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Editor's Choice Award


By Storm

Disclaimers: The character of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA Universal and Renaissance Productions. No infringement of their rights is intended in this work of amateur fan fiction. The rest of the story belongs to me, under my copywrite, November 1996.

Warnings: this story contains sex and romance of a graphic nature between two women. If this offends you, is illegal where you are, or you are under the age of 18, do not read this. Further, while there are no graphic descriptions of sexual violence, this story does briefly address the emotional aftermath of witnessing a rape. If you find this disturbing, you should skip the first chapter * The Title of this story is from a Tuck and Patti song of the same name.

Chapter One

"Dark, Dark, Dark, they all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant...
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action"

T.S. Eliot

Gabrielle looked down at the girl crumbled up, curled into a ball by the river, just a few yards in front of her. A wave of horror swept through her at the sight, and suddenly she felt dizzy and nauseated. She leaned on her staff for support until the sensation passed. Even from this distance she could tell what had happened. She could almost smell it. The girl's clothing was ripped and stained, there was blood and bruises on her raw exposed flesh. She approached purposely making noise as she walked and called out to the girl, trying to keep her voice as soothing as possible, not wanting to add to the fear of one so recently traumatized.

The girl looked up at her approach and what Gabrielle saw on her face shocked her. Actually it was what she didn't see: no sadness, no pain, no feeling no expression at all. Just a cold stare. It was a horrible contradiction with how the girl held her body-- her knees drawn up to her chest, her body rocking unconsciously in a self-soothing motion.

"My name is Gabrielle. Let me help you." It took all of Gabrielle's resolve not to scream- - not to cry for this girl, who could not seem to feel for herself any longer. Instead she focused on keeping her voice soft and steady. Moving slowly, she took a thin blanket from her sack and placed it around the girl's shoulders, and the girl flinched slightly from the touch.

It was late that afternoon when they left the girl's village, just on the other side of the river. They had to guess at where she came from; the girl wouldn't talk. But they had guessed correctly because a young woman ran up to the three of them, a young woman who turned out to be the girl's older sister, and Xena explained what had happened. For once she was glad to let Xena do the talking for both of them. Gabrielle did not trust in her ability to speak just then. When Xena finished, the woman nodded, tucked her little sister under her arm while thanking Xena for her help, the tone of her voice empty.

As she turned to go, Gabrielle called out to her: "Wait a minute--you don't even seem shocked! Someone... someone raped your sister, yet--" Feeling Xena's hand on her shoulder, Gabrielle stopped speaking. The woman had stopped with her back to them but then turned to face a very confused Gabrielle.

"Shocked? I'm not even surprised. This is a war zone. It happens to many of us, and often when we are this young."

And then she continued on into the village, arm around her sister protectively. The despair that had been in the woman's voice left the air around them thick and very heavy. Gabrielle looked up at Xena, saw the sadness in her eyes.

"Xena, I don't understand..."

"Good." Was all she said and gave her shoulder a squeeze before turning to leave the desolate village. Gabrielle followed, brow furrowed, and at a complete loss for words.

~~~ The next day Gabrielle remained unusually quiet. Xena was surprised by the lack of chatter, and the lack of incessant questioning, usually so annoying but she almost missed it in its absence. On several occasions she almost asked Gabrielle to tell her what was wrong. But she knew it took a powerful force to keep Gabrielle so silent, perhaps even more powerful than Xena, Warrior Princess, she realized with a rueful smile. She would talk when she was ready, and not before.

But she looked so tired. Xena, always a troubled sleeper herself had quietly watched last night as her friend tossed and turned. It was hard to witness, and feel so powerless to help. Xena was used to watching Gabrielle sleep like a baby-- the sleep of the innocent. Sometimes, when Xena was having a particularly hard night, just watching Gabrielle's face, so peaceful in the moonlight, was enough to sooth her enough to fall into a dreamless sleep. At least for a little while. But there had been nothing soothing about last night, and she felt bad for the little bard. There had to be some way she could help. As they set up camp for the night, Xena approached her friend.

"Gabrielle, can you tell me what's wrong?"

Gabrielle was laying out their blankets by the fire when the sound of Xena's hesitant voice stopped her in mid-motion. She turned to face the warrior and then reached out her hand to briefly touch the side of Xena's face with her fingertips.

"I've just been doing a lot of thinking about what happened yesterday. And I will. Tell you I mean. As soon as I can."

Xena looked closely at Gabrielle, the concern plain on her face. "OK. Just know I'm here for you, when you want to talk."

The rest of the evening passed by in silence, as both women kept themselves busy with various tasks about the camp, and them finally settled down to sleep. Or to try to sleep.

"Good night Gabrielle," Xena said as she rolled herself into her bedroll, sword at her side scant inches from her hand as usual.

"Good night, Xena."

As soon as she lay down, Gabrielle realized how exhausted she was. She hadn't slept well last night, turning the events of the day before over and over in her head wasn't helping her sleep any better. Closing her eyes, she willed the images and thoughts from her mind, while waiting for sleep to take her.

Later that night, in the darkest hour before dawn Gabrielle lay on her blanket, staring into the night sky. She had been able to sleep for a while, but now her mind raced at full speed again. Every now and again she looked across the fire to watch Xena sleeping, her breathing soft and rhythmic.

She had been so upset after running into that girl by the river; seeing her so numb and then talking to her sister... She didn't understand it at first. But now she was afraid that she understood it all too well.

She closed her eyes, the images from that afternoon replayed in her mind. Very disturbing images. But there was one that was the most upsetting of them all. She had watched as the young woman lead her sister back into the village, her arm around the girl's waist. It was a protective gesture, but there was something wrong with it, somehow. The woman's wrist and fingers told the rest of the story--they were limp and loose-- out of alignment with both her arm and with the of protectiveness of the gesture. It was as if her hand alone knew the truth: she was powerless to protect her sister from the savage rape that was a part of their daily lives.

And it was with that realization that Gabrielle had suddenly understood that there are some things that happened that were so horrible, so utterly destructive, that it killed the spark inside, crushing the spirit, until the only feeling left was the lack of feeling: when the horrific became commonplace.

And the girl? To have your first time... Shivering, Gabrielle drew her arms tightly around her chest. It was cold, and the world seemed so uncaring. Even if a person was very strong, she realized, an experience like that took something from you, took it away forever. And, Gabrielle realized, now pulling the blanket all the way up to her chin, it happened so often. People hardly gave it much thought. She knew she hadn't. Not before she saw it with her own eyes. And it could have just as easily been me! Gabrielle thought to herself. She hadn't had a first time yet, she was still a virgin, and she had always imagined it would be-- well she wasn't sure exactly what it would be like, but she had always thought it would be a blissful experience. But what if, instead...

Suddenly Gabrielle felt terrified. In a way she had never felt before. Her eyes wide in fear, she looked over at Xena, and saw that she was still asleep. She felt an overwhelming desire to be closer to the warrior. Being close to Xena always made her feel so safe. She wouldn't mind, wouldn't even notice if she moved her blankets just a little closer, Gabrielle told herself. After all, they had slept close together before-- there was that time in that impossibly narrow ravine, and another time when it was so terribly cold and there was no dry wood to burn. She probably wouldn't mind...

Unknown to Gabrielle, Xena was not asleep. And when she wasn't looking, Xena was watching Gabrielle, still concerned about her restless brooding. She quickly closed her eyes when she heard Gabrielle get up and walk around to her side of the fire. Xena smiled to herself at Gabrielle's efforts at walking quietly. Then she felt a small breeze against her back as Gabrielle shook her blankets and laid them close to Xena. Her young friend laid down next to her and then there was a moment of complete stillness and silence, like Gabrielle was holding her breath. And then Xena felt a small, delicate hand rest lightly on her waist as Gabrielle snuggled up behind her, let out a sigh, and instantly fell asleep. There was something so sweet and vulnerable about it, and it made Xena's heart ache to feel Gabrielle's light touch and her breath on her back. And so much trust. Xena was not used to someone trusting her the way Gabrielle did. She had never done anything to earn someone's trust, but the faith Gabrielle had in her from the first changed all that. With a small smile, Xena covered Gabrielle's hand with her own before falling asleep herself.

"Wake up, sleepyhead!"

Xena was looking down at Gabrielle who was tangled in the blankets and very much asleep. Although she did often sleep late, this was late even for Gabrielle. Xena, who had enjoyed a surprisingly good sleep herself, woke up this morning to find Gabrielle's arms wrapped tightly around her waist, face pressed into her back between Xena's shoulders. After disentangling herself from Gabrielle's embrace, Xena had gone for a swim, had caught some fish for breakfast and skewered them to cook over the embers of last night's fire. She was certain that the smell of food would have woken the girl by now.

Kneeling, she took a closer look at Gabrielle's face. Even in sleep, she looked troubled somehow. And there was something else-- she looked like she had aged in the past few days. Xena realized that the experience at that last village must have shaken Gabrielle badly. It certainly was disturbing, even for Xena, and she had seen a lot of disturbing things in her life. But witnessing the aftereffects of this rape-- unlike the countless others she had seen, was hitting her harder than usual. She had decided that it was because it had upset Gabrielle so much, and that was why it was disturbing her. Like seeing an old horrible truth through new eyes. But now she knew that her simple explanation was not the only reason. As she kneeled over her sleeping friend she realized she had been feeling even more protective of Gabrielle than usual. That she needed to protect Gabrielle, to make sure that nothing like that ever happened to her.

Just the thought of Gabrielle's trusting openness, her innocence being violated like that enraged Xena so much, she could feel the blood boiling just behind her eyes and it made her dizzy.

Suddenly she had to know if Gabrielle was OK, and without thought she reached out and lightly touched the side of Gabrielle's face--

In an explosion of movement and sound Gabrielle had reflexively sat up, knocked Xena's hand away and yelled. Startled, Xena sat back on her heels.

"Gabrielle... Its all right. Its just me..."

"Oh Xena I'm so sorry!" It took her a moment to get her bearings and then to feel bad about her reaction to Xena's touch. On an impulse, she took Xena's hand into her own and brought it to her lips, placing a gentle kiss in Xena's palm. Xena's eyes closed for a brief moment at the soft touch, then opened them again looking at Gabrielle, her eyes a question. Gabrielle flushed at the expression on Xena's face and released the warrior's hand. She had meant to wake before Xena, and move her blankets back to the other side of the fire. Instead, she picked this morning to sleep in, allowing herself to be caught in the act. And then when Xena touched her, which she did so rarely to Gabrielle's dismay, she jumped out of her skin like a complete idiot. OK, she thought. I have some explaining to do...

"Xena, I'm so sorry. I...I was... scared last night, couldn't sleep, so I came over here to your side and--"

"Its OK Gabrielle--"

"And I must have been having a bad dream or something when you, well you startled me..."

"I understand. Its fine." Xena sat down cross-legged and scooted a little closer to Gabrielle, pulling her body forward with her arms. "Do you remember the dream?" Gabrielle's face was blank for a moment, as she searched her thoughts for the unconscious tracings left over from dreaming. Then as she remembered, her jaw dropped.

"Oh, Xena it was terrible. I was that girl, the one by the river and--"

Both women reached for each other at the same time and Xena folded Gabrielle into her arms, holding her tight against her chest. She stroked Gabrielle's hair, gentling her with her touch, rocking her and letting her talk. Letting her purge the horrible dream images and feelings. "It was so awful. I mean it felt so real! And I was thinking, why me? Why is this happening to me? But then I realized that it happens to so many of us, all the time and I was only lucky that it hadn't happened before. Gods, Xena! I just couldn't bear it if that happened..."

"It won't Gabrielle. I won't let it." Xena said vehemently. She was amazed at how similar their thinking had been, as though they thought with one mind. Perhaps she had been sensing Gabrielle's fear...

"But you can't always protect me. Something could happen. I think I need to accept that." Pulling away a little from Xena's encircling embrace, she looked up, and met the warrior's eyes. "I need to work harder at learning to defend myself. And others."

Xena smiled down warmly into Gabrielle's face.

"You have been learning very fast. And the more you know, the safer you'll feel--"

"And then I can help you more. To prevent this-- to try and stop this from happening to others." Gabrielle tucked herself back into Xena's comforting embrace, and then added, "I want you to teach me Xena. I want to learn more from you."

As Xena continued to gently rock Gabrielle in her arms, she realized that it was true: Gabrielle had done a lot of growing the past few days.

Chapter Two

Gabrielle knelt at the edge of the lake, watching Xena swim. She was supposed to be washing clothes, and had done most of it. All that was left was Xena's leathers, which was her favorite part. She needed to finish working in the special thick sallow colored paste but she was distracted. Distracted by the view of Xena's strong body gliding rapidly through the water. And distracted by her own thoughts.

She took out a scoop of paste from a battered metal tin. She actually liked this task--she loved the feel of the form-fitting shaped leather, so soft and yet so strong. Like the woman who wore it. It felt so good to hold her the last two nights, incredibly good. She had kept a little distance at first, feeling safer just having her hand on Xena's waist, safe enough to finally fall asleep. But some part of her had remained aware of Xena's proximity, and she woke once in the night to find that she had virtually melded her body to Xena's. A delicious shiver went through her just remembering how soft Xena felt, and her fingers brushed against a long, shallow slice in the side of the leather tunic. Gabrielle remembered that this was where it had deflected a dagger swipe to Xena's ribs. But it was still strong and supple, the blade doing nothing to undermine the integrity of the leather's protection. Then Gabrielle smoothed the paste over the top of the leather that formed two large swells which held and protected the warrior's ample breasts. She ran one delicate finger across the tip, felt a warm, dampening sensation pool between her legs... Looking up she dropped her hand and let go of a deep sigh. The aching feeling was nothing new. It was the feeling the thought of touching Xena's body always invoked in her. She had never really felt it before, before Xena, at least not in any specific way. It had confused her at first, especially the strength of it, and the profound feeling of emptiness inside her that it left in its wake-- an emptiness that she hadn't know even existed until this... this longing had surfaced. This longing to be filled. It was like lifting a rug and finding a previously undiscovered hole beneath.

Even though these feelings were new, it didn't take her long to figure out what was happening to her. *I may be inexperienced, but I'm not a complete idiot* she mumbled under her breath.

But Gabrielle had been quite content to just let herself enjoy these feelings, to watch Xena only, to admire her from a distance. She had been content with Xena's friendship, thrilled with the growing closeness between them, and now and again gave herself up to her fantasies, giving her imagination free reign, imagining what it would be like to touch the warrior, really touch her in a way Xena would feel deeply, and be touched by her. To be completely filled by her. Gabrielle brought her racing thoughts back to the first night when she held Xena tight against herself. She had justified the sleeping close to her friend because she had been so scared and distraught. But what happened later had nothing to do with safety. She had felt safe enough with just the small bit of contact afforded by her hand on Xena's hip. No, the later, clinging to Xena was desire, plain and simple. When she had stopped kidding herself about it, she was about to move away, feeling bad about taking such liberties with her sleeping friend, but she found that she just couldn't do it. It was like her body refused to obey her mind, and then it felt too good to argue anymore. And after that morning when Xena woke before Gabrielle had a chance to move her bedding back to the other side of the fire-- her face flamed at the memory of being caught like that-- after that, the next night as Gabrielle started to lay out her blankets, Xena patted the ground next to her. And with her heart a big lump in her throat she lay her blankets down next to the warrior. When they went to bed, Gabrielle lay on her side, her back to Xena to give her the space Gabrielle knew she needed, but Xena had pulled Gabrielle to her, her long strong body folded around Gabrielle's, holding her close and tight.

"Is that better?" Xena had whispered into her ear, the warmth of her breath sending chills down her spine.

All Gabrielle could do was mumble a quick "yes", voice tightly controlled. Her heart raced, but she was so tired, and she fell asleep to Xena chuckling about how "her bard" had seemed to have lost her voice somewhere, and had so little to say the past few days. Gabrielle tried to relax and let it go; after all Xena wasn't objecting, so who was she to argue with providence?

But now Gabrielle realized the gravity of her mistake. Now she had crossed that line, and everything felt different. Over the course of just two nights of sleeping with Xena, her abstract fantasy had become very concrete. She hungered and the longing was growing so strong it scared her. The want had become a need. She needed to have more of Xena. To be more to her. Over the course of just two nights her daydreams had begun to leave her feeling restless and frustrated rather than warm and content.

And until now she had never felt so, so motivated to do something about it. And now her body and her soul cried out with this overpowering need to-- she wasn't too clear on the details but she felt she had to do *something*. But, Gabrielle knew, Xena had allowed the closeness only because she was still shaken up by their experience. She just didn't see Gabrielle in that way, or even if she did, she was convinced that Gabrielle was too young to have feelings like these. No, as soon as a few more days had passed, and more distance was between them and recent traumatic events, things would go right back to where they were. Gabrielle was not looking forward to the time when she had to sleep again on the other side of the fire. She had to do something.

But what could she do to make it happen? She would find out if Xena felt the same way about her. She knew Xena loved her, it was hard to miss. But did she love her in that special way?

And if she did, Gabrielle would have to convince Xena that this should be, and that it should be *now*, not whenever Xena decides that her "little" protegee was old enough. Xena was so damn stubborn, she would take a lot of convincing. Nonetheless usually Gabrielle could eventually talk Xena into doing what she wanted, making her think it was her own idea to begin with. But this was different. Xena would have to want, and Xena would have to believe. It was a tall order, and for the first time in her life, Gabrielle didn't even know where to begin. A sudden splash brought Gabrielle out of her revelry and she looked up to see Xena approach her, emerging from the lake, little rivulets of water streaming off her shoulders, over her breasts, down her belly and through the patch of dark curly hair between her legs. Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat at the sight of the water playing across Xena's body. She saw Xena raise an eyebrow, and followed the line of her sight. Right down to her own hand which was caressing the swell at the top of Xena's leathers. Gabrielle quickly pulled her hand away, embarrassed beyond measure.

"Uh, I was just... I mean I was cleaning-- " she raised her hand to show Xena the sallow paste, but just stopped trying to explain when Xena gave her an unusually warm smile. Gabrielle smiled back, shrugged her shoulders, and then scrambled up to gather the clothes that were drying on the rocks beside her.

"Might as well leave those, they're not dry yet," Xena told her as she lay down on the blanket next to Gabrielle, her arms folded behind her head. Gabrielle tried not to stare at the woman next to her, so close... she had to remind herself to keep breathing. A moment passed, and she had not been completely successful.

"So little one, are you going for a swim? Its a great way to cool off-- '

"I'm not little!"

Xena turned to look at her companion. "I didn't mean to insult you. I thought you liked it. It never bothered you before-- "

"It bothers me now," Gabrielle told her emphatically as she stomped off and dived into the lake.

Xena watched her young friend swim off, wondering at the changes these last days had wrought. Wondered when it was that Gabrielle had stopped watching her with the misplaced hero worship of a young girl, and when she had started watching her with the passion of a woman grown.

"I'm a woman, not a girl!" Gabrielle explained to the tree. She was practicing. If she could convince this tree, than just maybe she had a chance at convincing Xena. "I've been bleeding with the moon for 3 years now. Let's see, what else... Well you can see I have all the parts. And I certainly have all the feelings--" This was bad. A *tree* was making her blush. "Everyone treats me like I'm a woman, except you of course. You see how they watch me when we go into town. And whenever we run into any of your warrior friends they assume I'm your-- "

"Gabrielle, why are you talking to that tree?"

"This tree?"

Xena stepped into the small clearing, an eyebrow arched high. "I guess that's not the point. Which tree..." Xena continued to wait for an explanation.

"Uh, I've been practicing my, uh, delivery -- you know, bard stuff."

Xena closed the distance between them, put her hand to Gabrielle's forehead, checking for a fever. And it wasn't until Xena dropped her hand again that Gabrielle remembered she was supposed to be breathing.

"Gabrielle..." Xena's voice was soft, the concern plain on her face. Hearing the sound of her name roll off the warrior's lips in that way it always did felt like silk caressing her skin, made Gabrielle's insides turn to paste. She could barely concentrate on the rest of what Xena was saying. "-- not been yourself lately, ever since that last village. I know that was hard for you, but I know there's something else. I can feel it. And it seems to be getting worse. Will you please tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

Gabrielle didn't lie well.

"If there is nothing wrong then why have you been-- " Xena realized her tone of voice was too sharp, which was not helping the situation. "Well for starters, why are you telling stories to that tree instead of to me? Do you realize that you haven't told one story since..." Xena's voice trailed off.

"I didn't think you'd miss it."

"Of course I do. Why else would I keep you around," Xena smiled. When she saw Gabrielle's face fall she instantly regretted her attempt at humor.

"I often wonder, Xena, why you do keep me around." And as Gabrielle turned to stomp off deeper into the forest, Xena caught up to her, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"I didn't mean it like that."

Gabrielle was very still, and tried to let Xena's words sink in. She knew she was over- reacting, and the last thing she wanted was Xena worrying over her. She froze a smile on her face before turning around to face the warrior.

"I know. I'm sorry. I've just been a little-- out of sorts lately. Would you like me to tell you a story? I've been working on a new one..."

Xena almost sighed out loud in relief as they walked back to camp, listening to Gabrielle chatter away. Maybe things were getting back to normal again...

The two women sat across the fire from each other, Xena sharpening her sword with concentrated rhythmic strokes while Gabrielle told a story. Or tried to tell a story. She was having the hardest time concentrating, finding herself fascinated by the muscles dancing across Xena's forearms, bunching and then cording under the sleek tanned skin with every downward stroke of whet stone against sword.


Startled, Gabrielle pulled her focus away from Xena's beautiful forearms to stare into her large electric blue eyes, not knowing which was worse...

"So then what happened?"


"The story, Gabrielle."

"Oh. Sorry. Where was I?"

Xena looked up at her friend. "The Amazon queen had just ordered the attack on the castle... You've never lost your place in a story before..." Xena put the stone and oil cloth down, sheathed her sword and walked around the fire to squat in front of Gabrielle, her eyes taking on an intense silvery hue. The close scrutiny made Gabrielle want to squirm, and it took all of her concentration to sit still.

"I'm worried about you." Xena's voice was very soft. Barely audible. "Is it about the girl?"

"I guess I haven't been feeling myself since we helped her." Gabrielle just didn't know how to explain to Xena that the rape was no longer the main issue. That instead it had become some kind of catalyst for needs that were beginning to feel just a little overwhelming...The girl... her mind's eye brought forth a picture of the girl's face and the memory made Gabrielle shutter violently, causing Xena to lean forward to clasp strong hands on her shoulders. Gabrielle gave up trying to continue speaking. Xena's touch made her words freeze in her throat.

"It is a horrible thing Gabrielle. And it is OK that it is still upsetting. I wish I had got there first, prevented you from seeing it-- "

"But it is everywhere!" Gabrielle leaned forward and clasped the underside of Xena's forearms. "You can't protect me from something that is everywhere. And I don't want to keep burdening you with my fear." Gabrielle took a quick look their bedrolls which, for the third night in a row lay next to each other.

"It's not a burden," Xena's mouth quirked into a half smile. But then she looked down at the ground, unable to meet Gabrielle's eyes. She added in barely a whisper: "I'll hold you all night as long as-- well as long as you need me to."

Xena stood abruptly to walk back to her seat at the other side of the fire. Picking up her sword, she resumed her sharpening with renewed vigor, the story Gabrielle was telling before obviously forgotten. Normally, Gabrielle would be angry if Xena forgot that she was in the middle of a story, but now she was glad of it. Whatever it was that had just happened between them left her throat too dry to speak before knocking every thought out of her head. That is every thought but one: that if Xena meant what she had just said, that she would hold Gabrielle at night as long as she needed it, then Xena would be holding her every night for the rest of her life.

Xena was mentally kicking herself. She couldn't believe she said what she had just said, that she had revealed her true feelings like that. She prayed to the Gods that she hadn't revealed too much.

Xena put up her sword, took out a needle and thread and began sewing up the latest tears in her leather gauntlets. She didn't trust herself, she had to keep her hands busy, to keep them off Gabrielle. No, things were not normal between them. Not normal at all. Xena felt out of control in a way she had never quite experienced before. She focused on making meticulous tiny stitches in her torn gauntlet, and tried to work out what had started all this, and more importantly, what could be done to stop it.

Gabrielle had been acting very differently lately, in a way that simple fear could not explain away. The way Gabrielle had been looking at her-- at first she just assumed that her fear required the extra reassurance of knowing that Xena was really there, and that was why she kept staring at her so intently. But Xena understood that there was more to Gabrielle 's extra attention when she caught her caressing her leathers. Her suspicion was intensified by Gabrielle 's reaction to being called little, and then confirmed by hearing her explain to a tree that she was a grown woman. Something had sparked her consciousness about her own sexuality, and she was connecting her newly awakened desire with Xena.

And Gabrielle was doing a very good job attracting Xena's attention lately. She could feel the lust in her burning just below the surface, could fairly smell it. Whether she knew it or not, Gabrielle was virtually offering herself to Xena with almost every smouldering look and gesture. When did that start? Maybe it was the sleeping together. Her holding Gabrielle each of the past two nights was obviously having an effect on her. Maybe it was a mistake. But she just couldn't seem to say no to Gabrielle, not about this.

Xena remembered herself at Gabrielle's age, before the time everything fell apart. She remembered the strong and sudden awareness of her body and its needs, which had begun growing at an astounding rate, and she too had confused lust with love, seeing it everywhere she looked. She smiled at the memory of her own innocence, lost so long ago.

Clearly the same was happening to Gabrielle, the first sparks of it flaring when they began traveling together. She had pined away over every handsome boy who crossed their path, each time certain that she had found her "tree in the forest." With that thought, Xena accidentally pricked her finger with the needle, shocked at her unusual lapse into clumsiness. She brought the injured fingertip to her lips, sucking on it and caught Gabrielle staring at her lips, her own parted slightly, pursing reflexively. There. A perfect example... It seemed that now Xena had become the latest subject of Gabrielle's misplaced feelings, but Xena couldn't help smiling at Gabrielle's reaction before going back to her sewing.

And, she admitted, she was not exactly being fair to Gabrielle. It had been a while since she had paid any attention to boys, and as Xena observed her friend's blossoming sexual awareness, she saw that Gabrielle was paying much closer attention to other women. She would probably flirt with them, too if she only knew how...

Well, Xena told herself, now that I have Gabrielle all figured out, what is my excuse? She knew she loved Gabrielle, had forced herself to accept that a while ago. And when she was being brutally honest with herself, she admitted that this love was stronger than that felt between the closest of friends. But Gabrielle was too damn young. She needed time to find her own way, and Xena would rather slit her own throat than betray the profound trust Gabrielle placed in her for reasons she couldn't begin to fathom. She may not understand the reason for the trust, but once given it had become sacred to Xena, and she refused to violate it to satisfy her own selfish needs. Maybe some day... no! She wouldn't even let herself think it. But it was hard to ignore Gabrielle's desire, no matter how premature or misplaced. It was hard to not react to it, and it was only getting harder to stop herself from responding to Gabrielle like she was a woman grown. She had certainly come to look the part. And Xena had caught herself staring at her young friend with an intense longing much too frequently. Xena knew full well that her passions were intense in the best of circumstances, and it was an effort to keep them tightly reigned in. She was simply too much for Gabrielle.

And at the same time, too little. Gabrielle deserved the best, not the burnt out husk of an ex-warlord, covered with scars inside and out from endless battles. Gabrielle may think differently, but it was Xena's job to stay focused on reality.

Xena let go a deep sigh while desperately ransacking her brain for some solution to this issue. A process that was interrupted by the feel of Gabrielle's light touch on her shoulder. "What's wrong Xena?" Xena turned to stare at Gabrielle's fingers which were caressing her shoulder and arm. The touches burned into Xena's skin and set her heart pounding. It was taking all of her strength to stop her self from reaching out and-- Xena closed her hand around Gabrielle's fingers, stilling the incendiary touch.

"Gabrielle," she began hoarsely. " I... I was just thinking; we'll be passing through a town tomorrow, a particularly nice one, run by Amazons. One of their border towns. There is a relaxing guest house there, very safe, and I think we should stay a few days. Rest up. The change of pace might be good for you. We can be there before nightfall tomorrow."

"The idea of a warm bed and a bath sounds good to me." Gabrielle was looking at her hand trapped beneath Xena's. Then she stood up, walked away from Xena and stretched out on her bedroll. She was feeling very sad and confused. Her gut told her that the beautiful warrior wanted what Gabrielle wanted, and she was frustrated with Xena's misplaced nobility. Why did she have to keep pushing her away? Suddenly she was hit with a wave of exhaustion...all the feelings she had gone through lately had caught up to her and she was worn out. She wrapped the blanket around herself and with a quick good night to Xena, she curled into a ball and fell asleep.

Xena was wide awake. Gabrielle was spooned tightly against her back, and she could feel her soft breath on the back of her neck, and the sensation was causing her knees to feel weak. Luckily she was not standing, for she would surely fall over.

Xena turned in the circle of Gabrielle's arms and looked down at her face. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully tonight, with no nightmares. Without thinking she brushed a strand of Gabrielle's hair that had become caught in the moisture of her lips. Gabrielle smiled in her sleep, a smile that made Xena's heart glad. Once again she felt shocked at how strong her feelings had become for the young bard. She had such a lovely smile. Or smiles, really. Xena particularly enjoyed this one, small, a little uneven, suggesting some knowledge of a delightful secret. It was a sensual smile, the one that always came when Xena was subjecting her to a little good natured teasing. And she loved to tease Gabrielle. Without thought she ran a gentle finger across the soft silky lips, and Gabrielle's mouth pursed a little in reflex. And that one small gesture set off a deep throbbing in the core of Xena's being.

No. She didn't want to just tease Gabrielle . She wanted to follow through. She wanted to ignite Gabrielle with her hands, to watch Gabrielle burn in her arms, and then to put out that fire with her tongue. A picture came unbidden before her mind's eye Gabrielle naked, writhing under her while Xena held her tight, her body covered with sweat, moaning, crying out her name--

And just then Gabrielle opened her eyes, as though prompted by sensing Xena's desire for her. And the fire in Xena's eyes was almost scary in it's intensity. She had to look away for a brief moment to gather the courage she needed to respond to the warrior. But quickly, before she had a chance to look up once more, Xena had leapt from the bedding and strode out into the darkness of the forest.

"Xena what's wrong?" Gabrielle asked worriedly as she began to get up to follow her friend, but was stopped in mid-motion by Xena's response: "Its OK Gabrielle . I just need to be alone for a minute. Go back to sleep."

Gabrielle couldn't see Xena but she could hear her voice, and it had a timber to it that she had never heard before. It was almost scary. Not knowing what else to do, she did as she was told, and got back under the blankets. But she could not sleep. So with her hands folded behind her head, she concentrated on watching the stars, but they just blurred into an indistinguishable mass of fuzzy light as the tears filled her eyes, blocking out her vision.

"Please don't follow me Gabrielle, " Xena pleaded silently as she walked briskly away from their camp. "I don't think I could stop myself..." Xena's walk turned into a run while she prayed for the chill air to cool her blood. After a little while she came to a clearing and she sat down hard, leaning first her back and then her head against a tree. Perhaps it was the same tree Gabrielle had been arguing with earlier tonight, trying to convince that she was a woman grown. "She certainly has come to act the part," Xena admitted to herself, but she knew that it was just an act. Although she might believe she wanted Xena, she was just too young to understand her real feelings. Or, more importantly, to know what was good for her. And it was because Xena cared so very much for the girl that she accepted the truth: she was no good for Gabrielle. Gabrielle didn't have even a fighting chance of realizing this truth, so it would be completely irresponsible to let Gabrielle act on her feelings.

Xena had to do something to get her own raging desires in check. She had been in control of them for so long, but clearly that was no longer the case. She couldn't remember the last time she was this... ready before. She slid her hand down her thighs and then back up the inside, lifting up her chemise, she ran her fingers along her labia, thickly swollen and slick. A shudder passed through her whole frame at the feel of her own wetness, and she bit her lip to keep from groaning out loud. Yes... It felt so good and it had been so long... Raising her knees and planting her feet firmly in the ground she leaned back. She spread her legs wider to give herself the access she needed. With her thumb pressed firmly against her clit she pushed four fingers deep inside herself, while her free hand dug convulsively into the soft wet earth. One thrust of probing fingers, two, and then three and her inner muscles convulsed before clamping down on her hand. And at that same instant her legs slammed shut, trapping her fingers inside herself as she shuttered hard. A deep groan escaped her lips and her head slammed back against the trunk of the tree. She stayed that way for a while, trapping as much sensation as she could with her thighs squeezed together firmly, and catching her breath. And when the stillness returned she slid wet fingers out and then in one more time, deep, and it set off a second wave of bittersweet convulsions. After a while she stood and walked slowly back to the camp. Although it felt nice while it was happening, the release she had given herself made her feel even more restless.

~~~ She was watching Gabrielle walk a few paces ahead of her and Argo. She bit back a sigh, knowing that it would only cause Gabrielle to turn around and look at her again, and she feared that one more concerned, endearing look would be her undoing. With a quick scan of the landscape she knew that the town of Themis was just over the next rise.

She hoped their upcoming stay would be good for Gabrielle, hoped she would feel safer around other people. Good food, a warm, clean room with a door that closed-- these things could only help. And perhaps some time spent entertaining the townspeople with her stories, honing her skills would be helpful as well. That always helped Gabrielle feel more grounded doing something she was very good at. It was a safe town, and Xena knew her amazon sisters would take good care of their "princess" and meanwhile Xena could get a break as well-- some time away from Gabrielle. Also, there were always beautiful women in Themis and it would be good for her to spend sometime pursuing a little physical companionship. Perhaps it would relieve some of the tension that was building up. Easing her need to touch and be touched would help, she convinced herself. Could help her to regain her focus and help her to keep her hands off her young friend, she swore. Yes, it was just what she needed-- and she repeated the word "young" to herself several times for emphasis.

As they crested the last rise Xena slid from her horse and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Themis spread before her. But Gabrielle heard her and she pulled her eyes from the sight of the village to look at her warrior friend. And with that one look Xena caught her boot against a rock and almost stumbled.

"Xena!" Gabrielle cried and she was at her friend's side instantly, hand curled around a muscular arm to steady her. "I've never seen you... are you ill Xena?"

With one quick motion she freed her arm from Gabrielle's grasp, half expecting to find burn marks were her fingers had been, and saw that her actions replaced the look of concern on Gabrielle's face with hurt. Gods but she hated to see Gabrielle hurting and she felt terrible for causing it. She gave Gabrielle's shoulder a brief squeeze, explaining that she was just tired. Gabrielle looked unconvinced but was somewhat mollified by the explanation, and the two women walked into town together, Argo taking up the rear.

Chapter Three

"Standing just outside the circle of light
its where you've been living your whole life...
I'm gonna roll you over gonna peel you back
expose your tender center watch the juices flow from the cracks
gonna peel you out of your protective shell
or I just might have to break right in there and raise some hell"

Ani Difranco

Gabrielle leaned back in her chair, letting go a deep sigh of contentment. The lamb stew was delicious, and the nutbread-- well she hadn't tasted better since she left home.

She licked the last crumbs from her fingers, looking around the room. The atmosphere in the guest house's common room was delightful. There was a cheerful fire in a large hearth, and the rooms smelled slightly sweet, like baking.

And it felt so safe. She hadn't felt this safe since they had left that last village, and she finally understood just how on edge she had been the past few days. It was amazing, really. She was used to feeling safe, but that had all changed a few days ago, and she began to feel as though she had always been afraid. And now as the fear fell from her she remembered how it was meant to be.

There were groups of women around each table, mostly Amazon warriors, but not all. They looked so strong and beautiful. It was nice to be in the large, brightly lit room, full of people, and all of them women. There was not one male voice in the room, and Gabrielle realized for the first time how loud and jarring male voices were by comparison.

Gabrielle smiled as Xena walked into the room, her smile widening as many heads turned to look at her in frank appreciation. Xena certainly was stunning, standing out in the crowd, even a crowd like this one. Still smiling, she started to gesture to Xena, to call out to her, but the words died on her lips as a tall, unusually beautiful woman walked over towards Xena. Where had she come from, and how could Gabrielle not have noticed this one until now?

She stood quite close to Xena, saying something that Gabrielle could not possibly hear from across the room. Then the woman led Xena to a small table by the hearth and they sat down together, Xena's back to Gabrielle.

She watched the woman closely as she spoke with Xena. Her skin was dark brown with strong reddish highlights. Large almond shaped eyes that were almost black in color perched atop high sloping cheek bones. Her lips were full, heart-shaped and beautifully sculptured and a cascade of long curly dark hair fell well beyond her shoulders. She wore the leathers, cloth and feathers of an Amazon warrior, her long fingers folded together, resting on the table top.

But when she spoke, those long fingers traced animated patterns in the air to illustrate her speech. Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes off those hands and it was hard to tell just by looking at Xena from the back, but it seemed that they wove a similar spell on her warrior friend. The woman had Xena's complete attention.

Finally Gabrielle was able to pull her eyes away from the Amazon's hands and looked once more at her face, but what she saw there made her heart sink into her stomach. The Amazon was positively devouring Xena with her eyes, and Gabrielle watched in dismay as Xena responded, leaning across the table, face close to the other woman's. Gabrielle's blood was screaming so loud, it surprised her that no one else heard it. She felt a cold fire burning her from the inside out, a sensation she was not familiar with, and she hated how it was making her feel. And she envied the beautiful Amazon, envied her obvious experience, and her ability to evoke such a response from Xena. And when Xena brushed a finger along the side of the woman's face, the Amazon brought it to her lips, running the tip of her tongue across the tip. Gabrielle wanted to cry out in frustration. She felt herself begin to stand but then she hearing the chair across from her scraping along the floor, she turned to look for the cause of the disturbance.

"May I join you?" a woman asked after she had already taken the seat across from her. "I'm Lucia. What is your name?"

Gabrielle took a close look at the woman across from her. She was blocking her view of Xena, and she didn't know whether to be thankful or angry about it. She was also an Amazon, but young, perhaps just a little older than Gabrielle herself. Her eyes were a light hazel and a feint scar ran across her cheek, barely noticeable against otherwise smooth skin. A sword in its scabbard slung across her back, and her hair was pulled back in a tight braid.

"Gabrielle," Gabrielle heard herself say, her voice sounding dry and harsh to her own ears.

"Gabrielle. A beautiful name. Unusual. Wait... *the* Gabrielle? The one who risked her life trying to save Queen Melosa's sister Terreis? "

"The same," Gabrielle smiled at the woman in spite of herself. "But it wasn't-- "

"And you took her right of caste? Then you are my princess and I, your humble servant, " and with that Lucia took Gabrielle's hand which had been resting on the table, bringing it to her lips in formal greeting. "I'm honored to meet you. I've heard so much about you." Lucia's words and actions caused Gabrielle to blush furiously. "How long will you be staying at the guest house?"

"Just a few days. We're here to rest up and re-supply before heading out again. And you?"

"We leave tomorrow morning at dawn. We are usually stationed here but our Commander Nyame received word today that we need to move quickly to re-enforce our southern border. The warlord Krykus is expected to attack, trying once again to steal our hunting grounds. " Lucia took a deep swallow from the cup of ale she had brought with her. "Have you met the Commander? She is so amazing-- " Lucia stopped speaking as she noticed that Gabrielle's attention had been diverted to something behind her. She turned in her chair to follow Gabrielle's line of sight. "Yes, that's her there. I'm sure she would be honored to meet you, but she looks a little-- pre-occupied-- at the moment." Lucia had a lop-sided grin on her face at the sight of her Commander, and then turned back to look at Gabrielle, smiling wider.

"Whoever that woman is with her, she doesn't stand a chance against the Commander's charms-- " Lucia broke off abruptly as she saw the stricken expression on Gabrielle's face. She took another quick look over her shoulder, then looked back, putting the pieces together.

"That's Xena, the Warrior Princess. You travel with her." Gabrielle barely nodded in response, not trusting her ability to speak. "Are you two...lovers?" She asked gently.

"No!" Gabrielle said quickly. Too quickly, and found herself blushing once more.

"But... you want to be?"

Gabrielle didn't respond at first; she was so confused and hurt. Lucia seemed so sympathetic and she needed to speak with someone about this before she exploded. She felt as though she had the weight of Atlas on her chest, and it hurt to breathe.

"Yes," she whispered finally. "But-- but I have no idea how to make it happen. I don't know how to tell her..."

"Tell her? Its not about talking, Gabrielle. You need to show her."

"But I don't know how! I've never..."

Lucia nodded in sympathy for Gabrielle's pain. After a moment, she spoke: "Just-- let go, Gabrielle. Let yourself go. Don't fight it. I have a feel for these kind of things, I'm told, and my feelings tell me that, under all the fear and awkwardness you feel lies a very passionate woman..."

Gabrielle couldn't help but smile at Lucia's enthusiastic words of encouragement, a smile that quickly disintegrated as Xena approached their table. Leaning down, she looked everywhere but at Gabrielle, as she told her: "I-- I'm going to be-- busy-- tonight. So don't wait up for me." Xena's voice dropped to a whisper, trying to pitch her voice so Gabrielle's companion wouldn't hear, but then Lucia left the table to give the women some privacy. "You'll be safe here, Gabrielle. Only women come here and the Amazons will take good care of their princess-- "

"I'll be fine. I can take care of myself. You go ahead, and I'll see you at breakfast." Finally Xena met Gabrielle's gaze, a concerned expression on her face, her eyes a question.

"Are you sure? I know you've been having a hard time lately-- "

"I'm positive. I am old enough to take care of myself for one night, Xena." It took a huge effort for Gabrielle to keep the bitterness out of her voice at her own words. But even though she was hating what was happening, she also wanted Xena to take care of herself for once. Xena obviously needed to do this, and Gabrielle couldn't seem to meet this need, she realized, and Gabrielle was feeling miserable about it. "If you are certain... I'll be back before you wake up."

"Xena, take the time you need. Don't hurry back for my sake, OK?"

Xena smiled at her young companion, while resting her hand on her shoulder.

"Thank you Gabrielle. I hope you have a good night, too-- " Xena shot a quick flat look over at Lucia who stood a few yards away at the end of the bar and then returned to the table by the hearth. Gabrielle saw that the Commander had risen, and with a spectacular smile she led Xena out of the common room, her fingers resting lightly on the inside of Xena's wrist. As the door closed behind the two women Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears.

~~~ The room was beautiful-- they had obviously given them the best room in the house, fit for royalty. When Gabrielle commented on this the housekeeper who escorted her reminded Gabrielle that she was a princess after all. When the door closed behind her, Gabrielle carefully surveyed the luxurious quarters. The largest thing in the room was a huge bed, and it faced the fireplace. A freshly made fire crackled and a large copper basin filled with steaming hot water stood near the hearth. A big stack of white fluffy towels perched on the arm of a large stuffed chair.

It could have been amazing, but without Xena it just felt big and empty. Gabrielle hadn't even removed her cloak before turning around and walking back out. She felt so retched that her skin was clammy, and she desperately needed a walk in the night air, hoping it would cool her off. And help to dissipate the restless energy and the churning in her stomach that plagued her since she saw Xena leave with the Commander. Before she realized it, she had walked all the way through the little town to the edge of the Amazon army encampment. Looking across the meadow she stared at the city of tents in rapt fascination. She had never seen anything quite like it. Sure she and Xena had seen the camps of warlords and brigands, but this didn't even compare. And it wasn't just a matter of size, although it was big.

What grabbed Gabrielle's attention was how well organized the camp looked: the tents were laid out in a series of interlocking circles that looked like the pattern in the arm bands some of the Amazons wore. Long low tents that appeared to be barracks circled the outside along with several watch fires. The next circle in was made up of a supply caravan, and Gabrielle could see the army's cooks around a large mess tent, cleaning up for the night. Just inside the supply ring there was a large bonfire and soldiers were drumming and dancing. There were several other larger tents in the inner ring of the camp, and it was fairly dark there. She approached the camp, greeting some very vigilant yet friendly sentries posted at the tent city's entrance, and began exploring the encampment. There were soldiers everywhere, not just at the dance in the center but spread throughout the camp: polishing equipment, packing supplies, or just relaxing at one of the many small fire pits that dotted the meadow.

As Gabrielle walked past the drumming circle, she saw lots of women dancing in complex, interlocking patterns. She smiled and waved at a group of women who stood next to the drummers, waiting to jump into the dance, and thought briefly about joining them, but her feet felt as heavy as her heart. Besides, she wasn't much of a dancer. She kept walking.

When she reached the abandoned center of the tent city she started to turn around and head back when one tent, lit from the inside and set right in the middle of the camp drew her eye. Curiosity getting the best of her, she walked towards it.

~~~ Nyame was very skilled, her touch alternating between gentle and forceful in a perfect combination. And responsive. Very. It had been a joy to give her pleasure, to caress that creamy rich dark skin with her hands, her lips, her tongue-- It had been far too long since she had touched a woman. Or been touched by a woman, and Xena had been missing it fiercely she realized now.

She was on her back, knees up, legs spread, and her fingers were locked in the Commander's thick hair while she stroked Xena with her lips and tongue. Xena's nerve endings were crackling and she had no idea how long she had been floating like this, the deft strokes sending her into oblivion. But the lightness of the touch was beginning to drive her crazy and she needed to be filled.

"Harder," she breathed and felt Nyame smile against her aching center.

"Patience...good things come to those who wait," she was told before the Commander dove back in to resume her torturous ministrations. Xena laughed at that, but the Amazon's touch changed somehow, becoming even more incendiary, causing Xena's hips to thrash with a will of their own. And then Nyame pushed three long fingers deep inside with a hard thrust. Xena's inner muscles clenched down hard around those fingers and a groan, deep and loud escaped her throat. In that same instant she bolted upright reflexively into a sitting position, hands clasped tight into the Commander's blankets.

When she collapsed back down into the blankets and furs Nyame came up to lay close beside her. "You are a beautiful woman," Xena told her as the tips of her fingers traced the outline of Nyame's full lips, still wet from Xena.

"And so are you, Xena," Nyame responded emphatically, sucking the tips of Xena's fingers into her mouth. Xena's fingers were quite sensitive to that type of touch, and it caused a shiver to travel down her spine and into her groin. "Thank you," Xena was finally able to respond.

"Thank me? I already feel very-- thanked," The Commander laughed.

"No. I mean it. For giving me what I need..."

The Commander's expression became serious, and she looked carefully into Xena's eyes, trying to read the feelings behind the words. Despite their current intimacy, Nyame knew little about this exquisite woman-- what drove her on, what she cared about. But she did know one thing, and so she responded:

"No, Xena. I gave you what you want. What you need is waiting for you back at the guest house-- "

"Gabrielle?" Xena cut her off, her eyes flashing. "How do you know-- "

"Well you called her name out, more than once..."

"Oh." Xena didn't know what to say. "Sorry. I didn't mean to-- "

"Of course you didn't. I'm not offended. But your young friend-- " Nyame stopped speaking when she saw Xena's eyes go ice cold.

"Nyame-- leave it alone. She is too young to know that I'm no good for her, and I won't betray her trust."

There was a heavy silence between the two women for a few moments. Xena's eyes were closed while the Amazon continued to look at her, the concern plain on her face, making her beautiful features even more striking. And then she ran her fingers lightly over Xena's breasts, causing Xena's eyes to fly open. Nyame smiled at the response her touch evoked in the beautiful warrior. She leaned over Xena, whispering:

"Too bad you feel that way about yourself. I'm sure you are quite mistaken. Think about it. Meanwhile..."

Continued - Part 2

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