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JOURNEY THROUGH SHADOW LAND
By J.A. Bard
Warnings and Disclaimers written by Wildcat
(firstname.lastname@example.org), (c) Wildcat, 1997.
Warnings/Disclaimers are included with stories to enable readers to judge whether each piece is of interest to them. They are intended to be taken seriously as a warning about the nature of the story. In many cases it can be presumed that one of the lead story characters (Xena: Warrior Princess or Gabrielle) is involved in the action of the story and to that end, after reading Warnings/Disclaimers, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether they wish to read a particular story.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the 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.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
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.
Continued from here.
Gabrielle continued to stare into the pool after finishing her story.
Xena was silent, as she not only could feel the carnal pleasure that burned through her partner, but recognized the dream with another variation as something that they had done. She closed her eyes to get herself back into control as her own desire throbbed between her legs. Her vision was beginning to get sharper, though due to the pale light in the cavern she didn't really know how much had returned. She had closed her eyes to stop seeing the miserable droop of Gabrielle's shoulders. It was so tempting to take her in her arms and relieve some of the sexual energy that had been building up in both of them.
Xena let out her breath and rose silently. She drew Gabrielle to her and held her in her arms for a few long moments.
"What bothers you about the fantasy, honey?" She asked softly.
Gabrielle shuddered. "I - ahh. I liked it." She confessed.
"So did I." Xena's kiss started out tender but Gabrielle's return was voracious and both found themselves on the floor relieving the tension that had been building for the last few weeks.
* * * *
Gabrielle was looking up into the familiar blue eyes that even in the gray light was bright. "You can see." She stated flatly. "When did this happen?" She moved herself to a more comfortable observing position. "And don't say my..."
"Just before you told the story. Its coming back slowly." Xena placed a finger against Gabrielle's lips, which was promptly grabbed gently between white teeth.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Gabrielle stroked the face she loved, letting her fingers stop at the throat and feel the heart beat.
"I wanted to be sure it was back. No sense in false hopes."
Gabrielle didn't want to argue with her. She was still wrapped in the emotional contentment of their lovemaking.
"You, know. When I first had that dream...we weren't lovers and I --didn't know what to do or think."
Xena started to laugh. "You were still a bit naïve then. I can see how the passion would have been over whelming."
Gabrielle laughed too. "It wasn't the passion, my Warrior Princess. It was tying up the big bad ex War Lord. That was scary."
"I thought by then you were over much of that?" Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head as she moved back into Xena's embrace snuggling up against her warm body.
"Sure, if it was directed at the bad guys...and still sometimes you were more -- intense than at other times. Naw. I was still intimidated. Still am, for that matter. But," she continued for she felt Xena tense up, "I find it very -- erotic -- sometimes. The fire in your eyes, the beauty of watching you move so effortlessly, the energy you put out is --" Gabrielle let out her breath. "I't's hard to explain. It's a feeling. I can understand the sexual energy that you experience as battle lust, because, believe me, I get this incredible rush watching you." There she said it, Gabrielle thought relieved.
Xena smiled above Gabrielle's head. "I know." She said quietly. "I would feel it."
"Your heart beats faster than normal, your eyes have this sexual desire in them, your skin is flushed...and," Xena kissed Gabrielle's neck and gave her shoulder a soft suck, "I could also smell your sweat juices."
"What!" Gabrielle tried to turn to look in her face.
"Hmm. Thought I didn't notice huh?" Xena chuckled a bit. "It took me a while to understand why you were getting excited over me beating up people, especially when you're so much against the violence. It was a real brain teaser, until we became lovers."
"Then you could understand?"
"Yep! I just didn't want to believe it."
Gabrielle looked back at the pool. "It's kind of hard to believe that such a desire like that is in me." She said softly.
"It depends on how you want to see it, Gabrielle. The gods and their agents use it for insuring the continuation of the fertility of the land. People use it to relive boredom, anxiety, express feelings for another and what makes it nice is that even those without an obol to their name or a partner can do it. Must drive control freaks crazy, like religions, politicians, and rulers. There is nothing wrong with sexual energy. And the creative ways to express it, well, that's one of the nice quirks to it. And when it's expended with a loved one, the power is incredible. Believe me when I say that." Xena paused a moment. "I've used my own sexual energy and those of others for various reasons, never really loving any of them deeply. I know the difference."
"Not even with - Marcus?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.
Xena sighed. "I'm not the same person as I was then...and...I don't regret it. Our last time together was...because we knew we would never be together like that again. It was before us...does that bother you?"
Gabrielle was quiet for a moment watching the shadowed face that was looking directly at her with steady blue eyes trying to read any sign Gabrielle's expressive face gave.
"I...I wonder sometimes...if Marcus or Borias came back...would you ..."
"Gabrielle," Xena put both hands on the sides of her face, "not even death...would change my love for you. I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you if there were any other way."
They both were silent listening to each other's steady breathing and taking comfort in what was expressed.
"We need to get moving. I would like to finish with this task before Spring." Xena leaned close to Gabrielle's ear and whispered seductively.
"Hey, that's not fair." She slapped the muscled thigh next to her. "You get my juices flowing with that voice of yours then want to break camp before doing anything about it."
"Hmm." Xena had no mercy, as she lifted Gabrielle up as she rose.
"Well. Where do we go from here?" Gabrielle asked, not at all bothered about relinquishing the leadership.
"Let's go look for the source of this light." Xena nodded toward the other side of the pool.
They followed the rim of the pool to the other side. A path led away from the pool leading upward into another tunnel. Xena leaned down and studied the tracks that were all around the entrance to the tunnel.
"It looks like a busy place but if it is, why hasn't anything been here for the length of time we were here?" Xena asked more to herself than the Bard.
"Maybe we were making too much noise." Gabrielle playfully returned.
Xena looked up at her with merriment in her eyes. Gabrielle's heart skipped a few beats. She resisted the impulse to wrap her arms around the woman she had come to depend on for so much happiness in her life and hug her for as long as Xena could stand it.
A look passed between them that mirrored what was in the others eyes. Xena resumed her lead along the path noting the light was neither dimming nor brightening. She couldnt figure out how light was getting in the cavern. The ground beneath them felt different. There were rocks, sand and in some places thick dust that became soft clouds where Gabrielle placed her feet. Little was disturbed under Xena's tread. The path finally widened and the underground river appeared beside them. By then it was getting too dark for Gabrielle to see clearly and she kept stumbling into Xena's back until she just left her hand resting against the small of her back. She had to struggle with the desire to pull Xena down onto the path and ravish her. These feelings were almost as bad as the dreams only the temptation was within a hairs breath from her.
The path ended and their only way to resume was to go into the water. Xena mentioned this to Gabrielle who could not see much now. Xena could see the path on the other side of the dark river.
"Why dont we rest here until the light returns." Xena suggested. Xena leaned against the stone wall and Gabrielle settled against her. Xena could hear Gabrielle's breathing deepen as Morpheus quickly took her. Xena sighed and kissed the top of her companions head. Xena let herself fall into a light sleep, aware of the lapping water and the occasional flapping sound that a fishes tail might make. A thought occurred to her that neither had been hungry or thirsty thorough all of this. More importantly, Gabrielle hadn't even mentioned food. She wanted to pursue that thought more but Morpheus dragged her into his realm.
* * * *
Xenas eyes popped open but it was to darkness. She could feel water up to her elbows and it was rising rapidly. Where's Gabrielle? Xena tried to lift herself but the current and the slippery rocks below her didn't give her a chance to get her balance. She lost contact with the wall as the current pulled her away, and her sense of direction was lost. The water was very soon up to her chin and by the sounds of her flapping hands on the water, she was not anywhere near the side of the cave. Frantically she tried to get some kind of bearing, as she was no longer able to touch the ground. How had the water been able to move in so fast? She should have heard it. Where's Gabrielle? Sudden panic threatened to over whelm her. "Gabrielle!" She called as she felt herself moving faster in the current. Her heart started to tighten and her stomach was twisting in the fear of losing her mate. "Gabrielle!" She called again fighting the pull that was taking her further away from where they had been. Xena felt something grab her shoulders and pull her down. She threw it off and continued her struggle to move toward calmer waters. Again she called out and again the pull on her shoulders. She struck out at whatever it was and found herself sinking into the water. She was in over her head.
A voice was calling her name from somewhere, as she was about to let go. She could no longer hold her breath and she was being battered from the undercurrent that dragged her along the bottom of the riverbed.
"Gabrielle?" She thought to herself. Xena managed to gather herself in a ball and push herself up toward the surface. She knew she was above it when she could hear the clear voice of Gabrielle. But she was a distance from her.
"Gabrielle? She called frantically. "Where are you?"
She heard a soft sob from another direction. Where was the water? Xena realized there was no water around her. She was still leaning against the wall. Frightened at what may have happened Xena started to crawl to where she had heard Gabrielle. It was still dark in the cavern.
She found her leg and felt her way to her head. It was partially in the water. Xena heard her groan as she picked her up. "Gabrielle!" She called to the unconscious form. Xena moved back to the wall with Gabrielle in her arms. Gently with her fingers she felt her face and was horrified to feel a swelling that was building up below her eye and on her lips. Tenderly with tears in her eyes Xena kissed the bruises. Xenas anguish at what she probably had done while having a nightmare was palatable as she felt her stomach churn. Xena rocked Gabrielle in her arms waiting in sadness for her to come to. She knew Gabrielle would forgive her, she always did. But she hadnt done this for a long time and it didnt relieve her guilt that she would strike out at someone she loved more than herself. Xena could feel the darkness of depression and despair fill her as she became more in touch with the horror of her dark side. As she felt the numbing sensation it had brought her in the past she was aware that Gabrielles heartbeat was slowing. Sobbing Xena pulled her closer to her and willed the darkness away, at some level knowing that her despair was affecting Gabrielle.
Gabrielle awoke from the rapid beating of Xenas heart. She could feel the breath on her head was in gasps and soon Xenas arms were thrashing about her. Gabrielle turned in her arms and attempted to talk Xena awake but was struck with a blow that sent her rolling to the waters edge. "Xena!" She called again trying to stay calm, ignoring the pain on the side of her head. She became concerned more when Xena started to call her name and make sounds like she couldnt breath. Gabrielles fear for her own life was pushed aside as she crawled back to where she could see the dark form leaning against the wall. She managed to get to her and made the mistake of putting her hands on her shoulders. Again Xena struck out and this time Gabrielle wasnt aware of where she landed.
Gabrielle awoke to a rocking motion and Xenas humming a song that she liked. Gabrielle also woke to a splitting headache. "By the Goddesses!" She got out as she lifted her hand to her head. "Ohh." Her lip hurt too.
She felt Xena tenderly pull her hand to her mouth. "I am so sorry Gabrielle. I ..." Xena choked back a sob, she didnt want to remind her that could have killed her for she knew Gabrielle was aware of it and she didnt want to think about what could have happened to her if Gabrielle didnt awaken, yet the anxiety and the twisting of her stomach told her at some level Gabrielle was thinking about it.
"Let me see what I can do about the headache." Xena finished instead. Gabrielle sat between Xenas legs as the strong and now gentle fingers found the knots and tight muscles that were contributing to the headache.
"Hmmm." Gabrielle murmured as she felt the headache recede and another ache start. Xena felt it too and let her hands slide down to Gabrielles waist pulling her closer to her. Gabrielle rested with her back against Xenas chest feeling the pounding heart and appreciating that she wasnt wearing any armor for she felt Xenas hard nipples against her sensitive back.
"Do you want to talk about it?" She asked Xena. Her fingers were drawing patterns on Xena's legs, soothing her or arousing her, Gabrielle thought silently.
Xena hesitated. Gabrielle had told her something she feared in herself so why not share a little of her fear?
"I keep having these dreams of being swept away in the river or drowning in a pool of water."
Gabrielle was silent for a while. "Well, it's not easy to pass beyond the limits of one's nature." She replied philosophically.
"Now what do you mean by that?" Xena returned uncomfortably. She knew exactly what Gabrielle meant.
"It's like being way over your head in something your not use to handling." Gabrielle explained.
Xena was still for a moment, then let out a breath of air. She knew she was avoiding dealing with some dark emotional issues. "Like in your dealing with desires you only fantasize about?" Xena teased to change the subject.
"Yea." Both were silent as they thought about their own shadowed selves that would come up and haunt them if denied.
Gabrielle had dozed off and could feel caressing hands coaxing her back to wakefulness. "Hmm. Normally, that would put me to sleep."
She ran her hands down the muscled legs of her companion slowly, delighting in the feel of the quiver her touch invoked in them.
The moment didnt last for Xenas hands mirrored her change of mood from lover to protector. "What?" Gabrielle asked opening her eyes to the gray shadows.
"The water has changed rhythm." Xena whispered in her ear. Xenas memory of her dream caused her to grip Gabrielle tighter around the waist.
Gabrielle listened to the water and at first didnt detect anything other than the familiar lapping. Then the occasional whoosh could be heard and the lapping paused.
Gabrielle quickly got up feeling Xenas smooth movement to her feet also. The outlines to the gray shapes around them were becoming clearer.
"It looks like the water is rising." Gabrielle mentioned. She strained to see what was on the other side. It seemed their path continued across the river.
Xena could see the difference in the water's level from the previous day. "Well, it looks like we need to move on to the other side of the river."
As they stood near the water's edge Gabrielle tested the water. The only good thing about the cold water, she thought to herself, was it would take the swelling down on her face. She could feel her lip was puffy making it painful to talk.
"Well, lets get to it then!" Before Gabrielle put a foot in the water Xenas hand shot out and pulled her back.
"Theres something in the water." Xena could hear the slapping of more than one fin and it didnt sound like the normal fish to her.
"Well, it may be wide enough for you to jump, but not for me." Gabrielle reported, remembering that Xena had jumped this large distance before. "Remember the jump you made at outside of Melloa?"
"Yea." She remembered she pulled a groin muscle that she had hid from Gabrielle at the time. But then, they were not lovers, which would have put a different slant to their interaction after wards. She had shut Gabrielle out while she battled the pain and still had to keep her concentration to protect them from marauders that were plaguing them on their journey away out of Thales. That was also where she had first noticed Gabrielles outward display of jealousy. It had taken her back then. How could she have pushed that aside and mark it down for heroine worship? Now that she was more aware of reading Gabrielle she knew the jealously was that of a lover.
Gabrielle remembered Melloa. She could picture the bar at the Acropolis Inn where Xena had gotten up to get herself a drink, not offering Gabrielle anything and paused to talk to a man who was showing an interest in her. She was letting a man openly attempt to seduce her. It was a painful awakening for Gabrielle for she never felt so much heartache and had not been able to recognize it for what it was.
Xena reached out for Gabrielles arm knowing something was wrong by the way that her shoulders slumped. Gabrielle pulled it away angrily then turned around quickly and buried herself into Xenas body pulling her close. Xena would have dealt with this then and there but she could feel urgency in having to get to the other side before the rising waters made it too wide for her to safely jump.
"Come on. Ill do my usual warrior stuff and carry you across the turbulent waters." She half joked. She swept her Bard into her arms and walked back a few paces to get some running momentum behind her jump.
Gabrielle was always in awe at the feel of Xenas power that she radiated and could feel intimately when she was held close to her during moments like these. The run was smooth and the jump was sudden. The flying through the air was exhilarating and terrifying when she did one of her spins at the high point of the leap. Xena landed on the other side with her heel just missing the waters edge...and this time she didnt get the pulled muscle. Amazing since she had not warmed up and she had Gabrielles weight, but of course at Mellos she was cold and in wet leathers as well as in full battle armor. Argo had carried Gabrielle ahead, out of danger. Not bad for an aging warrior, she thought smugly.
The path on the other side of the river was much wider and they could walk side by side, which both took advantage of.
"Do you want to tell me what you were thinking back there?" Xena asked Gabrielle as their shoulders brushed and Gabrielles light hold of Xenas arm was comforting.
Xena could feel the change in Gabrielles pulse in the fingertips that were lightly wrapped around her wrist.
Gabrielle sighed then laughed. "It was so long ago."
"Yea. It was..." Gabrielle fought the crushing feelings that she had felt at that time. Her heart felt like someone was squeezing it. Strange that she till had these intense feelings for something that had happened so long ago.
Memories of Mellos
Xena found a stable for Agro not to far from the inn, the Acropolis, that she had sent the Bard to get lodgings for them. She noted that there were a lot of full stalls and more people on the street than normal. That meant more chance of trouble. Hopefully there were rooms available at the inn for she felt the Acropolis was safer than most. She didnt want the Bard accosted or threatened. She was finding she was caring more for her than she was use to feeling for others. She pushed that insight aside as she paid the young kid that would be taking care of Argo, an extra coin.
As she entered the Inn she ignored the usual quiet that would descend on a room at her entrance. Her casual glance around the room told her all that she needed to know. Her glance to the corner where she would normally sit was greeted by the happy smile of the Bard. She was learning, she thought. On the table before the Bard, was food and two mugs. She was learning well, she thought wryly to herself. She sat next to Gabrielle without a word and started to eat keeping her senses aware of what was going on. She felt the eyes of one person focusing on her. Gabrielle was doing her usual and talking about what she had heard and what she had seen on her way over. Interesting bits of information for Xena to file away, as well as nonessential information and too much detail. When she ate enough, Xena leaned back with the mug in her hand, exposing her inner muscled thigh to the Bard who was sitting next to her. She was still jumpy when the Bard touched. She had made it very clear to her not to touch her when they were in public places as she was on instinct, which normally she always was, so the Bard had a comfortable distance between them.
The Bards conversation paused and Xena took that opportunity to get up and get a refill. Save the barmaid a trip. She noted that Gabrielle still had plenty to drink and was picking at her food. Unusual for her. She would have to ask if she got the owner to agree to let her tell a story or two.
As Xena made her way to the bar, weaving in and out she picked up on the warrior who had been staring at her and was now watching her progress. She had noticed him when she entered. She recognized him from her past. She never had any real interaction with him in the past nor cared to. He believed himself to be a man that could have his way with any woman. Love them and leave them. She worried about Gabrielle. The only place available to order at the bar seemed to be near him, probably because he had the usual bad aura around him that most people would like to avoid. However, people who drank usually forgot good commonsense.
"You must be Xena, Warrior Princess." He said in a conversational tone, but Xena caught the subtle challenge.
"And you are?" She asked raising an eyebrow and gesturing to the barmaid on the other side. She nodded that she had seen Xena.
"Theos." He didnt extend a hand yet but Xena could see desire in his eyes and knew that she wouldnt have to worry about him being interested in Gabrielle.
Theos conversation from there was the usual bantering and pulling Xena into a conversation about battles they may have shared. She felt his blood lust raise and could see another piece of ornament rise as well, as his narratives became what good warriors would find enjoyable. However, Xena had given that up and was only interested in getting a refill from the barmaid. Maybe she should have waited at the table. Xena glanced back at the table to make sure Gabrielle was okay. Her eyes locked onto Gabrielles and she could feel her blood rise and her heart start to beat faster. Gabrielle lowered her eyes and fidgeted with her food. Turning back to Theos she listened as he started another story this time touching Xenas leg that was near his. She merely looked at Theos. There was a time when she would have cut his hand off. She watched him as he continued his supposed seduction of her and in a detached way remembered her own past and misuse of others. She removed his hand from her thigh and bought him another ale, as the barmaid finally was in front of her. Xena glanced back at their table and noted that Gabrielle was headed up the stairs to their room. Was she going to get ready for a story or was she retiring, she wondered.
The barmaid watched her eyes and leaned over to her. "They only had one room available for you two. Its on the left at the back."
Xena nodded and looked back at Theos who was by now very drunk and falling all over her. She decided to do him a favor and take him to his place and let him sleep off his ale without getting bashed over the head by another foolhardy drunk who wanted to relieve him of his coin purse.
"Where is he staying?" Xena asked the barmaid as she passed by again.
"At the front of the stairs to the right."
"Come on Theos, lets get you to bed." Xena hoisted the larger man to his feet and half-dragged and half walked him up the stairs to his room. As Xena maneuvered him to be able to open the room to his door she was aware of a door opening down the hall and then quietly close without any footsteps.
Xena dumped the body on the bed and was surprised when Theos suddenly came awake and grabbed her pulling her down onto the bed with him. Theos was wearing armor so both of them bounced off each other.
"Theos, knock it off. I dont want to go to bed with you, you jackass." She grunted as she punched him under the chin. Normally that would take a big man down but perhaps he had too much ale to have the sense to fall down. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her toward him. Xena kneed him where it would stop him and he did crumple to the ground groaning. She didnt bother picking him up.
She decided she would have to leave drunken warriors to their own demise in the future. She left his room and quietly walked down the hall to where she knew Gabrielle would be. She entered the room noiselessly and Gabrielle hadnt heard her for she was sobbing into her arm that was wrapped around her face.
Fear gripped Xena that someone had hurt Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, did someone hurt you?" She asked as she sat on the side of the pallet and put a hand on her shoulder. She felt the tremble under her hand but let it go as part of her sobs.
"Xena!" The Bard stopped crying and guiltily wiped her face with her arm, partially turning from her. "I...Im sorry I didnt mean for you to see..."
"See what? Did someone hurt you? Tell me and Ill go - talk to them." Her voice was hard with anger.
"No. Im fine. I was...just having a bad dream."
Xena knew that was a lie. A Great storyteller she is, but she couldnt tell lies very well.
Xena shook her head to clear her thoughts.
"So, what are you crying about?" She asked again for she was really interested.
Gabrielle stared up at the face that was in the dark, hearing a voice that meant so much to her and sounded like she was interested in her. Gabrielle was grateful there was no light for she was afraid Xena would see right into her heart. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Xena could see very well in the dark and what little light there was showed something in Gabrielles eyes that caused Xena to feel suddenly weak inside.
"It was just a bad dream." Gabrielle said again softer.
"Okay. When you want to talk about it, well...Ill listen." Xena told her softly.
Gabrielle felt her heart leap at the sight of Xena walking through the door. Everyone stopped talking as they watched the tall armored figure stand in the doorway as she scanned the room then sought out her favorite place. Gabrielle had to pressure some people to leave to get the space she knew Xena liked around her. She also had picked out the foods and ale she knew she would like.
Xena barely nodded toward her but Gabrielle learned how to discern the small acknowledgements Xena tossed her way. She admired with the rest of the crowd the easy movement that Xena had and the power she emanated in any space she took up. Xena tiredly sat down and started to eat right away.
"I talked to a woman at the boot place, it seems a small army had passed through a few days ago. They had made trouble and had to be shown the way out by the troops that King Gestphor keeps garrisoned here. The woman said theyve been exacting their revenge by attacking people either leaving or coming into town along the higher trail towards the mountains."
"Hmmm." Xena responded as she sipped her ale between bites.
"I also heard from some of the people here that some of those marauders have been sneaking in during the day time and making like theyre part of the tourist trade."
"Hmm." Xena replied again emptying her mug.
"I also bought out the whole store at the corner and..." At that time Xena had leaned back exposing her muscled thigh to Gabrielle. A hot fire filled Gabrielle and desire that she was surprised at filled her. She paused and averted her eyes to gather her wits. For a moment she felt off balance.
When she turned to look back at Xena she found her gone. Looking up quickly she saw her weave her way in and out of people heading for the bar where a warrior was openly staring at her approach.
For a moment Gabrielles heart twisted. She had a sinking feeling when Xena stood next to him and seemed to be interested in what he had to say. Gabrielle could feel her face redden and she quickly put her head down. When she felt her blush was under control she looked up and watched the two interact. For a brief moment Xena looked over toward her. The cool blue eyes were piercing as they locked onto hers. Gabrielle felt a great shifting of something within her and she quickly looked away. Her hand that was on the table was shaking and she could feel her insides turning and twisting in a funny but pleasing way.
'What was happening?' Gabrielle glanced back toward Xena and watched as the man started to touch her. Her own desire to touch the body that she saw daily and feel the hardness of her muscles was too much as she saw another doing it. Suddenly she couldnt stand it any more and quickly left the table, her food half-eaten, making her way to their room. After crying and shaking with fear for what she didnt want to admit to she decided to go back out and face the noise. She was just exiting when she saw Xena and the warrior drunkenly fall into his room. The pain in her heart was like a tear that wrenched out a terrible sob from her already sore throat. She didnt bother lighting a candle as she made her way to what was to be their bed and cried. The first few minutes were more painful then her first round moments ago. She hadnt heard the door open nor realize she wasnt alone until Xena called to her.
She couldnt bear to look at Xena after she spent time with another. When she finally did, she knew her eyes would have told Xena everything if she could see in the dark.
"His name was Theos, a drunken looser." Xena explained gently. "I felt sorry for him and attempted to dump him safely in his bed but he was expecting more than what I had to give him."
Even now Gabrielle couldnt look Xena in the eyes as her heart felt the same ache. Xena stopped and pulled Gabrielle close to her. She could feel her heartbeat and the pulse that was pounding out a heartache from so long ago. "I mistook your look at that time. I didnt know enough about you to know that...well, I didnt know enough about my feelings for you at that time to have seen that we both were interested in each other. Im not saying that I wish we were aware of each others feelings at that time, because I dont think either of us was ready. Not for this, what were still growing into. I know it hasnt been easy, Gabrielle, but there isnt anything I would change in the past, for it may change something that we have now, and I dont want to change what we have now."
"I would be afraid to change anything too, for I might leave something out that would be so important." Gabrielle admitted.
Xena kissed Gabrielle on her eyes then her nose and then crushed her lips against the Bards as they both pulled each other close as if to merge into one. Finally Xena broke the kiss.
Taking up Gabrielles hand they resumed their walk upward.
Some Things Are Best Left Alone
"That smell is here again." Xena remarked as she pulled up on Gabrielles hand so she could try to locate from where the smell was coming from. "The smell seems to be coming from the left of us." Xena pointed.
Gabrielle frowned. Why was Xena so interested in what smelled like something thats been dead for a while? She shuddered as she thought of the dead things in her life. It made her uneasy, just as whatever was in the water had. Xena made it easy by leaping over it.
Xena pondered her sensitivity toward Gabrielles change of moods. It was like hearing music that changed in tonal quality. Her sense of everything around seemed to have increased. Maybe heightened by her temporary loss of sight. The ground below her was alive and it was knowing by the feel, hard, sandy, dusty or rocky, what the sense of feeling the area they were walking in would have. She couldn't at first tell if Gabrielle's mood influenced the feel of the ground below her or the other way around. As Gabrielle became agitated or remorse the ground below her mirrored it. Just like whatever was in the water seemed to have the same feel of anger as Gabrielles when she was remembering Mellos. The thought again came to Xena that maybe their encounters were suppose to represent in some way their unspoken issues that neither wanted to deal with. The moment Xena thought of that she shuddered at the thought of them having to go through her nightmarish memories.
She wondered again about the smell. She could feel Gabrielles reluctance in finding out the source of the smell. Why did she feel that it was important to find out the cause of it? Well she had been acting on instincts for most of this journey. May as well continue.
"I think we need to find out what is causing the smell." She told Gabrielle quietly. Gabrielle held her breath for a moment then let it out slowly. Her fingertips were still resting in Xenas palm. Xena could feel the panic raising in Gabrielle and then her pulling herself under control.
"I remember a story of the young girl who was searching for what caused the death of the land around her...." Gabrielle began to sooth her own nerves with what she knew how to do best...or one of the things she did best, and started a story. Her voice was soothing to both of them as they continued their progress. "...and when she had emerged from the cave she found that the surrounding forest was alive once again." She finished.
"Its interesting that you should remember that tale." Xena smiled down at the Bard.
"Hmmm. Not quite the Demeter and Persephone tale but...it's from Britianinia. I left out most of the terrors she had to experience while in the cave. I didn't want to encourage my imagination at this time." Gabrielle squeezed Xenas arm.
So, Xena thought, she also was aware that what they had to face was their own dark side and fears of being consumed by them. Well, then, maybe it was necessary to see what the smell was representing.
The stench was just as bad as it had been earlier. Gabrielle started going through dry heaves again. This was not going to do, Xena thought. Maybe a direct approach was not the answer. She pulled at Gabrielle and whispered in her ear, "Lets get out of here."
Gabrielle followed Xena back to the crystals.
"Ugghhh! Thats one thing I wouldnt want to face head on!" Gabrielle reported.
"Maybe we arent suppose to." Xena murmured as she thought about her own hand in the death of many people. The River Styx was probably one of the busiest rivers when she was on a rampage during her warrior years. But she didnt feel that that memory was where the smell was coming from.
They found a flat surface to sit down to rest, both involved with their own reveries. Xena leaned back against her solid backrest and closed her eyes. She could hear the dripping of water from somewhere and the flowing of water in another direction. The air that was passing them occasionally brought the sweet fragrance that had drawn her off her passage back to Gabrielle at the Amazon Village...so long ago, it seemed.
Suddenly she saw a face from her past as clear as if he was standing before her. A pain gripped her heart and her dark rage came back. She could feel the old anger that darkened into rage as it pounded in her veins when she realized a lover had betrayed her. Blood lust rose as a heat that vibrated in every cell of her body and her throat echoed the battle cry as she descended into the valley she knew that he was in. The village was hiding him. She could feel his presence. Her vengeance toward him was reaped on the village people as she viciously slaughtered the people that resisted. She stalked the remains of the smoldering village, though out the night searching for his body to further mutilate it and vent her hurt at his betrayal. She hadnt found him. Early morning, without sleep, she started her search for him in the surrounding forest, looking for any sign of him. When did this rage stop? She let her breath out. She no longer felt the blackness that she had thought would never leave her. Fear, rage and sexual lust was what she used to add to her warrior energy. Did it stop when Hercules brought the redirection in my life that I needed? She was quiet as she steadied her heart from the fear. No, it had stopped when she had seen a young girl being attacked by slavers outside her village. Why? What was it that made her realize...no, she just felt. It was a feeling! There was a definite shift of something within her. At the time she was a weary soul that felt no more, until she had locked eyes with the young woman.
"Illness is caused by having a gift but no one to give it to." A voice whispered somewhere deep within her.
"To be healed you must make yourself available to the change of energy." Another voice whispered.
"Your cry for help was answered." The third voice of the Fates whispered.
* * * *
Gabrielle thought back to the time she had first experienced the dark power of rage, hate and violence that Calesto had introduced her to. She had killed Perdicus just to torment. Gabrielles guilt was redirected into hate for Calesto who had in actually done what Gabrielle would have found difficult to do, sever her relationship with Perdicus. The marriage had been a mistake and she knew it even before she took his hand. They hadnt made love since Perdicus had been too anxious, but they had thought there would be other nights. During the entire ceremony she had imagined Xena holding her hand. She had started to feel guilty when she realized that he would never have been able to make her happy, and already she was dying inside. Gabrielle felt a huge weight of guilt that she was secretly happy that Perdicus was out of her life and that she was able to go back to where she wanted to be more than anything else in the world. Did she have a secret death wish for Perdicus and Calesto merely fulfilled it? Poor Perdicus. He got what he had always dreamed of, marriage with his childhood love, then straight to the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle thought deeper on this. Actually, Perdicus had what he wanted and if they had remained together, as sensitive as he was, he would have eventually figured out that Gabrielle was in love with the Warrior Princess and the way of life she had become comfortable with...traveling. It would have been more devastating to him then his tortured death by Calesto. And as much as he said he was happy returning to farming, she knew he didn't have his heart in it. He also didn't have his heart anymore for the warrior thing. He had seen too much death. How long would he have been happy just being married to her? Gabrielle sighed. She had given to him what he wanted and was able to return to what she desired and could not live without, Xena. She knew he could hear her thoughts on the other side. She hopped he wouldn't be angry with her.
"Gabrielle?" A soft voice spoke next to her.
Gabrielle turned to Xena who had her head facing away from her. Gabrielle became alert listening to anything that may have changed while she was thinking.
"I think I hear water rushing."
"The path was starting to go upward. Maybe it will take us to higher ground."
"My thoughts also."
"Lets do it then." She got up quickly feeling the closeness of Xenas body as she rose.
They hurried upward as the rushing of water became loud enough for Gabrielle to hear.
"Gabrielle, theres a light up ahead."
Gabrielle raised her head as her eyes were downcast watching where she was placing her feet. "I don't see any light."
However suddenly the wind that swept by them was from the outside carried the smell of smoke and a searing pain of heat. "Xena!"
"Yes. I can smell it. There are creatures being burned as well as the forest." She replied with a hard voice.
To Higher Ground
Xena could feel the abrupt change in the atmosphere around them and the change of the feeling of the ground below them.
They came out into a blackened sky thick with smoke. Xena and Gabrielle put an arm over their noses to cut the searing heat that burned their lungs. The air around them was filled with smoke and cries from fleeing, dying and frightened animals.
"Do you hear that cry?" Xena asked alarmed. Her heightened senses enabled her to feel the pain and terror of the life around her from the fire. The air was not only burning her lungs but the fire itself felt as if it were all around her, singing the hairs on her arms.
"I hear a lot of cries! What are we going to do?"
"Lets go over toward the fire. Something is in pain." Xena choked.
They both stumbled over smoking debris and falling branches that were snapping off from their life support in the heat.
Gabrielle's heart was breaking as she could hear many voices crying as the wild life in the forest were fleeing from the advancing fire.
"Gabrielle over to the left of us."
Xena leaned over a fallen log to see what was crying behind it.
"Ohhh. Xena it is a small fawn!" Gabrielle leaned over Xena's shoulder.
Xena had fallen to her knees as she felt the anguish of the creature. It had lost its mother and was feeling more anguish from the loss than fear of the fire. A painful sob tore out of Xena's chest as she felt the creature's loss of her mother, her nurturer, her life. She had thought the loss of her son, or of Gabrielle was terrible, but this creature only knew her love for her mother and it was so difficult to bear. Xena wept along with the terrified creature. She didnt feel Gabrielle pulling at her urgently as the fire was nearing them. Xena hugged the small fawn close to her chest as Gabrielle pulled her to her feet and dragged her along. She kept glancing up at Xena as she stroked the fawn with soothing fingers but had a far away look in her eyes.
Xena was caught up in the darkness of death, this time not going anywhere as she had in her own death. Dimly she was aware of Gaias heart beat, and the beating of many other creatures heart beat, as they fled in terror, as some stopped in their death and of the elation of those that made it out safe. She was in a darkness where there was soon only one beat that all the others started to become in sync with. The burning in her lungs was gradually replaced with occasional fresh smells from a breeze that carried various scents.
Gabrielle was softly singing a song about the renewal of the land in an ancient time that neither she nor Gabrielle remembered. Finally Gabrielle found a place that was high enough above the fires rampage for them to rest. Tenderly she sat Xena in her lap and cradled her, rocking her and singing songs she never realized she knew. Both of them felt comfort from the rhythm and the story of the songs. Xena held the baby fawn close to her as she gradually became aware of her surroundings.
In what seemed like a long time, Xena stirred in Gabrielles arms. Gabrielle pulled her face close to hers and brushed her cheeks against Xenas. Xena turned her face to find Gabrielles lips, noticing her lip was still swollen. Gently she brushed her lips against the bruise.
"What are you going to do with this little one?" Gabrielle asked as she touched the twitching ears.
"Let it go. It's about old enough to make it on its own." Xena sighed. Silently she said a prayer to Potina theron, mistress of the beasts, Artemis, to watch over the young creature then released it. The creature struggled to its feet and hesitantly looked about. With careful steps it moved off, looking back at the two.
"I think it expects us to follow."
Xena had thought so too but had not said it for fear of Gabrielle's disbelief.
"Let's not disappoint it, then." Xena rose pulling Gabrielle up with her. Whenever the fawn got too far ahead it would wait for them. A sure sign they were meant to follow. Xena could still feel a connection with Gaia's heartbeat. It was a slow steady beat that was comforting as it rose though her feet and up her tall frame.
"It's a path! She's led us to a path." Gabrielle announced delightedly.
"Yea. It's up to the mountain. I guess that's our next destination."
Gabrielle watched the fawn as it turned from the path and with one last look bounded into the surrounding brush.
"Thanks, little one." Gabrielle waved. "Now don't you think that was a guide?" She asked Xena as she turned to catch up with her lover who continued on up the path.
"Hmm. Hopefully we don't have to go through the same experience to get another one. I can deal with not having a guide if other's suffer just so we can be directed to the right path."
"I don't think that was the point of that experience." Gabrielle shook her head.
"Well, then what was it?"
"I think some lessons are not for the mind to figure out."
Xena raised an eyebrow at her young friend.
"I know you're the thinking type that needs to have reasons and the facts laid out for seeing..."
"Not necessarily. Not all of what I do is based on what I see. There is a lot based on instincts and just knowing."
"Hmm. Then how come you're so difficult when emotions come into the picture?" Gabrielle playfully jabbed her in her ribs.
"That's not instinct."
"Oh, oh. Instinct to run!" Gabrielle laughed.
Xena grinned sheepishly. "Well. I never had a good reason to stay around and deal with...emotions until a certain Bard kept insisting it was important."
A cold breeze reminded them that they were headed toward a snow peaked mountain and they didn't have any warm clothing with them.
"There are clouds that are moving toward us. Were going to have to seek some sort of shelter." Xena remarked.
"Well, we better get moving faster then, because I'm already getting cold."
Xena didnt know for how long they were walking but her own energy was dissipating and she knew they were walking slower due to her loss of energy. The wind was getting colder and harder to walk against. Gabrielle hadnt said anything during the walk only gave Xena occasional squeezes on her arm for encouragement. Why wasn't Gabrielle feeling the same loss of energy? She was probably freezing in this chilly wind and she had no cloak to protect her.
* * * *
Xena was tiring. The glazed look was back in her eyes. The cold was numbing her but she needed to keep them both moving forward until Xena got back into control. She needed to take her mind off the cold. Gabrielle thought back to when she had watched Xena sob while holding the fawn. It was heart wrenching but she realized she had to pull herself together to get them out of the area as the fire was moving their way. She kept her mind busy with searching for ways up toward the mountain as the fire was starting to surround them. She was breathing shallow to prevent the fire from burning her lungs. Xena was heavy as her sorrow was. Watching the fawn reminded her of her own child. She let the darkness of her childs death fill her and let the guilt spill over into her consciousness. It hurt and burned as the fire but she noticed that though the memory of her deed came back again, it wasnt as intense as it had originally been. On some level she realized the necessity of remembering and that each time she dealt with her guilt a little more of the pains intensity lessened.
When she found a place for them to rest she pulled Xena to her breast and rocked her as she would have a child that had lost something dear to it. The song she sung was not from her conscious memory but it seemed to fill her with a peacefulness and filled a void that she hadnt been aware of. She watched Xena's fingers stoke the fawn she refused to let go.
Once more she was in charge of their safety. She needed to find a place of safety for them. The clouds were so dark around the mountaintop, she could see the lighting already striking the sides they would be walking up. It would be not only raining soon but the winds would be strong up there. Why she knew they had to climb the mountain, she would have not been able to explain. But it was part of the test. She could feel Xenas energy draining and she didnt know what to do about it. Why was Xena being affected more by this test, than her? Fears. That was what they were to face. Thats what Xena guessed. Were Xena's fears so horrific that they kept incapacitating her until she dealt with it?
She thought back to her fear of the dark hairy creature that she had seen twice. What fear did that represent?
Gabrielle looked back up at the sky. The darkness from the clouds was descending upon them and the wind was pushing against them stronger. Gabrielle had her arm wrapped around Xenas in fear that she would collapse. She could feel her trembling from the exertion. On one of her glances up she had thought she saw what could be a cave and she was hopping Xena could last that long. She didnt think she could carry her no matter how much her heart desired it.
"Were almost there." She shouted as the wind tore the words out of her mouth. It should be around this outcropping. There was a small break in the rock wall and as Gabrielle pulled Xena in, she noted it would serve enough protection from the elements if they huddled close. Xena hadnt said anything and Gabrielle pulled her close to her to give her as much of her own energy as she could.
Xena leaned against Gabrielle lost in her own tired thoughts unaware of their surroundings. Gabrielle could feel the tremors in Xenas limbs as she relaxed against her. Both fell into a deep slumber.
Gabrielle found herself standing at the top of a snow-capped mountain surrounded by a panoramic view of other peaks shrouded in clouds and snow. Her exhalation of breath was evidenced by a white vapor from her nose that didnt last long. Her figure was draped in an animal skin that was not pulled snuggly around her, as she did not notice the cold. Looking above her where the rumbling was coming from she noticed the dark cloud that was above her. An occasional bolt of lightning showed a tear in the blackness with a white light cutting a jagged slice though it. It was how her heart had felt; dark with a cut that was not clean but jagged and ripped. The cold did not invigorate and the high altitude did not lighten her head. Now she felt nothing in this dark place of her soul. At least when she was dead she had felt something. Now there was nothing.
Ares appeared beside her. She was aware of the turbulent weather about them and the raw energy of finality he seemed to evoke in her. The excitement he had once sent into her blood was not there. Leaning close he whispered in her ear and she could feel movement in a heart that she had thought was dead. There was still life in her and he pulled at her darkest side to bring her back into the world she had abandoned. A fire of vengeance and focussed hate was directed at one person as she struggled to ignore the ambiguousness of her hate as life and some unconscious primitive cry came out of her throat, that had been hoarse from the shedding of tears, echoing against the surrounding peaks. With it came fire that pounded in her veins and engorged her heart with blood lust. She was alive again!
As she breathed deeply from the cold air she was aware once more of the pain that seared her heart and reminded her of her once vow to abandon all attachments. Her memories of past lies that others had told her and ones she had told others did not go unnoticed as she fell to her knees in anguish as the pain was cell level and there was no escaping from it by ravaging villages or attacking people. Gabrielle wept as she felt Xenas struggle with her dark side to kill something that she loved more than her life, more than the child that had come from her own womb. Knowing that if she did kill Gabrielle, she would be condemning herself to a darkness that would be more painful than life. It was the guilt and feeling of betrayal that Xena fought and almost lost to.
When the vision passed Gabrielle found herself lying on her back shivering in the small protective alcove she had found. Xena was not near her. Alarmed she looked out at the opening and could see Xenas form standing outside in the storm.
Xena was rocking herself staring in a fire with unseeing eyes as her body was aching all over. She had been numb, stumbling her way somewhere, and tumbled down an incline not bothering to pick herself up. A traveling woman with her companion had found her and shared their fire with her. But she remained in her own private world, afraid to be conscious. The warm food offered was not seen.
When the dark shadows gave way to light grays, she simply stood up and headed in a direction that she was not conscious of. For three days she walked in this state, talking to no one and taking no substance. On the fourth night, hours from the Amazon boundary she tripped on a root and remained lying there. The jar from the fall, seemed to remind her of her losses and realization that she had caused four people to lose their lives. Yes, she knew she was dead. Xenas son and her daughter, at her hands, her fault. A deep sob that shook her frame came out of her as she again remembered Xenas frightful eyes when she sent her away. The pain was too much and Gabrielle again felt the numbing as she rolled to her back and stared up at the sky. She remained this way until stars appeared and a familiar face was staring down at her. Eponin scooped her limp figure up and quickly handed her to another that was on a horse.
"Its as bad as we have heard." Eponins soft voice whispered from far away.
Gabrielle remembered no more of the journey.
* * * *
Xena lifted her head from out of the folds of Gabrielles arms, shaking with the emotions that it had reawakened in her. She needed to get out of the closed space they were in. Frantically she moved out of their shelter. She needed air desperately. The cold wind and sleet that was glancing off the mountain beat against her as she struggled to lift herself from what she had dreamed. Xena leaned against the side of the mountain and let the elements beat away the emotions that she did not want to feel. She buried her face in her cold hands as she experienced Gabrielles losses. She realized that Gabrielles capacity to love was her getting love in return. Her not killing the child Xena knew to be evil was not a rational act that Gabrielle was capable of doing without it altering her character....altering it to something Xena would not recognize. She should have seen it then. But then...what other course was there? Her slaying the child would have done more damage than Dahok's child had done as she lived. A part of her knew that...losing their connection as partners would have been far worse.
A powerful gust of wind pulled her toward the edge of the path. Her footing was unsteady as her energy was still not as she would like it to be. She felt a firm hand on her elbow pulling her back into the shelter.
Gabrielle and Xena wrapped themselves around each other for warmth back in the small shelter.
A snort from nearby had Xena up and standing with her sword in her hand.
Gabrielle was up and on the other side of the pallet with her eyes wide open.
Agros was neighing, as if in laughter.
"Were back!" Gabrielle whispered and then leaped over the pallet and wrapped her arms around the startled Xena.
"Are you okay?" She asked as she kissed Xenas face passionately then pushed her into the side of the cave and looked up into the eyes that were smiling down at her.
"I'm fine and I can tell you're doing just fine." Xena replied returning the ardent kiss by crushing her lips against Gabrielle's.
"Hey, " Xena got out between the lips that were ravishing hers while the smaller body was pulling Xena back to the pallet. "there are four horses approaching."
"The Amazons." Gabrielle groaned. She had forgotten them. She looked up at Xena. "They escorted me here."
"Well, let's go let them know their Queen is okay."
"Xena, do you think we can get rid of them quickly without insulting them?"
The Morning After
Xena stood at the cave entrance with Gabrielle snugly tucked against her newly cleaned leathered side. A warm muscled tanned arm wrapped around her waist in a down right possessive manner, Xena thought with a grin, as she looked down at the Bard who was waving to the last Amazon as she moved out of sight with her own farewell salute.
Xena sighed with relief. Both of them felt the need to remain another night. Xena read it in the dark green eyes that glanced her way many times during the Amazon's one night stay.
Finding themselves, so unexpectedly, back in the cave left them with a feeling of incompleteness that was so hard to express...for Xena anyway. She wanted to spend some time alone with Gabrielle going over what had happened and instead Gabrielle had spent a day and most of the night telling an abridged version of their story so the Amazons could leave at first light...not because the Amazons were uncomfortable with the story and the destruction outside the cave entrance to add ambience to the telling...no...it was because they wanted to be alone. Odd for her to want to talk about this...it was a strange compulsion for her. But there were the dreams and the contents of them that she needed to discuss with her Bard about. Xena let out another silent sigh.
Both women stood for a moment gazing out at the remains of a once tall forest wondering if the destruction around them was just a coincidence of what had happened in Alex and Mediea's world. It wasn't like the two looked the same.
Xena looked down at the smaller woman, for a moment studying the furrowed brow and the blond lashes that were over eyes that were too far away to notice that she was nearby. Xena turned back into the cave, parting the blanket of vines to pass through. She left Gabrielle to stare at nothing in particular with that far off look in her eyes that spoke of creative composing and probably rewriting certain parts of last night's tale that may not have sounded smooth flowing to her bard ear. Xena took four stairs at a time wanting to finish cleaning her weapons...and to think.
While Gabrielle had been entertaining the Amazons during the day and well into the night...Hermes! Did they have to ask so many questions? She had cleaned her weather damaged leathers, polished rusted armor, and after a hard stare from Gabrielle at her impatience with another question from the same curious Amazon!..she went to brush down a neglected golden four legged friend and spent some time on night drills, restlessly wishing light would come and the Amazons would leave.
Xena sat on the log near the fire and pulled out her sharpening stone and sword. She had left that for last. She liked to run the stone along the edge of the sword for it seemed to help bring her thoughts into a sharper focus as much as it sharpened the cut of the blade.
Gabrielle sighed and finally turned back into the cave, patting Argo's neck that was pushing past her and through the vines for a walk to look for green grass to munch on.
Gabrielle took the stairs two at a time, feeling relieved that her Amazon escort was off on their return trip, with a story that would give enough information on what had happened to satisfy Ephiny, Queen Regent and her friend. Is Ephiny going to know that...it's not finished? Or, is it only me that feels that way?
Gabrielle moved the hot water off the fire and prepared some tea. She looked over at her dark haired lover that was carefully running the stone over the edge of her sword. She wondered if Xena's silence was due to her feeling the same sense of...
"Xena?" She turned to face her, handing her a cup of the tea that was still steeping. "Do you feel like there's..."
"More to come?"
"Well...sort of. Like it ended so abruptly. I mean...when I was telling it last night..."
"You would like a better ending."
"Well, yea. I'd like to know what happened to Alex and Mediea. We ended back here so...quick."
"Yea. The ending was sudden while the beginning was...long and pretty intense."
Gabrielle sent a sidelong look at her companion as she picked up her own tea and sipped it. She caught the change in her voice at the last part.
"Yea...intense..." She let out a breath. She laid her cup of tea on the floor and turned to wrap her arms around the strong body she loved to hold...and do other nice things to.
Xena stilled her hand that was stroking the sword blade with long smooth motions, silencing the soothing sound of stone against steel.
Gabrielle let the warm feeling move through her, building gradually into a slow beat of heat that began to radiate out to different parts of her body. Her heartbeat increased and her breasts lifted higher from her deeper breathing. She didn't give in to the need for immediate action but wanted to savor the build up, drawing it out, knowing how much nicer the slow burn felt in the end. A small groan escaped her throat as desire released a flood of liquid that coated her inner thighs...and still she focused on the rapid heartbeats of her lover that matched her own and the loud swallow from the still form that she had tightly wrapped her arms around, with her face laying across a leathered breast.
Xena sat quiet as her arms were pinned to her sides, and the face that was pressed against her leather bodice breathed hot air across her upper chest. Quietly she shared the warm feeling that built up into a hot flush that washed through her. There was no compelling need to do anything else but enjoy the erotic tingling that connected them, focusing only on the here and now, knowing that they could draw it out or end it now. Xena took a slow deep breath as her body shivered from the smell of her lover's arousal, releasing another flow of liquid down her own thighs.
It was time to take action, Gabrielle's soft groan had Xena loosening the arms that were around hers with the intention of putting her sword away and continueing this scene in another position.
Cloths were quickly discarded as they fell into the pallet together. Gabrielle's breath was uneven as they became entangled in each other's arms and legs, skin against hot skin, moving against each other still not feeling the urgency to end it, but rather lifting it higher...until their mutual moans for release finally brought the sensuous cloud to a bursting point.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's panted as her lips moved to the place on Gabrielle's neck that smelled of their favorite scent. She wanted to know how Gabrielle had got the scent there when she would have certainly smelled it sooner.
"Hmmm." Gabrielle's ability for a more intelligent speech was lost as she was reduced to only grunts and groans, pushing against Xena as her need became too urgent to wait any longer.
Xena's own speech ability left her as she too drifted to the more simple and immediate expressions of passion. As the day wore on the two continued their play as they wrestled and danced the movements of lovers who were only aware of each other and their deep seated needs.
Argo, meanwhile, did what she had been doing for the last three days...guarding the cave entrance as she quietly munched on what tasty grass she could find.
In the dark cave where only the reflection of the fire on the ceiling was showing any real movement now, the two worn and pleasantly tired and greatly satiated lovers lay letting sleep take them to another world. Xena opened one blue eye remembering what she wanted to ask Gabrielle. The scent. She turned her head to ask the question of her lover but Gabrielle's eyes were closed and by the deep breathing, normal for a sleeping person, Xena knew she would have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow, she thought tiredly, grinning as she thought about it.
* * * *
Xena took a deep breath of the warm dampened air, feeling Gabrielle's hand squeeze hers as they shared the beauty that was before them. Xena felt a slight tremor in the hand she held, not knowing if it was from what they were witnessing or because of how high they were. Maybe it was both.
The rock they were sitting comfortably on, with feet dangling over the edge that dropped over a waterfall that they had once fallen into, was bathed in the sun's warmth. Clouds of moisture from the falls spray coated their hot faces with each small gust of wind cooling them pleasantly. Below them in the large pool where the falls poured into they could see small insects hovering over the stiller part of the pool and what looked like fish leaping up to grab a tasty meal, glistening in colors that the sun liked, and smoothly reentering into the depths of their water world, hunger satiated. Songs and calls from different creatures in the world about them filled the air, carrying over the roar of the falls below, that failed to drown out the life that abound in the valley.
Xena closed her eyes and breathed in deeply the air that was alive with so many different scents that it would take a long time to identify each one. She could feel the connection with Gabrielle as if they were sharing consciousness. The presence of Gabrielle was...so soft..yet...there was a hardness...no.. solidness...and delight in everything that was around them. And there was a sense of...profound love...Xena paused as she tried to express it to herself...and gave up for she could not. She felt the same for Gabrielle and she could feel that Gabrielle understood.
Xena opened her eyes at the sudden shift in Gabrielle's feelings.
There, before Xena and Gabrielle, were two tiny people, hovering in the air. Or..they looked like little people.
The spray from the falls behind them put a sheen over their hair that floated about them in slow motion waves. The sun behind them gave the impression that they had tiny rainbow colored jewels glittering in their soft flowing hair.
"We wanted to think you for what you have done for our kind. We know it was...an unusual request...and one that you both accepted without hesitation." Mediea added.
"Well..." Xena started to say she didn't remember being asked before all the dreams started.
Alex laughed. "The answer was in your heart, dark warrior. It was there before it was understood by your mind...or we could not have gone on."
"You have given us this back. And we thought you would like experience it." Alex nodded smiling as she looked about her.
"Where is this place?" Gabrielle asked breathless.
"Oh...you mean in relation to your world? Well...it's next to it..or, alongside of it, or maybe even over it...but not in it." Mediea chuckled at Xena's furrowed brow over the explanation.
"Just what world is this?" Gabrielle asked again feeling the irritation radiating from her partner in the leg that was against hers.
"None that your gods live in nor can visit. They don't dream so they won't be able to shift their consciousness to experience us."
"Do they know of you?"
"Yes. Through your memories, but that is here nor there. What matters is that you have shared your energy...to clear out what had fallen over this land...and helped to turn over the soil, so-to-speak, and replant for a new growth...thus showing those that had lost the ability to do this, how it is done." Alex explained.
"By...reliving our fears...and lust?" Gabrielle asked puzzled.
"Not just fears or physical desire. Getting past the sense of failure to see that there is something that that experience can be used for in a more productive way is crucial for those who are so far down they would not know what to look for or what to do with what they found. It was also necessary for others to understand that lust has other components... love and sensuousness... and should not be thought of as separate. Once they are separated...the specialness of this gift between two beings is devalued. It seems to be very simple...but self absorbed beings cannot find that bond...that feeling you both have between each other...and therefore cannot believe...love exits."
"What happened to those that tried to help you before us?" Gabrielle asked concerned.
"Have no worry for them. Nothing is lost, just changed and continues in a spiral fashion toward the apex, which is ever growing as each living thing moves and changes." Alex laughed joyfully.
"They have moved on to other business, lives if you will." Mediea explained to the baffled pair.
"So...what are you?" Xena asked.
"Hmmm. I don't think in your world there is a name for us. We are like you...but in another form and in another...space." Alex frowned as she didn't know how to explain when they had no reference...yet.
"And like you, we are linked so closely that we will share many lives to come..." Alex and Mediea looked into each others eyes, "and loves, sorrows, roles and visit different places and spaces." Alex giggled at the thought.
Xena shook her head at what they were saying. She had visited many lands and spoke to many captives and noncaptives about their beliefs and experienced different altered states with the shaman Alti and with her beloved mentor Lao Ma to be aware that there were many possibilities of levels of consciousness, but...
"Yes...it is like...levels of consciousness...an awareness, if you will." Mediea nodded toward Xena.
"Mediea, we have said enough. They aren't there yet...You will understand soon enough." Alex reassured Xena who was showing signs of restlessness with the mind games.
"One day, some time, you will need something that only we can give you. The powers that we don't even understand...will know when that time has come...and we will give you that aid...and if not us...then others who will act as our agents."
"There is no action that goes unnoticed by the unnameables." Mediea nodded.
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena with the same perplexed look. As they paused for a moment, caught in each other's eyes...time passed.
Xena stirred aware that a leg was thrown over hers pinning her down and her bladder was telling her she needed to make a trip to the pit to attend to it.
"Hmmm." A grumpy bard pulled her closer moving her leg to a higher position to keep her in place.
"Hey," she kissed the nose that was near. "I gotta visit the pit, unless ya want me to piss in the pallet...let me up." She smiled as the lips curved up on the sleeping face and Gabrielle rolled over to her side of the pallet, groaning and making grumpy noises as her warm body discovered her side of the pallet was cold.
When Xena returned, taking time to look for Argo in the predawn fog she found her grumpy Bard rekindling the fire.
"Good morning to you, my sunflower maiden. Are you willing to try my..." Xena didn't finish her jibe as Gabrielle reached up and with strong fingers sliding behind her neck, pulled her head down for a very long and arousing kiss.
"So...what was all that unusual verbal sweet stuff all about?" Gabrielle asked when she finally released Xena from her painfully bent position, bending awkwardly over Gabrielle's seated figure.
"Hmmm." She shook her head to clear the haze. "I want to ask you a question.." what did she want to ask her? Oh...Xena sat on the log next to Gabrielle and took the cup of tea and a travel bar from her as Gabrielle turned a little to pick up her own tea and bar.
"Well...I wanted to ask you something too." She pursed her lips and hopped she could get it out before she lost her nerve.
"It's about these dreams I've been having." They both spoke together.
"You too?" The both asked in unison.
Xena looked at Gabrielle suspiciously. "What type of dreams have you been having?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena with hesitation. "You tell me yours first."
For about a candlemark they argued on who was to reveal the contents of their dreams first. An impatient whinny from Argo got an embarrassed look tossed her way from Xena, as she rose to get Argo ready for their journey. The rest of their preparation for leaving was done in silence as each wondered what the other was dreaming and hopping...
"Xena, this really is a great place. I'd like to come back here." Gabrielle stood outside of the vine covered entrance to their shelter for the last...was it days...from the storm that had overtaken them quite suddenly on their trip to the Amazon Nation.
The tall trees that surrounded them reached up into the clear blue sky. A chattering bird from a nearby branch was calling to its neighbor, ready to socialize now that its morning hunger was taken care of. Squirrels were busy moving about looking for last minute additions to their winter hoard. A bunny was wiggling it nose in the wind, making sure that it was safe to hop over to a more abundant area of grass that Argo hadn't leveled.
Argo was packed and waiting patiently outside, playing with her bit and rattling it against her teeth to hear it against the other sounds around them. The grass was up to her hocks where she stood. The sky was clear above them, but as Gabrielle's eyes traveled to where Xena had her gaze fixed, she could see dark clouds moving toward them.
Xena was planning their pace to the next shelter with the movement of the weather.
"Hmm. Yea...lucky to find it." She finally answered Gabrielle softly. "How about riding up on Argo with me. I'd like to make it to a village before that cloud overtakes us."
"Sure." A small smile curved up her lips as she thought of how to subtly seduce her strong partner and windbreaker on their ride. After all....what else was there to do while ridding behind Xena than dream...dream.
"Xena...you remember those scrolls you caught me reading in Sappho's library?" She reached up to grab Xena's proffered arm to lift her onto Argo's back.
Her direction of lift from sitting behind Xena was suddenly redirected to a seat in front of Xena, with a surprised Gabrielle lifting her leg quickly over Argo's neck to avoid kicking her.
"What scrolls are those?" Xena purred in her ear.
Gabrielle slapped the bare leg that was touching hers playfully, not removing it as it rested on the warm skin feeling the muscles shift as they squeezed Argo into motion.
"You know..." She returned.
"Refresh my memory. Start with the one where the two woman are on a horse..." Xena's breath tickled the ear that was exposed from the blond hair that was tucked behind it.
End of Epilog and END of Journey Through Shadow Land
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