Two and a Half Year Itch

by BlackFox and S. Derkins

DISCLAIMERS & WARNINGS: We don't own these characters--we just pretend that we do. All character rights belong to the zany people at MCA/Universal. This story is the result of our wicked and somewhat insane imaginations caused by XWS (Xena Withdrawl Syndrome) during Summer reruns.

It involves the romantic and out and out silly side of a relationship between two women. If this would offend you (like if you have no sense of humor whatsoever) or if you are under 18, or for some ridiculous reason it's illegal where you live (like maybe Russia)--then just go away.

If you like this kind of story (You're our kind of people), sit back and share a chuckle--we don't mind if you laugh at X & G's predicaments, but we will not be held accountable for any damages to your computer due to choking on your drink while doing so. {Exercise caution--computers are expensive}

Part One

Aphrodite stood with her hands on her hips, annoyed with her son. Where was that boy of hers? She shouted his name, her voice filled with anger.

"Anteros! Don't you ignore me! Where are you?"

"Don't get your toga in a bind, Mom. I'm over here," he chuckled.

The goddess spun around and saw the little imp crouched by the pool, looking down at the images found there. She walked towards him, her steps clipped with anger at his tone.

"What could possibly be so interesting that you would ignore me? Like, I'm your mother. You're supposed to listen to me." She didn't see him roll his eyes at her whining. He wiped the look off his face before turning to look at his mother.

"I'm watching those two," he said while pointing, " I can't figure them out. I know they love one another, but they act like their...I dunno, like..."

"Two totally frustrated and obnoxious idiots?" she provided. "I gave up on them. They refuse to see what's in front of their own noses, and I think they're too stupid to figure it out. The tall one is Xena. She's sweet on that little Bard, but she thinks too jaded for the kid. Gabrielle fell in love with her ages ago, but she's afraid that Xena would panic and run if she said anything. Xena's not the home and hearth type--you know what I mean?"

"They couldn't be more different. I gotta do something. Maybe if I..."

"NO! You are not to interfere. No love spells, no controlling their actions. Do you understand me young man?"

"Yes Mom. I hear ya" he said grumpily, disappointment lacing his voice.

"Good. I have to do something, and I want you to keep an eye out for Hephie for me. He said he might come visiting later tonight." She blew him a kiss and disappeared in a sprinkling of light. He smiled wickedly.

"But you didn't say I couldn't punish them!" he said with a grin.


"Xena? Do you ever feel like we're being watched?" Gabrielle asked
her tall companion, who was riding in the saddle in front of her.

Xena turned in the saddle to look at her friend with a raised eyebrow. "All the time," she said smiling wryly, "And usually we are."

Gabrielle chuckled. She yawned, suddenly tired, and then stretched, loosening her hold around Xena's waist. The Bard found herself almost slipping from her position on Argo's saddle, and she clutched at Xena's waist until she felt more steady with the horse's gait underneath her. Gabrielle then relaxed her grip, still keeping her fingers in the leather, not wanting to slip again.

"You all right?" Xena asked, ignoring the feathery light touch of the Bard. She wished for the hundredth time that day that Gabrielle's hands would stay still. Every new touch sent a warm chill up her spine, making it hard to concentrate.

"Yeah." Gabrielle said, then chuckled at her own expense. "Just getting careless I guess." Gabrielle said while grinning.

"How about we stop? I'm getting hungry." The warrior suggested, feeling her stomach growling in response. The Warrior needed a respite from her friend's closeness and time to regain control of her warring emotions. "Besides, this is a pretty view," she added. They both looked around them, taking in the site of the mirror-like reflections seen on the still lake waters.

"Ok, I can always eat you know," Gabrielle said.

"Believe me, I know," Xena said with a low chuckle as she eased out
of the saddle and swung down from the stirrup. Reaching up, she grabbed
Gabrielle around the waist and lowered her gently to the ground. The
feeling of Gabrielle sliding down her body took her breath away. Shaking her head, she pushed the nagging feeling away, telling herself once more to forget those longings, and began searching in her saddle bags for the food.

All of a sudden, she felt an intense itching start just below her left shoulder blade. "Arrgh!" Xena said, attempting to reach her back.

"Itch?" Gabrielle asked, seeing the warrior squirm.

"Uh-huh!" she grunted, while attempting to reach the irritating spot.

"Come here. Where does it itch?" Gabrielle asked, attempting to
solve Xena's problem for her.

"Right there," Xena said through gritted teeth, her hand just barely
missing the spot she indicated.

Gabrielle wiggled her fingers under the leather, and scratched at the spot, Xena sighed in relief as she felt the feeling abate.

"You know, Xena, you wouldn't itch so much if you didn't wear leather all the time," Gabrielle said.

"Gabrielle, could you imagine me going around in a dress?" Xena
asked, smiling at her own joke, "Besides, I'm used to it."

"If you say so," Gabrielle thought to herself that it would be an interesting sight, then shook her head, trying to remove the image from her mind. She recalled the time she saw her friend dressed in Princess Diana's clothes, and thinking to herself that Xena looked so...feminine. She lacked the words to describe it, but she knew how she felt at the time. Breathless.

Of course, that's been her permanent state since she met the Warrior Princess. At first, it was just a case of hero worship for the amazing woman that singlehandedly defeated Draco's men. She had been enthralled by her fighting skills and grace. Even dressed in her dirty shift, unarmed, she had been confident in her ability to handle the small raiding party.

After the defeat of Draco's men, Gabrielle had gazed into those blue eyes, and felt herself lost in the sorrow and pain she had seen there. Oh, sure, the ex-warlord had put up a good front, her walls in place, but Gabrielle had seen the lost soul trapped inside. Her family and neighbors had only seen the warlord, not looking beyond the image or reputation.

It had taken a long time for her to get past some of the barriers the Warrior Princess had formed over the years. Xena had hidden away much of her ideals and hopes, the innocence of her youth lost forever, she believed.

Gabrielle had refused to allow it, poking and prodding at the stoic and cynical Warrior's defenses until she gave in. With each new discovery, Gabrielle felt herself drawn even closer to her. Xena's personal fight over her own dark side intrigued the Bard. Every facet seen captured her heart and mind. The love she felt for this incredible woman both warmed and saddened her.

She didn't have the courage to tell Xena that her love had gone beyond friendship. It was no longer just a matter of kinship for her, but she had fallen *in* love with her as well. Gabrielle sighed and pushed away those feeling once more. They were just too painful to dwell on. Gabrielle reached for the food that Xena handed her, but had to stop as a sudden, irritating itch gnawed at her own back. She tried to reach it, but it was beyond her reach.

"Damn it Xena! Now I'm itching. What did you do, pet a flea infested dog or something?" she said crossly.

"Here, hold still." Xena used her short nails to scratch the smaller woman's back. She saw Gabrielle relax as the itching subsided. "Better?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"Anytime," Xena said, then proceeded to eat her meal with relish.

There was a hindrance to the women's appetite's however, their
constant itching, which wasn't bad until it started affecting places they
didn't want to talk about, much less scratch in front of each other .

Finally, Xena could stand it no more. "That's it!" she growled with exasperation. Standing, she stripped out of her armor and leathers, until she stood naked in front of the Bard.

Gabrielle stared at her, mouth agape, eyeing her speculatively in appreciation. "Xena...that was...inspirational!" she exclaimed, blushing furiously because of her wayward thoughts. "But what are you doing?"

"I'm going for a swim," the Warrior said calmly. "You want to join me?" she asked with a raised eyebrow. She turned towards the water, not even bothering to check for temperature. All she wanted was relief from her itching and now burning skin. Maybe this would cool her off.

It took Gabrielle about two seconds to make up her mind. Throwing her remaining crusts of bread to the birds, she removed her clothes and intended to join the Warrior in the lake. She suddenly realized they should use soap. It's main ingredient was lard, and should help with easing the problem. She turned around, heading back to Argo. The Bard grabbed the lump of soap that was kept inside of a oil skin bag and returned to the lake.

Xena was standing in the water, half submerged. Her body glittered in the sunlight as the sun reflected off her wet skin. Gabrielle entered the water slowly, mesmerized by the sight in front of her until Xena lifted her eyes to met her own. They both quickly looked away, each caught up in their uneasiness.

"I brought the soap. Maybe it will help," Gabrielle said shyly.

"Okay, you go ahead and use it first. Just don't take too long, I'm going nuts with this itching," she said with a lop-sided grin.

Gabrielle smiled back and began soaping herself quickly. Xena watched her friend from the corner of her eye, trying not to be obvious about her staring. The Bard had such flawless skin, except for the slight scarring she had gotten from the wounds from the Thessalian war. Gabrielle's skin was lightly tanned where her skin was exposed by her Amazon garb, and pale pink elsewhere else.

*Don't even think about it!* she told herself severely. She turned her eyes away, trying to control her thoughts.

"Xena, could you do my back?" the Bard asked. The Warrior felt her guts tighten. *So much for the effects of cold water!* she thought wryly. She turned to face her unsuspecting friend, forcing a bored smile on her face. Xena took the lump of soap from Gabrielle's hand and waded up behind her.

Gabrielle gathered her hair and pulled it over one shoulder, giving Xena better access to her back. She felt Xena's warm hands, slick with soap, slide across her flesh. She closed her eyes in guilty pleasure, enjoying her touch. Her chin drooped downwards, hinting to the Warrior to get the back of her neck as well.

The Warrior raised her hand to Gabrielle's neck, soaping the pale skin. She noticed that her scalp was much paler than the rest of her skin , and that she had baby fine hair curling along her hairline. She was tempted to linger, but she curled her lip in self-deridement. She slapped Gabrielle's arm lightly and told her she was done.

"Thanks. Did you want me to do yours?" the Bard offered.

"Did it help your itching any?" Xena asked.

"No, not really. I still feel like I've been bitten by a few dozen mosquitoes," she confessed.

"Hmm. Then it probably wouldn't do much good. Huh? What's that?" Xena said curiously, while looking puzzled. She cocked her head, looking at Gabrielle's ear.

"What? What do you see?" the Bard asked nervously.

"You haven't washed your ears lately!" Xena said mischievously and shoved the Bard's head under water. She released her hold on the smaller woman, trying to head for safety before Gabrielle could retaliate.

"Oh no you don't! That was a dirty trick!" she complained. The strawberry blond dived for the Warrior, just barely getting a grip on her dark hair.

"Ouch! Gabrielle, only girls fight by pulling hair."

The Bard kept her hold on the Warrior's wet locks, laughing. She made a show of looking down at her breasts. "Funny, I thought I *was* a girl," she quipped.

Her actions made Xena lower her eyes against her better judgement. She quirked her lips humorously, in spite of the lovely view.

"Well I'll be...You *are* a girl. No wonder you fight like a sissy."

"A sissy! Those are fightin' words. Prepare for battle Warrior Princess!"


Part Two

Anteros couldn't believe how hard-headed these two women were. He
had just sent his best itching punishment on them, and instead of repenting
they were taking a bath together. Not that the image of the two frolicking
together didn't do wonders for his appreciation of the other sex, even if
they did happen to be mortals, but he wondered how long it would take the
couple to wake up and smell the roses.

He eyed them in an annoyed disgust as he heard the almost bittersweet mournful cry of the short one, The blond was fighting off the feelings brought on by the tall one's body as she picked her up, throwing her through the air to land in a huge splash back in the water. 'At least the cold water soaked my fevered brain, ' he mimicked nastily at the thoughts of the unaware girl. *Man, maybe Mom was right, and they truly are pathetic.*

*But wait, what do my hurting ears hear?* The flagrant desire of the tall one, her skin burning from where the other one was pressed against her. *Maybe there's hope for these unrepentant idiots yet!* Anteros smiled, keeping an eye on the two as they played.

"Ooh, you're going to pay for that one, Warrior Princess!" Gabrielle declared as she rose up out of the frigid water. The coolness had succeeded in chasing their unceasing itchiness away, at least for the moment.

"Oh yeah? I'm shaking, and I'm not even wearing my boots," the Warrior said, flashing a smile as she showed her unshaking hand in front of the Bard's face.

"That didn't even make sense, Xena. Why would the chance increase,
or decrease, just because you are wearing boots?" the Bard asked, advancing slowly and carefully on the Warrior, preparing herself for any sudden movements on the Warrior's part.

"Because, Gabrielle--in my boots, I have some protection--out of them--I'm...defenseless," Xena said, the picture of pure innocence.

Gabrielle snorted in a very unladylike manner. "Right. You, the Warrior Princess...defenseless. Tell me another one." Gabrielle's sarcasm showed through. She closed the distance between her and the Warrior, then propelled herself at her, determined to take her down. Unfortunately, her momentum drove them towards the bank, and not the water. They landed in some very uncomfortable, dark leafy branches.

"Oof!" Xena grunted, the weight of Gabrielle's body jarring her onto the ground. She looked up through the dark bangs that were hanging in her eyes and raised her eyebrow at her. "Comfortable?" she asked, the air
wheezing into her restricted lungs.

Gabrielle stretched, enjoying the feel of Xena's muscled body below
her's and grinned impishly. "Mm-hmm," she murmured lazily, gazing down into Xena's beet red face.

"Well, I'm not!" she managed to say, before she hoisted Gabrielle up, rolling her onto the leafy greenery that was all around them. Her eyes twinkled with laughter until they took in the familiar size, color and formation of the plants they were lying on. Then they widened, and a whole stream of curses came shooting out of the Warrior's mouth.

She hopped up like she'd been bitten, hauling Gabrielle up after her, pulling them both back into the lake.

"Xena...wh-" Gabrielle started to protest, as Xena's curses never seemed to end.

"Hades damnation!" The Warrior spat, biting on her lip hard enough to make it bleed. She looked mad enough to beat a hundred men single- handedly in that moment.

"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle asked once she found the nerve to speak again. *What could have spooked the Warrior so bad?*

Xena shook her head and emitted a short, sharp, sardonic laugh. "Well, if we weren't itching before Gabrielle, we will be now," her voice laced with both amusement and frustration.

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, not comprehending in the slightest what the Warrior was saying.

"You just sent us rolling into poison oak."

"Poison?" the Bard asked, her face as white as a sheet.

"Don't worry, it won't kill us. But by the time it's over, we're going to wish that we were dead," Xena said, having suffered the effects of the Hades' forsaken vegetation before.

"Can't you do something? Can't you cure us?" Gabrielle asked, looking for help from the one person she had become accustomed to counting on.

"I know of some plant remedies, that can help ease the suffering, but we're going to have to wait for it to go away. Only time can ease this plant's effects," Xena said grimly, not believing the events that had unfolded in just a few short hours. It's almost like they were being punished for something.


"Ugh, Xena it's really starting to itch now!" Gabrielle was scratching frantically at her rash infested body. "I itch in places I never even thought about before!"

Xena, who was as uncomfortable as Gabrielle, kept a tight face, and continued stirring the concoction she had made. "There," she said finally. "That should do it." She exhaled a tightly kept breath. "Come here and I'll put this on you," Xena said, while trying hard not to scratch like Gabrielle was doing.

"Eeuuw, that stuff stinks!" Gabrielle said, as she came forward and knelt beside Xena.

"Do you want to stop scratching or not?" Xena asked irritably, her voice harsh with the torment she was feeling.

Gabrielle nodded her head savagely.

"Alright," Xena said, glad her point had reached the Bard's ears. She started applying the foul smelling concoction vigorously, trying not to miss a spot. As she worked along her back, she noticed some redness on Gabrielle's backside. "You'll have to lay down so I can get the rest of you," Xena ordered.

Gabrielle did as she was told, and was shocked to feel the chilled hands of the Warrior on her bottom. "What are you doing?" the confusion heavy in her voice.

"I'm sure you don't want to itch here," Xena said humorously even as she was fighting the sensations that were coursing through her from the contact with Bard's skin.

Gabrielle bit her lip to keep from smiling and relaxed as the Warrior finished her not-too-unpleasant task.

"My turn," The Warrior said, waiting for the Bard to move so that she could flop onto her stomach. Gabrielle rose, smiling her thanks, then got ready to treat her friend to the same applications.

"Eeuuw. It feels weird!" Gabrielle said, dipping her finger into the bowl.

Xena groaned into the ground, the tenseness of what she was going through, not to mention what she was about to be going through, tightening her like a drum. "Can we get on with this, please?" The Warrior ground out before inhaling as the Bard's hands came down on her back, spreading the stuff all over her skin.

Gabrielle found herself getting caught up in the motion, turning the dispensing of medicine into an exquisite massage for the Warrior. Not a spot on the taller woman's body was missed. In a trance-like state, Gabrielle explored Xena's body, the purpose of the exercise being quickly forgotten.

Xena, eyes closed, relaxed into the massage, the tenseness alleviating from her taut body. When she felt the Bard's fingers slide over her backside, the electricity that went through her was enough to make her open her eyes again. She fought her rampaging hormones as Gabrielle massaged the ointment into her tight flesh. She relaxed again when the Bard moved onto her legs, and her breathing resumed a more normal pace. Finally, her willpower could stand it no more and she forced herself to speak. "Are you done?" she asked, the words muffled by the grass.

"What?" The Bard asked, her speech almost hypnotic from the trance she had put herself in.

Xena picked her head up from its resting place. "I said, are you done?" she enunciated, trying to shake off the shivers that were still effecting her.

"Oh...yeah. You're done," The Bard said, putting the bowl down and rising from her spot. She grabbed her shift and was about to put it on when Xena spoke again.

"Better wait a few minutes. You don't want that stuff seeping into your clothes. You'll never get the smell out. I'd be traveling with a skunk." Xena make a show of pinching her nose shut and waving her hand.

"Very funny," Gabrielle growled. "You don't smell like roses yourself, Warrior Princess." She picked up the bowl and stalked angrily to the lake to wash it, hearing her friend chuckle deeply behind her.

"Well, it was all your fault. If you hadn't knocked us into the poison oak, we wouldn't be in this condition," she chided.

"Xena, we were itching before that, but for the life of me, I don't know why."

"I can't explain it either, but at least we feel better now."


Anteros stood there, fuming. *What does it take to get these two into a clinch?* he said under his breath. *Well, I'm sure that with that goop all over them, it wouldn't be too appealing anyway. I'll just bide my time. Time! I had better get back home before 'Hephie' shows up!* He vanished into nothingness, vowing to return later.


Gabrielle stirred the ingredients, hoping this batch tasted better than her last attempt at trying new foods. The vendor at the market claimed the odd yellow roots were both tasty and healthy. She had added them to her usual mixture of vegetables and meat from the rabbit that Xena had snared earlier. She used her wooden spoon to take a tentative taste. *Not bad,* she thought.

"Any good?" Xena asked.

"Taste it and see.", she challenged. She held up a spoonful to the Warrior. Xena glanced at her, wary to try. Last time, she couldn't get the bitter taste out of her mouth all day. She saw Gabrielle smiling smugly at her, daring her to try it. Not about to let her challenge go unmet, Xena opened her mouth and allowed the Bard to feed her. She held the food in her mouth, waiting for the flavor to make itself known. It wasn't bad, and she chewed it.

"Not bad," she commented, "kind of sweet."

"It does taste sweet. I'll have to look for those roots again the next time we hit a market." Gabrielle brought the spoon to her mouth, licking off the small amount that Xena left behind. The Warrior watched breathlessly as Gabrielle's pink tongue lapped at the spoon. Xena felt her mouth go dry at the sight.

"Ready to eat?" Gabrielle asked, unaware of the Warrior's wide-eyed stare.

"Yeah," Xena squeaked. She cleared her throat, "Give me a large helping, I'm hungry."

Anteros arrived on Mount Olympus just in time to see the God of the
forge lumbering into the main hall.

"Hey, Hephaestus, what's up?" Anteros asked, clasping the big guy on the shoulder.

"Oh you know, same old- same old." Hephaestus said, searching the great hall for the stunning beauty of his wife. "Anything new with you?"

*Oh you know, just punishing two mortals for not going with the love emotion,* He thought with a grin, which he quickly replaced with a straight face when Hephaestus looked his way.

"Nah. More of the same," Anteros said, following the forge god's wandering gaze. "I bet you're looking for Mom. She had to step out and take care of some business, but she should be back soon." Anteros said.

Noticing the searching eyes turn into a glowering stare, he quickly suggested that the two of them play darts until Dite returned. Anteros lost five games out of seven by the time the love goddess showed up. He was quickly tiring of being defeated, and began itching to get back to the more pressing matter of making life miserable for Xena and Gabrielle.

"Hey Hephie, I'm home!" Aphrodite called, waltzing up to the big god, laying a long one on his lips. She then turned to her boy, "Did you keep him entertained while I was away?" she asked her errant son.

"Yeah, he beat my butt at darts. Can I go now?" Anteros asked, getting sickened at the sight of his mom putting the moves on Hephaestus.

"Hmm..," Aphrodite said absently, stroking Hephaestus' muscular chest, "Oh yeah. You can bail now Anteros." And without further notice of her son, she and Hephaestus jitterbugged their way to their private chamber. Anteros waited until the chamber door had closed completely behind the couple before grinning and disappearing, ready to have some more fun with the thick headed duo.


"More?" Gabrielle asked, getting ready to serve the Warrior a third helping of her wonderfully tasty, thick stew. Xena nodded her head, and Gabrielle refilled the bowl, accidentally dipping her finger into the serving. Grinning, she licked the hot soup off of her finger, and Xena's heart triple- hammered as she watched the display.

"Here ya go!" Gabrielle said, handing the stew to Xena.

"Thank you." Xena croaked out before taking the bowl and eating. "You know if I keep eating like this, I won't be able to get on Argo again," Xena said grinning.

Gabrielle took the comment for what it was, a compliment on her cooking, and smiled her thanks at Xena. Gabrielle finished her portion and put the empty dish in front of her before patting her happy stomach.

"Whew, I'm full!" Gabrielle exclaimed, and reclined back on the grass, resting her hand on her stomach and peering at Xena through satisfied eyes.

"I wonder why. You've only had four bowls," Xena said, chuckling. Gabrielle just grinned and closed her eyes, content in the moment. Xena sat entranced at the vision before her. Gabrielle laid there, a serene smile curving her lips. A young girl who had grown up in front of her eyes and turned into a fine woman. A woman she desired, and had to admit she loved, but didn't think she deserved.

In her fondest fantasies, Gabrielle was hers. Alive and radiant, under her loving caresses, being shown just how much a Warrior could love. Xena sighed quietly, longing to lie next to her, and run a finger along Gabrielle's lips, following their sweet lines before tasting them. She let herself soak in the moment, and the fantasy, for a long time, before chastising herself severely and made herself think about a less dangerous topic, like sharpening her sword.

"Ah-choo!" Xena exploded in a strong sneeze, making Gabrielle's eyes pop open.


Part Three

"Are you okay? That sounded awful." Gabrielle said with concern.

"Yeah, I'm... Ah-choo!" Xena began a rapid series of painful and teeth-rattling sneezes.

Gabrielle jumped up and knelt next to her friend. Xena was sneezing so hard and fast that she feared she'd injure herself. The Warrior was trying to stop them, but they kept coming. Gabrielle grabbed a cloth and held it out to her friend. Xena took it, holding it over her nose. The sneezing continued. Feeling helpless, Gabrielle put her arms around the Warrior's shoulders. Then as suddenly as they appeared, the sneezes stopped.

"Are you okay? What happened?" the Bard asked.

"I don't know. I had the worst tickle inside my nose, but I have no idea why," she said as she wiped her face with the cloth.

"Well, it seems to have stopped. That was just too weird. Are you sure you're okay?" she said while brushing the dark hair from Xena's eyes.

"I'm fine. No need to fuss," she said with a smile.

"It isn't fussing--it's concern. There's a difference, I'll have you know."

"Oh? Care to explain it?" her lips pursed in attempt to hide her smile.

"Well...If I insisted you go straight to bed, and tucked you in--that would be fussing. But since I know you're a big girl..," she grinned impishly, "I won't tell you to do anything."

" And the fact you know you couldn't make me do anything against my will anyway is beside the point." Xena added.

"True. You have a size advantage over me, and aren't too shabby in the brains department either. So the only options I have is common sense and a sad-eyed look that works with you sometimes."

"Waitaminute! Are you telling me that you do that deliberately?"

"Yep. You have this big mushy spot insi...," she didn't get to finish, because Xena attacked. With unerring accuracy, Xena found the Bard's ribs, tickling her friend. Gabrielle yelped while trying to escape the torturous fingers of the taller woman.

"Oh no you don't Miss Puppy-dog Eyes. You're going to pay for that confession!" Xena pinned her down, then straddled her hips. She grabbed both of the smaller woman's wrists within one hand and lowered her free hand to renew her attack. Gabrielle squealed, hating to be tickled.

"I give! I give! Please!" she pleaded.

"Nope, it won't work this time!" Xena said gleefully.

"Xena!" she whimpered. To the Bard's relief, the tickling fingers stopped. She gulped air into her burning lungs, trying to catch her breath. Her eyes were tightly closed, and didn't see the mournful yearnings on the face of her friend.

Xena hadn't realized just how near she was to Gabrielle until just this moment. She could see the faint sprinkling of freckles on the Bard's face, and feel the heat of her body beneath her own. The Warrior could smell her fresh breath, mixed the scent of the meal they had just eaten. She took everything in at once, wishing she could ignore her rampaging heart. Unable to take it any longer, she released the Bard and rolled off of her, and laid on the ground next to her, looking up to the sky, hoping for help from the Gods.

Part Four

"Xena? Are you all right?" Gabrielle said, noticing the change of mood in her friend. Gone was the laughing eyes and playful smile. The moody Warrior had returned.

"Yeah," Xena said, without breaking her gaze from the clouds above.

*What are you so worried about? It's not like she would tell you if something was wrong anyway,* the Bard scolded herself. Gabrielle peered closer into Xena's face. "Are you sure? What are you doing?"

"Yes. I'm sure--and I'm cloud watching," The Warrior said, with as much dignity as she could.

Gabrielle tried to stop herself, but there was no stopping the giggle that escaped from her tightly clamped lips. "You're what? Xena : Cloud watcher!" Gabrielle proclaimed dramatically.

Xena gave her a dark look, but Gabrielle was helpless in the laughter that was issuing from her body. "Is cloud watching one of your 'many' skills?" Gabrielle said, tears streaming down her face, from the laughter shaking her whole body. She collapsed on the ground and rolled hysterically.

Xena's irritation with the Bard was growing the longer and harder that she laughed. "Gabrielle," Xena said in a warning tone.

Gabrielle looked at Xena's face and saw that she was getting mad, which just made the laughter worse, because now she was now laughing out of nervousness. She pressed her hand tightly against her mouth, praying for the laughter to cease, but it just kept going. Her throat was getting raw from the squeals of laughter, and her stomach was getting sick from the abuse it was taking.

"Xena," she said, trying to talk through the laughter. "I can't stop!" Xena shook her head irritably, not believing her until she saw the panic stricken look in Gabrielle's eyes.

Xena rolled to her side and propped herself up onto one elbow. Gabrielle was turning red from her hysterical laughter and Xena felt her own panic well up inside. *What in Tartarus is going on?* The Warrior scooted closer to her best friend and gathered the smaller woman close to her, tucking the reddish blond head under her chin. She reached a long arm around the Bard and pulled her snuggly against her. Almost at once, she felt the laughter subside.

Gabrielle took a deep breath as the laughter eased and her heartbeat slowed down to a more normal tempo--as normal as it could get considering her closeness to Xena's warm body. Her face was tucked into the Warrior's neck and Gabrielle inhaled deeply, enjoying the unique scent that defined her friend. She felt Xena's pulse throb beneath her lips, and it was all the Bard could do to prevent herself from pressing a lingering kiss on the warm skin.

"Are you alright?" Xena's concerned voice penetrated her haze.

"Huh?...Oh! Yeah, I'm fine." She didn't attempt to move, but chose to remain where she was.

Xena felt a warm shivering thrill shoot through her body as Gabrielle's lips lightly grazed her skin as she spoke. *Damn! Damn! Damn! Xena, my dear, get a grip on yourself! She doesn't have a clue what's she's doing to you. Just let go of her and move away...come on, you can do it!*, she told herself, but her body refused to follow her command. It stubbornly held on to the smaller woman, reveling in their contact.

Xena ran her hand over Gabrielle's back--with the excuse that she was just comforting the Bard, but her inner voice mocked her.

*Yeah, right! Who are you trying to kid? You *like* touching her--a lot! Let go of her before you do something stupid--like kissing her!* Xena sighed in resignation and slowly pulled away. Gabrielle looked up at her, somewhat embarrassed at her own response to the contact. She had wanted to stay next to her for the rest of day, but knew that was unrealistic.

She gazed into Xena's blue eyes, losing herself for a minute, silence falling like a blanket on top of them. Then moving like one person, they both sprung to their feet, heading off in two different directions to make themselves busy.

Xena grabbed her sword and honing stone and let the soothing sound of stone across metal settle her frazzled nerves. Gabrielle grabbed her parchment and quill, thinking how good a story today's events would be. She wasn't quite sure that she saw the humorous aspects of the tale, but she knew others would.

She gazed absently at the rash from the poison oak, that was on her arm, and sighed inwardly. Today wouldn't go down in her journal as one of her better days.


Xena woke before dawn, feeling the need to get an early start. She was starting to think that this campsite was unlucky, not that she believed in luck, and wanted to be away from it before anything else happened. She rolled her bedroll, secured it on Argo, and went about cleaning up camp, storing supplies in Argo's saddlebags, and packing them on the horse.

"Gabrielle...wake up." Xena called to her sleeping companion, who looked, Xena thought, even more blessed asleep than awake. Gabrielle mumbled incoherently, and struggled against waking up. Xena fetched breakfast out of the saddlebag and called to her again.

Gabrielle muttered grumpily, eyes still closed. "I bet the sun hasn't even
graced the sky yet." Xena smirked at the comment, then walked over to where Gabrielle was laying, water bag in one hand.

"Gabrielle...wake up." Xena called too cheerfully and Gabrielle knew she was up to something. She started to open her eyes when she suddenly got a face full of water. Sputtering, she sat up, her eyes glaring angrily at Xena.

"That wasn't necessary. I was waking up!" she growled.

"Well, now you're awake." Xena said, trying to hold back a chuckle. Gabrielle looked so darn *cute* when she was wet. "Get up." Xena heard an almost imperceptible curse come from the Bard, as Gabrielle rose, and stumbled in the direction of the bushes.

Keeping an ear out for her in case of trouble, she rolled Gabrielle's bedroll and placed it on Argo's back, next to her own.

"Would you mind telling me why we're getting up so early?" Gabrielle said, stomping back into camp. Her talking skills had improved rapidly since she had stumbled off, Xena thought amused, struggling to keep the smile off her face. She remained silent.

"Helios has just now started his journey across the sky, so would you mind telling me why you're in such a hurry?" the Bard said crossly.

Xena rolled her eyes at the dramatic display and handed Gabrielle her breakfast. "Because Gabrielle, if we leave now, we can make it to Athens by nightfall. Just think--a soft bed, a warm bath, food that we didn't cook ourselves, plus--who knows, you might even run into one of your friends from the Academy."

That moment of her life hadn't been the best of times but she knew Gabrielle had learned a lot, made some friends, and came back happier for the experience. Xena had learned a lesson with that one: Release her, let her go, and if it's meant to be, she will come back to you. Something she had to remind herself of a couple of other times as well.

Gabrielle saw the play of emotions on Xena's face and thought about where they had come from. She knew that her leaving had been hard on her friend. The Bard couldn't say that she regretted the experiences or what she had learned from them, but she truly regretted that it had hurt Xena.

Trying to lighten the mood, she said, "Hey, you don't have to convince me, let's go."


Anteros looked on in utter frustration. He had left them the night before, disgusted with the fact that they had slept on opposite sides of the fire, huddled in their bedrolls--alone and miserable. He could read their thoughts and feelings. The need to be close to the other, both yearning inside for the contact they believed they couldn't have. Both wished for the comfort they could have in the other's arms yet to afraid to reach out.

The young god had almost sent upon them another little irritation, but had found himself pitying them instead. He thought he's give them one night's respite from his anger.

Now, with the light of the new morning, the Warrior Princess had taken her unfulfilled needs out on the younger woman with a face full of water. *That's no way to win another's love, Xena. You have to do better than that!*

With a devilish grin, he placed a hole in the road--just under the Bard's foot as she stepped down with it.


Gabrielle squealed briefly and then gasped in pain as she twisted her ankle inside a hole she hadn't noticed. She fell to her knees, scraping her palms on the graveled path. Xena stopped and dismounted, concern written on her face.

"Let me see how bad it is."

"Pretty bad if the pain is any indication," Gabrielle said between clenched teeth.

Xena supported her as she guided the smaller woman to a large rock near the edge of the road. Gabrielle hopped on one foot as she turned around to sit, her ankle throbbing with each heartbeat. Her breath hissed out of her lungs as her friend carefully removed her boot. With gentle fingers, she examined the swollen skin and bones.

"It's not broken, but you're not going to be walking for several days. I'll put a cool cloth on it and hopefully that'll keep down the swelling."

Gabrielle nodded, not trusting her voice not to break from the incredible pain she felt. Xena stood, her heart going out to her friend. The Bard's lips were white from the pain and she was trying so hard not to give in to it. She placed a hand on her friend's shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze before walking away.

The Warrior returned with the waterbag and bindings. Luckily, the lake water she had filled it with was still cold. She soaked the cloth strips and then gingerly wrapped Gabrielle's ankle, winching inwardly at every flinch the Bard made. Once done with her ankle, she turned over Gabrielle's hands, examining the damages there. Seeing several dirt-filled scratches, she took another wet cloth and gently cleaned them while cupping the small hands within her own. She reluctantly released them, then told her friend to stay put while she fetched Argo. Like it or not--she was riding for the next few days.

Xena led her horse as close to the injured woman as possible, then helped her to stand. Xena considered her options because it was obvious that Gabrielle couldn't stand on one foot and still mount the horse. She bent over and scooped her friend into her arms, holding her close momentarily before hefting her up onto the saddle.

"Hey! At least warn me when you're going to do that!" she complained. *So I can remind myself not to get too excited by it!* she thought to herself.

Xena only grunted and picked up the reins, intending to walk.

"You're not riding?" Gabrielle felt disappointment seep into her soul.

Xena only shook her head in reply. There was no way she could take it right now. It was better this way. Yesterday's actions had left her screaming for mercy inside, and she wasn't into self-torture she thought grimly...or maybe she was and just hadn't realized it until now. The Warrior just knew one thing--she wasn't getting on that horse today!


Xena felt incredibly guilty, and she had absolutely no idea why. She saw the pain Gabrielle was striving not to show on her face from the jostling her ankle was taking because of the horse's gait. It wasn't like she had put the hole in front of Gabrielle's foot. Gabrielle wasn't always this clumsy but then again, these things happen.

Xena had no sooner finished that thought when she tripped over a branch that was lying in the middle of the road. She fell, splat, face first into a mud puddle, which she would have stepped over if she hadn't tripped over a piece of wood she hadn't seen.

"Xena...are you okay?" Gabrielle asked the prone figure.

Xena picked her face up out of the mud and looked at her. Mud dripped in slimy rivulets down her face, and Gabrielle had all she could do to keep a straight face."

Just fine, Gabrielle," Xena answered sarcastically, rising unsteadily
to her feet. Taking the waterbag from the saddle, she poured water into her cupped palm and washed her face off. When she was reasonably sure she had all the mud off, she replaced the waterbag. Glaring at the branch before picking up Argo's reins, she continued walking, grumbling nastily to herself.

It seemed like after that, Xena just couldn't do anything right. She picked a flower for Gabrielle, who had pleaded incessantly for it, and got stung by a bee. Passing a farm, she stopped to get some milk from a cow and was pelted by eggs because an irate farmer thought that she was a thief. It wasn't a good day for the Warrior Princess.

Xena decided to make camp early, (They weren't going to make Athens by nightfall at any rate.) and she was irritated and tired. Besides, she wanted to give Gabrielle a break. She had done wonderfully throughout the day, despite the pain, and really hadn't laughed too hard when Xena
was being pelted by the eggs.

Because of Gabrielle's injured ankle, Xena ended up doing most of the work, with Gabrielle's one task to make the soup. It seemed like Xena's bad luck was continuing, because while trying to get Argo unloaded, she tangled the reins horribly, something she had never done until now. It took her a half an hour to get them untangled.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle was looking at her, uncomfortable and hungry.

"Just a minute, Gabrielle, and I'll fetch you some water," Xena said, laying the gear on the ground. She took the great iron pot from Gabrielle's outstretched hand, and walked to the stream. Kneeling, she dipped the pot in the water, scooping up the water and rising. She was turning to go back when her heel caught in the spin and her equilibrium suddenly went south. Her arms pin wheeled in the air before she lost her balance completely and fell, kerplunk, into the water.

Gabrielle, who had seen the whole thing, successfully fought the hysterical giggles that were bubbling up inside of her-- until she saw Xena's head emerge above the surface, spouting water like a blowfish. Gabrielle emitted a giggle, which turned into a chuckle, which quickly escalated into gales of laughter, as she fell backwards and lay laughing up into the
darkening sky.

Every time, she would successfully calm down, she would catch a glimpse of Xena stomping around, soaking wet, while trying to find a way to get dry, and that would set her off in another fit of laughter.

"Well...I'm glad to see that *you're* enjoying yourself," Xena said icily, placing the filled pot on the ground, "Would you mind if I started a fire? I'm freezing!"

""No, hehe...go right ahead...Ha!...I'm not stopping you...giggle."

"Well, actually you are. Unless you don't care if your feet catch fire," Xena said.

Gabrielle looked down at the pile of wood and noticed that she had scattered everything during her laughing fit. "I'm sorry, Xena!" Gabrielle said, sobering, "Here, let me help you."

She rose into a kneeling position, and helped Xena start a fire. She then grabbed a blanket and put it around the Warrior's shoulders, hugging her. They stayed in the position for long moments, neither wanting to break the embrace, until Gabrielle noticed that Xena was shivering.

"Here, sit by the fire, and I'll get the soup heated, that'll warm you up," Gabrielle said cheerfully, as she went about preparing the meal.

Xena looked at the rosy cheeks of her friend and shook her head in wonder. * How do I tell you that I shiver not from the cold, but from the feel of your body close to mine?*

Part Five

*Ahh...that's a little better! She's not saying the words aloud, but at least she's not pushing away the thoughts. I think it's time to give them a little push in the right direction!*

Opening his bag he borrowed from his cousin, he allowed the cold wind to escape.


"By the Gods! Where's this wind come from? Xena, get out of those wet clothes!" Gabrielle grabbed her blanket and bedroll and scooted over to Xena, who was pulling off her wet leather with difficulty.

"Here, wrap up and try to keep warm. The soup is almost ready," she ordered. Xena raised her eyebrow and smiled indulgently. Her friend could be a bossy little chit sometimes. She watched as Gabrielle filled a bowl with the hot vegetable soup and handed it to her.

"I'll get you a spoon," the Bard said, but Xena stopped her.

"Never mind. My hands are shaking so bad that it wouldn't be of much use. I'll just sip from the bowl."

Gabrielle gave her a sympathetic smile and grabbed a dry cloth from the saddle bag. She crawled carefully over to Xena, trying not to hurt her ankle. She then positioned herself over and behind her friend.

"What are you doing?" Xena asked.

"I'm going to dry you hair. Just hold still."

Xena took a sip from the bowl, then leaned her head back, giving the kneeling Gabrielle easier access. The smaller woman gathered her wet tresses inside the cloth and rubbed until most of the water was absorbed. She then finger-combed the dark hair, making it easier for the air to finish the job. Xena felt herself savoring the touch of the warm fingers on her scalp, feeling a lazy languor steal into her blood. It would be so nice just to have this continue forever, she thought. It felt so good.

Gabrielle noticed a tiny smile curl the corners of Xena's mouth and her facial muscles relax. The Bard decided to continue with her actions, more than happy to do something to please her friend. She enjoyed the feel of the silky hair between her fingers, but she had to admit, the greatest appeal was the satisfaction she got from the act of touching and the trust her friend gave her. The aloof warrior had allowed her inside her walls enough to let her see glimpses of the woman within, and Gabrielle knew few had ever been allowed to be this close.

But all things came to an end, and Gabrielle knew it was time to stop. She reluctantly removed her hands from Xena's hair and gave her shoulders a brief affectionate rub to let the Warrior know it was over. Xena raised her head back up and murmured a soft thanks.

Xena returned her attention to the now cool soup and lowered her eyes. She had gotten lost in the sensations and now felt a little uneasy. She had sensed a change in the way Gabrielle touched her, but why? She tried to push the thought away, afraid to read too much into it. It could just be her wishful thinking and there was no way she'd take a chance on asking about it. If she was wrong, the damage to their relationship could be far reaching, and she wasn't unwilling to risk it. It was better to have a loving friendship than to have nothing at all.

Gabrielle saw Xena curl her lip at what now must be cold soup. She took the bowl out of Xena's unsteady hands and took another bowl and filled it with hot soup from the pot. She then dumped the cold liquid back into the pot for reheating. She handed the new bowl to her friend.

The rest of the evening was silent, both lost in their own private thoughts. They crawled into their lonely blankets and wished for something beyond their grasp.


Xena awoke to cloud darkened skies and felt a great weight press down on her. The smaller woman must have rolled closer to her during the night. She looked down at the sleeping face of her Bard and thought to herself that perhaps it would be best if they separated. The strain of the last few days had been too much, and the ex-warlord no longer wanted to battle her own thoughts and feelings. She knew that her own resolve was weakening and it wouldn't be long before she did something stupid to end their friendship. It would be better to part as friends than have Gabrielle hate and despise her for the rest of her life. She would leave her behind in Athens. Maybe Gabrielle would finally attend the Academy and earn her rightful place in this world as a bard. She'd tell her once they got there.

*NO!* thought Anteros. Where had he gone wrong? He had heard the thoughts of the Warrior Princess and was appalled. This wasn't supposed to turn out this way! They were supposed to turn to one another and declare their undying love--not separate! He gathered all his anger about him and lashed out the fury he felt.


Xena carefully extricated herself out from under the slumbering bard, and started preparing for the continued trip to Athens. Her mood was somber as she finished loading their gear. If everything goes well, today would be the last time she loaded all of this stuff on Argo. Argo should be happy at least, her load would be lighter by one. Gabrielle was easy to wake for once and they were soon on their way. Gabrielle again taking residence on the horse, while Xena walked beside her.

Gabrielle noticed the Warrior's disturbed mood, but just figured she was tired and irritable from the past couple of days events. Her own mood was chipper, looking forward to all of the great things Athens had to offer. Xena hadn't had to work too hard to tempt her into the journey. Gabrielle knew all too well about the soft beds, great tasting and interesting foods, and the well known markets that Athens was famous for. Plus, the chance on running into an old friend while there made the bizarre happenings during the trip worth while.

Gabrielle made attempts to get the warrior into conversations but Xena would answer only in monosyllables or grunts, so Gabrielle gave up the cause and worked out a couple of stories in her head.

Xena for her part, spent the miles working on rebuilding the wall Gabrielle had meticulously tore down. She knew saying goodbye would hurt far less, if she could only just get that wall in place. But each time she got a piece in place, she would remember a smile, a laugh, or a knowing look from the bard and it came crashing down again. She gave up the task as futile, knowing that no matter how hard she worked she would never be able to shut Gabrielle out of her heart. Sighing Xena resigned herself to the fact that this was going to hurt. A lot.

Finally, they reached the great city, and Gabrielle gawked at the markets, fondly remembering her last excursion among its wares.

"Xena, think we can do a little shopping later?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes hopeful.

Xena looked at her and forced herself to smile. "Maybe," she said. Maybe if she buttered the Bard up on all the fine things Athens offered, she would want to stay.

Gabrielle smiled back. She knew Xena hated to shop, but was happy that Xena was humoring her.

"I suppose we should find an inn first huh?" Gabrielle said, an impish smile tugging her mouth. "Or, we could stay in the stable with Argo."

Xena snorted. "I didn't come all the way to Athens just to sleep with the horses." Xena said, giving her friend a lopsided grin, then turned the grin on Argo when she snorted. "No offense."

Gabrielle chuckled, happy that Xena was in a better mood, and prepared herself to enjoy her stay.

The room Xena ushered them into was large and spacious. It contained a large bed, two chairs and a table, a fire place, and a place to put their clothes and wash up. When Gabrielle saw the sheer size and luxuriousness of the room, she looked back at Xena dubiously.

"Xena, are you sure we can afford this? How much are we paying for the night?"

Xena had no intention of telling Gabrielle how much it had cost. The Bard would just worry that it was too much and wouldn't enjoy herself. Insisting that she help pay for it.

"Relax, Gabrielle. It's really not that high. Now, would you just relax and enjoy yourself? And get off that ankle, you shouldn't be walking on it, and you're lucky I didn't pick you up and carry you inside."

Gabrielle thought that really wouldn't have been all that bad, considering, then shook her head to clear it. 'Stop that, Gabrielle! Really. She doesn't think of you that way. You would think after two and a half years you would get that through your head! ' Gabrielle smarted from the self-scolding but didn't let on to Xena. Instead she shrugged nonchalantly.

"It's really not that bad. It hardly even hurts any more."

Xena grunted. "I still want to take a look at it. Sit down on the bed."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but complied to Xena's order. Xena knelt in front of her and lifted up her leg. Gabrielle clutched on to Xena's shoulder to maintain her balance, while the Warrior removed the boot and studied the ankle. Gabrielle was right. The ankle had healed considerably, but Xena still didn't want Gabrielle walking around on it just now.

"Well...?" Gabrielle said.

"Well...the swelling has gone down. But I don't think you should do a lot of walking tonight." Seeing Gabrielle's frustrated look, Xena continued trying to placate her.

"We'll go shopping tomorrow, I promise. But I want you to rest that tonight," Xena said, tapping the ankle lightly, "We'll bathe, eat, have a good night's sleep...and then tomorrow..."

"Tomorrow?" Gabrielle prodded.

"We'll go bargain hunting." Xena said, wrinkling her nose, but Gabrielle didn't care. Xena always kept her promises. She hugged Xena tightly, which Xena returned awkwardly.


"Gabrielle, if you eat all that, I'll have to carry you up the stairs tonight!" Xena teased when she got a look at the plate Gabrielle had filled from the banquet table.

"You're a strong woman. You can handle it," the Bard deadpanned.

"Uh huh. I can handle you all right. I'll throw you over my shoulder and haul you up the stairs. Keep that in mind," Xena said with an impish grin.

"You wouldn't! Would you?" she asked. Gabrielle didn't relish the idea of being carried like a sack of grain. The Warrior just raised her eyebrow and smiled, leaving Gabrielle to wonder. Sometimes Xena could pull the wool completely over her eyes with the most serious expressions and she rarely caught on until it was too late.

The Bard remembered the time when Xena had her practically jumping out of her skin at every little sound one evening. The Warrior had told her about a creature that was known in those parts for stalking lone travelers. She had said that either the bodies were never found--or discovered in pieces later. Gabrielle never saw the glimmer of humor in Xena's eyes and had taken her short tale very seriously. The smallest of sounds had caused her to jump and squeal for several hours. It wasn't until Gabrielle had caught the older woman hiding a grin behind her hand did she finally realized that she'd been had. In spite of being suspicious with Xena's humor, the Bard was still fooled more often than she'd care to admit. She looked at her plate and decided it was worth the risk.

Digging into her food, she savored every bite, enjoying the first meal she didn't have to cook herself in a long time. She had taken some roasted quail, melon, bread, and cabbage leaves that were filled with a grain stuffing. Xena had taken only the smallest of portions of quail and fruit. Gabrielle wondered if her friend was feeling all right.

She couldn't be sure of course--not with that controlled face of Xena's, but she thought the Warrior looked a little...tense. Maybe they should call it a day as soon as they ate. She kept an eye on her friend during their meal, Xena just picked at her food. Maybe she was just tired.

"Do you just want to go to bed?" Gabrielle asked innocently.

Xena choked on the food in her mouth after inhaling it down wrong. The Bard quickly got to her feet to pound on her back.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, fine. I just swallowed wrong." Xena squeaked out. *Great! Just what I needed. Now I'll never get that image out of my head!* she thought with frustration.


Gabrielle finished her bath and stood to dry off. Xena had taken her bath first and had gotten into bed, pretending to sleep. But it was useless. The Warrior had ended up peeking like some pervert through slitted eyes to watch Gabrielle as she bathed. She knew she was just torturing herself, but Xena couldn't force her eyes to remain shut.

The Warrior had studied every movement as the younger woman washed herself. Every stroke of the hand that held the soap as it moved along her skin, the rise and fall of her breasts, the way she tilted her head during her bath, and the way her wet flesh shimmered and reflected the candlelight. Xena suppressed a moan of pleasure/pain and prayed for a cold breeze to blow through the window. No such luck. The heat of the summer made that possibility too farfetched. Another night's sleep shot to Tartarus. Xena saw Gabrielle stand to get out of the tub, and she felt her heart pound in her ears at the sight.

It just wasn't fair, she thought. At least she'd have this memory to savor in the future--when she was all alone.


Part Six

The atmosphere of the Athens market place was busy and cheerful, everyone emersed in the task of shopping. Gabrielle was moving from stall to stall, her curious bright eyes, taking in all of the exotic items for her perusal.

Wrapping a silk shawl around her head she swung around to look at her tall, muscular friend who was standing out of the way, letting the bard work.

"Well Xena. What do you think? Does this look good on me?" Gabrielle asked, batting her eyes at the Warrior innocently. Xena shrugged and smiled.

"Whatever you want Gabrielle," Xena said noncommittally.

Gabrielle digested the comment for a moment, then grunted. "Hmph. Not into fashion I see," Gabrielle muttered before putting the shawl back. Moving to the next stand she fingered some oranges, before deciding they were way out of her range and moving on.

Continuing to walk while looking at some baskets she collided with someone, and fell to the ground. The boy that she had run into quickly picked her up and started dusting her off, apologizing profusely, not looking her in the face because of his embarrassment.

"I'm so sorry, are you all right?" He asked stuttering.

"Fine," Gabrielle said lightly, trying to laugh it off. "I should have been watching where I was going. My name is Gabrielle and you are..." Gabrielle asked, then looking up she saw who she had been talking to. "Homer?"

"Gabrielle, fancy meeting you here. I thought you were off traveling with the Warrior Princess!" Homer said, gushing happily.

"I am. She should be right behind me. Xena?" Gabrielle called, looking behind her. Xena was nowhere in sight. "That's strange. She was behind me a minute ago.

"Maybe she went back to your inn?" Homer suggested.

"Maybe," Gabrielle said. It wasn't like Xena to just take off like that without telling her where she was going. Unless she spotted some trouble and went to take care of it. Gabrielle decided that was most likely the case, although she wished she had seen Xena leave.

"Are you done shopping?" Homer asked. "I could see you safely back to your inn," He offered, taking one arm.

Gabrielle stood undecided for a minute. What if Xena came back and panicked because she couldn't find her. *Not likely,* Gabrielle scolded herself. She was more apt to come back to the inn to see if she had gone back. "All right. I'm done shopping. I'd be happy to have your escort," Gabrielle said, then moved off in the inn's direction.

Xena stood watching the pair from the spot she was hiding in. She was glad to see Homer show up. Maybe he could talk her into going back to the Academy. She slipped out of sight, then ran back to the inn. She would have to prepare for her departure from Athens.


Gabrielle was having a great time. She had forgotten how much pleasure she had gotten from talking to Homer about her storytelling. Xena tried to understand her passion for it, but the Bard could tell that it wasn't something that Xena could truly comprehend. Gabrielle laughed and talked with Homer all the way back to the inn.

When they reached the entrance, Homer stood silent for a minute, as if he was undecided about something. "Well, " he said finally, "I guess I should get back to the Academy."

Gabrielle nodded. "It was great seeing you again Homer."

"Why don't you come back with me--to the Academy? You're a great bard Gabrielle, and I'd bet you'd graduate with top honors," he blurted out.

Gabrielle was already shaking her head. "No. I can't. I get more out of my stories traveling with Xena then I could ever get at the Academy. Besides, Xena needs me--to keep her out of trouble. I can't leave her," Gabrielle said with conviction.

Homer nodded his understanding. "Well, if you ever change your mind?"

"You'll be the first one to know." Gabrielle said, chuckling, giving him a quick hug and making him blush slightly. He waved good-bye and turned around, heading back for the market area. The Bard then went inside to quickly scanned the main room for her missing friend. Xena wasn't there. Walking up to their room, she entered and found the Warrior packing.

"There you are! How come you disappeared like that? And what are you doing?"

Xena looked up from her packing briefly, warrior's facade completely in place. "I thought you'd like to spend some time alone with your friend--and I'm packing."

Gabrielle's brow furrowed, her good mood quickly turning into consternation with her friend. "Xena, I wanted you to meet him. You could have said something--told me where you were going. And why are you packing--I thought we weren't leaving until tomorrow?"

"We aren't leaving. I am." Xena said quietly, not looking at her.

"What?" Gabrielle asked. She felt a cold hand grip her heart. *This can't be happening!* she thought in disbelief.

"I think it's time you went to the Academy and finished your schooling."

Gabrielle was now seeing red. "I can't believe your trying to get rid of me! I thought that we were through with this Xena--that I had finally convinced you that I'm not going anywhere without you. I guess I was wrong."

"Look," Xena said, straightening up to face Gabrielle. "Aren't you tired of following a half-crazed ex-warlord around Greece? Aren't you tired of almost losing your life because of me? Come on Gabrielle, be sensible! This is the best thing for you."

"What brought this on? Have I done something to displease you? Have I done anything to deserve this?" Gabrielle asked, waving her arms wildly.

"No." Xena answered quietly. "I'm just trying to think of what's best for you."

"Well, stop thinking so hard Xena. This is my life, and if I choose to follow a 'half-crazed ex-warlord' around Greece, that's my business. Not yours! You can't make me stay behind Xena, and no matter how hard you try to get rid of me, I will always follow you--whether you like it or not!" Gabrielle yelled, her face beet red. Suddenly, Gabrielle grabbed at her throat, her breathing wheezing in and out as she tried desperately to catch her breath. The Bard saw spots in front of her eyes before everything turned black and she passed out.

"Gabrielle!!" Xena yelled, rushing to her friend's side. Scooping up the smaller woman, Xena gently placed her on the bed to examine her. Gabrielle wasn't breathing and was turning blue. She opened her friend's mouth, looking for a possible cause but saw none. Using the same technique that she had used in the Thessalian temple, Xena placed her mouth over Gabrielle's and blew her own breath into the smaller woman's lungs several times. Seconds passed with agonizing slowness as Xena watched her friend for any reactions. Nothing.

Xena's heart pounded in fear, her pulse throbbing so hard she could hear her own heartbeat drown out all other sounds. Her long fingers searched for a pulse in Gabrielle's neck--finding it, her terror subsided just a touch, but her friend was still not breathing.

She lowered her mouth once more. Her lips had barely touched Gabrielle's when the Bard suddenly jerked into consciousness. Xena jumped back slightly in surprise. She returned to her position above Gabrielle and took her small hand, clutching it to her breast in relief.

Gabrielle sucked in air into her burning lungs in a loud gasp, panting heavily until her body recovered. She looked up, and felt the last of her fear ebb away as she realized Xena was by her side. Her face and body relaxed. She closed her eyes.

"Gabrielle?" was all the shaken warrior could say.

Green eyes reopened and glistened with tears. The young woman squeezed Xena's warm hand, not knowing what to say. She had been so frightened by what had happened. She had thought that she was going to die just before she blacked out. She shivered in cold fear.

"Don't leave me," Gabrielle begged her friend pitifully.

"I won't. I promise." Xena stood, intending to place a blanket over Gabrielle, but the Bard kept a death grip on her hand.

"Don't leave me!" she repeated.

"I'm not! I'm just trying to get you comfortable. I'm not going anywhere." Xena felt Gabrielle loosen her grip and she pulled her hand away. She took the folded blanket that sat at the foot of the bed and shook it out. She tucked it around Gabrielle.

"Xena? Could you take off my boots first?" Gabrielle asked. Xena didn't answer, but bent to unlace the bindings and removed the boots.

"Xena, could you sleep with me? I don't want to be alone." Once again, the Warrior remained silent. Compassion ruled her heart as she pulled off her armor, boots and grieves. She slipped under the blanket and turned to her side, facing her friend. Xena felt Gabrielle's hand reach out and tug on her arm, pulling it so that it rested across the Bard's abdomen. Xena surrendered to her need for closeness and bent her leg, resting it over Gabrielle's thighs, then burrowed her face into the red-gold hair of Gabrielle. They both closed their eyes in contentment and slept.

*Much better!* Anteros smiled.


Gabrielle woke first, a little dazed. She felt a warm body next to her own, but knew it was Xena just by her scent. Her friend smelled of leather and of a cinnamony freshness that reminded her of an exotic flower garden. It was a scent that would be remembered for as long as she lived. The Bard allowed her eyes flutter open and she took in her surroundings as best she could without moving.

*We're in our room in the inn. Okay, so far so good. It's daylight out--probably late afternoon by the looks of the shadows. Xena is here sleeping...Huh?*

She snapped fully awake and saw that Xena had snuggled up next to her. The memories of what happened earlier returned. Gabrielle recalled her plea for Xena to stay and wondered with embarrassment at what the strong warrior had thought.

*I guess it doesn't matter. She stayed and that's all that counts.*

The Bard shifted her legs just a touch, her muscles a little stiff. She felt the warm skin of her sleeping companion next to her foot. Wiggling her foot slightly, she realized Xena's long leg extended well beyond her own. With a smile on her face, she reached out with her toes, trying to determine just how far.

"Playing footsie with me?" Xena asked quietly in her ear. Gabrielle jumped guiltily, but relaxed once she knew her friend was just teasing her.

"I was seeing how long your leg was." Gabrielle thought her words sounded silly--even in her own ears, but grinned when Xena chuckled deeply.

"Longer than those stumpy little things you call legs," Xena bragged.

"Hey!" Gabrielle complained good-naturedly.

"You brought up the subject." Xena said matter of factly, then rubbed her big toe over Gabrielle's instep, making her jump at the ticklish touch.

"Brat! You know I hate being tickled!"

"But you know how I like doing it," Xena said and chuckled again. Gabrielle soaked in the sound. It occurred to her just how much she loved to hear Xena laugh, and how few times she has heard it. Xena let herself drift, lost in the softness of Gabrielle, until she remembered what had happened earlier.

"Gabrielle, we need to talk about what happened before. We need to figure out what's going on. You could have died." Xena unconsciously tightened her grip on Gabrielle, pulling her more snugly into her embrace. The memory of that moment still shook her.

Gabrielle shuddered at the memory, and Xena kissed her softly on the top of the head. "I know. Xena, it was so scary. One minute I'm yelling at you, the next minute, I couldn't breathe."

Xena searched her knowledge for anything that could have caused the spell, but couldn't come up with a natural explanation for it. Added on to everything else that had happened to them lately--things were starting to smell of the gods--and the odor stank.

Messing with her, she could understand, even accept. She deserved it. But toying with Gabrielle was another thing. Gabrielle didn't deserve anything bad happening to her. Her friend meant everything to the Warrior, and she got a sinking pit in her stomach every time she thought of losing her. Xena also wanted to rip anything that touched the Bard to pieces. The gods weren't exempted from this fact. She wasn't totally sure if it was a god after them, but if it was there was one way to find out, although she shuddered to think of it.

Visiting an Oracle, while possibly helpful, was not something she jumped at the chance of doing. They were just too closely tied to the gods for her taste. But if the gods were already involved...then just maybe she could use some help. The things that have been happening to them were getting too frightening for her tastes. Next time, Gabrielle may not live through whatever happened to her. She had to protect Gabrielle.

"Xena, what are you thinking?" Gabrielle asked, when Xena had been silent for some time.

"I think I've come up with a way to figure out what is going on with us, although I hate to mention it."

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.

"Do you feel up to visiting the town's oracle?" Xena asked, getting a dumbfounded look from Gabrielle.


Xena and Gabrielle stood in front of the entrance of the temple. A look of a mixture of dread and disgust on the Warrior's face. She placed the gift of coins into the hand of the Oracle's attendant and followed her into a room. Burning incense filled the small room with hazy smoke, burning their eyes and noses. A small ornate door opened and an elderly, stooped woman walked in.

"My assistant tells me that you have a little problem with a god or two."

"We think so." Xena proceeded to repeat all that had happened over the last few days.

"Hmmm. Give me a moment to meditate," she requested. The woman sat on a small bench and closed her eye and rubbing a small black stone tightly in one fist. A vision appeared before her closed lids---one of words left unspoken and emotions denied.

The Oracle turned to Xena, the vision she had seen within her mind had told her that the Warrior sought their separation. *So foolish, these young people. Afraid to reach out with their hearts or hands, always skirting away from the connections in life. Well, let's not make this too easy...*

The aging woman took a cord from a chest and told the two women to stand side by side. Telling them to place their forearms together, she took the silken cord and tied them together at the wrist. Looking into each of their eyes, she told them a tale of three brothers.

"Once, long ago, there was a farmer that worked hard all his life to make sure his family was well cared for. He had three sons, but they constantly bickered among themselves. They fought over such silly differences, causing the father to worry about what would happen after his death. One day, he had them gather around him, wanting to teach them a lesson.

He had each son collect two sticks from the woodpile. When they returned , he asked each son to break one stick. Each could easily snap the wood in two. Then the father took their remaining sticks and tied them together. "Now break the sticks," he instructed. Each son tried, but none could break them.

"The sticks are strong because they are united, but separated," the father told them wisely,"they each lack the strength they would have with the others." The Oracle turned away, leaving the two confused women to contemplate her words.

"That's it?" Xena exclaimed. "That's the great mystical advice? I paid ten dinars for this?" Xena continued ranting and raving, waving her arms around wildly.

"Xena," Gabrielle said, trying to get her attention.

"I can't believe this!" Xena continued, irate.

"Xena?" Gabrielle said, a little louder.

"Why of all the nerve!"

"Xena!!" Gabrielle finally yelled, her patience gone.

"What?!" Xena bellowed, turning to glare at Gabrielle.

"Would you stop?! You're hurting my arm!" Gabrielle shouted, waving their connected arms under Xena's nose.

Xena took a breath trying to control herself. "Fine. Let's just get out of here, all right?!" She asked tearing the cord from around her wrist and stalking out of the temple, swearing inaudibly.

Gabrielle followed at a slower pace, glancing back in the direction the Oracle had disappeared in. She was disappointed and scared. Disappointed that the Oracle hadn't given them more useable advice. Gabrielle couldn't quite figure out what breaking sticks had to do with a curse from the gods. She was scared that something worse could happen to them now--or that Xena would leave her.

Once back at the inn, Xena anounced that they were leaving. Gabrielle didn't ask why. All she cared about was that Xena had used the word 'we'. She packed their belongings as Xena fetched Argo.

They were both quiet on their way out of Athens. Xena didn't trust herself to speak, she was still too furious. At the gods, at that incredibly unhelpful Oracle, and at herself for that scare she had put Gabrielle through. Gabrielle was right.

She should know better than to try to leave the Bard behind. Her heart nearly killed her at the attempt anyway. No, if anyone was to do the leaving in this relationship, it would have to be Gabrielle. Xena just couldn't do it again.

Gabrielle was lost in thought. She tried in vain to figure out what the Oracle had been trying to tell them with that story, but for the life of her, she just couldn't do it. The question of what would happen next was never far from her mind. Almost dying tends to remain at the forefront of one's brain for a while. They hadn't talked about Xena's attempt to leave since it had happened, and Gabrielle was left wondering what had caused it, and what would keep it from happening again.

It was that last train of thought that had brought tears to Gabrielle's eyes and had caused them to overflow, spilling down onto the shoulder of the warrior in front of her, where she had laid her head to rest.

Xena noticed the wetness immediately and turned her head to try to see Gabrielle's face. Shifting in her saddle to get a better view she saw Gabrielle crying, the tears running unheeded down the girl's cheeks.


Gabrielle hiccuped, but could not answer her.

"Gabrielle, what is it? What's wrong?" Xena asked, getting worried now. When her friend didn't answer, Xena swore softly and jumped out of the saddle, landing agilely on her feet. Turning, she helped Gabrielle off Argo and pulled her into her arms, hugging and stroking her gently. She kissed her on the top of her head.

"Shh. It's all right. Everything's going to be all right. I promise. I will find whoever is doing this and make him stop, all right?"

Gabrielle nodded mutely, then raised her head to look at Xena, meeting her concerned blue eyes.

"I just..." she managed to get out before the emotions got away from her and the sobs came. "I'm so scared."

Xena felt helpless when Gabrielle was crying, always had. The tough Warrior melted with the need to comfort her friend, yet unsure just how. Gabrielle was the one with all the words. Xena was a woman of action, and she wasn't sure if she could find the words that would help Gabrielle. So, being the woman that she was, she turned to actions.

Xena stroked Gabrielle's hair and kissed her forehead. She kissed away the tear tracks on Gabrielle's cheeks, moving across the side of her face to her ear, where she whispered, "Everything will be OK."

Xena found herself getting lost in the action, so she didn't stop there. She kissed both eyelids and the tip of Gabrielle's nose before resting a sweet, light kiss on her lips.

Gabrielle blinked in surprise. She had been dazed by the emotions and had absently felt the tender kisses, much like the kisses a mother gives her weeping child. But the kiss on the lips had felt different, reawakening memories of another kiss that she remembered almost like a dream, and looked up to stare into Xena's asking eyes.

Xena was shocked to see the beginnings of passion in Gabrielle's eyes.

Gabrielle was just as surprised to see the undisguised need in Xena's.

"Xena?" Gabrielle said, her voice slightly husky from crying. She wondered if this was just another dream from her night-time fantasies about the Warrior.

"Gabrielle." Xena said, and all Gabrielle's questions were answered with that single word. This was no dream, and Xena needed her as much as she needed Xena. With a sigh of long repressed desire and love, their lips met again, this time with a soul searing blast of heat that emanated from inside and came pouring out. At first, the kiss was fierce, both afraid this was going to disappear, but as they continued, it became gentler. They lingered over each sensation, as their mouths teased and explored.

Xena sighed happily against Gabrielle's mouth before moving down to Gabrielle's neck, mumbling between kisses, "I could get used to this."

Hanging onto the taller woman's arms while sensations cascaded through her, Gabrielle moaned, "Mmm. So could I."

Xena felt the desire growing inside and forced herself to stop her attention upon Gabrielle's neck to look her in the eyes. "Gabrielle, are you sure about this? Maybe we should stop." Xena said, unsure of herself. It was possible that Gabrielle was just reacting to her fears and not actually to what was going on between them. Xena didn't think she could live with herself if Gabrielle regretted this later.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, if there's one thing I'm sure of in all this craziness, it's you. And how I feel about you." Gabrielle took a deep breath, pausing a moment to think. If she was wrong, making this statement could totally ruin their friendship. But from the signs Xena was exuding, she didn't think she was wrong about this one.

"I love you, Xena. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, including Perdicus, and I want to make love to you more than anything."

Xena closed her eyes and nodded, relief and wonder filling her soul.

When she opened them, Gabrielle could see the sheen of tears in her blue eyes.

"I love you too, Gabrielle," she said, stroking Gabrielle's cheek with a rough finger. She couldn't believe how wonderful it felt to allow the words to be set free. Taking Gabrielle's hand, and Argo's reins, she pulled them off the road and started walking towards a copse of trees.

"Where are we going?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena smiled down on Gabrielle and gave her a wink. "Some place private." She grinned, sending a warm rush through Gabrielle's body. On the other side of the thickets, they came upon a small clearing, just big enough for the two of them to fit comfortably. Taking a bedroll from Argo's saddle, Xena smoothed it out on the ground.

From her crouched position, she turned to look at Gabrielle. "Care to help me with my armor?"

Gabrielle jumped at the chance, unbuckling the armor with surprisingly steady fingers until every piece of armor was removed.

"Now for these." Gabrielle murmured, slipping the leather straps from the Warrior's broad shoulders. She placed quick kisses across Xena's shoulders and collar bone, marveling at the softness and subtle strength of the woman. She took a small nibble on the protruding collarbone, then gave Xena a quick kiss in the same spot in apology. Gabrielle felt Xena shudder at her actions, amazed that her simple touches affected the mighty warrior so much. Gabrielle smiled to herself. Didn't Xena's touches affect her the same way?

Xena tilted her head back allowing further exploration of her neck to Gabrielle's lips and tongue, who followed the contours of the taut neck muscles along the way

Her friend, now lover, didn't hesitate to charter new territory,She stood on her toes as she tried to reach the illusive skin. Gabrielle liked the feel of the warm leather as it rubbed against her. She shifted her body against Xena's, revealing in the sensations.

When Xena moaned in the back of her throat, Gabrielle felt the vibrations with her lips and grinned against the Warrior's skin.

"What's so funny?" Xena asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Nothing. I was just wondering how many other noises I can get you to make." Gabrielle replied, grinning devilishly.

Xena quirked her lips in a grin. "Really? I was just wondering the same thing," she murmured while pulling on the laces of Gabrielle's shirt to loosen it. She reached in, searching for the softness of Gabrielle's breast. Xena smiled when she found it and heard the small "oh." from Gabrielle. Tracing the breast with her finger, she moved it in lazy circles around the center before allowing her finger to graze over it lightly. The flesh immediately tightened at her touch.

Gabrielle inhaled with a gasp, then let out a small groan.

Smiling Xena brought her hand out from under Gabrielle's shirt, much to Gabrielle's dismay, and brought the shirt up and over the Bard's head. When Xena caught sight of Gabrielle's perfect breasts, a warm rush filled her center. Eager to see the rest of her, Xena pushed the skirt down over her hips to pool at her feet by her boots. She took a good long look at Gabrielle's body and her heart filled with joy that this sweet, gorgeous, wonderful girl was going to be hers.

What was it that Minya had said? Oh yeah, "Hower is Mine...she's your's." Gabrielle had given her that nonplussed smile at the words. It took Xena a while to figure it out, but she finally did. *Gabrielle is mine!* she thought, and she smiled happily.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked shyly, seeing the smile.

"You're perfect Gabrielle. I've wanted you for so long." Xena said, hoarsely. She traced the girl's body with her hands, exploring every inch, until Gabrielle was arching into her, moaning her name.

When they looked into each others eyes again, the fires of passion were fully stoked and ready to burn. Gabrielle helped Xena take off her leathers until she too was standing before her naked.

Gabrielle took in the nude Warrior in front of her and smiled with anticipation. Her dreams were finally coming true. She lowered herself to the blanket, then looking down she noticed something that made her giggle.

"What?" Xena asked, confused. She wasn't used to her partners laughing during lovemaking, though she had to admit it felt kind of nice.

"I think we forgot something Xena," Gabrielle said, stifling a laugh.

"Like what?"

"Like our boots," she giggled, pointing at their booted feet.

"Oh, I didn't forget, Gabrielle," Xena said, and kneeling beside the smaller woman, she lowered herself until she could kiss the Bard's leg, from upper thigh down to the knee. Removing the boot, Xena continued her ministrations down to the foot, where she stopped to kiss each toe, one by one, making her willing victim wiggle her toes in delight. They shared a playful smile as the game continued.

Xena played with each one before moving on to the next. She copied her actions with the other leg, and Gabrielle's felt herself going to a nice, warm, conforting place. Xena's warm mouth was both seductive and ticklish, and the Bard sighed, enjoying the heady combination.

When Xena was done removing Gabrielle's boots, she removed her own and went to lie beside the wonderfully sweet woman she had come to love. She gazed into Gabrielle's passionate green eyes and lost herself for a moment in their shining pools.

"Gabrielle." She whispered, before kissing her, slowly stoking the fires of passion back up. Following Gabrielle's insistance, the larger woman climbed on top of the Bard, placing the brunt of her weight on her arms, so as not to crush her. Their tongues met in a passionate interplay.

Gabrielle ran her palms along Xena's ribs, until she found her way to Xena's breasts. Xena gasped in air, the sensations going straight the heart of her. Gabrielle gentle squeezed the soft flesh, feeling the Warrior's nipples harden at her touch. Unable to take much more of the sweet torture, Xena pulled her friend's hands away, first kissing them before moving them to the bard's sides. Xena then bent forward, towards Gabrielle's neck, nipping at the soft flesh to be found there.

Gabrielle reached her arms around Xena's neck, pulling her closer, needing to feel as near to Xena as possible. Xena kissed down Gabrielle's neck to her chest to where her breasts were waiting, begging to be touched. Xena teased the Bard, avoiding her breasts altogether. Instead, she kissed down the valley between them, across her stomach, and along the ticklish ribs, before nipping at her shoulder. Gabrielle groaned with anticipation and disappointment.

"What's the matter my love? Is there something you want?" Xena asked, a teasing tone to her voice, "Like this maybe," she said, sliding her leg in between Gabrielle's to press against her center. She was ecstatic to hear Gabrielle's groan.

''Or perhaps this?" she asked, seizing onto a nipple and pulling it into her mouth, sucking hard. Gabrielle moaned with pleasure, her back arching towards the hot mouth that tormented her. Her nails raked down Xena's back and Xena groaned loudly, echoing Gabrielle's. Xena rhymthically pressed in with her leg while she alternated between breasts. Gabrielle writhed in ecstasy below her, calling out her name. Gabrielle felt like she could let go right now, and her body tightened at the thought.

"Not yet, my love." Xena whispered in her ear, and shifted positions so that she was straddling one of Gabrielle's legs. Her other leg still kept firm pressure on Gabrielle's center. Once in position, Xena started moving against Gabrielle's leg, her own thigh driving up into Gabrielle. The redheaded woman clutched at Xena's back, digging her fingers in, moving her hips to match the Warrior's movements. Their speed and intensity increased until they couldn't tell one from the other.

Gabrielle felt herself shattering again and this time Xena did nothing to stop it. The Bard felt a warm rush hit her center and then felt her world splinter into a million pieces.

Xena was almost there when she felt Gabrielle stiffen beneath her and heard her cry out her name. It was enough to make Xena find her own release, and she let go, crying out Gabrielle's name in wonder. Xena lost her remaining strength and crashed down beside Gabrielle, breathing air in and out furiously. She looked at Gabrielle, who was doing the same thing, and smiled a smile so loving and full of tenderness that Gabrielle almost burst into tears.

"I love you!" They exclaimed together, and Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms. They held each other close, recovering from their experiece, attempting to catch their breaths.

Gabrielle lay thinking in the lovemaking's aftermath, pondering the Oracle's words. Suddenly, she brightened and looked up into Xena's love filled face.

"Xena, I think I've figured it out!"

"Figured what out?" Xena asked, lazily caressing the Bard's back.

"The Oracle's story. Now before you start groaning-" she said, catching the Warrior before she could start, "I'm serious. The Oracle's story held a meaning. We are just like those sticks Xena, alone we break easily, but together, nothing can destroy us. I think that's what the god was trying to make us see too."

Xena quirked an eyebrow, not sure if she believed that last part. "Course there is that other meaning." Xena said, slyly.

It was Gabrielle's turn to raise her eyebrows. "Other meaning?"

Xena nodded seriously. "If you have an itch ...scratch it!" she said with a throaty chuckle.


Anteros looked on, both pleased and awestruck at what he had seen. He watched in a daze as the two women kissed and giggled like children, happiness glowing from their faces.

"Young man!" Aphrodite screached, "I thought I told you not to interfere with those two! What are you doing? Oh my! " The goddess stopped and stared at the scene before her.

"I do good work, even if I have to say so myself. Look at them! Wait until Cupid hears about this, he'll..."

"Not one word! If you tell him about any of this, I'll...I'll..put you in charge of babysitting Eros for the next hundred years! I will NOT let that brother of yours rub this in for the next couple of centuries. Do I make myself understood?"

"Well...Maybe if you let me borrow Hephie's workshop for the day..."


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