by B L Miller

Copyright: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are owned by MCA/Universal. I only borrowed them for a little while. No infringement was intended. The rest of the story is mine and I hold the copyright to it. Do not use any part of this story without my written permission.

Sex: This story contains scenes of two women making love. If this offends you, please don’t read my story. There are plenty of other wonderful stories out there.

Timeline Reference: This story takes place after the episode "Fins, Femmes, & Gems" and before "Tsunami".

Thanks: To Danae and Lunacy for their help with the lyrics and to Mist and Missy for the title. As always, thanks to Verda and Lunacy for beta reading.

To Rie, for always keeping me entertained with her stories and for her constant support.

"I think you still need to do something about Joxer." Gabrielle said softly as the ape man in question grunted and screeched off in the distance.

"Tomorrow." Xena replied with a gentle smile. It was late, she was tired, and all she wanted to do was curl up around the bard and go to sleep. Gabrielle grinned in response and reached over to give the warrior's forearm a gentle squeeze. Yes, tomorrow would be soon enough to deal with Joxer.

The quiet of the night was broken only by the crackling of their small fire and the occasional grunting of Joxer as he circled the camp, still thinking that he was the great ape man. Lying side by side, shoulders touching, Gabrielle drifted off into a light sleep while Xena continued to stare up at the night sky. It had been an emotional day, one that she hoped would quickly be forgotten by her honey haired companion. She brushed the dark locks off her forehead and let out a of sigh of frustration. She had come so close today, so very close to revealing her true feelings to Gabrielle. For that brief moment, all thoughts of Aphrodite's spell was forgotten….

She frantically felt around in the water until her hand brushed against the limp form. Relief at finding Gabrielle flooded her senses only to be replaced immediately by the overwhelming fear that she was too late. Cradling the bard’s chin in her hand, Xena pushed her muscles to the limit to get back to shore. Once her feet touched the wet sand, she used both arms to drag Gabrielle out of the water, only dimly noting the location of her hands, which were firmly cupping the bard's left breast. Another time she might have taken a perverse pleasure in being able to get away with copping a feel but at the moment her only thought was on making Gabrielle breathe again. Her mind flashed back to a time long ago, back to Thessaly when she had been in a similar position. 'Not breathing, get air in her lungs, yeah that's what she had to do,' the now panicky warrior thought to herself. She bent over and took a deep breath of air, readying herself. A spurt of water from Gabrielle's mouth brought Xena's head back.

"Not the lips." the bard said breathlessly, her fingers moving up to touch her mouth. "They chap so easily."

Xena's face took on a dejected look as Gabrielle's words and actions reminded the warrior that Aphrodite's spell was still in effect. She sat back as the adrenaline rush faded. "Wha…just what were you doing out there?"

"Uh…I was, oh! I was trying to kiss my reflection in the water." Gabrielle sat up and turned toward the warrior. "I couldn't resist it. I leaned over and I tried to press my lips…" she ran her wet fingertips across her lower lip, caressing it in a most distracting way. The bard seemed lost in the sensation of the touch.

"And you fell in." Xena said, trying to bring the bard back to the conversation. "Any fish down there?" she asked, her obsession taking control for a moment.

"It was like my reflection embraced me." the bard said, annoyed at the warrior's question, which seemed rather silly to her. In the background, Joxer grunted and nibbled on some bugs. Gabrielle sighed with the obsession induced memory. "I sank into it. I was surrounded by it. And then you, you pulled me up, and I looked into your eyes, and Xena, I finally realized--there can only be one person for me in my life." she said happily. A burst of emotion flooded through Xena at the prospect that the unbelievable was actually happening. She began to speak, to proclaim that which had been hidden for so long.


"Me." Gabrielle said as if it were obvious, grinning with pleasure. The smile that covered Xena's face turned to disbelief, then annoyance as the reminder that the bard's ego was sky high. She had to get away…away from the embarrassment at almost blurting out her true feelings, away from the self-centered person that looked exactly like her best friend, away from the whole mess that Aphrodite created. She twisted and rose, determined to find an end to the spell that Gabrielle was under so she could go back to fishing in peace.

"Hey, I let you save me." the bard called out as Xena continued to walk away.

The crackling of the fire brought Xena back from her revelry. She looked over to see Gabrielle sleeping quietly, free of the self-absorption that claimed her all day. Rolling onto her side, Xena reached over and softly touched the honey hair that spilled out over the bard's shoulder. So close and yet still so far away…the warrior let out a sigh of disappointment and turned away to face the fire. Sleep wouldn't come easily to her tonight. Some obsessions weren't that easy to get rid of, especially when the object was sleeping less than an arm's length away.

Morning presented its own set of problems as Xena was forced to help Joxer find the solution to what was bothering him. Gabrielle flatly refused to spend any more time with 'zug zug' man, as she called him. So there she was, standing next to a man wearing a pink frilly nightie and trying to get him to understand that he wasn't Attus the Ape Man. Perhaps reason would work, Xena thought. "Now Joxer, you know that you're not really an ape man. You're Joxer the Mighty, come on, snap out of it."

"Arruu?" came the reply, accompanied by a stupid look.

"Joxer, you're a man, not an ape." briefly her mind tried to come up with the distinction. "Um…apes have more hair."

"Ug…me take monkey-woman and make furious zug zug." he replied, scratching his armpit.

Xena grinned with a smile that said that she'd had enough of this. She took a step forward and glared at Joxer. "You grab Gabrielle again and there won't be anything for you to make zug zug with, do you understand?" she asked, her white teeth looking rather threatening to the confused fool. She casually reached under the top of the nightie and plucked several hairs from his chest with no effort. He yelped with pain and stepped back, the white monkey-woman making her intentions clear.

"No zug zug." he said dejectedly. "She never wants to zug zug."

"And she never will." the warrior added. An idea popped into her head. "Joxer, perhaps that's what's bothering you."

"What, that Gabrielle won't return my love and would rather eat ants than spend time with me?" he asked, the fuzziness in his head diminishing. "Wow, must have been something I ate, I don't feel very well right now." he looked down at his garb and immediately started looking around embarassedly

"Your clothes are over there." Xena grinned. "It took us almost half a candlemark to find your clothes after you threw them off and swung from tree to tree with nothing on but a smile and your socks."

"And Gabby saw me..." he looked around for a graceful exit.

"Gabrielle's off collecting some firewood." she recognized Joxer's fearful look and flushed skin for what it was. "If you go that way, you won't run into her."

"Oh, thanks, Xena, tell her that I had someplace important to go to and that's why I couldn't stick around to see her." he said, grateful for a chance not to run into the bard. He reached for the hem of the pink nightie.

"Uh, Joxer…" the warrior pointed to the brush in the distance. "I'm not interested in any zug zug either." he blushed even more and hastily made his retreat. Xena walked away, confident that they wouldn't be bothered with his presence anytime soon.

She found Gabrielle back at their campsite, a small pile of firewood next to her. The bard was busily scribing their recent journey down on the last clean scroll she had. "Did you get rid of him?" Gabrielle asked without looking up.

"He's gone. I think he left the nightie over by the bushes if you want it."

"After he's worn it?" the bard made a disgusted face. "Not a chance. You can tear it into rags for all I care." she scribbled another few words onto the parchment. "That was a waste of three dinars."

"Well, don't you think it's worth three dinars not to have to look at Joxer's naked body?" Xena asked as she sat down next to the honey haired woman.

"It would be worth three hundred dinars." the bard mumbled, finishing the sentence she was working on. "You know that was worth at least six dinars. It took a great deal of haggling to get the woman to take three for it."

"Why'd you buy it?" came the genuinely curious question. "It's not really something that would last out here on the road."

"I don't know." Gabrielle set the quill and scroll down and turned to look at the pile of ash that represented the fire they slept next to all night. She refused to look at her friend, feeling a bit of embarrassment about the whole thing. "I guess I just felt like wasting three dinars on something that wouldn't be seen by anyone anyway."

"Hey…" Xena reached out and cupped the bard's chin with her hand, forcing the young woman to face her. "I didn't mean to upset you, I was just trying to figure out why you bought something like that, that's all." her mind raced quickly for just the right thing to say to make Gabrielle feel better. "I'm sure you would have looked lovely in it."

"Well, I guess we'll never know, now will we? Are you sure Aphrodite didn't cast her spell on us back in the village?" she gave a short snort. "I mean, it was rather silly to spend three dinars on something as delicate as that considering our line of work. I would have been better off spending the money on bandages."

"It wasn't silly." Xena lied. Sure, they always needed one more unnecessary thing to carry around with them. "You deserve to have something pretty to wear once in a while."

"For who?" the bard sighed. "The only heads I turn when we enter a village are creepy looking men who make me want to take a bath after they've looked at me. Let's face it, Xena, the pickings aren't too good around here."

"Well, there's always--"

"Don't you dare say it." Gabrielle warned, drawing a grin from her best friend. "Don't even think his name. I'd rather go through life without than with him."

"Oh, but you make such a cute couple." Xena teased, having successfully pulled the bard out of her funk. She laughed at the playful backhand she received and began to whistle the warrior wannabe's annoying song.

"Xena, I'm warning you…" the bard growled, moving her hands toward the warrior's rather ticklish sides.

"You wouldn't dare." the raven haired woman replied, reaching down and tossing her chakram out of the way just in case. With a yelp the bard was upon her, the short fingers landing with deadly accuracy. "Oh, Gabrielle…hee hee, you stop it ha ha right now…" she tried rolling away but the bard gave her no quarter, mercilessly keeping up the tickle attack while staying out of reach of the warrior's flailing legs. Xena didn't want to hurt her smaller friend but she was laughing so hard that she was finding it hard to breathe. Desperate times call for desperate measures and so the warrior raised her knees, planted her feet firmly on the soft ground, and bucked her hips upward, throwing Gabrielle off. Xena turned and instantly pinned the bard to the ground, her stronger hands holding the younger woman's wrists, her knees planted on either side of the well developed abdomen. "Now…" the warrior huffed, still trying to get her breathing back to a normal state. She tipped her head down and realized that they were far too close. For a moment Xena feared that Gabrielle might see her own feelings reflected in her blue eyes. She pulled away, ending yet another moment that passed between them. "I guess we'd better pack up if we're going to make it to Laconia by nightfall." she rose to her full height and brushed the sand and dirt off her brown leathers.

"Tonight? I thought we weren't going there until tomorrow. I gathered enough firewood for us." Gabrielle said in bewilderment. One moment they had been playing around and the next Xena was up and packing their things. It seemed odd, but not odd enough to make an issue of it. After all, if leaving now meant getting into a village full of people and shops before nightfall, who was she to disagree? "I suppose some passing traveler will appreciate my woodpile."

"I'm sure they will." Xena replied, her tone slightly clipped. "Let's get going. No doubt Argo will need a good brushing once we get there." a quick kicking of dirt onto their dead fire to make sure it didn't start up again and they were ready to leave. Gabrielle barely had time to throw her bag over her shoulder and stand up before Xena strode away from their campsite.

"Some days I just don't know about you." the bard said to the retreating form, still puzzled by the warrior's sudden change of mood.

The sun was completely out of the sky by the time they reached the outskirts of the medium sized town of Laconia. The quick pace that Xena had set did nothing to improve the bard's mood since she was now far too exhausted to do anything more than eat dinner and go to bed. "I suppose the shops will all be open tomorrow." she grumbled as they headed toward the stables.

"If you had ridden with me it wouldn't have taken as long." Xena pointed out as she dismounted.

"If you weren't in such a rush to get here I wouldn't be so tired." Gabrielle countered. "What's so important that we had to act like Hades himself was on our tail?"

Xena let out an annoyed sigh. "We didn't race to get here and if you wanted to take a rest all you had to do was say something." a young lad came running up to them, hand outstretched to take Argo's reins. The warrior handed over the straps of leather along with a dinar. "Make sure she's groomed and fed and that the hay in her stall is fresh." that task accomplished, Xena turned to face the miffed bard. "Come on, Gabrielle. We'll go to the inn and get you something warm to eat and cold to drink. Maybe they'll even let you tell one of your stories."

"All I want is something good to eat and somewhere soft to sleep." the bard replied, her anger dissipating at the sight of the inn up ahead.

"Then I'll just have to make sure that you get both." Xena said, giving the young woman's arm a gentle squeeze. "I'm sorry if I pushed it getting here. I just thought that a nice place to sleep and having someone else make dinner would be a good idea."

"Sorry I was a grouch." Gabrielle admitted. "I guess it just must be that time of moon again." she adjusted the strap to her bag on her shoulder. "Come on, I'm so hungry I could eat a sphinx."

"Uh, let's stick to eating things that don't want to eat us as well, okay?" Xena joked.

The inn was nicer than most inns that they had been in, people sitting around the tables quietly talking, the air smelling more of fresh cooked food than stale liquor. The reason became clear a moment later when a gargantuan of a woman stepped in front of Xena, hands on her hips. "No weapons. This is a place to eat, drink, and perhaps sleep if you have enough dinars. You want fighting, go down the street to the Blue Fox."

Xena's left eyebrow arched prominently as she set the saddlebags down on the floor and crossed her arms, silently challenging the large woman's resolve. The tall warrior noted that the room had suddenly grown quiet as the patrons, now spectators, watched on to see which strong willed woman would win. Several heartbeats passed as the innkeeper stood face to face with the former warlord. "I can stand here all night but that half-starved kid behind you looks like she could use some food." she cast another look at Gabrielle. "Perhaps some clothes that fit her as well." she adding in a disapproving tone.

"Xena…" the bard softly implored, truly wanting a plate or two full of whatever smelled so good and not a fight. As it always did, the mention of the warrior's name caused a series of murmurs and whispers to run through the crowd. Now there was a healthy amount of fear that accompanied the look of curiosity on the patrons faces. Satisfied that there would be no trouble from the simple townsfolk, Xena gave the innkeeper an insincere smile.

"Well, I don't suppose there'll be any trouble here." the warrior said as she removed her scabbard and handed it to the young serving girl standing nearby.

"Not as long as you remember who's in charge." the large woman said. "My name is Nysis. Two drinks for a dinar, dinners are a dinar each, and the rooms are two dinars each. Now are you going to just stand there wasting my time or do you want something?"

Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest the prices but was stopped by Xena's raised hand. "Fine." she looked around for an empty table.

"Uh uh uh." Nysis said, her hand turned palm up. "I said no weapons."

Xena maintained her defiant stare and handed over the knife tucked into her boot. Nysis chuckled softly. "And I suppose that round thing is just decoration?" she took the chakram and two more knives yet continued to stand in front of the warrior.

"What? That's it." Xena growled, her own stomach starting to announce its happiness with the aroma coming from the kitchen.

"And I suppose there's nothing in there?" Nysis said, pointing at the valley of the raven haired woman's breasts. "Or would you prefer I see for myself?" a heartbeat later the small breast dagger was handed over. "There's a table near the fireplace. I'll have Maris bring you some drinks." she stepped aside and indicated the table in question with a sweep of her hand. As Gabrielle passed, Nysis reached out and deftly snatched the Amazon staff.

"Hey!" the bard yelped.

"Oh, you think that I don't believe that you could take my head off with this?" the large woman answered, nonplused by the honey haired woman's protest. Nysis sauntered off with her prizes, leaving two annoyed women behind.

"Xena, perhaps I was wrong." Gabrielle said as she set the saddlebags under the table. "Maybe we would be better off going up to the Blue Fox." her stomach rumbled its dissent.

"Sit down." the warrior said while giving a gentle tug on the bard's arm. She made no effort to remove the amused look from her face. "What? It's all right that I have to hand over my weapons in order to get a table but it's not all right for you?" Xena reached out quickly and took two large tankards of port off the passing serving girl's tray. "Maybe Aphrodite's spell hasn't quite washed off of you yet."

"You're the one who's a walking armory. I'm just a bard…and that's *my* staff." Gabrielle grumbled, shooting a dirty look at the large innkeeper.

Xena leaned forward until her lips were a hand's width away from the young woman's ear. "You are far more than just a bard, Gabrielle." she swallowed hard and pulled back to a more 'friendly' position. "And in your hands, a staff is most definitely a weapon. It was good thinking on her part not to underestimate your skills." she took a deep swallow of port and pushed the other tankard toward Gabrielle. "Besides, I don't need any weapons." she grinned. The bard smiled back and took a long draught of her drink.

"I know I'm just being silly but I do feel better with my staff. It's like it's a part of me…like your chakram is to you." she took another swallow. "It does seem peaceful enough here." Gabrielle leaned back in her chair and enjoyed the drink in her hands as the serving woman approached the table.

"Dinner is one dinar each. If you want second helpings, they're a dinar each too." the woman said from just behind the bard. Gabrielle's head snapped around at the sound of the woman's voice. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry." the bard said, realizing that the woman was expecting her to say something. "Do I know you?" Gabrielle's eyes searched the older woman's face, trying to match what she saw with the faces that made up her memories of long ago. "You seem…so familiar."

"Well, perhaps you passed through here once before." the serving woman said, now looking at the bard with the same look of uncertain familiarity. "But…you do look a lot like…do you know anyone in Poteidaia?"

"I'm from Poteidaia." Gabrielle exclaimed. "Do you know Herodotus and Hecuba?"


"Aunt Henrietta?"

A pair of squeals preceded the two women hugging at the chance meeting while Xena looked on, half wanting it to get over so they could get their dinner and half wishing they'd never come into this particular inn. There was so much that Gabrielle's family didn't know about her life in the last three years and Xena knew that if the two women started catching up on history that it would be emotionally draining on the young bard. Dredging up good memories always allowed the painful ones to follow right behind. Xena took a long gulp of her port and stared down at the dark liquid. She barely heard Gabrielle introduce her to Henrietta. She looked up and nodded. Someone from a nearby table grumbled loudly about having to wait so long for service. "I have to take care of some customers." Henrietta said to the bard. "But I'll bring your dinners out in a few moments and then we can talk some more."

Gabrielle turned to Xena once her aunt left and began talking excitedly. "Can you believe it? Of all the people to accidentally run into, Aunt Henrietta! I haven't seen her since I was twelve or thirteen. She used to come to Poteidaia every harvest and stay for a moon."

"Then what happened?"

"I don't know…she just stopped coming." the bard said. "I asked Mother about it once and she said that Aunt Henrietta just didn't feeling like coming anymore. We never talked about it." the warrior swore she could see the wheels turning in Gabrielle's mind as an old family mystery formed in her head.

"That's probably all there is to it, Gabrielle. Or maybe your mother and her had a falling out." she polished off her tankard. "It doesn't do any good to dredge up the past."

"Do you think that it's possible that there's a scandal buried deep in my family history?"

Xena chuckled and snatched the bard's half-empty tankard off the table. "Gabrielle, everyone's family has scandals and secrets."

A short time later, Henrietta returned with two heaping plates of chicken covered with gravy and boiled turnips. Both women, teased mercilessly by the savory aromas, practically attacked their food. Gabrielle's aunt returned to her duties around the dining area while they ate. The bard was just finishing up her plate when Henrietta returned and sat down with them. A young woman perhaps six seasons younger than Gabrielle followed carrying two pitchers, one with port and the other with freshly drawn water. As the young dark haired girl set the containers on the table, her eyes never left Gabrielle. "Maris." Henrietta admonished. "Go see if Nysis needs anything."

"Yes Momma." the young girl said, clearly unhappy with the direction.

"You'll have to forgive her." Henrietta said. "She's in that difficult stage of life where she's too old to be considered a girl but too young to be a woman." she refilled both Xena and Gabrielle's tankards with port. "There are times when I wish she was still small enough to turn over my knee."

"I don't think that physical punishment is really a good way to discipline." the bard said.

"It worked on you and Lila when you two wouldn't listen to me." Henrietta reminded.

"I bet it took more than one spanking to get her to behave." Xena said, unable to suppress a smirk at the vision of Gabrielle being a defiant teenager and getting a spanking. The bard blushed slightly but still managed to give her best friend a glare.

"I'm sure I was nowhere near the Tartarus-raiser that you were."

"You still gave your mother and me a hard time, Gabrielle." Henrietta looked over at the bar to see Nysis looking at her. An almost imperceptible shake of the head and the middle-aged woman turned her attention back to the conversation at the table. Nysis shook her head in angry disappointment and returned to her task of wiping down the countertop. The silent question and answer were captured by Xena's keen eyes.

"Well, I guess I did." the bard admitted, oblivious of the goings on behind her line of sight. "So who is Maris? I don't remember you having any children."

"Um…that's a little difficult to explain." Henrietta said. She watched her niece fail to suppress a yawn. "You must have had a long trip today. I'll have Maris bring your belongings upstairs." she looked from her niece to the intimidating woman sitting with them. "Um…there are two rooms next to each other at the end of the hall."

"That's fine." Xena said quickly, not wanting the bard to say anything to the contrary. They had long ago agreed to share a bed whenever they stayed at inns to save money. Occasionally it would draw a comment or two but her young companion either never heard them or simply chose to ignore them. Xena truly believed the latter but they never discussed it. Gabrielle gave her a quizzical look but nodded in agreement anyway.

"Yes…two rooms next to each other. That sounds fine." she continued to look at Xena, not understanding why they were wasting money on an extra room.

"If you'll excuse me." the warrior said, scraping the last forkful off her plate. "I need to check on Argo."

"You dropped her off at the stable less than two candlemarks ago. She's fine." Gabrielle chastised. She turned her attention back to her aunt. "You'll have to excuse Xena, Aunt Henrietta," the bard said, tossing her friend a dirty look. "Her social skills aren't the best."

"Call me Etta, Gabrielle, everyone does."

"Etta it is, then." the bard said with a smile. She poured herself some more port. "So tell me about Maris. Why didn't you ever bring her out to see us? She had to be old enough to make the journey."

"She was, but…" Etta thought quickly for an excuse. "…she was sick a lot and didn't care for long wagon rides."

"Why didn't you ever mention her?" the bard asked. "I mean, she's your daughter, right? She called you Momma."

"Gabrielle…" Xena said in a low voice.

"No, that's all right, Xena." Etta said. "I don't suppose it makes any difference now." she turned in her seat to face Gabrielle. "Maris is Nysis' daughter by blood, but she's my daughter by the love in my heart. I was there the day she was born and I've been there ever since."

"Oh…" the table was quiet for a few heartbeats as Etta and Xena waited for Gabrielle to ask the unspoken question. To their surprise, the bard simply nodded and looked over at the empty square of raised wood that served as a stage. "Do you have a bard performing tonight?"

"No, the last one we had went to Athens to try and enroll in the Academy there." Etta said.

"Gabrielle was accepted at the Academy." Xena said, refusing to let a chance go by without showing someone in the bard's family just how much she had accomplished since leaving Poteidaia.

"Really?" the older woman's eyes lit up. "You were actually accepted at the Academy for the Performing Bards in Athens?"

"Well, it's not a big deal really…I got in but I didn't stay there. I prefer traveling and living the stories instead of just repeating them."

Xena's tankard hit the table with slightly more force than she intended. "It is a big deal, Gabrielle. You accomplished something that many people who call themselves bards will never do." blue eyes stared at green with intensity, daring her to argue. "You are an Amazon princess and could be queen again if you wanted, and you're the most sensitive and caring person I know."

"She never did give herself enough credit." Etta said. "Sounds like you have a lot to be proud of, Gabrielle."

"Well, I'm not the only one who's come a long way in the last three summers." the bard said softly. She let her gaze linger on Xena's face for a moment longer before turning her attention back to her long-lost relative. "So tell me about you and Nysis and Maris. I'm sure you have a few tales to tell after working in an inn for so long."

"Hard to believe that we'll be celebrating our twentieth summer here soon." Etta said, giving the large dining area a loving once over with her eyes. "I remember one time…"



Xena thought that Gabrielle was an endless wealth of stories until she listened to Etta spin her tales. Eventually Maris and Nysis joined them, forcing the bard to move her chair over until her lower thighs were pressed against the leather clad warrior's. The moon was high in the night sky before Etta finally yawned. Xena took advantage and immediately rose to her feet. "I think we've kept them up long enough, Gabrielle. If you ladies would excuse us?"

"But-" the bard began, only to be stopped by the look in her friend's eyes. "I mean, yeah…" she faked a yawn. "It's time for us to turn in." she reached into her bag for the small pile of dinars that were stored in a pouch within.

"No, there's no need for that." Nysis said, raising her hand in protest.

"That's very generous of you but there's two rooms that you're not getting any money for tonight." Gabrielle protested.

"It would be worth the cost of ten rooms to see you again, Gabrielle." Etta said. "Please, let us do this. Tomorrow you can repay us by perhaps telling us a story or two."

"If only it would be one or two stories." Xena quipped, drawing a gentle backhand to the belly.

"I'd love to." Gabrielle said. "It would be nice to have an attentive audience for a change."

Maris led them up the stairs while Etta and Nysis cleaned up the dining area. "So that's little Gabrielle, huh?"

"Yup." Etta replied. "Always had that spunky smile."

"Seems more accepting than your sister." the large woman replied as she pushed a chair back into place. "Then again, I guess she would be, considering who she hangs around with."

"Do you think that's safe?" Etta asked, drawing closer to her mate. "I mean, I've heard stories that she's changed, but that's still Xena." she whispered the raven haired woman's name as if speaking it out loud was dangerous.

"What I don't understand is why they have separate rooms." Nysis replied.

"Why wouldn't they? They're not lovers, Ny…I'm sure of it. Gabrielle would have said something when I told her about us."

"Well, all I know is everything out of her mouth was about Xena and everything out of Xena's mouth was about her, what little bit she did talk. I've never seen anyone so quiet." the large woman ran her fingers through her dark hair. "I don't know, Etta, but I think there's more there than just two women who travel together."


Xena shut the door to her room and flopped down on the bed. It was bad enough that she was only a hair's breadth away from revealing her feelings to Gabrielle without having to spend time with the bard's aunt and her lover. Even after spending time with the Amazons, they never talked about women loving each other. The only comment the bard ever made was that two women dancing together at a harvest festival seemed happy. At the time all Xena could do was nod in agreement and find some reason to go see Argo. That was almost two summers ago. So much has happened since then and yet they've never talked about it. Xena sighed in frustration. Somehow she was sure this was some sort of punishment from Aphrodite for messing up her plan to steal the Mystic Diamond. She haphazardly tugged at the straps that held her armor in place before sitting up to remove it. She had both her boots and gauntlets off before she heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in, Gabrielle."

"How'd you know it was me?" the bard asked as she entered.

"No one else would be crazy enough to interrupt my sleep." Xena replied as she pulled off the last of her bracers.

"I knew you weren't sleeping. I know your routine." she crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to the raven haired woman.

"And I know yours. You like to have a little chat before you go to bed." Xena guessed correctly. Before she knew it, Gabrielle was under the covers and waiting for the warrior to join her.

"Okay, so what's the topic tonight? We're inside so it can't be the stars." the warrior said as she settled in and adjusted her pillow.

"Nysis and Etta seem happy." Gabrielle murmured.

"Mmm." came the noncommittal reply.

"I just wish that Mother had seen that. She doesn't always have the most open of minds." she turned her head to look at Xena's profile in the dim light of night. "She doesn't take the time to see the real person inside."

"I can understand her dislike of me. After all, I took her daughter away."

"You didn't ride in and carry me off kicking and screaming." Gabrielle said. "I'm the one that ran away in the middle of the night and followed you."

"In your mother's eyes, I took you away. If someone took you away from me, I'd hate them too."

The words were out before she had a chance to think about them and once spoken, could never be taken back. Laying on her back, Xena took a deep breath and waited as Gabrielle propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at her. "I'm not going anywhere." the bard whispered.

"I know." Xena replied, trying hard to sound believable. Gabrielle said nothing, instead moving her arm out of the way and claiming the warrior's shoulder as her own personal pillow.

For several moments there was nothing but silence and the raven haired woman wondered if Gabrielle would simply fall asleep and forget all about the telling statement. She wasn't that lucky. Just as Xena thought that it was safe to try and fall asleep, Gabrielle turned her head and placed a feather light kiss on the warrior's collarbone. "I know where I belong." she whispered before settling back in.


The dark grey of morning was settling across the land when Xena awoke suddenly, her attention focused on her surroundings. It took only a moment to figure out what it was that jarred her from a solid sleep…Gabrielle. Gabrielle, who was still safely within the land of dreams, but whose dreams were apparently of an erotic nature. Between the deep, even breaths of sleep came soft moans. The bard's right leg was draped across Xena's body and soon the gentle rocking of Gabrielle's hips joined the soft sounds escaping from her sleeping mouth.

It was torture, plain and simple, Xena decided. Even Callisto wouldn't have been able to come up with anything worse. Gabrielle's hips continued to rock against the warrior's pelvic bone and it was all Xena could do not to respond. But when the bard's hand began to travel and found the warrior's breast to be a good place to stop and explore, the torture was too much. "Gabrielle…Gabrielle, come on, roll over." nothing, all she got was another soft, sexy moan and a hip grind. Xena let out a low growl in frustration. "Gabrielle, you're on my side of the bed, roll over." she accompanied her statement with her hands, gently pushing the younger woman onto her back. The bard mumbled a sleepy protest and rolled away from Xena to face the wall, taking the majority of the blankets with her. The warrior saw her chance to escape and took it, deciding that a vigorous morning workout was better than spending another moment next to the aroused but unattainable bard. One more lingering look at her companion and Xena decided that a dip in the stream might be a good idea as well.

Nysis was setting up the dining area for the morning crowd by the time Xena came down the stairs. "I suppose you'll be wanting your weapons." the large woman said without looking up. "They're behind the bar. I'd appreciate it if you put them back there when you return."

"You have a problem with all warriors or just me?" the raven haired woman queried as she fastened her chakram to its usual position on her hip.

"I don't see the need to invite trouble, that's all." Nysis shrugged. "You wear that much armor and carry that many weapons, you're a walking advertisement for a fight."

"Sometimes a show of force can keep a fight from happening." Xena replied. "You can't always walk or talk your way out of a situation." she hooked her scabbard on her back and tucked her breast dagger into its usual place. "Besides, you don't strike me as the peace loving type." she tucked the last knife into her boot. "My guess…" she straightened and looked at Nysis carefully. "Amazon."

"No." the large innkeeper turned to face Xena, not showing the least bit of intimidation. "Just someone who never backed down from a fight." she turned and began wiping down the already clean tabletop.

"What happened?"

Nysis sighed and walked over to the next table. "One day I ran up against a weapon that I had no defense for. I tried to fight it, tried with every fiber of my being but it was hopeless." she looked up at the stairs and the rooms beyond. "Etta opened her mouth and my heart was lost forever. There's no more powerful weapon, I swear to the gods."

Xena fidgeted uncomfortably and looked at the exit. Yes, now was definitely a good time to leave. "Tell Gabrielle that I'll be back in a little while."

When she heard the door close, Nysis chuckled to herself. "Running from a battle, tall one?"


Gabrielle came down the stairs and looked around for a sign of her dark haired companion. She was just about to go outside and look for her when Nysis grabbed her arm and led her over to an empty table. "Soooo…" the older woman cooed as she took the seat next to her lover's niece. "Tell me all about you and Xena."

"Oh." the bard answered happily, always willing to talk about her favorite subject. "Well, three summers ago a warlord attacked Poteidaia and tried to sell us into slavery. Xena came out of nowhere and rescued us." she started to say more but was stopped by an upraised hand.

"I don't want a history lesson, Gabrielle." the large woman smirked. "I want to know how you ended up with her."

"Well, like I was telling you," the bard began again, not totally understanding the question. "she rescued all of us and then I followed her out of Poteidaia. We've been traveling together ever since."

"Bet you learned a lot from her." Nysis grinned just as Etta joined them. "I know Etta taught me a lot."

"Well, of course you don't spend any amount of time with Xena and not learn something."

"And I'm sure some lessons were more enjoyable than others." the large woman said, drawing a warning look from her lover.

"Ny…" the bard's aunt said in a low tone. "We talked about this last night."

"Oh come on, Etta, you can't tell me that they're not. Maris said that Gabrielle didn't sleep in her bed last night."

"You think…" the green eyes grew wide as she figured out the implication in Nysis' words. "Oh…" she laughed lightly. "We're not…I mean she's my friend and I care deeply about her and all…but we're…" she shook her head. "We're just close." Gabrielle was suddenly glad that Xena was nowhere in sight. "I mean, Xena's not like that…she…"

"It's all right, deary." Etta said, reaching out to pat her niece's hand. "I know what you mean. I'm afraid Ny is just a great big romantic and tries to make more out of things than there really is."

"Well, I hate to disappoint you but there's nothing going on between me and Xena." the bard said a bit more fervently than necessary. At that moment some customers decided to come in and Nysis reluctantly let her quarry go, but not without an ending comment.

"Seems like a lot of smoke for no fire."

"Ny…" another warning from her lover. The large innkeeper chose to simply ignore the reprimand and headed off to deal with her patrons. Etta shook her head apologetically at her niece.

"Don't let her bother you, Gabrielle."

"Oh, it doesn't bother me. It's not like it's the first time someone has thought that about us." the bard shifted a bit in her seat and smiled. "People think what they want." she put her hands on the table and stood up. "If you'll excuse me, I really need to go to the market and restock some of our supplies."

"Well then, why don't you go with Maris? She has to go get things for us anyway and I'm sure she'd love the company."

Gabrielle groaned inside at her failed attempt to get away and see where Xena was. Knowing there was no way to refuse without revealing her real reason for wanting to leave, the bard could only smile politely. "That's sounds like fun."

"Terrific." Etta said. "Maris! Hurry up and get ready. Your cousin is going to the market with you today." somewhere behind a closed door came a muffled acknowledgment. Gabrielle kept the fake smile on her face and resigned herself to her fate.


"So you're my cousin." Maris said as they walked toward the market area. She didn't seem particularly thrilled about the idea.

"I suppose so." the bard replied. The younger woman glared at the staff in Gabrielle's hand.

"I don't know why you felt you had to bring that thing…no one's going to attack you in the square."

Gabrielle chuckled. "You'd be surprised at the number of times I've needed my staff in the marketplace. Trouble just seems to find me."

"Maybe it's the company you keep." the dark haired teen replied. "Mother says that violence begets violence. The cycle of hatred continues."

"It doesn't have to." the bard said as they approached the first booth. She immediately began looking through the bolts and scraps of cloth. "I believe that love can break that cycle." she said as she placed several sturdy looking pieces of material off to the side.

"What's that for?" Maris asked.

"Bandages." Gabrielle replied. "I never said breaking the cycle was easy." she grinned and received a friendly smile from her younger kin.

"That'll be three dinars." the portly merchant said confidently. The poor fellow never knew what hit him.

"WHAT?" Gabrielle practically yelled. "Three dinars for these scraps? For three dinars I could buy ten times this much in Athens." no one was more skilled in the art of haggling than Gabrielle and she loved to show off that particular skill every chance she got. "I'll give you one dinar and that's being generous." she leaned over the table until she was practically nose to nose with the merchant.

"N-now that's good quality hemp, Miss." he said, taking a half step back. "Why, just think of all the candlemarks that were spent over the loom weaving it. Surely that's worth three dinars." he hoped that he could appeal to the beautiful woman's sensitive side. Unfortunately he made a critical mistake in the haggling game, he didn't come down in price. Nothing irritated the bard more than someone who didn't lower their price after her first counter-offer.

"Like you have any clue about hard work." she said, looking pointedly at his over-ample stomach. "Let's try this again, I'll take these rags off your hands for one dinar."

By the time Maris and her older cousin left the booth, Gabrielle had managed to not only get the future bandages for one dinar, but a spool of thread and a ball of leather twine thrown in. The dark haired teen shook her head with disbelief as the bard worked her way through the market, purchasing all her needed items for far less than what the sellers had originally requested.

"You're really good at that." Maris commented as they headed back to the inn. "I'd never be able to argue with them like you did."

"Of course you can." Gabrielle replied, twirling her staff lazily in her right hand. "The worst they can do is refuse to lower their prices. You don't lose anything by trying to talk them down, especially when their prices are over-inflated to begin with. Usually they'll make the sale just to get the money."

"I just can't believe the way you stand up to them. I wish I was more like you." Maris said, awe clear in her voice. Gabrielle smiled, feeling slightly embarrassed by the fawning. She was saved from more doting by the door opening and Nysis poking her head out.

"Are you two going to stand there all day or are you going to bring those things inside?" Maris quickly picked up her bundles from their place on the ground next to her.

"Could you take these inside for me?" the bard asked, holding out her bags. "I think I'm going to go look for Xena."

"I think she's up at the stables with that horse of hers." the large woman offered, just in case Gabrielle didn't think of the stable as being the most logical place to look for the warrior. "I'll set two plates aside so don't worry about rushing back."

"Nysis…" the bard said disapprovingly. She had no doubts about what the innkeeper woman was thinking.

"I'm just letting you know where I think your friend is, Gabrielle." the older woman replied, trying hard to look innocent.

"Of course you are. I'll be back in a little while." she turned and headed toward the stables, leaving Maris to glare disapprovingly at her mother. Nysis, on the other hand, was beaming as she felt herself slipping into her matchmaker mode.

But Xena wouldn't be found in the stables. She wasn't at the seedy tavern either. Gabrielle spent over a candlemark looking for the elusive warrior before finding her just outside of town. Xena had slipped away for some private time and had ended up next to a small pond just outside of town. But it wasn't the rhythmic scraping of her whetstone against the cool steel of her sword that allowed the bard to find her, rather it was the soft, melodic voice that filtered up through the air.

"Now listen to my story about Gab-bri-elle, a cute little gal who's lookin' really swell, perfect hair, such a lovely lass, nice round breasts and firm young ass." Xena's voice trailed off to a happy hum as her scraping kept time with the ditty.

The bard stopped at the edge of the bushes, less than a stone's throw away from the warrior. Her eyes were wide with disbelief at what she was hearing. "Xena, what are you doing?"

The sound of Gabrielle's voice caused the warrior to spin around and come face to face with the person whose ass she was just singing about. Xena lowered her sword and stood there, unsure of what to say. The bard smiled disarmingly as a question formed in her mind.

"Catchy tune, don't you think?" she said, trying to put the warrior at ease. At that moment, Xena looked like a deer caught between the hairs of a crossbow. "I can't believe I was that full of myself."

"Uh…yeah, you really were." the raven haired woman agreed, feeling the tension slip away. "I was waiting for you to demand that your clothes be bronzed just for touching that superior skin."

"Bronzed?" the bard smiled. "What? Don't you think I'm worth gold?" she polished her fingernails against her green top and grinned.

"Even King Midas wouldn't have enough gold to equal what you're worth." Xena said, drawing the most winning of smiles from her partner. "Come on, let's go back to the inn. I'll buy the first round."

"You're going to be buying every round, my warrior. I spent all my dinars at the market." Gabrielle replied. "But wait until you see all the things that I got."

"I can't wait." Xena replied, inwardly pleased with the affectionate term. She rose to her feet in one fluid motion and began walking alongside the bard. "So tell me what you bought. How badly did you badger the storekeepers this time?"

"Enough that we won't have to buy supplies for quite some time." Gabrielle replied proudly. They stepped through the brush and into the short span of woods that separated the pond from the town itself. "So at the first place we went I found some cloth that will make the best bandages…."





"Please? It'll be fun."


"Come on, Xena. I never get to spend time with my family and I haven't seen Aunt Henrietta, I mean Etta, for so long."

"No. You know how I hate social functions." the warrior rummaged through the saddlebags for her whetstone. At the rate she was going, her sword would be nothing more than a toothpick by the time she was done.

"Oh no you don't." Gabrielle crossed the room and snatched the sharpening stone from the saddlebag. "One candlemark, two tops. Come on, Xena, pleeeeease?" she did her best impersonation of a puppy. "I promise not to embarrass you with stories or anything." when her attempt to look cute didn't work, Gabrielle bit her lower lip and thought rapidly of something else to sway the stubborn woman. "I'll tell you what, if you go with me, tomorrow I'll make you some of those pasteries you like with the red stuff in them."

That caught the warrior's attention. Xena stood there, trying hard to convince herself that a plate full of the tasty treats wasn't worth spending an evening being polite to Gabrielle's family. She tried, but failed. A small grin formed on her lips as she realized that she had been brilliantly outmaneuvered by the crafty bard. "You don't play fair. You know how much I like those."

"Yup, I know." Gabrielle grinned back. "Admit it, Xena. Under that rough and tumble exterior beats the heart of a softy."

'Only around you.' the warrior thought to herself. "I admit nothing except that I like those pastries."

"Yeah, okay Xena, whatever you say." she walked past her tall companion to put the whetstone back where it belonged. As she passed, Gabrielle couldn't help herself. "You big softy."

"I'll get you for that, my bard." came the throaty reply.

"Oh, I can't wait. What are you going to do? Tie me up and make me eat your cooking?"

"I don't know about the cooking part, but tying you up might be an option. At least it'll keep you out of trouble." Xena quirked, her face the epitome of playful wickedness. Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, the warrior's mind was racing with rather lurid thoughts about the idea of tying up the honey haired woman. A gentle knock on the door interrupted the bantering but the bard, as was her usual custom, managed to get the last word in.

"Nah, you'd probably enjoy it too much." although not a dense person by any means, the double meaning of her own words passed right by Gabrielle. Xena, on the other hand, was grateful she wasn't drinking anything when she heard the words. The bard opened the door to reveal Maris waiting patiently.

"Momma and Mother wanted me to let you know that the dinner crowd is almost gone now."

"Tell them that we'll be right down." Gabrielle replied. Maris nodded and headed back to relay the message.

"I don't see how this can be any fun. A chakram throwing contest, yes, sitting around with a bunch of women cackling like hens, no." she headed toward the door only to be stopped by the bard's outstretched arm.

"Xena, can't you loose the armor for one night?" she asked, her hands already reaching for the straps that held it in place. The warrior knew it would do her no good to argue and resigned herself to remaining still while Gabrielle's fingers deftly undid the buckles and clips that held everything in place. When the bard finished, nothing remained on Xena but her leathers, skirt, and boots. The bracers, gauntlets, and armor were sitting neatly on the bed. "Now we're ready." Gabrielle said, practically dragging the reluctant warrior to the door. "It's going to be fun, you'll see."

Etta and Nysis closed the inn early to spend the evening with Gabrielle and the warrior. The back room, as it was called, was the only private place they had other than the bedrooms. It was sparsely furnished yet still cozy. A small fire burned in the hearth and a large candelabra gave a comfortable light to the room. Two sofas sat opposite each other, one occupied by the innkeeper and her lover and the other by Xena and the bard. The sofa they were sitting on was shorter than the other one, forcing the duo to sit with less than a fist's width between them. Maris sat on the floor between them, her back resting against the overstuffed footstool. A carafe of wine had been brought in and all five women had glasses with various amounts of the red liquid in them.

"So there she was, naked as a jaybird. Well, Hecuba had her hands full with little Lila and that Gabrielle was slipperier than a greased pig. It took me the better part of a candlemark to catch her." Etta said, oblivious to the color rising in her niece's cheeks. "She kept ducking under tables and running around with the whole town looking on. She was the talk of the harvest festival that year, I'll tell you."

"Aunt Etta…"

"Hush now, Gabrielle. I'm telling your little friend here a story." the older woman chastised, the wine helping to loosen her tongue. Xena's eyebrow lifted at the comment but she held her tongue. Pastries, she reminded herself, pastries. Etta took another sip of wine before trying to resume her tale. "So where was I?"

"Embarrassing me." the bard offered. She looked down at Maris who gave her a sympathetic smile. She was used to her mother's stories and was grateful that she wasn't the subject of conversation that night.

"If you want to be embarrassed, Gabrielle, I'm sure I can remember the details about the time you were six and-"

"No! That's all right." the bard quickly interjected. She had no idea what she had done at age six but she was certain that whatever it was, she didn't want Xena to hear it. "You were saying about the harvest festival?"

"Harvest festival?" Etta looked at her lover for help as the story she had been telling was washed away by one glass too many. "Oh yes!" she turned to the bard. "You were running around-"

"Naked. You told us already." Gabrielle said. "How about a story that doesn't involve me."

"Now you know how I feel." Xena quipped, finding the reversal rather amusing. She reached over to the small table next to the sofa and grabbed the carafe. Instantly four other glasses appeared in front of her. The warrior glanced at the tall candle slowly melting away, taking a mental note of the six marks still showing on the side of it. At the rate they were consuming the wine, she predicted the crew to be completely drunk within a candlemark. With the thought of an early night in her mind, Xena filled everyone's glasses to the brim.

The original carafe, and two others, were now lying empty on the table. The candle on the mantle showed only three marks and the top one was beginning to melt away. "…so as I was saying…" the drunken bard looked at Xena. "What was I saying?"

"You were explaining how the earth couldn't possibly be flat." the warrior reminded her. Maris was having a hard time keeping her head up and all of them were struggling to pay attention.

"Oh yeah…why was I doing that?"

"It doesn't matter." Xena reached over and took the empty glass from the bard's hand. "Right now I think it's time for bed."

"No, I'm awake. Nysis, tell me how you and Etta met."

"Yes!" the drunken innkeeper exclaimed. "Now that's an interesting story." she turned to her lover. "You tell it, honey. You do it so much better than I do."

"Oh no, you tell it." Etta replied.

"But it just sounds so much better coming from you."

"I couldn't possibly do the story the justice that you do, Ny."

"Would someone tell it?" Xena growled, drawing a disapproving look from the bard.

"Fine…" Etta said. "It was just after the flood…."

Xena fought to keep a look of interest on her face but was failing miserably. Etta and Nysis were rambling on about something, the warrior had long ago lost track of the conversation. Maris was sprawled out on the floor, having succumbed to both the wine and the late time long ago. Gabrielle had fared better, staying up and participating in the conversations for another couple of candlemarks before nodding off. At the moment her head was resting against Xena's muscled arm, soft snoring sounds emanating from her lips. "But if we put a thing…you know, that awning thing…out, the bums will huddle there in the rain." Nysis was having a hard time keeping her thoughts together.

"But think how much business it could bring to have a shady spot to serve food during those hot days."

"That's what trees are for…" the large innkeeper said, then looked at her lover quizzically. "Aren't they? Anyway, if they wanna go get out of the sun, they can just come inside. Really Etta, you and your ideas sometimes. Like seeing a bear when it's obvious that it's a dipper."

"I still say it's a good idea, Ny." Etta peered at her empty glass, then longingly at the equally empty bottles on the table. "Xena, do you want more wine?"

"Actually I think it's time I got her to bed." the warrior said, seeing what she thought was a perfect opportunity to escape the torture.

"Yeah, you go get her in bed." the large woman snorted, her tone clearly wicked.


"What?" she blinked several times to get her lover into focus. "What'd I say?"

Xena knew she didn't want to stick around and see where this train of conversation was headed. Using one hand to keep the bard in position, she pivoted off the sofa and stood up, taking a good healthy stretch before reaching down and scooping the sleeping bard up in her arms.

"Uhhh…" came the low groan from the drunken bard.

"Relax, I've got you." Xena said softly.

"Mmm…" eyes still closed, Gabrielle shifted within the strong arms and nuzzled the bronzed skin of the warrior's neck. "soft."

"Uh huh." she tried to act unaffected, but the feeling of the bard's warm lips against her neck were wreaking havoc on her senses. It didn't help that out of the corner of her eye she could see Nysis grinning at her.

"I wuv you." Gabrielle sighed.

"Can't fight somethin' like that." the innkeeper teased. Xena fixed a menacing look at her but the alcohol that both had consumed made it a useless venture. She adjusted the precious bundle in her arms and headed for the door.

"Really…" the bard mumbled, her lips still pressing against the warrior's neck. "I feel…I feel so…so…" she didn't realize that Xena had carried her out of the room and was now trying to negotiate the stairs. "so…"

Gabrielle apparently forgot whatever it was she was trying to say and fell back asleep. Xena climbed the last of the stairs and walked down the hallway until she reached the two doors that represented their rooms. Now the warrior had a dilemma. She mulled it over for a few moments before her arms started to protest the prolonged weight in them. With a deep sigh she reached over and turned the handle to Gabrielle's room.

With a gentleness most wouldn't expect from the former Destroyer of Nations, Xena laid the bard on the bed and removed the red leather boots that covered up the adorable feet. She took a few moments to gently rub them, feeling calluses from the many moons of walking with her own callused fingers. At some point, Xena wouldn't be able to remember when, she laid down and began rubbing Gabrielle's bare midriff. The rhythmic motions soon lulled the warrior into a comfortable sleep.


With the amount of wine that the bard had consumed, it was no wonder that she was awoken in the middle of the night by a screaming bladder. Tired as she was, Gabrielle tried to ignore it but eventually struggled to get up and head for the chamber pot. Her gait was a bit unsteady but she managed to accomplish her task and head back to bed. Still sleeping, Xena moaned a protest to the movements of the bed as the bard returned. "Shh…" Gabrielle whispered, pressing her body up against the warrior's back. "Go back to sleep. It's all right, I'm here." she slipped her left arm around the leather-clad waist and snuggled in closer. Xena gave a contented sigh and slipped back into her dreamworld. Without realizing it, the longer fingers moved and intertwined themselves with the smaller ones, holding the bard close.

Finding herself unable to fall back asleep, Gabrielle laid there, her face buried in the long raven tresses. She listened to the deep rhythmic sound of Xena's breathing, felt the warmth of the body against her, inhaled the scent of the woman that had been much more than a friend for so long. In the darkness of the night, Gabrielle thought about the times she had seen Xena cry…Thessaly, an evening at the campfire shortly after the first attack by Callisto, and most recently in Tripolis after the poisoned arrow threatened to separate them forever. There were others of course, but those were the ones that seemed the most significant to the bard. Those rare times when Xena let her vulnerability show, when she let herself become human, when she let others, no…when she let Gabrielle see her innermost feelings and fears. Thessaly seemed so very long ago yet she could easily conjure up her memories just by running her fingers over the thin scars that remained on her body. Her memories were shaky, more like brief flashes of images, but still they were there. Her own fear of waking up after not breathing for so long and finding herself held in the safe haven of Xena's arms, the endless nights of pain and the steady presence of the warrior next to her, the tender care rendered to even her most minor wounds by the skilled hands that could heal or kill in an instant. Thessaly was a turning point with them, Gabrielle realized it now. A conversation long ago with Ephiny had given the bard insight into what had happened during the time that she had been fighting for her life on the alter of the temple. At first Gabrielle couldn't believe that Xena had broken down like that in a room full of people, but the normally stoic warrior herself had later confirmed it, albeit with a quick nod of her head and an urgent need to change the subject.

Xena shifted, releasing her grip on the bard's hand. Gabrielle took advantage and rolled onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. She thought she knew the depths of the warrior's feelings for her but Nysis' insinuations now made the bard wonder if there wasn't more than what she had believed for so long. She replayed the events of their lives together in her mind, seeing them in a new light. Innocent, simple times together took on a new meaning. She questioned each event, each touch, each look. By the time sleep finally came back to her, a dozen questions had formed in her mind, each leading to the same answer.


Gabrielle woke up alone, the warrior having long ago departed the bed. With a groan, she sat up and tugged her boots on. A soft knock on the door interrupted her just as she finished tying up her right boot. "Come in." she called out.

Etta walked in, her arms full of clean linens. "I just wanted to drop these off and check on you. I thought you were going to sleep in all day."

"No, just enjoying the chance to be in a soft bed." Gabrielle stood up and stretched before taking the clean sheets and setting them down on the table. "Sometimes the ground can be very unforgiving to my back. Where's Xena?"

"She said she had some business to take care of and that she'd be back later. Would you like some nutbread with dinner tonight? I remember that as being one of your favorites."

The bard's eyes lit up at the mention of her favorite treat. "You remembered?"

"Actually…" Etta's eyes betrayed her. "I thought it was Lila that loved nutbread."

"Then how did…?" Gabrielle realized the answer to her question and smiled. "Xena."

"She mentioned it this morning." the elder woman admitted. "In fact, she went to the market first thing to get the ingredients." she smiled at her niece. "She loves you, you know."

"I know." Gabrielle turned away and leaned her hands against the back of the chair next to the table. "Sometimes…" the thoughts and words were in her head but refused to come out of her lips. She shook her head in frustration.

"Gabrielle." Etta stepped forward and laid a comforting hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "You know that if there's anything you want to talk about…"

"How did you know that Nysis loved you? Like that, I mean." she felt the heat rising in her cheeks, after all, she was about to talk about sex with the woman that used to bounce her on her knee as a child. Etta smiled with understanding.

"Let's sit down and talk for a while." she guided the bard over to the bed and sat down next to her. "We didn't become lovers immediately, Gabrielle. I knew Nysis for several summers before we made the decision."

"What happened? I mean, did you two just decide that you'd be lovers? Just like that?"

"I never said it was an easy decision, Gabrielle. We were friends first. Her husband owned the inn and I worked as a waitress. The winter before Maris was born, Darius caught a cold and died unexpectedly. Nysis didn't know what to do. It was a hard time for her. I worked from morning until night trying to help her keep the inn. Somehow we survived and were blessed with Maris." Etta smiled at the memory of their daughter being born. "For several moons Nysis cared for her while I kept the inn going." she smiled at her niece. "It wasn't easy, Gabrielle. We had our fair share of fights and disagreements, that's for sure, but still throughout it all we realized that we had a bond that couldn't be broken."

"Do you think…" the bard took a deep breath. "Do you think that Xena feels that way…about me?" she looked at her aunt, half-afraid that the answer would be yes and half-afraid that it would be no.

"I think it's more important to ask yourself how you feel about her." Etta replied. "I can tell you that I see two women who would give anything for each other without a moment's hesitation but in the end, the decision is up to you." she reached out and patted the younger woman's knee. "Do you love her?"


"Can you imagine your life without her?"

"I don't want to think about it." the bard's face grew sad. "I almost lost her…twice. I can't go through that again. It…it hurt too much."

"Do you want to be with her? Physically?"

"I…" Gabrielle looked down at her hands. "I don't know. I guess I never really thought about that. Well…not really really thought about it." she blushed in a most endearing way. "I mean…well a couple of times I've wondered if she ever…you know, with a woman."

"It's so much more than just the sex, Gabrielle. The physical acts are nothing without the emotions to go with them. You have to be able to go through the good and the bad, the easy times and the hard times. It can't be easy to live with someone who has been responsible for so much death and destruction." Gabrielle looked up quickly, ready as always to defend the warrior. "Relax." Etta said, reading the expression on the bard's face correctly. "I've heard stories about Xena, who hasn't? But I judge people on what I see, not on what I hear."

"And what do you see?"

"I see someone who cares very much about you. If there's more than that, you'll have to ask her." the din of the growing crowd downstairs finally forced her to draw the conversation to a close. "I have to go help Nysis and Maris with the customers. We can talk more about this later if you want." she stood up and smoothed out her skirt. "Are you coming down for mid-day meal? You missed breakfast."

"I'll be down in a little while." the bard said. She rose to her feet and gave her long-lost aunt a hug. "Thanks." she whispered.

"I just hope it helps." the older woman replied. "Listen to your heart, Gabrielle. It'll tell you the right thing to do."

Gabrielle laid back down on the bed after Etta left and stared up at the ceiling. The conversation had helped, but only to a point. She laced her fingers behind her head and tried to envision what sex with Xena would be like. She imagined the warrior laying over her, touching her in the best of ways in the best of places. Unbidden, the bard's right hand came out from behind her head and traveled to her breast, squeezing the soft flesh through the green top. Gabrielle brought her left hand down and soon her top was loosened and pushed up out of the way. Eyes closed, she imagined Xena's hands touching her breasts. Her nipples hardened as she continued to manipulate them, losing herself in the fantasy. "Mmm…" she pinched harder, her chest rising and falling rapidly. "Yes Xena, just like that." she moaned to her imaginary lover. Her right hand journeyed down until it slipped underneath the flap of her soft leather skirt and reached the damp warmth of her britches. A deep, throaty groan escaped her lips. It had been far too long since she had felt the joyous pleasure of release. Knowing fingers pushed the thin material aside and brushed against the blond ringlets moist with anticipation. Her left forefinger and thumb continued to rhythmically squeeze her hardened nipple, building the excitement. "Xenaaa…" one finger slipped between the folds and was immediately immersed in the slick evidence of her rising passion. Her knees separated and her hips began to rock as she brought another finger into play against her swollen clit. "Yessss." she hissed, knowing it wouldn't take long. Her left hand moved over to the neglected breast and lavished attention on it as the speed of her stroking increased. It wasn't long before Gabrielle needed more and with a powerful thrust she pushed two fingers deep inside herself, moaning loudly at the sensation. "Oh Xena, yesss!"

Xena entered the inn, mentally cursing herself for forgetting to grab the small pouch of dinars before she left. "Where's Gabrielle?" she asked.

"She's still up in her room." Maris answered as she scurried past with a tray full of food. "Boy, she sure does sleep late. I don't know how she does it with all the noise down here."

"Gabrielle could sleep through a war if I'd let her." the warrior quipped but it was lost on the young girl as she moved off to deal with her customers. Nysis spotted her and looked pointedly at the bar. "I'll only be a moment." Xena protested.

"Rules are rules." the large innkeeper replied, holding her hand out to relieve the taller woman of her weapons. The warrior huffed a sigh of aggravation and handed over the sword and chakram. "Don't bother putting them away, I'll be right back." she said as she crossed the room and bounded up the stairs.

"Oh gods…ungh…oh…" Gabrielle's soft moans were near constant as the fingers of her left hand moved rapidly against her clit and the fingers of her right hand continued to pump deeply in and out. She was lost to the world around her and never heard the door open just as she plunged in one last time and was rewarded with a powerful orgasm.

Xena stood there, momentarily stunned by what she saw. Gabrielle lying on the bed, breasts exposed, both hands busily pleasuring herself. A sharp cry accompanied one last deep thrust as the bard's hips left the bed and were suspended in mid-air, her body trembling with the force of her climax. Realizing that she didn't want to be caught watching, Xena quickly backed out of the room and shut the door, careful not to let the latch make any sounds.

She stood there in the hallway, guiltily thinking about what she had just witnessed. She knew that Gabrielle masturbated, but she had never seen it before. Her own sex twitched as the vision of the bard in such an intimate moment refused to leave her mind. 'Oh Gabrielle.' Xena thought to herself. 'You're going to kill me yet, aren't you?' there was no doubt in the warrior's mind what vision she would be thinking of later in the privacy of her own room, if she survived that long. The sound of Gabrielle moving about brought Xena out of her lurid thoughts and back to the moment. 'Oh how am I gonna go in there after that?' she worried, convinced that the bard would see the longing and desire on her face. Xena swallowed and took a deep breath, using skills honed over many years to bring herself under control. She raised her hand and knocked gently on the door.

Gabrielle jumped at the sound. "Who is it?"

"It's me. I forgot to take some money for Argo's shoes."

"Oh, just a moment." the bard replied, puzzled. She knew she didn't hear Xena's footsteps coming down the hall. She quickly adjusted her top and stuck her hands into the bowl of water to wash the scent off. "Come in." the latch lifted and the door opened as the warrior entered. Gabrielle walked over to the pouch and opened it. "How much do you need?"

"Six dinars."

"Six?" the bard spun around and looked incredulously at the raven haired woman. "Six dinars for horseshoes?" she tucked the small pouch of dinars into the valley between her breasts. "How can you even think of paying six dinars for four horseshoes?"

"I know it's kinda high but-"

"But nothing. Did you even try to negotiate a lower price?" the thought of paying almost twice what was reasonable distracted Gabrielle from her thoughts and the question of how the warrior ended up at her door without being heard was forgotten. "You didn't, did you? Xena, we've talked about this before. Just because they tell you that it costs a certain price doesn't mean that it actually does."

"You know I'm no good at that stuff, Gabrielle, that's why I have you." her eyes drifted to the bed where a small but telltale wet spot was still visible. Part of her wanted to go over there and touch it, knowing it would be the closest she would ever get to being with Gabrielle. Another part wanted to blurt out the truth, to take the chance that a miracle would happen and the feelings would be returned but after almost making that mistake the other day, Xena didn't dare.

"Well, we're not paying six dinars for horseshoes." Gabrielle said firmly. "I'll go with you and take care of it." she grinned as an idea formed in her head. "And then you can go with me to the market."

"You went to the market yesterday."

"Yes, but that was to buy what we needed. Today I want to look for extras, you know, some scented oils, hair ribbons, that kind of thing." she picked up her bag and slung the strap over her shoulder. "Come on, Xena, it'll be fun."

"Shopping can be many things, but fun isn't one of them." the warrior replied, knowing full well that she would lose the argument. Besides, the idea of spending some time with Gabrielle away from the normally constant threat of danger was appealing. Maybe she could even talk the young woman into purchasing another nightie. With that thought in her mind, Xena allowed the now anxious bard to tug her out of the room.


It took only a few moments of the persistent bard's badgering to get the smith to lower his price to the more reasonable amount of four dinars to shoe Argo. The two dinars saved were quickly spent in another booth as Gabrielle found the oils that she had mentioned earlier. Being a larger town, the selection was better than the bard had seen in a long time and thus it took longer for her to make a decision about which scents to purchase. Xena was absolutely no help, her attention drawn more toward the booth of leather goods, at least that's what the bard thought. Actually the warrior's attention was on the booth next to the leather goods, one which contained several delicate articles of clothing. After a quick check to make sure Gabrielle wasn't looking, Xena handed five dinars over to the merchant and stuffed the silky garment into the bottom of the bag that she was holding. When she finally appeared next to the bard, Xena was the epitome of a disinterested shopper. Gabrielle handed over the small bottles with a comment about 'not having any help so you'd better like what I picked' and headed for another booth. Xena followed behind, smiling to herself at her secret purchase.

"Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Humming that song. It's almost as annoying as Joxer's."

"It's your song, I thought you liked it." they were walking back to the inn and Xena hadn't even noticed that she was humming it until the bard said something. "What were the words to it again?"

"You know damn well what the words were and I can understand why you said the fish would be armed." Gabrielle replied. "Besides, I don't think I need a song that pays tribute to my breasts and ass."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Xena quipped, leaning back to take a leisurely look at said bardic rear.

"Keep it up, Xena. I'm sure I can come up with something equally fitting to you. Don't forget, I'm a bard." she wiggled her eyebrows menacingly. "And just which parts of your anatomy would you like immortalized in song?"

"Truce." the warrior replied, holding her hands up in defeat. "No more, I promise."

"You know…" Gabrielle said as if revealing a huge secret. "It's getting easier and easier to get my way with you. You're getting soft, old lady." she reached over and wrapped her arm around the taller woman's waist and gave her a gentle squeeze.

"Soft, eh?" the rare playful side of Xena popped out and without warning she scooped the bard up in her arms and tossed her over her shoulder like a stack of flour. "I'll show you soft. Oh, and don't think I missed the 'old lady' comment either." she turned away from the inn and began heading for the pond just outside of town.

"Xena…" she turned to see where the warrior was headed. "Now Xena, you know I was just teasing." she began squirming, hoping to break the hold. "Xena, come on now…that water's gotta be cold."

"Don't think of it as cold, think of it as invigorating." she cleared the trees and now was standing just before the pond. She had no intention of dunking the wriggling bard, but she also had no intention of telling Gabrielle that. "You haven't had a bath in a couple days, it'll be good for you." she stepped up to the water's edge.

"Xena, if you let me go, I'll make you those pastries you like so much."

"Nah, you're gonna make them anyway. Try again."

"I'll…I'll collect firewood for half a moon."

"Nope, try again."

"I'll…" Gabrielle thought hard for something that would keep her from being dumped into the freezing pond. "I'll never make fun of your flying parchment again."

"What else?"

"Uh…I'll never call you an old lady again."

Xena smiled with victory and slowly lowered the bard to the ground, making sure to grab a handful of ass on the way. Whether it was deliberate or an accident, she didn't know, but Gabrielle's hand cupped her leather covered breast as the bard steadied herself. Xena had to turn away to avoid reacting and doing something that she would regret later. "We'd better get back." she said, reaching over to retrieve the bag that had fallen to the ground during their playfulness. She thought they were going to leave but Gabrielle simply flopped down on the ground and stared at the pond that she had almost been dumped in.

"Can we stay here for a little bit? It's so peaceful." her voice took on a serious tone. "Just for a few moments?"

Xena set the bag back down on the ground and sat down next to the bard. Both sat with legs crossed, staring at the water and lost in their own thoughts. Several moments passed before Gabrielle spoke. "It's amazing how calm the water is with all the activity going on underneath." she ran her fingers through her honey colored hair. "It's like there's so much going on beneath the surface, so much that can't be seen. It's like us."

"How so?" the warrior asked.

"Well…think about it, Xena. Even after all this time, how much do we really know about each other? Sometimes I don't even know myself."

"Is something going on, Gabrielle? Is there something you need to talk about?"

"I don't know." the bard sighed. "No, I guess not. It's just something that I need to work out for myself."

"Has something happened that we need to talk about? Have I said or done anything that-"

"No." she answered quickly. "No, Xena, it's not you. It's me. I guess I'm just confused about myself. I thought I knew what I wanted, how I felt. Now I'm not so sure."

"Maybe if we talked about them…" the warrior ventured. Gabrielle shook her head.

"Not yet. Maybe…maybe when I figure it out, but not now." she stood up and brushed the sand off of her skirt. "I'm going back to the inn. You coming?"


"I still can't believe you ate that whole loaf."

"You know how much I love nutbread." the bard replied, sucking the remaining crumbs from her fingers. "Besides, you ate all the raspberry turnovers."

"You only made four. And they were for me."

"Yeah, well the nutbread was mine, so what's the big deal?"

Their conversation was interrupted by a large, rather foul smelling man who foolishly meandered over to their table. He had to have been blind drunk not to notice the tall warrior giving him a warning look as he approached the bard. "Hiyah, honey, howss 'bout comin' over and havin' a drink or two wit me?"

Gabrielle smiled and tried hard not to breathe in. "Xena, I believe this is your department?" the warrior grinned and before the behemoth realized it, his arm was wrenched up behind his back.

"Hey!" he protested. "Get your own girl." that comment earned more pressure on his tortured arm. The pain cut through the drunken fog and he finally realized that he had made a terrible mistake trying to pick up the pretty girl. It was too late for apologies, however, as Xena escorted him bodily out of the tavern and shoved him unceremoniously onto the dusty street.

"You know, I love having a big strong warrior at my beck and call." Gabrielle teased as the raven haired woman returned to the table.

"Well, someone's gotta keep you out of trouble." she took a sip of her port. "And keeping an eye on you is a full time job."

"It always was." Etta said as she approached. "Why, did she ever tell you about the time that she and Lila got the idea in their heads to-"

"Uh, I don't think Xena wants to hear that story." Gabrielle said, her eyes pleading with her aunt not to tell the embarrassing story. "Actually…" she stood up and gave the fakest of yawns. "I think it's time for us to turn in, don't you, Xena?"

At first the warrior was tempted to tease the bard and ask Etta to tell her story but decided to give Gabrielle a break. "Uh, yeah, tired." she gave her own fake yawn. "Good night."

"Well then, I guess we'll see you girls in the morning then." the older woman said to the retreating forms, seeing right through both women's acts. Nysis came up beside her.

"Two nights and they've shared the same bed. Any bets on tonight?"

"Gabrielle and I had a talk today. If those two don't admit the truth to themselves tonight then I give up."

"Oh, you can never give up hope, Etta. Where's your romantic spirit?"

"I'm telling you if those two don't smarten up soon, I'm going to lock them both in a room until they do."


Xena and Gabrielle quietly walked down the hallway until they reached the two doors that represented their rooms. They looked at each other, then at the doors again, neither wanting to admit that they wanted to sleep with the other. "Well…" Xena began.

"Yeah, well…" the bard replied, shifting uncomfortably. She waited for the warrior to say something, anything, but Xena just fidgeted and stared at the doors. "Well, I guess this is good night then."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Well, I'll see you in the morning then." she took a step forward and rested her hand on the latch. "Um…you know I'm not the best at making fires and it is getting cold tonight…" the bard offered, both of them knowing full well that it was a lie.

"Oh, I can get the fire going for you before I go to bed." Xena replied, knowing enough to take advantage of the offer. Gabrielle smiled and led the way into her room.

Within moments a cheery fire was burning in the hearth. The bard walked over to her bag and began rummaging through it to find her sleeping shift. "What's this?" she asked as she pulled the light blue nightie out from the bottom of the bag.

"Um…well, it's uh…I thought you might like it." Xena stood up from the kneeling position in front of the fire while the bard held the silky nightie out in front of her.

"It's…very nice." Gabrielle said. "But a little revealing, don't you think?"

"Revealing? No, see how the neckline falls?" she walked over and held the garment against the bard's body. "Oh, I guess it is a little short." she said, noting that the bottom hem barely reached the smaller woman's thighs.

"Uh, Xena, that's the back." Gabrielle corrected, taking the nightie from the warrior's hands and turning it around. "This is the front."

"Oh." the raven haired woman said softly. Revealing was a complete understatement. Thin straps made up the shoulders and only slightly wider material went down the front to end at the waist.. Xena couldn't say that it had a plunging neckline because there was no neckline. "I um…I thought this was the back."

"I can see why." Gabrielle replied, pulling on the gathered material in the front to see if it would in fact cover her breasts. She decided that it would, but just barely. One wrong move and she would most definitely pop right out of it. As it was, the sides of her breasts would be exposed as well as the valley between them.

"I can take it back." Xena offered, although that was the last thing she wanted to do.

"No no, that's okay. I mean, it does look…" the first word to come to the bard's mind was sexy. "…nice."

"Gabrielle, you don't have to-"

"No, really. I like it. It's much nicer than the pink thing." she reached out and gave Xena a hug, crushing the light blue nightie between their bodies. "Thank you." she murmured.

"You're welcome." the warrior replied as she stepped back from the embrace. Gabrielle reached for the laces of her top. Deciding that she didn't need the temptation, Xena took a step toward the door. "Well, I suppose I'd better go so you can get some rest."

"Oh, yeah, I suppose so." she set the nightie down on the table. "Good night, Xena."

"Good night, Gabrielle." she left quickly, not trusting her resolve much longer.

Upon entering her room, Xena found herself wide awake with nothing to do, not a good combination for a warrior like her. She removed her armor and boots before shrugging out of her leathers and donning a clean shift. As she set the dark brown leathers on the table, she noticed a small break in the stitching on one seam. She thought about letting it go and fixing it another time but remembered that the bard had purchased a fresh spool of thread. Since she didn't have her sword to hone and pass the time, Xena pulled the thread and needle from the saddlebags and set them on the bed along with the leathers. A quick trip around the room to light as many candles as possible, dark thread on dark leather makes for a hard chore in dim light, and settled down to begin repairs. As the needle worked its way into the tough hide, Xena began to sing in a low, almost inaudible voice.

"Well, listen to my story about Gabrielle

A cute little gal that's lookin' really swell.

Perfect hair, such a lovely lass

Nice round breasts and a firm young ass."

"Well, listen to my story 'bout Gabrielle,

The gorgeous bard who has me in her spell

I am hers, let there be no doubt.

Her sweet love, I can't live without."

She hummed a few more verses as the needle and thread did their jobs. She made one last pass through the brown leather and proclaimed the task finished just as she heard the bard's door open and shut and the sound of bare feet come to her door. "Come in, Gabrielle." she called out while putting the needle and thread away. The door behind her opened and closed. "I thought you were tired."

"Xena…." there was a timbre to the bard's voice that made the hairs on the back of the warrior's neck tingle.

"Wha…oh my…." if it weren't for her taller than average height, Xena's jaw would most certainly have hit the ground…hard. Illuminated by the multitude of candles, Gabrielle stood there in the light blue nightie, looking to the warrior like a goddess descended from Mount Olympus. Not only did the silky material hug and give tribute to every curve, but the sheerness of it left nothing at all to the imagination. The bard's nipples, already semi-erect from rubbing against the satiny cloth, were clearly visible, causing Xena to experience the odd sensation of having her mouth water yet feel quite dry at the same time. The two twin strips of gathered material flowed down from the shoulders, widened only slightly at the breasts, then gathered again at the waist. The valley between, and most of the inner curves, of Gabrielle's breasts were exposed, captivating Xena. Indeed, the sleeping outfit, as if anyone would ever be able to wear it long enough to sleep, was a bit short, hinting quite loudly at what treasures were hidden beneath it.

Xena's reaction was more than Gabrielle had hoped for. She was all set to give some lame excuse about wanting to chat if the warrior's reaction had been neutral to the incredibly revealing chemise. Her own nervousness presented itself with a painful pounding in her heart before entering the raven haired woman's room. The look in Xena's eyes had washed most of that initial nervousness away, replacing it with a new one. Tonight they would cross the delicate line between friends and lovers, a line that once crossed they could never return from. The dance had begun and Gabrielle realized, perhaps for the first time, that she did indeed have a power over the warrior. She turned around to show Xena the back, not realizing the motion caused it to flare out and up, exposing the soft curves of her bare rear. "What do you think?" she asked as she finished her circle to face the warrior. Even if Xena could find her voice, it wouldn't have mattered. The look in her eyes told the bard everything she wanted to know. There were no more questions to ask, no more answers to be afraid of. She took a step forward, her breasts swaying provocatively beneath the sheer fabric. "Xena…" came the husky whisper. "Do you love me?" she took another step closer, forcing the entranced warrior to back up, the soft edge of the bed brushing against the back of her calves.

"Y-yes." Xena finally managed to stammer out.

"I guess from the look on your face that I don't need to ask if you want me." she smiled, placing a hand on the warrior's chest, surprised at the rapid beat of the heart beneath the skin. "Are you scared?" the raven haired woman could do little more than swallow hard and give a weak nod. The bard smiled disarmingly. "Me too." she admitted.

Xena's voice finally returned to her, albeit a bit shaky. "Gabrielle…" she reached out and let her fingers sink into the golden depths of the bard's hair, pleased to feel the young woman's head turn to press against her palm. "I love you. I want you…gods know that I want you." they both smiled at the inflection in the warrior's voice. "But nothing has to happen that you don't want, or aren't ready for."

The words cut through the fear, filling Gabrielle with a confidence that what they were about to do, the journey that they were about to begin, was right…for both of them. In those few words, Xena was giving the control, at least some of it, to her. "Well then…" she placed her hands on the taller woman's shoulders and gently pressed her down to a sitting position on the bed. If Xena was being tortured before, it increased ten times since she was now eye level with Gabrielle's breasts. "I think you know how I feel." she stepped closer, her legs parting to either side of the warrior's.

"Tell me." Xena urged, needing to hear the words. Her hands reached out to rest on the bard's hips, pulling her closer. The proximity caused the warrior's warm breath to caress the bare skin between Gabrielle's breasts.

"I…I um…" her thought processes were being rendered useless by the sensations that Xena's breathing was causing. Her fingers found their way into the raven tresses and she was certain her legs wouldn't support her much longer. She used her hands to guide the warrior's head up so she could look into the deep pools of blue that had captivated her for so long, even if she didn't realize why until yesterday. "I love you." she whispered. "More than any words could possibly describe." her voice dropped another octave and took on a tone that could only be described as primal. Gabrielle lowered her head until her lips were a hair's breadth away from Xena's. "But I certainly hope I can show you." her lips brushed once, then twice against the warm softness of the warrior's mouth. She pulled back slowly, looking down into blue eyes with a mix of love, desire, and nervousness.

Xena's hands, which had stilled against the sides of the bard's hips, now began to move, traveling up the bare sides, the tips of her thumbs slipping just inside the edges of the sheer nightie. Gabrielle's heart began pounding faster as the strong fingers moved higher, teasingly brushing against the sides of her breasts before sliding around to frame her back and pull her close. Her knees gave out, much to the warrior's delight, and Gabrielle found herself sitting on Xena's lap. The heat of the powerful thighs against her bare bottom had nothing on the inferno that burned between her legs, a need that the bard thought could never be sated. Their mouths came together, throwing oil on the already out of control fire blazing between them. Gabrielle's lips parted with a moan and that was all the invitation Xena needed. Her tongue invaded the bard's mouth, determined to mine all the secrets hidden within.

Every movement of the warrior's tongue within her mouth pushed Gabrielle's passion up another notch until the bard was certain she would pass out from sheer pleasure. She mewed a protest when Xena finally withdrew, not caring one bit that both of them needed to breathe. She surged forward and claimed the warrior's mouth, the force pushing them both down onto the bed. Large hands cupped her bare ass and Gabrielle quickly found herself rolled on her back, the powerful body of the woman she loved hovering above her.

"Gabrielle…" Xena's voice was thickened by desire, her eyes raking over the bard like a wolf looking at a succulent rabbit. Bracing herself on one arm, the warrior let her fingertips of her free hand slowly trail down the bard's throat, smiling to herself at the rapidly beating pulse she found. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this moment." she husked, bringing her lips down to taste the area where her fingers had just explored. Her tongue flicked back and forth across the pulse point, drawing a groan from Gabrielle as she arched to give better access. Xena laid the length of her body against the smaller woman, trapping one of the bard's legs between her own. Her own hips began rocking as her hand slowly moved down to cup one incredibly soft breast.

"Oh gods!" Gabrielle gasped as the warrior's fingers found their mark, capturing and squeezing her erect nipple through the silky material. Unable to stand the torment any longer, the bard reached down and pulled the light blue cloth aside, exposing the puckered flesh to Xena's appreciative gaze. When soft lips closed around her nipple and began suckling, Gabrielle thought for sure there could be no better feeling. Every flick of the firm tongue against her hardened skin was met with an answering pulse between her legs and remembering her own name was becoming difficult. Her inner thighs were slick with a desire that was far greater than she could ever have imagined. Without realizing it, Gabrielle's hands slid down and gripped the back of the warrior's head, willing her to never stop showing off this particular oral skill.

Xena decided that she very much liked the sheer nightie as she pushed the material aside to expose the neglected mound of flesh hidden beneath. "So soft…" she murmured as she tasted the sweet flesh offered to her. The feel of Gabrielle's hands pressing against the back of her head and the constant rocking motions further down were better than any aphrodisiac. Already she felt the bard's dampness against her own thigh and was hard pressed not to scoot down immediately to drink her fill of the overflowing wellspring of desire. Instead she drew herself up and presented Gabrielle with another soul-touching kiss more intimate than any either had ever experienced before. The movement caused her thigh to press harder against the dewy curls surrounding the bard's sex, drawing a languid groan from the younger woman. Bardic legs parted wide as Xena began a rhythm, grinding against swollen lips with just the right amount of pressure as her mouth returned to the twin peaks atop the heaving chest.

Gabrielle's cries were near constant now, her hips jerking up to meet each thrust of muscled thigh against tender flesh. Her fingers curled like talons in the raven hair, her eyes squeezed tight, and everything, including breathing, stopped as her blood pounded in her ears and her body trembled. "Oh…oh gods…I…I…ohhh!" a strangled cry came from her lips as the first wave crashed through her. Xena let go of the well-loved breast and wrapped her arms around the quivering bard.

"I've got you." the warrior murmured, planting gentle kisses on Gabrielle's forehead and cheeks. Unable to make her mouth form anything more than incoherent sounds, the bard burrowed into the warm softness of Xena's neck and let herself be held as her body continued to pulse with the aftershocks.

It was several moments before Gabrielle was able to lift her head up to look into loving blue eyes. "Wow."

"Wow indeed." the raven haired woman agreed, giving the bard a quick kiss and brushing the damp hair off her face. "I didn't expect you to-"

"I didn't either. It just felt so good." she brought her hand around to gently caress the bronzed cheek. "You just felt so good." she corrected with a throaty whisper.

"Trust me, it was my pleasure too." Xena husked as she drew one finger down the bard's chest to lightly circle the nipple still damp from her loving. Gabrielle inhaled sharply and her eyes fluttered shut. "Oh, you like that, do you?" she used her forefinger and thumb to lightly pinch the puckered flesh.

"Mmm, very much." the bard answered, arching into the touch as their mouths found each other.

Losing herself in the kisses, Gabrielle barely noticed when Xena's hand began to roam, lazily sliding down to caress her hip. Her body noticed, however, and responded readily, bringing the banked fire of passion back to life. When the warrior's fingers brushed against the damp curls, Gabrielle's legs parted instantly in open invitation.

Xena shifted their positions slightly to get a better angle with which to explore the hidden treasures. Gabrielle was on her back, completely open and oh so ready to be loved again. Long fingers slowly made their way between the wet folds to be bathed in the slick wetness. "By the Gods!" the words were torn from the bard's throat as Xena brushed against her most sensitive spot. Taking the cue, the warrior continued to move her fingers back and forth, increasing the frequency in tune with the renewed rocking of the bard's hips. As if that wasn't enough, Xena lowered her head and began suckling hard on Gabrielle's breast. "Oh…oh gods Xena, don't stop…please don't stop." the bard cried, her hips taking on a life of their own.

There were no words that could adequately describe the level of pleasure coursing through her and Gabrielle was certain that no human ever deserved to feel so good. Her hands gripped Xena's shift, trying hard to find an anchor to the whirling storm she was floating in. Suddenly the warrior's busy fingers left the spot where she needed them most and the bard whimpered out a protest. The whimper was cut off, however, by the most exquisite feeling as those fingers found a new place to deliver pleasure. "Ohhhh…"

"Did I hurt you?"

"N-no…" Gabrielle gasped. "Oh gods, no…you feel…sooo good inside." her hips, which had stilled initially at the unexpected invasion, slowly began to move. Xena moved her head up until her lips were near the bard's ear.

"No, Gabrielle…you're the one who feels good." she slowly pulled back until just the tips remained inside the moist, tight space, then pushed them back in, drawing a deep groan from the bard. "Oh yes…so good." her mouth fastened itself to the soft throat as she repeated the motions with her fingers. Soon she had a steady rhythm going, each downward thrust met by Gabrielle's upraised hips.

"Xena…oh yes…" her head thrashed back and forth and she couldn't have stopped her body from moving if she tried. Not that she wanted to, all she wanted was for the moment to never end, to be making love with the raven haired beauty until time stopped forever. Xena's threadbare shift was no match for Gabrielle's passionate grip and was practically torn from the warrior's body in reaction to one particularly deep thrust. Nonsensical sounds erupted from her throat as her inner muscles clutched around the fingers loving her. Her body began to tremble and her movements became more frantic as the great moment arrived. "Xena…oh gods, Xena…yes…oh sweet gods…Xena!!"

The woman whose name was being shouted so reverently smiled against the soft skin of the bard's neck. "Yes Gabrielle…it's okay, let it go…" her hand moved at a feverish pace, pumping hard and deep into the sweet warmth. When the bard's hips left the ground and remained suspended in mid-air, Xena pulled out to the tips and plunged in deep one final time. She was rewarded with the feeling of Gabrielle's passion flooding her hand and the sound of the bard's cry of ultimate pleasure. She remained deep within, riding out the storm and feeling her own sex pulsing in reaction to the spasmodic clenching against her fingers. Only when Gabrielle's body fell limply back against the bed and remained motionless save for the rapid rising and falling of her chest did Xena slowly withdraw and pull her lover close. She whispered murmurs of love and comfort to the sated bard within her arms between delicate kisses. "You are amazing."

"Me?" Gabrielle rolled onto her back, trapping the warrior's arm beneath her, and smiled up at her dark lover. "Gods, Xena, I can't move." she lifted her arm up and let it flop back down to prove her point. "I don't think I'll ever be able to move again." that comment earned her a chuckle from the raven haired woman.

"Oh, I'm sure I can find a way to make you move." Xena teased, moving her hand down and drawing figure eights within the bard's soaked curls.

"Oh no, I can't take it." Gabrielle said, laying her hand on top of the warrior's and stilling the distracting movements. "You trying to kill me?"

"What a way to go, eh?" she did, however, bring her hand away from what was now its favorite place and cupped the bard's cheek. Her voice took on a serious tone as she asked "Are you okay?"

Gabrielle smiled and turned her head to kiss the warrior's callused palm. "Yes." she whispered, finding the strength to roll onto her side and bury her head into the crook of Xena's neck. "Better than okay." she brought her hand around to the warrior's back and was surprised to find bare skin. "Oh Xena, I've ruined your shift!" she exclaimed.

"I would say so, there's quite a draft back there." she disengaged herself from the bard and sat up, pulling the torn outfit off her body and tossing it onto the floor. "There, that's better."

"Um…" whatever Gabrielle was going to say was lost as Xena laid back down on her side and pressed their bare flesh against each other. The bard brought her hand up to rest against the side of the newly exposed breast and looked into blue eyes darkened by both desire and the dim candlelight. She moved her hand, feeling the hardened nipple pressing into her palm, watching as Xena's eyes closed with pleasure.

"Gab-ri-elle…" came the sigh as the bard's hand squeezed the generous mound. Now free to do what she wanted, Gabrielle gently pressed the warrior onto her back and nuzzled against the soft flesh before pressing her lips against the dusky nipple. Rewarded with an encouraging groan, she added her mouth to the equation, drawing the puckered flesh in and flicking back and forth across it with her tongue. "Yes Gabrielle…mmm, oh, that's nice…" the bard increased both the motions and suction, delighting in the way Xena's body writhed beneath her. The bard leaned over and took the other breast into her mouth. The movement placed her sideways across the warrior's upper body and her own breast within reach of the raven haired woman's mouth. Gabrielle gasped when she felt Xena's soft lips close around her nipple and proceeded to suck harder on the breast she was working on. She felt the warrior's hand slide down to cup her upraised ass and responded by moving her left hand down to graze through the soaked hairs between Xena's legs. The reaction was swift and immediate as the warrior's legs parted, her feet planting themselves on the bed, knees up, opening herself up for the bard. Without stopping her oral ministrations for a single moment, Gabrielle slid her fingers down into the molten inferno. Both women groaned loudly against the breasts they were loving at the contact. Well lubricated by the warrior's fluids, the bard's fingers had no trouble exploring the various dips and folds that made up Xena's most private place. Her fingers brushed over the sensitive clit again and again, enjoying the way the warrior's hips rocked and begged for more attention. Gabrielle began stroking harder, her fingers moving up and down the length of Xena's sex with ever increasing speed as the muffled moans became constant. Wanting to give the warrior the same pleasure that had been bestowed upon her earlier, the bard placed two fingers at the edge of Xena's opening and pressed inward. There was no resistance as her fingers slid in as far as they could go. She shifted down to give herself better access, resting her head on the warm flatness of the warrior's stomach. The movement pulled her own breast away from the mouth that had been loving it but that was inconsequential to the bard as she added a third finger and sank deeply into the woman she loved.

"Gods, Xena…you feel so good." she pulled back and thrust in again, amazed at the strength of the muscles clenching around her fingers.

"Yes Gabrielle…do it…yessss."

The bard began pumping harder, urged on by the increase in the bucking hips. She shifted again, parting her legs slightly to get better leverage, and yelped in surprise as the hand that had been caressing her ass moved around and slid two fingers deep into her. The feeling of being buried deep within Xena while being filled by the warrior at the same time was more than her bardic senses knew what to do with. It apparently had the same affect on the raven haired woman, judging from the sudden increase in fluids being pumped out with each thrust of her hand. "Xena…oh gods…Xena, I can't concentrate while you're…unggh…doing that."

"Yes you can." the warrior encouraged. "Don't stop, Gabrielle, don't stop. Feels sooo good."

"Oh Xena…" their mutual thrusting increased to a frenzied level as both woman tried desperately to bring the other to orgasm first.

"Yes Gabrielle, yesss…"

"Xena…oh gods, I can't…oh…don't stop!"

In the end it was Gabrielle who succumbed first, a short sharp cry was ripped from her throat while an orgasm more powerful than any she had experienced before tore through her. As she felt herself crashing over the edge, she frantically pumped her fingers in and out, knowing that the warrior was just as close. She was right. Even with the added weight of the bard on top of her, Xena's hips rose off the bed one final time and remained there as her own body exploded with the ultimate pleasure of climax.

Neither knew how much time had passed as they laid there waiting for their breathing and heartrates to return to something remotely close to normal. It was only with the most supreme of efforts that Gabrielle found the strength to turn herself around so they were facing in the same direction, instantly taking comfort in the warm cocoon of Xena's arms. Both tried to speak, to put into words just how they felt at the moment, but no words came. They settled for a loving, gentle kiss instead before falling asleep, curled up in each other's arms.

Etta walked up behind her lover. "Remember, not one word. I don't want you to embarrass Gabrielle, do you understand?"

"Now Etta, what makes you think I would mention it?" Nysis grinned wickedly. "Besides, it's not my fault they don't know how to be quiet. I'm surprised they didn't wake up the whole house last night."

"Ny…" there was no mistaking the warning tone in her voice. "Be nice." she wanted to say something else but stopped when she heard Gabrielle and Xena coming down the stairs, saddlebags in hand. "Well, good morning." Etta said cheerfully.

"Good morning." the bard replied, her face absolutely beaming with happiness. She and Xena took a seat at a nearby table just as Maris came out of the back room with a sack of flour braced over her shoulder. "Hey cuz, you think next time you can keep it down? Some of us like to sleep at night." she said as she passed, causing Gabrielle to blush right to the roots of her hair. Etta flashed a look at her daughter, but it was useless as Nysis couldn't control her mirth and began laughing so hard that her body shook. Xena knew better than to react, although she was finding it hard not to join in, especially since the bard looked so cute with a full body blush.

"Well I guess the cat's out of the bag now, Gabrielle." the warrior said, leaning over to give the embarrassed bard a peck on the cheek.

"It's all right, deary." Etta said as she brought two steaming cups of tea to the table. On the other side of the room, mother and daughter were still giggling wildly, despite the death glares from the bard. "We're all happy for you, really." for the first time she noticed the saddlebags sitting on the floor. "Are you two leaving so soon?"

"I'm afraid so. We have warlords to fight, villages to save, that sort of thing." Xena said between gulps of tea. "Besides, I think Gabrielle and I need some time alone."

"Didn't you have enough of that last night?" Nysis guffawed from behind the bar, sending her daughter into a laughing fit so bad that the dark haired teen dropped to the floor in a mass of giggles.

"Ignore the children." Etta said, giving her family a reproachful look. She pulled out a chair and sat down next to the bard, drawing her away from the antics on the other side of the room. "Honestly Gabrielle…I really am happy for you. I never imagined when you were a young child that you would grow up and become all that you have and I'm proud of you." she looked over at the warrior. "I know Xena loves you, that's obvious. Your mother may not understand but that's her loss." she pulled her niece into a warm hug. "I love you and I'm proud of you, Gabrielle. You promise me that you'll take care of yourself and come back soon to see us, okay?"

"I promise." the bard agreed, getting over her initial embarrassment. "And thank you, it means a lot to me."

"Of course. Despite acting like infants…" she shot a look at the innkeeper and her daughter, "I know that Ny and Maris are happy for you too. They're just having a little fun at your expense."

"Yeah, we're sorry." the large innkeeper said as she tried to control her giggles. "I for one am just relieved that the two of you finally figured it out."

"Well sometimes it takes a while to get Xena to see the light." Gabrielle said, knowing full well that she was the last to know in this particular case. When the warrior opened her mouth to protest, the bard quickly silenced her with a kiss. "But don't worry. I'm sure from now on it'll be much easier to get her to see things my way."

"Don't be too sure of yourself, bard." Xena said in a playful tone. "That particular threat works both ways." she deliberately ran her eyes up and down Gabrielle's body to make her point. At that moment the bard's stomach decided to take mercy on her and announced its presence.

"Well, we'd better get some food into you before you go." Etta said, rising from her chair. "We have some leftover stew, some biscuits, and if I look real hard I'm sure I can even come up with another loaf of nutbread."

"All of the above sounds good to me." the hungry bard replied. "Oh, and if it's not too much trouble can you make some of those flat cake things you used to make when you came to visit? You know, the ones made with egg and flour?"

"You always were a sucker for my cooking." Etta laughed. "One stack of flat cakes coming right up."

"It was nice to see my aunt again." Gabrielle said as they passed through the village square.

"I'm glad you had a good visit."

"Good?" she stopped walking and looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to them before pulling Xena into the privacy of a nearby alley. "I had much more than a 'good' visit." she murmured, wrapping her arms around the raven haired woman's neck.

"Did you now? Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that." the warrior smiled as she brought her lips down to meet the bard's. She lost herself for a moment in the softness of the kiss, the exquisite taste of Gabrielle's mouth. "We keep this up and we'll never get to the stables."

"And just who would you rather spend time with, me or Argo?" the bard pressed her hips forward against Xena's thigh.

"Hmm…well…" she pretended to ponder the question, earning her a playful backhand to the middle. "You know you're worth a thousand Argos, just don't let her know. After all, I still have to ride her."

"Mmm, and Argo can be the jealous type." Gabrielle agreed. "Okay, you go deal with the stable and I'll take one last look around before we leave. I saw a fortune teller's shack about a block from here, maybe she'll be able to tell us our fortune."

"You might as well toss your dinar down the well for all the good visiting one of them will do you." Xena said as she pulled back from the warm embrace and led them back to the square.

"You are such a cynic sometimes."

"Not a cynic, just can't see the sense in throwing a perfectly good dinar away on a bunch of nonsense." the warrior said as they approached the small hut, the door replaced with strings of beads. "Nothing they ever say is true anyway."

"Well, it's my dinar." Gabrielle replied. "Besides, it might be fun."

"Sure. You go have fun. I'll meet you back here in a little while." Xena turned to go but then stopped and looked at her young lover. "Do me a favor, try to stay out of trouble."

"Me? Trouble? I'm only going to see a fortune teller. How much trouble could I possibly get into?"


As always, I greatly appreciate the efforts of my fabulous beta readers Lunacy and Verda.

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