This Must Be the Place

by atara

For Ruth, because "Out of all those kinds of people / You got a face with a view."

Copyright (c) 1998

This is a sequel to ". . . But We're Not the Same." It's rated NC-17 for explicit sex between two women. There's also some light bondage and some moderately kinky (but wholly consensual) activities, so those of you who don't like that sort of thing should go straight to Go and collect your
$200 without reading any further. Starting with ". . . But We're Not the Same," I'm essentially creating an alternate timeline, which branches off after the events in "The Debt" (Parts 1 and 2). In this timeline, Hope has sort of conveniently vanished, and Solan is still living with the Centaurs.
The first story and my other Xena stories can be found at Giffstein Productions:

Ares' testing of Xena to try to teach her a particular lesson was in part suggested by the _Star Trek: TNG_ episode, "Qpid." Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Cyrene, and Argo are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no financial profit is anticipated. :-) I'm just going to borrow them for a while, so Xena and Gabrielle can have their way with each other. As I see it, I'm just giving them an opportunity that TPTB can't. Please check with me before archiving or distributing. Feedback welcome at

" . . . she's already making you soft! It was bad enough before, but now you'll be totally spineless! A warrior doesn't need . . . encumbrances!"

Gabrielle awoke to the familar snarl of Ares' voice. He and Xena were a short distance away, heatedly arguing as usual. All things considered, Gabrielle thought it prudent to pretend she was still asleep--she certainly wished she still was, with Xena's arm wrapped around her. She wasn't a
morning person by a long shot, and waking up to Ares apparently berating Xena about her relationship with her was hardly the way she would have chosen to start her day.

"You're just jealous, Ares," drawled Xena coolly. Gabrielle marvelled at how her throaty purr could still send shivers down her spine, while the higher functions of her mind began to process the import of the conversation.

"Jealous?! Of that blonde piece of fluff?! I think *not*," snapped Ares haughtily. "I just don't like what she's doing to you . . . "

"It's none of your business what she's doing to me, or *with* me for that matter," retorted Xena with a wicked smile. "Now don't you have any of your warrior boy-toys to go play with?"

"Xena!" growled Ares, moving closer to her and shaking a finger angrily. "I'm telling you this for your own good."

"Why?" asked Xena casually. "You've never concerned yourself about my lovers before. If I'm not mistaken, you would have gladly included yourself among that number."

"Sex is one thing--and if I wanted you for anything it was just that--luh-uv" he drew out the word sarcastically, "is another. It'll distract you. You'll lose your sharpness."

"I doubt it," responded Xena.

"Well, I intend to prove you wrong, princess!" declared Ares before vanishing with his characteristic flashes of light.

Xena sighed heavily before walking back to the blanket where Gabrielle was now sitting up. "You heard that, I take it?" she asked.

"Most of it, I think," answered Gabrielle. "Blonde piece of fluff? Who does he think he is?"

"The god of war," answered Xena with a grin at Gabrielle's tone. "And he *thinks* he's still my mentor. Egotistical, jealous twit!"

"You'd think a god would have better things to do . . . " mused Gabrielle.

"Well I certainly do!" said Xena, pulling Gabrielle to her feet and into her arms for an extended good morning kiss. "But let's keep our eyes open," she added after they came up for air. "I don't know what he has in mind."

* * *

After a few days, Ares' threats receded to the back of the lovers' minds. They were travelling toward Amphipolus to visit Xena's mother, but not making very fast progress. It was almost impossible for them to keep their hands off each other. They'd be walking holding hands, and Gabrielle would slide her hand up Xena's muscled arm. Xena would draw in her breath
sharply, turn to Gabrielle and pull her close for a kiss, her hand straying down to cup a breast. Or Xena would let her hand rest lightly on the back of Gabrielle's neck, and Gabrielle would whirl around, wrap her arms around Xena's waist and reach up to suck her lover's lower lip into her mouth.

It was market day in Amphipolus, and Gabrielle wanted to stock up on some travelling supplies. Xena slid her arms around her from behind, murmuring, "Watch your back" in her ear, then moved off to stable Argo and head for her mother's, while Gabrielle called out, "I'll be there in less than an

As she moved toward the stalls, she suddenly heard a voice call out, "That's her!" This was not a good sign. She whirled around, staff at the ready, when a group of armed warriors rushed up the street toward her. Gabrielle swung her staff, catching the first one off guard. It connected with a satisfying thwack, and the man was down. One of the attackers tried to run around behind her, and she caught him with a solid, circling swing. She jabbed another in the chest with her staff, but they were too many. She was soon surrounded, her arms being jerked behind her, as she was forced to drop her staff. Her hands were quickly bound, and the warriors marched her off.

"I didn't expect her to fight back, Timon," whined one of the injured men.

"Shut up! The war god ordered her captured--are you going to complain that you were bested by a mere girl?"

The warrior shut up quickly. When they reached the outskirts of the village, Gabrielle saw that they had horses waiting. The one called Timon hoisted her up on his own steed, and the group quickly rode out of town, ignoring Gabrielle's protestations.

* * *

Xena was sitting and sipping a drink with her mother, while keeping an eye on the door. "I wonder what's keeping Gabrielle," she muttered, when she suddenly recalled Ares' threat. "Gotta go check on Gabrielle," she explained, before rushing out the door. Cyrene sighed; her daughter was
certainly not the most restful visitor, and she hated to admit it to herself, but she still felt wary around her since the incident when the Furies had driven Xena mad, and Xena had threatened to kill her. Still, she thought this relationship with Gabrielle was a good thing. Cyrene knew her daughter's dark side was never all that far from the surface, and she hoped Gabrielle would help temper it.

Xena jogged toward the marketplace. No Gabrielle. But she almost tripped over Gabrielle's staff, lying in the road where she had been forced to drop it. She snatched it up and hurried over to the closest stall. "The girl who was holding this," she demanded, "can you tell me what happened to

The young shopkeeper nodded, explaining that Gabrielle had been nabbed by a group of armed warriors, and he indicated the direction out of town. "It was happening so fast," he apologized. "I don't think any of us knew what to do."

Xena nodded in acknowledgment. "Do you have any idea where they took her?"

"A young warlord named Timon took over that old fort on the hill. He's building a temple to Ares. His men buy supplies in town sometimes."

"Shit!" exclaimed Xena. "Thanks for your help, friend," she added, flipping him a dinar, "for your family." Always useful to cultivate a source of information. "One more thing--could you send someone to Cyrene's house and tell her I had to leave? And have them take this staff there,

Xena jogged toward the village stables and got Argo, then galloped off in the direction of the hilltop fort.

* * *

Gabrielle was thinking furiously, as her kidnappers rode out of the village, but there didn't seem to be anything she could do. She was outnumbered and unarmed. The group followed a trail uphill to a small but well-defended fort. There was a construction site nearby. "What's that?" she asked, curious even in adversity.

"A new temple to honor the god of war," replied Timon reverently.

*Figures . . .* thought Gabrielle to herself. At the fort, she was hustled down a passageway to a cell and locked in. "Hey!" she yelled. "You have no reason to hold me here!"

"We follow the orders of Lord Ares," intoned Timon. "You will be given food and will be kept safe, as long as you don't give us trouble."

"Great!" muttered Gabrielle to herself. She sat down on the straw bedding that had been provided, wondering, *What next?* After a couple of hours, some food was brought and a full water skin. Otherwise there was no diversion. Gabrielle knew she had to pass the time and stave off panic,
and she spent her time reliving the early days of her new relationship with Xena as declared lovers.

* * *

As Xena rode, she was suddenly intercepted by a woman running toward her in a hurry, calling, "Xena! Warrior Princess! Please!"

Xena reined in Argo, and snapped, "What is it? I'm in a hurry."

"Our village," began the woman, "down that road, is going to be attacked. The warlord Timon sent a messenger demanding a sum of money to go toward the construction of the new temple to Ares. We don't have that kind of money in Thea. He's threatened to kill us all."

*Shit!* reiterated Xena to herself. She understood the trap. Ares was trying to prove to her that her love for Gabrielle was a weakness, one that would undermine her abilities and distract her from her goals. Thus, he had Gabrielle kidnapped, while setting up a situation Xena wouild be unable to ignore. Set up or not, the danger to Thea and to Gabrielle was real. Human life meant little to Ares.

"When did they want the money by?" asked Xena.

"Tomorrow morning. Just after dawn. The messenger said Timon would send his warriors to collect it, and if it wasn't there in full . . ."

"I understand," asid Xena. "Simple extortion. They don't really care about the money. They just want to steal all the food and materials they can, while practicing their skills on people who won't fight back." There was a barely contained fury in her voice.

"Will you help us?" asked the woman. "We don't know how to fight back, ourselves."

"Yes, of course," said Xena. "But I need some time to think of a plan."

* * *
Left to herself in her cell, Gabrielle reminisced about that night a few weeks ago when she and Xena had admitted their feelings went beyond friendship. They had come together laughing, but their full attention was quickly taken up by the moist fullness of each others' lips. As Xena had
pressed kisses on her mouth, Gabrielle had parted her lips. Understanding the invitation, Xena responded, and their tongues engaged in a slow dance. Gabrielle had melted into Xena's arms, relaxing into the hand that was entwined in her hair, lightly grasping the back of her neck. One long,
delicious kiss succeeded another, until they moved the slightest bit apart, so Xena could trace Gabrielle's lips with a finger, gazing on her face in wonder. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle," she had murmured. "I've been hoping this would happen for so long, but I was afraid it never would. You're sure this is what you want?"

"Yes, Xena," breathed Gabrielle, sucking the tip of Xena's wandering finger into her mouth and circling it with her tongue.

"Oh!" Xena half-moaned, half-exclaimed. But Xena had apparently had no intention of letting the teasing go only one way. She lowered her head and began tracing a line along each of Gabrielle's closed eyelids with the tip of her tongue and was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath. Gabrielle
had then tilted her head back, requesting another kiss, which was granted. At the same time, she felt a hand begin lightly stroking her breast through the fabric of her bodice. Xena had paused for a moment looking at her, and the hunger in her green eyes had apparently been affirmation enough.

Xena carefully lay Gabrielle down on the blanket, kissing the hollow of her neck and the soft flesh that swelled out of the bodice. She had then sat up slightly, saying, "It seems to me that you're wearing entirely too much." Her voice had been low and urgent, even as it teased, and Gabrielle
felt it flow over her like rich honey that slid over every tingling nerve.

"What are you going to do about it then?" Gabrielle had gasped weakly. She was becoming more and more overcome that it was Xena touching and kissing her like his, her hero, her warrior princess, her best friend, and now her lover. She had wanted this for so long that the fulfillment of her desires seemed overwhelming, surreal.

"This," replied Xena, skillfully unlacing Gabrielle's bodice.

"You must have a lot of experience unlacing women's clothing," remarked Gabrielle slightly breathlessly, trying to maintain the slightest illusion of teasing distance and control.

"I have a lot of experience with a lot of things," purred Xena in a sultry voice, "but there's no one else, woman or man, whose clothes I'd rather be unlacing."

Soon Gabrielle's breasts were bare, and Gabrielle had felt a new self-consciousness. *Silly,* she had thought, *it's not as though we've never seen each other naked before; we've even bathed together.* But Xena had never let her desire for Gabrielle's body be so evident before.

She had gathered a breast in each hand, caressing with her fingers, while lightly rubbing the nipples with a back and forth motion of her thumbs. "You seem to like this," Xena had teased. "It's not that cold out." Gabrielle had flushed slightly, feeling embarrassed at all the blatant evidence of her lust for this woman with whom she had travelled for so long as friends. *Wait till she gets lower,* thought Gabrielle; *I'm sure I'm already wet.* Coherent thought soon vanished, as Xena lowered her mouth to one breast, while still caressing the other with a hand. Gabrielle felt light kisses on her nipple, followed by a tongue circling it slowly, again, and again, and again. Xena was apparently willing to take her time, still making tight circles around Gabrielle's nipple, while Gabrielle marvelled
at the way the sensation seemed to flash along her nerves right to her groin. She had felt a pressure building up inside her , and her hands involuntarily clutched and unclutched handfuls of Xena's lustrous hair.

She was beginning to be aware that her pelvis had begun a slight rhythmic rocking motion, as still Xena's tongue circled her nipple with a maddening slowness. Suddenly Xena sucked her nipple into her mouth vigorously. The sensation of being encircled by Xena's firm mouth sent a ripple of pleasure through her. After a few moments of this, Gabrielle had been surprised by the jolt that vibrated through her groin. She cried out, then as she opened her eyes, she saw Xena smiling at her triumphantly.

"Xena," Gabrielle had whispered. "I didn't know I could . . . from just that . . . "

"I have many surprises for you, sweetheart," said Xena gently, still smiling. "There are a lot of ways I can make you feel good. But you're still wearing too much."

"What about you?" Gabrielle had demanded. She had felt self-conscious about being naked, while Xena was still dressed.

"Fair enough," replied Xena, her mouth crooked in a wicked smile, her eyes glinting with delight. She had lightly leapt to her feet, pulling Gabrielle up with one hand and beginning to tug off Gabrielle's skirt. It was only after she stepped out of it, naked, that Xena had begun removing
her armor, and then the leather dress. Gabrielle had sighed in pleasure and awe; she had long been aware what a stunning sight a nude Xena was, but the sight never failed to take her breath away.

Xena had laughed at the look on Gabrielle's face; Gabrielle figured she was quite aware of the effect she had on people. She had then lightly hooked her foot around Gabrielle's leg, making her lose her balance, and pulling her down to the ground, half lying on top of her, and covering Gabrielle's mouth with her own, before Gabrielle could make a comment. At the same time, her hand was lightly tracing circles down Gabrielle's body, from her neck to her stomach and below.

She had let her hand rest on Gabrielle's reddish curls, and Gabrielle had parted her legs immediately in response. "You *do* want this, don't you?" Xena had marvelled.

"Uh-huh," gasped Gabrielle. Desire was running through her on burning wires, and she was losing interest in conversation very rapidly. Xena's eyes had been bright with need and hunger, as she slid her hand between Gabrielle's legs. "Oh, yes," Gabrielle had moaned, as Xena's fingers had expertly parted her lips and begun stroking her clitoris. Gabrielle had pleaded, "Please . . . more . . ." and Xena had increased the pressure until Gabrielle groaned and shuddered, overcome with another climax.

"Please take me . . . inside," she had asked, when she caught her breath. Xena had lifted her eyebrows slightly; apparently she hadn't expected Gabrielle to be quite *that* eager.

"Whatever you want, love," she had murmured, then slid two fingers inside Gabrielle.

"I'll take you up on that!" said Gabrielle breathlessly. She had been very, very wet by that time, and Xena's fingers slipped easily in and out. Gabrielle was rocking her pelvis in response, and felt herself gripping Xena's fingers more and more tightly. "Yeeesss *XE*-NAH!" she had wailed
as she came again.

Xena had cradled her in her arms, kissing her again and again. When Gabrielle's heartbeat and breathing had slowed enough for her to form words, she had said, "You said 'whatever I want'."

"Um-hmm," nodded Xena.

"I want to kiss you everywhere. I want to taste all of you, Xena."

"You won't get any argument from me," returned Xena, lying back on the blanket.

Gabrielle had been overwhelmed with the thought that Xena was lying here, at *her* disposition. She had kissed Xena hungrily, probing her mouth with her tongue. She licked the hollow in Xena's neck, then fiercely sucked on one nipple, while squeezing the other. "Hold that thought," Xena had
gasped, and Gabrielle sucked all the harder until the woman she loved groaned aloud and thrashed beneath her in climax.

Gabrielle had then moved down between Xena's parted legs. She kissed her lightly, inhaling her lover's aroma. Suddenly worried, she had glanced up, saying, "Um, I've never done this before."

"Don't worry, Gabrielle," Xena had reassured her. "Trust me, you're driving me wild."

"Really?" asked Gabrielle, pleased with herself.

"Really," answered Xena. "But you'll drive me crazy if you keep talking!"

"Right," Gabrielle had answered, before lowering her head. She had hesitantly begun licking at Xena's clitoris, then trying out a circular motion. It seemed to be working. Xena was breathing faster and moaning quietly, her back arched, bringing herself closer to Gabrielle's mouth.
Suddenly inspired, Gabrielle had tried penetrating her lover with her tongue; Xena's reaction suggested this had been a good idea. She had arched even more, spreading her legs wider, as Gabrielle's tongue moved in and out. She had then gone back to her lover's clitoris, licking hard and
sucking it into her mouth, and Xena had howled in ecstasy.

"Come here!" Xena had declared affectionately, pulling Gabrielle up into her arms. "For a beginner, you have a lot of potential."

"I'm glad to hear it," replied Gabrielle, snuggling against Xena's breast.

"You'll have to practice, of course, to keep up your technique," remarked Xena.

"Oh really?" Gabrielle had asked. "What a hardship."

Gabrielle sighed, curled up on the straw matting in her cell, remembering. Once they acknowledged their feelings, they had hardly been able to keep their hands off each other, although Xena had not, despite Ares' suggestions, lost any of her sharpness. Her reflexes and fighting skills were as superb as ever, when needed, but when she and Gabrielle retired for the night, she was a tender and thorough lover, as she and Gabrielle explored each other's bodies, learning all the ways of pleasuring each other.

*Pesky gods!* Gabrielle thought to herself. She should have known their idyll would be interrupted by something or the other. It wasn't surprising that the interruption came in the form of Ares. She would have to be strong and not let Xena's love for her become a liability.

* * *

Xena climbed up to Timon's fort, dressed in men's clothing, her hair pulled back and under a hood. As she approached the path leading to the fort's entrance, a sentry stepped out from the shadows underneath a large tree. Xena had spotted him several paces back, but she let herself look startled.

"Ho, traveller!" called the sentry. "Didn't mean to startle you, but strangers aren't allowed here."

"I understand," said Xena in a deeper voice, "I'm just pretty jumpy since I heard. I expect all of you are too."

"Heard what?" asked the sentry.

"You mean you haven't heard?" asked Xena in mock surprise. "I was surprised there was only one guard posted, but if you haven't gotten the news yet, that would explain it."

"What news, by Ares!" exclaimed the sentry.

Xena moved closer, so she could whisper. "Rumor has it that Callisto has gotten out of the lava where she was trapped. They say she's already gotten an army together." Xena grunted knowingly, "no surprise that. They say she has it in for Ares because he didn't help her in her last encounter
with Xena. She's planning to trash his temples and wipe out any armies pledged to him."

"Cal-listo?" asked the sentry extremely nervously.

"Yeah. I was a warrior of Ares myself, but I'm clearing out of here. Like to live a few more years, y'know?"

"I . . . know," muttered the sentry.

"Ares' strength be with you," said Xena as she moved off, then muttered softly, but pitched loud enough for the sentry to hear, "you'll need it, friend."

Xena kept moving up the path, then cut into the woods and doubled back toward the fort. She was pleased to see the sentry's spot vacant. She leapt into a tall tree, and climbed high enough to get a good vantage point, without being seen herself. Soon enough a trio of men slipped
surreptitiously out of the fort on foot and headed toward the villages below. A while later, a couple of men on horseback emerged from the main gate, which was unguarded, the guards there having been the first to hear the sentry's news. They rode off, soon followed by more of Timon's warriors, some on foot, some riding, leaving the fort in small, fearful, silent groups. *Tsk tsk,* thought Xena to herself, *poor discipline. Standards are slipping. Ares will apparently take *anyone's* support these days.* She settled in more comfortably in her perch. After a couple of hours, the number of warriors leaving had reduced Timon's army to a negligible number. The village of Thea was in no danger. It was time to get Gabrielle out of there; Xena had no doubt but that the dungeon guards
had remained, deep inside the fort and farther away from the spread of


Xena silently approached the entrance of the fort, staying in the lengthening shadows. No one obstructed her entry. She raced across the courtyard, then flattened herself against a wall. Still no one around. She rid herself of the hooded and cumbersome cloak she had borrowed, as disguise no longer served any purpose. She figured the dungeons would be underground, and soon found a stairway leading down. Halfway down the winding stair, she heard steps coming up. A guard. With almost supernatural swiftness she stepped out of the shadows, clapped one hand on the man's mouth, and drove a fist into his stomach. As he collapsed, she whipped off his helmet and delivered a solid blow to the back of his head. The man slipped unconscious to the ground, and Xena muttered, under her breath, "Sorry. I don't envy you the headache you'll wake up with."

The bottom step opened into a corridor. As she followed it, she heard voices behind a heavy wooden door. She positioned herself behind the door, sword in hand, and listened.

" . . . What do you mean they're all gone?"

"I'm sorry, my lord. The others have all left. I heard some of the men saying something about Callisto coming with an army."

"May they be damned to Tartarus!" exclaimed the first voice, which had to belong to Timon.

Another voice spoke up, "What should we do?"

Xena took that as her cue. She yanked open the door and leapt in with a war cry: "Yi-yi-yi-yi-YAH!" Six men leapt to their feet, swords drawn. As Xena began battling, she noticed the room was ringed with small barred cells, one of which contained Gabrielle.

Gabrielle had had a fair amount of peace and quiet to reminisce, when a small contingent of guards had entered the room. "We're supposed to keep an eye on yuh," one growled. A while later, Timon had come down to check on her. While he chatted with his guards, another man had come clattering down the stairs with the report that most of the fort was empty. *Must be Xena's doing,* she thought to herself.

Moments later, she saw Xena burst into the room, sword flashing. She was wearing men's pants and a loose shirt. Gabrielle berated herself for thinking about how attractive Xena looked; this really wasn't the time. As one of the guards ran toward Xena, she swung out with her free arm,
knocking him flat. She spun around, catching the next guard with a flying kick to the jaw. With a war cry, Xena ran up the wall and did a backwards flip, landing over the table in the middle of the room, near Gabrielle's cell. She whirled, driving her elbow into the stomach of the guard charging her. With the impact, a ring of keys flew off his belt, and Xena neatly caught it and hooked it on her belt. With another war cry and another flip, she landed on the heavy wooden table. She jumped in the air, kicking two guards at once. Timon's sword flashed toward Xena's feet, but she easily jumped up, avoiding the swing. She leapt off the table, and began fighting with him in earnest.

"Behind you, Xena!" yelled Gabrielle. Not bothering to look, Xena swung her arm in a wide arc, as she spun around, her fist connecting with a guard's face.

"You are thwarting the will of Ares!" yelled Timon as he pressed closer.

"It's rather a hobby of mine," replied Xena, her eyes flashing. With a quick blow, she had disarmed Timon. "NOW! All of you! Get out of here, all the way out, before I start hurting people!" Timon took one more step toward her, then found himself on his back, a sword pointing at his neck.
"I meant that," said Xena with a quiet menace.

She stepped back, allowing him to stand up. "You heard the warrior princess--what are you waiting for?" yelled Timon, knowing he was defeated. He and the guards scrambled up the stairs and out of the fort. Somehow the wrath of Ares seemed a remote threat compared to an angry Xena.

As soon as they fled, a twirl of light announced the arrival of Ares. "Gabrielle!" yelled Xena and tossed her the keys. While Gabrielle unlocked her cell, Xena turned to face the god of war.

Ares drew his sword, and Xena countered it. As their swords clashed, Xena said, "I passed your little test, Ares. You lost."

"Not so fast, Xena!" snarled Ares.

He turned toward Gabrielle, waiting in the doorway of the cell.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own size, Ares? Your quarrel is with me," declared Xena.

"Yes . . . It . . .Is" returned the god. He turned back toward Xena, and she did a flip over his head, her "yi-yi-yi-yi!" echoing through the room. She lashed out with a foot, kicking him in the small of the back. He whirled around, and their swords came together with a clang.

"Your little trained minions weren't very good, Ares," taunted Xena between breaths. "Your standards are slipping, I see."

"It's hard to get good help these days," growled Ares, making a wide sweep with his sword, which Xena neatly ducked under, rolling, then leaping up and jumping on the table.

"And you need all the help you can get, Ares!" she snapped as she jumped in the air, kicking out and catching Ares squarely in the chest. He staggered, and Xena tore into him, sword flashing, as she drove him toward the wall. Cornered and furious, he raised his hand, about to discharge a
lightning bolt, when Xena kicked him hard in the wrist.

He shook it furiously, while Xena pointed her sword at him. "All right, Xena, you win this time! But I tell you, that blonde's no good for you."

"Ares!" exclaimed Xena, "You will swear now to leave her *alone*! She's mine. Understand? Or I will trash every temple you have and decimate every army that follows you. Got it?" She had the point of the sword touching his chest. He tried to sweep it away with an irritated wave of the hand, and Xena, with almost superhuman speed, whipped it around and smacked Ares firmly in the side. "Swear . . .you'll . . . leave . . . Gabrielle . . . alone," Xena enunciated through clenched teeth.

Her eyes were full of fury, and Ares, hand pressed to his side, muttered, "I swear. But that doesn't mean I'm finished with *you*, Xena." He then vanished, denying Xena the last word. Shaking her head, and sheathing her sword, she joined Gabrielle.

"You OK?" she asked. Gabrielle nodded, and Xena pulled her into her arms for a long kiss.

"I love you, Xena," said Gabrielle. "But I worry about causing you more problems, being a burd-. ."

"Don't," admonished Xena. "I *need* you. I can't live without you." She paused. "It frightens me that being with me makes you a target, but you're *not* a burden."

Gabrielle hugged her hard, saying, "Well, you're worth any amount of risk."

Xena nodded, then leaned her cheek on the top of Gabrielle's head. "It'll be fine as long as we face things together."

* * *

As they left the fort. retrieving Xena's clothes and armor from where she'd concealed them in the nearby woods, Xena said, "I know a really nice spot near here. I'd like to share it with you." Xena folded up the clothes she'd been wearing, tying them into a neat bundle with a sash. Gabrielle
said that sounded like a great idea, and they set off along the path, holding hands. As they veered off onto a narrower path through the woods, Xena apologized, "I'm sorry about what I said back there about you being mine. I just wanted Ares to know I was serious."

"Don't apologize," said Gabrielle with a quiet grin and a blush. "I liked it. It kind of . . . gave me a shiver--that felt good."

"Is that so?" asked Xena thoughtful, a crooked half-smile appearing at the corner of her mouth. They walked further in silence, hands clasped tightly. After a time, they emerged from the woods to a grassy area near where a clear and sparkling stream widened into a pool.

"Is this it, Xena?" asked Gabrielle; "it's beautiful."

"The water's surprisingly warm; there must be an underground hot spring" noted Xena, "and nobody ever comes here. I always used to think of this as my private spot."

"Sounds great!" said Gabrielle. Within moments, Gabrielle was helping Xena remove her armor, and they were pulling off their clothes and piling them under a tree. In the water, Xena gently pulled Gabrielle to her and kissed her, while her hands slid over the curves of her lover's body. She stroked up from Gabrielle's hips to her waist and up to her breasts, her fingertips lightly gliding over wet skin. Then she pulled Gabrielle to her again, so her hands could caress slippery buttocks and legs.

Gabrielle was almost wriggling with desire; she wanted more than those tantalizingly light touches, electrifying as they were. Xena seemed to treat her as an unimaginably precious and fragile object, and Gabrielle had a feeling that she was somehow holding back. When their lips parted, Gabrielle said "I love how you touch me, Xena--the way you take your time and bring every part of my body alive. But you don't have to be so gentle with me all the time; I'm not made of glass."

"Oh really?" asked Xena with a grin and a raised eyebrow.

"Really," answered Gabrielle firmly before suddenly splashing Xena hard and racing out of the water.

"Oh, you are in trouble now!" laughed Xena, waiting and giving Gabrielle a lead. As Gabrielle ran naked across the grass, Xena admired the muscles flexing in her buttocks. *Nice*, she thought to herself, then strode out of the water at a leisurely pace and loped easily across the grass, catching up to Gabrielle effortlessly and grabbing her.

Gabrielle squirmed, giggling, trying to escape. She was still wet and slippery, but Xena kept her grip, then suddenly picked Gabrielle up and slung her over her shoulder. "Is *this* what you want, Gabrielle?" she asked in a teasingly husky voice.

"I almost got away!" protested Gabrielle, changing the subject.

"Only because I was enjoying watching you run," replied Xena, depositing her blushing burden on the grass near the tree where their gear was stashed. "You have the cutest little dimple . . . right *here*" she added as she pinched Gabrielle's bottom.

Embarrassed by that remark and by her lover's hungry scrutiny, Gabrielle squirmed all the more, as Xena pulled her arms above her head and held them down. "You know, Gabrielle," she said silkily; "you don't seem to want to hold still, and I'd really like the use of both my hands." Before Gabrielle knew what was happening, Xena had embedded her chakram halfway in the ground above Gabrielle's head, and was tying her hands to it with the sash from her borrowed outfit. "That's better," said Xena with satisfaction.

Gabrielle tested the bonds; they were comfortable around her wrists, but she wasn't going anywhere unless she got up and pulled the chakram up with her. Fortunately, she wasn't interested in going anywhere. Xena bent down and kissed her hard, plunging her tongue deeply into Gabrielle's mouth. Gabrielle sucked on it just as hard, feeling both aroused by the light bonds and entirely safe in Xena's control.

Xena paused. "Gabrielle, are you sure you want this?"

"Yes, Xena. I do."

"You know that . . . "

" . . . if there's anything I don't want or don't like, I can tell you to stop," finished Gabrielle.

"Yeah. That's important," said Xena, and Gabrielle nodded.

Xena gazed at Gabrielle, a wicked glint in her eyes. "You know," she said, "I still owe you one after that Bacchaie bite you gave me." She bent down and sunk her teeth into Gabrielle's breast. Gabrielle noted that it was a spot that would be covered by her bodice. Xena's teeth pressed harder, and she began to suck on the soft flesh. Gabrielle tensed up momentarily, then melted against the soft grass, while the sensations pulsed straight from her breast to her center. Xena seemed to pause a moment in her ministrations, but when Gabrielle moaned in delight, she continued. "Do you like that?" she asked nodding toward the purpling bruise.

"Yes!" breathed Gabrielle.

Xena then proceeded to lavish rough attention on her lover's body, biting her way down Gabrielle's upper arms, teasing the sensitive skin; kissing Gabrielle hard, and biting on her full lower lip; sucking on her nipples and grazing them with her teeth; squeezing handfuls of breast and twirling
the nipples between her fingers; nipping her way down Gabrielle's stomach; twisting the reddish curls around her finger and giving them light tugs; sinking her teeth into the swelling inner thighs and tracing tantalizing circles with her tongue. Gabrielle's breathing got faster and she writhed slightly in rhythm with Xena's touch. "Oh please, Xena, don't stop!" she cried.

"Well, I think it's your turn to do something for me," replied Xena coolly, while smiling down at Gabrielle with a warmth she couldn't hide.

"Anything, Xena!"

"That's what I was hoping I'd hear," said the warrior. She maneuvered herself so her knees straddled her lover's face, lowering herself with exquisite control to the right spot. Gabrielle planted a kiss on her clitoris, then began drawing tight circles with her tongue. "Oh yes, Gabrielle! That's good! Harder, now!" Gabrielle obligingly lapped in broad strokes, and Xena whooped in climax. In a frenzy, she devoured her lover's mouth, tasting herself on Gabrielle's lips and tongue.

She settled herself between Gabrielle's parted legs, and casually spread Gabrielle's lips with a possessive confidence. She began teasing Gabrielle's throbbing clitoris with infuriatingly light touches. "You're pretty wet," Xena remarked. "You must be liking this."

"I am!" gasped Gabrielle. "Please . . . I want you to possess me . . . all the way . . . body and soul . . . inside and out."

Xena looked at Gabrielle, a dangerous gleam flashing in her eyes. "That can be arranged," she said quietly, and Gabrielle shivered all over from the electric caress of that voice. Xena rummaged in their travel bag, taking out a vial of the oil she and Gabrielle used for massaging sore muscles. As she poured some in her hand, she murmured in a low voice, "Gabrielle, I'm going to put my whole hand inside you, if you want it. I'll reach inside you, and hold you, and take all you can give me."

"Ohhh, yes, Xena!" sighed Gabrielle, feeling herself contract inside at Xena's words alone.

Xena slowly slid two fingers inside Gabrielle. She moved them in and out, smiling to herself when Gabrielle rocked her hips, wanting more. Xena added a third finger, and Gabrielle moaned, so Xena added a fourth, gently stretching the opening. With her other thumb, she stroked Gabrielle's
clitoris, while Gabrielle writhed with desire. Then she brought her fingers and thumb together in a wedge and began slowly pushing inside.

"Oh, Xena, I need you!" cried Gabrielle.

"I need you, too, Gabrielle," replied Xena. "Don't you ever doubt that."

As she pressed farther, she noted, "This might hurt a bit. I'll be as gentle as I can."

"Just . . . don't . . . stop!" exclaimed Gabrielle, between breaths.

Xena used a finger to help stretch the opening, and then poured more oil on her hand. She eased her knuckles past the tight ring of muscle, her fingers curling into a fist inside. She didn't move, but asked, "Are you OK?"

"Oh, am I OK!" answered Gabrielle. "That feels amazing, Xena! You're all the way inside me. I feel like we're sealed together."

"We are," said Xena. She looked at her lover, her hands still tied above her head, her body filmed with a light sheen of sweat, her hair tangled and spread out across the grass, and her legs wide with a wrist disappearing inside her. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle. And so tight around my hand.
You're mine, aren't you? All mine."

"All yours," Gabrielle affirmed.

Xena began slowly rocking her hand inside Gabrielle, marvelling at the slippery heat that enclosed it. Her wrist was practically gripped by powerful muscles, and she was suffused with a feeling that that was where she belonged, that wherever she was with Gabrielle was home.

Gabrielle closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the sensations. Waves of pleasure crashed through her, the glorious pressure pulsing through her legs to her toes, and her stomach, and down her arms into her tingling fingers. "More, please!" she begged.

Xena began sliding her hand back and forth, and the feeling was so intense that Gabrielle exploded in a thrashing climax. As she began to relax, her body still slightly convulsing, Xena began carefully rotating her wrist slowly back and forth, while stroking her lover's clitoris firmly with her other thumb. Gabrielle arched her back and moaned, gasping, "So close . . . never felt so close to you... "

"I know," marvelled Xena. "I feel like I'm holding your heart in my hand."

"You ARE!" yelled Gabrielle, as another orgasm rushed through her. She contracted so violently she pushed Xena's hand out, and they both felt a momentary sense of loss at the breaking of the connection. But Xena quickly untied Gabrielle's hands and pulled her into her arms, and they
clung together, Xena murmuring how much she loved Gabrielle, until Gabrielle, exhausted from her imprisonment, and from her recent exertions, fell asleep, her head pillowed on Xena's breast.

When she awoke from her doze, she noticed that Xena looked troubled. She was frowning slightly, a worried look on her face. "What's up?" asked Gabrielle.

Xena stroked a finger down Gabrielle's cheek. "I love you so much, Gabrielle. But I'm really afraid of giving into my desire to possess you, to bring out that side of myself with you. I worry . . . I'll take too much . . . swamp you somehow."

"Xena!" protested Gabrielle. "You have to trust me. You have to trust that I know what I want. Don't you think I'm strong enough to stay myself *and* belong to you? This *is* myself--I belong with you. I've known that from the start, even though I've made some huge mistakes along the way..."

"We both have," said Xena gently, with a rueful smile.

Gabrielle nodded; they were both thinking of Xena's temporary infatuation with Ulysses and Gabrielle's ill-fated marriage to Perdicus.

"Yes, we both have," said Gabrielle. "But that's history now. I'm sure we have plenty of mistakes to make in the future to worry about."

"Probably," laughed Xena.

"And I'm not going to stop thinking or lose myself in being yours. I'll still tell you when I disagree with you. We know we're not always going to have the same idea about what's the right thing to do, and I'm still going to speak up."

"I can't wait," remarked Xena, with a half-smile. "I'm kidding, Gabrielle. No, I won't always agree with you about what to do, but I need you to tell me anyway. You show me things I can't always see in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes my 'Destroyer of Nations' reflexes still get the better
of me. I need you to show me there's another way, even if I don't always take it."

"Well," said Gabrielle. "What I'd like to show you *now* is more of just how much I want to give myself to you--and . . . what you did to me today--I'd like to do that to you some time. I love you, and I want to make you feel as good as you made me feel, Xena."

"I love you too, Gabrielle, and I'm all yours as much as you're mine," said Xena, lying back, and offering herself up to her lover.

The End

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