mind if we don't get there till tomorrow."

"It won't be the same." answered the warrior softly.

"Why not?" sighed Gabrielle growing tied of the battle.

Looking away Xena did not answer and for a moment Gabrielle wondered if she was going to be ignored for the rest of the trip. "It will be the first time the three of us have been together as a family for Solstice Eve." whispered the warrior.

Gabrielle heart skipped a beat as the realization of the warrior's words sunk in. She was right, Eve had been separated from them before her first Solstice and last Solstice they had been North dealing with Odin and the ring. No wonder she was pushing so hard. Gabrielle smiled sadly at her friend "Xena I know how much this means to you, but I also know Eve would much rather have you arrive a day late, safe and sound then risk your health on a forced march."

Finally Xena turned back to meet her gaze. Tears glistened in crystal blue eyes and the large woman's words were heavy with barely restrained emotion. "Just once I want to spend Solstice Eve with my daughter. I've missed so much in her life, I can't miss this, not again."

Gabrielle felt her throat tighten as she stared into those pain filled eyes. Slowly she reached across the short distance separating them to grasp Xena's hand. "We'll get there tonight. I promise."

Xena smiled broadly. "Thank you." she whispered hoarsely, giving Gabrielle's hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it.

Returning the smile, Gabrielle nodded in reply.

With new purpose the friends silently coaxed their horses forward.

Chapter 2

The snow had stopped a few candle marks after midday and by dusk the clouds had started to clear off. Nearly a candle mark earlier a large, bright moon had started it's nightly journey. Slipping from behind the scatting snow it bathe the countryside in a soft, white glow. Gentle moonlight reflected off the fallen snow in a labored attempt to turn night to day. Slowly the travelers made their way toward the warm, inviting light spilling from a small house nestled in the distance. It had been a long, hard trip but soon they would be warm, dry and in the company of loved ones. Gabrielle turned to share the thought with her companion only to find the large woman sound asleep. Xena had been drifting in and out for nearly a league but the bard hadn't had the heart to wake her. Instead she simply marbled at the woman's ability to sleep sitting up on a moving horse.

As they reached the house Gabrielle pulled her horse to a stop, Agro moved up even with her and stopped as well. Xena's head rocked back and forth, shaking the warrior awake.

"We're here." said Gabrielle grinning at her friend.

"Home, sweet, home." answered Xena rubbing a knick from her neck.

"Yes, it is." agreed Gabrielle eyeing the old, weathered farmhouse fondly.

Slipping from the horses they made their way to the front door. Gabrielle rapped lightly upon the weathered wood. As they waited for a response Xena placed a gentle hand upon the bard's shoulder. Gabrielle smiled up at her and was about to speak when the door squeaked open. A bewildered Lila stood in the doorway outlined by a glow of soft, yellowish light.

"Hello, Lila." said Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle!" cried the woman as she moved forward to gather the bard up in a smothering hug. "I was starting to think you weren't going to make it."

"Yeah, well I was starting to have my doubts as well." teased Gabrielle as she pulled away from the embrace.

Confusion at the comment furrowed Lila's brow as she turned to embrace the warrior. "Xena, I'm glad you made it. It's good to see you."

"Wouldn't have missed it." smiled the warrior, accepting the offered hug. "Mind if we come in?"

"Please." Lila moved aside allowing them to enter. "Warm yourselves by the fire, you both must be half frozen."

"Actually more then half." laughed Gabrielle rubbing her arms.

"Aunt Gabrielle." called Sara as she moved from the fire to embrace the petite blond.

A wide smile crossed Gabrielle's face as she returned the hug. "Sara, you're looking well."

The younger woman moved back and let her gaze drop to the floor. "Thank you. I'm doing...better." Meeting Gabrielle's gaze she offered a fairly convincing smile, at least it would have been had it reached her eyes. Quickly she turned her attention to Xena before the bard could say more. "Xena, I'll glad you came." She moved to embrace the warrior then stopped uncertainly.

"So am I." answered the warrior, offering the younger woman open arms. Sara hugged her awkwardly then stepped quickly back.

Unfastening her coat Xena allowed her eyes sweep over the small room and a sadness crept into her voice. "I guess Eve didn't make it after all." said the warrior trying to force a smile. Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on her arm.

"Then you guessed wrong." answered a voice from across the room. Stepping from a darkened back room Eve smiled broadly as she moved toward Xena with arms spread wide. "Hello, Mother."

"Evie!" cried Xena nearly leaping across the room to meet her. There was no mistaking her joy as she swept the girl up and hugged her tightly.

Eve gasped loudly as she quickly pulled away from the warrior.

"What?" asked a dismayed Xena. "What's wrong."

"Your breastplate is frozen solid. " laughed Eve, trying to rub the cold from her skin. She turned to the smaller woman. "Gabrielle" she said wrapping an arm around the bard's neck and holding her close. "it's so good to see you."

Gabrielle wrapped strong arms around Eve's waist, squeezing her affectionately. "Hello, sweetheart."

"Are you hungry?" asked Lila.

"Starved." answered Gabrielle.

"Imagine that." replied Lila with a playful wink at Xena. "I'll heat up some food, why don't you two get out of those wet clothes?"

"That sounds like an excellent idea but," answered Xena. "first we need to bed the horses for the night."

"'I'll' bed the horses," insisted Gabrielle. "you warm yourself by the fire."

"It'll take you all night to tend to both horses." argued Xena.

"I can handle it, you just rest."

"Why do you need to rest?" asked Eve with a raised eyebrow.

Gabrielle had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at the familiar sight.

"Because Gabrielle is just over reacting." replied Xena.

"Over reacting to what?" asked Eve pressing for an answer.

"Nothing." insisted the warrior. She turned to find Gabrielle giving her a dirty look. "What!?"

"Tell her the true." ordered the bard.

"Why so she can fuss over me like you do?" scoffed the warrior.

"I haven't been 'fussing' over you. And why is it all right for you to fuss over me, but when you're hurt I'm just suppose to ignore you?" demanded Gabrielle.

"You're hurt?" asked Eve moving closer to the large woman.

"It's just a scratch." Xena insisted, fighting hard to ignore the concern in Eve's eyes."

"Huh," grunted Gabrielle in reply.

"Gabrielle." growled Xena warningly.

"What happen?" asked Lila.

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks and finally Xena shrugged. "Go ahead, you're dieing to tell it."

Gabrielle snorted at her before turning to the others. "We ran into a little trouble a few days ago."

"Trouble? You two?" teased Lila with a half grin.

"Very funny." sneered the bard. "We had planned to be here yesterday but we ran into some raiders attacking a small village and during the fight one of them hit Xena with a lucky sword blow. That's why we're so late."

"Mother?" fear and concern mixed equally on Eve's face as she reached for Xena's arm. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Xena patted the hand resting on her arm. "I'm fine. Really."

"Promise?" asked the young woman.

"Promise." answered Xena slipping an arm around Eve's shoulders and pulling her close, to place a kiss atop her dark head.

"Where did you run into raiders?" asked Sara.

"What was the name of that place?" said Xena looking to Gabrielle for help. "What was it Alerun... Alarum... something like that."

"Aleron." offered the bard.

Lila thought for a moment. "Aleron. That's to the South. When did you leave there?"

"Just after sunrise." answered Gabrielle absently.

"Sunrise today!?" cried Eve. "You rode all the way from Aleron in a day? That's nearly a days ride in good weather. Why on earth would you do that?"

"See I told you she'd be upset." quipped Gabrielle offering a Xena a smug look.

Raising a threatening eyebrow to the bard, Xena turned to Eve. "We did it because I wanted to see my daughter."

"Mother..." began the young woman shaking her head in disbelief.

"Shhh." Xena placed a finger to Eve's lips. "What's done is done. Let's not worry about it anymore, not tonight. This is a night for celebration, not arguing. Agreed?"

Staring up into blue eyes, which mirrored her own Eve felt all of the fight drain from her. It never creased to amaze her the amount of love those eyes always seemed to offer her. "Agreed."

"Good." whispered Xena draping an arm over Eve's shoulders.

"Well, I'd been get started on those horses." said Gabrielle pulling her coat collar up.

"I'll help you." offered Sara.

"Better yet, why don't I help Sara with the horses" suggested Eve. "and you two, can stay in here and thaw out a bit."

"Sounds good to me." beamed Gabrielle.

"Why not?" shrugged Xena. "I'm not really looking forward to going back out there anytime soon."

"Then it's settled." said Sara, retrieving her coat from a hook behind the door. Eve followed her and removed what looked to be a worn blanket from another hook. Quickly she flung the threadbare garment over her shoulders, tying it with a simple knot at the throat.

Gabrielle eyed the young brunette suspiciously. "Eve, is that all you have to wear?"

"This will be fine." answered the younger woman without turning to face her.

"No, it won't." answered Xena. "You'll freeze to death out there. Why don't you take my coat?"

"Mother, I'll be fine." Eve insisted. "Besides, you're coat is too long for me I'd break my neck trying to walk in it."

Gabrielle slipped from her coat and closed the distance between them. "Well I know mine's not to long for you, here take it." she ordered holding out the offered garment.

Eve paused for a moment then thought better of refusing as she noted the determined look in the petite blond's deep green eyes. She couldn't help but wonder how many battles her mother had lost to that look. Taking the coat, she removed the blanket and returned it to the hook. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." smiled Gabrielle, as she watched the slender woman slip into the tan and white coat.

Taking a lit lantern from it's place near the door Sara reached for the door handle. "You ready?" she asked Eve with a crook grin.

"As I'll ever be." answered Eve with a wide smile of her own.

As Sara threw open the door both women lowered their heads against the cold air and quickly slipped outside.

Before the door had snapped shut Xena began removing her wet clothes. Gabrielle moved to help her with the armor and weapons, laying the pieces near the hearth to dry. Once Xena had been stripped of everything but her leather, greaves and boots, Gabrielle pulled a battered rocking chair as close to the fire as she dared and grabbing one of the warrior's muscular arms pushed her down into it. "Here you sit and rest for awhile."

"Gabrielle, I just have a small wound, I'm not an invalid." moaned the warrior.

"I know, but would it hurt you to kick back and take it easy for awhile?" sighed Gabrielle. "We've had a long ride with little rest. For once just enjoy doing nothing, if not for yourself then do it for me. That way I won't have to waste so much energy worrying about you."

Xena started to protest but the pleading look Gabrielle gave her silenced any further arguments. "Alright you win I'll rest. For a little while."

"Good" announced Gabrielle as she placed a quick kiss atop the warrior's head.

"What was that for?"

"It's your Solstice gift, so you'd better enjoy it." quipped Gabrielle as she turned to Lila, who was biting back a grin at the friendly exchange. "Lila, is my old hope chest still around?"

"Yes, it's in our old room." she answered. "Father had wanted to move it to the barn once, but I just didn't have the heart to let it go."

Placing a hand upon Lila's slender arm Gabrielle grinned lovingly at her. "Thanks, for taking care of it." She turned back to Xena. "I'll change your dressing later, okay?"

"No rush. It probably could wait till morning." answered Xena as she closed her eyes and shifted into a comfort position.

Grinning at her large friend Gabrielle shook her head as she crossed the room to disappear into one of the small adjacent rooms.

As Gabrielle left Lila set about preparing the food. Occasionally she would steal a glance at the large warrior. Xena had been still for sometime and Lila was certain she had drifted off. When suddenly the warrior sat forward and began unfastening the straps holding one of her greaves in place. The action was so quick and unexpected Lila had nearly dropped the small stack of plates she held. As Xena reached down for one of the lower greave straps she gasped sharply and sat back placing a hand to her wound.

Concerned by the pain filled gasp Lila laid aside the plates and moved to kneel at Xena's side. "Here, why don't you let me do that?" she said reaching for the greave.

"You don't have to do that." answered Xena, clearly uncomfortable with having someone wait on her.

"I don't mind." replied Lila as she slipped the greave from a well muscled leg. Laying it aside she sit about removing the other. Without looking away from her task Lila began to speak softly. "You know I use to wonder what on earth Gabrielle saw in you."

"Really?" answered Xena uncertain where the conversation was going.

"Really." Laying the greave aside, Lila rose and retrieved a blanket from across the room, then pulled a small stood next to the chair. "Here" she said draping the blanket over the warrior. "This should help warm you." Then she sat down on the stool facing Xena.

"I know now that she saw everything in you. You were everything she wanted to be free, independent, able to follow her own dreams, everything she couldn't have here."

"Lila..." began Xena.

Lila raised a hand to quiet her. "Following you filled a void in her soul Xena, I know that. I've known it for a long time. I mourned your deaths but in my heart I knew that even in death Gabrielle needed to be by your side. Mother and father never understood the bond you share, but I do."

Stunned by Lila's openness Xena searched for some answer, but Lila hadn't finished.

"Sara told me about what you did for Gabrielle in the harem. How you took a beating to protect her."

Xena flinched at the mention of the beating the events of those few days were still hazy in her mind, yet they found an eerie clarity in her nightmares. "I did what I had to do." she answered quietly.

Lila looked deep into the warrior's blue eyes, tears glistened in her own. "Thank you for saving my daughter... and my sister. And thank you for caring so much about and for Gabrielle. She needs someone to love her."

Taken aback by the sincerity in Lila's eyes Xena had to force herself to speak. "'re welcome." She tried to find more words but none would come.

"It's alright." said Lila patting Xena's arm "I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"No," answered the warrior quickly. "no I just... Gabrielle has given me so much over the years, I guess I don't think much about what it might mean to her."

"Gabrielle told me once that she loves you with all her heart Xena." Lila smiled warmly. "And I know you love her just as much."

"Yes, I do." answered Xena softly.

"Good." replied Lila. "It's good to have someone like that." the smile slipped from her lips as she turned her gaze toward the door. "I hope Sara finds that kind of happiness someday. Things have been so hard for her since she returned. Everything around here is so different then when she left. People she grew up with, childhood friends barely speak to her, they treat her as an outcast."

"They just need to get to know her again." assured Xena. "It will take time but eventually she will find her place in the world."

"I know." answered Lila fighting to keep her voice steady. "I just don't think her place is here, not anymore. Even when she was little I knew she had to much of Gabrielle in her to follow everyone else's rules. Now that she's seen what lays beyond Poteidaia I think it's only a matter of time till she goes in search of what she needs to make her life complete."

"Maybe not," offered Xena. "some times after you've seen the world the only place you want to be is home."

"Perhaps, but I'm not sure she thinks of this as home anymore."

"Have you spoken with her about it?" asked Xena.

"No, she refuses to talk about anything that happened. At least, to me." Lila sighed heavily. "She is my flesh and blood, but since she returned we are more strangers than family."

"I know." said Xena offering her a sad smile. "Eve is my daughter, from the moment I watched her take her first breathe I knew I would always love her. And I do love her sometimes so much it hurts. While she will always be my little Evie, she is no longer the little baby I can hold to my breast and sing lullabies too till all her fears faded away. She's a grown woman, one that I must get to know all over again."

"She's a good woman, Xena." Lila assured her. "Eve is the only person Sara will talk to about the things that bother her. The season Eve spent with us after Sara returned is the only time Sara has truly seemed at ease with anyone since she came home. I believe she cares a great deal for Eve. When Eve decided to leave Sara was heartbroken, and I truly think Eve was reluctant to go, but she was concerned at your disappearance."

Xena ducked her head but said nothing.

"Those two seem to share a bond. I think Sara would have followed Eve if she hadn't felt a responsibility to stay with me." Lila laughed softly. "I guess it's my own fault that she has the urge to roam. When she was little I use to tell her stories about you and Gabrielle. I even managed to get a hold of some Gabby's scrolls and while I'm not as good a storyteller as she is I would read them to Sara. Oh how she loved to hear them over and over again. And frankly I enjoyed reading them somehow by telling the stories it felt like you were both still here. She use to ask me if she'd ever find a friend like Xena and I would tell her that her Aunt Gabrielle use to believe that anything was possible. I never dreamed that friend would be your daughter. Personally I can't think of a better friend for my daughter."

"Lila..." Xena leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Lila holding her close. "Thank you." she hoarsely whispered in the small woman's ear.

Watching quietly from the doorway, Gabrielle wiped a tear from her eye.

Chapter 3

Nearly a candle mark had passed since the wayward traveler's arrival. Having stuffed themselves with the feast Lila had prepared, they set about finding other comforts. Gabrielle made a blanket pallet near the warm hearth and placed Xena there while she and Lila cleaned the dishes. Gabrielle noted that the warrior nodded off several times before they finished.

As Gabrielle placed the last dish atop the small stack the door flew open allowing a bone-chilling gust of wind to sweep through the small room. The cold brought Xena back to her senses and she rolled to one knee instinctively reaching for her sword before realizing there was no threat from anything more then a chilled breeze. Lowering herself back to the blankets she watched as the two huddled forms made their way back inside and quickly closed the door.

"By the Gods, it's cold out there." gasped Sara as she stamped her feet against the floor.

Eve blew on her hands trying to coax some feeling back into them. "I haven't been this cold since..." she paused as if thinking better of her next words. "not in a long time."

Sara nodded and smiled at her, as she pulled off a wet coat and hung it to dry. Eve placed Gabrielle's coat next to Sara's and moved toward the fire.

"Took you two long enough." teased the warrior from her warm perch.

Eve and Sara exchanged stunned looks at the warrior's scolding.

"Well," began Eve mockingly. "if someone hadn't ridden their horse for hours through a snowstorm, it might not have taken so long to wipe Argo down and pick the ice from her hoofs."

"You just need more practice." quipped Xena without turning from the fire.

"Oh, really." cooed Eve as she knelt beside Xena to place a fridge hand against the warrior's warm neck.

"Hey!" cried the warrior as she sat up nearly knocking Eve to the ground. "That was uncalled for young lady." waving a scolding finger at the younger woman.

"What's wrong, Mother," teased Eve. "I thought you liked the cold."

"Very funny." growled Xena. "Did you happen to bring in my saddlebags?"

"Yes. I did."

"Would you bring them to me?"

"So," began Eve rising to her feet. "this is what old warriors are like. Giving orders to everyone else while they layback in front of a nice, warm fire. I tell ya mother, you're getting soft in your old age." Eve winked at Gabrielle as she picked up the saddlebags and started back to Xena's side. Gabrielle bit the corner of her lip to keep from laughing out loud.

As Eve offered the saddlebags to the reclining warrior, Xena reached up to take them. "Just remember daughter, I maybe getting older, but" with lightening speed she grabbed Eve's wrist and dropped the girl onto the blanket next to her. "I can still handle you."

Hearty laughter filled the room at Eve's sudden downfall.

Raising to rub her bruised pride, Eve laughed as well. "Yes, ma'am. I remember."

"Good." chuckled Xena. "Now behave yourself or I won't give you your Solstice gift."

The smile fell from Eve's face. "Solstice gift? Mother I... I don't have anything for you."

"That's alright." answered Xena, as she throw open the saddlebag flap.

Gabrielle slipped onto the blanket next to Xena. While Lila lowered herself into the rocking chair Xena had used earlier, as Sara took the stood next to Lila. They all watched as Xena dug through her saddlebags in search of the elusive gift.

"Ah, here it is." announced the warrior as she pulled a small bundle from the bag. Facing Eve she held the bundle close as she spoke. "I've been waiting a long time to give you this." Bowing her head Xena bite her lower lip in an effort to keep her emotions in check. "Considering all the Solstices I've missed, I think it's about time I finally gave you a gift."

Eve watched Xena gently caress the bundle as she spoke. She could see the toll this small act was taking and her heart ached for the woman sitting before her. Try as she might she could not remember a single Solstice from the pass twenty-six years, but somehow she had a feeling she would never forget this one. The thought brought a warmth to her very soul. Reaching out she placed a hand atop Xena's and waited for the large woman to meet her gaze. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the tears glistening in those beautiful blue eyes. "It's alright, Mother. I understand."

Xena's head ducked once more as she sucked in an emotional breath. Releasing the breath slowly, she tried once more to face her daughter. Pushing the bundle toward the young woman she smiled in the warm, loving way Eve had grown fond of. "Happy Solstice, Evie."

Smiling broadly Eve took the bundle and had to wait a moment for her tears to fade before trying to open it. As she began to unwrap it she laughed nervously at the others. "It's been awhile since anyone has given me a Solstice gift."

Soft laughter filled the room.

As Eve pulled back the last of the course material covering the object her eyes lite up and glistened with fresh tears. Laying in her hand was a small beautifully craved statue of a horse in full gallop. Tracing her fingertips over the smooth, light brownish colored wood she laughed. "It's Argo."

"Yes, it is." said Xena. "An old friend of mine craved it for you. A long time ago."

"Senticles craved it, didn't he?" asked Gabrielle.

Xena smiled and placed a gentle hand on the bard's arm. "Yes, he did. I told him I wanted a special gift for Eve and that's what he made."

"I wonder what happened to him?" mumbled Gabrielle more to herself then anyone else.

"I don't know." answered Xena rubbing the little blond's shoulder.

"Mother, I...thank you." Eve rose to her knees and slipped an arm around Xena's neck hugging her tightly, before placing a quick kiss on the large woman's cheek.

Xena held her close for a moment, before letting her pull away.

"I don't have anything for you or Gabrielle."

"Eve, we didn't expect anything." Gabrielle assured her.

"Gabrielle's right." said Xena, as she brushed a strand of hair from Eve's face. "You're here that's all I want."

Eve shook her head as she moved to Xena's side. She slipped an arm around Xena's waist and lowered her head onto a board shoulder. "You never crease to amaze me."

Xena stroked long, black hair, then gently kissed her on top of the head.

"Well I guess it's my turn." announced Gabrielle, wiping at her eyes she rolled to her feet. Reaching into her belt she pulled out a small cloth bag and held it for a moment as she choose her words. "I have a little something here I think you should have." Slowly she reached out to offer the small bag to Sara.

"For me?" asked Sara as she stole an uncertain look at Lila, who nodded for her to take it. Eyeing the bag she carefully took it from Gabrielle's open hand. Hesitating she looked up at Gabrielle.

"Go ahead, open it." Gabrielle softly coaxed.

Slowly she unfastened the drawstring and turned the bag upside down, dumping the contains into her outstretched hand. Onto her hand dropped a small piece of jewelry. While the brooch was not very large it had the look of ivory with a small rose craved into the front and a silver pin mounted on the back.

Lila gasped as the light struck the small object and Sara turned to her. "Mother, what's wrong?"

"That was your grandmother's." she whispered.

Sara looked up at Gabrielle with questioning eyes. "Yes, it was your grandmother's and her grandmother's before her. That little pin has been passed down from generation to generation for many years. I think she would have liked for you to have it."

"I've never seen it before." said Sara as she turned the pin in her hand.

"That's because it's been put away for a long time." answered Gabrielle. "But I think it's time for it to come out of hiding. It's usually given to a girl on her sixteen birthday, but I hope you'll forgive me for being a little late."

Sara laughed. "I don't think that will be a problem."

"Gabrielle," said Lila. "mother gave that to you because you are the oldest." she turned to Sara. "It has always been passed from mother to the eldest daughter."

Sara stood up to face Gabrielle. She reached out to offer the piece back to the bard. "Gabrielle, I can't. Grandmother gave it to you. You should keep it, give it to your own daughter someday." Sara couldn't understand the pained look that suddenly crossed Gabrielle's face.

Lila looked to Xena, the warrior meet her gaze and both looked as though they were afraid something was going to happen. Eve took note of the exchanged looks but said nothing.

Gabrielle swallowed hard as she placed a hand over Sara's and wrapped the younger woman's fingers around the gift. Meeting Sara's gaze she smiled and with her free hand stroked the girl's cheek. "Solstice is a time for change, for new beginnings. So tonight we are going to start a new tradition. Starting tonight the eldest daughter will pass this to her eldest niece."

Sara began to cry, and Gabrielle hugged her close, Sara returned the embrace. They stood there holding each other without a word. Finally Sara pulled away, and brushed a hand across her eyes. "Look at me, I haven't cried this much since I was a little girl."

Gabrielle laughed and brushed tears from the girl's cheek. "There is nothing wrong with crying, it's good for the soul."

Lila rose to her feet. "You listen to your Aunt Gabrielle, she knows what she's talking about." Then she turned and hugged Gabrielle tightly. "Thank you." she whispered.

Gabrielle held her closer without saying anything.

Xena smiled at Eve, she smiled back.

Gabrielle pulled away from Lila. "Alright that's enough of that for one night." she teased. "It's getting late, we should try to get some sleep."

"That's a good idea." agreed Lila slipping an arm around Sara's waist. "You ready for bed?"

"Yes, I am. All this Solstice cheer is wearing me out." she laughed.

Lila looked to Gabrielle. "Your old bed is ready."

"Thanks but I think I'm going to join Xena here by the fire."

Lila nodded. "I figured you might. Goodnight." she kissed Gabrielle on the cheek, then bend over to do the same for Xena. "Goodnight, Xena."

"Goodnight, Lila."

Sara kissed Gabrielle on the cheek. "Goodnight...aunt Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled broadly. "Goodnight, Sara."

"Goodnight, Xena."

The warrior nodded in respond.

Sara patted Eve on the shoulder as she passed.

"Goodnight." called Eve.

Sara and Lila disappeared into the bedroom.

Gabrielle took her place at Xena's side.

"That was a nice thing you did." said Xena.

Gabrielle shrugged. "She's my niece."

Xena slipped an arm around the bard's shoulders and pulled her close. "You've got a good heart, Gabrielle."

"Yeah, so you keep telling me." said Gabrielle leaning into Xena's embrace and smiling up at the large woman.

The warrior returned the smile, rocking her gently.

"Well," sighed Eve rising to her feet. "I guess it's time I turned in too."

"Where are you going?" asked Xena.

"Since you two are going to sleep here I figured I use the other bedroom."

"Why don't you stay here with us?" suggested Xena.

"I don't know..."

"There's plenty of room." replied Gabrielle. "Besides, you'll be warmer out here."

A smile tugged at the corners of the young woman's lips. "Alright, I'd like that." she said dropping back to her knees. "Thank you, both of you."

"For what?" asked Xena.

"For making this Solstice so special." Eve paused for a moment. "I've missed you."

"We missed you, too." said Gabrielle offering her a loving smile.

Leaning over Xena, the young woman kissed Gabrielle on the cheek, then before the bard could respond Eve placed a kiss on Xena's cheek. "I love you both so much." she gasped before choking back a sob.

"Evie." whispered Xena, placing a hand upon the younger woman's cheek. "I...'we' love you, too." she pulled Eve forward and place a kiss upon her forehead. They remained there for a moment, neither wishing to break the contact. Finally, Xena pulled away. "What do you say we get some sleep?"

Unable to find her voice, Eve nodded in agreement, running the back of one hand across her eyes.

"How are you feeling?" asked Gabrielle, placing a hand upon Xena's board back.

"Tried." admitted the warrior.

"I know what you mean." answered the bard.

Laying back onto the blankets Xena, yawned widely. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

Gabrielle took her place at Xena's side and pulled the blanket up close. "h'mmm sounds like a plan."

Eve smiled broadly at the pair before slipping under the blanket next to her mother. Resting her head against Xena's arm she could faintly hear the large woman's heartbeat. She could tell from Gabrielle's breathing that the bard was hovering on the edge of Moephus's realm.

"Happy Solstice, Xena." whispered Gabrielle as sleep pulled heavily at her speech.

"Happy Solstice, Gabrielle." Xena whispered back, placing a soft kiss on the blond's forehead.

Listening to the quiet exchange Eve felt as though she were intruding on a private moment, yet part of her was grateful to have been allowed to share in it.

As Xena's breathing slowed to a steady rhythm Eve rolled to her side and placed the small horse on the floor before her. Watching the light of the fire reflecting off the highly polished wood she wondered at the finely craved detail. It was a beautiful gift. 'A Solstice gift... from my mother.' thought the young woman as her eyelids began to droop the thought brought a smile to her lips as she drifted off.

The end