Never to Forget
Warrior, Bard and Healer
I would like to thank MCA/Universal for the use of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Eponin and Argo. I only borrowed them and when I do finally return them, I hope we are all better off.
I have also borrowed the character of Jadax from Jamie Boughen (from his stories Anger is My Shield and Valley of Hidden Fears) with his permission. I believe your stories should come from within yourself, but when you fall in love with someone else's character, you want to bring them back to life. Thanks Jamie, for all your stories and characters. Without your help this story would never have happened.
To my beta reader and patient editors: Thanks Laura & Jamie ... I have learned more than I thought I had ever forgotten.
The characters of Nazalon and Plaiertei are all my own, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did creating them. I ask that you not use them without my permission. Thank You.
Disclaimer: This story has graphic scenes of sex and violence. If you are under the age of 18 or it is illegal where you live, or the thought of sex between two women bothers you, get help, and don't read any further. There are plenty of other stories out there in the Xenaverse.
Time Line: Beginning of Season IV; following A Family Affair.
I watch you from a distance,
I wonder what could be.
If I told you that I loved you,
Would you say the same to me?
I ache to hold your body,
But I fear that you would leave.
If you knew the depth of my desire,
OH, what a tangled web we weave.
Gabrielle rounded the corner of the stables and almost ran into the closed doors of the barn. She pulled one of the doors open with a mighty whoosh! Argo and Nazalon looked up at her. Argo's ears twitched as she recognized her owner’s companion. Nazalon took a step closer toward Gabrielle blocking her view. As the Amazon had stepped closer, Gabrielle saw what no one had wanted her to see. Horror filled her face as she saw the sword ... the chakram ... hanging from Xena's bloody saddle. Gabrielle's scream could be heard all throughout the Amazon nation, and echoed in all their hearts.
Her world turned to darkness as the ground rushed up to meet her. Nazalon reached Gabrielle before she hit the ground. She held the limp body of the bard in her arms as she looked up at the frightened faces of Ephiny and Jadax. They knew Nazalon had been there to catch her falling body, but no one was there to catch her falling soul.
Chapter 1: Days earlier ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Are you alive?" Gabrielle looked at Xena.
"Are you a warlord?"
It was a game they played often but hadn't played it in a long while. Their lives had been too busy being torn apart by the evil and darkness of Hope and the Destroyer. There had been no time for fun and games then, but they had all the time in the world now.
They had left Poteidaia days ago and were heading to the Amazon nation. Xena knew the rumors of Gabrielle's death had reached them and even though they had sent word that their Queen was alive, Gabrielle had insisted on a visit .... in person. Xena hoped the trip would brighten her bard's spirits.
The small blond's face pulled into a frown. The frown changed to puzzlement as she walked beside her friend and companion. Running her free hand through her hair as she twirled her staff with the other, her mind concentrated on the game they were playing.
The tall raven haired warrior was also deep in thought as she walked beside her bard, Argo's reins held loosely in her hand. It was nice to be on the road again. After all that had happened in Poteidaia, a peaceful stroll down a quiet road was what they needed.
"Are you a God?" smiling Gabrielle asked as she jumped in front of Xena.
"No." Grinning down at her, Xena lightly pushed Gabrielle aside and continued walking.
The warrior returned to the thoughts on her mind. Just one thought in actually. Gabrielle. With each sun's passing she couldn't believe how fortunate she was.
I have my bard back and all in one piece, thought Xena, although she could still see the haunted look in Gabrielle's green eyes. They had been through so much together. Britannia, Chin, Illusia, and most recently, the death of Hope and the Destroyer. Xena still couldn't believe Gabrielle was alive. The ache slammed her in the chest again. She couldn't shake the memory of watching Gabrielle falling along side her daughter Hope, nor the sound of her voice as she cried out Xena’s name. All she could do was watch as her friend fell to her death into the river of lava. The image was still fresh in her mind like it had just happened and it tugged at her heart. Then she and Joxer had found Hope, alive and well, living in Poteidaia, posing as Gabrielle. Xena turned to look at her companion, she was thankful the real Gabrielle was back. Maybe not totally, but physically she was here.
Xena could see what the past had done to Gabrielle. She could see it in her eyes. The pain and darkness she saw, showed the violations to Gabrielle's soul. Xena hoped with time and compassion, they could repair all the damage that had been done. Together, they could begin to repair each another. Together ... they could do anything.
"Are you friend or foe?" Xena snapped back to the present. She looked down at the quizzical blond. She had missed Gabrielle's smile. Her eyelids lowered as she answered her.
"That was two questions," she slipped a muscular, bronze arm around the bard's neck in a playful jest. "You're cheating, Gabrielle. You lose."
"Oh, come on Xena. It's not like you never bend the rules," her voice was muffled as her head was still in the crook of the warrior's arm.
"OK. For you I'll make an exception. I won’t kill ya, and I won’t even use the neck pinch on ya." Xena said with a smile. She still hadn't released the little blond's head.
"No harm, no foul. Right, Xena."
"No fowl ... you want fish for dinner?"
"Xena!" Gabrielle screeched as the warrior princess ran her knuckles over the bard's blond hair.
It was good to laugh and joke again. It had been too long since they just had some fun. They had both missed this and reveled in each other's company. It felt like old times. They were friends, and they were alive. For now, that was all they cared about.
They strolled along in silence enjoying the smells of the evergreens lining the roadway. The dense old growth muffled the sounds they all were making, the slow clip clop of Argo's hooves, the swirl of the bard's Amazon staff, and the mighty warrior princess chewing on her nails. The subtle sounds were suddenly broken by the loud grumble coming from Gabrielle's muscular stomach.
Xena looked over at the little bard raising her eyebrows. She opened her icy blue eyes even wider.
"What?" Gabrielle said in questioning embarrassment.
"I guess it's time to start looking for some dinner. We'll find a place to camp for the night. We're not due at the Amazon village for a couple more days, so why not stop a little early. Besides, with all the rumbling Argo is starting to get nervous."
Gabrielle wasn't sure whether to thank her for stopping early, or smack her for the comment about her stomach. It didn't matter, she was tired and it would be nice to stop early for a change. She was looking forward to her visit with the Amazons, but Xena was right, they could wait a bit. She smiled as she thought of her Amazon sisters and how much she missed them. Ephiny, Jadax and Eponin, actually she missed them all. She wanted to see them in person to let them know they were alive and well, despite the rumors to the contrary.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and hugged herself inwardly. Today was a good day. The sun was warm on her back and her warrior was by her side. Being with Xena and laughing, it had been too long since they had just had a laugh together. She knew it would take time for them to mend all that had happened, but it was a start. A good start. Add to it, the pending trip to the Amazons and Gabrielle felt a warmth growing inside her. It was a good day.
The warrior princess craned her neck to look farther down the road. The sounds of early summer rang in her ears. The birds and the bees were playing in the light wind. The evergreens swayed lazily scenting the air with the smell of pine and wildflowers. Xena knew of a river near by, and smiled to herself as she also recalled a hot spring. Definitely a good place to stop for the night, if she could find the path.
"Are you a friend?" Gabrielle asked, resuming their game of questions.
"Yes. Me friend -You bard," Xena grunted, thumping her chest, then thumping Gabrielle's.
"Funny Xena ... Ok, you are a friend. So that means you've never fought the great warrior princess then?"
"Wrong." Xena smiled slyly.
"I said wrong."
"Let me get this straight. You are a friend, but you’ve fought them?"
The warrior spotted a break in the trees, it was the small path she had been looking for. She nodded to it and turned off the road. Gabrielle was still thinking about Xena's answer as they traveled through the luscious, green, old growth forest. Xena easily picking her way through the trees until they came upon a small clearing, a little oasis of green grass amongst the tall stand of timbers. It was awash with the afternoon sun as the rays of light fought to get through the trees. It looked like the forest had opened its hands, flattened the ground and rolled out a carpet of green. Xena wasn't the only one who knew about the campsite, evident by the ring of rocks for the fire. Some weary traveler had pulled a log close to the firepit to either sit on or snuggle next to.
They unloaded Argo of their supplies. Xena went to tend to her horse as Gabrielle began to make camp. Without thinking, the two companions had gone about their own duties. Without words they instinctively had gone back into their old groove of responsibilities.
Gabrielle unpacked the saddle bags and looked down at the leather bag holding her scrolls, parchments that held happier times. She had never written a word about the horrors leading up to Illusia, nothing about the lies and betrayals which almost cost them their friendship and their lives. Gabrielle felt a pang in her heart. The guilt was gone, but not the pain of memories. Hope and the Destroyer were dead, but what they had done was unforgettable. Her heart ached for all the evil they had done. The misery they had inflicted was still evident on both of them. Gabrielle's thoughts went back to earlier on the road today.
Even when they were laughing she could see the concern and worry on Xena's face. Gabrielle couldn't even fathom what Xena had gone through thinking she was dead. What would I do if something happened to Xena? Could I carry on like she did? Would I search the world for her? The known world and the underworld? Yes! The answer was loud and clear. Gabrielle knew she loved her and more than just as a friend. She would do anything for Xena, all the warrior had to do was ask.
Gabrielle placed their furs beside the log next to the firepit and pulled out one of her scrolls. She unrolled the parchment and looked at the title Quest. She didn't have to read any further, she recalled the story all too well. The memories of bringing a dead Xena back to the Amazon village was very clear in her mind. Gabrielle's face flushed and her lips tingled as she also recalled Xena's kiss.
The warrior's lips were soft and tender. The kiss was warm and compassionate, but too short. The euphoric feeling she had felt was quickly ended with the tickle of Autolycus's moustache. Nothing was ever said about the kiss. Xena had never mentioned it and neither had she. But that didn't mean she hadn’t thought about it, or dreamed about it. Many a time she had looked at the warrior's lips and wanted to kiss them again. She fantasized about what it would be like to be one of Xena's lovers, to be held in those arms and caressed by those hands. Gabrielle felt a warm rush between her legs. She knew she was wet and she knew why. She was totally in love with the warrior, in every way possible. Gabrielle rolled up the scroll with a sigh. She loved Xena but she knew that Xena didn't love her in the same way. The word love was not in the warrior's vocabulary, at least not in the way Gabrielle wanted it. She reached for a new parchment and her quill. Maybe it was time for a new story.
Xena returned with an armload of firewood, and placed the wood next to the pit. She stopped and glanced over at Gabrielle. The little bard was busy with her scrolls. A warm feeling surged through the warrior princess. It looked like the Gabrielle of old as she realized the little bard was writing again, something she hadn't done in at least a couple cycles of the moon. Xena couldn't help but watch the young woman write. She looked so poised and peaceful. Her fresh face had a tinge of pink to it, making her look even younger. Her blond hair was tucked behind her ear and her head was tilted slightly to the side. The afternoon sun danced over the red highlights in her blond hair. Xena smiled, it gave the bard an angelic glow. She had changed so much in the past three years, on the inside and out. Where once there was a soft young girl now sat a wiser, stronger woman. Her body had changed along with everything else. Xena's blue eyes traveled down Gabrielle's bare arm. There were strong muscles under that soft skin now. Her stomach showed the signs of hardened abs. Xena could hear the scratch of the quill on the bard's parchment. Her blue eyes traveled from Gabrielle's arm to the scroll on her lap, then focused on the cleavage next to it.
A sudden urge of desire went through her, tingling her senses that had been dormant for so long. She wanted to walk over and gather her up in her arms. To hug her, kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be ok. They were together, forever, and nothing was ever going to separate them again. She wanted to tell Gabrielle how much she loved her. How much she wanted to kiss her, to make love to her. To hold her gently in her arms ... Kiss? Love! The words echoed in Xena's mind. Kiss. She felt her cheeks flush as the blood rushed to her reddening cheeks. She hadn't thought of Gabrielle like that in a long, long time.
The bard felt the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. She knew she was being watched, and she knew by whom. She slowly looked up to see the warrior princess staring absently at her. Xena was crouched down, her hand still on the load of wood she had just placed next to the firepit. The icy blue eyes continued to look at her. 'Not at me, but through me. With a look of ... of what?' Thought Gabrielle. 'A look of ... want? No ... of desire!’ The word flashed through the little blond's mind. 'It can't be desire! I'm the one with the desires!' Gabrielle's mind was spinning. 'I'm the one who wants to climb into those strong arms, to nestle within the safety of my warrior. To lay my head on her chest, and to openly and honestly tell Xena I really love ....’
"Hey! ... Come on." Xena suddenly jumped to her feet, breaking through both of their thoughts. She walked over and took Gabrielle by the hand, and pulled her to her feet. Xena turned and led them through the forest. The little bard said nothing as she held tightly to Xena's hand, it was obvious Xena knew where she was going. They followed a small animal trail as it wound around rocks and fallen trees. The bard could smell the rich moisture thick moss that blanketed the forest floor, silencing their footsteps. Gabrielle could hear the sound of rushing water, her eyes searched through the trees for the source.
'One of us had to break that staring contest,' Xena was slightly unnerved by the thoughts which had gone through her mind. She wasn't used to the feelings of spoken honesty from her heart. She knew it was there but she hadn't thought of it in a long time. ‘Not since ...’ She forced her mind to change its direction. It did, right back to the want and desire she felt for the little blond behind her.
Xena stopped as they came up to a large outcropping of moss-covered boulders. Gabrielle could smell a faint odor of ... rotten eggs? Xena saw Gabrielle's nose crinkle at the distasteful odor.
"I have a surprise for you."
Gabrielle was about to question the source of the smell when Xena turned to show her companion the hot spring tucked up against the mountain side.
Some small pools of rolling warm water nestled between the cliff and the boulders. The moss-covered wall sparkled as water trickle down its green beard to damped the large boulders below. Low hanging cedar boughs reached out to the steam as it rose skyward. Some of it was captured by the rocky moss wall and it would start its cycle back to the hot springs. Gabrielle's green eyes danced with delight as she viewed the inviting pool.
"Oh Xena! What a find. You knew this was here?" She could see by the smile on the warrior's face that she had.
"Why don't you hop in? I'll be back in a bit." Xena started to leave."I want to get something for dinner before I enjoy the hot springs." Xena turned back to the trail and disappeared into the cover of the forest.
Gabrielle stripped off her clothing and relaxed her toned muscles in the heat of the water. Not wanting to bring back her earlier thought of the warrior, she returned her mind to the game they had forgotten about. In no time at all she could hear the movements of someone through the thick undergrowth. The swishing of low branches being pushed aside, and the muffled sounds of boots on a carpet of needles. Her face broke into a smile when the warrior held up her hand, proudly presenting a string of fish. Dinner.
"I know who you are!" Gabrielle said, the smile lit up her face.
"That's good, ... I wasn't gone that long."
"No, I mean I know who you were ... I mean I know who you are. You're Hercules." Gabrielle looked into the blue eyes as a sly grin came across Xena's face.
"Very good, Gabrielle. You win." She laid the fish down and removed her weapons and armor.
"Yes, yes ... yes." Gabrielle continued to laugh as she danced her hands over the surface of the warm water. She was very aware of the movements of the undressing warrior. The bard concentrated on the water in her hands, desperately trying to keep her eyes off of the now naked body of the warrior. The beautiful, bronze, naked body of the woman she loved, was only a few feet away. Gabrielle swallowed as she moved her eyes in the opposite direction.
"Aahhhhhh," Xena moaned as she slid into the warm water of the hot springs.
The bard instinctively moved in behind Xena and began to slowly wash and massage her back. Running her fingers along the tight shoulders, she closed her green eyes and listened to the moans coming from the warrior. Gabrielle was again reminded of the feelings she had for Xena, her warrior, her savior, her hero and her friend. Her heart ached to include one more description ... lover. She floated in a euphoric state of bliss. The flesh she felt beneath her finger tips filled her with desire for more. She rubbed deeper, digging small circles in the knotted back of the warrior princess. Xena was right here. Naked and close. Gabrielle felt her heart pumping blood to all her senses. She struggled to control her breathing. Her tongue rolled over her slightly parted dry lips. If she could find the courage, all she would have to do was move her fingers ... just a few more ... inches and ...
"Oh Gabrielle, that feels so good. I had almost forgotten how good your fingers were." Xena's words brought the bard back to reality.
The moment was gone and Gabrielle's fantasy was over.
"Your turn. Come here." Gabrielle looked up as Xena stood. Her green eyes stopped at the water glistening off the warrior's breasts. They were just a hand's length away from Gabrielle's face. Her eyes followed the beads of water rolling down and dripping off the end of Xena's nipples. She watched as a single drop fell elegantly into the water below. Gabrielle swallowed hard and tried to compose herself. She closed her eyes as she felt Xena's naked body slid in behind her. If Xena had spoken a word, Gabrielle would not have been able to repeat it, her mind was too busy with trying to control her desires.
The warrior snuggled in closer as her parted legs closed in on the bard's hips, it was Xena's turn to wash and massage. Xena began the slow rubbing motions on her bards back. Her mind wasn't on her sexual desires. Her mind went somewhere far more frightening, as her icy blue eyes traveled to the two fresh scars on Gabrielle's back, scars that would forever haunt the warrior. Xena felt a chill go through her as the image of Gabrielle falling, came rushing back to her. The look on the bard's face had been one of regret ... and of ... goodbye. The warrior knew now it wasn't goodbye, but she didn't know what the regret was for. As much as she wanted to know she was afraid to ask. Xena tensed as her imagination started to run wild. Not with want and desire, but of what had happened to Gabrielle in the lava pit. She felt her own body physically jolt as she visualized Gabrielle bouncing off the pit walls, as molten lava spraying up at her, searing her once scar body. Xena could feel the twisted, pebbled skin beneath her fingers, the proud flesh of the new scars on her back. One was a molten lava burn, the other a tear, as Gabrielle's soft skin had hit the wall when she landed. The image replayed in Xena's mind. She never wanted to feel those emotions of separation again.
Xena's stomach dropped as she recalled the vision she had seen with Alti, a vision she didn't want to think about. She pushed away the snowy scene of death, only to have it replaced with the lava pit again. Xena struggled to bring her mind back to the woman in front of her. Trying to erase the horrors in her mind, she focused on Gabrielle. She loved her like she had loved no other. Gabrielle was her connected soul, someone who completed her as a woman, not as a warrior. No one had ever loved her as much as the little bard did. Xena knew Gabrielle hadn't thought about her own life as she tackled Hope and had taken them both into the pit. Xena didn't know how to deal with that kind of love and self sacrifice from her little bard. She was the warrior, she was supposed to be the protector. Gabrielle's protector. But she had just stood there when Gabrielle had risked her own life to save hers. Out of everything she had done, Xena knew the one thing that would haunt her the rest of her life, would be the one thing ... she didn't do.
Gabrielle knew something was happening. Xena had started out rubbing her back slowly. Gabrielle relaxed, it felt so good. To feel those strong fingers and hands again felt ... right. But just as she realized it felt so right, it began to feel so wrong. She brought herself out of her daydreaming haze. The fingers on her back were pushing too hard and it was starting to hurt. She pulled away slightly hoping to ease the pressure of Xena's strong fingers. But it didn't help, the warrior was now scrubbing hard ... right on her scars.
"Xena ... Xena that hurts," Gabrielle said lightly, not wanting to offend her friend. There was no response and now she was starting to feel real pain.
"Xena!" With the word, Gabrielle reached over her left shoulder, taking a firm grasp of the warrior’s right hand and turned to her.
The look on Xena's face at first frightened then startled her. Gabrielle's heart dropped with concern. The normally breathtaking blue eyes of her friend were now red-rimmed and glassy. Xena's hand was still moving in a slow rubbing motion, even though she was only rubbing air.
Gabrielle let go of Xena's hand and cupped the warriors face in both of her hands.
"Xena ... XENA!" The bard saw the vacant eyes return. Xena immediately tried to pull away, attempting to wipe away any trace of tears and memories, but Gabrielle would have none of it.
"No running ... no hiding ... and no lying. I am here now. Talk to me. What is it? What could tear you up so much to bring you to tears?"
Xena lifted her head to look at the canopy of trees above her. The afternoon sun was beginning to fade. The sounds in the forest were starting to come to life as the night creatures began to stir. It all looked so peaceful on the outside, but on the inside the warrior was fighting for control.
In the smallest, quietest voice the mighty warrior princess could only say one word ...."You."
Fear tore through Gabrielle. In an instant her heart broke, her lungs gasped for air, and her eyes filled with tears. The admission shook her to her very core.
"Me," she said in a breathless response.
Xena knew immediately the word she had spoken had been taken all wrong.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle, that's not what I meant. I didn't mean you as in yourself. I meant you, being here now. No, not now, I mean ..." Xena quickly realized she was making a bloody mess of the whole thing. She lovingly and carefully took a hold under Gabrielle's shoulders. Picking up her bard, she placed her on her knee. She tried to repair the damage that had only been recently mended and reunited.
Lifting Gabrielle's chin with her finger, the blue eyes met green. Xena's thoughts rushed in.
'Oh, how I love this woman, with ever ounce of my being. More than life itself. All I want to do is shower her with kisses and love and hold her, until time runs out of sand.' All these thoughts were there, if she could only bring herself just to speak the truth. In a whisper of forgiveness, the warrior stated softly.
"Gabrielle, You mean the world to me. I need you. I missed you so much. When I thought you were dead, I wanted to die too ... I still can't believe what you did ... I don't understand you."
"Understand me?" the bard sniffed quietly.
"Yes, understand you. I was the one who should have killed Hope. It should have been me who took her back to the fires of Tartarus, but before I could do anything, you did it. You risked your life ... to save mine. Why?"
Gabrielle looked deeply into Xena's blue eyes.
"She was my daughter, Xena. My demon creation. You couldn't kill her. I had to!"
"But I stood there watching the woman I love ... sacrifice herself ... for me. Protecting me. It wasn't supposed to be you, Gabrielle. I'm the warrior, it should have been me."
"But it wasn't Xena. It had to be me who killed Hope, not you." The strength and conviction was returning to the bard's voice. The air was returning to her lungs. Her tears had begun to dry and her heart was beating ... strongly. Gabrielle had been listening, and she had heard Xena say, 'the woman I love'.
"It should have been me, Gabrielle. Your heart is too good, too pure for you to leave this life that way. Your light and hope shines too bright, for too many people. I'm a warrior. I've lived my life as a warrior. I've killed many people, Gabrielle, and one more wouldn't make a difference. It should have been me who killed Hope." Xena felt her voice beginning to break.
"You couldn't," Gabrielle argued strongly.
"You couldn't. Don't you understand, Xena ... you couldn't kill Hope, or you would have died?" She screamed out the words as a shocked expression came over Xena.
Gabrielle wondered if she should've said that, but knew the truth had to come out.
"The favor I had with Ares. Well, he called it. He made a deal with the Fates. If you had killed Hope, the Fates would have cut your life line."
"Ares," Xena snarled out the name.
"No, not just Ares, Xena. It was my favor to get to Chin that started it. Hope was my daughter, and Sarafin was my friend. It should have been, and was, my decision. It wasn't a hard decision to make. You or her. I chose you, and I'd do it again."
"But Gabrielle, I just stood there ... and watched you fall."
"Because you didn't know what I was going to do. No other reason, Xena. I'm just sorry I put you through it."
The dark warrior, usually so strong and unemotional, began to cry. Gabrielle took her into her arms and tried to soothe the images out of Xena's mind. Before she realized it, the bard was crying too. They cried for all the losses they'd had. The trust, the friendship, their children, but mostly they cried for the loss of their time, time they should have spent together. The tears slowly subsided and the two women just held onto each another. They both knew it felt so good to be back, to be back in each other's lives and in each other’s arms. Suddenly Gabrielle remembered they were both naked as she began to feel the perky erect nipples being held against her own chest. Gabrielle could feel her heart come right to the top of her throat as her breath began to shorten. She could feel Xena's curly pubic hair rubbing against her hip.
Meanwhile, the warrior was having some of her own lust filled thoughts, as her nose was buried in the blond hair. It had the distinct essence of Gabrielle was on each and every strand as she felt the warm, nude body, being held tightly against her chest. A desirable thought entered her mind.
‘What would Gabrielle do, if right now, I reached out and touched one of her breasts? Or took my tongue and run it over a nipple and enjoy the sensation of feeling it go erect and firm in my mouth.’ Xena could feel the ache through her entire body. She felt Gabrielle's hip brushing her pubic hair. A desire so strong went through her inner core, she wondered how long she would be able to fight it. Her body and mind screamed with want and desire to touch this little blond woman in the most seductive of ways.
Gabrielle felt the tremor go through Xena's body. She couldn't help it. There was nothing separating them, so she decided she better. Gabrielle pulled out of the embrace.
Xena immediately released her hold on the little bard and quickly searched her mind for something to say, preferably something that was safer to talk about.
"Callisto is dead!" Xena blurted out.
Even in the warm hot springs, Gabrielle could feel her blood run cold.
"Callisto ... she's dead. I killed her after ... I killed her with the dagger, with the Hind's blood on it."
There was a long silence as the two went back to their own thoughts.
It was Xena who spoke first. "Do they hurt much?" She saw the look of puzzlement on Gabrielle's face.
"Your scars ... Do they hurt much?"
Gabrielle shook her head, “No, not anymore. The priest said all wounds will heal, if you don't pick at them ... or ... think about them too often."
They looked at each other and they knew it was time for them to let their wounds heal. To leave the past where it was and begin to look to their future. Only Gabrielle didn't know Xena had an idea what was in their future, and she had decided it would be better if the bard didn't know.
Night had fallen but the oasis in the trees was dancing with the light of the campfire. There was still a coolness in the air. Summer was coming but it wasn't here yet. It didn't stop the crickets from making their music, nor the distant hoot of an owl, perched high in the shadows of the trees.
The fire crackled between their words as they sat around their camp talking, catching up on what had happened while they had been apart. Xena told Gabrielle about her travels to the Northern Amazons. She even told her about what happened years ago with Cyanne, and how she had betrayed them. She told her about Alti, and how she had released the Amazon's souls. Gabrielle said she'd known somehow, because she had felt a great release in her own soul. Xena told her everything, but couldn't bring herself to tell her friend of what she knew of their future. She thought Gabrielle would be better off not knowing.
The bard knew there was something else bothering the warrior. Something was gnawing at her all day. She put it down to Xena just simply regretting what she had done to the Northern Amazons, or what had happened with Hope. Gabrielle changed the subject and began to tell Xena about what she could remember of the temple she had been taken to. Of what she knew about how she got there. There really wasn't much to tell, she had said, only that the priest had taken good care of her.
Then one day she said she felt Xena's presence, and she knew it was time to go and look for her. The first place she had thought of was Poteidaia, the only permanent home she'd ever known. Gabrielle knew if Xena was looking for her, sooner or later, the warrior would go to her home, and she had been right.
Xena placed a caring hand on her shoulder as Gabrielle mentioned her home and her family. Xena knew the battle fought there had been very hard on her little friend, and not just the fight with Hope and the Destroyer, but the silent battle with her family. There was no love loss between them and Xena. They blamed the warrior for everything that had happened to Gabrielle. They wouldn’t and couldn't, believe their daughter still wanted to be her friend. Xena knew it tore at Gabrielle's heart that her family wouldn't accept Xena for who she really was.
It was Gabrielle's decision to leave when they did. The warrior was happy to be away from the glares and snide comments. She didn't feel welcome there and Xena wondered if she ever would.
After a meal of fish, berries and some nuts, the pair started to settle down for the night. They sat sitting side by side in front of the campfire. Xena kept her eyes to the forest, away from the night-blinding flames. Their afternoon and evening talk had tired them out. Even the ever talkative bard had grown quiet.
Xena brought her eyes back to the sword she was sharpening. Gabrielle was leaning up against her shoulder, both finding comfort in the other's nearness. With every sh-wack of the wet stone, Gabrielle could feel the ripple of muscles in Xena's shoulder. The rhythmic motion had lulled the little bard to slumber. She snuggled and nuzzled closer to Xena's warm body.
The warrior princess had finished with her sharpening. Thinking Gabrielle was asleep, she slowly and quietly turned to put her sword and stone down. The bard had moaned in protest to the slight movement. She opened her eyes and began to stretch. Xena didn't see her start to move, until she felt the blond's head come into contact with the hilt of her sword.
"Oh by the Gods Gabrielle. Are you all right?" Xena quickly scrambled to hold the head of her little bard. Gabrielle brought her hand up to the lump she was certain she was going to have.
"Owww ... "
"I am so sorry, Gabrielle. I thought you were asleep," Xena cradled Gabrielle's head, gently stroking the blond hair. The moaning and groaning began to ease as Xena gently feathered the bard's aching head with light kisses.
Gabrielle kept her eyes closed as a warm sensation went through her body. She wasn't sure if she could contain the thoughts that were ringing in her head. A familiar feeling began to creep into her stomach, like a million butterflies were trying to make a mass exodus. She knew what was causing it as Xena was still caressing her head. Just the sound of her lips kissing her head sent a wave through her body. A warm tremor went from her heart to her most private area. She could smell Xena's leathers as her face felt the softness of the warrior's chest. A moan escaped from her lips. She wanted to tell Xena not to stop, to keep kissing. She could hear Xena's heart beating loudly in her ear. Oh, how she wanted to reach out and touch her warrior. To kiss her ... to hold her ... to love her.
Xena continued to massage and kiss her head. Cooing words of apologize the bard was no longer even hearing. All she could fell was the warrior's voice vibrating her chest, the sound of Xena's heart mixing with kisses. Kisses Gabrielle wanted her to be placing elsewhere, anywhere, somewhere other than on her head.
The warrior felt so bad, but also felt so good. Holding Gabrielle's head next to her chest as she kissed and kissed. She had missed her so much and now she had Gabrielle in her arms. Oh, how she wanted to be kissing more than just her head. She wanted to kiss those green eyes, to run her lips over her neck. To find that soft hollow behind her ears where the skin was the most sensitive. To hold and caress those round breasts and those tight abs. Those stomach muscles turned her on. Her little bard now had quite the body. A body she wanted so badly. Xena felt her own body responding, the moisture building between her legs, the ache of her breasts to be held and caressed. Her longing and desires were telling her, no, screaming at her to take Gabrielle and make love to her, to satisfy the desires that she so badly had for the little bard. Her little bard. Her Gabrielle. Her blue eyes looked down at the body she was holding, as Gabrielle utter a low moan, the sound brought the warrior back to reality.
What was she thinking?
"I'm sorry Gabrielle," Xena said sincerely. She looked down at the face that she was now holding in her hands. Gabrielle's eyes were closed, and her face was flushed. Xena couldn't help but notice how beautiful she looked in the glow of the fire light. She had told herself if she found Gabrielle she would tell her how she really felt. How much she loved her and how much she wanted her. Xena began to slowly lean in.
‘I have to kiss those lips. I want to kiss those lips. Just one good kiss ... right on those lips.’ Xena tilted her head, bringing it closer, as Gabrielle's head started to rise up to her.
'STOP!' Xena's brain broke through her lust filled thoughts.
'What are you thinking? Gabrielle could have a concussion, and all I'm thinking about is kissing her.' Xena pulled back, Gabrielle felt the sudden movement and quickly opened her eyes
"I'm sorry," Xena stammered. Rising quickly to reach for a water skin, she took a quick drink. Without turning back to Gabrielle, Xena muttered something about getting some fresh water and a cold rock for Gabrielle's head, and then she was gone.
Gabrielle sat there blinking. Her eyes went from the path Xena had taken, to the fire and then back to the path again. All the time blinking. Her ears were ringing. Her heart was pounding. Her pulse was slamming against every vein. She rubbed her sweating palms against her shoulders.
'Xena was going to kiss me!' She was certain ... almost. She shook her head.
'It wasn't possible. Maybe I do have a concussion, or some kind of head injury,' she stood up slowly. 'Head injury my foot,' she thought. ‘Xena was going to kiss me.’ She started to pace, she was certain now. The warrior princess was leaning down to kiss her. 'Wasn't she? Maybe I'm wrong. No, I'm not. I know it. What had she said earlier in the hot springs, “the woman I love" That's what Xena said? She was going to kiss me, I know it. What if I'm wrong ... if I'm wrong ... I'll blame the concussion. She tried to kiss me, but she has kissed me before. Yeah, but it had taken me by surprise. Besides, it hadn't seemed like Xena. She doesn't have a moustache.'
Pacing back and forth, Gabrielle continued the conversation going on inside her head. Slowly the little bard began to skip with delight around the fire. She knew Xena had indeed been going to kiss her.
"I was going to kiss her. What was I thinking? Stupid, stupid, STUPID! You tried it once before, remember? How did that turn out? Nowhere, nothing, Gabrielle hasn't even mentioned it again ... By the Gods, she is adorable. So cute, so soft, so ... so vulnerable, you idiot," Xena continued her own conversation out loud all the way to the river.
"We haven't been back together for one full moon, and I'm trying to get her into my bed!" Xena, the mighty warrior princess was trembling, something she hadn't done since she was a child, well, if you didn't count all the times she trembled when she touched Gabrielle. The truth was, she was in love, and she knew it. For the first time, she was truly, honestly, head-over-heels in love. But what if Gabrielle didn't feel the same way? She knew Gabrielle loved her, but was she in love with her? Could they stay just friends?
‘Yes,’ thought Xena, ‘they could. Yeah, right. I can’t and won't risk my friendship with Gabrielle. But it looked like she was going to kiss me back?’ She thought. ‘Right? Wrong’, she argued. ‘I just cracked open her skull with the hilt of my sword.’
The warrior princess marched through the dense forest muttering and arguing with herself the whole way. She was thankful the river was a distance away, it gave her time to collect her emotions. Xena broke through the trees and stood on the rocky river bank.
The cold spray of the water cooled only her sweating skin, not the burning desires she held within. The glacier fed mountain stream cut through the old growth forest like a broad axe. Gigantic timbers lined both shores, their mighty branches reached to the opposite bank, keeping the stream hidden from the view from the Gods above There were only a few places along the fast-moving water’s edge that held a deposit of rocks and boulders, giving her a small outcropping to stand on.
Xena tried to silence the thoughts rolling around in her mind. She reached into the ice cold stream with her sweaty hands and fished around the bottom for a couple of good rocks. They had to be smooth and flat so she could wrap them and put them on Gabrielle's head. The chore gave her a chance to clear her mind.
"That's it," she said aloud. She had found the rocks, and answers, she had been searching for. She filled the water skins and headed back for camp. Xena had decided she was going to tell Gabrielle exactly how she felt. She would tell her everything and then kiss her, all on one roll of the dice. Then she would wait for Gabrielle to tell her where they would go from there.
"Gabrielle, I love you! No. Gabrielle, I'm in love with you. It can't be that hard? Gabrielle, I love you, and I want to make love to you. Oh that's tacky. Gabrielle, I love you, may I kiss you?" Xena shook her head.
All the way back from the river she practiced and rehearsed. She searched for the right way to say how she felt, but the words weren't coming out right. Every sense the warrior had was jumping for joy. She was in love and she knew it. Now she just had to tell Gabrielle. How hard could it be?
Gabrielle was ready. She paced with sweaty palms clenched at her sides. She was going to face that blue eyed, raven haired warrior of hers, and tell her she loved her and she wanted to spend the rest of her life by her side.
Xena was getting nearer to the camp. "I'm in love with you Gabrielle."
Gabrielle paced by the fire. "Xena, I love you."
Xena felt her convictions growing. "Gabrielle, I love you with all my heart."
Gabrielle knew it was the right thing to say. "Xena, I'm yours, take me." ... ‘Well maybe not,’ she thought. How about, "Xena, I want to love you."
Just then Xena broke through the trees and entered the clearing. Both women ceased their movements and locked eyes, both firmly set on what they wanted to say.
"Gabrielle ..." Xena spoke first, but it didn't matter. For the first time in her life, the warrior had lost her nerve. All that came out was, "Gabrielle, I'm .... I'm sorry. Here." She held out the water skin and the cloth-covered cold rock.
Gabrielle looked from Xena to the rock she held out in her hand. Gabrielle felt her convictions begin to melt away. "Xena, ... I ... thank you."
The moment was gone and the two stood across from one another, both silent. Their mouths open to speak, but no words came out. Neither woman was willing to risk their friendship on what they thought were their own feelings. Xena closed her mouth and stepped forward holding out the rock for Gabrielle's head. The bard reached out and took it. Their hands touched for the briefest of moments and they felt the nervous energy the other was sending out.
Almost simultaneously they looked each other in the eye, and then turned away quickly. With their backs to one another, they silently undressed, changed into their sleeping shifts, and climbed into their bedding.
"Goodnight Gabrielle," Xena said quietly as she curled up into a fetal position.
"Goodnight Xena," the bard mumbled as she lay on her back, the rock gently placed on her head. Her green eyes were wide open as she went over what just happened. She looked to the sky for answers. She knew there could only be one explanation.
"Concussion," she whispered to herself, "definitely a concussion."
"Good morning." Gabrielle heard as one green eye started to open. The bard stretched out under her bedding. She looked and saw Xena was sitting up and already dressed in her leathers. Her back was on the log they had slept against.
The second thing Gabrielle noticed was the fire was going. A rarity when traveling, especially when they had a destination to get to. The third thing she noticed was the happiness she felt, just from waking up next to her warrior again. The last, but definitely not the least thing that came to mind, was the pounding of her head. The memory of last nights events came rushing back at her, and with it, came all of the wants and desires. Subconsciously the little blonde put her hand to her head and rubbed it gingerly.
"I have something for that," Xena handed Gabrielle a cup of steaming liquid. "It's something I made up for you, it will make the headache I know you have, disappear."
Gabrielle reached for the cup and smiled as she noticed a plate of food. There was some cheese, bread and left over fish from the night before.
"A fire and breakfast, what's the occasion Xena?"
"Life," she said simply. "Besides, we only have one full day of traveling before we reach the Amazon territory. So, I figured why not two easy days, instead of one long one."
Gabrielle looked at her with a smile. She had missed this side of Xena. She hadn't seen it in a long time.
The two women ate breakfast in relative silence. Only an odd comment was exchanged between them. When the morning meal was finished, Xena stood and wandered over to the bag holding all of the bard's stories. She looked at it for a moment before coming to a decision. Reaching for the leather strap, she took the bag over and laid it down in front of Gabrielle. The bard looked up at her in question. Xena knelt down in front of her. The blue eyes looked back at Gabrielle. They were filled with love and compassion. Something she saw all too seldom in them. Xena smiled and then quietly asked.
"Will you read me one of your stories?"
Gabrielle felt her face begin to flush. Slowly a smile began to brighten her face as her eyes started to shine. She had waited almost three years for Xena to ask that question. She quickly and enthusiastically threw her arms around her warrior.
"It would be my extreme pleasure to finally read you one of my stories," she gushed. She rummaged through the leather bag until she found the first real story she had ever written. If she was going to read to Xena for the first time, it seemed only appropriate to start with the first one. She cleared her throat, and then began ...
"The Journeys and Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess by Gabrielle, the bard of Poteidaia - Sins of the Past."
"Top billing, I never knew that. Thank you," the warrior smiled. She tried not to think of how fitting the title was, Sins of the Past. Gabrielle had really nailed it on the head.
The bard began, she knew she was good, but this was a special audience. Not to mention the fact Xena had been there. Gabrielle tried to ignore the odd raised eyebrow that came up at certain parts of her story. The warrior was certain it wasn't exactly how this or that had happened. She smiled and sometimes even laughed aloud at some of the better exaggerations. Xena's heart fondly remembered the first time she had seen her tough, little bard. Gabrielle's face had said it all, the innocence, the naivete, and most important in the warrior’s eyes .... the presence of her courage. Xena knew she had changed a lot since then. She had matured and grown, and none of it had been easy. Xena tried not to think of some of the hardships they had gone through, but she couldn't help it. A single tear began the slow descent down her face, and she just let it fall. Gabrielle was the only person she felt comfortable enough with not to hide the break in her emotional armor.
As the bard finished her tale, she laid the scroll aside and looked up at Xena.
"Thank you," the bard whispered to her audience of one. Gabrielle reached up with her left hand and slowly wiped away the falling tear on the warrior's face.
"I love you, Xena, with all of my heart and soul."
"I know Gabrielle. And I am who I am because of you."
"I could say the same, Xena." Gabrielle leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on the warrior's startled mouth.
They locked eyes for a brief moment, the passion they felt for each other was there. If only they could have seen it. It wasn't just of want and desire. It was a longing they didn't know how to deal with. Soulmates searching for the connection that would carry them together for eternity.
It was Gabrielle who blinked first this time. Then her green eyes rapidly fell to the parchment as she reached for it and rolled it up. Her heart was on her sleeve waiting for the warrior princess to respond to her kiss. Gabrielle's stomach lurched as she watched Xena quickly stand and begin to pack up the camp. Neither of them said a word but if they had it would have been the same word ... DENIABILTY.
Xena was no longer certain the recent separation with Gabrielle was what was causing her to lose control of her emotions. Feelings she had held in control for so long were exploding throughout her body. Her heart was pounding and her legs felt weak. She could still feel the warmth of Gabrielle's kiss on her lips and a throbbing ache between her legs. She cursed herself for not responding with more passion. Xena knew she had seen it in her green eyes and felt it in her kiss. It was the same as the longing in her own heart. A need to be closer than they had ever been before. Xena wondered if her own passions were something Gabrielle could handle
The bard questioned herself as to what she had seen in Xena's eyes.
‘Could we both want the same thing?’ The bard was trying to keep herself busy by rolling up their sleeping furs. ‘What did I just do?’ Her heart suddenly fluttered at the scent of Xena's body where she had slept last night. An all too familiar ache went through her body. ‘Why didn't I say something? Why didn't Xena say something?’ She knew by her body's reaction how she felt about the warrior. Now if she could just figure out what Xena was thinking.
"Argo's all packed and ready to head out. Mind you, she was a little skittish this morning. I guess she'll have to get used to the new happier me."
"The happier you?" Gabrielle said with a raised eyebrow.
"Why not? It's a beautiful day. The birds are singing, the sun is shining," Gabrielle's stomach dropped in disappointment. Xena continued, “and my bard of Poteidaia is with me again. You write very well Gabrielle." Xena kicked the fire apart and threw some water on it. She still hadn't looked the bard in the eye. It was something that hadn't gone unnoticed by Gabrielle. Her heart was racing.
‘Xena's not upset. In fact she's ... happy. Very Happy.’ An idea was beginning to form in her mind. A plan of action.
A little while later, the two women emerged out of the trail and back onto the road they had been traveling. Xena stopped and started to climb onto Argo's back. Pausing, she turned and extended a hand to Gabrielle. The bard hesitated, then shook her head no.
"You're right Xena. It's a beautiful day, I think I would rather walk."
Xena only nodded.
The closer they got to the Amazon Nation, the quieter Gabrielle became. Something was definitely on her mind. The warrior was pretty sure what it was.
Xena squinted as she looked up at the afternoon sun. The landscape had changed and the road was no longer shaded by the trees. The hot sun was now reflecting off of the grassy banks on either side of the road. Xena could feel the sweat rolling down her body. She glanced at the forest that was 10 paces off the road. She wished they were still in the cover of those trees.
Xena reined in Argo and slid off the mare's back. Gabrielle turned to look at her.
"What's up?" Gabrielle could feel her stomach tying up in knots.
"The sun. I'm way too hot with my armor on. I need to get out of it. Can you give me a hand?"
"Sure."... ‘Is Xena ever going to say anything?’
The bard laid her staff on the road and reached for the brass body plate. She could see the sweat stains on Xena's leather. She closed her eyes as the smell of leather and Xena loafed in the air. She swallowed hard as she visualized the glistening naked body of the warrior princess.
"Thank you. That's much better." Xena took her armor from Gabrielle and tied it to her saddle.
"You should have done that earlier Xena. You wouldn't have gotten so hot." She said as she reached down for her staff.
‘It could be snowing out and I would still be hot’. Xena thought as she watched Gabrielle start walking again. She quickly regretted the thought, as the snow-covered image of them on the cross, crucified her desires. A shiver went down her spine. ‘Is our future changeable?’ She climbed back onto Argo, cooler than she had left. Much cooler.
They had traveled on a few more candlemarks when suddenly Argo and Xena came to a halt. Gabrielle took one more step before stopping herself. She knew better than to ask what had stopped them. She heightened her senses and tried to pick up on whatever had brought them to a halt. Voices. Gabrielle could make out voices. From where though? Up ahead? She turned, but she couldn't make out what it was they were saying.
Then they heard a cry for help.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle, she was tempted to tell the little bard to wait, but she knew she couldn't do that. ‘Besides, she probably wouldn't listen anyhow.’
"You ready?" Xena asked in a low tone.
Gabrielle nodded and they were off.
An elderly peddler and his young son were standing with their backs up against their wagon. The peddler was a small man in height, but not in size. His normally cheerful face was white with fear. He was no match for the four men who stood in front of them. His young son had his arms wrapped tightly around his father. He had never experienced any highwaymen in all of his 13 summers, and he was very frightened.
Their wagon seemed to be full of everything. Pots and pans hung down from overhead racks. The sides of the wagon were covered and filled with trinkets, jewelry, knives, ropes and clothing. You name it and the small peddler probably had it. That's what had attracted the rough looking highwaymen. They were looking to relieve the peddler of some of his finer items.
The largest of the four men, was also the ugliest, not to mention arguably the dirtiest. His body and close cropped hair held days of dirt and road grime. He was a big man, well over 6 feet, and he carried his weight with authority. Two scabbards hung from his hips. One was still occupied with a sword, the other empty as he held the weapon in his hand, playing with some of the items on the wagon.
"Come on old man, where's the rest of the gold and good weapons? I know they're here somewhere?" The sounds of the pots and pans being pushed aside echoed the stillness on the road.
"I told you. This is my traveling wagon. My good supplies are in my shop, back in town." The peddler tried to ignore the smell of rotting teeth that came out of the leader's mouth every time he spoke.
"I don't believe you old man! Tell me what I want to know ... or I'm going to start playing with your boy here ... with my sword."
"No, no please ... don't hurt him. Take what you want, take it all ... but please spare my son...Just take it all and leave us, we mean you no harm," the peddler begged.
"I don't see anything here worth taking, old fool. I know who you are ... Ollious. You're quite a blacksmith I hear, and you make fine weapons. I've even heard you dabble a bit with gold. So don't tell me you're out here traveling around with none of your finer wares. You have to have more here than just this garbage." He flipped his sword through the pans again, the sound made the young boy cry out in fear.
The ugly man turned to his brother, who may have bore a likeness to his bigger brother, but he had three more teeth, a fact he was quite proud of.
"Grab the kid, I've had enough of this," the ugly brother said.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you!"
Everyone turned to see who had spoken. There, astride a tall palomino, was a beautiful dark haired warrior dressed in dark leathers. To her left stood a smaller blond woman, who had one hand on a staff, the other on her hip.
"You'd better listen to her," the blond woman said with a sly smile.
The four men looked at each other, then to their leader, Ugly. He raised an eyebrow to the man on his right. The four muttered and mumbled, but neither of the women could make out what was being said.
Xena shifted her eyes left and right, scanning the thick forest for any other enemies. All she saw was more trees and rolling landscape. She shifted her eyes back at the men. She was certain they were alone. The four men turned to face them.
"Trouble," whispered Xena in an almost singsong voice.
As if by cue, the biggest and ugliest turned and yelled. "NOW!"
In a matter of moments, several things happened at once. Three of the highwaymen charged at the women, who where still a good fifteen paces away. Xena, unarmed at the moment, grabbed both her sword and chakram from her saddle and flew somersaulting over Argo's head.
"Ayiyiyyiyiyiyiyiyi!" Xena landed in front of the charging men, sword and chakram at the ready. The remaining man, (Ugly's brother) quickly shoved the old man to the ground and reached for the young son by his hair. Gabrielle reached Xena's side, her staff held in front of her.
Xena's sword flashed to the right, stopping Ugly's sword in mid-motion. Kicking out with her left leg catching the second man square in the chest, he fell like a heap onto the dirt roadway. 'That should keep him out of the picture for a while.' thought the warrior princess. She turned her attentions back to Ugly. He was quite good and that surprised Xena. She had caught him off guard at first, he hadn't been prepared for a woman who could handle a sword. It was a mistake she knew he wouldn't make a second time.
Gabrielle had her own hands full with the third man. The two of them were going blow for blow, managing only to strike the other's weapon. She could hear the sound of swords clashing, as she defended and attacked with her staff. Spinning the weapon around her head she caught her adversary hard in the shoulder, rocking him back on his heels. Two quick jabs to his mid-section and Gabrielle was in total control.
Xena's sword was flashing left and right. She swung and turned, but still hadn't managed to find an opening. She noticed the man on the ground starting to rise. Bending her knees, she ducked one of Ugly's strikes and leaped into the air, her warrior cry escaping from her lips. Flipping behind Ugly, she sent out another kick at the man rising from the ground. Her foot landed squarely on his temple and he crumbled. 'One down' thought Xena. Her attentions quickly went on the big man with the swinging sword. He grinned widely at her as he drew his second weapon. The two warriors dug in for the real battle. Knees and fists missing and connecting, both knew they would be sporting bruises soon. 'He's good' thought Xena, 'really good'. She jumped to avoid a leg kick. As she brought her sword around, Xena heard the sounds of a struggle behind her. She knew Ollious and his son were also fighting for their lives. She knew his name, and she knew his son. He had made weapons for her when she had needed them as a warlord. Now he had something she wanted even more.
Ugly noticed a flash of concern in the warrior woman's blue eyes. He hollered loudly at his brother.
"Kill 'em, kill them both."
Xena stole a quick glance at the young boy. She saw the blade of the man’s sword coming down on his throat.
The Xena felt the pain knife through her and she backed away. The quick glance to Ollious' son had cost her a rib or two, when Ugly had brought the full force of his knee into her unprotected side. She cursed herself for not putting her armor on. The sharp pain on her intake of breath told her it was time to finish this. Bringing her sword up and around, she reached for her chakram and let it fly. Spinning, the deadly arc bounced off a tree, the wagon and then off of Ugly's brother's neck. The chakram swirled back to the tree and back to Xena's waiting hand. Quickly she strapped it to her waist. Now, she put both hands on her sword and began her final attack on Ugly. Blow for blow and almost kick for kick, the two warriors fought it out.
She could hear in the distance Gabrielle was doing much better with her opponent than she was, as she could hear the sound of the staff hitting solidly against flesh.
Xena leaped and turned, giving her enough time to look over at her bard to ensure she was ok. Gabrielle was standing over the very still highwayman. Looking up the two women locked eyes, suddenly Gabrielle screamed.
It was too late. Xena knew she had made a foolish costly mistake, something she had never done before. If it wasn't for her lightening fast, god like reflexes, it could have cost her life. Instinctively she had brought her sword up to cover her head just as Ugly was bringing his down. The blades clanged loudly as it missed its target, but the motion caused the hilt of Ugly's blade to smash into Xena's right hand. Her blade fell to the ground. Xena painfully dropped to her knees and scooped it up with her left hand. Standing again with her sword stretched out, she tried to ignore the pain in her side and the blood pumping from her hand.
"Xena? ... You're Xena, the warrior princess." Ugly said in fear and disbelief.
Xena smiled, giving him her best 'I'm a warrior, don't piss me off' look. Ugly looked from Xena to the blond racing towards them, and then down at his dead brother. Left-handed not, he knew he couldn't beat her now. He held out his hands and dropped both of his swords onto the ground with a clang.
"I'm done. You win .... Xena."
Xena stood with her sword still out in front of her. She wasn't sure if she trusted him or not. When he made no further movements, she brought her sword down to her side.
Gabrielle arrived at Xena's side. She was startled at the condition the warrior princess was in. One eye was already starting to swell, and she wasn't standing very well. Gabrielle looked down at Xena's bloody hand. The flesh was split wide open and was bleeding profusely. The dry ground was already accepting the blood it was being offered. The bard turned to look at Ugly. Xena's appearance didn't look good, but she was definitely in better shape than him.
"Xena ... your hand?" The warrior ignored the voice of concern. She looked at Gabrielle and tilted her head over to the side at the body that was at her feet. The bard understood and knelt down to check on the fallen man. She slowly shook her head, no.
"He's dead, Xena."
Xena hadn't meant to kill him, only to keep him down. The warrior looked down at the dead man and then over her shoulder at the other body lying next to the wagon. ‘Two more to add to my total. Is it ever going to end?’
The warrior princess saw the movement, but it was too late. Ugly had caught her off guard again. She swung her head back around to face him. Her eyes had been open wide so the sand he threw at her face did its job. As her head went down, Xena called out a warning to Gabrielle as she brought up her left hand. Still holding her sword she felt it cut into skin as she struck out to defend herself. Xena's sand filled eyes could barely open to see her opponent, but it didn't matter, she could hear Ugly's feet running away. He didn't feel like it was a good day to die like his brothers. Before Gabrielle could heed Xena's warning, the fleeing man had disappeared into the forest.
"Xena." Gabrielle placed a hand onto her warrior's shoulder, "are you all right?" The bard could see the blue eyes were closed tight, she didn't know if it was from the sand or the obvious pain Xena was in.
"Yeah, I think so. I just need some water. I'll be fine." She started to stand up straight as she could manage, but the pain in her ribs kept her slightly stooped. Gabrielle looked at her injured friend and wasn't so sure. She turned and raced toward Argo and pulled down one of the water skins and turned back, just in time to hear Xena mutter angrily ... "Bastard." Gabrielle could see the warrior was trying to look at her injured hand.
Ollious and his son gathered up the dead bodies and chained the third man to the back of their wagon. They said they would deliver him to the magistrate in the next town.
Gabrielle had only nodded, she had her hands full trying to clean up and mend an angry warrior. Xena's blue eyes were rimmed in red from the sand. Her right hand was now heavily bandaged. Xena had said none of the bones had been broken, but Gabrielle thought it should have been stitched. Her ribs, on the other hand, were making the warrior grimace with each breath, but breathing had to be done, painful or not. Xena mumbled and grumbled the whole time Gabrielle was trying to mend her.
The round peddler and his son came up to the two women, Ollious smiled at the grumbling warrior.
"Xena, I am so grateful to you both. If you hadn't come along when you did, ... and now you're hurt."
"It's ok Ollious. I’ll be fine. I'm just glad you and your son are all right. I don't believe you know my companion. Gabrielle, bard of Poteidaia, this is Ollious, blacksmith and jack of all trades, from Bosswanna."
The two smiled at one another and Ollious smiled and winked at Xena. Xena said nothing and Ollious understood, immediately.
"Xena. I would like to thank you somehow, for all you have done for me and my son today."
"Your thanks is enough, old friend. I no longer work for a price or for profit. I'm just glad we were here to help you. Will you be ok from here?"
Xena wanted to get going, she wasn't in the mood for a bunch of chit chat.
"Oh yes, Xena. My brother lives in the next town. We will be fine. Thank you again, I hope to see you soon."
"You never know."
"It was very nice to meet you Gabrielle, take care of her." With a quick wink he was gone.
Gabrielle stood there for a moment. ‘What a funny little man,’ she thought. She turned and caught up to Xena, who too had already left.
The warrior said nothing as she walked silently between her horse and her companion. Gabrielle kept sneaking glances to be sure she was all right. The bard wasn't sure if Xena was quiet due to her pain or her anger.
‘Or maybe something totally different,’ she thought to herself. ‘Maybe it was what had happened this morning?’
They stopped a good ways down the road, just long enough for Xena to climb slowly onto Argo's back. She still said nothing, but Gabrielle could now see the pain in her eyes.
Their progress was slow. Xena's mouth was set in a firm line, her lips were pursed tightly closed and her eyes were locked on the road. Gabrielle could see she was having a hard time breathing, and her right hand was now draped across her lap. They carried on slowly in the direction of the Amazon Nation.
Gabrielle didn't like the fact Xena hadn't spoken more than four words since they had left the peddler and his son. She had tried several times to start a conversation but the warrior remained silent. Gabrielle knew there was no way they were going to make it to the Amazon village by dark. She looked to the quiet warrior but Xena showed no signs of stopping for the night. The bard decided to call it for the day, herself. When she got no response from Xena, she wondered if she should have decided to stop sooner.
They were back into the thick forest, a requirement being so close to Amazon land. Gabrielle searched both sides of the road, all she wanted was a spot big enough and flat enough for the two of them. She noticed a small trail leading into the cover of the trees. Gabrielle looked to Xena, who had a better view. The warrior only nodded and turned Argo off the road. Fifty or so paces into the trees, Gabrielle found them a good place to camp for the night.
The road was still visible, but anyone on the road would not be able to see them past the trees and boulders. The tall thin pines would shelter them from the morning dew and dissipate any smoke from their fire. Gabrielle grabbed a fallen branch and quickly cleaned away some of the rocks and other branches, leaving behind a thick carpet of needles to sleep on.
She removed Argo's saddlebags first before trying to get her wounded warrior off the horse's back with as little pain as possible. Xena said nothing as she leaned against a tree quietly watching Gabrielle prepare their camp. The warrior gingerly pushed off the tree and started to collect some of the nearby branches with her left hand. A small bundle of wood fell to the ground as Xena cleared a pit for their fire. She tried not to notice the little blond unrolling their sleeping furs. Those emotions she buried under her boiling anger.
With the fire now going, Gabrielle put her attentions to making dinner. She scouted the area around them.
"Veggie stew ok for dinner?" Xena only nodded. Gabrielle grabbed a bowl and started collecting the makings for one of her forest stews. It was one of the only things she could make without meat since Xena wasn't going to be hunting for their dinner.
With the stew on to boil, she turned and knelt down in front of her quiet, brooding warrior. She reached over and gently lifted Xena's chin and looked deeply into the dark blue eyes.
"All right! Out with it."
Xena looked back at her, but said nothing. Gabrielle searched her face for a clue to her problem. All she could see were the colors of a nasty bruise starting to form. She knew she had seen worse on Xena's face, so that wasn't it.
"Talk to me Xena, don't shut me out. Please ... "
Xena's blue eyes darted from Gabrielle to the fire and then to the darkness falling on the forest.
Gabrielle looked down at the soiled bandage on Xena's right hand. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage.
"Xena please tell me what's wrong?" As much as she wanted to ask if it was the kiss from this morning, she knew she didn't want to hear if it was.
There was a momentary pause before the warrior spoke out.
"I just got my ass kicked by a two bit, run of the mill, highwayman." Xena grumbled.
"Oh, Hera's tits, Xena. Is that what this is about?!?" Gabrielle jumped to her feet out of relief and annoyance. "You haven't said a word all afternoon just because you made a mistake?"
"Gabrielle, mistakes out here can kill you. I didn't follow my own rules, protect the people around you who can't protect themselves. I didn't do that. I didn't keep my eyes on him, and he got me ... twice." The warrior was fuming. Gabrielle saw her wince in pain as she drew in another breath. "Never mind the danger I put Ollious and his son in. What about you? If that Ugly bastard hadn't run away, I couldn't have even defended you." Xena said in disgust.
"Stop it, Xena. You're making me mad. Number one. Ollious and his son are fine. They’re alive because of you. Second. You have always told me in battle, 'protect your own backside first', because if you get hurt, who's going to protect the innocent. And third, my wounded warrior! In case you have forgotten, this Amazon Queen can defend and protect herself! And in a pinch, could probably defend and protect her warrior too! Am I making myself clear?"
Xena had never seen Gabrielle take charge in such a manner before. Xena looked up at a red faced Gabrielle. Her face hurt, her hand was throbbing, and her ribs felt like they were tearing her insides apart. But her heart was beating madly for the angry woman in front of her. She stared at Gabrielle. Xena knew that she was right. A smile started at one corner of her mouth and slyly slipped across her lips. Xena reached up with her left hand and gently pulled. A still angry bard flopped down beside her. She looked into the fiery green eyes, Xena knew she couldn’t hold back her heart’s desires any longer. The warrior princess leaned forward carefully and placed a kiss on Gabrielle's lips. The angry bard stared at her in disbelief when they parted.
"You're beautiful when you're angry." Xena said in a voice husky with desire.
Gabrielle sat stunned at the kiss she had just received. Her mind was racing with so many things she wanted to say, but nothing would come out. This was not what she had planned, but it didn't matter, this was better.
Xena watched the green eyes changing as the little bard began to realize what had just happened. The warrior's chest was heaving with anticipation. Her emotions were sucking the air out of her lungs. She hesitated a brief moment, knowing she wanted to do that again. Her blue eyes left the green ones and traveled down Gabrielle's face until they came to her lips. Xena tilted her head making it easier to claim what she so badly wanted.
Their lips touched again, only this time, there was equal pressure from both willing and wanting parties. Gabrielle felt her body responding to the tender kiss of her warrior.
"Enough." Gabrielle said breathlessly as she pulled back from her warrior. She hadn't realized she had been holding her breath.
Xena licked her pulsing lips and gazed into the green eyes of her bard.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet, trying to compose herself. As much as she wanted it, she was also afraid.
"Food and sleep are what you need ... food and sleep."
Xena watched the shaking hands stir the stew on the fire. She could smell the aroma of wild onions, but it wasn't the stew she was hungry for.
Xena leaned back against her saddle, her eyes flickered with the pain from her ribs. She looked back and watched the nervous young woman dish out dinner. It was easy to see that Gabrielle didn't want to talk about what had just happened.
"Gabrielle?" The warrior spoke softly, hoping her voice wouldn't betray her own shaking nerves.
"Xena." Gabrielle put the spoon back into the stew and held up her hand. "Don't ... please." She closed her eyes and was thankful the warrior stayed silent. Gabrielle had spoken to Gods and Kings, she fought the power of the afterlife, and she had spent three years with the woman of her dreams, but none of it prepared her for what she was feeling now. Seasons of silence and mountains of pent up emotions were shaking her small body to its very core. Part of her wanted to turn around and fall into the arms of the woman she loved. But part of her had a bigger obstacle to get over ... fear.
Fear of the unknown.
‘Where will all of this lead us? Is our friendship strong enough to be lovers? What happens if I can't? I was raised to love a man, not a woman.’ Gabrielle turned to look at Xena. The warrior had her head back and her eyes were closed. ‘Oh, Xena how I love you. But can I make love to you?’ Gabrielle felt the ache climbing back into her body. She turned and looked into the fire. She brought her hand up to her dry mouth, hoping she could keep the desire she felt from becoming an audible moan.
When Gabrielle had raised up her hand for Xena to stay silent, the warrior knew the bard was scared. All she wanted to do was crawl over to her and hold her until they both stopped shaking. Xena knew where this was going and she knew she could no longer stop it. Postpone it, yes. Deny it any longer, no. She dropped her head back and closed her eyes. Her own body was struggling between the lust filled thoughts of her heart and the pain that came with every breath she took. She could also feel the fatigue of the day as her body began to relax into the softness of the pine needles. The warmth and crackle of the fire soothing her mind of its thoughts. She could hear the deep breaths of the bard not far away. Xena could smell the hints of summer as the crickets began to play.
Gabrielle could also hear the sounds of the forest as her heart finally started to slow. She wiped her sweating palms on her skirt and turned to her warrior. Her mouth was open to speak but she closed it and just watched the rhythm of her breathing. She realized Xena had fallen asleep. She watched as the flames danced over the warrior's face. Xena's beauty still took her breath away, as did the love she had always felt for her warrior princess. Her green eyes drifted to the warrior's chest as she watched the steady rise and fall of her breathing. Gabrielle reached for Xena's bowl of stew and dumped it back in the pot. She sat down cross-legged and ate her dinner, hoping the food would calm her turning stomach.
It would be hours before she climbed in next to Xena. The moment their bodies touched she felt the warrior tense, and then relax with familiarity as she put her arm around Gabrielle's body.
Gabrielle immediately fell asleep as she nuzzled into the arms of her warrior. She felt safe, secure and loved. For the first time today Gabrielle felt confident in what she had done only that morning.
continued in Part1b