Beyond the Darkness by Watcher

Beyond the Darkness
by Watcher
part 3 in the Intimate Strangers series

 

 

 

 

Casey grinned widely, punching in the codes to deactivate the security system, open the garage door and unlock the inner door. “Beth’s gonna be surprised! Sneaking home in the middle of the day…decadent Casey. You pleasure animal!” Casting a quick glance at the mirror, the specialist checked her appearance, unable to wipe the grin off her face as she realized what she was doing. Unknowingly she released a sigh of relief as the garage door opened; Beth’s car was in its proper spot. “Get a grip Casey!” She admonished herself, forcefully telling her rapidly beating heart to calm down. It had been almost two months since Beth’s kidnaping and it was still raw. Some small part of her expected trouble…and Beth to be at the center of it. Unable to help herself, Casey ran a questioning hand over the hood of Beth’s 4Runner. “Hmmm. Cool. Wonder what she’s been up to? I thought she was going shopping this morning. Well, stop screwing around, go ask her!”

Shaking her head, Casey absently brushed her jet black hair back over her shoulders as she closed and locked the doors behind her. Hot spicy peppers bubbling in chili teased her nose as she walked quietly through the kitchen, heading for their study. “God, that smells great! I can’t believe how that woman spoils me.” At this time of day, if Beth wasn’t in the kitchen cooking, she’d be either writing or practicing. “Hey Sweetheart, I’m home!” Casey called out, not wanting to startle her lover. If Beth was involved in her writing, sometimes two yells were necessary to seep into her mind. Grinning, Casey remembered the first time she’d snuck home in the middle of the day. A couple of months after they’d started living together, Casey had come home unexpectedly, intending to surprise her lover. Instead she found herself on the receiving end of Beth’s swiftly moving staff. Now she gave a little warning before pouncing. “Hey,” this time more softly. Blue eyes lovingly tracked Beth’s pacing form. “Damn, she looks busy.” Casey thought, frowning. The lines of worry on her lover’s face concerned her. It seemed like lately that was the author’s constant state…worried and depressed. “Beth. Sweetheart? Am I interrupting?”

“Casey!” A pleased, happy grin lit Beth’s face. “What are you doing home?” The author changed pacing routes, ending up in her lover’s warm arms. “Gods I’m glad to see you.” Wrapping her arms snugly around Casey’s lean waist, lips gently kissed the soft skin of Casey’s tempting neck. “And no, you aren’t interrupting.” Beth’s voice teased her love as her lips continued to do the same.

“Problems?” The specialist sighed happily, tilting her head to allow Beth’s lips the room to roam. Beth’s use of ancient Greek curses were a sure sign that she was upset, most likely about Xena and Gabrielle. “What did the Warrior Princess do this time?”

“You want to talk now?” Beth husked, pulling Casey closer and slid a thigh between the specialist’s willing legs. “I can think of something,” hands roughened by hours of staff practice pulled Casey’s shirt out of her pants. “Else more interesting,” the hands turned teasing, lightly stroking the trembling flesh beneath them. “For us to be doing.” The hands turned possessive, closing over the perfect flesh beneath them, squeezing gently.

“Keep going,” Casey rumbled lowly, arching into the arousing touch. “You’re convincing…God Beth.” Reacting to the passion coursing through her body that Beth’s suddenly aggressive hands ignited, the specialist pulled back and swung her lover up into her arms. “Downstairs. Now.”

“No.” Beth’s refusal stopped Casey’s march for the door. “I can’t wait.” Warm lips attached themselves to the sensitive earlobe, sucking and nipping. “Please?”

That whispered plea was Casey’s undoing. Knowing she should protest, find out what was bothering Beth, but she was unable to refuse her love. Changing course, the specialist carried her lover to the sofa, setting her down gently. “Ok, I’m flexible.”

Beth’s sexy grin and throaty laugh caused the specialist to sweat, heart thumbing merrily. “I’m counting on it!” Beth reached out, tugging Casey’s shirt off. “You are so beautiful my love.”

“So are you Sweetheart.” A gentle finger traced the outline of Beth’s jaw. “C’mere you.” Her hand found a home behind Beth’s neck, pulling her slowly forward until their lips met. Slowly, almost hesitantly, Casey kissed her lover. “I love you.” She mumbled against Beth’s lips when they parted.

“Good.” Beth grinned naughtily at Casey’s questioning eyebrow. “I intend to show you how much I love you.” Efficient hands stripped the remaining clothes from her lover’s body. “Now.” Beth leaned forward, pressing a hand against the broad shoulder and pushing backwards.

“Wait.” Casey sounded a little breathless as she complied, settling back on the sofa. She absolutely loved the aggressive side of her lover. The one who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. “You too.” She tugged at her lover’s shirt, raising a pleading eyebrow. “I want to feel you too.”

Beth quickly removed her clothes, groaning when her heated skin slid against Casey’s. “God I love you.” Warm lips took possession, conquering, scalding as they conveyed all the love and desire Beth felt for Casey. Hands joined lips, relentlessly, passionately, lovingly driving Casey higher and higher until she exploded, floating in a sea of pleasure and love.

“Hey,” Casey spoke softly once she had her breathing back under control. “I love you.” She stopped, briefly sidetracked by Beth’s wandering fingers, arching into the caress. “Stop that,” the specialist groaned, capturing the fingers before they reached her sensitive breast. “Are you ok?” Concerned blue eyes carefully searched her lover’s face, frowning slightly at the hint of tension remaining.

“I love you too.” Beth smiled softly, green eyes roaming possessively over her lover’s magnificent form, unconsciously adding fuel to Casey’s worry. “Yes,” she added after Casey sighed in agitation. “I’m fine.” The author thought about that for a minute, green meeting blue honestly. “I’ve got something I want you to read, when you have time. But not right now.”

“Really? Have other plans for me?” Casey teased, leaning up to nip Beth’s tempting shoulder, tightening her legs around her lover’s waist, thrusting gently. “Because I could do it…” She broke of suggestively, transferring her attention to the smooth skin of Beth’s neck. “Now,” she breathed huskily in Beth’s quivering ear, tongue darting in quickly. Pulling back slightly, Casey growled with desire as Beth moved to follow her. “My turn,” spoken lowly, a possessive fire burning in her eyes, before she crushed her lips to Beth’s, claiming her author for her own once again.

“How long are you home for?” Beth smiled weakly at Casey, snuggling closer, leaning into the soothing touch of her lover’s caressing fingers. Squinting, she noticed the time. “Casey!” She lightly slapped the tight skin of Casey’s stomach, struggling to sit up. “You’re going to be late! Your meeting with hotel security is in one hour.”

“I moved it to this morning.” Strong arms halted Beth’s movements, pulling her back down. “Wanted to shake them up a bit.” Blue eyes tried to look innocent. “Guess you’re stuck with me for the rest of the day. Unless you have other plans.” Added as Casey remembered the terse pacing of her lover earlier.

“Really?” Beth relaxed, laying her head on Casey’s shoulder. “You’re not going back to work?” The author couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Casey often came home for lunch or a few quick kisses, but she almost never played hookie. Well, it was more common now…since the Davidson incident. “Wait,” Beth’s mind thought quickly. That had to be it. “She’s worried again. Damn…”

“What’s wrong?” Green eyes stared suspiciously at the specialist as she tried to restrain her growing annoyance. Sometimes Casey was more protective than Xena. “You’re still not worried about me are you? You didn’t change the meeting because I’ve been moody lately, did you?”

“Sweetheart, ” Casey met Beth’s gaze unflinchingly. “I will always worry. I can’t help that. If that is going to be a problem, I suggest we talk about it right now.” “Because it…I can’t change how I feel.” The specialist thought quietly, admitting something else to herself. “And I don’t want to.” Feeling that protecting Beth was integral to her self worth. It was who she was.

“I know, love.” Beth sighed quietly, lacing her fingers with Casey’s. She wasn’t overtly fond of the idea at times, but she did know her lover and herself. And if forced to admit it, she loved Casey’s protectiveness. Its just that at times, she felt a little closed in. “Just like I will always worry about you.” Questioning green eyes searched blue intently, relaxing at the love and understanding she found there.

“I came home because I wanted to spend some time with you. That’s all.” Casey shifted slightly, pulling their bodies even closer. “Yes,” the specialist continued, not wanting there to be any secrets between them. “I did reschedule the meeting so I could have the afternoon off. We haven’t seen much of each other lately, with both of us working long hours.” Leaving unsaid the strain her author had been under and the hours she’d spent worrying about Beth.

“I’m glad. I…” Beth was interrupted by her growling stomach.

“Guess we better feed you.” Casey laughed, tickling the complaining area. “C’mon. Lets go grab a shower, then I’ll take you out for lunch.” Knowing that when Beth made chili she liked to let it simmer all day.

“Lets stay in, ok?” Beth got up, wrapping one of the blankets from the sofa around her. “I’m sure there is something edible in the kitchen, even if its only frozen pizza.” She sassed, bumping past Casey. “Race ya!” She took off, leaving Casey laughing.

“Ok, what did you want me to read?” After bathing and fixing something to eat, they were back in their office, snuggled together on the sofa, their respective laptops beside them.

“Here,” Beth handed Casey a disk. “Wait.” Beth stopped Casey from opening the file. “This is really different from what you’ve read before. It might bother you.” Beth knew how Casey reacted when Xena and Gabrielle fought seriously.

“Let me see it. You gonna write some more?” Casey opened the file, watching Beth out of the corner of her eye. What she saw worried her. “Hey…I love you.” Casey reached out, running a finger down Beth’s face, smiling back at her.

“I love you too.” Beth turned her head, kissing Casey’s finger. Swallowing her nervousness, she added. “Go ahead, I really want your opinion. This is giving me a hard time.”

“Yeah, the great literary critic that I am.” Casey clowned around, relieved to see the smile gracing her lover’s face before settling down and focusing on her screen. Immediately Beth’s words pulled her in.

I can’t believe everything that has happened these last several moons. Both Xena and I have done things I never thought possible. And for once, I am glad to be left behind. I need this chance to try and sort out the horror our lives became. Its both our faults. I’ve said things, she’s said things…we’ve both hurt each other in ways I never dreamed possible. Yet here I sit, by the crackling fire waiting for her return. I welcome this chance to think uninterrupted, but I am still my warrior’s bard. I long for her return. Even now. Especially now. I can’t wait for our reunion, for I know deep in my heart, that she is missing me as much as I am missing her. But first things first. If we are to make it, and oh blessed gods above, I want to make it, I need to understand. Understand myself and maybe understand her…my lover…my warrior…my life, just a little better. For she is my life and I pray to anyone listening, that I am still her’s. I know I can’t go on without her.

It all started on that damned road where we met those Roman prisoners. One word, Caesar, and my Xena, my loving, devoted lover, took a backseat to the Warrior Princess. I’ve seen Xena driven by hate, lusting for revenge, but never like this. She was pushing me away so hard, so thoroughly, I reached out to Khrafstar, wanting to believe in the innate goodness of his god. Seeking the opposite of what I felt burning in my lover. Yet, when she called, I came. Like a moth drawn to a flame, I headed the call. And for a brief moment, in that ship’s hold, I was successful. I, a bard from a small village, brought my lover back into the light, away from her darkness. For that brief instant, I thought everything was going to be ok. I was quickly disillusioned the moment we reached land; my gentle lover once again receded, replaced by the icy Warrior Princess.

Hanging on that cross, I lost my faith in my warrior and myself…I thought my life was over. I truly felt she let me down. Rightly or wrongly, I felt she thought revenge was more important. More important than me, than knowing where I was. She didn’t even care I was missing, or so I convinced myself. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt when Xena burst forth from under my cross. I made some smart ass comment, I’m not even sure what now, trying to hide my guilt for not trusting her…not believing in her. I’m not sure, but I think she could tell what I was thinking. Could tell I didn’t believe in her…for the first time. So to protect me, she sent me with him, to his temple. Knowing full well his goodness might sway my heart. For he was what we both thought she was not…at least not now. Here is where I forever changed and yet painfully, hesitatingly started to realized that neither of us were exactly who we thought we were…nor who we thought each other were.

I always knew it was a distinct, real possibility that I would loose my blood innocence. Given what we do and make no mistake, I do it freely by choice…even now, after all that has happened, it is still my choice. One I would make a thousand times over. Although now I do admit I understand it better. But I’m getting ahead of myself. And loose my blood innocence I did. Protecting someone who lied to me, used me, although at the time I didn’t know it. Xena says it happened in the heat of battle, that I was protecting myself and someone I perceived as an innocent. I’m not sure. I hope that it is true. What I know, as a solid, unshakable fact is that I, Gabrielle, bard, Amazon Queen, killed.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this troubles me. And I’ve come to a conclusion of sorts. One that worries and concerns me. If that had been Xena on that alter, I would not have hesitated in defending her, even when the end result was killing Meridian. I don’t think my nights would have been filled with her blood. Seen the dagger held in my hand plunge in, time and time again. Felt the blood scorch my hands.

Why? An easy answer, once I was able to look into myself and see the truth. A truth that I have only recently allowed myself to see. Getting to that point, that wasn’t easy. Not at all. But I digress again. Again why? Because it should have been Xena. Nothing else matters as much as she does. I’ve always thought that I would loose my blood innocence protecting Xena while she was wounded or maybe a helpless child. I was an innocent, but not THAT innocent. It was only a matter of time before I lost something I thought central to my being. It was not realistic to think I would retain my blood innocence. Not at all. I think, no I KNOW Xena was as shocked by my actions as I was. But in my heart, I must acknowledge my desire. My desire to be the one to protect my lover. My desire to be respected by her, not only as a woman, but as a strong person. One who could protect those she cares about. Selfish, I know. And a little foolish. Me, the little bard, wanting to protect the mighty Warrior Princess. Who ever said hearts were rational??

Then my worst nightmare came to life. I was raped. Closing my eyes, I still feel, all these moons later, the hot icy cold of the flame. Burning my skin. Encircling me. Lifting me. Taking me. In a way, its ironic. We’ve seen the aftermath of rapes more times than I can count. Held hands, talked soothingly to the victims. But never in my wildest, darkest nightmare did I ever think it would happen to me. Even with what I’d seen. With what I freely choose to do. Why? Because of Xena. I knew, deep in my heart, that she would protect me. Keep me safe.

This was wrong. Xena is only human. I tend to forget this sometimes, for she routinely does the impossible. I shouldn’t because I see her human side every day. From her short, biting comments when she’s battling her inner demons to her growling impatience when I ramble on (and I know I do). And I know, better than anyone, that she is not always successful when her darkness rises. At times it overwhelms her, controls her. I must not forget, Xena is NOT my keeper. I fought long and hard for her to see me as an equal, one who could take care of herself. Yes, I was in Britannia because of Xena. But it was my choice to accompany Xena and my choice to participate in a ritual I did not understand. Mine. One I made as freely as I my choice to follow my warrior. To deny my right of choice is to deny all I have fought for and against.

I know Xena would give anything to change what happened. I would too. Oh Gods, how I would. But it was not Xena’s fault Dayhok raped me and I finally believe, it wasn’t mine. For a long time I thought it was a punishment, for killing Meridian. For giving up my beliefs, not for my life, my love, but for a man I was deceived by. My guilty mind convinced me that if I had been stronger, had trusted my warrior more, it wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have been alone in Dayhok’s temple. But I can’t do that anymore. Its not fair to me. I made a decision, protected someone I thought needed protecting. But what happened wasn’t my fault. Now I think we were both used. And used expertly.

At the end, Xena held me, sitting in the rubble. She told me everything would be ok. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t true. But oh gods, how I wanted to believe Xena.

Casey looked up from her reading, stunned when she hit Beth’s page break, avoiding reading the rest. “God, where did Beth get this?” Vivid flashes of her lover’s recent nightmares haunted her. Seeing Beth’s sweat soaked face, haunted eyes. And heard her questioning concern gently rebuked, time and time again. “Damn! Why didn’t she say anything? Why didn’t I push her?” Two days of pure torture assaulted her before being granted a reprieve. Only then because she couldn’t stop thinking about her lover. “Beth…my poor Beth, dealing with this by herself. She hates it when either of them hurt the other. What do I say to her?” Heart pounding, blue eyes cautiously turned to watch her author, masking her own hurt feelings. Beth was all that mattered. Who was watching her in return. “Beth?”

“What did you think? Told you it was different.” The author shifted, unable to meet the concern radiating from Casey, afraid she’d blurt it all out. Her lover was aware of the nightmares, nothing more. Casey had no idea of how she’d struggled with this. Struggled wether to write the painful words of perceived betrayal, of hurt, of hate. Struggled with herself to not give in and tell Casey everything. This was a decision she had to make on her own once she understood the dreams. To decide what and how she should write, if at all. But that didn’t change how desperately she needed Casey’s support and understanding. Or how much her support was desperately needed and appreciated at the time.

“Well,” Casey sat her laptop to the side and then Beth’s, noticing that Beth hadn’t even opened a file on her’s. “C’mere.” Arms strengthened my hours of martial arts training pulled her author on her lap. Sighing contentedly (any reason to hold her author brought a smile to the specialist’s face and a started a calming peace to settle in her soul), Casey considered her words.

“Hey, I can take it.” Beth snuggled closer, taking the comfort so willingly offered. Hoping the words were true. The tension in her lover’s arms compelled her to continue, not wanting Casey to worry about her comments. “Let me have it with both barrels 99.” Knowing the teasing nickname would reassure her lover.

“As always, you pulled me in from the first word. But I don’t know what to say.” Casey admitted after much soul searching. “I mean,” feeling the tension seeping into her lover’s frame. “I was kind of confused. The last I read, everything was fine between Xena and Gabrielle. It was a shock.” Casey tightened her arms, hugging Beth close. “I think I need to read what happened prior to this. So I’ll understand more. I’m sure I won’t be confused then.” The frown on Beth’s face caused her heart to pick up the pace a little. “Damn, I’m hurting her!” Casey thought self-disgustedly. “I knew I should have said something else!”

“Ok. That answers one of my questions.” Beth thought furiously for a second. “I was hoping that it would stand on its own. And it doesn’t. So that means I need to…” The author’s voice trailed off, thinking about how she could re-write the scene to make it stand on its own. Beth didn’t realize how long or how quiet she’d been until Casey’s concerned voice broke through her consciousness.

“Beth? Hey, I’m sure its me.” Casey kicked herself for what she thought was a thoughtless comment, figuring Beth was chastising herself for not getting it right the first time.

“No! That’s what I wanted to know Casey.” Beth looked Casey straight in the eye, pouring every ounce of love she had for the specialist in the look. “Don’t ever think you shouldn’t be anything other than honest when I ask for your opinion. I respect and value your opinion.”

Casey nodded once, relieved. Quickly her thoughts darkened though, as Beth’s prolonged silence and the reasons behind it registered. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course silly! You can ask me anything you want.” Beth smiled reassuringly, willing her raging thoughts to silence. She knew what Casey was going to ask. She just didn’t know how she was going to answer. She still didn’t understand the overwhelming need to work this out for herself.

“Why didn’t you tell me about your nightmares?” Casey asked confused and hurt. Why hadn’t Beth trusted her? Hadn’t they told each other they could talk about anything? “This is from your dreams, isn’t it.” Not a question, just an educated guess.

“Its not because I didn’t trust you.” Green eyes stared seriously into blue, hearing the unasked question loud and clear. “Don’t ever think that. I trust you completely.” Seeing she wasn’t entirely believed, Beth continued, heart aching at the thought that she’d hurt Casey. Reaching out a hand, she gently cupped Casey’s chin, not wanting there to be any misunderstanding between them. The unsuccessful shading of Casey’s pain and confusion intensified the pain in her own heart. “Damn! I hurt her!” Thought with much anger and self loathing.

“I trust you. How could I not?” Beth carefully searched Casey’s eyes, needing to be understood. “When I’m scared, you hold me, chasing my demons away. When I’m hurt, your presence comforts me, soothing away my pain. You…your love is all I will ever need. Please believe me…believe that.” Leaning forward until their lips were almost touching, Beth whispered “I love you” and closed the distance. Gently, tenderly Beth kissed Casey, pledging herself and her undying love.

“I love you too,” Casey breathed emotionally, resting her forehead against Beth’s. “I trust you with everything that I am.”

“The first few dreams were nothing but darkness, full of negative emotions.” Beth answered, not wanting any secrets between them. If nothing else, Xena and Gabrielle’s recent activities reinforced the consequences of not being honest. “Then it hit me while I was practicing,” knowing Casey would remember finding her past exhaustion two days after the dreams started. Barely able to move, Beth had just sat there, knowing she deserved it. Her ears still burned, hearing Casey’s heated words as she exploded, accusing Beth of not taking care of herself. Remembered falling into Casey’s arms, un-shamelessly seeking the protection of her lover’s embrace, whispering her heart…that she needed and loved Casey…that she begged her not to let go. Remembered her ragged assurances that she would be ok…that she now understood. With a start, Beth also remembered her lover’s shaking arms and her own softly spoken words of reassurance. “Oh gods, she was hurting too,” echoed through her mind. Taking a breath, the author continued.

“Remember what I told you? That I had to sort this out before I was able to tell you? That as soon as I did, you’d be the first to know?” She made herself hold Casey’s agonized eyes. “I knew without a doubt that the emotions weren’t my own. That is the only reason I didn’t tell you, I swear.” Releasing Casey’s chin, Beth took her hand, lacing their fingers together. Then she brought their linked hands up between them. “Then I told you that all I needed to work through this was a little time and you. I never meant to hurt you. I’m more sorry than you can…”

“Shh. Its ok.” Casey talked over Beth, not able to handle the pain in her lover’s voice. “Its ok. We’re ok. I love you.” The words just slipped from the specialist’s lips as she rocked her love.

“I love you too.” Beth sighed, relieved. “Might as well finish it,” she told herself, knowing silence would only hurt Casey more. And that was one thing she never wanted to do again.

“Once I realized the feelings weren’t my own, the rest didn’t scare me, at least not like the first few. I’ve ever only had one source of dreams so vivid, so intense. Once I got past the initial pain and shock, it was very evident that these were from Xena and Gabrielle. What you read was the first of many different, interrelated dreams.” Squeezing her lover’s hand, Beth spoke softly, from the heart.

“Do you have any idea how much your acceptance, your support meant to me? You put up with all of my half crazed ramblings, my moods, my volatile emotions without complaining. I am so sorry for putting you through that. Thank you.” Beth held her breath, desperately needing her lover’s forgiveness.

“Hey. Its ok.” Casey wanted to argue, to make Beth realize how hurt she’d been with her reluctance to confide in her. But the barely hidden fear in her author’s face overrode all other concerns. Her mind also whispered she had her own secrets, ones that would one day see the light of day. Understanding and acceptance worked both ways. But she couldn’t stop herself from adding a plea. “Just don’t do it again, please? I don’t think I could stand it. Wondering if I did something wrong or made you mad.”

“Oh God, I never knew. I’m so sorry!” Beth’s heart finally shattered, feeling the pain behind Casey’s words, “you hurt her” echoing painfully in her soul. “I never meant to…”

“Shh. C”mere.” Casey pulled Beth tightly against her, needing to feel her. It wasn’t enough. Shifting, she pushed Beth back on the sofa, covering her body with her own. “Its ok. We’re ok.” Repeating her earlier words, Casey settled her weight evenly over her lover’s body, not wanting to hurt her.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Beth cried softly, making herself hold Casey’s gaze, not giving herself any mercy. “Hell, why didn’t I know? What kind of lover am…” Warm lips smothered her words, telling Beth exactly how Casey felt about her. That she was exactly what the specialist wanted, needed, loved.

“That night I found you practicing, I was going to ask. But you told me all I needed to hear. So I let it be, figuring you’d tell me when you were ready.” Casey pulled back, wanting Beth to see the truth in her eyes. Once Casey realized that she wasn’t the cause of Beth’s pain, it was much easier to focus on the author. Beth needed her and that was all that mattered to Casey.

“Next time I promise I’ll say something.” Beth promised, not believing how lucky she was. She knew she didn’t deserve Casey, but she also knew how her lover would react to those words.

“You said one of many dreams. Are you finished with the others? I’d like to read them too.” Casey offered, wanting to put her lover at ease.

“Yes, there’s more.” Beth hesitated just a second, weighing her options. She wanted Casey to read the rest, but she didn’t want to let her go. At least not yet. “Mind waiting a bit? Don’t want to move.” Beth tightened her arms, pressing Casey more firmly against her.

“Not at all Sweetheart. I’m comfortable.” Casey buried her face in Beth’s neck, inhaling deeply. Sighing happily as Beth brought one hand up to stroke her hair, she didn’t even realize when she dozed off.

“Hey.” Sleepily Casey nuzzled the warm skin against her lips. “What time is it?”

“Don’t know.” Beth replied, lost in her own happiness. “Don’t care either. I never want to move.” Chuckling softly, Casey agreed, drifting off back to sleep.

Waking some time later, Casey shifted, preparing to move. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” She had planned on carrying Beth downstairs to their bed. And laughed out loud when Beth’s stomach answered for her. “Guess you would of been up soon anyway!”

“How about you read the rest of it while I go exercise?” Beth cocked an eyebrow questioningly. “I’ve been a lazy bum the last couple of days.”

“Want a partner?” It had been several days since they’d practiced together and Casey found to her amazement that she missed it. She’d always preferred working out alone before she’d met Beth. But there was something soothingly erotic about the complicated steps and powerful moves. It was almost like a dance.

“Only if you promise to take it easy on me.” Beth took the offered hand and let herself be pulled from the sofa. Telling herself to be patient, that Casey would finish it later, the author schooled her face to not reflect her disappointment. “Beside,” she grinned mentally, eyes sparkling. “You love sparring with her.”

“What’s that look for? Planning on kicking my butt?” Casey smirked, loving the confident glow that lit her partner’s face. But she couldn’t resist the challenge. “C’mon then. Let’s go!” Playfully shoving Beth towards the door, Casey’s face reflected her complete happiness.

******

“I really needed that.” Beth repeated, sitting a steaming bowl of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich in front of Casey. “Thanks. That was a good idea.”

“Anytime my author.” That is one thing Casey really liked about Xena…she had good choice in affectionate terms. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten. As soon as we’re finished, I’ll read the rest.”

“Good. I really need to know what you think.” Beth smiled, loving the affect her words had on Casey. “Bet she doesn’t even realize how her eyes light up,” Beth thought delighted. It never failed to amaze the author how her lover reacted to her saying she needed Casey.

“So what are you going to do when I read?” Casey asked around a mouthful. Slapping herself mentally, she added. “This is fantastic! You really spoil me.” Not wanting Beth to think she took her for granted. They shared the housework, but Beth took care of the majority of the cooking and shopping. Not to mention the laundry. “Of course,” she mocked herself silently. “Its mostly self perseveration!”

“No more than you do me.” Beth reached across the table, lacing their fingers together, thinking of all the times Casey put up with her moodiness (ignoring the specialist’s…that was different!). Or the times she’d come home from the dojo to a spotless house. Or the times she’d found little presents, ones that made her day a little easier, saved her from a trip to the store. They were perfect together…a huge smile brightened her whole face. “Face it, we’re made for each other.”

“That we are.” Casey said softly, falling into the extraordinary green of her lover’s eyes. With a shake, she jerked back to the present as the phone rang.

“I’ll get it.” Beth reluctantly released Casey’s hand and answered the phone. Sighing, she returned to the table. Making faces at Casey as she listened to her mother ramble, Beth took great pleasure in watching her lover try and contain her reactions. Finally taking pity on her shaking love, Beth behaved. And breathed a sigh of relief when she hung up the phone. Feeling mischievous, Beth smiled evilly at Casey. “I think I’m gonna make you be present for ALL of my conversations with my mother. That was by far the best one I’ve had!”

Not raising to the bait, Casey raised an expressive eyebrow. “You know all you have to do is ask.” The serious words surprised both of them. “I mean,” Casey corrected herself, deciding they both needed a lighter conversation. “That all depends on the payment!” She leered at her author, making it clear what she expected for payment.

“Well, I’ll keep that in mind.” Casey’s earlier words warmed her heart…her protector was fierce, loyal and always right there. “Want more?” She indicated the empty bowl.

“Nope. Saving room for that cake you’ve got hidden in the refrigerator.” Casey rose and took her dishes to the sink. “Want more yourself?”

“When I finish this.” Beth was glad food started tasting good again. In her heart, she knew it was because she’d finally talked to Casey about what was bothering her. “Stupid, Beth!” Her mind mocked her for her own foolishness. When would she learn that Casey wouldn’t judge her? Would always support her? “I’ll get these.” She added when Casey started to take the dishes out of the sink. “You need to go read.”

“Sure? These won’t take a…” Casey stopped herself, seeing the restrained tension that reappeared on her lover’s face. “Ok. I’ll go read. Join me when you’re done?”

“Of course.” Beth grinned reassuringly at Casey, sighing in relief as the specialist left the room. “I really do need to talk to you about it.” She whispered, not chancing her lover’s incredible hearing. Forcing herself to stop thinking, Beth concentrated on eating.

“This sure is bothering you Beth. You will tell me about it.” Casey muttered determinedly as she called up the file, settling back on the sofa. As before, immediately she was captivated by Beth’s words.

I swear the Gods were conspiring against us. Xena faces her mortal enemy. I loose my blood innocence and am forced to give up my child (I’ll mention that in a bit). Then her past rears its head. And what does my warrior do? She CHOOSES to give up on us! After all that we’ve been through. She tells me, someone she’s sworn she loves, that her past, dark and violent, one she is desperately trying to make amends for…that a WOMAN is more important than me…than what we have. She leaves me alone. Standing on that dock, I watched my life walk away, empty and desolate.

I know Xena still doesn’t realize how much that hurt. And it still hurts now, even though we’re working through the pain. In my heart, I fear I will always feel that I came in second to a ghost from her past. Second to an old love. She couldn’t even tell me the truth! Tell me why it was necessary for her to go to Chin. Yes, she did tell me a little about her past and her association with Lao Mao. In some regard, that was the most open she’s been with her past. Did she trust me to understand? Or was she telling me what she thought I needed to hear, so she could leave me behind without feeling guilty? Did she think I would be jealous of a past love? Did she care what I thought? I don’t know. I can even understand how, with Xena’s concept of a warrior’s honor, that she would feel an obligation to this woman. All she would have had to do was TELL me! Tell me why this man needed killed, not keep repeating half truths, masking the necessary reasons for her trip. Its not like I haven’t seen her plan to kill before. I have.

For the first time since I met her, I actually started to hate her. Hate. My gods. I didn’t even hate her for Hope. Hate. That is an emotion I thought I would NEVER say with my lover’s name. The Warrior Princess hates and can be hated. For me, for my Xena, hate didn’t apply! I hated her for leaving me. She didn’t even ask me to come with her! All she said was if you have doubts, don’t come. I’ve told her countless times that her past didn’t matter. Gods, what I fool I was. If she chooses, her past DOES matter. Every time she places it before the present, before us, it matters. Especially when she won’t let us face it together. As I turned and walked away, my body cried out, pain tearing my lover’s heart, ripping a hole in my being, leaving me gasping, hurting…wanting…needing…

Gods! How alone and used I felt! So what did I do? I betrayed Xena. Oh, I told myself my motives were pure. That I wanted to stop her from making a mistake, from turning back into the darkness. Stop her from sinking into the pit of hate and anger that was her life. And for a long time, I convinced myself this was the truth. That I journeyed to Chin to ultimately protect my love, if only from herself. Gods, what a fool I was. I couldn’t even admit the truth to myself.

I realized what I had done, that I, Gabrielle, the loyal one (which is certainly how I saw myself…as the defender of the Warrior Princess’s honor), had betrayed my best friend. And to make matters worse, if that is even possible, I set her up to be executed. To make myself feel better, I tried everything I could think of to reason with her, to make her see that I was right and she was wrong. Nothing worked. Each word, each slap, further drove us apart. And it was all my fault. Yes Xena left me, didn’t tell me the real motivation for journeying to Chin. And in a very real way, I feel Xena betrayed us by saying our love wasn’t as important. But this doesn’t change the fact that I betrayed Xena…my lover, my life. It was MY fault. This shocking revelation almost was my undoing.

Gathering my courage, I ventured into the dungeon, desperate for one last communication with my love. Not the Warrior Princess I had been abusing, but my Xena. Thank the gods I found her! When she asked me to scratch her nose, my heart sang. That was my Xena. I thank the gods for that moment, for without it I would have surely died. I would have had no reason to go on, not without her…without her love. As always, Xena reached inside herself and found some inner strength and saved us. Walking out of the destroyed room, I told her I loved her. She replied in kind, but my heart cried out at her pain. How could she forgive me? I still can’t forgive myself. I knew, as we stumbled out of the rubble, that no matter how much I wanted to believe otherwise, things were not the same between us. Even our casual body language had changed. Once again, I cursed whatever twist of fate had brought us to this point. Brought us to the point of not trusting each other.

Casey drew a shuttering breath, fighting to maintain a level of detachment. “How could Xena do that? Treat Gabrielle like that? Just leave her all alone! Didn’t she know her primary job was to protect her bard? Just how selfish was Xena? And what’s this crap of choosing someone over Gabrielle?” The sound of Beth’s off key singing brought a smile to Casey’s face, pulling her out of her thoughts. Wanting to see her author, she grabbed her glass and headed back for the kitchen, supposedly to refill her glass. But in reality, the specialist needed to ground herself; Beth’s words had her heart spinning.

“Hey.” Casey laughed softly, after watching Beth dance around in the kitchen for a few minutes, putting the dishes away. “Having a good time?”

“Just finishing up.” Beth spun past Casey, snapping at her shapely rear with the towel. “Bored already?” Knowing just how much her lover hated to sit still for any length of time.

“Nope. Needed a refill.” Casey hefted her excuse then opened the refrigerator and filled her glass. With exaggerated care, she set the glass down and grabbed another towel. “You know,” she spun the towel in her hands. “You are gonna pay for that.” Snapping teasingly near Beth, she advanced forward, a delightedly evil grin on her face. Casey had never lost a towel battle and she didn’t intend to start now.

“Be nice Casey!” Beth stuttered, trying to keep the table between them.

Looking every bit like the conquering warrior, Casey circled her prey, snapping the towel with playful force. “You started it, remember?” Beth knew how Casey would react to the unspoken challenge. Finally seeing the opening she was looking for, Casey mock stepped to one side and snapped the towel forcefully at Beth’s knees.

Seeing no alternative, Beth silently saluted her lover while jumping slightly when the towel connected with her flesh, internally wincing as the pressure on her knee changed, turning painful. “You win.” Beth gave in gracefully, taking care to hide her sore leg. She’d been to aggressive during sparring and had mis-stepped, stressing her knee. Dancing around had not been a bright idea. Beth definitely did not want Casey finding out. Not when they’d been playing.

“Giving up already?” Casey stared suspicious at her lover. Beth never gave in this easily. With narrowed eyes, Casey advanced cautiously for her kiss, expecting Beth to jump her any second. When that didn’t happen, Casey stopped. Beth was unpredictable; carefully she closed the distance between them. Not at all sure what to make of the laughter in Beth’s eyes. “What?” She whispered when their lips were almost touching.

“Don’t you want your victory kiss?” Beth teased gently, eyes flickering between Casey’s soft lips and expressive eyes, the pain in her knee forgotten “Hmm?”

“I always want to kiss you.” Casey dropped the towel, brining one hand up to lightly caress the smooth skin of Beth’s cheek. She wrapped her other arm around Beth’s waist, pulling her closer. Leaning down, she tenderly brushed her lips across her love’s. Pulling back to see her lover’s eyes (which always gave an indication to what Beth was thinking and feeling), Casey asked a question. “You gave in, didn’t you? You let me win!” Carefully she searched her lover’s face, surprised at the openness.

“Did not!” Beth countered, smiling at the look on Casey’s face. “Don’t believe me, do you? What if I just wanted a kiss?” “Good plan Beth! Try misdirection!” Thought rapidly, grinning at her lover’s confused face.

“You never give up so easily!” Casey protested, tangling her fingers in Beth’s strawberry blond locks. “So soft.” It popped out before she could stop herself. Leaning forward, she buried her nose in the fragrant locks. “Mine,” whispered so softly that Beth wouldn’t have heard it if she hadn’t been closely listening.

“So that explained it.” Beth thought silently, hugging Casey even tighter. “Casey’s upset about Xena and Gabrielle. That’s one reason I was reluctant to tell her until I had things worked out. It would kill her, having to wait weeks to find out the answer.” Stretching, Beth nuzzled her way to Casey’s ear and whispered an answer back. “Your’s.” A few moments later, Casey still hadn’t moved. “Are you ok?” Beth was worried, Casey was reacting more strongly than she’d figured. That made her mind up. No more reading for her lover, at least not tonight. She could wait for their conversation. Casey was more important. “C’mon. Lets go downstairs and snuggle.”

“I’m not done reading yet.” Casey answered back, wanting nothing more than to do as Beth suggested. But she’d made a promise and she never broke them, not with Beth.

“Yes you are. You can finish it later.” Beth insisted and stepped back. A brief flicker of pain crossed her face before she could stop it; she’d forgotten about her knee. “Oh damn! Stupid Beth!” She yelled at herself as blue eyes swept down her body, resting on the hurt knee.

“Make you a deal.” Casey began, voice deceptively calm. “You get off that leg and I’ll finish reading. Deal?” Casey was better at keeping her face expressionless. She didn’t think Beth had any idea how the thoughts that ran through her head as she studied Beth’s knee.

“Only if you stop that and I mean right now!” Beth ran a finger down Casey’s cheek, drawing her eyes back up to her own. The author wasn’t fooled by her lover’s words…she knew Casey was blaming herself. “I’m ok.”

“Hold on now.” Casey instructed, sweeping Beth up into her arms. “I’ll come back for them in a minute.” Meaning their glasses on the counter. Heading purposefully back to their study, Casey concentrated on Beth’s face, looking for any sign of continued pain. “Ok now?” Asked as she set Beth on the sofa.

“Thanks for the ride Casey.” Beth sighed in appreciation as Casey growled at her to stay put and left the room. She didn’t pay any attention to the words or tone. It had taken some time before Beth learned to let the words flow over her. The specialist didn’t mean them; it was just one of her ways of dealing with the author’s physical pain. Casey often growled when she was worried…plus she was busy admiring the view.

“Come here.” Casey commanded, settling back on the sofa, motioning for Beth to lie back between her legs. “You haven’t been sleeping nearly enough. Take a nap while I read, please?” Realizing how she sounded, Casey changed her tone. Waiting until Beth had made herself comfortable, Casey picked up the laptop. “Beth?”

“What?” Beth sighed softly, realizing that Casey was right. She was exhausted. At least Casey hadn’t yelled about her leg.

“Thanks.” Blue eyes caressed green lovingly. “I really appreciate it.” Meaning not arguing about needing rest and for forgiving her earlier tone.

“Hey, getting a mushy on me, 99?” Beth teased sleepily, not even trying to hide her yawn. Beth knew her lover. It was time to change paces or she’d never make it through the reading in one piece.

“For you always, my author.” Casey grinned happily, thankful that Beth knew her so well…and still stuck around. “Now get some sleep!”

“Ok…can’t seem to stay awake.” Beth closed her eyes, giving up the fight to stay awake. “Love you,” mumbled sleepily.

“Rest well Sweetheart. I love you too.” Tenderly Casey brushed the hair out of Beth’s eyes, drinking in the intense calm of the moment. When Beth was fully asleep, Casey turned to the computer and started to read. The first words rocked her, pulling her in forcefully.

Hope, my daughter. Sitting here, remembering, thinking, writing late into the night, I fully feel the horror and shame. Even her name makes me tremble. My feelings are in turmoil. I know I mentioned her earlier, but it seems natural to think about it, the horror and pain, all at once. Gods! Listen to me! Using the words natural and Hope in the same sentence. I know I should hate Hope. Hate her for what she did…to Xena, to me, to us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So much of our trip from Britannia is a blur. I felt dead inside. Because I killed. Because I lost my faith in my lover. Because I was raped. Its funny, looking back now, I realize how strongly I clung to Xena. How much I needed her strength. And every step of the way, she was there, helping me, supporting me. Granted it was in her own typically gruff fashion, but she was THERE. Even when we discovered I was pregnant. Because I was raped.

Pregnant. Oh gods! I barely had time to adjust to the idea…no, that isn’t true. I didn’t have time to adjust to being pregnant. We quickly realized, it seemed like within candlemarks, that this wasn’t a normal pregnancy. If there was any doubt, the Banshees would have changed even the most stubborn of minds.

The unthinking mob reaction of the villagers, their cold bloodedness, their angry chants, still cause twinges of fear even after all this time. All their hate and anger, directed at me..at something they didn’t understand. Or that is what I told myself. I wonder now, if they were right. Should I have let them kill me, thus killing my unborn child? At least Solon would be alive now. A good thing did come of their attack, tho. I proved to myself that I could take care of myself in really bad situations. But that pales in light of what my decision cost Xena and ultimately me. Hindsight is bliss, or so the saying goes. However at the time, all I could think about was saving the baby…my baby.

Seeking refuge for me, Xena guided us to a castle, where supposedly we would me safe. For a brief moment, we were. Xena delivered my baby, my Hope, in the stable of the castle. By the gods, I thought my mother told tales, trying to scare some sense into me in my impressionable youth. Was I ever mistaken! Gods, it hurt. Unlike anything I could ever imagine. And still, Xena was with me, helping me, trying for me. Thinking back, I can now see the familiar signs of worry on her nearly expressionless face. At the time, I attributed it to concern for my welfare, but now I know different. Everything happened so fast…too fast.

Hope was so beautiful! Looking at her beautiful face, holding her in my arms, I felt an unexpected warmth flood my being. This was MY child. No matter how she came to be, she was MY flesh and blood. Dazed, as Xena carried us to a safer place, I daydreamed. Dreamed the impossible. Dreamed that Hope was actually Xena’s and my child (I am not that naive, I do know how a baby is made). Dreamed of living a life together, maybe settling down with the Amazons. Dreamed of being a real family…my daughter, my son (yes, I wanted Solon to come live with us. The boy, son of my life, deserved to know his mother.), my love. For those few precious moments, it was bliss.

Then it all, my entire world, fell apart…quickly, painfully, totally. Xena, my love, stood with her sword at my child’s throat! My staunch supporter, my protector, turned against me, against my child. What was I to do? I tried to listen, tried to convince her she was wrong. But, as usual when Xena’s convinced she’s right, nothing and no one can change her mind. And I was just as rigid in my belief. I was so damn sure she was wrong. I would not, could not believe what she told me. Hope was NOT evil. How could she be? She was my child too. So I made a decision. One I never thought I would have to make. I chose my child over my lover. Calling on the Banshees for help, I fled, taking Hope with me.

Knowing full well my lover’s drive and tenacity, I ran away, wanting to put as much distance between us as possible. Hoping against hope to find a solution that would let us live together as a family. As she chased me relentlessly across the land, she convinced me otherwise. Unbelievably, I managed to stay a few steps ahead of the Warrior Princess. In any other situation, this would have thrilled me to no end. Instead it saddened me.

I reached a solution as I fled from my warrior. One I thought would save Hope. Crying, I placed my baby in a basket and told her I loved her. That I wanted her to have a good life. That I wanted her to be good. That this was the only way to save her life. After watching her float down the river, away from me, away from my love, I set up the biggest deception I could. Now my only goal was to convince Xena that Hope was dead. It was the only way.

To my utter disbelief, Xena bought the lies. And to my horror, I found comfort in her arms. As she held me, whispering words of comfort, words of sorrow, promises that things would be ok, I melted into her. Taking the comfort and love that was offered. Its funny, in a weird sort of way. I didn’t even think about hating Xena for this, yet let her betray our love (when she let me to go to Chin), and hate bubbles out!

GODS! How could I have done that? What type of person am I? Just a few candlemarks before, this woman, my lover, attempted to kill my child. She chased me for candlemarks, not caring about my feelings, my desires. Yet here I stood, falling gratefully against her, even pulling her against me! Later that night, as I laid our sleeping furs out, I tried to tell myself it was all for appearances sake. Xena would know something was wrong if we didn’t sleep together. But that was a lie. I needed her…desperately.

Pushing the computer farther down Beth’s lap, Casey softly ran her fingers through Beth’s hair. Looking down into that peaceful face that she knew she’d die for, Casey’s respect for her lover grew. “How did you manage to write that without losing it?” Reading it was hard enough, but to actually write it? To dream it? ” My god Beth.” Closing eyes dulled with pain…pain for Gabrielle and surprisingly Xena, Casey forced herself to concentrate on the woman in her arms, the most important person in her life. Several minutes later, Casey opened her eyes and sighed. Pulling the laptop closer, Casey knew she had to finish this…she’d promised. Absently taking a drink, she took a moment to smooth the hair off Beth’s face before resolutely focusing on the computer.

Gods, I can’t believe I’ve been sitting here all night. The sun is peaking its head out, ushering in a new day. Yet I am still here, trying to work though everything. Nothing has any appeal, not even food. For I desperately need to get this out of my system. Reading through what I’ve written, the disjointedness shocked me. But maybe it SHOULD be that way. Why should my writings be any different from my thoughts, my feelings, my pain? Again I return to the one my thoughts and feelings rarely stray from, no matter what they are. Although I am sure she’s alright, it was a simple message delivery after all, I am still worried. It’s a testament to our love, in a way. I sit here, thinking about how we betrayed and hurt each other, yet I pray for her safe, speedy return. I need her so. And after all this time, after everything that has happened, I know she needs me too. Please hurry Xena. I need your arms around me, wrapping me securely in your love. I never thought this would be so painful. Never thought that it would hurt almost as much with the retelling. I want, need to feel our love. To reassure me that everything is better now. That…Wait! Look at that momma bird and her babies.

I wonder. What would have happened if I had stood up to Xena? Made her face me in the castle. Would she have shoved me aside and killed Hope right in front of me? Would she have listened to reason? I don’t know what to think, what to believe. Before Britannia, before Caesar, before Dayhok, I would have staked my life on a positive answer. Yes, Xena would have listened to me, listened to reason. I will never know, because I didn’t have the courage to stand up and fight my lover. If I’m totally honest with myself, I wish she had done that. Then the responsibility of what happened wouldn’t rest on my shoulders.

The momma bird takes such good care of her babies, feeding, grooming, caring for them. What would have happened if I kept Hope with me? With us? Could we have taught her right from wrong? Good from evil? Shown her with love and action that violence and hate isn’t the way? Would this have been enough for her to fight against her father’s presence and desires? Again, I will never know for certain, but my heart is still, even after all that has happened, sending me mixed signals. Irrationally, I wish this would have happened too.

I thought I had everything under control, that I was dealing with my deception. We were moving forward, for what seemed like the first time in moons, to a new beginning of peace centered at the Centaur village. Funny to think of moving forward when I wasn’t honest, but it really felt like we were going forward. We had struggled during the last moon, our relationship a series of ups and downs. Laughter, tears, joy and sorrow. We helped a Virgin Priestess clean her house. I battled with my words, words that had been increasingly difficult to write since Britannia. But we were trying. On the way to the Centaur village, that changed. I thought I was safe in my deception. I was wrong. Xena had the nerve to start talking about Solon, saying how much she missed him, how she wanted to visit with him. How could she have been so cruel? Couldn’t she feel the pain I was in? Didn’t she see the despair, the anguish in my eyes? How could she stand there, acting like she’s the only one who missed her child! How dare she imply that her sacrifice was greater than mine! Both of us made the same decision for the same damn reason! To protect her child, my child from HER! Hades! My blood was boiling.

Standing there, watching her with Solon, my anger slowly slipped away. Leaving me with my guilt and pain. How could I, even in my own pain, begrudge her Solon? How could I deny her rights to feel the very same way as I did? I did the only thing possible…removed myself with humor from the situation.

At the village, Xena was locked into her own emotions, her own desires. She didn’t spare an outward thought for me, for what I was going through. I’m not even sure she KNEW anything was wrong. Thank Artemis for Ephiny! I am sure I would have exploded without her calming presence. I needed someone to talk to, someone to share my pain with and Xena couldn’t or wouldn’t be that person. Not about this.

I told her about Britannia, about Caesar, about losing my blood innocence, about Dayhok, about Chin. With each word, I could visibly see her horror, her pain. Not at me or my actions but FOR me. Oh sweet Artemis, it felt good to finally talk to someone, someone who was removed from the situation. Someone who could look at it with an objective, fresh eye. Even with her understanding, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her my greatest secret.

Then I saw her. And after talking to her several times, I came to the absolutely terrifying, joyful realization that she was my daughter. Somehow I managed to keep a hold of my wits and got her to a place of safety. I was torn. Gods, those words seem so innocent…so free from the terror that coursed through my body. I was now faced with my greatest nightmare, yet greatest hope…my daughter.

Gathering my courage, I faced Xena after we tricked Callisto into following us, providing cover so Solon could be hidden. Here I found myself helping my best friend, my lover, my life hide her own son when she wouldn’t even consider the possibility of my daughter being anything other than total evil. I suppose I should have felt anger or jealously over her actions, but I truly loved Solon. That sweet innocent boy did not deserve to become the focal point for an insane god.

Anyway, I faced Xena and admitted by deception. And found that I was right. It had been the only way to stop her from killing my child. Her first words chilled me. I fought with her, arguing that Hope wasn’t evil. Wanting to prove to Xena I was right, I told her that I had hidden Hope with Solon. And then I came face to face with my biggest mistake.

HA! Mistake. Worst nightmare. Tragedy. Words just can’t convey the horror. Solon was dead, apparently by the hands of my daughter. Knowing my presence was the absolute last thing Xena wanted or needed, I forced myself to review the information at hand. And came to the terrible conclusion, garnered from information from my daughter’s own lips, that Hope was indeed responsible for Solon’s death.

Finally I forced myself to see what Xena had seen moons earlier…Hope had to die. Wether or not she could have been saved, could have been turned away from the darkness, THAT was irrelevant now.

I thought it was hard, possibly the hardest thing I ever had done, to face Xena and tell her about Hope. To tell her I purposefully lied. I was wrong. Gathering my courage and scattered wits, I decided the only way to end this nightmare was to actually end it, end what started in Britannia…Hope’s life.

In a green meadow, teaming with life, I committed murder. With full knowledge of the consequences of ALL of my actions, I gave my daughter, the daughter of Dayhok, poisoned wine. I held her hand as she unknowingly drank the sweet wine, listening for the first and last time to one of my stories. I so wanted to close my eyes, savoring the feeling of holding my baby, but I couldn’t. I tried once, but the darkness terrified me. So I opened my eyes and continued to weave a tale. I don’t even remember what I said. I finished the tale and gathered her in my arms, singing some nonsense song my mother used to sing me, as the poison started to work…as her eye lids started drooping. Battling my rising panic, I struggled to project a calm, soothing presence. My heart, my soul slowly died as Hope’s body began to fully succumb to the poison. Laying her down, covering her up, I continued with the nonsense song, telling her I was sorry. For abandoning her in Britannia and silently for killing her.

I felt the last breath leave her body; her hand suddenly limp. I have no idea how long I sat there, holding her lifeless hand. All I could think about were the choices I made…the ones that led me to this time and place. Feeling the full shame and guilt of my actions, I picked up the wineskin, intending to end my life too. Why should I live? I planned and carried out the murder of my own flesh and blood. As I prepared to drink, a sudden thought occurred. Death was the coward’s way out. I might be a lot of things, but a coward isn’t one of them. I lowered the wineskin and decided to not give in, not take the easy way out.

My travels with Xena have taught me many things, but none as important as this: each of us is fully accountable for our own actions and we each must live with the consequences of those actions. So I lowered the wineskin, knowing that the more difficult path, the more painful path was life. No matter what led us to this point, no matter how much I had been hurt by Xena’s actions and her betrayal, I was accountable too. I made the decision to deceive Xena and let Hope live. I made the decision to send Hope to be “safe” with Solon. I made the decision to end Hope’s short life. And I made the decision to live, to stand up and accept the consequences of my actions.

Standing beside our children’s funeral pires,, I knew it was time to face the consequences of my decisions. But I first had to tell Xena that I loved her. Even with all that we had done to each other, that had never changed. I never stopped loving her. I thought I had prepared myself for her rejection. But as it seemed with everything else, I was wrong.

Each word cut through my tortured soul, ripping my heart. As she spoke, I fell deeper into a sea of guilt. I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t fight back. I thought she was right. Walking away, I wished I HAD drank that poison. Suddenly the coward’s way, the easy way was very appealing.

“Damn!” Casey cursed quietly, belatedly looking down at her lover in concern. For the first time in days, Beth was actually resting and Casey did not want to wake her. Setting the laptop on the floor, Casey gently lifted Beth so she was resting fully against her. Pulling her tightly to her own body, the specialist buried her nose in her lover’s hair. Closing her eyes, Casey drifted, letting the pleasant emotions replace the negative, calming her racing heart. Chanting her personal mantra, the specialist let her anger at the Warrior Princess go. Calm once more, Casey resumed reading, determined to finish the painful words.

The Amazons have a purification ritual, one that’s supposed to “purify” the soul…I foolishly thought this would help me. Help me get rid of my guilt, my anger, my sorrow. Or at least diminish them to a manageable level. I laid in that hut for three days, in the sweltering heat, trying to come to terms with my actions, my guilt. Each lash of the palms are supposed to clarify the situation, help the individual focus. In my case I only grew more confused, less focused.

To this day, I don’t know if Callisto was really there OR was a figment of my tortured psyche. I want to believe she was real, that I would never voluntarily say, think those things about my love. But I can’t lie to myself. At least not anymore. However I came to the decision doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I said the words, out loud, consciously, for the first time.

I hated Xena. It was all her fault.

Logically I knew this wasn’t true. But it felt so damn good to think, at least for that brief moment that it…Hope, Solon, Britannia, Dayhok, Chin…wasn’t at least partially my fault. Screaming my pain, my anger, yes, my HATE, I collapsed, the strain of the last three days finally caught up with me.

I was told that Joxer carried me out of the hut. Although a friend, I am glad I don’t retain this particular memory. I do recall Joxer telling me to run when he realized that Xena was out of control. Was out for my blood. To this day, I still believe Xena, at some small level, was battling herself, trying to regain her control. Why? Because she was, IS more than capable of ruthlessly killing, in anger, in hate. I have seen this happen more times than I can count. I’ve also seen her battle her emotions, struggling and managing to remain in control. But this time, that didn’t happen. At least not fully. She could have killed Ephiny, my Amazon guards, Joxer. But she didn’t. For whatever reason, she let them live.

I didn’t try very hard to escape. Some part of me wanted to face my lover’s anger, my love’s rage. For I truly believed that I deserved what might happen. At the very least, it would end my pain, my suffering. I didn’t fight, not when her whip wrapped around my feet (yes, she had taught me how to remove one quickly), did not yell as she drug me out of the village. At some point I lost consciousness. I came to as she, my Warrior Princess, was preparing to throw me off the cliff. My protective instincts unconsciously reared its head and I kicked her, freeing myself. Without thinking, I screamed I hated her and flew at her, taking us both over the cliff.

Falling, I realized something, something that shames me to this day. I, Gabrielle, bard, Amazon Queen, was successful where countless skilled warriors failed. I was the one who was making the feared, hated Warrior Princess pay. I was the one who finally defeated her. And this filled me with a sick sense of pride. I knew, deep in my heart, that Xena hadn’t fought very hard. She could have stopped me. We both know that. I think she wanted her pain to end, like I wanted mine to end.

Imagine my surprised when I was pulled out of the water. Alive. Quickly my battered brain struggled with my heart. I wanted to believe everything my old friends, my sister told me. That I was innocent until I met Xena. That I was a good person before she changed me. That none of what happened was my fault. A small, tiny part tried to fight back. Rationally I KNEW that everything that happened wasn’t all Xena’s fault or all MY fault. We shared the blame. But my soul didn’t want to listen to this barely heard whispering voice.

The next thing I knew, I was standing in the doorway, seeing my lover over my lifeless body. The look on her beautiful face (even then I was attracted to her, much to my surprise and self hatred) was one of guilty surprise and horror. She tried to tell me that it didn’t matter, that it was all an illusion. I didn’t believe her. How could I? The evidence was staring me right in the face. No matter what, I couldn’t stop my lover’s heart from lightening just a little. Xena was still battling with herself, her look confirmed that. That small part of me that was trying to rebel gained strength. Now I could hear the whisper quite clearly.

The past was threatening to destroy us, words spoken in anger intensified, deafening us with echos. Then she asked me how I felt. Right then. SO I told her the truth…that I hurt. We expressed ourselves, telling each other exactly how much pain we were in. Looking back, I realize how much my actions hurt her. I hope she knows how much her’s hurt me. More than that, I hope she knows that I would give anything to take every hate-filled word, every angry look, every destructive action back. I would give everything to not hurt her. At the time, though, we were both to caught up in our own feelings. Caught up in our own need to protect ourselves, to blame the other for everything.

Dayhok’s temple. The very sight of the place filled me with such dread, such fear. I wanted to flee, to run away. I wasn’t thinking, just reacting. Xena said we had to do this together if we wanted to get out of Illusia. I didn’t want to stay. Not in Illusia and certainly not in the temple. How could she ask me to voluntarily stay in a place I not only lost my blood innocence but was raped? I couldn’t help myself. I stepped closer, needing, wanting my protector. It doesn’t make any sense, especially with what she, what we’d recently done to each other. But I did feel safer standing next to her. As we watched the flying figures take physical form, Xena realized what we were fighting. Hate.

All the reasons for our hate were present…Ares, Callisto, Khrafstar, Caesar, Dayhok, evil Xena, evil Gabrielle. Our hate took us back, positioned us when we were at our most vulnerable. Xena hung from Caesar’s cross and I was on that damned alter again in Britannia. This time when we told each other how we felt, we started to listen, actually feeling the other’s pain. And to our mutual horror, we realized what we had done to each other. For the first time, I consciously realized what I had done. How I had hurt her. Feeling the shame race through my body, my own pain and anguish got ruthlessly shoved aside. Xena, my lover, my life, was in pain. I was the cause. I had to help…had to try to make it right.

I totally agree with what Xena told me. I never imagined that we could be distanced by hate. I never thought I would look into my lover’s eyes and not see, at least a little bit, some sign of my gentle lover. I knew then, in this instant, as she told me how she really felt, that I could never stop loving her. Could never truly hate her. And I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she loved me…cared for me…hurt for me. Ares, Callisto, Dayhok…they all lost. We defeated the hatred.

She screamed my name as her evil self prepared to kill me. Where she got the courage, the bravery to watch is beyond me. I saw my evil twin swinging at her legs and I closed my eyes, not able to see any form of myself hurt her so. Even when I know I hurt her more with my words, my actions.

I thought the victory was complete, the symbols of our hatred defeated. Wrapping my arm around her to help support her, I couldn’t stop my lover’s heart from racing. It felt so damn good, no matter what the circumstances, to feel her arm around me, her body pressed against mine.

The way out appeared and it became apparent that Solon had given us a second chance, bringing us to Illusia to heal us. Quickly I crossed and waited impatiently for Xena to cross. What was taking so long? I was shocked and scared when Xena couldn’t cross, when the water burned her.

As she explained her lie, my initial reaction quickly faded and my heart lightened. How could I not forgive my lover? Was her lie any worse than mine? Wasn’t that what Illusia was about? Forgiveness? Tears of joy, tinged with pain for my warrior’s obvious turmoil, ran down my cheeks. By the gods, I knew I loved this woman.

When our hands touched in the waterfall, my life felt right, for the first time since Britannia. I pulled her through, reuniting us on the same side. Also another first since Britannia. As much as I wanted to fall into her arms, I knew now was not the time. She needed to face Solon, we both knew it. I loved her even more when she silently asked my permission to go to him. Watching them in each other’s arms, I felt a sorely missed peace settle in my soul.

Coming to my senses in her arms, my heart suddenly beat loudly in fear. Was what happened in Illusia a dream? Had we made up? Forgiven each other? I prayed with all my heart that we had as I tensely waited for her answer. Rolling around in that surf, together, not only as friends, but as lovers, healed me in more ways than I thought possible. It seemed that the gods gave us another chance. And I for one, didn’t intend to blow it.

“Thank God.” Casey blinked back her tears, feeling the emotions behind the words. “Don’t know if I could stand it if they broke up. In some ways we are so much alike…our darkness, our light, our love. But I promise you,” Casey reached down and laced her fingers with her sleeping love’s. “I will never willingly hurt you. God, I don’t think I could survive if I did. You mean everything to me.” Ever since the hospital, Casey found it easier to open up, express her feelings. At least when Beth was sleeping. This time, when she held Beth as she slept, was rapidly becoming one of the most favorite parts of her day. Closing her eyes again, Casey concentrated on her author and the joy that holding her provided. Relishing the quiet calm that radiated from her soul, Casey focused on Beth’s words.

Gods, I so much wanted to impress Xena, both my lover and warrior. And do it in a way that she’d respect. So I spoke cockily, forcing supreme confidence in my voice. Sure I made the flip with the staff. Anyone can do that, right? At least, warriors can. I get so tired of being seen as just a bard, that a little recognition, for my physical skills would be nice. Not a lot, I know I’ll never be a powerful warrior. When I started learning the staff, I caught the stray looks of approval and pride, along with the occasional words of praise. Now I don’t even get those looks any more. I suppose I should be grateful that Xena now trust me to take care of myself in a fight. Don’t get me wrong, I am!

Anyway, I tried the flip and failed. But at least I tried, right? It certainly didn’t help my pride any that I hurt my ankle. I must give Xena this, she didn’t come right out and say “I told you so”. Closing my eyes, I can still hear the teasing tone of her voice as she battled with herself to not say the words. Being the sneaky warrior that she is though, she did get her way. She yelled at me to hit the dirt and sliced my boot with her chakram. Without thinking, I complied, unintentionally granting the minor victory to my lover.

As I sat there, listening to the Spartan soldier that came upon us, I kept mentally pinching myself. After everything we’d been through in the last few moons, Xena actually felt comfortable enough with me, with US, to pull a stunt like that! I don’t know if I would have. Its still so raw for me, even now as I write this.

Cursing my clumsiness, I sat amazed, listening to my warrior start working on a way to slow the advance of the Persian forces. I know she didn’t understand, but I felt really foolish. Trying to impress her with my “warrior skills” seemed childish in light of what we now faced. Twice I tried to get her to go on ahead, but being the stubborn, thick headed warrior that she is, she refused. Yet my lover’s heart skipped along merrily…YES! She did love me! She cared enough about my safety to not want to leave me behind.

I really must learn more geography! Once again I was taken in my a convincing performance. I wonder if Xena would have believed his story if she hadn’t known the area. Knowing this, I am even more surprised by her control. Because when I came back to save him when he froze during a fight, I was shot with an arrow. Outwardly Xena presented the picture of calm as she tended my wound. Only one who knows her as well as I do could have seen her fear. Or recognized the slight trembling in her body as she held me. Even though the wound was serious and the poison life threatening, I had faith in my warrior. After she sent him off with a message, directing the Persians to Tripolis, she told me he was a spy. My respect for my lover grew, for if the situation was reversed, I don’t think I could have been as calm and in control. When Xena is threatened, I usually use my primary skill, WORDS, and protect first and think later.

The look on her face when she came out of the destroyed healer’s hut made my decision for me. There was no way I was going to make Xena choose between slowing the Persians and helping me. I made her promise to stay and fight, not let my condition sway her. After all, she is the one who taught me about the greater good and the consequences of each action.

Twice I had to remind Xena about the greater good. She’s taught me so much about life, honor, bravery, my actions came naturally. I didn’t even think. She’s right…there are things worth dying for and this was on of those things. Just as I would die to save her or she would die to save me. It nearly broke my heart when she wouldn’t promise to save herself. But what did I expect? I would do no less for her. Then she did stop my heart, giving me more than I deserved. Told me I was her strength, her “source”. After all we’d been through, that she could say these words to me, I just had to let her try another poultice. For the first time in a long time, I consciously gave in, not wanting to cause my love any additional pain.

When she told me that she was done paying for her past, that I was her family, that she just wanted to be with me, it was all I could do not tell her it was time to leave. To ask her to get us out of there. One word and we would have been gone. I didn’t want to die. Certainly not now, not when we’d finally started finding each other again. Finally admitted our need for each other. Her words were ones I have always wanted to hear! Why did she say them now? Did she really think we were going to die? Whatever her motives, Xena made me feel better.

I’ve never seen Xena fight so strongly, so fiercely, so bravely. She battled the whole advance troops…and kicked some major Persian butt. In the mist of it all, she managed to find the antidote for my poison and saved me yet once again. As she laid down beside me, I wanted to reach out, brush the hair out of her exhausted eyes, snuggle into my usual sleeping place. But we both were hurt, it just wasn’t practical. Closing my eyes, I muttered some nonsense about my boots, knowing she’d take it for what it was…my attempt to lighten the situation. And a statement of the future…we would go forward, together. It worked, we both fell asleep against each other with smiles on our faces.

Beth’s sleepy movements brought Casey back to the present. Steading the laptop with one hand, she used the other to gently stroke Beth’s cheek. “Hey Sweetheart,” Casey spoke softly when sleepy green eyes blinked open.

“Hmm.” Beth relaxed in her lover’s arms, leaning in to Casey’s touch. “What time is it?” Green eyes darted to the window, surprised to see it was fully dark.

“9:00pm.” A quick glance at the computer supplied the time. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, I was really tired.” Beth yawned, stretching her leg muscles. “Thanks.” Green cleared, looking lovingly into blue.

“For what?” Casey asked confused. “For letting you sleep?” She was still worried, Beth looked as tired now as before her nap.

“For everything.” Beth answered ambiguously, capturing Casey’s fingers with her own. A quick internal check revealed her resources were still low. Definitely too low to have a serious discussion about what Casey was reading.

“C’mon, for what?” Casey leaned forward and kissed Beth’s nose. “Please?”

“For being here…for caring…for just being you.” Beth couldn’t resist the unspoken plea in Casey’s eyes. Not after she found out how much her silence had hurt her lover before. “I do love you.”

“Hey, I’ll always be here love.” Casey let the laptop slide off Beth’s legs, not caring if it fell or not. Pulling Beth up so they were facing each other, the specialist stared seriously into her lover’s eyes. “I love you.” Each word was spoken slowly, firmly.

“Sometimes I wonder why.” Beth replied, meeting her lover’s serious, loving eyes. “But I do know that.” Lightly she brushed her lips against her lover’s. Sinking her hands into jet black hair, Beth pulled Casey closer. Teasingly she outlined her lover’s lips before sliding her tongue inside. Swallowing each other’s moans as their tongues met, they kissed passionately.

“Wow.” Beth exclaimed softly when their lips parted. She couldn’t believe how a single kiss got her blood pumping, her heart pounding.

“Yeah.” Casey rested her head against Beth’s, sighing contentedly. “I think we better stay up here if I have any hopes of finishing Gabrielle’s memories tonight.”

“You sure? I promise to behave.” Beth battered her eyes innocently. They could get into as much trouble in their office as their bedroom.

“I’m sure.” Casey replied firmly, grinning. Beth’s idea of behaving and her’s often differed. And the specialist definitely liked it when her author didn’t behave. “Get me another one please?” Casey met Beth’s laughing eyes, not surprised that she was leaving the room for a minute. Sometimes Beth had trouble controlling herself!

“Sure.” Beth sassed, swinging her hips enticingly as she left the room.

“God give me strength!” Casey moaned, forcing herself to stay on the sofa. The sight of Beth’s gently swaying hips caused her blood to start simmering. Breathing deeply, the specialist forced herself to concentrate on staying in one place. Picking up the laptop, she started to read again.

Tara. The very mention of that girl’s name ignites an anger in me. Not at the girl, although for awhile I was awfully mad at her, but at Xena. I thought things were better between us, especially after dealing with the Persians. Once again, I was wrong. My lover, my best friend, did not respect my wishes. How could she just let this kid tag along? After attacking me for no reason? Even after I specifically asked her to get rid of Tara, she didn’t. Said something about wanting to help the kid turn her life around. How could I logically refuse this request? After all, it was in part what we were doing. Trying to make a difference, trying to help Xena maintain the change she’s…WE’VE struggled with the entire time I’ve known her. I knew I would sound like a jealous fool if I continued to protest, so I gave in.

Did Xena respect this? NO! Every time Xena turned her back, the kid got into trouble, attacked me, disobeyed Xena, tried to take my place in Xena’s life. I suppose it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it tore me up inside when Xena let the brat (which was how I thought of Tara at this point) sleep in my normal spot. I always slept there. Irrationally, illogically, emotionally, I felt like I was being replaced. Yet Xena did nothing. Didn’t care about how much I was hurting.

That sounds really pathetic. But it was true. After all we’d been through in the past several moons, I expected a little more from my best friend. A little support. Not the almost casual brush off of my feelings.

I didn’t appreciate the manipulation of my emotions either. I was on shaky emotional ground, still trying to deal with the dramatic changes in our lives. I am convinced Xena knew Tara would attack me. I’m also convinced she knew I’d taken as much as I was going to. So when Tara attacked me again, I defended myself. I beat the kid up. She just wouldn’t stay down, even after I told her to. No matter what, I didn’t enjoy hitting her. I’m no saint. I’ll admit the first could of swings, relieved a lot of my tension, released my anger at this child. She just wouldn’t stop! Not until she was bloody on the ground. Then the kid broke down, sobbing and spilled out her story. Xena comforted her, in much the same manner as she held Solon in Illusia. Sometimes, in the darkest part of the night, I wonder if that was Xena’s motive for letting Tara come with us. That she needed to comfort a child. Needed to hold one in her arms. Needed to make a difference in a child’s life. Like she had wanted to do with her son but couldn’t.

Xena knew what buttons to push. Tugging on my heart strings, she got me to give Tara another chance. And she didn’t even have to say a word to me to do it, either. She knew my instinctive desire to help people and my guilt over having beaten Tara would convince me where no words of her’s would. Irrationally, as our eyes met over Tara’s head, I felt my heart and soul responding to my lover. Maybe what I needed to learn from this kid was that sometimes a second and third chance we not always enough. Maybe I needed to start listening to my heart again. Actually hear what I’d been preaching. It was time for the bard to take her own advice.

In the end, it all worked out. Tara managed to take a few major steps forward. She chose to make the right decision, even though it was painful for her. She didn’t understand why Xena didn’t come forward to the alter, seeking forgiveness. Like Tara did. Like I did.

I was willing to try anything to ease the pain in my soul. I felt so damn guilty! I had lied to and then betrayed my best friend, my lover. I had placed her son in a dangerous situation with the end result being his death. I tried to kill her. It didn’t matter that we were now trying to work things out between us. Because we loved each other. If a priest could help me forgive myself, I was all for trying it.

But not my Xena. Forgiveness must come from within. She said basically the same thing to the priest before we agreed to help him. I know she feels guilt. Guilt from her past. Guilt from her recent past. She might be done paying for her past (her words), but she hasn’t forgiven herself for it either. I hope, I pray, that one day she can. I love her to much to see her in such pain, to see her hating herself. For that is what she still does.

Before I had a chance to regain my balance, Xena’s greatest mortal enemy, reared his well manicured, hated head. Caesar. Just the mention of his name chills my soul. He’s cost Xena…me so much. But this time would be different, I wouldn’t let him take anything else from us. What is there about Caesar that brings out our doubts? This was just like before, in Britannia. Xena lost control, gave into the darkness. I lost my innocence. I would be damned if I let that bastard hurt me, us again. Now we were purposefully putting ourselves in on the line again to stop Caesar. Only this time I wasn’t standing by, listening, trying to reason. I was fighting, for my lover and myself.

At first, the plan sounded simple enough, switch Crassus for Vercinix. But I should have known, nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Listening to Crassus, I didn’t even think as I rebuked his claims that Xena had hidden motives. It was only two words, but they were out of my mouth before I even consciously thought about saying them. The natural instinct to defend Xena’s honor, her motives, long ingrained. I had doubts, but I wasn’t going to let a stranger, the enemy see them. After every thing we’d been through, after promising to tell each other the truth, Xena wouldn’t lie about something as important as this. I kept repeating this to myself, trying to make myself believe. And I reminded myself that Xena’s cockiness sometimes really was born of extreme confidence. She wasn’t always hiding behind it.

Standing there, in the road, my doubts that started as whispers on the ship, now shouted at me, demanding to be voiced. I could no longer avoid them. What if Crassus was right? What if Xena gave in to her hatred? I couldn’t delude myself. I know she wanted Caesar dead. She still does and preferably by her own hand. What if this time Xena doesn’t return from the darkness? Would this be too great a temptation? Damn, Xena! Why is she always so willing to risk herself? Tempt herself with this darkness that threatens to consume her? Does she have so little respect for who she is now, that the past is more important? Oh, I can hear her now. “This isn’t my choice Gabrielle. We are saving a good man.” Right. She can tell herself that. And its true. But its not the only reason we were in Rome. If she was honest with herself, she’d admit it too.

We’d also promised to talk, instead of letting things fester, when something bothered one of us. Now was the time to talk, before we reached the point where there were no other options. I asked her, point blank, if there was part of the plan she wasn’t telling me. Asked her if she was going to assassinate Caesar. She told me no, that there wasn’t time for me to have a “crisis of faith.” That I had to trust her. Then she just rode off.

I was confused. Exactly who was she speaking to, trying to convince? Me or herself? Although Xena said one thing, I heard the unspoken thoughts behind the words. First, I took her words as a good sign, one that she finally acknowledged I had a right to think differently. That in no way meant she would be influenced by my words, but at least I heard the implied acknowledgment. Why else would she have said it didn’t matter? That is was ultimately Caesar’s decision and thus his responsibility. This acknowledgment in turn led to an interesting feeling, one that I never had really experienced in all of our travels…I was necessary for the plan to be successfully carried out. Surprised, I clearly felt the weight of responsibility settle on my shoulders and the corresponding independence irrationally lighten my heart. This time was different. Sure, my purpose was often one of support, of loyalty, of acceptance, of love. For whatever reason, I was necessary for Xena. I vividly remember when we went up against Ares new “boy”. All of the others in the plan had specific skills, ones that were necessary for the plan’s successful completion. What was my purpose? To be there for Xena, to remind her who she is. But this time, that wasn’t the case, well, at least not solely. Finally, most importantly, I felt Xena trusted me. Trusted me not to mess things up. Trusted me to carry my own weight. Trusted me not to betray her. I suddenly felt like it was a test.

Sitting here, watching the mid day sun…gods! How did it get to be mid day already? Where has the night gone? Why do I feel like I’ve just sparred for candlemarks with the Warrior Princess? Memories can be painful, I fully know and understand that price. But first, Rome.

I now see how hard that must have been for Xena. Leaving me standing in that road, with nothing but her trust of me, of us. After Chin, do I deserve the right to be trusted again? After experiencing first hand the rage and hatred of the Warrior Princess, can I trust her again? Gods, I know we both wanted to. She took the first step, now it was my turn. Like I said, this was one test I was not going to fail. It was also difficult (what a nice word to express the feelings of fear, of worry, of doubt that assaulted my tortured soul) for me. The last time we went up against Caesar, Xena lost her focus, became blinded by hatred. And I lost something very important to me…my innocence. Difficult. HA! But I, we survived.

Actually completing MY part of the plan was much easier than I thought. Physically it wasn’t even a challenge. Emotionally was another thing. I had a decision to make, yet I was shying away from it with every breath. Gods, I did not want to make it. No matter what the personal cost, I knew I was right in what I was doing when Xena was thrown into the cell. The look in her eyes when she whispered my name, tore my heart. Her words were light, her face mostly unconcerned, but I got the distinct feeling she was surprised to see me. I think on some level, hidden deep inside, in the place where only those she loves…only ME….can hurt her, Xena was afraid. Yes, afraid. Afraid that I had betrayed her. That I wouldn’t be there. No matter what else happened, it was right for me to me in that jail. She, WE, needed this…needed to learn we could trust each other again, needed to learn we would come through for the other.

I then made the conscious decision to not give Crassus his imperial ring back. Why? It wasn’t just what Xena said. It wasn’t what Crassus said. It even wasn’t what Vercinix said. But as I stood there in that cell, Crassus’ ring burned on my finger, each word I’d been told echoed in my head. Did someone like Crassus have the right to live? Should he pay for his crimes?

I knew what the consequences of that action would be…he would be executed. I had battled with this since the start of our journey to Rome. Lost sleep over the matter. Went round and round with myself, debating what I should ultimately do. Went round and round with Xena, debating the consequences of our actions. Tried to figure out if I was right or wrong. I’ll give Xena this, she left his imperial ring with me even after telling me on the ship that it, the ring, probably wouldn’t matter. That Caesar would most likely execute his “Vercinix,” it didn’t matter if it was the right man or not. She told me flat out the consequences, trusting in me. Only one who can read the Warrior Princess like I can, would have recognized how upset she was. Seen her body language as an apology. Her terse “sorry” broke my heart. I think she was sorry for me. But she left the ring, the man and the choice up to me. And make a choice I did. I chose to let him die.

Standing in the arena, I’m surprised that no one heard my wildly beating heart. Saw my shaking knees. Rigid with self doubt, fear, indecision, I stood with the crowd, waiting. As the ax fell, echoing through the arena, I jumped and felt the last remains of my innocence fade. Cold. I felt cold inside. I had wanted responsibility. The harsh weight settled in my soul. I was responsible. Is this how Xena felt every time she made a hard decision? Was she as plagued by self-doubt as I? Looking up, my eyes unerringly located my lover. A thought screamed, demanding my attention. A question I had once asked her, echoed in my head… “Am I who I am or did you (Xena) make me?” Were my actions, my choices my own or a product of my relationship with Xena? As I made my way slowly out of the arena, I wasn’t sure.

Standing on the deck of the ship, heading towards home, my thoughts remained focused on Crassus and the burning question that was eating at my soul. Reluctantly I forced myself to admit the truth. It didn’t matter how I came to make the decisions. I made one and I must now accept the consequences, both emotionally and spiritually. I so desperately wanted to be her partner. To be seen as an equal, someone who could make the hard decisions, not some tag along. Not just her best friend and lover, even though that thought, that loving position I hold in her heart means all the world to me. I had to accept the consequences of making the hard decisions. It came with the territory. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier, just more determined to hold up my part of things. When Xena hesitatingly joined me, I blurted out my thoughts. Wanting and needing my lover’s help and understanding. Partners, lovers don’t stand alone.

“I never thought I would play the judge, jury and executioner.” Glancing at Xena’s face, seeing her read the pain and worry in mine, Xena…my lover, did what she always does. Tried to take the blame for it all on her shoulders. But for once, I would not let her. It was my decision, not her’s. I had to deal with it. I loved her for trying to make it easier on me. She asked me how many times I was going to follow her, how many times she was going to hurt me. What could I say? I love her with my entire being. She is my life. There is no where else I’d rather be. I said the only words I could. “I love you.” And started to heal when she told me she loved me too.

“Damn!” Casey breathed softly, glancing up surprised. Drinking absently, the specialist thought momentarily about finding her author, but decided against it. Beth had mumbled that she’d be back in a little bit, when she brought the drink back in. “So much like my Beth, yet so different.” Thought proudly as Casey tried to clear her head. Neither the ancient bard or her author liked feeling left out, feeling like she wasn’t part of the solution. Both were plagued with self doubt, not realizing their true worth. Both refused to be paralyzed by doubt, not giving in to their fears. Both were crucial to their lover’s well being. Yet Casey would stake her life on Beth not betraying her, not lying to her. Just as she would never betray Beth. And unlike the ancient bard, when stressed, Beth tended to work her stress out on the practice field. The physical release of tension was as much a part of her author as writing was. Not to mention the fact that Beth didn’t hesitate to speak up when she thought Casey was wrong.

“Hey. Finished yet?” Beth strolled back into the room, trying to look relaxed. She’d been pacing in the hall, waiting for Casey to finish so they could talk about what she’d written. The author desperately needed another point of view. One that she respected and trusted…and that was Casey’s. Mentally sighing, words flowed unbidden as she covertly watched Casey read were stored away for another time.

“Just finished with when they went to Rome.” Casey patted the sofa beside her, frowning when Beth didn’t immediately join her.

“This next part gets me every time.” Beth answered Casey’s raised eyebrow. “I can’t believe she did that!”

“Please? If you had trouble with it, then I surely will.” Casey sighed contented when Beth sat down. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” Beth leaned against her lover, wrapping Casey’s arm around her shoulders. Grinning slightly, Beth continued. “Might as well be comfortable.”

“You’ll get no argument from me!” Casey pushed against Beth, bringing their bodies even closer. “Not a good part, huh?” If Beth thought this was bad enough to warn her, then Casey wasn’t sure if she wanted to read it. But she had promised.

“You’ll see for yourself.” Beth closed her eyes, allowing Casey the privacy to read without worrying about her reaction. Her smile faded as she felt Casey tense, apparently already into the story.

Feelings of abandonment…painful memories of betrayals, actions, lies…disjointed guilt for Hope, Solon, Xena…the past, MY past All haunted my dreams after leaving Rome. Waking up, screaming silently, the feelings of Xena’s betrayal of me, my betrayal of her, my feelings for Hope, her death at MY hands, pounded harshly, incessantly at me. I knew I couldn’t go on like this, feeling half alive, half dead, plagued by uncertainty, paralyzed by pain. I thought I had dealt with it all, was dealing with it. I didn’t understand…WHY?
We were supposed to meet Xena near the Temple of Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne…the goddess of memories. Maybe she could help me! Ignoring Joxer, I went to the Temple. After listening to the guards, talking to a woman as she left, my pain rose up, threatening to overwhelm me. I had to know. I had to end this pain before it destroyed me. For the pain to end, I had to understand.

Mnemosyne’s priestess’ words flowed over my tortured soul. Yes, memories of my past were haunting me and I wanted, needed…HAD to find out why, what was haunting me. I was warned it wouldn’t be an easy journey, there were three rivers I successfully had to cross before I would discover my answer. There was a price: once started, I couldn’t come back until I found my answer. Then there was a decision I had to make, keep my memories or forget. There wasn’t any choice, I had to do something to end the pain that was tearing me apart.

Kneeling in front of the priestess, my memories were taken away. Each sensual swipe of the sponges removed another piece. I felt a strange sense of peace invade my soul as the washing, the purifying continued. I was finally taking action, doing something to help myself. Slowly this feeling faded and I lost contact with my body, with the physical world and that brief moment of peace was nothing but a memory.

Walking through the dark, harsh place that existed in my mind (?) I came to the first river. My first test. I thought I was prepared, the place didn’t look harmful. Gathering a deep breath I moved to step into the water.

Ares! I turned and confronted the God. He told me that this was the river of wailing and that he was here to help me. I asked him what he was doing here, why should I trust him? He was probably here for his own selfish reasons. His response that I was too, stopped me cold, but I quickly threw it off. He was wrong!

I stepped into the water, the chilling cries of the unseen working their way into my soul, igniting my own misery, pain. Thinking it wasn’t too bad, I felt a need that could not be denied. Without thought, I splashed the water on my face and was bathed in intense pain, guilt. Locked in the past, my memories sprang to life. Dizzy I fell, not feeling anything but my guilt. ….Britannia, hanging on that damned cross of Caesar’s, feeling a little guilty for not being there for my lover when she needed me even when she firmly pushed me away, afraid I wouldn’t get the chance to tell her. Then the scene of my nightmare, the loss of my innocence, Dayhok’s temple, invaded my being, erasing the ability to think, only able to feel. In horror I watched myself plunge the knife into Meridian’s stomach, felt the scorching heat of her blood coat my hands, stain my life. Raw, unable to protect myself, Crassus flashed through with a blinding intensity. My first conscious decision to kill, someone with whom I had no quarrel, to allow him to die for his actions, both past and future. I decided Crassus deserved to die for his crimes…. Glancing down, my blood covered body repulsed me. I killed. I was stained. I was guilty. The weight of my guilt was too much, I collapsed, screaming my torment.

Cold. So cold. Shivering I made it to the second river. I’m still not sure how. My only driving thought was I had to find out what was wrong. Help myself. The river of woe, Ares reappeared taunting me. I came off sounding righteous, but in truth I was shaking inside. If my first trial had been that difficult, I wasn’t sure I could survive the second. I tried to reason with him, trying to convince myself of the truth of my words. I just needed to stay out of the water.

Carefully I made my way across the ice, Ares’ words striking deep within me. The ice was like the thin layer that separated our mind from our emotions. Falling in, the assault of memories drove through my consciousness, much like that dagger I’d used on Meridian. …Xena posed above me, dagger held for the kill, me flipping the blanket back, her look of surprised confusion. Me, telling my lover I couldn’t let her do it. It wasn’t right. Jumping back to that dock where we parted, the icy touch of her lips on my head branded me. Feeling so alone. Then dizzily forward to that damned throne room in Chin, me looking down at Xena. Seeing myself as I past judgment on my lover, so sure of the righteousness of my position. Then back to the dock and the memories slowed. I acutely felt the pain as Xena’s word tore through my heart, my soul. Feeling lower than I ever had (how could I not? My lover just told me that “we” didn’t matter as much as someone from her past.) before. Forward again as I see myself do something I never thought possible, slap my best friend, my lover in anger. Not once, but several times as I pleaded with her to promise to leave. My relief when she let me touch her….

Gasping, I drug myself out of the river, ironically grateful for Ares help. I told Ares I had the answer to my questions, my pain. The two rivers had taught me something about myself. I tried to convince us both, shaking by the fire so conveniently created. My forsaking of my ideals, my self-hatred, my betrayal of Xena…my biggest mistakes. That was what I was here to learn. I fought back when Ares said none of this was new. Not understanding the meaning of Ares’ words when he said “if you don’t mind owing a favor to the God of War,” I foolishly ignored the pain still ripping me apart. Trusting Ares (another mistake, I know!), I headed back into the river of woe. The water felt calm, peaceful. I told him I was right, that I had found my answer. But I spoke to soon as the river refused to let me cross, icing over.

Under that water, I had another decision to make. As I struggled to break free of the ice, I realized I had been making little ones, important ones all along. Yes, I had tried to talk myself out of continuing. Tried to convince myself that I had found the answer, even when I knew deep in my heart that Ares was right, I hadn’t learned anything new. I was very conscious of every action, every feeling I had since entering this place. Something had kept me going, kept pushing me forward. Kept refusing to let me quit. I wanted to survive. It was that simple. With that thought echoing through my head, I broke through the ice.

Damn Ares! He brought all of my insecurities right to the surface, once again. I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t go back. I had another decision to make. Sitting there in the cold, the memories played themselves out again, no less intense. Ares. What was he really doing here? What was his purpose? I knew he never did anything that WASN’T for his own benefit. I sighed, realizing I was avoiding the situation again. I needed to decide, to go forward or stay put. Surprisingly, staying put didn’t sound that appealing. I would be giving up. Digging deep into the love I have for Xena, for our life, I found the courage to go on.

Approaching the third river, the river of truth, I called out to Ares and told him I was here, ready to continue. He asked me if the quest for knowledge was worth the pain. I told him it was the reason for life. I knew my belief would be tested soon. I told him it, life, was worth it…Xena was worth it. We lost our way for awhile but we found it again, with Solon’s help. Not having the answer to his question, not sure why I was still here, I started across the river. The blistering heat of the water was nothing compared to the burning in my soul. Once again I flashed back to that dock, watched Xena walk away from me again. This time what I saw sent shooting fingers of anger, rage, hate, through my heart. ARES! Screaming, I turned and faced him. Watched him laughing disappear. Anger and rage guided me, led me through the burning waters. I had to get to the other side.

Ares stood over me, taunting me as I fell to the ground. Told me the truth didn’t do me any good. I didn’t survive. Willing the fire out, the jealously, the rage, the pain, the anger away, I took control of myself. Perhaps for the first time since before Britannia, I gathered all of my emotions, all of my memories…the good AND the bad…and faced Ares.

Ares wasn’t the god, he was the part of me that was hiding the truth. Striking out, I attacked Ares, determined to gain control of my mind, my memories, all of them. Battling him, I faced the reason I betrayed Xena. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t nice. On that dock, when Xena said yes, she owed someone so much that the past couple of years didn’t matter, I heard…my heart felt something different. I heard “You aren’t important Gabrielle. We aren’t important.” A rage darker than anything I had ever experienced descended, covering me with jealously, hate. Gods! I wanted to hurt Xena. Hurt my lover. Be the one that stopped her. Ares was right! Every time I turned around, everything I gave Xena, it was never enough! And it apparently didn’t mean a damn thing to her. I turned to Xena’s greatest temptation, her greatest enemy and knowingly asked for a favor. I asked him to help me stop…betray…my best friend.

On my knees, I admitted that my hatred and jealously almost destroyed my best friend. The pain was so intense, so focused, it burned with frightening precision. I, supposedly the gentle one, the forgiving one, had betrayed my lover. For what? Because I was jealous that she loved another! Jealous and hurt that I wasn’t enough. Angry that she didn’t try to convince me to go with her. Dying inside because she didn’t need me, like I needed her. GODS! I wanted to crawl up into a little ball and just cry.

There was a way out as Ares reminded me. I could forget. I could empty the bowl. After he left, I stared into the bowl. Seeing my family, my youth, my childhood loves, my daughter, my blood innocence. Xena. Who defied any category. Who’s name still sent chills racing down my spine, even now. Who’s life was tied to mine. Xena…the one I love. It wouldn’t hurt so much if I didn’t care so deeply. Words I would later say to Xena. Decision made, I returned to the world.

And was instantly ready to beat on Joxer. Not that it was an unusual occurrence. He’s like a brother to me, a stupid one. Xena’s voice cut through his babbling.

Unable, unwilling to resist the pull of her voice, I joined Xena. Her body language clearly shouting her emotions, her relief, her nervousness, her love. I’ve never heard Xena’s voice so full of emotion as she told me (for the first time) that she had wondered how I’d gotten to Chin. That Ares was the most likely answer. That my nightmares had given her the clue as to how to try to help me.

I felt so small! So petty. It didn’t matter that we both were responsible for the events that almost tore us apart. If I learned anything, its that we have to be honest with ourselves. We can’t hide from our feelings, our motives. Xena had known of the reason for my betrayal, yet she still wanted to help me. I tried to apologize, but how can words convey the deep regret, the agony in my soul?? As is her way, at least with me, Xena told me it was over and she hugged me. For the first time since Britannia, I felt complete. Returning her hug, a sweet, unmistakable joy coursed through my being. I was home. It felt so good, so real, so loving. And I knew Xena felt it too. We were home. Finally.

That was five long days ago. By the gods, I wanted the chance to talk, finally talk truthfully with my lover. But we couldn’t, Joxer was with us at first. Then when Xena invented an “important” errand for him to do, we had just started talking when the messenger found us. How they find us out in the middle of no where is beyond me. Crying softly, I told Xena I loved her as the messenger cleaned up at the stream. With tears in those incredible blue eyes, she told me she loved me too and that we would talk as soon as she got back. Kissing me goodbye, she couldn’t hold back her own tears. Then she was gone.

So here I sit, waiting for her return. I’ve spent the better part of two days remembering. What did I learn? That I’m human. That Xena’s human. That we’re both more than capable of making big mistakes. That I am not immune to the darker emotions of life…that I am capable of great hate, anger. That my lover and I are a lot a like. Neither of us are perfect, far from it. We both know what it feels like to loose someone we love. Know what its like to betray our own lives. Know what its like to give into anger, hate, rage. Know a love so intense, so compelling, that ultimately it can survive the most terrible, heart wrenching pain anyone can imagine.

What did I learn? That I love Xena. And that Xena loves me. That really is all that matters in the end.
“Well? What did you think?” Beth couldn’t stop herself from asking when Casey didn’t say anything for a few minutes after closing the laptop. Taking the computer from her lover’s hands, Beth set it on the table and waited. And waited.

“The whole thing wasn’t what I expected.” Casey began softly, battling her emotions. “How could Xena do those things to Gabrielle? I thought she loved her. Yet every time she turned around, she ignored or forgot about her bard. She let her go into dangerous situations not prepared. All she had to do was explain things, just a little. Then she herself became the danger! Even when they’d supposedly forgiven each other, Xena still consistently put her needs, her desires first. And she just expected Gabrielle to go along and not complain. How can Xena say she loved Gabrielle?” Casey’s voice picked up volume and intensity as she spoke, ending in a loud growl.

“Well,” Beth smiled softly at Casey, directly in contrast with her words. It was so like her lover to take the bard’s side of things. That was par for the course. And it warmed her heart, because she knew Casey’s protective instincts were at maximum where she was concerned. It was more than nice to know. Finally, for the first time in the author’s life, she knew someone was there for her, unconditionally…always. “Unfortunately I can see how and why they both acted as they did. What I don’t understand is how they managed to stay together, given what they did to each other.”

“I guess they must have really loved each other.” Casey commented softly, looking down into sparkling green eyes. “Because I can think of no other reason for Gabrielle to trust Xena again, not after what she’d been through.”

“Be fair Casey.” Beth chided, lacing her fingers with Casey’s. “Gabrielle did lie to and betray Xena too. And it wasn’t because she thought Xena was wrong. She was hurt and jealous and she lashed out, wanting to cause her lover the same pain.” Taking a deep breath, she continued, very softly. “I don’t know what I would do if you ever chose someone from your past over me.”

“NEVER!” Casey swore adamantly. Pulling back, stared directly in Beth’s eyes. “I would never do that!” The pain was evident in her voice.

“I know you wouldn’t love. What I just meant was that we all have our breaking points.” Beth returned her lover’s intense look. “And I would never betray you…no matter what!”

“I know that too, Sweetheart.” Casey leaned forward and sealed her promise with a kiss. A dark thought returned. “It does turn out alright, doesn’t it?” Casey asked concerned.

“I’m not sure.” Beth admitted, wincing at the dumbfounded look on Casey’s face. “I do think so. But I guess it all depends on Xena’s reactions to Gabrielle’s feelings. And they are proving to be very difficult to see, much less understand. For the past four days, its been a return to dreams filled with dark, intense emotions. No real substance. Since this time I knew the source, I didn’t fight them. I just let them come and that made it much easier.” Beth rubbed her tense partner’s arms soothingly. “Remember I have dreamed of them when they were older and they were still together then. Of course,” the author confessed, confused. “Three months ago, before I starting writing about the events Gabrielle described, I never would have dreamed that they would hurt each other.”

“Do you have specific questions?” Casey looked at her author, easily seeing the unasked questions in her eyes. Although she was dying to know what happened, the little lines that surrounded her partner’s eyes convinced her to not push. Beth was pushing herself hard enough.

“I guess first and foremost, should I continue?” Beth asked quietly, staring at their linked hands, not able to meet those intense blue eyes.

“What?” Casey practically shouted. Feeling Beth jump, she kicked herself for losing control. Beth certainly didn’t need her flying off the handle; the author was upset enough without her adding to it. Forcing a calm into her voice that she didn’t feel, she answered the question. “Of course you have to continue! I have to know what happens. Why would you ask that?”

“Well,” Beth started to reply, but she avoided Casey’s eyes. She knew with one look, she’d lose it.

“Hey.” A gentle hand brought her eyes up to curious, concerned blue eyes. “Are you ok?” The longer it took Beth to answer, the more worried Casey became. Blue eyes swept over the author’s frame, noting the residual tension, the fatigue, the almost hidden emotions lurking behind mental barriers. “Talk to me Beth.” The specialist pleaded with her lover.

“I’ll be fine.” Beth smiled warmly, chastising herself for worrying her lover. “All the hurtful, negative emotions are getting to me, I guess. They’re making it hard to concentrate.” Beth admitted quietly. “For my own peace of mind, I will finish. I don’t know if anyone besides you will see it, though.”

“Why not?” Casey felt her way carefully, not wanting to put any additional pressure on her author. It was clear, from her lover’s posture, tone and behavior that she was putting enough pressure on herself.

“We’ll just wait and see.” Beth avoided the question. The feelings and emotions that her dreams invoked were painful, raw. Even though she told Casey she wanted to talk, she found herself starting to regret the conversation.

Beth.” Nothing. “C’mon Sweetheart. No relationship is perfect. Every couple goes through ups and downs. I will admit,” Casey tightened her grip on Beth’s hand reassuringly. “That what they went through was extreme. But that just makes their conscious decision to stay together, no matter how hard and painful, that much more precious. People need to see that love does win.”

Green flew to blue, astonished. “Well, when you put it that way, how I can I refuse? I never thought about it that way. Lets see if Xena will corporate. Its funny, but I really don’t have any concrete idea how Xena really felt. Oh, I know the outward appearances she projected, to the world, to Gabrielle and even to herself. I can’t help feeling that there’s more, lurking under the surface.”

“And?” Casey prompted when her lover didn’t continue.

“I don’t know. Its so damn frustrating!” Beth blurted, angry at herself for not understanding the emotions churning inside, disturbing her conscious and unconscious thoughts. Angry at the Warrior Princess for not being more forthcoming. Angry at both the bard and warrior for hurting each other. Finally angry at herself for hurting her own lover as she realized that once again she was worrying Casey. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell.” Beth brought their hands to her mouth, lightly kissing Casey’s knuckles.

“C’mon.” Casey rose, taking Beth with her. “You need a break.” A gentle tug on their entwined hands had the author following her out of the room.

“Where are we going?” Beth grabbed her coat when Casey did her’s, following her lover obediently.

“Out.” Casey replied mysteriously, urging Beth into her 4Runner, shutting the door behind her.

“You’re such a romantic.” Beth teased when Casey got in. This side of her lover, the one that opened doors, pulled out chairs, helped her on with her coat, touched the author deeply.

“Not!” Casey blushed, busying herself with adjusting the mirrors and backing out so she wouldn’t have to see the knowing smirk on Beth’s face. “Busted again!” Casey thought furiously, working to keep her blush from deepening. Teasingly her brain added a jab. “Where’s your famed control now Casey!” For the specialist, it was just another way to express her deep love for her author. If that was romantic, well, she knew she was one of the world’s biggest then. Not that she’d ever admit it though.

“Hey.” Beth reached over, laying her hand over Casey’s fidgeting fingers. “I think its sweet.” That made Casey blush brighter. “You’re sweet.”

“Can we change the subject please?” Casey reached over and tugged on Beth’s hair, silently reveling in the soft silk. “Don’t you want to know where we’re going?”

“I figured you would tell me when you’re ready.” Beth spoke demurely, an innocent look on her face.

“What?” It came out as a choked laugh. The specialist struggled to put the right note of authority in her voice. “Who are you? What have you done with my Beth?” Casey peered at her now laughing author, smiling herself. “I haven’t heard that in awhile,” she thought happily. “I missed your laugh.”

“So are we going somewhere or are we just going to sit in the drive?” Beth smiled at Casey, realizing what her lover was doing. “Thanks.” Said as Casey answered by pulling out.

“For what?” Casey wanted to hear Beth say the words. In the course of their relationship, the specialist had learned one of the best measures for preventing the return of Beth’s brooding was making her admit to actually brooding. Confronting her emotions seemed to give the author a boost in battling them. Casey ignored her own brooding tendencies and her author’s unique method of ending it.

“For making me stop brooding. For drawing me out of myself.” Beth laid her hand on Casey’s thigh. “You want to know something? You’re the only one who’s ever been able to draw me out of one of my moods.”

“Guess I’m good for something, then.” Casey bantered playfully, shooting a loving look at her author as they stopped at a light. Beth’s words started an inner glow, one that warmed the specialist. “Beth needs me!” Spun excitedly through her head.

“When we get home I’ll show you what else you’re good for.” Beth ran her finger suggestively up Casey’s thigh, grinning sexily as her lover squirmed. “Sure you want to go where ever it is we’re going?”

The low, sultry tone hit Casey hard. “God Beth! If you don’t stop that, we won’t make it to Davie’s, let alone home.” Swallowing painfully, Casey pushed her pounding desire down, concentrating on the traffic. Not her incredibly beautiful, tempting lover.

“Davies?” Beth sat up straight. Davie’s had the best desserts in town, any time of the day or night. She’d behave for that. “Trying to win my heart Ms Bennett?”

“Is it working?” Surprisingly shy, Casey waited for Beth’s response. In her heart, she knew she didn’t have to try, but her mind still had trouble grasping the idea that Beth wanted her. Wanted the crazy, dangerous ex-FBI agent.

“Hey!” Beth dropped the teasing, hearing the unsureness in Casey’s voice. “You don’t have to try Casey. My heart, my love is already your’s.” Slapping herself mentally, Beth read the uneasy tension masterfully hidden in her lover’s body. “Think Beth think!” She admonished herself. “You should have known how she’d react to Gabrielle’s betrayal!” Her lover had staunchly defended Gabrielle and placed the majority of blame on Xena. But still, Casey expected better…from both of them. Deep in her heart, Beth was afraid Casey felt she’d be betrayed, because she deserved it. Despite the specialist’s remarkable turn around with her emotions, the author knew there was a tiny part of the specialist who felt she was unworthy of love.

“Thanks. I needed to hear that.” Casey answered honestly, relaxing with Beth’s words. “Guess they bothered me more than I thought.” Breathing a sigh of relief, she spotted Davie’s sign, not explaining anything else. “So what are you gonna get?” Casey asked, turning in, effectively changing the subject.

“Depends on what’s the special.” Beth allowed Casey to change the subject, figuring she’d had just about enough of emotions for one evening. But she had to do something first. As soon as they parked, the author reached over and unbuckled her love. And promptly pulled her closer for a deep, heartfelt kiss. “I love you Casey Bennett. Don’t ever forget that.”

“I love you too.” Casey whispered against her lips, tasting their sweetness a second time. Closing her eyes, Casey let herself float, enjoying the exchange of emotions. Forcing her eyes open, she straightened, telling herself to get moving. She had an author to feed. “C’mon.” Raising an expressive eyebrow at Beth’s pout, Casey jumped out and ran around, intending to get Beth’s door. “Hey! That’s my job!” Casey chided her before leading her into the café.

“Don’t you have plans for me?” Casey glanced at Beth, who was looking rather contented. A soft smile came unbidden as the author turned to face her. The homemade berry pie and ice cream had helped pull Beth farther out of her dark mood.

“Getting impatient Casey?” Beth raised an eyebrow in challenge. “I thought you wanted to wait until we got home.”

“I think you have me confused with someone else.” Casey replied innocently. “I’m never impatient.”

“Wonder who I’m thinking of then?” Beth sassed back, falling into the light banter delightedly.

“Maybe the plumber from last week?” Casey shot an ‘I’m trying to help’ look at Beth while she unconsciously increased her speed. “Or what about that new student you’ve been talking about recently?”

“Well, the plumber is a little old for me.” Came the immediate response, green eyes sparkling. Beth couldn’t keep the grin off her face as she watched Casey pick up the pace again. “Shari is kind of cute, but she’s not my type.”

“Oh…sorry.” The specialist tried to look sincere, but she failed miserably. “So what is your type?” The sultry tone, combined with the sexual energy radiating off Casey caused Beth to swallow repeatedly. There was no doubt, none at all, as to the answer to that question.

“Hmm…good question.” Beth tapped her chin, like she was really thinking about the question. In truth the author was desperately pouring cold water on her raising desire. “Good God!” Beth thought, mentally fanning her face. “That tone of voice gets me every time.”

A quick glance at the street confirmed they were just about home. “Paybacks are a bitch my love,” thought evilly as Beth gave up the quest to cool her heated blood. “Well lets see,” Beth’s voice started out evenly, but ended up husky. “Hands are important. They must be strong yet gentle. Able to touch softly, tenderly yet ignite me with fire.” She reached over, lightly tracing the object of discussion resting on Casey’s muscular thigh. She bit back a grin when that hand hastily moved to the steering wheel.

“Firm muscular thighs are a must.” Beth outlined the firm jean covered flesh under her hand, purposefully keeping her touch light, teasing. “Ones that feel sooo good as they hold me tightly.” Green eyes briefly flickered to watch her wandering fingers then darted to the street. “Almost there,” thought happily as Beth felt the barely trembling muscles under her fingers.

Caressing fingers wandered up a quivering arm to lightly stoke the next object of discussion. “So soft…silky.” Beth forgot her roll for a moment, voice a low purr. Gathering her raging desire and firmly pushing it down, the author withdrew from the temptation. At least physically.

“Long hair, now that’s sexy too.” Beth watched Casey closely, loving the reaction her words and touch generated. “The way it feels when my fingers slide through it. Hmmm.” Beth closed her eyes, a soft sexy look on her face, remembering how her lover’s hair glided through her fingers. “Especially when it trails down my body, gently tickling, teasing. God,” Beth forced her eyes open, gazing hotly at her lover. “Its indescribable.”

“You’re doing a good job.” Casey groaned painfully, saying a thankful prayer as she turned on their street. “Go on. What else, love?” It was pure torture listening to Beth. “But what a way to die,” thought happily as her throbbing body began screaming for attention.

“Eyes..mirrors of the soul.” Beth mumbled, finding herself caught in her own trap. “I’m especially fond of deep, bright blue.” She gave up the battle. “When I look into your eyes, I see everything I can be…everything I want to be. I see,” Beth’s voice dropped, no longer teasing. “Your love for me and it makes my heart stop. Because I can’t believe someone like you would chose someone like me. In your eyes, I see my future.” She drew a deep breath, making a decision.

“I also see,” Beth consciously switched gears, needing, wanting to feel all of Casey’s passion. “Your desire,” her tone sultry. “Your need,” green eyes burned brightly, delighting in the slight flush on Casey’s face. “Your passion,” need was evident in Beth’s voice. “When I touch you. When we make love.”

“Beth!” Casey growled, fighting the urge to take her right now. Thankfully they pulled into their drive. “Give me that.” Casey ripped the remote out of Beth’s hands and entered a special code, one that opened everything. After Beth’s kidnaping, she installed a fail safe switch that would allow instant access. The drawback of using it was that once the inner garage door was shut, the entire system shut down, electronically locking the doors. Only by manually overriding each lock in a preset order and then resetting the system could the doors be opened. Any deviation in the routine would trigger the alarms, alerting Casey’s staff.

Ignoring Beth’s smirk and tempting pose, Casey willed the slow door to open faster, pulling forward as the door opened. “Don’t even THINK about moving.” The specialist was out of the vehicle and around the vehicle before Beth could formulate a reply.

Heart pounding furiously, Casey tore the door open, pulling Beth out. Lifting and pressing her author against the vehicle, breast against breast, using her superior body weight to pin and hold Beth, low groans answered each other. Casey sank both hands in strawberry blond locks as their lips crashed together. Time and time again, lips and tongues met, desire growing with each meeting.

Gasping, struggling to breath, Casey tried to pull back. And abruptly felt a new wave of desire flood her system as she realized Beth had her trapped. Smaller hands were in her own hair, holding her close. Her lover’s legs wrapped firmly around her waist, pressing Beth tightly to her stomach. The breathless state of her lover, her eyes deep green with desire threw fuel on her ragging desire.

Dropping her hands to Beth’s lower back for support, Casey headed purposefully in the house, pausing long enough to kick the door shut behind them. “No words, author?” Casey taunted, carefully negotiating the stairs. Glad Beth was behaving for the moment, not trusting herself to get them safely downstairs if Beth didn’t behave.

“Take me.” Beth breathed huskily in Casey’s ear when they reached the bottom of the steps. Sensually a hot tongue traced the sensitive skin under the ear as added incentive.

A deep growl escaped as a large hand cupped the firm flesh, kneading the fullness hotly. And felt herself grow wetter as the wetness under her fingers increased. “God Beth.” Casey groaned as she lowered her head to capture her lover’s lips in a searing kiss. Moving on instinct (having made this journey many times in much this fashion), Casey went unerringly to their bed.

“Let go.” Casey hotly whispered, sliding her thigh between Beth’s as she lowered her to the floor. Blue eyes dark with desire bore into green heavy with passion. “Strip.”

The command jarred Beth into action. Having neither the control or the desire to draw it out, she yanked her clothes off without ceremony, tossing them haphazardly out of the way. “You too.” She issued her own command.

Heated skin slid against heated skin as Casey molded her body to her lover’s. Returning to Beth’s mouth, Casey took ownership, branding the author. Reminding her exactly where she belonged…and with whom. Hands blazed a train of wanton desire as they roamed over slick flesh.

“You have such perfect breasts.” Casey husked in Beth’s ear as her hands teased her lover’s nipples to rock hard points.

“Casey, please!” Beth panted, her own hands attached to Casey’s buttocks, kneading the firm flesh.

Pushing Beth to the bed, Casey’s mouth replaced her hands. Sucking hard, she pulled the tortured flesh into her mouth. Relishing Beth’s cries of pleasure, she lightly bit down. Then moaned loudly as her thigh was soaked with Beth’s wetness.

“God Beth, you feel so good.” Casey mumbled as she switched breasts, not wanting the other to feel lonely or left out. Ignoring the hands pressing her urgently down, Casey contentedly feasted, losing herself in the taste and feel of her lover.

Beth’s cries grew more ragged, more desperate. Wrapping her legs around her lover’s, the author lifted her hips, pressing into her lover. “Casey please.” Beth managed to finally spit out, after trying several times, gently tugging on her lover’s hair.

“Please what?” Casey groaned deeply, pressing firmly against Beth’s wetness. Looking down into the face she so loved, a face that was now flushed with desire and passion, the specialist growled again, increasing the pace and pressure of her thrusts. “God I want you!” She moaned, caught in the whirlwind of emotions flowing between them.

“Need you.” Beth exhaled, hot breath scotching the flesh in its path. Groaning she pulled Casey’s mouth to her own, plunging her tongue deep into the warmth she thirsted for.

Casey pulled back as they both started to tremble, needing to see her lover’s eyes. “Love you,” Casey exclaimed as Beth exploded, surging up against her.

“Love you,” Beth echoed, pulling her lover along with her as Casey collapsed on her.

Treasuring the weight of her lover, Beth buried her face in Casey’s neck, sighing contentedly when Casey did the same. “Do you know how much I love you?” Beth asked quietly when her breathing returned to normal. Stroking long jet black hair, Beth continued without giving her lover a chance to respond. “I meant what I said earlier. You are everything I could ever want or need. I love you Casey Bennett.”

Raising her head, eyes shining with love, Casey let every emotion she was feeling be reflected in her expression. “I love you Beth Jamieson. You are everything to me.” Bending her head, she brushed her lips tenderly against Beth’s.

“Tired?” Beth asked innocently when the soft kiss ended. “No?” Added when Casey nodded. “Well prepare yourself,” Beth flipped them over, moaning as her body responded once again to the body against her’s. “Cause I’m not either.”

“Good.” Casey managed to reply, Beth’s heated touch igniting her soul and forced the specialist to stop thinking and concentrate on feeling.

Glancing over at the clock, Beth sighed. She’d woken up about a half hour earlier, learning more about Xena in one night than she had ever before. “Can’t believe I dreamed of them.” She softly traced a pattern on the firm flesh beneath her hand, gazing at her still sleeping lover, loving the peaceful expression on her face. A soft glow lit her features, knowing what put that look on her lover’s face. “Maybe it makes sense.” Beth continued to think, drawing comfort from Casey’s presence. “Maybe it sank in because I was so relaxed, so open. It wasn’t on my mind.” Beth chuckled. The only thing that had been on her mind was the woman in her arms. That and the uncontrollable desire to make Casey scream her name in passion. Repeatedly. “Not at all.”

“Wonder how much of the clarity has to do with the fact that its Xena I’m dreaming about. She had such a tight rein on her emotions, her desires. At least most of the time. The pain she must have been in to loose it like that…against the one person who stood by her, put up with all of her faults. No matter how hard she pushed Gabrielle away or how tightly she held her, the bard stayed with her. Even in their mutual deceit, they couldn’t exist, be whole, without the other.”

The alarm clock clicked and Beth reached over to shut it off, stifling a groan as her stiff knee protested the sudden movement. “I don’t get to do this very often.” Beth chuckled gleefully. “You’re almost always up before me. I wish you didn’t have to go to work today.” The author sighed, forcefully telling herself she would not say one word to Casey. The specialist would stay home if she knew Beth wanted her to. This was the author’s problem and she had to work it out for herself. But that didn’t stop her from snuggling closer to Casey. Taking the comfort that was so willingly given.

“Make your mind up!” Said firmly, she had to wake Casey up for work. “What way should I wake you up? Tickling?” Fingers touched the soft skin. “Nah. That’s to cruel.” Truth was she didn’t want Casey waking her up that way. So she had to chose something else. “Guess I could just shake you. Nah,” she grinned, having something else in mind.

“Guess that leaves only one thing. What a sacrifice!” Beth chuckled again, propping herself up on one elbow. Leaning forward she lightly brushed her lips against her love’s. Applying more pressure, Beth added a lightly stroking hand along Casey’s side to her quest. Still nothing. “Hmm. Must have really worn you out last night.” A slightly naughty grin eased across her face. Deciding a bold move was called for, Beth cupped the softness that was Casey’s breast. Gentle teasing fingers joined a teasing tongue.

“Morning.” Casey’s clear voice stopped Beth’s exploration.

“How long have you been awake?” Beth sat back accusingly, acting like it was a hardship to have to wake the specialist this way.

“Since you turned off the alarm.” Casey ran a finger down Beth’s cheek, loving the instant reaction to her touch. “Hey.” She leaned up, lightly nipping Beth’s shoulder. “You ok? You were doing some heavy thinking.”

“Yeah, I’m great.” Beth pounced, jumping over her lover, fingers tickling as she scooted out of bed. And abruptly stopped when she realized Casey wasn’t following. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Casey bit back her irritation at her author’s avoidance. Casey thought they worked through this last night.

“Hey.” Beth returned to sit beside Casey, reading the tension in her lover from across the room. “That’s not the truth.” When the shaded blue eyes didn’t change, Beth slapped her forehead. “I…”

“Hey! No author beating!” Casey caught Beth’s hand, lacing their fingers together.

“Always protecting me, even from myself, huh?” Beth squeezed Casey’s fingers. “I had another dream last night. I…”

“And you didn’t wake me?” Casey’s hurt came through loud and clear. “I thought you were gonna.”

“It wasn’t a nightmare. Just a bad dream love.” Beth smiled reassuringly. “I’m getting there, understanding Xena’s motives. You can read what I get finished tonight.”

“Ok. I better get ready for work. Want to join me in the shower?” Casey sat up, reaching for Beth with her other hand.

“Oh no!” Beth chuckled, escaping from the indignant specialist. “I don’t want to be blamed when you’re late for your meeting! You’ve got to wear makeup and a business suit today, remember? Go on now.” Beth pointed at the bathroom. “I’ll make you something special for breakfast.”

“Damn, let them wait.” Casey shot her “I’m the boss, let ’em wait” look at Beth. When that didn’t work, she switched to pouting.

“Get going Casey!” Beth unconsciously took a step towards Casey, wanting nothing more than to join her in the shower. “You both have work to do!” Her mind pointedly reminded her.

“Ok. You win. I’m going.” Casey started for the bathroom, but was stopped by two strong arms wrapped firmly around her waist. “Change your mind?” Asked most hopefully as she dropped a hand to cover Beth’s. “Beth?” Added when Beth didn’t say anything.

“I love you.” Beth tightened her grip, resting her cheek on Casey’s back.

“I love you too.” Casey waited, telling herself to be patience.

“Ok Beth, let go now.” Beth muttered, frowning when her wayward limbs didn’t retreat as commanded. “She has to go to work. Let her go!”

Beth hadn’t realized she’d spoken out loud until Casey answered her. “Yeah I do.” Casey swallowed, exhaling slowly. “This meeting is important. It’s the final one for the Jefferson case. I’ll probably be home late tonight.”

“I remember.” Beth released her lover, ignoring her traitorous body. “Go on. I’ll make breakfast. And don’t you dare say you’ll get something on the way Casey!”

“Ok I won’t.” Casey went into the bathroom, not risking a glance until half the room was between them. “I’ll be up in a little bit.”

“Sure thing. Give a yell when you start to get dressed. I’ll start the eggs then.” Beth had slipped on her robe when Casey walked to the bathroom. “Get it together, lazy!” Beth chastised herself, picking up their clothes from last night. “Where is it?” Not finding Casey’s briefcase, Beth headed upstairs for their office.

Sighing in relief when she spotted it, Beth took out a piece of stationery. Closing her eyes, she focused on last night and the feelings that she had watching Casey read. Nodding as the words appeared, she picked up her pen.

Casey,

Your voice moves me
Even before your hands can begin to caress.
Your sighs fill me
As no other can.
Your moans send me higher
Than any star in the sky.
Your laughter makes me
Tremble like dew on a leaf.
Your tears leave me
Empty like the ocean leaves the shore.
Your love feeds me
Like the air feeds the fire.
But it’s your voice that gives me
Everything that I should ever want.
Now and forever.

You are my life. Please never doubt that.
Love always,

Beth

Folding the paper, she wrote on the outside.

Casey, read this when you need a little pick me up.

Carefully she placed the note in Casey’s briefcase, tucking it inside her notes. Her lover would find it when she reviewed for the meeting. Mission accomplished, Beth raced to the bathroom and jumped in the shower. Knowing how long it would take Casey to get ready had its advantages.

“HEY! You about ready yet? You’re gonna be late if you don’t hurry up!” Beth yelled down the stairs, hands on her hips. “Just about,” the author sassed back quietly when Casey yelled back. Stomping into the kitchen, Beth grabbed the bowl of eggs on her way to the stove. “Poky woman!” She continued to complain under her breath as she added the eggs to the vegetables cooking in the pan. “Hates wearing anything other than jeans or sweats. Cleans up better than anyone I’ve ever seen, but getting her to do it is a real pain! Won’t even do it for me, unless I ask real nice.” Beth frowned at the cooking eggs. “I know you understand!” Said as she stirred the eggs. “You’d think,” Beth took the bacon and hash browns out of the oven, splitting them up on two plates. “That for someone who’d spent eight years dressing for work would be faster. Not my Casey.” Beth sighed, grabbing the toast, frowning as she put her lover’s un-buttered pieces on her plate. Stirring the eggs one final time, she sprinkled cheese over the top. Adding the eggs to their plates, Beth bellowed while turning around. “CASEY!”

“Hey! No need to yell.” Casey answered from the other door, having spent the last few minutes watching Beth cook. “I’m right here.”

“I hate it when you do that!” Beth complained, setting the plates on the table. Turning she sucked in her breath. “WOW! You look incredible.”

“Not!” Casey snorted, turning around for inspection. Beth had taken it upon herself to insure that Casey was properly dressed when the occasion arose. Feeling the admiring eyes of her lover caress her body, Casey felt a warmth start in the pit of her stomach, spreading throughout her entire body. She loved this particular ritual. “So do I pass boss?”

“As always.” Beth tucked her hands under her arms, not trusting herself if she got in touching range. “Better eat before it gets cold.”

“You spoil me rotten.” Casey lifted a fork of eggs to her mouth, inhaling the delicious aroma. “It takes a lot of energy to make me look ‘presentable’, I’ll have you know.” She addressed Beth’s earlier comment, watching in awe at the mound of rapidly disappearing food. “Planning on a busy day I see.” Referring to the quantity of food Beth was consuming.

“Hmm?” Beth mumbled around a mouthful. “Yeah, I think I’m going to make some serious progress today. Something wrong with your eggs?” Beth thought they tasted alright, but Casey wasn’t eating them.

“No, they’re great.” Casey dutifully picked up her fork and resumed eating. Breathing a quiet sigh of relief, she noted the absence of stress and worry from her lover’s face. “Lets go to Grandma’s house for a long weekend.”

“Sure, sounds good to me.” Beth glanced at the wall clock, Casey still had about ten minutes before she had to leave. “I’ll call Mike tomorrow and have him open the house up and go shopping. Want to go up Friday?” That was two days from now. The author was confident she’d be finished with Xena’s memories by then.

“Lets go up Thursday afternoon, if you think you’ll be ready by then.” Casey watched Beth covertly, wanting to make sure she wasn’t pushing too hard.

“Thursday afternoon is great.” Beth grinned, not fooled by Casey’s plotting.

“Good. I’ve got to go.” Casey stood up and carried her plate to the sink, ignoring Beth’s glare. “Don’t worry about dinner tonight. We can order out when I get home. Don’t give me that look!” Casey added when she turned around. Blue eyes turned serious. “You’ll be working all day too. I’m serious Beth.” She crossed over to Beth and took her hand, tugging her to her feet. “I don’t want you waiting on me hand and foot. We’re equal partners, remember?” It bothered the specialist that her lover felt she had to wait on her. It smacked of her early childhood years, ones filled with bitterness and arguments, ones she did not want to remember. Ones she did not want to become reality.

“I know we are.” Beth answered quietly, then frowned as a thought occurred. “I’m not smothering you, am I?”

“No!” Casey consciously softened her tone and look. “I love when you do things for me.”

“What’s the problem then?” Beth was confused.

“I just don’t want you feeling like you have to, that’s all.” Casey glanced at her watch. “I really do have to leave now. Promise me you’ll just write today. I’ll get dinner.”

“Only if we order takeout.” Beth sassed, knowing Casey was just trying to make her life a little easier. Pushing the specialist to the door, Beth tugged Casey back around when she stepped down into the garage. “Didn’t you forget something?”

“Nope. Reset the alarm when I took my briefcase to the car while you were fixing breakfast.” Casey smiled at Beth’s pout, secretly loving how Beth took care of her. As long as it was Beth’s idea, one she didn’t feel she had to do. Just like she loved taking care of Beth.

“See you tonight.” Beth stepped back, preparing to shut the door.

“Beth.” Casey’s low voice stopped Beth. “What?”

“Nothing.” Casey pulled Beth into her arms. “Love you, Sweetheart.”

“I love you too Casey.” The author leaned down and kissed the daylights out of her lover. “I can’t wait to undress you this evening.”

“Me either.” Casey whispered against her lips before stealing a final kiss. “See you tonight.”
“Have a good meeting.” Beth watched Casey get in her car and then she shut the door. Making quick work of the breakfast dishes, Beth grabbed her coffee and headed for their office. She laughed at the squirrels antics while her computer opened her writing program. Sitting down, Beth closed her eyes and envisioned the Warrior Princess. Emotions turned into thoughts and those thoughts intensified the emotions. Soon Beth was submerged in a torrid sea of emotions, unaware when her fingers started flying across the keyboard.

“Where do I start? How do I tell you how I feel?” Xena whispered softly, kneeling beside her sleeping lover. “Your thoughts, you feelings cut through me, sharper than any dagger. I knew I was hurting you, I just didn’t seem to be able to stop.” The warrior fingered the recently bound scrolls, blue eyes sweeping over her lover’s tired form.

“I know this is important. We do need to talk. But I don’t know if I can do this, tell you how I feel. Maybe if I practice first, it will be easier. Maybe if I face it myself I can explain it to you.” Xena laid down beside her lover, whispering words of reassurance as she gently arranged her bard in her normal sleeping position.

“Unlike you my bard, my thoughts, feelings, are just one jumbled mess. I read what you wrote. Presumptuous of me, but after finding our camp in exactly the same position as when I left, I had to know. Had to know what happened.” Xena glanced at the late moon, sighing softly. It would be morning soon. Although exhausted from her hurried ride to rejoin her bard, the warrior knew she had to face her fears, her emotions, her feelings first. Closing her eyes, the warrior forced her mind to concentrate on the past several moons.

For me it all started in Britannia…Caesar. Even now, the mere mention of his name sends an icy, instant desire for revenge through my soul. At the time, it was all I could think about. I know you’re painfully aware of that my bard. I never meant to hurt you. Even when I pushed you away, a part of me wanted you to fight back. To pull me from the dark pit I was sinking into. For awhile you were successful too. But then I let my hatred, my desire for revenge take control, rule my every action. Lost in myself, I ignored you. I wish I could tell you that I wanted you to have a choice, to choose who you wanted to be with. But I can’t. Caesar held my focus. When I finally realized what I had done, it was too late. You’d already paid the ultimate price for my arrogance, my selfishness…you lost your innocence.

The loss of your blood innocence and your rape, they both were my fault. If I had been able to control myself, you wouldn’t of been hurt. Holding you, too late…the gods be damned!…whispering words of comfort, I felt a part of myself die. Once again, my rage, my darkness had hurt some I love. I had failed. You, the one who’s given me everything, paid the price.

Before I could help you deal with your loss, yes my bard. I did want to help you. I wasn’t so blinded by the darkness that I didn’t see your need. I just wasn’t up to the challenge. What could I of said that would make you feel better? Make you believe that it wasn’t your fault what had happened? So once again, I said nothing. And before we could leave Britannia, you had Dayhok’s baby.

I wished for a brief moment that she was ours, that we could be a family. I am sure that would surprise you. Its true, I swear it. But I knew better. Or so I told myself. I refused to listen, seeing Hope as not your child, but a vessel of evil. I told myself, if I was wrong what was one more murder? Wasn’t it better to be safe? Damn me for listening to Ares! His words still burned in my head. And seeing the dead soldier, apparently murdered by Hope, that was it. I was convinced.

So I made you my love, choose between your child and me. Damn! I was so sure you’d chose me. I know its irrational and totally against everything that you are, but when you chose Hope over me, I was crushed. Because I couldn’t see past my own self, my own desires, I convinced myself that Hope was influencing you. That was why you chose her over me. My actions weren’t important…the fact that I was making you choose between us never even struck me as being wrong.

On that cliff, when you told me you killed Hope, my heart told me that you couldn’t kill Hope…your own child. But in my arrogance, I thought you would never lie to me. That you would always do what I told you. Oh I know we bicker and fight about small things, but always, ALWAYS you have given in, done what I’ve told you. Because you trusted me. I was blind…I didn’t see your pain and I didn’t see your lie. Not because it wasn’t written on your face, because it clearly was. I was conceited. You, my loyal bard, wouldn’t lie to me, no matter what the circumstances. How I wish I had listened to that little voice inside me that struggled and rebelled. That was telling me I was wrong. But my arrogance was complete.

So what did I do? Put you in a situation where you would only have one choice. To let me go and do what I wanted. I know how I reacted when you chose Perdicus over me. On the outside I told you to be happy. Yes, I wanted that. But I never thought in my wildest imagination that you would chose him over me. So when the request came from Lao Mao to return to Chin and make the Green Dragon small again, I told you part of the story. Told you enough so you wouldn’t want to come with me. Yes, I even wanted you to feel a little of what I felt when you left me for that man. Doesn’t matter that we weren’t lovers then. You knew how I felt, or so I told myself. So I purposefully led you to believe I was, at least for the time being, that my former lover was more important than what we had.

Gods I was so wrong! I lied to you, lied to myself. I told myself that I didn’t need you, didn’t need your support. I realized how wrong I was when you flipped back the blankets. To say I was stunned, speechless, in shock…that’s an understatement. I couldn’t think, couldn’t feel…my life was over. When you tried to reason with me, tried to make me promise to leave, the only thing I could think of was that I had lost everything. The one bright spot, the only thing that meant anything to me, had turned against me. Finally. I was ready to die. It just didn’t matter. Without you in my life, there wasn’t a reason to go on.

Then you made me care again. I don’t understand it. Your face, so full of emotions…regret, pain, sorrow, love, hit me right in the heart. Suddenly I could feel again. Your emotions triggered my own. I knew you would never make it out of Chin alive without me. If Meng Tien’s men didn’t kill you, Lao Mao’s would for betraying me. So I got us out of there.

I tried to act like nothing had happened…that I hadn’t betrayed your faith in me, that you hadn’t lied, that I hadn’t cost you your blood innocence, that you hadn’t betrayed me. At times it worked and I forgot. Other times, it was all I could think about.

But that all changed when we went to the Centaur village. Reading what you wrote, how you felt, I want to die. If I thought that would make you feel better, I would to it…without question. Because right now I have caused you more pain than I ever thought possible. At the time though, I had no idea you felt like that. All I could see was my son and the chance that we had to be together again. I was so self centered, it never even occurred to me that you’d be hurting too. I still didn’t see Hope as anything other than evil, certainly not a child. Not like my son. Then he was gone. Torn from me before I had a chance to say anything to him, to hold him like a mother, not a friend, to tell him I loved him. By your actions, or so I heatedly told myself.

Looking back, I see that I shut down, consciously retreated into the darkness. Taking comfort from its cold familiarity…the only emotion I felt was rage. That allowed me to trap Callisto. When I went after Hope, you’d already done the job. My heart tried to fight back, standing at the edge of the clearing, watching you with Hope. I can’t even bring myself to call her your daughter! Even now. As you raised the wine skin, I wanted to throw my chakram, to take it from your hands. But as I’d been doing since Britannia, I did nothing. Said nothing. At least until we stood before their funeral pires. Then I lashed out, cutting the one person who dared to take the chance and love me…love the ex-warlord. I watched you walk away, convinced it was for the best. My anger and rage were so close to the surface, I had no choice. I left too.

As in Britannia, I let my darkness consume me…I listened to Ares. I came after and tried to kill you. Gods Gabrielle! How can you lay there, calmly waiting for me to return? I almost murdered you! It must have been the gods that woke you up, gave you the strength to fight back. There is no way on this earth, after what I did to you that you should have been able to fight back. But you did. Successfully. You, my gentle bard, my lover succeeded where many others failed, in taking down the infamous warrior princess.

Thank the gods my son is more like you than me. Through the goodness of his own heart and whatever gods he convinced to help him, he saved us. Gave us the chance to work through our problems. Guided me so I realized, fully, for the first time what I had done to you. What I had put you through. What I had made you go through alone. I am the more experienced one. The one who’s supposed to keep control. The one who’s taken it upon herself to protect you, love you. I failed you. Completely.

Yet you forgave me. I know I didn’t deserve it (and I still don’t). Yet I foolishly thought everything would be ok. That things would work out between us. For the first time in longer than I cared to remember, things felt right.

I thought we’d been through just about everything two people who love each other could go through…and we survived it together. Sure, I was still smarting, more from my loss of control than anything else. I knew when you looked at me that you had forgiven me. I was so sure love, misguided though it was, had guided your actions. Not mine, though. Then I almost lost you. You had the guts to stand up to me, to make me face something about myself. You made me realize how important you are to me. In spite of what we’d been through. Maybe because of what we’d been through. I love you! I didn’t tell you then exactly, but if you had died, I would have too. I would have taken all of them I could with me, but I wouldn’t have left there alive. Thankfully this inner strength I have when you’re counting on me sustained me and we beat the Persians back. Yes, we. I don’t say it often my bard, but you are why I can do impossible things. Without your faith, your belief in me, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I routinely do. When you woke up the next morning, my life continued.

I still don’t understand why Tara bothered you so my bard! She was just a misguided kid. I don’t know why I didn’t step in when she attacked you. That’s not true. I do know. And if I want to be honest with you, I better start with myself. You can take care of yourself. You could of beaten her at any time. WE both knew that. I wondered why you didn’t just let her have it. I saw myself in her. You’re right. I wanted to be the one to help her, to comfort her. Yet she wouldn’t let me in, not until you broke through her walls. Just like you did mine. I know you don’t understand. How can I make you understand I wasn’t choosing her over you? Your place in my life was never in question. After all we’d been through, how could you think that? How could you doubt my feelings for you? I couldn’t believe I had to remind you that sometimes a second chance wasn’t enough. But my bard, despite your feelings, you did come through for me. And for her. I didn’t say it, but I was and am proud of you. Where I fail time and time again, you put someone else in front of your own desires, your own feelings.

Then I go and do something I swore to myself after Illusia that I would never do again. I forced you to do something that went against every thing you believe in…I made you choose between me and someone else…AGAIN! I needed to see, really see in a tough, hard situation that you would come through for me. That you wouldn’t betray me, wouldn’t hurt me. Of course, the fact that it was Caesar had nothing to do with it. Right Xena! Tell it to someone who believes you.

Then I go and do something I swore to myself after Illusia that I would never do again. I forced you to do something that went against every thing you believe in…I made you choose between me and someone else. I needed to see, really see in a tough, hard situation that you would come through for me. That you wouldn’t betray me, wouldn’t hurt me. Of course, the fact that it was Caesar had nothing to do with it. Right Xena! Tell it to someone who believes you.

I was wrong. Wrong to involve you in my dark plan. Wrong to not tell you my full reasons for helping get Vercinix back. Wrong to not trust you. You came through for me…totally, completely. And how did I repay you? I still forced you to make a decision. One based on my beliefs, not your own.

Standing on that ship, heading home, I realized something about myself. I am still insecure and frightened, afraid to believe that someone could trust and love me. That is really why I placed you in that position. You either believed in me or you didn’t. There wasn’t a middle ground. When you told me you loved me, that you were right where you wanted to be, I died a little inside. You’ve given up just about everything you cared about to be with me. Your family, your blood innocence, your shot at being a great bard, your child, your beliefs. Yet as you stood there, my selfish heart swelled. Because you wanted and needed me.

That’s why, when your nightmares returned, I decided I had to do something. For once, I wasn’t thinking about myself. I tried to put you first. But I even messed that up! I had no idea you would feel that I abandoned you. Leaving you with Joxer was just about the hardest thing I have ever done. I left, not knowing if I’d ever see you again. My arms trembled as I held you. Inside I was dying. You don’t know this, but I shadowed you in the woods. Watched you with a heavy heart as you entered the temple. Followed you as Joxer led your lifeless body away. Cried silently as Joxer read our tales, pretending he was me. Started to bleed when you kissed him. I kept telling myself that if you chose to not remember, I would see you safely home and then I would disappear. I don’t think I would have had the strength to do this. Thankfully I didn’t have to find out. You chose to return to me. When I held you, I know you felt my shaking. I know you thought it was because of why you betrayed me in Chin. That I was reacting to my bard being so devious. That wasn’t it at all. I was just so damn happy you’d chosen to return…to ME! I knew we had a lot to talk about and we still do. We just didn’t have the chance before I was called away. At one time I would have said to Hades with the request, but how could I when you sat there looking at me with those loving eyes? You wanted me to try, so I did.

You asked yourself what you’d learned from the mess that our lives became. What did I learn? I learned that I am not the person I want to be. I must fight even harder to resist the darkness in my soul. I learned that I am capable of tearing apart the one person I love above all others. That I’m selfish and arrogant, still. I also learned that I am nothing without you by my side. You are what ties me to humanity. I also learned the consequences of this, for both you and me. Yet, as I lay here, holding you tight, I find myself agreeing with you…I love you. You love me. The rest will work itself out. That is all that matters.

“What’s this? You’re waking up?”

“Gabrielle?” Xena whispered, tightening her hold on her bard. “You awake?”

“Xena?” Gabrielle muttered sleepily. “You back?” Slowly the bard started to wake up as the warm body next to her started to register.

“Yeah, its me.” Xena smiled softly at her bard. “You ok?”

“Now.” Green eyes roamed over her warrior’s form, checking. “Everything go ok?”

“It went fine. No trouble.” Not sure if she should admit to reading Gabrielle’s scrolls, Xena thought a minute. But Gabrielle was right when she wrote they had to be honest with each other. “Gabrielle, you awake enough to talk for a little bit?”

“What’s up? Some…you read my scrolls, didn’t you?” Gabrielle mentally smacked herself for leaving them out. “I wanted to talk to you about…”

“Shh.” Xena interrupted the bard. “I’m glad I did read them. We do need to talk. There is so much I want to tell my best friend.” Xena took Gabrielle’s hand and laced their fingers together. “I’ve really missed you. But that can wait until we’re both not exhausted.”

“I’ve really missed my best friend too.” Gabrielle smiled encouragingly at her warrior. “Are you ok?”

“I’m fine, now.” Xena looked down at their entwined bodies, her meaning clear. “I love you, Gabrielle. I never thought I would hurt you so. I am so sorry. But,” a large hand covered the bard’s mouth, urging her to be quiet. “But you were right. We will get through this together.”

“I know I hurt you too, more than I ever thought I was capable of. I love you to Xena. More than ever.” Gabrielle leaned forward, lightly brushing their lips together. “You were right too. We can talk later. Right now I need my warrior.”

“I’m right here.” Xena whispered, capturing Gabrielle’s lips in a deep, passionate kiss. Both knew there would be time for talking later. Right now all that mattered was reassuring themselves of their love.

“Well, that sounds stupid Beth.” The author sat back, wincing at the last sentence as she finished her first re-read. “But that was much easier than dealing with Gabrielle’s feelings.” A soft smile spread across Beth’s face as she vividly remembered the prelude to her dreams.

“I gotta do something for Casey.” Beth got up and started pacing. “She’s been here for me, without complaining, supporting me, through this whole mess.” Beth’s smile turned sensual as she contemplated how gorgeous her lover looked as she walked out the door. “That’s it!” Beth spun happily, heading for the phone, plotting. “Just need a little help and I know just the person.”
*****

“Just what are you plotting, Beth?” Casey smiled at that thought, hurrying to make it home by the time requested. “Damn long winded fool!” Her meeting had gone well, but as she was leaving to go to the gym, the local police chief had stopped for a visit and talked and talked. Sighing, Casey frowned about her lost workout. Now she’d be tense when she got home. She didn’t want anything interfering with their evening. Laughing out loud, creatively erotic thoughts assaulted Casey as she envisioned her lover. The author certainly lacked for nothing in the creative department. Beth had left a message telling Casey to be home promptly at 7:30pm. Giggling, the specialist recalled her assistant’s face as she delivered the message, Beth’s intentions crystal clear. “Didn’t know Susan could turn so red!”

“C’mon train! I have an author waiting.” Casey cursed, glancing at her watch with a frown. “I most definitely do not want to be late tonight.” Unable to stop herself, Casey recalled finding the “surprise” from Beth. Blinking back tears, blue eyes drifted shut and Casey imagined she could hear her author speaking softly. As before, she sat enchanted. The words had found a permanent home in her soul.

Impatient, Casey opened her eyes, relieved to see the train was almost past. “About time!” Putting her speed driving training to good use, Casey made up the lost time, pulling into their driveway with three minutes to spare. “Wonder if Beth will care if I’m a couple of minutes early.” She thought a second as the garage door slowly opened. “Guess we’ll see. She should know she’s lucky that I didn’t come right home after finding that note.” The only thing that kept her at the office was Beth’s message and subtle warning. As requested, Casey approached the door empty handed and knocked. She didn’t have to wait long.

“C’mon in.” Beth called out loudly, waiting. “Come downstairs. And don’t turn on the lights!”

Chuckling, Casey withdrew her hand and headed downstairs as requested. “Beth?” Called out when she stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The specialist wanted to fully appreciate her author’s efforts and didn’t want to spoil anything.

“How was your day?” Casey didn’t hear the question the first time, captivated by the slowly moving, silk clad form highlighted by muted lighting, that approached. “God, I was right! That color looks utterly delicious on her.” The specialist thought absently, totally absorbed by the vision of loveliness before her eyes.

“Casey?” Beth’s amused tone sank in.

“Hmm?” Blue met green and her breath caught. “I need to touch her.” Whispered mentally, accompanied by unconscious movement. “You look incredible.”

“Thanks. How was your day love?” Smiling softly, Beth took Casey’s offered hand.

“Busy but fine.” Casey willingly followed her lover down the hall. “What about you? I thought you were going to take it easy today.”

“You can read it tomorrow. But tonight,” Beth’s voice sank to a husky level. “You will be otherwise occupied.” Stopping before the bathroom door, she dropped Casey’s hand. “Take a quick shower love. Everything you need is inside.” Gently she pushed her lover into the room. “Don’t take to long. I’ll be waiting.”

“Breath, Casey Breath.” The specialist admonished herself, stripping quickly. The heated looks and sultry tone of her lover had hit her hard, stroking the growing inferno of her desire.

“That was quick!” Beth teased as the bathroom door was opened a very short time later. “Doesn’t take near as long to take if off, does it?”

“Beth.” Casey growled, reaching for Beth, needing her lover’s body against her own.

“Not yet, love.” Beth carefully took Casey’s hand. “I’ve got a surprise for you. You look beautiful; that color suits you.” Heading down the hall, the author forced herself to concentrate on her plan, not the bewitching form of her partner.

“You seem kind of tense.” Beth stepped to the side, motioning Casey into the room first. “This was a good idea,” Beth thought happily. It had been too long since the author surprised her lover.

“Wow.” The soft voice touched Beth deeply. “What’s the occasion?” Casey cast a curious, yet pleased look at her author. The gym had been transformed. Blue eyes traveled the room once again, taking in the contents illuminated by the flickering candlelight. The bubbling hot tub surrounded by a wall of green ferns, the soft silk sheets and pillows, the bottle of wine nestled in ice, the tray of finger food. The most alluring sight in the room however, was Beth’s sparkling green eyes. Turning, blue captured green, the invisible bonds drawing them closer.
“Do I need a reason?” Beth ran staff hardened hands lightly up silk covered muscular arms, through soft damp hair, lacing them behind Casey’s head. “But I do have one.” Laughing delicately at her lover’s impatient, question eyebrow, she continued. “I just wanted to do something special for you…for us.” Her recent behavior greatly troubled the author. She couldn’t believe how moody, how out of touch she’d been.

“Why? I’m not complaining, not at all. I love this.” Added hastily at Beth’s slightly hurt look. “I mean, just being with you is enough for me.”

“C’mon.” A gentle tug led Casey to the pillows. Sinking to her knees, still linked by their entwined hands, the author pulled her lover down beside her. Settling Casey back against the pillows propped exactly for this purpose, the Beth’s low, husky voice washed over the specialist. “Just sit back and relax. Comfortable?”

“Very.” Blue eyes swept over her kneeling lover, feeding her growing hunger. “I’d be more comfortable if you sat here.” Casey patted her thighs, smiling innocently.

“Oh no, Casey. I don’t think so!” Green sparkled laughingly. “I know what’s on your mind.” Reaching for the tray, Beth picked up a goblet of sparkling white wine. Pressing the glass against her lover’s lips, she issued a soft command. “Have a drink, love.”

“Hmm. Delicious.” Tantalizingly a tongue snaked out, moistening the specialist’s lips. “Please have some yourself.” A large hand guided the glass to the author’s lips, delightedly noticing how her actions affected her lover. Casey watched the muscles of Beth’s throat contract, enchanted.

“Here,” Beth placed another offering at her lover’s lips, groaning softly when her fingers were caressed lightly with Casey’s tongue. Another morsel was offered and accepted. Then more wine.

“Hey,” Casey complained quietly, tenderly stopping Beth’s moving hand. She loved all of the attention Beth was lavishing upon her, but she wanted to reciprocate. “My turn.” Meaning she wanted to serve Beth.

“Not tonight my love.” Open, honest green eyes showed the author’s desire and want. Tonight Beth wanted to concentrate on Casey.

“But…”

“Shh. Please.” Beth’s voice hit Casey hard. Swallowing her objections, Casey gave in. Nodding slightly, Casey removed her hand from Beth’s.

“This is really nice.” Casey’s eyes sparkled as she watched her lover select something from the tray. Opening her mouth obediently, she took the bite presented. “I’ll remember this love. Next time.” Casey thought happily, plans of her own ambush already forming. That didn’t mean she couldn’t try and distract the author now. “You really do look extraordinary in that deep green.” A wandering fingers traced a lazy pattern on the silk covered thigh. “It brings out the highlights in your,” the fingers moved to the object under discussion, stroking softly. “Beautiful hair. Not to mention,” her fingers transferred their attention to Beth’s cheek. “Your eyes.”

Caught in Casey’s trap, Beth found herself leaning forward unconsciously. Slapping herself mentally when their lips touched, she sat back, a wry grin on her face. “Oh no you don’t, you sneaky devil! Tonight you are mine.”

“Always.” Casey responded seriously, sitting back with a mock sigh. “You know you can never refuse her,” thought amusingly as she responded to Beth’s words. “Not that you’d have it any other way.”

“Try this.” And so went the remainder of food, accompanied by soft laughter and gentle teasing.

“Beth?” Casey had thought hard about how she wanted to tell Beth how much her words had touched her.

“Yes love?” Beth heard the serious note in Casey’s voice. “What caused that look?” She wondered silently as she watched Casey compose her thoughts.

“I found your note before the meeting.” Blue latched and held onto green. “I can’t tell you how much those words meant, mean to me. I felt like,” Casey reached for Beth’s hand, “I…its hard to describe.” The specialist finished, exasperated with herself. A gentle, wondering look crossed her face as she remembered the warm rush of emotions. Of how they’d hit her straight in the heart. How they told her, without any doubts, how her lover felt. “I guess what I’m trying to say,” Casey finally managed to get the words out. “Is that I love you. Totally. Completely. Without reservation. Shh.” She placed silencing fingers on her author’s lips. “I love you.”

This time, Beth didn’t resist her lover; she flew into her arms. “I love you too.” Tears of joy ran down the author’s face, soaking the silk under her cheek. “Look at me,” Beth snuffled, brushing the wet fabric. “What a mess.”
“Hey.” Casey rubbed Beth’s back soothingly. “Its ok. You are beautiful.” When those words didn’t seem to have an affect, Casey tried again. “What now, boss?”

“Oh. Right!” Beth pulled herself together, sitting up. Grinning sexily, her eyes remained riveted on Casey’s face. “So expressive,” whispered as she watched her lover react to her slow moving hand. “Now turn over.” Spoken as she untied the sash holding Casey’s robe closed.

Without a word, Casey turned over, unable to sniffle the groan as her robe was slowly pulled down her back. Just being in her lover’s presence set her heart racing. Add in the romantic setting, the soft light that cast a delicate hue on her lover’s magnificent skin, the gentle throbbing of music that accompanied her pounding heart and the specialist knew she was lost. Lost in a whirlwind of emotions that suddenly intensified when Beth’s skin slid against her own. A ragged groan was torn from her lips.

“Like that, do you?” Beth spoke softly, directly in Casey’s ear. The warm breath causing a slight shudder to run through the specialist. “Thought so.” Strong hands began easing the tension out of her lover’s shoulders. Beth was silent for some time, until she felt the muscles slowly relax. “I know I haven’t said it much lately.” The author’s words floated over Casey, sinking in, soothing her soul. “But you are everything to me. I love you more than you could ever know.” As the tension fled, Beth gentled her touch. “Do you have any idea how much your acceptance, your support means to me?” Leaning over, Beth lightly kissed the smooth skin. “Before I met you, I thought I’d always be alone. I was and am so different.” Beth nuzzled the back of Casey’s neck, forgetting for the moment her purpose as the taste of her lover invaded her senses. Regaining control, Beth continued, sternly reminding herself that tonight she was focusing on her lover. “You changed that. For the first time in my life, I know I belong. I…”

“That works both ways beloved.” Casey shifted, bringing a hand up to hold Beth close. “Never doubt that.” An irresistible urge filled Casey; she had to hold Beth. Moving quickly, the specialist slid out from under her surprised author and opened her arms. “C’mere. I need to hold you.” Pulling the author tightly against her, Casey sighed contentedly. Until fingers began their assault.

“Elizabeth Alexandra Jamieson! Don’t start something you don’t want me to finish.” Casey warned, capturing the tickling fingers. Grinning innocently at the look she was receiving, Casey continued. “Because there is something I would rather do than have a tickle fight with you.”

“Ok.” Beth smiled sweetly, already planning her revenge. “Use my full name, will you?” Her mind filed the comment away for future use while
using her lips to further distract. A soft sigh, almost one of confusion, disturbed her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing Sweetheart.” Casey answered honestly. “I have never been happier in my life.” She rolled over, pinning the author beneath her. “Right now what I need,” her voice dropped, sending shivers down Beth’s spine. “Is you.”

“The hot tub can wait.” Beth agreed, pushing against Casey’s shoulder, rolling them over again. The need to take her lover was overwhelming. “Don’t forget…its still my turn.” Growling, Beth pounced, lips moving sensually.

Grinning happily, Casey agreed. Sometimes to win, a surrender was necessary.

 

 

 

 

The End
Continued in Without A Doubt

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