General Copyright Disclaimers
Characters and backstory of Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of Renaissance/MCA/Studios USA. This story is not meant to infringe upon their rights. This story was not written for monetary gain. Anything not copyrighted to the above mentioned parties is copyrighted to me. If you wish to archive or link this story, please contact me.
This story is rated NC-17 for explicit sexual situations and rated R for violence.
This story contains themes and descriptions of a loving, sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. This story is intended for a mature audience with an open mind. If it is illegal for you to read this story for any reason at all, please close this web page and find something that is legal for you to read.
This was the last entry in the Sacrifice for Love Series. The poem below, I suppose, would be copyright to me, since I sorta thought it up on my own.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com.
A Warrior's Heart
Copyright September 12, 1998
|Some things... Are worth FIGHTING for. Some things... Are worth LIVING for. Some things... Are worth DYING for. Love is not some THING, It is...EVERYTHING.|
Realization came slowly to her as she opened her eyes; her surroundings came into a gradual focus. At first, she was not sure where she was and she was surprised to discover that she was suffering no pain. "I should be dead," Gabrielle mumbled as she sat carefully. She had only visited the Other Side once before, but she believed that she was in the Elysian Fields.
Peering over the tall grass in which she was sitting, she nodded at her assumption. She was in a far-rolling meadow; the sweet smell of grass of flowers assaulted her senses. Training her ears, she could hear no other people. "I guess everyone's gone in for the evening," she said, trying to alleviate her own fears of lonely solitude.
The bard's head fell into her hands as she tried to sort and make sense of what she last remembered. Ares' words had reminded her that Xena would die if she killed Hope. With a last panicked thought that she could not allow the warrior to die, she had called out her daughter's name and then had thrown herself at Hope. They had both tumbled into the fiery chasm.
Gabrielle raised her head and looked around. It was beginning to get dark but the cacophonous chatter of evening insects was a familiar comfort. Before the nightmarish battle with Dahok's forces, the sound would have lulled her into a peace that usually included a warm fire and the intoxicating scent of leather. But that was then, and this was...empty, Gabrielle realized. She would no longer be travelling with Xena. She would no longer share the warrior's often-taciturn company.
Feeling the beginning chill of the cool night, Gabrielle got to her feet and found her bearings. "First thing, need to start a fire," she whispered to herself; she jumped when her voice sounded loud to her own ears. Locating a large stand of trees at the edge of the meadow, the bard nodded to herself. She assured herself that she would find others in the morning.
Steeling her courage, she stepped into the shadows of the woods, appeased only by the fact that no harm would come to her in the Fields. Her eyes that were widened in the dim light to find suitable branches for a fire suddenly narrowed when she came upon a small clearing and the welcomed brightness of a campfire. Glancing around for the fire's owner, she cleared her throat and called out a greeting. When a figure stepped into the fire's light, the bard gasped.
---SHADE OF LOVE---
Xena dropped her saddlebags in a heap and tossed her bedroll towards the fire. She cursed when the furs began to curl as they stopped too close to the restless flames. After rescuing the bedding, the warrior sat on a log and slumped with exhaustion.
Her heart was heavy with grief and guilt. After returning Seraphin to her mother, she had gone to give the news of the Gabrielle's passing to her parents. Their reaction was even more viciously accusatory than the warrior had expected, but Xena had accepted the words of blame like physical blows. She had succumbed to them when she had left Potedaia behind and had found the privacy to shed a torrent of tears.
Then she had sent word to Ephiny of the Amazon Queen's passing. She would have gone herself, but the combination of running into an old nemesis and bowing to her own shame for what had happened during her last visit, had rendered the matter moot. She was almost sure what the Amazons would think after reading the scroll that she had been responsible. She half-expected a squad of warrior women to drop from the trees and engage her in battle.
Not that half of the time, she did not welcome the inviting arms of death, for her life without Gabrielle was utterly empty. If she wanted to reunite with the young woman in the Afterlife, however, she would have to spend a lot more time atoning for her past. Righting wrongs could not be done from Tartarus. It would be a great challenge since Gabrielle was the one who tempered her darker tendencies. Now that the gentle bard was gone, she had to rely on her own will to control her occasional irrational fury. She had to battle her herself to be even better, more compassionate, and more understanding. She had to be with Gabrielle in the end. She just had to.
"Xena?" When the warrior did not respond to the strangled whisper, the bard shouted her friend's name louder. She fell to her knees in confusion when Xena continued to lay out her meager camp. Her mind struggled with the ramifications. Unseen, unheard, she smacked herself smartly on the forehead with a firm palm.
"Okay, Gabrielle, think," she urged herself. "She can't hear me and she can't see me. What in Hades' name is going on?" She stood and began to pace. "I HAVE to be dead. I couldn't have survived that fall. But if I AM dead, why is Xena here? Did she die, too? But if she's dead, why can't she hear me calling her?" Suddenly, the sound of the warrior's voice invaded her mind.
*Oh, Gabrielle, I hope you can hear me. I...I miss you. I can't believe that you're gone. What am I going to do without you?*
With a start, Gabrielle realized that Xena's lips had not moved. "Her thoughts," she mumbled. "I must be dead, I can hear her thoughts." The bard nodded to herself. "That answers that question."
Sighing, she took a seat on a rock and watched as Xena retrieved some dried meat and began to nibble at it. "Come on, Xena. You have to eat. You'll end up sick if you don't." She shook her head in disappointment when the warrior tossed the food aside.
*I can't believe it's been over a month since you...died.*
"A month? How can...it's not...I just died. How could a month have passed already?" The bard slowed her tumbling thoughts and took a deep breath. "Time must move faster for those who are dead," she surmised. "How curious."
*And I can still smell you, hear your voice. Am I going mad?*
"No, you aren't going mad, Xena." The bard moved to join her friend on the bedroll when the dark woman began poking at her small fire with a stick. "I know how you feel, you know. Remember when you died? All I could think of was keeping my promise to you, of taking you home. I couldn't stop. But then, so much happened all at once...the Amazons, Autolycus, and Velaska. But that whole time, all I could think of was the fact that your body was in that sarcophagus. But still...I could have sworn that I could see you walking next to me...out of the corner of my eye. Only, when I turned, it wasn't real, and I was reminded all over again that I had lost you."
Gabrielle followed Xena's eyes as the warrior raised her head to the night sky. "I loved watching the stars with you. Even when we couldn't see eye to eye on the constellations, I was having a great time," the warrior continued aloud.
When Xena laid back and pillowed her head on an arm, the bard followed suit. "I don't know why I'm here, Xena, but I am, and I'm not going to leave you," she promised. Rolling to her side, the bard raised herself to an elbow and kissed the warrior gently on the brow. She could feel the warmth of the body next to hers as well as she had felt the cold earlier, and she snuggled into it, wrapping an arm around the dark woman's waist. "I'll stay by you until we find a way to be together again," she vowed.
Xena fell to sleep almost immediately. Exhaustion and grief mixed in an irresistible call from Morpheus. Before she succumbed to her dreamless slumber, however, a feeling almost like comfort drifted over her like a blanket, as if she was cradled like a newborn in trusted arms. At the moment when one conscious was traded for another, she smiled.
Gabrielle stretched and yawned. The morning sun that had just risen over the horizon filtered through the sparse trees and tickled her face with warmth. She wiggled uncomfortably on a rock that was gouging her back. With a start, she sat up and looked around the campsite. Sighing audibly with relief, she got to her feet and chased the warrior who had just mounted Argo and was moving slowly down the path.
When she drew abreast of them on the wide trail, she glanced up to the warrior and frowned. Xena's dull gray-blue eyes were shadowed and weary. "This isn't doing you any good, Xena," she chastised. "You should be resting." Gabrielle jumped when Argo snorted in what seemed to her a fair comparison to agreement. "Argo," the bard asked tentatively as she walked ahead a bit and placed a careful hand on the mare's neck.
The warhorse turned her head and whickered in greeting.
"Well, I'll be a Bacchae...again," Gabrielle muttered. "You can see me, girl, can't you?" She laughed aloud when Argo nodded her head. The warrior's irritated words, however, broke up her little party of celebration.
"Dammit, Argo, what's with you?" Xena took a firmer grip on the reins and guided her horse between two large oaks that framed the path.
Gabrielle, who had been looking at Xena, did not see the obstacles and passed through the one on the left. When she realized what had happened, the bard stopped and stared at the tree, her mouth agape. With a trembling hand, she swiped her hand through a low-hanging branch. "Well, I'll be...."
Before she had a chance to fully absorb the implications, however, the bard realized that the warrior was once again putting some distance between them. "Oh, Hades, Xena...would you slow down," she grumbled as she broke into a light jog to catch up to the mounted woman.
Argo snorted in greeting once again when she finally made it to the warrior's side. Not wanting the mount to suffer unduly at her master's firm grip, Gabrielle only winked in response. Half-walking, half-jogging at the warrior's side soon took a toll on her body, however, and the bard began to search for a way to alleviate her problem. Spying a low branch ahead on the trail, Gabrielle grinned and ran harder so that she could position herself.
Wiping away a bead of sweat from her brow, she hoisted herself up to the branch and waited briefly for Xena to pass under her position. When the time was right, the bard gave her battlecry and attempted her leap from the branch to Argo's back. What she did not count on, however, was the fact that Xena would choose that moment to swerve so that she would not have to duck under the branch, and the bard ended up flat on her face.
With a dry cough, Gabrielle waved away the dust cloud that had billowed upon her landing. "Son of a Bacchae, that hurt," she wheezed as she pushed herself back up to her feet. "This couldn't be easy for me, could it," she commented as she shook her head and resumed her jog.
By the time that Xena had stopped to let Argo drink and rest, Gabrielle was panting heavily and cradling an arm to her cramped side. "Big, dumb warrior," she mumbled as she fell to the ground in an untidy heap. "Couldn't you just once, Xena, slow down? If I wasn't already dead, I'd be dying here."
Argo looked up from the lake from which she was drinking and snorted.
"Yeah, well, we don't all have four legs like you," the bard growled as she stretched out in the grass. "Hades, Argo, what am I doing here? She can't hear me. She can't see me. And you aren't the best conversationalist, you know."
The warhorse shook her head, sending water spray to her left and right.
"Well, at least you can see me, girl," the bard sighed. "But I still don't know why I'm here. I should be in the Elysian Fields or...gods forbid...Tartarus." Reaching up, the bard smacked her cheek and then pulled an insect off her skin. "And why is it that I can feel things like cold and stones and bug bites, huh?"
Drinking her fill of water, the mare walked over to where Gabrielle was lying. With a powerful nudge of her muzzle, Argo urged her to stand.
"What," she asked, irritated that the horse would not let her rest longer.
Argo whinnied and nodded her head towards the warrior who was moving towards them.
"Oh, I get it...time to move on. Thanks, Argo, you're the best," the bard praised as she pulled herself up into the saddle. "At least I don't have to walk now."
Scooting back in the saddle, Gabrielle made room for her friend. When the warrior nudged her horse to a fast trot, the bard yelped in surprise. Wrapping her arms around Xena's waist, she held on for dear life. She did not want to experience the pain she knew she would feel if she fell.
It could have been the wind whipping through her hair or the smell of the sweet grass and flowers on the air that soothed the warrior. Whatever it was, Xena felt the same comfort she had the night before when she had finally fallen asleep. Closing her eyes, she relaxed in the soft place that it took her. The sounds of swords clashing brought her out of her reverie. "Dammit," she muttered as she urged Argo into a gallop.
"Oh boy," Gabrielle yelled as she tightened her hold. "I am not looking forward to this!" From her backside to her teeth, every bone and joint were jarred. The race to the battle scene was brief but telling in the way that the bard dismounted slowly.
Narrowing her eyes at the warhorse, she shrugged. "Sorry, girl, I love you...I really do, but I prefer a slower gait."
A shrill battlecry forced Gabrielle to turn her attention to the warrior and the men she was facing. On the side of the road, two men and a woman were cowering in fear. Standing, were six raiders seething with menace and one suicidal Warrior Princess.
"Come on, guys, I really don't feel like it today," Xena drawled tonelessly. "So how about you go your way, I go my way, and these nice people you were bothering can go home?"
The leader of the band of brigands, taller than the woman warrior by several inches, chuckled darkly. "Well, if it isn't Xena. We heard about your little friend," he said with mock sympathy, "too bad she isn't here, too. I wouldn't mind getting a taste of her."
The loss of her best friend and a lack of sleep rendered Xena's judgement poor. She heard her opponent's words and she let them affect her actions. With a growl that bordered on insane grief, she charged the larger man and engaged him with her sword.
Gabrielle gasped in fear. Xena was out of control and her attack was reckless. It seemed that by only sheer luck, her opponent had not landed a fatal blow. When the other four brigands moved to join the battle so as to tilt the odds, the bard let loose with her own cry.
She went in low and aimed for their kneecaps, remembering the incident with the tree that morning at the last second. She was about to curse her own forgetfulness when she heard her quarry howl in pain. She shook her head to clear the hair from her face and found her target sitting on the ground and holding his knee and crying out in pain. "Huh," she mumbled, tucking an errant braid behind her ear. "It worked."
As busy as Xena was with her own fight, the warrior did not notice the other man fall under the invisible blow that he had not seen coming. She was so occupied that she failed to see the other three fall. When she finally knocked the leader unconscious, though, she stared dazedly at the four who were writhing in the dirt. She sheathed her sword when she saw that there was no one left to face.
She looked around to find her partner in battle and saw only the two men who were still huddling on the side of the road. Instead of fear in their eyes, however, she saw blank disbelief. When she moved to see if they were all right, the men cried out and ran for the cart that had been abandoned during the attack. The woman they were dragging between them only looked over her shoulder to the men who had begun to crawl into the woods.
The warrior shook her head and returned to her warhorse that whickered in greeting. Xena patted her mare's neck and mounted slowly.
"Gods, Xena, you're hurt," Gabrielle cried as the warrior slumped in the saddle in front of her. "You know, you can be so...." The bard threw her hands up into the air as the warrior continued on as if she were not bleeding heavily from the wound above her right elbow. "By the gods, Xena," she muttered, wrapping Xena's arm with her small hand in an effort to staunch the flow of blood. "What I wouldn't do now to know those damn pressure points."
The rest of the day continued to pass without any further incident. Gabrielle kept close to Xena as the warrior prepared her campsite. She did not relax her vigil until the other woman finally settled down to look at her injury.
Xena's brow furrowed in confusion when she saw that the wound had bled less than she thought it would have. Her surprise was made even greater when she saw what appeared to be a bloody handprint surrounding the laceration. Shrugging it off as a trick of the light, she cleaned and stitched the wound closed.
After she had returned her medicinal supplies to their bag, she found several small bundles and unwrapped them.
Gabrielle's eyes widened when her stomach growled. The scents of dried meat and fruit made her mouth water despite the fact that she preferred her food fresher. When the warrior turned to find a waterskin, the bard snagged a piece of apple and began to chew it happily.
Xena sat in silence as she picked at her meal. When she reached down and found that it was all gone, her mouth pursed in disbelief. She knew that she had been eating, but not that she had eaten it all.
Beside her, the bard stifled a burp behind her hand. When Xena rose to find more food in her bags, the bard found the waterskin and nearly drained it in an effort to make the dried food travel easily to her stomach.
She watched with eyes full of love as Xena returned with another bundle of meat. Knowing that she had eaten practically all of the first serving, she stopped herself from eating the second. Ignoring the fact that she was still hungry, she laid back on the bedroll and contemplated the stars.
The meat was drier than Xena had realized and she sought to wash the flavor from her palate. When she found little water in her skin, however, she growled. "First the food and now the water," she muttered to herself. "What in Tartarus is going on?"
Gabrielle, who had been exhausted by the relentless pace the warrior had set that day, had fallen asleep. She never heard the warrior's question.
The next morning, the bard was awakened when a heavy arm fell across her torso. She was surprised that it had not passed through her but had rather, weighed upon her bare ribs with a comforting warmth. When Xena snuggled up to her side and rested her head upon her shoulder, the bard smiled sadly.
Her emotions were thrown into a further flurry of activity when the warrior's hand wandered higher to caress her breast. She held her breath and silently begged Xena not to wake. When the callused hand slipped low and then rose again under her top, the bard released a low groan. Her own hand instinctually reached for Xena's and added more pressure. Her nipple hardened and became more sensitive; her face was suffused with a heat of desire.
"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered in her sleep. She was dreaming of Gabrielle and the love that they shared. Now that Gabrielle was gone, she would only have a memory.
Tears began to trickle from the bard's eyes and she turned her head to kiss the warrior's forehead. "Oh, Xena. What are we going to do?" Gabrielle wanted the warrior to make love to her, but she knew that it was wrong. Xena was making love to a dream. Feeling guilty for enjoying the attention, she slipped away from the warrior and her skilled hand.
Looking at the sun rising over the horizon, Gabrielle realized that she had done the right thing. Xena would be waking soon. As she had considered it, the warrior rose and greeted the day with a dour mood.
*One more day without you, Gabrielle. I don't know how many more I can face without you by my side.*
Hearing the warrior's thoughts, Gabrielle crossed to her and reached a hand to soothe Xena's brow. "I am here, Xena. I will always be here with you."
The warrior's eyes softened to a gentle blue as she felt the bard's presence. With only a slight frown, she broke camp and prepared Argo for travel.
Remembering what had happened the day before, the bard hastened to mount the warhorse before Xena. She was not about to spend another morning chasing after the wandering woman.
At mid-day, Xena drew Argo close to a pond and dismounted. Slaking her thirst, she patted the mare and urged her to do the same.
Gabrielle dismounted with a grimace of discomfort. "I don't know how she does it, Argo," she commented as she fell to her knees and gathered some water in her cupped hands. She splashed her face and slurped another handful noisily. "I don't think my butt will ever be the same again."
Argo whickered in amusement and snorted a spray of water across the bard's chest.
"Hey, cut that out," Gabrielle cried as she scooped up another handful of water. With a mischievous grin, she threw it at the horse.
Xena's head rose at the sound of a horse galloping down the road. Leaving the warhorse to her own devices, she stepped boldly into the open.
The man, who had been pushing his horse relentlessly, pulled to a halt. "I was hoping to find you," he said as he dismounted. "You have no idea how many of us are out looking for you." Pulling his sword from its scabbard at his side, he watched the woman warrior carefully. "Story is that you have a death wish," he chuckled as he began to circle Xena. "Ever since your little friend passed over, they say that you've welcomed all bounty hunters with open arms."
Pulling her sword from its scabbard, Xena spread her arms wide in reckless invitation. "Why don't you try and find out," she snarled.
The bounty hunter was stronger than he looked. He wielded his weapon with deadly precision and control. Xena, not caring whether she lived or died, let him press his attack until she had been pushed back to the pond's edge. With a final grunt, the man disabled her with a flick of his wrist. She listened to the sound of her sword landing several feet away but her eyes were locked to her opponent's.
Gabrielle stepped forward when she saw that her friend was in danger. When Xena backed up a step and slipped to a knee, the bard gasped in alarm. "Xena."
The bounty hunter was bearing down on the fallen warrior; an evil grin spread across his lips.
Xena's eyes widened a fraction before her body was thrown back into the water. She sat up and pushed her wet bangs off her forehead. Her heart began to pound furiously as she watched a familiar specter rise away from her.
Gabrielle, with all the strength she possessed, retrieved Xena's sword from where it had fallen in the mud. With a look of cold determination upon her face, she began her advance. When the opportunistic man raised his own blade, she swung hers and knocked his aside with a fierce grunt. "No one, and I repeat, NO ONE hurts her, you got me?"
The man's face drained of color and he stumbled as his heel caught in an exposed root.
The bard was glowing in the late day's sun and water droplets caused a myriad of blinding sparkles to shimmer on her exposed skin. Her dark green eyes were lit with the power of her love for the warrior she was protecting.
Gabrielle watched the bounty hunter's eyes widen in fear. Inspired, she yelled, "Boo!!"
The man jumped and dropped his sword. With one last look at the wet warrior still sitting in the pond, he found his horse and rode off.
When he was finally out of sight, the bard dropped Xena's sword and wiped her brow. "Geez, Xena, that thing's a lot heavier than it looks." Shaking her aching wrist muscles, Gabrielle turned and smiled warmly at her best friend. "It's gonna take forever to get your leathers dry," she muttered.
The warrior narrowed her eyes in an effort to discern what she thought she saw. In the sun's light, an ethereal image formed. Sparkles were cast off a thousand droplets of water and in their shape and light, she saw Gabrielle. She gasped and crawled deeper into the water. "It's a trick," she cried softly to herself.
"Can you see me, Xena," Gabrielle asked as she knelt at the edge of the pond. When the warrior back away farther, the bard followed. "Can you hear me?"
"No...no...no," Xena moaned, closing her eyes and raising her face to the sky. "It's not you," she whispered. "You're only in my mind." Suddenly, her eyes opened wide and her breathing stilled.
Gabrielle pushed a lock of hair off Xena's brow and smiled gently. "I AM here, Xena. I always have been, and I always will be. Even in death, Xena...."
"I will never leave you," Xena finished. With a trembling hand, she caught Gabrielle's fingers and for a moment, felt the bard's wet skin under her touch.
A pain so delicate for the love she saw in Xena's eyes swelled within the bard's heart. Gabrielle fell to her knees beside the only person with whom she had ever imagined living an eternity. "I love you, Xena."
Unable to hide her emotions, Xena allowed her body to be overwhelmed with wracking sobs. She felt Gabrielle's spirit settle over her like a soothing balm and she cried for the love she felt.
They sat in the pond for a while longer before Argo brought their attention to the fact that it was getting late. Gabrielle looked up at the warhorse and shook her head. "Come on, Argo, let's get her dry and fed, shall we?"
Xena felt the slight pressure on her elbow and she looked around wildly to find where Gabrielle had gone. The sound of a gentle voice on the wind calmed and assured her.
"I'm right here, Xena. Come on, we need to make camp."
The warrior let herself be guided to a clearing not far from where she had battled the bounty hunter. She watched in a daze as wood was collected and arranged by unseen hands. The second that the flint was struck, she saw a fleeting image of her bard crouched over the chore. "Gabrielle?"
The bard heard the uncertainty and hope in her friend's voice. She smiled and stepped around the fire. "Yes, it's still me," she said softly. "You have to get this stuff off, or else you'll regret it later."
Even though she was not able to see the bard, Xena could still hear the soothing voice carried on the evening's breeze. She was prepared, therefore, when the buckles on her armor were unclasped. She did not move, for she needed to feel Gabrielle's presence at her side. A wave of peace washed over her wounded heart, drowning the pain that had consumed her since Dahok's defeat. She finally stood on bare feet when she felt the bard's firm hand urge her. She shivered when her leather battledress fell to her ankles.
Gabrielle wrapped a heavy blanket around the warrior's shoulders and led the taller woman to the warmth of the fire. With a kiss on her head, she left Xena alone so that she could drape the wet leather over a branch to dry during the night. She was startled when she felt the wind shift at her back. Spinning on her heel, she found Xena reaching out to her. "What is it."
"I...I can see you," Xena replied as her hand hung in the air. "The sunset and the pollen...I can see you."
Raising her hand to catch a beam of sunlight as it slanted across the campsite, the bard smiled and then laughed when she caught a dandelion seed floating on the breeze. When the warrior refused to lower her hand, however, the bard propped her hands on her hips. "Xena, I really can't stand here all night long, you know."
The warrior blinked and let her arm fall. "Sorry."
"Hey," the bard called softly as she reached up to trace a troubled frown from Xena's face, "don't say you're sorry," she admonished. "I'm glad that you want to see me."
"How is this possible?" Xena asked; her voice was tinged with awe.
The bard shook her head as she continued to marvel at the softness of Xena's cheek. "I don't know. I don't know what's going on, but I'm here...with you. That's all that matters."
"Why does everyone I love die?" Xena whispered as she reached to up grasp the bard's hand. For a moment, she could feel the warm skin under her fingers before it misted into vapor. "I thought that it hurt when Marcus died...but when you did what you did...." The warrior began to sob quietly as she felt the bard's comforting presence wrap around her wounded soul. "Why did you do it, Gabrielle?"
"I couldn't bear the thought of letting you die for my mistake, Xena. If I've learned anything in the past three years, it's that a person has to deal with the consequences of her actions. I had to deal with my own demons."
"And I am in a living Tartarus because I forgot what you mean to me," the warrior said. "I abandoned you in Britannia. I disregarded your feelings when I left to pay my debt to Lao Ma. I betrayed my love for you when I...."
Gabrielle's ghostly fingers stilled the warrior's words. "Shh...it wasn't all your fault. Don't carry those burdens on your shoulders alone, Xena. I have to share them with you."
"No, we are not going to argue about this. Don't relive what can't be changed. We made it through all of that. All we can do now is remember our mistakes and learn from them." Gabrielle sighed as she rested her forehead on the warrior's chest. "Come on, you're going to get a chill so far from the fire."
Xena relented when she felt the bard's spirit pull her towards the campfire.
They sat near the fire in silence. As the sun set, the bard's form became invisible once more. Her comforting presence, however, continued to soothe Xena's wounded soul.
The warrior sighed as she felt a warm current of air brush across her lap. "I want to be with you so bad, Gabrielle...I can feel you, but I can't touch you."
The evening's gentle breeze carried the bard's reply. "I know, Xena." The bard raised a trembling hand; she traced the warrior's lips with her thumb. "Let me love you," she whispered as she leaned in to taste the Xena's soft mouth. "Just feel how I ache for you. Know that you are the only person I want to be with."
Xena moaned deep in her throat when she felt the gentle pressure against her lips. Unseen hands pressed her down to the bedroll.
Gabrielle released Xena's lips to pursue a trail of kisses to the warrior's ear. "I am not complete without you, my love," she said hoarsely before her tongue traced a delicate lobe. "My heart rejoices when you are near."
Trembling with need and desire, Xena arched her back; she melted when her body came into contact with the bard's ethereal form. "Please, don't stop," she cried softly as a hand rose to caress her neck.
"Never," the bard promised. "I could make love to you forever," she swore as she focused her attention on her lover's chest. She sprinkled silky skin with feather-light kisses; she nibbled sensually on a collarbone. "You are my eternal pleasure."
Xena gasped when she felt warm lips descend to her breasts. Liquid heat pooled at her center and radiated outward when a nipple was captured. She moaned with pleasure. Opening her eyes, all she could see were the indentations where Gabrielle's hands applied exquisite pressure. Her head fell back to the bedroll; she gave herself wholly unto the delicate fire that was consuming her flesh.
"Gods, Xena, you taste so good," the bard murmured as she released a rigid nipple. "I could spend hours just kissing your body." Gabrielle emphasized her statement by moving to the other breast. "You are so beautiful that I want to cry when I know that you've let me into your heart."
"You are everything to me, Gabrielle," the warrior rasped. "I am yours."
The bard's eyes welled with tears; she laid her hand gently over Xena's heart. "No matter what, Xena, I will always be here." Closing her eyes, Gabrielle let the warrior's love wash over her. With a sweet surrender, her spirit crossed all physical boundaries.
She sank into Xena's body. Her soul merged with its mate. She made love to her best friend with a spiritual passion.
Xena cried out in rapture as she felt the bard enter her body. Her muscles tensed for a moment before collapsing in languid satisfaction. She cried when she realized that Gabrielle was content to stay where she was. "You will always be in my heart and soul, my love," she whispered as she fell into a peaceful sleep.
Gabrielle's spirit curled and wrapped around the warrior's heart. She vowed to protect in death that which was so easily wounded in life. "I will be with you always, Xena," she answered.
The next morning, Xena rose late. She panicked at the loss she felt; she could no longer sense her lover's presence. "Gabrielle?"
"I'm right here," the bard answered as she stepped from the bushes. The spirit grinned with embarrassment. "Would you believe I still have to visit the bushes?"
Xena shook her head with relieved amusement as she felt the pressure of a loving hand on her arm.
"I mean, it is so weird. I can feel the cold of the night air and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I get thirsty and hungry...and the bugs still won't leave me alone," Gabrielle continued with disgruntlement. "I don't understand how I can be dead and still feel alive."
As she poked at the glowing embers of their fire, Xena raised a brow in thought. "When I died and came back," she began quietly, "I could see and hear. It was easier when I took possession of another body, but I could still do it. But I don't ever remember feeling anything."
The warrior grinned at the slightly hurt tone of her lover. "Oh, that was the only thing that I did feel," she assured the bard's spirit.
"Our first kiss...."
"It was quite an incentive to fight for my life," Xena whispered. She sighed when she felt the Gabrielle's presence wrap lovingly around her naked body.
"Xena, I don't want to be like this forever," the bard lamented. "I want to be with you...truly be with you."
Sensing the pain that coursed through her lover's spirit, the warrior promised, "We will be together again, my bard. We just have to find out what has happened."
"We could go to the Amazons," Gabrielle suddenly exclaimed with excitement. "Maybe the priestess can help us find a solution."
Xena nodded with acceptance. "It's a start. If she can't help, maybe she can point us in another direction." The warrior frowned when she felt a cold breeze fill the void of the bard's sudden absence. "Gabrielle?"
"Oh, sorry, Xena," the spirit apologized. "I just got excited. I had to get up and pace. You know how I am," she said sheepishly.
Nodding her understanding. "When do you want to leave?"
"Is two hours ago too soon?"
Xena chuckled as she rose from the bedroll and donned her clothes. "Sounds good to me."
Two days later, the warrior and spirit bard passed the first Amazon markers.
"Are you sure you want to go with me, Xena?" Gabrielle asked with some trepidation. "They might not have forgotten about...you know," she explained.
"Gabrielle, I am not going to stay behind." The warrior smirked when she heard the frustrated sigh that was carried away on the wind. "Besides...I know that you'll protect me."
"So now the Warrior Princess wants to be funny, huh?" The bard's fingers found a sensitive spot high on the inside of her lover's thigh.
"Hey! That tickles!" Xena gasped as she tried to remove the offending hand. Her grasp, however, only found her own leg. "Gabrielle," she warned through clenched teeth.
The bard sighed and propped her chin on Xena's shoulder. "Don't tease and I won't either," she mumbled.
"I wasn't teasing," the warrior replied. "I know you helped with those bandits on the road and you fought off that bounty hunter." Xena shuddered in pleasure when the bard's throaty chuckled sounded close to her ear; she closed her eyes when she felt the warm breeze that caressed her cheek.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I think I scared him off more than fought him off," she said softly.
"You saved my life." The warrior took a deep breath and raised her eyes to the trees above. "And some way, my bard, I'm going to return yours." Xena cocked her head and tasted the breeze on the back of her tongue.
"Yeah, six of them. Just be quiet and let me do the talking, all right?"
"I guess there's nothing like a reversal of roles, huh?"
Xena smirked as she dismounted. She raised her clasped hands above her head to show her peaceful intentions.
Moments later, four Amazons fell to the ground with soft grunts. A familiar body approached Xena cautiously.
The leather-clad warrior remained stoically reserved as Solari lifted her mask to study her. She could almost feel the suspicion and slight fear radiating off of the Amazon.
"What brings you to Amazon country, Xena? We thought that we'd never see you here again after our Queen...passed."
Hearing the pain in Solari's voice, Xena softened her own. "That is what I am here about, Solari. I must speak with the priestess regarding Gabrielle."
"I think that there may be a chance to bring her back," Xena replied evenly; she ignored the raised brows that greeted her answer.
"They think you're crazy, you know," Gabrielle said as she dismounted from Argo.
"I thought I told you that I would do the talking," Xena warned under her breath.
"I'm not talking to them...I'm talking to you. But if you want, I could talk to them," the bard offered.
The Amazons cast querying glances at each other, as the warrior seemed to be having a conversation with herself.
"Do you think she's finally lost it?"
Solari glared at the young scout that had sidled up next to her. "If she has, pray that it's a mellow madness," the older Amazon whispered. She cleared her throat to get all of Xena's divided attention. "I will take you to see Queen Ephiny. She will decide whether to honor your request. I must ask for your weapons, though," she added uncomfortably.
Xena slowly complied with the Amazon's demand. Her need to have Gabrielle back in the flesh far outweighed any discomfort she felt at being weaponless.
The Amazons eyed the warrior with a mixture of wary curiosity and distrust. Several of them had been present months before when Xena had abducted their Queen in a brutal manner. They had trouble reconciling that vengeful warrior with the vulnerable woman that stood before them now.
Solari nodded and indicated that Xena was to walk at her side. The other Amazons formed ranks around the silent pair.
Ephiny listened solemnly as Xena explained the situation to her. Although the priestess Braea had warned her that something like this had been prophesized, the queen could not believe the story she was hearing. She yearned to see and feel her predecessor and friend like Xena did. She was a reluctant ruler; she wanted nothing more than to give the Mask of Queen back to Gabrielle.
Xena waited patiently after finishing; she schooled her features to conceal her hope and fears. She sensed that Ephiny believed her, yet she was afraid that her request to speak with Braea would be declined. She held her breath with Ephiny finally focused her gaze upon her.
"I will join you in council with the priestess," the queen finally replied.
Smiling when she felt Gabrielle squeeze her hand in assurance, Xena nodded and fell into step beside the reigning queen. They were silent as they walked through the village to the temple. They were oblivious to curious stares; they did not hear the whispers of gossip that were passed among the women. Their sole purpose was to find a way to bring Gabrielle back.
Braea looked up from her preparations as the queen and Xena entered the temple. She merely glanced at them before she narrowed her eyes.
Ephiny and Xena watched stunned when the old priestess walked to the tall warrior's side.
"I was visited by Artemis in a vision, my Queen," Braea whispered as she bowed to the spirit that was clasping Xena's hand. Her eyes softened when she saw Gabrielle's form shimmer in the soft candlelight. The goddess had gifted her with the sight to see the pure souls that wandered the earthly plane. "She has shown me the path you must take to return to your people."
Xena stood passively when the priestess turned to her. Her heart, though, thundered with the hope that she would be holding the flesh-and-blood body of her beloved bard soon.
"The path for Gabrielle's return is through your heart, warrior. Are you willing to lose that for Gabrielle?"
"I would do anything to have her returned," Xena replied earnestly. The warrior's eyes lit with a fierce love and commitment. Her heart, however, mourned the fact that she would not get to see Gabrielle after all. She knew, though, that things would be as they should when the bard was whole once more.
"Yes," Braea whispered as she looked into the warrior's soul, "you would." The priestess turned her back to the petitioners as she resumed her task at the altar. Over her shoulder, she spoke to Xena. "I am almost ready. If you will disrobe, we will start the ritual."
Gabrielle clutched at her lover's hand; her eyes were wide with fear. "What's going on, Xena? How is she going to bring me back?"
The warrior turned to her lover's voice; her eyes welled with unshed tears. "Gabrielle, listen to me," she began, ignoring the stunned gasp from Ephiny, "I want to do this. I can't bear the thought that you died saving my life."
"Do what, Xena? What is going to happen?"
"She is going to take my heart, Gabrielle. Once she has it, you will be free to return to your mortal form."
"Xena? I don't understand...." Gabrielle's eyes widened when she realized what was about to happen. "No...I won't allow it, Xena. You can't do this."
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle, but you were never meant to die in that temple. It should have been me."
"No," the bard whispered as she stepped closer to the warrior. "I don't want to live if it means that you have to die."
Xena gasped when she felt Gabrielle's spirit enter her body. Her tears began to fall when she felt the bard's utter desolation. "I promise, Gabrielle," she silently vowed to the woman that wrapped around her heart, "I will find a way to return to you again. Nothing will keep me from you."
Disrobing quickly, Xena approached the altar with confident strides. She was only vaguely aware of Ephiny who stood back in shock of what was about to happen.
Braea nodded in approval at the warrior's acceptance. She handed Xena a bitter drink that would deaden any pain she would feel.
"Xena, please...." Gabrielle cried as she wound her spirit tighter around Xena's heart.
The warrior closed her eyes and embraced the spirit that was had anchored itself to her heart. "I gladly give my life for yours, my bard. I love you," she thought. Xena opened her eyes and nodded to the priestess. She laid on the cold marble altar and silently promised Gabrielle that they would be together forever.
The priestess took deep, steadying breath and raised the ceremonial dagger high in the air; she asked the goddess Artemis to bless the hand that would free the Amazon Queen's spirit. After her short prayer, Braea studied the warrior that was freely giving her life.
Xena's eyes were closed and her breathing was steady.
When she did not flinch at the tentative first cut of the dagger, Braea worked quickly. After a deep incision, she reached into the warrior's chest and forcibly pulled out Xena's heart. As the muscle still pumped vainly in her hands, Braea raised the sacrifice as she had done with the dagger before. She whispered another incantation before the heart could stop beating.
Ephiny, who was stunned by the ritual, gasped when the temple was filled with a bright light. She shielded her eyes and turned her head. When the light faded, she turned towards the altar once more. A choked sob escaped from her throat when she saw the huddled, naked form of Gabrielle beside Xena. She bowed in respect when she saw the goddess that stood next to the altar.
"Rise, my Chosen," Artemis commanded.
The bard blinked twice and obeyed. She looked down at the warrior and began to sob. As she was about to throw her body over Xena's, a firm hand stopped her.
"If you want her to live, you must give her your love," the goddess said.
Gabrielle's brow furrowed in confusion until Braea handed her Xena's warm heart. The organ was slick with blood, but she cradled it lovingly in her cupped hands. She looked to the goddess for confirmation. When Artemis nodded, the bard knelt on the altar over her lover's dead body. Taking a deep breath, she quelled the spasm that threatened to steal her composure. Carefully, she reached into the gaping hole of Xena's chest and returned the heart to its cavity. With a silent prayer and a gentle kiss to her warrior's lips, the bard stepped back off the altar.
Braea raised her hands once more and chanted in a language that Gabrielle did not understand. She raised the dagger again and lowered it to Xena's body to follow the clean lines she had made earlier.
Tears welled in Gabrielle's eyes when she saw that the wounds were healed as the knife passed over them. She raised bloody hands to stifle her renewed sobs when Xena suddenly inhaled. "Xena," she called as she crawled onto the altar to aid her lover that was trying to sit. "Xena," she repeated, not believing that the warrior was returned to life.
The warrior looked first to the bard that was stroking her face. She raised a trembling hand to return the caress.
Xena and Gabrielle looked deep into each other's eyes; they moved as one to share an exquisite kiss full of promise and love. When they broke off reluctantly, they turned to thank Artemis and Braea. Before they could say a word, however, the goddess pinned the warrior with a hard look.
"Gabrielle could not cross over because you were on this side...she could not leave her soul behind," Artemis explained. "In return, you could not release her love from your heart. You refused to let her go. The only solution was to rejoin my Chosen with her soul. I could not have her wandering the earth as a shade until you crossed over. She is too vital for that existence."
"She returned your heart to you," the goddess continued as she narrowed her eyes. "All of her love and soul are in your heart...it has kept you living through the past three years. Her love kept you going when you felt as if death was a preferred path. Her love brought you back from that cross in Tartarus." The goddess gazed admiringly at Gabrielle. "Her love is greater than any power of the gods."
Artemis took the sacrificial dagger from Braea and examined it closely. "So, as she returned your heart and her love to your body, she returned your life." The goddess' look became introspective and full of wonder.
Xena nodded her understanding; the meaning of the words awed her. "I would have died in a moment if that meant peace in the Fields for her."
"Yes, I know," the goddess said as cleaned the dagger on her leather skirt. "But your death would have been the loss of her soul. That existence would have been worse than that from which you have saved her." Artemis kissed the knife before she continued. "You have felt it, warrior. You and Gabrielle are joined in heart and soul. You do not know how to exist without each other...you cannot exist."
Turning her back to the reunited couple, Artemis walked over to a table and replaced the dagger in its sheath. She bowed her head and then turned to face Xena. "That is the only reason why I have decided to forgive your cruel indiscretions against my Chosen. If I thought for a moment that she would not be devastated by your death, I would have struck you down for what you have done to her. As it is, I must listen to her heart and forgive you as she has."
Xena winced in memory of the cruelties she had inflicted on her lover; she vowed to never again let her rage blind her to the greatest love she had ever known.
"I'll have you know, though," Artemis concluded, "that I will not tolerate another act of violence against her from your hands. I will kill you first and make sure that you suffer in Tartarus...and then I would kill her to end her grief."
"You have my word as a warrior that I will never hurt her again," Xena swore.
Artemis nodded her acceptance and handed the dagger to the warrior. "So that you may never forget the sacrifice that you were willing to give," she explained as Xena accepted the dagger. "I give you this. It shall be reminder that Gabrielle is worth dying for."
Xena felt the comfortable weight of the knife in her hand. She lowered her eyes to study the hilt that was inlaid with emeralds and sapphires. "I will never forget how precious she is to me."
"Well, I will leave the two of you to...get reacquainted," the goddess said as she cupped Gabrielle's face in her hand. "You have a great capacity for love, my Chosen Gabrielle," she whispered. "It shall keep the two of you until your dying day long from now."
The bard blinked in acknowledgement of the goddess' words. She could only think of the warrior who was warm flesh and full of vibrant life. She could only remember the feeling of strong arms wrapped around her in the heat of passion or the sweet embrace of love. She struggled against the urge to simply fall into the warrior now. "Thank you for everything, my goddess," the bard murmured when Artemis disappeared.
Ephiny watched in silent wonderment as the warrior and bard caressed each other in affirmation; she began to cry when the two lovers celebrated their reunion with another gentle kiss.
They only broke apart when Braea cleared her throat and handed the warrior her leathers and armor. Gabrielle accepted a robe to cover her own body.
The crowd that waited outside of the temple gasped in unison when they saw that the young queen had been returned to them. Cheers began when Xena swept Gabrielle into her arms.
"Can you handle everything while Gabrielle and I...." A slight flush rose high on the warrior's cheeks as a thousand images of making love to her bard flooded through her mind.
Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's neck when she felt the hum of arousal coursing through her lover's frame.
"Yeah, sure, I can do this," Ephiny replied as she nodded quickly. "I don't know if they'll believe me, but I'll try."
"Thank you," Xena called over her shoulder as she stepped through the crowd that parted for them.
When they finally reached Gabrielle's royal hut, Xena set the smaller woman on her feet. She smiled brightly when she reached up and pulled the mourning garland off the door. With a flamboyant gesture, she flung the wreath of flowers across the square. The bard's husky laugh fanned the flames of desire that were already burning high. "I am going to make love to you until neither of us can move," the warrior said as she once more gathered her lover into her arms.
"I just want to feel your skin on mine, Xena. I've missed feeling your body's weight on mine."
The warrior moaned in response to the bard's impassioned words; she kicked open the door to the hut. "I am yours, my bard. You are my heart."
"And you are my soul, Xena."
The barrier of cloth and metal did not deny their ardor for each other; their lips met in a crushing embrace as their hands fumbled with clasps and closures. When they fell onto the pallet, they were joined in body as well as spirit.
"I want to do everything," Xena mumbled as she trailed a path of fiery kisses across Gabrielle's collarbone. "I don't know where to start."
Gabrielle caught the warrior by the hair and reluctantly raised Xena's face from her chest. "Start with love," the bard said gently before she brushed her lips across her lover's.
"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered as she lowered her mouth to the center of the bard's chest. "My life is not whole without you." She moved even lower and captured an erect nipple between her teeth. "You are the nourishment that feeds my soul."
The bard gasped as a bolt of desire blazed to her center.
"You are the reason I live," Xena whispered fervently as she glided down the bard's trembling frame. "You are my sun, my air, my water," Xena continued reverently as she kissed her way down her lover's undulating body. "Without you, I am empty."
Gabrielle cried out in ecstasy when the warrior's mouth found her wet pleasure. Her body arched and she buried her fingers in Xena's raven hair. Her legs locked across the warrior's back and she screamed her lover's name with joy and passion.
Tears flowed freely from Xena's shimmering eyes when the warrior looked up to see the look of pleasure that softened Gabrielle's face. She knew that it would not take much to push her over the same edge. She crawled back up the bard's body and captured the smaller woman's lips as she straddled a firm thigh. "This is my love for you," she whispered as she began to rock her hips.
Lowering her hands to guide the warrior's movements, Gabrielle captured Xena's eyes with her own. In one long, loving look, she returned all of her lover's words and more. She smiled sensually when Xena began to groan low in her throat. "That's it, my love," she said. The bard's right hand drifted from Xena's hip to cup a swaying breast. When she pinched the nipple firmly, she was rewarded with a sudden stiffening of the warrior's body. She shuddered when her lover's cry of life's affirmation.
Once their initial passion for each other was sated, the lovers fell into each other's arms. They whispered words of love and promise until their blood sang hot with need once more.
Ephiny looked to the moon that was rising over the Queen's hut. She bowed her head and said a prayer of gratitude to Artemis for rejoining her two friends. She blushed when another shout of release shattered the quiet evening. "That has got to be the most beautiful song I have ever heard," she whispered as she turned to enter her own dwelling. She fell onto her bed; her body curled into an exhausted heap. She smiled though, for she knew that two souls had been reunited and it gave her hope for the future.
Tomorrow was going to be a much better day.
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