Home Sweet Home part 1

by CN Winters
Poetry by Meluu


Disclaimers: As always Xena, Gab and the gang are not mine (but I sure have fun playing with them). There are scene of love and scenes of misery scattered throughout this fiction work. If any of these elements are unappealing or illegal where you live, please go read something else. And if you're too young, go away and come back later if you're so inclined.

Authors note: This is the third story in the 'Homecoming' series. I behoove you to read the first two in the proper order before proceeding into this one. I must warn you this story is unlike any in the series so far. This one is definitely a 'cookie and hot chocolate' story but I'm hoping it will be worth the ride.

A special thanks to Meluu for her poetry. I'm not a poet and I wanted our lover's thoughts to be on paper for the reader to see. She makes a wonderful Gabrielle and/or Xena

As always e-mail any comments to me at cnwinters@hotmail.com. I refuse to answer 'hate mail' of a prejudice nature but I will reply to any and all constructive comments. As always, thanks for reading.

Chapter 1

Xena stood knee-high in the water. Her ear crooked toward the surface. She should have been back to camp minutes ago but dinner still eluded her. Actually, the fish were present but her concentration wasn't . Gabrielle filled her thoughts.

Their honeymoon five years before was electrifying to say the least - of course that was after they 'unloaded' the wagon, taking their families back home. They decided to finally take advantage of Cleopatra's offer of visiting Egypt. Cleo was disappointed that Xena was 'taken' but she kept her promise of honoring the warrior. Feasts were prepared for every meal and they were given royal quarters overlooking the Nile.

Xena reflected on making love to Gabrielle on the silk sheets unsure of where the bedding ended and the bards body began. Both were soft and luscious to the touch.

But that was five years ago. She couldn't remember the last time she and the bard were intimate. And the smile that accompanied the honeymoon memory vanished as quickly as it came. It was times like these, when she was alone, that she could feel the pain of the growing distance between them the most.

At first, it was just bickering - nothing more. Soon, however, it became more frequent and more heated. Where to stay, when to eat or even something as trivial as the weather was cause for debate. For the first time in her life, Xena felt incompetent. She felt her list of many skills dwindling each day in the bard's raging eyes.

Xena shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts and get down to the business at hand. Within seconds she had two perch and then two more. She promptly strung them and headed to camp.

Slowly she made her way to the fire pit and the writing bard. Gabrielle looked up from her scroll as she heard Xena approach. Xena suddenly felt cold as icy green looked with cerulean blue. She knelt by the fire and began the task of cleaning her catch.

"We've got perch tonight," Xena commented conversationally.

"Too bad they weren't here half a candlemark when I was hungry," the bard remarked. "What took so long?"

Xena's back was to Gabrielle and she closed her eyes against the harshness of the bards voice. "When are you not hungry?" the warrior mumbled softly, in defense.

"I heard that," Gabrielle replied. The smile was devoid from her voice. 'Tartarus' Xena cursed silently. 'When's the last time I even saw her smile?!'

"I'm sorry. I'm just on edge," the warrior offered, not wanting to argue. She dropped the fish into the frying pan and Gabrielle put down her scroll.

"Here," the bard said, moving to her feet. "Go sharpen your sword or something. I'd like the food to be edible."

Xena turned and hoped upon hope there would be a teasing grin on the bards face. Once again she was disappointed. Gabrielle settled inches away from Xena with fork in hand. Xena watched the bard's face but Gabrielle refused to look her way. She could feel Xena's stare, wondering what was going through the warrior's mind.

"What?" she finally asked, still looking into the frying pan.

Although being a woman who was rarely surprised Xena felt taken aback by the one word question, unsure of how to answer. "What's wrong?" Xena finally asked softly.

"Nothing," the bard answered shortly.

Xena threw her hands up in frustration. "Thanks for the standard reply," Xena said rising from the ground.

Gabrielle shook her head and bit her bottom lip. "And just what is that supposed to mean?!" she snapped before looking at her wife, her bondmate, her 'former' lover.

"You always say it's nothing," Xena replied with her hands firmly on her hips. "Every time I ask what's bothering you, you never answer me."

"What's the point?" Gabrielle said frustrated.

"What's the point?!" Xena exclaimed. "The point is: After all we've been through; after everything it took to be together, we can't seem to do anything to KEEP it together!"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Gabrielle darted to her feet as she continued. "We are together! I'm still HERE aren't I?"

"Yes" Xena countered, her voice growing softer. "You're here," she said motioning to the woods around them, "but you're not here," she concluded placing her hand over her heart.

Gabrielle sighed in anger. "I don't know what more you want," she said taking a seat in front of the fire again.

"For starters, making love would be nice," Xena answered hotly, her anger rising again. "Can you remember the last time? Because I can't!"

"Fine!" Gabrielle answered swiftly pulling the green tunic off as she stood up. She darted to her belt and began to work on her skirt until Xena's voice stopped her.

"Don't," Xena whispered, trying to stay calm. She felt many emotions and arousal wasn't one of the them; neither anger nor rage. All she felt was hurt and sorrow; cold and hollow.

"But I thought this is what you wanted Xena," the bard said sarcastically. "Oh I'm sorry! Did you want to do the honors?" she added with just as much acidity in her voice.

Xena gave up and turned, heading back toward the river. As she walked the tears began to fall down her beautiful cheeks and she picked up her pace. Gabrielle waited until Xena was out of sight. Only then did she collapse to the ground in her own sorrow, shaking violently.

A couple of candlemarks later the fish lay uneaten in some nearby bushes and Gabrielle lay in their sleeping roll alone. How could she tell Xena what was wrong? She, herself didn't know the answer. Her anger; her frustration ran deep with no explanation as to why. It was roughly a year ago when she began to feel restless. But lately things had gotten worse. Much worse.

She no longer felt the magnetic attraction to Xena she once had. There was a time when she could just glance at the warrior and feel her heart rate double. Lately, every time her eyes fell on Xena she had an overwhelming sensation to use the warrior's body for staff practice. It left the bard feeling guilty and above all else, sad. She knew she loved Xena. She did. But she found herself lashing out at her at every opportunity. And that fact made the bard feel worthless as a wife and a human being.

Gabrielle's attention perked up as she heard the rustling. Quickly, she sat up, noting the warriors return. Xena noticed the bard was still awake. She stopped in her tracks, unsure of what to do. Should she lay down and try to sleep or should she go back into the forest? Gabrielle's voice, soft and fearful, made her decide.

"Please come to bed," Gabrielle whispered.

Xena nodded once and walked over, removing her armor along the way. Cautiously she climbed under the furs, next to the bard. They laid side by side and said nothing. Gabrielle cleared her throat just a tad and softly asked, "Will you hold me?"

Xena shifted and offered her shoulder which the bard quietly snuggled into. "I'm sorry Xena," Gabrielle confessed. "I know you don't understand what's happening between us and I don't understand it myself. I . . .I . . ."

Xena kissed the bard on the top of the head and pulled her closer. "I love you Gabrielle. I always will. . .Maybe you just need some time away to think about what you want."

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, the concern ringing in her voice. "What are you saying? Do you want to separate?"

"No. I don't want to separate," Xena replied. "But you're not happy here with me. I'd rather let you go than to cause you pain."

"You don't want me?" Gabrielle asked, moving to look in Xena's eyes.

"No," Xena said firmly. "I committed myself to you for the rest of my life and I meant it when I said I would have no other . . . Oh Gabrielle . . . all I ever wanted was your happiness. . .and if being happy means I have to walk away then I will. . .It would hurt terribly but I love you that much. Do you understand?"

Gabrielle nodded and began to grin. "That sounds like a beautiful plan. . .that is, of course, if that's what I really wanted."

"What do you want?" Xena asked softly.

"I don't know," Gabrielle replied, starting to tear up, the weep just as heavy as the frustration in her voice. "But I do know I don't want to leave you and I don't want you to leave me."

"Shhh," Xena replied pulling the bard back down to her shoulder. "It's okay." After a few minutes Gabrielle seemed to relax and a thought occurred to the warrior. "Perhaps we should go to the amazons?" Xena offered. "It's been quite awhile since we visited them. You can catch up with Lila. I could do some sparing with Ephany. . .Maybe they might have some advice."

"How are they going to help us?" Gabrielle asked still frustrated. But unlike times past, she noticed the harshness in it immediately. "What I mean is-

"I know what you mean," Xena giggled at the bard. 'She's making an effort', Xena grinned. "All I'm saying is maybe we're just too close to this situation to see a solution. It's like these woods for example. Sitting her you can't see the forest because we're surrounded by it. But atop that ridge today, we did see it. We had a different perspective."

"So in others words," the bard said thinking, resting on her elbows, "we can't see the forest for the trees?"

"Exactly," Xena commended. "You and I are so close to our problems that we are unable to see them. . .Let's go back to the amazons. Let's try to find a different perspective."

Gabrielle smiled. "I think you've got a wonderful idea."

Xena's heart beamed and she basked in the glow of Gabrielle's smile. But she wondered how long it would last and felt her own smile fall. Gabrielle quirked her head as if to ask what was the matter. But Xena simply smiled again and shook of the unasked question, bringing the bard to her bosom again. "I love you Gabrielle," she whispered.

"I love you too Xena," was Gabrielle's reply. Minutes later, with a plan in tact, the couple fell asleep.

Chapter 2

Apollo began to make his first appearance over the ridge giving the warrior enough light to begin quietly collecting their belongs. As Xena returned from washing the cookware, she noticed the bard still slept. She packed the saddlebag in silence, half watching the slumbering bard. When she walked over to Argo, Xena noticed the scroll that lay next to the bard.

After returning from the mare, Xena stopped and looked at the roll of parchment. Slowly she walked over and knelt next to the sleeping bard. 'Don't do it,' Xena told herself. Her actions, however betrayed her mind and she soon found her fingers unrolling the scroll; her eyes scanning the ink.

Gods, how long has it been?
I can't even remember how it felt. . .
No lingering memories of it even,
Yet I know I was there once. . .

I must have felt it all
The nervous moments, the shuddering
Blushing as our eyes met and held. . .
The wonderfully suffocating passion

Never enough time to say it all. . .
Always finding a reason to touch
Everything was fresh, untried, joyful
Fought sleep couldn't bear to part

You feel complete, a little smug
You speak sentences with just a look. . .
You now say "we" not "I". . .
Giving to your love becomes everything.

The laughter comes so easily
The tears just as quickly
Emotions so near the surface
Being apart is too much pain. . .

It must have been like that
. . .to be in love. . .
But. . .I just can't remember. . .

It was too long ago.

Quietly, Xena re-rolled the scroll and laid it beside the bard again. 'She's no longer in love with me'. Xena found it difficult to breathe. She wanted to shake the bard awake, burn the parchment on the campfire and, while she was at, perhaps raid and loot an innocent, defenseless town. 'Well, maybe not the last one," the warrior reassessed with a dismal grin. 'But a good tavern brawl might work out some frustrations'.

And the warrior realized that's what the really issue was - her frustration. Something was driving a wedge between the pair, so much so that Gabrielle felt complied to put it on paper; declaring that she was no longer in love with the warrior. Xena knew Gabrielle loved her but that euphoric feeling of enlightenment was absent. She decided it wouldn't return anytime soon if the bard realized Xena had gone through her personal things. In that instant, Xena felt guilty, perhaps more guilty than she had felt in her life. And that was saying a lot given the warrior's brutal past.

Xena put the scrolls in Gabrielle's bag quietly and resumed picking up the camp. All that was soon left was the bedroll which the bard still made good use of. She started to mumble and Xena walked over to listen, hoping for any clue has to the bards behavior of the several past months. But nothing distinguishable came from the bard so the warrior decided to snuggle back into the bed rolls close to her wife.

"Gabrielle," Xena whispered. "You need to wake up. If we're going to make it to the amazons by this evening we have to get moving." When that didn't do anything but manage a grumbled protest, Xena knew something that would work. "Are you hungry? I collected some strawberries this morning."

"Huh?" the bard said sleepily, beginning to rise. "Strawberries?" she asked with a yawn.

Xena smiled. "Thought that would get ya movin," Xena replied, reaching behind her. She pulled a berry from the food pouch they always carried and offered it to the bard. "They're really sweet, just the way you like them."

Gabrielle took a bite from Xena's fingers and both women felt a jolt that neither had experienced in weeks - sexual arousal. Both women examined each other as Gabrielle chewed wondering if the feelings were only one sided.

"Could I have another?" Gabrielle asked after swallowing.

Xena found herself fumbling with the bag before successfully retrieving another one. 'Oh yes. She felt it too', Gabrielle grinned briefly, before Xena could catch her. This time as Gabrielle went for the fruit her tongue played with the tip before she brought it into her mouth. Xena expelled a whimpering sigh of desire. As Gabrielle finished the second berry, the warrior found her voice.

"Would you like another?" Xena asked, doing her damnedest to keep her breathing even.

Gabrielle nodded and watched the warrior's movements. She had forgotten how much she loved watching Xena move and the shy, reserved side she was seeing from the warrior excited her even more.

This time when Gabrielle was offered the fruit, she held onto Xena's hand with both of her hands. She lightly ran her fingertips across the warrior's hands, traveling to the wrist. All the while, she nibbled on the berry taking little bites and swallowing quickly. When she worked her way to the end, her lips continued up nipping along to the warrior's wrist.

Xena closed her eyes as her free hand found the back of the bards head, stroking her hair affectionately. Xena honestly couldn't remember when they had been this tender with each other. She could feel her desire, her passion growing stronger by the second. She had the overwhelming sensation of throwing the bard to the bed rolls, showering her with velvet kisses and long, deep caresses that came from the very bottom of her soul.

Xena steadied her breathing and pulled away. 'No.' Xena told herself. 'Not until we find out what's wrong.'

Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked up to see what brought on Xena's need to depart her hand. The bards eyes questioned Xena silently.

"If we keep enjoying breakfast," Xena grinned, hoping to keep the conversation light, "I'm going to end up taking you. . .and I don't want that. I mean I do," Xena said quickly. "I just . . .It's that. . .Oh Tartarus Gabrielle. . . I want a better understanding of what's bother us. Know what I'm sayin?"

Gabrielle grinned but the disappointment hung in her eyes. "Yes. I know what you're saying Xena. . .but you gotta admit. . . it felt pretty wonderful."

Xena smiled. "No arguments here." Her fingertips began to caress the bards cheek. "It's still there," Xena whispered. "We just have to find out why it stays dormant for so long."

"We will," Gabrielle whispered, moving into the warriors arms. "Even if it kills me."

"Well I won't let it come to that," Xena grinned. "We've gotta get moving Beautiful."

Chapter 3

They had walked together, side by side for the last two candlemarks with Argo in tow, behind them. They felt fortunate to have the full moon to guide them through the darkness. They stopped when they got to the familiar patch of trees.

"Anytime now ladies," Gabrielle smiled.

Suddenly the ropes fell and soon they were surrounded by the masked women. As usually Solari was the first to pull up her disguise. The queen and the amazon warrior embraced hard and long.

"How are you two?" Solari asked gripping Xena's arm in greetings. "We've missed you, ya know," she added before turning to the runner with a nod.

"How are things around here?" Gabrielle said to be friendly on one hand, and evasive on the other.

"Pretty quiet actually," Solari replied as they began to walk. "Ephany is planning the summer festival for when the final troops arrive."

"Yeah I heard Ephany sent them to King Licieus kingdom. What was that all about?"

"Slavers had taken an entire town and I mean an ENTIRE town. His kingdom was next but our warriors put a stop to it. He traded us grain last year when that flood destroyed most of our crops. Ephany thought it was only fair since he helped us. Hopefully they will be arriving this week."

"Guess they put an end to the raiders huh?" Xena asked.

"Our best and bravest," Solari grinned.

"I thought you were one of the best and bravest Solari," the warrior teased. "What are you doing still here?"

Solari smiled at the good natured ribbing. "I have commitments to consider back at home."

"Lila wouldn't let ya leave huh?" the warrior replied.

"Nope," Solari chuckled. "And in truth I don't mind. What do I want with trampling around the countryside, fighting in a kingdom that isn't mine, for a bunch of people I don't know when I can come home in the evening to a beautiful daughter and a warm wife in a warm bed. . .Nah," Solari concluded. "I like being settled."

"You sound like your getting old," Xena joked.

"Not old - just mature," Solari countered. "Anyway, how's your mom and Taria doing?" Solari added changing the subject.

"Good. We saw them . . .three months ago?" Xena asked, her eyes looking to Gabrielle for clarification.

"Something like that," Gabrielle added. "They seemed quite happy. A lot thinner too. Xena thought perhaps they were sick but Cyrene explained it as getting 'a lot of exercise'." Gabrielle couldn't contain her giggle at the end.

"Is that so?" Solari replied with a sly grin. "Gotta look out for those insatiable women of Amphipolis," the amazon warrior added with a wink to the bard.

"Oh yeah," Gabrielle replied diplomatically.

As they neared the village, Xena reached for Gabrielle's hand. It was something the warrior hadn't done in a long time. She realized they need to put on a 'couplely' air for the 'village folk' as Xena sometimes teased them. Lila and Ephany waited outside the royal hut and everyone was greeted warmly.

"We're having you're quarters prepared." Ephany informed them. "It's late, I know, but we'll be done shortly. Would you like to take a walk to the mess hall and get some food."

"Actually, I'd like to catch up with Lila if you don't mind Eph'. I'm sure Xena wouldn't mind a drink. The waterskin's been empty for the last two candlemarks."

Ephany was a bright woman. Not only was she good at being a warrior but she could read people extremely well which made her an effective leader. "Okaaaaay," she nodded. "Shall we go then Xena?"

"Certainly," Xena answered. "I'll see ya later tonight?" the warrior asked the bard.

"Of course," Gabrielle answered sharply. She noticed the tone and softened a bit. "I'll be in the hut or at Lila's."

They paused a moment summing each other up and trying to decide how to part company. Awkwardly, Xena approached Gabrielle and the bard offered her cheek at the last moment, instead of her lips, for the warrior's kiss.

"Let's go," Xena said to Ephany as she went toward the mess hall. Ephany watched Gabrielle as the bard studied the warrior for a moment. Something was not right Ephany concluded. Not right at all. She jogged a few steps to catch up with the warrior, her curiosity running rampant in her mind.

"You okay?" Lila asked as she watched Gabrielle closely examining her wife and regent as they walked.

"No," Gabrielle answered honestly. "I'm not." With that, they walked to the princess' quarters.

Chapter 4

Xena grabbed some grapes and water before taking a seat, with Ephany close on her heels.

"So what was all that about?" the regent asked.

"What do you mean?" Xena asked casually.

"That ever so warm departure," Ephany replied. "You and Gabrielle have a fight on the way in," she added with concern.

"Actually no," Xena grinned for show. It was useless, however, because Ephany saw through it. "The last day has been pretty quiet by comparison."

"Comparison to what," Ephany prodded.

Xena played with her grapes for a moment, reluctant at first.

"About a year ago, not long after we were here last, things began to change. Gabrielle and I . . ."

Xena didn't quite know what to tell the regent. Ephany waited a moment before prompting her.

"What?" the blonde warrior asked.

"That's just it," Xena replied with frustration. "I don't know what happened. . .We rarely talk anymore. Everything is an argument. I can't do anything to please her. . .I know she's unhappy but she tells me she doesn't know why."

"Do you believe that?" Ephany interrupted.

"Yes . . .I do now. . . This morning while she slept I looked at the scroll she was working on before our fight last night. I know I shouldn't have but I need to know if she was hiding something from me."

"What did it say?" Ephany asked.

Xena began to play with the grapes again. "She's not in love with me anymore," the warrior whispered.

Ephany could hear so much in the quiet admission - hurt, anger, fear. She was a bit surprised the warrior had been so open with her. She reached across the table and took a firm grasp on Xena's now shaking hand.

"It's okay," Ephany stated firmly, holding the warriors hand tighter. "You and Gabrielle will get through this. There's no such thing as happily ever after Xena. It takes work and you and Gabrielle. . ." the regent said beginning to grin. "Let's say you're both very determined and like to see things through. . .I know you'll see this through."

Xena began to shake her head. "I don't know if that's true Eph'. I mean. . .I don't even know where to begin."

Ephany thought for a moment. "Terris!" she exclaimed quietly. "That's what you and Gabrielle should do! Go see Terris."

"The dead princess?" Xena asked.

"No. Not THAT Terris. The village healer."

Xena considered the reasons as to why she would need a healer. When she came up empty, she moved to inquire Ephany further about the suggestion but the regent was one step ahead of her.

"She doesn't just care for physical healing but spiritual healing too. She can be very helpful in mending the heart. You should strongly consider it," Ephany implored.

Ephany finally saw Xena's first genuine grin of the evening. "Thanks Eph'," Xena said sincerely.

"Don't mention it. . .Besides I owe you. I may not be with Diteria now if you hadn't put me up to asking her out for the evening."

"Things are going well then I take it?" Xena smiled; happy for her friends' happiness.

"Yes. We're doing okay," Ephany nodded without looking too joyful. She was still sorrowed by her friends' sorrow. "Eat up," Ephany added as she rose. "I'm going to speak with Terris. . .that is if you'd like to meet with her tomorrow."

Xena paused a moment. Would Gabrielle be open to the idea? She wasn't sure but she decided that she would go even if Gabrielle wouldn't and she politely nodded to Ephany an approval.

"Good," the regent smiled. "Now try to get some rest. I expect you on the practice field bright and early," she added with a wink. "I got 10 dinars that says I can drop you with a staff before you can drop me."

The sly, mischievous look returned to Xena's eyes and lips. "You're on," she taunted.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Lila were in her royal hut. It wasn't as large as Gabrielle's but it had bathing facilities and an extra room like the queen's quarters.

"She's gotten so big!" Gabrielle exclaimed softly as Lila's daughter waddled to her mama.

"Yeah. She has," Lila said helping the child to her lap. "She was just learning to sit on her own when you were last here."

"Can I hold her?" Gabrielle asked.

"Sure," Lila answered. "Do you wanna go see Aunt Gabby? Come on sugar," she whispered rising with the baby in her arms.

Lila and Gabrielle met in the center of the room and they waited a few moments letting the child get familiar with the stranger. Sensing her mothers comfort, the child moved for Gabrielle's now open arms.

"Aren't you precious?" Gabrielle cooed. The child smiled and snuggled into the bards shoulder. "Maybe a little sleepy too huh? It's late isn't it angel? It's past your aunt's bedtime too," Gabrielle giggled.

The bard took a seat in a nearby rocking chair and cuddled the bundle in her arms. "She's got mom's eyes," Gabrielle smiled to her sister.

"And her Aunt's defiant nature," Lila teased.

"Are you sure she doesn't get that from her mama?" Gabrielle countered.

"Perhaps your right," Lila admitted. "Solari can be pretty pig headed at times."

Gabrielle chuckled and kissed her niece on the top of her head. "Your mama's silly," she told the young one in her arms.

Lila studied her sister and after a few moments Gabrielle could hear the silence and felt her sisters eyes upon her. "What?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"Are you gonna tell me what's up with you and Xena?" Lila asked. "I mean, I'm assuming that's what the problem's concerning."

"It's more me than Xena," Gabrielle offered. "She tries . . .I try too but. . ."

"I'm not sure I understand Gabrielle," she confessed after a brief silence.

Gabrielle sighed and rested her cheek on her nieces' head. "I love her Lila. I do but. . .something is missing. I don't feel complete anymore. I don't know how to explain it. . .Xena was patient for a long time but her patience is wearing out. She suggested we come here. Maybe find out what's wrong."

Lila nodded. "Sounds like a good plan. In fact, our healer Terris is wonderful at talking to couples. After I gave birth to Ruth it was difficult for Solari and I to have time for ourselves and I'll admit, it started to take it's toll on us. . .But Terris gave us some wonderful ideas. She's been a great asset to this village. She's mended everything from broken arms to broken hearts. Maybe you should see her."

"I don't know," Gabrielle replied. "I don't know if Xena would be willing to talk about things with someone she doesn't know. . .Tartarus, it took years for me to get her to open up to me."

Lila pursed her lips for a moment. "Give her a chance Gabrielle. She may surprise you."

Gabrielle considered her sisters comments. She looked down to find the toddler now asleep. "I think she's got the right idea," Gabrielle told her sister, feeling her own lids growing heavy themselves.

"Go get some rest," Lila advised as she picked up her daughter from her sisters arms. "We'll talk some more in the morning if you like."

Gabrielle rose and they kissed. "Thanks for the ear sis'.," Gabrielle called as she moved toward the door.

"Anytime," Lila replied. "Just think about Terris okay?"

"I will." Gabrielle nodded. "Good night Lila."

"Goodnight Gabrielle."

With that the bard left and made her way back to her hut. When she entered she found the guards on post at the front door. "Is Xena back yet?" she asked.

"Yes. Your highness. She just returned minutes ago."

"Thank you," she replied. "You two can take the night off. We'll be fine."

"As you wish," the nearest guard said with a nod as the pair made their departure. She slipped in the door to find Xena standing by the bed naked. She couldn't help but smile. The warm gesture made Xena smile as well.

"Just getting ready for bed," the warrior replied as she pulled a shift over her head, covering her slops and curves from the bard's eyes. Gabrielle moved and took a seat on the bed pulling her boots off first.

Xena walked over and handed Gabrielle a clean shift. "Here you go," she said offering it.

"Thanks," Gabrielle whispered, locking eyes with the dark-haired warrior. "I know I haven't said it much lately but. . .I still think you're the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen."

Xena grinned and took a seat next to Gabrielle. "Thank you, Beautiful" she whispered, pushing Gabrielle's hair behind her ear. "You're not so bad yourself," she added with a smile.

Gabrielle smiled but Xena could feel the bard's tension so she rose. "I'm going to get a drink while you get changed. Did you want anything?"

"No I'm okay," Gabrielle replied, allowing herself to breath again. "Thanks."

Xena nodded and picked up the waterskin on the way out to the well. When she returned Gabrielle was dressed and already under the covers.

"It's cold out there tonight," Xena mentioned. She took a drink of the cool water as she walked over to the bed. "Would you like some?" Xena offered.

Gabrielle reached without comment as she sat up. The water was very cool and clean. After several gulps she handed it back to Xena. The warrior shook it, noticing it was nearly gone. "Yeah!" she joked in good nature. "You drank all my water!"

"Fine," Gabrielle replied sharply. "Give me the skin and I'll get you some more."

"I was only kidding Gabrielle," the warrior replied, sounding wounded, as she climbed into the bed next to the bard.

Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I've seemed to have lost my sense of humor huh?"

Xena and the bard examined each other without comment for a short while. "Things are real . . .delicate. . .I should just watch what I say. It's my fault."

"No it's not," Gabrielle countered. "You just made an innocent comment in the spirit of fun and I jumped down your throat!"

"Kinda like now," the warrior answered with a growing smile.

Gabrielle started to feel anger but the longer she looked at Xena's smile the more the sensation of rage died down and she found herself with a small smirk on her face. She promptly picked up her pillow and hit the smiling warrior. Xena returned fire with her own bedding and soon both of them were swinging and swatting; laughing and bouncing.

Xena stole Gabrielle's pillow and sent it across the room. She swiftly caught the bard by the arms and pinned her to bed, leaning over her. Their eyes were shining with playful tenderness and the more the two women locked eyes the more the smiles faded.

It had been so long since they actually 'played' with each other but instead of mourning the last few months, Xena began to smile again enjoying the moment they had right now. Gabrielle reached up and stroked Xena's face tenderly.

The warrior closed her eyes against the gentle assault, enjoying the sensation of Gabrielle being so affectionate. When she felt the fingertips leave her cheek; floating down to her cleavage, she opened her eyes again to find the look of desire burning brightly in the bards' eyes and an unasked question.

Xena uttered one word and it was all the bard needed.

"Yes," the warrior said softly, releasing her hold.

Gabrielle rose up and captured Xena's lips with her own. The warrior's arm slipped behind the bards' back, offering support. She had almost forgot how soft Gabrielle's lips were and she reveled in the sensation. As the kiss continued the warrior could feel her wetness growing stronger between her thighs. And when the bards tongue punctured through her lips, Xena was unable to control her moan of pleasure.

The sound of Xena's pleasure heightened the bards arousal and her hand cupped the back of Xena's head, pulling her as close as possible. Her other hand worked on the thin straps of Xena's shift, pushing them down to expose the velvet soft breasts to the cool night air. The combo of the draft and Gabrielle's kisses made her nipples erect.

The bard's lips fled from the warrior only to return on her nipples making them harder than before. Xena shifted until Gabrielle's back was on the bed again. Only then did she roll onto her own back. The bard moved with her - her mouth refusing to give up its prize.

"Oh Gods Gabrielle," the warrior mumbled. She could feel her orgasm approaching quickly but she did nothing to stop it. She loved this sensation. Needed it. Craved it for so long.

Gabrielle's thigh found the warrior's center and both women began rocking their hips. The bard could feel Xena's contact and, she too, let her want take hold of her. The feel of Xena's nipple in her mouth, her thigh rubbing against her wet core - it was Elysia. Suddenly, she felt the need to warn the warrior.

"Oh Gods," Gabrielle whimpered. "If we keep this up . . . I'm not going to be able to stop," the bard confessed in a ragged breath.

"Don't stop," Xena answered, her hand now gripping the back of the bards leg. "Don't stop," she began to repeat over and over.

Gabrielle reclaimed Xena's lips when she felt herself beginning to crest, inching higher and higher.

"By the Gods Xena," Gabrielle exclaimed as her back arched and her hips jerked sporadically.

The sight of Gabrielle in uttermost physical pleasure - not to mention the pounding sensations of the bards jarring hips - sent the warrior over her edge as well.

"Gabriellllle," she cried as her orgasm overtook her. Her hands locked on the bards' hips, riding the feeling for all that she could. Gabrielle collapsed into Xena's shoulder as the warrior's ripples slowly subsided.

Her joy didn't last long however. She could feel the bard's tears on her shoulder. Xena pulled her as close as she possibly could without crushing the small woman.

"I love you Gabrielle," Xena whispered. "With all my heart."

The bard cried openly now at the warrior's confession. "I love you too Xena," she sobbed. "but why doesn't it last. Why can't we feel this way all the time like we once did?"

"We'll be okay," Xena said trying her best to sound confident. "We'll find out. . .together." Xena thought back to her conversation earlier with the regent. "You know Ephany said the healer in the village might be able to help. I'm going to go see her tomorrow. I'd like you to join me but I won't force you if you don't want to."

Gabrielle sat on her elbow, looking down at the warrior. Her eyes were still glassy from her tears and Xena wiped the bards cheeks with the back of her finger tips. Gabrielle turned her head, lightly kissing the fingertips. "I think that's a wonderful idea. Lila had mentioned it to me too. . .I'm ashamed to admit it but I told her I didn't think you would go."

"Gabrielle," Xena said pulling the bard back to her shoulder. "I'd go to Tartarus and back for you."

"After these last few months with me I'd say you already have," Gabrielle replied, the depression filling her voice.

"I love you Beautiful," Xena said tightening her hold. "Let's just try to concentrate on the here and now for the time being. . . I'd always rather be with you than without you. Just try to remember that 'k?"

"I love you too Xena."

With that the women snuggled closer in each others arms and for the first night in months had a deep, restful sleep.

Chapter 6

"It's gonna bruise," Gabrielle grinned as they sat waiting for Terris.

The warrior's red eye was beginning to grow into purple and blue hues.

"She got lucky," Xena grinned back at the bard.

Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. "I don't know what I'm gonna do with the two of you. . .But at least you won the bet."

"Guess I shouldn't have agreed to two outta three huh?" Xena replied, carefully touching the puffy eyelid.

Just then Terris walked in. "I'm sorry to keep you wanting. One of the girls in the dorms had a fever and -

Terris stopped and looked at the warrior's blackening eye. "Did you do that?" she asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle seemed a bit confused at first then she realized what Terris meant. "No," she giggled. "Her and Ephany were on the practice field today."

Terris smiled. "That's good," she smiled warmly. "I've seen couples who've walked in looking a lot worse," she teased. "Come on in back," she added waving the two inside the examining room.

Obediently, Xena and Gabrielle followed behind her in silence.

"So what brings you here today?" she asked casually.

All three women took a seat. Xena looked to Gabrielle but the bard said nothing.

"We. . .fight. . .a lot," the warrior started.

Terris nodded. "Any thing in particular?" she asked.

"No," the warrior grinned, trying to mask her discomfort. "You name it and we'll argue about it."

"Do you think that's true?" Terris asked Gabrielle.

Gabrielle nodded. "Yes, it's true."

"Why do you think that is?" she asked the couple.

"We don't know. That's why we're here," Xena replied for the two of them.

"Fair enough," Terris replied. "How does the argument usually start?"

Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Umm. . .Sometimes. . .Actually most of the time Xena says something and I. . .get angry."

"What does she say that makes you angry?" Terris asked.

"Oh I don't know . . . anything. . .like 'We're having perch tonight'."

Terris grinned. "So what you're saying is anything is cause for debate? There's not one subject in particular that sets of the alarm."

Gabrielle nodded again.

"What do you do when this happens Xena?" the healer asked.

"At first I brushed it off but as the months have gone by and it's gotten worse I just snap back at her."

"How do you feel when that happens?" Terris replied.

"Worse. . .It hurts a lot because I love Gabrielle. . .very much."

"What about you Gabrielle?" the healer asked. "Do you love Xena?"

"Yes I do," Gabrielle replied quietly.

"But she's not in love with me," Xena told Terris softly.

Gabrielle looked over at Xena. "What do you mean?" she asked the warrior.

"You're not in love with me," Xena repeated this time looking at the bard.

"Says who?" Gabrielle asked growing angry.

"Says you," she replied softly. Xena realized she would have to make her confession. "I read your scroll," she added quietly.

Gabrielle felt the flames go to her cheeks. "You what?!"

"I didn't want to," Xena insisted. "I had to. It was lying next to you yesterday morning. I had to find out what was bothering you and since you wouldn't tell me-

"You read my scroll?! Just because it was lying out, you think that gives you the right?!"

"It was wrong! I know!," Xena admitted. "But I don't know what to do anymore. I don't know how to make you happy."

"Well going through my private things is not the answer Xena! How could you?!"

"I told you! I am desperate!" Xena shouted. "I can't do anything right at this point so what does it matter if I looked at it. . .Go on! Tell her how incompetent I am!" Xena said as she pointed to Terris.

"I never said you were incompetent!" Gabrielle retorted just as boldly.

"Not directly!"

Xena was on her feet now and Terris knew she had to step in. "Okay. Okay," she said softly, trying to calm the room down. "Let's just relax a moment before something ends up getting broke in here," she said with a comforting grin. "Would you please sit down again Xena?" the healer asked without judgement. Quietly the warrior complied.

No one said anything. Xena sat with her head hung low; Gabrielle with her arms folded across her chest. "What are you thinking Gabrielle?" the healer asked.

"I can't believe she did that." Her hostility coated the words.

Xena raised her head and looked over at the bard. "I didn't know what else to do," the warrior sighed, on the verge of weeping. "I'm sorry and I won't do it again."

"Is that supposed to make it all better?!" Gabrielle snapped. "You say you're sorry so I'm supposed to say 'Oh that's okay Xena. No harm done'. Well your wrong! . . .How can I trust you when you don't trust me?"

"What do mean I don't trust you?!" the warrior replied hotly.

Gabrielle looked at Terris, refusing to look at Xena. "The night before, after the latest fight, I told her I didn't know why I was feeling the way I've been feeling-

"Please," Terris interrupted. "Tell her. Not me."

Gabrielle waited a moment and took a deep breath before she faced Xena. "I don't know why things have gotten so far off track but that wasn't enough for you. You didn't believe me and you thought you would find the answer in my scrolls. . .You didn't trust me." Gabrielle's anger melted away replaced by her sorrow.

There were no more arguments the warrior could offer because she knew the bard was correct in her assessment. "You're right," Xena whispered. "I don't think I trust you."

"Why?" Gabrielle pleaded.

Xena thought for a moment unable to look at the bard any longer. "I don't know. All I know is that we are so far from where we started. I know you're not happy with me. . . but you won't tell me why. You won't tell me what I've done that's put this distance between us."

The room grew quiet again until Terris spoke. "When's the last time you made love?"

That got the girls attention and they looked to Terris. "Last night," Xena answered.

Terris looked surprised. "Last night?" she asked. "It was consensual wasn't' it?"

"Yes," Xena answered offended. " I would never-

Terris held up her hands, bringing the warrior to a stop. "I just wanted to be sure. With all the problems you've been having, it just took me for a loop that you would even want to make love."

"I love Gabrielle very much," Xena replied. "I love 'being' with her."

"How exactly did you end up together last night?" Terris asked. "I mean what happened before you made love."

Both women glanced at each other as Gabrielle spoke. "We had a pillow fight," she giggled.

"A pillow fight as a prelude to sex?" Terris grinned. "That's a new one."

Xena and Gabrielle both smiled and chuckled. "Nah. . ." Xena began. "We were just playing. We used to play physically with each other all the time - you know tickle fights, 'catch me, catch me'. . .It's been a long time since we did something like that. . . All I know I had her pinned, she caressed me and one thing led to another."

"What happened afterward? After you made love?" Terris asked.

The smile fell from Xena's face. "She cried," Xena whispered.

"And let me guess how you felt Xena. . .incompetent?" the healer added.

Xena grinned briefly but the gesture left as soon as it had come. "Yes," she whispered.

"I didn't mean to make you feel that way," Gabrielle insisted softly.

Xena looked over at Gabrielle with a small grin. "I know you didn't. . .and I know you're hurting too."

The room again grew silent until Terris spoke. "Before last night how long had it been since you made love?"

Xena considered the question. "A few moons at least," she replied.

"That's quite a while," Terris pointed out.

"Yes it is," the warrior replied honestly with a nod.

When Xena didn't add more Terris spoke again. "May I make an observation?"

Both women nodded.

"It's obvious to me that you two truly care and love each other. . . Many people think hate is the opposite of love but it's not - indifference is. . .You may argue and fight but that's because you still care. You haven't given up yet."

Terris stood up and walked to the counter behind her, grabbing two scrolls.

"I'd like you two to do some exercises for me. I'd like you to use these scrolls and write down something about your relationship - positive, negative; doesn't matter. The only requirement is that it talks about how you feel. Do you think you could do that?"

Gabrielle nodded and looked to Xena. Xena was nodding as well and Terris handed them over to her.

"Good. I'd like you to also do another exercise. I'd like you both to be naked for this one," the healer grinned. "Would that be a problem?"

Xena grinned. "No problem here."

"Gabrielle?" Terris asked.

"That's okay," she said quietly.

"Good," Terris smiled. "I want you to touch each other - only fingertips to skin. And the touching can't be sexual. You can touch each other anywhere as long as it's agreeable to both of you. However, the exercise shouldn't go any further than light caresses. Understand?"

"No," Xena shook her head. "I mean I understand you want us to just touch each other without making love but what's the point?"

"The point is it gives you the chance to become physical again without the pressure of sex. And so there's no arguments as to who goes first - Xena, you'll touch Gabrielle for a quarter of a candlemark. Then Gabrielle, you'll do the same. Tomorrow night you'll trade and Gabrielle will go first. Is that agreeable?"

Both women nodded gently. "Alright. You'll need to make this a daily ritual so be prepared. How about we see each other in two days? See how things are going? That way I can answer any questions you might have okay?"

The bard felt herself begin to giggle uncontrollably. "I'm sorry. . .I'm just nervous I guess. . .I. . ."

"It's alright Gabrielle," Terris told her. "You both will do just fine."

Gabrielle smiled. "Thank you Terris," she said as she started to rise.

Xena rose as well, offering her arm in a shake. "Yes thank you," she said sincerely.

"You're very welcome and don't worry. Anything said in here stays in here. No one in this village knows anything unless you tell them. I thank you both for being honest."

With that the two women left the medical hut with a new plan of attack.

Chapter 7

"Boy! Sure looks like someone beat the stuffin' outta you," Ephany teased, taking a seat at the bench for dinner. The warrior's eye was officially 'black' now. It looked extremely painful but in truth it didn't hurt that much. Xena had taken worse in a practice session.

"Ha. Ha. Very Funny . . . You're never goin' let me live this down are ya?" Xena replied before stuffing some bread in her mouth.

"You gotta take these rare and beautiful moments when they come along," Ephany explained.

"I'll remember that for future reference . . . So should you," Xena said menacing toward Ephany.

Ephany refused to be intimidated and met Xena's challenge until they were forehead against forehead, eyes still locked on each other. "Wanna go again?" she taunted. "You still got another eye I can bruise."

That did it. Xena's tough warrior façade fell and she pulled back laughing.

"You know Gabrielle and I haven't been getting along all that great lately but I still think it would upset your queen if I lost another eye to you," Xena replied.

"Speaking of," Ephany prodded gently. "How'd it go today?"

"Okay," Xena replied.

Ephany waited while she watched Xena continue to eat.

"What?" Xena asked with a mouth full of food.

"Details please. How did it go?"

Xena chewed and swallowed. "Okay. She gave us some exercises to do. Of course that in itself became an argument too."

"What do you mean?" Ephany asked scrunching her eyebrows.

Xena began with a sigh. "We have to work on scrolls. Each day we have to write something down about how we're feeling. I wanted to work on them in the hut together. . .I mean not together - she would do hers and I would do mine - but we'd do it in the same room."

"What's the problem?" Ephany asked.

"Wish I could tell you," Xena shrugged. "She said she felt uncomfortable with me there. I got defensive and we went back and forth. Finally I got feed up and left. End of story."

Ephany was unsure of what to say. "I'm sorry," Ephany finally answered.

"Well, at least it gave me an idea for writing material," Xena grinned.

Ephany didn't prod any more. The pair of friends finished their meal in relative silence. "There's an amazon at the far right table who's been watching us the entire meal," Xena whispered. "Who is she?"

Ephany looked in surprise. "I haven't felt watched," she replied, casually looking over to see just who Xena was referring to.

"That's probably because she's been keeping her eyes on me most of the time," Xena smiled. "Seriously," she added with an honest expression, "who is she?"

"I think you're talking about Nagen. The blonde, right?"

Xena nodded and took a drink. "I can only catch bits and pieces of her conversation with the red-head over there but I've heard my name mentioned more than once."

Ephany smiled and shook her head in disbelief. "How do you do that? I can barely hear myself think with all this noise, let along a conversation half way across the room. . .No. Wait! . . . Let me. . .You have many skills."

Xena laughed out loud at the exaggerated gesture of Ephany's hands which followed her words. "Nice to see someone still thinks so," Xena answered.

The self-berating comment startled the regent. If any thing, the warrior princess was always self-confident. And for the first time since their arrival, Ephany could see just how much the warrior was hurting. "It will be okay," Ephany said grasping Xena's upper arm. "It will. You'll see."

Just then Diteria, Ephany's lover and soon to be bondmate, walked up. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," she teased.

"No," Xena replied. "The regent is just trying to seduce the queen's consort. Have a seat and enjoy the show."

"You ARE looking for another black eye," Ephany smiled. Xena only replied with a wide-toothed grin. "Actually I have to get going. We're going to get some archery practice in before bed. She likes to practice in the dark too."

Xena wiggled her eyes suggestively at the last comment.

"You know what I mean," Ephany said slapping her arm. She rose but before she left she added. "Will you be okay? You're welcome to join us."

"Nah. . .Get outta here," Xena said waving her off. "I'll be fine."

Ephany gave a short nod and Xena watched the two women leave, hand in hand. But she was suddenly distracted by a presence beside her. "Yes?" she asked without moving back to meet the face. When she did turn, she noticed it was Nagen, the blonde she spoke of earlier. "Can I help you?" Xena asked politely.

"My name's Nagen," she said offering her forearm. In good nature, Xena shook it. "May I have a seat?"

"Sure," Xena replied casually.

"I watched you on the practice field with Queen - I mean Regent Ephany today. I must say you are the best warrior I've ever seen."

With the flattering comment out of the way, Xena took the time to 'size up' the young amazon - blonde hair that covered her shoulders, light blue eyes (perhaps even lighter than Xena's own eyes) and muscular, yet not too large, arms. Xena deduced she was about twenty summers old - twenty three at the most.

"Thanks," the warrior finally replied after giving the young woman an appraising eye. It didn't go unnoticed by the young warrior and she smiled.

"I was wondering, if you're not too busy, could we spar tomorrow? Maybe you could give me a few pointers?"

Xena felt herself melting into the young smile and she felt a scream deep inside, she didn't let dare escape. "I'll have to check," Xena replied with a slight squawk in her voice, that she quickly coughed away. "Excuse me," she added politely.

"You're excused," Nagen said with a gentle smile. "So what do you say warrior princess? Do you think you could teach me a thing or two? Queen Gabrielle says you have MANY skills."

Xena recognized the tone and the leer. It was very similar to the one Gabrielle used to give her and the warrior was finding it harder to breath. She had to remember that this was a conversation which meant she had to talk as well.

"What did you have in mind?" Xena asked, trying to sound as friendly and neutral as possible.

Nagen grinned. She knew her presence, her closeness, was effecting the warrior. And she loved it.

"Whatever you desire," she replied, her voice filled with seduction. "I'm sure anything you'd be willing to show me would be . . . admired.. . .So what do you say? The practice field same time tomorrow?"

Xena nodded nervously. "Sure," she replied softly.

"I'm looking forward to it," Nagen complimented. Her hand reached up and gently stroked Xena's bruise. "Don't worry. You'll be much safer and well cared for with me than the queen," she added.

"You mean the regent," Xena corrected her.

Nagen smiled knowingly and shrugged. "Maybe both," she whispered, close to the warriors ear. So close in fact it sent goose bumps down the warriors back. "See ya tomorrow."

Nagen left and Xena, after she regained her senses, wondered just how many amazons witnessed the recent display. Xena didn't do anything but her mind couldn't control the guilt that was now flooring her. She let the young amazon play with her in front of the mess hall. But worse than that, she enjoyed it. She would have shook her body out to dull the sensations coursing through her but with so many eyes upon her, now was not the time and the place. Besides she had to get back to the royal hut. She had a beautiful, naked bard to caress in a non-sexual manner. 'Best of luck warrior,' she told herself as she made her way home.

Chapter 8

The smell of vanilla candles filled the hut. Gabrielle's hair was damp but beginning to dry from her recent bath. For the moment, she lay on their bed working on her scrolls. She looked up and caught the sight of Xena and she quickly buried herself back into her work.

Xena had been gone all day after the spat that afternoon. And the more the warrior thought about it the more ridiculous she felt. She walked over and tested the bath water. It was still warm so she stripped and climbed in carefully. Gabrielle got off the bed, walking to the hut entrance. Xena didn't turn but she heard the bard instruct them to bring two pails of hot water immediately.

"Thank you," Xena said when the bard made her way back to the bed.

"Don't mention it," Gabrielle replied with a grin.

The bard and the warrior locked eye for a brief moment. "I'm sorry," they said in unison, causing them both to grin and shy away. "You first," Xena offered.

"I'm sorry for getting upset today. This is as much your hut as it is mine-

"No Gabrielle." Xena insisted. "The point of these 'exercises' is that we express ourselves constructively. If you're not comfortable with me around while you write, I should have respected that. . .Maybe from now on when I practice in the mornings you could do your writing and then, at night, I could do mine. That way I won't be around you when you're trying to concentrate and I'll have you close by - even if that means you're in bed sleeping - when I do my scrolls. We both get what we want. See?"

Before Gabrielle could respond, two amazons arrived carrying extra hot water to warm the tub. Xena did a double take that didn't go unnoticed by Gabrielle. One of the amazons was Nagen.

"The water you requested Queen Gabrielle," she said nodding to the bard. When Nagen turned she noticed the warrior soaking in the tub. "Funny meeting you here," she giggled.

Xena walked the thin line between being civil to Nagen without arousing Gabrielle's suspicion.

'Suspicion of what?' Xena's mind said defending her. 'You've done nothing wrong here. The young amazon wants you - that's all. It's not the first time someone has wanted you, so what's the big deal?'.

After emptying her pail Nagen turned to Xena. "Is that hot enough for you Consort Xena?" The emphasis placed on the word 'hot' didn't go unnoticed by Xena. . .or Gabrielle.

"I think that will be all," Gabrielle answered, before Xena could speak. The bard's 'hands off MY warrior' tone was in full swing.

"Yes my queen,' Nagen replied with a nod. As she made her way out she stopped and turned to Xena. "I'll see you on the practice field tomorrow Consort Xena. I'm looking forward to it. Good night." Nagen addressed both Gabrielle and Xena with the last comment but the bard knew it was strictly for the warrior.

Xena turned and began to hunt for the soap, avoid the bard's eyes. She could still feel them burning into her flesh however. "Ah! Got it!" Xena said showing the bard the bar. She could no longer avoid Gabrielle since the bard was now in front of her.

"Who is she?" Gabrielle asked, the jealousy unsuccessfully disguised from her voice.

"Her name's Nagen," Xena offered as she soaped up her body.

"What was all that talk about tomorrow?" Gabrielle continued.

Xena tired to put on her best bewildered mask as she rinsed herself off. "Oh that!" Xena replied with a grin. Gabrielle grinned too but it didn't look very joyful. Xena could tell if she picked the wrong words here the bard could very easily gouge out her eyes with that same demonic grin in tact. "She wanted me to show her a few things on the field tomorrow morning."

"She wants you to show her a few things? And, just exactly, what things did you plan on showing her?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically.

Xena lost her temper and her cheeks flared red. "You tell me Gabrielle! What should I show her?"

"Show her whatever you want!" the bard whispered angrily. She began to move to the bed again but stopped at Xena's reply.

"You don't care?" Xena said softly. The flame had disappeared from her voice as sadness took over. "Terris said-

"I know what Terris said," the bard interrupted. "I didn't mean it. And I do care Xena. I don't want you to show her anything you reserve only for me."

Gabrielle was near tears. Although her back was turned away from Xena, the warrior could still hear it in the bards voice. Xena rose from the water but Gabrielle still couldn't turn around yet. She felt the warriors wet hands on her upper arms.

"I wouldn't do that Gabrielle. . . I love you," Xena whispered. When Gabrielle still didn't turn around, Xena released her hold and walked to get a towel. As she dried herself off she heard Gabrielle finish her journey to the bed and sit down.

"Do you think she's beautiful?" Gabrielle said softly, playing with a fray in the quilt.

"I think she's young," Xena replied. "And ambitious."

The pair locked eyes. "You didn't answer my question. . .Then again, I guess you just did."

Xena didn't respond vocally at first but Gabrielle could sense Xena's uneasiness. "I can't win here," the warrior finally replied.

"What does that mean?" Gabrielle asked.

"Exactly what I said," she answered with frustration. "If I say she's not beautiful you'll call me a liar. If I say she is beautiful you'll call me a cheater. I can't win because it's a loaded question."

Xena rubbed her hair vigorously, trying to get it as dry as possible.

"Okay," Gabrielle nodded. "Let me rephrase it. Do you want that beautiful woman? Am I going to lose you to her?"

Xena stopped the towel movements when she heard the sorrow in Gabrielle's voice; the worry in the words.

"Of course not," Xena whispered sincerely, taking a seat on the bed next to the bard. "I'm in this for the long haul and the only way I'll ever leave is if you tell me to go."

Gabrielle grinned bittersweetly. "Yes but are you going to give me a reason so that I'll ask you to go away?"

"You mean like fool around with Nagen?" Xena asked with a playful grin. "That's not going to happen."

"But she wants you," Gabrielle argued.

Xena paused a moment. "Yeah, I think you're right. But she can't have me. I belong to somebody else."

"You belong to no one but yourself Xena," the bard argued softly.

Xena reached out and caressed Gabrielle's cheek. "How wrong you are my precious bard. Everything I'll ever do will be for you."

Gabrielle felt better. Xena could feel it in the bards sigh and she herself felt better about the whole evening too. She enjoyed these quiet times between the two of them.

"You're tangled," Gabrielle said breaking the silence and running her fingers through Xena's dark, damp tresses. "Would you let me brush your hair?"

Xena couldn't help but smile. It had been a long time since they enjoyed this simple ritual. Quickly she turned her back, settling between Gabrielle's now outstretched legs. The first strokes of the brush were gentle, as not to harm the warrior's scalp. Soon they became move even and quicker as the knots untied. After a few minutes, the warriors hair was slicked back, her mind and body totally relaxed. She felt the bards hands move up her back robbing the towel from her neck. As she turned she watched the bard pull the shift from her body to join her in her nakedness.

"Are you ready to begin our exercise?" Gabrielle smiled. Xena nodded gently. "Good. Lila gave me that hourglass on the night stand."

Xena looked to where the bard motioned and turned the glass to put the sand in motion. "Where should I start?" Xena asked, admiring the bards body.

"Anywhere you're comfortable," the bard answered.

Xena took a deep breath to steady her shaking nerves. She straddled the bards hips and began to lightly caress Gabrielle's arms and shoulders. The bard closed her eyes soaking up the feel of the warriors finger tips lightly dancing across her flesh. After a few moments, Xena's hands moved over Gabrielle's breasts to her stomach. She didn't linger on the orbs but the bard still took a sharp breath as her fingers made the journey southward.

Gabrielle could feel her own wetness beginning to seep when Xena swept across her nipples. She knew the warrior wasn't teasing her. She was only doing what Terris said. It didn't stop Gabrielle, however, from feeling totally aroused.

Xena shifted her position down so she could feel the bards, hard muscular thighs. The warrior had a flash of her cheeks being caressed by those very thighs as her tongue. . . 'No' Xena warned herself. 'You can get through this. Just concentrate.'

As Xena's fingertips came dangerously close to Gabrielle's inner thighs she watched the bards' hips rise. The moan that slipped from Gabrielle only added to the warrior's arousal to take the amazon queen. Xena realized at that moment she could no longer continue. Gabrielle opened her eyes when Xena's hands didn't return after a few seconds.

"What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked.

"I can't do this," Xena replied. "I just can't. I'm sorry."

Xena climbed over and laid down next to Gabrielle, staring at the straw ceiling.

"Now you don't even want to touch me?" Gabrielle replied, looking at the ceiling as well. "I remember when you couldn't keep your hands off of me."

"It's not because I don't want to touch you," Xena answered. "It's because I do. . .That's the problem. I'm just supposed to caress your body. That's all. And I don't think I can do that."

"Why not?" Gabrielle asked.

"Why not?! For Gaia's sake, look at you! That long strawberry hair teasing those creamy shoulders; those tight abs as soft as silk. . ." Xena could feel herself beginning to salivate just looking at the luscious bard and she literally shook herself to chase away her erotic ramblings. "Look. The point is-

Xena didn't have the chance to finish. Gabrielle leapt up, wrapping herself around the warriors neck as her tongue pierced through their suddenly joined lips. Xena pulled away with a firm hold on Gabrielle's shoulders.

"Terris said we-

"Forget Terris," Gabrielle replied working herself free, straddling the warrior. "If you meant what you said. . .If you really want me and not that young, ambitious amazon make love to now."

"You're still quite young yourself Gabrielle," Xena argued.

"I'm thirty summers now Xena," the bard pointed out. "I need to know that I'm still what you want. . .Please show me."

As Xena considered Gabrielle's logic, she was interrupted by a soul scorching kiss. When they finally parted, they stared deep into each others eyes. Unexpectedly the bard began to giggle.

"What?" Xena asked with a laugh in her voice.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Just thinking. That's all."

"About what?" Xena asked.

"Our first time together. . .I was so upset with you. I had wanted you for so long and to have you treat me like a child was unbearable. I was really going to leave that day. . .But instead I let you take me to bed," the bard released another giggle at the memory before meeting the warrior's eyes again. "I've never asked why. . ."

"Why do you think I took you to bed?" Xena answered, running the back of her fingertips over the bards smooth cheek.

"Well, because you loved me," Gabrielle answered. "I guess what I want to know is why you chose that day. Why you didn't . . .I don't know. . . say anything. I mean you just picked me up and carried me to the bed without a word."

Xena paused a moment. "I'm not sure. All I know is I was about to lose you and I was angry. Angered by your leaving, angered by my lack of courage to tell you how I felt. I know if I didn't offer myself to you at that point in time; if I didn't show you how determined I was to have you as my lover, it would have never happened. . .Besides no words would have sufficed to express everything I felt at that moment. I had to show you how strong and deep my desire ran. . .So . . .I picked you up. . .And I took you."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No you didn't take me. . . I gave myself to you. Remember?. . .You asked permission. . .Just like I'm asking now. . .Please Xena. Please give yourself to me."

Xena knew she couldn't resist the passionate plea of the bard. Softly her lips sought out Gabrielle's - delicate and light at first before building stronger; more powerful. Soon the warrior was on her back and the bards body covered her. How she loved the feel Gabrielle stretched across her - the soft flesh and toned muscles rubbing across hers. It never ceased to amaze Xena how wonderfully their bodies fit together. It was as if they were made for each other. For the first time, in a long time, Xena felt the love they truly shared as they made love.

Xena rolled the bard to her back and she felt Gabrielle nudged her southward. Once Xena had kissed her way to Gabrielle's abdomen, she could smell the bards arousal and judging by the abundance of aroma she knew her bondmate was extremely wet. Her fingers gave a quick check, which in turn, teased the bard of things to come. Xena smiled mischievously. 'Gods I love it when she's like this', Xena reflected silently.

Gabrielle, on the other hand, didn't smile. Her face was wantoning not joyous. She had to have her warrior inside of her - licking, prodding, sucking. Her ache and need becoming greater with every second that Xena stalled. Xena place a solitary kiss on Gabrielle's clit, forcing the bard to raise her hips. She wanted to grind those hips into that beautiful face while her hands gripped the warriors head, making sure escape was not an option.

Gabrielle's hands shot down, locking into Xena's wet dark locks. "Please," Gabrielle breathed. "Please don't make me wait any longer."

Xena had to smile again. She knew the bard was sincere. Her desire ran deep, so much she managed to soak the sheet beneath them. Xena knew as she looked at the wet spot beneath the bard. Her woman would have anything she wanted.

"Anything for you Beautiful," Xena whispered, steadying herself between the bards legs. "Anything."

Gabrielle's head slammed back into the pillow upon contact of the warriors mouth. Her finger delved deeper into the damp tresses, pulling Xena closer. She loved the feel of Xena so connected; so intimate with her. Gabrielle had never let anyone touch her body in such unique way. And no one had ever touched her soul so thoroughly as the warrior. Xena's lashing tongue, along with her own amorous thoughts, caused Gabrielle to feel her eruption brewing just below the surface. She knew what she wanted tonight.

"Your fingers," Gabrielle panted. "Gods, Xena take me with your fingers."

Xena shifted position in an instant. Her lips released Gabrielle's center only to find themselves attached to her right nipple. As her tongue began to bat at the rock hard tip, her fingers slammed, deep and high into the bard.

"Gods yes," Gabrielle exclaimed, matching the warrior stroke for passionate stroke. Xena looked down at the bards moving hips and felt her own wetness build with each thrust of her lover. Quicker and quicker Gabrielle's movement came. It surprised the warrior that Gabrielle was never sore the next day after their nights such as this, given the bards relentless pounding against her hands. In fact Xena was pleased to say the least. She loved this side to her woman. It was a side few had seen, if anyone for that matter. So ardent; so ferocious. It was incredible.

"Ohhhhh. . .Xena. Gods don't stop. A little more. A little more."

Xena could feel the contractions on her fingers. The bard was milking the orgasm for all she could. And Xena loved it.

Finally the bard took a deep breath and released it slowly along with a satisfied moan. Xena watched carefully. The only expression she saw was joy on her bondmates' face and only then did she allow herself to smile. She felt fortunate to be able to give Gabrielle such pleasure. She was also relieved that the experience didn't end with the bard in tears.

"Are you okay?" Xena asked sincerely.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and met admiring blue above her. "Very okay," she grinned. The bard looked over at the nightstand and looked back at the warrior. Xena could tell her little bard was up to something. Gabrielle flipped the hourglass back over.

"Now it's my turn," she whispered huskily.

Xena was soon on her back . . .with the known world's largest grin.

Chapter 9

Nagen was sparing the red-head from the night before when Xena finally began to make her way to the practice field. Upon noticing Xena's arrival the red-head gave Nagen a sly grin and slinked away.

"You're late," Nagen answered with a smile. "I was wondering if you were going to show or not. I thought maybe Queen Gabrielle kept you on a short leash but I see I was wrong."

"You're correct. I'm not kept on a leash," Xena replied firmly. There was no mistaking her tone. She meant business. "But as for the comments toward the queen. . .lets say you should have more respect for her."

"I meant no offense," Nagen quickly said.

"I know," Xena replied with a grin. "You intended seduction. . .I've played the kinds of games you're playing Nagen. Only difference is I won. . .You, on the other hand, will not. At least not with this conquest," she added pointing to herself, tapping her breastplate.

Nagen considered Xena's words for a moment. "Rumor has it that there's trouble between you and the queen. . .I've always admired you-

"Admiration does not give you the right to play games with peoples heart."

Nagen looked at the ground feeling total humiliated. Xena could sense it. "I'm sorry," Nagen whispered.

"Hey," Xena replied, lifting the girls chin with her fingers. "Twenty years ago I would've given you a strong consideration. . . .You're a beautiful young lady. However, I am nearly twice your age and crazy in love with our queen. Do you understand?" Xena implored.

Nagen looked up to see Xena grinning. Slowly Nagen began to grin. "Yeah I understand," she nodded in agreement.

"Good. Now lets spar," Xena said drawing her sword.

Nagen looked shocked. "You mean you're still going to spar with me?"

"Of course, why wouldn't I?" Xena asked.

"Well, since I just tried to seduce you and all I figured you'd never want to be near me again."

Xena chuckled. "I'll let you in on a little secret. . .You're not the first amazon to come on to me and you probably won't be the last. . .So let's cut all the chit chat and I'll show ya a thing or two," Xena winked.

Nagen smiled and drew her own sword. 'Today will be a good day after all' she mused as she began the drill. She may not have the warrior's body the way she intended but she was grateful for the learning experience. She made a metal note as she practiced with Consort Xena. She would offer her apologies to Queen Gabrielle and unlike Regent Ephany, go much easier on her 'aged' opponent.

Chapter 10

"So how have you two been?" Terris asked with a warm grin.

"Okay," Xena replied. "Pretty good actually," she added starting to smile.

"And how are the exercises going?" she asked.

Both women looked at each other and began to blush. "Welllll . . ." Gabrielle began. "We haven't exactly been following the ground rules."

"Is that so?" Terris teased with a knowing nod. "What rules have you broken?" Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and began to giggle. "As if I need to ask," the healer added with a smile.

Xena studied the amazon for a moment. "Wait a second. . .You knew this would happen, didn't you?"

"Why whatever do you mean Xena?" she answered in mock innocence.

"You know what I mean," the warrior smiled.

Terris chuckled. "Actually, I didn't know if you two would resume your lovemaking. Either way it's a wonderful exercise. If you end up making love or 'following the rules' (as Gabrielle explained) you end up winning. You see, you get familiar with each others bodies again or you end up feeling passionate again. . .I'm not sure why but there's something alluring about the 'forbidden' and sometimes to jump start things you need to 'break the rules'. . . Be honest, since I told you both you couldn't have each other, has it made you want each other more?"

Xena laughed as she nodded her head. "You're good," she complimented. "And we played right into it didn't we?"

"We'll I'm sorry if you feel 'played' Xena but you both needed to get re-aquatinted with each other. Like I said, one way or another the exercise works. Luckily for the two of you, it happened a lot sooner than for most - most people go weeks before they are comfortable with each others bodies again. . .Anyway. . .How did the writing go? I see you brought your scrolls to share. . .Does anyone want to volunteer?"

When neither woman replied, Terris motioned to Gabrielle. "Why don't you go first my queen?"

Gabrielle looked a bit unnerved and Xena spoke.

"Could I go first?" the warrior asked. "I know whatever she wrote will blow me out of the water. I mean, after all, she IS the bard," she added with a grin.

"Okay by me," Terris replied. "How about you Gabrielle?"

"That's fine," the bard nodded.

Xena cleared her throat as she unrolled her scroll. She shifted nervously and her soft voice quieted the room.

"I look at you and see only the past
I cannot look at you and see what is now. . .

For the now is not for me
It is the deepest heartache
I fear I have lost your love
And I cannot bear the pain

I look at you and I see my whole world
Please look at me and see yours too."

All eyes focused on Xena. She only realized this when she stopped playing with the end of the parchment and looked up.

"I know it's not Sappho," the warrior shrugged in her awkwardness.

She suddenly felt naked, exposed. 'Gods' she thought quietly, 'is this how Gabrielle feels anytime she takes a stage'.

Xena always knew Gabrielle was a brave woman - leaving her family to spend her life traveling from place to place; facing down the fiercest of foes that would make any 'normal' female faint. But now she had a whole new respect for her bondmate that she never had before.

"What do you think?" Terris asked Gabrielle.

"I never knew," Gabrielle grinned. "I never knew you could write. I mean I knew you could write but. . .wow. . ."

"You like it?" Xena asked.

"Well, yes and no," the bard answered. "I respect the fact you can be so . . .eloquent. . .but it saddens me terribly to think I've brought you that much pain." Gabrielle paused a moment and waited until the warrior met her eyes. "And you are still my whole world too. Please don't ever doubt that."

Xena reached over and stroked Gabrielle's cheek. "Thank you," she whispered softly to her bard.

Terris let their admiration of each other soak for awhile. After a few moments she nodded to Gabrielle. "Would you please share your scroll now Gabrielle?"

The bard agreed and rolled out her parchment as she cleared her throat.

How can I tell you
What I feel right now
The yearning has no name
A shadowy ache

There's an emptiness I feel
Yet our life is so full
Something is missing
Yet I know no loss

Xena, Abide with me
You are my life, my love
My beautiful champion
You are my world

Terris studied both women. "What are you thinking Xena?" the healer asked softly.

"She's confused," Xena replied while a small grin started to tug at her lips, "but she still loves me. She still needs me."

"Have you been feeling unneeded?" Terris asked the warrior.

Xena nodded. "Yes I guess I have. . .And what bothers me the most is. . .I'd give Gabrielle anything she wants. . .anything."

Terris was going to continue but her hut door busted open.

"I'm sorry to interrupt."

All three women turned to face a stricken Ephany.

"What is it?!" Gabrielle asked sensing her regents' distress.

"We've got a problem."

Ephany paused, wondering if she should disclose her information in front of Terris without first confering with the queen in private. 'Terris will have to know sooner or later so it might as well be now' Ephany summized. "Zagreus' army is two valleys over. A scout returned, moments ago. He's heading this way."

"Do you know what he wants?" Xena asked cautiously.

Ephany nodded quickly. "He wants slaves," she replied softly. "Amazon slaves."

End of part one

Continue to Part 2

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