The Irresistible Flame

By Djwp

Part 12 (Conclusion)

Only the dead will see the end of war. She had written those words with her own hand. But, did she believe them?

Xena reflected on what she had written as she watched the sparks on the dry tinder catch and turn to flame. If she did believe them, then what made her think she could turn her back and just walk away? She had been at war all of her life, couldn't fathom a life without it. From the moment she had the strength to grasp a stick within her palm she had wielded it as a weapon. She was born for war, touched in some way by Ares at birth and guided by his hand for her entire life.

Strange, how far away all that seemed now; like that had all happened to somebody else - to another Xena altogether. She looked down at her hands, at the dirt and black soot covering her palms from having started the fire.

Wiping her palms against the leather of her skirt, she picked up a branch and felt its weight in her grasp.

The idea of never holding a sword in her hand again was as foreign to her as …

It was as foreign to her as …

As love, she concluded, smirking and tossed the wood to the fire, feeding the flames. Yet, she had walked away; turned her back on war and its god, her generals, the army - all of them, all she had ever known - all in the name of love.

Gods, it was idiotic, now that she thought of it. It wasn't as if she was running off to live happily ever after. Gabrielle was, for all intents and purposes, a dream after all, wasn't she? No different than a wish whispered at the moon.

Xena looked up through the dark canopy of leaves rustling overhead, wishing with all her heart that Gabrielle was by her side. The moon was a bright, enigmatic crescent puncturing a black landscape and it swallowed her wish without comment.

Gabrielle was only a dream. A very pleasant one, no doubt, but just a dream. They had been granted only a brief glimpse of the love they should have had, but never would. Xena was certain that her guardian angel was gone from her life now, forever. The beautiful woman's task was done. Hope had been destroyed and Dahak had been stopped from entering the world. But, gods help her, when Gabrielle had disappeared, the woman had taken Xena's heart with her and along with it all of her desire for blood and conquest.

Now, all that was left was an aching need for something else; something she was suppose to have had, but now it looked like she never would - at least, not in this life.

The problem was that Xena had no idea what could possibly take Gabrielle's place.

Xena looked back up at the wandering moon and risked another wish - the only wish a warrior who was tired of war could make.

If I can't have love, let me at least know peace.

She could just hear Ares laughing at her now.

Only the dead will ever see the end of war.

Then so be it. Let death come looking for her, if it dared. If she died, then maybe her soul would have the chance to find Gabrielle again. And find her, she would - somehow.

Until then, she was going home.

Xena stoked the fire, watching the flames as they tickled her chilled skin with heat. The season had definitely taken a turn toward winter. There was the crisp smell of snow in the air and Xena was glad to be only a day's ride from Amphipolis and the promise of a warm hearth at her mother's inn.

She had stopped for the night just south of a small farming village the name of which escaped her at the moment. The dense foliage surrounding the small clearing she had chosen for a camp helped to contain the warmth from the fire, but still, it was damn cold.

Too cold to bury your sword and leathers, and run around in your damn shift, Xena, she thought and quickly admonished herself for even considering it. Besides, she had tried that once before and it hadn't done much good.

She looked at her weapons, the sword and chakram, leaning just out of hand's reach against a tree. The light from the campfire danced across their polished surfaces bringing out the fine craftsmanship of brass and iron. They were beautiful weapons, Xena admitted, and would never leave her side, not for anyone or anything - not even for love.

An eyebrow lifted sardonically. Maybe she needed to rethink this whole peace idea.

"Nothing wrong with fighting as long as I fight for the greater good, right, Gabrielle?" Xena asked aloud, grinning at the moon. The crescent grinned back and Xena felt as if Gabrielle was watching her, smiling in her own adorable way in agreement. It was true, she had vowed 'the greater good' before and failed, but for the first time, she felt as if she might actually be able to keep to that path, if she chose it.

Now, if only Gabrielle could be with her then she might really stand a chance of doing some good in the world.

A howl hooted. Wood shifted and the fire cracked. The pop sent a spray of sparks that surprised Xena. At the same time, a rustle of leaves caught Xena's ear and instantly both beautiful weapons were snatched up in her strong, capable hands. The warrior stood at attention, sword pointed toward the source of the noise, the chakram ready to be thrown.

The branches of a bush parted and out of the darkness into the light of the campfire stumbled a very unexpected visitor.

Xena had to rein in her reflexes to stop from skewering the intruder where she stood.


She stood, half hidden in the shadows, dressed in the same strange attire from her misplaced life. Xena blinked, believing that the flickering firelight was playing tricks with her eyes.

"It's too damn cold!" Gabrielle exclaimed, arms hugging herself as she shivered, "and then that owl hooted, scaring me half to death. I was going to hide in the bushes, wait until you went to sleep, then surprise you by slipping into your bed … or something like that," she looked at her feet, an attractive blush coloring her cheeks, despite the cold. "Anyway, I couldn't wait any longer."

Xena grinned, bemused, and lowered the sword and chakram. "It's a good thing you didn't. I might've killed ya."

"Yeah, there was that, too."

Gabrielle smiled and neither the moon nor the sun stood a chance, Xena thought to herself.

She put her weapons down, leaning them back against the tree and sat back down on the log. "C'mere," she said, patting the fallen trunk. "Siddown by the fire before you catch your death."

"Thanks," Gabrielle replied and stepped over the log, nearer the flames. "Are you surprised to see me?" She plopped down on tree trunk and scooted forward toward to the fire.

"You can say that. What are you doing here?"

"I thought you would be happy to see me," Gabrielle commented, insulted, reaching her palms out to the flames to soak up their warmth.

Xena bit her lip to stop herself from smiling. "I am happy to see you. I'm just wondering if you are really here, or if I just hadn't finally lost my mind."

"I dunno. What do you think?" She kept her eyes on the fire, grateful for the warmth and wiped at her runny nose with the back of her hand

The warrior leaned forward, reached out and grabbed that hand. It was cold and warm at the same time, but soft and real, and wonderfully wet. Xena found herself playing with the delicate fingers in disbelief, studying them and Gabrielle's palm as though she had never seen anything so perfect before.

Gabrielle watched amused, "So, am I alive?"

Xena pulled the hand to her, tugging Gabrielle over, closer on the log. She gave the cold knuckles a soft kiss and wrapped up the cold hand within both of her own, placing them against her heart.

"You're so warm," Gabrielle remarked, feeling the skin just at the top of her leathers for the first time, "How can you be so warm when it's so cold?"

"Hot blooded, I guess," Xena shrugged, smirking. Slowly, the smile faded as Xena placed all humor aside. "Gabrielle, what happened? What did you do?"

"What do you mean, what did I do?"

"I thought it was over. I thought you were gone. If you did something stupid, like take an overdose of opium just so you could be with me …"

"I killed my mother."

Xena's grip nearly crushed Gabrielle's fingers.

"Hey! Watch it!" She pulled her hand away and shook it out. "Gods, you're strong."

"Sorry," Xena mumbled. "Don't change the subject. What do you mean, you killed your mother?"

Gabrielle shot Xena a rueful look and flexed her fingers. "Hope … my mother … they were one in the same. She was using her knowledge of the dark arts and the power of Dahak to manifest a version of herself back here. Just the same way that I kept showing up here, but wasn't really here, only she was really here because her power was stronger, but she wasn't really here because she was there …"

Xena raised up a palm, "Enough. I got it."

"I'm glad somebody gets it," Gabrielle mumbled. "When we destroyed Hope and Dahak here, it left my mother stranded without power back there." She used her thumb, pointing over her shoulder as though the future was behind her. "And let me tell you, she wasn't very pleased."

"I bet." Xena narrowed her eyes. "Did she try to hurt you?"

Gabrielle snorted. "You can say that, in a sharp knife, stab you in the heart kind of way."

"Go on."

"We struggled. My friend, Peter came and he tried to help me, but he ended up shooting the shackle instead and it broke and my wrist came free …"

"Shackle?" Xena's eyebrow arched.

"I was shackled to the wall."

Xena opened her mouth to say something.

"Stop interrupting." Gabrielle waited until the warrior's mouth closed and continued. "As I was saying, Peter shot the shackle and my wrist came free. I grabbed the knife, stopping it bare inches from my chest."

Gabrielle was into the story now, and she stood, acting out the battle as though her mother was standing right there with the knife waving over her head. She struggled against the imaginary opponent, fighting to hold an invisible wrist at bay with one hand, the other behind her back.

Xena watched, eyes sparkling with amusement. She bit down on her own lips, trying hard to stifle a laugh.

"I don't know where Peter was - I think he fell down the stairs. Anyway, we were locked in a bitter struggle. I used every ounce of strength that I had to keep my mother from stabbing me in the chest with the knife, but I was so weak and I knew there was no way … no way. I looked into my mother's eyes and they were shining with that weird, evil, I've-got-you-now kind of fire."

"The bitch!" Xena blurted, egging Gabrielle on.

"Yea, she was a bitch," Gabrielle looked at Xena, nodding in agreement and then turned back in to the story. "Then, all of a sudden, I looked deep in her eyes and she looked at me. For a second, just for a second … I saw it." She paused for dramatic effect, frozen in the struggle.

Xena huffed in exasperation. "What? Saw what?"


Xena's expression turned to confusion. "What?"

Gabrielle dropped her hands in annoyance. "Regret," she repeated.

Xena rolled her tongue along the inside of her cheek and thought for a moment. "I don't get it."

Gabrielle sighed and sat back down on the log. "Why do you think she did what she did, Xena? Steal my soul? Change our destinies?"

"Revenge? Power?"

"You would think that."

Xena shrugged. "Why else? Come on, Gabrielle. You saw the visions. We destroyed her. She changed our fates so that she could get back at us and get another chance at ruling the world."

"The world is ruled by letting things take their course, Xena. It can't be ruled by interfering. Besides, it wasn't about ruling the world - it never was."

"Then what was it about?"

Gabrielle reached out to take up Xena's hand. She wrapped her fingers around the warrior's longer ones and smiled. "It was about love."

"Shit," Xena mumbled a curse, suddenly feeling uncharacteristically shy at the touch. "Why is everything about love lately? Are you trying to say that Harpy actually loved you?"

"Of course. I was her mother and I betrayed her. She never really cared about ruling the world."

"She didn't? You could've fooled me."

"No, she didn't. Not really. What she really wanted was for me to love her. Her mother's love. That's what she wanted. Yours, too."

"Mine?" Xena's long finger pointed at herself in surprise.

"Hope happened to the both of us, Xena. You were Hope's mother in the same way that I was Eve's." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand. "Unconditional love. No matter who we are, we all want someone to love us - selflessly and unconditionally - good or evil. You love your mother, don't you, Xena? Don't you want your Mother to love you?"

Xena stiffened, staring hard at Gabrielle. After a few moments, the tense grip she had on Gabrielle's hand relaxed.

"Regret," Xena said, looking at the ground. "I get it."

"I looked into Hope's eyes and instead of hate, anger, evil … I saw regret. Suddenly, all resistance vanished and the knife plunged down, but not into me…into her," Gabrielle continued in a whisper. "I killed my mother … my daughter … again. And when Hope died, whatever hold she had on my soul died along with her."

"So, are you saying you're dead now, too? That you're here, but you're still only a ghost?"

Gabrielle shrugged, "I don't know. Maybe. She did force me to take some vile shamaness concoction. It was the same stuff she'd been using to make herself real here. It did the same thing for me, only she gave me enough to kill an elephant. Maybe I did overdose and simply die. I'm not sure. All I know is that once Hope was dead, both here and in the future, my soul was set free."

"And your soul came back here? Why?"

"Because," Gabrielle grinned, soft green eyes shining in the firelight, "because I belong with you."

Xena frowned and looked down, playing with her hands. She wasn't convinced that this still wasn't anything but a dream. "I could open my eyes tomorrow and you'd be gone."

"I don't know. I'm not sure. Then again, in a way, that can be true for you, too. Who knows how long we have. Who knows how long any of us have? One thing I do know for certain is that I belong with you, heart and soul. Even if I were to disappear tomorrow, I would find you again…someday."

The warrior stared at Gabrielle in silence for a moment before turning her eyes to the ground. Eternal soul mates were one thing, but what about here…what about now? Xena was a woman who lived in the present. For her, eternity simply wasn't good enough. She just wasn't certain she could handle just another ghostly visit, only to have Gabrielle disappear from her life once again.

"It's getting late," she stated, staring at the dirt. "We better get some rest. Here. It's cold." Xena reached out and grabbed a blanket, throwing at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle caught it and examined the rough, woolen cloth, then looked back up. "Xena, if you think that we're sleeping on separate blankets tonight, then you are not as smart as I thought you were."

Xena's eyebrow slowly lifted. "No?"

"No," Gabrielle answered, resolute.

"And what about tomorrow? What happens if I wake up and you're gone?"

"You forget I know all about tomorrow. Been there, done that. Without you, who cares about tomorrow? I'm willing to risk it all for one moment, if that's all we have."

Xena opened her mouth to object, her pragmatic nature warning her that not worrying about tomorrow might only cause pain.

"Ssshh," Gabrielle stood and Xena looked up, watching in confusion as the beautiful woman stepped over and bent to place a forefinger against her lips, silencing the words. "Stop thinking. Did anyone ever tell you that you think too much?"

The edges of Xena's mouth lifted into a grin. "No, that would be a first."

"How 'bout, I love you. Has anyone ever told you, I love you?" Gabrielle asked, running her fingers down the surprisingly soft strands of Xena's long, dark hair.

"Yea, I've heard that one before."

"Yes, but did you believe them?" Gabrielle leaned in and kissed the warrior softly.

Xena closed her eyes, relishing the light touch of Gabrielle's lips against her own.

"Would you believe me if I told you I loved you?" Gabrielle asked, her mouth hovering so close, Xena could feel warm breath tickling her skin as the question was spoken.

"Maybe. Depends on how convincing y'are."

Xena didn't have to open her eyes to imagine Gabrielle's saucy grin. Neither did she bother to open them when those adoring lips found her own again.

And they were softer than she could have ever imagined. She took her time savoring those lips, that mouth, enjoying the sensation, the subtle fullness and the way her tongue tasted, like warm honey. As their kiss deepened, she felt her heart quickening. The moans escaping between them were more exciting than any call to war Xena had ever heard.

Without realizing it, she had risen to her feet and pulled Gabrielle up along with her, into her, experiencing the way she felt wrapped up in her arms for the very first time. Xena's hands moved with a mind of their own, caressing the contours of a surprisingly strong back and wandering up so her fingers could play with the soft strands of silky, sun-kissed hair.

Like she was cresting a ridge at the head of an attack, her exhilaration surged. It felt so incredible to be holding her, feeling the way she moved against her and answering their passion with a mouth and tongue so hot and full of need, it made Xena dizzy with the sensation of it. She tightened her arms and deepened their kiss, moaning at the way her hot mouth fueled her excitement until she began to see stars in the back of her eyes and her heart beat with the pounding thunder of war drums.

It was Gabrielle who broke away, stopping the warrior with a gentle touch to the cheek. "Easy, Xena. I can't breathe. I think I'm going to faint."

Xena pulled Gabrielle into a tight hug, confused by her own lack of breath and the strange, unfamiliar sensation of being weak in the legs. "I will not lose you. I can't lose you."

"You won't lose me." Gabrielle whispered, returning the hug and took advantage of the position to follow the path of a pulsing vein running down the length of Xena's neck with tender nips and licks. The warrior tasted salty and sweet, her skin was smooth and so very warm.

"Gabrielle, you're changing the subject," Xena protested closing her eyes. She leaned her head and offered more flesh, enjoying the jolts of pleasure that Gabrielle's lips and teeth were sending along her spine.

"And here I thought I was being very relevant." Gabrielle's kisses traveled downward, across Xena's collarbone, to the swell of Xena's full breast. Her tongue slid along the top of the warrior's breastplate, tasting both cold armor and hot skin. She smiled, enjoying the smell of leather and the unexpected hint of cinnamon, the natural perfume of Xena's tanned Grecian skin. Her hands reached up and deftly released a clasp. The right side of the armor tipped downward, exposing a bit more flesh, which Gabrielle consumed hungrily.

"Right now, Xena," Gabrielle said as she nibbled skin and leather and her fingers toyed with the second clasp. "We have right now - this moment. Let's stop talking. All we've ever done is talk. Right now, I don't want to talk. I want to know what it's like to feel your skin against my skin. Your lips kissing me. Your fingers touching me. I want your tongue tasting me." Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and looked up with loving eyes. "Can't we do that, Xena, before this all ends?"

Xena took hold of the bronze clip Gabrielle had been playing with and unhooked it, tugging away her armor and flinging it to the side. She pulled Gabrielle up against her, into her arms and stared deeply, delighting in the feel of Gabrielle's body through her leather.

"Yes," she answered emphatically, "we can do that."

"Then stop talking."

That eloquent eyebrow, the one Gabrielle so adored twitched once before long arms reached out to gather her up. She stopped the warrior with a gentle push against her chest.

Xena groaned in protest and resisted the retreat, unwilling to release the body she craved from her arms. She wanted Gabrielle right where she was - never wanted to let go. Then gentle fingers silenced her murmured protests and she let the woman back away curious as to what she had in mind. With half-lidded eyes, she watched as Gabrielle's intentions became clear.

She stood at arms distance bathed in gold by the light of dancing flames. The lips that Xena had just been kissing smiled seductively as lithe fingers unhooked the first of several strange clasps Xena remembered as "buttons". She watched quietly while slowly, one by one, sly fingers unsnapped them all and let the cool night breeze flutter the fabric aside. With a shrug, the garment fell from her shoulders, slid down along beautifully sculpted arms and dropped away.

"They wear far too many clothes in the future," Xena commented in a low, husky voice, indicating the bra. She reached out and slipped long fingers under each strap. With a gentle tug, she pulled the straps off those luscious shoulders, making sure that the backs of her fingers caressed as much skin as possible all along the way.

Her skin feels like the finest silk from Chin, Xena mused as she pulled the straps down. The cups of the bra parted, slipping away only far enough to reveal just a hint of pink.

An eyebrow lifted impatiently at the tease until Gabrielle reached behind her own back and undid the clasps. The bra released and fell to the ground.

"Much better," Xena whispered approvingly and ran the back of her hands over the swell of two beautiful, firm breasts. Gabrielle gasped as Xena's fingers brushed against nipples hardened and erect from the cold. The sound was music to Xena's ears. It stoked the already powerful need building in her groin and her hands dropped to grab the waist of Gabrielle's pants.

"Off," she ordered with a tug.

Gabrielle pushed the warrior's impatient fingers away and then quickly undid the clasp at the top. Xena watched as the strange, extended metal clip unwound itself and the top of Gabrielle's pants separated.

"Zipper," Gabrielle explained, noting Xena's interest.

"Stupid name," Xena commented and, completely out of patience, gently slapped Gabrielle's hands aside and shoved the pants down. The stiff garment peeled away from her skin to reveal a very sheer pair of britches. The warrior's brow arched impatiently. "More?"

"No more," Gabrielle responded and pushed both garments the rest of the way down her legs, kicking them aside.

Skin, smooth and perfect, unscarred by war or wound, breasts full and firm, nipples pink, golden curls so pale as to be nearly invisible - the firelight painted an image for Xena truly of an angel.

"By the gods, you are beautiful, Gabrielle," Xena whispered, staring at the contours of her body in awe. "You take my breath away."

"So why are you just standing there?" Gabrielle asked, teasing affectionately, "I thought you were a woman of action."

"Hang on a second," Xena said, turning quickly.

"Where do you think you're going?" Gabrielle shouted in surprised as she watched Xena dash to her horse. "Hey! It's cold out here like this, you know."

"Hang on!" Xena hollered in reply.

A moment later she was back, a thick roll of blanket in her arms. With a quick flip, she tossed the material out and it fell open, spreading along the ground as close to the fire as Xena thought safe. The warrior quickly fixed the edges so that the blanket was spread out, covering as much of the ground as possible. It was barely enough for one long, tall warrior.

"Is this your idea of a bed?" Gabrielle asked, looking at the material, which appeared to be some type of animal skin now that Xena had thrown it open.

"Bedroll," Xena stood and shrugged. "It's what I sleep on." She walked back to Gabrielle and wrapped her up in her arms, pressing their bodies together to give her warmth. "I wish it could be an oversized feather bed in the grandest palace in Greece, Gabrielle. I'd give that to you if I could, believe me," she said as she rubbed Gabrielle's arms and kissed the top of her head.

Gabrielle looked up and smiled. When she did, Xena couldn't resist leaning down for another heated kiss.

"Still cold?" she asked after a few breathless moments.

"Not anymore," Gabrielle answered, grinning. "Now, will you please stop talking and take me to bed?"

Gabrielle slipped out of Xena's strong arms and lay down upon the soft fur of the animal-skin bedroll. She turned onto her side, resting her head in the palm of her hand and shifted into a position that accentuated the slope of her breast and the curve of her hip in a way that was mesmerizing to Xena.

The warrior stood in the silence of the dark forest, hearing only the crackling of flames and watching as the light from the campfire danced along her skin, caressing with golden fingers all the soft curves and gentle slopes - the peaks and valleys - every last one of which Xena planned to conquer.

"Stop strategizing and come to bed, Xena," Gabrielle said impatiently as she patted the empty space next to her.

"Strategy?" Xena grunted and at the same time reached behind her back to undo the laces of her leathers, "Believe me, Gabrielle. Good as I am, I could have never planned for you."

Thanks to long arms and years of practice, in a moment the warrior was able to shrug her shoulders and the uniform slipped down from her body. Gabrielle had to chuckle at the rather cleverly designed breast dagger that slipped out of its hiding place and fell to the dirt. A strong foot kicked it off to the side

Without wasting time, Xena slipped out of her britches and tossed them over her back. The black fabric flipped end over end through the air and ended up dangling from a low hanging branch on the other side of the camp.

With a predatory grin, Xena moved to get into bed.

"Uh, uh," Gabrielle said, wagging her finger, and pointing. "Boots."

Xena looked down in surprise. "Oops. Sorry."

After a second of fumbling with the laces, Xena retrieved the breast dagger lying and, with a cocky grin, she flipped the blade once in her hand before slicing right through the ties. Two quick kicks the boots were off her feet, flying through the air. They crashed into the bushes on the other side of the camp.

Again, Xena knelt to claim what she wanted.

"And what about those?"

The warrior froze and looked where Gabrielle was pointing - her arms. They were covered by a set of gauntlets and bracers.

Off in the shadows on the edge of the camp, a wild hare was munching happily on the tender grass at the edge of the clearing. Two gauntlets, a pair of armbands and an assorted collection of very small, but no less sharp throwing knives broke through the bushes and landed right on its head.

"Do I pass inspection now?" Xena asked, displaying her naked body, arms extended.

Gabrielle stared up at the incredible women and for a brief moment, questioned whether she really knew what she was going to do with all of that.

"Very much so," she answered, pushing any insecurity out of her thoughts.

With the grace of an athlete, Xena lowered her long body to the bedroll and slid next to Gabrielle. She turned to the side, mirroring Gabrielle's position and smiled at the beautiful woman sharing her bed.

"If you're cold, I can go get the other blanket," Xena offered, suddenly realizing the time of year and the chill in the air. She moved, intending to get up and retrieve the wool covering that Gabrielle had left by the log.

She was stopped by a warm hand gripping her bicep. "Don't you dare get up!"

Xena stilled and the hand at her arm lifted away to play with long strands of soft, black hair. She settled comfortably back into position and waited while those same gentle fingertips danced across her cheek and then along her lips. Gabrielle's touch began to rekindle the smoldering fire that was still burning just under Xena's skin.

Nothing compares with this, Xena thought as she ran her hand down the length of Gabrielle's body, brushing her fingertips along soft skin, over a beautiful breast, cresting a perfect nipple and down along a sculpted stomach. Her fingers paused just at the soft mound of golden curls and lifted away.

Raising clear blue eyes up, she smiled at the shine of passionate expectation glistening in Gabrielle's. They lay on the bed roll, her long body stretched out next to Gabrielle's shorter but no less perfect one. The relief from finally being able to touch her in whatever way she desired was palpable to Xena. There was no need to rush now, but still she felt uneasy, as though at any moment Gabrielle might fade away and disappear forever.

"I won't lose you," Xena stated again, eyes darkening with sincerity as she stared deeply at her partner, her lover, her friend. "I won't lose this."

"You won't. You won't lose me. Love will find a way. It always does."

"Does it?"

"Always the cynic," Gabrielle said and reached out. She wrapped her hand around Xena's neck and pulled the warrior to her. "Here, let me prove it to you."

They kissed and Xena came undone. Moaning, she gently urged Gabrielle over onto her back and covered her naked body, breast touching breast, legs entwining. Xena never felt anything as incredible as this woman's skin against her own. Her hands wandered everywhere, her passion surging as lips and tongue tried desperately to satisfy an unquenchable hunger.

Xena pulled away, deciding that Gabrielle's lips were simply not enough. She slid downward bequeathing tender kisses that left a trail of heat along Gabrielle's skin all the way to her breast.

Nothing she experienced had prepared her for the taste of Gabrielle's nipple, the feel of it in her mouth, the soft velvet roundness of her breast in her hand, the way her muscles shifted under her touch. She grew dizzy with the soft cries Gabrielle was making and as her tongue swirled and her teeth nipped at the sweetest flesh Xena had ever tasted, she felt her world spiraling down to this single moment, the only moment that had ever mattered in her life, and ever will.

Fingers played with all the contours along Gabrielle's well-defined stomach. Palm ran down the curve of her hip and back up to massage the swell of her breast. Thumb rubbed a nipple to aching tautness while her mouth paid homage to her other. She nipped at soft skin. Toyed with areola until Xena heard cries of impatient passion urging her onward.

Her lips gentled, kissing and suckling a hardened nipple tenderly as her hand traveled south again. Her touch grazed across the soft skin of her stomach, pausing to acknowledge the presence of an irresistibly cute mole, then continued on, stopping to swirl at the edge of soft golden curls only to detour away of their intended goal. Her hand slipped into the curve and over the sharp angle of her hip, and slid down to caress a buttock that felt as smooth as satin.

Her palm cupped the shape, massaging with joy the way it felt in her hand. Her fingers slipped into the crevice between the two perfect cheeks and her heart began to thud, knowing she was very close now to possessing her completely. The tips of her fingers passed over a small, puckered opening, and teased its rim for a moment before sliding on and encountering wetness. Xena paused, gasping in excitement and played for a moment there, relishing the feel of the wellspring just at her fingertips.

Gabrielle lifted her leg, wrapping it around Xena's hip and pressed up to give her more room, hinting that she should go further without delay, but the warrior withdrew.

"Oh, Xena," she heard Gabrielle murmur hotly into her ear, and she smiled, rising up to kiss the lips that had whispered her name. Her palm slid along a soft buttock and up the underside of a firm, beautifully shaped thigh. Grasping a knee, Xena gently tugged the leg from her hip and eased it down

With a gentle nudge, she urged her leg to part and heard the soft sign of surrender as thighs slowly spread wide in offering.

"Xena," barely whispered, it was the only way that Xena ever wanted her name spoken again.

Her fingers drifted along the curve of a hip and as far down the inside of her leg as her reach would allow. Then her touch traveled up mapping the inside of a thigh and the more hidden areas of her round buttock, so soft she could barely feel the skin. Fingertips tickled at the crease between leg and hip and then brushed across the golden blond curls. They were wet, soaked with Gabrielle's need and beckoned for her to enter. She dipped a finger in and ran it along soft folds gathering up all the sweet moisture she found. The moan that echoed her caress sent a thrill right through to her groin. She took her time exploring all the secrets of those nether lips, swirling around labia so wet, it caused her own loins to clench with need.

She had touched men and woman before, always with a cold, hard passion, never with this swell of emotion that rushed through her, stealing her breath and setting her skin afire.

"Gabrielle," like a prayer, she whispered the treasured name. "Gabrielle."

Her fingertips found and toyed with a pearl, circling the hard swell of desire with even, gentle strokes. Gabrielle's hips began to move, pressing up to match her touch, lifting with urgency in rhythm with each stroke, begging for more.

With a long finger, she slid down along the entire length of that need and slipped between the soft folds. She paused just at the entrance, relishing the moment.

Her finger parted welcoming lips pressed inward, but stopped encountering the texture of an unexpected barrier - the proof of Gabrielle's golden innocence.

"Oh, Gabrielle." she whispered in her ear. Holding very still, she kept her finger exactly where it was and kissed Gabrielle in acknowledgement of the gift.

"No one but you, Xena," Gabrielle answered, kissing her back. "This time, there's been no one but you."

"Put your arms around me," Xena instructed softly, and sighed when she felt her arms encircle her neck. She kissed and nibbled the soft skin of Gabrielle's neck as her thumb drew gentle circles, bringing back burning waves of desire until Gabrielle's hips began to move again and her finger felt the silken walls of her entrance begin to shudder.

She pressed in, gently passing through and when her long finger slipped into the soft wetness of Gabrielle's essence, she felt as if she were touching her own soul.

She pulled out, slowly luxuriating in the feel of her soft, slick walls, they way they quivered as she twisted her finger, pressing against the side and then the top as she withdrew.

It felt incredible, the wetness and the way she waited now, hands clutching at her back, urging her to enter again.

She slipped back in, slowly, fully, taking advantage of the length of her finger to elicit another moan and another quiver of from the hot, wet walls surrounding her finger.

Gabrielle's hips rose up to meet her and then they were both moaning and moving, thrusting toward eternity in breathless passion. Xena's world began to spiral out of control. The way her finger felt as it pressed in and pulled out of Gabrielle, the way she was crying her name, the way her skin tasted, the feel of her lips and tongue as she stole urgent kisses muffling her cries.

She felt Gabrielle expand under her touch and with the next thrust, added a second finger, feeling the thin membrane tear and nails dig into her back. She swallowed Gabrielle's cry with her lips and the thought that they were sharing blood sent Xena whirling toward a passion she had never experienced. She filled her again, twisting her two fingers as she entered, curling them as she withdrew, pressing in again as deeply as she could, and filling her with everything she was feeling.

The tremble began deep inside. Xena could feel it, swelling her essence with a tingling energy. The hips beneath her lifted off the blanket and stilled, and then she was crying out. Xena grunted, feeling the contraction deep inside as though it was her own. The walls around her fingers clutched in spasms and she felt the wave as though it was passing right through them and out.

Her own climax snuck up on her, surprising her as her groin shuddered and stole her breath. She shut her eyes and grimaced, almost in pain, as she rode the wave of pleasure, indescribable in its beauty and intensity. It turned her inside out, stole her equilibrium and for a moment, a single, short moment, Xena actually felt redeemed.

Soft hands and tender kisses brought her back to reality. She had collapsed on top of Gabrielle, fingers still nestled deeply inside of her. The soft walls were twitching with pleasure and so, Xena realized, were her own.

She nuzzled the warm skin of Gabrielle's neck, soaking in the glow and happy to wait where she was until the small tremors subsided. Then, it occurred to her that she was probably crushing her poor lover, so she attempted to lift up, and as gently as possible withdraw her fingers from their warm cocoon.

A firm hand grasped her wrist, stopping her.

"No," Gabrielle groaned, "no. Stay."

Xena eased back down, smiling when arms wrapped around her again. She kissed the neck she was nestled against and sighed, loving the way Gabrielle was rubbing her palms along her back and down as far as she could reach.

Experimentally, she twitched the fingers still buried inside.

"Don't!" Gabrielle jerked. "Don't move a muscle!"

Xena chuckled and stilled. "I'll stay in there all night if you want me, too."

She felt soft hands caressing her back and the hot breath of a contented sigh against her ear. Xena lifted her head to look at the beautiful woman lying beneath her.

Gabrielle was staring at her with an awe-filled look of wonder. Fingers lifted and played with dark, sweat-soaked bangs, tracing the sharp planes and hard angles of the warrior's face.

"I love you, Xena," her words a breathless whisper.

Xena squeezed her eyes shut overcome with an almost painful swell of hope. She hid her face in the warmth at the crook of Gabrielle's neck and waited for the feeling to pass, wondering if her heart was ever going to stop pounding.

"I believe you, Gabrielle," she whispered tenderly in her ear. "Gods help us, I believe you."

Warm beams of sun trickled through leaves, tickling Xena's skin. The change in temperature and light nudged the warrior awake and she opened her eyes to see branches swaying gently in the breeze and the bright sun of a new day breaking through the canopy of trees overhead.

She yawned and shifted, lifting her head and blinking in confusion as she looked around. The camp was quiet, her supplies in place, the woolen blanket a lump lying in the dirt by the log where it had been dropped, the campfire a pile of cooled ashes. At the edge of the clearing, Argo swayed peacefully, munching on grass. Her weapons were where she had left them, resting against the tree.

Everything was as it should be - save for one very important thing. The space on the bedroll next to her was bare - her arms empty. Gabrielle was gone.

She let her head fall back to the blanket and swallowed a lump of disappointment.

I'll always be with you.

The words, feeling like an empty promise, echoed in her ears.

She threw her arm over her eyes and allowed herself a moment of pain. Just one moment. Only a single, brief stab of hollow emptiness did she allow her heart before an iron will clamped down on the unfamiliar feeling of helplessness.

"Wakey, wakey."

The voice was like birds singing to her ears. She threw her arm to the side, off of her eyes and bolted upright.


"Do you always sleep in this late?" The blond walked into camp with an armful of wood and dumped it onto the cold ashes in the fire pit. Wiping her palms of dirt, she turned to the warrior and smiled. "There's a dead rabbit over there with your knife in it."

Xena sat there staring at Gabrielle with her mouth hanging open.

"What? You don't expect me to skin it, do you?"

In a jumble of long arms and legs, Xena bolted from the bedroll and wrapped Gabrielle up in a full body hug, pressing her to her tightly.

"Hey!" Gabrielle grunted in surprise and then wrapped her arms around the naked warrior and hugged back. "Ok, you got me. I'll skin it. But only if you promise to greet me like this every morning."

Xena couldn't find the breath to respond. She held on to Gabrielle, eyes squeezed tightly shut, waiting until her heart stopped pounding.

"Xena, what's wrong." Gabrielle pulled away slightly and studied the warrior's anxious face. She glanced over her shoulder at the empty bedroll and suddenly realized what had caused those clear blue eyes to dilate with fear. "Oh. You woke up and I was gone. I'm sorry, Xena. I didn't realize. You thought I vanis…"

"Just shut up," Xena pressed a large palm against her mouth, silencing her. "Don't say it."

She kept her hand there as though speaking the words might make it happen, and waited until Gabrielle nodded in understanding. Xena replaced her hand with her lips and kissed the girl, taking her time until she was sure that Gabrielle got the message.

When she broke away, she pulled Gabrielle to her, leaning her head against her shoulder and sighed.

Gabrielle let Xena just hold her and waited until she felt the pounding of the warrior's strong heart subside. She ran her hand down a bare back feeling a scar or two.

"Don't you think you should get dressed? You'll catch your death."

But Xena wasn't ready to let go of what she had. Gently, she guided Gabrielle back to her shoulder and kissed the top of a golden head. "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you."

Gabrielle closed her eyes. The unexpected words touched her heart and wrapped around her soul in a strangely familiar way. She relaxed, willing to let the warrior hold on until the uncharacteristically vulnerable moment passed. "That's ok," she whispered, patting her back softly, "you can stay naked as long as you like."

She felt Xena smile against the top of her head. "I can fight just as good naked, ya know."

"I'm sure you can."

"It's an excellent diversion. Really throws 'em off balance."

"I don't doubt it."

"I can show you the technique," Xena said, giving the fabric of the shirt Gabrielle was wearing a tug.

Gabrielle ran her hand down that long back to cup a perfectly shaped buttock. "That's okay. I think it's time I showed you a technique or two of my own," she said, giving the delicious rump a gentle squeeze. She didn't even need to look up to know that a dark eyebrow was arching.

It was well after mid-day before they packed up camp and left the clearing. The sun had traveled past its apex in a cloudless sky and, as they walked away, Xena noted that the branches on the trees dotting the hillside were nearly bare.

They could winter in Amphipolis, she thought and considered the notion. No need to subject Gabrielle to harsh weather her first few months on the road. She tugged on Argo's rein, changing the direction at a fork in the narrow path. It would take them over a small hill and into a valley, the golden pastures of her home town.

Amphipolis was no guarantee, though, that they would be safe. True, the Persian war was far away, but there were still thugs and warlords, thieves and bandits, brigands, crooks, gods and plenty of politicians left behind - all bent on trying to rule the world.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" She asked, glancing down. Gabrielle was walking right next to her, her strong legs having no trouble whatsoever keeping up.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, coming with me. Staying with me. Just because I left the army, doesn't mean there won't be trouble. I'm still a warrior. No matter what we do, where we go, trouble will follow."

"I know that," Gabrielle answered, smiling up at Xena. "It doesn't matter what we do or where we go…or what follows. Just so long as we're together."

Xena allowed the hope that she had been holding at bay blossom fully in her heart. She thought of Alexander, of the words he spoke to her as she left the camp and her army, her life as Supreme Commander behind.

"How can you do this?" he implored as she had turned to go.

"How can you walk away? Leave the glory of conquest, of all this ... for what? For love? Xena, for a man like me, for a woman like you, don't you know that love will never be enough?"

They crested the top of the small hillside, passing under the branches of an oddly shaped, windblown tree. She looked down at the golden head of the treasured woman walking beside her and grinned.

Gabrielle was right. Who knows how long anybody really had. But, no matter how long this lasted, even if it only lasted as long as it took their hearts to beat, as long as their hearts beat together, it would be enough.

If she was meant to fight, then this was the only thing worth fighting for - the only thing worth dying for.

Alexander was wrong, so wrong.

Love was enough. Love was more than enough.

The End

Author's Footnote:

On entering the Achaean harbor, Alexander stood at the prow of his vessel in full armor and flung a spear into the sand. In addition, his first act upon landing was to set up an altar to Athena, the Goddess of War and Wisdom. They say he stayed there for days, praying and making sacrifices to the female Goddess before marching on to conquer Persia and the rest of the known world.

There is great controversy over whether Hephaestion was Alexander's lover or merely his devoted friend. Regardless, the poet-warrior Hephaestion was Alexander's constant and most stead-fast companion. And when Hephaestion died of an unknown illness, the violence and extravagance of the king's grief knew no bounds. For days, he lay on the body weeping: no one could comfort him. Alexander cut his hair and even had the manes and tails of his horses docked. Hephaestion's funeral was a grand affair, fit for a king, and every province in his empire contributed to its cost.

Alexander died not very long after.

Books that greatly aided me in the writing of this little bit of fan fiction:

All of the battles were taken from actual events - even the one with the wagon. Alexander was one of the most brilliant and original generals in history, a great leader and an inventive strategist. He was also ruthless and egotistical. That horrible scene where the Queen ordered the hands of the Centaurs cut off and seared? Alexander ordered that done once to an enemy, too.

· Green, Peter; Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C., A Historical Biography, University of California Press

· Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Translated from the Chinese Text by Lionel Giles, MA (1910)

· Du Maurier, Daphne, The House on the Strand

Websites that greatly aided me in the writing of this little bit of fan fiction:

· - Alexander the Great's Home on the Web
· - Ancient/Classical History, Alexander's First Great Victory (Significance of the Battle of Granicus)
· - The Art of War by Sun Tzu
· - History Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of World History

Songs that greatly aided in the writing of this little bit of fan fiction:

I have to admit, I am greatly influenced by music. Much of this story was written while listening to these songs:
· These Dreams by Heart
· These Dreams by Northstarz featuring Neon 8
· White Flag by Dido
· My Immortal by Evanescence
· Somnambulist by BT
· Time After Time by Moonchild
· Clubbemia by Mark Van Linden

People who greatly aided in the writing of this little bit of fan fiction:

· Anne Redding - my poor, beleaguered beta-reader. I led her down a path and then chuckled sadistically when I sprung the real ending on her! Without Anne and her constant help and encouragement, this story would have never been written (not to mention that the sex scene at the end would not have been explicit).
· Coral and Carol Snowdeal - they kept kicking me in the butt to write again. Now that I wrote this, they better read it!

· Webmasters - especially MaryD (my home on the web). Three cheers for your unending support of bards and Xena and fanfic. Without you, what's the point? Thank you for all your efforts…not to mention your patience (especially with me J)

· My brave survey takers - thank you for your input and for your feedback during the last few chapters. You helped me to round the corner and make it to the finish line.

· All of you who have read each chapter as I posted - I know it was slow going. I know I drove you insane. I know it was hard to remember all the details from part to part. Still you stuck with me. Thank you.

And now, to the rest of you who still love Xena and Gabrielle fan fiction - thank you for continuing to read Xena & Gabrielle classic fan fiction on the Net and thank you for your continued support of the Bards.

And last but not least, to the rest of the Bards out there - X&G classic fan fiction is in danger of extinction. I challenge each of you out there who are pounding out the Ubers - write a classic. If you all wrote one classic and posted it, we would be inundated with new X&G stories to read. For every X&G classic you write and reference this challenge, then I'll write another, too!

Long live Xena!

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