DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess and Gabrielle of Poteidaia are owned by MCA/Universal. No copyright infringement is intended. No infrigement of copyright is intended either for the beautiful words of Ranier Maria Rilke or Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, they were used with much respect.
SUBTEXT: This story contains graphic scenes of love between two women of concentual age. If this offends you then read no further and fare thee well.
Many thanks to all those who got in touch after "The Night Shall More Than Pay". It was greatly appreciated. Again, this is for my Pocket Warrior. June sees many anniversaries, I celebrate each one by your side, the best place for any bard who travels with her love. 5 years and counting!! April/May 1998.
NOTE ON THE AUTHOR: If you liked this story you might want to check out this author's original works, "Keeper of the Piece" and "Constellations Of The Heart", at http://www.windstormcreative.com/.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Keeping Faith
By Brit Bard aka Lesley Davis

"How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in it's deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen, if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hands; it will not let you fall....."

Rainer Maria Rilke
Excerpt from "Letters To A Young Poet"

"Are you even remotely aware of how long it's going to take for me to wear in a new pair of boots?" Gabrielle asked, her tone brightly conversational. She looked down at Xena from her lofty position upon Argo.

The smile she sweetly bestowed upon the warrior was met by a steely blue stare. Xena's face cleared of it's frown at the mention of those boots again and her partner's false cheer. She made a show of pretending to consider Gabrielle's query. She tapped a long finger against her chin.

"Let me see, how long was it before you finally stopped complaining about your last pair? I seem to remember the exact day to the hour, in fact the very minute when you stopped...."

"Very funny," Gabrielle interupted with a grumble. She lifted up a foot to check out her damaged boot. "I suppose it's one of life's endless little mysteries how your chakram can slice through metal but yet it was able to slice through my boot without taking my leg off." She mused as she wiggled her fingers through the open leather.

Xena's smug grin was contagious, Gabrielle was hard pressed not to return it.

"I know, I know. You have many skills, yeah yeah." She pulled her fingers from out of her boot and tried to to ease the cut edges together. "Why you couldn't have just asked me..."

"I tried that, remember? You're stubborn for a little bard!"

"Couldn't you have, well....I don't know. Wrestled me to the ground and pulled my boot off?" Gabrielle argued.

"What? Wrestle the Queen of the Amazons to the ground?" Xena shook her head. "The chakram seemed my best wager."

"Sledgehammer to a nut," Gabrielle mumbled.

"That's because the nut in question was being too stubborn to listen to the voice of reason."

Gabrielle huffed at Xena's comment.

"How does your ankle feel?" the warrior asked, she reached up to stroke a hand on Gabrielle's knee.

"In relation to what? The pain from my back where the arrow entered, or the exit wound in my chest? Compared to those my ankle feels marvellous!" Gabrielle gave her partner a wry grin.

Xena soothed her hand over Gabrielle's leg, as if to impart sympathy through touch.

"You'll soon be back to fighting speed."

"For a while there I thought I'd never lift my staff again."

Gabrielle felt Xena's hand tighten on her knee in reaction to the confession. Gabrielle patted her warrior's hand comfortingly. "But I'm still here and whining about my boots."

Xena looked up at her. "For which I am eternally grateful."

"Even about the whining part?"

"Even for that." Xena intoned solemnly.

Gabrielle chuckled lightly. She kept her hand on Xena's and looked about her at the passing scenery.

"Queen of all I survey," she announced. "No wonder you rarely walk by my side. Being upon Argo is a very good position."

"That's not the reason I ride so much."

"Leathers too heavy for walking?" Gabrielle teased and tried to look innocent as Xena turned narrowed eyes on her.

"No. I ride rather than walk beside you because....." The warrior faltered a little. Gabrielle nudged her with a hand. Xena relented. "Because it's easier to keep my hands off you that way, ok?!"

Gabrielle's eyebrows rose steadily up her forehead. A delighted grin lit up her face.

"Hah," she said, speaking volumes in one word. She watched Xena duck her head away from her bright smile and take great pains to study their path ahead. Gabrielle couldn't tear her eyes from what little she could see of Xena's face.

"Stop staring at me," growled a voice.

"Are you blushing?"

"It's all this leather in the heat."

"Right." Gabrielle's grin threatened to split her face. Xena's shoulders rose in defence at Gabrielle's barely surpressed laughter. Gabrielle made a production of looking away. The bard made the mistake of looking down and grabbed Xena's hand in fearful reaction.

"Keep your mind off the ground, Gabrielle. I don't want to have to pick you up off it."

"Argo is too high," Gabrielle replied and was surprised by Xena's sudden grin directed at her.

"Hearing you complain is like music to my ears," she said.

"Well, as long as you don't expect me to sing, you'll be fine!" Gabrielle shook her head. "You won't still be smiling if I don't get a new pair of boots in the next town. You may never get your horse back!"

Xena laughed. "No such fear. Besides, if you have to stay upon Argo permenantly I'll merely ride seated behind you, taking advantage of my arms being about your bare midrift."

"Xena!" Gabrielle chuckled. "Suddenly boots have become less of a priority!"

"Bard of mine, I promise you the next town we reach I will get you a pair of boots and more besides."

"What more could I possibly need?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes racing over Xena's obviously happy face.

Xena's smile deepened. "You're turning down a shopping trip?" The warrior reached up and tugged on Gabrielle's arm to pull the bard within her reach. Xena placed a hand to Gabrielle's forehead. "There's no fever. Are you sure you're not ill?"

"Har har, Xena. Princess Diana's court lost out on a jester when you left the palace." Gabrielle batted away Xena's teasing hand. "Besides, we don't exactly have the dinars to splash out on anything other than a pair of boots." Gabrielle exphasised for good measure. "I haven't been doing 'the bard thing' for a while, our money is low."

"You haven't been writing your scrolls for a while either." Xena favoured the bard with a little look. "Run out of stories?"

Gabrielle ran a hand through her hair, brushing it out of her neck. "No, there's plenty of material. I'm just worried my audience will think I'm turning my quill to fantasy, not reality."

"At least there isn't the problem of Aphrodite enchanting your scroll again, I think she learnt her lesson the hard way there."

Gabrielle agreed. "It was nice to see Minya again though."

"Hmm, and my whip." Xena added darkly.

"Hey! It was a fair trade!" Gabrielle put her hands on her hips indignantly. "Besides, with all that fish you caught we nearly wore out her frying pan."

"Then there were the three naked dancing Gabrielle's," Xena blinked playfully. "Quite an eyeful I seem to recall!"

Gabrielle glared at her. "Joxer needs to get a life. Maybe Hercules could take him on."

"Gods, how I wish." Xena muttered. She continued. "So, are you taking a break from the quill?"

"I'm taking a break from everything." Gabrielle said enigmatically. "This bard is re-evaluating her priorites."

Xena stared at her in silence for a long time. "Do I figure in there somewhere?" She asked in a quiet voice.

Gabrielle reached down and cupped Xena's face in her hand. "You figure in everything where I'm concerned."

"That's nice to hear." The warrior's smile was gentle, almost relieved, blue eyes pierced into soft green.

"It's nice to say." Gabrielle said simply and shivered at the soft brush of lips against her palm.

"Well, bard-of-mine, my priority is to find us somewhere to camp for the evening so you can rest your ankle seated on solid ground."

"It's really not so bad now." Gabrielle moved her foot carefully to prove her point.

"So you won't need me to massage it tonight?"

Gabrielle clutched at her ankle with a sudden howl. "Ow! The excruciating pain!" She continued to groan expressively.

Xena patted the bard's leg. "Gabrielle, Priority Number One; Leave the theatrics for your story telling. It's more convincing!"

Gabrielle sighed. "Everyone's a critic!"

The wood was already crackling, it popped and spat as the fire took hold. Gabrielle had settled herself on her bedroll and eased off her boots. She rubbed at her ankle thoughtfully.

"Funny how the simplest of things can set off a chain reaction," she mused aloud.

"Such as?" Xena looked up from her stitching, there really was alot of wear and tear on her leathers, it needed constant upkeeping.

"Such as if I hadn't have been trying to execute that flip, I wouldn't have hurt my ankle. If I hadn't have hurt my ankle, I wouldn't have been on Argo. If I hadn't have been on Argo, I wouldn't have got hit by that arrow. If I hadn't been shot by the arrow you wouldn't have had to take on the Persian army alone while trying to save me."

"And if wishes were horses, bards would never ride!" Xena snapped her thread in two with her teeth. "There'a an awful lot of ifs there. Nothing is ever certain, except death."

"Thank you for that cheery thought, hot on the heels of my being shot!"

"I nearly lost you, Gabrielle." The warrior looked away from the golden haired woman opposite her. "I'd have followed you within seconds, you know."

"Xena," Gabrielle's voice turned tender.

"Gabrielle," Xena speared the bard with a look that spoke volumes. "Even in death, bard-of-mine. Besides, " Xena continued, trying to lighten the mood. "Who knows what kind of trouble you'd wreak in Elysia left to your own devices. I'd probably have to break out of Tartrus to make sure you weren't after Hades job!"

"No, it would be to rescue me from certain loneliness because you weren't there." Gabrielle said heartfelt.

Xena shrugged shyly. "That too, I guess."

Gabrielle placed her hands under her chin, resting her elbows on her knees to stare at Xena with soulful green eyes. "Where ever I go, Xena, you'll be with me. Even if I have to petition Hades to be with you. I can be very persuassive."

"I'm aware of that!" Xena replied dryly.

"Anyway, you're presumming I'd be in Elysia...after what I've done..." Gabrielle's voice tailed off.

Xena growled at her. "Gabrielle," It rumbled out like an approaching storm. "Don't even go there."

Gabrielle heeded the warning in Xena's tone. Swiftly directing her attention elsewhere she waggled her ankle experimentally.

"Not too bad," she remarked. Trying a little more movement she ended up wincing. "Maybe I'm not quite ready to race Argo to the stream though."

"Then allow me."

Xena left her armour and walked round the fire to scoop Gabrielle up into strong warrior arms. Gabrielle clutched at Xena's neck.

"I can walk!" she argued but without much conviction.

"You need to rest your ankle and conserve your energy to aid your recovery."

Gabrielle eyed her. "Sure. Whatever." She snuggled into Xena's arms a little more. "I could get used to this."

"You'd better not, it would be an impediment to my fighting style, as delightful as it may feel."

"You could find a way around it! You have 'many skills' after all!"

Xena's laughter burst from her unexpectedly and she hugged the younger woman closer to her chest. "You're unique...I'll think I'll keep ya!"

"I'll hold you to that."

"See that you're always around to do so then." Xena placed a gentle kiss on golden hair. "No more making yourself target practice for stray arrows."

Gabrielle held on a little tighter to the warrior's solid shoulders. "You want to know something strange?"

"What?" Xena ducked her head to see the bard's face.

"I wasn't afraid to die. I think death is going to be a tad anticlimactic after all we've been through recently."

"You also know it's not something you'll have to face alone. Where you go, I go." Xena said firmly.

"To be followed into death. That's such a noble sentiment." Gabrielle traced a finger along Xena's arm.

"A loving sentiment. There's nothing noble about my feelings where you are concerned."

Gabrielle giggled softly. Sometimes she was still in awe of Xena but she adored the tender hearted lover who co-existed beneath the leather and armour of the warrior. The lover whose ice blue eyes flamed and flared when they saw the object of their desire. Gabrielle was still amazed she was that object. She admitted to herself that she also had a more than healthy fear of the Warrior Princess persona that had surfaced when Xena had lost her son. Gabrielle had never seen the full warrior side of Xena, that anger and ferosity was always held under strict restraint. Gabrielle hoped she never had cause to witness it again. Or experience. Illusia had erased the lesions from her body but the memory of them caused her heart to ache. The reasons for them too made Gabrielle hurt so deep inside that sometimes the pain threatened to engulf her. It made the soreness from her ankle and the lingering hurt from the arrow head pale in comparison.

Gabrielle felt Xena's arms tighten around her as she carried her to the stream. She knew the warrior sensed some of her thoughts. It wasn't usual for the bard to be quiet for so long unless she was pondering either stories or questions. Gabrielle knew she was beginning to think too much on other things that were best left alone. She rested her lips on the skin that covered Xena's beating heart. She took comfort from it's regular rhythm. Love had saved them, pulled them back from the darkness, brought them home again to each other. Funny how such a gentle emotion could hold such power against hate. It really had won against a formidable foe. They had won. A smile eased onto her face.

"I can feel you smiling," Xena said softly.

"Just thinking about you."

Xena chuckled. "Good thoughts, obviously."

Gabrielle nodded against the warrior's chest.

"Or were they really thoughts about new boots, I ask myself. And how long you're going to make me wait beside you while you decide which pair suits you best."

Gabrielle's grin spread devilishly. "I hadn't thought of that! Now there's a suitable punishment for the damage inflicted on my footwear!"

"And how about the other damage I've inflicted?" Xena asked softly.

Gabrielle leaned back in Xena's arms, comprehending the quiet question.

"We've both been punished enough for all we both did." Green eyes bored into blue.

Xena couldn't look away from the woman in her arms, Gabrielle made sure of that. She made sure that her eyes conveyed all the words of love and understanding, forgiveness, and a forgiveness begged for in return, and finally for the need of peace.

The warrior smiled and reluctantly broke the spell. "Did you bring the soap?"

Gabrielle's eyebrows rose. "Do I have to remember everything?" She reached into the cleavage of her tight green top and eased out a small slab of soap.

Xena's eyes followed Gabrielle's hand. "What else do you have in there?!"

"You'd be amazed!" Gabrielle tucked her top back around ample curves. "I left my Xena dolly behind, wouldn't want her to get ruined."

"Only you would make an effigy of me to 'calculate' my flips."

"That's not the only reason I made it!" Gabrielle muttered.

"Are you conducting strange Amazon rites with an effigy of me?"

"No, I'm conducting strange Amazon rites on you personally every opportunity I get! The dolly is just a....good fortune charm." The bard shrugged sheepishly.

"You're my good fortune charm." Xena tapped Gabrielle lightly on her nose.

"Yes, but you can't stuff me down your cleavage for safe keeping!"

"I sometimes wish I could!" Xena's stare was meaningful.

"If wishes were...."

Xena stopped Gabrielle's lips with a kiss. After that, Gabrielle remained suitably silent and Xena led them down to the waters edge. She placed her charge on the ground and began to unbuckle her breastplate with a purpose. Gabrielle followed suit and began to untie her green top's laces. She took less time to disrobe and raised her face to watch Xena.

"I could help you there," she hinted.

"I'm managing just fine, thank you. You have a habit of lingering over certain....unveiled areas! I want you in the water before the sun sets!"

"Like I'd take that long!" In an undertone, Gabrielle added, "Like you'd last that long!"

Xena nudged her with an armoured knee. "I heard that!"

Gabrielle's grin was saucy as she neatly folded up her clothes. It didn't take her long. She looked up to catch Xena shucking off her leathers. Gabrielle let her eyes linger over the tanned flesh with an appreciative eye.

Xena growled at her. "If you don't stop looking at me like that we'll never make it as far as the water's edge."

"Promises, promises," Gabrielle muttered. She then shivered in pleasure at the touch of warm warrior flesh pressing tightly against her own as Xena picked her up once more. Gabrielle hugged her arms around her lover, trying to get as physically close as possible. Xena hugged her closer with equal readiness.

The warrior picked her way carefully down the bank to where the water shimmered with the golden tinge of evening's descending sun. She waded in carefully, ever conscious of her precious cargo. The water lapped at Xena's knees and she shivered a little at the slight chill.

"If it's cold in here, I'm not leaving your arms." Gabrielle warned.

"It's not cold, merely cool. It will soon warm up once we're in."

Gabrielle looked down at the water unconvinced and shivered in anticipation.

"Of course, I could just throw you in and save you the trepidation of the initial reaction."

The comment came seriously from the warrior but Gabrielle spotted the sly twinkle in those blue eyes. Her fingers gripped on a little tighter to Xena's broad shoulders.

"Try it and you'll be eating your own cooking for a week."

To Gabrielle's annoyance, Xena seemed to consider her options.

The warrior waded forward, Gabrielle could feel the water tickling at her feet. She smiled at her love and received a dazzling smile in return. It was the last thing she saw as her head suddenly disappeared beneath the water with a less than graceful entrance. She returned to the surface, spitting and spluttering, searching for Xena. The warrior broke from the water beside her, gasping for air.

"If I didn't know you better Xena, I'd swear you did that on purpose."

"Where in Hades did that hole come from?" Xena asked, trying to peer beneath the surface of the water. She moved Gabrielle away from where they had slipped.

"Well," Gabrielle wiped her eyes briskly, "Fortunate for you, the water's fine... after the initial shock."

Xena slicked her hair back from off her face and gave Gabrielle a look. "Did you bring the soap with you?"

Gabrielle put her hands on her hips, no mean feat while she trod water. "Like, where am I supposed to have put it?"

"Well, Aphrodite, like I don't know!" Xena scrambled back out of the water to retrieve the soap. "I have to think of everything," she tossed over her shoulder.

"Whine whine whine, so unbecoming in a warrior." Gabrielle tutted loudly then nearly shrieked as that same warrior ran into the stream, splashing water all over her. Gabrielle furiously rubbed at her eyes again and favoured Xena with a glare that spoke volumes from one so usually peace loving.

Xena held out the soap to her as if presenting her a great treasure.

"Your soap, my queen."

Gabrielle's eyebrow raised in a fair imitation of a 'Xena look', then deliberately turned her back on the warrior. "If you're this attentive, 'subject', then you may wash your queen's back."

"With pleasure. And while I'm at it, I'll get your ears."

"Xeee-naa!" Gabrielle groaned with a whiney tone. There was nothing less romantic than having your ears washed like some errant child who hadn't bathed in days. She tried to escape Xena's soapy fingers but knew she wouldn't be free to move until her ears were squeaky clean.

"No arguments, " Xena told her. "And stop wriggling." Her purpose complete, the warrior began to run a caressing hand over Gabrielle's bright hair, smoothing it against her head. The bard leaned back against her, luxouriating in the gentle touch massaging her scalp.

"I like that," she purred.

"I know you do." Xena continued slowly, then traced a finger around the curls of Gabrielle's ear and round her chin, gently turning the bard around to face her.

"Gabrielle," she started seriously, grabbing the younger woman's attention away from the sensual delights she was wallowing in. "Maybe now is the time to go back to the Amazons."

Gabrielle abruptly turned away. "Where's the soap?"

Xena handed it to her with a slight frown. "They need to know we're ok."

"Turn around so I can get your back." Gabrielle gestured for Xena to turn.

The warrior did so slowly, piqued at Gabrielle's deliberate change in subject.

"We need to go back and explain..."

"How you get so tanned under your leathers is beyond me. Do you secretly ride naked while I'm not walking beside you?"

"Gabrielle," Xena turned around and grabbed the bard's shoulders. "No more chatter, no more evasions. Why won't you let us go back to the Amazons?"

Gabrielle remained silent for long moments, her eyes staring off somewhere over Xena's shoulder. Finally, after a breath escaped in a sigh, she focused her attention back on her partner.

"I have nothing to return for," she said starkly.

Xena's eyebrows travelled up her forehead incredulously. "Nothing to return for? Gabrielle, they're your people, your family."

"They'd do better without me. They're Ephiny's responsibility, she's the rightful Queen. At least she's a real Amazon."

Xena grabbed Gabrielle's arms as the woman started to swim away. "What are you saying? You have right of caste."

"And very little else." Gabrielle grated and tried to pull herself free from Xena's hold. The warrior wouldn't let her go.

"Explain," she demanded.

Gabrielle shrugged, the movement was awkward as if she had a crushing weight on her shoulders. "I don't feel I have the right to the title or role any more, it's that simple."

"Why not? Ephiny and the others, they helped you when...."

Xena obviously didn't want to remind either of them of that time, when anger had erupted and Gabrielle had been dragged from the Amazon village behind Xena's fury. The warrior hung her head. It was lifted up again by gentle fingers.

"They helped me when I needed them the most in my life." Gabrielle admitted.

"Then why?"

"I feel I've been shown I have no right to rule the Amazons, even as a part-time Queen."

Xena shook her head. "How? Who?"

Gabrielle's eyes searched the glowing sky above them as if seeking her answer there. "If I'm the Queen of the Amazons, Artemis's chosen, where was she when I needed her? Why has she turned her back on me, Xena? Why did she let me face Britannia all alone?"

A look of sheer anguish paralysed Xena's face before she pulled a now sobbing Gabrielle into her arms and clung to her. Neither of them saw fit to let the other go. Xena made soft, soothing noises in the bard's ear, held her as close as possible and smoothed the bard's hitching back. Gabrielle's sobs finally calmed down to ragged breaths. She refused to met Xena's concerned eyes.

"I need to wash my face," Gabrielle spoke softly as if not to disturb the fragile air that surrounded them. Xena dipped a hand into the water and lifted it to soothe Gabrielle's heated skin. The warrior sighed at the ravaged red face that she washed the tears from.

"Gabrielle, why didn't you tell me this was how you felt?"

The bard eyes shut tightly at Xena's all-seeing blue.

"It's not something I felt I wanted to discuss. What happened in Britannia just never goes away, Xena. Or any of the rest of it." Gabrielle forced her eyes open to stare almost angrily at her lover. "And going back to Amazonia again won't make it any better."

"I thought maybe,...it was because I attacked Ephiny and..."

"And the rest of them." Gabrielle finished for her and noted the uncomfortable look that crossed Xena's face. She relented. "No, it's not because of you. You'll have to deal with them in your own way when the time comes...with me by your side, of course."

"I'm relieved to hear that."

Gabrielle ran her hand across the surface of the water, watching it ripple through her fingers. "Xena, we've been playthings in the games of the gods these past months. We've been tested beyond endurance and who knows if it's even over yet?" Gabrielle lowered her head from Xena's concerned look. "Not even Tartarus could match the tortures we've been made to go through."

"Gabrielle, it's behind us now."

Gabrielle continued, barely hearing Xena's voice. "I was made Queen of the Amazons, right?" Xena nodded at the question.

"I am a Princess through Terris' right of caste."

Xena nodded again as if trying to assure Gabrielle.

"Then what did I do to fail Artemis so much that she didn't protect me when I was in danger from another God? Where was she when Dahok took me?" Gabrielle's voice grew harsh, she began to shake. "Where was she when Ho..." the bard swallowed hard, the name of her daughter rose in her throat but wouldn't make it past her lips. "Where the Hades was my Goddess when I needed her?" Gabrielle slapped a hand down into the water.

Xena flinched at the anger, she was shaken by Gabrielle's words. "I don't know, Gabrielle. I just know I failed you too. I should never have taken you there."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, this isn't about you. I'm all grown up now. We make our own choices, we pay our own prices. I walk beside you by my own choice. But I feel I was left to walk alone in Britannia. You had your own road to take and I got swept along by a foolish hope that there might be some goodness somewhere."

Xena reached out for her partners hands and held them tightly. "There is goodness, don't lose faith in that belief. You brought it into my life for me."

Gabrielle smiled a little at that. "Thank you. But as for having faith? We're conditioned from birth to worship our gods, to put our trust in them, that they'll help us in our time of need. I needed in Britannia. How can I be the Queen of the Amazons when my belief in the Amazon goddess has been shattered?" Gabrielle shrugged self depreciatory. "Guess I'm no one really, just the Bard from Poteidaia. At least that's something I can believe in."

Xena cupped Gabrielle's shoulders and shook her slightly. "You're more than that. You're my heart, my reason for being, my purpose for being alive."

Gabrielle rested a tired head on Xena's shoulder. "I'm also the one who brought Dahok's evil into the world and set off that particular chain of disasters. Then when it couldn't seem to get any worse after Illusia and all we went through there, I got shot in the back by a poisoned arrow and nearly died again." Gabrielle touched the wound in her shoulder, slowly healing but still raw. "Just another souvenir of a terrible year."

The warrior added her fingers to Gabrielle's on her wound. "You're alive, you're here with me where I need you to be." Her fingers trembled as they traced the angry wound. "We need to see all that we're going through together."

"I think we've been put through enough." Gabrielle said bluntly.

"Maybe the gods wanted to see if we stayed together in love through everything that threatened to tear us apart," speculated Xena.

"Aphrodite is mischievous but never cruel," answered the bard.

"Maybe it wasn't Aphrodite who needed to see if we'd chose love over hate." Xena seemed to hear her own words and her face grew dark.

"Ares?" Gabrielle made a face. "Do you really think he put us through Hades in another bid to get you back by his side?"

Xena shook her head viciously as she seemed to be trying to get nightmares out of her head. "I don't know, Gabrielle, maybe we're being tested."

"There's tests and there's torture." Gabrielle grumbled. "Why is it we get visited regularly by the unsavoury god of war, we see the goddess of love and her son but Artemis doesn't make herself known to us?"

"Gabrielle, you know I long ago gave up putting my faith in the gods. All I know is, you're here with me now, you're healing and we're together and no god has been able to split us up. Either we're very stubborn, very much in love, or someone is looking after us after all." Xena traced a gentle finger down her lover's cheek.

"Who?" the bard asked, confused.

"I don't know. Maybe like everything else we're going through we'll never know. Perhaps that's why it's called faith."

A smile eased out on Gabrielle's face. "You're very wise for a warrior."

"Comes with the job." Xena straightened her shoulders back and held her head high.

Gabrielle humpfed at her.

"It also comes from spending time with a wonderfull woman who every day teaches me that I need her wisdom to survive."

An ironic eyebrow travelled up Gabrielle's forehead. Xena shook her head at her.

"Don't you give me that look. You're no longer just the little bard, though you still tell stories like the master you are. You've grown into your many roles, my sweet. You're an Amazon, whether you believe it or not, by right of caste. From Princess to Queen. Do you have any idea how proud of you I am about that? Standing by your side when you do the Royal thing is quite a thrill." Xena smiled down into Gabrielle's flushed face. "Not to mention how stunning you look in your Amazon garb!" She laughed as Gabrielle batted a hand at her in retaliation. "You can hold your own in a battle now, you're more experienced."

"I have taken lives," Gabrielle's pain was evident in her voice.

"Gabrielle, you're an Amazon trained to fight. We're in alot of battles, sooner or later you had to..."

"Kill?" Her voice was a mere breath above a whisper.

"Save yourself."

Gabrielle remained silent over the thought of the deliberate poisoning of her daughter. Just what was she saving there? The damage had already been done and couldn't be repaired.

Xena nudged the silent woman. "You've matured so much, and we've been through a great deal. Don't shut me out now, we need to talk when we hurt or get confused. I need to know you still trust me." Xena's head lowered. "I need to know you still need me."

Gabrielle crowded herself into the warrior's arms and hugged her tightly. "I'll always need you, you're my tree in the forest."

"The other half to your soul?" Xena asked hopefully.

"Definitely." Gabrielle rested her head under Xena's chin. "You haven't lost faith in me have you?"

"No, Gabrielle, where you're concerned I'd never lose faith, no matter how sorely I'm tested."

"We've tested each other to the limits too."

"It only goes to make us realise that neither of us is perfect."

"I can think of easier ways!"

"We're a Warrior and an Amazon; easy isn't part of our vocation!"

"Have you ever considered a career change?" Gabrielle teased softly.

"Well, 'best bard' is already taken, 'Queen of the Amazons' is filled......what else is there?"

"How about lover to someone who loves you in return, perfect or not?" Gabrielle enquired softly.

Xena gathered the bard up in her arms and wrapped Gabrielle's legs around her waist so she rode the warrior's hips.

Gabrielle clung on to the woman who was her stability in life. She felt Xena rest her head against her own and smiled at the soft kiss she felt planted in her hair.

"I like the sound of that particular title. I'll gladly take it on. Lover of the Bard," Xena announced. "Yeah, I like that alot, has a nice ring to it." She began nuzzling at Gabrielle's neck. She lightly ran her teeth over the soft scented skin.

Gabrielle shivered at the rasp of sharp teeth that slid to her nape. She moved her head to give the warrior better access to her throat.

"Xena, about the Amaz....." Gabrielle made one last coherent stab at serious conversation before her words were taken away by a swift pair of lips. Xena seered her lover with a look that clearly said "No more words". The warrior carried her now silent bard from the stream, mindful of where she trod. Gabrielle's eyes fell on the water, it now appeared steeped in red. The evening sun had altered the streams colour as it set in the sky. To Gabrielle it seemed as if they left behind a bloody stain. She wished impotently that it was so easy to wash away all traces of blood guilt, then maybe she'd find some kind of peace. She shivered in reaction in Xena's strong arms and felt her warrior tighten her hold. For now, Gabrielle reasoned, she'd wish for things more easier to obtain. Wishes only Xena could fulfil. Gabrielle began to run her lips across Xena's flesh, she felt the woman tremble in reaction.

"If you keep that up I'm libel to drop you." Xena's voice was serious but her steps quickened considerably. She dipped the bard down so Gabrielle could scoop up their clothing. Suitably laden, Xena hastened back to the fire that was now aflame and aglow. Argo snorted at their hurried entrance and the undignified dumping of their clothes. Xena ignored the horse and set Gabrielle down on their bedrolls and knelt beside her. Her blue eyes darkened.

"Gabrielle, I know we need to talk, and believe me, we will but I need you to touch me and make love to me. I need you, Gabrielle. I came so close to losing you one more time," The warrior threaded her fingers through the golden hair of her lover. "Once again I nearly lost the one most precious to me." She ducked her head to plant a scorching kiss on Gabrielle's mouth. "If you lose faith in all around you, Gabrielle, never lose faith in my love for you."

Gabrielle cupped Xena's face in both hands. "How could I lose faith in that, Xena? It's been my faith in you and us that's kept me from just giving up. Every time I touch the brink, you're there for me, pulling me back into your arms. Be it in a temple in Thessaly or at the Amazon village."

A look of horror darted across Xena's face. "Gabrielle, how can you say that?"

"I was dying in that hut, Xena. You'd left me and I was dying inside because of all that had happened. My worst fears had been realised, you'd left me and I felt I no longer had any reason to continue. But you came storming into that village and pulled me back into your life."

Xena had bowed her head in remembrance of all that had occured but she whipped it back up to meet the bard's green eyes.

"You have the strangest ability to see the best in any situation, sweetheart! You astound me!" Xena looked suitably stunned at Gabrielle's comments.

"Good," was Gabrielle's simple answer. She put a hand behind Xena's neck and pulled her down to taste her lips. Xena groaned into the younger woman's mouth and pressed the bard down onto the bedrolls.

Gabrielle pulled Xena down with her, never breaking their lip lock. She glorified in the sounds she could hear escaping Xena's throat at the gentle ravishing Gabrielle performed. Each kiss was soft and lingering on the warrior's mouth, bespeaking tenderness and passion.

"Gabrielle...." the name rumbled out of Xena as a tremour rolled through her. "You know slow and sweet drives me crazy!" She managed to grumble between kisses.

The bard grinned against her mouth. "You need to savour life more."

"I'll stop and roll in a flower patch tomorrow when we're back on the road!" Xena promised. "Please...."

Gabrielle tugged the warrior back to her lips and began a kiss that was both slow and sweet but that evolved into something of a much more ferocious beast. She stole Xena's breath away with her tender ravishing. Her tongue explored and found Xena's own, tasting, taking, sharing the same breath. Xena was left gasping for air when Gabrielle finally raised her lips .

"When did you become the fourth Fury?" Xena gasped. "You're driving me insane!"

Gabrielle began nuzzling on an ear. "You call me 'Mavis' during all of this and I will kill you where you lie!" she warned.

Xena laughed. "I know exactly who you are, I always will. You're my Gabrielle. My soul mate."

Gabrielle's smile was beautiful. "Good answer," she murmured and graced Xena with a soul-stealing kiss that diverted the warrior's attention while Gabrielle moved Xena to lay back under her bard. Xena began to shift under her, restless to be explored. Gabrielle nibbled along the warrior's strong jaw-line. She licked at the throat where she could feel Xena's growls of desire pulse beneath her tongue. In a swift movement, Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips and began to let her hands wander. Staff-roughened palms explored Xena's shoulders then moved down to caress straining breasts. Xena's eyes fluttered closed as she luxuriated in the hands that caressed and fondled. Her breath caught in her throat as bardic fingers, skilled with the handling of a quill, drew circles round hardened nipples that were telling a story of their own. Xena's back bowed, pressing herself further into Gabrielle's touch, seeking the fingers that rubbed and flicked over her sensitive tips. Gabrielle bent down to taste for herself the reddened buttons. Xena's groan burst free, her hands grabbed a hold of Gabrielle's head and pressed her to the flesh she was feasting on.

"Gabrielle..." she breathed raggedly, squirming beneath the bard. Gabrielle paid her no heed and moved her voracious lips to Xena's other breast tip. A shudder racked through Xena's body and she bucked under Gabrielle, nearly unseating the bard.

Gabrielle could feel the barely restrained power vibrating beneath each touch she bestowed on the warrior. She decided she wanted to feel that body bearing down on her. She wanted Xena where she could both explore the warrior's body and see every reaction in Xena's bright blue eyes. She began to ease herself down onto Xena and witthin seconds their positions were reversed. Gabrielle tried not to grin at the look of satisfaction in Xena's eyes as she seemed to think that she had gained the upper-hand now she was on top. Instead, the bard continued her ministrations but from a different angle and watched as Xena realised that she might be in the dominant position but the bard was still in charge of the desire. Gabrielle had slid a searching hand between their bodies and slipped straight to where Xena was aching and wet. They both groaned aloud at the first touch.

"Gods, Gabrielle!"

"Oh, Xena!" Gabrielle shuddered along with her partner. "Liquid fire...." she crooned, running her fingertips through the moisture that flowed in abundance. She moved her fingers further into Xena's folds, then drew her fingers to her lips to taste the heat of her lover. Xena's eyes burned with an ice-blue flame at the pleasure on Gabrielle's face as she tasted the juice that dribbled down into her palm. Gabrielle roughly kissed Xena, making her taste herself on the bard's tongue. Gabrielle's fingers delved back to where Xena's need was the greatest and the warrior levered herself upright to straddle Gabrielle's hips so the bard had better access to her sex. Gabrielle took advantage of Xena's move, two fingers slid deep inside the warrior. She felt them securely held in a strong velvet hold. Gabrielle left her fingers dormant for a moment while she leaned up to latch her lips onto a nipple begging for attention. She felt Xena clench around her fingers in response. The warrior's head fell forward as she crouched over Gabrielle, letting the bard set the pace, letting Gabrielle take her. Black hair fell forward to hide Xena's face from the younger woman's green gaze, it moved like a living thing as she rocked back and forth impaled on Gabrielle's fingers. The bard could feel Xena's body heat like a flame against her own flesh, could feel her own arms trembling as she began to move inside Xena at a pace the warrior's frantic movements were dicating.

"Gabrielle, finish it....." Xena gritted, her whole body trembled at the assault it was experiencing from a soft mouth and hard fingers.

Gabrielle deliberately slowed her thrusts and Xena shook with her need for completion.

"Gab-ri-elle!" Her moan rolled over the bard like a tempest released and the warrior's head bowed to rest upon Gabrielle's own. "Please..." she whispered.

"I intend to." Gabrielle promised, she lifted gentle lips to gather Xena's to her and kissed her while she stroked both the warrior's soft warmth and her hard spot. Xena's gasps were greedily swallowed into Gabrielle's eager mouth but all too soon Xena's head sought shelter on Gabrielle's shoulder as she rocked fiercely in Gabrielle's arms. Xena's hips began to buck frantically, her hands clenched on the bard's back. Harsh whimpering assailed Gabrielle's ears, whispered words of encouragement and need.

"Gabrielle,...oh dear gods....yes, like that....Gabrielle....oh Gabrielle...."

Then silence.

Xena's back bowed taunt like a bow string, in readiment for the storm to hit her. When it did Gabrielle was hard pressed to keep a hold on the warrior as she thrashed with release. Her climax bent Xena round Gabrielle and she shook violently as aftershocks ripped through her, pushing her deeper into Gabrielle's arms. A soundless gasp left Xena's throat as she shuddered with release.

"I've got you," Gabrielle whispered soothingly, brushing the dampened hair back from Xena's face. Xena's eyes were barely open wide enough to see the smile covering her lover's face. Gabrielle grinned into Xena's neck as she planted tiny kisses on the sweat soaked skin.

"Was it just my imagination or did the earth and sky move just then?" she asked of her sweetheart.

"You are amazing." Xena breathed, cracking her eyes open a fraction more. She gathered the bard in her arms and hugged her close. She winced slightly as Gabrielle gently removed her fingers from inside the tender folds but a smile was released as Gabrielle gave her a kiss for her pains. The bard kept her hand at Xena's wetness, loathe to remove her fingers from the sweet fragrant juices that covered her hand like a caress. She pulled Xena down to the bedrolls to lie side by side. Xena tried to regain her breathing. Gabrielle leaned up on an elbow and studied her with intent. Xena finally spoke.

"Once again, you have brought the Warrior Princess to her knees."

"Flat on her back to be more accurate." Gabrielle interjected, running a finger down Xena's chest to come to rest in her navel.

Xena snorted softly. "You conquor me."

Gabrielle's eyebrows raised. "Conquor?"

"Defeat me like no other person ever has, and still I remain at your side."

"That's love, Xena."

The warrior looked directly into her bard's green gaze. "Do you realise you're the only one who's ever gotten close enough to kill me?"

Gabrielle's face paled at Xena's words but the warrior soothed her with a warm hand to her cheek and a gentle smile. "You alone, Gabrielle, could have pushed me over that cliff."

Gabrielle remained silent for a bare second then gave Xena her reply. "True, but please never lose sight of the fact I followed right on after you."

"Even in death." Xena's tone was soft.

"Even then." The bard smiled. "Beyond love, beyond forgiveness. In the end, Xena, it all boils down to one thing."

A dark eyebrow lifted.

"Faith, Xena; faith. I have faith in us, that's something I never lost sight of."

Xena planted a soft kiss on the younger woman's bright hair. "I love you, bard-of-mine."

"Love you too, Xena." Gabrielle's voice was suddenly drowsy, the exertion of their lovemaking so soon after her accident had tired the bard. "Xena?"


"Mustn't forget my boots," she mumbled, snuggling onto Xena's chest.

"I'm not likely to, sweetheart!" the warrior commented dryly.

"Good." Gabrielle's mind was still stubbornly working even though her body was calling for rest. "I conquor you, eh?" She felt the warrior shift under her at the question. "You can't conquor that which is freely given, Xena!"

"Gabrielle...." Xena squirmed, uncharacteristically abashed.

"Does a Conquorer beat a Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle answered her own question herself. "Obviously, because I just proved that a few minutes ago to your satisfaction!"


The bard snuggled into Xena's heated flesh with a smug chuckle. "Maybe we can find a pair of Conquorer boots in my size."

"It's bard boots or none at all!" Xena ordered exasperated.

"Ok." Gabrielle sighed. "But chakram proof ones. After all, I travel with a warrior who gets a little weapon happy if her bard doesn't do as she says."

"Don't put ideas into my head!" Xena growled.

Gabrielle's smile touched against Xena's chest. "You love me."

"Yes, I do."

"Bard boots?"


"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.

The End

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