Homecoming by C.N. Winters

Artwork by Rebekah Lynn

Homecoming
By C.N. Winters
1st in the Homecoming Series

“Xena!”

The warrior couldn’t contain her grin at the sound of her name echoing across the crowded, dimly lit tavern. She was unsure of the reception she would be given at her arrival. It had been years, almost another lifetime, since she visited the island. Even longer since she was considered an honorary resident.

Warm waves and nods of acceptance greeted her as she walked to the bar. “Long time, no see,” the barkeep remarked with a sly grin. “I bet you’re thirsty.” She was a lovely woman, about Xena’s age but smaller in stature.

“Yes! May we please have a bottle of wine?” Xena asked formally, strictly for show. It was an odd experience for Gabrielle to see Xena so relaxed, almost playful, with someone besides her.

“And who are ‘we’?” the barkeep asked as she addressed Xena.

“This is Gabrielle,” the warrior said with the gentle wave of her hand.

“Gabrielle,” the woman said with a nod, shaking her hand politely. Soon her attention turned back to Xena, “She’s a bit young isn’t she?” the barkeep teased. Xena’s eyes narrowed and the barkeep knew she had best discuss other topics. “What brings you all the way back here?”

“I was summoned here,” Xena replied in her cool, casual tone. Gabrielle stood close by, trying to stay focused on the conversations while surveying the surroundings, remembering ever detail for one of her stories, no doubt.

“Really?” the barkeep pondered, “By who?”

“By me,” a voice interrupted. Xena and Gabrielle turned to see a woman walking toward them. “It’s been a long time,” she continued with a seductive grin.

“Too long,” Xena said opening her strong arms, welcoming the stranger slowly into them. “How have you been Sappho?”

“I can’t complain,” she replied pulling back from the embrace.

“I’m sure she could,” the barkeep interrupted with a teasing grin. “Sappho’s made herself respectable.” Xena simply questioned the barkeep with her raised eyebrow. “She got married! . . . Get this! . . . To a man!”

Xena looked at Sappho, totally shocked. “Is that true?”

“You seem disappointed,” Sappho teased. Xena could feel herself beginning to blush.

“It’s not disappointment,” Xena replied. “It’s disbelieve.”

“I guess that’s why your cheeks are so crimson.” Xena knew she would lose in a battle of words with Sappho and being an intelligent warrior that she was, she knew she had to retreat. However, before she could, Sappho became suddenly distracted. “This must be your bard companion,” she said moving in front of Gabrielle.

“Yes. Gabrielle meet Sappho. Sappho this is Gabrielle.”

“Charmed. . .” Sappho replied reaching for Gabrielle’s hand and kissing the back of it in a ‘gentlemanly’ fashion. “. . . to say the very least.” Gabrielle could tell that she was the one blushing now with the temperature rising to her face. “You know,” Sappho continued as she still held Gabrielle’s hand, “I’m somewhat of a bard myself. Maybe tonight we could go over some scrolls and teach each other a thing or two.”

“Okay. Okay! That’s enough,” Xena said, taking Gabrielle’s hand away from Sappho predatory grip. “Enough with the introductions. Let’s get down to business.”

As they made there way to a small table, Sappho pulled Xena to the side and tiptoed to whisper in her ear. “She’s a young one isn’t she?”

“Sappho!” Xena exclaimed, making Gabrielle turn around to study both of them.

“Simply an observation. . . jeez. Don’t get so bent outta shape. . .And speaking of your shape, it’s lovely. So don’t change it.”

“It’s nice to see some things never change,” Xena retorted sarcastically. “Does your husband know you behave like this?”

“Are you kidding?” Sappho laughed.

“That’s what I thought,” Xena said smugly.

“He adores it,” she grinned. “Last year on my birthday, I walked into my house and there was this gorgeous red head sitting-”

“I get the picture,” Xena interrupted. “Could we talk about why we’re here?”

Sappho grinned. “Of course,” she replied. “But first I need to take care of this beautiful creature,” she said looking at Gabrielle. “Would you like something to drink, something to eat perhaps. They have wonderful lamb stew here, my dear.”

Gabrielle could feel Xena’s eyes heavily upon her, even though she would looking at Sappho. “We have wine coming but thank you anyway.”

“Well, where is it!” Sappho exclaimed. “Barkeep! Please bring this darling young lady her wine before it ages another year!” Sappho’s demanding nature turned back into one of seduction as she looked at Gabrielle again. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you desire?”

Xena’s fists were clinching and unclenching under the tablecloth, but the real discomfort showed on her face. Sappho and Gabrielle both smiled at Xena – Sappho because of the jealousy she knew she was invoking in Xena; Gabrielle out of the embarrassment of the situation. Sappho knew one more romantic overtone from her would leave her with a black eye or worse. “Anyway,” she said lightheartedly. “I did call you hear to ask for your help.”

Xena in typical fashion waited for Sappho to continue with a gesture of her head that said ‘get on with it’.

“The local government has been having some problems lately. It seems-”

“Stop right there.” Xena ordered. “I don’t get involved in politics,” she said as she started to rise.

“Please let me finish,” Sappho begged. “I don’t know who else to turn to.”

Gabrielle heard the plea in her voice. “Xena, at least hear her out. We’ve got nowhere to go and we’re stuck on the isle until tomorrow morning. Besides, I’d like a glass of wine after that long boat trip.”

The warrior considered Gabrielle’s request. She did have a point. Xena avoided eye contact with Sappho as she sat back down. When she did look over, Sappho was waving her pinky finger in the air as she mouthed the words ‘she’s wrapped’ to Gabrielle. Upon being caught by Xena’s crystal blue glare, she cleared her throat in a nervous manner. “Anyway, as I was saying, it seems the mainland has suddenly taken an interest in us.”

“In what way?” Gabrielle asked.

“In the way we live, well the way some of us live. . . We’ve been performing commitment ceremonies for same sex couples for quite a long time. The mainland wants to see us put an end to it. Most Lesbians, whether male or female, involved in same sex or opposite sex relationships, feel it’s an oppression.”

“Here’s your wine ladies. Sorry it took so long. Is there anything else you’d like?” the keep asked.

“No we’re okay,” Gabrielle answered quickly, wanting to get back to the story. “If the majority here doesn’t want a change, what’s the problem? At this point the mainland can’t do anything accept vocally disapprove.”

“Yes that’s true. But it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“It always is,’ Xena replied in her dry wit style.

“People are turning up dead. . . . Same sex couple have been killed at night on the street, some in their own beds as they slept. . .We never had this problem until we got the message from the mainland. One of the things Lesbo prided it’s self on was the fact it was a place for all people, all walks of life. It was a center for unbiased creativity and culture. Athens maybe the nerve center for the arts but Lesbo is the heart. . .or at least it was.”

“I’m still not sure were we fit in,” Xena asked downing the last of her wine.

“The council asked me if I had any suggestions on what to do. I told them I would contact you; perhaps get some advice on how to protect our people. And if I was so lucky perhaps I could convince you to stay long enough to see who’s behind the murders.”
Xena refilled her glass as well as Gabrielle’s’ without responding. Of course it was Gabby’s voice to first break the silence. “Sappho could you go to the bar and order me some of that wonderful lamb stew you spoke of earlier. I’d like to talk with Xena.”

Sappho’s admiring grin returned, “Anything for you my sweet.”

Once she was out of earshot Gabrielle turned to Xena. “What do you think?”

“I think we could be getting into more than we expect,” Xena replied quietly.

“Perhaps, but don’t we always take that chance,” the bard grinned.

Xena studied Gabrielle’s smiled and wondered when the young girl she met years ago became the compassionate woman she was today. That smile and this mission could be dangerous. Could Xena spend a week, maybe two, on the island and still be able to be ‘best friends’? Would her strength, in suppressing her desire, survive the onslaught of women loving women thrown in her face everyday? Would her strength be able to keep Gabrielle save if they faced the murderers?

“What do you say?” Gabrielle asked with an encouraging nudge of her elbow.

“Are you up to this?’ Xena asked, the seriousness of the situation pouring into her words.

“Absolutely,” Gabrielle replied.

She is a woman now Xena thought. The gung-ho ‘let’s experience life’ tone was gone from Gabrielle’s voice. It was now the sound of a confident, self-assured woman who understood the peril that may come to be, yet accepting it just the same. It’s going be a long week Xena thought to herself again.

Sappho returned with Gabrielle’s stew. Since the bottle was now empty (mostly between Gabrielle and Xena) Sappho ordered another one. “We’ve agreed to stay and help you.” Xena smiled. Sappho was so delighted she kissed Xena. It was a quick peck, but just a bit shy of her lips.

The band began to play and many of the women got up to dance. Gabrielle now full of spirits and wine, wanted to join in the merriment. When Xena declined her dance invitation, Sappho offered her services, which in Xena’s opinion the bard accepted all to eagerly.

It was an odd feeling watching the two of them on the dance floor. A feeling she hadn’t had since. . .since Gabrielle’s wedding to Perticus -the mixed cauldron of joy for seeing Gabrielle’s happiness and the torture of her being stolen away. Unsteadily and slightly intoxicated, Xena rose and moved carefully to her companion – her companion, not Sappho’s.

When Xena asked “Can I cut in?” all three knew it wasn’t a request or a question open to debate. Sappho simply gave Gabrielle’s hand to Xena before taking her seat, back at the table. As the tempo slowed down Xena felt Gabrielle’s hands slip around her neck as her own hand possessed the bard’s shapely hips.

“Why the change of heart?” Gabrielle teased, keeping full contact with those beautiful blue eyes.

“You were having too much fun,” Xena retorted.

“I’m not allowed to have fun with Sappho?” Gabrielle questioned, keeping the mischievous tone in her voice.

“You don’t know Sappho as well as I do.”

“And how well do you know her Xena?”

Xena didn’t answer immediately. The grin that came to her lips was enough for Gabrielle to know the truth.

“I see,” smiled the bard. “Are you afraid she’ll sweep me off my feet?”
Xena didn’t answer. The smile she displayed at Gabrielle’s first question vanished with the thought of Sappho doing all the things Xena dreamed of but never had the courage to do. She was a woman who would bolt headlong into a warlords hideout as quick as blinking an eye. Yet standing before this auburn beauty she cowered away like a lost, scared child. Gabrielle noticed the look in Xena’s eyes and knew what it meant.

“Don’t worry,” the bard insured. “There’s only one woman in here that could sweep me off my feet. . . and it ain’t Sappho.”

Gabrielle pulled Xena closer, resting her head on Xena’s bosom. The feel of leather and flesh caressed the bard’s cheek at the same time, as they swayed their bodies against each other. As she sighed in contentment the warrior could feel her hot breath tickle her cleavage as a shutter ran through her body. Her first reaction was to disguise her desire like she had so many times before. But she quickly surrendered the impulse and let Gabrielle weave her magic around her heart. “I can’t remember the last time I dance,” Xena reflected. “This feels wonderful.”

Gabrielle lifted her head to met Xena’s eyes again, feeling less inhibited with each passing moment as deep blue connected with sea green. Xena watched helplessly as Gabrielle wetted her lips as if preparing to be kissed. Before she took the opportunity though Gabrielle spoke.

“We should take more time out for simple things like this.”

Another odd sensation passed through Xena at the sound of Gabrielle’s words. She truly was a woman. She was firm, confident and capable of handling herself. She was no longer a damsel in distress as when they first met. She wasn’t a sidekick with a staff who lent a hand when the going got rough. She was an equal and on some levels, as in dealing with human emotions, superior to Xena.

The day had finally arrived. The moment had come. Xena had, at last, found a companion, a confidant, a soulmate, that she could envision being with her for today; for forever. She was elated that she realized she had found her and dismayed that it had taken so long. Her dismay, however, didn’t have long to fester as she felt her head being pulled down and Gabrielle’s lips seizing her neck and earlobe.

“It’s late,” Gabrielle whispered, making the hairs on Xena’s neck stand at attention. “Could we please get a room for tonight?”

Yes! Oh Gods yes! That was Xena’s first inclination. But instead she found her voice uttering other things, betraying her heart . . . and loins. “We’ve both had a lot of wine.”

“And your point is?” Gabrielle replied with her hands now on her hips, totally defiant.

Suddenly Xena felt defensive. “My point is I don’t want anything to happen that you may regret,” she countered sternly.

“I’m a grown woman Xena. I’m free to make my own choices.”

“So am I and maybe I don’t want to make a decision that I’ll regret.”

Xena could see Gabrielle’s spirit shatter behind the sea of green in her eyes. Without another word, Gabrielle darted from the dance floor and back to the table. She didn’t even have the chance to call Gabrielle’s name before she saw her talking with Sappho. Xena walked over, just catching the tail end of the conversation. “I’ll be waiting outside,” she heard the bard tell the poet, as she hurried away.

Sappho sat mute for a moment, summing up the warrior. “Xena, I say this in love and in friendship. . .You are an idiot! Look at her! Look at how beautiful she is. Look at the talent that she possesses. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I knew her name before you introduced us. I’ve heard about her storytelling from my friends in the mainland. She really wowed them with her tales and her skill at prose. My Gods woman are you total blind!”

“No I’m not!” Xena spat back. “I’ve known how special she was from the first moment I saw her. I don’t want to lose her because of two bottles of wine. I need her to know that it’s coming from me and not the alcohol. I need to know she feels the same thing. I can’t lose her Sappho. . . I can’t lose her.”

Sappho walked around the table and pulled Xena into a tight hug. The warrior was on the verge of tears. “Look,” Sappho began trying to calm the shaking ex-warlord, “Gabrielle asked if she could go home with me.”

Suddenly, Xena pulled away. Her sorrow filled face now glowing in red, hot anger. “Don’t worry. I had no intention of taking advantage of her. . .well, the thought did cross my mind but it left as soon as it came. . .anyway, I told her yes because I don’t want her wondering around the unfamiliar street alone tonight. . .I want you to come with me. I have a guest house that you and Gabrielle are welcome to use during your stay. . . Please come with us. . .Talk to her. . .She’s just as unsure of your heart as you are of hers. Talk to her.”

Xena slowly nodded and they made their way outside to the waiting bard. “I’m not going if she’s going,” Gabrielle announced as they both walked over.

“Yes you are,” Sappho said matter-of-factly.

“No I’m not,” Gabrielle protested.

“See that wagon over there?” Sappho pointed. “That’s mine. You’re going to get inside with Xena and I. We are going to ride to my house. You’re going to take the guesthouse and you’re going to sleep. It’s late. We can all argue in the morning.”

Gabrielle tapped her foot in frustration for a few moments before storming off and sitting in the wagon. Xena and Sappho followed suit and they were at Sappho’s house in a matter of minutes. Once at the guest house Gabrielle went in first, letting the door fall in Xena’s face. The warrior pushed it open nearly ripping it from the hinges. Gabrielle didn’t even look back. She bolted to the bedroom and slammed the door. Looking around, Xena tried to find something to cover her body with for the night. Reluctantly she moved toward the bedroom.

“Can I at least have a blanket?” she shouted. After a little commotion on the other side the door flew open and a white cover was hurled at her face knocking her off balance at impact. She didn’t have time to pull it away before she heard the bedroom door slam again. “Thank you o’amazon queen!” she shouted. Reluctantly and with a pounding headache, she curled up in front of the empty fireplace.
Chapter 2
A fire was roaring and the smell of bacon filled the room as Gabrielle, peered out with fingers rubbing her temple. Xena couldn’t help but smile at the bard’s hung over fate. She had felt the same a few hours ago but after having time to move around she was feeling quite normal. Carefully, Gabrielle crept until she reached the closest chair in the living room, collapsing into it.

“How are you?” Xena asked in a calm, quiet voice.

“Please don’t shout,” Gabrielle insisted.

Xena’s coy grin took shape as she looked at the bard’s aching state. “I didn’t. I’ll just whisper until you tell me not too.”

“Thank you,” Gabrielle replied, as Xena handed her a cup of tea.

Xena finished cooking the breakfast as Gabrielle watched in silence trying to put the puzzle pieces together from the night before. “Where are we?” she asked looking around the room.

“Sappho’s guesthouse,” replied softly as she began to eat her food “Are you hungry?”

“Oh Gods no!” Gabrielle exclaimed. Immediately she clutched her temples as the words rattled around in her throbbing head, not to mention her stomach beginning to do back flips.

Xena finished her breakfast in silence. She knew Gabrielle was watching her the whole time but she wasn’t going to be the one to bring up last night’s events. She knew that’s what the bard was trying to do – put together all the situations that lead her to this place.

“Xena?”

“Hmm.”

“What happened last night?”

Xena paused a moment. “You had too much wine,” she replied in her short, straight to the point style.

“I know that,” Gabrielle insisted. She took another drink of her tea but her thirst still wasn’t being quenched. The ball of cotton in her mouth refused to leave. “But what did I do?”

“What do you remember?”

Gabrielle focused in silence for a few beats. “I remember Sappho telling us about the local trouble. Then. . .dancing with her.” Xena watched as Gabby’s face went blank, almost in horror.

“Remembering now?” Xena teased, moving closer a few inches.

“I kissed her on the neck,” Gabrielle replied almost dropping her cup.

The grin left Xena’s face and she quickly turned away. Should she tell her the truth or let her believe it was Sappho? “Do you remember anything else?” Xena asked quietly.

Gabrielle thought a moment longer. “I threw a blanket at you, didn’t I?”

“Yep.”

“Yep? That’s all you can say?. . .Please tell me the whole story,” Gabrielle pleaded.

Now or never Xena thought. She walked over and knelt between Gabrielle’s thighs, taking her hands in hers. “It wasn’t Sappho you kissed. It was me.” Xena rattled the words off so quickly Gabrielle’s mind had to catch up after a bit of silence. She waited for Xena to begin discussing the evening events but she knew she would need prodding.

“It was you?”

Xena nodded. “You wanted to get a room for the evening and when I declined you asked Sappho to take you home with her.”

“I didn’t,” Gabrielle said, shock still hanging in her voice.

“Yeah. You did.”

Xena rose and began to gather the dishes for cleaning when Gabrielle’s voice made her turn around. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“About what?” Xena asked. “About coming on to Sappho or about kissing me?”

“Both,” Gabrielle replied quickly.

They paused looking at each other. Gabrielle began to respond but Xena put the finger up that always silenced her. “Let’s just forget about it okay?”

Reluctantly, Gabrielle nodded in agreement. Xena picked up the dishes and headed outside to the wash basin leaving the bard to her private thoughts. Xena didn’t stop until she was at the basin. Her sobs didn’t start until she knew Gabrielle wouldn’t hear them.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Xena chopped wood in the back yard for their stay as Gabrielle slowly got her nerves together to face the day. The tea calmed her headache and she managed to eat a few grapes for breakfast. By the time she went out to meet Xena, you’d think they would be staying for a year with all the wood piled up outside.

Focusing herself of chopping, slicing the mighty oak in one swoop of the ax, she never noticed Gabrielle until she caught her out of the corner of her eye. “Feeling better?” she asked, trying to disguise her shattered heart. Gabrielle did a beautiful job of putting up her front as well.

“Yes. Thank you. The tea really helped.”

Xena went back to chopping without adding more. After a few more logs were split she noticed Sappho coming from the mainhouse. “How’s everyone feeling today?” she asked, the slyness bubbling in her words. “Has the earth stopped spinning?”

They all smiled and Xena hurled the ax into a nearby tree. Sappho looked at all the logs around the yard; then at Xena. “I thought I’d cut some wood for our stay,” Xena explained.

“Holy Zeus!” Sappho exclaimed. “Just how long do you think it’s going to take to solve this problem?”

Xena shrugged in embarrassment as Gabrielle giggled.

Sappho moved next to Xena, and away from Gabrielle’s hearing range. “Sexual frustration is wonderful for one’s work ethic,” she winked. “Anyway,” she announced to both of them, “I thought I might take you to meet the council members today. That is, if you’re both up to the occasion.”

“I’m fine,” Gabrielle answered.

Sappho nodded to the strawberry blond before turning to the warrior. “Xena?”

She nodded as well. “Let’s go.”

The city was buzzing with people as they made their way to the grand hall. Xena steered the wagon as Sappho and Gabrielle sat in the back. Gabrielle felt the overwhelming need to explain her actions for the night before. “Sappho?”

“Yes dear,” she replied softly.

“I’m sorry about what happened last night. Xena told me I . . .” Gabrielle couldn’t get the words out and began to blush.

“. . .asked me to make mad passionate love to you.” Gabrielle hung her head down in embarrassment. “Please don’t apologize,” Sappho grinned. “A few years younger and a wedding ring less and I would have taken you up on the offer.”

“Thank you,” Gabrielle replied sheepishly.

“No problem. . . Although I can’t say that’s entirely true.” Gabrielle questioned Sappho with her eyes. “I mean you’re beautiful – don’t get me wrong. You’re really, really beautiful-”

“Sappho!” Gabrielle exclaimed in a quiet tone so Xena wouldn’t hear her.

“Sorry. I can’t help myself. Lovely ladies bring it out in me. . .Anyway, I couldn’t do anything with you. Xena would do that ‘neck pitch’ thing on me in a heartbeat.”

“I have to admit,” Gabrielle smiled. “She is quite protective of me.”

“Protective?” Sappho laughed. “Darling, it’s not protection. It’s love.”

Gabrielle felt the air leaving her lungs but she still found the courage to speak. “Love?” she questioned.

“Of course. Why do you think she refused you last night? She didn’t want to hurt you. She didn’t want to do anything that you would regret or worse, not even remember in the morning.”

“But this morning she said to forget about it?” Gabrielle asked, hoping Sappho would have an answer.

“Well, in what context did she say it? Did you express regret when she told you?”

Gabrielle thought back to the conversation. “Oh Gods!”

“I’ll take that as a yes. . .What did you do? Say you were sorry?”

Gabrielle slowly nodded.

“There you go,” Sappho offered. They felt the wagon come to a stop and peeked outside. “We’re here,” Sappho said stepping to the ground.

Xena moved in front of Sappho and opened her arms to help Gabrielle down. Xena could feel Gabrielle’s hesitation. “Come on,” Xena ordered. Slowly Gabrielle took Xena’s hands and jumped to the dusty road. “You’re not still feeling sick are you?” Xena asked concerned. Something was up. Xena could tell. She shot a look to Sappho when Gabrielle didn’t answer immediately.

“Don’t look at me!” Sappho replied, showing her hands in a sign of truce. “I didn’t do anything.”

“I’m okay.” Gabrielle interrupted. “Let’s go meet the council.”

With that they all walked inside the marble structure.
Chapter 3
Six Lesbians, including Sappho sat on the council – three women and three men.

“I’m sure Sappho has told you about the situation,” a graying man informed Xena.

“She has. Do you have any ideas?”

“No. But we are sure it is someone from the mainland. There isn’t a Lesbian who would do such a thing. We live by a very different code. If anyone isn’t in agreement with us they are free to live elsewhere.”

“So what you’re saying is ‘Lesbo. Love it or leave it’.”

“Yes. I guess that is what I’m saying.” He grinned before looking serious again. “I think the outside is putting pressure on us to conform. The best way to do that is to slit a few throats and hope we fall into place at their side. That of course will never happen no matter how many people they kill. We’ve asked you here in the hopes we can prevent more deaths and put an end to this suffering.”

Xena paused studying the council. “I’ve agreed to stay and help Sappho so if you need to contact us we’ll be staying at her place. . .Any more questions?” They all shook their heads and Xena rose from the table. “Until later then.”

“Meeting is augured.” Sappho said knocking the gavel.

As the room began to disperse, Gabrielle pulled Xena to the side. “What do you think of the council?”

“I trust them about as far as I couldn’t throw them.”

“Good. I thought I was just being paranoid,” Gabrielle smiled.

“We’ve got to get outta here. Go someplace private and talk to Sappho. Nobody up there, except her, is going to give us a straight answer.”

“Could you believe all the patriotic crap about different codes and nonsense?”

“No I didn’t,” Xena replied giving her a wry grin. “But I’d bet you ten dinars he expected me to. Perhaps all of them expected it.” Xena paused for a moment. “We have to find out what connects these leaders with the mainland.”

“Should we start by asking Sappho?” Gabrielle questioned.

“Yeah. I trust Sappho. Well, not completely on some manners. But as far as the reason for our trip her I trust her.”

Gabrielle grinned. She knew what the ‘some manners’ involved were. Sappho said it herself-beautiful women were her weakness. “Are we ready?” Sappho asked as she strolled up to greet them.

“Let’s get back to your place. We’ve got some questions,” Xena said firmly.

Xena took Gabrielle by the arm as soon as the breeze from outside rushed over them. “What’s wrong?” the bard asked.

“Trouble.”

Before Gabrielle had a chance to ask, they found themselves surrounded by ten secretively clothed swordsmen. The street cleared and people scurried when Xena unsheathed her sword.

As she twirled the weapon skillfully in her hands she spoke in her slow menacing draw. “We really don’t have time to play. Go home.” When she pivoted around to see the others she noticed Gabrielle wasn’t carrying her staff. Untypical she reflected briefly. She could tell Gabrielle was upset that she left herself unarmed as she searched around. Xena found something that would work.

“Yiyiyiyiyiyi!”

She jumped over the ring of men with a summersault landing in front of a merchant tent. In one quick stroke she sliced the thin support beam, causing half the tent to collapse on the owner. “Sorry,” she apologized without haste. With another summersault backward, she was standing in front of Gabrielle again, beam in hand. Quickly she tossed it to the bard.

“Don’t ever do this again!” she snapped before she charged the first assailant. Sappho’s eyes widened as she watched Gabrielle and Xena go to work on the thugs.
A slice here and whack there. Soon all was quiet and a path for safe passage back to the wagon had been cleared. As they started on their way, council security showed up, surveying the damage. “You’re a little late boys,” Xena smirked over her shoulder. Gabrielle began to following Xena but not before having to pull Sappho by the arm to get her in motion.
Chapter 4
“It was an accident,” Gabrielle contested.

“There are no such things as accidents. Only consequences.” Xena’s cheeks were flamed as Sappho drove the wagon. “How could you forget it?”

“Apparently I’m not the only one who forgot. You didn’t mention that I left it behind!” Gabrielle confronted.

“It’s not my staff. It’s not my job to see that you’re armed. That’s your job. I guess I’ll just have to act like your mother and remind you from now on.”

“You’re not my mother,” Gabrielle spat. “My mother would never treat me like such a child.”

“Well maybe if you didn’t act like a child, I wouldn’t treat you as such,” Xena hissed.

“Xena! That’s enough!” Sappho warned. “I think she gets the point. You know, as well as I do, she is not a child. Now the two of you can shut up and sit down!”

Gabrielle’s eyes would have burned wholes into Xena if it were possible. Xena gave her ‘the look’. But Gabrielle refused to be intimidated. The bard challenged the warrior’s glaring gaze for glaring gaze. When the wagon slowed down, Gabrielle jumped from the side, staff in hand.

“See,” she spouted. “I didn’t forget mother!” She ran the rest of the way to Sapphos’ house without looking back. As Sappho came to a halt she turned back to Xena.

“I know the only reason that you got upset is because you love her. You want her to keep herself safe. But she’s right Xena, accidents do happen.”

“Drop the intellectual conversation until dinnertime Sappho,” Xena warned. “I’m not up to the battle right now.”

Xena walked to the back to the guesthouse. She knew she’d find Gabrielle there. When she walked inside, Gabrielle was packing her gear. “What do you think your doing?” Xena asked authoritatively.

“What’s it look like?! I’m leaving.”

Xena shook her head and grabbed the bard’s hand as she tried to pack her scrolls. “Let me go,” Gabrielle ordered dropping the scrolls on the floor. Xena was caught off guard by the demand in her voice. She’d never heard it before – no – She had never heard it directed toward her before. The longer she held Gabrielle’s wrist the more the blonde tried to resist. “Let me go!” she shouted again, as Xena spun her toward her capturing the bard’s other wrist.

“Never.”

They stood face to face, just inches from each other. Xena could feel Gabrielle’s labored breath under her chin; the pinched flesh of her wrists under her strong fingertips.
Gabrielle was on the verge of tears but she knew she couldn’t let them show. Just one more reason I’m a child she thought. Her eyes left Xena’s for a moment and she felt Xena let her go. She looked up but Xena was already going to the door.

“Xena?” she called out making her stop in the doorway.

Xena didn’t turn around. She spoke toward the living room. “Maybe you should go.”

The bard looked at the packed bags and then at the warriors back. “Is that what you want?”

Don’t say it. Let her go. Don’t tell her what you really want. Xena repeated over and over in her mind. “I think it’s obvious we can’t continue this way.” Good answer Xena commended herself. Nice and neutral.

She heard Gabrielle’s footsteps and turned to meet her. The next sensation she felt was the sting on her cheek from the bards’ palm. Xena did her best to stay calm. “Don’t do that again,” she warned. Gabrielle swung once more in defiance and Xena caught it with ease. She tried again with her free hand yet was met with Xena’s grip before making contact. Both hands were trapped. Again.

This time, however, the warrior didn’t look nearly as diplomatic as the first time. But the bard stood her ground, not backing down in the slightest. Suddenly she felt her legs go out from under her as she began to move further into the room. Xena cradled her in her arms. She laid the blonde beauty gently on the bed, rising to take off her armor. She rested it easily on the ground so the only sound continued to be their uneven breathing.

“What are you doing Xena?”

“Something I should have done years ago,” she whispered as she pulled the leathers from her body. “Something I think you’ve been wanting too,” she added as she pulled off her boots.

“I’m leaving remember,” Gabrielle remarked boldly. The quiver in her voice, however, gave her away as the warrior tugged away the bard’s boots.

“Never.”

Without another word Xena laid her naked body on top of the bards. She stared into the green of Gabrielle’s eyes, reading two things – fear and desire. “It’s alright Gabrielle. I’d never make you do anything you didn’t want to.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes when she felt Xena’s fingertips begin to journey through her strawberry blonde hair. After a few silent moments Gabrielle felt Xena rise above her, straddling her waist. When she opened her eyes, Xena cocked her head and gave her a coy grin.

“May I?” she asked motioning to Gabrielle’s green tunic with an arched eyebrow.

“By all means,” Gabrielle whispered.

She watched eagerly as Xena took her time, slowly moving lace by lace until she could pull the garment from her shoulders. Xena studied Gabrielle’s’ naked breasts intensely. She could finally look at them for more than a fleeting glance, admiring them with lover’s eyes. The look reminded Gabrielle of when Xena observed battle plans – the intensity, the calculations of making sure every detail was memorized to insure victory.

But this battle was already over. Xena had won. Gabrielle would be her “prisoner” forever. There was never going to be any escape from Xena’s charms. The charms no one ever saw except for Gabrielle – her warmth, underneath her fiery temper; her sincerity and concern, underneath her stern orders; her hope for the future, underneath her tortured past. Gabrielle knew Xena, all of Xena, and loved her just the same. Being Xena’s prisoner was truly a gift from the gods.

“You’re so beautiful Gabrielle. But this is what I love most,” Xena whispered putting her hand over the bard’s heart. “This is what saved my life. This is what drives me to be better person. . .I had my body and my mind when I met you. . .but you gave me back my heart and my soul.”

Gabrielle almost began to cry herself as she watched the tears well up in Xena’s eyes. “Don’t cry warrior,” Gabrielle choked. “Make love to me.”

Xena pulled Gabrielle into a passionate kiss, welding all her desire and need into her lips, forcing it upon the willing bard. Their hands caressed and explored each other, like long-time lovers. The touches were delicate at first until their mingling heat for each other was overwhelming. Xena couldn’t contain herself any longer.

In haste she pulled off Gabrielle’s skirt and began a trail of butterfly kisses up Gabrielle’s thighs. Gabrielle’s whole body was aflame. Each touch, each stroke of Xena’s tongue and fingertips quickened the bard’s pulse. Xena grinned slyly as she parted Gabrielle’s thighs, noticing the glistening wetness waiting for her hungry mouth. Gabrielle knew Xena was up to something. What it was exactly she didn’t know.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked in a ragged breath. A breath that was continuously being stolen by Xena, who was now caressing her round, full breasts.

“Patience Gabrielle. You’ll see.”

With that the warrior ran her tongue, slow and steadily, between Gabrielle’s thighs, making sure to give the protruding nub a little quick lashing. She watched her bard grab two fists full of the sheets as she repeated the procedure again. “Oh Xena!” she cried in pleasure.

Xena laughed silently at her loves’ reaction, going back to nibble on the inside of Gabrielle’s thighs. The bard reached down and tried to direct the warrior back to the place she just left moments before. This time Xena’s laugh vocalized. The desire in Gabrielle was so enormous, she ignored the humor Xena found.

“Please Xena!” she begged. “I need your lips there. Give me your tongue again.”

The cocky, coy attitude dripped from Xena’s mischievous grin as she came back up to gaze at Gabrielle. The bard brushed Xena’s hair away from her face to see her beautiful crystal blue eyes.

“You want it bad?” Xena teased.

“Yes.”

“How bad?” she continued with her arched eyebrow.

Gabrielle moaned as she felt Xena’s upper thigh make contact with her molten center. The bard’s hips began to move at their own accord. Xena looked down, watching Gabrielle trying to bring herself off on her leg, and felt a river of nectar begin to work it’s way down her own leg.

“Oh Gods Gabrielle. You’re making me so wet,” Xena exclaimed softly in her ear, biting gently on the lobe. “Look at the way you’re moving against me.”

Gabrielle opened her eyes, catching the sight of hips bucking to meet Xena’s flesh. She groaned deep and pulled Xena’s thigh tighter against her, causing even more friction.

The warrior could feel the bard’s wetness soaking her on the front of her flesh and the bard’s fingernails digging into the back. Any other time the pressure of those fingertips would be torture but Xena adored it now.

“That’s it Gabrielle,” Xena encouraged. “Make me wetter. Make me wetter.”

All Gabrielle could do was moan. Her sense of touch and hearing took over her vocal cords, rendering her speechless.

“I’m all yours Gabrielle,” Xena whispered seductively. “Push harder. I can take it. Let me bring you all the pleasure you’ve been hiding from.”

Xena felt Gabrielle’s teeth sinking into her neck, before sucking as much of it in as she could, leaving a red/purplish impression of their passion. Gabrielle’s hands wrapped around the warrior’s head pulling her down toward her lips.

“Say my name,” the bard insisted. “I love it when you say my name.”

“Oh Gabrielle,” Xena mumbled against her neck.

“Ahh. . .Again.”

“Gabrielle.” Xena was the one struggling with words now.

“Again.” The bard insisted once more, running her fingernails up Xena’s back.

“Gab. . . ri. . .elle.”

Gabrielle used all her will power to stop her hips from moving. She took Xena’s face in one hand as she spread her legs farther apart. She ran a finger up through her saturated center bringing it to her own lips. Xena watched helplessly as she sucked her own juices off her finger.

“Ummm. . . Tastes good,” she teased. She ran her finger across her body once more. Then she offered it to Xena, which she hungrily took. “There’s more where that came from,” Gabrielle replied coolly. “But you’ve got to go get it. . .Tell me Xena . . .How bad do you want it?”

“You’re a fast learner,” Xena replied with a smile she couldn’t suppress.

“I prefer the term quick study.”

Xena didn’t waste anymore time. GABRIELLE had won this battle. She moved with such speed, capturing Gabrielle’s flesh that she didn’t have time to breathe. She went straight for her target, avoiding any teasing or buildup. She had to have Gabrielle, to taste her, to smell her, to feel her softness on her tongue and to hear her voice in exstacey.

Xena’s lips covered Gabrielle’s flesh. But soon, it was Xena who was covered – her lips, her chin, her cheeks – in Gabrielle’s sweet, sticky nectar. The sound of her name on Gabrielle’s lips fueled Xena’s desire, quickening her pace. Her fingers plunged into Gabrielle’s slippery folds. First one. Then two. Then three. Gabrielle’s hips rose off the feather mattress, rotating to match Xena’s strong, callused hand. As Gabrielle’s breath began to come in short, even strokes, Xena knew her task of bringing the world’s greatest pleasure to her bard was nearly finished.

“Great God O’Zeus!” Gabrielle yelled as her back arched and her legs began to shake.

“That’s it my dear,” Xena whispered, her affection spilling into the words. “Let go. Let my love carry you.”

Xena smiled as she looked down on Gabrielle as the bard climaxed- her eyes closed, her mouth slightly opened fighting for air, the growing smile coming to her flushed face. Gabrielle felt Xena over her, as Xena’s long black hair slid over her sweat covered breasts. She opened her eyes to see Xena’s loving gaze caressing her; protecting her. “Are you alright?” the warrior teased.

“Yeah. . . .Yeah. I’m great,” Gabrielle smiled. The tone and the words took Xena back to the ‘nutbread incident’ as she liked to call it – the first time Gabrielle told her she was beautiful.

“Any regrets?” Xena asked sincerely.

“Yes,” Gabrielle answered the smile darting from her face. Xena pulled herself up to a sitting position yet remained close to Gabrielle. “We waited far too long for this day. . But now that it’s here I couldn’t be happier.”

Xena sighed in relieve. “Please don’t do that. You really scared me.”

“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle said sincerely. She rose to meet the warrior, stroking Xena’s face with the back of her fingertips. “I have every intention of making it up to you.”

Gabrielle began to nibble on Xena’s neck as she moved to her knees. Xena took the time to caress Gabrielle’s hair, feeling the softness and fullness. She closed her eyes and imagined the feel of it running down the length of her body and spreading over her thighs. The combination of Gabrielle’s kisses and her fantasy caused her to moan out loud.

Gentle, delicate hands pushed the warrior back on the bed, as Gabrielle latched onto her nipple, swirling her tongue around it. Xena arched and grabbed Gabrielle by the hair, burying her fingers deep within. “Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?” Gabrielle asked, her voice slightly jumbled against Xena skin.

Gabrielle’s hands on Xena were like a child’s’ with a new toy – full of wonderment and exploration. Her body felt so different from Perticus’. Their shoulders were both broad with incredible muscle tone but Xena’s skin was so much softer, the hair less course. Her scent wasn’t strong and musky. It was subtle and sweet. Her moans weren’t deep and forceful. They were light and breathless. Gabrielle’s senses overloaded and she found herself getting pleasure from giving pleasure. It was a new experience. No. This was not Perticus. Not at all.

This was Xena.

She smiled, watching Xena’s body sway, reaching for her caresses, her eyes casually closed. Xena’s face was the picture of passion and love.

Gabrielle felt proud; wanted. She always felt pretty but Xena’s expression brought about a new description – sexy. She was sexy and Xena needed her. It gave Gabrielle the confidence she needed as she worked her way southward. Xena felt her movements and began to sit up.

“Gabrielle you don’t have to-”

“Yes. I do,” Gabrielle said cutting her off, her lust evident in her words. “I need to taste you. I need to bring you the same pleasure you brought me . . .unless you don’t want me to,” Gabrielle teased.

She knew better. She knew Xena wanted her. She could feel that want in the warrior’s fingertips; see it in her hypnotic blue eyes.

“I want you more than anything in life,” Xena whispered affectionately.

“Then lie back and let me take you,” Gabrielle replied, stroking Xena’s face. Slowly Xena closed her eyes and rested her back on the bed again. As Gabrielle crept lower, Xena reflexively opened her legs wider, giving the bard greater access. “That’s it,” she said bravely. “Let me inside.”

Gabrielle nibbled on the warrior’s thighs, causing the warrior to laugh. Gabrielle had to laugh too. Xena’s laugh was infectious. “I’m sorry,” she apologized between giggles. “I forgot how ticklish your legs are.”

“It’s okay,” Xena insisted. “You’re doing wonderful.”

“Am I now?” Gabrielle prodded.

“Oh yes!” Xena complimented.

“I can do even better.” Without waiting for a response, Gabrielle’s tongue seized Xena femininity in one swift stroke, causing the warriors hips to rise. Gabrielle’s lips followed and she took the opportunity to place her hands under Xena. As she quickened her pace, allowing Xena to grind against her face, she found her hands gave her greater control over the warrior.

Xena loved the sensation of the young woman’s fingernails lightly scraping her backside, feeling her tongue drive deeper and deeper inside of her.

“Oh Gabrielle,” the warrior cried. “That feels. . . so. . .good. . .so . . .wonderful . . .so . . ohhh . . .ohhh . . .”

Gabrielle brought her hands around to capture Xena’s hips. The sight of Gabrielle’s head whisking vigorously back and forth and her beautiful strawberry blonde hair tasseled and stuck to her face from perspiration and Xena’s nectar, sent Xena over the edge. She gripped Gabrielle’s shoulders as gently as her desire would allow.

“Oh Gods,” she shouted as her back arched. The love in her heart was so overwhelming. A feeling of freedom washed over and she taunted her nemesis. “Look at me Ares! Look at me now! I’m hers! I’m hers!. . .I’ll always be hers!”

After Xena’s body subsided Gabrielle worked her way up to Xena with soft kisses and a smile. Xena captured her and the bard snuggled up in the warriors’ strong arms. “Always huh?” Gabrielle teased.

“Always. . .always,” Xena whispered, placing a gentle, feather-like kiss on top of the bards head. The lay still; relaxed listening to each other breath. Soon the rhythm put them to sleep as they curled up naked in each others’ arms.
Chapter 5
Gabrielle was unsure of how long they slept but the indications that it was still bright outside lead her to the conclusion it couldn’t be too long. She looked over at Xena who was still out. Xena was beginning to do the little nasal sound she did whenever it had been a long day. Gabrielle knew they had work to do but she took the time to watch Xena a bit longer.

Xena never looked so ‘at peace’. She would have sworn that the curls at the ends of Xena’s lips were a smile. Innocence was not a word the bard used in any of her scrolls about the warrior. But she looked like a peaceful child as she lay there in the afternoon sunlight.

She lightly stroked the warriors’ face, trying to bring her to consciousness. Slowly Xena’s eyes flickered and widened trying to focus. She was delighted when the first sight she saw was Gabrielle’s face beaming down at her. “Good afternoon,” Gabrielle welcomed.

“Wonderful afternoon,” Xena said pulling the bards lips down to hers. The kiss was long and passionate. Their tongue reaching and prodding each others’. Gabrielle broke away first.

“We have to meet Sappho,” Gabrielle whispered. “I’m sure she’s wondering what happened to us.”

“Sappho’s a bright woman,” Xena chuckled. “I’m sure she’s figured it out.”

Xena went back for another kiss but Gabrielle darted back and stood up, trying to find her clothing. Xena groaned and put her head back in the pillow.

“Come on blue eyes. Outta bed. We gotta get moving,” Gabrielle smiled as she nudged Xena, trying to get her into motion.

“You’ve been looking forward to this moment haven’t you. . .The one where you have to bug ME to get going.”

“Years!” the bard replied, now fully clothed. She moved back onto the bed leaning over the naked warrior, “Get up sleepyhead.”

Xena darted her hands around Gabrielle’s waist and she had her on her back in a matter of seconds. “Not so fast,” she said trying to undo Gabrielle’s laces again.

Gabrielle kissed Xena passionately, distracting her. Soon it was the warrior who was on her back as Gabrielle jumped up, swiftly moving to get her boots. “Come on Xena. We’ve got a few murders to solve.”

Xena watched helplessly as Gabrielle blew her a kiss and headed out the door.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Never to be one who let the simplest of details go unnoticed, Sappho questioned Xena about the love bite on her neck as soon as she seen it. “Gabrielle over here tells me you two made up. . . From the look of your neck I’d say that’s only the beginning of the story.”

Xena grinned as Gabrielle blushed and took a sip of her tea. Xena was sure Sappho was only testing her. She was also sure Sappho already knew of the days events. The bard loved to tell Xena stories. She was sure this was one she felt compelled to share with Sappho – if not the whole story, at least the just of it.

With that realization, concern flood Xena – not concerning Sappho knowledge but the fact that the bard was a story teller and a sucker for romance. Letting the world know she loved Xena and that Xena felt the same could prove very dangerous indeed. Xena tried to push the thought from her head, for the moment. She made a mental note to speak with Gabrielle latter. Sappho picked up on the change in Xena’s demeanor and assumed it was her questioning. “Did I strike a sore topic?” she asked wearily.

“No,” Xena grinned. “Just caught off guard. That’s all.”

“I, Sappho, the only human to catch the mighty warrior princess off guard. . .I’ll have to write about this one,” she grinned.

“Actually you’re the second,” Xena replied with a smile to Gabrielle. “She hit me with a stick one starry night.”

Gabrielle looked confused for a second but she smiled when recollection took over. “She let me hit her,” Gabrielle replied.

“No I didn’t,” Xena countered, giving her a quick kiss on the bridge of her nose. “I told you ‘you got me fair and square’.” As she finished, Xena brushed Gabrielle’s nose tenderly in the location of the shafts’ assault before getting a cup of tea for herself.

“All’s fair in love and war I guess,” Sappho shrugged.

“Speaking of war,” Xena replied. “We just might have one on our hands here if we don’t get moving on things. . .Gabrielle and I found the meeting today very interesting.”

“Really?” Sappho asked. “Why?”

“We don’t trust anyone on the counsel,” Gabrielle replied. “Except you.”

“Well that’s good to know,” Sappho commented. “Who IS under suspicion?”

“I have two in particular. Mr. ‘Lesbo. . .love it or leave it’ and-”

“Wait a second! Waticles! You think Waticles is behind the attacks!”

“Could I please finish?” Xena remarked authoritatively. When no one spoke she continued. “Yes Waticles. I’m also not too sure of Barbideen.”

“Why on Zeus green earth do you suspect them?!”

“I understand these people are your friends,” Xena began.

“No. It’s not that,” Sappho interrupted. “What makes them any different than the rest?”

“Well, as Gabrielle said they are all under suspicion but these two didn’t ring true for me.”

“Why?”

“A hunch.”

Sappho waited for more. But when ‘more’ didn’t come she looked to Gabrielle. “She doesn’t say a whole lot, does she?”

Gabrielle considered the question and thought back to earlier in the afternoon “Well. . .except when -”

“Like I was saying,” Xena cut in, glaring at Gabrielle. “These two are my first priority.”

Sappho couldn’t suppress her grin at the exchange. Xena and Gabrielle knew each other. Knew each other well. Real well. “Okay. What do you need from me?”

“Everything,” Xena said sincerely.

“Everything?” Sappho said mischievously. Her eyes shot back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle. “Sounds like fun.”

Xena rolled her eyes in frustration. Gabrielle who was becoming accustomed to Sappho style released a small giggle that Xena’s piercing eyes extinguished. Gabrielle soon began to chuckle again however; before taking shape in a laugh.

“It wasn’t that funny,” Xena replied beginning to grin, just a tad.

“No. She reminds me of someone we know. Quite well I should add.”

“Who?” Xena questioned the bard.

“Autolycus,” she giggled. “She’s a female Autolycus. Witty. Creative. A real ladies . . .lady. If she’s not ogling beautiful women, she thinking up come on lines.”

Xena could see a resemblance and began to laugh herself.

“The king of thieves?” Sappho replied. “I’m not the king of thieves my dear. I’m the thief of hearts. And I could steal anyone’s heart if I wanted too- even yours.”

“Not if you want to stay healthy,” Xena replied menacingly, leaning over the table.

“Too true,” Sappho replied. Xena still didn’t move away or unlock her eyes. “I said if I wanted to Xena.”

“And you don’t. . . right?” she questioned with a raise of her eyebrow.

“Of course not!”

“So you don’t think Gabrielle’s beautiful enough for you, is that it?” Xena prodded, searching for a fight. It was a game now. Xena knew it. Gabrielle knew it. Sappho was a different story.

“Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t. . .You know what I mean!” Sappho spat.

Xena’s menacing eyebrow did a little dance and she smiled in friendship. “I know what’ch mean.” She sat back down next to Gabrielle taking her hand. Sappho released a sigh everyone could hear and the warrior and her bard began to giggle again.

“Anyway. . .back to the troubles at hand. What do you need me to do? Where do I begin?”

“First is Waticles,” Xena answered.

“What about him?”

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. “We didn’t believe his little speech. We’d like to know if a break from the mainland could hurt him in someway,” Gabrielle asked.

“He’s lived here his whole life as far as I know. I don’t think he had any ties.”

“And Barbideen?”

“She’s new to the counsel. Her lifemate served on it for a few years but she died . . . about two years ago I think. She has a sister in Athens, I believe. Other than that I can’t think of anything else.”

“We need to talk to these members one-on-one.”

“Well you could count out Barbideen, Lilith, and Helen. They all have, or had, lifemates. Why would they be behind it?”

“No one is above suspicion,’ Gabrielle offered.

“How do we know it isn’t a local bent on changing Lesbo?”

“We don’t,” Xena offered. “However I doubt anyone in any of these villages could afford to hire ten assassins to attack us this afternoon. . .No. It has to be a Lesbian with power, money and connections. Someone who could sway lesbians to be believe the greater good is to kill other lesbians.”

“The killers could be from Athens.”

“Not likely,” Gabrielle commented. “Lesbo is not a big place. That many strangers arriving at once would have been noticed by local authorities. Besides Athens wouldn’t be stupid enough to send in assassins. If the local government is against a change, the defiance would be even greater if Athens is accused of murder.”

“We’re going to meet with Waticles,” Xena said rising; Gabrielle right behind her.

“Okay,” Sappho said, rising as well.

“No.” Xena stopped her with her palm. “Stay here. We’ll take care of this. Where can we find him?”

“In town. The second house on the left next to the Starlight Inn.”

“Come on Gabrielle,” Xena motioned.

Sappho watched them travel to the wagon, and start their journey to town.
Chapter 6
“Gabrielle,” Xena began as they bounced along on the wagon. “We need to talk.”

“You’re kidding,” Gabrielle teased as she stroked Xena’s arm lovingly. “The woman of few words.”

“I’m serious Gabrielle,” Xena said sternly yet allowing her affection to seep inside her words.

“What is it?” Gabrielle was now concerned.

“I don’t mind that you told Sappho about the two of us. Or anyone we’re close to, like Ephany or Hercules, for that matter. . . It’s just. . .We should. . .” Xena found herself stumbling.

“It’s okay Xena,” Gabrielle reassured her. “Take your time.”

“I’m worried that if people found out about us. . .the real ‘us’. . .You’d become an even bigger target for those out to hurt me.”

Gabrielle smiled with realization. “You’re worried I’m going to end up in some tavern telling Xena stories that involve how skillful your hands are and how lightening fast your reflexes are.”

“No. You tell stories like that all the time,” the warrior smirked.

Gabrielle liked this little game and she began to grin. She leaned next to Xena just shy of her ear and began to whisper.

“Okay. So you don’t want me to tell stories how about those skillful hands set my body ablaze and how fast my reflexes take over when your skin touches mine.”

Xena’s growing wetness mounted as Gabrielle slid her tongue back and forth, playing with the warriors’ earlobe. “Yeah,” Xena answered in a cracking voice. “Of course in private, you can tell me as often as you like.”

“I’d rather show you,” Gabrielle whispered as her fingers crept up Xena’s inner thigh.

“Keep this up Gabrielle and we’re not going to make it to Waticles house anytime soon,” Xena warned, as she pulled the wagon off to the side of the road.

“Is that a threat?” Gabrielle teased.

“It’s a promise,” Xena whispered, resting her forehead on Gabrielle’s.

“Gotta catch me first,” Gabrielle proclaimed, leaping off the wagon and running into the woods.

Xena’s arousal made her response time lag as she watched Gabrielle’s feet take off. Without wasting another moment, she too leaped off the wagon, running head long into the ferny growth and tall trees.

Her eyes searched but couldn’t find Gabrielle and her acute hearing wasn’t detecting anything except for insects and small birds. “Gabrielle,” Xena drawled out her name. “I know you’re here someplace.”

“Aren’t you up for the hunt warrior?” Gabrielle teased.

The sound was definitely behind her and she turned to meet it. She was still unable to see Gabrielle.

Xena liked this game. She liked it a lot. She knew Gabrielle had developed a keen sense of stealth, so much that even Xena couldn’t detector her location now. The forest surrounding them created an echo affect. She could hear the bards’ general location but she couldn’t pin point it. Her adrenaline pumped through her veins for two reasons – her overwhelming desire to find Gabrielle and the prospect of being caught by surprise.

“You’re getting warmer,” Gabrielle taunted as Xena moved toward the noise.

Xena narrowed her search down to two huge oak trees – one to the left; one to the right. She stopped and she listened. Gabrielle tried to repress a giggle, sensing Xena’s closeness. Accidentally her foot shifted and she heard a tiny twig snap. Looking down with wide eyes she knew she’d be found. The next sound she heard was Xena’s voice.

“Ah ha,” Xena proclaimed as she darted to the right. Gabrielle tried to run but Xena had her by the waist in a matter of seconds.

“All right warrior. You’ve got me,” Gabrielle answered huskily, the passion escaping in her words. “Now what are you going to do with me.”

Xena’s adrenaline was still running through her veins. The desire in Gabrielle’s voice overpowering her. “Anything I want,” the warrior whispered, pushing Gabrielle against a tree in a frisk position.

Gabrielle moaned. The thought of being taken by Xena, being controlled by her, ignited an even greater fire inside of her. She didn’t want slow and gentle. She wanted fast and furious. She wanted to feel Xena consuming her. She wanted to see that passion and power Xena displayed in so many battles raining down upon her.

Xena heard the moan and she knew what it meant. Without a question, her hand traveled up the bard skirt, finding Gabrielle’s center . . .and just the way she assumed it would be – warm and slippery. Her other hand reached around and grabbed Gabrielle’s breast, kneading it and pinching it forcefully.

Xena’s desire was at a fever pitch but so was her love for Gabrielle. She whispered in the bard’s ear trying to keep the mood alive yet expressing her deep affection, “If it starts to be too much,” Xena instructed, “say ‘that’s enough’ and I’ll stop.” Gabrielle could only nod as Xena continued the sweet assault on the bards’ body.

Gabrielle gasped as Xena’s hand which possessing her breast leapt up to her chin, pushing her head up high. Gabrielle turned her head slightly and let Xena’s index finger come to her lips. She sucked and bite it as Xenas’ other hand worked in a circular motion on her sweltering sex below. Gabrielle’s moans invaded Xena’s eardrums making her moan as well.

“You love to be taken don’t you?” Xena taunted in the bard’s ear. “You love the feel of my hands on your beautiful young body don’t you?”

“Yes,” Gabrielle whispered.

“I didn’t say you could speak!” Xena ordered as she moved her hand to pull Gabrielle’s hair until her head met the warrior’s shoulder. Xena’s lips and teeth captured Gabrielle’s neck, biting it fiercely. “Paybacks are a bitch aren’t they?” she asked.

The bard knew what she was talking about and her mind flashed back to the Bacca cavern. It was the only incident she remembered – the sensation of her teeth piercing Xena’s flesh, the soft moans Xena emitted when her tongue began to lap at the blood. For Gabrielle it was a moment of Tartus and the Elysian Fields all rolled into one. Much like the moment she had now. Except now she was the one being consumed.

‘Yes’ Gabrielle’s mind screamed. ‘Take me. Take me. I’m yours’. She wanted to speak so badly. When Xena’s pace on her sex increased even more she couldn’t hold out in spite of the consequences.

“Oh yes,” Gabrielle shouted. “Please Xena. . .”

Xena’s mouth released its hold on the bard’s neck. “I can’t keep you quiet for a minute,” Xena minced in anger. Gabrielle knew it wasn’t real anger but she enjoyed the jolt it gave her. “I got a cure for that.”

She spun Gabrielle’s aroused body around with ease just before plunging her tongue into the bards mouth. Their lips would be bruised by the impact but Xena didn’t care. She wanted Gabrielle. Wanted to possess her. Make her feel the intensity of her desire. As they kissed, Xena unbuttoned her leather body suit between her legs. Once free she pushed Gabrielle down to her knees. She crooked one leg on the tree giving the strawberry blond a full view of her femininity.

“Do it,” Xena ordered.

It took all of her strength to suppress what Xena was asking her to do. “No,” she said defiantly. “Make me.”

Xena’s eyes narrowed and she grabbed Gabrielle by the back of the head, driving the bard’s face between her legs. Gabrielle’s little battle of wills was reduced to zilch once she caught Xena’s smell and taste. Her tongue went wild and they both moaned at the time of impact.

“That’s it,” Xena moaned. “Behave and give me what I need.” Xena tugged her head up a little more, making Gabrielle press harder and quicker. The bard’s moans now overshadowed Xena’s as Xena’s nectar dribbled down her chin. “Gods what you do to me. . .” Xena gasped.

Gabrielle knew she had Xena where she wanted her. In a flash she darted back to her feet and pushed the warrior against the tree. Before she could even retaliate, Xena felt Gabrielle’s’ fingers plunge into her – hard and fast. Xena was helpless to resist. Gabrielle pumped Xena repeatedly and without mercy.

Xena felt the quivering inside her begin. “Oh Gods, Gabrielle. . .” she moaned. “If you don’t stop now I’m going to come.”

Gabrielle smiled at Xena. She certainly had the warrior princess – eyes closed, head thrashing from side to side. “You’re going to come alright,” Gabrielle whispered. “All over my hand.”

Xena arched. Gabrielle’s words sent her over the edge and she felt herself losing her balance. Gabrielle couldn’t catch her and she tumbled to the ground, a shaking and quivering pool of desire. Gabrielle giggled as she crept down, watching the grin on Xena’s face grow into a smile.

“I won,” Gabrielle teased in a whisper.

Like Zeus’ thunderbolt, Gabrielle was on her back with the warrior over her. “It’s not over yet,” Xena sneered. Without any delay the warrior’s fingers pushed aside the bards underclothing. Seconds later she was inside Gabrielle building a steady pace.

“Open your eyes Gabrielle,” Xena whispered; the words drug out leisurely. Gabrielle did as she was told and was met by the bluest blue she’d ever hope to see. “I want you to see who’s loving you like this. . .I want to see the desire in your eyes when you go over the edge. . .I want you to see who’ll always be there to catch your fall.”

Xena’s fingers continued their probe building quicker and quicker each passing moment. Gabrielle moaned and watched as Xena herself was struggling to make eye contact. “I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too Gabrielle,” Xena smiled. “Now come for me.”

With a few more strokes of Xena’s loving hand Gabrielle felt the crest approaching. Instinctively she closed her eyes but Xena caressed her cheek, making her eyes snap back open. In an instant Xena could see all the love and desire the bard had as she arrived at the pinnacle reflected in those beautiful emerald eyes. And when she heard her name on Gabrielle’s lips with such passion, such devotion, she knew she had finally found her destiny.

Xena planted tender, delicate kisses across Gabrielle’s face – her eyelids, her forehead, her chin – so no place was left untouched. Gabrielle stroked Xena’s hair, loving the feel of the silky, black strands. “You’re so beautiful,” Xena whispered. “Inside and out. What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“I can say the same about you Xena,” the bard replied. “I know you’re haunted by the past . . .but know this . . . my life was meaningless until you arrived. And if you ever left, it would be meaningless again.”

Xena grinned. “Thank you,” she whispered. “But I know you would survive without me.”

Gabrielle returned the smiling gesture. “Yes I would survive Xena. But my life wouldn’t have ‘meaning’. I’m a writer and you’re my muse. Without that, what good would I be to this earth?”

Xena’s eyes filled with pain. She needed to know Gabrielle would go on without her should the day ever arrive. “But you’re more than a writer Gabrielle. You’re so many things to so many people. Promise me you’ll always remember that.”

Hurt was the last thing Gabrielle wanted to invoke in Xena. “I promise,” Gabrielle grinned. “As long as you continue to keep your ‘monster promise’.”

Xena placed one hand over her heart and the other in the air. “I promise. Should anything ever happen to you I will not become a monster.” Xena held out her pinky. “Promise?”

Gabrielle wrapped hers around as they shook in camaraderie. “Promise.”

Xena rose first and helped Gabrielle to her feet. “Come on. We’ve got to find out what’s going on. . .If we can avoid any more excursions that is.”

Gabrielle grinned. “You’re asking a lot you know?”

Xena kissed Gabrielle on the neck, tenderly yet erotically. “Believe me I know,” she whispered.
Chapter 7
“Waticles? Mind if we come in?” Xena asked as she entered his barn. He was working on a horse shoe when the two women walked inside.

“Certainly not. What did you need?” he asked casually.

“Horse throw a shoe?” Gabrielle asked keeping the conversation friendly.

“Yeah. Third one in as many weeks.”

“Which one?” Xena asked.

“Right front.” He pointed.

Xena walked over. “Do you mind?” she motioned to the animal as if she would inspect him.

“Go right ahead.”

Xena coaxed the animal by talking softly, affectionately. Her love of animals amazed Gabrielle, especially horses. Slowly the horse lifted its leg and Xena took a good look. “Ah ha,” she heard Xena say. “Here it is.”

Waticles and Xena spoke but Gabrielle didn’t listen to the words. She just watched Xena’s movements – how she stroked the animal to keep him calm, pointing out the problem to his owner. Her movements were always so graceful, even in something as simple as petting a creature.

“Stay off him for the next few weeks,” Xena recommended.

“Thanks,” Waticles replied graciously.

“No problem,” Xena grinned.

After a few beats Waticles spoke. “So what brings you back out here. Looking for more trouble? I heard about what happened after the meeting.”

“Gabrielle and I were just passing through town to get a look around,” Xena replied. “We thought we’d just stop by. . .So what do you do for a living? Farm?”

“Hades no,” he laughed. “I’ve got crops for the family but that’s about it. The isle pays well enough to support us.”

“You mean the council seat?’ Gabrielle asked for clarification.

“Yeah. But it’s pretty time consuming. We act as a court as well – you know settling petty neighbor disputes, handing out punishment to pushy drunks, things of that nature.”

“Sounds like you’re not real enthused about being a counsel member.” Xena commented.

“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it. I just can’t envision myself here 10 years from now.”

“Where do you see yourself? Gabrielle prodded, trying to sound naïve.

“Athens,” Waticles smiled. “At least that’s the goal . . . Yah, I’ll spend a few more years here then move up to the big leagues.”

“Of course, if Athens views you as a rebel, wouldn’t that put a kink in you plan?” Xena pushed. Gabrielle gave her the “not yet – back off” look. Xena didn’t miss it and stifled herself from continuing.

“What do you mean?” Waticles asked innocently.

“What she means . . .” Gabrielle began, looking at Xena with the “don’t even start to open your mouth” gaze, “if Athens wants Lesbo to ‘reform themselves’ and you fight that reform wouldn’t that make you an outsider.”

Waticles smiled and shook his head. “To some perhaps but I know enough people to get a position. Besides I think Athens would value a man who stands up for what his people believe.”

‘Here comes the patriotic crap again’ Xena thought. ‘Is this man totally disillusioned?’ Gabrielle’s grin told Xena she shared her thoughts. The look in Xena’s grin told Gabrielle her ‘looks’ would no longer work. It was now open season on the councilman.

“If Athens decides to cut Lesbo off from the main land you could stand to lose a lot. I think you’ll realize ‘your people’ in the big leagues would drop you like a sack of manure if they thought their own repretations were damaged as a result of their friendship to you.”

“What are you saying warrior?” Waticles said beginning to get defensive.

“I’m saying your plans would go up like a piece of parchment on a campfire if Lesbo doesn’t fall in line with Athens law soon . . .Are you still going to stand there and tell me different?”

Waticles moved closer to Xena. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating.”

“So what?” Xena smiled with a shrug. “You never answered my question.”

“And the question was?” he prodded, trying to intimidate Xena.

Xena paused meeting him stare for stare. “Do you honestly think your reputation isn’t going to be damaged because you chose to ignore Athens?”

Waticles flinched as he began to back down. “Alright,” he agreed reluctantly. “I know my allegiance to Lesbo will hurt me in the long run perhaps. But it’s what my people want. They are my boss. I must and I will do as they ask me to do. . .even if it means I never realize my goals. . .People can say many things about me but I am an honest man.”

“No one here is saying you’re dishonest,” Gabrielle injected.

Xena studied the man. She thought he was telling the truth but something just didn’t sit well with her. And she didn’t know what it was. At least not yet. But she was determined to find out.

Xena nodded toward Gabrielle. “Yeah like she said,” the warrior replied casually as she made her way to leave. “But know this,” Xena added turning around. “We WILL find out who’s behind this so the more you tell us the better off you are . . .Come on Gabrielle.”

Xena continued on her way out, as Gabrielle began to make her way as well. “Really Waticles. Anything you hear will be helpful. Please let us know. For everyone’s sake,” Gabrielle added as she walked outside.

Gabrielle jogged a little to catch up to Xena’s long strides. “So what do you think?” she asked her dark-haired lover.

“As far as I couldn’t through him,” Xena smiled.

“I knew you were goin’ say that,” Gabrielle teased.
Chapter 8
“Please. Please. Come in,” Barbadeen replied opening her door wide. “Would you care for some of my wine? They say it’s a favorite in Athens. I just poured myself a glass.”

“I think I’ve had enough wine for my stay here,” Gabrielle replied. “But thank you anyway.”

Xena and Gabrielle took a seat on the feather down sofa as Barbadeen took a spot in a rocking chair across from them. “What brings you out here today?” she asked.

“We wanted to know if you’ve heard anything regarding the recent murders?” Xena asked causally. “Anything you could tell us would be of help.”

“Sappho knows as much as I do. We’re looking into the workers at the Hall who handle the joining ceremonies. It seems two of the three couples killed had recently signed up for their nuptial before their death.”

“Who has access to that information?” Xena prodded.

“Any worker in the records department,” Barb replied.

“What about the counsel?” Gabrielle interjected.

“Well, yes I suppose. . . but why would anyone on the counsel care?”

They let the question float in the air. But a painting caught Gabrielle’s attention. “Who is she?” Gabrielle asked. “She’s beautiful.”

Barb turned around. “That was my lifemate Rommy. She caught a fever two years ago last winter. Needless to say it didn’t go away.”

“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle replied sincerely.

Barb shrugged. “I try to focus on the time I spent with her instead of dwelling on the time that was stolen. Hades takes us when he wants us. It was simply her time I guess.”

“You’ve never met anyone else?” Gabrielle asked.

“No one can ever take her place. She was the love of my life . . . ”

Gabrielle smiled. She knew what Barb meant. And she realized at that point that she herself would never have another lover. Gabrielle cared for Perticus but Xena was the love of her life. She wondered if the warrior felt the same. She glanced in Xena’s direction and noticed the look in the deep blue eyes. Yes. Yes Xena did feel the same.

“Love is a funny emotion.” Barb mentioned breaking Xena and Gabrielle’s gaze on each other. “It brings about so many different feelings – happiness, sorrow, guilt, comfort, anger and peace. Sometimes all in the same day!” Barb laughed at her appraisal. And Xena concurred with a chuckle of her own.

“Ya got that right,” Xena smirked.

Barb shook her head and walked over to the painting. “Nah. . .Rommy was the one . . . No one else.”

Gabrielle cleared her throat. “Barb we’d like to be able to help the people of Lesbo. Are you sure there isn’t anything else you could tell us?”

Barb turned back to face the two. “Not that I could think of off hand,” she replied. “But if I hear anything I’ll let you know as soon as possible.”

Xena rose and Gabrielle soon followed suit. “We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Again we’re staying at Sapphos’ so if you hear anything please let us know.”

“Will do warrior,” she replied with a handshake as she lead them to the door.

Once outside, and away from Barb, Gabrielle turned to Xena. “Now what did you think of this visit?”

“Three things.” Xena replied quickly. “One. I think she under less suspicion. And two, I’m even more convinced it’s someone one the council.”

“And number three?” Gabrielle questioned.

“And third. . . I’m certain that YOU are the love of MY life . . . no one else.”

The warmth from Gabrielle’s smile, flooded Xena’s soul yet again. “The feeling is mutual, warrior mine.”

Xena smiled at the statement, “Warrior yours, huh? I like the sound of that.”
Chapter 9
Xena fell back on the bed in exhaustion.

After talking with the rest of the counsel they proceed back to Sappho’s for dinner. After dinner they excused themselves as quickly and politely as possible, to return to the guest house. Now they were wrapped in each other arms after their forth session of love making.

“No more,” Xena plead. “You’re going kill me,” she teased with a giggle in her voice. “I have to admit it’s a wonderful way to go.”

Slowly and with delicate kisses up her body, the bard made her way up to lay next to her raven-haired beauty. “And I thought you were strong,” the bard provoked. “I thought you had stamina . . . Are you giving up so easily Xena?”. The bard pulled herself up on her knees, placing two fingers deep inside herself.

Xena was captured by the motions of the young woman, beginning to work her own body into another frenzy with her own fingers. “Don’t do this to me Gabrielle,” the warrior plead again.

“I’m not doing anything to you,” the bard replied coyly, continuing to stroke herself. “I’m doing this to me.” Xena was even more helpless when the bard’s voice grew lustful, straining to get the words out. “You love watching don’t you?” she whimpered. Xena had to strain to hear the redheads’ whispers. “I love the affect this has on you.”

Xena lust and strength resurged as she watched Gabrielle beginning her climax. “Oh no you don’t,” Xena whispered, moving to her knees now. She robbed the bard of her hand and started to suck on her nectar covered fingers. Her taste was exceptional. Xena had more than her fair share of lovers – male and female – but none delighted her palette like Gabrielle. “That’s my job,” the warrior replied after she licked the bards’ hand clean.

Xena rolled onto her back and wiggled under the kneeling bard. In only a few heartbeats the warriors lips and tongue found Gabrielle’s core. Amazingly she was just as wet as when they began five candlemarks before.

Gabrielle rocked her body against Xena’s face while she squeezed and pitched her own nipples. She opened her eyes and looked down to see Xena stroking herself as her tongue continued it’s lashing. ‘Perfect’ Gabrielle thought. ‘Just perfect’.

The next sensation Xena felt was her hand being pulled away and Gabrielle’s breasts crushed against her lower abdomen. The ache within her own sex grew mightier as she felt Gabrielle’s breath tickle her inner thigh. With much labor she continued to work Gabrielle’s body into an erotic frenzy, plunging her tongue in and out.

When Gabrielle began to blow lightly on Xena’s sex, the warrior couldn’t stand it any longer. She lifted her hips begging for bolder contact; craving it; needing it.

“Please,” Xena whimpered. “Your fingers. Your tongue. Anything. Just touch me.”

Xena’s lips were so close they vibrated on Gabrielle’s’ slick skin. The bard had to comply.

“How about both?” Gabrielle replied seductively. Two seconds later her fingers were high and deep within her warrior as the bards tongue danced rapidly across Xena’s engorged clit. Gabrielle was learning the quicker the better. Xena’s movement soon mimicked Gabrielle’s.

It was an odd but wonderfully overwhelming experience for Gabrielle. She felt as if she were touching herself as Xena touched her. Her lips, her fingers were giving herself the pleasure she craved. Her mind was spinning, unsure of where she began and Xena ended. And for the first time in all their lovemaking sessions Gabrielle felt truly connected to Xena – mind, body and soul.

“Incredible,” Gabrielle whispered to Xena. She felt herself being transformed. She was no longer just Xena’s lover. She felt as if she were honestly a part of Xena herself as they lay there intertwined; groping, licking, sucking, caressing.

“I feel it too,” Xena replied, the excitement yet exhaustion filling her words. “We’re finally one.”

“Yes,” Gabrielle moaned in agreement. Soon, however, her cries took on another meaning. “Oh yes. . . Xena?. . .Yes. . .Yes. Xena. Yes. . .”

The cascades of Gabrielle’s satisfaction sent Xena toward the pinnacle. “Oh Gods. . .Please don’t stop,” Xena pleaded. “I’m so clossse. Please. . .”

Gabrielle shuttered as her orgasm over took her body and mind. She relied on her mere reflexes to abide by Xena’s urgent request. Seeing how desperately the bard tried to continue her administrations allowed Xena’s passion to overtake her. Now – at the end – it wasn’t Gabrielle’s’ lips, or fingers or words that pushed Xena to ecstasy. It was the love the bard had for her. And the love she had for Gabrielle she never knew she possessed.

“Gods, I love youuuuuu . . .” Xena cried out as the pleasure washed over her in long, powerful waves. She could feel tears streaming from her eyes. She pulled Gabrielle back up forcefully, wrapping her strong arms around the smaller woman as she quivered. She clutched to Gabrielle as if her life depended upon the closeness. Xena’s sobs made Gabrielle’s hold a little tighter on the muscular woman.

“Okayyy,” Gabrielle whispered stroking Xena’s hair. “Let it all go. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

Xena didn’t expect that reply. She thought Gabrielle would try reassurance. She was certain the bard would ‘schuss’ her, telling her everything was fine. But everything wasn’t fine. Walls around the warriors heart were crumbling into sand. Her emotions were upside down. Her love overwhelming. . .And Gabrielle knew. Everything wasn’t fine. And for the bard that was ‘okay’. She would stand by her warrior without reservation.

That knowledge only made the warrior cry harder. More walls came crashing. But again . . . that was ‘okay’. Gabrielle stroked Xena, rocking her gently, soothing her with her voice.

“I love you Xena. I love you so much. . .I thought I knew what love was. . .I never had a clue until now. . .And something tells me . . . perhaps it’s the same for you.”

Xena pulled herself together as much as possible at this moment and met Gabrielle’s loving eyes. She wanted desperately to speak but she could only nod. As she reached up and placed a tender kiss on Gabrielle’s’ face, the bard could feel the wetness on her check from the warrior’s tears. With herself more in check Xena pulled away to look deep into Gabrielle’s eyes.

“I never want to be without you. Ever. I always want to wake up in your arms and I always want to sleep at your side. If the time comes that you want to settle some place – a small village, a big city, Amazonia, wherever – all I ask is that you let me stay with you. All our joys, all our sorrows – I want to share them together in this life and in the next. I’ll spend the rest of my days loving you and protecting you. . .Could you agree to that?”

Gabrielle smiled. “As long as you let me love you and protect you too. I know you’re the warrior princess and all but I think I can protect you too. . .if you let me; if you trust me enough.”

Xena started to cry again and Gabrielle pulled her close once more, feeling the tears dripping on her bosom. “I love you Gabrielle and I trust you. I never thought there could be anyone on this earth I could trust like I trust you,” the warrior sobbed. “Just promise you’ll never leave me for another. I don’t think I could take it,” she added.

Gabrielle smiled again and raised Xena’s head to see her eyes. “I can do one better warrior mine.”

“Hmmm?” Xena asked unsure.

“Xena of Amphipolis will you do me the honor of becoming my lifemate on the isle of Lesbo and the consort to the Amazon Queen? Ephany tells me it’s a position many warriors would like to fill. . .However I know there’s only one that could measure up to the task.”

Xena said nothing. Her expression showed nothing. And for a brief moment Gabrielle concluded that she had made a terrible mistake. Xena began to crack the tiniest of grins. To an outside observer no one would have noticed. But Gabrielle wasn’t an outsider.

“If you want time to think about it –

“Yes,” Xena replied quickly.

“That’s okay,” Gabrielle replied. “It’s a big step. I know. I don’t want it to be taken lightly.”

Xena looked confused, until she concentrated on the context of the exchange. “I mean yes! Yes, of course I’ll be your consort!”

“Yes?!” Gabrielle exclaimed, still a bit unsure.

Xena kissed Gabrielle passionately. “Yes,” the warrior whispered lightly against her ear. “I love you with all my heart.” Xena snuggled in closer to Gabrielle’s neck as the bard pulled the sheet up their body, making sure Xena’s back was covered.

“I love you too Xena. And no matter what happens, I’ll never stop.”

Those were the last words the warrior heard before she drifted off the sleep in the safety of her bards’ protective, loving arms.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Gabrielle’s eyes shot open. It was dark. Very dark. Dawn couldn’t be but a few candlemarks away. Reflexively she pulled Xena and herself off the bed with a scream.

“Xena!!!!”

The warrior bounced to her feet at once seeing the shadowy figure slash out with a sword. Stark naked, the warrior jumped back to avoid the blade as it swiped just inches past her mid section. She leaped into the air and over the figure to the other side of the bed where her sword lay. With a swift kick to the blade end, it was in her hand, slashing the opponent down, across the throat. Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s robe and tossed it to her. “Run. Get Sappho. Now!”

Gabrielle grappled with the garment as she ran out the door toward the house. Quickly, Xena dragged the body outside to prevent any more blood from spilling on the floor. Once in the grass Xena took the hood off the figure. The woman looked familiar but she could remember from where. Looking up she saw Gabrielle and Sappho running toward her with Sappho’s husband Harrold, bringing up the rear, watching their backs. It was only then that she realized she was still naked. Casually as possible she went back inside grabbing her own robe as everyone met at the doorway.

“What happened?” Sappho asked.

“Somebody wants us a little dead,” Xena replied dryly, pointing at the body. “You two know this woman?” she asked Sappho and Harrold.

Sappho, never being a blood and gore person, quickly buried her head in her husbands chest after they looked over. “Yes,” he replied softly. “Her name is Arenia. She’s an aid to the counsel.”

“Go figure,” Xena replied, tossing the hood to cover the wound.

“Guess this proves the theory,” Gabrielle replied.

“Yeah but it doesn’t solve the crime,” Xena replied looking at the body. When she turned back she noticed Gabrielle’s’ arms folded across her chest; her hands stuffed under her arms. “Are you okay?” she asked concerned.

“Just coming down from the rush. Sweat and cold air don’t mix well.”

“Come on.” Harrold announced. “You two are staying at the house for tonight. We’ll settle this in the morning and inform the guards.”

No one posed an argument and they all walked to the house with Sappho and Harrold in front of Xena and Gabrielle.

“Thank you,” Xena replied.

“For what?” Gabrielle inquired.

“For protecting me. If you hadn’t reacted the way you did by pulling me, I’d probably be the one lying out there.”

Gabrielle tried to smile but the truth of Xena’s statement haunted her. Xena probably would have been dead. “I made a promise,” Gabrielle replied taking Xena’s hand in hers as they walked. “I keep my promises.”

Xena smiled down on the younger woman. “Remind me to thank your folks next time we see them. They did a great job of raising you.”

Gabrielle playfully slapped Xena’s arm as they made their way into Sappho’s home.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Xena was already up and dressed, having a cup of tea with Sappho when Gabrielle appeared in the doorway, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“I take it you’re not a morning person,” Sappho replied with a warm smile.

“Far from it,” Gabrielle mumbled going to the teapot.

Xena just admired the view of Gabrielle as she shuffled across the kitchen in one of Sappho’s night shifts. Gabrielle was taller than Sappho and the garment exposed all of her legs. Just enough material was left to cover her backside, except when she walked. Sappho noticed Xena’s eyes covering the bards’ body.

“Get your mind outta the gutter!” Sappho teased, slapping Xena’s arm. Gabrielle turned to watch the exchange.

“I can’t help it!” Xena laughed. “Look at her. She’s gorgeous.”

“Oh no!” Sappho replied. “I’m not going to look at her anymore. It gets me into trouble, remember? I’d like to keep my blood flowing to my brain.”

“I wouldn’t cut the flow of blood to your brain,” Xena remarked. “You can look at her all you like. . . Just don’t dare touch her.”

Gabrielle smiled as she settled to the table with her tea. “Jeez, it sounds like I’ve become property now. Are you going to brand me later Xena?”

The warrior smirked. “No. You’d probably like it too much.”

Gabrielle was now the one smacking the warrior’s arm.

“Why is it all the women around me today feel the need to hit me?” Xena asked rhetorically.

“You need a good smack now and then. And we’re probably the only ones on earth who could get away with it,” Sappho offered. “Some of us more than others,” she added winking at Gabrielle.

At that moment, Harrold entered with two Lesbian guards. “We’d like to ask you a few more questions?” one of them said to Xena.

“Sure,” she said, walking outside with them. Harrold took Xena’s seat after she left.

“I didn’t know they were here,” Gabrielle replied.

“Xena told us to let you sleep,” Sappho explained. “Here. Have some eggs,” Sappho said making her a plate.

A few minutes later Xena returned as the guards left.

“Everything okay?” Gabrielle asked. She wasn’t sure if they were going to hold Xena accountable for the death.

“Yeah. They’re going to take the body now. . .It seems this woman had a lifemate. . .That’s why the guard wanted more information.”

“What did you tell them?” Harrold asked.

“There’s nothing I could tell them. I’ve never seen her before. But have to admit she looks very familiar.”

Gabrielle jumped from the table and ran outside, pushing Xena out of the way. “Hold up!” she yelled to the wagon.

All three followed Gabrielle’s lead as the wagon came to a halt.

“What is it Miss?” the guard asked.

“Can I see the body?” she asked.

The guards looked at each other then shrugged in acceptance.

Gabrielle climbed in back and pulled the sheet away. “That’s it,” she whispered.

“What?! You’ve seen her before,” Xena asked.

“No,” Gabrielle replied. “Not her. . .but I’m sure she’s a relative of someone we’ve seen,” the bard added with a grin. “Although not in the flesh.”

“Who?” Sappho asked.

Gabrielle grinned with the realization and looked at Xena. “Rommy.”
Chapter 10
“Rommy?” Xena whispered. “Are you sure?”

She hopped into the cart to get a look for herself. ‘Sure enough’ the warrior thought. ‘But what’s it mean?’

“Are you done now ladies?” one of the guards asked, getting irritated. “We gotta schedule to keep ya know?”

“Of course,” Gabrielle said politely, hopping down. Xena followed suite and in seconds the wagon was leaving for town.

“Rommy? . . . Wasn’t that the name of Barb’s lifemate?” Sappho asked the duo.

“One in the same,” Xena answered.

“But why-

“Good question,” Xena replied, cutting Sappho short. “We’re just going to have to find out why. . . Hurry up and finish breakfast Gabrielle. We got a big day ahead of us.”

The bard shook her head in agreement. “Where do we start?”

“City Hall,” Xena grinned. “We’re gonna get a piece of paper. Then we’re gonna get hitched.”

“How romantic,” Gabrielle replied sarcastically. “You know I could use a little tenderness.”

Xena dropped to her knees and quickly took Gabrielle’s hands in hers. “Pleassssse Gabrielle. Would you do the ultimate honor. . .make the supreme sacrifice . . .and become my lifemate? I feel as though my heart would break if you refuse me and . . .”

“Get up!” Gabrielle ordered. “You’re making a spectacle of yourself.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted my dearheart, my sugarcakes, my . . .”

“Oh,” Gabrielle exhaled. “This is so disgusting. Would you stand up please?”

“Anything for you pookiepie?” Xena replied rising and batting her eyelashes.

“Enough with the terms of endearment. You’re making me nauseous,” Gabrielle answered, starting back inside.

Sappho simply looked at Xena in deadpan. “Pookiepie?” Xena chuckled and began to follow her lover. “Please tell me you don’t really call her pookiepie?” Sappho added as she and Harrold followed along.
Chapter 11
“One marriage scroll please,” Xena asked politely.

“Certainly”, the woman behind the counter replied, walking away.

“Hey Xena!” a voice behind them exclaimed. Gabrielle turned and she watched helplessly as the strange brunette flung her arms around the warrior. “It’s been so long. How are you? You look as gorgeous as ever.”

Xena’s discomfort showed on her ‘gorgeous’ features. Gabrielle’s palms suddenly felt sweaty and she had a ting of anger and fear rising in her gut, burning deep inside. Was it jealousy? She’d never felt this way before – especially regarding Xena. Something, be it jealousy or not, wanted the stranger to feel the wrath of an amazon staff upside her head.

“How are you?” Xena asked diplomatically. “Still working in your father’s inn?”

“Yeah but I still find the time to work on my scrolls.”

‘She’s a writer?’ Gabrielle thought. The knowledge did nothing to improve the bards growing desire to smack the woman holding Xena – her Xena. The warrior pulled away and glanced at Gabrielle. The look on the bards face made Xena realize introductions were now in order before anyone got too far down memory lane.

“This is Gabrielle,” Xena said proudly.

“Hi,” the stranger smiled warmly. “I’m Annabelle.” Too soon however her attention turned back to Xena. “What brings you here?”

“We’re getting married,” Xena proclaimed, pulling Gabrielle closer by the waist so their hips met. “We stopped in to get the paper work in order.”

“Really?! I didn’t think there could ever be a woman who could tame you,” she giggled.

Gabrielle didn’t find it humorous and Xena found herself walking a very thin line. Trying to stay civil with Annabelle, while keeping Gabrielle at bay from attacking the lovely woman, was a difficult task.

“Anything is possible,” Gabrielle replied sarcastically with a grin. Well, Xena knew it was sarcaism. Annabelle considered it a neutral comment. Xena watched as the two women stood ‘sizing each other up’. The growing silence in the small triangle was unnerving.

‘Thank the Gods’ Xena thought as the clerk returned. “Well, we’ve got to finish things up here. Take care of yourself,” Xena replied, trying to brush Annabelle off in a non-offensive manner.

“You too,” Annabelle replied. Gabrielle could hear a hint of seduction and she found herself gripping her staff harder. With a quick nod to the bard, the brunette bitch was on her way.

“Another ‘friend’ I take it?” Gabrielle asked once the intruder was gone.

Xena sighed. She didn’t want to debate the past – not today. “Ah huh,” she mumbled in agreement.

“And a bard too. Go figure?” Gabrielle’s arm had left Xena’s waist and her hands were now on her hips.

“Are you making comparisons?” Xena asked, knowing this conversation was unavoidable.

“Simply a statement of fact.” The sentence was harmless but the venom that filled it was undeniable.

“Give us a minute, would you please?” Xena asked the clerk. The clerk nodded and walked away. “Listen to me Gabrielle. Yes I knew her. Yes she’s a writer. . .a poet actually . . . but believe me when I say there is no comparisons to make.”

“No comparisons huh? Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

Xena was frustrated now. “What’s the problem? What do you want me to say?”

Gabrielle looked down at her feet. “Was she any good?” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena definitely didn’t want to have this conversation now. But Gabrielle needed to know the importance she held in Xena’s life so she began to speak after a short pause. “Yes. She was good-

Gabrielle didn’t let her finish she turned and stormed down the corridor. Xena hung her head and shook it in frustration. ‘That time of the moon must be coming soon’ Xena considered. “Gabrielle! Wait!”

Gabrielle made it to the door when Xena grabbed her by the arm spinning her around. “Get your hands off me,” Gabrielle whispered. “If you want to touch someone go find Annibelle. I ‘hear’ she’s good.”

Xena refused to let her go and Gabrielle began to struggle. “If you love me you’d listen,” Xena pleaded.

The words hit Gabrielle forcefully and she found her body gave up the fight. Once Xena felt the calm settle over the bard she released Gabrielle’s arm. “What I was going to say is she was good . . .but you’re the best. No one has ever made me happier – in my bed or in my heart. Oh Tartis Gabrielle. I’ve never let anyone into my heart like I’ve let you. Believe me when I say there is no comparison – not Annibelle or anyone for that matter. . .You’re in a league of your own sweetheart.”

Gabrielle hung her head in shame. She didn’t know why the presence of this woman made her doubt Xena’s love. Xena didn’t seem drawn to the woman and she began to realize it was her own insecurity, not Xena’s lack of devotion, that made her act out. She felt petty and childish; wanting to hide from Xena’s gaze that she could feel washing over her.

“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle whispered, still unable to meet Xena’s eyes.

“It’s okay,” Xena replied pulling her into a tight embrace. “It lets me know how much I mean to you. But in the future will you wait to hear me out before you leave in a huff. Words and emotions aren’t part of my many skills list. All I ask is you be patient with me while I improve. Okay?”

Gabrielle looked up to see Xena smiling down on her and she had to smile as well. “Okay,” she agreed. “And again I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not be sorry,” Xena teased wiggling her eyebrow. “Let’s get married.” With a gentle tug, she and her bard walked arm and arm to fulfill their destiny together.
Chapter 12
After wrapping up the details with the marriage register, they made their way to the guard station. The guards were pretty much useless for information and the duo realized they’d be doing their own investigation. They didn’t want to speak with the assassins lover directly so they headed to Barb’s house.

She was in her vineyard when they arrived on horseback. Barb looked over as they began to dismount.

“You bitch!” Barb screamed. “You murderous bitch!”

Gabrielle took a defensive stance as Barb rushed toward them, running at full speed.

“No Gabrielle,” the warrior whispered. “Let her come.”

Gabrielle relaxed and watched as Barb leapt into the air kicking Xena square in the chest. The warrior and the woman toppled to the ground. Xena was met with an onslaught of vulgarities and unskilled punches. She annoyed Xena more than harmed her but the warrior let her finish until she was a heaping blob of tears.

“How could you?” Barb cried. “How could you? She was all I had left. . .and now . . .because of you she’s gone.”

Gabrielle was on the verge of letting Barb have it. ‘She came into our room, Gabrielle thought, ‘and she attacked us and it’s our fault?’ Gabrielle would have said the words but Xena shook her head, silencing them before they had the chance to surface.

“Barb,” Xena whispered. “Listen to me. She came into our room last night with a sword . . . and she tried to kill us-

“That’s a lie. Why would she do such a thing? She’s the most sensitive, loving person in the world. . . At least she was . . .until you came to this island. . .Until you killed her.”

Barb’s chest rose and fell rapidly again and she started swinging again. Xena grabbed her arms with ease. “That’s enough!” Xena yelled. “I can’t tell you why she attacked us but she did. . .and we have to find out why. Please help us.”

“Help you?! The woman who took my niece from me? Are you out of your mind?. . . Get off my land. Go! Now!. . .And don’t show your face around here again!”

Xena and Gabrielle watched as she stormed off, angry words still flowing even after she disappeared over a small hill.

“That went well,” Gabrielle teased. “Any more bright ideas warrior princess?”

Xena dusted herself off as best she could. “I’m workin’ on it,” she grinned. Once mounted she held out her hand and Gabrielle climbed aboard the steed as well. “Let’s go visit the widow.”

“Xena did I just hear you say we’re going to see the widow?”

“Umm hmm,” she nodded.

“No offense but your ideas are going from bad to worse,” Gabrielle replied holding tight to Xena’s waist.

“We’ll see,” Xena grinned.

As they approached the small cottage Xena whispered to Gabrielle. “You do the talking this time.”

“Oh beautiful,” Gabrielle replied rolling her eyes. “Why me? It’s your idea to be here.”

“Because Gabrielle you do-

“The sensitive chats,” they said together completing the sentence. “Yeah. Yeah,” Gabrielle continued, “but you owe me big for this one.”

“Anything you want,” the warrior said with a sexy grin.

“Anything?” the bard asked, raising an eyebrow. Xena noticed how well she was beginning to master that gesture.

“Anything,” she answered seductively; her hand running down Gabrielle’s back to cup her derriere.

“I’ll think about that,” Gabrielle replied mischievously as she knocked on the door.

Slowly the door opened and a young woman, about Gabrielle’s age, met them. “Yes?” she asked.

Gabrielle could see her blood shot eyes and her heart went out to the woman. “Could we come inside and ask you a few questions?” Gabrielle said quietly.

“Sure,” the woman replied. “Are you from the guard?” she asked as she lead them inside.

Gabrielle hesitated as they walked in. “No. . . .We were there when Arenia was killed last night. This is a bit awkward but we were hoping you would know why she was at our place. We’ve tried to talk with Barb but she won’t help us. . .Xena killed Arenia last night while defending us.”

The woman stood a moment studying Xena. “You killed her?”

“I did,” Xena replied. Gabrielle heard a quiver in Xena’s voice she had never heard before. She hadn’t been sure why she didn’t notice until now but the warrior was very remorsed for taking the young woman’s life. “I didn’t want to but . . .I had to.”

“Have a seat,” the young woman replied softly.

Xena and Gabrielle were a bit taken a back. They expected to be thrown out or perhaps even attacked but the woman remained calm. ‘Still in shock’, Xena supposed. ‘Hasn’t quite yet hit her that she’s gone’.

“I’m Gabrielle,” the bard introduced. “And you’re Mary correct?”

Mary nodded. “I’m not sure why you’re here Gabrielle,” she questioned.

“Well, we wanted to know why she was at our place last night. I mean, we had never met Arenia. Did she say anything to you before she left?”

Mary looked at the two women across from her for a long while. “She said she was going to Aunt Barb’s house. She told me not to wait up because she didn’t know when she’d be back. That was the last time I saw her.”

“Did she mention me or Xena to you at anytime?”

“No.”

‘This is like pulling teeth’, Xena thought. ‘Or perhaps having them pulled’. Xena had killed many but to sit in the same room with a loved one, and search for reasons as to why, was taxing the warriors nerves to no end.

“We had never seen her before last night either,” Gabrielle replied as she tried to think of a new avenue to explore in her interrogation. “Does she often go to see Barb in the evenings?”

“Not often. Maybe once in awhile but not as much as Barb would like I’m sure. . .After Rommy died. . .She was the sister of Arenia’s father. . .Barb didn’t have anyone around. Sure she had her employees, but no one she was really close with. Barb and Rommy practically raised Arenia during her teen years. Her mother died when she was ten and her father was called to war so Barb and Rommy took her under their wing. . . They helped us build this house and we worked in the winery for six months as compensation for the supplies.”

“Was Arenia with you the nights of the other murders?” Gabrielle asked softly.

“What are you getting at? Do you think Arenia was some kind of mass killer?”

“No!” Gabrielle exclaimed, trying to retreat in her questioning. “I . . .I was just wondered if perhaps she might have had information regarding who was behind it.”

Mary seemed to calm down. “She was gone one night for sure. I remember because the murder happened just down the road a ways. I remember telling her afterward that I didn’t want her to leave me alone in the evenings for too long. She went last night because Barb needed help with her latest shipments and it had to be done last night.”

“I know this is a lot to ask but could you please speak with Barb and see if you could calm her down. We really need to speak with her to find out why Arenia was at our place. We don’t understand it and we really need some answers, as I’m sure you do.”

“Sure,” Mary replied. “Let me show you out.”

They all rose and walked to the door. “Remember to ask please. We’ll be at Sappho’s.”

Mary nodded as they made their way to the steed.

“I’m really sorry about your loss,” Xena said sincerely as she mounted the animal. Gabrielle climbed behind Xena securing herself again around Xena’s waist. Mary only nodded once more and went inside.
Chapter 13
The guest house had been cleaned and straightened while they were out all day. Xena made a mental note to thank Sappho in the morning. The four of them had gone out to one of the area taverns and spent the evening drinking and dancing. Laughter and merriment was a nice switch of a day filled with death and heartbreak. Xena felt great remorse in taking Mary’s lifemate away from her. But as she looked at Sappho and Gabrielle laughing at the bar she knew she had made the right choice that night and, if need be, she would do it the same way all over again.

But now they were ‘home’ and Xena sighed. She took off her bracers and armor before taking off her boots. She slumped back in the chair resting her temple on her fist.

“You look tired warrior mine,” Gabrielle whispered as she crept between Xena’s legs, resting her head on the muscular thigh.

“So do you,” Xena answered as her hand lightly stroked Gabrielle’s hair. “My pookiepie,” Xena added with a wide grin.

Gabrielle playfully slapped her leg. “Please don’t call me that.”

“Well what should I call you?” Xena prodded.

“Anything but that,” Gabrielle giggled.

“Okay honey bun,” Xena tried. She watched Gabrielle shake her head. “Okay. . .Lovey bunny?” Another shake. “Bardiepoo?”. Another shake. “Well, help me out!” Xena responded playfully. “I got one. . .How about Gabby? I know how hot you get when Joxer says it!”

“That does it!” Gabrielle answered, grabbing Xena’s calf. “You asked for it!”

Gabrielle’s fingers assaulted Xena’s foot with feather soft touches – the only part of the warriors body that was ticklish. Xena knew her only attempt at escape while she was thrashing in the chair was retaliation. She reached over and grabbed Gabrielle’s sides. Quickly the bard let go and tried to jump away. The warrior, however, would have none of that, she pulled Gabrielle back and slid on top of her. They both rolled around on the floor, laughing, trying to get the better of each other. Soon Gabrielle’s arms were trapped and Xena was poised over top of her ready to strike again.

“Guess that answers the question,” Xena replied slyly. “A warrior princess beats an amazon queen.”

“Never!” Gabrielle shouted, throwing the warrior off guard. She rolled Xena over and pinned her, starting her assault all over again. “I do this in the spirit and honor of my fellow amazon sisters.”

“That’s it,” Xena croaked between laughs, “No more Nicewarrior.”

She positioned herself above Gabrielle, hovering over her. Her lips captured the bards’ with such speed and passion. Gabrielle’s hands worked free of Xena’s hold and locked the back of the warrior’s head pulling her closer, deeper. When the kiss finally broke both women needed to inhale deeply to regain their breath. Xena looked deep into Gabrielle’s eyes.

“Beautiful,” the warrior whispered. “That’s what I’ll call you . . .because that’s what you are. . .absolutely beautiful.”

Gabrielle stroked the warriors’ face tenderly, taken in by Xena’s lovely features. Gabrielle knew the warrior was savoring her touch, letting her other sense take over, by shutting her lids. It still amazed Gabrielle that Xena truly wanted her. “Why?” Gabrielle whispered her thoughts out loud.

“Why are you beautiful?” Xena asked, moving to the bard’s neck, beginning to nibble at the flesh. “Where do I begin?” the warrior added.

“No Xena,” Gabrielle said taking Xena’s face in her hands. Xena could hear the pleading, serious tone in the bard’s voice. “Why do you love me; want me? I mean I’m not as creative as Sappho. I’m not as gorgeous as Annibelle. Why me?”

Xena moved to a sitting position, taking Gabrielle up with her. “Says who?” Xena asked a bit miffed.

“Says me,” Gabrielle whispered.

Xena smiled. “I hate to say this but you’re a poor judge of character. . .Wait a minute. You love me a lot so that doesn’t say much for me, does it? . . .I’m not sure but I think I just insulted myself.”

Gabrielle grinned and shook her head. “I’m trying to be serious.”

“No,” Xena replied, giving her a slow burning kiss on the neck before rising to meet her eyes again. “You’re trying to brood about things that have no merit. . .I think you’re a heck of a lot more talented than Sappho. You’re twice as beautiful as Annibelle. And is far as I’m concerned there could, and will, be no one else except you. . .I’ve fallen in love for the last time in my life.”

Gabrielle smiled. “Funny. I’ve fallen for the first time in mine. And you’re only five years older than me.”

“But what about . . .” Xena stopped herself from continuing. She didn’t want to drudge up the past.

“Perticus?” Gabrielle asked. Xena simply nodded. “I loved him Xena. I did. . .But there was no passion, no need, no want. Not like this. . .This . . .This is remarkable. When you look at me, just a glance, my knees get weak. And it’s not poetic gibberish. It’s an honest to Gods physical reaction. . .But even that is an understatement because it’s not just physical. When you look at me my soul feels lighter, my heart literally pounds in time with my arousal. . .This truly is remarkable. . .All the poems. All the songs I’ve ever heard about love make sense now.”

Xena smiled. “Good. I was hoping it wasn’t just me. . . because that’s what I feel too.” Xena rose and reached her hand out to Gabrielle. “Come on Beautiful, let’s go to bed.”

“Are you still tired?” Gabrielle asked when she was vertical.

“No.”

Xena didn’t add more. She led Gabrielle to the bed in silence. Slowly she worked on the bards laces. One loop. Then another. Then another. Finally the string was sitting in Gabrielle’s lap and the warrior was nuzzling her silky breasts. A thought occurred to Gabrielle as her fingers twined around the lace.

“Xena,” she whispered.

“Hmmm,” the warrior replied. “What is it Beautiful?”

“You owe me remember?”

Xena raised her head to meet Gabrielle’s eyes as her hands continued to caress the amazon queen. “I remember. Do you know what you want?”

Gabrielle nodded and whispered in Xena’s ear. The warrior pulled back with a shocked expression. “Oh really?” she asked.

Self-consciously the bard nodded, thinking perhaps she had gone to far and asked too much. Nervously her fingers played with the lace again. Xena grinned in reassurance and held her wrists out to the bard. “Do it Gabrielle. I trust you.”

“Do you?” she asked pleading for an answer. “Do you trust me?”

“With all my heart Gabrielle,” the warrior smiled. Xena slowly pulled the leathers from her body and Gabrielle could feel the pounding deep within herself she spoke of earlier. “With all my heart,” she whispered once more, offering her wrists again.

With trembling hands Gabrielle twined the lace around Xena’s wrists and helped her to the bed. She laid the warrior on her back and secured the lace around the head board, limiting the warriors movements. Xena grinned.

“You’ve got me Gabrielle,” the warrior whispered huskily. “I’m all yours.”

Gabrielle swallowed in anticipation, so much so, it was visible in her throat. Slowly she ran her hands down the length of Xena’s bronzed body – over her cheeks, past her collarbone, down her breast, traveling all the way to her ankles. The warrior closed her eyes, emitting a long, deep sigh as the bards hands journeyed over her warm flesh. Once at her shines, Gabrielle’s lips began devouring Xena’s skin, traveling upward.

Xena felt the ache within herself grow and the wetness of her arousal seeping out. As Gabrielle approached the warriors center she could see the glistening juices, just waiting for her. She found herself salivating with the remembrance of how delicious her warrior tasted. And her scent was incredible – almost like a magnet drawing her tongue closer.

But she wouldn’t let herself make the connection, not yet.

Xena whimpered and tugged on her restraints as Gabrielle teasing blew on her sex, bypassing it to play with her belly button. The bard’s tongue teased the little hole, mimicking the administrations that Xena loved so much in other regions of her body. Xena was frustrated but she was loving every moment of it. She began to tug fiercely on the lace. Her need to touch Gabrielle, to pull her close and hear her heartbeat was untamable. Gabrielle could feel the warrior’s jerks for freedom. “Relax,” the bard cooed. “Let me love you.”

Xena’s breath had become ragged. “I need to touch you,” she said fighting for breath. “I need to kiss you.”

Gabrielle smiled and straddled Xena’s ribcage, just below her breasts. She leaned over, inches away from Xena’s mouth. Xena could feel her breathe on her lips but she was still too far for actual contact. She groaned in frustration, closing her eyes, resting her head on the pillow. Suddenly Gabrielle’s lips were on hers and she took advantage of the opportunity. Her tongue plunged and twirled in the bard’s mouth. But too soon the bard left again, rising away. Xena’s eyes pleaded for the bards return.

Gabrielle slipped the tunic from her shoulders exposing her beautiful breasts. Gabrielle bent down, her lips seizing the warriors neck and earlobe.

“You need to touch me?” Gabrielle whispered in the warriors ear softly, tickling and arousing at the same time.

“Yessss,” Xena groaned.

Without a word, Gabrielle rose slightly cupping her own breast in her hands. She offered it to the warrior, who took it greedily with a deep moan. Xena’s lips sucked the nipple into her mouth, while her tongue flicked around the tip.

Gabrielle’s own arousal grew at a feverish pitch. Xena could tell. Her mid-drift was saturated by the bard’s lust. Listening to the bards’ moans and feeling her moisture drove Xena mad with desire. Without breaking her connection to the bard’s breast she began, once again, pulling on her restraints.

Gabrielle pulled back and shook her head disapprovingly. “You’re my prisoner warrior. I call the shots and for now you must stay put until I say so.”

Without anymore discussion, Gabrielle quickly shot to Xena’s breast, lashing and sucking the nipple until it was rock hard.

“Oh Gods,” Xena exclaimed as the bard started on the other side. “Please,” the warrior tried again. “Please let me touch you, let me love you.”

Gabrielle looked up for a brief moment. She shook her head in disagreement and went straight back to work on Xena’s flesh. Xena sunk into the pillow, her head thrashing, her hands bound above her. Helpless. She was totally helpless. And she realized as she laid there, she totally loved it. Torturous as it was, she still totally loved being made to play to Gabrielle’s whims. And she realized why fight it.

Xena relaxed her arms and closed her eyes, her breathing becoming deep and steady once more. The bard was making it difficult to keep her breathing even but she learned many years before, when keeping your breathing even during love making you experience greater pleasure.

“Oh yes,” Xena sighed. “You’re so good Gabrielle. . .Your lips . . .Your hands. . . Your tongue. . .”

Gabrielle listened to Xena’s words as she worked southward on the warrior’s beautiful body. That voice, those words now had Gabrielle captured. She would do Xena’s bidding. Although Xena’s hands were bound, Gabrielle knew she was the one in chains. She could feel herself getting stiffer inside; slicker outside.

“Where do you want my lips. . . my hands . . . my tongue?. . . Tell me Xena. Tell me,” the bard asked and pleaded in the same sexy breath.

“You know,” Xena smiled, spreading her legs wider. “Breathe deep Gabrielle,” the warrior ordered. “Smell my desire for you. . .Taste it. . .I know you love it. I can tell by all those hungry, thirsty noise you make from down there.”

Gabrielle inhaled as Xena asked and she couldn’t suppress her moan. She wondered for a moment how things had gotten twisted. She was supposed to be the dominant one tonight but here she was, ready to do anything the warrior asked.

“Do it Gabrielle,” Xena instructed; seduced. “You know you want it. . .so take it. Take me.”

Gabrielle still had her will power in check until Xena thirsted her hips forward into her face. Gabrielle crumbled at that point. She dove into the warrior’s sex like a famished traveler, lapping and sucking; devouring and savoring.

Xena heard those moans she loved so much and it pushed her closer to the edge sooner than she expected. Her hips overtook her mind. They were striving for pleasure from the bards’ skillful mouth. Xena felt the waves starting to shutter through her body. She was more determined than ever – she had to feel Gabrielle’s body; she had to have the beautiful strawberry blonde. As her body began to shutter with release, her arms pulled with all their strength, snapping the lace free. Even as the vibrations sweep through her body she fought to free her hands.

Gabrielle looked up to find Xena loose, her eyes burning with ardent desire. Before she could even move Xena pulled her up by her arms placing the bard on her back. “You’re mine now,” Xena whispered as she chewed on the bards neck.

Gabrielle loved the feel of Xena’s teeth on her flesh. Her desire burned even brighter than before now that Xena was free and determined to have her way with her. Gabrielle realized she couldn’t stop Xena now, even if she tried. She knew the look well and it frightened yet inflamed her all at once. She let that fear of the unknown pass quickly, allowing her desire to grow.

“Yes,” Gabrielle muttered, too caught up in the warriors hands and mouth to reply soundly. She watched as Xena moved to keel between her legs. Suddenly she felt her legs pulled over Xena’s raised shoulders and her own shoulders buried in the bed.

“Ahhh,” the warrior exclaimed taking in the scent of her bard. “Perfect,” she added looking at Gabrielle’s helpless state. The bard wasn’t going to go anywhere in this position. She was total open and exposed to Xena. And she loved the feel of it.

“Oh Gods, Xena,” Gabrielle pleaded. “Now. Please. . . Now.” Xena moaned hungrily herself as she took the bard. Gabrielle hips rose even higher, forcing her sex tighter against the warrior’s face. Gabrielle had a perfect view of Xena as she loved her. And Xena could feel the bards eye upon her. She stopped momentarily and met Gabrielle’s gaze.

Gabrielle’s fire climbed even higher as she watched Xena speaking to her, her desire covering the warrior’s face making it glisten. “You’ve been wondering haven’t you?” Xena asked rhetorically. “You’ve been wondering what it looks like when I make love to you. So now that you know. . . What do you think?”

“Don’t stop,” Gabrielle commanded.

“I have no intention of stopping,” Xena replied seductively. “I do, on the other hand, have every intention of making you scream.”

Delicately Xena’s tongue and lips went back to Gabrielle’s sex. But this time Xena’s eyes refused to leave the bards. Ocean blue locked with grasslands green. The desire was written on Gabrielle’s face. The look, almost one of pain, made the warrior wet all over again; her own sex throbbing as her lips captured Gabrielle.

“Oh Gods,” Gabrielle gasped-her voice deep and throaty. Xena recognized the wanton tone. Gabrielle was close to exploding. She replaced her lips with her fingers, driving deep into the bard, thrusting hard in time with the amazons motion-filled hips. That taunting grin, that the bard loved so much, spread full across the warriors face, shining down upon her.

“Mine,” the warrior growled; her eyes never leaving the young woman. “You’re all mine. ”

Gabrielle succumbed to the erotic onslaught. Xena’s voice was so raw and powerful. Not to mention what those hands and fingers were doing to her. The bard had no choice. Her desire took hold of her shaking her body, rippling across her flesh, crashing deep inside.

Xena heard her name shouted long and deep. It’s animalistic tone, pure and untamed, made her body quiver and her heart overflow. Gods how she loved this woman who now lay spent beneath her, contently drifting off to sleep. She felt overjoyed to know she could bring Gabrielle such happiness. . .Gabrielle. . .Her Gabrielle. . .What did she do right? What God did she please so much they saw fit to intertwine their destiny’s? . . .Destiny. . .For years, Xena quested riches and power but only in the arms of a petite yet strong woman did she find the contentment she desired.

As she lay holding Gabrielle, Cesar came to mind. Xena smiled. Not that the thought of Cesar was a happy one. Not in the least. But she could remember his speech about destiny. He wanted it ALL and would stop at nothing to get it. Xena continued to smile because she realized he would never have it ALL. He could have everything and it wouldn’t be enough for him. All Xena had at this moment was a beautiful red-head in her arms. And it brought her more satisfaction than she ever imagined possible.

Xena continued to smile. ‘You may think you have the world Cesar’ she thought, snuggling closer to the woman now sleeping. ‘But I’ve got the world right here in my arms’. Xena settled in with her grin still in place and soon she joined ‘her world’ in slumber.
Chapter 14
Xena and Sappho were sitting in the poet’s kitchen when Gabrielle emerged with half open lids.

“Good morning,” the bard yawned.

Sappho smiled and turned to Xena. “Good Gods woman don’t you ever give that lady a rest. . .Looks like she’s been up all night doing Gods know what.”

“It’s not like I hold a knife to her throat,” Xena countered.

“No,” Gabrielle grinned. “I might like that too much too, huh Xena?”

Xena grinned back holding up her wrists. “Yep,” she replied. “And I’ve got the rope burns to prove it.”

Gabrielle could see the red marks on Xena from across the kitchen and rushed over for a closer inspection. “Oh gods, Xena. I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault Gabrielle. If I had just ‘relaxed’ like you said, they wouldn’t be here. I have only myself to blame. . .and you to thank,” she added in a seductive tone.

“Okay! Okay!” Sappho said hold her hands up trying to move the conversation to other matters. “I think I’ve heard enough. . . Just because you have an active, wild sex life, there’s no reason to rub it in my face.”

“You know,” Xena began slyly. “If Harrold isn’t ‘doing his duty’ you’re always welcome to stay with us at the guest house.” Xena winked at Gabrielle, just as a precaution to let the bard know she was only tormenting Sappho. Picking up on it, the bard decided to join the fun.

“Yeah,” she hissed, brushing Sappho’s hair to one side of her neck, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Besides after all those poems of yours I’ve read, I’m sure you’d be . . .inspiring.”

Sappho closed her eyes, a wide grin on her face. Slowly she nodded. “Fine. . .Fine. . .Have your fun. But I’m warning you. . . Playing with fire can get you seriously burned.”

Gabrielle winked this time. “Is that so? . . .Do you think you could ‘burn’ me?”

“Only if you ask dear,” Sappho said seductively rising to face Gabrielle. They stood only inches apart, their breasts lightly touching.

Gabrielle could never resist a challenge. This time was no different. “Okay. . .What if I said I was asking?”

Sappho turned back to look at the warrior. “Xena?” she asked.

Xena knew what the poet was asking. She wanted the permission to put the bard in her place. . .by any means necessary. Xena simply shrugged her approval. With a wicked grin the poet turned back to Gabrielle.

“Well,” Sappho replied stroking the bards cheek. “Since you’re asking. . .”

Sappho’s lips caressed Gabrielle’s with feather softness, tasting and exploring with the softest of touches. The bard wasn’t sure where it came from, but somewhere from inside a whimper escaped her lips. Sappho pulled her closer, deepening the kiss.

Xena felt two things at the display – growing anger and arousal. She wasn’t sure what to do with the back of the poets neck. Should she break it or kiss it? She decided first she’d clear her throat. Then play it by ear.

The sound brought Gabrielle back to reality. The passion she was beginning to feel moments before was now replaced by guilt and she quickly looked over for Xena’s reaction. She sat with a grin still on her face, although her arms were now folded.

“She’s a damn good kisser ain’t she?” the warrior asked.

“Yes,” both women replied in harmony before starting to giggle. Sappho soon added, “Just who were you asking? Me or Gabrielle?”

Xena continued to grin as she rose to get more tea. “Both,” she answered in a whisper to the two women. She walked over to the tea pot. “Looks like everyone got a little scorched.”

Gabrielle and Sappho smiled and nodded in agreement.

“Anyway,” the warrior began, as she made her way to sit back down, “Gabrielle and I have all our lifemate paperwork in order. All we need now is the ceremony and a signature. If you would be so inclined we would like to have you do the honors Sappho.”

The poet grinned appreciatively. “Really?”

“Of course. I mean you are qualified aren’t you?” the warrior answered. “They said anyone on the counsel could do it. We’d like it to be you.”

“I’d be happy to help,” the poet replied. “When?”

“Today if possible,” Gabrielle added. “If that’s okay. We understand you may have other things to do.”

“Well, actually I do but it’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. . .This is wonderful.”

“Good,” the warrior grinned. “We’d like to have it in back by the cypress trees if that’s okay with you.”

“Sure. Sure,” the poet nodded. “Is it okay if I invite a few folks? I mean like Terry and Caiduse from the tavern.”

Xena shrugged non-commitedly. “Ask Gabrielle. If it’s okay with her, it’s fine by me.”

“No problem. Guests would be nice,” the bard answered.

“Great then!” the poet said rubbing her hands together. “I’ve got things to prepare!”

Xena arched her eyebrow. “Just a few people right? I wanna keep things kind of private.”

“Oh absolutely,” Sappho answered sincerely. “Come on Gabrielle. While Xena goes into town to find something ‘suitable’ to wear for the ceremony, I’ll show you some of my gowns. Perhaps there’s something you’d like. . .Of course if not, you’re welcome to buy something else. . .but I think you’ll like what I have.”

Xena started to leave but stopped and turned around. “I can trust you both . . .together. . .alone. . . right?”

Sappho and Gabrielle both giggled. “You know she IS entitled to one last fling,” Sappho teased.

Xena stood stone-faced, totally expressionless.

“That’s a joke,” Sappho said. “You can laugh.” Her expression turned to Gabrielle. “Why isn’t she laughing? Please make her laugh. I can already feel my blood flow being cut off.”

Gabrielle smiled and shook her head at the poet before turning to her lover. “We’ll be fine. Go on.”

Without another question, Xena made her way to the steed. Sappho finally remembered to breathe once Xena was galloping down the dusty road. “Come on,” Gabrielle said tugging on the poets arm. “Let’s see those dresses!”
Chapter 15
Xena casually walked through the marketplace. What does one wear when wedding an amazon princess? ‘Queen’, Xena corrected herself quickly. ‘She’s a queen now’. Xena walked closer to one of the tents. ‘White perhaps? Ha! I’ll be laughed right out of the garden’. As she turned, a turquoise number caught her eye. The merchant, who kept a close eye on the warrior, noticed the interest.

“That’s made of Egyptian silk. It’s quite a steal at 30 dinars.”

‘Damn’ the warrior cursed silently. ‘I should have brought Gabrielle. She’s the barter in the family.’ The thought of them being a ‘family’ made her smile.

“I’m just looking,” Xena replied, starting to move away.

“Okay! Okay!” The merchant pursued. “25 dinars but no less.”

Xena was on the verge of handing over the money but she hesitated. Isn’t that what Gabrielle did?

“How about 15?” Xena answered.

The merchant was thinking it over. “20 and you’ve got a deal.”

Xena smiled. “Alright but let me try it on first.”

The merchant nodded and took Xena and the dress to the back. Xena realized Gabrielle would have gotten the dress for 15 or even less but Xena was still proud of herself. As she emerged to look in the mirror, the merchant sighed.

“That looks stunning on you,” she answered. “It really brings out eyes.”

“I’m sure you say that to all the girls,” Xena teased.

“You’re right. I do,” the merchant replied. “But this time I really mean it. What do you say? 20 dinars?”

“Sure,” Xena replied, looking at the jewelry case. “As long as you throw in those matching necklaces too.”

Xena grinned widely. She was getting this down pat.

The merchant thought again. “25 dinars for all three. Does that sound good?”

Xena considered the offer. Would Gabrielle give in right now? Probably not. But it was getting late and she was getting bored with this game. “Okay,” Xena agreed. “Would you box this up?”

“With pleasure,” the merchant replied. Xena walked back into the dressing room as the merchant got the packages ready. When all was said and done Xena left feeling pretty darn good about herself. Gabrielle would be pleased she didn’t give in like she usually does.

All of Xena’s thoughts were of Gabrielle as she walked down the street. So much so she didn’t sense the person behind her with the staff. She did however feel the blow to her neck and shoulder. Slowly, and angrily, she turned around to see the cloaked figure behind her.

“Can I help you?” Xena asked, the irritation tight in her voice. The unknown assailant swung the staff in ‘artsy’ form. Perhaps trying to intimidate the warrior. ‘Looks like Gabrielle on a bad day’ she mused. “I really don’t have time for this,” she replied starting to walk away.

This time the warrior’s senses were in tune and she ‘felt’ the person lunge. Without turning she raised her hand and caught the staff before it could make contact. Carefully she laid her package down. “So now you wanna fight?” the warrior replied jerking the wood from the attackers hand. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

Xena spun the staff in a variety of directions, even going so far as to twirl it on one finger. The attacker got caught up in the show and never noticed it sailing toward his head. Xena knocked him clear off his feet and unconscious with one blow. After a few seconds he began to stir. Xena whipped his hood off as his eyes focused again. He made a sudden movement and that was all the warrior needed – he would be official ‘pinched’.

She watched him gasp. “Who are you working for?” The man’s eyes grew wider. “Look pal you got a limited amount of time here . . .roughly thirty seconds.” The last words sliced through the man’s eardrum and he knew she was telling the truth.

“Okay,” he wheezed. “Take it off! Take it off!”

Xena sent two quick pokes to his neck and waited for the man to catch his breath. “The question,” Xena repeated. ” . . .was who are you working for?”

“Someone on the island,” he replied.

“Who?”

“I can’t say,” he replied, the fear in his eyes.

“You realize I can put that back on. . .and I will. . .if you refuse to tell me.”

“Honestly I don’t know who it is. A friend said he had a job and asked for my help.”

“Well then,” Xena replied, picking him up by the scruff of the neck. “Let’s go see this friend.”

Chapter 15

“Sappho!” Gabrielle exclaimed looking out the window. “You said a few people! That garden out there is full!”

“What can I say? Word spreads pretty fast on this island,” the poet shrugged. “Besides I think we have bigger things to worry about at this moment.”

Gabrielle turned from the window. “You mean she’s still not back yet?”

“I’m sure she just got caught up shopping. You know how Xena loves to shop,” the poet lied.

“Yeah right,” Gabrielle answered sarcastically. Gabrielle silently cursed herself. She should have gone with Xena, especially after the attack the other night. “Where can she be?” the bard thought out loud.

“I’m sure everything is fine,” Sappho said taking her by the upper arms, offering her support. “Xena can take care of herself.”

Harrold walked into the room after a quiet knock.

“Any sign?” Sappho asked.

Harrold shook his head. “I’ve sent Tellidis and Melloneada into town to do some searching.”

“Maybe she changed her mind. I mean after what happened in the kitchen this morning could you blame her,” Gabrielle considered.

“Look here,” Sappho replied. “Xena loves you. I can see that. Any fool can see that. The incident in the kitchen this morning was nothing – just a game. She knows how much you love her. Believe me she does. . .and I’ve never seen her happier. . .She will be here – come Tartis or high water!”

“Ya got that right.”

Gabrielle turned to meet the voice. “Xena!” The bard rushed over and threw her arms around the warrior. She pulled back taking a more observing look at the warrior. “Is that a shiner?”

The warrior gave a single nod. “Had a little trouble in the marketplace.”

Gabrielle carefully examined the mark around the warrior’s eye with her eyes and light fingertips. It was already beginning to purple. “What happened?” she asked.

“I’ll explain it on the way to the guard.” As the warrior finished speaking she looked out the window. “This is your idea of a few people?” she asked Sappho.

“I swear,” Sappho exclaimed holding up her hand. “I only invited ten. The other 50 just sorta showed up. . . Gossip spreads quick in this town.”

“You’re telling me,” the warrior muttered under her breath.

“Xena we can’t go to the guard. We have to get married,” Gabrielle insisted. “I mean are you sure this isn’t something that can wait?”

“I found out who’s behind it all,” Xena answered.

“Really?” Gabrielle, Sappho and Harrold asked together.

Xena nodded. “Yes. So I’m afraid the wedding will have to wait.”

Gabrielle couldn’t hide the hurt look on her face. And Xena ached inside. “Look,” the warrior reconsidered. “If it means that much to you we can do this now but I’d really like to be able to enjoy it. . . I don’t want to spend our honeymoon chasing the enemy. . .I’d rather be chasing you,” she added seductively.

Gabrielle had to smile. “Okay. I guess I see your point. . .Although it wouldn’t be much of a pursuit. I’m extremely willing.”

“Are you sure about postponing? I mean, I know if we wait until tomorrow, I won’t love you any less.”

Gabrielle held her smile. “Another good point. . .Anyway, it will be a lot more private tomorrow with just you, me, Sappho and Harrold.” The last point was made with a glare to Sappho.

Sappho gave her most convincing look of disbelieve. “It’s not my fault,” she insisted again pointing out the window to the crowd below.

“You better change. You need to look practical. Not absolutely stunning,” Xena motioned to Gabrielle with a wink. All three of them looked at Harrold.

“That’s my cue to leave isn’t it?” he smiled. All three women nodded in a friendly gesture with toothy grins. “But why does she get to stay?” he challenged pointing at his wife. Sappho was about to open her mouth when Xena interrupted.

“Oh, she’s leaving too,” she assured Harrold, while looking at Sappho. The poet looked disappointed, as Xena lead husband and wife out by the arms. “Sorry,” she replied closing the door in their faces.

“Damn!” the couple whispered in unison. The frustration rang in their voices from the other side of the door.

“I heard that!” Xena replied as the bard began to change. “Go away.” Finally she could hear the pair scurry downstairs.

“They make quite a couple,” Gabrielle grinned.

“Yeah but a couple of what? That’s the question.”

Gabrielle just smiled as she finished putting her amazon attire in place.
Chapter 16
“What are we doing here Xena?”

The warrior was crouched down behind some shrubbery with Gabrielle and two amazon guards. “You’ll see,” the warrior grinned. “Stay close,” she whispered as they made their decent upon the house.

Carefully, Xena crept through the open door. No one was home unfortunately. Xena motioned the guards toward the staircase and they began their assent as quickly and quietly as possible.

“I thought you said you knew who was behind this,” Gabrielle whispered. “What are we doing here?”

“Remember the guy I spoke with today. Turns out this is where his employer lives,” Xena whispered in response.

Slowly the warrior and the bard made their way into the kitchen.

It was only a matter of seconds but Xena heard the trigger and she leaped in front of Gabrielle. A searing pain shot through her bicep – instead of Gabrielle’s neck – the intended location. Without a moments haste, Gabrielle yelled and charged the attacker.

“Guards!” She screamed at the top of her lungs, frightening the assassin (and even Xena). Her staff swept at a blur knocking the crossbow, from shaking hands, across the room. The next blow centered across the neck and shoulder rendering the threat unconscious.

“By the Gods!” Gabrielle whispered. She couldn’t believe it. The killer laid out on the kitchen floor and the bards mind tried to piece together reasons as to why. Suddenly another thought came to mind. ‘Xena.. . .Sweet Artemis. . .Xena’.

“Lucky shot.” The warrior grunted as she broke the arrow. She grinned half-heartedly at Gabrielle. “You know the routine,” she whispered, exposing her arm to the bard.

Gabrielle held the back of Xena’s arms fully as the guards arrived. “Over there,” she nodded with her head. As the guards put the shackles in place on the murderer, Gabrielle looked at Xena, deeply concerned.

“Go ahead,” the warrior whispered.

“Okay,” Gabrielle said, trying to get her confidence up. “On three. . .one. . .two. . .three!” As fast and as hard as she could Gabrielle pulled the arrow out the other side.
The warrior tried to suppress her scream but it was useless.

“I’m sorry,” Gabrielle said quickly. “Did I do it wrong?”

“No,” Xena replied, her breathing labored. “You did it exactly right. . .I’ll be okay.”

Xena wasn’t the only one moaning. The attacker was beginning to come around. Gabrielle reached into a cupboard and found some clean rags. Carefully she applied them to stop the bleeding. Once Xena had a firm hold on them, Gabrielle walked over.

“Why?” she pleaded.

“Why not?” Disgust and angst filled the words. They locked eyes for what felt like eons.

“Why?” the bard asked again, needing an answer.

“All I have is this winery,” Barbideen spoke. “If Athens cuts off trade ties I’m as good as dead.”

“So you had all these innocent people killed. You killed all these people, all these loving couples, to scare the island into compliance. . .And you did it over something as trivial as money. By the Gods! You had a lifemate yourself!”

“Yes I HAD a lifemate. And I’ll spend the rest of my life alone – as if I need to be reminded. . . I owe no one nothing! I DO however have to take care of my own. I couldn’t sit back and let my remaining family starve.”

Gabrielle considered the words as the puzzle fell into place. “You sent Arenia to Sappho’s that night didn’t you? You knew we were there and, to save yourself from being found, you – in a sense – sent her to her death.”

The anger rose in Barb’s eyes. “I didn’t kill her. Your warrior bitch killed her!”

Gabrielle shook her head – not in disagreement but in disbelieve. The conversation was over at this point. “Get her outta here,” Gabrielle motioned to the guards.

“Don’t think this is over!” Barb yelled as they lead her outside. “Not by a long shot. I’ll be back and I’ll see to it that you both die!”

Xena shrugged in a ‘so what?’ fashion to Gabrielle. Soon she winced, feeling a sharp pain shoot up her arm because of the automatic gesture.

“Here,” Gabrielle said, helping the warrior to her feet. Gabrielle had to grin as she thought of the threat. “Do you think she knows we’ve been chased by crazy goddesses and killer giants?”

“Nope,” Xena replied with a grin of her own.

“Should we tell her we’re not really all that concerned by her threat?” Gabrielle asked as she offered her support to the warrior as they started to walk.

“Nah. I think it would fall on deaf ears,” Xena replied as they stepped outside. “There IS something that we should do,” the warrior added seriously.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s not wait until tomorrow – for anything ever. I mean this wound isn’t bad – painful yes, but not bad. . .I realize tomorrow may never come and I don’t want us putting any plans we have together on hold again.”

“Seize the day?”

“Exactly,” the warrior replied.

“You’ve said that before,” Gabrielle grinned.

“Yes but I never realized how much it meant until a few minutes ago. . .I mean it Gabrielle. And I’m starting now. When we get back to Sappho’s we’re getting married and that’s all there is to it. No arguments.”

“No arguments here, warrior mine.”

Xena relished in the feel of Gabrielle’s hands as they wrapped around her head. She delighted in the sensation of Gabrielle’s lips possessing hers in a slow, smoldering kiss. The warrior grinned inwardly. Yes she would defiantly seize the day from now on . . .and the night too.
Chapter 17
Dusk just began to settle in the cypress garden. Yellow and red hues highlighted the foliage as pink clouds whisked across the sky. It’s a beautiful evening for a wedding, Xena reflected.

Sappho was already outside. Her white counsel toga fit nicely, exposing her left shoulders. Sappho was never a ‘beautiful’ woman but she had a lovely form. ‘Almost as lovely as Gabrielle’s’, Xena thought. ‘Almost but not quite, those abs of the bards can drive anyone to distraction’. Xena grinned at the thought. She spent a lot of time admiring them with stolen glances and now those abs were not only her’s to admire, but hers to fondle and caress. And not just for today but for forever.

Xena watched Gabrielle walk out to the garden to meet Sappho. The time was now at hand. Slowly she walked down the staircase, taking her time. Xena was grateful that all the guests had gone away. She was never one for large crowds. The fact they had all departed put her at ease. Her nerves where totally on edge as it was, let alone being starred at by tons of faces she barely remembered. . .No. This was her day. . . Gabrielle’s day . . .and they should have no distractions.

Two sets of jaws dropped when blue eye finally met green. Both women stood speechless at the other’s beauty. Both wondering why they had the privilege of standing together, prepared to make the biggest commitment two individuals could make. Gabrielle realized she finally found the other half of her soul. And Xena knew she would spend her days serving this Amazon queen before anything else. Xena realized that if Gabrielle tired of the road, of their adventures, she would be content to have a farm or run the inn. Anything would do as long as the bard was doing it with her.

Sappho spoke softly pulling both of them from their thoughts. “Now to delight my women friends, I’ll make a beautiful song of this affair,” she began.

“O beautiful, O graceful girl.
Not one girl, I think, will ever look on the sunlight
Of another time who has such talent as this one does.
Love shook my heart like the wind that falls on oaks in the mountains.
You came, and I was mad to have you.
Your breath cooled my heart that was burning with desire.
Please, my goddess, goldencrowned Aphrodite, let this very lot fall to me.”

Sappho reached over and Harrold handed the poet the necklaces Xena had purchased earlier that day.

“Xena has offered these tokens to be worn around the neck, remaining close to the heart. Do you Gabrielle accept these tokens as a signature to your love and devotion?”

“I do,” Gabrielle nodded. Gently, Sappho placed the necklace over Gabrielle’s head. Then she turned to Xena.

“Gabrielle has accepted these token. Do you wish to complete this ceremony by acknowledging her acceptance, offering your love and devotion as well?”

“I do,” the warrior said proudly, bowing as Sappho moved to put the necklace in place.

“Well then . . .by the powers given to me of the island of Lesbo, you are officially lifemates for as long as you live. Congratulations!”

“That’s it? It was that easy?” Xena asked the poet.

“Getting married is easy. Staying married takes work. . .but you’re both hard workers,” Sappho winked.

Xena and Gabrielle turned to each other. Gabrielle had never seen Xena look so contented. And Xena had never seen Gabrielle so overjoyed. Both knew they made the right choice. Both knew they would never walk alone again.

Gabrielle pulled Xena into a passionate kiss that lasted nearly a minute. As they parted Xena offered Sappho her hand. The poet took it immediately with a firm grasp.

“Thank you Sappho,” the warrior said sincerely. “You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Sappho grinned. “I can tell you finally found your peace. . .I thank you for letting me be a part of it.”

The warrior smiled as Gabrielle expressed her appreciation as well. Sappho put her arms around both women, leading them back to the house. “What do you say we have some cake and some wine? A toast to the new couple is in order.”

“Lead the way,” Gabrielle agreed, resting her head on Sappho’s shoulder. The poet looked at the warrior with a grin.

“You are so lucky to have her, do you know that?” Sappho whispered.

“Yes,” Xena answered looking toward Gabrielle. “Yes I do.”
Chapter 18
“Are you okay?”

Xena heard the sleepy voice over her shoulder. A few moments later she felt the bards hands resting on it. “It’s raining,” Xena said casually.

Gabrielle listened to the tiny drops attacking the window before speaking. “Is that why you’re awake in the middle of the night?” she whispered. When Xena didn’t reply she continued. “Something on your mind?”

“Just you,” the warrior smiled warmly.

Gabrielle had to smile too. The warriors smile was contagious.

“What about me?” she prodded gently.

Xena’s smile increased. “That,” she whispered. “Your ability to reach below the surface in a . . . how should I say. . .non-threatening manner. Just one of YOUR many skills I admire.”

She wrapped her arm around her bards’ waist and she felt the strawberry blonde hair rest contently on her good shoulder.

“Umm,” the bard sighed tenderly. “Tell me more.”

“More skills?”

The warrior felt the soft locks brush against her bare skin with the bards’ nod. Xena took a moment to consider where to start.

“Let’s see. The fact that you trust people and see the good in everyone.”

Xena felt Gabrielle stiffen. “It’s not a skill. It’s a downfall.”

Xena turned and pulled Gabrielle closer. “What makes you say that?” she asked concerned.

Gabrielle smiled in discomfort. “Have we forgotten Dayhock?”

“Not at all,” Xena said soberly, squeezing the bard a little closer. “But you can’t dismiss your skill based on one incident. No one is perfect Gabrielle . . .Besides if it weren’t for your ability to see the good in people we wouldn’t be here together right now. On more than one occasion that skill of yours has kept this relationship in tact.”

Gabrielle pulled away from Xena’s embrace, avoid eye contact. “You gotta admit it was one pretty big incident,” she mumbled.

“Gabrielle,” the warrior whispered, trying to will the name so strongly that it would pull the bard back in her arms. It didn’t work however, and she watched Gabrielle climb back into bed.

Xena hesitated for a moment but soon followed, opting to take a seat at the foot instead of crawling under the covers like her wife. “It’s over. Please let it go,” she began.

“It will never be truly over for me Xena,” the bard whispered.

Xena could hear the cry in her voice and wished she could smooth away the pain. It had been a difficult time. Difficult for both of them. Gabrielle’s distressed pained Xena terribly and knowing there was nothing she could do to ease it only made the pain worse. But in the end, somehow, with a little help from Ephany, they survived it. She promised herself she’d remember to thank the regent one more time at their next meeting.

“Gabrielle,’ Xena began, “I can’t say I know what it feels like because I don’t. When I killed for the first time I felt remorse but soon my rage took hold of me and it didn’t let go for over ten years. . . But believe when I tell you the Dayhock incident and the months that followed weren’t totally bad – I say this because I think it made us stronger.”

“Perhaps,” Gabrielle agreed. “but I think there’s an easier road to strength in a relationship. Murders, lies, deceit. . .It doesn’t sound like positive building blocks in a relationship.”

“Look,” Xena insisted, tiring of the debate. “I said I loved you and I meant it.” Xena couldn’t suppress the smug grin as she continued to vocalize her thoughts. “Of course you never realized just how much until we got to this island. . .”

Gabrielle grinned as well meeting her warriors eyes. “Actually I think I always new, or maybe hoped you felt the same – anyway I knew there was something there.”

Xena watched as the bard crawled over to sit on her lap. Slowly the bard placed a single kiss on the warrior’s lips – so gentle yet so filled with unmistakable passion.

“I thought you wanted to talk,” Xena answered as they broke away.

“I think we’ve talked enough for one night,” Gabrielle answered.

“Are you sure?” Xena asked pulling back to study her lifemate.

Gabrielle nodded. “I’ve decided that you’re right. Everything we experience, everything we do becomes a part of us. And if going through all that has brought you closer to my heart, I accept it. Like I’ve said I’ll take the good and the bad in you – I guess I’ll just have to accept it in myself.”

Xena fingers lightly caressed the bards cheeks. “You’ll always be the greatest thing that’s happened in my life – and don’t forget it.”

“I have a feeling you won’t let me,” Gabrielle replied playfully, before seizing the warriors earlobe with her lips.

Xena sighed deeply at the contact. It had been a very long road to this point. Long indeed. Xena thought back to how innocent and naive Gabrielle was at the beginning of their journeys – a young farm girl looking for adventure. Xena remembered how hollow she felt at the time. She had nothing to offer the bard but the bard couldn’t be swayed to leave her side.

She also remembered looking into Gabrielle’s eyes as she lay in the sacoficus – how tenderly Gabrielle and Ephany helped her rise. Gabrielle never looked so much like a woman. It wasn’t so much the queen’s attire that she wore (Although that did help. Xena couldn’t take her eyes off the bard’s mid-drift and the snug fit of the low dipping tunic, not to mention those feathers – Good Gods!). No it was something more. The look in her eye perhaps? Maybe the way she held her head higher? In one way or another Gabrielle had changed. And Xena liked it. Liked it so much that she considered sharing her true feelings that night. But she didn’t.

She didn’t because she didn’t think she deserved someone like Gabrielle. To say Xena’s past was checkered was putting it lightly. The nightmares of the things she had done haunted her. Things she never shared with the bard, perhaps never would. With all this knowledge of all these ill deeds how could that beautiful creature ever love her? And if she did truly love her, why should she go on to live a happy life when she had taken so many? Having Gabrielle as her love wasn’t justice for the things she had done. So she ignored her longing and in effect began to ignore the bard as well (when she could).

Then came Caesar, Britannia and Dayhock. Xena knew it wasn’t just her revenge of Caesar that led Gabrielle to the temple alone on that fateful day. It was also her need for distance from the bard. She still found herself cursing herself for not listening to Ares; for not looking deeper into his concern to see his sincerity. If she did his bidding that one time so many things could have been different – for the bard, for herself. Perhaps things wouldn’t have gotten so out of control.

But once a sense of normality returned Xena pledge to take care of Gabrielle at any and all costs. Even at the cost of their friendship if need be. Xena realized Hope would be Gabrielle’s downfall, if not the downfall of mankind everywhere. Why couldn’t Gabrielle let her take care of the ‘problem’? Looking back Xena realized – it wasn’t Gabrielle’s way. There was good in everything. Even a washed up, heartbroken ex-warlord had good in her. Yes looking back Xena knew Gabrielle had only one difficult choice to make. And Xena also realized she caused the bard more pain than she thought possible – all because she thought she was protecting the bard.

Xena didn’t have time to dwell on it though. The green dragon needed to be made small again. She thought if she shared her past with Gabrielle the bard would understand her commitment to why the trip was so important and why the task needed to be done. When she pulled back those covers in the royal chamber and she saw Gabrielle – her Gabrielle- dressed in the Chin robes she felt too overwhelming emotions – shock and deviation. Then later in the dungeon came her anger. Even later during the audience with the green dragon, the slap Gabrielle welded didn’t sting. The only pain she felt was her heart breaking in a thousand different directions. Xena had been betrayed, humiliated and hurt by numerous people and Gods. . . But Gabrielle. She was supposed to be different.

It wasn’t until they met in the dungeon that Xena discovered the truth. Gabrielle was truly different. The remorse in the bards eyes; the crack in her voice as she spoke begging for forgiveness. Xena knew that Gabrielle was different.

She would truly see just what Gabrielle was made of when a short time later Callisto returned. The warrior would also see just how wonderful a friend Ephany had become – to herself and the bard.

Yes the road had been long but they did survive and they continue to survive. ‘Survive quite nicely’ the warrior thought as Gabrielle’s lips now laid claim to her neck and shoulders. Xena pushed the trip down memory lane to the back of her mind. She decided to focus on the present – which at hand was a beautiful Amazon queen growing hotter and wetter by the minute. And the future – which at hand was a beautiful Amazon queen who would grow lovely and lovely as the years went by.

“I really love you,” the warrior whispered, coming back to the moment. “All of you.”

“I love all of you too,” Gabrielle replied. A small grin crept to her lips. “Now kiss me before I have to get forceful.”

“Ohhh, I think I like the sound of that. I might not just for spite,” Xena teased.

Gabrielle’s grin faded into a deep glare of sexual intent. Her passion was becoming unchained and Xena recognized the look and she loved it. And the warrior couldn’t resist the look. She kissed the bard with every thing her being would allow.

The bard responded in kind. Her tongue sought the warriors, driving forcefully and unstoppable. Heads turned and dipped. Lips latching and unlatching – only to claim one another again. Each woman fought for breath in between the sporadic, teasing breaks. Gabrielle’s desire flamed deep within her and she grabbed the warrior by both arms intending to bring her down with her on the bed. The sharp moan the warrior gave wasn’t expected and the bard quickly realized her error.

“Oh Gods Xena,” she whispered releasing the warrior. “I forgot about the arm.”

The warrior paid little attention to the apology. “Don’t worry. . .Just kiss me.”

Obeying, Gabrielle did just that. Xena rested her weight on her two knees and one elbow. ‘Thank Gods for all those one handed push ups,’ the amazon thought humoring herself.

Although the bard hated to see Xena in pain she loved this. The injury forced the warriors body into a new position, fitting snugly against her. Having the warriors nakedness so close to her own felt so erotic. And Gabrielle savored the feel because they fit perfectly together. And as Xena’s lips and tongue worked down the length of Gabrielle’s body Gabrielle realized something. She had finally found her other half and she was finally whole.

As Xena’s lips administered the passionate and sweetest of caresses, Gabrielle’s mind wandered back to her innocence so many years ago. Gabrielle knew there was something special in Xena. She knew it when they first met. She knew it when they went on the quest to return Xena’s soul to her body. She knew it when Xena shared stories about La Mio. She knew it today in the cypress garden. . .And she knew she would see it until the day they died.

She thought back to the conversation she had with Ephany regarding the warrior princess. Ephany said, late in the evening during a festival celebration after the Callisto incident, to look at Xena you would never think she was ruled more by her heart than her head. Gabrielle remembered the wink as the regent added ‘Especially when it comes to you’.

Gabrielle now understood everything her regent was trying to convey – especially at this moment. Xena’s lips had found her center and Gabrielle shuttered. The warriors fingertips tenderly caressed the inside of the bards thighs and she felt she could explode at that moment. She looked down and met the azure eyes gazing at her. All of Xena’s want, need and love danced in the sea of blue. And that alone sent the bard over the edge.
The vibrations rattled the bards body and she tried to hold herself as still as possible (Earlier that evening when Gabrielle climaxed she locked Xena’s bad arm accidentally – for which she felt great guilt. Xena reassured her – ‘No pain. No gain’ – and the bard felt worlds better).

When the last shutter from Gabrielle’s body stilled, Xena crept slowly to the half-sleeping bard. She snuggled close letting her injured arm drape across Gabrielle’s stomach – her head resting in the crook of the bard’s shoulder. The warrior could tell the amazon queen was fighting off sleep and losing. She desperately wanted to return the favor Xena had so graciously bestowed upon her.

“Shhh,” Xena whispered with a smile. “Rest now. . .Your satisfaction is my happiness. Sleep Gabrielle.”

Xena listened and Gabrielle’s breathing deepened becoming rhythmic. And soon Xena, warrior princess, joined her lifemate Gabrielle, amazon queen, into the dreamscape. But not before one last waking thought – tonight would be the first night Gabrielle would sleep in her arms for the rest of their lives. With that, Xena closed her eyes and looked forward to the first morning the bard would wake there.

And for the first time in years, since childhood, Xena slept without a single nightmare to disturb her. She had finally ‘come home’. Xena at last had found her peace.

Continued in Coming Home

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