~ Journey Through Shadow Land ~
by J.A. Bard


Warnings and Disclaimers written by Wildcat wildcat@rainbow.net.au), (c) Wildcat, 1997.

Warnings/Disclaimers are included with stories to enable readers to judge whether each piece is of interest to them. They are intended to be taken seriously as a warning about the nature of the story. In many cases it can be presumed that one of the lead story characters (Xena: Warrior Princess or Gabrielle) is involved in the action of the story and to that end, after reading Warnings/Disclaimers, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether they wish to read a particular story.

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private
use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent. J.A. Bard/weave01@earthlink.net

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

By J.A. Bard

Part I

Chapter 1

A Captive Audience

Selene's white mares disappeared into the western sky taking the remnants of the night's sparkling canopy of stars with them, while Helios and his chargers started their ascent dragging the fiery sun ball into the dawning sky. Dark gray peaks of snow capped mountains were enflamed by the fiery orb's touch as it rose above the snowy ridge scattering tongues of its flame on anything that it could reach. Nighttime creatures circled their bedding before lying down with a contented sigh that their duties have finished for another night. Day creatures began their day with a stretch and a call to neighbors and their surroundings announcing that they would soon be on the prowl for a meal.

An imposing figure dressed in dark tan leathers with a sword slung over her back stood on the top of the cliffs that overlooked a small fishing village nestled in the cove. The sun's first rays found her, sending sparks of light off her sword hilt, then as she turned to look at the source of light, holding onto the ends of her hair, the light caught the copper swirls of her armored breastplate and armbands flashing her presence. Turning again to face the ocean, she dropped her hands to her sides. Aeolous' strong winds that coursed over the cliffs, sent her dark tresses back into twisting steams as she leaned forward to keep her balance. The ship that dropped her and her golden warhorse off was almost out of sight around the jetty with its sails filled and leaning low in the water as it curved around the rocks.

It was there again, just out of focus. She avoided willing it into a sharper image, as she found it only gave her a splitting headache. It started with a slight disorientated feeling, then she felt another's presence, as if someone else was looking out through her eyes. She blinked a few times to rid herself of the mental discomfort. Her mouth tightened into a grim line and her eyes hardened into cold chips of ice. She hadn't been able to figure out what the feeling was about...yet. Shaking her head in resignation she slapped her thigh as if to bring her thoughts back to the present. She needed to get moving. She turned back to face Argo, who was happily pulling tuffs of grass for a quick snack while waiting for her mistress.

Her change of direction caused her hair to whip into her face. She paused at the saddlebags on Argo's back to pull out a thin leather thong to bind the fluttering hair back. She didn't want her vision blocked. For a moment, she ran the leather through her fingers, as if remembering something. Shaking her head she returned her thoughts to the present. The need to join Gabrielle was becoming more intense and she worried that it may have something to do with this disquieting feeling she had been experiencing the last few weeks, to say nothing of the other images that were imposing themselves on her nighttime dreams. Xena's usual stoic expression didn't change but an inward smile made its way to her eyes as she thought of more pleasant reasons to return to her Bard. An image of waking from sleep to find Gabrielle draped over her possessively brought a brief smirk to her lips.

Xena had taken longer than she had planned in what she had felt was to be a very simple job of checking out the security of a small kingdom on one of the smaller islands across from Acron. The young Queen's consort wanted Xena to go over his security setup. Xena had accepted the job in lieu of attending the seasonal initiation ceremony in the Amazon Village for the new crop of warriors.

Gabrielle was attending the ceremony as their Queen so at the cross-roads about two weeks ago they parted company. Xena was relieved they had met a small party of Amazons returning to participate in the celebrations and a few returning from their sojourn to Lesbos. The experience of Gabrielle traveling alone usually was as eventful as when Xena traveled with her...busy and oftentimes...dangerous.

Xena nodded to herself thinking of how busy Gabrielle would be on the road dragging out all the story material possible from the young girls about their life on Lesbos. Xena grinned, thinking of the relief she would have felt, had she gone along, that Gabrielle would be creating stories about someone else for a change. And if the normal happened, they would probably have some trouble on the road. It was amazing that someone as kind-hearted as Gabrielle attracted more trouble than most ordinary people did. This brought a chuckle to Xena as she knew, Gabrielle was not ordinary in any sense of the word.

The Amazon's, who weren't familiar with her would think that she would not be able to defend herself and being their Queen, would overprotect her and Gabrielle, in her usual manner, would let them have it after the danger was over. This brought a big grin to Xena's face. Gabrielle was quite formable when her ire was raised.

The ceremony Gabrielle and the Amazons were attending was a rite of passage, which stretched out for two weeks. It was comprised of friendly competitions, tests and nightly parties held by the patrons and sponsors of the initiates. The parties were usually brag parties and ended up being an outlet to get rid of excessive energy from being cooped up from the seasonal rainy weather, unless you liked mud. It was very entertaining watching scantly clad and naked women wrestling in the mud. Xena's grin continued as she thought of the muddied ring, contestants and oftentimes, the spectators, who would start mud fights. The idea was to test the young warriors in difficult weather conditions and it followed that the older warriors for want of something better to do, joined in the practice to properly demonstrate...techniques. Xena understood the practicality of working in all weather conditions, for when she was a warlord she had her own troops out in the foulest weather drilling. It was necessary to be able to fight in all weather conditions. However, Xena had never thought of having her own soldiers drill without armor or clothing in the mud since the idea was to get use to the discomfort of having the stuff in uncomfortable places and still concentrate on fighting.

Xena easily vaulted onto Argo's back, landing lightly. Argo picked up a fast pace without being directed to. She didn't like the wind behind her, for small bits of gravel bit at her fetlocks and buttocks. Xena could feel the same biting stings on her bare shoulders and decided putting on a cloak would only mean she would be fighting the ends of the cloak in the wind. It wasn't worth the effort since once she was away from the coast the strong chilly winds would cease.

Looking up at the sky overhead she found it clear, however further west Zephyrus, god of the west winds, was blowing in dark clouds. By the looks of the clouds any unfortunate traveler in the west would be wet and cold. Xena sniffed the air around her and could not detect the smell of any coming rain, which didn't mean anything with the crosscurrents in this area. The air was heavy with the scent of ocean spray and hinted of some late blooms that were hiding in the crevices along the cliff. She also caught bits of different herb fragrances as the warmth of the sun's rays heated the leaves.

Xena turned her attention back to the East where she was headed. The sky looked clear and it was still early enough in the morning to enjoy the beginning of Helios' ascent into the heavens. Xena liked early mornings for the fresh sharp smells of plants that released their fragrances with the heat of the first sun rays, and the way the light gradually started to awaken the day creatures. It was the different clamor on the senses that the sudden dramatic appearance of light brought to the environment that she delighted in. She frowned for a moment thinking of how she also enjoyed the shift of consciousness the night brought to her. It was a different awareness as it was like being alive in shadows and yet seeing, hearing and feeling with an acuteness that would blind her in the day's light. She shook her head at the comparison. That's something for a Bard to describe...her job was simply to experience it. She grinned feeling a better mood descend on her at the thought of reuniting with her lover and partner in adventures.

Argo had a lot of ground to cover before they could find safe cover for the night...if she had a mind to stop to sleep. She would probably push Argo as much as she dared. Xena squinted into the raising sun, wishing for hat to block out some of the morning glare. She turned in her saddle and reached back into her bags. Hmmm. Goop. Where did I put that stuff? Her fingers finally found the small jar of black goop she used for putting under her eyes, on her cheek bones, to cut down on the glare. Satisfied she settled in the saddle and glanced around her remembering the last time she had been in this area.

In her younger days she passed by here with her army...she was in a hurry after receiving a message from Marcus. She didn't pull back from the rush of feelings that engulfed her...the pounding in her with blood lust for battle and the sexual energy that further ignited her passion for the battle she was heading for. For a moment Xena's eyes burned with a fire that was reminiscent of her warlord days as the memory washed across her. She let the feeling pass without holding on to it. Some memories she was learning to just let go without attaching the remorse or the pain of introspection to them. Silently she sent Marcus a loving thought, knowing that he could hear her in the Elysium Fields. She didn't bother to compare her love for him and Gabrielle, or feel any pangs of regret. They were two different people from different times in her life.

As they moved further inland the wind decreased dramatically and Argo and her mistress were able to relax more as they fell into their familiar travel rhythm. Xena sniffed the changing air as they moved into the forest of gray tree shapes bare of leaves, ready for the winter. Small wind currents alternated between warm and cold as smells she associated with autumn, the forest and the wooded inhabitants whiffed by her. She could hear the wind moving through the few leaves that were still clinging on the near bare branches. Her posture seemed to be relaxed as she casually glanced about her, but her heightened senses reached far ahead and around her as Argo continued her easy canter. She noted the change in sound of Argo's hooves as the ground underneath changed composition between hard packed earth to patches covered with a blanket of colorful fallen leaves. Her eyes swept across the road reading the signs of passage of various animals that had been before them. She heard birds chatter in the overhead trees, alert for any change in their tone that would warn her of a stranger or friend within their domain.

Argo had accompanied Xena on the ship and did not like the rolling and pitching of the ocean trip, so she was enjoying the feel of the solid ground beneath her hooves. They had taken the ship to cut time by having a merchant ship drop them off at the small fishing village. It took two days off their travel time, though Xena was now taking a coastal route to the Amazon's Village rather than the winding inland road. The Queen's consort, who dreamed of being King, had gladly paid their fare since it was his foolishness that caused her delay. She had stayed five days instead of the two days she planned. Xena shook her head as the irritation began to bring a scowl to her face and deepen her blue eyes to a hardness that scared most sensible people.

"Ah, ah. Now stop." She chided herself. "It's the Queen's problem. She's not blind to his foolishness. Let it alone." Argo's ears flipped back at the mumbling from her rider, snorting at the last sentence she shook her head and continued on with her own business, watching the ruts in the road so her agile feet would not twist in them, tossing her precious cargo over her head.

Xena sighed and turned her thoughts to memories of the last time Gabrielle and her had attended an initiation celebration. Challenges, that no one had the courage to make against her, partying at night for the winner's mentors and finally after two weeks, the women that passed their initiation were presented with their own masks made by their sponsors or mentors. She didn't mind missing that part, which by Amazon law, she could not attend. She admitted to herself it was the mud fights she had been interested in. A large smile finally made its way to her face as she remembered a certain part of the celebration. Queen Gabrielle, had been squirming in her chair as she watched various members tease each other over silly inconsequential things then break out into mud slinging fights which turned into wrestling. Xena was amused at the ritual of insults that were not just colorful but imaginative. The insults could be as entertaining as the mud fights. Xena could tell that Gabrielle wanted to join in the mud tossing and if the mud hadn't hit her on the chin Xena was sure she would have figured out some reason to jump into the fray.

Gabrielle, ankle deep in mud with a mischievous smile, and a smug look on Xena's face would have tipped anyone off of the impending trouble. Gabrielle knew Xena could have prevented the mud from hitting her. The Queen decided to take the smug look off of her champion's face with a hand-full of the wet stuff. Instead, her Majesty ended up flat on her back as her feet slipped out from under her when another victim of the mud, entangled her legs. Due to the fact that the Queen had jumped in seemed to signal that everyone was to join the melee, and anyone not covered with mud became a target. Xena had chosen that time to disappear. With all the fun going on she didn't want someone thinking they would get away with trying to dump her in, namely Gabrielle, though she wouldn't have been able to...Xena didn't want to risk any stray mud sullying her reputation. After all, she had an image to keep up. She watched the rest of the fun from a safe distance with Ephiny, sipping ale and commenting on the antics, the new collection of warriors and exchanged rancorous jokes until Ephiny passed out.

A different smell breezed by Xena and caused her to shift her attention quickly. It was from the left of her. She pulled Argo into a slow trot then into a walk as she focused on what was familiar about that fragrance. It was their special occasion oil. Gabrielle had found out that the fragrance had a very strong effect on her lover's carnal appetite and decided to keep some on hand for special times. Those special occasions were after arguments, when Gabrielle thought they were distant long enough, or when Xena became too pensive for Gabrielle's sensibilities. Just thinking about smelling it on the nape of Gabrielle's neck and other well chosen spots on her body, caused a small fire of anticipation to start in her center. Someone else apparently liked the scent too.

Hmmm. Could be something worth investigating. "It should only take a mere candle mark or two to investigate." She murmured to Argo's twitching ears.

She directed Argo down a faint trail leading in the general direction the wind was blowing from. It led further into the forest heading north. The tall trees with their many bare branches stretched out above her giving strange shadows over the ground that was littered with deadened leaves. The Ivy that connected the trees, blanketing them with their ever green leaves became thicker as she moved further into the forest. She strained her senses attempting to catch more of the smell or the voices. She thought she caught a voice that sounded like Gabrielle's now and again.

Xena reviewed the last two weeks quickly going over the weird experiences she had been having since two days after parting from Gabrielle and her Amazon subjects. She was suspicious this was related. It would be better to clear it up before she got back to Gabrielle. The intensity to return to Gabrielle that started a few days ago, was not the usual feeling she felt when separated from her.

Yep, this needs clearing up before I see Gabrielle, especially if it has anything to do with those...dreams "Best see if this is all related, Argo. No such thing as coincidences, Girl."

She couldn't press Argo any faster as the trail was overrun with brush and it was more of a small animal trail than a passageway for horse and rider. Xena finally pulled Argo up, and tested the air again. The breeze was blowing in a different direction now and she could not hear or smell anything that would give her an idea of the direction of her mystery. Well, she knew what direction not to go in, and the last direction the wind blew was from the North.

Thinking of Gabrielle brought a clear image of the Amazon Queen to her mind. She saw her leaning on her staff with her usual smiling face and green shinning eyes that sparkled as if she was up to something. She was wearing her Amazon regalia, feathers in her air fluttering in the wind. Thinking of Gabrielle brought the usual warmth that filled up her heart and moved out to the rest of her body. Suddenly the energy changed, just like it had been doing for about the last week and a half. She involuntarily gasped, as her body reacted from the fire that started between her legs and spread a heat that pounded and coursed through her entire body momentarily clouding her sight. It wasn't the same feeling of lust that she experienced following a battle nor the usual sexual desire she felt for Gabrielle. None of these new experiences were near the usual. Xena shook her head to clear it and willed her thoughts elsewhere. She needed to keep her attention focused on her environment.

Argo continued to tread her way through the brush with her mistress studying the small tracks and translating the stories they told of the creatures that had been by. She felt the pounding heart of a small rabbit, sensed a few birds hiding in the swaying branches above her, and the other usual wildlife for that area. Xena dismounted from Argo with a flip over her head in order to walk in front of the golden horse. She wanted to get a better connection to Gaia's domain through her own contact with the earth.

Aeolus, shifted his winds and a chill swept down from the top of the nearby snow peaked mountain. Xena wasn't paying the weather too much attention, as she was preoccupied with what was going on in Gaia's neighborhood. Dark clouds that suddenly swept from over the peaks, covering the sun brought her eyes up to study the sky. Surprised she found clouds much like those in the west moving quickly toward her, already covering the view of the mountaintop. Lightening flashed in the distance. They needed to find some sort of shelter. Sniffing the air again that was starting to push rather stiffly against her and Argo, she caught the musty smell of damp moss and an herb she knew that was usually found around caves. Turning into the wind Xena lead Argo around trees and through the brush, cutting what was too thick aside so they could both pass. The rain's arrival was announced with a rumble above them and then a heavy downpour. Visibility was but an arm's length away.

A loud crack, bright light and flying bits of a tree split asunder located three strides from them sent Argo back peddling and squealing in terror. Xena was trying to not duck from the pounding rain and falling debris as she concentrated on coaxing some of the wild fear out of Argo's eyes. Argo was a warhorse that was use to battle forays not Zeus's wild displays of a light show so close by.

Xena was able to get her to stop backing up. She stroked her nose watching the nostrils flare out and the eyes wildly looking about her to see if there was anything else that was going to hit her. There was not much to see in the gray down pour.

Zeus, in his preoccupation with leveling the trees around that area, struck another nearby tree, which again pelted them with chunks of splintered wood. This proved to be too much for Argo. Instinctively Xena spun around and blocked a branch that was descending on her. It caused her to release her hold on Argo's reins, as she needed both hands. Argo took off and Xena fell to the ground from the impact of the branch. Rolling to her feet once clear of the branch she sprinted in the direction Argo had fled. The pelting cold rain did not slack off but she found that Argo's hoof prints made deep indentations in some places. The rain filled up the prints quickly making tiny lakes out of them. As Xena ran on, she could feel her irritation with the weather and Argo's unusual display of running this far from her, leave.

Maybe this is exactly what I need to rid me my recalcitrant disposition of late, she thought wryly.

Argo's tracks were taking her into a valley. As Xena followed a muddy trail near the side of the small hill her ears picked up the sound of a soft nicker. She stopped suddenly and had her sword out in a blurred motion, the blade smoothly slicing through the rain. She faced the direction from where she heard the sound, cautiously climbing up the slippery incline keeping her sword and eyes sweeping around her. Argo's prints disappeared behind a wall of vines hugging the side of the hill. Dead flowers were piled about too deep to be buried in the mud. Xena narrowed her ice blue eyes to study the area. Moving closer she could see that part of the wall of vines moved more vigorously than its neighbors.

An opening? Cautiously Xena moved forward, focusing her attention on what was before her, yet not totally heedless to what was going on around her. She used the tip of her sword to part the curtain of vines. It was too dark inside to see how deep the cave was but the unmistakable stagnant smell of a closed area was evident with the strong smell of a wet horse.

Another crack of lightning that struck near by caused her to move into the cave without any more delay. Trust Argo to find a safe respite from the weather.

For a brief moment the lightning lit up the cave and Xena could make out the dark form that was extending a whiskered nose toward her.

"Hey, Girl. So you went off and found yourself a nice and dry place, huh? Willing to share? She remarked softly as Argo nudged her nose into her mistresses dripping form. Xena's hand curled around Argo's under lip then moved to scratch the wet horse's neck, while scanning the small area. Her eyes needed to adjust to the darkness. Xena tested the air. She could pick up the faint smell that had drawn her off her original course along with the smell of stale air. As her sharp vision adjusted quickly to the darkness she could make out the sides of the cave. The gray light from outside didn't filter much light through the leaves so Xena didn't expect to get a much better view until the next lighting bolt.

She began to make out small holes in the walls of the cave, which might be storage places for ...hopefully...lamps, candles or something useful. To the right were steps leading to a higher level. Argo's warm breath on her arm reminded Xena she needed to set up a fire to dry off and to get some warm tea in her. Leaving Argo's warm side Xena went to check the dark shadows along the wall and noticed the holes were like storage places as she had guessed. A quick flash of worry hit her as she hoped it wasn't a burial cave. The scent that had been distracting her again made a fleeting pass by her nose.

"Who in Tartarus is here?" She quickly looked around the dark cave. Another rumble of thunder accompanied a flash of light... revealing nothing really to see from where she was standing. Xena returned her attention to the small repositories looking for something she could use to light. If someone used this cave there had to be a candle, lamp, short torch, anything. She finally found something as her hand hit a pottery object causing it to clink against other objects. She was in luck. By the feel of the objects she had found a cache of lamps and they felt full. She also could feel the wicks that were gathering dust next to them. Pulling two of the lamps out she placed them on the floor of the cave and fitted them with wicks. She went back to Argo to get her flint. Her leathers were awkward wet and were dripping trails of water down her legs and on the dusty floor of the cave. She could track her own movements in the cave by the wet trail she left.

She loosened Argo's girth and pulled the saddle and bags off her to let her dry. They weren't going anywhere anytime soon. She felt in the bag for her small packet. Xena could feel Argo's breath on the back of her shoulders as she knelt next to the lamps working with the flint. Her cold hands were the first to benefit from the spark that caught onto the wick.

She lifted one of the lit lamps and studied the steps looking for any traps. She couldn't detect anything, above, to sides, or below the stairs. Cautiously she moved up the stairs moving the lamp from side to side to peer into corners. At the top of the stairs the floor of the cave leveled off. In one corner was a rack for hanging armor and weaponry, a sleeping pallet and a small trunk at the foot of the pallet. The room it revealed was the inside of someone's hide-away. She moved the lamp to get a better view of the center of the cave. There was a circle of stones about ten strides in from the stairs. She walked up to it and found wood in the cleaned pit with spare wood neatly stacked to the side. Someone must have visited here often, at one time. She could tell it hadn't been recently for the floor was covered with dust and only showed her presence. That part had a mixture of relief and foreboding, for where was the fragrance coming from? Xena was able to get a fire going in little time. Looking back at the cave entrance she noted that the fire pit was high enough not to let out any light through the leaves.

She returned to Argo patting her on the neck. She ran her hand over her withers to see how much she dried off. Xena gave Argo an apple from her pack and brought the packs back to the fire ring. She removed tea to heat up, a dry cloth and a change of cloths for herself. She had a small pan that she filled with rainwater. While that was getting hot she turned her attention to drying herself off. She struggled with the buckles and wet clasps on her armor. This is where she really missed Gabrielle's assistance. She set her leathers and armor on the supplied rack, draping the soaked thin tunic she wore between her skin and leathers on a corner. She dropped a dry winter tunic over her head then dried her hair as much as she could with the cloth. The fire was quickly warming the interior of the cave. With the added light from the fire she could study their quarters better. It obviously was someone's safe haven and that person wore armor. She lifted the lid to the trunk and found dusty bedding and dry cloths. They had been there for a while. No personal effects aside from the cloths. Xena turned back to inspecting the walls closer in this part of the cave. Another small opening had old candles stored. As she moved to one side of the back of the cave the flame in the lamp started to dance around wildly. There was also a subtle change in the air. A dark thick line ran down the back wall of the cave where the light from the fire didn't reach.

An opening into the depths of the mountain? Maybe where the smell is coming from. She inspected it with the lamp and found it was wide enough for her to slide through without her armor.

"Well, Argo. What do you make of this?" Xena asked her friend who was quietly dozing in her part of the cave.

The water started to boil. Turning back to the fire she threw some herbs in the steaming water swishing them around then putting the pan to the side to seep a little. The intense need to reunite with Gabrielle started up again. Xena put her head in her hands and let the feeling run its course. This feeling only started two days ago, but she was sure it had something to do with the dreams...and the unwelcomed presence. She took a deep breath and let her more practical mind take over. This little side trip saved her and Argo an unpleasant time in the storm. It wasn't as if Gabrielle was in trouble. She knew that anxious gut twisting feeling well. If it had been she would have not allowed herself to be sidetracked or to hole up comfortably in a dry cave while a full scale storm played itself out.

Her thoughts again returned to the image of her friend with the ready smile and laughing green eyes. She also started to think of how she wanted to hold her against her and feel her skin against her own. Sighing she shook her head. The erotic dreams for the past two weeks were driving her crazy and did not do her morning disposition any good, which normally wouldn't have made any difference among strangers. She was surprised Queen Deanna put up with her testiness most of the mornings. Her night sword drills increased in duration as she became more reluctant to sleep and the Queens close presence in the daytime didn't help any. The young woman was not subtle when she was alone around Xena about her desire to see Xena in her royal bed. Xena was at first amused by the attention then had to become blunt about her not being interested, which was difficult when her dreams at night were leaving her very horny. It was also rather difficult to tell someone that was rubbing up against you that you were not interested when your body was twitching and easily getting aroused giving the observant Queen a different message.

When the dreams first started she had thought they were from her own intense desires that she hadn't acknowledged or from the sexual energy the young Queen was generating, like a mare in season. But as the week progressed her suspicion changed. The content of the dreams were...Xena sighed...well, if they were from Gabrielle it was certainly a side of Gabrielle she didn't know about. But the coincidence that the dreams and the feeling of another's presence, which was not Gabrielle's, occurred at about the same time, giving her an uneasy feeling that it was all related.

Xena had taken the security job mostly out of curiosity for she knew the young Queen from one of the villages she had helped rebuild after a band of disgruntled soldiers thought to ransack it. The young woman had been visiting her mother's family and then was not at all the type of person she had become. It's amazing what three years could do to a person. Xena's lips twitched into a smile as she thought about the young Queen's interest in her. Her consort would have to content himself with her wandering eye for both genders or leave her. Xena had heard rumors about her and was curious how much was true. She didn't want to personally find out about her sexual proclivity just about other things, like the ability to pick winners or attract good luck. It turned out the young woman had a very good sense for business and an eye for interesting bed partners.

That brought an amusing memory to Xena. Two seasons ago, Xena had been invited to visit Lesbos and had taken Gabrielle along...as if she would have been able to leave her behind ...Xena had spent half a day being charmed and engaged with various women when she finally escaped to look for Gabrielle. First place she looked was the library. Gabrielle was alone in the large room, engrossed in a scroll that she was holding up and moving to view from various angles and sometimes blushing furiously. When Gabrielle realized Xena was in the room she had quickly rolled it up and tucked it back in its storage space. When Xena asked her what she was looking at Gabrielle reported sheepishly that they were love poems. Xena had already glimpsed what the contents were. It was a collection of erotic love poems with diagrams of the various poses the poem was on. It was one of the many guides on love making that Sappho collected. It had been about seven moons before they became lovers, now that she thought about it.

"Oh, my lovely Bard," she thought, "you are in for a tryst with little sleep for days and nights in payment for these two long weeks...even if you are not the one responsible for those dreams!" She smiled to herself, "and if you are, we are going to talk about NOT repeating the experience."

She poured the tea into a small cup and sipped it letting its mixture warm her. She dug into her pack for some trail bars of dried fruit, nuts and oats. She lost herself in thought as she chewed and stared into the flames aware of the continuing storm outside of the cave.


Xena jumped up, sword before her, legs bent, extending all her senses to search out the area to even the darkest corners. She saw nothing and could only feel Argo's presence. Looking down near the entrance she could see Argo's shadow. Argo hadn't even raised an inquisitive ear toward the call.

"Hey Girl, didn't you hear anything?" Xena asked her friend softly.

Argo merely looked up at her idly twitching her tail.

Xena backed down the stairs to the entrance of the cave and parted the vine covering keeping a wary eye at the interior of the cave. It was still pouring outside and from the looks of it the clouds and rain were going to stay a while.

Xena faced the inside of the cave again. She normally could sense danger, it was so insidious or heavy but there was nothing here. The fragrance again passed her face stronger this time. Images of Gabrielle filled her mind and they were along the erotic line. She sighed. She needed to get to the bottom of this.

"Too many odd things are happening, Argo. I can feel a connection but..." She climbed back up the stairs looking around as she sat back down near the fire, carefully laying her sword near her side. She continued to sip her tea while staring into the flames. Sighing, while one hand put her cup down the other lifted her sword as she rose to her feet and returned to Argo. Brushing Argo helped her sort her thoughts and this was what she needed to do.

The rain outside made it impossible to travel so she wasn't feeling so guilty about taking some time out from what had been a hurried return to Gabrielle's side. She mentally ticked off on her fingers why she was going to investigate the opening in the cave wall. One was because it was there, two was because the fragrance that just so happened to be special to Gabrielle and her was coming from there, not to mention what pulled her off the road, and three all the other things that have been happening in the last two weeks.

"It shouldn't take long, Argo, then I'll be back to attend to my armor and leathers."

Finishing with Argo she put the brushes away. Without using the stairs Xena leaped easily to the next level. She picked up her Chakram, attaching it to the belt wrapped around her tunic. The scabbard she would put on after she squeezed though the narrow

Taking one last look at Argo she stashed a few of the candles in her small pouch at her waist that also contained her flint. She picked up one of the lamps and swished it around to gauge how much oil still remained. Enough. She extinguished the other to prevent anyone from seeing its light from behind the vines and then made sure the fire was below the stones that ringed it.

"Well, let's go see what's going on." She told herself.

She didn't feel the draft until she stood off to the side. Squeezing through the opening she tried to shield the flame to the lamp. The draft became more noticeable as she stepped over what felt like was a doorway, sending the small flame frantically waving about. She pulled her scabbard after her, using her body to shield the wavering light.

The change of feeling around her was dramatic and immediate as she moved into the dark tunnel. The smells here were muted, as was sound around her. She no longer heard the flame sputtering in the lamp, or the air moving about her. Her senses felt blunted. She calmed herself as the feeling of being closed in attempted to panic her.

Laying the lamp at her feet she fitted the scabbard into its comfortable position on her back, adjusting the straps to the more bulky clothing then her form fitting leathers.

Picking the lamp back up she held it high above her head to see around her. It was a tunnel whose ceiling was high enough that if she lifted her sword it would barely touch the roof. The width between the walls would accommodate two people walking abreast. The sides of the cave did not show that they were hewn with tools but rather more of an old water channel for there were traces of old water levels. Her face didn't change when she noted that she was not throwing any shadows.

"Athena, did I get myself into something that is better left alone?" She asked exasperated. She had enough challenges with everyday life, and for that matter being around Gabrielle, without messing in the eerie. She shook her head mentally. She wanted to solve this problem and felt it was all related...so buckle up and get on with it, she firmly chided herself.

The annoying disorientated feeling started again but she didn't do anything until it unhurriedly made its way to her consciousness. It was that same feeling she experienced on the bluff and for the last week. She had walked about twenty paces away from the opening when she turned quickly pulling her sword out smoothly and almost put the wavering flame out with her quick movement. There was a figure before her, just out of reach of her sword point, whose resemblance to Gabrielle was close, but Xena knew it was not she. What was different? Her heart was steady as she faced the image of her lover.

"Who are you?" Xena asked in a curt voice.

"I'm not your enemy." Came a young seductive voice that didn't even come close to sounding like Gabrielle, but was provocative enough to send goose bumps up and down her arms.

"Come closer." The voice enticed, this time sending shivers down Xena's spine. She shook her head to clear the sound that was threatening to overcome her sensibilities. She wondered if this was another version of the Sirens.

Not good, Xena told herself sardonically, with the way things have been going for the last two weeks, if they don't lighten up, I'm going to be like dog after a bitch in heat by the time I see Gabrielle! Mentally Xena corrected the image to a stallion after a mare in season, somehow thinking Gabrielle would appreciate that image over the dog image. Though, why, since both…Xena impatiently shook her head. Aphrodite's girth! This is ridiculous!

The image of Gabrielle was blocking her exit...if she wanted to go back to the cave. Then the beat of a war drum started somewhere in the back of her head. This is not good, at all. Xena kept her sword pointing in front of her listening to the beat that was picked up by her heart, just as in the old days, reminding her of the blood lust that was part of the passion the war drums invoked.

"Pegasus's droppings! This is going to be another one of those 'shouldn't have done that,' trips." She muttered.

"Please, hold meee." The voice implored. The image had her arms out and was moving in a suggestive way toward Xena. The lamp was sputtering terribly and causing small sparks to fall on Xena's hand.

"Ohhhh." The image stopped and giggled as she watched with fascination, as the lamp struggled to not go out. The flame danced around and the image started to waver, then it disappeared. The feeling of the presence left just as suddenly.

Xena retraced her steps to check for prints from her visitor. She reached where she believed she had entered and stopped. The lamp was sputtering again sending sparks onto her hand. There was still enough oil in the lamp as she could feel it swishing around in the base. She used her sword tip to lightly touch the wall that was where she felt the opening in the wall should be. Nothing indicated an opening. She bent to one knee bringing the lamp down to see if there were footprints. To her amazement there were plenty with hers over the lot. She studied the prints noting the various sizes. None of them were recent but her own. She continued looking around the sides of the wall.

Her face became grim when she noted that her own prints showed a start from the wall that she had been prodding with the point of her sword. An illusion? No. Illusions have a feeling to them, though subtle. She felt no illusion here, in fact she felt nothing here. Her senses were quite dull. So, what now? She heard laughter again, this time it was followed by others. One of those voices really did sound like Gabrielle's! How could she hear voices but not the sound from the sputtering lamp?

The only way she was going to get out of this was to find out where the old footprints led to and where the laughter was coming from. She needed to continue on.

Slowly she started back into the depths of the dark tunnel letting the flickering lamp light a small area in front of her. The fragrance was becoming stronger. Her feet could feel the change in the ground below her. It was softer as if she were no longer walking on stone. The oil in the lamp was getting low. She raised the lamp higher to see what dark shape was taking form above her.

"How handy." She smirked to herself as she reached up and pulled the torch from its resting-place. Using the lamp's flame she set the touch alight and put it back in its holder. As it lit up the area she could see that she had entered a chamber that had seven torches set around the room. She lit three more to get a better view of where she was. It appeared to be a tomb.

"Hades! This is not a place I want to be meeting anyone, unless its Persephone on her way out." She muttered to herself. Which is not likely to happen, as this is the season she visits Hades. Xena certainly didn't want to wait around until it was time for her to return to her mother, Demeter. She looked around for some type of clue as to why she was led here.

In the center of the room was an elaborate sarcophagus with real flowers encircling it. The fragrance from the flowers was the same as the oil that Gabrielle used for their special occasions. After this, that may change, she thought grimly. Stepping toward the sarcophagus she reached down to pick up some of the petals. She rubbed the soft lips between her thumbs and sniffed the odor from the bruising she released. Yep, that was the smell. Returning her attention to the sarcophagus she noticed the old lettering on the sides and chiseled across the draped stone cloth. It was an old language from one of the islands off the Aegean Sea. As she looked at the face that was carved to represent the deceased Xena jumped back with her sword up.

"All right! Show your self!" Xena's voice was coldly incensed. The face on the stone was one half of Xena's face and the other Gabrielle's.

A small figure appeared near her elbow but Xena's reflexes had distance between them quickly. She realized as she stood there with her sword pointed at this wisp of a young woman the sword was of no use. Taking a deep breath she sheathed the sword and frowned at the small shade that appeared before her.

"Hi, Xena." The shy young woman with Gabrielle's face smiled with her eyes barely able to meet her icy stare.

"Who are you?"

"Not your enemy." Came the return. For a brief moment the young woman's eyes looked into hers and Xena had to hold herself steady. The eyes that looked back at her were like Gabrielle's.

"And?" Xena got out between clenched teeth.

"I need your help." She pleaded.

"If you show me who you really are then we'll talk." Xena returned firmly.

The youthful figure thoughtfully studied the tall older woman, dressed in a tunic with a scabbard tied to her back who was also breath-takingly beautiful. The dark hair was wild looking and still damp. Her glance traveled to the shoulders that spoke of power. Her long legs were chiseled muscles that promised stamina and strength. The thoughtful green eyes looked up at the cold blue eyes that could scare even the hound of Hades. She smiled in appreciation of the warrior that was before her.

"I am Alex."

The look in the cool blue eyes told her that this was not making any impression.

"I need a champion." She said, changing tactics.

Xena raised an eyebrow and waited.

"Yes, a champion." The green eyes twinkled as Gabrielle's would.

"Do you have to..."

"Oh, you wish for another?" Quickly the form changed to Calisto. Xena's sword was out before even a heart beat could complete its thump. "Oh." Quickly the form changed into another image and the images quickly changed with people from Xena's past and present.

"Stop!" Xena growled.

The changing form stopped at her mother's image.

"Why can't you just appear as yourself." Xena demanded.

"I have no image."

Xena's patience was beginning to reach the intolerable level.

"What are you?"

"Nothing now." The shaped changed back to the young woman who resembled Gabrielle.

"All right!" Xena snarled her patience at an end.

"I was once...well, not quite like you,... I mean..."

"Never mind that!" Xena impatiently interrupted. "So what is this all about? Why do you need a champion and for what?"

"Then you will be my champion!" The little voice shouted happily clapping her hands just as a delighted child would.

"Will you just get to the point!" Xena's voice was low, doing her dangerous warlord imitation that usually had men of sound mind feel otherwise.

The girl smiled for a moment and seemed to be listening for something.

"What do you want to know?" And the form changed again, this time to that of an old woman.

"Can you stop changing forms and just stick to one? Like this one. It's fine." Xena grumbled darkly.

The old face looked at her with eyes that were faded gray. As Xena looked into her eyes she suddenly felt herself being pulled in. She stepped back and averted her eyes.

"By the River Styx, you'll be meeting with Charon, with an obol shoved where the sun doesn't shine if you continue with this game!" Xena had taken a swish at the figure with her sword point, not expecting to do any damage but her energy was explosive and the form did recede back.

The old face smiled as the tall warrior flexed her will and muscles. She was strong! She could feel the passion and fire that could be used if she needed it. Ares had certainly put his mark on her, however, she could feel another influence that was greater, and a mere mortal caused that. Her smile widened. Yes, she was indeed perfect. Xena and Gabrielle had come highly recommended for this task.

The old woman blinked her eyes a few times and Xena's eyes were caught up in them. She bent forward as if pulled by a magnet to stare into the old woman's eyes. Again she averted her eyes and stared instead into the jewel that was above the old woman's forehead, and was captured by its sparkle. Her mind became stilled.

"That's better, my mighty warrior. You have been chosen to be our tall and beautiful champion. You will do just fine." She cooed softly. "Now we need your other half and then we will be ready to get down to business."

Far away Xena could hear what she was saying. She tried struggling to break the hold but whatever held her was not even touched by her struggle. She felt as if she was looking at herself from far away. It was discomforting to see her bending painfully low to look into the eyes of a figure that was about up to her knee. Was the figure a dwarf? No the hands weren't large, nor were there any similarities except height.

Then there was a peaceful blackness that descended on her mind.

Chapter 2


It was a three-day journey from the cross-roads, where Xena parted company with her, to the Amazon Village on foot. At first the five Amazon warriors and the two young girls who were to compete in the ceremony, had been uncomfortable traveling with her and only saw her as their Queen. However...Gabrielle grinned to herself...it only took two stories to put them at ease. The second story was an amusing story of Hercules and his experience with a pig who wished to see what it was like to be human. Ilonius had told her that one. Naturally she embellished it a bit to add her own mark to it.

Gabrielle used their two nights around a campfire to learn about them and what was happening in the Amazon Nation she was responsible in large part for. She made mental notes on what was said and not said, who they liked, what they didn't like and other things that she found useful in gauging the atmosphere of the Village. Ephiny, her Regent, did not have it easy with the various factions that attempted to have things run their way. By the stories the women told her, Ephiny was doing well, though a few did not particularly like Ephiny's methods, but they did respect her and to Gabrielle that was a good indication that the Amazon's were doing well under Ephiny's guidance.

On the third day, about mid morning they had arrived at the Village and to Gabrielle's relief Ephiny had a warm tub of water waiting for her with food, a massage and information to bring her up on what was happening along their borders and on internal management. Gabrielle wanted to tire herself out by nightfall so she would be too mentally tired to miss Xena's presence. However, the nighttime did not bode well for the Queen, for a glance at the large soft empty bed was her undoing. Instead of sleeping she took a walk around the Amazon's village following the pale path around the outer parameter.

Gabrielle took a deep breath of the night air. She could smell the rain in the cold breeze that fluttered the cloak she had pulled around her form. She needed physical exercise and right now pounding someone with her staff wasn't what she was looking for. Besides, it would wake up the others. She sighed as she looked up at the moon that was nearly gone. They had missed the Harvest Festival, for they had spent it elsewhere but the celebration three weeks after Gabrielle was rue to miss. The initiation, welcoming in the new warriors, would be on the new moon when it was completely dark. That was a week and a half away. Hopefully Xena would be back by then, though Xena had doubted it. But, Xena liked to surprise her with the unexpected. Gabrielle was hopping and fervently wishing, this was going to be one of those times.

Gabrielle knew her partner felt uncomfortable being present for something that was personal to the Amazon Clan. The initiations were an integral part of the social structure and visitors were permitted to only view the contests and not the final moment when those that had shown the aptitude and skills to be a warrior received their masks. On their previous visit, Xena had gone hunting and Gabrielle had been distracted from her duties as she wished she had not gone from her side. It was rather ridiculous considering she was gone for only a day.

Gabrielle looked up at the stars between the gray cloud shadows that were moving across the night sky. The glittering canopy of stars reminded her of nights when Xena and her would gaze at the stars and entertain each other with what shapes each one found in them. An ache started to curl around her heart as she thought about the comforting arms that she was so use to and weren't here. The thought of returning to an empty bed was too upsetting right now. She continued with her walk aware of her guard that followed at a safe but discrete distance. If her guard had a hard time staying awake she wouldn't now, she thought with a wan smile. Gabrielle had taken two walks around the compound and would have taken more if she hadn't heard the steps stumble a few too many times behind her.

Back in her quarters, Gabrielle prepared for bed. Why was she missing her so much? They spent days apart and even a few times they had been apart for a week and Gabrielle had always found something to do that kept her mentally occupied. Why is this different? Maybe it's because of the young Queen they had heard rumors about. Was she jealous? Gabrielle sighed. This was silly. She was very sure of Xena's feelings for her, so why did she feel so lonely? As she lay on her side squeezing the extra pillow close to her, she let her tears fall thinking of her missing love. Suddenly she felt a warm presence around her and small pressure on her neck as if lips were pressed against her skin. She stifled a gasp as she felt a tingle that traveled down her body. She turned quickly to stare only at darkness. Xena? It had to be! How did she do that? Oh, Warrior of many skills, broadening her abilities, is she? She lay on her back and closed her eyes. Two can play this game. She imagined Xena in her leathers standing in front of an open window looking out wondering what her bard was doing. The form that appeared before her was Xena in a black silky shift. Gabrielle stepped back and nodded. "Well, that's a nice touch."

She then imagined herself standing behind her with her hands around her waist and body pressed against her, her head nestled comfortably between her shoulder blades. She felt Xena respond by leaning into her. Good thing it wasn't with all her weight or Gabrielle would have fallen over with her tall tree tightly clasped close to her heart. Gabrielle ran her hands down Xena's body slowly, feeling the softness of the thin material and the curves of the muscles beneath the fabric. When she reached the muscular bare legs she caught her breath. Xena's legs tightened from the contact of her hands on her bare skin. She could feel a ripple under hands as her lover's muscles trembled.

"Come to bed, my love." Gabrielle whispered. Xena moved her head slightly as if hearing it. Sighing, Xena walked dreamlike to the bed. Her body was breathtaking in the night's light. Xena fell into bed.

"Oh, sweet Love. You look so tired. I'll give you a massage to help you sleep." She whispered as she watched Xena roll onto her back. Xena stared up at the ceiling taut with tension.

"Xena turn over on your back!" Gabrielle instructed impatiently. This dream image was not being all too cooperative, Gabrielle thought disappointedly. She would have to improvise. If Xena was going to stare at the ceiling...well...she was just going to have to give her a front massage. An impish grin appeared on Gabrielle face as she lay on her back in her own bed far away.

She imaged her naked body straddling Xena at her hips. She could feel the heat from Xena as her own hot spot that was moist enough with desire to soak through Xena's shift. It left a wet spot on Xena's stomach. She felt Xena's sharp intake of breath as if she could feel the wetness. Gabrielle leaned over her and kissed her forehead then her eyes to close them.

"Close your eyes, Love. Just relax." She whispered as she seductively ran her tongue around Xena's ear lobe then sucked on it. She could feel Xena under her move, as she became aroused. Gabrielle nipped her ear and worked her way to her neck and felt a shot of warm liquid fire flow out of her and onto Xena's body. Xena groaned as she tried to turn away.

"Oh, no my Love. I want to play this out. I want you to feel me, hear me, know that I am here with you." She whispered in the other ear. She stuck her tongue in her ear and teased her ear for a while. Xena hated to have Gabrielle put her tongue in her ear as it tickled her. Gabrielle felt another thrill as Xena's body continued to move beneath her.

"Gabrielle!" She whispered desperately to her lover wherever she was. "Please, stop!"

"Please, stop, Lover? Do you really want me to stop?" She whispered wickedly as she planted kisses down her throat and continued down her cleavage. She buried her face for a moment between her breasts breathing in the smell of her body.

It was amazing that even though she was wearing a shift, Gabrielle could feel her skin as if she was really touching it! And it was so blissful! She paused at Xena's breasts whose nipples were hard and standing out under the material. Gabrielle took one in her mouth and the other she caressed between her fingers. She squeezed the nipple until Xena let out a hiss of air and arched her back at the pleasure that shot through her.

"Do you really want me to stop?" Gabrielle's lips moved near the nipple she teased with her tongue. She returned to nipple and sucked on it a little more then started to leave a trail of kisses as she moved to a place where she knew would be hot, swollen and wanting her.

Xena groaned and rolled her head on the bed as she felt a hot passion burn her swollen lips. She wanted so badly to feel Gabrielle's lips on her soaking mound, she thought she was going to scream. She could feel kisses move down her body setting fires that radiated throughout her. Xena pulled a pillow from behind her head and put it over her face as she groaned into it. The lips and tongue slipped into her grove and found the swollen nub that was throbbing so hard Xena thought it would hurt if she herself did not touch it to relieve the pressure. But Gabrielle wanted to finish what she had started. She imagined her hand sliding over Xena's thigh loving the wonderful feel of the hard muscles that were tight from the strain. She massaged her thighs with her hands, pulling them further apart, as she brought her mouth back to Xena's wet center and almost wept from the pleasure of being able to taste the sweet nectar. The feel of tension from the bulb that was throbbing under her tongue sent pleasure shivers down to her own hot swollen lips. She slid two fingers into Xena and felt the woman raise her hips from the bed in excitement. With her free hand she pushed her body back down gently and began an assault on her lover's pleasure points with her tongue and fingers. She could hear Xena's muffled moans behind the pillow as her hips moved to the rhythm that Gabrielle set. It was even more amazing that she could stroke her faster in this dream than in real time. She felt Xena's body rise from the bed as her climax overcame her and she screamed her name into the pillow.

Gabrielle was going to bring her body to rest on top of Xena but she could feel herself being pulled quickly back to her own bed.

"No!" She shouted as she tried to recapture the moment.

"Queen Gabrielle, are you okay?" A voice from the other side of her door called concerned. The door opened and her guard stood in the room looking around quickly to make sure her Queen was alone.

"Yes." She managed to get out. "I...was just having a dream. Sorry I scared you." She tried to control her panting as her heart continued to beat wildly.

The Guard knew as the others that their Queen suffered from nightmares and was sorry that Xena, her Champion, wasn't around to keep them away.

"Would you like me to stay a while until you fall back to sleep?" She asked hesitantly.

"No. No. I'm all right. Thank you for the offer." She attempted to suppress a giggle, thinking of how word would spread if another woman spent the night with her. Xena would certainly find that interesting especially after what just occurred!

The Guard nodded wondering what she had said that caused that reaction. Sighing Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to reconnect with Xena.

"Have mercy on her. Let her get some sleep." Startled, Gabrielle sat up suddenly looking around her for the source of the voice. Nothing. Tiredly she sank her head back into the pillow.

The next morning Gabrielle was tired but she had a smile on her face as she was thinking about visiting with Xena again that night. Throughout the day many noticed the small smile on her face as she moved through her duties as their Queen. Ephiny was pleased that it was a smile and not the unhappy face she had seen when she arrived. Through out the day Gabrielle stopped to watch the young contestants between her reviewing Ephiny's plans for expansion of their present village. More young women and older women with usable skills were asking for membership both for protection and comradely. Ephiny was saying that they needed more warriors to protect their borders and rights to exist as a sovereign nation and the younger women were proving to be up to the challenge.

That night Gabrielle was soaking in a tub wondering what treat she could give Xena when she felt familiar fingers kneading the knots out of her shoulders. "Hmm, Xena. You know what I wassss..." Gabrielle's feet would have slid out from under her if she had not gripped the edge of the tub. Slowly she looked around her and noted that there was no one there. A nervous giggle started to escape her lips so she clamped her hands over her mouth to try to muffle it.

Two are playing the game, she thought with merriment. Okay, she would relax and see what Xena had in mind for her. But the hands did not return. Disappointedly, as the water was getting cold, Gabrielle got out of the tub and dried herself. She was tired from the day's activities and loss of sleep from the night before. Her eyes closed as soon as her head hit the pillow. She dreamed of the same room she had seen Xena in the night before but there was no Xena. Her belongings were there. The bedroll was neatly sitting on top of a chest with her saddle packs. Gabrielle idly stood in the window that Xena had been standing in the previous night, wondering where her love was when she heard the commotion below. She heard Xena's short retort to another. She couldn't hear what was being said. Minutes later she could see Xena practicing her sword drills, moving in a blur, as she usually did. The few torches that were lit made her figure more menacing appearing than it would in the early morning light. She was going to be up for quite a while. Gabrielle would have liked to stay to watch but her eyes were closing in her dream figure, and she was whisked back to her own bed and dreamed of other things.

Soft nibbles on her neck brought her awake the next morning. She could feel a weight on her side as if Xena was lying across her and nuzzling her to get her up. Gabrielle waved her arms in the empty air laughing softly at the feeling she was getting from the wake up call. It was when she realized that Xena was not with her that she sat up wide-awake. It was raining outside and she could hear the splashing of a runner as she went by trying to keep her balance in what was turning into mud. Gabrielle rolled over on her side and tried to recapture the feeling of Xena near her. She gave up when she heard others laughing outside of her door. It must be late if so many people were up. Resigned she did get up and start another day without Xena's presence.

That night Gabrielle didn't even have a chance to think about what she would like to do to Xena in her imagination for as soon as she laid on her back she could feel familiar hands stroking her face tenderly. Gabrielle closed her eyes as she felt tears gather. As they trickled down the side of her face she felt caressing fingers wipe them away. Soft lips touched her eyelids, which brought a warm feeling inside her as the kisses moved to her mouth. She felt the passion and longing in the kiss as she opened her mouth to her shadowy lover. She moved to wrap her arms around herself but she felt hands grab her wrists and pin her arms above her head. She felt a weight on her as kisses that started on her neck moved along her collar bone and then to her breasts. Her wrists were moved to one hand while she felt the other hand cup a breast pinching the nipple, while a tongue played with the other nipple.

"Hmm." Gabrielle groaned. "Harder." She whispered hoarsely.

The lips sucked and bit harder on her nipple as she tried not to cry out from the pleasure that shot straight down to her quickly dampening mound. There is a definite disadvantage to this, she thought with dismay. It was like their relationship before they finally admitted to each other that they wanted more than a friendship. All those lustful dreams with only her own hand to satisfy her instead of the mouth, lips, fingers and whatever else the one who the dreams were of, were enough to make a grown woman cry, which she had on many occasions. She had forgotten how frustrating that was until now. She was going to have to put less of the erotic twist and more of the hugging type into these dreams, but for now...

Her hips rose from the bed as she felt a tongue move over her swollen lips and into her wet center then the rolling around with a pause to suck on her hardened nub. She put a pillow over her face and muffled the groans that escaped from her mouth as she rode the wave of passion to a climax. She lay panting and shuddering from the aftermath, wishing for the comforting arms that normally held her at this time.

This is not going to do us any good, she thought exhausted as she rolled over hugging the pillow. She struggled to keep her thoughts on other things as an image of Xena lying in a tub came to her mind. She had her head back and was gripping the edge of the tub with a grim smile on her face. The vision ended.

The next morning, Gabrielle was not in a good mood. The rain had stopped and the sun was actually out, though it wasn't warm. She was eating breakfast trying to figure out why she was so irritable when she felt the beginning of cramps. "Oh, oh." Since she had been working out more and walking long distances regularly, she was finding she was missing her regular moon times and happily they didn't last very long when she did have them. She wasn't quite like Xena who could miss up to four months and bleed for a few days without any symptoms. Well, this certainly explained her low mood for the last few days, Gabrielle thought. She certainly could use Xena and her tea as well as the massages that relieved the cramps.

She had returned to her room and took the needed precautions. She was straightening up when she heard a rap on her door.

"Enter!" She called, laying down her pack on the floor near the bed.

One of the guards from the temple entered.

She bowed respectfully to Queen Gabrielle. "The Priestess Antiope has requested your presence. It is urgent."

Gabrielle frowned. Something to do with the initiation no doubt. Hopefully it wasn't going to be something that required a whole lot of energy from her for she was really tired. Just the thought of being tired brought an image of Xena. Her warm blue eyes were looking directly at her, then the image was gone. Well, it was better than the other images, she thought smiling. She laughed to herself. At one time, before they had become physical lovers, she drove herself nearly crazy with erotic thoughts of Xena. She certainly learned a lot about her body during that time, she smirked. But then, Xena taught her a lot more, she giggled. Now that they were lovers, she didn't feel they needed to drive each other crazy when they were parted but here they were like new lovers. Hopefully it won't be every night, or she knew for sure she would get on a horse and hunt Xena down with a passionate vengeance. She would have to make sure when she caught her it was in a very private grotto where...Gabrielle shook her head. Nighttime was enough to be filled with such distracting thoughts. She didn't need to drag them into daytime. She hid a sudden smile at the thought of day dreaming the image of Xena biting her neck while she was talking to Ephiny on some boring business matter. Gabrielle had to look around to distract herself from continuing on with such thoughts. Her guards noted that their Queen was amused by something, though each had their own ideas on what.

Gabrielle glanced around the open compound and noted that the young soon-to-be warriors were already on their third round of competitions, as the green waving flags above the ring indicated. She watched as they moved around each other with cautious steps as the footing was getting to be unstable in the well worked mud. She smiled, as she remembered the last time Xena and her had seen the competitions in the mud. Gabrielle had been asked to preside over the trials and it was a wonderful respite from their travels during that autumn. Her smile deepened as she thought about the mud fight that was a great release, though Xena managed to disappear just when she had a good shot at her. It seemed that warriors made it a practice to train in all kinds of weather conditions and the Amazons used the autumn's usual muddied conditions to see how the new warriors handled themselves.

Gabrielle followed the guard through the temple door, with her own trailing after them.

"Queen Gabrielle." A soft voice from the small alcove greeted her. "We are over here." She changed her direction. Antiope was not alone for Ephiny, Eponin and Sepha were there too and all with worried expressions on their faces.

"Oh, oh. Someone must have really did something against tradition, and since Xena's not here..." She was thinking.

Gabrielle had not been in this part of the Temple before. As Queen, she usually was in the front or at the entrance.

They were gathered around a seer's dish. It was like a bird bath that came waist high, only it was made of polished obsidian. Gabrielle felt the hairs raising on the back of her neck.

"What's going on?" She asked frowning.

"Come see." The high priestesses soft voice encouraged her.

Gabrielle could feel the tension in the three that were surrounding the dish. She was not going to step up there. Something was definitely not right. And it was in Artemis' Temple! She thought distractedly, for a golden light from one of the window openings reflected behind Antiope's head.

"Oh, oh. Looks like some kind of show is about to begin." A voice softly spoke near her ear.

Gabrielle spun around to see whose voice was near her ear.

Suddenly the others started talking.

"By the goddess!"

"What's going on?" Demanded their young Queen.

"That's what we wanted to ask you." Priestess Antiope spoke quietly making a sign in the air as if to ward off something they had all felt.

"I wouldn't be asking you if I knew." Gabrielle returned sharply. She quickly put up her hand in apology. "Sorry. I seem to be sharp tongued this morning."

The Priestess nodded to her. "It comes with moon-time." She said off-handedly.

Now how did she know she was on her moon time? Argo was usually the only one besides her that knew when she was on her moon time, but animals were sensitive to that. She smirked. It certainly helped so that when she was crabby Xena figured it out by watching Argo make her funny faces when Gabrielle was around her. Then Xena simply mixed her an herbal tea that eased her cramps, her disposition and usually gave her more energy. She suppressed the sigh as she again wished for Xena's presence.

"So, what are you seeing in the Seer's Dish?" Gabrielle asked directly.

"An unknown disturbance that is reaching out...toward you." The Priestess Antiope informed her in her soft voice.

Gabrielle thought about it for a moment. She was new to this connection she was having with Xena so she was wondering if that had anything to do with it.

"When did you notice it?"

"On your first night here."

Whoops, Gabrielle thought to herself guiltily. Her face flushed as she thought about what it could be.

"What?" Ephiny asked watching her young Queen's face.

"Well, it's like this..." She explained to the others the link she had with Xena but she left out just what the content of the connection was about.

The Priestess frowned. She knew the feel of Xena. As most Seers she could feel the presence of a person as to whether they were bad news or otherwise. She felt an unrecognizable power in Xena, but not evil, which some of the Amazon's would disagree with. Then there was the fact that Artemis also liked Xena after she had reopened the door for her Amazons to pass through into her afterworld, even though she had been responsible for it being closed. And most certainly if there were any danger to their Queen, for Queen Gabrielle was very dear to Artemis, the Amazon's patron, she would have made it known to the Priestess. She was going to have to keep an eye on this energy. She sighed inwardly.

"If the content changes to something that you think we need to know about," Eponin gave Gabrielle a wink, "let us know."

Gabrielle's face flushed. Now how did she know what the content was? Well, there goes her secret, Gabrielle thought.

Gabrielle nodded to the others and left the Temple to catch up on the work that Ephiny left for her to go over. She needed to know what had transpired since her last visit, after all she was their Queen, though sometimes, she thought guiltily, an errant one.

At various times the Amazon Queen would go out and watch the contestants, cheering good hits and groaning when one would land in the mud, favoring no one, then return back to her arduous scroll work.

As the week progressed the dreams continued, occurring sometimes in the early morning and sometimes at night. By the eighth day Gabrielle was determined to talk to Xena about this link. It was driving her crazy. That was something she never thought she would say about her lustful dreams of Xena. Maybe it was because it reminded her too much of the painful relationship they had before they first dared to touch each other as lovers. She shook her head. It wasn't painful, just uncomfortable, she corrected herself. To be driven crazy with want and to be so close to having it, but fearful of losing everything was a very exhausting existence. They were past that part of their relationship, thank Aphrodite!

A voice clearing next to her caused her heart to leap. She had been reading droll reports on trade goods.

"I said, your Majesty, would you like to have a massage? You are so darn up tight!"

Gabrielle blushed. Her shoulders were tight.

"I do seem to be..."

"Frustrated! Maybe you two should stop this long distance communication of yours." Ephiny suggested softly and wisely.

"I wish I could. They just come unbidden." Gabrielle admitted tiredly.

"Is this Xena's doing?" She asked hesitantly.

"I don't know. It seems so unlike her. She doesn't like distractions when she's doing her warrior princess thing." Or maybe Gabrielle didn't really know her. What was she thinking when Gabrielle was walking ahead of her or behind her on the trail? And what was going on in her mind when Gabrielle sometimes rode up on Argo with her? Gabrielle blushed again when she thought of what she was usually thinking.

The two women headed to the hot spring that was across one of the muddiest paths in the village.

As Ephiny gave Gabrielle a much needed shoulder massage they discussed the dreams without going into detail. Gabrielle admitted that they were not just lustful but were composed of things that they had not done before. It was quite surprising some of the things that Xena was excited by and for that matter, herself. If anything else, it was a great lesson in the diversity of sex games Xena came up with and with what Gabrielle remembered from a document she had studied in Sappho's library. Gabrielle chuckled when she remembered that Xena had caught her studying the positions and descriptions of things she thought she would never have thought possible. It was before they became lovers and it certainly added variety to her fantasies about Xena. Gabrielle blushed again as she remembered her fantasy of tying Xena to...Oh..oh. Don't go there, Gabrielle! she told herself firmly, remembering it didn't take much for the dreams images to become quite vivid.

"You mean, some of these trysts you are imagining you've never seen before?" Ephiny laughed amused at the changes she witnessed each visit their Queen made back to their Village. Gabrielle, had a face and manner that seemed to be naïve yet had seen more than she had in her longer life, and cared to see, for that matter. And now this sexual connection with her mate that was causing her loss of sleep and peace of mind. It was certainly a different side of her young Queen.

"Well, let me put it this way, Sappho has a scroll in her library on various techniques and positions in love making and some of the stuff I've been imagining I can't remember being in there. I am surprising, no shocking, myself in my inventiveness." Gabrielle blushed with the confession. She shook her head.

"It's not like I think of myself as sexually naïve, it's just that..." She let the air of her lungs and just looked out over the tall trees surrounding the village.

Ephiny decided she would have to visit the library herself and see what made the young Amazon Queen blush so furiously. Gabrielle was scheduled to return in the Spring for the Festival welcoming in the new life. It would be a good time for her to make that trip hopefully with someone she had been thinking of a lot lately. She wondered if Xena would stay the three weeks. She could always visit her own home town a few days from here.

"The most painful part of this," Gabrielle went on, "is that that I don't want to do this in dreams. Goddess! I want her here! I want the real thing!" She let out explosively in frustration. Then she smiled embarrassed at Ephiny. "Some of those fantasies can stay as fantasies but...I am going crazy with these dreams."

Ephiny nodded and made up her mind to have another talk with the Priestess Antiope.

The cloud that was over the village finally let a light drizzle fall on the two in the warm water.

"Let's get out of here before it really starts to rain. I don't fancy running back through mud puddles after a nice warm soak." Ephiny
told her.

"Me neither." Sighed Gabrielle. She pulled herself out of the pool and dried herself off under the covered area adjacent to the pool. Her own guard and Eponin were in deep conversation about the quality of new warriors that were demonstrating their competency and skills. Other Amazon villages had sent some of their young women to compete and their mentors had demonstrated in the mud wrestling that they were to be respected. It was a friendly but serious rivalry between different Amazon Nations.

Chapter 3

A Decision Is Made

Gabrielle didn't want to go to sleep. It had been eleven days and nights now and she didn't want any more dreams that drove her crazy with desire and where she could not touch Xena and have Xena touch her in the physical. The erotic content was getting more ardent as if the dark passion that sometimes overtook Xena was all that was being tapped now. Gabrielle was excited by the occasional roughness, but she also liked the tender moments too and those were no longer occurring. She laid her head on the table where she was writing a new story to try to keep her mind off Xena. This was to be about the Amazons and Ephiny, as their Queen. That should raise a few eyebrows, she giggled softly.

"Hmm. Let's see. I could tell the story of Ephiny's..." Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes. She felt Xena's presence. She could feel her worry about...she was pacing. She too didn't want to go to sleep. Gabrielle couldn't help herself as she felt herself drawn to the tired pacing figure.

"Xena, I'm so sorry. I don't know what it is but..." Xena paused in her pacing and glanced over to the bed. Instead of the bed she pulled her bedroll out and lay tiredly on the hard floor. Gabrielle could feel the now very familiar feeling creep up her.

"No!" She groaned as she struggled to pull herself back. "Nooooo!" She could feel the hot flash that threatened to send waves of fire to her hardening bud. It was now a nightly routine.

Gabrielle was gripping the sides of the table as she resisted. She could feel Xena struggling also but she didn't want to think of her, but as much as she tried she could not think of anything else but her desire for the tall muscular dark haired woman until....she felt the sting of a slap across her face.

Gabrielle's eyes flew open as the shock from the slap distracted her. Ephiny, Eponin and Priestess Antiope were standing before her with worried looks. The Priestess withdrew her hand.

"Your Majesty." She quietly spoke.

"Gads!" Gabrielle choked. Her breathing and heart beat returned to a normal rhythm.

"We've got to talk." Ephiny told her seriously. "First off, I want to confess that I sent a messenger out to another Temple of Artemis at the Priestess Antiope's suggestion without your knowledge. This was the same day we first talked of these...feelings or dreams of yours. I also sent another runner to Lesbos to find out if Sappho knew anything of this type of link. It's sort of down her alley." Ephiny remarked dryly.

Gabrielle waved her hand tiredly. "What did you find out?" She whispered tiredly.

Gabrielle then gestured to the chairs suddenly remembering they would not sit unless she invited them. As the women settled in another Amazon came in with steaming tea and food.

Just what I need, Gabrielle thought gratefully. She hadn't been eating very much lately and nibbling on something right now sounded good.

"The runner came back a few hours ago from the Temple of Artemis." The Priestess Antiope reported. "It took me a while to read what was written on the parchment, and to look up some of the symbols that were mentioned." She looked closely at Gabrielle. "I wanted to be sure what I was reading was what I understood it to mean."

"Well? Let's have it." Gabrielle said quietly, not really knowing what she should prepare for.

Ephiny sighed and shook her head at the Priestess. "It seems, as the story goes, that every thirty years at the new moon, a pair of lovers is selected to challenge a curse that was placed on another young couple that had gotten on the wrong side of one of the Gods of that time. It doesn't say which one, unfortunately, or we could just petition for the curse to be lifted for the couple. Anyway, the curse obviously hasn't been broken because," Ephiny took a deep breath, "we think you and Xena have been chosen to be the next couple."

Gabrielle looked from one face to the other. "Chosen? How do you know this?"

"The Temple of Artemis in Heliotrope has a diary of one of their young guards and her lover whose sudden heated passions had everyone talking. They disappeared and left behind the diary explaining about taking up a challenge willingly for a young couple that had angered a guardian of a forest in parts unknown. Sounds like Pan's mischief, but the diary does not mention Pan." The Priestess continued.

"What has all these dreams to do with it?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.

"Well, passion does have its own energy and source of power." The Priestess Antiope explained. "Add love to it and you have a power that is strong enough to break a curse."

"So...what now?" Gabrielle asked, thinking in the back of her mind what their love for each other had done for both of them. Yea, she could easily believe that the power of love was very strong. Stronger than death.

Eponin pulled out a map. They were prepared.

Ephiny pointed to a small mark on the map. "This is where Priestess Antiope feels the energy is originating from."

"It's not from Xena?"

"Oh, it's from her alright!" The Priestess Antiope laughed. "And from you, but the power that is linking and priming you two is coming from here somewhere." Her cupped hand circled a small area on the map.

"If my guess is right," Ephiny looked into Gabrielle's eyes. "Xena is feeling the pull to go here."

"Why Xena?"

"I don't know, but one of the messengers said she had seen Xena boarding a Merchant ship with her horse heading toward this area. Granted, it would cut days off her trip here, but my bag of dinars is on that she is going here." Eponin pointed.

It was near the spot on the map the Priestess had pointed to. "So, I will need to get started," Gabrielle stated matter-of-factly, "in the morning."

"Well, you and a few Warriors." Ephiny held up her hands to stop Gabrielle's refusal.

"It's only to make sure you get there. Areita told me of the bandits that attacked you on your way here. That road is usually not a problem. Need I go on about your penchant for drawing trouble?"

After getting a pained expression from Gabrielle she went on. "I've made some inquires and two of the Warriors are familiar with the general area. They came from a small fishing village about a day's ride from there."

"I don't suppose you have any clue as to what the challenge is?"

The three shook their heads. "Whatever it is, the others had failed."

"How long has this curse been going on?" Gabrielle asked nervously.

"It's only mentioned twice. But you know how libraries are always one of the first things burned down when one warlord conquers another. I haven't received word back from Sappho yet. She may have something in her library since this is grist for her poems and stories."

"Amber and Constance are from the village and Tiera is familiar with the shortcuts there." Eponin informed Gabrielle. "They will be ready early dawn."

"Shortcuts?" Gabrielle asked. It suddenly dawned on her that if this happens on a regular basis then there must be a specific time when the challenge is taken up. This intrigued her romantic and story telling nature, and realized that symbolically it would have to take place at the new moon, a few days away.

"At the new moon is our estimate." The Priestess Antiope told her.

Gabrielle had a sinking feeling it was going to involve ridding horses at a very fast clip. She didn't particularly like riding horses unless....ah ah ah. Don't go there Gabrielle, she told herself as she glanced away to regain her composure. Thoughts of her riding in front of Xena threatened to overwhelm her.

"Let's do it!" She spoke huskily.

The others nodded. Ephiny glanced at her from the doorway, as she was the last to leave. "I could ask the healer to give you a tea that will prevent you from dreaming."

"Ah! The possibility of a quiet night!" Gabrielle's eyes flashed. Then she shook her head. "If this is part of the link, I would rather not interfere with it when I don't know what it will do."

Ephiny nodded. "I knew that you would want to help."

Gabrielle laughed. "I don't really know how not to. It's such a strong...desire. It...defies explaining," she muttered. And she had a way with words!

Ephiny nodded again. "That's what the diary said, the women never questioned whether or not they would take up the challenge. They just left."

"I wish whoever is calling us would just appear and ask and not add these...games!"

"Maybe, like Priestess Antiope was saying, they need to prime you to raise your energy before drawing from it."

"Great!" Gabrielle muttered as she walked over to the covered window and pulled up the flap impatiently. She didn't hear Ephiny leave as she became focused on the familiar feeling that started to makes it way back to her consciousness. Closing her eyes she breathed in deeply the night air that was damp from the light falling rain.

Without flinching Gabrielle let the fire of carnal passion surge through her body. She bowed her head as she felt the pounding in her body that left her legs weak. She slid to the floor silently leaning against the wall for support.

The memory started with the events that lead up to her riding in front of Xena on Argo. On this particular occasion it was a nice sunny day with fingers of the morning sun filtering through the forest's canopy of spring greenery. Gabrielle had spent a terrible night miserable with jealously over a misunderstanding. Gabrielle was still adjusting to their new physical relationship and when someone else touched her usually unapproachable lover, she saw red. Gabrielle had tasted her first jealous experience that sprung up from an innocent -- hmmm.

"It wasn't that innocent looking." Gabrielle muttered to Xena.

"But it was an innocent touch," the blue eyes smiled at her steadily, "and it's a compliment that you...ahhh...thought everyone was after my body at the party." Xena had told her the next morning as Gabrielle had finally relented and admitted to Xena who had been trying to find out why she was so...upset, what she had thought she had seen. She had jumped to conclusions. By morning, after tossing and turning for most of the night, to where Xena had finally given her the entire bed, Gabrielle had realized that she should trust Xena more since she had never known her to deceive her...hmmm...well, not on personal matters anyway.

They had lost a day since Gabrielle wanted to make up to Xena and now ... Xena wanted to make up for the lost time in traveling. She had coaxed Gabrielle to ride up on Argo's tall broad back.

Xena's strong arm pulled her up easily behind her. Gabrielle was fine in the back until she started to doze and the scabbard's hard leather ties kept poking her awake as her cheek rested on swords leather cover.

"Xena, this is not going to work," she mumbled irritably.

"What?" Xena asked, her voice sounding from far off.

'She must be dreaming of galloping across open fields or beating up bad warlords,' Gabrielle thought. "I said, I would rather walk. I'm going to get a nice big bruise on my face from your scabbard."

Xena glanced back to look at her Bard. Blue eyes were distant when they first set on Gabrielle's puffy face, probably from lack of sleep, but her eyebrows rose and her eyes suddenly focused on Gabrielle's face.

"You do have the beginnings of a bruise under your cheek," she murmured concerned. "But you don't have to walk. We really need to make it to the next village before nightfall. You can sit up front instead and I'll hold you so you don't fall when you catch up on your beauty sleep," she chuckled.

In a nice practiced move she pivoted in her saddle wrapping one arm around Gabrielle's waist and turning she pulled her from her back position to the front. Gabrielle moved her legs over the horse's snorting head to avoid kicking Argo in the ear.

"Better?" Xena asked in a low voice as she kissed Gabrielle's head.

"Well, it's a different view," Gabrielle admitted as she shifted around for a more comfortable position between the pommel of the saddle and Xena's body. Her legs were just about as stretched out here as in the back, but now she had the pommel rubbing up against her...Oh, oh. Aphrodite's flower! Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

"Are you comfortable?" Xena's voice was amused, sitting firmly and unyielding in her place as her passenger tried to squirm her way into comfort. The feel of the wiggling body against hers started a warm rush though the warrior's body. She smiled to herself wondering if the rise in the saddle at the base of the pommel was the source of Gabrielle's moving around.

"Yeah...fine." This is going to be...interesting, she thought as she subtly pushed herself up closer to the Warrior's body and off the rise in the saddle. She shivered with pleasure as she felt the hard metal dig into her back and the arm tightened around her waist. With her legs parted wide against the base of the pommel she closed her eyes as a delicious sensual haze settled around her.

Xena guided Argo with her knees as both her arms encircled Gabrielle's waist savoring the feelings that were rolling off the woman in her embrace.

Gabrielle was aware of the feel of her bare legs brushing against Xena's. The hairs on the back of her neck rose and her eyes fluttered as her breath deepened from the heightened awareness of the body she was sharing space with.

Gabrielle felt the muscles in Xena's thighs flex slightly as she signaled Argo into her smooth rocking canter. Her own body relaxed into the gait as she felt the rubbing of the metal swirls against her back and the pressure from the pommel in the front. She moved her hands to rest on Xena's thighs behind her, feeling the play of muscles under her fingertips as they moved with Argo rocking gait. It was erotic and it sent shivers through her body.

Xena moved one hand down Gabrielle's stomach and between her legs letting the saddle that had been moving against the bard push her hand up tight against the damp mound. Her other hand reached up to Gabrielle's linen top caressing a hardened nipple that was begging to be touched. Her lips nuzzled Gabrielle's exposed neck as she bowed her head with a groan. Gabrielle gasped as the long strong fingers slid between the fabric of her under pants and into her molten center. She groaned as she rocked with Argo's gait on the fingers that were inside of her, bringing pleasure. Xena's tongue played with her ear then lips went back to her neck sucking then biting their way to her shoulders. The groan that escaped someone's throat excited both women. Between the movement in the saddle and Xena's hand and lips ministrations Gabrielle was ready to pull Argo off the trail and find a nice quiet place to throw Xena down and tear her armor and leathers off...but, she didn't.

After Gabrielle had groaned and bucked against the fingers she impaled herself onto, shuddering through enough climaxes to have her begging Xena to stop, she leaned against the comforting body relaxed but exhausted.

When they had reached the village Xena was in a hurry to reach for the night, Gabrielle made sure she returned the delicious torture she endured on Argo's back in the hot tub before they retired for the night.

As the last of the memory faded Gabrielle was trembling. Taking a deep breath, she picked herself up from the floor and tiredly dropped herself into bed. If there were to be anymore dreams, she probably would not wake up for she was not just tired but weary! At least this one was based on an actual happening. One of the rare times Xena took her attention off what was happening around them while on the road.

The guard woke her up too early, in Gabrielle's opinion. She was not a morning person and had little interest in changing that fact. Midmorning, yes. However, much to her surprise, now that she knew there was another reason for the erotic memories and dreams, she didn't feel as irritable in the morning.

The others were waiting by their horses with a smaller one for Gabrielle. Well, at least she wouldn't have far to fall and its back wasn't as wide as Argo's.

Ehiny and Eponin were waiting. The High Priestess was nowhere about. The weather was threatening to be wet, Gabrielle noted as she settled in for the two-day ride.

Chapter 4

And So...

"There's slashing around here!" Amber called to the others.

Tiera and Constance brought their horses around and Gabrielle wearily joined them. This was the second day of hard ridding and she was ready to abandon her horse and just walk.

"Looks recent."

"Let's go," Gabrielle spoke to the others hoarsely. She could also feel a pull that was so intense it was making what was around her a blur.

"Goddess! Look at this!"

The damage from the lightning was impressive. Maybe Xena pissed a God or two off. It wouldn't be the first time, Gabrielle thought. They followed a faint path that wound up a hill.

A nickering horse that was grazing near by caught Gabrielle's attention.

"Argo!" Gabrielle called excitedly. At the sight of her she could feel a little of her energy return.

Argo lifted her head to send out another greeting and pranced over to where the three women stood. Gabrielle gratefully slid off her own mount and wobbled over to Argo. She hugged her head and rubbed her nose affectionately. "Where is our mistress, my friend?" she asked worried.

The others did not dismount. They had been instructed to deliver their Queen to this place then leave as quickly as possible. They were to wait for four days in the sea village then return to where they left their Amazon Queen.

"We must leave you now," Tiera told her gently.

Gabrielle nodded. She turned and followed Argo's prints back toward the well hidden cave entrance. Argo accompanied her occasionally brushing her nose against Gabrielle's shoulder as if glad to see her. Argo moved into what Gabrielle had thought was a wall, parting the vines as she forced her way in.

Gabrielle followed, stepping into the darkness. She stood for a few moments letting her eyes adjust to the dark interior. Light that was showing through the leaves revealed stairs that led to a higher floor of the cave. She walked up without hesitation. There was a soft light coming from a small fire in the center of the room. It looked more like a room than a cave. She sniffed the air and caught the fragrance that was their special mixture. Her heart caught in her throat as she saw the armor on the rack near a pallet. In the dim light she could see a sleeping figure on the pallet.

"Xena!" she cried as she recognized the armor.

Gabrielle rushed to the side of the pallet and sat on the edge looking for what may have befallen her Warrior. Xena's breathing was that of a person in a deep sleep, which was unusual for Xena. Leaning over her sleeping form Gabrielle pressed her lips against the sleeping warrior's forehead.

She felt Xena's body shudder and a hand painfully gripped her arm.

"Xena, you're hurting me," she whispered. She didn't dare tear her arm away knowing that resistance would bring a reflex reprisal.

She watched the blue eyes that were now opened staring at her without seeing then close again. Worried Gabrielle pulled the covers back hindered by the steel grip that still had her right arm. Xena was dressed in her winter shift with no weapons on her. That was unusual. Gabrielle turned to look at the armor rack. All her weapons were neatly stacked and stored. Xena would not do this. Her sword was too far from her and her knives and Chakram.

Gabrielle leaned close to Xena's ear and whispered, "I'm here Xena. We'll do it together." Xena dropped her hand that was cutting the circulation off in Gabrielle's arm.

Gabrielle stroked her face tenderly, wondering what she needed to do. "Dreams. Everything happened in dreams," she whispered to herself.

Gabrielle removed her boots and slid next to Xena on the pallet. Taking a deep breath she draped her arm over Xena, and snuggled into her usual sleep position. Sleep came quickly.

Chapter 5

The Curse

Xena was balancing on a water slicked rock where she could see the sheet of water pouring down from the water fall above her into the pool below that was hidden by surrounding vegetation, but the mist that rose from it blanketed the area. The thundering sound from the falling water and vibration in the rocks from the power of the water's plunge was invigorating, and the view was breathtaking! Her leg muscles were taught as she balanced on the irregular shaped rock preparing for another leap. The late afternoon breeze blew the spray from the flowing water her way cooling her warm body. She had run from the entrance of the forest to get to the rock before sunset. She needed to remind her friend Gabrielle that sunset was near. She knew she was sitting up at the top of the falls, probably so absorbed in her composing stories she forgot about the time. She said she would only be gone for one candle mark and it was almost the end of the day!

Gabrielle had a good view of Xena between the flowered bushes that grew along the edge of the falls. She watched her upward progress as she hopped from one slippery rock to another taking a brief moment to enjoy the scenery. Trust Xena to not take the conventional or usual course anywhere if she felt she could get more enjoyment out of another way, regardless of the effort. Gabrielle enjoyed watching her graceful and effortless movements. She made it look deceivingly easy but it was a steady up hill climb and the rocks were not easy to get good footing on if not impossible - for normal people, Gabrielle's mouth moved to a big smile.

Xena disappeared from her sight and Gabrielle waited for her head to reappear. When it didn't and more time passed, Gabrielle became curious and leaned from behind the brush she was sitting behind.

Xena's hand reached out and pulled her over the brush and down into the grassy area below her perch laughing. "Hey, what's keeping you? Are you composing another love poem?" Xena teased. "I can tell you a story or two if you are stuck."

Gabrielle looked into the golden brown eyes and saw the thinly veiled desire as well as laughter of the woman she wanted as her lover. "Well, I can think of other ways to get more material too." She teased back. She unconsciously flipped her bright red hair back out of her face. "But, now that you are here," She hinted giving Xena a coquettish look, "perhaps you would like to join me for a picnic."

"A picnic? Out here? It is nearly dusk! You know the Guardians don't want us here after dusk!" Xena's returned sharply, not believing what she was hearing.

"Well if you hadn't taken so long to get here it wouldn't be close to dusk." Gabrielle returned playfully. "We have enough time to eat." She begged her companion.

"Why are you tempting fates all the time?" Xena asked perplexed.

"I like the challenge." Her friend returned shortly looking up for a moment to reveal a wide grin. "Here, have some bread."

"Alex!" Xena could feel something was not right with what she was seeing.

Gabrielle continued to set out the food and picked an especially fat grape and tossed it over to her friend, knowing she had a trick of catching grapes in her mouth in mid air.

Xena caught the grape neatly, nervously looking over at her friend as she chewed the grape. She lifted her eyebrows as if an idea suddenly occurred to her.

"Are you seducing me, Alex?" She asked softly.

A smirk appeared on her friend's face. "It has been the plan for the last few moons."

Xena took a deep breath as a warm feeling washed over her. She wasted all this time resisting her impulse to take her friend into her arms and tell her she loved her more than a friend did and...this was a very familiar line.

"Why didn't you just say so?" She asked puzzled, feeling her pulse quicken.

"I did. You just didn't hear me." Alex looked into the brown eyes that showed her momentarily confusion. Alex's smile broadened, the seer was right.

Xena took a deep breath as she watched Alex's face. She was right. She had thought it was too good to be true or she thought she was misreading what she was saying...and she had been too fearful to ask.

Mediea leaned toward Alex and pulled her face to hers. She brushed her lips against the lips that were open and waiting for her, then felt Alex's hand slip around her wrist, pulling her closer. For a long moment they savored and explored each other's lips and mouth, forgetting time. Their first passionate kiss was inspiring. When they broke the kiss and gazed into each other's eyes, Mediea smiled and Alex couldn't help giggling at the idea that her plan actually worked.

"Now, I think we need to get going and finish this conversation later." Mediea returned to the more important issue.

Alex looked about her and jumped up fearful that her challenge to the Guardians this time may be too close to comfort.

"Leave the stuff!" Mediea grabbed Alex's hand and both ran to the path that was a lot safer than the slippery rocks.

They were almost out of the forest when Mediea pulled up. Alex tugged at her hand. "Come on!"

"I thought I heard Helena's voice back there."

"I didn't hear any voice." Alex was a little annoyed because she had thought Helena was a rival whom Mediea was more interested in than her, until Helena got engaged to Jocamo.

This time they both heard the laughter. "Doesn't she know better? Why must I be around women who like to challenge the guardians!" Mediea asked exasperated.

Alex's smile faded suspecting that Mediea still had feelings for Helena. "Well since you like her so much, why don't you go and remind her!" She returned hurt.

Mediea's expression told Alex she had made a mistake.

"I have always considered Helena a friend, Alex." With that Mediea turned around and ran in the direction of the laughter, hopping to beat the dusk deadline.

"Please, Mediea!" Alex called after the receding figure. She looked about her. It was dusk! "Of all the times for my plan to come to fruition!" She remarked aggravated. Alex followed the nearly hidden path that she knew would lead to the grotto near the small orchard. It was not a good place to be after dusk much less any other time. No wonder Mediea was worried about her - friend. It was the grove the Guardian's held very sacred.

When Mediea reached the grotto Helena was in Jocamo's arms partially clad. She was furious that Jocamo and Helena didn't pay attention to the rules the guardians had given them about the use of their territory. And of all places for them to fool around at, the grotto where the Guardians met for their gatherings.


Both turned toward her angrily. However, the faces that Mediea saw went from irritation to horror. Mediea sank to one knee and spun around barely saving herself from being impaled by a spear. The green form holding the spear could have froze her heart if she hadn't known who it was.

The rumble in the voice was low and it vibrated in her chest as a drum beat would. "You have violated our trust!" A Guardian told her as she gazed into the dark eyes.

Alex came running into the clearing to see a menacing figure leaning over Mediea with a spear. "Noooooo!" She screamed as she threw her figure toward the Guardian's body. The Guardian easily intercepted her and hurled her form onto the ground with such force that Alex was knocked unconscious. Mediea took that opportunity to roll away from the hulking form of the Guardian toward Alex's still form. Mediea could only see a shadowed form of Alex for it quickly grows dark in the forest once the sun is behind the trees. Taking her hand she could feel a slow pulse. Mediea had never even considered Alex to follow her back into the forest. Why had she followed her back into the forest when she was safe? They had finally opened their hearts to each other and already they were doomed because of this mess.

"Leave her!" The deep voice rumbled.

"I will not!" Mediea whispered between clinched teeth. Media felt pressure around her forehead increase as if a band was wrapped around it and was being tightened.

"You have defied me twice!"

As the pressure increased around Mediea's head she felt herself leaning forward until her forehead touched the ground.

Helena and Jocomo had been inching away as the attention from the Guardian was directed toward Mediea. This was not unnoticed by Mediea who was angry at their disregard for the rules. They had been caught disobeying a rule by the Guardian's of the forest and it was only right that they take responsibility for it.

The pressure around Mediea continued. "You...made....your....point!" she panted. The pressure only increased until Mediea toppled over the unconscious form of Alex, with herself falling into a dark oblivion.

The dark figure stared at the two inert forms then turned to watch in the direction that Helena and Jocomo had left. They would be back, he thought, and if not them, then their children. He could be patient.

Alex woke to an unaccustomed weight across her body but the beating of another's heartbeat, though slow, gave her hope that it was Mediea's. It smelled like her. The darkness was so impenetrable around her she could not tell if her own eyes were open or closed. She wrapped her arms around the form that was draped over her and hugged her painfully close.

Alex's memories were mixed up with the joy of finally getting Mediea to see her as something more than a tag-along, and the pain of her jealous outburst. She wanted to tell Mediea how awful she had been. Tears fell from her eyes as she thought dismally of the beginning of a new relationship with Mediea that took an unfortunate turn. The seer had told her that Mediea would be with her for the rest of their lives if she gave her a picnic at the high point of the falls. This was not the romantic ending she was expecting.

Alex kissed the top of Mediea's head and held onto her tighter as she felt Mediea's heart beat pick up.

Mediea's consciousness was slowly returning. She felt the pounding heart beneath her and the arms tighten around her. She could smell Alex and was aware her head was resting below her chin. She stirred in Alex's arms and was rewarded with a kiss on her forehead.

Mediea lifted her weight off of Alex and tried to get up. "Ummmmph!" Her head started to pound and she merely rolled over onto her back. Her limbs felt numb. Taking slow deep breaths the headache receded but her arms and legs were useless to move around.

"So, you two are finally awake." The deep voice spoke.

There was only the darkness and an oppressive feeling that surrounded them. Mediea could feel Alex tremble as both of them fought their feelings of panic and fear of being slowly squeezed to death.

"What are you going to do to us?" Alex asked in a small shaky voice. It seemed to break some of the tension.

There was silence for a moment, as if their captor was thinking about this for the first time.

"We are undecided." The voice rumbled, "We have given you permission to enter our lands, share our space, with only a few rules to obey, yet you have broken those simple rules. Were they not simple to follow?" The low voice asked reasonably.

"Yes." Mediea replied meekly.

"No!" Alex responded heatedly.

Mediea's heart sank. Alex had many times mentioned how romantic various areas of the forest were at dusk and early morning viewing and wanted to do something about extending their use of the forest. Mediea was thinking that this time was as good as any other time to talk about it but it was not a time she would have chosen.

"Hmmm. And what is not simple about our rules?"

Mediea's hand was wrapped around Alex's and she could feel her young friend's heart beat faster through her fingertips.

"Here in the forest are the most beautiful and peaceful places," she started.

"They are that way because we have protected them from your wanton destruction! We have seen what you have done to the forest on the other side of your village! Do you not deny that you have burned and cut the trees, thus destroying the grottos and the river and streams that once flowed though there!" The anger bore down on the brow of both women and tightened like a vice.

"We...don't....we...made...a...terrible...mistake," Alex tried to speak.

"Stop!" Mediea cried.

The pressure lessened but the darkness and oppressive feeling around them continued.

"If it became a sacred place for those seeking beauty," Alex continued with a struggle. "Like an open air temple..."

"You are talking about your people. It is special for us all ready. We are protecting it for us!" The two women could see a darker form than the darkness loom over them. "We have tried to share it with you. If you had not betrayed our trust perhaps you would have been able to stay longer. But the sacred times of dawn and dusk as well as the night is ours!"

"What are you going to do with us then?" Mediea asked wanting this pointless argument to end. She knew that some of the villagers were discussing cutting down some of the wood in the forest or hunting where they were told not to. It wasn't like they needed to, they just felt it was closer to their homes which were spreading out. The village had prospered under the protection of the Guardian's and forgot that their prosperity was from the protection of the first beings that lived here. The village was forgetting a lot lately in their too complacent lives.

"Do you deny you have done wrong?"

"No." Mediea replied hopping that Alex would not say anything.

"I...", began Alex but the squeeze on her hand by Mediea caused her to hesitate.

"Yessss." This time there was no added pressure.

"I was just going to say, it was because of the beauty of the forest that we stayed so long."

"You were almost out and you returned." The voice pointed out.

"Yes." Mediea returned. She didn't think it was worth the effort to explain that she had returned to get the two lovers out of the grotto, for no matter how it was looked at, they had all knowingly stayed past dusk.

This time Alex said nothing.

"Your village is setting fire to our forest." The voice told informed them quietly.

"NO!" Alex cried out genuinely horrified. "The beauty, the creatures that live here... No! We have to stop them! Please, let us go, to stop them!"

"It is too late. They have been jealous of our lands for a long time. Do you think we cannot feel this darkness when it infests our land? There is more to this world than what you see. For this attack, we shall close this land, and the land surrounding. None shall find life or peace here."

"No! You just can't close off the falls, the plants, the rainbows, the view of the mountain peaks though the trees and the animals that live there!" Alex pleaded. "Please. Give us a chance. Surely there is some way we can restore the sacredness of the place and go back to sharing? We can replant the trees...something. Please!"

There was silence for a long moment. "Your time has passed. But, perhaps there is a way." The voice said slowly as if still weighing whether to make the offer or not. "If you can find two people who will take up your cause and go through a series of tests we put forth, you will have your wish - under new conditions."

"With the condition that those who have the proper attitude can stay past dusk." Alex quickly added.


"You have taught us that it is attitude that gives energy to form..." Alex started to argue

"You dare to argue?" The Guardian thundered.

"Yes!" Alex returned angrily. "We have nothing to lose," Alex added softer.

There was silence. Mediea was startled when she thought the form was laughing.

"You are correct."

"If this is true, then it makes sense that by attracting the right people energy it will strengthen the forest to be what you...and I, would like to feel within it."

"You will have seven tries to chose a pair of champions." The voice boomed.

"Wait a moment here!" Mediea confused. "What do you mean our time has passed? Why can't we..."

The dark form laughed.

"You are but wisps of spirit. You have passed from dense form to a lighter life force."

That hit Mediea in the pit of the stomach. She was expecting death to be something else but to live as a spirit?

"It's a deal!" Alex spoke for both of them squeezing Mediea's hand.

"What other alternative is there?" Mediea asked hesitantly.

"You shall wander this blighted land your kind has caused as specters! Your senses deadened as the land that you wander." The voice angrily rumbled.

"Goddess!" Mediea breathed. How could their small infraction be dealt with so harshly?

"It's okay, Mediea." Alex whispered. "We'll be together."

When the dark form's presence was no longer felt, Mediea realized she could see her friend, as she had remembered her. "If we're wisps of spirit, how come I can see you?" she asked her friend.

Alex shook her head distracted. Looking out over what she saw as darkness she thought about her family and those that were gone. Alex's matriarchal clan and her father's clan had been worshipers of the Great Spirit of the Valley for longer than most of the villagers recalled. Her clan had lived in partnership with the Guardians in caring for their lush valley until the wandering groups of people that began to settle where ever they wanted, created an imbalance and thought little of anything beyond their immediate needs. This attitude wasn't necessary since the valley was abundant with life and resources if managed properly. Alex thought to rebalance the energy of the village by teaching the children through stories of the importance of working with the Guardians to keep a balance with their environment and not over harvesting or over hunting certain species. But she had failed in that respect. Now, she and Mediea were being offered a part in maintaining the sacredness of the valley, though not in physical form. They had to find two people who were willing to undo the negative energy that the villagers had blighted the area with. They had to face the fear that made people unwilling to open themselves to experiencing partnerships with the life around them and with themselves.

Chapter 6

The Journey Begins

While Xena waited for Gabrielle to arrive she learned a lot of the couple that had drawn them into their quest for champions. She found that due to their new love that was not physically consummated they had tended to be attracted to couples that were new in love as they. Was there a clue in there as to why the others failed?

So, she and Gabrielle were to be their seventh and last attempt at selecting a winning team. Xena sighed. Moving around with the two young women was very strange for Xena. She found her feelings and usual reticent manner was easily put aside. She couldn't explain what manner of existence she was in but there was no physical living things as on Gaia's world where she was. It was more of knowing one another, but not through the normal senses. Xena had no idea what the two young women looked like physically nor did the thought occur to her to wonder. As they waited for Gabrielle's arrival, for the two women said she was well on her way, Xena let them experience her frustrating and sometimes failed attempts in relating to Gabrielle and others in her life. Funny that this is what they were curious about and Xena felt no reluctance or hesitation to let them delve into her memories. Could she have prevented it anyway? What matter is it anyway? She watched familiar scenes replayed in her minds eyes in a detached way. Some she had not remembered. There was no pain or regrets as she knew she would have experienced had she been in her body as she reviewed with them the images from her memory. Some memories Xena found had contents she felt were incorrect but the two women pointed out that memories were not based on fact but on the emotional content and meaning the person experiencing the event put on it. What did that mean?

Xena did find out that because the two had not shared a physical union of their love that they tended to experience a vicarious enjoyment of physical love through their connection with other couples. They had the ability to strengthen a link and then enhance the original lover's feelings for each other. Xena was relieved that it was not her or Gabrielle's doing, though they insisted that the desires, dreams and fantasies were basically from them. They had just added touches here and there. Xena was determined to have a nice chat with Gabrielle to find out just what were her dreams or fantasies they had experienced. A nice bottle of ale after dinner, a massage in a warm tub, and a bit of encouragement, should loosen her Bardic tongue on the subject.

When Gabrielle arrived in the cave Xena felt the kiss on her forehead and the tenderness that Gabrielle was feeling. However, she was too far away to respond, but she was relieved she had arrived. At least they could get on with this task. What had Alex told her? They were from a time before Cupid and Aphrodite. They were from a time when Gaia was the Goddess of importance, though she was known as another name. The guardian's were spirits of the forest and valley that surrounded the village the two young women grew up in. It was the Goddess who had asked the guardian's to compromise with Alex.

While Gabrielle and Xena's physical bodies laid snug against each other on the pallet, another part of them walked together to the falls that Alex had told them about. Gabrielle nodded as Xena brought her up to date on the affairs of the couple whose plight they had taken on to end. They were walking over a desolate piece of land that had a feeling of death about it. Both women became silent as they walked through the land that both Gabrielle and Xena had seen through the eyes of Mediea and Alex as lush and teaming with forest life and now was horrifyingly scorched and lifeless.

"Xena." Gabrielle breathed heartbroken. Xena nodded without looking down at her friend. She could feel the despair and sorrow that seemed to permeate the area to say nothing of the visual impact it had on her. Perhaps knowing what it had looked like before the fire had a large part to do with her own dismay at what had become of this area. She looked down at her green eyed friend who was looking up at her with a serious expression on her face. Xena leaned down and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.

Gabrielle smiled and took her hand as they continued on their way. Gabrielle noticed that Xena was dressed in her winter shift without any weapons. "Have you a plan?" Gabrielle asked as she stroked the familiar muscled forearm with her free hand.

"Hmmm. From what I can gather, we need to face the darkness of what lays on this land."

"Without weapons? What do you think we're going to see out there?" Gabrielle was thinking more of her staff that she had become so accustomed to having with her most of the time that to be without it she probably felt like Xena without her weapons.

"The same thing most people who are afraid of the dark see, themselves."

"Are you sure that's all? They didn't tell you anything?"

"Only that the others failed. But," Xena sighed, "the difference between those that had gone before us, was that they hadn't been with each for very long. Just like Alex and Mediea. I think that is where the tests of darkness will be. Our own insecurities."

"Hmmm." Gabrielle thought about the many she had and wondered how she was going to fare.

"Do you trust me?" Xena asked suddenly looking down at Gabrielle.

"Explicitly." Was Gabrielle's quick reply giving a squeeze to Xena's hand.


Gabrielle paused, "Well, there was that one barmaid in Acropolis." She pointed out.

Xena turned to Gabrielle, "Are you...?."

"I'm only kidding Xena. I believed you then and I believe you now." Gabrielle reached up and kissed Xena on the lips laughing. "Are you trying to prepare us for something you would like to tell me about?"

"I was just thinking."

"Hmm. Like things new couples would not do well with if tested." Gabrielle nodded. She slid her arm into the crook of Xena's arm unconsciously as they picked their way over the remains of burnt vegetation.

She looked up at Xena. "Well, let's go slay the darkness of the night," she laughed.

Xena smiled back but didn't feel as confident. She would feel better doing physical battle then this emotional stuff that she was suspecting they would be facing. Goddess, she did enough of that stuff on her own, especially in the past. Out of habit she sent another grateful thought to whoever was responsible for bringing Gabrielle into her life. If she hadn't Xena was sure she would still be having nightly dreams of her needless killing and destroying of struggling peoples lives. She sighed to herself. She had taken the challenge only because she knew that Gabrielle would feel sorry for the couple...and now that she had seen the land, she wanted to remove the curse on it.

Xena thought about Mediea who said that this was going on before Zeus became leader of the Gods and before Cronus, his father. Xena was well aware of such times existing for Ares on a few occasions referred to it as the dark ages. It was odd that the present gods would let this go on if they were all that powerful, but Xena found the gods were not just overly self involved, but complex and too annoying for her to be interested in their affairs. She was doing it to restore the land and because Artemis had recommended her to the young women, or so they had said. She owed Artemis a favor, as she was still feeling guilty of what she had done to the Amazons for the Alti, the shaman.

Both Gabrielle and Xena were silent, deep in their own thoughts as they gathered their energies to face the unknown together. Somewhere, Gabrielle had let her hand fall from Xena's arm for neither noticed that they had taken different paths, the same paths that their counter parts had taken to get to the water fall. Gabrielle came out of her own deep contemplation when she was at the flat rock looking down at the falls. Her breath caught as she watched the breeze send a spray of water onto the surrounding encroaching brush. Below her she had a spectacular view of the river winding it's way down through the forest. A rainbow formed until the spray settled like sparkling jewels on the leaves and flowers nearby. A bird in the distance dipped and then made its way toward the snow capped peaks.

"Alex is right," she murmured, "here indeed is a place that lovers can find themselves and declare their eternal love." She breathed in the air that had a hint of a chill from the snow capped mountains in the background. The smells that mixed with it were of various flowers, herbs and a heavy scent of pine. She closed her eyes for a moment and listened to the sounds. She could feel the power of the falls vibration through the rock she stood on and in the background a bird was calling to its mate. Squeezing her eyes tighter shut in concentration she could almost hear...footsteps landing on a rock. She kept her eyes closed trying to sense where Xena was.

Xena had noticed that Gabrielle was not with her when she heard the movement of a rabbit under brush. She had turned to say something to Gabrielle and noticed she was not behind her. Unconcerned she continued on her way. She had walked this same path as Mediea. She could smell the dampness from the falls and hear the calls of birds in the trees. She felt the breeze as it moved across her and trailed scents from the mixture of moss, herbs and various tree species that were in the area. She could feel the thunder from the falls vibrate in the earth as she neared her destination. Standing half way up the falls near the water that was spraying everything that was beside it she could see the rainbow that arched across the bottom of the falls. It was breathtaking. She looked up where she knew she would find Gabrielle. She was standing on a rock with her eyes closed in blissful silence. Xena's heart filled with so much happiness that she thought she could not contain it. She released some of the energy by expelling her breath, which she had been unconsciously holding. Xena made her way up the side of the falls by leaping onto the slippery rocks. It was an exhilarating feeling to hear the roar of the falls below her and feel her legs strain to keep her balance and push her up to the next boulder. It was no real strain for her but the movement was a nice release. She planned her final leap that would place her beside the Bard who still had her eyes closed. Xena smiled at Gabrielle's expression, which told her that Gabrielle was aware of her nearness.

Xena paused looking at Gabrielle's pulse beating at her throat. Her face was flushed and her anticipation reminded Xena of her dreams for the last week and a half. Desire started to build in her as sheprepared for her last leap.

Landing next to Gabrielle she had her arms around her pulling her close for a deep and passionate kiss. Gabrielle opened her eyes and watched the face of her lover as she took possession of her mouth. Gabrielle groaned as they both sank to their knees overcome with passions that they had been experiencing during their separation. Gabrielle rolled onto Xena pressing against her in urgency, as if to melt into her. Xena rolled Gabrielle back onto her back and somewhere between their twisting bodies, the ground disappeared beneath them as they fell into the roaring falls below.

As Xena turned over in her descent she let her body's natural athleticism take over knowing that she would land into the pool below without any harm to herself. Her concern was for Gabrielle whom she could not see or feel near her, nor hear her if she screamed.

This is it, Xena thought calmly to herself. Should she worry about Gabrielle who she lost contact with? Nothing I can do until we're in the water, she thought. The sudden impact with the cold water was numbing, even to her. Xena pushed off from the bottom of the pool and as she moved to the surface she felt a heavy splash next to her. She instinctively reached out and grabbed the form, pulling the struggling Gabrielle upward with her.

"It's cold!" Gabrielle got out as her head broke the surface. They were quickly caught up in the strong current that was pouring between and over rocks and boulders threatening to pull them apart.

It was cold and Xena felt the urgency to get them out of the water, instead Xena found herself protecting Gabrielle body from being slammed against the boulders in the river. She could feel her grip on Gabrielle was slipping after each contact with a rock, afraid if she readjusted her hold she would loose her. Gabrielle had ceased moving in her arms and Xena found her own heart beating out of fear.

Another slam into a boulder sent Gabrielle down into the cold water bottom and Xena to the other side of the boulder where the water course dipped down into another small water fall dropping her into another river whose current was just as strong as the former. The river was not very deep in some parts and the current dragged Xena's legs across the rocks on the bottom. She could feel her cold legs getting bruised and scrapped, but there was nothing she could do yet about the wild rush and spin this current was suffering them through.

Xena twisted around to see if she could catch sight of Gabrielle above the foaming waters and missed the boulder that her body was hurled into. Xena's head hit the side and stunned her as she instinctually gripped the sides of the boulder holding on until her head cleared. Her sight had darkened and she tried to shake the darkness away, but it caused a stabbing pain behind her eyes. Fighting panic she felt for grips on the wet rock feeling for a way to pull her battered body up. She needed to find Gabrielle.

As Gabrielle fell into the roaring waters below she was thinking that this was the beginning of their adventure. The lustful passion that she had just moments ago been engulfed in was replaced with anticipation of the unknown. Being afraid of heights, she had her eyes closed as she plummeted down into the icy pool. Gabrielle lost connection with Xena as she could feel her body suspended in the air for but a moment. Her stomach did flip-flops as the roar became louder and then the freezing waters closed over her. She hadn't sunk very low in the water when she felt a hand grab her pulling her close into a warm strong body.

The cold numbed her body quickly, as she didn't have the ability as Xena to move her temperature up when needed. She was dimly aware of being bounced around but Xena's body absorbed the impact. Part of her numb mind told her that Xena's grip was slipping and she didn't start to fight the pull of the waters until she felt herself being pulled down into the cold river bottom without Xena's arms protecting her. She was dragged along the bottom of the rocky river floor getting scraped on her left side before she was violently pulled back up and whirled around another boulder then dragged back down again.

"By Athena's shield, fight!" She gritted between her cold lips. She rose back to the surface in the churning current and grabbed onto a branch that was wedged between two boulders that she crashed into. She needed to get out of the water. She could feel the warm sun above her as she weakly clung to the branch. She needed to find Xena!

Clawing her way to the top of her rock was exhausting as well as bruising. Her fingertips were blue with chill and her knees, legs and hands were scrapped and not bleeding much, due to the cold. Pulling her wet hair from her face, she caught her breath as she looked around trying to get some sort of fix on her location. The sun was directly above her warming her cold skin, so it was noon. The trees along the shore were leaning over into the water which would be helpful in pulling herself out of the river, but to get there would mean going back into the rushing current and managing to maneuver around more bounders and rocks that didn't look easy to get around. Gabrielle put her hands over her eyes to cut the glare. She could barely make out a dark familiar form on a boulder further down the river.

"Xena!" She yelled over the noise of the river. She could see the form turn in her direction. What's the matter with her, she thought as she noted Xena was not moving as she normally would. Her heart started to pound, as she knew that something was not right. She probably hit every boulder we passed trying to protect me, she thought worried. A broken bone was not something to have at the beginning of their...adventure.

Gabrielle looked into the rushing waters and tried to plan her way to Xena's perch.

"Xena! I'm coming!" She shouted again and slid back into the waters seeing the arm wave out of her peripheral vision.

"Goddess, this is cold! How does she do it?" Gabrielle sputtered. Her head went under as she tried to twist her body to change direction. With quiet determination, she kept repeating to herself, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

Xena's heart beat faster when she heard her name and turned to face the direction the voice came from. Hades! If it weren't for the warmth from the sun that beat on her face and shoulders she wouldn't have been able to tell if it were day of night...though with Xena's acute night vision, that wasn't necessarily so.

She heard Gabrielle's plan to join her. Xena waved to keep her from joining her. She needed to gather her wits and sight back. Above the gurgling and rush of the water she could hear the splashing of Gabrielle as she fought the currents that were pulling this way and that. Xena slid into the water and listened for which direction she would be coming from. Xena could feel the pull of the two currents around the boulder she leaned against. She was able touch the bottom but it was slippery and could knock her feet from under her with a new surge of water from either side of the rock.

Xena heard a yelp near her left side and leaned dangerously out to grab what she was hopping was Gabrielle. Something hit Xena with so much force she slipped and went under the water, but her hand grabbed Gabrielle around the waist. Gabrielle hugged Xena close to her as both were once more swept away down the river. There were less bounders but the current was too much for even Xena who was holding Gabrielle who she felt was again becoming too cold to stay conscious. Xena could hear the approach of another fall.

Great! How many more are there of these, she thought grimly.

The next drop was short and the sun's warmth disappeared and in place of it Xena could feel a coolness that reminded her of the water tunnels below the city of La Peita. The memory brought a shudder to her. She hated the closed in feeling then and if she hadn't been fleeing for her life she would have tried some other escape route. Xena could also smell the wet slate. The rushing water's volume was magnified in the tunnel sounding like a roar as they moved along though the tunnel. She couldn't hear anything that indicated a shore so she was going to have to hang onto Gabrielle's dead weight and the dead weight of her own legs. Her limbs were so cold she couldn't feel them being dragged on the bottom of the shallow river. Xena's hearing picked up a different sound then the current quickened for a moment as they were pulled around a bend. Xena's heart quickened as she heard the unmistakable sound of water lapping. She tried to get her numb legs under her but between her cold legs and slippery rocks beneath her she spent more time nearly drowning the semi conscious Gabrielle than making progress in the direction she wanted to go. She finally pulled Gabrielle onto her hip and using her other arm started to swim to where she could hear the water lapping. When the water became too shallow to swim she repositioned Gabrielle. The rocks dug into her knees as she pulled Gabrielle across her back and crawled out of the waters. Gently she lowered her onto the sandy ground and rolled her into her arms trying to give her some body warmth. Her eyes were unseeing but her other senses worked fine. She could hear the sounds around her were muted and the water less thunderous as they were probably in a cavern. There was the smell of damp sand, wet slate and an acrid smell of something else she couldn't identify. Somewhere she could hear dripping water like a small pool was being fed by a run off from the larger body of water. She shifted Gabrielle's weight as she felt her heart beat pick up. She felt her face with her hand and placed her warm lips against Gabrielle's cold ones. She could feel a smile began to form on the lips against hers.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and hugged her tight not breaking contact in their kiss. She finally broke the kiss and stared up at the blue eyes she could barely see in the dim light of the cave.

Xena could feel the change in Gabrielle's heartbeat in the breast that was tightly pressed against hers.

"I can't see." She told Gabrielle softly.

She felt Gabrielle's cold hands reach for her face and pull it toward hers. The cold lips against her eyes threatened to bring tears to hers. Xena felt a finger gingerly touching the large lump on the side of her head. It was sore.

"Where are we?" Xena asked quickly to cover her fear and perhaps, self pity that she was hopping would not over-take her. She had experienced loss of her sight before, she reminded herself. Besides, she cautioned herself, this may be part of the test, therefore it probably wasn't permanent.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and tried to control the shaking of her body. It was hard to tell if it was from her fear for Xena or the after affects of the cold water. Probably both.

"We're in an under ground water way. It's dark but there is enough light so that it seems to be...dusk!" What a coincidence Gabrielle thought a little heartened, remembering that this was all part of a test.

"Got any stories of heroes going into dark underground caverns?" Xena asked half-serious.

"I can think of quite a few, but I would rather not right now. I feel better recounting some tales when I'm nice and safe." Gabrielle admitted.

Xena tightened her arms around Gabrielle for a moment then loosened her hold.

"Do any of those stories say anything about a warrior and a bard being weaponless and blind?" She murmured as she kissed the top of Gabrielle's wet hair.

"No. But when we're through here, I'll have one for you." She quipped.

"Great. Well, let's get ourselves warmed up. Either we build a fire and dry off or we get moving to warm up."

"There isn't any wood unless you plan on fighting the current back out of this place." Gabrielle reported sounding disappointed.

"Then," Xena rose from the floor pulling Gabrielle up with her, "lead on."

~ Journey Through Shadow Land ~
by J.A. Bard


Warnings and Disclaimers written by Wildcat wildcat@rainbow.net.au), (c) Wildcat, 1997.

Warnings/Disclaimers are included with stories to enable readers to judge whether each piece is of interest to them. They are intended to be taken seriously as a warning about the nature of the story. In many cases it can be presumed that one of the lead story characters (Xena: Warrior Princess or Gabrielle) is involved in the action of the story and to that end, after reading Warnings/Disclaimers, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether they wish to read a particular story.

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private
use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent. J.A. Bard/weave01@earthlink.net

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

By J.A. Bard

Chapter 7


Xena listened to the water that was moving to the side of their path gauging the depth of the water and the nearness of the walls of the cavern. She could smell the sand that was heavy with dampness and other smells she wasn't familiar with. Gabrielle's arm was resting lightly on her arm pressing which direction they needed to head in to keep to what she felt was a path in the cavern. Gabrielle kept up a soft steady description of where they were.

Gabrielle felt comforted and reassured with her contact with Xena. She could feel the muscles in her arm tighten then relax as she described different things she was seeing in the gray shadows of the cavern. She could not find where the light's source was but it was just enough light for her to see shadows, so it was better than nothing. Noises that had her heart beating turned out to be things that were caught in the rushing waters or lodged up against rocks. The tension in the muscles under her hand on Xena's arm told her that the noises were also affecting her.

The water suddenly disappeared as they rounded a bend. It disappeared into a fissure. The sand changed to dirt beneath their feet and Gabrielle could feel some of it being kicked up by her dragging feet. She was getting tired.

"What's that smell?" Xena asked suddenly as Gabrielle was concentrating on guiding the two of them around another bend that dropped off into darkness. There wasn't room for them to walk abreast so she had moved Xena's hands to the side of the wall and both of them were inching along crab-like.

"Uggh!" Gabrielle gagged as she rounded the corner and it hit her full in the lungs. "I don't know. It smells like something ripe into its rotting stage." She tried not to lose her concentration, as she moved her feet cautiously sideways not daring to look down. She hated heights. It didn't matter whether she could see over the edge or not. Xena was lucky on this one...sort of.

Suddenly her foot slipped over empty space and if Xena's hand had not grabbed her elbow in an iron grasp, she didn't know how far down she would have fallen. Her head banged against the side of the wall and for a moment saw stars.

"Gabrielle!" Xena's hand moved to her head not daring to pull her toward her for their footing was precarious.

"I'll be all right. Let me catch my breath."

"Can you see anything?" Xena asked after a few moments.

Gabrielle looked around her as much as she could. There was a missing space on their path. It would require them to jump over a space a good five strides wide. Surely there was some other way! Gabrielle looked around and could only see Xena waiting for her description.

"Well," Gabrielle took a deep breath. "there is this break in our path. It's about five of my strides wide." She added as an after thought. "And, I can't see the bottom." Nor do I want to, she thought.

"Hmmm. Can you see anything on the other side?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle leaned forward hopping to see detail in the gray shadows. "It looks like...there is something sticking out...like a root...yea, it's a root and there is the remains of a tree sticking out of the side of the wall along the path! How can a tree be this far down?" She shook her head.

"Well, why don't you go first and then step back giving me enough room to land. Tap the ground in the middle of the path with your foot so I can hear where you are."

Gabrielle looked at her unperturbed friend. Her chest tightened as she knew they couldn't go back and find another route. This was the only way. The idea of Xena leaping blindly filled her with trepidation. She hated the idea that she had to leap across the empty space, but for Xena to do it blindly brought up her own fears of her possible failure. What would that do to Xena?

She felt Xena's hand on her arm then a kiss on her shoulder.

"Don't think of anything but placing both feet one stride past the edge of the other side. Picture it in your head. See yourself landing just where you want to land. Keep practicing this in your head until you feel ready." She directed.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and could feel the warmth of Xena's hand on her shoulder. She had to do it. As she mentally practiced the jump she pushed the knowledge of darkness below them or thoughts of what would happen if she miss stepped down into her unconscious.

"I can do this." Gabrielle mumbled under her breath. She closed her eyes seeing herself reaching her goal, the successful jumping across the chasm. She felt her muscles move, her blood pumping, her feet land safely on the other side. She kept mentally going through the motions, feeling her body make the right moves until she felt herself ready. Gabrielle stepped closer to the edge and focused on the other side, one pace beyond the edge. There was barely room for her to place both feet together! She pushed the panic down and refocused.

"I can do this." She told herself firmly. "Xena needs me to do it right. Simple as Artemis drawing back her bow." She whispered to herself. Her muscled thighs tightened as she bent her knees for the spring, breathing in slowly and at the exhalation launching herself to the other side. The continuing path on the other side of the chasm was about as thin as it was on the other side. And the root, she found out painfully, was protruding so far onto the path that it hit her in the shoulder. As she landed on the path, the impact with the root sent her sideways causing her to lose her footing. One foot went over the side of the path while she frantically tried to grab the offending root to recapture her balance. She missed the root and she fell into the blackness. A ledge below stopped her fall, which wasn't very far down but Gabrielle had the breath knocked out of her and wasn't able to say anything to alleviate her partners anxiety.

Xena was listening to Gabrielle as she muttered to herself and prepared for her jump. She smiled to herself. She listened to her push off, and the foot falls on the other side, the impact of Gabrielle's body into something and the feet scraping the sides of the drop trying to regain balance. She heard the fall and the impact. She knew the sounds of someone who had the breath knocked out of them. Where did she go? The sounds of Gabrielle were not where she had first landed so she had slipped over the edge. But the drop was not far. Xena struggled with her first impulse to make a reckless jump and rescue her friend. Her better sense told her to wait as putting herself in needless danger would make things worse.

Gabrielle focused on the ceiling of the cavern as she let her body struggle with the panic of getting air into her lungs. And to make it worse it was the horrible smell her lungs were trying to drag in. Gabrielle felt confident that Xena's hearing would give her an idea of what had happened and she wouldn't do anything rash until she was back on her feet.

"Gabrielle. Take it slow." Xena's voice softly told her from a distance. It was comforting to hear Xena's reassurance and that Xena indeed knew she was all right.

Finally Gabrielle was able to roll onto her side and sit up cautiously bringing her breathing back to normal. It was dark where she was. She moved her bruised shoulder around trying to get some of the soreness out of it, then brushed her palms on her skirt to rid her hands of the small stones that had become embedded in them from her fall. She felt around her trying to get some idea of what she landed on.

"Xena, I'm alright. Hold on and let me try to figure out where I am. It's very dark here." Using her hands she could feel there was a drop to her left. She easily found a pebble to toss down to get a sense of what she had to look forward to if she fell over again. She strained to hear it hit a bottom.

"It's a long drop into a shallow stream." Xena commented from her perch.

"Goddess the woman's hearing never ceases to amaze me." Gabrielle muttered to herself. Pushing herself close to the wall Gabrielle felt for something to help her get back to the path above her. She found nothing as the dirt crumbled beneath her hands.

"Can you touch the top of the path above you?" Xena asked. She didn't drop that far, Xena thought.

Gabrielle reached up but was not able to get even her fingers the on the lip of the ledge. "No, not even." She returned disappointed.

"Okay. Describe what you saw when you landed on the path."

Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and tried to remember her brief moment after landing on the path. "The ground is sandy and slippery. The root comes out further than what I thought. Maybe about two hands width into the path. The path is as wide as where you're standing." Gabrielle paused as she pushed down her fear for Xena's safety. How was Xena going to leap this without her sight? If she could see it would be nothing as her athleticism would easily adjust as she had done countless of times in the past. Gabrielle couldn't help the sigh that escaped. She laid her head on her arm that was still pressed against the wall she needed to climb and let a few tears escape.

Xena didn't wait long to make her leap. She had been listening to Gabrielle's voice to know just where she was and the echo of the wall to know how close she was to the wall. She easily jumped the space and as her body felt the closeness of the root to just below her right breast she twisted her body making a successful grab at the root and letting herself swing into the wall above Gabrielle. She carefully lowered herself to where she could hear Gabrielle's breathing. There wasn't much room on the path, as Gabrielle had said. Her extended hand and felt Gabrielle's head as it was resting on her arm. Gabrielle's breath caught as she felt the familiar touch on her head.

"Xena. You never fail to amaze me." She gratefully acknowledged.

"Hmm. Well, give me your hand and let's get you back up here with me."

Gabrielle reached up and felt Xena's strong grip around her wrist. As Xena effortlessly started to pull her up the sand started her sliding

over the edge with the added weight.

"Hades!" She muttered as she could not grab onto anything at the angle she was in. Xena felt herself going over the side. She released her hold on Gabrielle not wanting to endanger her. She felt her body drop over Gabrielle's who was pressed against the wall. Xena continued to fall over the side of Gabrielle's shelf, down into the darkness that both knew was a long drop into a shallow pool of water. Gabrielle fell after her as her precarious position on the ledge was loosened when Xena's body hit hers.

Xena bounced a few times off the side of the cliff and dislodged bits of dirt as she plummeted down. Her hands instinctively grabbed at the sides of the cliff hopping they would find something to grab onto and they did. Something was protruding from the side of the cliff and she managed to get one hand around it and then the other. Xena lifted her legs away from the cliff and some how made a scissors catch of Gabrielle's falling body. The jolt of her falling weight strained her grip on their lifesaver.

"How are we doing?" Xena asked her through gritty teeth as the dirt that both dislodged finally stopped falling on them.

"Welll," Gabrielle took a breath and let it out to get the tension out of her chest. "It seems we're just hanging out here and..." She took a breath to quiet her nerves, "we need to get back on track."

"Hmm. You're right. Do you have any suggestions?" Xena asked as she shifted her hands to try to feel what the sides of the cliff were like.

"Nah. I'll let you handle this one." Gabrielle concentrated on getting the nerve to open her eyes. She needed to see what was going on so she could help Xena find footholds and handholds. She couldn't push the feeling out of her mind that they were dangling over the side of a cliff.

"Gabrielle." Xena's voice sounded strained. "I want you to slowly feel with your feet, for any place you can hold your weight.

"Right." Gabrielle moved as slow as she could into a position where she could place her feet against the wall they were dangling from. With her fingers she also felt for something she could grab onto.

There were a lot of possibilities but as soon as she put weight on what she thought was a secure place the earth crumbled. By the sound of the falling debris they were still too far up to safely drop the rest of the way down.

"Gabrielle. Toss something off to your left." Xena directed her.

Both listened as Gabrielle's handful of dirt and pebbles hit something solid right away.

"Can you see anything?" Xena asked her friend.

'Well, it's pretty dark around us." Gabrielle paused and looked above them where she had been able to at least see shadows.

"Ahhhhhh!" Gabrielle screamed. Gabrielle's body's reaction to her fear loosened Xena's grip on the iron ring that she was hanging onto.

"Xena! Xena!" She sobbed frightened.

"Gabrielle! I've got you. Tell me what it is that's scarring you?" She tried to send calming energy down through her legs that were firmly wrapped around Gabrielle's shaking body.

"There's something real big above us." She croaked. "It's moving around up there!" She lowered her voice fearfully.

Xena could feel loose bits of dirt falling on her hands but she heard no movement nor felt any presence. She didn't know if the dirt was the aftermath of their fall or from something or someone above them.

"Gabrielle, whatever you see, it is up there and we are down here. I hardly think it would want to hang out with us" Xena attempted a bit of humor for her friend's benefit.

Gabrielle shuddered as she closed her eyes. To take her mind off what may be above them she tried to peer though the darkness at what was around them. Is that a ledge? Gabrielle held her breath as she tried to focus on a pale line that showed through the darkness. Was that where she had tossed the dirt previously? Gabrielle pulled some of the crumbling wall out and tossed it in the general direction.

Xena could hear the dirt fall. She was hopeful.

"Gabrielle. I'm going to swing you over where you keep tossing the dirt. I want you to see if you can find a secure place to climb." "Gabrielle." She gently called her friend again.

Gabrielle squeezed her hands on Xena's taught thigh and nodded. She didn't trust her voice. She shuddered again. That was a big shadow, she thought.

"Gabrielle, remember we're facing our fears of things that are within ourselves."

"Right, right." Gabrielle managed to get out. That didn't get the image of what she had seen out of her mind. Even with her eyes tightly closed the image of a dark hairy form leaning over to grab her was very real.

"Come on, Gabrielle. Focus." Xena started to swing in the direction she had heard the rocks Gabrielle had tossed fall.

"It's good." Gabrielle reported after a few swings gave her glimpses of the lighter colored ledge. It appeared to be wider as she was swung closer for a look. "It looks like another ledge." She made an effort to do as Xena directed and focus on the immediate.

"Okay. I'm going to release you over that way. Do you think you can get a grip on it. It sounds like it's higher than us." Xena grunted as she felt her body protesting at the treatment it had been through that day.

"Yea. A bit." Then a moment of doubt hit her. "I...what if I can't ..?"

"The trick is not to think of what you can't do." Xena instructed as she began swinging in the direction again feeling the bits of the wall crumble as her body rubbed against its surface.

"Because it always seems to work for you doesn't mean that it will for us mere mortals." Gabrielle returned half-heartedly.

"I happen to be one of those mere mortals, Gabrielle." Xena grunted as she scraped something on the next wide swing. She released Gabrielle and listened for her progress as she prepared to quickly follow her on her return swing back. She didn't want to leave Gabrielle alone for too long.

Xena had easily flicked Gabrielle's body high enough that she landed on her side on the faint ledge. Gabrielle quickly moved back as far as she dared on the ledge and patted her hand on the ground remembering to use sound to give Xena an idea of where she was. Xena landed lightly right next to her.

Gabrielle pulled Xena close to her. Both women felt tired and bruised.

"Why don't we get some rest, shall we?" Xena suggested as she lifted her hand to hold the hand that was softly caressing her face. The ledge was wide enough for them to sit with their backs to the wall and not have to dangle their legs in empty space. Something Gabrielle didn't think she would have been able to handle.

Gabrielle didn't need a second invitation but first she looked around remembering Xena's practice of always scouting out their rest area to look for weak points or anything that was out of the ordinary. Xena was using her other senses to get an idea of where they were. She didn't want any surprises like loosened rocks above them or unpleasant visitors while they both rested. She listened to Gabrielle's foot movement as she investigated their rest area.

"I don't see anything beyond this ledge." Gabrielle commented as she settled against Xena's side. In fact she couldn't see anything in the darkness that surrounded them. Gabrielle had to steel herself to glance once more above them where even the gray light was no longer showing shadows. Maybe it was dark outside. She shivered.

Xena could hear the Bard's breathing deepen as she quickly fell into her usual sound sleep. Xena stroked her arm thoughtfully. She didn't think there were many times that Gabrielle wasn't able to sleep soundly when she snuggled against her. She smiled gently and sighed. She needed a plan. There had to be another way off the ledge without them doing a free fall into the chasm below. Maybe the reason why Gabrielle couldn't see anything was because it was nighttime outside of the cavern. That would mean that the source of the pale lighting was from an opening somewhere above them. They needed to go up instead of down.

Xena didn't know exactly when she nodded off but her dreams picked up where she was working out how to get off the ledge with their lives intact and without any more mishaps.

Chapter 8

What is Real?

Xena could hear Gabrielle grabbing crumbling dirt to get a handhold on the wall. They were making good progress up the side of the wall but it was slow and arduous. Suddenly Xena could hear a frantic flurry of movement as it sounded like Gabrielle lost her toehold and started to fall grabbing or scrapping the side of the wall they were scaling. Without thinking Xena launched herself to wrap herself around Gabrielle as they both did a bouncing fall down the cliff. Xena grunted and cursed as the fall was broken by protruding debris that stuck out of the cliff side that Xena's body could not protect Gabrielle completely from. Xena blotted out the damage that her body was sustaining and finally knew darkness before they hit the ground.

Consciousness came to Xena painfully as her body was hurting from many different places. It took a while to push back the nausea so she could focus on where she was and what had happened. "Ga...." Her throat tightened up. She slowly took a deep breath to still the pain. "Gabrielle?" She croaked. She tried to move but couldn't. Lying still for a moment, she tried to listen for Gabrielle's breathing instead. She caught a sound. Water. It was all around her. She was lying in a shallow water pool! She became aware of water tickling her ears as it slowly moved around her. She didn't feel cold. She didn't feel anything. The panic started and the rolling nausea of feeling powerless had her heart beating at a frantic pace.

"Hades!" Her unseen eyes opened wide. The water was rising! She focused on the sounds around her. Where was Gabrielle? Was that a groan? "Gabrielle?" She tried again. Nothing. The water was beginning to cover her face. She could feel the panic again push over her like a heavy blanket. The water continued to rise as Xena fought to work out a plan. She needed a plan!

Gabrielle felt herself loose her precarious balance and fall into the dark abyss below. The fall seemed to take a long time. The scream that was poised to let loose was not able to get past her frozen throat muscles. Someone grabbing one of her hands suddenly stopped her fall. The sudden stop pulled her shoulder muscles. The pain was unbearable as thoughts of a dislocated shoulder crossed her mind. She looked up at her rescuer, expecting the sight of her dark haired companion. The scream that had been frozen in her throat came out as she looked into the black eyes of the hairy form that had been on the ledge earlier. She tried to resist the pull from her rescuer but the form kept drawing her near.

Xena's heart jumped into her throat, as she became aware of something struggling up against her. "Hmm. What?" She finally got out, arousing herself from a nightmare.

A fist glanced off her chin and she could hear Gabrielle whimpering as she tried to push away from Xena's enfolding arms, which were protectively wrapped around her sleeping form.

Xena still could not see but her awareness of where they were came back quickly.

"Gabrielle, your having a bad dream. Wake up." Xena coaxed as she loosened her grip around Gabrielle but would not let her friend's struggling body move out of her protective embrace.

Gabrielle's eyes came open suddenly. There was the same darkness ahead but looking up she could see the gray shadows on the ceilings. She could smell Xena and recognize the familiar strong arms holding her. She shivered and burrowed into Xena's comforting body.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Xena's quiet voice soothed her as a callused hand stroked her forehead.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and shook her head. "I - can't remember what it was, just that it was scary."

"Is it light yet?" Xena asked her companion, kissing her on her head.

"I," Gabrielle took another deep breath and let it out to clear her feelings from the dream. "guess it must be daylight outside of this place because I can see shadows like yesterday."

"Can you see any way off this ledge?"

Gabrielle was silent for a while then she made to get up. Xena released her. Gabrielle walked around the ledge. "Yea. There's a rock blocking a portion of this ledge. I can smell the air that is coming from it so there must be an opening behind the rock."

"But?" Xena could hear reluctance in Gabrielle's voice as she stood up.

"Well...I'll let you judge for yourself." Gabrielle's hand moved to Xena's arm as she guided her to the rock. Xena caught the unmistakable stench they had smelled earlier. Xena also could feel a vacuum of air where they stood. There must be a vent above them for the odor wasn't even detected by her until she stood in front of the rock. Xena placed her hands on the rock and felt around the open space.

"Where can we safely roll this rock?" Xena asked.

"If you want to roll it off the ledge, straight back. If you want to roll it to the side it would be a tight fit."

"Let's try to move it to the side rather than dropping it over the ledge. No telling what it will drop on." Xena felt a hand on her wrist.

"Xena, I have a bad feeling about this. It's here for a reason and that smell. I don't think I can go walking into a room smelling of nothing but that." Gabrielle admitted.

"Can you see any other way off this ledge? If you do, please let me know because I'm not any more thrilled about that stench than you." Xena waited.

Gabriella patted Xena's arm and again looked over their situation and tried to find another way off the ledge.

"There is no other way, Xena." Gabrielle reported a few minutes later in a downhearted tone.

Xena felt around the large rock for a grip. As she was moving for a better position she felt something shift under her feet. She grabbed for Gabrielle but Gabrielle had instinctively moved quickly to Xena's side when the ground beneath them started to move.

"Great!" Xena was thinking. "What now?" She continued to work on the rock not waiting to find out that their ledge was going to crumble beneath them. The rock moved slightly and Xena could feel Gabrielle's added weight pushing it to the side.

Xena knew they had a wide enough passage when the stink from the opening wrapped around them like a thick suffocating blanket on a warm night. Xena could hear Gabrielle gagging.

"Come on." She felt for Gabrielle's elbow. "Let's get through this quickly." She had walked through many battlefields after the sun had cooked the corpses on the wasted fields looking for retrievable weapons. The stink was just as bad. She had learned not to breathe deeply and to think of other things.

She could feel Gabrielle shake as her stomach tried to get rid of what her lungs could not. But she managed between the retching to lead them forward. Gabrielle stumbled and Xena's hand on her shoulder quickly moved to support her.

"What can you see in here?" Xena asked partially to take Gabrielle's mind off the unpleasantness of where they were.

Gabrielle stopped walking for a moment as if to take a survey of where there were. "The ceiling is real low."

Something Xena guessed by the way the sound of their presence bounced back.

"It's pretty dark. To the left of us I can see mineral deposits raising from the ceiling and hanging from it. There is, hmm, a strange glow from over there." Gabrielle's voice lowered as she studied the sight. For what seemed like a long moment Xena could only hear Gabrielle's shallow breathing. Xena touched her shoulder gently. She felt her Bard jump from the touch.

"What's going on Gabrielle?" She asked softly, brushing her fingers against the soft cheek that felt a little gritty from their exertions. That must not be the side she rests her head on me with, she thought smiling to herself, or it would have been rubbed clean by now.

"Nothing." Xena could hear a soft sigh. "Nothing much." Gabrielle caught Xena's hand and squeezed it.

"I was remembering when I had eaten that nutbread with henbane. I had a ....vision before I passed out. That was before you came back for me."

"You never mentioned it." Xena commented as she waited patiently for Gabrielle to continue. It must be important for she wasn't moving to get out of the stinking place, Xena thought.

"I had forgotten about it until now." She admitted softly. "Seeing those mineral deposits hanging from the ceiling reminded me."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Xena offered. Not the best place to make the offer, but opportunity and practicality didn't always synchronize, especially where their lives were concerned, Xena thought with irony.

Gabrielle wrinkled her nose at the continuing offensive smell. She idly thought about how her cloths were probably like a sponge soaking up the smell. She was hopping she could get rid of it once they were out of here.

"I think we need to get out of this place." She remarked as if somewhere else. However, she remained standing looking back at the soft glow around the long mineral structures. Weird shadows danced on the low ceiling as if reflecting off something. Candles?

"Gabrielle." Xena's voice brought her back to her job. "What does the rest of this place look like?"

"Right. Well, let's see, "she inadvertently took a deep breath to collect herself and nearly collapsed from the reaction of her body to the deep intake of the revolting air. Xena pulled Gabrielle's shaking body into her and make circular motions on her bent back trying to relax her body as it finished its business of objecting to the abuse her lungs were taking retching nothing of substance.

Xena finally released her as the spasms stopped. Gabrielle's stomach muscles and throat were sore from being turned inside out and having nothing to expel.

"Let's get out-of- here." Gabrielle croaked. The problem was, where was she to lead them. "There is only darkness to the right of us and a wall in front of us." She finished.

"Why not head for the formations that..."Xena didn't get to finish her suggestion as Gabrielle's grip on her arm tightened and she could feel her shaking her head.

"No. I don't want to go over there."

Xena could feel her tugging at her arm trying to draw her toward where she said it was dark. At least they would both be on equal footing where sight was concerned, Xena thought. But she didn't want to let Gabrielle get away with this fear. Something was nagging at her that it wasn't right that Gabrielle was pulling toward the darkness when the lighted area should be a better choice. One of them had to see what was going on around them.

"Gabrielle, stop pulling. Tell me what's wrong." Xena insisted.

"I just don't think that..." Gabrielle stopped moving them forward.

"Didn't you say there was light there?"

"Well, yes, but...I don't know where it's coming from."

"If there is light there we may be able to find it's source. The ceiling is low enough to see something." Xena reasoned. "We may be able to get out if the opening is large enough."

"Yea. Right." Gabrielle sighed inwardly, but Xena could feel the shoulders move in mirrored response to her mental sigh.

Reluctantly Gabrielle started to pick her way over to the lighted area. The ground was littered with rocks of varying sizes that could easily twist the ankle of a misplaced foot. She waited patiently as Xena felt around with her own foot before moving her weight forward for another careful placement of the other foot. Progress was slow and Gabrielle was content with this task taking up her full attention. She looked up every now and then to make sure their zig-zag course was still in the general direction of the light.

Xena knew when Gabrielle looked toward the lighted area for she could feel little shivers run down her back. Xena had moved her hand to her back so that she could walk directly behind her following her foot steps as close as possible. Xena knew how dangerous it would be for her to twist an ankle now. She healed quickly from injuries but even a day or two to heal was not good, and Gabrielle would not be able to carry her. Xena couldn't help chuckling at the memory of Gabrielle trying to carry her when she had pretended to be knocked senseless during one of their more leisure and playful journeys.

Gabrielle stopped and looked up at her friend startled. "What?" She demanded impatiently.

"Oh, nothing much. Just realizing what a burden I can be sometimes."

For a moment Gabrielle was silent as if turning this over in her mind. A smile appeared on her face as she pictured Xena's weight on her...Stop that! She chided herself firmly as her heart beat faster. "Yea, well sometimes it's not so bad." She responded under her breath.

Xena's eyebrow quirked upward. She looked in the direction where she could see a difference in her darkness and waited for Gabrielle to resume their progress.

"I can hear trickling around us," Xena commented, "and smell something like a mineral spring."

"Yea. There's three pools up a head." Gabrielle informed her as she kept her eyes focused on the ground before them. Gabrielle almost stumbled when she realized what she had said. No, this is not the same place. I'm getting the two places mixed up.

The ground beneath them started to change as they neared the rim of what looked like a small crater that was filled with water. There were three pools of water within the crater, and if the water table rose about a hand or two higher they would become one. Gabrielle found a comfortable place for them to sit. She glanced up at the ceiling to see if she could spot where the light was filtering in. The ceiling over the water was higher and the reflection from the water, which seemed to glow, gave the ceiling eerie shadows. It wasn't light enough to pick out any definitions or openings in the darkened spots on the ceiling. Gabrielle looked around her not wanting to look in the water. She left Xena leaning against one of the mineral deposits that rose from the ground as she went to stand near the edge of the pool.

Xena noted that Gabrielle didn't sit near her as she normally would. She looked around again noting that the once velvety blackness was giving way to gray tones. She moved her fingers to various pressure points for sight, finding them not surprisingly sore. Ahh. Much better, she thought as a shot of color passed across her vision. Just a little more time.

"Gabrielle. Why don't you tell me a story." Xena suggested, as she settled more comfortably against the rock formation Gabrielle had settled her next to.

"Huh?" Gabrielle turned to her companion a short distance away. She had been unable to resist looking into the water. She remembered what she had hidden away in her memory. After the last week of dreams it wasn't as shocking, she realized. Did she want to share it with Xena? When she had first had the vision she and Xena were not lovers and she had to admit, it was something even a few months into their relationship she would have been - hmmm. Would it have bothered Xena? Was it a desire from her darker side? Hadn't she been the one to tell Xena everyone had a dark side and sometimes it was a necessary strength to use to get through tough times?

"Are you ready to tell me what's bothering you?" Xena asked not moving closer to Gabrielle whose outline she was beginning to see.

Gabrielle's sigh was audible, followed by an embarrassed laugh. "What kind of dreams have you been having lately?" She asked instead looking at her hands that were clenched across her knees.

Xena let out a loud snort. "The kind that would make a week in Aphrodite's House of Sensuous Delight pale in comparison!" Xena's face actually went red. "And you?" She asked quickly.

"Hmm. I can't say I've had much experience in one but..." Gabrielle giggled nervously, and then felt the shivers of desire that threatened to consume her. She could feel the now familiar heat of carnal desire as her womanhood became engorged with anticipation. Gabrielle could smell her own moist essence. She shook her head to try to rid the fog that seemed to fill her mind.

Xena's sense of smell also picked up Gabrielle's arousal. "So, what has this place got to do with our dreams for the last week and a half?" She asked softly.

Xena could see the shadowed head of her companion and lover bow and then lift to look into the pool.

"Remember when I ate that nut bread laced with henbane?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.

"Yeaa. You became an instant success as a choir master." Xena smirked.

"Well...I - huh. Well," She swallowed with difficulty and closed her eyes. Her eyes quickly opened again for the images of her vision readily came to mind.

Xena waited in silence. She watched Gabrielle as her vision was starting to see color and more detail to her form.

"I...had this vision or dream...I don't know what it was actually." She tightened her hands around her knees.

"Just tell it like a story." Xena quietly coaxed.

"Yea, right." Gabrielle put her hands over her face. She had never told a sexual story and one that she played a major role in. Why tell Xena this anyway? Gabrielle looked back into the pool of water. What was it about the pool of water? Without realizing it she started her story.

Chapter 9

Visions and Dreams

Gabrielle had nearly finished the nutbread when the effects of the henbane started. She found herself mesmerized by the reflection of the light's movement in the pool of water. Then her thoughts moved easily to Xena and how nice she looked in her leathers and riding golden Argo across a green field of ankle deep grass. She sighed as she pictured the long dark tresses billowing behind her as she leaned forward on Argo with a look of concentration on her face, blue eyes glinting like jewels through slits. She needed to focus on the present, she had reminded herself weakly, thinking of once again trying to talk to the young boy they had rescued. The next thing she knew she was in another setting.

She was talking to an alchemist in one of the small towns they had stopped in. There wasn't much business in the village or at the inn due to they had arrived the day after the village's major festival to Pythion Apollo. The inhabitants were slow in getting back to their usual business. The innkeeper offered the use of one of the small huts near the outside of the village ring since the rooms in the inn were not cleaned yet. He had also given most of his staff a few days off to recover from the week of little sleep and plenty of work. The owner of the inn had three huts he rented out when large families or groups came into town and wanted to stay together.

"Now you're sure it won't last long?" Gabrielle asked the old man again.

"Nope. You must like that horse a lot to be concerned about how long it's going to be out." The old alchemist remarked as he handed the small pouch of powder to her.

Gabrielle smiled sweetly at the man. "Well, its only a small sliver we need to remove and she just hates to have her belly touched with a knife." Gabrielle lied.

The old man shook his head. He wouldn't take a knife to his own horse without knocking it out. A kick from those powerful hooves could put anyone out of service for a long time.

Gabrielle put the small pouch into her bag carefully. So far, so good, she smiled wickedly as she continued her way back to the hut mentally rechecking her plans. She didn't want to chance giving Xena a dose that normal people would take because Xena's body had a defense system of natural self-preservation that would probably neutralize the drug quickly. She just needed Xena out for few minutes.

Gabrielle looked around their rented hut. 'Xena must be still seeing to new shoes for Argo and herself.' Steam was coming from the tub placed in the center of the room with buckets near the fire keeping hot to rewarm the cooling waters. The food was sitting on the table. 'Yep.' She went back to the trunk that she had found some interesting things in and lifted the lid.

Gabrielle couldn't help the giggle that escaped her lips as she studied the leather bracelets and anklets attached to chains and other toys of pleasure. This was going to be an interesting night. The thought of her plans sent a shiver of anticipation to her center, releasing a liquid fire that coated her underpants. She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them and once more went through her plan to get Xena to sit on the bed before the drug knocked her out. 'Right.' She rummaged in one of Xena's bags and brought out something Xena had been hiding from her. An impish smile was on her face as she placed it and it's harness on one side of the bed and covered it with a cloth.

'Now the drug.' Quickly she pulled out her pouch and pulled one of the mugs toward her. The pitcher of ale was near filled to the top. 'Good.' She poured some of the ale in the mug and swirled it around the powder at the bottom of the mug. She stopped for a moment and listened. She could hear the familiar tread on the porch.

The door swung open and Xena entered the room.

Gabrielle turned to look at her, holding the mug in front of her. The glare from the outside outlined a familiar tall dark frame in the door sill, with hair looking wildly out of place.

"This looks nice. I was just going to ask you if you wanted to go and eat." Xena was in an excellent mood Gabrielle noted. Xena surveyed the small banquet on the table, the tub and Gabrielle holding the mug out to her.

"I thought it would be nice to take advantage of our privacy." Gabrielle smiled toward her and handed her the mug of ale that she had filled to the rim of the mug.

"Hmm. Thanks." She took a deep drink without looking at it and glanced around the room. "Why don't we take a bath before we eat." She smiled suggestively at the Bard.

"Sounds nice." 'All right, so far, so good,' Gabrielle thought.

Xena laid the half emptied mug down and started over toward Gabrielle to help her undress, using her lips and hands to encourage Gabrielle's quick disrobing. Gabrielle's hands shook as she undid Xena's leathers and let her hands slide down her wrists thinking of where they would be in a short time. She groaned at the thought, letting her head rest between her tall companion's breasts that were freed from their linen undertunic.

Xena looked down at her Bard's face. Smiling she lifted her and walked her over to the tub. Xena sat her on the edge of the tub and checked the water. "Not bad." She lifted Gabrielle effortlessly over the rim and dropped her unceremoniously into the tub.

"Hey!" Gabrielle sputtered when she came up and grabbed the Warrior Princess who had slid in beside her pushing the larger woman back against the tub and locking her lips against a smiling mouth, muffling the chuckles. For a while they contented themselves with a leisure version of bathing each other and other things of pleasure. As Xena moved Gabrielle onto her lap, lips nibbling on her ear, Gabrielle was trying to figure out how to get Xena to finish her drink.

"Let's get out of the tub and get something to eat." Gabrielle breathlessly announced as Xena's hands moved along her body.

"Is food always your priority?" Xena whispered in her ear, as a finger tweaked her nipple that was below the water. Gabrielle's breath caught and she would have slid under had she not been sitting on Xena's lap whose bent legs formed a chair. The shiver that shot through her from her nipple down to her center had her trembling with desire. For a brief moment she wondered if she was going to have time to get Xena to finish the rest of the drink then on to the bed.

"Xena." Her name came out sounding ragged as Gabrielle had trouble talking when Xena's fingers moved down her stomach and a finger slid between her neither lips, gently stroking her hardening clitoris.

"Hmm?" Xena's fingers kept up their slow movement under the water. Gabrielle was sitting in Xena's lap with her head resting between her breasts. The thought that she only had to move her head to the side to see hard nipples good enough for biting, had her body quivering in anticipation. Xena moved two fingers into her slick vagina, stroking her slowly. Gabrielle groaned and gripped the hand that was pleasuring her, failing to keep herself focused. Xena's thumb brushed her clitoris that was full and ready to burst like an over- ripe fruit. Gabrielle tried to increase the rhythm but Xena kept it slow, letting the pressure build up until Gabrielle finally let out a moan and gripped Xena's thighs, pushing down hard on each stroke till the climax washed over her.

Gabrielle didn't know where it came from but she found the strength to stand up in the tub breaking the erotic contact after she recovered, ignoring the part of her that objected thinking of the promise of delicious things that still were to come while in the tub.

"Xena." She said in a strained voice. "I'm hungry. We have plenty of time for more of...this." With shaking legs she managed to get out of the tub and toss a towel over to Xena without daring to look into her eyes. Oh, woman! She groaned to herself, feeling the moisture that was her own, cover her swollen lips and aching from wanting more.

"Hey, Xena, they have your favorite here...pickled croisus." She took one from the dish and turned toward the tub. Xena caught Gabrielle's hand as she was turning. Gabrielle could feel herself shake with desire making the idea of prolonging her game with Xena a big question, especially since she hadn't even started the game.

'This is not going to be easy,' she was thinking as she looked into the blue eyes that told her what Xena was really interested in. Xena's lips nibbled on the croisus letting her tongue tickle Gabrielle's fingers that were holding it then moving to suck on the now empty digits.

A groan escaped Gabrielle's lips, "Hmm. Listen, Xena." Gabrielle reached behind her and found the ale. "Here," she gulped nervously. "Have a drink. I - ahh. I need something myself." Her voice was a dead give-away that she wanted the same thing as Xena. 'Well', she thought, 'sort of'. The sudden smirk on Gabrielle's face brought one of Xena's eyebrows up.

"I was just thinking," she whispered in a low seductive voice as she watched Xena finish off the ale in one quick gulp, "if you just go over to the bed, I'll bring some food over. I can think of all sorts of ways to feed you."

Xena returned Gabrielle's smirk with one of her own. "Hmmmm." She set the emptied mug on the table and sprawled out on the bed.

"How's this, Gab-ri-elle?" Xena drawled.

Gabrielle looked over toward the bed and nearly dropped the fruit and fruit jelly she had been gathering. Xena was stretching out like she had envisioned her only without the bindings.

"Ahh. Fine - Xena. Oh, just fine."

Xena closed her eyes for a moment then opened them quickly looking surprised. Then they closed again this time not coming back open. Gabrielle watched the taught muscled body relax. She had seldom seen Xena this relaxed even in sleep. Gabrielle quickly put the food next to the bed and started to get the leather cuffs and anklets out of their storage area. She remembered from pictures she had seen in Sappho's library how they went. She worked as quickly as she could, trying to keep her shaking hands from interfering. The bedposts had rings that were made for attaching the bindings. She pulled Xena's arms up over her head and tightened them in place. She then moved to her legs trying not to look at the alluring body. As she tightened the leather anklet around the first leg she pulled her legs wider smelling the sweet aroma of Xena's essence. She then fastened the other ankle in the cuff. She tested the leggings to be sure they were tight enough and then looked over her handiwork. Xena's arms were pulled over her head and her legs were spread apart. Maybe she should have the arms wide apart too. For a moment she was mesmerized as the breasts rose and fell. 'Better leave it as it is. Right. Now the blindfold.' She gently lifted Xena's head and fastened the black cloth across Xena's eyes making sure she could breathe.

Now she just had to wait. Or did she? 'Nope.' Gabrielle pulled out the leather whip that was in the chest and ran it across Xena's body watching in fascination, as the nipples became hard and the pulse in Xena's neck increased, as if a mere outside stimulation could bring her out of a drug state.

She heard a groan then the familiar tenseness in Xena's muscles returned. Now is when the game begins, Gabrielle thought wickedly.

She watched as Xena tested her bindings. Gabrielle leaned close enough for her breath to tickle the sensitive ears. "How do you feel to be in my power?" She gloated in a low voice.

"I'm real scared." Xena growled, turning her face quickly toward Gabrielle's.

"Yes, well you think it's nothing right now." She stared at the lips that were now turned toward her. "But I think you'll be singing another tune very soon." She whispered in a lower voice as she moved her lips so they were barely touching. "I'm going to drive you mad with desire." She flicked her tongue on the outside of Xena's mouth that remained closed, tracing the outline and fluttering the tip against the resisting lips. "You're going to be begging me for...release." Gabrielle sucked on Xena's lower lip feeling a slight quiver.

Gabrielle again moved the ends of the whip near Xena's nipples watching as her skin jumped, muscles moving under her skin, and her jaw tightening.


Gabrielle ran the whip down Xena's body flicking it now and then and watching the goose bumps that it brought up. She flicked it again over the mound of soft curling hair where her bud would soon be throbbing with desire. Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips pressing her wet lips against the muscular stomach, letting her wetness trickle down to Xena's sensitive skin. The effect on Xena was predictable as she strained at the bindings. Xena still resisted making any sound. Gabrielle leaned forward knowing that Xena would feel her hardened nub against her skin. Gabrielle leaned down and bit and sucked on Xena's nipples hard until she heard Xena's sharp intake of breath as she struggled to control herself. Gabrielle smiled as she played with the beautiful breasts of her captive warrior. While her mouth was on one, she ran her palm over the other nipple, feeling its hardness erotically work its magic on her hand. She was hopping she was going to last. Gabrielle brought her mouth up slowly to Xena's leaving a trail of moisture from nipples, cleavage, throat, where her pulse was pounding, and along her jaw line.

Oh, yes! This is just ever so fine. She brushed her lips against Xena's again. They were now opened and ready for her. Gabrielle roughly took over her mouth exploring the insides and sucking on the tongue she trapped. She could feel Xena's body tremble and push up against her with her desire. Pulling back Gabrielle refused to let Xena get any more pleasure in her kiss. Instead she ran her tongue on the outside of Xena's lips sucking on them and not letting Xena get a firm kiss. Xena groaned in frustration and Gabrielle could feel her body squirming to get out of her bindings.

"What do you want, Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle asked her with her lips close to Xena's ear. She remembered she had read that what was said was just as important as the physical touches, and in her case that was certainly true, so it should work well with Xena.

"You." She breathed.

This is too easy, Gabrielle thought. "When I'm ready, my dark haired Warrior Princess, I will take you! You think this is going to be easy for you?" Gabrielle retorted and sitting up she flicked the whip across the nipples again. This time Xena did groan.

"I want you to beg me, Warrior." She leaned near her ear again. "Beg me to use what you've been hiding in that pouch of yours." Gabrielle felt Xena's muscles tightened under her. "Hmm. So you think you could keep your secret desires from me." She whispered very low in the ear she knew would hear her easily.

Xena groaned and said nothing.

Gabrielle stroked Xena's body in places she knew the Warrior Princess liked and watched as the hips tried to move toward her hand that was cupped over her wet mound. Her finger was touching the throbbing engorged nub and by the amount of wetness that creamed her fingers, she knew she was doing well. She sat astride Xena stroking her in different places, letting Xena wait in anticipation of where the next touch or bite would

Gabrielle paused in her teasing and leaned over the bed and picked up the fruit dish. She could feel Xena's body twitch as she let her breasts moved across her captive's body. She bit into a grape and brushed half of the grape against Xena's lips and when she opened her mouth to take it Gabrielle's tongue moved into her mouth playing with the grape. Withdrawing her lips the next fruit was a strawberry which she slowly smeared across the opened lips then down her face and throat, letting the juice drip into the hollow of her throat. She then proceeded to clean up the sweat trail with her mouth and tongue, feeling Xena's hips move against her as she sucked on the tanned skin.

"Hmm. How much do you want me, beautiful princess?" She asked as she paused to bite her neck.

"Please...take me." Xena panted pleading for relief with her body movements echoing the entreaty. Gabrielle lifted herself from Xena and pushed Xena's hips back down on the bed. "Just...take me?" She purred. "When are you going to ask for it? Hmm."

Gabrielle exchanged the fruit dish with the fruit jelly. She began to smear it on Xena's body liberally leaving large dabs on her nipples. Gabrielle started to lick it up slowly, weaving patterns in the juice and sucking where she knew Xena was sensitive. She left bite marks on Xena's shoulders and deep red marks where she sucked especially hard. She wanted to leave her marks of ownership on her Warrior. When she got to her hard nipples she swirled her tongue around the wrinkled areolas then bit down until she heard a sibilant sound from Xena. She could feel her captive warrior's body shake as she groaned her pleasure. Gabrielle smiled as she continued to give the same pleasure to the other breast. Xena continued to groan and tried to again move her hips against Gabrielle to relive the pressure that was building up in her.

"Please, Gabrielle. Take me." Xena pleaded hoarsely.

"Take you with what, huh? My mouth?" Gabrielle repositioned herself to blow air over the top of Xena's soaking mound, parting the dark silky hairs. "My fingers?" She stroked the outside of the lips smearing the wetness along the outside of her thighs. She slowly slipped two fingers inside of her scooping out some of her wetness and smearing it on her prisoner's erect nipples then sucking them. Xena groaned again.

"Gabrielle, please take me with ...my...phallus." She whispered.

Gabrielle smiled. "Ahh. Capitulation. Surrender? In my own time, dark haired warrior. I want you to know just whose woman you belong to and...why."

She moved her palm over Xena's mound and pushed up against it feeling the engorged clitoris' pulse beating wildly. Xena's groan's were soft interspersed with her name. The room smelled of Xena's sweet sex mixed with her own body smell. Gabrielle watched the sweat gather between Xena's breasts from her effort. Gabrielle reached up to pinch Xena's nipple while she leaned down and sucked on the sensitive nub careful to not let her climax. She sat back up and stroked the legs that were pulled apart and held firmly in place. Her hands seductively massaged her muscled thighs enjoying the feel of the power and the quivers her strokes invoked. She could see Xena's womanhood protruding from the silky hairs, waiting for release.

She reached for the waiting phallus. Gabrielle touched the tip of phallus to Xena's lips then ran it down her throat, around her nipples while she let her other finger play with Xena's throbbing nub. She slid two fingers inside of Xena teasing her as the phallus made its way down her body. Xena's groans were more frequent as the anticipation drew sweat on her face and shoulders.

She rested the phallus on Xena's stomach while continueing to massage the wet spot between her thighs, smearing the sweet stuff along swollen lips that didn't need any more moisture. Gabrielle groaned as she drew her face near the mound and let her tongue take a swipe at the swollen lips, sucking juices that surrounded the area. Her tongue slid inside the inflamed core then out and back around the lips and clitoris, listening to the moans of her captive. She watched in fascination that as she drew the phallus closer to her bound lover's sensitive center hips rose to meet the tip of the phallus.

Gabrielle plunged the thick toy suddenly, deeply into the core of her lover's being, listening to a low growl of pleasure in the dark woman's throat. Gabrielle increased the rhythm resting one hand on the insides her thigh that was wet from the juices of the panting woman. Xena moaned for Gabrielle to push harder, and with each stroke it seemed to go deeper picking up the frantic rhythm Xena's body set. Gabrielle leaned forward grabbing a nipple that was hard between her teeth, sucking and biting as her hand continued to beat a steady rhythm into Xena's slick center with her phallus.

Xena's keening cry built up into a final shout of Gabrielle's name as she went over the pinnacle. Her sweat soaked body laid back on the bed shivering with the aftermath of her release. Gabrielle moved her mouth down Xena's breast, stomach and dragged her tongue into the wet hairs, feeling the nub start to become hard again as her tongue brushed against it. She moved the shaft a little out of her then slowly moved it back in, eliciting a groan from her bound prisoner. Xena's legs strained against the bindings. Slowly she removed the phallus.

Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips, moving to pick up the harness that came with Xena's toy. She slid it under Xena's hips, fastened the ends and slid the phallus into its place.

Xena shifted her hips a little and the phallus that Gabrielle had strapped on her moved temptingly. Gabrielle ran her hands along the outside of Xena's stretched legs, bringing them both up and around to her inner thighs, and moved one hand to her erect nipple, the other she slid up the phallus, knowing Xena would feel the stroke as the base rested against her center. She stroked the phallus, bringing her hand down several times into Xena's wet center.

"Would you like me to ride you, Princess?"

Xena licked her lips and nodded.

"Like a wild woman on her horse, pressing into her saddle, feeling the movement of her mount underneath her." She breathed in the ear that was peeking out from behind dark hair.

Xena groaned then nodded again.

Gabrielle brought her face down and reached her tongue around the base of the phallus, tickling, then running the tongue through the hairs, then up the base of the shaft, tasting Xena's essence. She lifted herself above rod, feeling an increase of lubricant in her core in anticipation. Gabrielle didn't bother to gradually work it inside her but pushed her body down on to the rod, groaning as her insides quickly made room for what penetrated into the molten center. Xena grunted as Gabrielle bounced on her stomach, bringing her hips up to help with the penetration. Gabrielle groaned at the fullness inside her, then started a quick rhythm, feeling her own desire finally able to express itself. Gabrielle breath was coming in groans as she relished in the penetration she controlled and the hips that were struggling to meet hers. Her lips sucked on a part of Xena's shoulder as she continued to pump her lover, feeling the friction, the tightness and the slow build up of her own climax...then the sudden rush... a scream of Xena's name and small bucks against the captive woman's hips as little spasms continued to ripple inside her pushing against the fullness of the shaft. Slowly, she pulled herself off the phallus, groaning at the emptiness it left.

Gabrielle started to lick and kiss her way down Xena's body, while her hands undid the harness, then continued down one leg, toward the ankle, releasing the bindings. She did the same for the other, then made her way up Xena's body and arms to do the same to the cuffs around her wrists. Her hips were over Xena's breasts as she undid the wrist cuffs.

As her arms were loosened, Xena pulled her into her arms and rolled over Gabrielle pulling her mask off and covering her lover's mouth with a passionate kiss.

"Well, my warrior princess, how did you like my surprise?" Gabrielle later asked her when both were snuggled against each other.

Xena was quiet for a while. "You know...paybacks are in order, don't you?" She asked in a solemn voice.

"Oh, I'm really scarred now." Gabrielle returned and felt her body shiver in anticipation.

Xena chuckled.

Chapter 10

Restored Vision

Gabrielle continued to stare into the pool after finishing her story.

Xena was silent, as she not only could feel the carnal pleasure that burned through her partner, but recognized the dream with another variation as something that they had done. She closed her eyes to get herself back into control as her own desire throbbed between her legs. Her vision was beginning to get sharper, though due to the pale light in the cavern she didn't really know how much had returned. She had closed her eyes to stop seeing the miserable droop of Gabrielle's shoulders. It was so tempting to take her in her arms and relieve some of the sexual energy that had been building up in both of them.

Xena let out her breath and rose silently. She drew Gabrielle to her and held her in her arms for a few long moments.

"What bothers you about the fantasy, honey?" She asked softly.

Gabrielle shuddered. "I - ahh. I liked it." She confessed.

"So did I." Xena's kiss started out tender but Gabrielle's return was voracious and both found themselves on the floor relieving the tension that had been building for the last few weeks.

Gabrielle was looking up into the familiar blue eyes that even in the gray light was bright. "You can see." She stated flatly. "When did this happen?" She moved herself to a more comfortable observing position. "And don't say my..."

"Just before you told the story. It's coming back slowly." Xena placed a finger against Gabrielle's lips, which was promptly grabbed gently between white teeth.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Gabrielle stroked the face she loved, letting her fingers stop at the throat and feel the heart beat.

"I wanted to be sure it was back. No sense in false hopes."

Gabrielle didn't want to argue with her. She was still wrapped in the emotional contentment of their lovemaking.

"You, know. When I first had that dream...we weren't lovers and I --didn't know what to do or think."

Xena started to laugh. "You were still a bit naïve then. I can see how the passion would have been over whelming."

Gabrielle laughed too. "It wasn't the passion, my Warrior Princess. It was tying up the big bad ex War Lord. That was scary."

"I thought by then you were over much of that?" Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head as she moved back into Xena's embrace snuggling up against her warm body.

"Sure, if it was directed at the bad guys...and still sometimes you were more -- intense than at other times. Naw. I was still intimidated. Still am, for that matter. But," she continued for she felt Xena tense up, "I find it very -- erotic -- sometimes. The fire in your eyes, the beauty of watching you move so effortlessly, the energy you put out is --" Gabrielle let out her breath. "It's hard to explain. It's a feeling. I can understand the sexual energy that you experience as battle lust, because, believe me, I get this incredible rush watching you." There I said it, Gabrielle thought relieved.

Xena smiled above Gabrielle's head. "I know." She said quietly. "I would feel it."

"You knew?"

"Your heart beats faster than normal, your eyes have this sexual desire in them, your skin is flushed...and," Xena kissed Gabrielle's neck and gave her shoulder a soft suck, "I could also smell your excitement."

"What!" Gabrielle tried to turn to look in her face.

"Hmm. Thought I didn't notice huh?" Xena chuckled a bit. "It took me a while to understand why you were getting excited over me beating up people, especially when you're so much against the violence. It was a real brain teaser, until we became lovers."

"Then you could understand?"

"Yep! I just didn't want to believe it."

Gabrielle looked back at the pool. "It's kind of hard to believe that such a desire like that is in me." She said softly.

"It depends on how you want to see it, Gabrielle. The gods and their agents use it for insuring the continuation of the fertility of the land. People use it to relive boredom, anxiety, express feelings for another and what makes it nice is that even those without an obol to their name or a partner can do it. Must drive control freaks crazy, like religions, politicians, and rulers. There is nothing wrong with sexual energy. And the creative ways to express it, well, that's one of the nice quirks to it. And when it's expended with a loved one, the power is incredible. Believe me when I say that." Xena paused a moment. "I've used my own sexual energy and those of others for various reasons, never really loving any of them deeply. I know the difference."

"Not even with - Marcus?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.

Xena sighed. "I'm not the same person as I was then...and...I don't regret it. Our last time together was...because we knew we would never be together like that again. It was before us...does that bother you?"

Gabrielle was quiet for a moment watching the shadowed face that was looking directly at her with steady blue eyes trying to read any sign Gabrielle's expressive face gave.

"I...I wonder sometimes...if Marcus or Borias came back...would you ..."

"Gabrielle," Xena put both hands on the sides of her face, "not even death...would change my love for you. I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you if there were any other way."

They both were silent listening to each other's steady breathing and taking comfort in what was expressed.

"We need to get moving. I would like to finish with this task before Spring." Xena leaned close to Gabrielle's ear and whispered seductively.

"Hey, that's not fair." She slapped the muscled thigh next to her. "You get my juices flowing with that voice of yours then want to break camp before doing anything about it."

"Hmm." Xena had no mercy, as she lifted Gabrielle up as she rose.

"Well. Where do we go from here?" Gabrielle asked, not at all bothered about relinquishing the leadership.

"Let's go look for the source of this light." Xena nodded toward the other side of the pool.

They followed the rim of the pool to the other side. A path led away from the pool leading upward into another tunnel. Xena leaned down and studied the tracks that were all around the entrance to the tunnel.

"It looks like a busy place but if it is, why hasn't anything been here for the length of time we were here?" Xena asked more to herself than the Bard.

"Maybe we were making too much noise." Gabrielle playfully returned.

Xena looked up at her with merriment in her eyes. Gabrielle's heart skipped a few beats. She resisted the impulse to wrap her arms around the woman she had come to depend on for so much happiness in her life and hug her for as long as Xena could stand it.

A look passed between them that mirrored what was in the others eyes. Xena resumed her lead along the path noting the light was neither dimming nor brightening. She couldn't figure out how light was getting in the cavern. The ground beneath them felt different. There were rocks, sand and in some places thick dust that became soft clouds where Gabrielle placed her feet. Little was disturbed under Xena's tread. The path finally widened and the underground river appeared beside them. By then it was getting too dark for Gabrielle to see clearly and she kept stumbling into Xena's back until she just left her hand resting against the small of her back. She had to struggle with the desire to pull Xena down onto the path and ravish her. These feelings were almost as bad as the dreams only the temptation was within a hairs breath from her.

The path ended and their only way to resume was to go into the water. Xena mentioned this to Gabrielle who could not see much now. Xena could see the path on the other side of the dark river.

"Why don't we rest here until the light returns." Xena suggested. Xena leaned against the stone wall and Gabrielle settled against her. Xena could hear Gabrielle's breathing deepen as Morpheus quickly took her. Xena sighed and kissed the top of her companion's head. Xena let herself fall into a light sleep, aware of the lapping water and the occasional flapping sound that a fishes tail might make. A thought occurred to her that neither had been hungry or thirsty thorough all of this. More importantly, Gabrielle hadn't even mentioned food. She wanted to pursue that thought more but Morpheus dragged her into his realm.

Xena's eyes popped open but it was to darkness. She could feel water up to her elbows and it was rising rapidly. Where is Gabrielle? Xena tried to lift herself but the current and the slippery rocks below her didn't give her a chance to get her balance. She lost contact with the wall as the current pulled her away, and her sense of direction was lost. The water was very soon up to her chin and by the sounds of her flapping hands on the water, she was not anywhere near the side of the cave. Frantically she tried to get some kind of bearing, as she was no longer able to touch the ground. How had the water been able to move in so fast? She should have heard it. Where is Gabrielle? Sudden panic threatened to over whelm her. "Gabrielle!" She called as she felt herself moving faster in the current. Her heart started to tighten and her stomach was twisting in the fear of losing her mate. "Gabrielle!" She called again fighting the pull that was taking her further away from where they had been. Xena felt something grab her shoulders and pull her down. She threw it off and continued her struggle to move toward calmer waters. Again she called out and again the pull on her shoulders. She struck out at whatever it was and found herself sinking into the water. She was in over her head.

A voice was calling her name from somewhere, as she was about to let go. She could no longer hold her breath and she was being battered from the undercurrent that dragged her along the bottom of the riverbed.

"Gabrielle?" She thought to herself. Xena managed to gather herself in a ball and push herself up toward the surface. She knew she was above it when she could hear the clear voice of Gabrielle. But she was a distance from her.

"Gabrielle?' She called frantically. "Where are you?"

She heard a soft sob from another direction. Where was the water? Xena realized there was no water around her. She was still leaning against the wall. Frightened at what may have happened Xena started to crawl to where she had heard Gabrielle. It was still dark in the cavern.

She found her leg and felt her way to her head. It was partially in the water. Xena heard her groan as she picked her up. "Gabrielle!" She called to the unconscious form. Xena moved back to the wall with Gabrielle in her arms. Gently with her fingers she felt her face and was horrified to feel a swelling that was building up below her eye and on her lips. Tenderly with tears in her eyes Xena kissed the bruises. Xena's anguish at what she probably had done while having a nightmare was palatable as she felt her stomach churn. Xena rocked Gabrielle in her arms waiting in sadness for her to come to. She knew Gabrielle would forgive her, she always did. But she hadn't done this for a long time and it didn't relieve her guilt that she would strike out at someone she loved more than herself. Xena could feel the darkness of depression and despair fill her as she became more in touch with the horror of her dark side. As she felt the numbing sensation it had brought her in the past she was aware that Gabrielle's heartbeat was slowing. Sobbing Xena pulled her closer to her and willed the darkness away, at some level knowing that her despair was affecting Gabrielle.

Chapter 11

Another Confession

Gabrielle awoke from the rapid beating of Xena's heart. She could feel the breath on her head was in gasps and soon Xena's arms were thrashing about her. Gabrielle turned in her arms and attempted to talk Xena awake but was struck with a blow that sent her rolling to the water's edge. "Xena!" She called again trying to stay calm, ignoring the pain on the side of her head. She became concerned more when Xena started to call her name and make sounds like she couldn't breath. Gabrielle's fear for her own life was pushed aside as she crawled back to where she could see the dark form leaning against the wall. She managed to get to her and made the mistake of putting her hands on her shoulders. Again Xena struck out and this time Gabrielle wasn't aware of where she landed.

Gabrielle awoke to a rocking motion and Xena's humming a song that she liked. Gabrielle also woke to a splitting headache. "By the Goddesses!" She got out as she lifted her hand to her head. "Ohh." Her lip hurt too.

She felt Xena tenderly pull her hand to her mouth. "I am so sorry Gabrielle. I ..." Xena choked back a sob, she didn't want to remind her that could have killed her for she knew Gabrielle was aware of it and she didn't want to think about what could have happened to her if Gabrielle didn't awaken, yet the anxiety and the twisting of her stomach told her at some level Gabrielle was thinking about it.

"Let me see what I can do about the headache." Xena finished instead. Gabrielle sat between Xena's legs as the strong and now gentle fingers found the knots and tight muscles that were contributing to the headache.

"Hmmm." Gabrielle murmured as she felt the headache recede and another ache start. Xena felt it too and let her hands slide down to Gabrielle's waist pulling her closer to her. Gabrielle rested with her back against Xena's chest feeling the pounding heart and appreciating that she wasn't wearing any armor for she felt Xena's hard nipples against her sensitive back.

"Do you want to talk about it?" She asked Xena. Her fingers were drawing patterns on Xena's legs, soothing her or arousing her, Gabrielle thought silently.

Xena hesitated. Gabrielle had told her something she feared in herself so why not share a little of her fear?

"I keep having these dreams of being swept away in the river or drowning in a pool of water."

Gabrielle was silent for a while. "Well, it's not easy to pass beyond the limits of one's nature." She replied philosophically.

"Now what do you mean by that?" Xena returned uncomfortably. She knew exactly what Gabrielle meant.

"It's like being way over your head in something your not use to handling." Gabrielle explained.

Xena was still for a moment, then let out a breath of air. She knew she was avoiding dealing with some dark emotional issues. "Like in your dealing with desires you only fantasize about?" Xena teased to change the subject.

"Yea." Both were silent as they thought about their own shadowed selves that would come up and haunt them if denied.

Gabrielle had dozed off and could feel caressing hands coaxing her back to wakefulness. "Hmm. Normally, that would put me to sleep."

She ran her hands down the muscled legs of her companion slowly, delighting in the feel of the quiver her touch invoked in them.

The moment didn't last for Xena's hands mirrored her change of mood from lover to protector. "What?" Gabrielle asked opening her eyes to the gray shadows.

"The water has changed rhythm." Xena whispered in her ear. Xena's memory of her dream caused her to grip Gabrielle tighter around the waist.

Gabrielle listened to the water and at first didn't detect anything other than the familiar lapping. Then the occasional whoosh could be heard and the lapping paused.

Gabrielle quickly got up feeling Xena's smooth movement to her feet also. The outlines to the gray shapes around them were becoming clearer.

"It looks like the water is rising." Gabrielle mentioned. She strained to see what was on the other side. It seemed their path continued across the river.

Xena could see the difference in the water's level from the previous day. "Well, it looks like we need to move on to the other side of the river."

As they stood near the water's edge Gabrielle tested the water. The only good thing about the cold water, she thought to herself, was it would take the swelling down on her face. She could feel her lip was puffy making it painful to talk.

"Well, let's get to it then!" Before Gabrielle put a foot in the water Xena's hand shot out and pulled her back.

"There's something in the water." Xena could hear the slapping of more than one fin and it didn't sound like the normal fish to her.

"Well, it may be wide enough for you to jump, but not for me." Gabrielle reported, remembering that Xena had jumped this large distance before. "Remember the jump you made at outside of Mellos?"

"Yea." She remembered she pulled a groin muscle that she had hid from Gabrielle at the time. But then, they were not lovers, which would have put a different slant to their interaction after wards. She had shut Gabrielle out while she battled the pain and still had to keep her concentration to protect them from marauders that were plaguing them on their journey away out of Thales. That was also where she had first noticed Gabrielle's outward display of jealousy. It had taken her back then. How could she have pushed that aside and mark it down for heroine worship? Now that she was more aware of reading Gabrielle she knew the jealously was that of a lover.

Gabrielle remembered Mellos. She could picture the bar at the Acropolis Inn where Xena had gotten up to get herself a drink, not offering Gabrielle anything and paused to talk to a man who was showing an interest in her. She was letting a man openly attempt to seduce her. It was a painful awakening for Gabrielle for she never felt so much heartache and had not been able to recognize it for what it was.

Xena reached out for Gabrielle's arm knowing something was wrong by the way that her shoulders slumped. Gabrielle pulled it away angrily then turned around quickly and buried herself into Xena's body pulling her close. Xena would have dealt with this then and there but she could feel urgency in having to get to the other side before the rising waters made it too wide for her to safely jump.

"Come on. I'll do my usual warrior stuff and carry you across the turbulent waters." She half joked. She swept her Bard into her arms and walked back a few paces to get some running momentum behind her jump.

Gabrielle was always in awe at the feel of Xena's power that she radiated and could feel intimately when she was held close to her during moments like these. The run was smooth and the jump was sudden. The flying through the air was exhilarating and terrifying when she did one of her spins at the high point of the leap. Xena landed on the other side with her heel just missing the water's edge...and this time she didn't get the pulled muscle. Amazing since she had not warmed up and she had Gabrielle's weight, but of course at Mellos she was cold and in wet leathers as well as in full battle armor. Argo had carried Gabrielle ahead, out of danger. Not bad for an aging warrior, she thought smugly.

The path on the other side of the river was much wider and they could walk side by side, which both took advantage of.

"Do you want to tell me what you were thinking back there?" Xena asked Gabrielle as their shoulders brushed and Gabrielle's light hold of Xena's arm was comforting.

Xena could feel the change in Gabrielle's pulse in the fingertips that were lightly wrapped around her wrist.

Gabrielle sighed then laughed. "It was so long ago."

"In Mellos?"

"Yeah. It was..." Gabrielle fought the crushing feelings that she had felt at that time. Her heart felt like someone was squeezing it. Strange that she till had these intense feelings for something that had happened so long ago.

Chapter 12

Memories of Mellos

Xena found a stable for Agro not to far from the inn, the Acropolis, that she had sent the Bard to get lodgings for them. She noted that there were a lot of full stalls and more people on the street than normal. That meant more chance of trouble. Hopefully there were rooms available at the inn for she felt the Acropolis was safer than most. She didn't want the Bard accosted or threatened. She was finding she was caring more for her than she was use to feeling for others. She pushed that insight aside as she paid the young kid that would be taking care of Argo, an extra coin.

As she entered the Inn she ignored the usual quiet that would descend on a room at her entrance. Her casual glance around the room told her all that she needed to know. Her glance to the corner where she would normally sit was greeted by the happy smile of the Bard. She was learning, she thought. On the table before the Bard, was food and two mugs. She was learning well, she thought wryly to herself. She sat next to Gabrielle without a word and started to eat keeping her senses aware of what was going on. She felt the eyes of one person focusing on her. Gabrielle was doing her usual and talking about what she had heard and what she had seen on her way over. Interesting bits of information for Xena to file away, as well as nonessential information and too much detail. When she ate enough, Xena leaned back with the mug in her hand, exposing her inner muscled thigh to the Bard who was sitting next to her. She was still jumpy when the Bard touched her. She had made it very clear to her not to touch her when they were in public places as she was on instinct, which normally she always was, so the Bard had a comfortable distance between them.

The Bard's conversation paused and Xena took that opportunity to get up and get a refill. Save the barmaid a trip. She noted that Gabrielle still had plenty to drink and was picking at her food. Unusual for her. She would have to ask if she got the owner to agree to let her tell a story or two.

As Xena made her way to the bar, weaving in and out she picked up on the warrior who had been staring at her and was now watching her progress. She had noticed him when she entered. She recognized him from her past. She never had any real interaction with him in the past nor cared to. He believed himself to be a man that could have his way with any woman. Love them and leave them. She worried about Gabrielle. The only place available to order at the bar seemed to be near him, probably because he had the usual bad aura around him that most people would like to avoid. However, people who drank usually forgot good commonsense.

"You must be Xena, Warrior Princess." He said in a conversational tone, but Xena caught the subtle challenge.

"And you are?" She asked raising an eyebrow and gesturing to the barmaid on the other side. She nodded that she had seen Xena.

"Theos." He didn't extend a hand yet but Xena could see desire in his eyes and knew that she wouldn't have to worry about him being interested in Gabrielle.

Theos' conversation from there was the usual bantering and pulling Xena into a conversation about battles they may have shared. She felt his blood lust raise and could see another piece of ornament rise as well, as his narratives became what good warriors would find enjoyable. However, Xena had given that up and was only interested in getting a refill from the barmaid. Maybe she should have waited at the table. Xena glanced back at the table to make sure Gabrielle was okay. Her eyes locked onto Gabrielle's and she could feel her blood rise and her heart start to beat faster. Gabrielle lowered her eyes and fidgeted with her food. Turning back to Theos she listened as he started another story this time touching Xena's leg that was near his. She merely looked at Theos. There was a time when she would have cut his hand off. She watched him as he continued his supposed seduction of her and in a detached way remembered her own past and misuse of others. She removed his hand from her thigh and bought him another ale, as the barmaid finally was in front of her. Xena glanced back at their table and noted that Gabrielle was headed up the stairs to their room. Was she going to get ready for a story or was she retiring, she wondered.

The barmaid watched her eyes and leaned over to her. "They only had one room available for you two. It's on the left at the back."

Xena nodded and looked back at Theos who was by now very drunk and falling all over her. She decided to do him a favor and take him to his place and let him sleep off his ale without getting bashed over the head by another foolhardy drunk who wanted to relieve him of his coin purse.

"Where is he staying?" Xena asked the barmaid as she passed by again.

"At the front of the stairs to the right."

"Come on Theos, let's get you to bed." Xena hoisted the larger man to his feet and half-dragged and half walked him up the stairs to his room. As Xena maneuvered him to be able to open the room to his door she was aware of a door opening down the hall and then quietly close without any footsteps.

Xena dumped the body on the bed and was surprised when Theos suddenly came awake and grabbed her pulling her down onto the bed with him. Theos was wearing armor so both of them bounced off each other.

"Theos, knock it off. I don't want to go to bed with you, you jackass." She grunted as she punched him under the chin. Normally that would take a big man down but perhaps he had too much ale to have the sense to fall down. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her toward him. Xena kneed him where it would stop him and he did crumple to the ground groaning. She didn't bother picking him up.

She decided she would have to leave drunken warriors to their own demise in the future. She left his room and quietly walked down the hall to where she knew Gabrielle would be. She entered the room noiselessly and Gabrielle hadn't heard her for she was sobbing into her arm that was wrapped around her face.

Fear gripped Xena that someone had hurt Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, did someone hurt you?" She asked as she sat on the side of the pallet and put a hand on her shoulder. She felt the tremble under her hand but let it go as part of her sobs.

"Xena!" The Bard stopped crying and guiltily wiped her face with her arm, partially turning from her. "I...I'm sorry I didn't mean for you to see..."

"See what? Did someone hurt you? Tell me and I'll go - talk to them." Her voice was hard with anger.

"No. I'm fine. I was...just having a bad dream."

Xena knew that was a lie. A Great storyteller she is, but she couldn't tell lies very well.

Xena shook her head to clear her thoughts.

"So, what are you crying about?" She asked again for she was really interested.

Gabrielle stared up at the face that was in the dark, hearing a voice that meant so much to her and sounded like she was interested in her. Gabrielle was grateful there was no light for she was afraid Xena would see right into her heart. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Xena could see very well in the dark and what little light there was showed something in Gabrielle's eyes that caused Xena to feel suddenly weak inside.

"It was just a bad dream." Gabrielle said again softer.

"Okay. When you want to talk about it, well...I'll listen." Xena told her softly.

Gabrielle felt her heart leap at the sight of Xena walking through the door. Everyone stopped talking as they watched the tall armored figure stand in the doorway as she scanned the room then sought out her favorite place. Gabrielle had to pressure some people to leave to get the space she knew Xena liked around her. She also had picked out the foods and ale she knew she would like.

Xena barely nodded toward her but Gabrielle learned how to discern the small acknowledgements Xena tossed her way. She admired with the rest of the crowd the easy movement that Xena had and the power she emanated in any space she took up. Xena tiredly sat down and started to eat right away.

"I talked to a woman at the boot place, it seems a small army had passed through a few days ago. They had made trouble and had to be shown the way out by the troops that King Gestphor keeps garrisoned here. The woman said they've been exacting their revenge by attacking people either leaving or coming into town along the higher trail towards the mountains."

"Hmmm." Xena responded as she sipped her ale between bites.

"I also heard from some of the people here that some of those marauders have been sneaking in during the day time and making like they're part of the tourist trade."

"Hmm." Xena replied again emptying her mug.

"I also bought out the whole store at the corner and..." At that time Xena had leaned back exposing her muscled thigh to Gabrielle. A hot fire filled Gabrielle and desire that she was surprised at filled her. She paused and averted her eyes to gather her wits. For a moment she felt off balance.

When she turned to look back at Xena she found her gone. Looking up quickly she saw her weave her way in and out of people heading for the bar where a warrior was openly staring at her approach.

For a moment Gabrielle's heart twisted. She had a sinking feeling when Xena stood next to him and seemed to be interested in what he had to say. Gabrielle could feel her face redden and she quickly put her head down. When she felt her blush was under control she looked up and watched the two interact. For a brief moment Xena looked over toward her. Thecool blue eyes were piercing as they locked onto hers. Gabrielle felt a great shifting of something within her and she quickly looked away. Her hand that was on the table was shaking and she could feel her insides turning and twisting in a funny but pleasing way.

'What was happening?' Gabrielle glanced back toward Xena and watched as the man started to touch her. Her own desire to touch the body that she saw daily and feel the hardness of her muscles was too much as she saw another doing it. Suddenly she couldn't stand it any more and quickly left the table, her food half-eaten, making her way to their room. After crying and shaking with fear for what she didn't want to admit to she decided to go back out and face the noise. She was just exiting when she saw Xena and the warrior drunkenly fall into his room. The pain in her heart was like a tear that wrenched out a terrible sob from her already sore throat. She didn't bother lighting a candle as she made her way to what was to be their bed and cried. The first few minutes were more painful then her first round moments ago. She hadn't heard the door open nor realize she wasn't alone until Xena called to her.

She couldn't bear to look at Xena after she spent time with another. When she finally did, she knew her eyes would have told Xena everything if she could see in the dark.

"His name was Theos, a drunken looser." Xena explained gently. "I felt sorry for him and attempted to dump him safely in his bed but he was expecting more than what I had to give him."

Even now Gabrielle couldn't look Xena in the eyes as her heart felt the same ache. Xena stopped and pulled Gabrielle close to her. She could feel her heartbeat and the pulse that was pounding out a heartache from so long ago. "I mistook your look at that time. I didn't know enough about you to know that...well, I didn't know enough about my feelings for you at that time to have seen that we both were interested in each other. I'm not saying that I wish we were aware of each other's feelings at that time, because I don't think either of us was ready. Not for this, what we're still growing into. I know it hasn't been easy, Gabrielle, but there isn't anything I would change in the past, for it may change something that we have now, and I don't want to change what we have now."

"I would be afraid to change anything too, for I might leave something out that would be so important." Gabrielle admitted.

Xena kissed Gabrielle on her eyes then her nose and then crushed her lips against the Bards as they both pulled each other close as if to merge into one. Finally Xena broke the kiss.

Taking up Gabrielle's hand they resumed their walk upward.

Chapter 13

Some Things Are Best Left Alone

"That smell is here again." Xena remarked as she pulled up on Gabrielle's hand so she could try to locate from where the smell was coming from. "The smell seems to be coming from the left of us." Xena pointed.

Gabrielle frowned. Why was Xena so interested in what smelled like something that's been dead for a while? She shuddered as she thought of the dead things in her life. It made her uneasy, just as whatever was in the water had. Xena made it easy by leaping over it.

Xena pondered her sensitivity toward Gabrielle's change of moods. It was like hearing music that changed in tonal quality. Her sense of everything around seemed to have increased. Maybe heightened by her temporary loss of sight. The ground below her was alive and it was knowing by the feel, hard, sandy, dusty or rocky, what the sense of feeling the area they were walking in would have. She couldn't at first tell if Gabrielle's mood influenced the feel of the ground below her or the other way around. As Gabrielle became agitated or remorse the ground below her mirrored it. Just like whatever was in the water seemed to have the same feel of anger as Gabrielle's when she was remembering Mellos. The thought again came to Xena that maybe their encounters were suppose to represent in some way their unspoken issues that neither wanted to deal with. The moment Xena thought of that she shuddered at the thought of them having to go through her nightmarish memories.

She wondered again about the smell. She could feel Gabrielle's reluctance in finding out the source of the smell. Why did she feel that it was important to find out the cause of it? Well she had been acting on instincts for most of this journey. May as well continue.

"I think we need to find out what is causing the smell." She told Gabrielle quietly. Gabrielle held her breath for a moment then let it out slowly. Her fingertips were still resting in Xena's palm. Xena could feel the panic raising in Gabrielle and then her pulling herself under control.

"I remember a story of the young girl who was searching for what caused the death of the land around her...." Gabrielle began to sooth her own nerves with what she knew how to do best...or one of the things she did best, and started a story. Her voice was soothing to both of them as they continued their progress. "...and when she had emerged from the cave she found that the surrounding forest was alive once again." She finished.

"It's interesting that you should remember that tale." Xena smiled down at the Bard.

"Hmmm. Not quite the Demeter and Persephone tale but...it's from Britannia. I left out most of the terrors she had to experience while in the cave. I didn't want to encourage my imagination at this time." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's arm.

So, Xena thought, she also was aware that what they had to face was their own dark side and fears of being consumed by them. Well, then, maybe it was necessary to see what the smell was representing.

The stench was just as bad as it had been earlier. Gabrielle started going through dry heaves again. This was not going to do, Xena thought. Maybe a direct approach was not the answer. She pulled at Gabrielle and whispered in her ear, "Let's get out of here."

Gabrielle followed Xena back to the crystals.

"Ugghhh! That's one thing I wouldn't want to face head on!" Gabrielle reported.

"Maybe we aren't suppose to." Xena murmured as she thought about her own hand in the death of many people. The River Styx was probably one of the busiest rivers when she was on a rampage during her warrior years. But she didn't feel that that memory was where the smell was coming from.

They found a flat surface to sit down to rest, both involved with their own reveries. Xena leaned back against her solid backrest and closed her eyes. She could hear the dripping of water from somewhere and the flowing of water in another direction. The air that was passing them occasionally brought the sweet fragrance that had drawn her off her passage back to Gabrielle at the Amazon Village...so long ago, it seemed.

Suddenly she saw a face from her past as clear as if he was standing before her. A pain gripped her heart and her dark rage came back. She could feel the old anger that darkened into rage as it pounded in her veins when she realized a lover had betrayed her. Blood lust rose as a heat that vibrated in every cell of her body and her throat echoed the battle cry as she descended into the valley she knew that he was in. The village was hiding him. She could feel his presence. Her vengeance toward him was reaped on the village people as she viciously slaughtered the people that resisted. She stalked the remains of the smoldering village, though out the night searching for his body to further mutilate it and vent her hurt at his betrayal. She hadn't found him. Early morning, without sleep, she started her search for him in the surrounding forest, looking for any sign of him. When did this rage stop? She let her breath out. She no longer felt the blackness that she had thought would never leave her. Fear, rage and sexual lust was what she used to add to her warrior energy. Did it stop when Hercules brought the redirection in my life that I
She was quiet as she steadied her heart from the fear. No, it had stopped when she had seen a young girl being attacked by slavers outside her village. Why? What was it that made her realize...no, she just felt. It was a feeling! There was a definite shift
of something within her. At the time she was a weary soul that felt no more, until she had locked eyes with the young woman.

"Illness is caused by having a gift but no one to give it to." A voice whispered somewhere deep within her.

"To be healed you must make yourself available to the change of energy." Another voice whispered.

"Your cry for help was answered." The third voice of the Fates whispered.

Gabrielle thought back to the time she had first experienced the dark power of rage, hate and violence that Calesto had introduced her to. She had killed Perdicus just to torment. Gabrielle's guilt was redirected into hate for Calesto who had in actually done what Gabrielle would have found difficult to do, sever her relationship with Perdicus. The marriage had been a mistake and she knew it even before she took his hand. They hadn't made love since Perdicus had been too anxious, but they had thought there would be other nights. During the entire ceremony she had imagined Xena holding her hand. She had started to feel guilty when she realized that he would never have been able to make her happy, and already she was dying inside. Gabrielle felt a huge weight of guilt that she was secretly happy that Perdicus was out of her life and that she was able to go back to where she wanted to be more than anything else in the world. Did she have a secret death wish for Perdicus and Calesto merely fulfilled it? Poor Perdicus. He got what he had always dreamed of, marriage with his childhood love, then straight to the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle thought deeper on this. Actually, Perdicus had what he wanted and if they had remained together, as sensitive as he was, he would have eventually figured out that Gabrielle was in love with the Warrior Princess and the way of life she had become comfortable with...traveling. It would have been more devastating to him then his tortured death by Calesto. And as much as he said he was happy returning to farming, she knew he didn't have his heart in it. He also didn't have his heart anymore for the warrior thing. He had seen too much death. How long would he have been happy just being married to her? Gabrielle sighed. She had given to him what he wanted and was able to return to what she desired and could not live without, Xena. She knew he could hear her thoughts on the other side. She hopped he wouldn't be angry with her.

"Gabrielle?" A soft voice spoke next to her.

Gabrielle turned to Xena who had her head facing away from her. Gabrielle became alert listening to anything that may have changed while she was thinking.

"I think I hear water rushing."

"The path was starting to go upward. Maybe it will take us to higher ground."

"My thoughts also."

"Let's do it then." She got up quickly feeling the closeness of Xena's body as she rose.

They hurried upward as the rushing of water became loud enough for Gabrielle to hear.

"Gabrielle, there's a light up ahead."

Gabrielle raised her head as her eyes were downcast watching where she was placing her feet. "I don't see any light."

However suddenly the wind that swept by them was from the outside carried the smell of smoke and a searing pain of heat. "Xena!"

"Yes. I can smell it. There are creatures being burned as well as the forest." She replied with a hard voice.

Chapter 14

To Higher Ground

Xena could feel the abrupt change in the atmosphere around them and the change of the feeling of the ground below them.

They came out into a blackened sky thick with smoke. Xena and Gabrielle put an arm over their noses to cut the searing heat that burned their lungs. The air around them was filled with smoke and cries from fleeing, dying and frightened animals.

"Do you hear that cry?" Xena asked alarmed. Her heightened senses enabled her to feel the pain and terror of the life around her from the fire. The air was not only burning her lungs but the fire itself felt as if it were all around her, singing the hairs on her arms.

"I hear a lot of cries! What are we going to do?"

"Let's go over toward the fire. Something is in pain." Xena choked.

They both stumbled over smoking debris and falling branches that were snapping off from their life support in the heat.

Gabrielle's heart was breaking as she could hear many voices crying as the wild life in the forest were fleeing from the advancing fire.

"Gabrielle over to the left of us."

Xena leaned over a fallen log to see what was crying behind it.

"Ohhh. Xena it is a small fawn!" Gabrielle leaned over Xena's shoulder.

Xena had fallen to her knees as she felt the anguish of the creature. It had lost its mother and was feeling more anguish from the loss than fear of the fire. A painful sob tore out of Xena's chest as she felt the creature's loss of her mother, her nurturer, her life. She had thought the loss of her son, or of Gabrielle was terrible, but this creature only knew her love for her mother and it was so difficult to bear. Xena wept along with the terrified creature. She didn't feel Gabrielle pulling at her urgently as the fire was nearing them. Xena hugged the small fawn close to her chest as Gabrielle pulled her to her feet and dragged her along. She kept glancing up at Xena as she stroked the fawn with soothing fingers but had a far away look in her eyes.

Xena was caught up in the darkness of death, this time not going anywhere as she had in her own death. Dimly she was aware of Gaia's heart beat, and the beating of many other creatures heart beat, as they fled in terror, as some stopped in their death and of the elation of those that made it out safe. She was in a darkness where there was soon only one beat that all the others started to become in sync with. The burning in her lungs was gradually replaced with occasional fresh smells from a breeze that carried various scents.

Gabrielle was softly singing a song about the renewal of the land in an ancient time that neither she nor Gabrielle remembered. Finally Gabrielle found a place that was high enough above the fire's rampage for them to rest. Tenderly she sat Xena in her lap and cradled her, rocking her and singing songs she never realized she knew. Both of them felt comfort from the rhythm and the story of the songs. Xena held the baby fawn close to her as she gradually became aware of her surroundings.

In what seemed like a long time, Xena stirred in Gabrielle's arms. Gabrielle pulled her face close to hers and brushed her cheeks against Xena's. Xena turned her face to find Gabrielle's lips, noticing her lip was still swollen. Gently she brushed her lips against the bruise.

"What are you going to do with this little one?" Gabrielle asked as she touched the twitching ears.

"Let it go. It's about old enough to make it on its own." Xena sighed. Silently she said a prayer to Potina theron, mistress of the beasts, Artemis, to watch over the young creature then released it. The creature struggled to its feet and hesitantly looked about. With careful steps it moved off, looking back at the two.

"I think it expects us to follow."

Xena had thought so too but had not said it for fear of Gabrielle's disbelief.

"Let's not disappoint it, then." Xena rose pulling Gabrielle up with her. Whenever the fawn got too far ahead it would wait for them. A sure sign they were meant to follow. Xena could still feel a connection with Gaia's heartbeat. It was a slow steady beat that was comforting as it rose though her feet and up her tall frame.

"It's a path! She's led us to a path." Gabrielle announced delightedly.

"Yea. It's up to the mountain. I guess that's our next destination."

Gabrielle watched the fawn as it turned from the path and with one last look bounded into the surrounding brush.

"Thanks, little one." Gabrielle waved. "Now don't you think that was a guide?" She asked Xena as she turned to catch up with her lover who continued on up the path.

"Hmm. Hopefully we don't have to go through the same experience to get another one. I can deal with not having a guide if other's suffer just so we can be directed to the right path."

"I don't think that was the point of that experience." Gabrielle shook her head.

"Well, then what was it?"

"I think some lessons are not for the mind to figure out."

Xena raised an eyebrow at her young friend.

"I know you're the thinking type that needs to have reasons and the facts laid out for seeing..."

"Not necessarily. Not all of what I do is based on what I see. There is a lot based on instincts and just knowing."

"Hmm. Then how come you're so difficult when emotions come into the picture?" Gabrielle playfully jabbed her in her ribs.

"That's not instinct."

"Oh, oh. Instinct to run!" Gabrielle laughed.

Xena grinned sheepishly. "Well. I never had a good reason to stay around and deal with...emotions until a certain Bard kept insisting it was important."

A cold breeze reminded them that they were headed toward a snow peaked mountain and they didn't have any warm clothing with them.

"There are clouds that are moving toward us. We're going to have to seek some sort of shelter." Xena remarked.

"Well, we better get moving faster then, because I'm already getting cold."

Xena didn't know for how long they were walking but her own energy was dissipating and she knew they were walking slower due to her loss of energy. The wind was getting colder and harder to walk against. Gabrielle hadn't said anything during the walk only gave Xena occasional squeezes on her arm for encouragement. Why wasn't Gabrielle feeling the same loss of energy? She was probably freezing in this chilly wind and she had no cloak to protect her.


Xena was tiring. The glazed look was back in her eyes. The cold was numbing her but she needed to keep them both moving forward until Xena got back into control. She needed to take her mind off the cold. Gabrielle thought back to when she had watched Xena sob while holding the fawn. It was heart wrenching but she realized she had to pull herself together to get them out of the area as the fire was moving their way. She kept her mind busy with searching for ways up toward the mountain as the fire was starting to surround them. She was breathing shallow to prevent the fire from burning her lungs. Xena was heavy as her sorrow was. Watching the fawn reminded her of her own child. She let the darkness of her child's death fill her and let the guilt spill over into her consciousness. It hurt and burned as the fire but she noticed that though the memory of her deed came back again, it wasn't as intense as it had originally been. On some level she realized the necessity of remembering and that each time she dealt with her guilt a little more of the pain's intensity lessened.

When she found a place for them to rest she pulled Xena to her breast and rocked her as she would have a child that had lost something dear to it. The song she sung was not from her conscious memory but it seemed to fill her with a peacefulness and filled a void that she hadn't been aware of. She watched Xena's fingers stoke the fawn she refused to let go.

Once more she was in charge of their safety. She needed to find a place of safety for them. The clouds were so dark around the mountaintop, she could see the lighting already striking the sides they would be walking up. It would be not only raining soon but the winds would be strong up there. Why she knew they had to climb the mountain, she would have not been able to explain. But it was part of the test. She could feel Xena's energy draining and she didn't know what to do about it. Why was Xena being affected more by this test, than her? Fears. That was what they were to face. That's what Xena guessed. Were Xena's fears so horrific that they kept incapacitating her until she dealt with it?

She thought back to her fear of the dark hairy creature that she had seen twice. What fear did that represent?

Gabrielle looked back up at the sky. The darkness from the clouds was descending upon them and the wind was pushing against them stronger. Gabrielle had her arm wrapped around Xena's in fear that she would collapse. She could feel her trembling from the exertion. On one of her glances up she had thought she saw what could be a cave and she was hopping Xena could last that long. She didn't think she could carry her no matter how much her heart desired it.

"We're almost there." She shouted as the wind tore the words out of her mouth. It should be around this outcropping. There was a small break in the rock wall and as Gabrielle pulled Xena in, she noted it would serve enough protection from the elements if they huddled close. Xena hadn't said anything and Gabrielle pulled her close to her to give her as much of her own energy as she could.

Xena leaned against Gabrielle lost in her own tired thoughts unaware of their surroundings. Gabrielle could feel the tremors in Xena's limbs as she relaxed against her. Both fell into a deep slumber.

Gabrielle found herself standing at the top of a snow-capped mountain surrounded by a panoramic view of other peaks shrouded in clouds and snow. Her exhalation of breath was evidenced by a white vapor from her nose that didn't last long. Her figure was draped in an animal skin that was not pulled snuggly around her, as she did not notice the cold. Looking above her where the rumbling was coming from she noticed the dark cloud that was above her. An occasional bolt of lightning showed a tear in the blackness with a white light cutting a jagged slice though it. It was how her heart had felt; dark with a cut that was not clean but jagged and ripped. The cold did not invigorate and the high altitude did not lighten her head. Now she felt nothing in this dark place of her soul. At least when she was dead she had felt something. Now there was nothing.

Ares appeared beside her. She was aware of the turbulent weather about them and the raw energy of finality he seemed to evoke in her. The excitement he had once sent into her blood was not there. Leaning close he whispered in her ear and she could feel movement in a heart that she had thought was dead. There was still life in her and he pulled at her darkest side to bring her back into the world she had abandoned. A fire of vengeance and focussed hate was directed at one person as she struggled to ignore the ambiguousness of her hate as life and some unconscious primitive cry came out of her throat, that had been hoarse from the shedding of tears, echoing against the surrounding peaks. With it came fire that pounded in her veins and engorged her heart with blood lust. She was alive again!

As she breathed deeply from the cold air she was aware once more of the pain that seared her heart and reminded her of her once vow to abandon all attachments. Her memories of past lies that others had told her and ones she had told others did not go unnoticed as she fell to her knees in anguish as the pain was cell level and there was no escaping from it by ravaging villages or attacking people. Gabrielle wept as she felt Xena's struggle with her dark side to kill something that she loved more than her life, more than the child that had come from her own womb. Knowing that if she did kill Gabrielle, she would be condemning herself to a darkness that would be more painful than life. It was the guilt and feeling of betrayal that Xena fought and almost lost to.

When the vision passed Gabrielle found herself lying on her back shivering in the small protective alcove she had found. Xena was not near her. Alarmed she looked out at the opening and could see Xena's form standing outside in the storm.

Xena was rocking herself staring in a fire with unseeing eyes as her body was aching all over. She had been numb, stumbling her way somewhere, and tumbled down an incline not bothering to pick herself up. A traveling woman with her companion had found her and shared their fire with her. But she remained in her own private world, afraid to be conscious. The warm food offered was not seen.

When the dark shadows gave way to light grays, she simply stood up and headed in a direction that she was not conscious of. For three days she walked in this state, talking to no one and taking no substance. On the fourth night, hours from the Amazon boundary she tripped on a root and remained lying there. The jar from the fall, seemed to remind her of her losses and realization that she had caused four people to lose their lives. Yes, she knew she was dead. Xena's son and her daughter, at her hands, her fault. A deep sob that shook her frame came out of her as she again remembered Xena's frightful eyes when she sent her away. The pain was too much and Gabrielle again felt the numbing as she rolled to her back and stared up at the sky. She remained this way until stars appeared and a familiar face was staring down at her. Eponin scooped her limp figure up and quickly handed her to another that was on a horse.

"It's as bad as we have heard." Eponin's soft voice whispered from far away. "We should have kept a guard on her."

Gabrielle remembered no more of the journey.

Xena lifted her head from out of the folds of Gabrielle's arms, shaking with the emotions that it had reawakened in her. She needed to get out of the closed space they were in. Frantically she moved out of their shelter. She needed air desperately. The cold wind and sleet that was glancing off the mountain beat against her as she struggled to lift herself from what she had dreamed. Xena leaned against the side of the mountain and let the elements beat away the emotions that she did not want to feel. She buried her face in her cold hands as she experienced Gabrielle's losses. She realized that Gabrielle's capacity to love was her getting love in return. Her not killing the child Xena knew to be evil was not a rational act that Gabrielle was capable of doing without it altering her character ....altering it to something Xena would not recognize. She should have seen it then. But then...what other course was there? Her slaying the child would have done more damage than Dahok's child had done as she lived. A part of her knew that...losing their connection as partners would have been far worse.

A powerful gust of wind pulled her toward the edge of the path. Her footing was unsteady as her energy was still not as she would like it to be. She felt a firm hand on her elbow pulling her back into the shelter.

Gabrielle and Xena wrapped themselves around each other for warmth back in the small shelter.

A snort from nearby had Xena up and standing with her sword in her hand.

Gabrielle was up and on the other side of the pallet with her eyes wide open.

Argo was neighing, as if in laughter.

"We're back!" Gabrielle whispered and then leaped over the pallet and wrapped her arms around the startled Xena.

"Are you okay?" She asked as she kissed Xena's face passionately then pushed her into the side of the cave and looked up into the eyes that were smiling down at her.

"I'm fine and I can tell you're doing just fine." Xena replied returning the ardent kiss by crushing her lips against Gabrielle's.

"Hey, " Xena got out between the lips that were ravishing hers while the smaller body was pulling Xena back to the pallet. "there are four horses approaching."

"The Amazons." Gabrielle groaned. She had forgotten them. She looked up at Xena. "They escorted me here."

"Well, let's go let them know their Queen is okay."

"Xena, do you think we can get rid of them quickly without insulting them?"


The Morning After

Xena stood at the cave entrance with Gabrielle snugly tucked against her newly cleaned leathered side. A warm muscled tanned arm wrapped around her waist in a down right possessive manner, Xena thought with a grin, as she looked down at the Bard who was waving to the last Amazon as she moved out of sight with her own farewell salute.

Xena sighed with relief. Both of them felt the need to remain another night. Xena read it in the dark green eyes that glanced her way many times during the Amazon's one night stay.

Finding themselves, so unexpectedly, back in the cave left them with a feeling of incompleteness that was so hard to express...for Xena anyway. She wanted to spend some time alone with Gabrielle going over what had happened and instead Gabrielle had spent a day and most of the night telling an abridged version of their story so the Amazons could leave at first light...not because the Amazons were uncomfortable with the story and the destruction outside the cave entrance to add ambience to the telling...no...it was because they wanted to be alone. Odd for her to want to talk about this...it was a strange compulsion for her. But there were the dreams and the contents of them that she needed to discuss with her Bard about. Xena let out another silent sigh.

Both women stood for a moment gazing out at the remains of a once tall forest wondering if the destruction around them was just a coincidence of what had happened in Alex and Mediea's world. It wasn't like the two looked the same.

Xena looked down at the smaller woman, for a moment studying the furrowed brow and the blond lashes that were over eyes that were too far away to notice that she was nearby. Xena turned back into the cave, parting the blanket of vines to pass through. She left Gabrielle to stare at nothing in particular with that far off look in her eyes that spoke of creative composing and probably rewriting certain parts of last night's tale that may not have sounded smooth flowing to her bard ear. Xena took four stairs at a time wanting to finish cleaning her weapons...and to think.

While Gabrielle had been entertaining the Amazons during the day and well into the night...Hermes! Did they have to ask so many questions? She had cleaned her weather damaged leathers, polished rusted armor, and after a hard stare from Gabrielle at her impatience with another question from the same curious Amazon!..she went to brush down a neglected golden four legged friend and spent some time on night drills, restlessly wishing light would come and the Amazons would leave.

Xena sat on the log near the fire and pulled out her sharpening stone and sword. She had left that for last. She liked to run the stone along the edge of the sword for it seemed to help bring her thoughts into a sharper focus as much as it sharpened the cut of the blade.

Gabrielle sighed and finally turned back into the cave, patting Argo's neck that was pushing past her and through the vines for a walk to look for green grass to munch on.

Gabrielle took the stairs two at a time, feeling relieved that her Amazon escort was off on their return trip, with a story that would give enough information on what had happened to satisfy Ephiny, Queen Regent and her friend. Is Ephiny going to know that...it's not finished? Or, is it only me that feels that way?

Gabrielle moved the hot water off the fire and prepared some tea. She looked over at her dark haired lover that was carefully running the stone over the edge of her sword. She wondered if Xena's silence was due to her feeling the same sense of...

"Xena?" She turned to face her, handing her a cup of the tea that was still steeping. "Do you feel like there's..."

"More to come?"

"Well...sort of. Like it ended so abruptly. I mean...when I was telling it last night..."

"You would like a better ending."

"Well, yea. I'd like to know what happened to Alex and Mediea. We ended back here so...quick."

"Yea. The ending was sudden while the beginning was...long and pretty intense."

Gabrielle sent a sidelong look at her companion as she picked up her own tea and sipped it. She caught the change in her voice at the last part.

"Yea...intense..." She let out a breath. She laid her cup of tea on the floor and turned to wrap her arms around the strong body she loved to hold...and do other nice things to.

Xena stilled her hand that was stroking the sword blade with long smooth motions, silencing the soothing sound of stone against steel.

Gabrielle let the warm feeling move through her, building gradually into a slow beat of heat that began to radiate out to different parts of her body. Her heartbeat increased and her breasts lifted higher from her deeper breathing. She didn't give in to the need for immediate action but wanted to savor the build up, drawing it out, knowing how much nicer the slow burn felt in the end. A small groan escaped her throat as desire released a flood of liquid that coated her inner thighs...and still she focused on the rapid heartbeats of her lover that matched her own and the loud swallow from the still form that she had tightly wrapped her arms around, with her face laying across a leathered breast.

Xena sat quiet as her arms were pinned to her sides, and the face that was pressed against her leather bodice breathed hot air across her upper chest. Quietly she shared the warm feeling that built up into a hot flush that washed through her. There was no compelling need to do anything else but enjoy the erotic tingling that connected them, focusing only on the here and now, knowing that they could draw it out or end it now. Xena took a slow deep breath as her body shivered from the smell of her lover's arousal, releasing another flow of liquid down her own thighs.

It was time to take action, Gabrielle's soft groan had Xena loosening the arms that were around hers with the intention of putting her sword away and continueing this scene in another position.

Cloths were quickly discarded as they fell into the pallet together. Gabrielle's breath was uneven as they became entangled in each other's arms and legs, skin against hot skin, moving against each other still not feeling the urgency to end it, but rather lifting it higher...until their mutual moans for release finally brought the sensuous cloud to a bursting point.

"Gabrielle?" Xena's panted as her lips moved to the place on Gabrielle's neck that smelled of their favorite scent. She wanted to know how Gabrielle had got the scent there when she would have certainly smelled it sooner.

"Hmmm." Gabrielle's ability for a more intelligent speech was lost as she was reduced to only grunts and groans, pushing against Xena as her need became too urgent to wait any longer.

Xena's own speech ability left her as she too drifted to the more simple and immediate expressions of passion. As the day wore on the two continued their play as they wrestled and danced the movements of lovers who were only aware of each other and their deep seated needs.

Argo, meanwhile, did what she had been doing for the last three days...guarding the cave entrance as she quietly munched on what tasty grass she could find.

In the dark cave where only the reflection of the fire on the ceiling was showing any real movement now, the two worn and pleasantly tired and greatly satiated lovers lay letting sleep take them to another world. Xena opened one blue eye remembering what she wanted to ask Gabrielle. The scent. She turned her head to ask the question of her lover but Gabrielle's eyes were closed and by the deep breathing, normal for a sleeping person, Xena knew she would have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow, she thought tiredly, grinning as she thought about it.


Xena took a deep breath of the warm dampened air, feeling Gabrielle's hand squeeze hers as they shared the beauty that was before them. Xena felt a slight tremor in the hand she held, not knowing if it was from what they were witnessing or because of how high they were. Maybe it was both.

The rock they were sitting comfortably on, with feet dangling over the edge that dropped over a waterfall that they had once fallen into, was bathed in the sun's warmth. Clouds of moisture from the falls spray coated their hot faces with each small gust of wind cooling them pleasantly. Below them in the large pool where the falls poured into they could see small insects hovering over the stiller part of the pool and what looked like fish leaping up to grab a tasty meal, glistening in colors that the sun liked, and smoothly reentering into the depths of their water world, hunger satiated. Songs and calls from different creatures in the world about them filled the air, carrying over the roar of the falls below, that failed to drown out the life that abound in the valley.

Xena closed her eyes and breathed in deeply the air that was alive with so many different scents that it would take a long time to identify each one. She could feel the connection with Gabrielle as if they were sharing consciousness. The presence of Gabrielle was...so soft..yet...there was a hardness...no.. solidness...and delight in everything that was around them. And there was a sense of...profound love...Xena paused as she tried to express it to herself...and gave up for she could not. She felt the same for Gabrielle and she could feel that Gabrielle understood.

Xena opened her eyes at the sudden shift in Gabrielle's feelings.

There, before Xena and Gabrielle, were two tiny people, hovering in the air. Or..they looked like little people.

The spray from the falls behind them put a sheen over their hair that floated about them in slow motion waves. The sun behind them gave the impression that they had tiny rainbow colored jewels glittering in their soft flowing hair.

"We wanted to think you for what you have done for our kind. We know it was...an unusual request...and one that you both accepted without hesitation." Mediea added.

"Well..." Xena started to say she didn't remember being asked before all the dreams started.

Alex laughed. "The answer was in your heart, dark warrior. It was there before it was understood by your mind...or we could not have gone on."

"You have given us this back. And we thought you would like experience it." Alex nodded smiling as she looked about her.

"Where is this place?" Gabrielle asked breathless.

"Oh...you mean in relation to your world? Well...it's next to it..or, alongside of it, or maybe even over it...but not in it." Mediea chuckled at Xena's furrowed brow over the explanation.

"Just what world is this?" Gabrielle asked again feeling the irritation radiating from her partner in the leg that was against hers.

"None that your gods live in nor can visit. They don't dream so they won't be able to shift their consciousness to experience us."

"Do they know of you?"

"Yes. Through your memories, but that is here nor there. What matters is that you have shared your energy...to clear out what had fallen over this land...and helped to turn over the soil, so-to-speak, and replant for a new growth...thus showing those that had lost the ability to do this, how it is done." Alex explained.

"By...reliving our fears...and lust?" Gabrielle asked puzzled.

"Not just fears or physical desire. Getting past the sense of failure to see that there is something that that experience can be used for in a more productive way is crucial for those who are so far down they would not know what to look for or what to do with what they found. It was also necessary for others to understand that lust has other components... love and sensuousness... and should not be thought of as separate. Once they are separated...the specialness of this gift between two beings is devalued. It seems to be very simple...but self absorbed beings cannot find that bond...that feeling you both have between each other...and therefore cannot believe...love exits."

"What happened to those that tried to help you before us?" Gabrielle asked concerned.

"Have no worry for them. Nothing is lost, just changed and continues in a spiral fashion toward the apex, which is ever growing as each living thing moves and changes." Alex laughed joyfully.

"They have moved on to other business, lives if you will." Mediea explained to the baffled pair.

"So...what are you?" Xena asked.

"Hmmm. I don't think in your world there is a name for us. We are like you...but in another form and in another...space." Alex frowned as she didn't know how to explain when they had no reference...yet.

"And like you, we are linked so closely that we will share many lives to come..." Alex and Mediea looked into each others eyes, "and loves, sorrows, roles and visit different places and spaces." Alex giggled at the thought.

Xena shook her head at what they were saying. She had visited many lands and spoke to many captives and noncaptives about their beliefs and experienced different altered states with the shaman Alti and with her beloved mentor Lao Ma to be aware that there were many possibilities of levels of consciousness, but...

"Yes...it is like...levels of consciousness...an awareness, if you will." Mediea nodded toward Xena.

"Mediea, we have said enough. They aren't there yet...You will understand soon enough." Alex reassured Xena who was showing signs of restlessness with the mind games.

"One day, some time, you will need something that only we can give you. The powers that we don't even understand...will know when that time has come...and we will give you that aid...and if not us...then others who will act as our agents."

"There is no action that goes unnoticed by the unnamables." Mediea

Gabrielle turned to look at Xena with the same perplexed look. As they paused for a moment, caught in each other's eyes...time passed.

Xena stirred aware that a leg was thrown over hers pinning her down and her bladder was telling her she needed to make a trip to the pit to attend to it. She gingerly tried to untangle the body parts that were over hers without waking the owners. "Hey!" A grumpy bard pulled her closer moving her leg to a higher position to keep her in place.

"Hey, yourself," she kissed the nose that was near. "I gotta visit the pit, unless ya want me to piss in the pallet...let me up." She smiled as the lips curved up on the sleeping face and Gabrielle rolled over to her side of the pallet, groaning and making further grumpy noises as her warm body discovered her side of the pallet was cold.

When Xena returned, taking time to look for Argo in the predawn fog she found her grumpy Bard rekindling the fire.

"Good morning to you, my sunflower maiden. Are you willing to try my..." Xena didn't finish her jibe as Gabrielle reached up and with strong fingers sliding behind her neck, pulled her head down for a very long and arousing kiss.

"So...what was all that unusual verbal sweet stuff all about?" Gabrielle asked when she finally released Xena from her painfully bent position, bending awkwardly over Gabrielle's seated figure.

"Hmmm." She shook her head to clear the haze. "I want to ask you a question.." what did she want to ask her? Oh...Xena sat on the log next to Gabrielle and took the cup of tea and a travel bar from her as Gabrielle turned a little to pick up her own tea and bar.

"Well...I wanted to ask you something too." She pursed her lips and hopped she could get it out before she lost her nerve.

"It's about these dreams I've been having." They both spoke together.

"You too?" The both asked in unison.

Xena looked at Gabrielle suspiciously. "What type of dreams have you been having?"

Gabrielle looked at Xena with hesitation. "You tell me yours first."

For about a candlemark they argued on who was to reveal the contents of their dreams first. An impatient whinny from Argo got an embarrassed look tossed her way from Xena, as she rose to get Argo ready for their journey. The rest of their preparation for leaving was done in silence as each wondered what the other was dreaming and hopping...

"Xena, this really is a great place. I'd like to come back here." Gabrielle stood outside of the vine covered entrance to their shelter for the last...was it days...from the storm that had overtaken them quite suddenly on their trip to the Amazon Nation.

The tall trees that surrounded them reached up into the clear blue sky. A chattering bird from a nearby branch was calling to its neighbor, ready to socialize now that its morning hunger was taken care of. Squirrels were busy moving about looking for last minute additions to their winter hoard. A bunny was wiggling it nose in the wind, making sure that it was safe to hop over to a more abundant area of grass that Argo hadn't leveled.

Argo was packed and waiting patiently outside, playing with her bit and rattling it against her teeth to hear it against the other sounds around them. The grass was up to her hocks where she stood. The sky was clear above them, but as Gabrielle's eyes traveled to where Xena had her gaze fixed, she could see dark clouds moving toward them.

Xena was planning their pace to the next shelter with the movement of the weather.

"Hmm. Yea...lucky to find it." She finally answered Gabrielle softly. "How about riding up on Argo with me. I'd like to make it to a village before that cloud overtakes us."

"Sure." A small smile curved up her lips as she thought of how to subtly seduce her strong partner and windbreaker on their ride. After all....what else was there to do while ridding behind Xena than dream...dream.

"Xena...you remember those scrolls you caught me reading in Sappho's library?" She reached up to grab Xena's proffered arm to lift her onto Argo's back.

Her direction of lift from sitting behind Xena to in front of her had a surprised Gabrielle lifting her leg quickly over Argo's neck to avoid kicking her.

"What scrolls are those?" Xena purred in her ear.

Gabrielle slapped the bare leg that was touching hers, not removing it as it rested on the warm skin feeling the muscles shift as they squeezed Argo into motion.

"You know..." She returned.

"Refresh my memory. Start with the one where the two women are on a horse..." Xena's breath tickled the ear that was exposed from the blond hair that was tucked behind it.


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