See disclaimers in Part One
Journey Through Shadow Land: Part Two
By J.A. Bard
The Journey Begins
While Xena waited for Gabrielle to arrive she learned a lot of the couple that had drawn them into their quest for champions. She found that due to their new love that was not physically consummated they had tended to be attracted to couples that were new in love as they. Was there a clue in there as to why the others failed?
So, she and Gabrielle were to be their seventh and last attempt at selecting a winning team. Xena sighed. Moving around with the two young women was very strange for Xena. She found her feelings and usual reticent manner was easily put aside. She couldn't explain what manner of existence she was in but there was no physical living things as on Gaia's world where she was. It was more of knowing one another, but not through the normal senses. Xena had no idea what the two young women looked like physically nor did the thought occur to her to wonder. As they waited for Gabrielle's arrival, for the two women said she was well on her way, Xena let them experience her frustrating and sometimes failed attempts in relating to Gabrielle and others in her life. Funny that this is what they were curious about and Xena felt no reluctance or hesitation to let them delve into her memories. Could she have prevented it anyway? What matter is it anyway? She watched familiar scenes replayed in her minds eyes in a detached way. Some she had not remembered. There was no pain or regrets as she knew she would have experienced had she been in her body as she reviewed with them the images from her memory. Some memories Xena found had contents she felt were incorrect but the two women pointed out that memories were not based on fact but on the emotional content and meaning the person experiencing the event put on it. What did that mean?
Xena did find out that because the two had not shared a physical union of their love that they tended to experience a vicarious enjoyment of physical love through their connection with other couples. They had the ability to strengthen a link and then enhance the original lover's feelings for each other. Xena was relieved that it was not her or Gabrielle's doing, though they insisted that the desires, dreams and fantasies were basically from them. They had just added touches here and there. Xena was determined to have a nice chat with Gabrielle to find out just what were her dreams or fantasies they had experienced. A nice bottle of ale after dinner, a massage in a warm tub, and a bit of encouragement, should loosen her Bardic tongue on the subject.
When Gabrielle arrived in the cave Xena felt the kiss on her forehead and the tenderness that Gabrielle was feeling. However, she was too far away to respond, but she was relieved she had arrived. At least they could get on with this task. What had Alex told her? They were from a time before Cupid and Aphrodite. They were from a time when Gaia was the Goddess of importance, though she was known as another name. The guardian's were spirits of the forest and valley that surrounded the village the two young women grew up in. It was the Goddess who had asked the guardian's to compromise with Alex.
While Gabrielle and Xena's physical bodies laid snug against each other on the pallet, another part of them walked together to the falls that Alex had told them about. Gabrielle nodded as Xena brought her up to date on the affairs of the couple whose plight they had taken on to end. They were walking over a desolate piece of land that had a feeling of death about it. Both women became silent as they walked through the land that both Gabrielle and Xena had seen through the eyes of Mediea and Alex as lush and teaming with forest life and now was horrifyingly scorched and lifeless.
"Xena." Gabrielle breathed heartbroken. Xena nodded without looking down at her friend. She could feel the despair and sorrow that seemed to permeate the area to say nothing of the visual impact it had on her. Perhaps knowing what it had looked like before the fire had a large part to do with her own dismay at what had become of this area. She looked down at her green eyed friend who was looking up at her with a serious expression on her face. Xena leaned down and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.
Gabrielle smiled and took her hand as they continued on their way. Gabrielle noticed that Xena was dressed in her winter shift without any weapons. "Have you a plan?" Gabrielle asked as she stroked the familiar muscled forearm with her free hand.
"Hmmm. From what I can gather, we need to face the darkness of what lays on this land."
"Without weapons? What do you think we're going to see out there?" Gabrielle was thinking more of her staff that she had become so accustomed to having with her most of the time that to be without it she probably felt like Xena without her weapons.
"The same thing most people who are afraid of the dark see, themselves."
"Are you sure that's all? They didn't tell you anything?"
"Only that the others failed. But," Xena sighed, "the difference between those that had gone before us, was that they hadn't been with each for very long. Just like Alex and Mediea. I think that is where the tests of darkness will be. Our own insecurities."
"Hmmm." Gabrielle thought about the many she had and wondered how she was going to fare.
"Do you trust me?" Xena asked suddenly looking down at Gabrielle.
"Explicitly." Was Gabrielle's quick reply giving a squeeze to Xena's hand.
Gabrielle paused, "Well, there was that one barmaid in Acropolis." She pointed out.
Xena turned to Gabrielle, "Are you...?."
"I'm only kidding Xena. I believed you then and I believe you now." Gabrielle reached up and kissed Xena on the lips laughing. "Are you trying to prepare us for something you would like to tell me about?"
"I was just thinking."
"Hmm. Like things new couples would not do well with if tested." Gabrielle nodded. She slid her arm into the crook of Xena's arm unconsciously as they picked their way over the remains of burnt vegetation.
She looked up at Xena. "Well, let's go slay the darkness of the night." She laughed.
Xena smiled back but didn't feel as confident. She would feel better doing physical battle then this emotional stuff that she was suspecting they would be facing. Goddess, she did enough of that stuff on her own, especially in the past. Out of habit she sent another grateful thought to whoever was responsible for bringing Gabrielle into her life. If she hadn't Xena was sure she would still be having nightly dreams of her needless killing and destroying of struggling peoples lives. She sighed to herself. She had taken the challenge only because she knew that Gabrielle would feel sorry for the couple...and now that she had seen the land, she wanted to remove the curse on it.
Xena thought about Mediea who said that this was going on before Zeus became leader of the Gods and before Cronus, his father. Xena was well aware of such times existing for Ares on a few occasions referred to it as the dark ages. It was odd that the present gods would let this go on, if they were all that powerful but Xena found the gods were not just overly self involved, but complex and too annoying for her to be interested in their affairs. She was doing it to restore the land and because Artemis had recommended her to the young women, or so they had said. She owed Artemis a favor, as she was still feeling guilty of what she had done to the Amazons for the shaman.
Both Gabrielle and Xena were silent, deep in their own thoughts as they gathered their energies to face the unknown together. Somewhere, Gabrielle had let her hand fall from Xena's arm for neither noticed that they had taken different paths, the same paths that their counter parts had taken to get to the water fall. Gabrielle came out of her own deep contemplation when she was at the flat rock looking down at the falls. Her breath caught as she watched the breeze send a spray of water onto the surrounding encroaching brush. Below her she had a spectacular view of the river winding it's way down through the forest. A rainbow formed until the spray settled like sparkling jewels on the leaves and flowers nearby. A bird in the distance dipped and then made its way toward the snow capped peaks.
"Alex is right," she murmured, "here indeed is a place that lovers can find themselves and declare their eternal love." She breathed in the air that had a hint of a chill from the snow capped mountains in the background. The smells that mixed with it were of various flowers, herbs and a heavy scent of pine. She closed her eyes for a moment and listened to the sounds. She could feel the power of the falls vibration through the rock she stood on and in the background a bird was calling to its mate. Squeezing her eyes tighter shut in concentration she could almost hear...footsteps landing on a rock. She kept her eyes closed trying to sense where Xena was.
Xena had noticed that Gabrielle was not with her when she heard the movement of a rabbit under brush. She had turned to say something to Gabrielle and noticed she was not behind her. Unconcerned she continued on her way. She had walked this same path as Mediea. She could smell the dampness from the falls and hear the calls of birds in the trees. She felt the breeze as it moved across her and trailed scents from the mixture of moss, herbs and various tree species that were in the area. She could feel the thunder from the falls vibrate in the earth as she neared her destination. Standing half way up the falls near the water that was spraying everything that was beside it she could see the rainbow that arched across the bottom of the falls. It was breathtaking. She looked up where she knew she would find Gabrielle. She was standing on a rock with her eyes closed in blissful silence. Xena's heart filled with so much happiness that she thought she could not contain it. She released some of the energy by expelling her breath, which she had been unconsciously holding. Xena made her way up the side of the falls by leaping onto the slippery rocks. It was an exhilarating feeling to hear the roar of the falls below her and feel her legs strain to keep her balance and push her up to the next boulder. It was no real strain for her but the movement was a nice release. She planned her final leap that would place her beside the Bard who still had her eyes closed. Xena smiled at Gabrielle's expression, which told her that Gabrielle was aware of her nearness.
Xena paused looking at Gabrielle's pulse beating at her throat. Her face was flushed and her anticipation reminded Xena of her dreams for the last week and a half. Desire started to build in her as she prepared for her last leap.
Landing next to Gabrielle she had her arms around her pulling her close for a deep and passionate kiss. Gabrielle opened her eyes and watched the face of her lover as she took possession of her mouth. Gabrielle groaned as they both sank to their knees overcome with passions that they had been experiencing during their separation. Gabrielle rolled onto Xena pressing against her in urgency, as if to melt into her. Xena rolled Gabrielle back onto her back and somewhere between their twisting bodies, the ground disappeared beneath them as they fell into the roaring falls below.
As Xena turned over in her descent she let her body's natural athleticism take over knowing that she would land into the pool below without any harm to herself. Her concern was for Gabrielle whom she could not see or feel near her, nor hear her if she screamed.
This is it, Xena thought calmly to herself. Should she worry about Gabrielle who she lost contact with? Nothing I can do until we're in the water, she thought. The sudden impact with the cold water was numbing, even to her. Xena pushed off from the bottom of the pool and as she moved to the surface she felt a heavy splash next to her. She instinctively reached out and grabbed the form, pulling the struggling Gabrielle upward with her.
"It's cold!" Gabrielle got out as her head broke the surface. They were quickly caught up in the strong current that was pouring between and over rocks and boulders threatening to pull them apart.
It was cold and Xena felt the urgency to get them out of the water, instead Xena found herself protecting Gabrielle body from being slammed against the boulders in the river. She could feel her grip on Gabrielle was slipping after each contact with a rock, afraid if she readjusted her hold she would loose her. Gabrielle had ceased moving in her arms and Xena found her own heart beating out of fear.
Another slam into a boulder sent Gabrielle down into the cold water bottom and Xena to the other side of the boulder where the water course dipped down into another small water fall dropping her into another river whose current was just as strong as the former. The river was not very deep in some parts and the current dragged Xena's legs across the rocks on the bottom. She could feel her cold legs getting bruised and scrapped, but there was nothing she could do yet about the wild rush and spin this current was suffering them through.
Xena twisted around to see if she could catch sight of Gabrielle above the foaming waters and missed the boulder that her body was hurled into. Xena's head hit the side and stunned her as she instinctually gripped the sides of the boulder holding on until her head cleared. Her sight had darkened and she tried to shake the darkness away, but it caused a stabbing pain behind her eyes. Fighting panic she felt for grips on the wet rock feeling for a way to pull her battered body up. She needed to find Gabrielle.
As Gabrielle fell into the roaring waters below she was thinking that this was the beginning of their adventure. The lustful passion that she had just moments ago been engulfed in was replaced with anticipation of the unknown. Being afraid of heights, she had her eyes closed as she plummeted down into the icy pool. Gabrielle lost connection with Xena as she could feel her body suspended in the air for but a moment. Her stomach did flip-flops as the roar became louder and then the freezing waters closed over her. She hadn't sunk very low in the water when she felt a hand grab her pulling her close into a warm strong body.
The cold numbed her body quickly, as she didn't have the ability as Xena to move her temperature up when needed. She was dimly aware of being bounced around but Xena's body absorbed the impact. Part of her numb mind told her that Xena's grip was slipping and she didn't start to fight the pull of the waters until she felt herself being pulled down into the cold river bottom without Xena's arms protecting her. She was dragged along the bottom of the rocky river floor getting scraped on her left side before she was violently pulled back up and whirled around another boulder then dragged back down again.
"By Athena's shield, fight!" She gritted between her cold lips. She rose back to the surface in the churning current and grabbed onto a branch that was wedged between two boulders that she crashed into. She needed to get out of the water. She could feel the warm sun above her as she weakly clung to the branch. She needed to find Xena!
Clawing her way to the top of her rock was exhausting as well as bruising. Her fingertips were blue with chill and her knees, legs and hands were scrapped and not bleeding much, due to the cold. Pulling her wet hair from her face, she caught her breath as she looked around trying to get some sort of fix on her location. The sun was directly above her warming her cold skin, so it was noon. The trees along the shore were leaning over into the water which would be helpful in pulling herself out of the river, but to get there would mean going back into the rushing current and managing to maneuver around more boulders and rocks that didn't look easy to get around. Gabrielle put her hands over her eyes to cut the glare. She could barely make out a dark familiar form on a boulder further down the river.
"Xena!" She yelled over the noise of the river. She could see the form turn in her direction. What's the matter with her, she thought as she noted Xena was not moving as she normally would. Her heart started to pound, as she knew that something was not right. She probably hit every boulder we passed trying to protect me, she thought worried. A broken bone was not something to have at the beginning of their...adventure.
Gabrielle looked into the rushing waters and tried to plan her way to Xena's perch.
"Xena! I'm coming!" She shouted again and slid back into the waters seeing the arm wave out of her peripheral vision.
"Goddess, this is cold! How does she do it?" Gabrielle sputtered. Her head went under as she tried to twist her body to change direction. With quiet determination, she kept repeating to herself, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
Xena's heart beat faster when she heard her name and turned to face the direction the voice came from. Hades! If it weren't for the warmth from the sun that beat on her face and shoulders she wouldn't have been able to tell if it were day of night...though with Xena's acute night vision, that wasn't necessarily so.
She heard Gabrielle's plan to join her. Xena waved to keep her from joining her. She needed to gather her wits and sight back. Above the gurgling and rush of the water she could hear the splashing of Gabrielle as she fought the currents that were pulling this way and that. Xena slid into the water and listened for which direction she would be coming from. Xena could feel the pull of the two currents around the boulder she leaned against. She was able touch the bottom but it was slippery and could knock her feet from under her with a new surge of water from either side of the rock.
Xena heard a yelp near her left side and leaned dangerously out to grab what she was hoping was Gabrielle. Something hit Xena with so much force she slipped and went under the water, but her hand grabbed Gabrielle around the waist. Gabrielle hugged Xena close to her as both were once more swept away down the river. There were less boulders but the current was too much for even Xena who was holding Gabrielle who she felt was again becoming too cold to stay conscious. Xena could hear the approach of another fall.
Great! How many more are there of these, she thought grimly.
The next drop was short and the sun's warmth disappeared and in place of it Xena could feel a coolness that reminded her of the water tunnels below the city of La Peita. The memory brought a shudder to her. She hated the closed in feeling then and if she hadn't been fleeing for her life she would have tried some other escape route. Xena could also smell the wet slate. The rushing water's volume was magnified in the tunnel sounding like a roar as they moved along though the tunnel. She couldn't hear anything that indicated a shore so she was going to have to hang onto Gabrielle's dead weight and the dead weight of her own legs. Her limbs were so cold she couldn't feel them being dragged on the bottom of the shallow river. Xena's hearing picked up a different sound then the current quickened for a moment as they were pulled around a bend. Xena's heart quickened as she heard the unmistakable sound of water lapping. She tried to get her numb legs under her but between her cold legs and slippery rocks beneath her she spent more time nearly drowning the semi conscious Gabrielle than making progress in the direction she wanted to go. She finally pulled Gabrielle onto her hip and using her other arm started to swim to where she could hear the water lapping. When the water became too shallow to swim she repositioned Gabrielle. The rocks dug into her knees as she pulled Gabrielle across her back and crawled out of the waters. Gently she lowered her onto the sandy ground and rolled her into her arms trying to give her some body warmth. Her eyes were unseeing but her other senses worked fine. She could hear the sounds around her were muted and the water less thunderous as they were probably in a cavern. There was the smell of damp sand, wet slate and an acrid smell of something else she couldn't identify. Somewhere she could hear dripping water like a small pool was being fed by a run off from the larger body of water. She shifted Gabrielle's weight as she felt her heart beat pick up. She felt her face with her hand and placed her warm lips against Gabrielle's cold ones. She could feel a smile began to form on the lips against hers.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and hugged her tight not breaking contact in their kiss. She finally broke the kiss and stared up at the blue eyes she could barely see in the dim light of the cave.
Xena could feel the change in Gabrielle's heartbeat in the breast that was tightly pressed against hers.
"I can't see." She told Gabrielle softly.
She felt Gabrielle's cold hands reach for her face and pull it toward hers. The cold lips against her eyes threatened to bring tears to hers. Xena felt a finger gingerly touching the large lump on the side of her head. It was sore.
"Where are we?" Xena asked quickly to cover her fear and perhaps, self pity that she was hoping would not over-take her. She had experienced loss of her sight before, she reminded herself. Besides, she cautioned herself, this may be part of the test, therefore it probably wasn't permanent.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and tried to control the shaking of her body. It was hard to tell if it was from her fear for Xena or the after affects of the cold water. Probably both.
"We're in an under ground water way. It's dark but there is enough light so that it seems to be...dusk!" What a coincidence Gabrielle thought a little heartened, remembering that this was all part of a test.
"Got any stories of heroes going into dark underground caverns?" Xena asked half-serious.
"I can think of quite a few, but I would rather not right now. I feel better recounting some tales when I'm nice and safe." Gabrielle admitted.
Xena tightened her arms around Gabrielle for a moment then loosened her hold.
"Do any of those stories say anything about a warrior and a bard being weaponless and blind?" She murmured as she kissed the top of Gabrielle's wet hair.
"No. But when we're through here, I'll have one for you." She quipped.
"Great. Well, let's get ourselves warmed up. Either we build a fire and dry off or we get moving to warm up."
"There isn't any wood unless you plan on fighting the current back out of this place." Gabrielle reported sounding disappointed.
"Then," Xena rose from the floor pulling Gabrielle up with her, "lead on."
Xena listened to the water that was moving to the side of their path gauging the depth of the water and the nearness of the walls of the cavern. She could smell the sand that was heavy with dampness and other smells she wasn't familiar with. Gabrielle's arm was resting lightly on her arm pressing which direction they needed to head in to keep to what she felt was a path in the cavern. Gabrielle kept up a soft steady description of where they were.
Gabrielle felt comforted and reassured with her contact with Xena. She could feel the muscles in her arm tighten then relax as she described different things she was seeing in the gray shadows of the cavern. She could not find where the light's source was but it was just enough light for her to see shadows, so it was better than nothing. Noises that had her heart beating turned out to be things that were caught in the rushing waters or lodged up against rocks. The tension in the muscles under her hand on Xena's arm told her that the noises were also affecting her.
The water suddenly disappeared as they rounded a bend. It disappeared into a fissure. The sand changed to dirt beneath their feet and Gabrielle could feel some of it being kicked up by her dragging feet. She was getting tired.
"What's that smell?" Xena asked suddenly as Gabrielle was concentrating on guiding the two of them around another bend that dropped off into darkness. There wasn't room for them to walk abreast so she had moved Xena's hands to the side of the wall and both of them were inching along crab-like.
"Uggh!" Gabrielle gagged as she rounded the corner and it hit her full in the lungs. "I don't know. It smells like something ripe into its rotting stage." She tried not to lose her concentration, as she moved her feet cautiously sideways not daring to look down. She hated heights. It didn't matter whether she could see over the edge or not. Xena was lucky on this one...sort of.
Suddenly her foot slipped over empty space and if Xena's hand had not grabbed her elbow in an iron grasp, she didn't know how far down she would have fallen. Her head banged against the side of the wall and for a moment saw stars.
"Gabrielle!" Xena's hand moved to her head not daring to pull her toward her for their footing was precarious.
"I'll be all right. Let me catch my breath."
"Can you see anything?" Xena asked after a few moments.
Gabrielle looked around her as much as she could. There was a missing space on their path. It would require them to jump over a space a good five strides wide. Surely there was some other way! Gabrielle looked around and could only see Xena waiting for her description.
"Well," Gabrielle took a deep breath. "there is this break in our path. It's about five of my strides wide." She added as an after thought. "And, I can't see the bottom." Nor do I want to, she thought.
"Hmmm. Can you see anything on the other side?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle leaned forward hoping to see detail in the gray shadows. "It looks like...there is something sticking out...like a root...yea, it's a root and there is the remains of a tree sticking out of the side of the wall along the path! How can a tree be this far down?" She shook her head.
"Well, why don't you go first and then step back giving me enough room to land. Tap the ground in the middle of the path with your foot so I can hear where you are."
Gabrielle looked at her unperturbed friend. Her chest tightened as she knew they couldn't go back and find another route. This was the only way. The idea of Xena leaping blindly filled her with trepidation. She hated the idea that she had to leap across the empty space, but for Xena to do it blindly brought up her own fears of her possible failure. What would that do to Xena?
She felt Xena's hand on her arm then a kiss on her shoulder.
"Don't think of anything but placing both feet one stride past the edge of the other side. Picture it in your head. See yourself landing just where you want to land. Keep practicing this in your head until you feel ready." She directed.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and could feel the warmth of Xena's hand on her shoulder. She had to do it. As she mentally practiced the jump she pushed the knowledge of darkness below them or thoughts of what would happen if she miss stepped down into her unconscious.
"I can do this." Gabrielle mumbled under her breath. She closed her eyes seeing herself reaching her goal, the successful jumping across the chasm. She felt her muscles move, her blood pumping, her feet land safely on the other side. She kept mentally going through the motions, feeling her body make the right moves until she felt herself ready. Gabrielle stepped closer to the edge and focused on the other side, one pace beyond the edge. There was barely room for her to place both feet together! She pushed the panic down and refocused.
"I can do this." She told herself firmly. "Xena needs me to do it right. Simple as Artemis drawing back her bow." She whispered to herself. Her muscled thighs tightened as she bent her knees for the spring, breathing in slowly and at the exhalation launching herself to the other side. The continuing path on the other side of the chasm was about as thin as it was on the other side. And the root, she found out painfully, was protruding so far onto the path that it hit her in the shoulder. As she landed on the path, the impact with the root sent her sideways causing her to lose her footing. One foot went over the side of the path while she frantically tried to grab the offending root to recapture her balance. She missed the root and she fell into the blackness. A ledge below stopped her fall, which wasn't very far down but Gabrielle had the breath knocked out of her and wasn't able to say anything to alleviate her partners anxiety.
Xena was listening to Gabrielle as she muttered to herself and prepared for her jump. She smiled to herself. She listened to her push off, and the foot falls on the other side, the impact of Gabrielle's body into something and the feet scraping the sides of the drop trying to regain balance. She heard the fall and the impact. She knew the sounds of someone who had the breath knocked out of them. Where did she go? The sounds of Gabrielle were not where she had first landed so she had slipped over the edge. But the drop was not far. Xena struggled with her first impulse to make a reckless jump and rescue her friend. Her better sense told her to wait as putting herself in needless danger would make things worse.
Gabrielle focused on the ceiling of the cavern as she let her body struggle with the panic of getting air into her lungs. And to make it worse it was the horrible smell her lungs were trying to drag in. Gabrielle felt confident that Xena's hearing would give her an idea of what had happened and she wouldn't do anything rash until she was back on her feet.
"Gabrielle. Take it slow." Xena's voice softly told her from a distance. It was comforting to hear Xena's reassurance and that Xena indeed knew she was all right.
Finally Gabrielle was able to roll onto her side and sit up cautiously bringing her breathing back to normal. It was dark where she was. She moved her bruised shoulder around trying to get some of the soreness out of it, then brushed her palms on her skirt to rid her hands of the small stones that had become embedded in them from her fall. She felt around her trying to get some idea of what she landed on.
"Xena, I'm alright. Hold on and let me try to figure out where I am. It's very dark here." Using her hands she could feel there was a drop to her left. She easily found a pebble to toss down to get a sense of what she had to look forward to if she fell over again. She strained to hear it hit a bottom.
"It's a long drop into a shallow stream." Xena commented from her perch.
"Goddess the woman's hearing never ceases to amaze me." Gabrielle muttered to herself. Pushing herself close to the wall Gabrielle felt for something to help her get back to the path above her. She found nothing as the dirt crumbled beneath her hands.
"Can you touch the top of the path above you?" Xena asked. She didn't drop that far, Xena thought.
Gabrielle reached up but was not able to get even her fingers the on the lip of the ledge. "No, not even." She returned disappointed.
"Okay. Describe what you saw when you landed on the path."
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and tried to remember her brief moment after landing on the path. "The ground is sandy and slippery. The root comes out further than what I thought. Maybe about two hands width into the path. The path is as wide as where you're standing." Gabrielle paused as she pushed down her fear for Xena's safety. How was Xena going to leap this without her sight? If she could see it would be nothing as her athleticism would easily adjust as she had done countless of times in the past. Gabrielle couldn't help the sigh that escaped. She laid her head on her arm that was still pressed against the wall she needed to climb and let a few tears escape.
Xena didn't wait long to make her leap. She had been listening to Gabrielle's voice to know just where she was and the echo of the wall to know how close she was to the wall. She easily jumped the space and as her body felt the closeness of the root to just below her right breast she twisted her body making a successful grab at the root and letting herself swing into the wall above Gabrielle. She carefully lowered herself to where she could hear Gabrielle's breathing. There wasn't much room on the path, as Gabrielle had said. Her extended hand and felt Gabrielle's head as it was resting on her arm. Gabrielle's breath caught as she felt the familiar touch on her head.
"Xena. You never fail to amaze me." She gratefully acknowledged.
"Hmm. Well, give me your hand and let's get you back up here with me."
Gabrielle reached up and felt Xena's strong grip around her wrist. As Xena effortlessly started to pull her up the sand started her sliding over the edge with the added weight.
"Hades!" She muttered as she could not grab onto anything at the angle she was in. Xena felt herself going over the side. She released her hold on Gabrielle not wanting to endanger her. She felt her body drop over Gabrielle's who was pressed against the wall. Xena continued to fall over the side of Gabrielle's shelf, down into the darkness that both knew was a long drop into a shallow pool of water. Gabrielle fell after her as her precarious position on the ledge was loosened when Xena's body hit hers.
Xena bounced a few times off the side of the cliff and dislodged bits of dirt as she plummeted down. Her hands instinctively grabbed at the sides of the cliff hoping they would find something to grab onto and they did. Something was protruding from the side of the cliff and she managed to get one hand around it and then the other. Xena lifted her legs away from the cliff and some how made a scissors catch of Gabrielle's falling body. The jolt of her falling weight strained her grip on their lifesaver.
"How are we doing?" Xena asked her through gritty teeth as the dirt that both dislodged finally stopped falling on them.
"Well," Gabrielle took a breath and let it out to get the tension out of her chest. "It seems we're just hanging out here and..." She took a breath to quiet her nerves, "we need to get back on track."
"Hmm. You're right. Do you have any suggestions?" Xena asked as she shifted her hands to try to feel what the sides of the cliff were like.
"Nah. I'll let you handle this one." Gabrielle concentrated on getting the nerve to open her eyes. She needed to see what was going on so she could help Xena find footholds and handholds. She couldn't push the feeling out of her mind that they were dangling over the side of a cliff.
"Gabrielle." Xena's voice sounded strained. "I want you to slowly feel with your feet, for any place you can hold your weight.
"Right." Gabrielle moved as slow as she could into a position where she could place her feet against the wall they were dangling from. With her fingers she also felt for something she could grab onto.
There were a lot of possibilities but as soon as she put weight on what she thought was a secure place the earth crumbled. By the sound of the falling debris they were still too far up to safely drop the rest of the way down.
"Gabrielle. Toss something off to your left." Xena directed her.
Both listened as Gabrielle's handful of dirt and pebbles hit something solid right away.
"Can you see anything?" Xena asked her friend.
'Well, it's pretty dark around us." Gabrielle paused and looked above them where she had been able to at least see shadows.
"Ahhhhhh!" Gabrielle screamed. Gabrielle's body's reaction to her fear loosened Xena's grip on the iron ring that she was hanging onto.
"Xena! Xena!" She sobbed frightened.
"Gabrielle! I've got you. Tell me what it is that's scaring you?" She tried to send calming energy down through her legs that were firmly wrapped around Gabrielle's shaking body.
"There's something real big above us." She croaked. "It's moving around up there!" She lowered her voice fearfully.
Xena could feel loose bits of dirt falling on her hands but she heard no movement nor felt any presence. She didn't know if the dirt was the aftermath of their fall or from something or someone above them.
"Gabrielle, whatever you see, it is up there and we are down here. I hardly think it would want to hang out with us" Xena attempted a bit of humor for her friend's benefit.
Gabrielle shuddered as she closed her eyes. To take her mind off what may be above them she tried to peer though the darkness at what was around them. Is that a ledge? Gabrielle held her breath as she tried to focus on a pale line that showed through the darkness. Was that where she had tossed the dirt previously? Gabrielle pulled some of the crumbling wall out and tossed it in the general direction.
Xena could hear the dirt fall. She was hopeful.
"Gabrielle. I'm going to swing you over where you keep tossing the dirt. I want you to see if you can find a secure place to climb." "Gabrielle." She gently called her friend again.
Gabrielle squeezed her hands on Xena's taught thigh and nodded. She didn't trust her voice. She shuddered again. That was a big shadow, she thought.
"Gabrielle, remember we're facing our fears of things that are within ourselves."
"Right, right." Gabrielle managed to get out. That didn't get the image of what she had seen out of her mind. Even with her eyes tightly closed the image of a dark hairy form leaning over to grab her was very real.
"Come on, Gabrielle. Focus." Xena started to swing in the direction she had heard the rocks Gabrielle had tossed fall.
"It's good." Gabrielle reported after a few swings gave her glimpses of the lighter colored ledge. It appeared to be wider as she was swung closer for a look. "It looks like another ledge." She made an effort to do as Xena directed and focus on the immediate.
"Okay. I'm going to release you over that way. Do you think you can get a grip on it. It sounds like it's higher than us." Xena grunted as she felt her body protesting at the treatment it had been through that day.
"Yea. A bit." Then a moment of doubt hit her. "I...what if I can't ...?"
"The trick is not to think of what you can't do." Xena instructed as she began swinging in the direction again feeling the bits of the wall crumble as her body rubbed against its surface.
"Because it always seems to work for you doesn't mean that it will for us mere mortals." Gabrielle returned half-heartedly.
"I happen to be one of those mere mortals, Gabrielle." Xena grunted as she scraped something on the next wide swing. She released Gabrielle and listened for her progress as she prepared to quickly follow her on her return swing back. She didn't want to leave Gabrielle alone for too long.
Xena had easily flicked Gabrielle's body high enough that she landed on her side on the faint ledge. Gabrielle quickly moved back as far as she dared on the ledge and patted her hand on the ground remembering to use sound to give Xena an idea of where she was. Xena landed lightly right next to her.
Gabrielle pulled Xena close to her. Both women felt tired and bruised.
"Why don't we get some rest, shall we?" Xena suggested as she lifted her hand to hold the hand that was softly caressing her face. The ledge was wide enough for them to sit with their backs to the wall and not have to dangle their legs in empty space. Something Gabrielle didn't think she would have been able to handle.
Gabrielle didn't need a second invitation but first she looked around remembering Xena's practice of always scouting out their rest area to look for weak points or anything that was out of the ordinary. Xena was using her other senses to get an idea of where they were. She didn't want any surprises like loosened rocks above them or unpleasant visitors while they both rested. She listened to Gabrielle's foot movement as she investigated their rest area.
"I don't see anything beyond this ledge." Gabrielle commented as she settled against Xena's side. In fact she couldn't see anything in the darkness that surrounded them. Gabrielle had to steel herself to glance once more above them where even the gray light was no longer showing shadows. Maybe it was dark outside. She shivered.
Xena could hear the Bard's breathing deepen as she quickly fell into her usual sound sleep. Xena stroked her arm thoughtfully. She didn't think there were many times that Gabrielle wasn't able to sleep soundly when she snuggled against her. She smiled gently and sighed. She needed a plan. There had to be another way off the ledge without them doing a free fall into the chasm below. Maybe the reason why Gabrielle couldn't see anything was because it was nighttime outside of the cavern. That would mean that the source of the pale lighting was from an opening somewhere above them. They needed to go up instead of down.
Xena didn't know exactly when she nodded off but her dreams picked up where she was working out how to get off the ledge with their lives intact and without any more mishaps.
What is Real?
Xena could hear Gabrielle grabbing crumbling dirt to get a handhold on the wall. They were making good progress up the side of the wall but it was slow and arduous. Suddenly Xena could hear a frantic flurry of movement as it sounded like Gabrielle lost her toehold and started to fall grabbing or scrapping the side of the wall they were scaling. Without thinking Xena launched herself to wrap herself around Gabrielle as they both did a bouncing fall down the cliff. Xena grunted and cursed as the fall was broken by protruding debris that stuck out of the cliff side that Xena's body could not protect Gabrielle completely from. Xena blotted out the damage that her body was sustaining and finally knew darkness before they hit the ground.
Consciousness came to Xena painfully as her body was hurting from many different places. It took a while to push back the nausea so she could focus on where she was and what had happened. "Ga...." Her throat tightened up. She slowly took a deep breath to still the pain. "Gabrielle?" She croaked. She tried to move but couldn't. Lying still for a moment, she tried to listen for Gabrielle's breathing instead. She caught a sound. Water. It was all around her. She was lying in a shallow water pool! She became aware of water tickling her ears as it slowly moved around her. She didn't feel cold. She didn't feel anything. The panic started and the rolling nausea of feeling powerless had her heart beating at a frantic pace.
"Hades!" Her unseen eyes opened wide. The water was rising! She focused on the sounds around her. Where was Gabrielle? Was that a groan? "Gabrielle?" She tried again. Nothing. The water was beginning to cover her face. She could feel the panic again push over her like a heavy blanket. The water continued to rise as Xena fought to work out a plan. She needed a plan!
Gabrielle felt herself loose her precarious balance and fall into the dark abyss below. The fall seemed to take a long time. The scream that was poised to let loose was not able to get past her frozen throat muscles. Someone grabbing one of her hands suddenly stopped her fall. The sudden stop pulled her shoulder muscles. The pain was unbearable as thoughts of a dislocated shoulder crossed her mind. She looked up at her rescuer, expecting the sight of her dark haired companion. The scream that had been frozen in her throat came out as she looked into the black eyes of the hairy form that had been on the ledge earlier. She tried to resist the pull from her rescuer but the form kept drawing her near.
Xena's heart jumped into her throat, as she became aware of something struggling up against her. "Hmm. What?" She finally got out, arousing herself from a nightmare.
A fist glanced off her chin and she could hear Gabrielle whimpering as she tried to push away from Xena's enfolding arms, which were protectively wrapped around her sleeping form.
Xena still could not see but her awareness of where they were came back quickly.
"Gabrielle, your having a bad dream. Wake up." Xena coaxed as she loosened her grip around Gabrielle but would not let her friend's struggling body move out of her protective embrace.
Gabrielle's eyes came open suddenly. There was the same darkness ahead but looking up she could see the gray shadows on the ceilings. She could smell Xena and recognize the familiar strong arms holding her. She shivered and burrowed into Xena's comforting body.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Xena's quiet voice soothed her as a callused hand stroked her forehead.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and shook her head. "I - can't remember what it was, just that it was scary."
"Is it light yet?" Xena asked her companion, kissing her on her head.
"I," Gabrielle took another deep breath and let it out to clear her feelings from the dream. "guess it must be daylight outside of this place because I can see shadows like yesterday."
"Can you see any way off this ledge?"
Gabrielle was silent for a while then she made to get up. Xena released her. Gabrielle walked around the ledge. "Yea. There's a rock blocking a portion of this ledge. I can smell the air that is coming from it so there must be an opening behind the rock."
"But?" Xena could hear reluctance in Gabrielle's voice as she stood up.
"Well...I'll let you judge for yourself." Gabrielle's hand moved to Xena's arm as she guided her to the rock. Xena caught the unmistakable stench they had smelled earlier. Xena also could feel a vacuum of air where they stood. There must be a vent above them for the odor wasn't even detected by her until she stood in front of the rock. Xena placed her hands on the rock and felt around the open space.
"Where can we safely roll this rock?" Xena asked.
"If you want to roll it off the ledge, straight back. If you want to roll it to the side it would be a tight fit."
"Let's try to move it to the side rather than dropping it over the ledge. No telling what it will drop on." Xena felt a hand on her wrist.
"Xena, I have a bad feeling about this. It's here for a reason and that smell. I don't think I can go walking into a room smelling of nothing but that." Gabrielle admitted.
"Can you see any other way off this ledge? If you do, please let me know because I'm not any more thrilled about that stench than you." Xena waited.
Gabrielle patted Xena's arm and again looked over their situation and tried to find another way off the ledge.
"There is no other way, Xena." Gabrielle reported a few minutes later in a downhearted tone.
Xena felt around the large rock for a grip. As she was moving for a better position she felt something shift under her feet. She grabbed for Gabrielle but Gabrielle had instinctively moved quickly to Xena's side when the ground beneath them started to move.
"Great!" Xena was thinking. "What now?" She continued to work on the rock not waiting to find out that their ledge was going to crumble beneath them. The rock moved slightly and Xena could feel Gabrielle's added weight pushing it to the side.
Xena knew they had a wide enough passage when the stink from the opening wrapped around them like a thick suffocating blanket on a warm night. Xena could hear Gabrielle gagging.
"Come on." She felt for Gabrielle's elbow. "Let's get through this quickly." She had walked through many battlefields after the sun had cooked the corpses on the wasted fields looking for retrievable weapons. The stink was just as bad. She had learned not to breathe deeply and to think of other things.
She could feel Gabrielle shake as her stomach tried to get rid of what her lungs could not. But she managed between the retching to lead them forward. Gabrielle stumbled and Xena's hand on her shoulder quickly moved to support her.
"What can you see in here?" Xena asked partially to take Gabrielle's mind off the unpleasantness of where they were.
Gabrielle stopped walking for a moment as if to take a survey of where there were. "The ceiling is real low."
Something Xena guessed by the way the sound of their presence bounced back.
"It's pretty dark. To the left of us I can see mineral deposits raising from the ceiling and hanging from it. There is, hmm, a strange glow from over there." Gabrielle's voice lowered as she studied the sight. For what seemed like a long moment Xena could only hear Gabrielle's shallow breathing. Xena touched her shoulder gently. She felt her Bard jump from the touch.
"What's going on Gabrielle?" She asked softly, brushing her fingers against the soft cheek that felt a little gritty from their exertions. That must not be the side she rests her head on me with, she thought smiling to herself, or it would have been rubbed clean by now.
"Nothing." Xena could hear a soft sigh. "Nothing much." Gabrielle caught Xena's hand and squeezed it.
"I was remembering when I had eaten that nutbread with henbane. I had a ....vision before I passed out. That was before you came back for me."
"You never mentioned it." Xena commented as she waited patiently for Gabrielle to continue. It must be important for she wasn't moving to get out of the stinking place, Xena thought.
"I had forgotten about it until now." She admitted softly. "Seeing those mineral deposits hanging from the ceiling reminded me."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Xena offered. Not the best place to make the offer, but opportunity and practicality didn't always synchronize, especially where their lives were concerned, Xena thought with irony.
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose at the continuing offensive smell. She idly thought about how her cloths were probably like a sponge soaking up the smell. She was hoping she could get rid of it once they were out of here.
"I think we need to get out of this place." She remarked as if somewhere else. However, she remained standing looking back at the soft glow around the long mineral structures. Weird shadows danced on the low ceiling as if reflecting off something. Candles?
"Gabrielle." Xena's voice brought her back to her job. "What does the rest of this place look like?"
"Right. Well, let's see, "she inadvertently took a deep breath to collect herself and nearly collapsed from the reaction of her body to the deep intake of the revolting air. Xena pulled Gabrielle's shaking body into her and make circular motions on her bent back trying to relax her body as it finished its business of objecting to the abuse her lungs were taking retching nothing of substance.
Xena finally released her as the spasms stopped. Gabrielle's stomach muscles and throat were sore from being turned inside out and having nothing to expel.
"Let's get out-of- here." Gabrielle croaked. The problem was, where was she to lead them. "There is only darkness to the right of us and a wall in front of us." She finished.
"Why not head for the formations that..."Xena didn't get to finish her suggestion as Gabrielle's grip on her arm tightened and she could feel her shaking her head.
"No. I don't want to go over there."
Xena could feel her tugging at her arm trying to draw her toward where she said it was dark. At least they would both be on equal footing where sight was concerned, Xena thought. But she didn't want to let Gabrielle get away with this fear. Something was nagging at her that it wasn't right that Gabrielle was pulling toward the darkness when the lighted area should be a better choice. One of them had to see what was going on around them.
"Gabrielle, stop pulling. Tell me what's wrong." Xena insisted.
"I just don't think that..." Gabrielle stopped moving them forward.
"Didn't you say there was light there?"
"Well, yes, but...I don't know where it's coming from."
"If there is light there we may be able to find it's source. The ceiling is low enough to see something." Xena reasoned. "We may be able to get out if the opening is large enough."
"Yea. Right." Gabrielle sighed inwardly, but Xena could feel the shoulders move in mirrored response to her mental sigh.
Reluctantly Gabrielle started to pick her way over to the lighted area. The ground was littered with rocks of varying sizes that could easily twist the ankle of a misplaced foot. She waited patiently as Xena felt around with her own foot before moving her weight forward for another careful placement of the other foot. Progress was slow and Gabrielle was content with this task taking up her full attention. She looked up every now and then to make sure their zig-zag course was still in the general direction of the light.
Xena knew when Gabrielle looked toward the lighted area for she could feel little shivers run down her back. Xena had moved her hand to her back so that she could walk directly behind her following her foot steps as close as possible. Xena knew how dangerous it would be for her to twist an ankle now. She healed quickly from injuries but even a day or two to heal was not good, and Gabrielle would not be able to carry her. Xena couldn't help chuckling at the memory of Gabrielle trying to carry her when she had pretended to be knocked senseless during one of their more leisure and playful journeys.
Gabrielle stopped and looked up at her friend startled. "What?" She demanded impatiently.
"Oh, nothing much. Just realizing what a burden I can be sometimes."
For a moment Gabrielle was silent as if turning this over in her mind. A smile appeared on her face as she pictured Xena's weight on her...Stop that! She chided herself firmly as her heart beat faster. "Yea, well sometimes it's not so bad." She responded under her breath.
Xena's eyebrow quirked upward. She looked in the direction where she could see a difference in her darkness and waited for Gabrielle to resume their progress.
"I can hear trickling around us," Xena commented, "and smell something like a mineral spring."
"Yea. There's three pools up a head." Gabrielle informed her as she kept her eyes focused on the ground before them. Gabrielle almost stumbled when she realized what she had said. No, this is not the same place. I'm getting the two places mixed up.
The ground beneath them started to change as they neared the rim of what looked like a small crater that was filled with water. There were three pools of water within the crater, and if the water table rose about a hand or two higher they would become one. Gabrielle found a comfortable place for them to sit. She glanced up at the ceiling to see if she could spot where the light was filtering in. The ceiling over the water was higher and the reflection from the water, which seemed to glow, gave the ceiling eerie shadows. It wasn't light enough to pick out any definitions or openings in the darkened spots on the ceiling. Gabrielle looked around her not wanting to look in the water. She left Xena leaning against one of the mineral deposits that rose from the ground as she went to stand near the edge of the pool.
Xena noted that Gabrielle didn't sit near her as she normally would. She looked around again noting that the once velvety blackness was giving way to gray tones. She moved her fingers to various pressure points for sight, finding them not surprisingly sore. Ahh. Much better, she thought as a shot of color passed across her vision. Just a little more time.
"Gabrielle. Why don't you tell me a story." Xena suggested, as she settled more comfortably against the rock formation Gabrielle had settled her next to.
"Huh?" Gabrielle turned to her companion a short distance away. She had been unable to resist looking into the water. She remembered what she had hidden away in her memory. After the last week of dreams it wasn't as shocking, she realized. Did she want to share it with Xena? When she had first had the vision she and Xena were not lovers and she had to admit, it was something even a few months into their relationship she would have been - hmmm. Would it have bothered Xena? Was it a desire from her darker side? Hadn't she been the one to tell Xena everyone had a dark side and sometimes it was a necessary strength to use to get through tough times?
"Are you ready to tell me what's bothering you?" Xena asked not moving closer to Gabrielle whose outline she was beginning to see.
Gabrielle's sigh was audible, followed by an embarrassed laugh. "What kind of dreams have you been having lately?" She asked instead looking at her hands that were clenched across her knees.
Xena let out a loud snort. "The kind that would make a week in Aphrodite's House of Sensuous Delight pale in comparison!" Xena's face actually went red. "And you?" She asked quickly.
"Hmm. I can't say I've had much experience in one but..." Gabrielle giggled nervously, and then felt the shivers of desire that threatened to consume her. She could feel the now familiar heat of carnal desire as her womanhood became engorged with anticipation. Gabrielle could smell her own moist essence. She shook her head to try to rid the fog that seemed to fill her mind.
Xena's sense of smell also picked up Gabrielle's arousal. "So, what has this place got to do with our dreams for the last week and a half?" She asked softly.
Xena could see the shadowed head of her companion and lover bow and then lift to look into the pool.
"Remember when I ate that nut bread laced with henbane?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. You became an instant success as a choir master." Xena smirked.
"Well...I - huh. Well," She swallowed with difficulty and closed her eyes. Her eyes quickly opened again for the images of her vision readily came to mind.
Xena waited in silence. She watched Gabrielle as her vision was starting to see color and more detail to her form.
"I...had this vision or dream...I don't know what it was actually." She tightened her hands around her knees.
"Just tell it like a story." Xena quietly coaxed.
"Yea, right." Gabrielle put her hands over her face. She had never told a sexual story and one that she played a major role in. Why tell Xena this anyway? Gabrielle looked back into the pool of water. What was it about the pool of water? Without realizing it she started her story.
Visions and Dreams
Gabrielle had nearly finished the nutbread when the effects of the henbane started. She found herself mesmerized by the reflection of the light's movement in the pool of water. Then her thoughts moved easily to Xena and how nice she looked in her leathers and riding golden Argo across a green field of ankle deep grass. She sighed as she pictured the long dark tresses billowing behind her as she leaned forward on Argo with a look of concentration on her face, blue eyes glinting like jewels through slits. She needed to focus on the present, she had reminded herself weakly, thinking of once again trying to talk to the young boy they had rescued. The next thing she knew she was in another setting.
She was talking to an alchemist in one of the small towns they had stopped in. There wasn't much business in the village or at the inn due to they had arrived the day after the village's major festival to Pythion Apollo. The inhabitants were slow in getting back to their usual business. The innkeeper offered the use of one of the small huts near the outside of the village ring since the rooms in the inn were not cleaned yet. He had also given most of his staff a few days off to recover from the week of little sleep and plenty of work. The owner of the inn had three huts he rented out when large families or groups came into town and wanted to stay together.
"Now you're sure it won't last long?" Gabrielle asked the old man again.
"Nope. You must like that horse a lot to be concerned about how long it's going to be out." The old alchemist remarked as he handed the small pouch of powder to her.
Gabrielle smiled sweetly at the man. "Well, its only a small sliver we need to remove and she just hates to have her belly touched with a knife." Gabrielle lied.
The old man shook his head. He wouldn't take a knife to his own horse without knocking it out. A kick from those powerful hooves could put anyone out of service for a long time.
Gabrielle put the small pouch into her bag carefully. So far, so good, she smiled wickedly as she continued her way back to the hut mentally rechecking her plans. She didn't want to chance giving Xena a dose that normal people would take because Xena's body had a defense system of natural self-preservation that would probably neutralize the drug quickly. She just needed Xena out for few minutes.
Gabrielle looked around their rented hut. 'Xena must be still seeing to new shoes for Argo and herself.' Steam was coming from the tub placed in the center of the room with buckets near the fire keeping hot to rewarm the cooling waters. The food was sitting on the table. 'Yep.' She went back to the trunk that she had found some interesting things in and lifted the lid.
Gabrielle couldn't help the giggle that escaped her lips as she studied the leather bracelets and anklets attached to chains and other toys of pleasure. This was going to be an interesting night. The thought of her plans sent a shiver of anticipation to her center, releasing a liquid fire that coated her underpants. She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them and once more went through her plan to get Xena to sit on the bed before the drug knocked her out. 'Right.' She rummaged in one of Xena's bags and brought out something Xena had been hiding from her. An impish smile was on her face as she placed it and it's harness on one side of the bed and covered it with a cloth.
'Now the drug.' Quickly she pulled out her pouch and pulled one of the mugs toward her. The pitcher of ale was near filled to the top. 'Good.' She poured some of the ale in the mug and swirled it around the powder at the bottom of the mug. She stopped for a moment and listened. She could hear the familiar tread on the porch.
The door swung open and Xena entered the room.
Gabrielle turned to look at her, holding the mug in front of her. The glare from the outside outlined a familiar tall dark frame in the door sill, with hair looking wildly out of place.
"This looks nice. I was just going to ask you if you wanted to go and eat." Xena was in an excellent mood Gabrielle noted. Xena surveyed the small banquet on the table, the tub and Gabrielle holding the mug out to her.
"I thought it would be nice to take advantage of our privacy." Gabrielle smiled toward her and handed her the mug of ale that she had filled to the rim of the mug.
"Hmm. Thanks." She took a deep drink without looking at it and glanced around the room. "Why don't we take a bath before we eat." She smiled suggestively at the Bard.
"Sounds nice." 'All right, so far, so good,' Gabrielle thought.
Xena laid the half emptied mug down and started over toward Gabrielle to help her undress, using her lips and hands to encourage Gabrielle's quick disrobing. Gabrielle's hands shook as she undid Xena's leathers and let her hands slide down her wrists thinking of where they would be in a short time. She groaned at the thought, letting her head rest between her tall companion's breasts that were freed from their linen undertunic.
Xena looked down at her Bard's face. Smiling she lifted her and walked her over to the tub. Xena sat her on the edge of the tub and checked the water. "Not bad." She lifted Gabrielle effortlessly over the rim and dropped her unceremoniously into the tub.
"Hey!" Gabrielle sputtered when she came up and grabbed the Warrior Princess who had slid in beside her pushing the larger woman back against the tub and locking her lips against a smiling mouth, muffling the chuckles. For a while they contented themselves with a leisure version of bathing each other and other things of pleasure. As Xena moved Gabrielle onto her lap, lips nibbling on her ear, Gabrielle was trying to figure out how to get Xena to finish her drink.
"Let's get out of the tub and get something to eat." Gabrielle breathlessly announced as Xena's hands moved along her body.
"Is food always your priority?" Xena whispered in her ear, as a finger tweaked her nipple that was below the water. Gabrielle's breath caught and she would have slid under had she not been sitting on Xena's lap whose bent legs formed a chair. The shiver that shot through her from her nipple down to her center had her trembling with desire. For a brief moment she wondered if she was going to have time to get Xena to finish the rest of the drink then on to the bed.
"Xena." Her name came out sounding ragged as Gabrielle had trouble talking when Xena's fingers moved down her stomach and a finger slid between her neither lips, gently stroking her hardening clitoris.
"Hmm?" Xena's fingers kept up their slow movement under the water. Gabrielle was sitting in Xena's lap with her head resting between her breasts. The thought that she only had to move her head to the side to see hard nipples good enough for biting, had her body quivering in anticipation. Xena moved two fingers into her slick vagina, stroking her slowly. Gabrielle groaned and gripped the hand that was pleasuring her, failing to keep herself focused. Xena's thumb brushed her clitoris that was full and ready to burst like an over- ripe fruit. Gabrielle tried to increase the rhythm but Xena kept it slow, letting the pressure build up until Gabrielle finally let out a moan and gripped Xena's thighs, pushing down hard on each stroke till the climax washed over her.
Gabrielle didn't know where it came from but she found the strength to stand up in the tub breaking the erotic contact after she recovered, ignoring the part of her that objected thinking of the promise of delicious things that still were to come while in the tub.
"Xena." She said in a strained voice. "I'm hungry. We have plenty of time for more of...this." With shaking legs she managed to get out of the tub and toss a towel over to Xena without daring to look into her eyes. Oh, woman! She groaned to herself, feeling the moisture that was her own, cover her swollen lips and aching from wanting more.
"Hey, Xena, they have your favorite here...pickled croisus." She took one from the dish and turned toward the tub. Xena caught Gabrielle's hand as she was turning. Gabrielle could feel herself shake with desire making the idea of prolonging her game with Xena a big question, especially since she hadn't even started the game.
'This is not going to be easy,' she was thinking as she looked into the blue eyes that told her what Xena was really interested in. Xena's lips nibbled on the croisus letting her tongue tickle Gabrielle's fingers that were holding it then moving to suck on the now empty digits.
A groan escaped Gabrielle's lips, "Hmm. Listen, Xena." Gabrielle reached behind her and found the ale. "Here," she gulped nervously. "Have a drink. I - ahh. I need something myself." Her voice was a dead give-away that she wanted the same thing as Xena. 'Well', she thought, 'sort of'. The sudden smirk on Gabrielle's face brought one of Xena's eyebrows up.
"I was just thinking," she whispered in a low seductive voice as she watched Xena finish off the ale in one quick gulp, "if you just go over to the bed, I'll bring some food over. I can think of all sorts of ways to feed you."
Xena returned Gabrielle's smirk with one of her own. "Hmmmm." She set the emptied mug on the table and sprawled out on the bed.
"How's this, Gab-ri-elle?" Xena drawled.
Gabrielle looked over toward the bed and nearly dropped the fruit and fruit jelly she had been gathering. Xena was stretching out like she had envisioned her only without the bindings.
"Ahh. Fine - Xena. Oh, just fine."
Xena closed her eyes for a moment then opened them quickly looking surprised. Then they closed again this time not coming back open. Gabrielle watched the taught muscled body relax. She had seldom seen Xena this relaxed even in sleep. Gabrielle quickly put the food next to the bed and started to get the leather cuffs and anklets out of their storage area. She remembered from pictures she had seen in Sappho's library how they went. She worked as quickly as she could, trying to keep her shaking hands from interfering. The bedposts had rings that were made for attaching the bindings. She pulled Xena's arms up over her head and tightened them in place. She then moved to her legs trying not to look at the alluring body. As she tightened the leather anklet around the first leg she pulled her legs wider smelling the sweet aroma of Xena's essence. She then fastened the other ankle in the cuff. She tested the leggings to be sure they were tight enough and then looked over her handiwork. Xena's arms were pulled over her head and her legs were spread apart. Maybe she should have the arms wide apart too. For a moment she was mesmerized as the breasts rose and fell. 'Better leave it as it is. Right. Now the blindfold.' She gently lifted Xena's head and fastened the black cloth across Xena's eyes making sure she could breathe.
Now she just had to wait. Or did she? 'Nope.' Gabrielle pulled out the leather whip that was in the chest and ran it across Xena's body watching in fascination, as the nipples became hard and the pulse in Xena's neck increased, as if a mere outside stimulation could bring her out of a drug state.
She heard a groan then the familiar tenseness in Xena's muscles returned. Now is when the game begins, Gabrielle thought wickedly.
She watched as Xena tested her bindings. Gabrielle leaned close enough for her breath to tickle the sensitive ears. "How do you feel to be in my power?" She gloated in a low voice.
"I'm real scared." Xena growled, turning her face quickly toward Gabrielle's.
"Yes, well you think it's nothing right now." She stared at the lips that were now turned toward her. "But I think you'll be singing another tune very soon." She whispered in a lower voice as she moved her lips so they were barely touching. "I'm going to drive you mad with desire." She flicked her tongue on the outside of Xena's mouth that remained closed, tracing the outline and fluttering the tip against the resisting lips. "You're going to be begging me for...release." Gabrielle sucked on Xena's lower lip feeling a slight quiver.
Gabrielle again moved the ends of the whip near Xena's nipples watching as her skin jumped, muscles moving under her skin, and her jaw tightening.
Gabrielle ran the whip down Xena's body flicking it now and then and watching the goose bumps that it brought up. She flicked it again over the mound of soft curling hair where her bud would soon be throbbing with desire. Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips pressing her wet lips against the muscular stomach, letting her wetness trickle down to Xena's sensitive skin. The effect on Xena was predictable as she strained at the bindings. Xena still resisted making any sound. Gabrielle leaned forward knowing that Xena would feel her hardened nub against her skin. Gabrielle leaned down and bit and sucked on Xena's nipples hard until she heard Xena's sharp intake of breath as she struggled to control herself. Gabrielle smiled as she played with the beautiful breasts of her captive warrior. While her mouth was on one, she ran her palm over the other nipple, feeling its hardness erotically work its magic on her hand. She was hoping she was going to last. Gabrielle brought her mouth up slowly to Xena's leaving a trail of moisture from nipples, cleavage, throat, where her pulse was pounding, and along her jaw line.
Oh, yes! This is just ever so fine. She brushed her lips against Xena's again. They were now opened and ready for her. Gabrielle roughly took over her mouth exploring the insides and sucking on the tongue she trapped. She could feel Xena's body tremble and push up against her with her desire. Pulling back Gabrielle refused to let Xena get any more pleasure in her kiss. Instead she ran her tongue on the outside of Xena's lips sucking on them and not letting Xena get a firm kiss. Xena groaned in frustration and Gabrielle could feel her body squirming to get out of her bindings.
"What do you want, Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle asked her with her lips close to Xena's ear. She remembered she had read that what was said was just as important as the physical touches, and in her case that was certainly true, so it should work well with Xena.
"You." She breathed.
This is too easy, Gabrielle thought. "When I'm ready, my dark haired Warrior Princess, I will take you! You think this is going to be easy for you?" Gabrielle retorted and sitting up she flicked the whip across the nipples again. This time Xena did groan.
"I want you to beg me, Warrior." She leaned near her ear again. "Beg me to use what you've been hiding in that pouch of yours." Gabrielle felt Xena's muscles tightened under her. "Hmm. So you think you could keep your secret desires from me." She whispered very low in the ear she knew would hear her easily.
Xena groaned and said nothing.
Gabrielle stroked Xena's body in places she knew the Warrior Princess liked and watched as the hips tried to move toward her hand that was cupped over her wet mound. Her finger was touching the throbbing engorged nub and by the amount of wetness that creamed her fingers, she knew she was doing well. She sat astride Xena stroking her in different places, letting Xena wait in anticipation of where the next touch or bite would be.
Gabrielle paused in her teasing and leaned over the bed and picked up the fruit dish. She could feel Xena's body twitch as she let her breasts moved across her captive's body. She bit into a grape and brushed half of the grape against Xena's lips and when she opened her mouth to take it Gabrielle's tongue moved into her mouth playing with the grape. Withdrawing her lips the next fruit was a strawberry which she slowly smeared across the opened lips then down her face and throat, letting the juice drip into the hollow of her throat. She then proceeded to clean up the sweat trail with her mouth and tongue, feeling Xena's hips move against her as she sucked on the tanned skin.
"Hmm. How much do you want me, beautiful princess?" She asked as she paused to bite her neck.
"Please...take me." Xena panted pleading for relief with her body movements echoing the entreaty. Gabrielle lifted herself from Xena and pushed Xena's hips back down on the bed. "Just...take me?" She purred. "When are you going to ask for it? Hmm."
Gabrielle exchanged the fruit dish with the fruit jelly. She began to smear it on Xena's body liberally leaving large dabs on her nipples. Gabrielle started to lick it up slowly, weaving patterns in the juice and sucking where she knew Xena was sensitive. She left bite marks on Xena's shoulders and deep red marks where she sucked especially hard. She wanted to leave her marks of ownership on her Warrior. When she got to her hard nipples she swirled her tongue around the wrinkled areolas then bit down until she heard a sibilant sound from Xena. She could feel her captive warrior's body shake as she groaned her pleasure. Gabrielle smiled as she continued to give the same pleasure to the other breast. Xena continued to groan and tried to again move her hips against Gabrielle to relive the pressure that was building up in her.
"Please, Gabrielle. Take me." Xena pleaded hoarsely.
"Take you with what, huh? My mouth?" Gabrielle repositioned herself to blow air over the top of Xena's soaking mound, parting the dark silky hairs. "My fingers?" She stroked the outside of the lips smearing the wetness along the outside of her thighs. She slowly slipped two fingers inside of her scooping out some of her wetness and smearing it on her prisoner's erect nipples then sucking them. Xena groaned again.
"Gabrielle, please take me with ...my...phallus." She whispered.
Gabrielle smiled. "Ahh. Capitulation. Surrender? In my own time, dark haired warrior. I want you to know just whose woman you belong to and...why."
She moved her palm over Xena's mound and pushed up against it feeling the engorged clitoris' pulse beating wildly. Xena's groans were soft interspersed with her name. The room smelled of Xena's sweet sex mixed with her own body smell. Gabrielle watched the sweat gather between Xena's breasts from her effort. Gabrielle reached up to pinch Xena's nipple while she leaned down and sucked on the sensitive nub careful to not let her climax. She sat back up and stroked the legs that were pulled apart and held firmly in place. Her hands seductively massaged her muscled thighs enjoying the feel of the power and the quivers her strokes invoked. She could see Xena's womanhood protruding from the silky hairs, waiting for release.
She reached for the waiting phallus. Gabrielle touched the tip of phallus to Xena's lips then ran it down her throat, around her nipples while she let her other finger play with Xena's throbbing nub. She slid two fingers inside of Xena teasing her as the phallus made its way down her body. Xena's groans were more frequent as the anticipation drew sweat on her face and shoulders.
She rested the phallus on Xena's stomach while continuing to massage the wet spot between her thighs, smearing the sweet stuff along swollen lips that didn't need any more moisture. Gabrielle groaned as she drew her face near the mound and let her tongue take a swipe at the swollen lips, sucking juices that surrounded the area. Her tongue slid inside the inflamed core then out and back around the lips and clitoris, listening to the moans of her captive. She watched in fascination that as she drew the phallus closer to her bound lover's sensitive center hips rose to meet the tip of the phallus.
Gabrielle plunged the thick toy suddenly, deeply into the core of her lover's being, listening to a low growl of pleasure in the dark woman's throat. Gabrielle increased the rhythm resting one hand on the insides her thigh that was wet from the juices of the panting woman. Xena moaned for Gabrielle to push harder, and with each stroke it seemed to go deeper picking up the frantic rhythm Xena's body set. Gabrielle leaned forward grabbing a nipple that was hard between her teeth, sucking and biting as her hand continued to beat a steady rhythm into Xena's slick center with her phallus.
Xena's keening cry built up into a final shout of Gabrielle's name as she went over the pinnacle. Her sweat soaked body laid back on the bed shivering with the aftermath of her release. Gabrielle moved her mouth down Xena's breast, stomach and dragged her tongue into the wet hairs, feeling the nub start to become hard again as her tongue brushed against it. She moved the shaft a little out of her then slowly moved it back in, eliciting a groan from her bound prisoner. Xena's legs strained against the bindings. Slowly she removed the phallus.
Gabrielle straddled Xena's hips, moving to pick up the harness that came with Xena's toy. She slid it under Xena's hips, fastened the ends and slid the phallus into its place.
Xena shifted her hips a little and the phallus that Gabrielle had strapped on her moved temptingly. Gabrielle ran her hands along the outside of Xena's stretched legs, bringing them both up and around to her inner thighs, and moved one hand to her erect nipple, the other she slid up the phallus, knowing Xena would feel the stroke as the base rested against her center. She stroked the phallus, bringing her hand down several times into Xena's wet center.
"Would you like me to ride you, Princess?"
Xena licked her lips and nodded.
"Like a wild woman on her horse, pressing into her saddle, feeling the movement of her mount underneath her." She breathed in the ear that was peeking out from behind dark hair.
Xena groaned then nodded again.
Gabrielle brought her face down and reached her tongue around the base of the phallus, tickling, then running the tongue through the hairs, then up the base of the shaft, tasting Xena's essence. She lifted herself above rod, feeling an increase of lubricant in her core in anticipation. Gabrielle didn't bother to gradually work it inside her but pushed her body down on to the rod, groaning as her insides quickly made room for what penetrated into the molten center. Xena grunted as Gabrielle bounced on her stomach, bringing her hips up to help with the penetration. Gabrielle groaned at the fullness inside her, then started a quick rhythm, feeling her own desire finally able to express itself. Gabrielle breath was coming in groans as she relished in the penetration she controlled and the hips that were struggling to meet hers. Her lips sucked on a part of Xena's shoulder as she continued to pump her lover, feeling the friction, the tightness and the slow build up of her own climax...then the sudden rush... a scream of Xena's name and small bucks against the captive woman's hips as little spasms continued to ripple inside her pushing against the fullness of the shaft. Slowly, she pulled herself off the phallus, groaning at the emptiness it left.
Gabrielle started to lick and kiss her way down Xena's body, while her hands undid the harness, then continued down one leg, toward the ankle, releasing the bindings. She did the same for the other, then made her way up Xena's body and arms to do the same to the cuffs around her wrists. Her hips were over Xena's breasts as she undid the wrist cuffs.
As her arms were loosened, Xena pulled her into her arms and rolled over Gabrielle pulling her mask off and covering her lover's mouth with a passionate kiss.
"Well, my warrior princess, how did you like my surprise?" Gabrielle later asked her when both were snuggled against each other.
Xena was quiet for a while. "You know...paybacks are in order, don't you?" She asked in a solemn voice.
"Oh, I'm really scared now." Gabrielle returned and felt her body shiver in anticipation.
Gabrielle continued to stare into the pool after finishing her story.
Xena was silent, as she not only could feel the carnal pleasure that burned through her partner, but recognized the dream with another variation as something that they had done. She closed her eyes to get herself back into control as her own desire throbbed between her legs. Her vision was beginning to get sharper, though due to the pale light in the cavern she didn't really know how much had returned. She had closed her eyes to stop seeing the miserable droop of Gabrielle's shoulders. It was so tempting to take her in her arms and relieve some of the sexual energy that had been building up in both of them.
Xena let out her breath and rose silently. She drew Gabrielle to her and held her in her arms for a few long moments.
"What bothers you about the fantasy, honey?" She asked softly.
Gabrielle shuddered. "I - ahh. I liked it." She confessed.
"So did I." Xena's kiss started out tender but Gabrielle's return was voracious and both found themselves on the floor relieving the tension that had been building for the last few weeks.
Gabrielle was looking up into the familiar blue eyes that even in the gray light were bright. "You can see." She stated flatly. "When did this happen?" She moved herself to a more comfortable observing position. "And don't say my..."
"Just before you told the story. It's coming back slowly." Xena placed a finger against Gabrielle's lips, which was promptly grabbed gently between white teeth.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Gabrielle stroked the face she loved, letting her fingers stop at the throat and feel the heart beat.
"I wanted to be sure it was back. No sense in false hopes."
Gabrielle didn't want to argue with her. She was still wrapped in the emotional contentment of their lovemaking.
"You, know. When I first had that dream...we weren't lovers and I --didn't know what to do or think."
Xena started to laugh. "You were still a bit naïve then. I can see how the passion would have been overwhelming."
Gabrielle laughed too. "It wasn't the passion, my Warrior Princess. It was tying up the big bad ex War Lord. That was scary."
"I thought by then you were over much of that?" Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head as she moved back into Xena's embrace snuggling up against her warm body.
"Sure, if it was directed at the bad guys...and still sometimes you were more -- intense than at other times. Naw. I was still intimidated. Still am, for that matter. But," she continued for she felt Xena tense up, "I find it very -- erotic -- sometimes. The fire in your eyes, the beauty of watching you move so effortlessly, the energy you put out is --" Gabrielle let out her breath. "It's hard to explain. It's a feeling. I can understand the sexual energy that you experience as battle lust, because, believe me, I get this incredible rush watching you." There I said it, Gabrielle thought relieved.
Xena smiled above Gabrielle's head. "I know." She said quietly. "I would feel it."
"Your heart beats faster than normal, your eyes have this sexual desire in them, your skin is flushed...and," Xena kissed Gabrielle's neck and gave her shoulder a soft suck, "I could also smell your excitement."
"What!" Gabrielle tried to turn to look in her face.
"Hmm. Thought I didn't notice huh?" Xena chuckled a bit. "It took me a while to understand why you were getting excited over me beating up people, especially when you're so much against the violence. It was a real brain teaser, until we became lovers."
"Then you could understand?"
"Yep! I just didn't want to believe it."
Gabrielle looked back at the pool. "It's kind of hard to believe that such a desire like that is in me." She said softly.
"It depends on how you want to see it, Gabrielle. The gods and their agents use it for insuring the continuation of the fertility of the land. People use it to relive boredom, anxiety, express feelings for another and what makes it nice is that even those without an obol to their name or a partner can do it. Must drive control freaks crazy, like religions, politicians, and rulers. There is nothing wrong with sexual energy. And the creative ways to express it, well, that's one of the nice quirks to it. And when it's expended with a loved one, the power is incredible. Believe me when I say that." Xena paused a moment. "I've used my own sexual energy and those of others for various reasons, never really loving any of them deeply. I know the difference."
"Not even with - Marcus?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly.
Xena sighed. "I'm not the same person as I was then...and...I don't regret it. Our last time together was...because we knew we would never be together like that again. It was before us...does that bother you?"
Gabrielle was quiet for a moment watching the shadowed face that was looking directly at her with steady blue eyes trying to read any sign Gabrielle's expressive face gave.
"I...I wonder sometimes...if Marcus or Borias came back...would you ...."
"Gabrielle," Xena put both hands on the sides of her face, "not even death...would change my love for you. I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you if there were any other way."
They both were silent listening to each other's steady breathing and taking comfort in what was expressed.
"We need to get moving. I would like to finish with this task before Spring." Xena leaned close to Gabrielle's ear and whispered seductively.
"Hey, that's not fair." She slapped the muscled thigh next to her. "You get my juices flowing with that voice of yours then want to break camp before doing anything about it."
"Hmm." Xena had no mercy, as she lifted Gabrielle up as she rose.
"Well. Where do we go from here?" Gabrielle asked, not at all bothered about relinquishing the leadership.
"Let's go look for the source of this light." Xena nodded toward the other side of the pool.
They followed the rim of the pool to the other side. A path led away from the pool leading upward into another tunnel. Xena leaned down and studied the tracks that were all around the entrance to the tunnel.
"It looks like a busy place but if it is, why hasn't anything been here for the length of time we were here?" Xena asked more to herself than the Bard.
"Maybe we were making too much noise." Gabrielle playfully returned.
Xena looked up at her with merriment in her eyes. Gabrielle's heart skipped a few beats. She resisted the impulse to wrap her arms around the woman she had come to depend on for so much happiness in her life and hug her for as long as Xena could stand it.
A look passed between them that mirrored what was in the others eyes. Xena resumed her lead along the path noting the light was neither dimming nor brightening. She couldn't figure out how light was getting in the cavern. The ground beneath them felt different. There were rocks, sand and in some places thick dust that became soft clouds where Gabrielle placed her feet. Little was disturbed under Xena's tread. The path finally widened and the underground river appeared beside them. By then it was getting too dark for Gabrielle to see clearly and she kept stumbling into Xena's back until she just left her hand resting against the small of her back. She had to struggle with the desire to pull Xena down onto the path and ravish her. These feelings were almost as bad as the dreams only the temptation was within a hairs breath from her.
The path ended and their only way to resume was to go into the water. Xena mentioned this to Gabrielle who could not see much now. Xena could see the path on the other side of the dark river.
"Why don't we rest here until the light returns." Xena suggested. Xena leaned against the stone wall and Gabrielle settled against her. Xena could hear Gabrielle's breathing deepen as Morpheus quickly took her. Xena sighed and kissed the top of her companion's head. Xena let herself fall into a light sleep, aware of the lapping water and the occasional flapping sound that a fishes tail might make. A thought occurred to her that neither had been hungry or thirsty thorough all of this. More importantly, Gabrielle hadn't even mentioned food. She wanted to pursue that thought more but Morpheus dragged her into his realm.
Xena's eyes popped open but it was to darkness. She could feel water up to her elbows and it was rising rapidly. Where is Gabrielle? Xena tried to lift herself but the current and the slippery rocks below her didn't give her a chance to get her balance. She lost contact with the wall as the current pulled her away, and her sense of direction was lost. The water was very soon up to her chin and by the sounds of her flapping hands on the water, she was not anywhere near the side of the cave. Frantically she tried to get some kind of bearing, as she was no longer able to touch the ground. How had the water been able to move in so fast? She should have heard it. Where is Gabrielle? Sudden panic threatened to overwhelm her. "Gabrielle!" She called as she felt herself moving faster in the current. Her heart started to tighten and her stomach was twisting in the fear of losing her mate. "Gabrielle!" She called again fighting the pull that was taking her further away from where they had been. Xena felt something grab her shoulders and pull her down. She threw it off and continued her struggle to move toward calmer waters. Again she called out and again the pull on her shoulders. She struck out at whatever it was and found herself sinking into the water. She was in over her head.
A voice was calling her name from somewhere, as she was about to let go. She could no longer hold her breath and she was being battered from the undercurrent that dragged her along the bottom of the riverbed.
"Gabrielle?" She thought to herself. Xena managed to gather herself in a ball and push herself up toward the surface. She knew she was above it when she could hear the clear voice of Gabrielle. But she was a distance from her.
"Gabrielle?' She called frantically. "Where are you?"
She heard a soft sob from another direction. Where was the water? Xena realized there was no water around her. She was still leaning against the wall. Frightened at what may have happened Xena started to crawl to where she had heard Gabrielle. It was still dark in the cavern.
She found her leg and felt her way to her head. It was partially in the water. Xena heard her groan as she picked her up. "Gabrielle!" She called to the unconscious form. Xena moved back to the wall with Gabrielle in her arms. Gently with her fingers she felt her face and was horrified to feel a swelling that was building up below her eye and on her lips. Tenderly with tears in her eyes Xena kissed the bruises. Xena's anguish at what she probably had done while having a nightmare was palatable as she felt her stomach churn. Xena rocked Gabrielle in her arms waiting in sadness for her to come to. She knew Gabrielle would forgive her, she always did. But she hadn't done this for a long time and it didn't relieve her guilt that she would strike out at someone she loved more than herself. Xena could feel the darkness of depression and despair fill her as she became more in touch with the horror of her dark side. As she felt the numbing sensation it had brought her in the past she was aware that Gabrielle's heartbeat was slowing. Sobbing Xena pulled her closer to her and willed the darkness away, at some level knowing that her despair was affecting Gabrielle.
Gabrielle awoke from the rapid beating of Xena's heart. She could feel the breath on her head was in gasps and soon Xena's arms were thrashing about her. Gabrielle turned in her arms and attempted to talk Xena awake but was struck with a blow that sent her rolling to the water's edge. "Xena!" She called again trying to stay calm, ignoring the pain on the side of her head. She became concerned more when Xena started to call her name and make sounds like she couldn't breath. Gabrielle's fear for her own life was pushed aside as she crawled back to where she could see the dark form leaning against the wall. She managed to get to her and made the mistake of putting her hands on her shoulders. Again Xena struck out and this time Gabrielle wasn't aware of where she landed.
Gabrielle awoke to a rocking motion and Xena's humming a song that she liked. Gabrielle also woke to a splitting headache. "By the Goddesses!" She got out as she lifted her hand to her head. "Ohh." Her lip hurt too.
She felt Xena tenderly pull her hand to her mouth. "I am so sorry Gabrielle. I ..." Xena choked back a sob, she didn't want to remind her that could have killed her for she knew Gabrielle was aware of it and she didn't want to think about what could have happened to her if Gabrielle didn't awaken, yet the anxiety and the twisting of her stomach told her at some level Gabrielle was thinking about it.
"Let me see what I can do about the headache." Xena finished instead. Gabrielle sat between Xena's legs as the strong and now gentle fingers found the knots and tight muscles that were contributing to the headache.
"Hmmm." Gabrielle murmured as she felt the headache recede and another ache start. Xena felt it too and let her hands slide down to Gabrielle's waist pulling her closer to her. Gabrielle rested with her back against Xena's chest feeling the pounding heart and appreciating that she wasn't wearing any armor for she felt Xena's hard nipples against her sensitive back.
"Do you want to talk about it?" She asked Xena. Her fingers were drawing patterns on Xena's legs, soothing her or arousing her, Gabrielle thought silently.
Xena hesitated. Gabrielle had told her something she feared in herself so why not share a little of her fear?
"I keep having these dreams of being swept away in the river or drowning in a pool of water."
Gabrielle was silent for a while. "Well, it's not easy to pass beyond the limits of one's nature." She replied philosophically.
"Now what do you mean by that?" Xena returned uncomfortably. She knew exactly what Gabrielle meant.
"It's like being way over your head in something your not use to handling." Gabrielle explained.
Xena was still for a moment, then let out a breath of air. She knew she was avoiding dealing with some dark emotional issues. "Like in your dealing with desires you only fantasize about?" Xena teased to change the subject.
"Yea." Both were silent as they thought about their own shadowed selves that would come up and haunt them if denied.
Gabrielle had dozed off and could feel caressing hands coaxing her back to wakefulness. "Hmm. Normally, that would put me to sleep."
She ran her hands down the muscled legs of her companion slowly, delighting in the feel of the quiver her touch invoked in them.
The moment didn't last for Xena's hands mirrored her change of mood from lover to protector. "What?" Gabrielle asked opening her eyes to the gray shadows.
"The water has changed rhythm." Xena whispered in her ear. Xena's memory of her dream caused her to grip Gabrielle tighter around the waist.
Gabrielle listened to the water and at first didn't detect anything other than the familiar lapping. Then the occasional whoosh could be heard and the lapping paused.
Gabrielle quickly got up feeling Xena's smooth movement to her feet also. The outlines to the gray shapes around them were becoming clearer.
"It looks like the water is rising." Gabrielle mentioned. She strained to see what was on the other side. It seemed their path continued across the river.
Xena could see the difference in the water's level from the previous day. "Well, it looks like we need to move on to the other side of the river."
As they stood near the water's edge Gabrielle tested the water. The only good thing about the cold water, she thought to herself, was it would take the swelling down on her face. She could feel her lip was puffy making it painful to talk.
"Well, let's get to it then!" Before Gabrielle put a foot in the water Xena's hand shot out and pulled her back.
"There's something in the water." Xena could hear the slapping of more than one fin and it didn't sound like the normal fish to her.
"Well, it may be wide enough for you to jump, but not for me." Gabrielle reported, remembering that Xena had jumped this large distance before. "Remember the jump you made at outside of Mellos?"
"Yea." She remembered she pulled a groin muscle that she had hid from Gabrielle at the time. But then, they were not lovers, which would have put a different slant to their interaction after wards. She had shut Gabrielle out while she battled the pain and still had to keep her concentration to protect them from marauders that were plaguing them on their journey away out of Thales. That was also where she had first noticed Gabrielle's outward display of jealousy. It had taken her back then. How could she have pushed that aside and mark it down for heroine worship? Now that she was more aware of reading Gabrielle she knew the jealously was that of a lover.
Gabrielle remembered Mellos. She could picture the bar at the Acropolis Inn where Xena had gotten up to get herself a drink, not offering Gabrielle anything and paused to talk to a man who was showing an interest in her. She was letting a man openly attempt to seduce her. It was a painful awakening for Gabrielle for she never felt so much heartache and had not been able to recognize it for what it was.
Xena reached out for Gabrielle's arm knowing something was wrong by the way that her shoulders slumped. Gabrielle pulled it away angrily then turned around quickly and buried herself into Xena's body pulling her close. Xena would have dealt with this then and there but she could feel urgency in having to get to the other side before the rising waters made it too wide for her to safely jump.
"Come on. I'll do my usual warrior stuff and carry you across the turbulent waters." She half joked. She swept her Bard into her arms and walked back a few paces to get some running momentum behind her jump.
Gabrielle was always in awe at the feel of Xena's power that she radiated and could feel intimately when she was held close to her during moments like these. The run was smooth and the jump was sudden. The flying through the air was exhilarating and terrifying when she did one of her spins at the high point of the leap. Xena landed on the other side with her heel just missing the water's edge...and this time she didn't get the pulled muscle. Amazing since she had not warmed up and she had Gabrielle's weight, but of course at Mellos she was cold and in wet leathers as well as in full battle armor. Argo had carried Gabrielle ahead, out of danger. Not bad for an aging warrior, she thought smugly.
The path on the other side of the river was much wider and they could walk side by side, which both took advantage of.
"Do you want to tell me what you were thinking back there?" Xena asked Gabrielle as their shoulders brushed and Gabrielle's light hold of Xena's arm was comforting.
Xena could feel the change in Gabrielle's pulse in the fingertips that were lightly wrapped around her wrist.
Gabrielle sighed then laughed. "It was so long ago."
"Yea. It was..." Gabrielle fought the crushing feelings that she had felt at that time. Her heart felt like someone was squeezing it. Strange that she till had these intense feelings for something that had happened so long ago.
Memories of Mellos
Xena found a stable for Argo not to far from the inn, the Acropolis, that she had sent the Bard to get lodgings for them. She noted that there were a lot of full stalls and more people on the street than normal. That meant more chance of trouble. Hopefully there were rooms available at the inn for she felt the Acropolis was safer than most. She didn't want the Bard accosted or threatened. She was finding she was caring more for her than she was use to feeling for others. She pushed that insight aside as she paid the young kid that would be taking care of Argo, an extra coin.
As she entered the Inn she ignored the usual quiet that would descend on a room at her entrance. Her casual glance around the room told her all that she needed to know. Her glance to the corner where she would normally sit was greeted by the happy smile of the Bard. She was learning, she thought. On the table before the Bard, was food and two mugs. She was learning well, she thought wryly to herself. She sat next to Gabrielle without a word and started to eat keeping her senses aware of what was going on. She felt the eyes of one person focusing on her. Gabrielle was doing her usual and talking about what she had heard and what she had seen on her way over. Interesting bits of information for Xena to file away, as well as nonessential information and too much detail. When she ate enough, Xena leaned back with the mug in her hand, exposing her inner muscled thigh to the Bard who was sitting next to her. She was still jumpy when the Bard touched her. She had made it very clear to her not to touch her when they were in public places as she was on instinct, which normally she always was, so the Bard had a comfortable distance between them.
The Bard's conversation paused and Xena took that opportunity to get up and get a refill. Save the barmaid a trip. She noted that Gabrielle still had plenty to drink and was picking at her food. Unusual for her. She would have to ask if she got the owner to agree to let her tell a story or two.
As Xena made her way to the bar, weaving in and out she picked up on the warrior who had been staring at her and was now watching her progress. She had noticed him when she entered. She recognized him from her past. She never had any real interaction with him in the past nor cared to. He believed himself to be a man that could have his way with any woman. Love them and leave them. She worried about Gabrielle. The only place available to order at the bar seemed to be near him, probably because he had the usual bad aura around him that most people would like to avoid. However, people who drank usually forgot good commonsense.
"You must be Xena, Warrior Princess." He said in a conversational tone, but Xena caught the subtle challenge.
"And you are?" She asked raising an eyebrow and gesturing to the barmaid on the other side. She nodded that she had seen Xena.
"Theos." He didn't extend a hand yet but Xena could see desire in his eyes and knew that she wouldn't have to worry about him being interested in Gabrielle.
Theos' conversation from there was the usual bantering and pulling Xena into a conversation about battles they may have shared. She felt his blood lust raise and could see another piece of ornament rise as well, as his narratives became what good warriors would find enjoyable. However, Xena had given that up and was only interested in getting a refill from the barmaid. Maybe she should have waited at the table. Xena glanced back at the table to make sure Gabrielle was okay. Her eyes locked onto Gabrielle's and she could feel her blood rise and her heart start to beat faster. Gabrielle lowered her eyes and fidgeted with her food. Turning back to Theos she listened as he started another story this time touching Xena's leg that was near his. She merely looked at Theos. There was a time when she would have cut his hand off. She watched him as he continued his supposed seduction of her and in a detached way remembered her own past and misuse of others. She removed his hand from her thigh and bought him another ale, as the barmaid finally was in front of her. Xena glanced back at their table and noted that Gabrielle was headed up the stairs to their room. Was she going to get ready for a story or was she retiring, she wondered.
The barmaid watched her eyes and leaned over to her. "They only had one room available for you two. It's on the left at the back."
Xena nodded and looked back at Theos who was by now very drunk and falling all over her. She decided to do him a favor and take him to his place and let him sleep off his ale without getting bashed over the head by another foolhardy drunk who wanted to relieve him of his coin purse.
"Where is he staying?" Xena asked the barmaid as she passed by again.
"At the front of the stairs to the right."
"Come on Theos, let's get you to bed." Xena hoisted the larger man to his feet and half-dragged and half walked him up the stairs to his room. As Xena maneuvered him to be able to open the room to his door she was aware of a door opening down the hall and then quietly close without any footsteps.
Xena dumped the body on the bed and was surprised when Theos suddenly came awake and grabbed her pulling her down onto the bed with him. Theos was wearing armor so both of them bounced off each other.
"Theos, knock it off. I don't want to go to bed with you, you jackass." She grunted as she punched him under the chin. Normally that would take a big man down but perhaps he had too much ale to have the sense to fall down. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her toward him. Xena kneed him where it would stop him and he did crumple to the ground groaning. She didn't bother picking him up.
She decided she would have to leave drunken warriors to their own demise in the future. She left his room and quietly walked down the hall to where she knew Gabrielle would be. She entered the room noiselessly and Gabrielle hadn't heard her for she was sobbing into her arm that was wrapped around her face.
Fear gripped Xena that someone had hurt Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, did someone hurt you?" She asked as she sat on the side of the pallet and put a hand on her shoulder. She felt the tremble under her hand but let it go as part of her sobs.
"Xena!" The Bard stopped crying and guiltily wiped her face with her arm, partially turning from her. "I...I'm sorry I didn't mean for you to see..."
"See what? Did someone hurt you? Tell me and I'll go - talk to them." Her voice was hard with anger.
"No. I'm fine. I was...just having a bad dream."
Xena knew that was a lie. A Great storyteller she is, but she couldn't tell lies very well.
Xena shook her head to clear her thoughts.
"So, what are you crying about?" She asked again for she was really interested.
Gabrielle stared up at the face that was in the dark, hearing a voice that meant so much to her and sounded like she was interested in her. Gabrielle was grateful there was no light for she was afraid Xena would see right into her heart. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Xena could see very well in the dark and what little light there was showed something in Gabrielle's eyes that caused Xena to feel suddenly weak inside.
"It was just a bad dream." Gabrielle said again softer.
"Okay. When you want to talk about it, well...I'll listen." Xena told her softly.
Gabrielle felt her heart leap at the sight of Xena walking through the door. Everyone stopped talking as they watched the tall armored figure stand in the doorway as she scanned the room then sought out her favorite place. Gabrielle had to pressure some people to leave to get the space she knew Xena liked around her. She also had picked out the foods and ale she knew she would like.
Xena barely nodded toward her but Gabrielle learned how to discern the small acknowledgements Xena tossed her way. She admired with the rest of the crowd the easy movement that Xena had and the power she emanated in any space she took up. Xena tiredly sat down and started to eat right away.
"I talked to a woman at the boot place, it seems a small army had passed through a few days ago. They had made trouble and had to be shown the way out by the troops that King Gestphor keeps garrisoned here. The woman said they've been exacting their revenge by attacking people either leaving or coming into town along the higher trail towards the mountains."
"Hmmm." Xena responded as she sipped her ale between bites.
"I also heard from some of the people here that some of those marauders have been sneaking in during the day time and making like they're part of the tourist trade."
"Hmm." Xena replied again emptying her mug.
"I also bought out the whole store at the corner and..." At that time Xena had leaned back exposing her muscled thigh to Gabrielle. A hot fire filled Gabrielle and desire that she was surprised at filled her. She paused and averted her eyes to gather her wits. For a moment she felt off balance.
When she turned to look back at Xena she found her gone. Looking up quickly she saw her weave her way in and out of people heading for the bar where a warrior was openly staring at her approach.
For a moment Gabrielle's heart twisted. She had a sinking feeling when Xena stood next to him and seemed to be interested in what he had to say. Gabrielle could feel her face redden and she quickly put her head down. When she felt her blush was under control she looked up and watched the two interact. For a brief moment Xena looked over toward her. The cool blue eyes were piercing as they locked onto hers. Gabrielle felt a great shifting of something within her and she quickly looked away. Her hand that was on the table was shaking and she could feel her insides turning and twisting in a funny but pleasing way.
'What was happening?' Gabrielle glanced back toward Xena and watched as the man started to touch her. Her own desire to touch the body that she saw daily and feel the hardness of her muscles was too much as she saw another doing it. Suddenly she couldn't stand it any more and quickly left the table, her food half-eaten, making her way to their room. After crying and shaking with fear for what she didn't want to admit to she decided to go back out and face the noise. She was just exiting when she saw Xena and the warrior drunkenly fall into his room. The pain in her heart was like a tear that wrenched out a terrible sob from her already sore throat. She didn't bother lighting a candle as she made her way to what was to be their bed and cried. The first few minutes were more painful then her first round moments ago. She hadn't heard the door open nor realize she wasn't alone until Xena called to her.
She couldn't bear to look at Xena after she spent time with another. When she finally did, she knew her eyes would have told Xena everything if she could see in the dark.
"His name was Theos, a drunken looser." Xena explained gently. "I felt sorry for him and attempted to dump him safely in his bed but he was expecting more than what I had to give him."
Even now Gabrielle couldn't look Xena in the eyes as her heart felt the same ache. Xena stopped and pulled Gabrielle close to her. She could feel her heartbeat and the pulse that was pounding out a heartache from so long ago. "I mistook your look at that time. I didn't know enough about you to know that...well, I didn't know enough about my feelings for you at that time to have seen that we both were interested in each other. I'm not saying that I wish we were aware of each other's feelings at that time, because I don't think either of us was ready. Not for this, what we're still growing into. I know it hasn't been easy, Gabrielle, but there isn't anything I would change in the past, for it may change something that we have now, and I don't want to change what we have now."
"I would be afraid to change anything too, for I might leave something out that would be so important." Gabrielle admitted.
Xena kissed Gabrielle on her eyes then her nose and then crushed her lips against the Bards as they both pulled each other close as if to merge into one. Finally Xena broke the kiss.
Taking up Gabrielle's hand they resumed their walk upward.
Some Things Are Best Left Alone
"That smell is here again." Xena remarked as she pulled up on Gabrielle's hand so she could try to locate from where the smell was coming from. "The smell seems to be coming from the left of us." Xena pointed.
Gabrielle frowned. Why was Xena so interested in what smelled like something that's been dead for a while? She shuddered as she thought of the dead things in her life. It made her uneasy, just as whatever was in the water had. Xena made it easy by leaping over it.
Xena pondered her sensitivity toward Gabrielle's change of moods. It was like hearing music that changed in tonal quality. Her sense of everything around seemed to have increased. Maybe heightened by her temporary loss of sight. The ground below her was alive and it was knowing by the feel, hard, sandy, dusty or rocky, what the sense of feeling the area they were walking in would have. She couldn't at first tell if Gabrielle's mood influenced the feel of the ground below her or the other way around. As Gabrielle became agitated or remorse the ground below her mirrored it. Just like whatever was in the water seemed to have the same feel of anger as Gabrielle's when she was remembering Mellos. The thought again came to Xena that maybe their encounters were suppose to represent in some way their unspoken issues that neither wanted to deal with. The moment Xena thought of that she shuddered at the thought of them having to go through her nightmarish memories.
She wondered again about the smell. She could feel Gabrielle's reluctance in finding out the source of the smell. Why did she feel that it was important to find out the cause of it? Well she had been acting on instincts for most of this journey. May as well continue.
"I think we need to find out what is causing the smell." She told Gabrielle quietly. Gabrielle held her breath for a moment then let it out slowly. Her fingertips were still resting in Xena's palm. Xena could feel the panic raising in Gabrielle and then her pulling herself under control.
"I remember a story of the young girl who was searching for what caused the death of the land around her...." Gabrielle began to sooth her own nerves with what she knew how to do best...or one of the things she did best, and started a story. Her voice was soothing to both of them as they continued their progress. "...and when she had emerged from the cave she found that the surrounding forest was alive once again." She finished.
"It's interesting that you should remember that tale." Xena smiled down at the Bard.
"Hmmm. Not quite the Demeter and Persephone tale but...it's from Britannia. I left out most of the terrors she had to experience while in the cave. I didn't want to encourage my imagination at this time." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's arm.
So, Xena thought, she also was aware that what they had to face was their own dark side and fears of being consumed by them. Well, then, maybe it was necessary to see what the smell was representing.
The stench was just as bad as it had been earlier. Gabrielle started going through dry heaves again. This was not going to do, Xena thought. Maybe a direct approach was not the answer. She pulled at Gabrielle and whispered in her ear, "Let's get out of here."
Gabrielle followed Xena back to the crystals.
"Ugghhh! That's one thing I wouldn't want to face head on!" Gabrielle reported.
"Maybe we aren't suppose to." Xena murmured as she thought about her own hand in the death of many people. The River Styx was probably one of the busiest rivers when she was on a rampage during her warrior years. But she didn't feel that that memory was where the smell was coming from.
They found a flat surface to sit down to rest, both involved with their own reveries. Xena leaned back against her solid backrest and closed her eyes. She could hear the dripping of water from somewhere and the flowing of water in another direction. The air that was passing them occasionally brought the sweet fragrance that had drawn her off her passage back to Gabrielle at the Amazon Village...so long ago, it seemed.
Suddenly she saw a face from her past as clear as if he was standing before her. A pain gripped her heart and her dark rage came back. She could feel the old anger that darkened into rage as it pounded in her veins when she realized a lover had betrayed her. Blood lust rose as a heat that vibrated in every cell of her body and her throat echoed the battle cry as she descended into the valley she knew that he was in. The village was hiding him. She could feel his presence. Her vengeance toward him was reaped on the village people as she viciously slaughtered the people that resisted. She stalked the remains of the smoldering village, though out the night searching for his body to further mutilate it and vent her hurt at his betrayal. She hadn't found him. Early morning, without sleep, she started her search for him in the surrounding forest, looking for any sign of him. When did this rage stop? She let her breath out. She no longer felt the blackness that she had thought would never leave her. Fear, rage and sexual lust was what she used to add to her warrior energy. Did it stop when Hercules brought the redirection in my life that I needed? She was quiet as she steadied her heart from the fear. No, it had stopped when she had seen a young girl being attacked by slavers outside her village. Why? What was it that made her realize...no, she just felt. It was a feeling! There was a definite shift of something within her. At the time she was a weary soul that felt no more, until she had locked eyes with the young woman.
"Illness is caused by having a gift but no one to give it to." A voice whispered somewhere deep within her.
"To be healed you must make yourself available to the change of energy." Another voice whispered.
"Your cry for help was answered." The third voice of the Fates whispered.
Gabrielle thought back to the time she had first experienced the dark power of rage, hate and violence that Callisto had introduced her to. She had killed Perdicus just to torment. Gabrielle's guilt was redirected into hate for Callisto who had in actually done what Gabrielle would have found difficult to do, sever her relationship with Perdicus. The marriage had been a mistake and she knew it even before she took his hand. They hadn't made love since Perdicus had been too anxious, but they had thought there would be other nights. During the entire ceremony she had imagined Xena holding her hand. She had started to feel guilty when she realized that he would never have been able to make her happy, and already she was dying inside. Gabrielle felt a huge weight of guilt that she was secretly happy that Perdicus was out of her life and that she was able to go back to where she wanted to be more than anything else in the world. Did she have a secret death wish for Perdicus and Callisto merely fulfilled it? Poor Perdicus. He got what he had always dreamed of, marriage with his childhood love, then straight to the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle thought deeper on this. Actually, Perdicus had what he wanted and if they had remained together, as sensitive as he was, he would have eventually figured out that Gabrielle was in love with the Warrior Princess and the way of life she had become comfortable with...traveling. It would have been more devastating to him then his tortured death by Callisto. And as much as he said he was happy returning to farming, she knew he didn't have his heart in it. He also didn't have his heart anymore for the warrior thing. He had seen too much death. How long would he have been happy just being married to her? Gabrielle sighed. She had given to him what he wanted and was able to return to what she desired and could not live without, Xena. She knew he could hear her thoughts on the other side. She hoped he wouldn't be angry with her.
"Gabrielle?" A soft voice spoke next to her.
Gabrielle turned to Xena who had her head facing away from her. Gabrielle became alert listening to anything that may have changed while she was thinking.
"I think I hear water rushing."
"The path was starting to go upward. Maybe it will take us to higher ground."
"My thoughts also."
"Let's do it then." She got up quickly feeling the closeness of Xena's body as she rose.
They hurried upward as the rushing of water became loud enough for Gabrielle to hear.
"Gabrielle, there's a light up ahead."
Gabrielle raised her head as her eyes were downcast watching where she was placing her feet. "I don't see any light."
However suddenly the wind that swept by them was from the outside carried the smell of smoke and a searing pain of heat. "Xena!"
"Yes. I can smell it. There are creatures being burned as well as the forest." She replied with a hard voice.
To Higher Ground
Xena could feel the abrupt change in the atmosphere around them and the change of the feeling of the ground below them.
They came out into a blackened sky thick with smoke. Xena and Gabrielle put an arm over their noses to cut the searing heat that burned their lungs. The air around them was filled with smoke and cries from fleeing, dying and frightened animals.
"Do you hear that cry?" Xena asked alarmed. Her heightened senses enabled her to feel the pain and terror of the life around her from the fire. The air was not only burning her lungs but the fire itself felt as if it were all around her, singing the hairs on her arms.
"I hear a lot of cries! What are we going to do?"
"Let's go over toward the fire. Something is in pain." Xena choked.
They both stumbled over smoking debris and falling branches that were snapping off from their life support in the heat.
Gabrielle's heart was breaking as she could hear many voices crying as the wild life in the forest were fleeing from the advancing fire.
"Gabrielle over to the left of us."
Xena leaned over a fallen log to see what was crying behind it.
"Ohhh. Xena it is a small fawn!" Gabrielle leaned over Xena's shoulder.
Xena had fallen to her knees as she felt the anguish of the creature. It had lost its mother and was feeling more anguish from the loss than fear of the fire. A painful sob tore out of Xena's chest as she felt the creature's loss of her mother, her nurturer, her life. She had thought the loss of her son, or of Gabrielle was terrible, but this creature only knew her love for her mother and it was so difficult to bear. Xena wept along with the terrified creature. She didn't feel Gabrielle pulling at her urgently as the fire was nearing them. Xena hugged the small fawn close to her chest as Gabrielle pulled her to her feet and dragged her along. She kept glancing up at Xena as she stroked the fawn with soothing fingers but had a far away look in her eyes.
Xena was caught up in the darkness of death, this time not going anywhere as she had in her own death. Dimly she was aware of Gaia's heart beat, and the beating of many other creatures heart beat, as they fled in terror, as some stopped in their death and of the elation of those that made it out safe. She was in a darkness where there was soon only one beat that all the others started to become in sync with. The burning in her lungs was gradually replaced with occasional fresh smells from a breeze that carried various scents.
Gabrielle was softly singing a song about the renewal of the land in an ancient time that neither she nor Gabrielle remembered. Finally Gabrielle found a place that was high enough above the fire's rampage for them to rest. Tenderly she sat Xena in her lap and cradled her, rocking her and singing songs she never realized she knew. Both of them felt comfort from the rhythm and the story of the songs. Xena held the baby fawn close to her as she gradually became aware of her surroundings.
In what seemed like a long time, Xena stirred in Gabrielle's arms. Gabrielle pulled her face close to hers and brushed her cheeks against Xena's. Xena turned her face to find Gabrielle's lips, noticing her lip was still swollen. Gently she brushed her lips against the bruise.
"What are you going to do with this little one?" Gabrielle asked as she touched the twitching ears.
"Let it go. It's about old enough to make it on its own." Xena sighed. Silently she said a prayer to Potina theron, mistress of the beasts, Artemis, to watch over the young creature then released it. The creature struggled to its feet and hesitantly looked about. With careful steps it moved off, looking back at the two.
"I think it expects us to follow."
Xena had thought so too but had not said it for fear of Gabrielle's disbelief.
"Let's not disappoint it, then." Xena rose pulling Gabrielle up with her. Whenever the fawn got too far ahead it would wait for them. A sure sign they were meant to follow. Xena could still feel a connection with Gaia's heartbeat. It was a slow steady beat that was comforting as it rose though her feet and up her tall frame.
"It's a path! She's led us to a path." Gabrielle announced delightedly.
"Yea. It's up to the mountain. I guess that's our next destination."
Gabrielle watched the fawn as it turned from the path and with one last look bounded into the surrounding brush.
"Thanks, little one." Gabrielle waved. "Now don't you think that was a guide?" She asked Xena as she turned to catch up with her lover who continued on up the path.
"Hmm. Hopefully we don't have to go through the same experience to get another one. I can deal with not having a guide if other's suffer just so we can be directed to the right path."
"I don't think that was the point of that experience." Gabrielle shook her head.
"Well, then what was it?"
"I think some lessons are not for the mind to figure out."
Xena raised an eyebrow at her young friend.
"I know you're the thinking type that needs to have reasons and the facts laid out for seeing..."
"Not necessarily. Not all of what I do is based on what I see. There is a lot based on instincts and just knowing."
"Hmm. Then how come you're so difficult when emotions come into the picture?" Gabrielle playfully jabbed her in her ribs.
"That's not instinct."
"Oh, oh. Instinct to run!" Gabrielle laughed.
Xena grinned sheepishly. "Well. I never had a good reason to stay around and deal with...emotions until a certain Bard kept insisting it was important."
A cold breeze reminded them that they were headed toward a snow peaked mountain and they didn't have any warm clothing with them.
"There are clouds that are moving toward us. We're going to have to seek some sort of shelter." Xena remarked.
"Well, we better get moving faster then, because I'm already getting cold."
Xena didn't know for how long they were walking but her own energy was dissipating and she knew they were walking slower due to her loss of energy. The wind was getting colder and harder to walk against. Gabrielle hadn't said anything during the walk only gave Xena occasional squeezes on her arm for encouragement. Why wasn't Gabrielle feeling the same loss of energy? She was probably freezing in this chilly wind and she had no cloak to protect her.
Xena was tiring. The glazed look was back in her eyes. The cold was numbing her but she needed to keep them both moving forward until Xena got back into control. She needed to take her mind off the cold. Gabrielle thought back to when she had watched Xena sob while holding the fawn. It was heart wrenching but she realized she had to pull herself together to get them out of the area as the fire was moving their way. She kept her mind busy with searching for ways up toward the mountain as the fire was starting to surround them. She was breathing shallow to prevent the fire from burning her lungs. Xena was heavy as her sorrow was. Watching the fawn reminded her of her own child. She let the darkness of her child's death fill her and let the guilt spill over into her consciousness. It hurt and burned as the fire but she noticed that though the memory of her deed came back again, it wasn't as intense as it had originally been. On some level she realized the necessity of remembering and that each time she dealt with her guilt a little more of the pain's intensity lessened.
When she found a place for them to rest she pulled Xena to her breast and rocked her as she would have a child that had lost something dear to it. The song she sung was not from her conscious memory but it seemed to fill her with a peacefulness and filled a void that she hadn't been aware of. She watched Xena's fingers stoke the fawn she refused to let go.
Once more she was in charge of their safety. She needed to find a place of safety for them. The clouds were so dark around the mountaintop, she could see the lighting already striking the sides they would be walking up. It would be not only raining soon but the winds would be strong up there. Why she knew they had to climb the mountain, she would have not been able to explain. But it was part of the test. She could feel Xena's energy draining and she didn't know what to do about it. Why was Xena being affected more by this test, than her? Fears. That was what they were to face. That's what Xena guessed. Were Xena's fears so horrific that they kept incapacitating her until she dealt with it?
She thought back to her fear of the dark hairy creature that she had seen twice. What fear did that represent?
Gabrielle looked back up at the sky. The darkness from the clouds was descending upon them and the wind was pushing against them stronger. Gabrielle had her arm wrapped around Xena's in fear that she would collapse. She could feel her trembling from the exertion. On one of her glances up she had thought she saw what could be a cave and she was hoping Xena could last that long. She didn't think she could carry her no matter how much her heart desired it.
"We're almost there." She shouted as the wind tore the words out of her mouth. It should be around this outcropping. There was a small break in the rock wall and as Gabrielle pulled Xena in, she noted it would serve enough protection from the elements if they huddled close. Xena hadn't said anything and Gabrielle pulled her close to her to give her as much of her own energy as she could.
Xena leaned against Gabrielle lost in her own tired thoughts unaware of their surroundings. Gabrielle could feel the tremors in Xena's limbs as she relaxed against her. Both fell into a deep slumber.
Gabrielle found herself standing at the top of a snow-capped mountain surrounded by a panoramic view of other peaks shrouded in clouds and snow. Her exhalation of breath was evidenced by a white vapor from her nose that didn't last long. Her figure was draped in an animal skin that was not pulled snuggly around her, as she did not notice the cold. Looking above her where the rumbling was coming from she noticed the dark cloud that was above her. An occasional bolt of lightning showed a tear in the blackness with a white light cutting a jagged slice though it. It was how her heart had felt; dark with a cut that was not clean but jagged and ripped. The cold did not invigorate and the high altitude did not lighten her head. Now she felt nothing in this dark place of her soul. At least when she was dead she had felt something. Now there was nothing.
Ares appeared beside her. She was aware of the turbulent weather about them and the raw energy of finality he seemed to evoke in her. The excitement he had once sent into her blood was not there. Leaning close he whispered in her ear and she could feel movement in a heart that she had thought was dead. There was still life in her and he pulled at her darkest side to bring her back into the world she had abandoned. A fire of vengeance and focussed hate was directed at one person as she struggled to ignore the ambiguousness of her hate as life and some unconscious primitive cry came out of her throat, that had been hoarse from the shedding of tears, echoing against the surrounding peaks. With it came fire that pounded in her veins and engorged her heart with blood lust. She was alive again!
As she breathed deeply from the cold air she was aware once more of the pain that seared her heart and reminded her of her once vow to abandon all attachments. Her memories of past lies that others had told her and ones she had told others did not go unnoticed as she fell to her knees in anguish as the pain was cell level and there was no escaping from it by ravaging villages or attacking people. Gabrielle wept as she felt Xena's struggle with her dark side to kill something that she loved more than her life, more than the child that had come from her own womb. Knowing that if she did kill Gabrielle, she would be condemning herself to a darkness that would be more painful than life. It was the guilt and feeling of betrayal that Xena fought and almost lost to.
When the vision passed Gabrielle found herself lying on her back shivering in the small protective alcove she had found. Xena was not near her. Alarmed she looked out at the opening and could see Xena's form standing outside in the storm.
Xena was rocking herself staring in a fire with unseeing eyes as her body was aching all over. She had been numb, stumbling her way somewhere, and tumbled down an incline not bothering to pick herself up. A traveling woman with her companion had found her and shared their fire with her. But she remained in her own private world, afraid to be conscious. The warm food offered was not seen.
When the dark shadows gave way to light grays, she simply stood up and headed in a direction that she was not conscious of. For three days she walked in this state, talking to no one and taking no substance. On the fourth night, hours from the Amazon boundary she tripped on a root and remained lying there. The jar from the fall, seemed to remind her of her losses and realization that she had caused four people to lose their lives. Yes, she knew she was dead. Xena's son and her daughter, at her hands, her fault. A deep sob that shook her frame came out of her as she again remembered Xena's frightful eyes when she sent her away. The pain was too much and Gabrielle again felt the numbing as she rolled to her back and stared up at the sky. She remained this way until stars appeared and a familiar face was staring down at her. Eponin scooped her limp figure up and quickly handed her to another that was on a horse.
"It's as bad as we have heard." Eponin's soft voice whispered from far away. "We should have kept a guard on her."
Gabrielle remembered no more of the journey.
Xena lifted her head from out of the folds of Gabrielle's arms, shaking with the emotions that it had reawakened in her. She needed to get out of the closed space they were in. Frantically she moved out of their shelter. She needed air desperately. The cold wind and sleet that was glancing off the mountain beat against her as she struggled to lift herself from what she had dreamed. Xena leaned against the side of the mountain and let the elements beat away the emotions that she did not want to feel. She buried her face in her cold hands as she experienced Gabrielle's losses. She realized that Gabrielle's capacity to love was her getting love in return. Her not killing the child Xena knew to be evil was not a rational act that Gabrielle was capable of doing without it altering her character ....altering it to something Xena would not recognize. She should have seen it then. But then...what other course was there? Her slaying the child would have done more damage than Dahak's child had done as she lived. A part of her knew that...losing their connection as partners would have been far worse.
A powerful gust of wind pulled her toward the edge of the path. Her footing was unsteady as her energy was still not as she would like it to be. She felt a firm hand on her elbow pulling her back into the shelter.
Gabrielle and Xena wrapped themselves around each other for warmth back in the small shelter.
A snort from nearby had Xena up and standing with her sword in her hand.
Gabrielle was up and on the other side of the pallet with her eyes wide open.
Argo was neighing, as if in laughter.
"We're back!" Gabrielle whispered and then leaped over the pallet and wrapped her arms around the startled Xena.
"Are you okay?" She asked as she kissed Xena's face passionately then pushed her into the side of the cave and looked up into the eyes that were smiling down at her.
"I'm fine and I can tell you're doing just fine." Xena replied returning the ardent kiss by crushing her lips against Gabrielle's.
"Hey, " Xena got out between the lips that were ravishing hers while the smaller body was pulling Xena back to the pallet. "there are four horses approaching."
"The Amazons." Gabrielle groaned. She had forgotten them. She looked up at Xena. "They escorted me here."
"Well, let's go let them know their Queen is okay."
"Xena, do you think we can get rid of them quickly without insulting them?"
The Morning After
Xena stood at the cave entrance with Gabrielle snugly tucked against her newly cleaned leathered side. A warm muscled tanned arm wrapped around her waist in a down right possessive manner, Xena thought with a grin, as she looked down at the Bard who was waving to the last Amazon as she moved out of sight with her own farewell salute.
Xena sighed with relief. Both of them felt the need to remain another night. Xena read it in the dark green eyes that glanced her way many times during the Amazon's one night stay.
Finding themselves, so unexpectedly, back in the cave left them with a feeling of incompleteness that was so hard to express...for Xena anyway. She wanted to spend some time alone with Gabrielle going over what had happened and instead Gabrielle had spent a day and most of the night telling an abridged version of their story so the Amazons could leave at first light...not because the Amazons were uncomfortable with the story and the destruction outside the cave entrance to add ambience to the telling...no...it was because they wanted to be alone. Odd for her to want to talk about this...it was a strange compulsion for her. But there were the dreams and the contents of them that she needed to discuss with her Bard about. Xena let out another silent sigh.
Both women stood for a moment gazing out at the remains of a once tall forest wondering if the destruction around them was just a coincidence of what had happened in Alex and Mediea's world. It wasn't like the two looked the same.
Xena looked down at the smaller woman, for a moment studying the furrowed brow and the blond lashes that were over eyes that were too far away to notice that she was nearby. Xena turned back into the cave, parting the blanket of vines to pass through. She left Gabrielle to stare at nothing in particular with that far off look in her eyes that spoke of creative composing and probably rewriting certain parts of last night's tale that may not have sounded smooth flowing to her bard ear. Xena took four stairs at a time wanting to finish cleaning her weapons...and to think.
While Gabrielle had been entertaining the Amazons during the day and well into the night...Hermes! Did they have to ask so many questions? She had cleaned her weather damaged leathers, polished rusted armor, and after a hard stare from Gabrielle at her impatience with another question from the same curious Amazon!..she went to brush down a neglected golden four legged friend and spent some time on night drills, restlessly wishing light would come and the Amazons would leave.
Xena sat on the log near the fire and pulled out her sharpening stone and sword. She had left that for last. She liked to run the stone along the edge of the sword for it seemed to help bring her thoughts into a sharper focus as much as it sharpened the cut of the blade.
Gabrielle sighed and finally turned back into the cave, patting Argo's neck that was pushing past her and through the vines for a walk to look for green grass to munch on.
Gabrielle took the stairs two at a time, feeling relieved that her Amazon escort was off on their return trip, with a story that would give enough information on what had happened to satisfy Ephiny, Queen Regent and her friend. Is Ephiny going to know that...it's not finished? Or, is it only me that feels that way?
Gabrielle moved the hot water off the fire and prepared some tea. She looked over at her dark haired lover that was carefully running the stone over the edge of her sword. She wondered if Xena's silence was due to her feeling the same sense of...
"Xena?" She turned to face her, handing her a cup of the tea that was still steeping. "Do you feel like there's..."
"More to come?"
"Well...sort of. Like it ended so abruptly. I mean...when I was telling it last night..."
"You would like a better ending."
"Well, yea. I'd like to know what happened to Alex and Mediea. We ended back here so...quick."
"Yea. The ending was sudden while the beginning was...long and pretty intense."
Gabrielle sent a sidelong look at her companion as she picked up her own tea and sipped it. She caught the change in her voice at the last part.
"Yea...intense..." She let out a breath. She laid her cup of tea on the floor and turned to wrap her arms around the strong body she loved to hold...and do other nice things to.
Xena stilled her hand that was stroking the sword blade with long smooth motions, silencing the soothing sound of stone against steel.
Gabrielle let the warm feeling move through her, building gradually into a slow beat of heat that began to radiate out to different parts of her body. Her heartbeat increased and her breasts lifted higher from her deeper breathing. She didn't give in to the need for immediate action but wanted to savor the build up, drawing it out, knowing how much nicer the slow burn felt in the end. A small groan escaped her throat as desire released a flood of liquid that coated her inner thighs...and still she focused on the rapid heartbeats of her lover that matched her own and the loud swallow from the still form that she had tightly wrapped her arms around, with her face laying across a leathered breast.
Xena sat quiet as her arms were pinned to her sides, and the face that was pressed against her leather bodice breathed hot air across her upper chest. Quietly she shared the warm feeling that built up into a hot flush that washed through her. There was no compelling need to do anything else but enjoy the erotic tingling that connected them, focusing only on the here and now, knowing that they could draw it out or end it now. Xena took a slow deep breath as her body shivered from the smell of her lover's arousal, releasing another flow of liquid down her own thighs.
It was time to take action, Gabrielle's soft groan had Xena loosening the arms that were around hers with the intention of putting her sword away and continuing this scene in another position.
Cloths were quickly discarded as they fell into the pallet together. Gabrielle's breath was uneven as they became entangled in each other's arms and legs, skin against hot skin, moving against each other still not feeling the urgency to end it, but rather lifting it higher...until their mutual moans for release finally brought the sensuous cloud to a bursting point.
"Gabrielle?" Xena's panted as her lips moved to the place on Gabrielle's neck that smelled of their favorite scent. She wanted to know how Gabrielle had got the scent there when she would have certainly smelled it sooner.
"Hmmm." Gabrielle's ability for a more intelligent speech was lost as she was reduced to only grunts and groans, pushing against Xena as her need became too urgent to wait any longer.
Xena's own speech ability left her as she too drifted to the more simple and immediate expressions of passion. As the day wore on the two continued their play as they wrestled and danced the movements of lovers who were only aware of each other and their deep seated needs.
Argo, meanwhile, did what she had been doing for the last three days...guarding the cave entrance as she quietly munched on what tasty grass she could find.
In the dark cave where only the reflection of the fire on the ceiling was showing any real movement now, the two worn and pleasantly tired and greatly satiated lovers lay letting sleep take them to another world. Xena opened one blue eye remembering what she wanted to ask Gabrielle. The scent. She turned her head to ask the question of her lover but Gabrielle's eyes were closed and by the deep breathing, normal for a sleeping person, Xena knew she would have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow, she thought tiredly, grinning as she thought about it.
Xena took a deep breath of the warm dampened air, feeling Gabrielle's hand squeeze hers as they shared the beauty that was before them. Xena felt a slight tremor in the hand she held, not knowing if it was from what they were witnessing or because of how high they were. Maybe it was both.
The rock they were sitting comfortably on, with feet dangling over the edge that dropped over a waterfall that they had once fallen into, was bathed in the sun's warmth. Clouds of moisture from the falls spray coated their hot faces with each small gust of wind cooling them pleasantly. Below them in the large pool where the falls poured into they could see small insects hovering over the stiller part of the pool and what looked like fish leaping up to grab a tasty meal, glistening in colors that the sun liked, and smoothly reentering into the depths of their water world, hunger satiated. Songs and calls from different creatures in the world about them filled the air, carrying over the roar of the falls below, that failed to drown out the life that abound in the valley.
Xena closed her eyes and breathed in deeply the air that was alive with so many different scents that it would take a long time to identify each one. She could feel the connection with Gabrielle as if they were sharing consciousness. The presence of Gabrielle was...so soft..yet...there was a hardness...no.. solidness...and delight in everything that was around them. And there was a sense of...profound love...Xena paused as she tried to express it to herself...and gave up for she could not. She felt the same for Gabrielle and she could feel that Gabrielle understood.
Xena opened her eyes at the sudden shift in Gabrielle's feelings.
There, before Xena and Gabrielle, were two tiny people, hovering in the air. Or...they looked like little people.
The spray from the falls behind them put a sheen over their hair that floated about them in slow motion waves. The sun behind them gave the impression that they had tiny rainbow colored jewels glittering in their soft flowing hair.
"We wanted to think you for what you have done for our kind. We know it was...an unusual request...and one that you both accepted without hesitation." Mediea added.
"Well..." Xena started to say she didn't remember being asked before all the dreams started.
Alex laughed. "The answer was in your heart, dark warrior. It was there before it was understood by your mind...or we could not have gone on."
"You have given us this back. And we thought you would like experience it." Alex nodded smiling as she looked about her.
"Where is this place?" Gabrielle asked breathless.
"Oh...you mean in relation to your world? Well...it's next to it..or, alongside of it, or maybe even over it...but not in it." Mediea chuckled at Xena's furrowed brow over the explanation.
"Just what world is this?" Gabrielle asked again feeling the irritation radiating from her partner in the leg that was against hers.
"None that your gods live in nor can visit. They don't dream so they won't be able to shift their consciousness to experience us."
"Do they know of you?"
"Yes. Through your memories, but that is here nor there. What matters is that you have shared your energy...to clear out what had fallen over this land...and helped to turn over the soil, so-to-speak, and replant for a new growth...thus showing those that had lost the ability to do this, how it is done." Alex explained.
"By...reliving our fears...and lust?" Gabrielle asked puzzled.
"Not just fears or physical desire. Getting past the sense of failure to see that there is something that that experience can be used for in a more productive way is crucial for those who are so far down they would not know what to look for or what to do with what they found. It was also necessary for others to understand that lust has other components... love and sensuousness... and should not be thought of as separate. Once they are separated...the specialness of this gift between two beings is devalued. It seems to be very simple...but self absorbed beings cannot find that bond...that feeling you both have between each other...and therefore cannot believe...love exits."
"What happened to those that tried to help you before us?" Gabrielle asked concerned.
"Have no worry for them. Nothing is lost, just changed and continues in a spiral fashion toward the apex, which is ever growing as each living thing moves and changes." Alex laughed joyfully.
"They have moved on to other business, lives if you will." Mediea explained to the baffled pair.
"So...what are you?" Xena asked.
"Hmmm. I don't think in your world there is a name for us. We are like you...but in another form and in another...space." Alex frowned as she didn't know how to explain when they had no reference...yet.
"And like you, we are linked so closely that we will share many lives to come..." Alex and Mediea looked into each others eyes, "and loves, sorrows, roles and visit different places and spaces." Alex giggled at the thought.
Xena shook her head at what they were saying. She had visited many lands and spoke to many captives and noncaptives about their beliefs and experienced different altered states with the shaman Alti and with her beloved mentor Lao Ma to be aware that there were many possibilities of levels of consciousness, but...
"Yes...it is like...levels of consciousness...an awareness, if you will." Mediea nodded toward Xena.
"Mediea, we have said enough. They aren't there yet...You will understand soon enough." Alex reassured Xena who was showing signs of restlessness with the mind games.
"One day, some time, you will need something that only we can give you. The powers that we don't even understand...will know when that time has come...and we will give you that aid...and if not us...then others who will act as our agents."
"There is no action that goes unnoticed by the unnameables." Mediea nodded.
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena with the same perplexed look. As they paused for a moment, caught in each other's eyes...time passed.
Xena stirred aware that a leg was thrown over hers pinning her down and her bladder was telling her she needed to make a trip to the pit to attend to it. She gingerly tried to untangle the body parts that were over hers without waking the owners. "Hey!" A grumpy bard pulled her closer moving her leg to a higher position to keep her in place.
"Hey, yourself," she kissed the nose that was near. "I gotta visit the pit, unless ya want me to piss in the pallet...let me up." She smiled as the lips curved up on the sleeping face and Gabrielle rolled over to her side of the pallet, groaning and making further grumpy noises as her warm body discovered her side of the pallet was cold.
When Xena returned, taking time to look for Argo in the predawn fog she found her grumpy Bard rekindling the fire.
"Good morning to you, my sunflower maiden. Are you willing to try my..." Xena didn't finish her jibe as Gabrielle reached up and with strong fingers sliding behind her neck, pulled her head down for a very long and arousing kiss.
"So...what was all that unusual verbal sweet stuff all about?" Gabrielle asked when she finally released Xena from her painfully bent position, bending awkwardly over Gabrielle's seated figure.
"Hmmm." She shook her head to clear the haze. "I want to ask you a question.." what did she want to ask her? Oh...Xena sat on the log next to Gabrielle and took the cup of tea and a travel bar from her as Gabrielle turned a little to pick up her own tea and bar.
"Well...I wanted to ask you something too." She pursed her lips and hoped she could get it out before she lost her nerve.
"It's about these dreams I've been having." They both spoke together.
"You too?" The both asked in unison.
Xena looked at Gabrielle suspiciously. "What type of dreams have you been having?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena with hesitation. "You tell me yours first."
For about a candlemark they argued on who was to reveal the contents of their dreams first. An impatient whinny from Argo got an embarrassed look tossed her way from Xena, as she rose to get Argo ready for their journey. The rest of their preparation for leaving was done in silence as each wondered what the other was dreaming and hoping...
"Xena, this really is a great place. I'd like to come back here." Gabrielle stood outside of the vine covered entrance to their shelter for the last...was it days...from the storm that had overtaken them quite suddenly on their trip to the Amazon Nation.
The tall trees that surrounded them reached up into the clear blue sky. A chattering bird from a nearby branch was calling to its neighbor, ready to socialize now that its morning hunger was taken care of. Squirrels were busy moving about looking for last minute additions to their winter hoard. A bunny was wiggling it nose in the wind, making sure that it was safe to hop over to a more abundant area of grass that Argo hadn't leveled.
Argo was packed and waiting patiently outside, playing with her bit and rattling it against her teeth to hear it against the other sounds around them. The grass was up to her hocks where she stood. The sky was clear above them, but as Gabrielle's eyes traveled to where Xena had her gaze fixed, she could see dark clouds moving toward them.
Xena was planning their pace to the next shelter with the movement of the weather.
"Hmm. Yea...lucky to find it." She finally answered Gabrielle softly. "How about riding up on Argo with me. I'd like to make it to a village before that cloud overtakes us."
"Sure." A small smile curved up her lips as she thought of how to subtly seduce her strong partner and windbreaker on their ride. After all....what else was there to do while ridding behind Xena than dream...dream.
"Xena...you remember those scrolls you caught me reading in Sappho's library?" She reached up to grab Xena's proffered arm to lift her onto Argo's back.
Her direction of lift from sitting behind Xena to in front of her had a surprised Gabrielle lifting her leg quickly over Argo's neck to avoid kicking her.
"What scrolls are those?" Xena purred in her ear.
Gabrielle slapped the bare leg that was touching hers, not removing it as it rested on the warm skin feeling the muscles shift as they squeezed Argo into motion.
"You know..." She returned.
"Refresh my memory. Start with the one where the two women are on a horse..." Xena's breath tickled the ear that was exposed from the blond hair that was tucked behind it.