Empathy's Cost: part three
by: Puckster
(copyright august 1997)

Chapter IX
Clyt's hand cart had a terrible squeak in it, after nearly two weeks of disuse, but as the cart's unconscious passenger, Gabrielle never noticed. She lay on some of Clyt's baggage, her legs dangling limply off the sides, shaded by Clyt's umbrella. The afternoon sun beat down upon the other two women as they made their way along the crowded boulevards of Therassia.

The little ship had hardly finished docking, when it's handy cargo beam pivoted out over the bobbing wharf, with a net that held the cart and Gabrielle, with Xena hanging off the side. Clyt just barely finished tying off the lines in time to glimpse Xena and the cart disappearing into the throng down the street. Catching up, Clyt walked on ahead, clearing a path through the press of people. Just now Xena could have parted the crowd with just her eyes, but Clyt felt she needed to do more than just carry the extra bags. She knew anyone who delayed the warrior, intentionally or not, was in for a very unpleasant encounter, and felt as protective of the pedestrians as she did of Gabrielle.

In these last few hours, Xena had abandoned Gabrielle's bedside and taken the wheel herself, driving the ship ahead of the wind as if slashing the sea with the knife edge of her own rage and desperation. Arriving at the port of Therassia, they had broken every rule and courtesy of water traffic, sailing into the harbor too fast, and nearly smashing into a pier as they lurched to a stopped. Even as it was, their wake had swamped the entire dock.

Xena found an official, and nearly scared him half to death simply asking directions to the Empathic institute. Mercifully, the way wasn't complicated. They set a pace as fast as the city crowds and the obstacles of the marketplace permitted. Hawkers delayed them repeatedly, to their peril.

In spite of the great fear she had for Gabrielle, the young acolyte found herself fascinated by the sights and sounds of the exotic city. They passed the usual taverns and inns by the dozens, but they also passed shops full of exotic clothing and musical instruments. Clyt's head nearly swiveled off her shoulders when she saw her first hardware shop. The clothing people wore was different, the way they spoke was different. She saw people of the beautiful eastern races, sprinkled through the crowd. And women! Women went everywhere alone, unaccompanied by men. They rode horses; they walked down the streets with books in their hands, deep in conversation. And above all of Thera loomed the hulk of the island's lone peak, Mt. Kalmeni, it's smoking cone reaching into the clouds.

Xena noticed none of this, her eyes either fierce with the stares of strangers, or desperate at the face of Gabrielle, ashen and still.

The building they sought was down a residential side street, lined with white limed walls with occasional doors, brightly painted. The facades of each villa adjoined each to the other, some three stories high. Not a tree or a blade of grass grew in that cobbled canyon, and their footsteps echoed the further they got from the busy boulevard. Deep in the cool shade they came to a sturdy door under a painted lilly, and knocked.

They were met by a young man with a mop of curly black hair and an easy smile. "Xena! You're her, aren't you?" He looked at Gabrielle closely, bending over slightly. "Of course you are. You've been expected."

As if she hadn't heard him, Xena said: "She's an empath, she's sick, can you help her?" The rest she said with her eyes, which both pleaded and threatened.

"Oh, yes of course. Come in , come inside. You too," he said, gesturing to Clyt.

They followed him into a cool hallway and then turned into a little reception parlor with simple wooden chairs. "I'll let them know you've arrived. Please wait in here, I won't be long."

Xena chafed for only a minute or two before the door flew open again and through it came a man in elegant robes and the graceful manners of the patrician classes. He was trying not to show that he had been running. Behind him panted the young man that had greeted them earlier. In spite of herself, Xena almost smiled.

"Welcome to the Empathic Institute! My name is Eradius, and this young man is Fecundo. I am sent to bring Xena directly to the Master of the Institute. You have been expected for several days but we didn't know exactly when, or we wouldn't have made you walk all the way here from the docks. We're empaths here, not psychics, you know." He bustled up to the cart and peered down at Gabrielle. "We will take good care of Gabrielle and…?" He nodded at Clyt questioningly.

"Clytemnestra." Xena pronounced, much to Clyt's surprise. "Acolyte of Gaea."

"Ah, yes. From Gaea's, you say? Well, you certainly are welcome here." He arranged the left side of his mustache for a moment. "We just weren't expecting you, -"

"You don't have to worry about my name, nobody but me and Xena's ever been able to pronounce it. You can just call me Clyt. That's what - " She caught the look on Xena's face and swallowed the rest of her sentence, whole.

Eradius fixed the right side of his mustache to match the left and squinted up at Xena. Then, taking a step back, he said, somewhat formally, "Yes, Clyt dear. You may stay here with Gabrielle. Xena, the master wants to see you, now."

Xena thought now was a very good time to see the head of the Empathic Institute, nodded, then knelt down beside Gabrielle and looked into her still face for any kind of sign. It had become a habit over the last few days, and she wanted to check once more before leaving her. Then she stood, fixed Clyt with a look, and started to speak.

But she never needed to bother. "I know, Xena. I'll watch her." She glared at Fecundo, whose eyebrows went up playfully.

Xena walked through the entrance hallway and out into a huge, enclosed private garden. After weeks at sea and a hot, dirty walk through the city, the sweetened air hit her like a soft caress, cooling and soothing her still boiling skin. There was the sound of falling water from somewhere, and through the greenery she could see the reflections of a small pond. Flowers of all kinds were in bloom, some draping over the iron lattice that adorned the eaves of the long verandahs surrounding the garden. Along the walkway, she passed classrooms with the doors flung open for air, occupants talking softly. Here and there through the winding pathways of the garden, she glimpsed people meditating quietly on small benches. Walking through this private urban paradise, she allowed herself to relax and settle. By the time Eradius had stopped in front of a closed door, she was as composed as she could be, under the circumstances.

Her guide paused, measuring Xena, and said, "Please permit me to be blunt. He will not be what you expect. Do not insult him because of this, please." And with that he opened the door and stood aside for her to enter.

Xena, the backs of her knees tingling sharply, returned his gaze levelly, took a deep breath, and entered into a very odd room. It had an arched dome for a ceiling, painted midnight blue and pierced in a thousand places so the daylight shone through like stars. The room was circular, following the shape of the ceiling, with a stone walkway around the edge. In the center and, covering most of the floor space, was a sand pit. But this was no child's playground, it was an arena of fantastic scenes out of a miniature storybook. There were red-sand mountains carefully shaped, yellow prairies patted out by patient hands, forests fashioned out of tiny clay trees, carved wooden people and animals scattered about, oceans of blue sand with toy ships… a herd of sheep the size of day old chicks…

At the center of the sand pit, on a small wooden platform, sat a fat little man with a special sort of face Xena had seen on a very few occasions in her life. Usually, when these people were born, they were quietly smothered by their parents. But every now and then a loving parent allowed one to live and the world was gifted with a pure soul.

Xena's face lost it's battle with her feelings, momentarily, when she realized she was looking at the "Master" of the Empathic Institute. Shocked, she stared openly into his large almond shaped eyes, saw his small head, his flat hands and his stubby fingers. When she looked back into his moon-shaped face, she saw it had stretched into a thousand circular wrinkles that seemed to center around his mouth, which had cracked into a merry and toothless grin. He then became very serious, and started rubbing his forearms vigorously. He rubbed and rubbed, concentrating so hard he touched the tip of his nose with his tongue. Then, throwing out his hands toward Xena, he wiggled the fingers at her, and dropped his hands into his lap with a thud.

Xena scowled at him and turned around to find Eradius staring at her with his arms crossed.

"Eradius. Do you have anybody else I can talk to about this? I can't play games!" She knew she was running out of time.

Eradius just looked at her for a moment, and then directed her attention back to the sand pit, where the little man was waiting for her attention patiently.

Xena looked at him, thought about her options, and decided she had nothing to loose. "Look, you are the Master of this place. Gabrielle is an empath. She got sick during a sea battle. I can't wake her up. Can you help her?"

He just sat there for a little while. He appeared to be waiting for her, so she said, "Did you understand me? Can you help Gabrielle?"

He smiled encouragingly at her and waited some more.

Xena's tone of voice goaded him, "Look. I don't know if you can talk, or if you can even understand what I'm saying. But I'm not going to waste time here with games. I can at least take her to a healer." She looked at him, her face concentrating on his. She saw nothing register there. Nothing at all. She spun, sand grit on the flag stones below her boots, and began to walk out angrily.

"Xena!" The soft voice called out from behind her.

She turned slowly, gratingly. His pale hand reached down to the folds of his simple robe and held up a small figure. He held it out in his flat palm, fingers splayed, where she could see it clearly. It was a tiny figure of Gabrielle, the strawberry hair, moss colored halter, the brown kilt, , even a crude rendition of her sweet face. Xena stared, her lips drawn back .

Then the other hand held out a second figurine. It was, of course, a tiny Xena: Warrior Princess doll. He held it by the legs, up in front of his face, so that looking at him meant looking at the tiny warrior. His face went into its circles again as if his grin were a pebble dropped into still water.

Xena, furious, was also somehow fascinated. His slow fingers touched the little Xena gently. They smoothed the tiny head of jet hair, arranged the fall of her trews, lifted the edge of the minute chakram with a thick fingernail, and checked that the little boots were on tight. Then, covering his entire nose with his prehensile tongue, he set the figure on it's feet in the sand, in front of his platform. Beside it, he lay down the Gabrielle doll, reverently, on a bit of cloth. Then, he looked up at Xena expectantly.

"Yes!" She said, excited to be communicating, but not sure why she bothered. She looked at him just as expectantly as he looked at her. "Can you help her?" Xena made a Yes face, eyebrows up, smile almost seductive.

"Xena!" He said in a soft monotone. He extended a chubby fist, finger pointed like a sausage, "Xena! Ayiyiyiyi!"

His enthusiastic imitation of her battle cry ended the desperate game for the warrior, who couldn't forget her terrible need. She stared a moment longer at the little man in his sand pit and thought bitterly of the struggle to get to Thera, of Gabrielle's worsening condition…Then she started to frame out a new plan , finding a physician, possibly finding a fast way back to Gaea's, figuring the distance to some of the other healers she had known…She flipped the back of her hand at the "Master" and started to leave, growling at Eradius to get out of her way.

As she turned, suddenly and for no reason at all, her feet went out from under her, and she hit the floor awkwardly, blue eyes wide with surprise. To the sound of the little man's soft laughter, she rose, dusting the sand off her butt and hands. Then looking back at him, she noticed that something had changed. The Xena figure was laying down, its legs buried in the sand.

Xena just gaped for a moment, then asked, "Who are you?"

The question rang through the room of stone and sand.

The little man made his face scrunch up into a small wad of features, then blurted heartily, "Aesop!" He patted his chest with his palms. "Aesop! Aesop!"

"You? You're Aesop?"

"Aesop! Aesop!" He repeated.

"OK, Aesop." He nodded, apparently satisfied with her statement. She however, was not getting any satisfaction.

"Xena." The soft voice reached out to her. "Mad!" The face made itself into a comic mask of anger.

Xena, for lack of ways to express her disappointment to this man, just nodded mutely to him and left the room, heading back to the parlor off the entry hall. She didn't see the plump hand reach down delicately, pinkie extended, and set the little Gabrielle doll on it's feet in the sand.

Xena opened the door to the parlor, thinking she would explain things later to Clyt. She was completely unprepared to find Gabrielle sitting up in the cart, supported by Clyt and Fecundo, both of them talking excitedly about free rangers over the top of the bard's head.

Pushing her stringy hair back Gabrielle saw Xena standing in the doorway before anyone else did, and gazed back at her with such loving concern and sweet relief, that Xena scattered the others in her rush to gather the bard up into her arms.

Xena felt an unspeakable joy as Gabrielle's arms reached for her and hung on tight, arms that had been so lifeless, now strong again. One small hand found it's way into her hair, to cup her head. Her face dropped into the privacy of Gabrielle's hair, and slid into a contracture of pain, a small sound of anguish escaping her tight throat. Then she felt, soft as the touch of a sleepy kitten, Gabrielle's fingers tingling against her scalp, and the whispered voice of her lover, like music. From it's burrow in her lovers amber hair, Xena's mouth opened in a sigh and then found the shortest path to Gabrielle's soft lips. They kissed once and then again, lips pressed softly, sweetly. Briefly, her tongue reached out and skimmed along Gabrielle's parted lips, then withdrew.

Her hands coming up to cup her beloved's face, to brush the eyebrows and cheeks with her fingers and palms, she asked softly, "You're back? I get you back again?"

Gabrielle just smiled at her for a moment, then said hoarsely, "Yes…I'm back, Xe. Though I've been a few places…" the bard looked thoughtfully around her. "Are we at Aesop's?"

Xena felt the tingling in her knees again. "Yes. Were you aware during your illness?"

"Sort of, I went just places…oh…Xena…you won't believe where I went… Aesop took me."

Xena turned away from the intimate moment to look up at Eradius, her eyes wide. "I owe you all an apology. I don't understand what has happened except she is all right. Thank you. I am in your debt."

"Apology accepted. It could have been worse. And you were so worried for your lover." Xena's eyebrow went way up, Eradius waved his hands up. "Well, it's not like we wouldn't notice a thing like an emotion in a place like this! You were in terrible shape, Xena! That's why Aesop had to get you away from Gabrielle…oops, you weren't supposed to know that."

Xena's face had turned to stone. "You mean, I caused the sickness?"

Eradius shook his head vigorously, and his tone took on that of an experienced lecturer. "No, no, no. Let me explain." He wet his lips with quick flicks of his tongue and knit his brow. He had a very scholarly brow, deeply knitted. "You are bonded to Gabrielle in many unusual ways. Somehow you have also become her anchor, which is usually an object, such as her staff, a piece of jewelry, or a weapon."

He placed a long finger alongside his thin cheek and took a breath long enough for all there to get a good look at his tonsils, if they wanted it. Xena shifted her weight to the other foot and sighed. "You may have a very rare gift, the catalyst talent. It gives you ability to sense imminent change, and to be a human anchor to a free-range empath. If you are centered you can help focus her; if you are scattered she more easily diffuses. To bring her out of the soul-sickness, Aesop needed to focus her, and you were scattered, do you understand?"

Xena's face hardly moved when she spoke, "I didn't cause it, but I made the healing harder."

"Well, very basically, yes, that's right… Oh! Your rooms!" Heads jerked up all around. "Sorry, there wasn't any time. We have rooms here prepared for you. Obviously, Gabrielle and Xena will share a room, so Clyt can have the other. It's not far. Shall we? Gabrielle, can you walk, dear?"

She tapped her feet experimentally on the floor. "Well, my feet don't seem to feel much, quite yet." After a couple of wobbly attempts to stand, she decided to use the cart a bit longer, and rode smiling out beside the garden as they turned down another long corridor off of the verandah.

There, opening out onto the garden's little pond, Eradius offered them simple clean, rooms next to one another. A bath steamed invitingly in both rooms. He informed them that a ringing bell meant meals and directed them to the commons hall where meals were served. He added "Gabrielle's a bit of a celebrity around here; a lot of the students would like very much to meet her." Then he left them alone to settle in, he and Fecundo bustling off to what must have been the kitchen complex, based on the aromas coming from that direction.

Clyt dropped her baggage on the floor as soon as she opened the door to her room, then ignoring the bath, flung herself with a groan onto the soft bed against the cool wall.

Xena wheeled Gabrielle into their own room, helped her onto the bed, then returned Clyt's cart to the room next door. There she found the young acolyte already asleep, exhausted from her long days and nights of sailing almost alone, except the company of one demented warrior princess and one comatose empath bard. Xena cringed, then she looked down at the young woman with a tender smile, and pulled a sheet up over her slight form. "Sleep well, little sister." Then she closed the door behind her softly as she left.

She paused, smiling, just long enough to watch a hummingbird that danced through some flowers before it darted up and over the roof, to the garden that probably cooled the villa next door. Then, the door of their room closed behind her.


Chapter X
Back in their room, Gabrielle was beaming at Xena from a huge bronze tub, tucked into a foamy envelope of bubbles. Her hair was pinned up into a crazy rooster tail. Xena found a empty bucket, pulled it up next to the tub and sat down, looking at Gabrielle with an evaluating expression. Such a long way… from her stool beside the bunk on the schooner…

"Gabrielle… I thought I'd lost you again." Xena murmured.

"I know, my heart." Gabrielle's lips were full and rosy, her cheeks flushed.

"You knew?" Xena was having a hard time tracking the conversation, watching Gabrielle's mouth say things like …my heart…

Gabrielle nodded, getting soap suds on her chin. "I felt you the whole time. I think I feel you just about all the time now, Xena."

Xena smiled, then sobered. "You said you went somewhere with Aesop. What was that all about?"

Gabrielle paused, piling foam into little snowy peaks in the landscape of her bubble bath. "It's so hard to describe in words, Xena. I remember going through the battle, and the spinnaker… then for a long time I was… swimming, or drowning?" She looked at Xena, who shook her head. "Not drowning. Whatever. So, for a long time nothing happened, then Uranus was there, or the feeling of him was there but it was actually Aesop. And then I could feel you again, how desperate you were, but he asked me to stay a bit, so…." She watched the sudsy peaks collapse in on themselves. Xena looked at Gabrielle's pink nails, shiny in the water, thought about sucking them…picked back up the thread of the conversation.

"…It was as if we flew," she began, her face remembering. "We went around and around the earth…it is round, Xena! Then, like a shot from a sling we left…" Her voice had taken on a bit of the bardic vocals she was known for. "…the true color of the heavens is black, black as the moonless night…"


"…there was a great wind, or a wave…rolling through the night, destroying worlds. It feels like insanity, chaos. It's coming here, soon maybe. It's so frightening and powerful, it almost seemed alive, but I don't think it is. I don't know what it is. Aesop and I have to talk some more. Oh! And Aesop…he's a priest to Uranus. You know, like Sibyl is to Gaea? You know, that special relationship thing?"

Xena groaned and dropped her head in her hands, "And Uranus is…another god?"

Gabrielle had only taken a breath while Xena spoke, and now wound into a solid monologue, gesturing wildly as she spoke, sending clouds of puffy suds floating about, sticking to Xena's hair and armor. "Well Xena, Uranus, is actually Gaea's son, immaculately conceived, and then later the father of her children, the Titans, who begot Zeus and the Olympians. Unfortunately, he betrayed Gaea with the Olympic gods revolt against the Titans, and she sort of demoted him. He's been pretty small potatoes since, but he's back on fair terms with Gaea. And he's god of the sky, so this issue of the cosmic storm is of particular interest to him. Didn't you pay attention in history classes back in Amphipolis?"

Xena, looking a little lost in the fluff that was flying around, said, "Actually, I never went to history class, Gabrielle." Xena watched the younger woman's breasts, buoyant in the water, slick curves gleaming in the lamplight, adorned with a fine white lace of foam…

"…the world! I am only just catching up on your warlord years, and do not feel that the occasion of my emergence from a coma is a good time for you to introduce me to the tales of your juvenile delinquency!"

"What?" Xena asked suddenly.

"What, what? Whether or not you went to school is of no-"

"No, I mean before that."

"I said: We have barely got time to save the world!" Gabrielle reached up and painted a sudsy mustache on Xena's face. "Uh huh," said the warrior, a goofy smile only partially hidden by the glop of foam on her lip. Gabrielle made it a full, foamy beard, with a long tail. Disorienting the warrior had always been a favorite pastime of the ingenious bard.

Xena's left eyebrow danced in invitation. "How shall we do that? Save the world, I mean." Tickling flecks of foam flew from Xena's beard into Gabrielle's face.

With a little giggle, Gabrielle's right hand reached up and shaved Xena's beard off, then trailed momentarily across her wet mouth. Her sneakier left hand reached down below the bubbles and, looking directly into the aquamarine of her lover's eyes she touched herself. "I'm supposed to make some kind of a shield. I don't know any more than that, till I get a chance to talk to Aesop in person."

"You're in for a surprise, there. He doesn't talk, much." Xena watched Gabrielle's honey hair, now adrift, sway with the serpentine movements of water.

"Oh, I know about that, Xena. It's okay, I'll understand him well enough. There was one other thing." Her eyes traveled over Xena's face like soft touches. "He also said you've really learned how to anchor me, but our methods have been…unorthodox. Xena, lover. That means we can… touch safely. The more the better, actually. It's the sex itself that makes it all work… Isn't that great?" Her two largest fingers flanked her clitoris, separated and lifted it from her labia, swelling and warm in the bath. She kept talking, gazing into the exquisite face of her lover, rubbing her two fingers up and down and spearing the tips into her opening.

Suddenly, she was short of breath. "The way you make love to me…the pleasure you give and I give you…keeps me connected, you know, I notice the smallest things about you…like right now." The look of the warrior after days of deprivation and worry… in the soft warm light, her raven hair still whipped from the windy days at sea, her armor tarnished. The warrior was a vision of wild beauty to the bard, who felt as if she had traveled infinite distances to come back to her side. Yearning for her, Gabrielle sat up in the tub, grabbed the sides and pulled herself up to her beloved, offering herself.

Xena had watched her lover transition into a sexual being as if enchanted. Gabrielle's awesome sexual intensity always seized her when it awakened quickly. Then suddenly, it was as if a damn had broken inside her, and Xena surged forward in a rush, plunging a girded arm into the bath water beneath Gabrielle's body. The other stabbed down between slick thighs and grabbed her bottom, lifting Gabrielle wholly out of the water, her hands still holding her sex, her face pressed into the soft tan flesh above Xena's armor. Gabrielle's mouth opened onto the warm skin, nuzzling wetly, her tongue lapping at any skin it could find.

Xena, feeling a rage of passion shoot through her, her knees weakening, set Gabrielle down on the floor, wet hair hanging in tangles down her back. Looming over Gabrielle, she grit her teeth and knelt on her greaves. Then, she reached beneath her leather armor trews and pulled off the breeches beneath, leaving her exposed to the air, easily reached through the studded leather straps.

"You're sure it's safe for me to…" Xena couldn't finish the sentence, her throat contracting as Gabrielle reached for her.

"Yes, my heart…it's more than safe now…" Gabrielle, deliberately making her movements slow, unbuckled the straps of Xena's armored plates and epaulets, then helped the warrior shrug them off over her head. When Xena started to take off the leather bodice, Gabrielle stopped her with her hand, "Leave the rest on for a minute, would you?" Gabrielle whispered. Her hand slid across the curves of Xena's warm chest, lowering the shoulder straps, then down the leather bodice, entangling her fingers in the fastenings down the warrior's broad back.

She gasped as she was roughly pulled into Xena's demanding mouth. Their kiss was wet and hungry, and soon they were both shaking with desire.

The two women pulled back and faced each other on the wet floor, Gabrielle naked and smooth as cream, Xena booted and still partially armored. Gabrielle reached out, and let her hands play out the fantasies that Xena's leather and armor had always provoked in her. Her fingers traced the worn curve of the leather on the bronzed fighter's body, the smooth lines of the bare, strong shoulders. As Xena's breathing deepened and shook, Gabrielle saw the soft flesh of Xena's breasts tremble, swelling near to bursting out of the leather cups.

Xena braced herself, keeping her arms back, as small hands pulled down the shoulder straps, and tugged the leather bodice down enough to expose her breasts to Gabrielle's hot breath and questing mouth. All the leather and armor in the world wasn't enough to protect Xena from the ravishes of Gabrielle's mouth and hands. From what was being done by one hot mouth to one stiff nipple, Xena could feel all the way down in her sex. The younger woman had been learning a lot about breasts in the short time she had been lovers with Xena. Gabrielle worshipped Xena's breasts like a devotee, bathed them like a mother, suckled and bit them like a newborn babe. Xena watched the line of Gabrielle's jaw move as her full lips opened and closed over her nipple, saw the straw colored hair soften the closed eyes, saw the mouth open to gulp air. Her hand wrapped around Gabrielle's head and her head lolled back, finally awash with the passion they were generating.

With long fingers cupping Gabrielle's head, she pulled the suckling mouth up to her own and, holding her own just over it, felt the soft lips gasp open and closed, felt the tongue reaching…she opened her own mouth wide and nearly bit into Gabrielle's face, mouth, teeth and tongue, as though trying to swallow her.

Kissing Xena back with all her might, Gabrielle hung onto Xena's thong lacings with one hand and reached down with the other. Her seeking fingertips fluttered against the tight leather, found an opening through the hanging leather straps to the soft curls sheltering behind, and dipped gratefully into the warm and wet crevasse of her lover's body.

Xena arched back with the pleasure of finally being touched again by Gabrielle. It had been a cruel task, denying her own pleasure with her beloved. A woman out of Xena's most erotic dreams, Gabrielle knelt naked before her with adoring eyes, her hands buried beneath Xena's leather trews.

As the warrior lost control and arched away from her, the bard urged her higher, until she was standing, buttocks trembling beneath Gabrielle's tender hands. Then, she made her hand into a fist and drew the tightened knuckles over Xena's sex, causing the warrior's clit to throb almost painfully.

Xena stood, her long legs braced wide apart and tried to keep from falling to her knees. Her own hands began to push into the leather straps at her waist, then she felt the other's wet mouth against her inner thigh, the wetness lengthening and extending, reaching her sex, circling her engorged clit.

With her lips, Gabrielle felt the hard core of flesh move beneath it's soft hood of wrinkled skin. She bit it lightly, felt it jump. She wrapped her lips and tongue around it and sucked it, lightly. When Xena's now urgent moans rolled over her, she sighed, blew her hot breath over the tight red clit, and she began to suck in earnest. She felt Xena's legs widen a bit further at the knees, felt her hips thrust forward just a bit more, saw the leather straps sway. Looking up, she saw Xena's hand had found her own breasts, and watched fascinated as the warrior stretched and kneaded her own breasts with a far firmer hand than Gabrielle had ever used. The other long fingered hand found and buried itself in the strawberry hair. Gabrielle's eyes traveled, feasting, up the arm, over the gauntlets and the arm bands. Then, to Gabrielle's delight, the warrior made her hips pump with the tiniest of movements, pumping into Gabrielle's mouth. She sucked hard, pulling as much of Xena's sex into her mouth as she could, and reaching in with her hand, she entered her lover aggressively, lovingly.

Tossing her head back again and again, Xena felt as if she had been suspended from Gabrielle's mouth and hands, and she gave herself with every thrust of her hips. She came in spasms, her hips jerking forward with each contraction, legs spread wide.

But Xena could recover very quickly when she wanted to, and was down on her knees, wrapping Gabrielle in her arms, and rising, all in the blink of an eye. The bard loved it when the warrior carried her around, and sighed happily. When Xena laid her down on the bed, she settled with a dramatic flourish back into the pillows, lowered her gaze. "Now, you can take that stuff off, if you would." Gabrielle's eyebrow went up high…enough, warrior…

Xena had everything off in a series of whips, and was snaking across the bed faster than the bard could think of something clever to say. Suddenly, the long, lean body was hanging in the air just over hers, the powerful arms holding her up.

Xena rasped, "Tell me what you want."

This time, Gabrielle had an answer ready. "For you to quit all the fancy stuff, for heavens sake!"

Xena, still ready to perform a push-up over her lover's body, collapsed down beside Gabrielle. "Fancy? Fancy? You calling me fancy?" She rolled onto her back.

"Well…" Gabrielle fluffed a pillow behind Xena's head and pulled a strand of hair away from her face as the tall woman let out a tired groan. "You're not exactly plain, my dear."

"You know, this may be the first time I've been flat in days." Suddenly, Xena couldn't quite feel her feet and hands, in the rush of blood redistributing throughout her body, she even felt a little lightheaded. Her own pulse pounded in her ears, and the world darkened momentarily. "Whoa."

"That's what I mean, fancy pants. You're exhausted, you need rest. I know, I can feel you, remember? Tomorrow we save the world, maybe. But today is all ours, OK?"

Xena just nodded.

"Look, I'll wake you early, okay? But sleep, lover, for now…" Gabrielle sat up slightly so she could pillow the bigger woman's head on her chest, and wrap her arms protectively around the wide shoulders. She was not surprised a bit when Xena's breathing quickly steadied, slowed and became a light snore. The warriors hands twitched around a sword that was not there, then she was still.

For a long, long time, Gabrielle held her, thinking about the heavens above, the infinity she had glimpsed while traveling with Aesop. Beneath the vastness of the heavens she felt so small, her brief peace with the woman she loved seemed more precious than anything.

Then she let herself remember the wave, out in the lost reaches of the night. It had almost a taste of chaos, but not quite, heading on a flawless but random path for earth…It is annihilation…

Somehow, she knew she had been summoned to stop the storm's advance upon the earth.

At that moment, came the bell for supper. With food to soften the blow of leaving Xena asleep in her arms like a child, she got carefully out of bed, dressed in her normal clothes and, taking her staff, stepped softly out the door.


Chapter XI

Following her nose down the long, shaded corridors, Gabrielle found the commons easily, and was joined by Eradius in line for a cup and plate. All around her were young people, talking, carrying trays and bundles of scrolls. Many of them stopped to introduce themselves, and then moved on politely, under the watchful eye of Eradius. Gabrielle found that at the Empathic Institute, she was indeed a celebrity.

…hmmf! how do you like that!… She puffed up proudly, if briefly.

"Hey guys!" Clyt appeared, sleepy-faced. "Boy, Gabrielle, you look better than I do. You sure bounced back!" She scrubbed her scalp through the short crop of messy hair and squinted up at Eradius. "Couldn't miss dinner, though. Where's Xena?"

"Out." Gabrielle stated briefly, and moved up the line.

"Where'd she go?" Clyt followed her.

"No, out. Asleep." Gabrielle suspected that Clyt's talkativeness tended to cancel her own out.


A very short silence passed, then Clyt started to rock on her heels, always an indicator that she was about to either pontificate or interrogate. She addressed herself to the unsuspecting Eradius. Gabrielle, relieved, focused all her attention on the hearty dinner being loaded onto her plate.

"You know, Eradius, I knew all along you folks here would cure Gabrielle's problem. I tried to tell Xena, but she can be hard to talk to sometimes…"

Gabrielle choked back a guffaw, nibbling off her plate as she got to the end of the line. Both women followed Eradius to a table, Gabrielle already eating before they sat down.

Clyt was still talking, of course. "At Gaea's we studied about the former Master of the E.I. I don't know much about Aesop. So, how did he do it, anyway?"

"Do what?" Eradius asked, cutting up a grapefruit methodically.

"Well, cure Gabrielle, I mean."

Eradius shrugged eloquently, "I actually don't know the details, Clyt, but the risk to Gabrielle is over. You're familiar with Gaea and her priestess. You must understand that we may never know how the old gods work through their earthly forms. I can tell you one thing, though." The patrician leaned in closer and spoke more confidentially. "Gaea has it on Uranus any day, hands down. He would do just about anything for her, and I know she asked for us to take care of Gabrielle and Xena. You were a bit unexpected though, Clyt."

Clyt ducked her head, "Well, I wasn't actually supposed to come along, we got waylaid by some Persians. I'll have some explaining to do for Sybil." Clyt thought she'd better drop that line. "So, Eradius, what's the relationship between the Empathic Institute and Uranus?"

He waved a long fingered hand elegant, once again. "Aesop, in addition to being a priest of Uranus has a number of powers, empathy being only one. The Institute gives him the support he needs, and he gives this fine school for empaths, as well as a home for the few people left who still worship any of the old gods."

Clyt leaned forward eagerly and asked in quieter tones, "Are you a priest yet? Has Uranus…well, you know…visited you?"

Eradius pulled himself up straight and said emphatically, "Heavens no, child! Aesop is the only priest of Uranus here! We don't need two!"

Gabrielle was impressed with Clyt's interview skills. But she was still hungry. She stood up, her plate empty. "Is this a buffet? Can I get seconds?" she asked Eradius, who nodded. She left the pair, comparing the priests and priestesses, gods and goddesses.

As she stood in line again, many more students approached her and struck up conversations. She was delighted by the attention and the chance to be talkative again. The students were fascinated by the fact that she was a free-ranger, and that Xena had become her anchor. They all seemed to know about the cosmic storm coming, and as empaths themselves, had all experienced some level of discomfort from the disturbance. Some of their questions began to get a little personal when they inquired over and over how Xena anchored her. Since empathic sex with Xena had apparently become her anchor, naturally she changed the subject.

"Say, you guys, I'm also a bard, you know. Actually, I'm more of a bard than an empath, if you look at how long I've been doing it." A ripple of excitement went through the little group standing in line, then spread through the hall.

"Tell us a story, Gabrielle!" someone called out.

Gabrielle was suddenly in heaven. She realized how terribly she had missed her story telling. Practically carried by a wave of admirers, she found herself on a lecture platform slightly above the crowd, who settled into chairs quickly, hushing each other loudly.

"Now, wait just a minute. I want seconds for my dinner." She handed her plate and cup to one of the students. "Get me stuff I can put in my mouth with my fingers. It's easier to talk and eat that way." She ran off to the buffet the plate.

While she waited, she tried out some small stuff, starting out with some classic comedies of the misbehaving Olympic gods and Titans. "All right, let's see now. I've noticed you have a beautiful garden here. Have you all heard the one about Aphrodite and Adonis, and how their adulterous affair gave us all perennial flowers? No? Well," Her tone and face were conspiratorial, as if somehow telling a secret to a room full of people. "Aphrodite was actually still married when…" and with that, she was off on one of her favorite comic romps.

After the new plate of food came, she moved on to several of her own original stories, many about Xena's quest for redemption. She was delighted to find that, because most in the room had some empathic ability, she was easily able to project strong emotions into the story. A smile broke across her face when she saw Clyt's face in the audience, enraptured. Gabrielle decided then and there that being a bard and an empath was going to be just fine.

In the end, she had woven what was indeed a masterpiece of a bardic spell, and could introduce whatever material she wished to the rapt crowd. For her last offering, she chose the poetry of Sappho, reciting the ancient verses with reverence.

"Aphrodite on your intricate throne, immortal, daughter of Zeus,
weaver of plots, I beg you, do not tame me with pain or my heart with anguish
but come here, as once before when I asked you, you heard my words from afar
and listened, and left you father's golden house and came.

You yoked your chariot, and lovely swift sparrows brought you,
fast whirling over the dark earth from heaven through the midst of the bright air.
And soon they arrived! And you, Oh blessed goddess, smiled with your immortal face
and asked what was wrong with me, and why did I call now…

…and what did I most want in my maddened heart to have for myself?
'Who now am I to persuade your love, who, Sappho, has done you wrong?
For if she flees, soon she'll pursue you, and if she won't take your gifts,
soon she'll give them; and if she won't love, soon she will love you.'

Come to me now again, release me from my cruel anxiety
Accomplish all that my heart wants accomplished
You yourself must join my battle."

Gabrielle finished the poem reverently, and was shocked at the roaring applause, mostly because she had forgotten she had an audience. A perfect performance.

But, as much as she enjoyed herself, she finally had to stop. Tonight her chief goal was see if she could get some time with Aesop. She excused herself reluctantly, almost forgetting the nearly untouched plate of her second dinner. But she delighted in overhearing the comments as she passed smiling and nodding through the crowd, on her way out of the commons.

"…I felt like I was actually flying on Pegasus…"

"…how about those vivid emotionals added onto the story line…"

As she walked out of the commons she would have skipped if she didn't have her staff tucked under her arm, and a plate full of lukewarm food. She strolled happily along the verandah, looking at the beautiful garden as she walked the long way around to Aesop's room. When she got to his door, she paused and sent out the empath's version of a polite knock on the door. When she got back the empath's version of 'come on in, honey', she opened the door and walked in.


In the earliest hours of the morning, Xena awoke alone with the absolute certainty that something was wrong. She dressed and armed herself very fast, then lurked beside the door when she heard someone fiddling with the handle. But it was Gabrielle who finally burst into the room after her struggle with the door. She broke out into sobs when she saw the bed was empty.

"I'm right here, Gabrielle," Xena said, putting her chakram away and hurrying to her, "I gotcha", she wrapped the sobbing bard in her arms.

Gabrielle, trying to talk through the tears, steadied herself a bit, then gave Xena her news. "Xena, I've been to see Aesop and he showed me what I have to do. We'll have to start trying soon, because we've only got two days to get the shield in place!" She seemed more composed, now that she had someone to talk to.

"Why just two days? I thought the storm was still a long way off." Xena asked.

"I'll tell you what, out in the heavens, 'a long way off' is a heck of a lot longer than you'd think!" Gabrielle wiped her face with both hands, and scrubbed her scalp with stiff fingers. "Boy, I can't believe it's already morning. I've been with him since last evening, and it feels like a century. Whew! But hey, first things first." The bard went up on her toes and kissed her tall warrior sweetly. "Good morning, my heart." she murmured intimately. "Sorry, I'm such a mess. Okay, now I feel much better. So, this is how I understand it. The shield is actually supposed to be fairly small. But when the storm hits it, a clear space will open up behind it and spread, like the wake behind a ship. We need to get the shield out far enough so that the wake is wide enough to protect not just the earth, but the moon and sun, and all the other worlds around the sun. All the worlds link together somehow, and if one goes, they all go."

Xena nodded, as if that made perfect sense to her.

Gabrielle went on, "I don't know how to make the shield itself, but Aesop has implanted a meditation or spell in me that he says I will just have to trigger by saying a word that's keyed to the spell. Then the spell takes care of the rest."

"Sounds easy enough. Why the tears?"

Gabrielle looked directly at Xena. "Because I'm scared to death I won't be able to do it! He's counting on my ability to empathically project, combined with your ability as a catalyst-anchor to pull it all off. If we're not good enough, the earth is doomed." She pulled away from Xena and began walking around the room, gesturing wildly. "People study here for years before they try something like this on a small scale, and here we are hardly a day here and we're going to try it on a planetary scale." She stopped and sat on the edge of their bed, looking back at Xena. "And it's going to be really dangerous. He say's that I will be summoning the earth's power to build the shield, and that could set off a huge grounding, in spite of your anchor. That earthquake in Methoni was nothing next to what could happen when we try to send up the shield. They're going to evacuate the Institute and even some of the neighborhood before we try it."

Just as she spoke, the bell began to toll the summoning of the students to the commons hall, where they would be instructed to pack up for a move to another facility on the mainland.

"Aesop wants to begin trying right away, as soon as everyone's out."

"Is that it, then?" Xena asked, matter-of-factly.

"That ought to be just about enough, don't you think?" Gabrielle's voice went up and finished in a squeak.

Xena walked calmly over to the bed and sat down next to Gabrielle. "Well, we've had worse odds before."

Gabrielle almost glared at her. "How can you be so cavalier about this? What makes you think I'm good enough?"

Xena took her lover by the shoulders, and spoke to her in her softest voice. "You make me think so. You are good enough, Gabrielle." Xena face reflected her certainty.

Gabrielle stared at her, mouth open, then snorted. "I wish I had your faith."

"Faith has nothing to do with it, Gabrielle. If anyone can do it, you can." Xena returned her gaze levelly, daring her to try.

Gabrielle found she didn't want to be a hero, didn't like the part at all. "I liked it better with you as the hero and me as the side kick." She sighed, her young face looking like it wanted to cry again.

But Xena understood perfectly what her lover was feeling, and knew just how to use the time they had left to comfort her. She drew back Gabrielle's hair from her neck, then with infinite slowness, she leaned over and blew a warm breath straight into the bard's ear…


Chapter XII
Ares, still petulant from his failed ambush of Xena at Andikithira, fumed in his Olympic throne room, decorated in the latest dungeon accessories. He cared nothing about the cosmic storm, and even less for the committee meetings being held about it among the various gods and immortals. He was, at that very moment, avoiding a "brain-storming session". It was a preliminary committee meeting to discuss a mission statement, and possibly even decision-making processes, before actually applying itself to the issue of the imminent apocalypse.

"There's nothing for me here!" he cried in anguish. What he really needed, he thought, was a nice vacation. He thought about going to visit Mars in Rome, or maybe Venus for a change of pace…he growled and made a fist…none of it mattered anyway, Zeus would just yank him back to Olympus no matter where he went …while Xena goes where she wishes…

"Intolerable!" he screamed. It had been bad enough when she left him and his ways, but when she started fucking that cutsie-pie golden girl… he still saw red …what I need is a puppet to do it for me…He smiled slowly, thinking of the perfect agent of his murderous rage for Xena. Walking over to a chess board, he picked up an alabaster pawn and dashed it to the floor, where it exploded in a tall column of purple smoke.

When the dust cleared, Cyrus stood there, choking and waving his hands. Blinking at the god, Cyrus recognized him and groaned.

"Missed me, Cyrus?" Ares mouth opened wide in a magnificent smile.

Cyrus, flapping the smoke out of his robes, didn't notice. "Missed you? Why yes, I've still got a rag tag fleet left, limping back to Antioch, and I've been just dying for you to come back and finish it off!" He looked around. "Where in Tartarus am I, Ares?"

Ares gestured around the room regally, "This is my throne room, my toy room, my den, my private dungeon…"

Cyrus looked around at the various implements of torture, and found himself becoming just a little aroused, to his annoyance. "Am I supposed to be impressed? You know what impresses me, Ares? Two thousand Persian soldiers drown or captured! Eighteen corsairs sunk to the bottom of a little fishing bay out in the middle of bloody nowhere! That impresses me! You blowing smoke up my robes, that doesn't impressed me, Ares!"

Ares walked over to a table, laid out with an elaborate collection of devices. He picked up a small horsetail whip, it's handle thickly wrapped with leather, and began running his fingers through it. Cyrus watched him angrily, keeping his eyes away from Ares hands.

Fingering the horsehair, Ares asked, "And the woman you saw on the boat, the one with the bow and arrows…"

Cyrus' chin came up sharply, dark eyes starting out of his head. "The mannish one. Who is she?"

Ares grew very serious. "Why, she's Xena: Warrior Princess. You've never heard of her?"

Cyrus shook his head wordlessly, afraid to hope that he could get a chance at the Greek bitch that had rendered his battleship useless.

Ares put down the whip and toyed with a larger one. "Why, Xena is the greatest female warrior that ever lived. She's even beaten me on occasion. She's a lover of women, one in particular. An irritating blond."

In Persia, women did not grow up to become women like Xena. In Persia, women were property. Cyrus, in spite of his own exotic sexual interests, found the idea of women being sexual in any way without the assistance of a man a very repulsive one indeed.

Then Ares made his move. "She was the mastermind behind the battle at Andikithira. Or didn't you know? She and her lover, the blond. You were beaten by females, Cyrus."

Cyrus became very still and white, and for the first time lost all interest in Ares' tight leather pants, or what was in them. He stared openly at the god, his face demanding answers. "Why did you bring me here?"

"To give you revenge. Or does that not interest his Majesty?"

"It does." Cyrus began hearing a ringing in his ears, as his excitement grew.

"I can take you to where she is, but you'll have to go alone, and you'll have to find her yourself. When she's dead, I'll send you anywhere you want to go."

Cyrus, still concentrating looked for the catch. "And if I don't kill her?"

Ares laughed long and deeply. "You really don't know much about her, do you? If you don't kill her, you'll be dead and in no need of transportation. Well, is it a deal?"

The ringing had become a gong sounding through his being. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than to kill the warrior woman. "I accept your offer. Send me down to her and I will kill her. But she dies for me, god, not for you."

Ares snarled at him, secretly delighted. "Whore! How dare you! You live for me and she dies for me! Do you see this?" His muscled arm swept the chessboard clean. "This is you, toy!" The god rushed him. "Kneel!" he bellowed.

Cyrus found himself on his knees, facing Ares standing over him, unfastening those damn leather pants. The Persian King trembled in rage and lust, and knew he was lost, lost, lost.

Mindlessly and ignorant of the intrigues of the worlds in it's path, the massive storm swept on, cleaning the space it flew through, gathering power and matter, obliterating gravitational fields and even a couple of exploratory extraterrestrial satellites…but that's another story.

Continue to part 4

alt fic index <> homepage