Illuminations of the Soul part 3
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.


Part 10

After Xena was sure that neither ear was lacking for attention, she
proceeded to lead Argo and Gabrielle the rest of the way to Gabrielle's
childhood home. "I'm going to stable Argo," she said, as she headed
to the family's barn. "Why don't you go say hello to your parents."

Gabrielle knew how hard this had to be on Xena. Her parents blamed
her for their little girl running off with Xena. 'Yeah. Like she ever had
a chance to decide otherwise for me. She couldn't have shook me if
she tried. And now, she's stuck with me,' she chuckled to herself. "I
think I'll give you a hand," Gabrielle called out, as she followed Xena
into the barn. Xena looked over her shoulder after having removed
Argo's saddle and gave her friend a raised eyebrow in response. "I
know, I know. I just can't help it," Gabrielle admitted. "I have no idea
why they sent for us. And I guess I'm just a little scared." She
thought for a minute, finally realizing there was one question she had
forgotten to ask. "Why didn't you tell me we were coming here? Why
the big ruse? Was that their doing?"

Xena began to brush Argo as she spoke. "At first I was going to tell
you, but I knew that you'd spend the entire trip worrying about why we
were summoned. It would have eaten away at you. And yet you
would've still ended up coming. They're your family. I just wanted to
spare you for as long as I could." Xena stopped brushing Argo and
turned to her partner. They were alone, although Xena wasn't sure
when somebody would be poking their head inside, wondering what
was taking them so long. But right now, she just didn't care. She took
Gabrielle in her arms and held her. Just quietly held her until she
could feel her relax. "I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you."
Gabrielle felt warm and safe. She was nestled into her own private
cocoon where the outside world could never touch her. Here in her
love's strong arms she was home. Really home. That last thought
made Gabrielle suddenly jerk out of Xena's embrace. "What's the
matter?!" Xena said, as she looked quickly about the barn trying to
figure out what the source of Gabrielle's fear was.

"Gods Xena! What if Lila or Father had walked in on us? I'm... I'm
just not ready to deal with that right now." Gabrielle looked
apologetically at Xena, afraid she had hurt her feelings. "I'm sorry."

Xena picked up Argo's brush and continued where she had left off.
"You have nothing to apologize for. I understand." But she didn't.
'Why can't her family simply be happy for her, instead of trying to mold
her into something she'll never be. Gabrielle would whither and die if
she had to stay here. She needs adventure and travel, meeting new
people. And damn if I'm going to let anybody stand in her way.'

Gabrielle walked up and placed her hand on Xena's forearm, causing
her to stop in mid-stroke. "Thank you," she said, looking up into
Xena's gaze.

"Think nothing of it," Xena said lightly, trying to change the bard's
mood as she gave her a little grin and a tousle of her strawberry
blonde hair. Handing Gabrielle the brush she added, "Here. You said
you'd give me a hand. Finish brushing Argo while I stow our gear."
Gabrielle gave her a smirk, realizing that it was her own words that
were now putting her to work.

Lila was waiting for them in the front yard when they emerged from the
barn. "Well, I better get this over with," she whispered to Xena. She
put her best smile on and turned to once again greet her sister. "Are
they inside?"

"Mother is," replied Lila. "Father's away on business. He left a
couple of days ago to take a load of merchandise to Athens. He won't
be back for at least a week." Lila watched as relief washed over her
sister's face. "I thought you'd appreciate that."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and then back to her sister with a puzzled
look on her face. "Why did he summon us, if he knew he wasn't going
to be here?"

"He's not the one who sent the invitation," Xena reminded her friend.

"I just figured -"

"Father has had this trip planned for months," Lila added.

"Then mother knew he wouldn't be here when we arrived. What in
Hades is going on?"

"Why don't we go in and find out," Xena suggested. "You're not going
to find the answers standing around out here." With this evidently
simple answer to her questioning, Gabrielle followed Lila into the
house, followed closely by a very reluctant warrior.

All of Gabrielle's old insecurities rushed back to her as she entered
the house. Of wanting, needing more. Of feeling trapped, both in this
house and in this town. Her breath caught in her throat threatening to
burst her lungs, as she inhaled the familiar, stifling, choking, stale air.
The essences of the independent woman and the Amazon Queen that
she had evolved into quickly turned and fled out the door, and
Gabrielle's shell was left with an insecure, desperate child. Lila had
continued on to the kitchen, oblivious to the change overtaking

Xena hesitated, noticing Gabrielle's slumped shoulders and drooped
head as her young friend retreated into herself. '*This* is the better
life I'd threatened to bring her back to?' Xena was alarmed at the
effect the place had on Gabrielle. She recalled the dogged
determination she was subjected to from the young girl from Poteidaia
as she had tried vainly to rid herself of her newfound and unwelcome
traveling companion. 'No wonder she was willing to defy a murdering
warlord to escape from here.' Xena extended a tentative hand to
Gabrielle, brushing along her arm and down to her fingers.

Gabrielle could feel herself tumbling out of control, reverting back into
what she had fought so desperately to escape. She knew there was
no use fighting this repressive feeling, and was about to resign herself
to her fate when she felt a small glimmer of hope. She struggled
against the insecurity, desperation, and hopelessness to frantically
lunge at what she knew was her only chance of survival. Gabrielle
seized at the lifeline before her and held on for dear life.

Xena grimaced in pain as the death grip Gabrielle now had on her
hand was promising to dislocate a finger or two. She watched silently,
waiting for Gabrielle to come back to her. "Are you OK?" she inquired
softly, moving in front of her friend and effectively blocking the view
from the kitchen. She didn't want Gabrielle's sister or mother to
become alarmed at the look on her friend's face. "Gabrielle." Xena
cupped her love's chin in her free hand and coaxed her head up. She
was face to face with a stranger. Gone were Gabrielle's normally
bright, sparkling green eyes and cheery smile. There was a storm
brewing behind the dull gray-green eyes that looked at and past her.
Her entire body was tense, and Xena could feel a slight tremor running
through herself from the contact she had with the bard's hand and
chin. She could see her struggling to regain control and used the only
weapon she had at her disposal to help. Xena slowly bent over kissing
Gabrielle and murmuring, "I love you."

"Xena? I uh... I feel a little light-headed." Xena caught Gabrielle as
her knees began to buckle, and helped her to a nearby chair. She
slumped forward, resting her forearms on her thighs.

"What happened?" Xena asked, as she knelt in front of Gabrielle
placing a hand on her friend's shoulder to help stabilize her.

"I don't know. I... I remember having a hard time breathing. I started
to panic, but I don't know why. Guess 'cause I couldn't get any air.
The next thing I remember is... is feeling..." Gabrielle paused, trying to
find the right words to convey her thoughts; but none would come. "...
helpless, I guess. Then I felt something tangible, something solid.
And I reached out for it, trying to find something... something real."
Gabrielle looked down at her hand and realized she still had a hold of
the warrior. She gave a little squeeze, realizing what that something
was. "Next thing I know, you're kissing me in my parents living room."
She looked up at Xena and gave her a small smile. "I'm sorry. It's just
this place. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but sometimes I'm afraid
of ending up back here, or someplace like it."

"Gabrielle. You just say the word, and we're out of here."

"Thanks, Xena... thanks." Gabrielle could feel a weight lift off her
spirit, and knew a certain warrior princess was responsible. Xena let
out a long sigh of relief, seeing the twinkle return to her friend's now
green eyes.

Xena heard the back door to the house open and gave Gabrielle a little
nudge as she stood and straightened, followed closely by Gabrielle.
Hecuba entered the room, wiping her hands on the apron around her
waist. Gabrielle had successfully wiped the last of the fog from her
mind, and had donned her best daughterly smile. "Mother!" Gabrielle
covered the distance between them and gave her mother a big hug.

Hecuba returned the hug, noticing the change in her daughter's
physique. She was dismayed at the hardness that Gabrielle's body
had acquired. 'She's not my little girl anymore,' she resigned to
herself, as she looked past Gabrielle and caught Xena's eye. 'And I
know whose fault that is.' Although she was grateful that Xena had
been there to stop the warlord Draco's men from destroying their
village and selling the women into slavery, she could never forgive
Xena for the price it cost her. A daughter. "It's good to see you," she
said, as she took a step back and regarded her daughter. "How have
you been?"

Gabrielle stole a quick glance at her sister, trying to tell if Lila had
mentioned anything to their mother about her arrival in Poteidaia.
"Fine. We're both fine," Gabrielle replied, as she turned to
acknowledge Xena.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." She gave a slight nod of welcome to Xena
for her daughter's sake. Xena nodded back. 'I wonder if it's too soon
to check on Argo,' she deliberated. She knew she was an unwelcome
guest, and tried desperately to figure out a way to extricate herself
from the scene. 'If I try that excuse now, Gabrielle will have me for
lunch. Hmm, on second thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea
after all.' She felt a slight flush begin and fought to extinguish it.
'She's off limits,' Xena repeated to herself over and over. 'Gods. I
think a cold swim is in order. A very, very cold swim.'

"Why did you send for us?" Gabrielle finally asked, not being able to
wait for her mother to offer an explanation on her own.

"What!? Does a mother need a reason to want to see her daughter?
It's been too long." Hecuba said all she was planning to say and deftly
changed the subject. "I was in the garden picking vegetables for
lunch. When Lila told me you were here, I picked extra. Come, let's
eat." Hecuba took her daughter by the arm and led her into the

Gabrielle looked over her shoulder and saw Xena hesitate. She was
about to say something when she heard her sister. "C'mon Xena.
Mother has vegetable soup warming, hot baked bread and fresh
vegetables for salad. There's plenty."

Xena knew she couldn't refuse Gabrielle's sister and followed her into
the kitchen. She sat on one of the two benches at the kitchen table
and scooted over to the wall when Gabrielle came to sit beside her.
Lila helped her mother serve the food and then sat across from Xena.
Hecuba soon joined them. Xena leaned back against the wall and
surveyed her prison. 'I'm trapped. There's no way out and I'm
surrounded by three of them. It's amazing. How do they do it?' She
tried to follow the conversation that was going on all about her, but
couldn't. 'Hell, there's less confusion in war. Damn.' Xena
remembered that as a civil gesture to Gabrielle's family, she had
removed her weapons and armor when she was in the barn. 'I guess
sharpening my blade right now wouldn't go over too well anyway.'
Then she remembered the breast dagger she was discreetly carrying.
'I could always commit Hari-Kari. They probably wouldn't notice until
dessert was over anyway.' Xena resigned herself to her fate as she
ate her soup and tried to look mildly interested in the conversation,
nodding from time to time hoping she appeared to be listening.
Unfortunately for Xena, the last spoonful of soup she put in her mouth
contained a pea. Which, as the Fates would have it, became lodged
in her sinuses as she unsuccessfully attempted to snort it back out
through her nose. "Aaaghh!! <Cough cough wheeze sputter wheeze
swallow inhale>"

"Xena! What's happened? Are you OK?" Gabrielle pounded her on
her back. Xena was happy the pea was gone, but really wished she
hadn't swallowed it.

"Yeah... I'm fine." She took a swig of water, trying to alleviate the
burning in her throat. "I guess it just went down the wrong way."
Xena looked apologetically to Hecuba, but gave Lila a strange look.
'What am I supposed to say to her. Sorry Gabrielle, but I was a little
preoccupied with your sister playing footsie with me. Nooo, I don't
think that would have gone over too well as a conversation piece.'
Xena pushed her bowl of soup away, realizing she was no longer
hungry. 'What in Hades am I going to do? I gotta get -' Xena froze
when she felt the top of a bare foot back on her booted foot,
suggestively sliding back up her leg. Xena gulped, trying to show no
outward signs of what was going on under the table. The foot moved
up higher and was now brushing against her right knee. She
remembered Lila had been barefoot since they first met earlier today,
and wondered if this had been planned all along. Xena looked directly
at Lila, who was ignoring her. She was deep into conversation with
her mother and sister. Xena stole a quick glance to her right,
wondering if Gabrielle would mind using the bread knife to put her out
of her misery, when she caught the glint in the bard's eyes. And not
just a glint, but a wicked, evil glint. Xena slowly leaned back and tried
to nonchalantly peek under the table. And there it was. Gabrielle's left
boot was sitting unoccupied under her seat, and her left leg was at an
impossible angle with the rest of her body. 'Gods, that must hurt,'
Xena surmised.

Gabrielle, realizing she had been caught, slid her foot around so her
toes were now massaging the back of the warrior's leg. She turned to
Xena and grinned openly, seeing the astonished look on her best
friend. 'Soon to be ex-friend, when Xena gets done with me. Boy, will
I pay for this, but she had such a dour look on her face, I had to do

Unfortunately for Xena, the rest of the very long drawn out lunch
proceeded in this same fashion. She was sure that by the time it was
over, she would have successfully worn down the tops of her teeth.
'Paybacks are Tartarus, Gabrielle, paybacks are Tartarus.'

Part 11

When lunch was over, Hecuba shooshed everybody out of the
kitchen, saying she wasn't going to be able to get anything done with
them in the way. 'I just want five minutes, make that ten minutes alone
with my tormentor,' Xena thought. 'Her family can have what's left of
her.' Before she had a chance to usher the bard away, Gabrielle
latched on to her sister's arm and began to make plans to spend the
afternoon shopping. Xena realized round two of this battle also went
to her friend, and decided to check out the nearby pond for that now
much needed cold swim.

Gabrielle successfully avoided being alone with Xena for the rest of
the day. She knew she'd have to relent eventually, but for now she
was enjoying the look of frustration evident on the warrior's face. Xena
was used to manipulating her surroundings to usually get what she
wanted, but she had never been up against the likes of these three
Poteidaian women before. After dinner, Xena excused herself saying
she wanted to check on Argo. Lila left also, saying she wanted to get
their room ready for tonight.

Gabrielle decided to help her mother, and offered to carry the bucket
with the vegetable waste matter to the compost heap out back. As she
was about to reenter the house, an arm shot out of the dark and
snatched her into the bushes by the house. A large hand covered her
mouth, making it impossible for her to scream for help. Try as she
might, she could not break free from the person who had an iron grip
on her from behind.

"Gabrielle," Xena said in a low, slightly menacing growl as she spun
the bard around to meet her.


"Just what do you think you're up to, avoiding me all afternoon?" Xena
husked in her best imitation of her commanding warrior princess
voice. She bent down and gave Gabrielle a peck on the lips and a wry

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I swear," Gabrielle meekly
responded, trying to sound as submissive as possible without
breaking out in laughter. 'Oh, she's so cute when she's trying to
sound tough.' She returned Xena's kiss, wrapping her arms around
her friend.

"I'm afraid I just don't believe you. I think I'm going to have to teach
you a lesson." Xena bent over and let her teeth graze over one of
Gabrielle's nipples through her halter. Gabrielle let out a small cry as
she threw her head back and arched into the warrior's mouth.

"No Xena, please. I'll be good." She pushed herself further into Xena,
feeling her love bury her face into her chest.

"Your actions will not go unpunished," Xena said with a mouthful of
bard. She wrapped her right foot around Gabrielle's leg and rubbed
sensuously up and down her calf, reminding her that she had not
forgotten about lunch time. "I'll take care of you later," Xena promised,
in a mock threatening tone.

"You're not going to use your whip again, are you?" Gabrielle

Xena pulled out of Gabrielle's arms, an astonished look on her face.
'Where in Tartarus did she come up with that one?' She looked
inquisitively at the bard. 'My whip?' she mouthed to Gabrielle. Her
friend sheepishly shrugged her shoulders and grinned. "I make no
promises," Xena said as she recovered from her shock at her friend's
rather vivid imagination. "I guess it depends on how good you are."
Xena ended the conversation with a long, quiet kiss and embrace.

Xena and Gabrielle thought they had been alone outside. Little did
they know they had an audience. Lila.

Even though it had been two years since Gabrielle left, her family still
kept her bed in the bedroom that she had shared with Lila. And Lila
had gone to the room to make up Gabrielle's bed. She hadn't given
much thought about where the warrior was going to sleep, but knew
that she wanted her sister back in their room for old times' sake. She
had the shutters to the window opened, and was preparing to air out
Gabrielle's quilt when she inadvertently heard Gabrielle call out Xena's

Lila had no intention of eavesdropping, but when she heard that
warrior address her sister in that threatening tone of voice, she froze.
Then she heard her sister's timid response. Lila didn't believe her
ears. 'Is this what it's really like? Why doesn't Brie -- Gods! She
must be too scared to leave her.' Lila thought back to all those nights
that she silently felt sorry for herself for not being the one to have the
nerve to pick up and follow her heart.

Lila couldn't see them, but she could tell they were somewhere to the
right of her window. When her sister let out a cry, she shoved her fist
in her mouth, trying to stifle a scream. She wasn't sure what Xena
would do if she found out she was listening, but she was frightened for
her life. And for Gabrielle's. Lila remembered back to their earlier
shopping spree. Away from the warrior, Lila had confronted Gabrielle
about the couple of fading black and blue marks and bruises she
noticed on her sister's arms. Gabrielle had simply dismissed them as
being the results of a moment's inattentiveness on her part during staff
practice with Xena. Lila was not so sure about her sister's excuses
anymore. She also became concerned about any marks that could be
hidden by clothing.

Lila had decided she was going to confront her sister, until she heard
her plead with Xena not to use the whip. Again. 'I'll kill that son-of-a-
bitch.' Lila tore herself from the window to look for something sharp.

Gabrielle reluctantly pulled herself from Xena's embrace. "C'mon,
you. Let's go. It's almost time for bed." She tugged on her friend's
arm, expecting Xena to follow.

Xena pulled back. "Listen, Gab. I think I'm going to sleep out in the
barn with Argo tonight. You know how she gets when she's left alone
in strange stables." She furnished Gabrielle with an apologetic eye.

"Xena! You're a guest here. You'll do no such thing."

"I don't think it would go over very well with your family if I bunked with
you, do you?"

"Oh. Well... I know. I'll sleep with my sister and you can have my
bed. It's settled."

"No. I appreciate the offer, but I really would prefer to sleep in the
barn. Listen. There's plenty of fresh hay, and you know how I hate to
be cooped up if I can avoid it."

"OK. OK. You win. At least let me give you some extra blankets
before bed. The nights are starting to get chilly." Xena agreed, and
they headed back inside.


'I wonder if any other room in this place gets any use,' Xena
pondered, once again trapped at the kitchen table with the three
women from Poteidaia. She had planned to beat a hasty retreat to the
barn, but had been coerced into joining them for dessert. Gabrielle
spent the better part of the night regaling her sister and mother with
stories about her adventures with Xena. She was careful, though, to
soft pedal any of the fighting she was directly involved in. She didn't
want to give her family any more ammunition than they already had in
their fight to get her to come back home. 'I really should have taken
the other fork in the road when I had the chance,' thought Xena
regrettably. 'I wouldn't wish this torture on Ares himself.' Xena took
another swallow from her mug. 'Well, at least Hecuba serves good
port,' she mused. While Xena kept strictly to the port, she watched as
an entire loaf of nutbread had met its maker, and another one was
soon to be sacrificed. 'It must be in the blood,' she guessed. Xena
drained the last drops from her mug, only to have it quickly refilled by
Gabrielle. 'If she keeps this up, I'll be spending the night right here
under the table.' Xena had lost count on the number of mugs she had
drained a few candle marks ago.

The warrior stole another quick glance at Lila. 'I better be careful. A
few more of these,' Xena thought, as she brought the mug yet again to
her lips, 'and I'm likely to simply reach over and poke her eyes out.'
Xena was beginning to become unnerved. Lila had spent the entire
evening furtively shooting nasty glares Xena's way, especially every
time Gabrielle had jumped to refill her mug. 'What *is* that woman's
problem?' Xena tried to recall what little conversation she'd had with
Gabrielle's sister, wondering what had set her off. 'She seemed fine
at lunch. Spent the entire time ignoring me.' Even after draining her
current mug, Xena was still able to coherently decide that using the
'ole neck pinch on Lila was probably out. She would just wait and ask
Gabrielle if she knew what was going on.

The moon was nearly overhead by the time the festivities were over in
the kitchen. With an armload of blankets from Gabrielle, Xena trudged
off to the barn, and Gabrielle and Lila headed to bed. Lila went out of
her way to help Gabrielle get ready for bed. With her new knowledge
of her sister's true relation with that warlord, Lila did her best to look
for signs of abuse on her sister. "Lila. Really! I've been getting
undressed by myself now for years," Gabrielle exclaimed, as she
reclaimed ownership of her booted foot from her sister. "What's
gotten into you?"

"I just thought you'd like some help. Figured you'd be tired after the
long day you had," Lila answered, as she bent back down to remove
the boot from her sister's foot. Gabrielle hesitated for a moment
before relenting. 'I guess I can let her have her own way for the couple
of days we'll be together. She always did like mothering me.' With her
boots off, Gabrielle removed her top and was in the process of
slipping off her skirt when Lila returned with a shift.

"Gabrielle!" Lila caught her breath as she stared at her sister's chest.
"What, what in -"

Gabrielle grabbed the shift from her sister and quickly donned it,
covering the now faint yellow and purplish bruising around her right
nipple. 'Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I forgot all about that,' she
berated herself.

Lila grabbed her sister by the shoulders. "Tell me. How did that

Gabrielle flinched as Lila's fingers dug into her flesh. 'What am I
going to tell her? The truth? I was ravished by a six foot tall hunk of
burning passion? Nooo. I don't really think I want to go there. Not
with my sister,' Gabrielle decided, as she unconsciously shook her
head no.


"It's nothing, really." She pulled herself from her sister's grasp and
turned her back to the penetrating eyes.

"Nothing. You call that nothing?!"

"It's... it's embarrassing. Just drop it."

"Brie. I'm your sister."

Gabrielle turned to face her. "I know. That's why I thought you'd
believe me when I told you it was nothing." She climbed into bed,
pulled the covers up to her chin, and rolled away from her sister;
effectually ending the conversation.

Lila stood there a moment longer, the sight of her sister's chest
burned into her memory. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but
knew damn well who probably caused it. 'Why is she protecting her?
What kind of hold does that murderous bitch have over my sister?'
Lila crawled into her own bed and gingerly reached under her pillow,
fingering the large butcher knife she had earlier liberated from the

Lila waited until she heard steady rhythmic breathing emanating from
her sister. Certain she was asleep, she removed the knife from its
hiding place and crept from her bedroom. 'I can't let this go on any
longer. Someone has got to stop her once and for all. And if Brie
can't free herself from that warrior's clutches, I'll do it for her.' Lila left
the warm confines of her house, and headed straight for the dragon's

Part 12

Xena's senses snapped to attention as she focused on the faint creek
of the barn door. No amount of port had ever dulled the natural
instincts of the warrior within her. Made her a little mellow at times,
but never rendered the warrior that was lurking just below the surface
incapacitated. Xena was well aware of this. She had once tried to
drown that part of herself, with no success. 'Gabrielle? It would be
just like her to sneak in here. I guess she can't sleep either.' Xena
smiled at the prospect of wrapping herself around her love and burying
her face in the sweet smell of her soft hair.

Gabrielle rolled fitfully onto her other side, her hand reaching out to air.
Even in her sleep, she could feel something missing. Her other half.
Since that first night after the dance, she hadn't been without the
warmth and protective comfort of those two powerful arms. Or the
body they were attached to. Gabrielle woke with a start. "Xena?"
'Something's wrong.' As Gabrielle sat up, she noticed her sister
missing. 'Now where could she be at this time of night?' With a
nagging concern for Xena as well as her disappearing sister, Gabrielle
grabbed a candle and headed for the barn.

The warrior instinctively took over and caught the approaching blade
between her hands as it descended toward her heart. With a quick
flick of her wrists, and a well placed foot to the stomach, Xena flipped
the shadowy figure over her head and heard it land with a thud onto it's
back. With lightening speed, she back flipped to land squarely on her
attacker's chest, pinned both arms above the head and held them with
her left hand, while she snatched the knife and pushed the blade
slightly into the soft neck of the would be murderer.

"Xena?" Gabrielle softly called out as she entered the barn. She knew
from past experience not to be within arms length when trying to rouse
the warrior. It could easily be the last thing you ever did. Gabrielle
tentatively moved further into the barn, and froze when the faint light of
her candle reached Xena. Gabrielle's eyes widened as she saw Xena
straddling a prone form, and gasped as she caught the reflection of
the candlelight off the knife Xena had to their throat. "XENA!" She
took another step forward, only to be halted by the look that she caught
in Xena's menacing eyes as her head snapped around to greet her.

The warrior returned her attention to the stationary figure trapped
below her. Not one sound had passed their lips since the sudden
exhale of breath when they landed on their back. With the advantage
of candlelight, Xena tried to distinguish her attacker. "Lila," Xena
drawled, as her eyes narrowed to slits. She backed the blade off a
little, but still kept it to her throat.

Up until now, Lila had not spoken a word. She felt the raw power and
the ease with which the warrior wielded it, and was positive her
reckless actions meant certain death. She lay motionless beneath the
warlord, feeling the blade of the butcher knife shaving the non-
existent hairs from her neck. At the sound of her sister's voice, Lila
instinctively turned her head, only to be greeted by the prick of the
knife point. She wisely turned back, too scared to allow the pleas for
her sister to run and save herself to form in her throat.

"Lila?!" came the cry from Gabrielle, as she advanced on the pair.
"XENA! What do you think you're doing?!"

Xena just sat there, acting like she always spent her nights sitting on
her best friend's sister. "What does it look like I'm doing?" she asked

"Well... uh... you really don't want to know." Gabrielle glanced at the
knife and back to Xena. "Is that really necessary?"

"You'll have to ask her," Xena replied, as she nodded towards the
head behind the blade. "She supplied it."

"What?" Gabrielle moved to stand behind Xena and leaned into her,
allowing her arms to easily drape over the warrior's broad shoulders.
She positioned the candle so its light fell directly on her sister. "So
what gives?"

Lila watched uneasily as Gabrielle conformed herself to the warrior's
back, forcing Xena to bear her weight. Lila's lips began to move, but
nothing came out.

"Could you repeat that?" Xena asked, allowing a low growl to roll out.
"I didn't quite catch it all."

"Stop that, Xena," exclaimed a flustered bard. She slapped Xena on
the shoulder for effect.

Lila flinched as she witnessed her sister hit the warrior, and froze as
she felt her neck brush against the razor sharp blade. Her eyes
darted down frantically to the knife just out of range of her sight, and
then pleadingly up to her sister.

"Xena. The knife," the bard admonished her friend. Xena removed
the knife from Lila's throat, and with a small flick of her wrist, sent it
careening into the far wall of the barn. Lila looked on dumbfounded as
the warrior obeyed her sister. Her mind raced over the conversation
she had overheard earlier between the two, and tried to make sense of
it with regard to what she was now witness to. "Now Lila, for Zeus'
sake! What has gotten into you?"

Her sister gulped hard and moistened her lips. She stole a quick look
at the warrior, then looked directly at her sister and said, "I... I love

"And you decided to show me how much you love me by trying to kill
my best friend?!" Gabrielle was incensed. "Of all the crazy -" Xena
reached up with her free hand and squeezed the bard's hand.
Gabrielle sucked in a lungful of air, and slowly let it out through pursed

"She said she was going to hurt you." Lila sobbed. "I heard her."

Xena locked eyes with Lila, trying to comprehend what she just heard.
'Is she jealous that her sister escaped this life? Does she think I
picked Gabrielle over her?' "I said no such thing."

'Those eyes.' Lila could feel her soul being laid open for the warrior's
inspection. She didn't care. 'I'm not the one who pillaged towns.
Murdered innocent people. Abuses sisters.' She glowered at Xena,
hoping she would see the reflection of her cruelty.

"I don't know what you think you heard, but you've got it all wrong.
Xena and I are... are..." Gabrielle stumbled over the last word and
barely caught herself. She was about to say lovers. It sounded so
natural. "... very good friends," she finished.

Lila tore her eyes from the warrior and fixed them on her sister. "Brie,
you... you pleaded with her not to use the whip. Again." Tears came
to her face as she looked at the shocked expression on her sister.. "A
part of me died when I heard you beg." Lila's voice grew hard as she
continued. "You risked your life to save me when Draco tried to take
us as slaves. I owe you my life. I just wanted to help you to free
yourself from *her*." She looked directly at Xena as she spit the last
word out.

Silence hung in the night air as the two traveling companions took in
this admission. Gabrielle grabbed Xena's shoulder for support as she
felt her knees buckle. She landed on her butt with a small thud next to
her sister. A shower of hay plumed in the air around her, and settled
over the three women. Xena released her hold of Lila's wrists and
rocked back onto her feet. She took a seat next to Gabrielle and
regarded her seriously for a moment. When the bard's eyes met hers,
the giggle fest began.

"Oh gods, Xena. What have we done?"

"We? You're the one who brought up whips!"

"I did... didn't I." Gabrielle started giggling harder, absently picking
pieces of hay from various parts of Xena's anatomy.

Lila sat there rubbing her wrists, trying to get the circulation to return
to her numb fingers. "Do you mind telling me what's so damn funny?
How can you let her treat you like that?"

Gabrielle gulped down the last of her giggles, and dried her eyes with
the back of her hand, realizing just what her sister must think of Xena.
Leaning over, she cleared a spot on the barn floor of hay and placed
the candle between them. Satisfied it was safe, she sat back and
scooted closer to her best friend, pulling a large hand to her lap.
Gabrielle interlaced their fingers and placed the palm of her free hand
securely over this bond. Fortified in the strength that was flowing from
Xena she turned to her sister. "Lila. What you overheard was... was
all a joke. We were just kidding around with each other. We spend so
much of our time around people who think that if they look at Xena the
wrong way she'll kill them. If we don't make light of it once in a while it
would really get to us. Honest." Gabrielle leaned into Xena, and
nestled her head in the crook of her shoulder. She stared at her
sister, trying to gauge her response.

Lila was about to concede her mistake when she remembered the
bruising on her sister's body. "Well, if she didn't give you that... that..."
She pointed accusingly to her sister's chest, unable to give voice to
what she had seen. Lila saw the momentary flash of guilt that invaded
the warrior's face. 'I knew it.' "How do you explain that one?"

Gabrielle reflexively tightened her grasp of Xena's hand, inadvertently
digging her nails into the warrior's flesh. "I... I told you it was too
embarrassing for me to speak about."

Xena nudged Gabrielle off her shoulder and turned to meet her eyes.
"Embarrassing or not, I think your sister needs an explanation. Don't

"I... ah... I guess you're right." Gabrielle looked down at her lap,
studying their hands. 'This isn't exactly the way I pictured this
moment. I don't know what I pictured, but not this.' She resigned
herself to the task before her, and tried to figure a way to begin.

"We had been visiting the Amazons. They are proud of their skills
with weaponry, and whenever we visit it seems it isn't long before I find
myself participating in a friendly, informal challenge." Xena looked
directly at Lila while she spoke, trying to do that 'Pull your audience
into the story thing' that she had seen the bard do so many times.
"During the latest challenge, we took turns shooting arrows right and
left handed, attempting to split the arrow from our previous shot using
the other hand. Well, the Amazon Queen here was feeling a little left
out." Xena nodded in Gabrielle's direction.

You could've knocked her over with a feather. Gabrielle sat there in
disbelief as she listened to the story unfold before her. 'Xena's telling
a story? What's she doing? Where is she going with this?' Gabrielle
was glad Xena still had a firm hold of her hand. The physical contact
was the only thing that assured her that she was not dreaming. She
glanced at her sister, realizing that Lila had been successfully drawn

"She's had some practice shooting right handed," continued Xena,
"but never left handed. After the challenge was over, she insisted I
give her lessons. I tried to talk her out of it. She was still trying to get
the knack of doing it right handed. If you don't stand just right," Xena
released Gabrielle's hand and demonstrated by twisting to her left and
pretending to hold a bow and arrow in her hands, "you uh... get
caught." She moved her left hand forward and showed where the
trajectory of the releasing string would strike her on the breast. "And
your sister, well... she's got a lot up there not to miss." Xena gave
Gabrielle an embarrassed grin, and unconsciously sought out her

"And I'm too pig headed to know when to give up," Gabrielle chimed
in, finally realizing where the story was going.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Lila, I didn't even tell Xena at first. Not until she noticed me flinch.
And then she had to drag it out of me. I just felt like such a fool to
have done it to myself."

"Then she never..." Lila glanced quickly at Xena and back at her
sister. "She never hurt you?"

"No Lila, NO!" Gabrielle released Xena's hand and gave the warrior a
big hug. "She's too busy keeping me out of trouble." She gave Xena
one last squeeze and turned to face her sister. "I'm sorry we
frightened you. I had no idea we'd be overheard. Next time you get a
fool notion in your head, come to me first." Gabrielle scooted forward
and gave her sister a hug. "You better get back to the house before
mother wakes and finds us both gone. I'll be along in a little while."

Lila began to leave when she stopped and turned to Xena. "I'm sorry.
I almost killed you."

"Apology accepted. And Lila. Correction. You almost got yourself
killed." Lila turned and silently left, realizing just how lucky she really

"So, what brings you out here in the middle of the night?" Xena stood
and began to shake the hay from her bedroll which had been rather
unceremoniously trampled on. She laid it out again and reclined her
tall form onto it. Gabrielle finished brushing hay from her body, bent
over, blew out the candle and joined her.

"I couldn't sleep without you," she sheepishly admitted, as she
snuggled up to the warrior.

"Funny. I was having the same problem." Xena wrapped her arms
and legs around the small form and rolled onto her back, bringing
Gabrielle with her.

"Ummm." Gabrielle settled herself into a comfortable spot atop Xena.
Her head was nestled under Xena's chin, and she could hear and feel
the slow steady breathing coming from under her. The long muscular
arms which held her secure were amazingly soft and warm against her
skin. "I could stay like this forever," she murmured into the soft skin of
Xena's upper arm.

"Don't you have to get back before Lila begins to worry?"

"In a bit. In a bit." Gabrielle reached behind herself and found the
edge of the blanket. She gave a tug and pulled it up over them before
settling back down into her favorite spot.

Part 13

Lila turned to the soft sound of approaching footsteps. "Where have
you been all night? You had me worried sick." Gabrielle and Xena
hesitated at the entrance to the bedroom before entering. "And look at
you. You're dripping all over the place." Lila rushed to the trunk at the
foot of her bed and removed two towels, tossing one to each woman.
"Here. I don't know about you, but where I come from, we usually take
our clothes off before we take a bath."

"Funny, very funny," scowled Gabrielle. "It's coming down in buckets
out there." She lifted her foot to Xena, who held it against her thigh as
she worked to loosen the laces and slip it off. "We didn't get two feet
out of the barn before we were drenched." Gabrielle lifted her other
foot to her friend, who successfully removed it from its soaked leather

"You were there the whole night?" she asked Gabrielle, who had
moved behind Xena and was toweling her friend's hair dry. Gabrielle
paused as Xena removed her drenched tunic and proceeded to dry
her back as her friend toweled herself off up front. "I... uh... I was
waiting up for you," Lila continued, as she found herself staring at the
warrior. Xena was never one to be shy about her body, and didn't give
a second thought about getting undressed in front of Lila. Even in the
gray stark light that found its way into the room from the storm outside,
Xena was breathtaking. Though the warrior's leathers didn't leave
much to the imagination, Lila was stunned by her natural beauty.
'Gods, she could have any man she wanted.' Lila thought about what
it would be like to be able to pick and choose to her heart's desire. 'I
wonder why she's content to travel with my sister?' Lila pictured
herself married to a handsome young king, and living in a fairy tale
castle in a far off land. She quickly snapped out of her reverie,
embarrassed at her childish dreams.

Lila watched as Gabrielle, who had shirked off her skirt and halter,
was busily drying her arms. "I hadn't planned on staying out all night,"
she lied to her sister. She turned her back to Xena, who began to
vigorously towel her long tresses dry. "We had been talking, and I
guess I fell asleep." Xena was drying off the bard's back when she
inadvertently (on purpose) passed her hand over a rather sensitive
spot on her friend's waist. "YEOW!" exclaimed Gabrielle, as she
jumped at the unexpected tickle from the warrior. She swung her right
hand back and connected a backhand blow to the playful warrior's

"Oomph." Xena doubled over in mock pain as she spun her wet towel
into a tight spiral and let it snap, catching Gabrielle squarely on her

"Xena!" the bard cried, as she bent to scoop up her discarded wet
towel. Even though they were evenly armed, Gabrielle soon found
herself outmatched. Xena advanced, and she found herself in retreat.
Gabrielle used her last line of defense when she felt her sister behind
her. She spun her shocked sister in front of her, and cowered behind
her, using her as a shield. "You wouldn't dare hit my sister!" Gabrielle
triumphantly proclaimed, knowing she had won.

"I wouldn't, would I?" the warrior slowly drawled, as her eyes narrowed
to slits, and a feral smile spread across her face. She bent over until
she was eye to eye with Lila, and grinned as she spun the towel into a
tighter spiral.

"Xena?" gasped a horrified Lila, as the sight of the approaching naked
warrior filled her eyes.

Xena stopped a few feet from her intended victim, and held the towel
in both hands in front of her. Letting go with her right hand, she
snapped the towel to her left, while taking a step in that direction.
Gabrielle instinctively moved in the other direction and was caught off
guard by the warrior's trick move. Xena had used the step to allow
herself to pivot in front of Lila and end up on her right side, directly in
front of the now exposed bard. Xena seized her and began to tickle
her unmercifully, as the bard laughed and cried for her to stop as she
fell to the floor trying to get away.

"Stop!... Xena!... No!... I can't!... Xena!... Please!..." Gabrielle could
barely see straight, as tears ran down her face. She had her hands
flailing about over her head in a useless attempt to ward off the
warrior's advances. Xena got a few more tickles in before she finally
relented. She grasped Gabrielle's hands and pulled her to her feet.

Gabrielle clutched at Xena's forearm for support as she stood bent
over, trying to catch her breath. "You... are... *ruthless*," she gasped
between lungfuls of air. "I'll get you... back. Somehow. Somewhere."
She tilted her head up and caught the bemused smile on Xena's face.
"Just you wait."

Lila quietly watched the exchange between them, and felt she was
seeing the true relationship between the two friends. 'Maybe she's not
so bad after all,' Lila pondered, as she witnessed Xena for the first
time with her guard down. 'This must be the person my sister decided
to befriend.'


Hecuba made short work of the breakfast dishes and then informed
Gabrielle that she was leaving to go shopping in town.

"Ooo shopping! Wait up while I get my rain cape."

"No, Gabrielle. Lila is coming to help me." Hecuba fastened her cape
and gave her young daughter a stern look. "You know very well that
whenever the two of you accompanied me shopping, I never got
anything done."

Gabrielle thought back to the few times her mother relented and
allowed both daughters to go with her. They drove their mother crazy
with their futile attempts to see and touch everything. "But mother.
I'm not a child anymore."

"I know. And that's why I definitely don't want the both of you along. It
was bad enough when you were children to get both of you to obey me
at the same time. Now that you are an adult I have no authority over
you. Anyway, it wouldn't be proper to leave Xena alone all morning.
And I don't think she's the type that would enjoy spending an entire
morning shopping."

Xena was about to come to Gabrielle's defense, but the look in
Hecuba's eyes made her swallow her words. 'I'm not sure what she's
up to, but I think I'll play along for now.'

Hecuba had her mind made up and nothing was going to change it.
"While we're gone, maybe you could find the time to change the bed
clothes. I realize you're an invited guest, but you're still my daughter.
That is, if you still remember how to make a proper bed."

"Mother, I'm quite capable of making a proper bed. You taught me

"Oh. I didn't think you had much call for it anymore." Hecuba shot a
quick look at Xena, which didn't go unnoticed by Gabrielle.

"Is there -" Xena stopped when all eyes turned to her. She was going
to ask if Hecuba wanted something of her, but began having second
thoughts about giving the woman an opening to tell her exactly where
she'd like Xena to go, or what she'd like her to do when she got there.
Not that Xena would have minded the confrontation, but she was doing
her best to avoid one for Gabrielle's sake. 'Then again, someone like
Hecuba never needed an opening.' "Is there something I can do?"

"Well, there is wood in the barn that needs splitting, if you've got a
mind to do a little honest hard work."

"Mother," Lila exclaimed. Xena helps a lot of people now..." Gabrielle
was surprised to hear her sister stand up for Xena.

"I've got a mind," responded Xena evenly.

"There's an extra cape to keep you dry and bags for carrying the wood
by the back door," Lila explained, as she hurried to catch up to her
mother who had already left.

"Aargh!" Gabrielle fumed. "She has a knack of calling me an adult to
my face, and still treating me like a child!"

Xena walked over to where Gabrielle still stood by the window,
watching her mother and Lila as they headed for town. She wrapped
an arm around the front of her friend and rested her chin on the bard's
shoulder, watching as the two women disappeared out of sight. "Your
mother still sees you as the same person you were before you left.
She hasn't had the opportunity to watch you grow and mature over the
last two years... like I have."

Gabrielle wrapped her fingers around Xena's hand and gave a soft
squeeze. "I guess you're right, but it still hurts."

Xena left to split the wood that was stored in the barn, and Gabrielle
headed to her parent's room to make a proper bed.


Gabrielle was smoothing the last of the wrinkles from Lila's spread
when she turned to find Xena relaxing on her bed. "Xena! I just made
the bed."

"Mmm. And a mighty fine job you did. Very nice. Very nice." Xena
sat with her arms folded comfortably behind her head, leaning up
against the headboard. She stretched her long legs and crossed them
at her ankles, settling herself comfortably on the fresh bed clothes.

"What do you think you're doing? Now I'll have to do it all over again."

"Oh, I was just wondering what it was like to be you. Your thoughts.
Your dreams."

Gabrielle sat on the edge of her sister's bed, careful not to mess it up
too much. "You know, I wasn't always so hard to wake up in the

"Oh really," Xena said as her eyebrow raised in response to this piece
of information. "I find that a little hard to believe."

Gabrielle continued, unfettered by her friend's lack of belief. "I used to
wake up before the sun to have some time to spend with myself before
chores. I'd lie there on the bed..." Gabrielle gestured toward Xena with
a sweep of her arm, indicating the position the warrior now assumed,
"... and dream of visiting far away places. Oh, and this isn't just a bed,
it's a magical bed." Xena looked at her with wonderment. "Sometimes
it was a wagon with strong sturdy steeds that carried me away in a
cloud of dust. And sometimes it was a magical flying machine that
soared above the hills and clouds and carried me to distant magical
lands." Gabrielle looked down at her hands that were fidgeting in her
lap. "Sounds kinda childish, doesn't it. I've never told this to anyone
before, not even Lila."

"There's nothing wrong with dreaming. It can give you hope for the

"Yeah uh... I guess you're right." Silence fell between the two women
as Gabrielle reflected back to a certain day nearly two years ago. "I
thought I was going to have to be content to live my life in my dreams.
And then I met you. You were everything I needed; an answer to my
prayers. I knew that because of you, my dreams could become a

Xena stared straight ahead, unable to face her friend. "Gabrielle, you
better remove me from that pedestal before I fall. I didn't make your
dreams come true. You did. It was all you. You can do anything you
want, if you put your mind to it."

Gabrielle thought about this for a moment. "Anything?"

Xena turned and looked directly at her. "Anything."

Gabrielle sat there and quietly drank in the vision before her. Even in

a simple tunic, Xena was exquisite. She rose from Lila's bed and
walked to the side of her bed, climbed up and knelt beside Xena,
forcing her to look up at her. "I wonder if this bed has any magic left in

Part 14a

Gabrielle knelt there for what seemed like an eternity, staring into two
azure pools of liquid. Trembling slightly, she finally gathered enough
courage and hesitantly placed her hands on Xena's shoulders, bent
down and gave the startled warrior a soft kiss. Xena wrapped her
arms around the bard and pulled her in, returning the kiss. Her body
quickly responded to Gabrielle's tender lips, the feel of her breasts
lightly brushing hers, the touch of her hands as they caressed the
back of her neck... Xena quickly realized where this was leading and
brought her hands up between them. "Don't... start something... you

Gabrielle studied the warrior's face, and was now more certain than
ever of what she wanted. She bent forward and reclaimed the
warrior's lips. "Xena, sometimes you talk too much," she admonished,
as she came up for air. She trailed kisses to Xena's left ear and down
her neck to her collar bone, where she nipped at the flesh.

"Gabrielle... Your mother... Lila..." Xena fought to maintain rational

"... will be gone all morning." She grinned at the warrior and playfully
licked the tip of her nose. "We have the house to ourselves."

Xena halfheartedly tried to push the advancing bard away. "But what if
they come back early?"

"I..." she kissed Xena's right eye, "don't..." she kissed the other,
"care." She straddled Xena and looked directly into her eyes. "I love
you." Gabrielle leaned forward and brushed a strand of hair out of
Xena's eyes and let her hand trail down the warrior's cheek, over her
jaw and down her long neck to the top of her chest. At this point she
stopped her hand, becoming very self-conscious of the fact that she
really didn't know how to love another woman.

'To hell with her family.' Xena took a deep breath and let the air out
slowly, trying to reign in her quickly growing passion. She pulled
Gabrielle into her arms and kissed her tenderly. Xena took her time
with Gabrielle, allowing them to become comfortable with their new
intimacy. Both women continued to exchange soft kisses, while their
hands slowly continued to explore each other's bodies. Ever so gently,
Xena ran the back of her hand down the front of Gabrielle's tunic.
When the tips of her fingers lightly brushed over one of the bard's
nipples, Gabrielle let out a whimpered moan and pulled Xena's mouth
to hers. The warrior returned Gabrielle's passionate kiss, and then
gently pushed her away and looked directly into her eyes. She smiled
as she reached forward to untie the lace to Gabrielle's tunic.

"No." Gabrielle grasped her hands and firmly pushed them away.
She sat up and began to blush as she slowly undid the lace while
Xena watched, fixated on the creamy flesh that was beginning to
reveal itself to her.

"Oh, yes. Please, Gabrielle. I want... I need... your breasts are so
beautiful." Grasping the bottom of the tunic, Gabrielle slowly worked it
up over her body. She was surprised that the simple cotton material
felt like rough muslin against her now swollen, tender nipples. Their
need to be taken drove her, and she quickly freed herself from her
tunic and tossed it aside. Gabrielle bent forward and Xena scooted
down a little, grasping her with both hands just above her waist and
capturing a breast in her mouth.

"Ohhh... Xena!," Gabrielle grabbed the back of the warrior's head and
ground her breast into Xena's mouth. "More..."

Gabrielle slid her hips forward and Xena could feel the hot wet trail she
left on her thigh. " hot... ummm... so wet..." Xena
slipped her arms around Gabrielle and pulled her in further, using the
bed's headboard to brace herself. She rolled her tongue around the
nipple, marveling at how quickly it became hard. Xena slowly pulled
the breast out between her teeth and Gabrielle shrieked at the
exquisite pain that simple procedure produced. Startled, Xena pushed
Gabrielle away, afraid she had been too rough. "Are you OK? I didn't
mean to hurt you."

"No Xena, no. You didn't hurt me. I need you... please..." She tried
to push herself back into the warrior's mouth, but Xena had a firm hold
around her upper ribcage and held her at bay. She leaned forward
and placed feather light kisses in the valley of the bard's breasts, and
slowly licked her way to the other breast. She flicked the tip of her
tongue over it a couple of times, as Gabrielle groaned and tried to
push herself into the warrior's mouth. Xena's hands held her back.

"Xena... please!" implored a frustrated bard. She wanted to feel
herself inside her lover's mouth, and if she had her way, would have
delighted in feeling her nipple on the back of Xena's throat.

"There's plenty of time for that. Like you said, we have all morning,"
Xena grinned as she returned to the task at hand, and continued to
trail light kisses over Gabrielle's chest. Her companion whimpered as
she felt shudder after shudder ripple through her unsatisfied flesh.
"So sweet..." murmured Xena, as she slowly licked her way up the
bard, where she sucked and nipped at the soft flesh of her neck.
While never faltering from her ministrations, Xena rolled the young
woman to her left and placed her gently on the bed beside her. She
gave Gabrielle a quick kiss on the lips, before sitting up and releasing
her body from the confines of her tunic.

Gabrielle watched as Xena's large breasts fell free and swayed before
her eyes. Xena looked over and followed the bard's gaze to her chest
and waved her hand in front of her lover's face, trying to break the
spell her bosom held on her. "Gabrielle, snap out of it." Xena grinned
at the surprised look on the bard's face when she realized she was
caught staring.

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle sheepishly replied. "I guess I still can't get over
the fact that this is real. I've dreamed... about us... together. I never
thought my dreams would come true."

"I told you, you can do anything you want..."

"...if I put my mind to it."

Xena smiled broadly and bent down placing a soft kiss on Gabrielle's
lips. As the kiss deepened, she slowly moved her body over the
bard's, until she was completely covering the young woman. A low
satisfying groan escaped the warrior's throat as she settled herself
onto Gabrielle; the exquisite feel of the bard's naked body under hers.

As Xena's body enveloped her, Gabrielle was overwhelmed by a
connection with Xena that was much more than physical. Instead of
feeling trapped, she felt free and content. And it was more than
physical contentment, it was somehow spiritual. For the first time in
her life, she felt whole. Her soul was at peace. She brought her arms
around Xena's back, and sliding her left arm down to Xena's hips,
pulled the warrior into her. She returned Xena's kisses with a new
urgency. Her entire body wanted, no needed, to feel possessed by
this woman, who had already captured her heart and soul.

When Xena felt herself being pulled in she gave up trying to hold
herself up on her elbows, and allowed her full weight to settle on the
bard. She buried her left hand behind Gabrielle's neck and ran her
right hand along the length of her love's side, wanting to memorize
every inch of her body. When their mouths separated for a much
needed moment of breath, Xena whispered, "I love you," over and
over, even after Gabrielle reclaimed her mouth.

Many minutes later, Xena relunctantly rolled off Gabrielle and propped
herself up on her left elbow. She allowed her gaze to take in all of her
love, admiring the beauty of this lovely young woman. She bent over
and allowed her lips to lightly graze across the bard's lips, while her
right hand slowly explored the soft skin of her neck and left arm.
Gabrielle buried her right hand in Xena's hair, twirling the long black
mane between her fingers. Xena flicked her tongue across Gabrielle's
lips and kissed her with more passion, while her hand worked its way
over the bard's stomach and idly played with her belly button. She
trailed her hand out to Gabrielle's hip and around back to firmly grasp
her cheek and pull her love slightly towards her. Capturing Gabrielle's
mouth, she could taste the soft moans as they escaped the bard as
her hand worked its way down her outer thigh. Her tongue won
entrance to Gabrielle's mouth as her hand caressed the soft skin of
her thigh and moved in to separate her legs. Xena felt the bard's body
tense and she stopped immediately, removing her hand from
Gabrielle. She cupped the bard's face with her well callused hand and
stroked her lips with her thumb. "I promise to take it slowly. If you are
uncomfortable and you want me to stop at any time, just say the word."

Gabrielle looked confidently into her eyes. "I've never made love to a
woman. Before I met the Amazons, I didn't even know two women
could make love to each other. I... I still don't know what to expect...
but I love you Xena, and I want you. I want you to love me fully."

Xena smiled and kissed her lightly on the lips, reassuring her that
everything was going to be OK. She moved her hand back down to
Gabrielle's thigh and slowly moved it between her legs. The bard
tentatively allowed Xena access and the warrior caressed her friend's
inner thigh, being careful to avoid her center. Gabrielle concentrated
on Xena's hand as it left trails of burning flesh wherever it passed.
Xena bent lower and suckled a breast, as her hand slid up the front of
Gabrielle's right thigh and massaged her abdomen. Xena looked up
from her feast to intently watch her lover's face as she allowed her
hand to slowly move down and come to rest on the bard's center.

Gabrielle jumped a little but quickly recovered herself, smiling into the
blue eyes that captured hers. "Ummm..." She caressed Xena's cheek
with her hand.

ed her, allowing her
time to adjust to somebody touching her there. She moved her finger
to lightly cover Gabrielle's folds and felt how wet she was. "Is that for
me?" she asked. Gabrielle gave her a quizzical look as Xena held up
her finger and examined the glistening liquid. She moved back up to
Gabrielle's head and applied feather light kisses to her face, while at
the same time her hand returned to the bard's center and cupped her
mound. She captured Gabrielle's mouth and her tongue began a
thorough exploration as she slowly moved her middle finger between
Gabrielle's hot wet folds and rested it on her love's clitoris. Gabrielle's
body stiffened momentarily at this new sensation, before instinctively
beginning to move against Xena's finger in a natural rhythm as old as
time. Xena quickened her pace as Gabrielle began to thrust faster
and faster against the warrior's hand. When Xena could tell that
Gabrielle would not last much longer, she backed her off from the

"XENA!" Gabrielle screamed, as she frantically grabbed at the
warrior's arm, trying to force it back to her. "Wha -- what are you
doing? Please!" she begged, looking bewildered as she tried to
comprehend why Xena had stopped.

Xena silently moved her hand back in place, but just as Gabrielle was
about to try to pick up from where they left off, the warrior slid her
hand down a little further and rested the tip of her middle finger at
Gabrielle's opening. She squeezed the bard's clitoris between her
thumb and forefinger and then began to massage it with her thumb as
she slowly inserted her finger deep inside.

Gabrielle's body arched and she found herself staring wide-eyed at the
ceiling of her bedroom. 'My bedroom. I'm in my old bed... in my old
room... in my parent's house... and Xena is...' All of Gabrielle's
thoughts were swept away as her eyes widened and she gasped at the
feeling of having Xena inside her. She never imagined she could feel
her love in such an intimate way, filling her, possessing her. "Oh
gods, Xena! Where have you been my whole life?" Xena grinned at
this last statement, and at the prospect of things to come. Gabrielle's
eyes glistened at this newfound revelation of what love with Xena
could be like.

At first, Xena rested her finger within Gabrielle and then slowly slid it
out and back in, and picked up the rhythm of Gabrielle's body as she
began to thrust her hips to meet the warrior's embrace. Xena locked
eyes with the bard, and watched intently as the frenzied motions of
their connection burst forth and washed over her face. Her climax
started as a low, guttural groan, and finally escaped the bard's lips as
she screamed Xena's name, her body convulsing uncontrollably as
she held the bed clothes in a death grip.

Xena covered Gabrielle with her body and held her close for a long
time, keeping her hand between Gabrielle's legs and slowly
massaging the aftermaths of her convulsions. She waited patiently as
her young friend worked at recovering her composure. When
Gabrielle's eyes opened again, the bard was greeted with a delighted
twinkle of blue and an "I love you." Xena brought her right hand to her
mouth and sensuously licked her fingers clean while gazing at a
startled bard. She leaned down and with her tongue fully extended,
licked Gabrielle's lips. Gabrielle could taste herself and marveled at
the realization that she actually liked it, though none of her bardic skills
would allow her to give voice to what it compared to. Gabrielle opened
her mouth and captured Xena's tongue, sucking on it and wondering if
Xena would taste the same.

Part 14b

Gabrielle remembered back to the night at the inn, and the fleeting
chance she had to have one of Xena's breasts in her mouth. She
chuckled to herself, remembering that at the time she had little choice
in the matter seeing how she had been thwapped upside the head with
it. She realized this was her chance and released Xena's tongue and
looked her straight in the... chin. She could feel her throat muscles
constricting and a lump forming in the back of her throat. Gabrielle
opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. 'Why is this so
difficult for me? Why can't I tell her what I want? I'm a bard!'
Gabrielle suddenly started to feel very claustrophobic and put her
hands on Xena's shoulders trying to push the warrior off her.

Xena saw the look of panic in Gabrielle's eyes and added to that the
fact that the bard couldn't look her in the eye. 'Oh gods. What's the
matter?' Xena cried to herself. 'I thought she wanted this... wanted
me...' The warrior fought the urge to run and instead hurriedly rolled
off Gabrielle and tried to give her some space.


"I'm sorry. I thought you wanted... I'm so sorry." Xena felt her whole
world collapsing around her as she realized she had just lost the one
true friend she ever had. She sat up and swung her feet to the

"Xena!" Gabrielle's arm shot out and grasped the warrior's upper arm,
forcing Xena to turn around and look at her. "Where do you think
you're going?" Xena just stared at her. She had no answer to give.
Gabrielle slid her hand down Xena's arm and clasped the warrior's
hand. "Please. Come back to bed."

Xena saw the love and desire in her friend's eyes and a spark of hope
flickered in her heart. "I thought you were having second thoughts...
regretted what we -"

"No!" she stated emphatically. "Never." It's just that I..." Gabrielle
started to blush deeply. She continued to hold Xena's hand and
forced herself to meet her eyes. "Damn Xena. After what we just did;
why am I still so embarrassed? She looked intently into her lover's
eyes and pulled courage from the love she saw. "I want to make love
to you, but I'm not sure how."

A long held breath escaped the warrior as Xena's mind registered the
false alarm. She brought the bard's small hand to her lips kissing the
palm gently. Xena slowly lay down on her back, giving her friend free
access to her body. Gabrielle sat up and marveled at the beautiful
woman before her. The bard brushed an errant lock of hair from
Xena's face, allowing her hand to linger on the warrior's cheek. "By
the gods, you're beautiful." She leaned over and kissed her tenderly
on the lips, before sitting back up to admire her some more. Gabrielle
worked at trying to grasp the concept that Xena was all hers, to do with
as she pleased. She never saw the warrior in a position of such
vulnerability, but when their eyes met, all she saw was the love that
Xena held for her, and she was elated.

Placing her hand carefully on Xena's abdomen, she felt the muscles
under her fingers ripple with her touch. Gabrielle slowly moved her
hand over the soft skin, pausing to study her belly button. She looked
to the warrior's face for any signs of disapproval, and was rewarded
with a huge smile and a soft chuckle. Gabrielle trailed the back of her
left index finger up from Xena's belly button, and could see as well as
feel the shudder that her simple touch produced as she hesitantly
encircled one of the warrior's large breasts.

Xena let out a ragged moan as she pulled the bard's free hand to her
waiting mouth and licked and sucked on each finger with reckless
abandon. She moaned into Gabrielle's palm as her friend found the
nerve to roll and squeeze the tender nipple of Xena's right breast
between her fingers. The warrior arched into the bard's inquisitive
ministrations, while placing her hand behind Gabrielle's neck and
coaxing her down to take the other breast in her mouth. "Gabrielle...

The bard paused as she poised herself above the now swollen and
erect nipple and glanced into Xena's face. What she saw was a need
that only she could fulfill. She turned back to the breast in question
and experimentally touched it with her lips. She licked slowly around
the outside of the nipple, and discovered she liked; no, relished the
salty taste of Xena's flesh. While never losing track of what she was
doing to the other breast, Gabrielle took her right hand and cupped the
breast she had been licking, squeezing and kneading it between her
fingers. With a firm hold, she brought the nipple up to meet her
mouth. The bard raked her teeth over the now hard and puckered
flesh and was rewarded for her actions as Xena convulsively arched
herself up and used the hand she had behind the bard's head to drive
her mouth firmly into her breast.

Gabrielle was soon applying herself fully to the enjoyable task at hand.
She filled her mouth with the ripe flesh, struggling to get as much of it
as she possibly could past her lips. Forgetting about the other breast,
she used both hands to knead and work what little bit of flesh
remained beyond her physical limitations to devour. Her eyes sparkled
greedily as she realized that she was truly enjoying herself. She
almost felt self-conscious that she was doing it more for herself than
for Xena, until she stole a glance the warrior's way. Xena's eyes had
just about rolled back in their sockets, and her right hand was planted
firmly in her mouth while her left still held Gabrielle's head to her chest
in a vice grip.

Gabrielle almost regrettably disengaged herself from the breast, until
she spied the other neglected twin. "Umm... yummy!" She pounced
on it with no hesitation.

"Oh gods," groaned the warrior from around the fist she was gnawing
on. "I think I've created a monster!"

"Um hmm. Mmm..." mumbled a very busy bard, as she licked her
newfound friend clean before claiming it as her own. She squeezed
the breast with both hands, making the erect nipple stand up at
attention. Next she flicked her tongue over the tip a few times before
baring her teeth and capturing it tightly between her teeth. She bit
down roughly, and was surprised to hear the warrior cry out for more.
The bard alternated between biting and sucking until she could stand
it no longer and attempted to consume the whole thing right there on
the spot.

As much as she was enjoying herself, Gabrielle knew there were still
new lands to conquer. She reluctantly pulled herself from her repast,
confident that they would still be there if she decided to come back
and play. She looked inquisitively into Xena's eyes. "Umm... how am I
doing?" she quirked, as she licked her lips.

"I uh...uh..." Xena stammered, as she fought to regain control, "... not
bad. For your first time."

Gabrielle started to frown until she caught the corner of Xena's mouth
twitch and watched as her lip turned up slightly in the first hint of a
grin. "Xena!" The bard hauled off and smacked the warrior in the
stomach, which was practically useless, since it was like hitting a brick

"Hey!" Xena broke out in laughter. "C'mere. I'll show you how well
you've been doing." She wrapped her left hand around Gabrielle's
head and pulled her to her waiting mouth, showering her lips, chin and
neck with soft kisses. Her right hand sought out the bard's breast as
the kisses quickly became deeper and urgent. Xena fought her rising
need to flip the bard on her back and ravish her unmercifully, and
broke her hold of the sensitive breast and breathed, "Give me your
hand." She grasped the back of her friend's hand and placed it on her
chest, covering it completely with her right hand.

Xena guided the bard's hand down and together they explored the
warrior's body. They moved past her breasts to her abdomen, where
Xena slowly moved Gabrielle's hand over each ripple of her taut
stomach. She guided their hands to her right hip and around back,
where Gabrielle took control and grabbed a handful of butt and began
to pliantly knead. She dug her fingers into Xena's muscled backside,
pulling the warrior to her and feeling their breasts collide and rub into
each other.

The bard wrestled her mouth from the warrior's control and began to
sensuously lick her way down Xena's neck. She paused at the small
hollow, nipping at the soft flesh. She then proceeded to bite her way
across Xena's right collarbone and down her arm as Xena took control
of her hand and guided it down her thigh. Gabrielle could feel the well-
honed muscle that resided just below the surface as she moved her
hand with Xena's.

The warrior leaned over and raked her teeth over Gabrielle's earlobe,
bringing the bard's mouth back up to meet hers. Xena's kisses were
now more urgent, as she felt the heat from her molten juices
scorching her thighs. She manipulated Gabrielle's hand over her thigh
to the center of her heat source. Once there, she pushed the small
hand against her mound, massaging the ache that was threatening to

The bard tore herself from Xena's devouring mouth and sat up. The
warrior used what little reserve she had left and released her grip of
her friend's hand, allowing her the freedom to explore for herself.
Gabrielle ran her fingers through the thick kinky hair of Xena's center,
perplexed at how it contrasted to the hair on top of her head. Xena
saw the bard's brows knit together as she worked on this new puzzle.
Gabrielle reached over and fondled a lock of Xena's long hair, still
continuing to lightly twirl her finger in the warrior's mound. "Xena?
They're so different. Why?"

Xena wasn't sure how long she could hold an intelligent conversation
with her friend, but knew the inquisitive nature of the bard. "I ah... I
really don't know why. Some people are just that way."

Gabrielle pondered the response while still absently playing with
Xena's center. "I just can't get over how different it feels."

"I -- hope -- you're having a -- good -- time," Xena said, through gritted
teeth. Gabrielle turned and realized that Xena was sweating profusely
and her eyes were glazed over. It was then she realized that what she
was doing was having a profound effect on the warrior. Gabrielle
immediately removed her hand and was surprised at the speed with
which the warrior captured it and returned it to her center, trapping it
under her hand.

Xena let out a long ragged breath as she implored, "Please. I don't
think I can take much more." She moved Gabrielle's hand down
between her legs, and the bard was astonished with how wet the
warrior was. With Xena's guidance, Gabrielle worked her fingers into
the warrior's folds and marveled at the texture and feel of Xena's slick
center. Xena guided the bard's finger over her clitoris and her hips
involuntarily bucked as she felt the soft skin of her lover's touch brush
lightly over her nub. It was such a different feeling from the callused
skin of her own fingers that she was used to. Using two fingers,
Gabrielle hesitantly began to massage the warrior, eventually
becoming bold enough to pinch and squeeze the swollen nub. Xena
knew she couldn't take much more of this exquisite torture and needed
to feel Gabrielle possess her. "Gabrielle... move your hand down -"
Xena pushed the bard's hand further down, and positioned one of her
fingers at her opening. "I... need to feel you... inside of me." Gabrielle
slowly inserted her finger inside, very apprehensive of what she was
doing. A loud moan escaped the warrior's mouth and her hips
involuntarily lurched as she realized her young friend was touching the
most private part of her body.

"Oh Xena, I'm sorry," Gabrielle cried as she quickly removed her
finger. "Did I hurt you?"

"G -- Gab, eh -- everything's fine," Xena stammered as she tried her
best to reassure her as she guided the bard's hand back to her need.

"Umm, you're so hot," murmured Gabrielle as she reinserted her
finger deep within. She slowly brought her finger up and almost out
and pushed it back down, curling the tip and exploring in all directions.

Xena hadn't expected what this naturally inquisitive nature of the bard
would do to her, as her breath started to come in short ragged pants.
"Gabrielle... put your thumb -- no -- over a little... AHHH!... YES!...
right there..." Xena reached down and guided Gabrielle's thumb over
her clitoris and the bard began to earnestly massage the now swollen
nub as she continued to thrust her finger deep inside the warrior.

Release should have been imminent, but Xena fought it with every
fiber of her being. This moment, feeling Gabrielle inside her, was one
she had dreamed of for so long. A dream that up until a few days ago,
she was certain would never be answered. Should never be
answered. She knew she didn't deserve the love of this beautiful
woman, but here they were, consummating their love for each other.
And there could be no going back. Gabrielle was hers -- freely given,
and she to her bard. Xena wanted this moment to last forever.

The tendons and cords of her arms rippled and popped as she dug
her clenched fists into the blankets and used her forearms to hold her
body aloft. Gabrielle could feel her own need rising anew, and laid her
body along the length of the warrior, straddling her left thigh. She
thrust her sex again and again against the warrior, keeping time with
her strokes deep inside her partner. Xena's head flew back and she
found herself staring at the ceiling, the feel of the bard's slick center
coating her thigh almost too much to bear. Gabrielle dug the fingers
of her free hand into the flesh of the warrior's upper back, and sunk
her teeth into the flesh of Xena's left shoulder. She continued to pump
her left hand harder and faster, determined to bring her lover over the

"Please... another... ," the warrior begged between breathes.

Gabrielle paused in mid-stroke. "I -- don't know what you want," she
said frantically, looking at Xena for help.

Xena was no longer able to focus clearly. "Your finger... insert a
second finger... PLEASE!"

"Ohhh..." Gabrielle was amazed at how easily Xena's body accepted
so much of her. She quickly picked up on the rhythm of the warrior's
bucking hips, and met them thrust for thrust as she continued to bury
herself inside her love. "I wonder..." While never breaking contact with
Xena's enlarged clitoris, Gabrielle brought both finger tips just to the
opening of the warrior and deftly added a third before she plunged her
hand down as far as it would go.

Xena's entire body thrust itself upward to meet this final assault on her
senses. There was no holding back this time. Her body and Gabrielle
had finally won out, as she knew they ultimately would. She stiffened
as her inner muscles constricted tightly around the bard's fingers, not
allowing her to reclaim them. With just a couple more frantic thrusts
of her hips, the bard joined her lover. Gabrielle rolled completely on
top of Xena's body, holding her close with her free hand and they rode
this final wave together as a terrific orgasm rocked Xena to her core.

Xena's body finally went limp, and Gabrielle gently wrapped her arms
around her love. Tranquility washed over her. Nothing could have
prepared her for what she was feeling. She had known for some time
that her feelings for Xena ran much deeper than friend, but she never
knew she would be able to express these feelings in such an intimate
way. To be able to give herself fully to Xena, and Xena to her.

Part 15

Xena rose with a start and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. "They're
home." Even though the bard had sworn earlier that she didn't care if
her family had walked in on them, she dove for her tunic and frantically
scrambled to put it on as Xena did the same.

Lila entered the room moments later. "Brie, haven't you finished
making the beds yet?" she asked. The blanket, quilt and pillow of
Gabrielle's bed were in a heap on the floor, and Xena and Gabrielle
were standing on opposite sides of the bed, straightening the sheet.

"Well sure... that is... it was made, but I decided to give Xena a
lesson... on making a proper bed." Gabrielle glanced up from the bed
to her sister, wondering if she was buying any of it. "Xena asked me
what Mother meant by making a proper bed. I thought it would be
easier to show her."

Lila glanced at Xena but gave her sister a quizzical look before silently
leaving the room. Gabrielle looked to Xena, the same quizzical look
mirrored on her face. "Your tunic is on inside-out," Xena whispered.

Gabrielle looked down disbelievingly and shot a look at the door her
sister just exited. "Do you think she noticed?"



Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later;
the bard's tunic magically right-side out now. Hecuba and Lila were in
the kitchen putting groceries away and Gabrielle offered to help while
Xena took a seat on one of the benches. "Do you have the nuts?"
asked Hecuba, who was gathering ingredients off to one side.

"No... they're not in my bags," Lila said as she reexamined the items
before her. "I thought you had them." Both women rechecked their
bags and looked at each other. "I thought you bought them," they said
in unison. They turned and looked dejectedly to Gabrielle who realized
no nuts, no nutbread.

"How could you have forgotten the nuts?! If I had gone with you, we'd
have nuts," Gabrielle said a bit indignantly as she looked at her
mother, though secretly she knew she would not have traded the
morning she spent with Xena for all the nutbread in Greece. She was
still unwilling to look her sister in the eye, remembering the bedroom
scene. "Now what're we gonna do?"

"You could always make it without nuts," Xena replied, wondering why
such a simple answer to such an overblown problem needed to be

The three women from Poteidaia turned and looked at Xena as if she
had just dropped in from a foreign land. "Nutbread without nuts?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena absurdly. "Then it wouldn't be nutbread!"

The three women turned from Xena and began to banter amongst
themselves for a possible solution, while Xena resumed idly jabbing a
long wooden splinter she had pulled from the kitchen table under the
nails of her fingers, finding it a might sight less painful than having to
sit and listen to them.

"C'mon Xena."


"You're coming with me," the bard said, as she grabbed the warrior's
hand and pulled her from the table. "We need nuts." The three
women, well really Hecuba, decided that the most expedient thing to
do was for Gabrielle to go back to town for the nuts, while Hecuba
started mixing the ingredients and Lila got her chores out of the way.

The storm had passed and a few rays of sunlight found the strength to
push past the retreating clouds and fall to the earth. Gabrielle paused
as they stepped through the doorway, stretching her head up and
closing her eyes to greet the radiating warmth. "So, what's this *we*
stuff?" Xena asked.

"Well... uh... I didn't think you wanted to be left there with them."


"And what?" Gabrielle felt the warmth of the sun disappear as it was
lost behind a cloud. She opened her eyes to be greeted by the face of
the cloud. Xena.

"There's more Gabrielle. I can see it in your eyes," Xena said softly,
as she hovered over the bard.

"It's Lila... I didn't want her to have a chance to question you about
me... about us."

"What do you think I'd tell her?"

"I... I know you wouldn't say anything on purpose." The bard brushed
her finger over the back of Xena's hand, being very self- conscious of
where they were standing. "It's just that she can be very persuasive
when she wants to be. I could never keep a secret from her as a

Xena closed her eyes to her love's slight contact, marveling how the
simplest of touches could affect her thoughts. She shook her head to
clear her mind and looked directly into Gabrielle's eyes, hoping to get
her next point across. "You are *not* a child. And up 'til now you've
done a fine job of keeping your personal life just that. You're sister
isn't dumb though... she knows something is up.

"You don't think she suspects..."

"I don't know what to think. I don't know if she knows two women
can... feel the way we do... about each other."

"What am I gonna do?"

"If and when the time comes... you'll deal with it. Right now, let's get
those nuts." They walked off in companionable silence. Gabrielle was
preoccupied with thoughts of Lila, and didn't notice the slight tensing
coming from the warrior. Xena could feel the hairs on the nape of her
neck do a little dance. Without taking her eyes from the road, she
carefully surveyed their surroundings. They were being watched.
This wasn't something new, but the feeling left Xena with a bad taste
in her mouth. She didn't feel threatened, but noticed a rather
conspiratorial and consciously organized buzz coming from their
secretive onlookers. Xena found her hand moving up protectively to
linger a hair breadth's away from the bard's lower back as they
continued to town.

The weird feeling that Xena had abated as they got closer to town.
Oh, they were still being watched. That was something that seemed
to dog the warrior wherever she went. But this was the regular kind of
staring that she'd almost grown accustomed to. As usual, Xena had
decided not to trouble the bard with her thoughts, and soon Gabrielle
had pushed aside her own contemplations of a future conversation
with her sister, and cheerfully chatted away about town gossip.

As Xena had surmised, it wasn't going to turn out to be a quick trip.
There were plenty of shops that Gabrielle just couldn't pass up, and
she dragged the warrior into each and every one of them. Xena quietly
obliged. How could she not? Her bard's eyes sparkled and her voice
sang as she engaged the different shop owners in conversation. 'How
can she put up with me? Sometimes I'm the only person she sees for
days on end; and I can barely string two words together.' Xena fought
to push these dark thoughts down. 'She obviously sees something
she likes.' Xena's mind traveled momentarily back to the time spent in
the bard's bed. 'I've done my best to send her away on more than one
occasion, and each time she fought tooth and nail to stay.

Gabrielle saw the resigned look in Xena's eyes and realized the torture
she must have endured all afternoon being dragged all over the market
place. 'I must be driving her crazy!' Gabrielle quickly finished her
conversation with the merchant and guiltily headed to Xena.

"So," Xena said, as she bent over and picked up the large bag of nuts
that was laying at her feet. "Where to now?"

"Home." She gave a sheepish grin as she reached for the nuts.

Xena cradled them in the crook of her arm and shooed the bard's
hands away. "C'mon. Your mother is going to kill us for taking so


Those strange feelings Xena had on the trip to town were absent on
the trip home. This should have relieved the warrior, but it didn't. The
opposite was true. The closer to home they got, the quieter it became.
Too quiet. Within a mile from home, not a soul was visible. No one in
the fields, or out tending the animals, or chopping wood. 'Where is
everybody?' Xena could feel the emptiness. It permeated her body.
She wasn't sure how she knew, but she was certain she would find
the houses empty if she'd had a mind to take a look.

Gabrielle stole a look at Xena. She could feel the warrior's body tense
and knew that Xena sensed something that she had not picked up on.

"Where is everybody?" she asked, as she kept her gaze straight

"What do you..." Gabrielle's eyes darted left, and then right. The
silence was deafening.

Xena shifted the bag of nuts into her right arm and placed her leftarm
down protectively in front of Gabrielle. "Keep close. And stay alert."
Cautiously, they covered the rest of the distance to the house in

Xena placed herself between the front door of the house and
Gabrielle. She mentally berated herself for allowing Gabrielle to lead
her away earlier without a thought to her leathers or weapons. 'I must
be getting soft. This has got to stop. It could cost us our lives.' Xena
gave the bag of nuts in her right hand a couple of practice swings.
'Well, I've made use of worse things as weapons...' The feel of
Gabrielle's hands lightly resting on her waist and her hot breath
tickling the nape of her neck momentarily distracted the warrior. Xena
reached behind herself with her left hand and gently pushed the bard
away. "I said stay close, but not that close," she whispered. "Give me
room to maneuver." Xena reached for the door with her left hand and
with a sudden push, swung it open completely, giving her full access
to the entire room.

Part 16

"!!SURPRISE!!..." The loud chorus from the crowd of people in the
house was the last thing the warrior suspected. She was so caught
off guard, that she backed up and nearly stumbled over Gabrielle.
The bard caught her by the waist and stuck her head out from under
the warrior's raised right arm; still poised to strike.

"...!!HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!" Gabrielle's eyes lit up at the number of
people gathered before her. She pushed herself past Xena and the
crowd of well-wishers immediately enveloped her.

Xena just stood there in the doorway, grasping the frame for support.
She slowly became conscious of still holding the bag of nuts in the air,
and let it drop to her side. She scanned the room and found Hecuba's
eyes, successfully holding her gaze for a moment before she too
disappeared amongst the crowd.

"Uncle Cosmo!" Gabrielle exclaimed, as a slight man in his early fifties
threw his arms around her and gave her a big hug.

"Hey! You sure have grown since the last time I saw you." He winced
at the strength of Gabrielle's return hug.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." Gabrielle had to remind herself she
wasn't hugging Xena.

"So, how's the birthday girl? You sure looked surprised!"

"I'm fine. And yeah, this is quite a surprise." 'Especially since it's not
my birthday. Not for another full moon that is.' Gabrielle continued to
work her way through the crowd of relatives and neighbors, trying to
find her mother.


"Well, I see you remembered the nuts," Hecuba replied, as she turned
to find Xena standing before her. "Would you take them into the
kitchen for me?" Xena nodded in agreement and headed for the
kitchen, not surprised to feel Hecuba following her.

Lila was in the kitchen filling a tray with meat and cheese when the two
women entered. "Lila. Will you please go help your Aunt Effie serve
the food. I'll take care of that." Hecuba quickly ushered her out of the
kitchen and turned to meet the warrior's cool gaze.


"I wanted to thank you for bringing her home. I miss her, and I worry
about her. After Perdicus... she blamed herself, you know."

Xena knew all too well. She had to repeatedly tell Gabrielle that it was
not her fault. Callisto was the one with the sword. She killed him.
Even if deep down inside Xena still wondered if there wasn't
something she could have done to prevent it. 'If inaction is a crime,
then his blood is on my hands.'

Hecuba had not noticed the momentary flinch by the warrior and
continued. "She said she'd never allow herself to get that close again,
but I know time heals all... and I've made sure to invite a number of
nice young men to this party."

Xena slumped onto one of the benches at the kitchen table. 'This is
my punishment? To actually have my dream fulfilled, only to have
someone try to take it all away?'

"I'm hoping my daughter will take to one of them. It's about time she
settles down and has children. The road is no place for a young
woman. I'm sure you would agree with me."

The door to the kitchen swung open and Gabrielle entered. "Mother?
I -" Gabrielle stopped cold when she realized what she had walked in
on. Gabrielle knew it would come to this. She could tell by the look on
her mother's face that they were talking about her. And she knew she
was going to have to pick sides. Gabrielle silently walked over and
took a seat next to Xena, feeling her childhood slipping away for good.
She took comfort in the physical contact that their bodies made and
looked up at her mother. "It's not my birthday."

"I know. It's not for another full moon, but I wanted to throw you a
party. And you know how your father feels about Xena. He would not
have allowed her to stay here, and I was afraid because of that you
wouldn't stay either. When he informed me that he would be out of
town, I decided to have the party now." Hecuba turned and started to
busy herself with finishing up the tray that Lila had started. "You
should be out there. People are going to start wondering where you
got to." Hecuba picked up the tray and left the kitchen, never looking

"Soo, what did you two talk about?"

"Oh... just girl talk."

"Yeah. and I bet I know who the *girl* was."

Strong fingers worked their magic on the knot of pain at the back of
Gabrielle's neck as the bard allowed her body to slump forward and
rest on her folded arms. "Umm... that feels soo good." Gabrielle
closed her eyes and let the tension flow from her body. She wasn't
sure how Xena knew what she needed, but she was grateful.

After a few minutes, the warrior ran her hand down Gabrielle's back
and gave her a couple of light pats. "C'mon, sleepy head. You've got
a party waiting for you."

The bard raised her head, blinking the sleep from her eyes. "Do you
think they'd notice if we snuck out the back door?" Gabrielle laid her
hand on Xena's thigh and quickly snaked her fingers under the
warrior's short tunic and slid them between her legs. "I can think of a
lot more interesting things I'd rather be doing," the bard grinned, as
her fingers found their mark.

"Gabrielle!" Xena extricated the roaming hand and raised an eyebrow
at the dejected pout on the bard's face. When Gabrielle's questing
mouth found the sensitive pulse point on Xena's neck, the warrior's
thighs clenched tight, attempting to quell her quickly growing passion.
"You're gonna be the death of me yet! C'mon, let's get this over with."
Xena gave her a little bump with her hip to get the bard moving.

"OK, OK. If you insist." Gabrielle paused as she reached to open the
door and turned to Xena. "But Mother's up to something. I'm just not
sure what yet."

"She loves you, and only wants what's best for you. So do I." Xena
reached past Gabrielle and placed her hand against the door,
effectively stopping anyone from entering. Bending down, she placed
a quick kiss on her cheek. "But you need to decide what that is."
Xena pulled the door open while spinning the bard around and gave
her a push back out into the party.

Xena would have been content to stay on the fringes and just observe,
but Gabrielle had other plans. She tugged on the warrior's arm, and
Xena glanced down and caught the look on her friend's face. It was
the one that told her she would not only dislike what the bard had in
mind, but that she was destined to endure it. "Where do you think
you're going?" she whispered into Xena's ear as the warrior tried
unsuccessfully to slip away. "I think it's about time I showed you off."
Xena quickly found herself being pulled through the crowd by a very
animated bard, as she was introduced to *every* relative and friend

"Well, I think that went rather well," Gabrielle stated triumphantly.

"You mean there isn't anybody else to say hello to?" Xena asked
sarcastically, as she downed the mug of port she had procured earlier.

"Nope. I just wanted to make sure that everybody knows who you're
with," the bard replied, as she swallowed the last of her punch.
"Especially that group of young men over in the corner. They can't
keep their eyes off you!"

"Me?! I think they're simply jealous of the fact that I'm monopolizing all
of your time."

"Sure... and that clinging tunic you're wearing that leaves nothing to
the imagination has nothing to do with it," Gabrielle replied, as she
inadvertently licked her lips.

"Hey, you better watch yourself now."

"I think I could use some more punch," Gabrielle said as she looked
down into her empty cup. "I'm suddenly very thirsty." They made their
way over to the tables, where Uncle Cosmo had set himself up as

"What will it be ladies?"

"Two cups of punch, please."

"Make that one cup of punch and another port," the warrior corrected.

"Xena, you really should try the punch," Gabrielle said as she
accepted a refill from her Uncle. "Here." She held the cup up to
Xena's lips, and the warrior very self-consciously took a sip. "I told
you you'd like it. It's Uncle Cosmo's secret recipe." Gabrielle brought
the cup to her lips and started to drink.

"Gabrielle." Xena took the cup from the bard and took another sip.
"Secret recipe, huh?" she said as she turned to Uncle Cosmo.
"Seems like your still must be working overtime."

"You mean there's booze in there?"

"Oh yeah," replied the warrior as she downed the rest of it.

"And all that fruit does a great job of smoothing out the taste," Uncle
Cosmo beamed proudly. It took a number of tries before I got the
proportions right."

"And how many of these have you had so far?"

"Only two," the bard answered too quickly.

"Gabrielle... you know how you get when you drink."

"OK, OK. I had a half a cup earlier when I was looking for Mother, but
I put the cup down for a moment, and then I couldn't find it."

"I think you've had enough then; more than enough." Turning to Uncle
Cosmo Xena continued, "Do you have anything non- alcoholic?"

"Well, I've got cider... and some extra fruit juice that I didn't use in the

"Make it a cider," the bard decided. Xena guided Gabrielle over
towards the front door; away from most of the guests. "I think I'm
going to step out for some fresh air... maybe check up on Argo."

"No. Don't leave," Gabrielle implored, as a look of anger and
frustration clouded her features. Xena was glad she had positioned
the bard with her back to her guests.

"I'm not leaving you. Just this party."

"Then I'm coming too."

"You can't. You're the guest of honor. Besides, they're your family
and friends. And who knows how long it will be before you see them
again." Xena reached down and grasped the bard's forearm. "Stay.
Enjoy yourself. And keep away from that punch!" Smiling broadly at
Gabrielle, she turned and quickly slipped outside.


"But Mother," Lila began to whine. "I've spent the last three candle
marks introducing every eligible man here to her. It's not my fault she
doesn't even give them a second look." Lila's eyes drifted over to two
of the prospective candidates that she felt were especially dreamy.
"Each one tried to strike up a conversation with her, but in no time flat
Garielle had them disheartenly listening to a tale of Xena."

"I just don't understand her. You'd think the world revolves around that
warrior." Hecuba glanced over to where her older daughter was busy
restocking her plate. "I don't think she realizes just how lucky she is.
After having already been married and *with* a man, it was a miracle I
could find these many men still interested in her." Hecuba continued
to stare at Gabrielle, her fingers unconciously thrumming her hips as a
look of quiet defeat began to overtake her features. 'I'm glad Xena saw
fit to leave the party, but what did that accomplish? It's like she never

left my daughter's side.'

Part 17

Strains of music drifted through the night air. Xena paused from
polishing her armor and turned toward the house, listening. The
warrior sat motionless on a bale of hay as a vision of Gabrielle and
herself dancing played itself out in her mind. 'There won't be too many
opportunities like that again,' she sighed. Xena was relieved that she
was not at the party. She realized it would have taken more willpower
than she possessed not to take Gabrielle in her arms when the music
began. Xena's vision abruptly changed to one of her love in the arms
of one of the young men Hecuba invited; and then another and then
another. 'Just stop it -- stop it! You know damn well she loves you.
She'll make the right decision.' Xena laid her armor aside and got out
her bedroll. 'I might as well try to get some sleep. It's gonna be a long

The warrior had one boot successfully removed when a loud crashing
noise rang out just outside the barn door. "Ow! Dammit, dammit,
dammit!" Gabrielle whipped her head from side to side. "Shush,
you're gonna wake 'er." The bard picked herself up off the ground.
Whispering past the finger she held to her lips she called,
"Shxeeena... Shxenaaa... they're playing our song!" Gabrielle pulled
on the handle of the barn door. "Hey! Let me in... I wanna dance."
The bard lost her balance again and fell forward, tumbling into the
door and falling in a heap on the barn floor.

"Ooph!" When Gabrielle eventually righted herself, she found her
booted foot cradled in her arm. She worked unsuccessfully for a few
moments at the laces and finally giving up, gave a yank and pulled her
foot free, sending the boot sailing. After two false starts, she
managed to stand. Xena watched silently as the bard took a few
halting steps, her height changing with each step. "Oh Gods... I think
I'm seasick," mumbled Gabrielle as she watched the world in front of
her rise and fall. Looking down, she noticed that it was her one booted
foot that was making her steps so uneven. With slow determination

Continue to parts 14-17


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