DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters, don't make a dime off of them, just use them for my own enjoyment… Some sex, not terribly explicit, but it's there, and it's women. So, if it's illegal for you to read, please don't. No violence. I'm new to the fandom (day late and a dollar short…) but I've been digging it lately, so here's my contribution. Let me know what you think.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

My Little One
By jo2mello

She came out of the council meeting and she looked tired. Land and water negotiations, two non-negotiable things needed for the survival of any people. I was sure it had been intense in there. I was also sure that she'd come up with some solution; she was one of the smartest people I'd ever met. I thought for the thousandth time, the Amazons were lucky to have her as their queen.

She spotted me by the fires and smiled. Sometimes, she still got that crinkle above her nose when she smiled, and it warmed me. Everything about her warmed me these days. When did that happen? I guess on some level, it was always there, even from the first. Why else would I have let the kid (she hated when I said that) follow me around? But it wasn't like that, not from the beginning. Somehow, I could feel her heart, knew it was nothing but good. She was my source, the goal I kept in front of me. I didn't think about it consciously; it was instinctual. So she followed me, and I allowed it, and I protected her.

From the beginning, I would have laid down my life for her. I knew that like I knew my own face. Her heart: always in the right place. Somebody had to defend that kind of consistency, and for her, it was me, and I did it without expectation or question. And as the seasons went by, I watched my Gabrielle go from naïve to worldly, from innocent to aware, from girl to woman. She was never helpless, though, and it took me summers to convince myself of it. In any case, I was honored to have been an audience to her metamorphosis.

Also from the beginning, many thought that I'd taken her along as some sort of, if not just an ordinary slave, a sex slave. We'd used those misconceptions to our advantage in the past. And, granted, I'd considered her sexually from time to time. But it came down to two things: her youth and her trust in me. Her youth I could do nothing about; only time and experience would allow her to grow. But her trust in me… at least, on my part, I thought it was tenuous at best. She denied and still denies that it ever wavered. I deserved nothing more than a questionable trust, or at least, in the past I did. Now, it's different. We've gone through so much with each other- hurt, anger, betrayal-, and we've survived. She knows my faith in her is unshakable, and I've come to accept the same from her.

Faith in one's character, an undeniable connection to another, unconditional love, bond between soul mates, those things are real and existed between the bard and I. I'd known that for years. But in love? I'm no idiot; I knew Gabrielle was in love with me, and had been for some time. In the past, my heart ached for her. How terrible for her, how painful. I did my best to stay away from others (not particularly successfully, but for me…) because I would sooner fall on my own sword than intentionally hurt her. But I wasn't in love with her. As much as I told her I didn't think of her in these terms for many seasons, I did: she was a child, a kid. In my deep past, a tryst with an innocent was exciting, to be sure. But my innocents were young adults, sheltered men and women who just hadn't discovered the joys of sex yet. I brought that to them before they were aware of wanting it (a private joke with myself: I was fighting for the Greater Good long before I met Hercules.) I can honestly say that I never forced a single soul to do something sexually against their will; at worst, I simply raised their learning curves. Children I stayed away from, and made my men stay away from, too. Besides, the lovers that excited me the most were people I considered to be on my level, or close to it. I needed someone who could at least attempt to match me, either intellectually or in enthusiasm, and a child by definition was not capable of that. So, as much as I loved her, and even fantasized about her from time to time, my hands stayed off of Gabrielle, out of respect for her innocence and youth and out of the plain fact that I wasn't attracted to her sexually.

I kept her around because I'm a selfish bastard. Yes, she was my source, but what kind of obligation from me did that forge? I'd always thought she'd deserved more. She deserved to study at the Academy in Athens, she deserved to have a life not filled with bloodshed and darkness, she deserved a house with a roof and someone who doted on her. She didn't deserve my life, my darkness and my moods. Yet, she argued with me every step of the way when those topics came up. The girl could argue! And I never could deny her, never deny her anything but myself. So I kept her around because she wanted to be there, but, more, because I would miss her and, well, I'm a selfish bastard. I didn't want to miss her. My selfish streak made me a good warlord; it wasn't a good trait in a friend, though. Funny thing about selfishness; it makes you not think about being selfish. So I didn't think about it, and the seasons passed. We became partners, and my selfishness for her companionship became a lesser argument. Our own companionship for each other was what was right.

And then, one day, not too long ago, I looked at her and it was like seeing her for the first time. We were with our friends, recuperating from something (I don't remember what now, some battle.) We were in a village, drinking wine and ale and eating the food that some interminable festival provided us with, and her musical laughter made my eyes stray from whoever it was I was talking to to her. Gods, she was gorgeous! She'd worked her body into a fine piece of athletic artwork some time before, but, in the fading summer light, almost in silhouette from my vantage point, the Amazon Queen was a goddess! Her pretty smile that had always melted my heart, her scant Amazon leathers, the short, blond hair… Aphrodite had nothing on her! She was muscular and feminine and powerful and curvy. I must have watched her for half a candlemark or more. By Zeus, I dropped my ale because I realized what I was feeling towards my bard! After all this time! I almost laughed out loud, out of excitement, out of nervousness, and out of the sheer ridiculousness of the fact that suddenly I wanted to throw her over my shoulder like some barbarian and vehemently declare my love for her.

The problem was that she'd outgrown me.

"What's the matter, Xena?" Joxer asked me as he watched me stand up.

"Nothing," I replied, and went for a walk.

Gabrielle caught my eye with a questioning look, but I gestured that all was well, that I would return, nothing to worry about. I assumed that she thought I probably had some business to attend to, and after I feverishly attended to my business away from the group, I rejoined them, feeling only a little bit better.

For nearly a moon (the last five days with the Amazons,) I'd been gazing at her while she was awake, watching her walk ahead of me while I was perched on Argo, regarding her in her sleep. This was nothing new, except for the feelings and thoughts I was having while I was watching her. Especially when she was walking ahead of me; that was my favorite. Once in awhile, she'd catch me either looking or with some stupid expression on my face because I'd been daydreaming about what I wanted to do to her, and I'd have to do some fast talking to get myself out of it. Twice or three times she asked me if I was feeling sick.

On the night that she emerged from the council meeting, she came to join me. I'd been sitting with Eponin, and the warrior questioned the Queen about the meeting. I poured and handed Gabrielle a goblet of wine and she took a drink from it before explaining the agreements they'd been able to reach. I wasn't listening, though; I was watching her. I watched her muscles in her neck move the wine from her mouth through her throat and into her belly. I watched her talk, watched the muscles and the mechanisms work in her jaw and below her ear as she spoke. I watched her breasts as she breathed. I tore my eyes away from her and took a long drink from my own goblet.

"I'm beat," she said, standing, stretching a little. Her taut, muscled belly and navel were at my eye level; I wanted to kiss her right there. "I'm going to turn in."

Eponin and I bid her goodnight and watched her walk away. Then Eponin turned to me, grinned, and touched her chin. "You got a little drool right there, warrior."

Instinctively, I touched the spot on my own face, then glared at her. "What are you talking about?"

Eponin snorted and drank from the wine skin. "Xena, please. We've known each other for a long time."

I grumbled something, then bid Eponin goodnight and headed to the Queen's hut that we shared. I found my bard sitting in a large chair in front of the hearth, slumped down a bit, arms relaxing over the sides, one booted foot crossed over the other knee. She was staring into the small fire, but she raised her eyes up to see me, and smiled. My heart thumped against my armor; I was sure she could see it, or hear it. Did it make a sound?

"Hey," she said softly.

"Hey. You OK?"

She nodded, and looked back into the hearth. "Just tired."

I sat down in the chair next to her, propping a foot on the nearby table. "Are you hungry?"

"No. We had a dinner break."

"Gabrielle, could I ask you a question?"

She turned her head to me. "Of course you can."

Here goes. I'd formulated this plan hastily on my walk over. "Do you think it might be better if, while we stayed here, I stayed in a guest hut?"

Her brow creased with concern. "Why?"

"Well, you know," I stammered and sat up, "it's just that, I thought you might like to… have company and with me here…"

She furrowed her brow now, less concern, more confusion. "You mean that I might like to bring someone back to my hut for the night?"

Gods, even the abstract thought of that made me feel a little nauseated. "Yeah, that's what I mean."

"Oh." She turned her attention back to the fire for a moment before she spoke again. "No, I don't want you to stay in another hut."

"Are you sure?" Please let me off the hook, my bard!

"If I wanted to spend the night with someone, Xena, I would. But I want you here, OK? End of discussion."

I hated it when she turned me on me. We sat in silence for a little while. I thought the sound of the fire crackling in the hearth was apropos to the way I was feeling. I shifted in my chair.

"Have you?" I asked.

There had been several times in the past that I'd left Gabrielle with her Amazons alone. And it was no secret that she was a desired member of the community. She would have no problem finding a willing bed partner.

"Spent the night with someone?" She didn't look at me.



If I had been standing, I would have fallen over. And I couldn't say why the thought was so entirely foreign to me, even though I'd been the one to bring up the subject. I desired her now; just because I hadn't in the past didn't mean others didn't! I'd seen several men and a few women and an entire litany of Amazons send lustful glances in her direction. Of course. Of course she had. It was a simple, base human need. Of course!

"You're shocked," she stated, with more than a hint of amusement in her voice.

"No, not shocked. Surprised. Not shocked." I paused. This was none of my business. "When?"

She took a deep breath. "Remember when you went to Corinth last summer?"

"Last summer!" I yelped. "A year ago?"

She laughed a little. "Yes."

"Who?" I hadn't seen any furtive glances between her and another Amazon, and she hadn't spent an excessive amount of time in places unknown to me. Had she?

"An intertribal messenger. I haven't seen her since. But that was understood."

I leaned forward, resting an elbow on my knee, more to brace myself than for comfort. I wished she'd told me a year ago. If she'd told me a year ago, maybe I would have been happy for her. I would have still been jealous; I didn't particularly like sharing my bard (it's a selfish bastard thing.) But a year ago, it wouldn't have felt like this.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

She turned to look at me again for the first time since she'd confessed. "Because I didn't want you to think I…"

"Slept around?"

"Yeah." She blushed.

"I wouldn't have thought that. Did she treat you well?" Poor Gabrielle, what could she answer to that? She knew if she said no, I'd spend the rest of my days hunting that messenger down in order to kill her slowly.

But my bard answered me honestly. "Yes, Xena. We both wanted it."

That admission formed a lump in my throat, and I sat back in my chair again.

"Xena, you weren't…" Gabrielle began. She took a deep breath and began again. "You never had those feelings for me, even though you knew I had them for you." She could probably see me quirk my eyebrow at her out of the corner of her eye. "I knew you knew. Anyway, it took me awhile, but I got over them. I mean, don't get me wrong," she glanced at me briefly, "you're my best friend, my soul mate, I love you, you know that, but I needed… you know, I needed to be with someone."

My heart that had previously been in my throat, probably behind that lump, was now in my stomach. I felt two things acutely at that moment: I was so impressed with how brave she was to admit what she just had, and that she'd just confirmed that she'd gotten over me. My heart in my gut felt like a large block of ice. The truth hit me, slapped me hard across the face: I had been just an infatuation to her, and she had become my heart's desire.

"I guess it was going to happen sometime," I muttered.

"What? Me having sex?"

I chuckled. "Well, yeah." That wasn't quite what I'd meant.

"Are you OK?"

"Of course I am," I lied and hoped she couldn't tell. I smiled at her. "Of course."

"Good, because I don't want you sleeping in another hut. Speaking of sleeping, I'm going to bed. Are you coming?"

To all our habits, the rest of the night appeared usual. She changed and fell into bed, and I followed. She curled up, her back against my chest, and I put my friendly arm over her waist. Friendly. She slept. It was usual. I didn't. It was usual. The only unusual thing about that night was something she didn't see; she didn't see me fighting hot tears that threatened to fall from my eyes.

At dawn, I dressed swiftly and quietly and left our hut. I saddled Argo and took my horse for a ride. It was a warm summer morning, and I relished the heat. It gave me something else to think about besides my exceptionally bad timing.

We both knew that I was not as strong as she was. She was a giant among humans in that department. I had learned from her, but would never have the natural ability to be strong like that. How she'd suffered her own disappointments and my disappointing her time after time, how she'd suffered her feelings for me for as long as she did, how she'd suffered the loss of our children, the loss of each other. The only thing that had kept me going was knowing that she had the light and strength enough for us both. It was one of the few things I'd ever thanked the gods for. But I, on my own, did not have it. And I hoped I'd be able to be around her with my burgeoning feelings.

I'd had all the ingredients up to now. I'd had the love, the faith, the loyalty. The only thing lacking was the desire. I'd been like an unlit fire, perfect kindling, perfect wood, perfect conditions. But now I was lit, and I didn't know if I could handle it.

If only she'd still been in love with me. I'd had an inkling of that plan, too, the night before, walking to the hut. She would have admitted her feelings for me, and I would have scooped her up and deposited her on the pallet and take her. There, all settled, all done. Mine. My stupid warrior brain sometimes. But in my heart I knew she wasn't in love with me anymore. I'd noticed her looks at me were nothing but caring and friendly, her touches the same way. I'd even been happy about it some time back; I'd been able to drop some of the guilt that I'd carried around. My Gods, I thought, I am an idiot!

I had agreed to help build a water wheel in the western orchards, so I rode Argo until I figured it was about time to start. By the time I got there, only a few Amazons had shown up. I stripped myself of my armor and weapons and slapped Argo on the rump so she could graze, and set down to work. I only wanted to work, not think about my aching heart, and to drive some rather erotic images I'd developed about Gabrielle out of my mind.

The summer sun was beating down on us all, and I was about to melt away in my leathers by lunch-break. The Amazons in their leathers had more surface uncovered and remained cooler. My battle dress was for protection, not coolness. I summoned a runner to go to the royal hut and retrieve some different, looser fitting and more breathable clothes: a white linen shirt and brown linen trousers I had stashed. I noticed a few odd looks from the Amazons, but I didn't care. I knew they weren't used to seeing me out of my leathers. True, they'd become a second skin to me over the years, but on that day, that skin had to be shed. I snatched my hair into a ponytail, rolled up my sleeves and climbed back up to construct the supports for the wheel. The shirt laced low in my cleavage, and I could feel a breeze pass over my breasts and across the back of my neck, and felt much better.

I don't know how much later it was when I heard something that made me almost lose my balance and fall into the stream. I was perched on a thin piece of scaffolding, leaning against the tower support, as I strained over my head, trying to construct the brace that the wheel was to rest in. Sweat dripped down my face and down my back. I could feel the small breeze gently buffeting past my wet shirt.

And then I heard a wolf-whistle.

I am a sexual being. I enjoy the effects my body has on other people. I am only a little vain, but, for the most part, I am merely realistic. I am fully aware of what I look like and how I carry myself, and I am proud of my body, battle scars and all. I know what power I wield simply from the image of my physical being alone. But, in my place in the Amazon Nation, as the Queen's champion, as a sometime military leader, as a trainer of young warriors, being wolf-whistled at was simply unacceptable. When I was a warlord, no matter what feelings my men may have inwardly harbored for me, outwardly they treated me with reverence and respect or they were severely punished and dismissed. I expected nothing less from the Amazons. I whipped my head around and scanned the ground below me to see which suicidal moron had decided to make her feelings known so publicly.

I looked down into the playful green eyes of the Queen herself, arms akimbo, and grin on her pretty lips. From where I was, I could easily see down her top, and the V shape of the waistband of her Amazon leathers neatly accentuated her hips and belly.

"How you doing, warrior?" she called up to me, still smirking.

I couldn't answer; I hoped she hadn't expected one. Thankfully, much of the work party was off on the other side of the stream, constructing the wheel itself and hadn't heard the whistle and the comment. Those that had were trying hard to pretend that they hadn't.

I scampered down the support (scampered?) and dropped to the ground. I bent down to pick up a water skin on my way over to my smiling bard, making sure the laces of my shirt weren't particularly tight. I took her tease as a challenge; I knew if she truly knew the state I was in, she would not have begun this little game. However, she caught my look and her eyebrow raised a little.

"Did you just whistle at me?" I asked quietly, standing close to her, lifting my chin to take a drink, giving her a good view of my tan, sweaty chest and neck. She was standing on an incline so we were nearly the same height.

I had expected that when I dropped my eyes back down to her face she would have been flustered, embarrassed. She wasn't. She was looking directly into my eyes and she had a mischievous look on her face.

"Yes, I did. Got a problem with that?"

I shook my head. "No. No problem."

"Good," she replied in that cute, smart-alecky way she had. She looked me up and down, and reached out to pinch the fabric of my loose shirt between her fingers, reaching forward enough so I could feel her fingers brush against my ribcage. "You should wear that more often."

My brain was reeling, but outwardly, I kept calm. "No good in a battle."

My bard looked at me innocently. "Who said anything about a battle?"

I realized that I had to get away before my knees went to jelly and all coherent thought escaped me.

It was as though she felt my sudden urge to retreat and grasped the shirt firmly in her fist, holding me in place. "I was hoping you'd walk with me before dinner."

I paused; she could see the hesitancy in my eyes.

"Say yes." Her eyes had not yet left mine, and she tugged on my shirt, just slightly, making me sway towards her.

For a moment, her face turned back to my Gabrielle, the one that was my friend, not the one I wanted to ravish. "I need to talk to you. Please say yes."

My bard needed me. What could I say? "OK."

She let go of my shirt and smiled. "Good. I'll meet you back here in a couple of candlemarks."

True to her word, a couple of candlemarks passed and the queen showed up just as the work party was breaking up. Tomorrow, we would place the wheel in its supports. We'd done a lot of good work on that day, and we stood around to admire it. When Gabrielle came to join us, I was relieved to see my friend, not that flirtatious woman I'd met earlier. She praised our work, and the Amazons, especially the younger ones, were ecstatic to have made their queen so happy. She had the power to make any one of those women do her bidding from here until eternity. Hell, she had the power to make me do it. I wondered if she knew that.

We checked on Argo and gathered my leathers and weapons, and headed upstream. The path was narrow, and I had her walk in front of me to spoil myself with the view of her backside.

"I thought we'd head up to the swimming hole," she commented. "Is that OK?"

I was still hot and sweaty and dirty, and it did sound good, so I agreed. I didn't talk much the rest of the way, but she told me about her day, reading and studying scrolls, finalizing the agreements that the council had made, meeting with a couple of visiting Amazonian dignitaries from another tribe.

"I would have much rather been working with you," she groused. I knew she hated being cooped up.

"We could have used you," I said. Gabrielle was a good, strong, hard worker. I had no doubts that we probably would have had the wheel in place if she'd been with us.

The swimming hole was calm and clean and we could hear the stream above us that was filling it. Without a thought, I stripped and jumped in, leaving my clothes in a pile. The water cooled me, and I could feel the grime of the day being washed off of me. I swam around for awhile, then realized I hadn't heard Gabrielle's splash or comments on the temperature of the water. I turned and saw her, sitting on a rock, leaning back on her hands. She'd taken her boots off and was dangling her feet in the water, and she was watching me, a smile playing on her face, squinting her eyes a bit from the sun.

"Aren't you coming in?" I asked, swimming over towards her.

She shook her head no, grinning.

"And why not?"

She shrugged.

"Lose your voice, did you?"


"Then tell me why you won't get in with me."

"Tell you what," she mused, looking up to the tops of the trees and the sky, "I'll make you a deal. I'll get in with you if you… hmm, what should I make you do? I know! I'll make you tell me why you've been staring at me, and why you let me flirt with you earlier, why Eponin said that you were practically drooling over me last night, and why you lied to me when I asked you if you were OK after I told you about the messenger. How's that for a deal?"

I must have been beet red. She cocked her eyebrow at me and waited.

No. There was no way was she going to do this to me, and I started to swim towards where my clothes had been and I noticed, of course, that they were gone. I glared at my bard, who just smirked back at me.

"Gab-ri-elle," I warned.

She rolled her eyes. "Don't Gabrielle me!"

"Remind me to kill Eponin," I grumbled, spinning around a little in the water, trying to keep moving, trying to keep busy, trying to pretend that I wasn't caught like a rat.

"Oh, Gods, Xena, do you really think I needed Eponin to tell me! I'm not blind, you know. And I'm not stupid! Xena, I can read you like a scroll, you know that?"

I was angry now, a defense mechanism. "What's it matter now, anyway? You said you were over me."

She leaned up off of her hands. "I know what I said."

"So what does it matter?"

She tilted her head to the side. For a moment, I thought perhaps I'd taken all my bard's words away, a feat I'd only been able to do a few times before. We observed one another for a second, and my heart ached, and those tears that I had not spilled the night before were threatening again. I looked away, and heard her say, "It matters, Xena."

I swam closer to her, so I could just touch bottom without raising more than my shoulders from the water. We just looked at each other for a moment. I wondered who I'd been kidding, myself or her. All those years that she cared for me, more than anyone else had. All those years that I'd cared for her more than anyone else in the world. I wondered: had I just assumed that she would be there when I was ready, if I was ever ready? That sounded like the old me. But what about this me, the me that she'd help create? The one who chased her darkness, and was not constantly chased by it. The one that saw good and fought evil. Gabrielle hadn't been able to remove my self-doubt and self-loathing, but she had been able to create a beautiful, intelligent, caring, strong woman of herself, and I wasn't quite sure if that woman was offering herself to me or not.

My reticence cost me, and she pulled her gaze away to reach behind her. She produced my clothes and set them next to her, disappointment and hurt plain on her face. I knew what she was thinking; I knew that she felt that I was letting her down again. That was what that look was, and I hated it, and I hated to be the cause of it, and I hated that she thought my hesitancy was due to me toying with her instead of me just plain being scared.

I rose up and out of the water, stepping on the warm rocks to reach her side. She had settled back on her palms, but her head was faced away from me. I moved beside her, crouching, fingers lightly resting on the warm rock to balance myself. Water dripped off of me making pools.

"You are the most amazing woman I've ever known," I said quietly. "I don't know what I'd ever do without you. I can tell you that I've loved you for longer than I can remember, but I can't tell you why I've suddenly started to want you, but I do."

Gabrielle turned her pretty green eyes to me. Some of the hurt that had been there a moment before was gone, but not all.

"Maybe you just don't want anyone else to have me," she said, hardly above a whisper.

This confused me. Is that what she thought? I chastised myself; it was exactly what I'd been thinking about myself just moments before. She truly could read me like a scroll. But that wasn't it, that wasn't it at all! I wanted her, this woman before me! That she knew me so well- and still had fallen in love with me- that was what amazed me! And I'd loved her all my life, before I'd even met her, before I knew her, before I could even think consciously about love for love's sake, not for gain or power. I loved her.

A momentary panic shot through me when I came to this realization: what did she owe me? Nothing.

"It took so long for me to get past my feelings for you, Xena," she said softly, looking out over the water. "It took so long to get to where I could just be your friend again."

I shook my head, wanting to speak, to plead my case, to beg her, when I heard voices headed in our direction. Amazons wanting to take a dip. Their timing was uncanny, and I scowled and pulled my trousers and shirt on. Gabrielle sighed loudly and began to replace her boots. Wordlessly, we headed back to the trail, the Amazons shouting hellos at us from the other side of the swimming hole. We made our way back to the unfinished water wheel. We retrieved Argo and meandered back to the village in silence.

My mind was racing at what to say, what to do. The words that we had spoken had acted like a lever, causing the space between us to grow. I cursed myself. The battlefield and the bed were two venues that I felt I had a distinct advantage in, but at the moment I felt like an inexperienced kid. She owed me nothing, but I felt I owed her, what? A confession? An explanation? I didn't know.

"Meet me in the hut," I whispered my voice hoarse with emotion. "I'll be right there."

I took a short time to stable care for Argo, but soon my nervousness couldn't be contained any longer and I walked purposely to the hut. I found my bard in the same large chair that I'd found her in the night before. This time, her body language was decidedly different. She was sitting up, her legs crossed, her fingers drumming out a tune on the arm, her foot waggling about anxiously. The movement stopped when she saw me. I smiled hesitantly at her, and shut and bolted the door behind me. I hoped that I was bolting others out rather than Gabrielle in.

"Xena—" she began.

"No, please." I stepped closer to her. "Let me talk."

She looked frustrated, weary of me and sad. I could see it in her face. Weary of me. The panic touched me again: was I going to lose her? I knelt in front of her.

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get here. I don't know, I just never… I've loved you forever; maybe I just couldn't see it. Maybe I was too scared to realize it."

"Scared of what, Xena?" The bard's eyes were boring into my soul.

"Of losing you. It's backwards, I know. And, believe me, I know how ironic it is that I'm feeling this way for you now. But here I am: Warrior Princess and Queen of Bad Timing."

I'd hoped my joke would bring a smile to my bard's face, but it didn't. I went on, the pain in my chest thudding dully.

"I love you, Gabrielle. I hope you'll be able to find all the happiness you deserve. I guess I'd begun to hope that it would have been me..." I had to mentally pull myself together to say the last bit of my piece. "I'll always be there for you if you need me."

A tear escaped my bard's eye, and I wanted to brush it away, but I didn't think it was appropriate to touch her. I might have started to cry myself if I'd touched her. Knowing that our relationship was going to change irrevocably in a matter of moments gave me a cold, blank feeling. I was losing her, and all I wanted to do was grab her and keep her and tell her that she was mine! She'd always been mine; she'd made herself mine before I even knew it! Still, I kept my hands to myself. Soon I would steel up, become cold, and efficiently determine the best plan of action. Just like I'd always done. Emotionlessly. Just like I was before she came into my life. I looked forward to the coldness.

I stood and decided that another hut would be more suitable quarters for me, and began to leave. A warm hand shot out and took my own, holding me there. She stood, and I saw, just for a moment, abject sadness in her eyes. I wondered if I had a similar expression on my face.

"Wait," she said softly. "Please."

I didn't move, I didn't say anything. She met my eyes and pressed her lips together. I felt her guide me to the chair she'd been in, and asked me to sit. Supposing she had something to say, I sat and I waited. I figured I owed her that much. The bard turned her back on me and faced the hearth, empty of fire. She had one hand on her hip, and the other rubbed the back of her head at her hairline. I watched as she sifted her blond locks through her fingers, and felt a pain in my chest knowing I would never feel her hair through my fingers. She paced slowly, staring hard at the floor. Once, her hand went to her face to wipe away tears.

It was as though she were searching for words. I smiled inwardly. Gabrielle, searching for words. My secret smile faded as I focused on her hips and legs as she took slow, determined steps, back and forth in front of me. Was she trying to torture me?

Just as I had that thought she turned to face me, one hand still at her hip, the other fallen to her side. The sadness was gone; she looked angry now. My temper was well-known; my bard's temper was less famous but more explosive, especially when it was directed at me, which, this time, it was.

"Damn you, Xena!" she very nearly hollered, "Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get over my feelings for you? Do you?"

I knew better than to answer. I just looked into her face and let her continue.

"I figured if you didn't want me, then there was nothing I could do about it. So I just worked hard at being your friend, your partner. I pushed every other feeling I had for you away. Every single one!" She gestured rather violently to illustrate her point. "Feelings that had accumulated over seasons, Xena! But I thought I'd rather keep you as my best friend than lose you. And you know how I can get when I put my mind to something. It took me awhile, but I did it. I used every single concentration and meditation technique that you taught me, but I did it!"

Gabrielle stopped to gather herself, having become a little heated. She turned away from me. I sat stock still, giving her the room she needed to get whatever she had to say off her chest. Then she turned back to face me. Still with those determined steps she approached me, and didn't stop when she got to me. She climbed on top of me, straddling my lap, knees tucked between the chair and me on either side. She sat back, butt on my knees, and stared into my face, an unwavering expression playing about her pretty green eyes.

I had no idea what to think. If she'd been crying, I would have known to comfort her. If she'd continued yelling at me, I would have known to let her rage. But her small, taut body on top of me and this look of- what was it? I didn't recognize it. All I could see were her eyes searching mine, and all I could feel was her warmth pressing down on my thighs, and I had no idea what to do.

Slowly, she reached to me and took my head in her hands. Her thumbs rested just in front of my ears on my cheekbones. She held me like that for a moment, still staring deeply into my eyes, turning my insides to a massless nothing, but thankfully my outer shell held me together.

Then her expression changed.

"Damn you, Xena," she said softly, and then pressed her lips to mine.

The softest, warmest lips I'd ever known. My mind reeled; she was turning me into an imbecile. I couldn't even think to touch her with my hands. I just kissed her. So soft. I silently pleaded with whoever was listening that this would never end.

She pulled back and moved her hands to rest on my shoulders, pressing her forehead to mine. "I was over you," she whispered, "and you just swoop in and blow all my hard work to Tartarus."

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying, and when I did, I smiled a little. Relief alternately flooded over me like a warm rain and made me shaky. "Should I apologize?"

"Yes, I think you should."

I moved my hands to her strong thighs and grasped them lightly, loving the feel of her muscles beneath them and happy to have something to hold on to.

"I'm sorry," I said softly, smelling the scent of my bard's hair and leathers and body.

"Liar." She paused. "Would you have stayed with me?"

"Yes, Gabrielle. You're my family."

She pulled back a little to search my eyes, and found that I was telling the truth. She rested again against my forehead.

"How many of my lovers would have been killed under mysterious circumstances?" she asked, cracking a small smile.

"All of them," I replied, still honest, but smiling.

She pressed her lips to mine again, this time asking for entrance. I granted it, and reveled in the feel of her inside my mouth. My hands moved from her thighs to her back, and I held her to me, and our kiss deepened. I felt her hands weave into my hair, and her arms wrap about me as our kiss deepened impossibly more. I became acutely conscious of her thighs spread apart over my own, and moved one hand down to caress her there, feeling warm skin and strong muscle. She pulled away from my kiss to work her mouth and teeth and tongue against my ear and the spot just beneath, evoking a moan from me. My forehead was now pressed against her shoulder, and all I could hear in my ear was her breathing between kisses and bites. My rational thought was slowly bleeding away, and all I could think of was lifting this woman into my arms and taking her to bed. Which is what I did, and my bard didn't miss a beat, wrapping her strong legs around my waist and continuing to drive me crazy on my neck and ear.

She held on tight as I laid her on the pallet. She pulled me to her and I went willingly, finding her mouth with my own again. This time I requested entrance, and explored her warm mouth with my tongue, loving the feeling of her active body beneath me. She tasted sweet like honey and her hands in my hair were driving me to distraction. Suddenly, my conscience tapped me on the shoulder and I sat up, straddling her, panting. She was panting, too, but it took her a moment to realize I'd stopped.

"What?" she asked.

"Are you sure about this?"

She groaned and grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pulled me down to her. Her eyes pierced me. "Don't make me wait any longer for you, warrior," she growled, and kissed me forcefully.

That was all it took for me. She wanted me, of that I was sure, and that was all the permission I needed. I wondered for a moment if she knew that I was about to claim her for my own, and if she knew what it would mean. I moved from her lips to work the warm flesh in the curve of her neck and felt her hands travel beneath my shirt, mapping my back with strong fingers and palms. She groaned as I kissed and nipped her neck, then she cried out when I bit her gently. I could feel my conscious mind being taken over by my primal one as my temperature rose along with my desire for Gabrielle. I found her mouth again, and grinned through the kiss as I felt her begin to thrust against me.

"Do you know what I'm going to do to you?" I whispered, moving over to her ear, licking her lightly.

"Show me," she breathed. Her fingernails grazed my back.

I sat up and pulled her with me so that her mouth was about at my breast level, and she immediately latched on to the skin of my chest that my shirt exposed. I reached behind me to pull the fabric over my head. My shirt hadn't hit the floor when her hands were on my breasts. I groaned from the touch of her hands and her mouth on my chest as I fumbled for the tie of her top. In my distraction, I couldn't work the knot and fought the impulse to rip the top to shreds. My bard shifted just slightly, taking my nipple into her mouth, fondling my other nipple with her fingers, and reaching behind herself with her free hand to nimbly undo the strings. I pulled her top from her. What she was doing to me was causing me to want to close my eyes, but the visceral thrill of seeing her lovely breasts like that for the first time was too overwhelming. My hand slithered between us to feel the warm flesh beneath my fingertips.

I knew I had to pull away from her to garner some control, so I did, and she whimpered.

"No…" she whispered.

"Too many clothes," I said softly and with a smile, feeling trembly. When did I last have a lover that made me tremble? I never had, not even my first, and I swallowed the lump in my throat at the thought.

We disentangled from one another and undressed quickly and tumbled back to the pallet. Gods, she was beautiful, all muscle and heat, salty and sweet. My hands and mouth couldn't seem to get enough of her. I marked her breast. She moaned her pleasure and my name. She caressed me, writhing beside me, against me, beneath me, wrapping herself within me and I allowed her to. Soon, I found her nipple with my mouth and her wetness with my fingers. All rational thought stopped for me when she covered my hand with her own and pressed me inside of her, hot, soft, tight and drenched. I was all animal then, and I took her. I could think of nothing but her. Her pleasure and cries were my own, and I loved it all, loved her. In the middle of our frantic lovemaking, I met her eyes, and was astounded to see that my bard was with me, wholly, and unafraid. She loved it, and I knew then that she had also laid her claim on me.

"Little one…" I whispered as I made her come for the first time.

The End

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