The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc belong to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. I borrow them only for this not-for profit fan fiction story. This story contains scenes of love between two women. If you are under 18, read something else. If this is illegal where you are, change the laws.

This story ignores the events of the 3rd season of Xena: Warrior Princess. It works for me!

Special thanks for all those who gave me feedback on the various drafts of this story, and special thanks to Gina Dartt, who helped cure me of my writer's block. Feel free to send any comments or feedback to me at Impolite or homophobic e-mail will be ignored.

Rebecca Hall, copyright November 1997

Dreams of the Nile

By: Rebecca Hall

"Is it someone I've met?"

Gabrielle strolled comfortably along a wooded path, her staff resting in the crook of her elbow. Xena walked beside her leading Argo.

"No," Xena responded, shaking her head. Then she smiled crookedly. "You would've told me."

Gabrielle was silent, considering this latest piece of information in their ongoing game of twenty questions. The sky was a wonderful shade of blue overhead and through the leaves of the surrounding trees, a gentle breeze carried a hint of jasmine.

The trail they were following cut through the forest which encircled the last village they had passed through a day ago. The villagers had invited them to stay after they helped them drive off some raiders, but Xena was anxious to get going. She was relaxed now, relaxed in a way she never was in villages, though they had been keeping an eye out for stray bandits.

"I know," Gabrielle said, stepping forward suddenly and turning to face the warrior, green eyes bright with triumph. "Socrates."

"Nope," Xena replied without stopping. She walked passed the bard with the faintest trace of a grin in her direction.

Disappointed, Gabrielle turned and caught up to the long striding woman. "Okay, so this person's not a warrior, not a healer, fairly well known but I don't know them personally and they write poetry," she mumbled as she walked. She shot quick glances at the woman beside her to see if she could pick up a free clue from her face. And because she just liked to look at her companion.

"Give up?" Xena was stroking the golden horse's neck absently, the big mare snatching mouthfuls of grass whenever she could.

"I've only used about half my questions," the bard reminded with some asperity. "Female or male?"

"Female," Xena said distantly and suddenly the bard was aware of something wrong. The warrior casually tossed the rein up over the saddle horn to prevent Argo from stepping on it as she let her lose.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked in a hushed tone. She lifted her staff across her chest in a defensive position as Xena brought them to a stop.

"Shh," Xena whispered gently, squinting as she scanned the distant tree line.

The bard was silent at the warning, the hair rising on the back of her neck. If there were bandits out there, she hadn't heard them. But it was suddenly still, even the birds had gone quiet and Gabrielle wondered if that had been Xena's first hint that something was amiss. She had tried to learn from her companion all the little tricks that set off one's inner alarm bells but it was hard. She just didn't have the natural aptitude for it that the warrior seemed to.

"Archer," Xena said suddenly as if the arrow she had caught mere inches in front of Gabrielle's face was not a big enough clue for the bard. Another arrow hissed through the warm air and she caught it in her other hand. "Get into the woods," she ordered.

Gabrielle was already scrambling to obey, ducking behind the nearest trunk of a sheltering tree. She peered between the branches to see Xena running towards the source of the arrows, easily dodging the rest that came her way in progressively more random fashion. Clearly the archer saw the warrior romping towards him and it was severely affecting his aim.

That's when Gabrielle saw the second archer.

He was high in the tree the bard stood behind. Gabrielle felt everything slow down to a surreal pace as the archer drew back a crossbow and took careful aim at her friend. Xena had just caught up to the first man who had switched his focus from attack to escape. For a second, Gabrielle hesitated. Surely Xena sensed the second threat the same way she did all the others, in that supernatural way she had of knowing all that went on around her. But even as she was thinking it, she was moving, leaping from behind her cover and dashing towards Xena who was in the process of pummeling the first archer senseless. Gabrielle realized that he was merely providing a distraction for the real teeth of the trap about to close upon the warrior princess.

"Xena, look out!" she screamed as she leaped forward, her body intercepting the bolt in the fleshy part of her thigh. She crashed to the ground, an irrational grin on her face.

"I did it," she mumbled as she lay in the dirt. She had saved the warrior. Granted, it wasn't the same as catching the thing in her teeth like Xena had been known to do, but it wasn't too bad. It didn't even hurt that much.


Instantly Xena had stopped playing with her prey and had dispatched him with a vicious head butt before whipping her chakram at the second attacker, knocking him out of the tree and sending him down to an unfortunate meeting with the ground that snapped his neck, killing him instantly. She knelt beside the bard, staring down at her in horror. Her face had gone a rather unusual shade of pale beneath the bronzed skin. Gabrielle was quite fascinated. She had never quite seen it like that before.

"What are you doing?" Xena said in an appalled tone as she swiftly used the bow string from the first attackers' weapon to tie a tourniquet around the bard's thigh to stem the bleeding.

"Didn't you see that other guy?" Gabrielle asked. She gritted her teeth as she began to feel the throbbing in her leg.

Xena didn't answer immediately which meant she hadn't. Gabrielle didn't know what to be more disturbed over; the fact that even the warrior princess was fallible or that now her leg had begun to hurt in earnest. Though she didn't judge it as being that serious...just painful. Certainly she had been hurt worse. Thessaly came to mind. Still, there certainly was a lot of blood flowing there. She wondered if she should start being a little woozy.

"This is gonna need to be stitched up," Xena said worriedly as she picked the bard up and began to carry her back to where Argo waited patiently. "And I don't know how many more bandits may be around."

"Then where are we going?" Gabrielle asked as she took the opportunity to wrap her arms around the warrior's neck and rest her head on the warm shoulder. She loved when Xena held her like this, although it only happened when she was injured. It almost made the pain worth it. "There's a cave nearby," Xena explained, hefting her onto the mare's broad back, then leaping up behind her. Wrapping her arms tightly around the bard, she nudged Argo off the trail and into the forest. Within minutes, Xena had found the familiar landmarks and soon, she was leaping off and catching the bard as she half dismounted, half fell off the golden warhorse to land in front of the semi-concealed entrance of a cave. The warrior briefly sat the smaller woman down on the ground before quickly removing the saddle and dropping it on the ground beside the bard. She took off the horse's bridle, then with a slap on the rump, sent Argo off into the woods to be tended to later. Then, somehow, impossibly, she hefted the tack over one shoulder even as she managed to half carry the bard into the cave.

"Were those the same men who attacked that last village?" Gabrielle asked, trying to keep her mind off her leg which was now becoming more than a little uncomfortable the longer she moved it around. "Did you recognize wither of them? And how could you miss that other guy? He was right out there in plain sight."

Xena lay her down on the ground and swiftly gathered up some stray branches, setting them in a sandy depression and setting them ablaze with some sparks from her flint.

"I missed him," Xena said in an odd tone.

Gabrielle blinked. "You missed something?" she asked in amazement, watching as the warrior laid out her supplies and unrolled the bedroll, helping the bard over onto it. "I can't believe that."

"Gabrielle, just lay down and stop talking!"

"Relax, Xena-- its hardly fatal--ouch! That hurts!"

"I bet it does. And its going to hurt worse before I'm through with you. I'm going to have to push the arrow all the way through," the warrior explained with relish.

"Xena, why is it you sound almost gleeful about this? Are you angry with me?"

"Of course I'm not angry! That's ridiculous. You were trying to save my life! Why should I be angry about that?" Even Xena realized she was undermining her argument by yelling.

"That's what I'd like to know," the bard mumbled as Xena poured liberal amounts of port on the arrow wound in her thigh. The warrior took a few deep breaths, obviously trying to calm herself. Even her hands were shaking. Gabrielle couldn't figure it out-- Xena was an experienced healer. She had treated wounds far worse than this, countless times. She had tended worse injuries sustained by the bard, for that matter, without being this visibly, what-- upset?

"Xena-- "

"Hush now, Gabrielle. I need to push this through so we can stop the bleeding. Ready?"

Gabrielle nodded.

Xena braced the smaller woman's thigh and in one swift motion she pushed the arrow through to the other side. Gabrielle's yell echoed off the wall of the cave. She focused on Xena's ministrations in an attempt to fight back tears, not wanting the warrior to think her a coward. Xena had immediately tightened the tourniquet above the arrow wound and began stitching closed the layers of tissue and skin. Usually Gabrielle was ecstatic when the warrior touched her-- it didn't happen nearly enough for her tastes-- but having sharp objects pushed through her body and a needle and thread dragged through her flesh was not a regular occurrence in her fantasy life. Gabrielle looked at the warrior's face, trying to distract herself from the pain. Xena's hands were gentle, her lips moving slightly as she concentrated on making small, even stitches. And before Gabrielle knew it, Xena had finished.

"There. That's good. It shouldn't scar too badly. Now just...Gabrielle? Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," the bard croaked, and then promptly fainted. Xena caught her, and holding the bard in her arms, she stared intently at her face.

"That's the way to do it, my bard. Faint when its all over." Xena spoke softly, barely a whisper and she gently rocked the young woman in her arms. "Oh, Gabrielle... what in Hades am I going to do with you...."

If the bard had been conscious, she would have seen a rare, lonely tear roll down the warrior's face.


"How long was I out?" Gabrielle had propped herself up on her elbows, and looked around the cave. There was a fire going, their gear was hung up, and a nasty smelling stew was bubbling away.

"Not long. How are you feeling?" Xena had her back to the bard, rummaging through the saddlebags.

"I'm OK," Gabrielle lied. "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for your spices."

"Xena, its too late for that."

"What do you mean?"

"You're supposed to add them in the beginning. Xena, I can cook for us tonight. I'm not that injured."

Xena pivoted around to face the bard, looking a little defeated. "Well, I wanted to make you something nice... like you do for me when I'm injured...."

Gabrielle felt like kicking herself. "Oh, Xena. That's so sweet of you. I'm sure its going to taste great. You could still add the spices-- "

"It's OK Gabrielle-- "

"No really. I want to eat it-- "

"Gabrielle, who are we trying to kid, here. Neither of us wants to eat this stew." Xena face twisted with disgust as she thought about eating her own cooking, and Gabrielle couldn't help but laugh. Xena joined in, collapsing next to the bard on the bedroll.

On impulse Gabrielle reached out and cupped a hand to the side of Xena's face. "I don't know what I'd do without you, sometimes." Xena's eyes closed briefly and she leaned into the soft touch. But then she suddenly jerked her head back, eyes opening and Gabrielle saw fear there. The warrior stood up abruptly, her tone all business again.

"Now that you're awake, I'm going back to the clearing and see what I can find out about those bandits. Keep still, rest your leg, but stay alert." She started to leave, but then turned back to Gabrielle. " I guess its best if I stick to the things I do well." She smiled as she said this, but the smile never reached her eyes.

Gabrielle felt a great sadness descend as she watched Xena turn her back and leave the cave. Why can't I get it right? She asked herself. She wanted nothing more than to be close to the warrior, but somehow she kept scaring her off. She knew her feelings for Xena ran strong, and she needed to be more careful, or she risked driving her away completely. She sighed in resignation. Better to have a little of the warrior than nothing at all. She would just have to work harder at keeping her feelings contained.


"No! M'Lila! Oh goddess, no!"

Gabrielle woke to Xena's screams. The warrior had not woken herself up. She kept tossing and turning, wrestling with her blankets like they were a mortal enemy.

Gabrielle pushed herself to a sitting position with her hands, managed to get herself upright, and limped over to Xena's side, using her staff as a crutch.

"Xena," she called, making sure not to get to close to the struggling warrior. "Xena, its OK. Its just me here." The bard took a quick step back as Xena suddenly shot up as fast as an arrow, hands up to block a dream blow.

"Gabrielle?" Her eyes focused on the bard. "What's going on? What are you doing up? I told you stay in bed." The warrior shook her head a little, as if to clear it.

"I was. You were having a nightmare. Are you alright?"

Xena looked down at her bedroll, and then sat down. "Yeah, I'm fine now. You need help laying down?"

The image of Xena carrying her to bed flashed through Gabrielle's mind, but remembering her new resolution, she thought better of it. "I got it Xena, thanks." The bard limped back to her side of the fire. As she settled herself again, she asked "Do you want to talk about it?"


"The dream?"

"No. Go back to sleep."

"You, too."

A few minutes passed, with no sounds other than the crackling of the fire between them.



"Who's M'Lila?"



"Yes, Gabrielle?"

"Who is M'Lila?"

"Gabrielle, I've already told you that I don't want to talk about it. She's someone from my past, and that is all I have to say."

Xena stubbornly refused to look up at the bard. They had switched positions from their normal traveling habits-- Gabrielle on Argo, resting her injured thigh, while the warrior princess walked.

"You've been having nightmares for days, calling out her name every night. It sounds like right now she's a woman from your present."

The warrior remained silent. Handing Argo's reigns to the bard without looking up, Xena picked up her pace, putting distance between herself and her injured companion.

Xena had been struggling for days. Her stomach was tied in knots. She had no appetite. She was even more hyper-vigilant than usual, constantly worrying that something would happen to the bard. She knew it didn't make sense-- Gabrielle's leg was healing beautifully-- another day or so and she'd be walking again. But Xena had been getting almost no sleep--with M'Lila haunting her dreams she choose to stay awake. Gabrielle's persistence was beginning to wear on already frayed nerves. She wished the bard would stop pestering her about it. Sometimes she just didn't know how to leave well enough alone.

But why the dreams? Why now? An image appeared before her mind's eye-- Gabrielle jumping between her and that arrow. By the gods she had been furious at the bard for that. Her anger didn't make much sense to her-- Gabrielle was trying to save her life....

Xena stopped in her tracks. Ten years ago M'Lila took an arrow for her and died. Even after all this time, just thinking about that night made her blood boil. Before M'Lila, Xena had been walking a fine line, but with her death she stepped over that line-- both feet planted firmly in the darkness. Before M'Lila, Xena pillaged and burned to protect her home-- building a wide buffer around Amphipolis, preparing for another attack by Cortese. But that night, when M'Lila died in her arms, that justification, flimsy though it was, disintegrated and she no longer cared for human life. That night Xena, the Destroyer of Nations was born.

She hadn't known M'Lila long before she was killed-- only about a month-- but what a month that was. Xena and her men had been sailing her ship-- on a voyage to trade her captive, Julius Caeser, for a ransom of 100,000 dinars. It was Xena who discovered the stowaway, and before she could be subdued, the small warrior had killed her lieutenant, paralyzed her leg, and trashed the deck of her ship. Caeser, tied to the mainmast, explained to Xena that the woman was Egyptian, but spoke the language of Western Gaul-- most likely a runaway slave and not to be trusted. Her men wanted her tossed overboard But Xena was determined to learn whatever the little power-house could teach her. The way she fought, the hunted look in her eyes, her regal beauty buried underneath the rags and dirt-- something, or all of these things, called to Xena. No, she would not be harmed.

And by the end of that month, M'Lila had not only taught Xena many new fighting techniques, she had also managed to slip inside the large empty space in Xena's heart. They had become lovers briefly-- too briefly. Xena was no stranger to sex, already using it to get what she wanted, it became another battleground for power. Using it to bind men to her, to gain their unswerving loyalty. It had been a highly effective strategy, with a couple of notable exceptions. But with M'Lila it was different. Passionate, yes but it was so sweet. Not only was it Xena's first time with a woman, it was also her first time making love.

It was also Xena's last time with a woman. She had cared too much, and caring too much was dangerous in her line of work. M'Lila's death was the final blow to her battered heart, and the warrior princess had made a point of not caring in that way again.

All that felt like a lifetime ago. A lot had changed since then. The bards said that Hercules had unchained her heart. Poetic licence aside, Xena had learned to care again. To feel again.

And then came Gabrielle. She had tried to stop it from happening, but obviously some part of her refused to try hard enough, because not only did Xena care for Gabrielle in a way she had never cared for anyone before, somewhere along the line she had actually fallen in love with the little bard.

Xena knew she could seduce Gabrielle. It was a game she knew how to play. Some nights, she would lay awake, watching the bard sleep, and the whole delicious scene would play itself out in her mind. It would be so easy. Gabrielle loved her, too and Xena sensed the bard's attraction for her, although she was convinced the bard didn't realize it herself-- knowing little, if anything about love between women. But Xena knew Gabrielle. It was already very difficult to get the bard to stay behind in dangerous situations, and Xena had given up on convincing her to leave for her own good. If they made love, Gabrielle would never leave. She would be bound to her as surely as...well, all the rest of them had. As surely as M'Lila had been. So Xena kept her feelings to herself, knowing if they were not acted on, Gabrielle would be free to fall in love with someone else, settle down and live the life she deserved.

Xena knew she didn't deserve Gabrielle's love. Sometimes, on those nights she let her fantasies have free reign, she could almost feel the bard's flesh beneath her hands as she ignited her passions, could almost hear her cries-- crying out Xena's name until she finally gave her release.... Then she would remember all the innocent lives she had taken with those same hands and she would pull herself away from the vision of Gabrielle -- hugging her desire to herself while the shame at what she had been coiled mercilessly in her belly.

It hurt. It was too painful to even think about, so she tried not to.

But beyond all that, there was the bard's safety to consider. No matter how much she loved Gabrielle, no matter how much she wanted her, Xena would do nothing to foster a connection between them that was deeper than it already was. M'Lila cared too much for Xena and she died because of it. If the same thing happened to Gabrielle, she didn't think she would ever come back from the darkness.

The sound of Argo's whinny unusually close to her ear broke the warrior out of her reverie. She turned and saw Gabrielle sitting on the horse, reigns still and loose in her hands, just watching her with that concerned look in her eyes. How long had Xena been standing there, lost to her memories? What if more bandits had come upon them while she was musing? This was getting dangerous and it had to stop. She had to focus, had to calm down. There had to be some way to get through this, to get back on track.....


The warrior turned and met warm green eyes. She fought a strong urge to pull the bard off the horse and hold her tight, to bury her face in the soft red-gold hair.

"You know Xena, it usually helps if you talk about it...."

She held the bard's gaze for another moment, and then without responding, she turned her back to Gabrielle and strode off, setting a ground-eating pace.


Once again, the warrior and the bard made camp in a cave. Gabrielle was worried about her friend. She hadn't said a word since this afternoon. With a determined set to her shoulders, the warrior had just pushed on while Gabrielle followed, getting more and more stiff as Argo increased her speed to keep up with the warrior. With the way Xena had traveled this afternoon, the bard would not have been surprised if Argo tired before she did. And when it had started getting dark, Xena made no indication that she was even looking for a place to stop. She probably would have kept on all night, but it started to rain. Xena could be a rough taskmistress at times, but she always took good care of the wounded. There was no way she was going to push on in that kind of weather before Gabrielle had fully recovered from her wound. So she stopped, took the reigns, and mumbled something about a cave up ahead.

Gabrielle was thoroughly drenched by the time they reached their destination. Fortunately there was a good supply of wood left by some previous traveler, and Xena quickly set up camp, depositing the bard in front of a warm fire before going back out into the rain. Soon after she had returned with a couple of big trout. Gabrielle was amazed that the warrior had caught fish in the rain, and was certain she had brought a good portion of the river back with her. Her leathers were soaked.

"Xena, get in here before you catch your death!" The bard instructed as she led the wet warrior to the fire. She had already gotten dry and was wrapped in a warm blanket. Her aches from riding Argo had lessened considerably, and she was able to move about the cave with only a slight limp in favor of her injured leg.

Gabrielle knew Xena was exhausted, because she let the bard fuss over her. After removing Xena's armor, she began peeling off her wet leathers, waiting for Xena to protest this intimacy. It didn't happen. Placing her hands underneath the straps across the warrior's wide shoulders, the bard slid her fingers down her arms, exulting in the feel of corded muscles beneath silky- soft skin. She felt herself blush a little as a vivid erotic image of loving the warrior came unbidden before her mind's eye, and she squatted down to slide the leathers down Xena's body, and to hide her blush. Which only deepened when her palms skimmed the warrior's long legs. Gabrielle felt a hand on her shoulder and she was sure that she had been caught-- that Xena had read her amorous thoughts-- but the warrior was merely steadying herself as she stepped out of her clothing. Standing once more, Gabrielle handed her a blanket and sat her down close to the fire. Taking a moment to calm her unsteady breathing and steady her shaking hands, the bard gave Xena a cup of hot tea. Xena gave her one of those enigmatic half-smiles in return.

The silence continued after dinner, and Gabrielle took out a parchment and began to write while the warrior oiled her armor and weapons. The slightly damp wood crackled and hissed on the fire, and the sandy floor of the cave felt warm, all serving to create a cozy refuge against what was rapidly turning into a storm outside. Although the bard had grown used to Xena's extended silences in the years they had traveled together, even finding herself enjoying the calm sense of companionship that often came with them, companionable was not the word to describe this quiet tonight. Choked would be a better word.

After a while the bard sighed and, looking up from her writing she saw that Xena had fallen into a light sleep while sitting, her back resting against the wall of the cave. Gabrielle enjoyed these rare moments when she could watch the beautiful woman unobserved. The light of the fire made her bronzed skin glow. The blanket had fallen open slightly, and she could just see the outline of a breast's soft swell. Gabrielle caught herself unconsciously wetting her lips, and she sighed again.

This lusting after her best friend from afar stuff was getting tiring, she thought to herself. She tried to remember how long it had been-- when she had fallen in love with the stoic warrior, but for the life of her, she couldn't pin down a time. Or an event. It seemed like she had always loved the warrior princess. That it came as natural to her as breathing. She had convinced herself that it would be alright, that unrequited love wouldn't kill her, and she was just happy that Xena loved her as a friend and let her travel with her. But sometimes it was not alright. Like last year, when she had somehow deluded herself into thinking she could get over her feelings for Xena if she married Perdicus. Well, they had only one night together before Callisto killed him-- one night that was nice in its own way-- at least in the few moments she could stop comparing him to Xena. Or like the time when they traveled with Ulysses. One glimpse at how the two warriors looked at each other, and Gabrielle had spent the rest of the journey pitching over the side of the ship. She had tried to be a supportive friend but her words of encouragement to Xena to pursue a romance with the man sounded hollow even in her own ears.

Or, like now. When Xena looked so sad and tired and vulnerable, she just wanted to kiss her senseless, to touch her and replace all the hurt with love. When the longing would come over her so strong she felt like she could drown in it. Times like these she didn't know how she stopped herself from just taking the warrior.

She laughed to herself at that improbable image. Xena would probably brush her off like a flea, assuming she didn't first die of shock.

The bard thought about that last for a moment. She seriously doubted that the concept of two women being together would shock Xena. After all, she was certainly wiser and more experienced in those matters than Gabrielle was. But the idea of Xena being with a woman herself would obviously be foreign to her. Gabrielle knew that she just didn't see women in that way. Even when they visited the amazons, and all those beautiful women practically threw themselves at the warrior's feet, Xena didn't even blink. Definitely not interested.

The warrior was obviously only interested in men. With a rueful smile, Gabrielle thought about how not Xena's type she was. No, Hercules was her type. Or Marcus. Petricles. Ulysses. She wished it could be different, but it was not.

Sighing, Gabrielle got up and spread out their bed rolls. She thought briefly of waking the warrior, getting her to lie down in her bed, but thought better of it. If she woke Xena now, who knew when she'd get back to sleep. Or if. Picking up a blanket, the bard bent down and wrapped it around the warrior's shoulders, adding it to the thin one she already had. Tucking it securely around her, she brushed her lips across Xena's cheek, hoping for a peaceful night.


It didn't happen. Xena's dreams continued to haunt her, and after waking up with a start, she chose not to sleep again so she wouldn't dream. Gabrielle woke up early, for her at least, and she could tell instantly that the warrior had had a bad night. Deep shadows crossed beneath her eyes, and her movements were restless and edgy. The edginess could also be explained by the fact that the storm raged outside unabated, trapping her inside.

"Looks like we're not going anywhere today, Gabrielle." Xena was dressed in her leathers, now dry after yesterday's deluge, and she stood near the entrance to the cave, staring out at the rain wistfully.

"It's a good thing we got supplies the other day. We're set for food, even if we have to wait here a few days." Gabrielle spoke to Xena's back as she finished making the hot grain cereal. She spooned it into two bowls, and broke a honeycomb over each one.

"If we're stuck here for a few days, I think I'll lose it," Xena said quietly, assuming the bard couldn't hear her. She assumed wrong.

"Xena, sit down here. I want to talk to you and your breakfast is ready." The warrior stepped back into the cave and sat next to the bard at the fire. "Something is eating away at you inside. Its been going on for almost a week. Ever since I got shot with that arrow. I've been trying not to push you about it, but you must realize that its not going to get any better if you just keep sitting on it."

Gabrielle was right, Xena admitted to herself. Traveling fast, not sleeping and barely eating had not brought these feelings under control. She was already losing it. Her hands were unsteady on the bowl, and the porridge tasted like sawdust in her mouth. She handed the bowl back to Gabrielle.

"I don't even know where to start." Her voice was tired. Resigned-- like it didn't matter anymore.

"Start at the beginning. Who is M'Lila and why does the thought of her torment you?" Gabrielle prompted as she took Xena's bowl and handed her hot tea in its place. The warrior took a long sip, and began her story.

"I'm sure you remember when I died on Mount Nestos. Do you remember what I told you about why I decided to come back?"

Gabrielle looked at her best friend, her heart thudding slowly and painfully against her chest just from the memory of that horrible, cold night. " You told me you heard my thoughts." Gabrielle's voice was barely above a whisper.

"I did hear your thoughts, but it was M'Lila's spirit who came to me and forced me to listen. You see when I was injured and unconscious during the trip to Mount Nestos, I was remembering all the events that took place ten years ago. The events that led up to me being consumed by the darkness. I thought of how I had been betrayed, how my men had been slaughtered because of my own stupidity, and how M'Lila died saving my worthless life. She was so young! She had her whole life ahead of her, and we had had so little time...." Xena's voice cracked, and she took another sip of tea. "She died taking an arrow that was meant for me."

Gabrielle had turned away, trying to give Xena a chance to collect herself without feeling the bard's eyes on her. She knew how extremely hard it was for Xena to talk about those days. But when she said that last, about the arrow, she felt a flash of insight, of seemingly disparate things coming together. She looked up again, and silver-blue eyes wet with unshed tears burned into her own. A moment passed while the warrior fought back tears, and just as Gabrielle thought she wasn't going to continue she said one more thing. One more incredible thing.

"M'Lila taught me how to fight using pressure points. And she... we had been lovers."


"Did you just say...." Gabrielle began, but then began again because she noticed her voice was so high she was almost squeaking. "Did you say the two of you, that you and she, had been lovers?"

"Does that make you uncomfortable Gabrielle?" Despite the painful subject, Xena almost chuckled at the shock in Gabrielle's voice. Although her home town of Poteidea was pretty provincial, the warrior had thought the bard would have had some exposure to the idea. Or if not there, at least in their travels--

"Uncomfortable?" There was the squeak again. Oh this was just too much. Xena thought she was uncomfortable. "No, not at all. It's just... surprising is all. For you, I mean. I thought...well, I thought you were only interested in men."

"Well, you thought wrong."

There was that half-smile again. Gabrielle still didn't know what it meant, but she felt a shiver pass down her spine and her stomach fluttered almost painfully. She covered up her reaction by talking: "So are you going to tell me the rest?"

Xena's smile ended with that, and it saddened the bard, but she knew that the warrior needed to keep talking. To let it out, if this wound was ever going to heal. She put on what she hoped to be her most encouraging expression, and was relieved when Xena started to talk:

The dagger fell from her hand as though her fingers no longer belonged to her. It clattered to the deck and then slid across the planking.

Xena looked at her teacher in awe. All M'Lila had done was press a point on her wrist with one finger.

"How did you do that?"

M'Lila smiled and, taking Xena's numb hand between her own she pressed the release point-- letting the sensations slowly return to her fingers. Pulling another dagger from the apparently inexhaustible supply beneath her cloak, the Egyptian woman took Xena's hand into her own-- demonstrating the technique. As was often the case, Xena picked it up on the first try, eliciting a warm smile from her teacher. And, as was also often the case, Xena felt that smile all the way down to her toes. Xena told herself that M'Lila was so warm to her because she hadn't been thrown to the sharks-- the usual fate of stowaways. She told herself that she was spending every free waking hour with the Egyptian because she was being pragmatic-- trying to get the most from her deal. After all, they only had one more week together.

After ransoming their translator, it was harder to communicate. No one aboard ship spoke Gaulish, the former slaves adopted tongue, and Xena understood only a very few words of Egyptian. Nonetheless the two women were able to make each other understood quite well without words--using their bodies, hand signals and facial expressions to communicate. Xena had to admit to herself that she enjoyed the beautiful young woman's company-- enjoyed the sparing and also enjoyed her singing. Early in the morning and at the end of the day the woman would climb up into the bow of the ship and sing her beautiful, haunting melodies to the ocean. But Xena listened as well, and it warmed her heart. And although she was anxious to have the time pass quickly so that she could rendevous with Caesar and begin her new destiny, a part of her was sad about it because it also sped the ex-slave's imminent departure. Xena had always been true to her word and no matter how much she wanted it otherwise, she would let the woman go when it was time. Besides, M'Lila was very strong spirited and would make a very bad captive teacher.

One evening in their last week together, Xena left a meeting with her lieutenants and went on deck, hoping to catch M'Lila sing. Instead of a singing the Egyptian was moving along the deck in a choreographed dance that also was clearly a fighting exercise. The setting sun shone red highlights on her thick ebony hair and rich brown skin. Her dance was beautiful. She was beautiful. As she continued her surreptitious observation, Xena's mouth became quite dry and her hands shook a little. It dawned on her that she was feeling attracted to her teacher, and her eyebrow raised in surprise. In that exact instant M'Lila turned and faced Xena, their gazes met, and locked. M'Lila smiled at Xena then, a slow, wickedly sensual smile that made Xena's scalp tingle. Before she knew what was happening, Xena had turned and fled below decks, amazed at herself for acting so shy. In these matters she had never been shy. But, then again, no woman had ever smiled at her like that before. Back in her cabin she took a deep breath, and downed a mug of port. She felt a warmth deep in her belly, and she knew it could not be explained away by the hot liquid traveling down her throat. An image of M'Lila dancing on the deck of her ship came to her, and she couldn't help but belatedly return the woman's smile.

It was the night before M'Lila was leaving. Xena was just beginning to turn down the lamp at her desk when she heard a light knock at her door. She called for entry, and was not surprised to see M'Lila walk into her cabin. The young woman had been here before, a few times, when their work required light after dark, or privacy. Xena knew right away that this was not a work visit. M'Lila's warm brown eyes drew Xena in, and this time she was not frightened by the boldness of the smaller woman's gaze. She felt her heart beat increas, but fear was not the cause.

The moon shone into the large cabin window and Xena sat down in the window seat, gesturing for M'Lila to join her there. Both women sat and looked out of the window for a moment. Then Xena began to speak.

"You know we'll be dropping you off tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," M'Lila nodded solemnly, the word heavily accented.

"I don't know if you can understand me, but I want to thank you for teaching me so well."

M'Lila smiled softly, and then looked back at the moon. The silver light danced across her eyes, and once again Xena was moved by this woman's beauty.

"You are a beautiful woman, M'Lila." Xena had not planned on saying this out loud. M'Lila turned towards her once again and raised her hand. Gently stroking the side of Xena's face, she said:

"Beautiful woman."

Xena smiled and M'Lila traced her finger lightly across the taller woman's lips. Xena's eyes drifted shut at the tender caress, and she felt soft full lips touch her closed eyelid....

The bard's porridge was cold. She had become so wrapped up in Xena's story, she forgot to eat. The warrior was quiet now-- hands clasped together painfully-- knuckles white, hair covering her face as she looked down at nothing. Gabrielle rose, crossed over to her friend and sat next to her. Placing her hands around Xena's she worked to pry apart her grip. She took one hand in her own, before asking:

"And the dreams, Xena? What happens in the dreams?"

Xena met the bard's compassionate gaze. She brushed the remaining hair from her eyes with her free hand.

"First...first I'm holding her in my arms again. She's bleeding her life away. I feel so powerless! But then...I see her spirit, like I saw it when I was dead-- and she's calling to me. Trying to tell me something. But I can't hear what she's saying. Then everything just gets fuzzy, and I wake up...."

"Do you have any idea what the dreams mean?"

"I'm not sure. I... I'm not sure."

"You'll figure it out, Xena. I know you will. You always do."

Xena's head dropped again, but she didn't let go of Gabrielle's hand.

Gabrielle's shock about Xena's revelation had worn off, replaced with a profound sadness for the warrior's loss. Gabrielle wanted to take the warrior in her arms and hold her tight, but she knew Xena wouldn't tolerate it. She was just glad that she had let her in this close, had let her share some of the burden she carried. Xena would feel better for it. And she was certain the warrior would feel even better after a little rest.

"Why don't you lay down for awhile. You look exhausted and could use a little catching up on your sleep. We're not going anywhere in this weather anyway...."

Xena looked down at their hands clasped together for a moment, and then just nodded. She was asleep almost as soon as she lay down.


"It's not Socrates?"

"Is that a question? If it is, you only have four left-- "

"No it's not a question! I was just thinking out loud."

"Well, thinking out loud isn't gonna help, Gabrielle. Why don't you just admit it-- I gotcha this time."

"In your dreams, warrior."

The warrior and the bard sat across from each other, the fire burning brightly between them. Gabrielle rested her back against the cave wall, while Xena sat on a log she had placed for that purpose. They might have to burn it soon, if the rain didn't let up, but for now Xena was enjoying her makeshift chair. She felt like a new woman after talking to the bard and getting a few hours sleep. She had woken in the late afternoon to a virtual feast that Gabrielle managed to get together from their food supplies. Xena ate more than her normal share, which obviously pleased the doting bard to no end. As the sun set and the dark rainy skies became darker still, both women had set about doing the tasks they rarely got a chance to get to. It wasn't often that they stayed in one place for so long and had nothing to do.

Gabrielle was feeling relieved-- relieved to have her Xena back, to have the teasing and the banter. Xena had actually smiled a few times this evening and it was like the sun coming out after all the silence and nightmares and rain. Her face looked peaceful again as she sewed up a tear in her greaves, long fingers graceful with the thread.

Sometimes all Gabrielle had to do was look away and then look back at the warrior to have her stomach drop to her knees. She was so beautiful to Gabrielle-- the kind of beauty that is hard to hold in memory, the kind she would almost forget until looking at her again reminded her and she would have to fight back a gasp. Just looking at Xena right now, peaceful in front of the fire, made Gabrielle's cheeks warm. Her thoughts kept turning back to Xena's revelation this morning, which only served to make these feelings even more intense than normal.

"Xena, how many women have you... you know... been with?"

"Is that one of your five questions? I don't see how its gonna help-- "

"Xena!" Gabrielle threw a broken piece of quill at the warrior, who, of course, caught it.

"OK, OK! Sorry." She looked down at her sewing, appearing to consider the question carefully. "Well, lets see. I'm with you now-- "

"That's not what I meant and you know it!"

Xena looked up from her sewing and gave Gabrielle an evil smile. "What I don't know is why you're so curious, Gabrielle. "

Gabrielle flushed at the velvet tone of Xena's voice. "I'm not curious-- Well, not just curious-- I guess I had you figured wrong and I need information to fill in the gaps in the picture."

Xena raised an eyebrow. "Is the picture that different now?"

"Of course not. No. Except...well, I mean yes, sort of...." The bard trailed off, and Xena raised her other eyebrow. Looking absolutely miserable, Gabrielle just stared down at the ground and didn't finish her sentence.

Xena was growing concerned. Maybe she had misjudged the bard, and telling her about M'Lila had been a mistake. She hadn't wanted to tell her-- hadn't wanted to risk stirring things up between them, things that were already charged. It was a part of the warrior's daily struggle to keep her feelings for Gabrielle contained, and leaving the whole topic undisturbed was one of the things that made this struggle a little more manageable. Now Xena had a sinking feeling that telling Gabrielle about M'Lila had kicked up a hornet's nest. Xena sighed. She would rather battle ten men than have this conversation, but something was making Gabrielle very uncomfortable, and Xena would not be able to reassure her, would not be able to calm things down again, unless she knew what that something was--

"Gabrielle... are we having a problem here?"

The bard looked up at Xena with a pained expression. After a moment of tense silence passed, a sudden breeze came through the cave entrance, causing the fire to flair up. Gabrielle could see Xena shiver a little-- she was sitting closest to the entrance, as usual. The bard walked over to her. Kneeling in front of the warrior, Gabrielle wrapped a blanket around her, leaving her hands resting briefly on Xena's shoulders. Well, she had meant the touch to be a brief one, but she made the mistake of looking up and meeting Xena's eyes. The cobalt blue gaze was luminous, like her eyes had their own light source, or perhaps some enhanced reflective power. Regardless of the source they held her in place and stopped her breath.

"Gabrielle, it's very sweet, but you don't have to take care of me like this," Xena told her, indicating the blanket she had been wrapped in.

"But I want to, Xena. I love...I love taking care of you." Gabrielle managed to free her eyes and she looked down on the ground between them.

"Gabrielle...." Xena's voice was like a caress. "Gabrielle, is it about M'Lila? Is something about her making you upset?"

The bard looked up at the warrior, her stomach turning itself inside out. She was the one who always told Xena to talk about her feelings, to let them out. But Gabrielle's feelings were so strong, she was afraid of them. The love and the desire she felt for the warrior seemed more than a little overwhelming. She thought it was bad before, but while she believed that Xena couldn't possibly return these feelings, it had been much more abstract. Now, thinking of Xena making love with M'Lila-- with a woman-- caused her chest to be hammered by heartbeats.

"Its OK, Gabrielle, you know you can trust me...."

"Always, Xena."

The warrior smiled at that, eyes warm as she looked down at the bard. Gabrielle knew it was now or never. She said a silent prayer to Aphrodite, asking for courage.

"Xena, do you feel for me, like you did...." The little courage the bard had gathered under Xena's tender encouragement faded. Unable to face the warrior, she looked down at her feet.

"Like I felt about M'Lila? Is that it?"

The bard barely managed a nod.

Xena felt the pieces click into place. So this was it. They had come too far together-- had become too close-- for Xena's heart to remain concealed. She just couldn't do it anymore. Truth was the only option now. Cupping a trembling hand under Gabrielle's chin, Xena gently forced her head back up. "No, Gabrielle. What I feel for you is much stronger." The warrior's thumb brushed at a tear caught on the bard's cheek.

It took the bard a moment to process what she had just heard. "You mean...."

Xena nodded.

"You mean you want me like... like I want you?"

Xena gave Gabrielle a half-smile. Suddenly the bard understood the meaning of all the other smiles just like this one, and the implication made her lightheaded.

"Then why... don't you know how much I love you?"

Xena traced her thumb over Gabrielle's lips, shivering as they pursed a little in reflex. "Yes, my sweet bard. I do know. You tell me everyday in a thousand different ways."

"Then why-- "

"Because...because I'm not right for you. You deserve so much more. Shh." Xena stilled the bard's protest with a finger to her lips. "It's not safe here for you. With me. I gave up telling you to leave a long time ago. But if your heart remains free, then maybe...maybe you'll find someone else... someone who can take better care of you-- "

Eyes flashing, Gabrielle's hand came up and moved Xena's finger. "You just don't get it, do you? My heart is not free-- it is completely entwined with yours. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. I thought you didn't want me so I married Perdicus-- hoping he would help me get over you, and I learned that it is just not possible. It was then I decided that I'd rather be with you, even if I couldn't have you, than be with anyone else, wanting you-- "

"Gabrielle, you-- "

"No! Listen to me, warrior princess. I'm not going anywhere. You already have me, so you might as well let me have you." Gabrielle gave Xena her own version of the lopsided smile. "After all, it's only fair."

Xena looked down at the bard's face. She was dumbfounded. She didn't know what to say. Gabrielle's hands reached up and cupped the warrior's face, and she leaned in until their lips were only a breath apart. Then Gabrielle told her:

"I'm going to kiss you now, Xena. Just cooperate, and no one will get hurt."

Xena's eyes widened at that, and widened further as she felt the bard's lips press against her own. But when she felt a tongue brush her lips, seeking an opening, she pulled back. Holding the bard back by the arms, she forced Gabrielle to look at her, but became almost undone by the passion burning in her eyes.

"Wait," Xena began, voice even lower than usual. "Gabrielle-- "

"Enough waiting." Gabrielle cupped her hands to Xena's face, and poured light, soft kisses on her cheeks, eyelids and then rested full, sweet lips against Xena's. "Please, Xena...." The bard kissed a line up Xena's jaw and stopping at her ear, she whispered. "Xena, I've wanted you for so long. Please... no more waiting...." Shaking fingers slowly mapped the features of the warrior's face and then lips touched once more.

The warrior was powerless against Gabrielle's passion. The soft touches inflamed her, the last of her resistence crumbling. The bard's breath against her mouth did nothing to cool the hot tingling of the warrior's lips. Gabrielle's touch was so, so gentle, yet the power of it threatened to push her back off the log. Xena wrapped her hands around the bard's waist to anchor herself.

As Gabrielle felt the warrior's hands on the bare skin of her waist, she leaned in to deepen the kiss. Xena was letting her take the lead, not taking more than Gabrielle offered, leaning her head back and letting the bard's tongue trace the outline of her lips. But the warrior could not hold back a soft moan on feeling that tongue push against her lips, and Gabrielle took the opportunity to slip her tongue into Xena's mouth.

The kiss deepened and the bard felt it slide down her spine like a thick liquid. She had never, ever felt a kiss like this one. Her stomach clenched almost painfully. Her scalp tingled. Her knees shook. Moaning, she pulled Xena's tongue into her mouth, sucking it. Xena groaned, her hands on the bard's waist tightening. It was Xena who broke the kiss, pulling away to breathe.

"Gods, Gabrielle," she began, breath ragged. "Where...where did you learn to kiss like that?"

"Hmm?" The bard was staring at Xena's wet lips, feeling little tremors down the inside of her thighs. " Oh, I-- well, I never have kissed like that. I guess you're just ... inspirational." She looked up and met the warrior's eyes. Seeing the passion on Xena's face made her heart pound with joy-- joy that she could evoke this feeling in the warrior. "Can we do that again?"

Xena nodded.

Gabrielle slid her arms around the warrior's neck and pulled her close. She desperately wanted to devour Xena's mouth once more but she forced herself to slow down-- to savor each touch. With her hands wrapped in Xena's hair, cupped firmly to the back of the warrior's head to guide her, the bard brought their lips together, again just barely close enough to meet. She brushed their lips together slowly, gently and then began to nibble softly on the warrior's bottom lip with her teeth. She felt Xena's sharp intake of breath as she gently sucked on the lip, pulling it just between her own.

Xena moaned against the bard's mouth and slid her hands lower, clasping Gabrielle's hips and pulling them against herself. She had enough now of giving Gabrielle the lead, the soft touches were becoming torture-- she had to put an end to it. Capturing Gabrielle's mouth she pulled the bard into a deep searing kiss, tongue engaged in thorough exploration.

Gabrielle slid into Xena's lap, her legs straddling the warrior's hips. The feel of Xena's leathers against Gabrielle's bare midriff caused a shiver across her chest. Suddenly she became acutely aware of her own breasts pushing just under Xena's, her nipples burning and tight. Gabrielle broke the kiss and leaned back, her fingers fumbling frantically with the laces of her top.

"Let me do that," Xena hissed, voice tight.

"Yes," Gabrielle whispered, watching the warrior's long fingers make quick work of her top's lacing. While pulling the loosened top away those fingers brushed against a taut nipple. Gabrielle gasped and Xena's eyes widened.

"Please, Xena, touch me...." Gabrielle begged, pulling willing hands to cover aching breasts. "Touch me...."

"Gods," Xena breathed as she caressed and stroked, "So soft, so...gods-- "

Gabrielle's eyes had drifted closed but they flew open as Xena's fingers began focusing on her nipples. She felt a spark ignite beneath the aching flesh, shoot between her legs and then settle there. The bard clasped Xena's wide shoulders to anchor herself against the exquisite sensations, her fingers clutching convulsively in rhythm with Xena's ministrations.

"Ahhh, Xena...yes...."

Gabrielle's head fell back and Xena took the opportunity to attach her mouth to the bard's neck. She could feel the pulse point under her lips and she licked at it with her tongue. Letting up on her caress for an instant she savored the soft full weight of Gabrielle's breasts in her hands. The effect her touch was having on the bard was hard to miss and she felt her own breasts ripening in empathy. It was like nothing she had ever experienced. She managed to detach her mouth from the bard's neck so she could see the exquisite weight filling her hands. Gabrielle's breasts were pale against the darkness of Xena's own skin-- all but the dark nipples pressed beneath her thumbs. The erotic vision made her mouth water and the warrior had a sudden and powerful urge to have her mouth all over Gabrielle's breasts. Xena slid her hands under the bard's rear and lifted her up so her breasts were level with Xena's mouth. She pulled a nipple between her lips.

"Oh, Xena! That good...Mmm...." Gabrielle moaned, the feel of the warrior's hot mouth on her intoxicating. Xena held the bard suspended effortlessly. Gabrielle clasped her legs around the warrior's waist while Xena's demanding hands played a beat-- clenching and releasing the bard's shapely rear, pulling Gabrielle's hips tightly to her belly. The pressure against Gabrielle's center caused by this forceful cadence sent a flood of warm wetness down the bard's thighs.

The smell of Gabrielle's desire overwhelmed the warrior's keen senses, making her lightheaded. The bard was writhing against her body now, hips pumping, hands clenched in Xena's hair, pushing her breast into Xena's mouth. On queue Xena sucked harder, nipping at Gabrielle with her teeth.

Gabrielle's head fell back and she licked her lips. Finally, she whispered. The feel of Xena's mouth on her breast sent electric shivers all the way down to the center of her being. She heard a constant moaning, getting louder before realizing she was hearing herself, crying out in rhythm with the powerful hands working her underneath, tightly clenching and unclenching, pressing her hard against the leather covering the warrior's torso. Gabrielle began to tremble. It was almost scary and instinctively she grabbed tight to the warrior, afraid of being pulled away from her when she needed her most.

"Uhhh...uhh... XENA!" The bard screamed suddenly, just as a most poignant ecstacy burst from her core and quickly swept through her-- the passion she felt for the warrior forced through her body and out with her scream. The violent convulsions shook the bard, leaving her shaking and clinging to Xena like a leaf in a storm.

Xena was amazed by the trembling woman she held in her arms. She pulled the bard tight to herself, rocking her close. It took her a moment to regain control of her voice.

"Gabrielle, you ... you are incredible. I didn't even get a chance to ... to touch you!" She whispered finally. Gabrielle managed to pull back far enough to meet Xena's eyes, and she smiled at the warrior, though her lips quivered.

"I couldn't wait. I've been wanting you like that for so long...."

The passion burning in each other's eyes flared, inflaming them. Xena laid the bard on her back and began tugging on the belt that held her crumpled skirt in place. "Let me in there," Xena told her, smiling. "Let me see...."

Gabrielle's answering laugh turned into a shiver as Xena tugged down her skirt and incredibly wet undergarments and then ran her finger along the nectar coating the bard's labia..

"You are so beautiful," Xena whispered, stroking glistening swollen lips. The flesh beneath her fingertips was like wet silk-- so soft she had to keep watching to make sure she was touching something. Gabrielle trembled, struggling to keep her eyes open, to watch Xena's gaze consume her. Xena licked her lips unconsciously and that one small gesture sent a shiver down the back of Gabrielle's legs, re-kindling the desire in her body.

"Wait, Xena. Take this off," Gabrielle ordered, tugging on the warrior's leathers. "I want to see you, too...." Sitting upright to give Xena a hand, the two got rid of the warrior's remaining clothes. Then they were both finally naked. Gabrielle just stared at Xena for a moment-- she had never been this naked this close before and the sight of her was making it hard for Gabrielle to breathe. She was amazed to see that the sight of her own body seemed to be having a similar effect on the warrior.

Placing a hand on each shoulder, Xena pushed the bard back down until she lay on the bedroll beneath her. Xena traced her fingertips along Gabrielle's breasts and belly and then lightly skimmed the surface of the thick patch of red-gold hair at the top of the bard's thighs, causing her hips to rise a little in reflex. She ran one finger down the inside of Gabrielle's thigh, tracing a line through the wet liquid.

Gabrielle moaned softly, and then her eyes widened as Xena took the now wet finger into her mouth and sucked. Gabrielle was stunned by this outrageously erotic gesture-- and as Xena pinned the bard with her eyes, she could feel each suck between her legs-- her body responding instinctively to the implication. Gabrielle needed to feel the warrior. She pulled her down to lay on top of her and now both women groaned at the contact of skin on skin. Taking the warrior's face in both hands Gabrielle pulled her into a forceful kiss, tasting herself on Xena's tongue. Pushing up with her hips, she rolled over, tucking Xena beneath her and straddled her hips. Shuddering at the feel of crisp wet public hair pressing up against her own. Gabrielle trailed her hands up Xena's belly and settled on her full breasts, cupping them with the palms of her hand.

"Verry nice," the bard told her, her voice husky and low. She had dreamed of touching Xena like this for so long, it had become a constant ache. Now that her dream had come true, she couldn't seem to get enough of the warrior's breasts. Gabrielle squeezed erect nipples between her fingers, and she felt Xena's blunt fingernails dig into her rear. With a soulful groan, Xena's heavy-lidded eyes fluttered closed as Gabrielle pinched her burning nipples harder. Gabrielle kissed her again, tongue keeping rhythm with her grasping fingertips. Only stopping when their breath ran out.

"Do that again," Xena said, when she could breath again. Her chest rose and fell rather steeply.

"Do what again?" Gabrielle leaned forward and wrapped her hands around Xena's breasts. "This?" Then she leaned in closer, mouth hovering just above Xena's. "Or this?"


Smiling, Gabrielle's hands squeezed the full, soft breasts firmly and traced her tongue along Xena's lower lip. The warrior groaned and held back as long as she could before wrapping her hands in the bard's hair, forcing a deeper kiss. Her hips bucked up each time Gabrielle squeezed a nipple.

"Gods Gabrielle...oh, yes...yes-- " Gabrielle was biting along Xena's jaw now, nibbling gently on her chin before tracing lips and teeth along the other jaw. Her tongue flicked at the warrior's earlobe. Moaning softly, Xena let herself just float with the sensations the bard evoked. So glorious and so unexpected. Gabrielle continued tracing a wet path down the warrior's throat and then across her collar bone. When she sucked a swollen nipple into her mouth Xena's back arched up, fingers digging into Gabrielle's back. The bard shivered and groaned into Xena's breast and she could feel goose bumps travel down the back of her neck. She leaned up and whispered into Xena's ear:

"Let me touch you, Xena...I need to feel you-- "

"Yes," Xena agreed, legs opening in anticipation. She was almost panting as her need grew worse. "Do it, Gabrielle...please...."

Gabrielle raised herself above Xena's body just enough to improve her angle and to watch Xena's face. As their eyes met, Gabrielle traced two fingers along wet folds.

"Inside! Inside please...ahh sweet Gods!" The bard had started slow but Xena wrapped a hand around Gabrielle's forearm, pushing the bard's hand deeper into herself-- fingers clutching corded muscle pumping into her. The warrior's head fell back, eyes closing as she wrapped long legs around Gabrielle's waist, pulling her closer.

"More...." the warrior pleaded, and the bard complied willingly, adding another finger. The sensation of being filled caused Xena to groan, head turning to the side, hair falling against her open mouth, sticking to wet lips. Her heels dug hard into the sandy floor of the cave as she pushed against Gabrielle's hand. Gabrielle had never seen anything as beautiful as Xena looked in this moment-- in her full passion, giving herself to the bard. She felt like her heart would burst. The bard's weight was braced by her elbow and she took that free hand and smoothed the hair from the warrior's face.

"Oh beautiful....Please, let me see you. Look at me Xena...."

Xena's eyes opened slowly and fixed on Gabrielle's. Even through the haze induced by the exquisite pleasure she was experiencing, she could see the love and passion in bard's eyes and it made her heart squeeze tight in her chest. Then she felt tremors start-- first little ripples in her belly and thighs, that kept expanding until the shudders engulfed her. It seemed as though her blood had caught fire. A final set of ecstatic explosions ripped through the warrior-- a powerful orgasm causing her to cry out Gabrielle's name.

Gabrielle had watched in awe as the passion broke across Xena's face. Xena was still pumping softly against the bard's hand, freeing a few last tremors. Gabrielle lay down on top Xena, who wrapped her arms tight around her, fingers stroking the soft hairs at the top of the bard's neck, sending a stream of goose bumps down her back. As she held the warrior's head tightly against her neck, she felt the wetness of Xena's tears.

"Xena?" The bard asked as she began to pull her hand from it's warm nest. But Xena's fingers circled her wrist, stopping her.

"Please," she whispered. "Don't...." Speech failed her. She wiped at a tear that had overflowed, as though trying to push it back in.

"Xena...are you... did I hurt you?"

The warrior shook her head. Gabrielle caressed the side of Xena's face, glad to see the warrior lean into the soft touch. Xena wanted to reassure the bard that she had done nothing wrong, but she was still overwhelmed by what had just happened. She had never felt an orgasm that powerful before-- it was so much more than physical. It wrenched her soul, and she felt her heart open wide. Reaching up, she wrapped her fingers in Gabrielle's hair, caught her eyes and held them.-- trying to convey all the love she was feeling.

"My sweetest bard...." Xena sighed finally, eliciting a warm smile from Gabrielle.

"I love you, Xena." Gabrielle told her, as she rested her forehead on Xena's.

"And I love you, more than I could ever tell you."

"You're doing a very good job showing me, my warrior princess."

Xena placed a hand on either side of Gabrielle's face, holding it up so she could once again meet the younger woman's eyes.

"I've barely begun to show you," she told her, and she smiled up at the bard-- a gentle smile that made the muscles of Gabrielle's belly clench. She brought their lips together for a kiss. Gabrielle melted into Xena's embrace, and the next thing she knew she was on her back, the warrior on top of her, deepening the kiss that she could now feel all the way down to her toes. Xena pulled gently on Gabrielle's wrist, freeing her hand from inside her, she trailed the bard's wet fingers over her own lips, then across her nipples. The bard groaned, hips bucking up reflexively-- the vision before her sparking a throbbing need between her legs, almost overwhelming her already strained senses. She ached for the warrior's touch, her legs parting, hips straining to increase contact. Fortunately she didn't have long to wait. Xena was a blazing trail of fire down her body, all lips, tongue and teeth. Gabrielle cried out as she felt a tongue part her lips and sink deep into the center of her need.

"Xena!...Gods...." Trembling fingers clutched at dark hair as Gabrielle tried to pull the warrior deeper. More than happy to cooperate, the warrior pulled Gabrielle's hips closer, guiding her legs up and over her shoulders. Xena's tongue danced a rhythm, causing Gabrielle's heels to dig into her back. As she felt the bard's passion rise, she slowed her stroke, not wanting Gabrielle to finish too soon like last time, before she had a chance for full exploration. But before Gabrielle could complain, Xena pushed a finger inside, and this new sensation was an excellent distraction. Xena looked up to watch the bard's face and smiled at the look of ecstacy her attentions caused. And when Gabrielle's back arched high off the bedroll, Xena pushed another finger in, stroking a slick smooth surface deep inside. The warrior was rewarded by Gabrielle screaming her name, echoing off the walls of the cave.

Xena pulled herself up to lay on top of the bad, careful to brace some of her weight on her elbows. Gabrielle objected by pulling Xena fully down on top of her and buried her face in the warrior's neck.

"Xena," she whispered. "I love you, Xena. I love you."

"I love you too."

"It feels so good to say it." Gabrielle lifted her head from its hiding place and met the warrior's gaze. "To finally be able to tell you. To show you."

Xena smiled, the back of her fingers stroking a soft cheek.

"I knew it could be like this."

Xena felt the bard's mist-green eyes wrapping around her heart. She kissed each eyelid, and then the tip of her nose."Like what, Gabrielle?"

"Like this. Like...I don't have the words. I just... I've never felt this way before...." Gabrielle's eyes drifted shut, and Xena smiled, folding the sleeping bard tightly in her arms. Nestling her head against the top of the smaller women's head, Xena closed her eyes, too, and soon she joined Gabrielle in a deep sleep.


Xena felt her spirit leave her body, floating up towards the cave's ceiling. Looking down, she saw herself and Gabrielle entwined, asleep. The cave began to fill with a golden light. The warrior traced its source to the opposite wall which glowed golden as it melted, revealing the ethereal form of a beautiful woman with large eyes and dark skin.

"M'Lila!" Xena cried, trying to reach out to the other woman. It was then she realized that her hands were bound. Her feet as well-- bound to a cross attached to the cave's wall. Fear gripped her, but as M'Lila floated close to her, Xena stopped struggling against the restraints.

"M'Lila-- "

"Yes Xena, I'm here now...."

"M'Lila! By the gods I've missed you. I didn't even realize how much until- " Xena cast a quick glance down at Gabrielle, curled in the blankets of their bedroll.

"I know...."

Suddenly Xena was worried that M'Lila would be angry with her for loving Gabrielle. She slowly met M'Lila's eyes.

"No Xena, its about time you let her in. That's why I've come."

"I don't understand. Have I been just dreaming about you, or have you actually been trying to reach me?"

"Both are true." M'Lila's ghost fingers traced the outline of Xena's cheek, and it felt to the warrior like a gentle spring breeze caressed her face. Tears sprung into her eyes as the touch brought back a flood of memories from their brief time together ten years ago. Catching the tears on the tips of her fingers, M'Lila used the moisture she gathered to trace the path of the ropes that bound the warrior's hands. Where tears touched rope, it dissolved into mist. "Its time. You must come away from there now. You are strong enough now to let it go."

"I failed you, M'Lila. I caused your death. What if I fail her, too? I couldn't bear it, bear losing someone I loved again."

"You did not cause my death. Caesar did. You need to stop blaming yourself. Step away from the cross, Xena. Stop using my death as a sword to kill the love inside you, or as a shield to stop the love reaching your heart. Come-- " M'lila's hand was outstretched, beckoning .

As the last of the bonds around Xena's hands and feet dissolved, she stepped away from the wall. Instantly both women were standing on the cave floor, standing over the sleeping bodies of Xena and Gabrielle. With a soft smile, M'Lila stretched her hand out to Xena, and Xena took it in her own, surprised at how solid it felt now.

"Look at yourself." Xena looked down at her sleeping body on the bedroll. She couldn't help but be amazed at how peaceful she looked. "Let yourself have this. Promise me."

Could she do it? Could she really let this young woman into her heart? But the truth was, she already had. Xena felt a big lump grow in her throat. Her hand, clasped tightly with M'Lila's trembled. Carefully, she met the Egyptian warrior's gaze, and their eyes locked.

"Promise me, Xena."

"I promise." Xena was crying now. "M'Lila, I never told you...I loved you. I love you."

M'Lila smiled again, warming Xena's heart. "I know. I love you too, Xena." Kneeling down, she placed a kiss on Gabrielle's forehead.

M'Lila stood, and giving Xena's hand a final squeeze, she stepped back. The golden light returned, engulfing her, and then the next thing she knew, Xena was back in her body, holding Gabrielle tightly. But as the light finally began to fade, she heard M'Lila's voice one more time, whispering: "Be brave, my warrior...."

Xena let the tears fall freely down her face. A deeply peaceful feeling surrounded her, and she closed her eyes and dreamed. Sweet dreams of M'Lila, and now, of Gabrielle.

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