DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters, I am not writing for profit, this is my first ever fan fiction, thanks to Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Alone, at Last, Again
By Wordsmith

The day had turned from hot and clear to humid and shimmering. Gabrielle felt the sweat roll down the sides of her body with excruciating slowness until it found the hem of her skirt and soaked in. Shifting uncomfortably against Xena's back, she only managed to find a new hot spot radiating from the warrior. "Anything wrong back there?" asked Xena, twisting to look back at the bard. "I'm hot and sticky and thirsty. My stomach is empty and my rump is numb. Please can we stop soon?" Gabrielle whined quietly. "And a lovely rump it is," thought Xena to herself smiling. Then, realizing what she had thought, winced inwardly. To Gabrielle she said "Sure I see a spot up ahead that should be fine for the night." She nudged Argo into a canter.

"Oh goody, now I can be sore and numb." Gabrielle mumbled under her breath. Xena chose not to answer as another image of Gabrielle's sweet hips rose into her mind. Don't do this Xena, she thought, now is neither the time nor the place. Face it, there will never be the right time or place. Gabrielle is too young and inexperienced to deal with you and your-what? Desire? Lust? Love? Xena didn't even know. Even with all the nights spent staring up at the stars and days spent staring at the horizon, anywhere but at the lovely woman at her side, she was still as confused as ever about her feelings.

Frustrated at herself, she pulled Argo up sharply and leapt off, walking purposefully toward a clearing just off the road.

"Ahem." Xena turned to see Gabrielle still astride the tall mare. "Aren't you going to help me down?" Gabrielle said expectantly. She often endured riding the large beast just for the chance to feel Xena's strong arms lift her from the horse to the welcome ground below. Lately, there had been moments when Xena would simply hold her long after her feet were firmly planted; these were the moments Gabrielle relished. The soft feel of Xena's hands at her waist, the smell of leather and sweat emanating from the warrior after a long day on the trail, the incredible blue of Xena's eyes, the tan hollow at her neck leading down to her cleavage. Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment sighing deeply. Swallowing quickly, she opened her eyes to find Xena staring at her with concern.

"Are you o.k.?" Xena asked returning to stand next to the horse.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Gabrielle replied. "Just hot I guess."

Xena's arms reached up to Gabrielle to help her down. "You'd think by now you'd have figured out a way to get off by yourself." Xena abruptly let go of the smaller woman who landed on her feet roughly. Once sure Gabrielle was steady, Xena turned without a word, heading for the clearing. "Now what did I do?" Gabrielle watched the warrior stalk away. Lately it had been happening all too frequently. Xena had been acting more distant and aloof, even for her. Gabrielle wondered if it had anything to do with the reason behind their current trip. They were heading for a rendezvous with Hercules and Iolus. Hercules' message had been cryptic, saying only to hurry and meet him as soon as possible. Xena and Gabrielle complied knowing that Hercules rarely asked anything of them and if he did, it would be important. The rendezvous was still two days journey away, but at the rate Xena was pushing them, they might arrive late tomorrow night.

As for tonight, the clearing Xena had spotted suited Gabrielle just fine. Tall green trees provided shade and protection, bent grasses attested to the glade's use as campsite in the recent past; there was even a charred ring of stones for a firepit. Tilting her head to one side, Gabrielle could hear the faint rushing sound of water. As if reading her mind, Xena called to her, "Why don't you go take a bath, Miss Hot and Stinky? There's a stream just through those trees."

The thought of Gabrielle's naked body, wet and dripping, rising from the stream, walking slowly toward Xena, a faint smile on her full lips; it was enough to drive any warm blooded warrior mad. Even more so for Xena, since she had actually witnessed such a scene many times before. Shaking her head in the hope of clearing the image, Xena looked about the camp for any imperfection to correct, for any excuse to move, any reason to distract her from the thoughts that were tearing through her tortured brain.

"Not thinking with my brain much these days" she though to herself, aware of a delicious warmth between her legs. "Maybe a quick dip, just in and out before Gabs gets in at all. It always takes her forever to get into cold water, and cold is just what I need right about now."

That decided, Xena turned toward the stream, unbuckling her leathers as she went. Phew! Maybe a good soak and cleaning for them while she was at it. If the stench was bad enough for her to notice, then Gabrielle must have been nearly suffocating during the day's ride. But Gabrielle was never one to complain. Well, hardly. Well o.k., she complained a lot, but only about the big stuff, like riding all day with little or no rest, and even less food. Xena was constantly amazed at how much Gabrielle put up with during their travels together. "Tonight I'll make it up to her" Xena thought. "A nice hot dinner, maybe some fresh trout if there are any in the stream. I think I saw some wild rice in the field. And if I'm not mistaken that's a rosemary bush right there. That'll be good." With a happy smile on her face at the thought of the feast she planned to make for her friend, she rounded the bend in the tramped down path. And there she stopped short. Even more striking in real life than in her earlier fantasy stood Gabrielle. Stark naked with her back to Xena, Gabrielle stood at the stream edge mustering her courage to jump in quickly as she had seem Xena do countless times.

"Come on Gabs, its only water. You're the one who said you were so hot and sweaty." Xena called out. Gabrielle turned to reply, but the sudden movement caused her to lose her balance on the slippery moss covered rocks. Flailing wildly, Gabrielle tried to regain her footing only to overcorrect and fall the other way. "Yoooowww!!!" she screamed trying to remove all parts of her body from the frigid water at once. "That's cooooold!"

Xena laughed heartily at the sight, then taking pity on her flailing friend; she jumped fully clothed into the stream.

Yikes, it was cold in there. But the only indication Xena made as she plunked her body down next to the now shivering bard was a gentle "Oooph". "Cold enough for you" Xena said with a smirk. "Actually, once you get used to it, it's even more cold." Gabrielle tried to smile back, but her chattering teeth made control of her mouth difficult.

Xena laughed again and stood holding out her hand to Gabrielle. "Come on, I think we're both cold enough now. And we don't want to get stuck wet when the sun goes down." "Speaking of which, " Gabrielle asked, "Any reason you decided not to get undressed to swim. Or were you trying to keep warm?" She eyed Xena's dripping leathers with amusement. "I just figured you'd appreciate leathers that were a little less ripe tomorrow." Xena explained as she stripped. "Oh" said Gabrielle surprised, "Thanks. I hadn't really noticed but now that you mention it, they are a little overdone." She wrinkled her nose.

Reaching up to take Xena's hand, Gabrielle noticed again the strength and power of her friend. Xena pulled her up as easily as if she was a child, not a nearly grown woman. Without letting go of Gabrielle's hand once she was standing, Xena stood close to her, unable to tear her eyes away from the light green eyes before her. One blond eyelash had made its way to Gabrielle's cheek, resting softly there beckoning to Xena. Xena brought up her other hand to gently brush it away, but once she had, found she couldn't remove her hand from the soft, pink skin. With her fingers, she delicately traced the outline of Gabrielle's jaw. Her fingers moved of their own volition toward Gabrielle's lips.

Suddenly Xena stopped, realizing how close she had just come. "My gods, what must she think of me." Quickly Xena stepped back explaining, "There was something on your cheek, uh face." She stammered. "I uh, was just brushing it off."

Gabrielle opened her eyes in shock to see Xena had turned away from her. "Thank goodness she can't see me. She must have seen what was in my eyes just now. How much I wanted her to go on touching me. And not just my face. I don't know how much longer I can go on like this." Gabrielle was startled out of her reverie but the sound of water splashing and a quick flash of silver in the fading sunlight. Xena had just teased a second trout from the stream. With a sickening crunch, she broke off the fish's head and threw it back into the water. "You didn't want that part, did you, Gabrielle?" she asked.

"Uh no, I gave up fish heads for Solstice." Gabrielle replied. "Gee, and here I thought there wasn't anything you wouldn't eat." Xena joked as they walked back to the little camp Xena had made. "Ha ha." Gabrielle stuck her tongue out at Xena, then busied herself putting on her brown leather skirt and ugly green top.

Xena forced herself to look the other way, at first out of respect for Gabrielle's sense of modesty, then because she thought she heard something inconsistent with the normal sounds of the woods settling for twilight. She motioned for Gabrielle to be quiet and cocked her head to one side. Gabrielle stood still, listening with both ears but heard nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly Xena gave a loud yelp and began running toward the dirt track that led to the clearing. Gabrielle looked up and saw, to her delight, Hercules running swiftly through the bent grass. Behind him twenty paces or so ran Iolus, huffing and puffing with exertion. Xena ran right into Hercules' strong arms and hugged him fiercely. When Iolus caught up with the pair, he bent over double trying to recover his breath. Xena didn't wait and reached out to hug him. But before she could wrap her long arms around the smaller man, she stopped. Taking a step back, she glared at Iolus with fire in her eyes. Gabrielle could not hear what was said, but saw Hercules move to intercept Xena and lead her gently away from Iolus, talking quietly.

Gabrielle ran over to find out why Xena was so angry with Iolus. "He doesn't belong here." Gabrielle heard Xena say to Hercules in venomous tones. "He should go back to where he came from and leave us be." "Now Xena, " said Hercules. "It isn't Iolus's fault. It was the Sovereign's doing, and you of all people should know that.." "What's going on?" Gabrielle asked as soon as she was close enough. "Hi Gabrielle." Hercules enveloped Gabrielle in his arms. "It's good to see you again. Thanks for hurrying to meet me, uh us." Gabrielle turned to greet Iolus who was standing back a few feet. "Iolus, How are you? It's been a long time." As Gabrielle reached out her arms to embrace Iolus, Xena suddenly imposed her body between Gabrielle and Iolus. "Xena, move. I want to say hi to Iolus." "That's not Iolus," hissed Xena through her teeth.

Iolus just looked uncomfortable. Gabrielle looked at him, then at Xena and back to Iolus. "O.K., I'll bite. Who is it then?"

Iolus answered, "Actually, I am Iolus. Just not the Iolus you think I am."

Gabrielle looked puzzled, "Then who do I think you are?" "You think I'm the Iolus who travels around righting wrongs and fighting for justice and all that stuff. But I'm not that Iolus." "Then which Iolus are you?' "I'm the Iolus from the Other Realm."

"The Other Realm?" Gabrielle blinked. "The Other Realm where Hercules is the Sovereign?" "Right." Gabrielle began to understand. "Then where is the Iolus from this realm?" Iolus looked uncomfortable again and replied quietly, "Well, he's dead."

"Dead!" Gabrielle cried. "Yes, Dahok killed him" said Iolus adding quickly, "but not before your Iolus helped Hercules get rid of Dahok once and for all."

"Dahok is gone." Gabrielle whispered. "For good, Gabrielle" said Hercules staring intently at Gabrielle" I saw him destroyed myself. And for that matter, the Sovereign is dead too."

Xena came to stand behind Gabrielle. "Wait a minute. If the Sovereign is dead, how can you be alive? And how can you be the Iolus from the Other Realm if our Iolus is dead? Shouldn't you both be dead?" Hercules explained as well as he could why he and this Iolus weren't dead even though their counterparts from the opposite realms were dead. It was very confusing and by the time he finished, Iolus was caught sniffing the air appreciatively. "Do I smell fish?" he asked.

Remembering the feast she had planned for Gabrielle, Xena relented in her suspicion and invited Hercules and Iolus to stay for dinner. As the foursome gathered around the lovely meal, Xena asked Hercules. "Aren't you early? I didn't expect to see you for another day at least." Hercules looked sheepish, "I guess we hurried a little faster than I anticipated. But I wanted to tell you two the truth about this Iolus" he nodded to the blond man chewing on a fish bone, "before you heard from someone else. The story seems to be spreading, and more often then not, the story that's spreading is wrong."

"What we need, "said Iolus through a mouthful of food, "is a good bard to spread the tale correctly."

Gabrielle looked at him suspiciously, "You're joking, right?" Iolus looked back, startled by the depth of the green eyes narrowed at him. "What?" he looked at Hercules. "They don't have bards here?" Hercules smiled, "Gabrielle is a bard. A good one too, if I remember correctly." Gabrielle smiled her thanks at the tall figure stretched out next to the fire. "But, if I recall correctly, most of Gabrielle's tales center around a particular Warrior Princess." Iolus's eyes grew wide. "You know a Warrior Princess? Oh, I've always wanted to travel with a Warrior Princess, follow her adventures, get to know the real woman behind the armor." He laughed, "Of course the Warrior Princess in my realm would rather kill me than look at me, let alone let me make up tales based on her adventures."

Xena cleared her throat noisily while Hercules and Gabrielle tried unsuccessfully not to laugh. Iolus looked around, "What?" The others broke up into loud laughter that filled the still night. Finally Gabrielle said, wiping tears from her eyes, "Iolus, who do you think Xena is?" Iolus, confused, said, "Well, she's a friend of Hercules. Don't tell me she's another bard?" Even Xena smiled at this. "No Iolus. I am the Warrior Princess. At least of this realm." "You're the Warrior Princess?" he said shifting closer to Hercules. Hercules wrapped an arm around the smaller man. "Don't worry, Iolus. She's reformed. Now Xena only kills people who don't do the dishes." Iolus immediately scrambled up and, without looking at Xena, hurriedly collected all the dishes and stumbled toward the stream with them. Gabrielle jumped up saying, "Hercules, that was just mean. I'll go help him." After a few steps, she stopped at turned to say to Xena softly, "Thanks for dinner, Xena. It was delicious." Their eyes met in the flickering firelight and held for a long minute before Gabrielle turned toward the stream.

Xena watched her friend pick her way in the dark night, thankful for the nearly full moon to light her way.

Hercules broke the silence, "Still too afraid to tell her how you feel, eh?"

Xena looked sadly the direction Gabrielle had taken. She had told Hercules long ago of her growing attraction to the young bard, hoping he could give her some advice. Unfortunately, he only said, "Follow your heart." Nice sentiment but not very practical.

"How can I tell her how I feel, Herc? She has her whole life ahead of her. Any relationship she starts with me can only end in disaster. It's not fair to her."

"And what about you?" Hercules asked gently. "What about your happiness? Anyone who knows you can see that you're crazy about her. And I think she may surprise you."

Xena sighed, "I just don't know."

Just then, Iolus and Gabrielle returned from the stream laughing at a joke Iolus had told about the Warrior Princess of his realm. Gabrielle stumbled as the light of the fire hit her eyes, momentarily blinding her. Before Xena could react, Iolus caught Gabrielle in his arms and flung the two of them back. away from the fire. Flat on his back with Gabrielle lying on top of him, Iolus made a face saying, "May I have this dance Madam?" Which only made Gabrielle laugh harder. Unable to get up in the middle of her laughing fit, Gabrielle gave in to it. Iolus quickly joined in. Soon they were rolling around the campsite laughing hysterically. Both loved the company they kept on the road, but neither hero was known for a sense of humor. So the sidekicks felt their laughter feed off of the other's until they lay together in a spent heap.

To Xena they looked much too much like spent lovers. The idea of Gabrielle rolling around with anyone but her, however innocently, was too much. She nudged Iolus none too gently with her boot. "If you've finished, it's time we turned in. C'mon Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked at Xena curiously. "Actually Xena, Iolus promised to share some of his realm's tales with me." She looked down at the man who still beneath her. "And vise versa. Right?" "Uh, right. That is, if that's o.k. With you Xena?" Iolus turned frightened eyes toward the tall woman looming over him. Gabrielle rolled off Iolus and onto her feet. She planted her feet firmly and glared at Xena. "Xena!" she said sharply, "Leave poor Iolus alone. If he and I want to stay up all night, that's none of your business. It's not as if we have to get up at the crack of dawn to race to meet Hercules anymore."

Xena returned Gabrielle's stare with icy blue eyes. "Fine." She spat through clenched teeth. "Stay up all night. See if I care. I'm going to bed." She turned and grabbing her bedroll roughly, stalked to the other side of the camp. "Goodnight!"

"Goodnight!" Gabrielle tone was just as venomous. "C'mon Iolus, why don't we go to the pasture to talk where we won't bother anyone." "Good idea, Gabrielle." Iolus quickly walked out of the fire's flickering light. "Hey Gabrielle," Hercules stopped Gabrielle, glancing at the blanketed form of Xena, "She really does care about you, you know." His voice was low. "I know" answered Gabrielle with a sigh. "I just wish she'd find better ways to show it." And with that, she went to join her new friend.

Morning came early for Xena and Hercules. After a night spent waiting for Gabrielle to return from the pasture, Xena spent the rest of the night tossing and turning. Her dreams were filled with images of Gabrielle, as usual, but this time there was a sinister tone. Every time Gabrielle walked toward her, only to brush by Xena and continue on into Iolus's welcoming arms. Together in their embrace, the couple would turn and laugh at Xena. So she was none too patient with her companion who managed to sleep blissfully unaware of Xena's torment until late in the morning. Hercules had convinced Xena to try some practice drills in the meadow and they were just finishing when a tousled Gabrielle passed them on her way to the stream. "Morning" she called out to the pair still circling each other. "Barely" muttered Xena as she lunged at Hercules

He sidestepped her easily. "Now, now Xena. They did go to bed late. I'm not expecting Iolus to venture out for at least another two hours." "Hmph" Xena suddenly gave up drilling and slumped to the ground. Hercules nodded toward the stream. "Why don't you go say a proper hello? It might lighten your mood." Xena smiled ruefully. "Well, o.k. " She resolved to herself to be cheerful and merry to her friend, in as much as her nature would allow, that is.

She found Gabrielle standing next to the stream near the place she had fallen in the previous day. Making a noise in her throat to warn Gabrielle of her presence, Xena then said, "Careful, it's a might cold this early in the afternoon." "After yesterday, I'm so careful I'm afraid to move." Gabrielle smiled dazzling Xena. Her friend cleared her throat again, drinking in the sight of Gabrielle backlit by the sun, looking even more gorgeous than Xena could have thought possible. But then, she always did like Gabrielle's soft innocence first thing out of bed, golden hair tangled about her face; green eyes still heavy with sleep. "Want a hand to balance you while you get cleaned up?" Xena stretched out her hand to steady the bard as she lent over the rushing water. Just then, Gabrielle was startled by Iolus' cheery "Hello" from behind them. Xena tried to keep her balance but her dew-wet boots found no traction on the slippery rocks. Into the stream the two women fell. One came up screaming, the other laughing.

"So much for my help," laughed Xena as she lay back floating in the frigid water.

"What are you, "gasped Gabrielle, "some kind of water nymph that doesn't feel cold?" The icy water had taken Gabrielle breath away and her ugly green top heaved as she tried to get it back. "Oh come on, Gabrielle. You're the one who's always telling me to embrace life." Xena splashed water at her friend. "I'll get you for that." Gabrielle splashed back. Soon there was a full-blown water fight going with Iolus watching from the bank in amazement. Gabrielle had told him that this Xena was different from the one he had left behind in the other realm, but a laughing, splashing Warrior Princess was almost too much. Soon, he was laughing himself and yelling encouragement to Gabrielle.

"So you think it's pretty funny do you?" Hercules plopped down on the stream bank next to Iolus. "Well, yeah. I mean, how often do you see a real life hero in a water fight?" Iolus smiled. Just then, Gabrielle managed to get far enough away from Xena to sputter to the men on the bank; "A little help here guys! Hercules, aren't you supposed to rescue damsels in distress" Xena growled at them, "Don't you dare, Hercules. That's two against one." Hercules looked at Iolus, "Hardly fair odds, wouldn't you say?"

"Oh, definitely." With a grin, Iolus stood and took off his shirt. "You take Xena, I'll take Gabrielle?"

With a loud cry, Hercules ripped off his own shirt and dove cleanly into the water, swimming rapidly toward Xena. Xena dove under to meet him heads on. Iolus yelped as he hit the water and swam quickly toward Gabrielle who circled him treading water. "You don't want to do this, Iolus." She pleaded. "Well, I do a little" he admitted as he lunged for her. She turned as fast as she could and swam away only to feel a hand grasp around her ankle. Kicking fiercely, she managed to break free. Kicking her strong legs to escape she felt her feet connect with something hard. Looking back, she saw Iolus pop up out of the water, holding his nose, blood splirting from between his fingers.

"Oh, Iolus." She cried swimming back toward him, "I am so sorry. Here, let me help you." Iolus backed away in the water, "Dno, I tink you've hepped eduff awreddy"

As soon as Hercules and Xena saw what had happened they stopped fighting and came over to help. Hercules took hold of Iolus' arm and led him out of the stream, back to the camp. Xena collected some soft moss and deftly plugged up Iolus nose, gently feeling for any breaks. Iolus was surprised at her sensitivity, and even more surprised to see the concern evident on her face. "Nothing's broken." she looked into his eyes to check for any dilation that would indicate a more serious injury. "How do you feel?"

Iolus stared into the pure blue of those eyes and felt he could float there forever. He was unable to speak he was so caught up in them. Xena felt his forehead and snapped her fingers in front of Iolus face. That broke the spell. "I'm fine" he managed to croak.

Gabrielle took his hand, crying, "Iolus, I am so sorry. I didn't think you were so close behind me. I never would've kicked so hard if I knew you were so close." Tears rolled down Gabrielle's cheeks. Iolus brushed them away with cold fingers; then raised her chin so their eyes could meet. "It's o.k. Gabrielle. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. It was just a game. Please don't worry about it."

Feeling the chill of his fingers, Gabrielle jumped up to get her blanket to wrap around Iolus wet form. Rubbing him briskly, she called out to the others, "Stoke up that fire; he's freezing. And get some wine for him. Where's the rest of that trout we had left over?" Raising an eyebrow at Hercules, Xena hurried to comply. Soon Iolus was in the lap of luxury, a warm drink in one hand, cold trout in the other, being regaled by one of the few tales Gabrielle hadn't told him the night before.

Hercules watched the scene with some amusement until he noticed Xena watching as well with a slow burn growing in her eyes. Leading her out of earshot, he asked, "What's wrong? Iolus is fine. You said so yourself." "Oh, he's fine alright." Xena hissed. "Can't she see he's just riding her guilt wagon. He's taking advantage of her. Well, I'm going to put a stop to it right now." She moved toward the cozy scene at the campfire, glaring. Hercules pulled her around. "Oh no you're not, because there's nothing to put a stop to. They're friends. He's hurt. She hurt him, for crying out loud! Let her make it up to him the best way she knows how. Iolus won't let her do it for long, believe me. In the meantime, let's you and me go hunt up some dinner while you tell me why you feel so threatened by Iolus." Xena fumed, "I am not threatened by Iolus. That's ridiculous."

"As ridiculous as staying up all night until your little bard got home." Hercules said, "Untouched by the lecherous Iolus, I might add." "That's not the point, Hercules" Xena stopped and looked at him. "What is the point then?" he asked. "The point is…it should have been me last night. It should be me that Gabrielle's fawning all over back there." Xena shook her head. "I want it to be me. But I don't know how to make it come true."

"Hmmm. That is a tough one. You're not one for story telling. And there's no chance Gabrielle will ever come close to breaking your nose. You'll just have to think of some other way." He snapped his fingers. "Why don't you try telling her the truth?"

Xena opened her mouth to reply, then just as quickly shut it again. The problem with being around Hercules is that he was so often right. A plan began to form in her mind. Hercules smiled as she shared it with him. "Sounds good, let's get started."

Later that day, Xena and Hercules returned laden with provisions. Gabrielle held a finger to her lips to indicate that Iolus was asleep. "He's resting" she whispered, "Where have you two been?" Xena swallowed nervously and said, "We went into town and found some stuff for tonight's dinner. Why don't you take a nap too while we get it ready? You must be tired after taking such good care of Iolus all day." She guided the bard to her bedroll and tucked her in snugly. Gabrielle was surprised but admittedly tired. So she gave in to Xena's ministrations and fell asleep with the wonderful feeling of Xena caressing her hair.

As soon as she was certain Gabrielle was asleep, evidenced by the low, soft snoring that was song to Xena's ears, she got up to help Hercules prepare dinner. He had already made a spit of branches over the fire. On it he hung a joint of tender lamb coated with salt and spices. It had cost Xena a pretty dinar, but would be worth it to see Gabrielle's reaction to her favorite meat. Next to the joint hung a boiling bag filled with water from the stream into which Hercules was tossing onions, carrots and thick stalks of asparagus. Careful not to burn her fingers, Xena placed a loaf of fresh bread near coals. Sitting back on her heels, Xena inspected the campsite. Seeing it met with her approval, Hercules strode over to where Iolus was asleep. Waking him up, Hercules whispered into his ear. Iolus flashed a grin at Xena, then promptly winced. Although not broken, his nose had swollen up painfully and around his eyes showed blue green bruises. "Let's get you out of here before Gabrielle wakes up and sees you. She'll never let you leave looking like that." Hercules glanced at Xena, "See you in the morning. Good luck."

"Thanks Herc. For everything." Xena clasped his broad arm in thanks.

Soon after the two men left, Gabrielle stirred and stretched. Looking around she asked Xena who was sitting nearby sharpening her sword and trying to act casual, "Where's Iolus? And Hercules? And, for that matter, Argo?" Xena strode over to where the bard lay still wrapped in the blanket. "I thought Argo needed some exercise so Hercules offered to take her to town for me. He thought Iolus should see the town healer about his nose. It looked fine to me, but you know how worried Hercules gets." She scanned Gabrielle face for any disappointment at Iolus departure and was relieved to find none. Instead, Gabrielle stretched languidly again sighing, "Oh good. I get you all to myself again." Then realizing what she had said hurried to explain. "I mean, I like Iolus and all, but it takes some getting used to, him not being the Iolus we knew, you know what I mean? You're sure he's alright?" Xena smiled at her, "He's fine and yes, I think I do know what you mean."

She moved a strand of hair from Gabrielle's eyes. "I'm glad we're alone too." She looked into green eyes, searching for any sign that she had gone too far. Gabrielle was caught up in the azure blueness and felt she falling in. Trying to look away, she found herself staring at Xena's lips. Slightly parted, Xena's breath was faster than normal but it matched Gabrielle's. Licking her lips, she saw a shudder go through Xena. Gabrielle swallowed hard and said, "How long do you think the town healer will take?" Her voice was low and husky. The sound of it coursed through Xena like fire. Suddenly, she couldn't take it any more. If she didn't take this opportunity, it may never present itself again. Sitting down she looked directly at Gabrielle and said, "I told Hercules to stay all night. And that we would meet them at the Inn in the morning. Is that what you want?"

Gabrielle could only nod and whisper, "That's what I want."

The look in Gabrielle eyes was one of desire and hunger but Xena had to be sure. She had to hear the bard say it before she could continue. There could be no misunderstanding now that they were so close. Xena leaned her head close to Gabrielle, "Is this what you want?" Xena kept her eyes on the bard's. The low voice only had enough time to say, "Yes" before Xena's lips were on Gabrielle's. For an infinite moment, the two kissed, feeling all the months of longing slip away. Xena hesitantly reached out with her tongue, only to find Gabrielle's eagerly thrust into her mouth. Together they explored each other, tasting the sweetness, feeling new textures only dreamt of before. Xena broke off first and began to kiss the side of Gabrielle's face to her jaw, moving slowly down to her neck. Gabrielle's neck arched back urging Xena on. Xena hands slipped around Gabrielle's waist, then up the sides of her body to caress the edge of her breasts. A low moan from the bard was all the encouragement Xena needed to bring one hand to the front of the bard's chest, cupping her breast. Gabrielle gasped at the touch and Xena immediately withdrew her hand.

"Gods, Xena don't stop" Gabrielle was breathless. "That feels so good."

Xena returned her hand to Gabrielle breast for a moment, then tried to untie the cloth that bound it. Finding the task too difficult for her fevered brain she slipped her fingers under the cloth instead. Gabrielle's skin felt hot to the touch and softer than Xena imagined. She brought her mouth to Gabrielle's other breast and kissed it through the rough fabric. She felt Gabrielle press against her, then pull back. "This thing has got to go." Gabrielle fumbled with the tie in front but wasn't quick enough for Xena. With a harsh tug, Xena ripped the top off, freeing the captured breasts. Xena lowered her mouth to one ripe nipple murmuring against it, "Sorry. I'll get you a new one" Gabrielle pushed Xena's head against her. The sensations flowing from her released breasts were almost too much to take. "Don't bother" she gasped. "I never liked it anyway." Suddenly, it occurred to Gabrielle that if having Xena suckle her breast felt this good, how good would it feel to reciprocate? Determined to find out, Gabrielle focused her mind on removing Xena's breastplate. Her trembling fingers found the straps but could not manage to undo the buckles. Xena stopped her ministrations and glanced up at Gabrielle whose face was now furrowed in concentration. The bard pulled and tugged sharply at the garment muttering to herself, "Stupid Roman design. How're people supposed to get out of this thing in a hurry? What if there was an emergency?" So caught up in her task, Gabrielle failed to notice Xena had stopped all attention to her breast and was now sitting back on the bedroll, trying to keep from laughing at the intent bard. Finally the breastplate came loose and Gabrielle flashed a smile of triumph at the warrior. "Proud of yourself?" Xena said bemused

Gabrielle looked sheepish, "Well, it was in the way." Her gaze fell on Xena now half-nude figure before her. She opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and put her open mouth on Xena's lovely form. Xena groaned. Gabrielle smiled at the response and slowly kissed her way to the other breast, feeling the nipple contract under her tongue. She nipped at it with her teeth and was rewarded by Xena's sharp intake of breath. Blowing cool air onto the moist skin, Gabrielle saw Xena shiver and moved quickly to cover the area with her warm mouth again. She reveled in the taste and softness of Xena's skin. She was determined to taste all of it. Slowly, she brought her mouth down to Xena's waist only to be frustrated by Xena's leather skirt barring her entry. Sensing what Gabrielle wanted, Xena slipped out of her skirt in record time, flinging it away into the grass. Clad only in her black briefs, she started to take them off also, but was stopped by Gabrielle.

"Let me" whispered Gabrielle with a coy smile. Xena wondered what was behind that smile until she saw the bard deftly tear the thin fabric and toss it over her shoulder.

"Hey!" Xena protested. "Sorry" Gabrielle looked sincerely into Xena eyes, "It was in the way too." Xena's reply was lost in a groan as she felt the bard's mouth on her mound. She never knew she could feel this way. It was so intense, never in her mind was it like this. She was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the bard had taken control of their lovemaking so quickly. Xena had always fantasized herself taking the lead, but reality was wonderfully different. She felt Gabrielle spread the lips of her labia and lick all along one edge, then the other. Xena felt as is she was going to explode and tried to get her feelings and her body back under her own control. She pulled back a little out of Gabrielle reach but the blond head simply slid forward stroking Xena's tunnel even harder. Xena could feel herself going over the edge. "Oh Gods, Gabrielle. It's too much. I can't hold on. Ohhh!" Xena groan turned into a high pitched scream, reminiscent of her battle cry, this time full of pure pleasure.

Gabrielle hung on for all she was worth, wringing every last drop of sweet nectar from Xena before finally letting go and resting her head against Xena's thigh. "Where did you learn to do that?" Xena panted when she could speak.

Gabrielle raised her head with a grin, "I have many talents, Xena. Didn't you know?" Xena raised an eyebrow, "Oh really." She pulled the bard up into a full body embrace. Nuzzling the side of Gabrielle's neck, she said, "And, pray tell, where did you learn these many talents? Hmmm?" As Gabrielle tried to answer coherently, Xena brought her mouth up to nibble on an earlobe, pulling gently at first, then harder. Gabrielle could only whimper as lightning flashed through her body. Xena stroked the side of Gabrielle's body from her shoulder down to her hip, then back up to slide over Gabrielle's breast. Reaching down with one hand, she gently caressed Gabrielle's backside and along the back of her thigh. Bringing her hand to the front of Gabrielle's body, Xena gently raked her stubby nails over the soft skin on the inside of Gabrielle's thigh. Gabrielle gasped and spread her legs to accommodate Xena's hand. When it touched Gabrielle's curly blond hair, Xena was surprised at how wet and hot it was. She felt Gabrielle begin to move against her hand. One finger slipped in between the folds of slippery flesh. Gabrielle's breath was coming in short gasps. "Oh Xena. I've waited for so long."

Determined to keep her love at bay no longer, Xena increased her tempo and pressure. The young woman beneath rocked her pelvis against the hand. In a strangled voice, Gabrielle said, "Xena, more! Oh yes, that's it. Another." As Xena slid a second and then third finger inside, she could feel the muscles begin to tighten. With her free arm, she held the smaller woman tight against her. Gabrielle felt her whole body go rigid, then relax only to be brought to the peak again by the slightest movement of Xena's fingers. Again and again she came, only to finally collapse in a heap atop the tall warrior.

When she felt Gabrielle was ready, Xena whispered into her ear, "I too have many talents." "Yes," smiled Gabrielle "But did you have to use them all at once?"

At that, Xena laughed loud and long. Pulling Gabrielle to her, Xena told her, "Only you can make me feel this way." She looked down at the young woman in her arms. "I'm sorry it took me so long to realize it." "Just don't make me wait so long for the next time, alright?" Gabrielle kissed Xena hard. "I don't think I could take it." Xena glanced at the bard with a gleam in her eye, "Oh, I don't think you'll have to wait that long at all."

The End

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