An Awakening - Part 7


by Hunter Ash

Disclaimer: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, etc. etc. etc. This story is for entertainment purposes and it helps keep me sane (sort of). Don't bother suing me, I don't have anything of value (some would even argue I don't have my sanity).

Sex/Subtext/Alt Fiction: this story is a continuing story of two women in love and they have sex together and it does get graphic. Personally, I hope it raises the room temp a bit. If love/sex between two people of the same gender is illegal in your state or country, move or change your laws, after leaving here. If this type of story bugs you, move on or free your mind.

Violence: the mention of rape concerning one of the major characters, several deaths.

Storyline: I hope this story could stand on it's own. It is also part of a series I've ended up writing. I started out with one story in mind and who knows where this thing will end up at this point. You might want to read the other stories to get the entire picture.

A Visit Home, An Awakening
Discovery, An Awakening
Amazon Bonding
Trial of a Roman
Gladiator, Bard, Mother, Warrior
Reunited - being written

Others will follow because my muse is already pounding for the next part. Hope you enjoy.

Feedback: yes, definitely! Beg, Beg, Beg.

Iolaus slowly drew his sword and moved his horse forward slightly. "Look, I already told you, we are free citizens. We're not German, we're Greek. Leave us alone," he growled at the scruffy Roman soldiers blocking their way on the road. "When I move, ride like hell and get out of here," he whispered to Gabrielle.

"I'm not leaving you!" she hissed back.

"Get Xena and Hercules, the Roman camp can't be far from here, you can help rescue me. I don't think you and I can take all of them." he hissed back.

Gabrielle frowned but moved her horse a couple of steps away from his, ready to turn and bolt.

Iolaus cursed every mother of the bandit soldiers in front of them. He knew that they couldn't count on Xena or Hercules rescuing them either, they were still at camp further down the river. Iolaus and Gabrielle had been on their way to a nearby village for fresh supplies before the four of them crossed into Germania, determined to get a pregnant Xena out of reach of both Ares and Caesar.

Now this. Life definitely wasn't boring with his friends, Iolaus thought. Definitely not boring and definitely dangerous.

The Roman leader grinned at the two smaller Greeks. "I don't care who you are. Me and my men need some gambling money and your wife there will bring a very nice price with the slavers. You might even be worth a couple of gold pieces, little man."

Iolaus let out a yell of anger and charged forward with his horse and Gabrielle, with a frustrated growl, turned her horse. "Go, Gabrielle!" he yelled.

Iolaus ducked under a sword slash and buried his sword quickly into the ribs of the attacker and threw up his left arm to block another sword, wincing as the sword cut through his leather bracer, skin and muscle. He slashed out and caught another Roman at the throat and the soldier dropped his shield and sword to grab at his throat before falling off the horse. The Greek's horse pushed forward, looking for a way through the pack of Romans but Iolaus and his horse were both frustrated, the Romans kept in close, crowding the horse and the sword of the smaller man.

He cried out in pain and slashed heavily to the left and looked down to see his side bleeding heavily. His left hand came up to try and hold the wound closed and stay in the saddle but dodging another sword strike caused the Greek to lose his balance and fall from the horse, landing heavily. Iolaus yelped and quickly rolled to his hands and knees and dodged out of the way of several horse hooves aiming for his body.

The Romans dismounted and approached slowly, most of them grinning. Five of them, terrific, he thought. He wondered if he should make a break for the river and risk freezing to death or drowning rather than the swords, then he glanced over and saw Gabrielle's horse fallen in the middle of the road and the little bard struggling to get her trapped legs out from under the dead animal.

"Gabrielle, no!"

With a shout he charged the soldiers beginning to crowd him. He quickly cut down two of the soldiers caught off guard by his charge but a third caught his left shoulder and Iolaus dropped his sword to grasp his shoulder.

Realizing his mistake too late, the Greek couldn't bend to retrieve his sword before the others were on him. He kept close to them to keep them from using their swords and he utilized his many fighting skills and took another one down with a broken neck, even if he was fighting almost one armed. A sword strike to his back took the man to his knees and kicks, fists and hammering from sword hilts sent him smashing to the ground, bleeding badly and unconscious.

Iolaus' eyes sprang open as he broke the surface of the water, sputtering and gasping for air. The cold shock of the water hit him like a hammer and the young man couldn't catch his breath nor fight the current.

He struggled to keep his head above the water and almost swallowed enough to drown when he was jerked suddenly to a stop. He realized slowly that his belt was caught on a half submerged tree stump. Remembering Gabrielle trapped under the horse at the mercy of the Romans, Iolaus summoned his strength and pulled himself along the tree, freeing his belt and let himself drift onto the small beach. Somehow the Greek pulled himself along until he was under the end of the beach at the tree line. He managed to pull himself up and over the embankment by some tree roots and then collapsed under the tree.

He closed his eyes, holding his side tightly.

Something pounded at his awareness and wouldn't go away. Iolaus opened his eyes and peered around the tree and blinked several times as his exhausted and blood starved mind tried to take in the scene in front of him.

The Romans had Gabrielle in the small clearing. One was examining Iolaus' sword while another two were dragging the bodies of their comrades off the road. The other three, including their leader, were holding Gabrielle and looking her over.

Iolaus felt a whimper escape his throat.

The bard was struggling but two of the Romans held her tightly by her arms. The leader grinned and ripped her tunic open from collar to hem, exposing her very lovely breasts and torso. Gabrielle screamed and struggled and the men laughed.

Iolaus, tears streaming down his face, fell back against the tree. After a moment, he leaned against the tree and used it to slide up to his feet. He grabbed the tree for stability as he turned and nearly screamed at the sight of his little friend's abuse. He bent down to grab a fallen tree limb for a weapon and fell forward onto the ground. Tears of rage and helplessness overcame the young man as he listened to his friend scream and he couldn't move.

"Gabrielle," Iolaus whispered.

Iolaus woke up screaming Gabrielle's name, sitting upright in his bed. Hercules hurriedly jumped out of his own bed and quickly grabbed his friend from behind, wrapping his strong arms around the small Greek and felt his friend's head fall forward back into sleep.

Movement from the other bed caught his attention, as he gently lowered his friend back down onto the bed and covered his best friend.

"Is he okay?" a small voice asked and Hercules moved quietly across the floor and squatted next to the other bed, moving the screen aside. He wasn't surprised to see Gabrielle lying curled in Xena's arms, what surprised him was that Gabrielle was the one awake and Xena still asleep.

"He'll be okay. He wakes up like that several times a week, nightmares," he whispered.

"He was screaming my name," the bard whispered.

Hercules looked at the ground and then back into the bard's eyes. "Yes, he has the same nightmare for over a year and more now. He keeps remembering the fight with the Romans and what happened to you."

"What happened to me? He saw?" Gabrielle's eyes went wide, understanding what Hercules might be getting at.

He nodded, dropping his own eyes as tears filled them. It had nearly killed all of them when Iolaus had told them the entire events of that day. Both Xena and Hercules knew what happened to almost every female prisoner taken by any army or bandits but they still weren't ready to hear that it had happened to Gabrielle when she was taken a year and a half before. Xena had nearly gone crazy with berserk fury.

Hercules looked up to see tears flowing from his little friend's closed eyes. He gently wiped them away and she looked at him with beautiful green eyes. He attempted to smile reassuringly.

"You're home. Now, we can all do some healing."

She merely nodded and he stood and replaced the screen separating the bed from the rest of the room and returned to Iolaus, seeing his best friend thrashing in the nightmare again. He gently moved his friend over and crawled under the fur blankets with him and held the small Greek close, soothing the nightmare away.

"We've got her home, Iolaus. She's safe now," he whispered and he felt Iolaus' body begin to relax.

Xena woke to the sounds of a very hungry toddler; a very hungry and wet toddler, she grinned. She could tell by the crying. A year and four months old and she had a set of lungs, Xena thought as she grabbed the child up in her arms.

The warrior frowned when she noticed the other side of the bed was empty. Xena shook her head. This was the second morning that Gabrielle had beaten her awake and the warrior was having a hard time adjusting to that one. Always before the bard had fought for every second of sleep in the morning, now the trained fighter was up before the dawn, just as Xena had once always done.

The warrior quickly changed her giggling daughter and went to the fire to provide breakfast for her littlest one. Hercules popped his head out from under the covers of Iolaus' bed and the warrior tactfully avoided raising her eyebrows. Was this getting interesting yet, she wondered.

He quickly moved to the fire, slipping fur boots on. "I'll never get used to cold floors in the morning," he complained and sat down next to the fire, watching the child feeding.

"She's beautiful and so are you," he grinned.

He truly thought so too, motherhood had softened Xena's features a little and brought a brightness to her eyes that he had only seen there when the warrior spoke of Gabrielle.

"Thank you, my friend," she smiled and carried that smile as she looked down at her daughter, hair black as her parents' and eyes as blue as her mother's.

"It's been a rough time since your wedding." Hercules commented.

"I think that understates things, don't you?" she grinned.

"Where's Gabrielle?"

"Out walking somewhere or practicing her sparring." Xena lost her smile.

"Kinda weird, eh? You in here being the gentle type and she's out practicing how to kill," he smiled.

Xena sighed in agreement. "That's part of it, I think. She's changed so much, Hercules, and I think she's terrified I won't want her."

"Tell her!" he urged as she shifted from one breast to the other.

"I have, repeatedly the last three days. She's just withdrawing more and more."

"Brutus said she had to do some rough things to survive, killing is probably the least of it and that's a lot of guilt to carry."

"Don't I know that! She won't talk about it. I've gotten a lot of the story from Nikki but Gabrielle won't talk about it," Xena complained.

"Until she does she can't heal; and neither can both of you."

"I know, my friend." Xena frowned. "When do you want to travel back north to the clan?"

"By the end of the week? I'd like to get up there before the snow gets much thicker. Away from the Romans is my choice right now. Iolaus tries not to show it but he cringes every time he sees a Roman soldier."

"I'm just glad he lived, even with that arm in a sling," Xena said grimly. Then she sighed. "Can you watch Sasha?"

"Of course, now that she's had breakfast," he grinned.

Xena grinned as she handed over her contented daughter. Xena got up and quickly got fully dressed in woolen trousers, fur lined boots, woolen tunic, fur vest, fur lined wrist bracers and a thick cloak with fur at the collar and hood.

"I'll be back. This might take awhile."

He nodded, understanding. He also noticed that Nikki was awake and watching them with a frown of concern on her face.

Xena found her mate in a small clearing near the ice chunk filled river, practicing fighting moves that quickly impressed the experienced warrior. Xena stopped for a moment next to a tree and watched Gabrielle as she danced through an exercise routine meant to strengthen, stretch and work the muscles and polish fighting skills.

The small woman was handling a pair of weapons that she called sais. Long stabbing weapons with two prongs on either side for blocking blows and breaking blades. The ends were sharp enough to stab and be thrown and the other ends were rounded for blunt fighting.

In the bard's hands they were deadly, used either way, Xena quickly realized. The last time Xena had seen her mate the Amazon Queen had been recovering from a massive poisoning that had devastated her body and almost crippled her. Now there was no sign of that injured body. In it's place was a sleek fighter with the grace of a tiger, the speed of a cheetah and the tenacity of a war dog.

Xena watched as the bard finished a routine and ran a hand through her short blonde hair. That had been a surprise as well, she thought. Her little bard had reddish blond hair that went past her shoulders. This warrior had hair bleached blonde by the sun, skin lightly tanned, and now the hair was short for easier fighting.

Xena's bard was astounding with a staff because the young woman couldn't face possibly killing someone. The gladiator in front of her had scars up and down her arms and legs from numerous encounters in the Arena and Xena didn't think the bard would hesitate to kill, if necessary.

Xena stepped forward, intentionally making noise and wasn't surprised when the bard spun into a half crouch with the sais at ready, one poised for throwing and the other in a defensive stance. Gabrielle blinked and then stood up as Xena stepped out of the shadows. She smiled at her mate but Xena wasn't sure the smile continued to the woman's eyes.

When the Roman, Brutus had reunited the soulmates Xena thought she couldn't be happier in her life. Two days had gone past and she found Gabrielle withdrawing into herself more and more and refusing to talk about what had happened during the year and months of her disappearance.

Brutus had told them that after her capture by the Romans, Gabrielle had been sold into slavery to a gladiator school and had become a fighter. After he stumbled across her he had purchased her when he could but not before Caesar had taken an interest in the little fighter and had her fighting in Rome.

To everyone's surprise she had won her freedom as a gladiator by winning the coveted wooden sword of freedom. Brutus had managed to get Gabrielle and her former trainer, friend and fellow Amazon out of Italia and into Germania before Caesar could figure out who Gabrielle was.

Caesar had been very anxious to find the little bard, Xena knew. He wanted to use Gabrielle as bait. Somehow the military and political leader sensed that the bard was important in Xena's life and intended to use that to his advantage. Brutus had foiled that plan by freeing Gabrielle and taking her to Xena.

Brutus had told Xena and Hercules of the numerous rapes, beatings and training Gabrielle had been through, he also said Gabrielle had offered him her body if he would get her out of Italia and back to Xena.

Xena figured it was time for both of them to talk about what they had been through that year and months.

Dancer spun, kicking up in the air as she slashed out with the sais, landing lightly in a crouch and spinning out with her leg and then ending upright with the sais in defensive position. She straightened up slowly, satisfied with the session, she was breathing a little heavily and had a good layer of sweat worked up and her muscles sang.

In a flash she was in a crouch again, sais at the ready for throwing and for defense. Her sharp eyes spotted Xena coming out from the trees and she slowly stood up and lowered the sais into her special boot laces and secured them. She smiled as the warrior approached and noticed the concerned look in her mate's eyes.

Dancer shifted mentally and Gabrielle sighed. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair. How the Hades to explain this weirdness to her soulmate, she wondered and grinned at Xena who grinned back, looking grateful to see the familiar smile on Gabrielle's face.

"Can we talk, my love?" Xena asked softly.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed. "It's time, huh?"

"What do you mean?" Xena asked cautiously.

"There's some kind of wall between us and I know it's me." Gabrielle shrugged and bent down to retrieve her cloak. Xena moved forward and helped pull it around the smaller woman and pulled Gabrielle to her, looking down into the bard's green eyes.

"Whatever it is, it's not going to last long. I love you."

"I love you, Xena. So much." The warrior saw tears welling up in Gabrielle's eyes but the bard fought them back.

"Come on, let's go to the barn before you get cold from that workout."

"All right."

The barn was a small one room building that held their five horses, hay and not much more. Gabrielle had been curious about the cabin and barn, the place wasn't a farm, she could tell that. Hercules had explained that it had once been a hunter's cabin when game was plentiful in the region, before the Romans. They had taken it over when Brutus sent word that he had news of Gabrielle's location. The Greeks had made their home with a northern Germanic tribe further north.

Gabrielle sat down on a hay bale, suddenly getting a sense of Deja vu - how long ago had it been when the little bard sat down on a hay bale in her parent's barn, just discovering that Xena loved her as much as she loved the warrior? It seemed a life time.

She looked up and saw the same thoughts going through her mate's mind. She smiled a weary smile and pointed to the other hay bale.

"Where do I start?" Gabrielle complained, pulling one of her sais and playing with it. It reminded Xena of how she herself would use sharpening her sword as a distraction or a focus.

"The beginning?" Xena suggested.

"You know I was taken by Romans and sold to slavers..."

"No, all of it, little one. Until you talk about you can't heal from it."

"Why?!" the bard suddenly demanded, jumping to her feet and pacing, twirling the sais in her hand. "Do you want me to tell you about every man I've killed? Do you want me to describe every blow?!" she snapped.

"If you need to." Xena said simply, keeping her voice neutral.

"Arrrrggghhh!" Xena wasn't surprised when one of the sais ended up in a barn post followed by the other one. Xena was surprised with the speed of the bard turned warrior.

Gabrielle turned and faced her lover, breathing heavy, looking angry and tears threatening to spill out of her eyes.

"Why, damnit!? Why do you need to hear it?"

"I don't. I've got a pretty good idea of what happened to you. You need to get it out."

"Why, I thought you forgave anything I've done?!" Gabrielle demanded.

"I have, you haven't forgiven yourself." Xena answered.

Gabrielle blinked and the anger left her face in a wave. Xena quickly caught her bard as the woman fell forward, her knees buckling. She collapsed into Xena's arms, the sobs finally beginning.

Xena pulled them to the hay and held her lover close, rocking and talking to her until the tears had slowed enough for Gabrielle to talk.

Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle's cloak off of her and covered them with it as the bard settled in between Xena's legs and into her strong forearms.

"Iolaus tried to fight them so I could get away but they shot my horse out from under me and I couldn't run. I thought they killed him. He wasn't moving and they said they were going to throw him in the river," she whispered.

"They did. We didn't find him until the next day," Xena answered.

"How did he live?" Gabrielle asked in wonderment.

"He had to save you. I swear the Greeks will never be totally conquered, we're too damn stubborn."

Gabrielle smiled at that one. Then she frowned. "He wakes up calling my name."

"Yes," Xena said simply.

Xena felt the bard's body begin trembling and she tightened her embrace.

"They hurt me. They hit me and ...." Gabrielle hesitated.

"Go on," Xena urged.

"I can't." Gabrielle whispered.

"Let it out, little one," the warrior urged. "They raped you. They beat you and took turns raping you over and over again." Xena felt her own tears falling and could feel Gabrielle beginning to cry again. Xena hoped that was a good sign.

"Yes," the bard whispered. "Iolaus did see it."

"Yes," Xena answered.

"I'm glad I didn't know. I don't think I could have lived with that as well," she muttered.

"He lived so we could find you eventually. He wouldn't quit," Xena reminded her.

"They sold me to slavers the next day. They beat me, drugged me and .... raped me." Gabrielle whispered, clinging to her warrior's forearm, tears falling on the tanned skin.

"It's all right, little one. You weren't at fault!"

"Not for that, no," she agreed and Xena frowned, there was something the bard was feeling guilty over, she thought to herself. "Go on."

"I was sold to a gladiator school in Italia in the city of Aqualeia. That's where I met Nikki, Nikkita. She was a trainer at the school and knew who I was and warned me to keep quiet about my name and background. Nikki talked the owner, Lycrassis, into a bet so she could train me to be a fighter rather than a kitchen slave." Gabrielle continued.

"Why a fighter and not a cook?" Xena asked.

"Because kitchen slaves serve as sex slaves to the men and she didn't want that for the Queen of the Amazons. She figured I might have a chance in the Arena and none in the kitchen. I found out that she's an Amazon from the Northern tribes. She became my trainer and protector."

Xena felt Gabrielle's body tense up and felt the bard's hesitation.

"And?" she urged.

"To keep Lycrassis and his men off of me, she said that she wanted me as bedmate and he agreed. We had to convince him we were lovers," Gabrielle whispered.

Xena felt her jaw muscles clench and knew the answer to the next question already.

"Were you?" she forced herself to ask.

"Yes," again Gabrielle's body began to shake as she began weeping again. Xena tightened her hold on the bard as Gabrielle attempted to flee Xena's arms. She kept her hold tight until Gabrielle quit fighting and turned into her warrior's body, crying. Xena felt her own tears running down her face.

"Do you love her?" Xena asked.

"No!" Gabrielle cried out and managed to escape her lover's arms with the quickness of her trained body now. She pulled the cloak around her and began pacing again, looking very small. "And she knew that!" she yelled. "It was to save my neck! Everything that happened, every danger everyone went through was to save my neck! That bastard would stand outside the window and watch!" With a sudden side kick a board in a stall was in pieces. Xena watched her bard carefully, wiping away her own tears.

"I used her, Xena. I took her friendship, her love for me, her desire for me and I used her body as a shield, just to protect myself!" Gabrielle went to her knees in front of her warrior. "I thought my path was to protect others, not use them to protect me!"

Xena gathered the small woman back in her arms as fresh tears wracked the bard's body.

"First rule in life is survival, Gabrielle. You know that. We can't protect others if we're dead." Xena tried to reassure her little bard.

"I know, I couldn't think of anything except getting back to you."

"Does she love you?" Xena asked.

"Yes, I think so. She knows I don't love her but it went further than just play acting." Gabrielle clung to her warrior, almost flinching, as if waiting for a physical blow.

"How so? You turned to her for comfort? How is that wrong?"

"How is it wrong?" the bard repeated angrily. "Did you have a lover while I was gone?" she demanded, sitting up in Xena's lap.

"No, but I was safe and with people who loved me and could support me in other ways. Besides, I was busy having a baby. I wasn't feeling too sexual there at the end." Xena grinned and was pleased when Gabrielle shook her head, trying not to smile but unable to help herself. Gabrielle smiled, picturing Xena pregnant in the last stages and crawled back into the warrior's arms.

"How did Brutus find you?" Xena asked.

"My first kill," Gabrielle whispered. "I was only two months in training when Lycrassis decided to test me. When I got into the arena I saw Brutus in the guest box. He recognized me, I still had my hair and hadn't put on my helmet yet. Fortunately, he didn't say a word."

"Two months, how long did Brutus know where you were?" Xena growled.

"Easy, lover. He was on his way to Britannia and couldn't do anything for us until he got back. I..... I won the match." Again the bard was on her feet and pacing.

"I killed this irritating little Arab eunuch!" Gabrielle kicked another board into pieces. "I became exactly what I swore I wouldn't! I kill easily, Xena. Without thinking about it, like a machine or a trained animal."

"Yes, like a trained animal." Xena agreed, standing up. Gabrielle looked at her puzzled, not expecting Xena to agree with the description. The little warrior stopped pacing.

"You were like a trained animal, Gabrielle. You're not a callous killer, you were surviving, there's a difference. What happened after your matches? How did you feel?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did you feel like you were on fire? Like you could take on anyone and anything? Like you either had to kill someone or bed them quickly?" Xena asked, approaching her mate, keeping eye contact.

"No," the bard whispered. "I usually threw up and wanted a bath."

Xena smiled reassuringly. "That's the difference, Gabrielle, you'll never be a true killer. Like me." Xena lost her smile but not the sadness in her eyes.

"Like you? That's how you felt?" Gabrielle asked, eyes widening. Xena sighed, they had never talked about this before.

"Yes," Xena admitted.

"Wait a minute, watching you fight turns me on, is that the same?"

"No, watching you move, dancing or fighting, turns me on too. Fighting also turns me on and the killing used to do it for me."

"No remorse?" Gabrielle frowned.

"Not at first, I was too wrapped up in revenge and hatred. My beloved brother was dead and I had been raped. Then later I realized that hatred was an empty feeling and I used fear to fill that. It can bring such a rush to have people absolutely terrified of you. That power thing," Xena shrugged, sitting back down in the hay, not looking at Gabrielle. The bard followed and sat down in front of the warrior. "Then later I realized that fear was empty too and there was nothing inside of me. The hatred had burned up everything inside." Xena wiped away a tear. "I began to be sickened by what I had become and everything around me. I didn't have soldiers, I had bandits, rapists, murderers, all of them scum and they were using me and my skills to destroy anything in their way. When I got in their way, they tried to destroy me."

"You chose to leave that, Xena. You weren't dead inside," Gabrielle said gently.

"That's my bard, trying to reassure me when we were talking about you."

Gabrielle grinned and threw a handful of hay at her mate. "Where were we?"

"Brutus found you but left," Xena reminded her.

"Right, fortunately he had made a wager with Lycrassis that he wanted me very badly and made Lycrassis agree not to sell me or Nikki for a year until he returned."

"Wasn't Lycrassis suspicious of a friendship between a high ranking Roman general and a barely trained gladiator slave?"

"No, Brutus forced me into his bed that night."

Xena growled and Gabrielle grinned and held out her hand. "Easy, lover. He didn't hurt me. Well, he did hit me but I insisted. He bruised me, tied me up and made it look like he had forced me and had been brutal about it. Lycrassis believed him."

"It took a year to get back from Britain."

"Over a year to settle things there. Then Lycrassis wouldn't sell us. He was making money on me and I think planning to take me to Rome himself soon. Brutus was forced to reveal my name and told Lycrassis that Caesar wanted me but to keep quiet until you fell into the trap."

"Clever, Brutus, very clever."

Gabrielle nodded. "Do you know how much he was risking for me? Because he loves me he is willing to risk his future, his fortune, his life!" Gabrielle was shouting again and began pacing.

"You'll get your exercise just jumping up and down all morning," Xena complained and Gabrielle glared at her.

"Nikki sleeps with me to protect me, Brutus risks everything and I don't even sleep with him! What would you have done, Xena?" Gabrielle turned to her lover.

"What do you mean?"

"What if Caesar had gotten me? Would you have left Sasha and risked a trap to try and save me or would you have let me go to raise Sasha safely?"

Xena blinked and frowned. It was a question she had been asking herself for months, ever since Gabrielle had disappeared and they had word that Caesar was looking for her. What would she do?

"I don't know, I know I can't live without you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle's anger faded quickly.

"I know that now." Xena looked puzzled. "I tried to kill myself once."

Xena went pale and grabbed her bard by the arms, looking deep in Gabrielle's eyes.

"No," she whispered.

Gabrielle nodded. "I was tired and couldn't imagine making it a year or three years in the Arena. No one wins their freedom in the Arena."

"You did."

Gabrielle smiled a sad smile. "And many people died to get me there. I couldn't have even dreamed of winning the wooden sword of the gladiators. I couldn't even dream of living to see you anymore. You had Sasha and I knew you could go on without me."

"I couldn't!" Xena protested.

"I didn't know that for certain!" Gabrielle snapped. "Everyone around me was in danger because of who I am! You, Hercules, Iolaus, Brutus, Nikki, Sasha - everyone! I was killing people just to survive, just by my living people were in danger and I was using people I loved." Gabrielle's head dropped and she sank to her knees. "I couldn't do it any more, Xena."

Xena walked up behind her lover and placed her hands on the small woman's shoulders.

"I understand." she said simply. "What happened?"

"Hah! I decided that I would go down in the Arena, easy way out, right? Oh no, not this idiot!" she laughed and Xena wasn't sure she was seeing the humor in this. "I get a fighter that couldn't fight off a fly. He was worse than Joxer!" Xena wasn't sure anyone was worse than Joxer but let that one go. "I would have to drop my weapons, place my head on the chopping block and guide his ax before he could beat me," the warrior bard complained.

"What did you do?" Xena asked with a smile, beginning to see the absurd humor in the situation.

Gabrielle lost her smile. "I cut his hamstring and crippled him permanently. It got him out of the Arena alive. Part of it was my anger though, I was mad at him for being so lousy a fighter. I then turned my sword, blade at my heart and I fell forward."

Gabrielle felt the warrior's hands tighten on her shoulders in response and the warrior's body jerk. Xena had seen that type of death before.

"What?" she demanded, pulling Gabrielle to her feet and facing the warrior. "How?"

"Apollo." Gabrielle said with a shrug.

"Apollo, as in your patron god?" Xena asked.

"No, Apollo as in my father; the god of the Sun, Apollo." Gabrielle grinned. "He stopped me and gave me a reason to live."

"What was that."

Gabrielle looked up, tears filling her eyes once more. "He showed me you with Sasha and that Iolaus was alive. He told me that you couldn't live without me."

"I can't." Xena agreed.

Gabrielle hesitated, reluctant to continue. Xena's eyes narrowed.

"What else did he say or show you?"

"That if I died that you would follow and Sasha would become Ares' and take over your dark destiny." Gabrielle turned away from her lover, afraid of how her mate would take this type of news.

Xena answered with a long sentence of curses. She finally came up behind the warrior bard and wrapped her arms around the small woman. "What did you tell him?"

"I asked him why the gods couldn't find someone else to mess with besides you and me and now Sasha." Gabrielle grinned.

Xena, knowing Gabrielle's sharp tongue could picture that scene easily.

"I love you," Xena whispered, nuzzling the bard's neck.

"He then said the fate of the world depended on me getting back to you." Gabrielle whispered as she bared her neck for Xena's lips and teeth.

"What did you say?" Xena asked, trailing her tongue from the bard's earlobe to her collarbone.

"Wha...? I told him I was getting tired of the saving the world stuff."

Xena grinned and nodded in agreement as Gabrielle's hand reached behind and laced through her dark hair, pulling the warrior's head back to the bard's neck. Xena was happy to change her focus from saving the world to worshipping at her lover's neck right then. Gabrielle hadn't been ready to be touched since they had found each other again. Xena knew it was because of the guilt the bard had been feeling. Now she was hoping they were past that. The bard seemed past it, she thought.

Gabrielle moaned as the warrior's hands slid down the bard's tight stomach and started caressing her thighs, trailing her thumbs on the inside of the little warrior's thighs, pulling Gabrielle back into the warrior as Xena captured her neck with her lips and teeth.

"Oh Gods, it's been so long! Just your touch...."

"Shhh, little one." Xena whispered and bit down on Gabrielle's earlobe.

The warrior's hands began caressing Gabrielle through her trousers and the bard's body began trembling and jerking.

"I can't stand up!" she whispered.

"Too bad," Xena growled and slipped a hand down the bard's trousers while the other hand moved under Gabrielle's tunic and grasped one of the woman's breasts. Gabrielle began whimpering and felt her knees buckle but was held up by the warrior's hand sliding in-between her folds and claiming her body once more. Xena wrapped her arm around the bard's ribs.

"I remember when you bit me after becoming a bacchae," Xena whispered in her lover's ear, causing Gabrielle to moan and then whimper as the warrior's fingers entered her, impaling her and holding her up at the same time. The sensation of trying to stand and let her body take over was driving the bard crazy and heightening the sensations.

"I never felt anything like that," Xena continued, kissing the bard's neck. "when you bit me it felt more intense than any shaman journey I went on with Alti, more sexual than anything I had ever felt. I wanted you so badly right in that moment. I never wanted your fangs to leave me. I wanted your hand inside of me and I wanted to taste your blood and your sex."

Gabrielle was almost crying as her body trembled uncontrollably. Xena increased the speed and strength of her thrusts and bit down on the bard's neck, hard. Gabrielle screamed Xena's name and the warrior let them fall backwards into the hay, maintaining her hold on and in the bard on top of her until Gabrielle's body quit jerking and spasming with wave after wave of orgasm. Xena carefully removed her hand and let the bard slide off of her and then took the bard into her arms, as the tears began to flow again.

Xena rocked her lover as Gabrielle wept, all the pent up emotions of over a year finally getting released.

Hercules looked up from his wood pile and leaned on his ax as the warrior approached the cabin, carrying a sleeping bard, her boots crunching in the light snow.

"Did you kill her or work it out?" he grinned and was pleased with her blushing face.

"We worked some of it out. It's going to take a long time to heal."

"I know. I'm hoping that Iolaus' nightmares will start to settle down now that Gabrielle's back and well."

"He loves you very much," Xena commented.

"I know, I'm not sure he's ready for that though," the demi-god muttered.

"You almost lost him that day and I lost Gabrielle for over a year. I was a fool to wait all that time to tell her how I felt." Xena urged and then shrugged with a smile.

"Iolaus is inside with Sasha."

"He's quite taken with her," Xena grinned.

"Yup," he grinned back. "Nikki's in there too."

"Good, I'm going to let this one sleep. I'm not sure she's made it through an entire night in two years."

Xena carried the sleeping bard to their bed and gently laid Gabrielle on the sleeping furs and tenderly covered the woman. She looked up and saw Iolaus playing with Sasha near the fire, rolling a wooden ball back and forth with her, his left arm in its permanent sling. He grinned at the sight of Gabrielle sleeping and nodded in agreement that he thought this was a good sign along with Hercules.

Xena noticed Nikki watching as well. Xena nodded towards the door and Nikki nodded in agreement and grabbed her cloak.

Iolaus caught Hercules coming in as the two women headed for the barn.

"Did you take away their weapons?" Hercules asked with just a hint of humor.

"Nikki's in love with Gabrielle." Iolaus commented, going back to playing with Sasha.

"Yup and I'm not sure what Gabrielle told Xena either."

"You think there's something between Nikki and Gabrielle?" Iolaus asked with a frown.

"I don't know, Brutus said Gabrielle had to do a lot of things to survive. I wouldn't be surprised if she turned to Nikki for comfort. You've never seen the Arena, that's a very hard life for anyone, especially Gabrielle."

"Gods, no. Nothing can come between them." Iolaus shook his head in disbelief.

"I hope so, my friend." Hercules leaned down and ruffled his friend's hair fondly and was pleased when Iolaus grinned up at him. Gods, had he fallen for his best friend? Hades, why not? He loved Xena as well. Then the demi-god frowned to himself, this felt different.

Xena motioned to the hay bales she and Gabrielle had been sitting on early in the morning and Nikki carefully sat down, holding her crutch close to hand. One positive thing about being a cripple, she thought, you always had a weapon at hand.

Xena sat down on the other bale, facing the Norse Amazon.

"You love her." Xena said simply.

"Yes," Nikki admitted, watching Xena's hands carefully. "She's not in love with me, though. I know that, warrior."

"You were lovers," Xena stated.

Nikki stopped breathing for a moment. "Yes, did she also tell you why?"

"Yes, at first it was to protect her, then it was something else later."

"Yes," Nikki admitted. "I wasn't exactly unwilling to make love to her." She heard Xena growl. "I also know it was hard for her. It was your name that she bit into a blanket to keep from calling out when that bastard was watching and listening, it was your name I had to cover her lips from crying out in a nightmare every night. It was your face and your eyes she looked for every single morning. Not mine, Xena. She never loved me, and, give her credit, she never pretended to."

"You still want her."

Nikki laughed loudly. "Get some reality, Xena! Of course I do! Hasn't everyone that's ever met her?"

Xena did have to grin at that one.

"That doesn't mean that I would act on those feelings ever again. We're not in the same situation and she doesn't think of me like that. Yours is the only body and soul she'll ever want again. Later as time went on, we sought each other for sex but there was friendship and nothing more. I held her while she cried afterwards but it was you she was crying for." Nikki told the warrior.

"What happens now?" Xena asked.

"I can either make my way back to the Amazons or go further north and seek my parent's people out."

"You can travel and stay with us when we go north," Xena offered but Nikki shook her head.

"You know I can't do that. There's nothing between Gabrielle and me and there never will be but it'll always be there, Xena. Always. I've shared her body with you. I have to find my own mate and keep my friendship with both of you. If I stay I don't think that would last."

"You're right. I'm sorry, you've been a good friend to Gabrielle and I know that."

"She's my Queen." Nikki shrugged.

"Didn't she tell you that she's not Queen anymore?" Xena grinned.

"Of course, from the very beginning but that didn't matter. Once a Queen, always a Queen."

Xena grinned, shaking her head.

Hercules grinned to himself when they walked in. At least neither of them appeared wounded nor dead.

"Nikki, how am I supposed to say goodbye to you," Gabrielle demanded as they walked along the trail leading south.

The Amazon Viking had already said her farewells to Xena, Hercules and Iolaus a few moments before. She had been surprised when Xena hadn't protested her lover walking Nikki down the road for a ways to make her own good-byes.

Nikki tried to smile. "Don't you dare make me cry, damnit," she teased the small woman beside her.

Gabrielle smiled a sad smile and stopped. Nikki turned to face her.

The bard wondered how to say goodbye when she couldn't even sort out her feelings right then. Nikki had been her trainer, her friend and sort of lover. The woman had saved her life on many levels and Gabrielle felt guilty for using the Amazon's love and attraction to the bard to stay alive.

Nikki smiled and lifted Gabrielle's chin to look gray eyes into green ones. She gently wiped away a tear from the bard's cheek.

"You could stay and go north with us." Gabrielle whispered and then shook her head herself. "No, I know you can't. I'm sorry."

Nikki raised the bard's chin again and grinned. "You are no longer Dancer and no longer Brie the gladiator. You have to find Gabrielle again and I can't help you with that. I have myself to find. I love you and probably always will but my mate is someone and somewhere else."

"I'm sorry about everything," Gabrielle whispered, hugging the tall woman.

"Nothing to be sorry for. We were in a position of survival and I found a friend, a friend who helped me get my freedom. Thank you."

"Thank you for training me and keeping me alive." Gabrielle smiled as she pulled back out of the embrace. "You'll always be my friend."

"Thank you, my Queen." Nikki grinned and then leaned down and kissed the bard lightly on the lips and then climbed up on her horse.

With a grin she was gone down the road at a fast trot, leaving the small bard to watch. Gabrielle frowned and began walking slowly back to the cabin where Xena waited for her.

The bard felt lost. She wasn't Dancer, the gladiator; she wasn't Brie, Roman slave but she didn't feel like Gabrielle either. Her boots crunched in the light covering of snow on the ground. Hercules wanted to move north as soon as possible to avoid the deepening snow. Gabrielle wasn't sure how she felt about that. The bard knew they had to get out of Roman territory, so they couldn't return to Greece but she wasn't sure she wanted to go North either. Gabrielle didn't know where she wanted to go and didn't feel like she belonged anywhere.

She was surprised to find Hercules and Iolaus gone when she returned to the cabin. The bard raised her eyebrows at the sight of Xena cooking at the fireplace while Sasha played on the floor next to her Mom with some blocks of wood. Xena smiled at her mate as Gabrielle pulled off her woolen cloak and stamped her boots against the doorway.

"You okay?" Xena asked as Gabrielle pulled up a chair on the other side of Sasha.

"Yeah, feels weird. Nikki and I were side by side for over a year, the only time we weren't was when I was in the Arena."

"She's a good friend." Xena commented, stirring a pot.

"Yes, I seem to have a good number of them." Gabrielle smiled. "Where's Herc and Iolaus?"

"They've gone hunting for a couple of days. I think Hercules is giving us some time alone here and some time alone for them."

Gabrielle raised her eyebrows again. "Is he going to tell Iolaus how he feels?"

"I don't know. They seem to be a lot like us, everyone knows but them." Xena grinned.

"A couple of days," Gabrielle repeated.

"Yup. Are you okay with that?"

Even though they had talked two days earlier and Xena had even made love to her, Gabrielle still felt the wall between them and was getting more and more frustrated as to how to knock it down. "Yeah, I know we need it."

Xena watched as her mate began absently pulling on her tunic hem, an obvious sign that Gabrielle was nervous and distraught. The warrior waited. Gabrielle's head dropped.

"I need you, Xena," she whispered and the warrior was kneeling in front of her in a flash. Gabrielle looked into her mate's blue eyes with tears threatening to flow. "I want you so badly that it hurts physically but I freeze every time I start to reach for you. Help me!" she suddenly pleaded and Xena took the small bard in her arms.

"Shhhh, it's all right, little one. I'm here, I'm not going anywhere as long as you'll have me," Xena whispered, stroking the blonde's hair and holding her tight.

After a few minutes Gabrielle pulled back, wiping tears away. She attempted a grin at her mate.

"I don't know how to get past this," she admitted.

"A little bit at a time, my love." Xena smiled reassuringly.

Sasha laughed and threw a block of wood, hitting her mom in the ankle. "Ouch!" Xena growled and turned, quickly grabbing her daughter and swinging the laughing little bundle in her arms and began tickling the little one.

Gabrielle couldn't help but grin. Watching Xena with the child had been a revelation to the little bard. She was seeing sides of Xena that the warrior didn't even know about. The bard grinned even wider and moved down into the floor on the fur with her two loved ones, laying on an elbow, watching the two play.

Xena grinned, watching as Gabrielle began to relax. She surprised the bard by handing over the still giggling Sasha and went to the fireplace and stirred the pot of deer stew. Gabrielle laughed as Sasha tackled her and sat on the bard's very firm abs.

"Oooofff!" Gabrielle teased, holding Sasha's hands and rocking her back and forth with her legs.

"I wanted to be there when you were born, Sasha, so badly." Gabrielle said to the blue eyes that looked so familiar.

"I wish you had been, my love." Xena commented, walking over and grabbing bowls off a shelf. To the bowls she added spoons, a loaf of bread, some cheese and a bottle of wine.

"Knowing you, it wasn't your usual birth. Tell me about it." Gabrielle grinned over her shoulder at Xena, dishing out the stew into the bowls.

Xena grinned back. "Actually it wasn't a simple birth. Well, the birth was, the place and timing weren't." While they ate Xena told her mate the circumstances of Sasha's birth. The raid on the steading, the quick flight to the hunting cabin with Xena in labor. Gabrielle grinned at the thought of Xena bouncing around in a speeding wagon while in labor. She got a piece of bread thrown at her for that giggle.

Xena lost her smile as she described the battle at the cabin, the strange woman warrior coming to their aid. Sasha, Axel's wife of their adopted Germanic family, helping deliver the baby and then standing beside Iolaus in defense against the raiders and falling to an ax. Of Ketli the Mouse, a small boy burying a hatchet in the neck of a raider and stabbing another with a sword. A boy only a few summers old. Xena told her mate of the warrior woman finishing off the raiders, suffering what must have been devastating and fatal wounds only to disappear.

"Do you think she was a Valkyrie, like Ketli said?" Gabrielle asked.

"I don't know. They don't seem to have many personal visits from their gods up here and everyone was amazed by the story." Xena shrugged.

"I could get used to the gods not bothering us," Gabrielle grinned.

"Even though Sasha is the daughter of one?" Xena asked seriously.

"As long as he stays out of our lives until the end of time, I'd be happy." Gabrielle stated, handing Sasha another piece of bread.

"I'll agree to that. I wonder if we can ever go back to Greece." Xena frowned.

"He found me at Lycrassis' school." Gabrielle whispered and,watched Xena go pale. Gabrielle closed her eyes, remembering. "He taunted me about Nikki," Gabrielle whispered and focused on Sasha and helping the little one get more food in her than on her. Xena waited, watching the tears begin to fall from her beloved's eyes again.

"He offered to zap both of us out of there, to anywhere we wanted, if I told him where you were and why you left Greece."

"Terrific. I guess he hasn't given up," Xena muttered.

Gabrielle laughed a bitter laugh. "Hardly."

"Why didn't you tell him and get the Hades out of there?" Xena asked with a frown.

"I couldn't tell him where you were and why you left Greece!" Gabrielle protested.

"You could have taken the chance that he wouldn't be powerful enough outside of Greek and Roman territories and gotten out of that pit."

"No, I couldn't!" Gabrielle stormed to her feet and began pacing. "I couldn't do that, Xena. I didn't even think about it."

"Then why do you doubt your love for me now?" Xena asked softly and the bard stopped dead, a shocked look on her face and then she frowned.

"Is that what I'm doing?" she whispered.

"You won't forgive yourself for everything that happened and you won't forgive me for not finding you."

Gabrielle was on her knees in front of Xena's chair in an instant, removing the warrior's bowl and grabbing Xena's hands. "No, that's not it. I probably would have beaten you senseless if I thought you were putting yourself in danger for me again with Sasha on the way," Gabrielle protested.

"Then forgive yourself, little one! I'd rather have you alive than a corpse on some fire heap outside a Roman villa," Xena urged.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head in Xena's hands. "I keep seeing the faces, every time I close my eyes. The men who hurt me, the men I killed, Caesar, Lycrassis, all of them."

"You're free, Gabrielle. You're back with me," Xena whispered, kissing the top of the bard's head.

"I'm not back with myself, Xena." Gabrielle looked up into the blue eyes, her face reflecting the feeling of loss that was overwhelming her.

"We have to find a way to settle Brie, Dancer and Gabrielle together. You can't go back to what you were, little one. You've been through too much."

"How do I get those damned faces out of my thoughts?!" Gabrielle suddenly demanded.

"The ones you killed or the ones who raped you?" Xena asked softly.

"Both," the bard whispered.

"You don't." Xena said bluntly. "That's what wakes me up at night and then I find you holding me and comforting me. It eases with time but it never goes away."

Gabrielle frowned and Xena stood up and walked up behind her bard and wrapped her strong arms around her lover as Sasha began banging her spoon in her bowl. Gabrielle grinned at the sight of the little one covered with food.

"Your other little one is calling, my love."

"Ack!" Xena quickly kissed Gabrielle's neck and then bent and scooped up her daughter. "Bath for you!" she grinned and Gabrielle followed.

As they waited for water to heat up for the small tub Xena began removing her little daughter's clothes while Sasha grinned and resisted. "Hey you! Come back here!" Xena said playful, lifting her daughter in the air and getting a delighted squeal from the youngster.

Gabrielle poured water into the wash basin and watched Xena begin the task of bathing Sasha and attempt to keep most of the water in the tub without getting everyone and everything soaked. Gabrielle grinned and then lost her smile.

"Want to talk about it?" Xena asked.

"Why not. You asked me the other day how I felt after a match, after I killed someone," the bard began and the warrior nodded. "I told you I usually threw up and wanted a bath. That wasn't it totally." Gabrielle turned and walked over to the fire and Xena waited for her to continue.

"During the match I was Dancer, nothing existed but the match. The other fighter or fighters. I felt..... I felt, alive. Does that make sense?" Gabrielle turned to her warrior.

"Yes," Xena nodded.

"My skills kept me alive. It was like a dance, a deadly dance and I was good at it and my body responded to that. The thought of having just killed someone sickened me but the dance, it made my blood sing." Gabrielle closed her eyes to the admission.

"I understand that," Xena said simply.

"You asked if I felt the need to bed someone or kill someone else after a fight," Gabrielle opened her eyes and they were narrowed. Xena wasn't sure where this was going but the tension in the air was suddenly very thick. She pulled Sasha out of the water and into a warm towel. She moved carefully to a chair by the fireplace to dry the youngster off.

"Yes, it's common after a battle," Xena said carefully.

Gabrielle's jaw clinched and she turned back to the fire.

"Are you still feeling guilty that you turned to Nikki for that?" Xena asked softly.

Gabrielle turned, tears filling her eyes. "You knew?"

"Yes, my love. You would throw up after a match and then find Nikki. A sense of desperation tearing at your soul and body, needing human contact and sexual release, it would hit you like a tidal wave." Xena carefully kept her eye on Sasha, letting the bard absorb the description. When she glanced up Gabrielle's hands were tight fists and her eyes were closed. The struggle evident on her face.

"Let it go, Gabrielle. You're human, I don't blame you for anything that happened while you were gone." Xena spoke softly, beginning to dress Sasha, wishing she could hold Gabrielle right then but unsure if the bard would let her.

With a yell of anger Gabrielle grabbed her cloak and was out the door.

Xena sighed and began rocking her daughter. "Time for a nap, Sasha, while your other mom works off some energy."

Xena sighed as Sasha finally drifted off to sleep. She carefully wrapped a blanket around her little one, grabbed her cloak, and then her sword and went out, following Gabrielle's footprints in the snow to the one room stable.

The warrior wasn't surprised to find the little bard practicing with her sais, her body already bathed in a light sheen of sweat and her breathing was a little heavy. Her eyes flashed as Xena entered the stable and dropped her cloak off her tall shoulders.

Xena carefully placed the sleeping child in the middle of a small haystack, arranging the blankets and hay to make a nest for the little one.

"Go away, please," Gabrielle growled.

"Nope, not this time, little one. You need some practice?" Xena pulled the sword out of its scabbard.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Gabrielle growled again and Xena could see Dancer in the eyes.

"You're used to practicing, why not with me?" Xena approached cautiously, swinging her sword a couple of times around her wrists and then over her other hand, catching it easily in her hand again. Beginning a dance of weapons.

Dancer's eyes narrowed as her body leaned slightly back, taking a defensive position. "Xena, I'm not... I don't...." Gabrielle tried to talk past Dancer's control.

"It's all right, let it go." Xena's experienced eyes sized up her smaller opponent with a nod of approval. Nikki had trained her little mate well, she thought. The small Greek moved like a Dancer, a deadly one. Xena grinned and launched herself forward with a series of sword strikes and found each of them neatly parried or blocked, she quickly twisted away from the blunt end of one of the sais, sliding just past her jawline. Both warriors separated and began circling, each looking for an opening.

Again the warriors met in the center of the room, sword and sais flashing. Xena realized quickly that the bard had been taught to go for crippling moves as soon as possible and barely dodged a heavy blow aimed for her shoulder but didn't avoid a closed fist alongside her eye from the other direction. She quickly reacted with a kick that sent the little bard back several feet.

Xena knew she could take Gabrielle but didn't want to end it just yet. Dancer's eyes were still flashing with the pent up anger of a hundred matches in the Arena and weeks of repeated beatings and rape. She brushed aside a trickle of blood flowing from a cut above her eye. Xena grinned to herself, at least when Hercules pushed her into releasing some of that anger she hadn't been armed. Xena was facing a deadly opponent who was armed. Countering that was the fact that it was Gabrielle, her mate. Xena was counting on Gabrielle coming through and conquering Dancer.

Xena just hoped that she didn't get too injured before Gabrielle won out. Also that she wouldn't have to hurt Gabrielle.

Gabrielle lunged forward and Xena reacted with a parry but found empty space as the gladiator dived forward into a roll and came up under Xena's sword with her sais in the warrior's ribs. Fortunately, Dancer was still in control enough to use the blunt end. Xena stumbled back and instinctively struck out with her free hand, catching Dancer across the jaw and sending the smaller woman stumbling back. Xena held back from rushing to her mate in concern as Dancer spit out blood, touching a split lip.

The Dancer was on her again with a shout and Xena blocked two strikes and found herself holding the gladiator to keep from hurting either of them. She dropped her sword and grabbed Dancer around the ribs and held tight.

"Come back to me, Gabrielle," Xena whispered.

Dancer yelled in anger and bent her legs enough to launch herself back into the warrior, taking both of them to the floor. Xena lost her grip and found herself in a wrestling match with the small woman. The warrior quickly grabbed Gabrielle's foot as the small fighter dived for her sais and yanked the blonde back. Xena growled in her throat as Dancer kicked out with the other foot and caught her in the chest.

Xena was finding herself at a distinct disadvantage. She was holding back and holding back a lot to keep from hurting Gabrielle. Her mate, however, was lost to the Dancer and wasn't holding back much.

Dancer grabbed the sais and Xena decided it was enough. She didn't fight back as the smaller woman tackled her to the floor again and straddled the warrior, a foot on Xena's sword wrist. Xena looked up into Dancer's eyes and the sais held over her throat.

"Gabrielle," she said simply.

Dancer blinked.

"Gabrielle, kiss me."

Xena watched the shift in Gabrielle's eyes from Dancer to bard and the fear start to overwhelm her lover. Gabrielle's foot shifted and Xena gently reached up and removed the sais from her mate's hands. She shifted underneath the smaller woman and pulled Gabrielle down on top of her, pinning the bard against her with her strong arms.

"No, don't run from this. It's part of you now. Kiss me and let that part of you go. I want you, now!" Xena whispered and pulled Gabrielle's head from behind and forced the bard's lips to her own.

Gabrielle resisted a moment and then attacked her lover's lips with a passion that even surprised the former Conqueror. The bard laced her fingers through Xena's hair and her tongue demanded entrance roughly. Xena moaned and obliged, both tongues fighting for dominance in their new exploration of each other. It was as if she was making love to Gabrielle for the first time.

The bard pulled back, sitting back on Xena's legs, breathing heavily. Xena looked up into the heavy lidded eyes.

"I want you now, Gabrielle. I want you to take me, claim me! I want your hand inside of me and your teeth in my neck." Xena sat up as Gabrielle moaned and closed her eyes. "Now!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle's face with her hands and brought the bard's lips back to her own, roughly. She pulled back slightly and let Gabrielle feel Xena's tongue taste the blood from the bard's split lip.

Gabrielle growled and claimed Xena's lips again, pushing the warrior back onto the hay they had landed on. As her mouth was working on bringing more moans out of her warrior, Gabrielle's hands were moving all over Xena's body, sending shocks up and down the warrior's body. The bard's hands grabbed at Xena's tunic and pulled it up with a growl and off of her warrior. Before Xena could move, Gabrielle's teeth grabbed one of her nipples roughly, her hand following suit with the other nipple. Xena cried out and felt her body arching and her loins responding with incredible wetness.

"Yes!" she hissed as Gabrielle's hand began tugging impatiently at the warrior's belt. She claimed Xena's lips again roughly as her hands worked at Xena's belt and trouser drawstring. Xena raised her hips as Gabrielle pulled back and yanked the warrior's trousers down with a growl and then pinned her back to the floor.

Xena wasn't sure if she was seeing Gabrielle or Dancer in the eyes any longer. She moved to grab Gabrielle's tunic and the blonde growled again and grabbed Xena's wrists with one of her strong hands and held the warrior's hands over her head. Xena felt a moment of ..... what? Fear, panic? Desire? All of them?

Gabrielle kissed Xena deeply and the warrior could feel the bard's soul reaching out and grabbing her and her body responding as well as her heart. She felt her back arching as the bard's other hand grasped one of her nipples and then the bard started kissing her warrior from her lips to her nipples, first one then the other and back to Xena's lips.

"Please, I need you!" Xena whispered.

Gabrielle let go of Xena's hands but growled when the warrior started to reach for her. The warrior smiled and let the bard continue with her attack upon her body and in a moment her back was arching, she was biting her lips and moaning as Gabrielle bit one of her nipples and a hand went between Xena's legs, discovering how wet the warrior was.

With another growl Gabrielle entered Xena, causing the warrior's hips to buck of their own accord and the warrior to cry out. The dark warrior grabbed fistfuls of hay as her body rocked with the rhythm that her bard was setting and Gabrielle's teeth moved up to her neck, finding the spot that always drove Xena insane. Somewhere in the back of her mind Xena realized that it was her own voice she was hearing crying out, begging the small bard for more and more, her body begging as well.

Xena's consciousness fled as she felt the bard's small fist claim her totally and the teeth threaten to break her skin and claim her blood as well. Everything centered on the rocking sensation and the fingers playing inside of her, threatening to expand the hand inside of her. Xena felt sweat running off her body as her breathing became more and more labored.

Gabrielle moved slowly down along her warrior's body, between Xena's legs, slowly moving her fist inside of her mate, her own eyes heavy with desire. The warrior almost screamed as Gabrielle's other hand found her clit and began massaging the tender and enflamed erotic spot. Xena felt tears falling from behind her closed eyes and her body shaking, hands trembling, opening and closing with the spasms that were wracking the rest of her body.

Gabrielle, feeling the muscles contracting and trembling inside of Xena, increased her speed and bent down to kiss the warrior for a moment and then turned her tongue to her warrior's clit. Time seemed to stop for the warrior as her body and soul rose higher and higher and Gabrielle tried to hold on. Xena couldn't tell how long her body shook and begged and climbed, pinned to her bard. She felt like her soul was only held on Earth by her connection to Gabrielle and the hand filling her and sending her higher.

Xena felt everything go red as a scream was ripped from her body involuntarily, her body taking over totally, giving over to her bard. Wave after wave assaulted her, like being tossed about on waves of a rough sea.

As Xena struggled to breathe again she opened her eyes and found her bard holding her, soothing her, wiping tears away from her warrior's face.

"Oh gods, what was that?" she grinned.

She was pleased to see Gabrielle blushing and reached up to touch her mate's face gently.

"I'm sorry if I was a little rough,." Gabrielle said softly.

"Don't apologize, damnit. I knew what I was doing," Xena grinned.

Gabrielle arranged herself next to her warrior, snuggling into Xena's shoulder, sighing with contentment with the familiar comfort.

"You knew?" Gabrielle whispered.

"I've been there, remember?" Xena smiled.

Suddenly Gabrielle was leaning on an elbow and looking deep in Xena's eyes. "You've been there," she repeated. "After a battle or a fight, right?"

"Yes," Xena admitted, feeling the beginning a blush coming to her face.

"Why didn't you turn to me if you were feeling that way?" Gabrielle asked with a frown.

"I was afraid," Xena admitted in a soft voice.

"Of what?" Gabrielle demanded.

"Of hurting you. I was afraid of losing control and hurting you, physically and emotionally. Things can get out of hand when the blood lust hits."

"No kidding, wait till you see your neck," Gabrielle grinned. "Xena," the bard hesitated, looking down at the warrior's hands.

"What, little one?" Xena smiled.

"How's your energy level now?" Gabrielle said boldly, blushing all the same.

"Let me show you." Xena grinned and rolled the bard onto her back.

"Xena," the warrior hesitated, looking deep in green eyes. "Don't be gentle, please."

Xena closed her eyes and moaned, feeling the fire of passion overcome her again. Her energy level hitting a new high. The warrior answered with a moan and quickly began stripping her mate of her clothing. As she reached for Gabrielle she felt a growl leave her throat and heard an answering one from her mate as her hand reached between Gabrielle's legs and she claimed the bard's lips at the same time with her teeth and tongue.

As several fingers entered the bard, Gabrielle bit down hard on Xena's shoulder and her nails dug into as well. Xena, what little conscious thought leaked through her passion fogged mind, reflected that Gabrielle seemed to enjoy those teeth. Left over remnants from being a bacchae?

Xena moaned and roughly added more to her hand and rhythm and bit down on the bard's neck, almost drawing blood herself. Her thumb found the bard's clit and Gabrielle cried out, almost pulling Xena over her own edge again with just the sound.

"Yes! Take me!" Gabrielle growled, tossing her head back in passion.

Xena growled and shifted slightly, causing the bard to whimper when Xena removed her hand from the bard. Xena turned the bard into her and quickly entered Gabrielle from behind and biting down on the bard's neck from behind. Gabrielle cried out, grabbing the hay, hands flailing as if grasping in drowning. Xena pulled back to whisper in her bard's ear.

"I remember the bacchae, my love. This is how I wanted you to take me right then, so badly. Remember how I moaned as you drank from me? I felt your body connect to me right then, I could feel your passion. It wasn't just the blood. I should have taken you right then after that fight."

Gabrielle moaned, arching back into the warrior.

"Xena!" she cried.

"Yes, my love?" Xena smiled, nibbling on the bard's ear, slowing the rhythm of her hand, pulling a frustrated cry from her mate.

"Take me, damnit! Now!" Gabrielle pleaded and then gasped as Xena added more fingers and increased the speed and depth of her thrusts. Gabrielle cried out, almost screaming right then as her body began to shake at Xena's hand. "Gods, yes!" she growled and then did scream as Xena bit her neck again.

Xena felt the bard's body thrashing and bucking, her hips rocking back to meet Xena's fingers, demanding more and more and the warrior moaned, pulling the bard's body close to her, whimpering with the contact of skin to skin and the bard's rising passion.

"Oh gods," she whispered, feeling her own edge approaching again as she took her mate higher and higher until Gabrielle was crying and whimpering, wordlessly begging for release. The bard bit her own lip, opening the fresh wound and tasting her own blood, and suddenly she felt like a lightning bolt went crashing through her. She screamed again.

Xena felt her own body thrusting against the bard, matching Gabrielle's rhythm and then the bard's muscles contracting again and again as the bard screamed her name and curled into a fetal ball in the warrior's arms. Xena cried out with her own release with Gabrielle and then curled around her mate.

"I love you, Xena," the bard whispered.

"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered, using her sword to grab her cloak and spread it over them.

Xena didn't say anything about the scars on her mate's back from lashings of a whip nor about the scar of the gladiator brand on her shoulder. They could handle that later, she thought, nuzzling down into sleep with her love.

When Hercules and Iolaus returned two days later they both raised eyebrows at the sight of the cut above Xena's eye, bruise along her jaw and the bard's cut lip and black eye but said nothing when the women didn't volunteer any information. They also took in the massive bruising at each woman's neck and decided they probably didn't want the details of those bruises.

Xena and Gabrielle also noticed, with smiles, similar bruises on the necks of the Greek warriors.

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