Disclaimer: The story is my own creation and is not intended to infringe upon the copyrights of MCA & Universal.
This story is about the love shown between two women, and although not graphic in the least, if this would bother you, go read something else. If you are underage, why are you here? Go hang out with your friends at the mall.
She didn't remember when the subtle change had occurred. When the friendship had made a transformation from its sisterly and friendly bond to that of an aching need to get closer. She only knew that it existed. She thought sadly that it was unfair to have these feelings, knowing they'd be unfulfilled. It was a bittersweet sensation of cherishing the closeness between them and the regret of not being able to change it.
She looked at her friend, resisting the urge to rest her weary head upon her shoulder, and to wrap her arms around her. To find solace and peace within her embrace. Her very presence was comforting, but she still wanted more.
Two women walked in exhaustion along the rocky path. The road was half washed away by the Spring rains from earlier that year. The resulting floods had loosened the gravel and stones and causing mud slides. Now, in the Summer's heat, the mud had hardened into mounds of uneven groves, making the path too dangerous to ride.
They stepped over branches and holes, doing their best not to twist an ankle or lose their footing. The taller of the two held onto the reins of a palomino, guiding her around the fallen log in their path. Her companion, in her exhaustion, missed the branch sticking out from its side, and tripped over it. The tall woman's reflexes allowed her to drop the reins and catch her friend with both hands. She helped her companion stand upright, and released her.
"You Okay?", she asked with concern.
"Fine. If you ignore the fact that I'm so tired and hot that I can't see straight.", she complained good-naturedly. She continued walking.
"I'm hoping that we'll come across a lake or stream soon. If we do, we'll stop for the day. This heat is just too much to take this time of year. We need the break."
"I never thought I'd see the day when you'd admit needing to stop and rest.", the reddish-blond teased. She sent her a playful smile, letting her know it was said in fun. Her tall friend shot her the 'look', but couldn't keep it up for long, her humorous side escaping.
"Even former warlords get tired, Gabrielle. I'm not a god--I'm mortal just like everyone else.", she chided.
Xena snapped her head towards Gabrielle. Those words had been spoken so lightly and sadly, that she had almost missed them. It hadn't been all that long ago when Gabrielle, ruling as the Amazon Queen, had risked her life in order to bring her back from the dead. The experience had been hard on the naturally gentle soul, and they had never fully discussed it, allowing them to move on. She vowed they would talk about it soon in spite of her uneasiness about the subject. She hated talking about her inner feelings, preferring to keep them locked inside. But her friend needed to talk more than she needed her solitude.
They spotted the small hidden pond, surrounded by towering trees and thick foliage. The only reason they found it was by the keen sense of smell of the horse. Argo had pulled away from the warrior woman, her desire for fresh water over-riding the habit of following meekly. They had followed the horse into the grove and smiled with delight at their discovery.
"Set up camp or swim first?", Gabrielle asked, hoping for the second choice. Xena's silent reply made the Bard laugh.
Xena yanked off her heavy pieces of armor, tossing them to the ground, a mischievous grin on her face. Gabrielle laughed, and determined not to be beaten into the pond, followed suit, pulling off her boots and clothing. She didn't have quite as much to remove, so she beat the Warrior to the water.
Gabrielle squealed in shock as the cold water hit her over-heated flesh. She resurfaced quickly, pushing back her hair from her eyes with both hands.
"Cold?", Xena chuckled. She was almost finished. She was sitting on the ground, pulling off her last boot. She stood and stripped off her undergarment and threw it to the ground. She ran for the water's edge and dove in. She swam under water for a short time and resurfaced at the far end of the pond.
"Isn't it wonderful Xena? It feels so good!" She leaned backwards, allowing her body to float along the surface, her arms spread out. Xena didn't answer, but dived once more. The Bard closed her eyes and let the peace of the setting overcome her.
Suddenly, hands grabbed her hips from below, pulling her under for a brief moment. She came back to the surface, sputtering and coughing.
"Gotcha!", her friend shouted with glee.
Gabrielle swung a fist at the Warrior, not really intending to do more than give her a playful punch. It wasn't a good idea. The former warlord's reflexes took over, capturing her hand in a painful grip as she spun the smaller woman around and put a choke hold on her with a long forearm, pulling her against her nude torso. Breathing stopped as both were suddenly aware of the intimacy of their positions. Xena released Gabrielle's hand and gently and very briefly, touched the cheek of Gabrielle's soft face. Appalled, Xena quickly released her with a mumbled apology, and swam away.
They sat around the campfire in uneasy silence, neither speaking much since the incident in the pond. Xena kept her eyes focused on the tiny stitching she pretended to mend on her greaves, avoiding the eyes she felt on her. Gabrielle just kept staring at her, pleading silently for her to say something. The Warrior couldn't take the strain any longer.
"No, I don't want to talk about it.", she snapped.
She didn't answer for a long time, choosing her words carefully, hoping her friend would understand and forget about it. "Because it's pointless. I won't allow our friendship to be destroyed over this. It's my problem, and I'll deal with it in my own way. It's not your fault, Gabrielle. You didn't encourage this, it happened all on it's own."
"So you won't cross that bridge between us? I thought you were a lot braver than that.", the Bard mocked.
Xena's eyes lifted with surprise. "Gabrielle...? What are you trying to tell me?", she whispered.
A gentle smile spread across the young woman's face. She stood and walked the few paces that separated them. She stepped between the spread knees of the tall woman and got down on both of her own. She rested her arms along the strong thighs of her best friend. She felt the muscles tighten and quiver under her touch.
"That I want to explore those feelings with you. I have to tell you that I'm a little scared about it. I never considered the idea before, but I do love you enough to try."
"I won't take your pity Gabrielle.", she choked out. "I can't let you do this. I much rather have your friendship than risking it on a maybe. I don't want to lose you again."
"You won't. But if we don't try, I'll lose you anyway How long do you think you can take being near me and never touching? Sure, you give me small touches now and again--usually when I've gotten into trouble, but you don't touch me otherwise. I enjoy being close to you, but you always pull away. Can't we just try it for awhile? I promise not to push you, because I'd like to take this slowly."
"Define slowly for you.", she said hoarsely. Xena couldn't believe they were having this conversation. Could Gabrielle be that naive?
"For starters, I'd like you to hold me for awhile. I could use a hug right now.", she said with a gentle plea. Xena felt herself weaken, and she slowly raised her arms. She stroked the soft skin along the Bard's face, and trailed her hands down to her shoulders. She leaned forward and pulled Gabrielle slowly to her, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman.
Gabrielle sighed contently, and relaxed against the warm body of her friend, her cheek against the swell of her breasts. Placing her own arms around the waist of Xena, she murmured sleepily. "This is nice." Xena didn't answer, but increased her hold slightly.
*Nice* wasn't the half of it. Xena savored the moment of being able to hold her friend in her arms freely, without needing an excuse for the action. She placed a kiss on top of Gabrielle's head before resting her cheek against the silky hair. She felt a welcoming warmth spread inside, dancing along her lonely heart. She had come home.
Xena was still awake, unwilling to loose a moment of this time. Gabrielle slept on her shoulder, innocently lost in world of dreams, her warm breath tickling Xena' skin each time she exhaled. Gabrielle's arm rested on the ribs of her friend, her fingers dangling over the far side, unaware of how her simple touch affected the Warrior.
Gabrielle had fallen asleep during their embrace, much to the Warrior's amusement. Xena had roused the sleepy Bard just enough to lead her to the blanket, where they settled down for the night. Gabrielle had immediately reclaimed her pillow and fell fast asleep.
'Slowly', she had said. That was typical for their relationship. Everything about it had been gradual. Why should this be any different? Xena sighed while wondering if Gabrielle really understood that they could never go back. Now that the Bard knew about her feelings--somewhat--she could never again hide them from her. They either had to continue with this or part ways. They could never try being just friends again. It would kill her inch by inch.
Gabrielle opened her eyes, surprised to find herself in Xena's arms. So it hadn't been just a nice dream after all. She lifted her head slightly, and saw the still slumbering Warrior. A smile spread across the Bard's face. *That's a switch. I'm awake before she is.*
The young woman studied the face of her friend. In her sleep, she looked so girlish. Dark lashes brushed against her cheeks, and her face was relaxed. Her upper lip turned upwards like a child's, and her full lips were slightly parted.
Gabrielle felt her breath catch as she studied the mouth just inches away from her own. *it would be so easy...*, she thought to herself. She nervously tore her eyes away, not yet ready for that step. She returned her head to the shoulder below her, relishing the safety and comfort she found there. She could hear and feel the reassuring heartbeat, and the rise and fall of her chest as Xena breathed. Lost in the rhythm, she closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.
Gabrielle woke up cold. She felt the loss of the warmth she had grown used to and shivered in the cool morning air. She was lying on her stomach, alone on the blanket. Xena must have awakened and left to do her morning chores. Xena couldn't stay still for long, unable to tolerate idleness. Gabrielle scooped the material of the blanket beneath her hand, and brought it to her face. She could catch the scent of horse, leather, and the faint smell of Xena on the wool.
She decided to sleep a little longer. She didn't feel like walking in the wretchedly hot weather, and the longer she could delay it, the better.
"Oh no you don't! Come on sleepy-head. Up and at 'em", Xena commanded.
Gabrielle groaned her protests. "Don't wanna get up. Can't we just be lazy today?"
"Nope. Get your butt up before I have to pull the blanket out from under you.", she threatened.
"So much for that idea.", the Bard mumbled cryptically.
"Huh? What's that supposed to mean?", Xena asked with puzzlement.
"Nothing. Just rambling incoherently. Just ignore me.", she mumbled.
"What were you hoping for, a good morning kiss?", she teased indulgently.
Gabrielle felt a hand touch her arm, pulling her gently to her back.
"I can arrange it if you want me too.", Xena whispered. Gabrielle looked up into the blue eyes above her, not sure she could stop her even if she wanted to. Xena's mouth slowly neared and placed a soft and all-too-quick kiss on her lips. "Now get up you lazy thing. No more dilly-dallying.", she said in attempt to sound stern.
The path cleared into a smoother terrain, making the traveling faster. Xena sat up on Argo, as Gabrielle walked customarily at their side. The Bard hated riding, only doing so if the circumstances required it. Xena suspected it had something to do with motion sickness more than fear, but had to admit to herself that fear could only make the queasiness worse. She glanced down at the Bard, once again wondering what she was thinking.
Gabrielle had been quiet most of the morning, and Xena wasn't used to silence from the normally chatty woman. The Bard often told stories to pass the time, or composed poetry under her breath, occasionally saying the lines she liked out loud to the Warrior to get an opinion. Today, she remained lost in thought.
*Perhaps she's regretting what has happened.*, she worried. It wasn't everyday that your best friend makes a pass at you. The Warrior mentally kicked herself for allowing Gabrielle to see the longings in her. The touch in the pond couldn't be taken back, and neither could its consequences. Like it or not, they had to follow this path to it's conclusion. She just wished she knew where it would lead them.
Xena shifted in the saddle and reached out her hand, touching the red-gold hair.
"Are you okay?", she asked.
"Uh huh. Just thinking.", she said absently.
Gabrielle looked up and smiled. "What do you think? Talk about a silly question.", she laughed.
The tension left Xena. If the Bard could talk to her that way, she couldn't be upset. "Okay then, what are your thoughts? I'm more than a little curious you know."
"About how strange the Fates are. Xena, if you hadn't touched me in the pond, how long would have you waited to say anything?"
"i wouldn't have said a word. I wasn't going to jeopardize our friendship for a something I didn't think I should have."
"What is it you think you don't deserve?" Xena shrugged, unwilling to expose herself to her friend's pity.
"Xena, is it love? Or maybe happiness? You can't possibly believe that. You have so much to offer, and you shouldn't hide the loving woman inside of a dark prison."
The ex-warlord swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. How could Gabrielle understand the self-loathing she had for herself. The past she had lived didn't merit reward--but punishment. Spending the rest of her life on the road of redemption was a small payment for her crimes. She didn't deserve having any happiness, though Gabrielle brought it to her. Her companion had stubbornly refused to leave her side in the beginning, and Xena had lacked the strength to push her away. Now Gabrielle had entrenched herself behind her walls, leaving her open to possible pain. If she lost her now, she would flounder as a lost soul.
"You're right. I don't think I deserve happiness or love."
"Well, you're going to get them anyway. So brace yourself Warrior Princess."
Xena looked down at the stubborn wench and smiled crookedly. Gabrielle was so cute when she was stubborn.
They were nearing a small mountain village that was nestled in the rocky hillside.
"Gabrielle, for your own safety, don't get mushy or anything while we're here. The less people know about our...relationship, the better."
"You're afraid of somebody using me against you.", she guessed accurately.
"Yes. If you insist on displays of affection--do it in private. Don't make yourself a target or a weapon to be used against me. I have more than one old enemy around here. Gabrielle, I'm going to act cold with you while we're here, so don't take it to heart. "
"I won't. Xena, if it's that dangerous here, why not go around this place?"
"Because this is the only settlement within miles. The next closest town is six days away. I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of traveling on an empty stomach. Our supplies are getting low."
"Oh.", Xena mimicked with a smile. She stopped the horse and dismounted, wanting to walk into the village. She had another reason as well. She bent her head and placed a quick kiss on Gabrielle's mouth before heading for the village outskirts.
The bard gave her a not so gentle smack on the arm. "Will you stop that. If you're going to kiss me, at least do it right!", she said with irritation. Xena stopped in her tracks and spun around. Her mouth opened and closed several times. Her heart began pounding at double-time at Gabrielle's words. She couldn't say anything, and so she did the next best thing. She leaned down and pulled Gabrielle to her and kissed her.
She explored the mouth under hers slowly, refusing to rush. Xena lingered softly, and was delighted when the Bard began returning the kiss. She suppressed the urge to deepen it, and slowly pulled away, giving her a tiny soft peck before withdrawing completely. She cleared her throat.
"Where's a cold lake when you need it.", Xena half-joked. Gabrielle sputtered out a laugh, breaking the tension between them.
They sat at one of the tables located near the back of the tavern, eating their greasy meal. Xena thought even she could cook better than this. She pushed the plate away in disgust. Gabrielle smiled in relief, and followed suit.
"This has got to be the worst meal I've ever had. Why don't we pick up our supplies and go. I'll fix a large meal tonight to make up for this.", she offered.
"Sounds good to me. I just hope this slop doesn't eat a hole in our stomachs. You know, I've eaten plenty of bad food in my past, but I guess I've gotten spoiled by your cooking. I just can't make myself eat this sludge anymore."
Gabrielle beamed at the back-handed compliment. Praise was like rare gifts from the Warrior, and once given, meant the world to her. They warmed her inside like good wine, spreading throughout her whole body. The Bard resisted the urge to throw her arms around Xena in appreciation, knowing this was not the time or place for such behavior.
Xena caught the look on Gabrielle's face, seeing that she was pleased about something. The sparkle in her pale green eyes made her heart skip a few beats before resuming it's pace a little faster than before. The younger woman's face was slightly flushed, and a small smile curved her lips. Xena cleared her throat, and stood up.
"Let's go.", she managed to get out.
They headed for the door, but were stopped by a hulking man dressed in warrior's garb. He placed his hand on the hilt of the sword attached to his side, but not drawing the weapon.
"Hello Xena. Long time no see.", he smirked.
"Terzon.", she said stiffly.
The man looked over her shoulder towards Gabrielle. "Your taste in companions has improved. She's much prettier than you deserve. Is she for sale?", he asked.
"No. I don't give up good cooks very easily. The last one made my stomach sour all the time. I tossed him out on his ear and bought this girl. She's meek and well-behaved."
"I bet. Does she do anything else besides cooking?", he asked while looking over the Bard's curves.
"Yes. She pretty good at field dressings. She's not very squeamish."
Terzon gave up trying to get a rise out of the Warrior Princess. He looked her in the eyes. "I heard a rumor about you turning do-gooder. I thought that was the funniest thing I ever heard.", he laughed.
She raised her eyebrow and assumed an even haughtier expression. "Well, you know what they say about rumors." She didn't deny or confirm it. Let him make his own conclusions.
"Yeah, I do. So, what are you up to? You don't come to these parts very often."
"Nothing much. I was just passing through.", revealing nothing.
"Watch out for the northern route. I heard there was trouble up that way. Some new warlord was trying to take territory from the Amazons there. It's been a blood bath in those parts. I heard the bitches were winning, but you never know how the tide will change. The smallest little thing could easily change everything."
"I'm sure.", she smiled coldly. She brushed past him, Gabrielle on her heels. He reached out a hand and grabbed a handful of firm flesh. Gabrielle pulled away, but remained silent, not wanting the incident to escalate, she spun around and took a few running steps to catch up with her friend. She could hear his chuckle behind her.
Once out of earshot, she complained. "He was positively slimy! I need a bath to wash his touch off of me."
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I couldn't.."
"I know. You couldn't defend me without letting him see how you felt. I'm not angry with you."
"I wanted to knock his teeth down his throat.", she confessed.
"That's because you're overly protective. I don't mind that most of the time.", she looked around them, suddenly confused. "Where are we going? The market is that way.", she pointed with her finger.
Xena didn't answer, but walked around the back side of a building. Once there, she looked around and then pulled Gabrielle to her, hugging her tightly. She wanted to do more than apologize, and this was all she could think of. She held on for long seconds, then loosened her hold. She leaned her head forward, resting her forehead on top of Gabrielle's, her hands loosely hooked behind the Bard's neck.
"I really am sorry, Gabrielle.", she whispered.
"I know. I kinda like this new method of apology. You normally don't show affection, and it's nice just to be held.", she told her."I just wish that armor of yours wasn't so cold or hard.", she teased. Xena's lips quirked, amused my her silly statement.
"I'll keep that in mind next time. Let's buy our supplies and get out of here."
"I take it we're going to head for Amazon country.", Gabrielle stated.
"Uh huh. I hadn't heard about their problems, but we can't just ignore them--especially since I'm traveling with one of their Queens."
Gabrielle smiled up at her. "True. What kind of Queen would I be if I just walked past them? I just hope we don't get killed trying to reach them. Do you think you can get us by that warlord's defenses?"
"Don't know. It depends on how good he is, but offhand, I'd say yes.", she said with confidence.
"Hmm. No false modesty with you.", she teased.
Xena grinned. "It's either have confidence in myself or be paralyzed by my fears. I rather go into a situation with my head held high."
"I think that's one of the reasons I was drawn to you." Xena's smile faded.
"What else?", her vulnerability showing.
"It's hard to say for sure. I like the way you carry yourself, and the way you smile. I'm drawn to the soft streak you try so hard to conceal, and the way you care about others. It's many different things."
Xena felt the tears brim in her eyes, her heart taking in the healing words gratefully. She looked straight ahead, her chin held high, hoping Gabrielle would give her a little space so she could compose herself. No such luck. Gabrielle placed a cool hand on her thigh, softly asking for her attention. As she looked down, a single tear escaped. Gabrielle took the bridle and pulled Argo to a stop.
She stood on her toes and lifted her head. Xena bent down and placed a tender kiss on her mouth. She then pulled away and gave Gabrielle a weak smile, unable to speak. Gabrielle reached up her hand and wiped the tear stain away with her thumb, while cupping her cheek with her palm. Xena took her hand in her own and kissed the palm. She took a deep breath.
"Let's get going.", she managed to say.
They crouched behind some bushes, studying the army before them. Though not large, Xena could see they were a formidable group. The soldiers seemed well trained and disciplined. Sentries were posted within eyesight of each other, not allowing themselves to be out of the others' sight. They were alert to everything around them.
"This is going to be tough Gabrielle. Do you trust me?"
"Two silly questions in one day. You're losing it Xena.", she grinned.
"I lost it the moment you came into my life.", she quipped.
"Funny. Remind me to get even for that remark later. So, what's the plan?"
"Just get on the horse with me and hold on tight."
"Why do I have this feeling that I'm not going to like this?"
"Because you have good instincts. Come on."
Xena helped Gabrielle up onto the horse. She drew her sword, and once she was certain her friend had a good grip, she kicked Argo's sides with her heels.
She barreled right into their encampment, surprising the soldiers. They attempted to charge her, but were kicked by a leather-clad foot, and or along side the head with the flat of her sword. Argo's training allowed Xena to concentrate on their defense rather than controlling her horse. Argo swerved to avoid the majority of the men, letting her owner fight off the few that got past her. Argo spotted an opening and headed for it. Within seconds, they had reached the safety of the forest.
Xena slowed the horse just slightly, and shouted back to Gabrielle.
"Are you alright?"
"Fine. Just keep moving.", she said, fibbing to Xena. A spear had caught her in the calf, but it wasn't a serious wound. Xena could fuss over her later. The Warrior clicked her tongue at the horse, resuming their trek into Amazon territory. Within a quarter mile, she felt eyes upon her.
She stopped the horse and tapped Gabrielle on the knee. They both lifted their hands into the air, displaying the symbol of peace. They were quickly surrounded by women in Amazon garb, weapons raised.
A ginger haired girl spoke. "Who are you?", she said through clenched teeth.
"My name is Xena, and this is my friend Gabrielle. She's the new Queen to Melosa's territory. We've come to help.", she said in a deep tone.
She bowed her head towards Gabrielle."We've heard of the two of you. My name is Jerrisa. Did you come alone?"
"Yes. We were just passing through and heard about your troubles. We thought you wouldn't mind if we offered our help.", Gabrielle said.
"I can't speak for our Queen, but I sure don't mind.", she said with a grin. "I'll take you to her.", she offered.
Gabrielle stood in front of Queen Henara, at ease with the woman's gentle humor. She had made them feel at home from the very beginning. She reminded Gabrielle of Xena's mother, Cyrene. She had the same silver streaked hair, and the same piercing blue eyes. Her bearing was regal and relaxed at the same time.
"I'll have two rooms readied for you. We'll dine together just after dark. My people will no doubtedly want to honor you with a banquet.", she told them.
Gabrielle felt a disappointment inside of her. She didn't really want to be away from Xena at night. She looked to her friend sadly, wishing she could say something that wouldn't offend the Queen. She didn't need to worry.
Henara caught the look and smiled knowingly. The romantic in her recognized the look. "I'm sorry, I had forgotten that one of the guest huts were being used for storage. I hope you don't mind sharing?"
Relief poured over Gabrielle. "No, not at all."
"Then we'll see you at tonight's banquet.", she smiled pleasantly and left the room.
"That was close. I didn't want to sleep in a strange room alone."
Xena turned and stepped closer, whispering into her hair, a huge grin on her face. "I think she figured us out, Gabrielle."
The Bard blushed to her roots.
Gabrielle was fuming. She watched as yet another brazen Amazon approached Xena. They had found excuses to talk to the tall beauty, finding her less risky to approach than a Queen from another territory. Queens rarely liked being approached, but much rather do the stalking themselves, so they homed in on the dark-haired woman that rode with her.
This one ran a finger over Xena's forearm, while looking into her eyes. Xena tried to be polite, but the woman didn't take the hint. Gabrielle tried to tell herself that Xena was a grown woman, and could take care of herself, but it didn't work. The green-eyed monster was screaming its protests inside of her. Unable to take it any longer, Gabrielle rose to her feet and limped over to Xena's side. She grabbed the woman by the chain that held on her shoulder armament and pulled her up to face her.
"I'll say this just once. Hands off.", she growled.
The woman looked at the angry visitor and thought she'd better do as she was told. "I'm sorry! I didn't realize...I'm sorry.", the unfortunate woman made a hasty exit, determined to avoid the visiting Queen while she was here. By the Gods--she was possessive!
The crowd chuckled, and Gabrielle suddenly became aware of what she had done. She blushed clear to her breasts, mortified. She acted like a jealous wife! What would Xena think?
Xena sent her a wink and a crooked grin. She whispered a silent 'Thanks' and raised her goblet to her. Gabrielle took the chair that the Amazon had occupied, and sat down.
"I feel like an idiot.", she whispered.
"Oh I don't know. I kinda liked you acting that way myself. Don't take me wrong, because I wouldn't want you to make a regular habit of it, but I liked knowing you could be jealous."
"Jealousy shows a lack of trust. I know I shouldn't be acting this way, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to tear her hair out by the roots!"
"Gabrielle, there will never be a time that I'll give you cause to be jealous.", she stated seriously. Gabrielle looked confused. Xena took the Bard's hand into her own. "I won't stray as long as we're together,", she captured Gabrielle's eyes with her own, her emotions there for the young woman to see, "you have my word."
Gabrielle felt humbled by this incredible woman. It wasn't exactly a declaration of undying love, but it was a start.
They walked over to the guest hut, and found a room that was lit by many candles. It left a soft glow throughout the room. A fire was built, and the bed was turned down. A large tub was located by the fire, with a wooden lid placed on top. Xena lifted it, and was surprised by the steam that misted around her. The lid was apparently to keep the water hot. She lowered the lid.
"Ready for another step?", she smiled.
"It's not like we haven't done it before.", she sassed.
"True, but I want to do it a little differently. I promise, no groping or anything, but I'm asking you to trust me."
Gabrielle looked into her eyes, seeing her sincerity. "Okay, but we need to do something first, and you have to promise not to get angry."
"I hate promises like that. You know they always make me mad."
"I know, but you still have to promise.", she reminded her.
"Alright. I promise.", she said tersely.
"I lied about being okay after we went through the warlord's army. I have a small wound that needs tending to."
Xena rushed to her, scanning her from head to toe. "Where? Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"Because I knew you'd fuss. It's nothing really. A spear nicked me in the calf. My boot took the worst of it."
Xena indicated for her to remove the boot, and bent to see the damage. A small puncture wound could be seen. It had already sealed itself, but it did need cleaning.
"You're right. It's minor. A soak in the tub should clean it right up.", she grinned.
Gabrielle blushed a pretty pink, but stood to remove her clothing. Xena did the same. Once nude, Xena slid the wooden lid off the tub and stepped in.
"Come on. I won't bite--yet." Gabrielle had taken a few steps towards her when the 'yet' was spoken. She stopped and looked at Xena a little nervously.
"I was just kidding. Come on Gabrielle." The Bard gritted her teeth, and asked what the Warrior wanted her to do.
"Just get in, facing away from me." Gabrielle complied and felt Xena's hands on her shoulders. The taller woman pulled her backwards and wrapped her arms around her. Gabrielle found herself leaning against Xena, much like leaning against tree.
"I just wanted to snuggle. I'm sorry I teased you.", she said tenderly, "Just relax, this is all we're doing."
Gabrielle told herself to relax, and closed her eyes. She could feel the bare, wet skin of the woman behind her, and took in the sensations one at a time.
She could feel one of Xena's strong arms wrapped around one of her own, the other hand rested protectively against her midsection. Her head rested against a powerful shoulder and Xena's generous breasts cushioned her back. She decided she liked this very much. She sighed contently. They soaked in silence, just enjoying the quiet time together.
Xena smiled to herself and placed a tiny kiss on the shoulder below her chin. Gabrielle didn't even flicker an eyelash. Xena peered down at her, and saw a very relaxed and sleeping Bard.
She could only chuckle at her own expense. It was either that or cry.
The Bard thought to herself that the birds were awfully noisy this morning. Their singing was very irritating. Didn't they know people were trying to sleep? She tried to drift off again, but the songbirds were driving her nuts. She lifted her head with the intention of pulling her pillow over her head. She reached out with her hand and found something else. Her hand stopped.
She had a very good idea what was under her fingers, but she wasn't certain she wanted to test her imagination by opening her eyes. She slowly moved her hand over the flesh and smiled. Yep, she'd done it now. Her curious fingers played over the fleshy mound, feeling it's assorted textures. She opened her eyes, her natural curiosity demanding it.
She glanced at Xena, expecting her to be still asleep, but gasped when she looked into her open and laughing blue eyes. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, it was really by accident, and..."
The Warrior began laughing hard, her amusement causing the whole bed to shake. Gabrielle tried to escape from the bed but, a strong arm held her in place. Xena tried to stop laughing, and tears ran down her face.
"By the Gods, Gabrielle. That expression on your face was too funny." A few more chuckles escaped her lips, but when she saw the hurt look on her friend's face, she cursed herself. The Bard could be so sensitive sometimes. "Gabrielle, I want you to listen to me. I'd like it even better if you looked me in the eyes.", the younger woman did as she was asked, but her hurt was even more obvious.
"Now listen to me. There isn't a time when we're alone that I don't enjoy your touch. How are we going to explore this bridge between us if you apologize every time you bump into me?"
"But you've always pulled away before. I had started thinking you hated being touched."
"Pulled away, yes. Hated it, no. I've always craved your touch, but I knew damn well that I couldn't hide my feeling from you for long if you did."
"So you pulled away."
Gabrielle mulled it over in her head for a moment. "I would think that a casual touch would be different than fondling your breast. When I was with Perdicus, I found it exciting when he touched me there."
"Of course you did. He was trying to arouse you. I did find it a bit ...erotic when you touched me, but you weren't trying to get me excited, you were just being curious. It makes a little bit of a difference."
"I must be stupid. How does it make a difference?"
"Do you trust me?", she smiled, already knowing the answer. Gabrielle nodded. Xena shifted them, pushing Gabrielle onto her back with herself leaning over her. She lowered her mouth and gave the Bard a soft and friendly kiss.
"Okay, take mental notes. How did that feel?"
"Sweet. I liked it." , she smiled. Xena smiled back.
"Okay, now this." She then kissed her again, but this time, allowing her passion to show through. It didn't last any longer than the first. She raised herself back up and looked at Gabrielle, her eyebrow raised.
Gabrielle tried to talk, but only managed a squeak. She cleared her throat. "Okay, I see the difference." , she managed to get out.
"Good, because with the way you keep falling asleep on me, my ego was taking a real beating."
Gabrielle laughed, "I can't help it. You're the best pillow I've ever had."
"Ouch! Another blow to the ego.", she joked.
"Xena, it's a compliment--not an insult. I feel...protected in your arms. It's like nothing in the world could ever hurt me while I'm being held by you. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah, it does. Thank you. Maybe you'll let me sleep on your shoulder one of these days."
"No time like the present. I don't think anyone expects us to get up for a while yet. The sun just started to rise a little bit ago."
Xena grinned and scooted down the frame of the smaller woman. She lowered her head to Gabrielle's shoulder, but her shoulder was really too small to accommodate her. She shifted a little further and found the perfect spot--her cheek resting on the swell of the Bard's breast. Xena lifted her leg over Gabrielle's, and her arm bent and rested against her torso. She drifted into a contented sleep.
Kelana, the unfortunate woman that was the recipient of the visiting Queen's wrath, knocked on the door to the guest room. She had been ordered to wake them and tend to their needs. She had tried to get out of it, fearing she wouldn't live very long if the Queen was still angry. She knocked again. No one answered.
She lifted the handle to the door and pushed it slowly open. Peering inside, she spotted the pair fast asleep, twined together. The Queen was on her back, her arms protectively embracing her larger lover. The Warrior rested her head on one pale breast, while her hand cupped the other. Even in slumber, their bond was obvious. She didn't understand how she could have missed it the night before.
When she had looked into the eyes of the angry Gabrielle, she had thought her death was certain. Up to that point, she hadn't really taken the small woman seriously. Her youthful face was deceiving.
Kelana took a few tentative steps closer, intending to tap the Warrior on the arm. Before she could complete the movement, a fist shot out and knocked her to the floor. Dazed, she didn't see the Warrior leap out of bed. All the poor woman knew was that she was lifted roughly to her feet.
"Are you suicidal?", she snarled.
"I..I..was sent to wake you and to see if you would join our Queen in breaking morning's fast.", she whimpered. Xena released her and told her to pass on to the Queen that they'd join her soon. Kelana made a hasty exit.
Xena bent over the still sleeping Bard and gently shook her.
"Gabrielle? Wake up." She grunted a little, but refused to wake.
"Gabrielle, don't make me use force. Wake up." Xena heard a mumbled 'uh uh'.
"Okay, you asked for it.", she grinned. She covered Gabrielle's body with her own, and kissed the sleepy lips under hers. It didn't take long for the Bard to waken then. Gabrielle lifted her arms and pulled her closer. The kiss continued for long minutes. Finally, they pulled apart.
"You know...", Gabrielle sighed, "...if you had done this long ago, I wouldn't have fought waking up so much. That's a very nice wake up call. Much better than a boot on the butt."
"If I had known you were so sweet to kiss, I wouldn't have been so stubborn.", she kissed the tip of Gabrielle's nose, "Now get up, Your Highness. Henara wants us to join her for the morning meal."
Queen Henara watched in amazement as Gabrielle polished off her second plate. *Where does she put it?*, she wondered.
Xena saw the look, recognizing it for what it was. The Gods only knew how often she's seen it. The Bard's appetite was impressive. She hid her smile behind the cloth napkin, and attempted to wipe it off her face. She couldn't. She was in just too good a mood to resume her normal stoic expression.
Queen Henara looked at her and grinned. It must be an old joke between them if her expression was anything to go by. The Queen offered Gabrielle another helping. Gabrielle considered it, but shook her head no.
"Queen Henara, tell us about the Warlord..."
"Hextius", she supplied.
"Hextius. How long has he been in the area, and how can we help? I'm a pretty fair tactician, and I've led an army before. What have you used against him so far?", Xena asked.
The Queen began explaining everything in detail. Gabrielle tried to follow the discussion, but her knowledge was limited, and she was left confused by the jargon. She was going to insist on a lesson of battle terms from Xena one of these days.
Hours passed, and Xena bandied ideas with Henara. She made suggestions and asked pointed questions when needed. Finally, a battle plan was made. Gabrielle didn't know exactly what would happen, but she hoped it would work.
The Queen promised to call together her lieutenants after the noon meal. They would all go over the plan, and then call a general assembly to spread the news and make preparations. With any luck, the war with Hextius would end quickly, and the scum bag would be sent packing.
"Let's take a walk.", Gabrielle suggested.
"You're kidding. We're in the middle of a war zone and you want to take a stroll?", the Warrior asked incredulously.
"I just want to be with you. *Alone*", she stressed. "In a couple of hours, we'll be busy preparing for a battle, and I wanted some time alone with you. Just in case..."
"Something happens to one of us.", Xena finished for her. Gabrielle nodded sadly. Xena felt her heart melt. "Okay, let's go to the guest hut. There's less of a chance of being bothered there."
Several Amazons greeted them, but Xena's determined look discouraged any from trying to get them to stop and socialize. They made it to the hut and shut the door.
"Did you want to talk? Or maybe something else?", the Warrior asked almost shyly.
"Maybe a little of both." Gabrielle took her hand and pulled her to the bed. They sat down on the edge of it. Gabrielle faced her. "I wanted to tell you something. There's other things to say, but they can wait until later. If I die, then it would only hurt you, but I do want to say one thing." Gabrielle took Xena's larger hand and brought it to her mouth, kissing the back of it.
"Xena, I love you.", she said simply.
Xena felt her heart pound in joy. She pulled Gabrielle to her in a tight embrace, burying her face in her neck, unable to speak.
"Ow ow ow...Xena, for Gaia's sake---take off your armor first!", she laughed. The Warrior released her and laughed through her tears. She unbuckled all her armor and tossed them to the floor.
"Gabrielle...?! Are you sure? This is for real?"
"Uh huh. But if you don't hurry up with a confession of your own..", she teased.
"By Zeus' foot! Didn't I say it? Gabrielle, I love you, too.", she bent her head, intending to show her exactly how much.
"GABRIELLE! XENA! ", A female voice hollered. A slew of unrepeatable curses came from the Warrior.
"This had better be good or someone's gonna die!", Xena snarled.
She stormed out of the hut, and the unfortunate shouter took a step back because of the terrifying expression on Xena's face.
"What!?", Xena said through clenched teeth.
"Hextius' men---they're attacking. They should be here within minutes."
"Damn them to Hades! We'll be ready.", she ran back into the hut.
"Grab your staff. Hextius isn't going to wait for our attack. His troops are going to be here any minute.", she said as she grabbed her armor from the floor. Gabrielle took over the buckling, quickly reattaching the breastplate and shoulder armaments. She retrieved her staff from the corner and nodded her readiness.
"Well, I feel sorry for Hextius' men. If that frustration I saw on your face is anything to go by, they're dead meat.", Gabrielle said in attempt to drive away her fear by cracking a joke.
Xena grabbed her and gave her a hard, fast kiss. "For luck.", she said with a wink. "Come on! Let's kick some ass!"
They left the hut and found themselves amid a fury of rushing Amazons that hurried to their posts. Henara spotted them and waved for them to come to her. Once they were at her side, she asked for any last minute advice.
"Those men look like open field fighters. Have your people stick to the tree lines Use archers from high branches if possible. Have them wear armor since they'll be wide open from Hextius' archers as well."
The Queen nodded and sent word out among her lieutenants. The sounds of battle came closer, as the troops approached. The men knew they couldn't attack by stealth, so they came into the village screaming their battle cries. It had begun.
The Amazons separated into fighting groups, each familiar with the others' strengths and abilities. They would guard each others' backs and fight as a team. Gabrielle and Xena did the same out of habit.
They have fought together before, and the Gods willing, they would again. Their first opponents rushed at them. Xena fought off the majority of the men who neared them, though Gabrielle could fend off the few who got away from her. One man armed with a large axe swung at Gabrielle, but he chose the wrong enemy. Her quickness and agility made it difficult for someone welding a heavy weapon. She just wasn't there when he swung his weapon. A few well-placed blows brought him to his knees, and a butt end of her staff knocked him unconscious.
Henara's archers had just made it to the trees before the arrival of the enemy troops. They picked off as many as they could, trying not to allow a stray arrow to hit their sisters. Henara was proud of her people. They fought bravely, and the tide of the battle was turning their way. It wouldn't last much longer.
Xena hissed through her teeth as Gabrielle applied antiseptic to her cuts. The Bard had managed to get through the battle with nothing more than a few minor scrapes, which Xena had more than happily treated. Gabrielle had teased her because she didn't remember anything in her training about "Kissing Therapy" for wounds, but had grinned through the process. She just wished that the overly attentive Queen would hurry up with the cleaning of her wounds. Gabrielle insisted on searching for every tiny scrape she could find.
Xena took the cloth from her hands in frustration. "I'm fine, Gabrielle. We have better things to do.", she said with a wicked grin.
"I'm sure we do, but first, I have something to say. Remember, I had said earlier I had to tell you something?"
"Uh huh.", she said half-listening. Her attention was caught by the soft lips in front of her. She leaned forward in attempt to capture them. Gabrielle held out both hands, catching her by the shoulders, preventing the kiss.
"Xena, if I don't say this now, I never will. The longer I delay it, the angrier you'll get."
The Bard now had her full attention. "What do you need to tell me?"
"That I fell in love with you a long time ago. I suspected that you loved me too--or least lusted after me. I finally figured out that you'd never approach me--so I planned to seduce you. So I asked Ephiny's advice on how to go about it. I'm afraid you're going to see a lot of amused grins next time we go back there.", she confessed.
Xena's face was an expressionless mask. "What kind of advice did she give you?"
"To tease you to a frazzle and let you think you were doing the chasing.", she looked away, afraid of what she would see in those blue eyes.
"Gabrielle, look at me." the Bard shifted her eyes towards her, afraid she had ruined everything, but her innate honesty demanded she confess all. She looked at Xena but couldn't tell what she was thinking.
"Gabrielle, you're telling me that I've been needing a cold bath for days because of her advice?" The smaller woman could only nod, miserable with the knowledge that she might have ruined their relationship.
"If she hadn't given you that damned advice, how would have you acted?", she asked with a crooked grin.
A huge smile spread across Gabrielle's features. *I got her hooked, and now it's time to pull her in!*, she thought impishly.
Two lovers strolled hand in hand, enjoying the full moon and the mild Summer's night. They smiled often at each other, sharing a secret smile or a lingering kiss. They walked past the guest hut, but were startled by a loud cry.
"By the Gods Gabrielle, where did you learn that?"
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