Illuminations of the Soul
by Cousin Liz

July 30, 1997


The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA Pictures and used here without permission. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story.

This story shows the loving relationship between two women. You may even consider it explicit at times. If this type of story offends you, or you are not old enough to read it, please stop reading now.

This is my first attempt at any type of creative writing. I hope you all enjoy.

Part 01

The well traveled road wound its way through the countryside. The
trees on both sides had begun to change color and the crunch of dried
leaves under foot was something that Gabrielle always loved to hear.
She appreciated the cooler days for traveling, except for the price paid
at night. 'Soon it will be getting downright cold,' she speculated to
herself. They were nearing a town and Xena intended to stay only
long enough to buy supplies and get a worn buckle on Argo's saddle

Gabrielle, who had been discussing the recent exploits of their last
adventure, fell silent. She could sense the change in Xena. Back
ramrod straight; she sat tall in the saddle. Chin up, shoulders squared
and her normally blue eyes now icy gray slits. 'And that look.' It still
sent shivers down Gabrielle's spine every time she witnessed the
transformation. 'This must have been what greeted the unfortunate
people of the villages and towns that Xena and her army raided. The
Warrior Princess.' Gabrielle closed her eyes, trying to picture the

First impressions meant everything and Xena had this down to a
science. She wanted no trouble from anyone in town. Although her
warlord days were past her, the look still served it's purpose.
"Gabrielle," Xena said suddenly, thrusting a protective arm in front of
her friend who had been walking along side Argo. With her other arm,
she pulled Argo to an abrupt stop. Xena sat there motionless,

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked in a hushed tone. "Highway robbers? A
deadly animal? A hungry cyclops? Joxer?"

"No, no, no and NO," Xena chided her friend for her vivid imagination.
Even though the town was not yet in sight, she could just make out the
sounds of people. Many people. "Something is going on in the town
up ahead. I hear the sounds of too many people to be coming from a
place of that size. Keep alert," Xena warned. "There could be
trouble." They continued on.

Gabrielle gripped her staff tighter and gave a few warm-up swings,
loosening her muscles. A small smile worked its way across her face.
'Yes! She didn't even try to make me stay behind this time while she
went on ahead. Nor did she make me climb onto that beast of a war
horse of hers, and hide behind her.' It had taken nearly two years, but
Gabrielle felt that Xena was finally trusting her to hold her own in a

They rounded a bend in the road and the countryside opened up onto
recently harvested fields. In the distance stood the town. "Wow. It
looks like the entire population of the town is out. Xena, they're having
some kind of a celebration!" The young woman's eyes danced with

"From the size of the crowd, I'd say the people from the surrounding
villages are there also. Must be their harvest festival." Xena caught
the look in her young friend's eyes. "Maybe we could have a look
around... if you'd like?"

"Oh Xena, could we?"

"Sure, Gabrielle. C'mon." Xena reverted back to her warrior princess


Even with all of the distractions the festival had to offer, Xena and
Gabrielle's entrance into the town did not go unnoticed. It never did.
Xena was not one to blend in easily. Clad in black leather and armor,
with a flowing mane of long black hair, the six-foot frame atop the
behemoth golden mare stood in stark contrast to the smaller green-
eyed strawberry blonde walking along side.

They continued through the village, heading for the inn. "I'm going to
stable Argo and give her a good brush down. Why don't you see
about getting us a room for the night," Xena said as she dismounted
her horse.

"I thought you wanted to pick up supplies and be on your way?"

"I know that's what I said, but I think a short rest will do us all a world
of good. Even Argo." At the mention of her name, Argo turned her
head and let out an appreciable snort.

"OK, OK," Gabrielle laughed as she stroked the flank of the mare. "I'll
see to the room. Then I think I'll check out the marketplace."


With a room for the night rented, Gabrielle enveloped herself in the
crowd. She really enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the marketplace.
She had just spent the last five days traveling the road, with Xena and
Argo as her only source of companionship. Mind you, she wasn't
complaining, but sometimes Argo was a better conversationalist than
Xena. Everywhere she looked, children were laughing and running,
many with brightly colored painted faces. Husbands and wives
strolled hand in hand, while young couples were seen in the embrace
of each other. The merchants hawked their wares, while jugglers
walked the street, tossing brightly colored balls in the air, sometimes
between themselves. Off to the left, Gabrielle saw a crowd gathering
around a small, raised platform where a man was swallowing swords.
Minstrels roamed the street, their lively music sometimes cutting
through the din of the festival crowd.

Gabrielle was excited at the prospect of doing a little shopping.
'Nothing like a little bartering to get the blood flowing,' she thought to
herself. There was everything imaginable for sale here. Food stalls
abounded. From the necessities of meat, cheese and breads, to
sweets and pastries. 'I'm definitely going to have to check that stall
out later,' she reminded herself.

Bolts of fancy woven cloth decorated a stall, while further on, an old
white-haired man displayed fine leather work. Gabrielle stopped to
delicately finger a beautiful hair barrette. Intricately woven, threads of
white and silver silk were braided around individual strips of leather,
forming a beautiful white flower which glistened in the sunlight.
Gabrielle knew not to even bother to ask the price. 'No amount of
bartering will ever get that piece to an affordable price.' It wasn't that
they were hurting for money. It was just that the cost of living on the
road could sometimes be unpredictable. 'And even with all of my best
bartering skills, the price of that barrette would still be equivalent to the cost of a week's worth of supplies, including Argo's.' She moved on
before the merchant had a chance to strike up a conversation.

Gabrielle headed off to buy the supplies they needed and find the
dessert stall she spied earlier. She would pick up a few treats to
surprise Xena. She knew that as much as Xena hated to admit it, she
had a sweet tooth almost as big as her young friend's. With her
shopping done and the treats tucked safely away in the bottom of her
satchel, Gabrielle headed to where she would most likely find Xena.

Xena was just leaving the Blacksmith's; Argo's saddle resting
comfortably on her left shoulder. "So?" inquired Gabrielle, as she

"The buckle's been replaced. Good as new. How'd your shopping

"Great! I got everything we need and I had a wonderful time looking

"Good. Let's get this stuff put away." Knowing how her young friend
thrived on crowds, Xena continued, "there's still some time until
dinner. Maybe we can have a look around."

Gabrielle's eyes lit up at the prospect. She knew how much Xena
disliked crowds. "Really? If you'd like... I saw this guy swallowing
swords earlier. Over there." She pointed in the general direction of
the platform.

"Swallowing swords, heh? We'll have to check into that. Never know
when it might come in handy," Xena replied in her best serious voice.
She turned and started to head to the stables with Argo's saddle
before Gabrielle could see the grin working its way onto her face.

Gabrielle stood there looking after her friend incredulously. 'Never
know when it might come in handy?' she repeated to herself. 'Heh. I
sure hope she's joking. Then again... Xena rarely jokes about
anything.' Gabrielle shook her head trying to disengage the image that
was forming of Xena and her sword, and took off after her.

Part 02

The sun had begun to set by the time Xena and Gabrielle returned to
the inn. They had spent a rather uneventful afternoon taking in the
sights, although sometimes Gabrielle felt like they were one of the
attractions. 'I guess we do make for a rather odd couple,' she mused.
She didn't even want to begin to guess what people thought she was
doing traveling with the likes of the warrior princess. 'Best to not even
go there,' she reminded herself. Nobody ever came right out and said
anything, but she could feel herself being watched. She knew Xena
could feel it too, but she never let on. 'I guess she's used to it,' but for Gabrielle, it still made her feel a little queasy whenever it happened.

They sat in their usual spot at the back of the tavern. Xena leaned
against the back wall, surveying the room before her. Her friend sat
across from her.

Gabrielle enthusiastically sliced another large chunk of meat from the
steak before her. Her eyes sparkled with glee as she held it up for a
moment's examination before devouring it. She was in the Elyssian
Fields and loving every minute of it.

"I guess you're going to want me to add cow to my list of dinner
quarries now," Xena said with a bemused smile on her face.

"Oh Xena -" Gabrielle almost choked as she attempted to swallow her
latest mouthful. "You know I love what you catch for our dinner. I can
just picture the warrior princess stealthily tracking some poor farmer's
milk cow out in his pasture. And what would you tell him Xena? 'Well,
you see... my friend was just hankering for a big juicy steak.' I don't
think he'd go for that."

"Well, I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. It's not often we get to eat this
well." It didn't happen often, but there were days when try as she
might, no animal would snare itself in one of the traps she had set.
And there wasn't always a river nearby with a ready source of fish.
Meals those nights consisted of bread and what little dried fruits,
smoked meat or cheese they had left from their last stop at a village.
Gabrielle never complained, although her stomach usually gave her
away. Xena's face clouded over at these thoughts.

Gabrielle had been busily slicing off another large chunk from her
steak when she glanced up and noticed that Xena had gone away.
"Xena," she called softly. Xena was staring down at her plate of food,
her arms resting on either side of her plate. She looked up.
Gabrielle's heart sank as she looked into her eyes. 'What could she
have been thinking about to cause such sadness to mar the beauty of
those blue eyes?' Gabrielle thought. She instinctively began to reach
across the table to cover Xena's hand with hers, but pulled up short at
the last moment and wrapped her fingers around her mug instead.
They were in public, she reminded herself. She just had a hard time
restraining herself sometimes. She always tended to talk with her
hands. They seemed to have a life of their own, and went where they

"Hmm," Xena said as she came back to the present.

"What were you thinking about?" Gabrielle tried to ask nonchalantly.

"Oh, nothing in particular. Just trying to give my stomach a chance to
catch up," Xena replied as she went back to her meal.

Gabrielle knew it was pointless to try to gain access to the warrior's
thoughts. If they had been alone, she would not have let the subject
drop so easily. She would have prodded Xena a little and maybe
gotten somewhere. However, in public, Xena wore her warrior
princess armor inside and out. Gabrielle understood, though. It had
kept them from being bothered or harassed on more than one

As they continued their meal, Gabrielle tried to fill the air with light talk, attempting and finally succeeding in bringing Xena out of her funk.
"Wow! I don't think I could eat another bite," the bard exclaimed as
she pushed her empty plate away and leaned back on her chair,
patting her bare midriff.

Xena rolled her eyes. "Considering you polished off everything on
your plate and then went back for seconds..." A smile formed on
Xena's face. "I guess that means you don't have room for dessert?"
she asked, first smelling and then seeing the trays of nutbread that
were being brought out of the kitchen and placed on the bar.

Gabrielle turned and followed Xena's eyes as she focused on the
dessert. "Nutbread! Well... I guess I *could* find room for a small
piece." Gabrielle's eyes danced at the prospect. She watched as the
innkeeper began to slice the loaves.

"I'll go and make sure she cuts you a generous piece," Xena said as
she rose and made her way to the bar. Gabrielle watched her go. She
noticed that as Xena passed people at other tables, they almost
recoiled from her, fearful of her touch. Gabrielle knew Xena could feel
this -- this cold vacuum effect that hung in the air around her. To be
around so many people and still be alone. Gabrielle wondered how
Xena could live with it.

The warrior arrived a few minutes later balancing two plates of
nutbread and a large port for herself and a cider for Gabrielle. "Here
you go," she said, as she sat back down and sipped her drink. She
watched as Gabrielle descended on her dessert. 'Where does she
put it?' she contemplated.

Gabrielle was soon licking her fingers and pinching up the last of the
crumbs from her plate. "Oh Xena, that was the best nutbread I ever
had." Looking down a little embarrassed she continued, "I even think
it was better than my mother's." Xena silently pushed her untouched
dessert over to Gabrielle. "No Xena, No! I won't. I know you like
nutbread too." Gabrielle pushed the plate back to her friend.

"Gabrielle, I got it for you." Xena began to push the plate back across
the table. Gabrielle put her hand out and stopped it midway. Both
women continued to stubbornly push the plate in opposite directions.
"This is getting us nowhere."

"Truce," Gabrielle said softly, not wanting anybody seated at the table
next to them to overhear the warrior princess losing a battle. "We'll
share." Both women slowly released their grip on the plate, but kept
their arms extended in case the other changed their mind.

Gabrielle broke off a piece and held it out for Xena. She knew it was
the only way she would get her to eat any. Reluctantly Xena accepted
it and sat back. "Hmm... This really is good." She looked up to see
Gabrielle watching her.

"I told you so."

"That's why I wanted you to have it."

"Xena." Gabrielle said with slight exasperated. "You have got to learn
to indulge yourself. You're always doing good things for other people.
You've got to stop and do them for yourself once in a while." She
broke off a small piece of nutbread and popped it into her mouth.
"See, it's not that hard." Gabrielle broke off a larger piece and handed
it to her friend. She continued in this manner until she had
successfully fed the rest of it to Xena.

Xena quietly resigned herself to the force feeding. She knew when it
was useless to argue with her bard. 'And maybe she's right. When
was the last time I did something for no other reason than to please

"Xena? Do you hear that?" Gabrielle asked as she turned to look for
the source.

"Uh huh," Xena murmured. She was leaning back against the wall,
eyes closed, arms crossed, her legs stretched out and extended under
Gabrielle's chair. The soft strains of instruments being tuned floated
in on the night air. Many of the couples who had finished eating were
already starting to disappear outside.

Gabrielle got up and approached the innkeeper. "Excuse me,
Androniki. I was wondering. What's going on outside?"

"The town is holding an evening dance," she replied. "There's no
building large enough to have it in, so we simply have it outside, under
the stars. It's a bit brisk tonight, but everybody will warm up fast
enough when the dancing starts." She motioned Gabrielle towards the
window. Gone were the stalls the merchants used earlier, and
lanterns had been hung throughout the center of town. A small group
of people could be seen in front of the Blacksmith's shop, readying
their instruments. Families and couples were beginning to gather,
coming from all directions. "You should come join us. The dance is
always quite fun."

"Thank you," Gabrielle replied. She turned to look at Xena, who hadn't
moved from her spot. This was not an easy task that lay ahead of her.
Gabrielle knew Xena was not the least bit interested in some silly
dance. Come to think of it, in the last two years they had been
together, she had never seen Xena dance. 'Well, there was that time
when she went undercover at the Miss Known World Pageant, but
that doesn't count. That was business.' They did attend the reception
held in their honor by King Gregor and Pandora, after Xena
successfully rescued the baby. And there was dancing after the
dinner. Xena simply sat there wearing her patented look-at- me-the-
wrong-way-and-die warrior princess look. No man dared get close
enough to ask her to dance. She stayed for a little while, before
disappearing with her excuse of needing to check up on Argo. The
bard wondered what Xena would ever do if she didn't have that horse
to fall back on as an excuse.

Gabrielle walked back over to their table. By now the place was
practically empty. "Xena. Xena?" At first, Gabrielle thought that
Xena had nodded off, then thought better. 'Xena never nods off.'
Xena's eyes opened and met the bard's. "I was wondering... that
maybe... that is if you're not too tired... "


"... we could go outside and watch the dancing... for a little while that
is..." Gabrielle blinked and gave her head a small jerk and shake as
she realized that Xena had spoken.

Xena stretched the muscles in her arms as she held them out straight
and stood with a fluid grace to her full six feet. She motioned to the
speechless bard to proceed with her to the door. 'Gabrielle seldom
asks for anything, and damn if I'm going to deny her some simple
pleasures in her life. And the look on her face when it dawned on her
that her request had been answered was priceless,' Xena chuckled to
herself. 'Worth the last dinar I have to see that.'

Part 03

The grounds outside were now teeming with life. The music had
begun, and couples were whirling to a lively tune. Even the young
children were off to the side attempting to mimic their elders. Most of
the oldest folk were seated on benches and chairs that were drug from
neighboring stores and homes.

Xena stood on the porch at the corner of the inn. She had found a
patch of shadow that the nearest lantern could not breech. She
leaned against the building sipping the port she brought outside, her
left foot resting comfortably on the lower railing at the side of the

Gabrielle leaned over the front railing, craning her neck to the left and
then to the right. "Xena. It looks like the whole town has showed up
tonight! I'll bet not a single person is left at home. Everybody is
having such a good time. It's nice to be in a town where everyone is
not in fear of an advancing warlord. We've seen plenty of that

Xena wondered how many town's festivities had been ruined by her
and her army during her warlord years. She downed the rest of her
port, struggling to push those memories back from where they had
escaped. Gabrielle walked over and stood next to her, trying to steal
some of her body heat. She rested her head on the warrior's shoulder,
wistfully watching the couples, now dancing in each other's arms to a
slow song. Xena watched Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye.
There was such depth of emotion to her young eyes, but Xena could
not be sure what Gabrielle was thinking. She just wished that
Gabrielle could have her heart's desire, and Xena would do anything to
make her young friend happy. 'She must see herself in the arms of a
charming young man, being held and loved as they move with the
music.' The mental image of this shook Xena back to the present.
'And this will never happen -- not with me hovering over her. No man
will dare get close enough to even speak with her.' "Gabrielle, I need
to go check on Argo."

Gabrielle knew what this line really meant. Xena was tiring of the
dance and wanted an excuse to disappear for the rest of the night.
"Xeeena." Gabrielle drawled, letting her friend know that she knew
what she was up to.

"No Gab. I promise. I'll be back in a little while."

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise." With that, Xena left.

Now Gabrielle was perplexed. She was sure Xena was looking to get
away for the rest of the evening. 'But if Xena makes a promise, she
keeps it. I wonder if this time she really simply wanted to check on
Argo? I guess I'll never figure her out.' Gabrielle moved back over to
the center of the porch. The lantern on a nearby post lit up her red-
blonde hair, and the dance of the flame sent fiery streaks pulsating
down the strands of her hair.

Xena stood off in the shadows of a nearby building, keeping an eye on
her friend. 'Just in case anybody tries to do her harm,' she told
herself. After only a couple of minutes, Xena got her wish. A
handsome young man approached Gabrielle. Xena suppressed her
desire to wrest the young man's gaze from her friend and send him
packing. 'Get a grip on yourself, Xena. This is obviously what
Gabrielle wants and needs.'

"Hi, my name is Andreas," the young man said, looking up at

"Uh... hi," Gabrielle replied, looking down at her hands. She knew
this would happen as soon as Xena left her alone. 'Now where is that
warrior princess when I need her.'

"I was wondering if you'd join me for the next dance?" The young man
asked, gesturing toward the couples.

"Oh uh -- heh... I'd really love to you know, but... ah... you see... just
the other day I took a tumble off a horse and my leg is still giving me
some problems." She began to massage her upper right thigh for
effect. "Otherwise, I would have loved to dance the next dance with
you." Gabrielle tried to let him down as nicely as possible. He bowed,
turned and left. 'Quick thinking, girl. He almost had you.'

Xena watched the entire too brief exchange. She was too far away
and there was too much noise to pick up any of the conversation, but
she was sure that he had asked Gabrielle to dance. 'The young man
seemed pleasant enough,' she pondered. 'I wonder what he said to
make Gabrielle decline? If he said anything to upset her, I'll... I'll...'
Xena did her best to get back under control as she returned to the

"I'm back, just like I promised." She wanted to ask Gabrielle what
happened with the young man, but knew her friend would get upset if
she found out Xena was spying on her.

"Oh... hi Xena," Gabrielle said, suppressing a yawn that was a little too
over theatrical. "You know, I'm really getting tired. I think I'll turn in
now," she said sleepily, absentmindedly massaging her upper right

Xena didn't believe Gabrielle was tired for a minute. She looked the
bard over carefully, trying to see if she could ascertain her true
motivation. Concerned, Xena asked, "What's wrong with your leg?"

"Oh this... nothing. Old war wound."

"If it's bothering you, let me take a look at it," Xena said, concern for
her friend growing.

"No, no, that's alright. Heh -- I was just kidding!"


"Really Xena, it's nothing."

"O.K. If you insist. I'm a bit tired too," she said, trying to change the
subject. "I think I'll turn in also." Xena was still concerned as she
noticed Gabrielle favoring her one leg over the other as they entered
the inn. She first noticed Gabrielle rubbing her leg as she talked to the
young man. 'It has something to do with him. I'll get to the bottom of

Part 04

The music from out front wafted up to the room, entering through their
window at the back of the inn. Gabrielle stood at the open window,
gazing out upon the night sky. Xena busied herself, getting a fire
going in the large fireplace, which took up most of the wall to the left.
For such a small town, the inn provided spacious and clean rooms.
To the right of the window stood a large bed in the corner. To the right
of the door was a chest with wash basin on top. Another chest stood
just to the left of the door. When Xena had a warming blaze lit, she
walked over to the near chest and began to methodically remove her
weapons and armor. She knew she hadn't really needed them on
earlier; it was just that she felt almost naked in public without them.
'And one should always be prepared,' she reminded herself.

"A dinar for your thoughts," Xena said, as she turned to find Gabrielle
still staring out the window.

"Oh, nothing. I was just listening to the music," Gabrielle said softly,
as she turned to face Xena.

"Why didn't you take that young man up on his offer for a dance
earlier?" Xena blurted.

"Xena! You were watching!?!"

"I was just rounding the corner when I saw him turn and walk away. I
didn't think he was there to ask you the time of day!"


Xena felt guilty for the deception, but continued her gentle prodding.
"You seemed so happy at the dance. I thought you would've wanted to

"Well, yeah. It's just that... well... " Gabrielle looked down, fidgeting
with the top of her skirt. She would not finish.

Xena covered the distance between them in a few long strides. She
took Gabrielle's chin in her hand and coaxed her to meet her eyes.
"What's wrong," Xena demanded. "Did he say something to upset
you. I'll find him and teach him how to treat a young lady." Xena
hissed the last part out through clenched teeth.

"NO, NO Xena!" Gabrielle suddenly became very scared for the poor
man's life. She knew what Xena was capable of doing. "He was a
perfect gentleman."

"Then why didn't you accept his offer?" she asked, becoming even
more confused by this new fact.

"I... can't dance." Gabrielle said it so softly, that Xena almost didn't
hear her.

"Is that all?" Xena mused. "I was ready to go and take his head off."

"Is that all? Is that all!" Gabrielle was becoming indignant. "I've tried
and tried. I just get so confused with my feet that I end up making a
fool of myself. At the barn dances we had back home in Poteidaia, my
family practically disowned me, my dancing was so bad. Poor Lila
tried to teach me, but eventually gave up. It was useless."

Xena could see the look of utter futility in her eyes. "Ga-bri-elle." She
reached down and softly clasped one of her friend's hands. Xena
rested her other hand on Gabrielle's waist, and took a step back so
she was at arms length from her.

Xena told herself that what she was about to do was strictly for
Gabrielle's benefit, and that it had nothing to do with the fact that it
would be a perfect excuse to touch her young friend. And she
seemed to be finding excuses more and more often to do just that.
A friendly pat on the back, or a touch of her forearm. The times she
cherished the most were at night. Xena wasn't sure exactly when it
started, but some time ago, by some mutually unspoken consent, their
bedrolls began to be laid out next to each other. Everything stayed
strictly platonic, but sometimes Gabrielle had a tendency to end up
with some part of her body draped over the warrior. And Xena never
complained. She simply lay there motionless, reveling in the warm
touch of the bard and wishing it would never end.

Gabrielle froze in her place, uncertain what Xena's next move would
be. She trusted her friend with her life, although more times than she
cared to admit. Xena locked eyes with Gabrielle and simply said, "Let
me show you how." She lifted the small hand clasped in hers and
held it out to the side. "Just listen to the music and follow my lead,"
Xena said, a smile spreading across her face.

"XENA!" exclaimed Gabrielle, as she quickly began to try to keep pace
with her new dance partner. A smile reached Gabrielle's face, quickly
replaced with a look of grim determination as she concentrated on
watching Xena's feet, trying to mimic her steps while not smashing
one of the warrior's toes. It was useless. After only a few moments,
Gabrielle became so worried that she did just that. "Oh Xena, I'm so
sorry," she exclaimed, pulling to a stop. A tear began to roll down her

"Gabrielle, I'm fine." Xena tried to console her best friend, while
wiping away the tear. "Look. I've still got my boots on. I go into battle
wearing these. I didn't feel a thing. Honest."

"It's hopeless, Xena. I told you I couldn't dance."

"Gabrielle, we've only just started. You're good with your staff, very
coordinated. And you pick up the different moves I teach you quickly
and efficiently. What was one of the first things I taught you when
facing an opponent in battle?"

Gabrielle thought for a moment and replied, "Look 'em in the eyes.
Always maintain eye contact. You can tell what your opponent's next
move will be from their eyes." Dawn broke over Gabrielle's face as
she realized what she was saying. "That's just -"

"- like dancing," Xena finished the sentence. She held her young
friend's chin in her hand and locked eyes with the most beautiful hazel
green she had ever seen. Without taking her eyes from the bard's
gaze, Xena released her chin and lightly trailed her hand down
Gabrielle's arm, once again finding and clasping her small hand. She
placed her other hand back on Gabrielle's waist and began to move
with the music.

Gabrielle felt captured by the powerful blue pools of Xena's eyes. She
couldn't break contact if she tried. They moved about the room,
keeping up with the moderately paced song that was playing outside.
A smile formed on Xena's lips, and Gabrielle infectiously caught it
from her. As far as Gabrielle was concerned, she no longer had feet.
She felt as if she was gliding over the floor, following those blue eyes
wherever they lead. As the song came to the end, Xena spun
Gabrielle out and then back towards her, catching her in her powerful
hands before she had a chance to make contact.

"XENA! I did it! I really did it! I danced!!" She caught Xena off guard
as she threw her arms around her waist and gave her friend a big hug,
burying her face in Xena's chest. The bard was in shock. She didn't
believe she had just danced -- and with Xena! She tried hard to burn
into her memory what it felt like to be swept around the room by the
woman of her dreams, certain she would never get another chance to
feel this close to her.

Xena froze. She was not sure what to do. When she heard Gabrielle
start to softly cry, she wrapped her arms around the young woman,
wondering what was wrong. They stayed like that for a long minute.
When Xena felt her friend's tears had stopped, she gently peeled her
away from her chest and looked down at her.

"Oh Xena, I'm sorry." Gabrielle saw where her tears had left the front
of Xena wet. She absentmindedly began to wipe them away with her
hand, oblivious to the effect it had on the warrior.

"Gabrielle, it's fine. Never mind," Xena got out, as she took the young
woman's hand from her chest. She tilted the bard's head
upwards and wiped the few remaining tears from her face. "What's
the matter?"

"I'm just so happy. I... I know it sounds silly, but I was always so
ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn't dance. People would make
fun of me when I tried, so I stopped trying. I just can't believe how
easy it is. How easy *you* made it. Thank you."

Xena couldn't help herself. A wry smile caught the corner of her
mouth as she stated, "I have many skills." They both broke out in a fit
of laughter.

A lively piece had just begun, and Gabrielle was surprised when once
again she was swept off her feet as Xena's eyes carried her aloft.
They continued in much that same fashion for the next dozen songs.
At one point, Xena showed Gabrielle the steps to a traditional Greek
folk dance that was being played, and was delighted to find that
Gabrielle picked it up as easily as she had any staff maneuver.

"Oh Xena, I don't know when I last had so much fun," Gabrielle
exclaimed as the song came to an end. The last two songs had been
particularly fast-paced, and Gabrielle was pleasantly exhausted. As
no song immediately began, she figured that either the musicians were
also in need of a break, or were done for the night.

Xena could see a slight flush on Gabrielle's face, and wondered if
there was one on hers too. "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. I just
wish you'd told me sooner that you couldn't dance. I would have been
able to show you in time for the dance. Then you wouldn't have had to
turn that young man away."

"True. Um... Xena? If we had stayed, would you have asked me to
dance?" Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes and saw the pain of her

Xena, surprised by her directness, took a couple of steps back and sat
on the edge of the bed. She knew Gabrielle deserved an honest
answer, but didn't want to hurt her feelings. Gabrielle walked over and
quietly sat next to her, allowing her friend time to gather her thoughts.
"No," Xena said softly. "Not that I wouldn't have wanted to, but..."

"Yeah, I can just see it now. Parents grabbing their children and
running for the hills. Wouldn't want their little ones exposed to two
people dancing, now would we?" Gabrielle said sarcastically, the
firelight catching a single tear as it ran down her face. "Xena, why are
people so cruel?"

"I don't know Gab, I just don't know."

The strains of a slow, melodious tune broke the silence. Xena stood,
bowed deeply and offered her hand to Gabrielle. "Would you honor
me with this next dance?" Gabrielle beamed as she accepted. Just
before they began the bard's body betrayed her. Before she realized
what she was doing she had closed the arms length distance Xena
had maintained throughout the evening. She rested the side of her
head against the warrior's chest and waited.

Xena's first impulse was to run. Yet every fiber of her being wanted
this. Needed this contact. She just wasn't sure if Gabrielle knew what
she was getting herself into. Slowly, hesitantly, she allowed her arm to
wrap around her friend's back. She rested her cheek on Gabrielle's
head and they danced. The bard no longer maintained eye contact,
but felt confident she could follow the beat of Xena's heart. For Xena,
the contact was magnetic. So conscious was she of the bard's body
pressed up against hers, that Xena was sure she would falter and
crush one of Gabrielle's feet. She pushed everything but the music
from her thoughts, and they danced as one in the warm glow of the

'There is no place on this earth I'd rather be right now,' thought
Gabrielle, as she buried the side of her face deeper into her friend's
chest. She had known for some time that her feelings for Xena had
changed; grown. And she suspected Xena might have been feeling
the same way towards her. Now she thought she had her answer.
The wall Xena erected to keep the outside world from knowing her true
feelings was useless at such close proximity. 'Ah Xena,' Gabrielle
thought, as a small smile played on her lips. She could feel the
warrior's heart flutter and quicken as she held her close.

The song came to an end and the people outside clapped and voiced
their praises to the musicians for a wonderful evening of music. Xena
and Gabrielle continued to stand in each other's arms, neither one
wanting to break contact. Gabrielle knew she had to proceed slowly.
Xena could be a bit skittish at times. She had felt her freeze and
almost bolt just before, but she also knew that Xena would not make
the next move. It was up to her. Gabrielle raised her head and
brushed her lips against Xena's. She quickly returned to those lips for
another small kiss before returning to the comfort of her friend's chest,
hugging her tight. After a moment, she released her and stood back,
giving her friend the space she knew she required.

Xena just stood there, the tingling sensation of Gabrielle's lips still
pulsing on hers. "Gabrielle?" The bard could hear all of Xena's
questions and fears in that one word. In response, she ran her finger
slowly down the warrior's arm, feeling muscles jump and twitch under
her touch. "Are you sure you're not just reacting to the music, to the

Gabrielle brought her eyes up to meet Xena's. She had never felt
such intensity for another person, not even Perdicus. "I'm not sure,"
she honestly admitted. "But I know how I feel about you, how I've felt
for some time now."

Xena held her emotions in check as her mind raced over this new bit
of information. 'Can this actually be happening? Could she be feeling
the same way I do? Does she even know that two women can-- What
if this is just some form of hero worship... I couldn't...' "Gabrielle."
Xena took the young woman's hands in hers and gave them a
squeeze. "It's late. I think it would be best if we tried to get some
sleep." Smiling, she bent down and gave the bard a soft kiss on the

Gabrielle took a tentative step forward, stopping only inches from
making contact with Xena. She could feel the electricity in the air
surrounding them. She saw the love Xena had for her for the first
time, and suddenly realized that she had seen this look numerous
times before, always when the warrior thought she wasn't looking. A
quick glance down from her horse, a lingering gaze across the
campfire, in the first few seconds when Xena finally woke her in the
morning. She had just never allowed herself to hope that what she
saw was love. Now, she had no doubt.

She carefully placed the palm of her right hand on Xena's stomach
and felt the warrior instantly tense. Looking up into her eyes she saw
the last of Xena's emotional walls crumble at their feet. What
remained was a woman. Not a warrior, or some bigger than life hero.
Just a woman. Someone with needs and wants. Someone
vulnerable. Gabrielle slid her left hand over Xena's shoulder and
around her neck. She buried her fingers in her hair as she reached up
on tip toe to lightly reclaim her mouth. Sliding her right hand around
her companion's waist she pulled her in, deepening the kiss at the
same time.

All of Xena's senses converged on those lips. The lips that she had
longed to taste were now eagerly seeking hers. "I uh... think I'll go
tend to the fire," Xena said as they finally broke away from each other.
She realized that what she saw in Gabrielle's eyes was definitely NOT
hero worship. It took all the willpower she could muster to turn her
back on her and walk away, but she knew she had to give Gabrielle
time. Time to be sure that this was what she really wanted. Because
Xena knew that there would be no going back to simply being friends if
either one of them faltered in the next step to this budding relationship.

Gabrielle stood in place for a moment -- transfixed. She couldn't
believe what she just did. What Xena allowed her to do. 'Now what?
Do I wait for her to make the next move?'

Both women fell into their established routine. Xena built up the fire as
Gabrielle washed at the basin. She donned a clean shift and got into
bed as Xena took her turn at the basin. Gabrielle moved to the far side
of the bed, against the wall. She and Xena had slept together plenty of
times in the past, but tonight would be different. Gabrielle could feel
her own tension grow as Xena slipped into a clean shift and got under
the covers. She felt herself holding her breath, not sure which way to

Xena lay on her back, praying to the God Morpheus to take her. She
could feel the tension emanating from Gabrielle, but was not sure what
she could do. After a couple of long, agonizing minutes, Xena
extended her left hand to Gabrielle and said softly, "C'mere." Gabrielle
slowly inched her way towards Xena, allowing her friend to wrap a
strong arm around her. She buried her face in Xena's shoulder, and
both women eventually fell asleep.

Part 05

Xena awoke as the first rays of light filtered through the trees and
splashed across the room. 'I must be coming down with something,'
she thought groggily to herself. She felt both extremely warm and
chilled at the same time. It wasn't until she focused on her
surroundings that she realized her dilemma. Sometime during the
night, most of the covers had been tugged away from the right side of
her body, leaving her exposed to the chill night air. Goose bumps
played up her arm and leg.

Her left side, though, was radiating heat. All of the covers were
bunched up there, obscuring the weight that had ensconced itself.
Xena slowly and carefully peeled back the top edge of the covers and
had a peek underneath. She found the heat source. 'Gabrielle.'
Sometime during the night Gabrielle had, shall we say, mounted and
buried herself into Xena's left side. Her right arm had dug itself under
the warrior and her hand had a firm grasp of shift. Her left hand was
cupping the bottom of Xena's left breast, while her head rested
comfortably on top of it. Gabrielle was straddling her friend's left thigh,
and to make matters worse, her left knee was planted firmly between
Xena's legs. Xena found her second heat source.

It took only a moment's thought for Xena to realize that *this* would not
be a good position for Gabrielle to be in when she woke up and found
Xena lying awake. 'What am I gonna do?' Xena tried to come up with
a plan of action. 'Or better yet, maybe a plan of inaction. If I just lie
here and pretend to be sleeping, it will give Gabrielle a chance to wake
up and extricate herself from me. And she will be none the wiser.' But
Xena knew that if Gabrielle found herself in this predicament, she
would be so embarrassed and guilty that it might seriously jeopardize
their relationship before it even got started.

'Nope. Plan A is out. Hmm... Plan B. I could possibly wiggle myself
out from under the bard. She *is* a heavy sleeper and I've gotten out
of tighter spots than this before.' Xena pondered this plan for a few
moments. 'Let's see. Should I remove her hand from my breast first,
or her knee from -'

At this precise moment Gabrielle stirred a little, grinding her knee into
the warrior.

'Oh Gods!' Xena screamed to herself, as she bit into her lower lip.
'Her knee -- definitely her knee.' Xena fought every muscle in her
body, trying to stay in control. 'But what if she wakes up? Gods, what
would she think I was doing?' Xena tried to play the scenario out in
her mind. She tried to see it through Gabrielle's innocent eyes. 'She
could think I was... well... trying to have my way with her.' Xena
cringed at the thought. 'Especially if she knew I'd been with other
women. And not all of them by their own choosing. I would lose her
for sure.'

Xena focused all of her energy on the problem at hand, trying hard to
ignore the other hand that was still cupped under her breast. 'Ah, Plan
C. This will require precise timing and placement.' Ever so carefully
Xena peeled back the covers, exposing all of Gabrielle. She slowly
reached over to the bard with her right hand, two fingers extended in
the same position she used to apply pressure points. Xena knew it
was now or never. With a slight arch of her back to uncover the arm
that Gabrielle had buried under the warrior, she reached over and
found the bard's most ticklish spot.

Gabrielle was airborne. Xena dove for the floor and executed a perfect
tuck and roll and came up in a crouch in front of the fireplace. With
lightening speed, she retrieved the poker from against the wall and
was tending the fire when Gabrielle's eyes flew open, her scream still
emanating from her lungs.

"XEEENA!?!" Gabrielle was crouched on top of the bed in a
defensive posture. "What the -- where -- my Gods!!!" Her eyes were
wide with fear. She was sure she was being attacked.

"Gabrielle. Are you OK?" Xena was over to the bed immediately,
trying to comfort her friend. "You must have been having a nightmare.
Everything's OK now." She cradled her trembling love in her arms,
feeling guilty for what she had just done. Then she thought again of
the alternatives, and knew this was for the best.

After a few minutes Gabrielle calmed down, but still held onto Xena. "I
guess it was a nightmare," she mumbled, her face still buried in the
protective warmth of her warrior. "I don't even remember it."

"That's for the best then," Xena replied. Then the woman of few
words spent time talking in calming and hushed tones, stroking
Gabrielle's hair and assuring her everything was alright.


The rest of the morning proved to be much less eventful. They spent
a quiet breakfast in the tavern and had their bags packed and settled
on Argo. There was a cool crispness to the morning air, and the dew
was still settled when they quietly left the town. Gabrielle, as usual,
preferred to walk. Even though this slowed them down somewhat,
Xena didn't mind. She had calculated that at this pace, they would still
reach their destination on time.

Gabrielle spent the morning regaling Xena with story after story. Xena
was certain that this was the best part of the trip. The stories
Gabrielle told during these times they spent alone together were not
the same stories she told when she had an audience. Audiences
always seemed to want to hear of the exploits of Xena, Warrior
Princess. And Gabrielle usually obliged them. Xena, on the other
hand, always felt awkward hearing about herself. She preferred to
hear about the exploits of others.

After a stop along the side of the road to rest Argo and enjoy a
leisurely lunch, the two continued on their way. "Where is it that we're
heading?" Gabrielle asked again.

"Torone," replied Xena. "I got word that a week ago a terrible storm
blew through the village. I promised Yannis that if he ever needed
help, I'd be there."

"And Yannis -- he was in your army?"

"He was a lieutenant," Xena responded. 'And one of the few people
from that time I still consider a friend.' "He gave up that life and is now
a farmer."

"Did the storm do much damage?"

"It destroyed some of his crops and leveled his silo. They've already
salvaged what crops they could, but I want to help him in the
rebuilding." The genuine compassion Gabrielle had for somebody she
did not even know touched Xena, and made her feel even more guilty
for the story she was feeding her. 'I know I should tell her the truth.
She's not a child anymore.' Xena just couldn't bring herself to admit to
Gabrielle where they were really heading. They spent the better part
of the afternoon talking about everything and nothing.

Gabrielle, for her part, was loving life to its fullest. Except for the
minor altercation she had this morning with demons from her sleep,
the last twenty-four hours were the best time she had in her life. 'Xena
treated me like an adult when she thought there might be trouble.
Then she volunteered a night's stay at the inn. She even spent the
entire afternoon with me at the marketplace, at her suggestion.'
Gabrielle turned these bits of information over and over in her head.
'Things really have changed in the last two years, but when?' It had
been such a slow process that Gabrielle couldn't pinpoint the
beginning. 'I guess I just wore her down.'

Gabrielle continued to chew on these thoughts and others, and the
more she chewed, the less palpable they became. 'Is this change in
Xena something she wanted, or is she merely giving in to my constant
prodding?' Gabrielle began to work the events of the last twenty-four
hours over in her mind again, in light of this new thought. Looking
back, Gabrielle was now sure that the real reason Xena left her alone
at the dance was so that she would have been more approachable. 'If
Xena really loved me, she wouldn't have allowed that to happen. She
wanted me in the arms of someone else. Anyone else but her. She
stated herself that had she known I couldn't dance, she would have
shown me in time for the dance, so that I could have accepted the
offer to dance from that man.'

Xena noted that it was quiet. Too quiet. She glanced behind to see if
the bard was still there. What she saw concerned her. Gabrielle was
scuffling along, head down, brows knitted together. She appeared to
be holding a conversation with herself. Her mouth worked at forming
words, but none came out. "Gabrielle," Xena called back to her
friend. There was no response.

Gabrielle chewed harder on these new thoughts, and a bitter taste was
forming in her mouth. Remembering last evening, she realized that
during the entire dance lesson, Xena had kept a respectable distance
between them. '*I* was the one who first instigated contact. *I* kissed

Xena slowed Argo. She was becoming more concerned. She knew it
wasn't unusual for Gabrielle to sometimes go off into a world of her
own; Xena always thought that was where some of her bard's best
stories came from. 'But it's not the smartest thing to do when you're
out on the road. Even if you do have the warrior princess to keep you
safe.' Xena watched as Gabrielle came abreast of her and Argo, and
continued on, oblivious of her surroundings. "Gabrielle?" Xena called
out. Again there was no response.

'Gods, I'm so confused,' Gabrielle cried to herself. It was then that
she looked up and realized that Xena and Argo were no longer in front
of her. She panicked and gripped her staff with both hands spinning
wildly around. There, some thirty paces behind her, sat Xena on Argo.

A look of total confusion was evident on both women's faces. "Xena.
What are you..." Gabrielle did not finish the sentence. She merely
started to head back the way she came.

Xena urged Argo on and met her half way. "Gabrielle. Are you OK?"
Xena tried to figure out what was on her friend's mind to no avail.

"Uh, yeah. I guess so," the bard said, wobbling slightly where she
stood. She leaned on her staff for support.

"You don't look so good. You're as pale as a ghost." Xena was now
really concerned for her friend. 'She seemed fine just a little while
ago.' "Give me your hand," she instructed Gabrielle.

"No Xena, really. I'm fine."

"Gabrielle. You're pale as a ghost and you can barely stand. Now
give me your hand." Xena gave her that look. She was not going to
take no for an answer.

The last thing Gabrielle wanted was to make physical contact with
Xena, but she understood the look she was getting from the warrior.
There would be no questioning her command. She finally relented,
and soon found herself easily plucked from the earth and sitting
behind Xena. Gabrielle sat as far back in the saddle as was possible,
and tentatively held onto the warrior at the sides of her waist with just
her fingertips. She prayed to any God that was willing to listen to not
let her fall off.

Xena was not sure what was going on behind her, but she needed to
feel Gabrielle to know that she was still there and alright. Momentarily
dropping the reins, Xena reached behind herself with both hands and
grasped her young friend's hands in hers. She wrapped Gabrielle's
arms around her waist, and clasped both her wrists firmly in one hand.

Gabrielle never had a chance. Before she knew it, she was pressed
tightly against the back that she had tried so hard to distance herself
from. She flushed with desire as Xena urged Argo on, and the
rhythmic movement of the warrior's body rubbed against hers.

"There's a quiet clearing a few miles up the road," Xena commented
more to herself than Gabrielle. "We'll stop there for the evening."

Continue to Parts 6-9

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