by Cousin Liz
1997 Jul 30

Chapter 15

Xena rose with a start and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. "They're home." Even though the bard had sworn earlier that she didn't care if her family had walked in on them, she dove for her tunic and frantically scrambled to put it on as Xena did the same.

Lila entered the room moments later. "Brie, haven't you finished making the beds yet?" she asked. The blanket, quilt and pillow of Gabrielle's bed were in a heap on the floor, and Xena and Gabrielle were standing on opposite sides of the bed, straightening the sheet.

"Well sure... that is... it was made, but I decided to give Xena a lesson... on making a proper bed." Gabrielle glanced up from the bed to her sister, wondering if she was buying any of it. "Xena asked me what Mother meant by making a proper bed. I thought it would be easier to show her." Lila glanced at Xena but gave her sister a quizzical look before silently leaving the room. Gabrielle looked to Xena, the same quizzical look mirrored on her face. "Your tunic is on inside-out," Xena whispered.

Gabrielle looked down disbelievingly and shot a look at the door her sister just exited. "Do you think she noticed?"


Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later; the bard's tunic magically right-side out now. Hecuba and Lila were in the kitchen putting groceries away and Gabrielle offered to help while Xena took a seat on one of the benches. "Do you have the nuts?" asked Hecuba, who was gathering ingredients off to one side.

"No... they're not in my bags," Lila said as she reexamined the items before her. "I thought you had them." Both women rechecked their bags and looked at each other. "I thought you bought them," they said in unison. They turned and looked dejectedly to Gabrielle who realized no nuts, no nutbread.

"How could you have forgotten the nuts?! If I had gone with you, we'd have nuts," Gabrielle said a bit indignantly as she looked at her mother, though secretly she knew she would not have traded the morning she spent with Xena for all the nutbread in Greece. She was still unwilling to look her sister in the eye, remembering the bedroom scene. "Now what're we gonna do?"

"You could always make it without nuts," Xena replied, wondering why such a simple answer to such an overblown problem needed to be voiced.

The three women from Poteidaia turned and looked at Xena as if she had just dropped in from a foreign land. "Nutbread without nuts?" Gabrielle looked at Xena absurdly. "Then it wouldn't be nutbread!"

The three women turned from Xena and began to banter amongst themselves for a possible solution, while Xena resumed idly jabbing a long wooden splinter she had pulled from the kitchen table under the nails of her fingers, finding it a might sight less painful than having to sit and listen to them.

"C'mon Xena."


"You're coming with me," the bard said, as she grabbed the warrior's hand and pulled her from the table. "We need nuts." The three women, well really Hecuba, decided that the most expedient thing to do was for Gabrielle to go back to town for the nuts, while Hecuba started mixing the ingredients and Lila got her chores out of the way.

The storm had passed and a few rays of sunlight found the strength to push past the retreating clouds and fall to the earth. Gabrielle paused as they stepped through the doorway, stretching her head up and closing her eyes to greet the radiating warmth. "So, what's this *we* stuff?" Xena asked.

"Well... uh... I didn't think you wanted to be left there with them."


"And what?" Gabrielle felt the warmth of the sun disappear as it was lost behind a cloud. She opened her eyes to be greeted by the face of the cloud. Xena.

"There's more Gabrielle. I can see it in your eyes," Xena said softly, as she hovered over the bard.

"It's Lila... I didn't want her to have a chance to question you about me... about us."

"What do you think I'd tell her?"

"I... I know you wouldn't say anything on purpose." The bard brushed her finger over the back of Xena's hand, being very self- conscious of where they were standing. "It's just that she can be very persuasive when she wants to be. I could never keep a secret from her as a child."

Xena closed her eyes to her love's slight contact, marveling how the simplest of touches could affect her thoughts. She shook her head to clear her mind and looked directly into Gabrielle's eyes, hoping to get her next point across. "You are *not* a child. And up 'til now you've done a fine job of keeping your personal life just that. You're sister isn't dumb though... she knows something is up."

"You don't think she suspects..."

"I don't know what to think. I don't know if she knows two women can... feel the way we do... about each other."

"What am I gonna do?"

"If and when the time comes... you'll deal with it. Right now, let's get those nuts." They walked off in companionable silence. Gabrielle was preoccupied with thoughts of Lila, and didn't notice the slight tensing coming from the warrior. Xena could feel the hairs on the nape of her neck do a little dance. Without taking her eyes from the road, she carefully surveyed their surroundings. They were being watched. This wasn't something new, but the feeling left Xena with a bad taste in her mouth. She didn't feel threatened, but noticed a rather conspiratorial and consciously organized buzz coming from their secretive onlookers. Xena found her hand moving up protectively to linger a hair breadth's away from the bard's lower back as they continued to town.

The weird feeling that Xena had abated as they got closer to town. Oh, they were still being watched. That was something that seemed to dog the warrior wherever she went. But this was the regular kind of staring that she'd almost grown accustomed to. As usual, Xena had decided not to trouble the bard with her thoughts, and soon Gabrielle had pushed aside her own contemplations of a future conversation with her sister, and cheerfully chatted away about town gossip.

As Xena had surmised, it wasn't going to turn out to be a quick trip. There were plenty of shops that Gabrielle just couldn't pass up, and she dragged the warrior into each and every one of them. Xena quietly obliged. How could she not? Her bard's eyes sparkled and her voice sang as she engaged the different shop owners in conversation. 'How can she put up with me? Sometimes I'm the only person she sees for days on end; and I can barely string two words together.' Xena fought to push these dark thoughts down. 'She obviously sees something she likes.' Xena's mind traveled momentarily back to the time spent in the bard's bed. 'I've done my best to send her away on more than one occasion, and each time she fought tooth and nail to stay.

Gabrielle saw the resigned look in Xena's eyes and realized the torture she must have endured all afternoon being dragged all over the market place. 'I must be driving her crazy!' Gabrielle quickly finished her conversation with the merchant and guiltily headed to Xena.

"So," Xena said, as she bent over and picked up the large bag of nuts that was laying at her feet. "Where to now?"

"Home." She gave a sheepish grin as she reached for the nuts.

Xena cradled them in the crook of her arm and shooed the bard's hands away. "C'mon. Your mother is going to kill us for taking so long."


Those strange feelings Xena had on the trip to town were absent on the trip home. This should have relieved the warrior, but it didn't. The opposite was true. The closer to home they got, the quieter it became. Too quiet. Within a mile from home, not a soul was visible. No one in the fields, or out tending the animals, or chopping wood. 'Where is everybody?' Xena could feel the emptiness. It permeated her body. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she was certain she would find the houses empty if she'd had a mind to take a look.

Gabrielle stole a look at Xena. She could feel the warrior's body tense and knew that Xena sensed something that she had not picked up on. "Xena?"

"Where is everybody?" she asked, as she kept her gaze straight ahead.

"What do you..." Gabrielle's eyes darted left, and then right. The silence was deafening.

Xena shifted the bag of nuts into her right arm and placed her leftarm down protectively in front of Gabrielle. "Keep close. And stay alert." Cautiously, they covered the rest of the distance to the house in silence.

Xena placed herself between the front door of the house and Gabrielle. She mentally berated herself for allowing Gabrielle to lead her away earlier without a thought to her leathers or weapons. 'I must be getting soft. This has got to stop. It could cost us our lives.' Xena gave the bag of nuts in her right hand a couple of practice swings. 'Well, I've made use of worse things as weapons...' The feel of Gabrielle's hands lightly resting on her waist and her hot breath tickling the nape of her neck momentarily distracted the warrior. Xena reached behind herself with her left hand and gently pushed the bard away. "I said stay close, but not that close," she whispered. "Give me room to maneuver." Xena reached for the door with her left hand and with a sudden push, swung it open completely, giving her full access to the entire room.


Chapter 16

"!!SURPRISE!!..." The loud chorus from the crowd of people in the house was the last thing the warrior suspected. She was so caught off guard, that she backed up and nearly stumbled over Gabrielle. The bard caught her by the waist and stuck her head out from under the warrior's raised right arm; still poised to strike.

"...!!HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!" Gabrielle's eyes lit up at the number of people gathered before her. She pushed herself past Xena and the crowd of well-wishers immediately enveloped her.

Xena just stood there in the doorway, grasping the frame for support. She slowly became conscious of still holding the bag of nuts in the air, and let it drop to her side. She scanned the room and found Hecuba's eyes, successfully holding her gaze for a moment before she too disappeared amongst the crowd.

"Uncle Cosmo!" Gabrielle exclaimed, as a slight man in his early fifties threw his arms around her and gave her a big hug.

"Hey! You sure have grown since the last time I saw you." He winced at the strength of Gabrielle's return hug.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." Gabrielle had to remind herself she wasn't hugging Xena.

"So, how's the birthday girl? You sure looked surprised!"

"I'm fine. And yeah, this is quite a surprise." 'Especially since it's not my birthday. Not for another full moon that is.' Gabrielle continued to work her way through the crowd of relatives and neighbors, trying to find her mother.


"Well, I see you remembered the nuts," Hecuba replied, as she turned to find Xena standing before her. "Would you take them into the kitchen for me?" Xena nodded in agreement and headed for the kitchen, not surprised to feel Hecuba following her.

Lila was in the kitchen filling a tray with meat and cheese when the two women entered. "Lila. Will you please go help your Aunt Effie serve the food. I'll take care of that." Hecuba quickly ushered her out of the kitchen and turned to meet the warrior's cool gaze.


"I wanted to thank you for bringing her home. I miss her, and I worry about her. After Perdicus... she blamed herself, you know."

Xena knew all too well. She had to repeatedly tell Gabrielle that it was not her fault. Callisto was the one with the sword. She killed him. Even if deep down inside Xena still wondered if there wasn't something she could have done to prevent it. 'If inaction is a crime, then his blood is on my hands.'

Hecuba had not noticed the momentary flinch by the warrior and continued. "She said she'd never allow herself to get that close again, but I know time heals all... and I've made sure to invite a number of nice young men to this party."

Xena slumped onto one of the benches at the kitchen table. 'This is my punishment? To actually have my dream fulfilled, only to have someone try to take it all away?'

"I'm hoping my daughter will take to one of them. It's about time she settles down and has children. The road is no place for a young woman. I'm sure you would agree with me."

The door to the kitchen swung open and Gabrielle entered. "Mother? I -" Gabrielle stopped cold when she realized what she had walked in on. Gabrielle knew it would come to this. She could tell by the look on her mother's face that they were talking about her. And she knew she was going to have to pick sides. Gabrielle silently walked over and took a seat next to Xena, feeling her childhood slipping away for good. She took comfort in the physical contact that their bodies made and looked up at her mother. "It's not my birthday."

"I know. It's not for another full moon, but I wanted to throw you a party. And you know how your father feels about Xena. He would not have allowed her to stay here, and I was afraid because of that you wouldn't stay either. When he informed me that he would be out of town, I decided to have the party now." Hecuba turned and started to busy herself with finishing up the tray that Lila had started. "You should be out there. People are going to start wondering where you got to." Hecuba picked up the tray and left the kitchen, never looking back.

"Soo, what did you two talk about?"

"Oh... just girl talk."

"Yeah. and I bet I know who the *girl* was."

Strong fingers worked their magic on the knot of pain at the back of Gabrielle's neck as the bard allowed her body to slump forward and rest on her folded arms. "Umm... that feels soo good." Gabrielle closed her eyes and let the tension flow from her body. She wasn't sure how Xena knew what she needed, but she was grateful.

After a few minutes, the warrior ran her hand down Gabrielle's back and gave her a couple of light pats. "C'mon, sleepy head. You've got a party waiting for you."

The bard raised her head, blinking the sleep from her eyes. "Do you think they'd notice if we snuck out the back door?" Gabrielle laid her hand on Xena's thigh and quickly snaked her fingers under the warrior's short tunic and slid them between her legs. "I can think of a lot more interesting things I'd rather be doing," the bard grinned, as her fingers found their mark.

"Gabrielle!" Xena extricated the roaming hand and raised an eyebrow at the dejected pout on the bard's face. When Gabrielle's questing mouth found the sensitive pulse point on Xena's neck, the warrior's thighs clenched tight, attempting to quell her quickly growing passion. "You're gonna be the death of me yet! C'mon, let's get this over with." Xena gave her a little bump with her hip to get the bard moving.

"OK, OK. If you insist." Gabrielle paused as she reached to open the door and turned to Xena. "But Mother's up to something. I'm just not sure what yet."

"She loves you, and only wants what's best for you. So do I." Xena reached past Gabrielle and placed her hand against the door, effectively stopping anyone from entering. Bending down, she placed a quick kiss on her cheek. "But you need to decide what that is." Xena pulled the door open while spinning the bard around and gave her a push back out into the party.

Xena would have been content to stay on the fringes and just observe, but Gabrielle had other plans. She tugged on the warrior's arm, and Xena glanced down and caught the look on her friend's face. It was the one that told her she would not only dislike what the bard had in mind, but that she was destined to endure it. "Where do you think you're going?" she whispered into Xena's ear as the warrior tried unsuccessfully to slip away. "I think it's about time I showed you off." Xena quickly found herself being pulled through the crowd by a very animated bard, as she was introduced to *every* relative and friend there.

"Well, I think that went rather well," Gabrielle stated triumphantly.

"You mean there isn't anybody else to say hello to?" Xena asked sarcastically, as she downed the mug of port she had procured earlier.

"Nope. I just wanted to make sure that everybody knows who you're with," the bard replied, as she swallowed the last of her punch. "Especially that group of young men over in the corner. They can't keep their eyes off you!"

"Me?! I think they're simply jealous of the fact that I'm monopolizing all of your time."

"Sure... and that clinging tunic you're wearing that leaves nothing to the imagination has nothing to do with it," Gabrielle replied, as she inadvertently licked her lips.

"Hey, you better watch yourself now."

"I think I could use some more punch," Gabrielle said as she looked down into her empty cup. "I'm suddenly very thirsty." They made their way over to the tables, where Uncle Cosmo had set himself up as bartender.

"What will it be ladies?"

"Two cups of punch, please."

"Make that one cup of punch and another port," the warrior corrected.

"Xena, you really should try the punch," Gabrielle said as she accepted a refill from her Uncle. "Here." She held the cup up to Xena's lips, and the warrior very self-consciously took a sip. "I told you you'd like it. It's Uncle Cosmo's secret recipe." Gabrielle brought the cup to her lips and started to drink.

"Gabrielle." Xena took the cup from the bard and took another sip. "Secret recipe, huh?" she said as she turned to Uncle Cosmo. "Seems like your still must be working overtime."

"You mean there's booze in there?"

"Oh yeah," replied the warrior as she downed the rest of it.

"And all that fruit does a great job of smoothing out the taste," Uncle Cosmo beamed proudly. It took a number of tries before I got the proportions right."

"And how many of these have you had so far?"

"Only two," the bard answered too quickly.

"Gabrielle... you know how you get when you drink."

"OK, OK. I had a half a cup earlier when I was looking for Mother, but I put the cup down for a moment, and then I couldn't find it."

"I think you've had enough then; more than enough." Turning to Uncle Cosmo Xena continued, "Do you have anything non- alcoholic?"

"Well, I've got cider... and some extra fruit juice that I didn't use in the punch."

"Make it a cider," the bard decided. Xena guided Gabrielle over towards the front door; away from most of the guests. "I think I'm going to step out for some fresh air... maybe check up on Argo."

"No. Don't leave," Gabrielle implored, as a look of anger and frustration clouded her features. Xena was glad she had positioned the bard with her back to her guests.

"I'm not leaving you. Just this party."

"Then I'm coming too."

"You can't. You're the guest of honor. Besides, they're your family and friends. And who knows how long it will be before you see them again." Xena reached down and grasped the bard's forearm. "Stay. Enjoy yourself. And keep away from that punch!" Smiling broadly at Gabrielle, she turned and quickly slipped outside.


"But Mother," Lila began to whine. "I've spent the last three candle marks introducing every eligible man here to her. It's not my fault she doesn't even give them a second look." Lila's eyes drifted over to two of the prospective candidates that she felt were especially dreamy. "Each one tried to strike up a conversation with her, but in no time flat Garielle had them disheartenly listening to a tale of Xena."

"I just don't understand her. You'd think the world revolves around that warrior." Hecuba glanced over to where her older daughter was busy restocking her plate. "I don't think she realizes just how lucky she is. After having already been married and *with* a man, it was a miracle I could find these many men still interested in her." Hecuba continued to stare at Gabrielle, her fingers unconciously thrumming her hips as a look of quiet defeat began to overtake her features. 'I'm glad Xena saw fit to leave the party, but what did that accomplish? It's like she never left my daughter's side.'


Chapter 17

Strains of music drifted through the night air. Xena paused from polishing her armor and turned toward the house, listening. The warrior sat motionless on a bale of hay as a vision of Gabrielle and herself dancing played itself out in her mind. 'There won't be too many opportunities like that again,' she sighed. Xena was relieved that she was not at the party. She realized it would have taken more willpower than she possessed not to take Gabrielle in her arms when the music began. Xena's vision abruptly changed to one of her love in the arms of one of the young men Hecuba invited; and then another and then another. 'Just stop it -- stop it! You know damn well she loves you. She'll make the right decision.' Xena laid her armor aside and got out her bedroll. 'I might as well try to get some sleep. It's gonna be a long night.'

The warrior had one boot successfully removed when a loud crashing noise rang out just outside the barn door. "Ow! Dammit, dammit, dammit!" Gabrielle whipped her head from side to side. "Shush, you're gonna wake 'er." The bard picked herself up off the ground. Whispering past the finger she held to her lips she called, "Shxeeena... Shxenaaa... they're playing our song!" Gabrielle pulled on the handle of the barn door. "Hey! Let me in... I wanna dance." The bard lost her balance again and fell forward, tumbling into the door and falling in a heap on the barn floor.

"Ooph!" When Gabrielle eventually righted herself, she found her booted foot cradled in her arm. She worked unsuccessfully for a few moments at the laces and finally giving up, gave a yank and pulled her foot free, sending the boot sailing. After two false starts, she managed to stand. Xena watched silently as the bard took a few halting steps, her height changing with each step. "Oh Gods... I think I'm seasick," mumbled Gabrielle as she watched the world in front of her rise and fall. Looking down, she noticed that it was her one booted foot that was making her steps so uneven. With slow determination she brought it up in front of herself, balancing on her other foot. She grasped the boot with both hands, and when she gave a tug, her body did a slow pirouette and she spiraled to the ground. "C'mon Xeena... I know yer in 'ere." The bard forgot about her boot and with great perseverance she stood and continued on.

Her hands found their way to the laces of her tunic, but all that criss- crossed lace was too much for her to comprehend. After a few frustrated attempts, she decided instead to wiggle out of it. Somehow she worked one arm free, but her other arm became hopelessly entangled and pinned to the side of her head with the tunic wrapped tightly around her head and arm. "Hey! Who turned out the lights?" Gabrielle exclaimed as she stumbled forward, falling onto Xena's bedroll.

Groping around in the 'dark', Gabrielle came across Xena's boot. She lovingly ran her hand up the leather only to be surprised and very disappointed when she didn't come across the soft flesh of the warrior who owned it. "Hey! Where'd ya go?!"

"I'm right behind you," Xena said, as she stood there holding Gabrielle's tossed boot. Kneeling next to the bard, Xena worked at getting the young woman back into her clothes. "What do you think you're doing? Xena said, as she managed to get Gabrielle's head uncovered. The warrior could smell the alcohol on her breath. "You're drunk. I told you to stay away from the punch," she scolded. "I did, I swear. I never touched the stuff." The moment Xena had Gabrielle's arm free, the bard lunged at her, throwing herself on top of Xena and knocking her back. "Ummm, where've ya been all evening? They're playin' our song." Gabrielle started to move her body against the warrior's, settling her lips on the soft skin of Xena's neck.

Gabrielle's hand began a slow descent over the warrior's supple leathered form. Xena knew this had to stop, even though her body gave her emotions away as it arched into the bard's hand, which was cupping her left breast. "Ga-bri-elle." Xena rolled her amorous partner off and managed to sit her up. She tried reasoning with her as she held her at arms length. "What if Lila or one of your guests were to walk in?"

"They'll just 'ave to get their own warrior," she grinned, as the feisty young woman squirmed her way into Xena's lap. "Cause I'm not sharing." Gabrielle wrapped her legs around Xena's waist and headed for the nearest ear.

"GABRIELLE." Xena pried the bard from the front of her body. "C'mon. Let's get you back in the house and get you to bed." She stood and pulled Gabrielle to her feet.

"Yes, thatsa lovely idea," the bard replied, as she collapsed into Xena's arms, no longer capable of standing on her own. "You can tuck me in -- and then I'll tuck you in," Gabrielle mused, as her hands began to dance over the warrior's body.

Xena quickly scratched the idea of carrying Gabrielle back to the house. Her partner was much too openly amorous for her to take any chances. 'But I've got to do something. Somebody's bound to come looking for her eventually.' Xena lowered Gabrielle onto her bedroll and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. "You wait right here and I'll be right back. I want to get you something."

Rummaging through one of the saddle bags, Xena pulled out their medicinal pouch. She carefully selected a couple of herbs and a small tin of off-white powder. Into a small bowl, she placed the herbs that she ground with her fingers and a small pinch of powder. The next step was to add hot water and make a strong 'tea', but Xena knew she would have a difficult time getting Gabrielle to drink the evil-tasting mixture. Instead, she dug through their food supply and found the tin of honey Gabrielle had purchased at the last town. Xena added just enough water to the cup to dissolve the powder, added honey to the mixture, and mixed it well with her finger.

"Here. I made you something sweet." Xena lowered herself onto the bedroll next to Gabrielle, who had been waiting impatiently for her to return.

"Ooo, what is it?" the bard asked, as she crawled into Xena's lap. Xena had decided to not even try to maneuver a spoon into Gabrielle's mouth, and simply scooped some of the mixture up with her finger and offered it to her friend. Gabrielle happily accepted the offer, enjoying the feel of Xena's finger in her mouth as she caressed it with her tongue. In a matter of minutes the mixture took effect, and Gabrielle was sound asleep in the warrior's arms.

Xena cradled the young woman in her arms, enjoying the peaceful breathing and soft mewing sounds that tickled her neck. Even in sleep, Gabrielle had managed to snuggle into her love, her arms wrapped loosely around Xena's waist. Xena carefully put the bard's discarded boot back on trying not to disturb her sleep, even though she knew the mixture she fed her contained a powerful sleeping drug.

With Gabrielle still nestled in her arms, Xena lifted herself with her powerful legs and carefully carried her to the house. The music had since stopped, and Xena could hear the muffled movements of people straightening up through the door. She quietly entered, and paused when Hecuba and Lila looked up from their cleaning. Hecuba had a large armload of dirty plates in her hands and simply nodded towards the back of the house, and Xena continued through and into the bedroom. She lowered the sleeping bard onto her bed, and was beginning to remove one of her boots when she paused and said quietly without turning, "Hello Lila."

Lila moved hesitantly into the room and silently perched herself on the side of her bed. She watched as Xena finished taking Gabrielle's boots off and covered her with a blanket. Xena instinctively reached down and brushed a lock of hair from the bard's face before turning to Lila. Lila noted the tenderness of the warrior's touch and mentally added it to the growing number of inconsistencies she was finding with the previous assumptions she had about the warrior.

"What happened here?" Xena asked, as she grasped Lila's forearm and steered her to a corner of the room away from Gabrielle. Lila found herself pinned, the warrior whispering intently into her ear. "She was blind drunk and could have easily wandered off into the woods. We're lucky she stumbled into the barn looking for me."

"All I saw her drinking the entire evening was cider -- I swear. I even refilled her mug a few times myself. She was a bit quiet after you left," Lila paused when she saw a momentary flash of hurt invade the warrior's face, and quickly continued, "but after she opened her presents she appeared to brighten. She kept commenting about how good Aunt Effie's fruit cocktail was -- seemed like she couldn't get enough of it. Afterwards, she spent the better part of the evening regaling anyone who would listen with stories." Lila looked up and met the warrior's eyes. "All of the stories were about you." An uneasy silence fell between them, broken only by Gabrielle's soft snoring and the loud beating of Lila's heart. She had never seen Xena so angry before, yet somehow knew it wasn't directed specifically at her.

"You said she really liked the fruit cocktail. Did you have any of it?" Lila shook her head no. "Neither did I." Xena and Lila made their way back out to where Hecuba was still cleaning up. "Show me where it is." Lila pointed out the bowl and Xena tasted the fruit. "Aunt Effie. She's Uncle Cosmo's wife, isn't she?" Lila nodded yes. "I thought so. It seems she uses her husband's punch to soak the fruit in." This stuff packs a wallop." Xena left Lila to help her mother clean up, and returned to check on Gabrielle. "What am I gonna to do with you?" she whispered, smoothing the blanket that covered the bard.

With the majority of the aftermath of the party cleaned up, Lila bade goodnight to her mother and headed for bed. When she entered her bedroom, she was surprised to find Xena slumped in a chair beside her sister's bed, her head resting on the wall behind her.



"It's late. Why don't you try and get some sleep. I'll keep an eye on Brie. Besides, you said she'd probably sleep right through the night anyway."

The warrior reluctantly agreed and paused to smooth nonexistent wrinkles from the bard's covers before silently leaving.


Chapter 18

The sounds of life waking to another morning penetrated the walls of the barn. The sun had not even begun to rise, yet Xena laid there wide awake, sleep eluding her most of the night. She hadn't realized how much comfort she had taken from sleeping with Gabrielle at her side. And now she felt lost without it. 'You're getting soft, warrior. You never needed anyone, and now look at yourself,' Xena berated herself. 'Can't even get any sleep without your bard by your side.' Even before that night after the dance, she had relished the closeness they shared at night. She couldn't remember how it started, but surmised it was probably done out of necessity on a cold night. And it quickly became habit forming -- for both of them. No matter what trials or hardships they endured during the day, she knew she had something to look forward to at day's end. And Gabrielle never seemed to mind, always craving physical contact of any kind.

After rolling up her bedroll and storing it with the rest of their gear, Xena found a particularly soft pile of fresh hay and settled herself down to quietly work on polishing the metal of her armor. The light from outside had slowly found its way under the barn door, and Xena allowed her thoughts to wander over the last week. They were abruptly broken by the creaking of the barn door.

Gabrielle pushed the door open just enough to slip inside, hoping not to disturb her partner's sleep. "I should've known you'd be up by now."

"How are you feeling?"

"Ssh, not so loud," Gabrielle implored. She quietly made her way to Xena, even flinching at the noise her boots made as they crunched in the hay. The bard removed the armor and polishing rag from Xena's hands and carefully laid them aside. "I don't remember much from last night, but I have a roaring headache," she whispered, lowering herself into Xena's arms. "I was wondering if you'd mind using your newfound remedy to ease my pain."

Not a sound could be heard as Xena sensuously worked the tunic off her young lover and tossed it aside. No words were needed as Gabrielle pushed Xena back into the soft pile of hay and settled herself into her warm embrace. The bard wrapped strong fingers behind Xena's head and kissed her deeply before working her way down to the laces of the warrior's shift. Using just her teeth, Gabrielle painstakenly worked at liberating Xena's breasts from their tight confines. "Just whose headache are you trying to get rid of?" Xena asked as her breath caught in her throat, and she could feel a growing need awakening deep inside her. She wrapped her arms and legs around the bard and carefully rolled over, burying Gabrielle from view as she disappeared into the soft pile of hay.

Even though her head still pounded, Gabrielle never relinquished her hold of Xena and her mouth was still buried in her chest, tugging at the laces. It was at this moment that both women were startled to hear Lila call out, "Xena. Have you seen Brie? I woke up and she was gone. I'm worried. I couldn't find her anywhere," as Gabrielle's younger sister poked her head around the now open barn door.

Gabrielle heard her sister call out for her, and before her brain could engage and clamp her mouth tight, she blurted her sister's name out through a mouthful of lace. Still, it was rather muffled, coming from somewhere under the warrior. Xena stiffened, hoping Lila hadn't been close enough to hear, and that she would think Xena was still asleep.

But the small cry of "Brie?" from Lila's lips ruined that plan. "Brie? Where are you?" Lila called softly, as she took a hesitant step further into the barn. Xena could feel Gabrielle go stiff and felt the tremors as they passed through her. The bard was completely concealed, and Xena thought that if it came to it, she could convince Lila that she was just hearing things. This plan was also short-lived when Lila spotted her sister's tunic in a heap above the warrior's head. "Brie!?!" she called out again, with a frantic edge that caused Xena to turn and follow her eyes to the bard's tunic.

Xena turned back to the nervous pile of flesh beneath her and quietly said, "I think she suspects now." The warrior did what any friend would do in a situation like that and reached over her head and snatched Gabrielle's tunic, rolled slightly off the bard and with her back to Lila draped the tunic over her lover's body. Gabrielle hugged it to herself as Xena rolled off completely, exposing one very embarrassed sister. She rose and retrieved a blanket, returning to wrap it around Gabrielle before taking a seat next to her.

Lila stood there speechless. She had been reluctant at first to come to the barn when she found her sister missing from their bedroom. She had promised Xena that she would look after her, and hadn't been sure how the warrior would take the news that she failed. Now she wished she'd never come. 'I see *now* why Brie had no interest in any of those 'eligible young men' at the party last night.' She tore her eyes from her sister, only to have them fall on the warrior. It was then that she noticed that the laces of Xena's shift were almost completely worked free, and that the warrior was close to spilling out. "I uh... I think... I better leave."

"Lila, please," Gabrielle exclaimed, as her sister turned to flee. "We need to talk."

"I don't think so," she stated sharply, as she stopped and turned back to face her sister. Gabrielle stood and took a step towards her. Lila backed up looking fearful and exclaimed as she put her arm out in front of herself, "Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle was frozen in her tracks, not so much by the look on her sister, than by those three syllables. "Gabrielle? What happened to *Brie*? What're you afraid of? I'm still your sister... nothing's changed."

"I don't understand."

Gabrielle covered the distance between them and grasped her sister's forearm, compelling her to make eye contact. "I'm in love." The bard turned and found Xena's eyes, absorbing the warrior's strength and continued, "We're in love."


"Ummm... yeah!" A smile spread across her face, as she realized that she was hearing herself say it out loud to someone other than Xena for the first time. 'And it feels really good!'

"How can you be in love?"

"How can anybody be in love? It just happens!"

"Well, yeah... I know, but not with -"

"Not with what? Another woman? Would it make you happy if Xena were a man?"

"NO!" Lila shot a glance over to Xena. "I never said that."

Now it was Gabrielle's turn to back away from her sister. She had steeled herself for this confrontation with her sister. Worked on all the questions and comments that Lila could have for her -- debated the issue with herself as to why it shouldn't matter to Lila or anyone else that she and Xena were in love and happened to both be women. And in one fell swoop, Lila brought all of her hard work to a crashing defeat.

"Then what exactly *do* you mean to say?"

"I don't care that she's a woman... I know all about that kinda stuff. It's just that..." Lila leaned forward and lowered her voice to a whisper, "She's a warrior!"

"I resemble that remark." Both sisters jumped at the sound of Xena's voice.

Gabrielle turned to see the lop-sided grin on her lover's face. "I'm glad to see you're enjoying yourself," she quipped, as she drank in the sight of the warrior's long form. Xena was stretched out nonchalantly in the hay, her arms comfortably folded behind her head as she leaned against a bale. "I uh... Lila!" she exclaimed, as she turned back to her forgotten sister, failing miserably to hide the blush that she was sure covered her face. "You mean to tell me that it doesn't bother you that I... with another woman?"

"Well... I wouldn't say that it doesn't bother me completely. It's gonna take some getting used to."

"And what's wrong with her being a warrior?"

"I worry about you -- being out there with her. I always figured, like mother and father still do, that you'd meet a nice man and marry and settle down. That's not gonna happen now, is it?"

"No. I like my life just the way it is. And I pray to the gods every day that nothing changes."

"Does mother know?"


"You're gonna tell her, aren't you?"

"It's not the right time. I don't know if it'll ever be the right time. You have to promise me that you'll not breathe a word of this to either of them."

"I promise." Gabrielle threw her free arm around her sister for a quick hug and was surprised when she felt her sister's arms wrap around her waist and hold her close. "I'll always love you Brie, no matter what," Lila whispered into her sister's ear.

Gabrielle could feel her sister's tears as they lightly dropped on her shoulder. "I love you too," she whispered back, as both women continued their embrace, laughing and crying at the same time.

Lila gave her sister one last squeeze before breaking the embrace. Her eyes flashed at Gabrielle as the sides of her mouth worked their way into a frown. "I'm still mad at you," she declared, as she shook an accusing finger at her sister.

"What?!" Gabrielle stumbled backwards, caught off guard by the sudden change in her sister. Xena tensed and fought the urge to come to her love's defense.

"If I hadn't walked in on you two and caught you... well you know..." Lila blushed deeply and averted her eyes. She tried to push the sight of her sister appearing from under the warrior out of her mind. "You weren't gonna tell me about you and her, were you?"

"I thought about it. Especially after you walked in on us yesterday, after you came back from shopping with Mother."

"Your tunic -- it was on inside-out, wasn't it? I told myself later that I must have just been seeing things."

"Um... yeah. You kinda surprised us."

"You mean you... in our bedroom?!" Lila's eyes flashed to Xena and saw the warrior barely keeping herself from bursting out laughing.

"We used my bed! Anyway, it wasn't like I planned it or anything. It just happened. And no. I probably wouldn't have told you about us. I wasn't sure how you'd take it, and I... I didn't want to lose my only sister."

Lila closed the distance between them and grasped her sister's arm. "You'll never lose me. You're my only sister too -- remember? Nothing you do will ever change that. And I'm sure that goes for Mother and Father too, if you give them a chance."

"Thank you. And I'll think about telling them. Just not right now."

"OK. Well... listen... I think I'm gonna get a head start on my morning chores. You ah...?"

"I'll be along in a little while." Gabrielle leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "Xena has something to relieve this headache of mine. That's why I came out here in the first place." The bard pulled back and watched as Lila's expression changed to one of astonishment when she realized what her sister was really saying.


"She has many skills."

"Yeah, I'll bet," replied Lila, as she looked over to where Xena was still sitting.

With that, all three women burst out laughing. Gabrielle had never felt so relieved in her life. 'Maybe there is a chance it will work out with Mother and Father.'


Chapter 19

Gabrielle made sure she barred the door after Lila left. She was not going to take any chances with another interruption. "Whew! That went a lot better than I ever expected," she grinned as she flopped down next to Xena. "I'd gotten myself so worked up over it, and for what?" She laid her head against Xena's shoulder and snuggled closer. "Hey... didn't she say she already knew that two women could... well you know... be together? Remind me to ask her where she learned about that."

"How's your head?"

"Hmm...?" The bard lifted her head and tilted it experimentally from side to side. "Yep, I'd say I definitely have one grade A headache."

"You mean hangover."

"Hangover?! But I only had two or three small cups of punch before you warned me off the stuff. And from then on I stayed strictly with cider. All evening. Ask anyone!"

"Enjoy the fruit cocktail?"

"How'd you know about that? Aunt Effie didn't bring it out 'til after you left."

For the next few minutes, Xena found herself in the position of bard as she recounted the events of last night. Gabrielle sat there, dumbfounded, as she listened. It was as if the warrior was talking about someone else. She had no recollection of anything much past the opening of the presents. "You mean the fruit cocktail...?"

"Yep." The warrior concluded her brief rendition of the events with her tasting the fruit cocktail and realizing it was made with Uncle Cosmo's secret ingredient. She deftly omitted the part where afterwards, she had kept vigil at the bard's bedside until Lila relieved her. There were some things, like her feelings, that Xena still found hard to talk about. The warrior wrapped her arm around Gabrielle and pulled her close, and the bard happily snuggled in, closing her eyes and feeling the familiar warmth and security that she had come to quickly cherish.

"Hmm?" Upon opening her eyes the hungry little bard spied the almost completed task she had earlier been enjoying. Wiggling loose from the warrior's hold, she slipped the blanket off from around her body and slid on top of Xena. "Now let's see... where was I?" Gabrielle pondered this thought for a moment, grinning mischievously. "Oh yeah... I remember!" The bard settled herself on Xena's hips and placed her hands against the hay bale on either side of the warrior's head. Never taking her eyes from the bemused expression the warrior was giving her, she slowly lowered her head and continued the excruciatingly slow process of freeing the warrior's breasts from her tunic using just her teeth. She had but a few more eyelets to go before she would be rewarded, though these last few were fast proving to be the most difficult. The pressure of the warrior's overflowing bosom was straining the material of the shift and holding the laces taut. Gabrielle found that she had to bury her face between those two luscious breasts in order to get a grip on the laces, and she couldn't help herself if her tongue decided to do a little exploring first. She wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Xena's expression soon turned to one of desire as she found her body arching to meet the bard's playful inquiries. This teasing that Gabrielle seemed to enjoy so much was something new for Xena. In the past, sex for her was something that was always performed on her terms. She took what she desired and always stayed in control. Now everything was different. There was a new element to be considered. Love. She was finding that her love for this woman was one of the strongest emotions she has ever had. Possibly even stronger than the dark emotions that drove her when she was a warlord. This thought frightened her, because she knew that she still found it almost impossible to verbally express her feelings. 'And if and when they burst forth, I hope she's strong enough to handle it.'

Another eyelet was successfully conquered and Xena could feel herself on the brink of tumbling out. Her body cried for release, but she buried her hands in the hay by her sides, willing herself to prolong the delicious frustration that the bard was putting her through. Gabrielle watched intently as Xena's brows knitted together over her half-closed eyes as she silently mouthed the word 'please' over and over. The bard decided that playtime was over and with clear determination, set herself on the last eyelet. With one last purposeful tug, she succeeded in releasing the warrior from her snug confines. Gabrielle's attention was immediately riveted on her prizes, and she stared at them hypnotically, unconsciously licking her lips in anticipation.

With great determination, she broke her reverie and gazed into Xena's eyes. Slowly she bent forward and licked one of the nipples, paused, and blew on it lightly, watching as the nub swelled and the skin around it began to pucker. Gabrielle was quite curious about just how much the warrior would let her get away with. She had never known Xena to go this long at anything and not be in control. So, with a wicked little grin, she proceeded to repeat her steps on the other breast. For Xena's part, she arched her body each time, trying to coax the bard to take her fully, while steadfastly refusing to give in to her body's physical craving.

"Ga-bri-elle..." The word rolled out from the depth of Xena's soul, tumbling past her dry lips as she fought to maintain sanity. The bard simply ignored her, now placing sweet, innocent kisses in the valley of her bosom. Not to be outdone, the warrior turned her head to the left and captured Gabrielle's wrist in her mouth, flicking her tongue lightly over the pulse point. The bard frowned as she felt her body betray her as her hips thrust themselves against Xena, and her hands reached behind and pulled the warrior up into her waiting mouth.

"Umm, you cheat," Gabrielle husked, as she relinquished her hold of one of the breasts and rapidly went to work on the other one.

"Uh huh," Xena breathed, as she concentrated on the bard's soft lips while Gabrielle suckled her. This moment was to be short-lived. Try as she might, Xena could not continue to ignore the squirming of her young lover's body as Gabrielle's hips were now in constant motion against her. The warrior's need to be in control was too overwhelming. 'This is something I need to work on, but not today,' she thought absently, as she wrapped her hands around her young lover's head and pulled her up for a feverish kiss. In one fluid movement, Xena had the bard flipped on her back. Gabrielle happily relented to this shift of power, her body melting in surrender under the warrior.

Xena sat up just long enough to lose her shift and with a gentle nudge of her knee, she parted her companion's legs and nestled herself in between. She bent over and hungrily kissed the bard's mouth before working her way down and stopping when she reached the valley between her breasts. She could feel the bard's slick wet center sliding under her stomach, and knew that Gabrielle was ready. She captured Gabrielle's hands and placed them on the bard's breasts, rolling and squeezing her nipples between their fingers. Xena returned to licking her between her breasts and then followed a leisurely trail down her body, never taking her eyes from Gabrielle's. The warrior paused at her belly button and paid close attention to cleaning it thoroughly before continuing on.

While not being entirely sure what was going on, Gabrielle was fairly certain she knew where Xena was heading. She felt an intense and all-consuming fire burning her between her legs, and could literally feel herself pumping out fluids. Her body cried out to be satisfied, though she doubted that anything could satiate her now. The warrior hesitated just before reaching Gabrielle's soft triangle. She nuzzled her cheek into the soft hair that covered the mound, and then lightly kissed her.

Xena nudged Gabrielle's legs apart even further so she could comfortably lie between them. She removed her hands from Gabrielle's breasts and placed them under her hips, raising her so she could position her shoulders under the bard's thighs. Gabrielle felt very self-conscious as her knees were spread wide and Xena had full access to her. The warrior felt her tension and asked, "Do you want this?"

"Yes... that is I think so," she responded, looking at Xena with half- opened eyes. "It's just that I have no idea... nobody's ever -" She didn't know how to finish the sentence.

"You are so beautiful, my bard." Xena nestled her face lightly into her soft hair. "And you smell so sweet." She kissed her intimately on the top of her mound and said in a low husked tone, "And so very delicious."

Gabrielle blushed as she could feel her groin throbbing from the verbal as well as the physical attention it was receiving. Kissing her again and again, Xena allowed the tip of her tongue to lightly lick Gabrielle's slit. "XENA!" the bard cried, as she realized just where the warrior was putting her mouth. "Wha... what are you doing?!" The slight apprehension in her voice could not hide her body's true feelings as her hips began to buck under the contact.

"Mmmm... I'm making love to the most beautiful woman... mmm... in the world." Xena slid her tongue between Gabrielle's lips and lapped at the sweet juices that were flowing from her.

Gabrielle arched her body and found herself staring wide-eyed at the ceiling of the barn. Xena's fingers parted her lips opening her wide. The bard's head flew forward and her eyes riveted on Xena's as the warrior lightly blew on the now exposed clitoris and smiled up at the bard's now astonished face. The effect sent spasms through the young woman's body.

Whispering, "I love you," Xena leaned in and kissed Gabrielle's swollen nub, taking it into her mouth and between her teeth.

Gabrielle's juices were flowing freely, covering the warrior's face and running down her chin. The bard continued to stare disbelievingly down at the sight of Xena nestled between her legs, doing things with her mouth and tongue that she had never dreamed possible. Xena continued to suckle Gabrielle while alternately lapping at her juices. Gabrielle soon began to buck wildly, and Xena brought her left arm up from under and braced the bard's lower abdomen, attempting to regain possession of her lover's sex. With Gabrielle's lower body held fast, she latched onto the swollen nub with her teeth and twirled her tongue over and over the tender flesh.

Gabrielle didn't think she could take much more of this attention, when she felt Xena's tongue leave her clit. She was about to whimper for more when she froze, feeling her lover's tongue poised at her opening. Xena took one last look up at Gabrielle and when she saw the trust the bard held for her she thrust her tongue deep inside, watching the expression on her lover's face turn from surprise to ecstasy. She continued to stimulate the pulsing nub with her thumb as she thrust her tongue deep inside, again and again. Xena soon felt the bard's inner muscles constrict around her tongue and knew she didn't have much time.

She removed her tongue and in its place swiftly plunged three fingers into Gabrielle's hot liquid center. She pumped faster and faster as she stiffened her tongue and allowed just the tip to fly over the hard nub. This was more than the bard could handle. To feel Xena buried inside her and the absolute joy that filled her lover's eyes almost sent her into sensory overload. The muscles in her legs twitched and spasmed, and her thigh muscles suddenly constricted, putting Xena's head in a vice lock. Xena never missed a beat as she continued her frantic pace, all the while watching Gabrielle's face intently.

Gabrielle thrashed about wildly, clawing at the back of Xena's head as she attempted to bury the warrior's entire head into her sex. The only coherency to her speech was to repeatedly shout Xena's name as she fought for release. Xena broke loose of the death grip Gabrielle had with her thighs and forced herself up so that her head was resting on the bard's stomach and her left forearm had Gabrielle's upper body pinned down. From this new vantage point she had much better leverage, and pumped her right arm furiously to drive herself again and again deep inside. She turned from Gabrielle's eyes, and buried her teeth into the flesh before her, and felt the bard's entire body go stiff. Xena reached behind Gabrielle's shoulders and held her up in a half-sitting position as she continued to pump her arm in long, slow strokes. Each time Gabrielle rewarded her with a thunderous release.

When her body had no more to give, the bard collapsed back into the hay. Xena moved to cover her body with her own, wrapping both of her powerful arms around the young woman. She nestled her chin on Gabrielle's shoulder, burying her lips in the soft flesh of her neck.


Xena was surprised when only a short time later she felt Gabrielle begin to stir and then felt a set of teeth nibbling on her ear. "Mmm... I thought you'd be out for a bit longer."

"Nn-o," she rasped. "My -- my mouth is so dry."

"I'll get you some water," Xena said as she began to roll off.

"No!" Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and pulled her back down. "Don't go." She looked into the depths of those crystal blue eyes and murmured, "I have everything I want... right here." Xena, whose own body had not found release when Gabrielle climaxed, lay back down on the bard, straddling one of her thighs. Before she could ask her to bend her knee, Gabrielle interrupted her. "Xena. I... I want to taste you." The warrior dutifully obliged and brought her mouth down on Gabrielle's. "Mmpfno... mmm... Xxmpheena..."

Pulling back from Gabrielle's mouth Xena asked, "What's the matter? Isn't this what you wanted?" Xena reached forward and caught the bard's lower lip in her teeth and sucked it into her mouth.

Gabrielle shook her head no. She wrapped her arms around Xena's neck and staring intently into her eyes, pulled her in, kissing her ardently. Without releasing her lips, Gabrielle whispered her wishes into Xena's mouth. "Xena, I want to taste... to taste *you*." She really wasn't sure what to call the hot liquid that was currently soaking her thigh, but she hoped Xena would get the idea.

"Hmm... do you mean this?" Xena slid her hand between them, and brought back four glistening and dripping fingers. She brought a finger to her lips and gave a little lick. "Mmm, is this what you really want?"

"Yes!" The bard's eyes twinkled as Xena brought one finger after another into Gabrielle's waiting mouth. She realized that Xena tasted different from the way she had tasted on the warrior's lips. This taste was exotic. It had the strength to rekindle a fire between her legs that she thought was definitely dead.

Xena felt the bard's hips waking up under her. "Hmm. Seems like you're not done yet, my bard. Here, let me help." Xena pushed her knee firmly into Gabrielle's sex and slowly ground away.

Gabrielle could feel the fire between her legs starting to ignite, and fought to quell it. "Xena -- no -- stop."

The warrior immediately stopped, but continued to hold her knee against her. "I thought you wanted this?" she asked, as she looked quizzically at Gabrielle.

"I did -- I do. But there's something I want more. I want to make love to you, to taste you, to feel myself inside of you." Gabrielle nuzzled Xena's neck as she tried to roll her off and was surprised when the warrior didn't budge. "Xena?"

The warrior sat up and locking eyes with Gabrielle, slowly inched her way up until her knees were planted on either side of the young woman's head. Gabrielle could feel a lump forming in her throat as she broke contact with the warrior's eyes and took in the overwhelming sight of Xena suspended only inches above her face. As the musky odor assaulted her senses, she hesitantly ran her tongue over the warrior's inner thigh, slowly working her way up. Xena gently lowered herself to Gabrielle's soft kisses and moaned deeply when she felt the bard's lips kissing her own. "Ga... bri... elle..." she exhaled. Xena reached up and grabbed the edge of the bale of hay and stole a look down at her partner.

The only thing visible were Gabrielle's eyes. She looked up the length of the warrior when she heard her name and caught sight of the love on her partner's face. Xena could literally feel the smile spread across the bard's face. "Mmm Xeeenaa..." Xena watched as Gabrielle disappeared completely from view and moments later felt her lips being slowly parted by Gabrielle's thumbs.

The warrior whipped her head up and stared unfocused at the ceiling -- waiting and wondering for what seemed like an eternity. 'This is what I get for loving a bard? She's probably busy down there composing a poem -- or GODS, an epic!' Xena fought her mounting need to reach down and give the bard a hand, and endured the torture that Gabrielle was unknowingly inflicting.

Gabrielle just stared. She had never seen a woman's sex before, especially not this up close and personal. Or at least she thought she was looking at Xena's sex. She warily eyed the nub of flesh that pulsed before her, and was amazed to see it jump with each heartbeat. Looking around carefully, she could find nothing else of prominence. She spread Xena's lips back even further. 'Nope. Nothing else hiding in here.' She thought about asking Xena, but quickly dismissed that idea. Working hard at trying to recall what Xena had done to pleasure her, she reached up and gave the hard nub a little flick with the tip of her tongue.

That tiniest of physical contact with Gabrielle almost did Xena in as her body lurched forward. It took every bit of inner strength she still possessed not to vault into the air. "Gabrielle... For Gaia's sake! What are you doing?!"

Gabrielle peeked out from under Xena and flashed her a sheepish smile. "Heh... I wish I knew. I wasn't sure if I had the... uh... right spot. Um... guess I did!" The bard disappeared from sight once again, a bit more assured of what she was doing. Wrapping an arm around Xena, she carefully lowered her back down to her waiting mouth. With her free hand she spread the warrior's lips and ran her tongue slowly up and down the entire length of her love, marveling at the slick softness. She settled her mouth on the hard nub and sucked it into her mouth.

Xena's hips began to buck violently and her head thrashed wildly from side to side. She had been so near release earlier when Gabrielle had her thighs wrapped around her head that she knew it wouldn't take much to bring her over. Xena peeled a hand from the bale of hay she was clutching and frantically ran her fingers through Gabrielle's long tresses, trying to urge her on. "Ga... Gabrielle... please... just a little... more."

Gabrielle quickened the pace with her tongue, desperately trying to please, but she was rapidly becoming frustrated. Xena was so slippery that the bard lost her place again and again. 'Damn. If she'd just sit still...' Xena lurched forward more than the bard had anticipated and instead of once again making contact with Xena's clitoris, Gabrielle's tongue imbedded itself inside her. The warrior froze. 'Well, it's about time she stopped jumping all over the place,' the bard mused. Gabrielle was about to go for a lip-lock on the warrior's throbbing sex, when she felt violent shudders racking Xena's body. The warrior's thighs clamped down on the bard's head, and all thoughts of doing anything, including breathing, were now a mute point in Gabrielle's mind.

Gabrielle wasn't sure, but she thought she must have blacked out. 'I never saw her apply pressure points like that before,' she mused. When the bard was more aware of her surroundings, she looked up to see Xena slumped forward, her head resting on the top of the hay bale between her arms. 'Oh no, she doesn't. That was over way too quick.' After waiting for her ears to pop, Gabrielle repositioned herself slightly and ran the tip of her tongue lightly over Xena's folds. When this produced no response from the warrior, the bard slipped her tongue inside and ran it over Xena's clit. This time she received a satisfying moan from above as Xena's body began to stir. 'Ah, that's more like it,' Gabrielle grinned. She clamped her hands on Xena's hips and brought her down to meet her hungry mouth. She sucked the fleshy node between her lips and applied herself to her newly learned skill.

'What in Tartarus...?!' Xena's eyes flew open when she felt the bard happily sucking away, practically humming to herself. 'Did she ever come up for air?' "Gabrielle?" Xena looked down between her forearms and was greeted with a flash of sparkling green. She noticed that the gleam in her friend's eyes was not unlike the look she got when eating nutbread. 'Uh oh...' Xena was about to carefully extricate herself from the bard's grasp and apologize for the quick release that had unfortunately quelled her fire, when a strong and unmistakable throbbing sensation clutched her groin. "Uggh... Oh GODS!!" she cried, as a searing white heat shot from her center and radiated through her limbs. Her head flew back and her body arched forward as every nerve in her body was directed to the point where her flesh made contact with Gabrielle's mouth. Xena felt her passion quickly rising as her hips started to rock to the rhythm of Gabrielle's strokes.

Gabrielle was not going to make the same mistake twice. At the first signs that Xena was going to become mobile, she wrapped both arms around powerful thighs and clenched Xena's sex firmly between her teeth, swirling her tongue over and over the little ball of trapped flesh. The bard looked up towards Xena, but was unable to make eye contact since the warrior's head was still thrown back. What did catch Gabrielle's eyes were two delicious mounds of soft flesh. Gabrielle took a chance and let go of the warrior's thighs and sex. She quickly ran her fingers along Xena's slick lips and headed for the neglected twins.

Her sticky fingers soon found purchase on two very sensitive nipples, and Xena let out a ragged gasp as her head flew forward to catch the sight of Gabrielle's hands rolling and pinching her puckered flesh between her fingers. With no firm grasp of the warrior's lower body to help her to keep contact, Gabrielle simply held her tongue out in place as Xena slid her sex up and down it's shaft in an ever growing frenzy.

Gabrielle worked hard at trying to bring Xena to climax, but she could tell it wasn't going to be as easy as it had been the first time. After some time, she decided to abandon the warrior's breasts and refocus her energy. She wrapped her left arm tightly around Xena's thigh and pushed the warrior up and slightly back. She repositioned her right arm and quickly plunged three fingers deep inside.

The bard held on for dear life as the force of her entrance into Xena nearly caused the warrior to catapult off of her. The only thing that prevented this was the added weight of Gabrielle's body and the bard's dogged determination not to relinquish her prize so quickly.

Gabrielle began to fervently pump her arm, jerking Xena down each time with her left arm to meet her upward thrusts. The bard could see the thick cords of muscle in Xena's thighs bunch and ripple as the warrior strained to reach orgasm. The need to please Xena as well as her overpowering desire to feel her mouth on her lover's sex soon clouded all rational thought of the possibility of getting her head crushed between those deadly thighs. It was difficult, but Gabrielle managed to wrap her mouth around Xena's engorged nub and suck it firmly into her mouth, where her teeth held it firmly in place. She deliriously raced her tongue over the hard ball of flesh, feeling that Xena was quite possibly at the brink.

She was right. This delicious addition to Gabrielle's assault sent Xena soaring. She never thought she would be loved like this by the woman of her dreams. She still hadn't fully come to terms with herself over whether or not she deserved to feel this way, but right now all she could do was give in as flaming arrows of passion shot out from between her legs.

Gabrielle felt the sudden change in Xena's body. The warrior momentarily stiffened before her entire body began to uncontrollably convulse again and again. Her head violently whipped back and forth, sending her sweat-soaked hair flying in all directions. Gabrielle let go of her clitoris, quickly pulling her head safely out from between the warrior's thighs. She wrapped her left arm around Xena's waist and buried her face into her stomach, still continuing to pump her fingers deep inside. With Xena's release imminent, Gabrielle slowed herself and entered Xena with long, strong, deliberate strokes, trying to match the rhythms of the warrior's repeated convulsions.

Gabrielle pulled the tips of her fingers just to Xena's opening, and with all the strength she had left in her throbbing arm, rammed them back into Xena as far as they would go. The warrior screamed and her thighs suddenly clenched the bard's hand in a death grip before her body went limp and she fell in a sprawled heap on top of Gabrielle.

Gabrielle clung to the only part of Xena that was available, the warrior's left thigh, as she reached around behind herself and stretched her arm to stroke Xena's back. After nearly a quarter candle mark, she had successfully extricated herself from the warrior's various body parts, and quietly molded herself around Xena's curled form.

Sometime later Xena stirred and rolled over, pulling Gabrielle onto her. They laid in each others arms relishing the quiet softness. After what felt like hours, Xena rolled Gabrielle off and laid on top of her, wanting to feel herself enveloping her love. Gabrielle buried her head in Xena's chest, content at becoming invisible to the world outside.


Both women continued to lay there side by side, neither one wanting the moment to end. Gabrielle was nestled in the crook of Xena's left arm, lazily trailing her finger over the warrior's abdomen. "Hmm, you are so beautiful..." the bard grinned, "and you're all mine!" She deposited a small kiss on the warrior's shoulder and looked up when she heard a responding chuckle coming from above. "What?"

"Oh... I was just thinking the same thing -- my bard." Xena leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. "Though it's still a mystery to me as to what you see in this 'ole warrior."

"Don't say that." Gabrielle looked intently into Xena's eyes, trying to reach the warrior's soul. "You are everything I've ever wanted, and everything I'll ever need. I love you." A single tear escaped the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek. She swiped at it with the back of her hand and rubbed her eyes, successfully stopping more from forming.

"Hey... hey. Let's have none of that. Not from the birthday girl." Xena reached above her head with her left arm and brought it back around Gabrielle's shoulder, depositing a small leather bag on her chest in front of the bard's face.

"What's that?" Gabrielle asked, as she looked down to the small bag and then back up to Xena.

The warrior shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. "For you."

Gabrielle sat up, instantly intrigued. She took the bag from Xena's chest, yet made no move to open it.

"Well," Xena said, as she sat up and scooted back so she was leaning on the bale of hay. "What are you waiting for?"

"I... I don't know." she laid the bag on her thigh and attempted to undo the knot in the leather cord that was holding the bag closed. Her hands were shaking so much that she was finding this simple task impossible.


"I'm sorry. I don't know what..." Frustrated, she handed the leather bag to Xena.

"I'm sorry for the simple packaging. I hadn't planned on giving you this for another full moon, but since your mother went and moved your birthday up..." Xena worked the knot free and handed the bag back to Gabrielle.

"My birthday?" She accepted the bag from the warrior and laid it carefully back on her thigh. "You didn't have to get me anything." Xena raised an expressive eyebrow and that one look said volumes. "OK, OK." Gabrielle slid two fingers into the bag, and paused as she gave the warrior a quizzical look when her fingers clasped the small object. Slowly she pulled the leather bag away and stopped. "Xena?!" She sat motionless staring at the small piece of leatherwork now resting in the palm of her hand.

"Do you like it?"

"Like it?" She gently ran the tip of her finger over the fine gold embroidery. "It's exquisite!" she breathed. "Where in the world did you ever find..." Gabrielle went silent, a slight look of concentration showing on her features. "The harvest festival... " Gabrielle looked up from the barrette, "That old merchant..." and caught the grin on the warrior's face. "He had hair barrettes for sale..." She looked back down and studied the barrette carefully. "... but nothing as beautiful or intricate as this," she whispered.

The barrette was oval and approximately four inches by three inches in size. The inside of the oval had been slit into a multitude of impossibly thin strips through which equally fine strips of leather had been both woven and knotted, forming an intricate pattern. Over top of the parts of the pattern which stood out, fine threads of gold silk had been painstakenly embroidered to create a beautiful swirl pattern.

Gabrielle noticed the two leather strips fastened to the back that would serve to hold her hair back in a ponytail and realized she had been viewing the barrette sideways. She turned the barrette ninety degrees so that the oval was now standing up on end. Tears began to fall unbridled from the young woman. "Xena...!" She stared unfocused at her lover's face.

"I was wondering when you'd notice," Xena replied, leaning forward and quietly kissing the bard's tears away.

Gabrielle gave the warrior a quiet thanks and sat back again to carefully study the barrette. She was not mistaken. The beautiful gold swirls, when viewed from the correct angle, were an exact duplicate of Xena's breast plate design. "You couldn't have bought this from that merchant." Gabrielle looked up to study the warrior's face. "Where in the world..." Xena smiled. "You didn't, did you?" The bard was rewarded with quickly averted eyes as Xena pondered her hands that now rested in her lap. "Xena... you made this?"

If Gabrielle hadn't been staring at Xena, she would have missed the whispered "Yes," that escaped the warrior. When Xena realized that the silence that hung in the air was real, she looked up to see Gabrielle silently watching her. "That afternoon at the harvest festival, after I stowed the saddle and we spent some time wandering around... we passed by that leather merchant. I could feel you hesitate and saw as you looked forlornly over to the barrettes. And then you continued on without so much as a backward glance. I knew."


"Do you remember when you left me at the knife merchant's stall to wander over to the lady with the display of Amazon wood carvings?" Gabrielle nodded her head yes, recalling all the intricate handiwork she had proudly seen. "I simply stopped at the stand selling cloth and picked up the gold thread."

"You make it sound so easy." Gabrielle scooted back until she was resting in the warrior's embrace.

"For you -- anything." Xena slid her arm down the bard's back and easily pulled her into her lap.

The kiss was soft yet intoxicating, and Gabrielle wondered what the future with this beautiful woman still had to offer.

The End

Thank you, and I hope I passed the audition. :D

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