Please read the Story Disclaimers
Author's Note: The events in this story take place soon after "Is There a Doctor in the House?"
She was gentle with me, too gentle, as if I would break beneath the pressure of her hands. And when I melted, as I always do when she touches me, I missed the trembling of her body and the whisper of her ragged breathing.
I returned to myself, to the night sounds of the countryside and the wood smoke of our campfire, with the knowledge that Xena had never left. Her hands were rock steady as they brushed damp curls of my hair back from my face; and when I tucked myself against her side and laid my head on her breast, I could hear the slow, rhythmic beating of her heart.
I didn't echo her caresses because her refusal to be aroused by them would have choked me with tears. Instead, I waited for the restless twitch of her body or the sly tap of a finger against my cheek that would signal her readiness.
She never moved.
Her embrace was comforting and protective, but I was tired of being tended, tired of being nursed. My wounds had healed, my strength was returning. Even so, tonight was the first time she had made love to me since we had started through the battle-torn woods on our way to Athens. My release wasn't enough; I longed to set her on fire as well. So, my frustration grew even as the tension of waking began to ebb from her muscles. I was too unsettled to follow suit.
Then, at the moment she crossed into sleep, her arm tightened around me. And in that one unconscious gesture, I glimpsed what was happening between us. Always before, she had loosened her hold on me, secure in the knowledge that I would be there by her side when she woke in the morning. But now that trust in tomorrow was missing. She had hidden this new-found fear very well; I hadn't suspected its presence until this small slip betrayed her.
So, while she slept, I planned my conquest. I had seduced her once before, removing her armor piece by piece, then coaxing her out from behind the brittle shell she wore beneath the metal and leather. I could do it again.
I let several days pass, days in which I demanded nothing of her, lulling her into the belief that I was oblivious to her shielded heart.
Then, during a day filled with interruptions that further delayed our journey toward Athens, I peppered the air with petty complaints and rambling tales that tried her patience. I was determined to scorch away the clinging tendrils of her concern for my health, and by the time we set up camp she had lost her temper more than once. I hid my delight under a sullen pout, then prepared the next stage of my assault.
After our spare meal of bread and cheese, I renewed my stream of chatter, only this time I chose stories that would amuse her. As her bad humor began to lighten, I carelessly disarmed her. My first seduction had invested each movement of her disrobing with promise, but tonight's success depended on removing her clothes with as little thought as possible.
She winced when I pulled one arm too high, and without breaking the cadence of my narrative, I drew off her leather tunic and began kneading the bridge of muscles across her shoulders. I wove one story into another in rapid succession and made her laugh with each improbable connection. When she balked at an extravagant gush of prose, I argued the point as I pushed her down onto a blanket and stretched her out, nude, to continue my massage.
Her mind listened to my words, but her body listened to my hands. My fingers dug into hard flesh until it softened and warmed to my touch. And when I was ready, a slight nudge turned her over. My palms brushed the sides of her neck, then slid down to cover her breasts.
When she realized what I was doing, I saw a flash of anger in her eyes, as if I had betrayed her with my stealth.
"Gabrielle . . ." She threw out my name as a protest, but the soft gasp that followed it was an entreaty. My fingers trailed down across her stomach. Her body started to buck, then froze its upward motion. She was still holding back, but I could feel a storm beneath my hands straining to be released.
I bent down, put my mouth to her ear, and whispered "Take me," two raw words that shattered her self-control.
She rose like an arrow shot from a bow.
There was no gentleness in this meeting of flesh. We were both too hungry to take our time, too eager to bother with the teasing flutter of fingertips. She stripped me of my tunic and then stripped me of thought. What we did to each other should have hurt, but didn't.
Then she slowed. She tried to tame her roughness. I urged her on past any notion of tenderness. All it took was the arch of my back, a sharp cry, to set a driving rhythm to our desire. Unfettered by caution, she lifted me higher and faster than I had ever flown before . . .
. . . and tore me into a thousand pieces.
We crashed back to earth together, gasping, heaving, skin hot and slick with the sheen of hard labor.
And she was weeping.
I had reached too deep inside of her and loosened the knot that held her together. I caught hot tears on my tongue and kissed them from the corners of her eyes, swallowed the taste of salt and sweat mingled into one. A new shudder gathered strength, then rippled through her body.
She collapsed into my arms, exhausted, spent.
"Gabrielle." Not a protest, not a plea, just a whisper of love.
I waited until her arms loosened their hold, then let myself drift into dreamless sleep beside her.
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