DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are property of MCA /Universal. The rest of this is the author's fault.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ok, I know I more than likely broke some cliche rules here, so sue me. I guess I'll just warn y'all ahead of time. WARNING: This story may contain trite, overused analogies. If this bugs ya, go read Tolstoy. Pulitzer Prize material, this ain't. This takes place immediately following the episode 'Lost Mariner'.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A Warrior's Hands
By sHaYcH



"Oh, quit being such a baby and hold still." The click of tweezers could be heard.

"Ouch! Gabrielle, do you have to be so ruthless?" Griped the warrior.

"Xena, I'm not the one who decided to do gymnastics on several trees, somersault through the air like some circus act and then slide hither and thither on hempen ropes. Now sit still and be quiet. You have hundreds of slivers in your hands. I can't imagine how you kept touching things without wincing," lectured the bard, while plucking out the various wood chips, splinters, and rope bits that had lodged themselves in the calloused palms of the warrior princess.

"Gabrielle, if I hadn't done those "gymnastics", you would still be trapped on Cecrops' ship. You know, cursed for the rest of your life to spend your every moment on a boat." Xena smiled coyly at the bard.

"You have a point..." conceded Gabrielle as she bathed the warrior's palms in warm water. "...But I still don't understand why you risked your life for me, again. By the way, thanks." The bard smiled warmly at Xena as she began to once more slowly pick slivers.

"Ouch! Gabrielle, did you think I would just leave you there to rot?" Gabrielle contemplated the warrior's question.

"Um....well, I don't know. I mean, it's not like you were certain that you could defeat the curse and all..." Pick...pick...pick...pick...

"Ouch! Oh come on my bard, did you ever doubt me?" a touch of amusement tinged Xena's tone. Gabrielle worked silently for a few more minutes, then plunged the warrior's hands back into the bowl of fire-warmed water that she had prepared as the warrior had set her rabbit traps. "Oh, by the gods, that's a relief. Are you almost done, Gabrielle?"

"Yeah, just a few more after this. And, uh, well no. I never doubt you Xena, ever." The quickly smothered, but beautiful smile she received was forgiveness enough for what she was about to do. Withdrawing a long, sharply pointed needle from their sewing kit, Gabrielle began the laborious task of scratching out the remaining shards of non-flesh in Xena's hands. As she held the warrior's sword hand cupped gently in her own, she was powerfully taken by the images of the last time those hands had touched her.

It was the Equinox Festival of Spring and they were visiting the Amazon village. Queen Melosa had sent Solari and several other Amazons to seek them out, so that Gabrielle could actively participate in her people's rituals. When they had arrived, Ephiny and Eponin had each taken one of the women, despite protests from both warrior and bard, and separated them. When next Gabrielle was seen, she was bedecked as an Amazon. Not as the Princess, but as all the other women were--in matching festival garb. Aside from hair color, there was no way to determine who was who. At dusk, Melosa ascended the steps to the Amazon throne and declared that a Rite of Silence was to be observed from sundown to sunup. Gabrielle's jaw had dropped to the forest floor at this pronouncement, but silently promised to keep her mouth shut, not wanting to undergo whatever punishment was sure to descend should she break the ritual code.

Xena, who had noticed the bard's fiery red hair glinting in the dying light of the sun, smirked at the thought of her bard having to maintain absolute silence for twelve whole candlemarks. Gabrielle was certainly going to get an education on this night. She was looking forward to the entertainment the night would surely bring. It had been way too long, she sighed, and having the beautiful young bard around as a constant temptation wasn't helping matters.

The feasting, dancing and merriment began. Gabrielle knew she was consuming way too much of the sweet, but incredibly potent Amazon wine, but she didn't care. She hadn't seen Xena in almost five candlemarks and was starting to get very worried. Just as she was about to risk offending whatever god the Amazons were honoring with their festival, Gabrielle felt a light touch on her shoulder. Spinning around, she came face to face with one of Artemis' Initiates. Without saying a word, the Initiate made it clear to Gabrielle that she was to follow her. Perplexed and a little bit frightened, the bard none-the-less went in the direction that the woman indicated.

Soon Gabrielle found herself inside of the Temple Purification Chamber. Several Initiates were waiting, standing around a steaming tub. One by one, they approached Gabrielle and removed an article of her clothing, leaving only the mask. Then, they each went around and doused the candles and torches that had lit the room.

Suddenly surrounded by steam drenched darkness, Gabrielle felt her trepidation grow. Hands emerged and removed the mask. Now naked, she was gently led to the bathtub, helped in and thoroughly bathed. Once she was clean, she was helped out of the now tepid water and annointed with a musky scented oil. Her body grew limp under the tender ministrations of the unknown Initiates and she almost fell asleep. As she felt the last of the oiled hands leave her body, she was handed a cup of something to drink. Gratefully, she quaffed the sweet wine. Another set of hands directed her to a new location. Unsure once again, she was laid down on a soft pallet. When she tried to rise, hands held her down, and stroked her hair in a comforting gesture. Still unsure, she tried once more to get up. Again, the silent command to stay where she was, and the silent offer of reassurance. Deciding that igniting the wrath of the gods was not worth sitting up, Gabrielle laid herself back on the comfortable bedding and waited.

She didn't have to wait long. Hands, not as smooth as the ones before, slid up her calves, sending shivers across her back and neck. Lips so soft she didn't notice them at first brushed the insides of her knees and she felt the thought dizzying sensation of a naked body--a woman's naked body--sliding up her own. Suddenly extremely aroused, she reached down to touch her bedmate. A haze of feelings washed over her as she explored the woman who was doing her blessed best to drive the bard to new heights of passion. Tall, with long hair, long legs and, long, strong fingers. A mouth that was expressive in so many ways without a word being said. Lips spoke volumes of poetry across her flesh, a tongue painted masterpieces in her mouth and fingers evoked images in her mind that no story ever could. Then, those same lips, tongue and fingers taught her their tricks, showed her how to write and paint in feelings and touches. They remained this way until the bard fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Xena was drunk. She knew it and so did the other women around her. She hadn't goofed and broke the Rite of Silence, but she knew that if she didn't find a distraction soon, she would mess up and end up having to spend the remainder of the night alone in contemplation in the apse of the Temple of Artemis. She hoped she would be doing something else inside the aforementioned temple. Something much more entertaining. She was working her way through her sixth, or was that seventh, cup of Amazon wine when the Temple Initiate tapped her on the shoulder. A broad and hungry smile came to her lips as she followed the acolyte into the depths of the temple. Knowing what was to come, she just relaxed and let the Initiates perform their duties. Her bath was perhaps the fastest one in the history of this particular rite. Soon, after downing the cup of ceremonial wine, which she knew to be laced with an aphrodisiac, she was led down a hall and into a pitch black chamber. Now, one might think that the warrior princess would be able to guess who lay on the pallet before her legs, but Amazon wine, being such as it was, had even taken it's toll on the warrior's legendary senses...or perhaps it was her hormones. Needless to say, she wasted no time in attempts to discover which of the lovely women who frequented the Amazon village was to be hers to enjoy this night, she just fell to her highly relished duty with a will.

Covering the woman's legs with kisses and caresses, she slid up the small, lithe form beneath her and began the process of bringing her to the heights of passion. She was, of course, delighted and surprised to learn that she had been granted the joy of teaching a newcomer to the arts of woman love. Even more shocking was that this woman was a virgin. Xena was never so close to total surrender as she was when she slipped her long, strong fingers into the untouched core of a woman. And what a woman. This innocent (not for much longer, but for now, she would think of her as an innocent) gave as good as she got, and then some. She had a fire in her that ignited a similar flame within the warrior. All through the long night they came together, touching, kissing, exploring, until, sometime around dawn, the door opened and an Initiate led the happily exhausted warrior princess away.

The next afternoon, a sore, but happy Gabrielle emerged from the temple and headed for the dining hall. She passed Xena, who looked mighty happy herself. Stopping to walk with her warrior friend, she noticed several purpling marks on the warrior's neck and shoulders.

"Morning Xena." The bard smiled at her friend. "I missed you last night." Xena chuckled.

"Not for long, I'm sure." She indicated a set of similar purple marks on Gabrielle's left shoulder. The bard's face took on the shade of newly ripened tomatoes and she stopped dead in her tracks.

"Hey, wait a flippin' wax dripping here, you mean to tell me that you knew what was going to happen? And didn't tell me?"

"Yup." A grin was working it's way down from the warrior's eyes.

"Xena! I could..."

"Look, I'm sorry I didn't warn you, but...I couldn't. It's part of the joy of the ritual that the new attendees not know what is to happen." Then her expression got serious. "You did have a good time right? You weren't forced or anything?" Xena's hand came to rest on the bard's forearm and her eyes searched Gabrielle's for signs that the bard had been forced to undergo the ceremony.

Gabrielle thought about the previous evening's activities. While certainly different, and perhaps it would take her a while to get used to the fact that women could touch like that, she didn't feel that she'd been forced in any way. "No. I wasn't forced Xena. I um," and her blush deepened, "enjoyed myself after I got over being nervous."

Xena looked once more into the bard's hazel eyes, and was happy to learn that Gabrielle's first experience had been one of joy. Squeezing the bard's arm once more in a comradely gesture, she turned and headed back in the direction of the dining hall. In that one tiny gesture, Gabrielle realized several things. One, the warrior princess was almost ready to slaughter the entire Amazon Nation for her, two, she cared a lot for the bard, and three, and this was the big one--Xena had been her lover of the previous evening. There was no mistaking that those long, strong fingers, or the calloused, loving palm that had so recently left her body were now offering comfort to her arm.

When the warrior removed her hand, its impression was burned onto Gabrielle's mind and body. But not having a clue what to say or do, the bard just shook herself off and followed her friend into the dining hall.

Several months passed. Gabrielle put the incident of the Spring Equinox out of her mind, though the feelings haunted her dreams. She married, seeking to find a way to end the indescribable longing that permeated her soul. When her marriage ended in bloodshed, she was at a loss. She now knew what it was that she sought, she just didn't have a clue as to how to get it. She wanted the warrior princess. She thought that marrying Perdicus would help to erase the memory of Xena's touch from her skin and heart, but all it did was fan the fire of her desire. So she buried it deep. And hoped to the gods that she wouldn't get stuck in a compromising position with the intimidating warrior princess. Which of course didn't happen.

The kiss. Oh, that wonderful, soul-searing, heart aching, gut busting, lip tickling kiss. Forget that Autolycus had a mustache that made her sneeze. Forget that the hand on her butt was larger than she wanted, it was still Xena's spirit touching hers. The bard was certain that the warrior had only meant to comfort, but that slice of solace had so lifted Gabrielle's spirits that even when things seemed their bleakest, (say like when Callisto decided to play mind games with the bard by the campfire) all Gabrielle had to do was think back to those wonderful seconds, and suddenly, things were looking a whole lot peachier.

Ulysses. Oh, that evil snake-eyed gorgon monster of a slice of humanity. His talk of "other halves of souls" had caused the bard more anguish than she was willing to admit. She was all too glad to set foot upon a boat once again, just to be far, far away from his sliminess.

A cough shook the bard from her reverie.

"Gabrielle, are we done yet? I'm starving." Gabrielle dropped Xena's doctored hand like a hot stone.

"Oh, sorry. Yeah. Go ahead." She took a shuddering breath to clear her mind of the erotic pictures beginning to form. Xena dried her hands on a nearby scrap of cloth and stood, capturing an image of the beautiful bard still kneeling on the rough homespun blanket. Thanking whatever gods that were listening to her that the Amazonian Spring Equinox festival was once again nearing, the warrior moved off to check her traps.

Dinner was over and Gabrielle was attempting to inscribe their latest adventure on sun dried parchment. Finally, the bard gave up as all she could think to write was poetry about how easily she could fall into pools of bottomless blue. Bad poetry at that. Shoving the hastily rolled scroll back into her haversack, the bard stood and said, "Xena, I'm going to go and wash the smell of the sea off of my skin. Care to join me?"

Xena, never one to miss a chance to see her bard naked, resheathed her blade, banked the fire and was striding with a purpose in the opposite direction of the stream she had pointed out to the bard on their way inland.

"Hey!" called out Gabrielle. "Where are you going? I thought you said the stream was that way." She pointed back towards the beach they had washed up on after Cecrops had broken Poseidon's curse.

"I did. But there's a small lake this way. Found it when I was setting my traps."

"What's the difference. Lake, stream. As long as it isn't salt water."

"Ahh, but you see, this lake has something special." Said the warrior mysteriously.

"What's that?" Gabrielle, now curious, walked over to follow her friend.

"You'll see, my bard. Race ya!" And with a whoop, she took off running through the forest.

"Xena! No fair! You know the way!"

"All's fair in any competition, Gabrielle" Xena's voice floated back to the sprinting bard.

"Hmph. That's 'all's fair in love and war' warrior princess, but I doubt you'd know that," groused the bard to herself as she dodged tree branches and berry brambles. However, her grumblings came to an abrupt end when she saw the lake. Small, surrounded on three sides by high cliffs and decorated with beautiful trees, bushes and flowers, Gabrielle's breath was stolen right from her lungs. What really caught her eye was the small fall of water cascading down the side of the cliff nearest to the shore. Xena, of course, was already in the water, having shed her leathers as soon as she'd reached the lake's edge. Shucking her salt encrusted clothes, Gabrielle slowly waded out into the water and swam around til she was within speaking distance of Xena.

"Isn't this wonderful Gabrielle?" Asked the warrior as she swam around, letting the cool, clear water rinse the salt and seaweed from her body.

"Mmm. Yeah. You're forgiven."

"Forgiven? I wasn't aware that I'd done anything to offend." A small shred of hurt crept into the warrior's statement.

"Not really. I'm just forgiving you for any future offense." Teased the bard, to bring the smile back to her friend's eyes.

The warrior's hands came up in an aristocratic gesture, and she said in her best "holier than thou" voice, "why thank you, thank you very much." And, with a wry twist of her lips, those hands descended faster than Gabrielle's eyes could track into the cool lake waters and splashed her till she had to turn away to breathe. Laughing hysterically, Xena continued to playfully splash the bard until Gabrielle spun around and delivered a few good water sprays of her own. Figuring the best defense is a good offense, Xena dove down deep, swam away from the still splishing bard, eeled around till she was behind Gabrielle, and surfaced. Tapping the bard on the shoulder she crowed, "tag! You're it!" and dove away before Gabrielle could react.

"I'm gonna make you..." Growled Gabrielle, and she was off, chasing Xena around the lake. The two friends played for about a half of a candlemark before sheer exhaustion drove them to call a cease fire and meet near the waterfall to parlay.

"So, what do you think of my surprise, Gabrielle?"

"It's great, Xena. I've never seen a waterfall before. It's beautiful in the moonlight."

"Mmm, wait till you feel what it's like to bathe under it." Sighed the warrior.

"Bathe under it? Really? It wouldn't be too dangerous?" Queried Gabrielle, perked up at the idea of feeling water run down her back.

"Uh-huh. This one at least. C'mon, there's some soaproot growing on the bank over there. Let's get some and get clean. I'm starting to prune." Gabrielle retrieved the cleansing herb and joined Xena under the waterfall. Handing the warrior half of her gathered plant, she began to vigorously scrub her body while standing under the drenching downpour of the falls. Xena, after watching the bard for some minutes, finally said, "no, no, no. Not like that...enjoy it. Like this." Taking the squashed soaproot from Gabrielle's hands, she began to slowly massage the foaming herb into the bard's hair. Running her sudsy fingers over the bard's neck, Xena forced herself to swallow and ignore the sensations rising in her body at the feel of Gabrielle's smooth skin under her hands.

Xena took her time, slowly running her hands up and down the exposed portions of Gabrielle's body, cleaning away the salt and grime of the sea. When she felt the warrior's hands cup her hips and begin to massage, Gabrielle knew it was time to do something about her long unfulfilled need. Covering Xena's hands with her own, she leaned back into the warrior and sighed. Xena, sensing something was about to happen, ceased her ministrations, and waited for the bard. Gabrielle slowly drew the warrior's strong, warm hands up to cup her breasts. Hearts pounding in unison, the two women allowed themselves to revel in the sensation of shared desire.

"Yes." They both breathed, simultaneously answering each other's unasked questions. Moving to face each other, Xena brought her hand up to cup the bard's face. Smiling eyes and lips were picked out in the moonlight. Gabrielle tilted her head and kissed the warrior's palm, then her wrist, then the indent of her elbow, then shoulder, neck, and finally, Xena's soft, warm lips. In a silence almost as profound as their first time, Xena's hands slid across the bard's body, re-touching the landscape already mapped there. And then she knew. Gabrielle felt the knowledge register with the warrior.

"It was you..." whispered Xena, in wonder.

"Uh huh. Took you long enough."


"...didn't I say anything? What was I supposed to say, "oh, by the way Xena, thank you for making such beautiful love to me last night"?"

"You've always known?"

"Yes. From the moment you touched me after...till now...I've known, and I've prayed that it would happen again. Please tell me that it will." The warrior was silent for a few moments, absorbing the new information, then, with a chuckled she answered Gabrielle's plea with a kiss. And another, and another.

"Oh yeah, Gabrielle. As much as you want."

"Good. Cuz I really want." Stopping any further conversation with a kiss, Gabrielle drew Xena into the waterfall and let the clear liquid wash over them as they began to explore each other by moonlight.

The End

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