The Enchantment

by Friction
wlw@penn.com

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LEGAL DISCLAIMER:

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Ephiny and all other character who have appeared in the syndicated series are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

LOVE/SEX WARNING DISCLAIMER:

This story graphically depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, stop now, save yourself the time and aggravation. There are many stories out there to choose from.

VIOLENCE DISCLAIMER:

As far as Xena goes, the violence is minimal. No lives were lost. There is some emotional violence, but not to the extent that any of the characters needed to seek out psychiatric counseling.

AUTHOR’S APOLOGY:

This is my first attempt at fan fiction. The plot is sparse at best. It’s basically another ‘first time’ love story. (What can I say. I’m a sucker for these.) The story is a blatant tease with a bit of a wicked twist. (Hey, half the fun is getting there.)

NOTE:

Having no writing experience, I was extremely reluctant to post this. My partner, and infinitely patient proof reader encouraged me until I relented. Let me know what you think. I welcome comments or constructive criticism at wlw@penn.com. Please refrain from sending homophobic comments. They will be ignored. For those adventurous enough to continue, thanks.

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Part I

Gabrielle could not remember when she felt so relaxed, so happy. Although Xena had reluctantly agreed to this short visit with the Amazons, it seemed to be benefiting her as well. Over the past few days, Gabrielle had noticed a change in Xena’s behavior. Her posture was more comfortable. All outward appearances of anxiety were gone from the warrior.

She thought about how difficult the past months had been for Xena. Circumstances had necessitated that she be in a state of constant readiness. Xena distanced herself from the bard in an attempt to stay focused on the problems at hand, acting more detached and aloof than usual. Their friendship had suffered as a result. Now, in this peaceful village, their interactions with each other seemed less strained. Things were definitely better.

It was wonderful to look into her friend’s eyes and not see the edgy tension she had come to expect. In fact, she found it wonderful to gaze into those blue eyes regardless of their condition. As she sat watching Xena spar, she knew she could be content to look at nothing but Xena her entire life.

Ephiny watched the warriors practice from a discrete distance and smiled lightly to herself. A line of eager Amazons waited patiently to take their turn sparring against Xena . The lessons they would learn made the soreness and bruising well worth while. The Amazons knew Xena was an excellent instructor and they were eager to benefit from her vast experience, regardless of the physical cost.

Ephiny caught sight of Gabrielle in her peripheral vision. She noticed a warm glow in the young woman’s expression as she watched her companion patiently train student after student. Not that Xena wasn’t spectacular to observe. Ephiny found herself gazing upon Xena on occasion, but it was obviously different for Gabrielle. It was amazing to her that Xena hadn’t noticed, or maybe she had and attributed it to hero worship. It seemed Xena was one of the few people left that regarded Gabrielle as young and naive. Gabrielle had certainly proven over and over that she was mature and capable. Maybe Xena had reasons for needing to retain her view.

Ephiny walked over to Gabrielle. "She seems much more at ease than when you first arrived."

Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "We both needed a break." She focused her attention back on her companion. The look on her face made Ephiny suddenly envious of Xena.

A small crowd had gathered around the practice range, all eyes intent on Xena. "We should have sold tickets," Ephiny said wryly.

Gabrielle spoke with sincerity. "Yeah, and I would have been first in line. I never tire of watching her. I love the way she moves." A lovely flush rose to her cheeks. "I mean… she is so graceful."

Ephiny gave her a knowing smile. "Gabrielle, let’s go for a walk."

"Okay," Gabrielle said, reluctantly shifting her gaze from Xena. Ephiny reached for her hand and pulled her to her feet.

Xena glanced up from the action as Gabrielle straightened her skirt, getting ready to leave.

Gabrielle called to her. "I’ll see you at lunch time."

Xena nodded, never missing a beat. She knocked her opponent on her butt. The brief distraction was all she needed to assert her advantage.

*****

Gabrielle and Ephiny walked a secluded forest path. The bard, generally awkward with silence, spoke first. "So, was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"

Ephiny hesitated, wondering if she should mind her own business. "Gabrielle, we have known each other for quite a while. I consider you a close friend."

Gabrielle turned to face Ephiny and lightly touched her arm. "Thank you. I consider you a good friend too, to both Xena and myself. Is there something I can help you with?"

"No, it’s... well I don’t want to pry... I mean I don’t mean to..."

Gabrielle smiled nervously. "What is it? You can ask me anything. I’m not sure I’ll have the answer, but I’ll try."

Ephiny tried to think of an easy segue to the subject and failed. She decided to come right to the point. "How long have you been in love with her?"

"What?" It was the last question Gabrielle had expected.

Ephiny repeated her question. "How long have you been in love with Xena?"

Gabrielle blushed profusely and turned away. For a fleeting moment she considered denying it. "I... I... is it really that obvious?"

Ephiny laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and shifted to face her. "I don’t think *she* knows, if that’s what you mean. But, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who has picked up on it."

"Xena seems completely unaware of my attraction to her. I spend so much time alone with her... I guess I have become a little careless. I never thought any one else would notice. I didn’t think how it might look to other people. How embarrassing." Gabrielle groaned and sat on a log, covering her face with her hands.

Ephiny sat beside her. "It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I am just a little worried about you. I... I don’t want to see you unhappy. I know it’s none of my business."

Gabrielle looked up and shrugged. "I appreciate your concern. It’s kind of a relief to be able to talk to someone about it." Gabrielle folded her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking. "It’s something I have learned to live with. But lately, it has been more difficult. My feelings seem so much stronger, closer to the surface. I’m just going to have to deal with it quietly. What else can I do?"

Ephiny took her hand. "Well, you could tell her how you feel. I’ve always thought it best to be honest with the people you care about."

"No, I couldn’t. She doesn’t have those kinds of feelings for me."

"Are you sure?"

"I watch her pretty closely, I think I would know if she felt anything. I don’t even know if she has ever been with... is interested in women." Gabrielle picked nervously at a loose piece of bark.

"I think it’s fairly safe to assume that she has... and is. There are a lot of stories... I mean I don’t think lack of experience is a problem for Xena." Ephiny smiled but tried to be as tactful as possible.

"Great, I guess it’s just me she’s not interested in," Gabrielle said with a weak smile.

"I think you will never know unless you talk to her."

"It’s too risky. What if she’s offended, or so uncomfortable that she doesn’t want to be around me anymore? Ephiny, it would kill me. I need her in my life, even if we’re only friends. I... her friendship is everything to me."

"There is risk in silence, too. If she thinks she doesn’t have a chance with you, it might leave her open to meet someone else. If she doesn’t know how you truly feel... then there is no chance."

"Don’t think I don’t live in dread of that. Although for quite some time, she hasn’t shown an interest in anyone in that way. She has been working so hard, keeping herself so busy helping other people, she hasn’t had time for anything else."

"Did you ever think that’s not accidental? That she keeps herself busy so that she won’t be tempted?"

"But why would she do that?"

"Maybe having you by her side… is the temptation."

"What, me? No, I can’t believe it. She has never shown any indication..."

"Xena is very good at hiding her feelings. Are you sure you haven’t missed something? It’s quite obvious to everyone that she cares about you very much. Maybe more than you know."

"Ephiny, I just can’t.... There’s more... I mean... I wouldn’t know what to do." Her face felt very hot again. "I’ve never been with anyone."

"Well, you were married, that’s a start."

Gabrielle looked down at her boots and rubbed her forehead with her hand. She spoke softly, unable to look up. "We never... it was a long day and I had a lot to drink. I think I was running away from the feelings I had for Xena. The wedding was a terrible mistake. Anyway, I never... I don’t have any experience."

"I have found that experimenting... errr… getting to know your partner is half the fun," Ephiny said, trying to cheer up her friend.

"Yeah, but sometimes I wonder if the reason Xena doesn’t notice me is because I’m so naive about these things." Gabrielle hesitated, feeling a little awkward. "There has never been anyone I felt I could talk to about being with a... a woman."

Ephiny smiled in understanding. "It just so happens you’re in the right place, we have the best information around on that topic. Let’s walk back to my hut. I have some scrolls I think you might find quite helpful."

Gabrielle beamed. "Thanks, Ephiny, this means a lot to me."

*****

Gabrielle was so immersed in her reading that she lost all track of time. She never heard Xena enter.

"Hey, I thought we were going to have lunch?"

She jumped, letting the scroll roll closed. "Ah, sorry I was so wrapped up in the scrolls I forgot." She couldn’t bring herself to look Xena in the eye.

"Must be some story to make you forget about your stomach." Xena smiled and walked toward her.

Gabrielle got up quickly. "Now that you mention it, I am pretty hungry."

"Now, that’s the Gabrielle I know." She laughed and put her arm around her friend’s shoulder as

they headed out of the hut toward the dining area. "So, what story were you reading that was so fascinating?"

"Well, it wasn’t a story, exactly." Gabrielle tried to keep the nervousness she felt from finding its way to her voice. "They are kind of educational scrolls. I’m trying to learn more about ...the Amazon culture, so I can... so I can have a more thorough understanding of what they like. I mean what they are like."

"Sounds like pretty dry reading to me."

"Hmmm." Gabrielle decided it was best not to comment further. Instead she began piling her plate high with food. "So how did the sparring go?"

Xena smiled at the size of her friend’s portions. "It was a good workout. I enjoy teaching them. They are so quick to pick things up." She made her way to a private table.

"That’s a reflection on your teaching ability, I think," Gabrielle stated proudly. She envisioned Xena enthusiastically working with each student. Suddenly, the thought of Xena interacting with all those beautiful women made her a little edgy. "Anybody stand apart from the crowd?"

"Nah, you’re still my best pupil."

"Really?" She could not suppress a smile. It lit up her face. Compliments from her friend were few and far between, so they always meant a lot to her.

"You have gotten quite good, in a short time. You could easily handle most of the women I worked with today and they weren’t at all bad."

"Gee, thanks."

"Maybe you could help me give a demonstration tomorrow morning."

"Sure, that would be great." Gabrielle felt terrific. She attacked her meal with relish.

Xena silently laughed and shook her head. She had never seen anyone enjoy food as much as her friend. "After lunch, I promised to take a watch on the southern perimeter."

Gabrielle briefly thought of asking to go along. She hesitated remembering Xena’s need for solitude. "I’ll see you later then."

Xena smiled, grateful for some time to herself.

Gabrielle chattered about village gossip through lunch until it was time for Xena to leave. Her eyes followed the warrior until she was out of sight.

*****

Gabrielle spent the rest of the day reading. Some of the scrolls were strictly educational, many others were erotic lesbian love stories with rather graphic descriptions. Somewhere deep inside, they struck a cord with her, made feelings surface that she had not known were there. Gabrielle realized over the past few months that something had awakened in her… something wonderful.

She had never thought of herself as a lesbian. Those things were never spoken of in her small village. Although she had always been a misfit, the pieces had never come together for her. She had shown an interest in boys out of a need to fit in, out of a curiosity to discover what all the fuss was about. There had never been any true attraction.

As she read these stories and visualized Xena and herself, she began to understand for the first time what the fuss was about. She had always viewed her attraction to Xena in the abstract, since she had no past experience. Now her mind seemed to run rampant with fantasies of how things could be between them. She was sexually aroused in a way she had never dreamed possible. She was painfully aware of new sensations and deeply felt urges. She put the scrolls neatly on the shelves and headed for her hut and a nice hot bath.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts, that she was startled by Xena’s voice close behind her.

"Didn’t you hear me? I called to you several times."

"Ah, sorry I was just thinking. I’m kind of tired."

"Must be all that reading," Xena smirked.

"Hmm." Gabrielle turned her head away to hide the flush she felt rise to her face. "Well, I’m going to take a hot bath. I’ll see you later." She wondered suddenly if it should be a cold bath.

"Hey, you mind sharing? Not all the accommodations here come with hot baths. I think they reserve that honor for the queen."

Gabrielle’s breath caught. Her heart began hammering loudly in her chest, causing a ringing in her ears. She suddenly felt light-headed. Surely Xena could hear it pounding. Gabrielle was flooded with anxiety. She could not imagine how she would conceal her feelings from Xena if they shared a bath.

Xena looked at her with a sly smile. "So what do you say?"

"Ah, sure," were the only words she could strangle from her throat.

"Great," Xena tapped her on the back. "You go first. Come and get me when you’re done."

Gabrielle released a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. She was not sure if she was disappointed or relieved.

Back in her hut, she washed herself quickly. Then allowed herself to lounge decadently in the water. It was a luxury she rarely experienced. She laid back in the tub allowing the warm water to soothe her. She thought back to the story she had read earlier. She was filled with a desire to experience what she had read. She slowly brought her hand between her legs and gently parted her lips, letting her fingers slide through the moisture she found there. So slick and creamy that the water surrounding her felt like warm air in comparison. This fluid was true wetness.

She closed her eyes as she moved her fingers over her swollen nub. "Mmmm," her fingers felt wonderful against her. She pictured Xena. Tried to imagine that her fingers were Xena’s. She felt an incredible tension building deep inside her. She quickened her movements, then slowed them, remembering what she had read about the benefits of allowing the pleasure to build. The sensations were so delicious. If only it were Xena. She could visualize the endless blue of Xena’s eyes. She imagined Xena bending to kiss her. Suddenly, she was exploding into a world of sensation. Her body spasmed as she felt herself falling, floating. The sweetest exhaustion swept over her unlike any she had never known. She felt herself drifting to sleep. Everything slipped away and it was just she and Xena.

A loud knock at the door startled her awake.

"Gabrielle, aren’t you done yet?"

"Yeah, I just ..." She climbed out of the tub and wrapped herself in a towel. She tried quickly to collect herself. "Yeah, I’m done. Come in."

Xena was dressed only in her shift. She attempted not to look, but it was extremely difficult to tear her eyes away. She glanced up quickly to see if the warrior had noticed her attentions. Xena was oblivious.

"I hope you saved me some hot water." In a motion so fluid and uninhibited that it startled Gabrielle, she discarded the shift and stepped into the water. Xena’s naked body was a rare sight for Gabrielle. She took a deep breath and struggled for control. "So tell me what have you learned about Amazon culture."

Gabrielle’s mind went blank. "Uhhh...... just the usual stuff." Xena’s taller form was not as submerged as her own, leaving her breasts partially exposed. They rested sensually on the water. Gabrielle swallowed hard. A shiver ran down her spine.

"You had better dry off and get something on or you’re liable to catch cold." Xena’s voice brought her back and she quickly toweled off and put on her own shift. Xena looked at her with a concerned expression. "Is everything okay? You seem a little quiet tonight."

Her mind raced. Oh, everything’s terrific. I just experienced my first orgasm. Wish you could have been there, but you *were* the focus of my fantasy. "Yes, I’m fine, just a little tired. How was guard duty?"

"All’s quiet. But I did have an interesting experience. I was crouched by a tree when I heard a deer approaching. I thought the village could use some venison and was ready to release my chakram, when I saw the deer was white, totally white. She was beautiful, Gabrielle. I wish you had been there to see her."

"Me too, I’ve never seen an albino deer before."

"As soon as I saw her, I thought of you. I knew you would appreciate her beauty, her uniqueness."

Gabrielle’s spirits brightened. The idea of Xena thinking about her as the warrior stood guard alone in the woods pleased her. "Xena, could we walk in the woods tomorrow? Maybe we will run across her."

"Sure. Now, how about scrubbing my back?" Xena said tossing a soapy cloth in Gabrielle’s direction.

Gabrielle managed to catch it but soap suds sprayed her face when it collided with her open palms. "Hey!" Gabrielle complained. "Ouch! I’ve got soap in my eye."

"I’m sorry , I got a little over zealous. Come here." Xena cupped her hand into the clean bucket of water beside the tub. She stood and cradled her other hand behind the bard’s neck. "Tilt your head back." Gently, she rinsed the eye. "There. Is that better?" Gabrielle opened her eyes and gradually focused on the woman before her. Xena stood, rivulets of water cascading down her bronzed skin. She was magnificent.

Gabrielle cleared her throat to answer. "Yeah, now turn around so I can get your back." Free from Xena’s scrutiny, she allowed herself a moment to take in the sight of her extraordinary companion. She could feel the taut muscles of her back through the cloth. She rubbed slowly, gently, reveling in the task.

"Come on, I can’t be that dirty," Xena quipped. Gabrielle smiled mischievously and stopped, allowing Xena to drop down to rinse. Suddenly, she slid both hands up to Xena’s shoulders as if she were going to continue scrubbing and forcefully pushed her under. Xena surfaced immediately.

Gabrielle wasn’t sure which one of them was more surprised. She smiled broadly. "Actually, your hair needed washing too." She took a quick step to back away but Xena caught her by the wrist. In a movement too fast to follow, she pulled Gabrielle toward her and dumped her into the bath.

They splashed each other playfully until there was almost more water on the floor than in the tub. Their laughter was unrestrained. "I got you. Didn’t I?" Gabrielle said triumphantly.

Xena climbed out of the tub and wrapped herself in a dry towel. She looked at Gabrielle curiously. "Yes you did, my bard." She grabbed her shift and headed out the door. "I’ll see you at the training field bright and early tomorrow."

Gabrielle stood in the now cool water dripping wet, with a smile on her face. * My bard* she thought. I like that. I like that a lot.

*****

Xena was already practicing when Gabrielle arrived. The bard had tried more of her newly acquired skills alone in bed and had a difficult time waking up.

"It’s about time. You must have had trouble getting out of bed with that swelled head." Xena smiled, referring to her dunking last night. "We’ll see who gets who today, ready?"

Gabrielle came up beside Xena, raising her staff in acknowledgment. She found herself immediately on the defensive, but managed to block the majority of Xena’s blows. For a moment she thought Xena was going easy on her. But it occurred to her that she had indeed improved. The moves had become second nature to her and her muscles took the hard blows with little complaint. Her confidence surged.

She stepped back, as if succumbing to the force of the blows and bent agilely at the knees making a sweep for Xena’s legs. It was an unexpected move and although Xena was able to correct for it, she was out of position and took a mild blow to the hip. Xena smiled with pride. Gabrielle dropped her staff and without thinking hugged her companion in her excitement.

Xena laughed as they heard clapping all around them. Gabrielle had been the first person to land a blow against Xena thus far. Xena ruffled her hair. "Good job." Gabrielle beamed. Xena wanted to build the bard’s confidence further. "Who will volunteer to be her next victim?" The women had already formed a line and eagerly stepped up to spar with Gabrielle.

Xena stood back watching, her expression unreadable. Ephiny came up alongside of Xena. "She has become a force to be reckoned with, hasn’t she?" Xena nodded and watched Gabrielle maneuver with a clinical detachment. "She’s hardly that naive young woman I first met." Ephiny commented. "She’s become a competent fighter with a lean, strong body. A beautiful woman."

Xena turned to see Ephiny rather brazenly gaze at Gabrielle. Xena regarded Ephiny curiously, then glanced at the many spectators who seemed to be watching Gabrielle with more than an educational interest. She then turned back to watch her companion through slightly different eyes. Yes, Xena thought *she has changed and somehow she had missed it.*

At breakfast, they were besieged with young Amazons. They all wanted to praise Gabrielle and get her advice. Xena was uneasy. She tried to understand her discomfort. Gabrielle always had people gathering around her, before and after telling stories. She was a people person: friendly, talkative, and extremely approachable. That was nothing new. But now something was different. These women were not interested in a young woman with wonderful story-telling ability, they were interested in Gabrielle, the woman. Something tugged at Xena from the inside. She was concerned at this new development. She visualized Gabrielle as a lamb completely out of her element, surrounded by wolves.

Xena waited patiently for an opening in the commotion. "Come on, let’s see if we can catch sight of that deer." She grabbed her friend’s hand and led the way to the door, clearing a path as she went. Ephiny smiled from across the room, wondering if the seed she had planted had begun to grow.

*****

They walked quietly until they were close to the area she had seen the deer the previous day. She motioned for Gabrielle to sit beside her next to a tree. Xena leaned against the tree and closed her eyes.

Gabrielle watched the rhythmic rise and fall of the warrior’s chest as she breathed. She thought about how things had changed between them over the last couple of years. How Xena had become more comfortable with her talking and she had become more comfortable in Xena’s silence. It was a nice balance. She could not help thinking how well they complemented each other. She laid back on the warm ground and closed her eyes.

She was just beginning to doze when she felt Xena clasp her hand. She awoke to see blue eyes gazing at her. Xena’s finger was pressed to her lips in a gesture for quiet. Slowly she stood up and Gabrielle joined her. Xena stood on tip toes and peered over the brush. She pointed. Gabrielle mimicked her actions but was not tall enough to see and shrugged. Xena pointed to a branch above them and laced her hands together. Gabrielle placed her foot in the step formed by Xena’s hands. The warrior gracefully lifted her up. She sat down noiselessly on the branch overhead.

Xena watched as Gabrielle’s eyes filled with wonderment. They observed the animal for several minutes until a breeze carried their scent to the deer causing her to raise her head cautiously and then bolt.

"Oh Xena, she is incredible." She looked down at Xena with tears in her eyes. "Thanks for sharing this with me." The deer was a wondrous sight and so rare in nature. As she looked down, she thought how like the deer Xena was: beautiful, unequaled.

Gabrielle saw Xena lift her arms up to catch her and slowly slid off the branch. Xena’s hands grasped her securely at the waist and lowered her slowly to the ground. Gabrielle could not help but think how easy it would be to put her hands on the tall woman’s shoulders on the way down and pull her in for a kiss. Instead, she stepped back and felt a blush come to her cheeks. She thought for a moment she saw Xena stiffen.

"I was thinking about heading out tomorrow," Xena said.

Gabrielle hated the idea of leaving so soon. She shrugged, not able to disguise her disappointment. "Okay, if that’s what you want."

Suddenly Xena felt guilty. Why was she asking Gabrielle to leave so soon? Why was she feeling so uncomfortable lately? "Look, I’m getting a little restless, that’s all. I could leave you here for a while. Stop back in a few weeks and get you." What was she saying? She didn’t want to leave without Gabrielle, especially now the way so many of the women were looking at her. She was so na´ve compared to her Amazon sisters. But even as these thoughts ran through her mind, Xena realized how unwarranted they were. Gabrielle was their queen, surely she would be safe.

Gabrielle panicked. A deep seeded fear clutched at her. What if Xena got hurt while traveling alone or decided not to return for her for some reason. "No, really I’m ready to leave too. We could head out tomorrow."

They walked back in relative silence. Both trying to sort out their feelings. As they entered the village, Xena broke the silence, tapping her friend on the shoulder. "How about some lunch?"

"No thanks, I think I’ll stop and spend some time with Ephiny since we’re leaving tomorrow. I’ll meet you for dinner."

Xena looked puzzled. "Fine. I’ll go see to Argo and meet you later." She noticed how quickly Gabrielle turned to leave her, anxiously heading toward Ephiny’s hut. The warrior walked toward the stables, trying to sort out her conflicting emotions.

*****

Gabrielle knocked before entering Ephiny’s hut. The reigning queen opened the door and motioned Gabrielle to come in.

"Leave it open. It’s getting warm in here. So, tell me how’s it going with Xena."

"No change that I can tell. I need your help. She wants to leave tomorrow." Gabrielle said dejectedly.

"Maybe she is beginning to get uncomfortable having you around so many women who desire you."

"Me?" Gabrielle laughed.

Did you ever think that part of the reason Xena doesn’t see you as a mature desirable woman is because you don’t see yourself that way? Believe me. You are. And many of our villagers find you attractive."

"No." Gabrielle shook her head doubtfully.

"Yes, I’m one of them."

"Really?" Gabrielle looked at her momentarily stunned.

"Truly, and I’m not alone. If you spent more time looking at women other than Xena, you would have realized it long ago."

"I... I..." Gabrielle was completely surprised by this information. She sat in contemplation.

"I’m going to throw a party tonight. Since we don’t know when we will see you and Xena again, I want to send you off right."

"Thanks Ephiny, that would be great."

"I think you should preside over the event as Queen. I have a special costume in mind. I will have it sent to your hut."

"What kind of costume?"

"Something I think even Xena will notice."

"Ephiny, I don’t know about this." Gabrielle was beginning to feel a little nervous.

"Do you want my help or not?" Ephiny smiled rather wickedly.

Gabrielle laughed reluctantly. "Why do I get the feeling that I could live to regret this?"

"I have a plan of sorts." Ephiny winked and continued. "First make sure you don’t drink any alcohol. You might need to have your wits about you. Second, for one night forget about Xena. Concentrate on focusing your attention on other women. I’m sure you will have many opportunities." Gabrielle looked horrified. "I’m not telling you to go through with anything , of course that’s always your prerogative. Just be sure to notice them and speak with them. If you find it difficult, try to think of it as collecting material for a story. Take in all the details. I think you will be surprised."

"I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the third part of the plan?" Gabrielle asked wincing.

"It depends. How have you been coming along with your reading?"

Ephiny grinned mischievously and Gabrielle groaned playfully. "Well, I do have a few questions for you Ephiny, since you asked. Do you do demonstrations?" Her grin disappeared and it was Gabrielle’s turn to smile. By the time they got to part four which included a brief demonstration, they were laughing and carrying on so that their voices carried outside the hut.

As Xena approached, she could hear peels of laughter coming from inside Ephiny’s hut. She walked through the open door and stopped in her tracks. Something in the exchange she observed between them made her uncomfortable. It was more than friendly. Ephiny seemed overly physical and all too familiar with Gabrielle.

Xena coughed loudly, making her presence known. They both looked up. "I brought you some lunch, thought you might be hungry." Suddenly she felt as awkward as a school girl. She stood holding the plate of food, feeling like an intruder.

Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "Wow, I am hungry! It looks terrific. Thanks." She ran her hand softly down Xena’s arm before taking the plate. This was also part of Ephiny’s plan. More physical contact. Nothing major, just frequent contact, casual contact, innocent contact. The idea was to leave a physical impression, even if slight.

Ephiny smiled. The girl was certainly a quick study. She found herself feeling a little sorry for the distress Xena would soon begin to experience. Unless her heart was made of stone, the warrior didn’t stand a chance.

******

Xena sat back and waited for Gabrielle as the festivities unfolded before her. She had already sampled the food. It was good. She knew several things Gabrielle would love. She would have to point them out to her. She leaned back against a tree and listened. There was something compelling about Amazon drumming. The music was low and seductive.

Suddenly, she heard a murmuring hum through the crowd. Xena turned to see the cause. She nearly dropped her plate. It was Gabrielle. Her hair was styled differently, it looked fuller, wavy. She was dressed in a very revealing outfit. The top was a single thin strip of a dark aqua material. It was cinched in the middle, then widened just enough to cover her breasts and tied in the back. The skirt was in a matching color, longer than the one she usually wore, with a dramatic slit up to her hip on one side. As far as the warrior could tell, there was nothing underneath it.

Xena swallowed hard. She had seen her friend dressed in skimpy clothes before, but it always looked like play acting… like a child dressed in her mother’s clothes. She was no child in this outfit. Xena fought the urge to cover her with something. She waited for Gabrielle to approach her. To Xena’s surprise, she never did. Surrounded by women, Gabrielle made her way to the other side of the fire.

Xena watched as several women engaged the bard in conversation. Another woman handed Gabrielle a plate of food. The bard smiled at her gratefully. Xena put down her own plate, suddenly not hungry. She waited for Gabrielle to look her way but she never did. She was preoccupied. There were women sitting on either side of Gabrielle. Xena felt distressed at the way they were looking at her friend. Gabrielle seemed oblivious to their true intent. It was all the warrior could do to stay where she was and not interfere. Feeling extremely uneasy, Xena got up to leave. It wasn’t the desire to protect her friend that made her uncomfortable but a deeper urge that disturbed her. She was just about ready to go for a long walk when Ephiny approached her.

"Xena, I hope you’re not leaving the party already?"

"I was going to take a walk."

"Oh, come on. Sit and have a drink with me. Who knows when we will get to see each other again?" She made sure to position herself so that Xena had a clear view of Gabrielle. "Here, my friend, drink up." She handed Xena a large mug of wine, hoping to keep her from running off before the show was over.(she had taken the bait)(Gabrielle had a chance to set the hook) "Not much for celebrations, huh?" She poked Xena lightly in the ribs.

Xena took a long drink. "No, but I appreciate the gesture." She could not even force a smile.

"Now Gabrielle, she really enjoys this. Just look at her. She’s really in her element."

Xena could not stop looking. She took another swig nearly finishing the mug. "Yeah, I guess." She was watching the woman to Gabrielle’s left, who was using her hands expressively as she talked to Gabrielle. The Amazon never missed an opportunity to touch the bard when making a point. Finally she let a hand come to rest on Gabrielle’s thigh.

"Gods I never knew she had such a figure!" Ephiny exclaimed. "Look at the crowd around her. She’s the most popular woman here." Ephiny noticed that Xena’s eyes never left the bard.

Xena never heard her. She finished the last of her drink and strode over to the bard.

"Xena!" Gabrielle greeted her happily." Despite the constant attention she was receiving, she had missed the warrior’s company. She had longed for her nearness. "What a great party. I’m having so much fun."

"That’s nice, Gabrielle. I think Ephiny wanted to speak with you ." Gabrielle excused herself and started toward Ephiny. When the touchy-feely woman got up to follow Gabrielle, Xena stepped in front of her. Her icy blue eyes burned into the woman. She spoke only two words: "Back off." But, the tone of her voice made her meaning clear. The woman left the festivities and retired to her hut for the night.

Xena could not believe what she had done. Never in their years together had she interfered in Gabrielle’s life in this way. She was angry with herself and confused. She grabbed a flask of wine and headed toward the woods.

*****

Xena rose early and made the necessary preparations to leave. Gabrielle was up early also and in no time they were saying their good-byes.

Gabrielle and Ephiny embraced. "I think we made some dents in that armor. I wish you luck." Ephiny whispered.

She released Gabrielle and turned to Xena. "Don’t wait so long to visit the next time." Xena merely nodded.

Xena was immensely relieved to be leaving. She longed to immerse herself in what was familiar. She hoped things would return to what she had come to regard as routine. At the same time she feared that although she might be able to ignore certain changes, she was not sure if Gabrielle was willing or able to do the same.

If Gabrielle was sad to go, she did not show it. She walked behind Xena and Argo as always, chattering away. She told Xena about all the things that had happened at the celebration, giving very detailed descriptions. It filled the warrior with hope. Xena felt more at ease with each mile they traveled. Things seemed to be returning to normal and she for one couldn’t be happier.

About midday they came to a clearing. Xena spotted something in the distance and decided to surprise her friend. She dismounted Argo and asked Gabrielle to wait. She walked about 100 feet through the clearing to a patch of strawberries. She was just about to pick some when her instincts caused her to spin around.

"Ares."

"Xena, it’s been a while." His powerful voice filled the clearing.

"Not nearly long enough. What do you want?"

He ignored her question. "I see you still haven’t managed to shed that pesky little brat."

"Just leave her out of it."

Gabrielle heard his voice and approached quietly behind him.

He turned to face the bard, not surprised in the least. "Ah, but she’s already in it isn’t she? Tell me, Gabrielle, does Xena know just how far in it you are?"

Gabrielle blushed and tightened her grip on her staff, taking a defensive posture. They stared hard at each other, Ares making it clear to the young woman that he would never allow Gabrielle the kind of hold on Xena that she wanted.

Ares pulled his sword. "That piece of wood will never protect you from me." He raised his eyebrow and nodded, his head mocking her.

Xena flipped over him, placing herself between them. "No, but I’m sure this will." Xena growled, drawing her sword. Ares’ chilling laugh distracted her and she did not notice Strife appear behind Gabrielle until she heard him draw his sword. Xena turned to take action, giving Ares the opening he needed. He brought the hilt of his sword down on the warrior’s head. The last thing she heard was Gabrielle scream her name.

 

Part II

Gradually Xena regained consciousness. Her first sensation was a dull ache at the back of her head. Then the encounter with Ares came flooding back to her. The warrior quickly appraised her situation. She was standing, and could feel cool stone under her bare feet. Surrounded by darkness, she squinted in an effort to clear her vision and became aware of the blindfold that covered her eyes. She felt the damp air on her skin and realized she had been stripped naked. Her ankles were bound to some kind of frame behind her, with her feet positioned more than shoulder width apart. Her wrists were secured above her head about four feet apart. She concentrated, trying to break her bonds. The thick leather straps that held her had no give to them. She was effectively disabled. The warrior’s mind flashed to Gabrielle and her heart filled with dread at the thought of what might have happened to her. A sense of hopelessness threatened to overwhelm her. Xena fought it and listened for any sounds around her. She detected a presence nearby.

Ares watched Xena with an air of respect. She remained calm, though her situation was quite desperate. She had been blindfolded to heighten her feeling of powerlessness. He blatantly admired her well muscled body. Her full breasts, toned stomach, and long legs, all served to excite him. She was quite magnificent. Ares was charged with anticipation, soon this body would be his. He let out a heavy sigh. She turned her head in the direction of the sound, guessing the identity of her captor.

"Ares, you coward, not enough of an advantage that I’m bound. You need to blindfold me as well." She hated her helpless state and hoped she could goad him into evening the odds.

"Ah, Xena it’s so nice to have you back."

"I’ll never come back to you." She replied with conviction.

"Never," he mocked, laughing. "Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. In fact it won’t be long before you’ll be begging me to come back. You may need to believe that your little friend has changed you, but I don’t accept that for a minute ." He paused, lost in his thoughts. He would never stand back and allow the bard to get a tighter hold on Xena. Gabrielle had forced his desperate action. He had no intention of losing Xena. No matter what it took. "Anyway, I’m afraid the bard is out of the picture now."

Her temper flared. He had hit her where she was most vulnerable. "If you’ve done anything to harm her, I swear you’ll regret..."

He interrupted her. "You are not in a position to make me regret anything right now. But I’ll put your mind to rest. I haven’t harmed the little brat. I have no need of her now. It’s you I want." She could feel his hot breath close to her ear.

Relieved that Gabrielle was safe, her adrenaline surged. She focused on her own predicament and she turned her head in his direction. "You’ll have to kill me; I will not give in to you." Suddenly, he wished he could see the fire he knew was flashing in her eyes.

"Xena, I want you alive. I want you to be mine, body and soul."

"In your dreams." She spat the words. "I don’t know what you have planned. You can rape me, but I will never be yours."

He smiled and ran his index finger across his upper lip. "On the contrary, I think it will be you raping me." He paused for effect. "Of course, I know I will need some help getting you to that point. Have you heard of the berries of Narcis?" Xena tensed, trying to recall what she knew.

"Let me refresh your memory. Enchanted by Aphrodite, they act as a... catalyst to a person’s innate passion - when painted on the appropriate places, that is. The greater the individuals sexual appetite, the stronger the effect. And Xena,... well, I guess I don’t need to tell you how suitable you are for this type of enchantment.

"Do you want me to tell you how it works?"

"Could I stop you?" she replied bitterly.

He laughed. "Yes, I’m going to tell you, because I want you to know exactly what’s going to happen." He bent to pick up a small clay pot containing a thick syrupy substance, bright red in color. He twirled a small brush through the liquid. "As I was saying, after I have painted you, I think you will have a complete change of heart where I’m concerned." He smiled savoring the moment. "In fact you will beg me to take you."

"Although I’ve never seen this stuff in action, I’ve heard a person will do just about anything to have the torment end. The first person who brings you to release will be the recipient of your undying desire. Of course, that would be me." He laughed lightly and caressed her cheek. She flinched from the contact. "Don’t fear, I won’t make you beg too long. I’m not an ogre after all." He laughed more menacingly.

"Shall we begin?"

She heard him take a step toward her. "Ares, know this, if you manage to break my will with this magic, you still will not have me… the real me." Her voice was tinged with a note of desperation.

"I’ll have your mind, your heart, and your body." He sighed, smiling. "I guess I will just have to be content with that." He dipped the brush into the red liquid and poised it inches from her right nipple. "Any last words?"

She spat in the direction of his voice.

*****

Gabrielle mounted Argo and frantically made her way back to the Amazons. Ares had Xena and she had to find a way to help her. She pushed Argo hard. Gabrielle was frantic with fear as she remembered Ares’ last words before he disappeared with Xena cradled in his arms: "You always were her weak spot, but no more."

His words ate at her even though she knew they weren’t entirely true. It was her love for Xena that Ares feared. She had seen it in his eyes. And she had seen something else there too. Maybe there was more to Xena’s feelings for her than she had known. This was a bold and possibly desperate attempt on his part to get Xena back. She couldn’t guess what it might mean.

Things had been going so well. If only they had stayed with the Amazons longer. If only she had been able to tell Xena how she felt. She could only wonder now if it would have made a difference.

Time passed painfully slowly, until at last, she neared the village and was met by guards. After a brief acknowledgment, she pushed Argo all out until she reached the gates.

The guards immediately sent for Ephiny. As soon as she saw Gabrielle she knew something was terribly wrong. "Gabrielle, are you all right? Where’s Xena?" Ephiny could see the young woman was beside herself.

"Ephiny! Ares has Xena. He knocked her unconscious and disappeared with her. I’ve got to find her."

"Oh, Gabrielle." Ephiny’s voice was choked with emotion. She placed her arm around the bard. Ephiny knew this was a nearly hopeless situation. She did not know what she or any of her warriors could do against a god. "Maybe Artemis can help. I don’t know what else we can do."

*****

Ares wiped the spit from his face. "For that, I am going to make you suffer." He touched the brush lightly to her nipple, delicately painting the entire area. He paused, waiting for it to take effect. Xena felt the coolness of the liquid as it made contact with her skin. Her nipple tingled and immediately formed into a tight knot. The warrior’s struggles against her bonds were futile. The sensation was erotically teasing, delectably maddening, like an insistent itch she couldn’t scratch. Reflexively, her arms jerked, trying to alleviate her discomfort.

"Let’s see just how much you can take before you beg, shall we?" Ares dipped the brush in the thick syrup and coated the other nipple.

Xena gasped as she felt the effects deepen. Her breasts felt large, hot. The need for contact, any contact against her hardened nipples was so intense that it was all consuming. She was pulling at her restraints desperately now. Her teeth clenched. She tried to block out the sensations. She mentally conjured images attempting to escape into the recesses of her mind. Ares smiled at her in wonder. "You really are quite amazing."

Xena’s body was trembling. She fought hard to maintain control. She moaned as she felt him trace a path down her abdomen into the dark patch of hair. "Relax, it’s just my finger love, just my touch." Reaching his goal, he parted her lips wide with his coarse fingers. "Xena, you’re wetter than I remember. She tried desperately to move her hips, to get away from the invading fingers, it was impossible. The muscles in her legs strained in vain to protect herself from the hand that held her open.

"Easy, easy, don’t worry, I will make this very quick. I wouldn’t want your climax to be… premature." His voice was cruelly gentle, soothing. "Remember, I owe you for your little act of defiance." His thumb grazed the hood covering her sex. Pulling it back, he effectively removed her last defense. With one swift stroke, he coated her clitoris and removed his fingers.

He stood back, enjoying her torment. Her face mirrored her distress. She threw her head back, a loud groan escaping her lips. Tremors racked her body and every movement caused a riot of sensation. She tried desperately to close her legs. Her body screamed for release. She was awash in a primal heat that radiated off her body in waves. Her hips undulated wildly. Ares admired the flush, the lustrous sheen her body had taken on.

"Now… we wait to see just how tough you really are." Xena clenched her teeth to keep from speaking, from screaming, afraid she might indeed beg. She knew she could not hold out long under this torment. She was writhing from the exquisite anguish. She had to have release. This need could not be denied. Her mind no longer controlled her body. She had no more lucid thoughts. She was driven by one goal: consummation. Nothing else mattered.

Ares watched her writhing body. Xena was the most sensual being he had ever encountered. She would not have to endure his teasing much longer because he was tiring of the game. He felt his own body stir in response to her wild gyrations. Oh, yes, this would be fun. Only he, a god, could fully command the passion of this woman. He began to slowly unfasten the ties of his shirt.

Outside, thunder sounded, completely out of place in the stillness of the mild evening. Ares tensed at the loud clap of thunder. He immediately recognized the source of the noise: Zeus. His body told him to ignore the command but he knew how foolhardy that would be. Gritting his teeth, he retied his shirt and tried to collect himself.

"It seems I have been summoned. Pity, I was enjoying this." He lowered his voice, crooning seductively. It was a cruel means of reasserting her helplessness and his complete control over her. "I do so hate to leave you this way but I will take comfort in the fact that you’ll be thinking of me while I’m gone." He laughed and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Good-bye Xena, and try to be ready for me when I return." He disappeared, leaving her in agony.

*****

Gabrielle entered Artemis’ temple and knelt at the alter. She had few belongings and little of value to offer the goddess. She placed her most prized possession on the dais: a necklace with a jade stone that Xena had given her.

"Artemis, please hear me. I need your help."

The air before her shimmered as the goddess appeared. Gabrielle remained kneeling out of respect. "Rise, my child. Tell me what it is that you need."

"Ares has taken Xena. She needs my help, but I don’t know how to find her."

"I am aware of what has happened. Ares has overstepped his bounds this time. Zeus has commanded him to cease his manipulations. I have been permitted to take you to her."

"Thank you." Relief washed over her knowing she would soon be with Xena.

"Be warned, Gabrielle. Xena has been put under a devious and powerful enchantment. She is not same the woman you have come to know. This could be dangerous for you."

"I don’t care. I have to help her if I can. Is there a cure, something that will reverse the magic’s effect?"

"There is a valley two days south of where Xena is being held. At the edge of the steepest part of the hillside, in a cavern. There you will find a witch who may be able to remove the enchantment. I cannot interfere beyond this. I have been forbidden. I need to be sure that this is what you really want to do."

"I’m sure. Please take me to her." Gabrielle’s voice had a desperate edge to it.

"As you wish." Artemis held Gabrielle’s jade necklace in the palm of her hand. It seemed to glow with an unearthly light. "You are my chosen; I am not in need of this token. Keep it close. Let it remind you of the reason you summoned me." Then, with a wave of Artemis’ hand, Gabrielle disappeared.

*****

Gabrielle reappeared at the entrance to a cave, Argo by her side. As her eyes adjusted to the torch light inside, she looked in horror at the sight before her. Xena stood in the center of the cavern, strapped, spread eagle to a wooden frame, naked and blindfolded. Her body was covered in a thin layer of sweat. She moaned and whipped her head from side to side. Her wet hair partially obscured her face. The dark tendrils clung to her damp skin. Red lines that looked like blood ran from her nipples. Another streak of red ran down her right thigh.

"Gods, Xena," she cried.

Xena’s head snapped upright. The sound of her friends sweet voice brought her momentarily back to her senses. "Gabrielle, Ohhhhh... "

"You’re hurt!" Gabrielle rushed forward. She assumed the red lines were blood. As she came closer, she realized she was mistaken. Gabrielle’s mind reeled, trying to understanding the meaning of the strange substance. She could not conceive of the nature of the torture Ares had devised.

"Get it off!" Xena screamed. Gabrielle quickly unfastened the blindfold. What she saw terrified her. Xena’s eyes were wild, feral, hardly human. She reached up to untie her wrist. Xena’s head snapped forward. "Nooo," she growled, straining over and over again at her bonds. The warrior could not trust what she might do to Gabrielle.

"Xena, what should I do?" Gabrielle was near panic at her friend’s condition.

Xena groaned, having difficulty speaking. "Off... Wipe it off!" She clenched her teeth to prevent herself from screaming.

Gabrielle tore the bottom of her skirt and reached up to wipe the substance off Xena’s breast. Xena stiffened, eyes locked on Gabrielle as her hand came to her breast. The first contact had a searing intensity. A curious mixture of pleasure and pain. Incredible sensations jetted through her. Each touch of her swollen nipples brought jarring explosions of pleasure. Gabrielle froze momentarily not understanding Xena’s erratic behavior. Her heart tightened in her chest as she realized she was witnessing her friend’s unbridled desire. She continued to gently wipe the sticky substance from the warrior’s breasts. Xena was panting, her breaths ragged, coming in shuddering gasps. She cried out in rapture. "Yessss." Her muscles flexed as she strained at the straps holding her.

Xena arched her back, pushing into Gabrielle’s hand. She was moaning continuously now. "Ohhh Gabrielle... Ahhhhhhh..." She shivered and groaned miserably as Gabrielle lifted her hand away. Gabrielle knelt down in front of Xena. Her face was flushed with embarrassment at the intimate touch she was about to give. So close now, she could smell Xena’s essence. Streams of moisture ran down the inside of Xena’s widely spread thighs.

Gabrielle’s trembling fingers parted her lips. She gently wiped the smooth cloth across Xena’s swollen nub, carefully removing all traces of the red liquid. Xena’s hips froze at the sweet contact. Tears streamed down Xena’s cheeks. "Ohhhhhhh... please, ...ahhhhhhhhh ...don’t stop pleeease." She writhed against Gabrielle’s fingers. Xena could stand no more. She needed her touch, a lover’s touch.

Gabrielle, unable to control her own desire any longer obeyed. She dropped the cloth and let her fingers glide against Xena’s hot sex. She felt nearly delirious as she tried to keep pace with the warrior’s frantic rhythm. "More, more, more...." Xena’s voice echoed in Gabrielle’s mind like an erotic chant, keeping time with her rapidly beating heart. Suddenly Xena’s body stiffened. "Yes... Yes.. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh..." Cries jerked from her throat. Her body shook with a tremendous force as spasms wrenched from her depths. The wooden scaffolding holding her prisoner creaked from the strain as she pulled with all her strength against the straps. Xena screamed Gabrielle’s name, her savior, the only one able to satisfy her, as her climax tore through her in wave after unending wave of ecstasy, finally rendering her unconscious.

Gabrielle rode out Xena’s pleasure before removing her hand. She could not tear her eyes away from the moisture that coated her fingers. She tried to sort out her emotions. She felt such shame and fear at her own arousal. She had longed to make love to Xena, to have Xena make love to her. But… not like this. How would Xena react when she regained consciousness? Would she remember and be appalled that Gabrielle had taken advantage of her when she was completely vulnerable? She wept, shaking uncontrollably. Gods how she had enjoyed it. She brought her wet fingers to her lips. Xena’s scent was like an aphrodisiac. Without thinking she slid her fingers into her mouth. The sweetness was indescribable, unlike anything she had imagined.

It took long moments to compose herself. She took great care to gently release Xena from the straps that held her. Xena’s wrists and ankles were torn, bloody and bruised from her tortured struggle. Gabrielle removed their supplies from Argo’s saddle bags. She washed Xena’s body with the tenderness of a lover and tended to her wounds. Dressing Xena in a clean shift, she laid the spent woman on her bed roll. Lovingly, she stroked stray locks of hair from Xena’s face. She was so beautiful. Gabrielle watched her sleep, wondering what lay ahead of them. There would be no rest for her this night.

*****

Xena awoke in her bed roll a few hours later, completely disoriented. She looked up to see Gabrielle watching, eyes filled with concern. She sat up. "Gabrielle, what..." she stopped mid-sentence, the memories flooding back. Overcome with shame she closed her eyes, covering her face with her hands.

Gabrielle spoke softly. "It’s all right, you‘re safe now."

Gabrielle’s voice stroked her like a caress. Xena looked down unable to meet Gabrielle’s eyes. She was awash with conflicting emotions. Gabrielle reached over and laid a hand on her shoulder reassuringly. Xena trembled at the contact and glanced up into the hypnotic green eyes. How could she not have noticed the incredible beauty of the young woman she traveled with? Her body was gorgeously toned, her hair was golden and radiant in the fire light, her skin was so smooth, flawless and oh gods... her lips. Xena quickly pulled away. She felt a pulsing in her center. Her desire reawakened. Xena’s expression changed to anguish as she struggled with her yearnings.

Gabrielle noted the change in her friend. "What is it, what’s wrong?"

"It’s not safe Gabrielle,... not safe for you." Xena searched for words to explain the situation to her innocent friend. "I’m under an enchantment and you are the focus of my… I… I don’t know if I can control my need… for you."

Gabrielle swallowed hard. It was a cruel joke. For years she had desired Xena and she had never seen even a small inkling that Xena felt the same. Now it was unmistakable. She could see Xena’s passion clearly in her eyes.

Her mind flashed. For an instant she thought of not telling Xena about the cure Artemis had told her about. Instead, she could tell her how she truly felt. They could become lovers as she had always dreamed, hoped they would. It was a fleeting thought. She knew the truth, that Xena’s feelings were not real. And it broke her heart.

Xena’s hands were clenched into fists. She could not bear to look at her friend. Her body trembled when she thought of what she wanted Gabrielle to do to her. She could read the distress in Gabrielle’s eyes. Gods, she could loose herself forever in those eyes. "Gabrielle, you have to leave me. At dawn you have to go."

Xena’s words cut her like a knife. "No, I can help you! Artemis told me of a witch in the valley who can cure you. We can be there in a couple of days. Please, don’t send me away!"

Gabrielle, I… I can’t trust myself around you. I could not live with myself if I did anything to... hurt you. Do you understand? You have to go!"

"Xena, I can’t leave you. I.. won’t!" Gabrielle spoke with the conviction she felt deep in her heart.

She thought again of confessing her feelings to Xena. If she did, would Xena still want to be cured? Could she stand the guilt, knowing she had convinced Xena to live a lie? If Xena did want to find the witch, they would have a few days of passion. But then what? Once Xena was cured, would she hate her? The situation was hopeless. Gabrielle knew she could not let her own desires stop her from doing what was right for Xena.

She took a deep breath. "I promise you I won’t let anything happen. I can help you maintain control. I know you would never hurt me. If you really wanted to hurt me you would not even think about sending me away. Deep down, you know I’m right."

"Even if I could keep control Ares could be back at any time. It’s too dangerous for you."

"No, Ares has been forbidden by Zeus to interfere. Artemis was given permission to send me here to help you."

The last thing Xena wanted was to be apart from Gabrielle. She wanted her close, very close. The need for her new lover was utterly compelling. She longed to feel her touch again, that heavenly release. Her body screamed for more of what she had so briefly sampled. Xena struggled against the carnal thoughts flooding her mind. She knew she should send Gabrielle away but just as surely knew she did not have the will to do it.

"We can think of something to keep your mind active, your body exhausted. It’s only two days." Gabrielle spoke optimistically. Xena looked doubtful. She could feel the moisture overflowing her lips. Her thighs were wet. It made her tremble. She was ready, so ready. She turned away from Gabrielle, a groan escaping from her depths. She leaned into the wall of the cave, pressing her face against the cool surface.

"What can I do to make it easier for you?" Gabrielle asked gently.

Xena ran her fingers roughly through her hair. She covered her ears in an attempt to shield herself from the sensuality inherent in Gabrielle’s voice. "Your voice, your smell, your touch, the mere sight of you instills such desire..." Her voice shook with need.

Xena grabbed her sword, startling Gabrielle. She began swinging at the scaffolding with a vengeance. The sound of metal striking wood reverberated throughout the cave. Gabrielle watched, tears coursing down her cheeks as Xena spent the next candlemark exhausting herself. She was breathing heavily, whether it was from the physical effort she exerted or the lust she fought, Gabrielle could not tell. Then, Xena stood still for several moments as if in contemplation.

Suddenly, she removed the wrist straps from the wooden frame and walked toward Gabrielle, passion burning in her eyes. She tossed the straps into her lap. "Put them on!" she commanded. The tone of her voice left no room for discussion. Gabrielle looked down at the leather. Her abdomen fluttered and a hot sensation radiated through her center. Her breath caught in her throat. With trembling fingers, she slipped the firm strap around her left wrist and struggled to find her voice, to find the courage to protest something she had not even realized she desired until that instant. Reluctantly, she raised her face to look at Xena.

Xena stared at her in disbelief. "Not on you... on ME!" Xena loudly expelled the air from her lungs in extreme frustration. "Gabrielle, you’ve got to stand up to me or this is never going to work. I need your help here."

"Oh gods, Xena, I’m sorry I..." Her face was bright red with embarrassment. A heat spread through her body and threatened to engulf her. She abruptly got to her feet. Quickly, she interlocked the straps and tightened them around Xena’s wrists, using the utmost care that her fingers did not make contact needlessly with Xena’s skin. Whether that was for her benefit or Xena’s she wasn’t at all sure.

The nearness of Gabrielle was weakening what was left of her resolve. Xena turned away from her and tested the strength of the straps. She was not at all confident that this would help. If she wanted Gabrielle, she knew nothing short of death would stop her. She desperately wanted her. However, the restraints did serve as a constant reminder that she needed to fight her growing hunger, for Gabrielle’s sake. She paced back and forth like a caged lioness, her prey just outside her reach, never daring to look at her companion.

Gabrielle knew they both needed sleep. Their nerves were rattled and they had a long journey ahead. She reached for the saddle bags on the floor and retrieved a bag of white powder. She cleared her throat and held up the bag, waiting for Xena to respond to her idea. Xena smiled in spite of herself. It was a good idea and might work.

"Put about a quarter of the bag in a cup of water. It’s a pretty strong mix. I think it will knock me out. We are going to have to pray we aren’t attacked for the next few nights." Gabrielle handed her the cup and nodded, quickly turning away. In her mind, it was worth the risk.

Xena continued to pace the floor after drinking the mixture. It was nearly half a candlemark before she dropped to one knee and then passed out completely. Gabrielle sighed with relief and covered her friend with a blanket. She return to her own bedroll at the other side of the room. Hugging her arms to her chest, she cried herself to sleep.

*****

"Wake up, my sweet bard." Gabrielle lazily opened her eyes, surprised to see Xena standing over her. She tried to sit up and realized that her hands were bound behind her. Xena smiled wickedly and held her free hands in front of Gabrielle wiggling her fingers for emphasis. "You didn’t tighten them nearly enough."

Gabrielle struggled in vain at the leather now holding her hands securely. "I did a much better job on *you*, don’t you think?" She ran her tongue suggestively across her upper lip. "Don’t look so distressed. Isn’t this what you wanted?"

Xena knelt down and reached for something on the floor. Gabrielle saw it was a small bowl and even in her panic she knew what it contained. "Now," Xena said sensually. "I’m going to paint *you*."

Gabrielle’s heart fluttered wildly but she managed to find her voice. "Xena, don’t do this."

Xena’s eyes shimmered in the firelight, alive with lust. "Oh, but we could have such a good time." She swirled the brush in an exaggerated motion for Gabrielle’s benefit.

"Don’t." Gabrielle’s voice sounded stifled, weak.

"You don’t sound all that convincing," Xena purred. "But then, I don’t really need to use this on you do I? You’re ready to beg me right now, aren’t you? I can see it in your eyes." Gabrielle looked away, knowing that her eyes would indeed reveal the truth.

Xena took Gabrielle’s face in her hand, forcing her to look into her eyes. "You will have a very long wait. I don’t want you!" The warrior laughed cruelly. "What made you think I could ever be interested in an innocent girl like you? What could you know about pleasuring me?" Tears rolled down Gabrielle’s cheeks. She knew the warrior was right; to think that Xena could desire her was a very naive fantasy.

Xena continued her verbal assault. "I trusted you and you failed me. I would have been better off with Ares. At least he could keep me satisfied." Xena turned and walked away. Gabrielle watched her go until she faded into the darkness. She tried to cry out but she was mute.

Gabrielle’s eyes snapped opened as she awoke from the nightmare. She tried to focus in the dim light of the cave. Her breath was coming in great gasps. She looked across the room and saw Xena lying where she had left her, moaning in her sleep. She got up and walked over to her. Carefully, she lifted the blanket, reassuring herself that the straps were still secure.

She packed up their belongings, letting Xena sleep. In truth, she wasn’t sure if she could face Xena. She made a half-hearted attempt to eat, but had no appetite. She set out some dried meat and fruit for Xena and saddled Argo. Once she had everything ready to go, she stood over Xena, watching her sleep. The warrior was the most exquisite woman Gabrielle had ever laid eyes on. Relaxed in slumber, she was even more lovely.

Xena had saved her life on too many occasions to count. They had even triumphed over death together. The good times they had shared were the most precious memories of her entire life. She could not help but love this woman who had been her traveling companion for the better part of two years. Gabrielle was determined not to fail her.

She would set her desire aside as she had always done. She would be cold, distant, whatever it took to get Xena through this. If she succumbed, she knew Xena would never forgive her. She gently nudged Xena’s shoulder with her boot. Xena, though still drugged, sat up quickly. She tried to stretch her arms and was harshly reminded of her current circumstance. Gabrielle stood behind her. Xena turned to face her and Gabrielle spoke. "Don't turn around unless I call for you. We need to get moving. I want you to walk ahead of me, lead Argo. Now let’s go!"

*****

It was the longest day of Gabrielle’s life. She spoke as little as possible. It had practically driven her mad listening to Xena murmuring to herself most of the day, waging an internal battle. Fortunately, they had not met anyone on the road. It was an isolated area. Xena stopped at dusk, locating an appropriate area for them to camp. She went about the task of gathering fire wood. It was a laborious task with her hands bound and took much longer than usual, but at least it kept her occupied.

Xena sat with her back to the fire as she had been instructed. Gabrielle watched her from across the fire while they ate. She noticed the tremors that shook Xena’s body. She longed to give relief to both herself and the warrior. It would be so easy to give in and go to the woman she so desperately desired. Instead, she held fast to the jade stone around her neck and tried to focus on her true purpose, as Artemis had suggested. This gave her little comfort.

Immediately after eating, Xena drank the sleeping potion as she had been directed. "Gabrielle, I need to stretch my shoulders. Can you release the straps for just a few minutes?"

Gabrielle had thought about this earlier. She knew that Xena was in considerable discomfort by now from her restricted position. The potion would take effect soon. Surely she could not stay awake too much longer. And in sleep, at least, she was a little less of a temptation. She made the decision to release her.

Xena stretched her arms, wincing at their stiffness. Picking up her sword, she began to work through well-practiced maneuvers with the grace of a dancer. The sight had Gabrielle spellbound and it took several moments for her to realize that Xena had stopped and was watching her intently. Gabrielle quickly broke eye contact. " Go back to your bedroll. I have to apply the restraints."

Xena groaned and squeezed her eyes shut as a series of spasms passed through her. It took all of her self-restraint to obey and take her place next to the fire. Gabrielle bent down and secured the straps. Xena could smell the scent that was Gabrielle. Reflexively, she reached for Gabrielle’s hands, pulling them to her. The touch was electric. Gabrielle’s eyes met Xena’s without meaning to. Xena’s voice was low, sensual. "Please... kiss me." Xena’s eyes were radiant, pleading. Gabrielle watched as Xena parted her lips and lightly wet them with her tongue. Gabrielle felt lightheaded as she instinctively leaned toward the inviting mouth.

The campfire crackled loudly, breaking Gabrielle’s trance. She pulled away. Xena moaned and reached for her. Gabrielle backed up, putting distance between them. She walked over to Argo to get out of Xena’s line of sight and tried to collect herself.

Gabrielle nuzzled her face into Argo’s neck, letting the tears fall. She was so lost in her misery, she did not hear Xena come up behind her. "Gabrielle I’m so sorry." Gabrielle spun around, startled by the voice so close behind her. It was a mistake. She found herself only inches from Xena’s chest. She turned quickly to face Argo.

Xena lifted her hands, still tied in front of her, and pushed the golden hair to one side. Xena’s heart was pounding furiously. She was thoroughly aroused by Gabrielle’s nearness. She tilted her head forward, inhaling the sweet fragrance of Gabrielle’s hair. Her lips grazed the softness of Gabrielle’s neck. She moaned, pressing her lips more insistently against Gabrielle’s hot skin.

"Gabrielle, please..." Xena’s voice was ragged with desire. "Gabrielle... I need you. Please, I ache for your touch. You are the only one for me. The only one that can please me... only you." Gabrielle’s heart was beating fast. How she had dreamed of hearing Xena speak those words.

"No! You don’t know what you’re saying." She turned to face Xena and pushed her roughly backward. "You don’t really want me; it’s the magic at work. We’ve got to keep going."

Xena stepped forward again. The hunger raged in her eyes. "I’m not moving. I can’t take it any more," Xena growled. Her need had built to a level that was more than she could control. "Why won’t you help me? I thought you were my friend." Xena pleaded innocently, but a lustful fire blazed in her eyes. "You helped me before." Her manner changed as her voice took on a sultry, persuasive tone. "If you help me, I’ll return the favor. I can make you feel things you never dreamed." Gabrielle’s head was reeling. She turned away. Xena’s voice was searing, hypnotic. If she had to listen to her much longer, she would surely give in.

"I’m an extremely attentive lover," Xena promised. To prove her point, she caught Gabrielle’s ear lobe gently in her teeth and grazed it erotically with her tongue. Gabrielle shivered from the touch and turned to face her. Xena’s warm breath was making her dizzy. "Should I tell you what I would like to do with my tongue? Once you’ve experienced what I can do, no one else..." The slap was so unexpected, so powerful, Xena did not have time to block it. Her head snapped back from the force of it. They looked at one another in total amazement. The glaze in Xena’s eyes cleared and seemed to show some comprehension. Gabrielle’s hand stung from the blow. "Get up on Argo, I’m going to give you more sleeping powder. I’ll lead you the rest of the way."

Xena complied, swallowing the liquid given to her and mounting Argo. Tears spilled from her eyes. "I’m sorry I..."

"Save it!" Gabrielle snapped. She was nearly at her breaking point. She had to think. Gabrielle led Argo forward, careful to keep an eye on the warrior. When Xena seemed to tire, slumping slightly in the saddle, Gabrielle mounted in front of her and commanded Xena to lift her bound hands over Gabrielle’s head. She hoped she would be strong enough to keep Xena on the horse once she lost consciousness.

*****

Soon, Xena was slumped heavily against her back. Gabrielle urged Argo to maintain a steady gait. She had never felt so weary. The bard had not slept well in two nights. She felt compelled to be alert not only to keep an eye on Xena, but to look out for their safety. The additional stress of Xena’s much wanted advances made her situation nearly intolerable.

Then there was her guilt to contend with. Gabrielle had treated her friend badly. She had used her, taken advantage of her when she was totally vulnerable. Now to make matters worse, Xena’s face carried the imprint of her hand. She was sure it would turn black and blue. Xena didn’t deserve any of this. It was all Ares’ fault. He was a monster. She shivered to think what would have happen if things had gone his way.

Her legs ached. Every time Xena shifted in her sleep. Gabrielle had to tighten her grip to keep them from sliding off until she could get their weight distributed evenly. But she relished the pain and the distraction it provided. She pushed Argo mercilessly. The obedient mare trudged on. The only consolation Gabrielle could give Argo was to promise her a long rest when this was over. They had traveled through the night and into the following day.

The light was beginning to fade when, just ahead, she saw the valley. She checked for the steepest side and urged Argo toward it. Xena moaned in her sleep, calling Gabrielle’s name. It sent shivers down her spine. In the distance, Gabrielle could make out the mouth of a cave. It was dark by the time she stopped Argo alongside the entrance. With a great deal of effort, she lifted Xena’s arms over her head and slid down, attempting to guide Xena to the ground without hurting her.

In spite of her rough dismount, Xena never stirred. She was out cold. Gabrielle prayed she had not given her too much of the sleeping powder. She walked to the cave entrance and peered in. She could see the soft glow of torch light farther inside. She cautiously entered. "Is anyone here?" she questioned. There was no reply. She made her way deeper into the cave and tried again. "Hello," her voice had a frantic edge.

A tall figure stepped out of the shadows. "What is your business here?" Gabrielle spun around in the direction of the voice. She squinted in the dim light to make out the figure.

"My friend is hurt. Can you help me?" The tall, red headed woman stepped out into the light. Gabrielle was relieved at her non-threatening appearance. "I was sent by Artemis. She said you would be able to help my friend."

"You look tired. Come in. I will get you something to eat."

" No, thank you ... My friend is outside, she needs help. Please!" Gabrielle did not temper the distress in her voice. The woman nodded and they made their way out of the cave. Gabrielle dropped to her knees beside her friend. " I had to drug her to keep her asleep. She hasn’t stirred in almost a full day, I’m worried that maybe I’ve harmed her."

The slender woman knelt down and quickly appraised Xena’s condition. "Don’t worry, my dear, she has a strong constitution, this one. She will get over the drug with no ill effects. Although I don’t think she will awaken for many hours. Come, help me get her inside and we’ll talk."

The two women settled Xena comfortably on a pallet. Gabrielle stood wearily. "I have to take care of Argo..." she said and stood to leave.

The woman laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You stay with your friend and I’ll tend to the mare."

"Thank you," Gabrielle said. The weight of the woman’s hand on her shoulder became too much and she sat back down.

The witch returned to find Gabrielle asleep, sitting on the floor next to Xena, with her head resting on the pallet next to Xena’s shoulder. The woman draped a blanket over the young woman’s shoulders and watched over the two women, curious about their story.

Many hours later, Gabrielle awoke, relieved to see Xena still sleeping comfortably. "You look like you could use some breakfast." Gabrielle turned to face the woman seated at the table across the room.

"You have been so kind, thank you." The woman motioned for her to sit in a chair. Gabrielle smoothed her hair away from her face. "I must look a sight."

"It looks like you and your friend have been through quite a trial. My name is Ariel." She offered her hand graciously. Gabrielle shook it lightly.

"I’m Gabrielle and my friend is Xena."

"… Xena, I have heard that name." Gabrielle glanced up defensively, waiting for her reaction. The witch’s expression was neutral. "Please fix yourself a plate and tell me your problem."

She briefly related the story. The telling weighed heavy on her as she relived the painful memories. Gabrielle was near tears. "Can you help her?"

"Maybe, the chances are good. She looks to be very strong and that will help."

Ariel’s words washed over her, filling her with relief. "The warrior is fortunate to have such a caring companion."

Gabrielle seemed noticeably calmer. "I am the lucky one. I... I don’t know what I would do without her."

"It must have been very difficult for you to keep your feelings from her, under the circumstance."

The woman’s expression confirmed her understanding of Gabrielle’s situation. " I can sense your pain."

"I love her so very much. I don’t know if I can hide it any more." Vocalizing her feelings caused a dam to break in Gabrielle. She began to cry. Ariel took the fragile woman in her arms, rocking her gently until she relaxed.

A moan from Xena got their attention. "I think your warrior is awake, Gabrielle, I would like you to wait outside. I will take care of Xena. She will come out when we have finished."

Gabrielle looked at Ariel, her eyes pleading. "I…I can’t leave her. I need to be here for her." She firmly stood her ground.

The witch placed a reassuring hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. "It will be all right, You have to trust me. I need you to let me work if you want your friend to get better." Ariel knew what was to come could be very unpleasant and wanted to save the young woman any further heartache. Gabrielle turned reluctantly to leave. Hesitating at the door, she looked back one last time.

*****

"Good morning."

Xena jumped to her feet. She looked around the room frantically. "Where’s Gabrielle?" she demanded.

"Gabrielle is fine."

Xena shifted uncomfortably, looking for the exit. Her body trembling. "Where is she?" Xena asked more forcefully, a desperate edge to her voice.

" She is waiting outside," Ariel answered mildly.

Xena’s hands rubbed her arms as if she were overcome with a chill. Gabrielle could give her relief. Gabrielle could release her from her torment. She headed toward the exit.

Ariel stepped between her and the doorway. Xena’s eyes became menacing. "I have to go to her!" Xena warned, "Get out of my way!" She raised her arm to strike the frail looking woman. But something in the witch’s eyes stopped her. "I need her." She stuttered. "Please, I don’t want to hurt you."

Ariel held up a vial of amber liquid. "I have something that will help you."

"Get out of my way," Xena said again, threatening to push past the fragile figure.

"And what will you force her to do when you find her? If you care about your friend, you will drink this. She has been through quite enough."

Xena stopped and turned to face this woman. A battle was raging within her. She was trembling with need.

The woman spoke in a soothing voice. "Drink this and you will have the relief you crave."

Xena grabbed the vial and drank the contents down in one gulp. Her head was swimming. She was overcome with dizziness. Her body shook. She dropped to her knees. Her throat was blocked off by some thick, unyielding tubular object lodged in her windpipe. She couldn’t breathe. Helplessly, she clutched at her neck. She began to swoon from the lack of oxygen, her strength slipping away. Xena was completely defenseless. She felt death was imminent. The warrior envisioned her beautiful bard and closed her eyes. It would be her last image. She took comfort in the fact that Gabrielle would at last be free of her.

Ariel waited for the warrior to weaken close to the point of unconsciousness. She stepped behind the warrior, wrapping her wiry arms around Xena’s waist. In a powerful squeeze, she forced the air from Xena’s stomach through her blocked windpipe. A cloud of red dust filled the air, swirling ominously until it gradually dissipated. Xena took in great gulps of air until her breathing stabilized.

"How do you feel?" Ariel asked.

Xena took a quick inventory. "Better, I think."

"Here, sit down and rest for a moment." She eased herself down into the chair. An incredible weariness overcame her and she drifted off.

When she opened her eyes, Ariel was sitting beside her. "Gabrielle!" Xena cried out in distress.

"Gabrielle’s safe. She is waiting outside. You were only asleep a few minutes. It is part of the healing. You’ll be okay now."

"The enchantment is broken?" Xena asked in disbelief.

"Yes, your will is your own, for better or worse."

"I don’t know how to thank you." Xena felt such relief.

"You have a good friend in that young woman, I hope you will treat her well. She has more than earned it." Ariel smiled wistfully at the warrior.

Xena shook her head in acknowledgment. She was filled with dread at the thought of facing her friend. The shame she felt was all-encompassing. Xena knew she should get up, but she was paralyzed with fear. She could not imagine Gabrielle choosing to stay with her after her appalling behavior. The bard had glimpsed a part of Xena she had hoped never to reveal to her young friend.

Ariel watched the warrior struggle. "You should not keep your friend waiting. She was very concerned."

Xena stood on very shaky legs and turned to find Gabrielle.

 

*****

Gabrielle was pacing nervously outside the cave when Xena came out. She glanced at Xena anxiously. "Is everything okay?"

Xena looked at Gabrielle, an odd expression on her face. She struggled to find words. "I’m fine. Thanks for..."

Gabrielle wanted to make this as easy as she could for her friend. She laid her hand on Xena’s shoulder, giving it a encouraging squeeze. "I’m just happy you are all right."

Xena shrunk from her touch, as if it had burned her. Gabrielle stepped back, wounded by her reaction. "I... I... have to go back," Xena stuttered and turned, walking quickly back into the cave.

In that instant, Gabrielle knew that things would never be the same between them. Something fragile had been broken and could not be repaired. Xena could not forgive her for her actions. She knew what she had to do.

After several minutes, Gabrielle walked solemnly inside. She found the warrior alone, slumped in a chair next to the pallet. Xena straightened when she noticed Gabrielle.

"I wanted to talk to Ariel," Gabrielle said quietly.

"She left," Xena said softly. She could not look at Gabrielle. "I guess we should be going too." No emotion in her voice. She stood.

Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably, digging deep within to summon the courage she required. "Xena, I can’t go with you. I.. I can’t travel with you anymore."

Xena’s chest tightened. She couldn’t look at her friend. It had long been Xena’s nightmare that Gabrielle would see her true self and want to leave. Now it was a reality. "I don’t blame you." She fought to keep her emotions from overwhelming her, the tears from coming. "I... I know how difficult this has been. I’m so sorry for the ...suffering I have caused you. Really Gabrielle, I understand." She swallowed hard, biting back her pain.

"No, I don’t think you do." Gabrielle tried to put the words together. "It’s not what you think." Gabrielle had nothing to lose now, yet the words still caught in her throat. "I’m in love with you. I have been for some time. I... I want you, desire you." Her hands were trembling. "But there is no magical cure to help me."

Xena looked at her in disbelief. "Why didn’t you tell me? I..."

"I knew you didn’t feel the same. I was afraid it would ruin our friendship, that I would lose you completely. And then after... Ares, I felt like I had taken advantage of you, used you. I couldn’t bear for you to know. I... I have felt so guilty. Gods, what you must think of me."

Xena took a step toward Gabrielle. Tears filled the bard’s eyes. Gabrielle stepped back. "I... I have to leave. I can’t bear to be near you feeling the way I do. Not after everything... I can’t sleep. You... you haunt my dreams. I... have such a need for you." She could see the pain in Xena’s face. "I can’t bear your pity. Please just go." She turned away, choking back her tears.

Xena struggled to find the words that would explain her inner battle. The declaration came out a strangled whisper. "Gabrielle, there’s no cure for me either."

Gabrielle turned to face her, not believing her ears. "I... I don’t understand."

"When I came out of the cave and heard your voice I felt..." She paused, summoning the courage to speak her heart. "Such love, such desire for you." She blushed and diverted her eyes. "I went back to see the witch because I thought her cure didn’t work."

Somehow she summoned the strength to continue. "Even though I felt less desperate and more in control, my feelings for you had not changed. When I went back to tell her it hadn’t worked, she insisted it had… that what I was feeling now was real. That the enchantment had broken down my defenses. It allowed me to face what was always in my heart, the feelings I had buried out of fear. Gabrielle, as soon as she said it, I knew it was true."

For a few moments, an awkward silence hung between them. Xena spoke. "I know I have no right to ask any more of you, but I... I love you. I... need you. Please don’t leave me. These feelings are new for me but I promise I’ll give this my best effort."

"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle’s heart swelled with a happiness she could not contain. Tears born of joy streamed down her cheeks. Xena stepped forward and gently wiped them away. She let her fingers glide through the golden hair. How she had longed to feel its silkiness caress her fingers. It was as soft as she had imagined. The warrior inhaled the fresh scent of it and felt intoxicated. She moaned in pleasure. The sound was like the sweetest song to the bard’s ear. Her head lolled back as she melted into Xena’s touch.

Gabrielle radiated such innocence. Her obvious willingness to surrender, to be taken, stirred Xena’s passion beyond her wildest dreams. But… this would be a gentle seduction. There would be time later to show her things. Things she knew would drive her bard beyond her understanding of ecstasy. She thrilled at the idea of using her vast experience to give pleasure to the woman she so deeply loved. In time, all in good time. Xena’s hand settled gently at the base of the bard’s neck.

Excitement coursed through Gabrielle at the contact. Her breath caught in her throat as Xena’s face slowly bent down. *It was really happening.* Her heart soared at the first touch of Xena’s lips to her own. Her mouth opened in response, releasing a moan against Xena’s lips. When their tongues touched, Gabrielle felt a burning heat all the way to her core. Xena placed her other hand at the small of her back, pulling her close. Close enough to feel her need, to leave no doubt about her intent. Gabrielle quivered with desire. "Xena, I want you..." Her voice faded as she felt Xena’s strong arms surround her.

Xena lifted Gabrielle into her arms and laid her gently on the pallet. She knelt between Gabrielle’s legs. Her long fingers untied the laces of the green top. A sigh escaped Xena’s lips as she beheld the beauty of the young woman beneath her. Her fingers traced the swell of her breasts. Gabrielle’s nipples hardened, anticipating Xena’s touch.

She groaned as Xena’s fingers avoided her aching nipples, continuing down to her abdomen. Her belt, skirt and undergarments were quickly removed. Xena’s hands followed the curve of Gabrielle’s hips, her thumbs grazing the golden patch of hair between her legs. The gentle pressure of her thumbs parted her lips, revealing a glistening moisture. Xena closed her eyes. Breathing deeply, she took in her lover’s scent. She pulled her tunic over her head and focused on her lover. She pressed the full length of her body against Gabrielle, careful to support the majority of her weight with her arms. Gabrielle shivered at the contact and moaned as Xena again captured her mouth.

Gabrielle gasped as she began a second descent. Xena’s mouth teased a nipple mercilessly before hungrily closing on it. Gabrielle had never experienced anything like this. The intensity made her dizzy. While Xena’s mouth feasted on Gabrielle’s breasts, her hand found the heat at her center. The bard eagerly spread her legs. Xena was thrilled by the slippery softness that awaited her there. Gabrielle moaned as she felt Xena’s strong fingers slide across the wetness.

Xena carefully avoided stimulating the anxious nub. Instead she slid gentle fingers inside her lover. She froze as her fingers met with resistance. She lifted her head and searched Gabrielle’s eyes. Xena’s expression was confused, questioning.

"Please... I want it to be you... It’s always been you."

"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena could not restrain a tear that ran down her cheek. She kissed her lover tenderly, caressing her face. Her soaring passion was evident in her kiss. Xena’s fingers gently glided in and out. Gabrielle’s muscles clutched desperately at them as they receded, embracing them as they reentered. She maintained the fluid motion, causing a delicious friction. On the return thrust, her thumb stroked her swollen bud. Xena’s rhythm was unrelenting. The bard was nearly delirious in her pleasure.

She was moaning now, unrestrained. Her arousal reaching its peak. She held Xena tightly and cried out as she fell over the precipice, exploding in waves of pleasure. At the crest, Xena drove into her, feeling the thin membrane surrender to the pressure, blending the ecstasy and the pain. She murmured Xena’s name as she dissolved into her loving arms. Gabrielle knew she was forever changed. At that moment, part of her had merged with part of Xena, joining them. Xena held her bard tightly, whispering words of love until she drifted to sleep. They slept long and hard, a tangle of limbs entwined together… just as their hearts were.

*****

Gabrielle was the first to awaken, her head pillowed on the softness of Xena’s breast. The happiness she felt was indescribable. This was so right, so perfect. She would endure Tartarus to be with Xena. She knew with certainty that what she had experienced had a purity that transcended everything she had previously known. Xena was her destiny.

She marveled at the sound of their hearts beating as if they were one. She lay on her right side. Her left leg was bent and draped across her lover’s taut abdomen. The fingers of her left hand were firmly laced with the fingers of Xena’s right. Surely she had died and gone to the Elysian Fields.

She wondered if Xena would want to make love when she awoke. She desperately hoped she would. Would Xena hunger for her touch as she had under the enchantment? Gabrielle prayed to any gods who might be listening that she could bring Xena pleasure. She hoped that what she had read would be enough, that she could make Xena feel a fraction of the incredible sensations she had felt at the warrior’s hand. She longed to know Xena’s deepest desires. She would do anything, everything to please her.

She felt Xena stir and lifted her head to look into her lover’s eyes. She was tense with anticipation, fearful of Xena’s initial reaction. Xena smiled up at her, the love she felt for the bard could not be misread. Gabrielle’s heart skipped and the tension melted away. Xena turned on her left side to face her.

"Good morning, my love. You’re awake early." Xena leaned in, tasting the bard’s sweet lips, then pulled back to allow her eyes to take in her naked lover.

"I didn’t want to miss anything," Gabrielle answered.

"Hmmm, you thought you could sleep through my caresses?" Xena’s eyes were filled with mischief. She ran a finger lightly down Gabrielle’s neck, sending shivers through the younger woman.

Her touch was erotic. It warmed her skin on contact. "Well no, I... ahhh, with you near me, I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep again."

"Oh, I think I can put you to sleep without much trouble, or have you forgotten?" Xena lifted an eyebrow for effect.

Gabrielle tried to find her voice. "No, I could never forget that." Her voice barely a whisper.

"And neither can I, my..."

Gabrielle raised her hand to push back a stray hair and accidentally brushed Xena’s nipple, stopping the warrior mid-sentence. She noted Xena’s intake of breath with great interest. In that instant she realized her own power. "I seem to recall putting you to sleep once also." Her new found confidence asserted itself.

The memory of her wanton lust for the bard made her blush. Xena saw the change in her lover’s eyes. She smiled, arching a brow. "Mmmm, yes, I remember." Her voice had taken on a deep, sultry tone.

Gabrielle gently pushed Xena onto her back. She straddled her left leg and descended for a kiss. Her tongue was inquisitive, probing. The kiss became a union of their bodies. It went on and on, leaving them both dizzy. Xena moaned when the bard finally pulled back. Gabrielle let her hands glide down the warrior’s bronze skin. Her skin was so soft, so resilient. Gabrielle’s eyes admired her lover’s firm breasts and small nipples. Her thumbs lightly brushed them. Gabrielle thrilled as they hardened in response to her touch. She watched Xena take a deep breath, closing her eyes. She traced small circles around the erect nipples, occasionally pinching and pulling them softly. Xena gasped, arching into the bard’s hand.

"You have such beautiful breasts. I love the softness, the way they respond to my touch." She rolled the nipples between her thumbs and index fingers, squeezing them as she did. Xena’s eyes closed. Her head fell to the side as she moaned with delight.

She pinched Xena’s nipples lightly but stopped all motion. She waited for Xena’s eyes to open, to look at her. As Xena looked up, Gabrielle saw what she had hope for. Xena’s need burned like a flame in her blue eyes. Gabrielle’s voice was low, seductive. "I’m going to make love to you ...slowly. I want to hear you cry out." Her fingers began working her breasts once again. Xena was breathing heavily now, trying to control her rising excitement. "Yes, please, yesss..."

Gabrielle descended, taking an aching nipple into her mouth. She savored the sensation. Xena moaned loudly, her hands grasping Gabrielle’s head in an effort to control her actions. Gabrielle suddenly stopped her ministrations. She took both of Xena’s wrists and pinned them above her head. Gabrielle paused and tried to gage her lover’s reaction. "Don’t move your hands. It’s my turn now, I don’t want to have to stop again." The undiluted lust she saw in the blue of Xena’s eyes made her stomach flutter wildly. Xena’s fingers gripped tightly over her head, digging into the blankets. She was flooded with desire and desperately needed something, anything to anchor herself to.

Gabrielle rewarded her lover, leaning in for a kiss. Xena’s lips yielded instantly. Gabrielle’s tongue entered her mouth for but a moment, purposely not giving Xena the full, hard kiss she longed for. When Gabrielle broke the kiss, Xena groaned. Gabrielle’s mouth was on her neck now, gently kissing, sucking, biting. Again, she took a nipple into her mouth, nipping it lightly. Xena’s breathing was labored, her moans growing louder.

Gabrielle’s hands took over once more, tormenting both nipples as her mouth began a slow journey down Xena’s quivering abdomen. Gabrielle thought back to Xena’s fervent pleas by the camp fire. "I think you’re about to find out what MY tongue can do," she said wickedly as she pushed Xena’s legs apart, positioning herself between them. She bent her head down to her lover’s dark triangle and blew softly against her moist lips.

"Gods Gabrielle, pleeeese." Xena’s hips were writhing, the anticipation was torturous.

"Shhhhh, not yet," Gabrielle soothed. With the lightest touch of her finger tips, she stroked between Xena’s legs. The warrior raised her hips, desperately trying to increase the pressure against her swollen bud.

"Please...." Xena groaned loudly.

Gabrielle was enjoying every second of this. "You are so beautiful." She could see Xena was slick, so wet and oh, so fragrant. "I know you’re ready." The sensuousness of the bard’s voice caused Xena to spread her legs even wider. Gabrielle licked at the inside of her lover’s thigh. She heard the blanket tear from above and smiled. "I can’t wait to taste you, to feel you climax." Xena released her breath in a low hiss, the bard’s words exciting her beyond anything she had ever experienced.

Xena moaned as she felt her lover’s hot tongue trace her labia, sampling the smoothness of her inner folds. Gently, she caressed the length of her, only briefly teasing the engorged nub that throbbed for attention. She continued her loving caresses until Xena’s moans turned to cries. Without changing her rhythm, she slid two fingers deeply into Xena. She pumped slowly, deliberately curling her fingers against the sensitive spot deep inside.

Xena was thrashing wildly now and Gabrielle used her left hand to hold her tight as to not lose contact. Xena began to tremble as Gabrielle focused her attention fully on the hardened bud. She cried out as she exploded in orgasm. Her body arched as it tore through her like a jolt of electricity. She stiffened and went slack, then her body shuddered as a series of spasms coursed through her.

Gabrielle’s tongue stilled but remained pressed firmly against her. Her fingers continued stroking her tight walls in a gentle teasing motion. Xena felt the clear intent of her lover’s fingers. Gabrielle wanted more. To give it, Xena knew she would have to submit completely to this woman. She would be utterly vulnerable. She would be giving Gabrielle what she had never given another: total control. The feelings, the love she had for the bard were unparalleled. She set her mind free, released it from its constant vigil. Letting go, she embraced the trust she felt for this miraculous young woman. A calm washed over her as she gave in completely to Gabrielle’s tender loving, allowing herself to truly surrender.

Gabrielle noticed a subtle change in her partner - a softening, a nearly imperceptible shift. At that moment, Gabrielle knew the warrior was hers. She felt Xena open to her like a flower. Gabrielle’s tongue moved gently to drink in her nectar. She moved slowly across her lover’s delicate petals. She felt Xena’s hips begin to rock ever so slightly to the rhythm of her gentle caresses.

Her tongue began an erotic dance around Xena’s anxious sex, the gentle strokes gradually became more insistent. Gabrielle could feel Xena’s arousal growing, an immense energy refusing to be contained. With a forceful thrust, Gabrielle gave her release. Xena screamed, not holding anything back as a second orgasm rolled through her, crashing as a myriad of colors burst before her eyes. Her body shook uncontrollably.

The bard slowed but did not stop her ministrations. Gabrielle marveled at the stamina of her powerful lover. *How many more times could she climax?* She only knew she did not intend to stop until she had the answer. Gabrielle was relentless and infinitely patient. Each time the climax plummeted Xena screaming over the edge, Gabrielle pulled her back only to release her again and again. The aftershocks increased after each climax, eventually, leaving the warrior’s body quaking helplessly. The intensity overwhelmed Xena, causing her to burst into tears. Gabrielle rocked Xena in her arms, murmuring her unending devotion.

Xena had never felt so loved. She knew she was forever changed.

*****

Gabrielle was up hours before Xena. She had never seen the warrior sleep like this. At last she saw Xena stir and sat on the bed beside her with a mug of hot tea. "Hello, sleepy, you were really out of it."

Xena sat up smiling wryly. "It’s no wonder, after what you did to me. Gods, Gabrielle, I have never..."

"Was it good then?" Gabrielle questioned, sincere in her innocence.

"It was like nothing I have ever..." She detected the anxiety in her lover’s expression. "It was good, Gabrielle, very, very good."

Gabrielle dove into her arms, grinning from ear to ear. "For me too! Isn’t this wonderful? I knew it could be like this for us."

"Yes, it is wonderful, You are wonderful." She smiled and shook her head in disbelief. "Don’t you ever get tired?" Xena questioned.

"I’ve wanted you for so long... something came over me. I... I just couldn’t get enough." She looked away shyly. Xena hugged her fiercely.

Gabrielle pulled back thoughtfully. "Besides, my mouth is my trade just like fighting is yours."

"Well, my bard, your tongue rivals my sword any day." She laughed and pulled the young woman to her again.

"I love it when you call me ‘your bard’. I like the feeling I get, knowing I belong with you."

"I like that feeling too." Xena kissed her beautiful bard, intending to show her things she had held back the first time.

*****

Much later that afternoon, they began to pack up their things, readying to leave. "Can we stop to see Ephiny? I want her to know you’re okay."

"Sure, after what we’ve been through, I think we are ready for another break." Xena mounted Argo and looked suddenly thoughtful. Taking a deep breath, she finally posed the question she had been dreading the answer to. "Gabrielle, just how did you become so... so knowledgeable?"

Gabrielle shrugged, not wanting to reveal everything just yet. She could not stop the heat from rising to her face. "I kind of made some observations, learned a few things along the way and tried to make them work for me." She looked away shyly, worried this answer would not suffice.

Xena smiled at the bard’s attempt to dodge her question. In the end, she would know the whole story. She had very pleasurable ways of extracting the information from her reluctant bard. Her mind flashed to Gabrielle’s expression when she tossed the leather straps into her lap. "Yeah, I made some observations along the way too, maybe they can work for me as well." She winked and pulled the bard up behind her on Argo. They headed in the direction of the Amazon village, both eager to try out more of what they had learned.

 

The End? I sincerely hope not!


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