Endings or Beginnings?

part 2

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.

Chapter 3

In less than a week, Xena was back on her feet and ready for some action. Although Gabrielle forbade her from practicing flips and kicks, for the time being, the warrior was literally running through the streets of Amphipolis each morning, building back the strength in her leg muscles. And according to Cyrene, she was eating like she had a hole in her belly that no amount of food could fill. Xena knew this was true; for, what she was actually feeding was a hunger for something only Gabrielle could provide. And she was slowly but surely working on the bard providing just that. Gabrielle was already sleeping with her -had been for several days- in "the blue room" Cyrene had set-aside specifically for Xena. The warrior hoped it would not be too much longer before far more than sleep and storytelling -reciting her dreams for the bard to record- were accomplished in that four-poster bed. And it had better be soon, before they left on their voyage.

The deal with Artemis had already been discussed and agreed upon by all parties. The ship the goddess had procured was anchored in the Amphipolis harbor. The Amazons were in the process of packing up and getting ready to leave their village, once they got the word from Gabrielle. The only two things keeping them here were Joxerís return from picking up Xenaís chakram and the warrior, herself, back to a hundred percent. And Gabrielle had made sure sheíd be the one to make the final decision on that particular issue.

* * * *

Xena stepped into the innís stable to check on Argo and Whatís-his-name -Gabrielleís nameless horse- and to cool down from her morning run, before going inside. She, of course, greeted Argo first and patted the warhorse lovingly. She felt extremely grateful to Amarice for putting forth the time and effort to track her horse down. Xena had already apologized to Argo and seemed to have been forgiven, as always. Wish we humans were so forgiving, the warrior thought, as the mare nuzzled against her, then whinnied.

"What is it, girl?" the warrior asked. The mare snorted and looked toward Whatís-his-name. The stallion turned away and swished his tail. "Okay, I was getting to him. I havenít forgotten about him. Hmph, you must really like him if you wanna share my attention. Never known you to be so giving before." She rubbed the warhorseís muzzle as Argoís head moved up and down, as if she were nodding.

This did not stun Xena, she was used to it. She knew Argo understood far more than most humans would give her credit for. And she should, she thought, I put enough time and effort into training her.

Argo nudged her owner on the hip. "Okay, okay, Iím going, Iím going." The warrior walked over to Whatís-his-name. "So, how are you today... Nemo?" she asked, the name coming into mind and falling from her lips as she looked into the stallionís dark eyes. "Nemo? Now where in Tartarus did that come from?" she mumbled, petting the stallionís flanks.

Argo snorted, whinnied and stamped her foot. "Oh, so you donít like that name?" Xena asked. Argo nodded. "You do like that name?" The warhorse whinnied. "Okay, Nemo it is then. That is... unless Gabrielle objects." Argo shook her head and snorted. "Donít think she will, huh?" Again the warhorse shook her head.

"So, how are you this morning, Nemo?" she continued, "Lemme see that leg, hmm?" Gabrielle had already filled her in on how she had actually come by the horse.

A young boy had found him caught in a bear trap and subsequently set him free. The boyís father would not let him keep the horse, so heíd brought the poor animal to the hospice, hoping someone would take care of his injuries. Gabrielle had immediately taken a liking to the tall sorrel colored stallion and talked Usef into helping her heal him, which she was more than willing to pay for. The latter debt she was still working off, along with Xenaís, by telling stories in the inn and any place else she could make a dinar. Even though Cyreneís help in the hospice had lowered the warriorís debt considerably, Xena assumed Gabrielle was partly stalling about leaving, wanting to make sure she repaid Usef and his helpers all that she felt she owed them.

"Sheís done a very good job with this, Nemo, my man," Xena acknowledged, as she let go of his leg. "True test will be when youíre ridden, though."

"They why donít we put him to the test?" Gabrielle asked from the stable doorway.

Xena abruptly straightened up. "How long have you been standing there?" she inquired, noticing that Gabrielle was leaning against the doorframe.

"Long enough to hear you name my horse." The bard started towards her.

"Wull, I... wasnít exactly... naming him," Xena stammered. "I just... got tired of calling him..."

"Whatís-his-name." Gabrielle finished for her. "I like your name for him... Nemo... Hmph, it suits him. Guess I was just waiting for you to wake up and name him, hmm? Now, how about that ride?" She walked up to Xena and put her arm around her waist. "Pack a picnic lunch... go down to the river and...?"

"And?" Xena prodded, her arm going around Gabrielleís shoulders, as she gazed down at the lovely little bard.

Gabrielle shrugged. "Eh-umm, whatever happens... to catch our attention, I suppose."

"Uh-huh, I lo-ove the sound of that," Xena purred.

"I thought you might," the bard said, turning to face her lover.

Smoldering blue eyes gazed into shimmering green. Xena cupped the bardís face in both hands and leaned over. Two mouths opened simultaneously in anticipation; Xenaís tongue easing out beyond her lips....

"There you are," Amarice announced, from just outside the stable door.

"Ar-rg!" Xena growled, her mouth, lips and tongue left unsatisfied as Gabrielle abruptly turned in Amariceís direction.

"Ooo-oops!" the Amazon added, as she realized what sheíd walked up on. She spun around abruptly and caught Arman before he entered.

"What?" he asked, before she spirited him away.

"Not them," Amarice said. "Letís just... keep lookiní."

"Wonder what they wanted?" Gabrielle mused. "Guess it wasnít important, though."

"Who cares?" Xena asked, turning the bardís face back around. She then quickly took several steps back into the horseís stall, taking Gabrielle with her. "Now... where were we?" she murmured, her face moving towards her loverís once again.

Their lips met in a passionate embrace.

"By the gods you have such a sweet mouth," Xena breathed against the bardís cheek when Gabrielle broke away, gasping for air. "Umm... I want you," she said, lips moving towards the bardís neck. "I need you!" she hissed. "Forget the picnic... I donít need food." She attacked her loverís neck, then was struck by an idea. "Umm, better yet... letís just go up in the hay loft, hmm?"

"Oh-ho no," Gabrielle objected. "No, the whole town ... is not gonna be privy to this. Huh-uh! Weíre going somewhere quiet and... far away from prying ears and eyes."

"Whatever you say. Letís just go... please!" Xena added. Her hands having moved to the bardís behind, they were now roaming over it and squeezing lightly.

"While you saddle the horses... Iíll prepare the picnic," Gabrielle whispered.

"Umph," Xena grunted, nibbling on the bardís ear and attempting to lift her off her feet.

"Hey! None of that!" Gabrielle warned, pushing away slightly. "Not just yet," she continued, gazing up at Xena. "Save your strength, Warrior Princess." She ran her index finger over Xenaís lower lip. "íCuz... youíre gonna need it."

"Is that a promise?" the warrior purred, moving in for another kiss.

"Oh ye-eah," Gabrielle purred right back at her, raising one foot and rubbing against the back of Xenaís calf. "íCuz this little minx is gonna put you through your paces."

"Bring it on, my little wildcat, Iím more than ready." Xena purred like a big cat, right before attacking her loverís lips.

They both heard someone enter the stable and slowly dropped to their knees.

"Coulda sworn I heard voices in here," Joxer mumbled. Both women smiled slyly at one another, knowing they were hidden from view. "Hmph. Guess Iím hearing things," the bumbling warrior added. They then heard him as he turned to leave and subsequently walked out.

"Heís back," Gabrielle whispered.

"So I heard," Xena murmured, too intent upon her lover to get the implication; her lips seeking out the luscious ones before them.

"Your chakram," the bard reminded, knowing Xena would more than likely want to have it as soon as possible.

Xenaís mouth was agape, tongue showing. "It... can wait," she grumbled and proceeded onward in her quest.

* * * *

The warrior had both horses saddled and tied up outside, before she went into the inn to get Gabrielle.

"There you are," Joxer said, the moment she entered the door. "Iíve been looking all over for you,"

"Whereís the chakram and how much do I owe you?" Xena asked, forcing a smile on her face, her feet moving rapidly towards him. She didnít feel like making small talk right now.

"And hello to you to," Joxer muttered, holding a bag up in his hand. "Chakramís in here. And Hercules already took care of it. No charge."

"Great. Thanks Joxer." The warrior was already opening the bag. "Have a drink or... some breakfast or somethiní. Gabrielle handles the money," she added, pulling the chakram from the bag and admiring it. The bag dropped to the floor, as Xena searched for signs of a patch job. Howíd she ever fix this? I canít even tell where the breaks were, she mused. Thereís no sign at all that... She paused, as she realized the chakram also had no nicks or abrasions where there had been several before. "What?" she asked, realizing Joxer was speaking.

"I said... she couldnít fix the old one. Well... not for your use, or so she said," Joxer responded. Xena spun around to face him. "Thatís a brand new one, there. I even got to watch her make it. Terribly hot work and... the muscles on that woman... Umph-umph-umph! Sheís built better than you are."

Xena glanced up at him over the top of the chakram she was holding up, examining.

"Well no, sheís not better built... sheís more... manly looking actually. And not... very attract..."

"This is new?" Xena mused aloud, testing the weight in her hand. Ah yes, I see, she thought, noticing the design on the opposing side was slightly different than the old one. And the stones were not blue but more bluish-purple.

"Of course, I have the old one, too," Joxer announced. "She said it wouldnít hold up as a weapon, but she fixed it as best she could. Thought you might like to have it for a... keepsake, I suppose." He reached into the top of his tunic. "Didnít wanna get them... ouch... mixed up," he explained. "Great Zeus that thingís sharp." He then produced the old chakram.

Xena glanced over at the old one. She didnít want to get them mixed up, either. She could probably tell the difference upon close inspection, but not in the heat of battle. "Why donít you keep it, Joxer," she offered, on impulse.

"Me? What am I gonna do with it?"

"I donít know. Maybe... attach it... to your breastplate armor or... something. Could save your life one day." Xena hooked the new chakram on her belt. "Whereís Gabrielle?"

"In the... kitchen," he answered a bit sadly, gesturing with his head. "Sheís... fixiní your.. picnic lunch."

Xena noticed his tone and the rather forlorn look on his face. Her mother had already intimated that Joxer now knew of her and Gabrielleís relationship. Xena sympathized with him, because the truth always hurt. But when armed with the knowledge this afforded, at least one had a better chance to heal those wounds the truth had laid open. She wanted to say, "Iím sorry, Joxer", but she wasnít sure he needed or even wanted to hear this from her. Of course, she had no reason to feel guilty. It wasnít like she had stolen Gabrielle away from him. They just hadnít worked up that point before he came along.

"Hey," she said. "How Ďbout later on, you and me... we do a little sparring? I could sure use the practice." Xena immediately realized this was a bad idea. Why she had even suggested it, she did not know.

"Me... you... sparring?" he huffed and dropped his head. "Thereíd be no contest, Xena. Iíd be disarmed and on the ground before you even drew a weapon. Been there, done that." He laid the chakram down on the bar. "Nawh, I canít even hold my own with Gabrielle, much less you."

"Umph," Xena grunted, realizing sheíd just made things worse. "Well, maybe itís time we did something about that, hmm?" she added, headed behind the bar now. Oh for the love of Zeus, she thought, where are these stupid ideas coming from? She nibbled her lower lip. I canít believe I said that. Teaching Joxer to fight... Gabrielle will throttle me!

"You mean, after all this time, you think you can... teach me how to fight?" he asked incredulously. "Hmph, thatís like saying Gabrielle will one day...." He paused and turned away, realizing to whom he was talking to: none other than his rival for Gabrielleís heart. Rival my arse, he thought, sheís already won that battle. And Iíll be damned if Iíll let her kick my arse just to prove it. "Nawh, Xena... wouldnít work. Iím no match for you and... if I havenít learned by now then..." He glanced over at the warrior, who was pouring a stein of ale. "Thanks for the offer, but no thanks." He reached over and picked up his hat.

Amarice and Arman walked in the front door. "Thereís you some sparring partners, Xena. Either one of them can hold their own. Iím just... well, Iím outta here," he mumbled.

"Joxer wait... donít you at least want the ale?"

"Iíll take one of those," Arman spoke up.

"Give it to him," Joxer responded. "He deserves it more than I do."

"Joxer, wait!" Xena called out. "Where are you going?" The bumbling warrior turned towards her, a very sad look on his face. "You will be back, right?" she added, upon seeing this expression.

Joxer shifted his weight from one foot to the other as if he were debating the issue. "Um, I... uh, I think itís time I was moving on, ya know. Tell Gabrielle I said... good bye." He turned away again. "Enjoy your trip. Iíll see yaíll around someti...."

"Gabrielle!" Xena called out. "Hold it right here, Joxer. Gabrielle!"

"Yeah?" the bard called out from the kitchen.

"Joxer is leaving without payment and... he wasnít even going to say good bye to you."

"What?" The bard came through the kitchen doorway with a frown on her face. "Joxer, where you going? You just got back."

The bumbling warrior turned his hat in his hand, looking down at it. "I... wull, I thought I might go join up with... Hercules, for awhile. You know... do the guy thing." He glanced up. "That Iolaus is... a really funny guy." He chuckled and looked back down again. "I... uh... wull, I think I could learn a lot from them, ya know." He was looking at his hat again, which was still turning in his hand.

"Uh-huh and so... what? Youíre in such a hurry that you couldnít wait to say good bye to me, is that it?"

He glanced up at Xena briefly, then on up to the ceiling for a moment, various expressions coming and going on his face. "Uh yeah... Yeah, itís... itís gonna take me a few days to catch up withíem as it is so..." He turned towards the door.

One of Gabrielleís sais zoomed by his head and stuck in the door with a twanging thud. He took a step back and quickly turned around.

Gabrielle was moving toward him at a rapid pace. She grabbed him around the neck and hugged him tightly to her. "Take care of yourself, Joxer. And know this, you... you always have a place with me and Xena. Always. You got that?" The bumbling warrior nodded, biting his lip. "I love you, Joxer. Youíre... a very good friend and... always will be."

The words "I love you, too, Gabrielle" were on the tip of his tongue, but he could not say them. He grunted as tears stung his eyes. Then he cleared his throat, noticing the others turn away. "What is this?" he croaked, then cleared his throat again. "You act like Iím going away for good or somethiní. Hey, Iíll be back. You know olí Joxer will always show up again." He pulled away from Gabrielle and stared down at her for a moment. "You two take care. And... uh, send word when you get back from your trip, okay?"

"Where will you be?" she asked, wiping a tear from her cheek.

At least she does care about me, he thought. "Um... Megís tavern... that... uh, that sounds like a good place to get in touch with me. Or maybe... Herculesís mother. One of those. Iíll get it."

"Umph," Gabrielle grunted. "Iím surprised you donít wanna go on this trip, what with... all those Amazons." She smirked.

He smiled. "Too many... Amazons," he responded, glancing over at Amarice briefly. "And theyíre all..." He paused and glanced up at the ceiling, thinking Heartbreakers. What he said, however, was, "Wull, there would be too many hearts to break, ya know. Nawh, Joxer the mighty, he has to keep moving. Canít be... cooped up on some old ship. Gotta spread it around, doníchu know?" he quipped and forced a smile.

"Yeah, I guess so," Gabrielle replied. "Well, take care Joxer." She pecked him on the cheek. "Donít break too many hearts in your travels, hmm."

"Ah, canít make any promises about that, little missy, but..." He placed his hat on his head. "...Iíll try to restrain myself." He grinned and turned around, reaching for the door handle. Noticing the bardís sais still stuck in the door, he reached up for it. He tugged on it several times, grumbling under his breath. Gabrielle walked over; he let go. She yanked it out of the door. He snickered sheepishly. "Wull... bye Gabrielle... Xena... Amarice, Arman. See you guys around."

"Tell Hercules I said thank you," Xena called out. "I owe him one."

"Thatís what Herc said about the chakram... that he owed you one for... hmm, I forgot what for, but... he said, now you were even." Joxer reached for the door again.

"Are you sure you donít want payment for all your trouble going to get this and..." Xena paused. "...saving our lives and...?"

He held up his hand cutting her off. "Oh no, youíve saved my... behind far too many times for that. Letís... call it even, hmm? Now... can I leave?" he asked, with a slight smile.

Good-byes were heard from all, even from Cyrene in the kitchen. Joxer walked out of the inn sad, but feeling well loved. Heíd be back one day when he was over Gabrielle. And he would get over her, he vowed. Heíd always love her, but it was time to move on; start a new life. And if he ever happened upon two women like Xena and Gabrielle again, which was doubtful, he would run the other way just as fast as his feet would carry him.

The inn was silent for a moment. Then all four heard the sounds of Joxer singing: "Joxer the mighty... roams through the countryside... never needs a place to hide..." Gabrielle glanced over at Xena. Both knew the words that came next. "Never needs a sidekick... Not a warrior he canít lick. Heís Joxer... heís Joxer the mi-igh-ty. Yeah!"

Xena arched one dark eyebrow at the change in his lyrics. Sounds like heíll be okay, she thought. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shook her head, then headed back to the kitchen.

"You still offering that ale?" Arman asked.

Xena pushed the stein sheíd poured for Joxer towards him. In the process she realized that the old chakram was gone. She hadnít seen Joxer pick it up, but she was glad heíd taken it. She smiled to herself. Must not hate me too much, if heíd take a souvenir.

"Can I have one of those, too?" Amarice asked.

Xena arched one dark eyebrow. "What? Do I look like a bartender to you?" she quipped and smirked.

"Bar maid," Cyrene countered. "And no, you donít. You look like a smelly, sweaty daughter who needs to help her... friend prepare their lunch. Now go on, get out from behind here before you give away all my ale." Cyrene popped her daughter on the fanny with a dry rag.

"Okay, I give, Iím going," Xena said with a chuckle.

"Just be back before dark," her mother added.

"Mom! How old do you think...?"

"Just kiddiní, Xena," Cyrene interrupted with a smile. "Lighten up why doníchu? Lifeís too short to be so serious."

Whoa, the warrior thought, Wonder whatís gotten into her? Then she remembered Usef had been coming by a lot lately. Hmph, Mom in love...? Nawh! She shook her head and proceeded into the kitchen.

The bard appeared to be finishing up the picnic basket. "You okay?" Xena queried.

"Um, yeah. I..." Gabrielle looked over her shoulder, unshed tears brimming in her eyes. "Do you think heíll really be back?"

"He said he would. He just needs time, love." Xena moved over behind the bard and put her arms around her waist.

"He seemed... so sad. I knew it would break his heart."

"Itís probably not all broken heart. His pride is wounded, too, I expect. Heís been denying what was in front of him for... a long time now. And deep down I think he knows that. He just... needs time to come to terms with his own denial."

"I hope heíll be alright." One of the bardís hands rubbed against the two around her waist.

"Iím sure he will. Heís in good hands with Hercules."

"If... thatís really where heís going."

"Umph," Xena grunted. "Perhaps a stop over at Megís is just what he needs right now. You know how she feels about him."

"Yeah. Maybe thatís one part of your dream that will come true, hmm?" The bard slowly turned around to face Xena. "Wouldnít be a bad thing."

"No," the warrior agreed. "Loveís seldom a bad thing." Bright blue eyes searched sea green for several moments. "Iím dying to kiss you," Xena admitted.

"Then why donít you?"

"I didnít think..." The warrior paused as the bard raised her chin slightly. "I thought youíd..."

"Everyone knows now. And... I donít care who sees anymore."

Their lips met in a soft embrace that rapidly turned passionate. Xena forget where they were. Neither one saw Cyrene as she walked through the kitchen doorway, stopped abruptly, then eased right back out again.

"Umph," the older woman grunted. Knowing is one thing, but seeing... is another, she thought. Guess I better get used to it, though. Really no different from... a man and a woman. Oh my! she almost said aloud, seeing Amarice and Arman involved in the same activity. Looks like love is definitely in the air this season. Cupid must be working overtime these days. She stepped around the kissing couple and into the hallway. Wonder if Usef will drop by today? she mused.

Chapter 4

The two lovers were riding side by side, their horses trotting along at an easy relaxed pace, staying neck and neck, as if theyíd done this many times before. Gabrielle glanced over at Xena. Although her companion was not back to a hundred percent, youíd never know that by just looking at her. The warrior princess was now once again armed with sword, chakram and whip. She looked much the same as she used to in her new leathers, breastplate and boots; minus gauntlets and armlets, which had been left behind for the time being. And the bard knew she was mentally ready for action. But these weapons and clothes did not figure into the kind of action Gabrielle had in mind for her.

"How much further?" the bard inquired, referring to the place Xena said she wanted to take her.

"Getting tired?" the warrior asked with a smirk.

"No, just wondering."

"Itís right up ahead, where the river widens. Lyceus and I used to come here, a lot," she added, referring to her deceased younger brother.

Gabrielle had learned long ago not to delve into this particular subject, unless she wanted a sad warrior on her hands. And sad was not how she wanted Xena to be today. So she let the remark pass.

* * * *

Xena spread out the blanket and Gabrielle laid out their lunch. The two horses were grazing loose, not far away; Nemoís reins tied to Argoís, just in case he decided to wander off. There didnít appear to be any danger of that, however, for he seemed quite content to be wherever the golden colored mare was. Evidently the two had become fast friends. Not so much unlike their owners when they first met.

The sky was a bit overcast, the day unseasonably warm for this time of year. The bard had brought along their new winter coats just in case of rain or any other use that might present itself. Sheíd learned it best to be prepared for any eventuality where Xena was concerned. Her only worry at the moment was how deeply in debt she was to the various merchants in town. Artemis had said she would provide the necessary funding for the voyage -supplies and such- but she did not say anything about Xena and Gabrielleís debts. The hospice, her horse, saddle, new breastplate, sword, new boots and coats for both had not come cheap. And all would need to be paid off before they left on their trip.

The bard needed a job and soon. Telling stories could keep them in food, but would not cover all the other expenses they otherwise would not have incurred, if they hadnít been stripped of nearly every single thing they owned at the prison on Mt. Amaro. It made the bard mad every time she thought about what the Romans had done to them. And then again, she would remember to be thankful that they were still alive. She dared not say anything to Xena about their debts, however, knowing the warrior would want to obtain the money herself by going off on a bounty hunting expedition. And thatís the last thing Gabrielle wanted her to do right now.

"Youíre mighty quiet," Xena commented, as they ate their lunch.

"Just... enjoying the scenery," Gabrielle responded, admiring her loverís long body, stretched out on its side in front of her; Xenaís weight resting on one elbow.

"See anything you... like?" The warrior quipped and took another bite of her sliced cheese and jerky sandwich.

"Oh yeah," the bard replied, with a smirk. "Like... want... and nee-eed," she added, nibbling on her own sandwich.

"Umph, I know the feeling," Xena acknowledged, her eyes roaming over the bardís upright body and down to the skirt, the leather strips lying between her loverís crossed legs. "I like those designs you added to that," she commented, gesturing to the leather strips.

"Thank you. I thought it needed a bit of something to... bring it all together."

"Didnít wanna go back to the old green halter and brown skirt, huh?"

"No, I... I felt I needed... something new. And besides the halter is a lot more comfortable. The doeskin in the cups was a wonderful idea, by the way."

"Not as easy to... get in and out of, though, is it?" Xena smirked.

"Itís not hard," the bard countered.

"Hmph. I kinda liked the old one. Knowing I could just... reach over, pull your string and... set you free."

"Free and exposed to your roaminí hands?"

Xena chuckled. "Oh yeah. And my hungry eyes." She arched both eyebrows suggestively.

"Hungry eyes, huh? Then maybe you oughta have another sandwich," Gabrielle quipped.

Xena chuckled softly; her tone deep and sensual. "Oh, I intend to. But not this kind of sandwich." She glanced down at the small piece of bread left in her hand.

"What other kind of sandwich is there?"

"Body sandwich," Xena replied, then popped the last bite into her mouth.

"Oh-h and... exactly who do you want to do this with, hmm?"

Xena chewed and swallowed before answering. "Thereís a certain little minx I know... very pretty girl, actually. Lovely, short blonde hair, green eyes, ruby red lips and... a body to die for."

Gabrielle was close to blushing. She turned away for a brief moment. "And what makes you think sheíd wanna make a... sandwich with you?"

"That certain look in her eyes," Xena answered, as she straightened up and brushed the crumbs off her bare leathers, having removed the breastplate a while back, in order to be more comfortable. She then reached down and started unlacing her boots.

Gabrielle silently watched, while finishing her sandwich and trying to think of what she wanted to say next. She did so love these little sparring matches with words. They were foreplay; one word, thought or phrase building upon the others, heightening the sexual tension and offering promises of pleasure to come. She had been putting Xena off for several nights now, not wanting to share their outbursts, nor inhibit their initial lovemaking session in any way by being within the confines of the inn. She preferred that they both be free to express themselves openly and fully with no inhibitions about being overhead or disturbed. Xena must have been thinking similar thoughts, according to the place she had chosen for their picnic.

The warrior wiggled the toes of both feet now. Gabrielle noticed that the circle and cross Mende lines were no longer visible on her loverís right foot. Hers were gone as well, after Artemis healed her. It was almost as if theyíd both been washed clean of the past. And she had the feeling deep inside that they were moving into a new life and a new level to their relationship. The old concerns about Xenaís past didnít bother her as much anymore. She now knew what it felt like to be a warrior; one who had taken lives to protect a loved one and shed blood to free those who could not fight for themselves. It was a heavy burden; one which came with a great deal of emotional baggage.

She hadnít discussed the battles she had fought in alongside Athenaís army with Xena yet. Nor had the warrior asked her to. Xena seemed to understand this was not something she wanted to discuss and relive in her mind, at the present time. Gabrielle wondered now, if this was why the warrior was often so stoic, so reluctant to talk about her past and the previous battles? Could that also be why Xena never read her scrolls? Did the warrior carry the guilt over all those she had been forced to kill locked deep inside? Gabrielle certainly carried that feeling of guilt now. And she wasnít sure sheíd want to relive that in spoken words or written ones. Besides, sheíd been too busy recording Xenaís out-of-this-world dreams. Her lover relaying these at night, while they lay in bed; the warrior always generalizing the battles, as usual, never being specific or graphic about even the imagined bloodshed. Gabrielle felt she could relate to that now. And perhaps, even understood Xena a bit better, as well.

When her lover finally looked up from removing her boots, Gabrielle picked up the thread of their conversation as if no time had passed. "And what look is that?"

"Huh? Oh." Xena pursed her lips. "The one you were giving me... a moment ago," she answered, her eyes darting back and forth as if searching the bardís for the answer to some unvoiced question.

Gabrielle could almost hear her lover asking, What were you thinking? The bard did not want to answer that question, so she glanced away. "Pretty place," she remarked, changing the subject.

"Too cool for a swim, ya think?" Xena turned to look out at the slow moving river.

"I was wondering about that myself."

"Weíd probably... get warmed up after swimming across and back again," the warrior suggested.

"Youíd be warmed up. Iíd be exhausted."

Xena smiled. "Then could I... perhaps talk you into a cool bath?" She looked over at Gabrielle.

"Possibly. After I put all this away. But you go ahead. Iíll join you in a few moments."

"Iíd rather wait for you," the warrior said softly. "Four hands will make faster work of this than two."

The sexual tension was back, closer to the surface, less teasing and more serious now, as the two worked side-by-side gathering up the remains of their lunch. Gabrielle carried the small basket and hung it back over Argoís saddle horn, while Xena shook off the blanket and then repositioned it in a slightly different area, so hopefully it would not be covered with ants later on.

When Gabrielle returned, Xena had that smoldering look in her deep blue eyes. There was most assuredly a flame burning in those depths. And one that Gabrielle could hardly wait to feel the searing heat from.

The bard sat down on the blanket and immediately began removing her boots. Xena was soon beside her. The warrior reached up and fingered one shoulder strap of the bardís halter. "Can I help?" she inquired, blue eyes imploring for a positive response.

Gabrielle nodded, her own fingers trying to make quick work of her bootlaces. Xena slid one strap off her shoulder, then seeming to sense she would only be hindering her loverís movements, she paused and inched closer.

Lips caressed Gabrielleís shoulder where the strap had been. She moaned, enjoying the delicious sensation. Light kisses followed, leaving a very warm trail on their way toward her neck. She tossed one boot aside and frantically began working the laces of the other loose. A hand eased around her waist; lips sucked on her neck; her concentration was failing her rapidly.

Gabrielle tugged at the remaining boot, moaning and groaning in anticipation, mixed with frustration. "Xena... let me... get this... boot off," she finally suggested.

The warrior paused in her oral ministrations. She was now sniffing the bardís skin and hair, as well as, breathing in her ear. The boot finally came off and Gabrielle quickly tossed it aside; her free hand going immediately to Xenaís face, the other to her waist, as she turned towards her lover. Blue eyes smoldered, sea green shimmered in a spellbinding embrace. The warriorís lips parted slightly and Gabrielle urged her closer. Both women moaned as their lips met. Tongues instantly came to life, caressing, prodding and falling into a familiar dance only they knew the unique rhythm to.

Gabrielle was on her back in a few heartbeats, one of Xenaís thighs crossing over her leg and insinuating itself between them. It appeared they would not be going for a swim any time soon.

Both womenís hands went straight for shoulder straps, eager to remove the otherís clothes. Hands and arms battled for position; each woman groaning in frustration. By unspoken agreement, they both raised up and then got to their feet. Hands went for shoulder straps once again.

"Xena, please... let me... go first, hmm?" Gabrielle said softly, catching one of the warriorís hands. Blue eyes hungry with need stared down at her. "You donít know how many times I..." The bard paused, glancing down at Xenaís chest. "...gazed upon this body... while I bathed it." The hand previously holding her loverís, now moved onto Xenaís chest and cupped her left breast through her leathers. Xena moaned. "Wanted so much for you to wake up," the bard continued, as this hand moved on up to a shoulder strap, sliding it over and off to the side. The other hand removed the right one, as well. "Wanted you to come alive, beneath my touch." Gabrielle leaned over, lips touching bare skin theyíd wanted to be next to for so very long.

Xena moaned again, feeling both of the bardís hands pulling down on the cups of her leathers. Her arms dropped to her sides, letting the straps slide down, then she eased her arms out. Her breasts sprang free and Gabrielleís mouth was quick to surround one dark, slightly erect nipple, while her hand caressed the other.

Xena raised one hand to the back of the bardís head -her lover extracting moan after moan from her lips with her ministrations- and leaned over. "Ga-bri-elle," she whispered into the blonde locks, her other hand pressing the bardís body against her own. She felt the braided belt of the bardís skirt and then the fasteners; her fingers worked quickly to release it. The loincloth/skirt fell around the bardís ankles; the warriorís hands already caressing smooth bare flesh. "Yea gods, you feel... so-o goo-ood," she hissed into her loverís ear.

Gabrielle unhooked the back of the warriorís leathers with one hand, then using both, peeled the jumpsuit over her loverís hips. Each of her dexterous appendages was cupping a handful of firm, smooth, warrior muscle, as the leather outfit fell in a puddle at the brunetteís feet.

Xena lifted the bardís chin upwards. She stared down into those blue-green depths for a brief moment, before leaning over and planting a searing kiss upon a pair of luscious red lips. She then slowly pushed aside both shoulder straps and pulled the bardís halter-top down.

Gabrielle helped out by removing her arms from the straps; her hands going right back to where they had been. She then pressed their lower bodies close. She could feel the soft curls against her stomach. She also could feel the heat emanating from this region.

Xena found the hook for the halter and with thumb and index finger banished the last obstacle between them. The halter-top fell on top of the warriorís feet. She did not even notice this, however, as she moaned uncontrollably feeling the slight erect protrusions of two firm mounds beneath her own breasts. Her hands wandered down to cup the bardís behind, while Gabrielleís slid out from under her arms and up to her neck. Out of instinct, Xena lifted her lover off the ground.

"Xena, no!" Gabrielle gasped, breaking away from their lip lock.

The warrior groaned and set her back on her feet. "Iím sweaty. I need a bath. I want you with me," Xena stated.

"Well, I can walk, ya know," Gabrielle reminded and smiled. "Matter of fact... wait right here... Iíll give you that bath you need." The bard dashed back over to Nemo and reached in her pack. She came back with a bar of Cyreneís lavender soap. "Ready for that bath now, hmm?"

Xena grinned from ear to ear. "Hmph, you come prepared," she said, putting her arm around her loverís shoulder.

"Iíve learned from experience that it pays to be," the bard remarked, her arm going around Xenaís waist.

The warrior had her eyes closed. "Umm, you have such a gentle touch," she murmured, as the bardís hands roamed over her chest.

"I thought you said I had hands like a sailor?" Gabrielle reminded.

"Did I say that was a bad thing?" One blue eye slowly opened and looked down at the bard.

"You didnít want me stitching up your leg."

Both eyes came open now." Maybe... thatís because..." Xena pursed her lips.

"Because...?" Gabrielle prodded, the soap roaming over the warriorís stomach.

"I didnít wanna admit... how much it hurt," the brunette answered, glancing away.

"Oh, so you do feel pain, then?" the bard prodded. "And I thought all this time you were immune to such things." Gabrielleís hand dipped lower with the bar of soap.

The warrior gazed down at the bard. The latter could see the fire blazing up within those smoldering blue depths, as her hand slid even lower.

"Ho-o, I feel... a lot of things... believe me," Xena assured, her eyelids fluttering slightly with the first stroke of the bardís finger. "And youíre about to find out... just how strongly I feel them." She reached down and cupped Gabrielleís face between her palms tenderly. "Umm, you just donít know how much I want you. How much I wanna take you, right here... right now."

Gabrielle was loathed to break the mood, yet she couldnít help thinking about the homemade bar of soap sheíd borrowed from Cyrene. And how it would soon be lost if she let Xena kiss her right now. She pulled back, as the warriorís lips drew close. "Your motherís soap..." Gabrielle held it up between them. "...sheíll be mad if we lose it, doníchu thi...?" The bard never finished her sentence for Xena quickly grasped her wrist in her left hand and removed the soap with her right, then tossed it towards the shore. It bounced several times, then came to rest close to the blanket.

"Xena, now itís gonna be all dirty and...." The bard wasnít able to finish this sentence either, because in the blink of an eye, the warrior had her face between her hands once again and then picked up right where she left off, planting a kiss upon the moving membranes, sufficiently silencing them.

Tongues danced to that familiar rhythm. The warriorís bottom lip caressed the bardís in such a way that they trembled with need for more of the same. Whimpers and moans issued from each womanís throat in turn. Their breathing increased, hearts racing, hands caressing any part they could reach.

Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielleís waist as her lover broke away, gasping for air. She pulled the bard closer. "Now what was that you were saying about... my body coming alive beneath your touch?" Large hands gripped the bardís buttocks and lifted her up. "Is this alive enough for you?"

"Xena! I told you not to..."

"Youíre lighter in the water, Gabrielle," the warrior interjected, bending her knees slightly, forcing the bard to wrap her legs around her hips.

"But, Xena..."

"Humor me... Please," the warrior pleaded, placing a kiss upon the bardís throat, one hand roaming over the smooth backside. "I just wanna feel you... next to me." Lips were working their way down, as was the one hand. "All wet and warm and... umm... oh yeah."

"Ugh-huh!" Gabrielle moaned, as a finger caressed her desire from behind.

Thank the gods for long arms, Xena thought, kissing the bardís neck, while her fingers slid back and forth across the already slick opening of her loverís inner sanctuary.

"Xena, we canít do this in..."

"Yes we can," the warrior countered, attacking the sensitive spot on Gabrielleís neck, fingers gently penetrating the hot little chamber.

"Uh-h-huh-hm!" the bard gasped. "By the gods, Xena, youíve never... oh-h yes-s... oh yes-s," Gabrielle whimpered, the warriorís questing appendages inching deeper and deeper with each successive stroke. "Oh Xena, umm-hmmm... that feels so-o-o goo-ood. Oh, oh yes!"

"Ar-r," Xena growled when she came up with shorter arms than she presumed. She eased down in the water further, leaving the bardís neck for her chest. "Ah yes-s-s!" she hissed, filling her lover fully.

Gabrielleís hands were now on Xenaís shoulders, her legs still wrapped around her hips, when the warriorís left hand moved around front and in between their bodies.

"Oh-h-h-ho-huh!" the bard exclaimed, her arms going around Xenaís head now, her own thrown back as her body exploded in a much anticipated, though quickly consummated orgasm. "Oh yea gods!" she breathed against her loverís wet hair. "What you... do to me," she added in a scratchy, breathless voice.

"Thereís more where that came from," Xena murmured against her loverís chest. "Much more," she added, feeling a bit cheated by her own over zealousness to take what she wanted too quickly.

"Good," Gabrielle purred, easing back slightly in order to look down at her lover. "íCuz I want it all." She pressed her lips to the warriorís forehead. "All of you...." She placed a kiss close to one blue eye, then on one cheek. "...all over..." She released her leg lock on Xenaís hips as the warrior straightened up, allowing her to slide down her loverís body. "... all of me."

Xena moaned deep in her throat as a pair of swollen lips covered her own in a caress that set her heart to pounding. Her lips tried to follow, craving more of the same, as Gabrielle broke away and started down her body. One hand cupped her right breast, lifting it to an eager mouth, which moved onto one slightly erect, aching nipple without preamble. Xenaís hand went to the back of the bardís head, as her lover sucked hard, the slight pain and exquisite pleasure causing the warrior to suck in her breath through her teeth. The bard moaned, flicking her tongue back and forth over the engorged membrane, her other hand roaming over and then between two ample cheeks.

Xena moaned and leaned down placing a light kiss on top of her loverís head. "Umm... I love the way you make me feel," she hissed into the wet locks, her other hand pressing the bardís lower body closer. Supple lips and a dexterous tongue sucked even harder now, sending wave after wave of increasingly intense and pleasurable sensations coursing through the warriorís body.

Xenaís knees suddenly felt weak. "Letís... take this... to the blanket," she suggested.

Gabrielle nodded acquiescence and straightened up slowly, her tongue trailing up the warriorís chest to her throat. "Youíre... delicious," she murmured, between licks. "I wanna savor... the taste of... every single... part of you." She worked her way up to Xenaís ear, the hand on the warriorís behind moving around front. "Especially here," she continued, whispering in the brunetteís ear and stroking lightly beneath the water with her fingertips. "Umm... inside you like this." She filled her loverís ear with her tongue.

Xena growled deep in her throat. "Oh yes. And I want you to," she agreed, pressing the bardís body closer still. "I want anything and everything you wanna give me." She cupped her loverís chin in her head and urged it forward to her waiting lips. "The day is ours, my love. This day and every one that follows from now on." She then covered the red swollen lips in front of her with her own.

* * * *

Back on dry land, her loverís body stretched out on the blanket beneath her, Gabrielle was giving as good as she had received, albeit in a slightly different manner. For, where Xena was gifted with long dexterous fingers, Gabrielle was endowed in another area. And she was putting her talents and gifts to work, with her face buried between her loverís thighs. She was also enjoying and savoring every delectable and delicious moment with long, slow, deliberate strokes; each one eliciting a moan from the warriorís lips and urging her onward. It wasnít long before she could tell by Xenaís movements and tone of her moans -sounding more like whimpers- that the time was right to administer the piece de resistance, which would send the warrior soaring to the ultimate heights and screaming out her name.

Gabrielle moaned herself, at the easy entrance permitted her and the hot enveloping conferred upon her.

"Uh-huh-huh Ooo!" Xena cried out, her voice rising an octave or more near the end, as if she were about to break into song. She sucked in a breath between her teeth. Gabrielle wrapped her lips around the small bundle of nerve endings; her tongue flicking back and forth, fingers easing in and out. "Gab... oh Gab... Gab-bri-elle!!!" The warrior sang out loud and clear, her hips arching into the air.

"Yes-s-s!" the bard hissed and changed her position slightly, both hands supporting the warriorís hips, while her tongue plunged deep and then deeper still. "Ooo-hoo-hoo-hoo!!" Xena cried out in a most un-warrior like fashion. It was a sound Gabrielle longed to hear. As was the animal like growl that soon followed.

"Oh yea gods, Gabrielle," Xena breathed a little while later. "Please... donít tease me anymore. Come up here. I wanna hold you."

"In a moment," the bard responded, her eyes busy taking in every detail: the fine, soft, dark curls, darker skin very close to the well of desire and over on the left cheek, a mustard seed sized freckle, dark and symmetrical. She placed a light kiss right here. "Youíre mine," she murmured, then slowly raised up.

The warrior glanced down between her own legs, her blue eyes heavy lidded. "Hmm?"

"I said... thatís mine," Gabrielle answered, crawling up between her loverís legs, until she was hovering over her.

"Youíre finally claiming that after all this time?" One dark eyebrow arched skyward, as hands pressed the bardís lower body down. "Itís been yours since you laid claim to it long ago, remember? The ship?"

"Thatís not what Iím referring to, though." Gabrielle slowly lowered her torso onto Xenaís. The warrior moaned slightly. "I was talking about that freckle," she murmured against her loverís cheek.

"Freckle? What freckle?" Xena queried, sounding truly curious.

"You know... down there on your left..." The bard paused, as the warrior frowned. It suddenly hit Gabrielle that Xena had probably never have seen this. She raised her head in order to face her lover. "You mean... no one ever mentioned this to you before?"

Both dark eyebrows rose in unison now. "No-o. But then... no one ever spent as much time... down there as you do." Xena smirked. "So, I have a freckle? Hmph. But wait... how come you never mentioned it before now?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "I guess... I assumed someone else had... claimed it already?" The last few words sounding more like a question.

Xena shook her head. "So, what prompted you to lay claim now, hmm?" She reached up brushing a stray lock of damp hair over to the side of the bardís forehead.

"I donít know. I guess... it was just... one more way of... putting the past behind us."

"Oh, I see. So... since we almost died... we start over with a clean... scroll, is that it?"

A smile turned up the corners of the bardís lips. Green eyes stared into blue. "Something like that."

"Sounds like a good idea to me. And personally... I think weíre off to... a wonderful start, doníchu?" Xena caressed her loverís cheek.

"Oh yeah, most definitely," Gabrielle agreed with a smirk. "But, itís only a start... right?"

"You got that right," Xena responded, cupping the bardís chin in her palm. "Just the beginning." She then pulled her lover down for another lip lock.

* * * *

"Let me get this straight..." Gabrielle paused, lightly licking her lips. She was lying on her back on the blanket beside Xena. "I was dancing... on a stage in... a skimpy white outfit, did you say?"

"Um-hm," Xena answered with a slight grin, as she stared up at a soft fluffy white cloud floating by overhead. "White with gold trim," she added, in a soft far away voice. This particular part of the dream she had been relating to Gabrielle, was as clear in her mind as if she had just awaken from it.

The bard glanced over at her companion. "Oh-h and you liked that, didnít you? Ach! Donít even try to deny it," she cautioned. "I can see it written all over your face."

Xena pursed her lips for a moment, trying to hide the smile, but failing miserably. She finally gave up. "Yeah... I liked it," she admitted in that soft, raspy, sensual voice that usually indicated she was in a very loving, sensitive and perhaps even playful mood. She glanced over at her companion.

Xenaís tone and especially the gleam in her eyes suggested to Gabrielle that although her lover might have been satisfied by their previous endeavor in the realms of pleasure, there might well be more of the same yet to come. "And you... allowed me to dance in front of a lot of people in this skimpy outfit?" she queried.

"Well, I wouldnít say allowed is the... right word for a dream, but..."

"You wouldnít allow me do that in real life, though... would you?"

Xena pursed her lips again. "Well...." The warrior rolled over on her side facing her lover, her left hand easing across the bardís waist, while she positioned her right arm, bent at the elbow, to support her weight. "...maybe just for me."

"Hmph," Gabrielle grunted, a slight smile turning up the corners of her own mouth. "How skimpy was it?"

Xena arched one dark eyebrow that quivered in a comical manner. "Umm... pree-etty skim-py," she answered, drawing out the words, while her eyes traveled down her companionís naked body.

"Uh-huh, how skimpy?" the bard prodded. "Describe it to me."

Xenaís gaze traveled slowly back up her loverís body. "It came down to here at the top," she responded, running her left index finger over the area just above the bardís breasts. "And there were all these little... tassels that.... swayed each time you moved." The warrior wiggled her fingers up and down directly over Gabrielleís right breast.

"Oh really?" The bard could feel the movement of the air close to her nipple and knew exactly what Xena was up to. And from the gleam in the warriorís eyes, she assumed it was working. A quick glance down at her chest only confirmed this assumption. "And what about the bottom part?" she questioned, watching her companionís facial expressions.

"Ah yes," Xena responded, glancing up briefly. "Mi-i-ighty skimpy in-deed. It was shaped like this..." Her hand moved down her loverís body, index finger tracing a large V shaped pattern from the top of one inner thigh, back up the inside of its neighbor. She then made the V into a triangle by drawing a straight line just above Gabrielleís pubis. Chill bumps popped up on the bardís thighs. "It had a whole lotta those tassels, too," Xena continued, her fingers dancing lightly above the mass of light brown curls. "Swaying back and forth, as you moved your hips." She glanced up. "And oh-h how you moved those hips. Umph-umph-umm." The warrior smirked, her fingers still wiggling, stirring up a very light breeze.

How could I have believed those dreams were real? Xena wondered, as her eyes perused back down the firm naked body lying beside her. Not to desire this body... not to crave loving and being loved by this woman who holds the strings to my heart wrapped around her little finger? Surely Iíd have to be either dreaming or... dead not to miss all this!

Gabrielle reached up, touching Xenaís face and turning it towards her. "What are you thinking?" she asked softly, caressing the side of the warriorís face.

"Umm..." Xena sighed, resting her fingers atop the mass of curls. "About... how much I need you and... want you." The bard smiled sweetly. "Wondering how or... why I didnít notice or question that this was missing in those dreams."

Gabrielle ran her index finger over the warriorís full bottom lip. "You mean in all those dreams youíve told me about, we never... did anything?"

"Hmph, not even close," Xena replied, then playfully trapped her loverís finger between her lips.

"Umm," Gabrielle murmured, when the warrior sucked on this appendage, slowly drawing it deeper and deeper into her hot, wet mouth, while at the same time long nimble fingers inched lower and a firm, muscular thigh insinuated itself between her legs. "Hmph. You shouldnít start anything... youíre not prepared to finish," she cautioned. Sea green eyes darted back and forth searching light blue ones.

Xena offered no verbal response, she merely let her fingers and the motion of her lips and tongue relay her answer. And to Gabrielle, these reactions clearly suggested that not only was her lover prepared to finish what sheíd started, she was very eager to get underway.

* * * *

"I love you," Xena whispered near the bardís ear, as the latter writhed and moaned to her ministrations; hips arching to meet the warriorís questing appendages. "Love you so very much." She nibbled on the bardís earlobe briefly, then eased back, desiring to watch her loverís facial expressions.

Her gaze traveled from light brown eyebrows, contorting and quivering in the throes of passion, to the long, curved lashes covering closed, but active lids; round orbs dancing beneath the surface. The nostrils of a cute button nose flared with each inhalation, while red, bow shaped lips parted at intervals, a hint of a pink tongue visible when their owner moaned with pleasure. The warriorís eyes proceeded downward, a sheen of perspiration glistening in the hollow of a slender neck, catching her attention. Xena licked her lips, her mouth watering at just the thought of the salty flavor she would encounter here. And the temptation was too great to resist.

Her tongue gently lapped at the declivity, taste buds savoring the delightful and stimulating flavor. She moaned with pleasure, herself, while her lips and tongue continued downward, seeking out yet another delicacy she knew awaited her. Lips, tongue and teeth gently worked together to prod the sensitive membrane into releasing the slightly musky tang, which soon assaulted her taste buds. And like a trail of Greek fire leading to its source, the flames of passion swept down her body and exploded in her lower abdomen. A whimper escaped her throat. Lips and tongue surrounded the erect protrusion and sucked hungrily.

"Oh-h Xe-na!" Gabrielle gasped, both hands gripping her loverís firm cheeks and pressing downward. "Together... please," she murmured against the top of the raven tresses. Her right foot instinctively caressed the back of the warriorís calf.

Xena whimpered again, appendages disengaging, as she raised her lower body, allowing Gabrielle to move into the position she desired. The bard then pressed their lower bodies together again, while Xena worked her way back to her lips.

"Iíve missed you," Gabrielle murmured against the warriorís red lips. "So very... very much." Her hands kneaded her loverís cheeks.

Xena whimpered yet again, her tongue flicking out to sample the swollen membranes that had formed those sweet words and always offered such indefinable sustenance to her weary soul. "I missed... you, too," she whimpered, then covered these lips with her own.

Their bodies were in motion long before the warrior was even aware of it. Their movements so slow and gentle, Xena was quite unprepared when a small orgasmic shudder ripped through the region of her desire. She whimpered and broke away from their kiss, resting her check against the bardís, though her body did not even break its rhythm. By the gods, what was that? she wondered, briefly, even as she felt the passion still building within her. Building with an intensity sheíd never experienced before with anyone. Not even Gabrielle.

"Oh yes-s, Xena, yes-s-s!" Gabrielle breathed in her ear.

"Yea gods... I never want this... to end!" Xena hissed, then paused briefly to kiss her loverís cheek. "Itís feels s-so-o goo-ood. So very, ve-ery goo-ood!!!"

"I... love you, Xena. With all my... heart aní soul."

"Gab-bri-elle... you are... my heart and soul. Oh-h-h yes-s-s, yes-s-s!"

"Uh-huh-hu!" the bard cried out, right before Xena covered her lips with her own.

The warriorís second orgasm, which occurred only moments after Gabrielleís, left her limp, exhausted and satisfied far beyond her wildest dreams. And yet still, she craved her loverís gentle touch, the sound of her voice, her personal scent and the sweet delicate taste of her lips and skin. She seemed unable to get enough of her lovely companion.

* * * *

The rest of the afternoon sped by for the two lovers who shared a myriad of gentle kisses, soft caresses and pleasurable teasing. For both it was a time of rediscovery, reunification and falling in love yet again. Neither could keep their hands or lips off the other, nor did they take their eyes off one another for any considerable length of time. At least, not until the sun was sinking low on the horizon.

Gabrielle was lying beside Xena, in their usual position. The gentle breeze was getting a bit chilly on the bardís exposed flesh. She knew theyíd need to be going soon, but was reluctant to mention this. Of course, she was well aware that they could go directly to their room once they got back to the inn, but somehow that just wasnít the same as being alone out here in the open.

Gabrielle suddenly realized that they would soon be cooped up on a ship, unable to enjoy this kind of outing. She sighed heavily. Yes, things are getting back to normal, finally, she mused. Already Iím thinking about our next adventure. But, at least the fighting should be behind us for a while. She snuggled closer to Xena, as if that were possible.

"You cold?" the warrior asked. Gabrielle merely shrugged. "Guess we better be... heading back soon, then," Xena murmured.

"Youíre not eager to go either, are you?"

"Where? To the inn or... the trip?"

"Both," the bard answered, assuming theyíd been thinking along the same lines, which wasnít that unusual for them.

"Could be a pleasant enough trip, I suppose," Xena responded, obviously referring to the voyage. "Get to see something different. You always like that."

"So do you."

"Well, yeah. And... weíll be with the Amazons so... it wonít cramp our style." She arched one dark eyebrow and smirked. Then she sighed heavily. "But... honestly... and Iím not saying I donít wanna go, Iím just saying, honestly... Iíd rather stay right here with you. Just... take off like we used to... wherever... whenever..."

"You wouldnít wanna stay here in Amphipolis?" Gabrielle queried.

Xena pursed her lips. "No, I donít.... when we settle down, it shouldnít be here, I donít think."

Gabrielle was stunned. Xena had said when and not if. This was a decided change. And the bard wanted to pounce on this and beg her lover to settle down. But, she knew better. And besides, she hadnít found a place where sheíd like to make a permanent home. Everywhere they went it seemed as though trouble followed right on their heels or waited for them around the next bend. Or did they seek it out?

She pushed this last thought aside rather quickly. I want a nice, quiet, peaceful place to settle down in, she thought. Boring, she could almost hear Xena say. And it just might be at that. Poteidaia was boring, after all. She then went right back to that previous thought sheíd shoved aside. "Do we seek out trouble?"

She hadnít realized sheíd said this aloud, until Xena replied. "Not always, I donít think. But... itís possible. Iíll try not to do so anytime soon, though, okay?"

Gabrielle glanced up at her lover and frowned. "Did you just say... what I thought you said?" she asked, rather slowly.

Xena pursed her lips for a moment, then blushed. "Yeah, I guess, I did. I... um, I think I need a little break from fighting." She paused. "Aí course thatís not to say that I wonít fight if someone starts...."

"Uh-huh, I know what youíre saying," Gabrielle interrupted. "I think weíre on the same scroll here." The bard rolled over on top of her lover. "When we get too old to fight and travel, then we settle down, agreed?"

"Um, well..." The warrior pursed her lips again. "How about we settle down when we both agree to it?"

"Wow, youíve changed your tune. What brought this about, hmm?"

Xena shrugged. "Partly those dreams, I suppose. I kinda like the idea of having a family. You, me and... our kids. ĎCourse I think it might be better if you were the mother."

"Oh... why is that? Wait... kids? And just how am I suppose to accomplish this feat?"

"Amazons do it all the time."

"XE-NA!" the bard screeched. "You mean you want me to...? By the gods, I canít believe you said that."

"What?" the warrior asked, sounding truly perplexed.

"Youíd be willing to share me with...?"

"Oh, hold on there!" Xena interrupted. "We are obviously NOT on the same scroll anymore. You think Iíd...? Gabrielle, for Zeusí sake I was talking about adopting!"

"But you said... the Amazons do it all the time... and the way they do that is..."

"Yeah, but they also adopt girls into their tribe. Some are older. But like those twins left on those temple steps, some are babies."

"Whew!" Gabrielle sighed heavily with relief.

"What?" Xena asked. "Do you really think Iíd propose sharing you with anyone, let alone a man. And have you... knocked up... with his child no less?" Gabrielle merely shrugged. The warrior placed both hands on the sides of the bardís face. "Iím not sharing you with anyone, you got that? Never... Ever... Iím too selfish... too jealous and... I love you too damn much to ever willingly let anyone lay a hand on you that way, you hear me? You donít know how many times I wanted to... pop Joxer in the chops... break his arm or put a boot between his...."

Xenaís tirade was cut short as Gabrielle covered those moving lips with her own, effectively silencing them.

* * * *

They were finally making their way back to town, albeit slowly, walking and leading their horses instead of riding, their free hands clasped together. The subject of Gabrielleís choice to fight and abandon the way of love came up once again, as Xena took a look at the healing wound on the bardís hand.

"I donít like you being hurt," the warrior said, lightly kissing the bardís right palm. "Iím not sure I agree with your choice to fight again and... kill."

Gabrielle quickly glanced up at her lover. "How did you...? It shows, huh?" she queried softly. Green eyes met blue briefly before looking down.

"Yes. Itís in your eyes. I know the look well. Iíve seen it enough times. Wanna... talk about it?"

Gabrielle stared down at the ground passing by beneath her feet. The road was littered with wagon tracks left over from the last rain. There was only one set of fresh tracks, however, made by a small lightweight cart pulled by an equally small horse. Xena had taught her to recognize these things so well, that now it was almost second nature to be aware of them, even though her mind was on something entirely different. She was also very much aware of Xena waiting patiently for her response.

"I... uh... I think I know now why you donít... like to talk about your battles," the bard finally offered. Xena merely grunted, interlacing her fingers with Gabrielleís once again. "It... it was necessary, I suppose. The villagers were... being held captive... well, more like slaves actually, to the Romans. Having to supply them with food for their army and all. And... Athena was right, the Romans would have moved onto other villages doing the same in each one. I think theyíd like to conquer all of Greece, actually. So... it was a... a good dayís fighting. I donít doubt there will be more battles to come."

Xena grunted once again before saying, "Being a warrior is not... an easy way to follow, either. I... I want you to be sure of what youíre taking on your shoulders here. These weapons of yours... when you draw them, they will make you a target, just like a sword would. And I agree with Athena, I would prefer that you had a more... long distance weapon. Are you sure you wouldnít want another staff? I could easily make you..."

"No, Xena." Gabrielle shook her head, cutting her off. "The staff was... just a stepping stone." She glanced over at her lover. "Besides it was two awkward to carry around at times."

"You were less a target than..."

"Was I really?" Gabrielle interrupted. "I was fighting right alongside you, I just... wasnít killing."

"Thatís exactly my point," Xena admitted.

Gabrielle glanced away. "But, I wasnít much help to you when things got... rough. I mean, look at what happened, Xena..." The bard stopped and turned to face her lover. "I almost lost you because... because I refused to fight back." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I canít let that happen again! I... wonít let that happen!" she added, decisively.

The warrior grunted and frowned, then started walking again, still holding her loverís hand. "Well, in that case, I think you need to learn a new weapon to go with those." She gestured towards the bardís sais.

"What? A sword?"

"No, but... it couldnít hurt to learn how to use one, although I wouldnít want you carrying one all the time. What about a... a whip?"

"A whip? Xena, thatís like a staff, you canít do much damage with a..."

"Well, well, well," said a husky male voice, as four men, armed to the teeth, emerged from the woods ahead of them. Gabrielle and Xena both stopped dead still and let go of one anotherís hand. "Lookey what we have here, boys," continued the hefty, bearded face redhead out in front. "Looks like weíve found ourselves some easy pickinís." He drew his sword as did his three cohorts, as they moved slowly towards the two women.

"Hoo-hoo!" one dirty blonde chortled. "And it looks like their Amazons to boot. Did ya see that boys... holdiní hands, now wutnít that cute?"

"Yeah," redhead agreed. "Re-eal cute. And they say them Amazons are real wildcats under the skins." He grinned lasciviously, flashing dirty green and brown rotten teeth.

"Letís just find out if them rumors are true, eh?" spoke up a short, skinny brunette with a long dirty moustache. The other three nodded in agreement with him.

"Ainít never had me no big woman like that one there," dirty blonde added.

"Thatís cause you couldnít handle her all by yourself," a taller, stockier, curly blonde put in from behind him. "But, thereís enough for sharing with this one, eh?" he added, walking up beside the other blonde.

"Me first," dirty blonde countered. "I donít want none of your left overs. You always leaveíem half dead."

"Half dead?" shorty chortled. "Theyís all dead when he gets done."

Curly blonde shrugged. "Canít help it if the gods chose to bless me moreín you."

"Hmph," dirty blonde grunted. "You ainít more blessed than us, you just love killing women, thatís all. You just canít control that..." He paused as Xena drew her chakram. All four men stopped and stared at the tall female for a moment.

"Yep, theyís fighters alright," shorty said, licking his lips.

"Oh-ho, I get it," redhead chuckled. "Donít you boys? She wants us to think sheís Xena, the Warrior Princess. Ha-Ha! Well, now ainít that just too cute?" He chuckled wickedly. "If Iís you sweet thang, Iíd put that there thing away, cause you ainít fooling nobody here. We all know Xenaís dead."

"Is that right?" Xena queried.

"Whereíd you hear that?" Gabrielle inquired.

"Everíbody knows that," dirty blonde answered, taking a step closer to Xena. Gabrielle immediately dropped Nemoís reins. "Them Romans nailed that bitch to a cross," he added. All four men chuckled.

"Served her right, too," shorty added. "Werenít nothiní but a nuisance anyhow, after she changed."

"Hmph," Xena grunted, pursing her lips. "I sure do hate to mess up a shiny new chakram on scum like this. You wanna try to talk our way outta this one, Gabrielle?"

"Gabrielle!" redhead spat. "Heh-Heh, that little blonde bitch is dead too."

"And everybody knows she carried a staff," shorty added, moving up beside redhead, both men taking a step towards Gabrielle.

Xena arched one dark eyebrow in his direction. "Donít think talking will do any good, Xena," the bard finally answered. "I think a good butt whuppingís in order."

"Oh-ho, did you hear that boys?" redhead chortled. "Lookey here little missy, you two... you ainít fooliní nobody with this here.. play actiní of yours. Xenaís dead and sheís gonna stay that way." He took another step towards Gabrielle. "Now we can do this the easy way or..." Xenaís war cry rang out, startling all four men.

"Surprise boys! Xenaís been resurrected!!!" the tall brunette exclaimed, as the new chakram sailed as true as the old one. Four swords went flying out of their ownerís hands: Cling-Cling-Cling-Cling. Four male voices sucked in a surprised gasp, then growled in unison as they scrambled for their weapons.

Yep, back to normal, Gabrielle thought, going into a crouch and drawing both sais from her boots.

Xena caught the chakram and quickly hooked on her belt. "Lemme show you how to use a whip, Gabrielle!" she shouted, as she snatched the braided leather, coiled on a hook, from her left side. The whip whirled, cracked and wrapped around curly blondeís leg. "Shee-ya!" The big man hit the ground face first.

The sound of Xenaís war cry, the whip cracking, metal clanging against metal and the grunts and groans of four men taking a beating at the hands of the presumed dead Warrior Princess and her bard sidekick, rang out across the countryside.

Soon there was only the peaceful sounds of nature and leather creaking, as the two females mounted a beige horse and continued along their route back to town, riding into the setting sun. Three men lay crumpled on the ground behind them; each one knocked out cold. The fourth man -curly blonde- was trailing behind them, draped over Nemoís back. Xena had recognized his face from a wanted poster.

"Well, I know we didnít go looking for those scum," the bard said. "So trouble just seems to find us."

"Never fails," the warrior agreed; one arm around Gabrielleís waist and the other holding Nemoís reins. "Howís the hand?"

"Fine. No problem."

"Youíre good with those," Xena admitted.

"Were you surprised?"

"Um, no... not really. Youíre good at... whatever you set your mind to do." Gabrielle grunted sitting straighter in the saddle after such praise. "But, like anything, you could do with more practice. Weíll have to spar soon."

"Huh?" Gabrielle was shocked. She turned her head towards Xena. "Did I hear you right? You and me... sparring?"

"Yeah, you heard me right. Something wrong with that?" Xena arched one dark eyebrow and leaned over the bardís shoulder.

"Well, no... no, itís just... you never wanted to do that before. You turned me down every time I suggested it, as if you... didnít think I could handle myself."

"Maybe itís time that changed, then," the warrior acknowledged. "We can work on you learning to use a whip, too."

"Hmph. I suppose... a whip could come in handy," Gabrielle agreed. "You sure used it... effectively. Of course that was after you disarmed them with your chakram."

Xena merely grunted. She wasnít going to teach the bard how to use the chakram.

"How much is he worth again?" Gabrielle queried, referring to the large curly blonde on Nemoís back.

"Several hundred dinars. Think that should get us out of debt, doníchu? And... get you a good whip or... the leather for me to make you one."

The bard grunted. "Iíd rather have one that you made if... itís not too much trouble."

"Making something for you is never any trouble, Gabrielle. Itís a pleasure. Which reminds me... I need to replace that belt." Her hand moved a bit lower on the bardís abdomen. "Need to reclaim whatís... mine."

"I thought you already did that," Gabrielle quipped.

"Oh no, that was just getting reacquainted with familiar territory. Just a long, drawn out skirmish. The true conquest is yet to come."

Oh boy, Gabrielle thought, if that wasnít the true conquest, then... I canít wait for you to lay siege to that territory!

The End

"or... is it?"

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