Copyright © by Wakar, 1997
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are copyright MCA/Universal. "On Your Shore" is copyright WEA Records and was written and recorded by Enya. The Story contains graphic descriptions of sex between two consenting adults. You must be at least 18 to continue reading.
"I can't believe what a coward she is!"
"Hmph, everyone thinks she's so brave."
"At least the child has the excuse of inexperience . . ."
"She's not a child anymore. She's a grown woman. You haven't paid much attention to them until recently but I have."
"Cool it, Lover Boy." Aphrodite pouts and stomps her foot. " I guess I'll just have to take care of it myself."
Cupid eyed his mother closely and for the millionth time wondered why the older generation was so childish. He sighed and began thinking of ways to head off this latest scheme of his mother's. "Well," he drawled, "if you must. It's kinda sad though."
"What's sad about it? All love is a tribute to me. And they do love each other. You know that. They're just too cowardly to say it!!"
"Yes, but I still think your original plan was better. I think you're giving up on them too soon."
"But they've had two years! And I heard Artemis sniggering about it just the other day."
"It'll be worse if you interfere! She'll start saying you have to trick humans into love because they have no respect for you. She'll say you're just a minor God, that love is not important so you are not important."
"She wouldn't dare!!" Aphrodite screamed.
But her ever watchful son saw the glimmer of self-doubt, of insecurity, of fear. And he knew that it was justified. Oh, she had as much power as any of them. But they both knew that that was the only reason the other Gods did not scorn and ridicule her outright.
Cupid sighed again. Why couldn't the other Gods see and understand the TRUE nature of Love? It's many wondrous aspects, facets, variations? It's beauty and joy, it's Light? Even his mother didn't have a clue! Why was he the only one who knew? A wave of lonliness engulfed Cupid and in that moment of Godly despair he swore a fierce determination to stop his mother from interfering.
"She would. But if things work out the way you thought they would in the beginning, she and the others will be silenced. Let it happen Mother. Let it come into being on its own and the light of it will outshine Helios himself."
Aphrodite looked steadily at Cupid. She was well aware of his tendency for fancy words, flowery speech, out and out exaggeration. But still . . . . "I think you see more than is really there son. But it is true that the flame of their love would be brighter than any so far. I hope they at least have the decency to thank me for bringing them together."
"All you did was make sure they met. I wouldn't exactly call that 'bringing them together.' Besides, you act like they had no input in the whole thing."
Aphrodite whirled to face Cupid, "Don't start spouting that New Era stuff at me! It's heresy and I want nothing to do with it! Really Cupid! Saying that humans have a spirit, and that they actually can make choices about their lives before they're even born. It's beyond me how you can believe something so ridiculous. And as for those two, I'll leave them be for now. But know this: I won't wait forever!"
Cupid waited a moment after his mother departed before allowing himself a smile. After all, she wasn't the only one who had put plans into motion all those years ago.
The bard looked up briefly as a breeze ruffled her hair. To most it would have seemed an icy gust. But for her there was no cold compared to the vacant, aching, emptiness inside.
She lowered her eyes to gaze again at the pale, strong features of the fallen warrior whose head rested still and peaceful on her lap. She had been sitting this way for hours, only occasionally running a gentle caress over the long, dark hair. The passing day had brought just one surprise - that she felt so little. But even this unexpected state was quickly understood - she had nothing left with which to feel. Her heart was dead - as surely as the warrior lover who lay before her. She had long since stopped straining to sense a breath or a beat of that once powerful and passionate heart. This time nothing would save them.
Again the breeze. And when she raised her head the sun was just beginning to disappear below the horizon. With one last sigh she lowered the woman warrior's head gently to the ground. Never noticing the stiffness in her own legs, she rose and began to gather wood for the fire.
The bard looked down at the pages in her hand. All the stories, the songs, the poems she had loved to perform were meaningless now. And even worse, they were a threat. She could never again tell of her warrior lover's heroic deeds lest the telling stir and reawaken her heart. A heart whose only emotion, if it ever felt again, would be a pain, a loss far beyond her ability to endure or live with. For a moment the woman wondered how she could endure the emptiness. Then she blinked as the wind blew hair in her eyes and the moment of wondering passed in to the emptiness.
She lay the thin sheets of paper on the pyre then reached down and picked up the lighted torch. She looked one last time at the body of the woman, the mentor, the lover, the friend that lay before her. Reaching up she gently stroked the warrior's cheek, whispered her name for the last time and set the torch to its destiny.
Her eyes stared at the flames as they quickly moved up toward her lover's body and knew that she would have felt envious of them if she could have felt anything at all. Even standing so close she was oblivious to the intense heat that was building. The fire reached the warrior's body and bathed it in an ethereal glow. She was as beautiful at this moment as she had ever been.
Finally the bard turned and walked away, for what was to follow would be too much even for the emptiness to bear.
As the woman reached the crest of the small hill the icy wind once again gusted around her.
"Now tell the important stories."
She whirled around, half expecting to see her lover standing there smiling. But all she saw was darkness and a bright flame burning in the distance. 'It was her voice wasn't it?' she thought. 'Wasn't it? Or was it just the rustling leaves. Or am I going mad already? Maybe I only now notice my madness.' Her heart beat rapidly and breaths were shallow and quick. There was no fear, merely a slight confusion. It wasn't her imagination. It was real. Listening with every part of her being, standing perfectly still, heart calmed, breath quiet, she willed it to come again.
". . . the important stories," whispered softly in the air.
The bard did not understand what it meant or from whence it came, but she knew it was real and accepted it. The tension held in her body for so many hours melted away and she came to a place of self awareness for the first time that day.
'Where to go from here?' she wondered. Returning to the town was unthinkable. They would be celebrating the victory. They would try to comfort her and would sing the praises of the woman warrior who had saved hundreds of lives and freed thousands more. They would speak her name again and again. No she could not return to the town. And the story of what happened here this day would spread throughout the land. A land once in turmoil would now be a land in peace.
Where to go? A shiver ran through her as the cold night air finally penetrated her awareness. New traveling supplies would have to be bought. Everything she'd owned, everything they'd owned, was now with her beloved. There was only one thing that had been kept.
Instinctively her hand went to the band which encircled her wrist. Three slender straps of leather bound toghether with a single bead. A similar bracelet had been worn by the woman warrior only it's bead was green to match the eyes of the bard. The woman lifted her arm and saw the full moon reflected in the inky blackness of the bead she wore. Black to match the eyes of her now lost warrior woman. Black flashing eyes in which she had both lost and found herself time and again. She brought her wrist to her lips and tenderly kissed the bead. One last shimmer of sunset caught her attention and she headed west.
Gabrielle followed along behind Argo, her eyes almost never leaving Xena's back. Eyes that burned from lack of sleep and no few tears. Xena was walking today. Something she had been doing more of lately. Gabrielle had been convinced - or had convinced herself - that Xena had started doing this in order to be closer to her. And it was true that of late their friendship had unfolded and grown into something warm and wonderful. Though they never discussed it much. Xena was the silentest "strong, silent type" Gabrielle had ever known. 'Also the strongest,' she thought.
'I should be walking beside her instead of hanging back. She's clearly trying to make up for the way she's been acting. Why am I being such a brat?'
True, Xena had been colder and more distant the last couple of days than all the previous months put together. She had ridden on Argo at a pace Gabrielle could barely keep up with, allowed mere moments for their midday meal - of which Xena herself ate nothing - and had made camp each night quickly and effeciently, crawling into her bed-roll and going to sleep as soon as the evening meal was done.
The first day had worn Gabrielle out. She'd asked Xena what was wrong but had only gotten a terse, non-commital reply. She'd lain awake all night wondering if she'd done something to anger her friend, though Xena had said not. The next day had been no better. Having gotten no sleep Gabrielle kept falling behind which only seemed to irritate Xena more. Last night the young woman had been so exhausted she had finally slept - though fitfully and only between the tears and the anger at Xena's behavior.
Anger which was still very much present today - even though Xena had set a slower pace and was also walking herself. The tears were still present too.
Gabrielle looked at the scenery and tried to concentrate on the plot outline of her latest story. But in moments her eyes were once again on Xena's back and confusion reigned as her mind jumped from one scenerio to another. Finally, exhausted, she stopped walking, closed her eyes, and bowed her head, resting her brow against her staff.
'Why is she behaving this way?'
She thought back to when they were walking through the valley after Velasca and Callisto had been dealt with. Xena had found a small stream where they could rest for a bit. Until then Gabrielle had been lost in thoughts of Callisto and Perdicus, trying to sort it out, to let it go, to reconcile it with how she now felt about Xena - or how she'd always felt but had only recently been able to acknowledge.
Xena, as usual, had also been quiet. As they sat by the stream Gabrielle was aware of Xena's eyes on her. And she knew what was coming. That kiss couldn't be set aside indefinitely. Thinking about it made Gabrielle's heart pound. But what if Xena didn't feel the same way? What if she'd misinterpreted what she'd felt in that kiss?!
Panic seized the bard's mind. She loved Xena so much, more than she ever could or would love another.
"Gabrielle, . . ." Xena said in her soft, husky voice.
What if Xena didn't love her the same way?! If she found out how Gabrielle felt she might be embarrassed and not want her around! She might send her away! Gabrielle couldn't bear the thought of being separated from her love again. And so, in the throes of an apprehension greater than any she had known, Gabrielle slowly raised her eyes and looked at Xena.
'And now she won't talk to me at all.' 'Ease up. The woman was dead for Gaia's sake. If she wants to be moody I'd say she's got the right.' 'Why doesn't she say something about the kiss?' 'The KISS. The KISS. That's all you think about now! Get over it! Quit trying to make more out of it than she meant!' Gabrielle could feel the tears building in her eyes. 'I thought it meant she loves me.' 'She DOES love you! You know that - she's told you!' 'But I mean a different kind of love.' 'You're never satisfied, are you? Here's a woman who loves you, who would unconditionally lay down her life for you, who is the best friend you've ever had or ever will have. And are you happy with that? NO! Are you content with that? NO! You want different! You want better! You want more!' 'STOP IT!'
Xena trudged along beside Argo. Her heart was aching and it made every step an ordeal. She'd been a brute to Gabrielle the last couple of days. But the only way she knew to hide her pain was with anger. After some gentle inquiries Gabrielle would mostly leave Xena alone when she was angry. But if the young woman knew - or suspected - that Xena was hurting she would be relentless. And Xena knew she'd never be able to keep back the truth.
'I should just ask her to come walk next to me.' Xena recalled how haggared Gabrielle had looked this morning and hated herself for being the cause of it. 'She already has to guess at what I want too much of the time. Huh. Considering my behavior though I don't blame her for avoiding me.' Xena's mind drifted back over the recent events in their lives.
Since being revived by the ambrosia she had longed to tell Gabriell of her love. But before she'd gotten the chance Velasca arrived and after that all thoughts were consumed with saving Gabrielle from death at Velasca's hands.
When Xena had merged with with Gabrielle to fight Velasca for the ambrosia, she had waited until the last possible moment to enter her. And had left as soon as the fight was ended and Gabrielle was safe. She had known there was no way to avoid sensing some of her friend's emotions but had been determined not to tresspass on her private thoughts and feelings.
But before that, when she had kissed Gabrielle . . . . The memory of the softness of Gabrielle's lips still took her breath away, and for a few moments Xena allowed herself to be lost in the reverie of that sensation. Gabrielle had not shied away from that kiss. Indeed, she had returned it and this had given Xena the hope that the young woman she so adored might also return her love.
But that hope had been shattered beyond recognition that day in the valley as they sat relaxing beside the stream, when it was obvious to both that the time had come to speak of what had passed between them. When Xena had tenderly spoken her name - and Gabrielle had looked up at her in sheer terror.
Xena had reeled from the force of fear emanating from Gabrielle. It was both unexpected and overwhelming. Xena had regained her composure quickly, standing up and turning away, muttering something about expressing her thanks for all of Gabrielle's help. But inside her heart screamed. And she had turned to anger to hide the pain.
Xena shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. 'I love her so.' 'Well, she doesn't love you - not that way. That look she gave you left no doubt about that.' 'I know.' 'Then act like it! Perdicus was the one she loved. And he's dead because you were too high and mighty to kill Callisto when you had the chance.' 'I know!' 'You're lucky she even speaks to you after that!' I KNOW!' 'But her nature is loving and kind. You're just a born killer!' 'No.' 'She left you once, she'll do it again!' 'No!' 'How soon before another person she loves dies because of you?' 'NO!' 'Then one day SHE'LL die because of you!' 'STOP IT!'
Xena stopped abruptly as a shudder raged through her body. She took in a couple of deep breaths and regained control. As her heart beat slowed down and her mind calmed she sensed that Gabrielle was no longer following. She turned and saw her a ways back, leaning on her staff. Immediately alarmed Xena hurried to her side.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Xena needed to look into those beautiful, green eyes but the young woman would not look up.
"Nothing. I'm just still a little tired I guess."
"Why don't we make camp early today? There's a place just ahead," Xena said softly.
Gabrielle nodded silently and began to walk away.
"It has a large stream. And a waterfall with a wide pool beneath it," Xena said as she caught up to her friend. Usually the possibility of spending half a day at such a place would delight Gabrielle. But this time she just nodded again and kept walking.
Xena's heart grew a little heavier as she followed. But somehow she would make up for her harsh behavior.
Suddenly she stopped. "Someone's up ahead." She put out an arm and gently maneuvered Gabrielle until she was standing behind the warrior.
"I wish I could protect you some of the time," Gabrielle whispered - then caught her breath. She had not intended to say that aloud but she was so mentally worn out she just couldn't stop in time. She tensed slightly, wondering if Xena would be angry - for breaking the silence when she was trying to listen, for getting too intimate, for something that Gabrielle couldn't even think of.
Xena's heart melted. She kept looking forward but turned her head to respond.
"Gabrielle . . ." her voice was low and husky. "Gabrielle, you stand between me and a darkness so terrifying I have no words to describe it. You block its path when it reaches out for me and lead me away from it if I stray too close. And sometimes . . . sometimes the light of who you are . . . just . . . simply overpowers it. And that's more protection than I've ever known.
"Stay close to me," Xena said as she turned and continued down the path, ever watchful for who or what was up ahead. She sighed slightly and resigned herself to learning to live with the longing she felt for the young bard.
'Forever,' Gabrielle thought, as she reached out to touch Xena's arm. But Xena had already moved away. Gabrielle did not know whether to laugh or cry. She moved to follow and wondered how long it would take to get used to the burning ache in her heart.
Xena was walking along easily, much of the tension having left her body. She'd determined there was no major threat in whatever was ahead and, more importantly, Gabrielle had moved up to walk beside her. They were both quiet still, but she could tell that her friend was also more relaxed. Suddenly Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm and brought her to a halt.
"Do you hear that?!" she asked excitedly.
"Yes," Xena replied in that sometimes irritatingly laconic way of hers. "I've been hearing it for a while now."
"Don't be so smug," Gabrielle teased, referring to the warrior's superior hearing. And pinching her arm just to get the point across. Xena slightly arched one eyebrow and almost succeeded in supressing a smile.
"It sounds like it's coming from the place I'd intended to make camp." Xena noticed a sense of irritation that her time alone with Gabrielle was possibly going to come to an end. And was even more put out when she thought about the last couple of days that she had wasted.
"It's so beautiful," Gabrielle whispered as she began wandering toward the sounds. She liked music but had never heard anything like this. The breathy sound spoke of a beauty ever expanding, changing. And yet a consistancy that offered a sense of balance no matter what spirals and whirls the melody followed.
As they left the road for the path to the clearing, Xena stepped again in front of her friend to check out the secluded area. She paused at the edge of the clearing for a moment then nodded for Gabrielle to follow her.
Gabrielle came to stand quietly beside Xena, all her attention still held by the music. After a moment Xena felt the touch of Gabrielle's fingers gently clasping her arm. She glanced down and smiled at the top of the bard's head. This was a habit of Gabrielle's that had become familiar to Xena. Whenever the young woman felt a need to share what she was feeling, but could not find the words, she would hold Xena's arm - as if to transmit through touch what she could not say. Gabrielle herself was unaware of this gesture and Xena had never drawn her attention to it - fearing she would stop. Xena had never seen Gabrielle do this with anyone else and she felt a fierce desire to keep this small treasure of intimacy her's and her's alone.
The song ended. The woman leaned the flute against the tree trunk on which she'd been sitting. 'At last,' she thought as she rose to greet the two women standing at the edge of the clearing. Feelings tumbled through her heart - anticipation, relief, compassion, envy, joy - and the bard found no words would come to her lips. It seemed to her she had known forever that this moment would come. And yet she found herself unprepared. She took a deep breath, and smiled.
As the music ended Gabrielle's awareness turned to the woman who had been playing. She was about her own height, wearing pants and a shirt of soft, finely woven wool. Her hair, chopped off to hang just below the jaw line, was thick and gray. Her skin was tanned and there were many fine lines around the eyes and corners of her mouth. Her expression was neutral but Gabrielle had an overwhelming sense that she was missing something important in that look, something she had always known but for some reason had forgotten. Then the woman smiled.
Gabrielle rushed to where the woman stood and only by great will kept from throwing her arms around the woman's neck. The sense of seeing an old friend again was almost overwhelming. But Gabrielle was just as certain that she had never met this woman before. She was a little confused but undaunted. And was also filled with an unexplainable joy.
'It must just be the effect of the music,' she thought as she stared speechlessly at the older woman.
Xena had remained standing by Argo but had noted Gabrielle's reaction. And her own sense of familiarity with the scene had her puzzled. However, it was she who finally broke the silence.
The older woman turned her eyes from Grabielle to look at Xena but said nothing. The smile had slowly faded as she gazed at the young warrior. There was almost a wrenching at her heart, but something stayed it at its birth. She had both looked forward to this meeting and dreaded it, not knowing how it would affect her. So many years since . . . . And now this dark beauty standing so confident and comfortable before her.
Xena, as a rule did not like being stared at. But there was something different in this woman's look. Though her expression was neutral Xena could feel some secret pain, some ancient longing and instinctively knew that the woman was not really seeing her at all. So she stood still and silent letting the woman have her moment. And soon the slow smile once again began to appear on the woman's lips.
"Hello. To both of you," she said, turning back to Gabrielle.
"Your music . . . it was so . . . moving and beautiful," Gabrielle gushed, having found her voice at last.
She smiled again and Gabrielle's heart leaped. 'What is this strange effect she's having on me' she wondered. But just as suddenly she no longer cared for the reason - only that at this moment she was happy.
"This is a beautiful site. I thought I'd make camp here for a couple of days. I would be happy if you both would join me. Mostly I prefer traveling alone but sometimes it's nice to have a little companionship."
"Oh, that would be wonderful," Gabrielle exclaimed - then caught herself. "Well, that is . . ." She looked at Xena and prepared for the scowl she was sure to find there. Xena was not very social and seemed to prefer being with just Gabrielle. Normally this was fine, but right now she thought a buffer between herself and Xena might be a relief. And to her surprise Xena was looking at her with tenderness and affection. The warrior smiled and nodded and Gabrielle, unconsciously, looked at her in total adoration.
"Then it's settled," the woman exclaimed. "Let's set up camp."
Gabrielle set to work unpacking while Xena tended to Argo and their new companion, whose name the had learned was Tara, gathered fire wood. There wasn't much conversation, Xena being silent by nature and Gabrielle still exhausted from worry and lack of sleep. Tara noticed the tension between the two young women and the forced manner in which they interacted.
When everything was ready Xena said she was going for a bath and a swim. She looked at Gabrielle who normally would have joined her. But Gabrielle remained seated, saying she thought she'd have a nap first and swim later.
"Would you like some music to fall asleep to?" Tara asked and smiled down at Gabrielle as Xena headed for the river. Gabrielle's eyes, holding more than a little longing, followed Xena for a moment. Then she nodded to Tara and said she would love to hear more of her music. Gabrielle lay down and as the vibrations flowed around her, the young bard let go of her tension and drifted into a quiet, peaceful sleep.
She awoke much later to find the sun low in the sky and dinner roasting over the fire. She rose and headed for the river and a quick bath. When she returned Xena was glad to see the look of exhaustion had faded. In fact she looked almost cheerful.
Gabrielle and Tara laughed and talked easily as the evening folded around them. Xena was, in a way, glad that Gabrielle's attention was elsewhere as this allowed her to simply look unhindered at the young woman she loved so much.
Then Gabrielle asked "Do you always travel alone?" She looked at Tara expectantly but no answer came.
Tara had frozen at Gabrielle's question. 'How can I answer?' she thought as she stared back at Gabrielle. 'She's so young and loves her warrior so much.' Tara knew that Gabrielle carried the burden, as she herself had done, of loving a woman whose life was almost constantly in peril. And she could see in Gabrielle's eyes the confidence she had in Xena, the determination to believe Xena would always win, would always make it come out all right. For to believe anything else would paralyze her heart. 'How can I speak of you? You - so like the dark beauty by her side. How can I add to the burden of her constant battle against fear and anxiety by telling her of another young bard who was left to a solitary, restless existence by the death of her own warrior princess?'
Xena stared hard at the older woman and somehow knew - knew the answer she was so relunctant to give Gabrielle. 'Don't tell her,' Xena pleaded in her mind. 'Please don't tell her.'
Gabrielle looked at the older woman. She didn't understand why Tara did not answer but accepted her silence with a smile and moved on to the next of her bounty of questions.
The next morning Gabrielle and Tara sat in the shade of a large tree, leaning against its massive trunk. Both were silent as they watched the warrior princess go through her sword practice. After a while Tara stole a peek at Gabrielle. She smiled slightly, recognizing that Gabrielle would never notice being looked at as long as Xena was the focus of her attention. So Tara turned her gaze fully on the young woman. She sighed at the look of love and longing reflected in those green eyes so like her own.
She and Gabrielle had talked late into the night, about creating and performing. Tara had thoroughly enjoyed the discussions and had quickly developed a deep affection for the younger bard. Xena had remained quiet and a little withdrawn. At first Tara thought she was just bored. But as the afternoon dirfted into evening, Tara had noticed many times a subtle look on Xena's face that spoke volumes about her feelings for her young companion. And she had also noticed Xena was careful to be very neutral whenever Gabrielle looked her way.
Tara had been surprised at these revelations. Having heard of their exploits she'd felt certain they were lovers. But the reality of their relationship was something different. They both obviously loved and wanted each other but for some reason each was keeping her needs and desires a secret from the other.
Tara frowned slightly as she turned again to watch Xena. For a moment she hesitated. She'd been alone so long now. Perhaps her perceptions were wrong. And wrong or right, it wasn't her place to interfere in their lives. She had a simple task to perform and then would disappear from their lives forever, she thought. But a sudden tightening around her heart gave her pause.
Perhaps she was here for some reason other than passing on her stories to Gabrielle. She sighed. Suddenly it was all blurred and confused. For so many years she had wandered this land. She'd always felt there was a purpose and accepted that someday it would be revealed to her. When she'd first heard of the warrior princess and the bard she had been enveloped in a "knowingness" that her purpose - her destiny - was somehow linked to them.
In her years of wandering she had perfected the stories about the love she and her own warrior had shared. There were no heroic deeds in her repertoire, no amazing adventures. Only the perfect beauty of two hearts that loved as one. Simple stories seemingly out of place in such a violent world. But here and there over the years they had been heard by those who could respond to their depth, their truth. And more often than not they had changed those people's lives.
She glanced again at Gabrielle as every instinct within her screamed that this was not right, this was not how those two were supposed to be. But still she was reluctant.
Xena finished her practice, a light workout today. As she neared the two women waiting in the shade of the tree, Tara could feel Gabrielle's anticipation it was so palpable. But then Xena walked past them without a word or a glance. Waves of desappointment flowed out from Gabrielle even as her look and demeanor remained calm and neutral.
A breeze quickly came up and seemed to swirl around Tara. Suddenly her mind was no longer confused. Her purpose - her destiny - was clear.
"Hey! Warrior!" Tara derisevely called out to Xena. "You call that practice?"
Xena turned back to face her. She'd been surprised at the tone of voice but quickly saw the smile on Tara's face. "Well, I'm still recovering . . . from . . . ." Xena let her voice trail away, not knowing how to explain her death and resurection.
"Hm, yes," Tara said. "I'm sure if you explain that the next time you - or Gabrielle - are attacked they'll go easier on you."
Xena's face grew dark as she scowled at Tara. True she was not yet fully recovered, but she had cut today's practice short. Not because she was tired, but because Gabrielle's gaze, as she watched Xena's every move, felt like a flame consuming her. And finally her concentration could not overcome the raging desire of her body. She'd had to get away!
Xena returned Tara's stare and knew she would resume her practice. If nothing else those two words would drive her back to it: "or Gabrielle."
Xena stepped past Tara and moved again to the center of the small meadow.
"If you're bored," Tara said, "how about I make it a little more challenging for you?" She followed Xena and stopped about 10 yards away from the warrior. "I'll be your sparing partner."
Xena looked doubtfully at the woman. She was slight of build and not much taller than Gabrielle. And she wasn't young. Xena knew looks could be deceiving, but still . . . this woman was a bard - not a warrior. And she was unarmed.
"I don't . . . ."
"You're not afraid, are you?"
"Only of hurting you," Xena replied calmly.
"Hurting me? Hurting me!?" Tara threw back her head and laughed heartily. "Girlie I'm willing to bet you can't even touch me!"
Xena frowned, raised her sword and dropped into a fighting stance.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted in alarm.
"It's all right Gabrielle," Tara called out. "I haven't survived this long without learning a few tricks."
"But you're not even armed."
Tara stood in a relaxed stance as Xena began to circle 'round her. She turned as Xena moved so eye contact was never broke. "Gabrielle, listen carefully. You are the weapon. Whether or not you're holding something in your hands should be irrelevant."
Xena arched an eyebrow. That was a lesson few she'd encountered had understood or accepted. And it had cost them dearly.
Xena lunged, her blade aimed at Tara's heart. Of course she would pull up, she had no desire to hurt the woman. But just then her vision blurred. She momentarily stumbled and lost her bearing. She recovered quickly and spun around to see her opponent still standing calmly.
"Sorry," Xena mumbled. She was surprised and a little concerned at what had occured. Was this some kind of delayed reaction to the ambrosia which had renewed her life? No matter what it was, she was more than a little embarrassed. No way Gabrielle would have missed seeing that, she thought, forcing her eyes to not look in her friends direction.
For her part Gabrielle was in a mild state of shock. She was standing, eyes wide, jaw dropped. And grew even more amazed as Tara briefly glanced her way and winked. Then Gabrielle realized that Xena had no idea as to what had just occured.
"Let's begin again, shall we?" Tara said matter-of-factly.
Xena nodded and again began to circle. Again she lunged, at what seemed to be a perfect opening. Again her vision blurred and she stumbled. But this time she recovered immediately and whirled to face Tara who was standing calmly and smiling.
"Are you using some kind of magic on me?!" Xena demanded.
The older woman shook her head. "Why don't you put your sword away and let's just go hand to hand."
Warily Xena walked over to Gabrielle and handed her the sword. "Gabrielle you saw it, what did she do?"
"She just seemed to give a small wave of her hand and moved out of the way. I've never seen anyone move that fast!"
Xena returned to face her opponent. She was not happy. "Why don't you explain to me what just happened here?" Xena's voice was low and slightly threatening.
Tara looked up at the proud warrior. She had no desire to humiliate Xena nor embarrass her in front of Gabrielle. But somehow she must put Xena in her debt.
"If you'd rather talk than fight, that's ok with me," Tara teased. "My mistake. I thought Gabrielle was the talker and you were the warrior."
Gabrielle gasped. Even though it was obvious Tara was goading Xena, she knew Xena wouldn't stand for it.
"Let's make this really interesting," Tara said. "I'll wager that you can't beat me in hand to hand combat. What do you say?"
Xena looked at Tara for a long moment. She knew there was no hurt intended in her taunting and let her anger subside to mild irritation. "And what do I get when I win?" Xena asked, doing a little taunting of her own.
Tara grinned at the younger woman's bravado and self-confidence.
"If you win . . . I'll teach you the methods I used to hold you off as long as I did."
Xena started to protest that that wasn't much to offer. But for some reason, some feeling she couldn't name and, indeed, was only barely aware of, she smiled and nodded.
"And if I win . . ." Tara said and paused. She looked at Gabrielle then back to Xena. "If I win, I get to sit you and Gabrielle down and you have to listen to my new song."
In relaxing, Xena realized she had tensed waiting to hear what Tara would ask for if she won. But the gentle look in her eyes allayed Xena's misgivings and she let go of her seriousness to enjoy the fun of competition.
Gabrielle also relaxed and was happy that the tense moment had past. And she was glad Xena had set her sword aside. She felt a strange commradship with Tara and wanted no harm to come to her.
She leaned back against the tree to watch. Then Gabrielle's vision blurred - or so the thought. She blinked and realized it wasn't her vision but the flurry of action that was playing out before her. Tara and Xena looked like chaos in motion, Xena relentlessly attacking and Tara just as consistant in her defense.
Again her eyes widened in amazement. How was Tara able to deflect Xena's strikes? And with such ease? Her style was very similar to Xena's but taken to a much higher level. And she never made any attempt to attack - only to defend herself against the onslaught that was Xena.
Xena was thinking much the same as Gabrielle. She had learned what she could of this fighting style from M'Lila and had worked to enhance and improve it over the years. But Tara had obviously had much more training. This woman was a master.
On and on it went until Gabrielle was tired just from watching. But neither would give in. Xena knew that eventually she would win. At some time the woman would become tired and there would be an opening. And Xena saw in Tara's eyes that she knew it also.
Tara hated herself for what she was about to do. She knew Xena would do whatever was necessary in a real fight, but she would fight fair unless there was no other way. Though even then the stakes would have to be high. And to Xena this was just a friendly match. But Tara knew it was much more, and so she resorted to treachery.
It was quite easy actually. For under that stern, blase' exterior, Xena had a kind heart. It only took a stumbling step, a forlorn look and the warrior princess let Tara win.
Xena picked herself up off the ground and smiled down at Tara. "Well, I guess you win," Xena drawled, "but I'd still like to learn some of those techniques you used." Xena was sincere in this request for she was greatly impressed by the woman's abilities.
Tara, breathing heavily by now, smiled and glanced over at Gabrielle. "I'll teach you anything I can - on one condition: that you in turn teach Gabrielle. I've heard she's pretty good with that staff, but . . . well, in fighting it's always a good idea to have many skills." Tara looked hard into Xena's eyes. "I know you want to always be there to protect her. But believing that you always will be is foolish - and dangerous for Gabrielle. Promise me."
Later that day Xena requested a lesson from Tara but the older woman declined. She promised to start first thing the next morning but suggested Xena and Gabrielle take advantage of the warm weather to enjoy a swim and a peaceful afternoon. To Gabrielle's surprise, Xena agreed. Xena's was a restless soul and she could rarely stay in one place for more than a courple of days. But apparently Gabrielle wasn't the only one being charmed by Tara.
Xena and Gabrielle went for their swim while Tara took her flute and left for an afternoon of solitude and practice. That night Gabrielle told stories until they all fell peacefully asleep.
The next morning the lessons began. At first Gabrielle joined in. But Xena learned so quickly and was able to apply the moves almost instantly, so soon the bard sat down and was happy to simply watch. These last couple of days had been a tonic for her - and also, she believed, for Xena. The stress of the recent events was finally melting away for both of them. Gabrielle felt a calm in her heart that wasn't there before. Her love for Xena seemed to be taking on its own steadfast quality. The desire was still burning - as she knew it always would - but she realized it no longer blinded her to the beauty and joy and simple pleasure of Xena's companionship.
"You are an amazing woman, warrior princess," Tara commented as Xena deftly copied her instructors latest move.
"Please don't call me that. It sounds so . . . so . . ."
"Yes! Exactly! It's embarrassing."
Tara smiled as she made a small correction in Xena's stance. "Can you feel/sense/understand the difference that makes?"
Xena nodded then suddenly jumped, whirled and kicked.
"Excellent. I've never taught anyone who learns as quickly - and as thoroughly - as you. But I think that's enough practice for this morning."
"But . . ."
Tara held up her hand. "Xena there's more to learn than the physical movements. Rest a bit then we'll begin on principles and mental diciplines. And after that we'll practice some more."
Xena and Gabrielle went for another swim. Tara could hear Gabrielle's laughter and was suddenly overwhelmed with a fierce determination that the young bard be united with her heart's desire. Xena needed at least two more days of lessons to build a basic foundation in these new skills. After that she would call in her debt and depart. For a moment she tried to imagine what the days would be like once her mission (for she could think of it in no other terms) was over. But no images or thoughts came so she let go of the wondering.
The next two days passed quickly, each following the same routine. Tara was glad to see the tension leave Gabrielle and the hard lines around her mouth and eyes begin to soften. Xena was another story. She had somewhat relaxed in her interactions with Gabrielle, but there was still a vague ackwardness between them. Tara felt a pain of compassion for the young warrior who kept herself so tightly in check, who was so afraid of loosing that which she held so dear.
"It's time," she whispered, not realizing she'd spoken aloud.
"Time for what?" asked Gabrielle as she looked up from her scroll and smiled. "Another lesson?'
Tara cocked her head to one side and raised her eyebrows. "Hmmm, yes. I suppose you could say it will be a lesson," she murmered as she looked at Xena who sat slightly apart, honing her sword. She smiled tenderly at Gabrielle, "But I meant it's time to collect the debt I'm due for besting your warrior princess."
"Are you going to play your new song for us now?" Gabrielle asked excitedly.
"This evening," Tara replied. "And I hope you like it."
"I know I will. Your music is . . . is so . . . . I don't know, it just touched something inside me."
Suddenly Xena's head shot up, then the rest of her body followed. "Gabrielle!" she shouted in warning. After that there was no time for words. Xena bagan fighting off the attackers that were pouring into their camp and Gabrielle and Tara quickly joined the fray.
Through the shouts, the punches, the clashing of swords, Xena tried to maneuver closer to Gabrielle. But as soon as one villain was dealt with it seemed two more stepped in to block her path. Suddenly she wondered if that was the plan - to keep her occupied so someone, anyone could get to Gabrielle. She glanced in Gabrielle's direction and saw her young friend holding her own with Tara protecting her back.
The number of attackers left standing was diminishing rapidly. Xena increaed her efforts and began furiously fighting off the men remaining in front of her. Just as the last one fell Xena's heart froze. One of the downed assailant had loosed a dagger - and it was headed straight for Gabrielle's back. There was no time. No Time. The words screamed in her head and her world dissolved. She blinked and saw the man Gabrielle was fighting hit the ground, unconcious. Then Gabrielle herself collapsed. But it wasn't the dagger that had brought down her love. It was Tara, whose body now covered the younger bard's, whose body now had a dagger sticking out of it. Xena dispatched the last two thugs and hurried to where the two women lay.
"Gabrielle be still!"
"Xena what's going on?"
Xena quickly examined Tara as she lay unconscious over Gabrielle. "Tara's been hurt. I'm going to hold her while you move. But be careful, the knife's still in her." She firmly held Tara as Gabrielle gingerly crwawled out from underneath.
"This knife has to come out. Get me some clean bandages." Xena looked at the woman lying face down in the grass and felt the darkness begin to creep in toward her heart.
"Here's bandages and water. She's going to be all right isn't she? You can save her can't you?"
Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes - eyes that expected Xena to always take care of trouble, to be the winner, to overcome all obstacles. In the past Xena had reveled in the confidence Gabrielle had in her. If anything it made her even more determined. But this time, unexpectedly, all she felt was pressure to live up to some super-human standard. And that this time she wasn't going to measure up.
"I'm not a damn miracle worker Gabrielle!" she shouted and began her ministrations on the injured woman.
Hours later Gabrielle and Xena sat silently gazing into the fire. Tara lay near them - still unconscious. Occasionally Gabrielle would make some small adjustment to the blanket which covered Tara or carress her hair. She had not asked again whether or not Tara would survive. In fact neither she nor Xena had spoken for hours.
Xena had disposed of the bodies of their slain attackers and then had sat in silence, fighting off the rage that was edging in to take over her heart. A rage at losing someone she had come to care for and respect. A rage mixed with the fear of knowing that it could have been Gabrielle now lying so still, slowly moving towards death.
The silence extended into the evening. Finally Gabrielle could stand it no more and, reaching over, she put her hand in Xena's. Xena kept her eyes on the flames - unable to bear the look of pain and saddness she would see on Gabrielle's face. But the woman's touch brought her out of her downward spiral of anxiety. She squeezed gently and began to stroke the back of Gabrielle's hand. At this small gesture of tenderness and understanding the tears Gabrielle had held inside began to spill down her cheeks. They sat that way until late into the night when Xena convinced Gabrielle to lie down and try to sleep for a while.
The next day dragged by in silence and sadness. But at dusk Tara finally awoke. Gabrielle was at ther side immediately. She called out to Xena who was gathering wood. As Xena knelt beside her Tara's eyes fluttered open briefly. She place a hand on Xena's arm and whispered, "Beloved - soon, soon," then drifted off again.
"What did she mean Xena?"
"She's delirious Gabrielle."
They sat beside her watching and waiting, and before long the eyes opened again. This time she knew her surroundings and her companions. Gabrielle gave her some water and she managed to take some broth. But she was still very pale and soon she slept again.
The next day was much the same though Tara was awake more often. Gabrielle began to think the woman might pull through after all. She or Xena stayed next to her all day, each giving her own form of encouragement.
Mid-afternoon of the following day Gabrielle, who had dozed off, awoke to find Tara sitting up and smiling at her.
"You should lie down!" she exclaimed, though she was thrilled to see how much better the woman looked.
"I'm fine Gabrielle."
Xena had come over and was staring at Tara with a slight frown. She had seen too many fatal wounds to have any doubts about this one. The flush of her cheeks did not erase the overall palor. And her eyes were fever bright.
"I am a little thirsty though," Tara said softly and Gabrielle hurried to bring her some water. "Glad to see you're all right," she smiled at Gabrielle.
They talked for a while, Gabrielle expressing her gratitude for what Tara had done and Tara waving her actions off as a matter of course. The older woman seemed to get visibly stronger with each passing moment. Gabrielle was delighted, Xena still slightly puzzled.
After the evening meal Tara asked Gabrielle to bring her pack to her. "I have a present for you," she said to the young bard.
"A present? But . . . ."
"Go on, go get the pack." Tara glanced at Xena with a twinkle in her eye and a slightly conspiritorial smile on her lips. Xena arched an eyebrow and wondered what was going on.
When Gabrielle returned, Tara opened the pack and brought out a small bundle and handed it to her young friend. "I got this some time ago and have been carrying it around with me ever since. At the time I didn't know what made me buy it, it isn't something that's appropriate for my lifestyle. But now I think it was meant to be given to you."
Gabrielle felt the tears come to her eyes and fought them back as she leaned over and kissed Tara on the cheek. "Thank you."
She gently opened the bundle and gasped. Out spilled the most beautiful piece of material she had ever seen. Pastel hues swirled and mingled in delicate, intricate patterns. The material itself was of a weave so fine Gabrielle couldn't even see it, and its softness was beyond describing.
"It's silk," Tara explained. "It comes from a country far away to the east." Gabrielle could only shake her head in wonder. "I think it will fit you perfectly."
"Fit me? You mean it's something to wear?" Gabrielle asked increduously.She held it up to reveal a plain shift desigh with small shoulder straps.
"That's right. Kind of a fancy nightshirt. Go on, go try it on."
Gabrielle jumped up and ran into the bushes. She wasn't shy about undressing in front of Tara or Xena but wanted to have a moment alone to savor this wonderful gift.
A few minutes later Xena looked up and audibly gasped as Gabrielle came into the firelight. The garment was a simple style, stopping just above mid-thigh. And the material was truly beautiful with the colors perfectly bringing out the red highlights of Gabrielle's hair, the green of her eyes and that creamy complexion that always made Xena's mouth water. But it was the way it draped around Gabrielle's body, especially her breasts and hips, that took Xena's breath away.
"Oh Tara, I've never owned anything like this before. I don't know what to say. Xena look, isn't it wonderful?" Gabrielle moved to stand in front of Xena. "And feel how soft this material is," she said, reaching down to take Xena's hand and placing it on her side. "Isn't it the smoothest thing you've ever felt?" she asked as she moved Xena's hand in a circular motion over the fabric.
Xena nodded, incapable of words. Gabrielle turned away and moved to where Tara was sitting. Xena's fingers clinched empty air as she forced her hand back to her side and her eyes to the ground. She breathed slowly and deliberately but nothing could stop the pounding of her heart or the fire raging in the pit of her stomach.
"Warrior!" Tara called out.
Xena's head snapped up.
"It's time to collect my debt."
Xena nodded but didn't speak. Tara noticed the somewhat dazed look in the warrior's eyes and smiled to herself. It seemed the garment she'd given Gabrielle could be a major factor in breaking down Xena's resistance to what was to come.
"But first I would be grateful if you would pack up my things and roll my blanket for me."
"Why?" Gabrielle put in.
"Because it's time for me to leave."
"But you're barely able to sit up! You can't travel!" Gabrielle protested in alarm. She looked to Xena for support. Xena was about to agree when she caught Tara's eye. Gabrielle looked back and forth between the two as they stared silently at each other.
"Gabrielle . . . "
"No Xena! She's not well enough!"
"Gabrielle," Xena saif firmly, "we can advise her not to leave, but she has the right to do what she wants."
Tara smiled reassuringly at Gabrielle. "I'm much better, really. And I'm only going as far as the shrine that's down the road. It's important to me Gabrielle," she added as her young friend started to protest again. "And I have to go right now. Please don't ask me to explain further." Tara looked again at Xena. "Stop there in a couple of days when you continue your journey."
"We'll go with you now," Gabrielle said.
"No Gabrielle. I have to go alone. Don't worry, everything is fine."
Gabrielle looked searchingly at Tara and met a calm, self-assured smile and demeanor. She sighed, knowing this woman would do as she pleased. Tara reached over and patted her arm.
Tara had very few things and this was soon packed and ready to go.
"Just set it on that tree stump over there will you?" she asked Xena.
Now for the risky part Tara thought as Xena returned to where she and Gabrielle still sat by the fire. Xena was not going to like what followed, and neither trickery nor deceit would work this time. Tara could only hope she had gained enough of the young warrior's trust.
"Come over here and kneel down on the blanket," Tara instructed. Xena arched an eyebrow but silently obeyed. "That's it, just sit back on your heels. Now Gabrielle, you sit the same was only facing Xena."
"Wait a moment," Xena said, suddenly wary of what Tara was up to. "Gabrielle isn't part of this."
"Yes, she is," Tara said calmly as Gabrielle sat down facing Xena as per instructed. "Move closer, " Tara said. Gabrielle scooted forward, putting her knees between Xena's.
"This is between you and me," Xena said.
"I said I would 'sit you and Gabrielle down.' Well, that's what I'm doing. Besides, you don't mind taking part, do you Gabrielle?" The younger bard shook her head silently, her expression showing only wonder and curiosity. Xena, however, was scowling.
Tara reached into a pocket and pulled out a thin strip of leather with a green bead on it.
"This is for you Xena," she said. "Hold your right arm out, palm down." Xena raised her arm and her expression softened somewhat. Then Tara took Gabrielle's left arm and placed it under Xena's, indicating they should each clasp the other's arm. Xena's expression went back to apprehension as Tara began to wrap the leather around their arms, binding their wrists together.
"What's this?" Xena asked in alarm. "What are you doing?"
"It's just a thin strip of leather, Xena," Tara said softly as she looked steadily into Xena's eyes, willing the woman to acquiesce. "You could break it with not much more than a thought. But I think you won't. Partly because I did after all win the bet, and partly because you will choose not to."
Xena opened her mouth to speak but changed her mind and simple looked with disfavor at Tara. She would not look at Gabrielle.
"Now the other arm," Tara said as she took another piece of leather out of her pocket. "This time Gabrielle your arm goes on top and Xena's underneath." Both women held their arms out and Tara looped the strip of leather, this one with a bright, pale blue bead on it, around their arms. "This one is for you my friend," she said softly to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's eyes widened as she finally began to see what was going on. She glanced at Xena who was looking at the ground but she could feel the tension in her friend's body. She looked again at Tara as the woman placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and gently squeezed.
"You know Gabrielle, people like us are the lucky ones. Others have so much trouble saying what they think and feel. And so sometimes they need someone like us to say it for them." So saying she picked up her flute and moved off behind Xena, out of the fire light, out of sight.
"Gabrielle," her voice came clearly out of the darkness, "this song is for you. It comes from Xena's heart."
Strange how my heart beats
to find myself upon your shore.
Strange how I still feel
My loss of comfort gone before.
Cold waves wash over
and drift away with dreams of youth.
So time is stolen,
I cannot hold you long enough.
And so this is where I should be now,
days and nights falling by,
days and nights falling by me.
I know of a dream I should be holding,
days and nights falling by,
days and nights falling by me.
Soft blue horizons
reach far into my childhood days,
as your are rising
to bring me my forgotten ways.
Strange how I falter
to find I'm standing in deep water.
Strange how my heart beats
to find I'm standing on your shore.
As Tara had moved behind her and spoke to Gabrielle, Xena's panic almost caused her to bolt. She knew Gabrielle wasn't yet ready for the profession of love she was certain was coming. Then, as the song began and the words flowed over them, when she knew she would not be able to go through with what was about to happen, she felt the gentle pressure of Gabirelle's fingertips on her arms. She raised her eyes to meet those she loved so dearly. She saw the sweet smile, the reassuring look and she knew she could never run away again.
As her panic subsided she heard the soft voice within herself. A voice that she had denied, supressed, tried to rid herself of. But it was the voice of her heart and it could never be silenced. And now, as always, it put before her the choice, the same choice it always offered - to live her life from love or from fear. Xena swallowed as her fears leaped up to confront her: fear that Gabrielle would not want her, would leave her, fear that she would fall back into the darkness. But then the song washed over her, through her, and she realized that, though she hadn't known it until this moment, she had made the choice long ago when she'd fallen in love with Gabrielle. Now, as she accepted, acknowledged, honored that choice, her fears misted away like an old dream.
Xena still gazed into Gabrielle's eyes at an expression she'd seen so often on the young bard's face. But now she understood all of that look, now she could also recognize the love and the desire to be loved in return. Her blue eyes grew bright with tears but she fought them back and smiled, not wanting Gabrielle to misunderstand their meaning. And with a look and the gentle pressure of her grasp she strove to convey to Gabrielle the truth of the song and the depth of her love.
Gabrielle's eyes had grown wide at Tara's statement. She looked up at Xena to see how the proud warrior would react. At first there was confusion. Then as the song began, Gabrielle saw the look of panic come over Xena. Part of her wanted to look away, to break the binds on their arms and free Xena from this moment of vulnerability. But somehow, perhaps from the unspoken trust and faith she had in Tara that the words were true, she knew that getting Xena out of this situation was not what the woman before her needed.
And so Gabrielle chose instead to love her through it. She gently squeezed Xena's arms and smiled, letting all of her feelings for Xena show.
Gabrielle saw apprehension flash across Xena's face when she raised her eyes to meet Gabrielle's. Then she watched the play of emotions, the inner struggle, and finally saw Xena make peace with herself. She felt the tension slip form Xena's body and in Xena's look saw the reflection of her own love and desire.
They sat, letting the music speak and Gabrielle saw tears forming in Xena's eyes. She saw Xena fight them back, knowing how much she hated having Gabrielle see her cry. So Gabrielle cried for her.
The song ended and they heard soft footsteps moving away into the night.
Gabrielle could never recall how it happened, but suddenly the leather strips that bound them were gone and she was in Xena's arms.
Xena's face was pressed against Gabrielle's neck as she held her love tightly. Gabrielle took Xena's head in her hands and, with her lips softly caressing Xena's ear, whispered "Everything's going to be all right now."
She felt Xena's arms stighten around her. She ran her lips along the line of Xena's jaw and kissed the warrior on the cheek.
"Oh, Gabrielle . . ." Xena cried softly.
"I know, I know."
Again Gabrielle nuzzled her lips against Xena's face, bringing them to stop just brushing Xena's own.
"Gabrielle . . ."
"Yes, beloved. Yes," Gabrielle whispered and opened herself to receive the passion of the warrior and the woman who owned her heart.
Xena raised her hand to hold Gabrielle's head as she pressed her mouth against the softness of Gabrielle's lips. She had intended to be soft and gentle. But as she slipped her tongue into Gabrielle's mouth, the younger woman had whimpered slightly and tightened her arms around Xena's neck exploding the warrior's long supressed desire.
The torrent of passion that raged out of her was overwhelming and she thought that surely it would empty her completely and she would lose herself forever. But each time she neared the limit of her love, she felt herself flooded again with passion for the young woman in her arms. She was amazed at the depth of her feelings as her heart just kept filling up and spilling over, like an endless waterfall.
In her unleashed desire Xena thrust her tongue again and again into Gabrielle's mouth until both could hardly breathe and Gabrielle was almost limp in Xena's arms. Finally she withdrew to give Gabrielle time to regain her breath if not her composure. Her own breath was hard and ragged as she began kissing Gabrielle's neck. After a few moments she felt Gabrielle's arms tighten once more around her as the young woman pressed her body against Xena's.
Gabrielle hoped her actions would convey her desire, for her mind was too stunned to form the words. She had not been prepared for the intensity of Xena's passion. On the fringe of her mind she had wondered if her identity, her essence would be swept away by Xena's emotions and if she would lose all sense of self. But she could not halt what was now in motion, and, no matter the consequences, had no desire to do so.
Xena brought her hand up and began to rub Gabrielle's nipple. She heard the gasp in her ear and felt Gabrielle's back arch. She again pressed her mouth to the young woman's and timed the movement of her hand with the movement of her lips and tongue. Gabrielle began to clutch wildly at Xena as she moaned deeply with pleasure and desire.
Xena reached for the bottom of the silk shift. She loved it's softness but right now it was Gabrielle's skin she needed to feel. The garment was quickly removed and set aside and for a long moment Xena gazed at Gabrielle, taking in the fire lit beauty before her. Then she gently lowered Gabrielle down on to the blanket.
Her long fingers brushed Gabrielle's face, neck, breast, slowly moving down her abdomen and finally stroking the inside of Gabrielle's thigh.
Gabrielle fought to keep her eyes open as Xena's hand caressed her body. She'd never seen this look of pleasure on Xena's face before and could not bear to miss a moment of it. But her own pleasure was beckoning to her more forcefully as Xena's hand moved across her. Then she felt the pressure along her thigh and self control began to melt away.
Xena leaned over, closing her mouth over one of Gabrielle's swollen nipples, at the same time bringing her fingers to rub against the soft wetness beneath Gabrielle's mound. Gabrielle slammed her hands to the ground as a shock wave tore through her body. She clutched at the blanket as, with each pull on her breast, the energy shot through her.
Soon Xena could feel Gabrielle's movements becoming more and more erratic. She moved down Gabrielle's body to lie between her legs and began to explore Gabrielle with her tongue. The younger woman moaned deeply at Xena's touch. She tangled her fingers in the long strands of dark hair and raised her hips to press herself against Xena's mouth. When Xena felt the contractions begin deep inside she quickly slipped her fingers in to Gabrielle, moving them in time with the rhythm of her tongue. Gabrielle came immediately, her body convulsing in pleasure, her only voluntary action the calling out of Xena's name over and over again.
For a while the crackle of the fire and Gabrielle's breathing were the only sounds as Xena rested her head on the now still body. Then she felt the light touch of a hand on her head. She raised up to look into Gabrielle's eyes.
"Hold me," Gabrielle whispered.
She took the young woman in her arms and they lay close, each reveling in the nearness of the other. But soon Gabrielle began to kiss Xena's neck, gently at first, then with more passion. Xena's breathing deepened and her hands began caressing the naked body pressed against her. She paused only long enough to slip out of her night shirt.
Gabrielle rolled on to her back, pulling Xena on top of her. She could feel the tension in every muscle of Xena's body as the woman parted Gabrielle's legs and began rubbing herself against Gabrielle. Gabrielle cupped Xena's breasts in her hands and began to rub her nipples. Xena's breath became ragged but the movement of her hips never slowed. Finally Gabrielle slid one hand down between them and reached in to the soft folds of Xena's flesh. Xena cried out briefly as her body collapsed on to Gabrielle's. She moaned then raised herself up again, her muscles even more taut than before. As her movements became more intense Gabrielle wrapped her arm around the warrior's waist to hold her close.
"Harder! Press harder!" Xena commanded. Gabrielle obeyed and the woman in her arms exploded into orgasm, her hips thrusting violently against Gabrielle's fingers. Finally, after one last shudder, Xena's body fell to rest on top of Gabrielle's.
As she felt the warmth of Xena's tears on her skin Gabrielle could no longer hold back her own. And she held Xena close to her throughout the remainder of the night.
It was another two days before Xena and Gabrielle continued on their way. Their time together had been idyllic but each was now ready to experience their lives from this new perspective of togetherness.
Gabrielle was quiet as they started out but finally spoke. "She could be all right. Couldn't she?"
Xena paused a long moment before answering. "I suppose it's possible." She stopped and placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "But it's not very likely."
"I feel I owe her such a huge debt," Gabrielle said as they continued walking. Xena felt much the same and knew the debt could never be repaid directly.
They traveled for a while longer before coming to the cutoff to the shrine. Gabrielle halted and Xena understood her reluctance, her fear of what they would find. Finally the young bard took a deep breath and started down the path.
They reached the shrine which was simple and primitive. There was a rough statue, some faded ribbons and a cave entrance. The cave itself was the true shrine. Here women came to offer devotion to Gaia, the Mother of all.
At first they saw no sign of Tara. But then Xena noticed a small bundle at the base of the statue. There was a scrap of parchment on top, weighted down with a rock. Gabrielle knelt to look more closely and saw her name written on the paper. She picked it up and read aloud, "Gabrielle, these are my stories. You will know the people who need to hear them. Love your warrior well."
Gabrielle felt tears sting her eyes as she reached down and gently picked up the small bundle. She folded back the cloth to find a stack of papers, tied together with string and soft pieces of leather on top and bottom. She ran her hand over the leather top and finally opened the self-made book. The writing she saw was beautiful but unlike any she had ever seen. She looked further along and found the familiar script of her own language.
Xena placed her arms around Gabrielle and the young woman leaned back against her lover and let the tears fall slowly down her cheeks. She rubbed her fingers lightly across the bracelet on Xena's wrist, her vision too blurry to see its vivid green bead or the sky blue one of her own bracelet.
"Xena," Gabrielle said as they were walking along the road later that day, "can we make camp early today? I know we haven't traveled very far lately but . . ."
"It's all right Gabrielle," Xena interrupted. "There's nowhere we have to be just now."
"Good. I want to pay a tribute to Tara."
Xena nodded and began to watch for a likely place. Soon they found a site by a small creek. It wasn't large enough for swiming but they would have water and could bathe. They fell into their established routine: Xena tending to Argo, Gabrielle setting up camp.
Later, after an early meal, Gabrielle picked up Tara's book and began to read. But the words of shared love and tenderness, passion and desire drove her own thoughts to her beloved sitting quietly next to her. She stopped reading and sat looking at Xena.
"I thought you were going to pay a tribute to Tara." Xena said after a while. It was getting dark and Gabrielle had made no mention of any ritual she wanted to perform.
Gabrielle smiled. "That's exactly what I'm going to do right now." She stood in front of Xena and slowly began to remove her clothes. Xena's eyes grew wide and a smile she couldn't suppress lighted her face.
"This is your tribute?!"
"That's right. I'm going to love my warrior well." The last piece of clothing fell the the ground and Gabrielle fell into Xena's arms.
If you have enjoyed Wakar's "Deep Water", be sure to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and thank her for posting this Story.