by Laine Roberta Lawless
Cleis walked over to where Xena was sleeping and kicked at her feet. She awakened with a start, hands clenched in fists, ready to throw a punch at anything close to her. She moved so suddenly that Gabrielle rolled against her, partially awake, and groaned. Xena looked mad as hell, and Cleis knew how she was when awakened, so he stayed as far away as he could from those fists of fury. "Its time for your watch, Xena," he said.
Even though it was dark, Xena recognized his voice and responded with a grunt which he interpreted to mean that she understood. "Its OK, go back to sleep," she said to a partially-awake Gabrielle, while she rolled her over closer to Alyssea. Xena got up, put on her armor, grabbed her weapons, and strode to the perimeter. It was just before dawn, and she knew it would be only a short time until the entire camp was awake.
She found a flat boulder, and sat down on it. Her body still tingled all over as she remembered her tryst with her comrades. Then she remembered what Jason had told her. Ye gods, she thought, why do things have to be so complicated? Just when I was starting to feel good, Jason has to come along and be a wet blanket! Why was there always such a price on fun, like a hangover after drinking all night? Jason was one of the few men that Xena had ever listened to in her life. He was wise and experienced, especially in relationships. Hed had so many lovers, Xena knew he told the truth.
It was too long before the dawn, and Xena did not welcome having the time to reflect. How did she feel about Gabrielle? She really wasnt sure, and the concept of loving anyone, whether a woman or a man, was terrifying to her. Shed loved her brother enough to fight in his memory, and it had spiraled into a career of death and destruction.
Shed been totally taken by surprise when Alyssea had joined her and Gabrielle last nite. Alyssea had tasted sweet, and Xena felt a little guilty about having it off with her. Shed always thought of Alyssea as her younger sister, and that act had almost seemed like incest, even though she kept telling herself it only happened because she was overcome by the passion of the moment.
In the four years that shed trained with her, Xena had never seen or heard of Alyssea being with a man. It hadnt struck her as odd before, but now some of the pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fit together. Maybe Alyssea had had a crush on Xena, and not just respected her as a teacher. "And what are you going to do with Alyssea?" kept ringing in her ears. Damn that Jasonhe was so practical! She didnt know what to do with Gabrielle, much less Alyssea. She abandoned the thought and just decided to let the situation work itself out.
The first rays of sunlight were gleaming on the horizon, turning the clouds and sky orange, gold and red. Even though it was 5:30 in the morning, it was not really cold. Xena thought the day would be a real scorcher, and was anxious to leave the wasteland. Xena heard faint sounds of stirring in the camp. Soon her solitude would be interrupted.
Alyssea was walking over to her with a big smile on her face. "I sure had a good time last night," she said.
"I did, too," Xena said, a little embarrassed.
"I just had to join youyou all got me so hot," she confessed.
"I never thought you would do that. Im sorry if Gabrielle and I bothered you the night before."
"No, I dont regret a thing, Xena. Dont you, either. I had a chance to experience you in a way I never thought possible. I love you."
Oh, no, theres that word again, Xena thought. What am I gonna do with this girl? Xena put her arm around her lieutenant as a conciliatory gesture to offset the disappointment that she knew would be the younger womans lot. "Alyssea, youre like my younger sister; thats how I feel about you. I dont think I could ever do again what we did last night. I was so horny I would have fucked Demo if hed been there. I just didnt know what I was doing."
Alysseas smile faded, her eyes started to tear, and her lips trembled. Her fantasy had been cruelly shot down, and she was about to cry. Xena hated herself for lying to Alyssea, but it seemed the best way, before her crush had overwhelmed her. She didnt want her lieutenant to be following her like some love-sick puppyshe needed a strong warrior ready at any time for battle. What Xena didnt know at the time, was that lovers make the fiercest, most loyal fighters. How could she have known? She had never had any of her warriors as a lover. Yes, she might have had sex with them, but she never became emotionally involved. It was in for a moments pleasure, then out with the dawn, if she even let them stay that long. She was making a mistake with Alyssea who was already devoted to her, and would follow her anywhere.
Alyssea felt humiliated and betrayed by Xena, and wept unashamedly while Xena held her in her arms. Xena felt worse with each tear. Oh, now Ive really fucked-up, she thought. I dont want her to hate me! Xena, for all her many skills, didnt know a thing about relationships, and expressing her feelings was not something she was used to doing. Her heart had been darkened by years of violence and anger, and the light of love was just now beginning to dispel the evil. She felt the best she had in a long time, but she didnt recognize the feelings she had, or know how to handle them.
Xena knew she had to do somethingshe couldnt let Alyssea go on this wayshe felt so guilty she wanted to die. "Alyssea, please stop crying! I feel awful," she said as she held her face in her hands and looked into her tear-stained eyes. "Im sorrythis is all so new to me, and I dont know what Im doing. I didnt mean to hurt you. Our relationship is not going to changewell be just as close as we always were."
Alysseas crying started to slow, but not soon enough for Xena. "Ill always love you like a sister, and Ill always be there for you, no matter who else is in my life." Alyssea finally stopped crying, and gave Xena a quick kiss on the lips that she wasnt able to dodge. Alyssea finally made her way back to camp with a dejected look on her face.
Xena was confused. Someone she liked had told her they loved hershe was supposed to feel good, yet she felt awful. She knew something was wrong, but couldnt begin to figure it out, so she gave up trying. Everyone was up by now, so she abandoned her post and joined the others for a quick meal before moving on.
Xena put out the fire without even speaking to Jason. Finally, he could wait no longer. He had to make his play now if they were to travel together. "Where are we headed, Xena?" he asked presumptuously.
"What do you mean, we?" Xena snapped. It was clear she was in a bad mood, but Jason didnt know why. He thought it was probably woman trouble, especially after their conversation the night before. Xena was usually pretty even-tempered, even if she was brusque, but she was traversing unknown territory, so he decided to tread lightly.
"I mean, where are you headed?" he asked tentatively.
"Gabrielle needs a horse, and I have some weapons and armor to sell, so I thought that if we went to Mitros we could kill two birds with one stone. Or maybe on the way well meet someone with an extra horse we can buy. May cant continue to carry both of us for much longer, and Gabrielle is complaining about how her butt hurts."
"Why dont you just take the first horse you see? Thats the way we used to do it!" Jason suggested.
Xena bristled at his question. "Im not doing things like that anymore, Jason. When I told you I wasnt getting the army together again, I meant I wasnt doing things the old way. Ill still fight, but now it must be for a good reason."
"Oh, what does that mean, exactly? Would you fight for your women?" Jason knew he was pressing his luck now, but he couldnt resist the urge to push Xena to her limits.
"Jason!" Xena blustered, and playfully punched him, casting her eyes around to see if anyone else was looking, or had heard them. Xena was finally smiling, and blushing like an awkward teenager with her first love. Jason was a big, burly man, but Xenas punch knocked him back a couple of steps. He was glad she was, at last, in a good mood.
"I wouldnt be surprised if we met Demo and his bunch on the way to Mitros. You really humiliated the shit out of him back there. You might like to have 3 fighters with you just in case," Jason said, making his point. "And Borrego might like to have your head for a trophy. And you know how theres always some young warrior trying to make a reputation by killing Xena "
"All right, all right!" Xena cut him off sharply. Shed had enough of his wheedling. "Youve made your point. Well go together." Although she didnt really want to travel in a large group, Jason had logic on his side. They were dangerously close to Xenas enemies, two old and one new, and if she had to fight the remnants of her army, she would need all the help she could get. Jason and his boys were strong fighters, and always had been loyal to Xena.
They mounted up, with Jason and Xena riding ahead, and Gabrielle behind Xena, holding on to her and looking very content. Cleis, Gordo, and Alyssea brought up the rear. The trail climbed in elevation until it peaked at the top of a mountain. As they continued to ascend, the air grew cooler, there was more plant life, and enough trees for the start of a forest. Xena knew that on the other side there would be Mitros, a trading city nestled in a verdant valley. She was looking forward to having something to drink and some fresh food.
Just as they reached the peak, men on horseback emerged from the trees, surrounding Xena and her warriors. She recognized Demo, and knew he meant trouble. She could have beaten him easily, but now she was worried about Gabrielle, who shouldnt be on the back of her horse during a fight, but who wouldnt survive a fight with horse warriors while on the ground, either. "Hold on tightly to me," she whispered. "No matter what happens, dont let go! Whatever direction I move, just move with me, OK?" Xena knew shed be dead if Gabrielle kept her from fighting at her very best.
Cleis approached Demo and demanded, "What do you want?"
"I want to get even with Xena for humiliating me. She deserves to die."
"You humiliated yourself when you insulted Xenas woman. You got what you deserved. You should have shown her more respect. Get out of our way!" Cleis knew Demo well, and expected him to back off.
Gabrielle was surprised to hear herself described as "Xenas woman," but she decided she kind of liked the sound of it. Meanwhile, Xena was thinking about the best way to defeat Demo and his eight soldiers without anyone getting killed or seriously injured.
Demos anger was like a fire in his gut that he could not put out. He knew the warriors in front of him were the best, but still he foolishly pressed on. Unsheathing his sword, he said, "Youll be in Hades before I am, Xena," and charged her.
Cleis breached the gap between the two of them and swung his mace at Demo, missing him by inches. Demo charged toward Xena, who had drawn her sword and had it ready. She smiled, knowing that she would have no problem beating Demo. She just prayed to the gods that his men didnt see fit to help him settle a personal dispute. The gods apparently were deaf today, for all eight of Demos men charged them. The smaller group bunched up together and fought shoulder to shoulder, trying to stay together during the onslaught. Xenas sword deflected all of Demos blows, and cut this arm once in the process. The man was a maniac--he still kept on coming. Its odd, the things that hate and anger can drive you to, Xena reflected, and she sliced her sword across Demos chest. Blood started spurting out from his wound, spattering her and Gabrielle. She spun May around, and helped Gordo who seemed to be outmatched. She sheathed her sword, and flicked her bullwhip at one of the men attacking Gordo, yanking his sword out of his hand, and sending it clattering to the ground.
She looked around to see if anyone needed help, and everyone seemed to be holding their own. Kicking May, she headed for the forest where she put Gabrielle off and then rejoined the fight. Gabrielle watched the fight from behind the safety of a tree. She saw Xena stand up in her saddle, get behind the man attacking Alyssea, and side kick him in the kidneys several times. When she saw the man double over in pain, Xena catapulted off her horse, landing in the saddle right behind the soldier who was swinging his sword at Jason. With a gleefully evil look on her face, she pulled out her breast dagger and sliced open his throat from ear to ear. Pushing the still-warm corpse off his horse, she went after Demo who was still alive, and swinging his sword, but now on the ground.
Her hands and her armor covered with warm blood, she dismounted in front of Demo, sliding off the horse and landing with both feet on the ground. Demo was staggering, and barely able to hold a sword. Xena knew he would be dead in minutes, but he could still be dangerous in the little time remaining. Xena unsheathed her sword, but realizing she had no need for it, she just kicked him in the chest and knocked him down. Just as she was bending over to further humiliate him while he was dying, she felt the presence of an enemy behind her. Gabrielle screamed, "Xena, behind you!", and Xena reflexively thrust her sword backwards, skewering one of Demos boys in the gut. Her eyes were wide with excitement while she stabbed him, and an evil smile was creeping across her face. As she pulled her sword out of the hapless man, an expression of satisfaction softened her face, not unlike the way she looked after good sex. Alyssea was watching from the other side of the fight, and thought Xena was very sexy when she had that look. She felt a tingle run through her, much to her surprise.
By now the battle was over, and all the attackers were dead except Demo, so the others gathered round, watching Xena with him. Xena stepped on his sword hand with her foot, and snarled, "You just dont know when to quit, do you? You stupid son of a bitch, how dare you oppose me? What made you think you could kill me? Dont ever underestimate your opponent, especially when she is a woman!" As Demos lips started to form the word "bitch", Xena raised her sword, and brought it down on his neck, decapitating him, and silencing him forever. A gasp of shock went through Xenas comrades. They had never seen her be so brutal. Mutiny was something Xena didnt take kindly to, and the penalties she exacted were severe.
Gordo walked up to Demos body, poked him in the chest with his sword, and said, "Take that, you bitch!" The tension was broken, and everyone broke out laughing. After they stopped, Gabrielle looked at Xena and wondered what had ever possessed her to run off with this madwoman. She was drawn to her, but she wasnt sure she could trust her, especially if she happened to get on her bad side.
Xena smiled at Gabrielle and embraced her. Gabrielle wondered if she could be the same terrifying maniac who was just a moment ago slicing and dicing her enemies. She seemed so different now. When Xena let go of her, Gabrielle saw that she had blood on her. Horrified, she gasped, "Xena, you got blood all over me!"
"Sorry, Gabrielle, we had a fight, and that usually means blood. Ill make sure you get something nice to wear when we get to Mitros," she said in a conciliatory tone. "Meanwhile, look at the bright sideno one will fuck with you while you look like that!" Xena went to each of the others in turn, checking to see if they were injured or wounded. There were some minor cuts and bruises, but everyone was in very good shape, considering the odds they were up against. It had been a victory, and Xena was satisfiedshe loved winning. She made a special point of praising Alysseas bravery. She was trying to make up for what she had done to her in the morning. Alyssea was receptive, and the others could see her begin to sparkle whenever Xena complimented her.
"Lets go recover the horses, and see what we can salvage from this rabble to sell," Xena ordered.
As the others picked armor and weapons off the bodies, Jason approached Xena and said, "See? Didnt I tell you soI knew Demo was a scheming bitch! I didnt think he could leave you alone!"
"Jason, you are not only a comrade, you are a real friend, and I owe you my life," Xena said appreciatively, putting her arm on his shoulder. "If you need me, Ill be there. The same goes for your friends, Gordo and Cleis. If it hadnt been for the three of you, Gabrielle might be dead or worse yet, Demos prisoner. And", she paused, "Alyssea and I might be dead, too."
"I told you, Xena, I have this sixth sense. I can smell trouble, and I knew that scene in camp wouldnt be the end of it."
They managed to recover six horses, all with saddles. Gabrielle kept telling Xena she couldnt ride, but Xena wasnt buying it. She picked out what she thought was the gentlest horse for her, and pushed her up into the saddle. Giving her a few preliminary lessons, Xena tried to bolster her confidence, telling her that riding was easy to catch on to. "Dont worry, youll get the hang of it," Xena said, as she mounted May. "Itll be more comfortable than riding behind me."
"Ill be here, too, Gabrielle," Alyssea said. "Just squeeze with your legs, and if you need to, hang onto the saddlehorn." Xena and Alyssea sandwiched Gabrielle between them just in case she had a problem.
"Just remember," Xena said, as they were descending the trail to the valley, "you have to let the horse know whos bossotherwise, theyll just do whatever they want to."
Gabrielle looked at Xena and wondered if that was how she looked at all the people in her lifeshe had to show them who was the boss before they had an opportunity to think for themselves. Gabrielle had other plans for Xenashe wasnt going to be treated the same as a horse!
As they approached Mitros, Xena was happy. Shed won another battle, and had enough plunder to enjoy herself and buy Gabrielle something nice. She was looking forward to a room at the inn, a good meal, and a hot bath, preferably all with Gabrielle. Maybe she could find some time to give Gabrielle riding lessons, and teach her how to fight. She didnt like worrying about what might happen to Gabrielle if she had to fight. The girl simply must learn how to defend herself.
The marketplace was teeming with activity, but all Xena wanted to do was to get to the inn, eat, get a room and make love to Gabrielle. Even though her rear was more comfortable, Gabrielle regretted not riding behind Xena, not being able to enjoy the closeness of her. She was hoping Xena would stop long enough at the inn for a tryst and a good nights sleep. Alyssea was anxious about going to town, wondering whether she would be able to get close to Xena tonight. Cleis, Gordo, and Jason knew there would be other soldiers in town, and were all looking forward to a good night of cruising.
They stopped at the livery and stabled their horses. Xena talked to the owner, and there was a good chance he would be interested in some of their horses. The weapons could probably be sold to some warrior wannabees at the tavern. The boys immediately took off in search of some fun, while Xena, Gabrielle, and Alyssea made their way to the inn. It wasnt much, just wattle and daub, with a thatched roof, but it offered comfort for the weary traveler. Xena was really hoping not to run into any more of her men, or her enemies, so she paid for 2 rooms, and she, Alyssea, and Gabrielle all went quickly to their quarters, after requesting that the serving wench bring some food and drink to their rooms.
Xena got a separate room for Alyssea, and hoped she would stay in it for the time being. Alyssea got the hint and went her own way. Xena opened the door to the room with an exaggerated gesture, and said, "Your room, mlady," offering it to Gabrielle for her inspection.
Gabrielle giggled. She was not used to this kind of formality or courtesy. She had always been the servant before. As soon as they were in the room, Xena pulled her down of the bed, and began kissing her, holding her tightly, and putting her hands all over her body. Gabrielle could feel herself becoming aroused, but Xenas hard armor pressing into her tender skin was not a turn-on. "Ow!" Gabrielle protested.
"Whats the matter?" Xena asked, anxiously. "Am I hurting you?"
"No, youre not, but your armor is. Cant you remember to take that stuff off before you grab me?"
"Sorry," Xena said, separating herself from Gabrielle. "I havent been with anyone in awhile, and I forgot." As Xena started to take off her armor and struggled with it, Gabrielle became impatient with her and started to help. While she helped, she also helped herself to Xenas breasts, massaging them, and then kissing Xena. Finally, they were all done, and then there was a knock at the door. Xena sprang to the floor, drew her sword, and stood up, ready for battle.
"My, youre awfully jumpy. Why dont you just relax? Its probably only just our supper," Gabrielle said, pushing the sword-wielding Xena down on the bed as she answered the door.
It was the serving wench with a tray of food and drink. "Beggin your pardon, ladies, heres your food, and I will return when the bath is ready," she said, placing the tray down on the table and shutting the door behind her.
"See, Xena, I told you it was only her," Gabrielle said innocently, sitting next to her and stroking her hair.
"Gabrielle, there are some things you dont know about me. I have enemies everywheresome of them I know, and some I dont know. I, that is, we, could very easily end up dead if Im not vigilant. I told you being with me was dangerouslook at what happened this afternoon!" While she was saying this, she got up and placed a chair under the door handle to give her a little time should any intruders try to break in.
"OK, OK, I get the picture," Gabrielle protested. "Im just not used to feeling like a hunted animal."
"Neither am I," Xena responded with resignation. "Before, I had my whole army to protect me. Now its just you and me."
"But what about Alyssea, and the boys? Wont they help?"
"Sure they will, but we cant count on them to be around forever. We all must go our own separate ways."
"What about us? You dont mean youd send me away, would you?" Gabrielle asked anxiously.
"No, thats not what I meant," Xena reassured her. "Sometimes people just have to find their own way, and their friends may not be a part of it. We each have our own destiny to fulfill, and I have yet to discover mine. I used to think I knew what it was, but it became a dishonor to my family, and a nightmare to me. I do think you are a part of my destiny." Xena held open her arms, and Gabrielle fell right into them. They held each other for a few minutes, and in that short time they shared a closeness neither one of them had ever thought possible with another.
Finally, Xenas stomach got the better of her, and she let go of Gabrielle, and fell on the food, devouring it like a hungry animal that doesnt know where its next meal is coming from. "Slow down, Xena," Gabrielle admonished her. "No ones going to take it away from you."
"I just get so hungry after a fight," Xena said self-consciously, while continuing to gnaw on a large chunk of meat.
"Are you going to share some of that with me, or do I have to order another dinner?" Gabrielle asked, trying to redirect some of the meat into her mouth.
"Oh, sure, here," Xena said, tearing off a piece of the meat, and offering it to Gabrielle, who took small bites and chewed them thoughtfully. Xena was eating so fast that she hadnt bothered to wipe off the grease around her mouth from the meat, so Gabrielle took part of her blood-soaked blouse and used it as a napkin on Xena. Xena barely noticed, until she saw the blood, and then said, "As soon as were rested, Im going to take you to the market, sell some of those weapons, and buy you something new to wear."
"Good. Im looking forward to that bath, and then spending some time with you," Gabrielle said, stroking Xenas thigh and looking deeply into her eyes. Xena just smiled knowingly. After they were done eating, the serving wench came and led them to a hot bath, and they took their time bathing each other, and caressing every part of each others bodies. Such leisure was a real luxury, considering the turbulent episodes of the last few days. They had nowhere to go, and nothing to do, and they reveled in it and in each other. Still, Xena brought her sword with her to the bath, just in case anyone should want a piece of her while they might think she was at her most vulnerable.
What her enemies didnt know was that having Gabrielle made her both strong and weak. Gabrielles attitude and her positivity were a stabilizing influence on Xena, and made her stronger. When Xena was worried about Gabrielle, however, was when she felt vulnerable. She hated having Gabrielle around when there was a fight.
When Xena and Gabrielle returned to their room, they fell on each other like female animals in heat, and made love for hours. Each one delighted in pleasing the other, touching her in all the sacred places, worshipping her as a goddess. Finally, they were satiated, and lay together, Gabrielles head on Xenas shoulder, both arms entwined around the others naked body.
Xena had never experienced this feeling beforeit was absolutely divine. It was Goddess-energy, flowing through Gabrielle to Xena, who was her receptacle. As the messenger of the Goddess-energy, Gabrielle was feeling just as high as Xena. There was no need to talk right nowboth just enjoyed being in the presence of the Goddess.
..Not necessarily the end of Dark Heart .ã 1997 Laine R. Lawless