Disclaimer: The majority of the characters in this story belong to MCA/Universal. I have only borrowed them to write this story. No infringement was intended.
Warning: This story contains a romantic and eventually SEXUAL relationship between two women. If this offend you or if you aren't yet 18, then I would recommend you don't read any further. This is your basic plotless sex story, so you have been warned! There isn't much violence or bloodshed, so there are no worries about that. Comments are welcome, provided they are constructive and not hurtful.
THIS STORY CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS EPISODE "THE FURIES".
The Heart's Furies
by Lisa S
Gabrielle couldn't help but look at her friend's magnificent body, uncovered now in all its glory, the fire playing off the smooth contours of her skin. Shaking off her desire to continue to stare, Gabrielle tried to focus on what the naked warrior was saying. "I'm here to avenge your heinous crimes. I've come to take retribution!"
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered. Looking at the faces illuminated by the torch in Xena's hand she could see the fear the villagers felt. Slowly, she made her way to where the warrior stood, not wanting to startle her.
"I've come to take retribution in flames!"
Softly, the younger tried to understand exactly what was going on in her friend's head. "What are you doing?"
Without looking at Gabrielle, she answered the question in a firm voice. "Delivering the wrath of justice. These people are evil incarnate, they must burn!"
"Xena, what have they done?" She didn't understand the warrior's reasoning, but she did know that Xena wasn't seeing what was really in front of her.
Indignantly, Xena sputtered. "What have they done?? Can't you see?" She looked out into the dark night, starring at something that only she could see. "The women and children! They've crucified the women and children!"
Gently shaking Xena's arm, Gabrielle tried to get the warrior to focus on her, as though Xena could use her as a rock in this storm of madness. "Xena! Xena, the only people here are women and children." Once again taking a look at the people around her, she tried a different approach. "Xena, they're afraid of you."
Xena's shoulders fell as she started to comprehend what she was doing there. It had all been so clear minutes before, but now, there was only a haze in her mind. Whimpering, she desperately tried to keep a grasp on reality.
"Xena, give me the torch." Gabrielle's voice came from beside her. Something familiar, something close to her heart -- Gabrielle.
"I'm in trouble aren't I Gabrielle?" Frightened, she tried to speak calmly.
In a firm voice, Gabrielle answered with a shake of her head. "No. We'll get through this." Seeing a blanket nearby, the bard grabbed it. Carefully, she covered her shamed friend, feeling the sorrow at such a blow to the warrior's pride. "Xena, we have to go to the temple of the Furies."
Confused, Xena mumbled. "The Furies?" Then, she caught the eye of a small boy looking at her with wide, frightened eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered to him, a tremor in her voice as she realized what she had done.
With her arms around her best friend, Gabrielle led the mumbling warrior back to their campsite.
"Xena?" Gabrielle put her hands up to Xena's face, trying to get her attention. "Xena? You sit here on the log while I get your bedroll ready, okay?" Uncertain if the tall woman heard her, she backed away slowly, breathing a sigh when she saw that the warrior didn't attempt to move from her seat in front of the fire. Quickly, she gathered both their bedrolls, and laid them together. Going to Xena, she put her hand on the older woman's shoulder. The look that the other woman gave her nearly broke her heart. Confusion had set in and for a minute, she wasn't sure if Xena even recognized her.
"Yup, Xena, you haven't gotten rid of me yet."
"Glad you're here," Xena mumbled this as she looked off into the darkness beyond the fire. "Don't want to be alone."
"Shh...it's okay Xena. Come, lay down with me and I promise I won't go anywhere if you don't."
The warrior seemed to hesitate at laying down that close to her. "Come on, I don't bite."
Gabrielle settled herself in and held her arm out for Xena to join her. Shyly, she knelt down and laid her body out next to Gabrielle's, her back to the bard. Turning her body to face the warrior's back, Gabrielle propped herself up on one elbow and put an arm around the other woman's waist. Morpheus wasn't going to be claiming her anytime soon.
"Thank you." Xena's voice trembled as she said the words that didn't come easily to the proud woman. She had seemed to calm down after the incident with the women and children, and Gabrielle could almost imagine that everything was as it should be. Laying that close to Xena, she wished she could enjoy the sensations that were causing her body to warm on its own.
Tightening her grip on her friend, Gabrielle used her other hand to stroke the woman's hair, kissing the back of her head lightly. "Please try to get some sleep Xena."
Trying hard to control the madness she could feel coursing through her veins, Xena tried not to snort in reply. A part of her mind was still rational, and it recognized the irony of the situation. Her dreams of being this close to Gabrielle were only realized with her madness. 'Oh Zeus,' Xena told herself, 'might as well tell her now.'
Turning under Gabrielle's arm, Xena looked into her friend's face. She could see the fear in Gabrielle's face and felt her own face mirroring the emotion. "We'll go to the temple in the morning Xena, and we'll work to set everything right. I promise I won't let you give up."
A tear escaped from one of Xena's magnificent blue eyes. "Hey, don't cry!" Gabrielle couldn't believe that her tough and stoic warrior was so emotional. Feeling helpless herself, Gabrielle brushed the tear away, biting her lip when she felt the soft skin of Xena's face. If only it were another time, another place...laughing bitterly to herself, Gabrielle realized that if this were another time and another place, they wouldn't be lying here like this.
Taking a deep breath, trying to clear her cluttered thoughts, Xena grabbed Gabrielle's hand as it passed over her face, bringing it to her lips. "Gabrielle, I love you."
Closing her eyes, Gabrielle fought off the urge to kiss the woman in her arms. She couldn't, it wasn't right. It would be taking advantage of Xena. She's going insane and that's what's driving her now. She didn't mean what she was saying. She wasn't in control of her emotions. Gabrielle repeated these words over and over until she felt them sink in. With a touch of sadness, Gabrielle gently pulled her hand away from Xena's mouth. "You love me as a friend, I know that, and I love you too because you're my best friend."
"No, that's not what I mean!" Xena's eyes grew large and her voice raised in pitch. Leaning forward, she reached for the bard's lips with her own. Gently she kissed the other woman, trying to make her see what was in her heart.
Pulling away, Gabrielle felt her head spin. Breathing deeply, trying to control the need rushing through her body, she put her hand on Xena's shoulder and forced her slightly away. "Xena, you can't...we can't do this right now. This isn't the time or the place and I don't think this is going to help either one of us." Seeing her friend's eyes fill with sadness, Gabrielle hugged her. "We need to get some sleep, okay?"
Forgetting what had just happened, the madness consuming her memory, Xena smiled up at Gabrielle, replying with "Okie dokie!" and laid her head back down on the ground. Soon the warrior was breathing deeply and her body relaxed. Gabrielle gave a sigh and watched her friend's slumber while softly stroking her face. "Sleep my friend. I'll keep you safe."
(A few days later...)
Gabrielle walked away from Xena and Cyrene, quickly deciding that they just couldn't have too much firewood. A small sigh passed through her lips. 'Another close one to write up in the scrolls,' she thought. This would make a wonderful tale, but she wasn't sure that she would ever be able to tell it. Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle attempted to empty her mind of the picture of Xena sitting in a sanitarium talking to herself in a language only she understood, forever cursed by The Furies.
This whole affair affected Gabrielle more than she cared to admit. She had lost her best friend -- again. Only this time, Xena hadn't died or left her behind. This time Xena had been standing right in front of her when she lost her. That scared Gabrielle.
So deep in thought was the bard that she was startled when a hand clamped down on her shoulder. Her first thought was for her staff, forgotten by the fire. Letting out a howl, Gabrielle pivoted on one foot, bringing her arm up, hoping to catch her attacker off guard.
"Whoa! Gabrielle! It's me! Relax!" Xena held her arms over her face to ward off the on coming blow.
Attempting to change the direction of her swing, Gabrielle stumbled forward, hitting the ground with a thump. Breathing hard, Gabrielle gave Xena a perplexed look. "Gods Xena! Why'd you do that?"
"I called to you, but you didn't seem to hear me," the dark woman explained as she offered Gabrielle a hand.
A slight blush came over the bard's fair features as she took Xena's hand and help in standing. "Sorry, I was just doing some thinking."
One hand still holding Gabrielle's, Xena put the other one under her friend's chin, lifting her face until she could see into her eyes. "I know. You looked like you had lost your best friend --...."
"...again," they said together. Xena gave Gabrielle a small grin and one side of Gabrielle's mouth turned up in return.
Wiping her eyes to catch the unshed tears the smaller woman quietly sniffed. "It was...well, it wasn't fun."
Xena looked at her friend with sad eyes. Slowly, uncertainly, Xena moved closer, putting both arms around the smaller woman, bringing her closer in a gentle embrace. Gabrielle was quick to wrap her arms around the older woman's waist, holding her tightly, burying her face in the warrior's leather. Cradling the bard's head, Xena murmured soft words to her, attempting to ease the pain she felt.
As they stood there, arms around each other, they both relaxed against the other's body. Neither wanted to let go of the reassurance they gained from the other's touch. The tears had stopped, but Gabrielle wasn't willing to let the warrior go just yet. Before she could stop herself, Gabrielle's mind wandered back to the night that she had been the one doing the comforting. She hadn't slept at all that night, but had just lain there watching Xena sleep. 'I wonder if she remembers anything that happened,' the bard mused. Sighing, she realized that it didn't matter if Xena did remember -- anything she had said was said out of madness, not out of truth. Taking it to heart would only leave her wishing for something that would never happen.
"What's that for?" Xena murmured into the smaller woman's golden hair.
"What?" Gabrielle's words were muffled against leather.
"Oh, nothing. Just a sigh I guess."
Not convinced, Xena decided to let it go. Her friend was being unusually quiet. Usually, Gabrielle bounced back sooner from their adventures. It wasn't the first time that one of them had almost been killed. 'Tartarus,' Xena thought, 'it wasn't the first time my personality changed.' But, ever since Xena had died, Gabrielle had been taking things more seriously. The bard probably wasn't even aware of it, but Xena saw the slight change in her friend. She was more attentive to the warrior, more concerned. Rubbing the bard's back with her hands, Xena tightened her grip around her friend. 'At least she isn't afraid that I'll send her home anymore,' Xena thought. 'She knows I want her by my side.' She wished she could tell Gabrielle what else she wanted. She loved the young girl she had saved in Potedia, and had for sometime. She suspected the bard would be receptive to the idea, but Xena was too afraid -- afraid of getting hurt, afraid of hurting Gabrielle. She knew that keeping her feelings from Gabrielle wasn't the best plan, but so far hadn't found the time or the opportunity to tell Gabrielle how she felt. Bitterly, Xena laughed to herself. She had told Gabrielle, but she had chosen to do it at a time when her mind was betraying her. Rather ironic that her heart chose that time to open up.
Gabrielle was absorbing the feeling of being close to her warrior when a thought popped into her mind. "Xena, where's your mom?"
Sighing, Xena pulled away from the bard. "Back at the campsite. I guess we should get back before she gets herself into trouble. You know, she's worse than you sometimes," Xena grinned at Gabrielle.
"Ha, ha. You know, you're getting good at that yourself lately. I liked it better in the good old days when you were rescuing me, not the other way around!" Glad for the light conversation that took the edge off, Gabrielle took a deep breath to calm her racing heart.
Walking side by side back toward their camp, Xena felt a small hand take hers tentatively. Giving it a gentle squeeze, she smiled to herself.
Cyrene looked up from the campfire at the sound of footsteps. She allowed herself a small smile when she saw her tall daughter's confident gait. Xena still amazed her. After all the years of thinking, sometimes hoping she wouldn't see her middle child again, Cyrene was now glad that she was given the chance to know her daughter again. Her gaze traveled to the shorter woman who walked with Xena, and a special smile lit her face. She knew whom she had to thank for getting her daughter back. Funny to think about it, the dark, hardened warlord, and the young, innocent, bard. But, it was the right combination to succeed in pulling Xena away from the dark that was still so much a part of her and into the growing light. Cyrene blinked back a few tears and got up to greet the pair. Noticing for the first time that they were holding hands, Cyrene pretended not to notice when Xena suddenly let go of the bard's hand.
"Glad you two are back, I'm getting rather hungry. What do you usually do for food when you're out here?" Cyrene made conversation to cover for her daughter's obvious discomfort.
Smiling, Gabrielle stepped forward. "If we talk really nice to her, Xena might be convinced to go and find some poor little animal to kill."
With a roll of her eyes at her mother, Xena turned back around, checking her chakram and sword on her way. "I'll be back in a minute."
Cyrene laughed. "You certainly have a way with my daughter."
"Only if she's in the right mood," Gabrielle laughed along with the other woman. "We'd better prepare a spit for whatever Xena manages to find out there. One nice thing, Xena can find food anywhere, we never go hungry. Sometimes I get a little tired of the meat and nuts diet, but I really shouldn't complain." Gabrielle blabbed on, not really sure what to say to Cyrene. It wasn't that she felt uncomfortable with her, after all it was her best friend's mother, but Gabrielle was very much aware of the fact that Cyrene didn't know her daughter the way that she did and didn't want to tell her anything that might upset Xena.
As Gabrielle began to go through saddlebags, taking stock of their things, Cyrene asked her tell her a story. "I was told by a reliable source that you're quite good. I'd love to hear one of your stories."
Surprised, but able to cover, Gabrielle agreed and began to tell a tale about her and Xena's encounter with Bacchus.
Carrying two rabbits, easy prey to Xena's hunting skills, the warrior came upon the camp. Hiding a small grin, Xena quietly cleaned the rabbits, allowing Gabrielle to continue her story. Listening to the sound of Gabrielle's voice, Xena was soon lost in thoughts of her own. She didn't hear the bard end the story, or her mother's questions to her. It wasn't until Gabrielle took one of the prepared rabbits out of her hands that she remembered where she was.
"You okay?" Gabrielle asked quietly so that only Xena could hear. Watching the smaller woman put the rabbits on the spit, Xena asked herself the same question. Was she okay? Sure, for a woman who was in love with her best and only friend, yeah, she was okay. Shaking her head, Xena remembered that Gabrielle had spoken to her.
"Huh? Oh, I'm fine Gabrielle, just a lot on my mind." It was a gentle smile that appeared on Xena's face and touched Gabrielle's heart.
With a small grin in return, Gabrielle tried to quiet the beating of her heart, "Okay, if you say so. Maybe you could share with me later?" The last was asked as a question. She knew better than to pry too much. The warrior would let her know when she had gone too far, but it never hurt to push a little.
"Sure, if we get a chance, we'll talk -- privately." They both heard the emphasis on the last word, and in their hearts, they both knew what it meant.
Cyrene watched the scene with interest. Both women stood close as they positioned the raw meat over the flames. Gentle touches, almost caresses were used instead of words. She had never seen her daughter so gentle with anyone or anything. It was obvious what was happening. Cyrene wasn't blind. But she did wonder if her daughter was.
"Xena, would you like to go for a walk with me while the meat cooks? I need to stretch my legs a bit." Cyrene hoped the bard wouldn't feel too left behind. 'That is, if you don't mind watching the food, Gabrielle."
"Sure, you two go ahead and I'll make sure nothing eats our dinner before we do!"
Raising an eyebrow at her mother, Xena silently followed her mother into the woods.
They walked a while before either one of them spoke. Cyrene enjoyed the sounds of the forest, letting the calm help her organize her thoughts before she said what she was meaning to say.
Xena, on the other hand, was going crazy with wonder. She didn't have a lot of patience, but because it was her mother, she tried to wait, but it wasn't easy for her.
"You love her, don't you?" Cyrene spoke quietly, not looking at her daughter.
Xena didn't need to ask who it was Cyrene meant, it was the person who was most on her heart and mind.
"Oh yes, quiet plainly. I can see it in your eyes when you talk to her, look at her."
"I didn't know I was that easy to read," the warrior said simply, a fact stated.
"Maybe it's just because I'm your mother and you've never been able to keep much from me. I can see your feelings in your face, but that doesn't mean that everyone can. It might just be a mother thing." Cyrene finally stopped and looked her tall daughter in the eyes. "You know she loves you too, don't you?"
Avoiding her mother's gaze, Xena kicked at a rock by her feet. "I know she feels something for me, whether it's love, or just friendship, or maybe the love grown from friendship. I just don't know."
"Why don't you ask her what she feels? That's the only way you'll find out for sure." Pausing, Cyrene gently took Xena's chin in her hand, forcing the warrior to look her mother in the eyes. "You know I'm right about this."
"I know that by asking Gabrielle I'll find out how she feels, yes. But, what if all she feels is friendship? I could scare her away by letting her know I feel more. I don't want to lose her!" To Xena's horror, she could feel tears welling up in her eyes.
"Daughter, you have to give Gabrielle some credit. She's not a child, and she's not stupid. I've seen the same love in her face that I see in yours. She loves you, but you're both too afraid to do anything about it. Ask her, Xena. Trust me?"
Sighing, Xena relented. "I do trust you, mother."
"All right then, let's go eat! I'm tired of walking around everywhere!"
Laughing, Xena and Cyrene headed back to camp.
Feeling more confident than she had in a long time, Xena was determined to talk to Gabrielle the first minute they had alone. As they ate, then settled in for the night, Xena paid even more attention to the bard, brushing her hair after dinner, helping her lay out her bedroll, right next to hers.
After the others had gone to sleep, Xena looked at the bard lying next to her. The moonlight cast a wondrous glow on Gabrielle's fair face, making her more beautiful. Xena scooted closer to the sleeping woman, putting a protective arm around the smaller body. The comfort she acquired from that contact gave Xena allowed her to fall into a peaceful sleep, her dreams full of a certain strawberry blonde with piercing green eyes.
"Gabrielle!" A familiar voice hissed into Gabrielle's ear, bringing her closer to waking. "Gabrielle, wake up NOW!" A hand covered the bard's mouth and she struggled, trying to free herself. "Don't move, it's me. Just wake up and be quiet." Slightly opening one green eye, Gabrielle tried to focus on the voice's owner. Sharp blue eyes stared back at her. Slowly she opened the other eye, giving Xena a questioning look.
"Someone's here, I don't want them to see that we're awake. I'm going to take my hand off your mouth -- promise you'll stay quiet?"
Nodding her head, Gabrielle took a deep breath of morning air. Without moving her body, Gabrielle could see Xena lying next to her, as if asleep. The only thing that indicated that the woman was awake were two alert eyes set against tan skin. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle tried to calm her heartbeat so that she could listen for any movement around them. The sounds of shuffling feet and whispered words came into focus. Quietly she reached one hand out, searching for her staff. Gripping the staff tightly, Gabrielle tensed, ready for whatever Xena had in mind.
"They've only been in camp a few minutes. I wanted to see what they were gong to do, but so far all they have done is loot through our bags." Xena managed to speak without moving her lips. "I'm going to try to do something, but I need you to stay put for this to work, okay?" Gabrielle nodded her consent.
Slowly taking the blanket off herself, Xena watched the three men that had come into the camp. Having their backs to the warrior was a mistake, but they were too busy looting through Argo's saddlebags to notice that Xena was awake. With cautious movements, Xena rose into a crouch and then into a standing position. Looking toward where Cyrene was asleep, Xena moved with a slinky movement until she was in arm's reach of the bandits.
"Excuse me boys, can I help you?" Her tone was silky, almost a caress. As the men turned in surprise, Xena's arm swung around and made contact with one of the men. He cried out as the momentum of the blow caused him to fall to the ground. The other two men quickly moved out of the way of the angry warrior, circling her.
"If you aren't going to tell me why you're here, then I'll ask you once to leave. I recommend leaving as fast as you can, otherwise I can't guarantee your safety."
"And if you don't leave my men alone, I can't guarantee her safety." Xena whirled at the sound of another voice behind her, her sword at the ready.
A horrible picture came into Xena's vision. A large hairy man had a thick arm around Cyrene's throat, holding her against him, a knife on her throat just above his arm.
"Gangrius," Xena's eyes became slits as she recognized the man holding her mother.
A mirthful laugh came from the man's throat and he threw his head back. "So nice of you to remember me Xena! It's been a long time!"
"I take it that you're still angry at me?" Though her voice was playful and innocent, her eyes were cold and menacing.
"Angry? Why should I be angry with the Warrior Princess? You didn't do anything. But than, that was the problem wasn't it? You didn't do anything to stop what happened." Snarling, Gangrius tightened his hold on Cyrene, causing her to gasp.
Cautiously walking closer to the man and his hostage, Xena's mind took in everything about the picture before her. Gangrius stood at least 6 feet tall, just slightly taller than Xena. His long blond hair was dirty, curling around the collar of his armor, which looked like it had been pieced together patchwork style. Tattoos covered the burly arm that held Cyrene, muscles bulging from his biceps. Eyeing the knife that was at her mother's throat, Xena was surprised that she recognized it.
"Nice knife," her voice drawled, trying to make him talk more about why he was there.
"Surprised that I kept it after all this time?" Removing it from Cyrene's throat, he turned the knife in his hand, looking at it. "I was saving it for the day I got my revenge. Fitting, don't you think?"
"Gangrius, they may have used my knife, but I wasn't involved in the decision. The men decided that you didn't belong. They were the ones who chose to scare you off."
"Scare me off? Are you joking?" Holding out his other arm, he revealed the horrendous scars that covered it from wrist to shoulder. "They were going to carve me up until I bled to death! You could've stopped them, they were your men! But, you didn't do anything. Why? What excuse could you have?"
"We had lost a battle because of your carelessness. You're lucky I didn't kill you myself! You could've gotten us all killed! And because it was their lives on the line, I told my men they could decide how to punish you. I washed my hands of the situation and of you after that." Xena could feel anger welling up inside of her, anger of a time long ago, of a time that she still was trying to outlive.
"Well, I didn't forget you. You should've killed me. Instead, you let them torture me and they left me for dead. But, I wasn't dead! They should've checked, but they didn't! They left me alive, half the man I had been! I vowed that day, the day that I crawled bleeding until I found someone to help me, I vowed that I would find you one day and destroy your life the way that you destroyed mine!" Spittle flew from his mouth in his rage, spraying Cyrene who tried to turn her head away in disgust.
Looking at the woman struggling within his grasp, Gangrius smiled. "I was going to kill your little friend there," he pointed a crooked finger to where Gabrielle lay, "but I think that mommy here will do just fine!"
"It's me you want to hurt, why don't you just take me?"
"No Xena, I think that this will hurt more! I suggest that you drop your weapons, otherwise mommy here might feel how sharp this blade is."
Snarling, Xena realized she didn't have a choice. Dropping her sword in the dust she felt naked without her weapon.
With a smile, Ganrigius shook his head. "Now Xena, don't play me for a fool." He pointed at round metal device hanging at her side. "I meant all your weapons!" Looking to where Gabrielle had gotten to her feet, he grinned at her as well. "You too blondie. Drop the staff."
Glancing at Xena, Gabrielle silently complied.
Gangrius looked beyond Xena to his men. "Forget looting, let's go!"
The three men hurried towards Gangrius, careful to avoid the angry warrior. Handing one of the men a coil of rope he pointed at Xena. "Tie her up -- tight! I don't want her running after us until we have the time to kill this bitch."
Carefully, the man advanced on Xena, eyeing her warily. "Put your hands behind your back," he instructed in a rough voice. She complied, not taking her eyes off of Cyrene. After he had finished with her hands he ordered her to kneel and then tied her feet together.
"What about the other girl?" The man asked after he stood up again.
"Well Kirnan, what do you think?" Gangrius grinned at the other man.
Rubbing his hand over the crotch of his pants, Kirnan licked his lips. "I know what I would like to do with her!"
Xena tried not to react. If Gangruis knew how much Xena cared for Gabrielle then he would use that to his advantage. She knew that she couldn't keep her rage in check if they hurt Gabrielle.
"There will plenty of time for that kind of thing later Kirman. Just tie the girl up too, and let's go."
As Kirman grabbed at Gabrielle, she tried to duck out of his reach. He growled and slapped her hard across her face. While she was reacting from the blow, Kirman roughly grabbed her arm and pinned it behind her. Xena made eye contact with Gabrielle, trying to convey that the girl shouldn't fight back. The bard seemed to understand what Xena was trying to tell her because she let the man tie her arms behind her back and kneeled to let him tie her feet. Her green eyes never left Xena's, not wanting to break the connection.
Grinning wildly to himself, Gangrius motioned his men to head back into the forest. They filed into the wood away from the campsite, Gangrius going last, dragging Cyrene with him. One last smirk at Xena and he disappeared from site.
Taking deep breaths to try to quiet the anger she felt welling up within her, Xena looked around her attempting to find something sharp that would cut through the ropes. There was nothing in sight that could do the job. Feeling helpless, Xena let her head hang forward. She looked down at her chest and caught a glimpse of something shiny. 'Of course!' She thought. But how to get it out? Glancing at Gabrielle, Xena almost grinned at the thought.
"Gabrielle, I think I know how we can cut these ropes. But, I am going to need your help."
Crawling on her knees, Gabrielle inched closer to where Xena was. "Anything Xena, just tell me what to do."
"Anything?" Xena gave Gabrielle a wicked grin.
Attempting to raise an eyebrow, Gabrielle looked back at her without smiling. "Anything."
That caught Xena off guard as she tried to remember what it was that she was talking about in the first place. Gabrielle was right in front of her, and Xena could feel her presence without looking. As her eyes traveled to her friend's chest, she remembered what it was she was getting at before.
"The breast dagger, it's the only thing around that is sharp enough to cut these ropes."
"Can you just pop it out like you did before?"
A slight blush came over Xena's features. "Um, I'm a little too sweaty to do that." Gabrielle understood what Xena meant.
"Sit still and let me get it, but don't move, I don't want to cut your....uh, you." Gabrielle's face took on a look of concentration as she leaned forward. Carefully, she brought her mouth to the valley between Xena's breast, and cautiously she gripped the breast dagger in her teeth, slowly lifting her head and bringing it out. Despite the situation they were in, Xena still felt warmth between her legs at the sight of Gabrielle being that close to her breasts.
"'Ow wat?" Gabrielle spoke with the dagger still in her mouth.
"Um, go ahead and drop it. Then I can get it with my hands and cut through the rope." Gabrielle did as she was told, dropping the dagger to the ground. Taking deep breaths, Gabrielle felt a little bit dizzy. For a long time she had wondered what it would be like to lay her head on Xena's ample chest, just taking in the site of the two orbs and the smell of Xena. But more than that, she wanted to taste them. Being that close and not being able to let her tongue touch the magnificent skin that rested there made Gabrielle light headed.
All business now, Xena scooted to turn herself around, and carefully picked up the dagger with her hands. "Okay, now turn around Gabrielle so that your hands are facing mine." The bard complied. "Gabrielle, please don't move. This is going to be hard enough as it is, I don't want to cut you." With careful precision, she brought the blade down on the rope, cutting through the fibers with slow and deliberate strokes. Her hands were sweaty and as the blade made its way through the rope, Xena felt it slip out of her hand once. Catching it before it fell, she knew that the knife had cut Gabrielle because of the bard's quick intake of breath. "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry."
"I know, it's okay. Just finish up so that I can get you untied."
Quickly Xena cut through the rest of the rope. Gabrielle sighed in relief when her hands came free, then turned and took the dagger out of Xena's hands, and cut through the rope. They took turns getting their feet untied, and then Xena grabbed the younger woman's hand to look at where she had cut her.
"It doesn't look too bad, but I want to bandage it to keep the dirt out." Xena strode over to their saddlebags and took out clean bandages. Gabrielle was quiet as Xena wrapped her hand. "Are you okay?"
"Xena, we need to find your mom, that's most important." Gabrielle spoke with her head down. She enjoyed the attention from Xena, but she felt guilty because Cyrene was out there alone with those men.
"Hey, look at me." Green eyes meet blue. "We will find her, but we need to take care of ourselves too, okay?" The blonde head nodded in consent. "Let's gather up the rest of the stuff. We'll need to leave most of our stuff and Argo here. She won't be of much use in that thick bush. There should be a cave over there if I remember correctly. We can leave the stuff in there and only take what we'll need."
Having something specific to do, Gabrielle and Xena gathered everything, packing the things that the bandits had thrown out, back into the saddlebags. Surprisingly, they had left both Xena's sword and chakram, as well as Gabrielle's staff.
"Gangrius was too excited at the thought of getting back at me, he must have forgotten about this stuff." Xena noted as she slid her sword back into its scabbard.
They quickly moved everything to the cave that was where Xena said it should be. Taking Argo's bridal and saddle off, Xena took them into the large cave as well.
After it was all cleared away, the two women headed off into the woods, one pack between them.
When the men returned to the camp and an almost invisible woman with dark, violet eyes watched as the men dragged a dark-haired woman into the supply tent. The newly arrived woman wasn't moving. Behind the violet eyes, there was a silent thought. 'I hope she isn't dead.' Then again, if the woman wasn't dead yet, she would wish she were come tomorrow.
Waiting till the men left the large tent, the silent woman carefully went to the back of the tent and stepped through a slit in the fabric. She had made this trip before for other prisoners the men had brought into the camp. All the new people brought into the camp held fascination for this woman. She liked to watch them with her violet eyes, trying to understand more about them by the way they behaved. Not that she needed their actions to reveal that information to her. No, she had other ways.
Cautiously, she moved through the tent filled with boxes and trunks. In the center of the tent was a pole that created the sloping roof of the tent. Tied to the pole was the dark-haired woman. As the silent woman got closer she realized that the woman wasn't dead, she was just unconscious. She moved forward until she was right in front of the other woman.
Sitting down on the ground in front of the pole, she would wait until the other woman woke up.
"Xena! A footprint!" Gabrielle was excited at her find. Since they had left the campsite, the thick underbrush had made it impossible to find any footprints left by Gangrius and his men. They had had to painstakingly look for broken branches and trampled plants to find out where they had gone. Even so, Xena still moved at a pace that left Gabrielle almost running to catch up.
Realizing that the bard was breathing heavily, Xena decided that they needed to rest. "Why don't we stop for a minute. Now that the forest floor has cleared a bit, we'll be able to catch them more easily."
Not about to argue, Gabrielle flopped down onto the ground. Xena handed her their water skin, watching as Gabrielle threw her head back and poured water into her mouth. Catching herself starring at the other woman's smooth, creamy throat, Xena realized that she needed something to drink too. But, somehow, she didn't think water was going to quench the thirst that she felt.
Seeing a rock that could act as a bench, Xena sat down with her back to Gabrielle. She needed to get her mind off her friend. Now was not the time to indulge her fantasies. Caught up in her thoughts, Xena didn't hear Gabrielle come up behind her. She felt a hand on her shoulder and she jumped.
"Hey, relax, it's just me. Thought you might like some of this water." Gabrielle handed Xena the waterskin.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, concern evident in her face. She was probably the only person who really knew how much it hurt Xena to see her family used against her. Putting an arm around the warrior, Gabrielle sat down on the rock next to her. It was one of those times where she figured words weren't needed, so she just sat there holding the warrior, leaning her own head against Xena's shoulder. It was nice to be that close to the stoic woman without having her back off.
"We should probably get going again," Xena's voice broke her out of her musings.
"Sounds good to me," Gabrielle gave her friend a glowing smile. Looking into green eyes, Xena momentarily got lost in their depths, then, without warning, leaned over and placed her lips on Gabrielle's. She softly kissed the other woman before backing away.
"I really appreciate you being here Gabrielle. It means a lot to me." Xena didn't look at the other woman as she spoke.
Gabrielle quietly replied, "I know." And she did.
The two women set out following the now evident footprints.
Cyrene slowly became more aware of her surroundings. The last thing she remembered was being held by that awful man. He must have hit her over the head she deduced because of the pounding sensations that came from that area of her body. Without opening her eyes, Cyrene tried to move her arms but found it impossible then realized they were tied behind her back. She became aware of the fact that she was tied to a pole, feeling the pole against her back. A moan escaped her lips without her realizing it. Cautiously she opened her eyes and found a pair of violet eyes starring back at her.
"Seems pretty quiet over there." Gabrielle whispered to Xena.
The warrior's eyes were still darting about the camp in front of them, taking in all that she saw. The camp wasn't too large, but there were a few dozen men seen walking within the perimeter. Tents and fires were scattered about, not seeming to have any particular pattern. The largest tent was set off to one side, and from the inactivity around it, Xena figured it was the supply tent. If Gangrius had brought her mother here, then she would most likely be in the supply tent. Providing that she was alive. Xena to growled at the thought.
Gabrielle cautiously put her hand on Xena's arm, hearing the growl and knowing that she was angry. She didn't say anything, she just wanted to let the woman know that she was still there and that they were in this together. The muscles of Xena's arm were tense and Gabrielle imagined that the rest of the warrior's body was the same way. The bard decided that when this was all over she would give Xena a massage. A good excuse for her to be able to touch Xena's body, and these days, any excuse would do.
Xena felt the hand on her arm and let herself relax somewhat. She knew what Gabrielle was trying to show her and she really did value the other woman's presence. It made her hope that she would never have to do without it.
The two women were standing in a grove of trees, using the large trunks to shield them from wandering eyes. The line of trees extended to the supply tent. Gangrius was never very smart, he had given them the perfect cover to get to the tent and get Xena's mother out.
"I want to wait a little bit longer before we approach the camp." Pointing at the supply tent, Xena told Gabrielle her plan to enter and exit the tent from behind where the trees were. Understanding, Gabrielle sat down at the base of a tree and waited until Xena was ready to go.
Eyes widening in shock, Cyrene stuttered. "Wh....wh....who...are you?"
The woman was slightly taller then Cyrene, with violet eyes that almost glowed in the dark tent and soft brown hair which fell around her face. Her face was rather ordinary and plain, even with the smile.
"My name is Syrilla. And, who are you?" Syrilla's smile widened.
"I'm Cyrene. Why am I here? What happened to that...that man?" She hesitated at calling him a man. A beast was more like it.
"You're here because you were captured. As for Gangrius, he is probably gloating to the men and drinking himself to sleep." Knowing what Cyrene was thinking, she continued. "You'll be safe until morning. After that, I'm not sure what they have planned."
Her shoulders dropping, Cyrene hung her head. She wished to the gods that Xena were there with her. Xena always seemed to know what to do in these situations. Really, in any situation.
"You know Xena?"
Cyrene's head jerked up in surprise. "How did you know that?"
Waving her hand, Syrilla answered nonchalantly, "I can read thoughts. But tell me, do you really know Xena?"
"I suppose you could say that. She's my daughter." Cyrene immediately realized that it was a mistake to tell this woman that she was Xena's mother. For a long time, Cyrene was so ashamed to tell anyone who her daughter was, that she pretended that Xena didn't even exist. When asked, Cyrene would say that she only had one child, a boy. However, more recently, Cyrene had begun to feel proud of her reformed daughter, and would often boast the fact, though not usually in front of strangers.
Laughing, the other woman shook her head. "Don't worry, I don't hold any grudge against your daughter. I haven't seen her in a long time, but she always treated me well."
"You know my daughter?"
"I used to travel with her army."
With great stealth, Gabrielle and Xena crept through the trees until they were directly behind the supply tent. Xena again took out her breast dagger and got ready to cut a slit in the back of the tent, when all of a sudden, a hand reached out from the tent and grabbed Xena's wrist.
Caught off guard, Xena got ready to flip whomever it was that had grabbed her. Then a familiar head popped out of the tent.
"There's no need to cut another hole in this tent. You can just come through this one." Syrilla grinned at Xena's angry look. She knew that the warrior hated being surprised, but she just couldn't help herself.
"Xena, what's going on?" Gabrielle looked uncertainly at Xena, coming in closer.
Noticing the other woman for the first time, Syrilla motioned with her arm for both women to enter the tent. Seeing that the younger woman was still unsure, Syrilla tried to reassure her. "It's okay, I just surprised Xena, that's all. I'm sure she wasn't expecting to be grabbed like that, and I know she didn't think she'd be seeing me." Turning to the warrior, she could read the skepticism in her mind. "Don't worry Xena, I'm not going to try anything." Realizing that Xena's concern was mostly for the other woman with her, Syrilla added, "Both of you are safe around me."
Nodding, Xena moved the slit a bit wider so that Gabrielle could get through, and then she followed. Keeping an eye on Syrilla, she wanted to make sure the woman wasn't lying. There was a time when she would have trusted the other woman, but it had been a long time ago, and people change. Xena herself was evidence of that.
"Why are you here Syrilla?" Xena was curious as to why this woman was with Gangrius.
"You mean, why am I with Gangrius?" The woman knew the real question without having to hear it in Xena's thoughts. "Because, he's my husband."
"You're married to that man?" Gabrielle's voice didn't hide her surprise.
"Why would you marry him Syrilla?" The warrior was surprised as well. But, she didn't get the chance to get an answer. The sound of a familiar voice whispering her name floated through the air. "Mother?"
"Yes, she's here Xena." Stopping Xena's next question, Syrilla continued. "She's not hurt, but you'd better get her out of here before she is."
Xena found her mother tied to the pole. Cyrene's eyes lit up when she saw her daughter. "That didn't take you too long!" Grinning, Cyrene was relieved to see her daughter looked unharmed.
"Sorry, we had to leave Argo behind and follow on foot, otherwise we could've gotten here sooner." Xena handed her breast dagger to Gabrielle. She didn't want to turn her back to Syrilla in case the woman tried something.
"Stop being so suspicious Xena. I am not going to try anything!"
"I have to be, especially knowing who your husband is."
"I didn't have much choice Xena! After you left, I was alone. Your army had disbanded, scattering like the wind. You know I couldn't just go to any village and make a life. Gangrius had formed a band of men, not really organized enough to be an army, but they got into enough trouble. So, I asked if I could travel with them as their healer, and Gangrius said I could as long as I married him. So, I did. Like I said, I didn't have much of a choice."
"You were in Xena's army?" Gabrielle was surprised and at the same time intrigued. Xena didn't talk too much about her life before they met, and Gabrielle always wanted to know about her warlord side. She had glimpsed it once or twice, like when they fought the Horde, but Gabrielle still wanted to know more without having to experience it.
"Yes. She rescued me when I was younger, although she thought she was kidnapping me. Xena found out that I had some skill at healing, so she let me stay and she taught me all that she knew about healing." Syrilla smiled at Xena. "I will always be grateful to that warlord."
Grunting, Xena was quick to reply. "Well, if I'd known that the villagers had planned on killing you anyway, I wouldn't have used you as my hostage!"
Laughing, Syrilla bobbed her head. "I know, but you didn't have to keep me around."
"You said something about not being able to have a life in a village, what did you mean by that?" This woman captivated Gabrielle. Xena had unknowingly saved her, but then she kept her in her army although she didn't appear to be a warrior.
"No, I was never a warrior. I was raised to be a healer. But, I couldn't ever do that in a village because the people would try to kill me." Raising a hand to stop the woman's next question, Syrilla continued. "Gabrielle, I can read people's thoughts. That scares people and they instinctually try to remove that which is scaring them. In other words, me."
To Gabrielle that didn't hold a lot of logic. To kill someone just because they were afraid of that person wasn't a solution.
"I know it doesn't make sense Gabrielle, but that's the way people are. I'm the only one left in my family for that reason. "
Xena watched the exchange in silence. She knew that Gabrielle was probably feeling bad for Syrilla, but she didn't want the bard getting too attached to the woman. Walking further away from where her mother was tied, she moved toward the front of the tent not wanting to be caught off guard by any of Gangrius's men.
Syrilla watched as the warrior walked away and followed her. She needed to talk to the warrior about something but didn't want the younger woman to hear.
"Have you told her that you love her?" Xena turned around quickly, not realizing that the woman had followed her.
Annoyed, Xena snapped at Syrilla, "What in Hades' name do you mean?"
"Gabrielle? Have you told her that you love her yet?" Syrilla was patient with the reserved woman.
"What business is that of yours?"
With a small grin, Syrilla answered. "I know how you feel about her, your thoughts are filled with her. I just wanted to know whether or not you've told her. Knowing you, you probably haven't said a word to her."
"I don't see what difference it makes to you!" Xena was fuming. How dare this woman invade her personal thoughts like that! And why should she care? It just didn't make any sense to Xena.
Facing an angry Xena, Syrilla kept going. "It first surprised me that you could care so much about this girl. But," she shrugged, "I can tell that you've changed -- at least your thoughts have -- and I respect that. Why haven't you told her?"
'Because I don't want to lose her,' Xena's mind screamed, but she wasn't about to share that with Syrilla. 'Oh Hades ' she winced, remembering who she was talking to. Xena had just given the woman an answer without saying a word. Furious with herself and with Syrilla, Xena's body tensed as she attempted to contain her rage.
The warrior's thoughts were loud, Syrilla didn't even have to try to try to hear them. "I can understand your fear, but have you ever considered that you might lose her if you don't tell her?" She pushed despite the warrior's obvious anger.
Never had Xena thought she could lose the bard by not telling her that she was in love with her. But, she very well could. Earlier she had decided she would tell Gabrielle sometime in the future, but now she knew it had to be soon. But she had no idea how to bring it up. If she did it the wrong way, she could scare the bard. No, she would have to work this through carefully before she could say anything to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle eased the last bit of rope off Cyrene's hands. Rubbing her wrists, trying to bring the circulation back to her hands, Cyrene gave the younger woman a smile.
"Thanks, I was beginning to forget what freedom felt like. That's twice in two days!"
Patting the woman on the back, Gabrielle smiled an impish grin. "Trust me, you get used to it!" Her smile ended when she turned toward the front of the tent where her favorite warrior was.
Xena was still facing Syrilla, her face held a guarded expression, and she held her body tense as though ready for a physical confrontation.
Quietly walking toward the two women, Gabrielle reached out to touch the warrior's arm, but stopped, unsure if she would startle the woman. "Xena, is everything okay?" She looked from one woman to the other. She noticed that Syrilla had an amused expression on her face.
Looking out of the corner of her eye at her friend, Xena made a conscious effort to relax herself. Gabrielle rested her hand on Xena's arm. The soft warmth from the bard allowed Xena to focus on her emotions, calming them. Taking deep breaths, she patted Gabrielle's hand. "It's fine. But we should get moving before we get caught."
"They won't be back in here till morning." Syrilla spoke up at last.
"How do you know that?" Gabrielle's natural curiosity won over her effort to keep quiet.
"They always leave their wo..." Syrilla saw a pair of icy eyes stare at her menacingly, "...er, prisoners here over night before they do anything. Gangrius thinks it helps instill fear in them."
Still glaring at Syrilla, the warrior used her arms to herd Gabrielle toward where Cyrene was waiting. Motioning for Cyrene and Gabrielle to move toward the back of the tent, Xena stopped them when they reached the exit. Noticing that Syrilla had followed, Xena narrowed her eyes, but ignored the woman. "Let me look outside before you two leave."
Looking at the bard, Xena raised an eyebrow in question.
"Can I talk to you for just a minute?"
Nodding, Xena followed her away from the other two women.
"We can't leave her here."
"Why not?" Xena knew exactly whom she was talking about.
"If they find out that she helped us she could be killed. I don't want to be responsible for that."
Seeing that Xena still wasn't going to budge, Gabrielle made one last plea. "Okay, why don't you ask her what she wants. Please? For me?"
Looking into pleading green eyes, Xena found she couldn't say no to this woman. Leaning toward the smaller woman, she quickly kissed the bard's forehead. "Okay, for you my bard."
Having closed her eyes when she felt soft lips on her skin, Gabrielle didn't see the warmth in Xena's eyes, but felt it nonetheless.
Remembering the other women were in the tent with them, Gabrielle forced her eyes open. Stealing a glance at Syrilla and Cyrene she saw they were busily studying Cyrene's wrists. Taking Xena's hand in her own, Gabrielle led her over to where the other two women were standing. Expecting Xena to ask Syrilla, she was surprised when she felt an elbow in her side. Looking at Xena, she saw the warrior nod her head toward Syrilla and widen her eyes at Gabrielle. 'I should have realized...well, I am the bard, I guess.'
"Ah, Syrilla? Xena and I were talking and we wanted to ask you to come with us, that is, if you want to." She said it quickly, wanting to make it sound right.
With a small grin, Syrilla agreed and the four women made their way to the back of the tent and taking turns, they slipped through the slit in the fabric of the tent.
The four women set out away from Gangrius' camp. It was easier to find their way back than it had been to get there in the first place. Stopping where the three women had camped the night before, Xena kept them there just long enough to pick up Argo and their gear, and then they were moving again. She wanted to put as much distance between themselves and Gangrius as she could.
The sun had already made its descent from the sky by the time they stopped. Xena finally decided to make camp when she noticed even Gabrielle was dragging her feet. Settling on a secluded glen far away from the road, the women began to set up camp.
Xena and Gabrielle worked with the efficiency of a well-rehearsed dance. Cyrene and Syrilla helped where they could, mostly gathering wood and staying out of the experienced traveler's ways.
Carrying a blanket, Gabrielle walked over to where Syrilla was stacking wood.
"I'm afraid we don't carry extra bedrolls with us, although we should seeing how many times we end up having people travel with us! Anyway, we do have extra blankets." Handing the other woman the blanket, Gabrielle continued, "Cyrene is already using one of the extra blankets, so this is all that's left. I'm sorry we can't offer you more." This woman really fascinated her. She had never meet someone who could read thoughts, although she had heard of them. She had always assumed there wasn't anyone left with the gift. Shocked, she realized Syrilla might indeed be the last one alive with the gift. 'What a loss,' Gabrielle acknowledged.
Laying her blanket on the ground, Syilla sat on it and then motioned for Gabrielle to join her. After she sat down, Syrilla spoke. "You would like to hear my story, wouldn't you?"
Blushing, Gabrielle nodded. "I would, but only if it's something you can share with me. I'd understand if the memories are too painful."
Looking over to where Cyrene was spreading her own blanket, Syrilla caught her eye. "Cyrene, you might want to come here and listen to this as well."
Xena watched as the women all sat together on Syrilla's blanket. She had heard the story once before so she didn't ask her to join them, which was just as well. Stocking the fire she had built when they first reached camp, Xena sauntered over to the group. "I'm going to check the perimeter and get some dinner. I'll be back soon, but yell if you need anything." Nodding at Gabrielle, receiving a warm smile in return, Xena went off to hunt their dinner, as well as to think about her sweet friend.
Syrilla watched the warrior leave without saying anything. Waiting until Xena was out of their line of vision, Syrilla looked at both Cyrene and Gabrielle. "I haven't told this story many times, but I'll try not to make it too long."
"I was born about 25 summers ago in a small village close to Athens, but still far enough away to be unknown to most travelers. The youngest of 12 children, I grew up spoiled by my brothers and sisters, and even my parents. All of my family were healers. Some worked with animals, some with plants, but most worked with people. And the gods bestowed the ability upon them to hear people's thoughts. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in, surrounded by my family. I had the benefits of everyone's knowledge and talents. My mother taught me about my gift and how to use it and how not to abuse it. My sisters taught me how to hide it from those around me. Everyone knew the importance of keeping it a secret, using it without letting anyone know you were using it. Mostly, I had a normal childhood, learning all the things that every other child learns. It got harder when I got to be about 13 summers old. Hearing the thoughts of some of my friends was rather hurtful. It was a lesson my mother said I had to learn. Well, I had plenty of chances to do so."
"Children can be the most cruel sometimes," Gabrielle almost whispered, remembering her own difficulty with the other girls in her village.
"Yes they can Gabrielle, but from what I've experienced, I'd have to say that children's attitudes are often reflections of their parents' attitudes. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I eventually learned it. I thought that life was good. My oldest sister was our village's healer. She worked hard and everyone really liked her, knowing that she could be counted on when a loved one was sick. Often, she would use her talents to find the source of a patient's problem. Nevertheless, there were occasions when even her talents couldn't save someone. It was hardest on her when that person was a child. Once, when I had reached my 17th summer, she had a particularly trying case. A young boy was terribly sick and no one could determine why the child was sick. He finally succumbed, my sister tending him until the moment he died. His parents, both young themselves, were just stricken with grief. They cried and nothing seemed to bring any relief to them. In desperation, my sister told them that their child's last thoughts were of them. The mother started screaming, 'How can you say such things? You don't know that!' And my sister admitted that she could read thoughts, and she knew that the boy had been thinking about his parents. It was a mistake, she admitted that to us that night when we all gathered at my parents' house. But, there was nothing we could do to take back what she had told those parents. We could only keep doing what we had been doing and hope that they didn't tell anyone else. "
Syrilla paused to take a drink from the waterskin laying nearby. "The next morning, we found my sister hanging from a tree in the center of the village. No one saw anything, or so they claimed. The next day, my brother was dragged out of his house in the middle of the night and killed. This continued, sometimes at night when no one could see and other times in the middle of the day, when the village could watch. My parents, worried for me, paid a passing peddler to take me with him. When I left, there were only a few members of my family still alive, my mother was already dead." Syrilla spoke in a quiet calm, without any emotion evident in her voice. But Gabrielle reached out and put her arm around her. Syrilla was surprised by the other woman's actions. "You sense my pain, don't you? You feel what I feel."
Blushing, with a serious look on her face, Gabrielle looked at the ground before answering. "Yes."
"You're gifted as well! How long have you had this gift?"
"For as long as I can remember. I don't really feel it, I just get a sense." She shrugged, "For a long time I thought it was normal, and then I realized that I was the only one who could sense these things. I never told anyone."
"Gabrielle, you shouldn't be ashamed of your gift! It's something that makes you special, not different!" Cyrene exclaimed, her arm around the bard.
It was then that Xena returned to the camp. Overhearing her mother's comment, Xena wondered what they were talking about. Dropping the fish she had caught from the lake, Xena strode over to where the women were sitting. "What makes Gabrielle special?"
Cyrene and Syrilla both knew that Gabrielle should answer the question, so they kept quiet.
Not able to look Xena in the eye, she focused on her hands as she answered. "I guess I have...well, Syrilla thinks it's a gift..."
Concerned, Xena kneeled in front of Gabrielle, looking into her green eyes. "What kind of gift?" Her voice was without emotion but for an instant her shield dropped and Gabrielle could see the worry in Xena's face.
Touched by the warrior's show of emotion, Gabrielle smiled at her. "I can feel things. When people's emotions are extreme, I can feel those emotions almost like I'm experiencing the emotion myself."
With a gentle touch, Xena brought her hand to Gabrielle's cheek, gently cupping the bard's face. "Why didn't you ever say anything?" she thought back to all the times she had been angry or sad and Gabrielle had been able to sense her emotions without her doing anything. She had just assumed it was a result of their being together so much.
"I never told anyone," Gabrielle said simply. "I wasn't trying to keep it from you, I just never thought to tell you."
"Well, I would have to disagree with mother," Xena spoke seriously. "That doesn't make you special."
Cyrene was surprised. "Xena, what..."
Only having eyes for Gabrielle, Xena finished. "You are special with or without the gift."
"Thank you, Xena." Gabrielle was without words. Her warrior had taken them all away with one simple statement. Reaching for Gabrielle's hands, Xena helped the bard to her feet.
"I think I'm going to go and take a quick bath before dinner. I feel filthy!" Cyrene stood and brushed off her skirt with her hands.
"If you don't mind, I think I'll join you," Syrilla stood as well and the two women grabbed their blankets to use as towels and walked away from the camp toward the lake.
"Yell if you two need anything!" Xena shouted at them. She wasn't too concerned, Syrilla's gift would keep anyone from sneaking up on them. Turning to Gabrielle, she spoke in a lower tone. "We should probably wait until they get back before we put these fish on the fire. I don't want to risk burning them."
Walking over to where their bedrolls were rolled out, next to each other, Xena started to unhook her armor. "I can do that," Gabrielle said as she came up behind the warrior.
Quickly removing the armor, Gabrielle could see without touching her that Xena was tense. "Lay down on the bedroll, you need a massage." It was a command, and Xena obeyed. As soon as she felt the bard's hands on her back, she gave an involuntary sigh. Straddling the warrior's hips to be able to reach all of Xena's back, her arms worked the tired muscles. "Feel good?" Gabrielle's mouth was right next to her ear.
Xena could feel herself heating at the feel of Gabrielle on top of her, electric shocks every time the bard's hands touched her. It was difficult for her not to turn over, take the bard in her arms, and kiss her.
Gabrielle concentrated on the wonderful feeling of being able to touch Xena without worrying about the warrior's reaction. She became so caught up in the feeling of the other woman's body against hers that she didn't even realize she had begun to roll her hips against the warrior. But, Xena did. When Gabrielle' began to move her hips rhythmically against her, Xena thought she was dreaming, but the rhythm was unmistakable.
When Gabrielle understood what she was doing, she stopped immediately, mortified. Xena moaned in disappointment, turning her body underneath Gabrielle. Putting her hands on Gabrielle's hips, she encouraged the woman to continue her movements. Understanding what the warrior wanted her to do, Gabrielle again started to roll her hips against Xena. Meeting the bard's hips with her own, Xena meshed them together, softly at first, and then harder and harder as they both became more heated. Both of them moaning, their thrusts against each other became more frantic as they both reached the peak of their excitement. Sighing, Gabrielle allowed herself to fall forward against Xena, laying her head on the other woman's shoulder, trying to catch her breath.
Before either one of them could speak, they heard the sound of someone approaching the camp. "Hades!" Xena mumbled under her breath as she lifted Gabrielle up and got them both to their feet. Taking the bard in her arms, she kissed the other woman passionately, trying to let her know how she felt in that one kiss. Under her breath, just before she let go, she whispered, "We'll talk about this later, I promise."
Gabrielle nodded her head, just a bit dazed by all she was feeling, all that she was experiencing at that moment. Seeing Cyrene and Syrilla coming back into camp, she went to help Xena get dinner going.
Together, they skinned the fish, creating a spit to put them on so they could roast them evenly. Gabrielle got a few herbs out of one of their saddlebags and sprinkled them on the fish as they cooked over the fire. "I'll watch them, Xena, if you want to go and feed Argo."
Nodding, Xena moved off towards her large horse. Syrilla and Cyrene had hung their blankets near the fire to let them dry, then sat down waiting for dinner to be ready.
"You should try that water down there, it's wonderful! Not too cold at all!" Cyrene smiled at the bard. "Do you always do all the cooking?"
Grinning, Gabrielle carefully turned the fish. "Unless you want your food crunchy! Xena's idea of food being done is cooking it until it's black. I learned very quickly that if I wanted decent food, I'd have to cook it myself!"
Laughing, Cyrene nodded. "She never could cook, but I thought maybe that had gotten better over the years. Her brother Lyceus was much better at cooking than she was."
Coming towards them, Xena heard the last bit of the conversation. "No, I just don't like cooking, so I purposely burn the food so that everyone else will cook for me!"
Gabrielle stuck out her tongue at Xena and Xena gave her a wicked grin in return. "I'll go get rid of these, be right back," Xena said as she picked up the fish heads and scales.
Looking amused, Syrilla spoke to Gabrielle. "You two make a good team."
"Yeah, we do don't we?" Gabrielle smiled at the compliment. Lately, Xena had been treating her more as an equal, a partner. Letting her mind wander as she turned the spit, she had hopes that one day they would be partners in every sense of the word. She wondered what it would be like to be Xena's lover. The thought caused pleasant chills to run up and down her spine. It was a wonderful thought!
"Are they ready yet?" Xena asked when she returned. Seeing that Gabrielle was off in her own world, she put a hand on the girl's shoulder. Gabrielle jumped, quickly coming out of her daydream. She gave Xena a quizzical look. "I asked, are they ready yet?" Seeing that Gabrielle still didn't understand, she pointed. "The fish, are they done cooking yet?"
"Oh! Yeah, I think we can go ahead and eat." Gabrielle blushed when she realized she had been caught. But, she was thankful that Xena didn't make a big deal out of it. She just gave the bard a raised eyebrow as she went and grabbed plates from their saddlebags.
"The fish were great, Gabrielle. Thanks for cooking them." Cyrene stood up and stretched.
"My pleasure. It isn't often that I get to cook for more then just Xena. It's nice to have someone who appreciates what I make!" She elbowed Xena who was sitting behind her.
"Hey! I appreciate it. I appreciate that I don't have to cook." Xena got up quickly to avoid the bard's sharp elbow again.
"Grrr..." Gabrielle pretended to growl at the warrior.
Laughing, Xena gathered up everyone's plates. "I guess I'll go do the dishes. Gabrielle, I suggest you come too if you want to get a bath tonight."
Gabrielle's eyes lit up when she realized that would mean she got to be alone with Xena. It was amazing, she and Xena were often alone for days at a time, but she never truly appreciated it until now. She couldn't wait until it was just her and Xena again.
"Let me grab some soap and some clean shifts!" Rummaging through their saddlebags, Gabrielle found what she needed.
"We won't be gone long."
Cyrene watched as her daughter and Gabrielle headed toward the lake. Sighing silently, Cyrene turned back toward the fire and sat on a nearby log. She felt Syrilla join her, both of them gazing into the fire.
Syrilla broke the silence. "They love each other very much."
"Yes, they do, but..."
"You worry they'll never be honest with one another," Syrilla finished for Cyrene. "They both know the other loves her, but they're just discovering that love, and they're both afraid to express just how deep that love goes."
Sighing again, Cyrene put her elbow on her knee and her hand under her chin. "I like Gabrielle a lot. I just hope that Xena doesn't lose her because she won't open herself up."
"It's always a possibility, " Syrilla said ominously.
They didn't talk on the way to the lake. Neither one knew how to bring up what had happened between them, yet that was all either one could think about.
"Gabrielle, I..." Xena stopped, unsure what to say. She felt in a way that she should be the one to broach the subject, but she had no idea how.
Anxious to hear what Xena would say, Gabrielle tried to prompt her to finish. "Yes? You what?"
"I....uh...think we're almost to the lake." Berating herself for not being able to handle the situation, Xena scowled.
Disappointed, Gabrielle frowned.
The lake appeared before them, the setting sun giving it a golden glow.
Quickly, the two friends deposited the things they were carrying on the ground. With efficiency, Xena and Gabrielle washed the dishes in silence.
Because she didn't know where to start the conversation they needed to have, Gabrielle decided to bring up another subject that she needed to discuss with the warrior.
"I've been thinking about Syrilla. I think I have an idea," Gabrielle spoke as they set the dishes out to dry.
Xena stood and took off her leathers and white shift. Standing there without her clothes, she stretched her tired muscles as she replied. "What's your idea?"
Mesmerized by the vision in front of her, Gabrielle felt her mouth go dry. Muscles rippled under Xena's golden skin. The bard's eyes traveled the smooth, well defined planes of Xena's body, trying to take her eyes away from the warrior's full breasts.
"Uhh....Amazons!" Gabrielle's voice cracked and her cheeks grew warm. Forcing her eyes off Xena she concentrated on getting her own clothes off.
Not noticing Gabrielle's reaction, Xena stepped into the lake. "Amazons, huh? That might work, especially if the Queen herself is the one who brings her into the tribe." Thinking as she watched the woman before her undress, Xena knew that they would have to talk about what happened, and soon. She realized that the warm sensation that hard started between her legs grew as she watched the other woman gracefully enter the water.
"I think if we talked to Ephiny about Syrilla's gift she'd be welcomed." Gabrielle spoke as she made her way through the water toward Xena.
"It's a great solution. Syrilla deserves to be happy." Xena couldn't tear her eyes off of Gabrielle.
"So do you Xena," nothing more than a whisper, the words spoke to Xena's heart.
Gabrielle motioned for Xena to turn around so she could wash the warrior's hair
As the younger woman caressed soap into her hair, Xena felt her body respond. While her body urged her to give into the wonderful sensations, her mind couldn't let go of what Gabrielle had said.
"What do you mean?"
Continued...Part 2 (Conclusion)
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