Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose

By LJ Maas


Chapter 2: "Whether by Accident or Destiny"

I stood silently in the corridor remembering the last time I had been looking for Gabrielle here. It was the very first day she arrived in my palace and I had to go searching for her myself. I shook my head, the emotions I was feeling on that day coming back to me. Thinking my then slave had let herself be wooed by another, my anger stole my reason. I remember thinking that I would kill Gabrielle if I found her in the arms of another. Gods, it's been only a matter of moons, yet it feels as if that day were ages past. Have I really fallen in love and made something different of myself in this short a time? Am I the person who beat, killed, and maimed for sport? Xena the Conqueror…was that woman truly I?

As it turned out, today I found Gabrielle seated in much the same place as when I found her back then, beside a fireplace in Delia's kitchen. She looked even younger than her years, sitting on a stool, her hands placed idly in her lap. Her golden hair hung loose about her shoulders and her green eyes looked like bits of molten amber as they reflected the flames from the fire before her.

I knew it was wrong, to eavesdrop in such a way. Well, it seems I have not become the perfect woman overnight, for I couldn't resist. Gabrielle and I spoke, but forthrightness was something we both would need to work at. I was always careful of revealing too much and, like Gabrielle, simply didn't know how. That is to say, living the life of a slave for the last ten summers caused speechlessness to become habit for my young lover. My excuse was a little more complicated, well, perhaps not complicated at all. It was rather simple after all. I was terrified, that is the only reason for it.

I remember a day when all I feared was that someone stronger than myself might someday come along and take what was mine. Now, especially now that I have Gabrielle, I fear so much. My terrors, should I name them all, would be greater in number than the stars in the night sky. Therefore, I say all this in a completely pathetic attempt at justifying my next actions. I slipped behind a wall of barrels full of honeyed mead and proceeded to watch and listen to all that my future wife and cook said.

"Are you sure it's no imposition, Delia?" Gabrielle asked.

"Of course not, child. There is nothing I like better than planning a good party!" the older woman exclaimed with a wink. "So, tell me, why all the fuss for this young man?"

"Because he's--" Gabrielle stopped abruptly. "Well, because he is a dignitary from the Centaur Nation."

Gabrielle lowered her head quickly, so quickly, in fact, that she missed the tiny smile that pulled at the corners of the older woman's lips. I could tell that Delia knew Gabrielle well enough to see the young woman was hiding something about the boy's identity. I wondered, with a smile, how long it would take my lover to admit the truth. I would honestly harbor no ill will toward Gabrielle for giving the information up to Delia. This old woman knew more about me than even my Captain, Atrius did. Besides, Delia was smarter than most, I didn't think it would take her long to catch on. I had no fear that those who knew me for a woman and a person, might come to the conclusion that Solan was indeed my son, but also that those who knew me simply as the Conqueror would never guess this rumor to be fact.

"Admit it, Gabrielle, he's more than that. Isn't he?" Delia prodded.

Gabrielle looked up at the cook, concerned written across her face. "I can't say, Delia. Please don't ask me again."

That comment surprised me. I began to see at that moment that although appearing quite honest and innocent, Gabrielle was in truth a young woman capable of stilling her tongue when necessary. A feeling not unlike pride came over me, thinking of a future with a partner in whom I could well and truly trust.

Delia looked at Gabrielle intently for a moment, I'm sure catching the serious expression on Gabrielle's features and the pleading tone in her voice.

"All right, dear. He's rather good looking, though. I saw him in the courtyard this morning. Tall, strong, piercing blue eyes…why of I didn't know better I might be tempted to say he was--"

Gods that woman is good! I watched as Delia and Gabrielle both raised their heads to stare at one another. Some unspoken communication must have been passed, for by the time I blinked, they each turned their heads, lost in their own thoughts. I swear by Hades, it must have been one of those woman things. Perhaps it was the kind of odd telepathy that women seem to have the ability to share, but in which I have always been lacking. Too much of the warrior in me I suspect.

"I see…how very…intriguing," Delia said, obviously caught by her own lack of response. She stood there, pensive and seemingly lost in thought for a few heartbeats before returning to her chopping table. "It fits, I must say. It rather seems like something she would do," Delia finished saying with a confident nod of her head.

Gabrielle said nothing during my friend's apparently private musing. The young blonde turned in her seat toward the table, which, as fortune would have it, faced in my direction. Gabrielle pulled a bowl closer to her and absently began shelling peas.

"So, what do you think of this young man?" Delia asked.

"Oh, Delia, he's a selfish, spoiled brat!" Gabrielle blurted out.

I practically had to put a hand over my mouth to prevent a burst of sudden laughter from escaping my lips. My young lover was extremely perceptive and I was glad to see that her discernment of people hadn't waned any in the time she'd been with me. Delia laughed loudly, covering any noise I may have made.

"Well, he certainly seems to be his mother's child then, doesn't he?"

"But she changed…" Gabrielle's face instantly turned serious.

Delia smiled at the young woman. "You love her very much, don't you, Gabrielle?"

If I live to be a thousand, I think I shall never forget the look on her face at that moment. The look of complete and utter love and devotion that shone forth from Gabrielle's eyes caused my heart to constrict tightly within my chest.

"Yes, I do. I never would have thought it possible to feel this way, that I could feel this way about anyone, let alone the Conqueror of the Known World."

"I'm sure Xena feels the same sense of awe that you're feeling."

"Do you really think so, Delia?" Gabrielle turned her head quickly to look at the older woman.

"Do you have any doubt?" Delia sounded rather incredulous.

"Well…I…no, but…"

"From the sounds than emanate from your rooms at all times of the day and night, I should think not!" Delia replied flippantly.

Gabrielle quickly lowered her head to stare at the table, her cheeks turning pink. As I have done on other occasions, I watched as the delicate flush to her cheeks spread. I am always dumbfounded that a woman who has spent half her life pleasing men and women with her body could blush at the mere mention of what she and I do in our bedchamber. I suppose, it is simply one of the many charms that endears Gabrielle to me.

"But…what we do…the physical pleasure…that's not really all there is to love," Gabrielle stammered.

"No, it's not." Delia answered. "Then again, it's not the only reason you love her, is it?"

Gabrielle's smile returned. "No," she shook her head. "It's so much more, I can hardly contain it all, yet I can barely explain it."

"I know for a fact that she feels the same."

"Are you certain of it?" Gabrielle asked again.

I felt a certain amount of sadness at Gabrielle's response. Through deeds or words, had I allowed Gabrielle to think that my love for her was simply for that of a talented lover? Doesn't she realize yet what she truly means to me, what this relationship means? This was all so knew for me. I was still unsure of how to reveal much of what I felt, still fearful of the slightest rejection. I needed to find a way to express to Gabrielle, some way to show her all that I felt for her in my heart.

"Gabrielle, have you never voiced these concerns to Xena?" Delia asked.

"No," Gabrielle answered softly. "She would think I was being childish, or too insecure, or she would think--"

Delia interrupted, tilting the young woman's chin up to see her. "She would think that you love her enough to want to ensure that the two of you have a happy life together."

"I'm acting foolish, aren't I?" Gabrielle asked with an embarrassed grin.

"Let's just say you're acting as if you were in love, I think that encompasses it all. Now go on with you, if I'm to arrange a banquet by tomorrow evening, I need time to prepare. You may be the future Queen, but today you're simply a young woman in my kitchen!" Delia waved a giggling Gabrielle from the room.

I stood there for a while longer, my back against the wall, enjoying the last lingering echoes of Gabrielle's laughter. The girl was a treasure to be sure and I wanted to do my best to ease any lasting doubts she still had that I would love her forever.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was late afternoon by the time I returned to our private rooms. I needed to think, and I did that best from the saddle of a horse. I let Tenorio make free with the bit and the large, black stallion enjoyed every moment of his freedom. We were pounding through the surf of the gulf in no time at all and I was not at all certain which one of us truly enjoyed the romp more. Now, covered as I was in salt, sweat, and mud, smelling of the stables, Gabrielle had only to take one look at me to know of my whereabouts.

"I wondered where you where," she said as she walked toward me.

Reaching up on her toes, she kissed me. I wrapped one arm around her waist, pressing her body against mine and deepening the kiss. "Mmmm," I said, finally pulling away for air. "If I'd know this was going to be my reception I would have hurried home much sooner."

"You need a bath, my Conqueror," Gabrielle replied, wrinkling her nose as she grinned.

"Funny," I said, pushing her at arm's length. The front of her dress was covered in the mud from my own clothes. "But you do too."

"Hmmm, that worked well for you, didn't it?" Green eyes sparkled.

"Yes, but now I'm wondering who planned it this way. You or I?"

"That, dear Conqueror, is a question you will have to answer for yourself."

Gabrielle broke away, but not before kissing me teasingly. She headed for the bathing chamber, quickly going to a state of undress as I watched her shapely backside disappear into the other room. I laughed and began to rapidly toss off my own garments. I had a feeling that with this woman around that was one question I was never going to be able to answer.

* * * * * * * * * *

After a hot bath, which was equal parts washing and playful splashing, and a warm meal, Gabrielle and I were quite content to lie about for the rest of the evening. Dressed only in our robes, we kept ourselves warm by stretching out atop a pile of soft furs placed before the fireplace. The fire, a small amount of wine, and Gabrielle's body were enough to lull me into a dreamy state of relaxation.

I lay with my head in Gabrielle's lap, her fingers slowly massaging the back of my neck, slipping through my dark hair, the fingertips coming to rest gently along my temple. She repeated the procedure until I felt my body, as well as my mind, as if it were floating on a cloud of pleasure. My mind never stopped working during this time and the easy state my body was in encouraged me to speak up to Gabrielle. Her earlier, overheard conversation with Delia was still running through my mind. I must not have been the only one with heavy thoughts on my mind, for I heard Gabrielle's voice in unison with mine.



We both chuckled and, of course, insisted the other begin.

"Please, you first," I managed to persuade her.

"I…I just…tell me about Solan?" Gabrielle stammered out the question.

Her halting manner caused me to wonder if that was truly the question, she was preparing to ask. I had promised her, however, so I continued to lie in her arms, a place I felt most secure by the way, and began to tell her of my life at that time.

I told Gabrielle of Xena, the Warlord, and of my quest for power. I know she read most of the scrolls in my office, some many times over, but I also knew that the writings about my life told nothing of me, only my actions. They neither described what I felt at the time or my motivations for all that occurred. In fact, Gabrielle was to be the first person to learn what made a Conqueror. Not from the outside, by writing down my every move, but by writing the words that best described all that I thought and felt in those early years.

I told her that my search for power led me toward a witch named Alti and how she used me for her own gain, yet saw in her visions my destiny. It was Alti who foretold that I would become the Destroyer of Nations and for a price, she promised she could bring that future about. When I told Gabrielle that Alti had only one price, I am quite certain that my young lover never expected me to say, blood. So much blood, and from so many.

I explained that I still had a conscience back then. Oh, I still did what the witch asked, even demanded, but at night, I began to have nightmares. The Amazons…especially the Amazons, but I didn't tell Gabrielle about them. To this day, I couldn't bear to say the words aloud. I destroyed, and I killed, and I took…everything. Anyone or anything that stood in my path, between my manifest destiny, and me, I crushed beneath my feet.

I spoke of the battle at Corinth between the armies under my command and the Centaurs. I needed to possess the Ixion stone, a treasured icon, to complete Alti's prophecy. I explained about Borias and how I found myself pregnant with Solan. It was at this point in my story that I could feel my heart growing heavier. I often wondered what would have happened on that day had I given up my quest just a day sooner, what my life would have been like if Borias had lived. It was not to have been and speculation was pointless.

I felt Gabrielle's body grow tense and paused in my tale. I closed my eyes and waited. How would I feel if Gabrielle was telling me the tale of her life with another lover? I took a deep breath and felt the same jealousy course through me, as she must be experiencing now. She had the right to ask and I waited to give her that opportunity.

"Were you in love with him?" Gabrielle asked.

I patiently explained that I never loved Borias and upon closer inspection and a little hindsight, his feelings for me were just as misguided. What kind of a man could have loved me back then? I was a ruthless, possessed, murderer. If Borias truly did love something about that woman, he wasn't seeing the real me. She was in there, but it would take many more seasons for her to emerge.

I continued my story, telling of my dealings with the Centaurs, what I knew at the time regarding the death of Borias, and finally of Solan.

"I remember walking into that clearing as if it happened this morning, Kaleipus standing there, ready to cut me down at the slightest provocation. I remember thinking in the back of my mind; I wonder if he'll kill me and if he does, if he'll kill my child too? I still had a lot of bleeding and cramps despite the santra flower that Satrina gave me, so I was a little wobbly on my feet, plus I'd just finished feeding Solan and my breasts were sore and ached when the cloth of my tunic rubbed across my chest."

Suddenly I realized that tears were streaming from my eyes as I held my head in Gabrielle's lap. Her hands wiped the tears away and brushed back the hair that fell across my face. My lover's soothing and tender touch simply bid the tears come that much harder. I choked on the words as I finished telling her what happened in that clearing.


Stop there, Xena!

You got my message. I just want to talk to you.

As you did before when you tried to kill me? It doesn't matter; you won't get the Ixion Stone. Borias, the friend of the Centaurs, has told us everything. We found his body in your camp, but his legend will live forever with our people.

Take this child. He's my son...the son of Borias. If he stays with me, he'll become a target for all those who hate me...he'll learn things that a child shouldn't know. He'll become like...me. Please...

The son of Borias shall be raised as my own...


"I hadn't cried in seasons…not since I was a child, but I cried when I walked away from that clearing. I cried for something that I would have ruined or gotten killed in no time at all. I found that so unsettling. The oddest thing was, when I left, I could feel the pulling sensation at my breast, as if he were still feeding. I suppose you think that's such a stupid thing to say," I choked completely on those last words and felt Gabrielle's hold on me tighten. It was then that my body decided to revolt and I began to cry in earnest, unable to stop the sobs that wracked my body.

I felt like I cried for days, when in truth perhaps two candlemarks passed. I felt empty in a way, but surprisingly better. This was perhaps the most ridiculous question I would ever ask Gabrielle, but I had to risk looking like a fool to ask her why that was. She kissed me and held me tighter and I sank back into her deceivingly strong embrace.

"Xena, you've been carrying that inside of you, never telling a soul, at least not in the way you just told me, for over twenty seasons. Saying the words aloud is a form of letting go, crying for our past is a way to release it."

I turned in her arms and looked up into forest green eyes. Gabrielle kissed my forehead and pushed the sweat-dampened hair from my face.

"People think that it's so much easier to stay quiet about things, that they're being strong in their silence. They don't realize that it takes so much more strength to let go of their pain than it does to hold on to it. You've harbored that pain within you so long that it almost seemed normal, or natural, to live with it. Now that the pain is free, your heart is remembering what it felt like to be without it. It's remembering that it felt much better.

I reached up to stroke her cheek with my fingertips. "How did you become so wise, so loving after all you've been through?"

She offered up a bittersweet smile through her tears. "Athena never gave me more than I could bear at one time. She sprinkled the seasons with people who actually cared about me, people who offered friendship. Why are you crying again, love?" Gabrielle asked as a renewed flood of tears spilled onto my cheeks.

"You've had so little in your life…"

"But I have so much right now," she smiled back at me, which I admit, caused me to smile in return.

"Do you, Gabrielle? All of this," I darted my eyes around the room, "is this what you want, am I what you want?"

"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle took my face in both her hands and kissed me deeply. "You're not just what I want, you're what I've dreamed of."

She took hold of my hands in her own and squeezed tightly. "Am I who you want, Xena…to truly love forever? I know that you've loved so many times before me…"

Without looking up, I took hold of one of Gabrielle's small hands and brought it to my lips. I gently kissed the palm and held her fingers against my cheek. I felt as much adrenaline pumping through my veins as if I were preparing for battle. I swallowed and took a deep breath. "You are all that I will ever want. I never knew how to love anyone before you came into my life, Gabrielle."

* * * * * * * * * *

"You're so quiet now. Are you sure you feel better?" Gabrielle asked.

How could I tell her that I felt a fool? Would she think less of me for being human and not the Conqueror? I had to start getting better at this; I simply had to. I mentally gritted my teeth and waded in.

"I feel the fool," I admitted.

Gabrielle looked genuinely surprised. "You feel foolish for revealing your feelings to me?"

"Well…I…it makes me feel weak," I muttered inaudibly.


"Weak," I answered loudly. "It makes me feel…weak."

"Xena," Gabrielle said moving to sit upright. "You are the strongest woman the world has ever known."

"Yes, but they don't see me as you do. I don't let them see me…vulnerable."

"But you let me see you that way. From the very first you did."

"I know, and I still don't know why. Except that I felt from the very beginning that you would never use it against me, never hurt me. Others…people will use what they know of you, Gabrielle. They'll use your words or your secrets to hurt or destroy you. I suppose that's why secrecy is so second nature with me."

Gabrielle leaned in again as I sat beside her and kissed my cheek. "You don't have to keep secrets any more, Xena. I promise I'll never let anyone hurt you."

She looked so sincere, even dedicated in her goal that I couldn't help but smile. Those few spoken words and suddenly my worry disappeared and the ache in my heart was gone. This small girl was going to protect the Conqueror of the known world. It amused me, yet touched me deeply.

"You will protect me, eh?" I grinned at her.

She looked at me with a sheepish expression, realizing now how her statement sounded. It didn't detract from her intent however, especially to my heart.

"I'll remember to stand behind you next time, little one." I grinned.

"I could protect you if you showed me how to use a weapon," she blurted out next.

"If I what?" I said quite a bit louder.

"Well, I just thought that--"

"And what sort of a weapon would you learn, were I so inclined to instruct you?" I interrupted.

It suddenly occurred to me that Gabrielle was changing in just as many ways as I was and being a strong woman myself, I had no desire for my future mate to be the kind of a person who was helpless in the face of danger. I don't know why this thought struck me the way it did, but there you have it.

"I--I don't know. Xena, what kinds of weapons are there?" Gabrielle asked in earnest.

I laughed long and loud, wrapping my arms around the small woman. "I am not laughing at you, little one. I'm laughing at myself. You remind me that I have taken myself much too seriously for too long now. I truly believe," I leaned in, nipping playfully at her neck, "that I have certainly met my match in you, Gabrielle."

She laughed and returned my playful kisses until I could no longer keep my hands from her body. I scooped her into my arms and moved toward the bedroom.

"Wait, Xena. What about Solan?"

"Let him get his own girl," I murmured against the soft skin of her breast.

"Oh, Xena, that feels…I mean, shouldn't you make sure he's comfortable or settled?"

I stopped suddenly, closing the heavy wooden door to our bedchamber with my foot. "Gabrielle, do you really think a young man Solan's age, visiting Corinth for the first time, is ready to be tucked into bed at this hour?"

"Oh," Gabrielle answered.

"Besides, I told Atrius to keep an eye on him. Now, my love…where was I?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Sharing her verbal responses to pleasure may still have been new to Gabrielle, but her knowledge of the physical was beyond what most lovers could hope for. Her wisdom of all things sensual, combined with my passions for her, gave her the ability to bring my body to the pinnacle of ecstasy in no time at all. For the longest time, I wondered if Gabrielle knew of her power over me in this area of our lives. Now, I have to smile at my arrogance. Gods, of course she knows. It's what she did, what she was trained to do, and as good a warrior as I am, that's how talented a lover my Gabrielle is.

Does she know of her power? Seeing her now as she pushes my back flat against the bed and scoots farther away from me, commanding me to watch her, you have to know that she is quite aware. The young woman who blushes in public at the slightest mention of the physical pleasure we share in our private moments, takes command as if she were on stage. She grows confident in her ability when we are alone and this actress, playing the role of my seducer, mesmerizes me.

She slides the robe from my body, then moves back to one corner of the large bed, and shrugs her own dressing gown off. She settles herself into a mound of pillows there and I wonder now if she put them there earlier, planning such an evening for the two of us. I move to touch her, but it's made clear to me that we won't be playing the game my way tonight.

"No touching, my love, only watching…"

"Am I being punished then?" I purred. I stretched my long body out, leaning upon a bent elbow, and resting my head in the palm of my hand.

"I think you'd enjoy that too much," Gabrielle said under her breath. "Perhaps we'll save that for another time."

I swallowed hard at her bold response, not doubting her for a moment.

"You did spend all afternoon away from me, Conqueror," she chided softly.

I smiled, not at her admonishment, rather at her use of my title. Gabrielle tends to use the word as an endearment of sorts when we are alone and she is in a particularly playful mood.

"You seem very pleased with yourself. Perhaps you enjoy your horse's company to mine?"

"Well, he is a very talented mount." This time we both smiled and I was glad to see that she caught my double entendre.

Gabrielle's eyes went a deep green and I noticed that she kept her legs pressed together, careful not to reveal too much to my roving eyes. She positioned herself so that she was reclining against the cushions behind her, leaning slightly to one side. She mirrored my pose, resting her head in her hand. She slid her other hand up along the length of her leg, bringing it to rest on her stomach. Her thumb continued to brush the skin there in a back and forth motion, her fingers playing lightly along her mound's hairline.

I watched with an amused smile as my young lover tried to entice me with carefully placed caresses to her own body. I admit, the heat within my own body was rising to a rather warm level watching Gabrielle tease herself, but I have never been a slave to my desires and was nowhere near to losing my customary control.

Never one to admit defeat and knowing my libido better than I, Gabrielle continued her hand's actions, never releasing my gaze. I had no idea how close I was to defeat, but I should have suspected by the mischievous look that sparkled within the green eyes across from me.

Gabrielle brought her index finger to her mouth, running the end along her bottom lip. I watched as the tip disappeared within her mouth, to reappear a moment later, glistening wet. I gave up contact with her eyes to follow that finger as it made its way slowly down her chest to circle a pale pink nipple, the flesh pebbling under her touch. I admit that my breath picked up as I focused all my attention of her finger, drawing its lazy circles around the ever-hardening nub of flesh. Bringing her thumb into motion, she began to stroke the elongating tip. Rolling the nipple between her thumb and index finger, Gabriele firmly grasped the hard tip, pulling outward at the same time. She tilted her head back slightly and moaned.

Gods, what she is doing to me, and all without touching me. Gabrielle had trained herself for half her life to neither take pleasure from the actions she performed on her illegal masters nor make a sound during her task. Therefore, to hear my young lover was an exquisite pleasure, of which I would never tire. If I believed that I would be in control for much longer, I was soon to be proved a fool. Gabrielle continued the sensual exploration of her breasts, moving from one to the other, her tongue occasionally reaching out to glide along her top lip, knowing my eyes were fixed on her alone. Her small moans and whimpers caused me to squirm uncomfortably, attempting to find a position in which I could hide the obvious excitement coating the inside of my thighs.

"Xena, you don't know how excited it gets me…you watching me touch myself."

I could only stare as her hand moved lower, her fingers twirling themselves within the golden curls between her legs. I was silent, my attention completely fixated upon her hand.

"You like it too, don't you, Xena?"

I tried to speak, to nod my head, to respond with an intelligible sign in some form she would take as encouragement to continue. Gods above, I swear that I did open my mouth to speak, but no sound issued forth.

That was my undoing.

Gabrielle smiled then and I recognized the expression for I had used the feral grin on more than one occasion. That smile came from the belief that no matter what actions one took next, losing was not a possibility. Now, I lie here; while my most talented lover is smiling that smile at me, planning Gods know what, as terms for my surrender.

"I like thinking about you when I touch myself like this," she drawled. "Do you know what I imagine you're doing to me?"

I watched her fingers move further between the legs that she'd not yet parted.

"Xena?" Gabrielle spoke louder, bringing my eyes up to hers at last. "Do you know what I think about when I'm teasing myself like this?"

My mute condition persisted. Finding myself unable to verbally express my answer, I simply shook my head back and forth in answer.

She smiled again.

"I think about you and that incredible tongue of yours. I always think about the last release that you brought me to, how your tongue felt on my skin, teasing my clit…deep inside me. I get so wet with you watching me. You do too, don't you Xena? Are you wet for me, Xena?"

I groaned rather loudly and nodded my head. Yes, my breathing became rather audible at this point, and it's true that my chest was rising and falling much faster than before, but in defense of my lack of control, Gabrielle was beginning to do a bit of rapid inhaling and exhaling of her own.

"Let me see, Xena…let me see how wet you are for me," she commanded.

I believe I heard another series of small whimpers, embarrassed at the fact that the sounds came from me. Being ordered about by my small lover, it was oddly fascinating and somewhat humiliating, but mostly it was extremely exciting. I could do no more than comply with her wishes and I parted my legs, opening myself up to her wanton gaze. I knew what she would see there, I could feel the moisture as it flowed from my aroused sex, feel it dampening the dark curls and slicking my thighs. Gabrielle saw it too and my only satisfaction was from her sharp intake of breath.

Gabrielle mirrored my actions. She turned a bit until her back was flat against the cushions, freeing both hands. She pressed the palms of both hands on her breasts, kneading them firmly, pressing the mounds of flesh together. The hands ran along her body, coming together at the apex of her thighs. Using her hands, she finally spread her own thighs apart, allowing her palms to gently hold her legs open to my passionate scrutiny.

"This is what you do to me, Xena."

Gods, what her voice can make me feel. I feel as if I am spinning around, out of control, becoming lightheaded from the sound, the sight, the scent of her. I watched as she slipped the fingers of both hands into that abundant wetness, and I moaned in empathy at the pleasure she experienced as the fingers of one hand grazed across her swollen clit. Her hips involuntarily bucked forward and I suddenly had to look down at my own hand, stroking the flesh between my legs without completely being aware of doing so. It wasn't a conscious effort to bring myself to release, more of a slow stroking of the flesh, just enough to tease my own body.

Gabrielle bid me watch, as she spread herself open with one hand, spreading her legs further apart. She opened herself to me and I watched in rapt fascination. It reminded me of a delicate flower, spreading its petals open to the morning sun, the edges of the blossom wet with the morning dew. More soft moans emanated from us both as my gaze stayed upon Gabrielle's fingers. She kept herself spread open so that I might see all that she was doing. She verbally expressed herself so that I might hear all that she was feeling. Part of my arousal, my satisfaction, came from the fact that she can now allow herself to let go of the sounds that she spent so long carefully controlling. The other part of my pleasure is due to the knowledge that she feels this for me…because of me. That awareness drives me higher.

Her fingers continued to spread her wetness up and over the rapidly swelling flesh at the top of her cleft, brushing her fingers across it more rapidly now. She continued the motion, obviously unwilling to give up the pleasure. She used the hand she held herself open with and pressed two fingers deep inside, pausing for a moment to lean her head back. A low guttural sound of satisfaction escaped her lips and I forgot all about touching myself. I was using both hands to clench handfuls of the blankets, inflamed beyond my wildest expectations by simply watching and listening to her. I could feel my hips rotating against the touch that is no longer there. Gabrielle's actions causing me to feel the phantom sensation as my lover pleasures herself.

My arms are shaking from which emotion I am unsure. Is it because I am straining to hold back from merely reaching out and taking the woman? Am I laboring toward or holding back from my own release? Whichever it is, I hold on for another heartbeat until I hear Gabrielle's breathless voice call out to me

"Oh, Gods…please, Xena…now!"

I don't even remember moving, but suddenly I am lying on top of her and she is pulling her fingers away from her body.

"No," I entreat her. "Stay inside."

She looked up at me and her eyes were almost black from the dilation of her pupils.

"I…Xena, I don't want my release for you…I want it because of you," she panted.

My fingers found their way into her golden locks and I pulled her head back, exposing her throat to my lips. I kissed and sucked on the flesh there, my hand slipping easily within her drenched folds as she eased hers out, mine taking their place. She cried out at the sensation and I knew it was pleasure, not pain she was experiencing. I groaned loudly myself as I rubbed myself along her thigh, my hips coming into their own, focused on only one task.

I started out slowly, easing my fingers in and out in a steady rhythm as I used my mouth on every portion of Gabrielle's body that I could reach. My teeth and tongue teased her nipples until I rose up to take her mouth in a deep kiss, just as her body arched into mine. Her muscles contracted and then fluttered around my fingers buried inside her. I swallowed her cries of release, letting myself go, rather unbelieving that an orgasm this intense would not permanently damage me in some way.

We held one another, both requiring some extra time to recover from the pleasurable experience. Some time later, before sleep claimed either of us, I kissed the top of her head and whispered.

"If that's what you consider punishment, then I can't wait to see what you give as a reward."

Gabrielle giggled at my humor and snuggled closer to me. "Thank you," she murmured just before she fell sound asleep.

I chuckled aloud, but my future Queen was already asleep and unaware of me from her place in Morpheus's realm.

She, is thanking me?

Athena, I know that I since I met Gabrielle I have prayed for longevity…I would like to amend that previous prayer and add strength to it. Because surely I will widow my young Queen, while in the throes of passion, here in our own bed!

To be continued in Chapter 3: "To Be A Lion Both In Word And Deed"


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