Spoiler Alert: This story takes place during the 5th season, after the visit to the town of Spamona, without Xena becoming pregnant, and without Gabrielle adopting a horse.
*My thanks to Ink Warrior for her BETA reading assistance
and general tolerance of my obsessing*
Xena and Gabrielle said their goodbyes to their friends as they left the town of Spamona. They were there for nearly a month, waiting for the cold winter winds to turn to spring. During their stay, the two had been unusually quiet and introspective. Gabrielle, sitting quietly in their room writing or taking long walks when the weather permitted, pondering their most recent adventures and Xena, restlessly helping her friend, Talia, to put her town in proper order, at least from Xena's point of view.
About the only time either of them smiled was when they observed the blossoming relationship between Amarice and Arman. It was obvious that the two would come together. Their outward verbal and even physical exchanges had only been a front for the deeper attraction they held for each other. Joxer even found a young woman who had become smitten with him as he helped out as a part time cook at the local inn where she waitressed. This was a blessing in disguise as it took Joxer's attention from his infatuation with Gabrielle, and she was able to leave with Xena without having to have "the talk" with him.
Now as they once again hit the road, heading in the general direction of Amphipolis and Amazon Territory, Xena, the warrior princess, and Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons, found themselves in an uncomfortable silence. Xena was deeply aware of this silence as she led Argo along the path, while Gabrielle brought up the rear.
"She won't even walk next to me so that we could talk if we wanted to," Xena thought. She glanced behind her to see Gabrielle watching her feet as they strode upon the sometimes muddy, rutted path. Gabrielle looked up, caught Xena's eye and gave her a quick smile. "I don't think she is mad at me, we have not had a fight. It's just that we have not had a real talk about everything that happened in Rome. Gods, what we have been through!" Xena looked back again to see her blonde friend obviously lost in her own thoughts with her brow furrowed in concentration. "Look at her," the warrior thought. "She has changed so much. She is no perky, little storyteller, no gabby girl, now. She is a beautiful woman, a true queen in her grace and actions. But she seems so sad. Well, who wouldn't be after what has happened to her? Gods, I have put her through so much. She died for me!"
Xena had these thoughts before, during their stay in Spamona. The dark haired beauty worried for her friend who had become so withdrawn. She had changed her belief system to stay with Xena. To see her fight now, was a thing of beauty. Agile like a cat, springing fearlessly into battle, she defended Xena when Xena was defenseless. Where had these warrior skills come from? Xena knew Gabrielle had been training and observing, both with her and her Amazon sisters, but Great Zeus, to see her in action? it made Xena's heart jump with pride. She would no longer have to fear for her when trouble arose, but she might have to fear for those who chose to confront them. And Xena did not know how to feel about Gabrielle's obvious change of heart regarding her battles. It seemed that although Gabrielle still did only what was necessary, she showed far less mercy for her adversaries than in the past. Her change in weaponry said it all. The sais she kept tucked in her boots were used with chilling accuracy.
These changes had helped to bring Xena to a major turning point in her way of thinking. She wondered why the Gods had brought them back from death to live their lives again, together. Her only conclusion was that they were meant to be together and not just as traveling companions. Xena reached deep inside herself for answers to the question, "What now?" The only thing that consistently came to her was her desire to make Gabrielle happy and to be with her as more than a friend. As she considered the possibilities, she had come up with a plan that she was putting into action as they walked. She would make Gabrielle happy, or else! She loved her more than life itself. After all they had been through, from the angels to the demons and back, not to mention the crucifixion, her vision incarnate. Xena vowed that these adventures would end.
"The Gods have sent us back for another second chance. We have each been given a second chance once before, but we were too blind to see it. This time I see it," Xena nodded her head in affirmation to her thoughts, her long black hair bobbing along with the gesture, as they continued their journey. "I want to settle down. I want a place that is home. I want to make a home for Gabrielle. I want to stop these incessant, life threatening trips we have been taking. I want to be happy and for me to be happy, Gabrielle must be at peace." There she said it, at least to herself. The thoughts had been nagging at her for some time, pretty much every time Gabrielle had been in danger or had been hurt because of her. Xena felt that this was what the Gods would want them to do, to settle down and enjoy life. This second chance was a reward for the pain they had endured. They both had so much to offer. They could certainly continue to give back to the world while they made a life for themselves, together.
Xena was taking Gabrielle to her special place. She had saved this location for a rainy day, and that day had come. During her early reformation days, Xena acquired a beautiful valley (legally!) as her own. It was the perfect spot. Within easy traveling distance to Poteidaia, Amphipolis & the Amazons, this valley would be their home. The plans for her dream home were all drawn up and in the hands of a builder who owed her a favor. He had been holding the plans for over a year, waiting until Xena sent him word to begin. "Soon," Xena thought. She'd wanted a special place for Gabrielle for a long time. Now she knew it wasn't just for Gabrielle, but for the both of them.
They were within half a day's journey of this special spot, when the storm hit. Gabrielle hated traveling when it was wet. She had been complacently following after Xena on this most recent trip. "To where?" She didn't even care. She just knew that she was on the road again with her friend and hoped that the familiarity of this would bring back what was missing.
"Just what is missing?" Gabrielle had been searching for answers since their resurrection. So much had changed for her, and Xena as well. There was no wonder that things were not the same. She knew her unusual quietness was bothering Xena, but did not know what to say. She felt as though some major decisions were to be made, but was not sure what they were.
She, too, wondered at their second chance at life and felt that the Gods must have wanted them to complete something that was not finished the first time around. "It must be important to them, but it would sure be easier if they just told us what they wanted us to do," Gabrielle thought as she flipped her short cropped blonde hair from her eyes. A cold spring rain had begun and the water was beginning to trickle down her face like tears. "All I know is that whatever path I choose, it will be with Xena, but we need to make a change, for I cannot continue to endure the tragedies which have befallen us." There it is, thought Gabrielle. "I can't go on like this. I am exhausted mentally and physically. I need time to heal. I need to find myself. Damn it, I want to be happy. After all that we have been through and tried to do, is that being selfish?" She wiped the rain from her face and drew a heavy sigh as she felt the road begin to turn to a thick mud that pulled at her boots.
Xena began to lead them uphill into a section of heavily wooded hills that Gabrielle had not traveled in before. All she knew was that it was taking them away from the nearest known town and shelter. She marveled at Xena's sudden freeze, head up, eye's alert. As Gabrielle tried to sense what had caught the warrior's attention, she watched a quick flip of the new chakram's pieces in two directions, into the woods, off the path. Before she knew it, Xena was triumphantly slogging back toward Argo with two beautiful pheasants, minus the heads, dangling by their feet in her left hand. She snapped the chakram back on her belt with the right. Xena, whose spirits had lifted with her recent unannounced decisions, smiled a brilliant white toothed grin that made Gabrielle's heart flutter with the memory of her first sight of this smile several years before.
"Dinner, Gabs." Xena chuckled as she tied the pheasants' feet together with a leather tie and tossed them across the back of Argo's saddle.
Gabrielle gave a slight grin at the reappearance of Xena's pet name for her. "Xena, where are we going?" She asked through the noise of the rain that was quickly becoming a downpour. "I'm cold, let's get to the nearest town and stay in a room for tonight, please?"
Xena jumped at the words. They were the first Gabrielle had spoken for almost the whole day. "Gabrielle, trust me, it won't be that much further and we will have a place out of the rain. Just not at an inn." She smiled at Gabrielle and touched her cheek with the tips of her fingers. Her heart quickened at the sight of her. Even wet and muddy, she carried with her a special quality that shone through her exhaustion.
"I do trust you, Xena, I just? I am just tired. And cold. How much further?" The need in her voice was evident. Gabrielle hoped she did not sound like she was whining. She had reveled in the momentary contact. There had been so little interaction between them recently. The spark she felt at the touch of Xena's fingers told her that the connection was still there. Xena took Argo's reins and resumed the climb up the steep hillside.
"Look up at the ridge ahead," called Xena, pointing with the hand that held Argo's reins while pushing back rain sodden bushes that blocked their path. The path was not much more than a deer trail with the hill rising up on one side and a sharp drop down a rocky slope to a medium sized river below. "Do you see the boulder that is balanced against the big oak tree?" Xena's face was eager. It told Gabrielle that there was a plan forming in the warrior's mind.
"What is she up to?" thought Gabrielle.
At that moment, Argo gave a snort and jumped ahead, pulling the warrior princess with her by the reins. Gabrielle, startled by the sudden movement, did not see the small slide of mud as the hillside behind her began to give way beneath the weight of the recently melted snow, the rain and newly formed mud. As she stepped back from Argo, her foot slipped right into the slide that was widening and gathering momentum.
"Xena!" Gabrielle had time to yell before she felt her feet go out from under her and found herself on her rear sliding over the edge of the path. She clutched wildly at passing shrubs but could gain no hold. She tumbled along with the mud and debris that had let loose from the hill.
"Gabrielle!" Xena spun around on one knee from where she had fallen with Argo's sudden yank. She quickly took in the situation. Argo had sensed the impending slide and had pulled her to safety, but Xena watched in horror as her beloved friend tumbled down the slope. Surely she would not survive a drop all the way to the river! But as chance would have it, the slide backed up against a brace of trees and Gabrielle's body slowed with the slide until her back pressed into one of the trees. This was all that kept her from dropping the rest of the way into the busy, boulder-strewn river below.
"Gods!" Xena exclaimed as she quickly dropped over the edge of the slope and waded through the debris toward a motionless Gabrielle. Upon reaching the bard's side, Xena raised her head from the mud and held it in her arms.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called as she washed the mud from the injured woman's face with the continued rain. "Gabrielle, talk to me!" Xena pleaded with tears forming in her eyes. She began to assess her friend's injuries. There was an obvious blow to the upper forehead that had caused a gash. A lump was forming as the blood ran off with the muddy rainwater. "Probably met a rock on the way down," grimaced Xena who noted with great relief that Gabrielle breathed normally and had a strong heart beat.
"Damn," muttered the warrior as she pulled Gabrielle back up the slippery slope and onto the path where she could get a decent look at her. "Why, when we were so close? Why didn't I just listen to her and go to the inn? Why does she always have to bear the brunt of my decisions?" Xena was angry at the world as her skilled hands traveled the young woman's body, finding the expected cuts and bruises but no major injuries until she reached Gabrielle's right ankle. "Could be broken, definitely sprained," thought the soaked and muddy warrior as she gathered Gabrielle into her arms and hefted her onto Argo's back. She swung up onto the saddle and pulled the unconscious woman into her arms, cradling her like a baby. She pulled her heavy cloak over the both of them and brought Gabrielle's face close to hers. "We are close, Gab. I'll have you warm and dry in no time, and then I'll tend to your injuries. Hang in there, my love." She gave Gabrielle a soft kiss on the forehead, just below her injury and nudged Argo forward.
Gabrielle became aware of several things. Her head hurt like Hades, her foot hurt worse than that, it was still raining, and she was in Xena's arms listening to her tell Argo it was "only a little farther."
"Ohhh..oww," murmured Gabrielle, trying to bring her hand to her head.
"Don't worry, my love, I have you and we are there! Let me get you in to where it is warm and dry." Xena swung down off of Argo and pulled Gabrielle with her. As Gabrielle drifted back into unconsciousness, she found herself clinging desperately to the words "my love."
"Xena? Ughh, oww!" Gabrielle found herself warm and dry, as promised, upon her second return to consciousness, holding her hand to a very large bump on her forehead. She was lying in a cozy cave, lit with torches, on a rather dusty, but plush fur. "Bear," she thought, as she turned her head with great effort, for the pain it caused. She saw Xena coming through the cave entrance with the last of their supplies as well as Argo's saddle. The tall woman's arm muscles flexed with the load and she let out a heavy breath as she set the items down in the rear of the cave. The bronze beauty returned to put another piece of wood on the fire and to turn the pheasants on their spit, pushing her long, wet hair back over her shoulders as she bent over the food. The aroma coming from the birds was making Gabriele's mouth water and stomach growl. "Well, at least things still work right," thought Gabrielle.
The warrior was soaking wet and shivered. Goosebumps prickled her skin as she stood up from the fire to remove the sodden leather armor she wore and dry her hair with a towel. She warmed her naked body next to the heat of the fire. Gabrielle watched, her pain forgotten. The sight of her warrior undressing had always made her catch her breath and this time was no different. Xena's keen hearing caught the quick uptake of air and in a flash was by Gabrielle's side. As she knelt, she pulled on her dry shirt, very much like a man's work shirt, it hung to mid thigh. Xena had picked it up in Spamona. Gabrielle thought that Xena looked ravishing in it, the light blue color of it, complimenting Xena's brilliant sapphire eyes.
"Hey, Gab. How are you feeling?" she said while sitting on her knees next to the prostrate bard, placing a hand on her forehead.
"I'm ok, I guess. My head hurts. Is anything else the matter with me?" Gabrielle asked, looking up into the warrior's relieved blue eyes.
The fact that Gabrielle asked Xena's opinion on her well being, attested to the well-known skills of Xena as a healer. She had taught herself and had learned many techniques in her lifetime and could quickly assess just about any medical situation.
Xena reassured her, "I think you got off easy. Your ankle is turned, maybe broken. I'll be able to tell with the morning light when I get a chance to get some of this mud off of us. For now, I have it wrapped with a poultice for the swelling. I put three stitches in your head and am making a bandage for that, too. I sure hope the rock you hit is ok. How is your vision?" Xena moved two fingers in front of Gabrielle's emerald green eyes. "I was so worried when I saw you go over the edge," Xena continued, "Gabrielle, I saw my life pass before me, again. In the future, please warn me before partaking in mountain jumping!"
Gabrielle smiled at the return of her friend's humor and was touched by the undisguised concern in her voice. This was more like old times. What had changed? Xena seemed to have dropped a load off her shoulders all of the sudden. But she was too tired to contemplate the new turn of events and told Xena she did not plan on any more mountain jumping and that her vision was extremely fine, looking past the two fingers into the beautiful face of the woman she loved. The women both gazed at each other for a moment, each sharing the deep love they felt for the other, before Xena cleared her throat and got up to ready dinner.
Xena managed to get an herbal tea and a good bit of pheasant into Gabrielle before the young woman drifted back to sleep. They both knew all of the sudden that it would be all right. Not just Gabrielle's injuries, but everything. There had been a change. They both had felt it when Xena stoked the fire for the night and pulled a fur over the both of them, curling herself protectively around Gabrielle for a well-deserved night's rest.
With the morning light, Gabrielle found herself awake with several needs. The need to relieve herself was foremost in her thoughts, the need for food, was always in her thoughts, and there was the need to continue feeling the warm embrace of this warrior who had her arms lovingly wrapped about her, as she continued to slumber long past her usual hour of awakening. As Gabrielle stirred, she felt the bruises that she had gained the evening before and a sharp pain in her ankle, but nothing was as bad as she had expected. Putting her hand to her head, she removed the dressing and was surprised to find most of the swelling gone. She fingered the bumpy stitches Xena had placed there.
"How are you this morning, Little One?" Xena asked from behind, her soft breath touching Gabrielle's cheek, sending a shiver down her spine.
There it was again, another pet name.
"Well, I'm not complaining!" thought Gabrielle as she turned toward the woman who held her.
"I feel pretty? ok...considering," replied Gabrielle trying to keep her mind off the fact that her breasts were pushing into Xena's through their nightshirts. "I don't even have a headache anymore," she said, smiling at Xena who blushed slightly at the contact but did not pull away.
"Xena, thank you for helping me last night. I know how hard it must have been to get me up here and set everything up the way you did. You are truly amazing," she said as she brought her hand up to brush the hair back that had fallen in front of Xena's face. Xena closed her eyes at the tender movement and sighed deeply.
"I'm glad you are feeling better, Gabrielle. It was my fault in the first place," Xena said, turning her head away and getting up from the fur.
"Now Xena, we are not even going to go there. I mean it." Gabrielle said firmly. She was not going to break the mood by letting Xena slip into a guilt trip. So she decided to take her mind off those thoughts with an important request. "Look, what I really need is to relieve myself. I am about to burst. Will you help me get up?" Gabrielle reached her hand up to Xena who bent and effortlessly lifted the young woman to a standing position.
"Whoa! Major head rush," moaned Gabrielle. She clutched at Xena's shoulders for support.
"Take it slowly, Gabrielle. Let your head clear," Xena said, supporting the dizzy blonde in her arms. "How are you, now?" she asked as Gabrielle opened her eyes and blinked a few times.
"OK, now. Wow, I guess I got up too fast!" Gabrielle gasped as Xena continued to hold her.
"You have a lot of healing to do and that is ALL you are going to do today. I am your personal servant, at your service. You are not to attempt to do anything for yourself. Understood?" Xena's statement was so matter of-fact, there was no questioning it.
Gabrielle nodded and said, "No arguments from me."
"For a change," quipped Xena.
"All right, I deserved that one," Gabrielle smiled. She allowed Xena to pick her up and carry her outside the cave entrance.
"I have made a pit for us to use just around the side of the cave, but for now, you'll need me to help you there and back. I do not want you walking on that ankle too soon. It does not look broken, but you twisted it badly." Xena showed Gabrielle a nicely positioned log with a small pit underneath, slightly hidden behind some bushes for a bit of privacy.
"Gods, when did she have time to do this?" thought Gabrielle as she grabbed a snag on the log and pulled herself onto it.
"Let me know when you are done, we'll have some breakfast and I'll take you to the pool to get cleaned up," Xena called from the cave.
"She even has especially soft leaves here to clean myself with! How thoughtful!" It was amazing how the little things meant so much to Gabrielle. She tried to think when Xena had found the opportunity to pull this together and pictured her doing it by torchlight in the rain. "She probably did," mused the bard as she finished the task at hand and pulled herself up.
"Ow!" she cried unintentionally. She placed too much weight on her injured ankle and jumped off balance, falling into Xena who had instantly appeared at her side.
"I told you to call me. I mean it, Gabrielle. Let me help you!" Xena grabbed the woman into her arms and swept her back into the cave. "Breakfast is served, m' lady," Xena grinned as she placed Gabrielle gently on her fur. "Hope you don't mind pheasant stew." Gabrielle took the cup of stew offered to her and ate gratefully.
"Mmm, this is really good, Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"I'm not sure I appreciate the tone of surprise in your statement, but thanks for the compliment." Xena smirked and glanced at Gabrielle, arching her shapely brow.
"Oh, Xena. You know what I mean," Gabrielle began. She was enjoying the playful banter they had recently renewed. It made her relax and begin to think of their future once again, instead of lingering on what had passed.
A cup of herbal tea and an apple with cheese finished off Gabrielle's breakfast. She stretched and yawned while she watched Xena cleaning up. "I love this woman," thought Gabrielle. "I do, I really love her. She is so special to me. I want to be with her forever."
Gabrielle wondered what Xena would say if she knew what she was thinking and at that moment Xena looked up from the cups she was cleaning and said, "A dinar for your thoughts, my friend."
"Xena, I ?" (Damn why was it so hard for her to show her true feelings? What was she afraid of?) "Xena, you have worked so hard to bring me here. It is a special place?"
"You haven't seen the half of it," Xena said excitedly, cutting her off in mid sentence. "Come on, I want to show you the pool." Xena gathered up the saddlebag with their bathing necessities and a towel, and threw them over her shoulder. Without another word, she picked up Gabrielle in her arms and carried her out of the cave.
Gabrielle found herself in a bright, spring morning, fresh from the night's rain. The sun had already warmed things up considerably from the cold evening before. Xena began to head for a rocky path that led down and away from the side of the cave she had already visited. The Amazon Queen became aware of the sound of falling water. Lots of water.
"I hear a waterfall, Xena," Gabrielle exclaimed. Just as she said it, Xena crested a rise and Gabrielle saw the valley that spread before them.
A waterfall tumbled from the cliffs above to a large pool below at the head of the valley. A winding river flowed away from the pool, splitting the valley in half before disappearing through the rocky ridge at the other end. "That must be the river I almost tumbled into," thought Gabrielle. The pair stood for a moment in silence, taking in the morning glory of the special place. The grass was already greening and a barrage of colorful spring flowers had begun to show their colors. Gabrielle could see what looked like a trained orchard to one side of the valley near a small clearing and spied Argo peacefully grazing on sweet meadow grass, looking very content with herself.
"Gods, Xena, it's beautiful! Look at the crocus and daffodils! It has been so long since I have had a chance to pick flowers. Is that an apple orchard? I love it!" Gabrielle breathed in all sincerity. "Take me down to see it, please?" she asked the warrior who still held her in her arms.
Xena smiled at her friend's excitement. Somehow she had known this place would have that effect on her and springtime was the perfect time to introduce her. "Not just yet, my love. First we get cleaned up, and then you rest. You will get your tour soon, I promise." Xena assured her as she proceeded toward the falls. Gabrielle saw a set of smaller falls much closer to the cave than the main fall. These smaller falls created an upper level pool of water in a rocky outcropping that overlooked the valley and was within easy walking distance of the cave.
"How convenient," Gabrielle cooed, as Xena set her down on a rock, allowing her to place her feet in the pool.
"Only the best for you, Gabrielle." Xena said with an intense look that burned into to the blonde's heart. "Let's get you cleaned up."
Within seconds, Xena had them stripped and in the pool, Gabrielle carefully perching on one foot. Xena gently soaped the bard's hair, thoroughly removing the mud and blood from the previous night. As she had Gabrielle duck under a rivulet of water from the small fall to rinse, she stated, "This is much easier with your hair short. I like it that way. It really becomes you."
"Mmmm, I love it when you wash my hair, it has been a long time." Gabrielle purred. She stood with her back to Xena as Xena soaped her back and legs. It felt so good to be touched again. "This is what was missing," thought Gabrielle. "I know what we need to change for our next chapter of life."
"It has been too long, Gabrielle. It won't happen again." Xena said with a passion in her voice that could not go unnoticed. Xena swallowed hard and finished the job without losing her self-control. She wanted more, too, and it would come in time. It was part of her plan.
Gabrielle sighed when Xena turned her attention to washing herself. She pulled herself from the water to the rocky edge where she could sun and pretend to doze while watching the beauty bathe before her. She loved to watch Xena in almost all that she did, but she had to admit, that bathing was her favorite voyeur sport. She accepted this pleasure without question and did not feel anything wrong with it. Her time with the Amazons taught her that love between women was not only possible, but also very powerful and beautiful. She admired the beauty and strength of several of the Amazon women and even felt the stirrings of attractions to some, including Ephiny, whom she knew had a major crush on her, but the Queen's heart had always belonged to this proud warrior standing before her.
Xena washed herself from head to toe, scraping the mud from her body and working the soap into a thick lather. She moved to stand under the flow of water that splashed into the pool. Gabrielle swore the warrior was putting on a show, the bronze muscles flexing as she watched the soap flow off, leaving smooth skin shining beneath. Gabrielle admired Xena's perfect body, her firm, full breasts, her powerful thighs and noticed that Xena had a few new bruises to show for their mud slide adventure, too. "She must have gone through Hades to get me out of that mess and up to this place." Gabrielle thought with emotion.
"Enjoying the view?" Xena smirked, catching Gabrielle openly staring and not dozing as she had been pretending.
Gabrielle gasped as she choked out a reply. "I was noticing your bruises, Xena, are you all right?" Well at least that was a partial truth thought Gabrielle as she flushed with embarrassment.
Xena smiled at the bard's color and said, "I've had much worse than these and you know it. Come on, this water is still a bit too cool, let's get dried off and get you back to bed." She climbed up on the rocks and grabbed the towel to finished drying what the sun had not. Gabrielle pulled on her nightshirt and watched Xena dry herself and don her shirt as well. "I'll do your hair when we get back to the cave, ok?" Xena almost sounded child-like in her request.
Back in the cave, Gabrielle clutched a cup of Xena's medicinal tea. The bath had been good and she felt refreshed, but she also ached from head to toe and was very tired. She yawned and sighed contentedly as she leaned against Xena. The warrior brushed her hair smooth and straight, away from her face. "Thanks, Xena, for everything, I mean." Gabrielle tried to say more but Xena stopped her.
"Gab, I have been wanting to bring you here for over a year, and just when I thought we would get a chance, someone's troubles would get in the way. Now, our time has come and in the morning, I will take you and show you my dream and tell you what has been in my heart. For now, I want you to rest. This is a day of rest for the both of us. Tomorrow will be a very special day, and I want you to be ready." Xena could barely make eye contact when Gabrielle turned at the emotion in her voice.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior for a moment and watched as the woman turned to grooming her own hair. She wondered whether to press the issue of tomorrow's secrets but decided wisely against it. Things were going just fine already. Then feeling exhaustion quickly claiming her, she set her tea down and snuggled into the fur.
"Xena, did you put something in my tea?" she asked, but was asleep before she heard the answer.
Xena smiled at her sleepy friend and pulled a blanket over her. "Sleep well my love, tomorrow is the beginning of the rest of our life."
The following morning, Gabrielle awoke to an empty cave. She glanced around and saw a hand made crutch leaning against the wall nearest to her. Gabrielle struggled to her feet and was relieved to find how good she felt. "I must have slept the rest of yesterday and through the whole night. Xena did spike my tea! But I do feel better," Gabrielle admitted to herself as she tried out the crutch. She hobbled fairly gracefully out to the latrine pit and took care of her needs. She was just coming out from the bushes when Xena appeared. The warrior was unusually dressed in a blue, thigh length, silk robe that Gabrielle had never seen before. It surprised her for Xena always preferred her leathers, but pleased her, as Xena fairly radiated with beauty in it.
"Good morning, sleepy head!" Xena greeted her. "Come, get dressed and see what awaits you." Xena led her back into the cave where she found a silk wrap of her own, white with threads of green, woven in a flowery design, flowing through it.
"Xena, it's beautiful, I love it. Where?" Gabrielle gushed.
"Never mind, I have more to share with you. Come on." Xena led Gabrielle slowly to where the path dropped down into the valley. She gently picked Gabrielle up, crutch and all, and proceeded to confidently carry her downhill.
"Be careful, Xena, it's steep." Gabrielle warned.
"Don't worry, I have been on this path many times. It is my favorite walk, I think." Before Gabrielle could ask, Xena told her, "During the first year out of my darkness, I met an injured old man on the road. He had been beaten badly by bandits. But I took care of them before they could finish him off. I helped him and cared for him. For a while I thought he would get better. I trusted him. He was a good, kind soul. I talked with him for hours, and told him my story. He was a very wise man, non-judgmental. He told me that I had chosen a difficult path and that it would be strewn with rocks both big and small, but with my strength and determination I would accomplish my goals. At the time, I did not even know what my goals were, but he seemed to know. He also seemed to know that he was dying. An injury was causing him to bleed inside and one night he called to me and gave me a deed to this valley. He told me to take it as payment for my kindness. He had no family to leave it with and wished me to have it. He said he envisioned it as a home for a special family and knew that I was the one to make that happen. It all seemed so right to him. He died that night Gabrielle, after telling me how to get here. He died in my arms with a blessing for me on his lips. I spent some time up here after that, before I met you. I have been here a few times since, when you stayed with the Amazons." Xena finished her story about the time she finished their descent.
Xena's eyes misted with her memory but cleared with a sudden smile. "Our valley, my queen," Xena waved her arm before her and Gabrielle gasped with pleasure as she took in the beauty of the greenery and flowers up close.
"We are just in time. Watch." Xena ordered, setting Gabrielle gently on her feet and pointing to the large falls. Gabrielle watched in awe as the sun crested the edge of the canyon ridge and shone directly over the waterfalls. The result was a multitude of rainbow prisms sparkling throughout the water's spray. Everywhere the women looked, there were blasts of brilliant color. Just as soon as it began, it was over, as the sun moved out of position.
"Oh, Xena, I do not think I have ever seen anything so magnificent before. Thank you for sharing it with me," Gabrielle said, taking Xena's hand in hers.
"Come to your breakfast," Xena pulled at Gabrielle who crutched over to a waiting blanket laden with breakfast treats. There was fresh grilled trout, cinnamon baked apples, nut bread, and Gabrielle could not believe it, honey.
"Xena, where did you get all this? Nut bread and honey? How did you sneak that past me?" The joy was plain in the young queen's voice, as well as the hunger. Xena helped her to sit and proceeded to serve her breakfast.
"Xena, sit and eat with me. This is wonderful. It is perfect. A beautiful valley with a lovely story, and a bountiful breakfast!" exclaimed the hungry woman as she eagerly sampled the fare.
"A beautiful blonde, with a lovely face, and a bountiful appetite," murmured the warrior, grinning from ear to ear, pleased that the bard was enjoying herself so thoroughly.
"What?" asked Gabrielle continuing to eat heartily.
"Nothing," chuckled Xena, helping herself to breakfast.
Xena began to clear things from the blanket as the women finished their meal. She was suddenly very quiet. Gabrielle knew that Xena had something serious to share with her and had a feeling, at least hoped she was right about her feeling, what it was. When the blanket was clear, Xena came around in front of Gabrielle who was seated with one leg curled in front of her and the injured ankle tucked safely behind her. The nervous warrior knelt on one knee before the curious queen and gazed into her eyes.
Clearing her throat, Xena began, "Gabrielle, I have been a master of many things, including ignoring my feelings as well as yours. In our new life together, I vow this will stop." She looked at Gabrielle for encouragement and when she saw nothing but open acceptance in her friend's eyes, she continued. "I want us to begin again. I wish we had reached this point months ago, but well, we are here now, and what has passed is the past." Gabrielle stayed quiet, not wanting to break the spell of the moment.
"Gabrielle, I have searched deeply for the answers to the question, 'What next?' for us and I feel there is only one thing for us, something we should have done moons ago." Xena hesitated knowing her next words would be the big leap. She took a deep breath as Gabrielle reached out and clasped her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Xena looked into the shining green eyes of the woman she loved and knew she had nothing to fear. She felt sure that the feelings she held deep inside for this woman were mutual.
"I want this to be right, but I am not sure how to say it. Gabrielle, please be with me for the rest of my new life. I want to be your partner, your companion, your friend, your consort, all of those things, but most of all I want you to share my love. Will you, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons, take this lowly warrior into your heart and join with her?" At this final question, Xena bowed her head and placed her hands out, wrists together in front of her as if they were shackled, presenting herself to Gabrielle in the humblest way possible.
Gabrielle was touched by the flood of emotion from this magnificent woman kneeling before her. She had felt that this was what the warrior was planning to ask and was overjoyed that she had been right. She pulled herself up to a kneeling position and moved her hand to cup Xena's chin. She pulled the beautiful face up to a point where their eyes could meet and smiled a smile of pure happiness. She leaned toward her friend and pulled her into a gentle kiss. "Yes, my love, forever," she simply said as she sat back from the kiss and saw a tear drop from the corner of Xena's eye. She swiped it from her warrior's cheek with her thumb and said, "I love you. I always have."
"I know, Gabrielle. I don't know why we ignored this part of ourselves for so long. Never again," Xena stated as she reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a small wooden box. Shaking slightly, she removed the lid and extracted a smoothly polished, oval, lapis stone suspended from a gold chain. Upon closer inspection, Gabrielle could see that thin wires of gold, set with emeralds, encircled the brilliant blue stone. Xena leaned toward Gabrielle and clasped the necklace around her love's neck. The stone dropped down to rest in the smooth hollow of Gabrielle's throat and she raised her fingers to inspect it.
"This gift represents my love, which I give to you unconditionally. Hold it close to your own heart. I love you, Gabrielle." Xena's eyes filled as she bent toward the necklace and kissed the soft skin of Gabrielle's neck where her gift lay.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and arched her neck back to give her admirer more room to explore. Xena, not one to turn down an opportunity, kissed slowly around the base of the young queen's throat and eagerly worked her way up to the lips. When their lips met for a second time, it was not a brief contact. The two women pulled together in a heated embrace, tongues exploring, hands caressing, that left them both breathless when they parted.
"Gods, Gabrielle, where did you learn to kiss like that?" Xena questioned huskily.
"I have many skills, warrior. I am not Queen of the Amazons for nothing, you know." Gabrielle grinned and reached behind Xena's neck pulling her toward her as she lay back on the blanket. Xena lay down next to the bard on her side, and drew a hand up the blonde's belly toward the young woman's breasts. Gabrielle shivered and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
"I want you, Xena. I have wanted you to touch me like this for so long. Don't stop!" She arched her body toward the warrior whose roving hands parted the silk robe and let it fall open to reveal Gabrielle's full breasts and well-sculpted abdomen.
"Mmm" Xena murmured, "I'm not sure where to start."
"Don't be a tease," Gabrielle snapped and pulled Xena back in for another heart pounding kiss. She ran her hand up Xena's left thigh, under the blue robe, caressing the firm round buttocks of her warrior's beautiful body. Xena moaned and shrugged her robe off. They both gloried in that first moment of skin-to-skin contact as Xena placed her body against the bard.
The two women alternated between kissing and feeling, sometimes a combination of both, but when Xena's lips traveled down to Gabrielle's breasts and gently nibbled, the young woman knew it was all over for her. She was swept up in a wave of passion as she pushed toward Xena. Xena smiled and took a nipple into her mouth and suckled it before moving to the other and doing the same.
"Oh, Xena," breathed Gabrielle, "you feel so good."
The queen was a busy girl, also, her hands tantalizing Xena's breasts before beginning a descent down to the excited warrior's passion. She ran her fingertips lightly across Xena's abdomen, causing her lover to inhale sharply, before sending them further down to part the dark haired woman's folds, exploring eagerly inside. Once that border had been crossed, Xena lost all self- control. She could tell from Gabrielle's quick breathing and short gasps that her need was strong and so she mimicked Gabrielle's hand movements, pushed into the blonde's wetness and began a rhythmic stroking. The two returned to passionate kissing, tongues thrusting to match their fingers.
Both women arched toward the other as theirs eyes closed in the heat of the moment. Xena had never known or felt such intense love and passion. The combined emotions were taking her to new heights and she gave a loud moan of ecstasy as her new lover plunged her fingers deep inside causing Xena to shiver and explode into a climax of brilliant light and color. Xena called out Gabrielle's name with such fervor that Gabrielle's heart melted with love for the woman. With a few final strokes from her climaxing friend, Gabrielle found herself enjoying a wave of pleasure unknown to her in her limited experience of lovemaking. The couple rode through the aftershocks and moaned each other's names before slowing down to catch their breath.
A peaceful quietness surrounded the lovers as they lay in each other's arms. They stayed that way for several moments, before Xena removed her hand and brushed the hair back from Gabrielle's face.
"Well, I must say, that was worth waiting for," she smiled down at Gabrielle whose afterglow bathed her in such beauty that Xena could only stare at her in adoration.
"Wow!" was all Gabrielle could manage.
"Speechless at last," Xena chuckled. She ran a hand up the bard's arm and felt the ripples of pleasure it gave her friend. "I am curious as to just what you have been learning from your Amazons." Xena continued, "You sure seemed to know what you were doing just then."
"I will not reveal my secrets, warrior. Yet." Gabrielle responded with a gleam in her eye.
"Uh huh, well, I have ways of making you talk, you know," Xena threatened.
Leaning in, Xena once again suckled at her friend's breast, rolling the nipple with her tongue. Gabrielle sucked in her breath and felt her heartbeat quicken. Xena's kisses moved lower this time and Gabrielle encouraged her by thrusting her hips forward and pushing her hands into the dark tresses of her lover. Parting Gabrielle's legs, the hungry warrior knelt at her side and moved her head down, settling in toward Gabrielle's center.
Gabrielle had spent enough time with her Amazons to know how women made love to each other, but until this moment, could only fantasize what it would really feel like. Her lonely masturbation and visualizations of Xena's lovely face could not even compare to the jolt she felt when Xena's tongue made contact with her most private parts.
"Unghhh, oh yes, Xena!" Gabrielle gasped with pleasure as her lover eagerly tasted and licked her way throughout the bard's nether regions. Gabrielle reached for Xena's body and pulled her around for better access. She found herself looking at the very beautiful rear of the kneeling warrior princess. Caressing the firm flesh, she ran her hand between the warrior's legs. Xena moved slightly to make Gabrielle's quest easier without losing the oral contact she was enjoying. Gabrielle began an eager exploration both visually and tactilely between Xena's legs, reveling in the slick juices that flowed freely and coated her hands. Finding the hard nub of pleasure, She centered her efforts there and lay back to enjoy the exquisite sensations she was receiving from Xena's talented tongue.
Soon both women reached their peak, each striving to bring the other to the ultimate pleasure first. Both lovers cried out, finally coming together to lay in each other's arms, listening to the pounding of their hearts return to normal.
Gabrielle realized she must have drifted off to sleep when she awoke a short time later to find an erotically naked Xena, fully alert, kneeling over her, looking off at the distant end of the valley. A loud, echoing whinny gave Gabrielle a clue that Argo had caught the warrior's attention, but she could not read the emotion on the woman's face.
"What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, sitting up next to her lover, and following the direction of her gaze.
"Argo has a friend. I thought it was about time for her to go through her breeding cycle. She has been a bit moody lately." Xena stated as the women observed Argo kicking her rear legs and snorting. The watchers soon saw the reason for the excited behavior as a magnificent gray stallion entered the valley from the river's exit and neighed a greeting to the eager mare.
"Where did he come from," asked Gabrielle as the couple sat and watched the pair of horses prance a prelude of the mating dance with each other.
"I have seen evidence of wild horses around here. There are many places where they can stay relatively safe in these mountains. I have not seen this stallion before. What a grand fellow he is! Argo has good taste." Xena commented as the pair watched Argo tease the stallion with twists and turns of her body as he approached her.
"Are you going to let them breed, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"It is not my decision, Gabrielle. Argo has served me well, and has been a good friend. Perhaps she is ready to settle down as well. I won't deny her the simple pleasures of life after all we have experienced together. If a foal comes of this, I will be happy to see her through it. It is the least I can do for her." There was no missing the affection Xena held for the faithful mare.
Gabrielle nodded her agreement and the two sat and watched the rather erotic movements of the horses. As the stallion prepared to mount the mare, nipping at her neck, Gabrielle felt a tingle run through her and ran her arm around Xena's waist. "Do you think it will hurt her?" she asked, in awe of the mighty phallus being plunged into Argo who let out a piercing whinny in response.
"There is a fine line between pleasure and pain, my love," Xena replied suggestively. "I hope I can share my experiences with you in that area some time," she added wrapping her own arm around the blonde and observing the pink nipples on the young woman's breasts contract and harden at the touch.
The warrior was surprised to find herself being pushed to the blanket with the bard straddling her belly. 'Mmm, Gabrielle, the things you do," she growled as Gabrielle rubbed herself against the warrior's firm belly. Xena continued with a low, throaty rumble as Gabrielle slid from Xena's belly to her thigh and bent to open the heavily muscled legs. She encouraged the ardent Amazon with her hands and arched into the contact with Gabrielle's tongue.
"Gods, she tastes better than honey," thought Gabrielle as she greedily slipped her tongue around Xena's warm, moist vagina. She grew bold and plunged her tongue into the warrior, causing her to buck and cry out. Xena clutched at Gabrielle's blonde hair and gasped words of encouragement, her body moving in a rhythm against the bard's tongue. Gabrielle stroked Xena's clitoris with her fingers, and then switched to her tongue, moving her fingers, first two and then three, to plunge into Xena's bucking body. "Oh, gods!" cried Xena.
Gabrielle smiled at the passion of her warrior and marveled at her own seemingly innate sense of knowing exactly what her lover wanted and how to give it to her. "My observations and readings will definitely not go to waste," thought the bard, as she listened to one final piercing whinny wind through the valley. Xena gave one more powerful buck and cried out in ecstasy, clutching at the blanket beneath her. Gabrielle rode out the storm with Xena, until she was gently pushed away by her lover who gasped, "Enough, I can't take anymore."
The new lovers stayed in their valley for the next week, continuing to explore new territories with each other. They both basked in the complete happiness they felt and were sure they had chosen the right path for their new lives. Nothing had ever seemed so right. The women eagerly shared plans for a home to be built in the small clearing of the valley and Xena showed Gabrielle the orchard and grapevines already established. The stallion visited the valley several more times before disappearing back to the wilds. The new couple admired the strength and beauty of the horses as they enjoyed their time together. Xena was certain that a foal would be forthcoming the following spring and knew it would be a beauty.
At last, Xena announced it was time to leave. She assured Gabrielle that she would have their dream home started as soon as she could send word and that they would return to this paradise in the very near future. In the mean time, Xena had plans for their joining. She shared with Gabrielle her desire to join with her in a private ceremony on the Isle of Lesbos. She knew the perfect temple as well as beach on which to honeymoon. Gabrielle readily agreed to this and they left to make their journey.
Stay tuned for the sequel: "In the Company of Warriors"