Lying on her side, Xena reached back and lifted her damp hair to let the cool air dry the sweat off her neck. "So what does that mean, that thing you kept saying?"

Regesta laughed. "What did I say?"

"Don't laugh at my accent, but it sounded like 'doojha como mellay.'"

"Ahhhh. And did I say this when I tasted your lips? Or when I tasted you... in other places?"

"Actually, both," Xena grinned in embarrassment.

"Well, brute," Regesta murmured as she traced Xena's jawline with her hand. "It means, sweet like honey. That is how you taste. Sweet. Cuomo melle," she whispered, as she again brought her lips to the warrior's for a quick kiss.

They settled back quietly into the soft bed, stretching and letting the night air cool their heated bodies. The ensuing stillness was only disturbed by the popping and hissing of the slowly fading fire, both women having retreated into their own minds.

Soft laughter from Regesta finally broke the long silence. "We really are two of a kind."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"I've been lying here, my body against yours, absorbed in my own thoughts when I realized I was ignoring this magnificent woman I had just made love with. So I turn and look at you and here you are, lying against me, absorbed in your own thoughts, ignoring me."

"I'm sorry..."

"Please don't apologize. We both carry a great deal of sadness. It can be overpowering." Regesta propped herself up onto one elbow and smiled. "So talk to me, brute. Why are you so sad. Or should I just ask why you are in my bed instead of the bed of the beautiful Amazon Queen you travel with?"

"Why would you ask me that?"

"You're in love with her, no?"

"What makes you think that?"

"An average person in an average town may not notice the way you look at her, the tenderness in your voice when you speak to her, the way you touch her so caringly. But this is not an average town. And the townsfolk here pick up on such things between women." She let a small laugh escape before continuing. "I may have also gotten a clue when you whispered her name while I touched you."

"Did I?"

"Si. And at very... specific... moments."

Xena closed her eyes and shook her head, exhaling slowly.

"So," Regesta asked, "why are you not upstairs making love with her?"

Clearing her throat, Xena responded, "In physical matters, she prefers the company of men."

Regesta sat upright, shocked. "You must be joking! Are you quite sure?"


"Hmmmm," she muttered skeptically. "And in matters that are non-physical?"

"Well, then she likes to be with me."

"But you are sure about the physical?"

"Yes. Just last night she told me about a man, a complete stranger, she bedded yesterday afternoon just to satisfy the physical need."

"I don't know about this. After seeing her tonight... She may say she prefers the company of men, but she certainly enjoys the attention of women!"

"As do I," Xena said, sitting up, facing Regesta. "And right now, I do not want to think about Gabrielle. I want to think about you." Xena leaned into Regesta, placing a kiss on the smaller woman's collarbone. "And the things I have yet to do to you."

Regesta wrapped her arms around the warrior's neck and caressed her shoulders. "Ahh, so you want to use me to forget her?" A quick smile broke across her face. She let her head fall back, giving Xena better access to her shoulder and neck. "What a wonderful idea. Now tell me, what exactly are these things you have yet to do to me?" she murmured into Xena's ear. "And please, do not spare the details."

"Perhaps first, my hands needs to travel a bit...." she whispered as she allowed one hand to journey down Regesta's back stopping at the curve of her buttocks. "And my other hand...."

They were interrupted by a sharp knock on the door.

Regesta let out a soft emphatic stream of what were most probably curses, in her native tongue. She took a and released a deep breath before calling, "Who is it?"

"It's Gabrielle."

Xena whipped her head towards the door. "Gabrielle!? What's wrong? Are you OK?"


The door flew open to reveal a furious bard. "I don't believe this! You left hours ago to get me a towel and never came back! I've been worried sick! A million horrible thoughts went through my mind about what might have happened to you and you've been down here all this time with..."

She stopped when the truth of the situation hit her. Xena was naked in bed with Regesta who was also naked. And she had just walked in on them.

"Oh boy. I'm sorry. I didn't realize... I'm sorry."

"Gabrielle," Xena stammered, "I didn't plan..."

"It's... it's OK, Xena. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt." She looked at Regesta who had pulled the sheet up to cover them both and was trying to hide a smile.

A big semi-confused, semi-embarrassed, semi-tickled, semi-heartbroken smile broke over Gabrielle's face that she also tried to hide. "I'm sorry."

"Do not let it concern you, my Queen," Regesta smiled back.

Gabrielle turned and gently closed the door behind her.

Regesta eyed Xena closely, recognizing that as she watched, the warrior's heart was breaking. "Seems we forgot about her towel," she said softly.

Xena looked away.


"Forget it. It's no big deal."

Regesta studied her closely.

Attempting to wipe the event from her mind and not wanting Regesta to see her pain, Xena turned back to the dark eyed woman and suggested, "Weren't we just... starting something before we were interrupted."

Regesta smiled. "Si. But that was before a small redheaded Amazon walked in here and drove a knife into your heart, no?"

Xena turned away again.

"It is OK, brute. Now is the time to talk, not to act. So talk. You love her. I can see it is so. Why have you not said anything to her? And do not try to tell me 'She likes men.' I want to know why you haven't told her how you feel."

Xena responded quietly. "I don't want to lose her."

"Lose her? Why would you lose her?"

The warrior sighed. "She loves me as a friend. That's all. If I let her know how I feel it might scare her. She could leave me." Her jaw clenched as she finished. "It's not worth the risk."

"Brute! Loving, and being loved in return, is always worth the risk."

Xena shook her head, her body slumping. "I couldn't survive if she left. She is my light. She's a big part of what keeps me going, keeps the darkness from overwhelming me." She paused. "Or what if she just stopped trusting me? What if she began thinking every word, every touch, was a come on?" Xena looked sadly at Regesta. "I don't want her to be afraid of me."

Regesta gently placed her hands on the desolate warrior's shoulders. "She is not a child, Xena. She's a grown woman, an Amazon Queen. She's smart. And she loves you. As a friend or as more, we do not yet know. Open your heart to her. And even if she cannot return the kind of love you desire, she will cherish knowing how you feel. And she will love you more for it. I barely know her, yet I can see the truth in that. She will not leave you, or be afraid of you. She will only become closer."

Xena studied the wall, considering the possible truth of this woman's words.

"Will she say anything about this?" Regesta asked.

"Knowing Gabrielle, she will say something. Or worse, question me about it."

"Then I have some advice for you. Don't play the silent warrior. Talk to her."

"Talking doesn't come easy for me."

"Ahh, but it does for her. All you need to do is respond honestly and with your heart."


Morning, Day & Night 20

Regesta woke to the feel of a hand sliding softly down her side. The hand made its way down her thigh then changed direction and began an agonizingly slow journey back up her thigh toward the sudden raging ache in her groin.

Breathless and moaning, she grabbed Xena's arm, her eyes blazing. "I react strongly in the mornings, brute," she warned. "But I am also weak as a kitten and reacting is all I am capable of."

Aegean blue stared back at her. "Then what you are saying is that you are mine for the taking? And is that supposed to make me want to stop?" she questioned, her finger tickling the patch of hair she had sought. "Because it seems more like an invitation to me."

With that, Xena dropped her hand into profuse wetness and softness that seemed to quiver at her touch. Gently and languidly she stroked and watched as Regesta's breath broke into gasps and moans. With each caress her moans grew deeper and her body squirmed, needing more.

Xena watched intently as Regesta immersed herself in the overpowering sensations being lavished on her body. Before long, Regesta was speaking in her native tongue again. Xena did not understand the words themselves but she knew exactly what they meant, especially when they ceased being words and just became raucous moans of passion fulfilled.

The light sound of embarrassed laughter floated from inside the tavern as Regesta's heart beat began to return to normal.

Regesta's head snapped up, staring at the door. "Selina!" she said.

"And Gabrielle," Xena added, smiling wickedly. "Seems they heard you."

"Si. But cara," she said, a twinkle in her eye, "They do not know it was me."

A devilish grin crossed Xena's face.

"And you will not tell them!" Regesta said with a smile.


"No! Or I will be forced to disclose that a certain unflappable warrior princess has a particular spot on her body that when... caressed... causes her to make a sound that could almost be described as... a giggle."

Xena leveled her best warrior gaze at Regesta. Who smiled sweetly back at her.

"Deal. I won't tell if you don't."

They said their good-byes privately in Regesta's room, neither wanting their friends to witness such things.

It took a moment to muster her courage before Xena opened the door of Regesta's room to walk into the tavern. When she did, her sigh of relief at not seeing Gabrielle there was almost audible. Listening, she heard the bard outside, chatting with some Amazons. Xena rushed up the steps into the room where she was to have spent the night. Quickly she washed and dressed, then exited the room, trotting easily back down the steps into the tavern just as Gabrielle came back in.

"Ready to go?" Xena asked the bard casually.

"Xena? We aren't in a hurry to get anywhere. So if, uh... if you want to stick around here for a while..."

Xena just stared at her.

The rest of the words spilled out in a rush. "Well, it's alright with me if you don't want to leave. I... I understand." And she sincerely meant every word. Really, she did. Even as she felt each of them rip into her heart like the sharp claw of a wolfman. Or woman.

And Xena could only think, 'That just proves she doesn't feel anything for me. She wants me to stay with some other woman.'

Taking a deep breath, Xena responded, "No, Gabrielle. I'm ready to leave," then abruptly turned and walked out of the tavern.

Gabrielle stared after her for a moment, then turned as she saw Regesta walking towards her.

"Regesta, I want to thank you so much for... everything. It was marvelous not to sleep on the ground for a change."

"Gabriella, I... uh... I hope you are not upset about last night."

The bard smiled. "Of course not. It was just a bit of a surprise."

"She's very concerned, you know. She's worried about what you may think."

The redhead exhaled softly. "She'll never say that to me. She'll keep it all inside."

Regesta took the bard's hand. "You two need to talk more."

"Yeah? Tell that to your brute," sighed Gabrielle.

Placing her palm softly on the bard's cheek, she leaned in and gently kissed her. "I did, cara. I did."

"Thank you." Laughing lightly, Gabrielle chided, "By the way, I see her shoulders didn't kill you."

"But you are wrong, Gabriella. They most certainly did. And they sent me to the Elysian Fields in the process."

* - * - * - *

Warrior and Bard traveled silently for most of the day, walking on opposite sides of Argo. Xena asked Gabrielle, only once, if she was OK. The bard said yes and Xena let it drop.

Yet at every opportunity she had to not be seen, Xena studied her friend. She could see the concentration on Gabrielle's face and figured she was trying to come to grips with what she had witnessed the night before.

They continued on, Xena using Argo as not only a physical barrier but an emotional one. But by midday, when Gabrielle still had not said much, Xena could take it no longer. She moved around Argo and fell into step beside her friend.

Gabrielle acknowledged her presence with a slight smile and nod, but did not speak.

They walked for a few more minutes before Xena had to say something.

"Gabrielle, talk to me."

"That's twice recently you've asked me to talk. You're usually telling me to be quiet."

"Well now I'm telling you to talk to me."

"About what?"

"About what you've been thinking about all day."

"OK, Xena. I want to know why you didn't tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"That you like women."

"The subject never came up," she grumbled.

"Xena! That's not something that would necessarily come up in everyday conversation." She began a make-believe two way conversation. "Gabrielle, did I tell you we need to fix the water skin? There seems to be a leak in it. No, Xena, you didn't tell me that. Did I tell you I saw a new blanket I wanted to get? Mine is getting pretty tattered. Why no Gabrielle, you didn't. And did I tell you I regularly make love with women. Why no Xena, you hadn't mentioned it. Did I tell you I have a blister on my foot?" She glared at her friend.

"Who said anything about regularly," Xena mumbled.

"Xena, that is not the point!" she shouted in exasperation. Then she turned to the warrior, her eyes wide. "Or is it? Was that your first time with a woman?"

"No," she replied glumly.

Gabrielle just shook her head. "I can't believe you never told me."

"We've already been through this."

"OK, then," she said smartly. "Next topic. Tell me about it."


"Tell me about it. What it's like. How is it different?"

"Why are you asking me this!?!"

"Because I want to know. So, how is it different?"

"I can't explain how it's different. It just is."

"Xena, try."

"Men and women are different, Gabrielle. Take those basic differences and... and... and... that's the difference."

"Oh, gee," she said sarcastically. "Now I understand."

"What do you want me to say? It's different. It's... softer. More passionate. More intense. For me, anyway."

"So you prefer women?"

"I should have just stayed on the other side of Argo," Xena muttered.

"But you didn't. You came over her to talk. So talk. Do you prefer women?"

"I prefer the person I'm attracted to," she said stiffly.

"Women or men, huh?" she mused. "There has to be a big difference though. I would think it would be very different, texture wise," Gabrielle commented and began to draw pictures in the air with her staff. "Men are rough. Their hands, their beards, their skin. They are all angles and hard muscles. Women are so much softer, so much more comfortable. All curves and even their muscles are yielding. Xena, you are the strongest, most muscular women I've ever met. But when I put my head on your shoulder, it's soft and smooth. Comfortable."

"Thanks. I think."

"You're welcome." An evil grin crossed the bard's face. "So was she... attentive to your needs?"


"Was she?"


Gabrielle smirked. "I bet you're really loud."

Xena looked to the sky. "Which of you gods is torturing me today though her?"

"Was that you Selina and I heard this morning?"

"Gabri..." She squared her shoulders, smiled sweetly and said, "I am not going to answer that question."

Gabrielle studied her smiling friend closely. "It wasn't you," she declared.

"And what makes you think that?"

"Because you are not the least bit embarrassed."

Xena laughed. "Maybe you're right." Then she glanced sideways at the bard, her eyebrow up, smiling. "And maybe I'm just proud."

"Humph!" she mumbled, her face scrunching in thought. "I'm going to have to think about this one. In the mean time, tell me this. Did she...? You know?" Gabrielle asked, her eyebrows bouncing.

"Did she what?"

"Kiss you... there," she grinned, pointing at Xena's groin with her eyes.

"Gabrielle!" Xena exclaimed, a guilty, embarrassed look washing over her face.

"She did! She did!" Gabrielle laughed, buoyed by Xena's embarrassment. "What does it feel like?"

"Gabrielle! I am not going to go into details with you!"

"Come on, Xena. If you can't talk about it with me, who can you talk about it with?"

"Who says I need to talk about it at all?"

"I do. Besides, I told you details about me. If you're not going to share stuff with me, I won't be comfortable talking to you anymore. And our relationship is stronger than that. Please?

"OK, OK," Xena sighed.

"Good! So what's it like?"

"It feels good."

"Xena, I kinda knew that. I'm asking for more specifics. How is it different?"

"I don't know how to describe it. I'm not the bard here."

"Try, Xena. Try."

"OK, OK." She sighed, opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it and sighed again. "It's... more... it's... softer but more direct. More intense. Like... like.. a warm pulling from deep inside... it's more enveloping. It takes your whole body with it. It's just... more."

"Xena! You're blushing! I don't think I've ever seen that before!"

"Well I've never had to try to describe such things before! It's embarrassing!"

"I'm jealous, you know. I really do want to try that." She paused. "More enveloping, huh?"

Xena just smiled.

"Did you... Oh, nevermind," Gabrielle said as she started giggling.

"Out with it. Did I what?"

"I was going to ask if you repaid her in kind, but I already know that you did."

"Already know?" she said through clenched jaws.

"You know Xena, I've never seen you turn so red before. Even your chest is getting flushed"

"Gabrielle!" She took another deep breath and growled, "What do you mean 'you already know.'"

"It was a comment Regesta made about your shoulders early last night. And then again this morning."

"Forget it. I don't think I want to know," Xena muttered, locking her jaw again.

But Gabrielle was not about to let her off the hook. "She loved your shoulders, you know."

Xena turned, looked Gabrielle dead in the eye and let a mischievously wicked grin roll across her face. "I know."

"Xena!" the bard laughed. "You know, I'm amazed at you. Big stoic warrior and all it takes is a little flirting, a few glasses of wine, a hand running across your shoulder and you end up flat on your back!"

Shocked, Xena stammered, "But... but... I don't do this... This isn't.. this isn't..."

"I'm teasing you, Xena!" Gabrielle laughed. "Besides, didn't we talk about you doing this the other night? Wasn't I the one who suggested you do it?"

"Yes. To both questions" she muttered.

"Alright then."

But the bard was not through with her yet. She glanced at Xena, a question in her sparkling eyes.

Xena had to ask. "What now?"

"What about... well... what about the taste?"


"What's it taste like?"

"I can not believe you're asking me this!"

"You've got me curious about it!"

"What has gotten into you? When did you get so bold?"

"I think it was all the women at the inn," the bard said dreamily. "They were all so tender with each other. You couldn't even tell which ones were lovers and which were just friends. They were all so affectionate. All that open sexuality." She thought for a moment. "Maybe my failed attempt at satisfaction the other day has something to do with it, too. And our conversation that night. And all that flirting that was going on. I guess it all just kind of got to me."

"Yeah, I guess it did."

"Got to you too, obviously," Gabrielle chided.

"Yeah," she chuckled. "I guess it did."



"So what about the taste?"

"Gabrielle! You will not force me to try to describe that! I will not do it!"

"OK, OK," she laughed. "I had to ask, you know. Cause I'm curious." She waited a beat, then asked. "Is it sweet?"

"Cuomo melle," Xena whispered, smiling to herself in remembrance.

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," Xena rumbled. "And I told you, I'm not going to answer that."

They walked in silence for a little while, Xena smiling to herself and Gabrielle sneaking peaks at her.

"Well you seem to be quite pleased with yourself," Gabrielle commented. "Were you attentive to her needs also?"

"Gabrielle, for me, a big part of... of... the experience, is making sure my partner is having as much fun as I am. So yes, I was attentive."

"Good for you, Xena. Good for you," Gabrielle stated matter of factly. "Now," she mumbled, "if I could only find myself someone like you..."

Xena fell flat on her face.

"Xena! Are you all right? What happened?" Gabrielle yelled as she dropped to the ground to help her.

Jumping up, Xena brushed herself off self-consciously and kept walking. "I must have tripped on that root or something," she muttered without looking at the bard.

"Whatsamatter? You're legs weak?" Gabrielle chided. "Some great sex and you get all clumsy and can't walk, huh?"

Xena shook her head slowly. "You are never going to stop teasing me about this, are you?"

"Nope," she replied happily. "At least not until you can turn the tables on me."

Xena wrapped an arm around the bard's shoulder. "It will happen. And then I'm going to be merciless with you!"

"Yeah well, it hasn't happened yet. So for now, it's my turn to be merciless," she teased. "So tell me, when she put her mouth on you, is it different right away?"

Xena sighed heavily.

"You said it was 'more.' More what? More, as in added stimulation or different stimulation?"

Xena clenched her jaw tight.

"I mean, if you couldn't see, if you didn't know, would you be able to tell immediately that it was a mouth and not a hand?"

In exasperation, Xena stopped, faced the bard and blurted, "By the Gods, Gabrielle! It would be easier to show you than to answer all these questions! Would that satisfy your curiosity?"

It wasn't until after the words came out of her mouth that she realized what she said. They stood, facing each other, silent, motionless, staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed, neither taking a breath.

The sound of beating hooves approaching broke their spell. Someone was in a hurry, riding hard.

As the horse came around the bend, Gabrielle turned and recognized the chestnut haired rider as Selina, the bartender from Regesta's inn.

When Selina saw the two women standing in the road, she pulled up hard and stopped.

"Selina! Is everything all right?" Gabrielle called.

Selina looked at the couple and knew immediately something important had been happening between them. They had been facing each other and as Gabrielle looked up, calling her name, Xena turned her back and walked a few steps away. And Gabrielle looked none too settled either. "Did I interrupt something?"

In tandem they vigorously replied, "No!" then glanced at each other, rolled their eyes and chuckled, the tension between them broken.

Stepping up, Gabrielle spoke. "It's OK, Selina. But where are you going in such a hurry? Is something wrong?"

"I'm looking for the two of you. I want to ask your help."

Xena raised an eyebrow in question.

"Paloneous was pretty upset. His men are claiming they were beaten by a band of hired mercenaries and the townswomen took cheap shots at them. Regesta explained it was only the three of you but he refused to believe three women beat up fifteen of his best men. He thinks the town broke the bargain. So he came with a whole garrison and told Regesta that the three who fought must fight again. And this time they will have to defeat twenty of his men to prove it was just them. But you had already gone and Regesta is going to have to face twenty men alone. And they will not go easy on her. I've come to ask if you would come back to stand with her."

"Gee Gabrielle, Selina is inviting us to a party."

"Yeah, and we get to be the punching bags."

In one smooth motion, Xena sprung onto Argo's back then leaned down, offering a hand to Gabrielle. "Let's go."

Reaching up, Gabrielle took Xena's hand but made no attempt to mount Argo. She just stood there for a moment, holding Xena's hand and looking directly into her eyes.

That look caused a rush of emotion to tighten Xena's chest and allowed a small moan escape from her lips.

Satisfied with that reaction, Gabrielle mounted Argo behind Xena. She placed her hands lightly on Xena's hips. "OK, let's go."

Selina rode up next to them. "We will have to ride fairly fast if we are to get back in time. Gabrielle, you'd best hold on better than that," she chuckled and took off.

Xena looked over her shoulder at the bard. "You heard her. Better hold on. HIYAH!" she cried, spurring Argo into a full gallop and causing Gabrielle to quickly fling her arms tightly around Xena's waist before being thrown to the ground.

* - * - * - *

"Since my friends are out of town at the moment and I am here alone, how about sending them out only eight at a time?" Regesta called from the center of the circle that had been cleared for the battle.

Paloneous laughed and called back from outside the circle. "Regesta, my old friend, if you tell me the truth, you won't have to fight any of them."

"King Paloneous, my old friend," Regesta said smiling and leaning on her bone club, "I have told you the truth and I will tell you again. Myself and two other women who were passing through... took care of your men last night."

Paloneous looked to his soldiers who responded by grumbling and shaking their heads. "Seems they still don't agree with you."

Xena's voice rang out from the outer edge of the crowd. "Can anyone join this party?"

"And you are?" asked the King.

"I am one of the people who taught your boys some manners last night."

Paloneous smiled. "Then you are welcome to step into this ring for a beating."

The eyebrow lifted, merging with her bangs. "You mean if I step into that ring I get to beat people up? Out of my way!" she said as she began making her way through the crowd.

Following Xena's path through the spectators, Gabrielle entered the circle alongside her warrior. But Xena held her hand up in front of the bard's chest, blocking her way.

"Gabrielle, stay here"


"Stay here. You don't need to get involved."

"Xena, I was involved in the fight last night and I will be involved in this one."

"Gabrielle, there's no need..."

The bard fairly growled. "Xena..."

The warrior stopped, thought for a moment, then smiled, understanding. "Sorry. You know it's just because I don't want you to get hurt, right?"

And the bard smiled back. "Yeah. Most of the time I know that. But sometimes you still treat me like I can't take care of myself. Like a child."

"Gabrielle, I don't do that on purpose..."

"A-hem!" Regesta cleared her throat loudly. "Scuzzi, for interrupting such a beautiful, touching moment between friends, and I truly am happy to see you both, but..." she gestured to the twenty soldiers who were lined up and waiting.

"Sorry," Gabrielle said, her eyes twinkling as they proceeded to the center of the circle.

"These are your two friends?" Paloneous asked.

"Si, your Highness. They are."

To the bard and the warrior he said, "And you are willing to stand with her against twenty of my men?"

"Just twenty? Well, if that's all you've got..." Xena drawled.

"Fine. Just realize, this is more of a contest than a battle. We do not want to kill you nor you to kill us."

"Understood," Xena said with a nod.

The troops started forward as Regesta whispered, "They will charge all at once. Gabriella will need room to swing that staff so Xena and I will step forward and away. Ready? Here they come"

The three women spread out as the crowd exploded in cheers and the soldiers began their attack.

The clash of sword against sword, sword against staff and sword against bone club filled the air like the sound of strange marching band, preparing its battle song. Xena easily dispatched the trio of soldiers in front of her by ducking, flipping and coming down behind them with a kick, knocking them directly into the path of Regesta's swinging club to the appreciative roar of the crowd. Even as she continued to fight, Xena listened closely for the crack of Gabrielle's staff as it hit its marks.

It did not take long before eighteen of the soldiers were motionless on the ground. And as they had once before, Xena and Regesta stood watching as Gabrielle battled the last two.

Regesta leaned on her club and nonchalantly commented, "Is it possible that she has gotten better since yesterday?"

Xena's smile beamed with pride. "Yes, it is. She learns more every time she fights. Ah! One more down, only one to go!"

Regesta began to walk up behind Gabrielle as she delivered a series of blows to the last soldier. With a blow to the ribs, a twist and a low sweep, she knocked his feet out from under him, finishing him off. And at that moment she saw someone coming up behind her so she whipped her body around, delivering two quick blows, one to the shoulders and another to the ribs of...

"Regesta! Dear gods!" the bard cried. "Are you hurt? I'm so sorry!"

The peace keeper lay curled in a ball, clutching her ribs. She looked up at Gabrielle who had dropped to the ground horrified by what she'd done. Managing a painful smile, Regesta said, "I am fine, bella. And you are much stronger than you look."

"Regesta, I'm so sorry. I didn't know it was you..."

"It is my fault, cara. I came up behind you..." she said, gritting her teeth.

Xena walked over and looking down at Regesta, smiled. "Bowing to the Queen?"

"Si cara," Regesta said with a laugh. "At her... request."

"Gabrielle?" Xena grinned as she knelt to examine the prone peace keeper. "You're supposed to hit the bad guys, not the people you're fighting with." To Regesta she said, "You're lucky. Nothing's broken. But you're going to have an Olympian sized bruise." She offered her hand. "Up you go," and gently pulled Regesta to her feet.

The crowd, which had gone silent when Regesta was knocked down, erupted into cheers and applause when she stood back up.

The King approached them as they began to walk out of the circle. Bowing his head, he said, "I apologize for putting you through this... this... tutoring session for my men. Regesta, I should know by now that you don't lie to me. As a gesture of my remorse, I'd like to volunteer my men to dig that new well the town needs."

Regesta lifted an eyebrow.

"And they will finish clearing that field you've been working on."

Xena lifted an eyebrow.

"And... and... reinforce the old bridge?"

Knowing she couldn't do the one eyebrow thing Gabrielle crossed her arms and glared.

"More?" He thought for a moment. "And I will pay for a grand festival. To be held here so that the spirits can flow."

The three women smiled.

Regesta stepped forward, offering her hand. "King Paloneous, my old friend, you do not have to do that, but how wonderfully generous of you to offer! I accept."

He 'hmphed' with a chuckle, taking the offered hand in his. "Regesta, you are the only one who inspires my generous spirit this way." He looked to Xena and Gabrielle. "You're friends here didn't hurt your cause either!"

"Ha!" Regesta cried. "Like you did not intend to have a festival anyway?"

Laughing, the King replied, "Well, yes I did. But I did not intend to have it here!"

* - * - * - *

The three women stood near the bar in the raucous tavern. All around them, the women of the town were celebrating the victory happily and loudly. As were some of the king's soldiers. It was pretty much guaranteed there would be no trouble tonight and everyone would be having a grand time.

"I regret not being able to spend more time with you this evening," Regesta said to them. "But the King has requested a meeting with the town council and I am forced to attend. Please, enjoy the tavern and stay here tonight as my guests."

Xena nodded her acceptance of the offer as Gabrielle said, "Thanks Regesta. Another night in a soft bed will be wonderful."

Taking Gabrielle's hand, Regesta lifted it to her lips and respectfully kissed it. "Good night, my Queen." Turning to the warrior, she smiled and nodded her head. "Buono notte, cara mia."

The duo worked their way to a back wall through the crowded tavern, Xena leading the way. Once there, the bard scrunched her nose as she looked up at the warrior. "We should have grabbed something while we were near the bar."

"Gabrielle, would you like me to get you something to drink?"

"Would you, Xena?" she said with an endearing smile. "It's easier for you to get through people. Crowds just seem to part for you. If I went, it would be morning before I got back."

Xena laughed. "You're probably right. Wait here." Xena began working her way back through the crowd when a tickle on the back of her neck, a feeling really, made her stop. She turned back and stopped dead in her tracks.

In the few moments since she walked away, the bard had already been surrounded. By women. Three women to be exact. Three very attractive women. Three very attractive, attentive women. And Gabrielle had the brightest smile on her face...

"No alcohol for you tonight," Xena muttered as she turned to fight her way to the bar.

When she finally got back, Gabrielle was no where in sight. Scanning the area, she spotted the golden red hair a few tables over. Now seated in the company of four woman. Xena leaned against the tavern wall and silently watched as the bard's hands danced in the air, obviously relating a story of some kind which had the women at the table laughing.

'She's probably embarrassing the Hades out of me somehow or another,' Xena thought.

She stood watching, ale in one hand, apple cider in the other. From her vantage point, she could see one of the women trying to scoot her chair closer to the bard and her blood began to heat. Then she noticed the bard half standing, looking to the bar, then turning, scanning the crowd, her eyes finally looking directly at her. And the heat in her blood calmed as the heat in her heart flamed.

The bard motioned her over.

"Thanks, Xena," she said, taking the mug. "They got us a table. This is Festipherone, Galia, Irine and Salstra," she said, going around the table. "And this is my friend, Xena."

The warrior barely nodded and tried not to respond with downright glares as hellos were given and one of the women got her a chair. Xena had no idea, nor did she care which one she was.

Noticing the bard already had a beverage in front of her, Xena was secretly satisfied when she pushed it away slightly to drink what Xena had brought her. Then her jaw clenched as she saw the bard register the non-alcoholic content and switch back to what she had been drinking. Damn!

Warrior attitude firmly in place, it was not long before Xena was downright glowering at any woman who dared approach the table. And it worked. Most turned back before reaching them. The ones who made it all the way to the table, briefly offered thanks for standing up to Paloneous' men and then, with a bit of a frightened look at the stern, imposing warrior, beat a hasty retreat. But all of them held Gabrielle's hand a little too long or looked a little too deeply into her eyes. And Gabrielle, being Gabrielle, gave each of them her complete attention, looking sweetly into their eyes, holding their hands. She certainly seemed to be enjoying it. Maybe enjoying it a little too much.

For Xena's tastes anyway.

Then one of the ones who slipped past as Xena glared at someone else, asked if Gabrielle would tell a story.

The bard looked over at the brooding warrior and smiled sweetly. Which immediately softened her. "Is that OK with you?" she asked.

"Gabrielle, why are you even asking me that?"

Rising, the bard walked around the table and stopped directly behind her. Gently slipping her hands under the protective armor, she rubbed the warrior's shoulders as she leaned down and whispered, "You look like you're about to rip my head off. Are you OK? Do you want us to leave?"

Xena sighed. The bard had done it again. Just when Xena was getting riled up, over nothing she should add, the bard's soft voice in her ear, tender caress on her shoulder and willingness to leave when she was obviously enjoying herself soothed the misplaced anger away. It made her realize how foolish she was acting, how jealous when she had no right to be. How much in love.

She looked over her shoulder at the beautiful woman behind her and a crooked smile crossed her face. "Sorry. I guess I'm just being... a sourpuss. You go ahead and tell them a story."

"That's my girl!" she said, patting the warrior's shoulder. Leaning close again, she whispered softly though coal black tresses, "I know you dislike this type of attention and you are just staying here for me. Thank you." She stood back up. "Any requests?"

"Yes. Make it not about me."

"Oh, OK. You think this particular crowd of women wants to hear about the heroics of... Hercules? Sinbad?" She paused, a grand, teasing smile sweeping over her face. "Ulysses?"

Xena grimaced.

"Know your audience. One of the first rules of barding. And this audience wants to hear about a heroic woman. You wouldn't happen to know anyone like that, would you?" she asked innocently.

"As a matter of fact, I do. Her name is Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Ever hear of her?"

"Hmm. Yes I believe I have. Isn't she the one who travels with the Warrior Princess? Now there's someone I could tell a story about."

"Gabrielle..." the Warrior Princess growled.

"Cecrops. I'll tell them about Cecrops. You like that story and don't try to tell me you don't."

"Hmph!" But she smiled.

One of the women spoke up, hesitantly. "Then... you will? Tell us a story?"

So she told them the story of Cecrops, the lost mariner and how she found herself on the cursed ship and how Xena literally flew onto the ship to rescue her. And how Xena aided Cecrops in deciphering the riddle of the curse, besting Poseidon and making an enemy of the sea god. And earning the eternal gratitude of every member of the crew who was given back his future.

When they cheered and applauded and yelled for more, she told them the story of Bacchus. Which she knew to be another of Xena's favorites.

And there sat Xena at the table, foot up on the chair Gabrielle had vacated, silently observing. Watching Gabrielle as she told a story always gave the warrior a warm glow. One of pride. And looking around the room, she could see the faces of the woman around her glowing also. The bard had drawn them in, captured them, as she always seemed to do. Especially one of the women sitting at their table. The one who had kept trying to sit closer to Gabrielle all night. Galia.

Xena checked the look in Galia's eyes. She knew that look. The woman was smitten. Hadn't taken her eyes off Gabrielle all night. Had been flirting with her. Had jumped up to get her another drink before she even finished her last one. Had been touching Gabrielle's arm when she spoke.

Xena's blood began to heat again.

And continued to do so as the bard finished that story and began another. As she looked around, it occurred to her that half the women in the place were drooling over Gabrielle. She figured the other half must be drunk.

When closing time finally arrived, the tavern emptied as Xena stood glowering on the staircase, waiting. After finishing the third story, Gabrielle had spent the rest of the night surrounded by women who all seemed just a little too interested in securing the bard's attention for themselves. Gabrielle had never even made it back to the table. Never made it back to Xena. Not that it bothered the warrior. Not one bit. So she kept telling herself. But every moment she waited her jealousy grew.

One last cluster of women surrounded the bard and she gave each of them her undivided attention as they complimented her talent and said goodnight. And then there was Galia, hanging back, wanting to be the last one the bard spoke with. Xena knew that move. Outlast the rest of the pack and get the prey alone. Then make your move. Well, it wouldn't work this time.

Just as she was about to make her imposing presence know by standing at the bard's side, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see Selina, the bartender, standing there.

"Hi, Xena. I just got a message from Regesta. She wanted to let you know she's sorry she couldn't spend some time with you and Gabrielle tonight. But she hopes you'll stop and see her before you leave in the morning. And this next part is a direct quote. She said to say, 'Talk to her!'"

Xena smiled sadly. "Yeah, right. Thanks for the message, Selina."

Looking over the warrior's shoulder, Selina grinned. "Looks like Gabrielle has another admirer."

Xena spun in time to see Galia lift the bard's hand to her lips. And the smile that broke across Gabrielle's face could have lit the whole tavern. Xena stood rooted. She watched while Galia stepped closer to her bard, still holding her hand and spoke softly into her ear. Watched the look of surprise flash on the bard's face. Watched the sexy smile that followed. Watched the bard lean in to the woman and whisper back.

Watched Galia smile, kiss Gabrielle's hand again, then turn and walk away.

Xena quickly moved to the bard's side. "What was that all about?" she asked, trying her best to sound uninterested.

"Oh nothing. She's an artist and she wanted me to go to her place to see some sketches she's done. I said maybe some other time. I'm just too tired tonight."

Xena actually felt a small wave of relief wash over her. Not quite enough to dispel the intense jealousy she had been battling all night, but it helped a little. She replied as if she were bored. "Fine. Let's go to our room."

Gabrielle watched as Xena futzed with the saddlebags, taking things out, putting them back, pulling them out again, rearranging, then putting them back.

The warrior was on edge and the bard thought she knew why. 'She probably doesn't want me to feel bad if she leaves me to go spend the night with Regesta again.'

Gathering her nerve, she asked, "Xena? Are you..." then hesitated, embarrassed. "Are you, umm, going to be sleeping... downstairs?"


"Won't she expect you to?"

"No. It was a one time thing."

"Are you sure? Because if you're staying up here because you feel bad for me, you shouldn't. As a matter of fact," she chided, "If you don't go down there, maybe I will!"

Xena glared at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Take a wild guess, Xena. You're the one who told me how much fun you had last night and I don't think it's a secret that I could use a night like that!"

"Gabrielle, you don't mean that."

"Don't I?" she teased.

"Well, it would be a very stupid thing to do."

The bard could barely believe what she heard. "Stupid? Why would it be stupid? It wasn't stupid for you!"

"I knew what I was doing."

"And I don't?" Gabrielle's anger rose a notch. "I get it, Xena. You've done it before, so it's OK. But because it would be something new to me, it's a stupid decision."

"Gabrielle, you're over reacting."

"I don't think so, Xena. I think you're just treating me like a child again."

"I'd stop treating you that way if you'd stop acting that way!"

"By the hair on Aphrodite's tit, Xena! Will you just stop it? I'm not that naive kid that followed you out of Poteidaia anymore. I've grown up in these past two years, apparently while you weren't watching! And if you had opened your eyes, you'd have noticed that I've spent the last two evenings turning down women who were trying to pick me up! Or did you really believe Galia wanted me to go to her place to look at sketches? I'm a gods-be-damned Amazon Queen, Xena. I can take care of myself and I can make decisions about my own body."


"I need some air," she snapped, heading for the door. Stopping short, she turned, grabbed a saddlebag, rummaged around and brought out of small jar of salve. Then spinning on her heels, she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Xena dropped onto the bed. Gabrielle had taken the salve. The salve they use when either of them gets bruised in a fight.

Gabrielle was going to see Regesta.

By the time the bard made it down the steps her anger had dissipated a bit and she began to wonder if Xena wasn't right, after all. Dropping herself into a chair in the empty tavern, she set the jar on the table and deposited her head into her hands.

"Besides, I really wasn't serious when I first said it," she said to no one.

Xena paced the room like a trapped animal. Gabrielle was going to see Regesta. Gabrielle was going to see Regesta.

The thought tumbled over and over through her mind. Gabrielle was going to see Regesta. Gabrielle was going to see Regesta.

She let her head fall forward, stretching her neck and massaged her temples as the thoughts whirled around in her brain.

"I have to stop her," she said to no one.

'But if I stop her, is that treating her like a child? Or is it helping her? She has a right to make her own decisions, but I have a right to protect her. But am I protecting her or am I just trying to keep her for myself? If she had told me her plans with that scum Harry, would I have stopped her?'

Gabrielle ran her hand along the side of the table. "Ga-ba-ree-EL-la," she said aloud, playing her hand along the smooth worn surface of the wood.

"It would not be stupid!"

'Impulsive, perhaps. Hasty. Rash. Not well thought out,' she thought. 'It would be any of those. But it would not have been stupid.' She drummed her fingers on the table, looking at Regesta's door. 'Who am I kidding? I wouldn't even know how to go about seducing Regesta. And if she's in there waiting to be seduced by someone, it would be Xena. How could I possibly compete with that?'

She stood, picking up the jar.

"Might as well bring her the salve, anyway. I'm already down here. And I can apologize again," she muttered.

Would I have stopped her from going off with Harry?

"No. I wouldn't."

'Because he was a man,' the warrior thought. 'I can't compete with that. But now I should stop her because... Regesta is a woman? Or is it because Regesta... is not me.'

Walking up to the door, Gabrielle found herself glad for the chance to see Regesta again. "And if I'm lucky, maybe she flirt with me some more."

The bard knocked.

"Who is it?" came the call from inside the room.


"Please! Come in."

The bard walked into the room to find Regesta lying in her bed, pulling the blanket up to her chest, her bare shoulders confessing her nakedness. A furious bruise had already begun to stain one shoulder purple and blue.

"Gabriella, what an unexpected joy to see you!"

"Really? I would have thought you would prefer to have Xena walking in," she teased.

Regesta smiled warmly. "The beauty of a perfect emerald is no less a joy than the beauty of a perfect sapphire. When gifted with the vision of either, you should just be grateful to the gods who placed her in your sight."

Gabrielle shook her head and laughed. "Oh, you are good!"

Her dark eyes twinkling, Regesta chuckled. "So what can I do for this perfect emerald who graces my doorway?"

"I came to apologize again. For hitting you."

"There is no need, Gabriella. It was a reaction on your part. Come sit down," she offered patting the bed next to her. "And the whole thing is actually more my fault than yours. I should know better than to approach a battling warrior from a blind spot. But you looked so engaging, your hair flying around you like fire in the sunlight. You are absolutely captivating."

Gabrielle laughed at the flattery as she sat. "You never stop, do you?

"I can't help it. I look at you and the truth just falls from my mouth."

"Yeah. Right."

"Tell me you don't know how beautiful you are!" she charged.

Gabrielle looked away.

"And now you're blushing. Again."

"You seem to be able to extract that reaction from me at your will," she said, trying in vain to hide her smile.

"Yes, I do. And don't think I don't enjoy it. It only increases your loveliness."

"OK, that's enough. Or you're going to start getting reactions you may not be ready for."

"Gabriella, what could you possibly do that I would not be ready for?" she questioned, that inviting, teasing smile playing on her face.

Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle cleared her throat. "I brought some special salve for your bruises. It numbs the area, takes away some of the pain."

Regesta smiled at the sudden change of subject. "Well I could certainly use it. You hit me terribly hard."

"I'm so sorry..."

"Stop. I'm teasing you. Not that you didn't hit me hard. It's obvious you did," she commented glancing at her shoulder.

"It does look pretty bad."

"Well it hurts," she smiled. "And my ribs are worse! So please, feel free..."

Gabrielle dipped two fingers into the container and scooped out a dab of the salve. Reaching over, she began spreading and kneading it gently into Regesta's shoulder. When the contact caused Regesta to wince, the bard lightened her touch, distributing the cream in more of a delicate caress. She worked it in slowly, trying not to cause more discomfort than relief and secretly delighting in the feel of soft smooth skin under her palm.

When she finished, knowing Regesta was naked, she began to stammer. "OK... let's umm... let's see your, umm, ribs."

Regesta looked into Gabrielle's eyes and smiled devilishly. Rolling onto her side, she slowly pulled down the blanket exposing the huge, enraged red and purple bruise. And her breasts.

Gabrielle stared. "Wow."

"Gabriella? Was that comment about the bruise or my bre..."

"DON'T! Don't even finish that statement," she growled, again beginning to blush.

"Yes, my Queen. Your wish is my command," she said, trying to stifle her laughter. "May I at least comment on the lovely shade of scarlet..."

"NO!" she cried, trying not to laugh and turning an even deeper shade of maroon.

Regesta buried her face in the pillow, but the shake in her shoulders betrayed her suppressed laughter.

"OWW!" she yelped as Gabrielle slapped a dab of salve on the bruise.

"Oh, did that hurt?" she smirked. "Sorry."

Regesta watched as Gabrielle tried hard not to stare at her breasts, tried not to drink in her partially uncovered, naked body, failing miserably. And Regesta knew that it was not the reaction of a woman who prefers the company of men.

The bard applied the salve, gently, sensually and Regesta's newly reawakened body began to feel the flame of her touch.

"You skin is hot," Gabrielle whispered.

Regesta replied, smiling gently, "It wasn't before you touched it."

The bard inhaled deeply, a flush once again creeping over her face and finished applying the cream in silence. Leaving her hand on Regesta's ribs she quietly asked, "How does it feel?"

"Gabriella, it feels wonderful. How does it feel to you?"

"Soft... warm... inviting," she said, wonder tinting her voice, then froze in fear, realizing what she said and implied.

"It's OK, Gabriella." Regesta soothed. "It is a very nice compliment, no more than that. Nothing to worry about."

But instead of apologizing or pulling her hand away, Gabrielle looked boldly at Regesta, and let her hand trail up to Regesta's shoulder. "By the gods, you are so soft..."

Trying to lighten the moment Regesta smiled and said, "Surprising, eh? Since I am such a tough old broad."

A lazy smile curled a corner of the bard's mouth. "You're not so tough."

"Be careful, bella," Regesta whispered. "A woman could easily find herself drowning in that smile of yours."

"Oh, I hope so..."

Gabrielle leaned down towards Regesta and when her lips brushed softly against those of the older woman, she heard a sweet moan rise from beneath her, giving her the courage to continue.

The kiss deepened, both women sinking into its warmth, its growing heat. She didn't realize how, but Gabrielle found herself lying on top of Regesta, the peace keeper's arms gently surrounding her, protecting her. She heard moans and whispered phrases but did not comprehend the words nor did she know if it was she or Regesta who spoke them.

The bard's hands began to travel along Regesta's sides as she let her body relax into the soft embrace of the woman below her.

Regesta broke the kiss, her breath torn. "You don't really want to do this," she said, running her hand along the bard's shoulder.

"Are you crazy? Yes, I do. I really do want to do this."

The dark eyed woman laughed lightly. "Let me rephrase that. You really want to do this with someone else."

Gabrielle looked at her, a question on her face.

"It took you almost three seconds before you mumbled her name," Regesta said.

Gabrielle sighed.

"You're in love with her, no?"

Lines formed on the bard's forehead. "In love...? I... I don't know. She's everything to me. My life, my world..." Clearing her throat she looked boldly at Regesta. "It doesn't matter how I feel. She doesn't want me. She's made that clear."

Regesta eyed the bard suspiciously.

"Are you going to tell me you don't want me either?" Gabrielle asked, pressing her body into Regesta and running a hand suggestively across her naked thigh.

Subconscious reflexive desire pushed Regesta's body up against the bard, a moan escaping from her throat at the exquisite pressure that was Gabrielle. "More than you could possibly know, my Queen."

"Well I am here," she stated clearly and distinctly. "Now what are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to try to resist you." she said, swallowing hard.

"What? Why!?!"

"Because I think you are in love with Xena."

Gabrielle sighed.

"And why are you here, Gabriella? You are just as attracted to Selina as you are to me."

"That's not true. Although I might have agreed with you before."

Regesta raised her eyebrow in question, just like Xena.

"Before I kissed you."

A huge grin broke over Regesta's face and she flipped the bard onto her back. "So you're saying you... need attention... and as long as you can't have Xena, whoever is lucky enough to be close to you is the one?"

Gabrielle laughed but could not respond, because the truth is hard to argue with.

But it wasn't exactly true, she thought. She had only bedded Harry in an attempt to get Xena off her mind. After the night they were tangled in the blanket, sex and Xena seemed to be all she could think of. And they most certainly were not mutually exclusive thoughts. One had everything to do with the other.

OK, so maybe it was true.

"You got me," Gabrielle conceded. "But you are certainly not just anyone. You've flirted with me from the first words you spoke."

"How could I not? You are exquisite, Gabriella. A perfect emerald."

Gabrielle raised up and captured Regesta's mouth with a kiss of pure fire, leaving Regesta panting. "If you truly intend to resist me," the bard said thickly, "you have to stop saying things like that."

Regesta grazed her mouth over the bard's face, lips touching her skin as she murmured, "It would give me such joy to make you moan, Gabriella. To make you sweat. To hear you... feel you..."

Gabrielle could only moan a response.

"But it will not happen." Regesta smiled sadly. "It is not me you want."

A sly grin crossed the bard's face. "Are you sure about that? Because right now, it certainly feels like I want you."

Regesta chuckled. "Si, bella. It does feel that way! But it is only physical. And I will curse myself forever for not giving in to it."

Gabrielle turned her head and laughed sadly.

Regesta's lips brushed against the bard's velvety neck. "We really need to get out of this room..."

"Yes... yes..." Gabrielle answered, arching to expose more of herself to Regesta's mouth.

"A drink... have a drink with me... I need to... mmm... get away... from you..."

"Yeah," the bard agreed, breathing heavily. "Me, uh... mmm... me too."


"Come, sit over here," Regesta said, offering a chair at a table deep in the dark shadows of the tavern room. "I will bring us a drink."

"I can barely see here. Let's throw a log on the embers and sit closer to the light."

"Oh, no, bella mia. I picked this spot purposefully. Your eyes will adjust enough to see in a minute or two. But it will still be dark enough that you will not be able to clearly see the blatant lust on my face."

"I told you to stop that." Gabrielle grinned. "Or I'll attack you out here."

"If only the gods were so kind," she teased as she scooted behind the bar.

Regesta returned with two small glassed and a tall thin bottle filled with an amber liquid. Pouring each of them a glass, she asked, "So, cara, have you ever told her you are in love with her?"

A quirky smile stole across Gabrielle's face. "Regesta, I don't know if I am in love with her."

"OK." Reaching over, she gently took the bard's hand. "Tell me how you feel about her. Tell me what is in your heart."

"She... she's my best friend. She means everything to me."

"No, no, no. Tell me from you heart, cara."

The bard took a deep breath and glanced uncertainly around the room. "She umm... I trust her with my life."

"Of course you do! Who better to trust? She's the Warrior Princess! Now tell me more."

A sudden look of determination faded quickly into doubt. Softly she offered, "My heart starts pounding when I see her walk into a room."

"Better! Now we are getting closer to your feelings." Regesta smiled. "But I must add, if you were in a room with thirty people, twenty-five of them would say the same thing about her entrance."

A light laugh escaped the bard. "You're right. She's so beautiful," she said wistfully.

"Molto bella. Si, she is," Regesta agreed. "But go on. From the heart."

Head hanging, Gabrielle paused, then looked up into soft brown eyes. "I don't ever want to be away from her. When she's near me, I feel like I can do anything. She looks at me and something in here," she said, placing her hand on her chest then moving it over her heart, "just... fills. I would do anything for her... could do anything if she thought I could. I love the way her face gets all serious yet her eyes sparkle when I tease her." She paused. "And my skin burns whenever she touches me. Is that love?"

"Do you not know? Have you never been in love, cara?"

"I thought I was, once. But even then, I knew I felt something different, something stronger for Xena. I just thought it was because we had such an intense friendship, because of all the danger, you know? But he never... touched my heart the way she does." The bard smiled. "I was kind of naive then, too. I didn't know it was possible to love Xena this way."

"This way?"

"Hmm?" Gabrielle asked, sipping her drink.

"You said you didn't realize it was possible to love Xena this way," she said, stressing the word 'this.'

Gabrielle stared at her drink in her hand, her mind a whirlwind of thought. "This way," she muttered. "This way. Does that mean I love her?" she asked, more to herself than her companion, then looked up into soft brown eyes. "It tore me apart when she was with you last night. I was so jealous... so hurt. I couldn't stop crying... I wanted her with me. Holding me... touching me." She looked up at Regesta and laughed ironically. "And I wanted to beat the tar out of you."

"And you did," Regesta laughed, rubbing her shoulder. "At least that explains the second blow."


"Today, when you hit me with your staff, the first blow was because I came up behind you, in your blind spot. It was a battle reaction. But you could have stopped the second. Instead, you hit me ever harder."

"Oh, Regesta. I'm... I'm so sorry," Gabrielle stammered. "I didn't mean..."

"Do not be concerned, my Queen. It was one of those... what do you call it? Self-conscious things."

"You mean subconscious."

"Eh. You didn't do it on purpose."

Gabrielle smiled. "So what do you think? Do I love her?"

"Only you can answer that, cara. Just know that you do not have to find an absolute answer right now. If you search your heart you may find you cannot, with all conviction, stand up and shout 'I love her.' But if you look at her and you heart... fills, if you catch fire from her touch, if pleasing her and the ache to be near her has invaded your soul, maybe you are not in love." Smiling, she added with a wink, "Maybe you are just falling in love."

Gabrielle looked at Regesta in wonder.

"Give yourself a chance, cara. Falling in love is a wonderful thing."

"How stupid of me," she mumbled. "I never thought of that. And you're right. I think I'm falling in love..."

"Have you ever told her how you feel about her?"

"In so many ways," the bard said, her exasperation evident. "I've almost kissed her a couple times but she backed away. Just a few nights ago, I told her I didn't want anyone else in my life. That she satisfied all my emotional needs. Isn't that the same thing?"

"Nothing, Gabriella, nothing is the same as saying I love you." Regesta took a deep breath and let out a chuckle. "But that, sure as Hades, is about as close as you can get!"

"I could never tell her that, anyway" Gabrielle stated sadly as she poured herself more of the liqueur.

"And why not?

"She has no interest in me. A while back, some nights ago, we were, umm... play fighting, fooling around. I ended up on top of her, she had her arms around me. I came so close to kissing her."

"And why didn't you?"

"When I looked at her... her face was blank. Emotionless. Like she was completely uninterested. Bored."

"Perhaps she was trying to protect herself from rejection. Perhaps she really wanted you to kiss her but was afraid. I think next time you should kiss her."

The bard stared hard at the woman sitting next to her and a thought came to mind. "You wouldn't be pushing me away, trying to convince me to say something to Xena if you didn't know something that I don't know. Did Xena say something about me last night?"

"Gabriella, if, and that is an if, Xena had said something about you, it would have been said in intimate moments. And it would be wrong for me to repeat such things. That is, if they were said. I do not kiss and tell."

"Regesta, you have to tell me."

She laughed softly. "Oh no, cara mia, that is not..."

Regesta stopped speaking as the door to the room Xena and Gabrielle had been sharing flew open and Xena stepped out. Regesta lightly touched the bard's arm and held her finger to her lips, requesting she stay silent.

Hidden deep in the black shadows, they watched as Xena quickly and quietly descended the steps and strode purposefully across the dark tavern, towards the door to Regesta's room. But her steps began to falter as she got closer and she stopped before getting there. She stood, staring at the door, her body twitching like a jungle cat preparing to attack. She began to pace back and forth a short distance, her hand on her head as if struggling with her thoughts. Slowing to a halt, she faced the doorway, jaw clenched, hands curled into fists, a sneer on her face.

She stepped forward strongly, crossing the rest of the distance in four long strides. Reaching the door, she raised her fist to pound, but wavered. Cocking her fist again, she could only bring it softly to the door, making no noise at contact. Gingerly she placed her open palms against the heavy wood.

Gabrielle watched, unseen, as the energy drained from Xena's body. She saw the warrior drop her forehead gently to the door. Saw her shoulders slump and her body sag. Lifting her head, Xena stared mournfully at the entrance. "It should be me, Gabrielle," she said softly to the door. "It should be me."

She turned around and slowly, heavily, crossed the tavern. She made her way to the steps as the two woman in the shadows watched her climb dejectedly to the landing and disappear into the room.

Gabrielle exhaled a long held breath. "What did she mean by that?" she said quietly.

Chuckling, Regesta questioned, "You don't really need an answer to that, do you bella?"

Turning to Regesta she pleaded, "You have to tell me what she said about me."

"I can't...

"Tell me," the bard demanded. Then added gently, "Please?"

The anxiety on Gabrielle's face caused Regesta's resolve to drain away. She tossed back the rest of her drink before speaking. "She said the same thing you did."

"What I said? When?"

"When we were... busy... in my room."

"What did I say? All I said..." She drew a deep breath and whispered her question, afraid speaking the words out loud would make them untrue. "Did she call my name?"

Regesta smiled tenderly. "More than once."

"Then she... she does care about me?"

"You saw her, you heard her, Gabriella. She thinks you're in there with me, making love. She thinks I'm touching you, doing all the things she aches to do with you. And it's driving her crazy."

"Like it did to me last night...".

Gently, Regesta offered, "I am sorry to have hurt you, Gabriella. But I did not know you felt this way about her. The time I spent with Xena last night was the first time I'd been intimate with anyone in years. She has a deep sadness in her, similar to mine. We brought each other a temporary solace. One night of comfort to carry us through the hard days. But you, Gabriella, you could bring her comfort to last her whole life."

Gabrielle sat back in her chair, her mind galloping. Comfort to last a lifetime. Xena cared. Or maybe just wanted her. Maybe more than cared. Perhaps even loved her. She began to recall the dream she had that night she had been caught in the animal trap. She dreamt of kissing Xena, passionately, of pressing her body into the warrior's and of the heat and desire she felt from Xena's body in return. The dream she had relived a hundred times already. And it was a feeling she craved.

"Regesta? Why was it OK for you to sleep with her and not with me?"

"You told me the two of you were not together. You said the same to Selina. What you didn't tell me was that you felt something for her. And I didn't discover her feelings for you until.... well, things had already happened by then. Had I known how either of you felt before hand, I would have backed out."

"Would you?"

"Si, cara. I would have." She took a sip of her drink, then added, "You know, the two of you are not very good for my ego. You lie in my arms and call each other's name."

The bard reached over and gently touched Regesta's cheek. "But we both chose to lie in your arms, didn't we?"

Regesta laughed. "No doubt about it. You could break any heart you wished."

Gabrielle smiled. "There is only one heart I am interested in. And I have no intention of breaking it."

The door to the upstairs room suddenly flew open and Xena stood menacingly in its archway. Again Regesta signaled quiet and they silently watched as Xena stormed down the steps. She moved quickly to the middle of the tavern and stopped. Breathing hard and jaws clenched, she glared at the door. But she turned away. Looking at the ceiling, she took ragged breaths, trying to control herself. Squeezing her eyes shut, she clutched her hand to her heart, as if in pain. Then turning suddenly, she charged Regesta's door and began pounding so hard Gabrielle was sure the heavy wooden door would disintegrate into a pile of splinters.


"She's not in there, cara."

Xena spun at the sound of Regesta's voice behind her. "Where are you? Where is Gabrielle?"

"I'm right here Xena," Gabrielle said, stepping out of the shadows. "Regesta and I were having a drink. What do you need to talk about?"

"Uhh... I guess it can wait. I don't want to interrupt you," she mumbled, shocked at Gabrielle's appearance outside the bedroom

"Xena, you almost broke the down the door. If we had been in there, don't you think that would have interrupted us?"

Gabrielle smiled to herself. Xena looked like a confused dog, not sure whether to stay at its master's command or run like Hermes. But either way, it knew it was in trouble.

"So what did you want to tell me, Xena?" she smiled.

"I.. I just... I... I thought you were mad at me," she stuttered. "And I really wanted to apologize. And it upset me to think you might be mad at me, too. I didn't want that."

"Oh. Umm... I'm not mad at you..." Gabrielle said, sounding a little surprised. And it was obvious that the bard believed what Xena was saying and once again doubted the warrior's feelings for her.

Regesta slapped the heel of her hand to her forehead in exasperation. Gabrielle began to look as frightened as Xena. Regesta knew they needed a small push in the right direction and she could think of no better way then to leave them alone in a room with a bed.

"Look, why don't the two of you go upstairs and talk. That way you won't disturb the rest of the guests," she offered, grabbing each by the elbow and steering them towards the stairway and their room. Leaning towards Xena as they climbed the steps, she whispered fiercely, "Talk to her!"

Xena just hung her head.

Turning to Gabrielle, she whispered, "Tell her, cara. Tell her how you feel and it will all work itself out."

Gabrielle's jaw clenched and she looked away.

'Amore,' Regesta thought. 'Sometimes it needs a good kick in the ass!'

Escorting them to their room, she closed the door behind them, leaving them to face one another. She walked back downstairs to the table and poured herself another glass of the liqueur. Raising it towards the door in salute she downed it in one easy gulp.

"I give you five minutes before you are all over each other," she grinned. "That is if either of you have sense enough to open your mouth!"

Inside the room, Xena paced like a condemned woman, consciously staying as far away from the bard as possible. She didn't know what to think, what to do, what to say. She had been shocked to find Gabrielle and Regesta in the tavern and not in bed. And them not being there changed everything. When Gabrielle stepped out of the shadows, Xena's heart went right to her throat and stuck there, leaving her speechless. And now the bard stood before her, asking what she had wanted.

'But how can I tell you that what I want is you?' she thought. 'How do I say something like that without driving you away forever?'

"Talk to me Xena. Tell me," Gabrielle said gently.

"Tell you what?"

"Why you almost broke down Regesta's door."

"I already told you. I... I wanted to apologize."

"That's not what this was really about, is it?"

"Part of it was!" Xena said, caught in the lie.

"OK," she said, deciding to circumvent Xena's strategy. "I can accept that. And I accept your apology." She smiled shyly. "What about the rest of the reason?"

The warrior looked away.

"Can't you tell me, Xena?"

She stared helplessly at the floor.

"Xena? Are you... afraid? Nervous?"

She nodded.

"Me too," she sighed.

Softly Xena offered, "I just don't want to... ruin... everything."

"Ruin...? Yeah, I understand that." Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle said, "All right then. I'll go first." Stepping back, she found comfort and support in the solid wood of the door behind her. "For a long time now, I've... had these... these... feelings. And I didn't understand them and I didn't know what to do about them. So I did nothing. But they didn't go away."

"Gabrielle, wait," Xena interrupted. She took a deep breath trying to waylay the rising fear. "Are you sure you want to tell me this?"

Before answering, the bard took a deep breath of her own. For courage. "Yes, I do. And I know what you are thinking, Xena. What we say here could change everything between us. Everything." She looked at the warrior, a plea in her eyes. "I don't want that to happen, but we need to talk about this because I can't stand it anymore. You need to know how I feel."

Xena spoke so low, the bard almost didn't hear her. "What kind of feelings did you have, Gabrielle?"

"Umm... well that was part of the problem. I didn't know back then."

"You know now?"

She looked into Xena's eyes and nodded. "I think so." The bard began to look around the room at anything other than her warrior. "They're about you and... and... me. It's more than friendship. And it's definitely not sisterly," she said, rolling her eyes.

The warrior's mouth hung slightly open in disbelief.

"Xena," she said quietly, "I think I'm falling in love with you."


"Yeah. Really."

A gentle hush filled the room as their eyes met, both frightened, both anxious, both hopeful .

After an eternity, a deep sigh from the bard broke the silence. "So...?"


"So, what was all that ruckus about?"


"Yeah, ruckus. You know, like a few minutes ago when you almost made kindling out of Regesta's door?"

"Oh. That." She swallowed. "That was... well, that... umm...I just didn't... umm..."

Gabrielle interrupted the babble. "Xena, just tell me how you feel about me."

"Wh... what?"

"How do you feel about me? When you look at me, what does your heart say?"

"Well, I'm not falling in love with you." She tightly clenched then released her jaw, took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I'm way past that."

The bard held her breath. "Meaning?"

"Meaning I'm already in love with you."


"Yeah. Really."

The bard took and released a deep, deep breath. "Wow," she said quietly. "Why haven't you ever said anything?"

A small self mocking laugh escaped. "I did. Gabrielle, I kissed you! Granted I was in Autolycus' body at the time but you knew it was me."

"Yes, I did," she agreed softly.

"Yeah. And you never said anything about it." Xena sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor. "So I... I just... I figured you didn't..." She let the thought fall unfinished between them.

"Oh, Xena, I thought... I thought you did that because you were happy... you weren't dead... we were together again... and... and... Oh Hades!" She exhaled in frustration, then began again, urgently. "Xena, I was afraid to bring it up. I was terrified that you would brush it off somehow, that you would tell me it didn't mean what I prayed it might. That would have crushed me. So I just waited and hoped you'd say something about it. But you didn't. And then I was convinced you just did it in the emotion of the moment. That it didn't mean anything else."

"Didn't mean anything? It was the most perfect moment of my..." she hesitated, then broke into a sparkling smile. "Of my death."

Gabrielle responded with a smile of her own. "I'd have to agree. It was the best moment of your death. That and when I found out you weren't dead in the first place. And when you came back to life."

After a few awkward, silent moments, the bard asked, "So why didn't you say something the other day, when we were talking about sex? I mean, it didn't seem to bother you when I told you about Harry."

"Well it did. It bothered me." She stared intently at the floor, then quietly admitted, "I was jealous. I didn't want you to be with anyone but me. But at least he was a man. And I could cope with you being with men. Sort of," she grinned. "After all, how could I compete if that's who you were interested in. But to think you were downstairs, making love to a woman, and it was not me... I couldn't stand it. It affected me physically. Like Regesta's damned wolfman ripping at my heart."

"Yet when you wanted it, you turned to Regesta for... physical comfort. Not me."

"Just for the physical. My heart, Gabrielle... my heart belongs to you. It always has." She paused. "And what about you? You're telling me you've had these feelings for me, yet you went off with that guy the other day."

"It was a silly thing to do," she said, smiling. "I just never... never thought you could think of me this way. Besides, my heart wasn't in that, Xena." Grinning mischievously, she added, "Maybe that's why it failed so miserably."

Walking over, Gabrielle gently sat on the bed next to the warrior, facing forward. "Now what?" she asked.

Xena stared at her hands sitting on her lap and shrugged an 'I don't know.'

Gabrielle tenderly placed her hand on Xena's thigh. "Can we try this again?"

Xena turned to look at her. "This...?"

The bard leaned over and brought her lips to the warrior's in a gentle kiss, then pulled away.

A wide smile found its way to Xena's face and her eyes began to shine. "Oh," she said. "This. Yeah." She leaned toward the bard, slowly bringing her hand to Gabrielle's cheek before moving closer and laying claim to soft, waiting lips. Gabrielle's lips. She stretched her arms around the bard and pulled her closer, her lips beginning to press harder.

Gabrielle placed her hand on the warrior's chest, gently pushing back, breaking the kiss. Xena eased up and the bard moved back in, her lips coming to the warrior's in wonder.

With the bard's hand still on the center of her chest pushing gently, the warrior let herself fall back into the soft bed, her knees still hanging over the edge. Gabrielle followed her down, climbing on top and straddling her hips.

Slowly the bard leaned down, again bringing her lips to those of the woman below her. They brushed against each other softly, causing two hearts to pound harder. Xena began to press upward but Gabrielle pulled away and placed a restraining hand against the warrior's chest. Xena sank back into the bed and Gabrielle followed her down, once more bringing her lips to the warrior's. Softly they came together in a sweet welcome that led from warm tingles to heated shivers of lust.

Xena pressed upward, and again felt Gabrielle's hand against her chest, holding her back.

"OK," Xena said softly, finally understanding the bard's need to control this. "OK." She lay back down, letting the bard take the lead.

A gentle exploration ensued with Gabrielle guiding Xena through a sweet torture of sensuality. The bard needed to know all the secrets of the lips below hers and she slowly investigated each curve and contour, reveling in the different responses each touch of her lips produced.

Gabrielle softly moved from Xena's lips, brushing her mouth along her cheek, arriving at the warrior's ear.

Softly, breathlessly, she whispered, "You know that night I got caught in the animal trap? I had this dream... I dreamt you kissed me. Really, really kissed me." She inhaled deeply. "Actually, I kissed you. I was lying on top of you, my whole body... well, I think you get the picture. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It seemed so real." She placed a line of kisses against Xena's neck. "I knew it would be this good," she murmured, going back to warrior lips that moved against hers so sweetly, so passionately.

Gabrielle had never felt such a sweet yielding, had never known it possible to feel such a craving explode from deep within her. Yes, she knew it would be 'this good.' But had she even guessed it might be this intense? This over powering? This soul grabbing? This important?

No. And it scared her.

Gabrielle pulled away.

Xena gently caressed her shoulder. "Is something wrong?"

"Let's get changed. To sleep."

Sleep? "All right," she said cautiously, unsure of what just happened.

The bard rolled away from her and jumped off the bed.

Xena sat up slowly, watching, trying to decipher what was going on in her bard's mind. Had she known the kiss she described wasn't a dream and expected Xena to admit it? And perhaps been put off when Xena said nothing? Or was this something else entirely.

"Xena? Please... you're not going to watch me change my clothes, are you?"

Startled, the warrior began to stutter. "Oh! Umm... no. I, uh... sorry." But she made no attempt to look away.

So the bard tried again. "Why don't you, uh... get changed, too," she said, pointing to the saddlebags on the other side of the room that held Xena's clothes.

"Oh. Uh, sure."

While Xena was across the room with her back turned, Gabrielle quickly shrugged out of her clothes and into her nightshirt, then stood watching as the warrior removed her leathers. She observed, with great interest, as the muscles across Xena's shoulders clutched and released with each of the warrior's movements and instantly remembered Regesta's words. 'What I would give to be doing with those shoulders... well, with what I'm imagining right now, I think they would kill me.'


Shaking her head in an attempt at clarity, the bard sighed. Then spoke. "No and yes."

Settling the nightshirt on her body, Xena turned and raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle's comment.

"Your question. You asked if something was wrong."

"And your answer is no and yes?"

Softly, she replied. "Yeah. It's the damnedest thing, Xena." She took a deep breath before continuing. "I can't do.. this," she said, motioning toward the bed. "Not with you."

Xena felt as if she had been punched in the chest by a god.

"I would never try to coerce you, Gabrielle," she said quietly, trying not to let the pain of rejection show on her face. "If this is not what you want..."

"No, Xena," the bard interrupted. "It's not that I don't want it. I just don't think I'm ready for it. Not yet. Not with you."

Xena nodded her acceptance of the bard's decision, once again staring at the floor.

Gabrielle knew she needed to explain herself more clearly when she saw that feigned 'I'm OK, this doesn't bother me' look on Xena's face. The one she had been able to see right through since the day they met.

"Look, Xena. This is a really big step. It would... make things different. And I don't want everything to change between us. I love the relationship we have and I don't want..."

"I understand Gabrielle."

"Do you?" She swallowed, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. "Do you understand that the thought of making love with you... makes me weak, steals my breath away. Do you understand that is the problem?"

Surprised, Xena shook her head no. She didn't understand that at all.

"It's because it's you. With Harry, I had no problem. It was only sex. But with you... it would be so much more than that. It would mean so much more." She sighed. "Give me a little while to get accustomed to the fact that this is all real. That you truly feel something for me. That it's not just some wonderful dream. OK?"

Xena smiled. That, she could understand. "OK."

They lay there, both on their backs, each at the very edge of their side of the bed.

"Well, this is wonderful," Gabrielle muttered in disgust.


"Yes." She clenched her jaw. "It's already happened. Everything is different." Then the words began to rush out. "Xena, anytime we've ever shared a bed, we've slept close together. Cuddled. There was no discussion about it, no hesitation and no concern that it... that it... well, that it meant anything. Now you're way over there and I'm way over here..." She sighed. "And I don't like it."

"Then come over here," Xena said softly.

When the bard didn't move, Xena spoke again. "How about we meet in the middle?"

A crooked grin appeared. "I like the sound of that. On lots of different levels." She scooted over and felt her heart quicken as strong arms wrapped around her. Arms that felt safe. Arms that would protect her. Hold her close. Excite her.

She molded herself into the embrace of the woman next to her suddenly feeling heat in every place their bodies touched. The gentle caress of Xena's hand across her back almost caused her to moan. It was the same gentle stroking Xena always gave her back, but it seemed so much more intimate than ever before. More purposeful. More exciting.

And that was good.

Gabrielle smiled. "Different. Things have definitely changed."

"Is that bad?" Xena asked softly.

"It's different," she said, an unseen gleam in her eye and a smile in her voice. "Xena, I want to... I have a confession. But I'm a little scared."


"Yeah." She sighed, then gave a small laugh. "Maybe you should put the pinch on me."

Xena smiled. "My pleasure." Letting her hand slide lower down the bard's back to her butt, Xena gave her a good pinch.

Gabrielle yelped loudly and stared at her. "That was, uh... unexpected."

The warrior's smile froze on her face.

Xena's playful side did not often make such an appearance. But after considering it for a quick moment, it did not surprise Gabrielle to see it emerge here, now, in bed. She had always imagined Xena would be an incredible lover. Her definition of 'incredible' being, romantic, intense, serious, loving and selfless as well as playful, mischievous, high-spirited and fun, splashed with a generous amount of laughter. And there was not a chance in Tartarus that she would discourage that playfulness from showing itself again.

Eyes twinkling, a grand smile rolled across Gabrielle's face as she said, "But don't you have to pinch both sides for it to work?"

Xena chuckled, relieved. "Your wish is my command. My Queen," she said as she reached down again, caressing the bard's other cheek before giving it a sweet pinch. "Now confess."

The bard gave her an affectionate jab in the side.

"OK, here goes. Anytime we've ever... cuddled, I always let myself steal a little comfort from you. As in... sexual comfort. I would always let myself feel you pressing against me, feel your strong arms wrapped around me, holding me so safely, so tightly. So warm and exciting..." She smirked. "But only for a minute, then I had to stop. Any more than that and I'd lose my mind."

"You thief," Xena whispered as she pulled the bard closer. "Stealing my affection like that."

"Yeah, well. I thought that was the only way I'd ever get it. But now... right now..." The bard paused. "I wouldn't stop if you gave me a million dinars."

Pulling back a little, Gabrielle looked into intense deep blue, then let herself fall. She leaned in, once again claiming those incredibly soft lips as her own. Moving against them, a small moan rumbled in her chest. And when she pulled Xena's bottom lip into her mouth, gently sucking, she felt her world collapse inward until there was only Xena. And this kiss. It was all that mattered. All that ever would matter.

With Xena's lips against hers, she felt a flood of lust explode through her, felt her body push into the warrior's, felt her heart pounding, her breath quickening. She had never known desire like this. And it was because of this woman. Xena. Whose lips continued to move against hers, driving her mad. Xena. Whose body felt like rich flames against her skin. Xena.

Whose breathing remained calmly deep and even. Unaffected.

The bard pulled back. "Xena? Is this...? I mean, are you...?" She stopped, not knowing how to ask the question. Did Xena feel the same heat she felt rushing through her owns veins? Did Xena feel anything? Because it sure didn't seem that way.

"Is this... am I... what, Gabrielle?"

"It seems like you aren't as... interested, or... involved... in this as I am. Is the physical... just not important to you?"

Suddenly, the bard found herself on her back, her wrists captured and held on either side of her head, Xena's body fully on top of her, pressing into her. Setting fires.


The warm, moist whisper in her ear sent a burning chill racing through her body.

"I have been doing my warrior best to control myself... not to touch you... not to wrap myself around you... not to try to drive you insane, make you moan... because you said you were not ready." Xena murmured, her voice deeper, more intense than the bard had ever heard before. "Do not think... for a single moment... that I don't want you. The thought of caressing you... touching you, in intimate places... my lips on yours, my mouth... exploring you... all of you..." Xena clenched her jaw as a slight moan escaped her chest. "You make me crazy with desire... with need. And unlike any other experience you may have had, I will not leave you wanting. I will do... everything. My hands... my lips... my body..." Her voice dropped lower. "My mouth... everything... only... for you."

Taking one of the bard's captured hands, Xena placed it on her breast, over her pounding heart. "Do you feel that?" she growled softly, bewitching blue staring into bewitched green.

Gabrielle nodded, swallowing hard, the rapid heartbeat hammering against her hand.

"That's yours, too."

All the bard could manage was a tattered breath of acceptance, her own heart matching the warrior's, beat for thundering beat.

"Gabrielle," Xena murmured. "I want... to lose... control."

With those words Xena leaned down, bringing her lips to the bard's, insistently, ferociously. As if, with that kiss, she was marking the bard as hers. Forever.

Gabrielle felt the delicious weight of Xena's body as she pulled the warrior tightly to her. She felt raging heat every where Xena's hands touched.

And Xena's hands were touching everywhere. But more than that, it was the kiss that turned the bard to ashes. The feel of the warrior's mouth, commanding... sizzling... hungry... incinerated every nerve in her body, creating a crisis of need that only the warrior's body could satisfy.

But satisfaction would not be. The warrior only pushed her further into the abyss of desire, leaving her body senseless and aching with ungratified hunger, then rolled them back onto their sides, changing the kiss. It became tender, gentler, more about love and emotions shared than about uninhibited passion. Xena pulled away and let the kiss end gently.

Lying in the warrior's embrace, Gabrielle was not content. She wanted, no, needed more. She needed it all. She quickly thought back over her life with the warrior. How difficult it had been to get Xena to open up to her. How hard the warrior was on herself. How she had learned to take care of herself and help Xena. How close they had become over the past two years. How she had fallen in love. And now Xena had admitted she felt the same.

She tried to remember why she wanted to wait. And could not come up with a single good reason. Or even a single bad reason.

She pulled the warrior closer, inhaling the mingled scents of wine, leather and sweat which only served to arouse her more.

"You know that stuff I said before? About not being ready? Can I change my mind?"

Xena's eyes lit as she gently stroked the bard's soft cheek. "No."



"Wh.. wh... why not?"

"Because you would be changing it for the wrong reasons."

Gabrielle tilted her head in question.

Smiling, Xena answered. "It's just because you're aroused."

"Oh. Is that why?" the bard chided.

"Gabrielle, I don't ever want you to regret anything that happens between us. And changing your mind now, specifically because you are..." She smiled slyly. "...excited... well, you might regret that later."

The bard thought about that for a moment, then smiled softly. "Good point. I sincerely doubt I would regret it, but it's still a good point." She studied the dark haired, exceptionally beautiful woman beside her for a while and sighed. "Just to clarify here, when am I allowed to change my mind?"

"Tomorrow. Or anytime after."

The bard again thought for a moment, then grunted her approval. "In that case, would you mind leaving the room so I can have a little... privacy... for just a few minutes? At this point, that's all it will take. I'll be much more relaxed... calmer... when you get back."

"Aww. Couldn't I just stay... and watch?"

Strangled little noises escaped Gabrielle's throat. She began to get up out of the bed.

"Hey," Xena said softly. "Where you goin'?"

The bard took a deep breath. "Outside. The water trough for the horses should be good and cold. I'm going to go lay in it for a while."

Laughing, Xena reached up, pulling the redhead back onto the bed and into her embrace.

"Xena, you're driving me crazy."

"Good," she said, kissing the bard's head. "Because you've been doing the same thing to me for a long time."

She nuzzled into Xena's arms.

The warrior's voice rumbled tightly in her ear. "Would you like that, Gabrielle? If I watched?" She felt the bard's body melt, an unintelligible sound escaped and then absolute stillness.

She brought her mouth to Gabrielle's ear and in her lowest, most intensely sexual voice said, "I'll take that as a yes."


"Breathe, Gabrielle."

She took a deep, shaking breath. "Are you enjoying this? Torturing me?"

"Very much so."

"Is it tomorrow yet?"

A laugh rumbled around in the warrior's chest. "No, it definitely is not tomorrow."

"Well then, I need a way to pass the time because in this state, I doubt I'll be able to fall asleep." She stared at a gleaming white smile. "So, as long as I'm making confessions, I have another one."

"Another? All right, go ahead..."

"You know that deal I made with Harry?"

"About, uh... mouths?"

Gabrielle blushed. "Yeah, that one. There was a reason. Other than the obvious." The bard paused, seemingly unsure.

"Go on. What reason?"

"I didn't want him... inside me. I wanted his mouth... so I could pretend it was you."

Xena seemed to have forgotten how to breathe.

"Xena?" Gabrielle asked with a smile, "Did you notice he had black hair? And blue eyes? Wore lots of brown leather?"

Xena began to sit up, sliding towards the edge of the bed.

"Hey," Gabrielle said softly. "Where you goin'?"

"I'm gonna go check out that water trough. See if the water really is cold."

Laughing, the bard pulled her back down. "Come back here."

"Gabrielle, you are being merciless."

"Mmm. Perhaps. But you deserve it."

"Deserve it!?!"

"Yes, deserve it. Because you're trying to drive me insane!"

A diabolical grin appeared on Xena's face. "All right, just for that... Now it's my turn to confess."

"You!?! A confession!?! This I gotta hear!"

"Then listen." She smirked. "You know that dream you mentioned the night you got caught in the trap? You dreamt you kissed me? Well... it wasn't a dream."

"What?" she asked flatly.

"You kissed me because of the herbs. At least I thought it was the herbs, at the time. That particular combination works fast. That's why I used it. But it also has the side affect of making the patient quite... amorous."

"It wasn't a dream?"

"No. It wasn't a dream. You kissed me. You kissed me... quite thoroughly. And quite enjoyably"

"It was real," she said in wonder.

"Gabrielle, you were drugged..."

"I kissed you and it wasn't a dream."


Accusingly, she asked, "And you chose not to mention this?"

"I thought it was the herbs..."

"The herbs? All right, all right. I guess I can accept that... excuse," she said grinning.

Sparkling blue looked back at her and once again her heart, along with her body, caught fire. "Let's try it again. Without the herbs."

She leaned closer, eyes locked with the warrior's, a sexy smile on her lips.

Once again, the touch of Xena's lips on hers set her body tingling. The world fell away, leaving only the two of them and this kiss.

This kiss that seeped into the very depths of her being, turning her blood to molten lava, her skin to flame. The power of this kiss could change her world. She had never known a passion this intense, a need this strong, a connection this complete. As if it was something she had been searching for all her life. The missing link. And now she had found it.

She felt it, when it happened. Felt something in her soul grab on and she knew it would never let go. And it was warm and peaceful, wild and fierce, pure and loving. She knew she must be one of the gods' chosen. How else could she be so lucky?

Slowly breaking the kiss, the bard looked toward the window. "Look, Xena. The sun is coming up."

"Gabrielle, it's black as pitch out there. It will be hours before the sun..."

"No, Xena. You're wrong. I can see the sun coming up. It's tomorrow." Once again, she placed a soft kiss on warrior lips. "And I am changing my mind."

Reaching down, Gabrielle ran her hand up Xena's thigh, pushing the nightshirt up as she went. When the shirt could be pushed no higher, the bard's hand slipped under it and continued it's gradual, deliberate caress over a hip, up along powerful ribs to the underside of an exquisitely soft breast.

"Gods, Gabrielle," Xena gasped. The feel of the bard's hands on her skin, touching, caressing, making her tingle, exciting her... It was almost more than her mind could comprehend. "Wait..."

But the bard's voice came back strong, confident. "No, Xena. No more waiting. And no regrets. I was just scared. So scared..." She paused. "Scared I wouldn't be good enough because I don't know what... how to do this. I was so afraid I would disappoint you... when all I want to do is please you." She smiled. "I was planning to track down Selina in the morning. To get some, umm... pointers. And then attack you tomorrow night!"

Xena's eyes twinkled.

"And if I was forced to be brutally honest with myself, I may have to admit that I am in love with you. That I have been for a long time."


"Let me finish, Xena." Taking a deep breath, she continued. "I want you. I want to touch you. And I want you to touch me. I'm kind of desperate for that, actually," she said with a crooked grin. "I have never been this... excited before. Or wanted anyone so much. So if you tell me that's why I'm changing my mind, you would be partly right. But that's not necessarily a bad reason. Yes, it's physical. But that's not all it is. A big part of it is because of how I feel. Because it's you. You. You're the one that's making me feel this way. No one else." She stared hard into warrior blue. "You know that conversation we had the other night? Well, I'm... I'm..." Her jaw worked but her voice did not. She pushed a stray hair behind her ear and smiled. "I'm not having a 'lack of moisture' problem right now." She stared intently into Xena's eyes, her voice dropping in tone and volume as she spoke. "And I do not intend to wait any longer. I want you. Now."

"You're sure." Xena rumbled, unable to hide her smile from the woman in her arms.

An evil twinkle appeared in the bard's eyes. Her voice low, seductive, she asked, "If I said I wasn't sure, would you try to resist me," as she leisurely ran an enticing finger tip across Xena's chest.

"Ye... Yes," she gasped.

The evil twinkle curled the corners of her mouth into a smile. "Can you resist me, Xena? I want you to." Her voice deepened as her finger changed direction, gently tracing the rise of a breast. "It could be a lot of fun breaking down that warrior control."

"Who are you? One moment you're telling me you don't know what to do and in the next you're driving me mad with need."

The bard chuckled, deep and low. "I may not know the technique, but I do know you. I know what you like. I know your passions. So I think I'll be able to figure it all out." She lightly drew a fingertip along a naked thigh. "Like I would think you would enjoy..." The finger hooked the bottom of the warriors nightshirt, ever so slowly pulling it higher. "...being teased."

A low growl rumbled in the warrior's chest.

"Com'on. Resist me," the bard murmured, letting her finger slide under the fabric and along an inner thigh. "Resist me. Brute."

"Gabrielle," she moaned. "I don't want to resist you."

The bard chuckled. "So much for that infamous warrior control," she said, leaning in once again to bring her lips to the warrior below her.

"You want to see warrior control?" Xena growled, a carnal smile curling her lips.

The bard suddenly found herself on her back, warrior hands running along her sides, over her arms, across her chest, caressing her face, her shoulders, her thighs as those lips... those lips took possession with such tender power, such fierce softness... those lips took absolute... complete... control. And Gabrielle willingly surrendered to it.

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of her mind, beyond conscious thought, Gabrielle came to understand something basic. This was no longer a need, it was a directive from the gods. If she continued to exist, she must have this kiss, this touch with her. For without it, she would simply wither and die.

Which was not something Gabrielle need be concerned with at this point. Because the warrior had no intention of depriving her bard. Of anything.

Of course, teasing was another matter altogether.

Xena smiled wickedly down at her bard. "Now it's your turn," she said.

"My turn for what?"

"Your turn to tell me," she murmured stringing kisses along the bards neck, "how it... feels." She moved slowly lower, to the valley between perfect breasts, around soft curves, upwards to the delicate, crinkled tip. "Talk to me, Gabrielle. Tell me."

"Dear gods, Xena," she mumbled.

Xena's mouth hovered over taut, sweet flesh. "Talk to me," she whispered, then lowered her head.

"I.. unng..."

"Mmm..." She pulled up, releasing the prize from her mouth and looked at the bard. "What was that you said?"

"Gods, Xena! Don't stop!"

"Funny. It didn't sound like 'Gods, Xe..."

But Xena was unable to finish her thought. Gabrielle had arched her body, pulling Xena's head down simultaneously. And Xena was no longer able to resist the offering before her.

* - * - *

Resting her head on Gabrielle's chest while the bard caught her breath, Xena smiled. "So my bard, tell me. What does it feel like?"

Laughing lightly, the bard replied, "It feels good."

"I know that," Xena teased. "But I'm asking for more specifics. Exactly, how does it feel?"

"It feels... mmm-hmm," she murmured. "I think that's the best I can do."

"Com'on, you're the bard here. Try, Gabrielle. Try," she said, lightly drawing her finger up and down the bard's arm.

"Hmmm," came the contented breath. Lazily, she tangled her fingers into dark hair, stroking the top of a soft ear. "You know, I'm not sure I could do it justice after experiencing it for the first time."

"Then perhaps," Xena said while beginning to place a row of tiny kisses down her ribs, "you need to experience it... again."

"Umm, Xena...? I don't think I... Oh!" She inhaled deeply as she once again felt Xena's warm, wet mouth on her stomach. "Well... mmm-maybe..." she gasped, as Xena moved lower still. "Mmm... maybe I ca... can..."

"Think so?" Xena murmured as she lowered her mouth to inconceivable softness.

"Mmm... yeah, I think I... oh, mmm... right there...Oh SWEET PEGASUS!"

Xena stopped, lifting her head to look at Gabrielle. "Pegasus?"

"Who-ever! Just don't stop!"

* - * - *

Xena rested her head on that firm stomach and played lightly with the tiny mole there.

Once the bard's heart slowed to a more normal pace, Xena rose until she was able to look directly into misty green. Then she asked her question.


Gabrielle laughed self-consciously. "I have no idea why I said that."

"Aphrodite... Zeus... Artemis... even Demeter, I could understand. But Pegasus?"

"It just came out! Honest! I don't know why."

"Ummm-hmm," she said skeptically. "I don't know about that. I'll let it go. For now." Her eyes sparkled. "But, it is my turn to be merciless! So tell me. Describe it to me. Tell me how it feels."

"Xena..." she pleaded.

"C'mon, Gabrielle," she said, a smile lighting up her face. "You made me describe it, now I want to hear it from you."

"OK, OK." She sighed, smiling also. "I would have to say it's... more. It's softer but more direct. More intense. Like a warm pulling from deep inside of you. More enveloping. It takes your whole body with it. It's just more."

"You cheat! That's what I said!"

The bard stared up at her, a sickeningly sweet, innocent look on her face. "But Xena, you were right about it. How could I say anything different?"


"You know, Xena," the bard purred. "There is something I'm not able to describe."

"You need more... experience?"

"Oh, most definitely. But a different kind than what you are thinking."

The eyebrow lifted.

"I'm not yet able to describe... the taste."

Xena took a sharp breath.

"And it's very important to a bard..." she said while slowly rolling the warrior onto her back, "to be able to experience and be able to describe... everything."

Afternoon & Night 21 (seems they slept through the morning...)

A sharp rapping sounded on the door.

"Go away," Xena muttered loudly without opening her eyes. She felt a small arm wrapped around her waist, soft hair under her chin, warm, slow breath against her chest. She wasn't moving even if Pegasus himself flew in and told her to.

But the knock came again and Regesta's strong voice carried in from the hall. "I have food."

The bard's head popped up. "Food?" She looked at Xena, eyes narrowing. "I'm absolutely starved."

"Well there's a shock," Xena said with a laugh. Regretfully untangling herself from the bard and climbing out of bed, she called to Regesta, "Hold on, I'm coming."

"Again?" Gabrielle teased.

Xena turned, pinning the bard in place with her eyes, a sly grin on her face. "Well, not this second," she rumbled, "but soon perhaps."

An equally sly smirk stole over Gabrielle's face. "Count on it." She paused, then added, "And put something on before you open the door. She's already seen you naked." And to herself she muttered, "She doesn't need to see that again."

Xena quickly donned the nightshirt she had happily discarded the night before and went to the door.

"Boun giorno, cara," Regesta said as the door opened. "Since you did not appear for the morning or the mid day meal, I thought perhaps you no longer had the strength to get the door open and leave your room." Her eyes twinkled in merriment. "So I brought something to you."

Xena smiled sheepishly, accepting the loaded tray. "Thank you..." Looking directly into soft brown eyes, Xena added, "...for everything you've done."

Smiling broadly, Regesta reached up and touched the warrior's cheek. "It makes my heart happy to have helped. The two of you are as two halves to a whole."

Quietly, Xena said, "Gabrielle tells me you turned her down last night."

"Si, cara. And it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it was not me she wanted. You are a lucky woman, Xena, to have one such as her fall in love with you. I hope you always remember that."

"I will."

"And here is something else to remember. She is lucky to have you fall in love with her."

Xena was about to protest but Regesta stopped her.

"This is not the time to talk. This is the time to eat! She is waiting for you. Go." Regesta turned to leave then called over her shoulder, smiling, "And do come out of there some day, eh?"

With the tray on the bed between them, Xena popped a fig into her mouth and studied her love.

"Gabrielle? Does it bother you... that Regesta and I...?" She let the thought hang.

The bard slowly chewed on a piece of cheese, concentration lines appearing on her forehead. She took a deep breath before answering. "I'd like to say that it doesn't. But to be truthful, I guess it does."

"If I'd known..."

"But you didn't, Xena. And I guess I know it shouldn't bother me, but I was so..."

She looked up into concerned blue. Reaching out, she pushed a stray wisp of hair off the warrior's face. "It hurt. I was jealous. And angry. And confused. I cried for a long time because I wanted it to be me. Gods, I hated you that night!" She smiled sadly. "Hated Regesta, particularly."

Xena grinned. "So that's why you hit her the second time."

The bard sighed. Why was it that everyone could figure her out so easily? "I really didn't do it on purpose, you know. But yeah, that's probably why."

Xena picked up a small crust of bread with eggplant and cheese and fed it to Gabrielle. "You hated me?"

"Mmm. That's good!" she said swallowing the treat. "And no, I didn't really hate you. I was just very upset."

"But when you grilled me about it the next... umm, yesterday, you didn't seem upset."

Gabrielle picked up a small ball of... something, from the tray, trying to figure out what it could be. "I was trying to be a good friend. You know, supportive? Happy for you? And, to make another confession," she said, a sensual smile curling one side of her mouth, "hearing about it was a bit of a turn on. A big turn on, actually. Of course, in my mind, I replaced Regesta." She held the little ball out to Xena, deciding to let the warrior taste it first.

"Really?" She accepted the mystery food, holding Gabrielle's fingertips with her teeth, gently sucking them clean.

The bard grinned sexily. "Yeah. Really."

Xena seemed about to respond when she froze, her eyes wide. "Wow! Any more of those things?"

"What was it?"

"Some kind of cheesy, nutty, pastry thingy with a grape inside. Delicious," she said as she found two more and popped one into her mouth.

"Hey, don't I get one of those!"

Xena looked directly into mist green and in a low voice said, "Gabrielle, anything I have is yours." Then she smiled. "Except these grape thingys," and ate the last one.

"That's it, Warrior Princess. Now you've done it!" she teased. "You'll have to be punished."

"Me?" Xena asked innocently. "What did I do?"

"Don't give me that! I'm just going to have to use my feminine wiles to drive you crazy and then not put out!"

"Yeah," Xena deadpanned. "Like you haven't been doing that since we met."

The bard looked stunned. "Have I?

"Yes, you have. And these past days, past nights in particular, I've been going out of my mind!"

"You and me both!" Gabrielle chuckled. "C'mon. Whaddya say we get out of here?"

The eyebrow went up.

"I just want to be on the road again. Is that all right with you?"

"Oh, absolutely," Xena said, leaning in for a kiss.

And in just a few hours, they got out of bed and got ready to go.

Xena had gone to the stables to ready Argo as Gabrielle went into the tavern to find Regesta. And there she was, in the corner, hanging a new tapestry on the wall.

"Hey Regesta," Gabrielle called.

"Ahh, bella! Just in time. Give me a hand here."

The bard grabbed a corner of the tapestry as Regesta nailed the other corner into place.

"So cara mia, how are you feeling today?" she said with a bright smile, her eyes laughing.

"Tired. But very good. And I wanted to thank you for that."

"Me? For what?"

"Regesta, it's because of you that this happened, that Xena and I are together."

"No, cara. It is because of love. Had you never met me, it still would have happened. Eventually."

"Eventually. But it might have taken another five or ten winters!"

"Dio mia," Regesta laughed. "I think you both would have exploded by then."

The bard smiled her agreement.

"Gabriella, my curiosity has taken control and I am forced to ask, just what kind of, ah... games were you playing?" Regesta questioned, a delighted twinkle in her eyes.

A slight blush again began to creep up bard's neck. "Games? What...?"


"By the gods," she muttered, turning bright red. "How could you possibly have heard that?"

"I had the, eh... good fortune to be passing by your room at that moment. Believe me, bella, I wanted to put my ear to the door and hear more!"

A look of embarrassed horror planted itself on the bard's face.

"Do not fear, cara," Regesta laughed. "I continued walking."

Gabrielle just covered her face with her hand and hung her head.

"Bella! You should not be shameful, you should be proud! After all," she teased, "she must have been doing something quite... extraordinary, to make you call out for a flying horse!"

"Regesta," she said, smiling wickedly. "Let me put it this way. You were right about her shoulders."

Regesta laughed heartily. "Ahh, Gabriella, I pray you spend the rest of your life calling for that winged beast."

Xena walked back into the tavern and saw Gabrielle and Regesta in the corner. Her last lover and the love of her life stood there, whispering and laughing. There was something so 'not good' about that. She set her shoulders, growled to herself and crossed the tavern.

They looked up as she approached and abruptly stopped talking. The warrior gave them one of her very best glares.

"What," she demanded, "is going on."

"Xena," Regesta stuttered, her palms open, "there is nothing to be upset about. We were just, eh... talking."

"About what." Her threatening tone had not changed. "About... me, perhaps?"

Regesta took a step back from the angry warrior and looked to Gabrielle for help.

"Xena, don't be mad," Gabrielle pleaded. "We were just... umm... well... uh...."

She couldn't hold it in any longer. A teasing smile broke across Xena's face. "It's good to know that my 'glare' still works. I thought after the past couple nights, I might not be able to pull it off anymore."

"Dio, mia! You frightened me, Brute!"

"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "I thought I was in big trouble."

The warrior beamed. "So just what were you talking about, hmm?"

Again, the bard began to stutter. "Uh, well, we were.. umm.."

Regesta stepped up and rapped Xena on the chest with the back of her hand. "You, Brute! We were talking about you!" Her eyes twinkled. "About your shoulders in particular."

Both Xena and Gabrielle began to blush.

Xena spoke up, not so cleverly changing the subject. "Well! It's time for us to be going."

Regesta smiled. "Are you sure you do not wish to stay? It is terribly late in the day to begin traveling."

"We're sure."

"Then go in peace and good health."

"Thank you, Regesta," Gabrielle said. "Thank you for everything."

"You are most welcome, cara. And know you will always have a room when ever you come this way. Did you know the latest trend in taverns is to put a name to the guest rooms? I was thinking of calling the room you stayed in, The Pegasus Suite. You like?"

Gabrielle turned bright red and Xena burst out laughing.

The new lovers set off together towards open land, only detouring into a town when they realized they had forgotten to get supplies before they left Regesta's. Once replenished, they headed down the road.

Surprising even themselves, they did not talk much during their travel. A great deal had been said the previous night and day, much of it without words yet still directly from the heart. Content in each others company, the easy silence was enjoyed by both bard and warrior.

They set up camp that evening, each automatically going about their duties. But every once in a while, Gabrielle would look up and catch Xena watching her, smiling. And now and again, Xena would turn and find Gabrielle looking at her, eyes sparkling.

It took longer than usual to set up this night, probably because of all the meaningful looks and glances that were being exchanged. By the time Xena knelt to finally start the fire, she heard a distinct rumbling coming from the direction of the bard's stomach.

She stood, tossing the flint to Gabrielle. "You get the fire going. I'll go find dinner."

The bard's call of, "Don't take too long," earned her a full blown Warrior Princess smile. And a wink.

Returning shortly with a beautiful, large fish and some sweet smelling herbs, dinner was quickly prepared and enjoyed. Afterward, as usual, Gabrielle picked up her quill and parchment and Xena picked up her sword and whetstone.

Reclining against a tree, Gabrielle sat with quill in hand, watching the warrior who just sat with sword and stone in hand, looking back.

"Xena," she finally said. "Do you really need to sharpen that?"

Sparkling eyes replied, "No. Do you really need some time to write?"

A mischievous smile answered, "No. Mind if I join you on that log?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

Quickly, the bard moved to join her companion, who, like her, sat straddling the log. For what could have either been an eternity or a moment, they sat, staring deeply into each other's eyes, having another long conversation without words. And they spoke of such things as devotion, trust, commitment and love. Then of desire, passion, need and lust.

"Enough talking," Gabrielle murmured, an erotic glint in her eye, as she leaned towards her warrior. Then suddenly she stopped, cocking her head at a small sound she heard in the trees. "Wait. Xena..." the bard said softly, a note of warning in her tone.

"I know. There's six of them. We're surrounded," Xena replied, just as quietly.

"Where's my staff?"

"Behind you, to your right. Ready?"

"I really don't feel like doing this right now. Why do they have to bother us?"

"I don't know. Let's ask."

Raising her voice, Xena called out, "We know all six of you are out there. So I'm going to give you four good reasons to be on your way and leave us alone. Reason one. I've already taken a bath tonight and I don't feel like getting your blood all over me. Reason two. My friend and I are having a very important... discussion. Reason three. I get very angry when an important discussion with my friend is interrupted. Reason four. I get angry... you get hurt."

"Reason five," Gabrielle called out, smiling, looking directly into the blue eyes that gazed back at her. "This is Xena, the Warrior Princess."

They heard hushed whispers and uneasy rustling in the bushes. And then one voice rang out.


But only three men ran towards them, the other three were heard running in the opposite direction.

Xena stood, drawing her sword and Gabrielle quickly grabbed her staff. They faced off with the highwaymen.

An untamed grin rolled across Xena's lips. "Looks like you lost some of your friends. They were smart. You... are stupid."

Two glanced uncertainly at each other then at the leader of the group.

"We still have them outnumbered, and that's not Xena," the leader called to his men.

"No? Then you prove it first. Come and get me," Xena taunted.

With a loud cry, the leader attacked. But it only took Xena one sidestep and one sweep of her sword to bring him to the ground, screaming in pain from the long deep slice on his leg.

Xena turned to the other two and effortlessly twirled her sword. "Next?"

The fallen man began to rage. "GET HER! NOW!"

But the two didn't move. Finally one then the other sheathed his sword. "We're not fools, Lianus. That is Xena." They turned and quickly disappeared into the night.

"Lianus, huh? Gabrielle, that town we passed through today, did you happen to notice the wanted signs hanging outside the tavern?"

Gabrielle stood, leaning on her staff. "You mean the ones that said, 'Wanted for Murder, Lianus of Talipedies?' Had a drawing on them that looked an awful lot like that guy? Those signs?"

"Yeah. Those." Xena grabbed a piece of rope and quickly trussed the bleeding thug.

She looked up at the bard, smiling. "And you were afraid everything would change. This seems pretty much 'the usual' to me."

"Humph!" the bard laughed. "That's very true. But there goes our privacy."

"We could kill him, Gabrielle." Xena stood, the point of her sword scraping the flesh on his neck. "He's wanted dead or alive. Dead is just as good to me."

The bard turned her back to the pair since she could not hide the smile on her face. She knew Xena was just saying that to scare the man into not giving them any trouble. And from the growing wet stain at his crotch, she knew it was working.

"Try to get away and I'll just have to kill you to make it easier. You got that?"

The man nodded, cowering as Xena bent to tend to his wound.

After sewing up his leg and bandaging the wound, Xena tied him to a tree at the far end of their campsite and went back to join her partner.

Gabrielle looked up as she approached, smiling. "You know, Xena," she said as the warrior settled herself next to the bard, "I'm almost willing to let that guy go so we can have some privacy."

Xena nodded her agreement.

"I really wanted to... talk more about, uh, Pegasus."

The warrior tried to stifle a laugh. "I could knock him out with some herbs, if you want." She glowered at the thug. "Or with hilt of my sword."

Gabrielle smiled. "It's not a bad idea. But just having him lying there while we... Well, it would make me really uncomfortable."

"Unfortunately, I agree."

A small groan came from the injured man.

Xena stood. "I going to give him something for pain. It will knock him out, anyway. Then we won't have to worry about him trying to get away and we can at least talk in peace."


Morning 22

Before she even opened her eyes, Gabrielle knew Xena was not at her side. She stretched languidly, going over the events of the previous night. They had spent the night talking and cuddling and driving each other crazy with want. But, due to their company, not acting on it. While thinking about it all, she realized she had a big smile on her face and couldn't get rid of it. Nor did she want to. And from the way her face felt, she had probably been smiling all night!

Sitting up, she saw Xena leaning over Lianus, checking his wound. The fire had been rekindled, steam rising from the pot of water set there to heat. Most of their gear had been packed and Argo stood ready to be saddled.

Xena turned to see Gabrielle staring at her, smiling that same sexy smile that drove her crazy all last night. "Morning, sleepyhead," she said as she walked over to the drowsy bard. "I was beginning to wonder when you would wake up."

"Hmph," she mumbled, still smiling. "How's he doing?" she asked, jerking her head toward their prisoner.

"He'll live. He'll may limp a little, but he's healthy enough to turn over to the law."

"Good. Let's get him back there as fast as possible." She grinned at the warrior. "I believe we had just started a conversation last night before he interrupted us. I would really like to continue that."

"And why do you think I have everything ready to go?" the warrior grinned back.

They had a quick cup of tea, deciding to eat as they walked rather than delay the start of the journey. They also decided to let the thug ride so as to not be slowed by his injury. Both seemed to be in a hurry to be rid of him.

After depositing him in the local jail and collecting a small reward, they headed out of the town once again. This time they avoided the road and wandered off toward open land.

Xena fell into step beside Gabrielle and let a satisfied smirk settle itself on her face.

"Whaaaat?" the bard moaned.


"Oh for... would you be satisfied if I told you I said that because... because... because it felt like I was flying?"

"Flying? I don't think so."

"How about..." A big smile broke over the bard's face. "...when you make love to me, you're my wild stallion. A beast! As powerful and free as Pegasus."

Xena considered this remark. "OK. That's good. I guess I can accept that."

"Good. Now will you stop teasing me about it?" she laughed.

They traveled for a while in companionable silence, walking close together, shoulders or hands brushing against each other, always some part of their bodies in contact.

Smirking, Xena glanced at her love and puffed out her chest.

"Pegasus, huh?"

Gabrielle turned, grabbed the warrior's breastplate and pulled her close. "Yeah. And now that we're finally alone, pony-girl, how about a ride?"


Return to The Bard's Corner

eir company, not acting on it. While thinking about it all, she realized she had a big smile on her face and couldn't get rid of it. Nor did she want to. And from the way her face felt, she had probably been smiling all night!

Sitting up, she saw Xena leaning over Lianus, checking his wound. The fire had been rekindled, steam rising from the pot of water set there to heat. Most of their gear had been packed and Argo stood ready to be saddled.

Xena turned to see Gabrielle staring at her, smiling that same sexy smile that drove her crazy all last night. "Morning, sleepyhead," she said as she walked over to the drowsy bard. "I was beginning to wonder when you would wake up."

"Hmph," she mumbled, still smiling. "How's he doing?" she asked, jerking her head toward their prisoner.

"He'll live. He'll may limp a little, but he's healthy enough to turn over to the law."

"Good. Let's get him back there as fast as possible." She grinned at the warrior. "I believe we had just started a conversation last night before he interrupted us. I would really like to continue that."

"And why do you think I have everything ready to go?" the warrior grinned back.

They had a quick cup of tea, deciding to eat as they walked rather than delay the start of the journey. They also decided to let the thug ride so as to not be slowed by his injury. Both seemed to be in a hurry to be rid of him.

After depositing him in the local jail and collecting a small reward, they headed out of the town once again. This time they avoided the road and wandered off toward open land.

Xena fell into step beside Gabrielle and let a satisfied smirk settle itself on her face.

"Whaaaat?" the bard moaned.


"Oh for... would you be satisfied if I told you I said that because... because... because it felt like I was flying?"

"Flying? I don't think so."

"How about..." A big smile broke over the bard's face. "...when you make love to me, you're my wild stallion. A beast! As powerful and free as Pegasus."

Xena considered this remark. "OK. That's good. I guess I can accept that."

"Good. Now will you stop teasing me about it?" she laughed.

They traveled for a while in companionable silence, walking close together, shoulders or hands brushing against each other, always some part of their bodies in contact.

Smirking, Xena glanced at her love and puffed out her chest.

"Pegasus, huh?"

Gabrielle turned, grabbed the warrior's breastplate and pulled her close. "Yeah. And now that we're finally alone, pony-girl, how about a ride?"


Return to The Bard's Corner