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The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Aphrodite, etc. are owned by MCA/Universal. I am not profiting from this story nor do I intend to infringe on the rights of the owners of Xena: Warrior Princess in any way.
This story contains violence and language which some may find offensive. It also depicts a loving sexual relationship between two women. If you are under the age of 18 or if this type of material is illegal where you live, you might want to skip this.
Joxer Disclaimer: Joxer is in this story, but please dont let that stop you from continuing. I assure you--hes only mentioned briefly. It will be over before you know it!
I hope you enjoy the story. Please send any comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org Writing fiction is new to me so Id really appreciate any feedback you have to offer.
As always, thanks to my partner, Crimson Blade, for taking such an interest in my efforts.
The bard scurried back and forth, the boards under her feet creaking with each hurried step. "Whos got the candles?," she bellowed as she rummaged through the items on the table. "Napkins, plates, mugs, ...," she mumbled to herself as she continued her search. "Hello? Candles?," she called out again, prompting a stout man in an apron to emerge from behind the counter. "Thank you!," she gleefully exclaimed when he handed her three small candles.
"Shes coming!," Joxer burst through the door, swatting at his helmet which had shifted on his head, the ear-flap obscuring his vision.
"Happy birthday!," the modest crowd roared when the heavy door shifted on its hinges.
"For me?," the beaming man clasped his hands to his chest, his jaw dropping to reveal his surprise. "You shouldnt have!," he insisted, making his way through--what he now believed to be--a sea of his adoring fans.
"Actually...we didnt," Gabrielle stepped forward. "But its good to see you, Salmoneus," she gave her friend a hug. "Is it your birthday too?," her brow furrowed as she raised the question.
"Oh, Hades no!," he chuckled. "That was months ago, dear. So...whos the special person?"
"Xena," she answered, glancing at the idle door.
"I should have guessed," he grinned. "Where is she?"
"She should be here any moment now." Just as she got the last word out, the door opened, revealing a very weary warrior princess.
"Surprise!," the word sprung from the bards mouth first, sparking a chain reaction through the crowd as the warrior made her way across the room.
"Gabrielllle...," Xena groaned, her throbbing head causing her eyes to squint. "You just had to do this, didnt you?" She had repeatedly told the bard that the last thing she wanted on her birthday was a party.
"Come on, Xena. Its your 30th birthday! That calls for a celebration," she insisted. "Besides, I kept it small, didnt I?," she directed the warriors attention to, what she considered to be--a sparse crowd.
"Not small enough," she scowled. "But I guess I can survive it for a little while," she unveiled a crooked smile as she resigned herself.
"You better blow out your candles before they turn this place into a raging inferno," Gabrielle winked, guiding her to the illuminated cake on the table.
"Who came up with this tradition anyway?," Xena grumbled. "I mean, people practically begging you to breathe on their food before they eat it." She made her way to the table, politely greeting the guests along the way. Leaning over the cake, she took a deep breath.
"Wait!," the bard shouted. "You have to make a wish." She had that incredibly sweet expression on her face. The one the warrior could never resist---though she often tried.
Now smiling from ear to ear, she closed her eyes and made her wish before thanking the gods that Gabrielle couldnt read her mind. Snuffing the candles in a single puff, she affectionately draped her arm across the bards shoulders as she gave herself over to an evening of obligatory small-talk.
"Thirty, huh?," Joxer snickered.
"Thats right," the warrior snarled. "What are you laughing at?"
"Noth...nothing," he stuttered, quickly moving out of her range.
Her headache growing more intense, Xena circulated through the chattering crowd. After a while, deciding that shed had enough of the tedious mingling, she made her way over to where the bard was seated. "Gabrielle, thank you," she said warmly. "But I really need to get some sleep. My head is killing me."
"You still have that headache?," she gently placed a hand on the warriors cheek, her concern for her friend evident.
"Yeah, I think Im just tired," she yawned. "Will you be up soon?"
"Before long. Happy birthday, Xena," she smiled and watched the warrior make her way back across the room.
Xena headed up the rickety stairs, for once looking forward to spending the night indoors. Closing the door behind her, she could faintly hear the voices of those still gathered in her honor in the tavern below. After removing her armor, she stood in front of the mirror taking inventory of every line on her face, no matter how obscure.
Reminded that the bard would be there soon, she removed the last of her clothing and crawled under the covers. The vision playing over and over again in her mind grew increasingly persistent as she tapped her finger tips against her stomach, trying to focus on something else. "Its no use," she mumbled, spreading her legs. Her fingers expertly found their way to the place she needed them most. "Thank the gods," she moaned as she felt herself nearing the brink. Pressing against her hand, she found release. "I think Im losing my mind," she uttered before turning onto her side, pulling the blanket over her shoulders.
The bard was careful not to let the door slam as she mindfully pushed it shut. "Xena?," she whispered as she tip-toed across the room and peaked at the now slumbering warrior. She stood over her for a moment, a warm smile emerging on her face as she adjusted the blankets. "Happy birthday," she sighed, bending down to plant a kiss on the her cheek before climbing into the bed on the other side of the room.
Gabrielle woke to find that she was alone. Pulling back the curtains, she peered through the window at the pouring rain. "Wonder where she went," she said to herself before heading out to fill the washbasin.
After she had bathed and tidied up the room, she headed downstairs to grab something to eat. Carrying a plate full of fresh bread and melon, she found a table in the corner and sat down to enjoy her meal. Not having the pleasure of Xenas company, she decided to work on her most recent scroll while she ate. She had been working on a play, one that she hoped might someday be performed in Athens. She diligently scrawled on the parchment in front of her, shrugging off the distracting sound of the heavy rain pounding against the tavern walls.
"I need a refill!," the drenched woman staggered through the door, waving a mug in the air.
Growing increasingly annoyed as the woman continued to rant, Gabrielle looked up from her scroll. "Xena!," she exclaimed, rushing to the warriors side. "Youre drunk!," her jaw dropped.
"Im not drunk, Bagrielle. Im juss thirsty," she slammed her mug down on the counter. "Refill!," she shouted again, the man with the apron taking the mug from her hand.
"No! Shes had enough," the bard loudly protested when the man proceeded to fill the mug with ale. "Come on, Xena. Were going back to the room," she insisted, her arms around the warriors waist as she tried in vain to lift her intoxicated companion off the stool on which she was perched.
"Wronggg. Im not gone anywhere til I get anudder drink," she insisted.
"Xena...youve already had too much."
"Sing with me, Bagrielle," the warrior leaned against her and erupted into song, causing the bard to laugh uncontrollably. "Thats the spirit. Loosen up. Join the party!," she grabbed the mug full of ale from the bartender and starting guzzling.
"Xena, really...," she tried to look stern. "We should go upstairs," she gave the warrior the look.
Upon seeing the familiar expression on the bards face, Xena immediately caved, lowering her mug as a warm sensation washed over her. "Ok, Bagrielle. Whatever you say," she stood and allowed her friend to support her as they eased their way up the stairs.
Gabrielle sat next to the warrior, curiously staring at her motionless form, wondering why she had felt the need to get stinking drunk. This wasnt like her at all. She was always so insistent on staying focused, on being prepared...just in case. Given that Xena had barely made it through the door before passing out, she didnt think it was likely that she would wake anytime soon. After hanging the inebriated warriors rain-soaked leathers across the back of a chair, she reclined on the other bed where she mulled over Xenas peculiar behavior before eventually dozing off.
"Ill tear your heart out and feed it to you before it stops beating," the warrior growled.
The bards body trembled as her back was forced against the wall. "Xena!," she called out. "Xena, wake up!"
"Youre going to die," she was gritting her teeth as she slammed her into the wall again, holding a dagger against her jugular.
"Xena!," Gabrielle wailed. "Please! Wake up!," her desperation escalated as she struggled to free herself from the warriors grasp.
Xenas eyes opened wide as she released her grip on the bards shoulders. "Gabrielle?," she looked disoriented. "What am I doing?," she asked herself under her breath, letting the dagger fall to the floor. "Did I hurt you?," she gasped, gently cupping the bards face in her hands.
Assured that the episode was over, Gabrielle pulled her friend to her, yanking her into her arms with a force that jolted them both. "What...what happened to...to you?," she stammered, burying her face in Xenas shoulder.
"I dont know, Gabrielle. I dont know," she answered quietly, clearly alarmed by her own behavior. "Are you alright?," she pulled far enough away to get a good look at the bards face. Still sobbing, Gabrielle nodded. "Im so sorry," the warrior repeated over and over again, holding her friend close.
Insisting that she only needed some fresh air and relaxation, the warrior shrugged off Gabrielles advice that she see a healer. The two packed their saddlebags and left the tavern in the middle of the night, Xena maintaining that the sooner she got out of that dreary dungeon, the better.
"Your heads still hurting, isnt it?," Gabrielle hadnt missed the pained look on the warriors face.
"Oh yeah," Xena slowly climbed off Argos back. "Lets stop here for the night. Well head out again in the morning," she leaned with one arm against a tree, the other pressed against her abdomen.
"Is your stomach bothering you too?," the bard looked worried. The warrior abruptly turned her back and retched behind the tree. "Guess so," Gabrielle answered her own question, a sickened expression moving over her face as unpleasant splattering sounds assaulted her ears. Her concern for her friend escalating, she quickly readied Xenas bedroll. "Lie down," she insisted, coaxing her onto the ground. "You need to keep warm," she placed her own bedroll on top of the warrior. "Ill get a fire going."
The bard kept a watchful eye on her, careful not to stray too far in her search for wood. She shifted the neatly stacked kindling until, at last, a welcomed flame emerged. She then settled between the bedrolls next to the warrior, gently stroking her raven hair. She wasnt used to seeing her like this. She hadnt been herself lately and, as much as she knew the warrior would protest, she was determined that her friend would see a healer as soon as possible.
"How are you feeling?," Gabrielle woke to find the warrior sitting on a rock, diligently sharpening her sword.
"Better," Xena answered through a pensive expression.
"Really?," she wasnt entirely convinced.
"I feel great, actually."
Gabrielle stood and stretched, paying close attention to her friends appearance. "You do look better today," she noted. "Do you want to stay here for a few days and rest?," she asked, hoping the warrior would agree.
"No, I need...want to get moving," she stumbled over her words.
The two women traveled until sunset, the warrior seeming even more aloof than usual. "Why dont we make camp here," Gabrielle suggested when they reached a clearing. "My feet are killing me."
"Theres an inn in village just ahead. I thought we would spend the night there," Xena replied.
"But you loathe inns?," she looked puzzled.
"Actually, Ive stayed at this one before. Its really nice and they have the best custard this side of Amphipolis," she grinned, attempting to convince the bard.
"You know I cant resist custard...or a soft bed," she smiled, picking up her pace as she found herself starting to look forward to getting to the village.
They arrived at the inn shortly after dark. The warrior secured Argo in the stables while Gabrielle bargained for a room. "Ive got to try that custard!," the bards stomach rumbled in unison with her words as she unpacked her satchel once they had made their way to the modest, but quaint, room.
"I think Ill go check things out," Xena informed her. Knowing that the warrior liked to familiarize herself with her surroundings, Gabrielle assured her that she would be fine on her own for a while and headed out in search of a meal.
The warrior writhed beneath the woman, clawing at the blankets on the bed, a low growl rising from her throat as she climaxed. Immediately standing to adjust her leathers, she offered the woman ten dinars. An icy expression washed over her face as she grabbed the womans wrist when she attempted to take the coins from her hand. "You ever wish you could be something besides a worthless harlot?," she sneered. "I asked you a question!," she raised her voice when she didnt get an answer. Terrified, the woman tried to make it to the door. "Youre not going anywhere," Xena grabbed a handful of flaxen hair and pulled her toward her. "Get on your knees like the slave you are," she demanded. "Now...," she began once the woman was compliantly kneeling in front of her. "Beg me to spare your life," she placed her sword against the womans cheek. "Beg!" The woman groveled at her feet, explaining that she had two children, promising that she would leave the brothel, pleading with her not to take her life. "Not bad...," Xena smirked. "But...," she knelt down next to the sobbing woman and, in an instant, sliced through her throat with the blade. Stepping over the carcass, she shoved the heal of her boot against the dead womans face as she made her way toward the door.
Xena and the bard sat across from each other, amiably bantering back and forth as they enjoyed their morning meal. "...and thats why Im not going to see a healer," the warrior chuckled upon completing her spiel.
"Youre certainly full of yourself today," the bard laughed, still amused by the elaborate tale her friend had just rattled off in order to get out of going to visit the town healer.
"Im just relieved to be feeling better," she said through a heavy sigh, averting her eyes away from Gabrielles hypnotizing essence long enough to catch her breath. Lately, the bard had that effect on her. Sometimes merely looking at her would send the warrior into a state of oblivion. "Im going to settle the tab," she rummaged through her satchel in search of a few dinars.
Gabrielle gulped down the last of her cider and picked up her staff, eyeing the warrior who was now approaching a table occupied by a frail woman and what appeared to be her three children. Xena stiffened her back and glared down at the group as she began to address them. From across the room, the bard couldnt quite make out what she was saying, but she headed in their direction the moment she noticed the distraught expression on the unknown womans face.
"You shut that kid up or Ill shut him up for you," the warrior snarled at the woman as her eyes fixed on the crying child she held in her arms.
"Xena!," Gabrielle exclaimed, placing a hand on the warriors shoulder, unable to believe what she had just heard. The warmth of the bards touch lulling her out of her questionable state, Xena shook her head as though she was trying to expel some sort of demon from her body.
"Gabrielle?," she muttered, uncertain of exactly what had happened, but sensing that she had said something vile.
"Lets go," the bard placed an arm around her friend. "We...were really sorry...," she apologized to the woman as she led the warrior to the door. "Xena...," she began once they were outside. "You need to see someone who can help you."
"I...umm...Ill...Ill go," she reluctantly conceded, finally acknowledging that this problem was one that she wasnt going to be able to remedy on her own.
Xena and the bard barely uttered a word between them as they made their way to the tiny hut on the outskirts of town. Laisah, the local healer, graciously welcomed the two women, offering them warm herbal tea and a seat on the down pillows strewn over the floor. Upon escorting another patient to the door, a young boy who was going blind in one eye, she informed the warrior that she was ready to see her.
Xena reluctantly rose to her feet and followed her into a dimly lit room. "So tell me, Xena...what seems to be the problem?," the healer asked, holding a candle next to the warriors face as she examined her eyes.
Xena told her about her headaches, her nausea, and the two frightening episodes which had convinced her to come here though the warrior was forced to rely on Gabrielles account as she didnt remember the details of either occurrence. The only aspect of the events she was able to describe from memory was the way her body reacted during the aftermath. The throbbing temples. The churning stomach. The cold sweat. The blurred vision.
After conducting a thorough examination, Laisah grew quiet, a perplexed expression moving across her face. "Xena...," she exhaled deeply. "Your body tells me that you are as healthy as a horse."
"Are you saying theres nothing wrong with me?," the warriors tone was skeptical at best.
"No, thats not what Im saying," the healer walked toward the window, pensively looking out at the stormy sky. "These experiences youve been having are far from normal. But I cant give you an explanation for them, though I suspect that there is one. Id recommend that you seek the help of someone who is familiar with...," she paused, shifting her gaze away from the warrior, before finishing her sentence. "Someone who can offer you spiritual guidance."
"Spiritual? What are you trying to say?," Xena sounded irritated.
"That is the best advice I can give you," Laisah concluded as she turned and exited the room, leaving her to get dressed in private.
"Well?," Gabrielle anxiously waited for a reply as she struggled to keep up with the warriors long strides.
"Well, what?," Xena grumbled.
"What did she say?!," she blurted out, her patience hanging by a thread.
"She said theres nothing wrong with me."
"I dont know, Gabrielle. Maybe it wont happen again," Xena interrupted.
"And what if it does, Xena?," she sounded fretful.
"What do you expect me to do, Gabrielle?!," the warrior suddenly erupted. "You told me to see a healer--I saw a healer! She says Im fine. We both know Im not, but Tartarus if I know whats going on! So just get off my back! I dont need this right now!," she vented, more afraid than angry.
"Stop it, Xena! Just stop!," the bard exploded, shoving against the warriors shoulders, backing her into a tree. "I dont deserve this!," she screamed, her face only a thumbs distance from Xenas.
The warrior grew still, Gabrielles words spinning in her mind. She knew what she was about to do. She could sense it. Though she could feel the motion of her body, she was powerless to do anything about it. Unable to stop herself, she reached out and grabbed the bard, aggressively forcing their lips together. Taken off guard, Gabrielle initially resisted. Her heart pounding against her chest as she felt the warriors tongue begging to explore the recesses of her mouth, she finally gave in. Tears made their way down Xenas cheeks as she was faced with her own helplessness. She couldnt stop herself if she wanted to. This was more than need. This was absolute desperation.
"Its ok, Xena," Gabrielle whispered, her own tears coming together with the warriors. She could feel Xenas emotions permeating her body through their embrace and it terrified her. "Xena," she whispered her name again as the warrior continued to deliver belligerent kisses. She said her name over and over, the sound of it seeming to tame Xenas mouth. "Thats right, Xena. Kiss me," her words fell softly on the warriors ear, their kisses now transforming---still deep, yet tender and slow.
"Gabrielle...," Xenas voice trembled as her mouth descended on the bards one last time. "Whats happening to me?," she managed through her sobs before crumbling to her knees.
The bard lowered herself onto the ground and wrapped the weeping warrior in her arms, gently rocking her back and forth. "Im here, Xena," she said softly, placing tender kisses on her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. She didnt know what else to do but something told her that they were running out of time.
The warrior listlessly tagged along behind Gabrielle while she shuffled through bin after bin of---what Xena deemed---utterly useless items. The bard delighted in her negotiations, talking the merchants down time and time again. "Look!," she exclaimed, holding up a newly acquired frying pan. "Two dinars! When youre good, youre good and, I must say, Im among the best!," she chimed.
"Your bartering skills have come in handy more than once," Xena grinned, trying to make the best of the situation. She had never cared much for shopping. In fact, she detested it. But she needed to get out of the room today, having been cooped up indoors far longer than she preferred. She had managed to make it through three entire days without any major incidents. Of course, she had been with the bard in their room at the inn during most of that time. But she was feeling more like herself now and had decided to suggest that she and Gabrielle resume their travels in the morning.
"You ready to head back to the inn?," the bard asked.
"You mean to tell me youre actually tired of shopping?," Xena chuckled.
"No...," she grinned, "just hungry."
"I shouldve known," she teased. "And Ill bet youve got your taste buds set on custard?"
"Mmm hmm," she nodded, laughing under her breath.
The two walked slowly toward the inn, taking in the scenery along the way. "Hey, blondie!," a large red-headed woman called out from a window on the second floor of the brothel. "You look like you could use a good romp!," she bellowed.
"Ewww. Xenaaa. Did you hear what she just said to me? Kick her butt," the bard said through a mischievous grin. "Xena?," she noticed the forlorn look on her companions face.
The warrior felt her knees buckle as the images flashed before her, sending a chill down her spine. A woman, her eyes as black as night, lying motionless on the floor. Puddles of blood surrounding worn boots---her boots. "The gods...," she gasped for air, her throat suddenly tight. "I killed her," she uttered, her legs instantly locked in place, a look of horror on her face as she began to remember.
"Xena? What are you talking about?," Gabrielle took hold of the warriors arm in an attempt to steady her.
"I...killed her...I killed that woman," she resumed her pace, anxious to get off the crowded street.
"Xena...what...what are you...who?," she stammered.
"Upstairs," the warrior quietly asserted as they entered the inn. The bard, noting the urgent expression on her face, stilled her tongue and complied.
The two quickly made their way up the stairs and down the narrow corridor which led to their room. The warrior hastily closed the faded drapes and began to pace back and forth across the floor, beads of sweat forming on her brow. "That cant be the way it happened...why would I...," she mumbled under her breath, her gait quickening as her anxiety started to build.
"Xena?...Xena?...Tell me whats going on," Gabrielle pleaded, her stomach rising into her throat.
The warrior grew more and more frantic with each passing moment, clenching her fists as she continued to mumble to herself. Growing increasingly disquieted, the bard moved closer, continuing to speak Xenas name in a futile attempt to calm her down. Cautiously, she reached out and grabbed the warriors wrist, drawing her toward her. "Ga...Gabri...elle...I...I," Xena stuttered, abruptly pushing her onto the bed, settling herself on top of her. The unsuspecting bard shuddered as she yielded to turbulent kisses, letting out a gasp as the warriors hand slipped under her tunic and covered her breast. This was the first time Xena had kissed her since that day outside the healers hut. She had wondered whether or not they would ever share such a moment again. And now, as she was receiving the answer she had hoped for---the passionate reply to the question that had plagued her for days---she found herself feeling uncertain. Xena had just finished telling her that she had killed someone...a woman...and now she was losing herself in the throughs of passion?
"Xena?...Xena?," she whispered through heavy breaths as she continued to match her kisses blow for blow.
The warriors finger tips gently stroked the bards nipples, bringing them to attention. "Gab...rielle," she growled, nipping at her neck, leaving her mark on the silken flesh. "Let me make love to you," she panted.
She had longed to hear Xena say those words. Her heart, her soul, her body had craved her touch for so long that she couldnt figure out why she heard herself utter, "I...I cant, Xena. Not like this."
The warrior felt every muscle in her body tighten as the familiar pain returned. Closing her eyes in an effort to squelch the pounding in her head, she took in a ragged breath and rolled onto her back next to the bard. "Xena...Im sorry," Gabrielle felt the sting of her own tears on her cheeks. She hadnt meant to hurt her. She wanted her desperately but, somehow, this didnt feel right. She couldnt find it within herself to ignore the fact that something was doggedly crippling Xena. Haunting her. Tracking her down and playing havoc with her spirit.
"Its ok, Gabrielle," the warrior tenderly pulled her close, kissing away her tears. "I understand," her comforting whispers soothed the bard while she searched her cluttered mind for an explanation for her behavior. Thoughts of the woman she held in her arms mixed with nagging images of the faceless, nameless corpse for which she now knew she was accountable.
The bard remained awake wrestling with her angst before finally sinking into sleep. Xena wept softly, burying her head in Gabrielles soft tresses. She knew what she had to do and her heart grieved as she kissed her slumbering companion and crawled off the bed. Fumbling around in the dark, she managed to gather everything she would need before leaving their remaining dinars on the desk next to the bards scroll.
Gabrielle was suspicious the moment she noticed that the warrior and her belongings were missing, but the meticulously stacked tower of dinars confirmed her greatest fear. She hurriedly collected her satchel, stuffed it with her chattels and, and grabbed her staff on the way out the door. After settling the bill, she rushed to the stables and straight to the stall where Argo had been housed. The horse wasnt there. She immediately headed back out to the crowded street, wandering aimlessly as she tried to muster her bearings. After a fleeting moment, she knew where to begin.
When she emerged from the stables the second time, she had two things she hadnt before: a horse which she had purchased for more dinars than she could spare and information concerning the direction in which the warrior had headed upon her departure.
She rode all day, forsaking her stomach pangs, terrifying scenarios playing over and over in her mind. As the sun was making its descent into the horizon, she spotted the grayish-white smoke from a recently ignited campfire. Securing her horse to a nearby tree, she crept through the forest toward the omen. Relief swept over her as her eyes focused on the well-known sight---Argo, grazing on the surrounding foliage. "Thank gods," she sighed, catching a glimpse of the warrior. Silently, she approached the campfire, keeping an eye on Xena who stood with her back to her.
When she got closer, the bard grew still, crouching in the brush. She watched Xenas buttocks move, driving her against the hand between her thighs, her shoulders trembling when she reached her peak. She retrieved her hand from beneath her leathers and turned around, the expression on her face seeming misplaced, reflecting malice rather than contentment. Without warning, she lunged into the bushes, dragging the bard into the clearing. "What are you doing here?," she snarled, a faraway look in her eyes.
"I...I couldnt let you go," Gabrielle answered, her heart skipping a beat. The reunion wasnt going as she had hoped it would. Xena hadnt welcomed her. In fact, it was clear that she was resentful of her presence. Furthermore, the bard certainly didnt expect to find her addressing her carnal urges---not at a time when both their worlds seemed to be crumbling around them.
"Well, you should have let me go," Xenas response interrupted the bards thoughts.
"Xena, we have to talk about this," she placed her hands on the warrior and began gently caressing her shoulders.
"Theres nothing to say," she sounded intent.
"Xena...," she spoke quietly as her hands massaged the tense muscles.
The warrior raised her arms, covering her face with her hands as the agonizing sensation worked its way over her body, culminating behind her eyes. "Get out of here!," she screamed, the back of her hand connecting with the bards cheek bone, the impact of the potent blow knocking her off her feet.
Gabrielle stared up at the towering warrior. "Xena...," she began but, in light of the soul-shattering look in the womans eyes, quickly stifled herself. Slowly rising to her feet, she placed a hand on her bruised cheek, unable to accept what had just occurred. Though her heart was demanding that she stay and try to repair the mysterious damage between them, she reluctantly turned and walked away, alone and heartbroken.
"I knew I would end up hurting her," the warrior lamented, sinking to her bedroll next to the fire as her grief overcame her. She didnt know why she had done the things shed done---said the things shed said. She only knew that the last thing she would allow herself to do is hurt Gabrielle any more than she already had.
Gabrielle sought solace in an isolated clearing next to the lake. She and Xena had shared so many good times in this place---cooling their bodies in the still waters, watching in awe as their flying parchment soared overhead, baring their souls in deep conversation.
Fluctuating between sobs and outrage, she reflected on the circumstances. She wondered whether of not this could be the work of the furies. She knew it was certainly possible that they were punishing her for her past transgressions. Lying alone in the dark, she missed Xenas comforting presence as she tossed and turned throughout the night, her mind fixed on redeeming the warrior.
"Gabrielle, my chosen one," the soft voice fell on her ears.
"Wha...where are you?," the startled bard sat up on her bedroll, her eyes straining to see through the darkness.
"Gabrielle, I can explain the warriors mystery," the voice continued as a luminous form appeared.
"Thats right, my queen. Ive come to help you. Youve been through a lot," the goddess concern revealed itself in her tone.
"Do...do you know whats happening to Xena?," Gabrielle asked, her optimism beginning to surface. She knew Artemis could give her the answers she needed.
"Seems the gods are toying with your friend," she told her. "Ares and Aphrodite have wagered a bet involving the warrior. As you know, the God of War has an unwavering desire to claim Xena as his own. And Aphrodite...she has something else in mind..."
"What does she want with Xena?," the bard sounded baffled.
"Actually, my queen, her interests involve you..."
"Me? How? What do you mean?"
"Seems the Goddess of Love is intent on bringing you and Xena together. She insists that youre destined for each other," she explained.
Gabrielle felt her insides flutter. She couldnt argue with that. She loved the warrior and the idea of them spending their lives together was one that had appealed to her for some time. But hearing a goddess say the words.....maybe her dreams werent futile after all. "Why...why is Xena acting this way?," she managed.
"Ares knows that Xena will be beyond his grasp if she wins your heart. And Aphrodite is well aware that the warrior would never return to you if her dark side takes over her soul. You see...they decided that it was best to force her into a decision...once and for all," the goddess knelt beside Gabrielle.
"What have they done to her?"
"Each agreed to allow the other to choose a weapon---a part of the warrior to be used to win her over. Ares chose Xenas bloodlust. Aphrodite chose her passion. They have essentially created a war inside her head---a powerful battle that has already begun to torment her soul. Whichever proves stronger---bloodlust or passion---will decide her fate. Do you understand?," the goddess asked, her compassion for the bard reflecting in her eyes.
"I...I think so...," she uttered. "What do I need to do?"
"You love her, dont you?," Artemis asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
"With all of my heart," she confessed.
"Then you must go to her...see to it that her love for you prevails over the dark forces stirring inside her."
"Where is she?," she asked, a hint of uneasiness in her voice.
"Shes where you saw her last. Shes trying to face her demons alone...but she wont be able to do it without you by her side." Placing a hand on the bards swollen cheek, Artemis closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "Your face has been restored," she smiled. "Xena doesnt need a reminder of her mistake."
The bard touched her face with her finger tips. By the gods, her pain was gone, not to mention the bruise that had accompanied it. "How do I help her?," she asked.
"Only you can answer that question, Gabrielle, but I can tell you three things about your mission. First, no matter what happens, you must stand by the warrior. Second, dont waste your time trying to explain whats happening to her. Ares and Aphrodite have arranged it so that she wont understand what youre saying. In fact, it is possible that any attempt to tell her of their plot may only serve to drive her away. And finally...you cant force her hand. Xena has to surrender her heart to the light...or to the darkness. The decision has to be her own and she has to make it without reservation. Remember---your most powerful weapon is your love for each other."
"How can I ever repay you?," the bard sighed, her affection for the goddess evident.
"Watch over your Amazon sisters as you always have," Artemis pride in the Amazon Queen was revealed in her expression as the goddess vanished from sight.
The bard, aware that she wasnt going to get any sleep, sat next to the lake. Tossing pebbles into the water, she watched as the moon reflected in the ripples. "Thank you, Artemis. Please...be with Xena. Help me help her," she prayed, gazing up at the night sky.
As the sun painted the sky with vibrant colors, the bard kicked at the sand, squelching what was left of the campfire before strapping her saddlebag to her horse. She traveled in the direction of the warrior, uncertainty coursing through her veins. She didnt know what to expect when she arrived. Coaxing the chestnut horse through the trees, she reflected on the warriors recent behavior, her stomach fluttering when images of her love---lying against her, asking her to love her---surfaced in her mind. She needed to talk to her about what happened---to tell her of her longing as well as the reason behind her refusal. She didnt want Xena to think that she didnt want her. The gods know she did.
When she approached the clearing occupied by the warrior, she felt her fear rise to the surface of her skin when she realized that she was still in her bedroll. She never slept this late. Dismounting her horse in a panic, she rushed to her side. "Xena?...Xena?," she sounded frantic.
The warrior shifted the blanket, revealing her face. "Gabrielle?," she thought she was hallucinating.
"Im here, Xena," the bard stretched out next to her, pulling her close. "How are you feeling?," she hesitantly asked.
"I...Im not sure...," she released a pronounced sigh. "Gabrielle...you shouldnt be here."
"Xena...," remembering what Artemis had told her, she mustered her courage. "We need to get something straight. Im not leaving you no matter what happens. I dont care if you scream at me, beat me, run from me---Im going to stay here and help you through this."
"But...Gabrielle...I...," she attempted, only to be interrupted by the bard.
"You heard me, Xena," she meant it. "Now...you need to get up. Lying around all day isnt going to do you any good. Are you up to it?"
The warrior closed her eyes. She couldnt get up...
"Xena?," Gabrielle persisted.
"Gabrielle...I cant...you dont understand," she squeezed her eyes shut.
"What are you hiding?" She knew the warrior and, right now, she knew there was something she didnt want to tell her.
"Just hold me...please," she whispered, determined to hold back her tears.
The bard snuggled close, her worry consuming her. Xena had never seemed so fragile. After a while, the warrior drifted into---what appeared to be---peaceful slumber. Gabrielle, exhausted from lack of sleep, soon followed.
The bard jumped up from the bedroll, distraught when she discovered that Xena was no where in sight. Upon spotting both horses, her concern diminished. Making her way through the brush, she could hear the sound of rock on metal, a sign that the warrior was somewhere nearby sharpening her blade. "Xena?," she finally located her. "Why didnt you wake me?," she asked, taking a seat next to her. "The gods!," she suddenly exclaimed. "Xena?! What happened to you?!," she stared down at the warriors legs.
Xena dropped her sword, an angry expression emerging on her face as she launched the rock she held in her hand, sending it sailing into the woods. "Xena?...," the bard whispered, sitting on the ground at the warriors feet, examining her injuries. "Who did this to you?" A single tear managed to escape her eye as she looked at the gaping wounds extending from her tops of her thighs to her ankles, spanning both legs.
Xena bit her bottom lip and averted her eyes. "I did it," she admitted.
"You?...," Gabrielle looked at her in disbelief. "Did you have another one of those episodes?"
"I think Ive had a few but...I knew what I was doing...," her voice trailed off.
"Why, Xena? Why would you do this to yourself?," the bards tears streamed down her cheeks as she rose to her knees, her eyes meeting the warriors.
"I was just so...so angry..."
"Angry about what?," she managed through her tears.
"Angry at myself...for what I did to that woman...for the way I treated you...and then leaving you the way I did...," her tone reflected her remorse.
"Theres no reason for you to be angry at yourself. None of this is your fault...," she immediately stifled herself. Heeding Artemis warning, she refrained from divulging anything more.
"Gabrielle? Is there something I should know?"
"I just meant that you havent been feeling well.......you havent been yourself," she clarified without offering too much information. "You need to let me bandage your wounds," she shifted her focus to the warriors mutilated legs.
The bard poured warm water over Xenas calves and thighs, trying not to cry when she saw her cringe in pain. "What did you do this with?," she reluctantly asked.
"Dagger," she felt her face turn red as she answered.
"Oh, Xena...the gods...," Gabrielle sighed, wanting to take her in her arms and make all of this go away. "I wish I had been here..."
"You couldnt have stopped me, Gabrielle. Besides, if I hadnt pushed you away the way I did..."
"Thats in the past. Im not going anywhere. So, please, stop kicking yourself." The bard bandaged each wound, careful not to apply too much pressure. "That should help it heal faster," she said when she was finished.
"Thank you," Xena whispered, unveiling a look the bard hadnt seen before.
"You ok?," Gabrielle asked, trying to figure out what she was thinking.
"Can I...," the warrior decided not to follow through with her question.
"Nothing," she replied through clinched teeth, hastily standing and hobbling away.
"Xena?," the warrior felt a warm hand on her back. "What is it? Whats bothering you?"
She shifted her weight on her feet, staring at her as though she was trying to see into her soul. "Can...can I kiss you?," she quietly asked, turning her head away from the bard, instantly regretting uttering the words.
"Yes," Gabrielles answer caused the warriors palms to sweat.
The bard wrapped her arms around the Xenas neck, gently coaxing her toward her. "Kiss me," she whispered, gently brushing her lips against the warriors. Xena leaned into her, conveying her emotions in a tender succession of kisses, captivated as her tongue moved over the soft recesses of her mouth. Without warning, her touch transformed as the familiar anguish surfaced. She was breathing heavily, pressing harder against the bards lips, before abruptly pulling away. "Xena?...," the look in her eyes alarmed the bard. "Whats wrong?"
The warrior searched for the words as she tried to recover some semblance of restraint. "I...I feel helpless...like I cant stop myself...like Im out of control...," her words dissolved, her body trembling.
Gabrielle understood. Aphrodites spell was taking its toll on her. Passion was an explosive quality---one that was capable of wreaking havoc if left unchecked and, in this instance, Xena was faced with an insurmountable obstacle. She didnt have the heart to tell her she was going to have to find a way to endure the turmoil---some way to ride out the storm. No wonder she had been acting so strangely. This combined with enhanced bloodlust could prove to be a dangerous combination---not to mention, a torturous one. A wave of terror washed over the bard as she tried to imagine what might happen to the warrior when Ares spell took over. After all, she had already killed...someone. "Xena...," she hesitated. "Do you need to...you know...Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?"
"The gods, not again," the warrior groaned, weary of her bodys persistent betrayal. If the words her grandmother had once said to her were true, she should be blind as a bat by now. "Please?," she resigned herself to her plight.
Gabrielle excused herself, leaving Xena to her rather personal task. She wished she could tell her that the gods were responsible for what was happening to her---explain to her that she carried the remedy inside herself. Yet she knew it would be pointless to try. Xena was going to have to face her demons and make the choice that would forever seal her fate. The bard could only hope she would choose her.
The two women sat close to the campfire, though it was only midday, their teeth chattering as the icy wind chilled their bones. Xena had seemed herself over the past week with the exception of her frequent tendency to disappear behind the trees in order to address her demanding libido. "My legs have almost healed," the warrior noted.
"Are they still sore?"
"No, but Im going to have a few nasty scars....serves me right," she repined.
"Just look at them as a reminder," the bard sighed.
"A reminder of what?," she looked puzzled.
"A reminder of what can happen when your pride wont allow you to lean on someone every now and then," she slid closer to her as she spoke.
"Ive always been able to get by on my own," Xena replied. "Im supposed to be the one...," she suddenly fell silent.
"The one who what?," Gabrielle probed.
The warriors hand emerged from underneath her blanket. "The one who takes care of you," she said, taking the bards hand in her own.
"It works both ways, you know. Well take care of each other," she smiled, resting her head against the warriors shoulder. "Whats that?," she said in a hushed tone, focusing her eyes on the movement in the nearby bushes.
"Its only a deer. I heard it coming a while ago," she assured her.
"Its beautiful," Gabrielle sighed, catching a glimpse of the majestic buck.
"Yes, it is," the warrior agreed, finding contentment in being so close to the bard.
As nightfall approached, Gabrielle managed to cast her blanket aside and brave the cold long enough to reheat the remaining rabbit stew. Their stomachs appeased, they added enough wood to the fire to keep the flame alive through the night and turned in early, snuggling close in their effort to keep warm.
"Xena!," the bard screamed, pulling on the warriors arm. "Xena, stop!"
The warrior, on her knees, looked up at the bard. Gabrielle stared wide-eyed. She had never seen so much blood. "Xena...please," she pleaded, reaching for the dagger she gripped in her hand.
"Gods...what have I done?," Xena stared blankly at her blood-soaked hands as she surrendered the dagger to the bard.
Gabrielle, suddenly feeling as though she was going to vomit, turned away from the mangled deer.
The warrior felt horrible. Why had she done this? What was wrong with her? "Gabrielle...," she spoke softly, a sense of shame washing over her. "Go back to the clearing. Ill take care of this."
"Are...are you ok?," the bard mumbled, keeping her back to her. She didnt want Xena to see her crying.
"Im alright now. Go on. Ill be there soon."
The warrior drove the spade into the dirt, venting her frustrations on the cold, stubborn ground in her attempt to ensure that the bard would never have to reminded of what she had witnessed earlier. She worked hard to, quite literally, cover up her misdeed. But she labored also as penance. Not only had she wasted the life of the animal, but she had also hurt Gabrielle...again. She seemed to do that a lot lately. The bard was right when she said she didnt deserve this. She didnt. After smoothing the last of the soil over the hole, she covered the shallow grave with twigs and leaves and headed toward the creek to clean herself up.
Gabrielles stomach knotted when she heard the warrior approaching. She didnt know what to say. Feeling the warmth of her hand on her shoulder, she turned to face her. "How are you?," she asked in the sweetest voice Xena had ever heard.
"Ive been better," the warrior lowered her eyes.
"Come here," the bard whispered, taking her into her arms.
Xena melted into her comforting embrace. "I dont deserve you," she uttered under her breath.
"I love you so much," she spoke softly into her ear, causing the warriors heart to skip a beat.
"We need to head out in the morning. I cant stay here anymore," she said through the lump in her throat.
"If thats what you need," she softly replied, gently caressing Xenas back.
Neither of them managed to get much sleep that night though both of the women were exhausted, their emotions frayed in the wake of the chaos raining down on their heads.
The warrior, as usual, woke first. Upon gathering their possessions and strapping the saddlebags to Argos back, she knelt next to the bard who was finally sleeping soundly. She hated to wake her, aware that she hadnt had much rest. "Xena...good morning," Gabrielle suddenly woke, shifting onto her back.
"Morning, sweetie," she replied, smoothing the bards hair with her fingertips.
Sweetie? Had she just called her sweetie? Staring expressionless at the warrior, Gabrielle was doing a dance of jubilation in her mind. "Do you still want to leave today?," she finally asked.
"Ive already packed," she informed her. "Can you be ready soon?"
"Give me a few moments," she yawned, rising to her feet.
The sun, in its mercy, warmed the air as they made their way to the nearest town. They had decided to sell the horse the bard had recently purchased in order to replenish their depleted dinars. "Hey! Wait up!" Xena groaned as the voice pierced her ears like a thousand swords. "Where ya headed, ladies?," the bumbling would-be warrior blurted out.
"See that village?," Xena growled, pointing a finger straight ahead. Joxer nodded. "Well, thats where were going."
"Mind if I tag along?," he gleefully asked.
"Ye...," the warrior started to tell him that she most assuredly did mind, but the bard cut her off.
"No, Joxer. Of course not," Gabrielle said politely, though she wasnt particularly thrilled at the notion.
"I got into quite a brawl a couple of villages back," he boasted. "You shouldve seen me, Xena. I kicked their butts."
"Hmph," she muttered, in no mood to listen to his mindless drivel.
"No really!," he insisted. "I was so good I amazed myself...," he proceeded to rattle on and on.
"Thats it!," Xena raised her hand to her forehead as the agonizing pain set in. Without warning, she grabbed Joxer by his collar and lifted him off his feet. Before the bard could stop her, she had beaten him senseless and was now standing over him with one foot on his chest. "This will teach you to butt in where youre not wanted," she snarled, raising her sword above her head.
"No!," Gabrielle yelled, knocking the sword out of her hands with her staff.
"Youre gonna pay for that, bard," she stepped toward her, the essence of evil glowing in her eyes.
"Xena!," she screamed as loud as she could, jolting the warrior from her illusory state.
Xena shook her head, rubbing her hands over her eyes. When she saw Joxer lying motionless next to the road, she knew she was somehow responsible. "It happened again...," tears formed in her eyes as she read the bards face like a scroll. She bent down, trying desperately to rouse her fallen friend. "Thank the gods," she uttered when he opened his eyes. "Im so sorry," she whispered, helping him to his feet.
Joxer looked pitiful, as though he had just lost his best friend. "I think Im ok," he told her, staggering backward, nearly toppling over.
"Were taking you into town. You need to see a healer," Xena insisted. "Gabrielle?" The bard positioned herself on the other side of the man. She and the warrior managed to lift him onto Argos back before Xena climbed in the saddle in front of him.
They briskly covered the short distance between themselves and the village, immediately delivering Joxer to the town healer who stitched his wounds and assured them both that their friend would be fine after a few days of bedrest. "Joxer...," Gabrielle placed her hand on his chest. "Xena didnt mean to hurt you. She hasnt been herself lately. I cant explain, but Im asking you to trust me on this," she felt sorry for him.
"I know, Gabrielle," he managed a faint smile. "Xena would never do something like that on purpose...would she?," he asked, thinking that perhaps he didnt know the warrior as well as he thought.
"No, Joxer," she assured him. "She wouldnt."
"Good...I mean, I knew she wouldnt. I just..."
"Are you sure you dont want us to stay with you?," the bard interrupted.
"No, you know me---Ill be fine," he replied.
"Take care of yourself, my friend. Well see you soon," she smiled, making her way toward the door.
The warrior had been waiting outside the healers hut, pacing back and forth as she chastised herself for what she had done. "Is he ok?," she hesitantly asked the approaching bard.
"Hes going to be fine, Xena," she answered softly.
"I gave the horse to the healer as payment for taking care of Joxer," the warrior told her.
"Lets get out of here," she draped her arm across the warriors shoulders, knowing she needed to get as far away from this town as possible.
They traveled for the rest of the day, the bard riding on the horse with Xena, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. After they ate their meal, consisting only of the nut bread the warrior had purchased earlier as a surprise for Gabrielle, they settled next to each other on the Xenas bedroll. "You can leave if you want," Xena whispered, focusing on the bards troubled expression. "I can handle this on my own. I...I dont want to risk hurting you again."
"Xena, weve already had this discussion. I told you, Im not going leaving your side so were just going to have to get through this," she sounded stern.
The warrior moved closer to her, taking in her radiance, moved by her devotion. Without a word, she delivered a heart-stopping kiss to her lips. Gabrielle yielded at her touch, parting her lips to welcome her tongue. As the sparks between them set them both aflame, Xena repositioned herself on top of the bard, hungrily devouring her mouth. Gabrielle felt the dampness on her skin when the warrior straddled her thigh. "I have to stop," Xena uttered through a ragged breath as she attempted to shift her weight off the bard. "No," Gabrielle whispered, tightening her hold on her. "Dont stop," she raised her thigh, pressing firmly between Xenas legs. The warrior surrendered, lowering her head to resume their kiss, her hips moving against the bards leg. "Raise up," Gabrielle whispered, moving her hand between them. Xena moaned as she felt her leathers shift, her moist folds now in direct contact with the bards flesh. Gabrielle put her arms around the warriors back, pulling her close, guiding her body as she rocked back and forth against her. She could feel her desire trickling down her thigh as her thrusts became more urgent. "Thats it...feel me against you," she moaned, her own craving arising between her legs. "Ga..bri..elle...," the warrior groaned, fiercely dragging herself across her thigh. "Yes, Xena...gods yeesss," she tightened the muscles in her leg, begging her to let go. The warrior lifted her head and closed her eyes, a long groan emanating from her throat. The bards body trembled when she felt the warm flood rush over her thigh.
Xena collapsed onto Gabrielles chest, kissing her softly. "You didnt have to..."
"I wanted to," she said softly, tenderly returning her kiss. "You know...," she chuckled. "Pretty soon I might be the one running off into the woods." Oops. She certainly hadnt meant to say that out loud.
"Gabrielle...Im sorry...do you need...do you want...," she stumbled over her words, never quite managing to complete her sentence.
"Shhh," the bard placed her fingers over the warriors lips. "You need to try to get some sleep." She wanted her desperately, but she didnt want her to make love to her because she had to. She needed to know the warrior was under her own command, not the authority of some over-zealous goddess. She rested her head on Xenas chest, the lullaby of her heartbeat drawing her into slumber.
"Xena?," Gabrielle slowly crawled out from under her blanket. Cautiously, she moved toward the warrior who was standing next to the campfire, holding a knife to her own throat, a thin line of blood etching a line down her neck. "Xena, give me the knife," she pleaded, steadily moving toward her.
"Shes come for me, Gabrielle," the warrior spoke in an eerie tone. "Cant you see her?"
The bard shifted her eyes, scouring the area around them. "Xena, were alone. Theres no one here but you and me," she spoke softly and slowly, not wanting to startle her.
"She wants me to join her," she clenched her fingers around the knife. Gabrielle froze, her eyes fixed on the trail of blood making its way toward her cleavage.
"Who, Xena? Who is she?," the bard tried to distract her long enough to figure out how to get the knife out of her hand.
"The woman...the woman with the black eyes." The warrior stared straight ahead, the woman she had killed that night in the brothel staring back at her, whispering the words over and over again. "You owe me your life."
"What do you mean, Xena?," Gabrielle swallowed hard when she heard the words.
"She says I owe her my life," the warrior answered.
"Xena...," the bard moved closer, but still just out of her reach. "I want you to listen to me," her voice trembled as she spoke. "I love you, Xena. I need you. Please dont let her take you away from me," she pleaded.
The warriors expression transformed, the vacant look in her eyes quickly replaced by what appeared to be sheer anguish. Her arm went limp, swinging by her side as though it were no longer attached to her body. Tears flooded her eyes, spilling onto her cheeks as she began to cry out loud. As she dropped to her knees, screams of anguish filled the air. She was broken.
"Xena...," Gabrielle whispered in her ear, clinging to her as she wept. "Im here. Its going to be alright," she promised, certain that her heart was being ripped apart as she felt the depth of the warriors pain. She sobbed for what seemed like a lifetime before suddenly pulling away, crawling across the ground on her hands and knees. The bard gently caressed her back, moving her hair away from her face when she started to heave. Her stomach finally emptied, the warrior stood, leaning against the bard. Gabrielle helped her make it back to her bedroll and sat down next to her.
"Its just a scratch," she said, gently wiping away the blood on the warriors neck with a damp cloth.
"I saw her, Gabrielle. She was real," Xena said with conviction.
"Tell me about her," the bard hesitantly requested.
The warrior averted her eyes, searching for the words. Taking a deep breath, she mustered her courage and started to speak. "I went to the brothel...the one near the inn...," she began.
The bard concealed her surprise. She had never known Xena to go to a brothel. In fact, she had a habit of speaking out against them. She couldnt stand the thought of anyone being bought and sold.
"I went there...for the customary reason," she continued. The bard remained steadfast in her refusal to so much as bat an eye as she listened. "I was...," she cringed. "I was with a woman there...a woman with eyes as black as the night. I killed her, Gabrielle. I made her get down on her knees and beg me to spare her life...," she paused, fighting to hold back her tears. "I killed her while she was begging me not to...," her words faded as she buried her face in her hands.
Though the bard tried not to show it, she was shocked. Even after witnessing Xenas violent outbursts, she had a hard time imagining her murdering an innocent, unarmed woman. The gods, she wanted to tell her it wasnt her fault. "Xena, that wasnt you," she attempted to ease her conscience.
"She died at the end of my sword," she stiffened her jaw, her anger at herself evident.
"How do you account for the headaches? The tremors? The hallucinations?," she asked, determined to make her realize that her actions were stemming from outside forces.
"Im being punished," she insisted. "Punished for all of the pain Ive caused."
The bards heart went out to her as she poured out her insides. But she knew that each time the warrior blamed herself, she surrendered part of her soul to the darkness. She could only hope that Xena didnt succumb to the notion that she was destined to live out her life as a ruthless warlord. "Xena, if you are being punished, what do you think you should do about it?," she asked.
"Theres nothing I can do about it," she sighed. "The fates have determined my destiny. And if my purpose in life is to suffer for the rest of my days in order to atone for my crimes...then I dont think I want to live much longer."
"Please dont say that," Gabrielles heart sank. "Xena, think about all the good things youve done---all the people youve helped along the way."
"I can guarantee you that Ive taken more lives than Ive saved," she sounded exasperated.
"And since that time? Cant you see what youve become?," the bard raised her voice.
"Yeah, Gabrielle, I see what Ive become---a blood-thirsty murderer!" The conversation became a shouting match as their emotions spun out of control.
"Why cant you forget your past?! Forgive yourself, for the gods sake!"
"Forgive myself? Forgive myself for ripping peoples hearts out with my bare hands?! For cutting down every man, every woman, every child in my path?!"
"Youre not a warlord anymore! Why cant you give yourself credit for the changes youve made in your life?"
"Open your eyes, Gabrielle! Im as vicious, as evil, as useless as I ever was! I hurt everyone around me! The world doesnt need someone like me!"
"Maybe the world doesnt need you, but dammit, Xena, I do! Doesnt that mean anything to you?!," the bard erupted, bursting into tears. "I cant take this anymore!," she stood and disappeared into the woods.
The warrior stared at the campfire, watching as orange and red flames danced in the dark. She had never felt so alone. She knew the bard had stopped just on the other side of the nearby trees. She could hear the leaves rustling. But for some reason, she found herself unable to get up and go to her, even though that was exactly what she longed to do.
Gabrielle sat on a fallen tree, looking up at the stars. "My queen...," the voice came out of no where, interrupting her thoughts.
The goddess appeared seated beside her. "Ive been watching you," she told her.
"I dont think I can do this," she confided.
"Youve shed many tears," the goddess sighed, placing a hand on her tear-stained cheek. "Xena loves you," she assured her.
"I know she does but...but I dont think shes going to be able move on with her life. The battle inside her...its just too powerful," she ran the back of her hand over her eyes, trying to subdue her tears.
"Ask yourself this question, Gabrielle. Whos giving up? Xena or you?," she said softly.
The bard thought for a moment before raising her eyes. "I understand," she whispered.
"Do you?," the goddess didnt sound convinced. "What are you trying to get the warrior to do?," Artemis probed.
"I want her to love me....to give herself to me...to realize that she can be whole again," she answered.
"Do you love her?," the goddess continued to her line of questioning.
"Ye...yes, you know I do," the bard looked puzzled.
"Have you surrendered to her?," she raised an eyebrow.
"Im ready to make a commitment to her. Im ready to give my life to her. Ive told her that I love her," she replied.
"But...Gabrielle...have you surrendered to her? Have you placed your unguarded soul in her hands?"
"N...no...I...I cant right now. Shes not herself. I cant give myself to someone who might slit my throat when Im not looking."
"Let me get this straight...," the goddess stood and faced her, looking her dead in the eyes. "Youre waiting for her imperfections to disappear. Youre letting your own fear dictate how close you allow her to get? You love her, yet you insist on building a barrier around that love---surrounding it with conditions and limitations meant to protect yourself? Am I right? Gabrielle, how do you expect her to give herself to you when she cant even see you?," she waited patiently for an answer.
The bards jaw dropped. She was right. All this time, she had been expecting Xena to do something she wasnt willing to do herself. Like the warrior, she had allowed her doubts and fears to come between them. Waiting for the perfect moment---the perfect reason---the perfect state of mind, when all she had to do to win Xenas heart was invite her into her own. "Ive been so selfish," she uttered under her breath.
"Love demands selflessness and sacrifice, Gabrielle. If you lay your heart on the line, youre taking a risk. Theres no doubt about that. The question you need to ask yourself is---is it worth the risk? How much of yourself are you willing to give? If not all, then how much?" With that, the goddess disappeared, leaving the bard to search her soul.
"Xena! Please! No!," the bard screamed in desperation, trying to bring her back to her.
The warrior grabbed her by the hair and began to drag her toward the campfire, shoving her to the ground. "Im going to slit your throat and watch you bleed to death," she growled, hovering over her, circling her.
"Xena, please! You dont know what youre doing!," Gabrielle pleaded.
"I know exactly what Im doing," a crooked grin moved across her lips. "Im picking up my sword, placing it against your chest...," she paused, filling her lungs with the crisp air.
"And now, Im going to put a hole through your heart," she lunged at her.
The bard rolled backward across the ground, managing to grab her staff and get on her feet before the warriors blade came at her again. She delivered a blow to Xenas abdomen and another to her chest.
"Not bad, bard," the warrior snarled. "But you might as well give it up. Ive made up my mind. Youre going to die tonight," she struck at her again, grazing her arm, laughing as the blood began to flow.
"Xena!," she called out again, terrified by the warriors relentless attack. The two women stood face to face, weapons in hand. Suddenly, the bard hurled her staff into the trees and fell to her knees. Holding her arms straight out to her sides as though she were hanging on a cross, she lifted her head and closed her eyes, a profound stillness washing over her.
"Ayiyiyiyiyiyi!," the warriors battle cry rang out as she jumped into the air, delivering a swift kick to the bards chest, forcing her onto her back.
Gabrielle didnt move, didnt flinch, didnt panic. She remained still, breathing easily, her eyes still closed, her heart not missing a beat.
Xena put the tip of her blade against the bards chest, directly next to her heart. "Im gonna run you through," she said through clinched teeth, the pain in her temples overpowering her.
"Im waiting for you, Xena," Gabrielle spoke, still lying motionless on the ground, not sure whether she was summoning the end of her life or a new beginning.
The bard could feel her hands on her chest. She could hear her breathing---feel her sweat dripping onto her stomach. With complete serenity, she welcomed her destiny.
"Gabrielle," the warrior uttered her name.
Her eyes closed, the bard couldnt determine Xenas current state. "Im waiting for you," she repeated. She felt the cold blade against her chest as it sliced through the front of her tunic, exposing her breasts to the frigid air. Still, she remained at rest, sensing the warriors hands moving over her, feeling her breath on her cheek.
She gasped for air, choking on her tears when she felt Xenas lips against her own. "Gabrielle," the warrior whispered, kissing her again and again. "I didnt mean to hurt you...Im so sorry," she spoke softly into her ear.
"Please, Xena...dont apologize. You didnt do anything I havent done myself. I didnt mean to be so distant...to shut you out. The gods, Ive never loved anyone the way I love you," she wept as she bared her soul.
"I dont know why Ive done the things Ive done. And I cant promise you that I wont...that it wont happen again. I only know that I dont want to go through life without you...I need you. I love you," a single tear forced its way down her cheek as looked into the bards eyes.
"I was so afraid, Xena...afraid of you, afraid of myself..."
"Are you still afraid?," the warrior quietly asked.
A warm smile moved across the bards face as she looked up at her love. "I trust you with my soul," she was relieved to hear herself say the words. She knew that, finally---she meant them. "Love me, Xena," she gently captured the warriors bottom lip with her teeth before letting her tongue move over her lips and into her mouth. "Love me," she pleaded, guiding Xenas hands to her breasts.
"I...I dont want to hurt you," the warrior whispered.
"Let me give myself to you," she uttered, running her fingers through her hair as she hungrily explored her mouth with her own.
Xena concentrated on the bards kiss, moving her hands over her breasts, kneading the soft flesh, running her fingers tips across the firm nipples. "Yes, Xena...love me," she sighed, stroking the warriors back. She watched as Xenas mouth covered her breast, closing her eyes when her gentle sucking overpowered her. The warrior lingered, tenderly caressing before descending over her, leaving behind a trail of blazing kisses, her tongue moving in circles around her navel. The bard shuddered, parting her thighs, raising her hips, begging to feel her mouth on her. She felt her warm breath against her, enhancing the burning sensation which threatened to drive her over the edge. "Please...oh gods, please, Xena," she moaned, a quiet gasp escaping her lips when she felt her tongue slip between her folds. She spread her legs further, rocking her hips, loosing herself in ecstasy. The warrior indulged herself, savoring her desire, gliding her hand across her thigh. "Yes, Xena. I need you inside me," the bard moaned when she felt her fingers brush over her. The warrior stroked her urgently, pressing her tongue against her, teasing her with her finger tips before entering her. "Yes, Xena...yes...deep inside," she groaned, raising her hips, filling herself. The warrior felt her give, her muscles contracting around her as her movement grew urgent. "Xenaaa," she gasped, thrusting harder, taking her deeper into the moist refuge. She lifted her buttocks off the ground, holding herself there, begging her to take her. "Gods...dont stop," she called out as she surrendered. The warrior matched her eager thrusts, tears stinging her eyes when she felt her tremble beneath her. "Mmmyes, Gabrielle. Yes, my love," she moaned as the bards climax overwhelmed them both.
"H..hold me, Xe..Xena. I need to feel your arms around me," Gabrielle managed through her gentle sobs, the aftershocks of her powerful orgasm jolting her body.
"Are you ok?," the warrior took her into her arms, tenderly kissing her tears away. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, Xena, you didnt hurt me," she offered a reassuring smile. "I just...wanted this for so long. Ive seen you..this moment...in my dreams a thousand times. Nothings ever felt so right," she sighed.
"Was it everything you dreamed it would be?," the warrior asked, hoping to hear the words she needed so desperately.
"Almost...," she grinned.
"Wh...did I do something wrong? You can tell me if I did something you didnt like," Xena panicked.
"Xena, you made me feel...I never knew it was possible to feel so loved, so complete," she smiled. "Only..."
"What is it, Gabrielle? Tell me," the warrior interrupted, a worried look on her face.
"Ive only experienced half of my fantasy," she hinted, repositioning herself on top of the warrior, straddling her. Her warm dampness pressed against her lovers stomach, she massaged the warriors breasts, teasing her nipples. "Mmm...you like that," she whispered when Xena closed her eyes.
"You feel so good," she moaned, giving in to the bards kiss.
"I want to make you feel good," Gabrielle answered, rolling onto her back, guiding the warrior on top of her. "Come here," she whispered, sparking a look of confusion on her lovers face. "Let me taste you," she pleaded. Xena felt her head spinning as she crawled over the bard. "Give yourself to me, Xena," she wrapped her arms around her thighs and pulled the warrior toward her, covering her glistening flesh with her mouth. "Oh gods...Gab...ri...elle," she gasped when she felt her tongue moving over her, delving into her. She pressed against her, gliding over her, granting her permission to her conquer her. "The gods, Ga..brielle...I...I...need...right there...gods...please," she begged, grinding against her. The bard took her into her mouth, gently sucking on the swollen shaft of quivering nerves, drinking in her desire when the warrior arched her back, crying out as waves of fulfillment pulsated through her body.
Xena slowly stretched out next to the bard, every movement of her body detonating beneath her skin, culminating between her thighs as she descended. Gabrielle could see her reflection in the warriors sapphire orbs, lustrous and filled with wonder. "Tell me what youre thinking," the bard whispered, her finger tips meandering over her face---across her forehead, over her eyebrow, down the side of her cheek.
"I was thinking about you...about us. Gabrielle, I want to make you happy. I want you to have everything youve ever wanted...," she paused, looking pensive.
"I do, Xena," she assured her.
"Wha...where do you want to go from here?," she stammered, her nervousness getting the best of her.
"You mean us? Where do I want our relationship to go?," the bard replied. The warrior nodded, briefly averting her eyes, grazing her teeth across her lip as she anxiously awaited her answer.
"What we have right now...thats exactly what I want," she tenderly kissed her lips and gazed into hypnotic eyes.
"Are you willing...I mean, do you want...," she hesitated. The bard waited patiently, her curiosity peaking.
"Gabrielle...," Xena raised up, gently lifting the bard with her until they were sitting face to face. Taking her hand, gently massaging her fingers, she found the words to continue. "Gabrielle, Im asking you for a commitment. Im asking you to spend the rest of your life with me. If thats not what you want, please tell me now...because I dont think I could bear..."
The bard interrupted her. Moving onto the warriors lap, her arms around her neck, she kissed her again before telling her, "Theres nothing I want more than to spend my life loving you. And Ive never been more certain of anything. I love you, Xena...and thats never going to change."
"Youve just made me the happiest woman in the land," she beamed, pulling her close.
"You have enchanted hands," the bard moaned as the warriors fingers manipulated the muscles in her back.
"Any interest in finding out just how enchanted?," she asked with the wink of an eye.
"Mmmm...gods, yes," she moaned as Xena coaxed her onto her back.
The warrior squinted her eyes, waking to find the sun already high in the sky. Midday? Already? Her stomach quivered when she felt the bards naked form brush against her. The gods, it hadnt been an illusion. She had actually spent the entire night making love to the woman of her dreams. "Gabrielle?," she said softly, brushing her lips against the sleeping bards. "Gabrielle? Sweetie, its late. We need to get going."
"You called me sweetie again," the drowsy bard, unable to open her eyes, mumbled through a crooked smile. "I like it when you do that," she snuggled close.
To Tartarus with it. The warrior wasnt going anywhere. She let her hands delight in the splendor of her loves body, tenderly caressing her sumptuous flesh until they both drifted into sleep.
"Just look at em!," Ares scowled. "Positively revolting!"
"Like get a clue! I told you Xenas passion was totally outrageous. Much more bitchin than that...that...that grody bloodlust youre always babbling about," Aphrodite declared, gazing down on the sleeping lovers.
"Dont get your lace in a bunch, love goddess. Its not over yet. Xena still has to contend with the fact that she murdered that poor, innocent woman," he grinned, hovering just over the warriors head.
"Thats like completely irrelevant, war monger dude. I mean--like duh! Theyre in love," she disdainfully reminded him.
"Well see," the God of War scoffed before vanishing in a blue haze.
"No! Leave me alone!," the warrior screamed, her voice resounding through the trees.
"Xena! What is it?," the bard awoke with a start.
"Shes here again," she mumbled, her eyes fixed on what appeared to be thin air.
"The woman? Xena, theres nobody here...just you and me," she whispered, engulfing her in her arms.
"We have to go back to the village...," she uttered under her breath. "I have to face what Ive done."
"No, Xena. Youll be executed. You cant go back. Please," she begged.
"I have to, Gabrielle," she said through a heavy sigh.
The warrior chose to walk alongside the bard rather than ride. Leading Argo by the reins, she held her loves hand as they slowly made their way toward the scene of her grisly deed.
The smell of ale wafted through the brothel as scores of scantily clad women circulated around the room in search of potential customers. "Hey, Xena," a petite blond winked at the warrior as she scurried past. The bard looked up at her, raising an eyebrow.
"Heh heh...we...umm...go way back," her face flushed.
"Ill bet you do," she frowned and rolled her eyes.
"Xena!," Bella chimed as she approached the warrior. "How are you?," she seemed delighted to see her.
"I cant complain," she forced a smile. "Bella, this is my...the woman who holds the key to my heart, Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle! How nice to meet you," she extended her arm. "Sweet little thing, isnt she?," she gave the warrior a slap on the back.
"Likewise," Gabrielle forced herself to be polite. For the love of Zeus! Did she know everyone in the whore house?!
"May we have a word with you? In private?," Xena requested.
"Sure! Follow me," the madam agreed, making her way through the sea of flesh.
They trailed behind her, down a long corridor, and followed her into a large room. "Make yourself comfortable," she said, gesturing toward two small chairs positioned next to what appeared to be a very expensive table.
Settling herself in one of the chairs, the warrior began to speak. "Bella, I want you to understand that I have my reasons for bringing this up and that I dont mean to upset you," she took in a deep breath and cleared her throat before continuing. "Im here because I heard that one of your girls was murdered recently...by a paying customer," she waited for a response.
"Here? One of my girls? Oh Hades no, Xena, you must be mistaking," she seemed surprised by the inquiry but, at the same time, confident in her rebuttal.
"Are you sure?," the warrior probed.
"Absolutely! Xena, there hasnt been a murder in this town since....well, Tartarus, you were probably still sucking on your mommas tits when Arecleas killed his wife for...," she lowered her voice, "having relations with another man."
The warrior looked perplexed. She knew this was the place and she knew what she had done. Gabrielle, catching a glimpse of her out of the corner of her eye, took over. "Bella?...," she stood, a pensive expression on her face. "How many women work for you?"
"Are you positive? Thats the exact number?," the bard persisted.
"Yes, certainly. I keep tabs on my ladies. Theyre my bread and butter, you know."
"And how many are here tonight?"
"Well...lets see...," she thought for a moment before answering. "Twenty-nine. Clarrahs home with her little boy. Hes ill. The healer says hes not going to be around much longer," she shook her head in commiseration. "And then theres Sallina and Rainell--theyve both gone to the winter festival with their husbands. The rest of my girls are here. Oh, they do work hard," she sighed.
"Bella...," Gabrielle looked her in the eyes. "This is really important. Are you sure no one was killed here recently?"
"Id stake my life on it," she confirmed.
Xena and the bard thanked the woman for her trouble and made their way back down the hallway. Gabrielle looked back over shoulder as she neared the door, "Xena? You coming?"
"Ye...yeah...," the warrior answered, her eyes scrupulously inspecting every face in the room. "I dont get it," she voiced her confusion once they were outside. "Gabrielle, I know I..."
"Are you sure it wasnt another hallucination? Xena, maybe you didnt kill that woman," she interrupted, her tone hopeful.
"Id like to believe thats true, but Gabrielle, I remember...," her words trailed off as she searched her mind for an explanation. "We need to see the local bounty hunter. Maybe well be able to find out something there," she said, careful not to look the bard in the eyes. She knew the expression on her face was doubtlessly one of terror. After all, it was possible that there were warrants out for the warriors arrest. Remaining unusually quiet, Gabrielle leaned into her, putting her arm around Xenas waist as they walked.
The warrior grabbed the bards hand before she had a chance to open the door. "Come here, sweetie," she guided her gently into her arms. "I love you. You know that, right?," her heart ached at the sight of the tears in her loves eyes. They both knew that once she stepped through that door, she might never come out again...at least, not until her execution date.
"I know you do, Xena," she managed a smile. "I dont mean to cry...Im sorry...," her voice faded. "I love you too.....sweetie," she chuckled in spite of her tears. "So, give me a kiss already," she stifled her tears and tried to appear strong, though she could feel herself falling apart. The soothing warmth of the warriors mouth took her breath away as she kissed her tenderly, deliberately, lovingly---leaving nothing undiscovered.
The warrior shifted the latch, opening the door to the dilapidated hut. Gabrielle followed closely, her chest tightening as they approached the burly man seated in a chair against the wall.
"Im Xena," the warrior immediately stepped forward and bravely introduced herself. "If you dont mind, Id like to ask you a couple of questions," suddenly feeling faint, she placed her hand against the wall and steadied herself.
"Xena...the warrior princess?"
"Thats...thats right," she mumbled.
"Well, Xena, what can I do for you?," he asked in a most accommodating manner.
"Word has it a woman was murdered at Bellas place," she began.
"Bellas place? No...Matter of fact, we havent had a murder in this town since old man Arecleas stabbed his wife," he announced.
"Are you certain?," the warrior reservedly asked.
"Oh, Im sure. Id know about it if it were true," he nodded.
"W...well...umm...th...thank you for your help," Xena stuttered.
"You ladies enjoy your stay and let me know if theres anything else I can do for you," he said as he closed the door behind them.
"Thank the gods!," Gabrielle exclaimed, throwing her arms around the warrior, giving her an enthusiastic kiss. "I knew you didnt do it, Xena. You didnt kill anyone. It must have been some kind of nightmare or something...," she rambled on, caught up in her ardor.
"Umm...Gabrielle?," the warrior cut her off.
"Hmm?," she mirthfully responded.
"Were not alone," she gestured with her eyes. Seems an elderly couple was standing just a few paces behind, their mouths hanging open as they glared in their direction.
"Ohhh...," the bard realized that she had her hands under Xenas leathers and that she was sinking her fingernails into her buttocks.
"Wed better get out of here before we get arrested for lewd conduct or something," Xena chuckled.
The two women made their way to the stables, retrieved Argo, and headed out of town. Gabrielle rode behind the warrior, resting her head against her back, holding onto her as though she might evaporate if she didnt. "Im exhausted," Xena yawned, her mind still cluttered with images of the dark-eyed woman.
"Not too exhausted I hope," Gabrielle grinned. "I though we could build a cozy fire, crawl under the blankets and............."
"Oh yeah, I like that idea," the warrior sighed as she listened to the words the bard was whispering in her ear. "Mmmm, yes...that sounds so nice.................Gabrielle?! You would actually do that?"
"You bet your luscious butt I would," she said in a low growl, her tone dripping with sensuality. "Cant this thing go any faster?"
"Yah!," Xenas voice cut through the night as Argo picked up the pace.
"Oh my gods!," the bard panted, pulling the warrior close. "You do have many skills! And thank the goddess for that one," she purred, her hand effortlessly gliding over Xenas sweat-soaked chest.
"Youre welcome, my queen," Artemis chuckled upon suddenly appearing in front of them.
"Artemis!," both warrior and bard blurted out in unison, hastily jerking the blanket up to their necks.
"Sorry to disturb you during such a...delicate moment," she said through a knowing grin.
"What brings you here?," Gabrielle inquired, knowing that the Moon Goddess wouldnt have interrupted unless she had good reason.
"I have good news," she smiled. "While on Mount Olympus, I overheard something that I think you two will be delighted to know....a conversation between Ares and Aphrodite...," she disclosed, moving over the earth as though she were floating on air.
"Wh...what is it, Artemis?," the bard asked, obviously taken aback.
"The woman in the brothel...," the goddess directed her attention to the warrior.
"Y...yes?," Xenas jaw dropped.
"She belongs to Ares..."
"Ares?," the warrior growled. "What are you saying?," her eyes narrowed.
"Im saying...," Artemis knelt next to her. "Im saying that you didnt kill anyone..."
"Artemis, I remember her face...the blood on my sword," the warrior interrupted, her confusion mounting.
"You couldnt have killed her...she wasnt mortal," the goddess informed her. "She was merely an illusion sent by the God of War to conjure the dark forces within you---the diabolical energy he proposed to use in order to win your loyalty and consequently, destroy your karma."
The warrior was suddenly keenly aware of the sensations in her chest as she felt it rise and fall. Tears welling up in her eyes, she struggled to catch her breath. "But I didnt know she was immortal...," she muttered to herself.
"You havent told her?," Artemis turned toward Gabrielle.
"N...no...you said that if I did...," the bard looked absolutely baffled.
"You dont know...," a colossal smile emerged on the goddess face.
"Its over, Gabrielle. The spell has been broken."
"Wha...how?," the bard managed.
"Wait a minute. What spell?," Xena interjected.
The goddess looked on as Gabrielle attempted to explain to the warrior that her tribulation had been the result of the contention between Ares and Aphrodite. Xenas face shifted as she absorbed the words, her expressions moving over her like a collage of opposing emotions, each illustration intent on subduing the others.
"How...how did I overcome the spell?," the warrior stammered, still trying to digest the revelation.
"You allowed yourself to love...despite your past, despite your mistakes. You put your fears, your doubts, your pride behind you and allowed your love for Gabrielle to prevail over everything else that has ever meant anything to you. All the while, knowing that you could never return to the life you once embraced---the life of a warlord. In doing that, you abandoned the darkness," the goddess drew the warrior to her, tenderly kissing her cheek. "Leave your iniquities behind you. Your destiny has been decided," she whispered softly in her ear before fading from sight.
"Xena? Are you ok?," the bard embraced her.
The warrior pulled her knees snug against her chest and folded her arms over them. Burying her head, she began to sob. "Xena...," Gabrielle spoke softly. "Its over. Everythings going to be alright."
The warrior lifted her head to reveal that she was laughing and crying at the same time. Her heart filled to the brink, the bard smiled and gently coaxed her onto her back. "Love me," she whispered, kissing her again and again, sacrificing herself to the promise that was Xena---warrior princess, friend, love of her life.
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