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Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle aren't mine. I promise I'll put 'em back where I found them when I'm done playing with them. The story's all from my diseased little brain. Cait belongs to Melissa Good, and I include her with permission.
Violence? Yes. This is Xena, after all. Some of it is pretty graphic.
Explicit sex? If you're too young or you don't like to read about consensual sex between luscious babes, run away! There is erotica scattered here and there. If you want the all out sex scene, you'll have to skip to the end, but that's not how you're supposed to do it.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Catherine for beta-reading and Silea: Warrior Princess for comments and general encouragement. I couldn't have finished this without you guys.
Comments? Please!! Criticisms and all, to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you just want to flame me for being a lesbian, go find something useful to do with your time, like feeding the hungry or promoting world peace.
Notes: You really should read this! This story is supposed to be an alternative bridge to take our fair heroes from the rift of Maternal Instinct to the closeness of One Against an Army (with a little bit of fourth season sensibility thrown in.) It stands in place of the Bittersuite. I hated the Gabdrag, what more can I say?
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When she didnt respond after a few minutes, Xena realized that the slender woman slumped in her arms was unconscious. Having accomplished her task, Gabrielles will had evaporated and her body gave in to an overwhelming fatigue. The realization sent Xenas mind reeling. Wandering spirits didnt usually pass out from hunger and fatigue, did they? Could it be?
It was a few moments before Xena remembered that a fainting person should not be kept upright. Stupid! She cursed herself as she laid Gabrielle down flat in the grass. Xena sat beside her and lifted the blond head into her lap, telling herself it was to keep the coarse grass from the bard's face.
There were no visible signs of injury, but the woman was pale and wasted. Touching her lips, Xena could see that her mouth was completely dry. That probably accounted for a good deal of her drawn appearance. Xena looked around for her water skin and it behind her and almost within her reach. She flopped back and flailed her arms a bit frantically, trying to reach it without disturbing Gabrielle.
This undignified wiggling brought Gabrielle around, and she smiled warmly to recognize her warriors tanned thighs under her cheek. She had no idea how awful she looked, and she found Xenas agitation a little silly.
"Hi Xena," Gabrielle grinned thinly, careful of her dry lips.
Hearing her bard say something so normal brought back weeks of missing this gentle, teasing presence. She started crying again, but this time she was smiling. Her eyebrows conveyed her disbelief. "Are you all right?" she asked, spilling tears on Gabrielles face. "Are you injured?"
"Nothing new," came the answer. "Just weak." A hand stroked her hair. Their eyes met and for a good minute neither woman said anything. Gabrielle broke the silence. "Its been a rough few weeks."
Xena covered her face, muffling a slightly hysterical giggle, which dissolved into a snuffle of tears. "I love you, Gabrielle." After a pause her face softened sadly and she asked, pleading, "What happened?" It was a simple question. The answer would probably take hours to relate, but what she really wanted to know was "Why did you leave me?" Xena had been burning to understand for weeks.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, thinking. She knew what Xena meant, and she was pretty sure she wasnt up to this. She took several deep breaths, wondering how to start, until Xenas finger on her lips interrupted. "Shh. Dont tell it now. We have time, dont we?" She looked at Gabrielle for confirmation.
"I wont leave you again, Xena."
"Good. Then you should save your strength."
She brought the water bottle to Gabrielles parched lips but pulled back when she drank too eagerly. "Slowly, my bard." Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but agreed to spend a luxurious candlemark in the Xenas lap, accepting sips of water and a sensuous, loving attention that she had never known.
After most of the water, Gabrielle pulled her shoulders away from Xenas kneading hands, and, supporting herself on one elbow, announced, "I think I can walk."
Xena snorted. "Im sure you can, but youre not going to." She stood and attached the water bottle to her waist clip. Crossing the small clearing, she retrieved her weapons and kneeled next to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sat up to meet her. "Im a big girl, Xena." She smiled openly, fully intending to capitulate, but enjoying the familiar argument.
Xena, who had been living at the edge of her emotional reserves, couldnt see the humor. She could only remember a distance that she had grown to regret. "Please?" She talked to the ground. "You look like you havent eaten in a week, and "
A hand on her chin stopped her. Gabrielle tipped the warriors face up from its chagrin. "Hey, I was joking. Id love a ride."
Xena stood. The tall woman crossed her arms and scuffed the dirt with the toe of her boot in an adolescent gesture. She remembered the game, and with some embarrassment over her earlier anxiety, she played her part, pretending a surly attitude. "Come ere," she said in a growly voice, tossing her head to reinforce the command. Gabrielle stood next to her. "Put your arm around me." Her snarl cracked into warm tones and her scowl broke into a grin as she spoke the words. Oh, she was glad to be with her bard.
Gabrielle put her arm around the warriors broad shoulders and soon they were on their way. In the tall sunshine of the warriors arms, Gabrielle reflected that it hadnt quite been the passionate reunion she had been hoping for. Shed expected to return in health. On the other hand, this wasnt so bad. Xenas strong arms cradled her in the rolling motion of her walk. When she laid her head against Xenas chest and closed her eyes, she felt a vibration beginning in Xenas throat as the warrior began to hum. Her rich warm voice wound its way into Gabrielles soul. She was finally home.
The wet whispers of an unexpected rain drowned out the usual noises that Xena knew from her childhood in this room. Xena sat in a rocking chair in shrouded silence. The room was generously lit with candles and she stared at the nearest one, losing herself in its flickering and in the falling waters dirge.
Solons cold body was gathering stiffness on a table in the center of the room. Cyrene had helped to lay him out in the best clothes they could find. The ceremony of the vigil and the fine clothes seemed a little silly to Xena, but Cyrene had insisted that, as a child, he needed evidence of others love to recommend him to the gods.
Gabrielle slept soundly in the bed in the corner. With infinite patience, Cyrene had accepted Xenas improbable explanation. Xena was almost too stunned to act, and had simply watched as her practical mother helped the bard into a clean shift. When Cyrene brought a gentle meal of bread and broth, Xena moved to the edge of the bed to remind the starving woman to eat more slowly. Mostly Xena exchanged shy smiles with this old friend whose presence in her life felt so new. She had said very little, having been chastised by her mother with a warning not to press Gabrielle for information until she was rested.
Xena marveled at her mothers forbearance. For now she accepted the weird fluctuations of her daughters life, only asking how she could help. Xena could hardly bear to wait, so she hovered, watching, and imagined what the bard would tell her.
Xena had positioned herself so that she could see both of them. She tried to lead her thoughts down a deliberate path of speculation, but her imagination was unruly. It had been so many years since she sat in this room, thinking. She mostly remembered the rainy days spent here, playing with Lyceus, when they were both too young for school. The rocking chair that now seemed small for her was the same one that Cyrene had sat in to do her mending. Now, as then, the creak of its motion kept time with the drip from the eaves.
Lyceus goofy, happy toddler face came back to her clearly. She remembered the little boy that he had been better than the teenage soldier he became, and she could easily imagine the two of them playing here, plotting to slay the Cyclops or join Jasons quest. Her mother would watch, intervening now and them. "Let Lyceus have a turn, dear." Xena chuckled at the memory then sobered, realizing that no matter how she abused her younger brother, he would follow her everywhere and do anything she asked.
Xena let a huge sigh puff out her cheeks. Solon and Gabrielle would have done the same thing. They had. They had each willingly followed her to their own destruction. Well, almost. Gabrielle was with her now, and she definitely had a mind of her own. This thought brought back a smirk, as she looked fondly at her sleeping friend. Xena found the bard watching her out of the darkness of her corner bed. Smiling to meet the living face of her soulmate, Xena rose and walked over to the bed.
Gabrielle stretched with a kittenish squeak. "Hi." She rolled over and propped her head on her bent arm to meet Xena more equally. "I heard you sigh. Are you alright?"
Xena shook her head slowly. She couldnt believe how normal Gabrielle seemed. "Am I alright? Youre the one whos half starved and healing." She brushed back Gabrielles hair, and swallowed when she saw the scar at her temple. "Do you need anything? Are you alright?"
Gabrielle smiled indulgently. "No, Xena, Im fine." She paused. "I just wanted your company."
"And what do you mean you heard me sigh? Thats my line." Her voice was softly teasing. Xena put her cool hand under the blond bangs, pretending to look for fever. "You must not be sleeping well."
"I feel like I have been sleeping for hours, but my sense of time is all messed up. Its been weeks since I've known night or day." She furrowed her brow, concentrating. "It may have been weeks since Ive slept, Im not sure. It all kind of runs together now."
Finally, Xena thought, Gabrielle had brought up the untold story between them. Maybe now was the time. Xena knew she was rationalizing. Although she had endured weeks of not knowing, suddenly it seemed as though her head would explode if she didnt find out. She let out the breath that she hadnt known she was holding and asked.
"Gabrielle, what happened? What happened on the day before you left me, at the centaur village?"
Gabrielle had already decided to answer as simply as she could. She chewed her lip, wishing for the first time that she could convey the story without the trouble of telling. "Hope killed Solon." Her eyes filled with tears before she went on. "Then I poisoned Hope, in the woods outside the village. You and I lit the funeral fires, and then I left."
So they had shared that day! She should have offered condolence, but to the warrior those words at this moment seemed as foolish as pleasantries. Xena pressed to the point. "Why did you leave?"
"I felt like maybe we needed some time apart," Gabrielle paused, dreading the argument they were about to have. "And I made a deal with Ares."
At the mention of his name, Xenas brow lowered, narrowing her eyes to suspicious shards. She waited for Gabrielle to elaborate, but she didnt. "What kind of deal?"
"I traded my life for Solons."
"You what?" Xena almost shouted. She stood up and started to pace away. She dug her nails into rough palms and looked at the shutters, trying to concentrate on the sound of the rain outside. How could she not have guessed? Only Gabrielle would do something like that.
Then she turned around, hiding her clenched hands beneath folded arms. Her pleading voice tempered the anguish that always showed as anger on her face. "How could you do that?" She paused and continued in a softer tone. "Gabrielle, I never would have wanted that from you."
"Xena, look at me." Gabrielles eyes were the color of an angry ocean as she pointed to her own chest. "I had taken away the one bright spot from your past. The thought of his future was one of your best comforts, and I took that away. I did this to you! You, who have saved my life more times than I can keep track of. If I had an opportunity to bring him back, what was my life worth next to that?"
Xena would later admit to herself that her own honor would have demanded of herself no less, but at the moment she felt like she had to argue. "There had to be another way. They abused you so "
"How dare you tell me what I should have done!" Gabrielle interrupted her. "Look at me, warrior, " she said again. This time she held her arms up, demanding Xenas scrutiny. "Im not a fighter. I cant intimidate the gods into favoring me. All I have to offer is my wits and my life."
Xena came back to the bed and sat down. Gabrielle poked Xenas chest with a strong finger to punctuate her words. "Xena, I made my own decision. It wasnt the one you would have made for me. It might even have been wrong. But I dont regret trying. At least you got to know Solon, a little." Gabrielle continued to herself. And I got to know you. She had learned a lot from Xenas thoughts, probably more that the warrior ever would have revealed without provocation. It had bolstered her courage, and she had made her plans. If getting to love Xena was the only result of her deal with Ares, Gabrielle considered it pain well spent.
"Gods," Xena whispered, her voice was consumed with regret. "If I had known the price you paid for every minute I spent with Solon, I would have paid more attention. I would have," she faltered, trying to think what she would have done differently.
"No, Xena. You cant think of it that way," Gabrielle expelled an audible breath of frustration. "I had to try. It didnt work, but I dont regret trying. It was the right thing for me to do." Gabrielle laid back and closed her eyes. "You cant always protect me Xena. If I make decisions, then I accept the consequences."
Xena grumbled wordlessly, hating to lose an argument and hating to admit to herself that in life Gabrielle would experience pain that she couldn't ease. It was supposed to be the warriors own suicide mission to make amends. "But Gabrielle, you are a good person. You didnt need to prove yourself by sacrificing yourself to honor."
"Xena, Im not proving myself, anymore than anyone else who does the right thing. I am just living my life. It was the Gods interference made it into an epic."
Xena started to protest, but Gabrielle wasnt done. She had heard enough of the warriors thoughts over the last few weeks to imagine what she was thinking. "Sacrifice myself to honor? Get off your high horse warrior. Were not so different, you know."
Gabrielle grabbed Xenas chin with a strength neither realized she was capable of and spoke with something like anger. "Your sacrifices cant repair the past. Nothing can. You are the most honorable person I have ever known, but it's not because you're the evil warlord turned good. You're just a woman living a good life."
Gabrielle relaxed back and assumed a jaded expression unfitting to her young face. She was so very tired of this issue. "Once upon a time you werent a very nice person, and now you think that everything bad that happens is because of you. Ive got news for you, warrior, the world doesnt revolve around you anymore. Youre just like everybody else."
Gabrielle laid her head on the pillow, exhausted. She didnt expect a response but knew that her partner would need time to digest this outburst. Xena stayed where she was, sitting on the edge of the bed, and watched her friends breathing deepen into sleep.
The little bard was always telling her that she was good inside, but Xena had always written it off as a part of the girls optimism. She knew that Gabrielle believed it. Didnt she trust the bards judgement? This Gabrielle, the one who had just spoken to her so forcefully, demanded Xenas faith. Just now she had spoken with a certainty that Xena herself had only pretended, never felt. In her heart she knew this was her own Gabrielle, but something had subtly changed.
Xena listened to the individual splashes of raindrops, letting them wash away her disturbing reflections. It was well passed midnight. In the bleak hours her mind merged them into a hypnotic heartbeat, and, fixing her eyes on the candle, she stood and paced to its time. The thrumming melted into the background as she focused on the rising moan of the wind. Crack! Her mind registered the sound of a breaking branch without concern, but a movement brought her attention to the bed.
There the bard sat bolt upright with the wild eyes of a nightmare. She met Xenas gaze without full comprehension. Words spilled out in a rush of high-pitched anxiety. "Xena, you have an enemy. I forgot to tell you. Her name is Alti. She is some sort of witch. She is more powerful than you think."
Gabrielle seemed only half-awake, and Xena was struck by her appearance of fear rather than by her words. She walked over to the bed to calm the blond woman.
"Shh, shh, little one. Its ok. Were safe here." Xena stroked the honey hair and cupped a soft cheek in her hand. Gabrielles eyes were dilated in fear. "I know Alti. I met her years ago. You can tell me about it in the morning."
Xena gently pushed her friend back onto the mattress. She lifted and smoothed the covers, then let her hand remain on the small body. Gabrielle allowed her partners touch to soothe her back into sleep, and as she rolled onto her side, tucking her hands underneath her chin, she mumbled the last word. "Dont call me little one." Xena smiled.
Xena looked at the two small bodies of the people whom she loved above all others. They were remarkably similar. Both were blond, one sandy, one golden, and they were almost the same size.
The idea of Gabrielle, a confident, self-assured woman, wearing her awkward, growing sons hand-me-downs brought a wistful smile. They would have enjoyed each other. When they first met Solon had been fooled by her appearance of youth and had treated the bard more like a peer. Gabrielle, of course, encouraged his familiarity and the two were well on their way to becoming friends in their own right when Solons death started all this.
For some reason these two could not exist in her life simultaneously.
The hypnotic rumble of the raindrops was already lulling the warrior back into semi-consciousness when she felt a familiar tingle. Her posture changed, and suddenly she was all alertness. "Show yourself," she growled. She looked around the room for a few heartbeats before the God of the Dead hesitantly materialized. Xena didnt wait for him to speak. "I dont like to be watched."
Hades held up his hands defensively. "I didnt mean anything by it. I just wanted to talk to you." Hades eyebrows were raised, waiting for her approval.
Xena couldnt find the energy to out-maneuver this god, so she spoke with all the bitterness that she felt. "What are you trying to do to me, Hades? Are you going to going to offer Solons life for my own? Or would you rather I sacrificed my best friend, or maybe my mother? Whose turn is it to die?" Her voice dripped a limp sarcasm.
Hades was silent and endured her glare with a compassionate face. He let her calm herself before he spoke. "I am not responsible for their deaths, but I saw what happened. Gabrielle hasnt told you everything."
At the mention of her partner, Xena looked up from the flickering candle. Her wide eyes told Hades that he had her attention. "What happened?"
"Gabrielle didnt tell you what she suffered. You saw her mortal wounds. At Charons dock, time stood still, and that pain never eased. By itself the place is a horror to mortal minds. It is a place calculated to push you on to the afterlife. She waited there for nearly a month. Gabrielle is one of a handful of mortals Ive known to endure it and survive."
"Why did she stay there?"
"For a chance to return to you. She has an exceptionally strong will."
"I know," Xena replied, but she really didnt. She had always known Gabrielle to be stubborn but was only beginning to see that she had no idea what her friend was capable of. "What happened to her deal with Ares? How did she come back? And why did Solon die?"
Hades crossed his arms, unsure how to answer this. He paced slowly toward the shuttered window. His silence let the rain thread through.
"People are put on the earth for a reason, Xena. They live a mortal life in order to solve a problem or learn a lesson. If they do it within a lifetime, then they are judged and pass on. If they dont accomplish what they were set here to do, then they are returned to live another life." Hades turned around and read Xenas confusion. He could tell that his vague answer was only increasing her distrust. She wasnt going to accept this from an Olympian god.
"Gabrielle figured this out by herself. She understands that the meaning of her life and yours is yet to be fulfilled. That is part of why she got to come back." Xena heard his voice deepen. She could see his outline blur and shimmer.
"Listen to me, Xena. Your destiny is tied to Gabrielles. Together, you will counteract an evil." As he spoke his appearance was changing. Xena couldnt put her finger on it. He had the handsome face she recognized as belonging to Hades, but his clothing looked softer and simpler than the aggressively regal costume of the Lord of the Dead. The man inside was somehow more than Hades had been, as if the bounds that had held him were broken and his own illumination shone through. His voice resonated quietly and commanded a trust that Xena never felt towards the Gods of Olympus.
The warrior shook her head to clear it. She wasnt usually so susceptible to this.
"You will encounter this evil again and again. Through many lifetimes, you will restore balance to the world. Each time it will cause you pain, but in each life, the universe will restore balance by giving you an extra measure of happiness and a love that Aphrodite would envy." The god smiled at the mention of the Greeks image of love manifest. He had to remind himself that the petty gods of Greece sometimes were a part of the immutable order.
"Im here to stop an evil? After all Ive done?" She shook her head with unhappy resolve. "I dont deserve that. I have caused people so much pain. So much darkness."
"There is no darkness, Xena! You were seduced by an evil, but the evil is not you. It is only your hands that you sold into sorrow. Cant you see the difference?" Her face was stubborn, and she settled her weight back in the chair behind folded arms.
"Mortal, dont be a fool and try to shrug off a gift that is yours. You cant fight this destiny. Cant you see where the balance lies? Just as you feel you have to make up for the pain that you caused others, the universe has to right the wrong of the pain that you bore. You childhood was taken. Ten years as a warlord almost destroyed your soul. But the universe will have balance, whether you think you deserve it or not." He reminded himself that this wasnt the time for Xena to learn the mysteries of existence. His mission was to give her hope. "You need to stop offering yourself as a sacrifice, and start living."
"Youre not Hades, are you?"
His mouth quirked. Gabrielle was so much better at this. "I am Lord of the Dead to some, but others name me differently. The dead do return to me, as water to the sea, because all life springs forth from me."
Xena snorted. "Youre a man."
The God managed a patient look. These Greeks could be so concrete. "I appear as you will accept me. Is this better?" The god chided himself for resorting to this display. It was definitely time for this conversation to end.
Now a simple, clean peasant woman stood before her radiating the same inner light and speaking with the same gentle clarity. Xena felt so very sleepy all of a sudden. The water dripping from the eaves sounded insistently in her ears. She fought the feeling.
"Why did Solon die?"
"Solon " The goddess paused for a sigh. "The fates had planned a different life for him. Alti cursed him to be born to you as a warlord and to die before you could experience his love. Ares couldnt alter that. Solon still has a destiny that is intertwined with your life. His birth was a gift that you didnt yet deserve."
"What do you mean?" She mumbled, shaking her head in an attempt to keep her eyes open.
"When you earn that gift, it will be given again."
"What?" She scowled with annoyance at her inability to raise her eyelids. The words didnt make sense. The goddess was leaning over her shoulder, speaking very close to her ear, but the sound of her voice came from far away.
"In time, when you are ready, Gabrielle will find herself with child. That life will be Solons soul returned to you.
She had just enough awareness to protest. All she could think was that Solons return would mean Gabrielles death. "No you cant take her away from me again." She said with the sleepy insistence of a toddler.
"Gabrielle will bear the child in health. Xena, this is a gift to you both."
"You cant use Gabrielle like that."
The motherly voice hardened. "No Xena, its you who cant make this decision for her. Before she came back to this life, she understood Solons destiny."
"What is his destiny?"
It was Gabrielles sleepy voice that answered her. "To make you happy."
"What did you say?" She asked, feeling a little more awake. Her answer was a soft snore, muffled against the linen shift that covered the Xenas shoulder. The warrior was tucked into the warm nest of her childhood bed as the rain pattered overhead. With heavy eyes she scanned the room for the god who had tricked her into this comfort but found nothing.
Xena woke to the sunlight creating a halo out of the fair hair spread across her shoulder. She didnt remember falling asleep, but here she was snuggled firmly against the warm body of her bard. She could feel Gabrielles breath, even and deep, against her neck. Xena lay still, anxious to let Gabrielle sleep as long as she could, and thought about the day ahead.
Solon was dead. His shrouded form held her eyes. Following a habit that had served her well as a warlord, she forced herself to look, accepting the worst. He was really gone. He was one of the last living reminders of the days of her youthful power. Shed been so different. There was a time, she remembered, when the awful truth was out of her reach. Strange as it now seemed, she truly hadnt grasped that it was wrong to take what you could. The strength, skill and determination that evidenced the god's favor seemed to give her the right.
Until this month Solon had lived mostly in her mind. She had always connected the boy with his birth and the person she had been then. When she looked at him she had felt profoundly guilty, both for abandoning him and for the other wrongs she had done. At least she had gotten to know him. Now she remembered an intelligent, charming boy reading Gabrielles scrolls aloud by firelight. She couldnt accept the bards sacrifice, but she knew shed be lying to herself if she didnt admit that she was grateful.
Today they would bring Solon to the family tomb. After that, Xena was anxious to leave Amphipolis. She needed the relative peace the road to think through the events of the last few days, but she would have to wait. Before she could travel, Gabrielle had to have some time to recover in the safety of her mothers home. Xena reflected that Gabrielle seemed to be doing very well, considering.
Gabrielle didnt tell you what she suffered. Hades voice came back to her, and she unconsciously hugged the small body tighter. Something about holding this woman in sleep had always helped to untangle the bewildered nets of yesterdays thoughts, and now Xena tried to recall scenes from last night. She wanted to convert the disjointed dreaminess to something more concrete before the day fully began and wiped the slate clean. She remembered bits and pieces of what Hades had said. Was it really Hades? Xena remembered a womans lips speaking very close to her ear. She was saying such incredible things! It must have been a dream.
Gabrielle thwarted her efforts, stirring in her arms with an adorable, sensual stretch. She opened her eyes with a contented look. Rolling over onto an elbow she met Xenas blue eyes and forced them to join her in a smile. "Good morning, Xena. You cant imagine how hungry I am."
In spite of Xenas grieving, the days they spent in Amphipolis were sweet. With her usual thoroughness, Xena was careful to spare her friend any effort. With each little kindness Gabrielles look of honest gratitude trapped her in an exchange of affection. Xena had imagined that she allowed the intimacy out of consideration for Gabrielle, but after the second day she found that she couldnt stop the open smile that met Gabrielles face every time she handed her bard a cup of tea.
Although it would still be weeks before Xena could stop pressing the bard to take seconds at mealtimes, Gabrielle recovered her strength quickly, and before long, Gabrielle was showing signs that she found the warriors attentions a little annoying.
Now they were a day and a half out of Amphipolis, travelling towards Amazon country. Gabrielle had argued that they should first inform Ephiny of her return. Poteidaia was closer, but the bard reasoned that since they were unlikely to have received word of her death, reassurance was unnecessary. Xena didnt put up much of an argument. Gabrielles hometown was the last place she wanted to be right now. The week and a half trip to the Amazon village would give her some time to sort things out.
Since they left Amphipolis, Xena had insisted on Gabrielle riding to save her strength. At the moment, Xena was conscious of Gabrielles warm weight slumped against her back, and had slowed Argo to her smoothest walk. She was aiming for a certain lovely glade, situated only a stone's throw from a clean creek and well hidden from the road. The pace she had settled on in deference to the sleeping bard brought them there later than Xena had planned. She helped Gabrielle down and pointed to a rock in the afternoon sun, indicating that the bard should sit while Xena made camp.
Gabrielle complied with a look that made Xena wonder how much longer she was going to tolerate this treatment. Still, she looked happy, stretched out against the early autumn leaves. Xena cleared a fire ring, all the time watching the blond woman out of the corner of her eye. Gabrielle was rubbing her face where the deep imprint of Xenas armor was still visible. She had pulled out her cooking knife and was studying her reflection in its surface.
Xenas pleasure in her partners presence had quickly overcome the initial melancholy awkwardness. Still, they were gentler with each other than they used to be, and Xena didnt like it. She wanted so much for them to get back to normal. A part of her was on edge and she didnt know why. The warrior was anxious to have all of her defensive barriers back firmly in place. As she watched Gabrielles almost comic annoyance at the marks on her face, she tried to think of some gentle taunt.
Gabrielle beat her to it. "You know, Warrior Pillow, you know how concerned you are with being the best at everything? I mean, except cooking."
Xena grinned, knowing she didnt have to answer. She felt like she walked around with a big dumb smile on her face most of the time these days.
"Well, the best pillows dont wear armor."
"There I wouldnt be a very good warrior, now, would I? Besides, it builds character."
"Oh, right," Gabrielle stood up, catching Xenas eye with a twinkling gaze. "Like spending a day in the sun sleeping pressed against you is such a hardship."
Their eyes met for a long moment. The look they exchanged conveyed affection, loyalty and something more. Desire. A germinating kernel of truth. Xena looked away.
Gabrielle was disappointed at the warrior's retreat until she saw the grin that spread across Xenas face as she fixed her eyes on the ground, pretending to gather firewood. Gabrielle sighed. She supposed she could give the warrior a little more time. Shed already been about as patient as she could stand.
After dinner Gabrielle sat with the end of a quill in her mouth, regarding her silent partner from across the fire. She hadnt written anything in days, and Xenas pensive posture made her restless. The dark woman sat on a log resting her temple on an arm supported by her raised knee. She was staring into the fire, poking ineffectually with a stick, her thoughts obviously leagues away.
The scene filled Gabrielle with a sudden determination. She refused to let another night pass this way. She had hoped to wait for things to happen naturally, but damn it all, at this rate she'd be too old to enjoy it.
Xena didnt move a muscle as the blond woman stood, slowly rolling her unmarked scroll. As she tucked the parchment away in her bag, Gabrielle noticed her hands shaking. "Calm down," she whispered firmly to her own body. She knew she wasnt going to get anywhere like this. "You can do this." Gabrielle took a few deep breaths, then pushed off her knees and walked around the fire to where Xena sat, making her steps confident so that the warrior wouldnt turn in question. Stopping behind her, Gabrielle reached for the clasps on the warriors armor and began to undo them.
"What are you doing?"
"Im taking off your armor." Xena's prosaic question unaccountably filled her with frustration, and she inhaled a sigh full of the sharp scent of leather and the warm earth of Xenas hair.
"I can do that, Gabrielle."
"I know," she responded with a stubborn tone.
Gabrielles hands worked in silence, by rote. Her thoughts were focused texture of the leather under her fingertips and the skin that brushed against her arm. When she finished, she swept the dark tangles aside and began to run her hand over Xenas shoulders. She remembered so many times when the sculpted power beckoned to her, and she hid her desire in the offer of a massage. Now she simply indulged her wish, and explored the paradoxical softness of the fighters skin. Gabrielle's awkward willfulness gave way to desire.
It took Xena a few minutes to realize that this was no massage, but Gabrielle was touching her for her own pleasure. Again she asked, "What are you doing?"
Gabrielle set her teeth and spoke her resolve. "I love you. I want to touch you."
The pinched words from her bard made it obvious to Xena that she expected to be rebuffed. Xena wasnt sure what to say. Forming her response, she discovered that when the desire was spoken so openly, the reasons against fulfilling it seemed remarkably trivial.
"Gabrielle," she said in a voice husky with uncertain desire, " I dont think that's such a good idea."
The deep rumbling of her name vibrated in Gabrielles soul, and she didnt notice the rest of the sentence. She gave no thought to stopping but lowered her lips to the fine dark hairs at the nape of Xena's neck. She kissed the little hollow she found there and sucked gently on the prominent bones just below.
Xena rolled her head forward and tried to remember why this was such a bad idea. "Gabrielle." The kisses stopped, but the bard waited with her lips parted on Xenas skin letting the warrior feel every breath. Xena reminded herself of a hundred carefully crafted arguments against this. "You shouldnt."
"Shouldnt what?" Gabrielles words rumbled through a kiss into Xenas neck.
Xena unsuccessfully muffled a groan, as a firm, wet suction gripped her shoulder. "You shouldnt start this."
Another wave of frustration set Gabrielles teeth into the flesh, and she let the warrior feel it before releasing the skin with a gentle kiss. Pushing off of the Xenas shoulders, she stood, walked around the seated woman. Gabrielle knelt in front of her placing her hands on the warrior's knees. "Why not, Xena?"
The warrior looked down at the sandy soil, trying to ground her argument. Gabrielle didnt give her time to respond, lest her own courage fail her. "Im not going to let you tell me that I dont know the risks." Remembering the resentment she had sometimes felt over the older womans unquestioned authority she spoke with more daring. "You cant tell me Im not old enough or that I havent thought this through. And you cant pretend that you dont want me. Not anymore."
The young woman reached for Xenas face, pushing back bangs that wanted cutting. She paused, stroking the soft skin at the wrinkle of those blue eyes, and let her desire show in her voice. "For almost a month I listened to your fantasies. I want to make all those things happen. Why cant I?"
At that moment there was nothing innocent about the young blond. Her direct gaze spoke of a fearless, questing hunger that sanctioned all Xenas desires. Gabrielle used her other hand to lift the warriors chin.
Xena knew that Gabrielle had heard her, but had hoped she wouldnt bring it up. Oh, how she wanted this woman, but she had already been too lucky. Despite her past, the fates had given her the loving, patient friendship of this woman, not once, but twice. It seemed that at any moment the gift of her bard could just vanish, like Solon did, simply because she wanted what she had not earned.
Xena was reminding herself that she should be satisfied with what she had, when a voice surfaced out of her memory. A love that Aphrodite would envy. Had that really happened? Could she risk her friendship with Gabrielle on the conviction that it had?
That sensual touch had already lit troubling fires. The cool evening at her back emphasized the heat between them and the charged air already shivered with Gabrielles heartbeat. Xena doubted that she had a choice.
The tears started to fall before Xena spoke. She was about to cross a line, and she prayed silently that what she had to say wouldnt destroy their friendship. "Gabrielle, you have to," she faltered, and with deep breaths tried to slow the pounding in her own chest. "You heard my thoughts. You know how I feel. Sex with you wouldnt be casual for me. If we make love tonight then I want it to last forever."
The bard was silent, so Xena continued. "I lost you once, as a friend. If I become your lover, and then someday you decide to settle down and marry some farmer, I would lose you just as surely. I dont know if I can take that." She studied Gabrielles stunned face. "Please dont be angry."
Gabrielle was stunned. Casual? Marry some farmer? Where in the known world had that come from? After all that she had been through, didnt Xena know how she felt? The young woman was more than a little annoyed, until she remembered that she had been the one to leave. Gabrielle realized with surprise that the warrior had expressed her feelings and that she had been the one to expect Xena to read through her inconsistent actions.
It took a few heartbeats for Xenas words to sink in. She said she wanted it to last forever. Her big bad warrior was proposing to her, with tears in her eyes. "Oh, Xena, I love you more than anything. Dont you know?" She swallowed, taking a minute to memorize the hesitant smile and softening hope in her partners blue eyes.
Over the years of longing, Gabrielle had composed a dozen responses to the question that her partner now posed. She had never thought she would repeat the words aloud, and now she struggled to keep her voice steady.
"No one else sleeps in my dreams. I want no one else to travel through the shadows with me, and I would share lifes harvest with you alone." She took Xenas hands to her lips and kissed them. "I want to feel your beloved hands and no others. If you will have me, we will go together wherever time takes us, and I will not leave you."
Xena raised her hand to touch Gabrielles face, ready to brush away the tears that were shimmering there. For the rest of her life she would wonder what she had done to deserve this. She slid her hand to the slender neck and pulled her partner closer.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and tilted her head slightly in anticipation. She hesitated a moment, savoring the warmth of their mingled breath. What a long way to arrive at a kiss.
The pop of the fire and the rustle of the evening trees drowned away in the intoxicating softness of that kiss. The sensitivity of her mouth surprised Gabrielle. Her lips seemed to contain her whole body, and now Xena made love to them, pressing and yielding with reverent tenderness. For a moment the gentle exploration was enough to overwhelm her senses, but then Gabrielles lips parted unconsciously, wanting more.
The first touch of firm, wet tongue on her lips made her gasp in surprise. Her lover started at the sound, pulling back, but was stopped by the urging of Gabrielles hand strong on her neck. Xenas tongue filled her mouth, and she returned the searching wetness. Gods, this feels wonderful! Gabrielle shuddered at the thought that this was only the beginning.
She felt Xenas large hands slide up her waist and under the loose fabric of her top. One hand on her back braced her against the force of the kiss, while the other wandered along her side just skirting the swell of her breast.
Gabrielle wanted to push Xena back and do--she wasnt sure what--but the memories of Xenas dreams stopped her. In her fantasies about their first time, the warrior had always imagined herself initiating her younger partner to the ways of love between women. Besides, Gabrielle reminded herself, it wasnt as though she really knew what to do. She only knew that she wanted to kiss and taste every inch of the tall womans body, and she growled a little, taking the warriors lower lip between her teeth.
Gabrielle felt Xenas hands on her shoulders, pushing her away. "Careful, my bard. Were no where near the bedrolls, and Im about to fall over this log." Gabrielle obeyed, and, sitting back on her heels she chided herself silently. Stupid. Clumsy. Farm girl.
Xena bit back a smile at the look on her friends face. The wrinkled brow above a pouting lower lip testified to some internal dialogue, and Xena watched her fondly before interrupting. "You really want me, dont you?"
Gabrielle nodded. She was relieved by a loving smile but mortified to hear her voice crack between girlish excitement and husky desire. "I really want you now."
Deciphering the sheepish look, Xena wrestled the amusement from her face. She drew her bard in for a hug resting her cheek against the smooth brow. "I love you." Then Xena stood, pulling the bard up beside her, and looked down into a face of pure eagerness.
"Kiss me again," Gabrielle demanded with an open smile. Xena reached down for her, and Gabrielle had to tilt her head way back to accept the kiss. Feeling their height difference brought back all those times when shed dreamed about kissing Xena, loving the warriors tall aggressive strength and wanting to succumb to it. Gabrielles heart jumped as Xena leaned into her and as their kisses began a fiery tingle that ran down her back and settled between her legs, melting her knees. She reached for the laces that held her top closed, but Xenas hand stopped her.
"Let me," Xena commanded in her deepest voice. She worked at the laces of Gabrielles top, undoing them, but leaving the fabric in place. Those short, smoky words and the light touches of Xenas fingers quite pushed her over the edge.
Xena felt the small hands tighten on her hips. "What is it?"
"I dont think I can stand."
"Oh, thats good." Xena rumbled. "Put your arm around my shoulder." Xena put her hands behind the weakened knees, and in one swift movement, was cradling her bard like a new bride. "Ive got you."
Neither really remembered how they made it to the bedroll. They forgot the graceless urgency of their efforts to remove the warriors snug battledress. The next thing Gabrielle knew was that she was lying on her back, on a thick fur, envying the firelight caressing Xenas body. Xena hovered above, prolonging their anticipation, in the golden light whose sharp shadows accentuated her curves. She lowered herself slowly, sliding her breasts up Gabrielles belly, twisting and stretching to tease Gabrielle with the silky friction. Gabrielle arched to meet her, and growing bolder, let her hands take what Xena held just out of reach.
She slid her callused palms firmly over the powerful curves, loving the way the skin, cooled by the night air, warmed under her touch. She is so soft.
Xena gave in to her own need to feel the bard beneath her and covered Gabrielles body with her own. They slid together, breast to breast, belly to belly, arms and legs meeting along their length, and both moaned aloud at the flawless contact.
Gods, shes laying on top of me. Gabrielle lost herself in the sensation of Xenas skin covering her. There was nothing else: no destiny, no grieving. Only this wet mixture of soft and firm, probing and giving way. Their lips met fiercely, and Gabrielle opened her mouth fully to Xenas searching. Xena used her weight to grind her body into Gabrielles, making the most of their tangled legs. A few minutes were swallowed up in the heady, bruising passion before Xena pulled herself away, rolling onto her side. Gabrielle protested with a little grunt and pulled herself up to steal another kiss.
"Slow. We have to slow down."
Gabrielle was having none of that. She slid her hand up Xenas middle to the swell of her breast. She traced its outline as she asked, with a growl, "Why?"
"I need to slow down. I want this to be perfect."
This is our first time. Gabrielle understood, but wasnt about to let that pressure bottle her pent up desire. "Nothings perfect, warrior," she looked at Xena with a serious face, holding her eyes for a long moment of understanding. She slid her palm back to Xenas stomach, acknowledging the butterflies there. She smiled a lovingly and was gratified to see the crystal gaze soften in response.
This time their lips met playfully. Gabrielle tugged at Xenas lower lip. "Are you going to take me or what, warrior mine?
Xena laughed into her mouth with a rich open sound. Grateful for the words that put her at ease, she continued her partners teasing tone. "Oh, Gabrielle you have no idea. I am going to take you places youve never dreamed of." With a finger she traced the lips that were brimming with kisses. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes." The answer came without hesitation. Gabrielle closed her eyes in offering. Xena laid her hand on Gabrielles hipbone, then slid it firmly up her torso to cup a ripe breast. Shes touching my breast. Xena brought her lips close to her bards ear. "Let me touch you."
Xena parted Gabrielles legs with her knee and settled herself heavily between them. Gabrielles eyes were still closed, and Xena enjoyed this moment of studying her. She rolled her hips slowly. Gabrielle responded instantly, matching her rhythm. A little moan escaped as she rolled her head back. Xena smiled, watching her bard give herself fully to the sensation. What a glorious woman.
Kiss by kiss she traced a path down Gabrielles throat. She nuzzled her face in the fragrant valley beneath Gabrielles breast and dragged her cheek upwards until her lips found the nipple. She rolled her tongue around the pink nub before taking it into her mouth and sucking gently.
"Oh." Gabrielle murmured her appreciation as she arched her back towards Xenas mouth. Xena slid her free hand into the hollow of Gabrielles back and lifted her weight like a goblet.
A shift of weight, and Xena's tongue traced the warm ripples of the bards middle. Gods, what a beautiful belly. Her broad shoulders spread Gabrielles hips, and Xenas breasts pressed between Gabrielles legs.
Gabrielle felt Xenas hands and mouth everywhere at once. She was aware of her lovers hot breath and the cool dark hair sliding across her middle. Even the weight of Xenas gaze seemed palpable. The sensations drowned out the crack of the fire and the rustle of the leaves. Anticipation of this woman's touch now defined her whole universe. Gabrielle hadn't been prepared for this intensity, and she suddenly wondered how much longer it could last. Sensing a change, Xena stopped the motion of her tongue and looked up with concerned eyes. "Whats wrong?"
"I nothing I need something. Gods!" she groaned. Xena smiled. This was the first time anyone had made love to Gabrielle. "I know what you need, love."
She lowered her mouth between Gabrielles legs and, hovering over the golden curls, she inhaled their solid, dark fragrance. With her lips and her cheek she paid homage to Gabrielles softest skin. She rubbed her face against her inner thighs and kissed the delicate hollow where her legs joined her hips.
Xena smiled again, now against her lovers skin. There would be time to tease and explore. In her heart she knew that Gabrielle wanted this for a very long time. She brought her lips back to the wet curls and paused, imagining the flavor of her lover. Xena moaned. Oh, she had dreamed of this. She dipped her tongue between the folds. Oh yes. She explored the textures for only a moment before giving in to her desire. Cupped the bards backside and tilting her hips, Xena buried her face in that sweet nectar.
"Gods, Xena!" Gabrielle cried out at the feeling of her lovers firm tongue pressed deep inside her. Xenas strong hands anchored the bards hips as they struggled to bring themselves closer her mouth. The warrior lost herself in the earthy musk and the slippery taste of Gabrielle. For a few minutes the quiet was broken only by wet sounds and whimpers.
"Xena," the voice was stopped by an involuntary moan. "Inside. I need to feel you, ohhhhh." She broke off as two long fingers pressed against her opening and paused. Gabrielle arched her back, and swirled her hips, searching for a movement that would claim those fingers as her own. Ahh, my little bard. Xena stilled her tongue as she slid her fingers slowly between the liquid velvet.
Shes inside me. Gabrielle groaned with satisfaction. "Oh, yes."
Soon the long, gentle strokes werent enough. She wanted more of her warrior. She wanted to be filled with her, and she said so. "More. I want more."
Xena swallowed a chuckle. There was a time when she would have expected bashful innocence from Gabrielle, but this demanding little bard seemed more appropriate. The girl from Poteidaia had been naïve, to be sure. She was also modest, but it was from habit, not by nature, and she had never been shy. Learning to please her was going to be so much fun.
With Gabrielle's last demand, the air that had been charged with erotic tension gave way to an irresistible energy. Xena abandoned her attempts at subtlety and seduction and gave in to the bards need for raw passion. Their bodies met in an artless surging that drowned any barrier between them.
With her other lovers this urgency had seemed vulgar, but Gabrielle had no shame about her need. Where other lovers had retreated behind closed eyes, she was completely open. Her green eyes, dilated with passion and wonderment, met and held Xenas.
To Gabrielle it felt as though her heart's own pounding would split it open, laying it wide for Xena to see. With every new sensation she was sure that there could be no greater pleasure. What a strange fire! It was only fueled by the touch that she sought to quench it. Her body was completely out of control, and the feeling would have been frightening in its intensity if it wasnt this woman, whom she trusted above all others, whose solid grip anchored her. Gabrielle reached down for her partner, twisting her hands in the dark hair. When Xenas filling fingers found a sensitive spot Gabrielle involuntarily wrung her hands, letting out a long guttural cry.
Xena felt the tension building in her lovers body. The grip on her hair was almost painful, and she heard the sweetest words from the bards strangled throat.
Then she felt Gabrielles body explode. Her muscles gripped convulsively at Xenas fingers and her liquid desire pooled in the warriors upturned palm. She continued her thrusts until Gabrielles body had stilled, then slowly withdrew her hand, wringing one last shudder. Xena looked up her young lovers body and found her bonelessly collapsed on the bedroll. She hesitated to leave the feast of her lovers sex, and indulged herself in a few languorous kisses.
The hand tangled in her hair tugged as its mistress returned to life. "Come here." Gabrielle rumbled in a voice deeper that Xena had ever heard. Xena slithered over her, sliding her long body against the dewy silk. She supported herself on her elbows to keep from crushing the smaller woman, but Gabrielle whimpered a protest. "Lay down."
"But Ill crush "
"I want to feel your weight."
Xena brought her hand up to trace the planes of the face she loved. When she touched the bards mouth, the lips parted and a tongue snaked out to draw her in. "This is what you taste like." Xena watched Gabrielles eyes opened in surprise, then close again as her tongue worked to clean Xenas finger. She felt a trickle of moisture between her legs at the sight.
Gabrielles hand wound around the warriors neck, pulling her down, and her mouth opened to the bards searching tongue. Her own taste in Xenas mouth inspired her. Now it was her turn. Xena yielded to her pressure, allowing herself to be rolled over. Gabrielle raised her body up on both hands, arching her breasts toward the woman beneath her.
She smiled down at Xena, who at this moment looked nothing like a warrior. The hair around her face was a little damp and it curled at her temples. Her blue eyes were fixed on Gabrielles breasts.
"I had no idea, Xena," she purred.
Xena wet her lips and looked up at the laughing green eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I had no idea it could feel so good." She rolled her hips, pressing her pubic bone against Xenas.
"I love you." Xena grasped the small waist and slid one hand upward to cup a soft breast, the other down to grasp Gabrielles backside. Her hand held the bard in place while her own hips matched the rhythm.
Gabrielle spoke. "I think you should turn over."
Gabrielle recognized a challenge in Xena's raised eyebrow. She trailed a finger across the dark womans chest and explained. "Because I want to taste every part of you." Lowering her face, she pressed herself down on strong arms to taste the trickle of sweat in the hollow between Xenas breasts. Her voice was muffled by the soft mounds, "and Im afraid that if I start with the front, it will end too soon."
Xena breathed a slow deep sigh at the thought of that end. She told herself that she could wait a little longer.
The warrior turned over and Gabrielle took a long look at her backside. She ran her palm up hips that gave shape to the lyre. Only the smallest layer of flesh covered those hard muscles, but in repose the woman looked deceptively soft. Gabrielle settled herself on Xenas back, straddling the firm globes of her ass, and began to knead her back.
Both women were acutely aware of every place that their bodies touched. When Gabrielle leaned forward to take a mouthful of the warriors muscular shoulder, her breast brushed against Xenas back, and they both sucked in a sharp breath. Stretching forward to reach Xenas arms, Gabrielle felt the evening air against the dampness between her legs, and she looked down at the small of her lovers back. She grinned broadly.
Months ago she had given up offering backrubs lest Xena feel the moisture that betrayed her desire. Now she didnt have to hide it. Sitting back, she put more energy into the massage, at the same time crushing her sex against Xenas back. Xena tilted her hips back, presenting her hard muscles for the bards pleasure. Gabrielle forgot herself in the sensation and in a few minutes both women were breathing hard. Slow down, Gabrielle told herself.
She ignored Xenas soft moan of disappointment when she moved away. Her hands urged Xenas legs apart. Kneeling between them, She saw the glistening wetness she had left on Xenas back and tasted it. Her tongue strayed downward, drawn by the earthy fragrance. "Raise your hips," she commanded in a husky voice.
Xena looked around to see Gabrielle kneeling behind her, her eyes glued to the dark place between her legs. Xena complied, slowly raising herself towards the bard's waiting face. Gabrielle thrilled at this new control.
Gabrielle moved forward and pressed her belly against the sensitive flesh. She leaned forward, covering Xenas back. With one hand she cupped the warriors sex, curling her fingers into its folds, and with the other she grasped a nipple and rolled it between her thumb and forefinger. The woman beneath her groaned softly and rocked her hips back and forth, almost throwing Gabrielle off balance. Straightening up, she gripped Xenas waist firmly and matched her motion.
When Xenas breathing quickened again, Gabrielle reluctantly withdrew the contact. She simply had to taste this woman. She ran her callused hands from the warriors knees to her buttocks, spreading them slightly to give herself a better view of the dark, rosy flesh. She lowered her mouth to the trail of glistening wetness and tasted salty sweat mingled with the warriors desire. Sliding a finger between the folds, she brought it to her lips.
Xena hissed an eager "Yes," when she was touched and whimpered as the finger was withdrawn.
The moment of silence that followed was disconcerting until Gabrielle crept beside her and purred in her ear, "Gods, you taste wonderful, Xena." Gabrielle decided that the delay had become a bit cruel. "Turn over, " she husked. Her mouth watered as Xena moved. She marveled at her luck, that this magnificent body would be her playground.
As she turned, the wanton look on Gabrielles face surprised Xena. The young bard's mouth was open and her tongue rested between her teeth in anticipation. When Gabrielles devouring gaze reached Xenas face she smiled openly.
Gabrielle laid her own small body next to the taller one, half covering her. She took a dark nipple in her mouth and sucked, first gently, then harder as Xena moaned her approval. Her free hand wandered down and she slipped a finger between the folds of the warrior's sex, focussing on a firm little nub that she recognized from her own body.
Gabrielle raised her head to look up at her lover. Her head was thrown back, lips parted, eyes closed, and the dark hair was splayed out behind her in a wonderful tangle. Mine. Gabrielle stopped the motion of her hand and crept on top of Xena. She took the warriors mouth with savage intensity.
"Do you want me, Xena?" She asked the question with her mouth bare inches from the dark womans face.
"Yes." Xena breathed into her mouth.
"What do you want? Tell me Xena."
"I want you to fuck me." Gabrielle didnt answer right away, so Xena added "please." Her voice was almost a whimper. Gabrielle kissed her again with a hard promise. She ground her whole body into Xenas. "I will do whatever you want." She added to herself, You might just have to tell me what that means. She looked into Xenas face honestly, reminding her that she wasnt afraid of the warriors desire.
Gabrielle wasted no more time and dragged her body down Xenas, pausing only to dip her tongue into the tight well of her bellybutton. She put a hand on either side of the coarse, dark hair and smiled with satisfaction. She slid her fingers through the folds, using pressure to find Xenas opening. She held her fingers there, waiting, until a roll of Xenas hips urged her on. Gabrielle pushed forward hesitantly, afraid for a moment of hurting her lover, but when a deep groan gurgled in the warriors throat she remembered Xenas spoken desire. With a long firm stroke she pushed her fingers inside, delighted by the tight ring of muscles and the heat. She repeated the motion, trying to match the motion of Xenas hips with each thrust.
"Is this what you want?" Gabrielles voice was hoarse from her own cries, so her honest question sounded like seduction.
"Oh, yes." Their bodies answered each other with a shared rocking pulse paced to Xenas heartbeat and Xenas soft rhythmic murmurs were lost in the rustling of the trees.
This time Gabrielle was aware. She saw her warriors surrender against a familiar background of campfire, tall limbs creaking, and the first crickets of fall. This is my life. The woman whose delicate flavor still filled her mouth was the hard warrior she had followed out of Poteidaia. She could hardly believe it was really happening.
Xena gathered her ragged breathing to break the silence. "Gabrielle," she panted. "Your mouth." Before Xena took her next breath, Gabrielles mouth descended on the bundle of nerves her fingers had found earlier, and soon the warrior was writhing under her touch. She wrapped her free hand around the warriors hips. After only a few more thrusts a convulsion began around Gabrielles fingers and spread throughout the warriors body, forcing a low, strangled cry from her throat.
That was way too quick. Gabrielle tore her mouth away and looked up at her lover. The motion of her hand had slowed, but never stopped. Now she continued with excruciatingly long, slow strokes. She curled her fingers forward, drawing a moan.
Xenas eyes were wild as she looked back at this incredible woman. She felt the tingling in her belly rise again, and in response Gabrielles fingers pressed into her with more authority.
"More?" Xena could only nod. Gabrielle reached out with the firm tip of her tongue and took her again. The muscles in her arm burned, but she couldnt deny Xenas spiraling cries. She pumped her hand harder and harder until Xenas body convulsed again.
When Gabrielle withdrew her hand, she brought it to her lips to savor the taste of Xena. Xena watched her new lover, eyes closed in sensual abandon, as she licked the small fingers that had been buried deep inside her.
She opened her eyes to Xenas gaze and smiled. "You are wonderful!"
Gabrielle felt suddenly giddy. She almost giggled with delight when Xena patted the ground next to her, and held their second sleeping fur out invitingly. She pounced on the spent warrior and wiggled like a puppy.
Xena wondered at the transformation of her confident, assured lover into a silly little bard. Gabrielle clearly didnt regret the line they had crossed, and her happiness saved Xena from grim reflections. She thought about the woman's shameless sensuality. She had had it all wrong when she pictured Gabrielle as the light to her darkness, pure and incorruptible. No, Gabrielle was the daily bread of her soul.
"Gods, I love you."
Xena held the tangible sunshine tight against her body and let it burn away the darker fears. Holding her bard in the afterglow of having done something thoroughly right, she felt young. She remembered herself as a child, naked, running gleefully from Cyrenes threats of clothing. It was as if the scarred metal of her body had been newly minted in the fire of Gabrielles touch. Now she was the echo of that child, and she fell into sleep easily, eager, for the first time in years, for whatever tomorrow might bring.
Gabrielle lay awake for a while, deliriously content. Now she could snuggle right up to the woman she loved. Now she could wrap an arm around her waist and tangle their legs together. She was sure that she had always dreamed of this woman and this moment. How had she ever come so far?
Gabrielle thought of herself when she first left Poteidaia, years ago. Then, she had been all desire. She was searching for something so vigorously that she had blundered into all kinds of trouble. A few months ago, she would have sworn that this love, acknowledged, would end her search.
Now she knew that intimacy with Xenas earnest soul was only the beginning. She looked at the stars and thought about their hard destiny. The possibility of failure scared her. She had always known that Poteidaia could not contain her, but she never imagined herself the author of such far-resonant action.
There was no way she could have foreseen the forces that had already twisted and pulled at her, molding her painfully into a hero. Gabrielle wondered how Xena had been, as a child, before the events that forged the fighter.
It seemed as though the Fates had made them both with a conscious hand, almost against their will. She wasnt sure she wanted this immortal purpose. Hades had said they would suffer. She shuddered with a sudden chill and Xenas arm tightened on her waist in reflex. Gabrielle nuzzled closer, shutting out her thoughts of the world. With this love she could accomplish anything. Together, they made the only permanent tenderness.
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