Gabrielle kept her eyes on Xena as she undressed. She noted, with some relief, that there was no hunger in the blue eyes, only a soft gentleness mixed with concern.

"Do you want me to turn away?" Xena offered gently.

"No." Gabrielle lowered the tunic and watched Xena's reaction. The warrior glanced at the soft mounds, but betrayed no emotions on her face. Gabrielle needed to know. "Say something, Xena." The raven-haired woman had to swallow before she could speak.

"You, my love, are the one who is beautiful."

"I was afraid..." Gabrielle lowered her eyes at a painful memory. "I was afraid that you wouldn't...find me..."

"I do find you beautiful, and desirable." Xena wasn't sure if she should say that or not, but she thought that Gabrielle needed to hear it. The look of relief on the bard's face told her that she had said the right thing.

"And you say I have a way with words." Gabrielle chuckled, lightening the mood. She quickly removed the rest of her clothes, turning slightly as she lowered her breeches. She noticed gratefully that Xena had found a spot on the wall more interesting than her right now. It was almost as if the warrior could read her mind and sense her moods. She quickly climbed into the still warm water, sinking until her shoulders were covered. "Ahh." She sighed. "Oh, Xena. Get in here, the water's great."

Being the Queen, Gabrielle had the luxury of a large tub. It was wide enough that they could have sat comfortably side by side. It was as long as Xena was tall, giving them plenty of room to move around. Gabrielle slid forward, indicating that Xena should climb in behind her. The warrior quickly obliged, sliding her legs alongside either of Gabrielle's, making a nice hollow for the bard to lean into. Xena slid her body back slightly until she felt the firmness of the tub against her. Gabrielle moved her body back until she felt the softness of Xena's breasts against her back. The bard let out a sigh as their skin met, much to the enjoyment of the warrior, who was doing all she could not to pull their bodies together herself. Gabrielle pressed herself even closer before relaxing her body against the now tense body behind her. "This is nice." She laid her head against the strong shoulder behind her, letting the honey tresses fall against the bronze skin.

"Yes it is." Xena murmured as she inhaled the scent of Gabrielle's hair against her face. "Gabrielle, do you want me to wash your hair?"

The soft words spoken so close to her ear made Gabrielle's heart quicken. "Yes."

The longest hair-washing in the history of Amazonia was underway in the palace. Instead of dunking the bard's head underwater, Xena cupped the liquid in her hand and let it slowly pour down. Gabrielle murmured something about don't-let-me-fall-asleep and Xena replied with something about not-letting-her-drown. Both women chuckled as the gentle washing continued. The rinsing took longer than it should have because again, Xena used her hand to cup the water rather than dunking the bard.

Once the hair was washed, Xena reached for the soap and started to gently wash the layers of dirt and grime from behind Gabrielle's ears.

"How can such little ears have so much dirt?" Xena gently teased as she continued to scrub, causing a small giggle from the honey-haired beauty. Gabrielle started a nonsense conversation to fill the air while Xena's hands continued to wash her neck and shoulders. Leaning forward to allow better access, Gabrielle silently gave permission for Xena to wash her back. The bard went into a tale that she had told Xena before. It was a fairly long one, a cheery comedy that Xena usually enjoyed.

Xena's soapy fingers had long ago finished cleaning the bard's back. They were now just running along the skin, gently rubbing and massaging the muscles. The story was interrupted several times by the bard's small sighs. Xena smiled each time and made a mental note of a way to distract the bard in the future. Gabrielle finished the story, seeming to add a few parts near the end to stretch it out. Xena didn't remember those scenes before. She took it as a positive sign and smiled.

They switched positions and Gabrielle went into another story as she performed the same cleaning rituals that she had just felt on herself. It was now Xena's turn to sigh with the gentle ministrations of Gabrielle's fingers on her back. They washed the rest of their own bodies off and climbed out of the now cold water. Xena handed Gabrielle a towel to throw around her body. She grabbed another one and started to dry off the honey hair. Handing the towel to Gabrielle to finish, Xena grabbed two for herself and quickly dried off. She reached for a clean shift when she felt Gabrielle's hand on her shoulder. "No." It was said softly, almost as a question. Xena gave her a small kiss on the forehead and climbed into the bed. Gabrielle stood there for a moment and took a deep breath before climbing in next to the naked warrior.

"Mmm, you're warm." Gabrielle cooed, snuggling her naked body up tighter against Xena's long frame.

"Yeah I am." Xena replied as she wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's waist, careful not to squeeze too tight. She mentally cursed herself when she realize the double meaning of her words. "Sorry, I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

"I know you didn't, Xena. You've really been very patient with me. I don't mean to tease you, and before you say it, I know I do sometimes." She rolled over to face the warrior. "But I do love you, I really do." She leaned in for a kiss. Then another. Then more until both women were dizzy from the exchange. Gabrielle brought her hand up to frame Xena's cheek. There was an unspoken question in the bard's eyes.

"What is it?" Xena prodded softly.

"Can I..."

"Anything you want, Gabrielle." Xena gently urged.

Gabrielle moved her hand down, running her fingers across the strong jaw, then down the muscled throat to the collarbone. Her eyes never left Xena's as her hand descended, gently cupping the right breast. Her thumb brushed across the rapidly hardening nipple and Xena's eye involuntarily closed at the contact. The warrior's eyes opened to see an ear to ear grin beaming on the bard's face. She couldn't help but smile back.

"I like the way you react to my touch." Gabrielle said huskily as her thumb moved again, forcing Xena to catch a groan in her throat.

" your touch...very much." Xena said through gasps as the bard's fingers became more inquisitive. The forefinger and thumb had taken the nipple captive in their grip.

"I see that." The bard teased as her fingers gripped and released the nipple. She played for a brief while before releasing the nipple from its sweet torture. She looked at Xena thoughtfully, then with desire and longing. "Xena, would you..."

"Anything, Gabrielle. Just tell me what you want." Xena's mind was reeling with the thought that Gabrielle might actually let her touch her in an intimate way.

"I want you to...kiss me the way I kiss you...but a little more." She actually started to blush. She reached over and lightly ran her forefinger along Xena's lower lip. "I know you'd be gentle to them." Her eyes lowered to Xena's breasts, indicating where she wanted to feel the warrior's mouth on her body.

"Very gentle." Xena corrected as she gently pressed Gabrielle down to the bed. Propping herself up on one elbow, she placed gentle kisses on Gabrielle's face and neck, imitating the motions that the bard had done previously. She placed a gentle string of kisses across Gabrielle's upper chest, then stopped and looked at her questioningly. A look of concern came over Xena when she saw the concern and twinge of fear in Gabrielle's face. "Gabrielle, we don't have to do this."

"Shh." She placed a finger on Xena's lips, one of the few times that she wanted the warrior to be quiet. "I want this, I really do, but I'm nervous...and maybe a little scared." Gabrielle got a serious look to her eye. "But I do trust you, Xena. I really do."

Xena moved up and placed a gentle kiss that spoke of the deep love she had. Moving downward, she kissed until she reached the swell of Gabrielle's left breast. Starting at the far outer edge, Xena's lips pressed down softly as they worked their way around in a circular pattern. The circle got just slightly smaller on each pass, driving both women half mad with anticipation. Gabrielle's eyes were open, her head lifted slightly to watch Xena make love to her breast. Every move the warrior made spoke of great adoration and love. She was in no rush, no hurry. Xena wanted to savor the sensation, the feel of the bard's youthful breast. She brushed her cheek across the firm swell, drinking in the feel of the flesh that she had yearned for so long. Her tongue came out and lightly grazed the skin. Gabrielle reacted immediately, moaning softly and pressing her body against the warrior's. Keeping her mouth above the tender flesh, she reached out with her tongue and tasted the storyteller's nipple, first tentatively, then with more firm strokes when she felt the bard arch her back.

"Yesss." Gabrielle growled softly as she closed her eyes. Her fingers insinuated themselves into the dark hair, her hands pressing Xena against her breast, asking for more. Using only her lips and tongue, Xena caressed the now hard nipple, alternating between gently flicks of the tongue and firmer kisses with her lips. Gabrielle writhed under the sensations, letting her body enjoy the gentle touch, until she felt her passion rising beyond the level where she could shut it down. "Enough." She whispered.

So intent was she on bringing the storyteller pleasure, Xena almost missed the whispered word. She quickly brought her head up, studying her face for signs of pain or discomfort. The intuitive woman realized what the warrior was thinking. "You're fine, Xena. I just need to stop." She pulled the warrior up for a deep kiss before they settled back on the bed, naked and curled up to each other.

"Gabrielle, did I do anything..."

"No, love. You were very gentle and loving. I...enjoyed it."

"So did I. It's nice to know that you react to my touches too." Xena blushed slightly at her own admission of powerlessness over the bard's touch. "We have all the time in the world, Gabrielle, there's no need to rush anything."

"I know." The bard replied. "That's why I stopped. As good as it felt, I knew if I didn't stop that it would lead to something more. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet." An impish grin formed on the storyteller's face as she rolled over to look at the blue eyes she loved. "But the parts I was ready for were..." She kissed her. "very...very...nice."

Xena felt herself melting under the onslaught of kisses. Gabrielle felt it too and decided to take pity on the poor warrior's libido. "Sorry, I guess I got carried away." Gabrielle said sheepishly. Xena growled and playfully ruffled the bard's hair, pleased when she didn't see a panicked look in Gabrielle's eyes at the unexpected contact.

"Just try not to kill me, okay?" Both women chuckled and kissed again before finally settling down to rest.

Gabrielle was just tickled that she had woken up before her companion. Xena's face was peaceful, serene, as she sleep. With more curiosity than a cat, the bard pulled the blankets down, revealing Xena's tanned body to the morning light. She studied the naked woman in the early morning light, memorizing every inch of the warrior's flesh. Her gaze fell to the dark patch of fur that covered Xena's sex. Gabrielle swallowed as she thought of what lay beneath the curly hairs. Looking back up, she saw that the blue eyes had not opened. Her desire dictated her motions as she brought her hand to the sleeping woman's body. Gabrielle let her fingers stroll lazily over the breasts. She lightly stroked the smooth skin around the nipple, smiling when it reacted to her touch. A quick look up told her that the warrior was still sleeping. Unable to resist, Gabrielle ran her fingers down the tight abdomen, stopping just before the dark curly hairs. She held her hand slightly above the patch of fur, stroking it gently before running her fingers through the thick bush. She delighted in the feel of the curly hair so much in contrast to Xena's long straight hair on her head. Gabrielle's eyelids were half-closed as her fingers made lazy figure eights in the mass of Xena's pubic hair. She let her fingers slip lower, just reaching the edge where Xena's body opened to reveal its treasure.

"I see your appetite isn't limited to food, my little bard." Xena said softly. Gabrielle blushed furiously, but made no effort to move her hand or stop her roving fingers. She noticed pleasantly that Xena's chest was rising and falling more rapidly as her breathing increased.

"So it would seem." She answered matter-of-factly. Gabrielle focused her gaze on Xena's face as her finger slipped between the folds and was met with a warm wetness that made her gasp. The contact caused Xena's eyes to close as her hips involuntary arched against the welcome touch.

"You know you drive me crazy sometimes." Xena said through slightly clenched teeth.

"Good, I like consistency." Gabrielle teased back as she let her finger slide deeper into the creamy wetness. "Oh, Xena. You're so...wet." She brought her mouth down to claim the warrior's willing lips. A series of dizzying kisses followed, the bard's finger remaining motionless between the soft folds. Gabrielle lifted her head back slightly, her inexperience causing her to hesitate. "I don't know what to do." She admitted softly.

"What do you want to do, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, her voice gentle as her body screamed and begged for release. She had been awake since the blanket was pulled back.

"I want to make love to you." The hunger in Gabrielle's eyes was matched by the hunger in her voice. She leaned in to take another kiss from Xena, this time with more passion. Unable to resist, Xena kissed her back, revealing the depth of her desire and passion. The warrior brought her own hand down and covered the smaller hand of the bard, guiding her fingers to the right spot and showing them how to move. Xena groaned at the contact of her hand on Gabrielle's against her sex. She had wanted this for so long. Xena spread her legs wider to provide better access. It also provided a better view, much to the bard's enjoyment. "So wet." She murmured as her fingers started to move independently of the longer ones pressed against them.

"Gods, Gabrielle." Xena soft moan of pleasure thrilled the storyteller. She wanted to see Xena's face, to look into the sapphire blue eyes and see the love she knew was there for her, just for her. She took her time, gazing up the taut stomach, across the still erect breasts, up the strong throat until she reached her goal. Gabrielle kept her eyes focused on Xena's face as their hands moved in unison against her sex. She was studying her, learning what was pleasurable and what was not while her hand and fingers learned the same lesson below. Xena did her best to keep her eyes open, but the soft, inquiring fingers of her lover continued to drive all control from her mind. Small gasps and moans were making their way out of Xena's mouth as her passion grew higher. Gabrielle's eyes took it all in, the increased breathing, the sounds, all the signals that she had longed to see. Xena's fingers pressed hard against hers, forcing more speed and pressure as her hips lifted and her head rolled back.

"Oh...oh Gabrielle...don't stop...oh gods, don't stop." Her body moved of its own accord, and Gabrielle stayed with it, using her fingers to push the rhythm even faster than Xena was. The bard noticed the increase in wetness as juices flowed freely from the excited woman. Xena's eyes were squeezed tight as she approached the crest. Gabrielle's name was drawn from Xena's mouth with a roar as lights and colors danced before her eyes. A wave of enormous proportion coursed through her as she climaxed. She held her body tight, keeping Gabrielle's fingers against her, for several heartbeats before falling limply back to the bed. Sweat rolled from her forehead and small tears leaked from her eyes.

Gabrielle held on as Xena's orgasm hit. She felt the juice flood against her fingers, filling the air with Xena's scent. When her love fell back limply to the bed, Gabrielle was there to kiss away the tears and brush back the hair that had stuck to the sweaty forehead. She placed gentle kisses as she murmured terms of endearment to her warrior, her lover, her soulmate. "I love you, Xena." She stroked the raven hair.

"I love you, Gabrielle." Xena returned the kiss, using up what energy she had left. "Give me a moment to catch my breath." She took several breaths, none of which seemed to have brought back her energy. Gabrielle couldn't resist a self-satisfying giggle. Xena arched an eyebrow and looked at her. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry." She giggled again. "It's just that I didn't think I'd ever be able to wear you out like this. I thought you had more..." She wanted just the right word. "...stamina, yeah...I thought you had more stamina than that." She received a playful poke in the ribs for her teasing. Xena ran her fingers through her dark hair, pulling it away from her face.

"I usually do, my little bard. I'm usually not this...spent afterwards." To Xena's dismay, a huge grin broke out over Gabrielle's face. "What?" She asked, slightly annoyed at the look on the storyteller's face.

"I'm going to take that as a compliment." She said smugly. The bard turned thoughtful. "I wonder if it'll be like this all the time?" Xena groaned loudly.

"Oh gods, I hope not. I don't think my body could stand it." She covered her eyes with her strong hands and shook her head in an exaggerated motion.

Gabrielle's voice lowered to a seductive tone as her fingers walked across Xena's belly, heading to claim the warrior's dark nipple. "Well, I guess we'll just have to work on that." Her fingers closed around the tender flesh, pressing firmly. Xena let out a gasp, then a moan as her body reacted.

"You'" Xena got out through clenched teeth and gasps. Gabrielle's bold fingers were testing the limits, learning for herself just how much Xena wanted and needed. The new found power she had over Xena was an aphrodisiac, filling her with a sense of control. She leaned over until her mouth was next to Xena's ear. In the softest, sexiest voice she could, she whispered.

"We'll see." Gabrielle's hand shot down to land between Xena's legs. This was going to be a long day.

"A little stiff?" Gabrielle teased as they headed to the food hut. Ephiny had made a point of stopping by their room and reminding Gabrielle that the other people in the village would like to see her once in a while too. Even though Xena scowled at the comment when it was said, she was secretly grateful that someone had shown up to rescue her from the voracious appetite of the young woman. Xena made a mental note to drink lots of fluids at breakfast. She was sure there were none left in her, especially after Gabrielle's wake-up call this morning.

"It's your fault." Xena answered back. "I'm going to volunteer for sentry duty just to get a break from the demands of the queen."

"Oh no you don't. You're mine and you're not going anywhere."

"You really do want to kill me, don't you?"

"Nope, I want to feed you." Gabrielle said, smiling mischievously. "Eat hearty. You'll need your energy." She was answered with a long groan.

Despite the constant attention Xena had been getting from her little amazon, there had been no reversal of the pleasure. The most that Gabrielle would let Xena do was love her breasts, and then only for a short while. There was some progress, however. Gabrielle had been pressing her lower body against Xena's leg more often while they made love. The warrior took it as a sign that Gabrielle might be getting close to moving past the pain.

"Gabrielle, we need to talk." Words that the bard rarely heard sprang from the warrior's lips. They were both sitting on the bed, cross-legged, looking at each other. The look in the blue eyes told the young woman just what the talk was about.

"Xena, I don't want to." She looked down at her hands.

"Gabrielle, you need to. You have to tell what happened, if not to me, then to somebody." Xena pleaded. "Gabrielle, if you can't talk about it, can you write about it? Come on, love, you haven't written anything in moons."

"I can't." Gabrielle started to cry. "I want to, but I can't. I can't let myself think about it that closely."

"Why, Gabrielle?" Xena's arms went around her love. "They can't hurt you anymore. It's all in the past."

"I'm scared..." The little bard started to cry softly. "I'm scared...if you knew..."

"Gabrielle." Xena turned the young woman's chin to meet her gaze. "I love you. Nothing's gonna change that, you hear me, nothing. There is nothing they could have done to you to change the way I feel about you."

There was a long pause as Xena waited for Gabrielle to speak. "I...I want you to know. I want you to know what happened to me. But...I don't think I can tell you." The tears were flowing freely down her face. "I can't say the you." She collapsed into Xena, taking refuge in her lover's chest. Xena held her quietly for several long moments.

"Gabrielle." She pulled the bard's head up to look at her. "If you can't say the words, then write them."

Gabrielle sat at the table in the library, quill in hand, looking down at the blank parchment. Xena sat quietly nearby, reading scrolls on combat tactics and methods. They had been in there for almost a full candlemark with no activity from the bard's hand. Xena worried that Gabrielle was going to give up. Finally the quill went to the ink, then shaky hands brought the quill to the parchment. Xena stopped reading the scroll and watched her love's face as she wrote. Every time she saw tears starting to fall, Xena moved closer to comfort her. Several times Gabrielle had to put the quill down and take comfort in Xena's arms.

It was almost nightfall by the time Gabrielle put the quill down and rolled up the scroll. "I'm finished." She said softly. They were the first words she had spoken since they entered the library.

"Do you want me to read it?" Xena asked gently.

"I don't know if I could bear looking at you, reading about that." Gabrielle's voice betrayed her fear. Xena smiled and put her hand over the bard's.

"Love, listen to me. I may have different emotions while reading this, but nothing I read on this scroll will change the way I feel about you or how much I love you. If you're afraid of my reaction to the words, don't be."

Gabrielle's eyes lowered and closed as she made her decision. "Read it alone. I'll go lay down over there." She rose and went over to a padded bench at the other end of the room. She laid there, exhausted from the emotional effort, and quickly fell asleep.

The reading was especially hard for Xena. Several times the stoic warrior was reduced to tears as she read Gabrielle's account of the horror. With her normal bardic flair for completeness, the scroll contained more than just a physical account. It contained Gabrielle's thoughts and feelings throughout the ordeal. The nightmares that plagued her, the triggers she knew about, all the minute aspects of her life that had changed since the attack.

As Xena read on, she realized that Gabrielle wrote about her role in everything. The scroll spoke of how Gabrielle felt when she first heard the battle cry at the campsite, how she knew then that everything was over, that she would be safe soon. Every movement that Xena made and how the bard felt about it was revealed on the parchment. It moved her to even more tears, this time for a different reason. She finished reading and rolled up the scroll. With her elbows on the table, Xena supported her head with her hands, her fingers covering her eyes as she let her mind digest everything she'd read.

"Say something." Gabrielle's voice was right behind her. Xena had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts and feelings to notice the bard had awakened. "I need you to say something."

"I love you, Gabrielle." She lifted her head from her hands and looked up at the bard, who was now standing by her left shoulder. "I love you more now than ever. You are a brave, courageous woman. When did you learn to become so strong?" Xena's arms shot out to catch her lover falling into her lap. She held the bard, rocking her gently as she murmured words of love into her ear.

"You still love me." Gabrielle said softly against Xena's chest.

"I love you more than ever, Gabrielle." She answered as she kissed the honey hair before her.

It had been almost three moons since the attack and although Xena was getting restless, she made no complaint to her still traumatized bard. She knew that Gabrielle wasn't ready to sleep on the hard ground yet, to be out in the villages and towns where men treated women as objects to grope. No, her bard wasn't ready for those things yet, so they weren't going anywhere. Xena felt guilty about how neglectful she had been with Argo. The devoted war-horse was lucky if she saw her master a few times a quarter-moon, and even then didn't get to go for a ride. Xena wondered if she'd ever be able to ride again now that Gabrielle's sexual appetite had been released. Not that she was complaining or anything, Xena just wished that she could convince the bard that it wasn't necessary to bring her to the verge of a heart attack before release and the verge of unconsciousness before letting her rest. But the honey haired vixen wouldn't listen. Xena wondered just where Gabrielle got all the energy. Must be the food, she thought. She's been storing it up somewhere for two years now. Oh boy, am I in for it. Xena let a lopsided grin come to her face.

This morning Gabrielle suggested that Xena go visit with the amazon warriors or take some time with Argo. She mentioned going to Artemis' temple and then maybe to visit with some amazon friends. Xena protested at first, relenting only when promised that she would stay with a guard at all times, except when in temple, of course. The promise of a guard was also coupled with a thinly veiled threat from the queen to the warrior about indoor activities being the other option. Xena quickly decided that candlemarks of talking to amazon warriors about swords and daggers was a good idea, after all. She could even take it easy and get into a few sparring matches. They'd be a piece of nutbread after the workout the little queen had been giving her.

Gabrielle met with several amazons, catching up on the latest news from the growing season to the growth of the village to the latest births and deaths. Once satisfied that she was up to speed, she ate a hearty lunch and strolled over to the temple, uncertain if she had made the right decision.

The priestess and aids gave respectful nods when they saw their queen come in. They had seen the royal blue on the tunic outside and for a moment thought that perhaps the crazy warrior had returned to visit. "May I be alone, please?" Gabrielle asked the priestess. She nodded quickly and motioned for the girls to follow her outside. If the Queen of the Amazons wanted privacy in Artemis' temple, that could mean only one thing. Artemis was coming to talk to her most favored. The priestess silently hoped that she had remembered to polish the marble that morning.

Gabrielle waited until the outer doors were closed before turning and facing the dais. She knelt down and spoke. "Great Goddess Artemis, I humbly ask for an audience with you. My heart is heavy and I ask for your guidance on this matter." She waited a moment until she felt the warm glow of the Moon Goddess flow through the room.

"Rise and face me, my child." The smile on Artemis' face was a special one for her queen alone. The child who became queen of the most powerful group of women in all the world. The one with a heart so pure that she could repair the blackened heart of a warlord. This was her child, her most favored.

There had been an argument on Mount Olympus several moons ago over which goddess had Primary rights over Gabrielle. She was Athena's chosen, a title given to only one mortal at a time. She claimed her as the pure of heart with the wisdom that could sway whole crowds. Athena asserted that she had Primary rights. Calliope, the Muse of Prose, Goddess of the Bards, chose Gabrielle as a favored. She claimed her as one of her best bards, whose true abilities had yet to be discovered. She also argued her position. Artemis spoke the loudest, noting not only was Gabrielle her most favored, she was also the Queen of her Amazons. While Athena and Calliope spoke of Gabrielle's gifts in the abstract of the general population, Artemis showed how the special young woman held the lives of so many women in her hand, guiding them from needless war to a new era of peace and prosperity. As such, Zeus had no choice but to grant Artemis Primary rights over the mortal Gabrielle. The queen's life became Artemis' responsibility to control. She saw fit to keep her with Xena because of the intense bond between them. In fact, it was as if they were of one soul, the pure and the tarnished, blending together to make a whole person. It was therefore, also Artemis' responsibility to grant prayers and requests for an audience. Not that she wouldn't have done so otherwise.

Artemis gazed at Gabrielle. No longer the inexperienced girl from Poteidaia, she was now the strong, knowledgeable Queen of the Amazons. Her strength grew from Xena's support and protection and now had a life of its own. "What is it you wish to see me about?" She motioned for Gabrielle to sit next to her on the marble bench, which the goddess noted, was nicely polished. She would remember to visit the priestess later and commend her.

"I'm afraid of letting Xena love me." She blurted out, suddenly extremely embarrassed. She just asked a goddess to help her with her sex life. Her ears almost turned purple with her discomposure. Artemis had no choice but to chuckle at the young queen.

"My dear, you look like you're about to explode. Relax for a moment." She waited until Gabrielle was a healthier shade of color before continuing. "I understand what's been going on, my child. I've seen it all from the beginning." Artemis paused as she considered her next question. "Gabrielle, I wish to ask you something."

The bard looked at the goddess incredulously. "Ask me? But, but you can read our thoughts, our feelings. Why ask?"

"Because I want to hear you say it, my dear, not pull it from you like information from a scroll." Artemis so loved to hear this woman speak. Her voice was pure honey, much like her hair. "Gabrielle, when you were at the campsite with" The goddess spat the word out, her tone full of hatred. "You prayed only for the safety of those three young girls. Why not for your own safety?"

Gabrielle thought carefully about the thoughts she had uttered that fateful day. "I didn't think about myself, dear goddess. My thoughts were on protecting those three girls. They were too young to have suffered like..."

"I could have protected you, Gabrielle. All you had to do was ask." The goddess' words carried the touch of sadness and guilt that had plagued her since the incident.

When word of what had happened reached Mount Olympus, Athena went berserk. Before they could calm her down, half of Artemis' personal realm had been destroyed. The furious exchange between the two of them shook all the way through the immortal world. Even Hades came up to see what was going on. One mention of Gabrielle's name sent him running back to the underworld, mumbling something about a mouthy bard and her lunatic warrior and Tartarus being turned upside down. Hermes delivered a message from Aphrodite about love being greater than all other forces and she should have bid for Gabrielle's Primary when she had the chance. Calliope was still yelling at her because the bard wasn't writing or telling stories. Even Ares came in to protest her handling of the situation, screaming that Xena would blame him somehow and he decided that a trip to a deserted island was in order for a while. He told Hermes to send for him when everything settled down. "I really wish you would have asked." She said seriously as she brought her thoughts back to the present.

"I'm sorry. Xena says I'm too...humble sometimes."

"Well, she's right." Artemis smiled as she remembered the reason the queen was here. "So, Gabrielle, what is it that you need help with?" She thought that Gabrielle was just so cute when she blushed, she couldn't resist.

"Well, you see, I want Xena me. I really want her to love me." The goddess chuckled at the inflection of the word 'really'. Gabrielle scowled slightly, then went on. "Anyway, I'm...nervous." Her mood became serious, her tone somber. Gabrielle's eyes focused on the floor. "What if I freeze up? What if I suddenly remember what happened right in the middle of..." She blushed again, and took a deep breath to regain her composure. "I don't want to hurt Xena in any way, I love her, you know I do."

"I know, child. I also know how much she loves you." A smile formed on the goddess' lips. "She came to see me, you know." Gabrielle turned red again, much to the goddess' pleasure.

"Yeah, I heard. The whole village heard. Maniac warrior storms temple, read all about it. I don't know what she was thinking." Gabrielle shook her head at the memory.

"She was out of her mind with grief and worry over you. At least she had the sense to yell at me and not go after Ares again. He wasn't involved in this, my dear." Artemis added, cutting off the impending question from the bard. She was very familiar with the conversations her feisty queen and the God of War have had. It was only because there was a legion of gods and goddesses that loved the bard that Ares hadn't been able to kill her, thus bringing Xena over to the dark side again. This little blond woman had the God of War in her pouch and didn't even know it. "Gabrielle, I can remove the memory from you, you know that. All you have to do is ask."

Gabrielle looked up at her with a thoughtful, serious gaze. "But at what cost, Artemis? Xena says that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. If you take away the memories of the rape from me, as painful as they are, you also take away the inner strength I've gained from living through the trauma. It's a double-edged sword."

"I will never cease to be amazed by your wisdom, Gabrielle." Artemis sighed. "Very well. Going back to your other matter..." Artemis smiled at the slight pink that started to creep up the bard's neck. "When Xena sleeps next to you at night, how do you know it's her?"

"That's easy, she wouldn't let anyone get that close to me." Gabrielle beamed at her reasoning, until she saw the frown on the goddess' face. "Oh, wrong answer, huh? Okay, let's see. Well, I know what her body feels like." Another blush. "I know the sound of her breathing, her scent, the feel of her hands, the sound of her voice. All those things tell me that it's her and no one else."

"Well then, I guess you have your answer. Concentrate on who is loving you and the fact that it is her expression of love to you. I don't believe there will be any unpleasantness."

Gabrielle smiled at the simple solution to her complex problem. "My Goddess, your wisdom rivals that of the great Athena, thank you."

"Don't let her hear that, my child." Artemis said in a warning tone. "One word of advice, Gabrielle. It's not a good idea to compare goddesses to one another. Jealousy is in abundance as it is."

"Oh, sorry." Gabrielle filed that information away for later use. It was always a good idea to keep up on the latest in rules for gods and goddesses.

Xena returned from the training grounds hot and sweaty. "Did you have fun?" Gabrielle asked in a gentle tone as she started to unclasp the buckles that held the breastplate on.

"If you can call answering questions all day and throwing my chakram a million times fun." Xena tried to sound annoyed, but was quickly failing as the bard's hands traveled down her arm, removing her bracers and gauntlets. "Then we had ...a...sparring match...Gabrielle, you're driving me crazy again." She looked down at the impish face near her knees and the hands that continued to roam freely about her thighs.

"Can't help myself." Gabrielle answered, maintaining her impish grin. "You're just so gorgeous. Come on, let's get you out of this stuff and into the tub." She rose and put her fingers under the leather straps, running her finger up and down sensuously. "If you're a good girl, maybe I'll let you wash me." She brought Xena's mouth down for a kiss. Moving to a spot just below the warrior's ear, she whispered. "Completely."

Xena's eyes widened. A new record was set for clothing removal of two people. That would be the last quick thing they did that night.

Once inside the tub, Gabrielle took control. She washed Xena thoroughly, paying close attention to her breasts, which the bard felt had the need to be sucked for a while, much to Xena's intense delight. Gabrielle's hand moved below the water and found the area that was wet from another source. "Well, well, well. What have we here?" Gabrielle's impish voice said as her fingers explored a little further. Xena's body jerked at the contact. "Mmm, you're like a river, Xena." Her finger slipped back and forth across Xena's sex, reducing the mighty warrior to a whimpering, moaning, woman of passion. No matter how many times Xena begged to take this to the bed, Gabrielle would not be swayed. After being asked one too many times, she leaned in close to Xena's ear. "No. I want to take you here, now, in the tub, with my hand." She pressed her finger against the coral opening to Xena's tunnel. "Do you understand?" Xena was completely helpless to the bard's voice and hands. There was nothing else she could do except grip the sides of the tub and hold on as Gabrielle took her to a new height. She helplessly nodded her head. Gabrielle smiled at the victory as she slowly slid one finger in Xena's tunnel, stopping when she reached the first knuckle. Xena groaned loudly and arched her hips.

"Gods, yesss!" She reached down and grabbed the bard's wrist, urging her on. Gabrielle understood the request and slid the length of her finger in deep. Xena's hand released her wrist as the warrior leaned back and gripped the side of the tub again. Gabrielle's finger moved in and out, keeping a gentle rhythm with Xena's thrusting hips. "More." She begged. Gabrielle answered with another finger, her free hand gently massaging Xena's left nipple. Whatever the young woman lacked in experience, she made up for with passion and imagination. She loved the pressure of Xena's body wrapped around her fingers and longed for more. Gabrielle moved a third finger to rest next to the opening, gently pressing against it. She wasn't certain of Xena's limits in that department. She had no need to worry. "Yes...more...please?" was all that Xena had to say to drive Gabrielle's passion higher. She added a third finger, sliding it all the way in with one smooth stroke. Xena's head rolled back and forth as she murmured Gabrielle's name and words of encouragement. The warrior's words drove her on, moving her thumb to rock against the swollen, ready nub.

As Xena neared her peak, Gabrielle locked on to her left breast, sucking and nibbling in rhythm to her fingers, doing a frantic dance of their own underwater. Xena lifted half-way out of the tub as a low, guttural scream that sounded like a drawn out version of her lover's name, came pouring from her lips. Her body jerked and twitched before coming back into the bath. She had to reach down and physically remove Gabrielle's still conquering fingers. The bard looked disappointed and tried to sneak her other hand down, only to get that one trapped as well.

"Gabrielle." She said breathlessly. "We've talked about this. No heart attacks, please." Xena waited for the imp to agree to behave before she let go of her wrists. "You're going to kill me, Gabrielle. One day they're going to find me dead in the bedroll, with a smile on my face. They're going to ask you what happened and you're going to tell them that you killed me because you like to hear the way I scream your name when I climax and you just couldn't stop." Gabrielle was giggling now at the mental image of the scene.

"I'm sorry, I just enjoy pleasing you so much." She moved closer to Xena's ear. "I do." The bard's restless hands started to duck back underwater and were quickly caught again.

"Gabrielle..." Xena said through gritted teeth. How on earth did she ever think she could keep up with the passionate bard?

"Okay, okay. You win. You want your prize?" She asked slyly, lifting her upper body, her breasts swaying just inches from the warrior's hungry mouth. Gabrielle chuckled. "I guess you do." She said softly, moving her body up the length of Xena's until her breasts were above Xena's mouth. The warrior didn't need a written invitation. She feasted on the soft mounds, drawing far more pleasure than she ever felt she deserved. Gabrielle moaned softly as she felt her body reacting to Xena's mouth. As much as the bard wanted this, she didn't want their first time to be in the tub. Reluctantly, she pulled her breast away from the protesting mouth. "Wash me, Xena. Then take me to bed."

Xena took the soapy cloth and generously lathered up Gabrielle's body, paying extra special attention to the breasts, which she lavished with as much attention as Gabrielle had lavished on hers. When Xena brought her soapy hand down between Gabrielle's legs, it was all she could do to keep from crying out with the bard. "Gods, you are wet." Xena growled as she gently explored Gabrielle for the first time. She kept her eyes on the queen's face, watching carefully for any sign to stop. Finally, Gabrielle decided that she couldn't take any more teasing. Xena helped her out of the tub and dried her off.

Gabrielle looked at the bed, then Xena, then the bed, then smiled. She ran over to the dressing table and grabbed a clean shift. "I'll be right back." She said as she scooted out the door, leaving a very confused and horny warrior behind. Xena listened to Gabrielle's footsteps going down the hall. She entered the room that Xena used to be in, then left. Xena heard her walk down to the next room, go in, then come out. The bard walked back to their room and entered, carrying four pillows, which she promptly threw on the bed. Xena dried her hair and watched as Gabrielle rearranged the pillows, laid down against them, looked at the warrior, then repeated the process until Xena's hair was dry and the bard was satisfied with the pillow arrangement.

"Here, lay down against the pillows." Gabrielle positioned the pillows so they supported Xena's back and head, lifting her upper body to a halfway sitting position. She raised Xena's knees halfway as well. She inspected her handiwork, as well as the naked warrior before her. "Good."

"Glad you approve." Xena said softly as she watched the way Gabrielle watched her. The bard's desire for the warrior's body was all consuming. Xena knew her heart was owned by Gabrielle now and she couldn't be happier.

"Very much so." She answered back. Gabrielle slowly pulled the shift up over her head, providing an agonizing view for Xena.

"Gods, Gabrielle. If you only knew what you do to me." Xena said as her gaze went up and down the naked body before her. Gabrielle liked what she saw in Xena's eyes.

"I do, and I like it." Gabrielle climbed up on the bed and straddled Xena's hips, her feet tucked under. She slowly lowered herself against Xena, gasping when their breasts touched, then again when her sex rested against Xena's warm belly. Her mouth went to its favorite place and shared several long kisses before pulling away. Gabrielle sat up and placed her hands on Xena's breasts, fondling them, enjoying the pleasant weight, watching the warrior's reaction. The heat of Xena's body beneath her did nothing to help ease Gabrielle's burning desire. She settled her body on Xena's, burying her head against Xena's neck. She ran her hand down Xena's left arm, taking the strong hand in her own. "Xena..." Her voice was husky and spoke of her desire. She lifted slightly and placed the strong hand against her blond patch of fur. Xena moaned when her fingers felt the soaked curls. "Love me, Xena. Make love to me."

Gabrielle allowed Xena to reposition her to provide better access. She lifted her hips, allowing Xena's hand to slip between their bodies, then lowered them, trapping the warrior's arm. Xena pulled Gabrielle's body down against her, putting the bard's cheek against her own. This provided Xena with the opportunity to hear ever sound, every cry, every moan that Gabrielle made. It also provided the opportunity for Xena to speak softly to her lover, to reassure and comfort, if necessary. The warrior was going to make certain that this was perfect. Gabrielle deserved perfection, in Xena's mind.

Gabrielle's soft moans swept over Xena as she started her exploration of the bard's sex. She spent several minutes just gently rubbing the soft fur that covered it, enjoying the warmth and softness, then the heat and the wetness as her fingers started to gently slip between the folds. Both women let out soft moans of pleasure at the contact. Her fingers stayed away from the opening, concentrating instead on the small knot of power that rested between the folds. Her strokes were feather-light, barely touching the sensitive nub. "Gods, Xena." She gasped as her hips started to grind against the warrior's hand. Her mind filled with the different sensations, burning them into her memory. Xena's breath caressed her skin while soft words passed between them. The bard started to kiss whatever skin she could find. When her soft lips claimed Xena's sensitive earlobe, the warrior instinctively increased the motions of her fingers. "Yesss." Gabrielle grunted as she pressed her sex against Xena's fingers, her mouth raining kisses across the warrior's broad shoulders. "Gods, you feel good." Gabrielle groaned as her hands gripped Xena's biceps. Xena wrapped her other arm around Gabrielle's back, gently stroking it in a comforting motion in contrast to the ever increasing motion of her fingers buried between Gabrielle's legs. The mixed hand motions both comforted and stimulated the bard even more. Even with eyes closed, she saw the electric blue eyes that belonged to the body holding her, comforting her, loving her. Placing her love and trust in Xena, she gave up all control.

Gabrielle's arms wrapped around Xena's neck in a death grip. Her hips were moving in an ever quickening rhythm against the strong fingers. Gabrielle's eyes were closed but that didn't stop the tears of ecstasy from rolling out. The only words the bard could manage were 'oh' and 'Xena'. She said them over in over, in different ranges and volumes that increased with her passion.

Xena, for the most part, was doing her best to maintain contact with the bard's rapidly moving sex. The wildly erratic movements and flood of juice caused Xena's fingers to lose their place more than once, which only served to aggravate the proud warrior. After the second time, Xena stopped rubbing her back and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's back to keep her within reach. She murmured endearing words into Gabrielle's ear, telling the bard how much she loved her, and how beautiful she was at this moment. She was still talking tenderly to Gabrielle when she felt the bard's body tremble.

Gabrielle held on for dear life. It was worth a lifetime in Tartarus for this feeling, this utter joy, this utter pleasure. She no longer had control over her voice, her body. She put all of her trust into Xena to get her through this. The muscles in her thighs tightened, her back stiffened, her body started to tremble. Xena's fingers moved as a blur, rubbing back and forth across her sex, driving her over the edge. Xena's voice was ringing in her ear, telling her how much the warrior loved her and that she was safe. She heard the cry come from her mouth that began as a whimper and ended as a scream of the warrior's name. Juices flooded out of her in waves, soaking Xena's belly and hand, which had stilled but remained pressed against her mound.

After making sure the aftershocks were over, Xena pulled her hand out from between them and wrapped it around the quivering bard. Gabrielle was nothing more than a limp lump of heavy breaths and gentle tears. Xena reached up and brushed the locks of honey hair off of the storyteller's face. She kissed the amazon's forehead several times, continuing to hold her and murmur words of love. The normally stoic and emotionally quiet warrior never even thought about how much she had spoken of her love for the young woman in her arms.

"You have...many skills." Gabrielle murmured several moments later. She eased her hold on Xena's neck and caressed the warrior's cheek, surprised to find streaks of moisture. She looked up to see that, in fact, Xena had shed some tears.

"Hey there. I thought maybe you fell asleep."

"No. Just enjoying the feeling." She placed a kiss on Xena's collarbone.

"You okay?" Xena asked seriously. Gabrielle met her questioning gaze.

"Yeah, I am. I think I'm always going to be okay, as long as I'm with you."

"You'll always be with me, Gabrielle. Always."

"How are you doing?" She asked as she wiped away a tear from the bronzed face. Xena chuckled and gave her a quick kiss.

"Never better, Gabrielle." She ran her strong finger along the bard's cheek. "Giving you pleasure is a joy all its own." She pulled Gabrielle tighter into her embrace, tempted to take her again partly for the pleasure of it and partly to get back at her for all the repeat performances she demanded of the warrior. But looking down at the closed eyes of her love, she didn't have the heart. Both fell to a contented sleep in minutes.

They ignored the gentle knock from the serving girl that announced breakfast. They ignored the firm knock from the head chef that announced lunch. They tried to ignore the pounding on the door by the acting queen. "Gabrielle? Xena? I know you're in there." Ephiny pounded again. "I'll call a warrior to bust this door down, don't think I won't. Neither of you have eaten anything since yesterday."

"Yes we have." Gabrielle called out, then burst into a fit of giggles at her joke. Xena scowled and crawled out of bed, out of reach of the inquisitive hands of the constantly aroused bard. She grabbed a shift for herself and tossed one to Gabrielle. Ephiny pounded again.

"Now look, you two. I know it feels good and all that, but you still have to eat sometime. Gabrielle? Aren't you hungry? Wouldn't a nice hot meal sound good right now?" The door flew open to reveal an tired warrior staring at her. "Xena, starving our queen to death is not a good idea."

"Why not? Maybe I'll get some sleep." Xena yawned as she let the acting queen in. Gabrielle sat on the bed, glaring at Ephiny for interrupting her attempt to seduce Xena again. Ephiny raised her eyes at the ironic sight before her. A yawning Xena was eyeing the food and a bright-eyed Gabrielle was scowling. The acting queen couldn't help but chuckle at the hilarity of it. It only took a moment, however, for the bard to sniff food in the room. Her hunger had been overpowered by her desire for the warrior princess. Her stomach grumbled loudly, as if sensing that this was the time to announce its presence. She hopped off the bed and wandered over to the table, joining Xena, who was already munching away happily.

With her physical wounds healed, and her emotional ones on their way, Gabrielle agreed that it was close to time for them to move on. She was truly amazed at how well Xena had taken the confinement of a single village for so long. There had only been a few times when the warrior had insisted that she needed some time away from the walls and doors. Gabrielle understood the need in her lover and accepted it without question. Xena would never stay away for more than a few candlemarks and always returned with a new sense of energy, and a little extra attention for the bard because she felt guilty for leaving her alone for so long.

Xena asked for some time alone, promising a speedy return. She headed straight for Artemis' temple. The temple priestess and aids were still women, after all, and had heard through the village grapevine what was going on between the queen and the warrior. The serving girl had told the laundress, who told the groundskeeper, who told the smithy, who told the whole village, gossip that she was. The priestess motioned for the girls to follow her outside. This time she knew the marble was polished.

"You look tired, Xena. Is everything okay?" Artemis said, feigning concern.

"I would be if a certain bard would (yawn) let me sleep." She replied. The goddess chuckled.

"She's nothing if not passionate, eh, warrior?" Artemis arched her eyebrow in a fashion annoyingly similar to Xena's.

"She's trying to kill me, Artemis. What did you do, give her one of Aphrodite's strange concoctions?"

"Fortunately for you, or unfortunately, as the case may be, no. The bard's passion is all her own and all for you, warrior." Artemis smiled when she saw Xena's eyes light up at the possible future benefits of a voracious bard. Trips on Argo would never be the same, campfires would take on a whole new meaning. She almost lost herself in her thoughts when she remembered that a goddess was waiting for her to say something. She put a solemn face on and lowered her eyes.

"I wanted to apologize to you, Artemis. I was out of line before. It's just that Gabrielle is my whole world and I can't imagine life without her."

"All is forgiven, child. I too, felt that I had failed her. I'm glad I had a chance to make it up to her, and indirectly, to you too, Xena." Artemis waited while the warrior tried to figure out what she was talking about. Oh how the gods love to play games with words.

"I don't understand, Artemis. You said that all you could do was answer her prayers, and they were for others, not herself. What did you do?" There was a long silence as Artemis looked everywhere except into the warrior's blue eyes.

Xena's eyes widened slightly as a thought came to her. "She was pregnant, wasn't she?"

"I did what I had to do, Xena. Leave it at that." Artemis looked at Xena in a manner so serious that it made the hairs on the back of the warrior's neck stand up. "You are never to reveal this knowledge to her, Xena. It will ruin all that you two have and will poison my child to me. You and I both know this is for the best." Xena nodded.

"You have my word, Artemis." She said solemnly.

"I know you're word is good, Xena. Take care of her." Artemis shimmered, then vanished.

By the time Xena reached Gabrielle, she was in the middle of a circle of children, spinning a lively tale of baby bunnies hopping about the forest. The bard's eyes were bright and animated, her voice soft and gentle, pulling the children into her tale. Xena leaned up against a fence post and watched and listened. When the story ended, several girls started talking at once, asking questions and begging for more. Aware of the warrior's presence, Gabrielle looked up at her. Xena smiled a smile that was for her bard alone and nodded gently. The blue-green eyes twinkled as Gabrielle's smile grew wider. She turned her attention back to the children and launched into another tale of mystical creatures designed to draw oohs and ahhs.

Xena's smile never left as she took in the scene. Gabrielle was telling stories again. The last link in the chain to recovery for her bard. Xena knew that it would take time for the nightmares to end, for the sensory triggers to cease, for campfires to be safe again. But end they would, eventually.

"Are you comfortable, my love?" Xena asked gently, her warm breath tickling the bard's ear.

"Mmm, very." She drawled, nuzzling her head closer to Xena's chest. "I guess there really is a plus side to riding a horse." Gabrielle's hand slid down to caress the warrior's thigh. She was unable to suppress a wicked smile when she felt the muscles jump. "Definitely a plus side."

"Careful, my little bard." Xena gently warned. "Don't forget who's sitting in front." As if to prove her point, she moved her hand up to capture the bard's left breast.

"Oh, yeah, heh heh, I forgot." Gabrielle's hand stopped its torturous exploration of Xena's thigh.

"I..." Xena's lips found the bard's sensitive earlobe. "...didn't."


Well, how'd I do? I'm always interested in your comments and thoughts about the story.

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