Not A Pretty Tale

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

 

Disclaimer:

Xena Warrior Princess and all the characters contained herein are the sole property of MCA/Universal Studios/Renaissance Pictures. No infringement upon these rites is intended. Weíve merely borrowed these characters, as well as, some scenes and lines, for the sole purpose of entertainment and storyline continuity.

Warning: This story contains the retelling of a rape scene, though not in any graphic detail. It also contains the death of two characters, which were created solely in the authorís mind to explain Xenaís past. There is no more violence here, perhaps even less, than in the actual show itself. It just isnít "a pretty tale", because it deals with events that could have made Xena the ruthless warrior she once was.

Sexual content:

This story contains rather graphic details of two consenting, adult females involved in sexually explicit situations with one another. If this is not something youíd like to read about, please do not read our story. Iím sure there are even better ones, more to your liking.

Be it known, that this story is number "9" in a series we have entitled: "Between the Episodes", which makes reference to the aired episodes below. And if you havenít read the other 8 stories by Azurenon and Savanna Mac, starting with "Dream Of Choice", you may be a bit lost when reading this one, as we often make reference to things that have gone before.

This story takes place following our daring duoís adventures in the MCA/Universal Studios/Renaissance Pictures copy written material entitled: "Past Imperfect" and goes through several 4th season episodes, and ending after "Paradise Found". If you haven't seen these episodes, I would strongly suggest you do so before reading this. And even if you have, you may want to refresh your memory.

Thanks go to all our friends! No need to mention each of you by name, you know who you are.

This is for all the subtextors out there. We hope we have spun an enjoyable tale.

If not, then please accept our humble apology.

This story contains more than 20 pages.


The warmth from the roaring fire felt good against the bardís face. Gabrielle laid her head against that of the tall brunette seated in front of her. She desperately wanted to take away the pain of Xenaís past, yet she knew there was no way she could do so. Xenaís life, before Gabrielle came along, was like a rock the warrior had once tossed into a calm lake nearly four years ago. Gabrielle remembered the conversation theyíd had clearly.

"See how calm the surface of the water is?" Xena had asked. "That was me once. And then..." She had tossed the stone into the water. "...see how it ripples and churns? Thatís what I became."

"If we sit her long enough, itíll go back to being still again," the bard had suggested. "Itíll go back to being calm."

"But the stoneís still under there," Xena had countered. "Itís now a part of the lake. It might look as it did before, but itís forever changed."

Gabrielle could see what Xena truly meant by that statement now. Her past, her memories and the pain associated with those memories were the many stones that had become a part of Xenaís lake. The bard wondered for the umpteenth time over the last few years and especially the last few days, what had caused Xena to become such a ruthless warrior. Although Gabrielle could understand that the propensity for unchecked violence was still there, it was hard to reconcile the person who had been "The Destroyer of Nations", with the beautiful woman she knew, loved and shared her bed with.

"You should get some rest," Xena said, bringing the bard out of her reverie.

"We both should," Gabrielle countered softly, easing back slightly, her left hand still caressing her loverís raven hair.

Xena cleared her throat. "I need to finish... sharpening this sword." The warrior wiped a tear from her own cheek rather quickly, then repositioned her sword and immediately returned to the task she had abandoned earlier, when she once again told the bard about giving up her son, Solan to the leader of the Centaurs.

"Canít that wait?" Gabrielle queried, softly, placing her right hand on Xenaís arm and stopping its movement. "Itís not as if itís dull by any stretch of the imagination." She paused and cleared her own throat. "Come to bed with me, hmm?" she continued near her loverís ear, feeling Xena make no movement to resume her task. "Allow me to offer you the comfort you are always providing me, hmm?"

"Iím... Iím not sure I feel much like..." The warrior paused and glanced over at her companion, who had squeezed her arm.

"I wasnít suggesting that." Gabrielle stroked the warriorís long dark hair. "I just want to hold you."

"I... I donít... deserve you," Xena said, her voice gripped by emotion.

"Well, youíre stuck with me, all the same," the bard quipped, then softly added, "Come.. lay down with me. You deserve the rest."

It wasnít long before the two lovers were undressed and beneath their blankets; Xenaís long muscular body spread out beside the bardís shorter, yet equally firm one. The warriorís head was resting against Gabrielleís shoulder; one long arm around the bardís waist; one smooth heavy thigh across her loverís smaller one. Gabrielleís left hand gently stroked Xenaís raven tresses, while she listened to and felt each breath her lover took. It was evident to the bard that the warrior was not asleep, but the former assumed she would be soon. That is, until her bedmate raised her head.

"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena said softly, blue eyes meeting sea-green ones. "I couldnít... bear to lose you. I donít know what Iíd do if..."

The bard quickly reached up and placed her fingertips to her loverís lips. "Ssh," she soothed. "Youíre not gonna lose me, Xena."

"The... vision.." the warrior mumbled around her fingers.

"Alti was wrong about a lot of things, Xena... you said so yourself. And I refuse to believe she was right about this."

"But..."

"Sh-h..." Gabrielle quickly replaced her fingers with her own lips.

The warrior immediately responded in kind; the intensity of their kiss growing with each gentle meeting of their warm mouths. Xenaís bottom lip was soon caressing Gabrielleís in that oh so familiar manner that left the bardís tingling with anticipation and throbbing with desire for more of the same. And before either one truly gave thought to whether they even wanted to do anything more, the warrior was settling herself between the bardís thighs. Gabrielleís legs involuntarily wrapped themselves around Xenaís, one foot sliding down the back of the warriorís calf.

"Umm... you know what that does to me," Xena hissed, breaking away breathlessly.

"Iím... sorry," Gabrielle murmured, removing her foot. "I wasnít thinking about..."

"Umph, put it back," Xena interrupted, in that husky, needy voice, while reaching over and pulling the bardís leg back over on her own. "By the gods... I want you so badly... even when I donít... donít know if I have the... energy to follow through," she whispered in her loverís ear.

"You donít have to follow through every time, Xena. We can just... enjoy the moment. Nothing else has to come of it."

"Do that thing... with your foot again," the warrior requested. "Oh yeah... I enjoy that immensely," she purred against her loverís neck, then placed a wet kiss at the juncture of the bardís shoulder and neck.

Gabrielle moaned; the warrior attacking that one spot she knew would drive the bard half out of her mind. Donít tease me, Gabrielle almost said, but didnít. Whatever Xena wanted at that moment, she would eagerly provide, if at all possible.

The warriorís hips were soon moving to that oh so slow rhythm the bard knew all too well, while her lips and tongue continued to attack that sensitive spot on her neck. Their lovemaking was very slow and tender, with many pauses for the two tired lovers.

* * * *

"It still amazes me how we can do that," Xena murmured against the blondeís soft tresses.

"You amaze me," the bard uttered.

"Now I think... I can go to sleep." The warrior gave a contented sigh.

"Umm, me too," the bard agreed, giving the warriorís waist a gentle squeeze with the arm she had wrapped around it.

"We fit together so well like this," Xena commented, referring to their usual position, which was the exact opposite of how theyíd started off this particular night.

"Are you saying you donít like laying in my arms?" the bard queried, raising up slightly in order to see her loverís face.

"No, not at all. It just... it feels more natural like this is all. I donít have to worry about being too heavy for you."

"Youíre never too heavy for me, Xena. But, I think I know what you mean... this does feel more... natural."

The bard laid her head back down and the warrior placed a gentle kiss upon the soft blonde head.

"Xena?" Gabrielle said a few moments later.

"Hmm?" the contented warrior responded, feeling the bardís index finger begin tracing designs on her stomach. She wants something, Xena thought, and sheís afraid I wonít go for it. Whatever it is.

"What would you say if... if I suggest that we... leave Greece?"

Xena grunted; the bardís index finger now moving up to her chest, where it continued its motions. "Where... would we go?" the warrior asked.

"I donít know... India maybe."

"India? Gabrielle, whatís in India?" Xena stopped the errant finger from circling her nipple, which she knew would come next if she left it to its own devices.

"I... donít know," the bard replied. "I guess thatís... just the point, ya know. See something different and..."

"And?" Xena prodded, intertwining her fingers with those of her lover.

"And not meet up with... anyone from your past," the bard admitted.

Xena grunted. She thought Gabrielle had been going to suggest they get away so that they wouldnít be meeting up with Joxer. "Thatís a... very long walk," she said instead.

"All we do is walk, Xena. Weíve walked from one end of Greece to the other, several times, I expect."

"Not that many times," the warrior countered.

"Yeah, well. And Iíve heard that India is... a very spiritual place. And I think I could... use a bit... different point of view on spirituality, other than the gods we have around here. Most of them act so much like humans that... itís hard to believe in..."

The bard was suddenly interrupted as Xena reached over and lifted her chin. Blue eyes, highlighted by the fire, stared into sea-green ones. "If you really want to go to India, love, then... thatís what weíll do," the warrior said softly.

"You mean I donít have to convince..."

"I go where you go, Gabrielle. Iíd follow you to the ends of the earth, if need be." Xena then sealed this declaration of love with a very soft and gentle kiss.

"Alright if we leave for India tomorrow?" the bard murmured, against her loverís lips. "Just you and me... on a long, long walk. A spiritual quest."

I donít know about the spiritual quest part, for me, Xena thought, but Iíll be right beside you, my love.

* * * *

Of course, the two traveling companions bid for a vacation or spiritual quest -according to whose viewpoint you looked at it from- was not without its interruptions and complications. For starters, there was Joxer, Meg and Autolycus who had stolen a baby, because they thought he would somehow be able to lead them to a treasure. ("Keys To The Kingdom") Xena had to stop and straighten that one out. Then they ran up on the Horde again and Vanesa, a young Greek girl who had been captured by them years ago and adopted. ("Daughter of Pomira") No sooner were they out of this rather complicated and delicate situation, than Joxer showed up again and joined them on their journey.

Then along came Aphrodite and the little runaway princess, Alesia. ("If The Shoe Fits") By this time, both Xena and Gabrielle were frustrated and taking it out on one another. The bard was especially miffed; for, not only had they been prevented from leaving Greece on their spiritual quest by these varied and sundry situations, but Xena had used Gabrielleís halter - cutting it into strips- to tie up and gag a rather dirty, smelly warlord, she had been tracking for the reward, so theyíd have travel money. Money itself was yet another bone of contention between them, when Gabrielle discovered that the money Xena had supposedly put aside for a rainy day -which the bard needed now to buy a new halter- was gone. And the warrior could not account for its disappearance.

Unable to discuss these particular incidents properly -what with Joxer and Alesia around- the bard had grown overly distraught, feeling used and unappreciated by her lover. She had then subsequently walked away in a huff -over some simple remark Xena made (the proverbial straw that broke the camelís back)- leaving the warrior, Joxer and Alesia standing in the middle of the road. Of course, she returned later on, unable to truly leave the woman she loved for very long. Especially not over a lousy garment, some missing dinars and a few less than tactful words.

And last, but certainly not least, there was the issue of Joxerís companionship to deal with. Gabrielle dared not tell him their plans, knowing heíd want to come along. No, they simply had to wait him out by making camp and staying put until he got bored with the mundane chores the two busied themselves carrying out. By the time he was ready to leave, saying he wanted a home cooked meal and a soft bed -meaning he was going to see Meg- Gabrielle had thrown together another halter from the remnants left over from making the old one. It wasnít quite the same design, nor was it decorated in anyway, but it would do.

The sun was still high in the sky when Joxer packed up and walked away. No sooner had he done so, than Xena was standing in front of Gabrielle, hands on hips, asking, "Is he gone, for real? Or is he coming back?"

"I believe heís going to see Meg," the bard responded.

"Good," the warrior said, as she sat down and quickly began removing her boots. "I thought heíd never leave."

"And where are you going?" Gabrielle questioned, knowing Xena seldom removed her boots except to sleep, bathe or fish. "We have enough fish for two days now that heís gone," she added, assuming it was too early for either of the other two options.

"Iím not going fishing for... some thiní to... eat." The warrior grunted, tugging off her other boot. "Well... not food that is." She arched her eyebrows suggestively, then reached up, removing one leather shoulder strap.

Gabrielle tossed the new halter aside. "Right behind you." The bard stripped off the sack cloth tunic sheíd been wearing for several days now, while making her halter.

"Umm, thatís a sight for sore eyes," the warrior remarked. "And I do mean terribly sore..." she added "... from looking at everything but what I wanted to be looking at."

"Hmph," Gabrielle grunted. "You couldnít prove it by me."

Uh-oh, Xena thought, Gotta do some serious kissing up to her about that halter first, I see. "Listen Gabrielle, about your halter, Iím really sorry..."

"Donít be sorry, Xena," the bard interrupted, getting to her feet. The warrior gazed upon her loverís enticingly nude form. "Just improve." And with that Gabrielle started by the warrior.

Xena reached out and grabbed her lover around the waist, pulling her down into her naked lap. "Improve, huh?" the warrior commented. "Iíll show you improve, you little minx."

 

 

Chapter 2

"Well, looks like everyone we know is behind us now," Gabrielle commented, walking along beside Xena. "No one to distract or bother us..."

"Yeah and no trees or vegetation to get in our way, either," the warrior quipped, referring to the nearly barren landscape. "No streams to bathe in... or water to drink..."

"Okay, okay. So, I didnít know we were gonna run across a desert on the way to India," the bard grumbled. "Canít that sensitive nose of yours find us some water?"

"Not if itís underground or... non-existent."

Both women were getting ill-tempered owing to the heat and lack of water.

"Next town we come to, Iím stabling Argo," Xena grumbled.

"Good idea," Gabrielle agreed, feeling terribly guilty for bringing Argo out here in the middle of nowhere. "Look Xena, if you want to turn back, we ca..."

"Not a chance. Weíve come this far now. Besides, I wanna see India for myself."

"Youíre not mad at me?" the bard asked, in a soft voice.

"No, Iím not mad at you, Gabrielle." The warrior sighed heavily. "Iím just hot and thirsty and... weíre about out of water."

"Thereíll be a town soon," the bard said. "There has to be. Every other traveler through here must experience the same thing and... there seemed to have been many of them to leave such a well worn trail."

"Yeah, but I bet they knew enough to be prepared. I donít think avoiding that last town was a very bright idea on my part."

Are you saying you were wrong? Gabrielle almost said, but held her dry tongue.

Xena cut her eyes over at her companion. "What? Youíre not gonna jump at that opportunity to tell me I was wrong?"

The bard shrugged. "You already said it for me. No need for me to rub it in. Besides, Iím the one who was wrong to ever suggest coming here to begin with."

"Hey! None of that," Xena countered. "We both agreed to come. We both wanted to get out of Greece. And now... we just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope..."

"Xena, look!" Gabrielle gasped.

"Where?"

"Over there, donít you see it? Itís water!"

"Probably just another trick of the eye," Xena said squinting, remembering how disappointed sheíd been over the last three tricks the sand had played on their water thirsty gazes. "Hey!" She reached out and grabbed Gabrielleís arm. "No running off. We take it slow and easy. If it is water, weíll get there soon enough. And if itís not, weíll be better off for not having exerted ourselves."

The image on the horizon was not a mirage, nor was the town in the dappled green valley beyond. Their thirst quenched for the time being, they proceeded into town, in the hopes of procuring food, lodging and a stable for Argo. They had plenty of money and already learned how much more a dinar was worth here than in Greece. Visions of a sumptuous meal, a soft bed and water enough for even a bath danced before each womanís mindís eye.

What they wanted and what they got, however, were two very different things. They ended up with spicy food neither one had ever tasted the likes of before -and which only served to increase their thirst- two hammocks hanging from the ceiling rafters and a small water jar in a basin, perched on an equally small table. They did however, find suitable lodging for Argo.

"Weíve made do with a hammock before," the bard noted, with a heavy sigh, while setting down her bag and glancing around.

"Not me... not this time," Xena grumbled, tossing down their bedrolls. "Iíd rather sleep on the floor. You can sleep on the hammock if you want. Iím sure I smell like a hog in heat." She raised one arm and sniffed lightly. "Oh, for the love of Zeus," she grumbled, turning away. "Thatís worse than any hog."

"Xena, what exactly does a hog in heat smell like?" the bard queried, holding back a grin.

"If you donít know, you donít wanna find out, believe me," the warrior assured, rolling her eyes. "You best sleep on the hammock. Or youíll wake up tomorrow smelling like youíve rolled around in a pig pen."

"And what if I want to roll around with... a hog in heat?" Gabrielle questioned.

"Oh no... UH-UH, not tonight," Xena said adamantly. "When we get a bath, then we can do all the rolling around you want." The bard huffed. Xena cut her eyes over at her companion. "We had the chance to take a bath, ya know. But, somebody just couldnít wait to get into town."

Gabrielle cleared her throat. "I was hungry, okay. And... we all make mistakes, Xena." The warrior merely grunted. "I just... seem to be having more than my fair share here lately. Just wait, Warrior Princess, your day is coming."

Xena merely grunted again and began laying out her bedroll.

Two days later, the rains started. Although each was glad to have the water -actually falling from the sky for a change- traveling in it was miserable and slow. But there was one bright spot, they were now seeing trees and vegetation. Not the kind they were used to in Greece, but at least they were no longer in the desert. Towns soon began popping up, as well. And when the rain became too heavy on the third day, they stopped for a rest bit in the kind of establishment each approved of. At least it had a real bed and they got a nice warm bath. The latter of which prompted thoughts of rolling around in the serviceable bed.

"Umm, you always smell so good," the warrior purred, as the bard crawled into the bed beside her.

"And you always feel so good," Gabrielle said softly, cuddling up next to her loverís warm, firm, muscular body.

"Then come on over here, so we can each have more of what we like," Xena suggested, pulling the smaller woman over on top of her. "Umm, still damp from your bath or... are you just happy to... feel me, hmm?" she prodded, her hands roaming over the bardís backside, simultaneously pressing their lower bodies together.

"A little of both, I expect," Gabrielle responded, against her mateís neck, followed by a girlish giggle.

"Umph, I do love to hear you laugh," the warrior commented.

"Something I wish youíd do more of," the bard remarked, her lips grazing the warriorís skin with each uttered word. "I do like that low rumbling chuckle of yours. Sends chill bumps up my spine."

"Does it now? I thought that was... my deep, seductive whisper," Xena said into her loverís ear.

"Ah yeah... that too. Umm, do that again, please."

"What? Whisper sweet nothings in your ear?"

"Oh yeah, sweet... any things."

The warrior chuckled softly. "I want you, Gabrielle," she purred. "I can never seem to get enough of you; the smell of you... the feel of you... the taste of you. Umm..." Xenaís tongue gently caressed the bardís ear, then filled it.

"Oh Xe-na!" Gabrielle murmured; the warriorís hand inching its way between their bodies. "What you... do to me." The bard raised up slightly to give her lover easier access.

"Yes-s," Xena hissed, surprised by the abundant slickness of her loverís desire, considering the lack of foreplay. "Youíve been thinking about this, havenít you?" she queried, in that scratchy, needy voice.

"Um-hm," the bard responded; the warriorís fingers stoking the fire below with her gentle strokes.

"Tell me what youíre thinking," Xena prodded, arching her hips; her own desire rubbing against the back of her hand.

Gabrielle felt this and her mind was suddenly inundated by a fantasy that had captivated her for quite a long time now. "Thinkiní about... what youíre doing... to yourself," she answered, near the warriorís ear. Xena flinched beneath her. "I know you can feel your own hand between us." The warrior merely grunted. "Remember telling me how you used to... pleasure yourself before we became lovers?" Xena grunted again. "I always wished I could have walked up on you during one of those times." The brunette moaned now. "And that you had... caught me too." Xena flinched again. "Yes, I did that, too. You stayed away quite a long time some nights. And I always wanted you to... walk up on me and... take over for me. Just as I woulda loved taking over for you."

The warrior whimpered and Gabrielle soon found herself on her back. Xena was propped up on one elbow beside her; one long muscular leg across the bardís thigh, the warriorís hand still between her legs; smoldering blue eyes staring down at her.

"And this... is what you want now?" Xena queried.

"Um-hmm," the bard answered, very softly. "Iíd like to... watch you, yes. As long as... I get the last word, so to speak. And... so do you," she added.

Blue eyes darted back and forth seemingly searching the bardís for the answer to some question she had yet to give voice. "Yea gods," Xena murmured, both eyes closing, briefly. "Sometimes I think you can read my mind."

"As you can read mine," Gabrielle whispered, raising up slightly and kissing her lover on the cheek. "Will you do this for me, hmm?" she continued, her lips grazing Xenaís skin with each word. "Let me watch you, then... take over for you?"

"Umm, you first," the warrior growled softly, one dark eyebrow arching skyward, as she slowly moved her hand from Gabrielleís mound to the bardís left hand. She then led this hand back to the premises sheíd just vacated; her eyes never straying from her loverís for an instant.

Gabrielle was unprepared for such an enthusiastic and eager reaction. She flinched and moaned as Xenaís hand pressed hers against her very own desire. She too was surprised by the quantity of dampness. It definitely had not been like this the last time sheíd taken matters into her own hands.

"I wanna watch... you," Xena hissed, then slowly eased her hand away from Gabrielleís, her index finger trailing up the bardís arm and sliding off at her waist. Her gaze fell to the area where her loverís hand remained immobile. She looked back up at the bard.

Gabrielle felt a bit embarrassed, with Xenaís hand not on top of hers. And yet, the longing in the warriorís eyes was enough to prompt it into slow motion. Xenaís gaze dropped rather quickly back to this area and her lips parted. Gabrielle could see her loverís tongue moving around inside her mouth. This appendage soon inched out, languidly wetting her lips, as the warriorís eyes roamed back up her body. Their gazes locked and held. Xena nibbled on her bottom lip, her smoldering blue gaze suggesting just how much she wanted to be party to what was going on. Gabrielle could almost feel the warriorís longing, as well as, the energy she was expending to restrain herself.

"What would you have done if... youíd caught me like this?" the bard asked softly, while raising her left leg to a bent knee position.

Xena licked her lips, a slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth. One dark eyebrow twitched. "I did," she finally responded.

"What?" the bard squeaked, green eyes flying wide open, her handís movements falling still. "Xena, when?"

The warrior smiled, her hand easing back down to cover Gabrielleís. "Not long after... you were married." She leaned over, nuzzling against the bardís cheek, not wanting the mood to be entirely shattered.

"But, Xena, you never said a word about..."

"Sh-h," Xena interrupted, kissing her loverís cheek now. "I assumed you were... thinking of him."

"Umph," Gabrielle grunted. "Well, I... umm..." She paused when the warriorís hand pressed against her own, her lover obviously trying to keep things moving in their previous direction. "I... wasnít," she finished.

"Who were you thinking about?" Xena purred near her ear. "Were you thinkiní of me?"

"Ah-h yes-s, always... of you!" the bard hissed; Xenaís hand prodding her own into motion again.

The warrior circled her loverís ear with her tongue. "Did you want me to... catch you that time?" she queried.

"Yes-s," came the unfaltering reply.

"What did you want me to do... if I had, hmm?" Xenaís hand moved off the bardís and was now roaming over her inner thigh, adding fuel to the already brightly burning fire in her loins.

"Umm... I wanted you... to lay down with me. Make... love to me."

A whimper escaped Xenaís lips, as these words sent arrows of desiring spiraling down her torso. She could almost hear the THUNK as they simultaneously struck the bullís-eye dead center!

"And what did you do when you saw me?" Gabrielle had to ask.

Xena raised up to face her lover. One dark eyebrow rose ever so slowly, but she offered no response; she merely stared down at Gabrielle with that smoldering blue gaze.

"What? Youíre not going to tell me? Xena, Iíve told you..." The bard paused, seeing her loverís gaze drop down between them, quickly flick back up to meet her own, then right back down again. Gabrielleís eyes followed them the last time.

"Ooo," she squeaked, not quite prepared for the site that greeted her. By the gods, she thought, finding it far more thrilling to actually see Xena doing this, than just imagining it. It felt as if a bomb made from Greek fire had detonated in her lower abdomen; flames spreading out in all directions. She bit her own lip now, her gaze traveling quickly back up to meet Xenaís. The warriorís eyelids fluttered several times in an "oh that feels good" response. Gabrielle had seen it enough times to recognize it, because she was usually the cause of it. And she quickly found herself battling that green-eyed monster named jealousy. She wanted it to be her hand Xena was reacting to; wanted it to be her manipulations causing this look. And no sooner had she thought this, than she was rolling over on her side and reaching out, her hand landing on top of Xenaís.

The warrior offered a partial smirk, as she stretched out the arm she had previously been propped up by and bending it at the elbow once again, rested her head upon it. "Whatsamatta?" she asked, in that oh so scratchy voice. Her tongue eased out and lightly wet her lips, then she nibbled on the lower one, her face registering an "Umm" look, as she moved her own hand a bit lower.

Sheís teasing me, Gabrielle thought, just what I was going to do to her. Iíve been beaten at my own game. Trapped in my own web. Out-foxed by my own lover. Xenaís eyelids fluttered again, her face contorting slightly. But, Ooo, Xena... you do it so much better than I do, she thought, moving closer, her eyes intently watching the warriorís face now and not her hand.

Xenaís expressions changed minutely with each and every stroke. Gabrielle had seldom ever witnessed this before. Sheíd always been so concerned about pleasing Xena, caressing this and that, nibbling here and there, that she had rarely given herself leave to merely watch. But now, she did; her hand following the movement of Xenaís, feeling as if she were doing this herself. And soon she was also doing this to herself, with her other hand, while never taking her eyes off Xena.

It took the warrior a few moments to notice this, but once she did, there was no mistaking the expression that rushed across her face. Her hand was quick to slide out from under Gabrielleís, then over the one on the bardís desire. Then little by little, this appendage finagled its way beneath her loverís.

"Umm, give me that hand," Xena murmured, watching Gabrielleís eyes.

"Which one?" the bard asked innocently, though her eyes gave the pretense away.

The warrior arched one dark eyebrow. "The one I just moved out of my way. I want it... here," she added, licking her lips.

"You mean... the one I was just using on...?" Xena growled deep in her throat.

Once again, Gabrielle found herself lying flat of her back. They were in the same position theyíd started off in, with one exception: Gabrielleís right hand was now between Xena and herself, lying palm up on the thigh the warriorís hip were astride. Xena realized the bard had pulled a fast one on her, as the appendages she had seeking to get a hold of -in order to savor the delectable juices they possessed- now sought entrance to her own aching desire. She shuddered with exquisite delight, feeling herself gain admittance and being penetrated, all in the same indescribable moment. Gabrielle moaned right along with her.

"Youíre so-o good," Xena murmured against her loverís lips. "So-o ve-ry ve-e-ry goo-ood," she drawled, right before attacking the delicate and delicious membranes.

It wasnít long before the warrior was breathing heavily in the bardís ear saying, "Gabrielle... Gabrielle, oh please, love... come with me... Oh yes, please... together..." She then growled deep in her throat and lightly sank her teeth into that sensitive area on the bardís neck.

"Oh-h Xe-na!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Oh-h-oh-oh-h-h!!!"

The warriorís legs quivered with the intensity of her orgasm. The bard buried her face in Xenaís shoulder to muffle her rather loud, rapturous cries.

Both women walked away from the inn the next morning bearing passion marks, made during the night, and wearing them proudly. Each time either one glimpsed the otherís neck, it would remind them of the love theyíd made, the passion theyíd created and the ecstasy theyíd shared the night before. Knowing smiles and smoldering glances were the order of the day. A passionate kiss shared beneath the sheltering branches of a large acacia tree -well beyond the beaten path and situated by a shallow stream- put memories into action once more, as sweat-slick bodies moved languidly together, creating loving memories, during their respite from the sweltering afternoon heat.

* * * *

It was several days later -after a fight with a gang of thugs where Xena got a nasty cut on her leg- when a rather violent storm came up and they were once again prompted to take shelter. This time their only option was a large cave in what was said to be a holy mountain. And not long after Xena finished sewing up the wound on her own leg -claiming Gabrielle had hands like a sailor- the bard went to investigate the source of a noise and fell into a hole, which subsequently landed her in Aidanís mysterious world. Xena, of course, fearing for her loverís safety and desiring to be wherever the small blonde bard might be, followed soon after.

(Episode: Paradise Found)

"Do I really have hands like a sailor?" the bard asked, as she watched the short, dumpy caretaker, theyíd just saved from Aidanís world -where heíd been trapped for many years- nearly skip out of the cave entrance, he was so happy to be back in the real world again.

Xena merely smirked, as if to say, Iíll never tell.

The bard turned around and looked her lover in the eyes. "Well, do I?"

"You have wonderful hands, Gabrielle," Xena responded, still smirking slightly, as she reached out and took the bardís hands in hers, the blanket wrapped around her lover falling to the floor. "I wouldnít want you any other way, than the way you are."

Chapter 3

Too tired to move on just yet and Xenaís wound needing time to heal, the two spent the remainder of the day, then the next night in the cave. And although the rains had let up the previous day, they were back again with a vengeance the next morning. Both women agreed that there was no sense traveling in such a downpour. Instead they kept a small fire going and remained inside, content to wait the weather out.

Xena had noticed Gabrielle staring at her from time to time, with a frown on her face. But every time the warrior looked up from her tasks of sword and/or chakram cleaning and sharpening, the bard would turn away.

Finally, Xena had enough. "What is it, Gabrielle?" she asked in that I know you have something on your mind, tone of voice.

"Hmm? Whatís what?" the bard asked innocently, not quite pulling off the right lilting tone to her voice.

"You keep staring at me with that... frown on your face. Whatís going on inside that pretty little head of yours, hmm?"

The bard stared into the fire. "Just thinking."

"Well, thatís quite obvious," Xena remarked. "I was asking what youíre thinking."

Gabrielle glanced over at her companion, then down at her own hands lying in her lap. "You really wanna know?"

Xena sighed heavily, thinking this must have something to do with that comment sheíd made about Gabrielleís hands again, although she thought sheíd taken care of that one already. "Yes, I wouldnít have asked if I didnít," she retorted.

"Well... I was wondering... like I have for some time now..." The bard paused and cleared her throat. Hmph, Xena thought, this sounds serious. "... what really... made you so... ruthless, back then?" Gabrielle finished.

"Oh," Xena said rather quickly and immediately turned her attention back to the task of polishing her chakram.

"I mean... I know you told me about Caesar and... MíLila. And those men in your army who... turned on you, after... Lyceus was gone, but..." Gabrielle paused and glanced over at her companion. "...that isnít all of it, is it? There was a year or more between those two incidents, wasnít there?"

Xena grunted. "Something like that."

"I... I donít understand why you... didnít just go back home after... the incident at the stream. I mean, I assume you were terribly hurt and..."

"Itís a long story," Xena interrupted. "And not something youíd want to hear."

"Oh yes, I wanna hear it, Xena. I wanna know everything about you. And as for a long story..." The bard paused, glancing up at the cave entrance where sheets of rain were still falling. "...I donít think either one of us is going anywhere anytime soon."

"Wouldnít you... rather play a card game or somethiní?" Xena queried, in that please say yes, tone of voice. "I know... we havenít played that ĎWho am I?í guessing game you like so well in a while, why donít we...?"

"No, Xena," Gabrielle interjected, shaking her head sadly and staring down at her hands. "Iíd really rather hear about your past. Iíve told you everything about mine. What little there was to tell, before you came along. And... Iíd like to know everything about you, too. Instead of having to fit the bits and pieces together, that you toss out at random, every time we... run up on someone else from your past."

Xena merely grunted, giving the chakram her undivided attention. Gabrielle could tell by the warriorís pursed lips that her request was being considered, although the warrior wasnít exactly thrilled by it. Xena always pursed her lips when she mulled things over and wasnít quite sure about what she should do.

"Youíre not gonna tell me, are you?" the bard finally asked, dejectedly, when Xenaís lips returned to normal and she still wasnít forthcoming.

"Itís not a pretty story, Gabrielle." Xena finally glanced over at the bard.

"I didnít ask for a pretty story. I asked for your story. The story of the woman I love. And after all this time... I donít think thatís an unreasonable request. Do you?"

The two lovers stared at one another for a moment. Xena pursed her lips again and gave the chakram one last pass with the cloth before laying both aside. "Where do you want me to start?" she asked, staring into the fire now. "I canít remember much about being in nappas." The warrior smirked and tugged on her nose.

"I have no desire to know about your nappas," the bard responded. "First, Iíd like to know about Caesar... was that... love?"

Xena scoffed. "Hardly. No, Caesar was never about love. It was all about power and... manipulation. I thought I had him in the palm of my hand, but... I learned not to put that much faith in my own manipulations, after that."

"And MíLila, what was that?"

Xena shrugged. "There was... love there. She gave her life for me, after all."

"And from your standpoint? Did... you love her?"

Xena sighed heavily. "I suppose. I cared about her a great deal, but... I had no illusions she would... stay around long. She was a free spirit."

Gabrielle grunted. "Okay, now, letís go back a bit further in time. You told me everything up until... after those men... did what they did..." The bard paused and cleared her throat, not wanting to say the word rape. "So what happened after that? I mean... how did you take care of yourself? You said they left you for dead, so... you had to take care of yourself, right? And how come you didnít go back home and let your mother care for you?"

Xena turned away slightly, her gaze landing on some indiscernible point on the cave wall. "íCuz there was... more to that story than... I was willing to let on at the time."

"Whaddaya mean, more to...?" The warrior turned back around rather quickly, the intensity of the sad look in her eyes stilling the bardís wagging tongue for several moments. "T-Tell me, Xena," she added softly. "Tell me... everything."

Xena stared into the fire once again. "I... I told you I went to the stream to bathe and well..." The warrior paused and cleared her throat. "... I, uh... I wasnít alone."

Gabrielle grunted and moved closer. She knew there was more to this story, though sheíd assumed what Xena hadnít told her came after this part, not before.

"There was a girl in our village. Someone Lyceus and I grew up with," Xena continued, "Lyceus was in love with her. He had his heart set on marrying her. Vielka was her name... very pretty girl." The warrior almost smiled. "Everyone called her Elke for short." The warrior paused and cleared her throat again. "Well, you know about Cortese and how... many of the people in the village fled into the hills and surrounding villages and all that, but... before we went into battle, Lyceus made me promise that... if anything happened to him, Iíd... take care of Elke." Xena swallowed hard and tugged on her nose.

"After the battle... we were escorting the people who had fled to other villages, back to our own," Xena continued, "and Elke was among them. She was... distraught over Lyceusí death, but... she didnít blame me. Though, I think she was the only one who didnít. And so... I was trying to honor my promise to him by keeping her close, ya know. Well, that particular day we had stopped early and... she wanted to take a bath, so... I went along. And... I let her talk me into... joining her. Which I see now, was a big mistake, because... it got her killed."

Gabrielle reached over and placed her hand on Xenaís arm. "You canít blame yourself, Xena. It was the evil in those menís hearts that was the true wrong."

"But it was my fault, Gabrielle." The warrior glanced over at her lover. "I promised to protect her and... I didnít."

"Xena, what were you supposed to do, take your weapons into the stream with you?" the bard asked incredulously.

"I never should have been in the water with her," the warrior grumbled. "I knew better."

"You were just taking a bath, for Zeusí sake. It was those men that..."

"No, Gabrielle," Xena countered. "I was not... just taking a bath." The warrior sighed heavily.

"Xena, I donít..."

The warrior cut her eyes in the bardís direction. The blue depths were quite watery. "Lyceus was not the only one who found her attractive, Gabrielle. We were both... enamored with her."

"Oh," the bard mumbled. "I see. And... um... she felt the same way about you?"

"We both thought, at the time, that it was just a phase we were going through. I... I never told Lyceus how I felt and... neither did she. She was going to marry him. Weíd already discussed that, and it... it was the right thing for her to do."

"You mean you and she were...?"

"Lovers?" Xena supplied. "No. We never went that far, just... a bit of heavy petting now and then, for which I always felt guilty about later. But, mostly we just... talked a lot."

"You... talked a lot?" the bard queried.

Xena glanced over at her. "I wasnít quite so... stoic as you call it, back then."

"The feeling was mutual then, I take it?" the bard inquired. Xena merely nodded and looked away. "Then you did nothing wrong."

"Yes I did, Gabrielle, donít you see? Those men didnít come there with the intent to harm Elke. It was only after they saw us together..." The warrior quickly turned away and bit her lip.

"How can you know that, Xena? You donít know what their intentions were when..."

"They told me, Gabrielle!" the warrior growled. "They made it very plain what they thought of ... us. They were so... Elke couldnít... Yea gods I felt so helpless... there was nothing I could do!" The warrior buried her face in her hands and began to sob.

Gabrielle had never seen the strong warrior act quite like this, except for when Solan was killed. Wrapping her arms around the weeping brunette, the bard felt the guilt wash over her from head to toe. Tears formed in her own eyes and she cried right alongside her lover. She now understood more about the guilt Xena harbored over Lyceusís death; for, Gabrielle still harbored her own over Solanís. She also began to see the warriorís past had indeed been a tangled web of love and loss. Xena had lost two people she evidently loved dearly within a short span of time. And felt responsible for both their deaths.

"Iím s-so sorry, Xena," the bard finally offered. "I had no idea..."

"Itís okay," the warrior sniffled. "I think... I needed to tell that. And... you, of all people... needed to hear it. You needed to see that... Iíve never truly been... a good person like youíve always assumed."

"Xena!" Gabrielle gasped. "What are you talking about? Never been a good person? What? Because you loved someone who loved you back? Because you gave action to that love? And just because someone else didnít like it..."

"She was my brotherís true love, Gabrielle," Xena interrupted.

"Was she really, Xena? If she had been in love with Lyceus, I donít think she would have been... doing any heavy petting with you."

"She was young. She thought it was just a phase she was going through. She didnít understand what..."

"Sounds like she knew exactly what she was doing, Xena. And... I canít say that I blame her. You are a good person, whether you want to believe it or not. Youíre kind and caring and generous and giving, loving and protective and..." The bard paused, as the warrior glanced up at her. She reached up and gently wiped a tear from Xenaís cheek. "And one awesomely good kisser," she added, hoping to lighten the mood just a bit.

The warriorís lips quivered slightly. "I never told anyone that story," she admitted, staring into the fire once again.

"Iím sorry it hurt you so much to tell it," the bard offered. "But, Iím glad you shared it with me." She laid her head against the warriorís sturdy shoulder.

"I... didnít go home, because... I knew what would be said about us," Xena went on. "Those men were already planning their story before... they even left us there. It... wasnít just the guilt over Lyceusí death that mother would have been ashamed of. Sheíd already caught us together once and... shamed me for what I... was." The warrior cleared her throat. "And those men going back and saying weíd run off together, well... I knew I couldnít stand to see the look of shame on my motherís face and... in her eyes."

"She would have come to understand, Xena. Like she seems to now," Gabrielle suggested.

"No, Gabrielle. She still doesnít understand. You donít hear what she says to me when youíre not around." The warrior sighed heavily. "No, it seems every time we go back there, some man has lost his wife and... she wants to set me up with him. Doesnít matter what age or what he looks like, just as long as heís a man."

Gabrielle grunted in understanding. She knew that feeling intimately, because her parents were not so subtle in their proddingís. They seemed to say things in front of Xena, on purpose. Their distaste for the warrior was no secret. Only Lila, her sister, seemed to understand what Gabrielle saw in Xena. And the last time the bard had been home, Lila was obviously outright glad Gabrielle had no interest in Joxer; for, her sister seemed quite taken with the bumbling warrior.

"I was hurt... pretty bad," Xena continued, much to Gabrielleís surprise. "I was just... lucky, I guess... that a healer woman, whoíd actually been fighting with us, though I didnít know that at the time... she was passing by the stream on her way back home. She made a travois, or so she said, and took me with her."

Gabrielle eased back slightly, sensing there was far more to this story, as well.

"Youíve asked me how I learned to fight with a sword the way I do...?" The warrior turned to face the bard. "What I didnít know before I met her, I learned from her. And you know the rest... the flips, kicks and... the pinch I learned from MíLila."

"You learned about fighting from a healer woman?" the bard queried, a perplexed look on her face.

"She wasnít just a healer." Xena answered. "Like I said she had been helping us fight against Cortese, though I didnít know that, because at the time, it seemed... the whole world was at war, ya know." The bard nodded. "She had been a warrior in her own right, years before I met her, though. And you think Iím scarred... Midgenia was one large scar from head to toe or so it seemed."

"How did she learn to be warrior and a healer?"

"In the army... on the battlefield. Ya see, there were no males in her family, so being the youngest girl and most agile of the three, she donned menís clothing and went off to war."

"Dressed like a man? What war was this?"

"Between Athens and Sparta."

Gabrielle blinked. "But, Xena she would have been..."

"She was in her fifties," Xena interjected. "But she was still an agile fighter. She whooped my butt more times than I care to count." The warrior smiled slightly.

"But Xena, werenít you hurt? How could you fight when...?"

"I stayed with her... quite awhile," the warrior responded before the bard could finish her question yet again; the smile quickly fading from her face.

"Oh," Gabrielle said softly, realizing that the ending to this tale must not be a pretty one, either. When Xena wasnít forthcoming after a few moments, Gabrielle posed the question she felt she might regret, but had to ask. "What happened to her?"

Xena stared into the fire. "I got her killed too," she finally answered.

"How?" the bard asked softly and simply.

Xena sighed heavily. "Some of the young men from the village nearby would often come and spar with her. She taught most of the village defenders all they knew about fighting over the years." The warrior paused and rubbed her chin hastily. "After I came along and was back on my feet again, they... the young men, started coming more often. Now they had two warriors to teach them, ya see."

Gabrielle merely grunted. "This went on for quite awhile," Xena continued "And most of the time a group of them would come and theyíd make so much noise, we always heard them before they got there. But, this one day, two of them decided to try and sneak up on us." The warrior frowned and fell silent.

"You killed them?" the bard prodded.

"Uh, no... no, it wasnít... like that at all. It... well, it was much the same scenario as with Elke. Only... they didnít try to do anything. At least not then."

"Oh, so... you two were lovers?"

Xena grunted. "She was... my first." Her lips quivered slightly, seemingly at the memory, then she took a deep breath. "I wasnít there when... the people from the village came... I was out hunting that morning." The warrior cleared her throat. "When I got back... the house was on fire."

"Where was Midgenia?" the bard asked, rather quickly.

Xena swallowed so hard it sounded to Gabrielle as if sheíd downed a large stone. "H-Hanging... from a... t-tree," the warrior stammered, then leaped to her feet in one swift movement. "I-I-I wanted to kill them ALL!!" she sang out to the top of her lungs. "Killíem ALL... KILL THEM ALL!!!" she repeated, dropping to her knees and beating the ground in front of her with her fists.

Oh no, what have I done? Gabrielle thought, rushing over to her lover.

"NO! Gabrielle!" Xena warned, throwing out one hand to stop her. "Donít... touch me! NOT now... let me... GET... IT.. OUT!" the warrior cried, hitting the ground, enunciating each and every word with the blows from her fists. "She never... harmed a one... of you!" Puffs of dust flew up from the dirt floor as the warrior continued to pound. "She helped you... she trusted you! She never even... raised a hand to you... if she had you would all have... died that day! Yea Gods what did she ever DO to deserve that?!!!" Xenaís forehead was now resting on her arms, tears flowing from her eyes like rain from the sky, as her body rocked back and forth. "Why didnít you fight them, Midge?!!! You coulda... killed them all... I know it!!!"

NO wonder she would never tell me about all of this, the bard thought, feeling overwhelmingly guilty for bringing up this whole conversation. And yet, she also felt she understood Xena better now. For, this was twice that someone the young warrior had loved was killed, seemingly for no other reason than their sexual preference. And not only that, theyíd been murdered by people they knew and trusted.

Killíem all! Xena had shouted and Gabrielle now understood from whence this source of anger sprang. There had been not one single face for Xena to vent her rage upon this time. Because she was not there, she had no way of knowing exactly who or how many were to blame. Had this village been the start of Xenaís reign of terror? Was this the source where all that rage had stemmed from all these years? These did indeed appear to be the stones that had been tossed into Xenaís lake. Yet, these stones were not just idly sitting on the murky bottom. No, they were more like small volcanoes, erupting whenever the warrior grew angry enough to set them off.

When Xena quieted down and straightened up she said, "You asked me why I attacked Cirra... now you know." She heard the bardís sharp intake of breath. "Oh, yeah, I claimed it was a noble cause... in the name of defending Amphipolis, but... it wasnít, Gabrielle. The gods know, it wasnít! It was pure hatred and revenge!" the warrior growled out the last few words.

"I planned it well, too," she continued, in a harsh, cruel tone. "Knowing I couldnít take the village alone, I joined an army of murdering cutthroats. Then I worked my way up in the ranks... anyway I could. It didnít matter what I had to do: who I had to betray, bed or kill. All I wanted was control of that army. I was obsessed with the lust for revenge. And eventually... I got exactly what I wanted. I led that army into Cirra!" The warrior paused for a brief moment and hung her head. "And I, Xena of Amphipolis... I created... yet another monster that day. Callisto was my creation, Gabrielle. I ruined her life with my lust for revenge!!!" The warrior buried her face in her hands. "I was no better than those men who... killed Midge or Elke!"

"Xena... you couldnít have known what..." The bard paused, because the warrior was on her feet in an instant and heading for the cave entrance, limping only slightly from the leg wound. "Wait, where are you going?" Gabrielle cried out.

"I need to be ALONE!" the warrior shot over her shoulder, then loped out into the pouring rain, leaving her weapons behind.

"Donít break those stitches!!" the bard called after her, though she knew Xena would not be able to hear her.

The rain had stopped and Gabrielle was sitting by a nice warm fire, her attention divided between watching the cave entrance and writing in her scroll, when Xena finally returned.

"I thought... youíd be gone by now," the warrior commented, moving towards her weapons.

"And what, may I ask, gave you that impression?" the bard questioned, putting her writing paraphernalia aside.

"You know I lied to you, Gabrielle. You know what I really was now and why I chose to become that."

"Well, first off, I donít feel as though youíve lied to me, Xena," Gabrielle countered, rising to her feet and moving towards the warrior. "You may have omitted some very painful truths, which I can see now why you did, but... you didnít lie. And as for what you chose to become... I donít believe you chose that, Xena. I canít say what I might do under similar circumstances, because... Iíve learned from experience that you just donít know what youíll do, until youíre in the midst of it. And furthermore, I didnít ask you to share these things with me in order to judge you. Youíre not that person any longer. Youíve changed."

"But, Gabrielle... you saw what I turned into in Aidanís world! That dark side is still very much a part of me! Iíve killed hundreds of people... maybe even thousands. Some I killed with a sword, some with my bare hands... some with only a word from my mouth. And others... I murdered by just... touching them with these hands. How can you not judge me for the things Iíve done?" The warrior stared down at the aforementioned appendages, palms facing up. "There are bloodstains on these hands, Gabrielle, canít you see that?" She extended her hands towards the bard. "And if you donít leave me, your blood will be on them, as well. And... I... I couldnít bear that, Gabrielle, I just couldnít..."

The bard reached out for Xenaís hands and gripped them in her own. "Iím not leaving you, Xena. Canít you get that through your thick head? Thereís no way I will ever leave you."

"But..."

"Yes, Xena, I see now why you fear this vision so much. I can understand that much better. But... Iím still not about to leave you." The bard reached up and caressed the warriorís cheek, slowly brushing a tear away with her thumb. "And if you try to leave me again, Iíll... whoop your butt!"

"Gabrielle, youíre not taking this seriously. Canít you see that staying with me will get you killed? Everyone who falls in love with me, they... they eventually end up dead, because of me! And I just canít bear the thought of that happening to you. Please, Gabrielle, stay in India... continue on your spiritual quest. Iíll go back to Greece alone and face whatever..."

"Over my dead body!" the bard growled, squeezing Xenaís cheek in frustration.

The warrior abruptly pulled away from her and picked up her sword, intending to sheath it on her back. Gabrielle reached out and grabbed Xenaís upraised arm. "Use it, Xena," she said, in a deadly calm voice.

"What?" the warrior gasped.

"I said use it." The bard grabbed Xenaís arm with both hands now and brought the sword down between them. "Run me through! Because thatís the only way youíre getting rid of me!"

"Gab-bri..."

"Do it, Xena!" the bard shouted. "Or stop this talk of leaving... altogether." Tears formed in the bardís eyes, her lips quivered and her voice cracked. "Because each time you say these things... itís as if youíre... stabbing me... right through... the heart!"

The two women stared at one another.

"Xena, what happened to... Iíd follow you to the ends of the earth, if need be?" the bard questioned softly. "Didnít you mean that? I didnít say it to you, but... you can bet your last dinar I wouldnít hesitate to do so." Gabrielle paused and cleared her throat, tears leaking from her eyes. "And Xena, if this vision... if itís really meant to come true, then... it wonít matter whether weíre together or not, it will somehow happen. And... I donít know about you, but if thatís so, which I donít believe it is, well, then... Iíll be damned if I wanna spend even one moment of what time I have left... being separated from you!"

The sword clanged to the dirt floor between them, after Xena let go of it. The warriorís eyes were brimming with tears, her lips quivering. "By the gods, you are... one stubborn woman," she grumbled and pulled her lover into her arms.

"I learn... from the best," Gabrielle murmured against the warriorís neck.

The two lovers stood steadfast in one anotherís embrace for several moments, before Gabrielle said, "Hog in heat, huh? Now I know what that smells like. Where in the world have you been?"

"W-Wallowing... in a hog pen, obviously," Xena murmured, backing away slightly in order to see the face of the woman she loved. "Thinking about a certain bard and... wondering if Iíd ever feel..." The warrior paused and cleared her throat. "...clean again, without her to... wash my back." A slight smirk formed on her face.

"Well, you need more than a back washing, lem'me tell you," Gabrielle said, crinkling her nose and moving further away. "Wasnít there a stream back there a ways?" She gestured towards the way they had come.

"I... think so."

"Then thatís where weíre headed. Grab your blanket, youíll need it, because I intend on washing our clothes... while you catch dinner." Gabrielle started gathering up her own blanket. "And we need to be on the look out for something to use on that wound, itís looking a little puffy and irritated."

"Yes, my queen," Xena quipped, reaching for her blanket, like her lover had requested.

"Hmm, my queen. I kinda like that," the bard mused. "íBout time you realized whoís the real boss around here."

Xena merely smirked and followed her lover out of the cave.

"Whoís Mavis?" the bard asked, as they slipped and slid, single file, along the muddy mountain path.

"Thatís another story, Gabrielle," Xena responded.

"Not a pretty one, either, I gather?"

Xena shrugged. "Well... she was pretty."

"Oh really?" The bard stopped in her muddy tracks and turned towards her lover, one hand on her hip. "Did... you love her?" she asked in a small voice.

The warrior shrugged once again. "Yeah, sure." The bard grunted and started to turn back around. "But, in a different way than I love you," Xena added.

Gabrielle whipped back around. "Whaddaya mean by that?"

"Well... in my opinion, the love you feel for... different people in your life can be as unique and individual as the people themselves. At least, it is for me."

"Hmph. I suppose that sounds... reasonable," the bard agreed, then started walking again. It wasnít long -after the trail widened and they could walk side by side- before she asked, "How old was she?"

"Who?"

"Mavis?"

"Umm... let me see... nine, ten... somewhere around there."

Gabrielle glanced over at her lover and blinked several times, mouth agape. "Nine or ten?!!" she screeched. "Xena, thatís... cradle robbing! I canít believe youíd do..."

"Gabrielle," Xena interrupted, placing her hand on the bardís arm. "Mavis was a horse I had when I was younger."

"Hmph," the bard grunted, feeling a bit foolish for jumping to conclusions. "But wait..." She rushed forward to catch up with Xena. "... now you called me Midge a couple of times, when you were driven crazy by the Furies, which I understand, but... you called me Mavis a lot more, so... what are you saying... you mistook me for a horse?"

"I doubt that very seriously," the warrior responded with a smirk, looking the bard up and down. "Maybe I just... liked the name." The bard merely grunted. "Then again, you do have nice soft hair almost the color of her tail." Xena fingered the silky tresses, as she moved away.

Gabrielle narrowed up her eyes in anger. Xena chuckled loud and hardy. "Oh, you find that funny do you?" the bard said, watching Xena negotiate around the slippery edge of a rather large mud hole. "Well you just watch out, Warrior Princess, your day is coming and... boy oh boy, I just canít WA-AI-IT!"

Xena heard the bardís cry, followed by a smack and a splash. She didnít have to look to know what had happened. Slowly, she turned around to find Gabrielle sitting in a mud hole; water up to her waist and small speckles of mud on her face and body. The warrior bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. "Good thing you intended to wash those," she commented.

"Funny, har-har," the bard retorted. "Ouch!" she yelped, as she started to get up.

"What is it?" Concern was evident in the warriorís voice now.

"I think... I turned my ankle," Gabrielle murmured, reaching towards her left one.

"Hmph. Thatís the one you hurt before, isnít it?" the warrior questioned. "Wait right there, Iím coming," she added, walking into the mud hole herself and extending her hand to her friend.

Gabrielle reached out and grabbed Xenaís arm, then yanked back as hard as she could. "Umph!" she grunted, when the tall brunette landed half on top of her. "Funny now?" she asked, propping herself up on her elbows and staring into the mud splattered face of her true love.

Xena reached up and wiped the dirty water off, then stared down at Gabrielle. Slowly, a smile began forming at the corner of her lips. "Cumímere you," she said and planted a searing kiss upon the bardís lips.

"Umm... thatís almost worth falling in a mud hole for," Gabrielle quipped a bit breathlessly.

"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena said softly, cupping the bardís chin in her hand.

"I love you, too, Xena." Sea-green eyes darted back and forth searching bright blue ones. "No more talk of... leaving?"

The warrior shook her head. "No more talk of leaving, love. I promise. Whatever comes... we see it through... together."

"Umm, now that is worth falling in a mud hole for." The bard quickly reached out and wrapped her arms around her loverís neck. The unexpected weight pulled Xena down on top of her. Gabrielleís head landed against the side of the hole; her hair smeared with mud.

"Hmph, wanna get... down and dirty?" the warrior quipped, arching both eyebrows suggestively.

"With you? Always."

"Oh, but your ankle," Xena reminded.

"Forget it," the bard responded. "Just a little white lie to get you down here with me."

"Oh-ho, youíre getting sneaky," the warrior murmured.

"Like I said before... I learn from the best."

The End

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