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DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done...okay, they get a little worn, but hey...I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way (unless, of course, Lucy, Renee, Rob, et al want to make my dream come true and hire me, hah!). Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.

VIOLENCE WARNING: There is some violence (come on it's the Warrior Princess), battle scene type stuff. It does get pretty bloody at the end, but if you can handle PG13 you shouldn't be too bothered.

SEX: Yup, it's here! I mean it is Xena and Gabrielle, after all. It's not gratuitous, but it is explicit when it gets going. This story shows consensual love/sex between two adult females. Consider yourself warned if you find that kind of thing offensive.

UNDERAGE WARNING: Hey, the Supreme Court said in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) that laws against making available, online, certain "indecent" materials for those under 18 was unconstitutional...look it up! Besides, this is perfectly "decent." J

OTHER DISCLAIMERS: The words to the song that Xena sings to Gabrielle are actually the lyrics to the song "No Place That Far", sung by Sara Evans (words & music: Sara Evans/Tom Shapiro/Tony Martin), and are used here without permission or intent to profit.

MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR: I usually don't "explain" a either get it or you don't, but I must be getting soft. The title of this piece is apt and I thank my friend, Gloria for the use of her gray cells in coming up with it in the first place. It is not only the physical Quest for a woman, but also Gabrielle's own Quest to find out who she is as a woman, a bard, a lover & friend, and as an Amazon Queen.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think about it, or what you might like to see in the future...homophobes need not apply, however. I'm at:

I promised her I here it is! A dedication to Gloria for her help in coming up with a title that I could live with for this piece. BTW...Here's to all my muses for this piece...The Xmas Misfits.

*This is the second story in the "Queen" series. While not absolutely necessary, you may want to read the first story, "To Become A Queen," just to keep up.

Quest For A Queen


The food hut was mostly deserted, but Amazons were beginning to filter in for a midday meal. Gabrielle had been sitting there; just staring into the unknown, a full plate of food lying barely touched in front of her. Her slim, muscular frame rested in a wooden chair at the head of the Queen's table, her mind went where her mind spent most of its time in the last fortnight, to a certain Warrior Princess.

Since they'd become lovers, their evenings were spent in a passionate haze behind a barred door to the Queen's quarters. Actually, more than just their evenings, the Queen mused to herself. Nighttime, daytime, afternoons, once sapphire blue eyes, captured emerald green a tacit message was passed, and the two lovers would find themselves creating reasons to be alone in the same room. They had christened nearly every hideaway available in the Amazon village, and most of the surrounding countryside.

"Hi there," Xena said with a smile, kissing the top of the seated woman's head, and pulling her from her reverie.

Gabrielle reached behind her to embrace the dark-haired warrior, and pulled up short, immediately stopping the taller woman by placing the palm of her hand on the warrior's breastplate.

"Eeewwww, smell," she said with a grimace, continuing to hold her at arms length.

Xena chuckled as she straightened back up. "I ought to, considering I've been sparring with your best and brightest all morning. Here, I'll sit that any better?" She finished, taking a seat on a bench just to the Queen's left.

"Just barely," Gabrielle smiled. Suddenly she leaned over the table, capturing the warrior's lips in a gentle kiss that turned heated quickly. "Mmmm," Gabrielle moaned, "that was definitely worth the risk." The young Queen moved back into her seat, never releasing the azure eyes that now sparkled with unspoken desire.

"Oh, get a room," Eponin exclaimed, witnessing the passionate exchange. "Is this a private army, or can anyone enlist?" the Amazon warrior asked with a mischievous smile, indicating a seat at the Queen's table.

"Sit," both women invited in unison, never breaking their eye contact with one another.

Eponin arranged herself at the table and began to eat her meal, watching with amusement, the exchange between Xena and Gabrielle. The walls could fall down around them and I don't think they'd notice!

"Hello?" Eponin asked, waving her hand between the two women.

"How's your back, Ep?" Xena said with a wry smile, finally releasing the Queens' gaze.

"Fine, no thanks to you!" Eponin exclaimed, trying to look fierce. She failed considering the fact that she began to blush and it's hard for an Amazon Warrior to look tough while her ears are turning red.

"What a nice shade of scarlet," Gabrielle smiled sweetly, looking at Xena and nodding her head in Eponin's direction.

Which simply made Eponin turn an even brighter shade of red. Since the last incident involving Eponin, and a very naked Xena and Gabrielle, the Amazon had been having trouble looking her Queen directly in the eye.

"Oh, thanks, Gabrielle...just jump on the bandwagon and kick me while I'm down." The warrior finished dejectedly.

"Oh, Ep," the Queen laughed, "you're too cute!"

"Gabrielle!" Eponin cried, lowering her voice to a whisper, "I'm a warrior...please don't call me cute."

Still laughing at the embarrassed Amazon, Gabrielle rose from her seat, "I hate to leave when we're having so much fun at your expense, but I have work to do." Pushing her untouched plate of food toward Xena she indicated the warrior should finish it.

"Gabrielle, you haven't even touched this," grasping the young woman's hand as she passed, "are you sure you feel allright?" Xena questioned with concern.

"Yea, just not as hungry as I thought," Gabrielle smiled at her lover. "You better finish it," she said leaning in to whisper into Xena's ear, "you're going to need your strength...for later." She finished, kissing the warrior gently.

"See ya, Ep," the young Queen said with a smile as she gracefully made her way through the maze of tables in the hut. Stopping to talk to one of the Royal Guard, Gabrielle smiled seductively in Xena's direction, before leaving the building.

"Don't worry, Xena...she's fine, just in love that's all," Eponin said between bites, motioning toward Gabrielle's uneaten food. "It's written all over her face. That pathetic 'I'm so in love' look. Trust me, I can tell it from a league away."

Yea, well, how do I look?" Xena said turning to look at the Amazon.

"Absolutely pathetic," Eponin returned.

Xena laughed loud and long at the Amazon's characterization of her. Yep, I bet I do look absolutely pathetic, she thought to herself, unable to remove the goofy grin from her face. But, what a way to go! With that the warrior dug into Gabrielle's forgotten repast, taking the young Queen's promise literally.

"Xena?" The warrior turned to see Daria, the member of the Royal Guard Gabrielle had been talking with before she left the food hut. Xena had finished her meal and now she and Eponin were sharing a drink before heading off to the baths. The Guard leaned toward the warrior slightly, lowering her voice.

"Her Highness has requested that a bath be drawn for you in your quarters, she also said she would meet you there later." Daria looked slightly disconcerted at being the harbinger for what would most certainly turn out to be a romantic liaison between the Queen and her consort. The Amazon took it in stride, however, straightening herself and walking off, missing the amused, yet lustful glint in the eye of the Warrior Princess.

"Stop, right there warrior." The voice ordered the instant Xena entered the hut she shared with Gabrielle. The warrior froze, her back facing the speaker, the hairs along the back of her neck rising in response.

Xena's eyes instantly took in the interior of the hut, even before stepping through the door. The storm shutters were pulled closed on the windows, leaving only the slats above each window open, allowing in the warm summer breeze. The room was heavy with moisture; tendrils of steam rose from heated water, dissipating into the air. The closed windows effectively eliminated the light of day, but candles of varying sizes had been placed throughout the hut, the light from their flames dancing and flickering against the walls. She briefly closed her eyes, taking in the fragrance of warmed rose oil, burning wax, and a scent the warrior had come to crave, one that made her mouth water from the mere notion...


"Don't turn around." Gabrielle demanded.

Xena was utterly captivated by the commanding tone in the young Queen's voice. Gods, who'd have thought Gabrielle ordering me around could be so arousing? Who would have thought I'd let anyone have that kind of power over me?

"Remove your armor."

Xena quickly began removing her weapons and armor beginning with her breastplate, ending with her greaves and shin guards.


Xena stood, leaving her leg protectors and boots untouched.

"Slow down...I'm enjoying the view."

Six-foot puddle time!

To Xena's ears the words were practically purred as she thought about melting into a puddle in the middle of the floor, just from the sound of her lover's voice.

Not only her bard's words but also the tone and timbre caused an immediate reaction in Xena's inflamed body. She felt the familiar tightening in her belly, followed by an increased flood of liquid between her legs. The warrior continued, slowly and painstakingly drawing leather straps through buckles, willing a little control into her already trembling fingers. Divested of her battle armor she stood waiting for her next command.

"Your breeches...take them off."

Xena hooked a thumb in each side of her now soaked undergarment and slid them down and off her legs. She was actually amazed the cloth pulled away from her body without a slurping sound, as wet as she was.

"Now, turn around."

Xena slowly turned and the breath caught in her throat. Gods, she's beautiful.

Gabrielle was leaning against the back of a narrow, yet long tub, the length easily able to accommodate the warrior's size. The young woman's arms lay draped across the outside rim, her fingers dangling in the water. The young Queen's body stretched out languidly in the steaming water, her face flushed from either the heat or simply desire. The bard's hair had been swept up and pulled back from her face and neck, held in place with a delicate ivory comb. Xena focused on the young woman's green eyes, dark with desire.

"Start with the laces." Gabrielle said, not turning away from the warrior's gaze, beginning to feel an insistent pressure between her own legs that begged for release.

Xena reached behind her and began to loosen the laces at her back. Stopping, she let her arms fall to her sides, lowering her eyes to the floor.

"Very least I have you well trained," Gabrielle praised.

Xena's eyes shot up and captured the bard's with a touch of fire in the azure depths, the muscles in her neck tightening.

Gabrielle thought she had overplayed her hand by the look in her warrior's eye, but she continued, overlooking the battle of wills that was silently taking place.

"Continue," the bard said encouragingly.

Xena very nearly stopped the whole scenario. It took a lot for the warrior to succumb to another's will, even if the other was as beautiful as her bard was, then again, she knew there was a difference here. Xena knew there was love and trust here, it's the only reason this domination fantasy excited her. Her submission had never...would never, take place with anyone but Gabrielle. There was one more reason it thrilled her, and that's because it aroused her Amazon Queen every bit as much as the warrior.

Xena slid the straps of the tunic off each shoulder and let her leathers fall down her body.

This time it was Gabrielle's turn to gasp. She tried to hold it in, but the sight of the Warrior Princess, naked and prepared to submit to the bard's will, caused a sharp intake of breath, and an increased ache in her center. Xena's body was magnificent even streaked with grime and sweat from the practice field.

"Get in," Gabrielle said huskily.

Xena walked over and stepped into the tub, never breaking eye contact with the bard.

"Turn around and sit." Gabrielle ordered, starting to breathe a little heavier now that her warrior was so close. The young woman reached for a cloth and soap, and began the slow process of lathering the skin of the warrior. She started at her neck, to her shoulders, well-muscled back, and down each strong arm. When the water covered the parts of the warrior's body that Gabrielle wanted to reach, she leaned against Xena's back, the young woman's nipples pressing deliciously into the warrior's flesh.

"Stand up," Gabrielle whispered in her ear.

Xena stood, thin rivulets of water cascading down her perfectly toned body. Gabrielle continued her washing, bath cloth in hand, running down the outside of each long leg, returning up the inside, stopping just short of the dark patch of curls. She discarded the cloth and ran both soapy palms up the back of Xena's thighs, continuing up to massage the warrior's buttocks, enjoying the way the warrior's muscles jumped when they felt the smoothness of the bard's hand instead of the cloth.

"Turn around and kneel," Gabrielle again commanded.

Xena, once again, did as she was bid, kneeling in the heated water. Taking the soapy cloth, Gabrielle gave the front of her body the same treatment as the back, beginning at her neck. When the bard brushed the fabric over a hardened nipple, Xena managed to hold back a moan, but closed her eyes, arching her body into the pleasing touch.

"Oh, no, warrior," Gabrielle warned. "I don't want you losing yourself in the sensations just yet. Keep your eyes open or I'll have to stop."

Xena's eyelids snapped open at the admonition from the Queen.

Gabrielle tossed the cloth into the water, running the soap through her fingers to create lather. She resumed her work on the warrior's body, once again foregoing the cloth and using her hands instead. The bard was having an enormous amount of difficulty just trying to stay focused. Xena's skin felt like the softest Egyptian silk against her slick fingers. She felt every muscle and sinew in the warrior's powerful chest, her thumbs lazily stroking the nipples into tightened nubs. Xena bit her lip to keep from crying out at the pleasure, but the bard's next move was too much for the warrior's already raging libido.

Gabrielle slid her hands down the warrior's flat abdomen, the muscles clenching as she skimmed her hands across the flesh. She cautiously ran sudsy fingers through the dark curls between the warrior's legs. Slow and deliberate, the bard keeping her touch away from where Xena needed it most. Suddenly the young woman slid her fingers down further, her soapy hand mingling with the warrior's warm wetness.

"Oh, Gods," Xena threw her head back, eyes closing, and moaned.

Gabrielle abruptly pulled away from the aroused warrior causing Xena to instantly realize her indiscretion.

"It's apparent you didn't take my warning seriously, warrior...I think we're done here." Gabrielle snapped as she started to move away.

"No!" Xena's hand shot out, grabbing the bard's wrist.

Gabrielle merely looked at Xena's hand locked onto hers, raising an eyebrow and the warrior released her grip at once. Breathing hard, Xena willed her arms to the side of her body and lowered her eyes.

"Please, forgive me my Queen," the warrior pleaded. By the I begging?

By the Gods, is she begging? "This is your last chance...there will be no others. Don't make me tie your hands." Gabrielle said softly. Xena's pulse raced faster at the words, but she held her tongue, and Gabrielle decided to save that little fantasy for another time.

The young Queen placed two fingers under the warrior's chin and tilted her face till their eyes met. Leaning in she began placing a series of kisses on Xena's mouth, none of which the warrior responded to.

"Very good," Gabrielle smiled at the warrior's control. "Kiss me," she commanded, leaning in again to capture Xena's lips.

The warrior responded fervently, straining against the idea of wrapping her arms around the bard and pulling the young woman closer to her. Suddenly Xena moaned into Gabrielle's kiss when, without warning, the bard's fingers resumed their exploration of Xena's slick folds.

Breaking away from the kiss, Gabrielle moved to whisper in the warrior's ear.

"Is this what you wanted to feel?"

"Oh, yes!" Xena responded quickly.

"Do you see what happens when you're obedient?" Gabrielle questioned, not stopping the teasing motion of her fingers.

"Yes, my Queen," Xena's labored breathing proof of the physical pleasure. The warrior's well-trained body promptly grasped the concept. Do as you're told and be rewarded. And, oh, she felt very rewarded.

All too quickly the bard removed her fingers, eliciting a whimper of protest from the dark-haired woman.

"Soon, my love...very soon," Gabrielle said, picking up a sponge to rinse the soap from Xena's body.

Gabrielle washed the warrior's hair, then dipped her hands in the bowl of warm rose oil, massaging the slick liquid into the warrior's quivering muscles. Occasionally the bard would flick her tongue over a hardened nipple, slip a slender finger between the warrior's legs, and suck on a sensitive earlobe until Xena's body trembled constantly with unfulfilled desire. Xena could not tell how much time had passed since she first entered the hut; her body was being constantly rewarded, then deprived of the bard's fiery touch.

"Stand up," Gabrielle said forcefully.

Xena stretched her frame out of the water and stood before the kneeling Queen. The warrior felt Gabrielle's warm breath and it chilled her skin as the bard leaned in to capture a droplet of moisture with her tongue as it rolled down the warrior's abdomen. Advancing her tongue further, she slipped the tip past the dark patch of hair and into the warrior's sweet wetness. Xena balled her hands into fists, clenching them tightly against the white hot bolt of desire that swept through her body. She fought the temptation to thrust her hips forward, not wanting to give in simply to have the bard pull away like before.

"Spread your legs apart," Gabrielle murmured into Xena's flesh.

Xena complied moving her feet up to the walls of the narrow tub.

Gabrielle pushed her tongue in further and placed two fingers at Xena's opening, teasing the flesh there with small circular motions. A flood of wetness washed over the bard's tongue as Xena realized what was about to happen, her body responding to Gabrielle's stimulation.

"Is this what you want, warrior?" Gabrielle said, replacing her tongue with her right thumb, continue to lightly stroke around the swollen folds.

"Gods, Yesss," Xena panted.

"My tongue...or my fingers?" Gabrielle smiled at the sudden look of indecision on the warrior's face. "I'll reward you with both, but first you have to promise me one more thing, warrior..."

Xena looked down at the bard, looking mischievously back up at her.

"You're not allowed to come until I give you permission."

Xena groaned at the words the bard had just spoken. She was just beginning to think that she was so close to the edge now, only a few strokes from her lover's tongue and she would be screaming in ecstasy.

" you enjoy pleasuring me...enjoy my taste?"

Xena's mouth began to water at the mere thought of Gabrielle's taste, the spicy sweetness that flowed so easily from the young woman; that was so distinctly her bard.

"Yes, my Queen," Xena gasped through ragged breaths.

"If you come without my permission, I'll pleasure myself and this evening will be over. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my Queen...I understand." Xena answered.

Upon Xena's assent, Gabrielle slipped her tongue inside the spread legs, pushing her fingers one step closer to their goal. Xena moaned loudly as wave after wave of previously denied pleasure washed over her body.

Gabrielle removed her tongue and stilled her hand, licking away the wetness that coated the inside of the warrior's thighs.

"Now, tell me, my warrior...what is it you want," Gabrielle looked up and asked the pleasure delirious woman.

Xena, who had previously had trouble voicing her needs and desires to her young lover, looked down at the young woman with an intense gaze that burned red hot with need.

"Fuck me, my Queen," she hissed through clenched teeth.

The warrior gasped as Gabrielle plunged two fingers inside her, gliding the digits in and out with slow precision.

"More." Xena begged until three then four fingers thrust themselves into her body. Barely able to form the words, Xena cried out, "harder...Gods, harder." She thrust herself against the bard's hand, her hips grinding down against her lover's muscular arm.

"Remember, warrior...not without my permission."

Xena growled in frustration, begging her body to back off, feeling she was quickly losing the battle when her thighs began to tremble uncontrollably, a new flood of wetness indicating her impending orgasm. Her hands clenched the rim of the tub, her knees threatening to give way. Xena's eyes met Gabrielle's; both women dangerously near the edge.

"Please--my--Queen" Xena begged.

"Now," was all the Queen said.

Xena threw back her head and howled her release, her legs finally giving way. As she dropped to her knees, her hands, still clamped onto the sides of the tub, were shaking wildly. Her body continued to convulse, pulsating rhythmically around the bard's fingers, and as the bard continued the motion of her hand inside her body, another orgasm ripped through the warrior's frame.

Gabrielle wrapped deceivingly strong arms around the warrior, Xena's head buried in he smaller woman's shoulder.

"I've got you, love...I've got you," Gabrielle whispered.

"Oh, are trying to get even, aren't you?" Gabrielle moaned lying completely spent on the bed the two women shared.

Xena grinned and moved up the young woman's body, gently kissing the sensitive flesh, until their lips met in a passionate kiss filled with the promises of a lifetime to come. Gabrielle moaned again, as she tasted herself on the warrior's tongue.

"How did you guess?" Xena said with an evil grin when both women finally pulled away to breathe.

The warrior lay on her back and Gabrielle felt herself wrapped in strong loving arms. The bard nuzzled Xena's neck, lightly kissing the bruise she'd put there earlier.

" you think there's something wrong with me?" Gabrielle tentatively questioned.

"Of course not, love...Gabrielle, why would you even ask such a thing?" Xena answered, pulling away slightly to look at her lover.

"It's just...well, this," she motioned with her hand toward the both of them. "I mean, well...the way we are...I mean--"

"Gabrielle, you keep saying 'I mean', but I'm not sure what you mean." Xena said, confused by her lover's questioning.

"I mean..." Gabrielle stopped at Xena's small smile at the same two words. "Xena, I want you all the time!" The bard blurted out. "I thought it was because it was all so new at first, but it only seems to be getting worse, if you know what I mean. It's like making love to you is some kind of need...I feel absolutely driven, and I know that can't be normal." The young woman finished with tears in her eyes.

"Gabrielle," Xena said, gently cradling the bard's face in her strong hands, "It is a need...we've been in love with each other for so long, we do need each other, and there's nothing abnormal about that. As for the physical part of our relationship...I feel exactly the same way you do. Lately, it seems if I'm not making love to you, I'm thinking about making love to you. This is new...for both of us. I've never been in love like this before so we're just going to have to write our own rules and take each day as it comes. I know one thing, though, my love..."

Xena flipped the bard over so she was on her back and began to lay gentle kisses on her neck, working her way toward Gabrielle's ear. "You are the most beautiful...most incredible...sexiest...woman I have ever known." The warrior punctuated each word with a kiss. "How could I not want you all the time?" she finished, capturing Gabrielle's lips in a burning kiss that immediately drove the young woman's doubts and fears away.

"Xena?" Gabrielle was desperately trying not to be carried away by the warrior's kisses.

"Mmmm?" was Xena's reply as she continued to kiss her way down the young woman's neck.

"I'd like to tell my family about us." Gabrielle finished, counting the heartbeats that went by, her eyes shut tight waiting for the explosion.

"You want to what?" Xena said, astonished. "Gabrielle, your parents hate me...are you sure you're ready for the reaction you might get?"

The young Queen's emerald eyes took on a serious hue, "I can kind of guess what kind of reaction I'll get, but it's something I need to do...more for me,, than anyone else. Xena, it's just that if anything should ever happen to us, I want people...our families... to know how we felt about one another...what we meant to each other. I want them to know that no matter what, I loved you until my dying day, and that I'd do anything...go anywhere...fight anyone, just to be by your side.

Tears filled the warrior's blue eyes as she leaned up to lightly brush her lips across her lover's forehead, returning to snare the bard's soft full lips in a breath stealing kiss. Gabrielle was constantly amazed at how the former Destroyer of Nations could be so gentle, have a caress so delicate and full of love.

"Oh, you know how much I love you? Even realize what you mean to me? That my heart beats only for you...because of you? My heart is so connected to yours...through all eternity, are my soul mate."

Brushing away the bard's own tears of love, Xena continued, "Just one thing, my love. If you're determined to do this, then let's do it right. We'll both go to Potidaea and tell your family together. We can travel on to Amphipolis from there and tell my mother and Toris. What do you say?"

"Xena, are you sure about telling your family, too?"

"I've never been more sure of anything, my bard." Xena said with a kiss and a smile she reserved only for her bard.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms tightly around the warrior's neck. "I love you, Xe." She whispered.

Xena smiled at her lover's use of a shortened version of her name. "I love you, too, Gabrielle."

The warrior finally pulled away from the exquisite embrace. "Gabrielle, I have something for you," she said, leaving the bed to search through her saddlebags.

"Actually," she continued to speak as she dug to the bottom of the bag, "I had this made quite a while ago, but I never thought I'd actually be giving it to you."

Looking up with a bittersweet grin she caught the bard's gaze. "I guess I had it made because it was something I would have liked to give you if I'd ever had the courage to tell you how I felt about you."

Returning to the bed, she sat next to the bard and handed her a small wooden box. Gabrielle reached out a tentative hand for the gift, wondering what the warrior could have had made, and kept a secret for so long. Lifting the lid, Gabrielle gasped aloud at the elegance of such a gift. The box was lined with purple silk and lying inside was a pendant unlike any other. Two hearts had been formed from the shape and scrollwork of Xena's breastplate, each heart holding a small stone, one blue sapphire and one emerald green. The hearts had been joined together at the points so that they created the letter X.

Xena's Gift "Oh,'s so beautiful," Gabrielle said breathlessly.

"Let's see how it looks on you, huh?" Xena said, smiling at the look of unadulterated love radiating from her bard's face. The warrior moved to sit behind the young Queen and clasped the delicate chain around her neck.

Moving her arms around the smaller woman in front of her, Xena pressed her body in tightly against the bard and whispered in her ear.

"This is more than just a pendant. I've never given away my heart like this before; I trust you to keep it safe for me. It also extracts a promise from you, Gabrielle. It puts an X, my mark, over your heart over your heart. It shows that you belong to me and no other, just as I belong to you."

Gabrielle reached up and placed her hand over the pendant, lying above her heart, just as Xena placed her own hand on top of the bard's. The warrior reached down and placed soft kisses on the Queen's shoulder, pulling their bodies closer together. Sitting yoga style, each woman wrapped around the other, their hands over the pendant, it was as if they had truly become one.

"I'll never let anyone take it from me," Gabrielle promised.

"Pain to the person who tries," Xena said gravely.

With Xena's words Gabrielle felt her skin tingle where the pendant touched her. It had come and gone so quickly that the bard didn't know if the feeling had been real or imagined.

"So, when do we go?" Gabrielle questioned.

"Is day after tomorrow too soon?" Xena responded.

"That's fine with me. Xena, did you want to be on the road again by now?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena wrapped her arms even tighter around the Amazon Queen and spoke into her ear so softly it was barely a whisper; "I go where you go, my home is where you are."

Halting her words with a kiss then a caress; the two women once again lost themselves to their passions.

Leaving the Amazon village was never easy for Gabrielle, but after so much time spent among her friends, their parting was a melancholy affair. Gabrielle leaned her cheek against Xena's back as they both rode atop Argo, thanking Artemis once again for a regent and a friend such as Ephiny.

"Wake up, sleepyhead," Xena teased, placing a gentle hand on her lover's thigh.

"Mmmm... I'm not sleeping, just thinking," was the bard's lazy reply.

"Thinking or worrying?"

"You know me too well," the bard smiled and kissed Xena's neck. "I guess a little of both, though. I'm not sure if we shouldn't just keep Argo saddled and ready for a quick escape."

Xena pulled Gabrielle's arms tighter around her waist and wrapped her own free arm around them protectively. "Remember, Brie...we're in this together."

"What?" Xena asked, turning to look at Gabrielle after not having received a response from her bard.

"It's just that I don't think you've ever called me anything but Gabrielle in all the time we've known each other. Why Brie?"

"I don't know..." the warrior stammered, a slight blush beginning to creep up her neck. "...It just came out."

"I like it. I especially like a name that only you call me." Gabrielle smiled against the skin of the warrior's neck.

Gabrielle began to place a series of small kisses along the bare skin of Xena's neck and shoulders, anywhere her lips could reach that wasn't covered with armor.

Her bard's tender lips caused a sensation that slammed hard into Xena's center, eliciting a groan from the warrior.

"Gabrielle," the warrior said breathlessly. "At this rate it's going to take us a week to get to Potidaea."

"Why is that, my love?" Gabrielle asked, feigning innocence, and pushing Xena's hair to one side to run the tip of her tongue along the nape of the warrior's neck.

"Because we're making camp for the night!" Xena finished, abruptly guiding the mare off the well-traveled path and into the woods.

"Anybody home?" Gabrielle asked, waving her hand in front of her lover's eyes.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Brie...I was just thinking." Xena returned from her thoughts as she stared into the flames of the campfire.

"Thinking or worrying?"

Xena flashed a smile to her young lover as her earlier words were tossed back at her. "A little bit of both I guess," she returned with a grin.

"Can I help?" Gabrielle asked

"As a matter of fact, yes...we need to talk, Brie." The warrior finished seriously.

The look on the bard's face told Xena the young woman had misinterpreted her intentions. "Oh,'s nothing bad, just some stuff I thought we needed to talk about."

"Oh," Gabrielle said smiling at her own anxiety. "I thought--well, I guess there's always a tiny part of me that's still waiting for you to leave me in Potidaea." She said, embarrassed at her own apprehension.

"Never, my bard..." Xena pulled her lover into her lap and enveloped the smaller woman in her warm embrace. "Gabrielle, I'll say it again and again if you need to hear it, but I'll never leave you. I plan on making your life miserable until we're old and gray." The warrior finished with a twinkle in her blue eyes.

"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about...being around until we're old and gray. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, considering, as you can plainly see, I have a hard time just keeping my hands off of you. It's just the Amazon village we were pretty free to...well, kiss, know, whenever we wanted, but now that we're on the road again...strange people and towns--"

"Oh, Xe, it's allright, I understand. I would never embarrass you in public--"

"No, love...your touch could never embarrass me. You could kiss me thoroughly in front of my own mother and it wouldn't embarrass me." The warrior smiled tenderly.

"I'll take you up on that someday, you know" Gabrielle teased.

"I was thinking more about focus. I don't want us to get so caught up in each other that we lose track of what's going on around us. You know it could spell trouble if we become too oblivious to our surroundings. It's not a good thing for a warrior to be so distracted."

"And am I a distraction?" Gabrielle asked, nuzzling the warrior's neck.

"You, my love, are a most pleasant distraction," the warrior teased, kissing the tip of her lover's nose.

"Gabrielle smiled and returned the gentle kiss. "So, not so much of this?" Gabrielle motioned toward their crumpled bedrolls that had been straightened and strewn about the camp twice since dinner. "Or maybe just when we stay at an inn or in town?"

"Well, don't go crazy on me here," the warrior's body already beginning to feel denied. "I just thought maybe we should be a little more selective about the 'when and the where'...not necessarily the 'how often'."

Gabrielle laughed at the dejected look on her lover's face. "I would never deny you, my love," she whispered seductively.

Xena growled as the sultry sound of the bard's voice wrenched a reaction from her body. "I'd carry you to the bedroll this very second, but I want to check the area before we get too comfortable." She said putting some space between she and the bard before she gave up on that plan altogether.

"Xena," Gabrielle called as the warrior moved into the darkness. "Now that we're lovers it kind of gives 'checking the perimeter' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?" she smiled.

Xena froze and turned to look back at the young woman. "You knew?"

"Xe...what did you think I was doing back here when you went off to pleasure yourself?" Gabrielle asked, smiling sweetly.

The vision that thrust itself to the forefront of the warrior's mind made her eyes go wide. She promptly turned to make her way to the edge of camp, but not before Gabrielle heard the warrior's low groan of arousal.

Riding toward the small village of Potidaea, Xena felt Gabrielle's body language change, as the young woman in the saddle behind her pressed herself tighter against the warrior. To Xena, Gabrielle had always been happy to see her family, especially her sister Lila, but there was always a little imperceptible something that changed when the bard was back in her home village.

"Why don't we take a break," Xena offered, "I'm kind of thirsty. Besides there's only another couple of candlemarks till we're in Potidaea."

Gabrielle agreed a little rest would be a good idea. Actually, the closer she got to home the more nervous she became, until she was holding on to Xena so tight she feared she'd suffocate the poor warrior.

Sitting under a tree, both women relaxed in the shade, realizing that summer's warm breezes were slowly coming to an end.

"What was it like growing up in Potidaea, Brie?" Xena asked nonchalantly.

Gabrielle looked up at her warrior, a thin smile barely covering a look of pain. "I don't know...I guess like every other farming community in Greece."

Xena continued. "It's just that you don't talk much about growing up here. I mean, I'm always telling you about how Lyceus and I went fishing or swimming, how I learned to ride a horse, or use a sword...I'll never figure out how you drag those stories out of me, anyway." She said with a smile toward her bard.

Gabrielle shrugged as if to say there wasn't much to tell.

"Come 'ere," Xena encouraged pulling the smaller woman into her lap. Kissing her temple, the warrior enjoyed the familiar warmth of her partner.

"Growing up here wasn't a real happy time for me." Gabrielle said as she lay her head against the warrior's chest.

"I gathered that much...can't you talk about it? Even to me, Brie?" Xena said tenderly stroking her lover's face.

"It's just that I felt very...out of place here." Gabrielle said slowly. "Of course anyone with half a wit and a whole brain would, but it was more than just the town. Xe, I felt that way with my family. Lila and I have been as close as sisters can be, but my mother was always so distant, and...well, you know how my father treats me. It wasn't a whole lot better when I was younger. I just always felt like--like an outsider." She finished softly.

"You and I, my love, have more in common than you think." The warrior commented, holding her lover to her tightly. "Can I ask a question?"


"Why is it so important for you to come here and tell them about us if that's the way you think they feel about you?" Xena asked.

Straightening herself up to look in her lover's eyes, Gabrielle said determinedly, "Because I want them to know who I am...who I really am."

Xena sat there looking into the proud, beautiful features of her lover and felt another piece of that old wall around her heart, hit the ground. "Gabrielle...what did I ever do to deserve a woman as wonderful as you in my life." Punctuating her remarks with a heartfelt kiss.

"I don't know, but you're stuck with me now," the bard laughed.

Xena leapt to her feet still holding Gabrielle in her arms. "Well, you're too small to even throw back." The tall warrior teased.

"Xena...put me down!" Gabrielle squealed.

"You're going to have to ask nicer than that," the warrior said wiggling her eyebrows.

Gabrielle began lightly kissing the warrior's neck. "Please, my love...would you put me down?" Then she wrapped both arms around Xena's neck and kissed her passionately.

When the kiss finally ended, both women found breathing a little more difficult than when they started.

"Gabrielle..." Xena said, her voice suddenly ragged with desire. The warrior's eyes looked into the bard's and then off into the woods, the silent plea understood by the woman in her arms.

"Uh huh," Gabrielle nodded her assent, as the warrior carried her into the shadows of the forest.

Xena pulled Gabrielle up into the saddle behind her, the smile of a truly satisfied warrior on her face.

"Xe," Gabrielle slapped her arm, "if you don't get that goofy grin off your face the whole town's going to know what we've been doing, and we won't need to tell my family anything!"

"What goofy grin?" Xena made an effort to remove the smile, but failed.

"That goofy grin," Gabrielle said, turning the warrior to face her slightly.

"Well, you put it there...maybe you should do something to get rid of it.

"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

"Oh, allright...I'll try."

Moments passed and Gabrielle quickly leaned up in the saddle to catch a glimpse of the warrior's face. "Xena!"

"I'm trying!" the warrior shouted back. Placing a phony scowl on her face, she turned back to the bard. "Better?"

"Yes. Thank you, love."

A few more moments passed and the grin had again found it's way to the warrior's face.

"Aaarrggh!" Gabrielle moaned. Shaking her head in vain against her lover's back.

Lila was the first to catch a glimpse of the pair as they rode toward the small farm.

"Gabrielle!" the younger girl shouted, waving. "Mother, come quick."

By the time the lovers rode up to the small cottage, Lila and Gabrielle's mother, Hecuba where waiting.

Xena stood by and let the women greet and exchange pleasantries, not able to take her eyes off her beautiful bard. A fact that wasn't lost on Hecuba.

"Hello, Xena," Hecuba offered, surprising the warrior with her cordiality.

"Hecuba," Xena reached out her hand to grasp the older woman's.

"Well, let's get inside, shall we? Xena if you'll be staying for a visit, you're welcome to stable your mare in the barn." Hecuba said brushing her hands brusquely across the folds of her apron. "Come on girls...Gabrielle, do you eat anything at all when you're traveling out on the're skin and bones."

The three women made their way toward the cottage as Xena led Argo in the direction of the barn.

Lila turned in the direction of Gabrielle and said," Gabrielle, why does Xena have that goofy grin on her face?"

Xena nearly choked when her uncanny hearing picked up the words from her lover's sister, a slow blush creeping up her neck, she stopped in her tracks, and had to force herself to look in Gabrielle's direction.

The bard's eyes met hers and mouthed the words 'I told you so' before she spoke to Lila. "It's a warrior thing..." Gabrielle walked to the house, smiling.

"Now I know where Gabrielle gets her culinary talent." Xena smiled as Hecuba offered the warrior another pastry.

"That always was the one thing this girl could get" Hecuba laughed.

Gabrielle noticed that Xena was really turning on the charm tonight, but it hadn't taken the sting from her mother's last words. Yea, the only thing I ever did right was learning to cook.

"Well, the good thing is, now she's very a lot of things." Xena chimed in to save the day, earning a look so full of love from Gabrielle, it was hard for her mother not to miss it.

Meanwhile Gabrielle's father, Herodotus, silently glared at the warrior.

"Here, let me get those," Xena said, taking plates and bowls from Hecuba's hands, and proceeding to clear the rest of the table.

"Xena you're a guest don't have to do that." Hecuba said a little dumbfounded, the large warrior appearing out of place in her kitchen.

"No problem...Gabrielle has me well trained," she said with a wink toward the bard who just happened to enter the kitchen at that moment.

"Just don't ask her to cook...unless you actually like your food black," Gabrielle threw back.

"Ooooh, that hurts," the warrior came right back.

Hecuba stood watching the exchange and knew right then, this Gabrielle was no longer the little girl who left Potidaea to chase after the Warrior Princess. She was an equal partner, and it was quite evident to the older woman that Gabrielle had found a life that made her happy and somewhere along the way, just possibly, a warrior whose heart was completely devoted to the young bard.

"Brie, why don't you go and visit with your mother...I can finish this."

"You don't have to do it alone," Gabrielle returned.

Once Hecuba had walked into the other room for more dishes, Xena whispered to the bard, "Please, Brie...I'd much rather be in here, than sitting there having your father scowl at me all night."

Gabrielle smiled sadly. "I'm sorry about this, Xe."

"Don't be...just go and have a good visit with your mom." The warrior whispered, kissing her lover on the forehead.

Xena cleaned the kitchen and spent most of the evening giving Argo some much-deserved attention, successfully avoiding Gabrielle's father. She sat in the barn mending a spot in the golden mare's halter that was pulling apart, thinking of Gabrielle and wondering if she should be by her side right now. No, she wouldn't blurt it out like that. Knowing Gabrielle, she'll want to plan it out...step by step. That thought, of course, made her think of Gabrielle's careful seduction of the warrior in the Amazon village and she was caught up in her own fantasies.

A woman's scream just outside the barn brought Xena to the here and now in a heartbeat. Sword drawn she nearly ran down Lila as she burst through the barn doors.

Lila was having her own problems at the moment trying to fend off the advances of an amorous young boy. The youngster, just barely on the verge of manhood saw Xena burst through the barn doors, moonlight reflecting off her sword, and almost fainted in fright.

By the time Gabrielle and her parents made it around the side of the cottage, Xena had the young man by his throat, his feet dangling into the air, unable to touch ground.

"You pathetic little bastard," the warrior hissed.

"What's going on?" Gabrielle shouted to be heard over Lila's sobs.

"M--M--Malachus tried to kiss me...a--and I wouldn't let him." Lila hiccuped.

The young man was gasping for air and Xena looked as if she had no intention of letting him breathe again...ever.

"Xena!" Gabrielle called to her lover. "Xe," she said again, softly, reaching up to gently grab the warrior's chin, turning her face in Gabrielle's direction.

Xena's eyes turned toward her lovers in an icy blue stare. Immediately seeing Gabrielle, the warrior's brow furrowed and her ice blue gaze began to melt into the adoration Hecuba had seen displayed earlier.

"He's just a boy, Xe...let him go." Gabrielle practically whispered.

The muscles in Xena's arm relaxed and the boy slid to the ground clutching his throat, gasping for air. Xena bent down and roughly pushed the boy's head down between his knees as if he'd had the wind knocked out of him.

"Slow, deep'll go away in a minute." The warrior advised him.

"Everything's fine, father...go back to bed." Gabrielle said, trying to restore a little peace to the night.

Herodotus spat on the ground and muttered something about beating up innocent villagers before turning and walking back into the house.

"Get on your feet," Gabrielle commanded the young man. "Malachus, do you know who I am?"

"'re Lila's sister. You travel with the Warrior Princess." The boy's voice shook when he spoke.

"That's right," Gabrielle answered. "She cares a great deal for me," she continued, looking back at her warrior with eyes that held only love. "She would do anything for me...therefore she'd do anything for my family. I know how young men like to talk to their friends...I'd hate to think you would spread lies or gossip about Lila and the events of this evening to those friends of yours."

"Oh, no, Miss," he stammered, his eyes darting back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle.

"I don't want to have to come back here looking for you, Malachus..." Xena interjected with a feral smile.

"Oh, no...never, never," the young man seemed sufficiently terrified now that the warrior knew his name.

"Then maybe you should start by apologizing to Lila," Gabrielle took over.

Malachus couldn't apologize fast enough, but kept stumbling over his words so badly it came out as a truly pathetic apology.

"Lila...I--I never meant to hurt you...I mean, I never would...I only wanted to, I mean I never..." He kept looking back at Xena and Gabrielle, leaning closer towards Lila, lowering his voice until he could barely be heard. "I--I--I never kissed a girl before...and you're so pretty..."

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and tried to hide their smiles at the young man who had almost gotten himself killed, simply for lack of experience.

"Say goodnight, Malachus," Xena said putting her arm around the boy's shoulder. "We need to have a talk," she said to him, pulling him in the direction of the village.

Hecuba had stood there, rooted in place, while the event transpired. There would be two things she would always remember about the episode that evening. The first was the sheer strength within the warrior. When they had come upon Xena, holding Malachus up by the throat, Hecuba noticed the muscles bulging in the warrior's arm, forearm and biceps flexing strongly around the bone. The second thing would be how much in love her daughter was with the tall warrior.

"Why don't you want to stay in your old room with me, Gab?" Lila said helping Gabrielle spread out blankets and a bedroll in the loft.

"Because my place is with Xena," Gabrielle said softly.

Xena had come back from a long talk with young Malachus and made her way into the barn and heard the two young women in the loft. She hadn't meant to spy, it was a natural ability of the warrior's to walk around without making a sound, and she hadn't meant to hide the fact she was in Argo's stall beneath her lover and her sister. Now, however, she heard the questions being asked and she couldn't stop herself from listening to the bard's replies.

"Do you really think Xena would do anything for you?" Lila asked slightly in awe.

"I know she would...she proves it every day." Gabrielle smiled.

"I like my friends too, but I wouldn't do just anything for them."

"Xena and I would because we love each other."

"Do you love her the way you loved Perdicus?" Lila's eyes seemed to go wide at her sister's confession.

Xena's heart nearly stopped at Lila's words and she had to remind herself to breathe. In the short time the two women had been lovers, she and Gabrielle hadn't talked about anyone they had been with previously. In hindsight Xena knew how she must have hurt the bard with her casual flings with men like Ulysses. Even if the two women had talked, Xena didn't know if she'd ever have the courage to bring up Gabrielle's marriage to Perdicus. It still hurt too much, knowing that the one woman who captured her warrior's heart had left her to be loved by another. Does she know now how she broke my heart?

Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and motioned for her sister to sit down beside her.

"Lila...I'm going to tell you something...something that I've never even told Xena. I'm telling you because I want you to understand some things about love...about making choices, and being with the right person. I don't want you to have to experience the same hurts that I did." Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears and her sister knelt down next to her and took her hand in her own.

"I don't love Xena anything at all like I loved Perdicus." Gabrielle stated sadly.

Xena felt sure her heart had stopped this time. All the pain she could have ever imagined was rolled into that one statement. To not have been the first was disheartening, but to always be second best in Gabrielle's heart felt like being kicked in the gut without warning.

"I didn't love Perdicus the way you should love your mate, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. I loved him because he was a boy I grew up with, because he reminded me of the good things about home...I loved him as a friend, not a lover."

"Gabrielle, why did you marry him if you knew you felt that way?" Lila asked.

Tears streamed down Gabrielle's face, but she knew she needed to get the whole story out, to experience the cathartic cleansing her guilty heart begged for.

"I married him because he asked me to...because he said he loved me...because I never thought I'd be able to do better." She finished with a whisper. "I was so in love with Xena and I never thought she would ever love me that I settled for less than my heart's desire. Lila, when Perdicus made love to me on our wedding night all I could think about was I wished it had been her. I had made my decision and I was going to have to live with it, but even if Perdicus and I would have lived a long life together, I would have never loved him as much, as deeply as I love Xena." The bard and Lila continued to sit by one another, holding hands, feeling the comfort of just being sisters. Gabrielle wiped tears from her face and continued.

"It's taken me a long time to get past the guilt of Perdicus' death. I used to drive myself insane thinking if I'd been honest with everyone...Xena, Perdicus, even myself, that none of it ever would have happened...that young boy would still be alive. I ended up hurting a lot of people. I know I hurt Xena...we've never spoken of it, but, Lila, I plan on spending the rest of my life proving to Xena that I wanted it to be her...that I wanted her to be first. I don't want her to ever again doubt the depth of my love for her."

Hot tears slid down the warrior's cheeks as she listened to her bard's confessions of regret and remorse. What burdens her young lover had decided to bear by herself. Never, my bard...I'll never doubt your love.


"Hey did you two fall asleep up there or what?" Xena called into the loft. The warrior had left the barn some time ago to not only compose herself, but to allow her lover some additional time to talk with her sister.

The two sisters climbed down the ladder, smiling at the warrior. Xena could only hope her eyes didn't give away the fact she'd been crying like Gabrielle's did.

"Well, it's late..." Lila said hesitantly. She turned and kissed her sister goodnight. "Night, Gab." Vacillating in front of the intimidating warrior, Lila seemed to decide on a course of action, and reached up and quickly placed a kiss on the warrior's cheek. "Night, Xena." When Lila reached the door she turned and looked at Xena again. "Thanks for what you did tonight, Xena."

Still a little taken aback by the kiss, Xena wasn't sure how to respond to the young woman.

"For scaring the Tartaurus out of your beau...sure anytime," she said wryly.

Lila giggled and ran through the door, leaving the two lovers alone at last.

"What was that all about?" Xena asked.

Laughing Gabrielle put her arms around the warrior's waist. "I think you just became a hero to one more woman in this family."

"Great," the warrior said with an air of mock disdain. "I'm barely able to keep up with the first one!"

"Very funny," the bard smiled, squeezing her arms around the warrior tighter.

"Would you mind if I did something I've been waiting all evening to do?" Xena asked.

"Is it going to make me happy?" the bard questioned.

"If it doesn't...I'm not doing it right."

Xena cradled the bard's face in her hands and kissed her gently, the soft touch of her lips and tongue lingering on the bard's own for quite some time.

"Wow," Gabrielle said breathlessly.

Xena chuckled and embraced her lover. "The finest bard in Greece, and the best you can come up with is wow?"

"Well," Gabrielle said, backtracking sheepishly, "when you do that it kind of turns my brain to mush."

"Yes, but did it make you happy?" The warrior grinned back.

"Oh, yea," Gabrielle said, still trying to catch her breath.

"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered.

Both women lay wrapped around each other on their makeshift bed in the hay of the loft. Neither one of them near sleep, but it felt good to relax and be away from others eyes. The barn was still warm; the two lovers in cotton shifts needed no blankets.

"Gabrielle, I know you probably don't want to...well, you know, being your parents are so close, but it's driving me crazy, you lying with me without being able to feel your skin on mine." There I said it and now she thinks I'm an insatiable animal.

Gabrielle smiled and kissed the warrior's shoulder she was cuddled up to, grabbing the hem of her sleeping shift she pulled the fabric off her body in one swift motion. Reaching across to her lover, she helped the warrior do the same. Snuggling against one another, Gabrielle had to admit to herself that this was much better.

"I can't help it, feel so good." Xena said stroking the bare skin of her lover's back and shoulders.

"I like that you have a hard time resisting me, you know," the young woman whispered.

"It takes every bit of restraint I have most days, my love." The warrior returned with a smile.

"Xena...I need to say something to you," Gabrielle's demeanor turning serious. "I don't want there to be any lies between us anymore...we've both suffered enough from that already. When Lila and I were up here getting our bedroll ready, well...I want you to know--"

"Gabrielle, I want to be honest with you too..."

Xena knew the lies Gabrielle referred to...Hope...Ming Tien... they had been to Tartaurus and back because of the lies and half-truths they had told one another. The warrior knew she had to start this relationship off right, even if it meant small hurts along the way. At least those they could meet and deal with together.

"...Brie, when you were talking with Lila I was--"

"No, first, okay?" Gabrielle placed soft fingers across the warrior's lips.

Xena nodded silently and Gabrielle continued.

"When I was up here in the loft, telling those things to Lila...I knew you were in the stall beneath us."

" whole knew I was there the whole time?" Xena could feel her face turning warm with shame. "That's what I was just going to tell you...I'm so sorry, I never meant to--"

"I's allright, Xe. I said those things partly because I wanted Lila to understand the consequences we face when we make choices."

"Partly?" Xena asked.

"Yes." Gabrielle said, tears in her eyes. "The other reason was because I wanted to let you know what was in my heart...why I did what I did...and how very sorry I am that I ever hurt you. I wasn't sure I had the courage to tell you face to face."

"Oh, Brie...I love you more every day," the warrior confessed, wiping unshed tears from her bard's eyes. "Please, please, my love...let's not ever be afraid to tell each other anything."

"I'm sorry I hurt you..." Gabrielle apologized.

"I need your forgiveness more than you need mine. If I'd told you how much I loved you a long time ago you would have never left to marry Perdicus. I would have been your first...he would still be alive. Dahok, Hope...all of it... Gabrielle, I'm responsible for so much of your pain."

"Stop it, Xe," Gabrielle said more sharply than she had intended. She pulled Xena's face so she could look into the blue depths. "You're doing it again, my love. Taking the whole weight of the world on your own shoulders. You're not haven't been condemned to do that for eternity."

Now it was Gabrielle's turn to brush the tears from her lover's face. "Oh, Xe...we've both made mistakes, but they're a part of our past. We didn't have each other then, the way we do now. We don't ever have to go through anything alone...we'll always have each other."

"I still wish I had been your first," the warrior said a little sadly.

"I want you to be something better, my love," Gabrielle whispered, leaning over the warrior and tenderly stroking her face, "I want you to be my last."

Xena let the tears escape from her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her young lover and kissed her as if to impart the very secrets of her soul.

"Gab, I'm going to help uncle Delos tonight serving dinner at the inn. Why don't you and Xena come into town and maybe you could tell some stories?" Lila pleaded.

The four women were enjoying a morning cup of tea; Gabrielle's father had left at sunrise to work in the fields, much to Xena's relief.

"I don't know, Lila...uncle Delos may already have a bard, besides, Xena and I sit in taverns all the time, I'm sure she doesn't want to do it here too."

"Oh, I bet Xena likes to hear your stories, don't you Xena?" Lila pestered.

"Absolutely," the warrior said without hesitation.

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and gave Xena the 'thanks for helping' look. "I'd really just rather stay at home and visit with mother."

"Well, actually, Gabrielle...I'm helping Delos too. There's a large caravan passing through and the whole town's been turned on its ear. They were supposed to arrive this morning."

"Well, if the whole family's going...I guess that settles it, huh?" Xena said to Gabrielle, slapping her knees and smiling brightly.

"Don't think I won't get even, warrior," Gabrielle whispered into her lover's ear.

Xena simply rolled her eyes and whistled, as much the picture of innocence as a Warrior Princess can get.

"What's all this?" Gabrielle asked, finding Xena in the barn among their saddlebags. The young woman's Amazon leathers had been unpacked, along with arm bracers, leather belt, and jewelry.

"I thought maybe...well, you talked about wanting your family to know who you are. I thought this might be a good place to start."

"I don't know about this, Xe..."

The warrior moved behind her bard and wrapped strong arms around the smaller frame. "You said you wanted them to know who you really are, Brie. How about not telling a story about just the Warrior Princess tonight and tell them something original...tell them a story about how a scared little farm girl became Queen of the Amazon Nation."

"Do you think they're ready for that kind of story from me?"

"Probably as ready as they'll ever be, my love." Xena whispered into her lover's ear.

"Ep?" Gabrielle shouted in disbelief, giving her Amazon friend a strong hug. The caravan had indeed ridden in that day and the tavern was packed to the rafters. Little did Xena and Gabrielle know that it was a caravan of Amazons.

"What in the world are you all doing here?" Gabrielle asked awe struck. There must have been twenty to twenty-five Amazon warriors along with the townspeople in her uncle's inn.

"We were up delivering the crop excess to the village of Olynthus, about two days ago as we were heading back to Amazonia we lost the axle on one of the wagons. So, we sent word ahead and decided to visit Potidaea."

"It's so nice to see a friendly face," Gabrielle said giving her friend another hug.

Xena dusted her hands off after bringing in a few extra kegs of port for Delos, Gabrielle's uncle. Looking around she searched the room for her bard and found her talking to Eponin. What in the world?

The site of her young lover dressed in her Amazon leathers easily took Xena's breath away. A soft brown leather bodice that fit like the bard's own skin, and a wraparound skirt that the young woman had become accustomed to wearing. The leather belt hung loosely at her hips, more for decoration than any functional purpose. Gabrielle had even chosen to wear her arm bracers for the occasion.

The warrior stared with pride as the young Queen had foregone her beaded necklaces in favor of the pendant Xena had given her. The warrior noticed that Gabrielle never took the necklace off, even to bathe, and she smiled with the knowledge that anyone who saw her armor would instantly recognize it in the pattern of the hearts on the pendant. Gods, I hope everything goes well tonight...if not my surprise isn't going to get much of a response.

As Gabrielle and Eponin were sharing a friendly embrace, the Amazon warrior glanced up to see Xena making her way through the crowd to join them. Eponin realized where her hands were at and quickly ripped them away from the young Queen's waist as if they were on fire.

"Who say's you can't teach old warriors anything," Xena growled at her old friend's actions.

"Xe," Gabrielle admonished with a smile.

"What in Zeus' name brings you here?" Xena grabbed her friend by the neck of her tunic and leaned in towards the woman. "If you're following your Queen, she's already spoken for," she growled under her breath.

"Very funny...are you trying to give me some sort of complex or do you just like throwing me from great heights?"

The two warriors enjoyed some good-natured teasing and Eponin related the story of how they ended up in Potidaea.

"Lila," Gabrielle grabbed her sister's arm as she passed by on her way to the kitchen for more trays. Eponin, I'd like you to meet my sister, Lila." The young Queen said proudly.

Lila's eyes went wide at the sight of the good looking warrior who gently took her offered hand and brushed her lips lightly across the backs of her fingers.

"Good evening, Princess," Eponin said charmingly.

"Me? A Princess?" Lila said, blushing furiously.

"Well, your sister is our Queen. Right of birth grants you the title of Amazon Princess." Eponin explained.

Suddenly Gabrielle noticed that Eponin still held Lila's hand in her own, and turned to give a 'do something' glance at her warrior.

Xena picked up on what would be henceforth known as 'the look' immediately. In years to come when Xena would do something stupid...drink too much, or if Gabrielle felt her lover was flirting with another woman, any type of social faux pas, Xena would earn 'the look'. As with this very moment it meant, do something something right now!

Xena stood behind Eponin, nudging her armor into her back. "Lila is Gabrielle's much--younger sister," the warrior said, enunciating every syllable.

Eponin dropped Lila's hand and backed away from the young woman like she had Swamp Fever.

Lila seemed confused, but turned to look at her sister, " I really a Princess?"

"Come on Princess," the girls uncle, Delos said grinning, pushing Lila back toward the kitchen. "Get back into the kitchen while your head can still fit through the door!"

"Gabrielle..." Delos had his hands full of plates and mugs, his burly frame towering over the smaller one of his niece. "I know you're family, and I shouldn't be imposing, but I'll pay you all the dinars you want, if you'll tame this crowd down with a few tales."

"Sure," the bard said with a smile. "Just let me get a cup of water."

"Well, duty calls," Gabrielle said cheerily. "I'm going to say hello to some more of our sisters before I go on," she finished nodding toward a large table next to a makeshift stage.

"Grab me before you go on, okay?" Xena said.

Gabrielle leaned in close to her lover and whispered, "I'm not even gonna touch that was way too easy." She said with a leer.

"Gab-ri-elle." Xena cautioned, feeling the beginnings of a blush.

Gabrielle's laughter rang through the tavern as she moved toward the other Amazons. She had simply meant to say hello to a few of the warriors she knew personally, forgetting the Amazons love of ceremony and protocol.

"'s so nice to see you again," the young Queen began.

Nearly twenty Amazons jumped up from their seats, immediately recognizing their Queen, dropping to one knee before a frozen Gabrielle.

"My Queen," the young Tarazon said flattered that the beautiful Queen even remembered her.

Conversation dwindled and then stopped completely at the tables surrounding the kneeling Amazons. Lila was just stepping out of the kitchen with a tray of plates laden with food.

"Whoa," said the young girl at the impressive display before her.

"Guys...guys, you can get up now," Gabrielle said more than a little self-consciously.

Xena was still chuckling when Gabrielle made her way back to the warrior.

"Having a little trouble over there, my Queen?"

"Oh, hush," Gabrielle replied, slapping her lover's arm affectionately.

Xena glanced around the tavern as if searching for something. Spying the door to the storeroom where she had stacked the caskets of port earlier, she grabbed Gabrielle's hand and led the young woman into the dark room.

"This is for luck," the warrior's sultry voice whispered into her lover's ear.

Xena kissed the young bard for all she was worth, until both women grew dizzy and just as the warrior slipped an arm around the bard's waist, Gabrielle's knees buckled.

"Wow..." Gabrielle said breathlessly.

Smiling at her young lover, Xena felt exactly the same. "You're going to have to come up with something better, you know."

"I don't know...I thought that kinda said it all." Gabrielle replied, kissing her warrior's neck.

"Well, if you're very good tonight I'll have a surprise for you." Xena said cryptically.

"Oh? And, will this surprise make me happy?" Gabrielle teased.

"Well, I am a woman of many skills."

"I know...I like all of those skills, too," Gabrielle shot back as she turned to leave the room.

Xena quickly grabbed her young lover from behind and pressed her body into the bard's, her warm breath teasing Gabrielle's ear. In a voice overwhelmed with sudden hunger the warrior answered.

"You haven't experienced half of my skills yet, my love."

That was all it took and instantly the bones in Gabrielle's knees turned to warm liquid. If the warrior's arm had not been enfolded around her so tightly the young Queen was sure she would have fallen into a heap on the floor.

Xena enjoyed the flush upon Gabrielle's face as she walked to the chair on the makeshift stage, especially since the warrior realized, she was responsible for the bard's slightly breathless condition. The warrior turned toward the bar to grab the mug of port Delos sat down in front of her and she started to place a coin on the bar in exchange.

"Your money's no good here, Xena...your practically family." The large man said.

"I don't want to take advantage," Xena said. Arching her eyebrow she continued, "besides, I can drink a lot of port in an evening," she finished with a smile.

Delos laughed heartily. "Well, you carried it all in, you ought to be the one to drink it! Anyway...I think she's worth it." He said nodding his head in Gabrielle's direction.

She turned back to watch Gabrielle settle into her chair and take a drink from her cup of water. Xena found herself liking her lover's uncle, this giant of a man with such a gentle soul. "That she is," the warrior said under her breath, "that she is."

Finding a seat in the back of the room where she could see her bard, Xena leaned against the wall and stretched her long legs out in front of her. Gabrielle started out slow telling a few short, but exciting tales to spark the interest of the patrons, then the bard moved in to the tales of war. Beware Greeks, a tale about the Trojan War was always a favorite and Gabrielle told it well. A Good Day, related the events of Xena and Gabrielle's attempt to trick Caesar and Pompey's forces into fighting each other, wiping out nearly 20 legions of Roman soldiers.

Xena was stabbed with guilt about that day. Her hatred of Caesar had again forced her to put Gabrielle into a situation where the bard had to choose between Xena and her own personal code of ethics. Even now, Xena remembered Gabrielle's sobs as the warrior held the young woman in the middle of a battlefield filled with the dead and the dying.

As always, Gabrielle's tales of war were not romanticized as other bards were. She concentrated on the futility of war. There may be honor in dying for what one believes in on the battlefield, but what of the wives and children left behind...what of them? This is what her bard saw in war. A hopeless arena of destruction where the dead only know one thing...that it was better to be alive.

Being the great bard that she was Gabrielle always knew how to gauge an audience's reaction, and she knew her stories of war, filled with sadness, could dampen the listener's spirits. With only a few moments pause, she began a lighter tale of her own she titled, Altared States.

Xena watched as a few of the patrons wiped tears from their eyes after her bard's tales of the consequences of war. Even if the warrior had not lived the story, Gabrielle's way with words would have had her too, held in the powerful web she wove. She smiled to herself as her bard began the story of how Xena had intervened to stop the sacrifice of a young boy by his father's misguided hand. Xena's smile grew as the bard launched into the details of the Warrior Princess' companion, and how said companion had become drugged by Henbane, and decided the rocks could 'talk' to her.

Gabrielle never mentioned during her stories that she was the companion to the great Warrior Princess. She often told tales of the companion's rescue by her warrior friend, but never revealed the fact that it was Gabrielle herself who had assisted and saved the warrior countless times. Instead the bard let the light of her story reflect on a reformed Warlord, the former Destroyer of Nations who left an evil past behind and now traveled throughout the land on a quest for the redemption of her own soul.

So, Xena closed her eyes and let the bard's words wash over her. It was her lover's voice that held the warrior, enraptured, at her stories. Xena remembered, as the bard said the words aloud from the stage, the cave where the young woman had finally stolen the warrior's heart.

"By the Gods! You--are-- beautiful!"

Xena chuckled at the memory as most of the audience did at the stoned little companion who could barely stand, but once she had both eyes open, bared her heart.

Little did the listener's realize that those words had been locked tightly into Gabrielle's heart, for what seemed like an eternity to the young woman, until the drug removed her inhibitions. The young Queen spied her lover in the back of the tavern, the warrior's eyes closed, but laughing at the revisited memory of the 'Henbane Incident'. Gabrielle knew right then that her life with Xena had changed. The proud warrior usually left the building when tales of the Warrior Princess began, or she sat, sipping her port, scowling at the fact she had become the center of attention.

The warrior's eyes snapped open as she uncannily felt the heat of her lover's stare. Gabrielle nearly gasped at the cerulean desire emanating from the raven-haired beauty's eyes. Almost losing her place in her story, Gabrielle continued on, but her face began to blush a deep pink.

Again the warrior smiled, closing her eyes and enjoying the reaction she brought to her lover with one look. Suddenly remembering the way she too had felt at Gabrielle's declaration of her beauty. She knew now that she had been in love with her friend, even then. Of course, she always told herself it was friendship, but hadn't she known better...even back then?

Gods, I remember how she felt wrapped around me in that well. Hadn't I told myself back then, it was just because I hadn't shared the pleasures of a lover's bed in so long that I reacted so strongly?

Xena allowed herself to revel in the feelings of that past incident and suddenly the bard's voice became very distant, and the room became a trifle warm. A slow trickle of wetness could be felt between her legs, and the warrior's eyes popped open. Oh, Gaia...I need some air! She said to herself as she quickly slid out the door into the cool evening air.

Gabrielle found her warrior outside, in the dark at the back of the tavern. She sat back in the shadows on a large tree stump used for chopping logs.

"Looks like I'm not the only one taking a break...what are you up to?" Gabrielle asked.

"Just thinking..." the warrior drawled.

"And from the look on your face I can guess what you've been thinking about," Gabrielle returned teasingly.

Xena looked up with a seductive smile. "The well..."

"Ahhh, yea that part had me wishing we weren't in a public place too," Gabrielle whispered as she straddled the warrior's lap and sat down on the muscled thighs.

Xena quickly pulled the bard closer to her, glancing around nervously.

"It's allright, one ever comes back here at night." Gabrielle whispered using her tongue to very quickly ignite a flame in the warrior's already smoldering passion.

Two days had gone by since they last made love and that was a current record since they'd become lovers. In the state they were in their kisses alone could have sent either woman, very quickly, over the edge. Gabrielle, however, was feeling rather playful with her warrior. Slipping one hand between them, she moved her hand under the warrior's leather battle skirt, easily working her way into the already soaked leather breeches.

A breathless moan escaped Xena's throat, followed by a whimper of protest as the bard removed her fingers, bringing them up to her mouth.

"Is all this wet for me?" she asked enticingly, running her tongue over each digit and drawing them into her mouth, reveling in the taste and sweet, musky odor of her lover.

"Oh, gods...Gabrielle," Xena breathed, unable to take her eyes from the bard's own.

The bard slipped her fingers back into Xena's wetness and quickly drove them deep inside the warrior. She was instantly rewarded with groans of delight and the feel of her lover's hips thrusting against the palm of her hand.

Xena willed her body to hold out longer, but her earlier fantasies and the bard's touch made her body all too willing to succumb to a breath-stealing climax. The warrior growled her release into her lover's ear, bringing a few control techniques into play to silence her passions, when all she really wanted to do was scream Gabrielle's name into the night.

"Gods, woman...please, don't start that again," the warrior begged as Gabrielle began to lick her lover's wetness from her hand.

"You know...I'll pay you back...for this later...don't you?" Xena said, trying to bring her breathing under control.

"I'm counting on it warrior." The young bard whispered into the warrior's ear.

The two lovers had walked around to the front of the tavern, standing in the shadows, holding hands.

"So, have you decided what story comes next?" The warrior asked.

"I'm going to take your suggestion...the Amazon Queen."

"Figured out what you're going to say yet?"

"I guess I'll just wing it...I'm nervous though. I never thought it would feel so different telling a story in front of people who grew up with me as opposed to complete strangers."

Xena took a cursory glance around and pulled the smaller woman into a loving embrace. "You will be wonderful, and you will tell a wonderful story, and all the people will love you as much as I do...well, maybe not quite that much, but enough."

Gabrielle laughed and kissed her lover's lips tenderly, enjoying the soft embrace. "Just be prepared to make a hasty departure if they turn on me." She finished with a grin.

Xena laughed and gently slapped the bard's retreating backside as they headed back toward the tavern. "You go on...I need a few minutes, compose myself after..." the warrior smiled motioning toward the back of the tavern. "I'll be in before you start."

Gabrielle squeezed her lover's hand and walked into the tavern.

"Xena," a voice said from the darkness. The warrior froze at the sound of the familiar voice, cursing herself for not realizing there might have been someone else outside. Hera's much of that did she hear?

"Hecuba," the warrior said walking in the direction of the bench where Gabrielle's mother sat.

"It got so warm in that kitchen I had to cool off...looks like you need to do the same," the older woman said.

Xena's hand went up to her flushed cheek and she thought she was able to see a wry smile on Hecuba's face. Oh, sweet Aphrodite...Please, tell me she didn't see us out back!

"Would you answer me one question, warrior?" Hecuba asked softly.

"If I can."

"Do you love my daughter?" The woman's voice was barely a whisper now.

"Hecuba, maybe you'd better wait and talk with Gabrielle--"

"I know what her answer will be...I want to know what yours is. Do you love her?"

"With all that I am," the warrior said without further hesitation.

Hecuba smiled, "So, why in Tartaurus have you both been trying so hard to hide it?"

Both woman laughed as Hecuba motioned the warrior to the seat next to her. "You've been good for her. I know you won't hear many people say that, but I see it...saw it right off. She's not a little girl anymore. Most importantly she's something she would never have been if she had stayed in Potidaea...she's happy."

Hecuba reached across and squeezed the warrior's large hand, Xena placing her other hand over Hecuba's. The older woman saw a sight that few others, besides Gabrielle, were able to witness... the gentle side of the Warrior Princess.

"Would you do anything for her?" Hecuba asked.

"I'd die for her." The warrior said resolutely.

"Dying is easy, warrior...would you live for her?"

"I'm sorry?" Xena said, not understanding the woman's meaning.

"If you had to make a choice...a hard choice. Would you leave her if you thought it was best for her?"

Xena could barely see Hecuba's face in the darkness, but could feel her penetrating stare. Searching her own mind for the truth, she answered.

"I think, if there was no other way...if it would save Gabrielle's life...or if it would keep her from harm..." a sharp stab of pain clutched at Xena's heart as she said the words. "Yes...I think if it would keep her safe...I would leave her."

"Don't! Don't ever do it!" Hecuba said vehemently, squeezing the warrior's hand tightly. "You're thinking only with the love you have for Gabrielle. Love is an emotion, Xena, and it can fool you. I know from past experience," she whispered, as her eyes took on a faraway look of someone reliving a memory. "Love can be used against you, to trick you into giving up everything you hold dear. You will only end up hurting yourself, the one you love, and even others around you," she said softly.

"Always look into your heart for the truth, Xena. Your heart will never lie to you...if there comes a day, remember not to rely on your emotions. Look into your soul and you'll find the truth there." Hecuba finished.

"You sound like a woman who's been there, and then some." Xena replied. "Hecuba...does what you're saying have anything to do with Gabrielle's past?"

The older woman smiled sadly and muttered to herself, "I'll need to tell her someday...but, now is not the time."

"I'd like to tell you a story of a young girl who left her home, family, and everything that was safe, to travel the world with a dark fearsome warrior..." The bard began.

Xena listened to the story as Gabrielle's mother sat beside her in the back of the tavern. The bard never mentioned the fact that she was the young girl in the story, nor that the Dark Warrior was Xena, the Warrior Princess. She hadn't even mentioned the Dark Warrior was a woman. The only physical descriptions she gave were of a tall, Dark Warrior with intense eyes and a smile, that when the warrior wanted to use it, could charm Medusa.

Gabrielle said the story started out as a tale about only one. She told first of the young girl's quest. Simply to be free of a life that she was never destined for, people she was not destined to share her life with, a husband she was not destined to spend a lifetime with. The young girl was smart and creative, but always thought of herself as different and impulsive. And, when other girls were announcing their betrothals, she felt unequal and plain.

When the girl first followed the warrior is was simply as a means of escape from the stifling life of her village. Soon, she found a friend in the uncommunicative warrior, although she admitted that at first, the thought of friendship was probably more on her part than the warrior's. Soon, however, the girl began to feel a part of the warrior's life, until the warrior deemed to call this beautiful and open heart, sister and friend.

This was the young girl's story and Gabrielle told of how she had been captured as a bride for the God Morpheus, freed the Titans, only to have to help recapture them again. How she met a tribe of Amazons and, after nearly giving her own life in an unsuccessful attempt to save the Amazon Princess, Terreis, became an Amazon Princess herself.

And even though it was the young girl's story, the dark warrior was always there. In times of crisis, the warrior times of need, the warrior provided. Time and again the dark warrior sacrificed for and rescued the young girl. And, finally, the story became not of a girl turned Amazon Princess, but of an Amazon Princess and a Dark Warrior, not a story of one, but of two. Their life threads so tightly entwined that neither the Gods on Olympus nor mortals on earth had the strength to separate them.

The two became as family and even though enemies tried to pull them apart, and they had each succumbed to death to protect the other, it was always the strength of that friendship that returned them from the spirit world to this mortal coil.

Somewhere along this journey, that started with one and now belonged to two, the Amazon Princess became a beloved Queen of the Amazon Nation. The Dark Warrior, who had been feared because of past misdeeds, became a champion for the greater good. The two became inseparable, until even the listeners of the bard's story knew; it was because their friendship was becoming something more.

And, when dalliances and impulses led their hearts astray, it was always the Fates wish that the two should be rejoined, and so their lives would be thrust together once more. They experienced life, love, death...and finally betrayal and hate. They inflicted pain upon one another in the ignorance of being blinded by their own hurt.

And then, there was the healing.

Yet, throughout all of the anguish, came the promise...even in death...I will never leave you.

Xena felt tears slip from her eyes at the memory of that promise. After all the pain and sadness their lies had caused them; The death of her son, Gabrielle taking the life of her own daughter, and then the warrior trying to kill Gabrielle. Xena replayed it in her mind as if watching someone else drag her beloved bard's body along to certain death. After all the healing our time in Illusia had provided, Brie, what else was left to say? I still couldn't find the courage to tell you I loved you...and so, the promise...

"...Even in death, Gabrielle...I will never leave you."

Xena listened as her bard continued on, to tell of the brutal rape of the Amazon Queen, and of the suffering she and her Dark Warrior went through. Gods, she's telling it all!

Gabrielle paused to sip from her cup of water and looked out at the rapt faces of her audience. Tears glistened in most of their eyes, and when she looked back at her warrior, she saw the uncharacteristic tears falling from her eyes too. She also noticed that her mother sat next to her lover, but the older woman's eyes remained cast down to the floor.

The bard continued her story, but it began to sound uplifting and inspiring the way her Dark Warrior fought so bravely, within their dreamscape, for the Amazon Queen. She told of the friendship that had, as guessed by the listeners, grown into love for the two, only neither would confess, fearing the other's reaction. Then one day, unable to hold back any longer, the two professed their love for one another, committing not only their bodies and their hearts, but also their very souls to each other for all eternity.

And in doing so, finally the story became, not of two, but of one again.

Gabrielle finished her story to a thunderous round of applause, a number of Amazons drawing swords to pound upon the table in rousing approval of her tale. The bard smiled and accepted thanks, refusing any dinars for the evening's performance. As she left the stage, the tables full of Amazon Warriors stood and placed their hands over their hearts in silent tribute to the Queen they had come to love so well. This time the young Queen was neither flustered nor embarrassed. She walked past the Amazons as proudly and regally as Queen Melosa had ever done, nodding her thanks to the noble warriors.

If any of the inn's patrons that night wondered if their own Gabrielle was the Amazon Queen in the story, the warrior's display settled it for most of them. And, if there were any doubters still left, all they had to witness was the Queen walking through a crowd that parted without a word for her. When she reached the back of the tavern a tall dark warrior stood, her eyes as blue as the Aegean, and a smile, this night being reserved for her Amazon Queen, that could surely charm Medusa.

If Xena had been anywhere else on earth she would have pulled her lover into the world's tightest embrace and kissed her until neither one of them could breathe. Since she was standing next to Gabrielle's mother, however, she was at a loss. Gaia, she is wonderful! Gabrielle, what you do to me. Not knowing what she should do she simply stood and offered a smile that had only ever been meant for her bard.

Gabrielle was simply flying too high to give in to the restraints of propriety, or small town ideologies tonight. She slipped one arm around Xena's waist and the other around her neck. Standing on her toes, she kissed an absolutely stunned warrior.

Xena stood there with her eyes still open watching the amused smiles of the patrons around them and seeing Eponin out of the corner of her eye, her jaw nearly dropping to the floor. Of course, the moment her brain was able to register Gabrielle's soft mouth on hers, her eyes closed and her lips became eager participants in the kiss.


The two lovers pulled, very unwillingly, out of their kiss only to see Hecuba staring at them in an amused fashion.

"Gabrielle..." Hecuba said

"Yes, mother," Gabrielle answered, her arm still around the warrior's waist.

"Do I at least get a hug?"

Gabrielle smiled and moved to wrap her arms around her mother.

"I never knew," Hecuba said, tears forming in her eyes.

"Knew what, mother?" The young Queen asked.

"Knew you," Hecuba replied in quiet admiration.

Gabrielle smiled and started crying at the same time. She wrapped her arms tighter around the older woman, grateful for her understanding.

Xena stood there for a moment and watched mother and daughter. The mother who held the secrets to her daughter's past and a daughter whose only wish was for a mother's unconditional love. The warrior decided to make herself scarce and joined her Amazon friends, leaving mother and daughter to begin to form a bridge.


The Queen turned to her sister's voice. She and Xena were just sneaking through the tavern doors for some much-needed time alone.

"What is it, sister?" Gabrielle replied in the way she always had when the two girls were much younger.

It was obvious Lila had been crying, but most everyone had that night. "I just wanted to're stories, your story...well, wow."

Gabrielle felt genuine laughter bubble to the surface and hugged her sister tightly. "Thanks, Lila...I think."

"That wow stuff must run in the family," Xena whispered in the bard's ear.

Gabrielle looked into the warrior's smiling eyes and gave her a playful smack on the arm.

"Lila, tell your mother not to worry...Gabrielle and I won't be coming back to the house tonight. We'll be back in the morning." Xena said earning a strange look from both women.

"Where are you guys going?" Lila asked.

"Yea, where are we going?" Gabrielle chimed in.

"To sleep under the stars," Xena said as the Queen took her warrior's offered hand and they left the tavern.

Xena slid into Argo's saddle effortlessly, offering her hand to pull Gabrielle up.

"Up front, okay?" the warrior indicated the spot in front of her.

"I'd like to wrap my arms around you while we ride for a change," the warrior said as she settled her lover comfortably in her embrace.

They had been riding for nearly a full candlemark when Xena felt Gabrielle's sleeping form stir. The warrior had wanted to get to the campsite she had set up earlier, before the moon rose, but Gabrielle deserved the sleep after the night she had just had. And, the one I'm going to give her, the warrior thought to herself with a grin. So, she eased Argo into a gradual, even walk and they made their way slowly into the hills.

Xena found herself humming absently, a love song that meant nothing to her when she first heard it, but now the melody struck a familiar chord in her heart.

"Mmmm, I heard music," Gabrielle said drowsily.

"Yes, you did." Was all Xena would say.

"Was that you?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly very awake.

"You've heard me sing before, Brie."

"Only when you were very sad," Gabrielle said softly as she thought of the funeral pyres that she and her lover had stood in front of, while Xena would sing a Greek Burial lament.

"Or when I am very happy," Xena whispered.

"And are you very happy?"

"My love, I am ecstatic." The warrior said as she continued to hum.

"Are there words to that?" Gabrielle asked.

"I'm not sure I remember all of them...would you like to hear what I do know?" The warrior asked, unable to deny her bard anything.

"Yes, please," the bard replied.

Gabrielle settled herself back against the warrior's chest and closed her eyes, listening to the rich tones of her lover's voice as she began to sing.

I can't imagine, any greater fear

Than waking up, without you here.

Though the sun, would still shine on

My whole world, would all be gone...but not for long

If I had to run...if I had to crawl

If I had to swim a hundred rivers...just to climb a thousand walls

Always know that I would find a way, to get to where you are

There's no place that far.

It doesn't matter, why we're apart

Lonely miles, or two stubborn hearts

Nothing short, of the Gods above

Could keep me away, from your love...I need you that much

If I had to run...if I had to crawl

If I had to swim a hundred rivers...just to climb a thousand walls

Always know that I would find a way, to get to where you are

There's no place that far...Baby, there's no place that far.

"That's so beautiful, Xe," Gabrielle said breathlessly.

"I didn't write it, but it's the way I feel." The warrior replied, kissing her lovers neck.

"We're here, Brie." She said, holding tighter to the bard as Argo jumped up a steep embankment, disappearing into a copse of trees. "This is your surprise. Well, part of it at least."

The perfect camp had already been prepared. Wood was stacked ready for the flame; their bedroll lay on a thick cushion of 2 extra blankets. A waterskin and a wineskin each hung from a low branch of a tree, and a large hamper, from which arose some very tempting aromas, sat by the fire.

"Xe, this is wonderful...I love it." Gabrielle exclaimed.

Xena pulled the saddle and their bags from Argo and freed the mare to wander the area, knowing the horse was better than any guard was.

Gabrielle found her way to the edge of the small lake and rinsed her face off. "Xe," she called over her shoulder, "This water is so bath water."

"Yea, I found out the same thing when I was up here this afternoon. Must be fed by a warm spring somewhere underground." The warrior answered, rummaging through the saddlebags for her flint. "I could use a good warm bath...want to join me?"

"Definitely," Gabrielle smiled thinking of the possibilities.

"Just let me get a good fire going. The water may be warm but the air will be plenty cool when we get out." The warrior replied.

Gabrielle had already begun removing her clothes, but still had not felt the warrior behind her move. She turned just as she was tying her hair back with a soft strip of leather.

Xena had simply been staring at her young lover, unable to resume her previous task, actually, unable to resume any motion at all. If she had thought the site of Gabrielle's naked body was a wondrous thing from the back, she was unprepared for the site of the woman as she turned, her arms held up as she tied her hair back from her face. The bard's lips were moving, but Xena was lost to the sound. Gabrielle offered her a look that was so teasingly erotic it slammed into her like an energy bolt, waking up nerve endings that the warrior never even knew were there.

"I said, do you want me to start that fire?" Gabrielle asked, taken back by her lover's electric blue eyes, slowly devouring her body.

Xena came back to the here and now as her bard's voice finally broke through the fantasy she was conjuring up in her mind. Quickly realizing she held a piece of flint and her dagger in her hand for a reason.

"Xena? Do you want me to start a fire?" Gabrielle repeated.

Xena smiled rather sheepishly, knowing her face must be showing the flush of desire, and turned to get a spark going into the tinder.

"You already have, my already have." The warrior replied hungrily.

Gabrielle chuckled, "Then hurry up or I'll have to start without you." She said with a suggestive smile and splashed off into the warm water.

A visual of the bard's threat assaulted the warrior's senses and all that could be heard was the click, click, click of flint frantically striking steel, while a warrior desperately prayed for a lightning bolt from the sky.

Part II

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