Disclaimers: Please see "Clones Alone" Part 1

Clones Alone (Part 2)

"A Gift I Never Deserved"

Cordelia walked into the hotel in the morning to find Wesley's face smack-dab asleep within the pages of a book. It wasn't that this was unusual, just annoying!

"Wesley," she nudged him, "Yo, Wes, wagons ho!"

"Oh, oh, Cordelia, you won't believe it," he said as he replaced his glasses upon his face, "but your visions last night weren't so strange after all. Xena and Gabrielle really do exist in this reality! They're clones, you see, and your vision was spot on, as usual!"

"O.k., whatever. Look, it's too early in the morning for jokes. At least let me grab a cup of coffee first."

"No, Cordelia, I'm serious. They were cloned by a mad scientist, apparently an ages-old adversary named Alti, and brought into this century, fed their memories and exist in the here and now!"

"Look, Wes, it was a T.V. show, o.k.? No two such women ever existed. You've heard of fantasy, right? And the difference between fantasy and reality?"

"But you are so wrong, Cordelia! The show was based upon ancient scrolls by the bard, the poet, Gabrielle!"

"Very few writings by women exist from Ancient Greece. And as far as poetry is concerned," Cordelia said, "even Sappho's poems are only known through fragments of things they could piece together! I mean, it wasn't like the 'you go, girl!' society of the Ancient World!" Cordelia hated betraying the fact that she had knowledge of classical literature. Next thing you know, people would expect her to discuss Aristotle or Plato or Socrates -- just not her thing!

"No, Cordelia! Scrolls have been discovered! It is a little known fact that the T.V. show was based upon these scrolls!"

"And, as I said before, whatEVER! 'Gabrielle' sounds like a name from Ancient Greece to you?"

"But, I'm telling you, it's true! You have to meet them! Plus, I've been researching about Satan."

"Oh God, please don't go there! That was the creepiest vision ever!"

"Yes, well according to biblical writings, and I have researched extensively the letters of Paul, Peter and James, as well as the gospels of Christ, he is only mentioned coming back in 'The Revelation to John'."

"And that means what to you?," Cordelia questioned.

"I would like to know the answer to that, as well," Angel said as he leaned over the hotel lobby balcony.

"Well," Wesley began, "It means that Xena and Gabrielle's experience with him may be more helpful than we thought, for one thing!"

"How so?," Angel asked as he walked down the stairs.

"Unless we accept that this is 'the end of days', he, I mean Satan, can be defeated this time."

"And Xena has done it before, right?," Angel said.

"Right," Wesley replied.

"And in your study of the Bible, did you find anything about demonic possession?," Angel asked.

"Well yes, actually, in the Gospel of Mark, I believe, Christ casts out demons into a herd of pigs!"

"And so, are any of us going to be able to do that here, Wesley?," Angel continued questioning.

"I don't think I get you're point, Angel."

"Well I, for one, being an unnatural creature, do not have a 'Christ Complex'!"

"Oooh, you know what, Angel?," Cordelia interjected. "You do! You're always trying to 'save' people and you constantly 'sacrifice' yourself! And that's just like every cable channel evangelist's wet dream of Jesus. I mean, if they ever thought of Jesus. Well, it's their audiences' wet dream, at least!"

"What is your point, Cordy?" Angel asked.

"Oh, nothing. Just that if you're trying to say that you can't cast out Satan because you're not 'Christ-like', I disagree."

"You think I'm Christ-like?" Angel sounded flattered.

"Well, yeah, in that celibate do-the-right-thing sort of way, yeah!"

"Great, that's all I needed," he mumbled.

"So you really think that Satan is within Xena at this point?," Wes queried.

"I don't know for sure. I only know that she was hiding something. I hope I'm wrong, for her sake as well as for Gabrielle's, but there's definitely something wrong there."

"O.k. now," Cordelia complained, "so you're going to tell me that this T.V. show stuff about Xena and Gabrielle is true too, Angel? Hey, you guys are playing a joke on me, huh? That's cool, I can play. Just let me get my caffiene fix first, all right?"

"I don't know about the T.V. show stuff," Angel said softly. "All I know is that there is a very serious danger from the devil and it has to do with those two."

"Speaking of which," Gunn interrupted as he entered the room, "there's definitely something shaking with the 'Satanist' crowd."

"Gunn," Wesley looked up from his books, "what did you find out?"

"I don't know exactly what it is, but they've got something big planned for the night after next!"

"Oh, let me see," Wesley said as he checked his calendar. "That would be the Autumnal Equinox! Not good!"

"Damn!," Angel agreed.

"The Autumnal Equinox?," Gunn questioned.

"It's the time in autumn when there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark," Cordelia explained.

"I know that, Cordelia," Gunn replied. "But what's that got to do with anything?"

"In ancient Irish tradition," Angel looked far away as he spoke, "there were times when fantastic creatures could pass from the land of the 'Shee' into this world. The worlds would merge on certain nights and only one great warrior could stop the passing of evil mischief-makers into this world. His name was Finn. He was a great Irish hero!" A smile played across Angel's face as he remembered and looked far away, indeed.

"And so?," Cordelia brought him back around again to reality.

"Sorry, I was back home again for a second," Angel apologized. "And so, Finn fought the evil back into their world. The Autumnal Equinox could be one of those times when the worlds merge. But now, maybe a great warrior could be turned and used to open the portal between the worlds again and evil could pass through!"

"Uh, excuse me, but this is all sounding a little 'Halloween-ie' to me," Cordelia griped as she motioned quotation marks with her fingers. "Although you did look kinda' cute when you were remembering Ireland," she softened her tone.

"It is Halloween, Cordy," Angel explained. "It's where it came from: the festival of Samhain! It's one of the few traditions my people brought to this country which survived!"

"You mean the vampires or the Irish?," Cordy asked.

"Well, um, I meant the Irish. Everyone knows that vampires don't care about Halloween! They look at it as kind of an amateur night."

"Well, so anyway, Autumnal Equinox, 'Halloween-ie', the festival of Sam's Haynes, whatever you want to call it, the 'Marilyn Manson' crowd is gathering the day after tomorrow," Gunn said. "And they've got something big planned this time. As far as I could make out from my contacts on the street, there's going to be some sort of human sacrifice!"

"Where, Gunn?," Wesley inquired urgently. "Did you find out where?"

"Well, yeah, right up behind the 'Hollywood' sign where they always have their human sacrifices."

"They'll need somebody pure of heart, of soul," Wesley ventured.

"I think they have someone already picked out," Gunn said. "It was one 'close to the heart of the true hero'. Least, that's the way I heard it. And, oh yeah, something about an 'unnatural' one. Didn't make sense to me!"

"We'd better check on Xena and Gabrielle," Wesley advised.

"No problem," Cordelia said breezily, "I'll call the fantasy characters for you guys in 'T.V. Land'. Give me their number! After all, it is getting closer to Halloween!"


Xena usually held or touched Gabrielle in her sleep. It had become, over the years, their 'way'. Gabrielle, for her part, had gotten quite used to this. She found she could still shift her position to become more comfortable and that the warrior's arm or hand would, somehow, just simply follow her. At first, Gabrielle had loved the feeling that she had conquered this fearless heart and that it belonged to her and her alone! She also had to admit that she liked the comfort that the stronger, more fearsome woman provided to protect her against any danger that may come the way of a former warlord and her Amazon Queen girlfriend traveling together.

Later, she came to understand, that the holding was much less about her and much more about Xena! She could hold on to her partner and feel protected from the haunting dreams that plagued her so, and not have to explain or be strong. Gabrielle had begun to realize that Xena slept much more peacefully when their bodies were touching. On those occasions when Xena was tossing and turning restlessly, Gabrielle found that the touch of her hand, could calm her partner almost immediately. This, Gabrielle perceived, was the ultimate compliment to her! That Xena had chosen her to share this with: her unguarded moments, her unconscious grief. Often, she would find, come morning, Xena wrapped up in her own arms, as if she had become a protective angel over night, warding off the evil demons of the warrior's dreams.

And so it was this morning: long, dark hair spreading across her neck and chest, soft lips settled beneath her chin, warm breath upon her throat. She held Xena tight to her and stroked her hair. "It's o.k., Xena, I've got you," she whispered as she kissed the top of her head. Xena instinctively held on tighter.

"Mmmm...," she began to rouse.

"Good morning, Xena," Gabrielle ventured softly.

A smile played across Xena's lips. "Good morning, Gabrielle." She looked up at her partner. "Ooh, I feel so full of energy already! I feel tingly all over. Want to fool around?"

"Xena, um, we have guests in the house AND we need to go over to Angel Investigations this morning, remember?"

But Xena was on her quicker than she could defend herself. Gabrielle was used to Xena's passion, but this was sudden in nature and felt very different. The warrior was all over her in an uncomfortable manner. Gabrielle tried to push her away.

"C'mon, Gabrielle! I'm full of desire this morning!"

"Hey, Xena!," Gabrielle complained. "You're full of 'something' this morning. But, I didn't say 'yes', got it?!," she said as she rebuffed the advances.

"Aw, what's the matter, Gabrielle? Am I too wild for you?"

"Like that could happen, Xena! You know better than that," she rolled her eyes. "You're just creeping me out, that's all. Don't EVER try to take me like a slave girl, unless I say it's o.k. first, got it?!"

"Oh gods, I'm so sorry, Gabrielle!" Xena had seem to come to her senses. "I don't know what I was thinking there, for a second! That was weird. I'm so sorry!"

"That's o.k., Xena. I know you had a rough night," Gabrielle comforted her. "Look, we just need to get to the bottom of what happened to you last night. You just do NOT lose fights, unless you want to. We need to get back to Angel and his people."

"Yeah, yeah... Angel," Xena said mockingly. "Like him a little, do ya?"

"Oh boy, it's going to be one of those days, huh, Xena?"

"You tell me."

With that, the phone rang. Gabrielle, who was closest to it, picked it up.

"Yes, this is Cordelia from Angel Investigations. I would like to know if there are any T.V. characters in the house because APPARENTLY, I'm supposed to speak to them?!"

"Cordelia?," Gabrielle queried. "Are you the woman with the visions?"

"Ooh! They told you that? Just a minute...," Gabrielle heard the woman pull the phone away from her mouth and call out: "Who told about the visions?! Can't a girl have any secrets around here? Ooh, I SO can't believe I work here, sometimes."

"Sorry," the voice was back on the phone. "Sometimes, you've just got to set some people straight, no matter how much you may love them, know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I do exactly," Gabrielle replied.

"So what's you're story anyway? Are you 'Gabrielle'? I mean, I've seen and heard weirder things! Just tell me straight up: are you 'Gabrielle' cloned by a mad scientist from the T.V. show and, like, 'Xena' exists?"

"Well, yes, I'm Gabrielle, but as we established last night, I'm not cloned from the T.V. show. I'm cloned from me. Look, it's pretty confusing. Could Xena and I just come over there and try to work all the weirdness out and figure out what's going on?"

"Wow! So Xena really exists? I can't tell you how many times we could've used her back in Sunnydale! Look, when can you guys come over here?," she asked. "I mean this, I've gotta' see!"

"It will take a couple of hours. I have guests in the house and I've got to get Xena up and dressed and everything."

"Wow, clones," Cordy interrupted. "from over two thousand years ago, no less. This whole business is new to me. I mean, welcome to our century, I guess. And if you need any fashion tips, just to get you up-to-date, I'm you're girl!"

"Well, Xena's pretty much a straight GAP, Banana Republic type of gal, if you know what I mean: blue jeans, khaki's, T-shirts, black leather jacket, you know?"

"Hmm, I just might be able to help you, girlfriend. Get over here as soon as you can! Besides, this 'clone thing', you know? I live with a ghost, do business with a vampire, some of my best friends are demons, but this I've really got to see!" There was a pause. "I'm so sorry, I'm being insensitive. I get like that sometimes. It's just that no one told me that this was a TRUE story, you know? I thought they were playing a joke on me. I hope I haven't offended you too badly."

"No. It's o.k.," Gabrielle replied. "At this point, it takes a lot to put me off. We'll be there in a couple of hours, o.k.?"

"O.k." There was a pause. "And Gabrielle?," she said apologetically. "You sound nice. I promise not to scream or anything."

"I appreciate that Cordelia. Good-bye." Gabrielle hung up the phone.

Xena was lying on her back with her hands linked behind her head looking pensive. "O.k., out with it, Xena," Gabrielle said as she rested her head upon the arm she had draped across Xena's chest. "What's on your mind?"

"It's the sex thing, Gabrielle. I don't know what made me do that. I'm wondering, do you think I'm out of control?"

"No, no, Xena, not at all. It's just that, well, I really needed to communicate to you that I don't want to be forced, o.k.? That's not you. That's not us, o.k.?"

"That's the weird thing, Gabrielle. That wasn't me. I don't know where that came from, but it wasn't me. I'm so sorry." Her eyes were welling up with tears. "The last thing I ever want to do on this earth, is hurt you! Please believe that!"

"I know that, Xena. Like I said, you had a rough night. It wasn't you."

"You let me off too easy, as usual, Gabrielle. Listen, if I press you too much for sex, you need to let me know."

"I think I just did."

"Do you think we have too much sex? Is it starting to bother you? Look, since we've been here in this time, I've been almost unquenchable in my desire for you. I don't know, it just may be that I have all this time on my hands and I think about it a lot. But it bugs me. It reminds me of the ancient gods and goddesses and their sordid ways."

"Hey, Xena," Gabrielle flicked her hand playfully across the warrior's chin, "for all we know, you have the blood of the gods in you. I mean, it would explain a lot about your 'special talents', you know? And Ares could still be your father."

"Aww, now you've gone and creeped me out, Gabrielle. Why'd you have to go and say that?"

"Because I think about it sometimes. If not him, then someone else from the pantheon. Cyrene never was clear about your origins. Could be Artemis for all we know."

"Yeah, well I'd be lucky then."

"Doesn't matter, 'cause your mine now!" Gabrielle wrapped herself around her lover. "And I'm not letting you go! And," she smiled up at Xena, "no, I don't think we have too much sex and, no, it's not starting to bother me! And, furthermore, you better not stop unless I say to stop!"

"So that means...,"

"It means we've got about an hour before we have to get serious about going downtown and I'm not saying 'stop' right now!"

"Mmmm, Gabrielle," were the last words the bard remembered before being taken to Elysia.


Jinn woke up with a crook in her neck. She had spent the entire evening propped up on a pillow outside of Gabrielle and Xena's door. She hadn't heard a sound emanating from the bedroom all night, until now. It was morning and she heard a low moaning coming from the room. It sounded like Gabrielle's voice. "When did I drop off to sleep?!," she panicked. She listened intently to the sounds passing through the door. It was Gabrielle's voice all right! It sounded as if she was in pain. Then she heard it: "Oh, gods, Xena, no! Oh, Xena!" She wasted no time and burst through the door!

What she saw surprised her. There was Xena, moving rhythmically on top of her young, blonde friend, who was moaning in ecstasy on the bed beaneath her. Her face turned immediately red and she stuttered, "Oh, I'm so sorry, so sorry! I thought, oh well, you don't care what I thought! I'll just try to leave without embarrassing myself any further." She closed the door quietly behind her.

Both Xena and Gabrielle burst into laughter. "Oh gods, Gabrielle," Xena managed to get out. "I'd have thought the phone ringing would've awakened her! But, NOoo, it was the sound of you coming that did it!"

"Oh shut up, Xena," Gabrielle play hit her as she laughed. "I'm going to have to go speak to her. Talk about embarrassing!"

"Yeah, well you go do that. I'm going to take a shower. Unless you want to...,"

"Join you? I guess, I could talk to her later. It would save time and water and all!"

"Yeah, that was my thinking. PLUS we could finish what we started, before we were so rudely interrupted."

Gabrielle smiled, rolled out from under her partner and bounced off the bed. "Last one in the shower is a hanging chad!," she called out.

"A WHAT?," Xena eyed her quizzically.

"I'm just trying to update our language, Xena. Get with the times already, will you?!"

"I'll show you the times," Xena stared at her with a menacingly seductive look. She lept from the bed and caught Gabrielle's naked body as she ran towards their bathroom. She threw her over her shoulder and smacked her playfully on the rear.

"Xena! Take that thing off, will you?," Gabrielle laughed. "It looks so silly, bouncing up and down off of you!"

"Huh, what?" Xena looked down between her legs and smiled. "Oh yeah, I forgot," she said as she unhooked the harness from her hips, let it drop to the floor and carried the giggling bard the rest of the way to the shower.


Jinn ran down the stairs. She sat on the chair next to the couch where Sunny was resting. Jinn placed her hand on her shoulder and shook her friend from sleep. "Sunny," she started, "you can't believe what I just did!"

Sunny, who was not totally awake yet, yawned and stretched. "What? Did demons come here? I can't believe I dozed off. What did I miss? What?"

"Oh, nothing much. I just walked in on Xena and Gabrielle making love is all!"

"Hmmm, so? What's that got to do with anything?"

"It was embarrassing!"

"You should've taken a picture. I would've liked to have seen that," she smiled drowsily. "Sharing, Jinn, don't forget about sharing," she imitated a child's voice. "We're supposed to be best friends and all. How could you hold out on me like that?"

Jinn hit her with a couch pillow. "Do NOT make me angry! This is serious business. You remember what that Angel guy said last night. There's evil present. Something's coming down here. It's no joke!"

"Oh yeah, Angel, the vampire!" Sunny was suddenly wide awake. "So very fascinating! Well, then, let's make some tea and wait for them to come down and we can all go over to Angel Investigations together!"

When Xena and Gabrielle finally ventured downstairs, there were red faces all around, except for Sunny. She sipped her tea and said, "So, have you two had a pleasant morning so far?"

"Look, Jinn," Gabrielle began, "I'm really sorry about that."

"Oh, hey, Gabrielle," she looked uncomfortable, "it still sounds so strange for me to call you that... it was my fault. I'm so sorry!"

"No! I won't hear of it! You have nothing to be sorry for! You thought you were protecting me. I can't tell you how much that means to me! I owe you an apology. We shouldn't have been doing, um... that, with you right outside the door."

"Especially seeing as she left her camera at home!," Sunny offered innocently as she took another sip of tea.

Xena stared at Sunny long and hard. She still looked too much like Brunnhilda, even in the morning light and with the herbs cleared out of her head, for her taste. But, she had to admit, that was an amusing comment. She was starting to like her in spite of her misgivings.

"So, what's the plan for today?," Sunny asked brightly. "I'm up for a field trip downtown. Class? We've packed a breakfast!"

"Um, that's right," Jinn offered, "we packed some bananas and nut bread and have tea in a thermos for the both of you. You can eat on the road to expedite things, if you so choose."

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other: did she just say 'nut bread'?

"Nut bread?," Xena asked.

"Well, yes, I don't know what else to call it. It was some kind of pastry I found around here while you two were, er, um, sorry, I'm sorry." Jinn looked embarrassed again. Gabrielle hugged her.

"Yeah, that would be the muffins I picked up yesterday at the bakery, remember Xena?" She gave the warrior a "you remember" look.

"Oh, yeah, yeah sure, the muffins. Anyone could mistake them for nut bread!" She arched a disapproving eyebrow at her partner in the embrace of another woman.

"I think it's a good idea, we eat on the way. What do you think, Xena?," Gabrielle said as she disengaged from Jinn.

"Oh, hey, this is your show, Gabrielle, you run it as you see fit. Where you lead, I will follow!"

"Then let's get this show on the road!"


Gabrielle took Xena's hand at Angel Investigations and began to lead her through the doors.

"Hold on a minute, Gabrielle," Xena complained. "Are you sure about this? We don't even know these people."

"You just said at home, that it was my show; that you would follow me on this."

"Yeah well, I'm having second thoughts."

"It'll be o.k., Xena! Just come with me, you'll see. Angel's going to help us! He's a good guy!"

"Stop, Gabrielle! There's one last thing before we go in."

"No! Just come, Xena!"

"No, no, no," Xena laughed lightly. She covered her hand with her shirt sleeve and proceeded to gently brush it across Gabrielle's lips and chin. "You had a couple of muffin crumbs on ya," she smiled.

Gabrielle smiled back. "The perils of eating while driving. Always looking out for me, huh, Xena?"


Sunny and Jinn had already arrived. They were discussing things with Wesley and Gunn as Xena and Gabrielle entered.

As they walked across the lobby, they were greeted by Wes. "I'm glad you two could make it," he said. "I've got more information for you."

They were interrupted by a scream! It was Cordelia. She took one look at Xena and Gabrielle and closed the space between them quickly. She grabbed Gabrielle! "WHERE did you get this sweater?! Angel?," she turned to look at her partner who was leaning against the check-in desk, "I cannot afford this, because we never charge, HELLO?! And that handbag! Girl, we have got to shop together!"

Gabrielle couldn't help it, she liked her immediately. She reminded her of an old friend, one she had missed immensely. She smiled. "You must be the one with the visions, Cordelia, right?"

Cordelia locked her arm with Gabrielle's. "Oh, and by the way," she whispered as she eyed Xena, "the GAP 'look' actually works well on her! Don't change a thing."

"You're really beautiful," Gabrielle said.

"Well, thank you Gabrielle! I never hear that around here," she stuck her tongue out at Angel, "not that I want to! Let's finish up business here fast, so we can hit some stores, o.k.?"

"Right," Wesley intoned, "well, 'finishing up business' as you put it, Cordelia, is not going to be so easy. Gunn has some new information for us. We all need to take this unpleasant business quite seriously, I'm afraid."

"Well there's you're problem," Xena said. "You're afraid." Gabrielle gave her a scolding look. Xena shook her head,

"The heart of a true warrior," Sunny thought. "Show no fear!"

"Yeah, o.k., so I'm here now. What's this new information?," Xena drawled as she and Gabrielle settled down on a couch.

"Well, Gunn's sources tell him that there's to be a ceremony where human sacrifice is expected," Wesley informed her.

A skeptical scowl crossed Xena's features. "And just when I was so sure I was getting used to this reality. You see, all this time, I thought a gun was a weapon."

"Oh, I am weapon, girlfriend, you can count on that!," Gunn said as he stepped forward.

Xena turned to Gabrielle with a bemused look on her face. "Have you ever noticed that everyone calls everyone else 'girlfriend' around here? Odd." She turned to the young man standing in front of her. "Gunn, I presume." She held out her hand to shake. "I'm Xena."

Gunn smiled a huge smile, as if he were meeting a celebrity. He took Xena's hand and shook it furiously. "I know. I recognized you." He turned to his friends, "Whooowee! I can't believe I just shook hands with Xena! Damn, I love the 21st Century!" He turned back to Xena. "Yeah, something big is goin' down tomorrow night. They're after someone pure, someone close to the heart of the hero." He looked at Xena's left hand, still intertwined with Gabrielle's. "I'm thinking that means you, Gabrielle." He said as he pointed both fingers at the bard.

"Now wait just a minute!," Xena leaned forward and looked suddenly fierce. "Who's after Gabrielle?"

"The Satanist crowd, you know, the 'devil worshipers'?," Gunn said.

"Where are they? What are we sitting around for? Let's just go over and kick their asses!"

"It's not that easy," Angel interjected. "There may be more to this than it appears."

Xena stood up. "Yeah, well when it comes to Gabrielle, I don't take chances. Tell me where they are. I'll take 'em out single handed!"

"You know, Angel," Gunn postured, "it's not a half bad idea."

"They're human, Gunn," Angel responded. "We can't just do that."

"Yeah, stupid, too dumb to live human," Cordelia spoke up.

"Yet human just the same," Wesley interjected. "No, Angel is right. We can't just go off willy-nilly and have our way with any coven we see fit. We don't even know what group this is, as of yet."

"You mean there's more than one group of crazed Satanists in town?," Xena asked incredulously.

"Oh yes," another voice was heard from. "Just taking the population from Marina Del Rey up to Malibu and then over to Westwood, calculating the number of devil worship websites on the internet and extrapolating that number to...,"

"Everybody," Wesley interrupted, "this our newest partner, Fred. We recovered her from an alternate reality she had been whisked into and she now lives here at the hotel and helps us with our mission. Fred," he turned to face an attractive young woman with a slight build and long brown hair. "You're not helping the situation right now."

She shrank back a little. "Oh, I'm sorry. I was just trying to be informative. I hadn't even gotten to Brentwood or Bel-Air or Beverly Hills, where almost everyone has sold their soul."

"Yes, thank you, Fred," Wesley smiled weakly.

"So you're saying we don't even know who this group is?," Xena questioned Wes. "Have I got you right?"

"Well, um... yes, unfortunately."

"Yeah, whoever they are, one thing we know for sure," Cordelia chimed in again, "to 'throw in' with the devil... they're not smart."

Xena looked around the room. "So? Have you guys got a plan or what?"

"There's a complication," Angel informed her.

"What's that?," Xena demanded.


"I would never do anything to hurt Gabrielle! What are you implying?" Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him angrily.

"We're not really sure what happened to you yet. Until we know, I think you're dangerous." Angel crossed the room slowly to face Xena.

"You do, huh?," she smirked. "Well you got that right! I'm dangerous in any reality!"

"I think there could be something inside you. Something you're not even aware of, which could make you turn."

"That coming from a blood-sucking Bacchae?" She moved towards Angel.

Gabrielle jumped up and stepped between them. She grabbed Xena's arm and put her other hand on her chest to hold her back. She turned to Angel. "No, Angel, you're wrong!," she said. "Xena would never hurt me!"

"Maybe, we could all just calm down here?," Jinn asked reasonably. "Look, we need to sit down and discuss this rationally." (As if any of this were rational, she thought to herself.) "Xena? Angel?"

The two combatants eyed each other suspiciously. "I will if HE will," Xena jerked her head at Angel. Angel held up his hands in a gesture of peace and they both sat down.

"Angel," Jinn began, "all you really have is suspicions about Xena, right? No real proof? I mean, I can personally attest to her love for Gabrielle." She looked down, suddenly embarrassed. "But, it's not like she was burned by holy water or anything, right?"

"Oh gods, the holy water," Gabrielle thought, "is it supposed to burn?"

"Right," Angel conceded.

"And Xena, you just want to get to the bottom of this, right?," Jinn continued.

"Right," Xena mumbled.

"Then let's formulate a plan that we can execute. You two need to work together. The number one priority is to prevent the loss of innocent human life. We've got almost two days. What can we do in that time to subvert their plans?"

"We need to take to the streets tonight and find out as much as we can about what's going to happen," Wesley said. "The nature of the ritual, the group we're dealing with, etc."

"And just where do we go to get that information, Wes?," Sunny asked.

"Oh, I know a good place to start!," Fred uttered.

"Caritas?," Angel, Gunn and Wesley chimed in unison.

"Well, yeah," Fred answered meekly.

"But, whatever happens tonight," Jinn said, "I think that Gabrielle should be left out of it."

"Why?," Gabrielle objected.

"Because you're the target, Gabrielle," Xena sighed.

"That's not fair! I can fight, right Xena? Right Jinn?"

"That's not the point, Gabrielle," Xena took her hand. "If you're the target, it doesn't help to have you out there. Instead of getting information, we'll be worried about protecting you."

"Listen to her, Gabrielle. I think it's for the best. I agree with Xena," Angel concurred.

"Well, there's a first," Xena smirked.

"Let's make some plans then!," Gunn said enthusiastically.

"Oh," Cordelia spoke up, "and since Gabrielle isn't supposed to be a part of those plans and since she's not supposed to be alone, right?," she looked around the room for a response. All heads nodded in the affirmative. "PERFECT time to go shopping! C'mon!" She grabbed Gabrielle's hand.

"Cordy!," Angel put his hand on her forearm. "I don't think that's such a good idea! I don't want the two of you out there alone. There could be trouble."

"Yeah, I agree," Xena smiled at Angel ironically.

"Oh, c'mon! We're going to the mall. It's not like the 'hell mouth' types hang out at Neiman Marcus or anything! Well, o.k., Sears maybe."

"Hey! You got a problem with clothes from Sears?," Gunn said defensively, suddenly surveying his oversized flannel shirt.

"Oh no," Cordy replied. "No problem with their clothes. I can make anything look good with the proper accessories. It's those 'Craftsman' tools: a lifetime guarantee? I mean, how can you do that without some sort of other worldly intervention. Am I right?"

"Hmm, you got a point there, Cordy," Gunn nodded.

"But, anyway," she continued, "I've been training with you, Angel. We'll be safe. We'll just pack some weapons in our purses...,"

"Already got 'em," Gabrielle interjected.

"See! We'll be fine! And besides, when the going gets tough, the tough go, well, you know the rest!"

"And I, for one, refuse to sit around here listening to plans I won't be included in because I'm some kind of imaginary 'target'," Gabrielle complained.

"Gabrielle!," Xena said reproachfully.

"No! Forget it, Xena. I'm going with Cordelia! I can take care of myself!"

"I wish you wouldn't do this," Xena shook her head, knowing full well that there was no way to stop the stubborn bard once she got her back up. "It kinda' defeats our whole purpose, you know?"

"Cordelia," Gabrielle asked, "can we take your car?"

"You got it, babe!"

"Cordy," Angel complained, "what are you doing?"

"I need a break, Angel! Too much doom and gloom and evil, I just need to do something 'normal' for once with someone whom I think I'm going to like! Is that too much to ask? Who knows what's coming tomorrow? I need a break today!"

"Here's the keys, Xena," Gabrielle said as she placed the keys to the car in Xena's hand. "Try not to get a ticket!" And as she walked out the door with Cordelia, looked over her shoulder and called back, "I love you!"

"Love you, too, Gabrielle," Xena muttered in disgust.


"Wow, were they over protective much, or what?," Cordelia rolled her eyes in disbelief. "It's not like we couldn't take out a couple of Satanists, as if?"

"I'm kinda' used to Xena being over protective. It just bugs me when she does it in front of a room full of people. She knows I hate that. I mean, I can take care of myself!," Gabrielle replied.

Cordelia eyed a pair of shoes. She lifted the price tag and pouted. "Ohhh, I'm so bummed."

"Why, Cordelia?"

"Oh, call me Cordy, Gabrielle. Most of my friends do."

"O.k., Cordy."

"Do people call you Gabby?"

"No, not really. Well, a couple of friends did, I guess. Actually, you remind me of one of them."

"I do? Which one?"


"Aphrodite? Get out! Aphrodite as in Goddess of Love?! You knew THAT Aphrodite? And I remind you of her? Ooh, I can't wait to tell the guys!"

"She was a good friend. I miss her. She hasn't been around since I got here, I mean, in this time. And yeah, she liked clothes and liked to shop and she had a great smile and a good heart and she liked to have fun, so you do remind me of her. Go ahead and call me Gabby. That would be nice."

"That is so sweet, Gabby! Thanks, that made me feel good. Now I'm not so bummed anymore." She glanced at the shoes longingly. "Well, not so totally bummed, at least."

"So, what are you 'bummed' about?"

"These shoes," she picked one up and clutched it to her heart. "I'm in love with these shoes! But there's no way I can buy them."

"Why not?"

"We never make any money at Angel Investigations. I can't afford them."

"You know what, Cordy? You and your friends are helping me and Xena out. The least I can do is buy you a pair of shoes!"

"No, you see, we work for 'The Powers That Be'. And because you and Xena came to me in a vision, you're part of our Mission. We can't charge for something that's part of our Mission. It wouldn't be right."

"But, you're not charging me. I'm offering to buy you shoes, that's different!"

"It a fine line, I'll give you that. But, no, Angel wouldn't like it."

"Xena and I have all these credit cards and bank accounts that were 'left' to us. I mean, I'm not sure about the money thing. I'm just getting used to the currency here. Xena is much better at figuring it out than I am, so far. But, I know we can afford a pair of shoes! And besides," Gabrielle looked around. "I don't see Angel here anywhere."

"I know but...,"

"Oh hey, I have an idea, Cordy! I have to go down to Venice Beach...,"

"Venice Beach, eeew! Why do you have to go down there?"

"A street vendor is making something for me. But, anyway, I don't want to go by myself, so if you come with me, I'll buy you these shoes. Then it's like I'm paying you back for going somewhere with me instead of for helping me and Xena!"

"That's brilliant! But, are you sure you can afford it? Won't Xena get mad if she finds out you bought me shoes?"

"I'll make you a deal: you don't tell Xena and I won't tell Angel, o.k.?"

Cordelia smiled. "Good deal. Especially since I would've gone with you anyway!"


As usual, at Venice Beach, everyone was there. There were guys in thong bikini bottoms, all buffed up and looking for someone, anyone! There were beautiful women of the sort who just tended to gravitate towards L.A., all on in-line skates, it would seem. There were "street" people, with their grubby clothes and dirty faces searching through dumpsters for a meal or extending their hand for spare change. There were tourists searching for that one special shirt for someone back home that said "California"! There were the poor, who in this most imperfect of worlds, had the good sense to be poor in Los Angeles, which meant they could spend a day at the beach with their children, money or no! There were the street musicians and performers with their hats and music cases in front of them, waiting for a tip. There were the police, on their bicycles or on foot, who felt very empowered and looked dangerous. There were the hustlers, waiting to take advantage of the innocent. And there were the street merchants, plying their wares. And all of this took place along the boardwalk in the most beautiful of settings, squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the San Gabriel Mountains! If it were not for the constant air pollution which obscured the mountains and the barely treated sewage which fouled Santa Monica Bay, Los Angeles in general, and Venice Beach in particular, could be counted among the most beautiful places on earth! And yet, there was excitement here! The diversity of peoples made Venice Beach a beautiful place in spite of itself!

The two new friends jostled through the throng. "I don't know why you come here," Cordelia complained. "There's always such a horde of...," an in-line skater almost knocked her over, "inconsiderate creeps here!," she yelled.

"Oh, I like it here! It reminds me of the marketplaces in Athens and Thebes. It makes me nostalgic for home. And there are people with wheels on their feet everywhere! I've noticed that before. What is that?," she questioned.

"Oh, they're skating."

"I guess I get confused, because when I see skating on T.V., they're always on ice."

"Yeah. That's ice skating. This is roller skating. It's fun, when they're not being total jerks! Haven't you ever skated before?"

"Uh uh, no. But, I'd love to try!"

"I have skates at home. I have a pair that will fit you, I think. Next time we come down here, I'll teach you, o.k.?," Cordelia offered.

"That would be wonderful!," Gabrielle beamed.

Finally, they managed to navigate through the crowd and over to where Gabrielle's vendor had set up shop. "Hello, Gabrielle!," he greeted her in his bright Haitian voice. "I've been waiting for you. I want to show you what I have done!"

"Is it finished?," Gabrielle asked excitedly.

"No, not yet. But I have made all the pieces. I did not want to assemble it until I showed you what I have done!" He reached into a carrying case beneath his table and pulled out a bag. "Open your hand, little one," he beamed. He poured the contents into her hand. Gabrielle looked down at the three small, exquisitely crafted pieces in her palm.

"Oh, they're perfect, Antwan! When can you finish it?!," she smiled.

"For you, it will be done tomorrow! And I shall bless it with a special magic!"

"Oh, thank you! Then I'll be back tomorrow to pick it up!"

Cordelia and Gabrielle started to walk away. "And remember," Antwan called after them. "cash only, Gabrielle!"

"I remember," Gabrielle called back.

"So, if you have to come back tomorrow, that's as good a time as any for me to teach you to skate. What do you think?," Cordelia nudged Gabrielle.

"Do you think it will be all right? I mean, for both of us to take time out? On the very day of the 'evil' gathering with me being 'the target'?," she made quotation marks with her fingers.

"Sure!" Cordelia paused for a moment, as if reconsidering. "That was a pretty scary vision," she intoned soberly. A shadow seemed to pass over her. "But, life is for living!," she brightened. "And nothing's going to happen during the day! I mostly leave all the cloak and dagger and research stuff up to Wes, Gunn and Fred, anyway. It gives them something to do, makes them feel useful. And Angel's pretty limited in the daylight, if you know what I mean. Oh, hey, look!," she suddenly changed the subject. "There's only a short line at that outdoor restaurant. Let's get something to eat!" Gabrielle was feeling pretty hungry, so after waiting in line with her new friend, they sat down for lunch and ordered some food.

"So," Cordelia asked, "what's the story with 'Rasta Guy'? What's he making for you?'

"You mean the vendor? Oh, it's a present for Xena."

"That is so nice. So, you and Xena, you're pretty tight, huh?"

"Sometimes, Cordy, it's embarrassing, but I don't understand all of the English language, yet. Like 'Rasta Guy' and 'tight'. I know what tight means. I'm just not sure if it's the same thing you mean when you say 'tight'."

"Oh well, join the club there. I mean, most people barely speak the language at all anymore. It's a dying art." She looked at Gabrielle quizzically. "How DID you learn English?"

"I don't know. When we woke up, we just knew English. It's like it was programmed into us or something. That's what scares me."

"Why does that scare you?"

"Well, because how can you program a 'person'? It's like we're robots or something less than human. Xena assures me we have souls. I guess I believe her."

Cordelia looked Gabrielle straight in the eye. She reached across the table and placed her hand on top of the bard's. "Listen to me. I get messages from 'The Powers That Be'. I deal with soulless scum on a regular basis as part of my job. I KNOW when someone has a soul. And you, my dear, have a soul! And I would've have known that anyway."


"Because, I can just feel it. You're kind and generous and I look into your eyes and see only beauty and truth shining through. Trust me when I tell you, soulless low lives do not know from such things! Besides, I like you. Of course you have a soul!," she rolled her eyes and smiled.

Gabrielle laughed. "And besides, I bought you shoes!"

Cordelia's eyes grew large as she laughed, "You see, more proof of a soul, DUH!" She patted Gabrielle's hand as the waitress showed up with their food. "Ooh, food, GOOD! Food good! So much for the English language! Let's eat."

"No argument there," Gabrielle agreed as they both dug into their meals.

"So, getting back to the language thing," Cordelia said between bites, "really, no one in America speaks standard English anymore. Least ways, not in California, for sure. I really haven't been to too many other places. Not since I was a kid and my family could still afford to travel. My life just got so weird, so fast. From Sunnydale to here, it's just been one weird thing after another since I was sixteen. I guess I just got used to it, in a way, you know?"

"Yes, I do. I was a little older than you were when my life got weird, and it was my choice to follow Xena, to be sure, but I can relate!" Gabrielle looked up from her food with a grin. "Um, 'I can relate', that was correct English, wasn't it?"

"Hey, that was perfect English as far as I'm concerned. Do you remember any Greek, by the way?"

"Well, sometimes, it's all Greek to me! But, it's the Ancient Greek language, not contemporary Greek language. I've checked it out on the internet. I can understand most of it, kinda' translating, you know? Xena understands so much more! Sometimes we practice speaking the new language. But, Xena, she's so good at it! She's so talented, Cordy! There really is nothing she can't do!"

"Wow, so you really love her, huh?"

"More than anything."

"So, you guys really are gay?"


"Oh, I'm sorry, doing the nasty, you know? Lovers and all that?"

"I'm still not used to how freely people talk about their most personal, intimate things here."

"Well, get used to it, girlfriend! Spill! You're doing it with her, aren't you?"

"If by that you mean 'do we have sex?', then yes, I'm doing it with her," Gabrielle smiled an embarrassed smile.

"What's that like? Tell me all about it! I mean, not that I'm lesbian or anything, 'cause I'm not, and that's just the truth, but I always like to hear about people's experiences. And Xena seems so dark and deep and dangerous. I'm fascinated!"

"Now 'lesbian', there's a word I understand! It's Greek!"

"All the good words for sex are Greek. Everyone knows that! Well, either that or of unknown or uncertain origin according to 'Webster's', oops, there I go again. But, quit avoiding the subject. What's she like in bed?"

"Gods," Gabrielle thought, "I am so unused to this. People here are so free! Well, no time like the present to join the 21st Century. I always wanted to be free!"

"Insatiable is the first word that comes to mind," Gabrielle offered.

"You mean you get it all the time?"

"Ah, yeah, pretty much so."

"Does that bug you? Do you get tired of it?"

"You know, that's funny, because Xena asked me the same question this morning. And, no, I'm not tired of it. We've been through so much together: hard times, heartbreak, unnatural separations. Nothing is certain on our path together. We never know what's just around the corner! I just can't get enough of her when times are good and we're together. I just love her to death. And, besides, she does have many skills!," Gabrielle smiled as her gaze drifted aimlessly off into the distance.

"So by 'all the time', what do you mean... everyday? What, is she THAT good?"

"Well, yeah, she actually is that good," Gabrielle blushed. "Not that I have anyone to compare her to. But no, not everyday. In the old days, we traveled a lot. We had traveling companions sometimes, which made it uncomfortable to be intimate and being on the road was hard: a lot of walking and riding on horses. And there were battles, all the time. We were tired a lot! So we didn't have the time or energy for as much love-making as we do now. This world is so easy and beautiful and free! Now we have the time AND energy to do it all! But, still, I need my breaks from physical intimacy, from time to time. There are times when the muse is upon me and I'm just writing up a storm! I don't want to be interrupted, not even for that. It distracts me and keeps me from my art."

"So you think that sex detracts from an artist's purpose?," Cordelia asked.

"Well, yes and no. I think that artists draw their purpose from their experiences in life. Love is definitely one of the major experiences which nourishes and enhances creativity! It just doesn't always have to be about sex, you know? Sometimes, an artist needs to go deep within her creativity and just be left alone. It's hard for the loved ones to understand. It's nothing about them, it's about art! And if art is a part of your being, than that's a huge part of what they love about you. They have to allow space and be understanding. It's nothing personal. And, don't get me wrong, I do love Xena in 'that way'! I mean, she's my partner, my best friend, my soul mate! She can do anything, Cordy! She can sing. Oh, you have to hear her sing sometime! She's so coordinated, she's good with her hands, she can make things... and I mean 'invent' things! She's the all time best fighter, ever; yet, she's so sweet! She's kind and loving and generous to a fault. She's amazing!" Gabrielle stopped suddenly.

"I'm going on too much about her, aren't I?," she stammered. "I'm sorry. I must sound like a lovesick fool."

"No, it's o.k.," Cordelia laughed. "Although, I do have a sudden craving for a V8, just to keep up with you!"

"I'm sure I'll get that later," Gabrielle smiled. "But, Cordy, I never get to talk about her... us. Back in the old days, we just didn't really discuss our relationship with other people. It was dangerous being with her. It was dangerous for me, if people knew how close I was to her, how much I meant to her. I mean, her enemies DIDN'T know... and they still came after me. Xena wanted to keep everything secret, for my own protection. And now, well now we're clones two millennia removed from everything we know. Who knows what awaits us? We've pretty much felt a need for discretion until we feel more comfortable with our surroundings. And there is the little matter of the television show. Who expected to be famous? But I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to finally talk about our relationship with someone: to say out loud just how much I love her! I never liked it that we had to keep things so hidden. I understood it, but I never liked it. Hey," she paused as a realization dawned on her, "I really love this world, this time. I get to speak so openly here! Thanks for listening. I guess I've had a lot of things pent up inside me, just waiting for an opportunity to come out, to be expressed!"

"That's what friends are for," Cordelia smiled. "But damn, Gabby, you and Xena are like 'love overload', don't you ever feel that?"

"I guess, maybe someday, I will; if we ever get that far, ever have 'time' together, but not now. She's so beautiful. Even her nose is beautiful! Did you check out her nose? When I think of her and she's not there, all I think about is how special I'll feel when I see her! I could be in the store, shopping, and I think of Xena walking towards me, putting her arms around me, knowing what we share... and I tingle all over!" Gabrielle lowered her voice to a whisper. "I get that downward tickle just looking at her," she grinned. "She could walk up right here, right now, in this restaurant and I would just look at her and know: she's the one! And she's so beautiful and so wonderful and the face of home to me and I just melt from the center up when I see her. She makes my heart sing. It's a wonderful feeling!"

"I am SO jealous!," Cordelia exclaimed. "Oh, oh no, not of being with Xena," she backtracked. "Just of being in love! Just of having sex! People look at me and think I'm like, all that! Like I have sex all the time, just because of how I look. But I don't!" She looked down as she played with her salad. "One time, I was in this other world, the place where we found Fred. I was only there for a day and they made me their queen!" She looked up momentarily and smiled. Then, once again, she cast her glance downwards. "There was this guy I was supposed to mate with or something. He was so awesome, so beautiful. I felt, for just a moment, like I deserved something so wonderful. But, it was a fairy tale, a fantasy, not reality. Things in this world are so much more complicated when it comes to love and sex. I really don't have that much experience, at least, nothing that really counts, not with being 'in love'." She looked back up sadly at the bard. "I want love, Gabrielle. I want what you have. You're so lucky!"

"Oh, wow, I'm sorry! I'm new at this being free with my most intimate feelings thing. When you asked about me and Xena, I just thought you wanted to know all of it!"

"Oh, I did. I just didn't expect you to talk about love and romance and art all in one breath, that's all. I thought we were just going to talk about sex. I'm the one who needs to apologize. I never knew love could be like that. I guess, we're only free to a certain extent in this society, because when you told me how you 'really' felt, I wasn't ready for it."

Gabrielle could see the sadness in her eyes. There really was so much more to this woman than she allowed people to see. "I'm so sorry. I thought you wanted me to share. I didn't intend to make you feel bad!"

"Yeah, well, it's just that love seems to avoid me."

"What about Angel?," Gabrielle queried. "He's dark, deep, dangerous and, by the way, SO good looking. And you two seem to care about each other a lot. Are you telling me there's nothing there?"

"Oh, don't even go there, girlfriend. First of all, he is all the things you said, and a hero on top of it all! But, he's emotionally stunted, has a 'Christ Complex' and is basically a eunuch! He's under a gypsy curse. If he ever knows true happiness, i.e. love and sex, he loses his soul and turns evil. And believe me, you don't want to see evil Angel. We call him Angelus, and it is NOT a pretty sight. Plus, even if I did like him, his heart belongs to someone else and always will. Besides, he's known me since I was this ditsy, shallow kid back in Sunnydale. I don't think he could ever think of me in a romantic way. What would someone like me be able to offer someone like him: a hero, a champion? So it's a hopeless situation all the way around."

"Don't say that, Cordy. You have a lot to offer! You're intelligent and caring and beautiful and you have the 'vision thing' going. I was just a poor, naive farm girl when I met Xena. What did I have to offer her? But I believed in myself. If I had given in to self doubt, I never would have followed her like I did. And just look how that turned out!," she smiled brightly. "No matter how imposing a person appears to be externally, they're still human, with all the human frailities and needs common to us all on the inside."

"But, Gabrielle, that's just it: he's not human."

"Yeah, but you said he has a soul."

"A soul he loses if he experiences a moment of true bliss, happiness."

"That's so tragic. Oh, Cordy, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, well, that's life. Besides, love and work don't mix. And I have Dennis to keep me company, anyway."

"Who is Dennis?" Gabrielle looked confused.

"The ghost who lives in my apartment," she said matter of factly. She smiled sadly and added, "That was pathetically weird, huh?"

"I am not anyone to call another 'weird', Cordy. I just wish things could work out for you and Angel. I think there could be something between you two. So gypsy curse or no, I say: don't give up hope."

"Well," Cordelia pulled the napkin off her lap and tossed it onto the table, "there's no point going there. I have to be realistic. I just don't think I'm leading the kind of lifestyle that's conducive to romance." Cordelia looked up at Gabrielle. A far away smile crossed the bard's lips. It was a smile meant for only one. "Oh, let me guess, Xena's here," she said.

"Yeah, here she comes."

Xena walked towards their table with a huge smile on her face. She pulled a chair over from an adjacent table and sat down next to Gabrielle.

"So, Xena, how did you know I was here?," Gabrielle asked.

"We are not going to have to go over the 'many skills' thing again, are we Gabrielle?"

"No, I guess not. You look so happy, why?"

Xena gave her best friend an offended look and then smirked. "It's not possible that I'm just happy to see you?," she said as she leaned into her partner.

"Oh, excuse me," Cordelia looked uncomfortable, "but I have to go. Check!," she called.

"Oh, hey, don't worry about the bill, we've got it, right Gabrielle?," Xena offered.

"Cordelia, you don't have to go," Gabrielle reached across the table and took her hand.

"Yeah, I do. I really do." Cordelia squeezed Gabrielle's hand tight. The bard could swear she saw tears welling up in Cordelia's eyes.

"Look, I'm sorry if I upset you. It wasn't my intention," Gabrielle apologized.

"No, I was already upset. I just didn't realize how much until this exact moment."

"Was it something I said?," Xena asked, stunned.

"No, Xena," Cordelia smiled, "It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. I've just got to go and do a 'signs of life' check, that's all! See if I'm still real. It happens sometimes in this business."

"Cordy," Gabrielle's voice was concerned, "please stay with us. I'm wanting you to stay. Things I've said have upset you. Don't leave."

"Oh, Gabby, I'll be o.k. Remember what you said about artists needing their space? Well, I deal with the supernatural on a regular basis. In a way, that has become my 'art'. I just didn't realize, until I met you, just how much I missed a normal life and love. But, right now, I need my space, understand?"

"Yes, of course," Gabrielle replied.

"And don't think you're getting out of learning how to skate tomorrow! We're skating here, at Venice Beach, tomorrow, right?," Cordy asked.

"That would be great. And will I see you tonight?"

"Who knows? I'm sure they've made some kind of big plan, right Xena?," Cordelia smiled that big smile that reminded the bard so much of Aphrodite.

"Oh, I hope so, Cordy," Gabrielle stated expectantly.

"Me, too." Cordelia smiled warmly and stood to leave. Gabrielle rose and held her in a deep embrace.

"I know we're going to be the best of friends, Cordy!"

"I would really like that, Gabby!," Cordelia said as she tightened the embrace. With that, Cordelia was gone.

The warrior sat with her legs crossed and stretched way out in front of her as usual. "What was all of that about?," she looked at Gabrielle quizzically.

"Look, just nothing, o.k.? I mean, nothing we need to discuss right now. Could we just pay this check and take a walk on the beach? Would that be o.k.?"

"Whatever you want, Gabrielle," Xena smiled.

Xena and Gabrielle strolled along the beach, arm in arm. Xena loved having the bard so close to her. But, she did notice that Gabrielle was holding her arm particularly tight. "Hey, what's with all the clingy stuff, Gabrielle?"

"Oh, I'm just so happy to have you! Let's go somewhere special tonight, Xena!"

"You know we can't go out together tonight. What's this all about, then?"

"It's just that some people never have love. They never experience true love, or they can't, or something gets in the way and it's so sad! We're just so lucky to be together, that's all."

"Well, that's true enough. I'll always thank the gods, or the one God, for the day I discovered my love for you." She bent down and picked up a large sea shell. "Hey, Gabrielle, do you remember this?"

"Like I could forget, Xena." She took the shell from Xena's hand. She passed her fingers gently over its surface. They sat down on the beach together. Gabrielle leaned back into Xena's arms. "It's just like that first time, huh?"

"Mmm hmm," Xena affirmed as the waves crashed upon the shore. Gabrielle pulled Xena's arms tight around her. Xena laid her head upon Gabrielle's as they drifted off into a shared memory from a far away past...


Xena much regretted the day that she had taken the short route through the forest instead of the long route along the coast. If she had, Gabrielle would never have been hurt so grievously! That she almost lost her because of it, she could never forget. Somehow (she didn't know where it came from) she was able to pull her back from the brink of death. She had pounded upon her chest and breathed into her mouth -- even when all those present, Ephiny included, had told her it was hopeless! Gabrielle had come back to life, back to her, seemingly, through Xena's will alone. This was something she hadn't felt with such intensity for a long time: caring for someone so deeply! And it was so dangerous, these days, for her to care for someone! How had this slip of a girl, insinuated herself so thoroughly into her life that she could no longer live without her? There was no turning back from this. Somehow, she had let her guard down and this girl had managed to slide right into her heart! She loved her.

Xena still had her ways. She sent a messenger to set up a cottage for her and Gabrielle on the coast. "I can heal her there," she thought. It would be less than a days' journey on Argo and she knew the people in the nearby village still owed her. She had spared those villagers (in what seemed a lifetime ago), as a warlord. They would do as she said.

The cottage was located on a grassy anomaly which ran parallel to the sandy beach. Rocky cliffs jutted up majestically behind it. A hot spring ran nearby and a pool had formed adjacent to the cottage. Here, Xena could gently lower Gabrielle into soothing waters and heal her wounds. Xena had loved the place from the moment she set eyes upon it. She had spared the nearby village, in exchange for them deeding the property to her. Her former lover, Borias, had thought her foolish.

"Aah, Xena, you will never return here. You are not going to ever settle down!," he had complained.

How ironic, Xena thought, to return here now with Gabrielle. To bring the most pure soul she had ever met, her joy, her light, her salvation, to one of the last vestiges of her ill-gotten gains as a warlord! As they rode up on Argo, a village boy was standing outside the cottage. Gabrielle was asleep and lying upon Xena's back, her head nestled in-between her sword and her flesh. Xena motioned for the boy to take Argo as she slowly lowered Gabrielle into her arms. Gabrielle stirred.

"Where are we, Xena?," she yawned.

"Home, Gabrielle, we are home."

"Good," came the tired response, "that's good." She laid her head back down on Xena's shoulder.

As Xena bore the weight of her companion in her arms, she kicked the door open and, just as effortlessly, kicked it shut behind her. She saw that candles had been lit and a spread of fruits, vegetables and bread had been left on the table. Her heart was momentarily gripped with remorse as she remembered the fear that she had once inspired in these villagers. She carried Gabrielle up the few steps which led to the slightly raised bedroom. All was as she had instructed it should be. The bed was made with goose down blankets and soft, clean sheets. She hated herself for having to use her warlord persona to get things done for Gabrielle, but if that was the way it had to be, then that was the way it had to be! She very delicately placed her upon the bed and removed her boots. Gabrielle was dead to the world.

"A good time to change her dressing," Xena thought.

She gently untied the laces of Gabrielle's shirt and removed it without waking her. She bit her lip as she gazed upon Gabrielle's naked breasts. Yes, she had seen them before, but somehow, this felt very different. She wasn't sure just when, exactly, things had changed between them. But, as she stared at Gabrielle's full, perfectly rounded breasts, her pink nipples slightly erect by virtue of the cool evening air, she knew things really had changed. She couldn't deny the pounding in her chest, nor the fire suddenly emanating from her loins. She had tried to fool herself (and Gabrielle in the process) by telling her things like: "I love you like a sister." But, Xena feared, that just wasn't going to work anymore. Just when did this girl manage to get into her heart so? By what magic had she turned into a woman? Xena was spellbound by her own love and the vision of beauty before her. She gently removed the bindings from Gabrielle's wounds. She cleaned the wounds without waking her. She applied fresh bandages. Then she felt her own exhaustion overtake her. She quickly removed her armor and laid down next to the woman she loved. She put one tired arm around her. Xena gazed at the innocent face so close to her own. She looked so angelic in her sleep. She placed a soft kiss on Gabrielle's forehead and then drifted off into slumber.

Gabrielle awoke the next morning totally wrapped up in Xena's arms. She could not believe how tight the warrior was holding her! Then the realization hit her: she was naked from the waist up! Her face flushed and she felt embarrassed. Xena was holding her there, did she know she was topless?

"Hey, Xena...," she tried to speak. But the warrior only grunted and drew her closer.

"Oww!!!," she complained as her wounds became apparent to her.

"Gabrielle!," Xena awoke with a start. "I'm so sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"Um, I have no shirt, Xena," Gabrielle blushed.

"Oh yeah, I'm sorry. I removed it to clean your wounds. I must've fallen asleep." Then, realizing that she was fully embracing Gabrielle's nude torso, gave her an awkward look, withdrew her arms from her companion and propped herself up on one elbow.

"Where are we, Xena?"

"A special place, one of my own places, a place I brought you to heal."

"I think, no, now I remember, you said 'home' last night. Xena are we home?"

"It's our home for now, at least until you heal properly."

A slow smile graced Gabrielle's face and her nose crinkled ever so slightly. "I guess anywhere is home, so long as I'm with you, Xena."

Xena thought her heart might melt right then and there. "O.k. then," she managed to choke out, "how 'bout I rustle us up some breakfast?!"


The next few weeks were spent resting and healing. Xena would help Gabrielle to the hot spring and change her dressing in the morning and evening. She would fish as Gabrielle rested. The villagers brought down fresh fruits and vegetables everyday, for which Xena would pay them in a manner way beyond normal recompense. The word began to spread throughout the village that this was a new Xena, a different woman than the one who had almost pillaged their seaside home many years ago. On some evenings, Xena would wrap Gabrielle up in a blanket and they would sit on the beach and listen to the slow roar of the waves as the sun set. Mostly, they were silent. But on some occasions, Gabrielle would remember a story or a poem and recite it as she rested her head on Xena's shoulder and felt comforted by the strong arms surrounding her. Xena was greatly gratified by this as, not only did it signify Gabrielle's return health, but during the course of their travels together, she had begun to enjoy the bard's stories. Every night they would go to bed in the goose down blankets and soft sheets and Xena would place a protective arm around her smaller companion.

For her part, Gabrielle grew stronger with each passing day. The baths cleansed her wounds and helped her to heal. The food nourished her body and Xena's care nourished her soul. She had never known the warrior to be so loving, so attentive. It was a change, a strange one, but a good one, Gabrielle surmised. She had begun to rely on Xena's arm draped over her at night in a protective fashion. She had begun to count on feeling their bodies attached as they slept: the warmth of her friend pressed so firmly against her back, her legs. Sometimes at night, she would wake up to feel Xena's hands caressing her. It was then that she would turn her head slowly to spy if, perhaps, Xena was awake. Oh, how she wished that she might be awake! But, no, Xena's eyes were always shut and, Gabrielle thought, "She is remembering some lover past, in her dreams."

Gabrielle had loved Xena from the moment she saw her. It was idol worship, at first, to be sure. There she was, with no armor, fighting off the beasts who had invaded her village and threatened to carry her and all the nubile, young women from Poteidaia off into slavery and worse. There she was, a strong woman, who asked no questions, took no prisoners. What a revelation she was! What a dream she was! What an inspiration she was! She had to follow her. She had to be like her!

"Take me with you," she remembered she had said. It was the bravest thing she had ever done in her life. Here was this fierce warrior, even her own father was afraid of Xena. And yet, it seemed so easy, so simple. It was as if she was afraid NOT to go with Xena. And when Xena had gone and left her there, she truly did have no choice. She had to follow. Call it what you like, she thought, a young girl's crush, hero worship: she had to follow! She remembered how scared she was when she first left home chasing a dream. What would Xena say? Would Xena even like her? But her fears soon left her when she encountered Xena in Amphipolis. When she saw her again and defended her against her own townsfolk, she knew for certain in her heart: this was meant to be! She had always suspected that she had an inner courage, an ability to handle the challenges of life. And she wanted to be challenged, to experience life outside Poteidaia, with all it's diversity and enticements!  Until this warrior crossed her path, she was afraid she might be stuck in her hometown forever. Xena was just the catalyst she needed to rouse her courage and leave, to become the bold, free person she always knew she was inside. This was her chance to shine. Xena had inadvertently given her permission to become herself. She wouldn't let Xena go, she couldn't!

How things had changed since then! Now, here she was with her 'friend' Xena. And somehow, somewhere along the line, she had begun to experience different feelings for the warrior. She could no longer keep her thoughts from straying to that long, dark hair, flowing gently in the breeze; that brilliant smile, which could put all the goddesses on Mount Olympus to shame; those blue eyes, which by turns were either piercing or gentle, yet always hypnotic; that incredible body, with its tanned, muscled skin and impossibly long limbs, which moved so gracefully, whether engaged in battle or bathing casually or just walking along a road (although, the bard had noticed, and found it quite endearing, that Xena tended to walk slightly pigeon towed when she relaxed her gait to a leisurely stroll!). Oh, how Gabrielle longed to be near that incredible body! The fighting skills, the leather, all of that combined with the truest heart she knew she had ever encountered, made something move within her that she had not experienced before. In truth, they were feelings she didn't understand. She found herself wanting to be physically close to Xena. She made up excuses to touch her: aching touches with trembling hands. She felt a charge, barely concealed, surge through her body whenever she was near. Surely, Xena had noticed! "I shouldn't feel this way," she had thought to herself. "There must be something wrong with me." And, yet, when they were in bed at night, and her friend's hands were wandering, she spied in hopes that Xena was awake when she was touching her. It was almost more than she could bear.

Her recovery had been steady. The love she felt had helped to heal her mightily. But, her usual high energy level hadn't kicked in yet. Until one day, as Xena was fishing, Gabrielle picked up a sea shell of considerable size. She pondered as to what she might do with it. It was quite lovely. She could keep it as a remembrance of this beautiful place and beautiful time she had spent with Xena. She could choose to leave nature undisturbed and let it remain where she had found it, or...

"Hey, Gabrielle, catch!," Xena shouted as she lifted a fish out of the water and hurled it at her.

Gabrielle chose the third option and cocked her arm back. She hurled the shell at Xena's bent frame and sent it careening off her prone rear end! Xena turned slowly in the surf. The warlord smirk crossed her lips as she looked back at Gabrielle. Gabrielle, having fully expected to miss Xena's rear with her throw, looked mischievously nervous.

"And now, my dear," Xena slowly intoned, "you will pay!"

The sight of Xena's powerful, wet body turning and bounding out of the surf, stunned Gabrielle for a moment. She was so magnificent! But the moment was gone and she quickly scrambled to her feet and began running down the damp sand of the beach. Xena was in hot pursuit.

"I'm comin' to get ya, Gabrielle!," she heard Xena calling.

Gabrielle could feel Xena closing in on her. She knew she couldn't out run her, but she ran anyway. She ran with joy, she ran with the abandon of someone who had been pulled back from the brink of death and now, was fully healthy, alive. A cheerful smile eased across her face as Xena caught her from behind and wrapped her up! They fell to the sand together. Gabrielle rolled on top of Xena. She looked at her face. She had never seen such happiness reflected there before! It was an expression of almost childlike joy. It was an expression that the stern ex-warlord rarely, if ever, wore. In this unguarded moment, the years of hardship seemed to fade away and the bard could see how young Xena truly was. Gabrielle didn't know what possessed her, what made her release her inhibitions, but she kissed her. Soft lips tentatively touched the corner of Xena's mouth. The bard raised her head slightly and gazed into Xena's eyes. What she saw there frightened her. Her desire was being reflected back. She had to resist an impulse to run away; it scared her so! But her own passion ran hot through her veins and her blood whispered to her the truth she could no longer deny. She slowly lowered her head and, as Xena closed her eyes, covered the warrior's mouth with her own. They both shuddered at the touch. At first, it was slow and gentle.

"Oh, her lips are so warm and sweet," Xena thought. "I could do this all day!" Xena deepened the kiss as her lips parted and their tongues touched. She could no longer hold back as she began to kiss her passionately.

"Is this ecstasy?," Gabrielle wondered as she felt her tongue being intertwined with Xena's and drawn into her mouth. That such kisses were possible, she never knew! A feeling welled up inside her, starting at her center, then moving up to her chest, her head and down through her loins. There were butterflies in her stomach. The tingling continued in-between her legs. A fire built there. She had never felt anything like this. What was this? Her knees grew weak and she felt that if she had tried to stand, they would not support her own weight.

"Xena!," she gasped, "what is this? What does this mean?"

"Um," Xena looked suddenly coy, "I would say that it means you're feeling a lot better, wouldn't you?"

"No. I mean, I kissed you. I'm not supposed to do that, am I? How come you're not mad at me?"

"I've been wanting to do that for so long," Xena smiled. "Gabrielle, don't you know how much I want you? I was afraid I was being so obvious. I look for any excuse to be near you, to touch you. It's taken every ounce of discipline and self control I have to keep myself from just 'taking' you every night. I want you in every way!"

Gabrielle's face turned red. "Xe, Xena," she stuttered, "you want me?!"

Xena rolled over on top of Gabrielle. She became lost, momentarily, in the unmistakable look of lust upon that innocent face. She inclined her head and took possession of the sweet lips beneath her. She kissed her long and fervently. She ran her tongue along the edges of her mouth and then slowly drew her lips in-between her own: first the lower, then the upper. She allowed her lips to linger, barely touching.

"So, are you ready?," she questioned.

Gabrielle quivered in her arms. Her head was still bent back with her mouth open and her eyes closed. "Oh, yessss, Xena...," she sighed. "I love you so much!"

"I love you too, Gabrielle."

Xena held her in her arms and rolled them over until they were reclining side by side. She delicately brushed a strand of golden hair from Gabrielle's cheek.



"Just so we're clear, we are talking about the same thing here, aren't we?," the bard questioned shyly, "um, sex, right?"

"Oh, I hope so, Gabrielle."

"So, it's o.k., I mean, two women together?"

"Sure it is!"

"Thank the gods!," Gabrielle sighed in relief. "I thought there was something wrong with me!"

Xena eyed her up and down seductively. "There's nothing wrong with you, Gabrielle," she said huskily, "take my word for it." She ran her hand up the younger woman's thigh to her hip and then slowly passed it over her shapely rear end as she captured her mouth for another kiss.

"Oh Xena...," Gabrielle swooned. She caught her breath enough to whisper, "I know you have a lot of experience with men. But, you've done this before, then... with other girls?"

Xena smiled broadly. "Oh, a few times, yeah. Why, does that bother you?"

"No, not at all. It's just that...," Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's shoulder. "I have no, um... experience, you know, Xena? I'm a virg...," her voice trailed off into her companion's neck.

"I know, Gabrielle," Xena replied softly as she kissed her head. "That's why we're going to take this slow. I want to make everything perfect for you!"

Xena got to her feet and then reached down for her friend and pulled Gabrielle up with both hands. She slipped her arm around her waist and they began walking up the beach towards the cottage. Gabrielle was afraid to speak. For the first time in her life, she had no words. Xena could sense her apprehension. She removed her arm from her waist. She slipped her left hand into Gabrielle's right. "You know, Gabrielle, we don't have to do anything at all, if you aren't ready."

Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat. She wanted this worse than anything in the world! "Oh no, Xena, I want to be with you! I want you to be my first time! It's just that, that," she hesitated, "well there are so many things I don't understand."

"Just talk to me, Gabrielle. Tell me what you don't understand."

Gabrielle stopped and placed a hand on Xena's chest, just above her wet leathers. Her eyes were cast downward and she spoke in a hushed tone, as if not to be overheard, even though no one else was around. "Well, um, physical things for one," she said softly.

Xena smiled and placed her hands on Gabrielle's forearms. She dipped her head to catch the bard's downward glance. "What kind of physical things?"

Gabrielle could not help but smile back, despite her embarrassment, when she saw the soft grin on the warrior's lips. "Well, for one, I get wet down there, Xena," she whispered.

Xena stared down at Gabrielle's crotch and then back up at her face with a sly smile. "You mean down THERE?"

Gabrielle blushed furiously. "Yes, Xena," her voice barely audible.

"Tell me, when does this happen?"

"Whenever I'm next to you or touch you or think about you in that way."

"And for how long has this been happening to you?," Xena said as she placed her hands on her hips in mock consternation.

"Oh, a few months now, I guess," Gabrielle answered sincerely. "Ever since that time I ate the poisoned nut bread. Is there something weird about me, Xena? Do you think it was that nut bread?"

Xena laughed and pulled her young friend into a loving embrace. "Oh Gabrielle, that's supposed to happen! It's natural. It just means you're ready, that's all!"

"Ready for what?," Gabrielle asked innocently.

Xena disengaged from the embrace and placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. She looked her tenderly in the eyes. "Ready for when I touch you down there," came the unexpected response.

Gabrielle felt weak in the knees again. The reality that Xena was actually going to touch her "down there" finally sunk in. She sure hoped Xena was right about this being a natural thing, because she was wetter than ever. Her excitement was about to overwhelm her. She collapsed into Xena's arms. "Oh, thank the gods! I was so worried that something was wrong with me!"

"Gabrielle, it's o.k. It's a good thing, really. It's so it doesn't hurt when we're together, when we're...," her voice trailed off into an amused smile.

"So it happens to you, too?," Gabrielle looked up curiously.

"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena nodded, "it happens to everyone."

Gabrielle looked down again. "You see how ignorant I am, Xena. I don't know anything. It's embarrassing! I don't even know why you'd want to be with me!," she chastised herself.

"Hey, hey now!," Xena kissed the top of her head, "Don't you ever feel embarrassed to ask me something. How are you supposed to know, if you don't ask? And, as for wanting to be with you... I want to be with you because you are my light, my salvation, my family, you've brought so much joy into my life! Ah, listen, I don't have the words like you do. I just love you, o.k.?"

Gabrielle smiled back up at her. "Those were pretty good words, Xena."

"Yeah, o.k., you know I'm not good at expressing these kinds of things verbally." She grinned down at Gabrielle. "Just know I feel it, o.k.?" There was a pause as they gazed into each other's eyes lovingly. Finally, Xena sighed and said, "C'mon, let's get back up to the cottage."

As they approached the small dwelling hand in hand, Xena could see that a wagon from the village was there. "Good," she said, "the villagers are here."

"That's a GOOD thing, Xena?," Gabrielle questioned incredulously. "I thought the point was that we be alone?"

"Oh, that'll happen soon enough," she eyed Gabrielle seductively. Then her demeanor changed into a friendly smile. "But I need you to go into the village for awhile."

"But, Xena, why?! I thought we were going to... you know!," she whispered.

"That's why I need you to go into the village. I want everything to be perfect for you. It's a special night. I need to make some, ah... arrangements. And it will ruin everything if you're here."

"Xena, that is so sweet. But I'd really rather stay here with you."

"Gabrielle, you haven't been to the village since we got here. The change of scenery will do you good. Wait here!" With that she bounded up the cottage steps and emerged a moment later with a small, leather pouch. "You love to shop. Here's 50 dinars, go shopping! It will be good for you, get you're your juices flowing, you know?"

Gabrielle moved in close to her friend. "Ah, Xena, we both already know, my juices ARE flowing," she said softly so that the villagers couldn't hear her.

Xena smiled that half grin Gabrielle loved so much. "C'mon, Gabrielle, I need a couple hours is all. Please?," her voice was so plaintive that Gabrielle could not resist.

"O.k., Xena, if that's the way you want it," she relented grudgingly.

Xena pressed the pouch into Gabrielle's hand, kissed her brow and whispered, "Thank you."

She turned to the two men from the village. "I want you to take my friend back into town with you. But, she needs to be back here by sunset, can you do it?" The men shrugged and agreed amiably. Then Xena gave them a fearsome scowl. "And she is to be taken VERY good care of; she's very important to me!" With that, she bent down and kissed Gabrielle full on the lips. Gabrielle couldn't believe she was kissing her in front of strangers! "Do you understand?!," Xena glared menacingly at the two men. By now, the poor fellows were practically shaking in their boots! They quickly nodded their agreement and scrambled onto their wagon. Gabrielle climbed up in-between them feeling fully self-conscious. They smiled at her weakly.

"Well, this is going to be a fun trip into town," Gabrielle thought to herself.

Xena, who was totally unflustered, smiled up at her. "Have a good time, Gabrielle. I'll see you soon."  The look in her eyes was so caring, so affectionate, that it was hard to reconcile with the woman who had just scared these poor villagers half to death.

"Ah well, that's my Xena," Gabrielle reflected.

As the wagon pulled away from the cottage, Gabrielle turned and watched Xena's ever diminishing figure on the horizon. As they were about to turn the corner and climb up the twisting road to the village, she smiled and waved one last time.  Gabrielle swore she could see the dazzling white of Xena's teeth curled up into a grin as she waved back and then turned and walked towards the small house. What was she planning? Whatever it was, Gabrielle knew that this was going to be the most wonderful night of her young life! She could scarcely contain her excitement. Wishes did come true!


As Gabrielle returned from town and stepped off the wagon, she had to admit to herself, for all her excitement, that she faced this night with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, she was totally inexperienced in the ways of love-making and Xena had had SO many lovers! She had no idea what to expect or what to do.

As she entered the cottage door, she smelled the scent of sweet jasmine and rose buds. Candles had been placed in such a fashion as to illuminate the interior with a delicate glow. A white linen cloth had been spread across the simple table and a feast of roast duck and seasonal fruits was arranged attractively between a jug of wine and two goblets. Gabrielle paused in the threshold. A sea breeze nipped at her back. She turned to watch as the sun was beginning its descent behind the ocean waves. This was the night she had dreamed of as an imaginative teen, when thoughts of romance filled her empty moments. This was the night that would fulfill her hopes of true love and destiny. And this was the night in which she would shed the final vestiges of childhood that clung to her and become a woman, a real woman! And she was going to do it all with Xena, the woman who was the dark antithesis of everything she had been raised to accept! Gabrielle felt exhilarated and more than just a little nervous. "Xena?," she said into the breeze.

"Gabrielle?" Xena's voice came from behind her sounding husky and dripping with sensuality. Before Gabrielle could turn around, Xena's left arm had slipped around her bare midriff. With her right hand, she brushed the hair off of Gabrielle's neck and caressed her. The bard felt her breath leave her. She leaned back into the embrace. "Mmmm, did you have a good time in town?," Xena whispered. Gabrielle felt her warm breath upon her ear. And as Xena took the bard's earlobe into her mouth, her flesh tingled.

"I think I'm going to have a better time tonight," Gabrielle replied and wondered to hear the sound of her own voice. She trembled and turned to face Xena. The woman she had come so used to seeing as a fighter, a warrior, was now a vision of feminine splendor. She was wearing only a sheer gown that seemed to sparkle in the fading sunlight. "Where did she get THAT?," Gabrielle thought before blurting out, "Gods, Xena, you are so beautiful!"

Xena gently lifted the bard's chin up to face her and brushed her lips with her own. "So, I guess the only question is, do you want to get wet first or eat right now?"

Gabrielle's mind was spinning, "Wa, wa what?," she sputtered.
Xena nodded towards the food on the table.

"Um," and Gabrielle couldn't believe she was speaking, she quivered so, "we could take the wine out to the hot spring? Is that what you meant?"

This caused Xena to smile. "No problem."

Xena filled the goblets with wine and proceeded out to the pool where the natural hot spring bubbled up. She paused for a moment, set the wine on the ground and then smiled at Gabrielle. She rose up to her full measure and slowly dropped the gown. Gabrielle watched transfixed as the delicate fabric slithered down her shoulders and then stopped, momentarily, as it slid across her breasts, pausing ever so briefly on her erect nipples and then continued it's slow descent to the ground, revealing her full womanhood before her. Long, lithesome legs sank slowly into the pool of bubbling water.

"Coming?," Xena asked in a smooth voice.

"Oh yeah," was all Gabrielle could muster as she began to remove her clothing.

Xena watched as the bard disrobed. Her light sprinkling of body hair looked like golden down in the rays of the setting sun. "When did she become such a beautiful woman?," she thought. "Was she always this desirable and I just didn't notice? Her hair is so silky and her lips so pink, like a painting or something. Oh gods, her breasts are just about the most exquisite things I may ever see outside of Elysia. And they're perfectly offset by that flat, hard belly!" Her eyes continued down and, "Stop!", she finally told herself. "Down girl. This is Gabrielle's first time and you're getting way too excited!" She sipped some wine. "I've got to go slow, be gentle, for Gabrielle. For my sweet one," the depth of her love still surprising her.

Gabrielle joined Xena in the bubbling pool. O.k., so she was here, naked with the woman she loved beyond hope of redemption, but Gabrielle didn't know what to do next. It was good that it was Xena, because the next thing she knew, a goblet of wine was being offered to her in front of the most beautiful smile she knew she would ever see. As Gabrielle sipped the wine, a kiss was placed upon the nape of her neck. The next kiss was behind her ear as she felt a hand come up slowly to cup one of her breasts. She took a huge gulp of the wine. No one had ever touched her like this before! She was excited beyond what she knew how to handle, and scared all at once!

"Um, Xena, you do remember I've never done this, or anything like this, before, um, right?"

"I know, Gabrielle," came the gentle reply. "Do you want me to stop?"

"Oh no! Gods no!," Gabrielle's mind was screaming. "No, don't stop. Just go slow, o.k.?," she said out loud.

"O.k... o.k., I'll go slow," Xena agreed as she removed her hand from the bard's breast and took a long sip of her wine.

Gabrielle objected, "I didn't mean to stop!"

Once again Xena smiled. "I love you, Gabrielle," she sighed.

"I love you, too, Xena, more than anything."

Their lips met and they kissed softly, slowly.

"Let me help you remove some of that road dust," Xena offered. She reached down and ran a soft wash cloth up the length of one of Gabrielle's legs. As she arrived at her inner thigh, she reached down again to run it up the other. Gabrielle felt a fire building between her legs. She thought she might explode with pleasure. "Is she going to touch me there now? Oh, I hope so!," Gabrielle thought. But, instead, Xena began rubbing the cloth against her stomach and then ran it down the length of her arm. She lifted her hand and kissed it and then did the same with the other arm. Then she lightly passed it over each breast. Gabrielle felt herself shudder with desire.

"This is maddening," Xena thought as she felt Gabrielle's breasts beneath the fabric of the cloth. "I'd better knock this off before I lose control. I want everything to be perfect for Gabrielle." With that, she gracefully slid behind the bard and began cleansing her back, kneading and relaxing her muscles as she did so.

"She's making me crazy," Gabrielle thought as Xena massaged her back. "Does she know that?"

"Lean back," Xena whispered in her left ear, nipping at the lobe as he did so. "I want to wash your hair for you." Xena ran her tongue around the bard's ear before Gabrielle leaned her head back into the water. Xena poured a scented soap into her hands and carefully massaged it into the bard's long blonde tresses.

"This feels wonderful," Gabrielle said. "I never knew that having my hair washed could feel so good."

"I love touching your hair. It's so soft and beautiful. Did I ever tell you that?"

Gabrielle giggled, "No, Xena. You never told me that."

"Here, lean your head back again."

Gabrielle rinsed the suds from her hair and when she emerged from the water, turned to face her love. As she did so, her nipples accidentally touched Xena's. They both gazed at each other, mesmerized. "Can I wash your hair now?," the bard finally managed to say.

"That would be nice," Xena smiled. Gabrielle returned the favor. And as Xena lifted her head from the water, she reached for their goblets and offered one to Gabrielle. "Let's finish our wine now," she said softly. And they sat, side by side, bodies touching, sipping their wine for moments that seemed like an eternity. And they watched as the last rays of the sun vanished from the sky and the first stars appeared in the ever deepening blue overhead.

"Xena," Gabrielle broke the silence, "this is so beautiful. I wish I could take this one perfect moment and put it into a bottle and keep it forever. This one place in time, before we give ourselves to each other completely and I become a woman in every sense of the word, this last twinkling of innocence, my anticipation, my desire, the scent of the evening air, the feel of you next to me, just put it into a bottle and wear it around my neck and keep it forever. Then, whenever I feel sad or depressed, I could take it out and open it and relive this moment and be happy."

Xena gazed in wonder at the winsome face beside her. She had thought her heart was already filled to the brim with love for this girl. But this love was different. It blazed new trails in her heart and filled them with a golden light. She placed an arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and kissed her sweet lips.

"I think we should go inside and eat our dinner before it gets too cold," she said.

"Do we have to eat, Xena?," Gabrielle asked. "I mean, couldn't we just skip dinner tonight?"

It was more than a tempting thought, Xena had to admit. "I think we should try to eat, just a few bites at least. I think we might be expending a little energy tonight, don't you?" Gabrielle blushed slightly. Gods, Xena loved it when she did that!

"Yeah, I guess you're right, as usual."

Xena climbed out of the pool and extended her hand down to lift Gabrielle out as well. She wrapped one of the towels she had placed there earlier in the day around the bard. Then she dried her hair with another. She quickly ran a towel over her own body and slipped back into her gown. Gabrielle reached her hand out to her and they proceeded back into the cottage.

Xena lit the firewood she had set up that afternoon in the hearth. In no time at all, a warming fire was burning. She sat down across the table from her love. Gabrielle had cut them each a portion of duck. She smiled at Xena.

"Boy, I really don't feel hungry at all."

Xena cut a slice from a piece of fruit and ate half of it. The other half she traced across Gabrielle's lips. "Let's try to eat just a little," she said. With that, the bard opened her mouth just wide enough to take in the fruit and the tip of Xena's finger. She sucked on the finger slightly before releasing it to Xena again. Xena closed her eyes as she felt the sensuous wetness of Gabrielle's lips, her tongue, as they pulled on her finger.

"Maybe, I could eat just a few bites, Xena," she grinned. With that, they alternated feeding themselves with feeding each other.

Finally, Xena gazed at Gabrielle's features through the candle light: her eyes, which held such mystery as, at times, they appeared almost as blue as her own, and yet, at other times, seemed the most delicate shade of green; her nose, which would crinkle so adorably when she smiled; those lips that, it seemed, were fashioned by Eros in the very shape of a kiss... and could no longer contain herself. She rose and took Gabrielle's hand in her own. She bent to kiss it and then kissed the hollow of her neck, her chin, her cheek, her ear. She lifted the bard from her chair and carried her across the room, up the steps and into the bedroom. As Gabrielle felt herself being carefully lowered onto the bed, she smelled the scent of roses again. Then she felt the softness of rose petals touching her skin. "Xena!," she exclaimed, "You spread rose petals on the bed! That is so romantic! This is a side of you I've never seen. This truly is a night of discovery!"

Xena ran her hand up underneath the towel that was still wrapped around Gabrielle. The bard quivered and sighed. Xena slowly untied the knot holding the towel in place and cautiously pulled it apart, allowing it to rest upon the sheets. She stared amorously at Gabrielle's naked body. For the first time, she felt free to gaze upon it openly and with unbridled passion: those perfect breasts, those rippled muscles, those untouched golden curls which stood, silent sentry, over her maidenhood! She could just make out the beginnings of her silky slit through slightly parted legs. Gabrielle was sure that Xena's eyes turned a deeper shade of blue. It was a look she had seen before, but only when Xena was in the heat of battle. Xena shed her gown and slowly spread the full length of her naked flesh on top of Gabrielle's. She claimed her mouth in a passionate kiss. Every inch of her own body was tingling where it made contact with Gabrielle's. Xena lifted herself enough to allow her nipples to lightly brush against the bard's. She bent back down, achingly slow, until her lips, ever so gently, grazed Gabrielle's again. She could feel Gabrielle's body rise beneath her. The bard began to run her hands down Xena's back. It was a long reach, but she was finally able to feel the warrior's firm bottom. "This is Elysia!," Gabrielle thought as she stroked her lover's beautiful rear end. Xena had fantasized so much about what it might feel like to touch Gabrielle, that she never anticipated the effect that Gabrielle touching her might have. Every part of her flesh was on fire and she thought she might come right then and there.

"Hold on," she told herself. "Take care of Gabrielle first. This is her night."

She tried to slow her pace by kissing Gabrielle's mouth more delicately. They both moaned at the tender contact. Xena began trailing kisses down Gabrielle's neck as she ran her hand across her breasts. They were magnificent! Xena could no longer resist as she claimed an erect nipple with her mouth. She massaged the other breast with her hand. Gabrielle moaned audibly. No one could have told her how wonderful this would be. She wouldn't have believed that such pleasure could exist. This was everything she expected and more! Xena alternated sucking and licking each nipple. She would flick them with her tongue and then run it around the areola before reclaiming her nipple fully with her mouth. Time stood still for the bard until she felt one of Xena's hands slowly begin to move down her torso. As it touched the top of the patch of hair between her legs, Gabrielle's crotch jerked upwards with anticipation. Xena moved her fingers through the soft, blonde curls until she could feel the wetness that was running down the bard's legs. Gabrielle cried out, "Oh Xena!," as she felt the warrior's finger slip between her folds. Xena began to run her fingers up and down Gabrielle's drenched inner linings as she continued to pleasure in her breasts. The bard was breathing heavily as she intermittently moaned and sighed. Xena, suddenly becoming aware that she might be moving too fast again, removed her mouth from Gabrielle's breast.

"How are we doing, Gabrielle? Is this what you expected, so far? Are you o.k. with what we're doing?" Xena's voice sounded almost shy.

Gabrielle had no words. Could it be that Xena was nervous, too? Of all the things she didn't expect, the gentleness and kind concern of her lover was the most surprising! This was all well beyond her expectations! Too excited to speak, she managed to breathe out a response. "Uh huh..."

Xena lowered her head and began kissing a deliberate trail down her torso until she was perched directly over the young woman's most private parts. "Xena, what are you doing?," Gabrielle moaned softly.

"Gabrielle, I need you to spread your legs for me."

"What are you going to do?"

"Something you're going like, Gabrielle, I promise."

The bard spread her legs apart and Xena suppressed a gasp as she finally viewed the full glory of her young lover's sex. She stared at the flower of her innocence. Gabrielle felt as though she might melt into a flow of pure pleasure just watching Xena look at her, fully exposed!  "You are so beautiful, Gabrielle," she said as she lowered her head between the bard's legs. The first touch of tongue to outer lips sent a shiver through them both. As she tasted her lover's warm, soft essence and took in her sweet scent, Xena felt her own juices begin to run down her legs. Her orgasm was building as she licked and sucked at Gabrielle's openings.

Gabrielle moaned louder than before. "This is heaven!," she thought. She never dreamed anything could feel so wonderful! Xena began to apply her tongue furiously to Gabrielle's engorged core. As Gabrielle felt the maddeningly erotic assault upon the most private part of her body, she unconsciously began calling out Xena's name. Her heart was pounding rapidly. Her excitement rose to an almost painful level. "Xena, oh gods, Xena!," she screamed and then felt the most phenomenal thing she had ever experienced in her life! It felt like something marvelous had erupted down there. She quivered and undulated and shook in uncontrolled spasms of pure pleasure. Her hands balled into fists as she grabbed at the sheets desperately. Waves of pleasure washed over her as she called Xena's name again and again. Xena felt the small explosions emanating from Gabrielle's center in her mouth. Her own center then joined the bard's in rapture. Gabrielle's breathing slowly began to modulate and Xena could feel her lover's entire body relax.

"Oh Xena," she managed to sigh, "I didn't know. I didn't know. I never dreamed anything could be so wonderful!"

Xena pursed her lips and blew softly upon Gabrielle's hot, exposed sex. She paused for a few seconds and then once again resumed her assault on the young woman's source. This time the feeling almost overwhelmed Gabrielle immediately! The undulations seemed even more intense than the first time. How could this be? Her release was all encompassing. "Oh, Xena, yes, yes!!!," she cried as she once again gave over to absolute pleasure. Xena brought her young friend to orgasm several more times, each time more intense than the last.

For Gabrielle, it felt as if she was rising up blissful steps to ever higher levels of paradise until she couldn't take it anymore, and finally cried out, "Stop, Xena, stop! You're going to kill me if you don't stop!" Xena raised herself up and gathered Gabrielle in her strong arms; the young woman trembled in her embrace. Their thighs pressed against each other's wetness.

"Xena, I love you so much."

"And I love you more, Gabrielle, than I can ever say."

"Is it going to feel that way every time, Xena?," Gabrielle asked excitedly.

"If we're lucky."

"I want to do that again and again! I want to do that every night and every day! That was the best feeling I ever felt! I want to do that to you!"

"You already did, Gabrielle," Xena smiled as she was charmed by the bard's youthful enthusiasm. "I experienced what you did a couple times while I was down there on you. You don't have to do anything to me." She kissed her mouth tenderly.

"But, I want to, Xena," she said as she began to run her hand over Xena's breasts.

"By the gods," Xena thought as she felt herself becoming aroused again. "What magical power does she hold over me? I haven't felt this way since...," she came to a sudden realization, "I have never felt this way! This must be what Lao Ma was trying to teach me all those years ago."

Gabrielle tried to imitate everything Xena had done to her. She thrilled at the feel of Xena's naked breasts under her hands. Her nipples were rock hard and fun to touch. She had wanted to do this to Xena from the time the warrior had taken her breast dagger away and parked it so smugly between her cleavage! Ever since that day, she had fantasized about those luscious breasts, barely hiding under all that leather and armor. She began manipulating them with her tongue, just as Xena had done. Xena couldn't believe the incredible sensation that Gabrielle's sweet tongue lapping at her nipples was causing. She was reaching a level of stimulation that she hadn't ever experienced before. As she felt Gabrielle's hand move down in-between her legs, she thought she might die of such pleasure. Gabrielle rejoiced in feeling how wet her friend was.

"If this is a measure of arousal, then Xena is really aroused!," she thought to herself. This gave her the confidence to proceed boldly. She ran her fingers up and down Xena's folds. The smoothness surprised her. She hadn't realize that anything on the warrior could be so satiny soft. She became aware that Xena was moaning. She realized, for the first time, the affect she was having on her. "Wow!" she thought. "I've never had power over Xena before!"

She kissed her way down the warrior's hard, muscled torso until she was ready to plunge into that delightful act Xena had performed upon her. Xena's hips and thighs were already raised and began swaying rhythmically as Gabrielle began to lick at her inner folds. She was surprised to find that she liked the taste of her juices. "This tastes and smells like sex," she thought. And, as she had just so recently discovered, she really liked sex! She tried to find Xena's source and provide the same experience Xena had given her.

Xena was electrified by the feel of Gabrielle's virgin mouth on her sex. Her whole body was exhilarated, tingling, moving, pulsing, on fire! Just then, Gabrielle found her swollen core. "Aaahh, Gabrielle, that's it! Right there. Keep it right there!" She reached down and stroked the golden head between her legs. Gabrielle licked, sucked and flicked and drove her partner straight over the edge. She could feel Xena explode in her mouth as she moaned incomprehensibly. She felt her lover's body shudder and jerk, just as she had done. Even with all her experience, Xena had never felt such release as when she came into Gabrielle's innocent mouth. She felt connected to something. She felt connected to the universe, to the heavens, to love. Finally, Gabrielle could feel Xena's trembling begin to dissipate. She looked up at her friend from in-between her legs. Xena's head was bent back slightly. Her mouth was open and she was still moaning softly. At last, she opened her eyes and looked down at the angelic face between her legs.

"Did I do all right?," Gabrielle smiled. "It was my first time, you know."

"You did great," Xena smiled back at her. "Now get up here so I can ravish you all over again."

"Ooh, that sounds wonderful," Gabrielle agreed. "But, can I just hold you for awhile first?"

"Sure, c'mere."

Gabrielle rested her head against Xena's shoulder and passed her hands over those incredibly hard nipples she loved so much. "Xena?," she questioned. "Am I still a virgin now?"

"Well, technically, yes, you are still a virgin. Didn't your mother ever talk to you about this?"

"No, not really. I think she was waiting until the night before my wedding to fill me in on things. But some of my friends and I talked about it, from time to time."

"And what did they say?"

"They said that when you lost your virginity, that it would hurt and it would bleed in the place where babies come out. Is that true, Xena?"

"I'm not going to lie to you, Gabrielle. It might hurt and you definitely will bleed some. You have a thin covering inside you. If I penetrate you there, it will rip and bleed and you won't be a virgin anymore."

"Do I need it for anything, Xena?"

"Well, um, no. I guess not. I mean, not anymore. You're a grown woman now."

"I want you to penetrate me there, Xena. I want to give my virginity to you."

Xena felt her face flush and turn hot. "Gabrielle, think about this. Once it's done, it can't be undone. And it will count! You won't be a virgin anymore!"

"Xena, I've known for so long now that you're the one I love. There is no one else I'd lose my virginity to."

"But, this is a gift you can only give once in your whole lifetime, Gabrielle. You want to give it to me?"

Gabrielle stopped fondling Xena's breasts, put her hand to her cheek and looked her straight in the eyes. "Yes, Xena, I do."

"Oh gods!," Xena thought. She guessed that she knew this would happen. But now that the prospect of deflowering Gabrielle had become a reality, she felt a sudden apprehension. To be trusted with something so dear from one so pure, for all her overwhelming feelings of love and desire for Gabrielle, was not something she was sure she deserved. "Well, um," she stumbled, "I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything." Gabrielle sounded sure and calm. "Just do it."

This was all so new to Xena. She had just shared with this woman the one true intimate encounter she had ever known. She had released herself fully and without reservation. She had allowed herself to become totally unguarded around her. And now she was permitting Gabrielle to take control? Again she asked herself, "What magical power does she hold over me?"

"It's love, Xena," Gabrielle was saying as Xena snapped out of her introspection.

"What did you say?"

"I said, 'It's love'. I want to give my virginity to you because of the power of love."

"Is she reading my mind now?," Xena pondered.

"I'm in love with you and there's nothing I can do about it. I am powerless before it. I can only follow it's ways. If my virginity is my most special and rare gift, then I want to give it to you. If I can only give it once, then I want to give it to you. Although, I believe, my heart is my most precious gift. And that, you already possess." Xena could only shake her head and smile. Apparently, she too, was powerless before this love!

"All right, then," she nodded at the bard tenderly. "I'm going to do this as gently as I can. There is an upside to this pain and bleeding stuff if you want to hear it."

"What's that?," Gabrielle asked expectantly.

"Well, if you're not in too much, I mean, if it's not hurting too bad, there's a special place I can reach, way up inside you. If I touch it just right, it's possible to create a whole new wave of pleasure, different from the one you felt before, but just as remarkable."

"Oh Xena! Promise you'll try!"

"I'll try, my love," she smiled and kissed her. "You need to tell me if I'm hurting you," Xena whispered in her ear as she reached down between her legs and parted her lips with her fingers. She ever so gently inserted one finger partially up into Gabrielle's wet opening. She heard the bard moan. "Is that o.k., Gabrielle? Does that hurt you?," she breathed into her ear.

"Uh, no Xena, it feels good."

The warrior inserted a second finger cautiously inside her. "How 'bout now? Are we still all right?"

"Oh, yes, Xena, I want you inside me!"

Xena slid down the bard's body and positioned herself between Gabrielle's legs. She reached under her tight buttocks and lifted them with one hand as she placed the towel that was still on the sheets underneath her with the other.

"Is that for the blood, Xena?"

"Well, yeah, just in case I'm not good enough to catch it all. I mean, everybody's different. There may not be much blood at all. Don't be afraid. I will do everything I can not to hurt you."

"I'm not afraid, Xena."

"Well, that makes one of us," Xena mused to herself. She spread Gabrielle's legs apart and once again marveled at the splendor of her womanhood. She lowered her head and began manipulating her with her tongue. She could hear Gabrielle's low moans and feel the rocking of her body as she continued. "Oh Xena," she heard Gabrielle moan. "Better make this quick! She's about to come again!," she thought. With that she took two fingers and cautiously inserted them into Gabrielle's moist opening without removing her tongue from the bard's essence. She felt the thin barrier which was her maidenhood.

She had stared down many a fearsome opponent in battle. She had fought cyclops and centaurs, alike, without fear. Why did this scare her so?! This was different. There were consequences and implications for the both of them. This gift that her bard was giving her was one of the most precious things a woman could offer. She hoped she could live up to the trust and faith being placed in her. She felt Gabrielle's orgasm begin.

"Well, it's now or never," she told herself and thrust her fingers deep up inside, shredding her young lover's innocence in the process. Gabrielle gasped as she experienced a sharp pain. Xena vigorously licked her engorged center hoping to distract her from the discomfort as she felt blood trickle down her hand. Gabrielle moaned deeply as she felt the strange combination of pain and pleasure pass over her.

Then she felt Xena's fingers inside her. This WAS different. And, eventhough, the pain was still there, became pleasurable. Xena slowly inserted the rest of her fingers into Gabrielle's tight opening. The young woman drew in air as she cringed slightly. It was, initially, an uncomfortable feeling. But, she slowly began to move rhythmically with the motion of Xena's hand. She could feel her lover rubbing something. This must've been the upside Xena was talking about! She felt her muscles contracting down there, drawing Xena up inside her. What an erotic sensation this was -- to feel the woman she was in love with inside her! Uh oh, here it comes again! But this time the spasms came from deep within her, contracting and expanding as... "Oh gods, Xena! Xena! Xena!," she literally screamed as she felt herself burst forth with gratification. It felt as if fluid was gushing spasmodically out of her body as her contractions continued. Waves of joy flowed over her. Her release was complete. "Oh, Xena! Oh, Xena!," she cried. Xena was astonished by the strength of the muscles inside of Gabrielle which gripped her hand. Her digits became wetter and wetter, but it was no longer blood.

"It's a good thing I put that towel down after all. Damn, but she responds well!," she thought.

"That was amazing!," the bard sighed. Xena slowly removed her hand from inside. There was a slight popping noise as suction was released and fluid spilled out onto the towel. "What was that?," Gabrielle asked.

"That was you, sweetheart, that was all you," Xena replied as she smiled up at her.

"Gods, I love her," Xena thought. And it was strange, but she unexpectedly felt a sense of pride, a sense of completion. Yes, she had robbed many an innocent girl of her virginity before as a warlord! But she had always just taken it, without asking, without permission. She would do it for fun: steal from them what was most precious! Rupture the one thing they could never regain! She would take their blood and taste it in her mouth and then rub it across their face: just to make sure they knew what she had done and that they were totally conquered! In truth, many a virgin had given herself over willingly to her. She had never understood this power she held over other women; until this very moment, when she experienced the power this one woman held over her! This was different. Oh, and how she grieved for those other women now! This was so different!

She chastised herself for feeling proud that she had achieved love and felt complete in the moment that she took Gabrielle's virginity! Shame and guilt came thundering down upon her! She had no right! A pure soul should've taken her! Not her! Not the former warlord! She was shaken out of her sad reverie by the sound of an angel's voice, the voice that had come to claim her very soul!

"Is that a bad thing?," Gabrielle asked tentatively.

"No," Xena said as she gazed up at the sweet face of the woman she loved. And then she felt it again: redemption, completion, joy! She placed her soaked fingers to her lips. She licked each digit. "That's a good thing. That's a very good thing." She noticed a light smattering of blood mixed with the bard's juices on Gabrielle's inner thighs just outside her opening. "Mmmm, can't waste any of that." She bent down and lapped it up with her tongue.

"Now what are you doing?," Gabrielle whispered.

"I'm tasting your innocence, taking it inside me. I don't want to squander a single drop of your precious gift. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I cherish each priceless bead!" She continued to lick up the ambrosial fluids. "I need your purity of heart inside me." Finally she looked up. "Thank you, Gabrielle, thank you." Tears welled in her eyes.

Gabrielle swooned. "I never dreamed Xena could be so tender," she thought as tears formed in her own eyes. "She's a true romantic. Who would've guessed it?"

Xena laid her head upon Gabrielle's stomach. She kept one hand between her young lover's legs, her palm pressed flush against her sex. "I love you," she whispered into her belly button. She closed her eyes and, just for a moment, allowed herself to dream of a perfect life: one spent with Gabrielle. She felt a soft hand reach down and caress her hair gently, so gently it reached into the most dark, hardened places of her heart and melted them into delicate pools of light. For this one moment, at least, she was complete.

She lifted herself up and then laid down next to her lover. She wrapped Gabrielle up in her strong arms and kissed her. "So, how do you feel? Are you o.k.?" Gabrielle buried her face in-between Xena's neck and jaw. The tears that had been welling up in the young woman's eyes were released and began streaming down her cheeks. "Gabrielle!," Xena felt her heart begin to sink. "What's wrong? Are you in pain? Talk to me!"

"Nothing's wrong, Xena. I'm just so happy, that's all." She tightened her embrace around the warrior's torso as their legs intertwined. "I never knew that such love was possible. Please tell me that it will always be like this between us, always!"

"Oh, I hope so, Gabrielle. I really do."

"So, um, Xena," Gabrielle looked up at her friend's face apprehensively. "How did I do? I mean, I know you've had a lot of other lover's and all. So, um, how was I? Was I o.k.?"

Xena kissed her forehead. "You were fantastic, Gabrielle. You're a natural."

"Really, Xena? You're not just saying that?" A slow smile began to play across her lips.

"Gabrielle, I don't believe in good or bad lovers, only good or bad partners. We, my dear, are good partners. And the great thing about that is, we've only just begun. There are so many things we've yet to explore together!"

"Oh, Xena, you mean there's more?! I want you to teach me everything you know!"

"Well, that could take some time."

"I'm counting on it! We've got all the time in the world now, right Xena?"

"I'm not one to look forward much, Gabrielle. You never know what's just around the corner."

"Whatever's around the corner, we'll face it together! Right?!"

It was so comforting for Xena to hear the words "we'll face it together". She had never known such companionship, such fidelity. For all her guilt and misgivings, Gabrielle was her partner in every way now. She felt a warm glow surround her body as she realized 'this is true love'. She was no longer alone. "Is that the way you want it to be, Gabrielle? Remember, I walk a dangerous path!"

"Do the words 'duh' mean anything to you?"

Xena laughed. "O.k., then, we'll face this world together, as partners!"

"Oh, Xena, you make me so happy!" She squeezed her love in a tight embrace, then winced a little.

"So, Gabrielle, are you o.k.? Are you feeling any pain? I tried not to hurt you too much, but I know that had to smarts."

"It is a little tender down there. But it's a good kind of tender. My body's just getting used to this kind of action."

"Maybe we should slow down, you know, take a break and let you rest for awhile."

"Oh no you don't, Xena! I may be sore, but I'm not that sore! I've waited so long for this evening, I don't want it to ever end! I want to make love all night long!"

"Good thing we ate dinner," was all Xena got out before Gabrielle claimed her mouth for a long, passionate kiss.


In the morning, Xena awoke to the sensation of something cold being lowered onto her chest. She opened her eyes to see Gabrielle's face beaming at her from above. She felt the bard's firm, young flesh pressed against her own. "So, it wasn't a dream," she smiled and yawned. As she did so, she caught sight of something gleaming in-between her breasts. She picked it up and eyed it quizzically. It was a an exquisite bracelet. A silver heart was cushioned between two small seashells. A precious stone, which resembled the stars, Xena thought, had been inlaid into each of the shells. The whole thing was strung on a braided leather chain. "Gabrielle, what is this? It's beautiful!"

"It's something I picked up yesterday in town. I was going to give it to you last night, but I kind of, um, got distracted and forgot," she giggled shyly.

"Gabrielle, you shouldn't have! It must've been so expensive!"

"No, Xena, I haggled with the vendor," the bard smiled, obviously pleased with herself. "I got a great price! I brought most of our money back. But, I wanted you to have something to remember last night by. I figured it would be a special night."

Xena was speechless. She turned the bracelet over in her fingers with her mouth slightly open and a look of innocent sincerity upon her face. "Gabrielle, I don't know what to say."

"Look, Xena, there's the shells to represent the first time I kissed you, there's the stones, which remind me of the stars we saw come out last night; and I didn't even know we'd be seeing the stars when I bought it! Isn't that amazing?! And then there's my heart on a chain, which will always belong to you!"

Tears welled in Xena's eyes. "Gabrielle, I'll treasure it always!" She wiped away a tear. "Now, if ever I lose my way, I can take this out and hold it and look at it and know that I am loved by a heart that is pure and true and believe in myself again!"

"Oh, um, Xena, I hope you wear it sometimes, too, by the way."

"Yeah, I will! Just not in battle or when I could be engaged in battle, which is most of the time. I want to keep this safe, always with me, but safe. I'll find a place for it, so it's always with me!" A tear ran down her cheek.

"Xena," Gabrielle smiled, "You're crying."

"I am NOT!," Xena protested as she wiped the tear away. "Help me put this on." Gabrielle fastened the bracelet around Xena's wrist. Clear, blue eyes met eyes the color of the misty sea.

"I am at peace," Xena said. "For the first time, in so long, I am at peace. How can I ever repay you? It's strange but, it's as if all my life had been but prelude to this one moment. The gifts you have given to me, I cannot pay back."

"Just always walk with me, the same path, together. And if we ever get separated, never forget me!"

"How could I? You are so beautiful to me. A gift I never deserved!" She wrapped Gabrielle up in a gentle embrace and caressed her...


"A gift I never deserved," Xena was saying as she kissed the blonde head beneath her and a wave crashed upon the shore.

"Hey, Xena, did you see that?," Gabrielle laughed a little. "All the surfers got wiped out on that one wave. It wasn't even very big! It was so funny."

"No, I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I was distracted, back in the past again."

"It's o.k., I was there, too... remembering. When you handed me that shell, I remembered our first time. It was the most special night of my life."

"Did you put it in a bottle, Gabrielle, and hang it around your neck so you could take it out and smell the evening air, see the last twinkling of the stars, feel me next to you and be happy?"

"I put it in my heart, Xena, and there it remains!" She turned in Xena's arms and rested her head upon her chest. "Always. Although, I am SO surprised you remembered my words!"

"I wish we had something physical from those days, to hold on to, to remind us."

"You mean, besides the shell?"

Xena smiled and kissed her lover's lips. "Yeah, I mean besides the shell!" She laughed. "I wish I had that bracelet you gave me. It was so beautiful."

"Well, Alti couldn't think of everything, I guess," Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

Xena laughed again. "Nope. I guess she didn't know about that."

"I've got you, that's all the gift I need," her partner smiled.

"Yeah, me too, Gabrielle."

"So," the bard inquired with a wry smirk, "what's the plan for tonight? Who's baby-sitting me?"


"Angel?!," Gabrielle was so startled she nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Hey, you don't have to be so excited about it!," Xena sneered in mock jealousy.

"But I thought you guys were going to be too busy hunting down the bad guys to have to take care of 'the target'," she said sarcastically.

"Well after you left, we decided that you couldn't be trusted to do what we wanted you to do, anyway. So we decided to leave you with the strongest one, the best protector."

"But, you're the strongest one! You're the best protector!"

"Yeah, but...," Xena's voice trailed off.

"Yeah, but what?!" Gabrielle sat straight up and pushed Xena's shoulders into the sand. She straddled her and pinned her to the ground with an intense stare.

"What if Angel is right? What if there's something within me, waiting to come out, you know? I've been evil before. I could get evil again," Xena ventured sincerely.

Gabrielle turned deadly serious. "No, Xena! Don't ever doubt yourself! You overcame your past. There is nothing within you that could ever hurt me. Tell me you believe that! Tell me!"

"Yeah, but, he's right. I don't know what happened to me last night. And when it comes to you, I don't take chances."

"Oh, and so now you trust Angel?"

"Um, we talked, like Jinn said, and I guess he's not so bad."

"And now you listen to Jinn? I will never get over your ability to surprise me!"

"Hey, I still think there's something up with her, o.k.? I do not like the way she looks and if I ever see you hugging her again, grrr...," she growled and gave Gabrielle a frown. "But I did talk to Angel. He has a dark past, like me. He's trying to do good now, like me. He knows the lay of the land here much better than I do! You'll be safer with him while we prowl around tonight."

Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's chest. "Xena, I'll always be safest with you. No one loves me like you do! I hate it when you go all self sacrificing on me like this."

"Listen, we're all teamed up tonight, o.k.? I'm going with Gunn. Sunny's going with Wes, Cordelia's supposed to go with Jinn and you're going with Angel. When it's all said and done, you're coming home with me. And the 'girlfriends', as they say in this time, will once again stay with us. So if I go all crazy on you, they'll be there to save you."

"So," Gabrielle looked up seductively, "are you going to go all crazy on me tonight?"

"Oooh, can't make any promises. But if I do, and you just HAPPEN to get loud, I'm sure you're friend Jinn will be there to break us up!"

"Very funny," Gabrielle said. They both laughed. "But seriously, Xena, I don't want to be separated from you tonight. How about you come with me and Angel, huh?"

"Look, Gabrielle, we've got this all figured out. You can't just go messing up the plan because you want to!"

"But, I want to be with you all the time tonight. I don't know, just a feeling I have. It's important for me to be with you."

"If you wanted to have input, you should've stayed and helped us make a plan, instead of running off shopping with Cordelia and leaving me with all those strangers, right? It's too late now."

"C'mon, Xena. Come with me and Angel. You know you want to!" She ran her finger just under the v-neck of Xena's T-shirt and sensuously traced it's shape on her partner's skin.

"Gab-ri-elle," Xena drew her name out reproachfully.

"Please, Xena, please!," Gabrielle implored as she smiled at her lover.

"She looks so adorable when she smiles like that," Xena thought as she felt her resolve weaken. "Gods, Gabrielle, you are so incorrigible!"


"Meaning... I'll see what I can do." Xena shook her head. "I don't know why I let you talk me into these things!"

"Oh, thank you Xena! You make me so happy!" Gabrielle hugged her tight.

"But, tomorrow," Xena was serious again, "one of us will be with you all day. And there's going to be no arguments, no complaining, understand?"

"Yes, 'Oh Mistress of Plans'!," Gabrielle smirked.

They reclined on the beach, quiet for awhile, until Gabrielle turned and sat up in-between Xena's legs. She gazed at children playing in the sand and families frolicking in the water. "You know, Xena," she paused.

Her partner rose behind her and wrapped her up in her arms. "No, Gabrielle," she whispered to her as she rested her head upon the bard's shoulder. "I don't know," she laughed slightly, "tell me."

"It was a hard adjustment, when we first came here. But the last couple of months have been like heaven on earth. They've been like a honeymoon for me and you, with nothing to worry about or demand our attention, but each other. It's been a time of peace and love...,"

"And love-making," Xena interrupted as she kissed Gabrielle's neck.

"Yeah... that, too," Gabrielle giggled as she felt Xena's lips upon her, " a honeymoon, like I said. But, we deserved it, Xena! After everything we've been through, I'm just so happy we were able to find even a brief time together... a space of peace and calm."

"I have a feeling that's all over now," Xena interjected reality.

"Yes, but what a wonderful couple of months they were! And what a beautiful feeling that was!"

"I love you, Gabrielle."

"Mmm," the bard sighed as she relaxed back fully into her lover's embrace, "and I love you."

(Continued in CLONES ALONE Part 3)

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