A Queen's Sacrifice
by B L Miller


Disclaimer 1: 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.

Disclaimer 2: ***SEXUAL VIOLENCE WARNING*** This story contains scenes of rape, specifically of Gabrielle. If this upsets or bothers you, please do not read this story. While not graphically explicit, it is detailed enough to make some people uncomfortable. This story was written before the events of the third season.

Disclaimer 3: This story contains scenes of love between two women. If this bothers you, or you are under the age of 18, then don’t read it. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the story.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank the many people who have taken the time to write to me about these stories. Certain character’s names are my way of thanking some of these kind people.


The hot summer day did nothing to improve either woman’s mood. The dust from the road stuck to Gabrielle’s skin, mixing with the sweat to form a gritty film on her body. Although she handled the heat better than her young companion, Xena was still wishing for a cool river to jump into. Her leathers were stuck to her body, chafing her bronzed skin. Drips of sweat rolled down her face, neck, under her breasts, between her legs, and the points where her thighs pressed against the saddle. The uncomfortablness only served to add to the bickering between them. Despite Gabrielle’s protests, Xena had insisted on moving on instead of staying in a village until the heat wave passed.

"I’m so soaked, you could wring out my shirt." The bard grumbled. Xena said nothing. Gabrielle’s anger got the best of her. "You know, Xena, the least you can do is acknowledge my existence."

"I know you’re there, Gabrielle." Xena kept her eyes on the road ahead, trying hard not to snap back a biting comment. There had been too many of them exchanged lately.

"Well, thank you, warrior of few words." Gabrielle’s words dripped with biting sarcasm.

"What the hades do you want me to do, Gabrielle?" Xena snapped. "I can’t do anything about the heat."

"I never asked you to!" She stopped walking, forcing Xena to pull back on Argo’s reins. "I just made a comment about the heat, that’s all. I didn’t ask you to do anything!"

"Gabrielle, if there was a way I could make you more comfortable, I would." Xena ran her fingers through her dark hair, hoping that this wasn’t going to lead to yet another argument. It was just too hot to fight.

"I know that, Xena!" Gabrielle started walking again, this time with anger in her steps. "It wouldn’t kill you to show me a little consideration, that’s all."

"Gabrielle, I-"

"I don’t want to hear it, Xena. Not now. I’m sick of begging for attention from you." She didn’t mean to let the last part out, but there it was, sitting in the air around them like a mist. There was no way to take it back now. "Let’s just get to where we’re going." Her strides became longer and more deliberate. Xena looked at the angry Amazon for a moment before nudging Argo to continue. These fights were happening way too often to just be about the weather or her normal lack of conversation. Something was bothering Gabrielle, Xena was sure of it. What she wasn’t sure of was how to talk to her friend without starting another argument. Both women were lost in their thoughts as they walked along the lonely road.

"I’m going to take care of Argo and get something for dinner." Xena said as she removed the bedrolls and saddlebags. "Get a fire going."

"Don’t I always?" There was no playfulness in Gabrielle’s voice. Xena tried to remember the last time the bard had teased her or joked around. It had been so long now. She walked Argo over to a small area and began to brush her down.

"Why can’t I talk to her, Argo?" Xena carried on a one-sided conversation as she gave the horse attention. "Everything I say sets her off. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was her time of the moon." Her mind went back to the last few words they had said to each other, candlemarks ago on the road. "What does she mean, beg for attention? I give her attention, don’t I?" She set the brush down and gave the horse a gentle pat. "I don’t know what to do, Argo. Something’s bothering her, I know that. I just don’t know what." Realizing that there was nothing to be gained from this, Xena set off to catch dinner.

As their dinners were for the last four days, Gabrielle ate quickly, then settled into her scrolls, barely saying two words to Xena. She looked up from time to time, noting that Xena also said nothing. The warrior was busy polishing her armor and sharpening her sword. A sudden anger filled Gabrielle. She crumpled the piece of parchment she had been working on and threw it into the fire. Xena stopped her movements with the whetstone and looked at the bard. "I’m going for a walk." Gabrielle mumbled as she grabbed her staff and stormed away. She didn’t see the hurt in Xena’s blue eyes.

Xena was almost ready to go looking for the missing bard when Gabrielle finally returned to the campsite. A candlemark of beating up trees did nothing to ease the frustration she was feeling. Without saying a word, she climbed into her bedroll and stared at the night sky.


"What." The tone conveyed anger and something else that Xena couldn’t identify.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"There’s nothing to talk about, Xena. It’s just something that I have to work out myself." It was true. She had to learn a way to hide her feelings.

"Why can’t I help? Gabrielle, we’ve always been able to work things out together before."

"It isn’t something that you and I can work out, Xena. I have to do this on my own. I’m not as good at hiding my feelings as you are. Give me some time, I’ll work it out." She said the words, not believing them for a moment. The feelings she had been struggling with threatened to overflow everytime she was near Xena. How could she tell her that everytime Xena touched her that it sent a thrill through her? How could she tell her that night after night she dreamed of making love to the warrior princess? No, these were not thoughts or feelings to be shared. She’d have to learn to live with them.

Xena watched the sleeping bard, wondering what was upsetting her so. She tried to think back to when the strange moods began. There didn’t seem to be any trigger for Gabrielle’s outbursts, anything Xena said or did seemed to cause an explosion. Was Gabrielle tired of traveling? Did she want to leave? Xena shook her head, trying to remove the thought. She couldn’t imagine not having Gabrielle in her life. She missed the stories, the endless chatter, the gentle touches that comforted. Watching her now, Xena thought about how long it had been since Gabrielle touched her, hugged her, even sat near her. Gabrielle was keeping a physical distance between them, she realized. A sense of sadness and hurt came over the normally stoic warrior as she realized that Gabrielle was doing it by choice. The only person in Xena’s life that she trusted and cared about more than anything was pulling away from her.

The next day was worse. The humidity was unbearable in the morning, then a heavy hot rain came down on them in the afternoon. Finding a small cave, they ran in to escape the downpour. "We’re stuck here until the rain lets up." Xena announced. "Unless you want to keep going, Gabrielle." It was more of a question than a statement. At this point, Xena didn’t know what Gabrielle wanted.

"It’s fine." The bard replied as she pulled off the saddlebags and set to unpacking them. ‘Great, just great.’ She thought to herself. ‘I can’t be within ten staff-lengths of her without thinking about touching her and now I’m stuck in this small cave with her. What the hades am I going to do?’ Pulling her bedroll from the pile, she looked for the most out-of-the-way place to set it down, preferably somewhere far from where Xena would set hers up.

‘She doesn’t even want to be near me anymore.’ Xena thought dejectedly. "I’m going to get some firewood." Gabrielle didn’t answer, she simply fussed around with her already perfectly positioned bedroll. "Fine." Xena was unable to hide the hurt tone in her voice as she stormed out into the rain. Gabrielle watched her retreating figure as fresh tears rolled down her face. This was getting too much to bear. She was going to lose Xena, either through her own fear or by the warrior discovering what her true feelings were.

A disturbingly quiet evening led to another disturbingly quiet night. The only sound between them was the scraping of Xena’s whetstone against the sword. Finally, Xena spoke up, partly in anger over the change between them and partly in fear of the thoughts going through the bard’s head. "Gabrielle, can you tell me what’s wrong?"

"Nothing’s wrong, Xena. Go back to your sharpening." Gabrielle concentrated her attention at a small spot on the roof of the cave. Xena put the whetstone and sword down and stared at the fire.

"Gabrielle, are you going to leave me?" The words were said so softly that Gabrielle barely heard them. There was a tone to Xena’s voice that she hadn’t heard in a long time, fear. She propped herself on her elbows and looked across the fire. Xena’s head was down, her hands idle in her lap.

"Do you want me to leave, Xena?"


"Then why did you ask? There has to be a reason."

"I don’t want you to leave, Gabrielle."

"Okay." She leaned back down on the bedroll. Several moments passed before Xena spoke again.



"Did I do something to upset you? I mean, have I done anything or said anything to make you feel...uncomfortable around me?" Words were not easy for the strong woman, especially words that caused her to reveal her own emotions. Gabrielle let out a low chuckle at the absurdity of the situation.

"You didn’t do anything, Xena." She rolled over and closed her eyes, hoping to end the conversation. Xena noticed the movement and remained quiet, trying to gather the courage to ask the question that had been plaguing her. This couldn’t be done across a campfire. Rising to her feet in one fluid motion, Xena walked over and sat down next to Gabrielle, who noticeably stiffened at the nearness.

"If I didn’t do anything, Gabrielle, then why do you work so hard to stay away from me?"

"I can’t talk about it, Xena. Let it go."

"No. We need to talk about what’s been going on, Gabrielle. It can’t continue like this, all the hostility and anger. You don’t talk to me, you don’t share your feelings, hades, you won’t even touch me and when you do, you act like it hurts. Gabrielle, if I’ve said or done anything to upset you, please, you have to let me know."

"It’s not you, Xena, it’s me. It’s something that I have to work out myself." She buried her head into the bedroll, trying to avoid any more conversation. Xena sat there for a moment, deciding what to do. She didn’t understand why Gabrielle wouldn’t turn to her for help with whatever problem was eating away at her. They’d always been so close. But Gabrielle kept insisting that she’d done nothing wrong, so why wouldn’t the bard let her in? Knowing she wouldn’t get any answers that evening, Xena moved over to her side of the fire.

Gabrielle looked at the sleeping form still in the cave. It’s better this way, she thought to herself. Being very careful to maintain silence, she quietly crept out of sight. She knew better than to be around when Xena woke up and found her note.

Xena woke up with a sense of something amiss. A quick look around revealed a dead fire, Argo, and her weapons. Gabrielle was missing, but her bedroll was still there. Xena noticed the beige piece of parchment folded neatly on the bedroll. With trembling hands, she read the note.


I wish there was a way to tell you how I feel, but there isn’t. I realized long ago that I love you more than anyone else in the world. You are the first thing I see when I wake up and the last I see before I close my eyes. I don’t know when my feelings for you changed, I just know that they did. I can no longer sleep, knowing you are only a short distance away from me. It might as well be leagues for the pain it causes me. I want you, body and soul, and knowing that you don’t feel the same breaks my heart. Please always know that I love you and always will.


Xena read the note over and over, the words striking chords deep within her soul. That’s what she was struggling with, Xena thought. Gabrielle is in love with me and didn’t think I felt the same. If only she had the strength to talk to me about it, then again, why would she? While Xena herself had struggled with the same thoughts and feelings, she had never expressed them to the bard. Cursing herself for once again hiding her feelings from the one person she wished to share them with, Xena quickly set about to pack up their stuff and go after the woman she loved.

A quick check told her that Gabrielle had left everything behind except her staff. She had not even taken so much as a morsel of food or a waterskin. Mounting Argo, Xena headed toward the Amazon village, the most likely place for the young queen to go.

Gabrielle was hot, hungry, tired, and thirsty by the time she decided to stop for the night. She found a tree with good sturdy branches and climbed up. Without flint, she would be unable to start a fire. Xena could do it just by rubbing sticks together, but unfortunately, that was one of the lessons that Gabrielle didn’t pay attention to. The safest place for her was up here, deep within the trees. Positioning herself so she didn’t fall in her sleep, Gabrielle settled down for an uneasy rest, her dreams filled with the tall warrior’s electric blue eyes.

Once awake, Gabrielle found she had little energy for fishing. She made do with the meager amounts of berries and nuts she found on the nearby trees and the handfuls of water she took from a close stream. She tried hard not to think about what Xena was doing, not knowing that the warrior was only a few candlemarks behind her.

Argo threw a shoe and split her hoof less than an candlemark after they left the cave. Cursing profusely, Xena hopped off and walked the war-horse to the next village. After paying for a new shoe, she went to the stable to inquire about space for Argo. With a split hoof, there was no way the horse would be able to help her find Gabrielle. She paid for a quarter-moon’s worth of lodging for Argo and headed back out of the village. She had been severely delayed by the sudden change of events. Without Argo to speed things along, Xena would have to continue on foot, making her chances of catching Gabrielle before they reached the Amazon village impossible.

Erika, Jors, and Rikki walked along the road, heading back to their beloved village after a trip to Athens to visit the temples. Erika led the group, her short blond hair gleaming in the sunlight, long sword strapped to her back. Jors and Rikki each carried staffs and daggers. Despite their youth, most persons chose to stay far away from the three armed Amazons. Erika looked every bit the sixteen summers of her age, tall but still growing, her face full of life. Jors was a head smaller than Erika, her dark curly hair hung loosely about her shoulders, framing her face of fifteen summers. Rikki was the youngest, only eleven, with long blond hair pulled back into the typical Amazon braid. All three were excited about the sights they had seen on their trip and were anxious to share their tales with the other girls in the village. Turning a corner, Erika came to a sudden stop, almost being knocked over by Jors. Four large men were standing there near a wagon, the smell of unwashed bodies wafting through the air. Each man was well armed. Rikki moved to stand next to Erika, no fear showing in her young face. The largest man, a huge mass of muscles and bulk, took a step toward them. "Well, well, what do we have here?"

"Looks like some fine Amazon flesh, Gronos." The man next to him said. "I bet they’d fetch a real good price."

"We don’t want any trouble." Erika said as she unsheathed her sword. She knew she was proficient with it, she had proven that several times in practice. This would be her first true battle.

"Well, little girl, if you don’t want trouble then I suggest you put that little sword down." Gronos sneered. Turning toward the man who made the comment, he said "Tynuis, get them."

The sound of a nearby fight gave life to Gabrielle’s tired feet. Peeking through the bushes, she saw a young Amazon desperately trying to fight off a man easily three times her size while two younger looking girls were swinging their staffs in vicious arcs, keeping the men at bay. The smallest, a girl near Gabrielle’s height, swung at one attacker, not noticing the man moving behind her. Quickly Gabrielle left her hiding place in the bushes and joined her Amazons. In the heat of the battle, the Amazons didn’t notice Tynuis slipping into the bushes to get behind them. Only when Gabrielle landed a strong blow to the back of Gronos’ head did she look around for the missing man. She didn’t have to look far. His smell gave him away as his hand slid around her throat, dagger pressing against the smooth skin. "Don’t move." He growled, pressing the knife harder against her throat. A groggy Gronos scrambled to his feet and glared at her. Erika gripped her sword tighter, looking for the opportunity to rescue her queen. Gronos saw her and laughed.

"Drop your weapon, little girl, or I’ll run my sword right through her." He took a menacing step toward the queen. In fear, Rikki dropped her staff, followed by Jors. Reluctantly, Erika lowered the point of her sword and let it fall to the ground. He walked over and wrenched the staff out of Gabrielle’s hands before striking her in the head with the hilt of his sword. She fell to the ground bonelessly.

Looking around, Gronos noticed one of the men lying face down on the ground, dead from Erika’s sword. "Leave him." He growled. "Get them tied up and on the wagon."

Four Amazon warriors were sent to look for the missing trio when they were four candlemarks past their designated return time. Ephiny wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sending the young women to Athens alone, and had only done so because of her confidence in Erika’s swordsmanship. Now that they were overdue, she questioned her decision.

Xena took a shortcut through the forest, not stopping to rest until she came upon the outskirts of the area patrolled by Amazons. Her route had taken her away from the road, where the dead body and fallen staffs lay as evidence to the battle. A bird call rang out, which she answered. A short silence followed before she felt the presence of four warriors surrounding her. Keeping her hands open and away from her body, Xena showed the women that she meant them no harm. Eponin moved through the bushes and appeared before her. "Xena, what are you doing here? Where’s Gabrielle?"

"Isn’t she here?" Xena knew the tracks she found the day before were Gabrielle’s, and she knew they were headed in this direction.

"There hasn’t been any sign of her. Perhaps the search party came across her."

"Search party?"

"We had three young girls who failed to return from Athens. Ephiny sent a search party out to look for them. Perhaps Gabrielle found them."

"Perhaps." Xena said quietly.

"Come on, Ephiny will want to know that you’re here." Eponin led the warrior through the forest and into the village.

Three candlemarks later, a grim-faced search party returned, carrying three staffs and a sword. Draped across one of the horses backs was a dead man. Xena, Ephiny, and Eponin met them at the gate.

"We found him in the road. The staffs and sword were lying nearby." The Amazon said as she handed Ephiny the weapons. Xena reached out and grabbed the familiar staff.

"Gabrielle." She whispered. The markings of the staff that designated the queen were unmistakable. Xena looked up at the warrior. "Where was this found?"

"About two candlemarks from here on the main road. There are wagon tracks leading away from the scene. Two of our finest trackers are following it now."

"Whoever took the girls also has our queen." Ephiny said. "Gather as many warriors as we can spare, we have to find them."

Gabrielle kept her eyes closed, pretending to still be unconscious. Xena had taught her that trick. She felt the motion of the wagon making its way down the dusty road. Fighting the pain in her head, she slowly remembered what had happened. Opening her eyes, she gazed at three very frightened girls. "My Queen." Rikki said, trying to move closer to the wounded bard.

"Shh." Gabrielle whispered. Her hands were tied behind her in an unfamiliar knot. She felt another rope around her elbows, preventing any thought of escape. Looking at the Amazons again, she noticed that they too were tied in the same fashion. She looked around the wagon. There were several bales of hay, the girls were sitting on some of them. The wagon was covered, making it easy for them to be kept hidden from passers by. She focused her attention on the youngest girl. "What’s your name?"

"R-Rikki. This is Jors and that’s Erika." She said, pointing to the other trapped girls. "We were heading home from Athens."

"It’s all right now, just try to relax. By now the Amazons have discovered that you’re missing and no doubt have sent someone to look for you. It’s only a matter of time before we’re rescued." The throbbing in her head was worsening. "Rikki, how bad is my head?"

"I can’t tell, there’s too much blood." The girl’s lip quivered. "I’m sorry."

"Shh." Gabrielle put on her best comforting look. "Everything is going to be fine. I’m here with you and the other Amazons are on their way. Let’s just not do anything to upset our hosts until help arrives, okay?" She turned to look at the tallest of the trio. "You’re Erika, right?" The girl nodded. "That was pretty good work with the sword. Your mother must be proud of you." The Amazon beamed at the compliment from her queen.

"I did what I could, my queen. I think I killed one of them." Something inside the bard winced at the thought of someone so young being forced to take a life.

"Is that your first time?" The Amazon nodded. "Erika, listen to me. I know that you did what you had to do to protect yourself and your Amazon sisters. You may not feel it now, but at some point the feelings of taking another person’s life are going to hit you. When that happens, don’t fight it. If you need to cry, it’s okay." She spoke as if she read the thoughts of the young girl.

"My Queen, have you ever taken a life?"

"No, I haven’t, but I’ve seen life taken. It’s not a glorious sight, no matter what the reason. You may end up with nightmares from this. If you do, please, for your sanity, find someone you trust to sit and talk about it with. Expressing your feelings will help to ease the pain." The wagon pulled to an abrupt halt. "Listen, everyone stay quiet and let me do the talking. No matter what happens, remember that help is on the way and don’t try to be a hero." She directed the last comment at Erika.

Gronos moved from the front of the wagon to the rear. Pulling back the cover, he glared at the four Amazons. "You’d better learn to keep your mouths shut or I’ll shut them for you!" Gabrielle nodded and hung her head. The other Amazons followed suit. She knew it was better to do what he said for now rather than risking an injury to herself or one of the other girls. He growled something about mouthy bitches before pulling down the cover again and returning to the front of the wagon.

With fresh horses, Xena and Eponin joined the group of warriors assembled at the north gate. The trackers had sent back a report that the wagon was heading east, toward the seacoast. The missing girls mothers were standing at the gate, frantic with worry. They weren’t the only ones. Xena had literally made herself sick with worry over Gabrielle. She knew that wagons filled with young women heading for the coast only meant one thing, slavers. As much as Ephiny wanted to accompany them on the rescue mission, her duties as acting queen required her to remain in the village. "Eponin, we have to get to them before they make it to the coast." The Amazon nodded. "Hiyah." Xena nudged the horse forward, starting the journey, the Amazons right behind her. As the ranking Amazon, Eponin was supposed to be in charge. However, after seeing the look in Xena’s eye when Gabrielle’s staff was found, the Amazon decided to let the warrior lead. She knew that Xena was an excellent tracker and would not rest until Gabrielle and the other girls were found.

The slavers made camp shortly before sunset. Gronos pulled the cover back and roughly grabbed Rikki, causing the young girl to cry out from the pain. Gabrielle reacted without thinking. "Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, you big bully!" She snarled. "Can’t you see you’re hurting her?" He growled and pushed Rikki aside, sending the young girl sprawling against the far side of the wagon.

"Perhaps someone like you?" He leered. His stale breath washed over Gabrielle, making her glad that she hadn’t eaten much that day. He looked at the other two girls, his eyes moving up and down their bodies, appraising them. "Look big enough for me. Maybe I’ll have a little fun before I sell you four, hmm?" He leaned in to reach for Jors. The dark haired girl pulled back from him, fearful of her chastity.

"Don’t." Gabrielle pleaded. She had to think quickly. "I mean, if we’re not virgins, you can’t get as much for us, now can you?" He seemed to think about that for a moment, then a lecherous smile crossed his lips.

"Maybe I don’t need quite so much money. I’d rather feast on some fine young flesh than have a few extra dinars." He continued to eye Jors, who was unable to stop a tear from trailing down her terrified face. Gabrielle’s mind was racing as she tried to figure out a solution.

"Please, they’re too young. What if it was your little sister?"

"I guess it was a good thing I didn’t have a little sister, hmm? I would have taken her too." He loosened his belt. He reached out and grabbed Jors, who yelped and tried to get away.

"Let her go!" Gabrielle cried, struggling against her bonds. With a grunt, he shoved the Amazon away and turned his attention to the mouthy woman who was keeping him from having his fun.

"Perhaps you would like to take her place?" Gronos threatened. Intense personal fear gripped Gabrielle as she watched his eyes focus on her breasts. Looking into the doe eyes of the young girl across from her, the Queen of the Amazons knew what she had to do.

‘I am their Queen.’ She thought to herself. ‘I have to protect them, no matter what the cost. This is what I must do.’ She took a deep breath. "If it means that you’ll leave her alone." Erika and Jors looked at her fearfully. Both were old enough to understand what was about to happen. Gronos looked over at Jors again, trying to decide which was the better choice. He decided that he wouldn’t get much for the older one anyway, too much mouth. He returned his leer to Gabrielle.

"You’re a feisty little one, aren’t you? I bet you’d feel real nice squirming underneath me." He chuckled wickedly as he stared at her thighs. "Yeah, I bet you’d feel real good." He stressed the word ‘real’. He put his leg up and grabbed the edge of the wagon with his arm to get in.

"Wait!" Gabrielle said with panic in her voice. She couldn’t let the girls see this. "Please, take me outside, away from them."

"Sure, there’s more room out here anyways." He reached out and grabbed at her bound arm. She quickly looked at the girls.

"Listen to me. Whatever you hear, don’t come out of the wagon. I’ll be all right. Stay here in the wagon." She wanted to say more, but Gronos roughly hauled her out.

He dragged her by the hair, forcing her to walk quickly. Finding a flat spot near the fire, he roughly threw her down, face first. With her hands tied so awkwardly behind her back, Gabrielle was unable to break her fall. The impact knocked the wind out of her. Gronos pulled out his dagger and sliced the ropes off, keeping a fistful of her hair. "Now, you’re not going to try anything stupid, are you bitch?" He tugged on her hair until she yelped.

"N-no. Ouch"

"’Course not, ‘cause if you do, I’ll just have to go back to the wagon and find me another one to play with."

"I won’t try anything, I swear." She made a quick prayer to Artemis to protect the girls from him.

"Good." He rolled her over and pinned her arms with his, straddling her. He lifted his head and yelled to his buddies, who were busy polishing off a wineskin. "Hey, look at what I got us for entertainment tonight." Tynuis and Largas looked over and laughed.

"Serves her right, little bitch!" Largas spat. "I still got a lump the size of an egg from where she done smacked me with that there stick of hers." He rubbed the large lump on the back of his head. He yelled over at her. "Hey bitch! Maybe I oughts to git you twice for whut you done to me!" Tynuis laughed and slapped his buddy on the back.

"Ya, maybe I’ll do her a few myself." Tynuis rubbed himself through the fabric of his filthy trousers.

It was well past dark when they finished with Gabrielle. Tynuis grunted, stiffened, then collapsed on top of her. Gabrielle was beyond screaming, her voice wore out long ago and was now so hoarse she could barely speak. He slowly regained his drunken senses and stood up, giving her a good smack in the face with the flat of his hand. "That’ll teach ya to hit me with a stick, bitch!" He tucked himself in and went to join his buddies who still had the wineskin. They had both passed out, leaving the rest to his greedy lips. It wasn’t long before he too was unconscious.

Gabrielle rolled over, burying her face in her arms. She didn’t think she had any more tears to give. She cried at the pain between her legs, on both of her breasts, in the bottom of her soul. It was a full candlemark before she was able to focus.

Xena and Eponin were in the lead with three Amazon warriors behind them, taking turns doing dove calls and waiting to hear a response. Eponin worried about Xena. Not one word had passed between them in candlemarks.

"Xena, you know we’ll find her."

"I know." Xena’s voice was flat, betraying no emotions. Inside, her thoughts were spinning. ‘Where are you, my little bard? Are you hurt? Please hang on, Gabrielle. Please hang on until we get there.’

"We should have brought more food." Eponin tried to engage Xena in conversation, knowing it would probably fail. She was all too familiar with the warrior princess and her stoic nature. Xena didn’t acknowledge the statement. Her thoughts were on one thing, Gabrielle.

Gabrielle straightened out her clothes as best she could, then crawled until she reached the wagon. Erika and Jors reached out and helped her up. "Here, let us help." Erika said. Once inside, they laid her down on the floorboards. Erika looked over at Rikki. "Rikki, don’t look." The young girl turned around, tears streaming down her face, her queen’s screams playing again and again in her mind. Jors checked the queen’s head wound for any sign of it reopening. The dried and caked blood had indeed been reopened. Fresh crimson trickled down the side of her head. Tearing a piece of cloth from her skirt, Erika pressed it against Gabrielle’s wound. "It’ll stop bleeding in a minute. It didn’t open up much." She lied. It obviously needed several stitches, but fortunately most of the wound stayed closed by dry blood, keeping the loss to a minimum.

"Thanks." Gabrielle said hoarsely. She looked at Jors, who was trying to decide if she should look for more injuries. "It’s all right, Jors. There’s nothing you can do." The young Amazon nodded sadly. She was old enough to understand the meaning of the screams. "Help me up." She gasped. The memory of being on her back was too painful. The older girls helped her sit on the hay pile. "They’re all passed out. If you run, you can get to the road."

"My Queen, we can’t leave you here and you can’t run." The oldest one protested. "You know what they would do to you if they woke up and we were gone."

"You have to. If they wake up…" She left the thought. "You just have to." Erika fully understood the implication. Jors was busy trying to calm down a hysterical Rikki.

"Jors and I can carry…wait, what’s that?" She heard a dove call. "My Queen, it’s a dove." Before Gabrielle could reach out to stop her, she moved to the back of the wagon, stuck her head out, and returned a nightingale call. It was returned, acknowledging the call. "Gabrielle, they’ve found us." The bard tried to straighten up. There wouldn’t be much time before they arrived.

"Erika, Jors, come here." She rasped. The two Amazons moved closer. "When the Amazons get here, be careful. Too many noises are going to alert those men. Make sure Rikki gets out first, then you two. I’ll come out once I’m sure you girls are safe." Gabrielle knew she wouldn’t be able to walk for any kind of distance, if at all. Another dove call. Erika answered it with the ‘help’ bird call. Gabrielle pulled her back. Looking at her and Jors intensely, she spoke again. "You two know what happened out there." Both girls lowered their eyes and nodded sadly. "I’m not asking you to lie, but I am asking you to respect my privacy. If you need to tell someone, then do it, but ask them to respect me too."

"Yes, My Queen." They answered in unison. Gabrielle nodded.

"Make sure you help her." The bard said, pointing at the young girl in the corner, crying softly. As much as Gabrielle wanted to be strong and help Rikki, she couldn’t. Another bird call, another answer.

Xena and Eponin scouted the perimeter of the camp. The Amazon motioned for the others to circle around to the wagon. That’s where the bird calls came from. Xena and Eponin waited until the Amazons were in position to give the signal. There were no sounds from the men except snores.

Erika motioned for Rikki to come closer to her. The young girl was trembling now with fear and still blubbering. The older girl leaned down and whispered in Rikki’s ear. "You see that woman over there?" She pointed at the Amazon who was barely visible in the trees. Rikki nodded. "I want you to go run to her. She’ll take you out of here and get you somewhere safe. We’ll be right behind you." The little girl cried again.

"I can’t. I’m scared." She wailed. Erika put her hand over the girl’s mouth, afraid her cries would be heard by the men.

"You’re going to have to carry her. Wait for the warrior to give the signal, then go as fast as you can." Gabrielle whispered. Erika nodded. Jors moved closer to the edge of the wagon. "Get ready to run." She croaked. "Don’t stop until you’re safely away."

Xena and Eponin watched as a tall girl carried a small one in her arms, running into the trees and disappearing. Two down, two to go. A moment later, they saw a dark haired girl run out. That left only Gabrielle.

Gabrielle moved as best she could to the edge of the wagon and eased herself down. She felt her legs buckle. She tried to grab the wagon, but missed. The pain between her legs made the bard unable to stifle a scream of pain. The Amazons leapt forward from their hiding places in the trees and rushed forward to rescue their queen. The sound had awakened at least one of the men, who yelled and kicked the others awake. With Gabrielle in their arms, the Amazons were defenseless.

Xena and Eponin entered the campsite, the Amazon running in with sword raised and yelling, drawing attention away from the others. Xena somersaulted into the fray, yelling her familiar battle cry.

"Xena!" Tynuis said, fear evident in his voice.

"Well, I’m glad you heard of me." She hissed as she swung her sword at him. The battle was on. Being still drunk and slightly groggy, it only took a few swings for him to fall. Gronos and Largas were busy with Eponin. Xena moved in and engaged Gronos.

"This isn’t your fight, warlord." Gronos hissed.

"You hurt my friend, that makes it my fight." Xena growled back, launching into a low foot sweep. She connected with force, taking his leg out from under him. Gronos rolled quickly, swinging out with his sword, putting himself off balance. In seconds it was over. Xena wiped her sword on the dead man before putting it back in her scabbard. She looked over to see Eponin doing the same thing, Largas lying lifelessly on the ground below.

The Amazons carried Gabrielle into the woods, setting her down gently on the ground. The bard heard the ayiyiyi cry of Xena. Her thoughts passed between being ecstatic that Xena had come for her and scared that Xena would find out what happened. She struggled to get to her feet, failing miserably.

Xena and Eponin bolted over to the other Amazons. Gabrielle was lying against a tree, doing her best not to cry. Xena saw the honey hair marred with dried blood and dirt. She ran over to the bard and started to check for other injuries. "Are you hurt anywhere else?" Xena asked as she ran her hands over the bard’s arms and legs. Gabrielle reached out and stopped the warrior’s hands.

"I’m fine, just hit my head a little." She said hoarsely. The bard tried to get up, but Xena’s strong hands gently pressed her down.

"Let me, Gabrielle." She cradled the queen in her arms and easily stood up.

"Thanks. I guess I’m just worn out." She allowed Xena to carry her, nestling her head against the warrior’s strong shoulder. Xena walked carefully, aware that every movement seemed to hurt Gabrielle. The bard’s body was flinching with each step. Xena did her best to maintain an even gait, worrying that the head injury was worse than it seemed.

Xena handed the bard over to Eponin, then vaulted up onto the horse. Not being Argo, it wasn’t trained to sit down on command. She leaned down and picked up the queen. She started to separate Gabrielle’s legs to put her into position in front of her on the saddle.

"No!" Gabrielle panicked. "Uh…I’m afraid of falling. I feel a little dizzy." Xena tightened her grip on the bard.

"I won’t let you fall, Gabrielle." She said softly, not understanding the bard’s worry.

"Xena, could you please just hold me?" She croaked. Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena’s neck. The warrior said nothing, but cradled the bard in her arms and released the reins. Eponin moved her horse over and took the loose reins, leading Xena’s horse back to the village. The others went ahead, no reason for them to keep the girls away from home any longer.

Gabrielle did her best not to cry out in pain, trying to focus her thoughts on the strong body holding her, keeping her safe, protecting her from any more harm. Unknown to Gabrielle, every time she did gasp in pain, the warrior felt every muscle clench in the bard’s body. Xena did her best to keep Gabrielle still, a very hard task indeed while riding on a horse.

By the time they reached the village, the girls had arrived, been hugged and squeezed several times by relieved mothers and aunts, seen by Saras the healer, and sent home to eat and get some rest. Two Amazons were standing by with a litter, ready to carry their wounded queen to the healer’s hut. All they had been told was that the young queen was hurt. Once inside the gate, Xena swung her foot around and slid down gracefully with the storyteller in her arms. The Amazons moved over with the litter but a look from Xena moved them back. She carried Gabrielle all the way to the healer’s hut in the center of the village.

Using a wet cloth to gently rub away the blood, Xena expertly stitched up the gash on Gabrielle’s head. "You’re all set." Xena said as she put the needle away. Saras had tried to treat Gabrielle, but Xena insisted that the bard would only be taken care of by her. That led to a rather heated discussion between the women in which Xena made colorful comments and suggestions about the healer’s parentage and Saras threatened to have the non-Amazon locked up for interfering with her attempts to treat the queen of the Amazons. In the end, Ephiny relented to the warrior, causing a string a remarks to be hurled her way by Saras. "Gabrielle, are you sure you’re not hurt anywhere else?"

"Just a sore throat, that’s all. Probably just need to get some rest."

"Do you want to sleep here?"

"No. Xena, would you help me to the palace? I want a hot bath and a soft bed." She still felt the slime of the men on her. Xena smiled at the small request for comfort.

"I bet you’d like some food too." She teased, rewarded with a small smile from the bard.

"Maybe a little." What she really wanted was several strong glasses of wine to numb her mind and body.

Xena carried her to the palace while a large number of Amazons watched on, cheering their heroic queen for saving their children. Xena leaned in and gently whispered into the queen’s ear. "You hear that, Gabrielle? That’s for you, my little bard. You’re a hero to them…and to me. You kept those girls safe until help could arrive. Them and yourself."

"I did what I had to do." Gabrielle said softly, her ragged voice too low for Xena to fully understand the tone.

Once in her room, Xena put her down on the bed. "I’ll ask the guard to get someone to prepare a bath for you."

"Already been taken care of, Xena." Ephiny appeared in the doorway and looked over at the bard. "I’ve ordered food for you as well as the bath. Xena, do you want to join me in the food hut? They’re preparing a small feast for all the rescuers of the children. They understand that Gabrielle can’t come. Erika told them that she had been hit in the head and was very weak." Seeing Xena’s confusion of the name, she added. "She’s one of the girls that Gabrielle protected." The warrior nodded with understanding.

"I’ll come back and check on you later, unless you want me to stay?"

"No, you go ahead. Besides, it is in your honor, at least partially."

"You sure?" Xena asked. She had hoped that they could sit down and talk about what happened in the cave. Apparently the bard wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. The warrior turned to Ephiny. "I don’t want to be pushed into speeches, you understand?"

"Uh yeah, Xena, I understand." Ephiny said. Xena reached for the door.


"Yes, Gabrielle?"

"Don’t be too long, okay?" The was a touch of fear in her voice. Xena had listened to that voice speak to her long enough to know the emotions associated with the tone of voice. She turned to Ephiny.

"You know what, I’m really kinda beat from the long ride. I’m going to stay here and just relax with the queen. Extend my apologies and thanks, will you?"

"Sure, Xena. I’ll have more food sent in. Knowing our queen, it won’t go to waste." She left. Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed, impatiently waiting for the bath to be ready.

Xena remained quiet, unsure of what the bard wanted to talk about. This wasn’t the right time to mention the note, or was it? She hated having to start a conversation. "Gabrielle, how are you feeling?" She asked, hoping that the bard would guide the discussion.

"Tired, hungry, dirty." The last word was said in a slightly lower voice.

"Well, the food and bath are coming. Do you want to lay down until they get here?"

"Will you stay here? Promise not to leave?" Realizing that her voice betrayed her fear, she quickly tried to correct herself. "I mean, I don’t want to sleep through dinner." She forced herself to smile.

"Don’t worry, Gabrielle, I’m not going anywhere." Xena pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down.

Gabrielle rolled over, facing away from Xena. She didn’t want to lay on her back. Closing her eyes, she tried to rest. Images came to her mind, burning through her closed eyelids. Gronos holding her down, forcing his way in…

She quickly opened her eyes and rolled over to make sure Xena was still there. She was, looking at the bard with concern in her eyes. "Gabrielle, are you all right?"

"Uh yeah, I’m fine, Xena. I guess my mind isn’t ready to settle down after all the excitement, that’s all." She laid back down, but this time facing Xena. She half closed her eyes, keeping Xena’s body within her gaze, focusing on the strong hands that have protected her so many times before. Within a few moments Gabrielle was dozing.

Xena watched over her, watching the bard’s body rise and fall with each breath, her eyes twitching under the closed lids. Brushing some wayward hair off of Gabrielle’s face, Xena wondered what kind of dreams she was having. The eyes were moving rapidly, her lips moving softly. Her body twitched, then stilled. There was a soft knock on the door.

Xena let the serving girl in and quietly motioned for her to put the food on the table. Once alone again, she gently shook Gabrielle’s shoulder. "Sleepyhead, it’s time to eat." Gabrielle jumped and let out a short cry, her eyes wild with fear. "Gabrielle!"

Xena’s voice snapped her out of her nightmare. Xena’s eyes held concern and worry. "Sorry," she mumbled, "I guess I’m just restless tonight."

"Well, just relax. I’ll bring the food over to you." Xena went to collect the food tray. Gabrielle tried to sit up straight, but it was too uncomfortable. She stuffed the pillows behind her back and slouched against the headboard. It wasn’t as painful, although it still ached. She shifted her legs and winced slightly. Xena was walking back over with the food and noticed. "Gabrielle, are you sure you aren’t hurt anywhere else?"

"No." Gabrielle responded a little too forcefully. "I’m fine, Xena. Just tired. You know, it’s not every day that I get kidnapped." She tried to make a joke of it, but the warrior wasn’t in a laughing mood. She was too concerned about the bard’s spirits.

"Well, here’s dinner." Xena said, trying to change the subject. Gabrielle nodded and moved to a chair by the small table. They ate in quiet silence, Gabrielle too preoccupied to carry on a conversation and Xena never certain of what to say.

After dinner, the bath was brought in and filled. Nervously, Gabrielle realized that Xena wasn’t leaving. "Xena, I can handle the bath myself. You go on and relax."

"Are you sure, Gabrielle? I can wait if you need me."

"No, I’m fine. Go on, I’ll see you in the morning." She put a more pleasant tone to her voice, trying not to arouse suspicion.

"All right, my little bard, I’ll go." Xena moved over to the doorway. "Gabrielle, when you’re ready to talk about the note, I’ll be here." Gabrielle had forgotten about the note with everything that had happened. All she could do was nod.

Gabrielle gingerly lowered herself into the bath, breathing sharp intakes of air as the warm water touched her most painful area. Soaking for a while, she thought about the implications of Xena being here. She came back for me, she read the note and still wants me around. Gabrielle’s heart sang slightly at the implications, but was quickly dashed. Before the rape, she would have given anything to make love to the strong warrior and have Xena return that love. Now she was certain that there would be no physical love for her anymore. No one could ever touch her that way again. She let the tears fall down her face, dropping and blending with the cooling water. She scrubbed her skin thoroughly, trying to remove the feeling of the men. Washing between her legs was not only the most physically painful part, it was also the most emotionally painful. She was completely worn out by the time she lifted herself out of the now cool water. She donned a clean pair of breeches and a shift, then settled back into bed, letting her tears and exhaustion carry her over into an uneasy slumber. She prayed to Artemis that the nightmares that she was sure to have wouldn’t wake anyone else up, especially the six foot warrior in the next room.

The entire village was abuzz with stories of the heroic rescue of the girls. It took almost a full candlemark for Xena and Gabrielle to reach the food hut. Everyone they passed wanted to congratulate them or praise them. Gabrielle forced a smile onto her face and used her best storyteller voice to relay the rescue tale to those that wished to hear it first hand. Xena noticed that the story was very short, leaving out everything that happened between the attack in the road and the rescue. She decided that she would ask Gabrielle about that later. It was very unusual for the talented bard to omit any part of a story. The queen ate little at breakfast, but enough for Xena not to make an issue of it. Again she didn’t try for conversation with the warrior, able to hide it with the continued interruption of their meal by well-wishers.

They were walking back to the palace when a woman came running over to them. "My Queen, please wait." The woman yelled as she ran closer. Gabrielle and Xena stopped to wait for her. "My name is Mikki, my queen. I am Jors’ mother. I wanted to thank you personally for saving my daughter’s life."

"I didn’t do much, Mikki. It was the Amazons and Xena that rescued us. I just tried to keep them calm until the real help arrived." Gabrielle held her hand out to shake the grateful mother’s. Xena listened to the exchange. It was always like the bard not to take credit for her own heroism.

"I know what you did to protect my daughter, Queen Gabrielle." Mikki’s voice took a slightly lower and much more serious tone. Gabrielle tensed, hoping the woman wouldn’t reveal her secret.

"I did what I had to do, Mikki. Let’s leave it at that." She said the words gently, but refused to make eye contact. Mikki reached out and lightly touched the bard’s cheek.

"You are a very brave woman, Gabrielle. I will forever be in your debt, as will Jors." The Amazon sighed as she looked into the eyes of her youthful queen. "You’re so young, not much older than my Jors. Artemis bless you." Mikki stepped back and looked at Xena. "Thank you, Xena. I am also in your debt."

"Thank you." The stoic warrior replied. It was always hard for her to accept compliments. Mikki gave Gabrielle a serious look before nodding and moving on to her daily tasks. Gabrielle started walking again. The long soak last night helped to ease the aching and although the pain was still uncomfortable, she was able to hide it from Xena. Her voice was stronger, although still a little raspy and sore.

"Gabrielle, what was that all about?" Xena asked as they entered the palace.

"All what?" She replied, although she knew exactly what Xena was talking about.

"About what you did for the girl. Gabrielle, you still haven’t told me how you found them or what happened while you were captive."

"There isn’t much to tell, Xena." They neared the throne room. "I have some parchmentwork to catch up on. You’ll excuse me, won’t you?" She moved over and put her hand on the door latch.

"Sure, Gabrielle. I’ll go see about someone retrieving Argo and then I think I’m going down to the training grounds. I’m sure someone will spar with me."

"Just don’t put too many of my Amazons in the healer’s hut." Gabrielle teased, forcing a lopsided grin from her companion.

Xena spent the day exercising with the Amazons and listening to people talk about the improvements they’ve made over the moons to the village. Gabrielle spent the day in her throne room, alternating between sobbing and vomiting. Once she had closed the door and left orders not to be disturbed, the events of the past days came rushing to her, destroying all her defenses like a wave destroying a small raft. Closed eyes saw the men on top of her, taunting her, hurting her. Open eyes couldn’t see through the river of tears.

Three days passed with Gabrielle avoiding serious conversation with Xena except to say that she wasn’t ready to leave the village yet and only the barest of details revealed about the kidnapping. As restless as Xena was to be in one place for so long, she knew she couldn’t leave without her Gabrielle. She also noted grimly that the bard made no offers to tell her stories, something in which the Amazons were always a willing and enthusiastic audience. It only added to her growing concern over the storyteller. Each night, as Xena lay in bed, thinking about the note and Gabrielle, she had heard whimpers and small cries coming from the room next door. As much as she wanted to go and comfort her little bard, something seemed to hold her in bed. Gabrielle made no mention of nightmares and Xena didn’t push it, although she knew she should. It was only through Gabrielle’s constant pushing of her to tell her own nightmares that the warrior had found a tentative peace with her demons. Xena also noted grimly that the young woman had not written any stories or prose, something that was normally a nightly ritual.

Argo had been brought in the previous day, a little larger for the good food and lack of exercise. Xena decided to go over to the stable and give her war-horse a good rub down and some quality time. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on the conversation between two Amazons who were outside the stable, but at the mention of the queen’s name, the warrior put her brush down and walked closer to the door to listen.

"I’ve been up half the night with Rikki. The nightmares just don’t seem to be ending."

"I know what you mean. Jors is a strong girl, but even she is waking up screaming for help." Mikki replied.

"It’s just so hard. Rikki is only eleven summers old. She doesn’t understand. She keeps asking me why Queen Gabrielle was screaming so much. What am I supposed to tell her?"

"She’s too young for the truth, Maris. Jors is only a few summers younger than the queen. I don’t think I could bear the thought of that happening to my daughter."

"How many were there?"

"Three, and from what Jors said, they took turns."

"Oh the poor child!" Maris exclaimed. Xena stood there in shock, the meaning of the conversation settling in. Her body trembled as her emotions went into overload. Slumping to the hay littered ground, she buried her head in her arms and sobbed like never before.

"Oh gods, no, not Gabrielle." Xena cried over and over. Maris and Mikki heard the strangled cries and entered the stable.

"Oh my gods, Xena. I didn’t know you were in here." Mikki said softly, giving Maris a look of guilt. Xena took deep breaths and fought to regain control. Standing up to her full height, she wiped her eyes and walked out of the stable, not looking at the two sad faces.

Xena stood outside the door to Gabrielle’s room, trying to find the courage to enter. Time passed and she still didn’t reach for the door handle. Finally she turned around and stormed out of the palace, heading for Artemis’ temple. Her anger and rage were in full force by the time she arrived at the stone structure.


The temple priestess and aides cleared out the instant they saw the angry warrior storm in and scream out the goddesses name. "Artemis! Dammit, show yourself! How could you let that happen to her?! She’s your chosen, your queen! What sick game are you playing with her?! Artemis!" Xena ranted while storming around the interior of the temple. She stomped up to the dais and smashed her hand down on it. "Artemis!!" A white light appeared and formed into the figure of the Moon Goddess, her eyes full of fury.

"How dare you come into MY temple and yell at me, mortal!"

"You let them rape her!" Xena ignored the words of the goddess. "You had the power to stop them! Why didn’t you?" Her anger was still full, although she stopped stomping around the room and was now staring at Artemis.

"I couldn’t stop them, Xena. I did all that I could. She asked me only to protect the girls. She chose to make the sacrifice. There was nothing I could do." The goddess’ voice held the touch of regret and sadness that she felt. It had been all she could do not to go down and kill the men herself.

"What do you mean, she chose to make the sacrifice? Why would she choose to be raped?" Xena couldn’t imagine any reason. The goddess sighed with both sadness and pride at her Amazon queen.

"One of the men went after Jors, intending to rape her. Gabrielle intervened, offering herself to protect the girls. She prayed to me only to protect the girls from these men, never once asking for herself. You know she’s like that, always thinking of others before herself. I honored her prayer and put the men to sleep as soon as I felt their evil thoughts." She looked Xena sternly in the eye. "They were planning on raping them all."

"What do I do now?" The anger and fight were out of Xena now, replaced with concern and love for the storyteller. Artemis moved over to a marble slab and sat down, motioning for Xena to do the same.

"Love her, Xena. That’s what she needs. Love her and stand by her, no matter what. Anything less will kill her, do you understand?"

"I do love her, Artemis."

"I know you do, child. You’ve only just begun to realize the depth of the love she has for you. You have to be patient and tolerant with her for quite some time before this issue resolves itself. Understand this, things will never be the same between you two. This can rip you apart, or it can bring you together in a way you’ve never dreamed of. It all depends on you, Xena. You have to believe in yourself and in Gabrielle’s love for you. She may try to push you away. She may make decisions that you don’t like or don’t make sense to you. But you have to hang in there and love her, just love her." Xena nodded, not totally understanding, but understanding enough. Artemis’ face became stern again. "Xena, if you need support, you are welcome to come to me. I will appear before you if you request it. But here this, mortal. I am very tolerant of you because of your quest for redemption and because of the love that my queen has for you. I will not, however, tolerate any more tantrums in my temple or any more insults from you, do you understand?" Her last words were said through gritted teeth.

"Yes goddess." Xena said quietly. Artemis’ face softened slightly.

"Your lack of respect for the gods is well known on Mount Olympus, Xena. I imagine most of that distrust is a result of Ares. I have no quarrel with you, despite your past. Don’t have one with me, especially when I’ve done nothing to deserve it. I have listened to Gabrielle’s prayers for you and have helped whenever I could. If it weren’t for that beautiful woman’s love for you, you would have been in Tartarus long ago. Now, let’s call a truce. I respect what you’re trying to do with your life now, Xena. Take care of Gabrielle." The vision of the Moon Goddess and Protector of the Amazons faded, leaving Xena alone in the temple. She sat there quietly, piecing together all the information she had, deciding on what to do. After a long period of introspection, she quietly rose and left the temple. The priestess and aids scurried in, expecting mass destruction, and were completely surprised to find everything as it was. No one had ever entered the temple and yelled at the goddess like that before. The temple keepers were left looking at each other in disbelief.

Ephiny had been summoned at the word that the former Destroyer-of-Nations had gone berserk and attacked Artemis’ temple. She (and six royal guards) stopped Xena just as she left the temple. She had expected to see fury and anger on the warrior’s face, but saw only sorrow and loss.

"You know." The Amazon said quietly.

"How did you…?" Xena’s face betrayed her surprise.

"I spoke with the girls. The older ones told me. She needs you, Xena. Go to her." Xena nodded and headed back to the palace, unsure of what to say or do, but knowing that she had to do something.

Xena entered Gabrielle’s room just as dusk was settling in on the village. "How are you?" She asked as she took a chair and sat down. Gabrielle was sitting on the bed, her back against the wall, feet tucked up underneath her.

"I’m fine, how are you? I heard you went storming into Artemis’ temple this afternoon."

"How did…"

"Word travels quickly in a small village, Xena. Besides, don’t you think they would tell the queen if someone was engaging a goddess in the middle of the village? Not to mention the fact that it was you?"

"Sorry, guess I wasn’t thinking." Xena said sheepishly, her face showing her embarrassment.

"Nope, guess not."

"I guess it must been a frightening sight for them, huh?"

"You scared the living daylights out of our poor priestess. Can you imagine what she was thinking? A furious warrior enters the temple and starts yelling at the goddess, what would you think?"

"I would think there would be one less warrior in the world."

"Exactly. Xena, what made you do something like that? What made you so angry that you yelled at Artemis? What could possibly upset you so much?" As many times as Gabrielle had seen Xena’s anger, she had never seen it directed at Artemis or any other god, save Ares. Xena lowered her eyes and focused on the floor. When she did speak, her voice was noticeably shaky.

"I know what happened, Gabrielle." She took a deep breath. "I heard two of the mothers talking about it. That’s what Jors’ mother meant when she said that she knew what you did to protect her daughter. You sacrificed yourself." Her last words were practically whispered, the meaning of them hurting the warrior’s heart so much.

"I had no choice, Xena. I couldn’t let them go through that." Neither woman looked at the other. The words were hard enough for them to come by as it was, even for the bard. "I’m their queen. I swore to protect them with my life if necessary. How could I do any less?"

"You couldn’t, Gabrielle. Your heart is too pure." The blue eyes of the warrior were blurred with excess moisture. "Gabrielle, you need to see a healer."

"I can’t." The storyteller closed her eyes to block the tears. Xena looked up at her.

"Gabrielle, it doesn’t have to be me. You can see Saras, if you prefer. But you need to be checked." A small choke interrupted her words. "I don’t want to lose you over this. I love you." Gabrielle’s blue-green eyes opened and looked into the tear-filled blue ones. She saw pain, concern, and most importantly, love in Xena’s eyes. Time passed as they quietly looked at each other, their minds digesting the information.

"I don’t want you to see…" Gabrielle’s words were cut off by a sob she couldn’t stifle. Xena bolted from the chair and moved onto the bed, pulling the crying bard into her arms. Gabrielle held on to her fiercely, drawing the comfort she so desperately needed from Xena’s strong arms.

"Shh…It’s okay…it’s going to be all right now, Gabrielle…No one’s going to hurt you now…shh…" Xena repeated the words over and over, letting her own tears fall as she felt Gabrielle’s own against her shoulder.

A soft knock announcing dinner startled them both. "Just a minute." Xena yelled as she and Gabrielle separated and wiped their eyes. One look at the queen’s red and puffy eyes told Xena that she didn’t want to be seen like this. Xena walked over to the door.

"I’ll take care of it." Xena said as she opened the door and reached for the tray. The serving girl nodded and handed the meal over. Xena closed the door and set the food on the table, then went back to the bed and sat down next to Gabrielle. The warrior left some space between them, not certain if the bard wanted any more physical contact.

"Thanks." Gabrielle said quietly, her gaze focused on a small tapestry on the wall.

"Do you feel like eating?" She asked, hoping that Gabrielle’s infamous appetite was still there. Xena heard of women starving themselves to death after being raped. She flinched noticeably at the thought.

"Not really, I haven’t been able to keep much down lately."

"Gabrielle, I know you may not want to, but you really should try. You know how important food is. Please, for me?" Xena begged, having no pride at all when it came to protecting her little bard. Gabrielle knew how hard it was for Xena to ask for anything, much less plead for it.

"I’ll try." She followed Xena to the table. A thought occurred to her. "Xena, will you have some with me? After all, I bet spending the afternoon yelling at Artemis must have worked up an appetite." Her attempt at humor was not lost on her friend.

"Sure, I guess I could stand to put away some food." Since the cook planned on Gabrielle having her normal appetite, there was plenty of food. However, there was only one set of utensils. They passed the utensils back and forth while they ate and talked.

"Xena, would you move in here with me?" Gabrielle asked as she shoved a piece of bread into her mouth. "I mean, mmph, would you stay here in this room with me instead of next door?"

"Anything you want, Gabrielle. I’ll get someone to help me move the bed in."

"Do you think they can put it next to mine, instead of all the way over by the other wall?" She wanted Xena close by, to protect her, but not in the same bed.

"Sure." Xena was happy to stay with her. "Gabrielle?"

"Mmm?" She was chewing on a sticky bun.

"If you hadn’t asked, I would have. I don’t want to be too far away from you. I don’t want to fail…" Her own emotions were too close to the surface for her to bear. Xena stood up quickly and turned away from the bard’s concerned gaze.

"Fail at what, Xena?" Gabrielle’s voice held the soft, loving, concerned tone that always gave encouragement and comfort to Xena.

"Fail to protect you again." The warrior admitted. She sat back down, but looked at the table instead of the blue-green eyes.

"You didn’t fail me, Xena." Gabrielle reached over and put her hand on Xena’s. "I’m the one who left, the one who ran away instead of facing my fears, not you. You did nothing wrong, Xena." Gabrielle gave the warrior’s hand a gentle squeeze, then pulled back. She looked at the now empty plates of food. "I guess we were both more hungry than we thought, huh?" A crooked smile came to her lips.

"I guess so, my little eating machine." Xena teased. An unexpected burp came from her mouth, sending them both into little chuckles.

"Sounds like you had enough too, my big dumb warrior." Gabrielle teased back. Her voice got quiet and her smile faded as she looked downward again. "Do you need to talk any more tonight?"

"No, Gabrielle. We can talk more when you’re ready." Xena caught the word ‘need’ instead of the usual ‘want’. Gabrielle didn’t want to talk about it any more. Xena stood and busied herself with cleaning up the tray of dishes. Gabrielle stopped her.

"I’ll do that. You move the furniture."

They each slept in their own beds, pressed up against each other. At some point during the night, Gabrielle’s hand reached out and laid on top of Xena’s. Morning found them both on the edges of their beds, hands on each other’s forearms.

Saras gave Gabrielle a thorough examination that left the bard in tears, despite the healers best efforts to provide comfort. The queen had made Xena wait outside, unable to stand the thought of her seeing what had been done to her. "You can sit up and put your clothes back on now, my Queen."

"Please call me Gabrielle."

"As you wish, my-I mean Gabrielle." Saras walked over to the door and motioned for Xena to come in. They waited beyond a privacy screen until Gabrielle was finished dressing, then joined her in the small examination room.

Saras took a deep breath and looked over at Gabrielle. "Are you sure you want her to know everything?" She had wanted to tell the queen the extent of her injuries in private, but the stubborn woman insisted that she wanted Xena to be there.

"Yeah." Gabrielle said quietly as she looked into the blue eyes for support. Xena smiled back gently.

"There are no injuries that required stitches." Saras started with the good news first. Xena released a breath that she didn’t realize she’d been holding. The healer continued. "However, she does have a nasty infection on her left breast." Gabrielle lowered her head in shame, blinking to keep the tears back. Xena moved over to stand next to her.

"It’s all right, Gabrielle. It wasn’t your fault. You have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of." The bard nodded, but still kept her head down. Xena turned her attention back to Saras. "What kind of wound?"

"They’re bite marks, Xena."


"There’s more than one set of teeth marks on each breast. Two of the sets on the left one are infected." Saras took a step forward and put her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. The bard jumped noticeably at the sudden contact and pulled back. The healer quickly removed her hand. "Are you sure you want me to go on?" Gabrielle nodded and moved closer to Xena, pulling the warrior’s hand into hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. She gave a small smile when the squeeze was returned. Saras took another deep breath before continuing. "Her sex is inflamed and there is some severe bruising but I don’t foresee any permanent damage. I worry more about the bite marks than anything else, except pregnancy."

Xena looked up at the healer in horror. Pregnancy, she’d never even gave it a thought. "Do you have the herbs here?"

"Well, we don’t have much use for them here in Amazonia, as you well know, but yes, I do have a supply of them." Saras answered.

"What are they for?" Gabrielle asked.

"To eliminate the possibility of a pregnancy." Saras explained.

"To eliminate? No." Gabrielle shook her head emphatically. "I can’t do that. I won’t take an innocent life."

"Gabrielle, it’s not a life, not yet. If you take the herbs, you can prevent it from becoming one." Xena reasoned.

"Xena, I don’t want this to happen anymore than you do, trust me. But I won’t take a life, any life. We don’t even know if I’m pregnant, but if I am, then it’s too late to do anything about it anyway." Her eyes flashed with determination.

"Gabrielle, you don’t want this to happen. You don’t want to give birth to…" Xena couldn’t even say the words for what she thought of those men or any offspring they might create.

"I don’t have a choice, Xena. I won’t take a life. Especially an innocent one."

"But what about the risk to you? Do you know what can happen during childbirth? You’re so small, Gabrielle, and they…you just can’t take that chance. You can’t risk your life like that."

"Xena!" Gabrielle raised her voice a little louder than she meant to. "It’s my body, it’s my choice." She turned to Saras. "How long before we know for certain?"

"At least three more quarter-moons."

"Fine. We’ll wait twenty-one days and see what happens. Is there anything else that I need to know about, Saras?" Gabrielle lowered her tone, but still did not release Xena’s hand, much to the warrior’s relief. This was a subject that they had never talked about, and it was obvious that both women had strong opinions on the matter.

"No, that’s pretty much it. Take hot baths and change the bandages frequently. Oh, one more thing." She walked over to the window and picked up a large plant. "This is an Aloe plant. After the infection is gone, use the sap from the leaves as a salve. It will help prevent scarring." Gabrielle took the plant with relief. That was one thing that she had been worrying about. She didn’t know if she could go the rest of her life with visible reminders of the trauma. She thanked the healer and allowed Xena to lead her back to their room. Both were silent on the trip, knowing that words were going to be exchanged once they were behind walls.

Nothing was spoken about the matter until later in the evening, both women struggling with their emotions on the matter. The Gods refused to render a decision on ending pregnancies, leaving the choice up to the individuals involved to make. It seemed that everyone felt rather strongly about it, one way or the other.

"Xena, let me speak first. Then, I’ll be quiet and let you have your peace, okay?" Gabrielle waiting for the warrior to nod before continuing. She was sitting on the bed, curled up against the wall, Xena sitting cross-legged on her own bed, facing the bard. "Xena, I know you only want what’s best for me, but you have to understand that I’m not changing my position on the matter. A life is a life is a life to me. I can’t take one, no matter what the circumstances are. I don’t force that belief onto others, you know me better than that. I can’t punish an innocent child for the sins of the father. There’s nothing we can do for the next three quarter-moons, so I’d like to drop it until we know for sure." Gabrielle stopped speaking and looked down at the bed. Xena took a long pause before speaking.

"I have always respected your devotion to your blood innocence, you know that. I also know that you’re a grown woman, capable of making your own decisions."

"I won’t change my position on this, Xena."

"I know, Gabrielle." Xena said in a slightly defeated tone.

"One more thing."

"What?" Xena said. Gabrielle moved away from the wall and sat right in front of Xena, their eyes only inches apart. There was a deadly seriousness to Gabrielle’s tone when she spoke.

"I’m aware that you know which herbs to use and how to use them. If I am pregnant and you do anything…I…would never…ever forgive you." Xena’s eyes flickered as she briefly thought that the bard had read her mind. It would have been easy, so very easy, to hide the herbs within a soup or a dinner. Gabrielle moved away and rolled over, grimacing as the bandaged breast announced that the infection was still there.

"What is it?" Xena was at her side in an instant, looking for the source of the pain.

"Oww." Gabrielle groaned as her arms instinctively moved to cover her breasts. "I think it’s time to change the bandages."

"Oh." Xena said quietly. Gabrielle looked at her seriously. There had been no discussion about changing the bandages. Saras had assumed that Xena would change them and Xena hadn’t given it any thought, so much more her mind was on another matter.

Gabrielle had thought about it but had not made a decision. Letting Xena change the dressings would reveal the terrible marks that were made. Gabrielle knew all too well how strong the warrior’s feelings were about rape. She didn’t know how Xena would react to the bright red semi-circles that stood out against her pale breasts. She also knew how much she had cried when Saras had touched her breasts earlier in the day, more from emotional feelings than physical ones. Could she handle someone else touching her again, ever? The other thought tugged at the back of her mind, knowing that it was not yet the time to come out. Gabrielle sadly wondered if it would ever be able to come out.

"Gabrielle, I’ll understand if…" Xena offered a way out, although she wasn’t totally sure which one the offer was for. She had been torn earlier when they were at the healer’s. She wanted to be there for Gabrielle, but at the same time, didn’t know if she could look at the injuries without crying or screaming in rage. So strong were her feelings for honey haired woman. Xena knew in the corner of her heart there was a monster banging on the door, raging to be freed. She also knew that a sorrow greater than any she’d ever known before was waiting for her to release it from the room that it was locked in. Never in her life had the mighty warrior been so afraid of her feelings.

"Uh, I don’t know what to do. I want you to help, to take care of me, but I’m scared too, can you understand that?" The pleading yet gentle tone tugged at the warrior’s heart, threatening to send all the doors open.

"I understand, Gabrielle. I’ll talk you through it, tell you everything that has to be done. You decide what to do, okay?" Xena made sure her voice was gentle and soft.

"I can stop anytime?" She knew she didn’t have to ask, but fear made her do so anyway.

"Anytime, Gabrielle." There was a deadly seriousness to the warrior’s voice. "I won’t hurt you."

Gabrielle turned her back to Xena and removed her shift. She slowly unwrapped the bandages. Xena held a bowl with warm water and a clean cloth. Gabrielle moved over to the headboard and leaned her back against it. Her eyes locked on Xena’s, she lowered her trembling arms.

Xena kept her eyes on the bard’s face, the blue-green eyes reminded her of a frightened doe. The full lower lip quivered slightly, the jaw tightly clenched. Slowly Gabrielle lowered closed her eyes, unable to look at whatever reaction Xena would have to seeing the marks. Xena lowered her eyes slowly, cautiously, afraid of what she would see. She was unable to strangle a small cry in her throat when she saw the marks. The tear the warrior thought she could blink away fell down her cheek. Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly, noticing first the tear, then the look of empathy on Xena’s face.

"Doesn’t look good, does it?" She said quietly, needing to break the heavy silence.

"Uhm…" Xena’s normally deep voice seemed to be pitched higher. "You have to wash the old salve off." She forced something other than sadness into her voice and held the wet cloth out for Gabrielle.

"Yeah." She took the cloth. Gabrielle cleaned without looking, knowing all too well the effect the marks had on her tear ducts. Xena watched the bard’s face, unwilling to look at the crimson reminders any more than she had to. Gabrielle held the cloth out, indicating that she was finished. She wiped her eyes and held her hand out for the salve. Xena handed her the small jar of medicine and watched as the bard applied the black, gooey paste wherever she felt the marks were. Satisfied that they were covered, she handed Xena back the jar and wiped her fingers on the wet cloth. "I can’t wrap the bandages myself, Xena."

"Okay, um…move up here and sit up, I’ll get it." She took two squares of cloth and a long wrapping and moved behind Gabrielle. "You’ll have to raise your arms." Gabrielle started to move her elbows, then brought them back down.

"I can’t see you." Her voice trembled. "I need to see you."

Xena moved around quickly, but gently, not wanting to startle the storyteller. She sat facing her, making sure there was sufficient distance between them so that Gabrielle didn’t feel threatened. She waited for the bard to raise her arms.

"Be gentle." She barely whispered as she raised her arms. Xena leaned forward slowly, bringing her arms around Gabrielle’s back and starting the wrappings. As she brought her hand around the side, she whispered in a serious voice.

"You know I will. I won’t hurt you, Gabrielle. I love you too much." She quickly placed the squares of cloth over the wounds and continued the wrapping.

"You know this is killing me." Gabrielle said it so solemnly that Xena snapped her head up to look at her. The bard met her gaze. "I can’t write, I can’t think of stories, I can’t think of anything else but what happened." Xena tied off the end of the bandage and handed her the shift.

"Do you want to talk about it, Gabrielle?"

"No, not yet." Her look turned thoughtful. "Xena? Would you sleep with me tonight? Hold me?"

"Anything you want, Gabrielle. I’m here for you."

"I want you to hold me tonight."

That night turned into two quarter-moons of nights. Gabrielle would clean the fading marks and Xena would wrap them. Then they would sleep together, Xena against the wall, the smaller bard tucking against her. Through the process of tossing and turning, Xena usually woke to find herself on her back, half of Gabrielle’s body on top of her, pinning her down. Every morning found her more unwilling to bolt out of bed, enjoying the closeness and intimacy instead.

They still spoke little of the rape, creating an uneasy silence around them most of the time. Occasionally Gabrielle would express an emotion with words, but only twice had she broken down into tears, allowing Xena to comfort her. Gabrielle wouldn’t let Xena leave her side, even to tend to Argo. The bard would stand there in the stable, staring at the hay or talking niceties with the Amazons who were in there taking care of their own charges. Xena had not yet been able to vent her own feelings, they were still too strong for her to vocalize. She would wait to see what the results of the test were before she took time to go to the forest and release her fury in private.

Several times Xena tried to get Gabrielle to write down her feelings, thoughts, anything at all. Each time the bard refused, citing tiredness or just saying no. Gabrielle’s feelings were all over the place. What if she was pregnant? What would she do? She knew that the Amazons would be willing to care for the child, but could she leave? If she was pregnant, would Xena stay? Xena was a warrior, a restless spirit. She couldn’t stand to be in any one place for more than a few days. How could she possibly expect the warrior to settle down in one village, even if it was Amazonia? Gabrielle sadly feared that a pregnancy would cost her Xena. The night before the test, Xena held her while she cried with no explanation given for the tears. Gabrielle couldn’t tell her that the tears were for fear of her leaving.

Saras was pleased with the progress. The wounds were now a pale pink. She told Gabrielle to start using the liquid from the aloe leaves. She no longer needed to wear the bandages, but still preferred the full white Amazon tunic to her usual half top. On the plus side, her appetite had returned, and on a rare occasion, even her sense of humor.

"Xena?" She gently nudged the sleeping form behind her.

"Mmm?" Xena’s face was buried in the honey colored tresses and she was in no mood to move. She had quickly adjusted to curling up with the bard at night.

"Why did you come after me?" Xena’s eyes popped open at the question. Gabrielle wanted to talk! She was wide awake and alert now.

"I had to. I couldn’t let you go without talking to you."

"What did you want to say?" Gabrielle left the loaded question in the air, giving Xena a chance to choose her answer. "After reading the note, Xena, what did you want to say to me?" She rolled over to meet the blue eyes with her own blue-green ones. Their faces were inches apart. She whispered. "Say it."

"I love you. I don’t want you to leave my life. I came after you because I can’t live without you."

"And now?" The question took Xena aback. Gabrielle’s intense gaze, visible by the full moon, spoke of the significance of the answer.

"I feel the same way, probably even more so." Not sure if she should say it, she continued. "I love you, Gabrielle. I have for a long time now. I’m sorry I never had the courage to tell you before you left." She was silence by Gabrielle’s finger against her lips, a delicious feeling indeed.

"I want to know something. Will you let me find out?" Gabrielle’s voice held an almost hypnotic quality to it, pulling Xena in. The bard’s face showed her nervousness. Xena nodded gently, not trusting herself to speak.

Xena waited as Gabrielle slowly traced the warrior’s lips with her delicate fingers. "I never knew you’re lips were this soft." The bard murmured. Xena remained still, knowing that Gabrielle had to control whatever would happen. She felt the bard move closer, lips scant finger widths away. "I can’t promise…" Gabrielle’s words were cut off when she pressed her lips against Xena’s. The kiss was gentle, tentative. She pulled back slightly, looking into the familiar blue eyes. Gabrielle moved forward and tasted her lips again. The second kiss was less tentative, more curious. Gabrielle’s bardic lust for new sensations and feelings brought her tongue out to graze along Xena’s lower lip. Xena was unable to stifle the small groan that rose in her throat. Gabrielle’s kisses were as soft as cotton, more gentle than Xena could have imagined. Her lip tingled where the bard’s tongue had caressed it. Gabrielle pulled back, putting a friendly distance between them. Her blue-green eyes were dark with emotion. "I don’t know what I can give you, Xena. I can’t ask you to be patient forever, but…" She brought her mouth back close to Xena’s. Their breaths mingled in front of them. Xena’s eyes were on the bard’s lips and where they were headed. "I like…this." She kissed the warrior with slightly more passion and more curiosity. Gabrielle’s tongue gently parted the lips and slipped in. She tasted port in Xena’s mouth and her body instantly froze. Xena felt the reaction, watching Gabrielle with concern as she pulled back and shifted her body away slightly. "I need time."

"Take all the time you want, Gabrielle. I’m not going anywhere." There was a long silence before Gabrielle spoke again.

"I’m sorry I got spooked." She said softly.

"Talk to me, Gabrielle…Let me in." Xena’s plea begged the young woman to take a chance and reveal the truth.


"Oh." Xena understood. Gabrielle rolled over and pressed her body against Xena’s, reaching back to pull the warrior’s strong arm down across her belly. A belly that may be getting much bigger soon, she thought sadly. As she drifted off to sleep, Xena made a mental note not to drink any more port.

Xena paced around like an expectant parent while they waited for Saras to give them the results. Twice she had loomed over the healer’s shoulder, trying to find out for herself. Both times resulted in quick-witted comments and thinly veiled threats being hurled back and forth. It was only through Gabrielle’s power of title did Saras not throw the agitated warrior out of the hut. The bard thought that smoke was going to come out of Xena’s ears by the time Saras motioned for them to sit down.

"Well?" Xena didn’t bother to hide the agitation in her voice. Saras looked at Gabrielle and smiled gently.

"Not pregnant." The look of relief was evident on all three faces. This part of the nightmare was over. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks, both knowing that the worst part was yet to be faced. They thanked Saras and went back to the palace, a thick cloud of silence over them. Until now, they had both been holding their thoughts and feelings back, waiting for the news. There was nothing to hide behind now, the ugly truths and fears would soon have to be faced, for both of them.

"I noticed that you didn’t have any port with dinner. Why?" Gabrielle’s question woke the sleeping warrior. Gabrielle rolled over to face her. "Why didn’t you, Xena? Were you afraid it would bother me?" Blue-green eyes bore into blue ones, begging for the deep truth behind the action. Xena’s jaw clenched slightly as she chose her words.

"I don’t want anything I do to cause you pain, Gabrielle. You’ve been through enough already." Her eyes closed tightly, her body trying to hold back a painful fear. Gabrielle’s small hand reached out to touch the chiseled features of Xena’s cheek.

"What? There’s something you’re not telling me." Her hand stayed still, except for her thumb, which gently stroked the bronzed skin. Xena opened her eyes, looking into the storyteller’s, trying to draw courage from her.

"I don’t know what to do, Gabrielle. I’m not sure when a word or a touch is going to trigger a reaction from you." A long silence fell between them, Gabrielle knowing that it was now time for her to open up. Never had words come so hard for the bard.

"I’m not sure either. Sometimes I worry that a campfire, or the hard ground, or any number of things that make up our lives will never be the same." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I remember it all, Xena. Every sound, every smell, every…" She sat up and tucked her legs under herself. Xena quietly did the same. The pale moonlight gave a dim glow to the room. Gabrielle’s hands fidgeted in her lap, her eyes watching them. "There were three of them, you know."

"I know." Another long silence followed.

"How many did you kill?"



"The tall, thin one and the big one."

Gabrielle closed her eyes, remembering their faces above her, taunting her, hurting her. "Thank you." She reached out and took Xena’s hand in her own, focusing her gaze on them. "I love you, Xena. I ran from you and you came after me, then you stayed with me. You’ve been very patient with me and I appreciate that."

"If I’ve been patient, it’s only because I learned it from you. Gabrielle, I love you. That won’t change, no matter what you tell me, do you understand? No matter what happened, my feelings for you will still be the same."

"Xena?" Gabrielle paused. "What if I can never make love again? Gods knows I want you, but…" She let the thought hang, there was no need to finish it.

"Gabrielle, I think it’s a little soon to be thinking about that."

"Yeah, I guess it is." She looked thoughtfully at Xena. "But I do. I think of you. I think of how it would feel to touch you, kiss you, love you. I thought those feelings would go away for a while, but they haven’t. I don’t know what to do." Her thumb moved more firmly against the warrior’s cheek, the motions conveying an underlying desire within the storyteller. Xena leaned into the warm hand and gave it a gentle kiss.

"You do what you feel you’re ready for. You can stop anytime you need to. I won’t push you, Gabrielle. I won’t ask for more than you’re willing to give."

Gently pressing Xena down to the bed, she laid down next to her, faces only inches apart. "Tell me." Her warm breath caressed Xena’s lips.

"I love you, Gabrielle." She was rewarded with a feather-light kiss.

"Mmm, tell me again."

"I love you." Gabrielle kissed her again for the words, then once more for the pleasure of feeling Xena’s lips against hers.

"Nice." Gabrielle murmured as she looked down at the blue eyes through half-closed lids. "I like the way you kiss, Xena. Very soft."

Xena was barely able to think, much less speak. The bard’s kisses had a dizzying effect on her senses, leaving her dazed and breathless. Xena knew at that moment she would be forever helpless to the storyteller’s touch. Gabrielle’s hand moved down to gently trace the strong jawline she had dreamed about so often. Her lips tentatively followed her hand, placing gentle kisses from ear to chin and back. "Xena." Her warm breath and hypnotic voice sent a shudder through the helpless warrior. Gabrielle smiled gently at this feat. "I love you too." She flicked her tongue across the earlobe before giving it a gentle kiss.

Gabrielle took her time placing kisses all over Xena’s bare skin. She explored the warrior’s throat, causing soft groans from both women. Her tongue tasted its way around the soft skin, tracing every line, feeling every corded muscle, memorizing Xena’s body. The bard lost herself into the feelings, reveling in the reactions she was creating from the raven-haired beauty. Only when she was satisfied that she had kissed every inch of Xena’s face, neck, and shoulders did she bring her mouth back to the warrior’s lips. Another series of dizzying kisses followed before the storyteller finally laid back and looked at the ceiling. "I’ve always wanted to kiss you like that."

"I’m glad you did." Xena’s breathless reply caused another smirk of satisfaction from the bard.

"You okay?" Gabrielle asked seriously, turning her head to face Xena.

"Yeah." She said softly. "I’m fine, Gabrielle. How are you doing?"

"It…was nice. It was all I ever hoped kissing you would be and more." She leaned over and gave Xena one more kiss. "Hold me." She curled up into the warrior’s strong embrace and quickly fell into a deep sleep. Xena laid awake for a while longer, enjoying the closeness and love that came from the bard in her arms.

Within two quarter-moons, the bite marks were barely noticeable. Gabrielle continued to cover them with the liquid from the aloe plant, noting that most looked like they wouldn’t scar. She kept her back to Xena while she did this, although more and more she wanted to have the warrior apply the aloe instead.

The nights were still full of gentle talk and kisses. They had moved the extra bed out of the room since they now sleep together, snuggled up so tight that even air didn’t pass between their bodies. Xena made herself content with the multitude of kisses that the bard gave. She always let Gabrielle lead the dance, fighting her own desires to make the bard as breathless as she made her.

It had been an extremely hot day and both women were dusty and sweaty. They had spent the day at the training grounds, working out with the other Amazons. The minute they entered the palace, Gabrielle ordered food to be sent up, as well as a hot bath. Both women rested on the bed until the knock on the door indicated one of the items they had ordered was ready.

"I don’t know which I prefer, food or a bath." Gabrielle said as she sniffed herself. "Oh, I think I want it to be the bath." Xena chuckled at the bard’s grimaced face as she went to answer the door.

"You must really stink to pick a bath over food." The warrior teased. She opened the door to see several serving girls with buckets of water. Letting them in, she realized that the food was there as well. The Amazons emptied the buckets quickly and left. Gabrielle hopped up and went to check the temperature of the water, having seen the steam pouring out from across the room.

"Ye Gods!" She exclaimed as she brought her hand back. "Hades, that’s hot! What are they trying to do? Boil the dirt off my skin?" Gabrielle’s exclamations brought a chuckle from the warrior.

"Come over here and eat, Gabrielle. The water will cool down enough by the time we’re done." Xena said, taking pity on the dejected bard. Gabrielle grumbled and flopped down into her chair.

"I wanted to take a bath first and…what’s this? Mmm, fresh venison…and nutbread?" All thoughts of the bath were forgotten as the always hungry queen worked her way through the plates of food. Xena knew enough to fill her plate with what she wanted before the bard ate everything in sight. Conversation was actually pleasant and cheerful. Gabrielle chattered on about the day at the training grounds. She told Xena about who she sparred with, the latest gossip she had heard, all the little conversational things that she loved to talk about that Xena had missed. She contentedly sat back and listened to Gabrielle lose herself in the memories of the pleasant day. Only when she heard the story about the two Amazons on a horse for the third time did she finally interrupt.

"Gabrielle, I think the bath is ready."

"What? Oh, I guess I was rambling, huh?" Xena didn’t answer, she just gave the bard a lopsided grin. Gabrielle smiled back and went to check the water. "Perfect." She quickly started to remove her sweat-soaked garments. Xena watched her unlace her boots and wondered if she should leave or not.

"Gabrielle?" The bard pulled off her boot, then looked up to see the questioning expression on the warrior’s face. "Do you want me to leave?" Xena wasn’t sure what to do. Before the rape, they had never bothered with privacy amongst themselves, always chattering away while they bathed. Since then, evenings were quiet and baths were private for Gabrielle, although she made no effort to leave when Xena took hers. Tonight had been different. There had been conversation, laughter, even gentle teasing. The evening had the atmosphere of evenings past, when the two friends did everything together, well, almost everything.

Gabrielle thought about the question for a moment. It had been so automatic for Xena to leave when she took her bath that they never spoke about it or questioned it. Now Xena was asking her to make the decision. She looked at the warrior thoughtfully for a moment before answering. "No. Stay with me." Xena moved from the chair and stood next to the bard.

"I love you, Gabrielle. I’m not asking for anything or pushing you."

"I know, Xena. I want you to stay." Gabrielle stared into the electric blue eyes she loved and lost herself to her visions of a wet, naked warrior for a moment. Breaking the gaze and clearing her throat, she decided to take a chance. "Xena, do you think we can try to share the bath? Just a bath?" Gabrielle knew she didn’t have to repeat the last part. Xena had made no effort to push her, accepting only what she had been willing to give, but part of her still needed the affirmation.

"Only if you want to, Gabrielle." The bard’s eyes returned to the blue ones.

"I think I do."

Xena started to unlace the white tunic she had been wearing since they came to the village. In the intense heat, it was suicide to continue running around in the brown leather when there was a much cooler way to stay covered. Gabrielle’s small hands came out and covered the warrior’s. "Let me." She said. Xena let her arms fall down to her side, steeling herself for the delicious experience that was about to happen. Gabrielle opened the tunic and slipped it off Xena’s shoulders, exposing the warrior’s upper body to her. She had seen Xena naked before, but not usually this close unless she was covered with blood. In the candlelight, the warrior’s body shone with a beauty that Gabrielle had not seen before. Her eyes brazenly looked over Xena’s chest, noting every faded and not so faded scar. She licked her lips subconsciously as her gaze fell on the darkened nipples that rested upon the full round breasts.

"Breathe, Gabrielle." A startled bard realized that she had indeed been holding her breath, so intent was she on her study of the woman before her.

"S-Sorry. I was just…" She stammered and blushed furiously. Xena chuckled and arched her eyebrow at the sight of the blushing bard.

"I know what you were doing, Gabrielle." She teased gently. "I just didn’t want you to pass out from lack of air." Gabrielle moved forward quickly, wrapping her arms around Xena’s neck, pulling the tall woman’s mouth to hers. Her lips spoke of the passion that burned within her. The bard’s curious tongue parted the willing lips and explored Xena’s mouth. She brought her lips back to Xena’s again and again, trying to fill what seemed like an insatiable thirst for the warrior’s mouth.

She pressed her body against Xena’s, feeling the heat between them through the tunic she still wore. She marveled at the soft pressure of Xena’s breasts against her body, the warmth of her breath, the sound of the warrior’s strong heart beating within her chest. Only when she felt Xena’s legs tremble slightly did Gabrielle release her hold and stand back. She slid her hands from around the neck down to hold her forearms.

"I like kissing you, Xena." Gabrielle’s voice was slightly raspy. Unable to resist, she moved back in for one more quick kiss. "Yeah, I really do." She said softly.

"The water will get cold." Xena said as she regained the use of her voice. She reached out to help Gabrielle out of her tunic, then remembered and pulled back. The bard noticed, but did not say anything. She had another decision to make.

"Uh, let’s get in there." She backed away and waited. Xena understood the message and removed her skirt and breeches. She went to get into the tub when she saw the look in Gabrielle’s eyes. It froze her to her place. "By the gods, you are beautiful." Gabrielle said in awe of the vision before her.

"Only in your eyes, Gabrielle. Only in your eyes." She responded.

"Mine are all that matter."

Gabrielle kept her eyes on Xena as she undressed. She noted, with some relief, that there was no hunger in the blue eyes, only a soft gentleness mixed with concern.

"Do you want me to turn away?" Xena offered gently.

"No." Gabrielle lowered the tunic and watched Xena’s reaction. The warrior glanced at the soft mounds, but betrayed no emotions on her face. Gabrielle needed to know. "Say something, Xena." The raven-haired woman had to swallow before she could speak.

"You, my love, are the one who is beautiful."

"I was afraid…" Gabrielle lowered her eyes at a painful memory. "I was afraid that you wouldn’t…find me…"

"I do find you beautiful, and desirable." Xena wasn’t sure if she should say that or not, but she thought that Gabrielle needed to hear it. The look of relief on the bard’s face told her that she had said the right thing.

"And you say I have a way with words." Gabrielle chuckled, lightening the mood. She quickly removed the rest of her clothes, turning slightly as she lowered her breeches. She noticed gratefully that Xena had found a spot on the wall more interesting than her right now. It was almost as if the warrior could read her mind and sense her moods. She quickly climbed into the still warm water, sinking until her shoulders were covered. "Ahh." She sighed. "Oh, Xena. Get in here, the water’s great."

Being the Queen, Gabrielle had the luxury of a large tub. It was wide enough that they could have sat comfortably side by side. It was as long as Xena was tall, giving them plenty of room to move around. Gabrielle slid forward, indicating that Xena should climb in behind her. The warrior quickly obliged, sliding her legs alongside either of Gabrielle’s, making a nice hollow for the bard to lean into. Xena slid her body back slightly until she felt the firmness of the tub against her. Gabrielle moved her body back until she felt the softness of Xena’s breasts against her back. The bard let out a sigh as their skin met, much to the enjoyment of the warrior, who was doing all she could not to pull their bodies together herself. Gabrielle pressed herself even closer before relaxing her body against the now tense body behind her. "This is nice." She laid her head against the strong shoulder behind her, letting the honey tresses fall against the bronze skin.

"Yes it is." Xena murmured as she inhaled the scent of Gabrielle’s hair against her face. "Gabrielle, do you want me to wash your hair?"

The soft words spoken so close to her ear made Gabrielle’s heart quicken. "Yes."

The longest hair-washing in the history of Amazonia was underway in the palace. Instead of dunking the bard’s head underwater, Xena cupped the liquid in her hand and let it slowly pour down. Gabrielle murmured something about don’t-let-me-fall-asleep and Xena replied with something about not-letting-her-drown. Both women chuckled as the gentle washing continued. The rinsing took longer than it should have because again, Xena used her hand to cup the water rather than dunking the bard.

Once the hair was washed, Xena reached for the soap and started to gently wash the layers of dirt and grime from behind Gabrielle’s ears.

"How can such little ears have so much dirt?" Xena gently teased as she continued to scrub, causing a small giggle from the honey-haired beauty. Gabrielle started a nonsense conversation to fill the air while Xena’s hands continued to wash her neck and shoulders. Leaning forward to allow better access, Gabrielle silently gave permission for Xena to wash her back. The bard went into a tale that she had told Xena before. It was a fairly long one, a cheery comedy that Xena usually enjoyed.

Xena’s soapy fingers had long ago finished cleaning the bard’s back. They were now just running along the skin, gently rubbing and massaging the muscles. The story was interrupted several times by the bard’s small sighs. Xena smiled each time and made a mental note of a way to distract the bard in the future. Gabrielle finished the story, seeming to add a few parts near the end to stretch it out. Xena didn’t remember those scenes before. She took it as a positive sign and smiled.

They switched positions and Gabrielle went into another story as she performed the same cleaning rituals that she had just felt on herself. It was now Xena’s turn to sigh with the gentle ministrations of Gabrielle’s fingers on her back. They washed the rest of their own bodies off and climbed out of the now cold water. Xena handed Gabrielle a towel to throw around her body. She grabbed another one and started to dry off the honey hair. Handing the towel to Gabrielle to finish, Xena grabbed two for herself and quickly dried off. She reached for a clean shift when she felt Gabrielle’s hand on her shoulder. "No." It was said softly, almost as a question. Xena gave her a small kiss on the forehead and climbed into the bed. Gabrielle stood there for a moment and took a deep breath before climbing in next to the naked warrior.

"Mmm, you’re warm." Gabrielle cooed, snuggling her naked body up tighter against Xena’s long frame.

"Yeah I am." Xena replied as she wrapped her arm around Gabrielle’s waist, careful not to squeeze too tight. She mentally cursed herself when she realize the double meaning of her words. "Sorry, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded."

"I know you didn’t, Xena. You’ve really been very patient with me. I don’t mean to tease you, and before you say it, I know I do sometimes." She rolled over to face the warrior. "But I do love you, I really do." She leaned in for a kiss. Then another. Then more until both women were dizzy from the exchange. Gabrielle brought her hand up to frame Xena’s cheek. There was an unspoken question in the bard’s eyes.

"What is it?" Xena prodded softly.

"Can I…"

"Anything you want, Gabrielle." Xena gently urged.

Gabrielle moved her hand down, running her fingers across the strong jaw, then down the muscled throat to the collarbone. Her eyes never left Xena’s as her hand descended, gently cupping the right breast. Her thumb brushed across the rapidly hardening nipple and Xena’s eye involuntarily closed at the contact. The warrior’s eyes opened to see an ear to ear grin beaming on the bard’s face. She couldn’t help but smile back.

"I like the way you react to my touch." Gabrielle said huskily as her thumb moved again, forcing Xena to catch a groan in her throat.

"I…like your touch…very much." Xena said through gasps as the bard’s fingers became more inquisitive. The forefinger and thumb had taken the nipple captive in their grip.

"I see that." The bard teased as her fingers gripped and released the nipple. She played for a brief while before releasing the nipple from its sweet torture. She looked at Xena thoughtfully, then with desire and longing. "Xena, would you…"

"Anything, Gabrielle. Just tell me what you want." Xena’s mind was reeling with the thought that Gabrielle might actually let her touch her in an intimate way.

"I want you to…kiss me the way I kiss you…but a little more." She actually started to blush. She reached over and lightly ran her forefinger along Xena’s lower lip. "I know you’d be gentle to them." Her eyes lowered to Xena’s breasts, indicating where she wanted to feel the warrior’s mouth on her body.

"Very gentle." Xena corrected as she gently pressed Gabrielle down to the bed. Propping herself up on one elbow, she placed gentle kisses on Gabrielle’s face and neck, imitating the motions that the bard had done previously. She placed a gentle string of kisses across Gabrielle’s upper chest, then stopped and looked at her questioningly. A look of concern came over Xena when she saw the concern and twinge of fear in Gabrielle’s face. "Gabrielle, we don’t have to do this."

"Shh." She placed a finger on Xena’s lips, one of the few times that she wanted the warrior to be quiet. "I want this, I really do, but I’m nervous…and maybe a little scared." Gabrielle got a serious look to her eye. "But I do trust you, Xena. I really do."

Xena moved up and placed a gentle kiss that spoke of the deep love she had. Moving downward, she kissed until she reached the swell of Gabrielle’s left breast. Starting at the far outer edge, Xena’s lips pressed down softly as they worked their way around in a circular pattern. The circle got just slightly smaller on each pass, driving both women half mad with anticipation. Gabrielle’s eyes were open, her head lifted slightly to watch Xena make love to her breast. Every move the warrior made spoke of great adoration and love. She was in no rush, no hurry. Xena wanted to savor the sensation, the feel of the bard’s youthful breast. She brushed her cheek across the firm swell, drinking in the feel of the flesh that she had yearned for so long. Her tongue came out and lightly grazed the skin. Gabrielle reacted immediately, moaning softly and pressing her body against the warrior’s. Keeping her mouth above the tender flesh, she reached out with her tongue and tasted the storyteller’s nipple, first tentatively, then with more firm strokes when she felt the bard arch her back.

"Yesss." Gabrielle growled softly as she closed her eyes. Her fingers insinuated themselves into the dark hair, her hands pressing Xena against her breast, asking for more. Using only her lips and tongue, Xena caressed the now hard nipple, alternating between gently flicks of the tongue and firmer kisses with her lips. Gabrielle writhed under the sensations, letting her body enjoy the gentle touch, until she felt her passion rising beyond the level where she could shut it down. "Enough." She whispered.

So intent was she on bringing the storyteller pleasure, Xena almost missed the whispered word. She quickly brought her head up, studying her face for signs of pain or discomfort. The intuitive woman realized what the warrior was thinking. "You’re fine, Xena. I just need to stop." She pulled the warrior up for a deep kiss before they settled back on the bed, naked and curled up to each other.

"Gabrielle, did I do anything…"

"No, love. You were very gentle and loving. I…enjoyed it."

"So did I. It’s nice to know that you react to my touches too." Xena blushed slightly at her own admission of powerlessness over the bard’s touch. "We have all the time in the world, Gabrielle, there’s no need to rush anything."

"I know." The bard replied. "That’s why I stopped. As good as it felt, I knew if I didn’t stop that it would lead to something more. I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet." An impish grin formed on the storyteller’s face as she rolled over to look at the blue eyes she loved. "But the parts I was ready for were…" She kissed her. "very…very…nice."

Xena felt herself melting under the onslaught of kisses. Gabrielle felt it too and decided to take pity on the poor warrior’s libido. "Sorry, I guess I got carried away." Gabrielle said sheepishly. Xena growled and playfully ruffled the bard’s hair, pleased when she didn’t see a panicked look in Gabrielle’s eyes at the unexpected contact.

"Just try not to kill me, okay?" Both women chuckled and kissed again before finally settling down to rest.

Gabrielle was just tickled that she had woken up before her companion. Xena’s face was peaceful, serene, as she sleep. With more curiosity than a cat, the bard pulled the blankets down, revealing Xena’s tanned body to the morning light. She studied the naked woman in the early morning light, memorizing every inch of the warrior’s flesh. Her gaze fell to the dark patch of fur that covered Xena’s sex. Gabrielle swallowed as she thought of what lay beneath the curly hairs. Looking back up, she saw that the blue eyes had not opened. Her desire dictated her motions as she brought her hand to the sleeping woman’s body. Gabrielle let her fingers stroll lazily over the breasts. She lightly stroked the smooth skin around the nipple, smiling when it reacted to her touch. A quick look up told her that the warrior was still sleeping. Unable to resist, Gabrielle ran her fingers down the tight abdomen, stopping just before the dark curly hairs. She held her hand slightly above the patch of fur, stroking it gently before running her fingers through the thick bush. She delighted in the feel of the curly hair so much in contrast to Xena’s long straight hair on her head. Gabrielle’s eyelids were half-closed as her fingers made lazy figure eights in the mass of Xena’s pubic hair. She let her fingers slip lower, just reaching the edge where Xena’s body opened to reveal its treasure.

"I see your appetite isn’t limited to food, my little bard." Xena said softly. Gabrielle blushed furiously, but made no effort to move her hand or stop her roving fingers. She noticed pleasantly that Xena’s chest was rising and falling more rapidly as her breathing increased.

"So it would seem." She answered matter-of-factly. Gabrielle focused her gaze on Xena’s face as her finger slipped between the folds and was met with a warm wetness that made her gasp. The contact caused Xena’s eyes to close as her hips involuntary arched against the welcome touch.

"You know you drive me crazy sometimes." Xena said through slightly clenched teeth.

"Good, I like consistency." Gabrielle teased back as she let her finger slide deeper into the creamy wetness. "Oh, Xena. You’re so…wet." She brought her mouth down to claim the warrior’s willing lips. A series of dizzying kisses followed, the bard’s finger remaining motionless between the soft folds. Gabrielle lifted her head back slightly, her inexperience causing her to hesitate. "I don’t know what to do." She admitted softly.

"What do you want to do, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, her voice gentle as her body screamed and begged for release. She had been awake since the blanket was pulled back.

"I want to make love to you." The hunger in Gabrielle’s eyes was matched by the hunger in her voice. She leaned in to take another kiss from Xena, this time with more passion. Unable to resist, Xena kissed her back, revealing the depth of her desire and passion. The warrior brought her own hand down and covered the smaller hand of the bard, guiding her fingers to the right spot and showing them how to move. Xena groaned at the contact of her hand on Gabrielle’s against her sex. She had wanted this for so long. Xena spread her legs wider to provide better access. It also provided a better view, much to the bard’s enjoyment. "So wet." She murmured as her fingers started to move independently of the longer ones pressed against them.

"Gods, Gabrielle." Xena soft moan of pleasure thrilled the storyteller. She wanted to see Xena’s face, to look into the sapphire blue eyes and see the love she knew was there for her, just for her. She took her time, gazing up the taut stomach, across the still erect breasts, up the strong throat until she reached her goal. Gabrielle kept her eyes focused on Xena’s face as their hands moved in unison against her sex. She was studying her, learning what was pleasurable and what was not while her hand and fingers learned the same lesson below. Xena did her best to keep her eyes open, but the soft, inquiring fingers of her lover continued to drive all control from her mind. Small gasps and moans were making their way out of Xena’s mouth as her passion grew higher. Gabrielle’s eyes took it all in, the increased breathing, the sounds, all the signals that she had longed to see. Xena’s fingers pressed hard against hers, forcing more speed and pressure as her hips lifted and her head rolled back.

"Oh…oh Gabrielle…don’t stop…oh gods, don’t stop." Her body moved of its own accord, and Gabrielle stayed with it, using her fingers to push the rhythm even faster than Xena was. The bard noticed the increase in wetness as juices flowed freely from the excited woman. Xena’s eyes were squeezed tight as she approached the crest. Gabrielle’s name was drawn from Xena’s mouth with a roar as lights and colors danced before her eyes. A wave of enormous proportion coursed through her as she climaxed. She held her body tight, keeping Gabrielle’s fingers against her, for several heartbeats before falling limply back to the bed. Sweat rolled from her forehead and small tears leaked from her eyes.

Gabrielle held on as Xena’s orgasm hit. She felt the juice flood against her fingers, filling the air with Xena’s scent. When her love fell back limply to the bed, Gabrielle was there to kiss away the tears and brush back the hair that had stuck to the sweaty forehead. She placed gentle kisses as she murmured terms of endearment to her warrior, her lover, her soulmate. "I love you, Xena." She stroked the raven hair.

"I love you, Gabrielle." Xena returned the kiss, using up what energy she had left. "Give me a moment to catch my breath." She took several breaths, none of which seemed to have brought back her energy. Gabrielle couldn’t resist a self-satisfying giggle. Xena arched an eyebrow and looked at her. "Yes?"

"I’m sorry." She giggled again. "It’s just that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to wear you out like this. I thought you had more…" She wanted just the right word. "…stamina, yeah…I thought you had more stamina than that." She received a playful poke in the ribs for her teasing. Xena ran her fingers through her dark hair, pulling it away from her face.

"I usually do, my little bard. I’m usually not this…spent afterwards." To Xena’s dismay, a huge grin broke out over Gabrielle’s face. "What?" She asked, slightly annoyed at the look on the storyteller’s face.

"I’m going to take that as a compliment." She said smugly. The bard turned thoughtful. "I wonder if it’ll be like this all the time?" Xena groaned loudly.

"Oh gods, I hope not. I don’t think my body could stand it." She covered her eyes with her strong hands and shook her head in an exaggerated motion.

Gabrielle’s voice lowered to a seductive tone as her fingers walked across Xena’s belly, heading to claim the warrior’s dark nipple. "Well, I guess we’ll just have to work on that." Her fingers closed around the tender flesh, pressing firmly. Xena let out a gasp, then a moan as her body reacted.

"You’re…gonna…kill…me." Xena got out through clenched teeth and gasps. Gabrielle’s bold fingers were testing the limits, learning for herself just how much Xena wanted and needed. The new found power she had over Xena was an aphrodisiac, filling her with a sense of control. She leaned over until her mouth was next to Xena’s ear. In the softest, sexiest voice she could, she whispered.

"We’ll see." Gabrielle’s hand shot down to land between Xena’s legs. This was going to be a long day.

"A little stiff?" Gabrielle teased as they headed to the food hut. Ephiny had made a point of stopping by their room and reminding Gabrielle that the other people in the village would like to see her once in a while too. Even though Xena scowled at the comment when it was said, she was secretly grateful that someone had shown up to rescue her from the voracious appetite of the young woman. Xena made a mental note to drink lots of fluids at breakfast. She was sure there were none left in her, especially after Gabrielle’s wake-up call this morning.

"It’s your fault." Xena answered back. "I’m going to volunteer for sentry duty just to get a break from the demands of the queen."

"Oh no you don’t. You’re mine and you’re not going anywhere."

"You really do want to kill me, don’t you?"

"Nope, I want to feed you." Gabrielle said, smiling mischievously. "Eat hearty. You’ll need your energy." She was answered with a long groan.

Despite the constant attention Xena had been getting from her little Amazon, there had been no reversal of the pleasure. The most that Gabrielle would let Xena do was love her breasts, and then only for a short while. There was some progress, however. Gabrielle had been pressing her lower body against Xena’s leg more often while they made love. The warrior took it as a sign that Gabrielle might be getting close to moving past the pain.

"Gabrielle, we need to talk." Words that the bard rarely heard sprang from the warrior’s lips. They were both sitting on the bed, cross-legged, looking at each other. The look in the blue eyes told the young woman just what the talk was about.

"Xena, I don’t want to." She looked down at her hands.

"Gabrielle, you need to. You have to tell what happened, if not to me, then to somebody." Xena pleaded. "Gabrielle, if you can’t talk about it, can you write about it? Come on, love, you haven’t written anything in moons."

"I can’t." Gabrielle started to cry. "I want to, but I can’t. I can’t let myself think about it that closely."

"Why, Gabrielle?" Xena’s arms went around her love. "They can’t hurt you anymore. It’s all in the past."

"I’m scared…" The little bard started to cry softly. "I’m scared…if you knew…"

"Gabrielle." Xena turned the young woman’s chin to meet her gaze. "I love you. Nothing’s gonna change that, you hear me, nothing. There is nothing they could have done to you to change the way I feel about you."

There was a long pause as Xena waited for Gabrielle to speak. "I…I want you to know. I want you to know what happened to me. But…I don’t think I can tell you." The tears were flowing freely down her face. "I can’t say the words…to you." She collapsed into Xena, taking refuge in her lover’s chest. Xena held her quietly for several long moments.

"Gabrielle." She pulled the bard’s head up to look at her. "If you can’t say the words, then write them."

Gabrielle sat at the table in the library, quill in hand, looking down at the blank parchment. Xena sat quietly nearby, reading scrolls on combat tactics and methods. They had been in there for almost a full candlemark with no activity from the bard’s hand. Xena worried that Gabrielle was going to give up. Finally the quill went to the ink, then shaky hands brought the quill to the parchment. Xena stopped reading the scroll and watched her love’s face as she wrote. Every time she saw tears starting to fall, Xena moved closer to comfort her. Several times Gabrielle had to put the quill down and take comfort in Xena’s arms.

It was almost nightfall by the time Gabrielle put the quill down and rolled up the scroll. "I’m finished." She said softly. They were the first words she had spoken since they entered the library.

"Do you want me to read it?" Xena asked gently.

"I don’t know if I could bear looking at you, reading about that." Gabrielle’s voice betrayed her fear. Xena smiled and put her hand over the bard’s.

"Love, listen to me. I may have different emotions while reading this, but nothing I read on this scroll will change the way I feel about you or how much I love you. If you’re afraid of my reaction to the words, don’t be."

Gabrielle’s eyes lowered and closed as she made her decision. "Read it alone. I’ll go lay down over there." She rose and went over to a padded bench at the other end of the room. She laid there, exhausted from the emotional effort, and quickly fell asleep.

The reading was especially hard for Xena. Several times the stoic warrior was reduced to tears as she read Gabrielle’s account of the horror. With her normal bardic flair for completeness, the scroll contained more than just a physical account. It contained Gabrielle’s thoughts and feelings throughout the ordeal. The nightmares that plagued her, the triggers she knew about, all the minute aspects of her life that had changed since the attack.

As Xena read on, she realized that Gabrielle wrote about her role in everything. The scroll spoke of how Gabrielle felt when she first heard the battle cry at the campsite, how she knew then that everything was over, that she would be safe soon. Every movement that Xena made and how the bard felt about it was revealed on the parchment. It moved her to even more tears, this time for a different reason. She finished reading and rolled up the scroll. With her elbows on the table, Xena supported her head with her hands, her fingers covering her eyes as she let her mind digest everything she’d read.

"Say something." Gabrielle’s voice was right behind her. Xena had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts and feelings to notice the bard had awakened. "I need you to say something."

"I love you, Gabrielle." She lifted her head from her hands and looked up at the bard, who was now standing by her left shoulder. "I love you more now than ever. You are a brave, courageous woman. When did you learn to become so strong?" Xena’s arms shot out to catch her lover falling into her lap. She held the bard, rocking her gently as she murmured words of love into her ear.

"You still love me." Gabrielle said softly against Xena’s chest.

"I love you more than ever, Gabrielle." She answered as she kissed the honey hair before her.


It had been almost three moons since the attack and although Xena was getting restless, she made no complaint to her still traumatized bard. She knew that Gabrielle wasn’t ready to sleep on the hard ground yet, to be out in the villages and towns where men treated women as objects to grope. No, her bard wasn’t ready for those things yet, so they weren’t going anywhere. Xena felt guilty about how neglectful she had been with Argo. The devoted war-horse was lucky if she saw her master a few times a quarter-moon, and even then didn’t get to go for a ride. Xena wondered if she’d ever be able to ride again now that Gabrielle’s sexual appetite had been released. Not that she was complaining or anything, Xena just wished that she could convince the bard that it wasn’t necessary to bring her to the verge of a heart attack before release and the verge of unconsciousness before letting her rest. But the honey haired vixen wouldn’t listen. Xena wondered just where Gabrielle got all the energy. Must be the food, she thought. She’s been storing it up somewhere for two years now. Oh boy, am I in for it. Xena let a lopsided grin come to her face.

This morning Gabrielle suggested that Xena go visit with the Amazon warriors or take some time with Argo. She mentioned going to Artemis’ temple and then maybe to visit with some Amazon friends. Xena protested at first, relenting only when promised that she would stay with a guard at all times, except when in temple, of course. The promise of a guard was also coupled with a thinly veiled threat from the queen to the warrior about indoor activities being the other option. Xena quickly decided that candlemarks of talking to Amazon warriors about swords and daggers was a good idea, after all. She could even take it easy and get into a few sparring matches. They’d be a piece of nutbread after the workout the little queen had been giving her.

Gabrielle met with several Amazons, catching up on the latest news from the growing season to the growth of the village to the latest births and deaths. Once satisfied that she was up to speed, she ate a hearty lunch and strolled over to the temple, uncertain if she had made the right decision.

The priestess and aids gave respectful nods when they saw their queen come in. They had seen the royal blue on the tunic outside and for a moment thought that perhaps the crazy warrior had returned to visit. "May I be alone, please?" Gabrielle asked the priestess. She nodded quickly and motioned for the girls to follow her outside. If the Queen of the Amazons wanted privacy in Artemis’ temple, that could mean only one thing. Artemis was coming to talk to her most favored. The priestess silently hoped that she had remembered to polish the marble that morning.

Gabrielle waited until the outer doors were closed before turning and facing the dais. She knelt down and spoke. "Great Goddess Artemis, I humbly ask for an audience with you. My heart is heavy and I ask for your guidance on this matter." She waited a moment until she felt the warm glow of the Moon Goddess flow through the room.

"Rise and face me, my child." The smile on Artemis’ face was a special one for her queen alone. The child who became queen of the most powerful group of women in all the world. The one with a heart so pure that she could repair the blackened heart of a warlord. This was her child, her most favored.

There had been an argument on Mount Olympus several moons ago over which goddess had Primary rights over Gabrielle. She was Athena’s chosen, a title given to only one mortal at a time. She claimed her as the pure of heart with the wisdom that could sway whole crowds. Athena asserted that she had Primary rights. Calliope, the Muse of Prose, Goddess of the Bards, chose Gabrielle as a favored. She claimed her as one of her best bards, whose true abilities had yet to be discovered. She also argued her position. Artemis spoke the loudest, noting not only was Gabrielle her most favored, she was also the Queen of her Amazons. While Athena and Calliope spoke of Gabrielle’s gifts in the abstract of the general population, Artemis showed how the special young woman held the lives of so many women in her hand, guiding them from needless war to a new era of peace and prosperity. As such, Zeus had no choice but to grant Artemis Primary rights over the mortal Gabrielle. The queen’s life became Artemis’ responsibility to control. She saw fit to keep her with Xena because of the intense bond between them. In fact, it was as if they were of one soul, the pure and the tarnished, blending together to make a whole person. It was therefore, also Artemis’ responsibility to grant prayers and requests for an audience. Not that she wouldn’t have done so otherwise.

Artemis gazed at Gabrielle. No longer the inexperienced girl from Poteidaia, she was now the strong, knowledgeable Queen of the Amazons. Her strength grew from Xena’s support and protection and now had a life of its own. "What is it you wish to see me about?" She motioned for Gabrielle to sit next to her on the marble bench, which the goddess noted, was nicely polished. She would remember to visit the priestess later and commend her.

"I’m afraid of letting Xena love me." She blurted out, suddenly extremely embarrassed. She just asked a goddess to help her with her sex life. Her ears almost turned purple with her discomposure. Artemis had no choice but to chuckle at the young queen.

"My dear, you look like you’re about to explode. Relax for a moment." She waited until Gabrielle was a healthier shade of color before continuing. "I understand what’s been going on, my child. I’ve seen it all from the beginning." Artemis paused as she considered her next question. "Gabrielle, I wish to ask you something."

The bard looked at the goddess incredulously. "Ask me? But, but you can read our thoughts, our feelings. Why ask?"

"Because I want to hear you say it, my dear, not pull it from you like information from a scroll." Artemis so loved to hear this woman speak. Her voice was pure honey, much like her hair. "Gabrielle, when you were at the campsite with those…men." The goddess spat the word out, her tone full of hatred. "You prayed only for the safety of those three young girls. Why not for your own safety?"

Gabrielle thought carefully about the thoughts she had uttered that fateful day. "I didn’t think about myself, dear goddess. My thoughts were on protecting those three girls. They were too young to have suffered like…"

"I could have protected you, Gabrielle. All you had to do was ask." The goddess’ words carried the touch of sadness and guilt that had plagued her since the incident.

When word of what had happened reach Mount Olympus, Athena went berserk. Before they could calm her down, half of Artemis’ personal realm had been destroyed. The furious exchange between the two of them shook all the way through the immortal world. Even Hades came up to see what was going on. One mention of Gabrielle’s name sent him running back to the underworld, mumbling something about a mouthy bard and her lunatic warrior and Tartarus being turned upside down. Hermes delivered a message from Aphrodite about love being greater than all other forces and she should have bid for Gabrielle’s Primary when she had the chance. Calliope was still yelling at her because the bard wasn’t writing or telling stories. Even Ares came in to protest her handling of the situation, screaming that Xena would blame him somehow and he decided that a trip to a deserted island was in order for a while. He told Hermes to send for him when everything settled down. "I really wish you would have asked." She said seriously as she brought her thoughts back to the present.

"I’m sorry. Xena says I’m too…humble sometimes."

"Well, she’s right." Artemis smiled as she remembered the reason the queen was here. "So, Gabrielle, what is it that you need help with?" She thought that Gabrielle was just so cute when she blushed, she couldn’t resist.

"Well, you see, I want Xena to…love me. I really want her to love me." The goddess chuckled at the inflection of the word ‘really’. Gabrielle scowled slightly, then went on. "Anyway, I’m…nervous." Her mood became serious, her tone somber. Gabrielle’s eyes focused on the floor. "What if I freeze up? What if I suddenly remember what happened right in the middle of…" She blushed again, and took a deep breath to regain her composure. "I don’t want to hurt Xena in any way, I love her, you know I do."

"I know, child. I also know how much she loves you." A smile formed on the goddess’ lips. "She came to see me, you know." Gabrielle turned red again, much to the goddess’ pleasure.

"Yeah, I heard. The whole village heard. Maniac warrior storms temple, read all about it. I don’t know what she was thinking." Gabrielle shook her head at the memory.

"She was out of her mind with grief and worry over you. At least she had the sense to yell at me and not go after Ares again. He wasn’t involved in this, my dear." Artemis added, cutting off the impending question from the bard. She was very familiar with the conversations her feisty queen and the God of War have had. It was only because there was a legion of gods and goddesses that loved the bard that Ares hadn’t been able to kill her, thus bringing Xena over to the dark side again. This little blond woman had the God of War in her pouch and didn’t even know it. "Gabrielle, I can remove the memory from you, you know that. All you have to do is ask."

Gabrielle looked up at her with a thoughtful, serious gaze. "But at what cost, Artemis? Xena says that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. If you take away the memories of the rape from me, as painful as they are, you also take away the inner strength I’ve gained from living through the trauma. It’s a double-edged sword."

"I will never cease to be amazed by your wisdom, Gabrielle." Artemis sighed. "Very well. Going back to your other matter…" Artemis smiled at the slight pink that started to creep up the bard’s neck. "When Xena sleeps next to you at night, how do you know it’s her?"

"That’s easy, she wouldn’t let anyone get that close to me." Gabrielle beamed at her reasoning, until she saw the frown on the goddess’ face. "Oh, wrong answer, huh? Okay, let’s see. Well, I know what her body feels like." Another blush. "I know the sound of her breathing, her scent, the feel of her hands, the sound of her voice. All those things tell me that it’s her and no one else."

"Well then, I guess you have your answer. Concentrate on who is loving you and the fact that it is her expression of love to you. I don’t believe there will be any unpleasantness."

Gabrielle smiled at the simple solution to her complex problem. "My Goddess, your wisdom rivals that of the great Athena, thank you."

"Don’t let her hear that, my child." Artemis said in a warning tone. "One word of advice, Gabrielle. It’s not a good idea to compare goddesses to one another. Jealousy is in abundance as it is."

"Oh, sorry." Gabrielle filed that information away for later use. It was always a good idea to keep up on the latest in rules for gods and goddesses.

Xena returned from the training grounds hot and sweaty. "Did you have fun?" Gabrielle asked in a gentle tone as she started to unclasp the buckles that held the breastplate on.

"If you can call answering questions all day and throwing my chakram a million times fun." Xena tried to sound annoyed, but was quickly failing as the bard’s hands traveled down her arm, removing her bracers and gauntlets. "Then we had …a…sparring match…Gabrielle, you’re driving me crazy again." She looked down at the impish face near her knees and the hands that continued to roam freely about her thighs.

"Can’t help myself." Gabrielle answered, maintaining her impish grin. "You’re just so gorgeous. Come on, let’s get you out of this stuff and into the tub." She rose and put her fingers under the leather straps, running her finger up and down sensuously. "If you’re a good girl, maybe I’ll let you wash me." She brought Xena’s mouth down for a kiss. Moving to a spot just below the warrior’s ear, she whispered. "Completely."

Xena’s eyes widened. A new record was set for clothing removal of two people. That would be the last quick thing they did that night.

Once inside the tub, Gabrielle took control. She washed Xena thoroughly, paying close attention to her breasts, which the bard felt had the need to be sucked for a while, much to Xena’s intense delight. Gabrielle’s hand moved below the water and found the area that was wet from another source. "Well, well, well. What have we here?" Gabrielle’s impish voice said as her fingers explored a little further. Xena’s body jerked at the contact. "Mmm, you’re like a river, Xena." Her finger slipped back and forth across Xena’s sex, reducing the mighty warrior to a whimpering, moaning, woman of passion. No matter how many times Xena begged to take this to the bed, Gabrielle would not be swayed. After being asked one too many times, she leaned in close to Xena’s ear. "No. I want to take you here, now, in the tub, with my hand." She pressed her finger against the coral opening to Xena’s tunnel. "Do you understand?" Xena was completely helpless to the bard’s voice and hands. There was nothing else she could do except grip the sides of the tub and hold on as Gabrielle took her to a new height. She helplessly nodded her head. Gabrielle smiled at the victory as she slowly slid one finger in Xena’s tunnel, stopping when she reached the first knuckle. Xena groaned loudly and arched her hips.

"Gods, yesss!" She reached down and grabbed the bard’s wrist, urging her on. Gabrielle understood the request and slid the length of her finger in deep. Xena’s hand released her wrist as the warrior leaned back and gripped the side of the tub again. Gabrielle’s finger moved in and out, keeping a gentle rhythm with Xena’s thrusting hips. "More." She begged. Gabrielle answered with another finger, her free hand gently massaging Xena’s left nipple. Whatever the young woman lacked in experience, she made up for with passion and imagination. She loved the pressure of Xena’s body wrapped around her fingers and longed for more. Gabrielle moved a third finger to rest next to the opening, gently pressing against it. She wasn’t certain of Xena’s limits in that department. She had no need to worry. "Yes…more…please?" was all that Xena had to say to drive Gabrielle’s passion higher. She added a third finger, sliding it all the way in with one smooth stroke. Xena’s head rolled back and forth as she murmured Gabrielle’s name and words of encouragement. The warrior’s words drove her on, moving her thumb to rock against the swollen, ready nub.

As Xena neared her peak, Gabrielle locked on to her left breast, sucking and nibbling in rhythm to her fingers, doing a frantic dance of their own underwater. Xena lifted half-way out of the tub as a low, guttural scream that sounded like a drawn out version of her lover’s name, came pouring from her lips. Her body jerked and twitched before coming back into the bath. She had to reach down and physically remove Gabrielle’s still conquering fingers. The bard looked disappointed and tried to sneak her other hand down, only to get that one trapped as well.

"Gabrielle." She said breathlessly. "We’ve talked about this. No heart attacks, please." Xena waited for the imp to agree to behave before she let go of her wrists. "You’re going to kill me, Gabrielle. One day they’re going to find me dead in the bedroll, with a smile on my face. They’re going to ask you what happened and you’re going to tell them that you killed me because you like to hear the way I scream your name when I climax and you just couldn’t stop." Gabrielle was giggling now at the mental image of the scene.

"I’m sorry, I just enjoy pleasing you so much." She moved closer to Xena’s ear. "I do." The bard’s restless hands started to duck back underwater and were quickly caught again.

"Gabrielle…" Xena said through gritted teeth. How on earth did she ever think she could keep up with the passionate bard?

"Okay, okay. You win. You want your prize?" She asked slyly, lifting her upper body, her breasts swaying just inches from the warrior’s hungry mouth. Gabrielle chuckled. "I guess you do." She said softly, moving her body up the length of Xena’s until her breasts were above Xena’s mouth. The warrior didn’t need a written invitation. She feasted on the soft mounds, drawing far more pleasure than she ever felt she deserved. Gabrielle moaned softly as she felt her body reacting to Xena’s mouth. As much as the bard wanted this, she didn’t want their first time to be in the tub. Reluctantly, she pulled her breast away from the protesting mouth. "Wash me, Xena. Then take me to bed."

Xena took the soapy cloth and generously lathered up Gabrielle’s body, paying extra special attention to the breasts, which she lavished with as much attention as Gabrielle had lavished on hers. When Xena brought her soapy hand down between Gabrielle’s legs, it was all she could do to keep from crying out with the bard. "Gods, you are wet." Xena growled as she gently explored Gabrielle for the first time. She kept her eyes on the queen’s face, watching carefully for any sign to stop. Finally, Gabrielle decided that she couldn’t take any more teasing. Xena helped her out of the tub and dried her off.

Gabrielle looked at the bed, then Xena, then the bed, then smiled. She ran over to the dressing table and grabbed a clean shift. "I’ll be right back." She said as she scooted out the door, leaving a very confused and horny warrior behind. Xena listened to Gabrielle’s footsteps going down the hall. She entered the room that Xena used to be in, then left. Xena heard her walk down to the next room, go in, then come out. The bard walked back to their room and entered, carrying four pillows, which she promptly threw on the bed. Xena dried her hair and watched as Gabrielle rearranged the pillows, laid down against them, looked at the warrior, then repeated the process until Xena’s hair was dry and the bard was satisfied with the pillow arrangement.

"Here, lay down against the pillows." Gabrielle positioned the pillows so they supported Xena’s back and head, lifting her upper body to a halfway sitting position. She raised Xena’s knees halfway as well. She inspected her handiwork, as well as the naked warrior before her. "Good."

"Glad you approve." Xena said softly as she watched the way Gabrielle watched her. The bard’s desire for the warrior’s body was all consuming. Xena knew her heart was owned by Gabrielle now and she couldn’t be happier.

"Very much so." She answered back. Gabrielle slowly pulled the shift up over her head, providing an agonizing view for Xena.

"Gods, Gabrielle. If you only knew what you do to me." Xena said as her gaze went up and down the naked body before her. Gabrielle liked what she saw in Xena’s eyes.

"I do, and I like it." Gabrielle climbed up on the bed and straddled Xena’s hips, her feet tucked under. She slowly lowered herself against Xena, gasping when their breasts touched, then again when her sex rested against Xena’s warm belly. Her mouth went to its favorite place and shared several long kisses before pulling away. Gabrielle sat up and placed her hands on Xena’s breasts, fondling them, enjoying the pleasant weight, watching the warrior’s reaction. The heat of Xena’s body beneath her did nothing to help ease Gabrielle’s burning desire. She settled her body on Xena’s, burying her head against Xena’s neck. She ran her hand down Xena’s left arm, taking the strong hand in her own. "Xena…" Her voice was husky and spoke of her desire. She lifted slightly and placed the strong hand against her blond patch of fur. Xena moaned when her fingers felt the soaked curls. "Love me, Xena. Make love to me."

Gabrielle allowed Xena to reposition her to provide better access. She lifted her hips, allowing Xena’s hand to slip between their bodies, then lowered them, trapping the warrior’s arm. Xena pulled Gabrielle’s body down against her, putting the bard’s cheek against her own. This provided Xena with the opportunity to hear ever sound, every cry, every moan that Gabrielle made. It also provided the opportunity for Xena to speak softly to her lover, to reassure and comfort, if necessary. The warrior was going to make certain that this was perfect. Gabrielle deserved perfection, in Xena’s mind.

Gabrielle’s soft moans swept over Xena as she started her exploration of the bard’s sex. She spent several minutes just gently rubbing the soft fur that covered it, enjoying the warmth and softness, then the heat and the wetness as her fingers started to gently slip between the folds. Both women let out soft moans of pleasure at the contact. Her fingers stayed away from the opening, concentrating instead on the small knot of power that rested between the folds. Her strokes were feather-light, barely touching the sensitive nub. "Gods, Xena." She gasped as her hips started to grind against the warrior’s hand. Her mind filled with the different sensations, burning them into her memory. Xena’s breath caressed her skin while soft words passed between them. The bard started to kiss whatever skin she could find. When her soft lips claimed Xena’s sensitive earlobe, the warrior instinctively increased the motions of her fingers. "Yesss." Gabrielle grunted as she pressed her sex against Xena’s fingers, her mouth raining kisses across the warrior’s broad shoulders. "Gods, you feel good." Gabrielle groaned as her hands gripped Xena’s biceps. Xena wrapped her other arm around Gabrielle’s back, gently stroking it in a comforting motion in contrast to the ever increasing motion of her fingers buried between Gabrielle’s legs. The mixed hand motions both comforted and stimulated the bard even more. Even with eyes closed, she saw the electric blue eyes that belonged to the body holding her, comforting her, loving her. Placing her love and trust in Xena, she gave up all control.

Gabrielle’s arms wrapped around Xena’s neck in a death grip. Her hips were moving in an ever quickening rhythm against the strong fingers. Gabrielle’s eyes were closed but that didn’t stop the tears of ecstasy from rolling out. The only words the bard could manage were ‘oh’ and ‘Xena’. She said them over in over, in different ranges and volumes that increased with her passion.

Xena, for the most part, was doing her best to maintain contact with the bard’s rapidly moving sex. The wildly erratic movements and flood of juice caused Xena’s fingers to lose their place more than once, which only served to aggravate the proud warrior. After the second time, Xena stopped rubbing her back and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle’s back to keep her within reach. She murmured endearing words into Gabrielle’s ear, telling the bard how much she loved her, and how beautiful she was at this moment. She was still talking tenderly to Gabrielle when she felt the bard’s body tremble.

Gabrielle held on for dear life. It was worth a lifetime in Tartarus for this feeling, this utter joy, this utter pleasure. She no longer had control over her voice, her body. She put all of her trust into Xena to get her through this. The muscles in her thighs tightened, her back stiffened, her body started to tremble. Xena’s fingers moved as a blur, rubbing back and forth across her sex, driving her over the edge. Xena’s voice was ringing in her ear, telling her how much the warrior loved her and that she was safe. She heard the cry come from her mouth that began as a whimper and ended as a scream of the warrior’s name. Juices flooded out of her in waves, soaking Xena’s belly and hand, which had stilled but remained pressed against her mound.

After making sure the aftershocks were over, Xena pulled her hand out from between them and wrapped it around the quivering bard. Gabrielle was nothing more than a limp lump of heavy breaths and gentle tears. Xena reached up and brushed the locks of honey hair off of the storyteller’s face. She kissed the Amazon’s forehead several times, continuing to hold her and murmur words of love. The normally stoic and emotionally quiet warrior never even thought about how much she had spoken of her love for the young woman in her arms.

"You have…many skills." Gabrielle murmured several moments later. She eased her hold on Xena’s neck and caressed the warrior’s cheek, surprised to find streaks of moisture. She looked up to see that, in fact, Xena had shed some tears.

"Hey there. I thought maybe you fell asleep."

"No. Just enjoying the feeling." She placed a kiss on Xena’s collarbone.

"You okay?" Xena asked seriously. Gabrielle met her questioning gaze.

"Yeah, I am. I think I’m always going to be okay, as long as I’m with you."

"You’ll always be with me, Gabrielle. Always."

"How are you doing?" She asked as she wiped away a tear from the bronzed face. Xena chuckled and gave her a quick kiss.

"Never better, Gabrielle." She ran her strong finger along the bard’s cheek. "Giving you pleasure is a joy all its own." She pulled Gabrielle tighter into her embrace, tempted to take her again partly for the pleasure of it and partly to get back at her for all the repeat performances she demanded of the warrior. But looking down at the closed eyes of her love, she didn’t have the heart. Both fell to a contented sleep in minutes.

They ignored the gentle knock from the serving girl that announced breakfast. They ignored the firm knock from the head chef that announced lunch. They tried to ignore the pounding on the door by the acting queen. "Gabrielle? Xena? I know you’re in there." Ephiny pounded again. "I’ll call a warrior to bust this door down, don’t think I won’t. Neither of you have eaten anything since yesterday."

"Yes we have." Gabrielle called out, then burst into a fit of giggles at her joke. Xena scowled and crawled out of bed, out of reach of the inquisitive hands of the constantly aroused bard. She grabbed a shift for herself and tossed one to Gabrielle. Ephiny pounded again.

"Now look, you two. I know it feels good and all that, but you still have to eat sometime. Gabrielle? Aren’t you hungry? Wouldn’t a nice hot meal sound good right now?" The door flew open to reveal an tired warrior staring at her. "Xena, starving our queen to death is not a good idea."

"Why not? Maybe I’ll get some sleep." Xena yawned as she let the acting queen in. Gabrielle sat on the bed, glaring at Ephiny for interrupting her attempt to seduce Xena again. Ephiny raised her eyes at the ironic sight before her. A yawning Xena was eyeing the food and a bright-eyed Gabrielle was scowling. The acting queen couldn’t help but chuckle at the hilarity of it. It only took a moment, however, for the bard to sniff food in the room. Her hunger had been overpowered by her desire for the warrior princess. Her stomach grumbled loudly, as if sensing that this was the time to announce its presence. She hopped off the bed and wandered over to the table, joining Xena, who was already munching away happily.

With her physical wounds healed, and her emotional ones on their way, Gabrielle agreed that it was close to time for them to move on. She was truly amazed at how well Xena had taken the confinement of a single village for so long. There had only been a few times when the warrior had insisted that she needed some time away from the walls and doors. Gabrielle understood the need in her lover and accepted it without question. Xena would never stay away for more than a few candlemarks and always returned with a new sense of energy, and a little extra attention for the bard because she felt guilty for leaving her alone for so long.

Xena asked for some time alone, promising a speedy return. She headed straight for Artemis’ temple. The temple priestess and aids were still women, after all, and had heard through the village grapevine what was going on between the queen and the warrior. The serving girl had told the laundress, who told the groundskeeper, who told the smithy, who told the whole village, gossip that she was. The priestess motioned for the girls to follow her outside. This time she knew the marble was polished.

"You look tired, Xena. Is everything okay?" Artemis said, feigning concern.

"I would be if a certain bard would (yawn) let me sleep." She replied. The goddess chuckled.

"She’s nothing if not passionate, eh, warrior?" Artemis arched her eyebrow in a fashion annoyingly similar to Xena’s.

"She’s trying to kill me, Artemis. What did you do, give her one of Aphrodite’s strange concoctions?"

"Fortunately for you, or unfortunately, as the case may be, no. The bard’s passion is all her own and all for you, warrior." Artemis smiled when she saw Xena’s eyes light up at the possible future benefits of a voracious bard. Trips on Argo would never be the same, campfires would take on a whole new meaning. She almost lost herself in her thoughts when she remembered that a goddess was waiting for her to say something. She put a solemn face on and lowered her eyes.

"I wanted to apologize to you, Artemis. I was out of line before. It’s just that Gabrielle is my whole world and I can’t imagine life without her."

"All is forgiven, child. I too, felt that I had failed her. I’m glad I had a chance to make it up to her, and indirectly, to you too, Xena." Artemis waited while the warrior tried to figure out what she was talking about. Oh how the gods love to play games with words.

"I don’t understand, Artemis. You said that all you could do was answer her prayers, and they were for others, not herself. What did you do?" There was a long silence as Artemis looked everywhere except into the warrior’s blue eyes.

Xena’s eyes widened slightly as a thought came to her. "She was pregnant, wasn’t she?"

"I did what I had to do, Xena. Leave it at that." Artemis looked at Xena in a manner so serious that it made the hairs on the back of the warrior’s neck stand up. "You are never to reveal this knowledge to her, Xena. It will ruin all that you two have and will poison my child to me. You and I both know this is for the best." Xena nodded.

"You have my word, Artemis." She said solemnly.

"I know you’re word is good, Xena. Take care of her." Artemis shimmered, then vanished.

By the time Xena reached Gabrielle, she was in the middle of a circle of children, spinning a lively tale of baby bunnies hopping about the forest. The bard’s eyes were bright and animated, her voice soft and gentle, pulling the children into her tale. Xena leaned up against a fence post and watched and listened. When the story ended, several girls started talking at once, asking questions and begging for more. Aware of the warrior’s presence, Gabrielle looked up at her. Xena smiled a smile that was for her bard alone and nodded gently. The blue-green eyes twinkled as Gabrielle’s smile grew wider. She turned her attention back to the children and launched into another tale of mystical creatures designed to draw oohs and ahhs.

Xena’s smile never left as she took in the scene. Gabrielle was telling stories again. The last link in the chain to recovery for her bard. Xena knew that it would take time for the nightmares to end, for the sensory triggers to cease, for campfires to be safe again. But end they would, eventually.

"Are you comfortable, my love?" Xena asked gently, her warm breath tickling the bard’s ear.

"Mmm, very." She drawled, nuzzling her head closer to Xena’s chest. "I guess there really is a plus side to riding a horse." Gabrielle’s hand slid down to caress the warrior’s thigh. She was unable to suppress a wicked smile when she felt the muscles jump. "Definitely a plus side."

"Careful, my little bard." Xena gently warned. "Don’t forget who’s sitting in front." As if to prove her point, she moved her hand up to capture the bard’s left breast.

"Oh, yeah, heh heh, I forgot." Gabrielle’s hand stopped its torturous exploration of Xena’s thigh.

"I…" Xena’s lips found the bard’s sensitive earlobe. "…didn’t."


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