Lover's Lament

by indigo


Legal Disclaimer and Rights: The character's in this story, along with the dreams sequences of events in actual XWP episodes are safely and solely the property of MCA/Universal Studios. No infringement is intended, no profit sought or gained by using their likeness in this depiction. The story and some additional characters are the sole creation of the author. Copyright 1998. All rights are reserved.

Content Disclaimer: This story does include (explicit) references to love and sex between two consenting women. Some scenes depict illusions of bondage /domination as expressed within the confines (oh yeah!) of a consenting loving relationship. In the author's opinion, these scenes illustrate a threshold of trust between the two main characters. There are some fight scenes that are violent; however, not to the point of gore. If you're not old enough to legally read this where you live then go to bed, it's past your bedtime, you'll have to use your own imagination. If you can appreciate physical expressions of love between two women who love hard and kick total butt, then I hope you enjoy my story.





Lover's Lament





~Chapter 1~

The air was strangely quiet as Xena and Gabrielle walked Argo up the steep path. Honestly, it was the contrast to the recent battle the two had unsuspectingly walked into the day before that made the silence so drastic. Gabrielle companion was bothered. A benevolent energy emitted from the warrior. One, that almost raised the hair on the bard's neck. But to Gabrielle, the silence would have been almost meditative if not for the dark edge in the air. Yes, serenity feigned the young amazon. Her emotions were also running pretty high after the battle and Gabrielle's knew the adrenaline had to run it's course. The fight wouldn't really qualify as *true* battle by Xena's standards, but it was rough enough for the nonviolent bard. The fighting didn't even last one full pass of the sun but to Gabrielle the fighting was unrelenting and fierce. The constant need to be alert during the more heated fights charged her, occasionally leaving her feeling let down afterwards. She knew what it was like for Xena, sort of.

Gabrielle tried to appear serene as she strolled at Xena's side, occasionally glancing up to the white rocky ridge above the path. She scoured every little detail of the terrain, noticing the brush that was growing sideways out of the boulder rocks.

Amazing how plants can do that, she thought. It's amazing, that life can be so intent on existing, it can just burst forth from such hardness, such apparent lifelessness. Gabrielle held the thought, her eyes gleaming so as to absorb it into her being. I am *so* brilliant! She beamed to herself. That *must* go into my new scroll tonight.

It was near the Spring Solstice and there was a magical feeling in the air, it promised the renewal of life. In curious awe Gabrielle noticed the life being recreated all around her. The thoughts of life and renewal soon lead her thoughts to both she and her distant companion. If only expression and renewal were that simple for us. Gabrielle thought.

The air was sweet and by day more like a blanket of warmth. It was about half a moon until the next solstice and the evenings were still very cool. The shade from the brush and scattered trees would soon loom over their path, bringing the chill of the evening with it. Only a quarter day remained, therefore a camp would be needed soon. It didn't matter to Gabrielle that it would be days before they reached Corinth. She had other things on her mind, like Xena. Gabrielle knew Xena would have happily passed the conflict by if not for the defenseless township caught between the two warring gangs. She also knew that Xena's current silence must be the battle-lust that would occasionally rekindle itself. It all seemed very strange to Gabrielle. The recent skirmish should not have summoned the hard warrior inside Xena. But so it seemed, that is exactly what had happened.

Gabrielle's thoughts journeyed back; back through recent events and similar days spent with the ex-warlord. Something terrible was troubling Xena and once again Gabrielle was left outside of the warrior's realm. The bard's feelings of frustration and loss slowly grew. She was one who really needed to be there for others; even more so for those she loved, especially Xena. What compounded the hurt was watching her beloved hide and torment herself. Gabrielle argued internally with herself about her discontent. It was the only place to do so, she was not quite ready to lend her opinions to the warrior woman.

I can't believe this. I wouldn't have thought Xena would be thrust into such a state after this particular battle. I mean, when she had to fight the Horde and the Roman's, yes. It was understandable. But this was a mere fight for territory between some insignificant warlords, with some unfortunate villagers caught in between. A braggocious grin appeared on the bard's face. Really, *I* was even able to hold my own with them, for the most part. The bard then considered some exceptions to her prowess. Well... of course Xena's chakram *did* come in handy a *few* times. I mean, it's not like I haven't gone through this before with Xena. I know I once passed judgment on her about the battlelust. I've learned that sometimes there is a need for that cold, determined part of her. Like with the Persians! It was long ago, when I judged her. *Not now! * Sweet Athene, I thought we were past this.

"Argh." Gabrielle accidentally huffed. The bard quickly held her breath when she realized she had sighed aloud and not just in her mind. Gabrielle hoped Xena had not heard the disgruntled sigh. It was a long shot, Xena was always aware of everything around her. She could carry a conversation, sharper her blade and still hear a leaf fall onto the ground 40 meters away. No, for whatever reason, Xena had chosen to ignore it.

That was close. Gabrielle thought as she went back to her mental ramblings. Her heart began pounding harder with each new thought. Frustration and hurt began to build, occupying her thoughts. I don't know what else I can do to convince Xena that I want and accept all of her. I am *not afraid* of who she is or what she was. If I had any doubts, I' d have never followed her from Potedeia to begin with. Oooh. It incenses me that she feels this ridiculous ethic to protect me from her dark side. Both of us have done things that the other felt was inconceivable. Even so, I think we now stand at each other's side stronger than ever! What else does it take for her to see I am here for her willingly?

Gabrielle glanced through the corner of her eye at the warrior, trying to assess whether it was safe to start a conversation. She noticed Xena seemed unaffected by the beautiful countryside they were traveling through. Xena's eyes affixed forward and rarely blinked. Her body was rigid, shoulders hard and bowed back, alert like a soldier. Gabrielle's lips parted and clicked as she prepared to talk to the warrior. Suddenly Xena breached the silence before the bard could.

She spoke in a deep baritone timbre, still non-emotive. "Gabrielle, that tree line is much greener that the rest, there should be a good source of water nearby, well make camp below it." Gabrielle jumped. Xena's abrupt emergence back into the 'known world' caught the bard totally off guard. "Sure Xena." Gabrielle gave off a nervous laugh. "I'm a little hungry anyway and I *could* use a little freshening up," she said, while tugging at her tops lacing.

Xena found a shallow enough grade from the path to lead both Argo and Gabrielle down to the nearby basin. Sure enough, just as Xena had concluded a small creek threaded through the thicket of trees and brush.

Xena quickly and quietly went about the task of removing Argo's tack and getting the mare to fresh water. Xena turned her focus to other duties once sure that Argo was well watered and now contently grazing on the virgin leaves of a nearby bush. Now dinner! She thought. Hmm. Well, it's either fish .... The warrior paused considering what else would be a quick catch, or we could have fish. Deciding there was but one quick option, the warrior took off to stalk the nearby waters. Still stoic, an uneasy energy loomed about the warrior as she walked away. Her demeanor did not go unnoticed by the youthful blonde. In the meantime Gabrielle had gathered the wood for the night's fire and had slipped into a spare shift after washing down with a wet rag. The golden bard now busied herself by scrubbing the clothes she had worn for the past few days on a flat rock in the stream. With each scrubbing stroke she internally continued the conversation between herself and the warrior.

Xena, I have seen you in all types of circumstances over the past twelve seasons. I *know* who you are. I know that you are capable of great kindness and nobility, as well as great destruction. I am here because I *do* know you, not because you've concealed some part of yourself from my view. You *never* tricked me about who you are! Do you really think by shutting me out of your heart and mind that I won't know what is going on inside you?

Within minutes Gabrielle had scrubbed her garment clean. Suddenly her grimace turned to an expression of amusement. Amazing how quick things get done when Xena's got me fired up. She thought as she stretched her clothes out to dry on a nearby rock.

Xena had been gone upstream for a relatively short period of time when she returned with one rather large fish and some kind of root Gabrielle had never seen before. Gabrielle glanced at the warrior trying to detect if Xena was approachable yet. The warrior caught the bard looking but acted as if she had not noticed Gabrielle's searching eyes. "Here. This should be enough for us both of us. That is *if* you can hold back a bit on your appetite tonight." Xena said dryly. She made a poor attempt to poke fun at the bard, trying to mask how guarded she was at the moment. By now Gabrielle could predict this scene like a true oracle. It was nothing new. Xena would occasionally throw a jab or two at Gabrielle, solely to appear herself and snuff out any of her companion's concerns. When the warrior was like this her heart was never *really* into it, that was a dead giveaway that something was wrong. They both knew it didn't fly. Just the same, Xena did it every time and Gabrielle usually accommodated the charade.

"What is this?" Gabrielle drew the scent of the root into her nostrils and unfortunately some dirt too. "Auck!" Gabrielle started coughing from the abrupt passage of dirt down her throat. "Kgugh, kgugh. How do I cook it?" She queried still choking.

"Just rub the skin from it and skewer it with a sharp stick, put it near the heat and it should be done by the time the fish is ready". Xena was beginning to loosen up slightly. A few minutes passed and Xena finally removed her scabbard and chakram only to begin her ritualistic cleaning and sharpening of her weapons. Gabrielle, busy preparing dinner, secretly hoped a good meal would open things up between she and the warrior. She hated going to sleep with such a distance between them. It wasn't that they weren't getting along, just Xena was withdrawn again into some secret place. It still hurt because they had chosen to face everything together. Being Gabrielle she decided she would try to put her immediate feelings aside and just let it take its course. Waiting for the opportunity to be there, in the moment when her Xena returned. Besides by now it was simply killing her *not* to talk. There were times when Xena was silent for a variety of reasons, but Gabrielle knew that she could at least ramble to herself. This was not one of those times.

"Xena! ... We're ready, and I have a little surprise for you tonight too!" Gabrielle said rather lightly. "Yeah, sure Gabrielle. ... Whatever." Xena stood in one fluid movement, scabbard in hand and just as quickly she sat herself near the fire and closer Gabrielle as well.

Still quiet, Xena thought to herself. It's nice to be next to Gabrielle even now. She wrestled inside. Xena couldn't bring herself to tell Gabrielle that she usually felt better when the lovely bard was near. Primarily because being *too* close to her beautiful young lover made Xena's soul sting a bit in moments like this. Alot like a poultice to a wound. Soothing the wound eventually, but not before it was set ablaze with it's healing properties.

The fish and wild root smelled delicious especially in the cooling evening air. Both permeated the air with a sweet charred aroma. Gabrielle's stomach released a loud growl, alerting her that 'it' was well and ready for the pending feast. Xena shot a look at the bard. "Don't get any ideas, I'm done fishing for the night!" Xena ribbed. Gabrielle just raised her brows and smirked. "Hmm. Oh you're funny!" The blonde smiled as she gave Xena her dish; then slipped a fresh piece of cheese and a ration of bread to the side the meal.

"Hey! Where did *that* come from?" Xena actually had some inflection in her voice.
"Well, when we were leaving that town, a grateful villager tried to give me 40 dinars for our help in saving them. I naturally refused any payment of the sort. When I did the woman quickly filled a fruitsack with some foods and handed it to me." The enterprising bard looked at Xena with a laugh. "You know I wouldn't refuse *that*!"

Xena raised her brows as she spoke. "Is this the surprise then?"

"Yes. Well, I thought it would be a nice treat, we have had ..."

Xena cut the bard off midway through her almost apologetic reply. "Gabrielle, this is great! Now I won't have to starve to make sure your belly is satisfied." The warrior said dryly. Xena had a way of putting an unemotional slur on her phrases. Gabrielle sometimes had difficulty discerning whether Xena was truly serious or teasing her unmercifully. This was definitely a tease. Truthfully, most every time Xena spoke she was teasing the bard. She loved getting a rise out of Gabrielle and inciting her fiery spirit. Gabrielle just smiled with a tad of attitude, she was just glad to get some long awaited ribbing. "Xena? Can I ask you something?" Xena's lover squinted, her eyes as she delicately chose her words.

"Nope." Xena smacked her food and quipped in a high-throated tone. Gabrielle's lips drew tightly together. She couldn't believe Xena wouldn't even talk with her. The decision to let things pass was quickly forgotten. Her body stiffened in frustration, her eyes nearing a fire of green. Xena noticed. She laughed to herself, Oh no, she's gonna blow! The warrior by now was rolling in glee, Xena got what she had been bartering for. She had finally tapped Gabrielle's inferno.

Gabrielle sneered with clenched teeth, her voice filled with the growing anger and hurt. "*Look* Xena! Do you *always* have to be so selfish? *I* know what you go through. *No* amount of silence can hid that from me. *You* know that. I *need* you sometimes, like right now, just to be here, just to let me in." Gabrielle's voice softened, her eyes revealing the hurt and loneliness. "Xena, I need to feel your presence."

Breaking the serious mood Xena let off a goofy grin and quickly posed with bugged eyes and puckered mouth. "I'm right here, Red! Oops!" Xena covered her mouth to act like the slip was accidental. It wasn't, just another move in playing with the bard. "I mean Gab-ri-elle." Xena was ready to deal herself into a nice game of 'piss off the bard'. Not to miss a beat Xena peeled a layer of fish from its spineous remains and quickly doused it down with about three fingers of bread.

"Ooh Xena! You *know* what I mean. Emotionally you might as well be on Mt. Parsnassus!" Gabrielle's teeth clinched as rods of steel seemed to shoot right through her now erect body heading straight out of her blazing eyes towards the warrior.

Xena, still trying to tame the rather large piece of bread protruding from her mouth, paused and flashed a sheepish grin. She knew this would push the bard a bit further. It was then that Gabrielle knew she'd been had. She really wanted to laugh when she realized it but refused to give Xena the satisfaction. Her hands on her hips, she smirked to feign off the smile that wanted to break free. What amazed and tickled Gabrielle the most was the warrior's ability to go from an unflinching poker-face to a juvenile jokester in a flash. It sort of reminded Gabrielle of her cousin Madeus who used to tease her unmercifully when they were young.

The two finished their meal relatively peacefully, considering. At least the play fight had released a little tension for both of them. The air was now very cool, the ground still held some warmth from the days heat but it would quickly dissipate. Xena silently made truce by putting Gabrielle's roll next to hers. Gabrielle looked up at Xena, her eyes questioning the warrior's action.

"Come on, we'll stay warmer next to each other." Xena offered a practical explanation for their proximity. The intuitive bard knew otherwise, she gave a slight smile accepting the offer. It was time to face the night and both needed the another for comfort. Morpheus had not been too kind with either of them lately. Both had been endured attacks by strange and sometimes disturbing dreams. Mindful of this, Gabrielle gladly took her place next to Xena. It was as much for the warrior's benefit as it was for herself.

"Xena?" She paused.

"Yes, Gab-bri-elle." Xena hummed as she drew in a breath and closed her eyes.

"I hope you have a peaceful night. You need the rest, you know."

"You too Ga-bri-elle, Goodnight."

"Huh? Yeah, Goodnight Xena .......... Uhhh, you know I'm here if you need me Xena!"

"Yeah Gabrielle, I know." Although Xena was tired, she usually didn't rest well unless Gabrielle rambled about things for a while. The warrior *loved* the way Gabrielle's voice grew even huskier when she lay on her back. In a short time the bard had soothed the warrior's soul to sleep, then she herself joined the land of Morpheus.


Xena's face looked old and worn as she slept. Even in her sleep, her turmoil was evident. Her back to the bard she battled, fists slightly clenched. Her head jerked occasionally indicating some unseen force at work deep within.


"Xena! You can't just kill him! That's murder!" "Watch me. If he doesn't start talking, it will be his own fault he dies. He's the one who's chosen death over life if he doesn't start talking in the next twenty seconds. I've just given him a choice."

The gurgling offender grasps at his own throat trying to somehow soothe the lack of nutrients to his brain. His eyes bulging from the strain for air. Funny, moments before his eyes were filled with contempt and defiance for the ex-warlord. Xena gave a crooked smile to intimidate him further giving a mad cold stare.

The foolish trooper finally relinquished his fare. " "I.... ugh......he's going to take Nemea." Crunch." "Crunch." With two swift movements, Xena jabbed the man's jugular where it emerged behind his collarbone. "Auuuuch!" He drew in his first grasp of air still panicking and thrashing a bit for the life the air gave him.

Xena's torment continued through the night. Flashes of the blinding fury that still dwelled within her rampaged in small episodic blips of memory. The nightmares were a constant reminder to Xena that she was not the warlord-turned-hero, but an animal in reprieve. Quick frames of the past gave her an outside view of herself. In her dream Xena could clearly see the wild maniacal stare in her own eyes. In those moments not even the slightest hint of humanity dwelt there., and she knew it.

Scene after scene played vividly in her sleep.

[Flash] The Horde. Man after man fell victim to the primal deviations of these unrelenting creatures. Xena's fear swelled inside her chest, her rampaging pulse summoning the old warlord inside. The cruel reality of war and battle was once again at Xena's command. The warrior's fury to survive and conquer was superseded only by the warlord's desperation to protect the men that needed her and the woman she loved and felt responsible for. Xena coldly plotted a plan to assert advantage over the enigmatic tribe, even at the risk of alienating Gabrielle. [Flash] "Gabrielle, only give the food and water to those strong enough to fight." [Flash] "Xena, are you asking me to chose who dies?" [Flash] "Don't ever question my authority or my methods in front of my men!" [Flash] "I told you I'd do what ever it takes." [Flash] "*You!* Who *are* you Xena! What happened to the Xena I know?" [Flash] "That Xena can't help you now. If losing her is the price I'll pay for saving us all, then I'll pay it." [Flash] "No! No, look you promise me!" Gabrielle pleaded. [Flash] "Promise me you won't become a monster Xena!"

Xena couldn't escape herself. Even in her dreams she was there and even in her dreams she tried to protect Gabrielle from her dark side.

[Flash] "No. No Gabrielle, you understand hatred, but you have never given in to it." [Flash] "I'm sorry Gabrielle can't come, I can't be trusted you know." A small resemblance of a sane Xena peered through the imposed madness, to protect the bard. [Flash] "I hurt inside! Don't you?"

The partial moon glowed lightly onto the sleeping Potedaeian. Lying beside the dreaming warrior, Gabrielle began moving as if in struggle, sweat seeping from her in the cool night. Gabrielle wrestled with the angst in her subconsciousness. Her dreams manifested the anxieties of anger, separation and differences between she and Xena. Gabrielle was immersed in a void. One created when the 'Xena she knew' disappeared, only to be replaced by a cold machine of war.

[Flash] "That Xena can't help you now." [Flash] Gabrielle draws the farmers rake to the warrior's chest. (Whoosh) "Put it down Xena!" The warrior warned in a detached coldness. "They killed my father. Now they'll die too." [Flash] Gabrielle stood hard, her eyes filled with hurt and anger. "What happened to the Xena *I* know?" [Flash] "Get outta my Way!" Grabbing Gabrielle Xena pushed her out of the way. [Flash] Humbled, Xena admitted her warlord ways were not the solution to defeating the Horde. Gabrielle's compassion was. "Gabrielle, I let my fear and hatred...".

For what seemed an eternity, the painful memories of the past haunted them in the night.



~ Chapter 2 ~

The pre-dawn sky was slowly beginning to lighten, making the slow illumination seem like an optical illusion. The air was sweetly fragranced with morning dew. Xena's eyes flared open abruptly. Familiarizing herself with her surroundings she let out a moderate sigh. "Mhhm." Gabrielle is still asleep, good. Carefully the warrior lifted Gabrielle's hand and forearm. Xena then tenderly slipped from under the bard's light embrace and walked behind a nearby bush.

Argo was standing quietly nearby, still enjoying her rest. Xena's head suddenly disappeared just as a splattering sound resonated from the not so far distance. The familiar noise penetrated Gabrielle's sleep which was now rather light. She stirred softly into a stretch, opening one eye to look around.

"Sorry!" Xena said peeking over a bush. "I couldn't wait to walk further away."

"Oh, it's okay, you've got the right idea". Gabrielle realized she too needed relief. "Gods, by the feel of things you'd think I drank half that stream last night." Gabrielle got up from her roll, trying hard to avoid bending her torso thus putting undue pressure on her swelling bladder.

"I hope you saved a bush for me." Gabrielle said groggily.

"Yeah, sure, 'bout twenty of 'em." Xena flashed her a cheesy grin.

Gabrielle sleepily smirked as she nodded her head. "Very funny, Xena, veerrry funnnyyy!"

After both Xena and Gabrielle were adequately relieved, they quickly broke camp covering all evidence of their recent stay. Once back on the main trail, Gabrielle soon broke the morning quiet.

"Xena, I'm having alot of dreams, I don't know what is going on."

"Yeah, me too! It happens to me alot. It's the soul's way of dealing with things. That's probably all it is."

"Hmmm?" Gabrielle politely considered the notion. "No, the dreams seem to revolve around you Xena."

Xena's expression changed quickly, she knew where this conversation was going and wanted no part of it. "Oh, yeah. Well, sorry my being in your dreams is bugging you. Maybe tonight I'll be gone fishing or something."

Gabrielle knew this was Xena's way of brushing the conversation off. Drawing her closed lips to one side the feisty amazon pressed her tongue to the inside of her teeth. Her eyes searched the sky intently as she quelled her immediate reaction. She really wanted to drop everything and have it out with the muted warrior, but being the sensitive bard she wanted to find a more subtle solution to the freeze out. Gabrielle released a sigh instead, keeping her from getting into a battle of the wills with the warrior. Let it go Gabrielle, obviously this trail will bear even more silence today. Oh Xena, you must be hurting terribly to stay so withdrawn, can you hear me? I am here. Gabrielle consoled herself by returning to the previous day's mental wanderings. Time passed quickly. Gabrielle, occupied in thought, had not noticed the terrain changed. The sun having passed it's mid mark, the traveling pair now approached a lush valley. Gabrielle didn't realize the vast amount of ground they had covered until she noticed a small field off in the distance that looked like a vineyard.

Gabrielle decided she would settle for small talk by now. "Xena isn't this the area that is know for its great wines?"

"Yes, it is." Xena raised a brow, wondering what plot the bard was whipping up.

"Do you think we can trade for a skin of wine when we get to the next village?"

"Yeah, sure. That'll be nice. We are not far from the next village, it's close to Mt. Helikon. We can get some there." Xena's enthusiasm was still lacking.

Gabrielle felt a rush of bardic excitement. The depths of her eyes suddenly seemed awakened and girlish smile graced her face. "Mt. Helikon?" "*The* Mt. Helikon?"

Xena continued her pace barely turning her head as she cut her eyes towards her friend. Xena's brows raised in a staged expression of shock. "Is there more that *one*?"

"Wow! Mt. Hel-i-kon! Xena, Did you know that Mt. Helikon is where the fountain of the Nine Muses is located?" "It is called ... uhm... uhm ...... Oh, Artemis! What is it's name!?" Gabrielle stretched the web of her hand in front of her forehead if she were about to pull the name right from the air.

"Hippokrene." Xena offered dryly.

The bard smiled. "Yeah, that's it. Hipp-o-kre-ne." "The story goes…. that the hoof of Pegasus created the fountain. Pegasus kicked the earth and it created a hole. That same hole is the opening the fountain flows through today!" Gabrielle briefly paused as if awaiting accolades and applause. Her eyes smiled toward the cloudless sky.

"Really?" Xena played along, as if she didn't know this already and was really quite intrigued by this information. Her eyes appeared wide with wonderment but truthfully they were wide to poke fun at the bard's childlike amusements.

"How exciting! History so close you can touch it." Gabrielle's grip clung to her staff. She flung her head back as if she could actually see the fountain before her.

"Ye-ah, ex-ci-ting Gab-ri-elle."

Unaffected, Gabrielle amused herself for a while longer by relating the whole saga of the muses. Their story was a favorite of the bard for obvious reasons. The mirthful bard almost danced around as she told her story.

"Jupiter and Mnemosyne had nine daughters know as the Muses. They are the patron goddesses of song, poetry and other fine arts. Their domain's being principally over lyrical poetry, tragedy, history, sacred poetry, love poetry, choral dance, astronomy, epic poetry and comedy. Now *how* the Pegasus got involved with the Muses is interesting too. When Perseus fought and beheaded Medusa, her blood fell into the earth. The blood soaked into the sod and from it the Pegasus sprung forth from the ground. Athene, the goddess of wisdom, then tamed the Pegasus and gave it to The Muses to keep charge over it. Of course later the Pegasus struck the ground with its hoof and released the fountain from the mountain's womb." Gabrielle smiled big. She was glad for the opportunity to talk about *something* on the trip and she *did* like the story.

"Oh, I just had an amazing thought. Xena, you know, they *must* like us together. Since I began my life with you, my love and inspiration of tales have only grown stronger. Hmm, a muse *must* be watching over me. I wonder which one?" Now Gabrielle was even more intrigued with the identity of *her* muse. Her face was immersed in thought, trying to ferret the muse of her art.

"Epic poetry, yeah. That's it, I'm pretty poetic in the way I write and tell your stories." Another thought entered her mind causing doubt. "Yeah or maybe the muse of history, 'cause you know, *I* think your stories will be studied and discussed by the masses even millenniums from now!"

Xena looked over with amusement, a single brow arched. "Oh you do, do you?"

The amazon bard began to realize there were many possibilities. Gabrielle's deductions were becoming more like spoken thought instead of an oratory on the histories of the modern gods. "Or tragedy....or…." A rose hue flushed the bard's face. "The muse of love's poetry... " She scratched at her upper lip in thought. "I uhm ... 'cause I've written a few of *those* stories too. Surely no one would *really* be interested in *our* personal epics of love."

Xena suddenly felt a twinge of vulnerability. "Gabri-Elle? What exactly *did* you write about?" Gabrielle looked up at Xena with a sheepish expression. Not sure if she should reveal the lightest of their scribed love sessions or one of the more <blush> explorative ones.

In an embarrassed disbelief Xena exclaimed, "Aww no Gabrielle! Tell me you didn't write about the..."

"Don't worry Xena, I have them discreetly hidden where no one can find them." Gabrielle abruptly moved the conversation forward. Her eyes darting back and forth, thinking quickly. "Comedy. Yeah, that is sure divinely inspired. I cannot fathom any one particular warrior princess having a priestess, a harlot and a princess look-alike without some muse in charge and I..."

Xena let Gabrielle's pass off on the whole 'love scrolls' issue ride for now, but resolved she would find out exactly what the bard had written. After all, a warrior does have to protect her reputation and there was a side to Xena that only the bard got to see. Xena wanted to keep it that way. Recognizing the area, Xena knew they were close one of the many vineyards in the region. "Gabrielle, just past the next group of trees well be able to make our trades but we're not staying okay? ... We've still got alot of ground we can cover by night."

Still occupied in thought Gabrielle readily agreed. "Sure Xena, no problem."

Once near the market, if you could call it that, Gabrielle pulled a small pack from the fruitsack. Meanwhile, Xena walked Argo over to a nearby trough to quench the compliant horses thirst. Staff and bag in hand Gabrielle approached one of the carts. She consciously tried to choose who would need her trade most, she decided on a young woman. The woman peeled part of the wrapper back to see its contents. Gabrielle spoke, "I'd like to trade this for a full skin of your better wine." The blonde girl smelled the smoked mackerel and held its scent in her nostrils for a moment. Upon deciding it would be a fair trade for a full skin of their best wine, she stuffed the fish into a nearby pouch.

The villager was dressed in a simple blue work shift, it wasn't too dirty but very worn. Her eyes were light brown and seemed dulled from life's harshness. "You traveling through?" she asked the bard.

"Yes, my friend and I are on our way back to Corinth. Well, actually near Corinth." Gabrielle offered the empty skin to the villager as she made conversation with the merchant woman.

"Yeah? Okay, wait here." The girl turned to draw the wine from a bigger reserve. She couldn't have been more than Gabrielle's age when she left Potedaeia, actually probably a year or two younger. The bard's conclusion added to her great surprise when two small children ran up to the village girl calling her Memah. The children were likely two and three years in age. The realization that a woman so young could already have two children and look so worn stunned Gabrielle, and made her grateful. She felt fortunate she had the sense to get away from the trappings of village life before the same had happened to her. The woman turned around to offer Gabrielle the now full skin, noticing the blonde traveler's odd stare.

"Here ya go! Miss." She spoke softly, almost subserviently. Which most certainly made Gabrielle uncomfortable.

"Thank you." Gabrielle offered the woman a nod as she turned to return to Xena and Argo.

The trio, Argo, Xena and Gabrielle quickly returned to their task of travel and slowly disappeared from the gaze of the small township.

"Xena?" "How long before we find a place to settle for the eve?" Gabrielle was up to something but Xena wasn't sure exactly what. She always had the same intonation in her voice when her wheels were turning.

Without missing a step Xena retorted. "Oh." "I think that by the time you tell me what you've got up your sleeve well be pretty close to a stopping point." Xena gave a demanding smile as she cocked her head awaiting the response.

"Oh, nothing really, I just thought it would be nice to get in a swim and....uhm know! No big deal." Gabrielle started to sport a bit of a blush as a grin burst through what was supposed to be a serious face.

Xena, laughed to herself and began to stroll with a bit more cocky gait. It was so *cute* when she got the bard to bare herself like that. Xena mused to herself. Yeah, by the look of things I'm sure she has more that just a swim in mind. Xena decide to play along because she really *did* want to be close to the bard. "Oh, okay that sounds *real* nice, Gabrielle." She hoped that the fury inside had receded enough to enjoy some true companionship with her friend.

They had traveled only a short distance before Gabrielle eagerly queried if the clearing ahead was good enough. "Xena, what about over there?" The bard raised the staff in her hand and thrust it towards a small cove-like opening.

"Naw, close but not quite!" Xena threw back at her while watching the bard from the corner of her eye. Gabrielle though disappointed at the denial of her choice, went along without argument.

"Gabrielle, are you *sure* you want to swim tonight? We are still a bit farther North than usual and you know the water is bound to be frigid." Xena chose her description of the waters temperature on purpose, testing for the bard's reaction. She saw a warm grin roll over her friend's face. Xena was pleased with the response she got.

"No I'm sure Xena, besides if we do a few laps we'll both warm up nicely!"

"We?" What is this *we* thing?" Xena tried to sound as though Gabrielle had lost her mind to include Xena in her crazy idea.

Gabrielle began to bait the warrior quite skillfully. "Well, you know if you *don't* want a good back scrubbing that's *your* choice. Besides if you don't bathe before a massage you won't really benefit from it much at all."

Xena being pleased at the notion lost her composure. Her face broke into an adolescent excitement. "*Massage?*" Xena curled her eyes. "You didn't say anything about a massage!" Quickly Xena realized her error, she had tipped her hand to her companion. Her eyes arched over to Gabrielle with a bit of sass, playing dumb *and* hard to get. Her face now more like a toughie that didn't need anything. "Who said I want a massage?" The usually cool and collected warrior tried valiantly to recover, but to no avail.

Gabrielle didn't fall for it. She knew she was finally making some headway with her stoic love. Now that she was on a roll she knew tonight would be good one.

Xena spied a site ideal for the night's camp, it was at the base a decent sized foothill complete with swimming hole. Once they arrived to the base of the hill, Gabrielle quickly began gathering the night's firewood and then set out all of the things needed for *her* evening. Food would be simple tonight, some dried meats, fruit and bread. Plotting her moves, Gabrielle decided the wine would best serve her purposes if used *before* the dip and dinner.

Gabrielle pulled the stopper from the skin, and held up the wine to her mouth. She was tempted to splash it across her awaiting lips in a provocative display for Xena's benefit. Although feeling quite sensual she reconsidered the loss of good wine and instead offered it to her companion.

"Xena here, try this luscious wine." Getting Xena's attention she drew it to her mouth and just before it poured out she lightly licked at her lips. "Mmmm." "This is fantastic, try it!" The sight of Gabrielle's wet tongue sent a wave of desire curl down Xena's chest while another ran up her thighs. Both waves met with a crash in the center above her loins. It didn't really take much to get Xena's passions flowing for the redheaded bard. The warrior thought, this could quickly be the pivotal moment of my demise tonight. Xena's demeanor of indifference softened.

"Yeah, great stuff huh?" "You know it probably isn't wise to take that in with a empty gut." Xena warned.

"It's okay. Just a mouth or two of it won't hurt, come on have some of it. It will help loosen you up before the massage." With that Xena grabbed the skin and poured a long draw of in into her mouth. Her throat slightly squeaked as she swallowed it hard. "Auhhh!" "Yeah, you're right it is good." Xena said matter of fact manner. She was trying to act as though Gabrielle's mood had gone unnoticed while allowing a small dribble of wine to slip from the crevice of her lips and down her chin.

Smacking her lips, she handed the skin back to Gabrielle and turned quickly. "Come on. Lets get this over with before I change my mind." Xena took off towards the pool of water that was now just strides away, mindlessly taking off her breast-plate and remaining gear. Gabrielle, on the other hand, was momentarily enchanted at the site of the wine's erotic release from Xena's lips. A splash in the distance brought the mesmerized bard back to the present.

"Hurry up Gabrielle!" Xena yelled.

Gabrielle artfully tugged at her top and then her waist-belt releasing her clothes. They dropped at her feet just steps before the water's edge. "You know Xena, If you don't stretch your feet too deeply it's not that bad, the surface water is alot warmer."

"Yeah, I know...Gabrielle. I've been doing this *alot* longer than *you* have, remember?"

"I was just trying to help!" The bard defended.

"O-kay, just come over here will ya. I'm ready for my back scrub."

Without even responding Gabrielle dove deep into the clear waters. Xena watched as Gabrielle swam underneath her, then circling back to begin her ascent to the surface. Xena had a strong impulse to grab the bard when she surface and take her right there in the water. The warrior felt a swell of love and fondness, the wall guarding her emotions had fallen completely away. It was how the blonde moved that drove Xena so crazy. Gabrielle had this coy, womanly way that called to Xena's desires like a Siren with every movement of the bard's body and expression on her face.

"Oh, there you are." Gabrielle said as if surprised to see Xena right in front of her as she threw back her wet mane away from her face. "Phfew." The droplets of water rolled off her face and blew from her lips as she looked at her warrior woman. Xena didn't have time to turn away from Gabrielle's spitting mist, instead squinting her eyes in recoil.

"Yeah, like you're really surprised!" Xena teased.

Gabrielle knew not to deny it, at least not *this* time. Xena would undoubtedly win at that game. "Well? So what if? What would you do about it anyway?" Gabrielle pushed her tongue into her left cheek in a flirty fashion, leaving its tip at the crest of her open corner.

"Well, I might *not* give you what you're out here fishin' for!" Xena threw back.

Gabrielle's face puckered, "I'm *not* fishing!" She said indignantly.

Xena snickered back, "yeah at least not for the type with *fins!*"

"We'll, see about that." The explosive beauty challenged the warrior. Gabrielle moved behind Xena and held onto her arms pulling her towards a nearby boulder. "Be still." She chided. The bard took her time scrubbing and washing the tall woman's back. Gabrielle just loved the way Xena's muscles rolled and rippled when she would move them even the slightest degree.

Xena was no reluctant partner in this ritual. She did however, enjoyed putting up a small fight, at least enough to give the aggressive thespian something to get feisty over. It turned Xena on to no end, when the bard attempted to overpower her.

Gabrielle almost hypnotically moved her rolling thumbs from the top of one shoulder to the other. Thoughts crept in, sadness too. Was it her? Had she disappointed Xena in some way? Inside the tension remained. With her will she pushed the ache back every time it tried to emerge. No, things are getting better. She's here, she's with you, appreciate it Gabrielle. The young Amazon's eyes caressed the warrior's body. Her face had a slight smile but her eyes carried a somber longing. She was entranced. It could have been the effects of the sweet rich wine, but it was her affection for the warrior that left her so dazed. Again her love and will had won over the emptiness. Strong fingers kneaded Xena's sinewy arms and thick shoulders. Everything has its own rhythm and boy did she have a rhythm. After all, she was a woman, she knew what she was doing. Casually, she dropped the sponge into the water leaving it to float, her hands moved to open Xena's shoulder blades. Gabrielle seductively took both of Xena's hands and began to interlock Xena's fingers together behind the warrior's head. Xena, realizing what Gabrielle was trying to do complied, resting her locked hands behind the nape of her own neck. Once in place, Xena's blades opened instantly, her breasts lifting proudly to the air.

"Come on Xena, relax your arms and back for me." Gabrielle shook at the iron-like arms, releasing them into a state of putty. Her hand reached for the floating sponge. Eventually the hard fighting warrior relaxed letting the weight of her locked hand rest on her neck and shoulders. Noticing Xena's release Gabrielle smiled, admiring her lover's body. The bard's eyes smiled as well, but the were dulled, conflicted between love and hurt. The cool coarseness of the sponge searched out the now gaping valley between the inner blade and Xena's spine. Her technique had been perfected over many evenings of warrior massages. Her thumb crooked deeply into the crevice, forcing the blade to lift slightly. "Aughhh." Finally the pleasure of it escaped from Xena's lips as she stretched her neck to one side. "Gab-bri-elle, how did you know what I needed? I didn't even realized how bad it was." Xena was surprised at the sore tension that lay deep near her bones.

"Did that hurt?" Gabrielle asked.

"No! Are you kidding?" Xena tried to turn her head to look at her friend. "It was wonderful, well wonderful in a painful kind of way! No. Much better, thanks. You know, I've heard that this is catching on in all the bathes of Athens! Ever since you worked out that knot out the king's back."

"Really? Me? Hmmm. Ha! Well, I *am* pretty good at it!" The bard grinned proudly admiring her talent.

Xena turned and smiled fondly, "It is one of your *many* skills!"

"Thanks." She giggled. "That's my job. Besides I *do* know where all your spots are." Gabrielle's eyes let off a gleam of self-satisfaction as she continued her tactile dance over Xena softening body.

"Well, in that case, remind me to pay you more!" Xena was trying to tell her that she appreciated it but it only gave Gabrielle more room for play.

"Oh, hmm." Gabrielle smirked. "You will pay dearly for it, Warrior, dearly!" Gabrielle was so glad that Xena was playing along with her, it was a huge difference from yesterday. To draw their energies closer she leaned nearer to Xena's ear, which was now accessible because the warrior was squatting in the water.

Lowering her voice to a timbre much like Xena's, Gabrielle commanded shaking her finger, "Stay here and *don't* move." Xena smirked, nearly giggling at Gabrielle's attempt at warlord. Xena thought, Only Gabrielle, she's so amusing! Sexy definitely, but so amusing when she's trying to be bad. Xena knew the bard would be insulted if she could hear her thoughts and she felt a hard laugh coming on. As a precaution she puckered her lips tightly to avoid a snicker.

Gabrielle returned with the wineskin smiling contently. "Sshhh." She motioned, raising a finger to her lips. Xena noticed the elevating wineskin and opened her mouth to fill herself with the grapes sweet nectar. The in control warrior really hated being given drink. She liked to be able to control the pour herself. This time it was not to be, she had already lost her control to the 'bardsbane.'

Xena's quickly lost her thought when she saw the sunlight from the afternoon's sun get caught in the droplets of water on Gabrielle's breasts. The thought of the how close Gabrielle's living skin was to hers made the stoic warrior feel even weaker than she already was. Xena always took pleasure and relish in any moment spent close to the golden beauty.

Gabrielle made sure Xena was watching when she tipped the skin's mouth into hers, releasing a river of warmth. Xena caught every moment of it but did nothing. The bard gave her warrior another long draw from the ferment before capping it and placing it on the nearby boulder.

"There, that will help you. I know you've been through alot lately Xena, you deserve to relax and feel good." Gabrielle said as she moved behind Xena once again. Xena was still slightly squatting in the pool of water giving Gabrielle an easier reach. Slowly she ran her hands up each of Xena's suspended arms and paused for a moment. She nearly ceased breathing at the sight of the lean tanned muscles that clung to Xena's arms. Gabrielle had a deliciously evil grin on her face. Time to move, you Amazon vixen. You've got her wide open now, it's now or never! Continuing her task, Gabrielle released Xena's fingers and gently rolled each arm down to it's side, sliding her gripping hands over each muscle down to the fingertips. Once at the end she took her own fingers and folded them into Xena's. Her fist's over Xena's fists. There she grabbed strongly as she pulled down on Xena's arms stretching out the warrior's shoulder muscles and her neck. Xena felt a sudden piercing sensation that riveted her body. Gabrielle had sunk her teeth into the sweet tendon that crossed Xena's shoulder and her legs began to falter.

"Oh, Gab-ri-elle!" a sigh fell from the dark woman's lips.

The bard, well within her rights, took each hand and wrapped Xena's arms around the her own back, drawing her lover into her. Locked in her new embrace, Gabrielle began gently gnawing at the woman's shoulder, letting her teeth scrape across the tender flesh. Xena felt a mixture of both passion and fear rising within her. Quickly she bargained with herself to honor the passion, defying the fear. She wanted so much to express her love to Gabrielle.

"Oh, Ga-bri-elle, pleeeease!" As if on queue, Gabrielle released her lover while turning her to face Xena. She took both hands and placed them on each side of Xena's face, brushing back the fringed hair above her brow. The blonde woman's face glowed expressing a soft tenderness. It almost looked as if Gabrielle was about to cry. Soon, her expression's cause was proved to be the pure submission of her love for Xena. Gabrielle's blazing eyes traveled over every nuance of Xena's face, stopping briefly at Xena's lips. Moving her gaze up to her lover's eyes she smiled. "Xena." Gabrielle paused, her voice quivering slightly. Xena silently waited while her lover continued. "I love you so much. When we met and started traveling together I thought my life was complete. Since we came together as 'one' I have realized we *truly* have an immortal connection between us. I know it's hard to believe but there were times I succumbed to the doubts of other's about the depth of your love for me. I know this past year *has* been rough. However, it has proven how devoted you are to me, how much you try to protect me. I just wanted to say that the mistakes we both made were worth it because we grew from them. I appreciate *us* more now, because we stared into the eyes of devastation and won...I.." The hurt attempted to return. Gabrielle's voice cracked, it was as if the forming words were being crushed by the emotions stuck in her throat. She had so much more in her heart to say. Instead of forcing out the words, Gabrielle cradled Xena's face in her hands and delivered to her the most impassioned kiss. The blonde's body lifted slightly as she nearly wrapped her legs and herself around her warrior lover.

Xena never knew this kind of love before, not with her whole heart involved. The power of Gabrielle's love for her often stopped Xena from breathing all together. Funny, Xena thought. In all the battles and raids I've charged into, I've never allowed fear to aquatint itself with me. Instead I used it to fuel my fierceness and intensity, to ensure my success. Now, I have to let fear know me and myself to know fear. If I don't the fierceness will become my weakness and my failure, the destroyer of my hearts victory. I understand why Gabrielle talks so much about love and it's power. The ways of *this* warrior is by no means courageous compared to Gabrielle's warrior of the heart. My dear love and friend Gabrielle, this love I have for you is the most frightening thing I've ever face in my life. As quickly as that realization registered in Xena's mind her body went cold. A numb wave swept over her being, no longer able to feel Gabrielle's touch. Gabrielle knew the very moment when Xena's walls returned. She knew it instantly. The love-starved bard's heart sank, it was as if the breast dagger had been impaled into her chest. Licking at her lip, she shook her head in disbelief. A deep silent breath, swallowed hard, brought her back focused. Again she denied the heart that was becoming as thirsty as a broken vessel. The young lover searched her heart for answers. She's got to be in pain, something else maybe, not the battle at all. Maybe she can't trust me anymore, because of...or ...? Gods, I want to help her. She screamed inside from the helplessness she felt.

"What?" "What is it Xena?" The concern in Gabrielle's eyes nearly tore Xena's heart out. She deserved so much more. Xena believed she knew her darkness better than her lover; and refused to let her warrior's torment pour out on Gabrielle.

"I can't Gabrielle. I'm sorry." Xena offered a slight brush across the woman's cheek in consolation. Xena felt an incredible loss. Her heart felt it had been ripped out still pulsing in a soldier's hand. She wanted to give Gabrielle the love she so much deserved. She could not, would not. No, it was too risky. She feared that the deepest part her heart also harbored the ugliness of evil, an evil she created. Xena truly believed Gabrielle would leave and never turn back, if she ever glimpsed all that was Xena. It was ultimately selfish, but she could handle it no other way.

"But Xena....I"

"No. No Gabrielle, it's me." Xena's head was spinning with quilt, desperation, fear and it filled with rantings. Her mind speaking so loudly she was sure Gabrielle could hear it.

I can't believe you. You're so selfish. You will always be a threat to her. You can't change what you are Xena. Oh, I want her so bad. I *love* her so much. There is no way she can understand what overtakes your soul. She can never see. I can't lose her ...but I love her!

The echo of Xena's mind speak distracted her. So much that she didn't realize she was about to cry. Her eyes looked to Gabrielle slowly, Xena's eyes begged forgiveness. Blue-green eyes filled with a sad horror met the warrior's. Gabrielle felt so small and powerless compared to Xena's haunting memories. It was devastated her when she realized the warrior was gone again to face her demons alone. Somewhat stunned Gabrielle's mouth gaped open. The warrior quickly mistook her lover's expression for disgust and turned away in shame, shunning Gabrielle's virtuous love. Slowly, the lone warrior turned towards shore and walked back to the camp.

Gabrielle's heart sank for Xena's despair. She promptly emerged from the swim hole herself and stood before her lover. With tenderness and love Gabrielle placed a light hand on Xena's shoulder and peered into the warrior's now graying eyes.

It *is* okay, Xena!" Gabrielle put her hand on her love's shoulder and looked into her clear blue eyes. "I love you." Xena's lover consciously gave Xena more unconditional love, foregoing her own needs once again.

Xena blinked once while biting at her lip. Assuming the nip was to quell Xena's emotions Gabrielle restrained anymore talk, not wanting to escalate things for the warrior. Brushing her fingers across the warrior's face the loving bard kissed Xena on the cheek. Smiling, she turned to give Xena some time to herself. Xena watched Gabrielle dress, then begin to prepare the evening meal.

Xena just sat there frozen, not an eye flinched. The warrior had tried to stop loving; stop hating; stop desiring. Lao Ma had talk so much of the importance of eliminating self. Xena felt she had failed. Failed everyone who ever believed in her. Her mind vacillated between thoughts of Gabrielle and her promise to love her and all of the failures of her life. She had no appetite, instead she thought. Xena was extremely talented at thinking her feelings. When she felt fear she equated thoughts of carelessness then death, hers; this lead to thoughts of primal callousness which gave her survival, hence victory. In deep thought Xena went over the event that was now haunting her. It was a mistake, she did mean to. There was so much fighting and mayhem; two gangs, fighting to a bloody end with she, Gabrielle and the town in the crossfire. Arrows flying; axes swinging; it was mistake. A grave mistake. Living for good was worthless if it was at the cost of more innocence lost. Xena continued her self-flagellation til the meal was ready.

Dinner was quiet, Xena politely picked at her food. Occasionally, she would force down a bite or two. As they ate they each continued to search out their thoughts and feelings that had been occupying them. Afterward, the two sat at the fireside for a while and sipped herbed tea. Eventually Xena laid back on her bedroll with her back turned to the fire. Her eyes were still open as she searched the darkness for some kind of answer. Gabrielle sat on a log looking the warrior over, wondering if there was any way into that warrior heart. Her self-will tugged at her, wanting to let the warrior know she was still there. Just be near Gabrielle. She moved her roll where she could lay facing Xena's back. Xena sensed Gabrielle near her even though their bodies had not even touched. The blonde's hand moved, resting in the curve of Xena's waist, clenched at it's seam. It was then that the hard woman felt a sharp rod of pain that ascended through her core. Xena's eyes searched the night's sky. Minutes passed. Gabrielle slept finally. Xena knew the moment her love had fallen asleep. The bard's pacifying grip had fallen away from the warrior's hip. Xena wanted to move back a little to get closer to the bard, but chose not to. A short time later, she too sank into slumber.


In the night; the warrior's subconscious haunted her, reminding her of the many regrets and doubts. Her self-centeredness proclaiming that all the lives around her had soured in her presence; tainting all with her evil.

[Flash] "My name is Xena ... some call me Warrior Princess...some call me murderer. Under my orders, my men sacked the village, and killed every living thing. Everything was destroyed - including one young innocent girl, who will never be able to reclaim her childhood and never know what the Fates had planned for her if not for me..." [Flash] "Xena, wake up and look around you! The little innocent Gabrielle is dead and there is no getting her back!" [Flash] "Again! I wanna kill her Xena!" [Flash] "Teach me how to kill her Xena! I'm gonna cut her open and watch her bleed."

Xena stood still, trying to reconcile what she was witnessing, what she was losing. Trying desperately to recover Gabrielle's heart and soul, Xena looked deep into the bard's eyes. Behind those eyes, nothing. Black, empty, flowing with hatred ...just like Xena's used to look.

Guilt consumed the broken warrior. What have I done? Tainted her innocence with an understanding of war and vengeance? No! I can't bear to hear Gabrielle desire and thirst for murder, nor to see pure hatred in her eye's of pure love. I am the reason this happened; Callisto, Perdicus and now Gabrielle. All my evil brought this down upon them. I am to blame.

For once, she alone was not enough. The warrior, not having a plan or counter to cure Gabrielle's vexations, humbly submitted to the gods. She does so not for herself but out of her deep love for Gabrielle and what she stands for. The world needs the good in her and Xena needed it too.

[Flash] "I'm not much for praying....but I don't know what else to do. I was ready to give up once and Gabrielle came into my life... Please! Don't let that light that shines on her face go out.....I couldn't stand the darkness that will follow..." [Flash] The image emerges from the blackened waters, face darkened with mud, blade shining from clenched teeth. Quickly the warrior stalks through the temple, hunting for her target, Ming Tien. [Flash] Xena, hand drawn in combat stance, dagger ready. Ready to make the dragon small. Quickly she pulls away the silk cover, exposing the sleeping emperor. A maddening horror strikes her mind and heart. Below her Gabrielle's eyes look up to meet her own. [Flash] The warrior's heart pounds with confusion and disbelief. Her heart's desire, Gabrielle, lay before her in Ming Tien's bed. Xena's glare, calculated and hard, passed over the woman's face as she turned to see Ming and his guards enter the room.

The night's sleep seemed endless. Both women stirred occasionally attempting to awaken from the haunting past. Soon the coldest point of the eve signaled the upcoming dawn, and another day.


~ Chapter 3 ~

Gabrielle awakened, sensing a definite thickness in the air. She was still maddened by the scores of dreams she had been plagued with lately, not to mention the longing for closeness to Xena that left her wanting. The two were pretty quiet as they prepared for their day's travel and even once on the road remained so for many hours. The silence was eventually broken, surprisingly by Xena.

"Gabri-elle? About yesterday.." "ahhh." The warrior inhaled as if preparing the coming words, her voice soft, apologetic. "I'm rea-ly sorry, I didn't mean to."

"Xena." Gabrielle stopped her pace and leaned on her staff looking into her love's piercing blue eyes. "Xena, I *meant* what I said. I am with you *always.* There *are* no more surprises with you. I've seen *every* part there is to see, the *fierce* warlord, the diabolical ravager of armies, yes, even the killer in you. They never stay long and I can handle it. I've also seen the tenderness, the remorse, the passion, *all* within the same heroic woman *I* fell in love with. Every time you shut me out from a *part* of you, you deny me *all* of you."

"Gabrielle, I think I don't *know* how to let you in. Something else takes over that I cannot control. Don't think its you, 'cause you're everything to me, Gabrielle. I can't explain it right now but I will... soon." The warrior finally offered. Gabrielle stared sadly at Xena. She understood what her lover was saying, but felt just as helpless as before.

"Hey, come 'ere." Xena reached over and grabbed at Gabrielle's hand pulling the bard towards her. Taking her queue Gabrielle smiled and curled her forefinger with Xena's as they began walking again down the path.

They were almost a full day from Kronakus, a town outside of Corinth. Gabrielle eased herself down by the fire with her scroll and quill in hand. She planning on writing about the recent battle they were in a few days before. Her quill however, had other plans this night. While Xena lay awake but with eyes closed, Gabrielle started to write about the distance that often appeared between her and Xena's heart. A thought hit her suddenly and in a fluid movement Gabrielle jumped up and grabbed the pack that held her scrolls. Quickly she untied the ribbon on each, one at a time unraveling the scrolls just enough to read the top line. The seventh scroll she opened was the one she was looking for. It was a story about a mortal in love with a demigod. Hmm, close enough, Gabrielle thought. She read further to get to the part about the maiden going to a temple near Corinth. The bard read with more urgency as she neared the passage. Here it is...okay.

Half of a quarter sun to the west of Corinth was for the most part a forgotten temple. Corinth, becoming quite a mecca for commerce and relying on the seas for its prosperity grew as the main place for the worship of the god Poseidon. Temples to the sea god sprung forth all over the nearby land. The newly devoted worshipers of Poseidon quickly abandoned the caretaking of the existing temples in the area. Soon, the temples of many lesser gods had fallen to near ruin. The few temples that remained standing were tended faithfully by the scant few followers. Mostly from the smaller villages outside of the great city of Corinth. It was one such Temple that Arethusa had been directed to by an oracle as interpreted by a Priestess at Delphi. Arethusa, in her desperation for the fulfillment of her love walked for five moon to reach the sacred site. It was told by the elders to be a place to seek the wholeness of love. This is her story...."

Gabrielle read. Corinth, becoming quite a mecca for commerce and relying on the seas for its prosperity grew as the main place for the worship of the god Poseidon. Temples to the sea god sprung forth all over the nearby land. The newly devoted worshipers of Poseidon quickly abandoned the caretaking of the existing temples in the area. Soon, the temples of many lesser gods had fallen to near ruin. The few temples that remained were tended faithfully by a scant few followers, mostly from the smaller villages outside of the great city of Corinth. Half of a quarter sun to the direct west of Corinth was for the most part a forgotten temple. It was this temple that Arethusa had been directed to visit by the oracle at Delphi. Arethusa, in her desperation for the fulfillment of her love walked for five moons to reach the sacred site. It was told by the elders to be a place to seek the wholeness of love.
This is her story....

Gabrielle's eyes stopped and she read the words again. Just as quickly as she had searched through the tales on each scroll she rolled up the one in her hand and placed it in the outer pouch of the pack. She knew what she needed to do, as soon as she and Xena neared Corinth, she would take a side trip to this temple and meet up with Xena later. Gabrielle was not really one to appease any of the gods but always had a naive magical curiosity about religion and faith. She figured she would be more likely to find a solution while in a place of divinity. It couldn't hurt, the worst that could happen was nothing. Gabrielle looked over to her companion, Xena appeared to be sleeping. She put away the scrolls and lay her bedroll next to the sleeping warrior. Sitting down on the blanket she leaned onto her arm looking down on Xena's sweet face. Gabrielle then kissed the first two fingers of her left hand and touched them lightly on the warrior's lips. She smiled and then lay down herself, within minutes she was sound asleep.

The next morning the light haired bard was quite chatty. More so than usual and definitely more that the last few days. Xena just let her ramble while she prepared to Argo. Xena decided she would ride today instead of leading Argo. The height on her mount gave her advantage over anyone who may be stupid enough to challenge the path they traveled on, as she felt caution was needed today. While Gabrielle had been attaining the wine two days before Xena had overheard two villagers talking. It
Seemed, that renegades were looting travelers near the junction that most traders took to Athens. Xena knew it was only a short ride from the cutoff that led to the Athens.

Gabrielle walked beside Argo with her staff in hand. She thought of all the things she wanted healed for the warrior. Occasionally Xena gave the bard the glance that told Gabrielle to let Argo lead. It was some kind of pet peeve of the warrior's she felt it was unwise to have Gabrielle in the forefront. Xena however figured the caution was just protecting her interests. Gabrielle couldn't care less, actually. She was busy making up a song for Xena, though the warrior didn't know it.

"Hmm, hmm hmm."

When you touch me with your eyes
When you hold me in the sea
It is your love that inspires
All the woman there is in me

Gabrielle sang to herself as she worked out the exact words. She didn't really want Xena to hear it, not yet anyway. She scribbled the verse quickly on a tattered scroll. This is so easy, she thought. I don't know why they made all the fuss about lyric of song in Athens. This is so easy, hardly a climb out of a well! The bard was sure she had discovered yet another hidden talent of hers. Xena's companion had not felt so satisfied in quite a while, now she was juiced up for more. I'd better wait, she thought. At least til I have more privacy for my creativeness.

Three disgusting, stinky men jumped from the bushes just as Gabrielle slipped the scroll back into her pouch, One leaped right in front of her. Xena's sword was sheathed long before the brush along the path had even moved. Without looking back at her companion the warrior yelled, "Gabri-elle!" Argo snapped her head back, her front legs lifted slightly in discontent at the unannounced visit.

"Xena beside you!" The foot-bound bard crouched slightly. Ready for action she twirled her staff. The man charged with a dagger in hand and another clenched in his teeth, quickly she swung the staff directly at the man's gut. [Whoosh]. The swift motion released the dagger, sending it flying through the air. In the same motion as the blow; Gabrielle spun full circle, positioning herself for the next assault. Another man charged her sword drawn, a full blow of the staff hit him at the back of his legs. It hit with such force that the renegade's feet flew from under him as he landed on his shoulders. Gabrielle caught a whiff of stale port as the thug rolled back into the hard landing. Still rolling, his hand searched for the lost dagger. Gabrielle stood alert her staff threatened more of a lashing twirling from one hand to the other.

Xena cried out her warning to the attackers as she leapt from Argo's back. The air was permeated with a shattering Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi YiYi Yi Yihaa! In the same instant Xena flipped backwards. She landed, crouched beside Argo's left flank. One man stood before her his sword held high. He was wearing what resembled to be a Persian chest guard but the helmet definitely was Scythian revolutionist. Xena's disgust thickened in her throat as their swords crashed together. [Slap/clink] Quickly she parried for an opening, it was then Xena noticed that the thugs all were mix matched in their choice of armor and even weaponry. These slags must've picked off the bones of dead soldiers like vultures for their armor, she thought. Xena eye's widened with disgusted and her jaw dropped back into her throat. She quickly forgot that her own men had done just the same at times. "Yaah!" She jabbed. [Smash] She slapped the oncoming sword away. [Smack] The renegade brought his sword straight down upon Xena's, in sync with the coming blow she threw her sword vertically above her head block the now yielding sword. The warrior slid her sword down, forcing his hands above him leaving him vunerable. With one swift movement Xena pulled the breast dagger from her bodice and plunged it into the pathetic idiot. His eyes bulged as his tongue slid out of his mouth. Xena held onto the dagger still stuck in his gut. The dying man fell backwards and doing so removed the dagger from his girth. Oh how Xena hated fighting such ill-fated idiots, it always ended poorly for them. The warrior turned to see how Gabrielle was faring.

Gabrielle stood passively alert, her blood pumped. She awaited the first man's decision to stay or to go at it again with her. Meanwhile the third man charged at her from the side. "Aghhhh!" He held over his head a weapon that resembled a labrys. Strange, Gabrielle thought. It looks like a labrys, but the second head has a very distinct design. It must be some import, certainly not Scythian. The Amazon Princess had become quite the fighter over the last two years. Though her art was used only as a last defense, she was able to read the movements of her opponent, counter them and *still* have time to admire their weaponry. She could see the second man rising to her right, the other charging her from the front. "Come on, I only wanna have to do this once!" She yelled through clenched teeth. The amazon waited for the right moment; her legs crouched slightly she held the staff across her chest. The man with the labrys reached the invisible line that catapulted the bard into liquid motion. The bard swung her staff to the right, then countered to the left. Again she swung upwards, sending the man's weapon flying over the nearby brush. Ha! You idiot! You won't be getting your hand on that so easily! She thought. The Amazon quickly reversed her motion thrusting the staff down onto the now disarmed man's shoulder, throwing him into the ground. As she always did the battling bard snapped back into battle-stance ready for the next counter. The man to her right was bobbing his head up and down like one of Xena's fishing thing-a-ma-jigs. Oh gods, these guys are disgustingly filthy, she thought to herself. The stupored man grinned some saliva onto his chin as he crouched, awaiting *her* move. Wrong move. Gabrielle clenched the staff and sneered, showing her white teeth. "Yeah, you just don't learn do ya! Well come on if you have to, but I think you'll regret it." The staff took a life of it's own and so did Gabrielle. "Auuugh!" She growled through her teeth as the staff drew back, deep to her left. The bard lunged the staff at the half-wit, she knocked him onto his ass. Again, she readied for the next blow and the next. The man to her right rolled over and began scrambling to running away even before his feet hit the ground. Gabrielle satisfied, let out a sigh and gloated at her intimidating mastery of the war staff. With a self-gratified smirk, Gabrielle turned to her left to polish off the other bloke. Suddenly the small powerhouse came to a dead stop.


Xena stood two paces behind the bard's shoulder, sword still drawn. The red-faced Amazon stood surprised for a brief moment. It slowly occurred to the bard that *Xena* had been the inspiration. The one that caused the men to reconsider their choice in marks for the day. Without hesitation Gabrielle placed the end of her staff to the ground as if it were a planned gesture. Her eyes drew back into their lids, jaw tight as her right lip drew up in a perturbed smirk. It was just enough to show the warrior that she was a little put out to realize it wasn't her prowess that scared the men off.

Xena wanted to laugh, as she was so good at reading the situation. Instead she grinned at the bard through closed lips, and sheathed the sword in her scabbard.
"You did really good there Gabrielle!" She paused, then added playfully, "didn't need me at all!" A huge smile beamed across the warrior's face. Gabrielle dropped her eyes, embarrassed at her display of pride.

"Looks like these were some of the renegades I'd heard about. Novices! Boy, it really wasn't their lucky day!" As Xena spoke, her eyes gleamed in a patronizing tease at Gabrielle.

Xena slightly tilted her head down, glancing over to Gabrielle and delivered her usually gruff timbre. "Come on Gab-ri-elle, don't take it so hard. I was watching you, you had *both* of them going. Let's get going, we're just a bit more than a quarter sun away from Corinth."

The young Amazon released a sigh, after all it was just an average day for her and the Warrior Princess. Though it was a little light on the action *she* preferred, but the day wasn't over yet. Straightening herself out Gabrielle took her place at Xena's side as they walked the remainder of the distance together.



~ Chapter 4 ~



"Yes, Gab-ri-elle?"

"Do you remember when you *really* knew we'd be such an inseparable team?" Gabrielle almost started hopping with each word.

Xena mused silently, I can't imagine anyone getting so bubbly over the when's and where's of a relationship. Of course if *anyone* had to do it, of all people it *would be* Gabrielle. Xena, now in a much lighter mood considered the question and decided to have a little play with it. "Yeah, why?" Xena kept her voice flat and low barely moving her lips.

"Well, I was just thinking about the first time *I knew* and wondered if it was the same for you."

Xena played with Gabrielle, knowing how much the bard loved to talk and tell stories. "Oh really?" "When *was* this revelation Gabrielle? When did *you know* that no matter what I did I couldn't shake you?" Xena grinned.

"Xena! I'm serious. This is important to me." Gabrielle's sounded a bit hurt.

"I'm just kidding Gabrielle, really! I *do* want to hear about when you knew we'd still be traveling together." Xena figured that throwing the query back to Gabrielle would give her some time. Gabrielle was really a bard by nature. It didn't take much to get her started on a story of some kind. Actually, that was *one* of the things that Xena loved about Gabrielle. All Xena had to do was throw out a few words and it could keep her golden girl busy for hours.

Gabrielle's face was alit in an instant. Her glowing smile beamed toward the sky as she cocked her head slightly. Her eyes dropped to a squint as her mouth drew up in thought. Gabrielle's left hand slapped at the air [whoosh]. Oh, there is no question for me. It was when you saved me from Draco's men. Gabrielle was starting to get melodramatic now. "It was like," the bard paused, thinking of the perfect simile'. "Like the bolt of Zeus hitting me right where I stood. Yeah!" She chuckled, pleased in her description. "Well, uh. Where I *sat* actually." She slapped at her posterior to indicate the exact location. [Pop] "I saw everything I wanted to be, everything I *wanted,* right there leather. I just didn't know what that feeling was *really* about til much later. I was so naive and had been really sheltered in Potedaeia, but it was then that something *definitely* clicked inside of me. I wasn't able to realize exactly what the click meant until after we helped Morpheus get his lyre back. Hmmm, it's funny. I have *no memory* of what happened with Bacchus or about becoming a Bacchaae at all. However, for months afterwards, I had these intense dreams of you. Xena, I almost left you because they were *so* intense and I just couldn't tell you about them."

"Gabrielle, you did leave!" Xena's voice had a hint of hurt in it.

"No I didn't." Gabrielle responded.

Xena stopped in her tracks and looked at her lover. "Then you really didn't marry Perdicus and set off to be a farmer's wife? Whew! I'm glad. It must've been a bad dream!" The warrior's voice was jestful and teasing, but her eyes betrayed her true feelings as the pain oozed into them. Although long in the past, the hurt was still there and the conversation had resurrected the awful memory for the warrior. As the two continued walking Xena's presence left the current moment as her emotions and mind took her back to that unforeseen day.

Back when Gabrielle announced that she was in fact going to marry, Xena knew in her gut how much she really loved and needed her friend. Before it was unnoticed, maybe expected. Until that moment Xena had been unaware just how much she had taken Gabrielle for granted. The wandering warrior assumed that her companion would always be there and counted on it. She had encourage Gabrielle to follow her dreams, to go to the academy in Athens or when she felt like she was a detriment to the warrior and ended up starting a rebellion in Potedaeia. This was different. Xena did want Gabrielle to find happiness, but it was more complicated than just that. Xena had been inundated with a mixture of realizations and emotions that only surfaced upon Gabrielle's announcement. Some seemed to wound the warrior deeply, leaving scars. The most painful an embedded sensation of something dormant inside the warrior suddenly thrust awake, only to be annihilated in one swift moment. She loved her, a precious moment of truth realized too late. Xena had at some point convinced herself that it was enough just to have Gabrielle by her side always. The searing pain felt like the bolt of Zeus burning it's way through the warrior leaving only an ill nausea to remain. Xena stood amidst the raging battle wanting to tell Gabrielle how much she needed her. Instead her emotions and words collided in her throat, choking her. Then Xena lied. She lied to herself, convinced that to reveal her true feelings would deprive Gabrielle of some happiness and stability in her life, Xena kept silent and held all she felt captive inside. The warrior continued with her pattern of omission. Standing beside the altar with a smile. A smile that masked a thousand sadness' as she watched Gabrielle make the biggest mistake of her life. The self-effacing warrior tried to memorize all the fond images of Gabrielle, her friend. Thinking is was best for her friend's happiness, Xena never expected to see her inspiration, Gabrielle, again. The warrior fought her true feelings, giving the bride encouraging words, trying soothing her worries.

Xena felt Gabrielle's hand on her arm, slowly she came back to the present. The glaze in the warrior's eyes cleared. She slowly recognized her surroundings, a trail, green trees and an energizing sun. The warrior stopped to look at her companion. Gabrielle's eyes were huge with concern while searching into the warrior's own eyes. The young woman's ever-changing green eyes were speckles of green and blue and they penetrated Xena's very soul. Gabrielle reached for the warrior's hand and holding it, spoke lightly.

"Xena? ... I loved Perdicus, but I was wrong to think marrying him would fix things." Gabrielle's head shook side to side as her face softened. Her voice opened into a sincere natural flow.

Xena stood, trying to look like the brave warrior she was. It took all she had to still herself she wanted to hear what Gabrielle had to say, but feared it just the same. Her eyes held reservations. I don't know if I can listen, it's in the past anyway, she thought.

Gabrielle brushed the side of her love's face and smiled softly. "I've wanted to tell you this before but figured it was in the past, now I see that it isn't."

"Xena, I've loved you for a long time...longer than I would admit, longer than I had any kind of understanding of it." Gabrielle smiled sweetly, "I remember dancing with those young women at that bar, wishing it was you. I didn't know why, I just felt so free around you and the dreams.... I had these great dreams... Hmm, scary dreams." The bard raised her eyes in a matter-of-fact fashion, recalling her feelings and the fear of them. "They started after Bacchus got a hold of me... They left me feeling guilty and confused. I used to have waves of stirrings inside whenever I thought of you, looked at you or felt your hand brush mine." A wet glaze began to flow into the young amazon's eyes. "I felt this softness inside for you, one that I had never felt before. It was like having all the forces of the gods running through me, lifting me to an unthinkable height. I knew you loved me, would do near anything for me. I never imagined I could compete with your past, your lovers...and lo and behold! Hera I am now, with everything I didn't realize I could have!" Gabrielle leaned towards the silent warrior and giggled nervously.
"That's a joke Xena."

Gabrielle glanced ahead and noticed a downed tree nearby. She pulled at Xena's hand leading her lover towards the log. Gabrielle had rehearsed this many times in her mind and now she wanted to take the time needed to *fully express* her evolution of love for the warrior. The two sat facing each other slightly, Gabrielle still holding Xena's right hand in her lap. The blondish young woman's eye's looked once again into Xena's, searching for a needed connection.

Xena was beautiful under any context, her tall body and dark-skinned features were a stunning backscape to her riveting blue eyes and sultry cheekbones. Through the eyes of love, Gabrielle admired the beauty before her, their gaze dancing over one another's face. Taking a moment to center her emotions Gabrielle thought. When she opens herself to me there is nothing more that I need to thrive, I am in complete bliss.

"When we first met, when I followed after you, I knew my life was not meant for Potedaeia. I also knew that Perdicus was not for me. Then we met up with him in Troy, he was not the Perdicus I once knew. He was confident and strong, doing something he believed in. The young boy I left in Potedaeia was nothing like that. It was good to see him, it reminded me of home and of my family. Later when I did go home, Lila told me what happened after I left to travel with you. Lila said Perdicus was lost for months, knowing that I had chosen to follow you instead of staying in Potedaeia and wedding him. He wouldn't even talk about me, she said, it was like I had never existed. Then one day, he traded part of his father's plot to buy some weaponry from a man traveling through Potedaeia and announced he was going off to be a warrior. Lila was sure he thought if he could be a warrior like you, then I would love him. It broke my heart to hear this Xena, you know his nature is nothing like that of a warrior. It was then, that Troy made sense to me. After I returned from Potedaeia I began to feel responsible for what had become of him. If it was not for me, he would have still been that simple farm boy, free and innocent from death's stain. When he showed up and proposed to me once again, I..I didn't want to hurt him further. Remember I told you I was waiting to tell him no? Well when I saw him drop his weapon, not even caring to defend himself from harm, I was taken over by my guilt. I can't believe it, I actually used him to make myself feel better. That's the real reason *why* I said yes."

"It happened so quick and my feelings for you were mixed into all of this somehow. Remember when I had to pretend to be you because of the poison? When I thought you were gone, umm 'dead', it felt like part of me was dead, the 'you' part of me. I used to dream of you holding me at night, much like you did on occasion, but closer. Then everything changed after you rescued Orpheus' lyre and freed the bacchae, along with yours truly, of course. I was hit with this maelstrom of emotions... one's that had been lurking inside me, awaiting the right time to seed."

It scared me how much I loved being with you. I would awaken in the night, having dreamt of you touching me warmly. It was as if your touch still lingered on my body long after awaking. In those moments I would lay there so desperately wanting you to reach around my waist and pull me closer to you. At the same time my heart was paralyzed in the fear that you *would* know that is what I wished for. I... I didn't know how to love you Xena, not like that anyway. I was just a foolish girl inside, not knowing how to move you, and scared to try. I never thought our love would come to that, to this. I didn't know how to tell you or show you. When I married Perdicus, I was running from my heart as fast as I could; frightened by this fullness of love I felt for you."

Xena's lips trembled, the reality of Gabrielle's confession began to sink deeply into the warrior. Not knowing what to say but wanting to comfort her love, she put her other hand atop Gabrielle's. "Gabrielle, it's okay I understand," she interrupted.

Gabrielle's face was wrought with emotions, small tearlets began to form in the corner of her eyes. All the conversations in her head about Perdicus and Xena had never impacted Gabrielle in such a way. Once spoken aloud, the truth released her pain, her guilt, and the depth of her love. Her throat tightened, guttural cries wanted so badly to follow her tear. She had to be brave, the ground had been broken. Forcing out every truth she could possibly think of, tears slowly flowed down her cheek one after another. "No, Xena, you don't and even if you do I have to tell you." Her voice cracked, "I *need* to tell you. I've felt horrible about this, my heart betrayed you both. I betrayed you." Gabrielle continued, her eyes peering into Xena's. "On my wedding night, I couldn't stop thinking of you. I desperately needed you to be near and even went as far as talking of children and naming a girl after you. The funny thing was, I knew inside that nothing would ever compare to you, not even a child with your name. I tried to be what I imagined was expected, my heart though was else where. Perdicus made love to me, but it was not him *I* made love to or who's arms I fell asleep in. It was all you." Gabrielle paused to wipe a dangling tear away. "I was thinking of you the whole time, I felt lost without you. I wanted to be with you, beside the fire that night more than any other night. I tried to ignore it and convince myself that in time I would love him. I would have too, and if I had I would have ruined things for all three of us. Then next day when Callisto found us on the road back to Potedaeia and killed him, I was devastated. Perdicus had always been around my life in some way; he was like family I suppose. His death set me back. *You know* what kind of hatred it inspired in me. What you didn't know was, I felt I *needed* to kill Callisto and avenge his death because I really felt *I was the one* who deserved to die. If I had been honest with Perdicus and myself, he would have long been gone back to our village; and I would have been with you. My lie killed him; my pity killed him; I killed him. When I had the chance to kill Callisto I couldn't, all I could see was you and Perdicus in my mind believing in me, looking up to me. I knew then that to kill her would only let you both down again. I was dishonest with both of you and myself; trying to avoid the pain, I created it threefold. I had to make that right somehow, even *if* that meant dying at Callisto's hands." Her lover's face flinched, trying to hold back the looming explosion of pain and relief that needed out. She sobbed hard for a minute then quickly sniffed them back again. Once again Xena's lover forced herself to continue on the path now chosen.

"Xena, I am so sorry for what I put you through. I didn't have a inkling what love really was, it was right in front of me and I refused to see the forest for the trees. Xena I know things are different now but, I want you to know you were *always my tree in the forest* ... *We* are the trees I've talked about since we met! It just took me time to realize it." Swallowing air Gabrielle burst into tears, leaning towards Xena to be held. The strong woman wrapped her arms around and pulled Gabrielle tightly to her as Xena's own tears began to trail off her cheeks. She didn't notice them. The loving warrior rocked her gently, holding her with reassuring arms. Inside the warrior's heart was bursting into shards. Knowing Gabrielle had suffered with all of this alone, for so long, left the warrior feeling ashamed. Xena had harbored resentment and hurt ever since that very day; never once considering what Gabrielle had gone through. How selfish she was. Her pride, unwilling to let go of the past, even after they had found their way to one another's heart's so long ago. Xena began kissing the tears on the Amazon's cheek. "It's alright Gabrielle, I understand. I'm so sorry baby, I understand now." Xena brushed Gabrielle's hair lightly, nurturing her, trying to soothe her companion's pain. I'm sorry you had to go through that alone.... that you've been holding all that in. *I* you... I do, I will always." Xena pulled the bard away from the embrace and held Gabrielle's cheeks lovingly in her hands. She looked into Gabrielle's soul with her eyes of liquid Elysium. Xena pleaded softly, her voice low and thick with tears. "Please know that I love you Gabrielle, *everything* that you are. You taught me that there *was* a love like that. Everything I have *ever* known about love, I learned from you." They wept. The warrior's own tears now mingled with the dirt on her face before falling to the ground. Gabrielle began to sob deeply upon hearing the vow of Xena's love. The build-up of frustration and need for closeness had found their release along with the pain of Gabrielle's past. Xena lips pressed delicately on Gabrielle's cheek, drinking the salt of her tears, then she kissed her again. Xena poured ten or so soft tender kisslet's onto her love's face and mouth. Once again the warrior felt herself awaken inside, her passion resurrected. Somewhere in the recent moments of openness it was freed. She was armed with a passion stronger than any fear of the lurking warlord within her. Gabrielle too felt her love's passion in the midst of her pain and angst. The young blonde returned Xena's kisses, softly at first, then with more spirit and ardor, letting out a final sob of relief and joy. Xena responded, unleashing *one kiss* from the deepest part of her soul. Tasting the salty edge of Gabrielle's lips, mixed with the sweetness of her tongue. Wet velvet. The warrior's eyes remained open, maintaining their connection with her companion. Love swept through Xena and Gabrielle, replenishing them both. An energetic calm coursed through their veins, their eyes occasionally drawn back into their lids. Quickly they returned to the gaze of the other. Xena's tongue searched out the base of Gabrielle's only to retreat back to its tip. Lightly she sucked at her lover's mouth then kissed her again. Their bodies full, their souls illuminated. The love they shared in this one kiss begat more love, more fullness, more illumination. The taller woman slipped her hand away from her lover's face, instead running it through her hair. Xena's eyes showered Gabrielle with the love that had waited an eternity for her alone. The golden tresses felt like fine spun silk gliding between Xena's fingers. Gabrielle chuckled softly as she pulled Xena's long hair from between their lips, her blue-green eyes sparkling like the water's of a mountain stream. A soothed moan of satisfaction escaped the bard's throat as her kisses grew into a smile. Tears still streaming down the faces of both women, blending together as easily as their love for one another. The moment froze, they both silently locked into one another's gaze. In unison they both spoke similar words.

Xena: "I'm sorry I doubted..." "you go ahead..."
Gabrielle: "I'm sorry I didn't tell..." "no you....."

The two started laughing and hugging each other. Xena looked up, her face softened from the cry. Hmm, she looks absolutely stunning, Gabrielle thought. It was true the warrior radiated when she was soft. Gabrielle had always told her it was okay to be soft every now and then, but it was still hard for her to do. "Xena, I'm sorry I never told you, but I'm so glad I have now." The bard's eyes glimmered in the sunlight, as she brushed a tear off Xena's cheek. "Gods I feel so much better," she sighed smiling up the Xena's eyes.

Xena's head was dipped down slightly, her fingers covering her mouth. She glanced up to her lover. "Truth time? ...Since we are clearing the air." Xena paused, searching for the words her heart really wanted to say. "Gabrielle, *you* coming into my life *is* the *greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I've begun to believe that my past can be changed, every new day I have a chance to do. That is all because of you, Gabrielle. You inspire me, and when I fell in love with you I knew I was experiencing true love for the very first time. All of it, my friend, my partner, my lifetime love, my soul; you are my soul Gabrielle, your love gave it to me." As Xena continued, another tear escaped the warrior's eye. "When we sought each other 'our first time', it was ...I felt...virginal." Xena laughed, embarrassed. "I know it's silly but; I was always disappointed that I wasn't your first. I wondered if that got us off on a wrong start." Again, a tear fell from Xena's eye as she covered her face again with her hand. I know now, that is not true. It's what is in our hearts that matters, even when I'm battling myself Gabrielle, I always love you. I don't know how to stop it when it happens, but I know I *always* love you!"

"Oh, Xena." Putting one arm around the warrior, Gabrielle wiped the tear away with the other. "XENA." She said matter-of-factly, her eyes soft and reassuring. "NO competition. None; understand? Yes, I did have sex with Perdicus but believe me you are the *only one* I've ever *made love with.* Please; don't ever think anything less." Gabrielle's golden hair brushed over Xena's shoulder as she leaned in to kiss the warrior. Xena smiled, this time letting three or four tears slip by her. The warrior's strong and gentle hand reached over and held Gabrielle's, "I love you my dear sweet bard, everything that you are and everything you'll be."

"I won't, *if* you'll start telling me *when* you get these *crazy* notions. If you don't, well I just might have to hold you down and kiss you till you confess them to me!" She laughed. Gabrielle noticed the lightness in the air around them, she breathed in feeling light and calm. "Now for the bad news..."

"What bad news?" Xena replied.

"Well??" Gabrielle grimaced, not wanting to damper the moment. "I'm going to have to meet you in Kronakus, I've wanted to go by this temple I read about. It's only for a little while," she consoled.

Xena's was baffled, her nose lifted and wrinkled as if she had caught a foul odor. "A temple? Gabrielle *you* of all people! Well ...yeah... that makes sense, you of *All* people." Xena rolled her eyes, ribbing the bard. Ahh, they were back in business, the play and light-heartedness restored. "Now don't you go off getting converted again will ya! Geez, we've gone through enough 'Tartarus on earth' because of your naive curiosities! And *do* me a favor, no matter what we think of our gods on Olympus, stay away from those 'one god' people okay? They are a bunch of kooks, I tell ya!" Xena teased although she was concerned. She trusted Gabrielle, but that didn't change the fact that she trusted no one else with her.

Gabrielle raised her quill and scroll bag high into the air. "Xena, on a bard's honor...I, Gabrielle, bard of Potedaeia and the sole Amazon sidekick to the remarkably stunning Warrior Princess, promise *not* to be converted by any evil Persian deities or demented priest of Morpheus!" Gabrielle laughed girlishly.

Xena smirked, "or anyone else!" "Okay, I'll meet you in Kronakus, but I don't particularly like it."

"I won't be long, I promise." A sultry look overcame the bard's face, she raise her eyes dreamily. "Besides Miss Princess, I expect some more kisses like the one you just gave me. Mmm Mmm. That was better than henbane spiked nutbread and it has a much better hangover." Gabrielle grinned.

Shortly after they had resumed their journey, the two near the most Western shore of the Gulf of Corinth and prepared to travel separate paths. Xena, still unsure of the abrupt change in their travel plans looked at Gabrielle with misgivings. "You know Gabrielle, if you have any trouble, send a message to Helanius in Nemea or Ascarius who lives near the shore North of Corinth. They are *both* good men and will find me *if* you need me." Xena was trying to comfort herself more than she was Gabrielle at this point; there was something strange about this arrangement that gave her sense of uneasiness.

"Xena, this is really no big deal, I can handle it really." "Are you saying you don't...."

Xena casually interrupted. "No, It's not that...Gabrielle. I .....I....just had planned on being with you this whole trip. What is it that's so important? Thelania and Miatus are expecting *both* of us?" Xena pouted trying to elicit more information from her overzealous adventurer.

"Well, I've always wanted to go to this temple that is somewhere between Medea and Corinth. It has a legendary past and I *know* how you *feel* about 'the gods'. I knew you wouldn't want to go, it's nothing really. Besides I'll be there soon enough, you won't even know I'm gone."

"Gabrielle how many times do I have to tell you I ALWAYS know when your gone..... It's quiet!" Xena smirked poking at Gabrielle's gut.

"Oh yeah!" Gabrielle snapped, nodding her head. "You're funny Xena!" Gabrielle stood tall on her toes, staff in hand; trying to match the towering warrior's height. Xena continued to chuckle to herself. The warrior began to jestfully bite at her nails in fright. "Oh you're scaring me Amazon Princess!"


~Chapter 5~


[Xena and Gabrielle pass the Isthmus of Corinth, soon they come to the crossroad one to Corinth the other leading West. There the two part and begin traveling alone.]

Along the way Gabrielle's thoughts wandered back to Xena. The Amazon bard journeyed through her feelings for the warrior woman. There was no question, she felt a love for Xena that fed every fiber of her being. She mused. "Actually, I love her so much more than *that!* Yeah. I love her." The bard searched herself, wanting to find the most eloquent summation. "I love her more than the star's in the night's sky, more than the power of *all* the gods on Olympus! Hmmm....that reminds me of a love poem." Gabrielle recited the poem aloud, entertaining herself.

Equal to the gods appears that one,
the man sitting close by you now,
who hears the sound of your sweet voice
from so close by
and drinks in your charm and laugh. That sight,
I swear,
sets my heart racing;
the briefest glance at you renders me
My tongue looses it's moorings, a delicate flame burns
all under my skin,
My eyes no longer see, they are blinded,
my ears ring, pulsate,
a cold sweat overcomes me,
fear grips my heart.
Paler than the grass in the meadow,
I feel myself nearly dead.


"Oh that is *so* beautiful, so *romantic.*" Gabrielle gushed. I'd love to write something like that; maybe someday I can meet its brilliant author. Sigh. I know how she feels." The bard's brows suddenly became crossed, her poetic prose interrupted. "What if the temple is no longer active?" Gabrielle realized that much time had passed since that maiden had pleaded for the completeness of her love. True, many of the lesser gods had been retired to mere myth in a matter of seasons. She huffed, talking herself through the new concern. "Okay, even *if* the temple is no longer a place of active worship, I can *still* use it as a source for that 'focus' stuff Xena is always talking about."

"Besides," the bard thought. I'm *really* not into the gods *or* their rituals of appeasement. Things will be as they are supposed to be," she concluded. Dismissing the worries, Gabrielle resumed the trek. Her eyes scanned the countryside around her, recording within her heart every site of wonder and beauty she passed. The white rock trail was in pretty good condition, probably because the area was one of the most populated due to the nearby commerce. In a relatively short time she had passed several farms and what looked like a temple that was barely visible through the foliage. What god it had once honored was anybody's guess. Although it was a beautiful day, Gabrielle was in high spirits with the knowledge that she was on a mission for love. That thought alone made her feel more like a warrior than she ever had. She thought, this is just a stretch of the legs compared to the distance Xena and I had just traveled. Rounding a bend in the foot trail she noticed an upright stone with a inscription on it. Gabrielle brushed away the dirt and white dust to reveal the sign to the temple.

"Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito."

Gabrielle had to stumble through her language skill to read the inscription. In broken syllables she read:

"Yei-ld not to ad-vers-ity, but press on the more br-ave-ly"

"Hmm. A very good way of looking at things. I'd say it is definitely a signal for me to forge on with my mission." The bard smiled, pleased with what she felt was a personalized message. Below the proverb read another inscription. "Oh, what's that one?"

"Herein lies the Aspects of Love"

Gabrielle's innards suddenly whoosh'd, much like Xena's chakram. This was the place. She noticed the modest path was hand laid with stones; stones that were not from this area. Upon further Inspection, Gabrielle thought. Hmm, that marble, it's beautiful, but very unusual marble. Hmm. I've seen it before; but where? She thought deeply, trying to draw upon the many things she had read about the regional history.

"Where is this marble from?" Her eyes suddenly widened as she spoke aloud. "Of *course* the stories of *Paphos*. The most ornate of temple to Aphrodite is there. The legend says..... Hera, being discontented with Zeus commanded a rod of fire at him. Zeus, being the father of the gods of course diverted the assault. The molten ball fell from Olympus and hit the island of Cyprus. The intensity of the flaming ball turned the area to marble; *this* special marble." Gabrielle chuckled aloud, impressed with her knowledge and very entertained at her own story. Then she glanced far up the footpath noticing there was a pattern to the hue in each stone. Blinking her eyes, Gabrielle loosened her focus. The shades on each pallet of rock formed the outlines of a swan, a tree and a dove. Hmmm, I guess it's an offering of some kind to the god that is worshipped here.

The cherubic bard sprang down the path to her destination. Soon she began to make out the beginning of a structure. With each measured pace the site emerged, revealing its splendor. "Wow!" Gabrielle exclaimed, "by the gods!" Before her loomed what surely was once a very impressive monument. If the bard had not walked right into it, she wouldn't have believed such a huge temple could be hidden amidst the rocky terrain and foliage. It had white marble walls with gray and pink veins racing in all directions. This temple was without question pristine. Six columns stretched up like Herculean arms to brace its entrance. Two huge urns stood guard at the entry's path. Amazing, Gabrielle thought to herself. I think even Xena would appreciate such beauty, even *if * it was built for a god. She stood for an unknown time in total awe at the temple's grandeur.

Noticing the current placement of the sun, she regained her focus. As she walked towards the hall of the sanctum, the bard realized she was feeling a little pristine and royal herself. She laughed inwardly. Ha! I *am* royal. *I'm an Amazon Queen!* A gloating grin crossed the blonde's expression as she respectfully leaned her war staff at the temple's door. The hall of worship was absolutely unworldly inside, to say the least. Huge arches canopied the stone panels, some of which had stories written in Greek. Each carving beheld an inlay of gold. The supporting columns in the long hall were imposed with lit torches. Well, it's obviously an *active* temple, the bard sighed. The end of the hall birthed a cavernous room with an equally high dome. She noted to herself that the top must be at least ten Xena's high. The room formed a sphere supported by six columns. Hand partisan art and writings filled the surrounding panels. Gabrielle notice three female statutes that stood before a bluish marbled altar. Hmmm, I like that! I guess the god is a female. That'll be good for Xena and I. Then reconsidering, she thought, Well there *is* Hera who's not the... Gabrielle suddenly aborted her thought, realizing it would not be good to offend any god *especially* Hera. She had rather leave Hera on Hercules ass, not hers. Yes, the bard decided it best *not* to go there, even though she wasn't a *real believer.* Before the altar there were two rows of benches made of hand cut stone. Intricately grooved designs swirled like dancers across the ornate seat tops.

Gabrielle unconsciously bowed her head towards the altar as she sat at a bench to gather her thoughts. Okay Gabrielle. You're finally here; you don't know what god this is for; what prayer to pray; or what offering to leave, what now? A sudden movement to her right startled the bard and caused her to jump instantly. "Oh!" Remembering where she was Gabrielle slapped her hand over her mouth. That scared the Tartarus outta me, she thought, noticing some maidens. The women were bowed in some kind of reflective meditation, dressed in soft white linen tunics. One slowly stood and began walking towards the temple entry. Taking the opportunity, Gabrielle jumped to her feet and quickly followed.

"Excuse me," Gabrielle whispered as she neared the young woman.

"Yes? May I help you?" The woman turned to face the bard and hit her with the most stunning golden brown eyes and silky brown hair.

"Ya.... yu.... Yeah. Hi, I'm new here; I've come for meditation and prayer about my love. I. I'm not sure what I should do exactly to appease and honor your goddess." The bard was puzzled as to why, all the sudden, she was having an unusually hard time articulating herself. Must be those eyes, those Xena eyes, she thought.

"Well, it is really quite simple here. In order to have grace with your love you must leave an offering of something that is also close to your heart and write down your desire's in the 'Great Book of Love'." The youthful maiden's words, so soft, sounded almost like a song as they parted her lips.

Gabrielle was disappointed, her voice dropped swiftly. "That's it?"

"Yes, alot of the other gods make mortals run in ridiculous circles to appease them, but here it is as simple as love itself."

Gabrielle thought, Yeah love's simple all right. That's exactly why I'm here instead of with Xena!

Voices sprang from behind the blonde Amazon, it was two lovely maidens. "I see, we have a friend with us today?" One of the approaching women said to the worshiper with Gabrielle. "Yes, this sweet young woman is here for her love." The other answered.

"Really, that's why we're here!" The homely girl giggled delightfully.

Oh, how rude, Gabrielle. Remembering her manners the bard extended her hand to each of the women. "Hi, I'm Gabrielle."

"Hi Gabrielle." The third of the worshippers, a buxom raven reached out with both hands to hold the young guest. The bard felt excited; she always loved meeting new people. She learned so much about others and it always gave her more stories.

"So Gab-ri-elle? Right? What is his name?" one maiden inquired.

"Excuse me?" The 'his' had caught Gabrielle off guard.

"His name? You know your love? "

"Oh, my love. Umm....Yeah." Gabrielle fumbled for a delicate way of disclosing the identity of her heart's desire. She decided to throw it all to the wind and just blurted it out. "Well, actually it's Xena!"

"Xena!" The brunette's pitch raised suddenly. "The Warrior Princess?"

"Yeah, the very one!" Gabrielle eyes nervously darted between the girls, trying to read how the news was received by each of the women.

All at once the trio began to chatter. "Really, that's fantastic.".. "How sweet".. "I'd heard ya'll already...." "Wow." "So you're the bard that's with Xena!" "We can help you," the raven-haired woman offered through the fading ruckus.

Gabrielle moved her weight from one hip to the other in excited nervousness.
"Really!? ... I would appreciate it a lot. I'm supposed to meet her and friends near Corinth by nightfall."

The real young looking woman took Gabrielle by the hand, and whisked her to a side room while the other two followed.

"Now, what is dear to your heart that you are willing to offer in return?" The older woman with the midnight hair took over as mentor to the love bitten bard, while the others stood observing.

"The only thing I have of sentimental value is this quill. My sister, Lila, gave it to me on a visit to Potedeaia. She sold her favorite hairpin and had it made for me. It means alot to me. Before she gave this too me I feared she hated me for leaving our village and her behind. My sister then encouraged me to stay with Xena and see the world. It was then I knew she still loved me." Gabrielle's words slowed as the memory touched her deeply. That day freed her, to just be who she was.

"You can see the meaning in your eyes, Gabrielle. It will do nicely. Now, come on you must also write you pleadings in the Great Book of Love. You have to write three things in this order: What you fear; what you truly feel; and what you want."

Gabrielle was a bit overwhelmed, not expecting such a rush to her deeds. "But."

"Trust us," the dark woman assured the seeking bard. "We know what we're talking about, that's why we're here."

Gabrielle inhaled and released, centering her confidence and looked to the older woman. "Okay, where *is* this book?"

Go back to the altar and leave the quill in the altar's basin. The book is placed on your right. Take this torch with you, and follow the remainder of the measures exactly as I say them to you."

"Okay, I can do that." Gabrielle was getting a bit anxious for time, not expecting such pomp. "I think!" Gabrielle mumbled to herself.

"Listen. There will be five sacred candles all in a row and a quill above the Great Book."

"First, light the center one; then scribe 'what you truly fear'. Second, light the candle on the immediate left of the centre one. Then you will scribe 'what you truly feel'. Third, light the candle to the immediate right of the centre; again scribe 'what you truly want'."

"There will be two candles remaining; both on the outside, both unlit. In the centre of the altar itself will be a small dagger and a second writing instrument. Take the dagger and pierce the flesh over your heart, allowing it to flow amply. This represents the love between you and Xena. It is known as the 'Sanctifier of Love'. With the second quill draw upon it this 'blood of sanctification'. Next scribe your name over Xena's in the Great Book. Now, take the two candles on each side of the centre. You will light the remaining two candles with them; two separate times."

"The first time it is left hand flame to left candle and right to right. Then cross the candles; lighting this time left to right candle, and right one to the left. This will bind up the 'anxieties of love', with the 'truth of love' and the 'desire's of love'. Signing your name over that of Xena's, will bind her anxieties; just as it will bind yours." It is written and promised to those who follow and obey this offering they will have fruition in five days."

Gabrielle's head swam furiously. This was heavy. The meaning behind the ritual also excited Gabrielle. The impulse hit her to hurry things just to be by Xena's side once again. Fortunately, Gabrielle was excellent at memory. She had to be; she's a bard; its part of the job. You see, there was no way she could carry around *all* the scrolls she had written through the years. They were scribed for historical reasons, but they were also committed to her memory and her heart. "Okay I understand, will you stay til I'm done? You've helped so much, I'd be lost without the three of you."

"Yes Gabrielle, we'll stay and yes, you would be." The Blonde spoke up, playfully grinning.

Gabrielle stood, taking in a definitive breath through her nostrils, releasing it with a soft blow. Gabrielle thought to herself as she marched slowly back into the great room of the temple. Oh by the gods, I do love her and I really hope this works.

Standing before the altar, she noted that all things were exactly as instructed. Gabrielle felt safe and calm. She could sense the three maidens standing behind her. "I wonder if this is what Xena feels like when she does that mind stuff of Lao Ma's?" Gabrielle was so desperate for wholeness in her love with Xena. She could think of nothing but the Warrior Princess. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle again drew in the air. It's cool sweetness curled up her nose and into the hollow below her eyes. She could feel and taste the air's movement, flipping down the back of her throat and pooling completely in her chest. Her chest seemed to release it's momentary captive directly from her breasts, almost exhaling from her pores. From head to toe her body felt aloft, yes, a tingling lightness all about her being. The bard, now turned spiritualist, opened her eyes. She was jolted by the feelings of want, of fear, of truth. Her legs and feet were one with the earth, and anchored down like the roots of a Century tree. Out of her pouch she retrieved the quill. It was beautiful, threaded with silk and glass beads. Never had Gabrielle seen one so exquisite. She drew the soft feathery tip to her lips and smiled; almost stealing from it the sentiments it held. Gabrielle lovingly placed it in the Altar's basin and then turned to retrieve the torch from its holder. Gabrielle lifted the torch lighting the middle candle then replaced the torch in the holder. Subconscious words flew from the quill's tip as she pressed it to the parchment.


I fear that Xena will forever remain alone, without me, in her fiery tormented passions. Never knowing her completely and her never completely knowing me. I fear that Xena will be with me and still not let me exist in her heart.

I fear that Xena will forever remain alone, without me, in her fiery tormented passions. I fear never knowing her completely and her never completely knowing me. I fear that Xena will be with me and still not truly let me exist in her heart.

Holding the quill Gabrielle hypnotically retrieves the flame and lit the second candle.

With all my heart, I love Xena. I hunger, to comfort her in her most primal times. I ache, to feed her heart and starve her pain. I am incomplete without all of her, it is as if I have nothing. My heart overflows with love for herand I feel unworthy and rejected when she shuns me.

With all my heart, I love Xena. I hunger, to comfort her in her most primal times. I ache, to feed her heart and starve her pain. I am incomplete without all of her; it is as if I have nothing. My heart overflows with love for her and I feel unworthy and rejected when she shuns me.

Gabrielle lights the third candle and inscribes in the Great Book:

I want Xena to feel the completeness of my love, my passions, my unlocked desires. I want to feel the core of fury that drives her and bathe in it. I want our hearts to know the other so completely

"I want Xena to feel the completeness of my love, my passions, my unlocked desires, and I to feel hers. I want to feel the core of fury that drives her and bathe in it. I want our hearts to know the other so completely that they are the same, bound, never to be alone again."

Gabrielle's face was bathed in the salt of her passion, the tears flowing down the young lover's face in true surrender. Her guilt of the past now revealed, along with the hurt and hope was getting a needed release. Softness shone in her eyes. Not from the reflective glow of the nearby flames, but illuminating solely from the joyous love in her soul. Undaunted in her act of love, Gabrielle regained focus. The bard gracefully replaced the quill on the altar and held the dagger before her. In the flesh of her bosom she mined the well of love's blood. The crimson life fell sweetly into the altar cup and spread like burgundy wine. Feeling the intensity of her love for the warrior, Gabrielle took the new quill in hand and drew her love into it, every drop.

She scribed the letters of Xena's name in the Great Book as if she were making the most passionate love to her beloved warrior. Then, as gentle as her softest kiss she wrote the letters of her name directly atop Xena's. Each pen-stroke solidified their love. The cross strokes of their letters were now bound into one. Nothing remained to distinguish the mark of one name from the other. Instead, two names had become one name, one symbol, much like Gabrielle hoped she and Xena would become. A small droplet fell from her left cheek onto the altar's book, leaving a salty mark. With the poise of a true lady, she recovered the second and third candles; lighting the two that symbolized she and Xena. Then crossing her wrists, she lit them again. Fire to fire they were to be one, to finally be of a whole love. Gabrielle had never felt so full before, so strong. She returned the two candles to the pedestal that held them. Suddenly, a rush of excitement moved behind her. Gabrielle realized, she was so immersed in her rite; that she'd forgotten all about the young temple followers. The bard turned, only to find company with the three statutes. "Strange? I know I heard something, but where did they go?" Gabrielle thought it odd, but was more intent on meeting up with her love and companion Xena. Walking toward the temple entrance she again passed the chiseled beauties, this time noticing names at each base.

"Pothos, Peitho and Himeros."

The bard paused, shaking her head lightly not recognizing the names. "Hmm. Never heard of any of them." She smirked without a care and exited the temple. Outside the three women stood, smiling knowingly at Xena's Amazon lover.

"Here Gabrielle, we prepared this for you and your love; a gift of herb tea. Before the next time you consummate, steep this and both partake of it. Be mindful. It is an intoxicant, drink it equally. It will defy any inhibitions either of you may have. There will be no part of Xena that she can conceal or control, nor any part of you, Gabrielle." They handed the bard a beautiful cloth sack tied with a fine ribbon.

"No really. You have all been help enough, I couldn't possibly." The bard, almost embarrassed, started to refuse their gesture. The brunette nymph spoke up. "We insist Gabrielle. We've heard the rumors, that there existed a profound love between you and the Warrior Princess. We are *so* delighted that we could be a part of your love's genesis into wholeness."

Gabrielle stammered. "Well, thank you, from both of us. Your kindness is appreciated." Gabrielle had a moment of modesty, especially about her relationship being described as *profound.* She thought so, but that was so private.

Great Zeus, I wonder if *all* of Greece knows about us? Or, the entire known world? Oh. That's embarrassing. I thought we were being so discreet. The Bard stood with a puzzled look, rolling her tongue in her cheek. It quickly changed to a sheepish smirk as her thoughts continued. Well, we *were* 'caught in the bush' so to speak, on more than a few occasions during our many travels. Hmm., then of course; there were the tavern's we quartered in from time to time. Zeus!, they were doubly hard to play ourselves off as mere companions. Yeah, when you usually go to one's quarters side by side, never do so with a man and make alot of ruckus behind thin closed doors? And, I can't help if I'm noisy, that's Xena's fault anyway for driving me to madness. Yup. What else *could* the neighbor's think. Hmm, I guess we've been fooling ourselves.

When she heard one of the maiden's speak, Gabrielle shook her head once to snap herself back from her carnal thoughts.

"Remember, before your consummation."

Gabrielle's eye's focus once again on the three women. "I do; I mean I will." Gabrielle caught the slip that revealed her subconscious thoughts, and laughed inwardly. This had happened before, and it amused her completely. Hmmm, there has *got* to be some kind of term for that, when you say something but it has a double meaning that is sexually based that comes from your subconscious thought. Then, for the sake of time Gabrielle decided to delve into the nature of *that* psyche later.

"Again, thank you all, good-bye." She beamed her girlish smile; the same one that had won over Xena's heart long ago.

"Good-bye, Gabrielle." The three spoke in harmony as Gabrielle turned and walked away. "Oh, wait! Your staff!" The dark maiden yelled.

The bard sheepishly grinned. "Thanks. You know, I am always forgetting especially when I'm in a hurry and there are no baddies around!"

Hmmm. I feel different inside. Huh! I *even* feel taller! *I can't wait* to see Xena. Something incredible just happened, I feel so sure I just know that all will be well. The pace on any other day would have put a cramp in Gabrielle for sure, but not today. She was so light on her feet and in her heart. Almost wanting her feet to leave the path below them and soar like Hermes himself.

Great, the sun has a quarter remaining. I'll be on time, just like I promised. Once Gabrielle reached the main footpath again, it would only be a brief hike before she reached the crossroad to Kronakus.

She started humming her song again.

When you touch me with your eyes
When you hold me til I'm free
It is your love that inspires
All the woman there is in me....


Chapter 4 & 5 Lyrical Poem excerpt from "The Woman in Me", by Lisa Lunsford, Copyright 1998.
Chapter 5 Poem written by Sappho of Lesbos.


~Chapter 6~

The path to Kronakus was not as developed as the one around Corinth. The trail quickly lost all resemblance to a path worthy of human travels to more that of a goat's trail. The path was now an interrupted puzzle of stones strewn carelessly on the side of a steeply graded hill. Some stones were pointed and useless, others smooth and offered a stable footing for Gabrielle. Her staff offered a triad type balance as the bard attacked the terrain. Nothing but *nothing* was going to keep her from Xena. Mountains would definitely move before *this* amazon went without *another* night. As soon as the rocky hill relented to a more graceful ground; Gabrielle could spot the makings of a town below at the hill's base. That must be Kronakus, great, with time to spare. Knowing her destination was in sight the bard began to feel the rubbery sensation in her legs.

The added force of walking down the steep hill only added to the sensation. Gabrielle noted aloud, "Gods, my legs feel like a drunken chicken. What happened? They felt like cords of metal before! Oh, I do hope they have a hotspring to bathe in. I sure could use about; oh, I'd say one warrior's worth of bathing right about now."

Even though the town appeared close, it took the bard a while to manage her way down the incline. Once at the bottom it was just a short hike through a wooded area to the small village. "Ha, ha!" Gabrielle grinned like a vixen. "It's getting close to the time I will start my play for Xena's complete love and understanding."

Gabrielle gave herself a few long breaths before breaking through the final layer of brush. Now it was time to begin her plans. My plans! I forgot to figure out my plans. What am I gonna do after we drink have some tea and relax once and for all. Oh gods, what now? The blonde gave a paused stare then resumed. Okay Gabrielle, get a grip. Find that centre thing you did at the temple, then you'll know what to do. Yeah, that's the parchment! Gabrielle smiled to herself as she settled down from her anxious excitement. She could hear laughter off in the still far distance, unable determine its source. The bard had learned many tricks from the warrior, but she knew she'd never compare to Xena's immortal-like hearing. Walking further into the township she was able to determine the voices were definitely coming from somewhere on the right. "Probably the last dwelling in the courtyard," Gabrielle chortled to herself. Then the bard nailed the location when she heard Xena's low gruff. "Yep, last one's it." Gabrielle stood looking at the gated entrance; which harbored a larger than average dwelling. The gate was made of hand cut stones that arched over the walk through. A wall of rock continued around the house from the gate and connected in the back to some kind of building.

"Gods, Xena never told me they were rolling in Dinars here. They must've had Hercules himself lift that stone up onto that arch." Gabrielle was truly impressed, she promised herself to take advantage of the refined nature of the getaway.

Of course, it wasn't really a getaway. Miatus and Xena had known each other since they were kids in Amphipolis. He had left Amphipolis the summer before Cortese and his army came and changed Xena's life forever. His brother too had died in the fighting, like Lyceus. In spite of his loss he had never looked back and quickly made a reasonable living trading silver and copper with the east. There were very few who had won such favor with the east, as Miatus had.

Gabrielle walked under the entry's arch and through the portico. Sounds of jubilation carried through the air. She followed them, her eyes were eager to affix onto Xena. When she turned the corner Xena's eyes were staring right where Gabrielle made her entry. Gabrielle noticed a stunningly tall man and a woman standing next to the warrior.


Xena shot Gabrielle 'the look' which sent a lovely faint feeling through the bard. There was a mischievous curl to Xena's grin, cueing the bard to festive times in the near future.

"Gabrielle. I want you to meet Miatus and Thelania." Xena looked a Miatus in a proud manner. "Miatus, Thalania, this is Gabrielle." Xena's eyes betrayed her feeling for the woman, but that's what she intended. The dark woman looked so sultry at that moment, Gabrielle just wanted to take her right there. Time for that later, the bard grinned to herself.

"Hi Miatus. Xena has talked alot of you and your pranks when you both were growing up."

"Ahh, I doubt she told you who the real prankster was in Amphipolis." Miatus cut a ribbing look to the warrior and laughed. Miatus was at least a hand taller than Xena and had long brown ringlets of hair; longer than David's hair. Being one for detail, the bard studied him over as Xena continued the introductions. His smile was so big and kind and his hands evidenced the lack of hard labor. They were soft like silk and well manicured. His tunic was long and white with fine thread stitched around the collar and sleeves. His wife complemented him nicely; they really looked good together. Thelania was pale-skinned with soft golden brown eyes and curly light brown hair. Her lips were full and red like an Egyptian queen. She wore a long chiton that had a gathering held by a round pin above her chest bone. The fabric tiered gracefully down her bodice from a gold pin. Oh that is so beautiful. Gabrielle admired.

This is Thelania, his wife. Thelania reached for Gabrielle's free hand and welcome her to their home. The woman's hold lingered for a moment; long enough for Gabrielle to feel the genuine warmth emitting from Thelania's being. Her voice was as sweet as a siren's song. These two were truly the most charming people Gabrielle had ever met through Xena.

"Pleasure to meet you both, finally!" Gabrielle responded.

Pleased with how easily the two hosts accepted her, Gabrielle mused to herself. I *do* have a way with, except for the occasional dumb Cyclops or evil warlord that is; and then again, there is the Amazon Queen wannabe-turned-stalking-god. Oh, and don't forget the traumatized-child-turned-psychotic-kid-killing god, Callisto! But... you gotta admit. I am such a hot item that the 'Priest of Morpheus' kidnapped me to be the Bride of Morpheus! Well, the ratio wasn't too bad, but the power differential was way off.

The four sat at the beautiful Gazebo with the sweetest of honeysuckle as its canopy. Its sweet aroma mingled with the many foods that were brought out to fulfill the two guests. Gabrielle looked around, enjoying the peaceful and inspiring view. The house had white stucco walls and stone floors. A statute stood in the centre of the front portico and laurel grew along the stone wall that chased the dwelling's boundary. The side portice was specked with manicured fruit trees and was home to the gazebo. From where Gabrielle sat she could barely see the makings of a much higher wall in the distance. It appeared to be bordered by dense cover and beyond that likely more rock. The bard concluded this was a well-planned lot. It would definitely be most discouraging to anyone wishing to impose an unwelcome visit. Along the side of the Gazebo was another building which she took to be the servants' quarters.

"So Gabrielle, Xena tells us you are quite the thespian," Miatus smiled at the bard.

Gabrielle's eyes popped, and head jumped slightly backward when his words hit her ear. A mild sweat caressed her now pink face.

"That you even went to the Academy in Athens!" He added.

The panic slipped from her face slowly as Gabrielle finally snapped to what he was referring. She laughed nervously, "Oh yeah. I did… and I am. A Thes-pian, that is.... I...mean." Gabrielle rambled nervously while chiding herself. Okay Gabrielle, if you don't shut up he WILL know more than he needs to. "I love to tell stories and play in the theatre which I don't get to do, and actually I was *at* the Academy but did not go *to* the Academy. I just tell stories. Xena and I, are never anywhere long enough to rehearse, so I don't act in the Athenian theatres." Gabrielle, hands on her hip, nodded her head as if agreeing with herself. Okay you got yourself out of that one, she thought while glancing at Xena. Gabrielle was wondering if Xena was enjoying watching her squirm. She was.

Xena silently watched Gabrielle, soaking in every bubbly gesture the bard made. Xena had obviously settled in, her scabbard was removed along with her chakram, which lay at her feet. Gabrielle wasn't sure if that indicated there was need to be on standby; or if Xena was just enjoying her visit, not wanting to stop long enough to put them away. The warrior sat with her old friend listening to stories of his travels while eating grapes, fine cheese and drinking wine. For once, Xena and Gabrielle didn't have to drink their wine from wineskin, as they usually did. They instead were treated to finely painted drinking urns. The wine reserve was kept in a silver Rhyton sitting in a stand on the table. The Rhyton was a horn shaped vase for drink. It was shaped like a ram's horn, the long curve of the horn was sculpted into the head of an animal. A boar's head adorned the one at the table. In the boars mouth was a glass plug which was removed when pouring the drink into the drinking urn. Most of the ones the bard saw regularly were simple peasant versions... far from these ornate urns. Wonderful pieces of art themselves it's almost a shame to drink from them, Gabrielle thought.

Gabrielle cautiously avoided the wine, knowing that later that eve her lips would favor the tea of the maiden's. Soon, the sun would fall away to the night's star. Gabrielle wanted time to freshen up; that hot bath would be nice right about now. She thought as she decided to drop a hint.

"Miatus, do you have a hot spring around here? I sure could use a long soak." Gabrielle looked at Miatus but then flashed a glance over to Xena catching the warrior's eye. Of course for Gabrielle's benefit, Xena posed unaffected with deep long eyes and an innocent face.

"Yes, we do. Please I insist. How thoughtless of us both." Miatus offered looking at Thelania. "In your quarters is a hot spring well. Please go! Enjoy! You will find some fresh tunics there as well and I will have Santyre deliver more food and drink, in case you desire more this evening. I'm sure both, you and Xena, are looking forward to a hot bath together." Miatus smiled knowingly at the bard and then Xena.

"Xena as I told you earlier, I will be gone to Corinth most of the day tomorrow to meet with a merchants ship. If you or Gabrielle have any needs please advise Santyre. He will see to it all of your request are tended to."

Taking the opportunity Xena stood. "Thanks Miatus! Your generosity is much appreciated. I'm just glad to have a few days relief with a good friend." Xena looked over at the now red-faced bard and flashed a naughty smirk.



"Come on Gabrielle." Xena commanded, walking to the other side of the gazebo. Gabrielle stepped slightly backwards as she stammered, "Thank you both, very much." Then turned to follow Xena into the rather large dwelling.

Once they entered Gabrielle quickly interrogated the warrior.
"Xena! It is that obvious that we're together?"

"Why?" Xena turned around and gave Gabrielle a 'what's the problem' look.

"Well, I was thinking about it on the way here from the temple. That everyone... that it's obvious we're, you know." Gabrielle quickly stopped the direction of her explanation not wanting to tell Xena of the temple follower's she met and the rumors of their affection.

"Yes Gabrielle, it is." Gabrielle swallowed hard as Xena paused for a long moment. Casually, the warrior then turned back around and declared, "Especially when I told him."

"You told him?" Oh gods Xena, I can't believe you! You really had me going, why, I could...." Shaking her head Gabrielle threw her hand into the air [Whoosh] as she put her staff by the quarters entrance.

"You could WHAT!" Xena turned, challenging the bard. Her tone was a playful one, more like an 'and what do you think you can do about it?'

"Oh, nothing." Gabrielle was not to be underestimated. She would have her time eventually. It was a game they both played, and played well. Xena had taught the bard this one early on in their travels together. Gabrielle caught on quickly as a means of survival with the warrior woman.

Santyre entered bringing a rhyton of wine, roasted mutton, vegetables, bread and more cheese. A large bowl of fruit already adorned the table inside the room. He didn't utter one word as he brought the feast to them once all was delivered he turned and bowing his head addressed Xena.

"Maiden Xena, is there anything else that you wish tonight for your pleasure?"

Gabrielle started to roll in a snickering laughter hearing Xena addressed as 'maiden'. Xena shot the bard a glare, that was as sharp and quick as her chakram, then turned to softly address the servant.

Her voice dropped to her sultry controlled warlord growl. "No thank. There is nothing more that can please me that isn't already here." Xena looked at Gabrielle with a smirk when she said 'already here', cueing her to the warrior's playful truce.

"Enjoy your evening, Maiden Xena." Santyre bowed again and left the room as quick as Mercury. Xena looked up again at Gabrielle to catch her snickering again, this time inwardly but her face gave it away.

"Something funny Gab-ri-elle?" That bard is gonna change her demeanor real quick, Xena thought.

"No not at all maiden Xena." Gabrielle bowed, mocking the servant.

"Gab-ri-elle!" Xena warned she was on testy ground. The ex-warlord stood with arms outstretched, awaiting her companions help in removing the breastplate, arm cuffs and bracers. "So how was your temple?" Xena wasn't really interested, but asked anyway. She did this alot with Gabrielle, inquiring on subjects she cared nothing about, just to amuse the bard.

"Great. It was beautiful. You really would have liked it I think," the bard replied.

"Oh, yeah. I'm sure it was more fun than Olympus itself." Xena was a master at dry delivery. Most of the time Gabrielle just ignored it, but every now and then the warrior could still provoke the bard and snare her in warrior sarcasm.

Walking up to the warrior with a cocky gait the small blonde snapped the spring pin on the breastplate releasing it to fall into her hands. Then she removed the cuffs and bracers. Xena sat beside the fresh hot pool opening her legs slightly. It was a tease intended for the bard and to allow her to remove the guards and boots.

Gabrielle cleared her throat in euphoric tension and then piled the armor neatly beside Xena's scabbard and chakram.

Gabrielle stood and gathered about seven candles and lit them with the torch that illuminated the hot pool. Xena meanwhile removed her bustier and shift, preparing herself for the inviting waters.

"Xena wait. I want some of that water to steep with before we get in." Gabrielle spoke up, realizing Xena was about to embark on the fun without her. The woman then grabbed a vase to collect the steaming waters.

"What are you saying? That I'll taint it?" Xena took the chance for a playful tiff.

"No. I just wanted to.." Realizing she did want the water fresh Gabrielle looked right into Xena's eyes. "Yes, actually I guess that *is* what I meant." She gave a half chuckle.

Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek like she was fighting back a response but she couldn't think of one so instead she just sneered at the bard. After Gabrielle retrieved enough hot water for the tea, Xena slipped into the natural pool right up to her neck. Meanwhile Gabrielle dropped tea leafs into the hot urn and set it aside for steeping. Smiling, the bard consciously turned towards Xena to give her a view. The hot young amazon unlaced her top she moved to a more casual conversation.

Being a bard, her timing was impeccable. Every other syllable was accented with lace flinging from its cloth portal.

[Whoop, whoop] "So Xena... [Whoop, whoop]…who really… [Whoop, whoop]

…did the... [Whoop, whoop]…pranking… [Whoop, whoop]…in Amphipolis?"

'Amphipolis' passed the bard's lips in unison with the complete release of her garments, dropping in a thud at her feet.

Xena was moved, though the warrior tried to look unaffected. Oh but she could not conceal it. Her interests became apparent to the plotting bard when Xena dryly leaned her arms back onto the wall of the pool, in an admiring leer.

Hmmm, I will have my way with her tonight, Gabrielle thought to herself, then girlishly jumped into the hot liquid, splashing Xena in the face.

"Thanks Gabrielle." Xena, unmoved, shot a disapproving look to her love. She was far too controlled to even wipe the water from her face, instead leaving it to stream off naturally.

"Oh, Xena I'm sorry," Gabrielle said innocently; then coyly added, "Did I get you wet?" The word wet was definitely light and meaningful coming from Gabrielle's lips and the wanton look affirmed it even more.

Xena just looked at her lover with a dare, drawing her lips together but consciously offering a slightly naughty smile.

"Come over here and I'll give you more," Gabrielle challenged.

"Hmmm, you will huh?" Xena reached over and brushed Gabrielle's face sweetly with the tips of her fingers. "Not if *I* give it to you first."

Blue heaven spilled out of Xena's eyes only to be captured in Gabrielle's. Actually, the eyes of both women burned with passions that even Eros envied. This was truly a natural passion; one that needed no flaming from the gods, though they seemed to approve. Quickly, Xena scooped into her hand a sponge that had been conveniently placed at the water's edge. Pulling the golden amazon towards her, Xena wrapped her free arm around her. The bard's legs wrapped themselves around Xena's waist in acknowledgment, while her nails found leverage in the warrior's shoulders. Settled, Xena gently held her lover with a single, confident arm, now face to face. They kissed.

Xena was herself again, open, loving, tender. Her face trembled with each kiss upon Gabrielle's lips, Xena's love dripping from the gaze in her eyes. Barely opening her lips Xena caught the Amazons upper lip repeatedly, only to pull at the kiss, taunting her lover further. Slowly and sensually, with each kiss Xena made love. Each stroke she made on Gabrielle's back were unspoken promises of the comfort to come. The midnight beauty's teeth met with Gabrielle's chin and jaw, biting gently. Then the warrior lover thought to trail the tip of her tongue down Gabrielle's throat, stopping to suck lightly across the hollow at the base of the blonde's throat.

Gabrielle could feel the rush of blood to her loin. "Ahhh. It feels so good to be pressed against you." She thought. "Uhmm."

Every little movement generated by Xena's kisses caused Gabrielle's hardened nub to bump against the warrior's waist, encouraging its growing need.

"Oh gods, Xena. It still amazes me; you make me so weak every time, every touch." In euphoric pleasure her eyes rolled back into her lids. Slipping further the bard let her head fall back, feeling the electric pleasure Xena was now delivering to her body. The sensations enhanced further by the gaseous bubbles that rose rapidly from the vented holes beneath. The light tickle on her legs along with the rising passion and need within, gave Gabrielle a sense of complete powerlessness.

Xena took the sponge and started massaging her lover's back as she continued the delicate kisses. Often she stopped to drink in the dew-like water from Gabrielle's body. Their breasts merged and brushed against one another with the releasing of each kiss.

"Xena, I can't stand this. Gods, you're torturing me!" Gabrielle leaned toward Xena's mouth, her tongue searching to join with her lover and when it finally did their bodies became intensely one. Xena tilted her head into the deep penetrating kiss, meeting her love's anxious tongue. Gabrielle wanted to feel every sensation. She loved the feel of velvety lather on Xena's tongue as it forced itself over her teeth and down her throat. "Ohhh." Gabrielle gurgled from her depth, twisting, searching. She felt pure bliss in their lingual dance. She would give in to her dark lover's expert kiss only to combat it into retreat moments later.

Gabrielle had many kisses before, but none felt like Xena's kisses. The satiny fluids in the kisses of other's had felt foreign in her mouth, but not Xena's they felt completing.

"Oh, deny the gods." Gabrielle relented, breaking the kiss. "I can't help myself, I simply adore you Xena." Brushing her lover's hair away from their captive lips she kissed Xena delicately once more on the mouth. The pure joy of the moment was about to turn with the tides.

Gabrielle nuzzled into her lover's shoulder until Xena found confidence in their embrace. Suddenly static pleasure shot through the warrior's long body from all directions, collecting in a painful burn between her legs. Gasping, the warrior noticed her lover's teeth bearing down sweetly upon soft flesh in the curve of her own neck.

"Ohhh, Gab-RI-Elle?! That is so unfair!"

Gabrielle lifted her teeth just enough to whisper, "Are you complaining? Really, I can stop, just as quickly."

"No, but. Ohhh." It was rare for the warrior to whimper in need, but she was delicately close at the moment. The sensation of Gabrielle's teeth pressed into her shoulder, keeping the warrior on an edge of ecstasy. "Oh. No, Gab-ri-elle." Xena's body was stilled; her face asleep in surrender, inviting Gabrielle to lash her fire upon some more. "Oh, Gabrielle, you still *everything in me* that wants to fight." Xena sighed as a pleasured smile broke across her face, flashing her sexy white teeth.

Xena began to think of the events a few days before when she shut down, disallowing her lover's warmth to cover her. Her heart sank. It was the warrior's greatest torment the struggle between opening herself completely to her life's love, all the while containing the molten fury that often welled inside her. Xena knew what would happen if she ever allowed that darkness to fall upon Gabrielle. It would be over between them. All past hurts, misunderstandings and flat out disagreements couldn't compare to the fissure that would be made if that ever happened. Before Xena's second chance with her life she had torn through many lovers with this blackened fury. Some were surely unwilling participants, Xena thought. Ironically at that time, she felt she was doing them all a great favor. If it hadn't been for Hercules faith in her, Xena would still be that warlord. She could have never changed or attempted to face her past wrongs; never loved like she did right now. Since Gabrielle came into her life on that unlikely day, Xena felt even more of an obligation to control that darkness. Many times though it won, sweeping her away and taking with it Gabrielle's love, like when she fought the Horde. The warrior accepted that would occasionally happen. What she wouldn't accept was the manner with which she used to soothe that fury down after battle. No, Xena vowed the day that happened she would walk away in shame from her only true love, Gabrielle.

Gabrielle slid her lips down Xena's body reaching for a nipple with her tongue. "I want you Xena." "You are *Mine* tonight, my love." Gabrielle's golden hair trailed down her back, darkened from the moisture of the water. Delicately she placed her hands on Xena's shoulders as she smiled into her lover's eyes. "First, I think we should have a little tea to simmer our mood."

Gabrielle turned reaching for the side and pushed herself up out of the waters. Her buttocks shook sweetly as if taunting the warrior once more, as a trail of water followed her. "I'll be right back princess," Gabrielle assured her lover-warrior.

Xena didn't even hear her lover's words, she was lost in the enchantment of Gabrielle's physique. A thought passed through Xena's mind, leaving her woozy; as if her stomach had flipped upside down. Oh, how I love the power in that little body of hers. The gods only know what of my passions remain unleashed. Xena savored the fantasy instead, knowing that to *actually* go there would probably also take her to that dark place inside as well.

The voluptuous bard returned and shamelessly stood in her nakedness before her lover. With her, the scheming lover brought the urn and two cups. Pouring the tea equally as she sat beside the pool. She handed one to Xena then slipped back into the water before retrieving her own cup.

"You know Xena this is a pretty nice set up. I could get use to this." The strawberry blonde paused briefly. "How long did you say we were staying?" Gabrielle gave a playful eye to the woman and licked the edge of her upper lip innocently. Xena smiled, intentionally ignoring the suggestion in Gabrielle's look. The blonde turned towards Xena to allow her to see Gabrielle stirring the warm sweet tea with her finger. A nearby flame caught the gleam in the scheming bard's eyes.

Gabrielle drew her chin down and tilted her head in a matter of fact way. "You know Xena, this just might be the time *you* get to find out a little more about *me.*" Gabrielle spoke each word deliberately and softly. Her lips and tongue rolled sensually over each other, causing Xena to stare there. Knowing she had the warrior's attention the blonde took her steeping finger and brushed it across Xena's lower lip. Before the reserved warrior had time to respond, Gabrielle poured her mouth into Xena's and snaked in a flick from her tongue.

"Mmmm." Xena replied, "You promise?" Xena's voice growled in a way that sent shivers through Gabrielle.

Gabrielle pulled her head back just enough to focus her eyes into Xena's. Her lips turned to a crooked grin as she flirted. "Oh yes, I do promise my dark warrior." Just as quickly a delicious smile panned Gabrielle's face; she was in complete delight toying with her love.

"Oh yeeaahh. It is certain to be a bit more...hmmm, what would be the right word?" Gabrielle excited herself with her teasing. "Maybe decadent, very different from that Centurion/Warlord game I made up." Gabrielle thought, finally for once my fantasies can be unleashed without fear of being pushed away. If this works I'll really owe that goddess *and* her following. Again her words fell from her lips in sensual play. "But this time it will be *no* game." One thing Gabrielle had going for her she was very skilled with her words. The bard could talk up quite a lather in Xena before anything ever got started and it was sometimes most of her foreplay. Once again the bard looked into her lover's eyes. This time however, she tilted her chin down and looked through the top of her eyes at Xena in a very dominating kind of way. Xena felt a rush of excitement at the promise. Xena thought, 'how very sweet Gabrielle wanted to please her that way.' The warrior sighed, knowing just how lucky she was to have Gabrielle in her life.

It was a true and completed fate that Xena allowed Gabrielle to join her, after the failed reunion in Amphipolis. The warrior never really told the bard, but it wasn't because the blonde had 'saved' Xena from her kinsmen's hatred. Even when she commanded an army of hundreds, the Warrior Princess allowed no one in. Truthfully, Xena didn't really need saving that day, but she let Gabrielle have that credit anyway.

Since Lyceus' death Xena had chosen her road to be a solo one. However, that day on the way to Amphipolis was very different. Something inside told her it was time. A seventh sense struck the warrior hard when she saw the young Potedaeian on the trail. A seemingly innocent girl transformed instantly into guardian avenger, defending the other women. It was then that Xena felt that a ghost had walked right through her, she recognized something in the young fire that made her feel. This young farm girl's unselfish courage, her boldness and yet still she kept her alluring innocence.

Xena's thoughts drifted. She's beautiful; intelligent; compassionate; when it comes to people she sees the bigger picture, when I tend to be narrow in sight. She such an innocent tease, too. Mmmm, my favorite part! The more I ignore her coy ways, the more she pours it on. No doubt about it, she is my heart and the only the woman for me!

Xena gave Gabrielle a challenging look. Gabrielle took her cue pulling Xena in front of her in order to washing the warrior's back. From behind her eyes gently caressed the darker woman, while squeezing water over her lover's hair. Oh, how she loved playing with Xena's wet hair. The trails of the water that fell off the warrior's body, mesmerized her. Uh huh. Xena has underestimated my passion *and* experience for the very last time, Gabrielle mused.

"Drink your tea while I finish washing your back, then I'll rub your shoulders a little." Xena turned her head halfway around, "A little?" Xena sounded disappointed, but it was all part of the game. "Yes a little, so don't get any ideas, Xena. If *you* think I'm going to have you go to sleep on me *tonight* your sadly mistaken."

"Al-right! Stop it! I *told* you I was *sorry* about that night. I was *tired* and I couldn't *help* it. Besides you have such a good touch." Xena flirted. Deciding she was no longer interested in slow seductions, Xena gulped the remaining tea down. At her last slurp she slapped the empty cup on the floor, hoping to get the point across to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle had been slowly washing Xena's back and had just began to grab into the warrior's shoulder muscles, when Xena put the cup down with a noticeable force. Gabrielle's only response was a slight movement of her eyes. Xena of course could not see Gabrielle, so she wasn't sure if the bard had gotten the hint. She was just about to say something when the pleasure of her companion's deep kneading encouraged the warrior to wait. Gabrielle leaned into Xena's scented hair and gently inhaled, alerting her lover to even more sensual possibilities.

Gabrielle put the sponge to the side of the hot well and put her arms around Xena from behind. "Xena?" she said dreamily.

"Yes, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle's voice lowered, "I want you to trust me tonight."

"Wha?" Xena began to question just what she meant by that when Gabrielle continued.

"It is important to me. I need to show you a part of myself that I've been afraid to."

"What are you talking about?" Xena finally blurted.

"I'm asking you 'not to laugh' or 'turn me away'. This is ... look, I *just* need you to *trust* me. Will you?"

" Gabrielle I *do* trust you." Xena was a little puzzled by her lover's request. "It's not that kind of trust, not like counting on me or being reliable. I mean being open to new things ... you know; between us." Gabrielle raised her eyebrows to help convey the intimate nature of her request.

The analytical look in Xena's eyes were evidence that she was still digesting things. In a matter of moments the warrior safely concluded that the proposal *was* of a physical nature and it still puzzled her. Although Gabrielle didn't know the specifics, the warrior felt sure that her lover knew there wasn't much she had not done, or would be shocked by. However, there were numerous one she wouldn't even consider proposing with Gabrielle.

Once reassured, Gabrielle finished her tea then dove underwater. Xena's face went weak when she felt Gabrielle's hands on her thighs. Gabrielle positioned herself between Xena's legs and delicately bit at the tender underside to a knee. Xena's face jumped suddenly, almost jolting her from the water. Xena took a slow breath, trying to enjoy the inebriating sensations. Gabrielle traced her hands across her love's body as she arose to the surface. In an instant her smiling face broke the surface. Gabrielle took in a huge breath of air and wrapped her arms around Xena as she entered the warrior's mouth with a kiss. From the back of her head Xena felt a flow of desire rush down her back and up her torso passing her heart only to stall at her throat. She sank into her desire. Opening her eyes, Xena knew what Gabrielle had said earlier was true. She witnessed in the eyes of her lover, a fire of determination and almost a steely look of mastery. Xena gazed at her, feeling Gabrielle's nakedness pressed against hers. Seductively, the reddish-blonde threaded the fingers of her hands through Xena's dark mane; then pulled the warrior's head back, exposing her neck. As her lover began kissing her, Xena had no desire to fight surrender. Slow, thoughtful Gabrielle-kisses began at Xena's collarbone and journeyed up her neck.

Gabrielle paused, looking over every aspect of Xena's face. Her eyes gleamed with glory of the love she felt inside for this woman known as Xena. The warrior knew the look well. Gabrielle was getting ready to share some revelation of the heart. Sometimes these revelations gave Xena a warmth and joy she could never put words to, causing her soul to soar. Other times they made her uneasy along with a mixture of emotions Xena had rather not explore. When she did allow a moment's thought about the discomfort, Xena knew it came from her belief that she was somehow unworthy of this depth of love. When it did happened, the warrior did her best to ignore the thoughts. Their effects though, often lingered and affected her demeanor.

Gabrielle still clutched at Xena's hair with a loving but firm tenderness. Her nose scrunched as she broke into a smile of awe. "Xena. I want to be yours, all of me for all of you. Whenever I look at you I see all of my hope and strength. I see the beauty of your soul and it makes me tremble sometimes." She giggled as she released her left hand and began brushing the reeds of wet hair that draped across Xena's brow.

Xena knew what Gabrielle was saying was true. She had felt much the same on many occasions while looking at Gabrielle. In a spontaneous moment Xena was ready to reveal the depths of her own splendid love. Shaking her head side to side she opened her mouth. "Gab ri."

Gabrielle quickly brushed two fingers across Xena's lips to quiet her lover. "Xena I need you. We have faced some incredibly close calls together and somehow we always pull through. I've been thinking about that." Gabrielle's eyes reached into Xena's, connecting their souls. "Just when tragedy strikes at us and the reality of a life without the other is impaled into our hearts, something always happens and we come out okay. I've begun to take that good fortune for granted. Almost every time I see you spring into battle, my gut twists inside for fear that it will be your last fight. Then I tell myself that you can never die, that you defy your destruction and death. In my heart I know I am foolish. I want to start over. I am going to appreciate every moment we have alone together, starting tonight."

Gabrielle held her gaze for a few more seconds drinking in the heaven before her eyes, then kissed Xena on the lips. Gabrielle then reached below the water to find the warrior's hand. Her fingers laced themselves in between Xena's long fingers, binding them together. A brilliance of golden hair was beginning to halo around Gabrielle's face, as it began to dry. Xena, speechless, looked into Gabrielle's eyes. The bard pulled their clasped hands out of the water, resting their united fist between them; then ended her summations with a passionate kiss. Pulling Xena's head down to meet her own, their lips met. Their kiss fully revealed their love and shameless passion for one another. Gabrielle felt Xena's free arm move around her waist, pulling her closer still. It made the blonde weak *and* strong all at the same time. Gabrielle slipped her free hand behind Xena's neck as she groaned, related her womanly needs. Pulling away her lips from Xena's, Gabrielle planted a few pending kisses on Xena's mouth.

Xena, I think our bath is over, what do you think?" She said blowing away the moisture beading on her face. Her eyes smiled as the words left her lips. "I mean if you really want to stay, you can. I'm not saying you *have* to get out. I just sorta thought you'd *like* to get out. I'm mean you taught me pretty good about holding my breath underwater and all but... you know, I have *other* plans." Gabrielle winked at the warrior woman as she beamed a big smirk.

"Xena returned the smile then said teasingly, "I think you've *got* me where you *want* me."

The blonde satisfied with Xena's response sweetly puckered her lips to one side cutting a slanted grin. "Well then, I think you ought to follow me." Gabrielle then let go of Xena's hand just long enough to jump out of the hot well. She then reached again for Xena's hand pulling her out of the water then she walked away. Gabrielle returned to Xena's side, with drying linen in hand. "First let me dry you off," she said playfully. Xena just looked up at her, indulging the bard by letting her lead.

A rumble came from outside getting louder for a few seconds. "What was that?" Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Oh, I'd say it was probably Zeus throwing lightning, fighting with Hera." Xena was not concerned in the least.

"It sounds like an army charging, like the Persians did when we were in the armory. Hmm?" the bard mused to herself.

"Xena offered playfully, "Well we *can* wait to find out *if* it's that important to you."

"No, no." Gabrielle quickly replied. "Your gonna need your own army in here. It's a shame that I was dying and you had to be my warrior-nurse, the loft in the armory could have been alot of fun."

"Come on!" Gabrielle held the cloth out to wrap it around the naked warrior. Xena could see Gabrielle's intense desire to please and her nervousness. Facing her love Xena leaned down and kissed her slowly on the lips. She put one hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. " Gabrielle I love you," Xena said softly.

Gabrielle was briefly stunned. She had never heard Xena say 'I love you' to her in such an emotional way, at least not when neither one of them was near meeting Charon. The younger woman shook off the unexpected distraction and refocused, drying off her lover. "I've got a matte over here for you to lie on. I'm actually not finished massaging you *but*," she paused. "Don't get too comfortable," Gabrielle teasingly grinned as she led Xena to the matte. Once Xena was lying down the blonde bard rolled her lover onto her stomach exposing her backside.

The matte was soft enough that she could put alot of pressure on Xena and it would gently give just enough. Gabrielle had planned thoughtfully most every detail. Turning, Gabrielle picked up a piece of fabric off the floor and hung it from the base of the torch holder mounted to the wall. The other end was attached to another from a column in the room. Even without using those two particular torches the area was aglow with several candles. Two candles sat on the stone edge that followed along the wall. A third candle sat in a recess of the stone column. Xena lay motionless on the matte, doing her best to allow Gabrielle the lead. A rumble rolled through the air louder than before. The seductress bard though of Zeus's timing. Hmmm, maybe even Olympus is aware of my conquest. Nice touch, she smiled.

Gabrielle's body glistened in the glow of the candles. Her shoulders were strong and threaded with muscle definition and the curve of her back dipped into a sensual arc. She was petite in many ways but by no means a small woman. She nearly had the upper body strength of Xena and a stomach so hard, you could bounce dinars off it. Her intensely muscled stomach was the brute force behind her jabbing kicks. At the moment, there were no thoughts of fighting. Her power and strength was reserved for another type of conquest; a battle of love and of trust. Tonight a new level would be initiated between the two. The candlelight flickered across the walls and threw shadows from side to side of objects in their way. One was a shadow of the new whip Gabrielle had recently bought for Xena. Sort of an amends for swapping the warrior's other whip for Minya's frying pan. Unbeknownst to Xena, Gabrielle's eyes glimmered at the thought of playing with the new whip. Later maybe, she thought as she knelt down to straddle the prostrate woman. Her firm, caring palms glided slowly up Xena's back. "How is that? Is the pressure alright?"

Xena turned her head slightly and groaned. "Oh, yeah. That's real good."

Her hands were strong and had no problem penetrating deeply into Xena's muscles when need be. Tonight however she wanted it to be relaxing not therapeutic and certainly NOT sedating. Gabrielle continued the rubdown using her knuckles occasionally to encourage the muscles to release quickly. As she worked her way down Xena's back to the buttocks and legs, she made sure certain parts of her naked body touched Xena's. She even made sure that when her hands glided up Xena's back the next time her knee rested suggestively between Xena's legs. A quizzing groan crept up from below. Ok that's enough, Gabrielle thought to herself. I want to spoil you in a *different* way tonight my naughty warlord. Leaning across Xena's back, the bard kissed her lovingly on an exposed cheek.

Xena stirred, "What? Is that it?"

"I told you, just a little." Gabrielle sucked in her cheeks and looked very sultry when she said it. With her back to the bard Xena didn't notice, but she heard something in Gabrielle's voice that sent chills through her.

"Now!" Gabrielle said firmly. "Sit up; and lean against that column!" Xena snickered in amusement, at Gabrielle's attempt to command her. She fought her desire to bust out laughing; making sure by the time she faced the bard, the grin was gone from her face. Wise decision, Xena, she thought. Don't want to blow this one.

Xena complied. Once the warrior settled against the column, Gabrielle went around to the other side of the stone support. Xena felt her hand getting grabbed, then felt something soft, along with Gabrielle's caressing hand. Just as abruptly Xena's other hand was taken captive to Gabrielle's whim.

"Gabrielle? What are you? You know I.."

"Hold on Xena." She said reassuringly, "Trust me my love."

Xena was a bit unsure of this whole thing now. Well I did promise to trust her, she thought.

"Okay Gabrielle, but you know me...? I'm trying. Just don't go overboard." What *am* I saying? Xena thought. This is Gabrielle I'm talking about, of course she gonna go overboard.

Gabrielle continued securing Xena's hands to one another with a soft fabric tie, anchoring them behind the warrior with the column. The bard gave the binding a good yank, to test its hold. Now confident Xena was truly under her mercy; Gabrielle knelt on her knees, curling around to Xena's cheek. Kissing her, the bard whispered, "I'll be right back so don't panic. I love you, my little warrior hostage."
Xena let out short laugh. "I love you too, but that doesn't mean you can disappear on me now!"

The thought of being left naked tied to a column, in a friend's guest quarters, was not an appealing one to say the least. Not to the cool Warrior Princess at least. Xena noticed she felt strange. The sensation came from inside; she felt slightly loose, like she had enjoyed more than just a few drinks. It wasn't the wine, she thought. I didn't drink that much! This is very strange.

"Right back. I promise." Gabrielle said.

Gabrielle turned to the area where they slept and started digging through her satchel. Finding what she was looking for, the blonde pulled two scarves from the leather pouch. She shook one out and held it up. It was a beautiful sky blue and very sheer indeed. She smiled crookedly and quickly wrapped it around her hips twisting it several times before tucking it into her waist. The cloth draped beautifully down her thighs stopping just above her knees. The second scarf was 'wanton red', as Gabrielle called it. The bard tied this one over her face the same way the Middle-Eastern women wore them. This version however, was not intended for modestly but for seduction. The scarves bottom edge barely covered the bard's breasts as it trailed down. Perfect! Gabrielle thought. The bard had earlier come across some beautiful body jewelry, when she had undressed for the hot well. Retrieving them from a rolled up cloth, Gabrielle put the three pieces of chain on. One hung around her bare waist the other two around her ankles. Each of the chains, adorned with numerous pieces of brass that hung from each of the chains. A flash of light reflected into their dwelling, lighting up the inner wall. Moments later, another low rumble slowly roared, shaking the ground.

"Gabrielle?" Xena was getting impatient.

Gabrielle was beginning to feel quite confident. Everything she had wanted to try but was afraid to ask, would soon be embarked upon. Oh yeah, the tea was starting to take affect nicely and the timing could not have been better. She turned to walk back into the little lair she had setup for her warrior. As she walked the brass on her ankles chimed rhythmically. "I'm coming Xena."

"Sure you are!" Xena spouted, then she giggled under her breath.

Xena's mouth dropped dead open upon seeing Gabrielle walk around the corner. Her eyes bulged in disbelief. "By the gods! Gabri-elle!" Seeing her lover in such a sensual costume threw the warrior off guard. Gabrielle was always beautiful to Xena, but at the moment dressed in nothing but two sheer scarves? Mmmm, Xena was dumbstruck by the Amazon's womanly beauty.

Gabrielle just smiled subserviently and nodded. Gabrielle's hips began to rotate in a small circle. As she gyrated, the spherical movement got wider and more rhythmic. The brass on her waist chain jingled to each sway of the blonde's hips making its own music, in a 1-2-3 tempo. Xena was speechless as she watched Gabrielle move. Gabrielle's reddish blonde hair tossed itself wildly as she whirled about. Her arms waving above her head in slithering motion. The warrior begged inside to touch the warmth that now raced to her sex. The strength of the gods seemed to chase itself through Xena's veins. A dark image danced wickedly across the wall adding to the sensuality of the dance. The bard's reflection on the wall only added to the eroticism of the dance. Gabrielle discreetly removed the facial scarf. While admiring the view from behind, Xena realized the red scarf was now in Gabrielle's left hand flowing through the air. The realization made the warrior hurt with desire and she began to struggle to unleash her binding. Xena stopped trying to wriggle out of the tie as soon as Gabrielle turned towards her. Xena's body still throbbed madly. She wanted to scream aloud to release the tension of desire but held herself back. Beautiful honey-colored hair danced across Gabrielle's shoulders and breasts, occasionally covering up her erect nipples in a tease. She danced as if she had done it all her life; her whole heart and being was to please Xena with every move. The chiming of the brass began to get louder, more furious. Her hips began to snake forward and back as Gabrielle pulled from her waist the final cover. Even Gabrielle herself was getting quite involved with the motion of the dervish and was very aroused. Meanwhile green gems lit up Gabrielle's eyes while her seductive desire did it's magic on the warrior princess.

Xena could stand no more, she pulled hard against the binding trying to tear it loose. After all, Gabrielle had made the knot. It shouldn't be that difficult to break. The force of Xena's heave slightly rocked the column causing the candle in the inset to tip over. Xena stopped not wanting to break the column then have to explain to her host what happened. She knew she would have to remain there until Gabrielle released her. In defeat, Xena's shoulders fell back against the stone, again causing a slight movement. This time bringing the spilled wax to drop down and land on a breast. "Eeowww!" Xena gasped.

Gabrielle stopped dancing abruptly and she kneeled down beside her lover. "Xena, are you alright?"

Xena looked into Gabrielle's emerald eyes, searching in amazement. Her breathing short and shallow. "Yess. That wax!" Her panting softened.

Gabrielle began to peel the wax off, "Here let me put something on that."

"No Gabrielle, the warmth from the wax. It nearly sent me over the edge! I never knew how... how great that felt."

"Really?" Gabrielle said with a question in her voice, unsure she was hearing this right. "You mean the wax didn't scold you? It made you excited?" The bard curled her eyebrows, surely she was wrong.

"Gabrielle, that's *exactly* what I'm saying." Stunned herself, Xena smiled at the revelation.

Gabrielle smiled and looked into Xena's eyes. "Xena," she giggled. "You truly amaze me sometimes." She grabbed her lover and gave her a big kiss on the lips. Gabrielle's tongue briefly ran wildly over Xena's lips and into her mouth. The blonde stopped suddenly and looked dead into Xena's eyes. "I'm not done you know!"

Xena groaned in agony. There was almost no need to go further. It would only take a little more than a soft blow from Gabrielle's lips onto Xena's skin to send the princess to Elysia. Gabrielle stood again and began to sway her hips in and out, just inches away from the dark woman's face. Each thrust forward sent a waif of sweetness through the air; the sweetness Xena knew as Gabrielle.

Xena was erect from all the teasing, throbbing hard inside. The bard's hand began to caress its way across her abdomen, down to the soft curls of hair as her left hand tracing across her breasts, while her right moved further down into her amber patch with each thrust of her hips.

"Gods, Gabrielle, I can't stand it….. pleeease!" Xena's face had changed from lust and desire to raw need. The wind outside began to moan and howl, almost in mockery of the warrior's plight. Suddenly, the downpour hit hard, the lightning and thunder offering a symphonic percussion for its arrival.

Gabrielle looked so sultry as she stared through the top of her eyes down at her lover. Her intention was obvious; driving Xena insane *was* an option. Xena watched intently, mesmerized by the bard's right hand as it came to rest on her mound of hair.; her fingers combing through her loose curly hair.

Gabrielle thought to herself, *I* can't wait much longer. I have got to have her soon. She then began sliding two fingers gently inside her, then out again; repeating over and over. The wetness on her fingers glistened like sugared candy, when the candlelight hit them just right. She then twirled three times dipping in front of her warlord with each pass. Then raising her hands above her head Gabrielle quickly stomped her heels two times and posed, ending her seductive love play.

Xena didn't move. With the exception of the aching need within her, she had pretty much forgotten her predicament. Xena had surrendered resting her head against the stone. Taking the cue of her love's submission, Gabrielle moved onto the matte and parted Xena's legs. Her thumbs resting on the inside of each thigh while her short nailed fingers clung to the warrior's well-muscled legs. The sweat glowed on Xena's face. She licked at her parched lips just as Gabrielle leaned down and ran her tongue over Xena's swollen love. "Ohmm." The groan came deep from within the warrior. A flood of juice spilled from Xena as Gabrielle parted her lips the second time.

"Oh, nice. Mmmm, sweet cream. Now this is my ambrosia! Oh yeah, food of the Amazon Princess!" Gabrielle spoke through each lingual journey across Xena's erection. Breaking from her commanding posture she added, "I, I love you; I always have." The dominating bard straddled Xena's left leg while lifting the warrior, opening her lover further. She then shifted, placing her own wetness over Xena's knee, who lifted it slightly to return the pleasure.

"No." Gabrielle chided. "Don't move, Xena." Gabrielle was feeling very secure with herself by the effect of the tea. So she gently grabbed at Xena's pubic hair and proclaimed, *this* is mine, YOU are mine."

Xena raised her brows. The force in Gabrielle's raspy voice sent a wave of heat through Xena. A small part of her wanted to resist it all, but she was far too weak with desire. Xena wanted to lift her hips to meet with Gabrielle's hand, which now was lightly fingering Xena's dark velvet hair. She did not. The rain slowed to a drip outside as Gabrielle cupped her hand upwards and entered the warrior. Her hand was quickly sheathed with the lubricious fluid allowing her a deep and smooth access. Xena began to lift her hips slightly with the increasing desire. She was near climax. Gabrielle, sensing Xena's increasing need, leaned in between her lover's legs and began sucking lightly. Occasionally, she would break her focus long enough to twirl her tongue in circles over the hard nub. With her face still down, Gabrielle could hear Xena's breathing get slower and deeper. Time was precious. Gabrielle reentered Xena with two fingers as she continued to lick and suck her lover. Her fingers curled upward inside, resting pressure upon the inner wall, giving Xena a 'sense fullness'. A loud burst clapped outside as the torrential rain returned in a sensual applause.

"Ohh ha! Ohmm." Xena struggled to keep her breathing even and deep.

[Inhale slow-ly] "Uhhhhh" [exhale] "whhhhuu" [inhale slow-ly] "Uhhhhh" [exhale] "whhhhuu"

Gabrielle began to wiggle the ends of her fingers almost like a vibration against Xena's inner wall.

"Oh, Gab-ri-elle! I. I can't. Ohhh." Xena was nearing Gabrielle's prize. Suddenly Gabrielle's mouth was filled with cream as sweet as custard. She frenzied to drink it all. "Ohh. Ooh, gods. Whhhhhu." Xena exhaled as she raised her hips wanting Gabrielle in her as deep as she could be. Taking the hint Gabrielle removed her fingers and tunneled her tongue down into Xena's sex. Soon Xena had convulsed again in orgasm; the bard slowly stopped, allowing her lover to recover.

Xena was completely had, but felt a surge of energy that left her still in need. She was in need of Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, please untie me. I want my arms around you."

Gabrielle's eyes met Xena's. A gentle fire poured endlessly; sweeping a searing love across the warrior-lover. The nude Amazon's hand brushed across Xena's cheek. "Thank you, Xena. I love you more than you could ever possibly know."

Quickly, Gabrielle moved behind the restraining column and released the binding around Xena's wrists. She looked over her wrists, making sure there were no marks or burns from the rope. No marks good, I did it right, she thought.

Once released Xena made her move. A bard's hand swiftly rose in defiance, halting Xena's advance. The warrior wouldn't hear of it, she was not going to be detained any longer. "Whaaaat!" she said, in whining frustration. Her face sulking slightly.

Gabrielle's lips got real close to Xena's. While looking at the warrior's lips she began to speak. "On." Gabrielle wrapped her lips around Xena's with a smooth licking kiss. "One condition." Kissing her again she pulled the binding from behind her back. Lifting it before Xena's eyes she added, "You have to *promise* to use this on me *before* I agree to anything."

Xena's eyes bulged with shock. Her mouth held the look of bewilderment then smoothly changed to a pleasant recognition. A hardened look of desire swam across her face. She could feel the comfort in her belly, the comfort that let her feel free to be anything, right then with her lover. Sensing her lover's trust, the warrior strangely felt free to trust herself. Blue eyes stared into Gabrielle's hazel palettes. They gave her chills of passion.

Gabrielle looked down to meet with Xena's eyes. "Xena, take me."

For a moment the warrior battled within herself. "I can't Gabrielle, not like that." Xena said looking up at her love. Oh, she wanted to. She dreamt of it, but the warrior vowed to never go there; she thought so much of her lover. The ex-warlord's past dominations brought her an image she just couldn't impose onto Gabrielle. Xena tingled from the warmth in her body. The tea was nearing its full effect. The warrior searched Gabrielle's eyes noticing how eagerly the bard embraced the idea of confinement.

"Now!" A determined sternness came from behind Gabrielle's throat, then more softly added, "If you do love me, I need you to; like you wouldn't have me *any other way.*" Gabrielle's eyes radiated both her salacious desire and the sincerity of her plea. "Please?"

Xena's heart wavered. Realizing her lover truly wanted what she was demanding. In her love for Gabrielle, she submitted to the request of dominance, understanding Gabrielle's need completely. "Alright!" Xena looked deeper yet, one brow raised in a crook. Looking at the cord, "Once *that* is in my hand I am in control, understand? You either accept everything or nothing!"

Brilliant shining hair swayed across her chest as Gabrielle smiled. "I am counting on it." The bard watched as Xena assumed her role of the moment. Silently she commanded her. She looked absolutely evil; a very, very, nice evil.

Grabbing the braided cloth binding from her 'unwilling conquest,' Xena began to walk away. "Fine then. Get dressed!" The warlord's foot hit the flooring and pivoted back towards Gabrielle. Xena caught the bard's eye and smiled sweetly. Gab, I love you, she thought. The warrior turned again and gathered a number of things in a woven basket. When she returned Gabrielle had fully dressed and was awaiting her patiently.

Without a word, a strong dark hand tugged at the bard's skirting then lifted to her face. Long and gentle fingers braced the bard's chin in Xena's palm, her lips pressed lightly in a kiss. The regular Xena was back momentarily, her eyes smiled as she smirked. "You can lose the boots Gab. I'm not one who's into boots!" The amazon smiled then quickly sat to remove them.

Xena slowly laid Gabrielle on the awaiting matte. The warrior's new conquest obediently lay on her back while her partner quickly secured the bindings. The amazon's well-muscled arm's extended to the sides of the stone support to which they were bound. Outside Zeus and Hera continued to pummel the village with their fury. Lighting rapidly flashed, accented by the cracking bass of the thunder. The rains slapped against the stone structure with such a force, that all other sounds were drowned out. This was good for the two lovers, no possibilities of their private delight being compromised.

The warlord wasted no time, pulling out the two scarves for her own uses this time. Tenderly she wrapped them around the bard's eyes and whispered, "I want your senses to be keen, to be aware of everything but sight."

"Mmmm." Gabrielle's lips slightly turned to a delightful grin in acknowledgement. Even with her eyes open Gabrielle was in total blackness. The air caressed her body, her skin sensing the warmth of candles nearby. Just knowing her warrior was looking at her excited her. Smooth elongated finger's loosened the lace on Gabrielle's top, eyes glancing to the nearby basket.

"Are you thirsty? This is your only chance you have to quench your thirst," Xena warned. The warrior looked down upon her. The gold in her hair danced in the radiance of the candlelight, lips slightly parched. She bit at her lip, as she thought, Oh, I thirst all right.

"Yes, please."

The cup of wine soon leaned against her lips, her head struggled to lift so as not to choke. Her throat gulped down the wine. "Ahh. Thank you."

Xena had changed into a short shift and pulled the basket to the side of the matte. "Gabrielle, breathe slowly. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Feel the air draw all the way through your body before you release it." She obeyed. Xena grabbed a plum from the basket and quickly peeled the bittersweet skin with her teeth, leaving the sweet pulp. She smiled softly. "Gabrielle lick." She then held the skinless plum to her lover's lips. She obeyed. The meat of the fruit oozed its nectar slightly. Enough to give a faint sweet taste. "Mhhmm!" The bard expressed. "Now flick it." Again she obeyed. The tip of the bard's tongue lightly flickered across the fruit, cool and wet. The image stirred the warlord's hunger causing her to moan, "Ughh." The sight was stunning; Gabrielle's essence, was that of a woman with a carnal knowledge. The young Amazon knew exactly how to play with the warlord. "Auhh." A moan escaped, as the bard attempted to grab at the fruit with her lips. "No!" Her captor/lover pulled it away abruptly. "You must resist your desires, and only submit to mine." Gabrielle felt a weakness swoon inside her. This was better than she could hope for. Again, she felt the wet fruit brushing against her lips. "Suck it." In her darkness Gabrielle's lips searched out the fruit. She had become acutely aware of its scent. Lips puckered onto its meat, sucking hard like a Bacchae in heat. Juices streamed from the crease of her mouth. She let the nectar drip down her chin, not wanting to disappoint her commanding warrior. The warlord watched. "You want me to have you don't you?"

"Yes." Her increasing excitement forced the amazon into shallow breaths of air.
"Breathe slow. Don't lose your focus on your breathing; it's what pleases me. The warrior pulled the fruit away and bit into its flesh. Leaning, her hand searching the basket while her wet sweet lips met her captive lover's in a lambent kiss. The hidden fruit passed from her mouth as they kissed. "We will share everything, understand?"

"Yes, I do." Gabrielle breathed the words. The warlord's sensual command made her shudder to her core with desire.

"Open your mouth and whatever you do, don't swallow!" Gabrielle nodded in affirmation. Xena began plucking one grape after another and squeezing the juice into Gabrielle's awaiting mouth. Xena watched every drop fall into her mouth. Gabrielle held her throat shut and began to breathe through her nose while she collected the juices. Each used grape got tossed quickly into the warrior's own mouth. No sense in wasting things, she thought. A hand moved behind the bard's head supporting her, holding her up. The warrior whispered, "Kiss me and give me your fruit." Lips moved toward the blindfolded woman. Xena's lips quickly covered her lover's mouth in a taunting kiss. "Give me your fruit." Positioning the fluid in her mouth, Gabrielle obeyed. In the first onset of a kiss, Gabrielle poured her juice into Xena's lingual vessel. Nectar, sweet and dark escaped their lips; both gulping, licking, kissing. A voice of sensual velvet moved towards the bard's ear. "Mmm, my love, I *liked* that!" Gabrielle smiled; then Xena kissed her again.

Xena resumed her command, unlacing Gabrielle's top completely. She decided to leave it open, just enough to reveal her lover's hardened nipples. A cool hand reached for a small chain. The ends were each adorned with a metal ring. The warrior tested the rings to make sure they were not to constrictive. Each ring had two flat metal ends, which made the opening even bigger, when pressed towards each other. The spring action had a soft give to the slightest pressure. This was going to be just right for what the warlord had in mind. Leaning over Warlord Xena captured Gabrielle's left nipple in the ring, then swiftly the right one with the other end of the chain. The pressure was very light, making the bard's nipples maintain their erect state. Caught off guard by the cold metal and the sudden tweak on her breast, Gabrielle initially flinched. At first she sensed a slight pinch, but soon it changed to an electric pulse cycling between each nipple through the chain. "Breathe. More." Xena lay alongside her bound lover. Her hand slid down the leather belting of the skirt, finding Gabrielle's moist hair. The warrior's long hand rested, allowing her middle finger to slightly touch Gabrielle's tender inside. Its tip dipped slightly into the opening of Gabrielle's love. Xena stilled her hand, stopping to just watch her captive bard breath.

The enraptured Amazon felt a swell of desire at the touch of her lover's hand; wanting it all over her body, in her body. It was not to be. Instead she obeyed and breathed. The slight pressure of Xena's hand against her growing need felt good. The Amazon pulled at the bindings, wanting to thrust herself against Xena's hand.

"No!" You will only breath or I will not feed your needs. You will not struggle.
You can only resist me passively, inside, with your will. Breathe. You will know when you can finally struggle." Xena smiled. "I promise you." The warrior enjoyed the warm wetness at her fingertip. She wanted to kiss Gabrielle deeply, look into her eyes and just hold her. Not now; she wants this, she'll get this. A hard throb hit the warrior's finger. Again, another. Gabrielle had begun to intentionally contract, stimulating herself against the warrior's lone, stilled finger. Xena pulled her hand up but kept it in the skirting. "One thing! That is *all* you have until I say otherwise." Xena was beginning to get into this, in a fun kind of way. She found it was still quite different from her past; their love made it so. Xena tugged lightly on the chain sending rods of pleasure through her lover.

"Ohhh." She sighed. Gabrielle thought as she again focused on her breathing. What is this 'fight it inside' game all about? Why doesn't she want me to get excited? She thought deeply about it, not understanding at all. Flash, the bulb went off. Oh, if I don't *act* turned on and with my mind fight *getting* turned on then it is more of a challenge for her to seduce me. Then we both get aroused even more and then I can really resist...til….. Oh! Mmm, She is *So* good to me. Once she had some inkling as to the why's and how's, she was more willing to do this 'resistance with the mind' stuff. She regained focus; breathe Gabrielle.

The sultry warrior began to kiss Gabrielle across her left shoulder, then her neck. Her long dark hair splayed across Gabrielle each time the loving warrior bowed to kiss her. Finding the tender underside of Gabrielle's arm, Xena made a trail with her lips. At the elbow's bend she bit at the soft sweet flesh, then began to suckle it lightly.

Xena's lover lay intensely motionless on the floor, totally relaxed, absorbing every sensation. Her golden red hair was ablaze from the candle's illuminations. Gabrielle had never before been so aware of the flux of desires that besieged her body, the focused breathing attuning her to the hundreds of sensations. She drank in every single pleasure through her pores, contented with the totality of Xena's presence. She didn't move. She tried to resist from inside. The roar of the storm outside made her feel sensual and excited. The pounding of the rain and the bolt's of Zeus were scored melodically to the churning emotions inside her. Gabrielle wondered, Is this ambience of nature a gift from the unknown god I had so earnestly embraced this morning. Her lover's kisses danced on her neck and chest. Rushing waves tingled as they rolled up Gabrielle's legs, causing them to become slightly rigid. She relaxed them again. A slow breath drew into her nostrils, sending chills of ecstasy even further into her torso and loins. Again she separated herself from the ravenous desires building. She closed her eyes. She could sense Xena's position; even in the few rare moments their bodies were apart. Something in her was so in tune with everything Xena was feeling and giving. Gabrielle sensed that each orchestrated lick and bite were so much more that the ordinary ministrations of any lover; even the Xena she knew. The restrained woman was beginning to weaken as Xena feasted on her navel and breasts. She wanted to struggle against the ties, forcing her blood to rage with her excitement, She needed her muscles to strain and pump. Gabrielle continued breathing, feeling each touch, kiss and lick. She resolved not to succumb to the many pleasures she was feeling, but the growing need was no longer a simple passion. Raging furiously inside was a desperate hunger for this sustenance to her soul. It was so hard to resist. The Amazon wanted to relent to the yearning in her body. Breathe Gabrielle. It was of no use; she was maddened with desire. Her arms pulled down finding pleasant resistance in her bindings. The corded muscles in her neck fanned outward as she lifted her head in an attempt to gain more pressure against her lover.

Xena, noticing Gabrielle was near her breaking point, untied the scarves. Released from the darkness their eyes connected for the first time. Gabrielle's eyes were brilliant with green and blue fire; she smiled blissfully at her warrior. She breathed hard, her gut panting deeply. She felt Xena's hand slid lightly down her torso, stopping to toy with the curls of her hair. What a sweet tease, she thought. Her loving captor lay half way atop the muscled blonde. Xena whispered, "Now." The warlord put most of her weight on her enslaved lover; then caressed her, sucking wherever her lips desired. Hard she sucked, occasionally flicking her tongue over her lover's sensitive skin. Gabrielle began to bear down on the binding, increasing resistance, increasing her arousal. Her sinewy muscles in her shoulders and arms danced as she pulled them taut. Sweet warrior lip's pressed deeply upon the woman's mouth, Xena's jaw opening full and passionately with each exploration. The warrior's emotions whirl about her, giving her a sense of intoxication. Her lips again expelled a rapture of fire upon her bound lover. Gabrielle reciprocated, opening herself further to her lover as she struggled and bucked. Her skin burned with a passion that was finally being quenched by Xena's uninhibited love.

Pure unadulterated love moved throughout the warrior. Xena realized how much her lover truly wanted her, striking something deep inside her. Stopping briefly, she reached around the column and released the binding. Xena's long, firm hand then reached down into her lover's need. A glowing sweat shone on Gabrielle's fawn skin. I love her more than my own existence, Xena thought; and I want her to feel it. With a carnal heat the warrior eye's lovingly caressed the Amazon. Everything the warrior's heart had once held onto was now released. Her passionate inclinations realized, shared. It was not the act of love itself that bound them in this moment, but the unabashed giving from Xena's open heart. The warrior felt an indescribable power inside her; a force like no other. All of her will had stopped, suspended. It was then she understood the paradox of Lao Ma's teachings. Upon ceasing attempts to control, she gained it; in her vulnerability she found strength. Xena's heart, released a pure love that was the true force behind the intensity. It was not just desire, nor a physical maelstrom. All was present in this act of love. The warrior's soul was more exposed than it had ever been. Xena's selfless passion, her devotion, her need, her fearless innocence, all had joined together in this moment. Her complete heart finally knew the utter joy of it's own expression.

Xena pulled Gabrielle towards her. Lifting her gently with one arm, Xena continued pleasuring her partner. "Gabrielle, I want you to hold onto me, okay? If you need to pull, then pull." Cobalt blue eyes melted the impassioned Amazon. She nodded, as she hooked her arm around the warrior's neck. Gabrielle pulled herself closer to the Warrior Princess, sending sweat trickling down her neck and cleavage. Her hair stuck to her face, highlighting the amorous glow, illuminated her skin. Xena held Gabrielle firmly, as the warrior made the most passionate love to her. Her head felt light, near spinning, but it was not Gabrielle. It was Xena. She began to tremble, which she had not done for so long, during the intensities of their lovemaking. Entrenched in a deep penetrating kiss, Gabrielle and Xena both clutched to one another as the Amazon exploded in orgasm. They scrambled to hold one another tighter, closer; the warrior still slowly making love. Not one word was needed; neither of them knowing of any language that could related what just happened. Ghostly tears lay on both their faces, simply appearing, glimmering with the love that had force them out. An immortal passion finally realized. Completely spent, the two lovers soon fell into a deep blissful sleep. Their bodies entangled, holding one another near, they slept.


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