Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format
THE COTTAGE by Eva Allen
DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle, along with others who have appeared in the TV series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, are the sole property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are the clever invention of the author. The use of Universal's characters in this story does not constitute the author's intent to make a profit or otherwise infringe on the existing copyright. The interpretation of the characters in this story is purely the author's own. Copyright for this fanfiction held by Eva Allen, September, 1997.
"Xena, why won't you tell me where we're going?"
"Because it's a surprise."
"Oh," said Gabrielle and frowned.
Xena glanced briefly at her companion and smiled before returning her attention to the trees around them. They had been walking along this narrow woodland track since mid-morning, and now the sun was halfway down the western sky. More than an hour had passed since they had met another traveler. Argo's hooves clopped softly on the hard-packed earth, and birds called back and forth among the trees. Xena's sharp ears took in these sounds and then dismissed them, remaining alert to catch anything that seemed out of place.
"Is it pretty there?" asked Gabrielle.
"The place we're going."
"Oh," said Xena, bringing her thoughts back to the conversation. "Well, yeah, I guess it is."
"Have I ever been there?"
"Do you think I'll like it?"
"I hope so."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment, and Xena could almost hear the wheels turning inside the blonde head.
"Will we be the only ones there?"
"As far as I know."
They walked on a few more paces, then Gabrielle said, "Will it be . . . romantic?"
Xena stopped and turned to face Gabrielle. "What kind of silly question is that?" she asked in mock sternness.
"It's not a silly question! It's a perfectly good question!"
"Oh. I see." Xena had to work hard to keep from grinning. She strode forward again, and Gabrielle scurried to catch up.
"Well, will it be?"
"Will it be what?"
"Romantic!" Gabrielle skipped around in front of Xena and began walking backwards, watching the Xena's face. Xena gave up trying not to smile. She stopped again and laid a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I suppose we could make it that way," she said, raising one eyebrow suggestively. The joy that lit up Gabrielle's face sent an unexpected thrill through Xena's body, and she quickly bent and kissed the bard on the lips.
"Mmm, this is going to be fun," Gabrielle murmured, as they started walking again. Then after a few moments, she said, "I just have one more question."
"Are we almost there yet?"
Xena laughed. "Yeah, we're almost there. We could have made it in less time, but I wanted to stick to back roads." She scanned their surroundings once more.
"You're still worried about Garron, aren't you?" Gabrielle said.
"A little, but he probably won't follow us. I just want to be careful, that's all."
"He made some pretty nasty threats."
"Yes, and if he got the chance, he'd act on them," Xena said. "We're just not going to give him the chance. Some people make threats and it's all talk, but not Garron--he means what he says. He can be really vicious, especially when he's angry. And he's clever, so that makes him even more dangerous."
"Well, we certainly made him angry enough, rescuing all those girls he had kidnapped so he could sell them at the slave market!"
"Yes, we made him angry, but here's the thing about Garron. He tends to get one idea in his head and that's all he thinks about--at least until the next idea comes along. Right now he's thinking about getting his revenge, but next week he'll have some totally new obsession. I figure if we can just stay out of his way for a few days, he'll forget all about us and we won't have to worry about him anymore."
"I hope you're right about that," said Gabrielle. Then, with a well-aimed kick, she sent a rock bouncing down the road.
Xena looked at her friend and saw the worry in her face. "Look," she said, "I didn't mean to scare you. I honestly think there's very little chance that Garron followed us. We got out of there pretty quickly yesterday and covered a lot of ground riding double on Argo. That spot where we camped last night was well hidden and we didn't use a fire. There's no way Garron could know about this place we're going to. And we've come on back roads all the way."
"What about that village we went to this morning?" Gabrielle said. "That was on a pretty busy road."
"Yes, but we had to get some supplies somewhere, so I decided we could take the risk. It'll be fine, Gabrielle. Don't worry about it. I want this to be fun."
She put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, gave her a hug, and was rewarded with a smile. "Okay, I'll try not to worry," Gabrielle promised. "Just bring on the fun part!"
Xena began watching the left side of the track more carefully now, looking for a certain path she remembered. "I hope I can find this place again," she muttered. "It's been several years since I've been there. Maybe it doesn't even exist anymore."
"You mean you brought me all this way to a place that might not even exist?" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"It could happen. When you're with me, you just have to take your chances!" Xena grinned at her partner and then looked at the trees again. "Aha!" she said suddenly. "That might be what I'm looking for!" Pushing aside a branch, she revealed the opening of a narrow path. Before entering, though, she took a few moments to listen carefully and look all around them again. Satisfied that no one was in sight, she led Argo in among the trees.
"Here," said Xena, handing the reins to Gabrielle. "I'm going to go just a little ways ahead. You bring Argo." The dirt on the path was dry and hard-packed. That was good, Xena thought; they wouldn't leave any tracks. She glided off through the trees, staying a few paces in front of Gabrielle and Argo.
It took only a few minutes to reach the clearing. At the edge of it, Xena stopped and motioned for Gabrielle to stay back. With eagle-sharp eyes, she scanned the area, but saw nothing unusual. Birds flitted from tree to tree, chirping in an unconcerned way. And only a short distance from where she stood, a squirrel rummaged busily through the leaves. Everything was pretty much as she remembered it. On the other side of the short, grassy area, stood a small, wood cottage. Its thatched roof looked a little worse for the wear, but with any luck, it would still keep out the rain. Behind the cottage was a narrow line of brush and trees. Beyond that, she recalled, was a wide meadow where the grass and wildflowers grew almost waist-high by summer's end. From her left, Xena could hear the soft babbling of the clear creek which bordered the clearing.
Smiling, she turned around and beckoned. When Gabrielle reached her, she took Argo's reins and said, "Close your eyes." Gabrielle grinned and squeezed her eyes shut. Xena guided her to the edge of the clearing and stood behind her with her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "Now look," she said.
There was a sharp intake of breath. "Oh, Xena! It's wonderful!"
"I was hoping you'd like it."
"I do! It's so charming and sweet and--" she turned a smiling face to Xena, "it's just perfect for us! How long can we stay?"
"I don't know . . . a few days, maybe a week. We'll have to see how bored we get with each other."
Gabrielle punched her in the arm. "You silly thing! We're not going to get bored!" She turned back toward the cottage. "Can I go look at it?"
"Let me go first, just to check it out. It will only take a second." Xena handed the reins back to Gabrielle. A few strides of her long legs took her to the cottage door, which stood slightly ajar. Drawing her sword, she paused, listening carefully, then abruptly kicked the door open. On the threshold she stopped again, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light before she stepped in.
The cottage was tiny--only one room with an earth floor. A stone fireplace stood at one end, its stick-and-mud chimney rising through the peak of the thatched roof. By the wall opposite the door, a pile of straw served as a bed. The only furnishings were a rough wooden table and two benches in the center of the room. One window in the front wall let in a little light and fresh air.
Xena backed out of the cottage, then walked around behind it to check out the shrubbery. The breeze blowing from the meadow smelled of warm grass and flowers. It had definitely been a good idea to bring Gabrielle here, Xena decided, smiling.
In front of the cottage again, she slid her sword back into its scabbard and called to Gabrielle. "Come on! The coast is clear!"
While Gabrielle inspected the cottage interior, Xena pulled the saddlebags, blankets, and cooking gear off Argo's back and dropped them on the ground. Then she began uncinching the saddle and breast collar.
"Xena, I absolutely love it!" Gabrielle said, as she came back outside.
"Good!" Xena responded. "Why don't you take this stuff inside, and here's the wineskin, too."
Gabrielle picked up the gear and carried it inside. Xena followed with the saddle and set it on the floor. Straightening up, she suddenly found Gabrielle's arms around her neck. "Thanks for bringing me here," the bard said. She pulled Xena's face toward her and they kissed, then kissed again.
"You know," Gabrielle murmured as she nestled her face against Xena's neck, "you're not very cuddly when you're wearing your armor. Why don't you take it off?"
"I will, Sweetheart," Xena said, kissing the top of the blonde head, "but not yet. There are some things I need to do first."
She left the embrace and headed out the door. Argo had wandered over to get a drink from the stream. Xena went to the mare and stroked her. "Let me get that bridle off of you," she said. "and you can eat your fill of sweet meadow grass." The horse raised her head and rubbed a dripping muzzle against the warrior's cheek. Xena laughed and began unfastening the buckles.
"Hey, Xena! I have an idea!" Gabrielle came trotting across the clearing.
"You often do," Xena remarked dryly.
"Know that pile of straw in the cottage? Well, it's kind of old and musty--did you notice? So what if we cut a whole bunch of fresh new grass to put on top of it? We could make it really thick, and it would be like our own little love nest, all soft and sweet-smelling--just like a meadow! What do you think?"
Xena pulled the bridle off over Argo's ears and turned to look at Gabrielle, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "And just how are you going to cut all this grass?" she asked.
"We could use your sword."
"My sword!" she exclaimed. "You want to use my sword to cut grass? My sword, which I keep polished and sharpened and ready to slice an enemy in two at a moment's notice? That sword?"
Gabrielle grinned. "Yep, that's the one I was thinking of!"
"Humph!" Xena started toward the cottage, carrying the bridle.
Gabrielle tagged along, keeping up a stream of suggestions. "We could cut this grass right here in the clearing. It's almost up to our knees and it's hard to walk in, anyway. There'd probably be enough to make a nice bed."
At the cottage door, Xena tossed the bridle inside and then reached out for Gabrielle's hand. "Come with me," she said and led her around behind the cott age. "You want grass? I'll show you grass!"
On the other side of the trees, they stopped at the edge of the meadow. The grass here was thigh-high, and intermingled with all kinds of wildflowers. Gabrielle slipped her arm around Xena's waist and they stood there for some time, watching the bees wandering from flower to flower. The sun was warm, the breeze soft. Finally, Gabrielle looked at Xena and said, "Do you know how much I love you?"
Xena smiled down into the green eyes. "I think I've got a pretty good idea."
* * *
They carried one of the blankets out to the meadow and began piling it full of grass. They worked side by side, Xena using the sword and Gabrielle a dagger. The work went quickly, and they had almost filled the blanket when Xena straightened up suddenly, her eyes fixed on a movement in the grass several paces away. Shifting the sword to her left hand, she reached out her right toward Gabrielle.
"Hand me the dagger," she said in a low voice, her gaze still focused on the place in the grass.
Gabrielle froze in mid-cutting stroke, then handed over the weapon. "What is it?" she whispered.
Xena took the blade in her fingers, hefted, and then quickly hurled it. There was a sudden movement, a squeal, and then silence.
"I hope it's our supper," said Xena. She handed the sword to Gabrielle, then waded through the grass to the spot where the dagger had disappeared. In a moment, she was back, prey in hand.
"Mmm, rabbit stew!" said Gabrielle. "My mouth is watering already."
They carried three blanket-loads of grass into the cottage. While Gabrielle arranged their harvest into a comfortable mattress and spread their bedding over it, Xena gathered firewood and then sat on the cottage doorstep and skinned the rabbit.
"I'll light the fire," Gabrielle offered. "I hope this chimney draws all right. Which saddlebag are the flint and tinder in?"
"I don't know--you'll just have to look." Xena brought the pieces of meat in and laid them on the table. That's when she noticed the clay mug full of wildflowers. "Well, isn't this fancy," she said, "flowers right on the table!" She picked up the mug and breathed in the sweet aroma. "Too bad you won't get any wine, though, since you used your mug for a vase!"
Gabrielle looked up from the saddlebag she was rummaging in and grinned. "Actually, it's your mug, but I'll be glad to let you share mine!"
"Hmm," said Xena. "Did you find the flint yet?"
"No. Oh wait, here it is!"
"Good. You go ahead and start the fire and get supper going. I want to look around again before it gets dark."
The sun had dipped below the treetops, sending long shadows across the clearing. Xena scouted back along the trail to the road, then made a wide circuit through the woods around the cottage and meadow. She moved slowly, watchfully among the trees, making as little noise as possible. She scanned the sky for signs of smoke rising from a campfire, but saw only the wisps rising from the cottage chimney. Argo, grazing in the meadow, raised her head and wickered softly at Xena's approach. The warrior princess stroked the mare and laid her face against the warm neck. "You like this place, too, don't you, girl?" she said. "It would all be perfect if I could just shake this nagging worry about Garron." Argo shook her head and snorted. Xena moved to Argo's head and rubbed the velvety nose. "Thing is," she continued, "I can't see any sign that he followed us, so why do I keep worrying that he did?" The mare nuzzled her neck, and Xena laughed and kissed her on the nose. "Okay, I need to get back to Gabrielle. Good night, Argo."
As she started back along the far edge of the meadow, Xena caught the scent of something juicy. "Blackberries!" she exclaimed. The brambles were nearby and heavy with fruit. She plucked a berry and popped it into her mouth, savoring the sweet taste. She hadn't come prepared for berry picking, though. How could she carry enough of them back for supper? After thinking for a moment, she loosened the laces of her left forearm bracer and slipped it off over her hand. Holding it upright, with the small end resting in her palm, she quickly filled it up with berries. "That ought to do it," she said, and headed back to the cottage.
* * *
"It smells good in here," Xena said as she pushed open the door.
Gabrielle looked up from her seat at the table, where she was cutting up vegetables by candlelight, and smiled. "The rabbit meat is already in the pot. I just need to add these and then let it all simmer for a while."
The glow of the candle on the golden hair and smiling face made Xena catch her breath. She moved to the table and sat down on the other bench, never taking her eyes off Gabrielle, who was now bent over her work again. Xena took a berry out of her bracer and held it out.
"Look what I found for dessert!" she said.
Gabrielle glanced at the berry and then at Xena. "I thought we were going to have something else for dessert," she said coyly.
"Mmm, well, we can have that, too." Xena grinned. "Open your mouth." She fed the blackberry to Gabrielle, then leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips.
"Very sweet," said Gabrielle, chewing thoughtfully.
Xena got up and looked around for something to put the berries in, finally settling on the frying pan. She laid her bracer on the floor near the saddle. Her sword and chakram she placed close to the bed, so they would be handy if needed in the night. Then, sitting down again, she removed her shin guards and began unlacing her boots.
Gabrielle carried the vegetables to the fireplace, where she dropped them into the pot and stirred the mixture. A moment later, she was kneeling in front of Xena, helping undo the boot laces. "You were gone a long time," she said softly. "I was starting to worry. Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine. I just wanted to make a really thorough check."
Gabrielle tugged on Xena's boot and it slid slowly off. Then she pulled off the other one. Xena wiggled her toes and flexed her ankles. "Ah," she murmured, "it's always a relief to have those things off."
"Yeah, that's why I took mine off before I started cooking," Gabrielle said. "Ready to do the armor?"
Without a word, Xena raised her arms and Gabrielle unfastened the buckles. Then, standing up, she lifted the whole contraption off over Xena's head. "You've already done part of my job for me," the bard said, indicating the arm where the bracer had been.
"I always like to be helpful," Xena said, holding out her other arm. Gabrielle unlaced the bracer and removed it, followed by the smaller ones from the upper arms.
When all the armor was off, Xena, still seated on the bench, caught Gabrielle's hands and pulled her around to stand in front of her. "Sit down," she said, nodding toward her lap. Gabrielle laughed, straddled Xena's legs and sat. The warrior brushed Gabrielle's hair back with gentle fingers and admired again the effect of candlelight on her face. "You are so beautiful, Gabrielle," she said softly. "I'm a lucky woman." Then pulling the bard toward her, she began to kiss her--quietly at first, but then with growing passion.
Gabrielle ran her hands over Xena's back and shoulders, her breathing quickening. "Maybe we should go directly to the romantic portion of the evening," she whispered into Xena's ear, "and eat supper later."
"Mmm, there's a thought." Xena kissed the base of Gabrielle's throat and continued up her neck.
"Are you hungry?" Gabrielle asked.
"Uh-huh. In more ways than one!" Xena said, nibbling at her lover's earlobe.
Gabrielle giggled and squirmed with pleasure. "So what do you want to do?" she asked.
"I don't know. It's a tough decision."
For a moment, neither one spoke, but the nuzzling continued. Then Gabrielle straightened up and looked at Xena. "Well, you know," she said, tracing a line with her finger down Xena's nose to her lips, "you were really embarrassed the last time your stomach growled while we were making love."
Xena caught Gabrielle's finger gently with her lips and teeth. "Mmm, I remember that," she mused. "Maybe that means we should eat first."
"Eat supper, you mean."
"Gabrielle!" Xena said, feigning shock. "I can't believe you said that! You used to be so innocent!"
"I've been hanging around with you too long, I guess," Gabrielle said, laughing. With a quick kiss, she slipped off of Xena's knees and went to the fireplace to stir the stew.
"Shall I open the wine?" Xena asked.
"Good idea. I still can't believe we bought a whole skin of wine just to bring with us--we've never done that before."
"Well, maybe we should do it more often." Xena rummaged through their pile of belongings until she located the wine and their second mug. Carrying them back to the table, she filled the mug almost to the brim.
"In fact," Gabrielle continued as she poked the fire and added a few more sticks, "I couldn't believe how much stuff we bought in the village this morning--fresh vegetables, bread, cheese, wine, even salt! Where did you get the money for it?"
"The people in the last town took up a little collection. They were glad to have their daughters back, safe and sound." Xena knelt down at the hearth next to Gabrielle and held out the mug with both hands. "You first," she said.
Gabrielle put her hands over Xena's and drew the mug toward her. "Here's to us," she said and drank, then moved the mug toward Xena.
"To us," echoed the warrior, smiling over the rim of the mug.
After that, they sat at the table, the mug between them
"How much money did they give you?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena laughed. "Oh, are we still on that topic? Twelve dinars."
"I thought you didn't like to accept money from people."
"I don't, usually. Or if I accept it, I like to give it to someone who really needs it."
"So why did you take it this time . . . and then spend so much of it on us?"
Xena shifted her weight on the hard, wooden bench, then turned sideways so that she could stretch her legs out toward the fire. She met Gabrielle's gaze for a moment and then looked away. "I guess I wanted this to be special . . . for you . . . for us. We've never really had much time alone together, and it's been, what, a couple of months since we first became lovers--"
"It's been two months and--" Gabrielle stopped to calculate, "sixteen days."
Xena laughed. "Yes, well, I might have known you've been keeping track. Anyway, I know it was selfish of me, but I thought maybe it was okay to indulge ourselves for once. And I've still got five dinars left--I'm sure we'll find something useful to do with that."
Gabrielle gave Xena's hand a quick squeeze. "Hey," she said. "Even a warrior princess deserves to have a little fun sometimes--and so does her sidekick!"
"You think so?"
"I know so!" Gabrielle picked up the mug and took a long drink from it. "How'd you know about this place, anyway?" she asked, setting the mug down and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Oh, I have my ways," Xena said, winked, and took a big swallow of wine.
Gabrielle was silent for a moment, watching her, then asked, "Have you ever been here before with . . . a lover?"
Xena blew out her breath softly and smiled. "No, Gabrielle, it was nothing like that. I came here two or three times with my army; one of my scouts discovered the place. The first time we had several wounded with us. We took care of them in the cottage here and the rest of us slept out in the clearing. The other times we just came here to lay low and rest up for a few days between battles--or I guess I should say 'raids.' Those times I slept in the cottage--alone--and the men slept outside. I don't know why the place is here--who built it or lived here or anything like that. I hadn't even thought about it for years."
"I'm glad you thought about it now," Gabrielle said. Getting up, she went to the fireplace andbegan stirring the stew again. Then, without looking up, she said, "Xena, can I ask you something? You don't have to answer, if you don't want to."
"Okay." Xena wondered what kind of question was coming. Picking up the mug, she took a sip.
"Well, I was just wondering, uh . . . how many people have you slept with?"
Xena started and choked on her mouthful of wine. "Whoa, Gabrielle!" she said, coughing. "Now you're getting into territory you don't really want to be in!"
"Okay, I'm sorry. I never should have asked that!" Gabrielle busily poked at the fire and added more sticks.
Xena coughed again and then sat studying her lover for a few moments. "Come over here and sit down," she said gently.
Gabrielle sat, and Xena handed her the wine mug. "Let me try to explain something," she said. She waited until Gabrielle met her gaze and then went on. "You know who I was and what I was . . . before. I slept with a lot of people--a lot of men--back then, but that didn't necessarily mean I loved them. Sex was just a tool that came in handy for me in doing my job. I used it to reward men, to control them, to make alliances. It had more to do with power and politics than with love."
She paused for a moment, picked up the mug Gabrielle had just set down, and took a sip. Then she went on. "I know you've probably never thought about sex in this way, but can you try to understand?"
"Yes, I think I can," said Gabrielle, "but you don't look at sex that way now, do you?"
"No, of course not. That's one of the things that changed for me--one of the things Hercules helped me see. Since then, I have only slept with people I truly cared about--people like Herc and Marcus . . . and you." She reached out for Gabrielle's hand. "You're the only woman I've ever made love to, and I swear by Aphrodite that I love you more than I've ever loved anyone else." She raised Gabrielle's hand to her lips and kissed it. "Isn't that what you really wanted to know when you asked me that question?"
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered. "Thank you, Xena."
There were a few moments of silence, then Xena said, "As long as we're doing personal questions, could I ask you something?"
Gabrielle looked a little surprised, but she nodded.
Xena took a deep breath, then let it out. "When we make love, do you ever feel--" she paused, looking for the right word. "Do you ever feel disloyal to Perdicas?"
"Mmm, well, yes, at first I did--a little. But then I thought about how Perdicas would want me to be happy, and I am happy--being with you. Besides, it's not the same, somehow."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that Perdicas and I grew up together; he was like a brother to me. I loved him a lot, but it was a different kind of love from what I feel for you." There was an intensity in her green eyes that struck deep into Xena's heart. "With you," Gabrielle continued, "I feel something deeper, like--it's hard to explain--but like we're two parts of the same whole. I feel as if we were somehow destined to be together--that we always have been and always will be, throughout all of time. I guess I see us as soulmates, Xena. That's the best word I know to describe it." She stood up suddenly and turned away. "You probably think I'm crazy, saying all this, but it's how I feel." Then she turned back to look at Xena. "Do you think I'm crazy? Have you ever felt any of these things I'm talking about?"
"Yes, I have," Xena said, in a voice that trembled slightly, "but I never had such beautiful words to describe them." She stood up and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle, burying her face in the golden hair, breathing in the scent of her. How long they stood there, she didn't know, but finally she let go. "Hey," she said with a smile. "Is that stew ever going to be ready?"
* * *
They didn't talk much while they ate, content simply to enjoy each other's nearness.
"I think this may be the best stew you've ever made," Xena said at last, as she scraped the bottom of her wooden bowl.
"It is good, isn't it? Do you want some more?"
Gabrielle quickly refilled both bowls while Xena used a dagger to cut a couple more slices of dark bread from the loaf they'd bought that morning.
"The bread's good, too," Xena said, biting off a big mouthful.
"This is fun, isn't it--kind of like children playing at keeping house," Gabrielle said, with a grin. "Maybe you should retire from the warrior business and we could settle down someplace in a cute little cottage like this. I could write scrolls and bake bread, and you could putter around in the yard--maybe grow vegetables or something. What do you think?"
Xena looked at her with one eyebrow raised sardonically. "Sorry, Gabrielle," she said, "but somehow I don't share your vision."
Gabrielle laughed. "I didn't think you would. I really can't imagine you as anything besides a warrior . . . and a lover," she added softly.
Xena grinned crookedly and reached for the frying pan full of berries. "Here, have some dessert," she said with a wink.
They fed berries to each other, giggling, until the fruit was all gone and their lips and tongues were stained purple.
"Are you still hungry?" asked Gabrielle.
"Only in one way now," Xena said. Reaching out, she pulled the bard toward her and covered the soft mouth with her own. As Gabrielle's lips parted, Xena slipped her tongue into her lover's mouth and began to explore the teeth and velvety tongue. Her breath quickened, and she heard Gabrielle's do the same. Standing up, she pulled the bard up with her and felt Gabrielle's arms wrap around her in a tight embrace. Then she bent and trailed kisses across the warm neck, where she could feel the pulse beating ever more rapidly.
Gabrielle sighed softly and let her head fall back. "Oh, Xena," she whispered, "you're so good!"
Xena smiled as she gently kissed the collarbones and white skin of her lover's chest. She cupped one breast in her hand, feeling the nipple already beginning to harden under the fabric. Kneeling, she untied the laces and slid the bodice off over Gabrielle's arms. Then she buried her face in the wonderfully soft breasts, her mouth seeking and then finding a nipple, kissing it first, then sucking, gently, gently, then harder. Gabrielle moaned with pleasure, entwining her fingers in Xena's dark hair. Xena felt her own thrill of pleasure, strong and deep; her heart was beating faster now, her breathing becoming ragged. She moved to the other breast, sucking again, savoring the nipple, using one hand to massage the first nipple at the same time.
After a little while, moving lower, she unfastened Gabrielle's skirt and eased it down over her hips and thighs. With gentle fingers, she touched the triangle of golden-brown hair and felt the bard shudder with delight. Her fingers slipped easily into the warm wetness, over the tender folds of skin, and then up inside of her.
"Oh!" Gabrielle gasped, as she almost stumbled. Her fingers tightened their grip on Xena's hair.
Xena slid her hand slowly out of the pleasure place and looked up. "Hey," she said, "try to leave me a little hair, okay?"
Gabrielle's eyes flew open and she quickly loosened her grip. "Oh, I'm sorry! Did I hurt you? I just-- You were making me so weak I could hardly stand, so I had to hold onto something!"
Xena laughed. "Maybe it's time we tried out the love nest," she said.
She held the skirt while Gabrielle stepped out of it, then stood up.
"Now you," said Gabrielle. She turned the warrior princess around, unlaced the leather dress, and helped her take it off. Xena quickly slipped off her undergarment and tossed it into the pile of discarded clothing. She blew out the candle and the two women embraced, delighting in the feel of skin against skin. Then, suddenly, Xena bent down and scooped Gabrielle up in her arms.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked in surprise.
"I just wanted to see if I could do this."
"Well, of course you can. You've caught me in mid-air before--surely you can lift me!"
"I guess you're right," Xena said, crossing the room in two easy paces and laying Gabrielle on the bed. When she dropped down beside her, the bard pushed Xena over onto her back and eased her body on top of the warrior's. Propped on her elbows, Gabrielle traced Xena's cheekbone in the dark with a gentle finger. "I love you so much," she whispered. Then their mouths met in a kiss that sent shivers through the warrior woman's body. She ran her hands over Gabrielle's shoulders, back, and buttocks, loving the feel of the smooth skin. She moaned softly as the bard slid her leg between her thighs and pressed it against her. Then Gabrielle was kissing her breasts, teasing the nipples with her tongue, sucking in a way that could only make her moan again.
"Like that, do you?" Gabrielle asked.
"Can't you tell?"
Then Xena felt her lover's thigh again, rubbing so deliciously against her. She caught Gabrielle's face in both hands, pulling her up for another deep kiss, savoring the feel of that tongue in her mouth. She moved her hand down then, sliding it between their bodies until she located the mound of soft hair and the sweet folds of skin. Gently, she began massaging them.
"Oh, Xena!" Gabrielle whispered, collapsing against her and burying her face against her neck.
"Roll over." They turned together, Xena easing herself partway onto Gabrielle, her fingers still in place, finding now the spot she knew would give the most pleasure. The flesh tightened under her fingers and Gabrielle began to breathe in quick, short gasps.
"Is that a good place?" murmured Xena.
"It's perfect--don't stop!"
Propped on an elbow, Xena took one of Gabrielle's nipples in her mouth again. The bard's body began to move rythmically against her. She moaned and then moaned again.
"That's it, Darling, you're almost there," Xena said softly. "I love you, Gabrielle!"
Then Gabrielle cried out, her body arching and spasming with pleasure. Xena held her, marvelling, as always, at the gift of joy she was able to give to this sweet woman.
After a few moments, Gabrielle lay still again and sighed. "Mmm, that was a good one," she said.
"I noticed. Want more?"
Gabrielle smiled coyly. "Yeah, if you're offering."
Xena grinned and descended the bard's body with a trail of kisses. Then pushing the thighs apart, she eased between them, breathing in the musky smell of Gabrielle's sex. With her tongue, she sought the pleasure place again, stroking it gently, tasting its sweetness.
"That feels so good, Xena! Oh! This isn't going to take long!"
And it didn't. Xena held onto Gabrielle's thighs, feeling once more the wonder of joy coursing through her lover's body. "Again?" she asked, when it was over.
"No, that's plenty for now. Just come up here by me."
They lay in each other's arms for a little while, and Xena traced lazy designs on Gabrielle's chest with her finger.
"How did you know what to do?" Gabrielle asked. "I mean, the first time. If you'd never made love to a woman before me, how did you know how to do it?"
"Just kind of made it up as I went along, I guess," Xena said.
Gabrielle laughed. "You're crazy--do you know that?" In a quick movement, she rolled over on top of Xena and kissed her. "Okay, it's my turn now."
"You just had your turn."
"I mean it's my turn to make you squirm and groan."
Xena laughed. "I'm your willing victim!"
It began simply enough. A little nibbling on the warrior's earlobes and gentle blowing in her sensitive ears sent shivers all the way down to her toes. Then it was the breasts again, her nipples teased into hard knots by Gabrielle's eager mouth. Xena could feel her heart starting to pound again, and when the bard touched the dark hair between her legs and then her clitoris, she gasped.
"You're really wet!" Gabrielle marvelled.
"I wonder how that happened," Xena said with a half grin.
She thought she had never felt anything as wonderful as Gabrielle's tongue stroking her. She thought, in fact, that she might explode with the pleasure of it. "Oh, Gabrielle," she said, panting, "that's so--"
The wave of sensation burst over her before she could finish the thought. Writhing and moaning, she clutched at Gabrielle's hair. Joy coursed all the way to the ends of her fingers and toes, leaving her tingling and weak with its passing. Then Gabrielle was beside her again, kissing her, brushing back the hair from her face.
"Want more?" the bard asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No, that one was enough for now," Xena said. "It may have been the best one I've ever had. Just lie on top of me--I want to hold you."
They lay quietly for some time, as their breathing slowed and their heartbeats gradually returned to normal.
"Xena," said Gabrielle with her mouth against Xena's ear.
"Do you think it's wicked to be so happy? I mean, when there are so many people in the world who are poor and sick and miserable?"
"Wicked? No, I don't think so. Maybe if we never tried to help other people it would be wicked, but we can't save the whole world, just the two of us."
Gabrielle pushed herself up on her arms and stared down at Xena. "It's funny to hear you say that, because sometimes I would swear you really do think we can save the whole world--or at least that we should try."
Xena considered for a minute. "I guess it's just that I have so much evil in my past--I don't know how I can ever atone for it." She reached up and touched Gabrielle's face. "I certainly never thought I deserved the kind of happiness I've found with you. It's scary sometimes, because I'm afraid it will all be taken away."
"Don't say that, Xena. You deserve to be happy, and I want to make you happy."
"Good," Xena said with a grin. "You can start by getting off me now and pulling up a blanket. I'm too tired to discuss philosophical questions tonight."
"Goodnight, Love," Gabrielle whispered as she spread the cover over them. They snuggled up close together and soon were asleep.
When Xena opened her eyes in the soft light of morning, the first thing she saw was Gabrielle, leaning on one elbow, looking at her.
She closed her eyes again, since they didn't really feel like being open yet. "What are you doing?" she murmured.
"I'm watching you sleep."
Xena opened only one eye this time. "Why?" she said, and closed it.
"Because I don't get to do it very often," said Gabrielle. "You're usually up before I am, and if I do happen to wake up during the night, it's too dark to see you." She touched Xena's cheek softly and Xena opened her eyes again. "You just look so relaxed and peaceful . . . so beautiful. And you didn't have any nightmares."
"No. I don't think I've ever had one on a night when we've made love."
"Well, we know the cure then," Gabrielle said with a wink.
"Yes, I guess we do." Xena smiled and pulled Gabrielle toward her. They kissed a gentle and lingering kiss, and then they made love again--tenderly, slowly--the way two people do who have all the time in the world to spend together.