Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others mentioned, belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights are intended.

Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to a loving relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.

Timeline: This story takes place the evening/night following the day the
Persians got their butt’s kicked in One Against An Army. There are also references to the episodes in the Rift series, Return of Callisto and The Debt. You may consider viewing these episodes before continuing, but if you don’t, you’re on your own.

Just a note: One Against An Army is my favorite episode for many reasons, but the main one is the fact that through out most of it, Xena and Gabrielle are by themselves and talking. Really talking, instead of idle chit chat or death threats, strategy sessions . . . I think you get the point. Anyway that is what I love about the episode and so, for some reason I decided to write this as a continuation of that episode. As usual, I started out with a clear picture of what I thought happened and set out to make that happen, however it didn’t happen that way. I started the piece and somewhere along the way, I found myself following the characters instead of leading them, which would account for the length of this rather long ditty. Also, considering the episodes that led up to OAAA, I believe that this would’ve been the most realistic place, in fiction terms, for X & G to move into the subtext zone. I tried to do this slowly, but as I said, I just followed their lead, although there is nothing sexually graphic, too much, to soon, so to speak (inside joke), there is some heated moments and some touchy feely ones as well. Enough said. Enjoy. I hope.

Please send any comments to asdease1@gte.net.



by FlyBigD

Xena opened her eyes, taking only an instant to focus on the beams and thatched roof above her. The light was dim and she quickly found the hole overhead and sighed, noticing the darkening sky and a few twinkles of stars. Cursing herself for over sleeping, her mind started to register what her other senses were sending. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on those senses, smelling the air with it’s aroma of stale hay, the faint remnants of smoke, the pungent smell of oil and the familiar scent of blood and death. Her ears listened, hearing only the natural sounds of dusk that permeated the wooden walls surrounding her. Next, she ran her tongue over her lips and tasted the dry, dirty grit from the days previous activities. Ugh. Finally, knowing this would be the worst of tests, she began to slowly stretch her muscles, logging every ache and twinge as she flexed her appendages. The inventory completed, she opened her eyes and turned to study the form beside her. Even in the impending darkness she could still make out Gabrielle’s profile. The pained expressions of the past day were gone. Replaced by a peaceful innocence that only came in slumber. Moving her gaze downward, she watched the slow rhythmic rise and fall of the bard’s chest, confirming that her partner was in the hands of Morpheus. Releasing the breath she’d unconsciously been holding, she smiled and watched a moment more, before rolling onto her side to get a better view of the bard. Wincing at the arguments from her body, she placed a hand on the bard’s brow, feeling the natural warmth, but to her relief, no heat from fever. “Thank you.” Whispering to whomever might be listening and moved her hand to Gabrielle’s left shoulder. It was hard to see the wound in the darkness and she felt around the arrow hole as gently as possible, again feeling for unnatural heat that would indicate infection. She continued her inspection, until a soft moan left the bard’s throat and the warrior stilled her hand on soft skin. Watching the bard’s face, she waited until she was sure Gabrielle wasn’t going to wake, a feat that normally took nothing short of an earthquake to accomplish, she smiled at the thought and removed her hand, satisfied the the bard was well on her way back from the brink she’d earlier trod so precariously. “Damn Persians.” She muttered with remembrance.

Her immediate concerns taken care of, Xena quietly stood and stretched again. Moving slowly and methodically, she cracked her neck and several other joints in an attempt to work out the soreness and asses the damage. A cut on her left arm came to her attention and she started to test it and sighed. “You know, Xena, this would be a lot easier if you could see.” Chiding herself, she walked to the edge of the loft and surveyed the armory floor. It was a mass of shades and darkness. The dark stain of oil mixed with the blood from her victims, intermingled with the lifeless forms themselves, broken sporadically by lighter sections of bare floor. Shaking her head, her eyes roamed until she spotted a faint hint of light coming from the hearth across the room. “Well, at least I don’t have to start from scratch.” Sighing, she stepped out into nothingness. Landing in a quiet thump, she groaned audibly as the back of her right leg sent an agonizing pain to her head. “Gods.” She exhaled through gritted teeth and immediately shifted her weight to the other leg. Closing her eyes, she waited for the most intense pain to pass, then opened them again when only a dull ache remained. Twisting, she ran a hand down to the wound and a flash of white appeared in the darkness as her lips drew into a snarl. Scratching the dried blood, she ran her fingers along the gash, wincing as twinges of pain shot up. “Just what I needed.” She said sarcastically and continued her inspection, feeling a warm wetness, she rolled her eyes skyward and cursed. “Some warrior princess you are, stupid.” Turning to glare at the dark form of the ladder not a pace from where she stood. Grimacing, she felt the wound again and resigned herself to the fact that if she didn’t need stitches before, she certainly did now. Pushing the pain aside and allowing the self deprecating curses to swirl around, she limped her way toward the hearth, making agonizing stretches over lifeless bodies. “It’s a good thing you’re already dead.” She mentioned to several strategically placed forms in the darkness. At the hearth, she took a moment to steady herself, taking several deep breaths and letting each out slowly. “That wasn’t so hard.” She lied.

Getting the fire going had taken a little effort on her part, mostly from bending to pick up wood, but she pressed on to the next task at hand and looked around. The fire provided ample lighting in the large room, but the floor was still in shades of darkness. As her eyes scanned the still forms, her mind immediately began to sort and prioritize the next phase. Separating what was wanted from what was need, she relegated wants to the rear and adjusted the needs into a top ten list. “First things, first.” Looking to her left, she spotted Argo’s saddle bags as they peeked from underneath a Persian soldier. “Oh, perfect.” Sighing at the thought of having to extract it from the lifeless form, she tested the injured leg and started toward the first thing on the list. It was only a short distance, but the pain seemed to extend the length into leagues, every step sending a reminder of the battle to her brain, which only made the trip longer and so the viscous circle continued until she was close enough to nudge the ill placed body with the toe of her boot. Raising an eyebrow she shifted from one foot to the other. “Quick and painful or slow and painful?” Tapping her chin, she made the decision and quickly bent down, pulled in a short burst of strength and brought the saddle bags out with a whoosh of air, followed by a light thud, then proceeded to hop lightly on her uninjured leg until the pain from the right one subsided. Managing to keep all the explicative’s silent, she crossed the great chasm back to the hearth and gingerly sat down. “Whoa.” Taking a deep breath, she puffed her cheeks and blew upward, sending her bangs to flight for an instant. Settling the bags between her outstretched legs, she dug around pulling out items necessary for tending her wounds. Preparing the tedious task of mending her body, her brow knitted for a moment, then she searched the immediate area around the hearth. Nothing found she scanned the room and spotted the water skin where she’d left it earlier. It had been near the saddle bags and was still hanging on a peg above the cursed Persian who’d fallen on the a fore said items and she closed her eyes in disbelief. For an instant, she considered just spitting on the bandages and tested the contents of her mouth. “I can’t come up with enough spit to put out a firefly.” She surmised and looked again at the distance to where the skin hung. Testing her leg, she switched to plan beta and decided that walking was not an option. “This sucks.” Moving onto all fours.

Marking item one off the list, Xena swallowed the last of her concoction, a combination of antibiotics and pain killer, then looked down at the bandage on her leg. Although she had considered stitches, the fact that the wound was almost impossible for her to reach and number two on the list would probably rip them anyway, she had opted for a thorough cleaning, a little salve and a clean bandage. That accomplished, she closed her eyes and waited for the pain killer to settle in, but remained focused on the next item on the list. Two, drag the Persians outside and away from the armory. The oil will help them burn, but that will have to wait until morning. Don’t want to bring the rest of the Persian army down on our heads. What about the ones on the roof? The buzzards and wolves can have them. That brought a smile to her face. Three, collect all the poisoned arrows and burn them. Arrows. Arrows? Gabrielle. Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Xena opened her eyes, her breath coming in ragged gasps, as the reality of the dream momentarily overrode coherent thought. She was standing, sword drawn and looking around desperately. “Gabrielle!” Shouting for her friend, her head spun from side to side. “Gabrielle!”

“Xena.” Came a hushed response.

“Gabrielle.” The warrior whispered, turning in the direction that the sound had come from, she vaulted skyward, rotating through a somersault and landed solidly a few feet from the edge of the loft. Her insides churning, Xena moved quickly to the bard’s side and knelt down. Sheathing her sword, the warrior placed a shaky hand on the bard’s brow and watched anxiously until Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open to give her a puzzled look. As quickly as the dream had set her heart pounding, the bard’s questioning perusal brought it back to normal. Taking several deep breaths, giving the bard a faint smile. “Hey.” Her voice just a whisper, she moved her hand to the bard’s cheek, stroking it gently. “How you feeling?” The smile turned into mirror image of the bard’s concerned frown.

Noting the concerned look on the warrior’s face, Gabrielle considered before answering and a question floated up from her clouded memory. “Are we dead?”

A playful smile broke the warrior’s frown. “You already asked me that.” Stroking the cheek one more time before moving her hand to take the bard’s smaller one in hers and squeezed gently. Watching Gabrielle’s expression waver from confusion to uncertainty, her smile brightened before answering. “No, Gabrielle. We’re not dead.” Giving the bard’s hand another squeeze, instead of the proverbial pinch of reassurance.

Gabrielle felt the pressure and took the warrior at her word. Closing her eyes, she sighed, a soft moan escaping her lips. Not fully awake, her mind clouded with snatches of visions that danced around her consciousness. The sound of metal on metal echoed along with cries of the dying, the smell of something burning, someone standing over her, then Xena’s familiar battle cry and finally the silence. “Persians?” The only vision she didn’t have an answer for.

“Gone.” Xena answered quietly, studying her friend closely. She knew the bard would recover, but in the light from the fire, she was concerned by Gabrielle’s pale complexion.

“The gods forbid.” As another memory popped in her head, though not a vision, just a voice and not even hers.

“What?” Still holding on the the bard’s hand, concern etched her face into a deep scowl and she checked the bard’s brow with her free hand.

A smile played at Gabrielle’s lips as the memory came again. Opening her eyes, she looked up to the warrior and an ironic twinkle played behind long lashes. “Go home.” Mimicking the warrior’s voice. “There are thousands more like me.” Slowly the smile grew brighter as she watched the warrior’s expression go from consternation to recognition. A chuckle broke the silence, followed by a cough and she held her breath until both passed. “That’s a scary thought.” She said at last, giving the warrior a lopsided grin.

“Funny.” Unable to contain her own smile, she chuckled. “Well it worked, didn’t it?” Putting on her best warrior princess glare for emphasis.

“Hmm.” Gabrielle held the warrior’s eyes as the idea of a thousand warrior princess’ running around would scare the bageez's out of anybody, right mind or not. “They’re probably half way back to Persia by now.”

Xena gave her a scrupulous look. “I doubt that.” Fingering the bard’s blonde hair, she winked. Shrugging her shoulders, the warrior let the tension that filled her earlier drift away and be replaced by an overwhelming sense of relief. “But,” leaning down, she place a kiss on the bard’s forehead and pulled back to stare intently into deep green pools, “that’s not my problem anymore.”

“Xena.” Drawing out the warrior’s name in an admonishing tone.

“No, Gabrielle.” Leaning further back, her smile disappeared and was replaced with stoic resolve. “I did my part and now the only thing I’m concentrating on is getting you well.”

“But, Xena you could...” Her words were cut off by two fingers on her lips.

“No, Gabrielle.” She whispered, watching the bard’s face contort with frustration, she felt the desperation and helplessness of the previous night come back to her, along with the dark memories of the past season. The pain of losing her son and the knowledge of what soon followed tore at her soul and she closed her eyes. Even though she knew they had moved beyond the betrayal and pain, it was still fresh in her mind and that, coupled with the thought of losing Gabrielle as well had filled her with something she hadn’t felt in a very long time. Fear. It had encompassed her entire being and shaken her down to her core. The power she’d gained from Loa Ma was nothing compared to the fear of losing her best friend and when she’d gone down before the Persian assault, it was that fear that brought her up again. It burned inside of her, ripping through her veins like molten lava and given her a strength like none other. It was raw. It was primal and to the Persian’s, it was lethal. “No.” Her voice barely audible, she opened her eyes and pushed those memories aside, looking down at the bard her eyes glistened. Lifting her fingers, she brushed them lightly against the bards’s lips before moving them to stoke a pale cheek. “This time no arguments.” Cupping the bard’s face in her hand, the warrior leaned down and placed a light kiss on warm lips. “Please.”

Gabrielle barely heard the plea as Xena’s lips met hers again. Though this kiss was just as gentle, the bard felt something pass between them. She didn’t know what it was, but as the warrior pulled away, a hint of it lingered between them and as they held each others eyes, the bard thought she caught a glimpse of pain behind the crystal blue. “No arguments.” Conceding with a sigh and saw the pain disappear.

The warmth of the kiss faded and Xena smiled. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Returning the smile and feeling a slight twinge pass through her, she shuddered with it’s aftermath. Whether it was the effects of the kiss or the fact that she hadn’t had anything to drink, except antidote for the past half day, the bard licked her lips. An action that at first was unconscious, but quickly brought on a blush as she saw the warrior’s eyebrows disappear beneath her bangs. “Could I have...” Her mind caught suddenly as it was trying to figure out what it wanted.

“Water?” Xena prompted, watching the bard’s face react, causing her own to exhibit a crooked grin.

“If it’s not too much trouble.” Finding her voice.

“No trouble at all.” Standing, she gave the bard a wink then turned and took a step toward the ladder.

“Xena.” Following the warrior’s movements, she spotted the bloody bandage on Xena’s leg. “You’re hurt.” Pointing when the warrior turned to look at her.

Twisting, she glanced down at the wound on her leg and noticed the red stain. “Yea, well, it’s not as bad as it looks.” The pain killers had effectively dulled the sensations coming from the gash and she shrugged. “It’ll need a few stitches.” Her voice indifferent.

“A few?” Gabrielle couldn’t see the extent of the injury from her current vantage point, but even with that fact, the red streaks slowly making their way down the back of Xena’s leg told her that it was going to take more than a ‘few’ stitches to repair the damage. “Let me look at it.” Motioning with her hand for the warrior to return.

“It’s okay.” Ignoring the bard, she turned back to the ladder. “I can’t even feel it.” Without further ado, she climbed down the ladder and continued ignoring Gabrielle as she called to her.

“Xena.” She stated flatly and listen as the warrior moved around the armory, effectively out of her sight. “Xena.” She said again and listened, this time she was sure she heard a chuckle. Closing her eyes, as some not so nice thoughts bounced around and she waited for the warrior to return. Hearing wood creaking, she opened her eyes and saw a dark head come into view, quickly followed by two blue eyes with an evil twinkle in them, which were just as quickly followed by a pair of smirking lips. Her eyes became slits as she glared at her friends obvious pleasure. “Xena, let me look at your leg.” Seriously.

“First things first.” Coming to the bard, Xena bent over and dangled the water skin in front of her patient. “Thirsty?” The smirk was replaced by a mischievous grin.

Gabrielle had no intention of letting the issue go, but gave in to her body’s needs. “Give me that.” Grasping for the skin, she sat forward and was struck by an agonizing pain in her left shoulder. “Gods.” She gasped with a sudden intake of air. Her eyes squeezed shut and her whole upper torso felt like it was on fire. “Xena.” A hushed plea through clenched teeth.

“Gabrielle!” Dropping to her knees, the warrior threw one arm behind the bard’s back and the other behind the blonde’s head, bringing to rest on her shoulder. “Easy. Easy.” She murmured, ignoring the death grip the bard had quickly put on her upper arm. “I gotcha.” Cradling the bard in her arms, she held her steady. “Relax.” She whispered into the bard’s ear. “Relax, Gabrielle. Relax and breath.”

Gabrielle took several deep breaths, letting them out slowly, trying to make her body do the warrior’s bidding. After several minutes, the pain subsided and she consciously made her muscles relax.

“I’m gonna lay you back down. Okay?” Feeling the blood return to her arm as the bard’s grip lessened, Xena waited for a sign that the bard was ready.

Gabreille merely nodded and feeling a shot of pain, fought the urge to stiffen and resist and concentrated on controlling her breathing and relaxing, but couldn’t stop a small groan from escaping.

“Okay, here we go.” Holding the bard’s body against her, Xena slowly eased forward, but hesitated when Gabrielle tensed. “You okay?” The bard’s chest expanded and she felt a warm breath against her neck, followed by a slight nod and she started again, but slowed her descent. “Almost there.” With Gabrielle once again settled on the furs, Xena eased her arm from beneath the bard and grimaced when she saw a wince. Gabrielle still gripped her other arm, forcing Xena to hover just above the bard’s body. Using her free hand, she pulled gently, gradually forcing the bard to relinquish her hold and carefully brought the bards arm down, resting it on the furs across the young woman’s abdomen. Free to lean back, Xena eased her hand from behind the bard’s head and moved it down to rest on Gabrielle’s chest, which had developed a light layer of sweat. The immediate crisis over, Xena cursed herself for the pain she’d caused with her indulgence. Quickly blaming the pain killers for dulling her mind, then just as quickly kicking herself for ever taking them in the first place. Closing her eyes, she shook her head. “Of all the stupid ideas.”

“Is that for you, or for me?” Still quite aware of her condition, Gabrielle smiled and opened her eyes. She couldn’t explain why she smiled, because the pain was definitely there, but if she had taken the time to consider, which she didn’t, she may have discovered it had something to do with the warm hand residing on her chest.

Xena hadn’t realized she’d said the words out loud and kicked herself again for that, before opening her eyes to face the bard. “”Gabrielle, I am so sorry.” The smile on the bard’s face did nothing to subside the guilt that churned inside. She felt a chuckle coming from the bard and gave her an inquisitive look. “You all right? What’s so funny?”

“Yes and nothing.” Chuckling again, which caused a pain to shoot from her shoulder, but she ignored it, finding the deepening furrow on the warrior’s forehead much more interesting.

“Gabrielle?” Drawing out the name, her curiosity overrode her guilt.

“It’s a good thing we have each other, Xena.” Shaking her head. “Because no body else would ever put up with us.” Her face contorted into a painful scowl, which belied the laughter that broke from her lips.

The truth of the statement sunk in and Xena found herself unable to resist the happiness that came from the knowledge. Watching the bard’s face flip back and forth between pain and joy, she shook her head as a chuckle made it’s way up from her gut. “Truth hurts, huh?” Matching the bard’s guttural laughter.

“Yes.” As a tear made it’s way down her temple, she watched a broad smile fix itself on the warrior’s face. Bringing her hand to her chest, she covered Xena’s and gave it a couple of light strokes, before letting it rest atop the warrior’s.

Slowly the laughter quieted and they stayed transfixed by each other’s eyes. Neither one willing to break the silent spell, until the quiet was finally broken by an unearthly rumble.

Xena’s eyes widened and glanced down at the bard’s stomach with a look of awe as a second and even louder growl escaped. Looking back to the bard’s eyes, she raised a brow. “Hungry?”

“Among other things.” A little huskily. Gabrielle cleared her throat and tried again. “Yes. I’m a little hungry.”

“Gabrielle. You’re never a little hungry.” Xena noticed the bard’s color had returned and also noted that her hand, the one trapped between Gabrielle’s chest and hand, was quite toasty. Easing it out of it’s comfy oven, Xena turned to retrieve the forgotten water skin. Pulling the stopper, she handed it to the bard and helped her friend take several healthy swallows before doing the same. “I’ll see what I can scrounge up.” Handing the skin to the bard, she stood and stole a sideways glance before turning toward the ladder.

“Thanks for the mental picture.” Taking the skin, Gabrielle grimaced, thinking of what the word scrounge would mean in food terms and brought the skin to her lips, drinking deeply. Her thirst quenched, she watched until the warrior disappeared, then felt a sudden flash of heat pass over her and swore through gritted teeth. “She did it again.” Realizing that she’d let Xena slip away without checking her wound. Her mouth opened with the idea of calling the warrior back, but closed it knowing the effort would a waste. “Damn.” Whispering the curse on both of them. She’s on a mission. Rolling her eyes. Considering her current state, Gabrielle vowed silently, that she wouldn’t let the warrior escape again. “Even if I have to sit on her to do it.” She whispered with conviction and smiled at the image of doing just that. Thinking of possible strategies and positions she could use to subdue the warrior, something stirred inside her, making her skin tingle and sending a flush of heat over her body. The flush turned into an uncomfortable wave, making the fur covering her body, itch against her skin. Grabbing it, she tossed the cover aside and considered the source of the sudden feverish attack. “Xena?” Relaxing, as the cool night air brushed some of the heat from her body. “Does that antidote have side effects?”

“I don’t think so.” Flipping through the saddle bags, she looked up toward the loft. “Why?”

“Because unless it’s really hot in here, I think I’m having some kind of reaction.” Pulling at the top edge of green fabric, Gabrielle blew on the exposed skin of her breasts.

A smirk crossed Xena’s face and she stopped her search long enough to take a rueful glance at the hand she’d held to the bard’s chest. “You’re not the only one.” Under her breath, then returning her attention to finding food for the monster in Gabrielle’s stomach. “It’s not you.” Raising her voice to the bard. “Well not completely you.” Whispering again and used one hand to search and the other to fan herself.

“Are you sure?” Blowing downward again. This isn’t natural.

“Positive.” Pulling out several items wrapped in cloth, she stopped fanning and inspected them. One was a full loaf of bread and the other a block of cheese. Not much, but it’ll have to do for now. Wrapping them back up, she put dropped them in saddlebag and threw it over her shoulder. Turning, Xena started for the ladder and stopped. Glancing around, items two through ten of her list of things to do smacked her in the face. The heat of a few moments earlier drained away as the thought of spending the night in a room filled with dead bodies left her with a eerie chill. Looking up at the loft, she sighed heavily. “Out of sight. Out of mind isn’t gonna cut it here.” She said to herself. Resigned to what lay in store, Xena picked her way back to the ladder and started up. Sometimes I hate my job, she thought with a sense of dread.

Gabrielle lifted her gaze from her cleavage to glance at the warrior. “What’s wrong?” Xena didn’t look happy and she knew, from past experience, that that was never a good sign.

“Nothing.” Pulling the bags from her shoulder, Xena placed them beside the bard. “There’s some bread and cheese in there.” Tension crept between her shoulder blades and she rotated her neck to relieve the pressure, causing popping sounds in the process. “That’s the best I can do for now.” That said, she turned back toward the ladder.

“Xena.” The warrior stopped, but didn’t turn around. Something in the pit of her stomach reared it’s ugly head and the bard felt a sense of dread steal the warmth from her body. “Xena.” She tried again. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. There’s some stuff I have to take care of. After you eat, try to get some rest.” Moving to the ladder, Xena looked at the floor below and closed her eyes. “I’ll be back up later.” Not wanting to face the bard, she took a step sideways and then dropped off the edge. Although the pain killers did their job and kept most of the pain in her leg at bay, they couldn’t take away the uneasiness that was floating just beneath the surface of her emotions. Sighing, yet again, Xena moved to the closest body, bent over, took a firm grip on a cold pair of boots and pulled.

After several disconcerting moments, Gabrielle listened closely to the sounds coming from below and though she could imagine the scene she would encounter, it didn’t stop her from slowly making her way to the edge and peeking over. There were bodies everywhere and for a moment she closed her eyes as a wave of memories drummed their way to the surface. The pounding in her head matched the one in her chest and her heart beat rapidly, the images of death and destruction vanquishing her appetite. Opening her eyes, Gabrielle watched as Xena took hold of another body and proceeded to drag it out the door. It seemed to be happening in slow motion and with every lifeless form removed, the pain on the warrior’s face grew, as if the dead were leaching the life out of her. Tears flowed unchecked down the bard’s face as the torture for her friend continued until finally the floor had been cleared. Next, she watched Xena sift through the scattered weaponry, picking out arrows from the other items left behind by the Persian’s. Then the warrior disappeared into the darkness and Gabrielle heard noises of sharp metal points being removed from the doors of the armory. It took only a minute and Xena returned, her arms now full of poisoned arrows and the bard smiled a faint smile when Xena dumped them into the hearth with gusto. The pain in her shoulder and the ache in her chest gave Gabrielle a subtle reminder of what damage one of the arrows had caused.

Both women watched as the flames licked the arrows, igniting the feathers and turning the shafts black as the poison began to bubble silently on the tips. Neither one turned away until all evidence of their existence vanished into smoldering embers.

Satisfied, somewhat, Xena added several more logs to the fire. “Bastards.” She muttered, throwing one last log into the flames and watching it send up a steam of burning embers. It didn’t matter whether it was the heat of the flames, or the smoke that billowed around her, or the memory of what she’d almost lost that caused the tears to fall, she just let them. She didn’t even care enough to wipe them away before she turned to see a matching set falling from two green eyes that watched her silently from above. Nothing could’ve prepared her for what she felt at that moment and every nerve in her body tingled. “I love you.” Her voice had a ragged edge that sounded strange in her ears and for a moment, she wondered it she’d actually said it aloud, but as she watched, a smile flittered across the bard’s face and then her words came back to her.

“I love you.” Gabrielle answered and as the words faded to silence, her world diminished to two blue eyes that held her entranced. Those eyes came closer and with each second that passed, she felt something inside her reaching up and suddenly the pain of their recent past took hold of her heart. Without warning, that past claimed her vision as Callisto, Hope and Craftstar’s faces flashed before her eyes, dragging her back in time and she struggled to breath as something deep inside her screamed for release. No! Her mind fought back against it. She felt the tendrils of Dahok’s flames surrounding her body, holding her helplessly above the altar. Her head thrashed back and forth as the heat reached for her soul. No! No! The vision blurred into one of Xena cradling Solan’s lifeless body. No! She ran as the warrior’s anguished cry ripped through the air, tearing her heart from her body. No! This isn’t happening. The vision blurred again and this time she found herself rising to face the warrior princess. The hatred in Xena’s eyes flashed and Gabrielle’s voice mirrored the emotion, her voice an extension of her core, racing to embrace the darkness that enfolded her. No! No! No more! Please! No more . . . pain. The last just a whisper in her mind as she felt something warm on her face. Her eyes focused on the sea of blue directly in front of her.

Xena cupped Gabrielle’s face in her hands, her eyes reflected the torment she saw and her heart shuddered. “No more pain.” She whispered, bringing her lips to meet the bard’s in a gentle reassuring kiss.

No more pain. The sound of the words drifted in her consciousness before their meaning was brought home by the touch of soft lips against hers. The guilt and fear that lurked just beneath the surface of her emotions made her resist the embrace, resist the love and understanding that were being thrust upon her. She didn’t deserve the love. Didn’t deserve the understanding. Didn’t deserve to be forgiven, but she was. She could feel it and her soul cried out as if breaking the surface of some dark watery grave her fear had created. Gasping for air, her soul took in all that it was given and Gabrielle felt herself being drawn out of her darkness. Out of the shadows she’d been living in and into the light of reality. A reality that spread warmth from her lips down to her very core and she stopped fighting it and, instead, matched it.

Xena felt the change and the gentle kiss quickly took on an intensity that threatened her precarious position on the ladder. Her leg throbbed from the wound, her body ached from exhaustion, her heart was pounding wildly and she couldn’t remember the last time she breathed, but none of that mattered when she felt Gabrielle’s fingers grip the back of her head and pull her insistently forward. Letting go of the bard’s face, Xena brought her hands down to steady herself against the floor of the loft as the ladder teetered to one side. Once balance was restored, she found herself in the midst of an emotional battle between what she wanted to do and what she knew she had to do. The want side was fighting for allowing her to be drawn in to the passion that was building at a heated pace and the need fought back with a reason, stemming from years of mental and physical discipline, that kept her from rushing into anything without first considering the consequences. And so the battle raged for what seemed like an eternity, on side being fueled by the bard’s obvious desires, as well as her own and the other by the little voice she listened to that told her nothing, not even the desire she so wanted to give into was worth the remotest of chances of losing the most precious thing in her life. Gabrielle. There was no doubt what the bard wanted because her lips were making themselves quite clear on that front, but the voice persisted with possible ramifications of letting one moment of passion ruin their relationship, their friendship and again breaking the bonds so recently mended. Her decision made, her resolve set, Xena tried to extricate herself from the bard’s passionate embrace and found it a little more difficult than she’d anticipated. Her first attempt failing, she almost gave into the heat coursing through her body, but the little voice tapped her on the shoulder and somehow, she finally succeeded in separating herself from the bard. Drawing back and breathing heavily, she stared into the mixed expression of the bard. “Gabrielle.” Smoke from her body clouded her mind and she found herself struggling for the words she needed to say. “Gabrielle, I . . .” Taking a long deep breath. “. . . I think we need to talk.” Her voice calm and a bit husky, she waited for the bard to say something.

Gabrielle’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. Words and emotions whirled in her mind, as she made the effort to retrace the last chain of events and put them in some semblance of order. An angry doubt played at the edge of her reasoning, making her question if she’d been wrong about what she’d felt in the warrior’s kiss. No, she thought, there was no doubt that Xena had wanted it as much as she had, but the doubt persisted. Studying the warrior’s face, she searched for a sign that her doubt and subsequent rising fear was unwarranted and, in turn, found Xena studying her just as intently. The warrior’s blue eyes giving her no sense of what was going through the Xena’s mind and seeing no sign one way or the other, the doubt crept over her, pushing to the fore and sending a chill down her spine at the thought of making one huge mistake. By the gods, what have I done? “Xena . . . I’m sorry.” A dread gripped her heart. “I thought that you . . .”

Seeing the fear spread over the bard’s features, Xena quickly reassured her friend. “I do, Gabrielle. I do . . .” Trying to reassure her friend, she saw the fear on the bard’s face replaced by confusion. “. . . it’s just that . . .” The words eluded her and she closed her eyes and sighed. “ . . . maybe this is too much, too soon. Ya know?” Fearing the answer she might see in the bard’s eyes, she kept hers closed and felt the words as much as said them. “What I mean is Gabrielle.” Taking a deep breath. “We’ve been through so much this last year that, as much as I want this, as much as I want you right now, I’m not willing to risk our friendship on something we might both regret later.” Opening her eyes, she continued. “You mean more to me than the air I breath. You’ve brought joy to my life and taught me how to feel again and how to love. Gabrielle, you are my world. Everything I do is because of you. Everything I am is because you help make me the person I am today. Without you, I’d be lost, or insane, or both, but I’m not and it’s because of what you’ve given me, what you’ve shown me. You are my best friend and I love you and whether or not we do this is secondary to our friendship. I can live without this, Gabrielle, but I can’t live without you.” Although she’d been unable to stop the words once they’d started, the warrior somehow felt a sense of relief that she’d finally been able to say what she’d been holding back for so long.

Gabrielle reached out and wiped away a tear that was cleaning a path down the warrior’s dirty cheek. She smiled, thinking of the stereotype people had about Xena. The fierce, stoic warrior that only spoke to issue orders, or make death threats, or to belt out her infamous war cry and saw only a cold heartless warlord in those blue eyes and compared it to what she’d just heard and what she saw before her. Xena’s words had melted her heart and swept away all traces of doubt and fear and looking into the blue eyes she saw them sparkle with life, love, warmth, compassion, understanding and wonder. This was the Xena she knew and even though the warrior was capable of living up to her reputation; Gabrielle had seen that first hand and shivered remembering, that this Xena, the one who’d just opened her heart and soul was the real warrior. The one she’d followed. The one she’d idolized. The one she loved. The one who just out barded the bard, she thought ruefully. Add that to her many skills. Her smile grew as she used Xena’s own words to express what she knew was an undeniable truth. “Even in death, Xena, I will never leave you.”

The bard’s words lifted the final burden from Xena’s heart and her eyes filled with tears again and closing them, brought her hand to cover the bard’s, interlacing their fingers. Squeezing gently, Xena turned and placed a gentle kiss in the bard’s palm, then opened her eyes. “I love you, Gabrielle.” Her voice just above a whisper. Smiling, she pressed her lips to the bard’s palm again.

Gabrielle’s eyes fixed on the warrior’s. Leaning forward, she slowly closing the gap between them and moving her hand back to the warrior’s cheek, stopped a breath away from Xena’s lips before echoing the warrior’s words and what she felt in her own heart. “I love you, Xena.” Then hesitated half a moment to tilt her head slightly before closing the distance and felt the softness of Xena’s lips against hers.

The bard’s kiss was gentle, lacking the intensity and passion of earlier, but held something far more powerful than Xena had expected. Love. The kind of love that wraps around you like a fire warmed blanket on a cold night, the kind that brings a smile to your face for no reason and the kind that brings a warrior princess to her knees at the thought of never feeling that love again. That is what this kiss held and Xena uttered a sigh swimming in that love for a moment more, before the bard pulled away. Opening her eyes, she stared in to the deepest of green that encompassed her vision. The bard’s eyes shown with happiness and love and though the warrior knew there was something else there, something that would end this moment of bliss, her sense of purpose overrode the desire to stay locked in the bard’s gaze forever. The something else was fatigue. Despite her longing, Xena acknowledged the tiredness she saw in Gabrielle’s eyes and allowed herself to feel her own weary state. Smiling regretfully, Xena made her way onto the loft and saying nothing aloud, conveyed her wishes with her eyes.

Gabrielle sighed as Xena took her in her arms and lifted her off the ground. The moment was over, but the bard held onto it a little longer, wrapping her arm around the warrior’s neck and laid a weary head on a strong shoulder.

No words were spoken until Xena had tucked the bard back into her makeshift bed. Leaning down, she kissed the bard’s brow and smiled. “Get some sleep.” Staying by Gabrielle’s side, she waited until the bard slipped into silent slumber and continued to watch for a short time, unwilling to relinquish the feeling of comfort that the bard’s closeness brought. Closing her eyes, Xena allowed her predatory instincts and overactive senses to ebb into a simple moment of peace. Opening her eyes, she glanced once more at the bard and a smiled, the rose to her feet and proceeded with items four through ten of the forgotten list of things to do.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and frowned. Her surrounding held no resemblance to the one’s of her dream and the loss of that vision made her sad. I knew it was too good to be true, looking around and finding the warrior sitting at her side, giving her a smile. She smiled back. “Hey.” Blinking the last bit of sleep from her eyes.

“Hey.” Stroking the bard’s cheek with her knuckles. “How you feeling?”

“Better.” And, to her surprise, she actually did. “How long have I been out?” Peeking at the darkness that still showed through the hole in the roof.

“Awhile.” Reaching for the water skin, Xena brought it around to the bard and pulled the stopper. “Here,” bringing it to Gabrielle’s lips, “drink some of this.” Helping the bard manage the task.

Gabrielle took a long drink then pushed the skin away and gave it a puzzled look, which she then turned on the warrior. “That’s full.” Indicating the bulging skin.

“Yea. I filled it while you were asleep.” Taking a drink for herself, Xena replaced the stopper and set the skin aside. That done, she reached over and examined the bard’s wounded shoulder. The redness was gone and the effort to clean it thoroughly was paying off, hoping the one on the bard’s back was faring as well, now that had been a challenge to do and not wake the bard, but with the salve and fresh bandages, Xena knew both wounds would heal in time. Satisfied with her handiwork, she returned her gaze to the bard’s face and raised her eyebrows when she was hit by an accusing glare. “What?”

Ignoring the pain from her shoulder, Gabrielle raised up, braced her palms against the floor and inched her butt back until she could comfortably sit in an upright position. Her eyes never left Xena’s during the process and now fixed the warrior with unwavering gaze. “Give me the saddlebags.” Her tone leaving no room for argument.

Xena was a little confused by the bard’s actions, but didn’t argue and gave Gabrielle what she asked for.

Taking the bags, Gabrielle searched through them until she found what she wanted and set several items on the floor beside her, then reached for the water skin and added it to group. Checking the inventory of items, she closed the saddle bags and set it aside, then turned her attention back to the warrior and pointed to Xena’s bandaged thigh. “I want that leg, right here,” indicating her lap, “right now.”

“Gabrielle.” Xena rolled her eyes, which she quickly discovered was a mistake as a surprisingly strong hand wrapped around her forearm and yanked. “Hey!” Finding herself being unceremoniously drug forward, she resisted, but to no avail and gave in to the bard’s greater will. “Okay. Okay. You win.” Gee, maybe that antidote did have some side effects, released from Gabrielle’s grip. Shaking her head at what this scene must look like, she crawled over the bard, lowering her body to rest face down, placing the injured leg on the bard’s lap. Raising up on one elbow, she twisted around to give the bard a questioning look. “Happy?”

“No, but I will be once this is taken care of.” Paying no attention to the tongue pointed in her direction, Gabrielle deftly removed Xena’s boot dagger from it’s home and cut away the bloodied bandage. “By the gods, Xena.” Exasperated by what lay underneath the tattered material. “I could beat you for letting this go so long.” Sighing heavily, Gabrielle began the pains taking task of making some order out of the bloodied mess. Looking around, she spotted a fur just beyond the warrior’s head. “Hand me that.” Pointing at the item.

Following Gabrielle’s direction, Xena retrieved the fur and handed it back to the bard, watching as it was folded and raised her leg at the bard’s urging. When the fur was arranged beneath her thigh, to Gabrielle’s satisfaction, Xena lowered her leg. Though the pain killers had done their job, they’d worn off sometime ago and left her with an irritating ache that she’d shuffled to the back of her mind, but with so much attention being paid to the wound at present, the ache resurfaced with a vengeance, making her wince with the bard’s careful prodding. Turning away, lowering her head to rest on her hands, Xena searched the shadows for something to focus on. There wasn’t much to look at and she finally settled on an out of place sandbag. Taking a deep breath, she started at it, concentrating, pushing the pain and everything else from her mind, relaxing into a semi-hypnotic state.

Taking her time, Gabrielle cleaned the wound, carefully picking out bits and pieces of dirt and material. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xena turn away and sighed at the thought of the pain the warrior must be in, considering the condition of her leg and having to endure the healing process. Though the thought didn’t diminish her determination to see the wound properly taken care of, or the mild irritation at the warrior’s obvious disregard for her own well being it did stir her emotions. Glancing over Xena’s prone form, she thought of the trust the warrior put in her, although even in this position, Xena was far from defenseless, Gabrielle knew the amount of trust it took for the warrior to put herself in such a vulnerable state. The thought of how she’d betrayed that trust made her heart ache and her mind filled with the look on Xena’s face, cradling Solan’s body in her arms, eyes so full of pain that she’d caused. Shaking the vision from her mind, Gabrielle studied the warrior’s long form again. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Reflectively. Never again, Xena. I promise. With that silent vow, Gabrielle went back to tending on the warrior’s wound.

“Not my best work, but under the circumstances . . .” Letting the statement hang, Gabrielle moved her head from side to side, examining the stitches she’d finished putting in. “Twenty-seven stitches, Xena. I think that’s a new record.” Her dour mood, at the outset of the project had lightened considerably and now she felt on the verge of being perky. A term which she absolutely hated, but felt, none the less. Getting no response from the warrior, Gabrielle have her friend a gentle nudge. “Xena. You can get up now, but be careful not to bust these.” Running a finger next to the line of twenty-seven x’s across the warrior’s leg, which finally succeeded in getting a rise out of Xena. Literally. “Hey! Hey! I said be careful.”

Unbeknownst to the bard, Xena had drifted off to sleep during her forced immobility and the sudden sensation of Gabrielle’s finger running across the back of her thigh had sent her reflexes into overdrive, launching her upward into a defensive stance. Her muscles tensed, her head searching for the source the attack. When none appeared, Xena looked down, sensing the bard’s eyes on her and found a knowing gloat staring back at her. “What?” She’d obviously missed something during her nap.

“Was the mighty warrior princess napping?” Smiling at the scowl that appeared on a sleepy face.

“No.” She lied with fervor. “I was meditating.” Indignantly trying to cover her tracks.

“Oh.” Studying the warrior’s face intently. “Tell me, Xena. Do you always drool when you meditate?” Knowing she’d been lied to and taking advantage of a chance to make the warrior squirm.

Wiping her face before she could stop herself, Xena knew she’d been caught. Putting her hands on her hips, she retained an indignant air. “What’s your point?” Arching one eyebrow, unwilling to acknowledge the bard’s victory.

It was hard not to laugh, but somehow Gabrielle managed to contain her mirth. “I’m not trying to make a point, Xena. I was just having a little fun.” She wasn’t laughing, but she knew she was smiling.

“At my expense.” With a mock anger, Xena eased herself down next to the bard, but made a point of not looking at her as she examined the stitches instead. “Not your best work.” Contorting for a better view.

“I already said that.” To the pretzelized form. “And there are twenty-seven.”

“That’s a new record.” Returning to some semblance of human form, but still not looking at the bard.

“I said that too.” Pushing her luck a bit more.

“All right. All right. I fell asleep, okay. I admit it.” Finally turning to face the bard, Xena switched subjects, but didn’t lose the intensity of her tone. “Are you hungry?”

“Uhhh.” Reeling from the sudden left turn of conversation. “Actually, yes.” She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten and just the mention of food was making her mouth water.

Leaning away from the bane of her existence, Xena stretched out and picked up a cloth covered plate. Grouchily, she handed it to the bard. “Here.”

Taking the offering, Gabrielle took a moment to settle her nerves and her thoughts. I hate it when she does that. Removing the cloth cover, her eyes opening to unnatural sizes at the sight of, what looked like cooked rabbit, a piece of bread and to her further amazement, boiled carrots. “Xena, I . . . I . . .don’t know what to say.” Staring at the meal in utter awe. Xena cooked!

“You’re welcome.” She said smugly, but let some of the bard’s apparent appreciation give her the warm fuzzies. Xena knew she didn’t do much in the way of gifts, since shopping was something she avoided like the plague and she never really could understand the big fuss over little useless trinkets, but watching the look on Gabrielle’s face go from astonishment to something this side of rapture, made her heart skip a beat.

“Thank you.” Smiling at her partner with a renewed sense of wonder. Settling the plate on her lap, Gabrielle reached up, putting her hand behind Xena’s neck and pulled the warrior to her for a firm lingering kiss, the let go, returning her attention to the meal.

“Wow.” Shaking her head. “I’ve got to cook more often.” A little more than stunned.

Despite her enthusiasm and hunger, Gabrielle hesitated before taking her first bite, remembering the main reason why the warrior didn’t venture into the culinary arts. What the heck. How bad can it be? Placing a piece of cold meat in her mouth, she chewed tentatively and found that the flavor as much a surprise as the meal itself. “Xena, this is good.” Unlike her last experience with the warrior’s cooking, this time she meant what she said as the taste of roasted rabbit, mixed with a curious, but pleasant combination of spices sent her taste buds into a frenzy. “Xena. This is really good.” Shoving another piece in to replace the last. “Gods, this is good.” Stuffing in another piece.

If Xena had had any doubt of the bard’s sincerity, it was quickly put to rest as the warrior watched Gabrielle begin to consume the meal at an alarming rate. “Slow down, Gabrielle, there’s more where that came from. Slow down. You’re going to choke.” Trying to coax the bard into a reasonable pace, but knowing better than to try and stop her.

“There’s more?” Chewing thoughtfully, she looked down at the half empty plate. “Have you eaten?”

“Yes.” Reassuring the bard that she hadn’t gone hungry. “I ate while you were asleep.”

“Xena?” She knew the warrior had no problem sacrificing her needs when push came to shove and she searched Xena’s eyes for some hint of a lie.

“Gabrielle, you were out for a long time.” Putting her hand on the bard’s should, Xena smiled. “Once I finished cleaning up, I decided that I was kind of tired of bread and cheese, so I went hunting and went a little overboard.” Seeing the bard’s curious expression. “Let’s just say the cheese will be moldy before we get around to needing it again. Anyway, I knew you were in no condition to cook, so I gave it a whirl and when I finished, you were still asleep, so I ate. Then I filled the water skin, dressed your wounds, sharpened my weapons, found Argo, brushed her down, put her out for the night, mended her saddle, brought a plate up here for you and waited for you to wake up.” Matter of factly, with a shrug. “End of story.”

I guess I’m really not a light sleeper. Considering what she’d missed. “Exactly how long was I asleep?” Her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Rough guess. Two, maybe three hours.” Shrugging again. “Why?”

“No reason.” Remembering the food in her mouth, Gabrielle chewed and thought about what the warrior had accomplished in such a short time. “You really aren’t one for just sitting around, are you?”

“I get bored easily.” Looking down at the bard’s plate, Xena offered to get her seconds. “Want some more?”

Swallowing, Gabrielle considered her plate and decided against another round. “No thanks. This is about all I can handle right now.” Must be because I haven’t eaten in so long. Wondering about the quietness of the monster and handed the plate to the warrior. “Want the rest?”

“Hmm, maybe later.” Taking the plate, Xena covered it with the cloth, then put it on the floor beside her out of the way, but well within reach.

“What do we do now?” Her stomach full, Gabrielle looked expectantly at the warrior, realizing there was very little she actually could do, besides dress Xena’s wound and that was done and felt a little guilty about being waited on hand and foot.

“Actually,” biting her lip with trepidation, “my shoulders are killing me.” Shrugging for effect. “Do you mind?” Bringing up her hands and wiggling her fingers.

All she could do was smile, knowing Xena had read her mind. “Of course not. Take that off.” Indicating the warrior’s armor and watching the giddy excitement on her partner’s face. Moving to sit up even further, Gabrielle spotted a sandbag within reach and brought it close. Gingerly, she managed to maneuver it under her and eased down, testing the new position. Finding it relatively comfortable, she spread her legs, finally remembering her sprained ankle and winced, which thankfully went unnoticed by the warrior. No need to bring that stupid mistake up again. Continuing moving her legs apart, until she thought she had enough space to accommodate the warrior. Watching as Xena rid herself of the breastplate, gauntlets, arm bands and finally the chakram, Gabrielle patted the space she’d made. “Come here.” Her tone gentle.

“Am I shrinking, or are you getting taller?” Noticing the bard’s change in height.

“I’m sitting on a sandbag.” Unamused. It was an old joke that the warrior used, yet never truly seemed to forget.

“Is that comfortable?” Moving to take a look for herself, Xena eyed the bag furtively. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”

“Xena, I’m fine.” Getting a bit testy. “Now would you just get over here.” More a command than a request, Gabrielle gave the warrior a glare.

“Bag must be full of sour grapes.” Poking at a spot near the bard’s rear end, which got her hand slapped. Holding the scolded hand, Xena gave the bard an impish grin. “Or not.”

“Whoever told you you were funny . . .” Giving Xena a menacing look. “. . . lied.”

More side effects. Xena smiled, but decided not to tempt the fates and silently maneuvered to the indicated spot, presenting the bard with her back and moving her hair out of the way. “How’s this?”

Fighting the urge to smack Xena in the back of the head, Gabrielle checked the distance. “Move back a little more.” Resting her hands on the warrior’s shoulders, she pulled gently until her arms felt comfortable with the reach. “That’s good.”

Shifting from side to side, Xena felt the leather straps slide off her shoulders, to be replaced by the bards’s strong hands. Groaning with as much pain as pleasure, she closed her eyes, letting the bard work her magic and feeling one knot, then another dissolve beneath Gabrielle’s expert touch. “You know, Gabrielle.”

“What?” Concentrating her attention on a particularly stubborn knot.

Grimacing at the fight her muscles were putting forth. “I think we should . . . ow.”

“Wimp.” Using her only running joke, she put more pressure on the spot,rotating her fingers in a circular pattern on the warrior’s back, determined to win the mini battle. “Gotcha.” Feeling the knot give up the ghost.

“Whew.” Taking a deep breath. “I hope they aren’t all that bad.”

“Xena, you grow knots like Salmoneous hatches schemes.” Moving to the next victim. “They’re all bad.” Finding her mark, Gabrielle went to work.

“Gee, thanks.” Did she call me a wimp? “Ow.” She may be right.

“Told ya.” Smiling, she continued manipulating the warrior’s muscles into submission. “You think we should what?” Remembering Xena’s unfinished statement.

“Move east before we head north again.” Ow. Ow. Ow. If I live through this, that is. Another pain made her face contort.

“Why?” Never missing a beat.

“Gods, finally.” Another dead knot fell by the wayside. “Because it’s the safest way to get around the Persian’s.” Oh, Zeus, not another one. Somebody help me. Ow.

“Do you think you’ve delayed them enough for the Athenians to mount a sufficient defense.” Wondering how the Persian’s had taken the threat of a thousand warrior princess’.

“If Philipedes made good time, the Athenians should be on the move already and with the Persian calvary stopping here last night, plus the diversion yesterday, that should give the army enough time to catch them before they reach Athens and . . .” Relaxing with the fall of another knot.

“What?” Her curiosity playing a double role, Gabrielle wanted to keep Xena talking and although she really did want to know what the warrior thought about the upcoming battle, she also knew she needed to keep Xena’s mind active. The warrior hadn’t lied when she said she got bored easily and Gabrielle knew a fidgeting warrior would only make her job harder. Boredom equaled edgy and edgy equaled knots. “And what?” Prompting the warrior again.

“And hopefully, they’ll push the bastard’s back into the sea.” Her voice a deep growl, Xena almost wished she’d could be there when that happened, but quickly put the idea away. She had no intention of dragging Gabrielle into a bloody battle and she also had no intention of leaving her behind. The Greeks would have to fight this one without her. Without regret.

Searching for another victim, Gabrielle found none and proceeded with a more gentle massage. Letting her hands move over the warrior’s shoulders and back in matched rhythm, using her thumbs to knead a path down either side of Xena’s spine and getting the expected response.

A low moan slipped past the warrior’s lips, followed by a whimper as Xena let herself melt into the bard’s hands. This was what the suffering was for. It was like having to eat a meal with all the food you hated, just to get to your favorite dessert.

The need for conversation gone with the knots, Gabrielle had tried, in the past, to keep the warrior talking during this part, but found that even the most complex of questions ended up getting one word answers and most of those weren’t even words. Content to let the silence envelop them, Gabrielle continued kneading, working her way over the warrior’s back and shoulder’s several times.

Shifting, Xena brought her hands to rest on the bard’s thighs, feeling their power through the fur that separated them from her touch. One would lift slightly, then the other with the bard’s movements, reminding the warrior, for some unknown reason, that there were benefits to a low center of gravity. Why does everything have to be in battle terms? She asked herself and reconsidered the muscled forms again. They’re legs, for Zeus sake, not battering rams. Although . . . Visualizing the damage the bard had inflicted with her powerful legs. . . . they aren’t exactly harmless either. Opening her eyes, Xena examined one fur covered form, unconsciously running her hand over the bard’s thigh in appreciation. Definitely not harmless, smiling, she continued her appreciation.

Gabrielle had no idea what the warrior was doing, but let her continue, figuring Xena would eventually get bored with rubbing her leg and settle down. She was wrong and felt a strange warmth coming from the area under the warrior’s hands, as they both began working in unison over her thighs. Trying to ignore the sensation, Gabrielle concentrated on what she was supposed to be doing and found that task getting considerably harder as time went on. Xena’s close proximity, combined with her apparent fascination with the bard’s thighs were having an unsettling effect on her, which manifest itself in the form of a growing heat in her groin. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, quite the contrary, and not an unfamiliar one either, but with that knowledge Gabrielle remembered Xena’s words. ‘Too much, too soon.’ This definitely falls into that category. Closing her eyes, fighting against the idea of letting nature take it’s course. Xena’s words echoed in her mind a minute more before Gabrielle could stand no more and opened her eyes. “Uhhh, Xena?” Trying to keep her voice in a normal range.

“Hmmmm.” Smiling and continuing her appreciation, unaware of the effect it was having on the bard.

Moving her hands off the warrior’s shoulder, Gabrielle slid them down Xena’s arms, leaning into the warrior, resting her chin on a relaxed shoulder and effectively stopped the motion of the warrior’s hands. “What are you doing?”

Her arms stilled, Xena wiggled her fingers in the fur. “I like your legs.” Her voice almost childlike in their fascination.

That much I figured out for myself. The warrior’s fingers perpetuating her temperature upward. Feeling an intense need to cease this assault on her senses, Gabrielle gently pulled Xena’s arms inward, removing the warrior’s hands from her thighs and bringing them to rest in Xena’s lap. Maintaining her hold, Gabrielle let out a deep sigh of relief, mixed with a touch of regret. “I’m glad you like my legs, Xena, but,” bringing her voice down to a whisper, “you might want to consider admiring them from afar for now.” Releasing Xena’s arms, Gabrielle wrapped her own around the warrior’s waist, rubbing a hand slowly over leather covered abs.

Despite her occasional moments of denseness with such things, the bard’s warm breath on her neck, along with the feel of Gabrielle’s body against her back and the arms wrapped securely around her middle and the way the bard’s hand was moving against her and just the way she knew this wasn’t a friendly hug, sent a clear message to her head that possibly her innocent appreciation had had an entirely different effect on the bard. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Placing a kiss on the warrior’s shoulder. “It was just a little hard to concentrate, that’s all.” Moving her lips along the warrior’s shoulder to an exposed neck. “By the way, I like your legs too.” Nibbling at a tasty looking bit of warrior, them moving to an even more tasty looking ear. To Hades with too much, too soon.

“Ummm, Gabrielle?” Not knowing if this was supposed to be some sort of payback for what she’d caused, Xena was finding it very difficult to breath, let alone concentrate on anything but the pair of lips wandering over her, surprisingly sensitive ear.

“Hmmmm?” Forming her own personal Xena Appreciation Society.

“Gods!” Whispering huskily. Breath, Xena, breath. Her eyes closed, Xena leaned into the bard, tilting her head to give Gabrielle full access of exploration. Is it hot in here? Her hands crying out for something to do, they slowly made their way back to the bard’s thighs and tugged at the furs, skillfully removing the material to expose lightly tanned skin. This is crazy, running her fingers over well muscled thighs, this is madness, this is insanity, this is so incredible.

Hello! Feeling Xena’s hands on her naked thighs, causing her to gasp and shiver all at once. Gabrielle’s natural inclination toward the long thought out process of weighing the pros and cons of a situation lasted a whole two seconds, at which time she leaned back against the wall, bringing the warrior with her. The wound on her back ached, the wound on her shoulder ached, her ankle ached and the newly born monster inside her ached, the latter getting her full attention. This new monster was just as ferocious as the one in her stomach, but it’s appetites didn’t include rabbit and carrots, this one wanted the long, bronzed warrior princess and Gabrielle had every intention of seeing it well fed. Her hands moved with purpose over the warrior’s body, covering every inch accessible, lingering here and there on the exposed flesh of the warrior’s chest, preferring the feel of skin beneath her hands to leather. Bending her knees, Gabrielle brought her legs up, cradling the warrior between her appreciated thighs and felt Xena’s hands begin to move with a purpose of their own.

Reveling, uncharacteristically, in the bard’s touch, Xena’s little voice started whispering again. Go away, she told it, the bard’s hand finding it’s way underneath leather to knead one of her breasts, sending shock waves through her body. “Gabrielle!” Her breath coming in ragged gasps, she arched her back, bringing one hand up to clasp the bard’s head, while the other dug into the back of Gabrielle’s thigh. Holding on for dear life, when the bard’s thumb brushed over her nipple, causing her mouth to open and close several time, though nothing came out. Too much, too soon, the voice whispered again and again Xena told it where to go. This battle went on until, the bard’s other hand found it’s way down Xena’s torso to the inside of her thigh. “Oh shit.” She whispered between moans and brought her hand to cover the bard’s on her leg, but instead of moving it to the spot that was crying out for contact, Xena slid the bard’s hand away, bringing it up to her stomach and holding it there. Taking several deep breath, she somehow managed to steady her breathing, if not her rampaging heart. “Gabrielle.” She said quietly.

“Don’t even say it.” Knowing that if she heard ‘too much, too soon’ her body would explode, which it threatened to do anyway. Sighing heavily, Gabrielle, kissed the warrior’s shoulder before nuzzling her head into the crook of Xena’s neck. The monster wasn’t happy and neither was the bard, but reason won out over lust and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the warrior, squeezing gently. The monster would have to live with a hug for now.

Xena stroked the back of Gabrielle’s head, turning her own to place a kiss on blonde tresses and allowed the want and desire to receded into a warm comfort of being held in the bard’s embrace. Normally their positions were reversed, with Xena doing the holding, but as unusual as this was, it somehow felt right. Very right. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“I know you do, Xena.” Bringing her head up, Gabrielle sighed for the umteenth time and rested her chin on Xena’s shoulder.

That wasn’t what I expected. Turning to study the bard’s profile, Xena wondered if Gabrielle was really upset. “Are you mad?” Tentatively.

“Actually, I think this falls under the category of frustrated.” Sighing for the millionth time.

“I’m sorry.” Realizing how far she’d pushed the bard’s emotions and regretting it. Turning to study her feet, Xena brought her hand from the bard’s head, resting it on top of her arm instead and stroked it lightly. Biting her lower lip with thought, she let it go, pushing it outward.

“Xena, don’t pout. It makes you look like a fish.” Seeing the warrior’s expression out of the corner of her eye. “And, yes. . .” Smiling, she closed her eyes when the warrior turned to give her a strange look. “I still love you.” Missing the broad smile on the warrior’s face, she felt the kiss on her cheek and hugged Xena a little tighter. “Even though you drive me crazy.”

“The feeling’s mutual.” Resting her head on the bard’s shoulder and enjoying a second peaceful moment, which was short lived when a stray thought entered the back of her mind. “Gabrielle?”

“Hmmm?” Enjoying her own peaceful moment.

“Can I ask you something . . . personal?” Wondering how to broach the subject that tickled her curiosity.

“It’s a little late for worrying about getting personal, don’t you think?” Intrigued by what could make Xena timid.

“I’m serious.” Sitting up, Xena turned to face the bard, giving her a serious look.

Gabrielle considered the warrior for a long moment, trying to figure out what possible question Xena could have. “Yes, Xena. You can ask me a personal question.” Leaning toward serious herself.

“Why did you marry Perdicus?” Searching the bard’s face.

“Where did that come from?” Stunned by the warrior’s question. She’s giving out of the blue a whole new meaning.

“I don’t know.” Honestly not knowing herself, but still curious as to the answer. “Curiosity I guess.”

“Okay.” Seeing a strange emotion cross the warrior’s face, Gabrielle tried to place it, but couldn’t. Not knowing what Xena was searching for, she answered honestly. “I married Perdicus because I loved him.”

“You loved him.” Letting the words sink in, another question popped up. “Then why didn’t you stay with him in Potedia? The first time, I mean, before I came along?” Something was nagging at her.

Where is she going with this? Unable to answer the question, she answered Xena’s, hoping it would shed some light on her final destination. “I didn’t love him then, Xena.” Thinking back. “I was young. I don’t think I even knew what love really was back then, I mean I knew what I thought it should be, but most of that was from my overactive imagination and at the time, Perdicus was this guy I’d known all my life, who I knew everything about, the boy next door and I just couldn’t see myself, didn’t want to see myself tied down. There was so much of the world I wanted to see and so much I wanted to do. I think, back then, the only thing I saw in him was everything I wanted to get away from.” Remembering how she’d felt about her future husband.

“What happened at Troy?” Xena had been so busy with Helen, that she hadn’t seen the change in her friend’s attitude until it was almost over and even then, hadn’t realized what that change really meant.

Gabrielle stopped wondering where the line of questioning was coming from or where it was headed and decided to go with the flow. If this was something Xena needed to know, for whatever reason, she do her best to fill in the blanks. She had nothing to hide from the warrior and vowed she wouldn’t even if she did. She’d made that mistake before and the outcome from keeping those secrets still haunted her dreams. “What happened at Troy?” Trying to remember what exactly did happen. “I remember thinking how different Perdicus was, from the boy I’d left behind. I don’t know what it was exactly. Maybe it was the uniform, or the way he carried himself, or his personality, or. . . “ closing her eyes, “maybe it was the situation, or the threat of danger. I don’t know, but something had changed.” Pausing to search her memory. “Maybe it was me. I wasn’t the little innocent girl anymore and he wasn’t the boy next door.” Opening her eyes. “I guess I finally let myself see him for what he really was. I always knew he was kind and caring, but at Troy he was also strong and brave and self assured. It was like I’d been blind almost and when I thought about it, later, I realized he’d always been those things, I’d just been to selfish to see them. That’s when I fell in love with him.”

Xena thought about what she’d heard, but still didn’t have all the answers she needed. “If you knew you loved him, then why didn’t you say yes when he asked you that night when he showed up?”

“You.” Not needing to think about that one. “I didn’t want to lose my best friend.” Seeing the look on the warrior’s face, Gabrielle could tell there was something else. “Xena, what we had, you and I, was special even then. I’d never had someone who believed in me like you did. You made me feel important and necessary and alive. It wasn’t just the adventure and the excitement, maybe it was in the beginning, but that changed, like I changed. You taught me about life and the greater good and what it meant to stand for something. When I said I accepted the consequences of our life together, Xena, I meant it and everything that goes along with it, good and bad. You are my best friend and I didn’t want to lose you then and I don’t want to lose you now.” Taking the warrior’s hand in hers. “Yes. I loved Perdicus and yes, I chose to marry him, but that didn’t mean I loved you less. I didn’t choose him over you, Xena, or instead of you. Perdicus could never take your place in my heart, nobody can and if I’d thought that I would’ve lost you by marrying him, I would’ve never said yes. I wanted both of you in my life and I loved you both very much, but as much as I loved Perdicus, as much as I wanted to be with him, as much as I knew he needed me, I needed you more. Xena, if I couldn’t have you both, I would’ve chosen you.” Sensing a change in the warrior. “Is that what this is all about?”

Xena’s head dropped, studying the bard’s hand in hers.

“Xena look at me.” When the warrior refused, Gabrielle cupped Xena’s chin with her other hand, lifting until she met the warrior’s gaze. “Xena you’re not some consolation prize I picked up on the rebound.” Lowering her hand, when the warrior spoke.

“But if Perdicus was still alive, you’d still be married to him.” This being the question she feared the most.

“Probably, yes and we’d probably have a couple of children and a cow and chickens and everything else that goes on a farm.” The warrior’s eyes dropped again. “But only if I had you, too.” Xena didn’t move. “You still don’t get it do you?” Gabrielle’s patience began to ebb.

“I guess not.” Looking up at the bard. “I guess I’m missing something.”

“Yes, you are. This.” Leaning forward, Gabrielle cupped Xena’s face with both hands and kissed her, meaningfully and purposefully. Breaking the kiss, she held the warrior in her hands. “That’s what you’re missing. That’s what was missing when Perdicus asked me to marry him, Xena. We didn’t have this then. We didn’t even have this two days ago, let alone a year ago, because if we had, Perdicus wouldn’t have stood a snowball’s chance in Tartarus.” Feeling her frustrations building. “For the god’s sake, Xena, it took us tearing each other apart, destroying everything we love and almost killing each other and half the Persian army to get us where we are. Yes. I would still be married to Perdicus, because we, you and me never got this far, we never had this. Even without it, I would’ve chosen you. You were my best friend then and you’re still my best friend and not this, or anything else is ever going to change that. Like you told me, I can live without this, but I can’t live without you. That was true then and it’s true now. I married Perdicus because I thought I could have you both, not because I wanted him instead of you. No best friend. No husband. You were never my second choice.” Trying to drive the point home with her eyes. “Now do you get it?” Hoping beyond hope that she did.

“I get it.” Xena’s voice sounded like a whisper compared to the bard’s heated tone.

“Really? Do you really get it?” Wanting to make sure that the warrior had no doubts.

“I get it.” The dawn had finally come and it was bright and shining. “Honest.”

Releasing the warrior, Gabrielle held out her hands and stared up at the hole in the roof. “Thank you.” Closing her eyes, she lowered her hands and her head in a moment of relief.

“I guess this would be one of those times that I drive you crazy, huh?” Xena got it all right and the nagging feeling she’d had vanished without a trace and she smiled at it’s absence.

“Definitely.” Glancing up at the warrior, Gabrielle gave her a look of ‘if I didn’t love you, I’d kill you.’ “Most definitely.” Tired of sighing, but finding no other way to rid herself of the frustration, she did it again.

They didn’t speak for a long while. Both contemplated each other, going over their pasts and the paths that had brought them to this place. Xena smiled a lot, off and on and Gabrielle shook her head occasionally in between her own smiles. Eventually the silence was broken as Xena took off her rose colored glasses and gave the bard a searching look. “You look tired.” Actually she looks exhausted.

“I am a little.” Feeling worn out somehow, but not having a real reason for it.

“Me too.” Xena admitted and surprised herself by doing it. “Maybe we should get some sleep.”

“Xena that’s all I’ve been doing for the last two days.” Fighting the urges her body was giving her, Gabrielle didn’t like being a burden.

The warrior knew why the bard was resisting, but also knew that if she could just get her to lay down, Gabrielle would be asleep in minutes. Trying choose her best strategy for the battle ahead, deciding to use her friends sense of compassion to the fullest advantage. “Well then do me a favor.” Setting the trap.

“What?” Again feeling the need to be useful.

“Share your bed? There aren’t enough clean furs left to make another one.” Waiting for the bait to be taken.

“Xena, if you’re tired, you can have this one. I can do without.” Oblivious to the hook she’d just swallowed.

“Gabrielle. There’s no way I’m going to let you sit around this drafty, cold room while I curl up nice and warm in your bed.” One more yank and she’s mine. “Either we share, or I find a nice pile of hay.”

In no real mood to argue, or talk, for that matter, the bard agreed. “Okay. Okay. We can share, but I’ll just lay here while you sleep.”

“Works for me.” I’m so good I scare myself. Moving to take a place in the bard’s bed. “Which side do I get?”

Spreading out the fur, Gabrielle realized there wasn’t enough to make sides. “The inside. I guess we’ll have to lay on our sides.” Trying to figure out a way to make it work.

“What about you shoulder?” A real concern.

“I’ll lay on the other one.” Allowing the warrior to help her lay down, Gabrielle turned on her side, putting her good shoulder under her and tested the injured one.

“Is that okay?” Waiting for the bard to get comfortable.

“Yea. This’ll work.” Satisfied with the position.

Xena started to crawl in and stopped, looking at her boots, then realized how grungy she was. “Maybe hay wouldn’t be so bad.”

“What’s wrong.” Looking over her shoulder.

“I’m filthy.” And not liking it.

“Xena.” Rolling her eyes. “Neither one of us are exactly smelling like roses right now. We can find someplace to get a bath tomorrow.” Hiding a yawn. “Now take off you boots and get in here, before I have to kill you.”

There was logic in that and a death threat. Probably shouldn’t push my luck. Working the dirty laces, Xena removed her boots and bracers, finding the only clean spots on her body and wiggled her toes. Satisfied, she crawled into the bed behind the bard, inching forward, forming her body to match Gabrielle’s. Tentatively, Xena put her arm around the bard’s waist, being careful not to bump the injured shoulder and felt Gabrielle’s fingers intertwine with hers. “Is this okay?”

“Very.” Bringing their joined hands to her chest and tucking them under her chin. Forgetting she was just supposed to be laying there, Gabrielle closed her eyes. Having Xena’s body against hers gave Gabrielle a warm, secure feeling. “I could get used to this.” Snuggling back a little.

“Gabrielle.” A smirk on her face, Xena was getting the same feeling as the bard.

“Hmmm?” Drifting off already.

“You’re not going to maul me or anything while I’m sleeping, are you?” The question held a bit of wishful thinking.

“Anything’s possible Xena.” Bringing the warrior’s hand to her lips and kissing it softly, then returning it to it’s new home.

“Hmmmm.” Her mind suddenly full of possibilities, Xena rested her head behind the bard’s and closed her eyes. Listening to Gabrielle’s breathing settled into the slow even pattern of sleep. “I think I could get used to this, too.”

They’d awaken in the same position they had fallen asleep in, Gabrielle cradling Xena’s hand under her chin and snuggled up against the warrior. Xena had woken up first, but had laid there, content to let the bard hold her in place and enjoying the feeling of Gabrielle’s body next to her. Other than a few knowing smiles, a kiss and the usual morning greetings, neither made reference to all that had transpired the previous night. The need for questions and answers gone, they'd slipped back into the normal routine of their daily morning ritual, which altered slightly, making allowances for their respective injuries and the sporadic case of touchy feely. The last causing the standard time to pack up double in length, but neither seemed to notice or mind the delay.

Now they were packed and Xena checked Argo’s saddle, making sure their things were secure. Absently, her hand went down to scratch at the stitches.

“Leave it alone.” Gabrielle yelled from the doorway.

“I thought I told you to wait inside.” Not needing to turn around to know the bard had ignored her instructions.

“And I told you to leave those stitches alone.” Giving as good as she got. Glancing back into the darkened room, Gabrielle made a visual inspection. Except for the floor and the hole in the roof, the armory was in the same condition they’d found it in. The Persian weapons were piled in a heap in the middle of the floor, along with their owners, that Xena had drug back inside. Satisfied that they weren’t leaving anything behind, Gabrielle made her way out to the warrior, using her staff as a make shift crutch. “I think we got everything.”

Turning around, Xena looked down at the bard and smiled. “Me. You. Argo. Yea, I think that’s everything.” The smile turned into a smirk. “You ready?” Raising a eyebrow and knodding toward the saddle.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, then closed them, mentally preparing for a nose bleed and a sore butt, then opened her eyes and sighed. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” Leaning her staff against Argo’s shoulder.

Moving behind Gabrielle, Xena waited until the bard had her foot in the stirrup and put her hands on the bard’s hips. “On three.” Taking a firm hold. “One. Two. Threee.” Lifting the bard off the ground, Xena virtually tossed Gabrielle skyward and into the saddle. Grabbing the staff before it hit the ground, she handed it to the bard. “How’s that?”

Taking the staff, Gabrielle shifted in the saddle, making herself comfortable. “I’ll live.”

“I hope so.” Smiling up at the bard, then turning, walked silently into the armory.

Taking hold of the reins, Gabrielle steadied Argo, who’d started prancing. “Easy, girl. She’ll be back in a minute.” Looking into the doorway, she could see the flames in the darkness. As the inside suddenly grew bright, the bard spotted Xena’s form and drew in a deep breath. “Come on, Xena.”

As if by command, the warrior appeared in the doorway, coming to stand next to the bard and Argo. Without looking back, she put her foot in the stirrup and swung up behind Gabrielle, taking the reins from the bard. Finally glancing back, Xena watched as flames spread quickly over the wooden structure, sending black billowing smoke into the morning sky. Smiling, she felt Gabrielle lean back against her and wrapped her arm around the bard’s waist. Watching for a few more moments, Xena turned away, placing a kiss on the bard’s head. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“I love you, Xena.” Taking one last look as the roof of the building collapsed, Gabrielle rested her head on a strong shoulder and smiled.

Argo moved forward, at Xena’s nudging and the sound of her hoofs on the bridge echoed against the sound of their past going up in flames. There was no going back and as the heat of the flames faded into the warmth of the morning sun, both Xena and Gabrielle felt a strange sensation. One of wonder and happiness mingled with a sense of relief and a new found contentment. It was a new day, a good day. Not because of what lay behind them, but because of what lay ahead. They’re love for each other had brought them through the impossible and had grown stronger in the process, binding their hearts and their souls together, forever.


The end, or begining, however you want to look at it.

Thanks for reading,


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