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Disclaimers: Characters Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Callisto, Ares, Draco, etc. are the property of Universal/Renaissance Pictures/Studios USA. I merely borrowed them for the purpose of this story. Characters Charis, Allmar, and Sanshee are my own.

This story contains explicit scenes of two consenting adult women making love. If you find this offensive, I recommend that you refrain from reading any further (and also that you at least consider seeking some form of professional guidance). This story also contains a rape scene, graphic violence, as well as mature situations and some language. If you’re under 18 or if this sort of material is illegal where you live and you read this anyway, don’t blame me if the dung hits the fan. You’ve been advised.

This is my first attempt at fiction, not to mention fan fiction. I hope you enjoy it. Please send any comments to: Much appreciation to my partner, Crimson Blade, for her creative input and editorial assistance.

(c) 1999 Not intended to infringe on the rights of the owners of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

The story is meant to take place following the episode, "Maternal Instincts."


When Friends Collide
by AztecAmazon

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

Part III

The warrior stopped at the edge of the woods to pick some wild flowers for the bard. She had waited so long for this moment. Everything had to be perfect. As she rummaged through the bushes, searching for the perfect color combination in the dark, she began to sense that she was not alone.

"Are you really such a fool that you would welcome her back into your arms even after her little rendezvous with the Amazon woman?"

"Mind your own business, Callisto. I don’t have time to play with you tonight," the warrior spoke as she continued her search.

"I guess it’s true then...the Warrior Princess intends to settle for left overs. Sloppy seconds. Damaged goods. Tsk tsk," the goddess smirked.

"I’m not settling for anything. As usual, it seems I’m getting exactly what I want. You hate it when that happens, don’t you?," the warrior puckered her lips, blowing a contemptuous kiss in Callisto’s direction. "Not even the goddess of...whatever is going to get to me tonight. Gotta run!"

"Don’t come crying to me when she infects you with some vile disease!," the furious goddess departed in a ball of fire.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Gabrielle lifted her head when she heard the soft knock at the door. "Xena!," she assumed, as she jumped up from the bed. "Oh...come in," the disheartened bard muttered upon opening the door to find Charis on the other side.

"Try not to be so enthusiastic, Gabrielle. I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself," Charis teased, sensing her disappointment.

"I’m sorry, Charis. I just thought...I was expecting...nevermind."

"What’s going on tonight? I just saw Eph...," she realized she had just put her foot in her mouth. "Gabrielle? What’s wrong?"

"I can’t talk about it right now," the bard sighed, sitting down in the chair across from her.

"Well...if you change your mind...please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. ok?," she urged, covering the bard’s hand with her own. "Would you like me to stay with you for a while?"

"No, I’ll be fine," she attempted a smile, but couldn’t quite carry it through.

"I’ll be in my hut if you need me. Try to get some sleep?," Charis suggested as she reached for the latch on the door.

"I wouldn’t leave just yet. The night’s still young," Ares intruded, leaning against the wall, sword in hand.

"What are you doing here?," Charis demanded. Aware that the God of War was behind Draco and Allmar’s attack on her queen, she had reflexively grabbed the bard’s staff and moved in front of her.

"I’m on a mission," the god informed the Amazon as he looked her up and down.

"You have no business here," Charis maintained. "Leave us before..."

"Before what?," Ares scoffed.

"Ares, I don’t know what you want from me. But, if you’re looking for Xena, she’s not here anymore," the bard insisted.

"Who said anything about Xena? Actually, Gabrielle...I came for you," the god declared.

"If you want her, you’ll have to go through me," Charis lunged at him.

Gabrielle covered her mouth with her hand in disbelief, horrified at the sight of Ares’ sword tearing into her friend’s gut. Displaying the now bloody sword in front of her face, the god said only, "Let’s go," before grabbing her arm and disappearing, taking the bard with him.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior’s heart skipped a beat as she approached the hut. "It’s going to be fine. She’ll listen to me," she told herself over and over again. She spoke softly as she opened the door, "Gabrielle?" She waited for the bard to answer, but heard nothing. Her heart sank when she realized she wasn’t there. Deciding to wait inside for her return, she opened the door the rest of the way and entered. "Charis?... Charis?!," she shouted as she rushed to the injured Amazon’s side, dropping the flowers she held in her hand. "Gods, come on, Charis. Wake up," she pleaded as she rolled the fallen woman onto her back.

"Xen...," Charis gasped.

"Charis, where’s Gabrielle?," the warrior frantically asked, hoping to get an answer before she slipped back into unconsciousness.

"A...," the Amazon tried to speak.

"Where is she, Charis?"

"Ares," she muttered.

The warrior, realizing the severe nature of the Amazon’s injury, cut off the flow of blood to her wound with a swift touch of her hand. "Amazons!," she shouted again and again in an attempt to wake everyone she possibly could.

Talin arrived first, wearing one boot and carrying the other along with her sword. "What happened here?" She was obviously shocked by the sight of the bloody Amazon. "Get me some bandages, a needle and some leather twine. Have someone start a fire and find Ephiny," the warrior ordered. By the time she finished her sentence, six women were handing her supplies while the others readied the fire and sent for the Regent.

Ephiny bolted through the door, immediately covering her mouth and running back outside at the sight of Charis’ bloodied body. Slumping over, her arms folded over her abdomen, tears of rage poured down her cheeks as she heaved in the bushes. Her stomach finally emptied, she ran back inside the hut.

"Who did this to her?!," she demanded, beads of sweat forming on her forehead as anger surmounted the rest of her emotions.

"Ephiny, I need you to clear this room and help me with her. She’s in really bad shape," Xena requisitioned.

"Xena, where’s Gabrielle?," she asked in a panic.

"I’m not sure. Now hurry!"

The Regent closed the door behind the last to leave the hut, ordering the rest of the Amazons to stay close. "What do you need me to do?," she asked the warrior as she knelt down on the floor next to her butchered friend.

"Ephiny...the sword pierced one of her lungs. We may be too late and, if we are, she’s not going to make it," Xena told her.

"Tell me what to do," the Amazon felt a wave of terror wash over her.

The warrior worked diligently trying to close the wounds. Ephiny did her best to assist as reflections of the past filled her head. Images of the bard intermingled with pictures of her first love, seizing her mind. It was bad enough that Gabrielle’s whereabouts were unknown. But as she fought, along with the warrior, to save her friend’s life, Ephiny found herself unable to fathom living a life without Charis in it. They had been through so much together, shared so much. Their mothers had raised them together, taught them the Amazon ways together. Side by side, they had learned what it meant to be women, Amazons, human beings. The thought of losing her was more than she could bear.

When the last stitch was complete, Ephiny apprehensively addressed the warrior, "What are her chances?"

"Not good. She’s lost a lot of blood, Ephiny. I don’t know if I got to her in time."

The Amazon, feeling her legs starting to betray her, slumped into the chair. "Xena, who did this to her? And where is Gabrielle? Gods, Xena, is she ok?," her fear was evident.

"The only thing I know is that this has something to do with Ares."

"Ares? Why would Ares...Damn him!"

"Why does Ares do anything he does?," the warrior became exasperated as she recognized her own powerless state. She didn’t know where the bard could be or whether or not she was even alive. "I could’ve prevented this from happening if I’d just stayed here," she directed her anger toward herself.

"We have to figure out what’s going on, Xena. You have to keep your mind clear. There’s no time for guilt now. We have to find Gabrielle" the Amazon tried to focus, despite the panic growing inside her.

"He’s holding the Queen in a cave near the top of Mount Larius," a soft voice rang in the women’s ears.

"Ephiny, did you...," Xena was bewildered.

"Artemis?," the Amazon spoke in a hushed tone, turning to face the direction from which the voice was coming.

"You can save her," the moon goddess was now seated on the bed next to Charis, gently stroking the wounded Amazon’s cheek. "But it won’t be easy."

"Tell us how. And how do we get to Gabrielle?," Xena seemed at once skeptical and hopeful as she addressed the goddess.

"You’ll need two things to save her," the goddess glanced at Charis. "First, you’ll need to go see the oracle, Sanshee. She is the only human in this area with access to rahfka..."

"Rahfka?," Xena inquired.

"It’s a healing herb, long extinct in it’s natural state. Only a few have managed to preserve it. Sanshee is one of those few."

"What do we do with it once we have it?," Ephiny anxiously asked.

"Once you have acquired the herb, you must face the more difficult challenge. Charis was stabbed by the sword of Ares. Only that same sword can return her to you. You must retrieve it."

"Wait," Ephiny’s tone revealed her concern. "How are we supposed to get the God of War’s sword away from him?"

"That is for you to decide," the goddess responded. "But there is a catch..."

"Why am I not surprised?," Xena interjected.

"Find Gabrielle and you’ll have a chance to retrieve the sword. Ares is expecting you, Xena. But you must enter the cave alone. Anyone who follows you will perish. If you fail your task, the Queen will pay the price with her life and you, warrior, will pay with your soul. You’ll know what you have to do when you arrive at the cave. Once you have the sword, you must cover the blade with the rahfka and use it to pierce Charis’ heart. This must be done before the moon appears in the sky three nights from now. Otherwise, your friend is lost forever."

"Pierce her heart?," the Amazon questioned before realizing that Artemis was gone.

"Just like a god. She appears out of nowhere and then disappears before we have a chance to ask any questions," Xena was obviously annoyed.

Ephiny, having been raised to revere Artemis, rolled her eyes and groaned at the warrior. "Xena, I’d suggest we collect our supplies and get moving."

"I didn’t mean to insult you," Xena recognized her faux pas. "It’s just that I’ve found the gods to be..."

"Xena...," the Amazon’s eyes narrowed, signaling the warrior not to go any further.

"Oh, come on," she grabbed Ephiny’s hand and pulled her out of her chair.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Amazon and the warrior were still riding when the morning sun made its appearance. Ephiny’s mind shifted between thoughts of her queen and thoughts of Charis. She had a hard time leaving her fallen friend in such a state, but without the herb and the sword, there was no hope. She had posted guards in and around the hut, yet she knew they would be of little use if faced with the God of War. She could only hope that she and the warrior would return in time to save her.

Xena rode alongside the Amazon, her own mind plagued with worry. She had come so close to the happiness that had seemed to elude her for so long. So close to finally having the only thing that had ever meant anything to her, besides Solan. And now, if she failed, she might lose Gabrielle for good. "There. Straight ahead," she pointed to a small hut nestled in the trees. "That’s it." The two women nudged their horses and, within moments, they arrived outside the hut.

"Just so you’ll know, she’s a bit eccentric," the warrior warned Ephiny as they approached the door.

"Yeah, I gathered that," she replied, pointing to the hundreds of bat wings tacked to the side of the hut.

"What do you want?!," the elderly lady screeched as she opened the door.

"Sanshee, we need your help. Our friend is dying...," Xena immediately began explaining.

"Xena!," the old woman was delighted to see the warrior. "You know I’ll help you any way I can but you also know I ain’t no healer."

"You don’t understand...," Xena attempted to continue.

"Tartarus if I don’t!," the oracle, experiencing some sort of revelation, suddenly erupted. "Your friend has fallen at the hands of Ares, God of War, hasn’t she?"

"That’s right! We need...I mean she needs...," Ephiny spoke ardently.

"You need rahfka," the woman stated.

"Yes, Sanshee," Xena interrupted. "We need the rahfka to save her life. Can you please help us?"

"To tell you the truth, not many know I have the herb. I’ve tried my best to keep it quiet. You know how folks can be. But...," her voice reduced to a whisper. "I can spare some for you, Xena. I told you long ago to come to me if you ever needed anything. I meant it."

With that, the old woman shuffled out of sight, disappearing behind a garish curtain, the back of her flowing pink dress trailing along behind her. "She seems to like you," Ephiny addressed the warrior once Sanshee was gone.

"Yes...she does. We have a history."


"I tended to her son many years ago," Xena answered before Ephiny could finish her question. "He was near death after a band of thieves attacked him. She was taking him to see a healer when I came across them on the road. He wouldn’t have made it in time. I managed to save him."

"No wonder," the Amazon thought aloud, a smile surfacing as Xenan crossed her mind. She wandered around the room, taking in her bizarre surroundings. Upon coming across a strange looking, oblong object, she held it up and asked the warrior, "What could she possibly use this for?"

"Actually, I asked her the same question once," Xena answered. "It’s petrified donkey dung."

The Amazon abruptly dropped the item back onto the table where she had found it. "And it’s purpose?"

"It has no purpose. She just likes the way it looks. Although, she told me she’s used it once or twice to quell her sexual desires," the warrior chuckled.

"You are sick!," the Amazon laughed.

"I have many tasteless jokes. For instance, how many Hestian Virgins does it take to light a candle?"

"Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know."

"Alright, but it’s your loss," Xena grinned.

"I’ll get over it," the Amazon shook her head, amused by the warrior’s antics.

"Here it is," Sanshee reemerged carrying a small black pouch. "Take care of it. It will take some time to replenish. So I won’t have more to spare for some time."

"Thank you, Sanshee. We will. I owe you," the warrior’s gratitude was apparent.

"My son is alive and well, Xena. You owe me nothing," she replied. "Now go to your friend. But be careful. I sense danger ahead."

"Thank you so much," Ephiny placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder.

"Your love is counting on you, child," the oracle professed, looking into the Amazon’s eyes.

Xena glanced at the Regent, recognizing her heartache. Putting an arm around her waist, she whispered, "Let’s go." She hated knowing that Ephiny was hurting. She just wished there was some way to make this easier for her. The warrior understood the pain of losing the one you love. In fact, that familiar feeling was beginning to resurface inside her. She had to find Gabrielle before it was too late.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"The horses need to rest and so do we. We’d better make camp," the warrior suggested. "Mount Larius is just across the valley. I can see it’s peak from here. It will be best if we travel the rest of the way by daylight. The terrain is rugged and I’d like to see where I’m going."

"I hate to stop, but I guess you’re right," Ephiny agreed. "We’ll head out early in the morning."

"So, which would you rather do, catch dinner or cook it?"

"I prefer to hunt, but I can do both," the Amazon answered.

"Well, if you really want to eat tonight, you might not want me to do the cooking," Xena warned.

"Looks like I’m cooking," Ephiny responded as she unpacked her satchel. "I’ll have the fire going by the time you get back."

"I won’t be too long. Hey? Did you think to bring something to cook in? You know, a pot or pan or...something?"

"Actually, I was counting on roasted rabbit. Think you can manage?"

"One rabbit comin’ up," Xena announced before heading into the woods. Within seconds, she returned. "Your dinner," she said as she presented the rabbit to the Amazon. "Now, where’s that fire you promised?"

"Who knew you’d return so quickly?," Ephiny was clearly impressed by the warrior’s expeditious efforts.

The two women inhaled the entire rabbit and settled next to the fire where they began to sharpen their swords. "I’ve been wondering how Xenan is doing, considering what he was forced to go through recently," the warrior inquired, making reference to the havoc the child witnessed at the hands of Hope and Callisto.

"He’s doing very well. He’s with Phantes’ family. After...after everything that happened, I thought it best that he spend some time with them. He needs to get to know them, to understand them. I think it’s important that he understands what it means to be a Centaur. And since he can’t be with me, for a while anyway--as long as I remain in the village, I thought it best that he spend days learning about his heritage. I have to be with my sisters right now. I need them and I’d like to think that they need me."

This was the first time Xena had inquired about Xenan since she had arrived in the village. The Amazon was surprised to hear the warrior mention the events that had led to the death of her son.

"He’s destined for greatness, you know," Xena smiled.

"You think so?"

"I know so. He’s got a great mother, doesn’t he?"

"I try, but I know I make mistakes," she replied, appreciative of Xena’s compliment.

"We all make mistakes," the warrior sighed. "I miss him, Ephiny," she confessed, thoughts of Solan playing on her mind.

"I know you do," she laid down her sword and moved closer to her friend.

"Not a day passes that I don’t think of him. Wish I could tell him about something I’ve seen or something that’s happened. Wish I could see his smile, hear his laughter," Xena confessed, a single tear escaping the corner of her eye.

"He can hear your thoughts. He knows how you feel," the Amazon attempted to comfort her.

"He was going to travel with us and then Hope..."

"He travels with you now in your memories and in your heart. And he always will."

"He said something to me, Ephiny. That day on the mountain...he said he’s proud that I’m his mother," the warrior fought back her tears. The Amazon, on the other hand, allowed her own to fall freely.

"Those are words that every mother wants to hear. Unfortunately, few of us ever do."

"I’m sorry to go on and on," Xena abruptly pulled herself together and began to spread her bedroll over the ground.

"No, Xena. I don’t mind. I’m happy to listen," the Amazon reassured her as she dried her own eyes.

"Goodnight, Ephiny," the warrior said before crawling under her blanket.


The two women had only been asleep for a short while when Xena heard something she couldn’t quite make out. Still half asleep, she slowly sat up, looking around for the source of the sound. Looking over at Ephiny, she noticed the Amazon’s body shaking. As she made her way over to the quivering pile of blankets, she realized that the noise she had heard was the sound of her friend crying. "Ephiny?," she put her hand on her back.

"Go back to sleep. I’m fine," the Amazon insisted.

"You’re not fine," she pulled the blankets back revealing Ephiny’s face.

"I’m sorry, Xena. I just...I..."

"There’s no need to explain," the warrior whispered as she crawled under the blankets with her. Putting her arm around her, she moved closer until her body was pressed against Ephiny’s back. "You’re going to need your rest," she reminded her, running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to lull her into sleep.

Ephiny woke to find Xena draped across her body. As she lay there staring up at the early morning sky, she heard the sound of horses approaching. "Xena. Xena, wake up. Someone’s coming," she attempted to rouse her sleeping friend. The groggy warrior reached for her chakram and then slouched back onto the Amazon’s chest. "It sounds like whoever it is will be here any second," she yawned.

"And that doesn’t concern you?"

"There are only two of them and I’ve got more important things on my mind. Wake me when they get here," she said as she closed her eyes.

"Umm...Xena? They’re here," Ephiny informed her as she stared up at the two thugs standing over them, swords drawn.

"Two of them. Two of us. Could turn out to be an interesting morning after all," the larger of the men sneered.

The warrior yawned again as she lifted her head. "Sorry, but we’re not interested. As you can plainly see, we’re quite content with each other ," she told them before laying a huge kiss on the unsuspecting Amazon.

"I’m sure we could squeeze two more in that bedroll if we try," the smaller man suggested as though he actually thought they might consider it.

"I’m sure I could squeeze your head into your trousers if I tried. Want to give it a shot?" Ephiny, still dazed by the kiss, covered her face with the blanket as she began to laugh at Xena’s last remark.

"I’m gonna slit your throat!," the man exclaimed, causing the Amazon to laugh even harder.

"Well, I tried. But you boys just aren’t going to cooperate," Xena stated as she bounced her chakram off a nearby tree, giving herself just enough time to punch both men in the face before her weapon returned, cutting their swords in half.

The two women chuckled at the sight of the two brutes running into the woods cupping their bloodied noses in their hands, the horses they had arrived on trailing behind them. "Not bad. Now do you want to get off me or do you have other plans?," Ephiny couldn’t resist razzing the warrior.

"That depends on whether or not you’re hiding the petrified donkey dung in here," Xena grinned as she peeked under the covers.

The two women ate their morning meal quickly, readied their horses, and set out shortly after sunrise. The good-natured banter that had started their day quickly gave way to pensive silence as they approached Mount Larius. "I have to enter the cave alone," the warrior thought aloud.

"If anyone can bring her out of there, you can. Be careful, Xena. Remember what Artemis told you." But the warrior didn’t need to be reminded. She couldn’t get it out of her mind. She could stand to lose her soul, but she knew she could never live with herself if she failed to save the bard.

"Ephiny, stay here with the horses," she instructed her friend as they reached the treacherous incline leading to the cave. "And take care of this," she said, handing the Amazon the pouch containing the rahfka. "And, if there’s any trouble outside the cave..."

"I’ll handle it," the Amazon, seeming to read her mind, assured her. "Good luck. And Xena? Thanks...for last night," she managed a subtle smile in spite of her fear. Silently, she pray as she watched the warrior climb hand over hand up the incline.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena could see light ahead. The orange glow glanced off the damp walls of the cave, illuminating her path. When she reached the end of the narrow tunnel, she found herself in a large open area, surrounded by torches which were mounted on the wall. "Welcome, Xena. Hope you’re finding the atmosphere to your liking," Ares appeared seated on a rock in the middle of the stone room.

"It’s lovely. Now where’s Gabrielle?," the warrior grumbled.

"Not so fast. First, we negotiate."

"So, start negotiating."

"The way I see it, we both have something the other wants. You want Gabrielle and, oh yes, my sword. And I...well, Xena, I want you."

"Let me guess. You want me to lead your bloodthirsty army in battle?," the warrior sounded bored.

"I prefer to call them ambitious."

"Get to the point, Ares."

"The point is that your precious Gabrielle is that way," he pointed to the tunnel behind him. "Your main concern is that I’m the only thing standing between you. But there are a few other problems which you may want to consider."

"I’m listening," the warrior responded, awaiting the opportunity to get her hands on the god. She had been hoping for the chance to repay him for the pain he had caused the bard.

"First, you ought to know that for every minute you spend inside this cave, ten minutes pass on the outside of it. And next...I said Gabrielle was that way. However, I didn’t say she should I put this? Intact," he gloated.

"You worthless bastard!," she shouted as she charged at him, plunging her sword into his abdomen.

"Ouch," Ares, unaffected, scoffed at her efforts.

The god then drew his own sword, tossing it from one hand to the other, spinning it from side to side in an attempt to intimidate the warrior. Xena offset his display with one of her own. With a snide smile on her face, she effectively countered each of his strikes. "You’ve yet to agree to my terms," Ares reminded her as he jabbed at her thigh. Jumping over his sword, she replied, "I’ll lead your bloody army if I lose. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Ayiyiyiyiyi!," her war cry bounced off the frigid stone, resounding through the tunnels as she vaulted into the air. She landed on a ledge above the entrance to the tunnel which would presumably lead her to the bard. As she attempted to swing through the passage, Ares grabbed hold of her hair, propelling her backward to the other side of the cave. So consumed by her rage and desperation, she failed to notice that she had sliced her arm open when she slammed into the wall.

The warrior stood in silence, glaring into the god’s eyes. And then, without warning, sent her chakram soaring through the air. Holding her breath, she watched it ricochet from one side of the cave to the other before, at last, reaching its destination. The cavern began to rumble, releasing the large slabs of rock which had been dangling just above the god’s head. Just before the falling rubble pinned him under its weight, the warrior snapped her whip. When Ares was no longer in sight, hidden from view under the debris, Xena tugged at her whip. Unable to see the end of it, she could only hope. "Yes!," she blurted out when she saw that she had managed to snare the god’s sword. "Thanks for the workout!," she mocked her opponent as she made her way around the massive pile of stones which covered him.

She ran through the dark tunnel so fast her legs were beginning to cramp. Her head began to spin when she spotted her love tied to a boulder with her back facing her. She talked to the bard as she rushed to her side. "I was afraid I’d never see you again. I’m going to get you out of here, but we have to hurry...Gabrielle? Gabrielle?," her exuberant tone quickly diminished when she noticed the blood running down Gabrielle’s side. She desperately pleaded with the unconscious bard as she examined her wound. It didn’t take long for Xena to recognize that this wound was identical to the one Charis had received. "Damn you, Ares!," she shouted as she bolted toward the cave’s exit.

Finally outside, she found herself barely able to catch her breath. "Ephiny!," she managed to call out to the Amazon. Ephiny’s heart pounded when she saw the distraught warrior standing on the cliff...without Gabrielle. "What’s wrong?!," she anxiously responded. "Rahfka! I need the rahfka!," Xena yelled. Sensing that there was no time to spare, the Amazon tied the pouch containing the herb to an arrow and sent it soaring through the air toward her. The arrow flawlessly made its way to its mark, landing at the warrior’s feet. Xena, bending down to retrieve the pouch, saw the Amazon hastily attempting to make her way up the mountain. "Ephiny, don’t follow me!," she ordered, taking heed of the instructions Artemis had given them. "I have to do this alone!," she shouted as she ran back inside the cave.

The Amazon paced back and forth talking to herself. "Gods, she’s got to be alright. I’ll never forgive myself if...No, Ephiny, she’s fine. She has to be," she tried to convince herself. "And Charis...the gods be with her. We have to make it back in time."

Inside the cave, the warrior held the God of War’s sword above her head, both hands firmly gripping the weapon. She screamed in anguish as she drove the herb-covered blade into Gabrielle’s heart. She held her love in her arms, watching in horror as the life drained out of her. When the bard ceased to breath, she pulled her closer, begging her not to leave her. Just as she began to lose hope, Gabrielle opened her eyes. "Xena?," she was disoriented. The warrior, relieved, began to smother her love’s face with kisses. "Where am I?," the bard asked in a hushed tone.

"Long story. We have to go. I’ll explain on the way," Xena was suddenly reminded of her mission. "Can you walk?"

"Can I walk?," Gabrielle looked puzzled.

"Look at yourself. You’re...," she paused, noticing that the bard’s wound was gone and her clothes had been restored. The rips and the blood that had been there only moments before had somehow disappeared. "Wow. That rahfka’s powerful stuff," she noted as she helped Gabrielle to her feet.

"Rahfka? Xena, what are you talking about?," Gabrielle’s confusion was steadily expanding.

"Come on. There’s no time. And stay close to me."

"No problem there," her response sparked a smile on the warrior’s face.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Xena, what happened to your arm?," the bard had a concerned look on her face.

"Ares and I had it out...again," she answered.

"Ares...he...Charis! Xena, he killed her!," Gabrielle panicked, beginning to remember the events which had taken place before the god abducted her.

"She’s not dead," the warrior assured her. "But we don’t have much time to save her. There’s the passage that leads to the outside." The two made their way out of the cave. As she stood on the ledge overlooking the valley, Xena thought aloud, "It’s nearly dusk. We only have another day to get the sword and the rahfka back to the village."

"Gabrielle!," Ephiny shouted upon seeing her friend descending the cliff with the warrior. The bard was so happy to see her that she nearly lost her grip on the rope which supported her. When she finally reached the ground, the Amazon clutched her so tightly that the Queen was barely able to breathe. Opening her eyes mid-embrace, Gabrielle caught a glimpse of Xena over Ephiny’s shoulder. Her heart skipped a beat as she remembered what had happened in the village the last time she had seen her and the Regent together. "Did you two...did you explain...does she understand?," she stumbled over her words.

"Yes, Gabrielle. Ephiny explained everything," the warrior informed her.

"Everything?," the bard looked nervous.

"Everything," Xena reiterated. "There’s nothing to be concerned about," she looked into her love’s eyes, placing a hand on her shoulder.

As they traveled, Gabrielle listened while Xena conveyed their predicament to her. The three women kept moving through most of the night, stopping only briefly for the sake of their horses. Though she preferred to walk, the bard was forced to ride with the warrior in the interest of time.

Xena’s mind was racing, overflowing with concern for Charis, but also with thoughts of the woman sitting so closely behind her. Though she had never admitted it to Gabrielle, she enjoyed it when the bard rode with her. The warmth of her arms around her waist. The feel of her breath against her neck. The smell of her skin. The sound of her voice. She adored her...and soon she would make sure she knew it.

"Xena? How many Hestian Virgins does it take to light a candle?," the Amazon asked out of the blue.

"None," the warrior grinned. "Hestian Virgins aren’t allowed to have candles."

"Huh?," Gabrielle uttered as Ephiny shook her head.

"Think shape, Gabrielle," Xena chuckled at the bard’s naiveté.

"Oh!," she suddenly exclaimed after a moment of deliberation.

Ephiny glanced at the warrior as she began to recognize the mistake she had just made in raising the issue of virginity. Xena’s demeanor quickly transformed itself when she realized that the bard had suddenly grown silent. Gabrielle wrestled with herself, trying not to think about that day in the cabin, making an effort to focus on the words Ephiny had once said to her. She knew she hadn’t submitted herself to the warlords. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the warrior, knowing what had happened, would somehow be turned off by her. "Are you ok?, Xena softly asked, sensing Gabrielle’s dismal state. "I’m sorry if I..., "she attempted to apologize. "Don’t worry about it," the bard cut the her off. Affectionately tightening her grip on the warrior’s waist, she whispered in her ear, "I’m fine. Really." But Xena knew she wasn’t. She knew she was struggling w

"Xena? Did...where did you take Draco and Allmar?," Gabrielle cringed as she said their names.

"I of them," the warrior told her, hoping she wouldn’t ask anymore questions about their demise.

"Oh...," the bard’s voice dissolved into silence.

"We’d better pick up the pace," Xena told Ephiny, her mind once again centered on their primary objective. Gabrielle, still immersed in her own thoughts, grabbed the warrior’s waist as the sudden increase in speed propelled her backwards.

"Would you mind warning me the next time you plan to gallop?!," she shouted in Xena’s ear.

"Gabrielle?," Xena’s tone took a sarcastic turn. "We’re going to go faster now," she grinned.

"Thanks for the tip," she responded, playfully swatting the warrior in the back of the head.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The three women arrived in the village just before nightfall. "Talin!," the Regent called out to the Amazon standing next to the stables. "Take care of the horses," she ordered as she jumped from her horse and began to run toward Gabrielle’s hut, rahfka in hand. Xena, not wanting to waste any time, flipped head over heels off Argo’s back, taking the bard with her. "What are you doing?! Xenaaa!," Gabrielle yelled as she found herself spinning in mid-air.

"How is she?," the Regent hesitantly inquired upon entering the hut, the warrior and the bard following close behind her.

"There’s been no change, Ephiny," Eponin was notably concerned.

Xena prepared the sword, coating the blade with the rahfka, before telling the other women to step back. "No," Ephiny placed her hand on the warrior’s. "I have to do it," she told her.

"Eph...," Xena began.

"Xena, I have to do this," the Amazon insisted.

"Take it," she reluctantly handed Ephiny the sword and backed away.

The Regent’s hands trembled as she aimed the point of the sword at her friend’s chest. "Artemis, be with you," she whispered as she plunged it into her flesh. The women watched in horror as blood streamed across the floor and under their boots. Within seconds, Charis stopped breathing and her skin became ashen. "Xena?," the fearful Amazon looked up at the warrior as she held her departed friend in her arms.

"It takes some time," Xena assured her, recalling the terror she had experienced in the cave when Gabrielle’s body ceased to function.

Moment after moment passed and still Charis slept. "Ephiny?," Xena spoke in a hushed tone as she sat next to her on the bed. "It’s been too long. It didn’t work," tears filled her eyes as she acknowledged defeat.

"No!," the Amazon started to scream. "She can’t be gone! Wake up! The gods, Charis, wake up!," she held on tightly to her friend’s icy body.

"Let her go," the warrior whispered as she and Eponin attempted to pry Ephiny’s arms from the fallen Amazon.

"Why?!," the Regent lamented as she buried her head in Xena’s chest.

"I’m so sorry," Gabrielle wrapped her arms around both her and the warrior.

"What’s going on? What happened?," Charis slowly sat up on the bed.

"Charis!," the Amazon exclaimed, lunging at her, knocking her onto her back. "Thank the gods!," she screamed again as she clung to her friend.

"Ephiny? What have you been smoking?," the disconcerted woman asked. "You want to let me up so I can get some water? I’m about to die of thirst here."

"Oh, yeah. Water. I’ll get the water!" Ephiny was suddenly exhilarated as she scurried around the hut, hugging everyone in the room along the way.

"What’s gotten into her?," Charis asked the warrior. Eponin, not knowing what to make of the Regent’s peculiar behavior, responded by shrugging her shoulders.

"I’m sure she’ll tell you everything later," Xena sighed in relief.

"Here’s your water!," Ephiny loudly announced upon returning to the bedside.

"Uh...thanks. And your new enthusiastic attitude," she grinned at the Regent.

"And I love you!," the Amazon exclaimed, placing a wet kiss on her friend’s forehead.

"Xena, just tell me one thing. Is it the furies?," Charis inquired, still trying to figure out what was behind the Regent’s bizarre behavior.

"No, she’s not crazy," Xena chuckled. "I guess we should explain."

The warrior and the bard told Charis of the events which had taken place over the past three days. Ephiny, in her jovial state, took it upon herself to clean the hut. Though she managed to spruce the place up a bit, she spent most of her time twirling around the middle of the room, dancing with the broom, much to the amusement of the other women. "I’m gonna give her Tartarus about this tomorrow," Charis grinned at Xena as the Regent skipped by them whistling the Amazon celebration song.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny and Charis watched through the window as the sun began to appear from behind the dark sky. "Just like the old days," Charis noted, referring to the fact that the two had stayed up all night talking. They had watched the sun rise together many times in the past. Lost in conversation, submerged in their youthful adoration, forsaking sleep for communion.

"Yeah...the old days," Ephiny’s mind journeyed back in time as she spoke.

"What’s that look?," Charis was curious as to why her friend appeared to be a thousand miles away.

"I...," she paused, surprised by the thoughts descending on her mind. She had the most vivid image of her companion in her head. An image of her first love looking up at her, their bodies intertwined. "I was remembering the first time we made love," she looked down as she confessed.

"It was momentous, wasn’t it," Charis smiled. "I think about those days often. Seeing you the way I do...every day...I can’t help but reflect on all that we’ve shared."

"What do you remember most?"

Her companion lost herself in her own thoughts for a moment before answering. "Your eyes...I remember your eyes," she sighed.

"What about them?," the Regent offered a faint smile.

"The way they sparkled...the love, the life, the spirit they reflected," she answered warmly. "I still see those same things in your eyes...I always have."

Overcome by her friend’s tender recollection, Ephiny was at a loss for words. She placed her hand gently on the Amazon’s cheek, taking in her beauty as she relived in her mind what they had once shared. Finally able to speak, she uttered, "I thought I had lost you. I was so scared..."

"But you didn’t," Charis interrupted. "Besides, if things hadn’t happened the way they did, you wouldn’t have had the chance to frolic around the hut like you did last night," she teased her.

"I was relieved, ok? Not to mention emotionally drained," the Regent chuckled at her poor attempt to justify her behavior.

"Admit it, you can’t get enough of me," Charis grinned at her.

"I can’t," Ephiny heard herself say in a serious tone as she leaned over and kissed her friend on the cheek. "I’m exhausted," she said, abruptly jumping to her feet. "Can we meet later? Maybe go for a ride?," she requested.

"I’d like that," Charis responded as she embraced the Regent. "Thank you, Ephiny...for all you did for me. I owe you my life."

"You don’t owe me anything," Ephiny maintained as she made her way out the door, silently paying homage to the Moon Goddess. She had spent so much of her time with Gabrielle, centralizing their relationship, and now lamenting over what she feared might be its decline, that she had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed being with Charis. But as she sat there, holding her friend’s lifeless body in her arms the night before, she vowed to spend as much time with her as possible if given a second chance. And now that she had received that chance, she intended to make good on her promise.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior sat at the table, scrawling something on a piece of parchment, listening to the sounds of the bard’s snoring. She hadn’t slept much as her mind was clouded by thoughts, cluttered with words. They had to talk...soon. She had to know where she and the bard were going from here. She knew what she wanted. And now the time had come to find out for sure what Gabrielle wanted.

"Good morning," the bard yawned as she stretched her arms above her shoulders.

"Good morning. Rest well?," Xena responded as she stuffed the parchment she had been writing on between her breasts.

"Never better," she offered her a sleepy smile. "How about you?"

"Not bad. I thought we’d get some breakfast. Can you be ready soon?," she said as she wiped her sweaty palms on her leathers.

"We’re talking food here, right?," the bard joked. "I’ll be ready in no time."

The two women took their time as they made their way across the village. "I didn’t see Ephiny or Charis at breakfast?," Gabrielle pointed out.

"Did you really expect to?," the warrior responded. "I’m sure Charis had other things on her mind and Ephiny...well, she’s probably worn out from that exhibition she put on last night." She tried to laugh only to discover that her nerves were too frazzled. "Gabrielle?," she forced herself. "We need to talk about some things."

"I know we do," she took the warrior’s hand as they walked.

"Would you mind if we went somewhere else for a couple of days?," Xena requested. "We’ll stay close by. It’s just that I...I don’t want to be interrupted. This is too important."

"That sounds wonderful," the bard sighed at the thought of spending some time alone with her love. "By the time you get Argo prepared, I’ll be ready to go. I need to let Ephiny know we’re leaving. Can I tell her where we’ll be? Where are we going anyway?," she rambled.

"The edge of the village, next to the river. That way, if we’re needed, we can get here fast. Tell her where we’ll be but, Gabrielle...," she became insistent. "Make it clear to her that we don’t want to be disturbed unless it’s absolutely necessary."

"I will," she assured her. "I won’t be long."

"Good," the warrior sighed in relief, clasping the bard’s hand tighter before they parted. "Meet me at the stables," she told her as she watched her walk toward the Regent’s hut.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior and the bard warmed themselves by the campfire. They both sat on Gabrielle’s bedroll, their legs crossed, facing each other. They had spent most of the day setting up camp and fishing. They had talked a lot about many things, most of them trivial. But the bard could tell that the warrior had something on her mind.

"I wanted to wait for the right moment to discuss this," Xena nervously began. "I’ve already told you how I feel about you..."

"Xena, I feel the same way about you...," the bard sounded urgent.

"I know, Gabrielle. And there’s only one thing that could make me happier than knowing that," she was frightened as she began to reveal herself. Frightened that Gabrielle wouldn’t want what she wanted. Frightened that the words she was about to say would cause her to lose her love forever. As she sat there, studying the bard’s questioning expression, she felt her own heart pounding against her chest. "Gabrielle," she began again. "I’ve been thinking about exactly what I want to say to you and, I hope you don’t mind...but I wrote it down," she told her as she removed the piece of parchment from her cleavage. Upon taking the bard’s hand, the warrior began to read:

My life, before you, was desolate.
Each breath I took the same as the last.
I secretly longed to encounter someone--
Anyone who could set my spirit free in death.
And then, I found you and our paths merged.
Though I tried to cast you aside,
You refused to let me go.
I’ll never know what you saw in me,
I only know that I’m grateful your eyes didn’t surrender
to the darkness that so often greeted them.
I remember when you came to me.
What I can’t recall is the moment when
you became a part of me.
My life has become nonexistent apart from your love.
I no longer think of me and of you, but of us.
Though I don’t have much to offer,
I offer you all that I have
With the hope we can continue our journey together.

Her voice began to tremble as she fought back her tears. "Gabrielle, I want to spend the rest of my days with you, next to you, in your arms. And, no matter what you say, I’ll always feel the way I do about you. If I’m asking too much..."

"Yes, Xena," the bard managed through her tears.

"Too much, huh?," the warrior’s heart sank.

"No," Gabrielle found herself laughing and crying at the same time. "Yes, I want to spend the rest of my life with you," she caressed the warrior’s tear stained cheek.

"Gabrielle, I’m asking you for a commitment...," Xena wanted to make her intentions perfectly clear.

"I know and I’m telling you that I want that too," the bard’s tears of joy continued to flow.

"Really?," she thought her ears had certainly deceived her.

"Yes, really. There’s nothing I want more than to spend the rest of my life with you," the bard whispered as she lifted herself to her knees and moved closer to her, finally wrapping her arms around the warrior’s neck.

"Gabrielle," Xena got on her knees and faced the bard. "Will you bond with me?"

Face to face, the two women sat in silence, each searching the other’s eyes, attempting to see past them. "Yes, Xena," Gabrielle finally spoke as she ran her fingers through her love’s raven hair. "I...gods, your eyes are beautiful!," she suddenly interrupted herself, struck down by the celestial sapphire orbs.

The butterflies in Xena’s stomach danced as she clung to her love’s every utterance. The bard’s hand moved over the warrior’s face, gently brushing her hair aside, revealing the soft curves in her neck and shoulders. "You’ve made my life wonderful," Gabrielle whispered as she moved closer, her lips slightly touching her cheek. Xena closed her eyes, taking in the intoxicating scent of the bard’s skin. At last, she felt her love’s mouth unite with her own. She parted her lips as they connected, their frenzied tongues seeking to explore every element of their surroundings. As the moments passed, they sank deeper and deeper into each other. Delving into their kiss, they captured each other’s soul, each feasting on the unshielded essence of the other.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena held the bard in her arms as they lay on her bedroll listening to the sound of the crackling fire. "Xena? Are you still awake?," the bard quietly asked.

"Yes," she answered, tenderly kissing her.

"I’ve never been happier than I am tonight," she whispered as she snuggled closer to her love.

"Your happiness means everything to me," the warrior’s heart danced as she held the bard and closed her eyes, once again welcoming her love’s heart-rending kisses.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Oh, Gabrielle," Callisto was singing the bard’s name when she appeared in the field next to her.

"Screw you," the bard sang back to her as she continued to work her fighting staff.

"Playing with your little stick again, I see," the goddess picked up a twig and began to mimic her, twirling it over her head.

"Now...," Gabrielle began to sing again as she continued to practice her moves. "Listen to my story about Calli-sto. I’ve got more goddess stock in my little tiny toe. She doesn’t have a friend. Her entire family’s dead! She’d better move her butt or I’ll crack her in the head!," she sang with enthusiasm.

"Aaaaahhh!," the goddess opened her mouth wide, letting out a deafening screech as she left in a huff.

"Good," the bard said aloud as she resumed her work out. "I’m going to beat her this time," she talked to herself, referring to the upcoming Amazon weapons competition. "I’m going to beat Ephiny if it’s the last thing I do."

"I wouldn’t be too sure. She’s one of the best, you know," Xena approached her.

"Not this time, Xena. I’ve been practicing. See," the bard began to put on a private demonstration for the warrior.

"You’ve gotten very good. But can you beat me?," Xena challenged, spinning the staff she held in her right hand.

"Bring it on, warrior woman," she accepted.

The two sparred for some time before Gabrielle finally knocked Xena’s staff out of her hands. With a final blow, she brought her mate to the ground and stood staring down at her. "You let me beat you, didn’t you?," she asked, gently nudging at the warrior’s shoulder with her staff. Xena, impressed by the bard’s skill, insisted, "No. You won fair and square."

"Come on, Xena. Tell the truth. You let me beat you, right?," she persisted.

"No. Like I said, you won on your own." The warrior hadn’t lied. The truth of the matter was that she had been distracted by the bard’s radiance. Pulling her down on top of her, she asked, "Can you kiss as well as you fight?"

"You should know the answer to that question by now," she responded before giving in to her.

Though she had kissed her many times in the past weeks, the bard still managed to melt the warrior each time their lips met. While they were camping alone on the outskirts of the village they spent endless hours sitting on the riverbank kissing, holding one another, and talking, each repeatedly telling the other of the love she had felt for so long.

The bard had also managed to painfully explain to the warrior that, though she loved her, she was limited in the ways she was able to express that love. Xena wanted her desperately, longed for her touch, craved her body. Yet she understood the feelings which plagued the bard. And, even though it became difficult for her at times, her patience proved steadfast.

"Xena," Gabrielle found herself panting. "We have to stop."

Noting the fretful expression on her face, the warrior complied. "Let’s head back," she suggested. Checking her libido, she reached for the bard’s hand and pulled her to her feet. "You really are quite good with your staff," she stated in an attempt to divert her attention away from her stirring desire.

"Xena," she stopped in her tracks and looked into the warrior’s eyes. "I’m...," she searched for the word. "I’m frustrated too," she grabbed Xena’s arms and playfully shook her as she spoke.

"Give yourself time, Gabrielle," the warrior chuckled at the urgent look on the bard’s face. "I’m not going anywhere."

"Arrrg! I’m driving myself insane!," she laughed at herself, throwing her hands in the air as she began to walk again.

"Well, at least we can take our cold baths together."

"Did you have to mention the baths?," the bard raised an eyebrow. "Utter torture!," she added.

"I’ve learned to enjoy admiring your naked body from a distance," the warrior noted.

"Xena, don’t say naked in front of me right now," she warned.

"Alright, alright. Let’s just get our fully clothed selves back to the village. I’m sure you’re famished by now."

"Oh, I’m hungry alright," the bard muttered, causing the warrior to break into laughter. "Xena? I thought I should tell you that Callisto made an appearance a little while ago," she informed her.

"What did she want this time?," the warrior raised an eyebrow.

"I handled her. You would’ve been proud of me."

"Gabriellllle...what did you do?," she was afraid to ask.

"I sang to her."

"Sang to her?," Xena was stumped.

"Yep. Now...," the bard began to reiterate her song. "Listen to my story ‘bout Calli-sto..."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny picked up her sword and headed out the door. After days of deliberation, she had finally come to a decision. Outside Gabrielle’s hut, she held her head high as she waited for the bard to answer the door. "Ephiny! Hi," her queen greeted her with a hug as usual.

"I need to speak with you," the Regent immediately began to address her point.

"Come in. Sit down," the bard offered her a chair.

"I’ve had a chance to think about what we talked about and I’ve decided that I’d like to do it."

"Are you sure?," she asked out of consideration for the Regent’s feelings.

"I’m sure, Gabrielle. I’d be honored," she smiled at her.

"I’m so glad, Ephiny! Thank you so much. Xena’s going to be as happy as I am," she was delighted as she hugged her again. "Speaking of Xena...," the bard saw the warrior approaching the hut.

"Xena!," Gabrielle couldn’t wait to tell her the news. "Ephiny’s agreed to preside over our ceremony."

"That’s great," Xena’s smile was bitter-sweet. She was genuinely happy that the Regent had agreed and she knew that Ephiny was sincerely happy for them. Yet she also knew this had to be painful for her.

When she and Gabrielle returned from their retreat, she had convinced the bard to let her tell the Amazon of their commitment and pending bonding ceremony. She knew the news would upset her and she also knew that Ephiny wouldn’t want to cry in front of Gabrielle. And she did cry when Xena told her, but the warrior understood. In an instant, reality had sent all of her hopes and dreams crashing down around her, leaving her rummaging through the ruins, forcing her to rebuild her life.

"Xena, I really want to do this," the Amazon assured her. "I love you both so much and I couldn’t be happier for you," she managed a smile, but her glassy eyes disclosed the turmoil lurking behind them.

"Thank you," Xena meant it as she hugged her tight, marveling at her integrity.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"You look like you just lost your best friend," Charis said to the Regent.

"I a sense," Ephiny sighed, shifting the dirt with her bare feet.

"Gabrielle?," Charis sighed.

The Amazon nodded as tears formed in her eyes. "I guess I’ve been saying goodbye to her for a while. But sometimes I..."

"Genuine feelings don’t die overnight," her friend reminded her. "That I know from experience."

"I know," she resigned. "And I am happy for them both, but..."

"You’re sad for yourself?," Charis interjected.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"That’s reasonable...for now. But give yourself time and, before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet." Charis hated to see Ephiny like this. Downhearted and broken. She stood and moved, having a seat on the rock the Amazon was leaning on as she sat on the cold ground. Positioning one leg on either side of the Regent, Charis wrapped her arms around her.

"I do find comfort in knowing that she’ll be happy...and loved," Ephiny sighed as she sat back, settling into Charis’ embrace.

"That’s a start, isn’t it?," she smiled as she affectionately pressed her cheek against the Regent’s.

"Yes...yes, it is a start," Ephiny recognized. "I’m presiding over the bonding ceremony," she informed her.

"I’ve heard and, I must say, you’re a better woman than I am," Charis chuckled, the Regent somehow finding the ability to join in her laughter.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The two women squared off, holding their staffs in position. This was the final round. Each of them had managed to erase the rest of the competition, which wasn’t too difficult since Xena hadn’t competed in the event. "Show me what you’ve got," the Regent addressed her queen as she waited for her to strike the first blow. The bard swung at her friend’s shins, watching as she effectively counteracted the blow by effortlessly leaping over the staff. "Not bad," Ephiny spoke again. "But you can do better," she grinned. This time, Gabrielle executed a series of blows. Focused and agile, she moved in on her opponent.

The two women were soon covered in sweat, their muscles beginning to ache as their staffs clashed again and again. The Amazon Queen was skillful, holding her own against the expert Regent. The competition between them escalated, appearing brutal at times, as the crowd cheered them on. The warrior, sitting just outside the circle remembered her promise to the bard. She had agreed not to embarrass Gabrielle by stepping into the ring--no matter what the circumstances. As she sat there, a silent witness to the fierce battle, she held her hands over her face, peeking through her fingers. Just as the competition officials were prepared to declare a tie, the final blow was delivered.

"Oh gods! Please get up! I’m so sorry! Oh gods!," the woman knelt next to her friend, now out like a light on the ground. Ephiny swallowed hard as the warrior lifted her up by the back of her tunic and effortlessly moved her aside. "Gabrielle? Gabrielle?," Xena gently tapped the bard’s cheeks with her hands. "For the love of Zeus! Somebody get me some water!," she demanded.

Eponin, without stopping to think, doused both the Queen and Xena. "Oops," she uttered as she backed away from the agitated warrior. "Guess I lost, huh?," were Gabrielle’s waking words.

"Yep, looks that way," Xena answered her, relieved when she realized the blow to the back of her head wasn’t as serious as it had looked. "Ephiny, get over here," she instructed. The Amazon stiffened her jaw as she moved next to the warrior who stood to face her. "Champion!," Xena announced as she raised the Regent’s arm over her head. "Thought I was going to sock ya, didn’t you?," she teased her. The Amazon merely shook her head and chuckled as she made her way toward Charis, whom she had defeated much earlier in the competition. Charis wasn’t by any means unskilled when it came to the fighting staff but her forte was unquestionably chobos. Trained by Queen Melosa, there weren’t many who could outdo her. In fact, she had defeated Ephiny earlier, taking top honors in the event.

"I had her, Xena," the dazed bard insisted.

"Yeah, you had her alright."

"Well, I could do worse than losing to Ephiny."

"Mmm hmm," the warrior nodded, helping the bard to her feet.

"I didn’t mean to hurt you," Ephiny gave the Queen an apologetic hug.

"You didn’t," Gabrielle told her, despite the lump growing out of the back of her head.

"You did well," the Amazon extended her arm to the bard.

"So did you. Next time," Gabrielle smiled as the two clasped wrists.

"Next time," Ephiny returned her smile, still stunned by the intensity of their match. There was no way she was ever going to lift a staff to the bard again, competition or no competition.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena lay awake in the dark as the bard moved closer to her, gently kissing her neck. Slowly, she traced a path to her ear, softly tickling the warrior’s earlobe with her tongue before making her way to her mouth. Xena yielded to her love’s gentle, yet probing, kisses. "Goodnight," she whispered when the bard finally pulled away and placed her head on her chest. "Goodnight," Gabrielle’s voice was muffled as she delicately kissed the tops of Xena’s breasts, running her hand along her muscular thigh.

Xena shuddered in response to her touch, at the same time trying to contain her excitement. The bard moved the straps of the warrior’s undergarment off her shoulders. Xena’s body tensed as her love’s mouth covered her breast, her teeth gently grasping at her nipple. "Gabrielle?," she whispered through a ragged breath.

"I want this to happen, Xena," the kisses the bard was delivering became more intense as her mouth made its way from one breast to the other.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny stood outside the hut, listening to the sounds coming from inside. She had stopped by to check on Gabrielle, to make sure she had recovered from the bump she’d received earlier. And now, she found herself unable to move. Feeling like a fool for remaining there, yet unable to tear herself away, she held her breath as she crouched beneath the window.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena was pleasantly surprised by the sound of her undergarment tearing as the bard tugged at the threads until, at last, the warrior’s body was revealed to her. Though she had seen her naked form before, none of those occasions could compare to this one. She sat up, looking Xena in the eyes as she allowed her to remove her tunic. Once it was out of the way, Gabrielle moved close to her, offering her breasts to the hungry warrior. "Take me, Xena," she whispered as her desire began to emerge.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"What in Tartarus am I doing?," Ephiny questioned her own behavior as she stood there paralyzed. "This is insane! I’m acting like some kind of pervert!," she chastised herself. And yet she refused to budge.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard ran her hands up and down the warrior’s back while Xena covertly pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming as she continued to feast on her love’s breasts. The warrior shifted her position, placing the bard on her back, kissing her fervently before slowing to ask, "Are you sure this is what you want?"

"I’m sure," she persisted, pulling the warrior to her, devouring her mouth with her own. Xena’s hands trembled as she fumbled with the bard’s skirt. She had waited so long, wanted this so desperately. She wanted to savor every touch, every emotion. She wanted everything to be perfect for her love.

When the last of Gabrielle’s clothing was lying on the floor next to the bed, Xena moved on top of the bard. The feel of her flesh against her own consumed her. The soft moan that came from the bard as their bodies collided sent her over the edge. She kissed her lips, her neck, her breasts, tracing a line across her abdomen to her navel, lingering there before moving down between her thighs. Unable to wait any longer, she tasted her love, delighting in the moist confirmation of the bard’s desire.

"Xena," Gabrielle said her name again and again as the warrior gently pushed her legs further apart. Her appetite for the bard insatiable, she continued to move her mouth over her, her love’s soft cries of ecstasy driving her insane.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny placed her arms against the wall of the hut and rested her head on her wrists. "I’ve got to get out of here," she thought. "This isn’t right. In fact, it’s positively demented!" Sweating, aroused, and disgusted at herself, she was trying in vain to move her feet when she felt the warmth of Charis’ hands on her hips. Trying to catch her breath, she started to whisper, "Wha...what are you..."

"Shhh," Charis placed her finger over her lips as she continued to massage the Regent’s hips. Ephiny, not bothering to turn around, faced the wall, her shoulders tensing. She knew Charis could hear the sounds emanating from inside the hut. Her embarrassment getting the best of her, Ephiny attempted to move. "No," Charis whispered as she wrapped her arms around Ephiny’s abdomen, slowly moving her hands toward her breasts. She could feel the Regent’s erect nipples through her tunic.

To be continued...

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

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