The Hero Within

by My OSage

Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess do not belong to me. But I've followed them into the future to see what their relationship would be like after ten years together. And wow, it looks good from here…….

If you're wondering where that come from?! Thanks to BL Miller for allowing me to include a reference to her tantalizing fanfiction "The Show"

The amazon Kierra comes from my first story, "Beyond Melosa's Shadow." Her relationship to Ephiny, Xena and Gabrielle is explained there. Also an explanation for Ephiny and Xena's closeness can be found in another story of mine, "That One Afternoon." Although you don't have to have read either of them to enjoy this story.

WARNING! This story tiptoes up to my 'no rape or sexual violence' line, but does not stumble over it. Trust me. But as usual, this story does contain explicit, consensual sex between women. And it absolutely contains romantic involvement between women, as always. Because that's the way I like it. If this kind of thing is not to your liking, then go away. It's a huge Internet out there.

Gabrielle had been in countless taverns during her travels. The one she walked into this afternoon was much better than most. As they would be staying here this evening, she made her way across the room to the innkeeper.

It would be an understatement to say that heads turned as she moved through the crowd. The lovely blonde dressed in amazon attire was athletic yet curvaceous. Her clear green eyes and flawless skin just made her all the more enticing. But Gabrielle was also well known. Most men would've had the good sense to let her pass with a simple wave, a cordial word, or silence. But every now and then, some village idiot or drunken hermit, would attempt to molest the poised beauty. Never a good idea.

By the time Gabrielle reached the bar, a drunkard, who was obviously unaware of who she was, caught up to her. He grabbed her arm, turned her toward him and slurred. "You look like you could use some company." His other hand was rapidly approaching her left breast.

Suddenly the surprised boozer, felt himself lofted into the air. He hit the wall behind Gabrielle and collapsed unconscious to the floor.

"She has company."

Xena smiled down at Gabrielle who was shaking her head at the unfortunate man lying in a heap behind her. She turned back to Xena.

"You didn't have to do that," she scolded her possessive warrior.

The tall, beauty leaned in close to Gabrielle's ear and whispered. "If he'd gotten just an inch closer to that perfect breast." Xena brushed the back of her fingers subtly across the breast in question. "He'd have a broken wrist to go along with his headache." She turned to the innkeeper. "Hello Miriam."

Gabrielle couldn't help smiling at the Warrior Princess. She and Xena had been traveling together for over ten years. They'd been lovers for eight. Over the years, they'd crossed Greece many times as well as traveled to several foreign countries. During that time they'd rescued and helped thousands of people in trouble. Xena and Gabrielle were as famous as Hercules for their fight against injustice. The Warrior Princess and Her Bard. That's what grateful recipients, enthused fans, and the criminal element called them.

Miriam smiled back at the couple. Like so many villagers throughout the country, she owed Xena and Gabrielle her life and her livelihood. Several years ago, this town had been under siege by a worthless, greedy warlord. If not for the amazing heroics of these two incredible women, this entire community would've been extinguished.

"It's good to see you both," said the stout, friendly innkeeper. "Are you going to stay with us for a while?"

"If you have room, Miriam." It was Gabrielle who answered.

"If we have room…." Miriam chuckled as if the bard had made a joke. "I think we can manage to find a broom closet or something for the favored daughters of Greece." Xena gave a sharp snort in reply. "Go on around back," indicated the innkeeper. "The room at the end of the hall. And if I see one glint of a dinar coming out of your bag, Gabrielle, not even the infamous Warrior Princess will be able to save your hide."

Gabrielle smiled at Miriam's empty threat. It was the same wherever they went. If they happen to be in a town that they'd championed, they were treated with all the gratitude the villagers could afford. Fortunately their needs were minimal.

Miriam watched the women settle at a table for the evening meal. While she truly liked them, she was also a smart businesswoman. As soon as word spread that Gabrielle was in town, the normal patronage was sure to increase dramatically. The bard was such a draw, that anyone who was within a few hours traveling time would arrive to hear her perform. And with the Warrior Princess in residence, there would be no fights and very little breakage. Out of gratitude, she would've given them her best room for free anyway. But wherever Xena and Gabrielle stayed, business was good.

It didn't surprise Gabrielle that the tavern seem to be filling to capacity while they ate their meal. It was a usual occurrence. If there was no trouble to squelch, then she was always besieged with requests for her stories. And while she relished her role as Xena's fighting partner, she was nonetheless pleased with her reputation as one of the most popular bards in Greece.

"I won't be long," said the bard as she stood to begin her performance. "Any requests?"

"Any story you choose is my favorite," replied the warrior warmly.

As the bard began her first tale, Miriam signaled the barmaid to bring Xena her after dinner port. Gabrielle didn't drink, but the warrior would nurse one port throughout the evening's entertainment. This was likely to be where most of tonight's breakage would occur. Her youngest daughter was so completely taken with the beautiful warrior that she often dropped or spilled anything in her possession whenever she was near her. Not that Xena would ever notice. Once the bard took the stage, that's where the warrior's attention remained riveted.

The crowd quieted at Gabrielle's first words. Xena watched her partner seize the attention of the patrons after just a few moments. Was it possible that Gabrielle had grown lovelier with the years? The many miles of travel and the rigorous training had toned and strengthened the once adolescent body. Her girlish features had matured into luminous beauty. When they'd first met, she'd been just a young woman with a tremendous flair for communication. But it was soon evident that Gabrielle was truly a gifted artist. If she'd wanted to, she could've been rich as well as famous. Instead she accepted minimal dinars to sustain their daily needs. And everyday she fought by Xena's side as if her staff and quill were of equal importance. Gabrielle had devoted the last ten years of her life to a relationship with Xena. And Xena knew her world revolved entirely around the charming enchantress in the spotlight tonight.

The evening flew by too quickly for the rapt audience. The dinars were readily collected. The bard patiently interacted with the many people who wanted to talk to her. Young and old alike waited their turn to comment, compliment, or merely to meet the celebrated bard. Xena didn't know how Gabrielle withstood the onslaught of strangers that seem to need her attention. But no one ever went home feeling slighted or unwelcome. Xena had teasingly told Gabrielle one night that she should start her own fan club. To which the bard had quipped. "Oh right, Xena. And who would join it? You and my mother?"

Gabrielle settled the evening's donations with Miriam, while Xena waited. Then she retired with her warrior to the privacy of their room. Once they reached seclusion the women immediately embraced.

"You were great tonight, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiled as she snuggled deeper into the leather covered chest. "You always say that."

"That's because it's always true."

They stood together for a time, reconnecting. It had been a long day. But shortly Xena heard Gabrielle's quiet voice.

"I'm not that tired."

"What a stroke of good fortune for me."

Gabrielle smiled again. "What would you like tonight, Xena?"

The warrior thought for a moment. Their sex life was as varied as it was intense. Their pleasure ran the gamut from role-playing to fantasies, from sex toys to light bondage, and everything in between. Years ago they'd even inadvertently stayed at a tavern where it turned out live erotic acts were performed. Simply called "The Show", the explicit demonstrations of sex between women were not only highly educational, but extremely stimulating as well. (Xena smiled as she recalled what an intensely pleasurable night that had been.) It seemed that their passion for each other only increased as the years passed. Xena excelled in devising an infinite number of positions, methods and styles for sex. There was absolutely nothing she could not figure out how to do. While Gabrielle's strong point was the scenario of seduction, the creation of fantasies fulfilled. Her fertile imagination constantly produced their most heated moments. They complimented each other perfectly, enjoying sexual relations that were extremely rich and frequent.

"Tease me."

Gabrielle was surprised at the subtle request. It had been three days since they'd last made love. And unexpected trouble had interrupted that session. She recalled that while she'd been completely sated, Xena had been left wanting. Gabrielle knew her warrior must have a powerful sexual hunger by now. She reached up and whispered seductively into her lover's ear.

"Big mistake, warrior."

Gabrielle could feel the shuddered response ripple through Xena's body. She took the warrior's face in her hands and kissed her with a force that left her breathless.

"Why don't you take advantage of that steaming bath first."

Miriam had provided a room that was simple, yet warm and comfortable. It had a roaring fire and large bed. It was private and held a round tub already full of hot water. More full buckets were heating near the hearth.

As Gabrielle settled their belongings, Xena removed her armor and leathers. She tied her long hair up and stepped into the tub. She let herself sink into the clear, hot water. As soon as she picked up the sponge, she felt soft, small hands on her shoulders.

"I'll do that."

The bard took the sponge and dropped it into the water. She let her hands glide over the warrior's warm, wet skin. Her hands cupped water and let it dribble down onto the most desirable sections of Xena's body. The teasing had begun.

The washing itself was a sensual experience. Gabrielle cleansed every inch of the warrior's magnificent body with her own hands. Caressing her through the soapy massage. She knew that Xena loved the attention, considered it part of the teasing foreplay. But to Gabrielle it was actually a reality check. Even after ten years together, she sometimes still found it hard to believe that she was the lover of this extraordinary woman. She would trace the lines, dips, mounds and curves of Xena's body in wonder. She'd memorized every scar that graced her warrior's skin. Some of them were old and faded, from before she'd been a part of Xena's life. Other's were from more recent battle injuries that she'd witnessed and cared for herself. The battle scars may have marked Xena as mortal. But Gabrielle likened pleasuring the warrior's incredibly delicious body to that of worshipping a god.

Finding the sponge at the bottom of the tub, Gabrielle slowly rinsed her relaxed lover. Pulling her to her feet, the bard dried Xena's body. Then she led the compliant warrior to their bed and pushed her back onto it's softness.

"Now stay there while I bathe, don't move." Gabrielle instructed as Xena stretched out on the bed. And as Gabrielle moved back toward the tub, she shot Xena a warning look. "And no touching."

Gabrielle smiled at the warrior's sheepish look after being admonished by her. The bard knew that Xena was quite capable of starting the sweet seduction before she returned. But teasing was what Xena had asked for. And teasing was exactly what she was going to get.

Xena watched Gabrielle slowly remove her amazon apparel. She observed every movement of the beautiful flesh. As Gabrielle bent, twisted and stripped, she purposely kept her back to Xena. A small part of the game intended to drive Xena to distraction.

With the bath refilled with fresh, hot water, Gabrielle immersed herself in the heat. Then she rose up on her knees feeling Xena's eyes behind her watching the subtle cleansing motions. She sponged herself everywhere she knew the warrior wanted to explore. She stood to finish, washing first one leg, then the other. Each was propped up separately on the edge of the tub. Though spread and exposed, she never quite revealed what Xena desperately wanted to see.

Gabrielle wrapped herself in one of the large, soft towels Miriam had left for them. She covered herself from above her breasts to mid thigh before she turned and faced the warrior. Judging from the controlled breathing, the hands clasped behind her head and the longing in her eyes, Gabrielle had Xena suitably excited already. She ran a brush quickly through her hair as she strolled toward the bed.

Xena wasn't sure how long she'd be able to withstand Gabrielle's torment. She wondered about the wisdom of her choice of seduction. It'd been too long since she'd received her lover's magic. She was hungry for it, ravenous. But she knew when Gabrielle was finished with her, the release she'd be given would be explosive.

The bard sat down next to her aroused partner. "You ok?"

"I want you."

"I know." Gabrielle reached out and smoothed Xena's brow with her fingertips. She stroked the dark eyebrows, the classic cheekbones, the delicate nose. Her affectionate caress explored the lips, chin, jaw and ears of her beloved. Then she kissed her.

Xena could feel the connection of their lips directly down between her legs. Instantly a fire started to burn there, spreading a heat back up her torso. She brought her hands out from behind her head, intending to grasp her lover under the offensive towel she still wore. But Gabrielle caught her hands and pinned them to each side of her head. The kissing became more demanding. The amazon used her tongue to tantalize the now squirming warrior. Xena tried to catch the elusive muscle in her mouth, but Gabrielle repeatedly dodged away from her. Finally as the warrior moaned in frustration, Gabrielle's tongue penetrated deeply into her mouth. The resulting moan of pleasure from Xena sounded very much the same as the one before. Only Gabrielle could detect the difference.

Gabrielle released Xena suddenly and looked into the smoldering blue eyes. Then she moved herself down to Xena's breasts. Tasting them, fondling them was pure pleasure for them both. The bard, always enthralled with the gorgeous flesh. The warrior, always responsive when Gabrielle sucked and pinched her nipples. As the warrior's body began to move and twitch from the stimulation, Gabrielle relinquished possession of Xena's breasts. Looking down to Xena's hips and then back up to her face, the bard smiled.

"I won't be long."

Xena groaned again. When the bard had said that earlier, it'd been hours before she was finished with her tasks. The warrior was certain she would never be able to hold out that long. Gabrielle moved down her side, still covered with the stubborn towel. The bard lifted Xena's left leg and slide underneath it. Then she set the lovely leg down across her right hip. This positioned her directly between Xena's widely spread legs. She rested her head on Xena's right thigh and admired the extremely pleasurable view. When Gabrielle began to softly brush the back of her fingers across the freshly bathed hair, Xena felt her needs escalate.

"Gabrielle…you're killing me…" complained the needy warrior.

"No I'm not," reprimanded the bard as she continued to stroke the protective curls. "Just remember who asked for this."

Gabrielle was amused by the groaning response. She knew just how far she could push Xena's endurance. While she would tease her when she could, she would never really torment her or withhold relief. She turned her face into the thigh she was resting on and kissed the delicate skin. Then she trailed her tongue up along the inside of that thigh. At the same time, she parted the hair covering sexual nerves and traced the tender skin leading to Xena's entrance. She dipped her finger inside briefly and scooped up some of the abundantly sweet nectar Xena produced when she was excited. After tasting it, she sent her finger in for more. With this, she lubricated the flesh that framed Xena's voracious sexual node. She purposely avoided the contact that would send her lover into an immediate climax. Rubbing all around, but never over the powerful center. Then Gabrielle turned and began the skillful sucking that would leave a mark at the apex of Xena's inner thigh. Her mouth was so close to the warrior's sex, that Xena wouldn't have to explain the subtle brand.

Sensing that Xena was now approaching overload, Gabrielle switched tactics. Without warning she moved her mouth to Xena's opening and slid her tongue inside. The warrior instantly responded by tilting her hips up toward Gabrielle. This enabled the bard to burrow deeper inside the accessible tunnel. The amazon moved her body out from under Xena's leg so that she could directly align herself with the writhing woman. She reached her arms under and around both hips as she continued to bury her tongue as deeply as she could. As Xena was reacting to the stimulation at her core, Gabrielle brought her right thumb over and stroked the starving node she'd ignored earlier. The warrior felt the manipulation immediately and groaned her approval. For the driving finish, Gabrielle switched the positioning of her hand and mouth. Suddenly she was lavishing Xena's sex with strong strokes of her tongue, while filling the compromised warrior inside with her fingers.

The sparks induced by Gabrielle ignited inside the warrior. She burned for several thrilling moments before the inferno raced throughout her body. She climbed to an unbelievable elevation of excitement. Then she erupted into an orgasm that resembled a shooting star bursting against a night sky.

As Xena came down from the spectacular liberation, she could feel Gabrielle still placing gentle kisses over her sex. The soft lips moved everywhere between her legs. A tender apology for putting the delectable flesh through such amazingly pleasurable torture. She reached down and pulled Gabrielle up so that she was laying on top of her, their faces mere inches apart. She sighed contentedly, enjoying the love and amusement sparkling in Gabrielle's green eyes.

"Thank you."

Gabrielle was about to say something extremely romantic, when they heard a loud knock at the door.

"That had better be a matter of life or death," growled the suddenly irritated warrior. She wanted to touch the wonderful body that Gabrielle had kept hidden from her during her seduction. The bard smiled, knowing why Xena was annoyed with the interruption. A second knock spurred her into action.

"You stay right there, I'll get it."

Gabrielle adjusted her towel and opened the door. To her surprise, a young amazon was standing there. She wore the garments and insignia of the Queen's Royal Guard, even though she looked too young to be a member of that elite group. The amazon bowed respectfully.

"My Queen. Please accept my apologies for this inopportune interruption."

Gabrielle's first thought was that the guard had overheard their heated lovemaking. But then she realized that she'd answered the door wearing only a towel. The amazon had every right to assume the worst. The second realization was that the guard had addressed her as 'My Queen' even though Gabrielle had relinquished the title to Ephiny long ago. Yet it seemed that whenever she encountered amazons, they still treated her with all the respect usually reserved for their queen. Secretly Gabrielle was touched by the continued attention.

The amazon was about to continue, when Xena suddenly appeared behind Gabrielle. 'Oh Artemis, please help me now,' said the guard to herself. Though Xena was mostly shielded from her vision by Gabrielle, the amazon could tell that the warrior was naked. If her mission hadn't been so important, she would've gladly fallen into the deepest hole she could find. She lowered her eyes and proceeded as gallantly as she could.

"Queen Ephiny has sent me with the urgent request that you return to Amazonia immediately. There are compelling negotiations that need your involvement."

Both Gabrielle and Xena were confused by the request. Ephiny had ruled the amazons for seven years now. And she had done so with compassion and fairness. Why would she suddenly need Gabrielle's help in any negotiating decision?

"I don't understand. Gabrielle no longer holds the title of queen. Why would Ephiny need her to negotiate with any group?" It was Xena who voiced their concern.

The guard looked up into Gabrielle's eyes, even though she was not the one who had addressed the question.

"Because they have your niece."

Hearing the reason, Gabrielle swayed back against Xena. The warrior secured her in strong arms and then asked the guard to wait for them in the main room.

They dressed quickly and gathered their possessions. Gabrielle's mind was racing. Her niece… someone was holding her beautiful eight year old niece, hostage. Feeling a chill come over her, she turned to Xena.


Xena put her arm around the worried bard. "I know….we'll take care of it."

She tried to instill a sense of hope and control in Gabrielle. Knowing that people in the bard's position rarely felt either.

The young guard had readied Argo and explained the situation to Miriam.

"I have to see Lila first." Gabrielle couldn't even imagine how frightened her sister must be right now. "Tell Ephiny we'll be there immediately after I see her."

"Yes, my Queen." And the guard was gone in a flash.

"I didn't even ask her name, Xena."

"Diana can ask her when we find her."

They arrived in Poteidaia by morning. Gabrielle found her sister indeed distraught and frightened. Her husband, David, was trying his best to comfort her. But the strain of their missing daughter was obvious in the normally good-natured man. His eyes looked shadowed, his expression bleak. Their two younger sons were abnormally quiet.

Lila virtually collapsed into Gabrielle's arms. Her eyes swept up to Xena who was standing behind Gabrielle. As much as she found comfort in her sister's arms, it was actually the warrior she was more relieved to see.

David offered a brief explanation of what had happened the day before. It was little to go on. Diana had been playing with the other village children one moment and the next she was gone. It was only upon the arrival of the Amazon Royal Guard that they knew what was involved.

"I want to talk to the children before we leave." Gabrielle looked at David. "Will you show me which ones they are?" As Gabrielle followed her brother-in-law outside, she turned to Xena and merely said. "Stay….please?"

Xena stopped and allowed Gabrielle to go without her. She turned and met Lila's eyes briefly. Then she approached Gabrielle's nephews, age four and six, waiting by the fireplace. As the boys gratefully threw themselves at Xena, Lila considered the warrior she'd known for ten years.

Lila had been so hurt when Gabrielle left to follow Xena. For years she'd blamed the warrior for stealing her sister away. But eventually, she'd learned to accept the truth about their relationship. Their partnership had made all of Gabrielle's dreams come true. And while Lila loved her husband very much, she knew that her relationship did not reach the intensity of her sister's. Though she'd always been cordial and respectful to Gabrielle's chosen mate, she realized she'd never been close or even friendly.

Her husband seem to get on well with both her sister and Xena. And her children adored the warrior as much as they did Gabrielle. As she contemplated why Xena seemed so remote, it occurred to her that she'd never encouraged the warrior to be any other way.

When David returned, he untangled Xena from the embraces of his sons. He told her that Gabrielle was waiting, then took the boys outside.

As Xena started to follow him out, Lila stopped her by grasping her arm.

Gabrielle and her children touched Xena all the time. Even her gentle husband had made contact in friendly gestures. But Lila had never actually touched the warrior before. So she was surprised when the skin covering those firm muscles felt like silk.

Xena turned, looked into the worried eyes of her sister-in-law and waited.

"You'll find her…" It came out more a statement than a request.

The sky blue eyes that had always seemed so distant and cool to her, softened with compassion. The warrior placed a warm hand over Lila's chilled fingers.

"I'll find her…..I promise."

"This is not your fault, Ephiny."

Ephiny turned away from the window for a moment and looked at her beautiful lover, Kierra. They'd been joined for seven years and her presence never failed to bring the queen comfort. She knew that Kierra was right. She'd had no way of knowing that the renegade amazon group would retaliate their banishment by kidnapping Gabrielle's niece.

"I know that, Kierra. But it doesn't make me feel any better. If it were my son…." She left the rest unsaid. Ephiny was well aware of what Gabrielle's sister must be going through. As a mother herself, she understood the desperation of having one's child in danger. She turned back to the window.

"Ephiny," Kierra walked up behind her mate. "They're twenty rogue amazons with one very bad leader. They're no match for what we have."

"Oh?" Ephiny questioned skeptically. "We have a secret weapon I'm unaware of?"

"Yes, my love." Kierra wrapped her arms firmly around her queen and hugged her. "We have Xena."

Amara looked up from the fire as her second in command, Sarita, approached.

"The Royal Guard has returned. Gabrielle and Xena won't be far behind."

The big amazon nodded and returned her gaze to the fire. When Sarita didn't leave, she looked up again. "What is it, Sarita?"

"We're not really going to hurt that little girl, are we, Amara?" The second sounded worried. After being exiled, their leader seemed to become more angry and unpredictable as time went by. "You promised."

"Of course not, Sarita." The intimidating amazon answered. "We'll just trade her in the negotiations for reinstatement." The smile that followed relieved the second and she excused herself.

The smile faded almost immediately, replaced by a sneer. She had surrounded herself with soft hearted weaklings. But then Amara hadn't been able to choose who would be ousted with her. Obviously not the cream of the crop. But that wouldn't matter when the negotiations started. She had plans that her sentimental second knew nothing about.

Amara had been the unofficial leader for a group of amazons located in a remote area of Amazonia. This was mostly due to her size and the swift intimidation of anyone who opposed her. Once she would've been considered attractive. But that was before an ugliness had taken root in her heart. Now she was merely a large, strong woman with a definitive nasty streak.

Out of boredom or meanness, she'd taken to committing crimes outside the Amazon Nation. She'd raided and robbed the surrounding villages and travel routes, using a small band of easily led women. Queen Ephiny had been lenient during the investigations into the illegal activity. But when one of their adventures had resulted in the death of a father trying to protect his family, Ephiny'd had them rounded up and brought in for trial. The counsel had been quick in rendering it's verdict. The entire group was banished from Amazon land and exiled from the Amazon Nation.

Negotiating was not exactly what Amara was after now. Unbeknownst to her followers, she didn't care if she ever set foot on Amazon land again. She would use that worthless imp as a ploy to get near the queen and her cohorts. What she wanted was to torment Ephiny for humiliating her. She wanted to punish Gabrielle for abandoning her right of caste for fame and fortune. And most of all she wanted Xena….period.

If they were to deal, Xena would have to be the agent. She'd always wanted that woman in the worse way. But whenever Amara'd had the chance to be around her, Xena had always been so remote. Now she'd have to be considerably more than that if they wanted the brat back. If the luscious Warrior Princess didn't agree, she would kill the child in a heartbeat. Sex and power, the two best possessions in the world. Both together in one night. Amara smiled again.

Sarita entered the tent where Melana was guarding their hostage. Well, 'guarding' may have been an overstatement. At the moment, the small blonde was braiding Melana's long, dark hair. When the child saw Sarita, she jumped up excitedly.

"Look Sarita!" she exclaimed. "This is the braid I learned from Aunt Gabrielle. It's very hard to do."

"And it's an excellent job, Diana." Sarita smoothed her hand over the blonde head. "I'm sure she'd be very proud of you."

The child beamed at the praise. Sarita again felt a worried pang. They should never have taken this lovely child away from her home. It was an insane idea and she couldn't believe she'd actually gone along with it.

Diana gazed up at the amazon who'd brought her here. At first she'd been scared to be away from her family. But Gabrielle and Xena would be here soon. Sarita had said they would. No one in her short life had made a habit of lying to her. So she believed what she was told. Lila's blue-eyed daughter was a smart and clever child. She'd inherited her father's blonde hair and his good nature. She adored her Aunt Gabrielle, apparently acquiring her wonder and joy of life from the famous bard. And she could hardly contain herself when Xena came to visit. She knew that someday she'd be just like the Warrior Princess. She was going to be a hero when she grew up.

Sarita couldn't shake the feeling that this was all going to turn out badly. Yet this little girl looked at her with such trust. She'd be damned to Tartarus if she was going to let anything happen to her.

It was early evening when the Amazon contingent met with the kidnappers. At the outer boarder of Amazonia, Ephiny, Kierra, Gabrielle, and Xena faced Amara and Sarita.

"Good Evening my Queen…or should I say, my Queens," greeted Amara.

"Where's my niece?" The question came from Gabrielle. Although it was hard to imagine that the normally warm-hearted bard could produce a tone of voice so cold.

"Quite safe….quite hidden, my Queen." Amara felt a surge of dominance. "I've come to negotiate early. Tonight, in fact."

"What do you want?" Ephiny posed the question.

"I want Xena to act as your emissary. She is to come with me now. And if she bargains with me in a 'cooperative and friendly' manner, you'll have your niece back by morning."

Gabrielle paled and Ephiny fumed at the insidious meaning of what Amara obviously intended Xena's 'cooperation' to entail. Xena's only response was a slight narrowing of her eyes.

"What!?" Ephiny was livid. She would've started toward the rogue leader if Kierra hadn't stopped her with a restraining hand on her shoulder. "How dare you…." she practically snarled at her adversary. "There's no way…."

"I'll go."

Xena's words brought a stunned silence to the entire group. Ephiny stared at her in shock, Gabrielle in dismay, and Amara in triumph. Kierra was watching Sarita instead. She'd noticed, as had Xena, that Sarita appeared as incredulous as the rest of them when Amara had stated her demand. Clearly the second was completely unaware of this part of the plan. Repulsed, Sarita turned away from Amara. But not before she caught Kierra observing her.

Kierra had once been childhood friends with Sarita. Though they had gone their separate ways, she'd always had respect for the former member of the Royal Guard. Sarita had been one of Melosa's favorites. But after the death of their queen, Sarita had resigned from the guard and ended up where they stood now. Kierra tried to convey with her eyes and expression that she found it difficult to believe that Sarita would be a part of what was taking place.

Sarita understood what Kierra was communicating before she turned away. She would talk to Amara. Kierra's look had only reinforced what Sarita was already feeling about herself. Disappointment.

Gabrielle felt sick. Her beloved warrior could not be subjected to that evil woman to save her niece. There had to be another way.

Gabrielle turned to her lover and spoke so only Xena could hear her. "Xena……"

Xena put both hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "I have to, Gabrielle." She looked into the apprehensive green eyes that were rapidly filling with pain. "As long as she holds Diana….I have to." She glanced briefly at Amara who was becoming impatient, then back at her mate. "It'll be alright, Gabrielle. It will. Just remember how much I love you."

Gabrielle could say nothing as the fugitive amazon took Xena away.

Back at Amara's tent, Xena insisted on knowing that Diana was indeed alive. She added seductively, "It would guarantee my….'active participation' in the negotiations, Amara."

They settled for sending out a question to which only the child would know the answer. After mere moments, the correct answer was returned. Xena now knew that Diana was not only alive, but very close.

"This was not part of the plan, Amara!" Sarita hissed at Amara near the entrance to the tent. The second was angry and worried at the sudden change of events. She knew that their leader had lusted after Xena for a long time. She'd even been in Amara's bed a time or two herself. But that was before Amara's tastes had turned harmful. Judging from the lascivious mood Amara was in tonight, the Warrior Princess was in trouble.

"Well, it was always a part of my plan." responded Amara sharply. Then her voiced suddenly turned saccharin. "Do you want to stay and watch?"

Sarita turned in disgust and walked out of the tent.

"I should have sent a battalion out after them." Ephiny paced the length of the queen's hut.

Kierra sat at the table watching Ephiny vent her frustrations. "If you had, they may have harmed Diana. You know that. All we can do is wait. Remember we still have Xena."

Stopping to glare at her lover, worry ignited Ephiny's temper. "We had Xena," she replied harshly. "We certainly don't have her now, do we?"

Gabrielle turned from the window where she'd been standing ever since their return. She looked at Ephiny with such anguish on her face that when Ephiny glanced over and saw the tortured expression, she wanted to die.

"Oh, Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it like that…."

"I know, Ephiny." said the bard quietly as she turned back toward the window. "She'll do whatever it takes to assure Diana's safety. We have to have faith in her….I do."

Xena was trying to focus her warrior skills as Amara was arguing with Sarita. She tried to summon the method she'd developed in the past for the few times she'd needed to use her body for sex instead of violence. The technique was similar to that of an out of body experience. She'd actually been able to remove her inner being from what her body was experiencing. But try as she might, she couldn't seem to make it work now. Obviously the years of sharing her soul with Gabrielle when they were intimate was making it impossible for her to separate from what she was feeling. And pretending she was with her lover was completely out of the question. She refused to bring intimate thoughts of Gabrielle into this sordid situation.

"You will fulfill my fantasies, Xena," growled Amara as she approached the warrior. "If you disappoint me in any way…I'll kill that brat myself."

As she started to walk away, Sarita heard Amara's threat and came to an abrupt halt. She should've known that Amara was not past killing an innocent child at this point. There was nothing she could do for the Warrior Princess. 'Atremis, forgive me,' she prayed silently. But maybe if she timed her actions right, she could protect the girl and give Xena a chance.

Xena closed her eyes and tried again to distance herself from the present. Amara misread the subtlety and grabbed the warrior by the back of the neck giving her a bruising kiss. There was no need for Xena to respond. Amara's fervor burned hot enough for them both. She groped at Xena's breast which yielded nothing as she was still wearing her protective armor. The amazon then dropped her hand to Xena's thigh. But before she could sweep her hand up underneath the warrior's leathers, a guard flew into the tent.


The ousted amazon halted her progress and slowly swiveled her head in the guard's direction. Her anger at the interruption was obvious. Her voice deadly.


"The girl…she's gone," blurted out the frightened guard. "And so is Sarita."

Amara pushed Xena down onto a nearby chair. She turned fully toward the guard.

"Then find them!" she roared.

Before the guard could react, Amara heard a silky, taunting voice behind her.

"Distention in the ranks, Amara. Not a good sign."

Xena's intention was to make the irrational leader interact with her, possibly delaying the search. But Xena did not anticipate the immediate reaction to be so completely focused. Amara whirled and landed a blow to the side of Xena's head. It connected with the force of a round-house kick that the warrior never saw coming. Xena was sent flying backwards out of the chair. She hit the floor and didn't move. Amara shoved the guard out of her way and headed for the tent's opening.

"Tie her up and then find that bitch."

Sarita knew that she should've allowed more time before her escape was discovered. But she'd been unable to stomach leaving the Warrior Princess at Amara's mercy. Once she'd been a trusted Royal Guard for Queen Melosa. She'd been prepared then to give her life to protect her queen. Now she faced a furious Amara and the renegade group who'd caught up with her. The out-of-control leader was surely going to kill her now. But she was damned if she was going to make it easy for her. And while Sarita may have believed that she'd lost the hero within herself, she was willing to give her life to protect this child. Sarita pushed Diana further behind her and drew her sword.

The battle cry of the Warrior Princess pierced the air seconds before she landed seemingly out of nowhere into the middle of the gathering. Most of the women present had the good sense to be apprehensive. Xena was unshackled, armed, and with Sarita protecting Diana, apparently had nothing to lose. They stood back in fear of the confrontation about to take place.

Her opponents didn't know that Xena was not at full fighting condition. The concussion she'd received from Amara was still affecting her. While she willed herself to dismiss the pain and nausea, she couldn't control the dizziness or blurred vision. She would have to use her speed and agility to stay way from the powerful amazon. If Amara was to actually take hold of her, Xena knew she'd be dead in a heartbeat. But by staying out of Amara's reach, it would be difficult to get close enough to deliver a fatal blow.

Amara gave her no further time to contemplate her dilemma. She attacked the warrior with strength provided by her rage. They fought for long minutes, neither able to press the advantage. If Xena was tiring, Amara was not. Her fury powered her past her normal endurance. She scored more and more damage to the warrior. Finally, another wave of blurred vision hampered Xena at a time when the amazon was too close. Amara struck Xena hard enough to knock her to the ground and separate her from her sword. She straddled the helpless warrior and raised her sword for the kill.

"Amara! No!"

Amara turned and looked over her shoulder. She glanced down her arm to where a dagger thrown by Sarita had grazed her. Then she shot Sarita a stare that was pure menace. But her expression slowly faded into confusion. She turned back to her quarry to find Xena sitting up underneath her. Amara followed the warrior's right arm from her shoulder to the hand that held Sarita's breast dagger deeply embedded in her midsection. Amara contemplated the dagger in disbelief as the warrior scrambled to her feet. Xena brutally forced the dagger in an upward direction to assure the injury would be mortal. The stunned amazon looked back up at the Warrior Princess and was met with eyes that were glacier cold. The last thing Amara heard as she slipped into the arms of death was Xena's voice dripping with loathing and sarcasm.

"Thanks for a lovely evening."

The sun was just dawning as Gabrielle, Ephiny, and Kierra waited in the village's central common. Word had come that Xena, Sarita, and Diana had crossed the boarder into Amazon land. The three figures soon appeared accompanied by an amazon patrol. Gabrielle was surprised to see Sarita carrying a sleepy Diana. When Diana saw her, she scrambled down from Sarita's arms and threw herself into Gabrielle's embrace.

Gabrielle looked beyond her niece to her lover. Sarita had not left Xena's side. The warrior was bloodied, bruised and apparently unsteady on her feet. Gabrielle wanted to run to her, but her niece would not let her go.

Ephiny approached Sarita. She'd already given orders to arrest the remaining rogue amazons. As she signaled for the Royal Guard to take Sarita away, Xena put her hand on Sarita's arm to prevent her removal.

"Ephiny….wait….I think the counsel… needs…to rehear Sarita's case." The warrior spoke haltingly. "Please."

"Alright Xena," said Ephiny gently.

It was Kierra who then stepped forward to help Xena into the queen's hut followed by Gabrielle and her niece.

The counsel quickly assembled to reconsider Sarita's case. With Xena speaking empathetically on her behalf, they reinstated her amazon status. But they sentenced her to a one year probation. She would serve as an instructor for the Royal Guard recruits and remain within the village boundaries during that time.

The next morning, Gabrielle, Xena and Diana were bidding the amazons good-bye. Although not actually fit to travel, Xena insisted that they return Diana immediately to her mother. She had a promise to keep.

A Royal Guard was accompanying Sarita to her quarters when Diana saw them. She ran up to the guard and demanded to know where she was taking her friend. Sarita knelt down until she was eye level with the child.

"It's alright, Diana. We're just going away for a little while. But when we get back, I promise to come and visit you."

This seem to satisfy the child and she started back to her aunt. Suddenly she stopped, turned back and addressed the Royal Guard assigned to Sarita.

"What's your name?" she inquired authoritatively.

The guard, who happen to be the same amazon Ephiny had sent with Gabrielle's summons, was somewhat surprised.

"My name is Darnelle."

Diana took a moment to scrutinize the guard. After apparently judging her worthy of the task, she instructed sternly. "You take good care of my friend."

Darnelle took in the trim figure and soft chestnut hair of her charge. She briefly examined the pleasant face with it's warm smile and intelligent eyes.

Then she turned back to Diana who was impatiently waiting for a reply.

"Count on it."

Everyone smiled at the attractive, young guard's response. Including Sarita.

Later that afternoon, the trio arrived in Poteidaia. Lila and her family were waiting on their front porch. An amazon messenger had already told them that their daughter was safe. Seeing Xena astride the large war-horse with Diana snuggled in her arms, was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen. Xena handed Diana down to Gabrielle. The child immediately scampered away directly into her mother's arms. As Lila turned to carry her daughter back into the house, she noticed Gabrielle carefully helping Xena dismount.

At the fireplace that evening, Diana was regaling her father and brothers with her adventure as she knew it. Sitting protected on Xena's lap, she could believe that it had all been a glorious escapade. In her child's mind, there had been no danger, no killing. She would fortunately be unaware of the reality of her abduction until she was much older.

Lila watched her family from the table where she sat with her sister. Gabrielle had explained the entire rescue in painful detail. She'd left nothing out. Xena had saved her daughter's life by suffering horrible ordeals and almost certain death. She looked at the warrior, still so amazing beautiful despite her injuries.

"I can't bear to think of her….. surrendering to the whims of that monster."

Lila looked back at Gabrielle, who continued to watch Xena. "But you said she didn't have to…..right?"


"But she would have." Lila looked back at her daughter's savior.


After a day's rest, Xena and Gabrielle were ready to leave. The family had said their good-byes leaving Xena, Gabrielle, and Lila alone.

Gabrielle gave her sister a fierce hug. Then she observed her lover to see if she needed help mounting Argo. Although it'd been three days since the fight with Amara, Xena was mending slowly. The injuries more serious than they'd first appeared to be.

As Xena turned to mount Argo, Lila stepped in front of her. Putting her hand on Xena's arm, she reached up and softly kissed Xena's cheek. Then she gently wrapped her arms around the warrior and whispered into her shoulder.

"Thank you…..for keeping your promise." Her tone was not only grateful, but warm. "Thank you…….for everything."

The physical affection displayed by her sister-in-law surprised Xena. But she hesitated only a moment before returning the heartfelt embrace.

"You're welcome."

By late evening Xena and Gabrielle were once again in the cozy room Miriam had provided for them four days earlier. Xena had fallen asleep as soon as she'd laid down on the big comfortable bed. After Gabrielle had unpacked their things, she sat on the side of the bed next to her slumbering lover.

"Why do the fates demand such a high price for redemption?" She brushed stray strands of Xena's hair back from her face. "And how long will you have to keep paying it?" Gabrielle lightly traced the fading bruise that stretched from Xena's temple into her hairline. There was no answer from the fates or from the lovely woman protected from such mysteries by sleep. Gabrielle removed her own clothes and lay down next to her warrior. She molded herself to Xena's warm back, embraced her, then fell asleep as well.

Hours later, just before daylight, Gabrielle was awakened from her dreams by soft lips traversing her neck. She smiled and let a contented sigh escape her.

"I feel better now."

The warrior's warm breath tickled her ear. Xena's right hand cupped the bard's breast and she was caressing the tender outer skin with her thumb.


Gabrielle turned back to nuzzle her lover. Then she tilted her chin up to receive Xena's kiss. As the bard's body shifted, she exposed both breasts to the sensuous exploration. Between kisses that were slowly growing more ardent, she tried to express her concern for Xena's health.

"Are you…..sure…….you're up…….for this?"

Xena stopped kissing Gabrielle for a moment and met her eyes in the faint light of the approaching dawn.

"I need this, Gabrielle…….I need you."

Though they'd shared their separate agonies of the last few days, Xena knew that there was much Gabrielle couldn't understand. She needed to immerse herself in Gabrielle's good heart. She had to reconnect with the love that brought her soul peace. To remove herself from a present indignation, Xena had stepped back for a brief moment into a past of violence and pain. Back to a time before Gabrielle had come to sweeten her life. Now she needed to re-establish that magical bond that made their intimacies so special. She had to recapture what Gabrielle gave her that made her feel complete.

Gabrielle was more aware of her lover's dilemma than Xena realized. Over the years the bard had experienced evilness, cruelty and harshness in many forms. But unlike the former warlord, Gabrielle had never let it taint her inner soul. It gave her a purity of spirit that was like a beacon to the always struggling warrior.

"I'll do anything for you, Xena. You know that."

Xena closed her eyes for a moment at her lover's response. This was one of the many things that defined Gabrielle's generosity. The warrior often depended on their sexual relationship to relieve the tensions of their perilous existence. While the bard had the additional outlet of her writing to express her feelings, she understood and equally shared Xena's needs. For this the warrior was eternally grateful. The bard didn't say, "I've had enough." She didn't say, "You want too much." Gabrielle never said…..."No."

Gabrielle turned them both and swung her leg over the warrior. She sat up and positioned herself across Xena's hips. Reaching for her lover's hands, she placed them on her own legs, covered them with her smaller hands and waited.

Xena slowly glided both sets of hands up Gabrielle's thighs. The bard's skin was so smooth, the muscles of her flexed legs solid. When she reached her lover's hips, she brought her hands down to the tender skin between Gabrielle's open legs. The bard's eyes closed and she tilted herself slightly toward the exploration. It was at that moment Xena knew what she needed.

"Look at me, Gabrielle. Let me watch it happen. Take me with you."

The bard barely arched back when she heard the request. In the increasing light, she could see the desperation in Xena's eyes. Maintaining complete openness and eye contact throughout a sexual experience was not an easy thing to do. It took an incredible amount of concentration and trust. Gabrielle lightly gripped Xena's hands that were still stoking her inner thighs.

"Alright, my love," consented the bard. "Take me there."

The warrior locked gazes with her lover. She slipped out of Gabrielle's grasp and slide her hands into the soft hair covering Gabrielle's satiny sex. She parted it and lightly teased the sleepy sexual node. Gabrielle tilted her chin up at the delicate fondling. She wanted to close her eyes and rear back for more contact. But she held her position and she held Xena's eyes.

"It's starting already, isn't it?"

Gabrielle's reply was a mere whisper. "Yes…..will you…..I want you inside…."

The warrior could see the intensity in her lover's eyes. As Gabrielle lifted herself slightly, Xena slipped two fingers into her opening. Before the bard settled down onto the diving fingers, she gripped Xena's arm and said.


Xena entered a third finger into her lover. As Gabrielle lowered herself onto the long fingers underneath her, she let out a soft gasp. Xena stared into her eyes as Gabrielle started to slowly rock against the digits filling her.

With each movement of her hips, Gabrielle could feel a pulling sensation against her now fully aroused sexual node. Xena's fingers penetrated deeper, the pressure completely filling the bard inside. The more she moved, the more stimulation she felt.

The warrior watched Gabrielle's eyes change in color. The more passionate she got, the darker they became. Not only could Xena feel the fervor as Gabrielle rode her fingers, but she could see the orgasm growing in her eyes. She wanted to throw back her head and howl at the thrill of their connection. But she stayed steadily watching her lover's growing lust.

'It's beginning,' thought Gabrielle to herself. She concentrated on the orgasm building inside her. This was normally where she'd start to implore the gods to release her and encourage her lover to finish the seduction. Xena always loved watching Gabrielle writhing under her skilled administrations. But not this time. While she managed to catch hold of the escalating pleasure, Gabrielle stared intently into Xena's eyes. As with herself, Xena's eyes had deepened in color as the bard's excitement grew.

"I'm going to come for you, Xena. Don't stop…..I'm almost there."

Xena continued to press against the highest point inside Gabrielle that she could reach. And the bard, grinding down on her long fingers, felt tremendous enjoyment. Gabrielle still allowed Xena to watch the emotional journey. Her eye contact never left the warrior's as she was finally overtaken by the joyous eruption.

"Now! Xena……come with me now!"

The orgasm that Xena saw was one of the most intense Gabrielle had ever felt. It was such a profound moment, that Xena could feel an almost spiritual fusion with her amazing lover. It was what she'd needed to couple her inner self with Gabrielle's again. She was so overwhelmed by the miracle that even though it was Gabrielle who climaxed, it was Xena's emotions that soared.

Her release felt like ocean breakers crashing against a rocky shore. The waves washed over Gabrielle until she was spent and sated. Afterward, she didn't know that her eyes had returned to their usual softness. But it was obvious by looking at her lover that she'd accomplished what Xena had asked of her. The warrior's eyes were once again serene, incredibly blue, and full of love. Gabrielle smiled down at her lover as Xena finally slipped out her depths. The blonde then bent over the beautiful body below her. Mindful that her warrior was still healing, she was careful to brace herself up with her hands. As she leaned in gently to kiss Xena, she finally closed her eyes.

Xena too let her eyes rest as she engaged the bard in a subtle kiss. After the sweet contact, the bard moved to Xena's right and snuggled at her side.

"You're incredible…." whispered the warrior.

"You inspire me," purred the bard in reply. "You make me do things I didn't know I could do."

Xena smiled, enjoying the comfort of Gabrielle's head on her chest. "Funny, I didn't know there were things you couldn't do."

The bard let her hands wander down Xena's abdomen. When she got to her lover's hips, she found the area where her excitement had left Xena's skin wet. She brushed the dampness away and continued her explorations into the soft hair between Xena's legs.

"Do you mind helping me make a small 'connection' of my own?" The request came from somewhere close to Xena's ear.

"I think that's the least I can do."

Gabrielle's touch was feather light on Xena's skin. She felt the warrior's body with great awareness of the healing injuries. The bard somehow coaxed her lover's sex into responding to extremely tender caresses. Gabrielle's seduction was as gentle as Xena's had been intense. And while the resulting fulfillment was not as dramatic, it was equally as satisfying. Soon full morning light was shining on their entangled bodies and they were starting to drift back into a restful sleep.

"I'll always love you, warrior," murmured the bard from under Xena's chin. "Nothing can happen to us that will ever change that."

Xena smiled at the sleepy declaration. She felt sated, content and peaceful. "I know that, my sweet bard. You make everything I am possible. And for that alone, I'll love you forever."

The two women slept peacefully with their trials and demons temporally held at bay. And their unparalleled love once again overcoming imposing odds. It was the kind of life they'd each chosen to live. Yet Xena and Gabrielle were well aware that difficult times make complex demands on people. Some are destined to wait, watch and worry. Their courage lies in accepting the inherent consequences of being unable to change their circumstances. Others are forced to rediscover the bravery they're no longer sure they possess. And then there are those, who at exactly the right time and place, have the power, ability, and desire to reach down deep inside themselves and produce the hero within.


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