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Cerberus' Challenge

by Puckster

Warnings, disclaimers and thanks (oh my!): This story contains not only lots of explicit descriptions of consensual sex between two grown up gals, it also tries very hard to develop and enhance some cherished lesbian archetypes. It is written as a very lesbian-positive fiction. If that's not your thing, then for heaven's sake why are you still reading this? If you are under 18, this material is not for you, yet. Even if you are a lesbian. If lesbians are illegal where you are, I think you should quit reading now and leave there quickly and quietly for your own safety. As with many other Xena stories, I have taken almost unforgivable liberties with ancient Greek history and geography. My apologies are only to Greece and her historians. The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance They are used without permission or intention of obtaining profit. Thanks to the show's producers for permitting fan fiction and for the queer subtext, and my patient and loving sweetie. Happy 40th birthday! Polite feedback is welcome at:





"At the end of all the ages,

a Knight sat on her steed;

her armor red and thin with rust,

her soul from sorrow freed.


She lifted up a visor,

from a face of skin and bone;

and her horse turned head and whinnied,

as the twain stood there, alone.


No bird above that steep of time,

sang of a life-long quest;

no wind breathed,



"Lone for an end!" cried knight to steed,

loosed an eager rein;

charged with her challenge into space,

and quiet did quiet remain."

~ Lord Byron ~

(gender corrected)



Chapter I

Argo stretched out her forelegs as far as they would reach, and labored up the steep slope. Her target was the relative safety of some old ruins that ringed the hilltop, pillars like broken teeth, bright in the moonlight. The unearthly howls echoing behind them for hours had taken on an urgent note, and the sounds of dry brush breaking before a powerful body could now be heard clearly. Gabrielle cast anxious glances behind, trying to catch a glimpse of their pursuer. Entering the perimeter of the walled ruins through a crumbling stone arch, Xena leaped off as Argo skidded to a stop, nickering in fear. As Gabrielle scrambled down onto a boulder, she heard Xena release her chakram and instinctively ducked. The spinning blade drew sparks as it smacked against the stones of the enclosure. Finally, it smashed into the keystone of the arch, which tumbled into a pile of rubble across the entrance.

Catching the chakram, Xena back-flipped impossibly up onto the top of the old stone wall and looked back down the way they had come. In the light of a nearly full moon, she saw an enormous dog break cover and step into the space directly in front of the dusty pile of stones. Well, dog, may not be the best description. It's body moved like a dog, and it barked like a dog, but it had three heads moving like serpents on long necks, and the tail looked more like that of a dragon. All three heads had their long noses to the ground, tracking.

"Can you see it? What does it look like, Xena?" Gabrielle called out from below, walking around looking for weak spots in the defensive walls.

"A whole lot of trouble. I'm not sure in this light, but that thing down there looks like Cerberus, Hades' guard dog." One of the heads lashed up, intent on the sound of their voices.

"Cerberus? Do you know him from somewhere in your nasty past?"

Xena's eyebrows arched. "Actually, from both our nasty pasts, but mine more so than yours. Cerberus guards the entrance of the nether world for Hades. He lets anyone in and stops everyone from getting out." She watched as the writhing, twining heads sniffed the stones around the collapsed arch. "He is definitely hunting us, probably because we've both been dead and come back. His dog brains can't deal with the contradiction and Hades has obviously overlooked explaining us to him."

"Did you say... dog brains?"

"Yeah, he's got three heads. And a dragon's tail. Overkill for maintaining control over a lot of dead people, if you ask me."

Gabrielle shook her head and comforted a trembling, sweating Argo. "No wonder you are in such a lather, girl. Don't you worry; everything's going to be okay. He's not after you anyway, Argo." She called up, "Well, what's the plan gonna be, Xena?"

"I don't know yet." The warrior knew they were running out of time. They couldn't ride on any further without risking Argo, but the monster would soon figure out how to climb over the rubble and attack, and then they would be cornered in what had been their refuge.

Suddenly, she ran out of time for making plans, as Cerberus gathered himself and leaped snarling onto the pile, landing halfway across on a flat stone, tail lashing wickedly. Three heads growled up at Xena on the wall. The deep basso rumblings vibrated the stones at her feet.

...It always comes down to this...she thought...fighting used to be so much fun...stop whining!...The warrior drew her sword with a battle oath, preparing to sell her life dearly for Gabrielle and Argo's escape. Then in a mighty leap, she jumped down from the wall and landed on another stone in the pile.

"Cerberus! Hades let us come back! Shoo! Your daddy's calling! Cerberus, heel!" One of the heads hawked up a hair ball in its excitement, the other two lashed out at each other in agitation. The thing wasn't listening.

Xena and the creature began to dual, testing each other. The basso rumblings became an aria of hisses. She feinted and struck lightly at the moving heads, which had an uncanny ability to dodge her thrusts. Her sword wasn't connecting enough to finish this. The armored tail whipping around behind the creature was going to be a problem, too. She wasn't even sure Cerberus could be killed. She still needed a plan, but she couldn't think. Lately, every time Gabrielle got into danger she had this concentration problem...It was happening again! She was day dreaming right in the middle of a fight! Nauseated, she clenched her jaw and blocked a sudden lunge for her feet by snapping jaws.

Fortunately, back up on the ruined ramparts Gabrielle had not been idle. She saw the monster, knew that Xena would be hard pressed, and developed a plan of her own. Using her staff, she loosened a large building stone from the top of the wall. When she thought she was ready, she called down to her friend. "Xena, get him to move over below me!" The beleaguered warrior nodded and hopped sideways across the jumble of building stones, intensifying her swordplay, more focused on distracting the beast than wounding it. When Xena had him in position, Gabrielle shouted down a warning, "Good! Now get out of the way!"

Voicing her famous battle cry, Xena back-flipped out of danger and up onto the wall. Gabrielle bent her legs, set her staff onto her shoulder, and heaved upward. The stone tipped off the edge of the wall, taking several other stones with it, and cascaded down onto the howling monster. When everything settled, they could see a large boulder had rolled across the dragon-tail, pinning Cerberus to the rubble. Three plaintive whines crescendoed heavenward in a demonic symphony.

Then they saw a shimmering form began to materialize next to the keening beast. When he had solidified, Xena's eyes narrowed as she recognized him. He bent down to the horrible canine and caressed the bobbing faces one by one. "Oh, what's the matter, boy? Huh? How'd you get into this mess Cerby?" The god moved the boulder from Cerberus' tail easily.

"Hades." Xena made his name a statement of fact, rather than a personal address.

Hades spun around, surprised. "You! I had hoped not to lay my eyes on you two again for a while!" His face darkened. "Say, you did this to Cerberus, didn't you?"

"Hades, that stupid spawn of a bitch's been hunting us for the last five hours. Did you explain our circumstances to him, or have you forgotten getting around to that?"

His mouth gaped for a moment, and then he turned back to the fawning beast. "Did you do that? Bad boy! Bad boy, Cerby!" Both beings shimmered and disappeared in a dusty blast of hot sulfuric air. The whole thing was over.

Xena exhaled explosively and turned to Gabrielle. "We'll camp in the ruins tonight. I'll go get dinner and water. You want to take the fire?"

Gabrielle didn't budge; her hands were on her hips, her head nodding sagely. "You are really pissed right now, aren't you?"

Xena's rage vanished momentarily in her surprise. "Well, yes, I was a bit angry..."

"You know, I can really tell." Gabrielle said instructionally. She pointed her finger at the warrior. "You always organize things when you're pissed off."

Finding out she was an easy read was not good news right now for Xena. She could have handled that situation back there better. And the gods were driving her crazy. She needed time. Time to rest and think. She peered down at Gabrielle, who looked quite fit and healthy in the moonlight, and decided the bard needed a rest, as well. Time to visit Sibyl.

She turned away. "Just make the fire and stay put," she barked over her shoulder as she leapfrogged down the pile of rubble and into the forest. "Just make the fire and stay put...just make the fire..." Gabrielle muttered as she set up camp, resentfully doing as she had been so rudely requested to do...with not so much as a thank you for my fabulous plan that saved our butts...


Chapter II

Piercing squeaks were coming from somewhere. Gabrielle scowled, hooked her fingers into Xena's armor straps, and diverted her thoughts back to the tale she had been constructing. It had been born early that morning, on the tendrils of a dream that lingered long into the day's ride. It had been an epic dream of such tenderness and heroic love...yeek! was such a high pitched squeak! Was it coming from the saddle or Xena's armor?

"Damn...damndamndamn." Gabrielle muttered as she detached a hand and reached around Xena's waist toward the saddle's forward cargo harness, her fingers struggling with the taut leather thongs.

Xena started and swatted Gabrielle's hand away from its project. "What are you up to, now?" Xena demanded, reining them into a slow walk.

"I can't believe it's not driving you as crazy as it is me!"

"What?" Xena knew exactly what was driving her crazy. "What?!" Argo snorted and tossed her head as Xena pulled her back from nibbling an especially tender bunch of wild grasses.

"That squeak! Listen to it Xena!" The bard's vocal pitch was plaintive, throbbing with woe.

Xena wasn't buying any today. "Listen Gabrielle, today I've got a lot on my mind. We've got this long ride and, like I said earlier, I'd like to use the time to think some things through...a lot has happened and - "

"I know, a lot, I know, me too...but that squeak!"

"What squeak, Gabrielle?"

The squeak was gone, naturally. Gabrielle said nothing while Xena urged Argo back into a fast walk, but only until then. "Sorry, Xena. The squeak was there before. Isn't that funny how just as soon as I said something it -"

"Gabrielle, please..." Xena's voice held a warning note along with the plea.

"Okay, Xena. I understand you need quiet today. But since we are talking at the moment, there is something I've been meaning to ask you about. You said that we were going to a place we can take a working break?"

"Yes, sort of a break. We need to help out around the place." Xena paused. "Now remember about my request?"

"Oh, there I go again. Sorry."

"Thank you, Gabrielle."

"After all, it's the least I can do after all - "


"Right. Quiet." She and Xena were just on different paths today. Gabrielle sighed and leaned her face momentarily on the scabbard of Xena's sword. Until, as eventually happened, she felt an imprint of the bronze stud that always seemed to be wherever her cheek found a resting-place. She sat up and back, settling the line of her spine, and counter balancing with her fingers once again anchored in the straps of Xena's breastplates. She was much better at these long rides than she used to be, she thought. Almost a professional, really. As long as she didn't look down, that is.

Gabrielle tilted her chin up and returned to her dream...when do dreams become stories?...she thought, not quite ready to stop expressing herself... and are stories really just dreams that we all share?

She drifted on for a time, observing the landscape passing by, getting occasional glimpses of a sunny clearing through the trees. She scrunched up her face trying to see if there were any wildflowers out there. Her mind chattered and was still, then chattered again. She let the movements and motions lull and quiet her, stilling herself as Xena had taught her. She felt herself begin to center. The rolling gate of Argo demanded that she remain lose in the hips and waist, moving with the horse's motion. Moving with Xena. Suddenly, Gabrielle remembered a bit more of the dream and nearly lost her balance as Argo shifted to avoid a large stone.

...there had been the smell of smoke and the sound of deep voices chanting a lament...Xena was in the dream...slowly she walked out of a burning building, back lit by the flames...blasts of wind whipping her hair, the tresses seemingly on fire at their waving tips. Chin lowered, her eyes glowed like an animal's in the strange light as she emerged out of the chaotic swirl. Her arm whipped up and, without breaking her long stride, slammed her sword over her shoulder into its scabbard. Without removing her now dark eyes from Gabrielle's she advanced upon her, mouth opening...

...and then the fragment of her dream splintered. Gabrielle gulped, moistened her lips and drifted on in a light trance, replaying the dream sequence over and over, not letting herself think about what her story was doing, swimming in the sensations it gave her. She let herself savor again the memory of the kiss Xena had given her when Gabrielle had been beyond hope, when she had thought Xena was dead. She remembered the look on Xena's face when she kissed Gabrielle at her wedding. Her wedding, what a disaster...

With no warning, Xena tossed her hair back and caught Gabrielle full in the face with it. Gabrielle was suddenly very hot and uncomfortable. Then she heard the squeak.

"Hey! There it is again!" She blurted, a little too loud.

"Shhh, I know Gabrielle. It's been there for a while. We're almost to the camp I wanted, so I just let it squeak. You sort of dozed off." Xena's voice lowered gently. "Sorry I snapped at you before, Gabs."

"Snapped? Sure...well don't worry about it. You said I fell asleep?"

"Yes. Asleep."

"Did I say anything?"

"No, Gabrielle. Why?"

"No reason. Are we almost there?"

"Another half-candle mark." Another half-candle mark was too damn long for Xena. She kept looking forward so Gabrielle wouldn't see her face. She wasn't really sure what expression she wore. Gabrielle hadn't precisely said anything, but the sounds coming out of her had spoken plenty. It had taken some getting used to the fact that Gabrielle didn't always stop talking when she fell asleep. Many evenings when Xena stayed awake on watch, the bard's sleepy babblings and pronouncements had entertained her. But today, Xena had been intensely aware of the dreaming woman balanced in the saddle behind her, obviously lost in an erotic dream, knees tucked behind Xena's...the pressure of a soft mound pressing and retreating against her. ...You're driving yourself crazy with this silly game, woman!... she'd told herself angrily...These feelings are all wrong. All wrong! It had been about then that she'd inadvertently flipped her hair off her shoulder and into Gabrielle's face.

As the pair rode on, Xena arched an eyebrow and clenched her teeth, brooding on her dilemma. Gabrielle was picking up on a lot more than she used to. Xena knew her companion's emerging bardic talent was rooted in keen perception and curiosity. Her ability to intuitively leap to understandings made her a talented negotiator in village disputes as well as when buying supplies. Not to mention the more than occasional dinar her tale telling brought in. Practically speaking, having a bard around definitely had its benefits. But it also meant living with an incredibly sensuous being who was completely unaware of the effect she was having on Xena. And who occasionally had one of those moments of insight and saw straight into the warrior's guarded heart. As if that wasn't trouble enough, Gabrielle was growing into her full power as a woman and a gifted bard right before Xena's eyes. ...and I'm falling in love with who she is becoming...her stomach dropped.

Xena's dilemma was one reason for her choice of destination. She felt the younger woman needed a time and place to become herself in. That she especially needed the company of someone without the hungry yearnings of a jaded warrior. ...I could use a little help myself... She had been getting very sloppy lately. That thing with Cerberus never should have gotten as bad as it did. She wasn't drilling enough to maintain her conditioning, she let her mind stray unfocused for hours as she thought about her friend. And way too much touching. Kissing her when she got married to Perdicus was okay under the circumstances, but she was lucky Gabrielle didn't remember the kiss they shared when Xena had been in Autolycus' body. Being dead was no excuse for that. Gabrielle wasn't ready to understand or even comprehend the erotic feelings of a woman who had a past like Xena's...she stiffened.

Gabrielle's hand was slipping around Xena's waist, underneath the armored breastplate.

"Let's finish up the ride, shall we?" Xena suggested, her voice even.

"Sure Xe...Whoooahooah!! Oooh Noooo..." Gabrielle whooped as Argo responded to Xena's knee commands to leap and run. They sprang out of the trees and followed a narrow track cut through the tall dry grass. Gabrielle's grip on Xena's leathered waist began to slip, and she grabbed for the more secure anchor of the straps. Xena laughed out loud, feeling the tall grass sweep her booted feet. Feeling in control again, if only for a moment. Gabrielle just gulped air and hung on for dear life.

Argo came to a halt so fast clots of wet mud plastered onto Gabrielle's legs, and she almost pulled Xena's armor off trying to keep from being launched.

"Here's the spring." Xena said instructionally, while Gabrielle was still semi-airborne.

Gabrielle's bottom re-connected with the saddle abruptly. "Ouch! Xena! Do you have to be like that??? Are you trying to make some kind of point, or is this your sick idea of a joke?"

"We'll camp just inside the trees over there." Xena was maintaining her heroic pose.

"Oh, all right! Just let me down for Zeus' sake." Gabrielle hung on the arm Xena offered as she swung her legs down, smearing mud up her thighs. Muttering to herself and untying her quarter staff from its bindings, she didn't see a smile soften the warrior's features as she looked down from her seat high on Argo's back.


Later, after the activities of making camp were over, they relaxed by a fire built up high against the chill of fall, eating their suppers. Tonight they had an inventive but flavorless stew of most of the remaining rations, as Xena had said they would arrive at their destination the following day.

Gabrielle, about to ask again about their destination, groaned instead as she leaned back against a log and stretched out her muscular legs.

"You really ought to try those stretches I showed you, Gabrielle. You wouldn't get so stiff at the end of the day." Xena handed her a cup of tea and an orange.

"I know. But the only time I have to do them is in the morning, and I love to sleep in while you do your sword things."

"Weapons drills. Well, the extra sleep isn't helping you now."

"What I do in the morning is my business, warrior."

"Have it your own way, bard." Xena smiled broadly. She loved it when Gabrielle put her foot down. That was happening a lot lately.

A long moment passed, while Xena smiled into the fire as she peeled her orange. Gabrielle watched her over the rim of the cup, trying to remember what she wanted to ask about. The golden light moved in liquid motion across the relaxed planes and curves of Xena's beautiful face, her fading smile gleaming between dark lips. She watched the strong hands work the orange, her long fingers prying off the peel. Gabrielle sat transfixed, cup held to her mouth without drinking. Her eyes widened as Xena's thumb slowly pushed into the core of the fruit, parting it. Xena pulled off a piece and raised it slowly to her mouth. The wedge of fruit caught the light and became transparent as it slipped between her lips. When Gabrielle saw her mouth close around the fruit and pull it in she thought she would faint right then and there.

...what's going on with me...? Gabrielle wondered silently... she's just eating an orange! What am I supposed to do with all of this?... She decided she needed to think and pee.

"I'll be back in a little bit Xena, you know..."

"I'll be here." Xena replied, smiling again. She was enjoying the orange and thinking naughty thoughts. She watched Gabrielle's form as it faded into the surrounding darkness.

Away from the campfire light, Gabrielle found that the moon had begun to rise. She made her way to the edge of the meadow near the spring, a place where the trees thinned enough to see the full orb drifting almost above the dark line of branches. She found the kind of spot she needed, and removed her under-cloth. Planting her feet far apart she lifted up her kilt, crouched down and braced her bottom against a mossy rock. From this position, she released a stream of pee as she looked up at the full moon rising, now fully over the treetops. She sighed in both relief and awe. The moon was so big; it seemed to fill the sky. After she was done she lingered, unable to draw her gaze away.

"Aphrodite, if you can hear me, please help me through this. I think I have been in love with Xena since the first moment I saw her, and the truth is I want to love her with my body, too." From the stillness, a breeze rolled sighing through the trees around her, hissing through the reeds down by the spring.

Gabrielle's hands were moving from their rest on her knees and flattening out on her stomach, caressing. One slipped up into her halter and gently fingered her breast. It was as if they were another's hands.

"She accepts me now. It took so long to work my way into her life, to make myself useful. So she wouldn't leave me behind. And I am so much more with her than I was before. And she trusts me. Now, even when she's tired or angry, she trusts me. How could I risk this?" Gabrielle's chin trembled and her eyes brimmed, two small moons reflecting light from the larger. Her prayer finished in a whisper. "Aphrodite, in all the heavens, what can I do?"

The hand on her belly turned and began a direct slide down to the center of the fire that burned in Gabrielle's body. She felt fingers slide softly over her sweet button of feeling and down deep into darkness. She gasped for air as her hips tilted forward and the hand on her breast joined the other between her legs. She was open, the moonlight bathing her, the hands glistening and wet. She half thought she could hear the sounds of a woman's laughter, or were those cries of ecstasy? In her ears, she felt the drumbeats of her own panting breaths and pulse. The hands upon her body moved faster, in and out of her, over her, robbing her of all remaining thoughts except fleeting images of Xena's face and eyes. Gabrielle's face tilted up and back, her heavily lidded eyes dark and locked onto the moon. Somewhere beyond thought and feeling, she released, and felt herself stretch out and lift on a sparkling swell of emotion and sensation.

...Aphrodite was well pleased as she lifted the climaxing young woman in her invisible arms. As she arched back, the goddess bent her shining face down to Gabrielle's ear and whispered: "Xena..."

Back at the campfire, Xena finally began to unclench from the spasms that had shaken her. Still surprised, she adjusted her tunic and pulled a blanket up over her waist. She had only meant to give herself a small bit of pleasure, unsure how long it would be before Gabrielle returned. But from the instant her fingers found their mark, she had been driven to find freedom from the strain of her longing for her friend. She felt sad and spent, though only a few minutes had past. She reached for her mug and took a long draught of cooled mint tea just as Gabrielle stumbled yawning into the ring of campfire light.

"Hey, I'm bushed. Mind if I just turn in?"

"Really?" Xena's eyebrow arched in surprise. Usually this was when Gabrielle began her nightly campaign to tell a new story she had heard or made up. "You don't have a story for me? Are you coming down with something?"

"No, I'm fine, just sleepy."

"Well, me too...really." Now it was Gabrielle who was surprised. They lay down in their blankets by the fire, Xena on the outside.

Drifting off to sleep, Gabrielle murmured, "Oh...remind me in the morning to ask you where we are going."

If a warrior smiles tenderly in a forest at the bard she loves, but only the trees are awake to see it, has she ever smiled at all? "Okay, Gabs. Now go to sleep."



"I do have a beautiful story to tell you some day..." Gabrielle's voice trailed wistfully away. Then, curled up on her side, she slept, nestled between the warmth of the fire and Xena's still burning body.

This was one of the treasures of Xena's days with Gabrielle. She knew the young woman slept deeply, and she could now look openly at her. Xena listened as Gabrielle's breathing deepened into sighs. She pulled herself up on one elbow and noticed how, with tiny movements of her eyes, Gabrielle's soft dark eyelashes brushed her cheeks in the fading firelight. She watched the heart shaped mouth relax and drop open. She saw the moist tongue move inside. She scented the musk of a woman's sex, and thought it must be her own. Xena took a shaky breath and cupped her hand to the gentle curve of a hip, then snaked her arm around her slim waist. Gabrielle's breath caught and released in a soft moan.

"Bad, girl," Xena whispered, bad, bad, bad."

For a moment she didn't move, feeling the muscles cramp in her back as she maintained her position. Then, greatly daring, her hand glided up the other woman's rib cage to cradle the weight of a tender young breast in her trembling palm. Xena gasped helplessly into the flame lit hair as her hips surged forward to press against a soft bottom. Gabrielle, still asleep, sighed and snuggled deeper into Xena's embrace. Frightened she had gone so far, Xena clenched her teeth and willed her breathing to slow down, her heart to soften it's beats. Xena held her breath as she felt a smaller hand cover her own. Gabrielle breathed, "Xeeeenaaah."

Xena's head jerked up. She couldn't seem to think. She tried to think about extracting herself, about how sick and stupid this was. In a way, this was much worse than the depravity of her past. She really had to get up...But she just laid her head back down and hid her face in Gabrielle's hair. She never knew how quickly sleep stole in upon her...

Aphrodite thanked Morpheus for his help and gazed down and the small forms of the women, nested in her palm like sleeping cubs. "Tsk-tsk." She thought, "What a mess!" On a golden clipboard suspended in the air beside her, she ticked a pink-plumed quill down the list of times these two had missed their chance, and added another one to the bottom. Far too many near misses. She tucked the sleeping women into a pocket, still tsking. "These two are at risk of destiny separation because of these silly fears. Big Things were supposed to have been happening by now, if you listen to Daddy." Gabrielle's prayer tonight had been all the invitation she needed to help get things moving along. Aphrodite's nose wrinkled minutely. She was always surprised how often people prayed while they were peeing. "Mortals! Anyway, I'm just going to have to push a little harder here, with Daddy being such a relentless nag about the delays in this tricky pairing. His temper gets worse each time the subject of these two comes up!" The pressure she had to work with! Aphrodite sighed, nudging the dreams of the sleeping women toward one another, and drifted on about her night's other business...

...As the great starry firmament swept across the world, Xena and Gabrielle both slept unaware, their spirits suspended together in the folds of Aphrodite's gown of gossamer dreams and moonlight.


Chapter III

Xena woke early with her usual sense of imminent danger, but restricted her reaction to opening her eyes wide and a sharp intake of breath. It had taken her years of army life to learn that. Army life, however, had done nothing to prepare her for the dangerous arm draped across her chest, or the deadly hand knotted in her hair. Prepared her not at all for the full lips parted in sleep so close to her own. Grimacing, she picked out Gabrielle's fingers one by one, casting furtive glances at her sleeping face. Then, mouth tightening, she held the arm up and moved out from beneath it, gently placing it atop a bundle of blankets. She lingered, fascinated, as she watched the sleeping fingers slowly flex and dig into the fabric.

Backing away as if from a snake about to strike, Xena made a plan. She could tell Gabrielle would sleep for hours yet if left undisturbed. Time for some complete and exhausting weapons drills. She had been thinking way too much lately. She bent down and picked up her armor and weapons, careful not to make noise. Then, on silent feet she stole out of the camp, untethering Argo to forage as she left. As the first light of dawn first etched the eastern clouds blood red, she reached the meadow and found an open area of turf. She raised her hilt high, offering a soldier's salute to a new day. Or, it might have been a prayer. She needed all the help she could get. Xena took a deep breath and began to stretch.

Bundled in her blankets, Gabrielle was dreaming again...she was having a hard time packing. Just when she thought she had everything she needed, she would forget where she put the bag and then have to start all over and Xena was waiting and she was going to leave without her but it would only take another minute and she would be done. Then Xena walked up to her and started actually pushing her along...

Opening her eyes ready to blast a warning to Xena, Gabrielle found herself confronted with Argo. The horse's nose gave another nudge to a bundle under the blanket she had been clutching while she slept. It turned out to be a saddlebag with some apples in it. Gabrielle remembered putting it by the bed in case she needed a midnight snack.

"Fetch, Argo!" She said, as she tossed an apple away from the bedding. Argo grumbled and headed toward the apple. Gabrielle grumbled and looked for Xena, who was nowhere to be seen. Gabrielle sat up and scanned the campsite. "Xena?" She called out softly. Then she stood and did a full circle. Still no Xena.

"No problem. This is not a problem. I wake up and she's gone. That is not an emergency. Yet." She kept calm. Before she teamed up with the warrior, this would have been an overreaction. Now it was just self-preservation. She picked up her staff and whirled it a couple of times to wake up her hands. Then, allowing her eyes to unfocus, she extended her other senses, breathing in short calm intervals. In a few moments...there she is... she had located Xena, drilling out in the meadow.

Taking a deep breath, she relaxed and let herself appreciate the beauty of their campsite. The morning sun angled in shafts through the trees, striking mossy patches of ground and releasing wisps of warm, curling mist. Dragging her blanket up around her shoulders, she sat down next to the embers of the last night's fire, and began to feed twigs and dry moss to the coals. Argo watched over her shoulder, covertly looking for the apple bag.

...the embers of last night's fire... she thought ...what happened last night, anyway?...She tried to remember details, the moon, her hands...she realized she had experienced her first orgasm.

"How nice," she said out loud, "I have a new skill." Argo snorted.

"Well, that ought to help me get over Xena, right girl?" Gabrielle turned and looked up into the big brown eyes. Argo nosed her shoulder and gently wuffled her hair. "What do you know about it, you're stuck on her too, aren't you girl?" She patted the soft nose until Argo tossed her head and plodded over to a new patch of grass just lit and steaming in the morning sun.

With the fire going and water in a pot balanced on rocks near the flames, Gabrielle began to walk out to the meadow with the blanket still around her. She picked up her staff just in case Xena forced her into defending herself during her insane drilling. Xena had made it clear that she didn't think Gabrielle drilled often enough. Gabrielle was pleased that the quarter staff came so easily to her, but she knew the warrior was right. The way they lived anything could and did happen. But sure as the Styx Ferry she hated being bossed around by that woman sometimes. With her staff clutched in front where her hands held the blanket closed, she worked her way over to the last line of trees. She looked out at the meadow and stopped.

That bossy woman was a vision of pure power, feinting and striking, her blade flashing the morning sun and into Gabrielle's eyes. Suddenly weak-kneed, Gabrielle sank down onto a log and watched. Xena was finishing the fourth level of the Serpent's Way, a twisting, complicated sword drill she had learned from eastern visitors to Caesar's court. She was working hard now and grunting out the calls. "...slide...breath-breath...coil...strike! Haaah!" She threw her ringing sword high into the air, caught it and whirled it in her signature figure eight around her head.

She was radiant, she was unbelievable, she was adorable! Suddenly, Gabrielle had to pee.

Xena noticed the other woman just as she slammed her sword into its scabbard. "Hey, get you and your staff over here!"

"Not now, Xena, gotta go, you know..."

"Aww, jeeze Gabrielle, its always going to be something with you, isn't it? C'mon out here, I'm hot this morning!" She gave up at the sight of the bard's retreating back.


A short time later, four shapely legs were kicking dirt into the fire pit. Xena mounted Argo and held an arm down for Gabrielle. The younger woman fixed Xena with a defiant glare and said flatly, "I'll walk today, I think."

"Gabrielle," Xena spoke the bard's name like a warning. "We've got a long way to go today."

"To go where, Xena? You haven't been exactly descriptive."

"Oh, sorry. It's the home of a friend. She's alone most of the time, and I like to give her a hand around the place in the fall. And I think you'd like her. She's kind of a bard."

"Kind of a bard? What does that mean, kind of a bard?" Gabrielle's voice pricked at Xena.

Xena measured her words out evenly. "Don't read anything into it. She's a storyteller. She tells the old stories from way back. She knows a lot about everything. You would like her."

"I'm sure we'll get along fine. Let's go." She took a step.

"Gabrielle," Xena moved Argo into Gabrielle's path. "You're still not on the horse."

Gabrielle slammed her staff into the ground in frustration. "By the seven hells of Hades, no! I will not let you put me through what you did yesterday! You have been in some kind of mood lately and I'm not letting you have all the control again and that's that!" Gabrielle was the very essence of indignation, her sturdy legs braced, her staff crooked in crossed arms, her jaw set and her brows knit. Green fire snapped from her eyes.

Xena, somewhat taken aback, maintained her haughty posture, her face immobile. Gabrielle's new habit of putting her foot down was less than endearing this morning. The warrior sat back, braced a hand on the pommel of the saddle, and looked down at the bristling bard.

"The wind has changed and the weather may turn. We have to ride through to get there tonight. She is an excellent cook and dinner is at about six. If you want control, you can ride in front."

Gabrielle suddenly remembered they had eaten all the rations. The idea of another spitted fish or rabbit didn't hold much sway with her, after a long summer on the road. "I hold the reins?"

"Right, you take the reins. I'll just give directions. Okay?"

"Okay. Let's get going." Xena got down, gave Gabrielle a leg up, and then vaulted into position behind her. Instantly, both women felt that getting Argo moving was a Priority. Gabrielle flapped the reins ineffectively, so Xena gave the horse a gently poke with her toes. It was not the signal Argo was used to, but it got things going, thank the gods...


Chapter IV

Later on that same day, on a stony hillside and under a darkening sky, the loud voices of the women could be heard carrying on the wind just before they came out around a boulder, arguing at full volume.

Xena: "Well, if you would just listen to my instructions we wouldn't have to keep stopping!"

Gabrielle: "We are not stopping! Argo just twirls a couple of times and then she goes on!"

Xena: "She's a war-horse! She's trained to spin and rear in combat, not twirl on a trail! You're confusing her! And have you noticed there's a storm building?"

Argo discharged her nose violently.

Gabrielle: "Oh, here comes the biting sarcasm, the know-it-all trail scout crap, the - Blast it!" Argo was twirling again. Gabrielle slumped. "I give up. Just let me down, Xena. I'll catch up eventually."

Now Xena was sorry. Really, they had been making time. ...if I could just get Gabrielle to understand the trick of guiding Argo with her knees... She reached around the other woman's body, reins and all, and gave her a quick hug and an apology. Xena took special notice of how quickly the bard gentled when she touched her.

"Look, let me show you something. This is how I was taught." She lifted her legs up alongside Gabrielle's and squeezed in at the knees. Argo straightened and picked right up to a fast walk. Another squeeze and they trotted, a third and they were cantering. Finally moving together, they rode on as Argo's body bunched and surged beneath them. Xena wrapped an arm tightly around Gabrielle's waist and with her other hand she took the reins. She felt a union of their bodies through the horse's movements. Keeping her face close to Gabrielle's, she watched as she closed her eyes and let her head fall back slightly onto Xena's shoulder. The wind picked up their streaming hair and wove it, mahogany and amber. When they came out onto the top of the ridge, Argo slowed down gently, sensing no direction at all coming from either passenger, reins, knees, heels or toes. Entranced, Xena dropped the reins and moved her hand over onto Gabrielle's thigh.

Gabrielle didn't want to risk breaking the spell, but her face had turned into Xena's neck before she could stop it. Then she didn't want to move at all, Xena's pulse beat against her lips. Xena pulled the other woman in closer and froze, unable to bring herself to do more. Argo was moving in slow circles, giving a panoramic view, as if anyone was noticing. But the two women just rotated slowly around together, each only aware of the other.

After an eternity, Gabrielle pulled back and locked her eyes with Xena's. Green met blue; earth met sky, all stormy with desire. Gabrielle breathed, "Kiss me, Xena...before I die of wanting you..." Her soft lips waited. Xena's hand on Gabrielle's thigh came up and went round her waist as the other reached up to cradle her upturned face. She felt the touch of a tongue as her thumb brushed the darkening lips. Gabrielle's hand ran up her neck and into her hair, grabbing a fistful and pulling down. In that instant, the world spun out of control for the warrior, her cynicism and anger shattering into a crystal rain of hope and joy. Xena's vision narrowed down to the sweet mouth framed in her fingers. She tilted Gabrielle's face up a little more and brought her own down, sealing their mouths together. As their lips merged, Gabrielle cried out as a concussion rocked both women. They held still for a heartbeat or two, and then lips and tongues touched and tasted, sweetly kissing, each eating mouthfuls of the other, feasting on the soft exchange so long delayed.

Xena saw the first raindrop hit Gabrielle's chin, where it mixed with other, sweeter juices. The second drop splashed Xena's nose.

"Uh, oh..." Xena tore herself away from observing the condition of Gabrielle's chin and, looking up, got a drop in her eye. The black rain clouds looked low enough to grab. Alarmed, Xena realized they were standing on high ground. Argo stamped her feet and tossed her head in her impatience to get going. Big raindrops were falling all around them now. Xena noted they were at the entrance of the high mountain valley she was seeking. Grazing sheep were being herded together by a pair of darting and nipping dogs.

"Gabrielle, its going to rain hard, but we've come to the boundary of her lands. We're almost there." She looked down at her companion with a tender grin and a flash of alarm that had nothing to do with the weather. ...thank the gods for this weather... She found Gabrielle gazing up at her with a silly expression. "Did you hear me?" Xena's hand, still wrapped around Gabrielle's face, shook it gently. "Gabs?"

Gabrielle just wanted to remember this moment, everything about this first kiss...right down to the thunder rolling through the hills around them...

"What I mean is we have to ride. Now! Haaaaw!"

Xena's knees came up around Gabrielle's again and gave Argo the command to leap and run. They plunged down the path as Gabrielle's eyes flew wide open, "Aww...Xena! Waaait...!"


Back in the spot where all the kissing and twirling had been going on, two disembodied voices were holding an animated conversation:

Aphrodite: "Daddy, how many times do I have to tell you not to bug me when I'm working! Did you see what your storm did to that kiss? Do you know how hard I had to work to get them that far?"

Zeus: "I'm sorry, Dite. I have the hardest time remembering to cancel that storm signature when I travel privately. I wanted to check your progress, it does look like you are finally getting somewhere."

Aphrodite: "No thanks to you, now stop interfering! Every time you come around and pressure them, they just get into a big funk and then its up to me to quiet things back down. And don't talk to me about bringing in Artemis, she's worse than you are. These two need my professional touch, not her battle tactics! So move along, Daddy, and let me do my job right, or you can just go make yourself another love goddess!"

Zeus: "All right, all right, Dite. I'm sorry. You don't have to threaten. You know how I get with delays. I just don't understand why these two have hung themselves up in this, of all things! But you do know what's best for love, pumpkin, that's why I made you. Besides, Artemis is busy with her temple in Athens. Now one more thing, they are awfully near Gaea's for my comfort, be sure to let me know if they go in there."

Aphrodite: "Really, Daddy. I don't know why you worry about her so much. She's a harmless old goddess, that's all."

Zeus: "Don't ever underestimate her, Dite. I'm serious. She can be a lot of trouble when she wants to be. Okeydokey, I'll just be on my way...keep me posted. Bye bye, Dear!" A crack of lightening and a peal of thunder marked Zeus' departure.

Aphrodite: "Oooo, I hate it when he does that! He could go in and out with a choir, or trumpets, or even a little tag-along herald. But no! Thunder and lightening, wherever he goes! Pompous old bag of wind! Omnipotent, hah! He couldn't bring together two cats in season. Administrators are all alike, no manners, no sensitivity, just plans, plans, plans, and no idea at all how to get anything actually done!"

...Argo's tail switched behind her as she carried the women, one of them yelling at the top of her lungs, off the ridge and up into the high valley. The rain began to fall in torrents, and the dogs pushed the sheep up the valley behind the riders.

~~~End of Part One~~~

Cerberus' Challenge - Part 2

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