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Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

Violence Warning/Disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. There is nothing too graphic, however, readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read another story.

Love/Sex warning Disclaimer: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Plot: This time there's more of a plot, but it's basically a love story. I seem to be a bit long-winded; but don't you just hate when you finish a good story and wish it were longer?


(Sapphic intimate genre: Xena and Gabrielle)


Argo labored along behind Xena and Gabrielle as they walked down the narrow path, carved through the years by thousands of feet and hooves. The path lead to the village where they would pick up much needed supplies. Rolling green hills were freckled with large trees that stretched their limbs to create a lush green canopy above them, ensuring privacy and allowing Xena to openly display her affection for Gabrielle. She walked close to the bard, twisting her arm around Gabrielle's and holding her hand. Xena marveled at how Gabrielle's touch always sent pleasant sensations though her body.

"Oh, look at that one," Gabrielle said, pointing down the hill. A rainbow of autumn colors graced the tree she was pointing to; beautiful bright orange and yellow leaves rustled in the breeze on one side, deep purple and crimson-red leaves on the other, creating a stunning visual effect as though two different trees had been vertically spliced together. "Isn't it beautiful? Look at those colors!"

"You take such pleasure in the little things, Gabrielle," Xena grinned.

"But they're not little, Xena. They make life more interesting; they add flavor, texture and color to life. Shhh. Listen." Gabrielle stopped and cocked her head to one side. "Hear that?"


"Everything. The birds, the water, the wind. Imagine how dull the world would be without the diverse colors of fall leaves, without the delicate songs of birds, without the tranquil ripple of a stream continuing its journey toward the open sea."

Xena smiled, wrapping her arm around Gabrielle, "Your reverence for life is so refreshing. My world would be dull without you."

"Just reminding you to stop and smell the flowers every once in a while. We should be grateful for what we have."

"Believe me, I am." Tenderness filled Xena's voice and love glistened behind her ice-blue eyes.

"Should we eat in town tonight or cook?" Gabrielle asked, gazing up at her warrior with her own loving eyes.

"I was hoping to spend a quiet dinner alone with you. I'll cook!" Enthusiasm lifted Xena's voice.

"I'm still recovering from the last time you made dinner," Gabrielle teased.

"Hey." Xena protested, nudging Gabrielle, causing her to momentarily lose her balance.

"I'm kidding." Gabrielle chuckled. "But I want to cook for you. What should we have?"

"How about your special chicken soup with those little white dumplings? I love those."

"That sounds good. I'll pick up some fresh vegetables and chicken in town." What do you want for dessert?"

Raising an eyebrow, Xena replied, "Hmmm....I'd love some candied bard."

Gabrielle delighted at the implication, but pretended not to understand. "I'll put that on my shopping list, but I'm not sure where to find it."

Xena leaned in to Gabrielle and whispered, "I'll take care of that item." She gently took the bard's earlobe in her mouth, flicking it with her tongue, then kissed her on the neck.

Gabrielle stopped and turned to Xena, reaching for her lips with her own. "How about an appetizer," Gabrielle suggested. The two shared a passionate kiss, distracted by their desire until a tug from Agro's reigns suggested they continue their journey

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Entering the village, Gabrielle recited her shopping list urging Xena to do the same so as not to forget anything. "Okay, here’s my list, tell me if I forget anything: Vegetables, chicken, flour, honey, spices, bread, dried meat," she paused to think. "What am I forgetting?"

"Wine." Xena added.

"Definitely! I’ll pick up some fruit and jasmine oil too."

"Jasmine oil? You cook with that?" Xena asked curiously.

"No, I have other plans for that," Gabrielle answered with a grin.

"I can’t wait." She pulled Gabrielle into an alley, checking to make sure they were alone. "Come here," Xena said, wrapping her arms around the bard and kissing her passionately. "Why don’t we shop together. I don’t want to be away from you for even a minute," she requested.

"Every second away from you will be like an eternity. But we’ll get our shopping done faster if we split up. Then, the sooner I can show you what I have in mind with the jasmine oil," she said coyly.

"Do you know what you do to me?" Xena said breathlessly.

"I have a pretty good idea." Gabrielle’s hand caressed her warrior’s thigh.

"I love you, Warrior Princess."

"I love you too, Gabrielle." A kiss sealed their words. "We’ll meet back here in by midday. Agreed?"

"Midday. That should be plenty of time," Gabrielle agreed.

Xena headed off down the alley toward the stables to board Argo while she ran her errands. She retrieved the things on her list with some time and dinars to spare. She decided to surprise Gabrielle with a gift and headed to the peddler she'd seen earlier who sold hand-made jewelry. Xena looked through countless treasures, finally deciding on a delicate bracelet made of silver and inlayed with small green gems that sparkled in the sunlight, reminding her of Gabrielle’s eyes.

It was close to noon when Xena returned to the alley where they had agreed to meet. Gabrielle was not there. Xena waited, knowing how Gabrielle liked to hone her bargaining skills and figured she was probably caught in debate over a dinar or two. She thought of how she would surprise Gabrielle with her gift. She decided to wait until after dinner... if she could.

Nearly an hour had passed and Gabrielle still had not returned. Uneasiness shadowed Xena's thoughts as she walked through the village searching for Gabrielle, calling her name. Several minutes passed- too many- and Gabrielle was no where to be found. Xena's pace quickened as she ran through the village searching for her love. Her voice shaken by fear, she called out, "GABRIELLE!" The bard's staff drew Xena's attention as she raced by a peddler's cart, stopping her abruptly. Xena rushed toward the cart, grabbing the staff. She felt sticky moisture that seized her heart even before she looked at her hand that was red with blood.

Xena's heart pounded in her chest and echoed in her ears, blocking out the ambient sounds of the village. Her breathing was shallow and labored by the weight of fear that clung to her chest like chains. "WHERE'S MY FRIEND?" she yelled at the peddler, who cowered at the sight of the stranger's enraged face.

"I don't know who you're talking about," the man replied nervously. "Gabrielle. She's about this tall." Xena indicated with a hand at her shoulder. "Blonde. Green eyes. She was carrying this staff." The peasant merely shrugged, shaking his head as he backed away cautiously.

Xena spun around, clutching the staff. "GABRIELLE!" Her eyes continued searching as she retraced her steps, stopping villagers and questioning them with frenzied speech. Xena's desperate search proved futile. Her mind was clouded with fear. "HOW COULD NO ONE SEE ANYTHING. ARE YOU ALL BLIND?.... GABRIELLE!" Grief twisted each word.

Some villagers gathered together exchanging puzzled looks and whispers; others stood motionless; but they all watched the wild-eyed stranger's frenetic rampage.

Calling the name of her love, spinning, searching, Xena suddenly stopped. From a distance, her eyes locked with a man she saw leaving the tavern. A smile played across his lips as he returned the warrior's menacing stare. She raced toward him, closing the distance quickly with a series of back flips, culminating in a vault that left her staring into the scarred face of a suspected accomplice.

With lightening speed, Xena's fingers struck his neck, rendering his body nearly incapable of autonomic function. He fell to his knees gasping for breath, agony contorting his face.

"WHERE’S GABRIELLE?" Xena demanded through clenched teeth.

"I don't know who you're taking about," the thug replied with malice.

"You'll be dead in thirty seconds if you don't tell me. And don't think I won't let you die. I'll find her with or without your help," Xena growled.

"It's.....Damocles. He has her."

"Who's Damocles?"

The thug resisted. "Fifteen seconds," Xena warned.

"You..... killed his..... father. He wants..... revenge. He has your friend." He struggled with each word; blood trickled form his nose. "He knows..... you'll give your life..... to save her. If you want the Warrior Princess..... you take the most precious thing...... in the world to her."

"Where is he?" Xena demanded.

"East...toward the river."

Xena released the pinch, kicking him unconscious before he hit the ground.

She ran to the stables where she'd left Argo. They swiftly covered ground, kicking up dust that swirled in the air behind them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Xena followed Damocles’ tracks until darkness halted her progress. She made camp and prepared to spend the night alone. It was the first time in nearly four months that Xena had spent the night without Gabrielle in her arms, ever since they had revealed their love for each other. She sat staring into the fire, aching to be with her.

Memories flooded her mind. Images of Gabrielle's beautiful face drifted before her eyes, leaving salty tears in their wake. Her eyes looked into the flames, yet her mind replayed scenes from the past:

She listened as firelight danced on Gabrielle’s face, flashing in eyes that envisioned the story she recounted with the energy and passion only the noblest of bards possessed.

The sturdy staff cut through the air with precision. Her eyes absorbed Gabrielle’s form as she practiced with her staff, tone muscles flexing on her lean, tanned body, igniting the fire that burned within the warrior.

She felt the curves of her head through soapy lather as she massaged and washed Gabrielle’s hair. She heard the moan that gave passion its voice. She felt the water lapping at her skin when Gabrielle turned to embrace her, firm breasts pressing into her own, hands exploring bodies as if for the first time, tongues probing the depths of their passion, fueling latent desires that gave way to carnal pleasure.

Xena’s heart pounded in her chest, remembering the tender moments they had shared. Anger, fear and despair sent her mind tumbling down different hills into a darkness she’d never known, where thoughts got caught on the painful reality of Gabrielle’s absence. Xena closed her eyes, spilling tears that had yet to fall.

Finally opening her eyes, she willed herself to focus. She needed to be strong. The situation demanded great caution, restraint, thought and planning. She absentmindedly poked the fire, stirring up embers that popped and crackled as they sprayed into the cool night air. She sat back and closed her eyes.

Gabrielle stood in a field of wild flowers, her hair danced in the warm breeze; her eyes sparkled in the sunlight that beamed down on her face, bathing it in golden rays that highlighted her delicate features. Xena ran toward her, filled with a joy that rushed through her blood like a raging river. Gabrielle’s smile lit up her face as Xena melted into her outstretched arms. The two embraced with unsurpassed intensity, stimulated wherever their bodies touched. Xena stroked golden hair, marveling at its softness as though it were spun of silk. They held each other tightly, basking in the closeness, feeling their love flow through them.

Xena’s euphoria suddenly faltered when she felt Gabrielle’s body go limp. She pulled away, startled by the blood that soaked Gabrielle’s chest and her own armor. Gabrielle fell forward into Xena’s arms. Only then did Xena see the knife that had plunged into Gabrielle’s back. Xena dropped to the ground cradling Gabrielle in her arms.

Blood trickled from Gabrielle’s mouth. "I love you, Xena," she said as she released her last breath. Her sightless eyes remained open in a final expression of love.

"NOOOO!" Xena shouted, pulling the bard close to her breast, cradling her lifeless body in her arms. "GABRIELLE!" Xena’s grief revealed itself in her sobs. "NOOO! Gabrielle, don’t leave me." She looked around, but no one was there. Tears clouded her vision, spilling down her face. She sat rocking Gabrielle in her arms, wailing; her face was twisted with agony and wet with tears. She was filled with a void that saturated her soul, condemning her to live the rest of her days in the echo of a final whisper from the person she loved more than life itself.

Abruptly, Xena woke up, reaching for Gabrielle and calling her name. She found it hard to draw breath, as though the darkness of night itself had begun filling her lungs, suffocating her. Her mind was briefly clouded with incoherent thoughts until reality ran through her like lightening. Tortured by the incongruous blend of relief and agony, Xena set out before dawn to find Gabrielle, unwilling to risk more torment in the arms of Morpheus.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Xena watched the sunrise and thought of the many mornings she had held Gabrielle in her arms as she slept, watching the same miracle. Damocles had tried to cover his tracks, no doubt in an attempt to slow her progress, allowing him more time to prepare. She had come up with a plan, nonetheless, that would get her to Gabrielle sooner.

She dismounted Argo and waited. Finally, her patience was rewarded. She sensed her enemy before they attacked. She put up a fight, but allowed them to capture her, knowing they would take her to Gabrielle. She recognized one of the men. The wound her boot had left on his forehead looked painful. The ugly scar on his face would soon have company.

"Take her weapons," he yelled to the others who were still dazed from Xena’s powerful blows. They stripped her of her visible weapons, her sword and chakram and the knife at her boot. "Check for more. She’s very cunning," the scar-faced man demanded. Confident that Xena’s hands were securely tied behind her, one of the men approached the warrior until his face was directly in front of hers. He smiled, delighting in the opportunity to search for weapons on a female body as exquisite as Xena’s.

Xena recoiled at the sight of the pig. His face was sheathed in a greasy film of sweat. His teeth were yellow and crusted with food too stubborn to loosen with the swipe of the tongue. Despite its ghastly appearance, a tangled, unkempt beard, dotted with remnants of former meals, actually aided in hiding his repulsive face. His foul and bitter breath made her nauseous, as did his pungent body odor. He reached up to scratch his face. His skin was dry and cracked, stained dark from dirt that had rarely been washed away.

He reached between Xena’s breasts, pausing to fondle soft skin. Xena felt his scratchy fingers on the top of her breast, then slammed her head into his. He fell backward with such force; his momentum flipped him over before coming to rest with his face in the dirt. Embarrassed, yet attempting to save face, as he got up, he laughed. "Nice breasts. I look forward seeing more of them later." Brushing dust from his clothes, "She’s clean," he implied of additional weapons, not having detected the dagger nestled between her breasts.

Xena was lead forcefully to Damolces’ camp. Her eyes searched desperately for Gabrielle. She spotted her at the far end of the encampment. She’d been tied to a table and seemed to be unusually still. Xena called out, "Gabrielle!" There was no response initially, and Xena’s breath caught in her throat. Then, Gabrielle responded in a soft, shaky voice, "Xena?"

"I’m here Gabrielle!" Xena reassured her. Hope swept through her, but did not still the tremors of fear that had shaken her continuously since she had found Gabrielle’s bloody staff. Her relief was short-lived; she was alive, but something was wrong.

Xena’s concern grew as she was pushed closer to the table. Her heart pumped fear and anger in greater quantities than blood. A tall, dark-haired man stood next to Gabrielle watching Xena’s approach. When she was within yards of the table, Xena fell hard to the ground from the jarring impact of a boot in the small of her back. Searing pain shot through her body, but she never took her eyes off Gabrielle, who she could now see clearly.

Xena’s heart sank in her chest. Gabrielle’s beautiful face had been badly beaten. Purple-red skin swelled around her right eye, concealing its true form. Her lower lip, now twice its size, had been split open. Blood from the wound had dried on her chin, indicating that she had sustained the injury the day before. There was a gash on her forehead an inch above her left eye; dried blood marked its path along her temple. Scrapes and bruises covered Gabrielle’s body, some revealing the unmistakable marks of fingers that had rendered excessive force. A long, deep cut extended along her forearm to her right hand, perhaps the source of the blood on her staff when she’d attempted to defend herself. Blood saturated the limb. Xena felt nausea rise within her. She could not bear the thought of Gabrielle suffering, yet her eyes revealed the ugly truth. Gabrielle seemed to have moved beyond the pain, which was dulled by shock; she drew a breath with a startling, ragged sound. Rage swelled inside Xena, burning her ears.

The man that stood next to the table at last spoke. "I watched my father die at your hand 10 winters ago. I vowed then to avenge his death. Now you're going to watch someone you love die and know the pain I'll live with for the rest of my life. Only you won’t have to live with that pain. You’ll die next."

"Damolces!" Xena said with palpable virulence, making eye contact with the man she had never met, yet had become her archenemy. His eyes were cold and arrogant, pouring out black hatred.

"I feel sorrow for the boy who lost his father, but that’s where my compassion ends. For the man who chose darkness and evil, I feel nothing. You’ll regret the day you harmed my friend, because it’ll be the last full day of your miserable life." Xena’s words were venomous.

"I don’t think you’re in any position to threaten me," Damocles laughed confidently. "I’ve waited a long time for this moment." He looked above the table that held Gabrielle. Xena’s eyes followed his. She saw for the first time Damocles’ malevolent intentions. Dozens of metal spikes had been driven through planks of wood that were tied together, essentially creating a two-sided bed of nails that dangled above Gabrielle’s body. An intricate series of ropes and pulleys suspended the bed in the air; it was ultimately held in place by a single rope that wrapped around the trunk of a tree several paces away, guarded by a man with a sword at the ready.

Damocles’ laughter broke Xena’s momentary trance. "You bastard!" she shouted, springing to her feet, whirling around to place a devastating kick to Damocles’ chest. His men drew their swords and started toward her.

"No!" their warlord demanded. "She’s mine." He swung his arm, landing his fist on Xena’s cheek. The blow sent her spinning to the ground. As she fell, she freed her breast dagger and landed on top of it. Quickly, she flipped her body over and grabbed the weapon in her tied hands. She stayed on the ground feigning submission as she worked to cut the rope.

Damocles looked at the man near the rope, then back to Xena. Anger flashed in his eyes, "Say goodbye to your friend. Cut it!" he ordered.

Freeing herself, Xena threw the dagger at the thug as he swung the sword over his head, obeying his warlord. The dagger pierced his heart, killing him instantly. Xena turned her attention to Damocles, who stood stunned and paralyzed for the brevity of Xena’s actions. He did not react fast enough to avoid the warrior’s next move. Xena’s lightening fast reflexes allowed her to place a leaping kick to his head, slamming him to the ground with a jarring thud. Temporarily incapacitated, he was not an immediate threat as were the oncoming thugs. Fueled by seething anger and a desperate desire to get to Gabrielle, Xena deftly brought down her attackers one by one.

Damocles staggered to his feet, watching his men fall at the hands of the woman he had despised for most of his life. "XENA!" he shouted, pulling a knife from his belt. He flipped the weapon in his hand, grasping the blade, then threw it toward the rope. "I WIN!"

Xena did not think. She acted. She hurled her body toward the spiked bed, flipping in the air. Her feet landed on the edge of the bed, swinging it with the force of her kick and giving it sufficient momentum to fall to the right of Gabrielle as the knife released the rope’s tension. Small clouds of dust escaped from the edges of the bed. Xena landed on her feet, moving toward Damocles even before gravity could take hold of her body. She relentlessly pummeled his body, each blow more devastating -and satisfying- than the last. Damocles could not compete with Xena’s feverish pace, he fell hard, then staggered to his feet, pulling his sword from its scabbard. He lunged toward her. Xena vaulted over his head, flipping her body in the air, landing behind him and closer to Gabrielle. Damocles spun around and rushed at her with renewed rage.

Xena allowed him to close the gap between them, timing her next move. When he was inches away from her, she grabbed his sword hand and pulled him with all the strength she could muster. "You made the bed, now lie in it!" she said as he flew past her, unable to stop his momentum. He landed on the spiked boards. Dozens of metal stakes pierced his body, pinning him to the bed. His body twitched with violent convulsions. He coughed; choking on his own blood that had begun filling his lungs. Then he was still. "Say hello to Hades for me," Xena remarked with contempt.

Xena rushed to Gabrielle’s side, kneeling down to comfort her. "Gabrielle. I’m here. You’re going to be all right. I promise." Gabrielle was unconscious, but alive.

Xena spared no time in making a litter that would carry Gabrielle to the village. They had a lot of ground to cover, and she needed a warm, safe place to heal. Xena carefully gathered Gabrielle in her arms and carried her to the litter. The bard let out a soft cry, protesting the pain of being touched. Xena could only reassure her with loving words and soft touches.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When they arrived in the village, twilight’s violet sky had given way to darkness as the night began to reveal itself, dotting the sky with twinkling stars. Cicadas had begun their nocturnal symphony. Argo was instructed to stop in front of the inn. Xena yelled out as she lifted Gabrielle from the litter, "Hey. Is anyone in there? I need some help out here."

A heavyset woman immerged from the shelter. The clothes she wore hugged her body and exaggerated her lumpy form. A dingy white apron hung below her matronly bosom and she was wiping her hands on it as she stepped through the door.

"I need a room," Xena said, stepping toward her with Gabrielle in her arms, indicating that ‘No’ was not a possible response from the innkeeper.

"What happened to her?" the woman asked excitedly. "Hey, you’re that crazy woman... I mean, you’re that woman who was looking for someone named Gabrielle the other day, aren’t you? Is this her?"

"Yeah. Show me where the room is. I’ll need some warm water and clean bandages too. Have someone take my horse to the stables. He’ll need water and food." Xena calmly gave orders, but in reality she was barely able to maintain control of her emotions. She felt as if she were a twig being bent at either end, and would snap at any minute. "Can you read?" Xena asked nonchalantly.

"Yes," the innkeeper replied, seeming not to take offense.

"I’ll make you a list of the other things I need as soon as I get my friend inside."

Xena followed the portly innkeeper inside, carrying Gabrielle down a short, dark hallway lit only by a candle that cast eerie shadows on the walls. The woman opened the door to their room, then stepped aside allowing Xena to cross the threshold ahead of her.

"I’ll fetch the water and bandages," the woman said as she closed the door. Xena did not respond, nor did she turn to witness her departure.

A large stone fireplace created one wall of the room. A small fire smoldered within its depths. Two lit candles sat on either side of its mantle, tossing minimal light into the room. A large bed was positioned on the opposite wall, adorned with several overstuffed pillows of varying shapes and sizes, partially covering the embroidered bedding. A small round table sat under the only window in the room. A lace cloth covered the table and excess fabric draped off the sides, nearly touching the ground. Two chairs, expertly crafted from dozens of thick, round sticks and twine sat on either side of the table. Parchment and quill lay next to an unlit candle on the table perhaps placed there for the would-be bard who gained inspiration in the solitude of the inn.

Xena carried Gabrielle to the bed; she’d been drifting in and out of consciousness, an occasional moan escaped her lips and seized Xena’s heart. She began to undress her so that the innkeeper could wash her clothes that had been stained with blood and dirt. Gabrielle groaned when Xena slightly lifted her head to remove her top. She covered her naked and battered body with blankets to keep her warm, then went to the table to make a list; it included herbs, salve, a needle and thread.

The innkeeper arrived quickly with the warm water and clean bandages that Xena had requested. "Here you are. I’ll send my son for the other things you need. He’s taking care of your horse now. What a beautiful animal," she said, setting the items on the table. "Have you made your list?"

"Thank you," Xena replied, handing her the parchment, averting her eyes that were moist with tears. "Would you mind washing these? Xena said, moving to pick up Gabrielle’s clothes from the foot of the bed. "I’ll pay for your time." She held the clothes out to her.

"Yes ma'am. They’ll be fresh and clean first thing in the morning. I’ll hang ‘em by the fire to dry," she answered, trying to sound cheerful, yet aware of the anguish that gnawed at Xena’s heart.

Emotions had stolen Xena’s voice and she could only nod in response. The innkeeper left, closing the door behind her. Xena carried the bowl of water and bandages over to the bed setting them on a small table that held two half-melted candles and a vase of dried flowers. She retrieved a flaming twig from the fireplace, sheltered it with her cupped hand and crossed the room to light the bedside candles. She placed a clean bandage in the warm water and squeezed out the excess liquid, then carefully began to clean Gabrielle’s wounds. She started with the most severe wound on her arm. She meticulously wiped blood and dirt from Gabrielle’s bruised and lacerated skin. She was reluctant to put too much pressure on the wounds themselves fearing that she would cause Gabrielle more pain in the process. Tears filled Xena’s eyes as she worked, falling like swollen drops of rain onto the bard’s battered body. Guilt crept into her, tapping at the back of her head like a pesky insect. She silently cursed herself for not being there when Gabrielle needed her, for letting this happen.

Gabrielle stirred. In an attempt to speak, she parted her lips, wincing in pain, "Xena?" she said in almost a whisper.

"I’m here Gabrielle. You’re going to be all right. You’re safe now." Xena caressed the bard’s head stroking tangled hair, leaning over her so that Gabrielle could see her face.

"Where am I?" Gabrielle asked, looking at the unfamiliar log ceiling above her.

"Shhh. Don’t try to talk. We’re in the village. You need to rest," Xena said as she reached for the bandage that floated in the water bowl.

"Don’t leave me!" Gabrielle said anxiously, watching Xena’s face leave her limited field of vision.

"I’m here, Gabrielle. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll never leave you," Xena reassured her, tenderly caressing her face.

A knock at the door announced the innkeeper’s return. "I have to answer the door. I need to tend your wounds." Xena opened the door for the woman and took from her the items she'd requested. She returned to Gabrielle, who had again drifted off to sleep. Xena deftly crushed several dry leaves and stems in a bowl and added some of the warm water to make a poultice. She was grateful that Gabrielle was not conscious at the moment; stitching the wound on her arm would be far from painless. She prepared the needle and carefully pierced the skin on either side of the gash, bringing the two flaps of skin together as she pulled gently on the thread. She meticulously formed nearly two dozen neat, tight sutures, hoping to reduce any scaring. She spread the poultice on a fresh bandage then wrapped it tenderly around Gabrielle’s arm and hand. She continued to clean and dress Gabrielle’s wounds. The cut over her eye required only a few stitches; she placed a small bandage with soothing salve over it, then spread a layer of salve on her split lip.

Xena knew that she could heal Gabrielle’s obvious injuries, but she worried about what she could not see. Fear wreaked havoc in the back of her mind; fear of not knowing the extent of Gabrielle’s internal injuries. The evident wounds of Damocles’ beatings were not necessarily severe enough to cause Gabrielle’s condition. Worry clung to her like shadows to the night.

Once Gabrielle’s wounds were cleaned and dressed, Xena covered her with warm blankets to cut the chill of the night air. She added more wood to the fire and stood for a moment watching the flames as they licked their new source of energy. She said a silent prayer to whoever was listening. ‘Please don’t let the energy that lights up her face go out. Don’t take her from me. I couldn’t bear life without her.’

Xena crossed the room to the bed. A few moments passed as she watched Gabrielle sleep, noticing her tremble intermittently as chills passed through her body. Xena removed her clothes and slid under the blankets. She quietly lined up her body with Gabrielle’s, touching skin wherever possible, intending for the warmth of her body to pass to Gabrielle, thereby eliminating her chills. She held Gabrielle close, placing soft kisses on the top of her head. "I love you, Gabrielle," Xena whispered almost inaudibly, nuzzling the bard’s head within the curve of her neck. Gabrielle stirred briefly, moaning as she snuggled closer to the warrior. Xena felt a lump form in her throat, knowing that the sound that came from Gabrielle was born not of pain, but of love.

Xena watched the lambent flames of the fireplace candles, and the dancing shadows they produced. Time seemed to stand still while special moments from the past came to life again in her mind’s eye. Her mind revisited a collage of images of Gabrielle’s face; listening to her laughter and marveling at her smile that could brightened the darkest of days. She stared vacantly at the flames, while her mind relived a day from the previous week.

She and Gabrielle had stopped by a lake to fish for lunch. Gabrielle was apparently searching for wood to build a fire for the fish Xena would catch. Xena remembered wading into the cold water in her shift. She waited and listened, hands ready to seize a passing trout or cod.

A faint smile crossed Xena’s lips when she remembered suddenly being drenched with cold water from behind. Gabrielle had filled a goatskin with lake water and sneaked up behind her concentrating warrior, squirting frigid water on her backside. Xena inhaled deeply and arched her back in alarm. Gabrielle’s infectious laughter brought her sloshing out of the lake after her.

Gabrielle attempted to run, but she was no match for the agile warrior. She was soon cornered in front of a large rock. She chuckled, "Looks like I’m caught between a rock and a hard body." Xena’s raised eyebrow and a crooked smile acknowledged the compliment. Gabrielle attempted to dodge Xena’s advances, pretending to move right, then going left. The warrior countered each move, blocking her escape, all the while grinning in triumph. Gabrielle at last made a run for it, laughter spilling from deep within her. Xena wrapped an arm around her waist as she attempted to slide past her; the two spun around and fell to the ground, crushing the tall grass beneath them.

"So, you want to play, huh?" Xena said, flipping the bard over and straddling her hips. She pinned her to the ground and playfully tickled the woman she loved, eliciting laughter with a musical quality that always touched her heart.

The two laughed and rolled in the grass until their bodies ached joyously. Their voices fell silent when their eyes locked, but smiles remained on their lips. Although she once denied her feelings, Xena had always desperately loved Gabrielle. She never thought that the love she felt could be more profound, but with each passing day, she loved her even more than the day before. Looking into her emerald green eyes, she again felt her love surpass its previous peak. After a moment, it seemed that she was no longer merely staring at her, but into her, through her eyes and into the essence of Gabrielle, into her soul. Gabrielle reached up and wrapped her hand around Xena’s wet head, pulling her closer. "Kiss me...make love to me," she whispered.

She could almost feel Gabrielle’s soft lips on her own. She remembered lying in the tall grass, kissing her passionately, her moist tongue gliding along Gabrielle’s, tasting her sweetness. She remembered making love to the woman who had given her new life; moving her hands over her body with increasing excitement, marveling that the sense of touch could convey such intricacies of shape and texture, or give rise to such exquisite longings. Gabrielle’s hot kisses made her want to taste every delicious inch of her, and she did, arriving, at last, at the warm juncture of her thighs. She spread Gabrielle’s firm, beautiful legs, and licked her moist center, opened those secret folds of flesh with her tongue and found the hidden nub that, when softly flicked, caused Gabrielle to gasp with pleasure, and writhe under her loving lash. Xena made love to her with her tongue, teeth, and lips. Gabrielle arched her back, clawing the grass and earth beneath her and thrashed ecstatically. As she raised herself, Xena slipped her hands under her and held her close. She heard Gabrielle call out breathlessly, "Xena...yes. Oh, Xena." Gabrielle was breathing deeply, rapidly. She tried to pull away when the pleasure became too intense, but then a moment later, she thrust herself into Xena, begging for more. Eventually she began to quiver all over, and those shallow tremors swiftly grew into wonderful wrenching shudders of pure delight. She gasped for breath, tossed her head and cried out deliriously, "Oh... Xena." She rode the wave within her; she came and came again, lithe muscles contracting, relaxing and contracting again. Exhausted, she collapsed and sighed, "By the gods, you are amazing." Xena raised her head, kissed her fluttering belly, then moved up to tease erect nipples with her tongue. "You’re so beautiful," she said. Gabrielle was suddenly filled with new erotic tension; she flipped her body and took Xena in her arms. Xena had never felt anything as exquisite as what Gabrielle could do to her. Each orgasm was like a bolt of lightening, striking to the core of her, overwhelming her with an indescribably thrilling current of pleasure. Being with Gabrielle was more intoxicating than all the wine blessed by Dionysus. Xena's perceptions seemed to extend beyond the range of her own senses. She felt almost as if she were seeing through Gabrielle's eyes, feeling with her own hands and with Gabrielle's. Two minds, meshed. Two hearts, synchronized. Two souls, united. Before she met Gabrielle, she had never felt complete; she had never truly loved, never felt the depths of emotions she felt when she was with her.

Nearly drowning in pools of melted wax, the candles’ flames clung to life. A sinuous tendril of black smoke floated up from one wick, like a spirit departing its newly deceased host. The altered backdrop of her stare brought Xena back to the moment. She realized that she had been away for some time, and belatedly, that she had been calmed by her mental journey. She focused on the steady rise and fall of Gabrielle’s chest against her own, lulled by her steady breathing, eventually slipping off the precipice of sleep; albeit restless. The slightest movement or faintest sound brought Xena’s mind snapping back from that nebulous, foggy world where thoughts melt together creating an alternate reality seldom understood outside its realm.

By morning, Xena was exhausted. For the past two nights, raw emotions had dominated her thoughts, leaving little room for rest. Darkness was replaced with lacy shadows on the walls, cast by the temperate morning sun. Bright orange embers glowed in the fireplace, while miniscule particles of dust bounced wildly on beams of white light that peaked through the spotted window. The distant songs of morning birds drifted on the wind, announcing the dawn of a new day with a gentle nudge. Sunlight and tree shadows dappled the dusty window and played across the foot of the bed.

Xena was content to stay where she was, holding Gabrielle; though she knew she should probably change her bandages and check on her wounds. Instead, she gently stroked Gabrielle’s hair, letting her sleep a while longer. A few minutes passed and Xena quietly got out of bed and dressed, keeping an eye on her sleeping bard.

Gabrielle stirred, missing the touch of her lover. She opened her eyes, though one refused to comply and remained partially shut allowing her to see through only a narrow slit traversing the swollen, purple tissue. "Xena?" she said, groggily.

Xena moved toward her, "I'm here, Gabrielle. How're you feeling?" she said, taking her hand, then placing soft kisses on delicate fingers that wrapped around her own.

"It hurts," Gabrielle replied, adjusting her body in bed and wincing in pain as if every muscle in her body had forgotten its function. "I'm thirsty."

Xena smiled. She knew this was a good sign. "I'll get you some water. Do you think you can eat anything?"

"No. Just some water, please." Gabrielle spoke softly. "My mouth is so dry, and my head is pounding." Her tongue explored her swollen lip; confusion flashed in her eyes as she struggled to recall what had happened.

"You're dehydrated. You haven't had anything for two days. I'll be right back. You rest." Xena let her lips linger on Gabrielle's hand, then kissed her lightly on the cheek and whispered, "I love you."

Xena left the room in search of the innkeeper. She found her standing next to a table serving breakfast to a rather large, burly patron. She turned a saw Xena approaching. "How's your friend this morning?" she inquired genuinely.

"She’s holding on. I need some fresh water."

"Coming right up. How about some breakfast? Fried potatoes, ham, eggs... Anything sound good?"

Xena remembered that she had not eaten for two days. Stress had suppressed her appetite, but the mere mention and smell of food brought it back with a vengeance. "Yes. It all sounds good. You don’t happen to have any chicken broth, do you?" She thought of Gabrielle, in case her appetite returned as well.

"As a matter of fact, I do. I was planning on making soup this afternoon. Would you like me to bring everything to your room?" she offered graciously.

"Please. That would be nice." Xena left the inn briefly to relieve her full bladder, then returned to the room with the water. Leaving Gabrielle for even a few minutes was difficult, and she felt a wave of relief wash over her when she was with her again. Xena wondered how long this uneasiness would last, and if she could ever take her eyes off Gabrielle again without anxiety and apprehension flooding her thoughts.

Gabrielle appeared to be asleep when she stepped into the room; despite her best effort to enter quietly, the heavy door creaked on its hinges, interrupting the room's silence. Gabrielle opened her eyes.

"Hey," Xena said softly. "Ready for some water?"

Gabrielle tried to sit up, but was halted by searing pain that shot through her body like a bolt of lightening. Xena was quick to help. She puts her arms around Gabrielle's torso and gently lifted her while placing pillows at her back, allowing her to sit at a comfortable angle so that she could drink.

"Thanks," the bard managed.

"Here. Drink slowly," Xena said, tipping the cup to her lips.

Gabrielle’s swollen lip proved to be a problem. Water dribbled down her chin and onto her neck as she drank. "Don't tell me I have a hole in my lip too," she joked, wiping her chin with the back of her hand.

A smile brightened Xena's face, momentarily extinguishing the sorrow that burned in her eyes. "I've been meaning to talk to you about your drinking problem," she replied with mock concern, unable to keep a straight face.

"How do you put up with me?" Gabrielle smiled, though pain contorted her face.

"It's a challenge, but I manage." Xena lifted the cup, "More?" Gabrielle nodded, and again practiced drinking without the benefit of a functioning lower lip. Xena dabbed spilt water from the bard's chin and neck with a clean cloth she picked up from the bedside table. "I should change your bandages."

Xena carefully unwrapped Gabrielle's arm and hand exposing inflamed flesh that puckered around the swollen sutures. She again cleaned the wound with water, wiping from it the herbal paste and bodily excretions that had coalesced into a grotesque compound.

Gabrielle inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, hoping to block the pain by thinking of something else. Guilt tapped harder at Xena’s conscience, bringing a chill to the pit of her stomach and a flush of heat to her face. She would do anything to take away her pain, but felt helpless. She took a deep breath and tried to control herself; salty tears burned her eyes and she fought to restrain her quivering chin. She gently spread salve over Gabrielle’s wound before wrapping it again.

Through closed eyes, tears escaped, cascading down Gabrielle’s cheeks. Xena could no longer bear to see the woman she loved in such pain; her own tears rolled freely down her face.

Hearing a muffled sniffle, Gabrielle opened her eyes. She had rarely seen Xena reveal her emotions; she had always been so stoic. Expressing their love for each other had changed her in recent months.

"Hey." She reached for Xena and wiped tears from her face. "I know what you’re thinking." She knew Xena better than anyone. "Please don’t feel guilty. You can’t blame yourself for something that was beyond your control."

"I should have been there for you. You're a part of me; we’re connected. I should have known you were in danger. I should never have left you." Xena’s voice trembled as she spoke.

"You have many skills, Xena. But you’re no prophet," Gabrielle attempted to smile. "You’re right. We are connected. We will be forever. But you can’t control the hatred of others, or blame yourself for their evil deeds."

Xena nodded, wiping tears from her cheeks, then smiled. "You are incredible. You have the most tender of souls. Even when you're hurting, your compassion for others puts them first. I love you so much Gabrielle." She fought the onslaught of tears that formed a lump in her throat. "I can’t stand to see you in pain. It’s tearing me up inside." Xena broke down, covering her face with her hand. She wept.

Gabrielle reached for Xena and pulled her close. "Come here. Shhh. I’m going to be fine, as long as I’m with you." She held her warrior in an embrace that was tender and loving.

"I’m so sorry, Gabrielle," Xena said. Her warm breath caressed the bard’s chest.

"You have nothing to be sorry for. Hold me. All I need is to be with you. Don’t let guilt be your constant companion, that’s my job."

The silence between them was not awkward. No words could improve the moment. They were content just to be together, holding each other and allowing touch to fill their needs.

Gazing out the window while she calmed her warrior with gentle strokes on her hair, Gabrielle finally spoke, "Looks like it’s going to be a nice day."

"There’s a storm coming. I can smell it in the air. The wind’s already starting to pick up." Xena lifted her head to look into Gabrielle’s eyes. "A good day to stay in bed." She managed a smile.

"As long as you stay with me."

"All the gods on Olympus couldn’t keep me away from you," Xena said, nuzzling closer.

Three quick pounding thuds hit the door. Xena was puzzled, but not alarmed. She crossed to the door and cautiously opened it. The innkeeper stood in the musty, dark hallway. She held a plate of steaming food and a bowl of broth in one hand, a pitcher of water in the other. Xena realized that her hands were too full to knock at the door; she had kicked it, accounting for the unusual thuds. "I brought your breakfast. I thought you might need some more water too.

Xena lent her a hand, taking the water and broth to relieve her load. "Thank you. It smells good."

Setting the food on the table, the woman turned to Gabrielle. "How are you feeling young lady? You know, you had your friend mighty worried." She looked back at Xena whose eyes were still wet with tears, then again to Gabrielle. "I’d say you’re pretty special to her," the innkeeper proudly deduced as if she were a prophetic oracle.

"She’s very special to me too," Gabrielle replied, looking past the woman and into Xena’s eyes. "We’re a good team. We were meant to be together." Gabrielle’s words said a lot, but not half as much as their eyes conveyed.

"Love. Some search their whole lives to find it, and never do. You two are lucky," the woman said with a warm smile.

Xena felt a bit unsettled, believing that the innkeeper could read her thoughts and see the intimate moments with Gabrielle that unintentionally dashed through her mind. "Looks like the storm is getting closer," Xena said, turning to look out the window.

Bruised clouds hovered on the horizon as if waiting for reinforcements and gathering strength before invading the valley. Thunder drummed in the distance like a warrior playing his tympani.

"Yes," the woman replied, following Xena’s stare. "I’d better get to work. I suspect I’ll have a full house tonight, what with travelers trying to stay out of the rain. You two enjoy your breakfast before it gets cold. I’ll have my son bring in some more firewood this afternoon. It’ll be getting colder."

They watched the innkeeper leave. "Did you write ‘She’s the love of my life’ on my forehead when I wasn’t looking?" Xena quipped, rubbing her forehead and pretending to look for ink on her fingertips.

Gabrielle chuckled, "Are we that obvious?"


"Love of your life, huh? I like the sound of that."

"You are. I love you more everyday." Xena’s eyes shimmered behind joyous tears.

"I love you too, Xena, with all my heart."

"You should try to eat something if you feel up to it. There’s ham, eggs, potatoes, chicken broth, bread." Xena waited for Gabrielle’s response.

"Maybe some broth. I don’t have much of an appetite. But you eat, before everything gets cold."

Xena carried the broth and a plate of food over to the bedside table. She noticed that Gabrielle’s lip had split open again. "Here, your lip’s bleeding," she said, dabbing it with a moist cloth. "Let’s put some salve on it. The salt from the broth might sting. This should help." Xena carefully spread a thick layer of salve on Gabrielle’s wound. She used a spoon to deliver the nourishment to Gabrielle. Intermittently, she forked food from the plate to quiet the rumbling of her own stomach.

Setting the empty dishes aside, Xena took off her leathers and boots, then crawled up next to Gabrielle, leaning against the pile of pillows and tossed the unused half of a blanket over her legs. The bard gingerly adjusted her body so that she could lay her head on Xena’s lap.

Xena traced her fingers along Gabrielle’s arm and shoulder. She sat pensively, wondering how to ask Gabrielle the question that had been gnawing at her. It wasn’t the question, it was the possible answer to her question that frightened her; yet she had to know. "Gabrielle, I need to ask you something," Xena announced with a note of apprehension in her voice.

Gabrielle had detected her uneasiness. Despite the pain, she rolled back on her shoulder to look into Xena’s eyes. She somehow knew the intimacy of eye contact was necessary to answer her question. "What is it?"

Xena hesitated, drew a deep breath, then asked, " I need to know if..." She paused. "...Did he..." She couldn’t seem to find the strength to ask her question, nor could she maintain eye contact. A tortured expression darkened the blue of her eyes.

Gabrielle reached up to cradle Xena’s cheek. Instinctively, she knew what Xena was trying to ask. "No." She spoke firmly, intending for her tone to leave no room for doubt. "No. He didn’t. His hatred for you...for me was too great. Raping me would not have satisfied his obsession to punish you. His mind was too clouded with hatred. My death was to be his revenge."

Xena let the trapped air in her lungs escape with audible force, relaxing her shoulders as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from them. "Thank the gods. I could never have forgiven myself if he...." Finishing the thought was still too painful.

"You wouldn’t have been to blame, Xena. It didn’t happen, so let’s just forget about it, okay?"

"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena said, tracing her fingertips along Gabrielle's cheek.

"I'll love you forever, Xena."

Gabrielle turned and snuggled her head into Xena's lap. "Do you want to check on Argo?" she asked.

"No. She'll be all right. I don't want to leave you."

"I'll be fine. You don't have to worry. I feel better already." Gabrielle knew she was telling only a half-truth. She felt as if a thousand horses had trampled her.

"I know you will. I just want to be with you."

Xena stroked the bard's head, brushing back her hair with her fingers. Gabrielle drew strength from her touch. She felt safe. She closed her eyes and eventually, soothed by Xena's gentle touch, fell asleep. Xena soon joined her. She slept more soundly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The leading edge of the storm announced its arrival with strong gusts of wind that tore tenacious, withering leaves from trees and sent them swirling in the air and scraping along the ground. Xena was awakened by the rattle of a loose windowpane, tapped by a finger of the wind. The room had darkened. Ominous gray clouds blanketed the sky, threatening imminent rain. Xena unknowingly held Gabrielle tighter, instinctively assuring her that she was safe. The bard woke up, returning Xena's embrace. Noticing the deepening shadows of the room, Gabrielle asked, "How long have I been asleep?"

"Just a few hours. The storm's here." Xena said. "Are you hungry? You should try to eat something. You need your strength."

"Yeah. I guess I am getting hungry. But I need to use the outhouse," she said, looking at Xena apologetically.

"We'd better get you dressed first," Xena smiled as she got out of bed. "I'll go order some lunch and see if your clothes are ready. The innkeeper mentioned that chicken soup might be the menu today."

"Soup sounds good." Gabrielle adjusted her body to lean against the pillows behind her. "I'll just wear one of your shifts, they're more comfortable. Is that okay?

"It's more than okay. Besides, when I wear it again, it'll smell like you." Xena smiled as she finished lacing her boots, then leaned over to kiss Gabrielle, avoiding the wound on her lip. It was a tender and lingering kiss. Xena felt slightly embarrassed when the urge to make love to Gabrielle flowed through her body, striking her at the core.

"What?" Gabrielle said, questioning the look that crossed Xena's face.

Xena shook her head, "Nothing." She chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip.

"No, what were you thinking?"

She knew Gabrielle would not give up. "I miss being with you...making love to you. It's selfish, I know."

"Says who? Because I'm hurt? I miss you too. What we share isn't just sex, Xena. It unites us as one; it's an expression of our love and commitment to each other. Believe me, if I felt better, I'd be all over you."

Xena removed a fresh shift from her saddlebag. "Here. Let's put this on," she said, gathering the fabric to ease it over Gabrielle's head.

With Xena's help, Gabrielle swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood to let the shift fall into place around her. She was weak and could not remain standing. She sat on the bed and grimaced in pain.

Xena took a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around Gabrielle's shoulders. "I don't want you getting cold," she said.

"Always looking out for me huh?"

"Always." A tender smile crossed Xena's lips and love beamed in her eyes. "Put your arms around my neck." She gently slid one arm under Gabrielle's knees and the other supported her back. She lifted her from the bed and tucked edges of the blanket between their bodies to hold it in place. Gabrielle rested her head in the curve of Xena's neck.

Opening the door, the women were overwhelmed with the scent of fresh baked bread that saturated the air. "Mmmm. Smells good," Gabrielle whispered.

"It does." Xena gracefully carried Gabrielle through the inn. The innkeeper was busy behind the bar. "You have soup today?" Xena stopped and asked.

"Yes. Chicken and dumplings. Fresh bread too."

"Good. We'll have two bowls of soup and a loaf of bread. Do you mind bringing it to our room?" Xena asked.

"Not at all. How're you doing Gabrielle?" the innkeeper asked as though she'd known her for years.

"Better, thanks." Gabrielle replied, still resting her head on Xena, trying to ignore the pain. She wondered how the woman knew her name, but decided not to ask.

"We'll be right back," Xena said as she headed toward the door.

"I'll have some wood put in your room too. It's the first winter storm. It's gonna get mighty chilly."

"Thanks." Xena stepped through the door. The cold teeth of the wind bit into them as they crossed the short distance to the outhouse. A light rain had begun to fall, dotting the ground with small, dark circles. The air was moist and fragrant. Despite the warmth of the blanket, Xena felt the tremors that broke like waves within Gabrielle. "We're almost there," Xena said, quickening her pace, but careful not to jar her precious cargo.

Steaming bowls of soup and a loaf of aromatic fresh bread were waiting for the lovers when they returned to the room. A carafe of wine with two glasses and a pitcher of water sat next to the tray of food. The candles on the mantle and table had been lit, easing back the shadows. A new pile of wood was on the ground next to the fireplace, and the fire was alive again; flames dancing joyously among the logs that nourished them. Gabrielle's clothes, clean and neatly folded, lay on the foot of the bed. The dirty breakfast dishes from the bedside table were gone and replaced with a basket of fruit, plump red grapes spilling over its rim.

"Sure can't beat the service here," Xena remarked, looking around the room. She started toward the bed with Gabrielle in her arms.

Gabrielle shivered from the chill that had seeped deep into her bones during the short trip outside. "Let's sit by the fire, I can't shake these chills," she requested.

"I'll fix us a spot, let me set you down first." Xena put Gabrielle down on the edge of the bed, then gathered pillows, blankets and bedrolls in her arms and spread them out in front of the fire, forming a comfortable foundation. She took one of the chairs from beside the table and turned it upside down with its back facing the fire. She tossed a blanket over it and stacked some of the pillows on it, creating a soft backrest. Gabrielle smiled, watching Xena ostensibly without much thought create a cozy place to curl up together. She moved the tray with bread and soup to within arms reach of the fireside nest, then poured wine into the glasses and set them next to the tray.

Xena stood, then bent forward in a bow, "Your bed awaits my love. Shall we eat?" Gabrielle attempted to stand, but was quickly stopped. "Don't even think about it," Xena chastised her in jest. She walked over to her and tenderly kissed her cheek, then carried her to their bed by the fire.

Xena leaned Gabrielle against the chair that had become a backrest and covered her legs and waist with a blanket, then sat with her back to the fire facing the bard. Gabrielle held her hands toward the fire, basking in its warmth, "Thank you. This is perfect."

"How's the pain?"

"It's okay. I'm comfortable, but sit next to me, there's room for both of us to lean on this."

Xena nodded, "I will." She reached for the soup. "Here, let's eat. It looks great," Xena said, cupping a bowl in her hands and offering it to Gabrielle.

"Mmmm. I'm hungrier than I thought."

"Wine?" Xena said, holding up a glass.

"Should I?"

"It may help."

"I guess it can't hurt, huh?"

Slanted rain slapped hard at the window, while the high pitched cry of the wind howled through the village.

"Isn't this what I was supposed to fix you for dinner the other night?" Gabrielle said.

"Yeah. It's good, but yours is much better. What do you put in it? What's different?" Xena asked.

"A good chef doesn't reveal her secrets. I could get replaced."

"Never. I may be able to find another cook. But no one could ever own my heart like you do."

"I own your heart, huh."

"All of it."

"I'll take good care of it," Gabrielle winked. "I guess you'll have to wait for that dessert you wanted."

"The candied bard?" Xena remembered. "I can wait. I'll just have a double helping."

They ate heartily, savoring every bite. The wine did, in fact, eliminate some of the bard's pain. She was on her second glass when she finished her lunch. Xena set the empty bowls on the table, then slid behind Gabrielle and under the blanket after taking off her boots. They sat staring into the fire, Xena's arms around Gabrielle's waist, her long, lean thighs pressed against her hips. Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's chest and shoulder.

"This is nice. I guess one good thing about this whole mess is that we get to spend some quality time together without the interruptions of fighting off evil warlords, insolent gods or whatever the crisis of the day is," Gabrielle chuckled.

"There is nothing good about you being beaten half to death," Xena said. "And I promise that we'll do this more often." She brushed back golden hair and kissed the bard's temple.

Gabrielle smiled. "I'm going to hold you to that promise, you know."

"I know you will," Xena said. "I'm counting on it."

Thunder rumbled overhead, startling Gabrielle. Intellectually she knew that it was harmless, yet its ominous sound resonated in her chest, as though it were a precursor of impending doom. Xena held her tighter and rested her chin on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I don't know why I jump." Gabrielle said, shaking her head. "Ever since I was a little girl, thunder has scared me. Lightening doesn't do much for my nerves either." Just then, the room was suddenly bathed in an eerie white light that disappeared in an instant. They looked to the window. The thick dark clouds were momentarily illuminated by jagged white bolts of lightening that sprayed across the sky, and appeared to fracture in the wake of the flash.

"Hey, I have something for you," Xena said, intending to relieve her lover's anxiety.

Gabrielle turned her head to look at Xena, "What? You have something for me?" she said, genuinely surprised.

"Hang on. I'll get it," Xena replied as she carefully slid to her feet. She rummaged around in her saddlebag until she found what she was looking for, then returned to her seat behind Gabrielle.

The bard smiled suspiciously, half turning her body to look at Xena. "What is it?"

Xena handed Gabrielle a small leather bag. "Have I missed something? Is it my birthday? An anniversary?"

"Nope. Just open it." Xena nudged her gently with her shoulder; a crooked smile played at her lips.

Gabrielle loosened the drawstring at the top of the pouch and turned it over to empty the contents into her hand. A handsome silver bracelet, ornate with emerald gems fell into her hand. "Xena...this is beautiful..."

"You like it?"

"Are you kidding? I love it. But what's the occasion? When did you get this? I don't..."

"Think of it as a thank you gift," Xena interrupted.

Gabrielle's eyes asked the question before she spoke, "Thank you?"

"Gabrielle, before I met you, I was empty inside. I was just going through the motions of life, not even trying to identify and fill the empty spaces in my heart. The life I’d been living was filled with torment and despair. I was haunted by my past. I was lost, until I met you. You shaped and filled the hollowness in me. You gave my life meaning and joy, Gabrielle. I love you more than anything."

Slowly, but with purpose, Gabrielle turned completely to face Xena. She took her hands in her own, brought them to her lips and gently kissed them. "Xena, I was empty too. I haven't experienced the suffering and heartache that you have. But leading a life equally devoid of tragedy and joy can breed despair; passing days, weeks, and years in the pursuit of goals that had not really mattered to me, driven by a purpose that I had not truly embraced, with no one to whom I had really committed. I was dying inside. The first time I saw you, my heart raced. It was a though new life was pumping through me. It was not only your strength, your courage, or your intrepid sprit that attracted me to you; it was your incredible beauty. Your eyes pierced my soul; your smile sent chills through my body. I fell in love with you that day, and I knew it was my destiny to be with you. I couldn't pretend to be someone I wasn't anymore. I couldn’t let others dictate what my life should be; who I should love, how I should act, what I should feel. You gave me the courage to be who I am. I owe you my life; you’re the one who gave it back to me." Shimmering behind tears, Gabrielle's eyes expressed her love as they always had, touching Xena's soul. "Thank you, Xena." The two kissed, tenderly, sweetly.

"That lip of yours is a real pain," Xena quipped.

"Tell me about it. Ouch," Gabrielle winced, trying not to smile. "Don’t make me laugh."

"Sorry." Xena leaned over and kissed the bard's cheek, then the other. "Come here," she said turning Gabrielle around. "Let's just hope you heal fast. I may go through withdrawals soon if I have to go much longer being this close to you and not being able to make love to you."

"I'll have the shakes right there with you, my love," Gabrielle said, running her hands along Xena's thighs under the blanket.

"Mmmm. You're not going to make this easy are you?" Xena groaned.

Gabrielle smiled. They sat together for a while looking into the fire and listening to the storm's fury.

"Gods, I feel so dirty. When's the last time I bathed?"

"I gave you a sponge bath, of sorts, last night when I brought you in."

"You did?" Gabrielle questioned.

"You weren't conscious most of the time. You don't remember?"

"No. But I'd really love a bath."

"Your wish is my command," Xena replied. "I'll go ask the innkeeper to prepare a hot bath with some healing salts. It'll probably be good to soak your wounds, clean 'em out better. We'll just keep the bandage on your arm; the water will soak through and do it some good."

Xena got up and put on her leathers. "I'll be right back." She left the room. Gabrielle sat in front of the fire, smiling. She lifted her hand to admire her bracelet. "What did I do to deserve you, Xena? Were it not for a simple twist of fate, I would never have met you, and I would never be complete. By the gods, I love you so much," she said, holding the bracelet to her chest.

"I love you too," Xena said, startling the bard as she entered the room.

Gabrielle turned toward the husky voice she knew so well, "Zeus, you scared me," she said. "That was fast. Don't tell me there's no bath here."

"It's all taken care of. It'll be ready in a little while."

The two lovers snuggled by the fire, lost in their own thoughts until the innkeeper knocked at the door, informing them that their bath was ready.

The sweet scent of lavender permeated the warm, moist air. Gabrielle inhaled deeply, "Ah, it smells so good in here." She then noticed the room itself. Steam rose from the stone-faced bath that sat to one side of the fireplace. Dozens of candles- of different shapes and sizes- lined the edge of the bath's stone rim; flames flickering and dancing in the warm glow they produced. Rose pedals that floated on the water like tiny lily pads shimmered in the reflection of the candlelight that played across the surface of the water. A fire blazed in the fireplace, providing warmth to the room, which had been constructed without windows and a lower ceiling in an effort to retain heat. A large dish lined with deep red rose pedals, held soap, shampoo and sea sponges. On the far edge of the bath, a carafe of wine sat next to two goblets. Towels and two thick, beige robes were draped over the back of a chair next to the bath.

"I think I can get used to this place," Gabrielle said, taking in the room's magic.

"I just hope we have enough dinars to pay for all this," Xena remarked. "I may have to wash a few dishes."

Gabrielle chuckled, "Or knock a few heads together. You know, someone doesn't pay the bill, gets a little too drunk, insults the cook, you do clean-up. An innkeeper's dream, a Xena-tizer."

"Very funny," Xena smirked.

She carefully sat Gabrielle down on the chair. "Your bath awaits my love. Let's get you out of this." Xena gathered the shift from around Gabrielle's body and slowly pulled it over her head. The bard sat in the chair, nude, firelight caressing her skin. Xena smiled, taking in Gabrielle's nude body. "You know, despite your swollen lip, your black eye, your bruised and battered skin, and your matted hair, you are still the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. You take my breath away."

Gabrielle blushed. "Have you looked in the mirror lately? You're the beauty. The sky and the ocean pale in comparison to the blue of your eyes. You flash that perfect smile of yours and my heart melts. I can't even begin to describe what you do to me when you touch me."

"Gabrielle, sometimes it scares me to love you so much," Xena said.


"If I ever lost you, I couldn't go on."

"You won’t lose me. We're going to grow old together," Gabrielle said, standing, although shakily.

Xena moved to her and gathered her in her strong arms. They shared a tender kiss, and then Xena moved her lips to taste Gabrielle's neck and shoulder; her tongue traced small circles on her delicate skin. She swept Gabrielle into her arms with virtually little effort, then sat her on the edge of the bath. She removed her clothing, stepped over the stone edging, and into the bath, then helped Gabrielle into the soothing, warm, fragrant water.

Gabrielle grimaced when the water licked the abrasions that covered her body. It took only a minute or two for her skin to become accustomed to the water, then she settled into its depths. "Ah, this feels so good."

Xena moved behind her. Her firm thighs pressed against Gabrielle's, breasts brushing against her back; one arm wrapped around the bard's waist just below the curve of her full, round breasts, the other gently touched the bandage that covered the horrible wound on her arm. "How's the arm?" she asked.

"It's okay. It doesn't hurt as much as it did."

"Good. Here. Lean back into my arm. Let me wash your hair."

Gabrielle leaned back while Xena poured warm water over her hair, careful not to let it trickle onto her face. The scent of eucalyptus and jasmine filled the air as Xena slowly massaged shampoo into Gabrielle's golden locks. The bard closed her eyes and let out a soft moan, "Oh...Xena that's nice."

"No bruises up here, huh?" Xena worked her thumbs into the back of Gabrielle's head while her fingers formed gentle circles at her temples, eliciting faint utterances of pleasure from her partner. "How's that?" Xena questioned.

"Perfect... you have magic fingers. We'll add that to your list of skills," Gabrielle grinned.

Xena worked the shampoo into a rich lather, "Time to rinse. Here, lean back."

Gabrielle protested, "Oh, that's it?"

"Not to worry. I'm just getting warmed up." Xena held the bard while rinsing the soap from her silken hair.

Turning to lift the carafe, Xena asked, "How about some wine?"

"Please. I think its numbing some of the pain."

"Good." Xena poured wine into the two goblets and offered one to Gabrielle. "To you, my love," she said as she tapped her goblet against the bard's.

"To us," Gabrielle replied before lifting the wine to her lips. "Mmmm. Now seal it with a kiss," she said, reminding her warrior of tradition. She'd always insisted on sealing their toasts with a kiss; something Xena was not about to protest.

Through lips that barely touched, - minding the wound-, tongues sought each other with deliberate purpose. Xena's passion overwhelmed her and she instinctively pressed harder, hungrily exploring, tasting. Gabrielle eagerly returned her lover's passion with comparable enthusiasm until halted by the sharp pain at her lip. She pulled away, raising a hand to her mouth. "This thing had better heal fast," she said, obviously frustrated.

Xena smiled, her forehead furrowed in concern, "Sorry. Are you all right?"

"We better not make any more toasts for a while."

Xena reached for a sea sponge and the soap. "Turn around. Let me do your back," she said. She traced intricate patterns on Gabrielle's back with the sponge, then submerged it in the bath and washed away the lather with a gentle squeeze. Setting the sponge aside, Xena pushed her hands below the water's surface and placed them firmly at the small of Gabrielle's back. She worked her fingers into tense muscles, careful not to apply too much pressure. Her hands moved slowly from side to side as they inched their way upward toward Gabrielle's shoulders, then down again.

Touching Gabrielle, feeling her wet skin against her own ignited the fire that burned inside her. She could not resist temptation. Her hands moved as though they had a mind of their own. Slowly, they glided on damp skin, along her back, down her sides, up toward her breasts, seeking their treasure. Xena pressed closer, nuzzling Gabrielle's neck, kissing soft flesh and exploring its texture with her tongue. Her hands rested on firm breasts. She felt nipples harden against the palms of her hands. A guttural moan escaped Xena's lips. Gabrielle leaned back into her lover. She reached up, took one of Xena's hands in her own, and guided it under water to the top of her thigh; her hand rested on top of Xena's as it ran the length of her inner thigh and back up toward her center. She gasped and inhaled deeply when Xena touched her core, fingers pressing and exploring, then fondling that tender nub hiding between soft folds of skin. She sighed, "By the gods, they are magical." Her head fell back against Xena's chest; her hands stroked the long, lean thighs that rubbed against her. Pleasure outweighed the pain, which had been diminished by the wine. She allowed her desires to command her body, spreading her legs, arching her back. Fingers continued to stroke her center; they eagerly probed inside her, then returned to massage the hard nub that ached with pleasure awaiting the delirious rapture soon to come. Her hips moved rhythmically, matching Xena's strokes until she felt the tremors that held her briefly on the edge of ecstasy, then exploded through her like lightening. She held her breath, closed her eyes and surrendered to the wave of pleasure that surged through her, leaving her weak, yet exhilarated.

"Gods, I love you," Gabrielle said in a whisper. Her heart beat wildly in her chest. She leaned against her lover, basking in the wake of her climax, waiting to regain her strength. Erotic sensations still lingered warmly in her flesh. She turned and straddled Xena, wrapping her legs around her lover's waist. Xena felt Gabrielle's soft center against her stomach, her firms breasts against her own, and sighed with unmistakable lust. Gabrielle leaned in to caress Xena's breast with her tongue; she traced circles around the sensitive skin, then took the nipple in her teeth, and gently pulled, then released it only to take it in her mouth again. "Ouch..." Holding her arm that had banged against Xena's elbow, Gabrielle drew a deep breath through clenched teeth, then laughed- mostly out of frustration. "Jeez, I fell like a clumsy beginner."

Xena cradled Gabrielle's arm in her hands. "Oh...I bet that hurt." Her face crinkled as if she felt the pain herself. Xena recalled their first time together, "Gabrielle, you were never a beginner... and clumsy certainly doesn't describe your performance." She waited to make sure Gabrielle was all right. "Should we get back to the room?"

"What about you?"

Xena smiled, "Don't worry about me. I get a double helping of candied bard later, don't I? Come on," Xena started to stand.

"Not yet. Let me get your back," Gabrielle offered.

"Hang on." Xena disappeared under the water briefly. "I guess I should wash my hair while I'm here," she said, wiping water from her face. Lathering, scrubbing, rinsing, and, of course, pausing to finish the wine in the goblets, the women finished their bath. "Let's go," Xena said, stepping out of the bath. She put on one of the robes, tied it closed, then helped Gabrielle over the stone edge and dressed her in the other robe. Taking one of the towels, Xena placed it on the bard's head to soak up excess water so that her hair would dry faster. She draped the towel over Gabrielle's shoulders and swept her off her feet.

"Don't forget the wine," Gabrielle said, halting her warrior.

Xena turned and bent at the knees, allowing Gabrielle to pick up the carafe with her good hand. "Got it."

Back in their room, they settled in amongst the blankets, pillows and bedrolls. The room had prematurely darkened from the storm. Xena stoked the fire that had dwindled in their absence, then went to retrieve a dry bandage and the brush from her saddlebag. She redressed the wound on Gabrielle's arm and tied the ends of the cloth into a loose knot. Sitting behind Gabrielle, Xena lovingly removed tangles from her wet hair with delicate brush strokes.

"Ah...I feel so much better," Gabrielle sighed.

"It's amazing what a warm bath can do."

Gabrielle twisted her head to look at Xena. "I wasn't talking about what the bath did for me. I was talking about what you do for me," she said seductively.

Xena kissed her neck, then pretended to bite it ravenously. "I just can't get enough of you." She crawled over to the table, reached up and grabbed the jasmine oil that had been left there by the innkeeper at her request.

"What's that?" Gabrielle hadn't noticed the small bottle on the table.

Xena crawled back to her lover and sat back on her heals, ready to pull the top off the bottle. "Roll over. Magic fingers are back." She wiggled her fingers and flashed her best smile.

"No way. That was supposed to be my surprise, remember? Give me that," Gabrielle said, snatching the oil from Xena's hand. "Pour me some of that wine, take off your robe and lay down."

Xena's raised eyebrow illustrated her surprise at Gabrielle's firm resolve. "Yes Ma'am." She obeyed the bard's orders; poured the wine, disrobed, (eliciting a seductive stare from her lover), and stretched out on her stomach in front of the fire.

Gabrielle brushed Xena's hair to one side, then poured oil into her cupped hand before rubbing them together. She ran her hands along Xena's shoulders and neck, gently kneading taut flesh. "Gods, Xena, you have knots all over. You're as tense as a lyre."

"I've had a rough couple of days. I lost something very precious to me," Xena said, raising her head to regard her recovered gift.

Gabrielle smiled, "Relax." She poured more oil into her hand and rubbed it into Xena's bronzed skin. Aided by the oil, her fingers moved gracefully over taut muscles, following the supple curves down her back. She paused briefly to sip more wine, then resumed, trailing her hands over her curvaceous buttocks, along smooth thighs, and over the lovely curves of her calves. Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips to enhance her efforts. Her robe fell open and Xena moaned when she felt soft flesh against her own. "Roll over," the bard suggested. Xena complied, turning her body underneath Gabrielle, whose slick hands moved slowly up and down her body in a sensuous caress. Endlessly fascinated by textures, shapes, angles, sizes, and degrees of resiliency, Gabrielle's hands seemed to melt into Xena.

"Gabrielle...," Xena whispered breathlessly. Her eyelids fluttered dreamily and her lips parted, drawing in slow, shallow breaths.

Gabrielle had always been deeply affected by the unique murmurs and movements, actions and reactions that made Xena who she was. She looked down at her lover; the light from the fire seemed to love her. It caressed her; lovingly accented the milky bronze shade of her flawless skin; added luster to her raven-black hair and sparkle to her piercing-blue eyes.

Xena reached up to slide the robe from Gabrielle's shoulders, exposing her beautiful round, full breasts. Overwhelmed by the warmth of her, and the promise of her exquisite body, Xena slowly sat up and guided Gabrielle to the ground, resting tenderly on top of her. She kissed her breasts erotically, enveloping them in her mouth and savoring their texture with her tongue and lips. Desire swelled within her as she pressed her hips to her lover's; rubbing, rocking, and gliding up and down with quick, fervent movements. She slipped her thigh between Gabrielle's legs; Gabrielle's fell between hers. Xena felt her onrushing orgasm, and sensed that Gabrielle was rushing toward the edge with her. A tremendous tide of tenderness and affection swept through them as they reached their climax together.

The lovers lay beside each other, basking in the glow that they had created together. "It's good to have you back," Xena said.

Gabrielle's eyes beamed in the firelight. "It's good to be back."

'We'll stay here for a few more days until you get stronger. Then we'll head out," Xena said tracing her finger along Gabrielle's jaw.

"I wonder what adventures await us out there; what life has in store for us."

"I'll take one day at a time and treasure every minute of it, as long as I'm with you."

"I love you Xena."

"I love you too Gabrielle."

Outside, the relentless deluge grew louder. Hail stuck to the frosted window and gathered at the sill. The stark branches of nearly leafless trees rattled against one another as vicious gusts of wind blasted through the town, and pressed harder at the window. The blue-white, crackling glare of lightening flashed in the window, temporarily lifting the deep shadows that had claimed the far corners of the room. Thunderclaps echoed overhead, but Gabrielle was unaffected by the foreboding sound; she didn't so much as flinch. She felt safe within the loving arms of her warrior. Their bodies intertwined as they lay by the fire, listening to the storm, watching the pulsing flames, and taking infinite pleasure in the moment....together.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The End * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * *

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