DISCLAIMER/NOTES: See Part One.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Heart of a Warlord
By Patricia L. Givens
Xena looked down into her wine, her thoughts as dark as the liquid she drank. She had fought herself for the last year, fought to keep Gabrielle out because, on some level, she knew how much it would hurt to lose her. How much it was hurting now. With a frustrated sigh, she slammed her fist against the bar and drained her cup, nodding to the keep for another.
"I doubt that will help...your head or your hand."
The voice was female and Xena turned towards it, her gaze coming to rest on eyes like honeyed wheat. They stayed there for a moment, then traveled across the woman's face and down skin as dark as the night outside. There was something about her that Xena found familiar, but she didn't have the energy to try and figure out what it was. "Whatever you want," She growled. "I'm not interested."
Emony laughed. "How decisive you are. Pity you aren't always so."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Xena swung her eyes around to glare at the woman.
"You're heart aches, warrior, and yet you do nothing."
Xena's voice was low and dangerous, "Get out of my mind, witch."
"I'm not in your mind. I'm looking at your face, your hands...the way you're sitting."
Emony placed a hand against her cheek. "There is more at stake here than you know." Her hand fell away. "More at stake then the life of a bard."
"Gabrielle?" Xena pushed her wine away and turned her full attention to the alchemist.
Emony nodded. "I know your heart, Warrior Princess. You love the way you live. Sparsely, without experiencing the joy."
Emony frowned, her eyes contemplating the floor. "I..." She laughed. "Gabrielle defies explanation."
Xena smirked. "I've felt that way myself, at times."
"Her heart is pure," Emony continued as though she hadn't spoken. "And therefore questions everything. Not to find fault...but to find wonder."
Xena felt herself becoming hypnotized by the witch's voice. "Gabrielle deserves wonder in her life." She shook her head to break the spell. "She deserves her own life."
The alchemist smiled sadly. "You have no idea, do you, of how much wonder there is in your soul?"
The warrior looked up incredulously. "Give me a break."
"I'm trying to...if you would but listen!"
"All right," Xena cleared her throat and tried not to roll her eyes. "I'm listening."
"Your heart is the sweetness beneath the bitter shell. A sweetness that Gabrielle has tasted just enough to leave her wanting more, even as she is unaware of what it is she wants."
"What about Zo? Gabrielle seems fairly sweet on her."
"Can you not see it?" Emony's voice took on a note of exasperation. "The Amazon is the warlord *you* once were. In her, Gabrielle sees the possibility of what you have become. She hopes..."
"To replace the one she is so certain can never love her."
Xena's mouth fell open. "Gabrielle has never said or done anything-"
The Alchemist cut her off with a stern glance, impatience flashing in her tan colored eyes. "You are a perfect match," She snapped. "You both listen but do not hear. I have already told you that she is not aware of what her heart seeks. Think on it, warrior."
"Yeah...I'll do that." Xena looked back into her cup.
"Don't think to long, Xena." Emony whispered. "For if her choice is wrong..."
"What?" The warrior looked up. When Emony didn't answer, she grabbed her arm. "If her choice is wrong? What?"
The Alchemist's eyes became distant, then clouded over. "Gabrielle's heart is such, that it can hold only one. Not at a time...but ever."
"That would be her choice." Xena argued, her heart aching even as she said it.
"If she chooses Zo, the Amazon will grow more powerful with every beat of Gabrielle's heart. When that happens, a Warrior Princess will once again ride havoc across the land. And the bard's love will blind her to it."
Shock hit Xena in the chest as she realized what Emony meant. "But-"
The witch just shook her head. "With innocence on her side, no one will ever be able to stop her."
The words rang back through Xena's mind as she jerked upright. She looked around quickly, her heart thumping painfully in her ears. She had fallen asleep at the bar! There was no sign of the witch. She looked down at the wine in front of her before shoving it away, a snarl on her lips. Never! She had NEVER done anything this stupid in her life. She had made mistakes, yes, but to fall asleep in a room full of warriors who would wear her death like a badge of honor? So this is what it came to without her.
"Gabrielle.." Her voice was a whisper as she finally understood. It didn't matter if the bard could never love her. She was in danger, and no matter what, even if it cost their friendship, she had to know the truth about Zo.
Somewhere, deep behind the walls that surrounded her heart, Xena knew this was the last chance she would have. And that, without Gabrielle in her life
Xena stood quickly, frightening several of the tavern's patrons with the speed of her ascent. Her eyes were clear, her muscles tensed as she scanned the room, looking for the one person that would have the information she needed.
He saw her a moment before she saw him.
The innkeeper slid out from behind the end of the bar and hurried to his rooms, sliding the thick cross bar in place behind him. He had assumed that the warrior hadn't cared that much about the girl when she hadn't come for him before. That was just fine with him. Xena or Zo the wrath of either would undoubtedly prove deadly. He backed away from the door, sending a quick prayer up to Athena before pouring himself a glass of wine. He had only taken a sip when he heard strange sounds coming from his tavern.
Going to the door, he placed his ear against it and listened, hearing the sounds of furniture being thrown to the side. He frowned, "She better not be bustin' up the place!" His eyes widened when he heard her yell. There was no mistaking it. By the time he finally understood what she was doing, it was too late.
Xena's boot heels connected solidly, sending every ounce of her body weight into the door in front of her. By moving the benches to the side, she had picked up ten feet of running room and it was a devastating blow, snapping the cross bar in two and most of the door as well. What was left of it came down on top of the groaning innkeeper, and Xena came down on top of that.
"Hello." She smiled. "I have a couple of questions. I suggest you answer them."
"Yes of course." He wheezed. "Please I can't breathe."
"Enough time for that later." She went down on one knee to stare him in the eyes. "I'm looking for my friend, maybe you've seen her? Talkative, strawberry blonde? Goes by the name of Gabrielle?" She pressed a little harder. "You may have seen her with another woman, blonde, a little shorter than me? Do you know who I mean?"
The innkeeper opened his mouth to lie, closing it quickly when he saw the anger in the warrior's sky blue eyes. He nodded.
"Good." Xena eased up a bit. "Now we're getting somewhere. Where are they? And Why did you run from me?"
"Bla Blackthorne Mountain." He winced. "Zo went up to Blackthorne Mountain, took her men to meet up with their families. The little girl went with her."
"She is not a little girl." Xena was surprised at the anger she felt to hear Gabrielle described that way. Wasn't that how she had always thought of her? "Why did you run from me?"
"Who wouldn't run from you?"
Xena smiled. "Flattery will get you nowhere." She increased her pressure again. "Why?"
"She uh she told me you'd be coming. And that she'd kill me if I helped you find her."
"Mmmhmmm." She sat back on her haunches. "And what do you get if you throw me off track?"
The man paled. "I I don't "
"Save it." Xena stood and rocked back and forth. "Have you ever heard of pressure points?"
"Honor's Pass!" He sputtered. "She's up at Honor's Pass!"
The warrior grinned and stepped down. "You know something?" She grabbed his hand and hauled him to his feet. "I believe you. Do you know why?"
The innkeeper looked at her, wondering if Celesta would have blue eyes too, when she finally came for him. "Why?"
Xena leaned in close, her breathe caressing his face. "Because no one is THAT stupid."
He watched her leave, his heart trying to beat it's way out of his chest, then sent one of his men out to Honor's pass. Oh, he had no intention of warning Zo. His only intention was to know the outcome, before it hit him in the face.
"Ow," Gabrielle reached into her shirt and pulled the Lath away from her skin, glancing down her blouse to see if the rock had left a welt. Zo smiled and leaned in closer to get a look at it.
"What is that?" She reached out a finger to touch the glowing stone, only to pull it away when the heat seared into her skin. "No wonder you said 'ow'. How do you wear that thing?"
"It's a Lath." Gabrielle held the amulet up by it's chain and stared into the swirling colors. "And it doesn't always do this. It's usually just pale pink, with silver shot through it, and really rather cold. It's been getting warmer for the last hour now, though. I wonder why. Huh." Her brow furrowed in concentration.
The Amazon felt her hands tremble slightly when the firelight caught Gabrielle's face, the childlike expression of wonder that the bard wore impaling her through the chest. She placed her hand over one of Gabrielle's. "Maybe it's trying to tell you something." She smiled.
Gabrielle turned her attention back to the warrior as the stone began to cool. They had spent the last two hours talking, about their pasts, about themselves. The only subject Zo had shied away from, was Xena. She refused to listen to or believe anything Gabrielle said about her. Aside from that, the celebration had been wonderful. Zo's soldiers had turned into entirely different creatures. They had become men with wives and children, men not so unlike those she had known in her own village.
And Zo. Zo had become a friend, a confidant and something more. Every time she looked at her, she felt her pulse quicken, felt herself become nervous. It was not unpleasant, just confusing. Especially when every thought of Zo was followed by a thought of Xena. Xena smiling, Xena laughing, practicing with her sword, or maybe just brushing down Argo. The way her arms would move, the way her muscles would bunch, the way-
She started, embarrassed to find Zo studying her, a look of concern on her face.
"Are you all right?" The Amazon touched her cheek gently.
"Yes," Gabrielle took a deep breath. "I'm fine. I'm sorry what were you saying?"
Zo smiled. "You look lovely tonight."
"Me?" Gabrielle croaked. "Uhm thank you." She squeezed the warrior's hand. "So do you."
"I was saying that maybe that stone is trying to tell you something." Zo moved closer, closing her hand around the now cold crystal, using it to pull the bard gently towards her. "Maybe it can sense how I feel about you."
"How you feel about me?" The bard's voice was soft, her pulse wild. "How do you feel about me?"
"Like this." Zo closed the distance between them, her lips possessing Gabrielle's, as her hands ran down to the small of her back.
Gabrielle didn't hesitate, her own arms found their way around the warrior's waist. She couldn't help but compare that waist to Xena's, until Zo's tongue parted her lips and slowly tasted her mouth.
Once again, it was Zo that pulled away, although she didn't go far. She stayed within the circle of Gabrielle's arms until the bard pulled them away in embarrassment. "That was " She swallowed. "That was nice."
"Yes." The Amazon smiled, her voice soft. "It was."
Her gaze burned into Gabrielle, making her feel warm and weak as she tried to return it and ended up looking away.
"Are you tired?" Zo whispered. "Are you ready to turn in?"
Panic hit Gabrielle like charging Centaur. Her breathing became irregular as she thought about just exactly what that meant. She had no misconceptions as to what Zo was asking and knew that, if she shared a bed with this woman, she wouldn't be a virgin come morning. "Not yet," Gabrielle smiled at Zo's look of disappointment. She place her fingers under the Amazon's chin, bringing her head up so that she could gaze into the green-gold of her eyes. "Tonight." She promised. "Just not yet."
Zo smiled, sure that once she had made love to this girl, she would own her forever. Until then, she was content to wait and follow the bard's lead. "Well, then, my Princess," She stood and offered Gabrielle her hand. "Would you like to dance?" The smile she won with that invitation was enough to set her heart to pounding again.
All eyes watched them as they moved a little ways off from the campfire. Zo nodded to the musicians and they started to play a slow, sensual rhythm that began with just the drums, then added the lyre and a flute. Gabrielle was self conscious at first, and very aware of Zo's men, watching her with interest. They didn't look disapproving, they looked protective.
She allowed Zo to maneuver her into the crook of her arm and stayed there, moving with her in tandem, almost as though they had joined into one person. Gabrielle had never been a good dancer, but she found that if she looked into the Amazon's eyes she could almost predict when and where she was going to move. "They love you, don't they?"
Zo shook her head. "I'm sorry? Who?"
The warlord looked behind her, to those she considered to be the cream of her elite guard. "Yeah, I guess they do." She laughed. "There's no accounting for taste, eh?"
"Oh, I don't know." Gabrielle felt the storyteller in her take over. "You're their leader, their commander. You've led them to victory in battle, and brought them home to their families what's not to love?"
The last part of her sentence was said very softly and Zo fought the urge to ask her what she meant. Somewhere in there, there had been a question, and she wasn't sure if she wanted the answer.
Xena jumped on Argo bareback, not even sparing time to throw the horse's bridle over her head. Instead, she guided Argo with her knees, twining her finger's through the mare's pale mane. "C'mon, Argo." She clucked under her breath. "You know, deep down, that you like her."
The mare nickered, bringing a brief smile to the warrior's face. "Be nice." She squeezed hard with her legs. "Yah!"
Argo took off at a breakneck pace, Xena holding on with very little effort. She knew every gait her mount had and, so far, nothing had been able to throw her.
As she rode, she thought back to the time before she had known Gabrielle. Not when she had been a warlord, but after that, after Hercules.
Hercules. She smiled sadly. At one time, she had been certain that he would carry half of her heart with him forever, the other half lost with Marcus to the underworld.
But then she'd met Gabrielle. She had looked so weak, so childlike when she first saw her. She had ordered her to stay away, but Gabrielle hadn't listened. Something she had been grateful for every day since. Not that she would have admitted it. Xena had worked hard to keep up the walls around her heart, to keep up her defenses. She met Gabrielle's openness with reticence, not wanting to know, not wanting to care. When the same had been asked of her , she would shut down, cutting off whatever part of her had been reaching out to the bard.
**You love the way you live. Sparsely, without experiencing the joy.**
The witch's words haunted her, all of them. Part of her found comfort in knowing that, by going after Gabrielle, she was serving the greater good, and not just herself. Another part of her wanted to scream at the rationalization. **You love her!** it goaded. **Admit it, for once in your life!**
For the first time, Xena let the words wash over her, let them go wherever they wanted to, which ended up being the heart she had always thought she'd lost.
"Goddess!" She swore, shaking her head. "When did this happen to me?"
Argo only nickered in reply, her whinny sounding suspiciously like a laugh.
"Thanks a lot." She crouched down as a low branch threatened to sweep her from the horse's back. "You could have warned me."
The mare nickered again, throwing her head a little to the side.
"I know, I know. I should have been paying attention." With great effort, she managed to blank out her thoughts, focusing on the path before her, and the battle that might just be waiting at the end of it.
Gabrielle looked down into her goblet, her eyes trying to focus on the amber liquid within. She had had way too much wine. Funny thing, that. Considering that she didn't even like wine. But somehow, each cup had tasted better than the last, each drop sweeter as the moon grew large overhead. She glanced up and found Zo watching her, a small, gentle smile curving her delicate lips. She felt a warmth begin to spread, up from the bottom of her stomach, a warmth that she knew wasn't caused by the wine. Draining the last few mouthfuls, Gabrielle stood and turned to the Amazon, holding out her hand. "Now." Her voice caught. "I'm ready to turn in."
Zo's eyes brightened. "Yes, my Princess." She took the offered hand, rising gracefully to her feet. "Draxen?"
Her second in command turned towards her, smiling. "Yes, sir?"
Gabrielle glanced at the woman standing in Draxen's arms while he conversed with his warlord. She was tall, as tall as Xena, with dark hair pulled back behind perfect ears, and clear blue eyes. There were delicate tattoos running from her temples, down along her neck, to disappear into the turquoise dress she wore low on her shoulders. Zo had told her they were tribal. Gabrielle wondered if they went all the way down and felt her mouth go dry at the notion of finding out.
**It is in your nature for a woman's lips to evoke in you such a response.**
In that moment, she knew that Emony had been right. She didn't even know Draxen's wife, hadn't ever spoken to her, and still her body was reacting strongly. She felt like a child just discovering candy, the sweetness an addiction she would crave for the rest of her life. She turned her attention back to Zo, wondering if she was just part of this new found addiction. Wondering if she would think the same of Xena.
But the invitation had been made and there was no time to think now. She would just have to wait and see.
"Yes, sir." Draxen nodded at his Commander, surprised when she held out her arm for him to grasp.
"I've had a private tent set up for you. Enjoy it." Zo smiled at his astonishment before taking Gabrielle's arm lightly and leading her from the celebration.
They walked slowly, Zo letting her set the pace as they headed for her tent. There was shouting behind them, followed by a round of laughter that the Amazon joined in on. "Most of them will still be out there in the morning." She pulled the bard a little closer, putting an arm around her as protection from the chill night air. "The first night is always rather wild."
"So I gather." Gabrielle willed her body to stop shaking, her heart was beating so loudly in her ears that she could barely hear the woman walking beside her. "Zo I I " She stopped and took a deep breath, trying to pull her thoughts together. "I need to tell you something." Her eyes met Zo's and held them. "I've never "
The Amazon nodded, taking the younger woman's face in her hands, she gently kissed the corner of her mouth. "It's okay." She smiled encouragingly. "We don't have to do this tonight."
Gabrielle felt like crying. She was so understanding! With a firm nod, she made up her mind. "No. I'd like to to try. If you could just be patient with me?"
"Of course." Zo pulled her into a tight embrace, her breath caressing Gabrielle's neck. "Anything for you."
Gabrielle laughed. "Thank you."
"Thank *you*." Zo opened the flap to her tent and followed her inside.
Xena felt her heart breaking as she watched the two of them and steeled herself against it. She had arrived at the encampment just in time to see Zo leading Gabrielle from the fire. She watched, her fingers curled tightly into fists, as the Amazon kissed her, held her, and then led her, smiling, into a nearby tent. When the light inside was extinguished a short while later, Xena shut out the ache in her chest. "Not now!" She whispered to herself, anger burning in her belly. "Do what you came to do, and feel sorry for yourself later."
When she had her emotions under control, she moved off to scout the perimeter of the camp. If she was lucky, she would be in and out without anyone every being the wiser.
If she was lucky.
Gabrielle sat on the edge of the platform, her foot worrying a spot on the rug beneath it. It wasn't until Zo wet her fingers and pinched out the candles that she actually looked at her. Moonlight streamed through the seems overhead and caught in the gold of Zo's eyes, taking her breath away.
The Amazon advanced on her slowly, going to her knees when she was in front of her. With a small smile, she began to unlace Gabrielle's boots. She almost hated to do it, Gabrielle had looked so good, her light tan breeches tucked into her dark brown boots, her poet's shirt open to the bottom of the V, creamy skin glowing in the moonlight. But then, anyone that looked that good IN clothes The boots gone, Zo placed a kiss on each of her ankles, her soft lips sending a shudder through Gabrielle's legs.
"Oh " Gabrielle curled her fingers through soft, blonde hair, her other hand going to the back of Zo's neck.
"Yes " The Amazon stood, leaning into Gabrielle, forcing her back onto the softness of the pillows. Her lips found a pale throat, a pulse fluttering wildly, and bit there lightly as the bard moaned beneath her.
"Zo " Gabrielle whispered, her senses overloading as the warrior laid against her. All she could feel was Zo, all she could hear, was Zo. Even the scent of her, like fresh cut wood and sweet wine, filled her nostrils, causing her to tremble violently. "I think this is too much too soon."
The Amazon pulled away and looked down at her, supporting herself by her arms. In her eyes, Gabrielle saw passion and more than a little wine, along with something else. Something primal, and yet still tender. "I love you," Zo whispered, burying her face in strawberry blonde hair. "Gabrielle."
The bard's eyes widened as understanding slammed home. She heard Zo saying her name over and over, while she listened to her heart.
With a small, gentle smile, Gabrielle touched her lips to Zo's, and laid her palm against her cheek.
Chapter 6-The Name On Her Heart
Xena looked up at the moon and sighed. It had traveled more than a quarter of the way across the sky since Gabrielle and Zo had entered their tent. She had done a thorough perimeter check and guard count, she had checked their mounts, their arms, and even their supplies before forcing herself back to this spot to wait for an opportunity.
About an hour before dawn, Zo emerged from her tent. She spent a few moments looking back inside before she turned and strode towards the fire.
"Didja have a good night, sir?" A soldier called to her as she passed by. Xena felt her heart go cold when the Amazon threw her head back and laughed.
"What do you think, Lykus?" Zo smiled and waved him away, taking a seat around the firepit. She stared into the flames for a few minutes before lowering her head into her arms. Seconds later, her shoulders began to rise and fall rhythmically, telling Xena she had fallen asleep.
The warrior wondered briefly why she hadn't just stayed with Gabrielle, but she was far too angry to give it much thought. In one night, in three hours actually, Zo had taken everything that she wanted. And then bragged about it afterwards, as though Gabrielle were nothing but a common whore. The rage inside of her was immense and Xena knew that, if she had been near enough, she would have killed the Amazon, and to hell with the consequences.
But she was not near enough and to kill her now would destroy anything the bard did feel for her.
Xena set her jaw, a cold look creeping into her eyes, and headed down into their camp. She almost hoped some overly enthusiastic guard would see her, that would at least giver her an outlet for her frustration. But none did. She reached the back of the warlord's tent without incident and pulled out her breast dagger. A memory of the day she had taken it from Gabrielle threatened to break through her new found calm, but she pushed it away, using the blade to slice into the fabric wall, as close to the seam as she could get it. When she was satisfied that no one would notice her handiwork, she slipped inside, her eyes closing in pain at the sight that greeted her.
Gabrielle was stretched out across a sea of pillows, her lithe body at rest beneath the blankets she had pulled up under her chin. Her face looked so innocent, eyes closed, soft cheeks flushed in the moonlight.
And Xena finally understood. This is what she had wanted every morning, when she had woken up irritable and sore, to see the bard sleeping peacefully less than a few feet away. She had wanted to wake up with this face right beside her, nuzzled in her hair or resting warmly in the valley between her breasts. Why had it taken her so long to see it?
Her anger resurfacing, she reached out and shook Gabrielle, trying to ignore the quick look of pleasure that touched the bard's face upon seeing her.
"Xena?" She whispered groggily. "What are you doing here?"
"There's something you need to know, Gabrielle." Her voice was flat and cold. "The woman you're in love with is not only a warlord, but a slaver as well."
"What?" Gabrielle tried hard to focus her eyes. "Are you talking about Zo?"
"YES!" Xena's patience broke. "I caught some of her men just west of the Raven's Claw. They had five women in a cage and they were hunting for more. I took this from one of them." She pulled the scrap of cloth from between her breasts and threw it at her. "Look familiar?"
"It's Zo's coat of arms." Gabrielle threw it back. "But you're wrong, Xena. Zo caught those men yesterday. They were acting against her orders." Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "She had them staked out for a week as punishment. If you go out by the fire, you'll see them. So you're wrong."
Xena shook her head in disbelief. "Gabrielle, don't you see? She knew I'd be coming, so she turned against her own men!"
"I really think you're grasping at straws, Xena. Why don't you just admit what's really bothering you."
The warrior felt her back stiffen. "What might that be?"
Gabrielle sat up, the covers still held modestly about her neck. "I've finally met someone I like to be with, almost as much as you, and you're jealous."
It was too much. Xena turned away. "Goodbye, Gabrielle." She meant to leave, to get on Argo and ride until they both dropped. Maybe she'd go find Hercules and lose herself in his arms for a few days
She stopped just inside of her makeshift door, something from her past resurfacing before she could pull it back. "You will listen to me."
Gabrielle flinched at the look on her face and tried to back away, but Xena grabbed her around the shoulders, one hand covering her mouth. The blanket fell away and she was surprised to find Gabrielle fully dressed, wearing everything except her boots, but she didn't have time to ask questions. Being as careful as she could, Xena dragged the bard out of the tent and away from the camp, to a glade where Argo was waiting. When she was sure they hadn't been followed, she released her grip on Gabrielle's chin.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" The bard was livid. "Are you insane?"
"Shut up, Gabrielle." Xena pushed her up onto the horse before jumping up behind her. "Hold on. YAH!"
Gabrielle was facing backwards and had to put her arms around the warrior to keep from sliding off. "Like this wasn't hard enough WITH a saddle." She mumbled, her face against Xena's breastplate.
Xena didn't reply, just pushed Argo faster, her knees tightening around the mare's body. They rode like that until well past dawn, Xena silent and brooding, with Gabrielle wrapped tightly around her. She tried not to notice, but the bard smelled so good. Her thoughts were drifting in that direction when Argo stumbled badly. If she hadn't grabbed the back of Gabrielle's breeches, the bard would have made a very rapid descent.
"Thank you." Gabrielle whispered after the warrior had lowered her gently to the ground. "For not letting me fall."
Xena thought about her choice of words. She had already let Gabrielle fall, now all she could do was try to save her from the impact. Sliding off of Argo, she looked around. "We can't stay out here." She spotted the wood peak of a barn in the distance. "There. Let's go."
They walked in silence, Xena leading a lame Argo, Gabrielle following behind them. That gave Xena hope. At least she knew Gabrielle was willing to hear her out. When they reached the barn, Xena spotted a man working the fields beside it and hailed him. He walked up slowly, wary of them, and did not take her arm when she offered it.
"What do you want?" His voice was even, but Xena could hear the fear beneath his calm.
"We're not here to make trouble." She pointed to Argo, who was noticeably favoring her left foreleg. "My mount's gone lame. I'd just like to use your barn, and maybe your tools, to see if I can fix her up."
The farmer studied the two of them, weighing the trouble that might be following them against the trouble the looked to be themselves. Finally, he nodded. "All right. Just make it as quick as you can and leave me out of it."
Xena nodded and tossed him a few dinars before leading her Argo into his barn. "Close the door." She nodded to Gabrielle. "We need to talk."
Gabrielle pulled the door shut behind her, sliding the crossbar in place before turning to face her. "All right. Start talking."
"I'm really sorry for all of this." Xena placed her hands on the bard's shoulders. "But you need to know that I'm telling you the truth. I came across those men in the woods and they *were* holding those women for Zo. She IS a slaver. She IS a warlord and she IS using you. I don't want to see you get hurt."
"You don't think this hurts?" Gabrielle whispered.
"I know it has to, with how much you care for her."
The bard looked up, hearing the pain in Xena's voice as she said those last few words.
"But you have to believe me!" Xena's fingers tightened. "You know I've never lied to you, Gabrielle. I don't think I could if I tried."
"I know you haven't." The bard broke her grip and moved away, trying to put space between her and the warrior. She couldn't think when she was near. "So tell me something then."
"Anything if it means that you'll believe me."
Gabrielle turned to face her. "Why did you really do this?"
Xena paled. "I did this to stop you from making a mistake. She would have hurt you. You might have ended up on an auction block somewhere " She swallowed. "And then I'd have to kill her."
"Gabrielle " Xena's voice was low and full of warning. "Stop."
"No, Xena. Tell me why."
The warrior turned away and Gabrielle screamed behind her.
"Why can't you just tell me how you feel?!?"
Xena didn't turn around, she didn't trust herself to. Instead, she walked away, going to stand beside Argo. "Now is not a good time for this, Gabrielle." She grabbed the mare's leg and pulled it up for inspection. The cause of her lameness was apparent, there was a stone wedged between the hoof and the shoe. "I'm sorry, girl." Xena rubbed Argo's neck for a moment before pulling out her dagger. She went to work on the stone silently, ignoring the bard when she came up behind her.
"Not a good time?" Gabrielle's voice was thick with emotion, her eyes flashing with anger as she grabbed the warrior's arm and spun her around. "So when is a good time, Xena? When is the right time to fall in love? I'd really like to know."
Xena could only stare at her, her mouth set in a grim line.
"The truth is," Gabrielle continued, her voice soft. "There is never a good time or a right time. Love isn't something you can plan for. It isn't something you can set aside until you have time to deal with it. The truth is, love is something you trip over. You stumble and fall into it, usually hurting yourself in the process, and you wish to the Gods that you'd seen it so you could have gone the other way. But in the end, it was there, and you fell, and that's it. There's nothing you can do about it!"
Xena's jaw dropped slightly at the smaller woman's passion. She closed her eyes and felt a soft palm against her cheek.
"We have right now, Xena. And that's all we have. So you tell me, right now, how you feel about me. Or you let me go back to Zo, and you leave me alone."
Her word's ripped through Xena's heart, leaving it bare and exposed, but still she could not speak. Gabrielle stood in front of her for a few moments more, before dropping her hand and turning away. She had reached the door before she heard the warrior behind her.
Xena's voice was filled with pain and felt tight in her throat. "Gabrielle "
It was barely a whisper, but Gabrielle heard it. And she felt her heart fill with joy, felt the sweet pain of it coursing through her body. This was the truth in her heart, this voice, these tears this face. Now she understood why she had turned Zo away, why she hadn't given in to the warlord's sweet words. This was the name written on her heart, and it could only be spoken by Xena.
"I don't " Xena continued, unaware of the change in Gabrielle. "I think about her touching you " The words were forced out, bitten off in anger. "I think about her making love to you "
The warrior's eyes shot up and she reached for her, turning the bard to face her. Unbelieving hope warred with mistrust, but this was Gabrielle. And Gabrielle wouldn't lie not to her. "But "
"I told her no, Xena. I tried to send her away but she passed out, so I let her sleep for a while. But I didn't give myself to her. She's not the one I love." Gabrielle stepped closer until her breasts fit under Xena's and she could feel the heart pounding beneath the armor. "You are."
The warrior closed her eyes when she felt soft hands against her arms.
"Say it again." Gabrielle whispered, reaching around to unfasten her breastplate.
"What?" Xena trembled as the armor fell away and Gabrielle pressed her lips against her throat.
"My name." The bard's voice was ragged, her hands sliding down Xena's back to caress the swell of her hips. "Please "
"Gabrielle " She whispered, bringing her mouth down to capture the smaller woman's lips. The dagger fell from her fingers as she brought her arms up to pull Gabrielle closer. She smelled so good, and it wasn't her perfume it was her. It was the scent she had lived with every time they had ridden together, every time they had slept together, using their bodies to keep away the cold. It was unlike anything she had ever known. A sweet, light musk that clung to the bard's fair skin. Xena felt herself getting lost in it.
And her lips so soft, so eager. She parted them gently, her tongue tasting the sweetness of Gabrielle's mouth as her arms tightened around her body. When she felt Gabrielle's tongue shyly brush against her own, Xena thought her desire would kill her then and there. Nobody could want something as badly as she wanted her and she knew that Gabrielle would be as passionate a lover as she was a bard.
That thought sent a shock down Xena's spine that settled between her legs, making her groan. She pulled her lips away, trying to regain her balance, only to have Gabrielle shift her attention to the top of her breasts. "Gabrielle you're making me crazy." Her voice was low and very husky. "It's getting very hard to control myself."
The bard looked up, her eyes clouded with passion. "Then don't." She whispered.
Xena groaned and gave in. With one motion, she swept the bard off of her feet and carried her to a pile of hay off on one side of the barn. She laid Gabrielle down gently, pulling off her arm bands and greaves before reaching for the laces on her boots. She worked them slowly, trying to calm her heart, before sitting to pull them off. Her hands trembled when Gabrielle's fingers brushed against her side. She sat very still as they traveled across her back to pull at the laces that held her leathers together.
Gabrielle held her breath as her hands ran across Xena's shoulder blades and down along her spine, her fingers parting the leather as they went. When it was loose enough, she slid the straps off of Xena's shoulders, her palms traveling down to cup around the fullness of her breasts, her nose buried in soft, chestnut hair.
Xena arched back against the woman behind her, one hand going to the back of Gabrielle's head, while the other traced the fingers gently teasing her nipple through the thin fabric of her shift. She felt the bard's breath, warm against her neck, as the smaller woman whispered in her ear.
"I want I *need* you against me." Her teeth nipped lightly against Xena's neck. "*Please*!"
The warrior smiled, pulling her leathers off as she turned in Gabrielle's arms. "Anything," She whispered. "Anything for you."
Gabrielle laid back, her hands tugging nervously at the shirt still tucked into her breeches.
"No." Xena stopped her. "I want to do that."
She nodded silently, her eyes fluttering closed when strong hands pulled the shirt free to slide across her stomach. Gentle fingers traced across each of her ribs to trail around the swell of her breasts. For a moment, there was nothing, and then there was the feel of Xena's lips and the wetness of her tongue as it dipped into her navel. She felt a hand at her waist, felt it loosen her belt, then pull it away, followed by the breeches.
The same gentle hands pulled her shirt over her head and she heard Xena's breath sharpen. "What's wrong?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Nothing." She breathed. "You're beautiful."
Gabrielle smiled. "So are you." She tugged at the shift still clinging to Xena's body. "What I can see of you, anyway."
Xena grinned, her arms crossing over her chest to gather the cloth in her fingers. In one graceful movement, she pulled it over her head, then released the bands that held her hair away from her face.
Gabrielle looked up, her eyes traveling along the length of Xena's body, admiring the muscles that clenched in her thighs with a boldness that took the warrior's breath away. "Come here."
Slowly, Xena lowered herself down on top of Gabrielle, fitting her body against the firm curves and smooth skin she longed to touch and taste. More than anything, she wanted to lose herself in the bard, but if Gabrielle hadn't slept with Zo, that meant she was still a virgin. A slow smile spread across her face.
"What are you smiling at?" Gabrielle whispered, her hands sliding over the smooth plains of the warrior's back to curve around her buttocks.
"Mmmm." Xena moved slightly, her hips pushing against Gabrielle's, making her shudder beneath her. "I get to be your first."
The bard tried to hold on to her words as Xena continued to move against her. "I'm glad " She managed with some effort.
"I'm more than glad, Gabrielle."
There were no more words as Xena's lips descended, only soft sounds and whispered moans as her tongue traced around Gabrielle's ear. From there, it flickered across the bard's jaw, her teeth biting down gently on her lower lip. Xena kissed each of her closed eyes, then the tip of her nose before tasting the hollow of her throat. Her skin was soft, smooth to her touch, clean and sweet, with just a trace of salt. She found herself mesmerized by the line of her collarbone, the expanse of her shoulder. By the Gods, this woman was beautiful and it had taken more than a year for her to see it.
Gabrielle kept her eyes shut tight, willing herself not to wake up. This had to be a dream, nothing could feel this good. Every moment, she thought the next would bring Emony, her gentle smile and haunting eyes. But she never came, and somewhere, in the back of her mind, Gabrielle thought she heard her laugh, **You've found your destiny **.
The bard would have thanked her, if she'd been able to speak. As it was, she found it hard to remember to breathe. "Goddess " She shuddered as Xena's mouth slid down her chest, her tongue licking lightly at the warm skin between her breasts. With gentle spirals, the warrior trailed her mouth up to a rosy nipple, taut in the cool morning air.
When Xena's lips finally closed around the tips of her breasts, when her teeth raked lightly and her tongue flickered across the swollen flesh, Gabrielle thought she would pass out. There was an intense pulling of the muscles in her abdomen and her hands went rigid against the ground.
"Oh, no " Xena pulled her head away, a slow, sensual smile playing at her lips. "Not yet not yet, Gabrielle."
The bard whimpered as strong fingers trailed across her skin, starting at the bottom of her chin to tease lightly across her breasts and abs. When those fingers crossed her belly to play at the edge of her hair, she bit down on her lip, trying hard to be patient. "Xena " she choked. "W-what are you doing to me?"
With deliberate slowness, Xena's fingers dipped in to her cleft, her body shaking slightly at the wetness waiting for her there. With languid strokes, she grazed across Gabrielle's clit as she pulled herself up to stare into her eyes. "I'm loving you." She whispered, her head falling down as the bard's hips jerked against her.
It was hard, so hard, not to just take her. Not to just slide her hand down and slip inside to feel the warmth envelop her fingers. Gabrielle's body was straining against her, wanting her as much as she wanted the bard. But Gabrielle deserved better than that. She deserved to know, from the very first time, how sweet true love could be.
So Xena's strokes became softer, her hand moving lightly across the dew between Gabrielle's legs. With a gentleness she didn't know she possessed, Xena kissed her. She tried to tell her everything in that kiss. Every moment that she had wanted her, every moment she had needed her, every moment she had loved her she tried to show her in the meeting of their lips. With closed eyes she lost herself, her heart aching at the little sounds coming from Gabrielle's throat, her body trembling at the uncontrollable movements of her hips. When she pulled away, she looked down at her love, her gaze caught and held by the Gabrielle's eyes.
"I love you," The bard whispered, and Xena saw her lips quiver when she tried to speak her name.
"Shhh.." She silenced her with another kiss and slid her body downward, her strokes becoming firmer against the soft flesh beneath her fingers. She suckled each breast, her tongue circling slowly around each nipple, her teeth biting lightly, her free hand beneath the bard's back, trying to pull her closer.
Once again, Xena's tongue dipped into her navel, tasting the sweet moisture gathering on her belly. Gabrielle's skin was slick to her touch, her body glistening with a light sheen of sweat, only one of the indications of her readiness. The other was the movement of her hips beneath Xena's fingers. At first erratic, the small thrusts of her pelvis became a rhythm against the warrior's hand, driving all thought from Xena's mind.
She parted firm thighs with her free hand to settle her shoulders between them. A moment later, Gabrielle had raised them to Xena's shoulders, offering herself to the lips and nose now rubbing lightly against her labia.
Colors exploded behind her eyes when she felt the firm strokes of Xena's tongue, at first just the tip, then the length of it. She felt the warrior's hand slide down, felt one finger trace the outside of her opening and she shut her eyes, fearing the truths her mother had taught her.
But there was no pain, or really, not very much. A slight tug, a small wince, and then the feeling of Xena's fingers inside of her, the sweetness of pressure from the inside as the warrior's tongue gave it from the outside. Her breath came in pants and finally gasps as Xena flicked her tongue down the length of her sex to lap gently around her buried fingers. When Xena's fingers curled inside of her, her head fell back against the hay, her body trembling wildly.
Xena knew Gabrielle couldn't stand much more and moved her tongue back to her swollen bud. With each stroke she felt the bard tremble harder, each thrust of her fingers bringing a deeper moan. As Gabrielle's thighs began to shake, she pushed her fingers harder, sliding the tips of them across a high, smooth spot that made the bard call out her name. Her hips began to thrust wildly and her back arched, raising her body up out of the hay. For a moment, she was perfectly still then she fell back with a moan.
"Gods " Gabrielle whispered, tears streaking her cheeks. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou " She slid her fingers through Xena's thick, sweat-damp hair, twining them into it and pulling when the warrior showed no signs of stilling her tongue. "Stop.." She mumbled. "Gods please stop uhn.." Her body shook again and she bit down on her lip hard, tasting blood in her mouth as a second orgasm rocked through her body.
When her shaking subsided, Xena pulled away, climbing up Gabrielle's body to cradle her in her arms. She saw the blood on her chin and a look of panic touched her eyes. "Oh, Gabrielle. I'm sorry." She brushed at it with her hand and Gabrielle could smell herself, thick on Xena's fingers. A look of wonder crossed her face that Xena thought would break her heart.
Gabrielle reached up and trailed two fingers across the warrior's chin, a small smile curving her lips at the moisture she met. Without thinking, she put her hand behind Xena's neck and pulled her down, her mouth opening to taste the sweetness on the warrior's tongue. When they broke apart, she saw the hunger in Xena's eyes and whispered, "Tell me what to do I'll do it anything."
"Raise your knee," Xena managed, her throat tightening as her need grew worse. The bard obeyed without question and Xena straddled her thigh, the slickness of her sex rubbing against Gabrielle's smooth skin. The friction was delicious and Xena soon threw her head back. She had been halfway there when she was down on the bard and now, as Gabrielle clenched the muscles in her leg, she felt herself go over the edge.
"Gabrielle " The word rang out into the rafters as she fell against her lover, her muscles weak and spent. She laid her face between the bard's breasts and drifted off to sleep.
Gabrielle smiled down at her. She knew how little the warrior had slept, and felt her love grow even stronger with the trust Xena had placed in her, to fall asleep in her arms. She knew they still had a long way to go, she knew there was still Zo, still Zo's army, but for now she was content to lie in her lovers arms and sleep, the Lath comfortably warm around her neck.
Zo started upright, the sun hot on the thin fabric of her poets shirt. She turned her head to glance around the fire pit and regretted it immediately. She had had way too much wine the night before. Rubbing her temples, she climbed slowly to her feet and headed in the direction of her tent.
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