Part 2 of 4

Gabrielle ran from the inn and straight into the arms of a startled Xena, who reflexively dropped their bags on the ground and embraced her back. Gabrielle didn't mean to, but tears came as she clung to her. She berated herself for not taking care of the situation, but she was just too tired to think straight. "Gabrielle! What's the matter? Are you hurt?" Xena pulled her friend off of her, and carefully checked her over in the moonlight.

"No, I'm fine." She grasped the warrior's hands, stopping the examination. "The innkeeper... he... he wouldn't rent me a room."

"Wouldn't?" Xena raised Gabrielle's face to meet hers. "Are you sure you understood him correctly?"

"Oh yeah. I understood him just fine. He said he doesn't rent rooms out to our kind."

"Our kind?" Xena heard herself again repeating what the bard just told her, but she didn't believe getting a room for the night was going to end up being such a big deal. Xena's voice lowered into a growl. "What did he mean by *our kind*?"

"He assumed I was traveling with a man, and when I corrected him, he said he ran a family business and that we should take it back outside with the rest of the animals."

Xena saw red. "C'mon, Gabrielle. Let's get us a room." Xena grabbed their bags and entered the inn, keeping Gabrielle protectively behind her.

The tall black caped figure just stood there, eyeing the innkeeper from the folds of the hood. The innkeeper stood there for a moment, thinking that maybe he had heard the little girl wrong. She was obviously with a man after all. He started to relax a little, trying to think of an appropriate way to apologize for his earlier remarks, when Xena dropped their bags, pushed the hood back off her face and threw off her cape.

"Xena!" Gabrielle pleaded, as she tried to put a restraining hand on the warrior's arm. Xena's name echoed as it passed along the lips of the patrons. There were also reverberations of Warrior Princess, Warlord, and murderer.

Xena thought about taking care of this in a polite manner, but she was cold and tired and hungry and wet. 'And a cold, tired, hungry and *wet* warrior doesn't know the meaning of polite,' she grimly reminded herself. The bar, which was the only protection the innkeeper had between himself and a very pissed off warrior soon disappeared as Xena vaulted it and had him pinned up against the back wall. Her actions were so quick he was still holding the drink he had just poured. "Thanks," Xena drawled, as she took the drink and downed it with one swallow. "Don't mind if I do." She placed the empty mug on the counter to her right, and slammed her right hand on the wall, just inches away from his head. She leaned into him, her whole body a breath away from his. He was forced to look straight up to meet her glare, and the water from her hair slowly dripped onto his face.

With her left hand, Xena executed a little maneuver she had learned from her warlord days. It wasn't lethal, but prolonged use could cause disability. It was also a great attention getter. If done right, it was subtle enough not to call attention to itself from anybody else watching. And Xena didn't want her young friend to see her inflicting any pain. She slid her left hand between them and gathered a handful of his baggy pants at his waist. With a simple twist of her wrist and a raising of her forearm, Xena let his own pants put a strangle hold on his manhood. She lifted her forearm another inch, and the poor man was now attempting to support as much of his weight as he could on his toes.

"I thought you were in the business of renting rooms," Xena hissed through clenched jaws. She ratcheted her left forearm up a few more degrees, and he could quickly feel his manhood disintegrate.

"I run a clean -- respectable family business," he managed to get past the lump in his throat. He was too scared to think what that lump might actually be. "I didn't want any trouble."

"Well, you've got a funny way of showing it. Now, my friend asked politely about a room. Now it's my turn. I'd like a room." Xena's arm ratcheted up a degree. "And hot baths." Ratchet. "And hot food." Ratchet. "And drink." Ratchet. By this time all he could do was violently shake his head yes. Words were beyond his comprehension to form. "Thanks," Xena smiled. She patted him on the right side of his face, as she lowered him back to the floor.

Xena lifted her head and straightened her shoulders back to her full six feet, and fluidly walked around the bar and back to where Gabrielle was still standing. She nonchalantly gathered her cape and their bags from her friend, and placing a protective arm around her love, led her to the stairs. There they followed the now wincing innkeeper as he showed them to their room. No one in the crowded room below dared to comment on the physical contact the warrior was showing her friend as they ascended the stairs.


Part 08

"Here," the innkeeper meekly said, as he showed them into their room. Using the candle he carried, he went about the room lighting candles. He then proceeded to the fireplace, where he attempted to get a fire started. He found it increasingly difficult to do so, while trying to keep an eye on the warrior. He was scared for his life now that he was alone with her.

"I'll get that," Xena barked at him. She appreciated the way he almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of her voice. 'Very reassuring.' She smiled. He turned to her but would not make eye contact. "I want a tub with plenty of hot water brought to the room. And hot food and drink. And plenty of extra blankets and towels," she added as an afterthought. When she realized the man was still standing there she finished, "Now!" He was out the door in a flash.

"Wow! That must have been some look you gave him." Gabrielle stood there looking at Xena in wide-eyed wonderment. "He wouldn't even look you in the eye. Must have been a real attention grabber."

"Yeah. You could say that." Xena chuckled as she realized that the entire time the innkeeper was in the room, he never took his eyes off her left hand. "A real attention grabber."

Xena soon had a fire going. "Here, give me that thing." She walked over to Gabrielle and lifted the soggy cape from her shoulders. "This thing weighs a ton." She dragged two chairs over to the fire, and laid the capes as close as she dared. Xena returned to her friend and directed her to sit on the edge of the bed. She pulled the blanket from the bed and draped it over Gabrielle's shoulders. Gabrielle just sat there. All her strength had seeped from her body. And to top it off, she had a pounding headache.

"Let me give you a hand. We've got to get you out of these wet clothes." Xena knelt before her, and worked on getting her boots off. The wet leather laces stubbornly complied after a few strong tugs. Xena then went to work on the laces of her top and finally her skirt. For Gabrielle's part, she simply obeyed Xena's commands to lift her arms, stand and sit. When Xena was done, she had a beautiful, naked, freezing bard sitting before her. Xena wrapped the blanket around her trembling friend and began to vigorously rub her arms and legs, doing what she could to generate heat. A tentative knock on the door stopped her efforts.

Xena made sure Gabrielle was properly covered and called, "Come in." She stood and turned, putting herself between her friend and the door. When Xena saw that the tub had arrived, she moved the chairs with the wet capes to the side of the fireplace, and directed the two young men to place the tub in front of the fireplace. They quickly did as instructed, and proceeded to make numerous trips to the hallway to retrieve buckets of hot water. When the tub was full, they brought even more buckets in and placed them near the fire. As they were readying to leave, one of the young men eyed the young woman's clothes strewn about the floor and met the icy cold stare of the warrior. Grabbing his friend by the arm, they beat a hasty retreat. As soon as they exited, two young girls appeared at the open door.

>From their ruddy complexion and round, freckled faces, Xena knew they had to be daughters of the innkeeper. "Come in," she called to them. They hesitated for a moment, not sure they loved their father anymore for sticking them with this chore. Xena saw the normal signs of fear that she evoked, and gave them a warm smile as she sat on the bed next to Gabrielle. She hoped the change in her height would also help to put them at ease. The older girl entered first with a tray laden with food. She placed it on the small table inside the door. The younger girl still stood rooted in the doorway. Xena gave her a winning smile and said, "C'mer." The girl automatically obeyed, a smile spreading across her face. Xena took the blankets and towels offered her, and placed them on the bed behind her.

"Kristin, come here!" her older sister begged. She wanted to get out of the room before that warrior ate them for dinner.

"Kyra, she's nice! I told you she wouldn't eat us!" Kyra just looked at her younger sister, not believing that she had just let the warrior woman know her deepest, darkest fear.

"Eat you!?!" Gabrielle startled them both with a laugh as she playfully punched Xena on the upper arm. "What have people been filling your imaginations with?" she wondered out loud. Kristin quickly backed away from the two women, not sure she wanted to be witness as to what the warrior would do in retaliation for being struck. She stopped cold when she saw Xena place her arm around the strawberry blonde haired woman and give her a gentle squeeze.

"Kyra. Please give your father a message from me. Tell him thank you for the quick service, and that I don't want to be disturbed. You can come for the dinner dishes tomorrow." Both girls nodded and quickly left.

"So now you eat children," Gabrielle admonished her. "Since when was the change in your diet?"

"Two moons ago. Didn't I mention it? A mystic healer told me I should get more young meat in my diet."

"I think she meant veal and lamb."

"Oh. Now you tell me." Both women erupted into fits of laughter.

"Xena, where do they come up with these stories?" Gabrielle asked, as she wiped a tear from her face.

"I don't know, Gab But they never cease to amaze me." Xena stood in front of Gabrielle and helped her to her feet. "Now, let's get you in that tub before the water turns cold." She unwrapped the precious bundle before her and took the now damp blanket and Gabrielle's clothes to lay them by the fire.

Gabrielle made a beeline for the tub. "Oh, Xena. I didn't think it could feel so good to get wet all over again." Gabrielle slowly lowered her tired limbs into the hot water.

Xena brought the tray of food over to the tub. "We best eat this while it's hot. I'm not in the mood to have to go downstairs to get it reheated." Xena handed her friend a hot bowl of stew while she quickly peeled herself out of her wet leathers and wrapped a blanket around herself. She settled herself next to the tub and the two quietly ate their meal.

Gabrielle used the last of the bread to sop up the remaining broth in her bowl. "That was really good! Even though he is a royal pain in the -"


"Well he is, Xena. Like I was saying. Even though he's a *royal pain* he certainly serves a fine meal. I didn't realize how hungry I was. All I could think of earlier was a nice, warm, dry bed. Now look at me. Sitting in a tub pickling my skin and stuffing my face!" Xena reached in the tub and ran her fingers through the water. "Hey! You getting fresh with me?"

"Only if you ask nicely," Xena teased. She got up from the floor and retrieved the kettle of hot water she had placed over the fire. She carefully added it to the tub. "Here," Xena said, taking the bar of soap in her hands. "Let me wash your hair." She knelt behind Gabrielle and lathered her hands. She gathered the strawberry blonde tresses in her hands and proceeded to wash Gabrielle's hair, as well as gently massage her neck and temples.

"Ouch! No, no. Don't stop. That feels sooo good. Yes... a little to the right. That's the spot." Gabrielle leaned back into Xena, allowing the warrior healer's magic fingers to release the tension that had been building in her head. Xena was more than happy to oblige. 'I don't think I've ever been more pampered in my entire life.' This was yet another side to Xena that she never bothered to try to explain to anybody. They would never believe her. It would surprise people to learn how gentle her hands could be. How the same fingers that were calloused from years of fighting, held such healing powers.

The crackle and spittle from the fire and an occasional murmured whimper from Gabrielle when Xena's fingers found a tender spot were the only sounds emanating from the small room. Xena was entranced by the sounds coming from Gabrielle. She closed her eyes and imagined how she could make other sounds escape those beautiful lips. 'Just a small kiss here. And maybe another one there. My tongue running down her... mmm... delicious. And her... Ooo between my fingers... squeezing... pinching. Feeling her... so wet. Taking her. Yes!'

The rhythm of the massage Gabrielle was receiving had changed a few minutes ago, replaced with long, smooth, slow strokes. She had almost drifted off to sleep then, relaxed and lulled into a beautiful dream. Suddenly her heart skipped a beat and her eyes widened when she felt more than heard a ragged breath escape Xena. Xena's hands had traveled down her neck, over her shoulders, and were now pliantly massaging her upper arms. Down and back up. Down and back up, Xena's hands worked the flesh of her arms. Xena was leaning further into Gabrielle, her head pressed up alongside her love's head, lips a breath away from her right ear.

'Oh my Gods,' Gabrielle cried to herself, as she felt the muscles in her upper thighs constrict. 'This is no time for a cramp.' Try as she might, she had no idea how to relieve it, and had no idea of it's true source. Another ragged breath escaped Xena's lips. 'My, it's getting mighty warm in here.' Gabrielle giggled softly. She knew where the source of *that* was coming from. 'Xena.' Xena, who now had her earlobe in her mouth, and was lightly sucking and biting on it. Xena, whose hands never ceased in their tireless efforts to touch and manipulate her arms, then back up to her shoulders and now down to her - "Oh... GODS," Gabrielle groaned, as she found her body arching to meet the warrior's latest assault on her flesh. She turned her head and captured Xena's mouth, feeling the power of Xena's lips crush into hers.

For Xena's part, she hadn't realized that it had progressed beyond a simple massage until Gabrielle's lips found hers. Until then, she was content to simply enjoy her innocent fantasy. Gabrielle's lips brought her back to reality, and she was startled to realize her fantasy had spilled over when she felt soft and responsive breasts under her hands. Xena yanked her hands from the bard and pushed herself away from the tub. "Gabrielle... I'm so sorry... I... I didn't realize..." She looked down and examined her hands, wondering how they could have betrayed her.

Gabrielle spun around and watched as the warrior sat there transfixed on her hands. Her mind raced to think of what to say to bring Xena back to her. She had started something that her body needed to have finished. "Xena. Xena..." Gabrielle waited for what seemed like an eternity for Xena to meet her eyes. She extended her hand and said simply, "Please."

Xena could see the desire in Gabrielle's eyes, and felt her own passion growing. She reached for the offered hand and lightly brushed fingertips. The connection was magnetic. She found herself drawn into those sea-mist green eyes, and slowly covered the distance. "Gabrielle, I don't want to -" All thought was lost as Gabrielle brushed her lips over the warrior's again and again.

"Xena. You didn't do anything I didn't want you to do." She slid her hands around Xena's neck and pulled her in. Their lips met, and Gabrielle could feel her nipples cry out as they rubbed on the metal surface of the tub. She grasped Xena's hands and slowly pivoted in the tub, allowing her head to fall back on the warrior's chest. With slow, deliberate movements she brought Xena's hands around her neck and down her chest, breaking the surface of the water and urging them on. "Xena... please," Gabrielle begged, as she urged the warrior's hands over her soft flesh.

Xena marveled at the boldness of the bard as she felt small hands pressing hers down. She leaned into Gabrielle and began to slowly massage her breasts. Gabrielle pushed back into the warrior and arched her back as she turned and found her lips. Xena savored the taste of Gabrielle's lips with her tongue, and with a small flick, was soon sweeping it over her bard's teeth. Gabrielle started to say Xena's name, and that was all the enticement Xena needed, as Gabrielle swiftly found a large, warm tongue battling hers for space in her mouth. Xena's tongue was like a small child's; inquisitive, exploring every recess, touching and tasting. Gabrielle moaned deeply, clutching the rim of the tub with white knuckles. Xena responded by lavishing more attention on the now erect nipples below the surface of the water. She rolled them between her fingers as Gabrielle's body was propelled further and further into Xena's expert hands.

"Xena... Please!" the bard begged, as Xena left her mouth and ventured around to taste her neck. She lingered over the taut skin of her partner's arched neck for a moment, before beginning to trail hot kisses down to the water's edge. Gabrielle, fearful that Xena would stop once she reached the water, thrust her body upwards. Her breasts broke the surface of the water like two newly formed islands. This was an unneeded move on the bard's part. Xena was already willing to drown to get to her targets of desire and had no intention of stopping when her tongue hit the water.

Xena knew this was Gabrielle's first time with a woman, and she desperately wanted to be as gentle as possible with her. Even though she had been with Perdicus for one night, Xena was not sure what he had showed her, since Gabrielle had always been bashful when it came to matters of intimacy. All of these wonderful, rational thoughts were soon lost on Xena as she witnessed those two beautiful breasts heaving to meet her. She descended teeth first to meet the right one, biting the hard nipple with uncontrollable lust.

"Xena!... Oh... Gods!... XENA!" Gabrielle panted, trying to force air past her scorched throat and into her lungs. "PLEASE!" She strained to force more of herself between Xena's teeth. The muscles of her thighs were so constricted that you could have bounced a dinar off them. All of her weight was now being supported by her heels which she had dug into the bottom of the tub, and her hands, which had become permanent fixtures to its sides. When Xena stretched to lavish the same attention on the left breast, Gabrielle had her pleas answered. Xena's left breast brushed over the bard's cheek and fell into her waiting mouth. The feel of Xena's erect nipple in her mouth sent Gabrielle over the edge. Her screams may have been somewhat muffled at the time, but Xena felt them course through her body and she followed Gabrielle moments later.

Xena supported Gabrielle's now limp body, fearful she would simply slip under the water otherwise. "Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.

"I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."

"I think my headache's gone." She looked up to see the lopsided grin on her lover's face.

"Oh, I can't wait to see my next patient's face when I try out my new remedy!"

"Don't you even think about it."


"That one you save for me. And I feel like I'm going to have a sudden surge in headaches." She softly laughed as mock exasperation spread over Xena's face.

Gabrielle looked down at the puckered skin of her fingers and sobbed, "If I don't get out of this water soon, this may become permanent." She sat up under her own strength, and Xena retrieved a towel from the bed. Refusing to make eye contact with Xena as she returned, Gabrielle admitted with great embarrassment, "I... I don't think I can stand on my own."

Xena smiled apologetically, only now realizing the true effect she had on Gabrielle. "Let me help you." Xena slung the towel over her shoulder and stooped over the side of the tub, scooping Gabrielle up in her arms. She cradled the bard to her body and headed for the bed. There, she slid Gabrielle to her feet and with one arm supporting the bard under her shoulder, she proceeded to wrap the towel around her. Xena scooped her back up and gently placed her on the bed, lingering for a moment to steal a kiss. Before Gabrielle had a chance to return it, Xena broke away. "If you start something now," Xena sheepishly admitted, "I'll never get my bath."

"Xena! I completely forgot. Why didn't you remind me?"

Xena threw a guilty look over her shoulder as she headed to the fire for hot water. "I was a little preoccupied," she confessed. She filled the tub once again with hot water and made quick work of her bath.

Returning to the bed carrying two white shifts, she tossed one to Gabrielle. After drying herself with a towel, she snatched the bard's discarded towel and went to lay them by the fire to dry. "Xena. Could you bring me my satchel?"

"Sure." She returned and handed it to Gabrielle, who was now sitting with her back against the headboard. Xena sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed, combing her hair.

Gabrielle dug around the satchel a moment, and produced a small multicolored tin. She presented it to Xena. "What's this?" Xena inquired, as she worked the top off.

"Dessert!" Gabrielle beamed.

Xena's eyes lit up when she spotted the small treats. Where did you find them?"

"At the harvest festival. I know they're your favorite."

"They were my favorite," Xena corrected her, as she popped one in her mouth.

Gabrielle looked dejected. "Were?"

Xena leaned over and furnished Gabrielle with a long, smoldering kiss. "They've got stiff competition now," she husked, as they both came up for air. She proceeded to place one of the treats between Gabrielle's lips, and popped another one in her mouth. "But that doesn't mean we still can't enjoy them," she finished, smiling.

Xena added more wood to the fire before returning to bed and blowing out the last of the candles. She crawled under the covers and joined Gabrielle, who was lying with her back to Xena. Rolling onto her left side, Xena wrapped her right arm around her love's waist and pulled Gabrielle to her. She draped her arm around her chest and nestled her chin atop her head, realizing they were anatomically built for each other. Gabrielle flinched when Xena's hand brushed across her breast. "Gabrielle. Are you OK?" asked an alarmed Xena. "I didn't hurt you earlier, did I?" She instantly felt guilty about her aggressive actions during their lovemaking.

"Well... I am a little sore," she admitted. "But a nice sore," she added quickly, as she gave her friend's arm a reassuring squeeze.

"I'm so sorry. You should have told me. Do you want me to get you some salve?"

"No. I'll be fine. You know..." Gabrielle paused. She was glad she had her back to Xena. She wanted to be open with her, but knew that what she wanted to say she couldn't bring herself to say to Xena's face. "I never knew it could be so... so intense." Gabrielle could feel her face flush just thinking about it.

"But Perdicus?" Xena was all too aware of the one night Gabrielle had with him, though she normally tried to push it to the recesses of her mind.

"Well, he... ah... he knew it was my first time, and he was so sweet, so gentle." Gabrielle thought back to that night. "Too gentle," she admitted. "I never felt with him what I felt with you."

It suddenly dawned on Xena that what Gabrielle was trying to say was that she never achieved orgasm with Perdicus. 'But she did with me.' Xena smiled at this realization.

Gabrielle wiggled back a little further wanting contact with as much of Xena as she could possibly manage. "It can't get any better than this," she murmured more to herself than Xena.

"Just wait."

Gabrielle stiffened for an instant, and then relaxed as Xena pulled her in, enveloping her in warmth and love.


Part 09

Xena cinched the saddle securely to Argo, leading the horse out of the stable and around to where Gabrielle was waiting at the front of the inn. She knew that if they were going to reach their destination on time, they would have to pick up their pace. She finished packing their supplies on the war horse and turned towards Gabrielle. "Gab. I'd really appreciate it if you'd ride with me today."

"Xena. Is it really necessary? You know..." Gabrielle saw *that look* momentarily flash over the warrior's face, quickly to be replaced. 'Gods. She's trying so hard.' "You know," she continued, "I'd really love to ride with you." She threw her arms around Xena and gave her a big hug.

"Mind you, I'm not complaining, but what's this for?" Xena hugged her right back, lifting her up off her feet and enveloping her in powerful arms.

"For loving me."


Gabrielle clung to Xena atop Argo. She had found out by trial and error that if she buried her face into Xena's back and closed her eyes tightly, she almost didn't mind the ride. She simply imagined herself atop a horse with much shorter legs, though the mental picture she formed of riding behind the warrior princess on top of her childhood pony sent fits of giggling laughter through her body.

"Are you OK back there?"

"Yeah Xena, I'm fine." Gabrielle gave her a reassuring hug as her body still quivered with laughter. "Just taking my mind off the height."

Xena switched the reins to her right hand and held Gabrielle's hands securely against her with her left. "I've got you. You're not going anywhere." Gabrielle felt so safe, she eventually dozed off. On the other hand, the continuing friction between their bodies shot bolts of heat to the warrior's core. Xena mentally berated herself for agreeing to this trip. The timing couldn't be worse. 'Just when Gabrielle and I are beginning to take the first steps towards being together, we have to be headed *there*.' But Xena knew she wouldn't back out of a promise, even though it meant she would probably not get a chance to touch Gabrielle for the next few days.

After a few more miles, Xena saw the fork in the road. 'It would be so easy to take the left road.' She would just explain that something unavoidable came up. 'No one would dare question me, but a promise is a promise.' Xena urged Argo to the right, on to Poteidaia.


Xena never had much use for any of the gods. She preferred to live her life without their petty interferences, but that didn't stop her from praying to any who would listen to her that day. If she could just make it a little farther before Gabrielle stirred, she might be safe. 'Well, not safe, but at least it would be too late for me to turn around.' Xena knew that with Gabrielle's insistence, she might be willing to break that promise. And as much as she wanted an excuse, she had never broken one before, and didn't want to start now. Especially with Gabrielle's family.

'I owe you one.' Xena mentally thanked whichever god had heard her plea. The village of Poteidaia lay before her, and Gabrielle was still quietly snoring. Xena paused. She wasn't sure if she should wake Gabrielle now and prepare her, or continue on and let things fall where they may. She had her answer when in the distance, a young brunette began to wave her hands frantically and came running towards them. It was Gabrielle's younger sister, Lila.

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" Lila called out as she came running up to meet her sister.

"Lila?" Gabrielle mumbled into Xena's back.

Lila faltered as she got closer. She now had a better view of her sister. Gabrielle sat slumped against Xena, her arms resting loosely around that warrior. Xena's grasp of her sister's arms seemed to be the only thing keeping Gabrielle from falling to the ground. Lila shot a look through the warrior that she hoped conveyed the message; 'If *anything* is wrong with my sister, I'll kill you.'

Xena had seen that look numerous times in her past. She didn't let it phase her. "Gabrielle?" Xena shook the bard's arms, trying to wake her.

"Xena? Oooh, I must have been dreaming." Gabrielle squinted against the bright light of the afternoon sun. "I thought I heard Lila's..."

At the sound of her name from her sister's lips, Lila covered the rest of the ground between them. "Gabrielle! You're OK!"

"Lila?" Gabrielle opened her eyes against the bright light and turned in the direction of her sister's voice. "Is that you? What are you doing here?"

"I live here, stupid. What do you think I'm doing here?"

Gabrielle felt confused and just a little bit unsteady. She clung tightly to Xena, not sure if she was experiencing a very vivid dream or reality. 'This must be a dream. We can't be in Poteidaia.'

Lila stopped short of reaching out to Gabrielle. She saw the look on her sister's face. And mixed in with the confusion, she saw fear. Lila froze. Xena saw Lila's expression change. Still keeping a firm grasp on the bard, Xena twisted around in the saddle to look at her friend. Her love. "Gabrielle. Ga-bri-elle," Xena repeated, using the strength of her voice to make her friend look up at her. "Listen to me. Everything's OK. We're in Poteidaia."

"No! Xena! You promised! What did I do wrong?" Gabrielle became hysterical. "You can't leave me here!"

In an instant Xena had swung her leg over the front of Argo and dismounted, never letting go of Gabrielle. She deftly lowered her trembling companion from the saddle. After glancing quickly to Lila, Xena half-walked, half-carried the bard a short distance away. With her back to Lila, Xena supported Gabrielle under her arms as she lowered her head and talked quietly into the bard's right ear. "Gabrielle," Xena breathed softly. "You did nothing wrong. Nothing! And I am not leaving you here. I promise. Do you hear me? I love you." She slowly kissed Gabrielle's ear, letting her tongue softly tickle her ear lobe.

Gabrielle focused on the attention Xena was giving her ear. "Xeena!" A small smile splayed across her lips.

"Yeah Gab?"

"Quit that! We're in public! And if I'm hearing you right, my sister's right behind you," Gabrielle said under her breath. She was never more happy than she was right now that Xena had long hair, effectually hiding her roaming lips and tongue.

"Sure, if that's what you really want." Xena murmured as she nibbled again on her young friend's ear.

"I... I... Oh Gods Xena! Please..." Gabrielle was certain that if Xena had not had a firm grasp of her, she would have crumpled to the ground by now in a quivering mass of desire.

Xena was positive that through her careful ministrations Gabrielle was now assured that she was not going to leave her, ever.

"Xena? Why are we here?" She was still feeling a little uncertain. This was the last place she thought the warrior would want to visit. Especially the way her family treated her in the past.

"I received an invitation," Xena said matter-of-factly. Like she always got invitations from people who hated her. "And I knew how much you disliked it whenever I left you behind. So here we are."

Gabrielle's jaw dropped. She was glad Xena was still supporting her. "An invitation? From whom? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Yes. Your mother. Surprise!"

Gabrielle had to stop and match the answers up with the questions. She hated when Xena answered her in this fashion.

"My mother? She sent you an invitation? Why? And don't you answer me like that again," she added dryly. She knew Xena was well aware of what she was talking about.

"Well... in reality, the invitation was to the both of us," Xena admitted sheepishly. "And I have no idea why she sent for us. I guess you'll just have to ask her."

"Oh Gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed. She had forgotten that Lila was still standing there. "Lila!"

Lila's head jerked to attention. She had been standing there transfixed on the scene that was playing itself out in front of her ever since Xena had shot her that look. She hadn't been able to hear the conversation, but could tell that Gabrielle had settled down noticeably. "Brie?"

Gabrielle ran over to her sister and gave her a big hug. "Oh Lila. It's so good to see you."

Lila pulled out of the hug as a cloud covered her face. "Are you sure about that? It didn't seem like you were so happy to see me a minute ago."

Oh that. Well... you see... I was confused," Gabrielle stumbled over her words. Her mind was racing to come up with some kind of an excuse. "Xena told me we were going to Torone to see an old friend of hers. I'd been asleep for the last couple of hours of the ride and when I awoke and heard your voice, I thought it was all a dream." Gabrielle hoped her lame excuse would suffice. She didn't know how she could begin to explain her ranting about broken promises and being left here.

"But Brie -"

"Lila." The force with which Xena spoke that one word stopped Lila cold. "Don't you think your mother would want to know that Gabrielle is here." This sentence came out sounding more like a command to action than a question.

"Yes, Xena. Right away." Lila took off running. She found herself halfway home before she realized she had moved from her spot.

Xena covered the distance between Gabrielle and herself. "Oh, Xena. Thank you." Gabrielle watched as her sister retreated. "I didn't know what I was going to say to her." Xena bent over and whispered something in Gabrielle's left ear. "Xena!" She playfully swatted the warrior on her forearm. Xena grinned and began to apply the same ministrations to that ear that the other one received earlier. "Xena! Oh..."


Part 10

After Xena was sure that neither ear was lacking for attention, she proceeded to lead Argo and Gabrielle the rest of the way to Gabrielle's childhood home. "I'm going to stable Argo," she said, as she headed to the family's barn. "Why don't you go say hello to your parents."

Gabrielle knew how hard this had to be on Xena. Her parents blamed her for their little girl running off with Xena. 'Yeah. Like she ever had a chance to decide otherwise for me. She couldn't have shook me if she tried. And now, she's stuck with me,' she chuckled to herself. "I think I'll give you a hand," Gabrielle called out, as she followed Xena into the barn. Xena looked over her shoulder after having removed Argo's saddle and gave her friend a raised eyebrow in response. "I know, I know. I just can't help it," Gabrielle admitted. "I have no idea why they sent for us. And I guess I'm just a little scared." She thought for a minute, finally realizing there was one question she had forgotten to ask. "Why didn't you tell me we were coming here? Why the big ruse? Was that their doing?"

Xena began to brush Argo as she spoke. "At first I was going to tell you, but I knew that you'd spend the entire trip worrying about why we were summoned. It would have eaten away at you. And yet you would've still ended up coming. They're your family. I just wanted to spare you for as long as I could." Xena stopped brushing Argo and turned to her partner. They were alone, although Xena wasn't sure when somebody would be poking their head inside, wondering what was taking them so long. But right now, she just didn't care. She took Gabrielle in her arms and held her. Just quietly held her until she could feel her relax. "I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you." Gabrielle felt warm and safe. She was nestled into her own private cocoon where the outside world could never touch her. Here in her love's strong arms she was home. Really home. That last thought made Gabrielle suddenly jerk out of Xena's embrace. "What's the matter?!" Xena said, as she looked quickly about the barn trying to figure out what the source of Gabrielle's fear was.

"Gods Xena! What if Lila or Father had walked in on us? I'm... I'm just not ready to deal with that right now." Gabrielle looked apologetically at Xena, afraid she had hurt her feelings. "I'm sorry."

Xena picked up Argo's brush and continued where she had left off. "You have nothing to apologize for. I understand." But she didn't. 'Why can't her family simply be happy for her, instead of trying to mold her into something she'll never be. Gabrielle would whither and die if she had to stay here. She needs adventure and travel, meeting new people. And damn if I'm going to let anybody stand in her way.'

Gabrielle walked up and placed her hand on Xena's forearm, causing her to stop in mid-stroke. "Thank you," she said, looking up into Xena's gaze.

"Think nothing of it," Xena said lightly, trying to change the bard's mood as she gave her a little grin and a tousle of her strawberry blonde hair. Handing Gabrielle the brush she added, "Here. You said you'd give me a hand. Finish brushing Argo while I stow our gear." Gabrielle gave her a smirk, realizing that it was her own words that were now putting her to work.

Lila was waiting for them in the front yard when they emerged from the barn. "Well, I better get this over with," she whispered to Xena. She put her best smile on and turned to once again greet her sister. "Are they inside?"

"Mother is," replied Lila. "Father's away on business. He left a couple of days ago to take a load of merchandise to Athens. He won't be back for at least a week." Lila watched as relief washed over her sister's face. "I thought you'd appreciate that."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and then back to her sister with a puzzled look on her face. "Why did he summon us, if he knew he wasn't going to be here?"

"He's not the one who sent the invitation," Xena reminded her friend.

"I just figured -"

"Father has had this trip planned for months," Lila added.

"Then mother knew he wouldn't be here when we arrived. What in Hades is going on?"

"Why don't we go in and find out," Xena suggested. "You're not going to find the answers standing around out here." With this evidently simple answer to her questioning, Gabrielle followed Lila into the house, followed closely by a very reluctant warrior.

All of Gabrielle's old insecurities rushed back to her as she entered the house. Of wanting, needing more. Of feeling trapped, both in this house and in this town. Her breath caught in her throat threatening to burst her lungs, as she inhaled the familiar, stifling, choking, stale air. The essences of the independent woman and the Amazon Queen that she had evolved into quickly turned and fled out the door, and Gabrielle's shell was left with an insecure, desperate child. Lila had continued on to the kitchen, oblivious to the change overtaking Gabrielle.

Xena hesitated, noticing Gabrielle's slumped shoulders and drooped head as her young friend retreated into herself. '*This* is the better life I'd threatened to bring her back to?' Xena was alarmed at the effect the place had on Gabrielle. She recalled the dogged determination she was subjected to from the young girl from Poteidaia as she had tried vainly to rid herself of her newfound and unwelcome traveling companion. 'No wonder she was willing to defy a murdering warlord to escape from here.' Xena extended a tentative hand to Gabrielle, brushing along her arm and down to her fingers.

Gabrielle could feel herself tumbling out of control, reverting back into what she had fought so desperately to escape. She knew there was no use fighting this repressive feeling, and was about to resign herself to her fate when she felt a small glimmer of hope. She struggled against the insecurity, desperation, and hopelessness to frantically lunge at what she knew was her only chance of survival. Gabrielle seized at the lifeline before her and held on for dear life.

Xena grimaced in pain as the death grip Gabrielle now had on her hand was promising to dislocate a finger or two. She watched silently, waiting for Gabrielle to come back to her. "Are you OK?" she inquired softly, moving in front of her friend and effectively blocking the view from the kitchen. She didn't want Gabrielle's sister or mother to become alarmed at the look on her friend's face. "Gabrielle." Xena cupped her love's chin in her free hand and coaxed her head up. She was face to face with a stranger. Gone were Gabrielle's normally bright, sparkling green eyes and cheery smile. There was a storm brewing behind the dull gray-green eyes that looked at and past her. Her entire body was tense, and Xena could feel a slight tremor running through herself from the contact she had with the bard's hand and chin. She could see her struggling to regain control and used the only weapon she had at her disposal to help. Xena slowly bent over kissing Gabrielle and murmuring, "I love you."

"Xena? I uh... I feel a little light-headed." Xena caught Gabrielle as her knees began to buckle, and helped her to a nearby chair. She slumped forward, resting her forearms on her thighs.

"What happened?" Xena asked, as she knelt in front of Gabrielle placing a hand on her friend's shoulder to help stabilize her.

"I don't know. I... I remember having a hard time breathing. I started to panic, but I don't know why. Guess 'cause I couldn't get any air. The next thing I remember is... is feeling..." Gabrielle paused, trying to find the right words to convey her thoughts; but none would come. "... helpless, I guess. Then I felt something tangible, something solid. And I reached out for it, trying to find something... something real." Gabrielle looked down at her hand and realized she still had a hold of the warrior. She gave a little squeeze, realizing what that something was. "Next thing I know, you're kissing me in my parents living room." She looked up at Xena and gave her a small smile. "I'm sorry. It's just this place. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but sometimes I'm afraid of ending up back here, or someplace like it."

"Gabrielle. You just say the word, and we're out of here."

"Thanks, Xena... thanks." Gabrielle could feel a weight lift off her spirit, and knew a certain warrior princess was responsible. Xena let out a long sigh of relief, seeing the twinkle return to her friend's now green eyes.

Xena heard the back door to the house open and gave Gabrielle a little nudge as she stood and straightened, followed closely by Gabrielle. Hecuba entered the room, wiping her hands on the apron around her waist. Gabrielle had successfully wiped the last of the fog from her mind, and had donned her best daughterly smile. "Mother!" Gabrielle covered the distance between them and gave her mother a big hug.

Hecuba returned the hug, noticing the change in her daughter's physique. She was dismayed at the hardness that Gabrielle's body had acquired. 'She's not my little girl anymore,' she resigned to herself, as she looked past Gabrielle and caught Xena's eye. 'And I know whose fault that is.' Although she was grateful that Xena had been there to stop the warlord Draco's men from destroying their village and selling the women into slavery, she could never forgive Xena for the price it cost her. A daughter. "It's good to see you," she said, as she took a step back and regarded her daughter. "How have you been?"

Gabrielle stole a quick glance at her sister, trying to tell if Lila had mentioned anything to their mother about her arrival in Poteidaia. "Fine. We're both fine," Gabrielle replied, as she turned to acknowledge Xena.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." She gave a slight nod of welcome to Xena for her daughter's sake. Xena nodded back. 'I wonder if it's too soon to check on Argo,' she deliberated. She knew she was an unwelcome guest, and tried desperately to figure out a way to extricate herself from the scene. 'If I try that excuse now, Gabrielle will have me for lunch. Hmm, on second thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.' She felt a slight flush begin and fought to extinguish it. 'She's off limits,' Xena repeated to herself over and over. 'Gods. I think a cold swim is in order. A very, very cold swim.'

"Why did you send for us?" Gabrielle finally asked, not being able to wait for her mother to offer an explanation on her own.

"What!? Does a mother need a reason to want to see her daughter? It's been too long." Hecuba said all she was planning to say and deftly changed the subject. "I was in the garden picking vegetables for lunch. When Lila told me you were here, I picked extra. Come, let's eat." Hecuba took her daughter by the arm and led her into the kitchen.

Gabrielle looked over her shoulder and saw Xena hesitate. She was about to say something when she heard her sister. "C'mon Xena. Mother has vegetable soup warming, hot baked bread and fresh vegetables for salad. There's plenty."

Xena knew she couldn't refuse Gabrielle's sister and followed her into the kitchen. She sat on one of the two benches at the kitchen table and scooted over to the wall when Gabrielle came to sit beside her. Lila helped her mother serve the food and then sat across from Xena. Hecuba soon joined them. Xena leaned back against the wall and surveyed her prison. 'I'm trapped. There's no way out and I'm surrounded by three of them. It's amazing. How do they do it?' She tried to follow the conversation that was going on all about her, but couldn't. 'Hell, there's less confusion in war. Damn.' Xena remembered that as a civil gesture to Gabrielle's family, she had removed her weapons and armor when she was in the barn. 'I guess sharpening my blade right now wouldn't go over too well anyway.' Then she remembered the breast dagger she was discreetly carrying. 'I could always commit Hari-Kari. They probably wouldn't notice until dessert was over anyway.' Xena resigned herself to her fate as she ate her soup and tried to look mildly interested in the conversation, nodding from time to time hoping she appeared to be listening. Unfortunately for Xena, the last spoonful of soup she put in her mouth contained a pea. Which, as the Fates would have it, became lodged in her sinuses as she unsuccessfully attempted to snort it back out through her nose. "Aaaghh!! <Cough cough wheeze sputter wheeze swallow inhale>"

"Xena! What's happened? Are you OK?" Gabrielle pounded her on her back. Xena was happy the pea was gone, but really wished she hadn't swallowed it.

"Yeah... I'm fine." She took a swig of water, trying to alleviate the burning in her throat. "I guess it just went down the wrong way." Xena looked apologetically to Hecuba, but gave Lila a strange look. 'What am I supposed to say to her. Sorry Gabrielle, but I was a little preoccupied with your sister playing footsie with me. Nooo, I don't think that would have gone over too well as a conversation piece.' Xena pushed her bowl of soup away, realizing she was no longer hungry. 'What in Hades am I going to do? I gotta get -' Xena froze when she felt the top of a bare foot back on her booted foot, suggestively sliding back up her leg. Xena gulped, trying to show no outward signs of what was going on under the table. The foot moved up higher and was now brushing against her right knee. She remembered Lila had been barefoot since they first met earlier today, and wondered if this had been planned all along. Xena looked directly at Lila, who was ignoring her. She was deep into conversation with her mother and sister. Xena stole a quick glance to her right, wondering if Gabrielle would mind using the bread knife to put her out of her misery, when she caught the glint in the bard's eyes. And not just a glint, but a wicked, evil glint. Xena slowly leaned back and tried to nonchalantly peek under the table. And there it was. Gabrielle's left boot was sitting unoccupied under her seat, and her left leg was at an impossible angle with the rest of her body. 'Gods, that must hurt,' Xena surmised.

Gabrielle, realizing she had been caught, slid her foot around so her toes were now massaging the back of the warrior's leg. She turned to Xena and grinned openly, seeing the astonished look on her best friend. 'Soon to be ex-friend, when Xena gets done with me. Boy, will I pay for this, but she had such a dour look on her face, I had to do something!'

Unfortunately for Xena, the rest of the very long drawn out lunch proceeded in this same fashion. She was sure that by the time it was over, she would have successfully worn down the tops of her teeth. 'Paybacks are Tartarus, Gabrielle, paybacks are Tartarus.'


Part 11

When lunch was over, Hecuba shooshed everybody out of the kitchen, saying she wasn't going to be able to get anything done with them in the way. 'I just want five minutes, make that ten minutes alone with my tormentor,' Xena thought. 'Her family can have what's left of her.' Before she had a chance to usher the bard away, Gabrielle latched on to her sister's arm and began to make plans to spend the afternoon shopping. Xena realized round two of this battle also went to her friend, and decided to check out the nearby pond for that now much needed cold swim.

Gabrielle successfully avoided being alone with Xena for the rest of the day. She knew she'd have to relent eventually, but for now she was enjoying the look of frustration evident on the warrior's face. Xena was used to manipulating her surroundings to usually get what she wanted, but she had never been up against the likes of these three Poteidaian women before. After dinner, Xena excused herself saying she wanted to check on Argo. Lila left also, saying she wanted to get their room ready for tonight.

Gabrielle decided to help her mother, and offered to carry the bucket with the vegetable waste matter to the compost heap out back. As she was about to reenter the house, an arm shot out of the dark and snatched her into the bushes by the house. A large hand covered her mouth, making it impossible for her to scream for help. Try as she might, she could not break free from the person who had an iron grip on her from behind.

"Gabrielle," Xena said in a low, slightly menacing growl as she spun the bard around to meet her.


"Just what do you think you're up to, avoiding me all afternoon?" Xena husked in her best imitation of her commanding warrior princess voice. She bent down and gave Gabrielle a peck on the lips and a wry smile.

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I swear," Gabrielle meekly responded, trying to sound as submissive as possible without breaking out in laughter. 'Oh, she's so cute when she's trying to sound tough.' She returned Xena's kiss, wrapping her arms around her friend.

"I'm afraid I just don't believe you. I think I'm going to have to teach you a lesson." Xena bent over and let her teeth graze over one of Gabrielle's nipples through her halter. Gabrielle let out a small cry as she threw her head back and arched into the warrior's mouth.

"No Xena, please. I'll be good." She pushed herself further into Xena, feeling her love bury her face into her chest.

"Your actions will not go unpunished," Xena said with a mouthful of bard. She wrapped her right foot around Gabrielle's leg and rubbed sensuously up and down her calf, reminding her that she had not forgotten about lunch time. "I'll take care of you later," Xena promised, in a mock threatening tone.

"You're not going to use your whip again, are you?" Gabrielle implored.

Xena pulled out of Gabrielle's arms, an astonished look on her face. 'Where in Tartarus did she come up with that one?' She looked inquisitively at the bard. 'My whip?' she mouthed to Gabrielle. Her friend sheepishly shrugged her shoulders and grinned. "I make no promises," Xena said as she recovered from her shock at her friend's rather vivid imagination. "I guess it depends on how good you are." Xena ended the conversation with a long, quiet kiss and embrace.

Xena and Gabrielle thought they had been alone outside. Little did they know they had an audience. Lila.

Even though it had been two years since Gabrielle left, her family still kept her bed in the bedroom that she had shared with Lila. And Lila had gone to the room to make up Gabrielle's bed. She hadn't given much thought about where the warrior was going to sleep, but knew that she wanted her sister back in their room for old times' sake. She had the shutters to the window opened, and was preparing to air out Gabrielle's quilt when she inadvertently heard Gabrielle call out Xena's name.

Lila had no intention of eavesdropping, but when she heard that warrior address her sister in that threatening tone of voice, she froze. Then she heard her sister's timid response. Lila didn't believe her ears. 'Is this what it's really like? Why doesn't Brie -- Gods! She must be too scared to leave her.' Lila thought back to all those nights that she silently felt sorry for herself for not being the one to have the nerve to pick up and follow her heart.

Lila couldn't see them, but she could tell they were somewhere to the right of her window. When her sister let out a cry, she shoved her fist in her mouth, trying to stifle a scream. She wasn't sure what Xena would do if she found out she was listening, but she was frightened for her life. And for Gabrielle's. Lila remembered back to their earlier shopping spree. Away from the warrior, Lila had confronted Gabrielle about the couple of fading black and blue marks and bruises she noticed on her sister's arms. Gabrielle had simply dismissed them as being the results of a moment's inattentiveness on her part during staff practice with Xena. Lila was not so sure about her sister's excuses anymore. She also became concerned about any marks that could be hidden by clothing.

Lila had decided she was going to confront her sister, until she heard her plead with Xena not to use the whip. Again. 'I'll kill that son-of-a-bitch.' Lila tore herself from the window to look for something sharp.

Gabrielle reluctantly pulled herself from Xena's embrace. "C'mon, you. Let's go. It's almost time for bed." She tugged on her friend's arm, expecting Xena to follow.

Xena pulled back. "Listen, Gab. I think I'm going to sleep out in the barn with Argo tonight. You know how she gets when she's left alone in strange stables." She furnished Gabrielle with an apologetic eye.

"Xena! You're a guest here. You'll do no such thing."

"I don't think it would go over very well with your family if I bunked with you, do you?"

"Oh. Well... I know. I'll sleep with my sister and you can have my bed. It's settled."

"No. I appreciate the offer, but I really would prefer to sleep in the barn. Listen. There's plenty of fresh hay, and you know how I hate to be cooped up if I can avoid it."

"OK. OK. You win. At least let me give you some extra blankets before bed. The nights are starting to get chilly." Xena agreed, and they headed back inside.


'I wonder if any other room in this place gets any use,' Xena pondered, once again trapped at the kitchen table with the three women from Poteidaia. She had planned to beat a hasty retreat to the barn, but had been coerced into joining them for dessert. Gabrielle spent the better part of the night regaling her sister and mother with stories about her adventures with Xena. She was careful, though, to soft pedal any of the fighting she was directly involved in. She didn't want to give her family any more ammunition than they already had in their fight to get her to come back home. 'I really should have taken the other fork in the road when I had the chance,' thought Xena regrettably. 'I wouldn't wish this torture on Ares himself.' Xena took another swallow from her mug. 'Well, at least Hecuba serves good port,' she mused. While Xena kept strictly to the port, she watched as an entire loaf of nutbread had met its maker, and another one was soon to be sacrificed. 'It must be in the blood,' she guessed. Xena drained the last drops from her mug, only to have it quickly refilled by Gabrielle. 'If she keeps this up, I'll be spending the night right here under the table.' Xena had lost count on the number of mugs she had drained a few candle marks ago.

The warrior stole another quick glance at Lila. 'I better be careful. A few more of these,' Xena thought, as she brought the mug yet again to her lips, 'and I'm likely to simply reach over and poke her eyes out.' Xena was beginning to become unnerved. Lila had spent the entire evening furtively shooting nasty glares Xena's way, especially every time Gabrielle had jumped to refill her mug. 'What *is* that woman's problem?' Xena tried to recall what little conversation she'd had with Gabrielle's sister, wondering what had set her off. 'She seemed fine at lunch. Spent the entire time ignoring me.' Even after draining her current mug, Xena was still able to coherently decide that using the 'ole neck pinch on Lila was probably out. She would just wait and ask Gabrielle if she knew what was going on.

The moon was nearly overhead by the time the festivities were over in the kitchen. With an armload of blankets from Gabrielle, Xena trudged off to the barn, and Gabrielle and Lila headed to bed. Lila went out of her way to help Gabrielle get ready for bed. With her new knowledge of her sister's true relation with that warlord, Lila did her best to look for signs of abuse on her sister. "Lila. Really! I've been getting undressed by myself now for years," Gabrielle exclaimed, as she reclaimed ownership of her booted foot from her sister. "What's gotten into you?"

"I just thought you'd like some help. Figured you'd be tired after the long day you had," Lila answered, as she bent back down to remove the boot from her sister's foot. Gabrielle hesitated for a moment before relenting. 'I guess I can let her have her own way for the couple of days we'll be together. She always did like mothering me.' With her boots off, Gabrielle removed her top and was in the process of slipping off her skirt when Lila returned with a shift.

"Gabrielle!" Lila caught her breath as she stared at her sister's chest. "What, what in -"

Gabrielle grabbed the shift from her sister and quickly donned it, covering the now faint yellow and purplish bruising around her right nipple. 'Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I forgot all about that,' she berated herself.

Lila grabbed her sister by the shoulders. "Tell me. How did that happen?"

Gabrielle flinched as Lila's fingers dug into her flesh. 'What am I going to tell her? The truth? I was ravished by a six foot tall hunk of burning passion? Nooo. I don't really think I want to go there. Not with my sister,' Gabrielle decided, as she unconsciously shook her head no.


"It's nothing, really." She pulled herself from her sister's grasp and turned her back to the penetrating eyes.

"Nothing. You call that nothing?!"

"It's... it's embarrassing. Just drop it."

"Brie. I'm your sister."

Gabrielle turned to face her. "I know. That's why I thought you'd believe me when I told you it was nothing." She climbed into bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and rolled away from her sister; effectually ending the conversation.

Lila stood there a moment longer, the sight of her sister's chest burned into her memory. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but knew damn well who probably caused it. 'Why is she protecting her? What kind of hold does that murderous bitch have over my sister?' Lila crawled into her own bed and gingerly reached under her pillow, fingering the large butcher knife she had earlier liberated from the shed.

Lila waited until she heard steady rhythmic breathing emanating from her sister. Certain she was asleep, she removed the knife from its hiding place and crept from her bedroom. 'I can't let this go on any longer. Someone has got to stop her once and for all. And if Brie can't free herself from that warrior's clutches, I'll do it for her.' Lila left the warm confines of her house, and headed straight for the dragon's lair.


Part 12

Xena's senses snapped to attention as she focused on the faint creek of the barn door. No amount of port had ever dulled the natural instincts of the warrior within her. Made her a little mellow at times, but never rendered the warrior that was lurking just below the surface incapacitated. Xena was well aware of this. She had once tried to drown that part of herself, with no success. 'Gabrielle? It would be just like her to sneak in here. I guess she can't sleep either.' Xena smiled at the prospect of wrapping herself around her love and burying her face in the sweet smell of her soft hair.

Gabrielle rolled fitfully onto her other side, her hand reaching out to air. Even in her sleep, she could feel something missing. Her other half. Since that first night after the dance, she hadn't been without the warmth and protective comfort of those two powerful arms. Or the body they were attached to. Gabrielle woke with a start. "Xena?" 'Something's wrong.' As Gabrielle sat up, she noticed her sister missing. 'Now where could she be at this time of night?' With a nagging concern for Xena as well as her disappearing sister, Gabrielle grabbed a candle and headed for the barn.

The warrior instinctively took over and caught the approaching blade between her hands as it descended toward her heart. With a quick flick of her wrists, and a well placed foot to the stomach, Xena flipped the shadowy figure over her head and heard it land with a thud onto it's back. With lightening speed, she back flipped to land squarely on her attacker's chest, pinned both arms above the head and held them with her left hand, while she snatched the knife and pushed the blade slightly into the soft neck of the would be murderer.

"Xena?" Gabrielle softly called out as she entered the barn. She knew from past experience not to be within arms length when trying to rouse the warrior. It could easily be the last thing you ever did. Gabrielle tentatively moved further into the barn, and froze when the faint light of her candle reached Xena. Gabrielle's eyes widened as she saw Xena straddling a prone form, and gasped as she caught the reflection of the candlelight off the knife Xena had to their throat. "XENA!" She took another step forward, only to be halted by the look that she caught in Xena's menacing eyes as her head snapped around to greet her.

The warrior returned her attention to the stationary figure trapped below her. Not one sound had passed their lips since the sudden exhale of breath when they landed on their back. With the advantage of candlelight, Xena tried to distinguish her attacker. "Lila," Xena drawled, as her eyes narrowed to slits. She backed the blade off a little, but still kept it to her throat.

Up until now, Lila had not spoken a word. She felt the raw power and the ease with which the warrior wielded it, and was positive her reckless actions meant certain death. She lay motionless beneath the warlord, feeling the blade of the butcher knife shaving the non- existent hairs from her neck. At the sound of her sister's voice, Lila instinctively turned her head, only to be greeted by the prick of the knife point. She wisely turned back, too scared to allow the pleas for her sister to run and save herself to form in her throat.

"Lila?!" came the cry from Gabrielle, as she advanced on the pair. "XENA! What do you think you're doing?!"

Xena just sat there, acting like she always spent her nights sitting on her best friend's sister. "What does it look like I'm doing?" she asked nonchalantly.

"Well... uh... you really don't want to know." Gabrielle glanced at the knife and back to Xena. "Is that really necessary?"

"You'll have to ask her," Xena replied, as she nodded towards the head behind the blade. "She supplied it."

"What?" Gabrielle moved to stand behind Xena and leaned into her, allowing her arms to easily drape over the warrior's broad shoulders. She positioned the candle so its light fell directly on her sister. "So what gives?"

Lila watched uneasily as Gabrielle conformed herself to the warrior's back, forcing Xena to bear her weight. Lila's lips began to move, but nothing came out.

"Could you repeat that?" Xena asked, allowing a low growl to roll out. "I didn't quite catch it all."

"Stop that, Xena," exclaimed a flustered bard. She slapped Xena on the shoulder for effect.

Lila flinched as she witnessed her sister hit the warrior, and froze as she felt her neck brush against the razor sharp blade. Her eyes darted down frantically to the knife just out of range of her sight, and then pleadingly up to her sister.

"Xena. The knife," the bard admonished her friend. Xena removed the knife from Lila's throat, and with a small flick of her wrist, sent it careening into the far wall of the barn. Lila looked on dumbfounded as the warrior obeyed her sister. Her mind raced over the conversation she had overheard earlier between the two, and tried to make sense of it with regard to what she was now witness to. "Now Lila, for Zeus' sake! What has gotten into you?"

Her sister gulped hard and moistened her lips. She stole a quick look at the warrior, then looked directly at her sister and said, "I... I love you."

"And you decided to show me how much you love me by trying to kill my best friend?!" Gabrielle was incensed. "Of all the crazy -" Xena reached up with her free hand and squeezed the bard's hand. Gabrielle sucked in a lungful of air, and slowly let it out through pursed lips.

"She said she was going to hurt you." Lila sobbed. "I heard her."

Xena locked eyes with Lila, trying to comprehend what she just heard. 'Is she jealous that her sister escaped this life? Does she think I picked Gabrielle over her?' "I said no such thing."

'Those eyes.' Lila could feel her soul being laid open for the warrior's inspection. She didn't care. 'I'm not the one who pillaged towns. Murdered innocent people. Abuses sisters.' She glowered at Xena, hoping she would see the reflection of her cruelty.

"I don't know what you think you heard, but you've got it all wrong. Xena and I are... are..." Gabrielle stumbled over the last word and barely caught herself. She was about to say lovers. It sounded so natural. "... very good friends," she finished.

Lila tore her eyes from the warrior and fixed them on her sister. "Brie, you... you pleaded with her not to use the whip. Again." Tears came to her face as she looked at the shocked expression on her sister.. "A part of me died when I heard you beg." Lila's voice grew hard as she continued. "You risked your life to save me when Draco tried to take us as slaves. I owe you my life. I just wanted to help you to free yourself from *her*." She looked directly at Xena as she spit the last word out.

Continued - Part 3