DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess is the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Della Street

Gabrielle walked slowly the few paces from the stream to their campsite, wrapped in a short towel. Xena glanced up from the log she was sitting on and ran her eyes down Gabrielle's body, then tried to re-focus on what she was doing. She needed to work on her sword and chakram, to make sure they were razor sharp. She had intended to do it last night, but Gabrielle had come up behind her and . . . She smiled in spite of herself, then concentrated on the task at hand.

Gabrielle lay down on the blanket and looked over at her.

"Are you coming to bed?"

Xena kept her eyes on the sharpening stone in her hand, honing the blade. "After a while. I've got to finish this."

"Oh. OK."

Xena sighed inwardly, relieved that Gabrielle wasn't going to put any pressure on her. Sometimes the bard didn't fully appreciate the need to keep her fighting tools primed.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Gabrielle sit up, and turned her eyes toward her. At least she would get a look at Gabrielle's body when she removed the towel. But the blonde woman reached instead for the sheet they used on warm nights and pulled it over her. Xena frowned, disappointed. Gabrielle's hand emerged from underneath with the towel, which she laid next to their saddlebag.

Xena could see every tantalizing curve outlined against the thin sheet as it settled on Gabrielle's body. She remembered she was supposed to be sharpening her sword, and resumed the slow stroking of the blade.

Gabrielle slid her hands under the sheet. Xena could follow their path through the cloth, and she straightened when she saw them drift onto Gabrielle's breasts. She felt her temperature rise as she watched Gabrielle squeeze her breasts, running her hands across the nipples. She remembered she was supposed to be breathing.

Gabrielle's hands left her breasts and wandered down her sides. Heart pounding, Xena watched the hands caress Gabrielle's flat stomach, then her hip bones, pressing their hardness against the palm of her hands.

'Ouch!' Xena nicked her thumb on the edge of her sword. She brought it to her lips, then kept it in her mouth absently, her mind elsewhere.

Gabrielle massaged her firm thighs, bringing them upright.

Xena stared, mesmerized, as she ran her hands up to her knees, then-Gabrielle's thighs slowly fell open, and her hands slid downward until one hand came to rest between her legs.

Clank! Xena's sword and chakram landed on the breastplate lying next to the log and she swiftly covered the distance between them, tearing the sheet off Gabrielle and lying on her. "I'll do that," she said hoarsely, groaning as she felt exquisite wetness on her fingers.

Gabrielle smiled to herself in accomplishment, letting the warrior take her. Later the woman would make gentle, lingering love with her. Gabrielle liked both of her lovers.

She closed her eyes, feeling Xena inside her, listening to raw, sensuous grunts as Xena made love to her. She felt Xena's teeth sink into her neck, vaguely thinking there would be a mark there tomorrow, thoughts blurring as her excitement built.

Gabrielle moaned, her breath coming faster, and she tightened her grip on Xena's shoulders. Then the hand stopped its wonderful motions.

"No, not yet," she said urgently. After a moment she opened her eyes, confused. "Xena?"

Suddenly, several things happened at once. Xena jumped off her and stood as four men charged the camp. Gabrielle grabbed at the sheet and pulled it over her, scrambling to her feet.

Xena looked at her sword and chakram lying next to the log, their attackers between her and her weapons. She quickly turned her head to check on Gabrielle, but then the first of their assailants was upon her. With a savage cry, she kicked him in the stomach, finishing him with an elbow to his throat.

Two more men converged on her, but she noted with concern that the fourth had gone around her. She smashed her palm against an unpleasant face, then backhanded its owner fiercely into a tree. He joined his fallen confederate on the dirt.

She heard a sharp noise behind her, and turned to see the fourth man seize Gabrielle, who was struggling to fight him off, the sheet tangled at her feet. Xena's brain registered footsteps rushing toward her and she whirled around, stepping aside to dodge a knife blade thrust at her. Desperate to get to Gabrielle, she grabbed her attacker's wrist and twisted his arm, driving the blade into his side. She gave it extra emphasis to make sure the job was done, then threw his body to the ground and turned to help her friend.

"Hold it right there." He had his arm around Gabrielle's throat. "I'll snap her neck."

They stood motionless, hard breathing permeating the silence.

The image of Gabrielle naked, helpless, in his hands seared into Xena's consciousness. "What do you want?" she asked.

"I want to finish the job you started on this pretty thing," he said crudely, grabbing Gabrielle's thigh with his free hand and pressing himself against her. "But first I need to take care of you."

"Do I know you?"

"No, but the man I work for knows you. And he's paying me good money to bring back your head."


He laughed. "What's it matter? The list of people who want you dead is pretty long."

She took a step toward him. "Huh uh," he warned, tightening his hold on Gabrielle, who began to struggle for breath.

Xena halted in her tracks. "Well, let's get on with it then," she said. "Come get me."

He laughed again. "I don't think so. Lie down and put your hands behind your back."

"No. If you're going to kill me, just kill me."

Gabrielle tried to call out to her, but Xena remained focused on the man who held her.

"I could take your head right now. But there's a thousand dinars more in it if I bring you in alive. So get down or I'll have to do something I'd rather not do just yet." He jerked hard against Gabrielle's throat.

Xena complied. He walked toward her, keeping his hostage in front of him, then pulled two pieces of rope from his side and placed them in Gabrielle's hand. "Tie her up. And don't try anything. I'll slit you open." He pulled a long knife from its sheath on the other side of his waist.

Gabrielle knelt over Xena's legs, tying the rope around her wrists. "I'm sorry," she said.

"It's all right."

Suddenly Gabrielle cried out from a hard kick to her back. "I said don't try anything. Tie that knot tighter." As Gabrielle continued working at her task, Xena heard him address her in a different tone. "Mmm. Nice. I think we'll have a good time."

"Get your hands off me!"

Xena closed her eyes, her fury building. She had already made her decision the moment he kicked Gabrielle. She felt Gabrielle begin to tie her ankles, then shift her body and move completely apart from Xena, leaning over her as she worked with the rope.

"Move back. I can't see what you're doing."

"I can't move back and tie her feet," replied an irritated voice. Xena listened carefully, waiting for a cue. "You do it if you're so worried."

"Watch your mouth." Xena heard a blow, followed by a small exclamation from Gabrielle.

"Fine. Then don't tell me what to do when you don't know what you're talking about." Xena expected it, but still winced as she heard him strike Gabrielle again. Her desire to kill was growing with each second. Finally, she felt Gabrielle release her ankles, remarking impudently, "Do you want to check it, since you're so brilliant?"

She heard movement, and sensed that Gabrielle had moved to one side as her captor reached in to deliver another blow. She kicked backward with the full strength of her legs, enjoying the satisfaction of a direct hit. Gabrielle had tied her ankles loosely, and the rope fell off as she rose to her feet.

The impact of her kick had sent the intruder to the ground.

Xena kicked him in the face and his head flew backward, then she kicked him again, hard, in the groin. He lay on his side, trying to catch his breath, gasping in pain.

Gabrielle came up behind her and worked to untie her hands.

When she was free, Xena reached down and grabbed the prone man by his collar. "Who hired you?" she said, barely in control of her rage.

He remained silent, and Xena backhanded him. "I can make the next few minutes very unpleasant for you," she snarled. "You touched my friend" -- she pulled his face up to hers, angry blue eyes burning into him-"so I'm going to cut off your hands. Gabrielle, bring me my knife."

Gabrielle hesitated, then retrieved the knife from their saddlebag and brought it to Xena, her brow furrowed. Of course Xena was bluffing. She had to be. She wished she could see Xena's face.

Xena rolled her captive onto his stomach, placing a knee in his back, and drew his arm away from his body. "I want the world to know what'll happen to anyone who touches her. You're going to help me show them." She brought the knife to his wrist.

"No!" he begged.

"Who hired you?" Xena's tone left no room for equivocation.

"I don't know." The knife edge pressed against his wrist. "I don't know! I was to be paid in Alyssia."


"When I showed up with you, I'd get my money."

"Didn't you get anything up front?"


"How'd you get it?"

"A messenger. From Alyssia. I don't know who."

"You're useless," Xena said angrily.

"Wait! There are others," he stammered.

"I don't suppose you know who they are."

He shook his head.

"Where are they?"

"I don't know."

Xena rolled her eyes. Useless. "Stay down until I decide what to do with you." She stood up and took a step toward Gabrielle, who had almost finished dressing. She started to speak, but heard a crunching sound and spun around, plunging her knife into the man's stomach as he raised his own to strike her down. Her lip curled as she pressed the knife in deeper, then pulled it out and wiped the blade on his shirt. "Idiot." He fell, lifeless, to the ground.

Xena's harsh expression faded when she saw the sickened look on Gabrielle's face. She walked over and tenderly put her arms around the smaller woman, pressing her head against her chest. "I'm sorry," she said.

"It's not your fault." Gabrielle leaned into her. "What are you going to do?"

Xena stared out over her lover's shoulder, absently stroking honey-colored hair. "He's right. A lot of people would like to see me dead. But most of them won't go this far. We'll have to find out who it is and take care of it."

Take care of it. Gabrielle knew what she meant, but she also knew they had no alternative.

Gabrielle sipped water from one of two carafes sitting on the table in front of her. She had rarely felt so tired. They had been on the road for four hard days, picking their way through rough terrain, barely sleeping on narrow patches of ground rendered more unfriendly by endless sharp rocks and plants, all the time watching for an attack. Right now she wanted some quiet refreshment, a bath, and a real bed. Please. She rested her forehead on the table.

Someone sat down next to her. "Any luck?" she asked, but looked up to see that it wasn't Xena. "I'm sorry, but that seat's taken," she said to the scraggly figure.

He looked around him exaggeratedly. "Doesn't look like it."

"Well, yes it is, actually. I'm waiting for a friend."

"Here I am."

She groaned inwardly. Not again. "I mean it. See this?"

She pointed to the two carafes.

"Yeah, thanks." He picked up the nearest carafe and took several swallows of port.

"Hey! That cost two dinars!" She had spent the precious money out of their dwindling resources in the hope that it would help Xena relax. She gripped the now empty cup, wanting to cry.

The interloper draped one arm on the back of Gabrielle's chair and the other in front of her on the table, leaning toward her. "And how much does everything else cost?"

"There's nothing else for sale here," she replied, irritated, "and you'd better hand over the dinars for that drink."

"Well, now, if I give you two dinars, I expect something more for my money," he persisted.

"OK. If you give me the money, you won't get the stuffing beaten out of you." She regretted the words instantly.

He leaned back and roared. "Oh, really? You won't beat me up. I like it."

"I didn't say-"

He grabbed her right arm. "Come on. I want to see you rough me up." He began to rise, pulling her with him, but bumped against something and found himself sitting down again abruptly. He turned and saw a tall, leather-clad woman standing directly behind him. "Out of my way," he growled, keeping his hold on Gabrielle's arm.

"Look, why don't you let me go?" Gabrielle appealed, using her most reasonable voice. "I'm sure there are plenty of people around here you could get to rough you up." She knew of one for sure.

"You're coming with me, girl. You got better things to do with that mouth." Again he tried to stand, and again he was shoved down by the woman behind him.

"Let go of her."

He released the girl's arm and stood to face the interfering woman. "This is none of your business. Back off."

Xena took his arm and swung him into a table by the far wall of the tavern, then sat down next to Gabrielle and reached for a cup. "Oh, here." Gabrielle quickly handed Xena her water cup. Xena raised it to her lips, staring out in front of her.

"Any luck?"

"No. He's got a room, but he wants ten dinars."

"You're kidding!"

"No, and we can't afford that. We've got to pick up some supplies," Xena said. She took another drink of water. "We don't need a room. There's plenty of good ground around here."

"Maybe I could-" Gabrielle looked around.

"Not here."

Gabrielle hung her head. This was depressing. They were both sore and exhausted. If they had a room, Xena might be able to get some sleep. Gabrielle had opened her eyes more than once the past few nights to see Xena still awake, tense, watching. She stared at the table, unable to prevent tears of frustration from forming in her eyes.

"Get up." Her unwelcome suitor had returned, and stood behind Xena.

Gabrielle reached out and laid her hand on Xena's forearm.

"Don't. Please." Xena looked at her friend's entreating face and remained seated.

Gabrielle addressed the troublemaker. "Look, I think there's been a misunderstanding here. I don't do what you think I do for money." She raised her hands. "I mean, I don't do it at all. Well, not not at all. I mean not with--."

Xena looked at her, an eyebrow raised. This wasn't coming out the way she intended. She decided on another approach. "Look, you know how it is. We've been on the road a long time, and we don't want any trouble. We just want some peace and quiet for one evening. OK?"

"Shut up, girl. I was talking to your mother here. Or whatever you are," he added, the last directed at Xena.

Xena took another sip of Gabrielle's water and stared down into the cup. "You're not going to leave us alone, are you?" she asked quietly.

"I'll leave you alone if you get lost. I have some business with her."

Xena pushed her chair out and stood face to face with him.

"I'm going to give you one last opportunity to leave us alone and keep the use of your legs," she said calmly.

He ran his eye over her. "You know, you and I might have some business after all," he said. "You'll need the use of your legs."

Xena reached out and grabbed his ear with her left hand, drawing her right hand back in a fist.

"Wait a minute, hold it!" A third figure inserted himself between them. "Not in here. I'm not having the place trashed again. You two want to fight, you go outside."

"Fine." Xena turned and placed her hand lightly on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I'll be right back." The two headed for the door.

A group of soldiers sitting a few tables away laughed loudly.

"You're out of luck now, girl," one of them yelled over.

"I don't think so," Gabrielle replied. She was thrilled to see him rise and swagger over to her, followed by his two friends.

"That's Fantias," he said. "Our lieutenant. There's no man who can beat him hand to hand."

"Maybe, but there's a woman who can," she retorted.

"Mighty confident, isn't she?" the first soldier laughed to his companions.

"Well, maybe she thinks her friend will find some way to distract him."

"You want to put money on her, Darmius?" They laughed, and the jokester shook his head.

Gabrielle looked down for a moment, thinking, and then stood abruptly. "I will." She pulled some coins out of her purse and held them up. "Two dinars."

The trio laughed again.

"What's the matter? Afraid she'll beat him?" She shifted her gaze from one to another, then sat down again. "Oh, well, it'll give me something to talk to Fantias about if he wins." She crooked her head. "'You know, your men didn't think you could beat a woman. Isn't that funny?'"

The first soldier dug out two dinars and slammed them on the table. "Here, stupid girl. Lose your money."

"Just one of you, huh? What's your name, so I can tell Fantias?" The other two glanced at each other, then both drew coins out and laid them down. Gabrielle took another four dinars out of her purse and set the coins next to their piles. She turned to the man who had sent Xena and her challenger outside.

"You're the keeper of this tavern?"

He nodded. Gabrielle gathered up the coins and handed the money to him. "Will you keep this in a safe place until the fight's over? It shouldn't be too long."

"Sure." The tavern keeper carried the coins with him and placed them in a stack near him on the bar.

Gabrielle needed to make sure the money was out of sight when Xena returned. She was already starting to regret her impulsiveness, betting half of their remaining funds. The amount wasn't the problem, of course. Xena would win, so they would still have their money. The problem would be Xena's reaction if she found out that Gabrielle had bet on a fight. The Warrior Princess would never fight for money, and this came pretty close. She wouldn't like it.

Familiar sounds were filtering into the tavern from outside.

Scuffling. "Ooof!" More scuffling. Xena would toy with him for a minute, then-Fantias' head entered the tavern through the wooden slats of a wall. He emitted a muffled groan and went silent. It soon occurred to his underlings that the woman would be coming back inside, and they scrambled back to their table.

Gabrielle hurried over to the bar, where the tavern keeper held out the twelve dinars to her.

"Forget it. Just give me my six back," she said, nervously watching the entrance. "And don't say anything." Xena would be back any second. Gabrielle grabbed six coins from the pile and dashed back to their table.

"What do you want me to do with the rest of it?" a raised voice yelled after her.

"Just-" She saw Xena step into the tavern and cut short her reply.

Xena walked over and stood next to Gabrielle. "Sorry," she said, looking down at her friend.

Gabrielle ran her hand down Xena's forearm affectionately and smiled at her. Xena returned the smile, then nodded toward the door. "Come on," she said tiredly. "We should get some fruit before we head out."

Gabrielle sighed. She rose and fell into step behind Xena.

As they approached the bar, she saw the unclaimed six dinars still sitting there. Two steps later she had made a decision. She put her hand out and touched Xena's back. "Xena, wait." Turning to the tavern keeper, she said, "You have a room, right?"


"We're really tired and we need a room for the night, but we can't afford ten dinars. We're quiet and we don't leave messes. Wouldn't you rather have us in there not causing any trouble than one of those guys?" She pointed back into the bar for emphasis, seeing Xena's head follow the direction of her gesture. Gabrielle caught her listener's eye, and glanced meaningfully at the coin pile. "How about four dinars?"

The tavern keeper knew all about keeping secrets. He had been married a long time. "Well, OK," he said gruffly, going along with the pretty girl's scheme, and was rewarded with a grateful smile.

Xena turned toward her friend. Gabrielle recognized the body language, and knew if she looked up she would see that look of half-pride, half-pleasure she usually loved to see on Xena's face. This time she didn't deserve it. She was lying to her.

Keeping her eyes on the proprietor, Gabrielle took four dinars from her purse and handed them across the bar. The keeper took the coins and placed them in a drawer, then in a casual move swept the other pile off the bar and tossed it into the drawer.

He stepped out from behind the bar and led the women upstairs, opening the first door on the right. "Here you go, ladies."

"Is there a bath?" Gabrielle asked.

"Downstairs, next to the south entrance. If you want clean water you'll probably have to bring it in yourself." Gabrielle thanked him as he turned to go.

Xena lay back on the bed, her sword beside her, then sat up again. "I'd better go take care of Argo."

"I'll do it. You lie down."

Xena didn't argue with her, and Gabrielle left. The exhausted warrior relaxed on the bed and closed her eyes. A short while later she heard the door open, and instinctively reached for the chakram at her waist.

"Whoa! Just me," Gabrielle said. "Guess what? There's no one in the bath. And it looks like the water hasn't been used."

Xena stared up at the ceiling. She needed a bath, but it would be so easy just to lie there . . .

"Come on. Let's go." Gabrielle's insistence intruded on her daydreaming. Xena felt none of the younger woman's sense of urgency.

Gabrielle dug around in a saddle bag she had brought in with her. She found what she was looking for, and held up a piece of soap. "For us. And . . ." She dug around some more, and held up another prize. "For your leather. Come on."

"Gabrielle . . ."

"I know. You're tired. It's OK; I'll just go by myself."

She turned to leave, expecting to hear-

"No! I'm coming." Xena hauled herself off the bed.

Gabrielle smiled slightly, thinking how easy it was to manipulate the great Warrior Princess. But it was always for her own good.

"Get your clothes off." Gabrielle came over and began helping with the ties on Xena's leather corset. Soon the lanky form was reclining in the slightly cramped tub while her enthusiastic laundress worked on her leathers. "You know, I've got some fresh lilac powder. It would make these smell nice and floral."

Xena raised her head from the edge of the tub and stared at her.

"Nevermind. Just thought I'd mention it." Gabrielle finished her efforts on Xena's outfit and laid the pieces out, then stripped off her own clothing and carried it with her to the tub.

"I suppose you're suggesting that I'm through," Xena said.

"Well, there's no room in there for both of us," came the practical reply, "and we need to get to bed sometime." Gabrielle held out a towel to her.

Xena stood up and snatched the towel as she stepped out of the tub. "I don't know why I let you boss me around," she said.

'I do,' Gabrielle thought. She stepped into the tub with her clothes and reached for the soap.

Several minutes of companionable silence passed, Gabrielle soaking in the tub, Xena brushing her long black hair. Suddenly they heard a cracking of wood, and the door burst open. Two obviously inebriated men stood in the doorway.

Gabrielle sank into the tub, and Xena quickly fastened the towel around herself. She glanced over at Gabrielle, then walked over and stood in the doorway, holding the chakram behind her. The men looked surprised to see anyone in the room.

Xena sized them up. "We're almost through in here," she said sweetly. "But we're worried that someone will try to come in." She reached out and gently patted the first man's chest. "You look strong. Will you stand guard for us outside the door?"

The recipient of Xena's admiration swayed slightly. "Sure," he slurred pridefully. "No one'll get past us."

"Right," the second man concurred, with similar equilibrium.

"Thank you. Now we won't have to worry." She closed the door and turned back around, rolling her eyes.

Gabrielle sat up again. "I thought I was the sweet talker here."

"Well, I don't think we should push it. You about done?"

Gabrielle grabbed her towel, then stepped out of the tub and hurriedly dried herself. She reached back into the tub and retrieved her clothes, squeezing water out of them. Xena walked over and took the wet clothes from her. In a quick motion she wrung considerably more water out, then handed them back to Gabrielle.

Xena picked up her leathers and waited while her partner gathered the rest of their supplies. She opened the door cautiously and smiled at the two men dutifully standing guard outside. "Thank you so much," she said pleasantly, heading for the stairs.

"Thanks," Gabrielle echoed, nodding at the men and following closely behind her warrior.

Back in their room, Xena secured the door while Gabrielle laid out their clothing. There was a pleasant evening breeze, and Gabrielle placed Xena's leathers in the window where the air could reach them. She crawled into bed and watched Xena jam a wooden slat diagonally into the window space. It wouldn't keep out anyone who went to the trouble of climbing up to the second story, but it would provide ample warning. Xena walked over and slipped into the bed, pulling the covers up nearly to her chin.

"Goodnight," Gabrielle said.


Gabrielle smiled to herself, relieved. She had made a mistake with the betting, but she'd gotten away with it. She looked over at Xena, who was going to get some badly needed sleep, and her guilt subsided. She curled up into the body next to hers, and felt Xena's arm reach across her chest. Within minutes they were both sound asleep.

Gabrielle opened her eyes to the sun peeking up over the horizon. She moved her head slightly and was surprised to see her bedmate still sleeping. Xena usually got up before her; the fact that she had slept this late showed how tired she had been.

She lay still and tried to go back to sleep, afraid that any movement would awaken her friend. Finally she gave up and quietly slipped out of bed. She picked up her clothing, now dry, and turned to see blue eyes watching her.


"It's all right. I had a good sleep," Xena said, stretching.

She brought her eyes back to Gabrielle, who paused. The thought of that lithe body hidden beneath the covers was giving her ideas. She smiled suggestively, frowning as Xena looked away.

Something was wrong here. Xena hadn't touched her since the attack near the stream. That was understandable. There had barely been room to sleep, it was uncomfortable, and they were both tired. But what was this? She turned away to hide her hurt feelings and put her tunic on. After a moment, she turned back, asking as matter-of-factly as she could, "Are you mad at me?"

"No, I'm not mad at you."

Gabrielle paused. "Do you not find me attractive any more?"

Xena closed her eyes. She knew what was coming. "Of course I do. I find you very attractive."

"Then . . .?"

"I've been tired. You know that."

"What about right now?"

Xena looked uncomfortable. "We don't have time."

"The sun's just coming up. It's another week before we get to Alyssia. Why don't we have time?"

Xena sighed, unable to shake the memory of the campsite.

Those men had gotten closer than they should have because she had been distracted by her desire. The image of Gabrielle, naked, in the hands of an assassin because of her carelessness stayed with her. "We just don't."

Gabrielle stiffly turned away and reached for her skirt. Xena got out of bed and walked over to her, enfolding her in her arms. She spoke softly in her ear. "When this is all over . . . There's too much danger right now."

Gabrielle turned and put her hands on Xena's waist, drawing Xena toward her. "No, Gabrielle." Xena released her and walked over to her leathers. "It's too dangerous."

That wasn't good enough. Gabrielle felt an overwhelming need to be with Xena right now, to maintain some semblance of their normal life during this crisis. She crossed the room, pulled the leather bodice from Xena's hands, and threw it down. "I'll risk it."

Xena looked at her in surprise. She started to speak, but saw the look on Gabrielle's face. Anger. She couldn't have Gabrielle angry . . .

Gabrielle reached up and pulled her head down, pressing their mouths firmly together. Xena felt the insistent meshing of Gabrielle's tongue with hers, heard the little sound from the bard's throat, and fought to keep a clear head. She knew what was right here. She flashed back again to the image of the woman she loved, helpless, his hands on her . . .

She pulled back and raised her hands. "Wait."

"No." Gabrielle strode toward Xena, who backed away from her determined approach. "Get on the bed."

Xena sat on the edge of the bed and lowered her head. "I just don't think I can do this right now," she said quietly.

Now she was getting the truth. Gabrielle stopped directly in front of Xena and looked down at her.

"I should have heard them coming sooner." They both knew what she was talking about. "I wasn't listening. You could have been killed." Xena closed her eyes. His hands on her . . .

"Well, I'd rather be killed making love to you than doing anything else."

Xena frowned. "I'm serious, Gabrielle."

"So am I. Anyway, remember what you said to me once? It was just one incident. We've been together for months, and this is the only time it's happened."

"So far."

"Fine. Let it happen. We get attacked all the time. What difference does it make what we're doing at the time?"

Xena shook her head. Gabrielle didn't get it. "Because I wasn't listening, Gabrielle. The only time I don't listen is when I'm with you."

"Well, it wouldn't be much fun if you just ignored what we were doing, you know." She stepped toward Xena, who moved her knees apart to let Gabrielle in closer. "It's the way we live, Xena. I'm not willing to give that up, and I'm not willing to let someone else keep us from being together." She put her hands on Xena's shoulders and touched silky black hair, pressing her face against her. "Don't shut me out, Xena. I can't take it. I have to be with you."

Xena let Gabrielle's words flow over her, absorbing her warmth, the aroma of her skin. After a moment she turned her head and kissed the stomach next to her lips. Gabrielle felt her hands at the back of her tunic and whimpered as it fell to the floor, exposing her breasts to Xena's avaricious gaze. She needed this.

Xena squeezed Gabrielle's breasts, running her thumbs over the nipples, and following their path with her tongue. She took a breast into her mouth, sucking gently at first, then with increasing passion, closing her eyes in pleasure. Her tongue flickered across Gabrielle's other breast, her teeth lightly catching the nipple.

Gabrielle pressed Xena's knees together and straddled her strong thighs. As she leaned in to kiss Xena she felt their breasts touching, and looked down at the stimulating sight. Her hands reached out to caress the large breasts, pressing her own into their softness, merging, as her tongue now was with Xena's.

She moved further into Xena, wanting their bodies to touch.

Her lips rested near Xena's ear, and the warrior closed her eyes at the sounds of Gabrielle's labored breathing, her little noises. "I love you," she said unconsciously, and heard Gabrielle cry out at the words. She circled Gabrielle's waist with her arm and lay her on the bed, thrusting her tongue into the passionate mouth. Gabrielle's hands wildly caressed smooth black hair as the intensity of their lovemaking increased, and she wrapped her arms and legs around Xena.

They broke away from the kiss to catch their breath. Xena ran her tongue up Gabrielle's throat, then lightly inside her ear. Gabrielle felt the sensation instantly between her legs and thrust upward with her hips, tightening her grip on Xena, drawing her arms and legs around her with all her strength. She tried to speak, but could manage only Xena's name. She felt like she was dying.

Xena raised herself and kissed a fiery path down the taut body under her hands. Gabrielle spread her thighs apart, inviting her, and Xena groaned. She lowered her head, a wave of emotion overtaking her as she felt how wet Gabrielle was. For the thousandth time she thanked the gods for this woman.

She slid her tongue inside, gently circling, then plunging into her. Xena wanted to spend the rest of her life doing this to Gabrielle. She drew her tongue out and licked the moist flesh next to it, pressing her lips against the warmth, feeling as though she were consuming a soft, delicious fruit.

She felt a light hand on her head and acquiesced to the unspoken request, raising the focus of her tongue, gently, firmly stroking until she heard a loud cry. Hands pressed down on Xena's head as Gabrielle surged against her mouth in a prolonged release. The bard uttered an incoherent sound and settled back onto the bed, tears falling from the corners of her eyes.

Xena gazed up at her little chatterbox, relaxing but still speechless. She smiled to herself. Now she knew what to do next time she wanted Gabrielle to be quiet. She lifted her face and nuzzled the golden down above it, wiping the moisture from her mouth. She raised herself and lay on Gabrielle, who put her arms around her. She waited patiently for Gabrielle to recover, enjoying the feel of her soft skin.

Gentle hands slid down to her hips and squeezed them.

Gabrielle's head nudged against her shoulder, and Xena raised herself so that her lover could have what she wanted.

Gabrielle sucked avidly on Xena's breasts, murmuring. She loved the way they felt. On luxurious nights under the moonlight, Gabrielle had spent many hours satisfying her craving for that exotic flesh in her mouth. At the moment, however, she could tell that Xena would require something else soon.

The bard could imagine the heat between Xena's legs after what Xena had just done to her. She wanted to feel it. She grasped Xena's hips and guided her lover forward until she rested on Gabrielle's stomach. Gabrielle closed her eyes at the feel of warm, wet softness against her skin, then looked up and met Xena's eyes.

Passion surged through Xena as she saw the desire on the younger woman's face. She couldn't wait any longer. She moved up, coaxing hands still on her hips, until she straddled Gabrielle's face. Gabrielle raised her head, greedily delving into Xena with her tongue.

Xena rested her hands on her thighs, absently running her fingertips up and down as Gabrielle explored her. "Go ahead . . .," she urged. Gabrielle turned her attention to Xena's need, the aggressiveness of her tongue matched by escalating responses.

Xena's breath caught, then she exhaled loudly, her desire breaking. Gabrielle continued to stroke her eagerly, mouth crushed by driving hips, until the glorious convulsions came to an end. Xena closed her eyes, but Gabrielle knew . . . She ran her tongue across Xena again, and was rewarded with another series of shudders, followed by a long, loud groan. She watched a calmness come over the woman above her, her breathing returning to normal. She was beautiful.

Xena slowly rolled on to her back, her eyes closed. Gabrielle nestled against her, snug in strong arms.

"That wasn't a bad idea," Xena said. Gabrielle smiled. She wondered if Xena had figured out yet why she let her boss her around.

The sun was sinking as they walked into the next village.

"So, do you think-" Gabrielle cut short her question as Xena reached out and snagged an arrow a few inches from her head.


Xena pulled her companion behind a water trough. "Stay down."

She stepped back into the open, gauging the trajectory as another arrow came hurtling toward her. She caught it and snapped it in two angrily, then ran toward the site of its origin.

The sniper yelped as he saw her coming, and emerged hastily from his hiding place. He had run only a few yards when he felt himself lifted off the ground by the back of his shirt. His head slammed against the side of the nearest building and he stumbled, dizzy.

Xena glanced over and saw Gabrielle still behind the trough.

Good. She grabbed the would-be assassin and moved him around the corner, out of Gabrielle's view. She was getting tired of this.

A few minutes later she released him, and he slid to the ground. She had more information now, none of it good. She walked around the corner and met Gabrielle halfway. "Did you catch him?" Gabrielle craned her neck to see where Xena had come from.

"Yeah." Xena caught her arm and turned her around, heading back to Argo.

"Did you find out anything?"


Gabrielle remained silent, letting Xena think.

"I have an idea," Xena finally said.

They sat at a table in a public house, Xena's back to the wall. She pulled a hunk of bread from the loaf in their saddlebag and handed it to her friend, then tore a piece for herself. The archer had told her that an assassin was planted in each town between here and Alyssia. "Whoever it is heard we were headed that way. Pretty good planning, really."

"Then let's not go through the towns. Can't we go around them?"

"I need to let them-" She smiled regretfully at Gabrielle.

"We need word to get back to Alyssia that they've all failed." She steeled herself and said casually, "I don't suppose you'd consider going on ahead to Alyssia."

"What?" Uh oh. She recognized Gabrielle's I'm-about-to-be-angry voice. "I'm not going without you."

"Gabrielle, we know some men are going to try to kill me-"

"That's right. This time we know about it ahead of time. We usually don't." Gabrielle shook her head. "You know how I feel about this. I want to be with you, no matter what happens. So forget it."

Xena sighed. "I don't know why I ask."

"I don't either." Worried that her tone might have been too harsh, Gabrielle tentatively reached out her hand. She smiled as Xena raised it to her lips.

Over the next few days, Gabrielle realized that it was a mixed blessing to know about the expected attacks ahead of time. As they approached each village, she felt tension building. To her, every noise seemed exaggerated, every movement sinister. There had been a close call in Elegius . . . Three men, a knife aimed at her throat that she only accidentally deflected with her staff, and now Xena would not leave her side.

Another attempt had been made outside of Chyrria, but Xena had sensed the impending charge a moment earlier and met the aggressor's sword with her own. The encounter was short-lived, and Gabrielle had been able to tell some stories that evening to a generous audience, while Xena sat, unobserved, in an unlit corner of the room.

Xena usually preferred to be far away while Gabrielle was making a case for her godhood. That night, unwilling to let the bard go by herself, she had been forced to sit through an endless recitation of her own heroic exploits. Before it was over she was wishing for another attack, the sooner the better.

She got her wish the next day. Leading Argo down a narrow pathway, Xena slowed her pace, looking around. "Hush, Gabrielle-" She jerked her head toward an overhang just as a rope was thrown down at her. It encircled her and was pulled taut, trapping her arms against her side.

A second man hurriedly led a horse onto the road, and his associate tossed the loose end of the rope to him. His hands worked fast, tying it to the horse's saddle.

The rope was sturdy, and Xena struggled to get her arms out.

Suddenly she felt her sword being unsheathed and tried to turn around, caught by surprise. She hadn't heard anyone come up behind her.

"Don't move!" Gabrielle's voice reflected her own unique blend of steadiness and panic. The sword flashed downward just as the accomplice urged the horse into a gallop. Xena felt herself pulled forward, resisting the motion, then stumbled backward into her rescuer as the rope split. Gabrielle regained her balance and reached her hands under the rope, loosening it. It fell to the ground as the first assailant left his hiding place and ran.

Xena climbed after him. Gabrielle was amazed to watch her friend's rapid ascent up the side of the hill; she couldn't even see any toeholds. Xena must have wanted this one pretty badly.

Once she was on level ground, the Warrior Princess had little trouble catching up to her prey. She didn't care if his partner escaped; he hadn't seen Gabrielle cut the rope. But she couldn't put Gabrielle at risk in Alyssia by letting this one go. She'd have to kill him.

"Yiyiyiyi!" She left her feet and somersaulted, landing squarely on her target, grounding him. She allowed him to turn over and face her, then pulled out her sword. "Sorry. Can't have people go around trying to kill me."


She frowned. Gabrielle had climbed up and was looking for her. She hesitated a moment, then noticed something that might resolve her dilemma. "Over here," she yelled. She turned back to her subject and withdrew the point of her sword from his chest. "You're in luck. I don't like to kill in front of the girl."

She heard Gabrielle tramping through the brush and turned toward the sound, hoping he would make his move before she found them. A knowing expression came over her face as she heard him scramble to his feet and charge after her, presumably with the knife Xena had seen tucked into his boot. She twirled her sword once and thrust it backward into him just as a blonde head came onto view. Gabrielle halted, resuming her approach as Xena turned around and put a boot to the corpse, ejecting the dead weight from her sword.

Gabrielle looked at Xena in concern. "I'm sorry. Did I distract you?"

"You never distract me." Xena smiled at her. "Well, not like that anyway."

Gabrielle smiled weakly, her eyes drawn to the fallen man.

Xena slid her arm around Gabrielle's waist. "Come on. We've got work to do."

Xena rode into Alyssia, a sober-faced Gabrielle trudging beside the horse. Xena rode slowly and arrogantly, doing nothing to counteract the attention her presence always commanded. She dismounted outside a crowded structure, ignoring the stares of curious patrons, and tossed the reins to Gabrielle. "Take care of the horse. Then go to the room." Gabrielle nodded silently.

Later that evening, Xena strolled downstairs and sauntered up to the bar. Seated nearby were four men, profession unknown but suspect. Xena drained her cup, surveying the crowd, then directed her gaze toward a good looking young man in the group. He returned her stare and rose from the table, smiling as he approached.

"What are you having?"

Xena spoke to the barkeeper, eyes still on her suitor. "I'll have another of the same."

"And one for me."

"No. He'll have an ale," she said, smiling provocatively.

She picked up her fresh drink. "My name's Xena."

His eyes widened. "The Warrior Princess?"

"Some people call me that."

Another dimension was added to his interest in her. The Warrior Princess. He ran his gaze down her body and took a large swallow of ale.

"You live here?"

"No. My partners and I are heading back to Athens tomorrow."

"Last night here, is it?"

He stared into seductive blue eyes. "Yeah."

She leaned forward. "How about a sendoff? I'm feeling the need for a little stress relief."

He laughed lustily. "I can help you with that. Do you have a room?"

"Yeah, but my girl is up there." She drew closer, pressing against him. "Then again, maybe you'd like her." She ran her hand up his chest. "I'd like to see that. She's not very friendly, but if you're up to it, you could spend time with both of us."

"I'm sure I can handle her. Do you and she . . .?"

Xena smiled. "Her father wanted me to guard her virginity. So I took it for safekeeping." They laughed. "But don't worry. She's just for fun. You're more my type." She slid a hand behind the stranger's head and kissed him. He reached his hands around her waist and pulled her to him.

"What are you doing?"

Xena broke away from the kiss, and turned to see Gabrielle standing a few feet away.

"What does it look like?"

"I don't believe you. Why do you do this?"

Xena took a step toward her. "Look, let's not have a scene."

"I will have a scene," she said loudly, heads turning to listen in the crowded tavern. "I'm sick of this! You expect me to-then you do this again. Don't you care about me at all?" She glared at the figure standing imperiously before her.

Xena turned to her new mate. "I told you she isn't very friendly."

Gabrielle looked from one to the other. "Told-- You were going to-" She shook her head angrily. "No. Not again."

"I think she's still upset with me. A little tiff a few days ago."

"A little tiff? You killed someone for no reason right next to me. You almost killed me!"

Xena shrugged. "You should have gotten out of the way. Now get upstairs."


"You'll do what I say."

"No, I won't. I've had it with you." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "You saved my family, so I've stayed with you and done whatever you wanted. But I can't take it any more. I've paid our debt." She took off her ring and flung it at Xena, striking her in the chest. "I'm going home."

Xena shrugged again. "Fine."

"I need some money."

A dark eyebrow rose.

"I need some money," she repeated, more assertively.


"You won't give me-- After all this time?" Gabrielle stared at her in disbelief.

"Why don't you try earning it on your back? It's the only thing you're any good at."

"You really don't care about me at all," she said, a stunned expression on her face.

"That's right. I don't. You're just another girl, Gabrielle, and if you're going to start thinking otherwise, it's time for both of us to move on."

Xena took her new companion's hand. "Come on." As she passed by, she cupped the young woman's chin. "It's been fun." She bent to kiss her, but Gabrielle pulled her head away.

Gabrielle turned and watched the couple climb the stairs, then stormed out of the inn. She had gone only a few yards when she heard someone calling out to her. She wheeled around and saw a dark haired man about Xena's height, but considerably older. He was well groomed, she noted, with expensive clothes.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"I saw your . . . encounter . . . in the tavern just now. That was the Warrior Princess, wasn't it?"


"You travel with her?"

"Not any more."

"She seems like a rather horrible beast, if you don't mind my saying."

"I don't mind. She is."

"How did you end up with her, may I ask?"

Gabrielle laughed bitterly. "She kept another warlord from taking us as slaves one day. We thought it was out of kindness, so when she said she wanted someone to go with her, we all thought it would be an honor. I later found out she only did it to spite him." She shook her head. "She chose me because she found out I was bethrothed. That's how she is."

"Terrible." They continued walking slowly, and her new acquaintance spoke again. "You need money to go back to your home."

Gabrielle raised her hands. "Huh uh. She may have degraded me, but I'm not going to degrade myself."

"That's not what I had in mind, I assure you."

She stopped and looked at him.

Xena lay on the bed, waiting. She glanced down at the unconscious young man on the floor. He was kind of cute, she thought objectively. In the old days . . .

But these weren't the old days. Right now she'd trade them all in for one uninterrupted night with Gabrielle. She smiled. One minute with Gabrielle would probably do it in her present condition. The bard's performance in the tavern had definitely stirred something in her. Xena didn't quite understand it, but she nearly always found herself stimulated when her companion dressed her down. She didn't want that information to fall into the wrong hands, namely Gabrielle's, but when Gabrielle got here they would have some catching up to do.

She lay her head back and thought about it. One uninterrupted night . . . warm bath . . . big, soft bed . . . wine . . . What else would she need with Gabrielle? She smiled. Solid walls.

She closed her eyes and passed the time thinking about a romantic evening they'd probably never have.

Gabrielle sat at a large table, enjoying a generous dinner.

A servant brought out some rather good bread, and she accepted her host's invitation to help herself.

"My, you must have been starving."

'Not really,' she started to say, but then saw an opportunity to embellish her earlier tale. She nodded. "Xena doesn't let me eat sometimes. She got mad at me yesterday."

"What did you do?"

She was grateful for having stuffed a large piece of bread in her mouth, giving her time to think of something. She tossed her head, conveying embarrassment. "It's kind of personal."

"I hope you feel you can confide in me."

"Oh, I do. It's just . . . Well, she wanted to . . . you know, and I didn't."

"I see."

Gabrielle kept her eyes down. She couldn't imagine that scenario ever occurring.

"Did she want you to . . . do that with her very often?"

"Just about every night."

Her host contemplated the information. "To want so much...personal contact with you, she must have some feelings for you."

"Yeah, well, I don't want any part of those feelings any more."


"I hate her. I wish she were dead." Gabrielle sensed him staring at her, and she looked up. "Why are you asking?" She stood. "Are you spying for her? Go ahead and tell her! I'd rather be dead anyway. I don't have any money, I can't get home, I've got nowhere to go." She threw down the rest of her bread and started for the door.

"Wait! I can help you."

She paused, regarding him uncertainly. "What do you mean?"

The night had passed with no sign of Gabrielle. Xena heard a groan from beside the bed and saw the young man struggling to a sitting position, holding his head. He looked up at her angrily.

"Sorry," she said mildly. "I guess I just wasn't in the mood after that argument with my friend." She held up the knife she had confiscated from him. "I'll tell you what. You go tell your friends you had the night of your life, and I'll back you up. Otherwise, I'll have to tell them I knocked you out and you slept on the floor. And I'll show them this." She twirled the knife. "Nice handle." He glared at her, then staggered to his feet and out the door.

An hour later he emerged from the inn with his friends, bumping into Gabrielle. "Hey!" He blocked her path. "You should have stuck around. I might have had something left for you." He turned to his companions. "Or maybe not. Now I know how she won all those battles - the other guys couldn't walk." They joined him in raucous laughter.

Gabrielle tried not to react. "Excuse me," she said, pushing her way past him. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the door to their room.

The door opened, and Xena stood in the doorway. "What do you want?"

"I came to get my things."

"Fine." She moved aside, and Gabrielle stepped into the room.

Xena swung the door shut and hugged her. "Where have you been?"

"With my new best friend."

"Is it him?"

Gabrielle nodded.

"You spent the night with him?"

"Yeah. He treats me better than you do. And he has a nice guest room." Gabrielle glanced at the bed. "So, I hear you and that guy had a great time."

Xena shrugged. "Aah. He was OK." She started to elaborate on her joke, but couldn't read Gabrielle's expression. She decided to play it safe and held up the knife, grinning. "I took this while we were having a discussion about the word 'no.' I imagine he's got a pretty bad headache this morning." She noticed a cloth bag in Gabrielle's hands. "What's this?"

Gabrielle brought two muffins out of the bag and set them on a table. "I brought these as a peace offering."

"Good. I'm famished." Xena reached for one of the muffins, but the blonde woman slapped her hand.

"They're poisoned." Gabrielle reached into her tunic, carefully drawing out a slice of bread. "This was the best I could do with the food."

"Mmm. Can I lick the plate?"

Gabrielle giggled, and started to reach into the other side of her tunic.

"You've got another one in there?"


"Well, then, let me help you." Xena stepped closer to her.

Gabrielle shook her head, laughing. "Oh, no. I can't stay in here too long."

"You won't be in here too long. I just want the bread."

"Uh huh."

Xena reached her hand inside the cloth. After a few moments, Gabrielle said dryly, "It's not that hard to find."

"I'm looking for crumbs."

"You can do an in-depth inspection later. I've got to go, or he'll get suspicious. I'm getting good money for this, you know."

"Are you sure he doesn't expect us to have a little farewell party?"

"He thinks you'll want to. That's why he figured you'd let me in. But he knows I'd rather die."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're welcome. Now, if you don't mind . . ."

Xena withdrew her hand and the slightly mangled piece of bread. She grinned and put it in her mouth.

Gabrielle carried her purse out of the tavern and walked over to her new patron.


"She ate them."

He closed his eyes, pleased. Poison was effective, but only if you could get close enough to the victim. Not easy with Xena. But she'd made a mistake this time. She had let her guard down with someone and then mistreated her, a fatal combination.

"Look, I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I'm going to get started for home."

"Did you leave the door unlocked?" Gabrielle noticed he wasn't bothering with charm any more.

"Yeah. She was lying down when I left, so I don't think she locked it again. She usually doesn't worry about those things. She's pretty arrogant."

"Yes, she is." Gabrielle was taken aback by the pure hatred in his voice. There was obviously some history here. She turned and walked away.

He opened the door and saw Xena lying on the bed on her side, wearing a white shift she probably slept in. Her long hair covered her face, but the position of her body was unnatural. He made a noise from the relative safety of the doorway. No movement. Encouraged, he crept cautiously forward, putting his hand out to touch the bed. Nothing. He sat on the bed and smiled.

Suddenly he felt the rough edge of a knife against his throat.

"Henriod," a feminine voice hissed at him. "I should have known. Anyone else would have had the guts to do it himself."

He struggled to get off the bed, but the blade cut into him.

Xena gracefully leapt from the bed, planting herself between him and the door. "Henriod, your grudge against me goes back a long way. But it's all behind us now. I don't have an army any more."

Her words appeared to have no effect on him. She didn't really expect them to. Several years ago, Henriod had been at the head of his brother's royal army, accumulating wealth and prestige with the position. She had pierced his defenses easily, taken most of his army and weapons, and ransomed him back to his own brother. A productive little venture for her, but a mind-twisting humiliation for him.

"I don't really want to kill you, Henriod."


Xena looked at him, hesitating. She had created this situation, but-

"She betrayed me." His eyes rested on the poisoned muffins, barely visible under a cloth on the bedside table. He raised his head, seeking confirmation from Xena.

She met his eyes. She had no choice now.

Keeping her gaze on her prisoner, Xena reached down to retrieve her sword from its hiding place under her leathers. She swung it into position as she saw Henriod rise from the bed, but he did not make a move for her. Instead, he walked slowly over to the table and picked up a muffin. He turned to face her, then raised it to his lips.

"Xena!" Gabrielle ran up to her, reaching her hand out to the leather waist. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

She walked beside her friend, Argo trailing behind them. She hesitated, but she had to know. "Is he . . .?"

"He's dead."

Gabrielle stared at the road ahead.

"He killed himself."

She jerked her head around. "Why?"

"He'd lost." 'Again,' Xena thought. They walked a few minutes in silence, Gabrielle stealing worried glances at her friend.

Xena halted.

"What's the matter?"

She reached an arm around Gabrielle's waist and pulled the slim form against her, kissing her with an intensity that sent electricity through the Amazon's body. Just as abruptly she released Gabrielle, who stood with a dazed expression on her face. "I'm fine," she repeated.

"Well, now I'm not. You can't just do that and leave me-- Let's go behind that tree. Just for a minute."

Xena grinned and started down the road.

The End

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