by StarWarrior (Rie)

Gabrielle turned to look at Xena, finding comfort from her normal look, the long dark hair, those sparkling blue eyes, even her leather armor gave the young woman comfort this evening. She gave her warrior a rueful smile and answered the unasked question she saw shining in her eyes. "I'm okay. Really I am." She squeezed her friends hand. Her green eyes were shadowed, her face pale beneath the golden tan. Xena still hadn't spoken. She just sat holding Gabrielle's hand and staring into her face. Self consciously, Gabrielle reached to hide the wicked cut that still ached.

Xena stopped her. She reached for the bard's face and gently traced the cut and it's accompanying bruise on her left cheek just below the eye. Her blue eyes softened and a tear trickled from the corner of an eye.

"Xena! Say something, anything. Please!" Gabrielle begged, afraid of where her friend's dark thoughts were taking her.

"They had no right." Xena's eyes darkened. "They did this because you are my friend." She looked down at their entwined hands. "My friendship has brought you nothing but pain." Her grip tightened. "Still I don't want to let you go." She swallowed hard. "Words don't come easy for me." She looked into Gabrielle's eyes, "But for you I'll try." Xena took a deep breath. "Before you do or say anything let me finish talking?"

Gabrielle nodded, amazed as much by what the warrior princess was saying as by the fact that Xena was actually talking at all.

Xena faltered, her resolve weakening, but the concern in Gabrielle's eyes spurned her onward. "I have no right to ask you to stay. In fact I should tell you to leave." Her body shook and Gabrielle's hold on her hand tightened instinctively. "I don't have that kind of strength." Her eyes a dark blue whirled with emotion as she stole a look at her friend. "Once I thought I had that strength...that's when I told you to go be happy with Perdicus." Another tear fell. "I can't go on without you." She tried to stop herself fear of losing Gabrielle forever outweighing her need for honesty between them. An icy wind blew through her body, touching on her soul and she knew she needed to complete what she'd begun on this night.

Gabrielle sat silently, watching the different emotions flickering across Xena's face had been enlightening, but her warrior princess wasn't finished and she leaned forward willing Xena to speak the words she'd die to hear.

Xena licked her lips nervously, "I love you. I mean I really really love you." Her eyes were filled with the fear of rejection, the knife poised at the edge of her heart, ready to slip in and create the wound that never heals. Bracing herself for that reaction she released Gabrielle's hand and stood up.

Reluctantly, Gabrielle let her move away. It was her turn to prove herself to Xena. Those men had tried to kill her because she was Xena's friend, as Xena knew, but Xena was wrong on so many other important issues. Her hand tingled and she pressed it to her lips. Xena stood looking over the river bed, and Gabrielle cautiously stepped up behind her. At first she stood silent next to her friend. Watching as Xena stood staring sightlessly out into the raging muddy water of the river. Gabrielle smiled briefly at the image before her, finally she laid a hand on Xena's shoulder.

Xena trembled beneath the touch. Gabrielle smiled to think she had such power. "Xena." She whispered her name and her smile grew as she felt another tremor beneath her hand. "Xena, please look at me." Her eyes were full of love, warm and passionate and pleading to be kissed.

Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle with a desperate hunger. Surprise and shock entered her piercing blue eyes as she reeled back from the love she saw. Her mouth opened and a small gasp escaped. Her gaze sharpened; she searched every inch of her beloved's face for a trace of a lie, but found none. All she saw was love. She shuddered with reaction.

Without thinking, Gabrielle ran her tongue over her lips, and saw Xena fasten her gaze there. Xena brought her hand up and reached tentatively to touch that beautiful face, pausing briefly as though waiting for rejection, before cupping Gabrielle's face, her thumb tracing her lips. Gabrielle shuddered.

Xena's fingers moved on tracing the shape of her ear. Her fingers lingered on Gabrielle's ear, then trailed slowly down her neck to the small hollow at the base of her throat, where an out-of-control pulse fluttered. Her fingertips drew little circles there before moving up to her cheek and softly brushed her cut. She paused then and looked into Gabrielle's eyes, awed by the love she saw gazing back at her. "But why me?" She questioned bewildered. Wonder filled her voice. "You could have anyone you want - male or female."

Gabrielle's eyes misted. "I want you." Her voice grew husky. She placed her hand upon Xena's breast, "All that matters is this." She took Xena's hand and placed it upon her own breast. "Feel my heart. It beats in rhythm to yours."

Xena trembled, her heart beat faster; she felt Gabrielle's heart jump, as if in response to hers. She looked at her friends bruised and cut cheek and tenderly touched it. "With me lies only danger and strife."

"Without you lies loneliness." A shadow passed over Gabrielle's face. "My soul would wither, my life would not be worth living."

"If we..." Xena's voice trailed off. She'd never been so frightened in her life. Gabrielle meant everything to her, but she couldn't bring herself to say it. "...I will never be able to go back."

"If you will have me," Gabrielle turned tearstained eyes upward. "I will never want to go back."

Xena gazed into those upturned green eyes that sparkled with an inner beauty and marveled at the depth of the passion she saw. She lowered her head, but bypassed the lips in favor of Gabrielle's forehead, her nose, her eyelids. Each kiss was the barest touch, hardly more than the brush of butterfly wings, but it shot sparks throughout Gabrielle's body and she trembled. Her arms slid up and around Xena's neck as finally Xena's lips covered hers. She weaved her fingers into the raven hair and melted into the tall lean body, feeling the heat rise between them.

The kiss was exploratory and tentative at first, and then as she began to become more assured of Gabrielle's response she heightened her efforts by nipping lightly at her lips and running the tip of her tongue between the edges of Gabrielle's lips.

Gabrielle tightened her grasp on Xena's neck. She felt a surge of passion and her lips parted, and Xena's tongue delicately entered her mouth and lapped gently at its moist depths. Her blood began to rush through her veins and course like the river to her ears, where it pounded like a drum. She felt as if she were drowning in Xena's kiss and she had to pull away from her mouth to gasp for air before she went under for good

Xena savored the kiss, lingering over Gabrielle's lips. So long, so long had she waited for this touch. She had never felt so alive. No other had made her feel to the depth of her soul as this woman had. She marveled to think that all her time searching was finally at an end. She lifted her head and gazed in renewed wonder at the young woman that rested against her. "Gabrielle," she breathed the name in. The sweetness that was the young bard seemed to enter her mouth and fill her senses with wonder. Her eyes sparkled in delight as the young woman turned eyes glazed with passion upon her. She leaned in to capture those sweet lips one more time, her arms rapped around Gabrielle and she let them slide up and down the woman's sides enjoying the silken feel of Gabrielle's skin beneath her battlescarred fingers.

Gabrielle lowered her head resting it against Xena's chest, enjoying the feel of the rapidly beating heart under her ear.

A minute passed and Xena tilted Gabrielle's head up, her blue eyes dark with passion. She lowered her head to capture the sweet lips once more. The mere touch sending both women over the edge. Xena reveled in the molding of Gabrielle's body against her own, her heart thumping wildly against her own. She opened her mouth to allow Gabrielle a chance to explore it with her tongue. The bard's tongue darted in and out like a flickering flame. She moaned, running her fingers underneath Gabrielle's top eager to feel the warm silky flesh that lay hidden from her view.

Unable to stand anymore of this fine torture Xena picked the small woman up and cradling her in her arms strode back to the campsite. Ever so gently she knelt by the blankets and lay Gabrielle down upon them.

For long seconds the two stayed still drinking in the sight of each other. "You are so beautiful." Xena murmured as she brushed her lips against the back of Gabrielle's hand. She leaned in close, letting her hand rest on the bard's stomach and began nibbling on her ear.

Gabrielle felt as though she were on fire. Xena's ear was close to her mouth, so she returned the favor and began her own nibbling. Xena's lips left her ear and started trailing down the side of her neck, licking, nibbling, and leaving fiery imprints behind. She gasped for breath and pressed closer to the warrior.

Xena responded by wrapping her arms around the younger woman, pulling her into her lap. She tapped at Gabrielle's lips open and ran her tongue around the smooth inner cavern, enjoying the taste and feel of Gabrielle.

Slowly, with her eyes on Gabrielle's eyes Xena started to unlace the bard's top. Carefully she peeled it away, releasing the now swollen breasts from the prison. Tenderly she caressed first one then the other. Lovingly she took one taut nipple in her mouth, teasing it with her tongue, while she rolled the other nipple between her finger and thumb.

The sensation was like no other Gabrielle had ever felt. Sharp pinpricks of desire began to flow through her veins. She moaned as Xena lapped at her navel. "This is totally unfair." She managed to mutter between gasps.

A surprised Xena stopped, her hands stilled, fear crept into her heart, she turned her eyes to look upon Gabrielle's face. The passion, the love spilling over her own eyes causing them to sparkle like blue gems, met smiling eyes that belied the words she'd heard. Confused she started to withdraw, but a silvery laugh came from her bard. She caught her breath and bit her lip, uncertain of what to do.

"No." Gabrielle said in a quiet voice and with a single word Xena's world shattered. She let go of Gabrielle and tried to stand. Gabrielle clasped the proud warrior tightly. "No you don't." She spoke with amused passion as she ran her hands down the warriors back. "What I meant is that it is totally unfair that you can strip me so easily and it takes two arms and an upright position to separate you from your armor."

Xena let out a deep ragged breath, relief momentarily causing her to sag against her friend. She buried her head against Gabrielle's breast and let tears silently fall from her eyes.

Gabrielle placed a finger under Xena's chin, forcing the woman to look at her. Gently she murmured an apology and kissed and licking each tear away, reveling in the salty taste. She drew back and fingered the armor, one eyebrow cocked questioningly, "Well?"

Xena immediately sat up to remove the offending clothing. Gabrielle moved swiftly to intercept her. "Allow me." Eagerly, she removed one piece after another, kissing the bared skin as she went, until Xena stood in just a slight white shift. With a fierce smile she pulled the shift over her head and kneeling before Gabrielle slowly pulled the bard's skirt down over her hips, letting it fall to the ground.

Xena rose to stand less than an arms distance away. The two stared mesmerized by each others beauty. Gabrielle trembled as lazy blue eyes, dark with passion swept up and down her body, appreciation obvious in the quickened breath.

Gabrielle allowed her own gaze to do the same, going down to the long tanned legs, resting for a moment on the dark mound between her thighs and finally settling on the full rich mouth. A small smile tugged at her face as she looked into those gorgeous penetrating blue eyes, that gazed so lovingly into her own before being drawn into Xena's arms and down on the blankets.


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