By Jenbob
Copyright © 1997 Apr (Revised 1997 Fall)
All rights reserved


The next two days passed by quickly for both Gabrielle and Xena. The warrior continued to sleep in Gabrielle's hut, since neither one of them had any interest in providing the village with gossip, but she slept on a bedroll in a different room from the bard, instead of in the bed with her. The two had gone from lovers to barely more than strangers in the briefest of times, and the gulf between them was widening with every passing moment.

Xena desperately fought her desire to tell the young woman that it was all a mistake, to tell the bard that she had been wrong, but she refused to let herself give in. She had to be strong, she had to do what was right for Gabrielle. Forcing Gabrielle away from her was the only way that she would ever be able to save the young woman. It was simply too dangerous to allow Gabrielle to stay with her any longer. Even if she could somehow protect the bard from warlords, bandits, and Ares, she couldn't protect Gabrielle from the darkness that resided deep within her.

The celebration during which Gabrielle would make her announcement finally arrived. Xena spent a short time at the party, but eventually the laughter and joy of all those around her began to be a bit much for the warrior's frazzled nerves. She couldn't stand being near so many happy people when her own heart was breaking. She was going to miss Gabrielle more than she ever thought possible and, in a few hours, the young Amazon Queen was going to accept the mask permanently and leave Xena's life for good. Even though she knew in her heart that this was the right thing for her friend to do, it still was going to be the most agonizing thing in the world for Xena to have to endure.

Eventually, Xena realized that she desperately needed a break from the "happiness" that surrounded her, so she left the party and headed off aimlessly into the woods. She walked for quite awhile and, by the time she finally came to a stop, the noise of the party was faint at best. She sat with her back up against a tree as she tried to figure out what her next move was going to be. She would leave right after Gabrielle's coronation ceremony, but she had no idea where she would go from there. Perhaps the rest of her life was going to be as aimless as the walk she had just taken into the woods she thought wryly. North, south, east or west. They were all the same to her at the moment. Maybe she'd just give Argo her head and see where the horse led her.

As she continued to sit quietly, she heard the sound of someone approaching. She tensed momentarily, until she identified the person: Gabrielle. Forcing herself to relax, she waited as calmly as she could for the young woman to approach. She sat as still as a statue as Gabrielle reached her side and then sat down next to her, and it was several seconds before she finally turned to look at her friend. "Evening," she said, in as steady of a voice as she was able to manage. "I would have thought you'd be enjoying the party. Don't you have an announcement you need to be making?"

"Yes I do," Gabrielle agreed. "But there's no rush. I told Ephiny I would be gone for awhile. They can do without me until I get back and I want to talk to you."

Xena sighed heavily. "Gabrielle, that's all we did before we finally decided to go our separate ways. Don't you think we've said everything we have to say to one another by now?"

Gabrielle gazed at her friend calmly. "Xena, you're planning on walking out of my life tomorrow. Don't you think you could spare a few minutes to talk with me tonight?" she asked bitingly.

Xena shrugged, indicating her acquiescence. "Okay. I guess you're right. What did you want to talk about?"

"I want to know why you're doing this," Gabrielle replied. "I want to know why you're leaving me."

Xena sighed once again. "Gabrielle, we've already gone over this...."

"NO!" Gabrielle said sharply. "Don't try to give me the same old lines you've been giving me. I'm not buying them anymore." Gabrielle paused for a few seconds before continuing. "I don't understand you Xena. I don't understand how you can tell me in one breath that you love me and in the next tell me that we can't be together anymore. How can you possibly expect me to simply agree to that?"

"Gabrielle, what do you want me to say? What can I tell you to make you understand? What can I tell you to make you accept this?" Xena asked helplessly.

Gabrielle looked at her steadily. "Tell me you don't love me anymore. Look me in the eyes and tell me that you don't love me anymore and I won't bother you again. If you can tell me that, then I'll believe you when you say we can't be together any longer."

Xena looked at her friend. "That's it? That's all I have to do?"

Gabrielle nodded. "That's it."

"Fine," Xena said, as she looked her friend directly in the eyes. "I don't...I don't love....," her voice trailed off and she stared at Gabrielle mutely for several long seconds. Finally cursing in frustration, Xena looked away from her friend to stare into the darkness of the surrounding trees. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. "No," she whispered softly, "I can't say that. Not even to convince you of what I know is right for both of us. I can't tell you I don't love you."

Gabrielle released the breath she hadn't even realized she was holding. Silently thanking the gods, she shifted slightly closer to her friend, as she placed her hand on Xena's leg, trying to draw the warrior's attention back to her. "Xena....," she began.

"No Gabrielle," Xena ground out harshly. "This doesn't change anything. I'd already told you that I loved you, and I've already explained why I'm leaving."

"Oh yeah. You said it's 'for the best for both of us'," she said coolly. "Why?"


"Why is it for the best of us both?" Gabrielle demanded. "Don't think for a second that I'm simply going to take that at face value. I want to know how my staying here with the Amazons and you going off on your own can be the best thing for us both."

"It just is," the warrior growled in frustration.

"Are you...are you planning on raising another army? Is that what you want now?" Gabrielle asked quietly, her eyes watching her lover intently.

Xena briefly considered saying yes, but she realized what the unspoken question behind Gabrielle's voiced one was. The bard thought that Xena preferred leading an army to being with her, and Xena couldn't hurt her friend like that. Cor was right at least about this much. Gabrielle deserved more than that. She had to be honest with her friend, even if she wasn't necessarily going to tell her the entire truth. "No, Gabrielle," she replied, shaking her head slowly. "An army is the last thing I want or need right now."

Gabrielle glanced briefly down at the hands in her lap, before looking back up at her friend. "I thought you said that you'd liked it...that you'd missed it."

Xena shrugged. "I did. But it changed me. It was so tempting to use that power for myself rather than for others. I can't remember how many times I wanted to strike out and simply ride right over the top of people who I didn't think were treating me with the proper respect. Part of that was due to my grief, and part of it may even have been due to Ares' influence. But I also know that leading an army just creates too much of a temptation for me to abuse that power. I'm better off without one."

Gabrielle thought about what her friend was saying, before looking at her curiously. "But didn't you say that you'd done a lot of good too?"

"Yeah, I did. But there were things I couldn't do with my army that I could have done on my own."

"Like what?"

"Like enter kingdoms and villages," Xena said ruefully. "For some reason, people don't object to one or two women entering their kingdom nearly as much as they object to being 'invaded' by an army. And I've been thinking about some of the people I've helped over the past year or two. An army wouldn't have helped me with King Gregor. It would only have reinforced his belief that I was there to steal his kingdom. And it wouldn't have done me any good to have an army when I was trying to figure out who was trying to kill Princess Diana, or when I was trying to convince King Sisyphus to unchain Death, and it's definitely a safe bet that the Amazons would never have allowed me to cross their lands with an army. I wouldn't have met Melosa or Ephiny. I wouldn't have been able to stop the war between the Amazons and the Centaurs that Krykus did his best to start."

Xena looked her friend over carefully, before allowing a small smile to form on her lips. "Gabrielle, do you remember when you were thinking about going to the Academy, when you were asking me about going to the Bard Competition? You said you'd be gone for a few years, and then made a comment that I wouldn't even notice you were missing. Do you remember what I said to you?"

Gabrielle nodded. "You said that even if you had an army around you, you'd still notice I was missing."

Xena nodded as well. "That's right. And it turned out I was right. I 'noticed' that you were missing every single day. A part of me may have liked having an army again, but it was no replacement for you. It didn't make me happy. I'm not choosing an army over you. That isn't what this is about."

"Then what is this about?" Gabrielle asked quietly. "You love me, and you know that I love you. You don't honestly think I'd rather be with the Amazons than with you do you?"

Xena shifted uneasily. She was distinctly uncomfortable with the direction their discussion was suddenly headed, and she realized that, by trying to spare Gabrielle's feelings, she had inadvertently made a crucial mistake. She should have simply agreed to wanting an army and been done with all of this.

Gabrielle realized that Xena intended to continue to play the silent game, so she began trying to guess what was on the warrior's mind. "You can't be worried that I can't handle life on the road, or that I'm eventually going to get tired of being with you." Gabrielle paused to think for several more seconds, before a light suddenly came into her eyes. "Hurt. You're worried that I'm going to get hurt again, aren't you?" Taking Xena's silence and stricken face as proof, Gabrielle realized that she had finally figured out what was bothering her friend. "Are you still worried about Ares?" she asked. "Xena, I told you before that I...."

"It's not Ares that I'm worried about, Gabrielle," Xena said flatly.

Gabrielle looked at her friend with a touch of surprise, before her mind began frantically trying to figure out who the problem was. "Bandits, highwaymen, another warlord like Martakas?" she asked, running through all the obvious choices.

"No. Nothing like that. Please Gabrielle," Xena begged desperately. "Just accept what I'm trying to tell you. It will be better for both of us if you just stay here with the Amazons."

Gabrielle ignored her friend's advice as her mind continued to work. "Someone from your past?" she finally asked.

Xena smiled ironically when she heard Gabrielle's words. "Yeah," she muttered. "Someone from my past."

"Someone specific? Are you worried about another 'Callisto' coming along?"

Xena shook her head ruefully. "I doubt there's anyone else out there quite like Callisto, Gabrielle."

"So you're trying to tell me you're just worried about some unknown person from your past?" Gabrielle asked skeptically. "I don't believe that," she said, after a few moments spent studying her friend. "You couldn't possibly be this worked up over some random stranger. Who is it, Xena?" she asked quietly but with a fierce intensity.

Xena glanced briefly at her friend, revealing eyes filled with pain, fear, and sorrow. She held Gabrielle's gaze for a few brief moments, and then turned away once again, unable to speak, unable to admit the truth to her friend.

"Xena...I asked you...gods it seems like it was a lifetime ago...but I asked you once before to trust me enough to tell me what was wrong. Please, Xena. Trust me now. Tell me what you're so afraid of."

Xena was silent for several long seconds before she finally shook her head. "I do trust you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered brokenly, as she continued to stare off into the forest. "It's me that I don't trust."

Gabrielle stared at her friend in complete confusion. "You don't trust yourself? Xena, what are you talking about?" she asked. She waited a few moments for her friend to respond, before finally realizing that Xena had no intention of answering her questions. Placing her hand on Xena's leg, she shook the warrior gently before speaking to her once again, her voice filled with love and compassion. "Xena, please look at me," she asked quietly.

After a few more moments had passed, the warrior finally turned to face her once again. Gabrielle gasped softly when she saw the anguish and heartbreak in her lover's eyes. "Gods above, Xena. What's wrong?" she asked, a note of alarm in her voice. She saw her friend try to speak but then give up, as the warrior's fear began to overwhelm her once again. Suddenly, Gabrielle realized what was wrong. There was only one thing that could possibly scare Xena as badly as all of this. "It's you isn't it?" she asked softly. "You think that someday you're going to wind up hurting me, don't you? Gods, Xena. Why would you think something like that?"

Xena looked at her friend incredulously, her astonishment finally providing her with the ability to speak. "You've got to be kidding me! It's completely obvious!" she said harshly.

Gabrielle shrugged. "Not to me it isn't."

"Gabrielle...I hurt you on two separate occasions the day we were finally reunited!"

Gabrielle shrugged once again. "Those were mistakes, accidents."

Xena shook her head angrily. "Fine. Call them what you want. But I can't risk any more 'mistakes' happening to you as a result of me."

Gabrielle stared at the warrior in amazement. "This is ridiculous! You're going to let a couple of accidents keep us apart?" she demanded in disbelief.

"They weren't just 'accidents'," Xena said heatedly. "Add them to what I did to Martakas, and they're proof that I've never changed from who and what I was before I met Hercules."

Gabrielle shook her head, trying to make sense of Xena's logic. "What are you talking about?" she finally asked.

"I'm talking about the fact that I'm still the same person I always was. My targets may have changed, but I still revel and glory in the battle, in the bloodlust, in the killing, in the power. I'm still the same hate-filled warlord that the world feared for years. I'm still the Warrior Princess, and I'm probably one bad day from returning to Ares' side once again."

"No, you're not....," Gabrielle began, before Xena cut her off abruptly.

"Yes...I am! I haven't changed, Gabrielle. I did the same thing when you died that I did when Kaylana died. There's so much rage, so much darkness within me, and someday it's going to break loose and destroy you...and that will destroy me as well," she finished softly.

Gabrielle stared at her friend silently for several seconds before she finally spoke. "Why didn't you kill him?"

"Who?" Xena asked in a bewildered voice.

"Martakas. Why didn't you kill him? I've been wanting to ask you for days, but you wouldn't let me. So tell me now. Why didn't you kill him?"

"I tried to...but I couldn't do it."

"Did you want to?" Gabrielle asked softly. Seeing Xena's head nod in affirmation, she repeated her earlier question. "So why didn't you?"

Xena closed her eyes and then leaned back against the tree. "Because I promised you," she said softly. "Because I was afraid the last part of you that I still held inside me would die if I killed him in cold blood."

Xena sat quietly for almost a minute, before finally opening her eyes once again. Looking at her friend, she saw Gabrielle smiling at her warmly, love shining from the young woman's eyes. "No," she said shaking her head. "You're missing the point. I tortured him...I wanted to kill...."

Gabrielle held up her hand, interrupting the warrior in midsentence. "But you didn't do it. You didn't cross that line."

"Gabrielle, I destroyed his army....," Xena began to protest.

"Stop!" Gabrielle ordered firmly. "Stop doing this to yourself and to us."

"I'm still the monster, Gabrielle. Why can't you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

"Why can't you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" the bard asked. "You're not the same person you used to be. You're not a monster. You've changed. The old Xena wouldn't have stopped. The old Xena didn't stop. But you did. You stopped yourself from killing Martakas in cold blood."

Xena shook her head. "You can't possibly be trying to tell me that you forgive me for what I've done over the past couple of months."

"You're right. I'm not, because there's nothing for me to forgive. Xena, I never blamed you for anything in the first place. All I wanted was to talk about all of this so that we could put it behind us and go on with our lives." Seeing Xena getting ready to protest again, Gabrielle hurried to cut her off. "So what did you do? Did you attack villages? Did you conquer kingdoms?"

Xena shook her head. "No," she said softly, "But I thought about it," she admitted.

Gabrielle nodded. "I know. But you didn't do it, did you?"

"No. I didn't do it," she agreed quietly.

Gabrielle smiled and moved closer to her friend, before gently stroking her face with the tips of her fingers. "And that's because you've changed," she said softly. "Xena, we both know all about the darkness you have within you. Am I the only one who knows about the light you have in there as well?"


The young bard shook her head, as she placed her fingers against the warrior's lips to silence her. "Xena I love you, all of you. Please don't try to send me away just because you think it's for my own good. I need to be with you. I have to be with you."

Xena took a deep breath and then reached up to capture Gabrielle's hand. "How can I let you stay? How can I let you take the risk that I might hurt you someday?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Just let me," she said with a smile, echoing the words she had spoken so long ago. "Just let me love you," she whispered, before her mouth covered Xena's with a lingering kiss, her hands moving slowly over the warrior's body. Breaking away, she looked directly into Xena's eyes. "For once just put your faith in something besides yourself."

"In you?" Xena asked quietly.

Gabrielle shook her head. "No. In us," she replied, before leaning back in to kiss her lover once again.

Xena moaned softly when she felt the touch of Gabrielle's lips against her own, and her lips parted to allow the bard's tongue to dart within to tease and torment. As Gabrielle's mouth continued to move slowly, temptingly against hers, Xena shuddered with pleasure and then pulled the young woman into her arms. The kiss intensified as Gabrielle enticed the warrior's tongue into her own mouth to taste and explore, as the bard pressed herself tightly to her lover.

Tearing her lips away from Gabrielle's, Xena began scattering feverish kisses across the young woman's brow, her cheeks and her jawline before finally moving to her ear. Her tongue lightly traced the outside before plunging in to explore every crevice. She bit down on the lobe and tugged at it gently, smiling when she heard Gabrielle whimpering softly.

Moving back to capture Gabrielle's lips, Xena kissed her passionately before shifting lower to trail her tongue down the young woman's throat. Biting and nipping at the tender flesh, she paused for several endless moments when she reached the rapid pulse fluttering in the hollow of the bard's throat, before finally moving lower still. Her lips trailed across the top of Gabrielle's shirt, while she brought her hands up to cup the young woman's breasts. The bard groaned and arched into her lover's touch, her head falling backwards as she lost herself in the sensations that Xena was creating within her. Xena continued to massage Gabrielle's breasts through her shirt for several minutes while her mouth explored the young woman's shoulders and throat, occasionally moving down to dip her tongue into Gabrielle's cleavage.

By the time Xena had removed Gabrielle's shirt, the young woman was breathing raggedly and clutching her lover's shoulders for support. Xena slowly leaned down and began running her tongue over Gabrielle's breasts. Licking and biting, she circled the young woman's erect nipples as she caressed every other part of the young bard's breasts, her hand moving up once again to stroke the tender flesh. Alternating back and forth, she continued to tease Gabrielle as she came closer and closer to the nipples, each time stopping just before reaching them.

With a loud groan, Gabrielle reached up to bury her fingers into Xena's thick mane, before moving her lover's mouth directly over the nipple. "Please," she begged thickly, unable to say anything else.

Xena willingly obliged. Flicking her tongue across the hardened tip, she sucked firmly on Gabrielle's swollen breast while using her fingers to stroke and caress the other. Gabrielle pressed herself into her lover's touch as a long, throaty sigh was wrung from her lips.

After several minutes of exquisite torture, Xena lifted her head and used her hands to cup Gabrielle's cheeks. A few seconds later, Gabrielle finally opened her eyes, her breath catching when she saw the look on the warrior's face. "I love you," Xena said huskily, before brushing a gentle kiss against the young woman's lips.

As Xena pulled back to look at her lover, she smiled when she realized that she'd managed to rob her young friend of the ability to speak. Leaning forward, she kissed Gabrielle once again, before moving her mouth back down to her breasts. She continued her sweet assault for several more minutes, before finally slipping her hand underneath her lover's skirt. As her fingers brushed against Gabrielle's center, the young woman whimpered loudly and her hips bucked forward involuntarily. Slowly, agonizingly, Xena parted her lover's soaking labia and began to stroke her gently. "I love the way you feel," Xena murmured against her lover's breast. "So wet, so good," she continued, before biting down firmly on Gabrielle's nipple and sucking forcefully. "And I love knowing that I make you feel this way," she said, as she moved to Gabrielle's other breast, the sounds of Gabrielle's incoherent cries of pleasure echoing in her ears.

She continued to stroke and tease her lover for several endless minutes, before her fingers finally made their way to the belt around Gabrielle's waist. The young bard immediately moved to assist and, within a matter of seconds, Gabrielle's skirt had been tossed aside. Xena leaned back to look at her friend, smiling slightly when she realized that Gabrielle was still wearing her boots. Xena kissed her lover gently and then slowly removed both boots, before taking the young woman back into her arms and laying her carefully down on the ground and stretching out beside her.

Xena gazed at her lover while she ran her hands up and down the young woman's body, stroking and caressing every square inch. As she saw Gabrielle trembling beneath her touch, she could feel herself shaking with desire as well. She quickly removed her breast plate and weapons and tossed them to the side, her eyes never leaving the young woman's naked form. "Gods you are beautiful," she finally choked out hoarsely, before moving to cover Gabrielle's body with her own.

Gabrielle moaned as she felt Xena's weight pressing against her and she spread her thighs willingly to allow her lover to settle between them. When she felt Xena's hands and lips moving across her skin, she began to writhe and twist uncontrollably, as a rising tide of pleasure began to course through her. She curled her fingers into Xena's long hair once again, holding the warrior close to her breasts for several long minutes, before finally pushing her head gently downwards.

Xena's lips and tongue blazed a fiery path down the bard's body, igniting a fire within her young lover and driving Gabrielle half out of her mind with desire. As her lips traveled lightly over Gabrielle's mound, the young woman groaned loudly and bucked her hips upward towards Xena's mouth. Xena ran her tongue along the outer edges, before finally using her thumbs to part Gabrielle's heated folds. She lightly flicked her tongue through the cleft, before leaning in to drive her tongue more deeply into her lover's wetness. Gasping with pleasure, Gabrielle thrust her hips towards her lover's touch, desperately seeking greater contact as she pulled Xena's head to her tightly.

Xena draped Gabrielle's legs over her shoulders and then began stroking Gabrielle's swollen flesh in earnest. Licking upwards and then back down to plunge her tongue inside the young bard, Xena slowly began to drive her young friend wild. She continued the sweet torment until Gabrielle had begun moving more and more erratically and was moaning almost continuously with delight. Finally she moved up and ran her tongue across Gabrielle's engorged clit, causing the young woman to groan loudly and press her hips harder against Xena's face.

"Please," Gabrielle whimpered frantically. "I need to feel you inside me Xena," she begged, before reaching for Xena's hand helplessly.

Sucking Gabrielle's clit into her mouth, Xena quickly slid two fingers into her lover, groaning softly as she felt hot, velvet contractions close around her fingers in a pulsing vice. Taking a steadying breath, she slowly began thrusting in and out of her lover, as Gabrielle's hips began matching her stroke for stroke. She saw Gabrielle's eyes glaze over with passion and could hear her breath coming in ragged pants, as the young woman began thrashing beneath her.

Gabrielle could feel delicious waves of heat radiating from her center, as Xena's mouth and fingers drove conscious thought further and further away from her mind. Low moans of ecstasy were wrung from her throat and all she could so was clutch Xena's shoulders helplessly as her body began trembling wildly. The throbbing in her body and in her brain seemed to build forever, while the stars above circled and swirled into a haze. Finally she arched one last time before going completely rigid, as everything exploded into an array of vivid colors that filled the universe, while sobs of pleasure were torn from her throat.

As Gabrielle's breathing gradually began to return to normal, Xena slid up to gather the young woman tightly into her arms, kissing her gently as she did so. Her hands moved slowly over the young woman's body as she gently stroked her lover, murmuring soft words of endearment to her young friend. She smiled at the bard lovingly as she smoothed the hair away from Gabrielle's face, before kissing her deeply once again.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and then smiled back at the woman she loved. She remained silent and unmoving for a few minutes, before her own hands began wandering over Xena's body. Eventually she moved to take Xena's face in her hands, pulling the warrior down for a soft kiss. After a few seconds, she broke away to look directly into her lover's eyes. "I want to touch you," she said softly.

Xena smiled slightly when she heard Gabrielle's words. "You are touching me," she said, before leaning down to kiss the young woman.

Gabrielle pulled away from Xena's advance, shaking her head slowly. "No. I want to touch you," she repeated, her voice filled with need. "Please, let me touch you the way you've been touching me."

Xena closed her eyes briefly as she struggled with herself. Finally she opened them again to look back down at her friend. She tried to speak but her throat was too tight. Her eyes, however, told Gabrielle everything she needed to know and, with a small smile, the young bard moved out from beneath her lover and then knelt before her.

Xena hesitated for another couple of seconds before shifting to a kneeling position as well. She began to take off her armor, but Gabrielle's fingers immediately usurped the task, gently pushing the warrior's hands away. With a shuddering sigh, Xena rested her hands on her muscular thighs and allowed the young woman to remove her armor for her, moving when Gabrielle needed her too, but otherwise remaining completely still.

Before she knew it, Gabrielle had removed every piece of armor and clothing from her body, and was standing behind her, gently massaging her shoulders. The bard leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lover's shoulders, while her hands roamed freely over Xena's back. Kneeling behind her friend, Gabrielle slowly moved her lips along the line of Xena's shoulders, nipping and sucking the bronzed flesh. Her fingernails traced intricate patterns across the warrior's back, causing Xena to shiver and gasp with delight. Lifting her lover's hair to kiss the back of her neck, Gabrielle trailed her lips upwards to hover just behind Xena's ear, her breath brushing over her lover's cheek like a warm, sweet caress. "I love you," she whispered throatily, just before flicking her tongue across the warrior's ear to delicately outline it.

Gabrielle smiled when she heard Xena's low groan of pleasure. Returning her lips to Xena's neck, she licked her way back down to the warrior's shoulder, while she pressed her breasts firmly against her lover's back and began moving against her. She heard and felt Xena's breathing growing more and more labored and she smiled again, knowing that it was her touch that was having this effect on the woman she loved.

Applying gentle pressure, she carefully pushed Xena forward until the warrior was lying on her side, with Gabrielle nestled behind her. Reaching around, she cupped Xena's breast and began caressing it gently, while her teeth nipped at the warrior's shoulder. Xena groaned softly in response, before reaching up to cover Gabrielle's hand, encouraging the bard to stroke more firmly. Gabrielle's mouth moved back to the spot where Xena's neck met her shoulders and then sucked hard on the delicate flesh, causing the warrior to gasp loudly with pleasure.

Gabrielle continued her attack on Xena's senses for several more minutes, until the warrior was shaking and moaning nearly nonstop. Finally she pulled Xena to rest on her back and then moved to lie on top of Xena's body, sighing softly when she felt Xena's soft breasts pressing against her own. Gabrielle leaned down and covered her lover's mouth with a fiery kiss that robbed the warrior of her ability to think. Xena's mouth softened beneath the pressure, inviting Gabrielle's tongue to delve within to taste and explore. After a few minutes, Gabrielle broke away to trace her lips along Xena's cheek, her jaw and then down the line of her throat. With a ragged moan, Xena arched her neck backwards, providing Gabrielle greater access to her sensitive skin. Gabrielle immediately took advantage of the opportunity afforded her and allowed her tongue to trace intricate circles across the warrior's throat.

The bard's hands moved upwards to begin stroking Xena's breasts once again, causing the warrior to groan and press herself into her lover's touch. Gabrielle brushed her thumbs lightly across Xena's nipples, causing her to quiver with pleasure. Her fingers danced across Xena's breasts, stroking and caressing, until finally they moved to capture the nipples between them. Throaty sobs were torn from Xena as Gabrielle pulled and squeezed the nipples firmly, before once again moving to stroke Xena's entire breasts with her palms.

Gabrielle's lips moved along the line of Xena's collarbone, before the bard leaned up to speak directly into the warrior's ear. "Tell me what you want, Xena," she whispered softly. "I want to know what you need," she continued, desperately wanting Xena to finally let down the last of the barriers between them.

Xena hesitated for several seconds, still reluctant to give up control. Finally she yielded slightly. "Your mouth, Gabrielle. Put your mouth on my breasts," she said softly.

Smiling to her herself at her small victory, Gabrielle moved down and began trailing her tongue over Xena's breasts. She traveled back and forth between them, her fingers and hands stimulating them constantly, before finally brushing the tip of her tongue lightly across a nipple. Xena moaned deep in her throat as she arched upwards, seeking more contact. Gabrielle pulled back away momentarily, waiting until Xena was lying back on the ground. As her lover settled back down, Gabrielle moved forward and blew across the wet surface of Xena's nipple, causing the warrior to inhale sharply while she shuddered from the intensity of the waves of pleasure coursing through her body. Xena began writhing beneath the bard as an agonizing hunger began to grow within her. Taking mercy on her lover, Gabrielle leaned down and took one of Xena's nipples firmly between her teeth while pinching the other between her thumb and forefinger. She sucked and bit at the tender flesh as Xena's head slammed backwards into the turf, her entire world centered on the feelings that Gabrielle's hands and mouth were invoking in her.

While she continued to lavish her attentions on Xena's breasts, Gabrielle used her knee to part her lover's legs and then pressed her thigh hard against Xena's core. The warrior gasped loudly when she felt the pressure against her sex and began rubbing firmly against Gabrielle's leg. As Xena's movements began to grow more and more impassioned, Gabrielle slid down the warrior's sweat slickened body until her face was resting just inches from Xena's heated center. Inhaling deeply, she leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss against Xena's damp flesh, before using her tongue to part the labia and plunge between the folds.

Xena choked back a groan, as she struggled to hold on to the last shred of her control. Gabrielle looked up at her lover and parted Xena's thighs further to give herself better access. "Let go," she said softly, before spreading Xena open with her fingers and leaning down to taste her once again. "Trust me, Xena. Trust me and let go," she repeated, before burying her face into Xena's soaked mound.

Xena groaned loudly and wildly bucked her hips towards Gabrielle's face. Her breathing was raw and labored as she thrust her fingers into Gabrielle's hair and pulled the bard's mouth tighter to her. As she felt Gabrielle's lips and tongue stroking and caressing her, she shivered from head to toe, gasping with ecstasy. When she finally felt Gabrielle's lips close around her clit and suck on it firmly, she arched helplessly against her lover, as the last bits of her restraint began slipping away.

Moving back up, Gabrielle drew one of Xena's sensitive nipples into her mouth and began swirling her tongue over it rapidly, as she dropped her hand down to part Xena's labia and stroke her gently. As her fingers slid through the damp folds and then up to rub against the swollen bundle of nerves, Xena reached up and took Gabrielle's face between her hands, forcing the bard's eyes upwards to meet her own. "Take me. Please," she whispered hoarsely. "I need you now."

Gabrielle leaned forward and kissed Xena ardently, her tongue probing the depths of Xena's mouth, as she slid two fingers deeply into the warrior. Her tongue thrust into Xena's mouth rhythmically, matching the pace of her fingers, as she slowly began to drive her lover towards the edge. Breaking the kiss, she moved her mouth back down to Xena's breasts, running her tongue over them both while she continued to plunge her fingers in and out of her lover.

Xena strained against Gabrielle's hand as unintelligible moans of pleasure were wrung from her lips. Her entire body was reacting to her lover's touch, as a chain reaction of sensations began moving through her. "Gabrielle...more," she panted. "Gabrielle I need...can you...can you put...another...finger...inside me?" she begged.

Gabrielle immediately slipped a third finger inside her lover and continued to thrust against her as she stroked Xena's clit with her thumb. Recognizing Xena's need, she began driving her fingers into the warrior harder and faster, Xena's hoarse moan serving as her reward. She felt Xena's hands desperately clutching her back as the warrior slowly was pushed further to the edge, her hips moving more and more frantically against Gabrielle's hand as she writhed and twisted beneath her.

Time lost all meaning as Gabrielle stroked and caressed her lover, wanting nothing more than to bring Xena the satisfaction that she had felt earlier. As she felt Xena's release approaching, she leaned up and looked directly into her lover's eyes. "Let go," she ordered softly, as their gazes locked and held.

With a loud cry, Xena arched against her lover as a sudden burst of energy exploded within her and spread outwards from her core. Shuddering violently, she tightened her hold on Gabrielle, her embrace nearly crushing the bard, as spasms of ecstasy rocked her frame. Her head fell backwards and her eyes drifted shut, as she completely surrendered to the sensations coursing through her veins, whispering Gabrielle's name as she held on to the young woman as though she were a lifeline.

Slowly Xena began to come back to reality. Looking up she saw Gabrielle's face smiling down at her, and gave the young bard a shaky smile of her own. She pulled Gabrielle to her to hold the young woman close, needing to feel Gabrielle against her to help ground her, to provide her with something tangible to hold on to. Pressing her cheek against the top of the young bard's forehead, she shut her eyes tightly as her emotions completely overwhelmed her, her body still shaking slightly from the force of her release. "I love you," she finally managed to whisper.

Gabrielle smiled against her lover's skin, as she tightened her hold on the warrior as well. "I love you too Xena," she said softly. "I love all of you so very much."

The two lay together in relative silence for several more minutes, as their breathing finally began to grow more regular. Finally, Xena closed her eyes and took a deep breath before speaking. "Gabrielle?"


"The Amazons are going to be worried about you if you're gone for much longer. They're liable to come looking for you. You need to get back to the party unless you want them to find you like this," Xena said quietly.

Gabrielle lifted her head to look at her lover. Seeing the tense, inflexible expression on Xena's face, she frowned slightly. "I guess you're right," she said calmly, before reaching for her boots.

Xena continued to lay where she was, unmoving and with her eyes shut. Gabrielle watched her closely as she got dressed but, other than a slight tightening of the jaw, Xena's face looked like it could have been carved from stone. The bard had nearly finished dressing by the time Xena spoke again. "Gabrielle?" she asked quietly, still keeping her eyes closed.

"Yes Xena?" she asked, desperately trying to keep her voice steady.

"I still want to leave the village tomorrow," Xena said tightly.

"Okay," Gabrielle replied, feeling as if her heart were about to break. "I under...."

"Do you think you'll be able to travel that soon or...or do we need to wait here awhile longer before we can go?"

Gabrielle stared at her friend in shock, terrified that she had misunderstood. "'We'?" she finally managed to ask.

Xena took a deep shuddering breath before finally opening her eyes to look at the young woman. "Yeah, 'we'. As in you and me. Will you be ready to travel tomorrow or do you need more rest?"

Gabrielle dropped to her knees and leaned down to kiss Xena passionately, smiling to herself as she felt Xena's response. Breaking away, she leaned back to gaze into her lover's eyes. "Tomorrow will be fine," she whispered softly. "I can't imagine anything that would be better."

Xena smiled and reached for her clothing, kissing Gabrielle briefly as she did so. When she pulled on her boots, she looked at her friend and grinned crookedly. "I can."

Gabrielle gave her a confused look. "You can what?" she asked.

Xena stood up and continued to quickly get dressed. She remained silent, much to Gabrielle's growing exasperation, until she began to put her armor back on. "I can imagine something better," she said calmly.

"What?" Gabrielle asked, as she helped Xena with the last few pieces of her armor and her weapons.

Smiling gently, Xena reached to take Gabrielle into her arms. "Tonight," she said softly, before leaning down to kiss her lover. "Holding you in my arms tonight sounds much, much better to me."

"To me too," Gabrielle agreed, just before Xena's lips covered hers in a warm, gentle kiss.

Xena and Gabrielle returned to the village, walking arm in arm. Gabrielle immediately went to find Ephiny to speak with her privately, since she had told the Amazon earlier that day that she intended to remain with them. She explained to her friend that she and Xena had managed to patch things up and that she would be leaving with the warrior the following day. Ephiny briefly tried to convince her that she and Xena should remain in the village a few more days before they left. Gabrielle, however, held firm, knowing that Xena needed to get away from the Amazons, and everyone else for that matter, for at least a little while. She and Xena also needed to spend some time alone together, and the constant attention that was focused on Gabrielle while they were in the Amazon village was only going to interfere with that.

Ephiny reluctantly agreed to the logic of Gabrielle's position and then returned to the party with the young woman. Calling for silence, she made the announcement that Gabrielle would be leaving them the following day. The women of the village immediately began to protest, wanting their Queen to remain at least an extra day so that they could send her off properly. With Ephiny's support, though, Gabrielle was able to make them understand that she had to be going, and that nothing was going to change her mind.

Recognizing that they wouldn't be able to convince her to stay longer, the Amazons immediately decided to change the celebration into a going away party for their Queen. Gabrielle soon found herself in the middle of a crowd of women, all wanting to toast her and wish her a good journey. She looked at Xena helplessly, as she suddenly realized that she wasn't going to be able to get away from the party anytime soon. Xena, however, simply shrugged and grinned at her, having known that this was bound to happen when the Amazons learned of Gabrielle's decision. She nodded to let Gabrielle know that everything was okay and then wandered over to get herself something to drink. After this evening she would have Gabrielle all to herself again. She could stand to wait another couple of hours.

It was late in the morning by the time Gabrielle and Xena were ready to leave. Xena went to get Argo ready and take care of the last minute details, while Gabrielle went to have a talk with Ephiny. The two women discussed a variety of Amazon matters, before they finally got around to the subject of Gabrielle's departure. "I'm a little surprised you're getting started so late," Ephiny said. "I would have expected Xena to be trying to get out of here at the crack of dawn."

Gabrielle shrugged as she struggled to hold back a yawn. "Well, we didn't get a lot of sleep last night, and that made waking up this morning pretty tough."

"Didn't get much sleep huh?" Ephiny asked, as she fought to keep a smirk of her face.

Suddenly realizing what she had said, Gabrielle blushed slightly and shook her head. "No. It's not what you're thinking. We were up all night talking. And I've learned that when you finally manage to get Xena to talk, you don't pass up an opportunity like that."

Ephiny smiled and nodded at her friend. "Yeah, I guess that doesn't happens too often, does it. So?" she asked, as she looked at Gabrielle curiously. "Did you get everything worked out?"

Gabrielle thought about the question for a moment before answering. "Sorta," she finally said. "I mean, we still have a lot of things that need to be dealt with, and it's going to be a while before Xena can get over everything that's happened during the past couple of months."

"What about you?" Ephiny asked softly. "Are you okay with everything that's happened?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "In some ways it was easier for me. I never had to deal with thinking that Xena was dead or had to deal with any of the guilt that she's been trying to work through. But you're right, it's going to take a while for me to adjust to all of this too. That's why I think we need to leave. We need different surroundings, and we need at least a few days just to ourselves. We need to get used to being around each other again."

"I know," Ephiny said. "And that's why I'm letting you go, despite the fact that I'd love nothing more than to have you stay with us."

Gabrielle hugged her friend tightly before moving back to look at the Amazon. "I'll be back eventually. And until then, I know that I'm leaving the village in good hands."

"Don't come back 'eventually'," Ephiny said, ignoring the compliment. "Come back soon."

"We will," Gabrielle promised, smiling warmly at her friend. Gabrielle hesitated for a couple of seconds, before looking her friend directly in the eyes. "Ephiny, I want to thank you for what you did for Xena," she finally said quietly.

"For Xena?" Ephiny asked in a slightly confused voice.

Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. You reminded her of who she was, you provided her with an alternative to killing Martakas. You were there for her even when she did her best to reject your help and I'll never forget that. Thank you," she said sincerely

Ephiny smiled at the young bard. "You're welcome," she replied. "But it was the least I could do for her and for you. You're both pretty special to me and the rest of the Amazons you know," she said with a wry grin.

Gabrielle chuckled before hugging her friend one last time. "And all of you are pretty special to us too," she replied.

Xena and Gabrielle slowly rode west on Argo. Xena had been prepared to insist that Gabrielle ride to help conserve her strength, knowing that, although Gabrielle's health had definitely improved, she wasn't yet ready to start walking all day long. Fortunately, Gabrielle had been more than willing to ride the mare, as long as Xena was sitting behind her. She wanted and needed this closeness right now, and that more than compensated for having to ride a horse.

They rode for several hours after they left the Amazon territory behind them. They'd received an escort the entire distance from the village to the edge of the forest, but since that time they hadn't seen a single soul, much to Xena's delight. She was hoping to get to spend the next several days alone with her friend, taking things easy while they got used to each other again. They needed to spend time as Xena and Gabrielle, two ordinary women who loved one another, and she would have little patience with anyone or anything that interfered in that objective.

It was late in the afternoon but the sun was still shining high overhead when they finally made camp. Xena had found a small clearing next to a stream that would be perfect for the night. The stream was so shallow that it barely came up to Gabrielle's knees, but at least it would provide cool water for them to drink and would allow them to refill their waterskins. Xena quickly helped her friend down from Argo and then insisted that Gabrielle rest while she took care of everything. She made certain her friend was comfortable and then left to scout the area briefly, needing to know the area was safe.

Xena returned a short time later, confident that the area was secure. She hadn't bothered to do any hunting since they had taken plenty of supplies from the Amazon village. As it was still fairly early, she decided not to worry about a fire or dinner for awhile yet. She tried to encourage Gabrielle to tell some of her stories, while she finished with the rest of the chores. After telling her second short tale, however, Gabrielle seemed to lose interest completely.

Xena watched her friend with a great deal of concern. Gabrielle had been uncharacteristically quiet for the last couple of hours, and Xena was beginning to get worried about the young bard. Gabrielle didn't seem angry, upset or tired but rather seemed pensive. Something appeared to be troubling the young woman, and Xena couldn't figure out what it could be. The only thing she could think of was that Gabrielle had wanted to stay in the Amazon village awhile longer, but that answer didn't seem particularly likely. Even if she had, Xena rather doubted that this would be the way that Gabrielle would have reacted.

Xena started to ask her friend what was bothering her on several occasions, but each time lost her nerve. She just wasn't comfortable with doing that kind of thing yet, no matter how many times Gabrielle did it to her. It was infinitely easier to try to wait the young woman out, since Gabrielle rarely, if ever, kept anything locked up inside her for long.

As the evening progressed, Gabrielle's mood remained largely the same. She was distracted and solemn, and it was obvious that something was wrong. She picked at her supper for awhile but didn't each much of it, and then sat quietly looking into the fire while she continued to wrestle with whatever was troubling her. Xena wracked her brain as she replayed their conversation from the night before, trying to figure out anything that could have been said while they sat together in the hut that could be bothering her friend, but nothing came to her.

Taking a deep breath, Xena decided that things had gone on long enough. Something was disturbing her friend, and whatever it was, it needed to be dealt with right away. Walking over to where Gabrielle was sitting, she sat down next to her friend, close enough that their thighs were almost touching. Gabrielle looked up when she sat down and gave her a small smile, before resting her head against Xena's shoulder. Breathing a sigh of relief, Xena wrapped an arm around the young woman to pull her closer and then hugged her tightly.

Releasing her friend, Xena leaned down and kissed her lightly, before reaching up to gently rub Gabrielle's cheek with her knuckles. "I love you," she said softly.

Gabrielle smiled again and then burrowed into Xena's embrace. "I love you too," she whispered.

Xena hesitated for a few seconds and then shifted positions to pull Gabrielle so that the bard was resting between her legs with her back pressed up against the warrior. She wrapped her arms around her lover to hold her tightly, smiling when she felt Gabrielle begin to slowly stroke her forearms. She could feel the tension in the bard's body, though, and she knew that something was definitely troubling her young friend.

After several more seconds had passed, Xena finally spoke. "I guess you'll miss the Amazons, won't you?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. They're pretty special to me," she replied sincerely. "But it will be nice not to have to worry about all that 'Queen' stuff for awhile."

Knowing from Gabrielle's tone that the Amazons had nothing to do with what was bothering her, Xena tried to think of a subtle way to find out what the problem was. Unfortunately, subtlety had never been her strong suit. Finally throwing caution to the wind, she plunged ahead. "Gabrielle," she said softly. "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

Gabrielle jumped slightly when she heard Xena's question. They had talked about so many things the night before, but nearly all of them had been things that were disturbing Xena. They hadn't covered the one major issue that was bothering Gabrielle, because the young bard hadn't been certain she'd actually wanted to hear the answer to her questions. The problem was, she still wasn't certain she wanted to hear what Xena had to say about this matter, and she didn't know what she would do if Xena gave her the answer she was afraid that she would. Not knowing what to say, she simply shrugged, unable to voice her doubts and fears.

Realizing that whatever was wrong was troubling the young woman a great deal, Xena turned Gabrielle in her arms so that they were facing each other. "Gabrielle, what is it?" she asked gently, as her hand moved to cup her lover's face.

Gabrielle sighed softly when she felt Xena's thumb stroking her cheek, and she paused to press a soft kiss into the palm before she finally looked at her friend. "I was just thinking about something you said. I know...I know you think the strongest trees stand alone...So do you still think that you're my 'tree in the forest'?"

Xena smiled slightly. "Yes Gabrielle. I am, and you're mine."

"So that means you're not standing alone. You're not as strong as you could be. Are you...are you going to be okay with that?" she asked hesitantly.

Xena thought about the question for a few seconds before sighing softly. "Gabrielle, when I said that you were my biggest weakness...I was telling the truth, and I can't deny that fact."

Gabrielle nodded when she heard her lover's words, knowing that Xena was right. Looking down, she took a deep breath and tried to organize her thoughts, but she couldn't think of a single thing she could say.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked softly, as she tried to coax the young woman to look back up at her. Seeing that her friend had no intentions of making eye contact, Xena reached out and caught the young woman's chin, forcing her eyes upwards until they locked with Xena's own. The bard gasped slightly as sea green eyes met electric blue ones, and she felt herself trapped by the intensity of Xena's gaze.

"Gabrielle, you didn't let me finish," Xena chided gently. "You are my biggest weakness. But you're also my only strength, and I'm more than okay with that fact, as long as I know that you love me. I'm stronger with you at my side than I could ever be alone, and I can...I can handle the weakness as long as I have your strength too," she finished quietly.

Gabrielle looked at Xena, a tear slowly falling down her cheek as she listened to the impassioned words of her lover. "So does that mean....?"

"It means that I was wrong to try to leave you," Xena said, as she brushed her lips across Gabrielle's forehead. "And it means that I want to spend the rest of my life with you. It means that I need you," she said, framing the young woman's face between her hands and kissing her gently. Pulling back slightly, she gazed into her lover's eyes. "It means that I love you, Bard," she said with a crooked grin. "Tell me you'll stay with me forever," she whispered huskily

"Forever, Warrior," Gabrielle whispered happily. "I'll stay with you forever," she said, before leaning in to kiss the woman she loved.


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