Disclaimer: The usual stuff about MCA/Universal and ownership of the all things Xena. This story was specifically written at Sue's request for GabTBard's birthday. For those of you who had to watch the episode A COMEDY OF EROS without the subtext chip- I feel for you. Here is how the episode played out on my set- from the point where Bliss' arrow strikes Gabrielle.
For GabTBard on her 21st Birthday
FAN FICTION COVER:
The graphic below is a fan fiction cover for this story created by Barron Chugg. To view a larger version of the cover or read 'Barron's Comments' about this story, please click on the graphic.
"Stop moving, you're making the ropes tighter!" Gabrielle said as clearly as she could. Joxer however, unable to understand her words due to the gag in her mouth struggled all the more. She tried explaining again, more slowly this time, when her eyes found a familiar sight.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted, eyes brightening at the sight of her friend as she walked through the temple doors with Draco.
Xena looked at Draco wryly, the lust she felt for the dark warlord evident in her eyes. "Hey," Draco said with a shrug, "at least I didn't kill them."
Baby Bliss gazed down as the warrior crossed the square to the stake where her friends had been tied. With a giggle he pulled the string on his father's tiny bow and let the dart fly. He giggled happily to himself as the dart struck the strawberry blond in her ugly green top. Clapping his hands, the cherub vanished.
Gabrielle flinched as an unusual tingling surged through her body. Xena had just freed her hands and it felt as if time stood still as she turned around to look for her friend. "Xena?" she called as she turned to the space the warrior had just occupied.
"Gabrielle," Xena replied as she freed Joxer from his ropes. Gabrielle turned back around as Xena shoved the warrior wanna-be out of her way. "Are you alright?" Xena asked as Gabrielle looked up at her.
Gabrielle was stunned. Standing there looking up at Xena, it all became so clear. She loved the warrior with every fiber of her being, not just as the closest friend she'd ever had but with a vibrant passion that made her blood sing. "Alright?" she asked dreamily, gazing with unabashed adoration into Xena's sapphire blue eyes.
"Yeah, are you alright?" Xena asked again looking at the bard with a puzzled expression thinking to herself that Gabrielle didn't look quite right.
"Perfect," Gabrielle purred as she traced Xena's jaw line with a gentle finger. Joxer watched the exchange, confused. Xena mirrored his expression as she looked down at her friend.
"Great," Xena replied hurriedly, "keep an eye on Joxer until Draco and I get back." With that Xena turned and headed after quarry.
"Anything you want, Xena," Gabrielle murmured as she watched her friend depart.
"Hey Gabby, you feeling alright?" Joxer asked, her sudden change in behavior obvious even to the inept warrior.
"Never better," Gabrielle replied with a smile. "Come with me," she said and headed for the park near the temple.
"Where are we going?" Joxer asked as he tagged along.
"Someplace quiet. I feel very inspired all of the sudden."
"Gee Gabby I didn't know you were into this stuff," Joxer said taking a deep breath.
"I'm a bard, a healthy imagination and adventurous spirit is part of the job," Gabrielle replied smoothly.
"But this... is so... so..."
"Oh, no. You're not done yet. Finish it Joxer," Gabrielle demanded authoritatively.
The warrior wanna-be swallowed nervously and looked back down to the scroll he'd been reading. Clearing his throat he continued to read out loud. "And with the treaty in hand Xena and Gabrielle left Lothar's palace heading into the morning sun for the kingdom of Kaltor. What the warrior princess did not know was that several mementos from Lothar's twisted kingdom made their way into Argo's saddle bags for the lovers' further adventures." Joxer let out a long sigh as he finished. Stunned that Gabrielle would put such an intimate story to paper, and even more stunned that she made him read it, he didn't know quite what to say. "Er... when did that happen?" He finally asked.
"What, that? Oh it hasn't," Gabrielle explained. "Yet," she added under her breath. "It's something I made up just now."
"Oh," Joxer said, beginning to see the bard in a whole new light. "The Binds That Tie is a catchy title," he offered feeling that he should comment on something specific to the story.
"Yeah," Gabrielle agreed. "I like it too."
"Well if you want, I could tie you up," he offered gamely.
"Not in this lifetime," Gabrielle replied as she dismissed the comment, her thoughts centered on the warrior princess.
Joxer was about to stand up when he glanced down at the front of his breeches. Embarrassed, he realized he needed to get Gabrielle away for a few minutes while he could get his own rampant hormones under control. "Ah, Gabby- could you get me some water?" He asked hopefully.
"Get it yourself," she replied as she sat down to pen another story.
"Okay," he agreed, "come to think of it, I think I heard Xena by the lake."
Gabrielle's head snapped up. Joxer had uttered the magic word. "No, sit. Take a load off," she urged as she jumped to her feet and grabbed the water skin. "I'll be right back."
Gabrielle hurried to the shore of the lake hoping for any sign of the gorgeous warrior. Her boots skidded to a stop when she saw that her prayers had been answered. Xena was there, submerged in lake water up to her neck. "Xena, what are you doing?" Gabrielle asked imprinting every detail of the warrior's face to memory.
"Joxer's advice about sitting in a cold lake, I'm taking it," Xena replied, her voice grim.
Gabrielle smiled invitingly at her friend. "I can think of better ways to burn off that passionate energy," she said flirtatiously.
Xena stared wide-eyed at her friend unsure if she'd just heard the bard correctly. Gabrielle shifted her weight from one foot to the other moving her hips in a suggestive manner not lost on the warrior. "Gabrielle, what's gotten into you?" Xena asked as she marched out of the lake.
With a huge smile on her face, Gabrielle gazed at the rivulets of water streaming off of her friend's body and leathers. "Gods, Xena," she murmured. "You look incredible in wet leather." She shrugged. "Or any kind of leather," she added. "Face it, Xena, you were made to wear leather."
Xena shook her head in disbelief as she reached the shore. "Gabrielle what's this about?" The concern in her voice was genuine. She'd never seen her friend exhibit this sort of wanton aggression before.
"I love you, Xena, it's as simple as that," the bard replied calmly.
Xena looked around uncomfortably, "yeah, well I love you too. You know that."
"No, Xena," Gabrielle disagreed shaking her head. "Not like that. Not like friends. The heat you feel for Draco right now, I feel the same way about you."
"This is crazy," Xena sputtered. "For one thing we're both women..."
Gabrielle laughed in spite of herself. Xena was positively adorable when cornered. "Love is blind, Xena. It has nothing to do with gender," Gabrielle paused for a moment looking thoughtful. "Love is blind, humm, I should write that down. Anyway I don't see why one's plumbing should matter. Besides, deep down, I know you feel the same way about me."
"I... I..." Xena stammered, the bard's words hitting her in a rush. "You're mistaken Gabrielle," she said as gently as she could. "I'm in love with Draco."
"For now, maybe," Gabrielle allowed with a shrug. "But in time I think you'll realize that I'm the one you've wanted all along. Xena, it's all so clear to me now. The looks, the touches. You might not have known it, but on some level you've been trying to seduce me since we met."
"That's crazy," Xena shot back, torn by the conflicting signals coursing through her.
"If I'm so wrong, why aren't you rutting with Draco right now?" Gabrielle asked with a sensual smile. "I'll tell you why, it's because deep down you know I can do more for you than that blood thirsty warlord ever could."
Xena's eyes narrowed at the jibe. "Draco isn't like that. He's learned that giving up the darkness isn't the end- it's the beginning of something better." Their argument was cut short by a commotion by the temple accompanied by the sound of a bell ringing in the distance. "The temple," Xena said, as she hurried towards the sound.
"I thought you'd said he'd changed," Gabrielle muttered as she ran after her love.
"You said you weren't going to do this!" Xena pleaded as she ran up to Draco. While it devastated Gabrielle to see her love pleading with one who was obviously so wrong for her she could well imagine the pain the warrior must be feeling. As the dark warlord gleefully rang the bell Gabrielle ached for Xena. A tiny cherub materialized in the air behind her and watched the scene with interest.
"You're not going to mess this up for me Xena!" Draco shouted as he knocked the warrior princess to the ground. He drew his sword just as Bliss fired, flinching from the impact as the dart found it's mark. Gabrielle rushed between the two, holding her staff defensively as Xena got to her feet.
"What are you doing?!" the bard demanded of the angry warlord. "She loves you!" It was said as an accusation, her rage fueled from unrequited passion.
Draco gazed at Gabrielle the love he felt making his heart sing. "It's true," Xena was saying although he scarcely heard it. "I do love you."
"It's too late for that Xena," he said never taking his eyes from the radiant face before him. "I've found the woman I want, and it's her."
Gabrielle blinked, shocked at what she'd just heard. Xena was just as surprised. "You want her, over me?!" Xena demanded genuinely hurt by the warlord's rejection.
"You're crazy," Gabrielle agreed, her passion for Xena encouraged by the warlord's flakiness.
"You can't want her!" Xena continued wanting to spare Draco the inevitable heartache. "Just between you and me she's a little..." She made a motion with her hand to illustrate her point. "Draco, you're not her type."
"You can say that again," Gabrielle agreed as Draco grabbed her arm.
"You're not getting Gabrielle," Xena insisted. "And you're not taking the women!"
Reflexively the bard struck the amorous warlord with her staff as Xena pushed her forward. "Everyone in the temple!" She shouted as she began to round up the Hestian virgins.
Draco grinned as he advanced on Gabrielle. She was indeed the woman of his dreams, spirited, defiant and beautiful. "You're quite a spitfire," he commented as he grabbed for her again. Gabrielle deftly stepped away from his grasp, striking him soundly across the jaw with her staff. Draco reeled from the blow, rebounding with a more determined glint to his eyes. "So the cat has claws," he observed hoping she was just as spirited in bed. Gabrielle landed a final blow and was able to run for the temple with the others.
Once inside she hoped for the opportunity to show Xena just how good they would be together. Her amorous thoughts came to a crashing halt when she heard Joxer screaming outside the temple. Keep an eye on Joxer, Xena's words came back to haunt her. Unwilling to compromise on a request made by her love Gabrielle charged out of the temple after the warrior wanna-be, straight into the arms of Draco.
Xena looked around for her friend, her anger boiling to the surface when she saw the dark warlord riding off with her bard in his arms. "My bard?" she wondered to herself as she threw open the temple door. "Where did that come from?" Several arrows sped her way, missing her by inches. She slammed the temple door closed taking out some of her frustration on the sturdy wooden door. "This love stuff is such a pain," she grumbled as she ran to check on the others.
"Look," Gabrielle warned, "You'd better keep your hands off me." Draco looked down at the angry bard, took a pull from his wine goblet and laughed. Furious Gabrielle ran straight at the warlord butting him in the solar plexus with her head. "Ow," she said staggering back, her head dizzy from the impact.
"See, I told you," Draco beamed proudly. "Hard as a rock."
"Yeah, like your head," the bard quipped.
"What did you say?" Draco asked, a hint of danger threading his voice.
Gabrielle laughed casually, trying to mask her nervousness. "I was agreeing, like you said."
"Good," he commented, putting a large hand on each of her shoulders. "Keep agreeing with me and we'll get along just fine."
Gabrielle looked around the tent, searching for something to distract the amorous warlord. "I don't see how Xena can love him," she thought bitterly to herself. Thoughts of Xena once again filling her head, her eyes landed on a tray of food. "Cherries!" she exclaimed. "I love cherries." She hurried over, absently noting a discarded banana peel in the corner and popped one of the succulent fruits into her mouth. As she rolled the cherry around her mouth with her tongue, she couldn't help but envision the stoic warrior princess writhing in her passionate embrace.
"So do I," Draco commented with a suggestive leer as the bard consumed a second cherry. Annoyed that the warlord had intruded on thoughts of her warrior, she tried another tactic.
"Did I mention that I'm a widow?" she asked, hoping to dash at least some of his fantasies.
"Good," he replied, "saves me from having to kill your husband." With a chuckle he casually reclined on the pile of pillows where Gabrielle sat. He touched her shoulder then instantly fell backwards as the bard's elbow connected solidly with his nose. Quickly standing, Gabrielle moved to the middle of the tent. Draco laughed, impressed again at the young woman's spirit.
"I... I didn't want to say this before, because I didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I can't love you. I'm in love with someone else," Gabrielle said, hoping against hope that Draco would respond to honesty. As soon as the words were out, however, she realized that with a warlord, honesty is not always the best policy.
"Who is he?" Draco demanded. "I'll kill him."
"You don't really think I'm going to tell you, now do you?" Gabrielle asked, amazed the warlord would think her that stupid.
"You can tell me," Draco urged. "Whoever he is, I promise not to hurt him. Even my enemies know me as a man of my word."
"Sorry, no deal," Gabrielle replied calmly.
He frowned at her then smiled, remembering her fleeing the safety of the temple to rush to Joxer's aid. "It's that pipsqueak Joxer, isn't it?" the warlord demanded.
"Joxer?" the bard shot back incredulous. "Give me some credit. You've got to be kidding."
Draco smiled, "I knew it was him. You may be a wonderful bard, Gabrielle, but you're not a very good actress. I think you're overdoing the surprise and shock stuff."
"Trust me," the bard replied, "this shock, surprise and humiliation is quite real. Besides, even if it were Joxer," she continued, the words leaving a sour taste in her mouth, "you just promised not to hurt him."
Draco moved closer and smiled. "Oh, I won't hurt him, Gabrielle. I'll cut off his head so fast, he won't feel a thing," he said, turning on his heel and leaving the tent.
Joxer struggled against the ropes that held him tied to a pole in the middle of the tent. Straining, he pushed with all his might against the bindings. The ropes didn't budge, making the warrior wanna-be feel foolish and helpless. "Concentrate!" he told himself, "go for the warrior battle lust." He tried again, and to his complete amazement, the ropes came loose. Beaming with pride, his elation was dashed as Xena moved from behind to his field of view. "Xena," he commented without enthusiasm. There was something about the warrior princess that occasionally made Joxer wish he'd been born a woman. If they were strong and powerful like Xena, they were amazing and if they weren't, like Gabrielle, they were still amazing. Men didn't seem to have that luck. If they were strong and powerful like Draco they were taken seriously, and if they weren't, they followed orders.
"Yeah, it's me. You alright?" Xena asked as she glanced around the tent.
"I'm fine, but it's Gabrielle I'm worried about. So help me if Draco lays a hand on her, I'll kill him."
"Oh, great. Now you've got it too."
"Got what?" he asked, looking dubiously at the warrior.
"This love thing that's going around. I get it, then Gabrielle, Draco and now you," she said flipping a dagger in her hand as she paced the small tent.
"Draco has Gabrielle right now," Joxer insisted. "We've got to help her-" he said trying to push past Xena.
"Hold it," the warrior demanded as she stopped him. "Gabrielle is safe as long as Draco is in love with her. It's you I'm worried about."
"Why?" the warrior wanna-be asked.
Xena rolled her eyes at the obvious reason. "Because you can't seem to stay out of trouble." She flipped the dagger a couple of more times, thinking. "There has to be some connection. None of it makes sense, there's such a randomness to the lust that's plaguing everyone."
"Aphrodite?" Joxer offered, remembering with a smile his encounter with the goddess."
Xena shook her head. "That's what I thought at first, but where's the vanity? No this is different, almost like a child's game." Her eyes brightened making a connection. "That's it!"
"What?" Joxer asked.
His question went unanswered for the moment as warrior and wanna-be heard voices addressing Draco coming from outside the tent. With a quick glance to each other they prepared for the warlord's eminent arrival.
Gabrielle clutched the heavy vase in her hands as she waited to the side of the tent entrance. Draco would be back soon and she was not about to surrender to the arrogant warlord without a fight. Xena had her heart and she was not about to let Draco take her body. Sensing someone's approach she brought the narrow vase down with all her might, only to have it caught by Xena and pulled from her grasp. "Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed in delight. Without thought she leaned up and pulled the warrior's face in for a searing kiss. Xena was too startled to protest as the bard's sensuous mouth moved seductively against her own. It was only when her pent up lust for Draco began to surface and she felt herself beginning to respond as she envisioned the dark warlord, Xena pulled back with a gasp.
"Gabrielle!" she admonished as she held the voracious bard away from her body.
"There's more where that came from, Xena," Gabrielle purred. "Admit it, you want it as badly as I do. This Draco thing is just a phase, it'll pass." Turning her head she kissed Xena's hands and arms, what ever warrior flesh was in range.
"Let's get out of here," Xena said, giving up on any attempt to reason with the lust driven bard.
Stealing silently from the tent Xena led Gabrielle the short distance to where Argo waited patiently for the warrior's return. "Where's Joxer?" Gabrielle asked, watching her friend intently as she gracefully vaulted to the horse's back.
"I sent him on a mission," Xena answered extending her hand to the bard. "He'll meet us back at the temple."
Gabrielle nodded as she settled herself behind her friend. As her arms went around Xena's muscular torso a sensual smile eased across sensuous lips. "Gods, I love your body," she commented as the warrior urged Argo away from the warlords encampment. "Strong, yet soft," she continued huskily.
"Gabrielle, please!" Xena exclaimed with some surprise as she moved the bard's hand from her thigh back to her waist.
"No need to beg, my princess," Gabrielle murmured with a light chuckle. "Yet."
The ride to the Hestian temple continued in the same fashion. The bard exploring whatever anatomy of the warrior she could reach, Xena protesting and making forceful adjustments to the bard's wandering hands. In fact, Xena was amazed that Gabrielle could hold on with one arm at full gallop and still explore so fully with the other.
When they stopped, Xena quickly dismounted, Gabrielle following behind. Xena looked around searching for some way to stall the handsome warlord before Joxer arrived, hopefully, with help. Gabrielle stood next to Argo, her hand experimentally touching the war horse's saddle. Her lips eased into a wide grin when her fingers encountered a slight dampness from where her friend had been sitting. Xena could deny it for all she was worth, but Gabrielle knew she was having an effect on the warrior's body, if not the warrior herself.
Suddenly Xena's eyes lit up, something that almost caused the bard to faint. "I've got an idea. Draco said he was capturing the virgins for the slaver Pinullus, perhaps there is a way we can sour the deal," Xena said as she began to remove Argo's saddle bags. "Grab some parchment and a quill, Draco has a letter to write."
Gabrielle smiled at the determined expression on Xena's face as she wrote. She chose her words carefully using battle trained discipline to think about how the warlord spoke without letting her lustful imagination get the better of her. "I think that should do it," the warrior commented as she sealed the note. She stood gracefully and handed the note to one of the temple runners. After giving the young lad very specific instructions she turned to face the bard once again and took a deep breath. "Okay, now for phase two."
The bard had almost finished dressing in her ceremonial amazon garb as Xena approached. Looking wary, like she was traveling through hostile territory Xena reached out and helped the bard with the various clasps and buckles to the amazon regalia. Taking care to touch Gabrielle's flesh as little as possible, Xena hoped once again that Joxer was brighter than he looked. If the warrior wanna-be took much longer, she was going to be in deep trouble indeed.
"Your hands are warm," Gabrielle commented casually as the Warriors fingers briefly came in contact with her skin.
"Yeah, well healthy circulation," Xena replied, brushing off the comment.
"I don't doubt it," Gabrielle murmured under her breath.
Xena heard the comment but chose to ignore it. Finally there was only one buckle left, the thin ceremonial belt that went around the bard's muscular waist. "I think you can get that," Xena said as she took a step away from her friend.
Facing the warrior Gabrielle took a step forward. "I don't think so," she said with a slight hint of challenge in her voice. "You're not afraid of me. Are you Xena?"
Xena smirked, and looking down at her friend eased her hands around the bard's waist. "No, Gabrielle, I'm not afraid of you. You're just not yourself, that's all."
"Oh, I'm very much myself, Xena," Gabrielle replied as she eased her hands up the warrior's arms to armored shoulders. "You're a very desirable woman, Xena. What makes you think I'd be immune to that?"
"Gabrielle," Xena protested as she fumbled with the belt clasp, "don't be ridiculous. You really know me..."
"Trust me, Xena," the bard cut her off, "it's the 'knowing you' that makes me desire you all the more." She leaned in, giving Xena easier access to the belt. The warrior forced her fingers to move, to close the delicate clasp as she felt the bard's lips warm and tender against her throat. As much as she burned for Draco, Xena did not want to release Gabrielle from her embrace. She sighed as she felt the bard's lips move down her neck. She was about to move, to claim those soft lips as her own when Draco's voice from outside diverted her attention.
"I want the virgins Xena, and Gabrielle," Draco demanded. "I love her."
"Well ain't love a bitch," Xena shot back acidly.
"You're going to give me what I want Xena, or I'll burn this temple to the ground," the warlord bellowed.
"You would kill the woman you love?" Xena demanded, unable to believe the man she loved would be capable of such pointless destruction.
"The question is, Xena," Draco replied calmly, "would you?" He smiled as Xena opened and closed her mouth several times, unable to reply. "You're not fooling anyone Xena," the warlord continued. "I'm not the first warlord to notice how you look at Gabrielle. I could tell years ago that she had your heart. You're not about to let anything happen to her."
"Gabrielle isn't the one for you, Draco," Xena replied simply, "I am." She shook her head doing her best to appear defeated. "Fine, take them." With that she threw open the doors to the temple.
"You would do that?" He asked, amazed, "willingly turn over the one you really love?"
"To save her, yes," Xena choked, knowing in her heart that she meant it.
Without missing a beat Draco began to bark orders to his men. "Take them," he bellowed, "and they'd better be virgins when you round them up or it's your heads."
"You'd better believe it," Pinullus remarked from his large warhorse as he rode into the square.
"What are you doing here?" Draco demanded.
"I got your note, and I came as soon as I could," Pinullus replied as he watched Draco's men heard the virgins to the square. "An amazon princess is a nice way to sweeten the deal." His eyes roamed over Xena approvingly.
"I never wrote any note," Draco sputtered. "And she's no amazon."
"Draco, now is no time to welch on a deal. Just because you want the princess for yourself," Xena interjected.
"This note thing is Xena's doing, there is no amazon princess," Draco insisted.
"Then what is she?" Xena challenged as Gabrielle was dragged from the temple.
"Magnificent," Pinullus murmured.
"No!" Draco roared in fury, "Gabrielle is MINE!" He drew his sword and held it menacingly in front of his body, daring Pinullus to move.
"Xena was right, you are trying to welch on a deal," the slaver spat as he slid from his mount and rushed to engage the warlord. Xena used the distraction to knock the first two guards near the virgins unconscious.
"Move!" She urged, pushing Gabrielle in the direction of the liberated virgins. "Take them to the cave." Xena's mind flowed into the familiar patterns of battle. Attack, defend, parry, strike. Her body moved instinctively in the patterns etched by years upon years of practice. She didn't bother to count the men she either disarmed or killed, the numbers having lost their significance years ago. The minutes passed and the adversaries dwindled. She noticed several guards rushing back to the temple fleeing, it seemed the Hestian virgins. Draco was knocked down and she obeyed the command of her heart. Flipping in a graceful arc she landed near her love, blocking Pinullus' sword from delivering a killing blow. "Didn't your mother tell you it's not nice to hit a man when he's down?" She growled, as Draco regained his footing.
Xena turned her head to see Gabrielle run after the virgins and follow them inside the temple. Draco saw it too and with a valiant kick, knocked Pinullus to the ground. In an instant he was following the bard inside. Xena raced after the warlord, stopping him shortly after he entered the building.
"Draco," she pleaded, fighting the urge to touch his dark features. "What you feel may seem real, but it isn't. This is the work of the gods."
Draco laughed, stinging Xena with his rejection. "You'd say anything to have me, wouldn't you? It won't work. I don't want you, I want Gabrielle and you're not going to change my mind."
Like being struck with a quarterstaff, it dawned on Xena how truly misplaced her love was. While it didn't make her lust for the warlord burn any less brightly, it did add an element of anger to her misplaced feelings. "You're right, you can't change the one you love. But think about it Draco, could Gabrielle ever really love a warlord?" While her words were directed at the muscular killer, her own thoughts reverberated inward, to herself. "Gabrielle is kind, loving. Her soul shines with a goodness you will never understand. What makes you think for a second she could love someone who inflicts pain and suffering on others. You can't change her Draco, if you really want her, you'll have to change yourself."
"Like you I suppose?" He asked acidly as he turned to go.
Xena waited until he was gone before replying. "I wish," she whispered softly.
Gabrielle looked at Joxer with utter disbelief. "What?!" she asked shocked as much as she was appalled.
"...a love greater than any mortal has ever known," he repeated as he tired to draw her close once again.
What's wrong with him! She wondered. Sure she'd hugged him when he'd run into her but it was from relief that he was all right. Xena hadn't discharged her from her obligation to watch out for the imbicle after all. Gabrielle looked over at Xena, confusion evident on her features.
"No, that one's for real," Xena commented to some unseen force.
Gabrielle saw the sorrow evident on the warrior's features even as she felt a slight pulsing at her forehead. "What the..." she stammered as she felt dizzy for a moment. She blinked her eyes and looked at Xena again. Something had changed, something subtle. She no longer felt consumed by the raging lust that dominated her psyche since mid morning. Still the memory lingered as well as the clarity of her feelings, while not blindingly so- Xena was still magnificent.
"Gabrielle, there you are," Draco said as he rushed in, shoving the warrior wanna-be out of the way. "I have something to tell you."
Gabrielle stared in stunned silence as the dark warlord dropped to one knee and pledged his undying devotion and determination to change. While uncertain how to respond to his vows to kill only the aged and livestock, she could wholeheartedly support aggression solely directed at other marauders. She nodded in what she hoped was an encouraging fashion.
"No," Xena commented softly, "love suites him." This time Gabrielle saw the presence her friend addressed. Cupid, the god love stood at her shoulder, his hand inches from Draco's forehead. With a final declaration of undying passion he kissed her hands and left the temple, knocking Pinullus to the floor on his way out. In moments the god vanished.
"What was that all about?" Gabrielle asked as she and Xena made their way around the prone slaver to the sunshine outside.
"Cupid's son Bliss had a field day with his father's arrows. He's undoing the damage."
"So we were all under a spell?" the bard asked as Joxer joined them outside.
Xena glanced at the heart broken young man and felt her own sadness mirrored in his devastated face. "I would appear so," she said flatly. "Let's find a place to set up camp."
Sitting around the campfire, Gabrielle felt like a fool. While Cupid may have removed the blinding lust the memories of the day were quite clear. Trying to make light of her own humiliation she tried joking with Joxer. "Imagine, you in love with me!" she said, oblivious to the pain etched in his young features. "It makes you laugh just to think about it, doesn't it?" she jabbed him playfully on the shoulder. In a way the warrior wanna-be had become like a brother. The clumsy, inept, older brother she'd thankfully never had. With a final pat on the shoulder she got up to gather more fire wood.
"Ha, ha," he replied flatly, when she'd gone, wishing he were dead. Xena looked down into his pathetic face and uncharastically felt for the lad. With her own lust for Draco gone, she was in a position to see the missed opportunity she'd had with the one who already held her heart. "Ah, if you don't mind Xena, I don't think I'll camp with you guys tonight. I think I'd better hang around the temple. Draco may be gone but Pinullus is still in the area."
"Sure, Joxer," Xena agreed. Added guards had been brought in from the neighboring villages once the threat of Draco and Pinullus had materialized, Joxer would be safe. Besides, Xena well understood how difficult being around Gabrielle at the moment would be for him. She was uncomfortable with the prospect of it herself. "I'm sure the Hestian virgins will feel safer with you near by," she added gently and as sincerely as she could.
When the clattering sounds of Joxer's departure vanished into the forest Xena extracted her whetstone and oil from Argo's saddle bag. Sitting with her back against a fallen tree near the fire she began the rhythmic motions of stone moving against forged metal. Xena felt comforted by the repetitive nature of the familiar. The countless hours she'd spent tending to her weapons always provided the warrior with a sense of grounding. Taking care of the tools that would in turn take care of her provided a time to think, and in her days as a warlord, a time to plan. Now, however, it felt to Xena like a time to morn. To late she realized her feelings for her companion even as the spell was removed from Gabrielle's consciousness. "What a mess!" she mused to herself.
"What mess?" Gabrielle asked as she returned to the fire, her arms laden with wood for the fire.
"It's nothing, Gabrielle," Xena murmured and continued with her sharpening.
"Oh," the bard replied as she sat down near her friend. "Where's Joxer?"
Xena nodded in the direction the half-wit had taken. "He went back to town. I think he's planning to protect the virtue of the Hestian virgins for the night."
"Oh," Gabrielle said again, more quietly this time. Unexpectedly alone with Xena, she felt shy and uncertain and very self-conscious. She gazed into the fire wondering why she couldn't feel a definite division between where the spell ended and where her true feelings for the warrior began. To keep the blush from her face, she made an effort to look at the warrior as little as possible as she prepared the evening meal for them both.
Gods she can't even look at me! Xena fumed to herself. She must feel foolish. I don't know what she objects to more, having been attracted to me or having Joxer in love with her? "Feel like telling a story?" the warrior asked gently, hoping to draw her friend from her silence.
Gabrielle's eyes flicked up and touched on Xena's face. Just as quickly she returned them to the stew pot she was stirring. "Since when do you make story requests?" she asked trying to sound as casual as possible.
Xena shrugged. "Well, it's been a long strange day. I just thought you might want to, that's all."
The bard smiled down at the stew pot. "That's very thoughtful of you Xena," she said quietly. "But if you don't mind, I'm not really in a story mood right now. Maybe later, okay?"
Xena grinned at the unexpected response. "Sure, Gabrielle. Whenever you're ready. Is something on your mind?" she asked as the bard filled a small bowl with stew and leaned over to hand it to her. To emphasize her question, Xena gently put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. That startled the bard who dropped the steaming bowl of stew into the warrior's lap. Xena grabbed the bowl and hissed as some of the contents spilled onto her hand and thigh.
"Oh Xena- I'm so sorry!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she grabbed a rag and dabbed at Xena's thigh. Suddenly her eyes went wide as reality crashed in, she was touching the warrior's skin and did not want to stop. Bruskly she put the rag in Xena's hand and stood up. "Here, Xena. Look I'm sorry, I'll be right back." Without further explanation she ran from camp into the woods.
"What was that all about?" Xena wondered aloud as she stood and finished wiping the stew from her body and headed after her friend.
As Xena approached she could see her friend engaged in what appeared to be a debate with a tree. "I know I shouldn't feel this way, Cupid said the spell was removed," she sputtered while quietly walking away from a large cypress. "But gods she's beautiful, the muscles the leather- not to mention thoughtful. Asking for a story was so sweet." She spun on her heel and headed back to the cypress as Xena quickly eased her body back into shadow. "How am I going to explain this? I hate to tell you Xena but that whole thing at the temple made me realize I'm hopelessly in love with you? She'll laugh at me, or worse, think I've gone insane." Gabrielle headed away from the tree once again clenching her fists as a slow smile eased across Xena's face. "Get a grip Gabrielle," she admonished herself, "you can do this. You're a bard, a natural performer. So what if you have to be tortured day and night by her closeness... her scent... the leather. Stop it, Gabrielle, stop it. Just carry on like nothing's happened. It's the only way you'll be able to stay with her..."
Xena didn't hear the rest of the bard's statement because she eased away from the clearing, and headed back to the fire of their camp site. It time Gabrielle returned looking calm and collected. "You alright?" Xena asked, keeping the grin off her face by sheer force of will.
"Yeah, I'm fine," the bard assured her cheerfully. "I don't know why I was so clumsy."
"It's my fault, Gabrielle," Xena chided gently. "I'm the one who startled you- remember?"
"Yeah, I guess you did."
"Funny though," the warrior continued, "I don't recall my touch having ever startled you before?"
Gabrielle swallowed carefully before replying. "No, I suppose it hasn't. I guess I just wasn't expecting it, that's all."
"It happens," Xena agreed as if the incident were all but forgotten. "Warm night," she added conversationally as she started to remove her armor.
The bard forced herself not to stare as Xena stood, and moving near a tree began to disrobe. "Yeah, warm night," she agreed.
Xena turned her head to hide her smile. "I'm still feeling some after effects of Bliss' arrows, are you?" she asked as she deposited the last of her armor on the ground and began loosening the laces of her leathers. "Blast it!" she added in an irritated tone.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked, her concern genuine.
"This lacing is caught on the tree bark, they're new laces, I'd hate to break them," Xena explained.
"Here, let me help," Gabrielle offered as she joined Xena by the tree. "Um, what do you mean by after effects?" she asked as she tried reaching behind the warrior to free the trapped lacing. "You mean you're still hot for Draco?"
Xena laughed which the bard found very distracting. She was too close to Xena's body not to notice the way her breasts moved as she chuckled. "No, I mean, I've always been a little attracted to Draco- I think that's why the spell worked so well on me. But by after effects, I just have some of that pent up... energy. It has nothing to do with him though. What about you?" she asked as she shifted slightly causing the lacing to slip out of the bard's fingers. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Gabrielle replied, reaching for the trapped lacing once again. "Pent up energy? Ah, well, I guess so- Ouch!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she freed the lacing and got a splinter in the process.
"Really?" Xena asked surprised, as she reached for the bards hand. "That's a nasty one," she said of the splinter. "We'd better sit by the fire so I can get it out."
Gabrielle swiftly pulled her hand from the warrior's grasp. Her fingers still tingled from Xena's touch. "It's okay, I'm sure it'll work itself out on it's own."
"Don't be silly," Xena chided, pulling her sewing kit from Argo's saddlebag. "You don't want it to fester. Come here and sit by me."
There was something so genuine and unguarded in the warrior's tone that Gabrielle felt herself helpless to do anything but obey. She sat down next to Xena by the fire, and determined to endure the sweet torture, offered the warrior her hand. Xena took her time locating the splinter, checking each of the bard's fingers carefully. When she found the sore spot, she held the bard's hand gently but firmly and after passing the needle through the flame of the fire began to exhume the splinter. "Funny, I thought I was having after effects because of a genuine attraction I have for Draco. But if you're having it too, it must mean something else," she commented casually as she worked. "Still, the way I responded to Draco, the things I said- I don't suppose it's too far off the mark, considering who I was in my warlord days."
"Yeah, well..." Gabrielle stalled desperately searching for something to say. "Ouch!" she finally exclaimed when Xena extracted the splinter.
"All done," Xena said as she continued to hold the bard's hand, gently massaging her wrist and palm, staying away from the recently tortured finger.
"Ah, Xena..." Gabrielle stammered. "You'd better let go of my hand."
"Why?" the warrior asked softly, looking deeply into gentle green eyes.
"Because..." the bard began and looked away. After taking a deep breath she forced herself to face the warrior once again. "Because I don't think the spell has worn off on me and if you don't let go I may do something you'll regret."
"I've got news for you Gabrielle, there isn't anything you could do that I would regret," Xena said tenderly as she moved her hand to the side of the bard's face, brushing her thumb gently across full lips.
Gabrielle felt the electricity building within her body at the contact, demanding release and expression. "Xena, it isn't the spell..." she whispered fiercely leaning up to claim the warrior's lips.
"I know," was all Xena managed before her mouth was covered by the bard's. Xena closed her eyes and leaned back slightly, drawing the bard into her arms as she returned the hungry kiss. Amazed and delighted that the warrior was responding, Gabrielle grew boulder. Pushing Xena backwards until her back was flat on the ground, Gabrielle shifted until she was on top of the magnificent warrior. When she finally broke for air she looked at Xena and frowned.
"What do you mean 'you know'?" she asked seriously.
Xena panted, her breath taken away from the bard's passionate kiss. She was hungry, desperately hungry as the day's unrequited passion bubbled to the surface. "I overheard your conversation with the cypress tree," the warrior replied unsure how the bard might respond. Xena wouldn't blame her for being angry at the stealthy observation, but an argument was the last thing on her mind right now.
"And that business with the armor and getting your laces stuck, that was part of this?" Gabrielle asked sitting up and moving away from the warrior.
"Actually, no," Xena answered. "To be quite honest, I was trying to devise some sort of plan to seduce you, but getting stuck on that tree and you getting a splinter definitely wasn't it."
"Seduce me?" the bard repeated, her eyes wide with awe. "Xena, what are you saying?"
The warrior took a deep breath and smiled. "What I'm saying is- today you opened my eyes. The things you said to me, that kiss in Draco's tent... even in my blind lust I realized that you were the one who had my heart. That I love you." Quickly Xena kissed the bard's hand that she was still holding before continuing. "When Cupid arrived and removed the spells from everyone I felt devastated. That too late I'd realized how I felt and that I'd have to go on burning for you and not being able to do anything about it. Then, when I heard you in the trees..."
"You decided to do something about it?" Gabrielle offered.
"Yeah," Xena replied, her voice thick with emotion.
"And this isn't a spell, this is how you really feel?" the bard asked just to make sure.
"Yeah," Xena answered with a grin, leaning in for another kiss then stopping abruptly. "That's alright, isn't it?"
"Verrrrrry alright," Gabrielle purred sliding her arm's around the warrior's neck and pulling her close. Free to claim Xena's lips at will, Gabrielle did just that. In fact, even as the sun rose the next morning Xena was still showing the bard her various plans of seduction and Gabrielle was demonstrating to the warrior her latest literary effort-. It does not need to be said but the passion fueled that night burned brightly for many years and they lived happily ever after...
While no cherries were harmed in the writing of this fan fiction, great quantities of water were consumed by the lead characters to off set the dehydration caused by fluids lost in the closing sequence of this story.
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