DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done...okay, they get a little worn, but hey...I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright artist@busprod.com This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way (unless, of course, Lucy, Renee, Rob, et al want to make my dream come true and hire me, hah!). Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.

VIOLENCE WARNING: There is some violence (come on it's the Warrior Princess) and the after-effects of a sexual assault in this story. It's mostly a hurt/comfort/longing type thing, but if you're sensitive to this kind of stuff, move on to something a little tamer.

SEX: Yup, it's here! I mean it is Xena and Gabrielle, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love/sex between two adult females. Consider yourself warned if you find that kind of thing offensive. If you're a hopeless romantic...this be the place!

UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional...look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think about it...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at: Devlin@xenafan.com

To Become A Queen

The warrior eased up the reins of the golden mare, slowing her gait. Xena was near enough to the campsite she'd left Gabrielle at to relax a bit. Xena was returning from a village where the warrior had found the need to convince a few local thugs that it was in their best interest to move on. It hadn't taken much to convince them. You don't attack this village and I won't have to kill every last one of you.

Why had she been in such a hurry to return? Once again she pondered the question, Argo's rhythmic hoof beats drawing her mind into an introspective mode.

She had to leave Gabrielle behind on this trip, something that made for quite an unhappy bard. Of course, unhappy was an understatement. It took half the day for Xena to convince her the small village that requested help was a hard days ride to the south. With both of them on Argo it would take twice as long and they would be too late to be of any help to the villagers. Once Gabrielle saw the truth in this, she was disappointed, but understanding.

Gabrielle stood quietly by as Xena saddled Argo, turning away before Xena could see her wipe silent tears away.

If only she knew how I feel leaving her behind, Xena thought as she grabbed Argo's reins. Of course, never one to be forthright with her feelings, she slid her warrior mask on and proceeded to give instructions to the bard.

"Remember, don't let yourself get caught too close to the stream if it rains...you should have plenty of firewood...you have enough food, don't you...don't sleep so sound you forget where you are...Gabrielle...are you listening to me?"

"Xena," Gabrielle said as she placed her hands on the taller woman's arms, "I've done this before, remember?"

Xena smiled at her own overprotective behavior where Gabrielle was concerned. "I know, Gabrielle...I'm sorry, but wouldn't you rather stay at the inn in Pelios till I get back? I'd feel a lot more comfortable with you there instead of out here leagues from nowhere."

Gabrielle did her best imitation of a Warrior Princess eyebrow arch. "Right...I'd be much better off in town at an inn full of soldiers and drunks...no thanks! I feel safer out here.

Again she asked herself the silent question. Why had she been in such a hurry to return? She knew the answer, but her heart and her head pulled her in two different directions of late. The answer was simple. Gabrielle...

When did you change, Gabrielle? When did the little farm girl from Poteidaia become a woman? Not just a woman, the warrior mused to herself, but a very desirable one. It wasn't just the physical changes in Gabrielle that softened the warrior's gaze. Somewhere in the last few years Gabrielle had gone from a shy and naïve child to a beautiful, intelligent and compassionate woman. How did I miss it? When did you change, Gabrielle? More importantly...when did you change, warrior?

Xena was fully capable of inspecting her own motives and fears even as she was able to level that intense scrutiny at others. She may not have always liked what she saw in herself, but she never hid from herself either. One thing she was incapable of doing was lie to herself. Now, as she sat astride her horse, deep in thought, she was able to answer her own question, but that answer did little to ease her mind. Gabrielle was what spurred her toward the campsite she had left the young woman at three days ago.

"Gaia, this can't be happening to me!" she hissed between clenched teeth. How could I be in love with my best friend? There... she had voiced the thought that had been tormenting her days and nights for so many moons now. She seemed to make up endless excuses to touch Gabrielle lately. A hand gently placed on the elbow, fingers brushed against the other's when walking. Innocent physical contact that had her stomach doing major acrobatics. Lately her days had been filled with stolen glances at the beautiful young bard...her bard, while her nights were being consumed by a stronger passion. Her dreams were filled with visions of penetrating green eyes filled with desire. Moreover, in her dreams, the bard's passions were only quenched by her warrior.

With each night that she succumbed to Morpheus' realm, the dreams became more vivid. The scene was never the same, but the intensity always was. One night their lovemaking would be slow and passionate, the next night they would throw themselves at one another with lustful abandon. It always started the same. Xena holding back her passions to the point of physical exhaustion, never wanting Gabrielle to discover that she wanted something more than friendship, desperately afraid her young friend would be repulsed by the warrior's affections, worse than that, leave her if she did know. Then came the moment when Xena could no longer control her emotions and an innocent kiss lasted moments longer than her good sense dictated. It was always Xena who tore her lips away in horror at her own actions, searching the green depths of Gabrielle's eyes for forgiveness.

And, always Gabrielle who whispered, "Please, Xena...don't...don't stop."

Xena shook her head as if to dispel the image of those green eyes before her. Oh, Gabrielle...will there ever come a day when I'll be able to tell you? "No," she muttered silently. Her friendship means too much to me now...I can't lose that. She's what keeps the Light going inside of me. Besides, even though she's Queen of the Amazons, I don't think Gabrielle even realizes women can love each other that way. Just keep it to yourself warrior. At least this way I can have her close, even if it isn't all that I'd like it to be. Living in a realm of unrequited passions for her bard would have to suffice.

Argo left the path before Xena even had to pull on her reins. "You know she's close too, don't you girl?" Xena dismounted and pulled the reins over the horse's head, leading the mare toward the campsite. Xena slowed her pace as she neared the camp. It seemed quiet, but since it was midmorning she assumed Gabrielle had only recently climbed out of her bedroll. The warrior allowed herself a smile, remembering the imaginative ways she had come up with to wake a sleepy bard. She's probably down by the stream she thought to herself as she entered the camp.

Xena stopped and remained still as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Gabrielle's pack lay torn open, her scrolls strewn about the camp, the charred remains of a fish hung on a spit that leaned over the now cold firepit. "Gab-ri-elle...?" Xena slowly drawled as she knelt by what was left of the fire and felt the cold stones. Her eyes searched the camp and a tinge of fear swept through her body. "Gabrielle!" She shouted as she stood, reaching over her shoulder and drawing her sword, her body swirling around to scan the woods. Her eyes caught a glimpse of the bard's staff lying on the ground, one end covered in dried blood. Fear was quickly replaced with an emotion that was new to the warrior; terror. She circled the camp again and headed toward the stream, her long strides eating up the distance in between. No Gabrielle.

Argo whinnied and pawed the ground nervously from a rise just beyond the campsite, the mare's movements drew Xena to the spot, but as she topped the rise she was unprepared for the site that awaited her. With a throat-tearing cry she fell to her knees as incomprehension hit her and anger flowed through every corner of her being. She swiftly brought her fingers to the side of the unconscious bard's neck and felt her own body tremble until she palpated the faint trace of a pulse. Gabrielle's face was a mass of bruises and her right arm was bent at an odd angle. Xena knew before she placed a hand on the limb that is was broken. Her top had been cut at the laces and her short amazon skirt was hiked above her waist, dried blood smeared on the inside of her thighs.

"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena moaned. There were no words that could take the pain from this moment, no tender embrace to make it allright again, no potion that could possibly stop the remembering. Xena's tears fell unheeded as she examined Gabrielle, checking for injuries. She splinted the broken arm immediately and gently lifted the bard into her arms. After settling Gabrielle on her bedroll at the camp, Xena hurried to the stream for water. Argo stood patiently by, but the warrior barely saw her. She grabbed bandages and some herbs from a saddlebag and set about getting a fire lit before hearing a soft moan.

Kneeling beside the prone figure she stroked her hair and whispered her name. "Gabrielle?"

There was no response from the bard and Xena willed herself not to fall apart now. Once she had heated the water that had been fetched from the stream, she began to clean and dress the young woman's other injuries. She mixed together a paste from one of the powders gathered from a leather pouch and placed the poultice on a particularly nasty bruise on the young woman's ribs. She wrapped a binding strip around Gabrielle's ribs, the action causing a small moan from the unconscious bard. She gently removed the remnants of Gabrielle's torn clothing, washing away the blood and the dirt from the small frame. She fought desperately to control her anger as she parted the bard's thighs, using a tender touch to examine and clean the damage the monsters had done. She placed Gabrielle in a clean shift and wrapped her still body in blankets, moving her closer to the warmth of the fire.

Xena stood, stretching her muscles that had become tight with anger and exhaustion. "I'll make it better, Gabrielle...if it's the last thing I do before heading to the pits of Tartaurus...I'll make it better." Then Xena did something she had never done before. Falling to her knees, her arms tightly wrapped around her own torso, she openly sobbed and let her tears fall until even the Gods on Olympus felt the anguish of her heart breaking. She wept for an Amazon Queen and the gift that Queen had ripped from her, unable to give to her warrior.

Argo's muzzle pressed into Xena's back as the warrior realized darkness had descended on them. She managed to rise, feeling the pain of cramped muscles, and quietly removed Argo's saddle. The mare walked away, glad to be free of her burden for a while, knowing there would be no special attention from her mistress.

Xena's eyes held a vacant sort of pain as she returned to kneel at Gabrielle's side. She stroked a flushed cheek, feeling the warmth of a fever. She would have to get her to a healer and Amazonia was 2 days ride to the north. Having decided what to do, Xena stretched her body out beside the sleeping form, wrapping her arms protectively around the bard, and for a short while slept soundly, connected by touch.

"Noooo," Gabrielle screamed, clawing her way from Xena's sleeping embrace. Even with a broken arm, the bard's strength surprised the warrior, shaking off the vestiges of her slumber while trying to calm the terrified woman.

"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted to be heard over the young woman's screams, pinning the bard's one good arm to her side. "Gabrielle...it's me..."

"Get your hands off me!" Gabrielle spat out vehemently.

Xena reacted like she'd been slapped, jerking her hands off the bard's body, falling back on her heels. The only sound was Gabrielle drawing in deep gulps of air as if she were drowning. "Gabrielle?" Xena questioned anxiously.

"Xena?" Gabrielle's eyes began to lose their demented gaze and focused on the warrior in front of her. She squinted and shook her head as if fighting off the remnants of a nightmare, looking down at her splinted arm. Then the memories assaulted her body with a jerk, looking into Xena's eyes, she cried out, "Oh, Xenaaaa."

The young woman's sobs convulsed her small body, her lungs taking in ragged breaths. Xena was instantly at her side, crushing the bard's body to her own. Gabrielle froze and her whole body tensed at the contact. "Please..." Gabrielle pushed away from the warrior, "Please, Xena...just...don't touch me."

Gabrielle crawled toward the end of the bedroll, wrapping her own arms around herself for comfort. She looked up into Xena's face, unable or unwilling to understand the hurt she saw in the warrior's eyes.

"I'm sorry...I...I..." she mumbled so softly only the warrior's keen hearing picked up the words.

"Gabrielle...Gabrielle?" she repeated, until the bard's eyes met hers. "It's allright, I do understand... Gabrielle, tell me, what can I do for you?"

The bard's weeping continued as she shook her head back and forth. "Nothing," she cried, "there's nothing to be done."

Xena knelt by the fire for a long time, listening to Gabrielle's tortured sobs. Her own body shook with rage, her mind exacting revenge over and over on the monsters responsible for the young woman's grief. Xena simply knelt there, unable to console her bard, unable to offer her the least bit of comfort. She was a warrior, a woman of actions, not of words. Words never came easy for her, emotions lay locked deep inside without being able to penetrate to the surface. She could never tell Gabrielle she loved her, that she was the only thing that held her together in this unforgiving world. Xena's embrace had always done that. She could never comfort by explaining that her past sometimes spilled into her present, an innocent bard all too often bearing the brunt of the warrior's guilt and shame. Those would be the times when Xena would stroke the bard's hair and pray to any God who would listen not to let Gabrielle leave her. Now, her caress, the only connection she had with the woman she so desperately loved had been torn into pieces. Gabrielle was repulsed by her touch.

Xena moved toward the fire, willing her body into action, though she felt as if she were simply going through the motions. Listening to Gabrielle's muffled sobs, she prepared a mug of tea, adding a pain killer and a sleeping draught to the warm liquid.

Fearing her presence would only terrify the bard further, she placed the steaming mug in front of the young woman and moved back near the fire.

"Please, Gabrielle...try to drink a little," Xena coaxed.

Gabrielle drank the offered beverage and cried herself to sleep, her body curled up onto one of the blankets in a fetal position. Xena willed herself to move and lifted the sleeping bard, returning her to the bedroll and wrapping a blanket around her. Gabrielle twitched uneasily in her sleep, from nightmares or the fever Xena couldn't tell. There were a few more candlemarks till dawn and Xena pulled her bedroll so Gabrielle could see her lying across the fire from her if she should wake again. She lay there staring into the night, waiting for Morpheus to claim her.

"Gabrielle...you need to drink this," Xena said, placing a bowl of warm broth to the young woman's lips. Xena kneeled behind the bard, her body supporting the smaller figure. Gabrielle was barely conscious, yet still she flinched at the touch as Xena wrapped one arm around her to hold her up, the other holding the wooden bowl. She could only add a small amount of painkiller to the liquid for fear of having Gabrielle slip further into the fevered sleep that now held her. No amount of prodding could wake the young bard beyond a few mumbled phrases. Her sleep was still plagued by nightmares, her small body trembled and jerked violently, tortured cries escaping her throat.

All the while Xena did her best to watch over the bard. Gabrielle's unresponsiveness allowed the warrior to hold the young woman, something the bard avoided in her cognizant moments. Xena redressed her wounds and reapplied poultices, looking through eyes filled with hurt and emptiness. She knew that some women never got over the emotions associated with an attack like this. Thinking of Gabrielle, the young woman whose loving nature and smile could melt her heart, a woman who exemplified the meaning of goodness, thinking that she might turn into a bitter and fearful individual tore at Xena's very core.

By midday, Gabrielle's worsened condition warranted the risk of traveling to the Amazon village. Xena could no longer control the fever that raged inside of the younger woman. Even when she carried her limp body down to the stream and immersed her into the cold, shallow waters, until her own body became numb with the cold. She feared what might happen to her bard without the help of a healer. So, after wrapping an oblivious Gabrielle carefully in blankets, her arm in a protective sling held tight to her body, Xena climbed aboard Argo. With Gabrielle cautiously tucked sidesaddle in front of the warrior, her arms wrapped securely around the smaller woman, Xena urged Argo into a swift pace.

The mare seemed to understand the urgency of the situation as she sped along the well-beaten trail. Sweat glistened on the broad chest of the golden mare as her hooves thundered along, her breath coming in loud bellows. The proud war-horse felt something she couldn't quite place emanating from the mistress who held her reins. Something that flowed off of the warrior like waves in the water. It felt a lot like...fear.

Apollo had just begun his ascent into the sky, Xena finally slowing their pace as they entered Amazon territory, Argo's muscles twitching with exhaustion. The mare's nostrils flared as she blew out deep gusts of air. Xena silently cursed herself for having to push Argo to such an extreme, but the strong horse had turned a two-day journey into one.

"We're here, Gabrielle," she whispered to the unconscious bard.

Hearing a shrill birdcall from the trees, Xena stopped. Drawing her sword from the leather scabbard strapped to her back, in one fluid motion she flung the blade, embedding it in the soft earth at Argo's feet. Five Amazon warriors jumped down from the trees above them. One of them pulled her mask off, concern already showing on her face.

"Xena?" the Amazon questioned, staring at the still figure in Xena's arms.

"Eponin," Xena acknowledged the dark-haired warrior, "It's Gabrielle...I need to get her to a healer, quickly!"

"Sartori is in the village," Eponin abruptly answered. She grabbed the hilt of the sword, in the ground at her feet, and tossed it up to Xena. "Go!" she shouted as she slapped the mare's rump to get her started. Xena galloped off with her precious bundle wrapped securely in her arms.

Eponin hurriedly barked orders to her comrades behind her and left three of the Amazons to guard the area as she and the younger, Tarazon quickly headed toward the village. Thinking of her Queen, Eponin's heart broke at the thought of her sick or injured. She, as well as most of the women in the village had shamelessly flirted with the young Queen during her visits, but it didn't take an idiot to see that Gabrielle only had eyes for Xena.

"If only I could trade places with you for a day, you big dumb warrior," she muttered to herself.

Sartori helped Xena lower Gabrielle to a cot in the healer's hut. Pulling the blankets away, a small gasp could be heard from Ephiny, who had just entered the small room. The Queen Regent had never seen her small friend so ill and the site of it took her breath away.

Sartori pulled the hood of her cloak from away from her face and Xena noticed the long jagged scar that ran from the woman's temple, across her cheek, and along her jaw line. She began to carefully examine the prone figure, occasionally interrupting the movement of her hands to question Xena. "How long has she had the fever?...Has she been drinking?...Does she respond to pain?...Have you medicated her?...Which herbs?"

Xena did her best to focus on the older woman's interrogation, though days of no sleep and the arduous ride were beginning to make themselves felt by her fatigued body. By now, Eponin joined Ephiny in the room and a number of Amazons anxiously waited outside of the hut for news of their Queen.

A loud moan escaped Gabrielle's lips as Sartori pressed the flat of her hand against the bard's abdomen, just below her navel. Turning back toward Xena, the healer saw a pained expression on the warrior's face and received an answer to her silent query. Pulling a bedcloth over Gabrielle, the healer stood and addressed the crowd on concerned faces.

"I can't work with all of you here!" She said, motioning with her arms to the door. "Out! All of you...now."

Ephiny placed a gentle hand on Xena's arm trying to pull the warrior outside. She wanted to hear what had happened to her young friend, but she also saw the pain in the warrior's eyes. She trusted Sartori's skills and knew Gabrielle was in good hands. She also knew the tall, raven-haired warrior looked like she could use a friend. Urging Xena to follow her, she was stopped by Sartori's voice.

"Xena," the healer's voice that was so hard a moment before, now as soft as a caress, "May I have a moment with you...alone?" she added this last as Ephiny had turned also.

"I'll wait outside," Ephiny said. Catching the silent nod from Sartori, the Regent noiselessly pulled the door to the hut closed behind her.

"Xena," the older woman began, "How did Gabrielle receive these injuries?"

Xena looked as if she hadn't heard the healer as she struggled with the answer. Silently, she moved to the side of the cot and knelt on the floor, reaching out shaking fingers she swept a golden lock of hair off the bard's forehead. A silent tear rolled down the warrior's cheek and splashed softly on the bard's bare shoulder.

"I need to know..." the healer placed a hand on the kneeling warrior's back. "I believe she's been hurt...inside."

Xena continued to lovingly stroke Gabrielle's face and almost so quiet it was less that a whisper, she said, "she was...she was raped."

Outside of the healer's hut, set slightly apart from the rest of the village, came the sound of a woman softly singing. It was not a happy song, nor the sound of mourning, but there was a haunted sadness about it. A few more women joined in and a drum began beating...slowly, like the beating of a heart.

Xena knelt that way by Gabrielle's side, not hearing as Sartori moved around the hut, making preparations to treat her patient. Or should she say patients. Sartori watched Xena from the corner of her eye and couldn't help but notice the tender caresses the warrior placed on the young Queen, even though the warrior looked as if she might collapse from exhaustion at any moment herself.

"Xena, lie down over here," the healer guided the warrior reluctantly from the Queen's bedside to a cot in the dark shadows of the room.

"Drink this," she said, wrapping Xena's fingers around a mug of steaming liquid.

Xena caught the unmistakable scent rising from the tea and raised her weary eyes to the healer. "I need to be with Gabrielle...I don't need to sleep"

"Yes, warrior...you do need to sleep." Sartori said forcefully. "Frankly, you look like Tartaurus and if you're going to be of any use to that young woman over there," she nodded her head toward Gabrielle, "then you're going to have to get some rest."

"What if she wakes up, I want..." Xena started.

"Xena," Sartori interrupted her, sitting on the bed next to the warrior. "I need to examine Gabrielle...inside. I believe she might have suffered a deep laceration that has become infected. That would explain her fever. If this is true, I'll need to lance the abscess and then I'll keep Gabrielle sedated for a day or two. Her body will need the rest after she's fought this fever for so long, and it will make the pain easier to bear.

Pushing Xena back onto the cot, Sartori continued, "I'll let you know if there's any change at all."

Sartori helped the warrior remove her armor as she sipped the warm tea. Xena eased her body back into the cushions of the cot, turning her face so she could see Gabrielle. She did something she rarely did, she relaxed her mind, releasing it from its constant vigil. By the time Sartori had collected everything she needed and placed it all on an undersized table near Gabrielle's cot, Xena's eyes had become heavy-lidded. Sartori plucked the empty mug from the warrior's grasp just as she began to lose her grip. She pulled a blanket around the already sleeping warrior and crossed the room, opening the door of the hut.

"Ephiny," she said to the Regent who had been waiting on a bench in front of the entrance to the healer's hut.

Ephiny took in the sleeping form of Xena on a cot in the corner as Sartori closed the door.

"I gave her something to sleep," the healer answered the Regent's silent question. "Between you and me, I'm amazed she was able to stand."

"You don't know Xena very well," Ephiny smiled, "especially where Gabrielle is concerned."

"I'm beginning to get that feeling," Sartori allowed herself a small smile too. Something she seldom did these days.

"What happened, Sartori?" Ephiny questioned, motioning toward Gabrielle. The Regent was barely able to control her rage as she leaned over her young friend, investigating the mass of bruises that covered her face. "Who could have done this?" She said through clenched teeth.

"Perhaps you should speak to Xena when she wakes," Sartori started to explain.

Confused by the healer's words, Ephiny turned her body toward the Sartori, "If Xena had something to do with this..." She hissed.

Sartori raised her hand, abruptly stopping the Regent. "Xena feels our Queen's pain as if it were her own. I only mean that the Queen should be allowed her privacy." Sartori struggled not to lie to the Regent, but the young Queen would have enough of a battle just dealing with her own emotions, without having the entire village know of her humiliation.

Ephiny clenched her fists with frustration and anger. She didn't have to talk to Xena to know that Gabrielle had been attacked. She had seen the bruises on the young woman's thighs and abdomen during the healer's examination. Turning again toward Gabrielle's still form, "Will she be allright, Sartori?"

"Time will be the deciding factor...I think she may have an internal injury. I need to work quickly...so, if you don't mind, Regent..." Sartori motioned toward the door.

Turning back to face the healer before she strode through the open door, Ephiny asked, "Is there anything I can do, Sartori?"

The healer stopped in the middle of the room, her back facing Ephiny. "Go to Artemis' temple. Perhaps an offering for the Goddess' Chosen might be in order."

Xena pulled Gabrielle on top of her and undid the laces of the smaller woman's green top. Sliding her hands under the loosened garment, she moaned into Gabrielle's mouth, her hands brushing across the wonderfully smooth flesh and the already stiff nipples.

Gabrielle returned the moan as she directed her kisses along the warrior's jawbone taking an earlobe into her mouth and teasing the flesh with the tip of her tongue.

"Gods, Gabrielle!" Xena groaned, throwing her head back when Gabrielle rolled a hardened nipple between her thumb and forefinger.

The bard removed her lips from Xena's earlobe, but not before she took the sensitive flesh between her teeth and gently bit down. Xena groaned and began to writhe under the bard's electric touch. Her skin burning like fire wherever the bard's tongue stroked her.

Gabrielle's tongue began to caress it's way down Xena's neck, stopping to cover the warrior's jugular with her mouth, sucking hard until a deep red mark appeared against the warrior's bronze skin. She continued the journey downward with her tongue, stopping occasionally to nip at the soft flesh.

Her tongue traced imaginary patterns across Xena's breasts, never touching the nipple, but allowing her warm breath to kiss the hardened nub.

"Please, Gabrielle!" Xena whimpered, entwining her hands in Gabrielle's hair and pulling the bard toward her.

Gabrielle smiled and slowly licked the nipple, Xena arching her body toward the source of the delicious pleasure. Gabrielle began to lick the nipple faster and faster until Xena's body felt a charged jolt directly from her swollen nipple to her center, as Gabrielle covered the entire nipple with her hot, wet mouth.

"Ohhhh, Gods, yesss..." Xena moaned. "Gabrielle...Oh, Gabrielle..."

Sartori finished re-packing the herb soaked moss and pulled the sheet up to cover Gabrielle. The young woman's fever was down and she no longer held the flushed, coloring in her cheeks. The healer's strong hands held the young woman up and Gabrielle unconsciously drank the water, laced with sedative, which was placed to her lips.

She had only had to change the moss once today and even then it was covered in the clear fluid that indicated healing. She scrubbed her hands in a large bowl on the table and turned an eye toward the soft moans coming from the corner of the room. It had been two days and still the warrior slept, just as much from tension and fear, as from physical exhaustion.

She placed a hand on Xena's forehead, and covered her once again with the sheet the warrior was determined to kick off in her sleep.

"Gabrielle...Oh, Gabrielle" Xena moaned in her sleep.

A wry smile found it's way to Sartori's face as she looked from the raven-haired woman to her Queen. "I'll warrant she doesn't know you meet her in Morpheus' realm, does she, warrior?" She said, pulling up her cloak and walking from the hut to stretch her legs.

"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena moaned at the contact as she slid her mound along Gabrielle's thigh, her juices leaving a slick trail.

Xena smiled wickedly as Gabrielle's body shuddered with unspoken desire at the feel of the liquid fire between the warrior's legs. Struggling in vain, her hands securely held in the warrior's iron grip.

"Xena, please...it doesn't have to be this way," the bard pleaded. How could she make the dark-haired warrior understand? Didn't she know the bard had spent so many moons praying that Xena would finally look at her with something more than friendship? Couldn't she see that Gabrielle longed for Xena's touch...her caress...her kiss.

Gabrielle looked up into the eyes that once were a hypnotic blue, those eyes that had captivated her so many times, only to see the icy eyes of a stranger looking back at her. "Xena, ...please...no..."

"Don't pretend, Gabrielle," Xena purred, "Isn't this what you wanted?" The warrior held the bard's hands tightly above her head in one of her own, the other pulling at the laces and ripping the green top from her body.

Xena pinched the bard's nipple and Gabrielle tried to stifle a gasp. Xena's mouth hungrily covered the hardened nub, her teeth pulling at it painfully as she drew her lips away.

Gabrielle began to thrash from side to side striving to escape from the warrior pinning her from above. The warrior's muscular frame held her down securely, her futile attempts only serving to excite Xena more.

Xena's free hand ripped away the bard's skirt and she forced the young woman's legs apart with her knees. She drew her fingers to slide across the bard's wetness.

"Your lips say no, but your body says yes," Xena growled.

"Xena... please, no...Noooo!" Gabrielle screamed.

"No!" Gabrielle hissed behind clenched teeth. Her eyes opened wide as she woke suddenly, trying to focus in the dim light of the hut.

"Sshhh...It's allright." A dark form moved toward the sleepy bard.

"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered quietly.

"No, my Queen. My name is Sartori." The healer answered as she moved into the light and pulled back her cloak. She searched Gabrielle's eyes for signs of fear or loathing, something that had become habit since she sported the jagged scar down the side of her face. In Gabrielle's green eyes, she saw none and was genuinely surprised.

"Where am I?" Gabrielle said, trying to adjust her eyes to the dim light inside the hut.

"You are in the Amazon Village, and I am your healer, my Queen." Sartori watched as Gabrielle's eyes slowly came awake and became accustomed to the absence of light within the room. She motioned toward the cot in the corner of the hut and Gabrielle saw the sleeping figure of Xena. Relief and dread filled her in the same instant. Sartori watched as a cloud of torment passed in front of the young woman's eyes.

"The warrior's presence relieves you and troubles you at the same time, my Queen." It was not a question nor an accusation, merely an observation by the healer.

"Is she allright?" Gabrielle stared at Xena's sleeping form. Memories were beginning to return. Xena holding her and dressing her wounds, Xena feeding her, Xena suffering the icy water of the stream to keep the bard's fever in check, Xena, hurling curses toward the Gods, sobbing in anger and frustration at Gabrielle's attack. Disjointed scenes raced passed her eyes, as if she had been viewing them from outside herself.

"I think..." Gabrielle said hoarsely, "I think I treated her badly."

Sartori poured a mug of spring water from a pitcher on the table and stood before Gabrielle. "Some water?" She questioned.

Gabrielle nodded silently and the Healer helped ease her into a sitting position, placing some pillows behind her and elevating her splinted arm. She took the offered cup in her good hand wincing with the effort and let the cool liquid slide down her parched throat. When she had drunk her fill she placed the cup into Sartori's waiting hands.

"Why do you feel as though you've treated your friend badly, your highness?" Sartori questioned.

"Please, Sartori...call me Gabrielle," the young Queen requested. Gabrielle had still never become comfortable with the formality surrounding someone addressing her. She continued to stare at Xena's sleeping form. The warrior lay on her side, her face toward the wall.

"The things she's done for me...if you only knew the lengths she goes to in order to keep me safe...the things she's willing to do for me." Tears welled in the young Queen's eyes and spilled onto her cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut and thought about the love she would never be able to share with her warrior. Now, the one place she had, her dreams, where her fantasies of a raven-haired warrior making love to her, had been destroyed. Every time Gabrielle closed her eyes to dream, Xena became her attacker. How cruel of the Gods, Gabrielle thought to herself.

"Her heart is filled with love for you," Sartori whispered.

"How could she love me now?" Gabrielle said in a small voice, "after...after what happened. I can't even give her the gift of myself anymore."

"Gabrielle, aren't you forgetting that you were the victim of this attack?" Sartori asked the young woman knowingly. After all, the healer thought to herself, wasn't she able to understand the Queen's pain better than most? There would be time enough to explain to the young woman all about the eyes of love, but now was not the time for rationalization. She understood the feelings of shame and worthlessness that now plagued Gabrielle. Later, when the young woman was stronger, she would show her the proof of the healer's words.

"I can't seem to control these...these images in my mind..." Gabrielle swiped away the tears that continued to fall. "When Xena touches me, I mean...I just can't be touched by her." She finished, not able to admit to the Healer what her dreams held.

Sartori nodded. This, too, she understood more than the young woman knew. Reaching a gentle hand under the bard's chin until their eyes met, "Gabrielle, do you know why it is that they call a woman's innocence a gift?"

A small sob escaped Gabrielle's lips as she shook her head back and forth, a fresh stream of tears blurring her vision.

The healer never broke eye contact with her young Queen saying, "It's because it is something that can never be taken away...only given."

These unexpected words of hope and compassion released the last vestiges of Gabrielle's heartache and she wept cradled in the arms of the Healer who was not many seasons older than herself, but whom the Goddess Artemis selected to aid in her chosen's time of grief.

The sounds of Gabrielle's weeping caused the Healer and the young Queen to be oblivious to any other sounds in the room and Xena was grateful. She stared silently at the wall as her own hot tears soaked the fur under her head. Could she have loved me? Would she have accepted me loving her in that way? What difference does it make now...she doesn't want me to touch her...ever.

Gabrielle's words had left the warrior with an empty ache that nothing in life could ease.

Dawn had barely begun streaking the sky with yellow and pinks swirls when Xena awakened again. She listened for the sound of Gabrielle's steady breathing, something she had grown accustomed to doing. Assured the young woman was still fast asleep, the warrior forced her stiff limbs up from the pallet. She found her saddlebags and her weapons at the foot of the cot and quietly picked them up, making her way out of the hut.

Xena found her way to the warm spring baths. Steam curled throughout the expansive room. In the center of the large cavern was one large, deep pool. Further back, smaller pools were elevated on stair-stepped levels. At the far end, water from a hot spring cascaded down a small waterfall, draining into the Queen's pool. The morning sun had not yet risen to the point where it would be visible through the numerous round holes carved into the cavern's ceiling. Xena lit a few of the thick candles housed on the cavern ledges and their light bathed the room in eerie shadows that flickered and jumped on the walls and the surface of the water.

Stripping her leathers from her body, she walked down the stone steps to the water. She took a breath and dove into the center of the deep pool, her body cut into the water with barely a ripple, surfacing on the other side. The warmth of the water penetrated her muscles, releasing the anger and tension in them. Xena lay against the side of the pool, floating atop the water's surface, her heart an empty void. She remained that way for some time neither awake nor asleep.

Finally pulling herself from the water, she rummaged through her saddlebag for a clean shift to put on. She picked up the soiled leather tunic and began the task of cleaning the garment. This errand was another one of the many chores the warrior usually used at the end of a day to put her into a near meditative state. It freed her mind to roam and examine the day's activities. By the time the last grommet was being polished she had found the peace she had been searching for. If not peace then at least a truce in her mind's eye.

Here I am feeling sorry for myself...miserable over what I'll never have. When all this time it's Gabrielle that's suffered the most. What did Sartori say to her? "Gabrielle, aren't you forgetting that you were the victim of this attack?" My bard is filled with pain and nothing but shame and I'm just thinking of myself...how miserable my life will be! How can I even profess to love her?!? By the Gods, I've been so selfish!

I'm going to be there for you, Gabrielle. I'm going to help you get passed this. Even if it means that I'll never know your love that way...I will get you through this!

Two shimmers of light illuminated the walls of the cave as Xena strode resolutely toward the Healer's hut.

"Nice thing, ya did for the warrior babe, " said the figure draped in diaphanous veils.

"Whatever do you mean, Aphrodite?" The Goddess Artemis said with a smirk as she gently touched her index finger to the pool of water to remove the enchantment she had placed there.

"Right...and you were just here to, like, clean the pool, huh?"

"I didn't interfere...I simply helped the warrior to look at things with a different perspective." Artemis hedged. "Have you seen Ares?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.

"Nope, he seems to have made himself scarce during this whole bummer of a scene." Aphrodite answered her hands on her hips. "Ya know, I was this close with those two...poor, Gabrielle."

"If I find out leather-boy had anything to do with the attack on my chosen...I'll cut off his tiny balls and let Gabrielle hang them from her staff!"

The sounds of approaching women quickly cut off the conversation between the two Goddesses and the only witness to their presence were the thin multicolored sparkles left in the wake of their transportation.

Xena opened the door to the Healer's hut and found Gabrielle still resting quietly. Sartori was gone and the warrior deposited her weapons and bags on the floor by the door. Standing over Gabrielle, she knelt to one knee, glancing down at the young woman's sleeping face. Some of the bruises were already beginning to fade in the few days they had been in the Amazon village. Xena tried to push down the feelings of guilt, hanging her head at her own shame. If only I'd been there, Gabrielle...

"Hi," the sleepy voice said.

Xena looked up, momentarily startled. She found herself looking into the most beautiful sight in the known world. "Hi, there, yourself, sleepyhead!" She couldn't suppress the large, toothy grin from her face.

"Wait a minute...I remember waking up yesterday and a certain warrior princess was snoring."

"I do not snore," Xena replied, raising an eyebrow in mock anger. She enjoyed the bard's good-natured teasing, now more than any other time. It seemed to be a start.

Gabrielle started to sit up, awkwardly with one arm wrapped and splinted. Xena didn't know whether to help or not, knowing the young woman's reaction to her touch.

"Do you need some help?" Xena asked shyly.

"No, I guess I better get used to flying on one wing," Gabrielle answered quickly, looking up in time to catch the look of pain that crossed the warrior's face. "Could I have some water, though?"

The warrior's face brightened at the request and moved toward the table in the center of the room. Xena, anxious to help in some way, quickly brought the requested water and resumed her kneeling position next to Gabrielle.

"Can I do anything else, Gabrielle...are you hungry? I could--" Without thinking Xena rested her fingers on Gabrielle's thigh. Even through the blanket the warrior felt the muscles of Gabrielle's leg clench and she snapped her hand away, looking down at her fingers as if they were burned. I know you don't mean to, Gabrielle, but you have every right to hate me for not being able to protect you.

Gabrielle couldn't stop the involuntary reaction Xena's touch caused. She knew it was only because of the vivid images in her dreams. She also knew she had to get herself and her emotions under control.

"I--I'm just having a hard time being...being touched right now." Gabrielle whispered. The bard's heart broke at the expression on Xena's face and tears welled in her own eyes.

"Xena..." Gabrielle reached over and placed her hand over the warrior's own. Xena saw the muscles twitch in the young woman's hand, but it remained over the warrior's fingers.

"You're still my best friend...right?" Gabrielle said softly, trying to make eye contact with the warrior.

"Absolutely," Xena said without hesitation, giving the bard a lop-sided grin. I know you're trying, Gabrielle.

"Could I ask you a huge favor then?"

"Anything, Gabrielle...you know that," Xena answered seriously.

"I really want a nice warm bath...and, well...I...it's kind of embarrassing, but I don't think I can do it alone."

Xena just stared blankly at the young woman for a moment until Gabrielle raised her broken arm slightly.

"Oh!" Xena exclaimed, the realization of the request hitting her. "Of course!"

Xena stood but wasn't sure where to begin. This was going to be difficult enough, but it would be even harder if she couldn't touch the young woman. Seeing you naked, Gabrielle...Gods, this is going to be rough!

"It's okay, Xena...I'm not going to go to pieces if you touch me." Gabrielle tried to assure the warrior. This was beginning to feel like the hardest thing the young bard had ever done, but she needed to show Xena their friendship was still there. That she still needed her around, which was quite true. Her mind told her she still loved this woman with all her being. It was her body that reacted violently to the warrior's touch, and Gabrielle's heart that felt unworthy of such love right now. Having you undress me, warrior...Gods, this is going to be rough!

"Why don't we start by sitting on the edge of the bed, Gabrielle."

A wave of dizziness washed over the bard as she planted her feet on the floor, her right hand squeezing Xena's forearm until it passed.

"And, just what do you two think you are doing?" Sartori's voice sounded none to pleased. She had walked in so silently even Xena hadn't heard.

Gabrielle looked the Healer straight in the eye and said, "I am going to take a bath...and she--," Gabrielle jerked her thumb in Xena's direction, "--is with me."

Xena looked at Sartori with a "whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets" grin. The young Queen didn't leave much room for argument, however, and the young Healer instantly backed down.

"At least let me get a couple of guards to--"

"No," Gabrielle answered quickly. "Xena's going to help me." She finished, smiling ever so slightly at the warrior.

The feelings in Xena's heart for this young bard literally radiated from her features. The warrior's face was one of love and pride, as she looked at Sartori a little smugly.

Sartori caught the exchange between the two women and still wondered in her heart why Gabrielle had never seen the obvious. To be loved that much, the Healer thought to herself.

"Then I will not argue, my Queen," Sartori said with a slight bow.

Sartori provided a simple wrap around tunic for Gabrielle to wear and once Xena had collected the necessary bath items, she and the bard walked toward the baths. It was slow going for Gabrielle. Not only was her body one large bruise, she'd also been bedridden for nearly a week.

"Gabrielle, do you want to rest for a minute?" Xena asked. Her right arm was wrapped around the young woman's waist so there was no chance the bard would fall, but Xena could see the light sheen of perspiration on the bards upper lip and the heavy breaths she was taking.

"Yea...sounds...good," she answered, panting slightly. Truth be known, Gabrielle's muscles were twitching over more than just exertion. Part of her was breathless, as always, over Xena's touch the other part of her cringed at the constant, violent images that were assaulting her brain. It was as if the Furies were waging a war within her mind, her exhausted body wavering between pain and desire.

Ephiny saw the two slowly making their way toward the baths as she crossed the center of the village and silently thanked Artemis for Gabrielle's return to health. She had done as Sartori asked, staying away from the Healer's hut until Gabrielle and Xena both had a few days to mend. The Regent noticed it would be a while before the bruises disappeared, but the sight of her young friend up and about lightened her heart quite a bit.

"Gabrielle, you look wonderful!" Ephiny said smiling at the two women, "Oh, yea...Xena, you look okay too," she finished with a dismissing wave toward the dark-haired warrior.

"Yea, right!" Gabrielle answered while Xena just raised her eyebrow and smirked at the Regent. "Eph, if I look anything like I feel, it must be pretty bad."

"How do you feel...really?" Ephiny asked with concern.

"Like I was just run over by an oxcart...then they backed up and ran over me again, and then once more just for good measure." Gabrielle said cheerlessly.

Ephiny laughed and said something about some queens doing anything for a little R&R and she left the two women with a promise to see them at lunch. The Regent caught up with Eponin and asked the warrior to see to it that their Queen had a little privacy in her bath.

"And, Ep...be tactful, okay? I mean, just make it a suggestion."

"Hey, I'm a warrior...I only know how to do things one way," Eponin said, winking.

Gabrielle and Xena continued their slow progress to the baths and the warrior couldn't shake the way Gabrielle acted when she had talked to Ephiny. The young bard barely made eye contact with the Regent, her glance constantly shifting toward the ground. Gabrielle talked like her old self, but her countenance was flaccid and lifeless, as if she were simply going through the motions. Xena kept trying to steal a look in the bard's eye while she spoke to Ephiny, finally she saw the truth. There was simply no light in the young woman's gaze, no sparkle to the usual mischievous green eyes.

Bathing without touching turned out to be a harrowing experience for the two women. They attempted to get Gabrielle's shift removed a number of times, one of them always turning the wrong way at the last moment. The final straw came when Gabrielle's splinted arm swung around and cracked Xena in the jaw.

The warrior rubbed her sore jaw as the bard looked up at the taller woman in horror. Their eyes met and they began to smile at one another, then the smiles turned into laughter. It was the first relaxing moment Gabrielle had experienced since she had stepped into this nightmare.

"I don't suppose you let me do that on purpose," Gabrielle said, trying to cover her smile at their old joke.

"Uh, uh" the warrior answered, failing in her attempt at being indignant.

"Gabrielle...would you feel more comfortable...if someone else did this?" the warrior said soberly.

"I don't know...It might look bad if I used one of my subject's head as a battering ram."

Xena smiled and appreciated Gabrielle's attempt to make light of the situation.

"Gabrielle...how attached are you to that shift?" She said as she pulled her breast dagger from it's hiding place, an evil gleam in her eye.

"I had a feeling that would be our only choice...okay," Gabrielle assented.

Both women survived the trauma of cutting the shift off the young bard and getting her into the warm pool of water. Xena judiciously left her shift on as she stepped into the water to steady Gabrielle. The young bard ran through a gauntlet of emotions as Xena assisted her in scrubbing her back, washing her hair, and keeping her right arm as dry as possible.

Once the quiet had descended between the two women, Gabrielle leaned her head against the stone edge of the small pool and soaked in the warmth of the water. Xena sat atop the pool's smooth edge and slid her dagger against a small whetstone in tiny circular motions. The warrior continually glanced down at Gabrielle, breathing deeply when the bard's beauty nearly made the breath catch in her throat.

"Gabrielle," Xena said breaking the silence.

"Mmmm," the bard responded without opening her eyes.

"Do you want to talk about... it?" Xena questioned.

"No." The bard returned quickly, sitting straight up. They both knew what they were talking about without really saying.

"I just thought--" Xena started.

"No, Xena. I just...I just feel like I'll lose it and I'm not quite ready to go there yet."

The meditative mood of both women had been lost and Xena cursed herself for bringing the subject up. She had only meant to help Gabrielle, to get her to open up and talk about the attack, hoping it would bring the bard some measure of healing. Instead, they now sat in an awkward silence, the moments of peaceful companionship gone.

"I think I'm turning into a prune." Gabrielle stated, her way of getting the ball rolling again and changing the subject.

Xena had been dreading this moment for what seemed like an eternity. Cutting off Gabrielle's shift and getting her in the water hadn't been nearly as bad as helping a naked bard out of the water, drying her off, and aiding her in dressing. Xena placed a gentle arm around Gabrielle's waist, supporting her as the young woman pulled herself from the pool. The water cascaded in thin rivulets down the bard's body, falling from firm breasts, down her muscled abdomen, and into the reddish-blonde patch of hair between her legs. Xena, in the meantime, was desperately trying to keep her hands and eyes everywhere but where they actually wanted to be. What Gods have I offended today to deserve this torture?

Gabrielle was having problems of her own. She was still wet from the bath, but she felt herself starting to sweat. Xena's hands felt like silk against her skin. The warrior's shift was soaked through in places where Gabrielle had leaned against her, the cloth clinging to her well-muscled frame. One moment she envisioned Xena caressing her entire body, the next, a more violent vision of the warrior filled her senses...more pain melded with desire. Artemis, how have I offended you today to deserve such torture?

"Feel better?" Xena asked as they now made their way out of the baths.

"I feel cleaner, anyway," Gabrielle said wryly. "Xena, I don't want to go back to Sartori's hut. I want to stay in my own hut."

The Queen's hut was closer to the center of the village and by now the entire Amazon village was up and at their daily tasks. Gabrielle was a well loved Queen and it seemed to Xena that everyone from here to the Centaur village stopped the two to inquire as to how the young Queen was getting along. Xena could see Gabrielle was beginning to tire, her knees looked a bit wobbly, besides, having people in her "space" was beginning to irritate the warrior. She bent down and placed her free arm under Gabrielle's knees and scooped her up into her arms.

"She needs some rest," was all Xena said to a few gaping inquiries, as she turned towards the hut with Gabrielle in her arms.

"Xena, I can walk," Gabrielle said, unconvincingly.

Xena never stopped walking as she raised one eyebrow at the bard, "I've seen new-born colts that were steadier on their feet."

Truth be know, Gabrielle had secretly loved the gesture. The young woman pushed down the feelings and images that had begun to plague her every moment and rested her head against the warrior's shoulder. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle breathed in the scent that was distinctly the warrior's; jasmine and leather. She was fast asleep by the time the warrior tenderly placed her on the bed in her own quarters.

 Several candlemarks passed before Gabrielle was thrown into the same nightmare that she seemed to have whether she was awake or asleep. She felt herself being pulled from the Warlord Xena's dreamscape embrace. A delicate touch was pulling at the bard's shoulder and she slowly opened her eyes. Feeling as though she had slipped from one ordeal into another, Gabrielle jerked her body away from the blue penetrating gaze.

"Gabrielle, it's me...Xena." The dark-haired warrior said, trying not to let Gabrielle's reaction bother her.

"Xena...I'm sorry. I was having a nightmare and, uh...I must not have been quite awake yet," Gabrielle lied.

"Are you sure you're allright now?"

"Yea, thanks," Gabrielle answered running her fingers through her hair.

"Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I better go find Eponin and see if she minds having a roommate for a while," Xena stood and stretched her back.

Gabrielle watched Xena stretch her muscles and wondered how long the warrior had been kneeling by her bed, watching her. She had listened to Xena's words, but hadn't really heard them yet. When the realization hit her she didn't know exactly how to react.

"Eponin? But...well, I guess I just thought..." Gabrielle stammered.

"Thought...what?" Xena asked.

While Gabrielle slept, Xena had decided that the young woman probably didn't want the warrior sleeping in the same hut. It seemed as if Xena's very presence was particularly hard on the bard. The warrior attributed it to her failure to protect Gabrielle, as if the bard couldn't help but blame her for not being there. The warrior certainly couldn't condemn Gabrielle for such feelings.

Gabrielle, in the meantime, was trying hard to control tears that lay just under the surface. Of course, Xena wouldn't want to be here with her, not now. She was damaged goods, now, wasn't she. I guess it must get pretty old having to save me all the time.

Gabrielle's self worth lowered with each heartbeat that passed. Her bardic imagination began to turn the simplest of statements into mountains of self-loathing. Xena watched as Gabrielle's inner struggle continued. The warrior was getting mixed signals from the young woman and was no longer sure about her course of action.

"Gabrielle, I just thought...that maybe... you'd like a little privacy is all..." Xena began to find something on the floor captivating, unable to meet Gabrielle's eyes. Her heart couldn't take it if the young woman looked gladdened about her leaving. Xena finally stole a glance at her bard. What she saw surprised her, and a Warrior Princess isn't often surprised. Gabrielle was staring at the floor, silent tears beginning to spill from her eyes.

"Gabrielle, what is it?" Xena moved quickly to kneel in front of the young bard, concern written across her features.

"It's nothing...I shouldn't be crying...if you want to leave--" Gabrielle began to say through her tears.

"But, I thought you wanted me to leave." Xena said, stunned by her own honest admission.

"No," the bard exclaimed, a little more forcefully than she intended. "I don't want to be here alone...and I don't want to be here without you," she finished with a whisper.

"I'd give you a hug, but I have a feeling that would only make it worse, huh?" Xena said tenderly, the corners of her mouth curling upward.

Gabrielle paused and took in a few deep breaths, wiping her tears away with the palm of her hand. "I'm sorry, Xena...I know it's no picnic being around someone who can't seem to stop crying half the time and doesn't want anyone to touch her the other half. I just need to get myself under control...then I'll be better--"

"Gabrielle," Xena placed her hands on the bed on each side of the bard, as the warrior continued to kneel in front of the woman. "Maybe that's just what you need to let go of right about now...some of that control. Look, I'm an expert at burying the past, thinking if I keep it locked up inside it won't hurt me. But it still does...when you least expect it, it'll hit you and knock you flat...unless you deal with it."

"I just don't know if I can right now."

"Every moment you wait makes it that much harder. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about here. Scream, cry, curse the Gods...hit me if you want someone to punch, but don't hold this in, Gabrielle."

Then Gabrielle did something Xena was also an expert at, but that she had never known her bard to be capable of. Gabrielle slid a warrior's mask in place. Her face became impassive and she took a slow, even breath to steady herself.

"I just can't, Xena...not yet. Please, understand." Gabrielle pleaded.

The warrior looked at the young bard with all of the love and compassion in her heart. "Just know that I'll be there for you when you need me, allright? Now, how about I go to Sartori's hut and see if we can borrow that extra cot she had?"

Gabrielle gave a weak smile, but a pounding at the door cut her answer short. Xena rose and pulled open the door to find Ephiny struggling with a tray piled with food and a pitcher in her arms, and a wineskin thrown over one shoulder.

"I figured you two were taking it easy," she entered the room with difficulty and deposited her gifts on the table, "...and, when I didn't see you in the food tent, I thought I'd make a little delivery." She finished with a smile.

The Regent's entrance and beaming satisfaction earned a grin from both the women. The food did smell delicious, Gabrielle's stomach had decided, and chose that moment to make itself known.

"Timing is everything, Eph," Xena said, pulling out a chair and motioning Gabrielle into it. "You had better feed that monster." She said to the bard with a smile.

"I have a couple of errands to do, you two enjoy yourselves," Xena said as she snatched a couple olives from the tray and popped them into her mouth.

"Xena, I didn't mean for you to leave--" Ephiny began, looking from Gabrielle to the tall warrior.

"I need to check on Argo, anyway...she's probably got an attitude going considering the way I left her when we rode in here."

Xena picked up her weapons and attached her chakram to her belt, moving to stand beside Gabrielle. "Will you be allright?" the warrior asked, lowering her voice so that Ephiny barely heard it.

Gabrielle nodded and Xena turned toward the door. "Hey, warrior," Gabrielle called out. Using her left hand she awkwardly threw an apple toward Xena, the taller woman catching the fruit before she had barely turned around to look. "Make sure you tell Argo it's from me." She smiled.

Xena threw the red orb into the air and caught it again without looking. "She'll know...you always did say she'd follow the first pretty face with an apple!" Xena threw the apple in the air once more and walked out the door.

"Well, a couple days sleep seems to have done a lot for the Warrior Princess' attitude." Ephiny stated as she sat across from the young Queen. "You should have seen her when she brought you in."

"I guess we must have made quite a sight," Gabrielle said quietly. "I suppose the whole village saw me--"

"Gabrielle...as far as the Amazon village is concerned, you and Xena ran into some rough characters on the road. Besides Sartori, Eponin and I are the only ones who know...well, who know about what happened."

Gabrielle just stared at the table, an uncomfortable silence hanging between the two friends. Of course, the young Queen's stomach rumbled noisily, eliciting a grin from the two women.

"Eat first..." Ephiny smiled, pouring a glass of cider for the Queen, "...talk later."

The Regent kept Gabrielle's mind busy for two solid candlemarks filling her in on the latest village news and gossip, while they ate. Clearing the tray away, Ephiny filled two cups of wine from the skin she had brought and she leaned back into her chair.

"So, now we talk," the Regent said.

"I thought that's what you've been doing!" Gabrielle laughed.

"That's right...now it's your turn." Ephiny said seriously.

Gabrielle's features took on a panicked look, "Xena and I just went though this, Eph...I'm just not ready to go into it yet. Please, I just can't...not yet."

"You mean, you haven't talked with Xena about this either? I would think there wouldn't be anything you couldn't talk to your lover--"

"We're not lovers." Gabrielle stated flatly.

"Oh. I mean...well, I guess I just...assumed..." Ephiny let the statement drift off. I don't believe it! Not the way Xena looks at her.

"Most people do." Gabrielle interjected. The young Queen couldn't stop the tears that welled up in her emerald eyes.

"Remind me to play cards with you some time." Ephiny smirked.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle questioned.

"That means, my dear friend, that either you are a hideous liar...or you wear your heart on your sleeve." The Regent finished, gently taking Gabrielle's hand in her own and reaching over to brush a few errant tears away from the young woman's cheeks. "You're in love with her, though, aren't you?"

"What difference does it make now...after what's happened," Gabrielle said harshly as she pulled herself to her feet. She slowly moved to the window and took a deep breath of fresh air.

"What in Tartaurus is that supposed to mean? Gabrielle..." The Regent crossed the room to stand in front of the Queen. "If Xena were in love with you, do you actually think what's happened to you would affect the way she feels about you?"

Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders, not meeting Ephiny's gaze.

"And if the roles were reversed? If this had happened to Xena...would it change the love you have for her?"

"Of course not!" Gabrielle demanded.

"Yet, you have so little regard for her integrity...the woman you profess to love, that you would throw away an opportunity at happiness for the both of you, without even giving her a chance?"

Ephiny's words hit the wall Gabrielle had so carefully constructed around her psyche and she felt her control begin to slip.

"There's more you're not telling me, isn't there?" Ephiny said, placing gentle fingers under the young Queen's chin, and forcing their eyes to meet.

Gabrielle nodded as tears slid down her bruised face. Ephiny pulled her friend into her arms and directed her toward the bed where they could both sit. Gabrielle hadn't meant to reveal her nightmares of the Warlord Xena, the terrifying apprehension at Xena's touch or the images that now tormented her waking moments as well as when she slept, but the comforting embrace of her friend had the words tumbling out of the bard's mouth. Ephiny held the young woman until she had no more tears to shed.

"Xena was right...I do feel a little better after a good cry." Gabrielle admitted.

"She cares a lot about you, Gabrielle...you should at least give her a chance to love you."

"That's only a dream, Eph. Honestly, what could the great Warrior Princess possibly see in me?"

Ephiny grinned and began using her fingers to count. "Let's see...you're beautiful, intelligent, caring, beautiful, compassionate, funny, talented, and did I mention beautiful?"

Gabrielle smiled sadly and reached her fingers up toward her face. "Yea, right...I know I look like a raccoon, even if Xena won't tell me!" She said, referring to the dark bruises under her eyes.

"Yes, but raccoons are very cute. Besides I bet Xena sees you through loves eyes.

"You're the second person that mentioned that phrase to me. I think Sartori said something about loves eyes the other day." Gabrielle had slept so much since then she couldn't quite remember the specifics.

"I think you should get to know Sartori when you have the time. You might find the two of you have a great deal in common."

Gabrielle saw the flicker of what she thought was the knowing of a secret in the Regent's eye, but dismissed the thought. Gabrielle stifled a yawn and grinned sheepishly. "It's not the company, Eph, I swear."

"I've stayed too long already and you need some rest. Will you be allright?" Ephiny asked, rising to leave.

"Seems I get asked that a lot lately...yea, I'll be fine. How much worse can things get, right? I mean, I'm hopelessly in love with a woman that the whole Amazon nation wants to sleep with and where do we go...Amazonia."

Ephiny laughed out loud, and leaned toward her friend conspiratorially. "Not the whole Amazon Nation, Gabrielle...only half. The other half wants to bed you!" Enjoying the blush that began to creep up the Queen's neck, the Regent winked before closing the door behind her.

Days turned into weeks as Xena and Gabrielle took part in the daily routine of the village. Xena occupied her days taking her turn at patrol and hunting. Every morning she went to the practice field to go through her own drills, taking time to spar with students anxious to learn from the warrior. Evenings were usually spent alone with Gabrielle, listening to the bard make up new stories.

Gabrielle spent most of her day acting in her official capacity as Queen. Ephiny was always at her side and Gabrielle thanked Artemis for such a Regent. The days were filled with council meetings, treaty negotiations, and generally ruling on every aspect of Amazon life. The Queen had gotten in the habit of rising early to watch Xena on the practice field, something that surprised the dark-haired woman. The bard never tired of watching the warrior run through her drills. The days were the only time Xena left Gabrielle alone, although the bard didn't realize that fact. Wherever the young Queen went, Xena silently followed, determined never to leave Gabrielle unprotected again. Xena knew that the Royal Guard never left their Queen unattended until she was safely within Xena's sights again in the evening.

Gabrielle learned that she could keep the horrific images of her nightmares at bay by keeping her mind busy. She had started out by telling Xena a story to pass the time and soon realized that she hadn't shuddered at Xena's touch once during the whole tale. So, it became a habit to retire to their hut early, Gabrielle weaving one tale after another until sleep claimed the two women.

Gabrielle still had the nightmares, however. Every night a little different, but always Xena as her attacker. After one full moon had passed, Sartori removed the splint on Gabrielle's right arm. By this time the young Queen had managed to train her body against waking up screaming from the nightmares. When she woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, she would head outside under the stars. Once her splint had been taken off, Gabrielle took this time to practice the strengthening exercises Xena had shown her. Eponin had told her to start drilling with her staff to build her arm up and increase the mobility in her wrist. So, each night, sometimes two and three times in one night, Gabrielle awoke and headed outside to drill. Sometimes she would go to the stable and visit with Argo, receiving a friendly nicker of welcome. Usually it was less than a candlemark or so, but Xena always knew she was gone. The warrior would quietly follow the young woman, just to keep her out of harms way. So after two full moons of this late night activity, both the Queen and the warrior began to develop dark circles under their eyes from interrupted sleep.

Gabrielle had taken Ephiny's advice and begun to get to know Sartori. The young Healer had a dry wit that Gabrielle could appreciate. Gabrielle learned that the Healer had a bondmate, but that she was in the northern territories and wouldn't be back for some time yet. She was also a Healer, but all Sartori would say was that Adia, her mate, healed "differently" than she did. Gabrielle could see the love between the two in Sartori's eyes when she talked of Adia. The Queen wondered if her face used to look that way when she spoke of Xena.

The young Queen had become a different woman than she had been. Where she had been open and honest with a quick smile, now she had become a great deal like her warrior...burying certain emotions, keeping them held down by sheer force of will. Of course, there was a price. Gabrielle didn't smile quite as often, nor did she chatter on endlessly about nothing. Now care had to be taken before she spoke or thought. Prudence had to be exercised so as not to reveal too much of herself, lest she lose her hard fought control.

Gabrielle had found a place to go when everything seemed to press in on her. It was a beautiful little pond where dragonflies with iridescent wings buzzed just atop the water. There was a small outcrop of rock that hung over the water's edge. Gabrielle would lay on her belly and watch the fish swim by and then roll over and try to imagine shapes in the clouds until she had pushed the demons of shame and self loathing down far enough to control.

Gabrielle was still plagued by feelings she wouldn't even admit to Ephiny or Sartori, especially not Xena. The young woman felt that she had somehow provoked her own attack. She berated herself for her provocative choice of clothing, for not going to a village to stay...a thousand things she went over and over about that day. If she had bothered to tell anyone about these feelings, they could have told her how very wrong she was, and perhaps they could have even made her understand. But, Gabrielle felt too ashamed and guilty to reveal these thoughts to anyone, so she came down to this pond when the feelings started to drag her into the abyss. Even though it seemed as if she was by herself, she was the Queen, after all. There were always at least one or two of the Royal Guard hidden amongst the branches ready to protect their Queen if needed.

"I thought I might find you here," Sartori said, sitting cross-legged next to Gabrielle on the rocks.

"Caught playing hooky." Gabrielle rolled over on her back and folded her hands under her head.

Sartori watched dark shadows pass across Gabrielle's eyes, the young woman closing them and breathing deeply. Perhaps 2 heartbeats passed before the she saw Gabrielle open her eyes again and the Healer was met with the familiar sparkling green. Gods, she's getting good at that, pushing all her feelings away. Sartori silently prayed to Artemis that she was about to do the right thing...after all, she couldn't heal this part of the body like Adia could.

"Eponin is fond of saying that it's rough at the top, My Queen. If that's true, I suppose you deserve to play hooky once in a while."

Gabrielle smiled, not at the statement, but of Sartori's use of her title. No matter how many times she asked her new friend to call her Gabrielle, she was still address with formality by the Healer. The Queen had finally quit asking, but it still made her smile. Kind of like a game they played, for what reason she didn't know.

"Today's the day," Sartori said with a smile. "Adia returns home today...she should be here by mid-morning.

"Oh, Sartori, that's wonderful." Gabrielle sat up and tucked one leg underneath her. "I know how much you must have missed her."

"I feel as if my heart has been placed on a shelf just waiting for her return." Sartori mused as she pulled her legs up to her chin, wrapping her arms around them. "Even now I wonder what she possibly sees in me...it's evidently something I'm not aware of."

"Ah, loves eyes." Gabrielle said, remembering. "You said that to me once, remember?"

"It's an enigma that I can only explain with that phrase." Sartori rested her chin on the top of her knees and pulled the hood of her cloak back. Gabrielle watched as the young Healer absently stroked the angry scar that ran the length of her face.

"I understand what you've gone through more than you realize, My Queen. I came to the Amazon Village when I was 11 seasons. My own village had been burned and raided, my family slaughtered like sheep in the field. I was raped by 3 soldiers."

Tears had begun to slowly creep down Sartori's cheeks, but her eyes held a distant look as if she were reliving the nightmare of that day. Gabrielle ached to do or say something for one whose pain was so familiar to her own, but she sat silent and let the Healer continue.

"The last soldier, who took me, gave me this," she again fingered the long scar. "I remember his words as if it were just yesterday. He told me that no one would want me now that I had been used, then right before he cut me he said that this would guarantee I could never be loved."

Gabrielle hung her head and let her own tears fall. For her new friend's torment as well as her own. She knew what that fear felt like...knowing you would never know love.

The two women sat that way for a long time, the only sound between them were their quiet sounds of weeping.

Sartori broke the silence first. "I don't even remember how I came to be here. Ramti, the village healer, took me in. That's how I developed my healing skills. Even Amazon children can be cruel, though. I took to wearing a cloak and hood so I wouldn't stand out so much."

"Did Adia already live in the village?" Gabrielle couldn't help interjecting.

"No," Sartori smiled now at this part of the story. "She came from a tribe far to the North for an Inter-Tribal festival one summer. As when any group of stranger's get together, the warriors seemed to gather with other warriors, royalty with royalty. Well, that's how Adia and I met. I was seventeen that summer. I had spent 6 seasons building walls around myself so I couldn't be hurt. I think the biggest hurt came from convincing myself that what that soldier had told me was true. That because of the way I looked, that I had been raped, I could never be attractive enough to be loved. Adia was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn't understand why she followed me around, it seemed as if she just kept "accidentally" running into me. I guess I was pretty naïve." She grinned sheepishly at Gabrielle.

"One afternoon I was meditating in the woods and, of course, Adia said she just happened to be going for a walk. I think even she realized how lame that sounded, she started laughing and she sat down and started telling me how incredible she thought I was. I think my heart was ready to pound out of my chest. Then she pulled my hood down. She did it do softly, her eyes were so captivating that I barely knew she had done it until it was off. I think I panicked for a moment and tried to push her away, but she just held me there, staring into my eyes. I felt, as if she could see into my very soul, but I knew once she saw what was there, she would be repulsed. Then do you know what this woman said to me?"

"Tori, you have the most beautiful gray eyes I've ever seen."

Sartori unconsciously reached up to touch her scar, but Adia's fingers pushed them aside and tenderly caressed the length of her jaw, moving her face closer until Sartori could feel the other woman's breath on her lips.

"You'll have to tell me about that sometime...when you're ready," Then their lips met in a kiss that promised a lifetime more to come.

"I'd never been kissed before, My Queen, but if I had been kissed a thousand times I would have still said that, until that kiss, I had never been kissed before. She held me in her arms and we stayed that way all day, she never stopped telling me how in love with me she was. Then, she kissed my forehead and told me to sleep. I didn't tell her that I hardly ever slept because I was afraid, I still had the nightmares of that day. But, lying there in her arms I did sleep, and I had the nightmare as always. This time Adia was there, in my dream. She saved me...I was never raped...I never received this," she said motioning to the scar on her face.

"It was the most amazing emotion I had ever experienced, waking up from that dream, such a feeling of peace. I knew, in my head, that my past hadn't changed, but my heart felt that the experience never happened. I tried to tell Adia and she smiled and kissed me and said she knew. That's when she told me about her gift. She was a dreamscape healer. She told me that she usually just created an environment where someone you love could enter your dream and help you heal yourself. This time, she wanted to be the one."

"Adia told me I was beautiful and I felt she believed it. She saw me, not as others do, but through love's eyes. When I looked into her eyes I saw my own reflection, and there, in her gaze, I was once again innocent and clean...in her eyes I was beautiful."

Gabrielle looked up and saw this young Healer as her lover saw her. "Sartori...you are beautiful."

The Healer looked at her Queen for the first time since she'd started relating her tale and smiled brightly. "You looked right past my scars, the first time we met...perhaps that is your gift."

"Love's eyes..." Gabrielle mused aloud. "I wonder if it's always that easy?"

"Nothing in life worth having is ever easy, My Queen. It took a huge leap of faith for me to believe in what I saw reflected in Adia's eyes. Believing she could love me was the hardest test I ever took."

"Sartori...could Adia heal my dreams?" Gabrielle whispered, not allowing her heart to hope.

"I believe she would try, your highness." Sartori breathed a silent sigh of relief. She saw behind Gabrielle's features, watching the silent struggle waged from within. She asked Artemis for strength for her Queen's warrior. She felt Xena would need it to fight the demons that tormented the Queen.


Sartori's head snapped around at the sound of her name. Gabrielle knew immediately who the tall stranger behind them was by the look on the Healer's face. Sartori's countenance lightened, her smile reaching her eyes quickly. She jumped off the rock and into the tall stranger's arms in one leap.

Sartori hadn't lied. Adia was truly one of the most beautiful women Gabrielle had ever seen. Dressed in trousers and tunic with knee high riding boots she looked more like a warrior than a healer. Her hair was the color of Xena's, her straight locks falling to just below her ears, slightly wind blown from riding. Ironically she was also every bit as tall as Gabrielle's warrior. Her eyes were a deep green flecked with gold.

Adia came to where Gabrielle still sat and came down to one knee, placing her hand over her heart. "My Queen, forgive the intrusion. I am Adia, bondmate to Sartori..." She said, rising and placing an arm around Sartori's waist. "... I haven't seen this beautiful creature for five moons...and I couldn't wait another moment."

"Please, Adia...call me Gabrielle. Five moons is a long time to be away from the one you love," Gabrielle agreed.

"It feels as if it's been half my life." Adia answered, staring at Sartori.

Gabrielle watched the tall Healer and the gentle touches she placed on Sartori's face. She began to feel like a third wheel and rose to leave.

"Well, I need to get back to work...it was a pleasure meeting you, Adia."

"My-I mean, Gabrielle...please don't leave on my account." Adia apologized.

"No, I've been away far too long already, it has nothing to do with you. Besides if I don't get back to the village I'm sure Ephiny will hear about it from the Guard." Gabrielle said, pointing into the trees. "I'm not supposed to know they're there." She whispered, winking.

The two women promised not to reveal the Queen's secret as she left them. Turning back to look at the pair, Gabrielle saw Adia wrap Sartori in powerful arms and the two shared a soul-searing kiss. The Queen quickly turned away and continued walking, feeling as if she were intruding on a private moment. Witnessing the proof of love's eyes, Gabrielle thought of Xena and walked back to the village with a feeling like apprehension in her heart. She had given up the concept of hope, but in one morning, the smallest spark was lit within her battered heart.

And so the first barrier fell.


Gabrielle had just finished one of her funnier tales. It was a comedy of errors and it always made Xena laugh, this time was no exception.

"I guess I should scribe that one so you can pull it out and read it whenever you need a good laugh," Gabrielle said as she poured the both of them a cup of wine.

"It wouldn't be the same without you telling it," the warrior looked up, smiling. She had been repairing a buckle on her leg armor and sat cross-legged on her cot.

Gabrielle smiled back and crossed the room, handing Xena a cup of the wine.

"Thanks," Xena said, placing the armor to one side and leaning up against the wall.

Gabrielle had no idea how to begin this conversation, but just wade in came to mind. "Xena," Gabrielle began, "...do you think I'm pretty?"

Xena nearly spit the mouthful of wine back out. Gaia, where did that come from?

"Gabrielle...you've had plenty of people tell you that, I'd think you'd know it by now." Xena tried to make light of the question, wondering where in the world the bard was going with this.

Gabrielle leaned down to sit in front of the cot where Xena relaxed. Sitting with both legs tucked under her, she rested her arms on the cot in front of her.

"But...am I still pretty," she said barely above a whisper, forcing herself to keep eye contact with the warrior.

Xena knew what the bard meant. Even after she had been raped...would someone still want her? Oh, someone does, Gabrielle. The warrior wanted nothing more than to hold the bard in her arms, kiss her for all she was worth, and tell her exactly how pretty she thought she was. She couldn't find the courage, not until the warrior could touch Gabrielle without causing her to flinch or pull back in fright. No matter how much Xena wanted it. No, she would enjoy what her bard was able to offer, and settle for that.

Xena furrowed her brow and stared long and hard at Gabrielle, the azure eyes attempting to convey to the young woman what her voice could not.

"Gabrielle...you're more than just pretty...you're beautiful."

"I guess I just--"

"I know." Xena answered understandingly. "Gabrielle, nothing has happened in the past...or ever will happen, that could possibly make you look anything but beautiful in my eyes."

Xena's eyes never left the bard's. Gabrielle found herself caught up in the blue depths, swirling around her like a whirlpool. Desperate to see her reflection there and know the truth. Are they love's eyes, Xena?

Gabrielle placed a hand on Xena's knee, "Thank you," was all the bard could say.

Gabrielle sat bolt upright in bed, shivering as sweat poured from her lithe, muscular frame. She quickly glanced at Xena, lying on a cot across the room. Once the bard had stilled the pounding of her heart, she listened for the steady even breaths that would indicate the warrior still slept. Gabrielle rose and pulled her boots on, pausing to splash some water on her face. She grabbed her staff and slipped through the door without a sound.

It had become a sixth sense for Xena, being able to keep track of her bard. She knew the moment the nightmare started. Gabrielle's nightmares had become so much a part of their nights, she could tell exactly when they would start. She heard the bard's sharp intake of breath, pointing out the fact that she had released her self from her dreamscape. Gods, she's gotten good at that...barely a sound. Xena forced her breathing to slow, not moving a muscle till she heard Gabrielle slip outside.

Xena slid among the shadows as Gabrielle walked towards the stable. Slipping inside, the bard moved to the center of the building and began some stretching exercises before she began to twirl her staff in a set of complicated drills. Effortlessly Xena worked her way into the loft to watch. The young woman and the patterns she wove through the air with her staff mesmerized the warrior. Xena had never even seen some of those moves before. Gabrielle's muscles rippled and flowed throughout her limbs as she moved without stopping for nearly a full candlemark.

Finally the young woman stopped and stood motionless in the middle of the stable. Her chest heaved from the exertion, muscles quivering, and streams of sweat soaking her shift. Gabrielle just stood there, head thrown back, attempting to catch her breath.

Xena simply stared at the young women as if caught in a spell. By the Gods! The warrior was thankful for the bard's loud gasps, as they covered up the fact that she was literally panting. The tightness in her loins was followed by the trickle of wetness that began to run down her thigh. Xena rolled over onto her back simply to take her eyes off of Gabrielle. She brought her breathing under control, pushing down the carnal images that ran through her mind.

Gabrielle was soaked to the skin, but satiated in some odd way. She walked to the back of the stable and entered Argo's stall, the mare whinnied at her arrival.

"Sorry, no apple tonight, my friend," she patted the horses neck, reaching in to hug the golden beast.

The bard grabbed a brush and gently smoothed the mare's coat. If Xena had only known that the bard came to talk with Argo every night, to tell the silent animal her secrets, the warrior would have learned of Gabrielle's fears moons ago. As was the young woman's habit she told Argo what she felt she could tell no other, and tonight was no exception.

"Even if it was love's eyes, it wouldn't matter, would it, Argo?" Gabrielle brushed the mare and whispered to her so softly it was only because of Xena's unnatural hearing, she was able to listen to the bard. "What would they say if they knew it was my fault? Ephiny...my people...Xena? Would they be able to forgive me...would she? Oh, Argo I should have never been there! If I'd done what Xena told me...go stay at the inn. Why didn't I? That top, that skirt...how many drunks has Xena fought off because of how I look? I should have just started fighting right away..."

The young woman had stopped her brushing and began to cry softly into the golden mare's neck. Xena fought with her own tears as she listened to her bard. The twinge in her chest turned into an agonizing ache, as she listened to Gabrielle's confession. She thinks she deserved it...that it was her fault!?

Xena had managed to hop through the window of the hut and slip under the covers moments before Gabrielle entered the room. The bard moved noiselessly through the room, but Xena cracked one eye, watching as the young woman stripped the soaked shift from her body. Moonlight fell across the front of the bard's torso and Xena could feel the wetness begin to flow between her legs again. She closed her eyes tight against the vision until she heard the familiar sleep pattern of Gabrielle breathing.

Xena knew she wouldn't be able to sleep until she released the tension building between her legs. Glancing once more in the bard's direction, she checked to make sure she was asleep, all the while moving her hand under the covers. She reached up under her shift, fingers slipping between slick folds. Images of Gabrielle, her sweat soaked limbs guiding her Amazon staff, muscles rippling under her shift. Immersing herself completely within this fantasy image, Xena placed two fingers against her opening, her thumb vibrating strongly against her swollen nub. The fingers of her free hand reached up to pinch swollen nipples through the cotton shift, causing an increased flood of liquid between her legs. Her thighs began to tremble as she plunged the two fingers deep inside herself. Three more strokes and she could feel her body tighten and contract around her fingers. Oh, Gods...Gabrielle. Her hips arched into her orgasm, the only sound, a ragged exhale from the warrior.

Once the tremors had stopped completely, Xena was able to think clearly. She had been able to go so long, but seeing Gabrielle tonight had caused her to lose all control. She lay back on the cot, listening to the sounds of her bard's breathing, replaying in her mind the words Gabrielle had whispered in the stable. Xena knew what she had to do now, but there was only one flaw, as she saw it, in her plan...

...Gabrielle would probably never forgive her.

Xena found Gabrielle in the food hut that morning. The warrior had been gone already when Gabrielle awoke, which wasn't unusual. The Queen had her breakfast and was just enjoying a cup of tea with Eponin and her new recruit, Tarazon, before heading to the training field to watch Xena spar.

"I'm glad I caught up with you," Xena said with a hint of mischief before sitting next to Gabrielle. "What do you say to helping me train some of your recruits with the staff today? I figured since your almost better than I am with that thing you might want to help me put on a sparring display."

Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena was talking to her with the request until the warrior stood and said, "So, how about it, Gabrielle? Meet me on the field in, say, two candlemarks?"

"Yea," Gabrielle said nodding her head, "Yea, I think I'd enjoy kicking your butt in front of my subjects." Gabrielle teased.

Xena walked away still laughing out loud. Forgive me, Gabrielle.

Once word got around that The Queen was going to conduct a sparring match with the Warrior Princess, it was no longer just the trainees on the practice field, practically the whole village turned out to watch. Ephiny's words were true, half of the nation drooled after the dark-haired warrior, but the other half lusted after their young Queen.

Both women had warmed up and stood facing one another within the sparring circle. Xena in her usual leathers and armor, while Gabrielle wore her Amazon leathers. It was a tiny bit unnerving for Xena to see Gabrielle in bracers and shoulder armor, her biceps showing the results of her nightly drills. The two women stepped to the center of the circle and lightly touched staffs. They both backed off into a fighting stance and the show had begun.

Xena decided to play aggressor, predictably attacking towards the Queens right side, knowing that had been her broken arm. Of course, the warrior knew what the rest of the village didn't...that Gabrielle's broken bones were probably twice as strong now as they ever were. Xena quickly realized the truth in her earlier words; Gabrielle was almost better than she was. The Queen followed Xena's lead through a complex series of hand over hand moves and suddenly the Queen was the aggressor. The warrior found herself moving backward, beginning to actually tire, as she had to leap over Gabrielle's numerous leg sweeps. Gods, Gabrielle's good!

Just when Gabrielle's confidence was building, Xena's battle cry rang out as she sprung into the air, somersaulting over the young woman's head. Most foes were surprised by this maneuver, however Gabrielle had fought in hundreds of battles, large and small, with the warrior. As Xena was in mid-air, Gabrielle grabbed the end of her staff and spun around. Just when the warrior was at her most vulnerable, as she was landing, Gabrielle's staff knocked the warrior's feet out from under her. The Queen watched, however, that as soon as Xena's back hit the ground, she used the momentum to flip right back onto her feet. Gods, Xena's good!

Of course this spin had left Gabrielle open and the warrior took the opportunity to tell her so.

"I could have had you there, My Queen...is that what you did to lose in the woods outside Pelios?"

It was only reflex that kept Gabrielle's movements going, when her mind froze. She couldn't have possibly said that.

Xena continued her jabs, but she lightened the force, knowing that Gabrielle was still trying to register what the warrior had said. " Is that outfit meant to distract me, or just tease me?"

Gabrielle swung wildly with that statement and pulled herself off balance. She nearly stopped, but Xena slowed with her, enough to keep her fighting.

"Xena, what are you trying to do?" Gabrielle pleaded.

"Win, My Queen...or don't you believe we all get what we deserve?" Xena momentarily felt as if she had overplayed her hand. Some Amazons at the perimeter of the circle eyed one another at the warrior's words, while the Royal Guard shifted nervously, not knowing if this was a part of the planned battle or not.

"Come on, Gabrielle...you're not going to try to tell me it wasn't your fault, are you? You're a tease and you know it." Xena purred.

Gabrielle stopped completely at that, her knuckles white as she tightly gripped her staff, struggling with her emotions.

"You must have done something..." Xena heard the sound of all six of the Royal Guards swords being freed from their scabbards. They knew there was something wrong now.

Ephiny could hear the exchange, but didn't immediately realize the truth of the matter. Once it dawned on her what Xena was doing, she recognized that the warrior was playing a very dangerous game. With a wave of her hand, Ephiny held back the Guard, and with one whispered sentence, she had Solari start to disperse the onlookers.

Gabrielle realized none of this, however. She was only cognizant of two things. The first was the anger that in seconds would no longer be able to be pushed down. The second was that Xena was the cause of that anger.

Come on, Gabrielle...you and I both know it's true...you must have done something."

"Noooo!" Gabrielle screamed.

So quick that Xena barely had time for the block, Gabrielle's staff came at her midsection. Left, right, left in rapid succession. She anticipated the next right to her ribs, but she committed herself too soon and Gabrielle went for the kill shot. The right that Xena had planned to block at her ribs swung high instead and connected with a sickening crack to the side of Xena's face. The warrior's head snapped back, and while the force of the blow would have broken a man's jaw, Xena dropped to one knee, the staff falling from her hands. The ground spun up at her and she thought she was about to lose the contents of her stomach. Her eyes closed, fighting down the nausea, she heard Gabrielle.

"It wasn't my fault! I didn't do anything wrong!" The young Queen screamed hysterically, raising her staff to finish the warrior.

Xena swallowed hard and pulled her eyes up to meet Gabrielle's. The warrior tried to muster all the love that was in her heart for her bard in that one look.

"That's right, Gabrielle...you didn't do anything wrong." She said softly.

It took a moment for Gabrielle to grasp the affirmation spoken, but when she did, Xena's words from long ago came back to her.

...When you least expect it, it'll hit you and knock you flat...unless you deal with it.

And so it had.

"I didn't do anything wrong..." Gabrielle whispered, more a statement than a question. She stared at the upraised staff in her grasp, letting it fall from her grip, sinking to her knees.

"No, Gabrielle...you most certainly did not."

The cries and sobs that were torn from the young Queen's throat sounded inhuman. Xena pulled the bard to her as Gabrielle clutched her friend as if to keep from falling into the pits of Tartaurus. Quite some time later, there were only two figures left on the practice field.

"Gabrielle," Xena whispered, stroking the young woman's hair.

Gabrielle looked up at the warrior through red, tear filled eyes.

Xena gave the bard a lopsided grin. "Would you stop hitting me in the head...it's starting to hurt."

And so the second barrier fell.

By the next morning the skin around Xena's right jaw was streaked blue and purple, from her ear to her chin. Gabrielle cringed when she looked at the warrior, realizing she was responsible for the nasty looking bruise. She had never felt so completely and utterly out of control as she had out on that field. She had "lost" it, but Xena kept telling her that was a good thing. She had to admit, she felt lighter somehow. It didn't stop the nightmares, though.

Xena noticed a change in Gabrielle immediately. The young woman had actually begun to look people in the eye. It didn't stop her nightmares, though. Secretly, Xena had hoped the nightmares and sleeplessness would stop instantly; she was wrong. Remembering the previous evening, Xena had felt Gabrielle's nightmare before she heard it. Following Gabrielle had been more of a challenge, since waves of dizziness assaulted Xena with every step. She was able to keep up, however, and soon they both slept the dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted.

"Xena, I'm not sure I can do this," Gabrielle hesitated just beyond the entrance to the food hut. This was going to be the first time she had seen any of the villagers since the incident the day before.

"You are Queen of the Amazon Nation, Gabrielle...you've done nothing to hang your head about. Besides..." the warrior continued, straightening her leathers and putting on a regal air, "...if I have to walk in there after I got my butt kicked by a short, blonde bard, the least you could do is back me up!"

Gabrielle laughed and looked at the warrior with affection borne of admiration and respect.

Xena held out her arm and whispered, "you don't have to touch me if it bothers you too much."

Disregarding the warrior's fear, the young Queen placed her hand over the warrior's bracer. "Onward, my Champion," she smiled nervously.

The hut was very nearly filled and, as the two women made their way through the large building, conversations started to dwindle and die. The room was almost completely silent by the time The Queen and her Champion had procured hot mugs of tea and taken a seat at the Queen's table. Ephiny jumped up from the Queen's seat as soon as she had seen Gabrielle walk into the building, moving to the other end of the table. Once Gabrielle was seated, Xena moved to the Queen's left and stood silently behind Eponin, claiming this first seat on the left as the Queen's Champion. Eponin silently moved down, unable to meet the warrior's gaze.

It seemed the village waited to see what would go on at the Queen's table before continuing with their own conversations. Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, Sartori, and Adia all sat motionless at the small table. It was Adia that broke the stall. Whether the Healer decided to throw caution to the wind and take her life into her hands or if she was just that naïve regarding the Warrior Princess no one ever knew.

"Warrior..." Adia leaned toward Xena, but her voice could easily be heard throughout the hut. She gazed at Xena with a mixture of sympathy and total innocence.

"Perhaps, you should learn to duck." She said very seriously.

Xena just sat there with a look of stunned amazement on her face. In fact the whole building held their breaths as the Warrior Princess icily stared down the stranger."

"Are you suicidal?" Xena hissed.

Then it started. Gabrielle tried to pretend she was clearing her throat, but her quiet laughter was unmistakable to Xena's ears. The warrior slowly turned her head to try an intimidating stare on her companion, but it was lost on the young woman. Gabrielle's eyes met Xena's and the Queen quickly moved her hand up to cover her smile. Eponin was next, snorting into her drink. Solari soon followed. Ephiny tried her best, but even biting her lip couldn't stifle her laughter. Sartori simply covered her hands with her face. All the while Adia kept the innocent, deadpan look trained on Xena. By this time even Gabrielle was laughing out loud.

"Who, in Tartaurus, are you?" Xena asked through clenched teeth, unable to think of a graceful way out of the situation.

It was at this point that Eponin started laughing so hard she rolled off her stool, which sent the rest of the table into peals of uncontrollable laughter. It was nervous laughter, to be sure, but Xena had only to take one long look at Gabrielle to realize she would let the world laugh at her if only to see that light in her bard's eyes. For Gabrielle, Xena would play the game.

"Don't laugh, Ep..." Xena said without looking down at the warrior, "tomorrow, you fight her!"

Eponin's laughter abruptly stopped. Xena took a drink from her mug, turned and winked at her bard, and a new round of laughter broke out at the uneasy look on the Amazon warrior's face.

The people in the hut didn't exactly know what happened at the Queen's table, or even what had happened on the practice field the day before, but they knew, or they felt, they were a close knit community once again.

"So...have you talked to Xena yet?" Eponin questioned.

"We talk all the time." Gabrielle answered. Continuing to shuffle through parchments set on the table before her.

"Yes, but do either of you ever listen?" frustration rang in the warrior's voice.

"Ep, what difference does it make anyway?" Gabrielle tossed a scroll down in frustration. "Even if Adia could heal my dreamscape, Xena just doesn't think of me that way!"

"Tell me you're not that thick! Xena is so in love with you, her body practically screams it every time she's near you."

"Yes, she loves me, but not the way you think. I'm like something she feels she has to protect and care for now." Gabrielle threw back.

"Because that's how a warrior treats the woman she loves!"

"I just don't see it." Gabrielle continued. "Frankly, I'm getting to the point where I'm not even sure she likes women. I mean, as many times as we've been here, with all these Amazons literally throwing themselves at her feet, have you ever seen Xena even look twice at any of them...ever?"

"Arrrggggghhh!" Eponin groaned, her hands covering her face. "Okay...here's a stretch. Have you ever thought that it might be because she's in--love--with--you?"

"You are making me crazy with this! Why are you and Ephiny so obsessed with my love life...or lack of?" Gabrielle began to pace across the floor of the Queen's hut.

"Because it's meant to be. Allright...let's look at this logically, then. Gabrielle, have you ever been propositioned by any of the Amazons here. You know, offered a cozy place to spend the evening...the afternoon, whatever?"

"Yes," Gabrielle answered slowly, not exactly sure where her friend was going with this.

"And???" Eponin looked at her expectantly.

"And, nothing... I never have."

"Why?" the warrior shot back.

"Because I'm in love--, Oh no...I see where this is going, now!"

Eponin stopped Gabrielle from walking away from her by dropping to her knees in front of the exasperated Queen.

"Do I have to get down on my knees and beg you to open your eyes?"

Gabrielle couldn't help laughing as the Amazon warrior grabbed her hand, pulling it to her chest, and pleaded again.

"Gabrielle, I'm begging you!"

It was at that moment that the door swung open and Xena walked into the hut. The warrior froze at the sight of Eponin on her knees, Gabrielle's hand in hers. Frankly, the only one who looked truly innocent was Gabrielle. Eponin knew how Xena felt about the Queen so she got a sort of "deer caught in your bow sights" look. Gabrielle wasn't quite sure, later, exactly how to describe the look Xena had on her face. It was a combination of fear, anger, and the distinct look someone gets just before they throw up all over your boots.

For some reason Gabrielle began to think this whole situation didn't look too good. She had to tug twice to pull her hand out of Eponin's solid grasp, the warrior still on her knees, swallowing hard at the sight of six feet of Warrior Princess. Eponin would swear later that Xena looks much larger when you're on your knees.

Gabrielle suddenly had the overwhelming urge to explain the situation to Xena.

"This isn't really what it looks like," she said, punching at Eponin's shoulder to get her to come to her senses and stand up.

"It looks like Eponin is in your hut on her knees," Xena commented dryly.

"Well, I guess it's exactly what it looks like then." Gabrielle laughed nervously, continuing to punch the Amazon warrior.

Eponin did try. She sent a very distinct message to her brain to tell her legs to move, but all she could do was stare up at Gabrielle and say weakly, "I don't think I can move."

"Oh, then let me help you," Xena hissed with a feral grin. She crossed the room, one hand grabbing the neck of the warrior's tunic and literally dragging Eponin out the door. With one arm she vaulted the stunned warrior over the porch rail to the ground below.

"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted.

"Gabrielle, don't let her kill me..." A stunned Eponin begged, lying on the ground.

Gabrielle rushed between the two warriors, her hands on Xena's upper arms. Eponin, by this time, had finally gotten to her feet, backing away.

"Gabrielle, move out of my way," Xena tried to move around the bard, but the young woman kept putting herself between Xena and Eponin.

"Ep, there's only one thing to do in a situation like this...run!" Gabrielle shouted as her arms slipped from Xena's.

Ephiny was one of the onlookers of the little show and had no idea what they were up to now.

"Gabrielle...is that Xena chasing Eponin?"

"Yea," the Queen said walking back toward her hut, shaking her head. "Don't ask...it's a long story."

Part II

Gabrielle had been lying on her bed for nearly a candlemark before she heard the familiar scuff of boots at the door. They stopped and stood there for the longest time until finally the door slowly opened and a raven-haired warrior peered tentatively inside.

Smiling, Gabrielle lifted herself up onto one elbow and looked at a very contrite warrior. "You didn't kill her, did you?"

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle...I had no right to--"

"It's, okay...just a misunderstanding, I'm sure." Gabrielle rubbed her temples.

"I guess I gave you that headache, huh? Want me to fix you something for it?"

"No, thanks," she smiled at the warrior. "I promised Adia I'd see her today...I'm sure a walk will clear it right up."

"I guess I'll go soak in a hot bath, then." Xena said. "I really am sorry, Gabrielle...I don't know what came over me."

"Trying to protect me maybe?" The bard said sweetly.

"Yea, I guess that's it." Xena answered, turning away before Gabrielle could see the truth in her eyes.

"Tori said this was a favorite spot of yours," Adia motioned for Gabrielle to sit down. They had walked down to the pond that Gabrielle found so much peace at.

"The first step is to be completely honest, Gabrielle. Not only with me, but also yourself. I know you've told me the gist of your nightmare, but I don't ask you to tell me about your dreams...I'd rather enter your dreamscape and see them for myself." The Healer said taking Gabrielle's hand. "You look a little nervous."

"I guess I am. It's one thing to tell someone about a nightmare and leave out the parts you find too embarrassing...or terrible to mention, it's another to know someone's there watching you." Gabrielle rubbed her sweat soaked palms on her skirt apprehensively.

"It won't be as bad as you think. This time when you enter your dreamscape, I'll be there, but you won't have to experience it as a victim. I want you to stand outside yourself and watch it with me. When you do this the only emotions you feel will be the ones you manufacture from watching someone else...do you feel like you can do that?"

The young queen nodded her head.

"Now I want you to lay back, concentrate your mind on the clouds. I want you to think about the person in your dreamscape...think about Xena."

It was easier to think of Xena without the violent images coming to mind, when the warrior wasn't in the same room with her. Gabrielle found herself smiling. Had Xena actually been jealous? Why else would she have gone ballistic on Eponin? Gods, Xena, how I love you!

Gabrielle tried to remember how long ago it had been. When had she fallen in love with the stoic warrior? For the life of her, she simply couldn't remember when it began. No momentous, earth shattering event or moment in time. It was as if she had always loved the dark warrior. It seemed so natural and right to the young bard. She had convinced herself that her feelings of love and desire, the unrequited love that burned in her, wouldn't matter, and she could just be happy having Xena love her as a friend. That's why the ache in her heart grew stronger everyday. She had once entertained the notion that maybe...just maybe, with a little help from the Gods, she could make Xena her own. Now, the images that Morpheus brought to her had effectively brainwashed her psyche into fearing the very thing she craved.

Adia felt Gabrielle begin to slip away from the mortal realm. Swiftly, before the bard could be claimed completely by Morpheus, the Healer gently grasped her hand, and closed her own eyes. Gabrielle's dreamscape had begun.


Xena lay back in one of the smaller pools in the bathhouse, steam rising around her long figure stretched across the length of the carved basin. I can't even believe I did that...talk about Gabrielle "losing" it. What could I have been thinking?!

I'm not even sure what it is about you anymore, Gabrielle. You feel like an obsession, but one that I want to go on forever. I find every damn thing you do or say absolutely captivating. If I could keep my hormones under control when I'm around you I'd be content to do nothing more than hold you and enjoy simply being with you for the rest of our lives. Gods, Gabrielle, how I love you!

For some time Adia lay on the outcrop of rocks next to Gabrielle, her hands clasped behind her head. The Healer looked over at the sleeping Queen. It had been so long since she slept without the nightmares that Adia didn't have the heart to wake her too soon. Xena would be the difficult one, though. If the warrior did indeed dream of Gabrielle, as Tori said, then she might be unwilling to allow the Queen to visit her dreamscape.

Gabrielle stretched and woke to a feeling she hadn't known in so long...contentment. She rubbed her eyes sleepily, turning toward the Healer.

"That was the most incredible experience," she said, shaking her head. "I don't even know how to describe it, but I feel so...so...I don't know, but it's better than I've felt in a long time."

Adia smiled and pulled Gabrielle up so they were sitting facing one another.

"I'm glad it wasn't too painful for you. I need to warn you right now that you may experience a more intense feeling when you dream tonight because of it, though. It seems that when we prolong the pain of a nightmare, it seems to double up on us later. I just wanted to let you know it's only temporary"

Gabrielle nodded at the Healers words.

Now, comes the hard part. "Gabrielle, would you like to ask Xena for her help or shall I?"

"Xena? I'm not sure I understand, help for what?"

"Gabrielle, when people suffer from unexplainable dreams or are plagued by images of strangers, then I can enter their dreamscape as their champion. Your dreams are filled with someone you love, even more, someone who is already your Champion. Xena will have to be the one to enter your dreamscape and help you. Consequently, you'll enter her dreamscape as part of the healing process." Adia finished quietly.

Gabrielle sat staring into her lap. "I can't let Xena see what's in my dreams...it wouldn't be fair, she's done nothing to cause this," the young woman hung her head in defeat. I was so close. "Besides, Xena would never let me see into her nightmares."

"Our dreams aren't always nightmares. They don't always have to be unpleasant." Adia said hopefully.

"With the Warrior Princess they are." Gabrielle said softly.

"Let me talk with her," Adia tried.

"No, please, Adia. Promise me you won't say anything to her about this. I'll talk to her."

"No, Gabrielle...it sounds like playing with fire!" Xena paced the room that was becoming smaller to the warrior as the moments went by. "You don't know what you're asking me!"

Gabrielle had not intended to even bring the dreamscape healing up. She had pretty much decided she would have to live with the way things were, but something in her kept remembering the feeling she had wakened with earlier. It was a peace in her heart that she hadn't had in so long. Just the memory of it caused her very soul to ache. Xena was a strong woman, an understanding friend. She acted as if she loved the bard. She would understand the images in Gabrielle's dreams weren't the bard's doing, just the aftermath of her attack. The young woman approached the subject and Xena had immediately gone on the defensive.

Xena couldn't believe what was transpiring. After all the pain the two women had already endured, the walking on eggshells, the sleepless nights...after almost having her damn jaw broke! Now, the Gods threw one more irony in the Warrior Princess' face. The only way to heal Gabrielle will be to expose her to thoughts and images Xena herself couldn't control.

They had been discussing, which sounded a lot more like arguing to passerby's, this subject for the better part of the evening. Gabrielle was growing tired and Xena just became more agitated, the pacing continuing. If Xena allowed Gabrielle to enter her dreamscape, the bard would be privy to the desirous images that met Xena when she closed her eyes. There would be no way to explain them away and Xena knew their friendship would never be the same, provided the young woman didn't simply send her packing first.

Gabrielle had watched the warrior pace back and forth till she was dizzy. She knew what Xena feared. The Destroyer of Nations had ten years worth of nightmares, brutality and horrors that Gabrielle's mind couldn't even begin to conjure up, buried in her dreamscape. She knew Xena did everything she could to keep that past away from the bard. That's why Gabrielle knew what Xena was going to say before the warrior spoke.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle...I just can't." Xena said without looking at her. The warrior turned and walked out into the warm evening air.

It was nearly dawn before Xena returned to the hut the two women shared. Gabrielle lay whimpering in her sleep as Xena came closer and realized the young woman was dreaming. The warrior winced when the bard cried out. Lighting a candle, Xena watched Gabrielle's face in the dim light. Usually her bard scarcely made a sound, so accustomed to the nightmares she had become, but tonight the bard thrashed and cried like the three-headed hound of Tartaurus was nipping at her heels. Xena hesitated to wake the young woman, but after half a candlemark of the tortured cries the warrior's heart felt as if it were being ripped from her chest.

"Gabrielle," Xena called over and over, not touching the bard for fear of frightening the young woman.

Gabrielle groaned as she pulled herself from the nightmare's embrace. "Gods..." she panted, looking up at Xena. Her eyes pulled back, but Xena had become used to that.

The early morning had a chill that accentuated the goose flesh on Gabrielle's sweat drenched figure. Xena pulled a blanket around the young woman's shoulders and moved to start a fire. The bard wrapped the blanket around her and noticed Xena was completely dressed. She must not have even been to bed yet! Shortly the warrior had two mugs of steaming tea in her hand and she motioned for Gabrielle to follow her. Xena sat on the top step of the porch, Gabrielle arranging herself on the next step, between the warrior's legs. Closeness with Xena came with a price for Gabrielle, but the young woman's nightmare fatigued body was too tired to respond. She settled her back against the warrior's chest and Xena tucked the blanket tightly around her.

Apollo's chariot rose into the sky, trailing great streaks of magenta and blue. The trees of the forest looked black, providing a stark foreground to the morning sky's brilliant color.

"Beautiful," Gabrielle softly breathed.

Yes...beautiful," Xena echoed, seeing only Gabrielle, craning her neck to watch the sunrise reflected in the bard's eyes.

Xena took advantage of the bard's drowsy state, wrapping her arms tightly around the young woman and kissing the top of her head. Once Gabrielle was sleeping soundly in the warrior's arms, she returned the Queen to her bed, the warrior heading off to find Adia's hut.


Now that Xena was sitting in front of the outspoken Healer, she didn't quite know what to say. Pounding on their door at sunrise wasn't the kindest thing to do, but once Xena had decided upon a course of action, she was unstoppable. It had taken seeing Gabrielle this morning, and the pain the young woman suffered with silently, to convince Xena she would do anything to heal her bard. Even if it meant losing her.

"Tell me what I need to do," she asked, her clear gaze resting on Adia.

"In theory, it's very simple. You and Gabrielle will enter the dreamscape at the same time. I can't say who will cross over into the other's first. The reoccurring dreams will be visited. When the dreamscape has ended, you both return to the mortal realm. You won't be changing the past...only your perception of it. The reality will still be that Gabrielle was raped. Her perception, the way she feels about it, may be as if she heard about it second-hand...or a very old memory."

"In theory," Xena repeated. "What about in reality?"

"It will be the hardest thing you've ever done, and neither one of you will be the same after. You can change anything about the outcome of the dream, just as if you were actually there. You have to want to though. If some part of the dream appeals to you, on any level, you will be unable to undo its existence. It's a hard thing to face your demons, warrior. It's an even harder one to allow someone you love to face them with you in a realm where you have no ability to hide your most personal desires and fears. I can't be Gabrielle's Champion that will fall to you. We'll start by entering your dreamscape, just as I did yesterday with Gabrielle."

"When do we start?" Xena said, telling herself she was doing this for Gabrielle.

"Right now," Adia answered.

The Healer instructed Xena to relax and lie back against the cushions and keep her eyes on the beam of sunlight that came sparkling through a stone crystal hanging in the window. Adia's soothing tones relaxed the warrior until her eyelids felt heavy and began to close.

"Now, tell me what you dream of, warrior..." Adia said softly.

"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered.

"Do these two ever get any sleep on their own," Adia mumbled to herself. As with Gabrielle, she had continued to let the warrior sleep after their session. I think I actually blushed! The tall healer mused, lingering on Xena's dreams. Gaia, will these two ever figure it out?

Xena said she had wanted to take care of this today, she didn't want Gabrielle to suffer through one more nightmare. So, by the time Xena woke, Adia was done mixing together the potent combination of herbs needed for their dreamscape session.

Xena sat up, watching the Healer move around the large hut. She avoided looking into Adia's eyes when the healer came and sat across from her.

"Would it help if I told you I'd seen racier dreams than yours?" But not many.

Xena simply shook her head. "Where do you come up with the things you say?" the warrior smiled sheepishly.

"It's late," Xena suddenly looked worried, "I didn't tell Gabrielle where I was going."

"It's allright. I sent word letting her know you were here...I hope you don't mind."

"No, thank you. Well..." Xena rose, "When should I return with Gabrielle?"

"Have your noon meal, then don't eat or drink anything after that. Come back here late this afternoon. And, Xena...it won't matter if you're wearing your armor or not. In the dreamscape whatever you need will be there." Adia watched the warrior walk away. Gabrielle was a lucky woman.

"Xena, are you sure about this?" Gabrielle asked tentatively.

"Absolutely," Xena looked back at the young woman.

The two sat on the floor of the Healer's hut, surrounded by cushions and furs, sipping the warm drink Adia had made for them. The Healer had given them all the instruction she could and revealed as much to each woman as she dared, before excusing herself from the hut. She explained that she would be back once they were asleep.

"It tastes like the tea you make for me when my cycle is so bad." Gabrielle commented.

"Raspberries..." Xena answered. "That's what the taste is," she explained in answer to the bard's puzzled look.



"I'm scared... Xena, I want you to know, whatever happens...whatever we see...I still...you need to know that--" the bard said faltering.

"Yea...me too," Xena said tenderly. "Hey, you getting sleepy?"

Gabrielle slowly nodded her head, realizing it was getting hard just to keep her eyes open.

"Come here..." Xena said, opening her arms, the familiar warmth of Gabrielle's body settling against her as the bard snuggled into the warrior's embrace.

Xena felt Gabrielle's breathing deepen, her own eyelids becoming leaden. Running her fingers through the already sleeping bard's hair, she whispered, "Know one thing, Gabrielle. No matter what you see, I do this because I love you."

Xena stood in a tent that reminded her a lot of her Warlord days. Near the center of the tent two women writhed on a pallet that threatened to collapse at any moment. A fully clothed warrior had begun ripping the garments from the smaller figure under her.

"...it doesn't have to be this way," the bard pleaded.

Gabrielle's pleading voice resounded in Xena's ears. Gabrielle?

"Don't pretend, Gabrielle...Isn't this what you wanted?"

"No, it's not what she wants!" Xena hissed grabbing the woman on top of her bard by her hair and tossing her off the prone figure underneath.

Xena grabbed the neck of the kneeling warrior's tunic, drawing her muscular arm back for a blow to the face. Gathering momentum for what she hoped would be a single bone-crunching blow.

The prostrate warrior flung her head back, shaking a wild mane of hair from her face with an evil grin. "What could you have possibly been thinking?" she drawled slowly.

Xena froze. She simply hadn't been prepared for this. It seemed as if candlemarks were rushing by, while the blood of rage dissipated from her body. Gabrielle's nightmare stood toe to toe with her. Her dreamscape attacker...was Xena!

In actuality it had only taken a heartbeat for the Warlord Xena to stand and reach out, quick as lightening, and wrap her fingers around her dreamscape twin's throat. Xena clutched at the fingers that held her in death's grip, unable to stop the crushing of her larynx.

"Xena!" Gabrielle cried out.

Both women's eyes turned in the bard's direction.

"Is she the best you could come up with, my pet?" Warlord Xena growled. "You'll have to do better than that. Gods, she's not even the best parts of me. She's simply what was left of me...a whimpering, weak, lovesick fool!" she finished, drawing back with her freehand and landing a blow that broke Xena's nose with it's force. The Warlord continued to rain blows on Xena, never releasing the hold she had around the warrior's throat.

"Please...No!" Gabrielle pleaded.

The Warlord released Xena, kicking out at her right leg and crushing her kneecap, just before the warrior slumped to the floor. "You know if she dies in here, she dies out there! They didn't tell you that did they?" she directed her comment toward Gabrielle.

"Come here!" The Warlord ordered Gabrielle to her.

Gabrielle hesitated and the Warlord pulled a dagger from her boot. Moving behind Xena's slumped, kneeling figure she jerked her head back and placed the blade to the warrior's throat.

Gabrielle moved towards the two figures, a blanket held up to cover her body.

"You get to decide, my pet. I keep you, and she lives. You resist me...this pathetic excuse for a warrior dies."

"Gab...rielle..." Xena tried to rise, but the Warlord struck the hilt of the dagger across her temple, opening a fresh cut, causing more blood to flow into the one eye that wasn't already swollen shut. Grabbing Xena's wrist, the Warlord pulled back sharply and the sound of snapping bones filled the air.

"Please! Please...don't hurt her anymore," Gabrielle tearfully begged. "I won't...I won't fight you." The bard hung her head, unable to look into Xena's face.

The Warlord unceremoniously dumped Xena's limp body on the floor. Roughly grabbing the bard, she pulled the blanket away from the young woman's naked body. Standing behind the bard, she turned the young woman toward Xena leading her by the hair.

"I'll tell you what...you've been so much fun, warrior...I'll let you watch me fuck her." The Warlord finished by jerking Gabrielle's face toward her, taking her mouth in a rough kiss, and biting her lower lip until a thin trickle of blood ran from the bard's mouth.

A sound like a tortured growl emanated from the back of Xena's throat as the Warlord threw the bard back onto the cot, propelling the weight of her body on top of her.

Xena crawled with what seemed like agonizing slowness to where she could see Gabrielle's face. Tears streamed from the bard's face.

I'm sorry, Gabrielle. Forgive me. I failed you...I couldn't even defeat myself. If I can't face you with the truth, how can I possibly face myself? The truth...the truth!

"Gabrielle," Xena whispered through blinding pain. "Gabrielle..."

The bard turned glazed eyes toward the sound of Xena's voice.

"Gabrielle...that's not me. You know I'd never do anything like that to you...that's not me. I'd never touch you that way...that's not me." Xena kept repeating the words over and over, her voice growing stronger in her mantra as she spoke the truth in her heart.

"That's not me... that's not me... that's not me... that's not me... I love you, Gabrielle."

The Warlord Xena howled in frustration as she felt her control of the bard's dreamscape start to slip. Then Gabrielle's mind was filled with the echoes of shrieking rage as the lies of her dreamscape were overcome by the warrior's truth.

Suddenly Xena found herself at the campsite where she had found Gabrielle that day...

Argo left the path before Xena even had to pull on her reins. "You know she's close too, don't you girl?" Xena dismounted and pulled the reins over the horse's head, leading the mare toward the campsite. Xena slowed her pace as she neared the camp. It seemed quiet, but since it was midmorning she assumed Gabrielle had only recently climbed out of her bedroll. The warrior allowed herself a smile, remembering the imaginative ways she had come up with to wake a sleepy bard. She's probably down by the stream she thought to herself as she entered the camp.

Xena pulled up as 3 roadmen were confronting Gabrielle, just on the edge of the campsite. The bard held her staff menacingly in front of her. Xena let loose of Argo's reins and made her way up behind the bard.

The young bard was anxious to be rid of these goons. Maybe she could talk her way out of this. "Look, I know you guys don't want trouble, and my friend will be back any minute...you might have heard of her...Xena?"

"Yesss," Xena practically purred in answer to her name.

Gabrielle whipped her body around to see the most wonderful sight on earth. "Xena!" She ran and wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist. "You don't know how glad I am to see you!"

Xena's heart nearly exploded out of her chest at the sweet agony of the dreamscape encounter. "And you, my bard, don't know how very happy I am to see you." Rewarding the bard with one of her sparkling smiles.

"Now, boys...what can I do for you?" The Warrior Princess drawled at the roadmen. It was like watching a comedy act as the men ran into each other in their haste to put as much distance between the warrior and themselves.

"Yea!" Gabrielle nodded her head, shouting after the would-be attackers. "Guess we showed them, huh?" she said turning toward her companion.

"Yea...I guess WE did." Xena smiled, then grabbed the bard in a tight bear hug.

"I missed you, Gabrielle." She whispered to the bard

It's over, isn't it? Xena saved me...I know she saved me because I don't have all those pictures in my mind anymore. Okay, so where in Tartaurus am I? I guess if I have no idea where I am, this must be Xena's dreamscape.

The woods looked familiar. It was dark, but the area looked like the same small lake Xena had found trying to look for a shortcut once. It was just a few leagues or so outside of Ambracia. Gabrielle slowly approached the same campsite she and Xena had used. There was a roaring fire going, but Gabrielle was immediately hit by the sounds of someone...no, two someone's, moaning and gasping for air.

Gabrielle would be able to place Xena's sounds anywhere, especially the distinct sounds of the warrior being pleasured. More than once she had almost embarrassed both Xena and herself by walking upon the warrior "taking matters into her own hands" so to speak.

Gabrielle peered into the campsite and sure enough the warrior lay entwined with another woman on a bedroll not too far from the campfire. It was hard for the bard to tell where one woman ended and the other began, their flesh being so entangled. Xena lay across the figure below her, her raven hair enshrouding the other's face and torso. The warrior straddled the smaller woman's thigh, rocking her hips forward in a slow, sensual grind.

A small gasp was drawn from the bard as she backed up into the shadows, not able to remove her eyes from the vision of Xena's flesh, slick with sweat and flushed with desire.

Gabrielle found her back against a large tree and she tilted her head up to the stars, pressing her crown into the rough wood. Shutting her eyes tight, she tried to push down the ache that began to develop in the pit of her stomach. It was the same feeling she'd had on the ship, on the way to Ithaca, while she lay in a hammock listening to the sounds of Xena sharing her passion with another. It was as if someone had reached in and pulled her heart from her chest, leaving nothing but a raw emptiness in its place. Her chest throbbed with the anguish of it.

Why couldn't it ever be me, Xena? Gabrielle's gaze was once again drawn to the women within the fire's gentle shadows.

"Oh, yesss," Xena moaned, throwing her head back.

Gabrielle felt the sharp intake of breath betray her. Xena's head thrown back in carnal rapture revealed the figure writhing in ecstasy beneath the warrior. The bard beheld her own image, wrapped in Xena's strong embrace.

A hiss of breath alerted Xena to the fact the two lovers were not alone. She raised her head and stared hard into the black shadows surrounding them. She knew who observed her, unseen, from the shadows. It was the woman she held in her arms. Not really this one. This woman that fulfilled her every whim and desire wasn't really her bard. Just as Gabrielle had created the dreamscape Warlord Xena, so had the warrior fabricated the bard she shared her passionate evenings with. You know all my secrets now, don't you Gabrielle? Will you still think I'm you're Champion when you wake?

Pressing herself further into the darkness, Gabrielle felt sure Xena was looking straight at her.

"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered into the dark.

"Yes, my love," the bard lying underneath Xena reached up to pull the warrior into a forceful kiss. Pushing the warrior backward, the bard ended up on top of the strong woman's body, her fingers drawing delicate circles around the warriors aching nipples. Finally, the bard let her fingertips brush softly across the erect nubs.

"Gods, yesss...Gabrielle." Xena knew she should stop this. She felt Gabrielle watching her from the shadows, but here, too, was Gabrielle and Xena became lost in the physical sensations. The warrior began to feel her blood run hot, drowning in the excitement, not only of the woman making love to her, but also of the knowledge that the real Gabrielle was only several feet away, unable to turn away.

Gabrielle had pulled back as far as she could go into the darkness of the forest, but she couldn't take her eyes off her warrior. She watched as the dreamscape Gabrielle brought the warrior's body to a fevered pitch of excitement, the bard's own nipples hardening in response to what she saw. She watched Xena breath deeply, closing her eyes. The dreamscape bard began pinching and pulling Xena's nipples, the warrior gasping, arching her body into the rough touch.

By the Gods, Xena! Am I the one...the one you dream of in passion? Is this what you want? Am I what you want?

"I'm going to take you." The twin said, looking down at the warrior, green eyes filled with burning desire.

"Yes...please," Xena moaned.

Gabrielle felt her own undergarments become thoroughly soaked as she saw her twin push three fingers deep inside Xena.

Gabrielle stayed there, hidden and covered in the darkness of the trees while the dreamscape bard took the warrior in such forceful and commanding ways such as the genuine bard had been afraid to do in her own fantasies. Gabrielle watched Xena's face intently as the warrior's last orgasm ripped through her satiated body. The real Gabrielle would never forget the look of absolute bliss on her warrior's face at that moment, trying to memorize it, as if she could burn it into her soul to keep forever.

They were love's eyes, weren't they, Xena? Oh, but why, my love, wouldn't you ever tell me?

Finally Adia's herbs began to lose their effectiveness and the dreams ended for both women. Their physical bodies continued to sleep in a dreamless state into the night, their minds at rest. The warrior continued to hold the bard until Apollo's chariot again made his way heavenward.

The healer's words to Xena had been true.

"It will be the hardest thing you've ever done, and neither one of you will be the same after.


Xena had been sitting there staring at Gabrielle for quite some time. The bard looked so peaceful, Xena knew her dreamscape must have been healed. The young woman, dark eyelashes fluttering slightly, had the corners of her mouth curled up in a slight smile. The warrior forced herself to turn away, wondering how she would explain, what she could say to account for her actions to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle woke lying on her side, wrapped in a soft fur. She didn't have to look long to find the warrior. Xena sat cross-legged next to the bard, absently biting her lip, staring down at her hands clasped loosely in her lap. The warrior raised her eyes when she heard Gabrielle stir.

Gabrielle saw faint vestiges of pain in the haunted blue gaze of her friend. Oh, Xena, your dream wasn't an expression of love for me at all, was it? You had no more control over in Morpheus' realm than I did, that's why you look as if your heart is breaking.

A hurt so intense she could scarcely keep it from showing passed through the bard. I was so close. Still, she loved this woman with all her heart, and desperately wanted to ease the warrior's fears. Holding in tears that threatened to burst through, Gabrielle got to her knees and threw her arms around Xena's neck.

"Thank you, Xena...I knew you'd save me."

Xena's stomach flipped over at the touch of Gabrielle's arms around her. For a brief moment she thought Gabrielle was about to kiss her. The bard's eyes took on the soft gaze of love and Xena could have sworn she saw her own reflection in the green depths. When Gabrielle spoke and thanked her, the warrior knew the truth. What about my dream, Gabrielle? I guess I have my answer, don't I? Guess you think if we don't mention it, it never happened.

Gabrielle could do nothing but cling to Xena and pray that she was getting her message across to the warrior. No matter what, they would always be there for each other. I love you Xena, and I'll take whatever you have to offer. If it's only as your friend, so be it.

Xena felt the bard's hold grow stronger and she silently thanked whatever Gods would listen for giving her Gabrielle back, whole and healthy, so the warrior wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller woman. I love you Gabrielle, and I'll take whatever you have to offer. If it's only as your friend, so be it.

The bard showed no signs of being averse to Xena's touch any longer so the warrior enfolded Gabrielle into her arms, holding the younger woman tightly against her chest. She rested her chin on the top of Gabrielle's head; rocking her and letting her purge the past dream images and feelings from her mind.

The two women took pleasure in the innocent touches the other gave. Inside, each of their hearts broke from the wanting of more. It was unexplainable, though, this love they had for one another. It gave them the ability to push down their own wants and desires just to be a part of the other's life.

And so the third barrier fell.

The change in the young Queen was immediate. Gabrielle's smile lit up the room when she entered, her gift for open communication, a benefit at the treaty table, but Xena reaped the largest harvest. The two women smiled and laughed and talked, never tiring of teasing the other. The love they shared was utterly obvious to all those around them. Older joined Amazon couples would shake their heads and look at one another, as if to say, "were we ever that young?"

Gabrielle continued to watch Xena's morning drill and sparring sessions, even joining in for some staff practice with the young recruits. It was one such morning that Ephiny decided this had gone on long enough. She thought if she was subtle enough, she could have the two women in bed before the week was up.

Xena walked over to where Ephiny lay in the grass and sprawled out next to the Regent. A line had started to form on the practice field of those warriors confident enough to test their strength and ability in a staff contest with the Queen. Gabrielle had taken to wearing her leathers while staying in the village and most of the Amazons agreed she was a sight to behold. Gabrielle began warming up, then competing in earnest with the first challenger.

"She is incredible!" Ephiny remarked, truly awed by the young woman,

"That she is," Xena agreed proudly.

"Look at that body! You're a lucky warrior."

"Eph, Gabrielle and I aren't--" Xena started to say, but was waved off by the Regent. "We're just friends." Xena finished.

"Yea, right... when you're not watching, the way she looks at you? Well, let's just say she looks like she's got a lot more than friendship on her mind, that's all I can say."

It seemed that everyday Ephiny found an opportunity to relate to Xena exactly how exciting this bard was and how absolutely desirable a woman she was. Ephiny could see she was getting underneath Xena's skin and the Regent was enjoying it.

Xena on the other hand was becoming more uncomfortable as the week went by. Is it just my imagination or are women openly beginning to stare at Gabrielle? Xena had been halfway successful at pushing down these desires after she and the bard had gone through the dreamscape healing. Now, she was finding it hard to stand next to Gabrielle without shivering. As far as the bard touching her, she simply turned into a six-foot puddle.

Evenings seemed to be the worst. The two now shared the same bed much as they'd done everywhere they'd gone before Gabrielle's attack. The night of their dreamscape adventure Gabrielle quietly asked Xena if she would hold her through the night, the warrior was only too happy to comply. If either one of them wanted to change the sleeping arrangement after that, they didn't mention it. If Xena felt her desires ready to burst through, she would use some of her meditative techniques to hide those feelings deep inside. If this was all the warrior could have, she intended to relish in the love and friendship her bard was offering. Even though by morning's arrival Gabrielle seemed to be using most of Xena's body as a pillow. If there had ever been a time the warrior had not found this thoroughly enjoyable, she couldn't think of it now.

Of course, now it was agony! It was the height of summer and the nights remained warm. Combined with the heat radiating from Xena's body, the warrior was practically suffocating. To top it off, complaining that she was too hot, two nights ago Gabrielle had gone to bed nude, only pulling up a thin sheet to cover herself. All Xena could do was to sleep on top of the covers with her shift on, praying she would die in her sleep. It would be the only way to effectively end her torture.

Ephiny knew another way to end the warrior's torture and as soon as she had walked away from the practice field that day, she headed toward the council chamber to await Gabrielle's arrival. Once Gabrielle had bathed and redressed, she arrived to find Ephiny waiting to begin their day with more than an amused look on her face. Soon the Regent began to work on her Queen.

While appealing to the physical side of their relationship was rather easy to drive Xena to the brink, another tactic was needed for Gabrielle. Ephiny knew that Gabrielle was young, inexperienced, and a hopeless romantic. Getting her Queen hot and bothered for the Warrior Princess was going to be some game of words. Where as Xena would probably bolt before acting on her feelings, Ephiny had a feeling there was more to the bard than met the eye, and if pushed far enough, for long enough, she would make the move on a very bewildered warrior.

"You looked pretty sharp out there today, my Queen." Ephiny flattered.

"Thanks Eph...so what are we up to today?"

"Nothing much," the Regent said. "Mostly getting ready for the Harvest Festival, it's at the end of the week."

"Ah, yea...I'm kind of nervous. You know presiding over my first festival as 'official' Queen." Gabrielle answered nervously.

"You'll do fine, besides it's the kind of party where not a lot is required of you. You do have to wear Queen's garb, though."

"Can't I wear the leathers I usually do?"

"Nope...it's tradition." Ephiny lied. "I'm having the seamstress work on your outfit now...she'll bring it by for you later this week." Like two heartbeats before the party so you don't back out!

Ephiny did agonize over this next part for quite a while. She really didn't see any way around it so she was just going to have to go ahead and ask Gabrielle to forgive her for lying later. Ephiny tried to put a preoccupied, worried look on her face.

"Eph, is something bothering you?" Gabrielle asked.

"Actually, yea. I've got a problem and it's kind of embarrassing. You're the only person I can think of to talk to who wouldn't laugh at me."

"Eph, you've suffered through all my problems with me...what are friends for? So what's this thing you can't tell anyone else," Gabrielle asked understandingly.

"I'm in love...with a warrior. Except I don't know if she feels the same."

"Why don't you just ask her? You've never seemed to be shy in that regard. Is it someone I know?" Gabrielle questioned.

Well, that's the pot calling the kettle black! "I don't want to say who it is yet...till I know for sure how she feels. It could jinx it or something and I don't want to look like an idiot. It's just that she's really special to me, Gabrielle, and I'd kind of like to know she feels at least something for me before I make a fool out of myself. You're the bard...what can you come up that's subtle and won't give me away to soon."

Ephiny swore to Artemis she would go to the temple and make two offerings a day if she would forgive her for such shameful lies to her Chosen. Ephiny knew that being the bard and the romantic she was, Gabrielle could think up a barrel full of little ways to encourage a reluctant warrior's heart.

Gabrielle sat pursing her lips, deep in thought. Suddenly she brightened.

"Okay, Eph...this one's sure-fire. When you're talking, at some point place your hand on top of her thigh. Low enough so she won't suspect anything, but high enough so that it definitely gets her thinking. If she thinks of you only as a friend she won't blink an eye, just a friendly gesture, you know? If she interested in you it should be enough to definitely get her juices going." Gabrielle finished, with a satisfied smile.

"I never knew you were so devious, My Queen," the Regent smiled devilishly. Xena why do I suddenly feel sorry for you?

Of course the more Gabrielle thought of the advice she had given her friend, the more she wondered if it would actually work. What she read in scrolls was so different from real life sometimes. Of course, when Gabrielle thought about trying her own advice out on somebody the only person around was a certain Warrior Princess. This could still work. At least I'll get to see the negative reaction and Ephiny can tell me how it worked on someone interested in her.

Xena was at the table in their hut, scrolls containing maps spread out in front of her. She was taking note of some new acquisitions the Amazons had made recently. Gabrielle pulled up a seat next to her and began asking the warrior questions about Greece's city-states. Xena loved to teach and seemed thrilled the bard was finally taking an interest in the country around her. Gabrielle launched into a story about their last trip to Athens and Xena suddenly felt the bard's hand on her thigh. The warrior nearly leapt straight up into the air, knocking her chair over, as her body became airborne. Gabrielle just sat there with her mouth open.

"Your...your h-hand," Xena stammered. Sweet Mother of Zeus! Think of something, warrior and do it quick! "It was ice cold," Xena said with a lopsided grin.

Gabrielle crossed to where Xena stood, shivering slightly and gently rubbed the warriors upper arms, which caused Xena to shiver all the more.

"Are you sure you're not coming down with something? You feel awfully warm." Gabrielle asked with concern.

Six-foot puddle time, Xena thought to herself.

"I'm okay, really. Um, Gabrielle...I forgot...I better go check on Argo, she wasn't exactly herself today. I'll be back in a bit."

"Do you want me to go with you?" Gabrielle asked, moving toward the warrior.

"No!" Xena said a little more forcefully than she intended. "I mean, there's no sense in both of us smelling like the stable is there?" she smiled at the bard before practically running through the door.

All Gabrielle could do was stare at Xena's hastily retreating figure, wondering what had just happened.

Of course, the Regent knew Gabrielle would try out her theory on Xena. Being a bard, Gabrielle couldn't help but totally immerse herself in the action of her stories. The Regent also knew what would happen once the Queen tried out her little ploy on the warrior...she wasn't disappointed. The next day Gabrielle could barely manage to get village business out of the way before she and Ephiny started talking.

"It worked," was all the Regent would say.

"How do you know?" Gabrielle tried not to appear too inquisitive.

"I put my hand on her thigh, you know...talking, totally casual. I swear, the woman almost leapt into the lake! Her whole body felt like it was on fire."

The whole time Ephiny was talking, Gabrielle's eyes were getting wider and wider.

And so the week started. Everyday Gabrielle would give advice to Ephiny and every night she would drive her warrior into near fits. Ephiny nearly lost her composure completely when she saw Xena, grumpily headed to the practice field before dawn one morning, heavy black circles under the warrior's eyes. The night before had been when Gabrielle had suggested gauging her potential partner's reaction to Ephiny's nude body in the baths. Since nothing Gabrielle said could entice Xena into the baths with her, she thought up the sleeping nude bit.

Gabrielle smiled to herself that night as she rolled away from Xena to sleep. She was beginning to find it a little more than exciting driving Xena to distraction. A game no longer, the bard became more certain with each day that her warrior indeed had feelings for her. She just couldn't figure out why Xena wouldn't say anything. The bard had pulled the sheet over her shoulder, feigning sleep, successfully exposing her backside to Xena's eyes. She smiled slightly upon hearing the warrior's groan.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, your new outfit is at Artemis' temple. I figured since that's where the ceremony starts you may as well get dressed there." Ephiny couldn't wait to see the Warrior Princess' face when Gabrielle made her walk from the temple to the village entrance.

"I'm going for it tonight, Gabrielle." Ephiny stated emphatically.

"You sure it's not too soon," Gabrielle asked nervously.

"Gabrielle, I think if I wait any longer it just may kill her!"

Ephiny grinned over at her friend. The days work had been completed and they sat in the council chambers sharing a cup of wine. Tonight was the Festival and with Amazon wine being what it was and Gabrielle's costume looking like it did, Ephiny figured if the warrior and her bard didn't connect tonight, they never would.

"Ephiny..." Gabrielle over at the Regent seriously. "What if she tells you that she doesn't feel the same way?"

Ephiny smiled at her young friend who was preparing to answer her heart's call. "Gabrielle, I'd bet my life she won't say that, but there is always that chance."

"Could you still be friends? I mean, if she rejected you." The Queen asked with trepidation.

"I guess it depends on how strong our friendship is in the first place." The Regent answered.

"And if she tries to hide her true feelings from you?"

"Gabrielle, did you know that to become a great leader you have to be able to read between the scroll lines?" The Regent said.

"Like being able to tell if someone is lying," Gabrielle added.

"In a way...but then again it's more than that. You happen to be a great negotiator, have I ever told you that? Remember those treaties you hammered out with Therasia last season? I mean, you've got a few things going for you right off. Your youth and size tend to lull others into a false sense of security. They don't think a girl as sweet and charming as you would ever try to pull one over on them. Mostly, though...it's because you seem to know when you have them over a barrel and when you don't. It's always seemed as if you knew exactly how to get just one more concession out of them without driving them from the bargaining table." Ephiny paused to sip from her cup of wine.

"Gabrielle, you have the gift of being able to read people in situations like those. When it comes to people you don't know, you seem to have an innate ability for knowing when they're trying to hide something from you. And that gift, just might turn you into the Queen that you are by right of caste," Ephiny finished, swallowing the remaining wine in one gulp.

"Might--make me a Queen?" Gabrielle asked quietly.

"My dear sister," Ephiny smiled as she used the Amazon term of endearment, "When you are able to read your friends thoughts as easily as your enemies...then you will become a Queen."

"I guess the naïve farm girl in me doesn't think my friends would lie to me," Gabrielle responded with a half-hearted grin.

"Not all lies are bad," Ephiny smiled at the young woman who had come to mean so much to her. "Remember when Eponin traded for those atrocious red boots...then she asked you what you thought of them?"

Gabrielle tried to stifle a laugh without success. "Well...she really seemed like she liked them...and. Well...I, uhm...I didn't want to hurt her feelings--"

"So you lied to her."

"Okay, okay...I get your point. There are times when friends don't tell you the whole truth to spare your feelings."

"There are all kinds of reasons for it, Gabrielle. We want to spare the people we care about from hurt and pain, or we have some idea about misplaced honor, or we simply do it out of love."

Ephiny watched Gabrielle's face and wondered if the young Queen grasped the notion of what she was really trying to say. The Regent was trying hard not to be obvious, better to have the young woman realize the truth in the words for herself. If she could just get Gabrielle to not only hear Xena speak, but to listen to what the warrior was telling her.

" Mostly we do it out of love, but for whatever reason we do it, we tend to take away their freedom of choice. We don't give them all the information and trust them to make their own decisions. That's the unfair part. Gabrielle, sometimes what people are not saying to you is every bit as important as what they are."

Well, I've gone as far as I dare. You're a smart girl, Gabrielle, you figure out the rest.

The Queen Regent stood and squeezed her friend's shoulder before she walked from the hut, leaving Gabrielle to ponder the immensity, and the double meaning, of the Regent's words.

Xena soaked for a good long time in a steaming bath. Of course, the same warm water that soothed her aching muscles was the same warm wetness that started her thinking of Gabrielle. Then again, just about everything made her think of Gabrielle that way lately. If she didn't know Gabrielle so well she would have sworn the bard was playing games with her.

Gabrielle went to the temple earlier for the ritual part of the festival. The young Queen would have to make a sacrifice of thanks to Artemis, and then also to Persephone and Demeter in thanks for a good Harvest. Ceremonial bathing, dressing. Gods...why did I have to think about those!

Xena left the baths and returned to their hut. She cleaned and polished her leathers, adjusting the unfamiliar cloak on her shoulder armor. More like a cape, it was the same blue as Xena's eyes with white trim. Its color indicated Xena's status as the Queen's Champion.

Damn hot out for leathers and a cloak! She dressed in her full attire for Gabrielle. This was her bard's first official ceremony as Queen and the young woman was taking it quite seriously.

"Ephiny, are you insane! I can't wear this...I mean, look at it!" Gabrielle was beside herself, pacing the length of the room wrapped in a towel.

"Gabrielle, it's a tradition. Besides, we're all women here," Ephiny said with a smile.

"AMAZON WOMEN!" the Queen shouted.

"What will Xena think when she sees me?" Gabrielle looked horrified.

I can tell you exactly what she'll think. Ephiny could barely restrain herself from uttering this last thought aloud.

Suddenly Gabrielle had the exact same thought as her Regent.

Xena was on her third cup of ale when the drums sounded the approach of the Queen, her Regent, and the Royal Guard as they made their way from the Temple of Artemis to the center of the village. Gabrielle would carry in a flame, a gift from Artemis, light the bonfire, and make the first toast. That's when the ale would go by the wayside in exchange for the legendary Amazon wine. Even Xena could never resist the brew. Seeing as it would be a quarter of a candlemark before the Queen's group arrived, Eponin and Xena decided to enjoy another ale.

Figuring they still had time for one more quick drink, the two warriors grabbed a full pitcher and Xena prepared to fill their mugs.

"Say when," Xena began to pour as the drums drew close. Xena had her back to the approaching ensemble, but the look on Eponin's face caused her to turn to watch the procession. The warrior opened her mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out.

"When...Xena, when, when!" Eponin was shouting, pulling her hand away from the overflowing mug.

Xena caught herself, but not before she had dumped half the contents of the pitcher onto the table. Xena simply couldn't believe it. She was awe struck not only by Gabrielle's obvious lack of modesty, but mostly from the Queen's beauty.

Gabrielle led the procession with Ephiny a step or two behind her. Six members of the Royal Guard surrounded the two women, the musicians trailing along. All of the women wore their traditional ceremonial masks, but Xena would know Gabrielle's body anywhere, especially since she's been taking long looks at it the last couple of nights. The young Queen had her hair braided back from her face and her Amazon finest adorned her neck and wrists, but it was the outfit, or rather lack of, that had hearts stopping within the village. Gabrielle's skirt consisted of nothing more than long, sweeping loincloths, held together with leather ties, fastened at each hip. The front and back loincloths reached the ground and were beautiful fawn leather. The undergarment was nothing more than thong, tied at each hip with the loincloth, giving the distinct appearance that the young woman was wearing nothing underneath. Gabrielle's top was little more than a wide strip of the same colored leather as the loincloth. It barely covered her breasts, tying in the back and leaving little to the imagination.

Oh, but Xena's imagination was working! She quickly felt herself working toward that puddle state again. Then of course she began to look at the other women looking at HER bard.

"Quit looking at her that way!" she hissed at Eponin.

"But... just look at her." The Amazon warrior stammered.

Xena realized she was on, but glared at Eponin as she made her way to where the procession had stopped in front of the bonfire. The warrior grabbed a bow and notched an arrow. Leaning toward Gabrielle she saw the bard's sparkling emerald eyes behind her Queen's mask. Gabrielle lit the arrow and Xena let it sail into the wood stacked high before them.

The warrior was barely conscious of the toast the Queen made or of holding out an arm to lead Gabrielle to the dais where she would have to sit at her throne, accepting greetings for at least a little while before mingling with the rest of the Amazons. Xena became acutely aware of her surroundings, however once Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's arm. Unlike the last time the warrior had led her into the food hut this way, Gabrielle placed her hand, not on Xena's bracer, but around the warm skin of her upper arm. Yep, six-foot puddle time.

Gabrielle removed her mask once she was seated and profoundly enjoyed the effect she was having on her warrior. Although there was hardly a woman in the village that had not been similarly affected by the young Queen, Gabrielle took no notice of them. The young Queen sat, regal and beautiful, sipping a cup of wine.

Xena stood slightly behind and to the left of the Queen's throne as the Queen's Champion. It wasn't a formal occasion and Xena didn't exactly have to be in this traditional position, but by the looks Gabrielle was receiving from some of the warriors, Xena wouldn't have set foot off that dais if her life depended upon it. She stood straight and unmoving, her arms folded across her chest. More than a few women would have dearly loved the company of their Queen for the evening, but few were willing to defy the Warrior Princess to get it. One brave warrior got the closest, but even she yielded, looking behind the beautiful young Queen, at Xena, shooting a withering 'back off' glance in her direction.

The end of the evening couldn't come too soon for Xena, but it eventually did. The warrior couldn't have been prouder or more in love with Gabrielle as she had been this evening, but damn, if the bard wasn't turning her inside out, lately.

If Xena thought her troubles were over for the night, she was mistaken. If Gabrielle had anything to do with it, the warrior's problems were just beginning.

"Let me help you with that," Gabrielle pushed Xena's hands aside and began to remove the warrior's armor. The bard's fingers could have made quick work of the familiar task, but she chose to linger, occasionally resting her fingers on Xena's leathers. Gabrielle kept her touch innocent, but she could see a flush creeping up the tanned body of the warrior. When the bard reached up, she leaned into Xena to remove her upper arm protectors. Gabrielle thought she detected a faint gasp from the warrior as their breasts pressed into each other.

The truth of the matter was that Xena was having a hard time just remembering to breathe. By the time Gabrielle was finished with her gentle seduction of the warrior's senses, Xena knew if she didn't put some distance between her and the bard, she would ravish the young woman on the spot.

Gabrielle began to sense Xena spiraling toward the brink and as quickly as she had started, the young Queen turned away and began stripping off her own clothes, little as they were. By the time Xena's brain registered the fact that Gabrielle had moved away from her, the bard had removed the loincloth and turned her back toward Xena.

"Xena, can you untie this for me, I can't reach the knot," the bard motioned toward the cloth that was wrapped around her top.

Xena, however, had been caught up in the exquisite view she was being rewarded with. Gabrielle's undergarment had indeed been a thong. With only a small piece of leather covering the golden patch of hair between her legs, the thong completely exposing the bard's shapely backside.

The warrior came to her senses, or as close as she could under the circumstances, and raised trembling hands to untie the knot. Gabrielle had lifted her arms, holding her hair up out of the way. The sleek, firm muscles of the bard's back rippled as she raised her arms causing the taller woman to breath especially hard.

Gabrielle felt Xena's warm breath on her neck and it caused her to shiver, the sensation sending a definite jolt to her center. Gods, if the woman wants me, why doesn't she just take me!

Xena's somewhat shaky fingers worked slowly; desperately afraid the cloth would simply fall, exposing the treasures hidden beneath, while at the same time desperately afraid it wouldn't.

It did.

Gabrielle bent over to pick up the fallen leather, completely aware of the fact that Xena still stood inches behind her.

Xena's eyes nearly popped out of her skull, she backed up so fast she ran into the table. Gabrielle turned to see what had happened, the picture of innocence...naked innocence, Xena thought.

The warrior had continued to move backward until she fell over the nearest chair.

"Xena, are you allright?" Gabrielle asked with concern.

"I think I need some air..." and with that Xena bolted from the hut.

Gabrielle smiled at the closed door, knowing Xena would be back. The bard's actions this evening had guaranteed that, like a moth to a flame, the warrior would come back to their hut tonight. Gabrielle hoped she would be ready.

Xena ran to the other end of the village, picking up speed when she hit the woods. She pulled up when her lungs began to burn and leaned heavily into the nearest tree, her forehead resting on a forearm glistening with sweat. Listening for sentries, she slipped her hand inside her now soaked breeches, through the dampened curls, and began to stroke herself. She had barely begun to touch herself before her orgasm took her, standing there against the tree.

Sweet ever-loving Gods!

Scarcely heartbeats had gone by before she began moving her hand again. She thrust her hand against herself, her hips rocking against air, until another climax rolled through her body. The physical release was definitely that, but it did little to satiate her. As her breathing calmed she knew the truth of the matter. Pleasuring herself would give her temporary release, but it would do little to quench her thirst, only one thing could do that.

The warrior's need was Gabrielle...her total release would be Gabrielle, the only thing that could assuage her passions was the one thing she would never allow herself to have.

Xena silently moved closer to the Queen's hut and saw Gabrielle still awake. The young woman was seated at the table, sipping pensively on a cup of wine, a far away look in her eyes.

The warrior continued on toward the baths, perhaps if she had a good long bath, Gabrielle would be sound asleep by the time she got back.

Xena sat on the edge of the bed that she and Gabrielle shared. The bard lay on her back sleeping silently as the warrior brushed away a stray lock of honey colored hair from the young woman's face. The warrior sat with one foot on the floor and her other tucked underneath her, a linen shift had replaced her leathers, her hair still damp from her recent bath. The room became filled with the clean damp scent of the warrior; jasmine, leather, and Gabrielle's favorite...cinnamon. The bard could never figure that one out until Xena confided that it was in the thick, soapy liquid the warrior used to wash her hair. Xena also told Gabrielle the only reason the bard liked it so much was because it reminded her of food. Xena smiled slightly at the memory.

Oh, Gabrielle, I love you so much. I know you can never return it the way I dream of, but I also know you love me, my bard, even if it's only in friendship. After all you went through, having my touch cause you so much pain, you still wanted me near, still wanted my friendship.

Xena shook her head more in awe than sadness.

I'll never completely understand the light in you, but I thank any Gods who listen for the chance at being a part of your life's journey, for the love you are able to show me. I can't live without you, Gabrielle. No matter what it takes, my bard, I will never give into my desires...I'll never ruin what we have with my body's selfish lusts.

Tears brimmed in the warrior's eyes and she quickly pushed them back. She didn't want sadness over her decision. She wanted to be happy and revel in the love and affection her bard was able to give. She vowed to give up some of her gruff warrior ways to see to it that Gabrielle's happiness always came first. What the warrior didn't realize was that, in her heart, she had already been doing just that.

The warrior immediately lifted her head, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She tilted her head slightly, attempting to listen for any tell tale sounds from the intruder. Ares? He had been suspiciously absent as of late. No, Xena knew too well the prickling sensation than ran through her when the God of War was near. Definitely a God, but who? Does it matter?

"Thank You," the warrior whispered faintly. Xena, Warrior Princes, the woman who, at best, felt contempt for the petty Gods of Greece, knowing that they rarely did anything in the mortal realm that wasn't for their own personal amusement or satisfaction, was keeping her promise. She knew she would drop to her knees and prostrate herself before any God just to keep the woman beside her in her life. She would do anything.

Two shimmering spectral images stood side by side in the shadows of the Amazon Queen's hut. Artemis rolled her eyes when she looked over at her sister. The goddess Aphrodite had tears streaming from her eyes and a saccharine smile plastered to her face. Artemis turned to gaze at the warrior, who in turn gazed lovingly at the goddess' chosen, lying asleep on the bed. The patron goddess of the Amazon's felt tears in her eyes as well, watching two women so much in love, so willing to give up everything for the other. Her tears fell in earnest when she heard the warrior's whisper of thanks.

Aphrodite raised a hand and Artemis felt the energy increase around them.

"You mustn't interfere," she whispered.

"I'm not interfering...just waking up the Gabster. That girl of yours could sleep through the forces of Tartaurus storming Mt. Olympus!" The goddess of love exclaimed.

The two Gods disappeared without a sound.

Gabrielle felt as though she was being pulled from a dream that she couldn't seem to remember. She hadn't wanted to fall asleep, but a couple cups of wine had made for a hard time keeping vigil for her warrior. She quickly opened her eyes and was startled to see a figure sitting next to her. Realizing it was Xena, she became more concerned than frightened.

"Xena, are you allright?"

Xena was taken off guard with the speed with which Gabrielle awoke. One moment she was listening to the sounds of her bard dreaming, the next heartbeat Gabrielle was sitting up facing her. Only one drawback to this situation. When Gabrielle sat up, the sheet fell away from her nude body, exposing the Warrior Princess to what she had been fighting against all evening. Xena's blue eyes widen instinctively at the sight.

"Xena...are you okay? Are you ill?" Gabrielle questioned, worry in her voice. The Queen thought she saw a flush rise to Xena's cheeks, the moonlight bathing the hut in it's light. As soon as Gabrielle felt the cool night air on her body she realized what had caused the reaction in her beautiful warrior.

Gabrielle felt small flames of desire slowly begin to burn their way through her body. She knew she couldn't wait any longer. If Xena truly wanted her and was simply fighting against the feeling to protect the bard, Gabrielle had no intention of letting it go on a minute longer. She had visited her warrior's dreamscape. She knew what Xena wanted, even if the warrior wouldn't admit it, even to herself.

Tenderly Gabrielle reached out a hand and touched Xena's cheek with soft fingers, pushing to one side the damp locks of ebony hair that clung to the warrior's face.

"I didn't mean to scare you..." the warrior drifted off.

"It's allright. I'm just a little worried. Are you sure you feel okay?" Gabrielle never stopped stroking the warrior's face. Tender but innocent touches that couldn't be misconstrued as anything else.

"Sure, I feel fine," Xena said with a catch in her voice. She tried to make the crack in her voice sound like she had meant to clear her throat. Gabrielle's touch was so soft, so refreshingly innocent, but the warrior was becoming unnerved and the resolve she had sworn to moments ago began to fade.

"Gabrielle, you should stop..." the warrior whispered huskily.

Gabrielle began to speak and all Xena could do was watch the young woman's sensuous lips move, the warrior's hands rigidly clenched at her sides. She could hear the words the bard spoke, but all Xena could really concentrate on was the feeling of Gabrielle's fingers on her skin. It was pleasure combined with pain, the bard's touch. Xena's skin tingled in delight and yet burned like fire wherever Gabrielle caressed her.

"I'm not sure why you want me to stop...are you protecting me again?"

Xena could not answer the bard to save her own life and Gabrielle never stopped her assault on the warrior's heated skin. The bard felt her own body betray her as a warm trickle of wetness made it's way between her legs. She kept her touches innocuous and feather-light, knowing the sensation was causing explosions of desire within the warrior. Gabrielle's hand floated delicately across the warrior's jaw and across her chin, fingers rising up to brush lightly across Xena lips. She ran her hand through the still damp raven locks and brought her index finger down along the length of the warrior's ear and across her earlobe.

"Ephiny and I had a very interesting talk this afternoon, shall I tell you about it?" Gabrielle continued.

Xena parted her lips to speak and realized her voice would only betray her. Caught in the spell of Gabrielle's voice and her exquisite touch, the warrior could only nod her head in assent.

"We talked about why the people who care about us keep secrets from us; why they hide their true feelings and emotions. Ephiny said it was either from their trying to protect us, misplaced honor...or love."

Gabrielle's hand had continued its journey. She rested it momentarily on Xena's jaw, cupping the flesh lovingly. Once more those fingers moved across the warrior's jaw line, to her chin and started their descent down her neck, resting inside the cleavage where the cloth of the warrior's shift began.

Xena's whole body began to tremble slightly, warring against her body's passions. Gabrielle slid her whole hand up and ran her index finger back and forth across the taller woman's collarbone. Moving toward the warrior's shoulder, she deftly slid the strap of Xena's shift off her shoulder, the material falling away from the warrior's body, exposing most of her breast.

Xena was breathing hard by now, the coolness of the night air having little to do with the uncovered nipple that stood at attention begging for the bard's fiery touch. Her hands clenched and unclenched into the sheet as she begged her body to fight the effects of Gabrielle's caress.

"I guess I want to know what your reason is, Xena," Gabrielle whispered the warrior's name. "What do you hide from me...and why?" Gabrielle finished by lightly touching the uppermost swell of Xena's exposed breast, but nothing more than would have been available had the shift not fallen.

Xena dropped her head, no longer able to watch Gabrielle's lips as she spoke, or look into the sparkling green eyes that held sparks of something Xena had never seen there before.

"Gods, Gabrielle...you don't even know what you're doing to me." Xena muttered in what sounded like utter defeat.

Gabrielle saw her chance as she steeled her nerves for what she would do next. The bard moved her hand under Xena's chin and tilted it upward; the bard's eyes locking on the blue of Xena's. Gabrielle had intended to kiss the warrior, but again her own body betrayed her by demanding more. The young woman moved her body closer to Xena's and straddled the warrior's thigh, the one that had a leg tucked underneath. Gabrielle's arms encircled the warrior's neck and she pulled herself toward the other woman, her desire coating Xena's thigh as she slid closer to the warrior. She moved her lips to Xena's ear and whispered.

"Oh, but I do know what I'm doing to you, my love...I do," she said as her tongue ran the length of Xena's ear, taking the earlobe in her mouth and sucking gently.

"Good Gods!" Xena moaned, pulling Gabrielle away, holding her at arms length. Xena was close to drowning in the depths of green in front of her. This woman, her bestfriend, the woman she would give her life for, do anything for. Xena saw something new in those eyes. She saw want...need...and, finally


"Gabrielle, is this...is this what you really want...am I what you really want?" Xena whispered falteringly, almost afraid to hear her bard's answer.

Gabrielle said the only words she knew would spur the warrior on...the words the dreamscape Gabrielle used night after night in the warrior's dreams.

"Please, Xena...don't stop."

Gabrielle was right about how it would affect the warrior.

Xena wrapped strong arms around the bard's waist and pulled the young woman to her, their bodies pressing tightly together. With one kiss, the warrior imparted the depth of her love to the young Queen. Their lips pressed together, soft flesh meeting soft flesh, until passion swept both women along on an immense wave. Xena's tongue slipped past lips parted quickly for her, feeling Gabrielle's intense heat rising as quickly as the warrior's own did. Xena lost herself in the bard's kiss just as she had all those times in her dreamscape

Gabrielle had her fingers buried in Xena's dark locks, pulling the woman to her with strength and a passion she hadn't even known she possessed. Her hips began a slow rocking motion against the warrior's thigh, moaning against Xena's mouth at the pleasing friction against her center. Xena's hands traveled down the bard's back and she urged Gabrielle on, grasping the young woman's hips, encouraging the motion.

Gabrielle pulled away from the kiss first, leaning her forehead on the warrior's chin, both of them gasping for breath. The bard's heart began pounding, and Gabrielle swore it was going to pound clear out of her chest. She had never experienced anything this intense...this raw before. All she could focus on were the incredible sensations Xena's body was eliciting from her own. That and the overwhelming desire to take Xena as the dreamscape Gabrielle had done.

"You have entirely too many clothes on," Gabrielle said in a commanding tone.

Xena looked slightly shocked at the inflection in the bard's voice, pulling back to gaze into her eyes. Xena recognized the need there, just as her own eyes must have reflected that same passionate glaze. Xena saw something else there too. Now she knew for certain Gabrielle had hidden in the shadows, watching the warrior's dreamscape unfold. Xena's greatest fantasy, her most heavily concealed desire, and now the bard knew it too. Gabrielle had the same feral look in her smoldering gaze that the dreamscape Gabrielle had. Xena wasn't sure if she could handle this in reality.

"Off." Gabrielle ordered, indicating the warrior's shift.

Xena could feel her body immediately respond to the command as a raging river began to flow from her aroused sex. Her body hummed like an over-taut bowstring as she lifted the shift over her head in one swift movement, exposing herself completely to the bard's hungry eyes. Whether the warrior was willing to admit it or not, Gabrielle's domination over her excited her beyond words.

Gabrielle pushed Xena back onto the bed; the warrior straightening out her leg which was now quite numb. Both women groaned at the feel of Gabrielle's weight on top of Xena's body. The bard's hand desperately exploring every inch of skin within her grasp, settling on Xena's breast, kneading the full flesh. Her fingers pulled on the warrior's nipple, eliciting a mild groan from Xena. Gabrielle soon found the harder she pulled the erect flesh, the louder the warrior's moans became.

Moving her lips to capture Xena's own, the bard thrust her tongue past the warrior's lips, moving the invading muscle in rhythm to the pulls of the warrior's tender nipples.

Xena had to pull her mouth away from the bard, but Gabrielle never stopped her assault on the warrior's breast. The bard's devouring eyes watched as Xena ran her tongue over her lips and then parted them, pulling much needed air into her lungs, panting.

Gabrielle moved to the warrior's neck, sucking and nipping at the soft flesh there. The bard bit the supple flesh of Xena's throat and began to suck harder. Xena's hands entwined in the bard's hair, pulling her closer.

"Yesss, Gabrielle...harder..." Xena groaned.

The warrior's request seemed to drive Gabrielle into a passionate frenzy. She lost awareness of the outside world. At that moment in time, there was only Xena, physical pleasure, and the bard's need to totally consume the dark warrior.

Gabrielle's thigh moved in between Xena's legs and pressed against her soaking mound.

"Oh, Gods..." Gabrielle moaned into the warrior's shoulder, feeling Xena's wetness against her. The bard's lips moved down the warrior's neck and across her shoulder each bite and caress of her tongue drawing gasps of pleasure from the writhing figure under her.

"Please..." Xena moaned as she arched her back, silently begging Gabrielle to her breast.

The bard's mouth moved closer to its prize, suddenly enclosing Xena's aching nipple in it's wet warmth. Gabrielle's tongue teased the hard flesh, flicking across it lightly, then sucking and grazing it through her teeth.

Xena felt the wet pulling of her nipple straight through to her center, her hips beginning to thrust against the bard's thigh. The warrior quickly realized that each time she voiced her pleasure with a moan, she was rewarded with a harder sucking motion to her already swollen nipple. The sounds coming from the warrior soon became constant.

Once again Gabrielle captured the warrior's lips in a kiss filled with seductive fire.

Moving her lips to Xena's ear she whispered, "Tell me what you want, Xena...I know, I saw into your dreams...now, I want you to tell me." Gabrielle whispered enticingly.

Xena could barely breathe let alone speak. She should have known Gabrielle would be such a lover, yet as passionate as the young woman lived life, it was only a fraction of the passion she put into her lovemaking.

The warrior immediately panicked when she heard the bard whisper in her ear. God's this is Gabrielle! I know what I want her to do, but can I say it...to her?

Gabrielle could feel the subtle change in the warrior's body as she warred within herself. The young Queen knew this would be hard for Xena. Can she do it? Can she let go enough to surrender it all?

Gabrielle continued to lick and kiss Xena's ear, while slowly moving her hand down across the warrior's stomach, along the top of a muscled thigh, bringing her fingers back up along the inside of the same leg. She let her hand rest lightly against the damp curls, feeling the heat radiating from Xena's center. The warrior raised her hips toward the bard's hand and Gabrielle slid her fingers across the slick folds, teasing, yet avoiding the hidden nub of flesh.

Xena groaned long and loud in frustration when the bard abruptly pulled her hand away, leaning in again to whisper in the warrior's ear.

"You know what I want...and you know that you want it too. Tell me, Xena...I want to hear you say it."

Xena growled in frustration over her inability to put a voice to her passion when it was obvious it meant so much to her bard. Gabrielle sensed the warrior's growing disappointment in herself, and quickly worked around the warrior's inhibition.

"Then show me..." the bard whispered enticingly.

Xena pulled Gabrielle to where she could look into the young woman's eyes, and captured her lips in a scorching kiss that very nearly stole the bard's resolve to have her way with the warrior. Gabrielle had never realized so much love and affection could be conveyed in one kiss.

"Show me, my love..." Gabrielle said breathlessly, pressing her hand against Xena's mound.

The warrior slid her hand down her own body, placing it over Gabrielle's smaller one. Wrapping her fingers within the bard's, she slid their hands into her wetness, positioning the bard's toward her opening. She moved Gabrielle's thumb across the swollen nub of flesh, crying out at the pleasure of the strokes. Xena raised her hips slightly, and Gabrielle felt herself being drawn inside the warrior.

Xena looked at the bard, expecting to see shock or disgust in her eyes. Instead, the young woman's eyes burned with unreleased need and an, as yet, unfulfilled desire. Xena's breath caught in her throat when in one fluid motion, Gabrielle pushed three fingers deep into Xena's opening. Xena splayed her knees and with one foot still firmly planted on the floor she pushed herself up to meet the thrusts of Gabrielle's hand.

"Like that?" Gabrielle whispered, with a knowing smile.

"Yes... like that...right there...Oh, Gods, Gabrielle" Xena then lost her voice, and she gave up on speech, languid moans of sheer pleasure the only sounds she seemed capable of making.

Gabrielle continued pushing hard into Xena, she felt time lose all meaning as her whole world became the sounds of Xena's passion and the warrior's velvet warmth surrounding her stroking fingers. Gabrielle followed the rhythm Xena's hips set, not even trying to suppress a groan when the warrior lifted her thigh up, and pressed it firmly against the bard's center.

Gabrielle propelled her hips toward the warrior's leg, her own wetness flowing down the sides of the warrior's thigh. Momentarily caught up in her own rapture, the bard opened her eyes to gaze down on her lover. Xena's hips continued to thrust harder and harder against Gabrielle's hand, the warrior's whole body beginning to tremble uncontrollably. Her eyes rolled back in her head just before her eyelids snapped shut.

"Xena, Look at me." Gabrielle managed to gasp, her own body begging for release.

Xena opened her eyes and lifted her head up slightly, cradling Gabrielle's face in her hands. The warrior could feel the tremors run through her body, she was teetering on the brink, but she found it impossible to convey to Gabrielle her terror at the complete control the bard demanded from her.

Gabrielle, however, knew this warrior all too well. In the fraction of a heartbeat it took for the bard to feel Xena's fear, to search the blue depths turned dark with desire, the bard knew what she had to do.

Gabrielle slowed the movement of her hand inside the warrior to deep, even strokes, never taking her eyes from her lover's. The bard too was breathing hard, but concentrated on the words Xena needed to hear.

"I don't want you to surrender to me...I want you to surrender for me. Not to my will, my love...surrender to my love." The bard said in a voice hoarse with her own desire. "I love you, Xena..."

The effect was immediate as Xena pulled the bard's lips to hers in a kiss filled with all of the warrior's feelings of freedom at surrendering to Gabrielle's love. The fire in the warrior's belly soon transferred itself into the bard's through that kiss. A growl of pure pleasure began to rumble from the warrior, deep in her chest. She could feel herself about to leap from the precipice, liquid fire rushing from her sex, washing over the bard's thrusting hand.

 "Gab...rielle..." Xena panted, a small groan the only sound the warrior made conveying her impending release to the bard.

Gabrielle wanted much more. The bard had begun to feel her own body being consumed by the intense heat of Xena's approaching orgasm, she felt as if she were literally on fire, flames spreading across her flesh slick with sweat.

Thrusting her own hips hard against Xena's thigh, the bard cried out, "Sweet mother of Zeus, woman...let me hear you!"

Xena's head slammed down into the bed at the sound of Gabrielle's command. The warrior's body convulsed and shook as wave after wave of intense pleasure swept through her. The growl that had started as a low rumble emerged from Xena's throat as an ear shattering sound that became part battle cry, and partly an incoherent scream of her lover's name.

The sound was enough for Gabrielle. At her lover's cry, she joined the warrior in release, feeling her body being engulfed in flames, and then the bard began to melt.

Before Xena's last orgasm had coursed through her body, another began as she felt Gabrielle's shuddering liberation from the exquisite torture. Xena smiled as Gabrielle's unintelligible cry echoed the warrior's in stamina.

Neither woman made any attempt to move as the bard lay atop Xena, the warrior's arms enfolding the spent woman. They both tried in vain to bring their breathing under control, too unsure of their voices to speak.

It is at this point when Eponin again joins our story. Actually we catch up with the Amazon warrior after she has only been asleep in her hut for a few candlemarks, enjoying a considerable amount of wine during the evenings festivities.

Her new recruit Tarazon had come to wake the older warrior for her shift at watch. Part of what was to follow, Eponin blamed solely on Tarazon. The older warrior swore that the recruit should have noticed that a warrior with a hangover is not the best person to have on watch and the young recruit should have volunteered to take the shift.

Since no such offer was forthcoming, Eponin sucked it up and made her way to relieve the first shift. Eponin's night was about to change, but she had no way of knowing at this point how much. Things were indeed looking up for the warrior when Solari happened along and took pity on her friend.

Solari could see the shape Eponin was in so she graciously offered to switch places with the warrior. Solari would take watch in the trees at the outskirts of the village for her friend, while Eponin would join the two members of the Royal Guard at the rather easy task of keeping watch on the Queen's hut. Eponin thanked her friend, leaving her a promise of owing her one, and thought to herself...how hard could it be?

This was definitely going to be easy work, and Eponin was already planning on how to catch a quick nap, leaving the young but capable Royal Guards in charge. She caught up with the pair lounging a little farther from the Queen's hut than usual and wondered what on earth the younger women had been talking about, seeing as they were both blushing furiously. That's when she heard it.

It was a blood-curdling yell that made the hairs on the back of her neck and arms stand up. On the battlefield it would not have phased her, but this came from the Queen's hut. Eponin may have been a little dense at times, but she was a warrior through and through, and a good one at that. Without thinking of her own safety, she rushed toward the door to the Queen's hut.

The two members of the Royal Guard were as shocked by the screams coming from their Queen's hut as the older warrior had been, they had an advantage however. Instead of charging behind Eponin, they just turned redder. They thought about letting the warrior in on the whole story, but members of the Royal Guard tend to be a rather aloof bunch, and these two immediately saw the makings of a great way to take a warrior down a peg.

Eponin stormed the hut, taking all six steps in two leaps. She pulled her sword as she kicked open the door, ready for anything.

Except for that.

It had only been heartbeats for the two lovers, Gabrielle still lying in the embrace of one completely satisfied warrior, both women still breathing heavily, when the door to their hut was kicked in. Xena cursed herself for her mental lapse; her weapons still on the table. The warrior rolled over pulling Gabrielle under her to shield the young woman from their attacker.

It was then that everything and everyone seemed to begin moving in slow motion.

The two women inside the hut realized the intruder was Eponin a full two or three heartbeats before the warrior could take in what was happening.

"Eponin!" Gabrielle shouted indignantly, pulling the sheet up in a feeble attempt to cover what the Amazon warrior was already staring at.

Eponin seemed to be getting into a lot of these situations lately. Ones where her brain was practically shaking her silly in an attempt to get her body moving in a backward direction, but damn, if the warrior could focus on anything but the sight of the two naked women in front of her. Of course, her roving eyes soon caught up to Xena's. Now, Eponin had swore, from her earlier incident with Xena, that six feet of Warrior Princess coming at you looked much larger when you were on your knees. She soon found she would have to amend that statement. Six feet of naked Warrior Princess looked immense.

Granted, the whole situation seemed unfortunate and if Eponin had turned around immediately things may have gotten better. Even if the Amazon had apologized a few heartbeats later, it would have gone down as a terribly embarrassing incident, and they could have all laughed about it later...much later, in Xena's opinion. The problem, as the warrior saw it, was that Eponin wasn't leaving. She stood there holding her sword, just staring at them. Not just them, more particularly, Gabrielle. Suddenly Xena was remembering the way Eponin had ogled the young Queen at the party earlier. Then with deliberate slowness, the warrior rose from the bed and moved toward the frozen Amazon.

Gabrielle was finally able to pull the sheet around her, effectively shaking Eponin out of her suspended state. That's when she first noticed the Warrior Princess coming at her.

"Xena," Gabrielle pleaded behind the warrior's back, "remember...don't kill her." She finished with a smirk toward the Amazon.

"Oh, I'm not gonna kill her," Xena began, "I'm just gonna hurt her real bad!" She hissed.

Eponin would also testify later that she thought she saw faint wisps of smoke coming from the warrior's ears. Looking over at Gabrielle, she said weakly, "I guess this is where I run, huh?"

"Too late!" Xena said grabbing the immobile Amazon by the neck of her tunic and dragging her outside. For the second time in as many weeks the Amazon warrior found herself being launched over the porch rail of the Queen's veranda.

Xena simply walked back into the hut and slammed the door shut.

Eponin lay on her back in the dirt next to the Queen's hut. Letting out a painful groan, she looked over to where the two members of the Royal Guard were bent over in laughter.

"If I ever get up again...you two are dead." The warrior said flatly.

The laughter stopped at once and both women swallowed hard, looking at one another.

Gabrielle's body shook with laughter as Xena walked into the hut, shaking her head, and casting her bard a sheepish grin over the antics of their Amazon friend. Xena could never stay mad at Eponin for very long.

"You're going to break her back if you keep throwing her from the porch like that," Gabrielle said, brushing tears of laughter from her eyes.

"She's a warrior, she's tough. Besides, I didn't much care for the way she was looking at you. I do however enjoy the way you're looking at me...that look in your eyes, my Queen, is very flattering." Xena said, arching an eyebrow suggestively.

In the past Gabrielle had only been able to steal glances at her warrior's body, now she was taking advantage of their newfound relationship to devour her lover's admirable qualities openly with her eyes.

Xena enjoyed the blush that found its way to Gabrielle's cheeks. The warrior leaned upon the bed on one knee, supporting herself with a strong arm, while reaching up to slowly pull down the sheet that covered Gabrielle.

"Allow me to return the favor," Xena drawled, taking full advantage as the bard had.

She stretched the length of her body out next to her bard and ran a hand up the entire measure of Gabrielle's figure, stopping to gently stroke the bard's face. Gabrielle leaned into the touch, turning her head to place a kiss on the warrior's sword callused palm.

"Where were we..." Xena smiled, reaching down to capture the bard's lips.

Gabrielle never knew Xena's touch could be that tender. The young woman moaned into Xena's mouth at the gentleness of the kiss that seemed to go on forever.

"Do you enjoy my kisses, my love?" The warrior asked, her lips moving along the young woman's jaw, down to her neck, and back up to her ear, where she suckled the bard's earlobe. "My touch?" She cupped the underside of the bard's breast and brushed her thumb across the nipple, the flesh hardening under her caress.

"Ohhhh..." was the only sound Gabrielle could make.

Hmmm...speechless, my bard?" Xena whispered, continuing to kiss and stroke the young woman beside her. "You put my body through such an exquisite torture, I thought I'd return the compliment. Oh, and I will make it a delicious sort of torture, Gabrielle."

The bard shivered at the sound of her name being drawn out in a seductive whisper, the warrior's warm breath licking against her ear.

Xena lowered her body down onto Gabrielle's, resting her weight on her arms. Gabrielle moaned in pleasure at the feel of the warrior's body. Xena lowered her head until she took Gabrielle's lips with her own, reveling in the taste of the young woman, the warrior's tongue running across the bard's bottom lip as a promise of the delights the warrior's tongue could bring her. When Xena went to move away, Gabrielle's hands reached up, wrapping themselves in the warrior's hair, drawing her into another passionate kiss.

Xena moved to nuzzle the bard's neck, using her lips, tongue, and teeth to lead her down the woman's throat. . The warrior smiled at the rapidly pounding pulse she found there. Gabrielle gasped when Xena pulled the flesh into her mouth and sucked long and hard.

"I'm marking you...you're mine now, Gabrielle." Xena growled.

"Gods, yes!" Gabrielle cried.

Gabrielle's nipples tightened as Xena's flesh slid down the young woman's body.

"Please," Gabrielle whispered, arching her back, as Xena's fingers brushed across her erect nipples.

Xena slowly enclosed one of the hardened nubs into her mouth and sucked greedily. Gabrielle whimpered at the loss when Xena's mouth left her breast, the warrior ceasing the complaint by covering the bard's mouth with her own. Parting the bard's lips with her tongue the firm muscle began to explore the young woman's mouth with an intensity that soon made the bard dizzy. Allowing her fingertips to return to the bard's breasts, Xena circled around Gabrielle's nipples before taking them between her thumbs and forefingers and squeezing rhythmically.

Xena used her knee to gently spread Gabrielle's legs apart and moved her thigh in against the warm wetness. "Gods, Gabrielle..." she groaned into the bard's ear. "You're so wet."

Xena found her passions rising higher unable to stop her own wetness that began to soak the bard's leg. She ground her thigh against the bard's center, eliciting a gasp of delight, feeling Gabrielle begin to rock her hips against the warrior's thigh.

Xena couldn't believe how responsive the bard was. Everywhere she touched the young woman evoked a sound from Gabrielle's throat and every moan and gasp from the bard caused a flood of wetness to pour from the warrior's aroused sex.

Xena slowly moved downward, her mouth and tongue sliding across the firm muscles of the bard's stomach, Gabrielle's legs spreading further apart as the warrior settled her shoulders between them. Breathing deeply, Xena's mouth watered at the scent of Gabrielle's passion, then she teasingly ran her tongue up the inside of Gabrielle's thighs. Xena's body shivered in delicious anticipation at the thought of tasting the bard's sweet wetness.

In a display of pure seduction, the warrior reached her fingers up to slide her them between the bard's soaked folds.

"Yesss..." Gabrielle moaned, leaning up on one elbow to watch the warrior.

Xena locked her gaze with Gabrielle and the young woman watched through heavy-lidded eyes as the warrior pulled her fingers from Gabrielle and brought them to her mouth, licking the bard's juices from her hand.

"Sweet Artemis," the bard groaned, slamming her body back against the bed. The young woman felt she was dangerously close to simply exploding from need.

"Please, Xena...I need..." Gabrielle pleaded.

"I know what you need, Baby..." Xena purred, and Gabrielle thought she had died and gone to Ellysia simply at the sound of that voice.

Xena slipped her hands under the bard's hips, pulling her to the warrior's waiting mouth. She ran her tongue along the length of the bard's entire sex, feeling Gabrielle's body shiver in response. The bard spread her legs even further, encouraging the warrior, as Xena buried her tongue deep into the bard's sweetness. Xena allowed her tongue to roam and explore her lover, delighting in the moans of pleasure coming from the bard. She reveled in the textures and taste of her young lover, feeling Gabrielle's hips begin to thrust upward against her tongue.

Xena moved her tongue up and softly began stroking the hidden nub, now swollen with need. She slid a finger into the bard's opening, then two, sliding easily again and again into Gabrielle's soaking depths, never slowing the ministrations of her tongue on the bard's center.

Gabrielle could scarcely form rational thought, her focus on the outside world narrowed to the center of her being, that was being so lovingly ravished by her warrior. She wrapped her fingers tightly in the warrior's raven locks, pressing the warrior's tongue harder to her.

"Oh, God's, Xena...please...please, don't stop." Gabrielle cried out, her hips rising off the bed, thrusting harder against the tongue and fingers that promised her release.

Xena wrapped her arms around her lover's rocking hips, burying her face deeper, sucking hard while her tongue moved rapidly across the swollen nub.

Gabrielle cried out her lover's name again and again as waves of release washed through her, contracting against the warrior's fingers inside her, the young woman's body convulsing as a second and then a third orgasm exploded within her.

As Gabrielle lay spent, Xena crawled slowly up and kissed her tenderly, pulling the young woman into her strong embrace. The bard nuzzled Xena's neck, unable to speak.

"Xena," Gabrielle began once her breathing had returned to normal. "Do you mean to tell me...all these years together...and we could have been doing that?"

Xena chuckled and kissed the top of her bard's head. "Guess we've got some making up to do, huh?"

"Will it always be like this?" Gabrielle asked in awe.

"I don't know, love...I've never had this experience before."

"I've had many lovers, Gabrielle," Xena said seriously in answer to the bewildered look on her lover's face. "Even the ones I thought I loved...Marcus, Hercules...I don't think I even knew what love was as a Warlord. I don't think I was capable of love back then. I had to relearn emotions like that, and I think I started the day you walked into my life." Xena felt Gabrielle's silent tears splash on her neck as she continued.

"Gabrielle, I am so much in love with you...you are my heart, the very thing that keeps me alive. I need you as much as I need air to breathe and water to drink. If you ceased to exist, I believe my heart would simply stop beating." The warrior whispered, pressing her lips gently to the bard's temple. "Thank you, my bard...thank you for saving me."

Gabrielle looked up at her warrior, tears streaming down her face.

"Xena, I've never heard you talk that way."

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I'm sorry that I don't always say the kind of things you need to hear, or that I'm not always the kind of person you'd like me to be. I may not always be successful, but I promise to try my damnedest not to disappoint you or embarrass you."

Gabrielle had never heard Xena speak so openly about her feelings before and the young bard was rather stunned.

"Oh, Xena...your love could never disappoint or embarrass me...did you mean it...when you said you were in love with me?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena turned so she was facing Gabrielle, wrapping her arms tighter, pulling the bard closer to her. Xena kissed Gabrielle's forehead, and brushed her lips across tear stained cheeks.

"With all my heart, my love...all my heart." Xena pulled back to look into Gabrielle's face, gently stroking it with the back of her fingers. "You deserve better, though, my love. I know, --" Xena placed a finger over the bard's lips to silence what she knew was coming. "You're a grown woman and you're free to choose to love whomever you wish. You've claimed me and my heart couldn't be happier, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what you see in a broken down old warrior like me."

"Oh, Xena...I wish you could see yourself through my eyes." Gabrielle said before slipping a hand around Xena's neck and kissing her as thoroughly as the warrior had ever been kissed. "You are so beautiful and I love you so much. I love all of you, Xena...the woman, the warrior, the light and the dark, and everything in-between." She said amid kisses.

It was Xena's turn for tears and although the warrior rarely let anyone see her cry, she enjoyed the bittersweet release, and savored the feel of being held, Gabrielle's fingers lightly stroking her hair.

Both women were very near to sleep, lying in each other's arms when Xena lazily opened one eye to look at the bard.


"Mmm hhm," Gabrielle replied drowsily.

"This week...the things you were doing, I mean when you--Gabrielle, were you seducing me?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle's eyes were wide open and she was definitely awake now. "Uhm...yes?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?" Xena too was now fully awake.

"Telling you?" Gods, that even sounds pathetic to me.

Xena turned from the bard's embrace and shifted her body more fully on top of the young woman. "Do you mean to tell me you were doing those things to me on purpose? And did you enjoy how crazy you were making me?"

"Well...I--I...it seemed like a good thing to do at the time...and I really didn't do it on purpose...at first. But, I mean, by then I rather...well, enjoyed how it affected you." Gabrielle looked up at the warrior with her best innocent look.

"You, my love, are a tease." Xena said raising an eyebrow at the woman under her.

"Technically you can't call me a tease," the bard countered defiantly. "After all a tease is someone who acts suggestively, with no intention of following through on her promises...I, on the other hand, had every intention of making good on my promise."

Gabrielle finished with a smug grin, feeling as though she just talked her way out of something.

"Gab-ri-elle..." Xena drawled. "Do you know what warriors do to women who tease them...even ones they love with all their heart?" Xena said the words slowly, wrapping her arms around the young women and leaning in to nuzzle the bard's neck, nipping the soft flesh.

"Get even?" Gabrielle said weakly, the self-satisfied smile gone and her pulse beginning to race.

"Mmm hmmm," Xena murmured, biting down softly on an earlobe.

I have a feeling this 'getting even' may be quite enjoyable...if it doesn't kill me first, was Gabrielle's last coherent thought as Xena covered the bard's mouth with a burning kiss.

The End

Read the next story in the "Queen" series: "Quest For a Queen"



Return to Main Page