HELP WANTED April, 1998

by Lady Catherine

Sex/Violence: This story contains both. The story depicts the physical expression of love between
two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 or this is illegal where you live, do not read it.
If it might bother you in any way, you have been warned, so you're on your own.

Copyright: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal.

Xena and Gabrielle walked lazily down a wide dirt road about half way between Thebes and
Athens. They had stopped in Thebes to replenish their supplies in preparation for yet another get
Salmoneus out of trouble' journey. They had received word from Athens that the merchant was
being held for trial for some questionable business dealings in the city. In pure Salmoneus
fashion, his primary plea to them was to recover his confiscated merchandise. Knowing the man
was in no immediate danger, and that the accusations most likely held some truth, the pair was in
no great rush. The women's laughter could be heard as they tried to outdo each other with
stories of the scrapes that Salmoneus had gotten them into.

Suddenly, Xena stiffened, but kept walking. Gabrielle noticed the change in her friends
demeanor. After two years, the bard had learned to simply follow the warrior's lead. Without
changing her gait, she quietly asked, "What is it?"

"Someone is following us." Without turning her head, the warrior scanned the trees lining either
side of the road.

"Should I be worried?"

"No, whoever it is couldn't sneak up on a dead man. Just keep walking until he gets close

A few moments later, a shrill battle cry was heard as the warrior backflipped and came down on
their tracker. She pulled him up from the ground by his hair and threw him against a tree.

"Ooof." The boy turned around quickly, facing the pair. He put his hands up in front of his face
protectively. "Wait, please...I have a message...I mean you no harm..." the boy blurted out.

Xena looked him over. He looked familiar, but she couldn't place him. He couldn't be more than
16 summers old, and posed no threat. She walked toward him, threateningly. "It's not nice to
sneak up on people, you know."

"I..I'm sorry." He stammered. "I wasn't really sneaking. I was just trying to catch up. I..." He
cut off his sentence as his eyes drifted toward the bard. Xena stopped and followed his eyes. The
boy's ears turned red, and his head lowered slightly. "Um... h-h-hi Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked at him for a moment before she recognized him. She moved in and hugged him
tightly, causing him to turn crimson. "Hi Dacron!! My, haven't you become quite the handsome
young man!" Gabrielle complimented.

Oh , gods', Xena thought, This kid has it bad for her, and she's not helping matters at all.'

"Xena, you remember Dacron. Over a year ago? Tanagra? Brink of war...negotiations..." The
bard was trying to stir her friends memory.

"Yeah, but I don't remember...", she was pointing in the young man's direction when recognition
came over her face. "Oh, yeah...the Magistrate's son. You did grow quite a bit. Didn't recognize
you. Sorry about the, uh, welcome."

"It's OK. I'll make sure I yell to you from a ways back before I approach you again." He said
seriously, causing the bard to laugh.

Gabrielle asked, "Well, what brings you here? You're rather far from home aren't you?"

Dacron puffed himself up as much as he could, "This isn't THAT far for a man to be from home."

Oh, buh-rother', Xena thought, as she rolled her eyes. She felt the bard's elbow in her stomach,
telling her to keep her facial expressions in check.

The bard continued, "You're absolutely right. My mistake. So, you said you had a message?"

"Yes, father always sends me on important business." Gabrielle quickly looked at Xena, to make
sure she didn't act up. She didn't.

The boy continued. "Father would like you and Xena to be his guests in our home for a few days.
He has some matters he would like to discuss with you that he believes you will find extremely
interesting. He didn't tell me any more than that."

"Well, um, that's not much to go on, but let Xena and I discuss this for a minute." The bard took
Xena by the elbow and led her a few yards away.

"Well, can we go?"

Xena knew that the bard had enjoyed her time in Tanagra, and could see that she would like to go
back. It was slightly out of their way to the east, but not far enough to make an issue of it. She
didn't have a good excuse to say no, even though she had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
So, rather than waste her time trying... "Sure, why not."

The bard's eyes lit up at Xena's OK. The warrior temporarily forgot her bad feeling and
conceded to herself that the smile she just got from her friend was worth the trip. She then
mentally scolded herself for becoming so mushy lately. Must be something in my diet.'

The trio headed for Tanagra, with Dacron leading the way. He turned back toward them a little
too often to let them know where they were going. Each time his eyes fell only upon Gabrielle.
Xena didn't know why this worried her. What surprised her most was that her concern was
mostly for the boy. She felt sorry for him, and that wasn't like her in such trivial situations. She
could see he was in love with Gabrielle. She knew by the faraway look on his face that he dreamt
of making a life with the bard. She also knew he would never have it. She knew he would be
very hurt when he finally realized that he'd never have the bard that way. She still didn't know
why she was thinking about it so much. She decided to do what she could and thought I'll just
make sure Gabrielle is aware of the power she wields over...' she paused for a moment, and shook
her head, wields over the boy.' She finished silently.

Xena leaned over slightly as they walked and whispered playfully to the bard, "Looks like
someone's got a crush."

"I know. It's sort of cute. He hung around me a lot the last time we were there. You were busy
talking contingency plans with some of the men."

"Well, he's seems innocent enough. But, go easy on him. He's no longer a boy, you know."

"You're protecting him from me? Now there's a switch! What would I possibly do to him?"

"Oh, nothing purposely. It's just that complimenting him, being affectionate with the boy you
remember, will have a different affect on the man he is now. I know you would feel terrible if you
broke this kid's heart."

The bard's face became serious. "Oh, I see what you mean. I should be careful not to lead him

"Exactly. I know you don't mean to do it, but you don't know the affect you can have on
someone...I-I mean... I've seen some of the men in these towns fall for you pretty quickly and
you're not even trying."

"Oh, Xena...they're usually too busy looking at you. And that look...that one on their faces when
you first walk into a room." The bard laughed, "I still never can get a good description for that
look into my stories. It's a mix between being absolutely petrified and being totally overcome by
lust. That particular look is quite a challenge for this bard."

Xena laughed, and offered, "I'm sure you'll come up with something. If it'll help, I can make sure
that in the next town I scare them badly enough to limit the description to petrified'."

"Don't you dare!!" She slapped Xena on the arm playfully as they continued on their journey.


When they arrived in Tanagra, Dacron lead the women to his home and showed them to the main
guest quarters. They found a bath, clean clothes, and a small feast waiting for them in the lavish
chambers. There was a note telling them to relax, and enjoy the hospitality. The Magistrate
would meet with them in the morning.

Gabrielle took in the sight, hands on hips, nodding her head in approval. "Now THIS is what I
call a welcome!" She walked directly to the food table, and popped a grape into her mouth, as
she began to prepare a plate for herself.

"I wonder what all this is about?" Xena thought aloud.

"Can't you just take it as a nice gesture? Always so suspicious...", Gabrielle replied through a
mouthful of food. "Remember, we helped them out the last time we were here. This is probably
just their way of saying thanks."

"First of all, YOU helped them out the last time we were here. Second, they already said thanks,
so I don't think they would bring us all this way to thank us again."

"Who knows? But right now, I say let's sit back and enjoy." Gabrielle walked over to the large
wooden tub and ran her fingertips through the water. "We'd better take advantage of this while
it's still hot."

Gabrielle instinctively walked to the warrior and began unfastening her armor. When it was
removed and Xena stood only in her leathers, the bard began to move toward the bath, removing
her own clothes as she went. The shyness she had felt when they first started traveling together
was completely gone now. She let Xena believe it was simply out of necessity, and because they
were used to each other. The bard knew better. She knew that her modesty prevented her from
undressing in front of anyone, no matter how well she knew them. With Xena it was different,
although the bard didn't know why.

Xena watched her friend undress, admiring the tone the bard had acquired over the past two
years. Although she would never admit it to the bard, this was always her favorite part of the day.
She loved the intimacy they shared at these times. Soon they would be clean, full and asleep in
each others' arms. Xena decided to forego chiding herself for being so sentimental. She realized
that it was inevitable where the bard was concerned, and that she quite enjoyed the feeling

Gabrielle waited in the bath for her friend. She watched Xena remove her leathers, admiring the
play of muscles beneath the warrior's skin. It always surprised the bard how absolutely feminine
her friend was. Her body was amazing and so womanly once all the armor was gone. She pulled
her eyes away, avoiding the thoughts that she knew would come next...the thoughts that she had
become so good at denying, and avoiding whenever possible. Seeing the warrior naked never
helped. Forcing her mind from the physical, the bard thought about the emotional side of her
friendship. She realized that the feeling she had right now was also a challenge for her writing
skills. She felt absolutely full' at these times. It was the only word she could think of, but it fell
far short of the actual feeling. Whether it was outside at a lake near there campsite, at an inn, or
in someone's home...Gabrielle longed for this part of the day. She felt so close to Xena. It was
the only time Xena let her guard down, even though it was only ever so slightly.

The women helped each other bathe, and dress. Neither remembered how these small rituals
came to be performed on a daily basis, but neither cared. They recalled these activities being
awkward at first. The activities were performed out of necessity when one or the other was too
hurt or weak to perform them herself. They both came up with every excuse to prolong their
assistance to the other. Neither was ever brave enough to ask for these things to continue, being
afraid of the other's reaction. Somewhere along the line, without discussion, they eased into this
routine, and it made them both very happy.

The bard climbed into the large bed first. The feel of the soft blankets and pillows felt
wonderful...but nothing compared to that first feeling of the warrior's skin against hers as she
gathered the bard in her arms. Gabrielle marveled at how soft her friend was. It was so
contradictory to the image she portrayed. This made it all the more enjoyable, because Gabrielle
knew it was only for her. For now at least. Gabrielle fought to keep her mind from wandering to
the knowledge that someday Xena would find a man, and settle down...and that these private
times with her friend would no longer exist. It made Gabrielle want to stay up all night to revel in
the closeness. She could never fight Morpheus' call for long, however. The peace and comfort
she felt at times like this always lulled her to sleep quickly.

Xena held her friend close. She wondered how they always knew what the other needed. There
were nights when Xena longed to lay on the bard's chest and just be held, comforted. She would
be eased to sleep by the beating of her friend's heart. On these nights she would come to bed
finding the bard on her back, arms open to the warrior. On other nights, like tonight, Xena
wanted to feel the bard's head on her shoulder. She wanted wrap her arms around her friend, and
know that she was protecting her all night long. On these occasions, Xena would come to the bed
to find the bard on her side, leaning up on an elbow, waiting for the warrior to lay down so that
the bard could get comfortable on her shoulder. It was uncanny, but wonderful.

Xena watched as her friend struggled to stay out of Morpheus' grasp. She could never figure out
why the bard fought it so hard. There had been so many times in the warrior's life that she would
have given anything to be able to fall asleep as quickly and peacefully as the bard could. It was
easier nowadays, with her friend by her side, but still not as easy as for the bard. Xena found that
she now saw her difficulty as somewhat of a blessing though. It now afforded her the opportunity
to watch her friend sleep, to study her features, and draw from her a feeling of absolute peace.
Xena lost herself in the knowledge that this woman cared about her, and was by her side every
night. For now at least. Xena fought to keep her mind from wandering to the knowledge that
someday Gabrielle would find a husband, and settle down...and that these times would no longer
exist. She kept those feelings locked away as she ran a long finger down the side of her friend's
face and kissed her lightly on the forehead.


Before dawn, Dacron crept to the window outside the women's room, hoping to sneak a look at
the woman of his dreams. Oh, how he loved her. He knew his father's plans, and prayed that
they worked out. He would prove to Gabrielle that he was worthy of her. He would spend his
whole life making her happy. He would love her, protect her, and provide for her always.
Visions of his love, their family and their life together danced through his head.

Dacron peered over the window sill seeking out his love. He was surprised, and a bit
disappointed at what he saw. He continued to look for a few moments, his dreams disappearing
before him. A tear escaped his eye. He took a deep breath, stood tall, and then shrugged his
shoulders. He was a good man, and did not begrudge anyone their happiness, and the pair looked
extremely content in their slumber.

Dacron returned a few hours later to escort the women to his father's office. He made sure to
make a lot of noise and clear his throat loudly before knocking repeatedly.

"Gods, Dacron, why all the clamor??" Xena and Gabrielle exited the room, looking at him

"Sorry, I...uh... I'm here to escort you to your meeting with father."

Still looking at him oddly, the bard replied, "Lead on."

Stavros sat behind his desk poring over what seemed like an endless stack of papers. He looked
up from his work when he heard the women enter.

"Greetings, my friends! Welcome back!" He approached Gabrielle and hugged her affectionately,
evoking her warm smile which he had missed. He shook Xena's hand, realizing that a hug was
probably not appropriate.

"It's good to see you Stavros. But why so formal? You've never welcomed us in your business
chambers before." Gabrielle asked.

"This was not solely a social invitation, Gabrielle. I called you here to make you a proposition."

Xena's hairs began to stand on end. She did not like the sound of this.

The Magistrate continued, "I would like to offer you a job."

"I didn't think you had need for a full time bard for your counsel." The bard replied, surprised by
the offer.

"No, Gabrielle, you misunderstand. It's not your artistic talents that we desire..."

At Xena's raised eyebrow and stiffened stance, the Magistrate realized that his choice of words
was not the best. He hastened to continue, "Um, what I mean's your negotiation skills that
we are after."

Xena relaxed somewhat at this, but still did not feel at ease with the situation.

"Oh, well if you need assistance with another treaty..." The bard offered.

"We had something a little more permanent in mind. As you can see, I'm swamped with work.
Two of our Council members passed away in the last year. Veodis was named to the first
position a few weeks ago. The Council has discussed replacements for the second position for
some time."

Stavros began to pace, and went in for the hard sell. He truly believed in the bard's skill and
knew she would be an asset to their government. He looked at the bard with a serious expression
on his face and continued, "It became evident to us on your last visit that you are a very intelligent
woman, and are a very quick study in matters of state. Your obvious heart-felt concern for the
people has endeared you to both them and the Council. When you were here last, we were on the
brink of war. We were a people with no hope, who lived in fear. Your demonstration of skilled
diplomacy, leadership and fearlessness in our negotiations was nothing short of amazing. We now
not only have a treaty ensuring peace, but the morale and productivity of our people is higher than
I had ever hoped. We would like to make you a generous offer to take the open place on our
Council. You would be respected in the community, and have a position of leadership. You will
be given a Council member's home and salary, which as you know, is quite a handsome sum. The
terms are negotiable, but...," the Magistrate smiled warmly, "go easy on us. We've seen what you
can do!"

Gabrielle sat quietly for a moment. She was caught off guard by the man's proposal. "Um, well...
I'll have to think about this. It's quite an offer, but I have a lot of things to consider before I
make the decision." In her mind, Gabrielle knew she would turn him down, but felt it rude to do
so too quickly. She thought it more respectful to make a show of considering his generous
proposition. Gabrielle laughed mentally at the thought of her and Xena staying behind to help run
Tanagra. She knew the warrior would never stay in one place, let alone become involved in
politics. She herself had gotten accustomed to life on the road and questioned if she could endure
a stationary life.

"Of course, of course", Stavros answered. "I understand. I'm sorry to have to rush you, but we
need an answer by the end of the day tomorrow. If we have to look elsewhere, there is no time to
lose. The business of this town is getting too backed up, and we need help as soon as possible."


As soon as they entered their chambers, Gabrielle turned to Xena with a surprised look, "Can you
believe this, Xena?"

Xena's mind was reeling, but she didn't want her friend to know it. She was internally panicking
at the thought of being without her friend. She calmed herself, admitting that it was a wonderful
opportunity for the bard. If this is what she wanted, Xena did not want to stand in her way. "Of
course I can believe it. All those things he said were absolutely true, and he hasn't seen anything

Gabrielle blushed at the compliment. "You really think so? You think I could do the job of a
Council member?"

The bard seemed pretty excited about the offer. Xena's hopes that she might turn it down were
fading. Xena's brows furrowed for a moment. She walked over to Gabrielle and placed her
hands on the bard's shoulders. She looked her friend in the eye and began seriously, "Apparently
I don't tell you these things often enough. Yes, I think you would do a great job. I think that
they couldn't have made this offer to a more qualified candidate." By now, Gabrielle was
beaming. Xena continued, "You always thank me for teaching you various things...fighting and
defense techniques, survival skills... I guess I've never really thanked you for all the things you
have taught me."

Gabrielle interrupted, laughing slightly, "What could I possibly teach you, oh many-skilled one?"

"I'm serious about this Gabrielle. Half of the messes we have gotten out of, or saved someone
else from, have been your doing, not mine. It's amazing to watch you deal with people. Even at
my most manipulative as a warlord, I couldn't get out of people what you do. Oh, sure, I could
beat them into submission, but you get people to see what's best, and to do it WILLINGLY. I'm
getting better at this from being around you. YOU, my friend, have many skills and I am lucky to
have been able to learn from them."

Gabrielle had remained still, listening to this uncharacteristic flow of words from the warrior.
When Xena finished, Gabrielle wrapped her arms tightly around her friend's waist, giving her a
strong hug. "Thanks, Xena. You have no idea how much that means to me, coming from you."
She wiped a stray tear from her face before the warrior could see it.

The both moved out of the embrace, smiling, though a little uncomfortable from the closeness
they had allowed to linger a little longer than usual.

"Well then, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner." Xena stated.

The women moved about the room, unpacking some of their belongings, and setting up their
things for the night's stay.

The suspense was killing Xena. She couldn't hold out any longer, "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Are you going to take them up on the offer?" Xena's stomach tightened. Something in her was
pleading silently for the bard to say no. Somewhere else a voice was telling her that it was a great
opportunity for the bard, and that she should stop being so selfish.

"I hadn't actually considered..." The bard's was stunned. She sat down on the bed. It had never
actually occurred to her to stay. Her heart fell as she realized that her picture of the two of them
as an inseparable pair was not a picture that her friend shared. She thought, Who am I kidding?
What does she really have to lose? It would be much less of an inconvenience for her to get back
to having to only take care of herself, and not have to fend for me too. I know she considers me a
friend, even family. She probably figures she could always come back and visit me, like with her
mother, or Hercules, or the Amazons. I guess that would be enough for her. I thought I was
different. Gods, I'm so stupid! What could have ever made me so blind to think that the great
Warrior Princess would feel that I was as indispensable to her as she is to me. Dumb, dumb,
dumb!! I have to stop being selfish. I gain everything from being with her on the road, but I hold
her back from so much. I get adventure, travel, great stories, new acquaintances, knowledge of
the world and how to take care of myself, and her companionship. She gets someone who nags,
has to be taught everything, is a liability in a fight, and basically just slows her down. If I let her
go, she will probably be safer, she won't have anyone to answer to (which I know she hates), and
maybe she'll have the opportunity to find someone special to share her heart with.' At this last
thought, Gabrielle's stomach tightened. She chalked it up to the thought of losing a friend, and
made a hasty decision in order to avoid thinking about it further.

Xena's thoughts were in that same place. In her mind, she rationalized every reason for her friend
to stay, I've been blessed by her time with me, but I can't be selfish. If she stays here, she'll have
a stable life, a good position in the community, and respect. They will use the wonderful talents
she has. She won't face the danger that I bring upon her. Perhaps she'll find a husband and make
a family.' At that, her stomach wrenched, and she buried it all.

"Well, it is a great offer...", Gabrielle started, desperate for her friend to give her a reason not to
stay, one indication that the separation would bother her.

"That it is." Xena thought of a million reasons to beg the bard to stay with her, but voiced none
of them.

"You think I should say yes then?", Gabrielle held her breath, praying silently.

"I think you should do whatever you want."

"But what about you...", she asked, and in her mind finished the sentence What about us?'

"Oh, I'll be fine." Xena said nonchalantly. "Remember, I was able to take care of myself before
you came along." The warrior meant this as reassurance to her friend that she didn't have to feel
guilty about staying. She didn't realize how deeply that statement cut the bard.

Gabrielle wanted to cry. She would rather Xena have punched her in the stomach than voiced
what Gabrielle had always known...the warrior did not need her at all. She swallowed it all,
knowing what she had to do.

"Well then, I guess that's that." The bard stood abruptly and began moving about the room,
fussing with this and that. She avoided looking at her friend, knowing that Xena would be able to
see right through her. "It's a great opportunity, and no one loses anything in the deal, right?
Can't beat that. I'll let Stavros know in the morning. Promise you'll come back to visit me?"
Gabrielle struggled to hide the desperation in her voice.

"Sure." Xena wanted to say more, but couldn't. She knew if she tried to speak further, she
would break down. She knew she would beg the bard not to leave her... not to ever leave her.
That would be unfair to her friend, and Xena would never do anything to hold her back.

The walls on both sides started to go up immediately. The women's hearts were preparing
themselves for the inevitable, and served to waste the few, precious remaining hours they had.
They prepared for bed silently, both too crushed to speak. They abandoned their cherished rituals,
both too afraid that touching each other would collapse their resolve. Neither slept much that

In the morning, Gabrielle went to the Magistrate's office and accepted his offer. When she
returned to her room, Xena was packed and preparing to go. Although the bard knew this would
happen eventually, she thought that her friend would stay on a few days...give her a chance to say
goodbye. The bard's heart was in her throat. She wanted to throw her arms around Xena and
beg her to never leave her, to let her tag along for the rest of her life, but she knew that would be
unfair to her friend, and Gabrielle would never do anything to hold Xena back.

She swallowed her tears and spoke to her friend, still hopeful to squeeze out a little more time
with her, "I thought you might stay on a few me get settled n all."

Xena avoided looking at her, unnecessarily rechecking all the fastenings on her packs. The
warrior knew that if she didn't get out of there as soon as possible, she would never be able to
give her friend the freedom she deserved. "Naaah. You'll be fine. I know you can take care of
yourself. Besides, looks like you've got a lot of work to do here."

"No, really, I...", Gabrielle was despondent, but didn't know how to make her friend stay a little

Xena steeled herself for her departure. She turned and faced her friend, avoiding looking in her
eyes. She knew if she looked into that beautiful green, she would be lost. She moved quickly to
her friend and embraced her. She inhaled the scent of the bard's hair deeply. It was almost her
undoing. "I'll visit. And you know if you ever need anything, I'll be here before you know it.
Um, well, I'm not good at goodbye this stuff, so I guess I'll just go."

Gabrielle didn't release the embrace. She didn't want the warrior to see her crying. She quickly
wiped the tears from her eyes. "Sure, Xena. Thanks for everything. And you better come back
so I can show off how much I will have done for Tanagra." She attempted to lighten the mood.

The women released each other, still avoiding eye contact. Xena strode out the door. Each
assumed the other was excited to start her new life. Neither saw the tears that flowed unchecked
from the other's eyes. Each assumed that the other was filled with thoughts and plans for their
future. Neither realized that she was the cause of the other's heart breaking in unison with her

Dacron watched Xena leave. He was a bit confused. Even at his young age, he was usually
pretty good at spotting a happy couple. Must have been wrong this time, but can't say I'm
disappointed'. His heart was soaring again, full of hope.


Xena spent two months roaming aimlessly. She had become gaunt, dirty, and somewhat out of
shape. Every activity, hunting, fishing, cooking, bathing, sleeping... all of it brought memories of
Gabrielle flooding back. She didn't want to do anything. She never found herself more than one
or two villages away from where she had left Gabrielle. Everything in her mind told her to run as
far away as possible. She thought maybe distance would help the ache go away. Everything in
her heart told her to stay close by, in case the bard needed her. For once, she listened to her

The Warrior sat, sharpening her sword, as she did more and more often now. It was the only
activity she could do without thinking. As she sat there, letting the rhythmic scraping put her in a
familiar trance, she heard someone approaching. She continued her chore, waiting for the
intruder to come closer. In a flash, there was a young man face down on the ground with Xena's
knee between his shoulder blades and hand holding his face in the dirt. He didn't struggle, he
knew better. She let up the pressure on his head slightly to allow him to speak.

"Xena, it's me, Dacron. Damn, I forgot about the Yell to you while I'm still at a safe distance'
thing. Please let me up, Gabrielle is in trouble..."

Xena rose quickly and pulled the young man up with her by the back of his shirt. She spun him
around in a panic, "What, what's happened to her?!?"

Even in his preoccupation with the bard, he had still observed what a beautiful woman the warrior
was...or had been. Dacron stared at the warrior and stepped back a little. Given her appearance,
the welcome he had received, and the knowledge that he was the bearer of bad news, he was
somewhat frightened.

Xena realized she had scared the boy. "Sorry, I didn't know it was you...senses are a little dulled
these days. Now speak!"

"Gabrielle has been kidnapped." He spoke softly, afraid of the warrior's reaction, but continued.
He lowered his head, as tears began to fall, "I'm sorry, I should have been able to protect her...
should have been there for her..."

"No time for regrets now, we have to help Gabrielle. Besides, I'm sure you did everything you

Within minutes, the warrior had broken camp, and loaded her belongings onto Argo. "C'mon,
let's go, you can explain it to me along the way."

Dacron decided to give Xena only the basic version. He thought it best to leave out the fact that
he tried desperately to court the bard after Xena's departure. He was still stinging from the
rebuffs he received, although he knew they were as gentle as possible. It soon became apparent
to the boy that he was not mistaken in his initial perceptions. He was still confused as to why the
women separated.

As they rode, the boy related the tale to Xena. He decided maybe he could satisfy his curiosity
without revealing anything. "Did you and Gabrielle have a fight before you left?"

"Huh? What are you talking about...just tell me what happened." Xena was anxious to hear
about her friend

"Sorry, it's just that Gabrielle changed somewhat after you left. She seemed a little lost." The
boy began to relate his story to the warrior. According to Dacron, for the first few days of the
bard's stay, she hadn't eaten or spoken to anyone, and the village elders were worried about their
decision to place her on the Council. On the fourth day after her arrival, the bard entered the
Council chambers and announced she was ready to work...and that's all she did. The few people
whom she had gotten close to expressed their concern that she slow down, but, since it was so
beneficial to Tanagra, no one forced the issue.

With Gabrielle in this somewhat obsessed mode, the town had prospered greatly. Shortly,
Gabrielle was made a leader of the Council, directly under the Magistrate, by an almost
unanimous vote. Only a two-thirds majority was needed, so the motion passed easily. Under
Gabrielle's direction, in two months the town had signed successful treaties with most of their
neighboring villages, avoided conflicts with two raiding parties, and begun training a small guard
for the town. Everything seemed to be going extremely well. The people were very happy, and
placed all of their faith in their new leader. And then she was taken.

Xena and Dacron arrived in town quickly. Xena flew to the Magistrate's quarters, the boy
running to catch up. She burst into the room, "Have you received a ransom note?"

Dacron entered, out of breath. "Father, she didn't let me finish explaining."

Xena approached the boy menacingly, "What did you leave out?!"

Stavros stood and spoke. "First of all, Xena, you are a guest in my home, and we are your
friends. There is no need to threaten my son, he has done nothing to you. We all want to get
Gabrielle back and this behavior is not going to get anything accomplished."

Xena's first reaction was to thrash both of them. She was tired, weak and petrified for her friend.
She took a deep breath and thought of Gabrielle. "You're right. Please tell me EVERYTHING
you know."

"No, there's no ransom note. We have reason to believe that her captor is one of our own, and
that money isn't what he's after."

"What? I thought you said everyone in this town loved Gabrielle?"

The Magistrate continued, "Xena, you know human nature as well as anyone. Yes, almost
everyone loved and respected the bard, but not everyone. Most of the townspeople placed their
faith in Gabrielle. Perhaps to a fault." He lowered his head. "What I mean is, I believe we came
to rely on her too much, and someone is trying to use that to their advantage. Has my son told
you of the vote to give Gabrielle head seat on the Council?


"Well, the few dissenting votes were from Veodis and his backers. Veodis believes in being in
control of everything, and leaving no power in the hands of the people. This, of course, includes
all commerce, from which he makes a large sum. Even larger if he can end some of the practices
Gabrielle has put into place. His argument is that it is safer to leave the decisions in the hands of
individuals such as himself who know what's best for the people'. Gabrielle disagreed. She had
faith in the people's ability to make decisions for themselves, and felt that they should prosper
from any benefits Tanagra was receiving from its business. Her theories have worked. The
people believe in her, and respect her for the way they have been treated. It has also improved
their attitudes toward our government in general, and because of this, they have worked harder
than I have ever seen. As my son has probably explained, we have been doing very well since you
left your friend with us."

The words left your friend' reverberated through Xena's head, and she cringed.

"Xena, are you alright?" Stavros asked.

"Yes, please continue with your theory."

"If Veodis is behind this, taking Gabrielle has two advantages for him. The first is that it opens
one of the most powerful political seats in this town. Secondly, Veodis probably believes that it
takes away the source of the people's strength. He thinks that without Gabrielle, the people will
go back to being desperate for someone to lead them. That they will doubt their abilities, will
doubt themselves and take the easier route. He believes that this town will collapse without her
leadership, and that he and his supporters will be there to pick up the pieces." He laughed and
shook his head. "He hasn't been paying attention to the lessons your friend has really been

Xena looked confused.

"Gabrielle was our main source of strength for a while. She is very perceptive, and picked up on
our dependency. She worked hard to wean the people of their sole reliance on her leadership.
She was far more than a politician to us. A politician would have taken advantage of the people's
dependence on her. Gabrielle did not. She pushed to make sure we could stand on our own. She
taught us to believe in ourselves and take care of each other. She said something about teaching
us to fish and not fishing for us..." Stavros shook his head, confused, although we never really
had a problem with our catch...Never quite understood that one."

"She's always coming up with odd stuff like that." Xena laughed, thinking fondly of her friend's
penchant for teaching lessons by making up strange sayings.

"Anyway...she told us to take care of ourselves. She instructed us to avoid fighting when we
could, but to have the bravery to fight with all we're worth for the things that mean most to us,
unlike she did."

"What are you talking about?" Xena was becoming frustrated, and thought she detected an insult
to her friend in there somewhere, but wasn't sure. Every time she grasped one part of the story,
another part confused her. All she wanted was to get to her friend, but she knew she had to have
all the facts before she went after her.

"Gabrielle said that she had learned from her own mistakes. She said that once, when it was most
important, she was afraid to speak her heart. She took the easy way out and it cost her the most
precious gift that she had ever been given, that which mattered most to her in the world."

"Hmmph. Must have been something in her childhood. She never told me about anything like
that. It doesn't matter now. Please continue."

"The people are willing to fight for what's important to them...their town, and their friend.
Gabrielle insisted on training some of the townspeople, including myself, with staffs, and had the
few men who were handy with a sword train some others, including my son. But there are still
only a few. We need your help. If it's the man we think it is, he is surely not alone."

Dacron, who sat quietly all this time, chimed in, "I have become pretty good with a sword, Xena.
I wanted to go after her myself but..."

"You did the right thing waiting. I'm sure you will be of great assistance to me when we find
her." This calmed the boy for the moment.

Xena's brain went into warrior mode. She stood and began to pace, hands behind her back. "We
can't let whoever has her know this yet. We have to let him think that he still has the upper hand
and that the people are afraid. We don't want to force him into a rash decision. If he feels his
plan has failed he'll kill her. Do you know where they may have taken her?"

Dacron started to speak, but looked at his father and hesitated.

"What is it boy? This is no time for silence if you know something. Speak!", his father

Guiltily he spoke up, "Before I went to get Xena I followed some tracks I saw heading into the

"I told you to go directly to Xena!!"

Xena spoke, "It's alright Stavros, let him finish..."

He directed his words toward the warrior, "I believe they took her to the large cavern on the
eastern side of town. I realized pretty quickly by the tracks that I wouldn't be able to do anything
myself," his head lowered in disappointment, "so I continued on to get you."

Xena was getting pretty weary of having to build Dacron's ego back up, but knew that he meant
well, and had tried to protect her friend. He would be a good man someday and she knew that a
few words of encouragement or discouragement for a child in times like this could make all the
difference, so she did her part.

"You did good. You're a brave man, and this information will help get Gabrielle back safely."
She spoke to Stavros, "I'll go ahead and scope out the situation. You assemble anyone who is
willing to fight and meet me at the cavern as quickly as possible."

"I hate to say this, but how do you know she's not already de..."

Xena cut him off, but not angrily. She spoke with certainty, "I just know."

And he believed her.


Gabrielle watched Veodis pace back and forth. She had never had any respect for this man. His
desire to keep the citizens under his thumb angered her. She tried every argument she had to
convince him to let the people help themselves. He had never agreed with her views. He wanted
control of the people, not their independence. Although she didn't think much of him, she had
misjudged how far he would go to get his way. She should have been more careful. Gods, she
wished Xena were here.

He held his hands behind his back and looked up at her. This was necessary due to the fact that
her hands and feet were shackled to the stone wall of the cavern, a foot or so off the floor. He
had not taken his eyes off her since she got there. His stare gave her chills. It was as if he were
looking into her, and she didn't like it. He nodded his head, as if finished with a project.

He spoke for the first time since she had arrived. "You feel it don't you? You have a little bit of
the gift yourself I think...but not like me..." He puffed up at his self-compliment. "I know your
fears bard. I can see inside you. But you already know that. I've been reading you since you and
your friend first entered Tanagra. I have hidden my skill all my life, and that has come in handy.
People think and feel so freely around me...they have no idea that I can see it all." He laughed,
and shook his head, recalling some of the more amusing thoughts he had caught people with.
"Nothing surprises me any more. You managed to surprise me a little though. Who would think
that you actually believe all that ridiculous philosophy that you spew? Actually have faith in the
people? Bah!" He waved his hand dismissively.

Xena crept slowly into the cavern, undetected. Veodis was arrogant, and stupid. He had men
around to protect him, as cowards often do. He had at least 10 wannabe soldiers with him. None
of them were stationed at the mouth of the cavern, proving that Veodis expected no resistance.
In her weakened state, Xena knew she had to wait for reinforcements. She saw her friend
shackled to the wall and thanked the gods that she was still clothed, although slightly battered.

Veodis was busy using all of his mental energy to concentrate on the bard. She was being
difficult. "I have spent some time trying to learn your fears, and surprisingly, there are few. Most
of them have to do with that pig of a woman you used to travel with. Pity she's not here to
torture, from what I can tell, that's what'd really get you."

Gabrielle pulled against her restraints. Veodis laughed, seeing that his insults of the warrior were
successful in angering the bard. He knew that the less control she had over her emotions, the
easier he could read her, and the more he would have to work with. As soon as he began his
tirade on the warrior, Gabrielle's hold over her thoughts loosened.

"You know I can read your thoughts. Therefore, you must realize that I could read hers too.
You were right you know, she couldn't wait to get rid of you." He waited a moment to let this
blow sink in. "When Stavros made you that offer, I could actually feel her spirits lift. She saw it
as the perfect opportunity."

Gabrielle's head lowered, and her thoughts and fears spoke clearly to him now.

Xena was suffering in the shadows. She wanted to shout out to her friend that this wasn't true.
How could she ever believe this? Is this what she thought?

"You were a burden to her. She didn't even know your little secret, did she?"

Gabrielle's and Xena's heads both shot up with attention riveted on the speaker.

"I read it as soon as you entered the town. It was your most pervasive thought. Did she know
how you thought of her, bard?" He moved close to her, becoming excited by the memories of the
bard's thoughts. "Did she know the perverted little fantasies that danced about in your head?
Ooooh, some of them were veerrry creative. Did she know how you longed to touch her?" He
ran a finger from under her arm down to the top of her thigh. "Did she know how jealous you
were when she spoke of Marcus, Hercules..."

"I wasn't!!!" Gabrielle yelled. Her insides were being torn apart. All her worst fears, about
herself, and her friend, were true.

Veodis laughed, "You may be able to lie to yourself, but you can't lie to me."

Xena's head was spinning. What she was hearing couldn't be true. She was shocked. She
wanted to take Gabrielle in her arms and tell her it was alright. Tell her that she felt the same.
The anguish she saw on the young girl's face broke her heart. Gods, if she really feels this way,
how many times must I have hurt her with stories of my love for Marcus, my relationship with
Hercules?' Xena's heart ached with the pain she knew she had caused her friend. It was obvious
that the bard felt she needed to be ashamed of her love for the warrior, to hide it... that she feared
rejection. And it was all so needless.

Xena's patience was running thin. When she saw Veodis touch took everything in
her not to rush in and kill him where he stood. There were just too many of them, she was too
weak, and she hated herself for it.

The tormentor continued as he paced, "Speaking of Xena's past conquests", he paused and
looked up at her, "and there were many..." He resumed his pacing, "that's exactly what was on
her mind when she was leaving. It was quite amusing for me to watch the two of
longing for her, her longing for a good roll in the hay with a soldier or two. All she could think of
was how lucky an opportunity this was so that she could finally get rid of her tag-a-long...and go
get what she desired as a woman." Rubbing himself up against the struggling bard he added,
"Too bad she didn't stick around. I could have given her what she wanted. But...knowing what I
do of her...I'm sure she's sated that desire quite a few times by now..."

Gabrielle spat in his face, and he laughed at her.

"Don't worry. I know what you wanted from her, and I'm going to give it to you while we wait
for the poor weak citizen's of Tanagra to realize that I am their only savior."

Gabrielle steeled herself to his advances. She began to speak, partly to stall him, but partly for
him to know he would never have the best of her. As he ran his hands over her she stated, "Do
what you will, but I'll only think of her. No hands could ever touch me that I wouldn't dream of
as hers, and you can't take that away from me."

Veodis paused for a minute, and stepped back a bit, shocked at the bard's admittal. He had felt
her push this truth down so far for so long, he never thought she would acknowledge it.

She continued, "You are right about my desires, Veodis, but wrong about my intentions. I love
her. I have always loved her. The desire I have for her is pure. My heart is hers. It is not the
sordid little fantasy that you make it out to be. She taught me to be strong, that I could endure
anything. Whatever you do to me, I'll only think of her, and it will get me through."

As much as Xena was suffering, her heart soared at the bard's words.

Veodis was becoming a bit frustrated. "Wouldn't our fine citizens be surprised to learn that their
esteemed leader holds such passionate feelings for a common, dirty whore!!" He laughed and
resumed his plan to take the bard.

Gabrielle's eyes filled with an anger that Xena had never seen on her friend's face before. With a
strength produced by pure rage, the bard wrenched one of the manacles free from the wall and
brought it across the man's face with a fierce blow. He laid below her on the floor cradling his
now bleeding face, moaning. Even still shackled to the wall, her anger made her seem to tower
over him. She growled, menacingly, "Don't you EVER talk about her like that again or I swear
I'll rip your heart out!!!"

The guards were on her in a flash, and hammered the manacle back into the wall as both the bard
and her captor seethed. Veodis moved forward to punish his prisoner.

"You're not in much of a position to make threats, are you Gabr.....", Veodis speech stopped.
His eyes widened suddenly. All the color drained from his face as he dropped to his knees. He
fell forward, revealing to Gabrielle the hilt of a familiar dagger protruding from his back. At the
same time, she heard a equally familiar battle cry that sent shivers through her body. A dozen of
the villagers swarmed the room. The soldiers, caught off guard, were overtaken quickly.

Having been freed by one of the villagers, at the onset, Gabrielle had gladly joined in the melee,
taking out some of her anger on a few of the soldiers. Just as she thought her work was over, one
of the downed soldiers took hold of her ankle, pulling her down. Both Xena and Gabrielle moved
to take care of the situation, but didn't. They saw Dacron moving toward the soldier. Dacron
kicked him in the stomach, which caused the soldier to release the bard's ankle. Dacron fell to the
floor and put his weight behind his fist as he brought it down on the man's face. The soldier
would not be getting up again for awhile. Dacron rose proudly and offered a hand up to
Gabrielle. The bard and warrior knew they had done the right thing when they saw Dacron and
his father both beaming with pride.

Xena approached the three of them. With a huge grin, Dacron stepped aside. He looked at Xena
and bowed slightly, sweeping a path toward the bard with his arm, signaling that he knew his
place... and the warrior's.

Ignoring Dacron's somewhat strange theatrics, Gabrielle stood still, taking in Xena's disheveled
appearance. The warrior looked like she hadn't eaten or slept...or bathed.. in days. But Gabrielle
didn't care. Her friend was back, and Gabrielle was delighted. This feeling came crashing to a
sudden halt as Veodis' revelations of the warrior's feelings came flooding back to the bard. She
shook her head and pushed these thoughts aside. She decided that if Xena had felt that way, and
done the things he said, it didn't matter. She was back... for Gabrielle. The bard longed to hold
her friend, but hesitated. Gabrielle was unsure how much Xena had heard of her feelings.

Xena, sensing the bard's turmoil, closed the distance between them and took her friend in her
arms. She bent down and placed a soft kiss on the red hair. They held each other without
uttering a sound for a very long time. They both cried silently, unaware that many of the
townspeople cried with them, moved by their display.

The women were called back from their distraction by Stavros' booming voice, "Townspeople,
tonight we celebrate! We have finally stood up for what is ours", and with a broad smile and a
glance toward the two women, continued, "And so has our Gabrielle." Having caught the end of
Gabrielle's words to Veodis, Stavros no longer wondered about what Gabrielle had given up.
Gabrielle's eyes went wide on her reddening face at his statement as a loud cheer went up from
her people.

The group began to exit, high on their victory. Xena mounted Argo, and helped the bard up
behind her. The bard wrapped her arms hesitantly around the warrior's waist. Xena wanted to
talk to the bard, to quell her fears, to end her suffering. But now was not the time or place. But
she had to do something. She looked back over her shoulder at the bard. While looking her
friend in the eyes, Xena took the bard's hands in hers and pulled them as tightly around her waist
as she could get them, so that the bard's body rested against her back. She let one hand remain
on the bard's crossed forearms, as her thumb stroked them gently. As the bard relaxed into this
position, Xena turned back around and prodded Argo forward. She instinctively took her place at
the head of the group heading for town. They rode on silently.

Gabrielle couldn't take it anymore. She steeled herself and asked quietly, "How much did you
hear, Xena?"

It was so nice to hear her name fall from the bard's lips again that she closed her eyes to enjoy it
for a second. "Everything." She felt the bard tense, but kept a tight grip on her arms. "It was the
most wonderful thing I've ever heard." She took one of the bard's hands, laced their fingers
together and then repositioned them around her waist as they continued back to the village.

About half way back, the Magistrate rode up beside the women and motioned for them to stop.
He brought his horse up as close as possible so that he could whisper into Gabrielle's ear. He
then took Xena's position up front and began to lead the villagers home.

"What was that all about?" Xena asked.

"He suggested that we hang back a bit. The village is going to be bustling from the excitement of
their victory and in preparation for this evening's feast. If we expect to wash up in peace and
relax a little, we should do so at the lake nearby as opposed to the one closest to town.
Otherwise, we will be interrupted all day. There are some provisions always left in the cave near
this lake, and we're welcome to use them. Stavros said that I looked like I could use a little rest,
and I think we could both use a bath...especially YOU!", the bard kidded her friend.

Xena was actually encouraged by the insult. She was glad that their comradery was still there.
She had been unsure of how much things may have changed between them during their
separation. "Hey!! I just saved your butt and you're telling me I stink?!?"

"Yeah, yeah...saved my butt, what else is new?? Doesn't change the fact that you'll probably kill
a few fish in that lake as soon as you jump in, peeeyuuuuu!" The bard held her nose for dramatic

"Alright, alright, I'll take a bath already!! Which way?"

Xena took directions from Gabrielle until they arrived at the lake. Not willing to break the
contact that had begun the moment she took the bard in her arms after the rescue, Xena continued
to hold one of the bard's hands as she dismounted. She helped Gabrielle down as well. Having
still not released the bard's hand, Xena led her toward the lake. This small gesture pleased
Gabrielle immensely.

They sat down at the shore and began taking off their boots. Even now, they sat shoulder to
shoulder, not wanting to physically disconnect.

Xena knew that the bard was still upset about the things Xena had heard her disclose. She knew
the bard still believed some, if not all of the lies Veodis had tormented her with. The warrior
desperately wanted to put the bard's mind at ease. She wanted to let the bard know how happy
the revelations had made her. She wanted to tell her friend that she had spent the last two months
doing nothing but missing her friend, not rolling around with soldiers. She wasn't sure how to

"He lied Gabrielle." She blurted out.

Gabrielle stopped with her left ankle on her right knee, her boot in hand, still half on, "What?"

"What Veodis said about wanting to get rid of you, about why I left...none of it was true..."
Xena's face became sad. "But I know he didn't create that on his own. I know it's what you
feared...what would hurt you most. And I'm so, so sorry. The fact that you still thought I'd want
to get rid of you shows that you were hurting and doubtful all along. I'm sorry for that. I'm
stupid for that. I'm selfish for that." The warrior hung her head.

"No, Xena, I..." The bard tried to stop the warrior's self-condemnation.

Xena shook her head, "All I had to do was tell you..."

Gabrielle assumed that the warrior meant that she should have revealed that she needed to go get
some physical companionship now and again. She dreaded hearing it, but knew it was inevitable.
She might as well know the whole truth, "Tell me what?"

Xena looked up bravely, making eye contact with her friend once again. She hesitated, still afraid
to tell the bard how she felt. "H-How much I love you... more than I ever thought was possible
for anyone to love someone...let alone me. I never knew that just the thought of someone, just
their presence, a look, could fill my heart so completely."

Gabrielle was stunned. Tears filled her eyes even as she smiled. Her hand covered her mouth as
she tried to hold back a sob. She was overjoyed that the woman who owned her heart loved her
back. Suddenly, her expression changed, her brow furrowed, and her hand came away from her
mouth, "Why didn't you tell me?! Why did you let me stay?!" she blurted out.

Xena cupped the bards face and then began to wipe her friend's tears away with the back of her
fingers. She spoke softly, calming the angry woman, "I guess for the same reasons you didn't tell
me, the same reasons you let me go... I had no idea you would even accept these feelings, let
alone that you felt the same."

Gabrielle knew Xena was right. They were both at fault. They were both cowards in this
situation. "Hmmph. You have learned a lot from me, huh? You're not supposed to be able to
stump me like that." She smiled and continued, "We were both stupid. We were both afraid, but
it's understandable. We feared losing that which we held most dear, and ironically, our fears
caused just that to happen. I'll always regret this time we've wasted..." She looked deeply into
Xena's eyes, caressing her face, "but I'd like to start making up for it."

Xena felt her stomach do flip flops and other parts of her anatomy seem to catch fire. Despite her
experience in this area, she was too petrified to move.

Gabrielle stood breaking their contact for the first time. She moved behind Xena and sat back
down. She began the ritual of removing of the warrior's armor. For this, Xena would accept the
short separation, for she too missed this greatly. Gabrielle did not stop at the armor, but
proceeded to undress the warrior completely. Xena let her.

Gabrielle was taken aback at first at how much weight the warrior had lost. Xena noticed the
concern in her friend's eyes. "Sorry, I guess I just missed your cooking.", she smirked, trying to
make light of it.

"Xena, it's not funny. What happened to you?"

The warrior was silent.

"Please, Xena...Is this my fault?"

"No, it's our fault. I missed you so much, I didn't want to live. I couldn't do anything without
thinking of you, and each thought of you, and knowing what I'd lost, cut another piece of my
soul. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that you might need me some day and
that I had to be around to help you. So, I did only what was necessary to survive." She lowered
her head, feeling completely undesirable for the first time in her life.

The bard silence caused the warrior to look up at her.

Gabrielle, looked the warrior's body over once again, and lowered her head, blushing.

Xena noticed her friend's shyness. They had gotten so close before the separation, and Xena had
hoped that they could pick up where they had left off. She thought that the closeness and
absolute ease with which they interacted would still be there. Apparently this was not the case.
She was disappointed, but was willing to take all the time the bard needed to be comfortable
again. "Gabrielle, what is it? I know it's been a while since we've seen each other, but you've
seen me naked many times before. There is no need to be bashful. But if it makes you
uncomfortable I'll put my..." Xena began to pick up her clothes.

Gabrielle's hand quickly stopped her. "No!" She stepped back a bit, a little embarrassed at how
abruptly she stopped her friend. "I's not that I'm uncomfortable, it's just"

"What is it, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, concerned.

Gabrielle lowered her head shyly, her eyes looking upward, making contact with Xena's, "You're
still the most beautiful person I have ever seen, and seeing you like this makes me..." She looked
Xena over again and took a deep breath, "speechless."

Xena was now the shy one. "Oh, I...uh...well, thanks." She dropped the clothes and moved
toward Gabrielle.

Xena put her hands on Gabrielle shoulders. She smiled as she continued to look her friend in the
eye. "I've always had the excuse of needing help with the armor. I tried and tried, but could
never come up with an excuse to help you out of your clothes. Will you please let me help you
now?" she asked as she slid a finger under the shoulder strap of Gabrielle's top.

The bard shuddered, sucking in a breath, "Yes..."

When all of the bard's clothes had been discarded, Xena stepped back and let her eyes wander
over her friend's body. Her eyes drifted to the various cuts and bruises covering the young girl.
Her eyes took in every injury, slowly drifting downward. Suddenly, she panicked, and Gabrielle
saw it in her eyes.

"He didn't, Xena." A slight relief was seen on the warrior.

Xena pulled Gabrielle toward the lake. They bathed each other for the first time in months, and
for the first time with nothing to fear. No touch was off limits. No spot was left uncleaned by the
hands of the other...and nothing went further than a bath. They spent hours touching, caressing,
holding, cuddling and just looking at each other with nothing left to hide, either in looks or in

The women dried off, dressed, and relaxed on the bank. Gabrielle's back was against a tree, and
Xena's head rested in her lap. She stroked the warrior's hair gently, and asked, "Promise we will
never hide anything from each other again?"

Xena looked up at her with sleepy blue eyes, "What an easy promise. I almost lost you because I
kept my mouth shut. To think I could have been enjoying times like this with you for so long
now..." Xena took the bard's idle hand, and kissed the palm. She held her lips there for a long
moment. Both women closed their eyes, thoroughly enjoying every show of affection. "I
promise, from now on, to always tell you how I'm feeling, love."

After a few moments, Xena broke the silence. "Well, there is something that is bothering me, so I
guess I should stop worrying about it and just ask you, right?"


"Um, well... are you going to stay here, in Tanagra?"

"Xena, when I said we wouldn't hide anything, I meant to say exactly what weare feeling.

Xena took a deep breath and nodded her head. She continued, "Gabrielle, I feel I have made one
of the worst mistakes of my life ever leaving you here. I want more than anything in the world for
you to leave here and continue on with me. I need you with me. If you don't want to..."

Gabrielle put two fingers over Xena's lips to stop her. Xena looked up into the bard's eyes to see
tears forming there. "I've waited so long to hear that." The bard stifled back a sob. "Of course
I'll go with you...and the mistake was equally mine."

They remained there silently for a few minutes, continuing their caresses. They both soaked in the
knowledge that they would be together again. They both felt peaceful for the first time in months.

Xena sat up slowly. She leaned one arm over Gabrielle's legs to prop herself up. She looked into
the bard's eyes and caressed her face. "I hate to say this, but we should probably be getting back.
Wouldn't look right for the object of the celebration to be late for the party."

Gabrielle leaned into Xena's hand, closing her eyes. With a slight smile on her face she
responded, "Always the voice of reason. But I guess you're right."

Neither woman made a motion to move. They looked in each others eyes for a long moment,
communicating things that were impossible to put into words. Gabrielle's hand traveled to the
back of Xena's head, and guided her gently forward. When their lips touched for the first time,
both women were overcome. They pulled back for a moment, and looked at each other.

In unison, "Are you alright??"

They laughed. Gabrielle started first, "More than alright. I just didn't expect it to be so, so
wonderful." She smiled, "I mean, gods, I've wanted this for so long, and dreamt about it
forever... but nothing prepared me for that."

"Same here..."


"Really." Xena replied. Her smile was brilliant and her eyes sparkled as she leaned in to
recapture the bard's lips.

They kissed gently for a few minutes, just enjoying the sensation of the feel of the other's lips.
Xena instinctively opened her mouth slightly, which was all the invitation the bard needed. She
slid her tongue lightly over Xena's bottom lip, causing the warrior's mouth to open more in slight
surprise. The bard's tongue slid into Xena's mouth, exploring every texture. The kiss soon
became passionate, and the breathing of both women labored.

Xena finally pulled back and touched her head to the bard's. She felt the sweat on both their
foreheads from their activity. She closed her eyes, attempting to calm herself. She opened her
eyes, intending to speak. When her eyes met the bard's, she was lost. The passion she saw in
there made her forget why she had ended the kiss. It made her helpless to stop. The passionate
kissing resumed.

A few moments later, the warrior tried again. This time, she kept her eyes closed, forehead
connected with the bard's. "Gabrielle", she panted, "Please..." She was finding it hard to speak.

Gabrielle was lost in her dream come true, and was disappointed when the warrior stopped. "Did
I do something wrong, Xena? I know I don't have much experience at this but I'm sure I

Xena laughed slightly, never pulling her head back from the bard's. "No, Gabrielle. Everything is
absolutely perfect. More perfect than anything I could have ever hoped for. But...if we don't
stop now, I'm afraid I'll never let you get to that party."

"Oh!! The party! I completely forgot!"

"That good, huh?" The warrior asked, happy that she was able to please her friend to distraction.

"That good." The bard drawled, her voice dripping with desire. Her tone of voice caused Xena to
moan and lean into her.

"Gabrielle,'re not helping..."

"What did I do??"

"You really don't know do you?" Xena laughed.

"No, but I'm going to start making mental notes at what makes you make sounds like that.
Should come in handy later..."

Xena was flooded with visions of what might be in store for her later'. "See, There you go

"OK, OK. Maybe we should just get up and go then." Gabrielle offered.

"Sounds like a good idea."

As Xena opened her eyes and attempted to get up, Gabrielle placed a hand strongly over the one
Xena had been using to prop herself up. When Xena looked at her questioningly, the bard seized
her lips once again, eliciting yet another moan from the ever weakening warrior. At this point,
they both could care less for being socially correct. They had waited long enough for this and
would apologize for their lack of manners later.

The warrior felt like jelly. She thought to herself, If this is what her kisses do to me, I'm in real

The women finally stopped when their lips had begun to bruise. By this time it was getting dark,
and they were sure that the party had been going on for at least a couple of hours. They figured
they would find the village too drunk to care about their tardiness.


On the way back to the village, Gabrielle told Xena everything that had happened since the
warrior had left, including what happened in the cavern before Xena had arrived. She finished
with, "So you heard everything, huh?"

"Yes, and as I said, it was music to my ears." Xena's heart filled as she recalled her bard trying to
protect her honor. "Gabrielle, one thing though. You really didn't have to stand up to Veodis for
the things he was saying. He was only trying to egg you on, and...."

Gabrielle was a little angry at this. "Don't EVER tell me not to defend you, Xena. No one will
ever talk about you that way as long as I have anything to do with it."

Despite her original words, Xena was filled with pride at this. "Thanks. Actually, it does feel
kind of good to have you defend me that way." The warrior gave the bard's thigh a squeeze, and
then rested her hand there. A few seconds later, a small chuckle escaped the warrior.

"What are you laughing at?"

"Rip his heart out, huh??"

Gabrielle slapped Xena's back lightly. "Go ahead, laugh. I may avoid violence whenever
possible, but I believe I would have done it had another word against you come out of that
scumbag's vile mouth."

"I believe you would have..."


When they arrived back in Tanagra, they were surprised to see that the celebration was just
getting underway. Stavros approached them as they headed to Gabrielle's home.

"Guess they start partying a little late around here." Xena addressed the Magistrate.

Stavros corrected her, looking at the pair knowingly, "No, we just assumed you might take a
while, uh...washing up." He chuckled as Gabrielle slapped him playfully, with wide eyes and an
open mouth.

"Clothes have been left for the both of you in your quarters. Dinner will start in about an hour.
Think you can be ready?" He raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle, "Or do I need to send along a

Xena was amused at the ribbing the man was giving the bard, and played along. "No, I think we
can behave ourselves for the next hour, but it will be Hades!!"

"Xena!!" The bard scolded.

Xena and Stavros shared a hearty laugh as the bard turned crimson. "Honestly, I don't know
what I'm going to do with the two of you."

She took Xena by the arm and pulled her toward her quarters, vowing to herself to get back at
Xena for this later, in a way she was sure Xena would enjoy. Xena looked back over her shoulder
and winked at Stavros. It made her feel good that her bard was cared for by this man and his
family while they were apart.


The women hurried inside to prepare for the evening. They found clothing for each of them
hanging in Gabrielle's bedroom. Gabrielle instinctively went to the warrior to begin removing her
armor. Her fingertips grazed Xena's shoulder, and the bard was distracted. She stared at the skin
there, and began to trace her fingertips over it lightly, completely forgetting the task at hand.

Xena closed her eyes and enjoyed the touch. She realized, however, that if this continued, they
would never make any progress. She cleared her throat to snap the bard out of her trance.

"Oh, um, sorry." Gabrielle unfastened the hooks that held Xena's breast plate in place. The bard
was becoming annoyed at her own inability to control herself. She promised herself that she
could continue without being preoccupied again. As Xena stood there in only her leathers, the
bard knew she would not be able to keep that promise. She moved away to allow Xena to
continue the process on her own. This did not go unnoticed by the warrior, who smiled to

Xena was about to remove her leathers. She looked up in time to see the bard's top hit the floor.
The bard's bare back was an invitation Xena wasn't sure she could turn down. The bard felt
strong hands laid upon her shoulders. She inhaled quickly, and leaned back into Xena's hands.
The women both felt the heat where hands touched flesh. Xena allowed only her fingertips to
glide slowly down the length of the bard's back. She just stared at it. Just this simple touch was
exciting her beyond anything she had ever known. She suddenly had the overwhelming desire to
learn every part of the bard's body this way. She wanted to run her fingertips over arms, toes,
neck, hips...

The warrior removed her hands, not wanting to take things to the next level just yet. Gabrielle
began to turn around to see why the warrior had stopped this wonderful attention. She felt
Xena's hands return quickly to her shoulders, holding her in place.

"Please don't turn around, Gabrielle. If you do, I surely won't be able to restrain myself. Maybe
it would be a better idea if we got ready in separate rooms. We really do need to get to this

"You're right Xena." Gabrielle remained with her back to the warrior. "Go get ready in the
guest chambers and meet me downstairs when you are done."

"Ok, love." Xena placed a small kiss on the bard's neck and exited the room.


The warrior waited downstairs for the bard, her back to the stairs. When Gabrielle entered the
room, a sharp intake of breath was heard from both women. They stood and stared open-mouthed at each other.

Xena was in a royal blue, sleeveless gown. Two one-inch wide straps of the same color held it in
place. Xena's eyes seemed to be lit from inside. They absolutely sparkled. The fabric was sheer,
but there were enough layers that nothing was revealed. The bodice was cut low. Gabrielle made
a mental note to thank the dressmaker but to also keep an eye on the townsmen tonight. The
warrior wore an intricate gold arm bracelet around her right upper arm, which Gabrielle found
very appealing. Her hair was drawn back from her face with a thin golden headband. She had on
sandals which matched the arm bracelet and headband. Gabrielle was in awe.

The bard wore a gown made from the same material, only in white. You could almost see her
skin tone through it, but again, nothing was revealed. The warrior found this quite alluring, and
noted that the dressmakers here were very skilled. She would have to purchase something for the
bard before they left. Gabrielle's dress was also cut low, and pushed her up in the front. It had
short capped sleeves. She wore a headband and sandals similar to those of the warrior. She
looked absolutely radiant.

Gabrielle moved to Xena, stopping a few feet in front of her. They both continued to stare,
"Gods, Xena", Gabrielle spoke softly, "I didn't think it was possible for anyone, gods or human,
to be any more beautiful than you already are, but tonight...", she looked the warrior up and
down, "You have absolutely outdone yourself. You are perfect."

Xena took the compliment gracefully. "I see perfection only in you, my bard." Xena took the
bards hands gently and kissed them. "Your beauty takes my breath away." She leaned in and
kissed Gabrielle lightly on the lips.

"Ahem", the women heard the interruption from the doorway. Dacron stood there, somewhat

"Father thought you might need some prodding, so he sent me to escort you to the party."

"Thank the gods", Xena said, rolling her eyes, "Gabrielle won't let me out of here."

Gabrielle's mouth opened wide, "What?!?!"

Dacron and the warrior laughed. He was delighted to see this side of Xena, and happy that the
pair had reunited.

"Oooh, I'll get you for this, warrior princess." Gabrielle fumed playfully.

As Dacron turned to leave, Xena whispered to the bard, "I'm counting on it..."

The women picked up the long wraps that accompanied their gowns and headed off to join the
festivities. As they approached, they saw a group of young women giggling at a table as Dacron
walked by. One came over to take Dacron's arm as they entered the party.

"Ahhh", the warrior said with an arched brow, "now I see why he's taking all this" she motioned
between herself and the bard, "so well."

"Yeah, that's been blooming for a little while now. I'm happy for him."

"Do I detect a little note of disappointment?"

"I must confess, I do miss the attention a little. He's a really nice kid."

"Yeah, I think so too. But I'm glad for the loss of competition." Xena joked.

Gabrielle turned to look up at her friend, "You have never had any competition, warrior mine."

The women smiled and approached their seats. Gabrielle's position necessitated that the women
sit at the head table. Tonight, however, they were not there as town officials, but as guests of
honor for the feast. And what a feast it was. Xena sat and watched her friend polish off her
fourth plate. She shook her head.

"See you haven't lost your appetite at all."

"Well, I did for a while." The bard looked at the warrior warmly and stroked her face. "But now,
I'm fine. And YOU, my friend, need to eat a little more. You've gotten too thin." She leaned in
to whisper something in Xena's ear. With her hand out of view of the rest of the guests, she ran
one finger along the outside of Xena's breast allowing her thumb to barely graze the nipple, "And
I want as much of you to love as I can get." She went back to her food innocently as if nothing
had happened.

Xena choked on the olive she had been eating.

"Xena, are you alright?" Stavros turned to her, worried. He had missed the interchange between
the two women.

Xena had the look of utter surprise on her face, which the Magistrate assumed was from the
choking. "Uh, ahem, uh, yeah, just went down the wrong pipe." She turned her wide eyes to
Gabrielle, who looked up at her innocently and turned to continue her light banter with the others
at the table.

Gabrielle thought to herself, Try to embarrass me, will you, warrior. Payback time, and I'm just
getting started!' She smiled mischievously to herself. She had it timed perfectly. The speeches
were yet to be made. So regardless of the torture she inflicted on the warrior, she would not be
able to leave. She did not start her retaliation any sooner, afraid she would fall victim to them
herself should it last too long. Just as Gabrielle was trying to figure out a way to put her next
move into play, Xena took care of it for her.

The warrior had watched the bard throughout dinner. Every time she moved in that gown, Xena
could swear she could see through it, but the white layers made it impossible to really see
anything. There was one thing that had her puzzled though. She would just have to ask. She
waited until the bard finished her current conversation. The bard had taken Xena's hand and held
it in her lap throughout the evening, stroking it gently. The gesture let the warrior know that, no
matter whom the bard was talking to, it was Xena who was on her mind. Xena squeezed her
friend's hand lightly to get her attention.

"Um, Gabrielle, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course, love, what is it?"

"Well, I haven't been able to take my eyes off you all night, for most of two years for that
matter..." Gabrielle smiled at this confession. The warrior continued, "I was wondering, with how
sheer that dress is, how is it that I can't see you're breeches through it?"

Gabrielle looked Xena directly in the eyes. The side of the bard's mouth quirked slightly, trying
to hold back an evil grin. "Oops. Knew I forgot something..." The bard continued her
conversation with the woman on her opposite side, ignoring the completely flustered warrior next
to her.

Xena's wide eyes stared at back of the bard's head. They then drifted down to where her hand
sat in the bard's lap. She gulped and began to perspire. This is too much', she thought, What is
she trying to do to me? She must realize... Oh, no.' It finally hit the warrior. Paybacks. I'm in
trouble. Gods, why haven't these fools made their speeches yet?'

"Uh, Stavros, um, not that I'm in a rush or anything, but when do you think you might be doing
all the official speech stuff?" Xena questioned.

Gabrielle struggled not to laugh out loud at the warrior's squirming. She managed, however, to
seem absolutely oblivious to the warrior's discomfort.

"Well, Xena, there's still dessert. I know it's getting a little late, but that's not my fault. I believe
it's due to the weaknesses of two of our esteemed guests..." He had set Xena up, and waited for
her to join in on the teasing. She remained silent, and smiled sheepishly at the bard. She prayed
that this good behavior would end her torment sooner. Stavros simply looked at her, slightly

"Well, anyway...", he continued, "I'll get to it right after dessert, I promise."

Xena prayed the dessert would arrive quickly and that it wasn't anything too large or
complicated. Of course it was some flaming concoction for which a dramatic presentation had to
be made at every table. In addition, various fruits and creams were placed at every table.

Xena watched the bard. Am I going nuts? I know she's never eaten fruit like that before.'

Gabrielle had placed a dish of cream directly in front of herself. She continued to hold Xena's
hand captive in her lap, stroking it slowly, seemingly unconsciously. At the same time, she
conversed with everyone around them, not paying direct attention to the warrior. The
conversation in the hall had slowed somewhat, as people turned their attentions to dessert. Eyes
were no longer upon Gabrielle, except for those of electric blue. She took this opportunity to
take her game a little further. She proceeded to take various pieces of fruit, mostly berries and
grapes, and dip them into her personal bowl of cream. She made sure that some of the cream got
on her fingers each time, and that she scooped it out very slowly. She watched each piece as she
brought it to her lips slowly. Every piece took at least two bites, with her lips surrounding a
portion of the fruit each time. Occasionally, she would lick the cream off sensuously before biting
the fruit. Before each new piece, she place each sticky finger in her mouth and slowly sucked off
the cream.

Xena all but drooled. She had never expected this from her bard. As torturous as it was, she was
loving it. Over the past two years, Gabrielle had managed to seduce her without even trying.
Now that she was trying, the warrior's desire was on overload. She wasn't sure how much more
she could take.

In the meantime, Stavros had caught the fruit eating/loving out of the corner of his eye. He, too,
stared wide eyed for a moment, and then had to look away. He scolded himself, She like your
daughter for the gods' sakes!!' He then realized why Xena hadn't run with the ball earlier when
he had set her up. He could not believe that his sweet, innocent little Gabrielle was tormenting
the warrior like this. Hafta see if my wife might consider tormenting me like that sometime', he
laughed to himself and decided to do what he could to help the warrior out of her predicament.

The Magistrate's loud voice was the sweetest thing the warrior had ever heard. She had missed
his departure from the table and walk to the speaking area, too caught up with a certain bard and
a certain berry, of which Xena was very envious.

"My fellow citizens...tonight, the people of Tanagra celebrate the safe return of a trusted leader
and valued friend... Our Gabrielle has returned safely to us." All eyes turned in the bard's
direction as a roar went up from the crowd. The enthusiasm made the bard blush and the warrior
beam with pride. Cups pounded, hands clapped and shouts and whistles continued for a few
minutes before Stavros continued to speak, addressing Gabrielle. "You are a hero to us, my
friend. You have given us more that we could ever repay you for... pride in ourselves, belief in
ourselves, and a strength, both inside and out. The people have requested that we build a statue
in your honor in the central courtyard." The Magistrate smiled widely, and another cheer went up
from the crowd.

Gabrielle leaned and whispered something to the warrior. As she leaned back, the warrior nodded
her head and smiled. The bard stood to address the crowd. "Thank you everyone, your friendship
means so much to me. I appreciate your thanks, but as I tell you always, I did not give you your
progress, you achieved it on your own. I am not a hero. The people of Tanagra saved me, and
for that I will be eternally grateful. I would like to make a suggestion. Although I appreciate the
offer of a commemorative statue, I would like to propose that it be in the likeness of one of the
brave citizens of Tanagra. It should represent all of you, the progress you have made, and the
pride and strength of the people of this city. It is all of you who should be honored here."

The people looked around at each other, nodding in agreement with what the bard had said.

Xena stood, moving in next to Gabrielle, intertwining their fingers. She spoke, "Gabrielle has
asked me to make a suggestion for the likeness of your statue."

The people turned their attention to the warrior.

"We all agree that the statue should represent all the citizens of Tanagra. That it should embody
bravery, honor, strength and a willingness to take care of each other. I have seen all of these
qualities shine through strongly in one particular individual. I would like to recommend that the
statue be made of Dacron, the man who played a crucial role in saving Gabrielle's life today."

Dacron sat, stunned. The crowd cheered once again. The men thumped their congratulations and
approval on the young man's back as the young women in the room swooned. Stavros was too
overcome to speak. He looked at the two women and thought he had never met two better
people in his life and was glad to be able to call them friends. He nodded his appreciation in their
direction and went over to embrace his son.

The bard began to sit, but stopped half way down. The warrior had remained standing, arms
crossed and eyebrow arched. The bard laughed and thought, Well, I guess she's suffered
enough...and so have I.' She straightened and gathered her wrap.

Xena leaned over to pick up her wrap as well. As she was bent over she looked toward the bard
and laughed to herself, glad to see that she wasn't the only one feeling the effects of the evenings
play. She stood and whispered to the bard, "You might want to let the back of that wrap hang a
little lower."

"Huh? Fashion tips from you?"

Xena placed her hand behind the bard, pressing the back of the bard's gown against her bottom.
Gabrielle felt the soaked material and was glad for the advice. She blushed profusely, her game
having been turned around on her. ", I see what you mean. Heh heh, thanks."

Xena began to lead the way from behind the table, Gabrielle in back of her. "Uh, Xena..."

Xena turned to see a huge smile on the bard's face and raised a questioning eyebrow.

The bard's eyes trailed downward as she echoed the warrior's advice, "You might want to let the
back of that wrap hang a little lower." She laughed.

"You're kidding, right?" Xena tried to look down the back of her gown.

The bard smiled proudly and placed her hand as Xena had, pressing the wet fabric gently against
the warrior, "Nope."

"Let's get out of here." The warrior stated as lowered her wrap and thanked the gods it was long

The women said their goodbyes to what seemed like the whole city. When they arrived at
Dacron's table, they found Stavros and his wife off to the side. There was not enough room due
to the swarming teenage girls. The Magistrate and his wife turned to the women. They both
hugged Xena and Gabrielle and thanked them for what they had done. Dacron's mother looked
toward her sons table and commented, "I just hope all this attention doesn't go to his head."

Xena answered, "I don't think it will. You have a good boy on your hands. I have trained many
men in my life, and have come to read them pretty well. I think Dacron will handle his newfound
fame in stride. I believe you'll have a great man in him someday."

The parents beamed, "Thank you, Xena."

"Don't thank me. You should be very proud for how you've raised him."

Dacron made his way toward the women. Xena laughed inwardly as she saw some of the jealous
glares a few of the young women were giving Gabrielle. Dacron hugged both women. He looked
into Gabrielle's eyes and became somewhat shy again. "Um, thanks." He looked over at Xena,
"To both of you. Your recommendation is a great honor to me...but..." He lowered his head,
playing with his hands "It's an even greater honor to have you both as friends."

Gabrielle and Dacron's mother cried. Gabrielle hugged him soundly, "I couldn't think of a more
deserving person. Now get back to your table, I think I hear some hearts breaking already from
your absence."

Dacron blushed and moved back to his table, his walk becoming more confident as he neared it.

"Well, we won't keep you any longer ladies." Stavros gave Xena a conspiratorial wink, and felt
his wife's elbow in his side. "Ooof. I mean uh, have a nice evening, we'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night," they answered in unison.

They exited the party, making sure their wraps were in place.


Surprisingly, the women walked slowly toward Gabrielle's soon-to-be former home. While their
arousal still weighed on them heavily, nervousness had also begun to creep in.

They were a short distance from the house when the bard broke the silence, "Are you nervous?"
She asked, looking up at her friend.

Xena replied slowly, and a bit shyly, "A little."

"Me too."

"We should talk first." Xena led Gabrielle to a tree a few feet from the house, and leaned her up
against it.

"If you're not ready..." The warrior continued.

Gabrielle stared at her incredulously. "Not ready?! I'm verrryy ready... It's not's
just...well, I'm not sure what it is exactly that I'm ready for...if you know what I mean."

Xena looked at her strangely, "Huh?"

"Well you know I've never...well, you know." Gabrielle said, turning many shades of red.
"Xena, I don't know how to please you." Gabrielle lowered her head sadly. "I'm afraid I'll
disappoint you."

Xena placed her index finger under the bard's chin, raising the young woman's eyes to meet her

"Don't know how to please me, huh?"

The bard just shook her head, and tried to lower her eyes again, but the warrior wouldn't let her.

"How did you know how to kiss me so that my whole body was on fire?"

The bard looked up, a bit surprised. The warrior continued, "How did you know what to do to
me at that party to make me want to take you in the middle of the dinner table?"

"I...I..., that's different." The bard tried to answer.

"No it's not. You make me feel absolutely wonderful Gabrielle, to the point where I think I may
explode." Xena widened her eyes to exaggerate her emotions. She smiled broadly at the bard.
"There are things that you haven't experienced yet, but that does NOT mean that you don't know
how to please me."

The warrior moved closer to the bard and placed her hands on either side of the tree above her
friend. At first, for just a second, Xena's breasts were directly across from the bard's face. It was
enough to start the young woman's blood boiling. Quickly, Xena leaned down slightly so that she
could speak to the bard. "Um, excuse me but, my eyes are up here." The warrior teased.

"Oh, um, sorry...I just... well..." The bard's eyes were still traveling back and forth between the
warrior's eyes and breasts.

"It's alright", the warrior chuckled, "I feel the same way about yours." She brought her right
hand down from the tree to Gabrielle's side. She slid it up gently and caressed the underside of
the bard's breast with her thumb, staring at it as she did so. She heard Gabrielle's breath catch.

Xena brought her mouth close to Gabrielle's ear and continued their earlier conversation. "You
distract me my bard...I wanted to tell you that the fact that you have not been with anyone else,
have no experience as you put it...well, it doesn't disappoint me in the least. In fact, it fills my
heart to know that I will be the first one to touch you, that you have saved something so precious,
and choose to give it to me, though I'm not sure I deserve it."

Xena's comforting words were enough to quell Gabrielle's fears, and her stroking finger was
enough to distract her from them in any case. The bard did not miss the last part of the statement
however. She deduced that this is where Xena's apprehension of what was to come was
originating. She knew it was her turn to reassure her friend. In addition to wanting to calm her
friend, her body was urging her to do whatever it took to get them back home, quickly.

Gabrielle stopped the motion of Xena's hand on her body. She placed her palms above the
warrior's breasts, and pushed her back gently, leaving her hands in place. She looked the warrior
seriously in the eyes.

"Xena, do you trust my judgement?"

"Yes, but..."

"Do you think I would give myself to just anyone?" The bard asked, sounding somewhat

"Of course not, but..."

"I know the things you have done, and I'm sure there are many that I have yet to hear. I can't say
I think any of it is OK. It's not. But it's not who you are now. It's not the person who will make
love to me tonight. I love you in a way that I can't explain. I love you as my friend, I love you as
my family, I want you as a lover....gods so badly...but there's something else too. I can't explain
it. It just feels right. We fit." She looked at Xena. "Do you know what I mean? Do you feel it


"Do you deserve me?"

Xena's face lit up, "I'm still not sure I do, not sure anyone does..." she took the bard in her arms,
"but I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying." She smiled and kissed her friend soundly.

"You can start by doing something for me right now..." The bard answered, somewhat out of
breath when their kiss ended.

"Anything love..." The warrior answered, with equally labored breathing.

"Stop talking, take me inside and start teaching." She said with a smile and a suggestively raised

Xena smiled one of the biggest smiles Gabrielle had ever seen on her friend. The warrior scooped
the bard up and kissed her as she carried her into the house, and up the stairs to the master
bedroom, never breaking the kiss.

Xena lowered the bard gently to the floor.

"What a waste that you had to spend all those nights alone in this huge bed."

"I didn't."


"My thoughts were filled with you every night. I was never alone."

"Ooohhh. I'll get you for that one, bard."

"Promises, promises." The bard rolled her eyes, feigning boredom.

She let out a screech as the warrior tackled her on to the bed and began kissing and tickling her
playfully. They stopped when they were out of breath.

"These get-ups make tackling a little difficult." the warrior observed.

"Can't have that. I suggest you get rid of whatever's limiting your movement."

"Very practical." Xena smiled.

"Couldn't have you uncomfortable."

Xena got up and stood in front of the bard at the side of the bed. "I know it's not armor, but do
you want to help?"

Gabrielle blushed slightly, "Well, not really."

"Are you having second thoughts."

"I'm having thoughts about having seconds..." Both women laughed as the bard continued, "And
we haven't even gotten to firsts yet." She paused and continued, "But what I would really
to just sit here and watch you undress." She looked up and met Xena's eyes. "Is that strange?"

"No." Xena stated simply. The bard's revelation of wanting Xena to undress for her had sent
shivers throughout the warrior's body. She moved a few feet away from the bed. She lifted one
hand slowly to the strap on the opposite shoulder. She lowered it and brought her arm through,
never breaking eye contact with the bard. She repeated the action with the other strap, but held
the front of the dress in place. She turned her back to the bard and lowered the top of the gown

Gabrielle's breathing was becoming ragged. When Xena had stopped the gown from falling in
front, the bard was disappointed. Now, however, she was glad that the warrior was prolonging
the sweet agony. The bard stared at the warrior's bare back, her long dark hair falling down over
it. The warrior turned very slightly to the side, so that the side of her breast was visible to
Gabrielle. The bard's eyes were riveted there. She longed to reach out, to caress the beautiful
woman who stood before her.

Gabrielle's heart nearly pounded out of her chest as she saw the warrior's hand reach up to cup
her own breast. The warrior watched her own hand as she did so, back still toward the bard. She
slowly ran long fingers along the portion of her breast that was revealed to Gabrielle. She
brought both hands down to her hips, above where the gown still remained. She slid her fingers
underneath the fabric, holding it in place. She slowly slid the gown down her legs, bending over
completely at the waist as she did so, leaving her breeches on.

Gabrielle believed that she was going to faint. She stared at the warrior's bottom. The woman
was magnificent, and she was doing all this for her. The bard had lost all control over her
breathing. Her hands unknowingly clutched the bedspread. Her mouth watered, and she began to
sweat. And she hoped it would continue.

Xena slowly turned to the bard, clad only in her breeches. The look on her friend's face was
priceless. It was a perfect mix of awe, devotion and utter lust. The warrior approached the bed
slowly. She took the bard's hands in hers and brought them to her hips. "Take them off for me,
Gabrielle." Xena said huskily, "Please."

The hands of both women were trembling, both their breathing ragged. Gabrielle held her hands
tightly on Xena's hips. She tore her eyes from Xena's breeches and looked into the half lidded,
lustful eyes of the warrior. The bard pushed Xena back slightly so that she could stand up. She
stood as close as she could to the warrior without allowing their bodies to touch. She slid her
index and middle fingers under the top of the warrior's breeches in back, never breaking eye
contact. Xena's chest was rising and falling more heavily, which caused the rate of bard's own
breathing to increase.

Gabrielle brought her fingers around inside the breeches to Xena's sides and began to push down
slowly. She lowered her whole body with the breeches, allowing her palms to caress the warrior's
legs all the way down. She could smell the warrior's excitement. The bard didn't know how
much more of this foreplay she could take, but she wanted to hold out as long as possible,
enjoying every minute of it.

As Xena watched the bard lower herself, the woman's eyes closed, trying to remain in control
against the desire that was coursing through her. Every look, every touch from her friend was
causing her excitement to soar higher.

Gabrielle stood directly in front of Xena, looking into her eyes. She took Xena's hand, and
placed it on the strap of her white gown. Xena brought her other hand up and lowered both
straps. She tugged lightly on the bodice, and watched as the gown pooled around the bard's feet.

"You are magnificent." Xena's whispered.

Gabrielle pushed Xena back to sit her on the bed. She stood in front of her, now a little higher
than eye level with the warrior. She rested one arm around the back of her friends neck. "I love
you, Xena." She stated simply, stroking the warrior's face, as she leaned in for a hug.

"I love you too, my bard." The warrior whispered into her hair.

The bard brought her mouth to Xena's ear. She began kissing and licking it, discovering one of
Xena's favorite spots. "Show me." She asked seductively.

The warrior was glad she was sitting. Between the bard's request and attention on one of her
most sensitive spots, she was sure her knees would have given out on her. She reached around
the bard's waist, leaned back, and pulled the bard up on top of her.

"Tell me what you've thought about, Gabrielle... Show me what you've wanted to do to me."

Gabrielle's insides were churning with Xena's every word. She brought her fingers up to the
warrior's mouth, stroking her lips. She replaced her fingers with her own lips, and began kissing
and licking the warrior's mouth. The warrior's mouth opened to the bard. Gabrielle moaned
deeply as their tongues met, and the kissing became more insistent.

Xena stroked the bard's arms downward until she found her hands. Xena guided Gabrielle's right
hand up and held it over her breast. "Touch me, Gabrielle, please..." The warrior pleaded.

"Oh, gods Xena..." The bard looked down at her own hand covering the warrior's breast. "I've
imagined this so often. You feel so good to me." She began caressing the outsides of Xena's
breast. She ran her thumb over Xena's nipple, watching it harden. She heard whimper come
from the warrior. She took the nipple between her thumb and forefinger and squeezed lightly.

"Yes, Gabrielle, oh gods..."The warrior moaned. Her head pushed back into the bed as her body
arched into the young woman's hand. "Harder...please."

Gabrielle could barely breathe. Her pulse felt like it was going to explode. The ache between her
legs that had started at dinner now threatened to overwhelm her. She needed to hear more from
her partner. She couldn't get enough.

Gabrielle felt Xena's hand on the back of her head, wrapping in her hair. The warrior steered
Gabrielle's mouth toward her breast. "Put your mouth on me Gabrielle... gods, please...let me
feel you taste me..." It was getting harder and harder for Xena to speak. She could never have
imagined how the bard would make her feel. As she felt the bard's mouth close around her
nipple, she thought she might have an orgasm right then. She tried desperately to control her
breathing, to calm herself. It was useless.

The bard licked Xena's nipple, and bit it lightly, reveling at the feeling of it in her mouth. "Gods,
Xena, you taste so good. Tell me... does it feel good?"

"Un..believable...more...suck on me Gabrielle, suck..ooohhhhh, yessssss...." The warrior's head
moved from side to side as the bard sucked hungrily on her breast. She knew she had to calm
down a bit or this would be over in seconds, and she didn't want that yet. Still panting, she
placed her palm on the side of Gabrielle's face and guided her up to kiss her passionately.
"Gabrielle, you make me feel so good. I can't believe nothing I ever felt." She
continued to kiss the bard.

The bard shifted her body on top of Xena to get more comfortable. As she did so, her leg came
up between Xena's. Xena broke the kiss as her head snapped back, "Ahhhh...." The slight touch
of Gabrielle's leg against her caused her whole body to contract. She didn't realize how close she
actually was. One more touch like that...

"Xena, you're soaked..." The bard looked down between them.

The warrior laughed slightly and answered, "Problem with that? It is all your fault you know..."

The bard's eyes never came up. Her hand involuntarily drifted toward Xena's center. As she got
close, she looked up to Xena, questioningly.

Any sign of joking was gone. There was a look of pure desire on Xena's face. She saw the
bard's hesitation. All she could do was not to her friend.

Gabrielle's hand cupped the warrior, feeling the flood of wetness she had caused. She exerted a
slight pressure with her hand, eliciting another moan from Xena. The warrior's legs spread
slightly, allowing the bards eyes and hands better access. The bard's middle finger slid from back
to front between the warrior's lips.

"Oh, Gabrielle...again, please." The warrior begged, spreading her legs further. Her hands had
come up to cup her own breasts, pushing them toward each other and pinching the nipples

Gabrielle's mouth dropped at the sight. It sent lightening through her body which ended between
her legs. She slid her finger back and forth along the length of the warrior's sex, now watching
her lover's face and body react.

"Don't stop, Gabrielle, please...faster." The warrior's body began to move against the rhythm of
Gabrielle's hand.

"Yes, yes...gods, Gabrielle, I can't hold on....I...I.... aaahhhhhhhhh," The warrior's body arched
and stiffened for a moment. Her hand grabbed Gabrielle's and held it tightly against herself.
Gabrielle could feel small convulsions against her hand as Xena lowered herself back down to the

The warrior tugged lightly on the bard, indicating that she wanted to hold her. The bard, still
wide eyed in wonder at everything that was happening, slid up the length of her lover. She
delighted in the feel of their sweat soaked bodies gliding against each other.

After a few moments of soft kisses, their breathing calmed somewhat, the bard spoke. "Um,
Xena...can I ask you a question."

The warrior answered, still out of breath, body still pulsing, "Anything, love."

"How do you know when to stop?"

"Stop wha....", Then it hit the warrior. "Gabrielle, have you ever had an orgasm?"

"I don't think so..."

"Then you definitely haven't."

"Xena, you know I've never been with anyone before."

"You don't have to be with someone to have an orgasm. Many people discover how to have one
at a young age, by just never occurred to me..." A huge smile crept over Xena's


"I am selfishly glad that I will be the first one to give you this wonderful gift."

"That good, huh?"

"You can tell me later..."

"I can't imagine feeling better than I just did." She looked up into Xena's eyes and blushed
slightly. "Xena, you sound so good. Hearing you react to me, seeing you touch yourself... When
you talk to me...tell me what to do to you and how it feels...I....I..." Her breathing had become
ragged again, pulse racing.

The warrior's excitement also began to rise. The bard's words were driving her crazy. The
thought of seeing and hearing the bard's reaction to her first orgasm...the warrior could not wait.
She turned the bard onto her back and began kissing her ear, her neck, her mouth. "Gabrielle,
you have no idea what you do to me. But I am going to do my best to show you." She began
tracing circles with her middle finger around Gabrielle's breast. The circles became smaller and
smaller until she ran her finger over the bard's already swollen nipple.

"Ohhh! Ummm, that feels really good." The bard was surprised at how good it felt.

Xena continued to watch the bard's face as she introduced her to these new sensations. "If I do
anything that you don't like, or that hurts you, you have to tell me. Likewise, if something feels
good, or if there's something, anything, you think you might like that I'm not doing, tell me that
too. Promise?"

"I promise." The bard looked up at the warrior with such love and trust, it melted the warrior's
heart. She leaned in and kissed the bard lightly. She roamed down to the bard's neck, kissing it,
and beginning to bite it, her passion overtaking her. The bard was amazed at how good the
warrior's mouth felt on her. She knew there would be marks there in the morning, but she didn't
care. She brought her hand up to the back of the warrior's head and pressed it harder into her

This drove the warrior further. She was afraid that in her passion she might hurt the bard, never
expecting the bard to want more. Her hand covered the bard's entire breast and squeezed it

"Yesss....Xenaaa... oh GODS!!!"

Xena's own body began to involuntarily grind against Gabrielle at hearing the bard's reaction.
The warrior pinched the bard's nipple tightly, eliciting another moan. She felt the bard's body
begin to push back into hers. She raised her thigh between the bard's legs, caught off-guard by
the heat and wetness she found there. Her mouth separated from the bard's neck, "Oh, gods,
Gabrielle, you are sooo hot for me... That's right, move with me... can you feel it?"

The warrior's words and motion were causing a feeling in Gabrielle that she couldn't explain,
except that she felt like she was getting higher...going somewhere, although she didn't know
where. Nor did she care. "Yes, Xena.....I, ohhhhh, feels so good, please don't stop, please..."

Xena moved faster against Gabrielle. Gabrielle's moans and movements became more frantic.
Xena knew she was close. The warrior continued her motion but brought her head up. Cradling
the back of the bard's head, she stared into the bard's eyes. "I want to see you. Let me see you
come for me..."

The bard's mouth was open, her eyes opening and closing with the beginning pulses of her
orgasm. " feels..." Xena felt the bard's fingers dig into her back as her body
stiffened and arched, "Xenaaaaa..." The bard screamed her lover's name, as Xena watched her
with love and amazement.

Xena lowered Gabrielle's trembling body back to the bed. The bard remained in a trance for a
few moments. Xena leaned up on an elbow, smiling stroking her lover's face. Xena finally spoke,

"" Was all the bard could get out for the time being.

"I'll take that as a positive reaction." The warrior beamed. She laid down next to her friend and
snuggled closely, the bard returning the embrace.

After a while, the bard finally spoke, her voice somewhat raspy. "Xena...?"


" it like that every time?"

"Actually, no..."

The bard disappointment was apparent, "Oh."

"It gets better." The warrior gave her friend a huge smile.

"Not possible." The bard countered.

"We'll see. Actually, Gabrielle, there are quite a few activities that we've left out. AND,
numerous variations on those activities that we will need years to explore. It also happened really
quickly for both of us this time, and that's ok. But sometimes it's more fun to drag it out a little.
I don't think either of us were capable of that this time. We waited long enough." She gave the
bard a kiss on the nose. "This time was wonderful, but I promise that it will get better."

"OK. Then I have another question..."

"What's that?"

"How long does a person have to wait for another one?"

The warrior laughed heartily and pulled the bard into a fierce hug. "I love you so much, little
one!!" She kissed her on her head. "We don't have to wait at all." She started to climb on top of
the bard to make love to her again.

The bard's eyes lit up with excitement, "You mean, you're ready for me to do that to you
again?!?! This is that I really know what you mean when you're telling me how
good you feel...well," she blushed, "I want to do that for you as often as possible. And since it
will take years...we're never leaving this room!!"

After hours of lovemaking, the women relaxed in each other's arms, gently stroking whatever part
of the other's body their hand happened to be touching.

Gabrielle whispered, "I wonder how Salmoneus is doing."

"Oh, Hades! I totally forgot about him!"

"That good, huh?"

"That good." The warrior snuggled into the bard's neck.

"Well then, he can wait another day." The bard said as she climbed on top of her warrior, ready
to explore their next variation'.


Two days later, the women knocked on the Magistrate's door. He opened it to them, and shook
his head, laughing. " must have been really tired!"

"Don't start, Stavros." Gabrielle gave him a friendly warning. "I came here to talk to you

"Alright then, my apologies. Please, ladies, sit."

The pair sat, facing the Magistrate. "First, I wanted to thank you for the wonderful opportunity
you gave me. Thank you for your faith in me. Thank you for taking care of me when I needed it
and welcoming me into your family. I love this town and its people as if they were my own. heart is elsewhere." She reached out for Xena's hand. "I came here to give my
resignation." She waited for Stavros' reaction. She was sure he would be angry with her.

With friendly sarcasm dripping from his voice, her replied, "No!? What a shock!! You want to
leave? I never would have guessed..."

"!!!!" Gabrielle stood up and stamped her foot as Stavros and Xena struggled to
hide their laughter.

Stavros came around the front of his desk and placed an hand on the bard's shoulder. "I'm sorry,
Gabrielle, but I guess I saw it coming. I want to thank you for everything you have done for
Tanagra and its people. You are welcome here always. And if you ever change your mind..."

Xena raised an eyebrow at him.

"About being on the road I are BOTH welcome to return here. We could always use
your help."

"Thank you Stavros." Gabrielle gave him a huge hug.

He reached out to shake Xena's hand and found himself pulled into an equally energetic hug from
the warrior. "Thank you for taking care of her, Stavros." She looked to the bard lovingly. "You
know she means everything to me. You helped bring us together, and I've never received a more
wonderful gift. I will always be thankful. If you ever need us, I am forever in you debt."

"Take care of her Xena. She means a lot to us as well."

"Uh, hello! I can take care of myself, thank you very much." The bard broke in.

Stavros and Xena looked at each other and rolled their eyes simultaneously, laughing.

Hands on hips, the bard stated, "I don't see what's so funny, you two. It's a good thing we're not
staying. I don't think I like the idea of the two of you ganging up on me all the time. Let's go,

Snapping to attention, Xena replied, "Yes Ma'am!!" As she and Stavros laughed even harder.

"That is EXACTLY what I mean! UGH!"

The trio said goodbye again, and the travelers left. They said there goodbyes to the townspeople
on the way out, stopping to spend a moment with Dacron. Xena walked away after giving
Dacron a warrior's handshake. She made the excuse of tending to Argo. She knew the young
man deserved a moment alone with his first love. She watched as Gabrielle wiped a tear from his

"Thanks for being patient with me, Gabrielle. I know I was probably a real pain. I'm a little

"Pain? Dacron, you are one of the best men I have ever met. You are respectful, and brave, not
to mention good looking." He blushed and lowered his head as she continued. "You were a
good friend to me, and always will be, I hope. You are like family to me." She kissed him on the
cheek gently and hugged him.

"I feel the same. I hope that someday I find something like you and Xena have."

"Never settle for anything less, my friend. You deserve it."

"Goodbye, Gabrielle. Be safe." He watched as she walked toward the warrior, and out of his
life. He hoped he would see her again, but would always carry fond memories of her in his heart.

Gabrielle approached Xena and Argo. "Ready to go see if Salmoneus is alright?" The warrior

"Ready to go start my life with you, love." The bard placed an arm around the warrior's waist,
and held the fingers that were draped over her shoulder as they walked out of town.



Xena was worried. It was the third morning in a row that she woke up to find the bard already
awake, although she was still curled around the warrior. Xena was usually awake long before her
friend even began to stir. The warrior observed nothing wrong. The bard did not seem worried
or upset, but still, it was odd.

"Gabrielle...", Xena began.

"Hmmmm?", the bard replied lazily.

"How long have you been up?"

"Not long." She replied, tracing her fingers down Xena's abdomen.

"How long, Gabrielle?" Xena questioned again, a bit more serious.

"Oh, about an hour or so I guess."

"Are you OK? Is something wrong? Are you sorry you left? If something's bothering you..."

Gabrielle laughed softly, "Bothering me? No, nothing's bothering me, Xena. And as for that silly
question about being sorry I left..." The bard promptly smacked Xena lightly in the back of the

Xena laughed and rubbed the back of her head. She was still worried, however. "Don't you feel
well?" The warrior asked as she pressed her lips to the bard's forehead, checking for a fever.

"I feel absolutely wonderful, as a matter of fact."

Xena huffed impatiently, "Why are you up then? I know how much you enjoy your sleep."

"Well, um..." The bard hesitated. Her head rested on Xena's chest. Gabrielle watched her own
fingers trace light patterns over Xena's stomach and rib cage. "It's just that..."

Xena lifted Gabrielle's head and met her eyes, "You know you can tell me anything, love."

Gabrielle nodded slightly, but returned her head to its previous resting place. She continued,
"Waking up with you lying next to me, feeling nothing between our bodies, seeing you completely
relaxed, has turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life." The bard still did
not look up. "It's like the most precious gift I could ask for being given to me over and over
again every morning. I open my eyes and see you here... I thank every god I can name for
granting me this and..." The bard hesitated again, not sure if her warrior was ready to hear this
next part, "I pray that I will have it for the rest of my life. It's like my body knows when to wake
me up now so that I may enjoy my gift...and it's wonderful. The intensity of my reaction to it
never diminishes. If anything, it gets stronger every day. I hope I express this well, because I
don't want you to think that I am only referring to the sight of you without any clothes on...
although that is one of the best parts." The bard blushed and hid her face for a moment in Xena's
neck, slightly embarrassed. The bard returned to her more serious confession. "It's more that you
choose to give this to me. I feel privileged, blessed. I know that you being this comfortable, this
open, takes a lot, and I'll never take it for granted. I vow to give thanks for it every day to
whomever will listen."

The bard paused for a minute, trying to find some words that would come close to describing
what she felt. Knowing that she could never find words worthy of her feelings, she proceeded as
best she could. "Do you know that when I lay here silently, admiring you, I can actually feel the
love flowing between us. Even in your sleep, you cling to me, caress me, hold me closer when I
try to move. It's an absolutely magnificent experience that I will treasure every day."

The bard finished and waited to hear Xena's reaction. Hearing none, she looked up just in time to
feel a sob escape the warrior's chest. Xena was crying. Really crying, not just the stray tear or
silent crying that Gabrielle had seen on very few occasions. The tears poured from her, and her
sobs were uncontrolled. The warrior's head was turned to the side. She was too overcome with
emotion to try to hide it, but she was somewhat uncomfortable with her display.

Gabrielle didn't know how to react. She sat up quickly. Her hand went to the warrior's tear
stained face, bringing it around to face her. The bard opened her mouth to say something, but
was at a loss. Xena pulled the bard back into a fierce embrace and simply cried.

When the sobs had decreased, Gabrielle spoke softly, "I'm sorry, Xena. I didn't mean to upset

A slight laugh escaped through Xena's tears. "I love you, Gabrielle, with everything I am, I am so
incredibly lucky to have you. You continue to amaze me in everything you do, but especially in
how you love me. I promise to be here for you, like this, every day of my life, and to appreciate
you the way you appreciate me. You, too, are a most precious gift to me. I will get down on my
knees and thank any god I must for blessing my life with you."

The bard was now crying along with her lover. "Oh, Xena, I love you too. I always have. Thank
you for your words, another gift. I know they don't come easily from you. They mean
everything to me." She bent down and kissed Xena lightly on the lips, lingering for a moment.

When they separated, Xena said, "One thing though."

"Anything, love."

"We're going to have to come up with a compromise on this who gets up first' stuff."


"Because if you always get up first, I don't get to appreciate your sleeping form and say my
thanks for what I have been given. Doesn't sound very fair to me."

Gabrielle smiled widely. "No, I guess you're right. Maybe you need to do a better job of tiring
me out." The bard attempted to get up and move away after her jibe, knowing the warrior would
retaliate for this insult to her stamina in the bedrolls. The bard was captured quickly, however.

In a split second, Xena had flipped the bard on her back, straddled her, and pinned her to the
ground. The warrior's hands held the bards arms down by the inside of her elbows. The warrior
sat up slightly and closed her eyes as if having a vision. "I foresee a gorgeous, sexy bard being in
desperate need of an afternoon nap." She opened her eyes and smiled a predatory smile as she
proceeded to do her best to make sure her vision became a reality.

The End


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