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


Xena and Gabrielle continued to hold each close for the next couple of hours. They whispered words of love, kissed and touched as they both tried to convince themselves that they were finally back together. They both knew that eventually they would have to talk about what had happened to each of them while they had been apart, but for right now, those events were pushed into the background. The only thing that mattered at the moment was the fact that they were in each other's arms. Everything else could wait until later.

Eventually, though, Xena had to ask Gabrielle about Ares, needing to know how the young woman had known of the god's involvement and, more importantly, needing to know how Gabrielle knew that Hrothgar was Ares. Slowly, Gabrielle began to tell Xena a few of the details about what had happened to her, knowing that Xena needed this final bit of information to be able to understand how Gabrielle had been able to return to her. She told the warrior how Ares had come to her and revealed the fact that he was Hrothgar. She explained how the god had arranged to have her sold into slavery because it was a more fitting punishment for the bard, and she told Xena how Ares had taunted her, wanting her to know that Xena thought she was dead and that it was all a part of a plot to get the warrior to return to his side. She did not, however, tell Xena about the vision the god had shown her of Xena riding at the head of an army. Xena's own comments had confirmed that fact when she had first stepped into Ephiny's hut, but Gabrielle wasn't ready to discuss that issue just yet, and she knew Xena wasn't either.

As she listened to Gabrielle's story, Xena felt an overpowering fury course through her veins. She had been angry, irritated and frustrated with Ares in the past, but nothing she had felt before compared to what she was experiencing now. She should have realized it was inevitable. Eventually Ares was bound to go after Gabrielle when he realized how important she was to Xena. But to have done something like this was unforgivable. The god had gone way too far this time in his efforts to win her back.

Gabrielle looked at her friend with a touch of concern. Xena had barely said a word since Gabrielle had begun speaking about Ares, and she knew the warrior well enough by now to know that something was wrong. "You okay?" she finally asked, as she took Xena's hand and held it tightly.

Xena smiled as she focused her attention on the woman she was holding in her arms. "Yeah, I'm okay," she said quietly. "As a matter of fact, I'm a whole lot better than okay," said with a grin, before leaning down to kiss Gabrielle passionately.

Gabrielle eagerly returned her kiss and began moving her hands over her lover's body, smiling when she heard a low moan of contentment coming from Xena's throat. As she started to shift positions to allow her hands better access, however, she heard a soft knock on the door.

Breaking away from the kiss, Gabrielle sighed regretfully as she looked into Xena's desire-filled eyes. She took several deep breaths to compose herself and then turned slightly in Xena's arms so that she would be facing the door. "Come in," she finally said softly.

A young Amazon entered the hut and smiled warmly at them both. "Queen Gabrielle, Ephiny asked me to tell you that the tribunal would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience."

Gabrielle nodded. "Now?"

The Amazon shrugged. "If possible yes. But Ephiny told me to make certain that you understood that there was no rush."

Gabrielle nodded again. "I understand, but we might as well do this now. I'll be right with you," she replied, and then watched as the young Amazon bowed and left the hut. Turning to Xena, she smiled ruefully. "Duty calls," she said, before leaning down to brush a kiss across Xena's lips. "I'll go take care of this and then I'll find you again, all right?"

"All right. Looks like I'm going to be here a little longer than I thought," Xena said with a smile, as she brushed a stray lock of hair away from Gabrielle's face. "I guess I'll go get my things and put them in your hut. The Amazons have probably fixed it up for you by now."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Not my hut. Our hut," she admonished gently. "It's the closest thing we have to a physical home together, and that's exactly how I intend to think of it."

Xena smiled at the intensity in her lover's voice. "All right," she conceded. "Our hut. And right now, I'll go get all of our things and move them to our hut? Okay?"

"Okay," Gabrielle agreed, and then rose to stand in front of the warrior. She waited until Xena had risen as well and then moved back into her lover's embrace. "Sorry," she said with a smile. "I just can't seem to stop doing this."

"That's all right," Xena said huskily. "I'll manage to survive somehow." Leaning down, she kissed Gabrielle gently, sighing with pleasure when she felt the young bard's lips part beneath the pressure of her own. They continued to kiss and hug for several minutes, until Xena reluctantly broke away. "Go on," she said softly. "Go meet with Ephiny and the others. I'll see you as soon as you're finished."

Gabrielle nodded and then leaned up to press one last kiss against Xena's lips. "All right. I'll see you soon," she replied, before turning and walking from the hut.

It didn't take Xena long to gather Gabrielle's possessions from Ephiny's hut and to retrieve her saddlebags from the stable where Argo was being kept. Realizing that it would likely be several days before they would be able to leave the Amazon village, she quickly and efficiently put their things away, organizing them as best she could, before she stood up and took a look around. She had purposefully avoided this hut the last time she had been in the village, knowing that she could not have dealt with the memories it would have brought back to her. Now it brought back pleasant memories of the time she had spent here with Gabrielle a few months before, but it also contributed to the growing agitation she was feeling.

Ever since Gabrielle had told her the details of the part Ares had played in all of this, Xena had felt a rising anger within her. She had been too exhausted and too empty to feel much of anything, when the god had admitted he had used her and taken advantage of the fact that she'd lost Gabrielle. But now that she knew he had not only mislead her about Gabrielle's "death" but had arranged it in the first place, she was feeling a raging fury boiling inside her. The fact that Ares had deliberately tried to hurt Gabrielle, both physically and emotionally, caused her even more outrage. The problem was there wasn't a thing she could do about it. She couldn't take revenge on a god, which meant that she was left without a suitable target for her anger.

As she fought with her rage, she heard a knock on the door. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax before saying, "Come in."

She looked up to see Cor open the door and enter. "Not bad," he said, as he glanced around briefly. "You obviously must know someone important to get a place as nice as this."

Xena smiled crookedly at her friend. "I suspect that the Amazons are going to be treating you pretty good too, Cor. It's not everyday that someone manages to return the Queen they've been mourning for two months back to them."

"Well, like I keep telling you. I have many skills," he said with a smirk.

"That you do my friend," Xena said softly. "And I definitely owe you for this."

Cor shook his head. "No. Not this time. You owe me nothing. I just thank the gods I was there to help her," he said, as he moved further into the room and sat down. Reaching into the pack he was carrying, he pulled out several small pouches and tossed them onto the table in front of him. "Gabrielle's wounds still need a fair amount of attention. I didn't know if you had the right stuff on hand so I brought this for you. I have plenty so just keep whatever you don't use."

Xena nodded before moving to sit at the table across from her friend. Opening the pouches, she examined the contents briefly, making certain she was familiar with what they contained. After a few seconds, she set them aside and looked Cor directly in the eyes. "How is she really, Cor?"

Cor shrugged. "She's going to be fine, but it will take some time," he replied. "Her wounds are relatively minor, although a few of them are infected. Just keep them clean and keep applying the medicine to them and they'll be healed before you know it. The only other problem is her strength, but good food and plenty of rest will take care of that." Cor hesitated for a few seconds before continuing. "Actually, there is one more thing. She's not sleeping well at the moment. She's suffering from nightmares and I had to give her something one night to help her get back to sleep. I can give you something for her if you want, although to be honest, I have a feeling they'll be a lot less intense now that she has you back."

Xena glanced away, struggling to control the anger that surged through her when she heard Cor's comments. What she wouldn't give to have Ares as a mortal again. Even if it was only for a few minutes, it would be long enough for her to have her revenge. After a few seconds had passed, she shook her head slowly. "No, that's okay. I have something I can give her if it becomes a problem.

Cor looked at her with a touch of concern. "You all right?"

Xena laughed bitterly. "Of course I am. I just found out that Gabrielle was never killed, she was only used by Ares in some stupid game to try to get me back. She's been suffering for the past two months for the simple reason that she's important to me and because Ares wanted to punish her for helping me to resist his influence. And there's not a thing I can do to keep this from happening again. Why wouldn't I be all right?" she asked sarcastically.

Cor shook his head. "Don't do this to yourself Xena," he said softly. "Just be happy that you have Gabrielle back again. You're going to make yourself crazy if you keep worrying about the rest."

Xena sighed heavily. "I know. It's just a lot to try to deal with all at once."

Cor nodded and stood up to leave. "I know. Just be glad that you've been given the chance to have to deal with it," he said with a smile, before giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze and walking out the door.

Xena remained in the hut until she had calmed back down, and then grabbed one of her saddlebags and went outside once again. It was immediately apparent that the Amazons were preparing for a celebration, a fact Xena didn't find particularly surprising. She only hoped that they understood that Gabrielle was in no condition for a long night of partying. If they didn't understand that, she would just have to take it upon herself to "explain" it to them.

After a few minutes, she caught sight of Gabrielle talking to several women and, to her relief, she noticed that the young woman was sitting down and taking things relatively easy. Gabrielle was now wearing Amazon clothing, however, it was some of the most conservative Amazon clothing Xena had ever seen. Her entire front, back and shoulders were covered by a soft leather shirt, and the skirt she was wearing was rather long as well, leaving very little exposed skin. Obviously Gabrielle had chosen to wear the less revealing clothing for a reason, most likely to help protect the wounds that Xena had noticed earlier, although it could also be to help hide the fact that she appeared rather pale and gaunt at the moment. In any case, Xena couldn't remember the last time she had seen a more beautiful sight.

She continued to watch Gabrielle for a few more moments before making her way to the bard's side. Gabrielle looked up at her approach and smiled warmly, the love she felt for the warrior showing clearly in her eyes. As Xena reached her lover, she leaned down and kissed her gently, smiling inwardly when she felt Gabrielle's hand curl around the back of her neck to hold her close, as the young woman deepened the kiss. After a few seconds Xena pulled back to look down at her lover, her heart pounding wildly as she gazed into Gabrielle's eyes. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to move back slightly, before handing Gabrielle the bag she was carrying. "Thought you might like to have this," she said softly.

Gabrielle gave her a curious expression and then opened the bag to look inside. She gasped with pleasure as she pulled out her staff and quickly began to assemble the cherished weapon. "My staff!" she exclaimed happily. "I figured it was gone for good."

Xena shook her head. "I retrieved all of your things. I left most of them here for awhile, but I kept the staff with me."

Gabrielle looked up at her friend silently, as she found herself at a rare loss for words. Finally she reached down and took Xena's hand in her own and then brought it to her lips. "I love you," she said quietly, not knowing what else to say.

Xena smiled and then leaned down to kiss her lover once again, before moving to sit beside her. She glanced at all the preparations going on around them and then looked at her young friend intently. "Are you sure you're up for something like this? I don't want you to wear yourself out just because you think it's your duty or some such nonsense."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, I'll be fine. I already made certain Ephiny understood that I wasn't likely to stay for the entire thing and that I intended to spend the majority of my time sitting around letting others wait on me hand and foot," she said with a grin.

Xena nodded. "All right. But I want you to promise me that if you get tired you'll call it quits for the evening. You're not going anywhere for awhile, so there will be plenty of time for you to get reacquainted with all of your sisters."

Gabrielle smiled and then leaned against her friend's shoulder. "I promise," she said contentedly.

The celebration that evening was loud and festive. Every Amazon that was in the camp made a point of welcoming Gabrielle back and telling her how grateful they were to learn that she was still alive. It was obvious, however, that Ephiny had spread the word that their Queen was not to be overtaxed, and nearly every woman did her best to say her piece and then move on to let Gabrielle relax.

Gabrielle was content to let the party come to her, as she sat between Cor and Xena. The Amazons were all anxious to speak with Cor as well and it was apparent that he was considered to be a hero for his part in returning Gabrielle to her sisters. Cor accepted their thanks and goodwill, and when he was asked what the Amazons could do to pay him back for his deeds, he immediately asked for lessons in the use of the chobos. Although surprised by his request, the Amazons willingly agreed, and before long Cor was taken away for his first lesson.

Gabrielle smiled at her lover as they watched Cor being led away. "I doubt there are too many men who would choose chobos lessons when a village of Amazons offered him anything he wanted," she said with a wry grin.

Xena grinned back at her. "He's just doing it to bug me. He asked me to teach him a couple of times but I kept making it a condition of a bet. I always won the bets, so I never had to teach him how to use them."

Gabrielle chuckled softly, before moving closer to her friend and resting her head against Xena's shoulder. She smiled and closed her eyes as she felt Xena's arm wrap around her shoulder to pull her even closer, and she inhaled deeply, savoring the scent that was distinctly Xena. "I've missed you," she murmured softly.

Xena's throat tightened slightly when she heard Gabrielle's words. "I missed you too," she finally said quietly.

They continued to sit together for the next hour or so. Gabrielle eventually moved out of Xena's embrace but still sat close to the warrior, talking quietly with her as well as the numerous Amazons that continued to come by to welcome her back. Xena for her part was attentive to her young friend, but as time passed she began feeling more and more ill at ease. The conversation she had had with Gabrielle earlier in the day kept running through her mind, and she began to dwell on the role that Ares had played in all of this.

As more time went by, Xena became more agitated. Every time she looked at Gabrielle, she felt three distinct emotions rising within her: joy, anger, and frustration. She was unbelievably happy and relieved to have Gabrielle back in her life. She had somehow been granted a gift from the gods, and she felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. On the other hand, every time she looked at the young bard, she saw the bruises and injuries that she had suffered over the past two months, and she felt an overwhelming fury towards Ares growing inside her. The god had mislead her about Gabrielle and he'd tried to harm her young lover. Gabrielle had suffered terribly during the past few months and, if her continuing nightmares were any indication, she had been emotionally scarred by the experience as well. Unfortunately, there wasn't much Xena could do about Ares' involvement, which was therefore the cause of her growing frustration. She could protect Gabrielle against mortal enemies, and punish them if they tried to hurt the young bard. But against Ares she was largely helpless to protect Gabrielle from harm. Thus, Xena began to feel more and more off balance and uneasy as the night wore on, and she could feel the tight rein she held on her emotions beginning to slip through her fingers.

A gentle touch on her arm pulled her attention back to the present, and she saw Gabrielle looking up at her with an inquiring expression, while a young Amazon stood before them waiting patiently. "I'm sorry Gabrielle. I must have faded out for a few seconds," she said apologetically.

Gabrielle shrugged. "That's okay. I was just asking if you wanted something else to drink," she said, as she nodded towards the Amazon in front of them.

"No thanks," Xena replied, and then watched as the Amazon nodded and walked away. Turning to look at her young friend, Xena caressed her cheek gently with her knuckles. "How about you? How are you holding up?" she asked softly.

"I'm fine," Gabrielle said with a smile, as she shifted slightly to move closer to her friend.

As Gabrielle changed positions, Xena caught sight of the wrist she had grabbed earlier in the day. She gasped slightly when she saw the large discolorations on the skin, and she quickly reached out to take Gabrielle's arm to pull it closer and examine it. "Gods I'm sorry," she said regretfully. "I can't believe I did this to you."

Gabrielle smiled reassuringly at her friend, as she watched Xena continue to inspect her wrist. "It doesn't hurt that much, Xena. In a few days you won't even know the bruises are there."

"Yes, I will," Xena said quietly, the anguish in her voice obvious.

Sighing softly, Gabrielle moved into Xena's embrace, hugging her tightly. As she continued to hold Xena close, she felt her lover begin to tremble violently in her arms, and she leaned back and looked up at the fierce warrior in amazement. "Xena, relax," she said softly, as she reached up to stroke her lover's cheek with the tips of her fingers. "I'm okay, Warrior...and so are you," she said. "It was an honest mistake, I know you never meant to hurt me."

Xena nodded her head once before resting her forehead against the bard's. "I love you," she finally said softly. "So very much. And I almost threw it all away this afternoon."

Gabrielle smiled at her friend. "Come on, Warrior Princess. Do you really think I'd have let you get away with that so easily?" she asked, before cupping Xena's face with her palms and pressing her lips against the warrior's to kiss her gently. Breaking away after several endless moments, she brushed her thumb across Xena's lips. "I love you too much to have ever let that happen," she said emphatically, before leaning in to kiss her lover once again.

Xena held Gabrielle within her embrace for several minutes as the two drew comfort from the other's presence. Eventually, Xena shifted positions to move so that Gabrielle could sit between her legs with her back resting against Xena. The bard eased back gingerly against the warrior, grateful that Xena had left the breast plate off, and smiled happily when Xena wrapped her arms around her to hold the young Amazon Queen tightly.

They continued to sit quietly as they watched the party around them, each lost in her own thoughts. Xena struggled to focus on the warmth of the young woman resting in her arms but, despite herself, she began to think about Ares once again. She desperately fought against the anger that once again surged through her veins and tried everything she could think of to keep herself calm and relaxed. She knew she was only slightly successful in hiding her growing agitation from Gabrielle, and on more than one occasion the young bard asked Xena if something was wrong. Xena continued to deny that anything was bothering her, however, as she tried to convince herself that all she needed was a little more time to accept the unbelievable series of events that had happened to her during the day.

Eventually, Ephiny came to speak with the lovers, smiling when she saw Gabrielle's contented expression as she sat wrapped in Xena's embrace. She knelt down in front of them so that she could look Gabrielle in the eyes before speaking. "I've arranged for the bathing hut to be prepared for you. I thought you might like a hot bath before you retired for the night."

Gabrielle smiled gratefully at her friend. "That would be wonderful, Ephiny. Thanks for thinking of it."

Ephiny shrugged. "No problem. It's ready whenever you want to use it. I figured you'd be wanting to leave the party pretty soon anyway."

Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder to look at Xena before nodding her head in agreement. "Yeah I think we will. Thanks again," she said, as she slowly rose to her feet.

Xena quickly rose and followed her young lover away from the party. In no time at all they had reached the bathing hut and had stepped inside. Steam rose from the hot water, which filled the large tub that dominated the center of the room and, as they shut the door behind them, the sounds of the party were noticeably muted. Xena wandered around the room for a few moments, finding the clean towels, the soap, the oils, and all the other bathing accessories that Ephiny had had laid out for them. As she turned around to face Gabrielle, she saw that the young bard was removing her shirt. Xena smiled and began to speak, but the words died in her throat when she caught sight of the lash marks covering Gabrielle's back.

In a few quick strides, Xena had covered the distance separating her from her friend. "Who did this to you?" she demanded angrily, as she placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders and stared in horror at the young woman's back. For an instant the image of Gabrielle being flogged by Martakas dominated her thoughts, and she felt an unbelievable rage sweeping over her.

It took Gabrielle a couple of seconds before she figured out what was bothering her friend. "The woman who owned me did that," she said flatly. "I got the wound in my thigh and the bump on my head during a fight after I got away from her, but she did everything else."

"Her name Gabrielle! What was her name?"

"Bulartha," Gabrielle replied in a slightly confused voice.

"Bulartha," Xena hissed softly. "What town were you a slave in?"

Gabrielle began to reply and then stopped and turned to look at her friend. "Why?" she asked cautiously.

"What town, Gabrielle?" Xena repeated steadily.

"Xena what are you planning on doing?"

"She's dead Gabrielle," Xena said in a calm, cold voice. She had found her target. She couldn't touch Ares, but she could make the woman who had hurt Gabrielle pay, and Bulartha was going to pay dearly for what she had done. "No one does this to you and gets away with it. Now what town?" she demanded harshly.

Gabrielle fell back a step when she saw the savage, cruel gleam in Xena's eyes. "Xena let it go. It's not worth it," she said softly, as she desperately tried to reason with the angry warrior standing in front of her.

"NO!" Xena growled furiously. "Now tell me where I can find her!"

Gabrielle shook her head. "No. I won't tell you that. Xena, I'll be all right...."

"Fine!" Xena snapped. "I'll just go ask Cor what town you were a slave in," she said and then began to push past Gabrielle to head back out to the party.

"No Xena, wait," Gabrielle begged, as she reached out to grab the warrior's arm to hold her back.

Xena felt Gabrielle's hand grab onto her and, with an angry snarl, she pulled violently away from the young bard and continued on her way. Her abrupt movement, however, threw Gabrielle off balance, causing the young woman to stumble to the floor.

Xena froze in her tracks when she heard Gabrielle's soft cry of pain as the bard fell to the ground, all the fight and anger instantly draining from her body. In the span of a heartbeat, she was at Gabrielle's side, frantically checking to make certain that the young woman hadn't been hurt further. "Gods Gabrielle," she choked out. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for that to happen."

Gabrielle smiled slightly, as she realized that the 'angry warrior' had vanished and her lover had returned. "It's okay," she said softly. "By now I should know better than to grab you like that when you're upset."

Xena shook her head. "That's no excuse for what I did and you know it," she said remorsefully. "Are you okay?" she asked quietly.

Gabrielle nodded as Xena helped her to rise. "I'm fine. I was more startled than anything else." Seeing that Xena was refusing to meet her eyes, Gabrielle placed her hand underneath the warrior's chin and tilted it upwards. "I'm fine," she repeated. "But I want you to promise me you won't go after Bulartha."

Xena's jaw tightened slightly when she heard her lover's request. "Gabrielle, you don't know what you're asking...."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, I know exactly what I'm asking. I know how hard this is for you, but please, just let this go."

Xena closed her eyes tightly as she fought for control. "Why do you care so much about a woman who treated you so badly?" she finally managed to ask.

"I don't," Gabrielle replied calmly. "I care about you. And I don't want you going off to seek revenge on my behalf because I know what that would do to you. I love you too much to let you start down that path again if I can do anything to stop you."

Xena shook her head in wonder. Taking several deep breaths, she forced herself to let go of the rest of her rage and then nodded her head. "All right. I won't go after her," she agreed tightly, before slowly moving away.

Gabrielle watched as Xena walked deliberately away from her, knowing that her friend needed time to relax and calm back down. "I'm going to take a bath now," she finally said softly. "Do you want to join me?"

Xena shook her head. "No. I'm going to go for a short walk. I'll be back in a few minutes," she said quietly.

Gabrielle nodded as she watched her friend leave and then quickly got undressed and slipped into the bath. She would have greatly preferred to have Xena there with her, but she realized that, at the moment, Xena needed to be alone. This reunion wasn't exactly easy on either of them, and she knew that Xena was feeling guilty about the fact that Gabrielle had been hurt when Xena hadn't been around to protect her. At least they were back together though and, at the moment, that was the only thing that really mattered to Gabrielle. Everything else could be dealt with in its own time.

Xena returned to the bath hut in time to help Gabrielle wash her back. Afterwards she helped the young woman from the water and escorted her to their hut, speaking only a few words as she tried to sort through her own jumbled feelings. She had never felt so completely out of control in her life, and she was desperately trying to regain her sense of balance. She felt detached and separated from her body. It was as if she was watching herself from a distance, and she had no idea what to do about it. Part of her wanted nothing more than to sweep Gabrielle into her arms and hold her tightly. Another part, however, wanted to pick up her sword and take out her anger on every living thing that crossed her path.

As they entered the hut, Gabrielle looked around briefly and then smiled. She had never been happier than she had been during the time she had spent here with Xena a few months ago, and pleasant memories of nights spent in Xena's arms flooded through her as she stood inside their hut. She moved into Xena's arms and then looked up at her lover intently. "I want you to promise me something," she said softly.

"What's that?" Xena asked, as she carefully wrapped her arms around the young bard.

"I know you usually wake up before me, but I want to wake up in your arms tomorrow. Promise me that if you wake up first and have to leave, you'll wake me before you go."

Xena smiled gently at her lover. "I promise," she replied, and then brushed a kiss against Gabrielle's forehead. "But for now, I need to take a look at those injuries of yours," she said, before steering Gabrielle to the bed and forcing her to sit down on it.

Turning away, she walked back over to the table and began preparing the needed medicine, using the contents of the pouches Cor had given her. In a few minutes she had finished and had returned to Gabrielle's side. The young bard had already removed the bandage from her leg and Xena quickly inspected the wound, nodding her approval at Cor's handiwork. She placed a fresh dressing on Gabrielle's thigh and then glanced briefly at the injury to her head, assuring herself that it was healing rapidly as well. With a deep breath, she helped Gabrielle remove her shirt once again and then helped the young woman to stretch out on the bed. As Xena began spreading the salve over the whip marks, images of Gabrielle writhing in pain underneath the lash once again filled her mind, and she had to fight to remain calm and to complete the task she had started. After a few minutes she had finished, and she set the medicine aside. She hesitated for a few moments and then began to massage Gabrielle's sore muscles, humming softly as she tried to soothe away the pain and misery her friend had had to endure during the past couple of months. She heard Gabrielle's soft sigh of contentment as her hands moved across the bard's tired body and, before much time had passed, Gabrielle had fallen asleep.

Xena picked up the unused medicine and rose slowly from the bed. Crossing over to the table, she washed the remaining traces of the salve from her hands and then began to put everything away. Finishing her task, she exhaled softly before removing the pieces of armor she was still wearing and then finally removed her leathers, until she was clad only in her shift. She extinguished the candle she had lit when they had first entered the hut and then moved to sit beside Gabrielle once again. The moonlight illuminated the young bard's face, giving her an unearthly beauty that took Xena's breath away. She gently trailed her fingers across the young woman's body, as she tried to convince herself that Gabrielle was real, that she wasn't simply imagining all of this. Finally, she sat back and simply stared down at her young friend, savoring the sight of the woman she loved.

Xena had no idea how long she sat looking at Gabrielle, before she noticed her beginning to stir. The young woman began mumbling softly and indistinctly and, try as she might, Xena was unable to understand what she was saying. The meaning, however, soon became perfectly clear when Gabrielle began to shake and thrash about, tears falling down her cheeks. Xena immediately moved to lie next to Gabrielle and gathered the bard into her arms, taking special care not to squeeze too hard against the young woman's injured back. Gabrielle instantly pressed herself against Xena's long form as she took comfort in the shelter of Xena's embrace, her cries and trembling subsiding immediately. With a soft sigh, Xena shifted slightly to get more comfortable, and then began humming quietly. She saw a small smile appear on Gabrielle's lips as the bard tightened her arms and moved even closer to her. Carefully, Xena brought up her hand and began gently stroking Gabrielle's hair, as she murmured soft words of love to the young bard. Closing her eyes, she promised herself that someday Ares would pay for what he had done to her friend. But for the moment, she would simply relax and enjoy the warmth of Gabrielle's body lying next to hers. There would be time enough later to try to sort through the rest of this mess.

Xena woke early the next morning with Gabrielle sound asleep in her arms. The young bard's head was resting against Xena's shoulder, and her arm was thrown around the warrior's waist, as the young woman held her lover tightly even in her sleep. Xena absently stroked the arm that was lying across her, as she tried to adjust to the idea that she was really holding Gabrielle in her arms. It still seemed too implausible to believe that this was all really happening. At this time yesterday, she was facing a future without meaning or purpose and now, in the span of a few short hours, her life suddenly seemed worth living again.

Xena lay quietly on the pallet for over an hour before Gabrielle finally began to stir. Yawning sleepily, she slowly looked around at her surroundings before finally focusing on the woman lying beneath her. She smiled happily when she saw Xena looking up at her and then leaned down to kiss her lover passionately. Breaking away, she gazed down into Xena's eyes for a few seconds before speaking. "It wasn't a dream," she said softly.

Xena smiled up at her friend. "It wasn't a dream," Xena agreed, before pulling Gabrielle back down to kiss her once again. The kiss quickly deepened as Xena began moving her lips more insistently against her lover's, her hands roaming across Gabrielle's body. When they began moving over the young woman's back, however, Gabrielle flinched slightly in pain, as Xena's hands accidentally touched the still-healing wounds.

Xena immediately jerked her hands back and then moved slightly away from her friend. "Gods I'm sorry! Are you all right?" she demanded worriedly.

Gabrielle smiled reassuringly at her friend. "I'm fine, Xena. Just still a bit tender," she said, as she leaned back towards her friend.

Xena, however, stopped her in midmotion. "I think I'd better check your back," she said firmly, before shifting positions to sit on the edge of the bed beside Gabrielle.

Gabrielle started to protest, but then thought better of it. She waited calmly while Xena examined her back and reapplied some of the salve. When she felt the warrior finish with her task, she rolled over and tried to take Xena back into her arms, but her friend had already risen from the bed and moved to start getting dressed. Gabrielle started at her in surprise for a few seconds, before she finally found her voice. "What's going on?" she asked in a confused tone.

"Hmmm?" Xena asked, as she deliberately kept her back to the young bard. She knew exactly what Gabrielle was talking about, but at the moment she didn't have a suitable answer for the young woman. How could she possibly explain what had happened to her when she had felt Gabrielle flinch in pain? How could she tell the young woman about the image that had suddenly dominated her thoughts? She had seen Gabrielle's broken, tortured body lying on the ground, the bard screaming in agony as her hands were severed from her wrists. How could she ever tell Gabrielle about something like that?

"Why are you getting dressed? Is something wrong?" Gabrielle's voice penetrated through the warrior's thoughts.

Xena forced a smile onto her face and turned back around to look at her friend. "Nothing's wrong. But you've been through a lot and you need your rest. We'll have plenty of time later."

Gabrielle regarded her lover skeptically, not at all convinced that Xena was being entirely honest with her. Now, however, didn't seem like the best time to push the issue. With a small sigh, Gabrielle rose from the bed and quickly got dressed. As she crossed the room to stand next to Xena, she looked her friend over carefully. Noticing the faraway expression in Xena's eyes, she placed her hand gently on Xena's arm to get her attention.

To her utter surprise, Xena started violently when she felt Gabrielle's touch. She looked down at the hand resting against her arm and then jerked back quickly, still staring at Gabrielle's hand in wide-eyed shock. "Xena what's wrong?" Gabrielle demanded, the concern she was now feeling for her friend obvious in her voice.

Xena gazed at Gabrielle in confusion for several moments, before she finally seemed to realize where she was and what she was doing. She carefully scrutinized the young woman standing in front of her, before finally shaking her head. "Nothing wrong," she repeated. "I was just thinking about something else and you startled me. Sorry about that," she finished lamely, before turning and walking out the door.

Gabrielle stared after her in bewilderment for several seconds, now positive that Xena wasn't telling her everything. People didn't simply "startle" the Warrior Princess like that under normal circumstances. Something was obviously bothering her friend and, as usual, Xena was choosing to deal with it by ignoring the situation. With a resigned sigh, she followed Xena out the door, knowing that there was no way she was going to be able to get anything out of her friend at the present time.

As Gabrielle stepped outside, she saw Xena talking with Ephiny a short distance away so she walked over and joined them. As she approached, she heard them discussing someone called Martakas and, after a few seconds, she remembered that Xena had mentioned him as the warlord responsible for her "death." She had all but forgotten that Xena had said she had captured the warlord and it hadn't actually dawned on her that Xena would have handed him over to the Amazons. When she thought about it, however, it made sense. Martakas had supposedly killed an Amazon Queen; who better than the Amazons to mete out the justice he was due?

Ephiny smiled and nodded a welcome to Gabrielle as she approached, before turning her attention back to Xena. "So I need to know what you want to do about him."

Xena shrugged and then rubbed her hand across her eyes wearily. "I don't know. I haven't had a chance to think about it yet." She looked at Ephiny ruefully. "Everything just seems to be happening so fast right now. But even if he didn't kill Gabrielle, he's not an innocent man. I can't see just letting him go free."

Ephiny nodded. "I understand. I may have a solution for you, though. I was talking to your friend, Cor, last night, and he offered to take Martakas off our hands, assuming that it was all right with you. He said he could deliver the warlord to one of the villages Martakas had attacked in the past and let them put the warlord on trial."

Xena smiled in relief. "That would be perfect. Let Cor take Martakas whenever he's ready to leave. He'll get the justice he deserves that way."

"All right. We'll hold him until Cor is ready to leave. I believe he said he was going to stay for a few more days before he left us." Turning to face Gabrielle, she smiled before continuing, "I made certain that he was given the best of everything and he's been informed that he is welcome to stay as long as he wants."

Gabrielle smiled in return. "Thank you, Ephiny. I appreciate that. I don't know if I would have been able to make it back here if it hadn't been for Cor's help. Please make certain that everyone knows how important his friendship is to me."

"Of course. Cor will always be welcome in our village. Now, as for you. The last time you were here we worked you hard. This time, however, it's your turn to take a vacation. I don't want to see you pushing yourself in any way. Your job now is to rest and recover. Agreed?" Ephiny asked sternly, although Gabrielle could see the hint of a smile tugging at her lips.

"Agreed," Gabrielle said, as she willingly acquiesced to the Amazon's demands. "I don't think I have much choice in the matter anyway. Between you, Cor, and Xena, I haven't been able to do much of anything for myself for the past couple of days," she said with a wry grin.

Ephiny smiled at her young friend. "And that's the way we intend to keep it, so I suggest you learn to like it. Or at least, learn to accept it." she said.

"Oh, I think for a few days, anyway, I can learn to like it," Gabrielle replied with a broad smile.

For the next couple of days, Gabrielle did nothing but relax and take things easy and, on one level, she was happy and content. She felt safe and secure in the Amazon village with Xena at her side, and slowly the memories of the suffering she had endured during the past couple of months began to fade. Xena was warm, caring and incredibly attentive to Gabrielle's needs. She was rarely away from Gabrielle's side, and even when she was, she nearly always remained within view of the bard. Each night she gently massaged the young woman's tired body and held her securely in her embrace, protecting Gabrielle from the nightmares that had previously disturbed her sleep.

Things were far from perfect, however. Xena was treating her like a cherished friend, but not as a lover. The warrior had always been protective of the bard but, at the moment, she was bordering on the extreme. Xena was behaving as if Gabrielle were a piece of fine crystal and there was an unnerving carefulness about everything she did for her.

In addition, Gabrielle frequently caught the warrior staring at her with a strange expression in her eyes, as if she couldn't quite understand what she was seeing. On numerous occasions, Xena had recoiled from the touch of Gabrielle's hands, although she always tried to pass it off as being startled or surprised. The confusing thing was that, in general, Xena didn't seem to have a particular problem with being close to her, and the warrior was usually quite devoted. But there were frequent instances where Xena's affection seemed extremely forced, and Gabrielle began to wonder if somehow, on some level, Xena was regretting their reunion.

It was early in the afternoon and Gabrielle was sitting in the shade, watching Xena talking with several Amazons. She couldn't hear what they were actually talking about, but she suspected the topic was weapons, since on several occasions she saw Xena draw her sword as if to demonstrate a point. The warrior cast frequent glances in Gabrielle's direction, smiling warmly each time that she did so.

As Gabrielle continued to watch, her thoughts began to drift to Xena's actions over the past few days. She couldn't say exactly what it was but she knew that there was something about the warrior's behavior that was very wrong. Gabrielle was beginning to get tired of the entire situation and wanted to get things resolved one way or the other. She was also getting rather fed up with hearing that she was still too tired for anything other than sleep each night when she and Xena went to bed.

Gabrielle saw Ephiny approaching but continued to focus on Xena. She heard Ephiny come to a stop and sit down beside her and, after several seconds, she finally turned to look at her friend. "Hi," she said quietly.

Ephiny looked the young Queen over carefully. "Something wrong?" she asked after a few seconds.

"Yeah. Unfortunately, I don't know what." Gabrielle replied in a frustrated tone. Seeing the questioning look on Ephiny's face, Gabrielle shrugged before continuing. "It's Xena. She's been acting funny ever since we finally got back together."


Gabrielle sighed. "It's hard to explain. She's thoughtful, kind, caring...but she's holding me at arm's length. She keeps looking at me strangely and half the time she flinches and pulls away whenever I try to touch her."

Ephiny hesitated before responding. "This is probably hard for her to handle..."

"But why? Why is it so hard for her to handle this? You and everyone else are just fine with it, and I had to deal with the same situation when Xena came back to me and I didn't react like this. Besides, it should be easier for her. I wasn't actually dead."

Ephiny smiled wryly. "Well, let's ignore for the moment the obvious answer that Xena isn't like everyone else, so you can't expect her to react like everyone else...You have to realize that it's not the same for her, Gabrielle. Her situation was different from all the rest of us. When...when 'your body' was brought back to the village, the only people who actually saw it were the members of the tribunal and me. The other Amazons never saw a corpse, so it's not surprising that they don't have as difficult a time with this. As for me, to be honest, I do find this a bit unsettling too, but through it all, I was so busy with the responsibilities of being Queen that I didn't have time to think about your death as much. But that's all Xena has thought about for the past couple of months. It's what's driven her every action. She believed you were dead for two months. It's not easy for her to simply accept that what she was told about you never actually happened."

Ephiny glanced over to where Xena was standing, before looking back at her Queen. "As for why you could accept her return easier than she's accepting yours, I suspect that that's mainly due to time. You had only just begun to give Xena up, just started to let her go. Xena watched 'your corpse' on the funeral fire. She chased after your killer. She lived with your absence for two months. She needs time to understand that you're really back."

Gabrielle nodded absently, before taking a closer look at Ephiny. "Why didn't anyone else see the corpse?" she asked curiously.


"Why didn't anyone except for you and the tribunal see the corpse? I would have thought it would make sense for everyone to be allowed to see the body of the Queen."

Ephiny looked distinctly uncomfortable at the direction the conversation was taking. "Well, normally yes. But it was decided in this case that it would be best not to allow it."

"Why?" Gabrielle asked quietly.

Ephiny hesitated for several seconds before answering. "Because of the condition it was in," she finally said with a heavy sigh. "Xena hasn't told you what we thought had happened to you, has she?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "No. She refuses to discuss it with me."

Ephiny nodded. "I'm not surprised." Taking a deep breath, she looked her friend directly in the eyes. "The body was severely mutilated. We didn't want the others to remember you like that. And besides, we were worried that if they knew the 'truth' about what had happened to you, the entire tribe would have demanded to go after your killer."

Gabrielle stared at Ephiny for several seconds, a stunned expression on her face. "What did you think had happened?"

Ephiny paused for several seconds, trying to decide what exactly she should tell the young bard. Finally, in a low voice, she began to tell Gabrielle everything that Xena had told her. She told Gabrielle about the rapes, the flogging, the crucifixion, and the way that she had ultimately been "killed". By the time Ephiny had finished, Gabrielle was staring at her in shock, her face colorless and her breathing shallow. "Gods above. Ares said he'd told Xena a terrible story about my death, but I never dreamed he could have told her something like that." Glancing over at Xena, Gabrielle gazed at her friend with an expression of awe. "I can't believe she didn't kill Martakas after that."

"She came close, Gabrielle, but somehow...somehow she managed to stop herself."

Gabrielle continued to think about the story Ephiny had told her for several seconds, before things started slowly falling into place. "No wonder....," she said softly, her voice trailing off into silence as she stared down at her hands.

"Hmmm?" Ephiny asked in a confused voice.

Gabrielle looked up to see her friend watching her inquisitively. "Nothing," she replied, as she shook her head. "Thanks Ephiny. You've cleared up a lot of things for me."

Ephiny nodded. "No problem. You know I'm here for you if you need anything."

"Thanks. Actually, there is one other thing. Could you make certain Xena knows I've returned to our hut. There are a few things I need to discuss with her in private as soon as she gets the chance."

"Of course," Ephiny replied, as she watched Gabrielle rise and walk away quietly.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked softly, as she entered their hut. Looking around, she saw the young woman sitting on the bed, apparently lost in thought. "Ephiny said you wanted to talk to me," she said hesitantly.

Gabrielle started slightly when she heard Xena's voice, before smiling warmly at her friend. "Yeah I did. Come here for a minute," she said, waving for the warrior to come sit next to her.

Xena walked across the room and, after a brief hesitation, sat down on the pallet beside Gabrielle. "What's up?" she asked cautiously.

"We need to talk," Gabrielle replied. "This has gone on long enough and it's time we put a stop to it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Xena replied, as she started to rise and walk away.

Gabrielle quickly reached out and grabbed Xena's wrist and pulled her back down to the bed. "Yes, you do," she said quietly. Seeing that Xena was refusing to meet her eyes, Gabrielle sighed. "Xena look at me," she ordered softly. Several seconds passed before Xena finally lifted her gaze to meet Gabrielle's, and the bard shook her head sadly at the uneasiness and bewilderment she saw in her lover's eyes. "Xena, I didn't die."

Xena rolled her eyes and began to pull away from Gabrielle once again. "I know that...."

"No. I don't think you do," Gabrielle said forcefully, as she pulled Xena back down once again. She waited until Xena was looking at her before continuing. "I didn't die," she repeated. "Nothing happened to me...."

"Nothing happened to you?" Xena demanded incredulously. "Gabrielle, you were sold into slavery, beaten, whipped and starved. That hardly counts as nothing!"

"All right," Gabrielle conceded ruefully. "That wasn't the best way to put that. But what you think happened to me never did. And more importantly, none of what did happen to me is your fault."

Xena looked away from her friend, unable to meet her eyes. "Yes it was," she said after several long seconds. "I should have been there with you. I shouldn't have left you behind. I left you there to die alone."

"Xena, you're not listening to me. I didn't die."

"But you could have," Xena ground out fiercely. "Martakas could have killed you and it would have been my fault."

"You can't do this Xena. You can't play 'could have' and 'should have'. It won't help anything. I don't blame you for anything that happened, and you shouldn't blame yourself either."

"But it all could happen again," Xena said quietly. "I can't protect you from Ares, and he's bound to try to use you against me again."

"Let him," Gabrielle said just as quietly. "If that's the risk I have to take to be with you, then I'm willing to take it."

"NO!" Xena swore savagely, as she rose from the bed and began to pace around the room. "You shouldn't have to do that. You shouldn't have to put yourself in danger like that."

Gabrielle regarded her friend calmly. "And if the situation were reversed. If it was dangerous for you to be with me, would you just leave me?"

Xena sighed heavily. "You know I wouldn't."

"Then give me some credit. Just because you're a warrior doesn't mean you have the lock on commitment and bravery, or stubbornness," she said with a smile.

Xena stopped pacing and looked at her friend. "Gabrielle, I just...I just can't get the picture of you lying in that sarcophagus out of my head," she finally admitted softly, the pain in her voice obvious. "I felt like my heart had been sliced in two when I saw your body lying there...."

Gabrielle looked at her friend compassionately, as she heard Xena's voice trail off into silence. "Xena come here," she said gently. Without a word, the warrior crossed the room and sat down beside Gabrielle once again. "Xena...I know what you think happened to me. Ephiny told me the whole story and I'm sorry that you had to hear something like that. But you have to get past this. None of it was true."

Xena shrugged helplessly. "I've tried. But every time I close my eyes I see that image, I hear your screams of pain. I keep trying to convince myself that it wasn't real, but no matter how hard I try that vision still remains."

Gabrielle looked at her friend in silence, as she considered her words. Finally, she sighed softly and then placed her hand on top of Xena's. "Take it," she ordered quietly.

Xena looked at her in confusion, before closing her fingers around Gabrielle's hand. She glanced down at the small hand she was holding for a few moments, before she finally began to realize what Gabrielle was trying to do. She examined the palm and fingers intently for several seconds, before finally looking back up at her lover.

Gabrielle watched the entire process in silence, before extending her other hand to her friend. "Take it," she repeated, this time with a small smile on her face.

Xena took Gabrielle's other hand in her own and examined it as well. She traced her fingers lightly over the palm and then moved to the wrist, stroking the skin gently. Slowly she brought both of the bard's hands to her lips to kiss them softly. Taking a deep breath, she held the young woman's hands tightly between her own, before looking directly into Gabrielle's eyes as a small smile formed on her own lips.

"They're real," Gabrielle said softly, "And so am I," she finished, before leaning forward to brush her lips against Xena's. With a soft sigh, Xena released Gabrielle's hands as she lifted one of her own to curl around the back of the young woman's neck to hold her close. Gabrielle deepened the kiss as she felt Xena's response, and forced her tongue past her lips to explore the inner recesses of the warrior's mouth. She moaned softly as she felt Xena's tongue pressing up against her own, and she moved closer and wrapped her arms around Xena's body to hold her tightly.

They continued to kiss for a few minutes as the familiar passion began to build around them. Finally Gabrielle broke away and leaned back to look at her friend. They were both breathing heavily and Gabrielle smiled as she realized that victory was near. Reaching down, she grasped the edges of the shirt she was wearing and drew it over her head and tossed it to the side. Her smile broadened when she saw Xena staring hungrily at her bare breasts. Taking one of Xena's hands in her own, she slowly brought the warrior's hand to her lips. Deliberately, she pressed soft kisses to each of the fingers while staring directly into Xena's eyes, and then placed the warrior's hand on her right collarbone. "No scars," she whispered softly, as she carefully drew Xena's hand down across her body to her left hip. Reaching down, she picked up Xena's other hand and brought it to her lips as well. This time, however, she kissed the palm and then gently sucked each finger into her mouth for a few seconds, before finally placing the warrior's hand against her left collarbone. "It never happened," she said softly, as she pulled her lover's hand across her body until it was resting on her right hip.

Gabrielle smiled as she felt Xena's hands begin to lightly caress her hips. Moving still closer, she lovingly cupped Xena's face in her palms and then leaned in until her lips were nearly touching her lover's. "None of it happened," she murmured softly, before closing the rest of the distance and kissing Xena passionately.

Pulling back slightly after a few moments, Gabrielle smiled and then reached down to take Xena's hands once again and placed them over her breasts. Whimpering softly as she felt Xena begin to stroke and caress her, Gabrielle surrendered herself to her lover's touch as she felt a burning warmth moving through her veins. Covering the warrior's hands with her own, she encouraged Xena to squeeze harder, needing to feel Xena's passion and desire more fully.

With a low groan, Xena leaned forward and took one of Gabrielle's rock hard nipples between her lips, sucking on it firmly as her tongue teased the sensitive tip. Pulling Gabrielle into her arms, she continued to taste and explore the body of the woman she loved, Gabrielle's sighs of pleasure ringing in her ears. She moved her lips back up along Gabrielle's throat until she reached the young woman's lips and then kissed her deeply, her own tongue now the aggressor as she probed and explored Gabrielle's mouth thoroughly.

After several minutes, Xena tore herself away from her young lover. "No," she ground out tightly. She tried to move away but Gabrielle quickly locked her arms around the warrior to hold her close. "Gabrielle we can't do this yet," Xena said "You're still not well. I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me," Gabrielle replied, as she leaned forward to place feather light kisses along Xena's jaw.

Xena took a deep shuddering breath. "Gabrielle," she ground out tightly. "You've been hurt. You're still weak...."

Gabrielle leaned back and looked her friend directly in the eyes. "I've recovered. And if you're so concerned about my strength, then you can just do all the work," she said with a devilish glint in her eyes. Seeing Xena's resolve weakening, Gabrielle reached down once again and grabbed the warrior's wrist. "I need you Xena," she said huskily, as she slowly drew Xena's hand down underneath her skirt to place it between her legs. Her eyes closed briefly as she felt Xena's fingers brush against her heated flesh, and she had to struggle to speak in a normal voice. "And I need to know that you need me too. Make love to me Xena," she begged softly. "Make the memories of the past two months fade away."

Xena groaned as she felt Gabrielle's warm wetness covering her hand and, as she heard Gabrielle's passionate entreaties, she knew she was lost. She allowed the bard to pull her in closer and then covered her lips with a scorching kiss. She continued to lightly stroke Gabrielle's inner thighs, and shuddered once again as she felt Gabrielle responding to her touch. Xena felt her lover's hands pulling at the buckles and fasteners of her clothing, so she leaned away momentarily to remove her armor and leathers. She quickly shed everything she was wearing and then helped Gabrielle remove the rest of her clothing as well. She pulled Gabrielle into her arms to kiss her once again, and then eased her down until they were stretched out beside one another on the pallet. Her hands roamed over Gabrielle's body, touching and caressing, and setting the young woman on fire. In no time at all, Gabrielle was writhing and moaning against her, as her body responded on its own accord to Xena's touch.

Xena stared in wonder at the woman she was holding in her arms. She'd never thought she would get another chance to make love to Gabrielle and, now that she was, she couldn't quite believe it was actually happening. Sensing the direction of her lover's thoughts, Gabrielle smiled at the warrior. "It's real," she said softly, as her hands began moving over Xena's back. "It's very real."

Xena groaned as she felt Gabrielle's hands stroking her body. Carefully pressing Gabrielle backwards, she moved to rest her body on top of the young woman's, groaning again when she felt the bard's sweat-slickened skin against her own. She kissed her lover ardently, before moving her lips down the column of Gabrielle's throat. She nibbled, sucked and kissed Gabrielle's sensitive skin, loving the way the young woman was reacting to her attentions. Sliding down further she captured one of the young bard's breasts once again, sucking as much of the tender flesh into her mouth as she was able. As Gabrielle arched against her, Xena bit down gently on the nipple, smiling when she heard Gabrielle's soft gasp of pleasure.

Xena continued her impassioned caresses for several minutes, her lips and hands teasing and stroking the young woman as she strove to show Gabrielle how much she loved her. As she continued to touch Gabrielle and saw the pleasure she was giving her, Xena's own nightmares began to fade away as well. However, she still needed more. Leaning up, she kissed her lover gently on the lips before whispering softly, "Gabrielle, let me hear you."

Xena's words slowly penetrated through the passion-induced haze Gabrielle was under. "Hear me?" she asked softly, as she tried to understand what Xena was asking.

Xena slowly slid back down to settle herself between Gabrielle's thighs. Looking up towards her friend, she nodded her head. "I need to hear you. I need to know what you're feeling. I need...I need to hear something besides your screams of pain," she said softly, as she leaned down and pressed her lips against Gabrielle's labia.

Gabrielle willingly gave her lover what she was asking for, as she pressed her hips towards Xena's mouth and moaned softly. She felt Xena's hands part her soaking wet folds and then jerked involuntarily as she felt Xena's tongue caressing her. "Gods, Xena," she gasped. "That feels so good. More," she begged throatily, before burying her fingers into Xena's thick hair to hold her close.

Xena willingly complied, as she plunged her tongue deeply into Gabrielle's opening. Gabrielle's cries of pleasure were music to the warrior's ears and, as she felt Gabrielle's rising level of excitement, she felt a fiery heat growing within her as well. She continued thrusting her tongue in and out of her young lover for several minutes, while using her fingers to gently stroke Gabrielle's clitoris. Finally, as the young woman was beginning to buck her hips more and more wildly, Xena moved up to take the swollen bundle of nerves between her lips. Sucking on it fiercely, she swirled her tongue across its surface as she carefully eased two fingers inside her lover and began to stroke her gently.

Gabrielle moaned loudly, her breath coming in short, rasping pants as she arched against her lover's touch. "Oh goddess," she whimpered loudly. "Harder," she pleaded frantically, "And faster...please...Xena...not...gentle...I need...you...so much."

Responding to Gabrielle's pleas, Xena began thrusting her fingers more firmly into her lover as she increased her pace. Knowing that the bard was rapidly reaching her limits, Xena moved back up the young woman's body and straddled Gabrielle's leg. Gabrielle immediately pressed her thigh hard against Xena's core, as the warrior covered her lips once again with a hard, probing kiss. Xena continued to plunge her hand into Gabrielle's depths as she rocked against the bard's leg, moaning into the young woman's mouth as she felt Gabrielle's fingernails raking across her back.

Finally, after several more minutes had passed, Gabrielle arched against her lover's hand one last time, calling Xena's name loudly as her release swept over her, her fingernails digging into Xena's back. Xena thrust her hips against Gabrielle's leg once more and then allowed herself to be swept along as well, locking her gaze with Gabrielle's as she felt their souls meet and join once again. Wave after wave of ecstasy flowed over them both as they surrendered to the love that they shared, their bodies shuddering as the force of their passion rolled through them.

Xena finally collapsed against her young lover, as delicious little aftershocks wracked her body. Withdrawing her fingers, she closed her eyes as she licked them clean, and then moved to gather Gabrielle into her arms. Xena kissed her gently and then slowly rolled over, pulling Gabrielle to rest on top of her. She looked up at the young woman and sighed softly, before gently brushing a sweat soaked lock of hair back from her face. "I love you," she whispered softly.

Gabrielle smiled contentedly, as she burrowed into Xena's embrace. "I love you too Warrior, and I don't want you to ever forget that fact."

"I won't," Xena promised. "I won't."

Part 10

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