Xena ended the match early, using the approaching storm as an excuse. The truth was she couldnt concentrate after Gabrielle left. The bards sensual words ran through her mind over and over again. She felt her sex pulse as she thought of Gabrielles thigh pressed against her.
As she walked through the woods back toward the village, thunder rumbled angrily around her. She paid no heed to the threatening noise until a flash of nearby lightening caused her to look up. In the distance, at the other end of the path, she glimpsed Gabrielle moving toward her. The sky brightened as bolts of energy tore jagged paths across the darkening clouds. Through the eerie illumination the warrior saw the bard wave in greeting.
A deafening crack sounded, as lightening struck a nearby oak, splitting the large tree like a twig. Xenas heart stopped as one massive side of the tree broke off and fell toward her friend. She called out in warning but was too late. The severed trunk hit the ground, making the earth beneath her feet quake.
Dense branches blocked the warriors view. She ran towards her friend, hurdling the fallen limbs. Fear surged in her as she pushed through the dense foliage, searching for the bard. At last she spotted her on the ground, the trunk of the tree only an arms length away her body. It was a miracle she had not been crushed.
The blonde sat up, then climbed unsteadily to her feet. "Phew... that was close." Gabrielle murmured, releasing a nervous breath.
The warrior leapt over the trunk and was at her friends side in an instant. Her eyes immediately locked on the long, angry scratches across the bards forearm where the branches had scraped her skin. Xena lifted the arm to get a better look. Although the injuries were minor, her hands trembled violently as she thought of how close she had come to losing her friend.
Gabrielle saw the warriors distress and spoke to reassure her. "Im fine. I..."
Without a word, Xena drew her into her arms, relishing the feel of the bards soft pliant body against her own. She buried her face in the bards silky blond hair, breathing her scent: the subtle fragrance of fresh air and scented oils.
Gabrielle stood motionless, afraid of breaking the spell. Closing her eyes, she let her body melt into the taller woman. She was home: the most perfect place in all the world.
Long moments passed, but the warrior continued to hold her, as if a sudden gust of wind might tear them apart.
The bard felt small tremors pass like shock waves through Xenas body and whispered softly. "Im okay... really."
Xena reluctantly released the young woman, her fingers lightly caressing the bards cheek as if trying to confirm she was not a ghostly apparition.
Gabrielle watched in mystified silence as the dark-haired womans usually stoic expression softened uncharacteristically with emotion. It was more than relief she saw it was love. When their eyes met, both women felt the spark.
Xenas hands gently cupped the bards face, tilting it upward. The very air around them vibrated with energy. Gabrielle could barely breathe, her heart pounded in anticipation. Time seemed to slow, as the warrior bent forward.
The first touch of their lips was electric. The bards entire body tingled with pleasure as the tall woman moved tenderly against her, surprisingly soft and giving. The moment was magical.
Xena could think of nothing but the sweet yielding body against hers. She understood without words that it was hers for the taking and her strong arms pulled the young woman close. Gabrielles lips parted in invitation, soundlessly encouraging the warrior to explore.
Tiny noises escaped Xenas throat as her tongue slid past Gabrielles lips, pressing inside and tasting the bard for the first time.
A moan of sheer pleasure tore from the blonde. No longer able to disguise her urgency, she rocked her entire body mindlessly against the warrior. Dizzy with desire, she slid her hands down the warriors back, tightening her hold.
As Xena yielded to her desire, the kiss built in intensity, becoming fevered and demanding. Drinking in the bards sweetness, she felt an all-consuming need to possess her. Her hands glided past Gabrielles hips, cupping her bottom. Effortlessly, she lifted her up. The bards legs parted, wrapping instinctively around the warriors waist.
The heat was staggering. Xena moaned and leaned back, pressing the bards moist center against her abdomen. Both women were breathless as they stared into each others eyes.
A light rain began to fall.
Holding the bard to her, the warrior carried her to the nearest shelter. With a hard shove, she forced the door open with her foot. A large oak table and twenty chairs were the only furniture in the large meeting hut. Xena pushed two chairs aside and laid Gabrielle down on the table, her calves dangling over the edge.
The sensual smell of wet leather assaulted the bards senses as the powerful woman stood over her, larger than life, skin glistening with moisture. Rivulets of water ran down Xenas chest, disappearing into her cleavage. Gabrielles heart pounded savagely as her eyes traced their path. She gasped as the warriors hands made contact with her skin, gently guiding her knees apart.
"Yesss," the bard moaned.
The warriors body burned with desire as she stepped between the blondes outstretched legs. Her fingers found the laces of the bards top and tugged at them impatiently. In one swift movement, she tossed the garment aside, leaving the bards breasts exposed. The small, rose-colored nipples stood fully erect, quivering with each rise and fall of her chest.
Xenas need to possess the young woman controlled her. She reached for the sensitive tips, stroking them with her thumbs.
Gabrielle trembled as the skilled fingers repeatedly circled her hardened points, creating glorious currents of sensation. The warriors insistent hands explored the length of her torso, laying claim to every part of her. The bard surrendered willingly, closing her eyes, concentrating on sensation alone. She cried out in rapture as Xenas strong fingers sank into the soft swells of her breasts, sending a riot of pleasure through her body.
Abruptly it ended. The warriors hands had lifted from her fevered skin. Gabrielle was consumed with need. Aching for Xenas touch, she arched upward, her body pleading for the dark-haired woman to finish what she had started.
Suddenly, a burst of warm air tickled her abdomen. She opened her eyes and inhaled sharply. The warrior had dropped to her knees between her outstretched legs. The room seemed to spin.
She moaned loudly as she felt the wet caress of Xenas tongue on her belly. A churning mix of sensations swept through her as the powerful hands lovingly stroked the bruise they had inflicted earlier that day. The bard shivered and spread her thighs wide in invitation. Without hesitation the warriors hand slid beneath her breeches and across her heated sex.
The bards sensitive flesh swelled in response to her touch, her clitoris pulsing at the gentle contact. Xenas fingers glided effortlessly through her slippery wetness, coaxing her to new heights. Each touch intensified her pleasure. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced.
An exquisite pressure welled deep inside as her body primed itself for a powerful release. Her hips moved wantonly against the relentless fingers, urging Xena on.
The warrior needed no encouragement. She was lost in the silky heat of her lovers sex, driven by a need that was nearly out of control. A single fingertip circled the bards entrance.
Gabrielle moaned and arched against her. The vision of innocent submission, she squirmed helplessly in the throes of passion, desire blazing unchecked in her green eyes.
"Please " Her voice strained, hoarse with lust.
Xenas heart hammered at the thought of entering the bards tight passage. Gabrielle whimpered and rocked toward her.
Suddenly, the warrior froze.
Her keen hearing had picked up the sound of footfalls just outside the hut. Gabrielle groaned in desperation and reached for Xenas hand, her eyes pleading. She lay panting, legs spread seductively, completely unaware of the approaching Amazons.
Xena drew back and grabbed the bards top, then yanked the dazed young woman to her feet. Gabrielle stood unsteadily, deep in the throes of her erotic haze. The warrior quickly pulled her toward the closet at the back of the room. Pushing the young woman inside, she quietly closed the door behind them.
Muffled voices filled the hut as a large party of Amazons gathered in the main room.
Gabrielle stood motionless in the confined space, heart racing. As her head cleared she winced, remembering the council meeting. Even if she could compose herself and dress quickly, there was no way they could exit the utility room, no way to explain why they were both in the closet.
Her sex throbbed with the memory of her interrupted climax. Suddenly she was keenly aware of her naked breasts and the river of moisture that coated her inner thighs. She trembled as she thought of Xenas fingers stroking her sex. Her legs went weak and she leaned back against the wall for support. The cool wood sent shivers across her heated skin.
An erotic scent, the same scent she had fantasized about night after night, filled the air. Her senses reeled at the knowledge of its source. Swimming in sensation, her body recalled the touch of Xenas hands and lips on her startled skin. She needed the warrior inside her deep inside. Nothing else mattered. The risk of discovery merely fueled her desire. She wanted Xena to take her now. A small sigh escaped her lips.
The warrior gently pressed her finger to the bards moist lips, hoping to contain the sound.
Smelling her own scent on Xenas skin, the bard moaned softly. Reflexively her tongue stroked the finger, drawing it inside. A shiver passed through her. She could almost feel the powerful warriors energy, pulsing into her, filling her, arousing her beyond her wildest imaginings. Her body was on fire. She longed for the cool caress of the warriors skin against her.
As if in answer to her silent plea, the warrior pulled her close.
In the dark, confined space, Xena was focused solely on the bard. Even without the benefit of sight, she was keenly aware of the young womans mounting desire. Not even the subtlest change escaped her attention. She felt the bards body temperature rise, heard her breathing quicken.
Asserting her control, she splayed her fingers across Gabrielles back, grinding into her. The bard trembled in her arms. It was ecstasy. Her mouth opened in a silent moan as she fed on the bards excitement.
Gabrielle was awash in sensation. Her sex pulsed and her skin tingled as the warriors warm breath caressed her bare skin. She was unable to hold back a heavy sigh.
Once again, Xena touched her finger to the bards lips but not to silence her. She needed to feel their softness, their heat. More than anything she wanted to capture them in a kiss, run her tongue over their smooth surface.
In the adjoining room, the meeting had begun. The hum of womens voices could be heard through the door.
Xena barely noticed; her entire being was centered on Gabrielle. The bard shifted sensually in her embrace, releasing the sweet scent of her skin, overpowering the warriors senses. Xena held her tight, relishing the incredible sensations that coursed through her.
The young woman gasped as the cool metal of Xenas armor pressed against her nipples. They hardened on contact. Powerful hands gripped her shoulders and pushed her firmly against the wall. Unable to contain her excitement, the bard expelled her breath in short, hot bursts.
Fevered blood raced through the warriors veins as she felt the bards chest heave against her again and again. Brushing her lips against the bards cheek, she whispered in her ear.
Gabrielle swallowed hard, her mouth too dry to speak. She nuzzled against the warriors neck, caressing the soft skin with her lips. Xena responded by sliding her hands down the bards bare back.
The noise outside the closet grew louder as the Amazon discussion intensified, but the warrior and bard heard nothing over the steady pumping of their own hearts.
Xenas fingers glided across the bards soft skin, stopping only to release the tie that held her skirt. It dropped silently to the floor. All barriers gone, she gently caressed the young womans muscled thighs.
Without conscious thought Gabrielle reached for the warriors hand and guided it between her legs. Xena growled softly.
"Wider." The warrior commanded with a whisper.
Desperate for the promise of Xenas touch, she broadened her stance. A flash of heat radiated through her sex as Xenas fingers parted her lips and once again slid through her wetness.
In the outer room, the discussion had become suddenly heated. One voice boomed above all others, silencing the rest. It was Ephiny.
"NO! Temiras mine! She will be taken alive."
The warrior froze, her hands dropping to her sides. Her thoughts flashed to their encounter in the barn, Temiras voice echoing in her mind.
Your na´ve bard doesnt have a clue about the true nature of the woman shes been traveling with.
Xena closed her eyes against the memory but the warlord could not be silenced.
Youll take what you want, like you always have.
Unnerved, Xena took a step backward as Temiras prophetic words brought her back to herself. Guilt slowly overtook her passion.
She needs things you cant give her
Gabrielle reached for the warrior, hungry for her touch.
Xena stiffened as the bards fingers grazed her. She could feel the heat of the young womans breath licking against her skin. It was agony. Her heart raced. She flattened hard against the wall, desperate to put some space between them. But the tiny closet held her captive. There was no escape. Her only solace was the darkness that kept the bard from reading the emotion in her eyes.
In her ultimate selfishness, she had seduced her best friend, the one truly pure and good thing in her life. By giving in to her dark passions and allow them to rule her, she had given the bard a glimpse into a world that had the power to corrupt her very soul. And now there was nothing she could do to make it right.
Gabrielles body ached with need. The waves of sexual tension radiating from Xenas body made her dizzy with desire. She hungered for the warriors touch. Frantic to restore physical contact, she reached out once again.
Xenas hands firmly pushed her away. She had never been more miserable. How could she have done it?
The bards chest tightened, her heartbeat echoing loudly in her ears. She sensed the warriors pain, felt the wall go up between them. Desperation surged in her. What was wrong? Why had she stopped?
Each minute of confinement seemed an eternity. Just when Gabrielle felt she could no longer contain her tears, the gavel sounded, mercifully breaking the silence of their small world. She stood motionless, barely breathing and waited for the Amazons disband. At last the hut was quiet.
Without a word Xena opened the door and slipped through it.
Gabrielle retrieved her clothes from the floor and dressed quickly, haphazardly tying the laces of her top.
A light knock interrupted the bards memories. She looked up and was happy to see Ephiny standing tentatively in the doorway.
The regent stepped inside, relieved that her friend no longer seemed angry. "Hows she doing?"
"No change," Gabrielle answered sadly. She glanced at the regent, her eyes full of regret. "Ephiny about the things I said Im sorry. I know you care about Xena. I was out of line."
"I understand this must be very difficult for you. I wish that I didnt have to bother you with this. If there was any other way I "
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "I suppose you want to know what we were doing in the closet?"
"No, I mean err I assume it was... well... that it was private." The regent paused and looked up awkwardly. "Is there something I should know?"
"Only that Xena didnt rape me. She would never I... I..." Gabrielle blushed and stumbled for an explanation.
"Then things were okay between you?"
Gabrielle bowed her head shyly. "No, not exactly. We did have words later, but..." The door opened abruptly as Solari entered the room.
"Ephiny, we just captured the warlord Temira entering the southern border."
"And her army?" the regent questioned anxiously.
"The warlord was alone, no sign of an army. She surrendered without a struggle."
Gabrielle moved closer. "Do you think its a trap?"
"We have to assume shes up to something." Ephiny forced a reassuring smile. "Ill handle this. You stay with Xena. She..."
Solari interrupted. "Temira specifically asked to speak with the queen."
Ephiny cast her a worried glance. "No telling what she has in mind."
"I guess theres only one way to find out." Gabrielle turned to Solari. "Will you ask Saras to stay with Xena?"
Ever since she had learned that the warlord had been Xenas lover, Gabrielle had wondered about her, imagined what she was like. Yet nothing prepared her for what she found.
Temira was a woman of striking beauty. She was as tall as Xena but thinner, not nearly as physically intimidating as the queen had envisioned. Her dark-red hair was short, revealing the angular line of her jaw. The light-brown coloring of her eyes appeared orange in the torch light of the small cell; the effect was hypnotic. Overall, her physical characteristics seemed almost feline. When she moved, sinewy muscle flexed, indicating that her wiry stature was deceptive. She was obviously a very powerful woman.
As the bard approached, Temira attempted to step forward. Immediately, the two Amazon guards flanking her gripped her shoulders in warning.
"Queen Gabrielle, youll forgive me if I dont bow." She glanced at the guards and flashed the bard a sarcastic smile.
The regent stepped forward, taking a defensive stance beside her friend. Her eyes remained locked on the warlord.
"Ephiny, its always a pleasure," Temira crooned.
The regents expression revealed a deep-seated hatred. "The only pleasure for me will be watching you die at my own hands."
"Now, is that any way to greet a fellow Amazon?" Temira asked sweetly.
Ephinys face hardened. "Whats your game?"
"No game. I came to speak with the queen." She flashed Gabrielle a wry smile. "Xenas... little friend."
The bard felt bitterness behind the warlords words. She stood her ground, meeting Temiras gaze.
"Id rather our conversation be private."
"Forget it," Ephiny replied harshly.
"Im shackled and imprisoned." Lifting her hands to illustrate her point, she flashed the regent an innocent smile. "What could you possibly be afraid of?"
"Youre in no position to make demands."
"Ephiny, you always were too serious, even as a child."
The regent bristled, her fingers tightening on the hilt of her sword.
Gabrielle studied their interaction closely. It was rather unnerving watching the warlord bait her friend. In all the time shed known Ephiny, this was the first time shed seen her lose her composure. Temira, on the other hand, was very relaxed as if, even locked up and chained, she sensed she had the upper hand.
In an attempt to break the growing tension, the queen stepped forward. "Why did you want to see me?"
"I intercepted your messenger on the way to Amphipolis. I understand Xena is gravely injured."
She deliberately made eye contact with Ephiny as she spoke. "No one is better qualified to help her than I."
Gabrielle looked anxiously at the regent, waiting for a confirmation that never came. The bard gently touched her friends arm. "Is it true?"
Ephiny reluctantly answered, avoiding her friends eyes. "She was a skilled Shaman before she became a murderous traitor."
Temiras smiled at the regents words and shifted her attention to the queen. "You see. Its in your best interest to speak to me... alone."
Whatever psychological advantage Gabrielle had possessed was gone. She needed to hear what Temira had to say and the warlord knew it.
Gabrielle turned to the regent. "Its okay, Ephiny. You can go."
The regent glared at her enemy. But Temira merely laughed, flaunting her easy victory, then turned and once again addressed Gabrielle.
"The guards too."
"No." Ephiny took a threatening step forward.
The warlord shrugged. "Then we have nothing to talk about."
"Ephiny, please take the guards with you." Her tone indicated there would be no debate.
Reluctantly, the regent motioned for the Amazon warriors to accompany her.
"Alone at last," Temira crooned.
They stood face to face for several moments, studying each other, the warlords eyes lazily traveling the length of the queens body.
Gabrielle tried to mask her discomfort. "Can you really help Xena?"
"If anyone can," Temira offered matter-of-factly. Her golden eyes lit up playfully. "Wasnt Ephinys pained admission convincing enough for you?"
"Why should I trust you? How do I know you dont intend to kill her?"
The warlord shrugged casually. "You dont. But we both know time is running out for Xena. Without proper treatment shell die soon anyway."
"So you expect me to believe that youre doing this out of the goodness of your heart?" Gabrielle stated sarcastically.
"No, Im not inclined to acts of kindness. Ask Ephiny."
"What is it you want from me then?"
The warlord smiled, sensing she had the upper hand. "Mmmm, a woman that cuts to the chase..." She winked suggestively. "I like that."
The intensity of her gaze deepened as she looked thoughtfully at the young queen. "Tell me. Are you Xenas lover?"
Her forthright manner caught Gabrielle off guard, but she took care not to let it show.
"What is it you want in return for helping Xena?" she asked, dodging the warlords question with one of her own.
Temira sat back on the bed and relaxed against the wall, her eyes drinking in the queens body. "First, I want an answer to my question."
Gabrielle quickly weighed the merits of the truth versus a lie, trying not to reveal the sadness she felt. "Yes. Were lovers."
"Hmmm," the warlord frowned disapprovingly. "Xenas tastes have changed. You look a little tame to me, a lamb among wolves. Not at all the warriors type."
Temiras comment stung but Gabrielle let it pass. "Why are you here? What is it you really want?"
The warlord continued on the same tack, ignoring her questions. "We had quite torrid a past, Xena and I. Shes a remarkably skilled lover, wouldnt you say?"
Gabrielles anger flared. "If you had such a memorable past, then saving Xenas life should be payment enough."
"I told you; my assistance doesnt come without a price."
"Then name it."
Temira smiled. "Im tired." She stretched her limbs sensually. "Come see me at dawn and maybe we can continue our conversation."
Rattling her shackles, she winked. "After all, Im not going anywhere."
Gabrielle turned in frustration and left the room.
Ephiny paced anxiously outside the jail. She quickly approached Gabrielle when she exited.
"What does Temira want?"
The bard shook her head in frustration. "She wouldnt say."
"Did she agree to help Xena?"
"No, not yet. Shes toying with me. Im meeting with her again in the morning."
"I dont like the sound of this."
"Ephiny, whats your history with this woman? I need to know more about her."
The regent released a heavy sigh. "Youre right. Come back to my hut and Ill explain everything."
Gabrielle hesitated. "I want to get back to Xena. We can talk there." Without further delay she headed for the warriors hut.
As Gabrielle hurried along, it was all the regent could do to keep pace with her steps. Ephiny cast her a worried glance. It was obvious the young woman had lost weight. Her normally tight-fitting clothes seemed to hang on her.
"How long has it been since you had something to eat?"
"You dont look good."
"Gee, thanks," Gabrielle said teasingly. The serious expression on the regents face forced her to soften her flippant reply. "It wont hurt me to skip a meal," she offered lightly.
Ephiny shook her head disapprovingly. "You really should "
"Ill be okay, really. I just dont have much of an appetite now thats all."
Ephiny held her tongue. Gabrielle pushed open the door and went to the warriors side. Saras sat quietly at the other side of the bed.
"Any improvement?" the young woman asked hopefully.
"Unfortunately not, but she is holding her own."
Gabrielle lightly touched the warriors cheek. The sorrow in her eyes was heart-wrenching. "Saras, do you think Temira could help Xena?"
The healer hesitated before answering. "Its possible. Shes spent most of her life leading armies. Im sure shes encountered injuries of this nature."
"Do you think its possible she means Xena harm?"
"I wouldnt put it past her," Ephiny interjected.
Saras shrugged. "A lot depends on the nature of her relationship with Xena and whether or not they were on friendly terms."
Gabrielle sighed in frustration. If only she knew what had transpired between them in Amphipolis.
"I can tell you one thing," the healer added. "Temira has her own agenda in this. You can count on it. Just what that might be, I cant say, but you should take care not to let your guard down."
"What are Xenas chances if we dont have her help?" The healer looked down, avoiding the queens eyes.
"Please I need you to be honest with me."
Saras turned to face her. "Time is running out. Im afraid were losing her. In my opinion, it cant hurt to hear what ideas Temira has."
"Tartarus it cant!" Ephinys voice trembled with emotion. "I have no idea why shes really here. But I can tell you one thing. Its not to help Xena. You can bet she wants something."
The healer nodded. "Youre probably right." She walked toward the door. "If you need me, Ill be at the dining hall."
The bard wrung out a cool cloth and placed it on the warriors forehead. Her brow furrowed with worry.
"Ephiny, Ive never seen her so pale. I " Her throat locked as tears filled her eyes. The regent pulled her into her arms to comfort her, lightly stroking her hair.
"Im so sorry."
Gabrielle clung desperately to her friend as she futilely struggled to control her tears. Ephiny held her close, letting her release her sorrow. Gradually, she began to calm.
The bard looked up shyly, embarrassed by her outburst. "Thanks."
The regent smiled gently. "Is there anything I can get you?"
"Some tea would be nice."
"Youve got it." Ephiny put the kettle on the fire and placed two mugs on the table. Gabrielle took a seat across from her.
"What can you tell me about Temira?"
The regent took a deep breath and began her story.
"When I was a child there was great unrest in this area, much worse than what we see now. As various warlords vied for control, the surrounding lands passed from one group of barbarians to another. Our queen felt that the only way to insure stability and sustain peace was to stay out of it, protect our own interests. She was strongly opposed to allying the Amazons with any of the warlords." Ephiny shook her head sadly.
"Of course, Temira disagreed. She thought the Amazons should form alliances with select leaders to insure who controlled the adjoining lands. So she began stirring up dissent among our villagers. And in a very short time, in spite of the queens opposition, she was able to convince a majority of elders that we should go to war to protect our own interests."
The regent smiled bitterly. "Even back then, she was very persuasive. Temira had everything going for her. She was a skilled healer and warrior. Those qualities, combined with her youth and dynamic personality, made her extremely charismatic."
Ephiny walked over to retrieve the kettle from the fire and filled both their cups. "Anyway," she continued. "Temira gathered our best warriors and went on her crusade, leaving our village virtually defenseless."
"How was she able to convince them to leave their families?" Gabrielle questioned.
"She had some very influential allies within the village my sister, Kyra among them."
"Was she a warrior too?"
"No she was a healer, a gentle person."
"I dont understand." Gabrielle questioned. "Why would she go to war?"
"As I said, Temira could be very manipulative. She had a unique knack for reading people and getting them to do what she wanted." The regent released a heavy sigh. "My sister was loved and respected. Temira knew having Kyra on her side would attract other Amazons to her cause. She was right; many followed her."
"The inevitable. While our warriors were gone, the barbarians she had forged alliances with betrayed her. We learned of their plans to attack our village, and scouts were sent out to inform Temira."
"She refused to return?"
"The scouts werent able to locate her."
Ephinys eyes narrowed with anger. "In the midst of a great battle, she fled, abandoning her army. The small group of warriors that survived returned to defend our village. Although they fought bravely, many died. The village was devastated. It took many years to rebuild what we had lost."
"Was your sister among those who returned?"
"No," Ephiny answered sadly. "Our warriors told us she had been struck down in Temiras great battle, the same day she abandoned her army."
"Im sorry." Gabrielle said softly.
"Of course, Temira never returned to the village. She was branded a traitor and coward. Rumor had it that she crossed the seas and put together another army. Within several years her brutality as a warlord became legendary. I believe thats when she met Xena."
The queen released a heavy breath and glanced across the room to her unconscious companion.
"Gabrielle, I know how much you care for Xena, but Temira cant be trusted. I cant allow her to live."
After Ephiny had gone, Gabrielle paced the room. She was exhausted, but her mind wouldnt stop racing. Although the regents story disturbed her, she couldnt ignore the fact that Temira appeared to be Xenas best hope of recovery.
She lowered herself wearily into the chair beside the warrior and closed her eyes. Temiras conversation ran through her mind over and over again. There had been a subtle hostility emanating from the warlord, as if she viewed the bard as her rival.
Not at all the warriors type.
The cold undercurrent beneath Temiras words clearly suggested that she considered herself a much better match for Xena. And in a way, she was right. On the surface the two warriors seemed better suited. In fact, in their travels the bard and warrior continually received curious glances from people they encountered. The differences between them were glaring.
But it was the less obvious things, things people couldnt see, that made their relationship work. They filled the gaps in each others lives. She had felt it from the start. So for her, the decision to travel with the warrior had been an easy one. She was convinced it was her destiny.
For Xena, it had been much more difficult. ------
Gabrielles mind flashed back to the meeting hut after the warrior had fled the closet. She had tried to follow her but Saras had unexpectedly entered the room, forcing her to duck back into her hiding place. By the time the coast was clear, she discovered Xena had taken her meager belongings and left the village.
It had taken candlemarks to track her to the southern border of the Amazon territory.
The bard was overcome with relief when, at last, she spotted the warrior leaning against the trunk of a large tree, waiting as Argo drank from a nearby stream.
As Xena turned to her, Gabrielle stopped abruptly. The deeply anguished expression on the warriors face frightened her.
"Are are you okay?"
Xena slowly met her eyes. Her words came out in a hoarse whisper. "Gabrielle, Im leaving."
The bards chest tightened as she struggled to speak. "I I dont understand."
Xena simply shook her head, the pain in her heart so intense she couldnt speak.
Gabrielle rushed on awkwardly. "If this is about what happened in the closet, I Im sorry if I "
"Its nothing youve done I I just cant."
The warrior released a heavy sigh. "I think its time we went our separate ways."
The bards heart hammered. "Why?"
Xena looked away, unable to face her friend.
"Please talk to me."
"Theres nothing to talk about."
"Dont do this! Dont shut me out not now. I need to understand what youre feeling." Her eyes pleaded desperately.
Xena took a shuddering breath, her voice stricken. "Gabrielle, Im afraid... afraid that I wont be able to stop myself that Ill hurt you."
The bard had never seen the warrior so distressed. "Youve never hurt me, you..."
"Not yet " Xena replied nervously. She swallowed hard and forced herself to continue. "I Ive never let you get close to this side of me. I wanted to protect you. I I still do. If I leave now you can go back to a normal life."
"But I dont want a normal life. I never have. I ran from it." She took a step forward, closing the distance between them. "Its you I want Its always been you."
"Gabrielle, you cant begin to understand the darkness that drives me."
The young womans skin flushed as she remembered the closet. She did understand, at least part of it. "What happened between us today... I never felt so alive. When I think of your hands on me I..."
The bard struggled to find words that would not push her away. "When we kissed it was magic pure. I was whole for the first time in my life. I could sense that you felt it too. Was I wrong? Didnt it mean anything to you?"
"More than you know." Xena looked up, struggling with her emotions. How could she explain what Temira had made so painfully clear? "You dont understand. I I cant trust myself with you." Tears welled in the warriors eyes.
"No, you can Listen to me. I know there are things from your past... things that are a part of you that you want to shield me from. But you dont have to."
"Ill end up hurting you. Poisoning " The warriors voice broke. "Youre the only truly good thing in my life. If I dont leave now, I may end up doing things things that can never be undone. I love you too much to risk that."
"Xena, I know you dont believe I understand the strength of your passion, the way it takes control of you, but I do. I know in my heart that you would never do anything I didnt want. I trust in your love." She looked deep into the warriors eyes. "Trust in mine when I say I want you all of you." Gabrielle reached for Xenas hand. "Stay. Well work this through together."
The warrior pulled her close, needing more than anything to believe her words.
The bard buried her face in the crook of the taller womans neck and murmured softly against her skin. "Please dont go."
She inhaled deeply, allowing the warriors scent to fill her senses. Her mouth opened in a silent moan as she pressed her lips to Xenas heated skin. Unconsciously, her tongue grazed the warriors flesh, sampling the salty surface. The dark-haired woman trembled in her embrace.
Thirsting for more, Gabrielle nipped at the sensitive hollow beneath her lips. Xena inhaled sharply, and made a weak attempt to pull away. The bard strengthened her hold and bit down harder, nearly breaking the skin. She licked the indentations, caressing the tender flesh with the tip of her tongue. "Gods I want you so much."
The warrior threw her head back and groaned in pleasure.
Driven by her response, Gabrielle entangled her fingers in the dark hair, holding her tight. "Theres fire in my blood too." she breathed, green eyes sparkling.
The warriors hands gripped the bards shoulders. Passion flared blindingly bright in her blue eyes. "If you only knew what Id like to do."
"Show me," she whispered breathlessly.
Xena growled, her voice throaty with lust. Without hesitation, she took what she longed for, capturing the young womans lips in a searing kiss.
Heat spread through the bards limbs, engulfing her as she felt the warriors tongue press into her, demanding entry, commanding the young womans body to respond. And it did, with no trace of resistance. The bards surrender was total and bittersweet. Gabrielle clung to her, dissolving into the kiss as Xenas tongue claimed her with an irrepressible hunger. The strength of the warriors need was dizzying, the depth of her passion surpassing the bards wildest fantasies.
Gabrielle moaned unrestrained into the warriors mouth, affirming her willingness, her heart hammering violently in her chest. Xena was truly in her blood. Their hearts beat as one as the warriors energy, her very essence, surged through her.
Xena pulled back, leaving Gabrielle dazed.
"Please Ill do anything anything you want."
"Anything?" The warriors question held the promise of more than Gabrielle dared imagine.
"Yesss... " The bard moaned, shocked by how fervently she meant it.
Xena reached down and picked up the staff. Lifting it above the bards head, she wedged it horizontally between the limbs of two small trees.
Aching from the loss of contact, the bard reached for her longingly. The tall woman backed out of her reach. "Put both your hands on the staff."
Confused but eager to please, Gabrielle stepped forward. Extending her arms, she grasped it. The positioning was a little too high. With her feet firmly on the ground, she could feel the muscles under her arms stretch as her fingers wrapped around the smooth shaft.
As Xena walked slowly behind her, the bard shivered, her body acutely aware of the warriors nearness.
She held her breath for an eternal moment as she waited for Xena's touch. When at last it came, she released a low moan. The warriors soft lips pressed against the incredibly smooth skin at the nape of her neck. A charge rushed through the bard, pulsing when it reached her sex.
"If you let go, I will stop," Xena whispered.
Gabrielle's heart raced with excitement. She understood that Xena was giving her an out, if it became too much. At the same time, she knew she would never release her grip. She tightened her hold. A glorious tension welled deep inside her, aching to be released.
The warriors hands ran possessively over her body. Her long fingers traced a path along the underside of her arms, awakening every nerve. Xenas powerful hands moved with amazing tenderness down the young womans torso, then across her collarbone, and over the swells of her breasts. She moaned in pleasure as gentle fingertips grazed her nipples, leaving her breasts tingling with sensation.
Once again the warrior stepped around front, in full view of the bard.
She watched breathlessly as the dark-haired woman slowly removed her dagger from its warm hiding place. As the cool, razor sharp blade slid between her breasts and under the laces of her top, Gabrielle quivered with excitement. The warriors intentions were clear.
Blue eyes burned into her. Yet, Gabrielle stared back unflinchingly, giving the only response Xena required. With insistent pressure, the warrior sliced though each lace, one at a time.
The bard took a deep, shuddering breath as the last tie was severed. Her breasts shifted under the loose material, revealing the delicate slope of pale flesh. Straining for release, Gabrielles nipples brushed against the fabric of her top. She squirmed with desire as the coarse material tormented the hardened points.
Slowly, Xena reached out and folded back one side of the young womans top, then the other, leaving Gabrielle vulnerable to her gaze. As she stood back to admire the beautiful body before her, her tongue ran hungrily over her lips, her eyes caressing the bards firm breasts.
Gabrielle held her breath as she waited for the warriors touch. In spite of the heat of the afternoon sun, she shivered uncontrollably. She felt completely exposed, at the dark-haired womans mercy. Her eyes locked on Xena, silently pleading to be taken.
The tips of the warriors fingers grazed the outer curve of each breast as she slowly explored. Gabrielles nipples tightened unbearably, begging to be fondled, but Xena paid them no heed. Instead she ventured lower, lightly stroking the bards belly. Her touch was both torturous and exquisite, her fingers leaving a trail of fire in their wake.
The warrior paused briefly at the base of her abdomen, caressing the sensitive flesh at the edge of her skirt. The muscles quivered in response. Slowly, her graceful fingers unfastened the bards belt, deliberately allowing the smooth leather to drag across her companions taut stomach.
Gabrielle moaned softly.
The warrior smiled and held the belt before her, displaying its full length. In a swift motion, she pulled the ends, snapping it loudly. The whispery breeze licked at the blondes heated skin.
Xena folded the belt in half and ran it sensually across the bards gently sloping breasts. Instantly the nipples tightened, tingling erotically as the textured leather stimulated the highly sensitive tips. Gabrielle closed her eyes and arched into the sensation. Over and over again the belt lightly stroked her, awakening nerve endings long dormant.
Suddenly, it ceased.
Breathing heavily, the bard opened her eyes to find that once again Xena had stepped out of her range of sight. She listened intently, aware of every beat of her heart. Her body hummed with anticipation as she waited for the warrior to act.
Nervously, her eyes scanned the ground in search of the belt. Like the warrior, it was nowhere in sight. Her heart raced as she wondered if Xena meant to use it on her. How far would the warrior go? The uncertainty fueled her desire. As she awaited the sting of leather, the surface of her skin twitched anxiously, her body vibrating with tension.
Suddenly, a startling warmth crossed her back. Not the bite of belt as she had expected, but the gentle touch of Xenas fingertips gliding over her skin, setting every nerves response to memory.
Gabrielle watched in awe as the strong hands she had fantasized about night after night encircled her waist and released the tie holding her skirt. A riot of sensation rippled across her skin as the fabric slid down her legs and settled at her feet.
Before she could recover, she felt the unexpected coolness of Xenas dagger on the outer slope of her hip. A shiver ran through her as the sharp blade sliced through one side of her breeches, then the other. She watched helplessly as the useless undergarment dropped to the ground between her outstretched legs, the damp stain in the center a glaring testament to her need. The young woman blushed hotly.
Soon, there was no time to think, only feel. The warriors fingers spread wide, tightly grasping her hips and pulled her back, pressing the bards body to her. Xenas smooth leathers felt harsh against her bare skin, making her keenly aware of her nakedness.
The warrior held her firmly in place while her blunt nails lightly caressed her lower abdomen. Dizzy with sensation, Gabrielle dropped her head back on Xenas shoulder. A steady pulsing reverberated through her sex. The contrast between the dark-haired womans strength and her tenderness was thrilling. Gabrielle was on fire.
She thrust her hips forward, urging the warrior lower.
Xena relaxed her grip and lightly brushed her lips against the blondes neck. Slowly she walked around front, the tips of her fingers never lifting from the bards body as she asserted her control. The warrior truly possessed Gabrielle in every sense of the word and they both knew it. Only Xenas touch could relieve the ache deep within her.
As their eyes met, Gabrielle made no attempt to disguise the intensity of her desire. She wanted the warrior to feel her surrender, to revel in the power.
In a look, she succeeded, leaving no doubt that she was Xenas, body and soul. Her need was complete and undeniable, feeding the part of the warrior that needed to conquer and possess.
Xena spoke, her voice thick with passion. "Do you remember the pipe? Your vision?"
Gabrielle opened her mouth to answer, but the warrior pressed a finger to her lips silencing her. "Slow... Isnt that what you said?" Her body quivered at Xenas words, need threatening to overwhelm her.
The urgency that burned in the young womans eyes thrilled her.
"You were right," Xena said as she teasingly ran her index finger down the length of the bards torso. "I intend to take my time exploring this beautiful body." She paused, relishing the softness of her young lovers skin. "Are you ready to begin?"
Gabrielle took a shaky breath and held it. She was more than ready and Xena knew it.
Without waiting for a reply, the warrior slid her thigh between the young womans legs, pressing into her heat. The bards eyes snapped closed and her world spun. She was nearly delirious with pleasure as the warrior moved against her sex.
Xenas hands slowly trailed upward and lovingly cupped her breasts, tenderly massaging their fullness, while her thumbs teasingly circled the hardened nipples. Gabrielle was suffused with heat; her nipples painfully erect, needy. A moan escaped her lips as the warriors fingers closed on one, then the other, squeezing them lovingly. Waves of sensation coursed through her as her body trembled in utter bliss.
A pleasant tingling radiated through her as Xena casually rolled the aching points between her fingers, gradually increasing the pressure. Slowly the warrior pulled on each nipple, threatening to let go.
Desperate to maintain contact, Gabrielle rose to her toes and attempted to inch forward. For the briefest moment she considered releasing the staff and stepping toward the warrior.
As if reading her mind, Xenas heated glance silently warned her of the penalty for letting go. Cruelly, she allowed the hardened nipples to slip from her grasp. Gabrielles body shook violently as she fought the urge to thrust her body at the retreating fingers and struggled to maintain her grip. She bit back a groan and rocked back on her heels to rest her calves.
The warrior smiled, pleased with her young lovers response. She leaned forward and lightly caressed the bards flushed cheeks in reward. "Kiss me," she commanded.
Gabrielle instantly captured her lovers lips, pressing firmly, imploring them to open. When Xena didnt comply, she lightly tickled the surface with her tongue, requesting entry. The warrior slowly relented, allowing her to slip inside.
A moan tore from the bards throat.
The energy that radiated from the dark-haired woman excited her beyond all rational thought. Xena was everything and more than the bard had fantasized. She embodied power and control. Gabrielle longed to fulfill her every request.
Xena fed hungrily on the young womans enthusiasm, making the blonde reel from the sensual assault. Delirious with pleasure and overwhelmed by the intensity of her own desire, Gabrielle felt her legs buckling.
The warrior pulled back from the kiss, allowing her a moment to recover. Light-headed, the young woman struggled to regain her footing.
Xena repeated her words. "If you let go, I will stop."
This time Gabrielle understood that the warrior did not mean to comfort but to caution. Heat rolled through her, as she sensed, for perhaps the first time, what she was in for. Ignoring the complaining muscles in her shoulders, the bard tightened her grip on the staff. This was just the beginning.
The look of determination on Gabrielles face drove the warrior to push her young lovers endurance to the limit. Her fingers traced the curve of the bards hips, slowly sliding down to lightly stroke the sensitive skin of her inner thighs.
"Open for me."
Gabrielle struggled to obey, pressing the balls of her feet into the soft ground. Her muscles trembled with effort as she broadened her stance, spreading her legs to offer herself to the warrior in the most intimate way.
Xena laid a warm hand across the young womans lower back to steady her position and lowered herself to her knees before her. The blonde moaned loudly.
The warrior smiled and spoke softly, her voice low and commanding. "Keep very still."
Gabrielle went rigid, determined to make her body obey. The anticipation was almost more than she could bear. She inhaled sharply as Xenas hot breath grazed her nipple and cried out as the warrior grasped her bottom and bent, open-mouthed, toward her breast.
The bard gripped the staff as if her life depended on it.
At the first touch of Xenas tongue, Gabrielle felt her head loll back, her neck boneless. Mercilessly the dark-haired woman traced lazy circles around the responsive nipple.
The bard groaned loudly as sharp teeth raked over the sensitive point. Suddenly, Xenas lips closed hungrily around it. The pull of the warriors warm, wet mouth sent shocks of sensation to her core, leaving her quivering.
Slowly, Xena pulled back and softly ran her thumb over the bards fevered lips. She smiled as the young woman trembled. The lustrous green eyes looked upon her in worship, pleading for her to continue. And she did lowering her mouth to the bards other breast.
Gabrielle moaned loudly, arching into the demanding mouth. Both breasts tingled with heat as she wriggled uncontrollably.
Xenas hands tightened their grip on her hips. Holding her motionless, she released the nipple.
The loss was immediate and devastating. A hoarse groan emitted from deep in her chest and was quickly silenced by a simple touch of the warriors tongue, as once again, with a seemingly endless thirst, Xena drank.
Just when Gabrielle thought she might climax from the incredible stimulation, Xena changed tactics, lifting her mouth and grazing the erect points with her teeth. The bard couldnt keep her body from writhing. The feeling was so exquisite it left her breathless, longing for the warriors mouth to return and claim her again and again.
Unexpectedly, Xena pulled back, her face tilting up to meet her lovers eyes.
Between ragged breaths, Gabrielle pleaded. "Pleeease... I "
The remaining words caught in her throat as the warriors finger swept across a rivulet of moisture on the inside of the bards thigh. With great relish, Xena swirled her tongue over her glistening finger.
"Relentless..." she purred.
Gabrielles heart nearly stopped as she watched Xenas head lower to her center, so close that she could feel the warriors breath cooling the liquid heat that coated the lips of her sex. Long fingers slid down her quivering torso and came to rest on the front of the bards hips. Gently the warrior used her thumbs to spread the bards folds, exposing the heart of her young lovers pleasure
"Ohhh gods." Gabrielle gasped as cool air swept across her swollen clit. Her body trembled helplessly.
As Xenas tongue slid delicately between the open lips and tasted the bards essence, an animalistic moan tore from her throat.
The bards world spun out of control.
Xenas tongue methodically circled her clit, tracing and retracing the same path. Gabrielle was in ecstasy. Never had she known such arousal. She could feel her sex swell and thicken with each gentle ministration, pulsing to the warriors persistent rhythm.
Her entire being was focused on her clit. With infinite skill, the warrior managed to bring to her to the precipice with no promise of release. Need consumed her. Inside Gabrielle was screaming, held captive on the very edge of a climax that she needed more than air. It was useless to beg. Xena controlled her.
It was the bards fantasy fulfilled.
The pressure of Xenas thumbs stretching her wide was maddening. Desperate for release, Gabrielle tried to focus inward. In an attempt to create the necessary friction, she concentrated on each breath, slowly exhaling while tensing the muscles of her inflamed sex.
Just as she thought she might succeed, the warrior leaned back, depriving her of the last scrap of sensation, and slowly removed her thumbs. Her clit pulsed as her labia closed. She rolled her hips in a silent plea, her body aching from the loss.
For the first time, she feared that her aching shoulders and numb hands would betray her that she would let go of the staff. The thought terrified her. She was certain that if she did, Xena, who was always true to her word, would stop. Powerless to affect the warriors actions, she had never felt so out of control so alive.
A thin layer of moisture coated her skin as she strained to keep hold. Her footing was tenuous, her legs rubbery. The muscles in her shoulders twitched as they began to falter. Closing her eyes and clenching her teeth, she fought to maintain her grip. She was losing the battle. Her sweaty hands were slipping from the slick staff.
Gabrielle opened eyes and started to speak, but the words died on her lips. Xena stood before her naked, more magnificent than any goddess.
The bards heart hammered with excitement as she watched the warrior with adoring eyes. Her body hummed with newfound energy as she pulled from reserves she had never known she possessed.
Xena smiled at her young lovers appreciative stare and slowly walked to the side, out of the bards line of vision. Gabrielle turned her head, frantically searching for her, but the warrior was nowhere in sight. Every nerve in her body screamed for release. Her senses were so incredibly acute that now even the silky blond hair tumbling over her shoulders tormented her skin. How long would the warrior deny her?
Gripped by panic, she slumped forward in anguish, knowing she couldnt hold on much longer.
The warrior stood several feet behind, her vivid blue eyes drinking in the taut, quivering body of her lover. Xenas heart swelled with the realization that the bard would endure anything for her. Consumed with a lust she could no longer control, she stepped forward.
Gabrielle was about to let go, when she felt the delicious heat of the warriors breath at her ear. Her adrenaline surged. Two rigid points slid down her back. The bard groaned, knowing it was the caress of her lovers erect nipples against her heated skin. Xena had dropped to her knees behind her.
As the warriors fingers sought out the bards sex, the delicate hairs of her forearm tickled the blondes inner thigh, making her squirm with anticipation. Slowly, the dark-haired woman slid her long fingers between the lips of her sex and across her wetness.
Gabrielle gasped. With all her being, she needed Xena inside her, filling her. Her silky walls clutched tenaciously at the lone fingertip resting at her opening.
With a sigh of utter bliss, the warrior pressed inside, moaning as her finger met the delicate barrier she had endlessly fantasized about. It was intact, as she had always dreamed. Gabrielle was truly hers.
"Let me in." She whispered. "Relax."
The bard groaned desperately as she struggled with her entire being to maintain her hold. It was impossible to obey. She feared letting a single muscle relax would cause the others to give way, like the first domino in a chain.
Xena wriggled her finger insistently against the pliant tissue that blocked her path, while her free hand spread across Gabrielles abdomen, cradling her womb. She eased her finger back slightly; keeping it poised at the tight entrance.
"Do it. Push back onto me."
With a soft moan, Gabrielle sank back at the same time Xena thrust forward. The thin barrier gave way, making her cry out. A blinding light flashed before her eyes as a sharp pain radiated through her center.
"Hang on Ive got you Ive got you."
Skillfully, the warrior curled her finger, stroking the pressure point that soothed the sensitive walls. Instantly, the young womans discomfort was transformed into pleasure. Slowly, Xena eased forward, allowing Gabrielle to feel every inch of her penetration.
The warrior sighed loudly. To be inside her lover at last was simply exquisite. A river of natural lubrication allowed for nearly frictionless movement as she pumped back and forth with a slow, erotic rhythm.
"Can you feel me inside you?"
The look on Gabrielles face was one of absolute rapture. Her mouth opened in a soundless cry as her body surrendered to the glorious sensations. Strong, muscled walls pulled the warrior in, clinging to her finger with amazing determination. With short, deliberate strokes, Xena pressed deeper into her lover until she was all the way in. Abruptly, she stilled all movement.
Gabrielle was overcome with the sensation of being filled. She moaned as the warriors naked body pressed against her, sealing them together, completing the connection. Her pleasure was incomparable. She felt as if she could take all of Xena inside. Her muscles repeatedly clenched and released as the warrior brought her sensitive flesh to life.
Slowly, Xena slipped out, caressing the soft wetness of her opening, and added a second finger. Gently, she spread them against the bards tight walls, urging the muscles to give way to her sensual probing.
Gabrielle rode the warriors long fingers, drawing them deep inside, milking them. Each time they receded she quivered uncontrollably and tried to push down their full length. Her breath came in ragged pants as Xena pressed forward, once again pushing all the way in. Her slow, deep thrusts brought Gabrielle to the edge of ecstasy, the steady rhythm creating an irresistible inner tension.
Slowly her free hand moved over the bards hip, slipping between her moist folds. Effortlessly, her skilled fingers slid back and forth across her young lover's swollen clit, stroking the sensitive surface. Gabrielle moaned softly as the pressure building deep within her would no longer be denied.
"Thats it. Let it come."
The bards head fell forward as her entire body thrust down on the warriors fingers.
All at once her climax was upon her, breaking in bright waves. The orgasm surged through her, plummeting her from the dizzying high she had reached. She was soaring, her muscles clenching and releasing again and again as the warrior teased aftershocks of pleasure from her.
Before she could catch her breath, she was caught on the crest of a stronger wave that shook her entire body before releasing her. In the end, she could not hold her voice. Xena's name tore from her throat as a myriad of colors exploded before her eyes, making the light of the sun sparkle before her.
At last her body gave one final shudder and relaxed, blissfully floating. The bard had never known such ecstasy. The glow of Xenas love penetrated her very being.
She never did let go of the staff.
Even when her body, spent from climax, dangled limply, her hands held fast. Xena gently lifted Gabrielles fingers and pulled her to the soft grass. With the last of her strength the bard settled on her lovers chest. The warrior held her close, gently stroking her hair.
The light began to fade from the sky. Xena kissed her young lover softly and lightly touched her cheek. Slowly, sparkling green eyes focused on her.
The young woman inhaled deeply and nodded, a contented smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I never knew..." She took a shuddering breath as her body recalled the wondrous sensations. "Gods, that was You are..." She rolled over on her back and closed her eyes, at a loss for words. "Mercy."
The warrior smiled as she leaned over her young lover. "Are you admitting defeat then?"
Gabrielle laughed. "Never. But please dont stop trying."
Xena rolled onto her back, pulling the bard to her. "Not a chance."
Gabrielle nuzzled her face against her lovers chest and murmured contentedly as the warrior mindlessly caressed the nape of her neck. "Xena I feel incredible."
"Mmmm... me too."
The bard lifted her head to look into the warriors eyes. "Really?"
"Mm-hmm." Xenas eyes shone with love.
Gabrielle hugged her tightly.
As the heat of the warrior's body began to slowly penetrate her skin, Gabrielle suddenly felt acutely aware of her inexperience. She wanted to make love to Xena, to make her feel all the wondrous sensations she had experienced at the warriors hands, but the very thought made her blush. She summoned her courage and met Xenas glance.
"How long before... before we can do that again?"
The warrior smiled softly. "Whenever you want. Youll know when your bodys ready."
"Is your body ready?" Gabrielle asked shyly.
Xena winked. "My bodys almost always ready. But its late. We need to think about getting back." She slid out from under the bard and reached for her leathers.
Gabrielles eyes followed her.
Xena smiled and ruffled her hair. "Come on." She urged. "Well have to hurry if you want to get back in time for dinner."
"Who needs food. Id rather stay here with you and..." She didnt finish, instead she lay back, letting her legs part slightly. "Xena?... I want to Now."
The warrior took a deep breath and glanced away from the extremely tempting sight. "I can see that, but unfortunately we cant survive on sex alone. Im hungry. Arent you?"
The young womans mouth formed a disapproving pout.
Xena dropped the top and skirt onto the bards stomach and smiled. "You need to keep up your energy. I have plans for you... later."
Gabrielle immediately sat up and began to dress.
Her young lovers enthusiasm excited the warrior. It was all she could do not to ravish her for a second time. But she felt obligated to go back. There was still Temira to deal with.
The bard slipped on her top and tried without success to pull it closed over her breasts. With the laces ruined, it stubbornly refused to stay together. She glanced at the warrior in feigned frustration. "How am I going to explain this?"
Xena pulled Gabrielle to her feet and freed a short piece of lace. She nimbly threaded it through the two center holes and tied it into a tiny bow. "There... I doubt anyone will even notice."
"Yeah, right." The bard sighed, rolling her eyes. "How humiliating."
"Not unless you take a deep breath," the warrior replied playfully.
Gabrielle erupted in laughter, holding her chest to keep her top from popping open.
Genuine affection sparkled in Xenas eyes as she watched. "Ill fix it for you in the morning," she promised, sealing it with a kiss. ------
Unfortunately, she never had the chance.
At sunrise, Gabrielle reluctantly left the unconscious warrior in Saras capable hands and went to meet with Temira.
As she entered the cell, the warlord stretched to her full height and gave her an appraising glance. "At least youre punctual."
Gabrielle bristled at the warlords indifferent attitude. "Xenas condition is critical. I dont have time for games."
"Rough night with only your memories to keep you warm, huh?"
The queen stiffened at her taunting words. "Are you going to help Xena? Or should I turn you over to Ephiny and the guards?"
The warlord laughed. "Come now. We both know youre not willing to throw away her only chance."
"What makes you think youre Xenas only chance?"
"Would you be here if I werent?"
Gabrielle released an angry sigh. "What is it you want in return for helping her?"
"What I want " she paused. " is your right of caste." Temiras words hung heavy in the air. For a long moment Gabrielle was silent.
"You see," Temira continued, "Ive always wanted to be queen, and with your right of caste, upon your death... I could be."
"What makes me think my life would be shortened considerably if I agreed?" Gabrielle said pointedly.
"True," Temira winked, "You do live dangerously. Theres no telling when a deadly accident might occur."
Gabrielle met her glance. "I cant bargain with the lives of the women of this village."
The warlord shrugged. "Then I guess theres nothing further to say... except, of course, that I hope your last fuck with Xena was memorable, as its sure to be your last."
Anger flashed in the bards eyes, but she maintained her composure.
Temira merely smiled and continued to taunt her. "I think it would be difficult to live with yourself, knowing that you had it in your power to save Xena and chose not to."
"What about you your conscience?" The bard asked, watching her closely. "She means so little to you that youd let her die?"
The warlord eyed her coldly. "Im only interested in the bottom line. Conscience is for the weak. Its a useless thing."
Gabrielle carefully measured Temiras words. Was it possible she truly had no feelings for Xena? She wished more than ever that she knew what had transpired between the two women in Amphipolis. There was too much at stake to trust her gut instincts alone.
The warlord interrupted her thoughts. "Xenas running out of time. The longer she goes without proper treatment, the less chance shell survive. My guess is that there is an accumulation of fluid beneath her skull. If its not relieved soon, it will damage her brain."
From her discussions with Saras, Gabrielle guessed the warlord was probably telling the truth about that much, at least. "Ask me for something else anything else."
Temira smiled, enjoying the young womans turmoil. "Well there might be something "
Gabrielle looked at her expectantly. "What?"
"You," Temira said simply.
"Me?" Gabrielle managed.
"Yes, as my slave."
The young woman stiffened at the thought. "Its within my power to pardon your crimes against the Amazons."
Temira sneered. "Why should I settle for a simple pardon?"
"To save your life. Ephiny intends to have you sentenced to death."
The warlord laughed. "People more powerful than Ephiny have tried, I can assure you."
"If I agree youll leave the Amazons out of it?"
"Yes. Provided you follow through on your part of the bargain. If Xena survives, youll willingly become my slave."
"And what would being your slave entail?"
"You would be my property, serving me in any and every way I desire."
"If Xena lives, shell hunt you down."
"Not if you tell her that youve fallen in love with me." She smirked. "Surely, she would want you to be happy."
"Shed never believe it," Gabrielle insisted.
"Oh, come now, youre a bard. You tell convincing stories all the time. Im sure you could spin a very believable tale if you tried."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. She couldnt take away Xenas only chance. The warriors life was in her hands. She had no choice but to agree to the warlords deal, and somehow Temira had known it all along. "All right, if youre able to revive her... when Im sure shell live... Ill go with you." She paused haltingly. " As your slave."
"And how do I know you wont conveniently change your mind after the warrior recovers?"
Gabrielle observed her carefully. "You have my word. If you were as close to Xena as you say, then you know she is a woman of honor and would not be with me if I were not also."
Temira nodded. "Okay then, when it appears shell survive... youll tell Xena that its really me you want?"
Gabrielle was plagued with doubt. How could she look the warrior in the eyes and tell her she loved another? She took a deep breath and steeled her courage. If it meant saving Xenas life, somehow she would find a way.
"If thats what you want," the bard paused. "But if she dies, you get nothing and I will see that your sentence is carried out." The conviction in her words could not be mistaken.
The warlord smiled triumphantly and held out her shackled hand. "Agreed."
The queen grasped it. As Temira released her grip, she stroked the inside of bards wrist with her fingertips. Gabrielle pulled back nervously. The warlords eyes sparkled at the young womans obvious discomfort.
"So, do I get to sample the merchandise?"
"I think at this point your interests would be better served by focusing your attention on making Xena well Dont you?"
"Hmmm, yes. I must say, youve given me great motivation to accomplish the task." She smiled seductively.
"Do you want to see Xena now?"
"First, tell me. How was it the warrior fell into that underground cavern?"
Gabrielle glanced away, avoiding her eyes. "The ground opened suddenly. It it was some kind of cave-in."
Temira noted the guilty edge in the queens voice. "Its hardly like her to be caught so off guard. She must have been thoroughly distracted."
Gabrielles mind flashed back to the accident. ------
After they had dressed, Xena dislodged the staff from the trees and handed it to her. The bard smiled as her fingers closed around the shaft, triggering very pleasant memories. A rush of heat flooded her body.
She felt the color rise to her cheeks and looked up shyly at the warrior.
"Hey, you sure youre okay?" Xena asked.
"Yeah, I was just remembering. I I never knew staff practice could be so much fun."
The warrior laughed softly. "Next time well have to work on other skills."
The bard had never felt so alive. Her senses were reeling. She searched her companions expression to determine if she felt the same. As their eyes met, the dark-haired womans passion was clearly visible.
Unfortunately, Xena still seemed determined to get back to the village. Gabrielle watched her walk toward Argo and smiled mischievously. Playfully swinging her staff, she slapped her on the butt. The surprised warrior made a grab for the exuberant bard and missed. The young woman quickly sprinted in the other direction. The chase was on.
Gabrielle laughed unrestrained as she ran through the clearing. She could hear the sound of Xenas footfalls as the warrior quickly closed the gap between them. Suddenly, she felt the ground beneath her feet rumble.
Xena lunged toward her, calling out but it was too late. A large fissure opened beneath the bard, as if the earth meant to swallow her alive.
The startled blondes arms flailed desperately for something to grab... anything that would stop her fall. Her left hand closed on a root and she jerked to an abrupt stop, dangling helplessly. A searing pain radiated through her back and shoulder as torn muscles screamed. She couldnt hold on.
Just as she lost her grip, Xena caught the bottom edge of her top.
Leaning precariously into the pit, the warrior was dangerously off-balance. The bards weight was slowly pulling her in. With her free hand, she quickly reached for Gabrielles staff. As she slipped over the edge, she wedged it across the narrow opening.
Both women dangled over the chasm, the bards staff the only thing keeping them from plummeting into a hole that had no visible bottom.
Xena tensed as she felt the bards top slowly giving way. "Gabrielle, I havent got a good hold. You have to reach up and grab my hand."
As the bard raised her arm, pain once again shot through her back and shoulder. She groaned as it dropped uselessly to her side.
The warriors fingers clutched desperately at Gabrielles top as it slowly separated from the young womans body. In a last-ditch effort, she yanked the bard up, hurling her toward the surface. The top gave way, tearing from her body, weakening the toss.
Once again, Gabrielle grabbed for the edge, but the loose earth crumbled beneath her fingers and she tumbled backward into the pit. Xena reacted instantly, catching her around the waist, but the forceful jerk of the additional weight caused the ground at one end of the staff to give way, plummeting them both into darkness. ------
Gabrielle closed her eyes tightly and pushed the terrible memory back. When she finally opened them, Temira was watching her closely.
"It happened so fast. She she just fell."
The warlord raised her brows curiously but let the young womans lame explanation pass. "I want to meet with Saras immediately."
Gabrielles skin tingled as if the air were charged with energy. The warlords demeanor had changed; her manner was now powerful and commanding, eerily compelling. The bard found herself nodding almost mechanically in agreement.
While the warlord consulted Saras, Ephiny spoke with Gabrielle outside the cell. "What did she want in return for helping Xena?"
The queen had difficulty meeting her friends eyes. "I I need to talk to you privately."
The regent gave her a worried look. "Lets go to your hut then."
Unsure what the warrior might be able to hear and understand, Gabrielle was uncomfortable taking the chance.
"Uh no, Id rather we went to yours." Ephiny gave her a surprised look but followed the bard.
As soon as they were in the door Gabrielle sat down at the table. The regent took a seat beside her.
"Before I begin I need you to promise " She hesitated as the regent cast her an expectant glance. " promise that if Xena comes out of this, you will never repeat to her what Im going to tell you."
Ephiny looked at her doubtfully.
"I sorry to put you on the spot. If I could leave you out of this, I would, but I may need your help." Gabrielle waited nervously for her answer.
Ephiny shook her head and grimaced. "What makes me think that Im not going to like this?"
Gabrielle looked at her friend beseechingly.
The regent released a heavy breath. "Okay, my friend you have my word."
She took a breath and braced herself for the anger she knew would follow. "Temira wants me for her slave... if shes able to save Xena."
Ephiny stood in outrage. "What?!"
"She wants me to leave with her."
"You... you cant agree to that!"
"I already have," Gabrielle replied nervously.
"Tell her youve changed your mind."
"Its too late. Ive given her my word."
Ephiny shook her head in frustration. "Honor means nothing to her! Shell take pleasure in destroying you."
Her fingers gripped the table as she leaned toward the bard. "Dont do this!"
Gabrielles eyes pleaded for understanding. "I have to do whats best for Xena."
The regent shook her head sadly. "Have you considered that even if Xena lives, she may not be the same? That giving up your life to this woman would be for nothing?"
"Xenas life isnt nothing She "
Ephiny cut her off. "Xena wouldnt approve... and you know it."
"Its not her decision... or yours. Its mine," the bard said firmly.
"If Temira is able to revive her, Xena will never stand for this."
"She will if I tell her that I want to go if I tell her that that Im in love with Temira."
"Gabrielle, this is crazy! I cant let you make this sacrifice." She angrily hit the table with her fist. "Damn it, do you have any idea of the kind of things she could do to you? Shes ruthless!"
"I I know, but its the only answer."
"I swear, I kill her before I ever let her take you."
Gabrielle laid a calming hand on the regents arm. "Please, I dont want anyone else to be hurt. Temiras very confident. She doesnt seem at all concerned about retribution."
"Well see," Ephiny retorted hotly.
"I think theres more to this than what shows on the surface." Gabrielle said, hesitantly voicing her thoughts. "Why would she risk entering the village when she knew she would be arrested on sight?"
"Because she had something to gain. Thats the only reason she ever does anything."
"Theres more to it than that. It just a hunch, but I believe Temira came because of Xena. I think she still cares for her."
"She would say anything to get you to agree to this."
"I dont think so. She denied having any feelings for her."
"Temiras only saying what you want to hear. She can see youre in love with Xena. She knew youd agree to any terms she set."
"I think she knew Id do anything to save Xena... because she would, too."
"Shes manipulating you. Have you thought about what this will do to Xena?"
"Yes I I." It was too painful for the bard even to contemplate how hurt the warrior might be by her betrayal. "Its the only way I could get Temira to agree to help."
The regent shook her head in helpless frustration. "First my sister, and now you." She turned to hide the rush of emotion sweeping over her, clenching her fists at her sides.
Gabrielle softly touched her arm, urging her to listen. "I have to do this. Shes the only one who can give Xena a fighting chance." The bards voice was brimming with emotion.
"I... cant just let her die! I need you to understand... to help make this easier for Xena."
The regent stood in stony silence.
"You asked me what happened that night... the night Xena was hurt. The accident it was my fault. She was chasing me I led her right into it. And then when the earth opened beneath me, I... I couldnt hang on. The ground slipped through my fingers. I was the one who fell." The horror of the memory shone vividly in her eyes.
"Xena sacrificed herself for me. We both knew if she tried to catch me... Id take her with me. I cried out NO, as she reached for me. But it was useless I knew... beyond all doubt she would try to save me, regardless of the cost." Tears filled the bards eyes as she relived the nightmare.
"We fell... together, her arms wrapped tightly around me. I... I felt her shift, turning us in mid-air."
Gabrielle met Ephinys eyes, tears sliding down her cheeks. "She was positioning me so that her body would shield me." She took a shuddering breath.
"When she struck the ground, there was a terrible sound... I was sure her spine had snapped. We hit so hard that even with her beneath me, the air was forced from my lungs. When I finally caught my breath, I could feel her arms still locked protectively around me. But something was horribly wrong. She she was completely still. I couldnt even hear her breathing. When I pried myself loose from her grip, her arms dropped limply to the ground. I I thought she was dead that I had killed her in the fall." Gabrielles voice broke but she continued.
"The moonlight couldnt reach us. It was completely black. There was no way for me to see where she was injured. I felt a sticky wetness covering her scalp, but I couldnt tell if it was mud or her own blood. I... I didnt know how to help her. I tried so many times to climb out, but the walls were soft... impossible to scale. Ive never felt so helpless. I... I..."
Ephiny took Gabrielles trembling hands in her own and remained respectfully silent. The young womans eyes pleaded for her understanding. "If it were me, she would find a way. Please understand. I have to try."
The regent exhaled deeply and looked at her friend sympathetically. "I know." She squeezed Gabrielles hands comfortingly.
"I need your support... I dont know how Im going to tell her. How am I going to lie to her? I " The young womans voice broke.
Ephiny held her friend in a comforting embrace. "Itll be okay. Ill help in whatever way I can."
The regent was prepared to give her life if necessary to insure that the warlord didnt live long enough to stake her claim on the bard.
After a lengthy discussion with Saras, the guards escorted Temira to the warriors bedside. The warlord laid her hand on Xenas forehead and gently pushed back her eyelids. The pupils were fixed. She gingerly probed her scalp and neck.
Folding back the covers, she carefully ran her hands the length of Xenas torso, pressing her thumbs into various pressure points.
Gabrielle stood by in anxious silence. After a thorough examination, the warlord turned to her. "Xenas completely unresponsive that isnt good. She incurred a sharp blow behind the left ear. As I guessed, the trauma has caused swelling inside her skull, an accumulation of fluid. The pressure will have to be released if there is any hope of her surviving."
"How will you do that?"
"Ill have to puncture a small hole in her skull to drain the fluid."
Saras laid a hand on the queens arm. "At best, its a very dangerous procedure, but Im inclined to agree with Temiras assessment."
Gabrielle turned back to the warlord. "Have you ever done this successfully?"
"Yes, but not as many times as I have failed," she said honestly.
"Most have died?"
"No, most survive, at least for a short time, but only as shadows of their former selves, some not capable of even the simplest tasks."
Temira saw a flash of hesitation in the young womans eyes and shrugged coldly. "I never said this was without risks."
"All right then," Gabrielle relented. "Do what you can to help her."
Temira looked at her pointedly. "About our agreement... The deal was if she survives. I cant make any guarantee that she will be as she was. There may already be brain damage."
Gabrielle nodded sadly in understanding.
The warlord pulled a set of unusual instruments from her pack and lined them up on the bedside table. Their points and edges were ominously sharp.
The bard could hardly tear her eyes from the sinister-looking devices. She struggled to keep her anxiety from showing. "I expect you to keep Saras and me apprised of everything you plan to do."
Temira smiled at her wariness and explained the procedure as she mixed a variety of herbs in a small bowl.
"Will it be painful for her?"
"Those who have survived mentally intact have no memory of it." Temira shrugged. "Anyway, what does it matter? Shell die if nothings done."
Gabrielle looked to Saras for reassurance.
"I doubt she feels much of anything in this state," the healer commented.
Temira handed a piece of parchment to the queen. "These are the plans for a frame that Xena must be secured to." Gabrielle glanced at it nervously. The wooden structure would restrict the warriors movement completely. She knew Xena would hate it.
Seeing her hesitation, Temira explained further. "It will allow her to be turned as need be without causing further injury, and although its not likely shell awaken during the procedure, this will insure that she remains immobile. The slightest movement could cause irreparable damage." The warlord looked about the room, quickly appraising it. "Ill need better light. Someone will have to open a hole in the roof."
Ephiny laid her hands over the bards and took the diagram. "Ill see that everything is taken care of."
Gabrielle nodded gratefully.
After the regent had left the room, Temira raised her shackled hands and smiled wryly at the queen. "Of course, these will have to be removed."
Gabrielle pulled the key from her belt and approached the warlord. As she inserted it into the lock, she gripped Temiras wrist and issued a warning. "Theres nothing I wouldnt do to protect her... nothing." Her point made, she turned the key and released the shackles.
The warlord regarded her thoughtfully. There was no hint of reservation in the young womans eyes. Her intuition told her that Gabrielle would back up her words in a heartbeat.
Temira rubbed her wrists and turned to the healer. "Ill need several basins of water and alcohol to clean both the wound and my instruments." Saras poured fresh water in one bowl and opened a drawer to retrieve the alcohol.
"I would like to help," Gabrielle offered.
Temira eyed the queen skeptically, certain that the sheltered young woman would be useless once real blood began to flow. "A spot to the left her ear will need to be shaved and her hair should be tied up out of the way. Think you can handle that?"
Gabrielle ignored the barb and nodded, grateful to be of some assistance. She parted Xenas hair away from the wound site and used the warriors breast dagger to cut away a small block of hair. Placing the long, silky strands on the table near the bed, she began carefully shaving her.
Her scalp was swollen and badly bruised.
Although Xena never moved and appeared to feel no pain, Gabrielle tried to be as gentle as she could. Once she had finished, she braided the hair and pinned it out of the way.
Within a candlemark poultices were prepared, the frame built, and the room made ready.
"I need four strong women to turn her as need be." Looking at the queen, she added, "the rest of you will have to leave."
"Im staying," Gabrielle insisted.
The warlord opened her mouth to argue, but the look of determination in the young womans eyes stopped her. "So be it."
Temira bound Xena tightly to the frame, using thick leather straps. Gabrielle watched anxiously. Xena looked frighteningly like a prisoner about to undergo some bizarre torture. The bard squeezed her eyes closed at the thought and silently prayed she was doing the right thing.
"All right, were ready to begin." The warlord signaled for the Amazons standing at the corners of the frame to turn her. Once Xena was in place, Gabrielle took a seat on the other side of the bed, watching Temira intently.
The warlord was completely focused on her task. Even though Gabrielle was unfamiliar with the procedure, Temiras skill was obvious. Her hands were graceful and meticulous. She worked tirelessly for several candlemarks until she was satisfied with the results. Using her collection of bizarre tools, she had bored a small hole in the warriors skull.
After the crude surgery was completed, Temira inserted a hollow reed into the tiny opening to allow the wound to drain. Xena was then turned to her back with a small bowl placed under the reed.
The tension eased out of Gabrielles shoulders when Temira sat upright. She was about to question the warlord when Temira closed her eyes and laid her hands on Xenas face. The bard watched as the warlords expression softened.
Temira appeared to be in a trance-like state. Her hands lifted, barely making contact. Gabrielle could feel a tingling on the surface of Xenas skin as she held the warriors hand. She watched the strange ritual with wonder. After some time, the warlord lifted her hands and opened her eyes.
"Now we wait." Temira sighed, then stood to stretch her cramped shoulders. "Hopefully, when the swelling goes down shell regain consciousness."
"How long could it take?"
"It varies. But, regardless, I should stay with her through the night." The queen nodded her consent.
Before Ephiny and the others left, two guards were positioned on either side of the door, inside and out. The regent wasnt taking any chances with her friends safety.
Gabrielle and Temira sat beside Xena on opposite sides of the bed. The room was uncomfortably quiet.
The warlord spoke first, breaking the uneasy silence. "You were actually a help today," she reluctantly admitted. "I expected you to pass out when I made the first incision."
In spite of her exhaustion, Gabrielles sense of humor prevailed. "Thanks I think."
Temira nodded. "I see youre no stranger to the sight of blood."
"Unfortunately, Ive seen a lot of it in my travels with Xena. Ive had to stitch her up on more occasions than I care to remember."
"Yes, I noticed she had some new scars. Crude work."
Gabrielle shrugged at the warlords insult. "Well, its not exactly my profession of choice."
"Kind of an odd sideline for a bard. Isnt it?"
"I guess it is," she admitted. "You know what they say about necessity "
Temira nodded and looked down at the warrior. "Even after all these years, she still has a magnificent body."
Gabrielle couldnt help smiling at the warlords uncharacteristic remark. "Youll get no argument from me."
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