Disclaimers: Yeah, yeah... I don't own them. I never did. If I had, there would be no need for this story. No copyright infringement or profit intended.

Violence: About average for a XWP installment.

Sex: This story contains women in loving, sexual relationships. If this is illegal where you live, well, sorry... If you're hiding the fact that you're reading this from your mother, you should probably move on, although I'm fairly certain you won't. Kids these days...

Timeline: This is the only post-FIN story I've written. I anticipate it will be the last.

Author's note: I really struggled with this ending, so I wrote two different ones. I would be very interested to know what you think.

Love's Last Gift -
The Other Ending

Mykel Taylor O'Connor



Tyro watched from a distance as her queen silently faced the sunset from the edge of the village. It was a sad ritual that the petite blonde had observed daily since her return.

It had be nearly two years since Gabrielle watched her beloved Xena fade with the setting sun. Five moons ago she had returned to her Amazon sisters before the winter Solstice. At first, the long winter nights were passed with tales of her travels to the Land of the Pharaohs and other fantastic places around the world. But as the moons carried on, her evening vigil betrayed her otherwise carefully hidden pain.

Cyane wrapped her arms around Tyro's waist from behind and joined her in observing their friend. "Do you think her heart will ever heal?"

"No. I don't," Tyro replied in her typical matter of fact tone. "I don't think anyone gets over a love like that. Especially if they don't want to... "

Cyane leaned her chin on her lover's shoulder and looked up at her. "What do you mean?"

"You've heard the tales from her travels, the places she's been and the battles she fought. She's spent moon after moon trying to get killed."

The regent's face registered shock, then sighed deeply and kissed the shoulder before her. "That hadn't occurred to me, but I suspect you're right. The things she's done since... " Her voice trailed off as she mentally replayed the exploits of Gabrielle's travels after she left that isle across the sea from Chin.

"And she still carries that jar with Xena's ashes in it. She says that she wants to return them to Amphipolis, but passed within a day's walk of there on her journey here." Tyro looked over her shoulder at beautiful hazel eyes clouded with concern. "I think she came here to wait for death. The death of Xena created such a fierce warrior that now she can't find anyone skilled enough to kill her, so she came here to help protect the only thing she still cares about."

"The Amazon Nation... " Cyane deduced.

With that they both turned in time to watch Gabrielle cross toward the queen's hut. The sun had abandoned her again.


The spring season brought a flurry of activity. . The crops were planted in the fields and the last remnants of winter were cleared away from the village. The mood always seemed to lift as the days grew longer and the women could spend most of their days in the sun.

Tyro began the younger warriors' training again. The physical exertion and rusty skills brought a steady stream of sore or pulled muscles and minor injuries through the healer's hut. Cyane observed that Gabrielle was often helping the healer, but never went near the training fields. She would watch her young warriors from a distance, but never ventured close enough to be called into the fray. Her only training was done at the end of the day with Tyro; she never allowed an audience.

One day a signal came from the border sentries that a stranger had requested an audience with the queen. The woman was escorted into the village, her numerous weapons confiscated by the guards. She was taken to the council hut where Gabrielle, Cyane, and Tyro were waiting, along with several other members of the council.

The young warrior approached the long table and dropped to one knee; her head remained bowed from the time she entered the hut.

"Who are you?" asked Cyane.

"I am Janae. I am from the remnant that remains of the Northern Amazons."

Gabrielle took over the conversation. "Rise Janae, and welcome, Sister."

The young woman stood slowly. She was about Tyro's height, with long auburn hair. Her shoulders were broad; her arms were powerfully muscular and her stomach was chiseled with definition. She stood on thick, powerful legs. After surveying the room, she chanced a look at the fabled Queen Gabrielle with dark brown eyes. She knew the queen was studying her, but it felt more like appreciation than observation as those eyes passed down, then up her long legs, lingering just a heartbeat longer than was necessary. The queen seemed to shake herself silently from her stare to meet Janae's gaze.

The eyes that awaited her were so intense that it made Gabrielle uncomfortable. The woman was extremely handsome. The knowledge that she had been caught admiring the young warrior's body caused a flush of heat to sweep across her face. Still, she maintained her composure. "What brings you to our village, Janae?"

"I come bearing a request from my regent." She handed one of the guards a scroll, which was relayed to Gabrielle. "I was to complete my training before the Summer Solstice. But now our weapons master is with child."

Gabrielle looked confused. "Is there no one else in your village to finish your training?"

"There is no one strong enough to provide me with the appropriate challenge to test as a master." The statement should've sounded arrogant, but didn't coming from her. "And I have not completely finished my training with the sword or staff."

Mention of a staff caused Cyane to glance cautiously at her friend. Gabrielle had not picked up her staff since placing it in the corner of her hut upon her return.

Janae continued, "My regent says that your village has the reputation of possessing the finest weapons masters in the long history of our nation... "

Tyro's chest immediately puffed out slightly, causing Cyane to grimace remorsefully. She would be impossible to live with for weeks.

"... and it is said that the Queen of the Amazons is unmatched in her skill with a staff, as well as other weapons." She paused, seeming to reconcile the tales she had heard with the small woman sitting before her. Her hair was short and she wore traditional Amazon leathers beneath a soft leather jacket that hung open in the front. This showcased defined abdominal muscles and beautiful, round breasts. Under the table she could see the outline of muscular legs and shapely calves. Identical weapons were visible from the top of her boots. There were scars on her body that were not old and a look in her eyes that was sad and weary at the same time. It was a strange combination... "I have come, with your permission, to finish my training."

Gabrielle shifted slightly, uneasy under the intense scrutiny of her body by the young warrior, however subtle it might be. Setting old familiar stirrings aside, she raised her head regally and announced, "You are welcome, Janae, to our village and our training. What you have heard of our weapons master is correct; there are few in the known world that could defend themselves and our nation as lethally and effectively as Tyro. She will finish your training."

"Tyro, please get our guest settled. I am sure she is hungry and tired from her journey. You may begin her training tomorrow." Tyro gave Gabrielle a firm nod and then stood to escort her out of the room, followed by the crowd as they moved to resume their daily activities. Janae glanced back through the crowd once at Gabrielle as she exited.

Gabrielle and Cyane sat in silence for what felt like a long time. "She looks to be a formidable warrior," Cyane finally observed.

"Yes. She looks to have that potential."

Cyane decided to risk a further comment. "She is also very attractive, isn't she?" She unconsciously held her breathe waiting for a response.

"I'm sure there will be a line of our young women to vie for her attentions."

"It didn't seem to be their attentions that she was interested in," this was dangerous territory and Cyane knew it, "although you certainly held her interest."

Gabrielle laughed out loud. It was a sincere laugh; one of the few she had heard from the queen since her return. "Is this my future, my friend? You plan to matchmake me with every new face that ventures into our village?"

"Gabrielle... "

"It's alright, Cyane. But I have had my love. I am not interested in finding another."

"You could never replace Xena. I know that. We all do. But surely that doesn't mean that you have to spend the rest of this life alone."

"Yes, Cyane; it does... " And with that Gabrielle rose and returned to her hut, where she remained the rest of the evening.


After dinner, Tyro unlaced her boots as she sat on a stool by their fireplace. "Is Gabrielle feeling alright?"

"As far as I know; why do you ask?"

"She didn't come to dinner tonight. It's unusual for her to not dine with a guest on their first evening in the village."

"Well, I suspect she had her reasons." Cyane replied coyly.

"What reasons?"

"It could be anything. I don't know."

Tyro dropped a boot by its mate on the floor and turned squarely to face her lover. "Yes you do."

"How should I know why she didn't come to dinner?" She had stated that a little too defensively and she knew it. "Maybe she wasn't hungry."

"Gabrielle? Our Queen? Not hungry? When was the last time that happened?" Tyro paused and then answered her own question. "Never."

Cyane stood to prepare herself for bed, trying to look busy as she moved around the room.

"Cyane, sit down."

She turned on Tyro. "Since when do I take my orders from you?"

"Since you know something about Gabrielle that you're not telling me... Now what's going on?"

Her plan executed perfectly, Cyane crossed the room and sat in the lap of her partner. "You didn't notice anything after she proclaimed you one of the greatest weapons masters in our history, did you?"

"Like what?"

She laughed at the defensive tone and kissed the closest cheek sweetly. "Like the tension between Gabrielle and Janae?"

"What tension?"

Cyane continued to chuckle as she ran the fingers of her right hand through Tyro's hair. "The sexual tension, Silly!"

"The... Are you sure?"

"Oh, I'm sure. I talked to Gabrielle after everyone else left."

"And she's interested in Janae?"

"She says she not... "

"But you suspect she is. Why?"

"Did you notice the way Gabrielle examined Janae as she stood before her? And the way Janae scanned every inch of Gabrielle she could see?"

Now Tyro was really confused. "I didn't think they were checking each other out; I thought they were just sizing each other up."

"Oh, they were sizing each other up alright. Janae was sizing up Gabrielle's breasts and Gabrielle was extremely interested in Janae's legs." Cyane laughed out loud and then kissed her partner on the lips. "You really are clueless sometimes."

"Gabrielle stared at Janae's legs?"

"Yes, dear, and Janae more than returned the favor."

"She did?"

"She did... None of us look at Gabrielle that way because we all know her past. But Janae doesn't." Cyane loving caressed Tyro's face. "It's been a long time since someone looked at our friend that way."

"What way?"

It's a good thing she's a weapons master, because she has no skill in observing people she is not going to fight. "Janae looked at her like a woman."

"She is a woman... "

"Oh, honestly! How did you ever get me to fall in love with you?" Cyane stood up and stalked toward their bed. "Janae looked at Gabrielle like she is a beautiful woman with whom she might want to have sex!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Tyro as the pieces finally fell into place. "Do you think Gabrielle will give her a chance?"

"I don't know." Tyro could see her partner thinking something through. "But if I get the chance, I'm certainly going to push our queen in that direction... " With that Cyane smiled seductively at her suddenly suspicious partner.

"Cyane... Don't get started with your scheming, Woman!"

The regent began to move toward her prey. "Me? Scheming?"

"Yes, you!" Tyro had started to say something else, but it was about that time that Cyane dropped her top to the floor.

"You want to see Gabrielle happy again, don't you?" she purred.

"Of course I do, but... " Tyro lost her train of thought as Cyane dropped her skirt in front of the flustered warrior. "You are an evil, manipulative woman... "

"Why don't we take some of your clothes off and I'll show you how manipulative I can be?"

Tyro let out a sound that was somewhere between a squeak and a sigh as Cyane tugged at the hem of her shirt.


Gabrielle sat in front of the fireplace, lost in thought. She closed her eyes and waited as her heart called out to Xena. Soon a gentle draft slipped through the room, stopping at Gabrielle's back.

"Hello, my love. How are you?" The words weren't audible, but Gabrielle heard them clearly in her heart.

"I'm lonely," the blonde replied bluntly.

"Well, let me sit here with you for a while. You can catch me up on what happened in the village today."

"You would know what's going on in the village if you stopped by more often."

Gabrielle's anger rolled off of her. This was new. Xena's spirit proceeded cautiously. "Has it been that long?"

"Twelve days."

"Really? It didn't seem that long to me."

"Any time you spent away from me used to be too long for you. Now you disappear for days at a time and don't even realize it. I wait each sunset for you, but so often I am still alone as the light dims." Gabrielle turned to face her soul mate. A shimmer of light was there, but no more. "I'm losing you, Xena."

"I promised you would never lose me, Gabrielle."

"That may be a promise you're not going to be able to keep." Hesitantly she reached toward the light. "You're fading. I can hardly see you anymore. And as your visits become farther and farther apart, I fear that I am beginning to fade from your mind," she dropped her head as the sadness overwhelmed her, "and heart."

Suddenly Xena's image began to appear clearly. Gabrielle looked up to find long, dark hair, high cheek bones and strong jaw line, and brilliant blue eyes that all seemed so real she dissolved into heaving sobs. Xena guided her into her arms. They still felt strong and safe around her. "I promised that I would never leave you and I meant it. I'm sorry if I've been away too long. Time feels different there. It passes like water around a stone. I guess I just didn't realize how quickly it was flowing."

"It is like water around a stone, Xena, because you're stuck there. You're not really here. You're trapped there forever."

"I am really here, Love". Gently, she lifted Gabrielle so she could look into her eyes. "I am here." With that she leaned in and kissed her lover. It wasn't a tender kiss. It was passionate and emotional, their tongues dancing feverishly with one another.

Gabrielle gasped as she felt hands caressing her body. Her skin shivered under the urgent touch. She reached behind her and loosened the ties at her neck. Her top fell away, exposing her breasts to the apparition in front of her. Xena leaned down, pulling one nipple roughly into her mouth while a hand worked on the other.

Gabrielle wove her hands through Xena's hair, clenching the back of her head. Her mind reeled. It was all so confusing. Xena was here, making love to her, and yet she wasn't. The soft hair flowed between her fingers. Teeth gripped and teased, marking her breasts.

Suddenly she was turned, facing the fire. Leaning back in Xena's arms, she pushed down her underwear only to feel long fingers plunge into her wetness. She gasped at the sensation, writhing in her lover's embrace. Marks appeared along her neck and shoulders as Xena bit and sucked them. Her nipples were quickly tender and sensitive as two strong fingers kneaded them. A thumb brushed across the bundle of nerves between her legs once, twice, and then stayed, circling with insistent pressure. The fingers continued to stroke inside her.

Gabrielle bit her lip to keep from screaming Xena's name. She had almost forgotten. It had been so long...

Her climax crashed upon her like thunder. It rolled over her body leaving a glowing sweat and goose flesh in its wake. Xena drew out the orgasm, bringing her down slowly as she whispered sweet nonsense in her ear. She held her as Gabrielle turned in her arms to rest her head against Xena's chest.

Then something happened. Xena started to lose her grip. Gabrielle, who suddenly seemed to be suspended in midair, slipped as if she were losing her footing on a trail. Xena began to fade again and her touch was light and uncertain. Gabrielle stood and looked at her lover.

"You're fading! Xena, what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I expended a great deal of energy making love to you. I'm having trouble harnessing enough to stay visible and allow you to feel me at the same time."

Obviously disappointed, Gabrielle hesitated to regain control of her emotions. It was Xena's fault things were like this. It had been so many moons since Xena had made her choice, had chosen strangers - and Akemi - over her. Her rational mind constantly reminded her that she should be over it by now, but...

I don't understand. I should be able to do this. I used to be able to make love to you all night, even after Japa.

Gabrielle knew why it was happening; at least she had her suspicions. Sadly, she drew a deep breath and whispered, "Then come to bed and hold me while I sleep. I won't need to see you in the darkness and at least I'll be able to feel your arms around me."

It was a sad compromise, but compromise was all they had now. Xena's energy glowed in the air as it followed Gabrielle to her bedroom.


When Tyro arrived at the practice field after her morning meal, Janae was already waiting for her. "Good Morning! You're up early."

"Well, Queen Gabrielle said we could start my training today."

"Sure, but I figured you might at least sleep in a little."

"I tend to be an early riser."

"You traveled a great distance to get here. We can wait another day if you'd like to catch up on your rest."

"No, that's okay. The queen expects me to begin today. I am anxious to meet her expectations."

Tyro smiled quietly to herself. So she doesn't want to disappoint the queen, huh? "You know, Gabrielle isn't really that strict."

"You don't address her by her proper title?"

Laughing, Tyro shook her head no. "Not unless I want to get punched in the arm!"

Janae was totally confused. "I don't understand."

"I just mean that there are times when it is appropriate and expected that her title will be used. But on a day to day basis, she really prefers that everyone just call her by her first name."

Janae's eyes were round with amazement. "I don't think I could ever do that!"

Tyro began to stretch; "Well, it's your shoulder." Janae just frowned.

Changing the subject, Tyro began to discuss Janae's training. They covered the weapons and skill training that Janae had already received and what she felt were her strengths and weaknesses. The weapon's master was impressed when she discovered that she had studied the whip, as well as knives, hand to hand combat, scouting and tracking, and was advanced in her instruction with the sword and staff. Xena, you would have liked this kid, she thought remorsefully. Not many people bother to study the whip anymore. You would've been a good teacher for her.

"Tyro? Are you okay?"

"Sure." She looked self-consciously at the young woman. "I was just thinking of an old friend that was Hades with a whip... "

"Will I be able to meet her?"

"No. I'm afraid not." Tyro left it at that. "So, what do you say we grab some knives and a whip; you can show me what you can do before lunch. Then we can work on some hand to hand and finish off with a little fundamental sword skill work."

"Sounds great," Janae agreed as she followed her new teacher to the weapons hut. "By the way, my old teacher said that she would decide when I was ready to test on a weapon. Is that what you will do?"

"Oh, no," Tyro replied as they entered the neatly ordered weapons room. She walked over to a rack with several rows of beautifully crafted knives as she continued. "I believe a warrior has to have confidence in her skills. You will declare your Rite of Challenge when you think you're ready. Then you can either leave it up to me how you are tested or you can choose your opponent. As long as she is a worthy choice, I will allow the contest. However, you must then allow your opponent to decide whether or not you have passed."

Janae was very quiet as she chose her knives. Then she turned and announced, "In that case, I declare my Rite of Challenge with knives."

Tyro was shocked. "Now?"

She just nodded as she replied, "Yes."

Two hours later, Janae was making her way through an intricate course of targets. Tyro had made the course particularly difficult, thinking to discourage any overconfidence the young woman possessed. Instead, she stood in front of a group of younger women, most cheering with growing respect.

As Janae rounded the last turn, she grabbed two knives from a previous target and moved to set them in a target almost 20 paces out of bounds. As she pulled them back over her shoulders to send both flying at once, Tyro launched the blunt end of a knife at her. Janae sensed the movement toward her, rolled to her right, came up in a crouched position and buried both knives in the center of the target.

The crowd roared. Even Tyro had to clap.


The mob entered the dining hall with a clamor. There was great competition among the young women to sit at the new warrior's table.

Meanwhile, Tyro crossed the room to sit with Cyane and Gabrielle.

"What's that all about?" Cyane asked.

"Janae declared her Rite of Challenge with knives this morning."

Gabrielle was shocked. "She did not!"

Tyro smiled ruefully. "Oh, yes she did."

Gabrielle tried to wait for Cyane to ask, but finally gave in to her curiosity. "How'd she do?"

"She passed easily. And it was one Hades of a course, too."

The blonde glanced across the room. "That's good... " She tried to sound casual, but she was very impressed.

Cyane paused for a moment and then decided to call her on it. "That's all you have to say? That's good?"

Gabrielle was immediately defensive. "What do you want me to say?"

"It wouldn't surprise me if she declared with the whip this afternoon or tomorrow," Tyro announced, intervening in the awkward moment.

Both women turned to look at Tyro. "Is she that good?" asked Gabrielle.

"I watched her warming up while I was setting up her course. And the truth is I've only known two people better with a knife than she is," Tyro hesitated, looking from her wife to her queen, "and only one warrior better with a whip."

Gabrielle paled slightly at the comparison and then looked away from Tyro to the woman sitting across the room. In spite of the throng of young women surrounding her, Janae was already staring at Gabrielle. They stared at each other for a long moment; long enough that other women in the room began to notice. To cover her true motive, Gabrielle lifted her mug in a salute to the warrior's accomplishment. Janae smiled faintly and nodded in reply.

After draining her mug, Gabrielle stood and exited without another word to her friends.

Janae declared her Rite of Challenge with the whip that afternoon and passed.


After her sunset vigil that evening, Gabrielle grabbed a blanket on the way to the small clearing behind her hut. She lay down and watched the stars as they began to glow in the growing darkness. Her thoughts were scattered, but the new warrior in her village was a recurring theme. She was so preoccupied she failed to notice the warm breeze that settled behind her.

"I'll never understand why you think it looks like a bear."

The voice startled her. "Xena!" she gasped as she sat up to stare at the woman beside her.

"I'm sorry my love. I didn't mean to startle you."

"That's okay; I'm really glad to see you."

"Why? Is something wrong?"


Xena thought for a moment and then decided on a different approach. "What's been going on with your Amazons?"

"Not much. The usual for this time of year; we're getting the crops in the fields and the gardens are all turned and they're planting vegetables. And of course, Tyro has everyone on rotation in the training field."

Xena laughed. "I'll bet she does! Spring training was always Pony's favorite time of year, too."

Gabrielle remained silent.

"What else is going on?"

"We had a warrior from the Northern Amazons arrive the other day."

"Is everything okay at their village?"

"Yes, but their weapons master is pregnant and this young woman is ready to test as a master."

"So they sent her down her to test under Tyro? Poor kid... "

"Not really."

"How's that?"

"She challenged with knives and the whip on her first day and passed both."

"Both in one day?" It sounded as if the wind whistled. "She must be pretty good."

"Tyro said you're the only one she's every seen that was better with a whip."

Xena clasped her hands behind her head; she had that cocky smile on her face that Gabrielle always found so adorable. "I may have to drop by and watch her in action... What's she going to tomorrow?"

"I suspect she's working on hand to hand. She'll probably test in that next. She said she needed more work with the sword and staff."

"Are you going to train her with the staff?"

"No. Why would I?"

"Because you're better than Tyro with a staff."

"I am not... "

"Oh, please. Gabrielle, I doubt there's anyone anywhere that you couldn't match with that staff of yours."

Gabrielle rolled over and smiled shyly. "You big sweet talker, you."

"I'm serious, Gabrielle." Xena smiled sincerely, "I am so proud of the skills you have with your weapons. I know it wasn't really the knowledge you started out to gain, but now you're every bit the warrior I was."

"Xena, I could never... "

"Yes, you are. The moment you were recognized by my chakram you were my equal."

"Recognized by it?"

"Of course. Callisto had possession of it, but she could never control it. That's why she crippled me that day instead of killing me. You can do everything with it that I could do; you've learned that in your travels since Japa. It yields to your skill as a warrior. That's what it was designed to do."

Gabrielle thought about that for a moment and then shook her head as if in disbelief. "I never knew... "

"That's why I think you should train this young warrior with the staff. If you really want her to have the best training, she should be trained by you. As a matter of fact, I'm surprised Tyro hasn't already brought it up to you."

"I think Tyro has had her hands full so far."

"Well, I'm sure she'll think of it. When she comes to you, I think... "

"Xena," Gabrielle interrupted, "I don't want to talk about them anymore."

She was surprised, but agreed. "Okay, what do you want to talk about?"

"What do you do when you're not with me?"

Xena faltered a little bit; she hadn't been expecting this question. "Well, it's a beautiful place. No one hurries there. Time is so different. There is plenty of time for singing and painting; I've even tried by hand at poetry, if you can believe that."

"Poetry? Really? I would love to hear something you've written!" She rolled on to her side and began tracing lazy patterns with the fingers on what would've been the warrior's stomach.

"Right... I don't think so. You're still the only bard in this family."

Hearing the word "family" tapped a well of tears. "Are we still a family, Xena?"

"We are as far as I'm concerned." Xena looked puzzled, "Why do you think I would feel differently?"

"Well, you're there so much of the time. And Akemi's there with you." Gabrielle bowed her head as if ashamed. "I've wondered if you and she - well, how you've passed the time together."

Suddenly, Xena understood. "There is only one woman for me."

"You don't get lonely there?"

"No, but there is such a sense of peace there that I don't suppose there's room for feelings like that."

"So you don't miss me when we're apart?" The tears were flowing freely now.

"Oh, Gabrielle! It's not that at all!" She cupped her soulmate's face and gently wiped away the tears. "I just don't feel like we're ever apart. You're with me every moment, in my heart."

The blonde fell into her arms, resting her head upon a chest that did not have a heart beating within it. "I'm so sorry, my love. I didn't realize how bad things were for you."

"You're gone; how could it not be bad?"

Xena was dismayed at her own ignorance. "I guess I just assumed now that you're back with your sisters, things were okay. You're among women who love you and need you... "

"But they're not you." Gabrielle shifted so her body was completely on Xena's form. The warrior tried to speak, but was interrupted. "I don't want what happened last time to happen again. I don't need to see you; I know every curve, every line, every scar... If I close my eyes I can see you perfectly." She began to move seductively against the energy below her. "I need to feel you. Just concentrate on staying solid for me." Urgency washed over her as she began to fight against the clothing she wore. "I just need to feel you."

Below her, all shadows of Xena's image faded. All that remained was a shimmer of light. But the body firmed into strong arms and taught nipples. It seems that clothing is optional when you're a ghost. Immediately the soft fur between Xena's legs began to tickle Gabrielle's thigh. The queen let out a groan that prompted wetness to flow from between long, still muscular legs.

Gabrielle kept her eyes closed. Her lips explored Xena's jaw line and neck. Her thigh pressed between Xena's legs; her knees spread wide to accommodate the motion, using her hands to part swollen lips so Gabrielle could ride the very core of her.

There was no tenderness here. It was need and lust and desperation. The queen rode her beloved to climax very quickly, then shifted her position to straddle one of Xena's thighs. As first it seemed her climax would follow quickly, but then she slowed her pace torturously. In one swift move she placed herself below Xena. "Mark me," she rasped breathlessly. "Leave your marks on me."

Happy to oblige, Xena descended on Gabrielle's neck and shoulders. She moved her hand between hungry thighs and matched their rhythm as she worked three fingers into her bard's vagina. "More... " It wasn't a request.

Xena's mind worked at a fevered pitch. Her lover had never preferred rough sex; what was different now? She lifted her lips from a bruised neck and whispered, "Gabrielle?" in to the closest ear.

But the blonde didn't want to talk; she didn't want to negotiate or explain. "More!" she commanded through clenched teeth. Then she took Xena's head in both hands and forced it down to her breasts.

As the warrior worked her hand to make room for a fourth finger she took a hardened nipple in her mouth and began to suckle. "Harder," was the immediate command. "Use your teeth."

There was a fleeting worry that Gabrielle would regret this later, but Xena pushed that thought aside as she released her aggressive nature on the body below her. She wouldn't bring her to climax until her nipples would be too sore to touch tomorrow; wearing the halter top would be excruciating and erotic at the same time. It wasn't long until Gabrielle was writhing below her, lower lip between her teeth, gasping in pleasure and pain. It was at that moment that Xena thrust her hand into the bard's body. Gabrielle gasped and grabbed two handfuls of hair. Xena slowly drew the hand back and then plunged it in again.

It lasted longer than she imagined it would. Gabrielle stubbornly held on to her release until Xena left her hand inside, twisting and massaging, while changing her position to grasp the nerve bundle between her teeth to suck it viciously. There was no escape from the avalanche of sensation. She writhed and cried out, moaned, and then, as Xena carefully removed her hand, she wept.

Xena's regret was immediate. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Baby," she soothed and she moved to take her lover in her arms. "I should've known it was too much. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. Shhhhh, it's not your fault," Gabrielle insisted in a raspy voice. "It's what I wanted."

They were still for a long time as Gabrielle regained her senses. Finally, Xena broke the silence. "Why?"

There was no answer, so Xena asked her again, "Gabrielle, why did you want this to be so rough? You never enjoyed anything that aggressive in our lovemaking; why now?"

Gabrielle waited several long moments before she responded. "It doesn't last."

"What doesn't last?"

"What you do to me; the marks, the pain. Soreness I know should linger into tomorrow will be gone. I'll wake up in the morning and it will be as if you were never here."

Xena was stunned. "How long has this been happening?"

Gabrielle knew what she was about to say would hurt her lover, but she had to explain. "Two seasons, at least."

"So tomorrow... ?"

"None of these marks will be here and my body won't be sore."

Xena sat up, confused. "Is that why you think you're losing me?"

"I don't think I'm losing you; I am losing you. Your visits have become more infrequent and you have to expend more and more energy to stay for shorter periods of time. I know you promised I'd never really lose you, but I'm not sure that you're going to be able to keep that promise."

"Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. There has to be something I can do. I'll talk to Akemi when I get back and... "

"Akemi? Please! Like she's going to help you stay with me!"

"She's not like that. I really believe... "

"Don't you dare defend her to me! She's the reason you're not with me in the first place! She's a lying, manipulative... "

"Okay, okay! I'll ask Harukata. Maybe he knows something that can help us."

Gabrielle took a deep breath to calm down. "I'll tell you what. I'll come back tomorrow. We can discuss anything Harukata has to say and I want to watch this new warrior of yours.

The blonde nodded wordlessly. "I have to go now, Sweetheart. My energy is gone."

She turned for a kiss goodbye, but Xena was already gone. Gabrielle curled up in the blanket and cried beneath the stars.


The following morning Janae declared her Rite of Challenge in hand to hand combat. Tyro prepared a series of challenges that included multiple opponents and physical restrictions that ranged from the use of only one arm to attaching weights to one leg to simulate injuries. It was a long, arduous day. The test lasted well into the afternoon without a break for lunch.

As the day wore on, the crowd grew larger and larger, until finally even Gabrielle gave in to her curiosity and wandered over to the training grounds. As she arrived, she felt a familiar presence behind her.

"I wondered if you were going to come down and watch."

"It seems like everyone else in the village is down here. I figured I must be missing something good," Gabrielle replied as she leaned toward Xena's energy. "How long have you been watching?"

"I don't really know; most of the day."

"How does she look?"

"She's very skilled. She does an excellent job of reading her opponent's body to anticipate the next move without giving her counter away. She's strong and she's quick."

"If she's that good, why is Tyro making this last so long?"

"I suspect is has something to do with Tyro's ego. You said she passed two tests yesterday and then turned right around and challenged for the third today. If Tyro is anything like Pony, she's trying to make a point."

Saving the best for last, Tyro entered the fray as Janae dispatched the last of three opponents she had faced concurrently. She immediately landed a blow to the chest that knocked the exhausted young warrior to the ground. Janae glared up at the weapons master, angered by the unexpected attack.

Part 2


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