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Editor's Choice Award

Part 2

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.

Gabrielle walked quickly away from the encampment, feelings and senses overwhelmed by what she just witnessed. She had no intention of spying on Xena like that, but before she even had a chance to realize what was happening she heard the sound of Xena's laughter. It was such a rare occurrence that she couldn't help but be drawn to it. And as she walked toward the tent she felt sad about that, and wondered what she could do to make Xena laugh like that more often.

But when she reached the side of the tent she heard another sound-- intense, primal-- and it cut through her like a sharp knife, making her blood burn. She saw the two women in silhouette through the back-lit tent fabric, drawing near just in time to see Xena surge upwards like a cresting wave, and heard her cry out, groaning in pleasure.

Gabrielle had never heard anything like it; didn't know that a mere sound could effect her that way. Her pulse was racing, her stomach churned and she felt herself slick and wet to her core. A softer matching sound escaped her lips unbidden, and she quickly covered her mouth with her fingers to prevent being heard. Her lips fairly throbbed against her fingertips and she bit down lightly against herself to stop the pounding.

Gabrielle turned on her heels and ran back towards the town, feeling ashamed at invading Xena's intimacy. It wasn't until she was past the encampment and almost half way back to town that she slowed her pace, trying to absorb all the different feelings that warred within herself. She had felt jealous and hurt when Xena went off with that beautiful Amazon Commander, but had tried hard to hide her feelings, to get out of the way so Xena could-- well, so Xena could do what she had to do without worrying about Gabrielle for once. She knew that Xena was going to make love with the woman, could tell by how they acted together, and besides, it was written all over her face when she had told Gabrielle that she was going "out".

So what God possessed her to go after Xena? It was one thing to know it was happening, but quite another to hear it, see it and feel it. Was she trying to make herself miserable? She didn't know why she did it, but she felt so sad and alone when she went up to their room without Xena, and afterwards she didn't know what she was doing.

The strange thing though, was that instead of the whole thing making her feel even worse, she felt better somehow. Clearer. More determined. The past several days her thoughts of being with Xena, while persistent had been somewhat abstract, or theoretical. The feelings themselves were very real, but the sense of urgency she felt over the past few days had much to do with the upsetting experience of the last village.

It was different now. The Amazon Commander would be gone by tomorrow but Gabrielle would not. She was staying with Xena and she was determined now. She would do whatever it took to have Xena. Gabrielle understood that she loved Xena, needed her and she prayed to the Gods that Xena felt the same. She had to know, and there was only one way to find out.

Chapter Four

"I didn't really notice when everything else disappeared but as far as I'm concerned if it isn't her, it isn't here..." Ani Difranco

When Gabrielle returned to the guest house she searched the common room for Lucia. And saw her at the end of the bar, finishing a tankard of ale. Gabrielle caught up with her just as she started to walk out. "Wait. Lucia, I need to talk with you."

"I was just heading back--" Lucia stopped talking and looked at Gabrielle carefully. She was obviously upset, her cloak pulled tight against her though it wasn't cold, and it looked like she had been crying. "Oh, alright. I wasn't going to get much sleep anyway. What is it Gabrielle?"

"Can we go some place private?"

They sat in front of the fire in the luxurious quarters given her. Lucia's jaw was hanging open.

"Close your mouth before you catch flies."

"What did you say?"

"I said, close your mouth-- "

"No, I mean before that..."

"I said I need to seduce Xena but I don't know what to do, so I need your help."

"My help." Lucia was trying out several ways to sit in the over-stuffed chair, but none were comfortable. "I'm not sure I understand. Are you asking me you?"

Now it was Gabrielle's turn to squirm uncomfortably, and she felt her cheeks burn. "No. I didn't mean that. I...I want you to tell me what to do."

"What makes you think that I-- "

"You're not a virgin are you?"

"Well, no-- "

"I am. So I need advice. You know-- tips. Xena thinks I'm too young. She will never make the first move, even when my hair turns grey. So that leaves me. So what do I do?"

"You blush beautifully you know," Lucia told her, laughing.

"And you're trying to change the subject-- "

"I guess I am. This isn't the easiest subject to discuss, you know."

"I do know. Will you help me?

After a moment's pause, Lucia stood, walked over to Gabrielle's chair, and squatted down in front of her. She saw the determination in Gabrielle's eyes, chin raised slightly, jaw set, and was impressed with her boldness. "That warrior princess of yours is one lucky woman," Lucia said, voice very soft, and Gabrielle's face lit up at the compliment. "Listen Gabrielle, there is not much to tell. Just be yourself. Be true to yourself. Let yourself-- go. Be open, show her how you feel about her, and let her know how she makes you feel, and it will all work out. Really..."

It was in the darkest part of the night, just before dawn when Xena arrived at their room. Gabrielle was curled up on the edge of the large bed and seemed to be asleep.

Xena took care to be her usual quiet self as she removed her sword and perched carefully on the other edge of the bed. She removed her leathers and unlaced her boots. Then she rose and checked the water, to find that it was no longer hot. She thought briefly of retrieving the kettle from the fire, but decided instead just to give herself a quick bath in the tepid water. She dunked herself all the way in, and then perched on the edge of the large tub, using her hands to lather a bar of soap which she spread across her body in long strokes. Her thoughts kept being pulled back to her time with the Commander, erotic images flashing through her head while she smoothed the soap over her body. Reaching down she cupped water in her large hands and poured it over herself, rinsing away the soap. When the last trace was washed away with a final quick dunk, she stepped from the bath and wrapped a large towel around herself, shivering a little. Climbing onto the huge bed she got under the covers and lay next to Gabrielle, soaking up her warmth but not touching her lest she disturb the bard's sleep. Xena knew she had not slept well lately and was relived to see Gabrielle so relaxed, relieved to know that Gabrielle was able to fall asleep without Xena holding her. Relieved, but a little sad as well-- she really had come to enjoy holding Gabrielle at night, and it was funny, but Xena seemed to have fewer nightmares well. She had lost hope that anything could help her sleep, tortured as it was with flashbacks of violence and death... a horrifying amount of it caused by her own hand...

The moon, a day from full, had reached the western horizon readying itself to set as the sun rose, and it gilded the room with a silver shimmering glow. Xena tucked herself further into the covers, and as she turned to make a few final adjustments to the blankets and fluff up the feather pillows, the blanket slipped from Gabrielle and Xena saw that she was completely naked. She had never seen Gabrielle sleep nude before-- she was very modest. Sure she had seen her naked before, now and again, but this felt different. Very different.

The moonlight's soft glow lit Gabrielle's skin and caused her hair to shimmer in the silver light. Her face in repose looked so peaceful. Laying on her back like that she looked so open, so vulnerable and defenseless. Xena ached inside, wanting nothing more than to take the girl into her arms and hold her tightly against her chest. She wanted to bury her face into those ripe, shapely breasts-- Gabrielle turned over and in the process pulled the cover up to her chin. Xena sighed in disappointment and turned away from Gabrielle. As her head hit the pillow her own exhaustion overcame her and she feel asleep almost instantly-- a deep, unguarded sleep with no nightmares. Just dreams, wonderful dreams of making love to the Amazon Commander, who kept turning into Gabrielle...

Gabrielle pretended to be asleep as she heard the door to the room open and Xena finally return from the Commander's tent. She didn't want Xena to know that she had been unable to sleep without her. When she heard a soft splash of water she opened her eyes carefully, and then had to bite her lip to prevent her sharp intake of breath from being audible.

She watched Xena in profile as she sat on the edge of the large copper basin. Her face was to the window and the moonlight bathed her face and body. She looked completely relaxed: her full lips wet and parted sensually, glistened in the ethereal light, her bronze skin shone and her breasts hung down, heavy and full. Gabrielle followed the path of Xena's hands as they traced across her body, and as they cupped the water in the tub to pour it down over herself. Gabrielle doubted that she had ever seen anything more beautiful. She watched in rapt attention as the water flowed down her belly and between her legs and Gabrielle's heart skipped several beats.

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle lay very still as Xena climbed into the bed beside her. Then she felt the covers slip from her body but even with her eyes closed she could feel Xena watching her. It took all her effort to keep her eyes closed, her breathing deep and regular and to stay still as Xena's eyes thoroughly explored her naked body. Her effort failed so before her body could betray her she turned away from Xena and pulled the blankets over herself, mimicking an unconscious gesture. When she heard Xena sigh in disappointment Gabrielle couldn't help but smile, rolling over and grinning into the pillow.

Gabrielle was relieved to find Xena still sleeping when she woke. It gave her time to make her preparations. Gabrielle couldn't remember if she had ever seen Xena asleep in the morning before. She always woke so impossibly early, but she was sleeping peacefully now; a small smile on her lips. A pang of jealousy ran through her as she realized the cause; she was jealous of the Commander for taking Xena last night. Oh well, Gabrielle sighed. At least it seemed to be good for Xena, and, she thought with a wry smile, the most important thing was that Xena was in her bed this morning and not the Commander's. Gabrielle herself was quite tired. She had a hard time falling asleep. Laying next to Xena her body was restless and her mind kept wandering back to the sight of Xena in the Commander's tent -- erotic images of Xena's pleasure knifed through her, chasing sleep away. After more time past without sleep coming for her, Gabrielle was tempted to get a blanket and curl up beside the hearth. But the part of her that wanted to stay close beside Xena won out in the end so she stayed and she stayed awake.

At first light she heard the sounds of the amazon's breaking camp, and was relieved to know that the Commander was finally gone. After the sun finished rising, Gabrielle was finally able to drift off. But now it was at least mid morning, she thought to herself. While Xena continued to sleep, she would take the opportunity set up a few things. Today was going to be the day when Gabrielle made her move.

"Wake up, sleepyhead. Oh, but I've always wanted to say that-- "

Xena bolted awake, reflexively grabbing for the sword that lay on the floor next to her. But when she opened her eyes and saw what awaited her, she nearly dropped the sword back on the ground.

A virtual banquet was spread out on a cloth at the foot of the huge bed-- fresh baked bread still warm from the oven, hot cider, honey, two kinds of cheeses, butter, olives, pomegranates, grapes and slabs of sizzling hot bacon. Her stomach growled audibly from the tantalizing mixture of smells. The room was dark-- it was stormy outside-- but a cheerful fire blazed in the hearth. Steam rose from the copper basin at the foot of the bed and a huge cauldron of water hung above the fire-- more hot water to replenish the bath. Sitting up, Xena could see red and white rose petals floating in the water while burning candles surrounded both the bed and the bath. She was overwhelmed, and it took her a moment to find words.

"What's the occasion?" was all she managed to say.

"A day off for the Warrior Princess and her faithful traveling companion." Gabrielle was smiling gently at Xena. Gabrielle was wearing a robe that tied closed in the front with a sash, a robe Xena had never seen before, so she guessed it must have come with the room. Her hair was wet from the bath. Xena could not believe she slept through all of this activity.

"Hmm-- sounds wonderful. But where did you get all this-- "

"They know how to treat their princesses well around here. And besides, I promised to entertain the guests later tonight with tales of the mighty Warrior Princess!"

Xena chuckled deep in her throat and reached down to grab a piece of bread. And stopped in mid motion when she noticed Gabrielle staring at her, eyes wide. She looked down at herself but could find nothing out of the ordinary. Then she realized that Gabrielle was reacting to her completely naked body, now uncovered as she reached for the food.

"Sorry," Xena mumbled, gathering the blankets to her chest.

"No!" Xena, surprised by the forcefulness of Gabrielle's reaction watched her young friend carefully as she came to sit next to her on the bed. Placing a hand over Xena's she pulled down gently, causing the blankets gathered in Xena's fist to fall away.

"No," Gabrielle said again, softer this time after swallowing hard. " look-- you are so beautiful Xena. Please don't...don't cover yourself."

Xena arched an eyebrow at Gabrielle's words and she watched as Gabrielle turned away, quickly dropping her shaking hand and blushing to the roots of her hair. The tension between them suddenly became so thick it was palpable, and Xena didn't know how to ease it. After a silent moment, Xena took back Gabrielle's hand and pulled her further onto the bed, the spread of food between them.

"O.K. Then get up here and eat with me," Xena told her.

After a few minutes the tension faded, and Gabrielle chatted away as the two women ate their fill, Xena relieved to feel things going back to normal. But she couldn't help noticing that, despite her request, Gabrielle made a special effort to keep her eyes fixed above Xena's shoulders. Since Gabrielle still seemed uncomfortable with her nakedness, Xena would have suggested that she put her clothes on for the sake of her excessive modesty, but Gabrielle had asked her not to, so she didn't.

But over all things seemed smooth, which relieved Xena to no end. She had been worried about leaving Gabrielle alone for most of the night, and concerned that she would be upset about her being with the Amazon Commander.

But that didn't seem to be the case at all. In fact, Gabrielle seemed fine about it all, and to be particularly enjoying Xena's company this morning. She was blushing a little more than usual, though, causing Xena to wonder if it had something to do with last night. Other than that, things seemed easier between them than it had in days. Perhaps it was a good idea for Xena to go with Nyame last night. It had certainly taken some of the edge off, as far as she was concerned, and she felt much more in control of her unruly passions. And, truth be told, it was sweet to pretend that it was she and Gabrielle who shared the morning after, since it could never be. No matter how much Xena wanted it. Xena's eyes burned at that thought, and she fought back a sudden urge to tear up-- she didn't want to ruin the lightness, and Gabrielle would never understand. No, she would enjoy what they could have, and settle for that. And if Xena let herself indulge in her little morning-after fantasy, it wouldn't cause any harm...

It wasn't even that much of a stretch-- everything about how Gabrielle was acting seemed especially loving. It wasn't just the outrageously romantic setting. It also had to do with how-- solicitous-- Gabrielle was being: putting butter on the bread before handing it to her, refilling her glass and when their hands touched, letting her fingers linger just a little longer than usual-- Wait a minute!

"Gabrielle," The edge in Xena's of voice startled Gabrielle, forced her to look up, to meet Xena's eyes, and she looked like a snared rabbit.


"Gabrielle," Xena said again, trying to be more gentle in tone. "What is going on here? Why are you doing all this?"

"I told you, its a day off for the Warrior-- "

Gabrielle's word froze in her throat as Xena leaned forward to grip both Gabrielle's arms just below the shoulders. Her intense gaze was electric blue and it pierced Gabrielle, nailing her in place, forcing Gabrielle to maintain eye contact. But she couldn't withstand it and managed to tear her eyes from Xena's and look down instead.

That was a mistake. Xena was leaning forward over the picnic on the bed, completely nude except where a corner of a blanket draped across a creamy-bronze thigh. In the candle light, against the steel gray sky framed by the window, Xena looked to Gabrielle like a Goddess incarnate. Gabrielle's throat went dry. She felt almost overwhelmed by a need to touch Xena, to reach out, to act. Her bones ached.

"Why, Gabrielle..." Xena ducked her head slightly to force Gabrielle's eyes to her own once more, and it pulled Gabrielle, demanding the truth to come forth.

"I had to do something!" Gabrielle cried out at last. "I'm doing this because you let a stranger do for you what I can only dream about. I'm doing this because it is all you'll let me do..."

Now it was Xena's turn to freeze up, and she closed her eyes against what she could just as easily feel with her heart. Finally there was no where to hide from the truth: Gabrielle's truth and her own as well. "Oh, Gabrielle-- " Xena started as soon as she could find her voice, "I... I'm not right for you. You may think you want me-- "

"No!" Gabrielle put her fingers against Xena's lips, instantly silencing her. "You listen! I know I want you. Need you. Listen-- " The feel of Xena's lips against her fingertips was exquisite, and distracting. Feeling her lips, seeing Xena's eyes squeeze shut, hearing her sharp intake of breath made Gabrielle's heart hurt. She took Xena's hand and pressed it against the ache in her heart--

"Listen-- " she said again, and Xena felt Gabrielle's heart pounding against her palm. Gabrielle's finger still rested on her lips, shaking slightly. Eyes still closed and without thought the tip of Xena's tongue left her mouth to taste Gabrielle's finger, slowly wetting it. Then she felt that wet finger begin to trace a moist outline of her lips, gliding smoothly over wet softness.

As soon as Xena's tongue touched her finger Gabrielle shuttered visibly and she felt a tight curling sensation between her legs. Then, what had been an agonizingly slow stroking picked up pace until Gabrielle's finger swirled faster, painting across both lips at once. Xena's eyes flew open and a piercing blue fire burned into Gabrielle, causing her heart under Xena's palm to skip several beats. Xena closed her free hand around Gabrielle's exploring finger, stilling it before taking it fully into her mouth, sucking in the exact rhythm, Gabrielle dimly realized, as the pounding in her groin. Leaning into Xena, Gabrielle's lips covered both her own finger and Xena's lips. Little moans came from the back of Gabrielle's throat as she pressed her mouth to Xena's, and finally freeing her finger, she wrapped both hands in Xena's thick hair to pull their mouths together more tightly. The kiss became more hungry, more desperate and the moaning against each other's mouths grew louder.

Gabrielle's core was aching now, craving pressure. She slid forward and straddled Xena's thigh, sighing in relief from the contact. But the relief lasted only a second before she needed more pressure to sooth the burning so she began pressing her hips down hard onto Xena.

Xena was shocked at how wet Gabrielle was, and she sighed at the feel of that slick warmth on her thigh. Breaking the kiss to breathe, Xena wrapped long fingers around Gabrielle's hips and pulled the girl more tightly against herself until they were breast to breast, Gabrielle straddling Xena's stomach.

"Oh... yes-- " Xena sighed. The softness was exquisite. Like a cloud had come down from the sky to rest in her arms, Gabrielle's breasts pushed against her own making her dizzy. And before she had a chance to recover, Gabrielle's mouth was on her breast while with her hand she traced Xena's other nipple along the lines of her palm. Gabrielle's lips and tongue were licking and pulling on her, her moans of pleasure slightly muffled by her ministrations and then she sucked Xena's breast as far into her mouth as she could and the feel of it was driving Xena insane. The desire she felt was too much. Xena was scaring herself. "Control yourself!" Xena told herself forcefully, fighting as hard as she had in any battle, trying to stop this situation from getting away with her any further. This was Gabrielle, for the Gods' sake. Gabrielle, who deserved the best--

Xena grasped Gabrielle's forearms to hold the voracious little bard away from her body, to keep Gabrielle from touching her again and making her loose control.

"Don't-- "

"You want me-- "

"Too much..."

Gabrielle sat back on her heels without letting Xena release her grasp. "Xena..." she began in a whisper. Her lips were wet and swollen, the pupils of her eyes wide, barely focused. She shook herself, trying to regain the equilibrium stolen by Xena's breast in her mouth. Trying to find the words to convince Xena that she had what she needed. That Xena was what she needed. "Xena-- I want it to be you, I've prayed that it would be you. I love you more then I knew was possible. All night," again she leaned into Xena, breast to breast, and whispered in her ear, "All night I dreamed that it was me who was with you instead of that Amazon Commander. That it was me who touched you," Gabrielle's arms circled Xena's neck. "That I was the one to please you, to make you cry out-- to make you cry out *my* name..."

If it hadn't take all of her energy to fight back the desire which threatened to overwhelm her, Xena would have laughed at the irony of Gabrielle's words. Despite her best efforts she felt herself slipping, her control shredding, and it terrified her. She felt the strength melting from her restraining arms, and Gabrielle pressed her advantage to clasp Xena's thigh between her own once more. The renewed contact sent a bolt of lightening down Xena's spine.

"That it was you who would be the first to touch me, to touch me deeply. Xena, please..."

Oh sweet gods... this was pure torture! Fists clasped at her sides, jaw clenched, Xena steeled herself against Gabrielle's passion for her. If she let herself feel it, it would be her undoing. She knew this was wrong, even if Gabrielle didn't, so she would have to be strong for both of them. But Gabrielle obviously thought she loved her, and Xena didn't want to hurt her if she didn't have to. She needed to explain, to make Gabrielle understand why this could not be, to convince her of the truth:

"I don't deserve you-- "

Gabrielle grabbed Xena's chin, forcing her to look into her eyes, eyes that flashed in anger. "How dare you take my choice away from me!"

The intensity of Gabrielle's fury surprised them both. But Gabrielle's chin jutted forward anyway, her lips pressed into a thin line, and she stared Xena down. No one had ever been able to do that before. Xena's eyes dropped, and she looked down at her own hands, now resting in her lap. Silence filled the room. "You're right," Xena managed finally, her voice soft and shaken, but still it filled the silence. "You are right. I am trying to make your choice for you. But I don't mean to condescend-- "

"Then stop. Stop confusing inexperience with stupidity." Gabrielle smiled at that, and it broke some of the tension between them. Then she reached for Xena's hand, still curled in a fist, and with her eyes closed she kissed the knuckles. Forcing Xena's hand to uncurl, she twined her fingers with the warrior's, creating a fist between them. And when she opened her eyes again to look at Xena, she couldn't help but see the love there. Genuine love, not some misplaced crush. It was then that Xena understood: Gabrielle wasn't the one who had been kidding herself.

Pulling their fist to her chest, Gabrielle leaned in and spoke softly into Xena's ear: "You are my choice. I choose you, so stop fighting it. I love you, and I'm going to show you-- I need to. Show me how to make love to you, Xena..."

That did it. Gabrielle's plea shot through Xena's body and into her innermost core with the force of a flaming arrow. It was pointless to fight it any more. Gabrielle had decimated the last of Xena's defenses, the last of her control was ripped away. She gave in to the desire that had haunted her for so long. A low chest-rumbling growl came from deep in Xena's throat as she took hold of Gabrielle's shoulders, twisted and pushed Gabrielle down against the bed, thighs holding Gabrielle in place with a scissor-like grip. She could feel Gabrielle pulsing against her leg. Gabrielle pulled Xena's face down onto hers and let Xena take her mouth. She sucked on Xena's tongue, pulling it deeper into her mouth while her hips pushed up against Xena's leg reflexively in a matching cadence, her whole body writhing.

Although she was barely able to form a coherent thought, Xena was amazed at how Gabrielle's passion matched her own. She lay her full weight on Gabrielle, crushing the younger woman to her, but when she heard Gabrielle cry out against her mouth Xena pushed herself back up, struggling for control, and she searched Gabrielle's face intently.

"Gods, did I hurt you?"


"Are you sure?"

"Yes Xena. Please don't stop-- " both women struggled for breath.

"I've wanted you for so long--."

"Yes," Gabrielle sighed, smiling as Xena's words warmed her heart. It was such an unreservedly happy smile, that Xena was forced to respond in kind before finishing what she had started to say. "I need to slow down. I don't want to hurt you-- Give me a minute..."

Sitting back fully on her heels, Xena gently took Gabrielle's hands into her own and closed her eyes, trying to control her breathing. If Gabrielle trusted her this much, she would rather die than betray that trust. She wanted this to be perfect for her.

After a moment, Xena opened her eyes again. The heat that burned there was just as hot, only slightly dampened now, like a fire banked for a long slow burning. Leaning over Gabrielle once more, Xena gently parted Gabrielle's lips with her own, tongue seeking out Gabrielle's. And then their tongues met and entwined as they took the time for careful exploration. Then Gabrielle reached up and curled her fingers into Xena's hair to pull her down into a firmer kiss. She moaned into Xena's lips, pressing her breasts against Xena's. They felt so full and heavy against her-- she had to have her mouth on them again-- and she slid down beneath Xena, far enough to claim her prize. She was almost there when Xena pulled herself up just enough to let her breast sway freely, taut nipple barely brushing Gabrielle's lips, and smiled at the frustration plainly visible on the bard's face. But her teasing did not last long. Looking up at Xena with a wicked glint in her eyes, Gabrielle wrapped both hands around Xena's breast and sucked the nipple into her mouth, making it slide between her teeth and the tip of her tongue. "That sure wiped the smile off her face," was the last coherent thought Gabrielle could form, because Xena's breast in her mouth was having a devastating effect on her. She could feel an delicious twitching of muscles in her groin and it was making her dizzy, making her want...

"More-- " Gabrielle breathed against Xena, causing a tingling all down Xena's spine and the back of her legs. Xena looked down while Gabrielle pulled more of her breast into her warm mouth, sucking her, and just watching Gabrielle lose herself, hearing the little noises she was making was almost enough to make her come right then, but she fought it back. She wanted to stay focused on Gabrielle's pleasure. Reluctantly she pulled herself from Gabrielle's mouth and began to kiss her throat, tonguing the pulse point that pounded just above the girl's collarbone. Moaning, Gabrielle tilted her head back against the bed to give Xena better access, but before she could settle into the sensations this invoked, Xena's mouth was on her own breasts. Her mouth began excruciatingly slow caresses, very light, but then the pressure and the speed began to build. Finally Xena wrapped large hands around them both to pull both nipples into her mouth at once.

Gabrielle was sure she would pass out. She had no idea how-- sensitive-- her own breasts were. She hadn't felt this when she had touched them herself, but as Xena let go to bury her face and hair in the valley between them, moaning into them, licking and caressing, sucking-- She tried to hold her head up to watch as well as feel and hear, but it was useless. Her head fell back down, and she closed her eyes, dimly hearing the sound of her own voice, moaning without pause.

Xena began sliding lower and Gabrielle almost cried out in frustration as Xena's mouth left her breasts so lonely. It didn't last long because Xena was tracing the outline of her navel with little flicks of her tongue before sliding down the path laid by a light dusting of hair.

Feeling Gabrielle's body begin to spasm Xena knew she didn't have much time left, and she relished in Gabrielle's responsiveness: so fierce and so unexpected. Although it shouldn't have been a surprise as Gabrielle was certainly passionate by nature. The thought made Xena smile as she slid her tongue into curly wet pubic hair, parting a path for her descent.

"What-- what are you doing?" Gabrielle gasped, looking down to where Xena's mouth was headed. Xena looked up, met Gabrielle's eyes with a sweetly innocent smile. "I'm making love to a beautiful woman," Xena answered. And with a quirk of her eyebrow, she added, "don't worry. All will be revealed." Gabrielle laughed and her head fell back on the bed. Only to pop up again as Xena slid a warm wet tongue inside her.

"Oh...sweet...Gods!" Gabrielle groaned, head falling back once more. She had never felt anything like this before-- hadn't even imagined anything could feel like this. Gabrielle moaned, loud and low as Xena's mouth wrapped around the nub of flesh that was higher and harder then the rest. Xena's tongue coaxed and teased, flicking back and forth in a circular motion, and Gabrielle's hips began to take on a life of their own, bucking and straining to meet Xena's delicious mouth.

With one arm, Xena clamped down across Gabrielle's hips to keep them from getting away from her. She didn't want to lose contact for even a second, the feel and taste of Gabrielle was turning her own legs to jelly, the smell of her sex made her dizzy in the head. Then she felt it: muscles began tensing against her tongue, and her own inner muscles clenched in joyful empathy. She reached above her and clasped a hand over each of Gabrielle's breasts, then Gabrielle's hands covered hers.

"Xena..." Gabrielle was falling, lost in the waves of ever-building pleasure. She felt overwhelmed and she needed to hear the sound of her voice, to hear Xena's voice.




All movement stopped.

"I'm here Gabrielle. Right here." Gabrielle could hear the concern in Xena's voice as she took Gabrielle's hands in her own with a reassuring grip.

"It feels...too good... Is it... is that OK?"

"It is. Very OK."

Gabrielle sighed in relief. Xena could feel the tension leave the young woman's body.

"Good. I'm glad."

Xena thought she should check before continuing. "Do you need me to stop-- "

"No!" They both smiled at Gabrielle's emphatic response. "Please, keep doing...whatever it is you were doing..."

Xena gently kissed the inside of Gabrielle's thighs and nuzzled her face into her hair. "Let yourself go Gabrielle. I'll catch you. I promise." And that was the end of intelligible speech. Xena ran her tongue the full length of Gabrielle's swollen labia, moaning against the languid textures filling her mouth. Gabrielle's body seemed to pick up right where it left off, because with that one stroke her hips rose up and then froze just before violent convulsions racked her whole body. She clawed rigid fingers in Xena's hair as a loud cry tore from her throat-- so loud it made her own ears ring. The vibrations didn't stop, even as Xena moved up Gabrielle's body, replacing her tongue with a thigh so she could hold Gabrielle tightly and everywhere at once.

Xena lay on top of Gabrielle, the weight of her upper body braced against her elbows while her hands stroked Gabrielle's hair. She could still feel little ripples against her thigh where it pressed between the bard's legs, like aftershocks from an earthquake. Looking down, she searched Gabrielle's face, and what she saw there made Xena's heart lurch forward against her chest. Gabrielle's lips, barely parted, were full and flushed as she tried to recapture her breath. Her whole face glowed. A dazed smile played across her lips. Several moments passed until she finally opened her eyes to look up at Xena.

It took a moment for her eyes to come into focus but when they did, she saw Xena watching her, Xena's face flooded with complete and unreserved joy. Gabrielle had never seen Xena look like that. Reaching up to touch wet lips, her smiled widened.

"That... I mean you..." Laughing at her own highly uncharacteristic loss for words, and with a slight shrug of shoulders, she finally added, "I didn't know..."

I didn't either, Xena realized, and then she felt her insides melting with the love she felt for the little bard, and needing to feel her close, she slid one hand behind Gabrielle's shoulders and with the other she gently cradled her head. Xena sat up and turned to place her legs over the side of the bed, pulling the young woman up and into her arms. Gabrielle rested her forehead against Xena's strong shoulder.

"Gabrielle..." Xena started, running her fingers through Gabrielle's hair. "I love you so much..."

"And I love you Xena, so much." Gabrielle sighed against Xena's shoulder, feeling completely content. "I can't even tell you... I've never felt this...this way before."

Xena poured light kisses down Gabrielle's neck and shoulders until their lips joined for a searing kiss. The kind that was soft but intense and it instantly re-kindled Gabrielle's passion for the warrior. She was straddled across Xena's lap and the feel of strong thighs under her caused a powerful throbbing inside, forcing her to grind swollen lips against Xena's belly while moaning into her mouth, moans that Xena swallowed with her kisses.

The sounds Gabrielle was making caused the hair to stand up on the nape of Xena's neck. As Gabrielle moved against her Xena felt a renewed warm wetness slick her thigh. Needing to see Gabrielle's face, she broke the kiss, and Xena's breath caught in her throat once more. Gabrielle's eyes were green fire burning into her soul. Her breathing was ragged and her throat pulsed like a second heartbeat in the soft hollow just above her collarbone, and Xena closed her mouth over it to feel the pounding against her lips.

Reaching beneath Gabrielle, Xena took a finger and slid the tip carefully into her, dipping, swirling, sighing at the exquisite textures she found there. Gabrielle cried out, hips lurching forward reflexively in an attempt to pull more of Xena inside her, but then yelped at a short sharp pain. Xena pulled her hand back a little, saying:

"Careful, slow first-- "

"No! More... Xena please--"

Xena lips curved into a smile against Gabrielle's throat and then she looked up, meeting Gabrielle's eyes, trying not to laugh at the frustration she saw there. "I don't want to hurt you Gabrielle. Trust me, OK?" Gabrielle gave Xena a heart-melting smile as she nodded her assent. The gravity of what they were about to do suddenly hit Xena, and her brow furrowed. There would be no turning back for Gabrielle if they... "Are you sure you want me to... I don't have to-- "

"I want you to." Gabrielle wanted to feel Xena's touch deep inside her so badly. Xena's touch filled her dreams. She felt a tremor pass through her in anticipation. Meeting Xena's gaze, Gabrielle's face set with determination as she added in a hoarse whisper: "Do it, Xena-- "

A blast of desire shot through Xena, and she fought back the orgasm that threatened to shatter her control. She needed that control just then to do what Gabrielle asked of her. To do it right, anyway, and she swore silently to herself and to Gabrielle that she would do it right, holding it like the profound gift it was. Xena pulled her close against her own body again and then slowly, gently pushed her finger deeper into Gabrielle, feeling tight liquid velvet pulsing against her finger.

"Gods... yes..." Gabrielle moaned as Xena added a second finger to the first. Needing some kind of anchor, Gabrielle took hold of Xena's shoulders and pressed her face into her breasts. But as Xena's finger tips pushed deeper, pressing against the thin barrier inside, a tremor of fear shot through Gabrielle and her hands tightened reflexively on Xena's shoulders. She knew how much this would hurt-- she'd heard enough horror stories--

Sensing her fear, Xena pulled the young woman closer still, and with her mouth against Gabrielle's ear, she began whispering a litany of incoherencies that calmed her, gentled her. But Gabrielle could make out the "I love you" parts, and it made her heart melt. Xena kept cradling Gabrielle's head in her large hand and with one final upward push, she broke through to Gabrielle's core. Another sharp pain shot through her but it quickly dissolved into an equally poignant ecstacy, causing her to gasp in wonder: "Oh, Xena..."

Xena pushed deeper still, and Gabrielle's hips picked up a slow, primal rocking motion. She found Xena's breasts again, and sucked a full nipple into her mouth. She tongued and sucked at Xena's breast with a rhythm matching the movement of Xena's long fingers working magic, burning across all the inner surfaces, causing her to grind down harder on Xena's hand.

Gabrielle's head fell forward, feeling feint from the sensations overwhelming her, and a tangle of sweat-soaked red-blonde hair fell before her face like a curtain. The girl was almost limp in her arms. Xena pushed her own thighs apart, spreading Gabrielle's legs even further with the same motion and as she pushed a third finger deep inside. The palm of her hand pressed against nerve endings already swollen to capacity. With a final forward lurch, Gabrielle threw herself hard against Xena's body, almost knocking her backwards. Gabrielle yelled, loud, head thrown back, her fingers digging into Xena's shoulders like they were the only anchor in this fiercest of storms. Her muscles convulsing, she melted onto Xena's hand. Resting her head against Xena's full breasts Gabrielle waited for the equilibrium the warrior had just decimated to return.

It took Gabrielle awhile before she could even think about letting go of Xena. Sitting across her thighs, legs wrapped around her hips, arms stretched up to clasp her hands behind Xena's neck, she buried her face, nuzzling deep into Xena's breasts, and stayed there. The center of Gabrielle's being still shuttered, so she pressed herself into Xena, her swollen sex pulsing against the soft plane of the warrior's stomach. She had never felt this content before, and she smiled, thinking that she would die happy if only she could be in Xena's arms like this when death came for her.

Nuzzling deeper into her breasts, she pulled the scent of Xena deep into her lungs, and then moaned as Xena cupped Gabrielle's hips firmly, pulling them tighter against herself. Finally Gabrielle managed to pull herself away from her exquisite nest to meet Xena's gaze--eyes lit with a fire so hot that it burned blue locked with Gabrielle's, and where before she couldn't conceive of moving, now there was no way she could stop her hands and mouth from devouring every square inch of Xena's body.

With surprising strength she pushed Xena back onto the bed, climbed up her body to take Xena's mouth with her own. She shifted her legs so one knee pushed hard between Xena's legs, slippery wet where skin pressed against skin. Xena cried out from the pressure and then Gabrielle attached her mouth to Xena's neck, biting and sucking.

"Yes Xena," Gabrielle whispered into Xena's ear, voice hoarse from overuse and threaded through with desire. "Tell me how it feels..." but Gabrielle's voice trailed off, became muffled as she took one of Xena's breasts in her mouth again, pressing the hard nipple against her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. She knew she would never get enough of Xena's breasts...

The feel of Gabrielle's mouth on her, the sound of her voice, caused Xena's body to writhe uncontrollably as she wrapped her fingers into Gabrielle's hair, pushing her head down tighter to herself. "Tell me-- " Gabrielle managed once more.

"Oh Gabrielle, it is too good..."


"So sweet..."



Xena came with a soul shattering force, orgasm taking her before Gabrielle could even touch her. The pressure of Gabrielle's leg against her, the wantonness of Gabrielle's words was more than enough to send her. That and the careful restraint she had fought so hard to maintain while making love to Gabrielle. And Gabrielle held her shuttering body tight against her as the waves continued to pass over her.

"Xena," Gabrielle's heart was fairly bursting against her chest. The power and beauty of Xena's surrender overwhelmed her. She needed to look at her. She needed the contact, needed to see Xena's face to help her get grounded again. Reaching up, she touched two gentle fingers to Xena's cheek, the contact helping her to feel less like she was sliding off the earth. But then Xena opened her eyes, locked her gaze with Gabrielle's, and grasping those fingers she slid them slowly into her mouth, rubbing them in and out across her bottom teeth, tongue flicking and curling around the tips.

"Xena," Gabrielle whispered, watching Xena's mouth with all her attention. "I want to taste you, do what you did to me..."

"Yes Gabrielle, do it-- "

Gabrielle worked her way down Xena's powerful body. Searching and tasting with her lips and tongue, her fingers stroking every surface, every plane, as if trying to commit Xena's body to memory. She was simply amazed at the effect she seemed to be having over the warrior, Xena's body shuttering under her touch. As Gabrielle continued her tortuous descent, Xena slid her hands down to the inside of her thighs, parting her legs a little with her hands, adjusting herself to give Gabrielle the access they both craved. Then her fingers once again twined in Gabrielle's hair while she touched first the tip of her tongue, then took her whole mouth and buried it in Xena's sex, groaning at the taste of her, intoxicating, like a fine musky wine. She felt muscles contracting against her tongue, and Gabrielle was lost in the changing textures under her mouth, first wet silk, now a soft velvet... Sadly, Xena had little time to give to Gabrielle's joyful exploration of taste, texture and smell. She had wanted Gabrielle for too long, and making love to Gabrielle had made her own body more than ready, the first orgasm merely fueled her burning. But this time she had the presence to fight it at first, afraid of the depth of her own desire, of the power of her impending release.

She lost this fight. The sensation started first in the center of her being, like a distant echo, then a series of explosions tore through her body, reaching deeper and farther with each convulsion. Arching her back, her head whipped from side to side, her hair draping over her face and catching between parted lips, every muscle in her body corded up tight and rigid. Xena felt like she needed to scream to keep her head from popping off. Gabrielle clung to Xena's thighs with all she was worth, and when the loud yell tore from Xena's throat Gabrielle's heart jumped into her mouth.

Gabrielle rested her cheek against Xena's thigh while catching her breath. With the tip of her finger she traced the line of muscle along the inside of Xena's leg. She looked up, and saw that Xena's eyes we squeezed tightly shut.

"Xena?" Gabrielle was moving up Xena's body until they were eye to eye, Gabrielle's hands on either side of Xena's head, bracing her upper body. "Are you OK?"

Slowly Xena opened her eyes and Gabrielle could see that they brimmed with unshed tears.

"Did I...did I hurt you? Did I do something wrong?"

Xena cupped her hand to Gabrielle's cheek and gave her a small shaky smile that forced a few tears to fall. "No, Gabrielle -- You did everything right," Xena told her emphatically, though her voice was barely above a whisper. "Everything..."

Looking down at the warrior's face, Gabrielle felt her stomach knot up. She had never seen Xena look so-- vulnerable before. She looked so young, so sweet... Leaning down, she kissed each eyelid, and let Xena pull her down and into her arms. Gabrielle's head was tucked between Xena's breasts, ear against her pounding heart. Holding Gabrielle tightly, she brushed a trembling hand through Gabrielle's hair. "I love you," Xena whispered into Gabrielle's hair, and heard a mumbled "Love you, too," in response. Xena' felt Gabrielle's body relax into sleep, realizing how exhausted she must be from all the new feelings and physical sensations she had just experienced.

Chapter Five "I will lean into you, you can be the wind
I will open my mouth and you can come rushing in
You can rush in so hard, and make it so I can't breathe
I breathe to much anyway
I can do that any day..."

Ani Difranco

Xena was exhausted but couldn't sleep. It wasn't just the distracting feel of Gabrielle's body on top of her. She felt completely overwhelmed by what had just happened. She had fought this for so long, squelching her desire and love for Gabrielle, convinced that letting it go would cause Gabrielle harm. She didn't want to take advantage of her or betray her trust. She wouldn't even let herself tell Gabrielle her feelings for her, now remembering the countless times she struggled to keep her true feelings for the bard hidden away. Biting her tongue before saying too much. She was convinced that there was someone out there who would be right for Gabrielle, and in any case she knew she was not the one.

But now she realized the other reason she kept her feelings from Gabrielle: She was terrified of any strong emotion, so afraid it would cause her to lose herself once more. Making love with Gabrielle showed her just how powerful her feelings were, she had never in her life felt anything like what she had just experienced. It was hard to remember that it was Gabrielle who was the virgin here.

Xena sighed deeply, trying to calm the pounding of her heart. Looking down at the top of Gabrielle's head she felt the tears come again, but this time she didn't fight them. She let them roll silently down her face. Before Gabrielle she couldn't remember when she had cried last-- when her brother was killed she felt the tears dry up inside her. Gabrielle taught her how to cry again, how to feel again. It was scary, but it felt so good.

Xena was beginning to understand that letting herself feel again did not put her at risk of losing herself like she had before when the rage became everything. She wasn't losing herself, but rather regaining herself. It was a hard lesson to learn. It was amazing how fearless she was in battle, and so terrified at feeling anything.

Clasping her hands around the curve of Gabrielle's lower back she pulled the sleeping woman closer to herself, placing gentle kisses on her forehead, careful not to wake her. She wanted to hold her like this forever-- she felt a sudden sharp twinge in her stomach at the thought of Gabrielle leaving her. Will she stay with me? Xena asked herself, praying that she would. Although she knew that it would break her heart if Gabrielle left her, she knew she would always be thankful for everything the young woman had given her.

Xena woke to Gabrielle looking intently at her face, smiling as Xena opened her eyes. "Hello," Xena said, smiling back at the bard while brushing a loose strand of hair from her face. "Hi." Gabrielle felt suddenly very shy, and she wasn't sure why. It was a strange time to start, she realized with a rueful smile. She had to push hard through all of her own insecurities to seduce Xena, and now that it had worked, it seemed as though they were all catching up with her again. When she woke from her unexpected nap she felt completely disoriented, it taking a moment for her to realize what had happened-- of course finding her naked body entwined with Xena's was a very good hint. But she couldn't believe that she had fallen asleep while--

"Xena. I fell asleep. I'm sorry. How could I-- "

"Its fine Gabrielle, really. It happens. Its a good sign." Xena smiled as relief washed over Gabrielle's face. "I slept, too. It felt wonderful to hold you against me, so soft..." Xena added in that low smokey voice that made Gabrielle's pulse race and her eyes glassy. Xena liked the effect her voice seemed to have on Gabrielle, and it gave her some ideas...

Suddenly Xena felt concerned about how Gabrielle was doing. This was all so new, and Xena had been so caught up in her own unexpected reactions that she hadn't really checked in with her-- "Gabrielle, how do you feel? Are you.. OK...with what happened?"

"I would say more than OK, Xena. It was... you are... beautiful, and I've wanted you, wanted this, for so long..." Looking down at Xena, Gabrielle's eyes shown in the soft light.

"Not as long as I have," Xena told her before letting her head fall back as Gabrielle kissed along the line of her jaw. Before she became completely distracted Xena shifted, turning over so Gabrielle's back was on the bed, her head cradled in the crook of Xena's shoulder. With her free hand she traced her fingertips lightly between Gabrielle's breasts and across her abdomen, causing muscles to twitch in their wake.

"I know this is all new to you, so if you have any questions-- any at all, you ask me, OK?"

Gabrielle nodded in response, not trusting herself to speak. Xena's strokes were growing longer-- now trailing down her thighs, tracing a path of fire across her skin.

"And I'm going to ask, too; ask what you like, to learn your body-- what feels good. How does this feel?" Xena asked then traced her fingertip very slowly along the underside of Gabrielle's breasts.


"And this?" Xena's finger was circling Gabrielle's nipple. Gabrielle managed another nod.

"Your breasts are so beautiful. I love touching them," Xena whispered, then smiled as both nipples hardened in response. "Look how hard your nipples are now-- " Smiling, Xena lightly pinched one, then the other. Gabrielle gasped, mesmerized. Xena whispered: "My nipples get hard just feeling yours." Xena took the bard's hand and placed it over her own breast. A taut nipple dug into her palm. "Oh, that feels good," Xena shivered. "Can you feel how hard they are from you?"

Xena's voice was having a profound effect on Gabrielle's body. She could feel the hair on the nape of her neck stand on end. Shuttering, Gabrielle began to gently squeeze Xena's breast with her hand, thumb stroking across a swollen nipple. Xena's head fell back and she licked her lips unconsciously, her fingers tracing over Gabrielle's hand, urging her to squeeze harder. When she did Xena's hips jerked forward in response, and when she spoke again her voice was even deeper, even more sensual than Gabrielle thought possible:

"I want to feel your breasts with my mouth, to suck your nipples-- would you like that?"

"Please-- "

Xena shivered from the Gabrielle's pleading tone, then gave her a toothy grin. This was really fun: "Please what, Gabrielle? Suck them?"

Gabrielle's nipples burned from being talked about so brazenly and the hungry look in Xena's eyes made them throb. Closing her eyes for just a second she could imagine what it would feel like to have Xena's hot mouth on them. Placing a hand under each of her breasts, Gabrielle lifted them, offering them to Xena. "Yes Xena, put your mouth on them-- "

Xena wet her lips generously with her tongue before wrapping them around the breast closest to her. Gabrielle could hear Xena moan deep in her throat at the contact and the wet sucking, which caused Gabrielle to respond in kind. Grasping the warrior's shoulders, her blunt nails dug into her skin, squeezing reflexively in rhythm with Xena's tongue strokes. Xena's arm was wrapped around Gabrielle's back, and with her free hand she seemed to be touching her everywhere at once. The bard felt herself melting into Xena's embrace. Her eyelids felt thick and heavy but she forced them open to watch the warrior make love to her breasts. Xena was obviously relishing her task-- she was moaning constantly now, and Gabrielle could feel Xena's heavy breasts pushing into her belly. Suddenly she felt Xena's finger dip into her center but Gabrielle groaned in frustration at how quickly she took her hand away. But then Xena spread the wetness she had collected over Gabrielle's nipple, and began to slowly lick it off. Gabrielle swore she could feel every touch in her groin and, watching Xena's face in ecstacy, eyes fluttering shut as she tongued the swollen tip of an aching breast, the bard felt tremors start to run through her bones.

"Xena--" She cried, fingers digging into the warrior's shoulders almost painfully.


"I'm... I'm-- "


"I need...put your fingers in...yes... like that...ohhhh Gods!" Whatever Gabrielle was trying to say got lost in her cries as Xena slid two fingers deep inside. Gabrielle clasped Xena's hips and pulled the warrior tight against her body, using them to drive Xena's hand even deeper. She wrapped her legs around Xena's as the warrior ground her hips into her. She needed Xena to feel what she was feeling with her, so with the last of her concentration she reached down and pressed her hand into Xena's wet center. And as Xena felt those fingers pushing inside her she bit down on the nipple in her mouth and both women shuttered violently as they came.

Xena collapsed her weight onto Gabrielle and the bard squeezed her body tight to her own, nuzzling her head into Xena's neck. They both were breathing hard, and Xena still felt shivers traveling down the back of her legs.

Suddenly, both women startled at the sound of loud knocking on the door to their room.

"What the...what do you want?" Xena yelled at the door, a scowl on her face.

"Xena, the whole town is mobilizing. The Amazon army has been ambushed!"

"What?" Xena and Gabrielle said in unison.

"Hold on a minute," Xena looked down at Gabrielle. "Really bad timing."

"It could've been worse."

Xena barked out a laugh. "I suppose so, but I can't even move to open the door."

"Don't look at me. I can't move until you do. Get up warrior princess, people need you!"

"O.K. I'm moving, but don't think for a second that you get to stay here." Xena leapt from the bed, grabbed a towel to cover herself, and opened the door wide enough to stick her head out.

"What's going on?"

"A messenger from the army just got here." Gabrielle heard a very worried young woman's voice through the door. "The town elders and everyone who can fight are meeting downstairs in the common room. I was sent to bring you."

"We'll be down in just a minute." Xena shut the door, then turned around to look at Gabrielle. "Are you going to come?"

"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss this. And besides, I've got to watch your back, or a certain Amazon Commander certainly will--"

Xena closed the distance between them, and offering Gabrielle a hand, pulled the younger woman from the bed. "Gabrielle, you've got nothing to worry about. I would never...not after..." Xena was suddenly at a loss for words. "I'm just worried about her, that's all. Worried about all of them."

Gabrielle brushed Xena's cheek with her fingertips. "I know. I was just giving you a hard time. And I'm worried, too."

Xena leaned into Gabrielle's palm before taking her fingers and bringing them to her lips. She whispered, "I can still smell-- "

"Xena, don't start, or I won't let you out of here!"

Xena gave the bard a wicked grin and then reached for her leathers. "Alright-- but this isn't over."

"No, its not." Gabrielle waited just long enough for Xena to lean over and grab her boots before giving her rear a firm squeeze. Xena yelped and straightened, then turned around to give Gabrielle her best glare. "As soon as I get a minute, I'm going to get you for that, my little bard."

"Oh, I'm counting on it-- "

Argo was trotting, Gabrielle's least favorite of her strides, the one where she had to cling to Xena or be thrown from the horse. There was no arguing with Xena about riding: They were in a hurry, and that meant Gabrielle had to get on the horse.

Gabrielle watched the landscape jolt by, feeling jolted inside as well. Everything was happening so fast, and there was hardly time to think. They had gotten more details at the impromptu meeting in Themis about what happened on the border. The fight was over-- Krykus' army put in just enough time to beat back the Amazon army, clearing a path for his forces to enter the Amazon territory from the south. Everyone who could fight left Themis to join Nyame's beleaguered forces. No one was sure what the next step was going to be, but they knew that whatever it was, it would have to be taken as soon as possible: The thought of a full out invasion by Krykus was less than appealing.

Xena was determined to get there first-- quite likely at the pace she was setting. There were a few others in Themis who had horses, but no one else had Argo. Before leaving they found out from the messenger that Nyame was unharmed, and Xena wanted to let her know that help was on the way.

Gabrielle wanted to help, but she was also disappointed. She had been looking forward to more time in Themis, and more time exploring the latest developments in her relationship with Xena. She was still feeling shocked and overwhelmed by her success at seducing Xena, and she was feeling a strong need for more time alone with her, not just to continue the glorious love- making, but to let everything sink in-- time to adjust before picking up this frantic pace. She had also felt relieved to have some distance between herself and the war zone. She had just started feeling normal again after witnessing the trauma of that girl's rape, and now they were heading right back into the land being brutalized by Krykus' forces.

Argo took a sudden leap over a log in the road, and Gabrielle would have fallen off if Xena hadn't grabbed her arm.

"Gabrielle, pay attention! You need to hold on tighter. And watch the road."

That was easy for Xena to say. She was the one in front, after all. All Gabrielle could see was Xena's back, and that only when Xena's hair was not in her face. Besides, Gabrielle's concentration was constantly being interrupted by searing erotic images from their love-making. This kind of thing might be ordinary for Xena, but it was Gabrielle's first time, and she was having trouble making the transition back to "normal." Being forced to hold tight to Xena's waist and having her face pressed into Xena's back wasn't helping matters. Xena had the most beautiful back. Long and strong-- powerful. She could feel muscles flexing through the leather of her armor where her cheek was pressed between her shoulder blades. Gabrielle had always loved looking at it, but now, she could touch it. Gabrielle wanted to spend some time exploring Xena's back. Run her tongue down Xena's spine, press her lips into those sweet dimples above her hip- bone--

"Gabrielle! Come on now, hold on!"


Gabrielle slid her hands more tightly around Xena's waist. Goddess but she smelled good. Her hair tickled Gabrielle's face-- reminding her of Xena kissing a path down her body, the feel of that thick silky hair across her hard nipples, Xena's tongue on her belly. And when she kissed down her legs, and her hair brushed along the inside of her thighs-- just the thought made Gabrielle shudder--

"All you alright back there?" Xena turned, trying to look at Gabrielle.

"Yeah. I'm good. Just fine."

"Glad to hear it." Xena gave Gabrielle's hand a quick squeeze before twining their fingers together, and Gabrielle sighed contentedly, resting her face against Xena's back once more. Xena's hand around hers felt really nice. She had such strong hands. Soft, for a warrior. Well shaped, too. She ran her thumb along Xena's-- it was truly amazing what those hands could do. Xena had such a soft touch-- and of course a strong touch when it was called for. Gabrielle remembered calling for it, too. When Xena had her fingers inside Gabrielle, the softness of her touch amazed her. Not at all what she expected. It had felt so good, but soon it had become too gentle: Gabrielle needed more, and she vaguely remembered calling Xena's name over and over again, not knowing how to ask for what she needed, not sure she even knew what she needed. But Xena had known. Her touch became harder and-- gods-- deeper, so deep. Gabrielle had no idea anything could feel that good. But then, Xena's tongue had felt that good, a different good. The word "good" was woefully inadequate. Her voice was still hoarse from how she cried out-- was it normal to be so loud? Well, Xena had been pretty loud, too. That first time when she... it was so loud it had made Gabrielle's ears ring. It had to be the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Such a beautiful surrender-- Xena brought Argo to an abrupt stop, which brought a sudden end to Gabrielle's rambling thoughts.

"What...what are we doing?" Gabrielle managed to ask as Xena slid down from the saddle and then helped Gabrielle down after her.

"I thought we should take a break. Argo needs it, and I need to get a good look at you."

Gabrielle couldn't tell from Xena's tone exactly what she meant by that. She searched her face for clues, and saw that her expression was soft, and a little amused.

"Your face is so flushed, Gabrielle. Are you feeling OK?" Xena closed what little distance there was between them and put her hand on Gabrielle's forehead, smiling down gently into her face.

Gabrielle didn't know what to say. Having Xena this close to her scrambled her thoughts. Then Xena placed her hand against Gabrielle's cheek and traced her thumb across her lips.

Gabrielle stopped trying to talk. Clasping the back of Xena's head, she pulled the warrior's lips down and onto hers and gave her a long, thorough, heated kiss. Xena cupped Gabrielle's face to kiss her back, and the kiss went from hot to searing.

"I guess we aren't finished," Xena managed when she broke for air.

"I told you. I can't imagine ever being finished."

"That's 'cause your young," the warrior responded with a low chuckle. But then her expression turned serious, intense, as she said "I want more time with you Gabrielle..."

Gabrielle's heart dropped in her chest and she felt a curling in her groin from the tone of Xena's words. She closed her lips over the base of Xena's throat, just above the collar bone, and began to suck. Small hands were all over Xena's back, and she raised an eyebrow in surprise at the bard's voracity. She leaned her head back, giving Gabrielle better access to her throat. They were in a hurry, there was no time for this, but it felt very nice-- Xena jumped as she felt her breast plate fall on the ground between them. Stepping over it, Gabrielle pushed Xena back and kissed her again, sucking Xena's tongue gently but insistently, squeezing her hips with the same rhythm. Suddenly Xena found her back against a tree and her front pressed against a very insistent bard.


"Mmmm?" Gabrielle was nibbling a path down Xena's throat.

"I don't think..." Gabrielle kissed across Xena's chest, the part uncovered by leather.

"Gabrielle--" Xena's voice was getting pretty ragged around the edges.

"I love when you say my name...makes me feel all warm inside..." Gabrielle slid her fingers under leather shoulder straps and pulled them down, exposing more of Xena's chest to her mouth.

"Gabrielle! Maybe we should wait, at least-- "

"I can't wait, Xena. I'm not getting back on that horse until I've had you." Gabrielle grinned, and then her tongue dipped into Xena's cleavage, and she curled her fingers over the top of Xena's leather armor and gave it a hard yank, exposing two full breasts. Gabrielle gave them both a wicked little smile before burying her head between them, her thumbs stroking the tips, bringing the nipples up hard. A low moan escaped Xena's throat, and she wrapped her hands in Gabrielle's hair, pulling her in tight.

"Oh, Gabrielle...ohhh...That feels good...I mean we don't...have time-- "

Gabrielle stopped and looked up at Xena. She figured she had one last chance to stop if Xena was truly unwilling, and this was it. "Let's make the time. It doesn't have to take much time, right? It's been driving me crazy, holding you..." Not hearing any immediate protests, Gabrielle leaned her face back into Xena's chest, picking up where she left off.

Xena always found Gabrielle to be persuasive, and her-- persistence was making her hot. Not to mention the fact that her hands and mouth felt wonderful on Xena's body. It took Xena less than a second to decide to go with this. She wasn't that committed to her position, anyway-- more a matter of form than anything else. Besides, she told herself, Argo needed a break...Gods--

Gabrielle had just pulled Xena's breast into her mouth, and Xena could feel the sensation all down her thighs and the back of her legs. She really didn't want to be standing anymore. She let her body slide down the tree. Gabrielle stayed attached, and pushed Xena down until she lay flat on her back on the ground. Gabrielle straddled the warrior, and Xena could feel soaked cloth against her thigh.

"Take these off," She ordered, voice tight, while she helped the bard remove her underwear. When Gabrielle settled back onto Xena, she raised her knee, pushing the bard up her body so she could kiss her again, nibbling on her bottom lip, hands hitching up Gabrielle's skirt. Gabrielle supported her own weight with her hands, placed on either side of Xena's shoulders, whimpering as she pushed her swollen labia back against Xena's strong thigh. Both women shuttered at the contact, skin to skin. Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's breasts, her own body pressed tight against Xena's, relishing in the feel of firm leather and soft skin. Then Gabrielle lifted her head to catch Xena's eye, and their gaze locked. Both women were completely still for a moment, and Gabrielle was sure she could see through electric blue eyes right to Xena's soul.

Xena felt her heart melting under Gabrielle's gaze, and she reached up to touch her face. With both hands, she touched her cheeks, her eyelids, her lips... Gabrielle opened her mouth and pulled Xena's finger inside and sucked it, and Xena shuddered, closing her eyes at the feel of being inside the bard.

Then Gabrielle began to rock, pushing herself against Xena, her wet center slicking Xena's thigh, causing Xena to cry out. With her free hand she dug her fingers into Gabrielle's firm rear, using the pressure to help the bard guide her pushing. Gabrielle's eyes squeezed shut, all her concentration fixed on the feeling of Xena's thigh between her legs. She sought release blindly, her movements becoming desperate-- sensation becoming everything as the world began to turn itself inside out.

Xena watched the woman above her in rapt fascination-- watched as her hips thrust, the sweat soaked her body, and the expression on her face-- a forceful combination of pleasure and pain. Gabrielle's lips parted and she was panting. When her eyes flew open and locked with Xena's, she felt her heart squeeze tight in her chest as Gabrielle shared her climax open-eyed with Xena. The strength gave out in Gabrielle's arms as she came and she fell down onto Xena. Xena wrapped her arms around the bard, holding her while she caught her breath.

"We're still in a hurry?" Gabrielle asked after a moment.

Xena just nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She had never made love with anyone as open as Gabrielle. The way she let her see just now...

"Can I still...Can I touch you?"

Xena nodded again, took Gabrielle's hand in her own and guided it down between her legs. Gabrielle slipped her fingers in, exclaiming at the feel of Xena, so soft and wet it felt like she was hardly touching anything. Xena shivered, letting her hand still rest on Gabrielle's while the bard explored her.

Gabrielle kept a close watch on Xena's face as she slid her fingers deeper into the warrior. She could tell that Xena fought to keep her eyes open. Her hips rose up and she used her hand to press more of Gabrielle inside her--

"Doesn't that... does that hurt?" Gabrielle asked, wonder plain on her face, and she tried to pull back a little but Xena's hand held her's down.

Xena shook her head, biting down on her lip as she guided the bard's hand deep inside. Gabrielle took the cue, and began pushing in rhythm to the movement of Xena's hips.

"Like that?" She whispered, still in awe. Her whole hand...

"Yes...just like that... sweet gods-- " Xena's voice cracked, and she gave up on speech. Her hips stilled as Gabrielle kept the rhythm she needed without guidance, and she just floated, delirious as the bard took her. When she focused her vision she was able to see the joy on Gabrielle's face, and managed a weak smile for her.

"Oh Xena you feel incredible..." Gabrielle was smiling full out now, but still keeping a careful watch on the beautiful warrior's face, watched the passion shape her features, and then saw it break across her body. Xena opened her mouth, pulled a huge lung-full of air into her chest, and yelled her release.

Xena removed Gabrielle's hand and pulled the bard tight against her body. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed helplessly-- a release just as intense as the last. Gabrielle kissed the tears on the warrior's face and felt her own heart breaking as she held Xena tight. She had never seen Xena cry this way before, and she was scared that she had done something to really hurt her.


"What is it Xena, tell me."

"Don't leave me..."

Suddenly the bard understood. She lifted her head to look down at Xena, and when the warrior tried to turn away she guided her face back with fingers on Xena's chin.

"No way Xena. I'm not going anywhere. After all the work it took for me to get you like this? Forget it. You're stuck with me now."

Xena smiled tearfully up at her little bard, feeling happier than she could ever remember feeling. Gabrielle's expression softened as she asked: "You really don't have any idea how much I love you, do you?"

"If it's anything like how much I love you, then we're in trouble." Still smiling Xena caressed Gabrielle's face with a soft touch.

"Well you know how I love being in trouble with you..."

Chapter Six

"I'm sorry I can't help you
I cannot keep you safe
Sorry I can't help myself
so don't look at me that way
We can't fight gravity on a planet that insists
that love is like falling
and falling is like this"

Ani Difranco

"The whole thing was a setup. They had left a small part of their force gathered at our southern border, but Krykus had his main force hidden just beyond those hills."

Commander Nyame stood behind a large table with a map spread across it. She illustrated the story she told Xena by pointing at the pertinent places with her dagger.

"Well, just as we entered the pass here," she stabbed at the narrow trail on the map, "They attacked. We had to fall back to where we are now, and the bastards have us trapped while they stand between us and our southern border."

Nyame sighed while she ran longer fingers through dirty hair. She was covered in dirt and dried blood left from the battle she had just fought. "I feel like such a fool!" She yelled, sticking her dagger point first into the map on top of the marker representing the current location of the enemy army. "They'll be taking our southernmost village with the army we planned to stop, and are blocking us from getting there with a force that out numbers us 3 to 1. While we are pinned down here in enemy territory, they have an army large enough to destroy all the Amazon lands."

Xena filled a glass from a pitcher of wine that sat on the edge of the table and handed it to the Commander. She stared at her until she took a drink. "Nyame...its not as bad as it looks. Krykus has made a big mistake. His reach is overextending his grasp. Look here," Xena pointed down at the map. "In order to pull together a force like the one he has on your border, he had to strip almost all of his newly-conquered territory clean of defenses. The land just to the west of us is under his control in name only. The people there would welcome an opportunity to be free of him. His army is extremely cruel in its occupation. Gabrielle and I saw some of the effects on our way to Themis." Xena suppressed a shudder as she remembered the girl Gabrielle found by the river not far from here. At the time Xena knew that they didn't have the resources to do anything about it...

The door flap to the command tent opened to admit a very tired, very dirty Gabrielle. The Commander and Xena both turned to look at her.

"Am I interrupting anything?" She asked. She looked briefly at Xena, and then turned to meet Nyame's frankly appraising gaze.

"You must be Gabrielle. Its good to meet you, although the circumstances could be better. And no you weren't interrupting, I was just explaining our situation to your... to Xena."

There was an awkward silence. Xena hadn't had time to let the Commander know what had happened between Gabrielle and herself, there had been more pressing matters. She wasn't sure what Nyame expected of her. She also wasn't sure how Gabrielle felt around the Commander. She watched Gabrielle trying to look at Nyame surreptitiously. The Commander managed to still look stunning, despite having just basically walked off a battle field.

Xena walked over to Gabrielle and kissed her full on the lips, before leading her to a chair next to the map table. Gabrielle was a little shocked at such a public display of intimacy coming from Xena, but she appreciated what she tried to do. Gabrielle managed to relax a bit more as Xena quickly recounted what she and the Commander had gone over.

"Wait a minute. Are you two saying we could actually use this opportunity to kick Krykus' forces from the west side of the river?"

"I don't know about that," Nyame said. "We already have our hands full, just trying to figure out how to get him off our land."

"But Commander, you should see what his soldiers do to women and girls in particular there. Its horrible-- "

"I have seen it, Gabrielle, and believe me, I empathize with your feelings about this, but I need every woman in my army right now to deal with the threat to our lands. The rest of our fighting forces are going to be horribly outnumbered by Krykus' advancing army. If I don't help them by using everything I've got to attack from the rear, they won't have a chance."

The three women were silent for a long moment. Xena could almost hear the gears grinding in Gabrielle's brain--

" I think I have an idea." Gabrielle stood and leaned over the map, pointing. "Maybe we won't need an army to defeat Krykus here in the occupied territory. Xena said his army has all but emptied out of here. The people who live here could fight back and throw the rest of them out. This would only help the Amazons-- his force would be completely demoralized to discover that, in addition to being wedged between two furious Amazon armies, they've lost control of their previous conquest-- "

"Yes," Xena interjected. "It could work. And if, at the same time we could instill a leadership crisis in the enemy army, they may not be able to hold together to follow through with their attack."

"How do we create this leadership crisis?" Nyame asked.

"Well, as they say, cut off the head, and the body dies..."

"Are you saying we should kill him?"

"Well, I meant more of a kidnapping. He could be worth more to us least at first."

"Xena!" Gabrielle glared at the warrior.

Xena broke out into a toothy grin. "I just thought, you know if he forces us to kill him...I'm kidding Gabrielle, we'll keep him alive, or try. Anyway with Krykus gone we can make his return contingent on his army withdrawing. They may listen, if his forces are loyal enough."

Xena looked up at Nyame, waiting for her response. This was her command, and Xena wanted to be sure she knew that Xena was not trying to take over.

"The problem I see with this, is with Krykus gone, their army surrounded and their people up in arms, that force could turn into a bunch of cornered rats. We would need to leave them a place to here." Nyame's dagger was stuck in the map again, right on the border of Krykus' recently conquered lands to the west. "If our forces can fight through to each other, we can use our combined strength to push them right back where they came from: a land in revolt. We could be rid of these bastards once and for all. Its a nice plan, but it requires a lot of things to happen simultaneously. And some of those things are going to be hard to guarantees that they'll work."

Another pause, while Xena watched the Commander think. Would she be too cautious? She knew nothing about Nyame as a Commander, although she had to be good. She wouldn't be leading the Amazon southern command if she was--

Nyame sighed and tried unsuccessfully to push her hand through the knotted curls on her head. "I guess there never are guarantees in life. I don't have any better ideas, so yeah, lets do it." Nyame turned and looked at Gabrielle. "So Gabrielle, how are we going to get the people to revolt? Are you a good rabble rouser?"

"I'm a good bard...I hope that will be enough..."

Both women were silent as they left the Commander's tent and headed back to where Argo was stabled. Gabrielle was the first to break the silence.

"I don't want us to split up."

"We'll talk about it."

"She's beautiful."

Another of Gabrielle's abrupt changes in topic. Xena wondered how the girl kept up with herself. "So are you."

"Yeah, but not like that."

"You are to me." Xena stopped and took hold of Gabrielle's arm to stop her too. She placed her palm gently against Gabrielle's cheek. "Gabrielle, I know the situation is a little awkward, but there is nothing for you to worry about. You're the one I want..." Xena looked down at the ground, feeling suddenly shy, "The one I've always wanted. When I was...with her, I didn't do it to hurt you. It just seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Well, after taking a good look at her, I can see why."

Xena forced herself to look up and was relieved to see Gabrielle smiling. "You're not trying to make me jealous now, are you?"

"Oh, no. I just think you have very good taste in women."

"I do, don't I." Xena ran her thumb across Gabrielle's lips, and the laughter in her eyes was suddenly replaced with something else entirely. The look Xena was giving Gabrielle made her heart pound. Her lips closed around the tip of Xena's thumb. The feel of the warrior inside her mouth brought back memories, making her lightheaded. Xena leaned down and kissed the bard, soft at first but with increasing hunger. Gabrielle freed her hand to wrap it into Xena's hair, pulling her mouth down more firmly on her own. When they stopped to breathe, both were struggling at it.

"Can we go somewhere?" Gabrielle asked, voice hoarse and needful.

"We just got here. We're both tired and covered in road dirt-- "

"Well, can we wash up and then go somewhere? Or how about go somewhere and wash up?"

"Gabrielle, you are out of control. Positively insatiable!"

"You said its 'cause I'm young. So what's your excuse?"

"None. I have no excuse at all. Do I need one?"

"Not for me you don't."

"I'm glad. But we will have to start making excuses if we disappear after just getting here. We have a lot to do."

"I know. Duty calls. But it was worth a try."

Xena leaned down to kiss Gabrielle once more. "When this is over..."

"Absolutely not. You can forget it. I'm not letting you go up against that warlord alone."

"I'll hardly be alone Gabrielle. The whole Amazon army will be with me-- "

"I meant alone as in alone with out me. I thought we've been through this."

"But you're needed here. You need to work with the people here, talk them into fighting back. Your the best one for the job."

"Then stay here with me. We can do it together-- "

"That doesn't make sense. Someone needs to take out Krykus, and I don't think anyone else will be able to get to him. And the Amazon army needs my help more than you do..."

Gabrielle glared at Xena from across the table, her food momentarily forgotten-- a very good indication of how upset she was. Xena was right, and she hated that. Especially when her being right meant they had to split up. She really didn't want to be separate from the warrior right now. She sighed, realizing that it didn't help any to take out her frustration on Xena.

"I'm just worried about you. Who's going to keep an eye on you, and make sure you don't do anything stupid and self-sacrificing?"

"Just knowing you'll be here when I get back is more than enough to keep me motivated to return." Xena squeezed Gabrielle's leg under the table, causing Gabrielle's cheeks to burn. Ever since they started being intimate with each other, Xena's slightest touch made her knees weak. There was one good thing about being separated, Gabrielle thought wryly: her concentration would improve.

Xena tossed and turned in her bedroll. She though for certain she would sleep well tonight, since she hadn't slept that much the past few days. She thought that her first night sleeping without Gabrielle would be pretty uneventful. The truth was, she missed her horribly and that scared Xena. They had been separate before and Xena hadn't loved her any less then. But there was something about them becoming lovers that made Xena feel needy in a way she was definitely not used to, and it made her nervous. It was scary, feeling so vulnerable. Xena was used to being in control, having everything all figured out, but the intensely emotional passion she shared with Gabrielle felt very out of control.

Xena sighed, and turned over again. She looked across the small camp to check on the rest of their small raiding party. The Commander slept soundly a few feet away, and the other women all looked equally peaceful. She had tried to convince Nyame that she should go after Krykus alone, but the Commander just gave her a look that would curdle fresh milk before assembling the team that was to go with Xena and herself.

After setting up camp here, the others had gone to scout the perimeter, leaving Xena and Nyame by themselves. They couldn't afford a fire, and it was pretty cold so they both were wrapped up in furs. It wasn't completely dark, though, the moon having just passed full, so Xena could make out the Commander's features quite clearly. It was a little awkward-- the last time they were alone they had been quite busy with each other, and hadn't spoken about it since. Xena's preferred strategy for dealing with awkward situations was to ignore them, and hoped the Commander felt the same.

"So how is everything, Xena?"

No such luck, Xena realized. Was there some god punishing her, making her attracted to chatty women?

"Fine," she bit out.

"Very convincing."

Didn't work on Gabrielle either. Xena sighed. She should talk to Nyame, at least to clear the air. "Things are...good. Basically." Well, she'd never win a prize for verbal communication. It was not one of her many skills...

"And Gabrielle?"

Xena couldn't stop herself from smiling full out. Nyame caught it, too.

"So you two finally got together, I take it."

"Yes." Xena managed to get the silly grin off her face. Not before infecting the Commander however. But Xena watched her smile fade as she continued: "I want you to know that I'm really glad about it-- And have no desire to interfere," Nyame told Xena. "Of course I have no objection to keeping you warm at night, while Gabrielle isn't here-- "

Xena looked over at Nyame, and saw the smile on the Commander's face return, knew she was joking, but Xena was certain she could make her serious about it. The woman was as beautiful as a goddess, and as Xena flashed back to their evening together, a wave of desire swept through her unbidden. In the old days...well, this was not the old days. Not only would it hurt Gabrielle, it was too much for Xena as well. Something about being in love was taking up all the space in her heart, and since being with Gabrielle, making love with someone she wasn't in love with had lost a lot of appeal. It was scary, how much everything had changed.

"The offer is quite tempting, Nyame. Just the thought of it already warms me up quite a bit," Xena told the Commander who chuckled in response, " but I think I'm already in over my head."

Nyame turned on the log she was sitting on so she could face Xena directly. Her expression was completely serious now. "Have you been in love before, Xena?"

Xena didn't know how to answer that question. She certainly had loved before. Cared for many. But not like this. It was never like this. Would the Commander understand?

"I don't know. I-- I spent over ten years not feeling anything much...I did so many horrible things I...I can't really remember how I felt before. But I know this feels very different..."

Nyame waited patiently, making sure Xena was finished talking before continuing. "It's scary, I know. And I know what its like to spend a long time not feeling anything. But its worth it. Being in love, and being loved-- "

"Is it?" Xena asked. "I feel so... I barely recognize myself. I feel like I'm going insane."

Nyame barked out a laugh. "Well, Xena, it may feel a little like going crazy, but remember, at first blush going crazy and going sane feel very much alike."

"I'll try to keep that in mind," Xena started, her mouth quirked in a half grin. Then she stopped talking, suddenly alert to sounds coming from behind them. Nyame heard it a second later, and her drawn sword joined Xena's as both women stood. And relaxed as they saw the Amazon scouts returning.

Later that night the Amazons went over their plans for the next morning and set a watch schedule for the night. Xena picked the last shift before dawn. As there was no fire and a chill in the air, the women curled up in their bedrolls and went to sleep.

All except Xena of course. She was tense and exhausted and her body craved sleep. She tried to focus on clearing her thoughts, on letting her mind go. When she was finally able to fall asleep she felt herself slipping into a nightmare that she couldn't stop--

Her eyes burn, stung by the smoke of the charred village, and the charred villagers. That was the worst part-- the sweet, cloying scent of freshly burned flesh.

She feels something thud against her boot, looks down at the ground to see the tortured remains of a girl child. A sword had pierced her young body repeatedly, and she stares up at Xena with the glassy eyes of the dead. Tears fill Xena's eyes, almost blocking her vision, her heart wrenches against her chest. She falls to her knees, and with two gentle fingers she closes the girls eyes.

"Who...who could do such a thing? What monster did this?" Xena cries.

The corpse of the girl below her begins to shake and then her eyes fly open to stare at Xena.

"You did it. You did this to me, you monster!"

"No!" Xena screams, and for the first time she sees a sword in her hand: her sword, covered in the girls blood--

"Xena!" Xena bolted upright, her blankets falling from her and her sword in hand before she was fully awake. She saw Nyame kneeling down, a few feet away from her. Once she was certain Xena was awake and in control, she approached the warrior, kneeling at her side.

"You were having a nightmare. Its my watch, so I heard you." Nyame leaned back and grabbed the water skin and handed it to Xena, who took it from the Commander, trying to hide the shaking in her fingers. Nyame rested her hand briefly on Xena's shoulder, compassion plain in her eyes, and then stood up and returned to her watch by the edge of the camp.

Xena sighed, glad that Nyame knew to give her space. She hated showing vulnerability-- it was bad enough that Nyame saw her having a nightmare. But the Commander was a soldier, had been one for a long time, so she must know all about it. Although she probably never had the guilt ridden dreams that plagued the former warlord---

Will it ever end? Xena asked herself for the thousandth time. She looked up at the sky, seeing that the moon had set already. It was still a couple of hours before her watch...

"Nyame, let me take the rest of your watch," Xena told the Commander while strapping on her sword. "No sense in us both being awake."

The Commander paused, then nodded. She walked off to her bed roll, and Xena took her place, rubbing the back of her neck, a pained look on her face.

Xena and Nyame ghosted through the forest, along with two of the four Amazons they had taken with them on this mission. The other two remained behind to cover their retreat. These had been chosen for their ability to move undetected. They were only making a little noise. Nyame, on the other hand made none. She was as quiet as Xena. She watched as the Commander dispatched enemy sentries with a grim efficiency, making sure there was not a noise as they went down. Xena had never seen Nyame in action before-- and now she was glad they were on the same side.

Nyame signaled to the two women trailing them to take up their positions on either side of the command tent. As Xena stepped forward and took out her breast dagger, Nyame was giving her an amused smile, watching as the warrior princess silently cut an entrance for them along the seam of the tent. Xena stuck her head in through the opening, her senses immediately assaulted by the combined smells of male sweat, alcohol and fear. There were no guards inside the tent. She could see the shadows of two in front, and Nyame had taken out the rear guard. In the darkness she could just make out the form of Krykus in the large bed towards the side. He was snoring loudly, the smell of alcohol on his breath and alcohol seeping from his pores poisoned the air. There was someone else in the bed with him, who was too quiet to be sleeping. Xena frowned. This could be a problem, depending on how loyal that someone else was. Gesturing for Nyame to follow, the warrior stepped quietly into the tent and approached the bed, sword drawn. Suddenly she heard a stir from the bed, and Xena rolled forward and uncoiled with her sword at the neck of the warlord's bedmate. When she looked down at her captive, Xena grimaced and lowered her sword. Now she understood the reason for the continued silence.

The young woman was naked, tied to the bed and gagged. She stared up at Xena in fear. Catching Xena's eye, Nyame gestured toward Krykus, before walking over to the captive.

The warlord was woken from his sleep by a choking sensation. Xena was stuffing a sheet down his throat with obvious relish, a very sharp dagger cutting into his neck. Nyame meanwhile had untied the young woman and was binding Krykus' hands with the same rope he had used on her. Then she guided the woman through the slit in the tent. Xena brought the hilt of her sword down on Krykus' head, threw him over her shoulder and followed the Commander.

Xena rode like the hounds of Hades were on her tail. She was bleeding from a cut on her shoulder she had received in the battle against Krykus' forces. When it was over, the Amazons running down a few strays, Xena leapt on her horse and left-- not stopping to get her wound cared for. It didn't matter, she didn't even feel it, preoccupied as she was with getting back to Gabrielle. It was all she could think about once the fighting was over, she needed to know she was alright. Needed to hold her again.

Before the battle, a messenger had come from the west side of the river and told Nyame and Xena what was going on there. As they anticipated, the people were more than willing to kick Krykus' forces out, and with the help of Gabrielle and the handful of Amazon warriors Nyame left there they were hard at work doing just that. When the messenger left them, no one on their side had been hurt. The soldiers were fighting back but they were clearly terrified, being as outnumbered as they were.

That was two days ago. Anything could happen in two days, Xena thought grimly.

Since she and Gabrielle had parted four days ago, she felt like her heart had been turned inside out. She was constantly fighting back tears, having horrible dreams and very little sleep. Ironically, only while fighting had her mind given her peace. She needed Gabrielle, and was somehow convinced that because her need was so great, someone would take Gabrielle away from her. A fitting punishment all the pain she had caused others.

Chapter Seven

"I used to be a superhero
nothing could hurt me, not even myself
and you were like a phone booth I somehow stumbled into
and now look at me
I'm just like everybody else
Just like everybody else..."

Ani Difranco

She approached slowly, from behind. The bard didn't have a chance of detecting Xena's presence, even if she hadn't been absorbed with telling stories to a group of villagers gathered around a large fire. Xena could see their faces, in awe, their complete attention on the bard.

No, not stories. One story-- the story of the Black Wolves. Perfect. Just the type of encouragement needed for a people in revolt against a cruel warlord...

After awhile the villagers left and Gabrielle stood by the fire, warming her hands, obviously lost in thought. It was fairly late, the rest of the rebel forces obviously had already retired. All except the sentries on the main road, and Xena had no problem avoiding those well intentioned but amateur farmers.

Xena closed the distance between them in perfect silence, and then rested strong hands on the girl's hips. Gabrielle jumped, but it took her less than an instant to know that it was Xena behind her. She had never felt that sparked connection from anyone else's touch. Relief at Xena's return flooded through Gabrielle , making her almost lightheaded. She turned in the circle of her warrior's arms, wrapping her own across Xena's shoulders.

"Xena!" Gabrielle started, and stopped when she noticed the blood on her arm. "Your hurt!" The bard touched the wound on Xena's shoulder with gentle, probing fingers.

"It's nothing." Gabrielle was about to argue with the stubborn warrior, but looked up and met her gaze, and the words stuck in her throat at what she saw there. The fire behind them reflected across Xena's face, but her eyes burned with their own heat. Her eyes consumed Gabrielle from head to toe.

"Gabrielle, I missed you so much."

"I missed you too Xena, terribly..."

"I was worried-- " both women said in unison. And smiled.

Gabrielle felt her heart ache with longing, and saw her feeling reciprocated in the warrior's dark gaze. She pulled Xena's mouth down and their lips met, igniting a fire in her belly and between her legs. Gabrielle's tongue, at first careful, almost tentative in its exploration, became increasingly more bold, more desperate. Moaning into Xena's mouth, Gabrielle's fingers tightened on the warrior's shoulders.

"Gods," Gabrielle barely managed, once again virtually rendered speechless by the feel of Xena's lips. For her part, all Xena could do was nod.

"Take me to bed, Xena," Gabrielle ordered, voice tight, as she tugged on the warrior's arm, leading her towards the inn across the way. Dazed, Xena let herself be pulled, her heart a big lump in her throat. But suddenly Gabrielle stopped.


"What is it?" Xena asked, although it was barely more than a croak.

"Its crowded in there..."

Gabrielle found a solution to the problem in a flash, and she tugged Xena in the opposite direction, heading towards a large stable.

It was dark inside. Gabrielle, pulling Xena behind her, could hardly see anything. She stumbled over a bucket but Xena caught her from behind, keeping her from falling. She leaned back into Xena's embrace, releasing a breath she didn't know she was holding. Then she felt Xena's lips brush her earlobe, and shuddered under Xena's warm breath caressing her ear.

Dropping her armor breast plate, Xena pulled Gabrielle tight against her, hands on the girl's hips. Gabrielle could feel the leather bodice through the thin fabric of her skirt. Could feel Xena's hip-bones digging into her. Xena's tongue traced the outline of Gabrielle's ear, and whispered: "Please-- ." It was a statement-- a statement of her need, not a question. The timber of Xena's voice set Gabrielle's blood on fire, making her knees feel weak. She could only manage to nod her assent, not trusting her voice to speak out loud, to utter a sound.

Xena slid her free hand up the younger woman's thigh, under her skirt to curl her fingers around undergarments, already soaked through in anticipation of her touch. Pulling them free, Xena brought them up to her face, pulling the scent of Gabrielle's arousal into her lungs, her mouth watering. She exhaled hard and shivered, reflexively tightening her hold around the bard.

Gabrielle was held so tight that she could not have possibly moved. Spreading Gabrielle's thighs apart with one strong hand, Xena pushed two fingers deep into her smouldering sex, while grinding her leather-clad hips against the bard's shapely backside. A bone-deep groan was forced through Gabrielle's lips as she sank down onto the warriors probing fingers.

"So good..." Xena breathed in Gabrielle's ear, her touch inside exploring all the inner surfaces without mercy--the feel of being inside Gabrielle almost overwhelming. As she pushed deeper into willing flesh, the textures against her fingers began changing-- slick, smooth like silk, soft like velvet-- and it made her dizzy. Starting to loose her balance, Xena reached out and leaning forward, she braced herself with her hand against the wall in front of her, supporting both their weight. Her other arm still wrapped around Gabrielle's waist, her fingers splayed across Gabrielle's labia-- the warrior's calloused palm rhythmically pressing against swollen nerve endings, massaging, coaxing a pulsing response.

Despite Xena's tight hold on Gabrielle the bard still pressed her palms into the wall in front of them, needing some anchor for fear she'd float off, never to return. Xena's touch inside was soft but thorough, while her tongue and lips teased the sensitive skin below her ear.

"Harder..." Gabrielle panted, her hips pushing back into Xena's, the contact sending shockwaves through them both. Moaning, Xena tightened her grasp around Gabrielle, pushing deeper, grinding against her. With a sharp cry, Gabrielle pushed her hips back as hard as she could, the muscles in her arms tensing from the strain. Xena could feel Gabrielle beginning to shake, and suddenly, before she could fight it off, orgasm took Xena-- sharp, intense. Groaning loud and low into Gabrielle's ear, she drove her hips against the bard furiously, pushing the ripples of her climax to spread outwards, engulfing her whole body. With the last violent convulsion Xena's fingers, which had involuntarily stilled inside Gabrielle, clutched reflexively. That one movement brought Gabrielle over the edge just a heartbeat behind Xena. Gabrielle lost control of the muscles in her arms and she fell towards the wall. Turning her head at the last instant before impact, Gabrielle pressed her cheek into the stable wall, trying to muffle a scream with the back of her hand. Her thighs refused to stop shaking and soon they too lost their power to hold her up. She sank to her knees and Xena followed, still attached from behind. The bard finished her collapse by falling back into Xena's lap. Xena continued her tight hold on Gabrielle while she shifted to first lean her back and then her head against the stable wall. Xena felt tears surging up to the surface along with a sob and she bit down onto her lip, hard, trying to force the pain back down, trying to swallow it.

Feeling Xena's body clenching against her back, at war with itself, Gabrielle steeled herself before turning to face the warrior. She gasped at the sight of blood on Xena's lip, and raised a trembling finger up to wipe it away.

"Something tells me these are not tears of joy," Gabrielle said, catching an escaped tear with her other hand.


Gabrielle waited for Xena to speak, and as the moments passed her fear increased. She knew that it would be best to let Xena open to her on her own terms-- more prompting from Gabrielle would not help matters. Xena watched Gabrielle looking up at her-- the concern and love so plain on her face. This girl-- this woman-- had become so precious to Xena. She'd rather die than cause her pain. But she couldn't help it, her world was spinning out of control, overwhelmed by feelings and fears-- all she knew how to do at this point was run. Pinned between Gabrielle and the stable wall she wanted nothing more than to be able to slip out the back of her body and disappear.

Xena was furious at herself for being such a coward-- realizing that all of the turmoil of the past few days came down to this: A simple fear of needing. Needing something from someone else, something she had no control over. The truth was, she just didn't know how to do to feel these things-- neediness, vulnerability-- and still be herself.

The best thing would be to get out now, before it got any worse. It would be better for Gabrielle, too. This-- this person Xena was becoming was not who Gabrielle fell for. Not who she wanted. Gabrielle fell in love with a warrior-- not this quivering mass of--

Xena sighed, willing herself to speak. At the very least she could explain to Gabrielle why it wouldn't work. She owed the girl that much.

"Gabrielle, I can't do this. I can't handle it. I feel like I'm tearing up inside..."

"Can't do what, Xena? I don't understand."

Xena forced herself to meet Gabrielle's eyes, but then turned away again. She just couldn't say these things and look at her at the same time. "Its like...It's like what is happening between us is cutting the knots inside that hold me together. Now I'm fraying, falling apart. I need you too much. I don't know how-- I don't know how to do this. I know its not what you expected. How could you? I feel horrible and I don't want to disappoint you. I can't stand you seeing me weak!"

More silence. Xena waited for the inevitable-- Gabrielle would be furious with her, would hate her for backing out. Xena felt her heart squeeze in her chest as she waited-- waited for the words that would mean that she had not only lost her love, but her best friend as well.

"You're doing it again."



"Your doing it again, Xena. Trying to be in control of everything. Even me. Its the same thing as when you decided that I had no choice in whether we could be together. Well, its not gonna work, so forget it."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about and me together. We are in this together Xena, and I'm not letting you walk out on us to protect me or yourself. So just forget about it."

"But...But Gabrielle, I don't know *how* to do this...I don't even know what to do. I know I'm not explaining this well, but you just don't understand-- "

Gabrielle found it amazing how much responsibility Xena put on herself. Like she was supposed to have everything all figured out and be calm about it, too. Even when it was something completely new to her. Although Xena was clearly the experienced one when it came to physical intimacy, she was clueless when it came to affairs of the heart.

"But I do understand, Xena. You're so used to keeping such a tight reign on your feelings that not being able to feels like you're dying. Trust me, your not. Its just not very comfortable. Being a normal, average human rarely is. You have to accept not being perfect. Not knowing what to do, or how to be all the time. Feeling scared. You have to accept that, with some things, you just put one foot in front of the other, and have faith that the rest will work itself out."

Xena opened her mouth a couple of times, but nothing came out. All she could do was to stare at Gabrielle in stunned silence.

Gabrielle stood, a little chagrined at her forceful speech, and when she looked down and saw her skirt twisted around her hips, she laughed out loud. It was hard to even take herself seriously in this state of partial undress. Straightening out her skirt with a shy smile, she stretched her hand down to a very confused warrior princess. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"We are going to take care of that wound, and then get you something to eat."

Xena was dumbfounded. How could Gabrielle think about such things at a time like this?

"When was the last time you ate Xena?"

"Well, it was...uhmm--"

"I thought so. And I'm not going to bother asking when you slept last. Food and sleep. That's what you need. If you still feel so freaked out about all this, we can talk about it tomorrow."

Gabrielle reached down and pulled Xena to her feet. She kept tugging Xena, leading her towards the town's inn. She sighed, thinking about all the work they had ahead of them. But it warmed her heart, making it all worth it, seeing the warrior princess with that priceless, stunned look on her face-- forcing herself to trust Gabrielle, letting the bard lead her while she put one foot in front of the other.

The End

"In my end is my beginning"-- T.S. Eliot

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