Down To The Darkness

by Lucyfer
kaylar1025@gmail.com


Disclaimer

This story contains adult themes depicting explicit sexual relations between consenting adult women, as well as some scenarios that may be construed as sexual violence. If you are under the age of 18 or reading this material is illegal where you live, please do not read further. The author accepts no legal responsibility for non-compliance with this warning.

Author's Note

The words to Gabrielle's poems are borrowed without permission from two songs written by Carole King. Special thanks goes to Critter for assisting me through a particularly difficult stage of writer's block that attacked me during the writing of this story. Thanks again, Critter!

Prologue

Well, if it isn't Xena, the Warrior Princess herself, Isiphae thought. The woman and her patron sat in a discreet corner of the hideaway tavern. Her arm paused in mid air as she gazed at the leather clad warrior woman from Amphipolis. Until then, the patron at her side did not notice that what little attention Isiphae had been paying to him had been all but lost to the Warrior Princess.

The woman finished the remaining contents of her wine goblet and swallowed hard. She had not seen Xena in nearly three winters and the presence of the warrior woman was as resplendent as ever. The memories of Xena as a regular visitor to her quarters flooded her consciousness in a tidal wave of passion. She had heard that Xena killed Darphus and joined up with Hercules, the do-gooder, but she had not seen the Warrior Princess since. Other stories came to her about Xena killing other warlords for the greater good and Isiphae supposed that once the blood lust got into a warrior's blood, it could not be eradicated. Xena must be releasing her passions on the blonde bard she travelled with now, Isiphae surmised. Her finger surreptitiously traced the scar above her breast as she remembered how Xena always came to her when the warrior lust after battle got too overwhelming. She smiled at the memory just as the Warrior Princess spotted her in the dim tavern and headed her way.

Chapter One

Xena and Gabrielle reached the big city by nightfall and approached the inn. The bard had insisted that they spend several days in Athens because Xena had been acting a bit skittish and needed a respite from the wild forest. Ever since their nightmarish encounter with the Horde, the warrior rarely slept for more than an hour at a time. Many nights she spent sitting up while Gabrielle slept. When she did doze off to get some much needed sleep, she frequently found herself suddenly standing in a defensive position, sword in hand, when Gabrielle had merely turned over in her sleep. As well, she refused to speak to Gabrielle about what was troubling her and Xena was beginning to tire of the bard's exasperated sighs. Xena hoped the distractions of the big city would calm her down and they could resume some sort of normalcy to their lives.

After boarding Argo at the stables for the week, the two women entered the inn and sat down for the evening meal. Very little was said as they ate their food and then rose to retire to their room. Neither of them noticed the three warrior women who blended in with the boisterous crowd as they watched Xena and Gabrielle's every move.


Gabrielle curled her arm tightly around Xena's waist. Xena enjoyed the soft curves of the bard pressing against her back as Gabrielle lightly played with the warrior's hair, sweeping the dark mane off her shoulder. She brushed her lips against Xena's skin and the warrior shuddered at the sensuous kiss. Gabrielle continued to trail soft kisses along the warrior's well muscled biceps as Xena's loins stirred from an unspoken need within her. The bard's tongue reached Xena's neck and lightly grazed the fine hairs with her mouth as she breathed hotly into the warrior's ear.

"Xena, please, it's been too long," she whispered as she sought out Xena's lips and hungrily tasted her waiting mouth. Xena turned her body to accept the bard's invitation. Gabrielle climbed atop the warrior's prone body as she covered Xena's face with soft kisses and followed a wet trail down to her neck. She nipped at the soft flesh eliciting a moan of pleasure from Xena.

"Xena, let me please you. I want you. All of you," she emphasised. Gabrielle grabbed hold of one of Xena's hands. She pressed it to her lips and drew one index finger into her mouth twirling her tongue seductively around the digit. Xena withdrew her hand and sat up. She yanked at Gabrielle's hair, tilted back her head and fervently smothered the bard's mouth with her own. Xena abruptly rolled over top Gabrielle leaning her entire weight against the smaller woman's frame as she began to unleash the wild passions that had been bottled up for weeks. The bard gasped for air and moaned into Xena's throat. The smaller woman's legs were parted by one of Xena's muscled thighs as the warrior's callused hand aggressively massaged the bard's alabaster skin. Xena continued to ravish the bard's mouth as she seized first one of Gabrielle's wrists, then the other and pinned them above her head.

Gabrielle struggled against the constraint of Xena's hand but the warrior increased the pressure on her wrists. The imprisonment of the bard's hands proved to be an intoxicating aphrodisiac for the Warrior Princess. The juices between her legs flowed freely and she smeared her damp centre against Gabrielle's thigh. The bard arched her breasts toward Xena wordlessly indicating their need for attention. The invitation was not lost on Xena as she broke her kiss away from Gabrielle's mouth. She reached inside her leather tunic and brandished her breast dagger admiring the gleam of metal reflected off the blade. She breathed heavily in anticipation and her hand shook as she slid the blade under the bard's green halter top. With expert precision, Xena sliced the coarse material in half exposing Gabrielle's delicate breasts to the night air. She let the cold metal of the blade draw a circle around an erect nipple raising welts on the tender flesh. Gabrielle gasped. Xena smiled at the bard's reaction as she saw the panic rise in the younger woman's face. Her feral smile revealed the warrior lust that raged through her veins as it settled into a hot inferno between her legs. The Warrior Princess felt all the power of a mighty conqueror as she took the blade and began to carve an "X" on the bard's delicate breast.

"NO!!!" Gabrielle screamed.

"No!" Xena gasped.

Xena bolted upright as her heart pounded in her chest. Sweat matted her hair as she looked around the room and remembered where she was. A room above a tavern in Athens. She took in deep breaths as she tried to regain a regular breathing pattern. She was grateful that Gabrielle never stirred. She didn't want to have to tell her that she'd had yet another nightmare. Xena hadn't told the bard what her recent dreams were about, but it was the same one over and over again. There were many variations to it but they all boiled down to one thing. She was reliving her warlord days when she sometimes marked her lovers with her dagger. In those days, she could be loving and gentle when she wanted to be but she also had a need to mark her possessions. When one of her lovers was deemed hers and hers only, they were marked for life.

Their recent experience with the Horde forced Xena's troubling memories to bubble to the surface. At first she easily slipped into the leadership role that the Athenian compound had honoured her with and even relished the almost worshipful subservience of the men under her command. It scared her that she had been so easily swayed back to the dark side even though it was only for a short time. If it had not been for Gabrielle, she would have surely sent many more Athenian soldiers and the Horde to their deaths. She once again wondered to herself how she deserved such a bright soul as Gabrielle to be her moral guide. At the compound, she had tried to tell Gabrielle how much she loved her but it didn't come out like she wanted it to and she wasn't sure the bard understood what she meant.

However, for the last few weeks she had been distant and withdrawn not even allowing casual contact with the affectionate bard, and whenever Gabrielle attempted to make love, Xena routinely rebuffed her. As well, the warrior's verbal responses had been limited to one word syllables. Gabrielle tried to coax an explanation out of Xena but she refused to allow words to explain. She couldn't explain the nightmares because she couldn't explain the worst parts of her evil past. If she did, surely Gabrielle would leave her but she wasn't sure how much longer she could maintain her silence.

Xena got out of bed and looked out at the dark city streets below. Even in her warlord days, she didn't remember being so tense and edgy. The Horde had gotten under Xena's skin like no other opponent before. She thought the comfort of the crowded city would allay her fears but then the nightmares started unabated and they were always about Gabrielle. She had never wanted the worst parts of her past to intrude on her life with the young woman. She honestly thought she could keep the warrior lust at bay but it enticed her like the deadly flames of a funeral pyre. As she got closer to the flames, her stomach churned with longing at the remembrances of her lovers long past. The warrior lust threatened to explode to the surface and overcome her common sense. She was proud to be Gabrielle's protector but who would protect Gabrielle from the Warrior Princess? Xena knew that she could never reveal her dark side to the innocent bard but she would have to tell Gabrielle something and soon. After that, she didn't know how much longer Gabrielle would stay with her. Silent tears rolled down her eyes as she contemplated her dilemma. She sat down, lay back on the bed and closed her eyes but did not sleep for a long long time.

Chapter Two

Gabrielle readied herself for bed. It was their third day in Athens and she was exhausted. She had hoped the comfort of the noisy city would help Xena calm down but instead the warrior began to have nightmares. The bard pretended to be asleep whenever Xena cried out and she wondered how much longer their friendship could withstand the tension. Their lives since their encounter with the Horde had been nothing short of a living nightmare. Day after day Xena became more and more withdrawn and the circles under her eyes attested to what little sleep she got at night. Now that they were in the city, she rarely left the room during the day except to visit with Argo and Gabrielle was saddened that even her story telling could not persuade the warrior to come downstairs in the evening. In the past, Xena would watch from the back of the tavern and the bard knew she was very proud of her lover's oral gifts.

As well, she missed the openness she and Xena once shared and she was frustrated at her inability to break down the impenetrable fortress walls that Xena had built. She desperately wanted to know what darkness lay beyond those walls of silence. She suspected it had something to do with the way Xena lapsed back into her warlord self when she battled the Horde but she didn't know what exactly. It was driving her crazy. Whenever she tried to coax an answer out of Xena, the warrior woman clammed up with an icy stare that cut off any further conversation. The bard wanted to push her to open up but she didn't know how. She only hoped that the comfort of indoor shelter would help.

Gabrielle stretched out on the small bed and stared at Xena as she polished her armour. The warrior didn't seem to be intent on going to bed and the bard wondered what was going on. It was the first time since they got there that she had even bothered to attend to her armour. Gabrielle grew tired of having to guess what was on the warrior's mind.

"Xena, are you going somewhere?"

Xena turned her head to face Gabrielle, "Yeah, I have to go out." Xena stood and checked her weapons.

"What? Where are you going, Xena?" Gabrielle was stunned and scrambled off the bed to confront the warrior as she busied herself with her leatherwear.

"Out." was the terse reply.

"Xena, you have to tell me what's going on. You've never let it get this bad between us before. Now where are you going?" Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arms holding on to them to force her to look at her. She was losing her patience and was entirely baffled by Xena's silence.

With a swift upward yank, the warrior released her arms from Gabrielle's hold. Her eyes smouldered with rage as she barely held back the dark fury that burned inside.

"Gabrielle, I have to go." She side-stepped the smaller woman and reached for the door knob.

"Xena, don't go," Gabrielle implored. "Please."

Xena stopped for a moment. "I have to, Gabrielle." With that, she opened the door and left.


Xena reached the entrance to the hideaway tavern, the Wicked Wing. It was a tavern that she frequented in her warlord days and the Warrior Princess was an honoured patron among the myriad of warriors. No one bothered her unless they wanted a broken arm in return. Or worse. The tavern was dimly lit but Xena could see a generous crowd of people milling about. She approached the barkeep for a mug of ale. She wanted to keep a low profile as she nonchalantly surveyed the crowd. Thoughts of Gabrielle nagged at her. She was sorry she had to leave the bard alone in the room but she was sure Gabrielle would never understand her need to come to this place.

She spotted a familiar face in the corner. Xena had known Isiphae for a long time and there wasn't a favour the woman wouldn't do for the Warrior Princess. She remembered the first time she ever met Isiphae. Many winters ago, Isi had been working in her father's inn and she was the most beautiful girl Xena had ever met in her young life. After Xena announced her intentions, none of her soldiers dared stand in her way. Isi was hers and Xena had taken the young girl to her quarters. After a few wild and ravishing kisses, Xena led the young woman to her bed. As if through mind-reading, the girl seem to know what Xena wanted, what Xena needed and satisfied her every whim. Their lovemaking hadn't been at all like it was with Gabrielle, soft, tender and loving. It had been furious, urgent and desperate. In those days, Xena possessed her lovers and overwhelmed them with the warrior lust that consumed her. Isiphae had been one of the special ones she had marked and was one of the few who truly understood her. After joining Xena's army for a while, the young woman eventually settled down in Athens and now worked at this busy tavern, a regular hangout for warriors. Indeed, it was a very lucrative business.

Isiphae was speaking quietly with a leather clad man who was about to get his dreams shattered by the Warrior Princess. She strode purposefully up to the twosome and Isiphae saw her before the man did. The woman's face transformed into sheer joy.

"Xena!" she exclaimed as she jumped up from her seat and wrapped her arms around the warrior's neck. Xena hugged the woman tightly as the warrior man stared at them in disbelief.

"Long time no see, Isi," Xena smiled as she looked directly at her friend and ignored the man beside her.

"Xena, what are you doing here? I'm happy to see you but I heard....." Isiphae started.

Xena put a finger up to quiet the woman. "Sh.. come on, let's go," she said.

"Hey, where are you going?" the man said behind them, still flustered that the woman he was about to pay for was being taken away from him.

"She's with me," Xena said menacingly and was about to draw her sword when the man backed off. Bewildered and awed, he mouthed the name "Xena?" as the Warrior Princess and Isiphae strode off together.

Chapter Three

"Xena, are you going to come downstairs tonight?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.

"Maybe, later," Xena replied. She thought of the crowd of people that usually filled up the common room. The people who openly gawked at her until she glared at them were tiresome and boring. For the past week she had spent more time in the inn's room than out in the city or downstairs in the common room where Gabrielle earned their keep. She was becoming more reclusive and distant while she tried to keep the inner demons at bay. The only peace she felt was when she went to talk to Isiphae late at night.

Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed as Xena polished her breastplates.

"Xena, how long are you going to wait before you tell me what's going on?" Gabrielle asked. Xena emitted a low grunt but made no attempt to answer the question.

Gabrielle continued. "No matter what, Xena, I'm not going away. I'll stick by you through all of it," the bard said. "All of it," she repeated.

Xena lifted her head to look at Gabrielle. She started to say something and then shook her head. "You don't know the half of it", she mumbled and resumed polishing.

"What? Xena, all I know is that I love you more than anything and I mean all of you. I mean even when you have," she paused searching for the right word, "lapses. Don't shut me out, Xena. I'm worried about you sitting up here in this room day after day." And doing Goddess knows what else late at night, she thought to herself.

Xena didn't answer. She just shook her head and continued to polish her breastplates that glistened in the dim light of the room. After a few minutes, she spoke. "Gabrielle, I can't tell you. Not yet, anyway."

"When will you tell me, Xena?" Gabrielle's question was laced with anger and impatience from the excruciating tension of the last few weeks. Xena glared at her with ice blue penetrating eyes when the bard realised her mistake. She backed off.

"Look, I'm sorry, Xena," she exhaled a long sigh. After a long pause, the bard said, "I'm going downstairs. I hope you come down when your ready." Gabrielle rose to her feet.

"Gabrielle," Xena started as she reached out for the bard's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'll be there in a minute." The bard nodded an acknowledgement and gave Xena a small grin as relief spread across her face.


Xena casually sauntered down the stairs to the common room. Gabrielle sat on a stool on a makeshift stage while the patrons scattered about the room listened attentively to an adventurous tale. Xena was inwardly relieved that the story was not about her. She got enough attention in Athens as it was and she didn't need unwarranted trouble. Gabrielle smiled and nodded at Xena as she found a table in a quiet corner and ordered an ale from the serving woman. The bard finished her story and began to recite a poem.

you're my obsession i just can't get you out of my mind
i look around and i see all the signs they say danger
i know you're gonna take me down to the darkness
down to the darkness but i want you to

Xena surveyed the room looking for any challenging stares or other signs of danger. She was still edgy as her sleep deprivation in recent weeks was catching up to her. She spied three warrior women at a table who sat close to the stage hanging on to the bard's every word. Two of the women were obviously a couple, Xena observed, but the third woman had just a little too much interest in the woman on stage. Her woman. Xena gritted her teeth as her blood surged with jealousy. She didn't like the looks of the flirting warrior and several times the bard returned the woman's smile infuriating Xena even more.

i 'm afraid of the darkness
but i'm attracted to it
i'm afraid of the darkness
i want to run away but i can't do it

Gabrielle continued reciting the poem and Xena wondered how many nights those warrior women were coming to hear the bard. She castigated herself for being so caught up in her own fears and concerns that she overlooked the possibility that Gabrielle would find somebody else. A small part of her was convinced she didn't deserve the bard but another big part would fight anyone to the death to keep Gabrielle in her life.

through my hazy confusion i close my eyes
but your image is indelibly burned there
seared into my memory
now as i stand on the edge of the precipice
looking down into the black abyss
i know i'll be lost with just one kiss but i want to be

Xena finished her first ale and ordered another, keeping one eye on the blonde warrior as she adoringly gazed up at Gabrielle. She fought a strong urge to walk over to the table and challenge the flirting warrior right then and there but she didn't want to interrupt her beloved bard in the middle of her poem. She had the patience to wait until Gabrielle was through and then she'd bash the warrior's brains out.

even as the tongues of fire lick at me from below
no turning back i just can't let go of the danger
i know you're gonna take me down to the darkness
down to the darkness but i want you to
down down down to the darkness

When Gabrielle finished her recital, she stepped down from the stage and Xena watched with astonishment as the bard went over to the table of the three warrior women. She overheard Gabrielle thank the three women for coming and shook the hand of the single warrior whose hand wandered almost unnoticed around Gabrielle's waist. Almost. Xena rose to her feet and went to the other table.

"Let's go, Gabrielle," she announced, carefully controlling her emotions.

"Oh hi, Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed, obviously happy that Xena had finally come down from the room. "This is-------"

Xena didn't let her finish. "I said, let's go, " she said angrily as she glared at the three warriors.

"Xena, what's the matter? I want to stay and talk to Leica and her friends for a bit."

Without a backward glance, Xena said, "Nice to meet you." She grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and forcibly pushed her in the direction of the stairs.

All three warrior women simultaneously peered into their mugs and shook their heads in disbelief.

"Do you believe the way she treats that sweet girl?" asked Leica as soon as Xena and Gabrielle were safely up the stairs.

"Yeah well, she's Xena, Warrior Princess," Nestra said sarcastically.

"Yeah, so much for Xena, the Good Princess," Brissea added.

"Hey, the pretty little bard's been flirting with me all week. Hm, I wonder what other oral skills she has," Leica mused. "You know, if Xena's not careful, she might just lose that young girl," she added evenly.

Brissea and Nestra exchanged sceptical looks and laughed. "To who? You?" Nestra snorted as she took another gulp from her mug.

"No one ever leaves Xena," Brissea reminded Leica.

"So I heard, but I bet I can persuade the innocent one to leave her."

"Yeah right. You and who's army? If Xena's already put her mark on her, you won't stand a chance. She'll kill you and that girl in one fell swoop. Believe me, I've seen it happen."

"Isn't she supposed to be good now?" Leica asked derisively. "Besides, she can't kill what she can't find, now can she?" she boasted bravely.

"Hey, count me out of this one. Xena will never give up looking for you if you take that girl from her," Brissea was still shaking as she thought of the confrontation they almost had with the intimidating warrior. She was smart enough to know that all three of them together on their best day could never beat Xena by herself on her worst. She feared for her friend in her misguided intentions.

"Yeah well, she took Callisto away from me and I think it's time I returned the favour."

Nestra put her hand over Leica's and patted it reassuringly. She knew Callisto had returned no such love for her friend, Leica. When Callisto was alive, all she thought about was Xena and the intense warrior had been blinded and consumed by her hatred. Or one could say, love. She tried to reason with her irrational friend.

"Look, Leica, I know you loved Callisto but look what happened to her, going after Xena like that. It's all she ever thought about. Do you really think you can defeat the Warrior Princess?"

"Xena killed her!" Leica ignored the question. "And I'm not going to let her get away with it!"

Nestra gave up. She knew it was useless to try to talk Leica out of doing something once her mind was made up. "Suit yourself, but you better do it behind her back. I wouldn't want to fight her one on one."

Leica laughed. "Is that right? I heard the old warlord's gone loopy. She stays upstairs in that room all day except to tend her horse. This is the first time she's been downstairs all week."

"Well, not exactly." Brissea chimed in.

"What do you mean?" Leica cast a sharp glance at her friend.

Brissea exchanged knowing looks with her lover, Nestra, who nodded and sighed. "Go ahead, tell her."

"I heard that she's been going over to see Isiphae at the Wicked Wing," Brissea announced.

"You're kidding!"

"Nope, saw it with my own eyes," Nestra confirmed. "That little girl has got her hands full with the Warrior Princess," she added.

"Well, I'll just see if I can't relieve the little bard of her heavy burden."

Nestra and Brissea both said in unison, "Oh goddess!" and rolled their eyes at their friend.

"We'll see." Leica said thoughtfully as her mind wandered off in a hundred different directions as she made plans for her future. Her future with Gabrielle.

Chapter Four

"What's the matter with you, Xena?" Gabrielle demanded once the door to their room was shut. Xena braced herself and walked to the window. Her emotions were out of control and she feared that an argument between the two women could cause her to strike the bard.

"What have you been doing down there while I've been cooped up here in this room?" Xena asked, her voice low with barely controlled rage.

"What? Xena, you're acting crazy!"

"Who's this Leica, Gabrielle?"

"She...you think, we....?" the bard sputtered. "It's nothing, Xena, she just likes my stories."

"She likes more than that!" Xena spat out as she turned her head sideways but still did not turn around to face the bard.

"Well what if she does like me? It's not like you care any more! All you do is mope around this room all day and then you do, goddess knows, what else at night! You haven't touched me in weeks! How do you think that makes me feel?"

"Gabrielle, I'll kill her if she touches you again," Xena said through gritted teeth. Her tone left absolutely no room for further discussion. Gabrielle let out a long exhale of breath and sat heavily on the bed. The sudden silence in the room was deafening. Xena examined the stars in the night sky and tried to pick out Isiphae's roof among the dark streets of the city. She wanted to go over to Gabrielle and tell her she was sorry but she feared her rage would boil over again and she would be helpless to control it. She concentrated on regaining the power over her senses and after a while her heart beat at its normal pace.

Gabrielle broke the silence. "Xena, we can't go on this way. You need to tell me what's going on," the bard said quietly with a pain in her voice that tugged at Xena's heart. Nevertheless, Xena said nothing.

The bard walked up behind the warrior and put her arms around Xena's waist, hugging her gently as she pressed her face against the back of her shoulder. Xena rubbed the bard's forearm silently reassuring Gabrielle that she still loved her. The bard hugged her tighter and Xena relaxed into the softness of Gabrielle's breasts. It had been weeks since she let Gabrielle comfort her in any way and she was surprised at how much she missed the bard's touch. She closed her eyes and wished that things were different. She wished she could tell Gabrielle the things she told Isi but right now it just wasn't possible. She silently cursed the demons that possessed her soul.

"Xena," Gabrielle said quietly into her back. "Are you going out tonight?"

"I don't know."

"You don't have to, you know," the bard answered. "Here, let me help you unhook this," she said as she released the hooks on Xena's weighted armour. Gabrielle placed the armour on the floor and rejoined her arms around Xena's waist. Her lips brushed against the back of Xena's shoulder and the warrior shuddered at her touch. Maybe she could confess to Gabrielle her horrific visions, she thought.

"Don't go, Xena. Stay with me tonight," Gabrielle whispered.

"Gabrielle..." Xena turned around. The bard stared back at her as she clasped both of Xena's hands and silently led her to the bed. She knelt before her and began removing the leather bracers above the warrior's boots. Xena's head swooned with desire as the bard's actions assaulted her senses. Her mind drifted back to the memories of years before when Isiphae had knelt before her as a prelude to their lovemaking. She was reminded of the irony that when she talked to Isi, she had wished it was Gabrielle and now that Gabrielle was before her, all she could think of was Isiphae. She thought of her former lover's imprisoned body as she had totally surrendered to Xena's warrior lust. She envisioned Isi's delicious flesh as she eagerly submitted to Xena's powerful urges and willingly took the warrior's mark so many winters ago. There was no way she could tell Gabrielle about any of that.

Xena was jolted out of her reverie as she felt Gabrielle's hands on her thighs. The bard began kissing the tender flesh uncovered by the protection of her leather bracers. Xena stopped her abruptly.

"No, don't." Xena stood up as she stepped around the kneeling bard.

"What's the matter, Xena?" Gabrielle looked up, disappointment and confusion crossed her face.

"You can't," Xena went directly to her armour and began the task of putting back on the heavy gear. She had to get out of there before things really got out of control.

"Why can't I, Xena? I want to," said the confused bard.

"No you don't, Gabrielle. Not like that." Xena started for the door, her armour and bracers back in place. Gabrielle ran to the door to stop the warrior. She spread her arms across the door's width.

"Wait! Xena, why are you running away? Tell me what's going on!" she demanded.

"Get out of my way," Xena answered evenly. She was having a hard time even looking at Gabrielle because all she could see was her surrender. Nevertheless, she held her emotions in check. All she wanted to do was get out of the suddenly stifling room. Xena could see Gabrielle's face flushed with anger, desire, and even fear as the bard bravely put herself between Xena and the exit. She cursed herself as her insides shook at the powerful intoxicant of Gabrielle's fear.

"No! Xena, tell me!" she yelled.

Xena stared at the younger woman as her heart beat wildly in frustration. She longed to have the bard submit to her ravaging warrior lust but she wasn't sure Gabrielle could understand all that it encompassed. As well, she was terrified of hurting the young girl no matter what her best intentions. She fought the powerful impulses that drove her but her iron clad resolve rapidly dissolved into a molten fire. Surely she must be going mad, she reasoned.

Xena leaned closer to Gabrielle and tentatively brushed the bard's lips with her own. She kissed Gabrielle more earnestly as her breath quickened and her hands freely roamed the younger woman's body. She felt Gabrielle relax into her as she moaned in response to Xena's strong hands. The hot warrior blood coursed through her veins making her kisses more insistent and ferocious. She shoved her hand under Gabrielle's green top and roughly squeezed the soft mound of flesh. She pinched hard on an erect nipple until she heard Gabrielle gasp as the bard surprisingly pulled Xena closer.

"Is this what you want, Gabrielle?" she taunted as she pinned the smaller woman upright against the door and pressed her armour harshly against the younger woman's frame.

"Yes, Xena, please," Gabrielle breathed hotly, "Don't leave me this way."

That was all the impetus Xena needed. Her eyes flashed darkly as she swept Gabrielle off her feet and carried the smaller woman to the vacant bed. She unceremoniously dropped the bard on the bed and frantically began pulling off her clothes. Gabrielle was quickly naked and the warrior breathed in deeply at the lovely vision before her. She removed her sword and chakram but didn't bother to extricate her armour or any leatherwear as her hands shook uncontrollably in anticipation. Xena knelt on the bed and crushed the bard's lips with her own as her tongue demanded entrance into the warm opening. Her hands had a mind of their own as they ravished Gabrielle's pliant flesh provoking the bard's body to heave and thrash at the warrior's touch. Xena was again surprised at how much she had missed the joy of making love with her beloved bard.

The warrior's blood was completely immersed in the erotic craving that consumed her soul as she seized both of Gabrielle's wrists and pinned them high above her head. The bard struggled beneath her exciting Xena beyond all rational thought. Xena broke away from the fiery kiss.

"Gabrielle, don't bother struggling, you won't get away from me," her sultry voice hotly whispered in the bard's ear. Her tongue led a blistering trail down the side of Gabrielle's neck to her shoulder. Xena bit firmly on the tender flesh there.

"Xena!" Gabrielle gasped. "Please!" she panted as she arched her slippery mound against Xena's thigh. In a lightening quick move, Xena deftly switched Gabrielle's imprisoned wrists to one hand even as the bard continued her fruitless struggle against the power of the Warrior Princess. Xena's free hand paved the way down Gabrielle's body as the warrior's hungry mouth captured an erect nipple. She sucked hard on the little nub and grinned at the bard's ecstatic response. She released the little bud just as Gabrielle raised her body off the bed.

"You're going to be mine, little bard," Xena panted.

Xena adeptly moved back up Gabrielle's body to once again reclaim the exquisite mouth of her delirious lover. Her body moved rhythmically to her own warrior dance and her hand found its way between Gabrielle's wet centre. She plunged two fingers into the entrance of the burning cave as she emitted an animal growl into the bard's hot mouth. Gabrielle moaned loudly in response and thrust her pelvis at Xena giving her greater access into the soft pliant folds. Xena shifted her weight to gain better access to her captured prize as she aligned her drenched centre on Gabrielle's thigh. She smeared a wet spot on the soft flesh despite the barrier of her undergarments.

"Ahh, yes, Xena!" the younger woman moaned. "Please." Gabrielle could hardly get the words out as she again struggled to free her wrists from Xena's vice-like grip. It was useless.

Xena toyed with the sensitive nub between Gabrielle's legs driving the young woman to further excitement. Her mouth lightly nipped at the soft flesh of the bard's neck as the intense friction against Gabrielle's thigh produced an unbearable liquid heat.

"Please, Xena," Gabrielle pleaded. "I'm yours."

"Yes, Gabrielle, you're mine," Xena moaned. "All mine." She increased the tempo of her fingers in the bard's overflowing centre. The walls of the small cave gripped tightly around her as Xena explored the depths with wicked abandon. She wanted to possess Gabrielle as she penetrated steadily in a mirrored cadence to her own rising climax building a heat that both women knew would soon erupt into a volcanic explosion. Gabrielle arched her hips in response to the warrior's unwavering devotion until the ardent ministrations escalated into a furious pace. Faster and faster Xena's fingers moved in and out as the young woman's hips bucked wildly as she neared her imminent orgasm. Xena kept a matching rhythm of her own as she felt the fiery currents of warrior lust surge through her every nerve ending. She was unable to hold back the dam of fire any longer as her body was swept by scorching waves of passionate heat.

"Xena! I...." Gabrielle screamed beneath her as her words were cut off by her own orgasmic wave of ecstasy. Her back arched once last time and then she slowly relaxed down to the comfort of the bed. It was then that Xena finally released her wrists. The warrior slowly retracted her fingers from Gabrielle's wet centre and slumped her armoured and leatherclad form in a collapsed heap atop the smaller woman. Both women took in a few deep long breaths.

"All mine now," Xena breathed heavily into the bard's ear.

"Yes, Xena, my Warrior Princess," Gabrielle said endearingly. The mention of the title her army had bestowed upon her prompted a renewed onslaught of warrior lust in Xena. She hungrily sought out the bard's open mouth and then was unexpectedly flooded with scenes of her nightmares that once again revealed the shiny dagger from her warlord days. It taunted her as a reminder that her past would never escape her. She tried to clear the apparition from her head but the hot warrior blood coursed through her veins and the dagger became like a shining beacon of enticement.

"No!" she shouted and brusquely pulled herself off Gabrielle and stood at the side of the bed.

"What's the matter, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, perplexed by Xena's erratic behaviour.

"What am I doing?" the warrior exclaimed as she looked around the room in a daze. She cautiously backed away from the bed and buried her face in her hands.

"No, no, no," she moaned into her hands.

"Xena, it's okay. I'm fine," Gabrielle reassured her as she stood and tried to get Xena to sit on the bed.

Once again the vision of the gleaming dagger mocked Xena and she was unable to shake the unwanted image out of her head.

"Gabrielle, I can't," she wailed as she retrieved her weapons and headed for the door.

"Can't what?" the bard cried helplessly. "Xena, wait!" she screamed as the door slammed shut before her.


Gabrielle dragged herself to the bed after Xena left and cried for a long time. She lay on her side as the tears flowed out of her in utter frustration and confusion. Why did Xena flee? she wondered. The bard thought she had finally pierced the brooding armour of the Warrior Princess but she realised it had only served to push her further away. Gabrielle couldn't help but melt at the familiarity to the expression on Xena's face during their lovemaking. It was warrior lust. She recognized it as the same expression Xena carried in battle. She used to fear that look but now it was all she could do to suppress her needful longing for the warrior to overpower her. The passion scared her and yet her knees trembled at the thought of the power Xena wielded over her. She was more than willing to give herself up in total surrender to the Warrior Princess. It was what she had written in her poem earlier that night but she was sure Xena had not been listening. She wondered again what had frightened Xena so much. What inner demon tormented her so? Gabrielle didn't know but she got up off the bed determined to find out.


Gabrielle traced Xena's movements to the Wicked Wing. At first, it wasn't easy as the warrior had a good head start on her but she asked everyone in sight if they saw Xena. A distraught Warrior Princess was something people remembered. Eventually, she discovered the hideaway tavern. It wasn't very crowded. Gabrielle approached the counter and waited for the barkeep hoping to get information on Xena's whereabouts.

"Hey, little girl, you don't look like no warrior," said a leather clad man behind Gabrielle who breathed ale into her hair. He stood very close to her and unsteadily tried to hold his balance.

Gabrielle turned around and giggled nervously, "Ah, no I'm looking for my friend. She's a warrior. Maybe you heard of her. Xena?"

"Xena? You don't want to mess around with Xena, do you? I heard she's pretty mean," the man slurred his words. "Besides, she just went around back with Isiphae----." the man's words were cut off as another warrior interrupted their conversation.

"Hey! Gradicus, leave the young lady alone. You never know, she might be one of Xena's friends," a man said from behind Gabrielle, "and Xena wouldn't be happy if you tried anything out of line," he cautioned. Gabrielle twisted her neck quickly grateful that there might be someone who could tell her where Xena was.

"Hi, there, have you seen Xena?" she asked in her best cheerful tone. She discreetly moved away from the drunken warrior as the man staggered away.

"Hi, I'm Ambreus. I did see Xena but she's gone now. You just missed her."

"Really? Do you think she's coming back? I mean, she was supposed to meet me here. Do you know where she went?" Gabrielle lied and hoped that he could give her more information.

"Maybe you mixed up the days or something, but I'm telling you she left. What's your name? If she comes back, I could tell her you were here," Ambreus offered.

"Ah, that's okay. I'll come back tomorrow. Maybe it was supposed to be tomorrow, " the bard said apprehensively as she suddenly realised that Xena would really be angry with her if she knew Gabrielle had followed her. As well, she feared Xena might be back at the inn by now.

"Thanks for your help," she said as she waved to Ambreus and hurried out the door. She ran all the way back to the inn, more afraid of Xena's wrath than any of the warlords that frequented the tavern she'd just come from.

When Gabrielle left, Ambreus shook his head at the barkeep as he appeared from the back room.

"Do you believe it? A little girl like her following the Warrior Princess around like that. Good thing Isi and Xena are long gone," he said with relief.

"Well, you know how Xena is, keeps one in every stable."

Both men laughed heartily.


Gabrielle got back to the room and tried to catch her breath. She was relieved that Xena wasn't back yet but she worried where she had gone to in her distressed condition. She changed into her sleeping clothes and wet her flushed face to calm her nerves. The idea of Xena going to the warlords tavern gnawed at the back of her mind. She got the distinct impression that Xena had been there but the man didn't want to tell her. And who in Hades was Isiphae? she wondered. Is that who she's been going to see every night? Gabrielle pushed that thought from her mind because she didn't want to think of Xena being with another woman behind her back. No, she admonished herself. Xena would never do that. Never.

She silently cursed the Horde. Ever since they ran into the Horde, everything changed. Xena became withdrawn and sullen. She was more edgy and even downright jittery. Gabrielle had never seen her like that before. She supposed it was a form of warrior lust but Xena wouldn't talk about it and the bard had no way of knowing what thoughts were bouncing around inside Xena's head. She wondered how horrible they could be that Xena would not share them with her. It didn't matter to her, though. She would take all of Xena. The good and the bad.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and hoped that Morpheus would come swiftly so she wouldn't have to think about Xena anymore.

Chapter Five

Gabrielle woke up as the sun peeked over the horizon. She was disappointed to see that Xena had not come back to the room all night. She supposed she had stayed with Isiphae all night, the first time she had done that since they arrived in Athens, but she was very disappointed about that possibility. She unrolled the parchment on which she had written the poem to Xena and reread it. She wished that Xena was there so she could read it to her and let her know how she felt. Suddenly, she was pierced with a stabbing fear that Xena had left Athens without her. She quickly dressed as she realised there was only one sure way to find out. She raced out to the stables behind the inn to see if Argo was in her assigned stall. To her utter relief, she was. She approached the tan horse and stroked her mane, thanking Argo and all the gods and goddesses that Xena had not left her.

She walked back to the tavern and started up the stairs when she heard her name.

"Gabrielle!" Leica called as she waved her hand. "Join me for breakfast."

Gabrielle smiled at the friendly warrior. She knew Xena didn't like the woman but Leica seemed nice enough. The blonde warrior listened intently to all her stories and during the week they had discussed many of the bardic tales she knew. Leica knew quite a few herself and it felt good for Gabrielle to swap stories with another person.

"Gabrielle, are you going to be all right?" Leica's face was full of concern as she patted the bard's arm.

The bard laughed nervously as she casually removed her arm from beneath Leica's hand, "What do you mean?"

"The warrior woman, is she treating you okay?"

"Xena? Oh she's fine, she just gets a little....excited, that's all." Gabrielle said offhandedly as she tried to keep a worrisome look off her face. She wasn't sure if she succeeded but she definitely didn't want to talk to this woman about her troubles with Xena.

Leica lowered her voice. "Well, you know, if you'd like to get away from her, even just for a few days, I could help you."

"No, really, there's nothing to worry about, Xena's fine. She's my friend."

"If you say so, but remember, if you need me, I'll be here."

Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, Leica had just spotted the Warrior Princess entering the inn. Over the bard's shoulder, the two women locked eyes. The blonde warrior purposely placed her hand over Gabrielle's and gave her a comforting smile. Then Xena was swiftly at their table, and without warning, the strong warrior's hand reached out and lifted up the blonde woman from the table and rammed her against the nearest wall. Xena had her pinned against the wooden facing and nearly choked off the air supply at her throat. Her ice blue eyes were full of murderous intent.

"You touch my friend one more time and you're dead," Xena threatened menacingly.

"Xena! No!" Gabrielle screamed behind her.

"Why? Did you mark her?" Leica coughed and gasped for air but she still managed to sputter a taunt at Xena.

"What are you talking about?"

Nestra and Brissea made their way through the gathering crowd. "Xena, put her down!" yelled Nestra as she lunged at Xena with her sword. Xena easily disarmed her with a solid kick to her wrist as the steel blade clanked hard on the floor. She elbowed the stunned woman at her chest sending the warrior sprawling to the floor. During the swift encounter, her other hand never left Leica's throat.

Brissea ran to her lover's side and screamed at Leica across the room. "We told you not to do this, she'll kill you!"

Leica ignored her, "You don't deserve her, Xena, did you tell her about Isiphae yet?"

Gabrielle's eyes widened at the mention of the woman she had first heard about the night before.

Xena could control her rage no longer and landed a vicious blow to Leica's stomach as the blonde woman slumped unconscious to the floor.

"What'd you do that for?!" Gabrielle yelled.

"Somebody should teach her some manners, she's got a foul mouth," she answered calmly. Xena watched helplessly as Gabrielle tended to the fallen woman. Blood seeped out of her mouth from the savage blow she took. Unable to watch the bard's gentle ministrations on the injured woman any longer, Xena stormed out the door to the stables. She rode Argo through the streets of Athens and out of the city gates.


As soon as Xena cleared the city gates, she rode Argo full out against the wind at a furious pace. She couldn't believe how crazy and erratic she was behaving. She tried to clear her mind of the demons chasing her and fruitlessly thought that if she rode far and fast enough, they wouldn't be able to catch her. The strong mare obeyed her mistress but soon tired under the duress and Xena sensibly slowed her down. She led Argo to a small stream and listened to the trickling water that soon calmed her nerves.

She sat by a tree for a long time thinking about her last encounter with Isiphae the night before.

"You love her very much, don't you?" Isi had asked in the stilled darkness of the night.

"Yeah, I do," Xena had confessed. "I love her, but I can never really have her."

"Why? I thought you two have been together for a while now?" Isiphae had asked dumbfounded.

"Yes, but she's so innocent. I could never tell her about you, about my past, my real past," Xena had said sadly. "I took her, Isi, I couldn't help myself," the warrior had quietly confessed.

"Did she fight you?"

Xena thought for a long moment. "No, not really. But I can't help but feel she was just doing it to please me so I wouldn't leave her. I'm not sure she really wanted it."

"Is she in love with you?"

"She says she is, but I don't know." After all they'd been through, Xena still wasn't sure if Gabrielle was stricken with an immature kind of hero worship. She tottered quite often at the top of the pedestal the young woman propped her up on.

"Xena, you have to go to her, you have to tell her the truth. You can't go on like this. How much longer do you think she'll wait? You should be talking to her, not me."

"I don't know if she can accept that part of me. I scare her a lot of times as it is," Xena had answered, still not convinced that she should tell Gabrielle everything.

"Well maybe she likes the danger, Xena. Did you ever think of that? I left my home because your dangerousness excited me," she laughed for a minute. "It still does."

Xena had momentarily grinned at her friend, flattered that Isi should still want her after all these years. However, both women knew it wouldn't be possible as long as Xena was with Gabrielle.

Isi continued. "You're not being fair, Xena. Shouldn't she be making up her own mind for herself? Aren't you making it up for her by not telling her everything? You've already decided she wouldn't want to know you, but she stays with you anyway. How long have you two been together?"

"Two winters," Xena had quietly answered.

"And all in that time, has she ever seen you at your worst? I know you, Xena, there's no way you could hide that forever. Has she?"

"Yes," was all Xena had said as she painfully remembered her behaviour towards Gabrielle when they fought the Horde. As well, she flashed back to the time when Gabrielle whacked her with a pitchfork to stop her from slaying every living soul in a small village. Another time, she had struck the bard's cheek in a pique of rage. Those had been the worse times, Xena thought, and despite it all, Gabrielle still stayed with her.

"Xena, you owe her. You owe her the truth, the whole truth," Isiphae had concluded.

Isi's words echoed in the air as Xena remembered how they talked all night until the sun rose and then she bid farewell to her good friend. She returned to the inn with the purpose of confessing the dark secrets of her past to Gabrielle but the sight of the blonde warrior flirting again with the bard cast all those notions aside. Her jealous rage spilled over and consumed her before she could get a grip on the situation. She feared she was losing her sanity.

Xena rose to her feet and mounted Argo with a renewed determination to bare her tortured soul to the most wonderful person in her wretched life. She only hoped Gabrielle would not be too unnerved by her confessions.

Chapter Six

Xena approached the inn with much trepidation. As she entered the common room, she shook her head at the memory of the tumultuous scene she had caused only a short time ago. Although a few patrons cast her a sideways glance, everyone seemed to act as if nothing was amiss and went about their business of heartily dining on the mid-day meal. Xena searched the noisy room for Gabrielle or any of the warrior women but none of them were in sight.

She took the stairs two at a time as she anxiously reached the door to their quarters. She opened the door to an empty room and noted with distress that Gabrielle's staff and saddlebag were missing. A lone piece of rolled up parchment sat in the middle of the bed signalling foreboding danger to the transfixed warrior. Her heart stopped as she dreaded reading the contents inside. She was sure she knew the message. Gabrielle had left her. Xena sat on the edge of the bed and cried, the past few weeks of frustration and torment wracked her body with heaving sobs. Finally, when there were no more tears to shed, she reached for the parchment piece.

Xena unfurled the scroll. It was one of the bard's poems. She heaved a sigh of relief. She absently scanned the title, "Down to the Darkness", not paying close attention to the words because she was expecting to read a farewell letter. Is this it? she wondered to herself, exasperated that Gabrielle had not left a real note as to her whereabouts. Xena decided to go downstairs to find out where the young woman had disappeared.


Xena found herself back in the room she shared with Gabrielle. She had spent the entire evening searching all over Athens for the bard but to no avail. No one seem to know the three warrior women and in a busy city like Athens, no one paid much attention to where they came from or where they went. She'd extracted as much information out of the barkeep short of crushing his vocal chords but he knew almost nothing. The only message Gabrielle gave him was that she would be back in a short while. Xena had waited until nightfall and then began her search for the woman that meant so much to her.

She discovered that the warrior women had not taken a room above the tavern even though they faithfully visited the common room every single night that Gabrielle performed. Xena chastised herself yet again for ignoring her beloved bard, feeling guilty that perhaps her behaviour in recent weeks had practically thrown Gabrielle into the arms of another woman.

Xena lay back on the bed in resigned hopelessness. What if Gabrielle didn't want to be found? she pondered. What if she had finally pushed the younger woman to her limits? What if Gabrielle thought she was having a torrid affair with her former lover, Isiphae, and that suspicion had given Gabrielle the impetus to leave her. She turned over restlessly at that tortured thought. She made a promise to herself that she would find Gabrielle no matter what and plead with her to stay.

Unable to sleep, Xena reached for the rolled up parchment and read Gabrielle's poem for the first time. She read it again not quite sure that she believed what she was reading. This was the poem Gabrielle had read to her the night before and Xena had not been listening so distracted was she by her jealousy of Leica. Her heart swelled with new-found love as she realised for the first time that Gabrielle understood her longings and wanted to be a part of them. She chided herself for vastly understating the bard's youthful wisdom. Of course, Isi had been right. Gabrielle was attracted to her dangerous side and extremely devoted to her. For a warrior that could be so smart in battle, Xena wondered how could she be so stupid in love.

Suddenly, she remembered the odd admonishment the second warrior had given Leica when Xena had her pasted against the wall. The woman had yelled "we told you not to do this, she'll kill you!" The warrior contemplated what the words meant, then concluded that Xena had been the bait and Gabrielle had fallen into Leica's trap. Xena breathed in a deep sigh of relief. Now she knew what she must do. At first light, she would track down Leica and her warrior friends to the ends of the Known World and reclaim her beloved bard.

Chapter Seven

Gabrielle pretended to sleep. She pondered her predicament and planned her means for escape. She had only intended to escort Leica to her home and stay a short while, until the injured woman was in the care of her love ones or could care for herself, but it seemed the blonde warrior had other plans. Gabrielle had the distinct feeling that the warrior had been faking the extent of her injuries and used it as a ruse to get the bard to the secluded cave. She was certain it would be difficult for Xena to find her even though they weren't that far outside Athens city gates but she had left word that she would be back in a little while. That "little while" had turned into their meandering journey to the secluded cave. Would Xena know to follow her here? Gabrielle was certain that Xena would be sick with worry by now. Her only comfort was that she had learned to never underestimate Xena's determination to find her, notwithstanding the warrior's strange behaviour in recent weeks.

Leica slept on the other side of the campfire and the two warrior women guarded the entrance of the cave. Gabrielle was sure to be closely followed if she answered nature's call to the woods. Even so, she didn't want to be travelling in the dark by herself even if she somehow managed to outsmart or overtake all three warrior women. Xena, she was not. However, her best asset, her ability to talk her way out of any situation, had not worked. Several times she had tried to convince Leica that it was time for her to go back to Athens, but the blonde warrior would not be swayed. She repeatedly pointed to her injury as the reason she needed Gabrielle to remain with her and when that tired excuse didn't work, she had no shame in using her warrior friends as thinly disguised threats for compliance.

Gabrielle went over in her mind all that had happened since they left Athens. At first, she thought Xena was acting like a green headed jealous fool when Leica had merely patted her hand reassuringly, but as events unfolded, the bard was convinced that she had been set up. In all the commotion, Gabrielle remembered when Brissea had screamed, "we told you not to do this, she'll kill you!" To the bard, it could only mean that the three women had discussed the situation beforehand and instigated a fight with the volatile warrior. At the time, Gabrielle had heard but had not listened to those words of warning. She was distracted by her annoyance with Xena's bizarre behaviour and had been easily lured into the injured victim routine. She knew Leica had been wounded by Xena but not enough to warrant her own personal healer day and night. She berated herself for being so gullible as to fall into such a stupid trap.

The bard had adminstered to the injured woman, who bled out of her mouth from the brutal blow to her abdomen. When the blonde warrior had regained consciousness, she had pleaded with Gabrielle to take her home even though her warrior friends were right there. She said she needed Gabrielle and the young woman's heart softened at her pitiful cries. She had quickly run to the barkeep and asked him to tell Xena she would be back in a little while. She chided herself for being so impulsive and had not given the barkeep a more detailed message but at the time she honestly didn't believe she would be gone for so long.

Think, Gabrielle, think, she scolded herself. How was she going to escape? She had patiently acquiesced to Leica's pleas to stay with her against her better judgement. She knew Xena would be furious with her for making her worry so much but she had thought Leica desperately needed her. However, by the end of the evening, she realised she was being played for a fool. Leica didn't need her but it was clear she wasn't going to let Gabrielle go. Her warrior friends menacingly toyed with their swords whenever the bard brought the subject up and as well, all three of them never left her sight.

Then Leica began to drop snide comments about Xena and Gabrielle was sure her intent was to turn the bard against her warrior friend. Gabrielle knew that could never happen but she listened anyway and defended Xena whenever she could.

Finally, Leica brought up Isiphae when all else failed. Gabrielle inwardly cringed at the mention of the mysterious woman. The blonde warrior told her that Isiphae was Xena's former lover from her warlord days and that her night-time excursions were spent visiting the woman at the Wicked Wing. She didn't tell you? Leica had asked in feigned surprise. Gabrielle had pretended as if she did but the shakiness in her voice betrayed her naivet´┐Ż. Then Leica asked a curious thing. She asked Gabrielle if Xena had marked her. Well, you are her lover, aren't you? Leica had asked derisively. The bard was stunned by the revelation as Leica had pointed out an area above Gabrielle's breast where she said Xena was known to seal her love. Leica had laughed at Gabrielle's shocked look and snorted, Ask Isiphae if you don't believe me. Better yet, ask Xena. Gabrielle intended to do just that as her hand wandered unconsciously to the spot above her breast. If that was supposed to be the final weapon Leica wielded over Gabrielle to prompt the bard to desert Xena, it had not worked. Leica would have to kill either Xena or Gabrielle to separate them. On the other hand, even Death had not split them up for long, she smiled to herself. Xena had come back to her.

Xena, I miss you, Gabrielle silently cried to herself. None of last few weeks mattered as she thought of her complicated problems with Xena. Her brow furrowed with worry as she again wondered if Xena stayed with Isiphae the night before she left and what it meant. She shook that thought from her mind as she was confident that everything could be worked out if only Xena would talk to her. A sudden stabbing fear assaulted her as she hoped it wasn't too late. It crossed her mind that maybe Xena thought she was leaving her for Leica. She was brought out of her overworked imagination by the whispered conversation of Nestra and Brissea. They talked about how much longer they would be able to stay hidden from Xena. Gabrielle's ears perked up at the mention of Xena's name.

"Xena's gonna be here any day now, I can feel it," Brissea said. She sounded extremely agitated.

"I know, but what can we do? We can't just leave Leica alone."

"We should, Nestra. She's the one who got us into this mess. We told her, you think Xena's bad on a good day, she gets downright insane when it comes to her women."

"Leica thinks we're safe here. She hopes Xena thinks the brat left her when we hid her staff and saddlebag," Nestra said hopefully. "I'm worried, though, that won't hold Xena for long. She knows a lot of people." she added.

"Goddess, I wish we never agreed to do this. I don't know why she just couldn't leave well enough alone. Callisto was a good fighter and all, but Xena killed her anyway. I don't know what makes her think she can defeat her."

"Leica was in love with Callisto. That's all the rationale she needs."

"Yeah, well, Xena will kill us all, she won't care that this whole thing was Leica's idea," Brissea said gloomily.

Nestra put her arms around her worried lover's shoulders. "Yeah, I know. Let's just hope we can talk some sense into Leica and get out of here before Xena gets here."

Those words hung in the air as Gabrielle turned over in her bedroll. Callisto, Gabrielle thought. Damnit to Hades, would that woman ever leave her be? She didn't exactly have a plan, but somehow she would find her way back to Xena.

Xena was awake well before first light. She dressed quickly as she wanted to get an early start in her search for Gabrielle. She securely tucked Gabrielle's poem into her leather greave as a gentle reminder of the bard's love for her. She had slept with the scroll grasped tightly in her hand and did not want to part with the parchment that connected her heart to Gabrielle's.

Xena bounded down the steps that led to the common room and was immediately stopped by the barkeep. He had a message for her and handed Gabrielle's staff and saddlebag to her. Xena hurriedly opened the folded parchment. It was from Isiphae telling Xena that Leica had Gabrielle and gave instructions to a secluded cave outside the city gates that she supposed they would have gone. "p.s." the note read, "Leica was in love with Callisto".

Xena raced out the door to get Argo.


"AYIYIYIYIYIYI!!!"

Xena's fierce battle cry reverberated against the stone walls of the cave. A few swift blows and grunts followed soon after and Leica knew that Xena had efficiently dispatched of the two warrior guards. Leica quickly clambered to her feet, snatched up her sword from the ground and stood behind Gabrielle. The bard was a little groggy with sleep and slow to get her bearings in the early morning light. However, at the sound of Xena's voice, she promptly leaped to her feet.

"Get away from her," Xena warned Leica as she stood at the mouth of the cave effectively blocking the exit. The blonde warrior knew she was trapped in the cave and that Xena's beloved bard was the her only means of escape.

"Well, well, well. The Warrior Princess makes her grand entrance." Leica hid her considerable fear behind a cascade of dripping sarcasm. "Move away from the entrance, Xena, or you'll see the point of my sword sticking out of her chest," Leica threatened. She punctuated her words with a deliberate jab at Gabrielle's back.

Out of the corner of her eye, Leica saw Nestra discreetly entering the cave with her sword held high. Unfortunately for Nestra, Xena didn't need the same view as Leica, she heard the warrior's cautious steps, thanks to her preternatural hearing ability. Just as Nestra moved close enough to strike, Xena blocked her blow with a well placed elbow to her forearm that was swiftly followed by a timely kick to Nestra's abdomen. The near simultaneously blows forced the warrior to drop her weapon as she doubled over and clutched her stomach. All throughout, Xena kept her eyes trained on Leica and one hand on her sword. Unexpectantly, Brissea came charging through the cave to rescue her fallen lover. Xena merely stuck up her fist and allowed the enraged warrior to slam into it knocking herself out.

Leica used the tiny distraction to knock Gabrielle out of her way. The bard was shoved headlong into the wall of the cave. She banged her head hard and slumped to the ground unconscious. Xena watched in horror and was torn between running to Gabrielle's side and slicing open Leica's gut.

The blonde warrior circled around so that her back was closer to the cave's exit, however, she knew that Xena would easily catch her and slice her through if she tried to make a run for it. She had hoped that the bard's injury would have been enough for her to make her escape, but that plan clearly failed. She used the next best thing, her razor sharp tongue.

"I see why you didn't tell the little brat about Isiphae. She's so innocent and naive," Leica watched carefully for an opening to attack. As she talked, she imperceptibly reached behind her back to grasp the handle of her concealed dagger. She continued her verbal assault.

"She tastes so sweet, too. We all took turns. She struggled and screamed but we ignored her. Just like you do," she sneered.

"She's lying!" Nestra shouted. She tended to Brissea who was still unconscious on the ground. "We didn't touch her!"

"Xe... Xena?" Gabrielle called as the young woman began to regain consciousness. Xena cast a quick glance at her lover grateful that she was not more seriously injured.

Leica started to panic as she realised the Warrior Princess showed no outward sign of being effected by her words. Instead, Xena threw back an insult with equal venom.

"You know, Leica, if Callisto hadn't been so stupid, I probably would have let her live," Xena taunted.

At the mention of Callisto's name, Leica lost it. She hurled the dagger at the Warrior Princess and ran for her life out of the cave. Xena caught the blade in mid-air as it whooshed past her ear. She tossed it to the ground and raced after the fleeing warrior. Xena caught sight of the retreating woman or who was several paces away from her getaway horse. With another loud battle cry, Xena launched herself into the air and somersaulted over the flabbergasted warrior. She landed directly in front of the awed woman and in one swift motion plunged her sword through the blonde warrior's abdomen. Her face contorted in a satisfied grimace as she twisted the sword for good measure. Xena dashed back to the cave to get Gabrielle.

Inside the cave, Brissea had regained consciousness as she and Nestra cowered against the wall. Xena ominously approached.

"Xena! No!" Gabrielle cried out. She got to her feet and moved closer to the Warrior Princess.

Xena ignored her.

"I swear, we didn't touch her! She's lying!" Nestra exclaimed desperately. Brissea stared wide-eyed at the sight of Xena's massive sword pointed at her and Nestra. She held on to her lover for dear life.

"Xena, let them go. They didn't do anything!" Gabrielle pleaded.

"They raped you and they're not going to get away with it," Xena said, her voice low with seething rage as her eyes lidded over in unadulterated hatred.

"No we didn't! We swear by the Gods, we didn't touch her!" Nestra and Brissea both screamed in panic.

"Xena, listen to me! They didn't touch me!" Gabrielle hollered. She was afraid to get too close to the warrior because she might angrily lash out at her in her enraged state of mind.

Finally, Xena turned around as the truth in Gabrielle's words found a place in her heart.

"They didn't hurt you?" Xena asked dazedly. Gabrielle took in a deep breath.

"No. They didn't. Now put down the sword and let them go," Gabrielle said with more calm than she felt. "I'm fine. Really."

Xena turned to the cringing warriors and said, "You're lucky I'm in a good mood today." She motioned with her sword at the exit. "Now get out of my sight."

The women were momentarily stunned by their good fortune and sat unmoving.

"GO!" Gabrielle shouted. Finally, the warriors staggered to their feet and fled out of the cave at lightening speed.

Xena sheathed her sword and turned to her beloved bard.

"Are you okay, Gabrielle?" she asked and pulled the bard close to her in a tight embrace. She gingerly touched the growing bump on her forehead. "Please don't ever leave me like that again," she said as she scooped the smaller woman up into her arms and kissed her passionately on the lips.

"Xena, I love you so much," Gabrielle said breathlessly as Xena carried her out of the cave.

Chapter Eight

The journey back to Athens was quiet and uneventful as both women knew they would soon have much to discuss. Xena held on to Gabrielle's arms that fastened securely around her waist as they shared the saddle on Argo's back. She enjoyed the comfort of being Gabrielle's protector and was grateful that no harm had come to her cherished lover. She promised herself that never again would she allow her past to come between the mutual love she shared with Gabrielle. Once they got back to Athens, she would reveal her deep dark secrets that tortured her rejuvenated soul.

Xena and Gabrielle arrived in Athens shortly before nightfall and had taken in the evening meal and a hot bath. They each bathed separately as the tension in the room could have been easily sliced with a dull sword. Finally, they both lay in bed in their sleeping tunics as each didn't know where they would start the awkward conversation.

Gabrielle spoke first.

"So who's Isiphae?" she asked as she propped herself up on her elbow and stared directly into Xena's crystal blue eyes. Xena had been dreading the question and started to ask Gabrielle how much Leica had told her about her former lover then decided against it. Now was not the time for any more secrets. She had to tell Gabrielle the truth. All of it. She stared at the ceiling unable to meet the bard's gaze.

"I'll have to start at the beginning," Xena started.

"I'm listening," Gabrielle urged.

Xena was quiet for a few minutes searching for the best place to begin.

"When we met the Horde, I took over the Athenian army with ease. I'm ashamed to say it, but I loved it. You saw how I acted. I was consumed with the power. After we left, that feeling didn't leave me and it invaded dormant parts of my soul that I thought were under control. Those parts bubbled to the surface and controlling them was all I thought about every waking hour."

"Warrior lust," Gabrielle simply stated.

"Yes," Xena said as she turned to face the bard for the first time. "That's why I was afraid to make love with you. I was afraid I would hurt you," her voice cracked as she again remembered her nightmare of slicing Gabrielle with her blade. She swallowed hard and took in a deep breath to regain her composure. She gazed back at the ceiling and continued her story. "I've known Isiphae for a long time. I first met her in a small village where she worked at her father's inn. She was a serving girl and I seduced her and then she ran away with me and my army. She was hardly what you would call innocent and she was intrigued by my adventurous life. I taught her the sword and many other fighting skills and she was fearless in battle. We were inseparable and she....," Xena hesitated in her reverie. "She succumbed to my warrior lust that always surfaced after heated battles. Sometimes it got kind of wild and rough......" Xena paused again, momentarily lost in the passionate memories. "Anyway, we were together for four years and then she tired of the endless roaming. She wanted to remain in one place. I couldn't do that so she left and settled in Athens. She runs a lucrative business here and before I met you I used to visit her whenever the warrior lust got to be too much. This is the first time I've seen her in three years, since before I met you."

"Did you....and her.....?" Gabrielle left the question hanging in the air. She didn't really want to know the answer but she desperately needed to know the truth.

"No!" Xena turned to face her. "Oh, no! Gabrielle. I would never hurt you that way. Ever!" She reached for the bard's hand and raised it to her lips for a gentle kiss. "I just needed to talk to her. I'm sorry I couldn't talk to you about it but the nightmares were ghastly. They were all about you."

"Me?"

"Yes, they were about me getting out of control and hurting you. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you and I regret that now, but I knew for sure Isi understood me and I needed someone to talk to." Xena saw the hurt in Gabrielle's eyes that she had wanted to be the one Xena could talk to. She said, "Gabrielle, I'm sorry, really. I wasn't really thinking clearly. You know, Isi kept telling me to talk to you. She said you would understand but I couldn't bring myself to believe it."

"Well, believe it, you big dumb warrior," Gabrielle teased and smoothed Xena's hair away from her face. Then she got serious and hesitated to ask a question. "Is it true about the marks?"

Xena closed her eyes and sighed. "Yes. Isi has a mark from me on her breast. During my warlord days, I was obsessed with power and possession. She was my possession and I marked her as such, but that was then, Gabrielle."

"Did you do it with all your lovers?" Gabrielle was fascinated in a morbid kind of way.

"Only my special ones," Xena answered.

"Men or women?"

"Both."

"What was it? I mean, what did it look like?"

"It was a simple 'X'." Xena was uncomfortable and wanted to change the subject. "Gabrielle, look, that was a long time ago. I'm a different person now."

"Yes, I know," Gabrielle said as she leaned her head against Xena's shoulder as the warrior hugged her tightly. Xena was relieved that the bard was still with her and had not run screaming from the room. She chuckled at herself for having such an inane fear. Nevertheless, she was still mystified as to how she deserved to have such an understanding soul in her life.

"Gabrielle, I love you more than anything," Xena said. She wrapped her muscular arms around Gabrielle and held her tightly. They laid quietly in the warm embrace for a few moments.

"You know, Xena, about your warrior lust....." the bard said, "it doesn't scare me." She leaned up to look again into the warrior's eyes and got lost in the pools of azure blue. "Well, maybe a little," she grinned.

"I know. I read your poem," Xena admitted as she entwined her fingers through her beloved's golden-red hair.

"You did?" Gabrielle averted her eyes as she was unable to meet Xena's entrancing gaze. She swallowed hard and knew that she was blushing profusely. "Xena, I-----," her words were cut off by the warrior's mouth enveloping hers. The older woman pushed Gabrielle back on the bed as the bard whimpered beneath her. Xena's lips continued its oral assault and her tongue found its way inside Gabrielle hot mouth as her hands roamed freely along the younger woman's body. She searched desperately for any exposed flesh. Xena sat up and straddled Gabrielle's waist. She was out of breath as she gazed down at her cherished lover.

"Take this off," she commanded as she pulled the sleeping tunic off Gabrielle and removed her own. She pressed her full body atop the smaller woman's as the soft flesh of Gabrielle's body drove Xena to begin a new foray of passionate kisses. She swept her mouth along the hollow of the bard's neck and sucked lightly on the delicate flesh. She felt Gabrielle's hands massage her buttocks as her wet centre automatically slid rhythmically against the bard's thigh. She nibbled at Gabrielle's earlobe and breathed, "You're mine, Gabrielle."

"Yes, Xena. Yours," Gabrielle whispered. Her breathing was erratic as she could not hold back her desires any longer. "Please, Xena, let me please you. It's been so long," she whimpered. She motioned for Xena to position herself above her as the bard sighed in utter delight.

"Let's see how many other oral skills you have, my little bard." Xena smiled as she guided Gabrielle's mouth to her flaming centre. The bard wrapped her arms around the warrior's powerful thighs desperate to taste the evidence of her passion. The juices soaked through the dark triangle and Gabrielle deeply inhaled the musky fragrance. She moaned heavily into the hot opening craning her neck to slide her tongue deeper inside the slippery crevice. She lapped greedily at the liquidy overflow using her tongue as a merciless weapon wanting and needing to show the Warrior Princess her exquisite oral skills. She smiled to herself as Xena began to move her hips in cadence to her unwavering attentions. She deftly captured Xena's engorged bud and greedily sucked on it. The warrior gripped the wooden frame of the bed with one hand and nudged the bard's face closer to her need with the other. Xena's body rocked to and fro as the bard heard the warrior groan above her. Gabrielle continued her lavish tongue massage and sucked firmly on the bud as she knew Xena was close to the edge of her climax. Finally the warrior squeezed her thighs and a loud moan escaped her lips. Gabrielle was proud that she had pleased her Warrior Princess and sent her over the edge.

Xena took a few moments to catch her breath and then moved herself down to take Gabrielle's mouth once again. She tasted herself on her lover's lips and was delighted by Gabrielle's ravenous response.

"It's been so long," Xena moaned. She stroked the bard's cheek and then licked a blazing trail down Gabrielle's skin to the cleavage between the younger woman's breasts. Her hands began a slow sensuous dance as she scooped the precious mounds of flesh to her mouth. Her lips tugged gently on an erect nub as she tormented Gabrielle with the small flames that her tongue ignited. The bard's hand tangled itself in Xena's raven hair as she arched her hips at Xena's waist urging the warrior to explore further.

"Xena, I can't wait. Please," Gabrielle pleaded.

"Hmm....yes you can," Xena teased as she resumed sucking on the sensitive nipples. Eventually, her tongue swirled a haphazard pattern along the bard's taut abdominal muscles and Xena closed in on the auburn triangle that covered her beloved's hidden treasures. She licked at the tender thighs that surrounded her face and buried her tongue into the bard's steaming centre. Gabrielle moaned loudly as Xena's mouth made contact and her hips rose up to meet the lingual onslaught. Xena's mouth lapped hungrily at the overflowing juices that Gabrielle had been suppressing for weeks. She watched as the bard's stomach rolled in heaving gasps. The spector entranced her as she quickened her tongue's pace and urged Gabrielle on to greater heights of sheer ecstasy. Finally, they reached the pinnacle that pushed the bard to go tumbling over the edge.

"Xena!" Gabrielle screamed as the rocking wave of orgasm overtook her.

For nearly an hour, Xena and Gabrielle lay peacefully in each other's arms as they quietly enjoyed the afterglow of their lovemaking.

Gabrielle broke the silence. "I wrote another poem for you," she said.

"Really?" Xena was flattered at the honour. Gabrielle got up to retrieve the scroll, sat down on the bed and began reading.

"on the first day in August
i want to wake up by your side
after sleeping with you
on the last night in July
in the morning
we'll catch the sun rising
and we'll chase it from the mountains
to the bottom of the sea
when the day is over
and the night air comes to chill us
you'll build a fire
and we'll watch the flames dancing
you'll fall asleep
with your arm around my shoulder
and nothing will come between us
on the first night in August
the first day in August"


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