Memories, Dreams and Schemes

part 8

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.

Chapter 8


She had wracked her brain all afternoon and into the night -Xena keeping her awake most of the time- trying to remember where she'd seen that plant. But to no avail. It wasn't until she was taking her very brief bath this morning - her mind focused only on the fading passion mark she'd found on the inside of her left thigh, which she didn't even want to consider how it had got there - that the scene of seeing the plant, flashed unbidden before her mind's eye. She knew where it was now. It was in the area where she'd dressed the deer. And although at first, she was practically ecstatic, this elation quickly turned to grave concern; for, this area could be a very dangerous place to be. There was no telling what kind of animals had found this site by now, including the large cat.

Back at the cave, once again, Xena was in the throes of her delirium, ranting and raving. She wanted "the dead", she was saying. Wanted to make an example of them by putting their heads on poles. And the calm, level-headed tone with which she'd said these things was chilling. It was also interfering with Gabrielle's own thoughts concerning how she would deal with the cat, if she ran across it.

"I can hear them!" Xena cried out. "Big dogs... they're right behind me. These damnable legs! Oh-oh... If I ever lay eyes on you again, Julius Caesar, you're a dead man! Move! Move! Gotta keep moving! Damn these infernal crippled legs!! They're coming... they're closer... I hear them.... right behind me....Umph!!!"

"SHUT UP!!" Gabrielle screamed, bringing the sword in her hands crashing down to the ground, her own anger and frustration getting the better of her.

To her surprise, Xena did quiet down. Hmph, shoulda tried that before, she thought, raising the sword. She sliced back and forth through the air in front of her, as if the cat were only a few feet away. I'll surely need both hands on the sword, she reasoned. Hey, I'll put the knives in my boot, sorta like Xena does. One for throwing and one for... close contact. She shuddered at the thought of the large claws mauling her body. Father used to say that if being mauled by a bear or a lion, one should curl up and play dead.

"Father," she mumbled aloud. The thought of home drained the strength from her arms. The sword tip sank to the ground. "Oh yea gods, how I wish I was home," she added, tears springing up in her eyes.

She hadn't thought a lot about home over the last few days, though it was never far from her mind. She just hadn't allowed herself to think about it, actually. She didn't need to feel sorry for herself, because that would not accomplish a thing. Yet, as tired as she was from lack of sleep now, the pent up sadness, confusion and utter frustration of the past few days washed over her from head to toe, like flood waters over a beaver' s dam. She sank to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks; her head resting against both hands; still gripping the sword. When and how would she ever get back home? And why and how had she come to be here?!!! What had happened? Had she done something to deserve this?

She had been considering leaving home, it was true. She'd thought a lot about it in the last several moons, especially what with the pressure from her mother and father to marry Perdicus. She was well beyond the age most women took a husband, having held out for no reason she could justify to anyone else, other than the fact that she wasn't even anywhere close to being head over heels in love with him, or anyone else for that matter. Not that Perdicus wasn't a nice guy. He was as gentle and kind a man as she could ask for, but the fact remained, she just wasn't in love with him. Nor was she ready to settle down yet. She wanted to see and experience more of the world first. She'd been fascinated by the idea of traveling, ever since meeting the traveling female bard, who had spouted Sappho, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and all the great writers and thinkers, as if she'd known them, personally. Gabrielle had always dreamed of being a bard. She was full of stories; always wanted to write stories of her own, about her own experiences and those of others.

At this thought, her head came up. The pack that the nightie and cape had been in, also held scrolls, ink and a quill. Could it really be hers? Had she left her village of her own accord? If so, why couldn't she remember? The scrolls were empty, she knew that, for she'd already looked at them. The aroma of crisp new parchment had tantalized her senses and piqued her curiosity beyond all control.

Xena moved again, drawing her attention. Have to get that root, she thought. There'll be time for thinking about this later. For, how she'd ended up here was not nearly as important at the moment as the fact that she needed to take care of and keep alive the only other person who might be able to get her back home. And with this thought, she got up off her knees and set about preparing herself for what could prove to be a dangerous venture.

Sword gripped tightly in both hands and held out in front of her, she approached the site cautiously. The carrion eaters had already found the remains, she could hear them squabbling. That was a good sign, in some respects, because she was sure any large cat would not tolerate their presence. Nor would they want to hang around and be its next meal. She could identify with that feeling, intimately.

Several of the large black bodied birds with white heads, seemingly too small for their bodies, took flight as she approached. Those with the best seats in the house - food at their feet - were loathed to move on as quickly. Two others were in the process of squabbling over some small remains and paid her no mind. Don't let me disturb you, she thought, for you will be my eyes and ears while I'm busy. The plant was underneath a large old gnarly tree, whose branches were quite low to the ground. She had to duck down to get beneath one. She laid the sword down directly beside her, drew Toxeus' knife from her boot and started digging.

Pleased with the size of her prize, she raised up rather abruptly. The carrion eaters squawked and took to the air, startling her. Hmph, did I do that or...? Her question was quickly answered when a large tawny colored heard emerged from the woods. The animal was sniffing the air. Gabrielle froze. By the gods she's huge, she thought. As if hearing her thoughts, light green eyes met and held her own with their chilling stare. Gabrielle held her breath. The large cat's lip curled up, a low growl emanating from her throat. I'm in big trouble! Gabrielle thought. She knew the tree was behind her, the branches low enough for her to climb up on. But cats could climb too, couldn't they?

There was no time to ponder this further, because the cat was on the move in her direction. Gabrielle made a mad dash for the trunk of the tree. The root went from hand to mouth- affording her use of both hands - and the frightened blonde was soon scampering up onto a low limb. The cat roared and Gabrielle didn't even stop to look back, but kept maneuvering from limb to limb until she felt she could go no higher.

When she finally looked down, she saw the cat below, sniffing the ground where she had just been. Gabrielle then saw the sword she had left behind. At first, she cursed herself and then realized she couldn' t have carried it with her and climbed too. Light green eyes gazed up at her. The big cat growled, then sniffed the air. She walked over to the tree, snuffling as she eased around the trunk. Back at the place where Gabrielle had climbed up, she reared up, her front legs stretched out against the trunk, claws digging into the bark.

No, no, don't come up, please, Gabrielle thought, I'm sure I won't be as tasty as you might think. The flapping of wings drew the attention of both human and feline. One of the carrion eaters was back. And another was coming in for a landing. The large cat dropped back to the ground and started strolling towards them. That's right, Gabrielle thought, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, isn't it? Keep going... that's right. Just take the meat and go.

This last thought did not soon become a reality, however, for once establishing her claim, the cat laid down and launched into her meal. She took her own sweet time, devouring every last bit of meat, or so it seemed, left on the neck and head of the deer. Gabrielle was stuck in the tree for what had to have been several marks on the sundial.

Finally, close to sundown, seeming sated at last, the cat ambled off into the woods. Gabrielle waited with baited breath for the carrion eaters - some having taken their chances, stealing a morsel or two here and there, all throughout the feline's meal, most still circling overhead - to return in force, which she hoped would signal the cat was truly gone.

She returned to the cave pretty much exhausted. Her back was a bit stiff, her behind sore from sitting on the small limb so long.

Xena was quiet, for the time being, which she was grateful for. She heated some water and cleaned the root, then placed it in the water to steep, as Xena had instructed. The latter was still pretty quiet and Gabrielle finally walked back to check on her.

"By the gods!" she breathed. Xena's forehead and upper lip were beaded with sweat, her face flushed. "Water, she needs water!" Her tired legs and feet were in motion once again.

Xena awoke and spit the water back in her face. Gabrielle could not get her to drink any of it. She pleaded with Xena to no avail. The warrior was deliriously angry; she swore Gabrielle was trying to poison her. And there was no convincing her otherwise.

Gabrielle paced, pondering the problem, searching for a solution. Somehow, some way, she had to keep Xena's mouth open and keep her from spitting the water back out. She needed something to... An idea leaped into mind. And she thought it was a good one.

"Let's try this again," she grumbled, as she straddled the delirious warrior's waist. When Xena opened her mouth to scream at her, Gabrielle was ready with a short length of rope, which she spread across her charge's mouth. Xena bit down on the rope and tried to move her head. Gabrielle held onto the rope, her hands beside the warrior's head, holding it still. She could tell from the look in Xena's eyes that she was furious.

"I don't like having to do this, but... it's for your own good," Gabrielle said, hovering over her charge. She then wrestled one end of the rope behind the warrior's head, so that she could hold it in place with one hand, while she retrieved the cup of water with the other. Xena, however, moved her head from side to side, the rope chaffing the corners of her mouth, as she avoided taking the water.

Gabrielle grew frustrated rather quickly. She put the cup down and grabbed Xena's face in both hands, the rope still gripped tightly. This is the only way she could hold her head still, but how was she supposed to get water in her mouth?

"Xena, please!!!" she begged, staring into the furious blue eyes, her face very close to her charge's now.

"U'll kull yooo!" the warrior growled around the rope.

Gabrielle stared down at her mouth. "I know you would, if you could get loose."

Xena sneered and growled. Gabrielle wondered for a brief moment how such vile things could come out of lips that looked so soft and.... She interrupted her own thoughts, as yet another idea pranced around in her head.

She let go with one hand and retrieved the cup, filling her own mouth with water, then she grabbed hold of Xena's face again. From her own lips, which had to be close to Xena's, she dribbled water into her charge's mouth. With no other alternative, the warrior swallowed. Gabrielle was elated, she felt like jumping for joy. Yet, she had a job to finish here. And she was damned determined to do so.

Her job, she soon found, was fraught with a host of complicated feelings and thoughts. Her own lips so close to the warrior' s, as well as, the gradual change in Xena's demeanor - the look in her eyes going from belligerence to near eager anticipation of the next liquid infusion - was becoming a bit too pleasant a task. At one point, Xena jerked against the bonds, raising her head to meet her ministering spirit half way, their lips brushing against and partially engaging for a brief moment. Gabrielle felt a rush of heat travel up her neck and onto her cheeks, as well as, down her body. Close on its heels were a medley of sensations she'd never experienced before. All converging on one central location. She pulled back abruptly, stunned at her own body's reaction. And she could have sworn Xena was smiling, her eyes taking on that warm glow which so mesmerized Gabrielle.

Three more cupfuls of water later, she released her charge and climbed off, feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained. She ambled back to the fire to check on the herb. She then went back to the warrior with a wet cloth, acquired from the previously wrapped cheese and bread, which was now gone. Xena offered no resistance to her ministrations, she merely stared up at her, the warmth in those blue eyes, nearly bringing tears to Gabrielle's own.

"Thank you," the warrior finally mouthed.

Gabrielle was soon back at the fire, tending the rabbit stew. She hoped Xena would stay rational long enough to take this by herself. And upon taking a sip of the yellow liquid from the root, she decided to add it to the stew for Xena, in order to mask the taste.

A little while later, Xena was taking the concoction from the spoon and offering no quarrel whatsoever. Gabrielle was nearly euphoric. She fed her charge the whole bowl, then followed it with two more cups of water. The flush was leaving Xena's cheeks.

She sighed with relief, as she was finally able to curl up beneath her blanket and get some much needed rest..


She sat up abruptly, her heart pounding. She glanced around the cave. Xena was quiet, seemingly sleeping. Gabrielle fell back on the bedroll. "Only a dream," she murmured aloud. Oh, but what a dream! Xena had been laying on top of her, kissing her... making love to her. The dampness between her thighs was indisputable evidence of how she, herself, or at least her body, felt about this. She curled up in a fetal position, overly aroused and yet a bit frightened. She'd never dreamed about anything like this before. Not even about men. And it had seemed so real. So very, very real! The dream scene replayed in her mind again, as she closed her eyes. Upon opening them, the image faded. Closed, they reappeared. She scrambled out of bed and went outside to relieve her full and aching bladder.

Upon returning, she set about warming more stew and steeping another piece of the yellow root. Water in the skins was running low. A trip to the stream was in order, but she didn't even want to entertain the idea of doing so in the dark, much less actually doing it. She'd just have to wait until morning for something to drink. Xena's needs came first.

Xena took the stew and water, no argument, no struggle, not even a harsh word. And Gabrielle was soon back in her bedroll. She was pretty sure that Xena would awaken her before morning. She'd been lucid too long. Or at least, not violent and irrational.

She was wrong, however.

It was light outside when her eyes fluttered open. She quickly checked on her charge, who was obviously asleep; for, she was snoring lightly. A good sign, she reasoned, gathering both waterskins and heading for the stream.

When she returned, Xena was mumbling something about broken legs and someone named M'Lila, along with Caesar once again. The former seemed to be a friend, the latter the cause of her broken legs. Gabrielle waited, not wanting to go through another mouth to mouth session. She hated holding the warrior down, with the rope in her mouth. She'd already noticed the sides of Xena's mouth was chaffed from her previous struggles.

When the warrior finally grew quiet again, she made her preparations and gathered her courage; her duty to her charge more important than her feelings. To her utter dismay, Xena was quite delirious again, the fear in her eyes evident. She even fought Gabrielle over opening her mouth. She nearly choked on the first infusion of water. Tears slid from beneath her closed lids.

Gabrielle was stunned. "I don't like hurting you, Xena," she tried to explain. "But, you need to drink this."

The warrior mumbled something around the rope, which she couldn't understand. Assuming it to be another threat, Gabrielle proceeded with her ministrations undaunted, for she didn't care to struggle with Xena over getting the rope back in her mouth.

When she finished the warrior merely lay there, quietly sobbing, her eyes tightly shut. The expression on her face was far from that of the stoic warrior Gabrielle had come to know, nor the delirious madwoman.

Feeling guilty and deeply touched, once again, she put her arm around her charge and got comfortable beside her. "Let me tell you another story," she offered softly. "Do you know how the turnings of the season came about?" The warrior offered no response. "Well, it was a long time ago..."

Xena's breathing was heavy and even by the time Gabrielle finished her story. Tired herself and quite comfortable, with her head resting against the side of Xena's, she fell asleep where she lay.

It was after midday when her charge woke her, though not with the usual ravings. "How long has it been?" the warrior asked.

Gabrielle raised up to face her. "Three days," she responded, brushing her hair off of Xena's face. Blue eyes met green. Xena's held no hint of delirium, but looks could be deceiving.

"At least one more day then," the warrior said.

"I found the herb," Gabrielle offered. "I've given it to you twice."

Xena grunted. Her gaze fell to Gabrielle's lips. "Good," she mumbled and glanced away.

"Let's get some more in you, hmm? You seem to be doing much better."

"Got anything to eat? I'm starving."

"Be right back." Gabrielle was elated, this was indeed a good sign.

"For the love of Zeus!" Xena exclaimed. Gabrielle stopped in her tracks, sure that Xena had slipped back into her delirium. She turned around to find the warrior frowning. "How do you stand the stench?"

"You get used to it after awhile," Gabrielle responded and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Xena only mentioned the smell when she was not delirious.


By the next afternoon, Xena was free. After stretching and massaging a few kinks, the first thing she did was head straight for the stream, Gabrielle close behind her. The latter would keep watch, while the warrior bathed. When the raven haired beauty finally came out of the water, Gabrielle tried hard to avert her eyes, yet the sight of the warrior's fit, muscular body, the untanned globular shapes on her chest, their darker centers standing high and erect, seemed too tempting for her eyes to resist, for some reason. The fading passion mark on the brunette's inner thigh - which she'd noticed when she'd first helped tie Xena up, but didn't want to dwell on at the time - causing a succession of disquieting thoughts to meander through her mind now. No longer could she deny that she was quite drawn to her raven haired companion.

Back at the cave and dressed in only her leathers, the next thing Xena did was to put things back in order. She took care of the spot where she had previously lain for four days, by covering it with a mound of dirt. The off-white chemise she tossed into the fire. While she did this, Gabrielle gathered some flowers and placed them around the cave for added freshness.

By nightfall, they were sitting in front of a cozy fire, across from one another, their appetites sated. Xena was sharpening Toxeus' sword. Gabrielle was busy brushing out her hair. They hadn't talked much about what had transpired over the past few days; for, Xena didn't seem ready to discuss it, or else didn't want to at all, preferring to put it behind her. Their brief conversations had centered on the immediate tasks at hand.

"You are going to teach me how to use that, aren' t you?" Gabrielle asked, breaking the silence.

Xena didn't even look up. "Looks like you've been using it."

"Only on limbs, to make the drying rack."

The warrior made one last pass with the whetstone then looked up. "If you're gonna use this, you should learn how to take care of it. Cum'mere." She gestured towards the place beside her. "I'll show you how to sharpen your sword."

The blonde was soon sitting beside the warrior, eyes alive with the prospect of learning something new. Xena gave her directions on how to sit and hold the sword and showed her how to use the whetstone, then handed it to her.

"Like this?" Gabrielle asked, pushing the stone over the sword blade in a quick motion.

"Uh-uh, more like this...." Xena leaned over and placed her hand on top of the blonde's.

Gabrielle was awestruck at her body's reaction to the large, warm, callused hand covering her own.

"Slow... easy... full strokes," Xena added, her hand moving in the manner she described; her arm coming into contact with the blonde's; the left side of her chest rubbing against the woman's back.

Umm, you smell good, Xena thought and almost said so, while breathing in the aroma emanating from the blonde's hair, mixed with her unique feminine odor. Women always smell so good, she added. And this one especially so. Her groin muscles tightened. She wanted this woman in her bed.

Gabrielle cut her eyes over at her instructor, aware of every point of contact between their bodies. Xena's hand was still covering hers, as she tried to concentrate on the next stroke with the whetstone, although her mind was straying to everything but the task at hand. Xena's thigh rubbed against hers now. It was very warm, almost hot to the touch. A rush of heat flowed down Gabrielle's torso and up into her cheeks.

"That's right," Xena commented, rather softly, her breath tickling Gabrielle's ear. "Nice and slow," she purred.

Gabrielle's heart was pounding at an unusually rapid pace. The warrior was too close and... moving closer. She could feel the brunette's left arm going around behind her back. She remembered their lips meeting briefly. And the thought was too much for her. She swallowed hard. "I think I got the idea now," she said, getting to her feet, as fast as she possibly could and moving on trembling legs back to her side of the fire.

Xena groaned inwardly. So close, she thought and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to contain the urge to strike the ground in frustration. There were bits and pieces of the previous few days that she could remember. And one particularly vivid and frustrating memory was their lips meeting. Had the rope not been in her mouth, had her hands not been immobilized... She shook her head. If she stayed around this woman, one of two things would happen: she'd bed the woman or spend lots of time in the woods alone. She preferred the former solution.

"We haven't talked much about what we're going to do now," Gabrielle said, hoping to engage the warrior in conversation. For, she'd had the distinct feeling she knew what the brunette had been about to do, and she wasn't sure she was ready for that, yet. If at all.

Xena reached for the waterskin nearby. "We make the best of it, until we find a way off this island," she responded, brusquely, then took a sip of water. "Unless you have some other suggestion?"

"You're sure there's no land bridge or... something you might have missed?" she asked, wondering if the warrior had told her the truth about the island.

Xena put the stopper back in the waterskin. "Don' t trust me, hmm?" She glanced up and stared at Gabrielle for a moment, the latter seemed afraid she had made her mad. Then the warrior shrugged. "No reason you should," she mumbled then looked away. "We'll find the horse tomorrow and take a trip along the shore so you can see for yourself." She then got to her feet, walked over to her bedroll and stripped off her leathers, her back to Gabrielle. The latter glanced away as the warrior bent over and pulled the brown chemise from her pack, then wiggled into it.

Gabrielle wished she had something else to sleep in. She'd just have to wash the pink nightie sometime tomorrow.

"Need to air out this blanket, tomorrow," Xena announced, in a tone that suggested Gabrielle should be the one to do this. "You should get some rest."

Gabrielle was getting a bit tired of being ordered around in that tone, but she wouldn't say anything right now. However, if Xena kept it up, she would. "Good night," she offered a few moments later.

Xena merely grunted.

The next morning Gabrielle washed out her nightie and Xena's sleeping skin and tied the pieces of rope - previously used to tie Xena down - together and strung it between two trees. Then she draped these wet items, as well as, both their blankets over it. She was contemplating how she could make a soap of some sort from the profusion of sweet smelling flowers growing close by, when Xena rode upon on the horse, bareback.

"I'll get her saddled," the warrior announced, hopping down. "You fill the waterskins and put something to eat in one of the packs."

The horse was saddled and Xena was already astride her, when Gabrielle got back. After taking the waterskin and pack and hanging them on the saddlehorn, the warrior helped the blonde up behind her. Gabrielle was surprised at the tall brunette's strength.

"Put your arms around me and hold on tight," Xena commanded, grabbing one hand and placing it on her waist. "Wouldn't want you falling off. That's better," she added, brusquely and clicked her tongue.

Xena liked the feel of the small arms around her. The slight tremble of the blonde's hand at her waist, brought a brief smile to her lips.

Gabrielle was a bit nervous, riding on the back of the tall horse, her arms wrapped tightly around the tall female warrior. The smell of leather, mixed with the aroma of the brunette's hair permeated her senses. Although she had felt more secure with the warrior's arms around her, the last time she'd ridden, she wasn't sure which way she liked best. For, there was a familiar and not at all uncomfortable feel to both.

They had ridden around the island in silence, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. When they met back up with their own tracks, Xena asked if she was satisfied. Gabrielle had merely grunted and nodded, the heartwrenching knowledge that home was not within easy reach, finally taking hold. She held onto the warrior a bit tighter than she would have otherwise, as the tears began to flow.

Xena had then suggested that they dismount and eat, acting as if she hadn't noticed the blonde's tears, when she most certainly had. The problem was she didn't know how to react to them. Anger she could handle, but tears had not been part of her sphere of reality for quite awhile now. Warriors didn't cry. Especially not the ones at the head of an army. Showing weakness was tantamount to a death sentence.

"Xena... how do you think we got here?" Gabrielle queried, handing the warrior the largest piece of jerky.

"No idea," came the reply, the brunette taking a bite of the jerky and frowning.

"How come we don't remember... anything about it?" the blonde prodded.

"Same answer," Xena muttered.

"Doesn't it bother you that we're stuck...?" Gabrielle paused, as the warrior glanced over at her and ripped off another bite of jerky. "Guess that's a dumb question, huh?"

Xena grunted and stared out at the ocean. "I thought... maybe shipwrecked once, but..." The warrior paused, chewing her food.

"But what?" Gabrielle prodded.

"The horse... no signs of wreckage..." The brunette shrugged, her frown deepening.

"Both of us having no memories," Gabrielle added, picking out a small piece of jerky for herself. "Sounds more like something the gods would do."

Xena cut her eyes over at her. "But why?" she asked, as if she'd considered this herself.

"I... don't know... punishment maybe?" the blonde suggested, then bit into the meat.

"You? Punished? For what?" Xena asked incredulously, then quickly looked away. "I doubt you'd do anything to warrant any god's punishment."

Gabrielle shrugged. "You never know, I might have," she commented, thinking about that first morning; waking up naked, the passion mark on Xena's neck and inner thigh, as well as the one on her own. How else had they gotten there, unless they'd both been with... Toxeus? She shivered. That idea wasn't just a bit disturbing, it was downright repulsive. She'd choose Xena over that man in a heartbeat....

No sooner had she realized the implications of this thought, than the warrior mumbled, "I doubt it," interrupting and causing her to have to backtrack to pick up the conversation she'd strayed from.

"Well..." Gabrielle paused, not sure whether she should ask this question, but very curious to know Xena's thoughts on the matter. "How do you think..." She stopped short again, as the warrior looked over at her. "I mean... that mark on your neck and..." She left the rest unsaid, merely lowering her gaze towards the warrior's lap briefly, then glancing away.

"You suggesting the gods punish people for that?" Xena inquired, a slight smirk on her face. The blonde nodded and looked up. Xena turned away, the smirk leaving her face. "If they did, I would have been here many times before, believe me."

"Oh," was all Gabrielle could manage to say; for, it was obvious the warrior had considered this herself. So, the answer to her question was plain as day and the implications about Xena, and perhaps even herself, were mind blowing.

They both fell silent for awhile, consuming their food.

"Last piece," Gabrielle announced, offering it to the warrior.

"Don't you want it?" Xena heard herself question and could hardly believe these words had come from her lips. For, normally, she would have taken it, no questions asked.

"No, I'm fine. You need it more than I do, to build up your strength."

The blonde then handed Xena the jerky strip and busied herself putting things back in the pack. Xena watched her. Everything about the little blonde suggested that she was a person with a good heart. A naive young woman, too trusting and nice to be with someone like herself. How in Tartarus had Gabrielle ended up with her? Had she possibly taken her captive at some point? She had never done so before. She'd always allowed females to come and go at their own discretion, as long as they presented no future threat. So, had this one chosen to stay with her? This had to be the case; for, anything else was inconceivable. The warrior princess never forced anyone to be with her, at least not sexually. She never had to. Sexual partners were a dinar a dozen for her. And she was known for saying "no" far more than she said "yes".

Of course it wasn't hard to see why she'd said yes to this one. Or more likely, had seduced the blonde, herself. Just the thought made her groin muscles tense up; for, she most definitely wanted to do that again. The thrill of the chase was enticing. And something she seldom had to do. Yes, she could see why she'd want to be with Gabrielle, but what was the latter doing with a ruthless warlord like herself? This is what made no sense. Surely, she had not... fallen in love with the little blonde angel, had she? Or vice-versa? Couldn't be!, she thought. People like me don't fall in love! Isn't that what she'd told Borias, the father of her child?

Gabrielle caught her staring; the little angel blushed, then turned away. "Think you could build a boat?" the blonde inquired, getting to her feet.

"Raft... maybe," Xena responded, turning away. "Only problem is... which way do we go? Lost on the sea would be far worse than staying here, believe me."

Gabrielle sighed heavily. "Well... I guess we make the best of it then." She brushed the sand off her behind. "I'm out of ideas, how about you?"

Xena grunted and stood up. "Let's get going. I' d like to check out more of the interior," she continued, wiping her own behind. "Make sure we are alone. Cuz, I hate surprises."

Xena asked for the waterskin and pack before mounting this time. Then she offered Gabrielle her cupped hands. "Get on," she urged. The blonde frowned. "I want to make better time on the way back and I don' t want to be worried about you falling off."

"Wasn't I holding on tight enough?" Gabrielle argued.

"Get on the horse," Xena grumbled, her tone brooking no argument. "You're wasting daylight."

They were soon galloping through the woods, the warrior's strong arms surrounding Gabrielle. She couldn't deny she felt a bit more secure this way, even if the brunette's head and body, so close to her own, was a bit distracting. As were the large hands resting on her thighs.

When the horse slowed to negotiate around a tangle of undergrowth, Gabrielle couldn't help but wonder if these same hands had actually touched her in a more intimate fashion. And if so, where, when and how? If they had been willing sexual partners, then what exactly had they done? Kissing, of course, was a foregone conclusion, and the thought of doing so with Xena was an exciting one, to say the least. How would it feel to kiss those full lips? she wondered. Had those hands caressed her body in places she'd only dreamed of a man touching? These thoughts made her heartbeat quicken. How would the warrior touch her? Would she be gentle? And what would she do? The passion marks on their thighs alluded to a position Gabrielle had once scoffed at, when told grown-ups did this. Now, she wasn't so sure of those convictions anymore.

Xena's attention was divided between the horse and the rider in front of her. The thighs her hands were resting on and rubbing against with each movement of the horse, were rather smooth. Just a few soft hairs tickling the back of her hand. The long blonde hair, tormenting her face, every once in a while, was very soft and smelled wonderful. The neck and chest her eyes couldn't seem to keep from straying to, were terribly alluring. And the horse's gait, which was pushing her against the blonde's back in a slow rhythmic manner, was very stimulating. She had known this would happen and had wanted Gabrielle in front of her for these very reasons. She knew she was going to seduce this woman; there was no doubt in her mind about that. She hoped to have her in her bed in two days time, at the most. Either that, or she'd be spending a lot of time alone in the woods. And may even have to stay away for awhile.

Her right thumb inadvertently stroked the blonde' s thigh, as she thought about what she'd like to do to her. She felt Gabrielle stiffen somewhat. Soon, you won't react that way, she thought, wanting to say this aloud. You'll want me to touch you like this. She moved her thumb back and forth rather nonchalantly. She saw the blonde cut her eyes in her direction. "Better than riding behind?" Xena inquired, her gaze on the forest, though she was watching the blonde in her peripheral vision, which was excellent.

Gabrielle shrugged, her grip on the saddlehorn tightening. Was the warrior touching her deliberately or not? she wondered. Either way, however, she couldn't refute the fact that it wasn't in the least bit disagreeable. It was actually arousing; her body was reacting to it; little fiery embers striking her lower abdomen at timely intervals. She knew her first destination after dismounting would be the woods, to relieve her bladder. At least, she assumed that's what was causing such an ache down there.

"Stay close to the cave," Xena said brusquely, helping Gabrielle down, her hands on the blonde's waist. "I'll be back before sundown." The warrior then remounted the horse and was gone.

Gabrielle headed for the woods as fast as her feet would carry her.

Conitinue to Part 9

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