Author: Jenx
Story Title: Reflections of Darkness (Revised)
Characters: Xena/Gabrielle, Xena/f (Deshia).
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Xena and Gabrielle are still repairing their relationship after China when Xena runs into an old lover, Deshia, from her warlord days. And Xena is surprised to discover she still has desires for Deshia and her old life...
This rating is for explicit f/f sex, m/f rape, potentially non-consensual sex, bdsm and sexual violence.

Amazon Ice Awards
Winner of an Amazon Ice Award

Xena, Warrior Princess is owned by MCA/Renaissance/Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures, as are Gabrielle and Argo and other characters mentioned in this story. Deshia was born within my own imagination. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story contains same sex scenes between Xena and Gabrielle as well as Xena and Deshia. If this subject offends you, don't read any further. There is violence and sexual violence as part of the story deals with Xena's past as well as her darker side. Be forewarned that rape is a part of this tale, but not of the main characters. As far as the time-line, it takes place after 'The Debt I & II' and before 'Maternal Instincts'.

I have revised this story since I first posted it on Ashera's website.

You can find more stories by Jenx at Xena Slash Fan Fiction Review

If anyone wants to comment on the story, you may reach me at


Reflections of Darkness (Revised)
by Jenx
September 1998 (Revised June 2000)


Shopping! Xena thought in disgust. Gods, I hate shopping. She strolled through the busy marketplace glancing at the various selections of cooked meats, fresh vegetables, creamy cheeses, and all sorts of bread and rolls. She breathed in deeply of the aroma of so many different types of food. Her stomach growled reminding her that she missed a meal or two today. The mouth watering smell of spices and meat caught her attention and she followed the aroma to a vendor that had a delicious looking selection of cooked sausages. Unable to resist, she purchased several and then bought some hard rolls from the wagon beside the sausages.

Now, some fish cakes for Gabrielle and I can get out of this crowd. She dug into the bag and took out a plump sausage and began chewing with gusto. The meat was loaded with spices and almost as good as her mother's.

The last bite of sausage disappeared and she stepped back suddenly to avoid two young boys who were running through the throngs of people. Scowling, she looked around for more children before moving. Just one more thing to buy and I can get back to camp. She hoped to get her final purchase quickly. The noise and crowds were really beginning to irritate her, and she'd seen all of the village of Draconis that she cared to. She hated shopping, but she had needed a new boot knife and Gabrielle wanted some spices, so here she was.

Gabrielle should be here shopping instead of me. It was unusual for the bard to miss a shopping trip, but she wanted to work on a new scroll and get some extra rest. Thinking about Gabrielle brought back feelings of guilt after what happened at that temple in Britannia. The past few months had taken their toll on both of them, especially the trip to China. Xena pushed those memories down deep. It wouldn't do any good to dredge that up again.

With a mental shake, she concentrated on her purpose and looked over the vendors along the side of the roadway. Finally, Xena saw a food peddler that had some appetizing looking fish cakes and made her way over to his cart. She sampled a bite just to make sure, and was surprised at the delicate taste. Oh yeah, Gabrielle is going to love these.

As Xena was paying the vendor, she felt an itch trickling down her back alerting her to trouble. Through all the noise and bodies jammed in the marketplace, she caught the soft footfalls of someone slipping up behind her. Whoever the person was, they were being far too careful to be a customer and that sixth sense of danger was too strong to be ignored. Xena spun around quickly to stare into familiar green eyes.

"Well, I'm glad to see that you've still got that edge, Xena. No one ever could get the drop on you." The voice was sultry, controlled, not friendly, but not threatening.

Deshia! Xena was momentarily stunned to see the striking warrior. So many memories assaulted her at once that she felt like the breath had been knocked out of her body. Her face remained a calm mask, however, as she kept those feelings under tight control and let no sign of that shock show on her face. Deshia and Xena had been lovers for several months before Xena had gone after Hercules over three years earlier. Xena hadn't known if Deshia was alive or dead until this moment. She had always thought if Deshia were alive she would have tried to carry out her last threat - that being to kill Xena. Not that Xena blamed her after what she had done to her. Xena never underestimated that Deshia was very dangerous, almost as dangerous as herself.

As if reading her mind, the warrior said, "Don't worry, Xena, killing you is no longer on my list of things to do. I got over it."

They stood a moment, silent, both remembering their turbulent past. Finally Deshia held her arm out to the Warrior Princess. "Truce?"

Xena hesitated slightly still sorting through many conflicting feelings. She had given Deshia up for dead since she hadn't seen or heard of her in so long. Just figured the warrior hadn't survived their last encounter together. Finally, she took Deshia's arm and clasped it in the standard warrior greeting. "Been a long time, Deshia," she commented softly.

Deshia felt that familiar tug at her heart when Xena said her name. It still sent shivers up and down her spine, even after Xena had betrayed her. Over three years and it still seemed like yesterday. Damned if she was going to let Xena know that she still cared. She forced herself to keep her tone light and play it off. "Now is that all the welcome you have for me, Xena?" Deshia asked with a leer as she slowly ran her eyes up and down the warrior's body with obvious interest. "Mmmmmm, I do believe that you've gotten even more beautiful."

Xena somehow managed a weak smile although it never reached her eyes. "What are you doing in these parts?" she asked as a dozen other questions flashed through her mind. Questions like where had she been the past few years, was she okay, did she have any idea how much Xena regretted hurting her? She was very relieved to see that Deshia had survived, but she knew that regardless of what the warrior said, she hadn't forgiven Xena. And Xena had never forgiven herself.

"I'm meeting someone a few miles south of here." The tall warrior appeared to be distracted as she glanced around the marketplace, but she was also having a hard time keeping up the appearance of being calm and aloof. She had seen Xena earlier in the day from a distance, but actually talking to her was much more difficult than she thought it would be. She swallowed hard, forcing down the emotions that threatened to break free. "I've got a little business meeting, but along the way I'm visiting my Aunt Elizabeth in the next town." She turned back to face Xena. "You know, you and I could take the whole village in a few minutes. They've got no defenses at all."

Xena had also noticed the lack of precautions within the town. "I don't do that anymore, Deshia."

Oh Gods, don't say my name again. "So I've heard. I don't either, actually, but I find I'm always looking for that weakness. Know what I mean?"

Xena knew exactly what she meant. That instinct never left. "Yeah...I do."

"I'm really thirsty. How about having a mug of port with me." Deshia looked around and spotted the tavern. Her stomach was in knots with barely controlled emotions. She began to focus on the pain that Xena had caused her hoping to harden herself to the yearnings she still felt. She took a deep breath and continued, "I've got leagues of dust in my throat."

"Well, I'm meeting someone also, and I'm running late as it is," Xena answered anxious to get back to Gabrielle and away from the bad memories that were assaulting her. She had hurt this woman badly, both physically and emotionally and she couldn't look at Deshia and not be reminded of what a truly evil person she had once been.

"Which way are you heading?"

"North." She was actually going east, but didn't want her to know that. There was no way she wanted Deshia around Gabrielle.

"That's too bad. I'm going south. Xena, come on, how long is it going to take to have a drink? Don't tell me you don't do that anymore either." She shook her head. "Next thing you'll be telling me you've given up women." As hard as she tried, she couldn't keep the bitterness from coming through.

Xena decided to find out what she really wanted. "No, you know me better than that. Okay, but I've only got time for one." She motioned for Deshia to lead the way and fell in behind her. That's right. You stay where I can keep an eye on you. Though that's not hard to do. The view from the back was as good as ever. She had always thought that Deshia was one of the sexiest women she had ever seen. The rays of the sun were making Deshia's long curly black hair glow with sparkling highlights as it cascaded off those broad shoulders. Her black and gold amour was a different style than she used to wear. It was a little flashier and accented the curves of her body more. It made her full firm breasts that much more noticeable and enticing. The dark leathers were very similar to Xena's. Black always seemed to suit both of them.

Xena's eyes slowly ran down every inch of her hard body paying particular attention to the long, deeply tanned legs. Oh, I remember those legs. And how it felt to have them wrapped around me...and those long fingers...Damn, where did that come from? She shook her head trying to erase the images of her and Deshia together. Those memories needed to stay buried. No, don't go there. How could she even compare the life she had with Deshia to what she had now with Gabrielle? Something inside the young bard called out to the warrior's soul and brought with it light where there was darkness, and Deshia was definitely part of the darkness. She followed the warrior into the tavern slowing at the door waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dark room.

Xena chose to sit with her back against the wall where she had a clear view of the dingy room. She wouldn't put it past Deshia to try and lure her into a trap. Xena surveyed the tavern. There were two men sitting at a corner table who were obviously farmers. No problem there, she thought. The only other patron was a very drunk warrior. Not a danger as far as skill was concerned, but drunken warriors loved to start trouble. Her eyes drifted to Deshia who ordered two mugs from the tavern's proprietor. She was taller than Xena by over an inch, and was a close match in strength and skill. She was one formidable looking warrior. Xena always thought that if Deshia was alive she would come after her to settle the score. She knew that Deshia believed in vengeance also, and this little "truce" was probably just a ploy.

Deshia took a couple of deep breaths and managed to suppress the pain and anger. She was feeling more in control. It was time to turn the tables on the Warrior Princess. Deshia glanced around and caught Xena staring at her. Deshia smiled seductively, slowly running her tongue across her top lip.

Xena hated to admit that she was still drawn to the tall warrior. What am I doing here? Gabrielle is waiting for me. I don't need this. But even so, Xena was reluctant to look away from those beautiful emerald eyes. They were framed by long dark eyelashes which made them her most striking feature. Xena was distracted when she heard her name being whispered by one of the farmers. Both were gaping at her, fear evident in their eyes. She gave them one of her icy warlord stares and both quickly looked away. I really shouldn't do that. If Gabrielle were here, she'd be fussing at me. She noted that the farmers were now whispering about the tall warrior trying to figure out who she was. Deshia turned toward them and showed her teeth in a growl. They lowered their heads to look at their hands, table, anywhere away from either of the women. Deshia glanced at Xena and winked, then turned to take the mugs from the bartender.

The drunk finally noticed the two warriors and clumsily turned in his chair to look at them. He was leering openly at Xena who was lounging in her chair with one arm on the next chair, her right leg propped up on the table.

Xena gave the drunk a warning look. Be a good boy and don't bother us.

Deshia returned with the drinks and sat down in a chair facing Xena beside the table rather than behind it. She crossed her legs and sat back while both women took a moment appraising each other as Deshia took a swig from her mug.

"Yuck!" grimaced Deshia. She turned around and called to the bartender, "Hey, is this the best you've got?"

"Nothing wrong with my port," he answered nervously while his eyes moved back and forth between the two women. He had heard the farmer mention Xena's name. He didn't know if it was really her, but they both looked dangerous to him. He felt the sweat break out on his forehead.

"Oh, yeah, nothing except it tastes like warm piss," Deshia retorted, pinning the little man with an icy glare.

The drunken warrior tried to get out of his chair. "I...I've b..b.b. been telling him...that all day," he slurred finally succeeding in getting up and tipped his chair over in the process. He staggered over to the table staring at Xena's armored covered breasts. His long dirty blond hair was in a complete state of disarray, and he appeared to be weeks past the last time he bathed. "How about' ya and gittin it on?"

Xena regarded him with disgust. Give a warrior a few drinks and it'll make a fool out of him every time. "No thanks." She smiled slightly to soften her words. "You're not my type."

Deshia stood up beside the man towering over him. She looked down at him with a humorless smile. "I am her type, so you might as well run along, shorty."

"Whooo ask..asked you, bitch?"

Xena let out a sigh and shook her head. You're going to be sorry you said that.

Deshia grabbed him by the front of his shirt with one hand and lifted him up off the floor. His eyes grew big, astonished at her strength. "Say goodnight," she said calmly as she spun and threw him all the way across the room where he slammed against the wall shaking dust and dirt out of the cracks in the wall and ceiling. He crashed down to the floor out cold.

The farmers pointed and laughed until Deshia glared at them. Then they both immediately jumped up and ran out of the tavern.

Xena commented dryly. "You always could clear a room."

"Never as good as you, Warrior Princess." She remained standing and picked up her mug and held it out. "How about a toast to old times."

Toasting to old times was the same as toasting to bad times, but Xena clicked her mug against Deshia's and took a deep swallow. She immediately noticed a bitter metallic taste. She plunked the mug down on the table. "I see what you mean."

Deshia looked at her drink and shrugged. "Ah, well, I'm too thirsty to be picky." She downed the rest of the mug in one long swallow, and banged it down beside Xena's.

She stepped up closer to her old lover till she was beside her propped up leg and gazed into those piercing blue eyes.

Xena didn't trust Deshia, so even though she looked relaxed, she was more than ready if Deshia went for a weapon.

"We made a good pair once, Xena," Deshia said softly.

That wasn't what she had expected her to say. "That was a long time ago. Things change." Deshia laid her hand on Xena's knee and squeezed slightly. "Why don't we go upstairs and get reacquainted?"

From Deshia's hand, there was an immediate searing current running through Xena's body. She stared into Deshia's mesmerizing eyes, her mouth went dry, her heart pounded faster. She focused on Deshia's full pouty lips, wanting to taste that passionate mouth again. Xena was suddenly consumed by hunger. A hunger not only for sex, but for the cruel, sadistic sex that had plagued her relationship with Deshia. For a moment she was swept back to the past, commander of a ruthless army, at a time when every whim was indulged, every desire satiated. But she was forgetting something...someone. Suddenly Gabrielle's face flashed in front of her bringing her back to the present. What in Tartarus? She broke off the eye contact momentarily and knocked Deshia's hand off of her leg.

With more effort that she wanted to admit, Xena clamped down on her escalating emotions and glared at Deshia with an icy expression. "Like I said, that was a long time ago. Now, back off." She wondered if her voice sounded as unsettled as she felt.

Deshia stood her ground still wearing that same smirking smile. She nonchalantly put her hand back on Xena's knee. "Remember, Xena, I know what you need better than anyone."

It seemed all the heat from Xena's body flashed to one particular spot of anatomy between her legs. Right now it craved the release that Deshia offered. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck twitching, and she shuddered as Deshia slid her hand along her thigh that both excited and infuriated her. She knew that if she didn't get some space between herself and this woman, she was going to do something that she would regret. And what would happen if that part of herself emerged? Could she bury it again? Could she face Gabrielle after that? She slapped Deshia's hand off her and jumped up. It seemed the entire room was filled by a dangerous static. She was only partially aware of the bartender dashing out the back to escape the two warriors.

Deshia raised her arms slightly putting her hands up as if to indicate conceding. She stepped back giving the Warrior Princess room. "Damn, I'm not going to attack you, Xena." She tried without succeeding to mask the hurt look in her face. "I...I can't help but want you."

"Well, it's not gonna happen," Xena growled back. She could feel that fury burning through her. After all those years, it was still there. Their past relationship had been a merry-go-round of sex, violence and cruelty. Xena thought that part of her was dead and buried. Gabrielle had changed all that for her. She took a deep ragged breath trying to force herself to calm down. But part of her didn't want to calm down. She wanted to take Deshia, to possess her again, to hear her moaning in pleasure and pain, and to taste Deshia's blood once more.

She grabbed Deshia pulling her into a bone crushing embrace, their lips meeting, opening, as Xena plunged her tongue inside that fiery furnace. Xena felt as if she were drowning, sinking into the taste of her former lover's mouth. She felt Deshia suck her tongue in deeper pulling her further away from conscious thought into a powerful blazing need.

Deshia slid her hand across Xena's thigh leaving a trail of fire, now under her leathers coming closer to the apex of her liquid heat. Part of Xena's mind was resisting, refusing to give in warring against her desires. No! I can't do this. The consequences were too great. If she crossed the line with Deshia, there wouldn't be any going back. She would lose Gabrielle. Nothing, absolutely nothing was worth that. It took every ounce of control she had to resist the enticement of her dark side and push Deshia away. Her body was trembling, her breathing labored. She snarled, not caring how callous she sounded. "I don't have time for this. I'm outta here."

Deshia knew she almost had her. She felt the parting as almost a physical pain, seeing in Xena's eyes that same compelling lust that had once consumed her. So close... Xena had stepped over the abyss, and still managed to land on her feet. Deshia's heart was racing, her breathing erratic, in sync with Xena's. When she spoke it was hardly more than a whisper. "Some other time maybe."

No way, no how, Xena thought as she turned and left fighting to regain her composure as she strode through the street, although composed was far from what she was feeling. It was as if a fire were burning through her body, crawling along her spine. If she and Gabrielle weren't lovers, she'd be quenching that fire now and the rage that went with it.

Deshia watched from the tavern doorway, a cruel smile forming. You cold-hearted bitch. I think you're afraid of me. Or what I do to you. She laughed evilly. I'm in your blood, Xena...forever. She watched until the Warrior Princess had jumped on Argo and maneuvered her toward the road out of the village.


Xena heard the rushing water of a stream near the road and knew she was almost to camp. She pulled back on the reins to slow Argo relieved that she returned before full night had fallen. In truth though, she was so tense that it probably wasn't a good idea to even be around Gabrielle tonight. The ride had done nothing to relieve the foul mood that had settled on her since running into Deshia. It felt like sparks were crawling along her nerves. She was still aroused with a hunger that threatened to consume her, but more than that, she was angry, furious even. Twice she had stopped and almost returned to Draconis, but she knew that if she ran into Deshia again now, she'd fall right back into that cycle of violence.

She sat on Argo trying to get a handle on the rage and blood lust that were flashing through her veins. It had been a long time since desires like these had haunted her. She shuddered remembering when feelings like this were the norm for her with occasional bits of calm in between. She did some pretty horrible things that year she was with Deshia. Her life had gotten completely out of control. Xena had confided a lot to Gabrielle about her warlord days, but still had only barely touched the surface.

Suddenly, her thoughts were shattered as an incoherent yell brought her to instant battle readiness. From within the dense forest towards the clearing where they were camped came sounds of a struggle with what sounded like Gabrielle making muffled shouts. Leaping off Argo, she dashed in the direction of those maddening sounds.

The scene before her only fueled the blood lust within. Gabrielle was attempting to fight off a vicious attack by a large brute that was trying to rape her. He was massive, probably close to 7 feet tall if standing, and could have weighed 300 pounds. Right now that huge body was pinning her lover down. His hairy arm with a filthy leather arm band was across her mouth and Gabrielle's right arm was painfully captured beneath her writhing body. Bright red blood covered the side of her face and throat. She was putting up a hard fight, but it was only a matter of time before he had her. Neither Gabrielle, nor more importantly, her attacker had seen Xena yet.

As the Warrior Princess neared them, the man succeeding in ripping apart Gabrielle's green halter-top exposing her breasts. With a vicious laugh, the rapist bit harshly into the tender tissue of her left breast. Gabrielle cried out in pain, as she brought her knee up and tried to ram it into his exposed genitals. She missed, but hit close enough to make him shift position which dislodged his leather arm band from her mouth. Quickly, she bit deeply into his huge sweaty arm momentarily distracting him from his goal.

Gabrielle's efforts were rewarded when suddenly Xena gave a shrill war cry and dropped beside them from a high somersault. She kicked the attacker in the side of his head with a resounding thud. The rapist fell off Gabrielle and gave a surprised yelp that got cut off in mid cry as Xena repeatedly kicked him in the stomach, ribs, shoulders, anything she could aim at. She pulled him up by his shirt and hit him full force with her right fist snapping his head back. As he started to fall, she grabbed him by his long stringy hair and struck him with the back of her hand followed by swinging her elbow into his chin in a smashing blow. He staggered a moment, then was flattened by a spinning side kick hitting the ground with a loud crash.

Xena immediately seized him by his tattered shirt with both hands and jerked him up. Neither his weight nor size could stop her. The rage she was feeling finally had an outlet that she could center on. The man was vainly attempting to focus his eyes as another brutal kick knocked him flat on his back. Xena glared at him, her heart racing, her body shaking with anger. Then with a cold smile, she kicked him in the genitals and was rewarded as he cried out in agony. She fell on his stomach with her knees knocking the air out of him while pinning him under her.

Gabrielle was shocked at the brutally at which Xena was attacking the man. Xena seemed to take relish at every act of violence against him.

"You're going to pay for touching her, you bastard! I'm going to break every bone in your body." She seized his right hand with hers and then with her other hand she grabbed his fingers, pulling them backward further and further. She took her time, making the pain last then pulled down suddenly. With a horrid crack, she broke four fingers at once. The man screamed in pain and she laughed cruelly. She was only slightly aware of a voice from behind her as she gripped the same arm and hand and twisted it snapping his thick wrist as if it were a twig. His howl echoed through the quiet woods. "Well, pig, I think it's time for the butcher," she growled harshly, as she slid the new knife out of her boot. He was only semi-conscious, so he wasn't putting up much of a fight now. She slapped him in the face hoping he would come out of it a little. "Come on, look at me you worthless piece of dung! Wake up and feel the pain!" Vengeance would be much sweeter then.

She was startled when Gabrielle grabbed hold of her shoulder. "Xena! No!" she cried.

Xena turned her head giving her partner a confused look before turning back to the rapist. With a snarl, she shrugged off Gabrielle's hand resolved on christening her blade with the man's blood.

"No, don't kill him!"

The warrior jerked her head around again. Not kill him? Was she crazy? "Did he rape you?" she snapped with fury.

"No! You got here in time. Please, Xena. Stop!" Gabrielle's wavering voice was tinted with pain which finally reached through Xena's outraged and out of control emotions. She quickly turned the knife around and used it within her fist to hit the thug in the head. He appeared to be knocked out cold as Xena moved his head back and forth with obvious distaste. First things first, Gabrielle needed her. She could drag out this monster's death later.

Out of the corner of her eye she noted Gabrielle start to topple. With lighting speed Xena jumped up grabbing her lover to steady her. "I got ya." Up close, she could see the bard's wounds more clearly. There were two long slashes on her face - one was close to the hair line from which most of the blood seeped. Another one lower near her bottom jaw also dripped with scarlet. Gabrielle's right arm hung at an angle, obviously dislocated from the shoulder. The more Xena looked at the injuries, the more infuriated she became. She wanted to tear the man apart, literally.

Clamping down on her anger, she managed to ask through gritted teeth, "Are you all right?"

Gabrielle nodded her head leaning into her lover's body for support. "I am now," she answered in a ragged voice.

"Come on, you need to sit down, and I need to see how badly you're hurt." There were bruises all ready beginning to spread on both her arms and cuts and scratches on her legs. She saw Gabrielle gasp as she shifted position. "Ribs?" Gabrielle nodded slightly. She had obviously put up a hard fight. Then Xena's eyes landed on the damage the man had done to her breast.

This was more than Xena could stand, she had to destroy the animal that had done this. Her face must have relayed the same message, because Gabrielle took hold of Xena's hand and squeezed. She could feel the warrior's body trembling as a venomous display of emotions played in Xena's eyes and face. The bard continued to hold on, speaking softly, trying to break through the hatred and rage.

"Xena, I know what you want...want to do, but you can't." She winced as her movement caused pressure on her ribs. "You can't just kill him."

"Watch me!" she growled not missing the pain etched in the bard's face.

"No!" Gabrielle gently cupped Xena's cheek with her hand and almost had it knocked away as the warrior reacted, then caught herself at the last second.

Xena looked into the bard's eyes and forced herself to take a couple of deep breaths. Oh Gods, I'm losing it. The last thing she wanted was for her anger to be directed at Gabrielle. I've got to calm down.

The bard swallowed hard, realizing that Xena had come awfully close to hitting her. Her dark side was close to taking over completely.

When Xena spoke, her voice was rough with emotion. "How can you expect me to let him live?" She ran her eyes across her partner's body. "Look at you!"

"If he dies, it .... it will be after a trial. He..."

"A trial?!" Xena interrupted. Her eyes flashed with fury. "That pig doesn't deserve a trial!" She shook her head, glancing back at the man, then jumped to her feet. "Ooooh no, he dies now."

The attacker opened his eyes, meeting hers with a defiant stare. Obviously, he was not knocked out after all. He sneered. "You better kill me, you murdering bitch, cause if you don't, I'll slice her open after I..." His words were cut off as Xena kicked him hard in the face. His mouth erupted in blood as he choked and coughed. Turning his head, he gagged and spit out a couple of teeth. Xena noted with satisfaction that her boot was stained red with his blood. Gabrielle knew that stopping Xena was going to take more effort than she probably had now, but she still had to try to distract her. She had seen that seething primitive look in Xena's eyes before and it always frightened her. Not for herself, but for Xena. The demons the Warrior Princess carried with her were always there, just beneath the surface waiting to explode on the world again.

Gabrielle felt dizzy and very sick to her stomach, so it wasn't hard to use herself as a distraction. "Xena,"

Once more her partner's distress tore her away from the bastard who caused it. He certainly didn't appear to be able to run away. He was still gagging and moaning. Xena closed her eyes a moment pushing the darkness back forcing herself to release the rage. Right now it was Gabrielle that needed all her attention. She stepped over to the bard, knelt and gently laid her hands on the injured arm. She felt along the entire length relieved that it did not seem to be broken. "Gabrielle, I've got to put your arm back in place." She looked into those beloved eyes now filled with pain. "It's gonna hurt some." While speaking, she used her fingers on a pressure point in her neck to momentarily stop the pain. Then she positioned her hands and gave a push and twist. As quickly as that the arm snapped back into the shoulder. This was an injury she was very familiar with. She had done the same thing to many of her warriors over the years. She released the pressure point with a slight push.

Gabrielle gasped with the white hot agony, but almost instantly the worst of the pain ebbed and she felt her body relax somewhat. Both her and Xena quickly turned their heads as they heard the man moving. He was attempting to crawl away while reaching for something behind him with his uninjured hand.

Xena spotted the knife that he must have used on Gabrielle. "Oh no you don't!" Xena warned fiercely. She was up and beside him in a flash. After kicking the blade away, she snatched his shirt holding him while thrusting her right knee up into his head. With hardly any effort at all, she roughly dragged his huge bulk to a nearby tree, as she whistled to Argo at the same time. Her horse galloped through the forest quickly answering her mistress, and came to a stop beside her. Xena positioned the attacker's body in a sitting position with his back against the tree. Almost casually, she slammed his head against the tree, then got up and took a rope out of the saddlebag.

With obvious malice, she tied the attacker to the tree not caring that the rough hemp rope was tight enough to hurt. She wanted this cutthroat to pay dearly for his crime before she ended his worthless life. As Xena begin to rise, she saw that he was still exposed which sealed his fate in her mind. She grabbed the front of his trousers and jerked the material over him and fastened them. She made certain that her skin did not contact him. Just knowing that he wanted to use that piece of anatomy as a weapon against Gabrielle made it vile. Although, the thought of cutting it off and stuffing it down his throat did pass through her mind. Knowing that it would greatly upset Gabrielle was the only thing holding her back.

When she was satisfied that there was no way he could escape, she started to walk away and then spun and again kicked him between the legs. His eyes rolled back into his head and he appeared to be out cold. Then she left him to take care of the bard. She could always kill him later when Gabrielle was sleeping.

Xena saw the two piles of foliage that Gabrielle must have gathered to sleep on. She combined the two piles to make a softer bed arranging it so the bard was propped up more. Then, she shook out one of the blankets and spread it over the foliage. Effortlessly, she carried Gabrielle over, and very gently laid her down. "Okay, you lay still while I get the saddlebags and water." She quickly went to Argo for the supplies and retrieved a couple of cloths from her saddlebags and tossed them down near Gabrielle.

The forest had gotten much darker, so she quickly gathered up some wood for a fire. Within moments, there was warm flame flickering. Now that she could see, she knelt down beside her patient. She used the water from the bag to wet one of the cloths and began to wash the blood away from Gabrielle's face and throat.

"These cuts aren't deep so they won't need any stitches," she said softly. She felt Gabrielle sigh with relief. "There won't be any scars." Next she gently washed the blood off her lips and chin, then went to work on the bite on Gabrielle's breast. It was deep and had angry red welts where the man's teeth had torn through the tender flesh.

A deep shudder ran through her body as she briefly envisioned what could have happened to Gabrielle if she been any later getting back. If only she hadn't stopped to talk to Deshia, she probably could have gotten back before Gabrielle was attacked. Remembering that she had kissed Deshia brought on a self loathing that would have brought her to her knees had she not already been in that position. She closed her eyes against the sight of Gabrielle's wounds, but a warm pressure on her wrist brought her back. Concerned green eyes looked up at her which put her mind back to the job at hand.

"I think you do need a few stitches." She picked up the other cloth in which the cat gut and bone needles were wrapped. After threading the needle, she held it a moment while taking a deep breath. She was still so angry for what Gabrielle had gone through and was still going through. Stitching up the tender skin on one of her beautiful breasts--breasts that Xena loved to kiss and caress was not something she wanted to do. Prolonging it was not helping, however, so she put her emotions on hold and sewed it up quickly. After that, she made a poultice and laid it over the wound. The torn top she put aside to repair later.

While Xena was busy treating Gabrielle's injuries, the prisoner came to. He glared at the two women as he tested the rope for any weakness. He was furious to find that Xena had been very thorough in tying him up. He could barely move. The pain of his wounds had almost completely disappeared, and he gave a silent thanks to Deshia for the drug she have given him to take earlier. It kept the pain to a level that he could deal with. He wondered what had gone wrong with the plan. Xena wasn't supposed to come back tonight at all, much less catch him in the act. At least the Warrior Princess hadn't killed him, but he was very worried at what Deshia would do to him for failing to kill the bard. He could kiss the 500 dinars he was promised goodbye.

Satisfied that all the open wounds were treated, Xena felt all along Gabrielle's chest and was greatly relieved that no ribs were broken. There was a lot of tenderness in one area, but it was just bruised. Although that in itself was always very painful.

All through this, her patient had been unusually quiet. When Xena was finished tending the injuries, she brushed the blond hair away from Gabrielle's eyes, and sat beside her. She glanced behind her and noted that the prisoner was watching them with a look of pure hatred. He must have the constitution of a bear to still be conscious. Every time she looked at him, she felt that inner rage flare up again. If he had actually raped Gabrielle, there would have been nothing on this earth that could have stopped her from ripping him apart.

Right now, though, her partner needed her. Xena noted that she was just staring into the flames. "Talk to me, Gabrielle." Xena spoke softly. "You okay?"

Gabrielle looked up into Xena's eyes, then dropped her gaze. "This is all my fault."

Xena stared a moment with a puzzled look on her face. "What do you mean?

Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't understand how this happened...that I could have gotten so careless. How could I have forgotten everything you taught me?" She made a motion with her hand. "I must have been so caught up in writing my new scroll that I just tuned out everything."

"It happens, Gabrielle." Xena laid her hand on her friend's shoulder. "Do you think you're the first person to get distracted? You..."

"He wouldn't have caught you unaware." She looked into Xena's eyes before turning away again.

Xena shrugged. "Maybe and maybe not. I've had a lot more years experience dealing with his kind. But, I've been taken by surprise too."

"Yeah, right!" she said sarcastically. "Ares can't even sneak up on you."

"You're being a little hard on yourself, aren't you, Gabrielle?"

"And, why not? I'm so angry with myself! If I had just paid a little attention, I could have defended myself, or at the very least out ran him." She shook her head disgustedly. "I can't believe that anyone as big as him could have gotten the drop on me."


"Xena, you're not listening." Gabrielle shook her head. "I was writing my scroll and then he was just front of me." Their eyes caught and held a moment as Gabrielle sighed heavily. "I...I feel like I let you down."

"Gabrielle, stop that. You didn't let me down." She looked away a moment remembering the incident with Deshia. "If anyone was let down, it was you. I should have been here." Gods, if I had been five minutes later, he would have raped her.

"Well, it's certainly not your fault, Xena." She noticed a flicker of something in Xena's eyes making her wonder just why she was so late. She brushed the thought aside. "You aren't responsible. You should be able to leave me alone without something like this happening."

It hurt Xena to see her partner beat herself up like that. "Gabrielle, you've seen enough victims to know that self blame is almost always their first thought. And I've heard you time after time telling people that they are not at fault. The blame lies in animals like that," she indicated their captive with a jerk of her head.

The bard paused a moment and considered what Xena was saying. It was certainly true that most of the victim's did tend to blame themselves, but that wasn't what was really bothering her though. You still had to save me again. Just like I was a kid or something. How can I keep your respect if I can't even take care of myself for one day?

She looked up into those exquisite blue eyes afraid she would see something that indicated that loss of respect, but all she saw was love and concern. She felt that love fill her, chasing away her doubts. "Thanks for getting here in time."

Xena nodded slightly. "I shouldn't have been so late. I should have been here with..."

"Now, isn't that sweet," their prisoner interrupted, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "I understand why she didn't want me now, Xena." He said her name with obvious distaste, then laughed evilly. "Hey, Blondie. I've got something she could never give you."

Xena jerked her head around and glared at him coldly. "Shut up!" she commanded.

Most men had enough sense not to antagonize her when she gave an order, but not this one. "What's the matter, warrior witch? Afraid I might steal your little camp following whore away from you?"

"That's it!" Xena jumped up ready to end this right now. She didn't care what the bastard said about her, but not Gabrielle.

"Oh yeah, Xena. Kill me while I'm tied up. That's just what a coward like you would do." Xena wasn't certain if he was really that brave and just very stupid. She stopped for a moment, as she heard Gabrielle pleading one more time. "Xena, please!"

With a backward glance at her friend, Xena reluctantly consented--at least for now. She picked up the rag she used to wash Gabrielle's injuries and strode over to the prisoner. He was still ranting as she crouched down beside him. With lightning speed she backhanded him slamming his head against the bark of the tree. She tore off part of his dirty shirt around the bottom making a long strip.

"Shoulda been here earlier, I had the little bitch begging for it."

Reacting almost in a blur, Xena punched him in the face putting so much force on the punch that his jaw shattered, the crack permeating the surrounding area. Then just to make sure he didn't speak again, she pushed the bulky rag into his bleeding mouth as he screamed in pain, and tied it securely with the strip. While doing so, she leaned closer to his ear. "Make no mistake, you ARE going to die. Your life was forfeited the moment you touched her...not to mention that she's the Queen of the Amazons."

Xena felt a small satisfaction as his eyes betrayed the first sign of real fear she had seen in him. Interesting that he was more afraid of the Amazons than he was her. But, all men knew that rape or attempted rape on an Amazon was an immediate death sentence. There were countless stories of the atrocities committed in the name of vengeance by Amazons. Whether true or not, it didn't matter. That fear was ingrained in men from childhood.

Xena tore off another strip of his shirt and tied it around his eyes. She didn't even want this scum to look at Gabrielle. Before leaving him, she double checked the tightness of the ropes, and looked in his boots for hidden weapons. When she was satisfied that he could not get free, she started to join Gabrielle. But, she couldn't, not yet. There was still too much rage in her. She was still too close to the edge. She needed a few minutes to cool down, so instead she went to take care of Argo.


After taking off her saddle and reins, Xena brushed Argo down and left her free to graze knowing she would not wander too far. Then, she gathered up enough wood to last the night and refilled the waterbag in the stream. Finally, she got a cloth bag that was hooked to her saddle and went to join Gabrielle.

The bard was lying back on the blanket watching her approach. She knew that Xena had injured the rapist badly. The noise of the impact on the man's chin had sent shivers up her spine. At least she didn't kill him. Not yet anyway. "Thank you, Xena," she said with a glance toward the prisoner.

Xena pursed her lips. She didn't want to get in an argument. She sat down beside the bard. "I brought some food. Can you eat something?" She'd lost her appetite after her little drink with Deshia.

Gabrielle no longer felt nauseous, but she still didn't think she could eat. She got a whiff of a wonderful aroma as Xena opened the bag. "Fish cakes?"

Xena nodded.

Gabrielle watched as Xena also brought out some rolls and small sausages. She could smell the sage in the sausage, and eagerly took one and bit into it. The spices exploded in her mouth. Her smile conveyed her approval, but she only ate one more bite of it.

Normally Gabrielle had a much better appetite than that, but she felt too unsettled to eat. Also, she knew that Xena was very upset and Gabrielle needed to talk. She didn't want to wake up in the morning with the prisoner dead. "Xena, what are we going to do with him?" The look on Xena's face relayed her feelings perfectly, and Gabrielle added, "And I don't mean how are YOU going to kill him."

Xena had a brief vision of putting his head on a pike. The old Xena wouldn't have hesitated. Now, however, Gabrielle's feelings did make a difference. "Well, since You insist on a trial, we'll take him to your tribe. That's the closest Amazon settlement and at least we know them." She couldn't help but add. "You know he'll be executed, so why not just let me do it now?"

"No." Gabrielle looked up defiantly. "I will not be the cause of more blood on your hands, Xena."

"Well, who do you think is going to do it after the trial?"

"That will be up to the Tribunal." By Amazon law, the victim had the right to execute the accused or to name the executioner. In this case, since she was the Queen, it would be up to the Tribunal to decide. They could also defer to the Regent, Ephiny, to have the sentence carried out. Trials of this kind rarely took place since the accused usually didn't live long enough to be put on trial.

Xena already knew that no matter what, she was going to kill him. If she had to bust the heads of a few Amazons to do it, she would. "Gabrielle if you have any plans to let that animal go..."

"No." She glanced over at the prisoner. "I know the law," she said softly. She understood that by the code of the Amazons he would have to be executed. Besides she didn't want to give him the opportunity to attack other women. Gabrielle knew that even if the Tribunal gave the choice to Ephiny, that Xena could be chosen to carry out the sentence because she was her partner, but that she had no control over. She would have to check into the laws to see if Xena would be allowed to execute him since she was not an Amazon herself. She hoped that would be the case.

Xena rose and added more wood to the fire before spreading her blanket down between Gabrielle and the prisoner. She dropped down and sat cross legged facing Gabrielle feeling so agitated that she doubted she would sleep anyway. She picked up the bard's torn top and took the sewing material out of the pouch that held the cat gut and needles and began to repair it. After a moment, she stopped and gazed into the battered face of her lover.

"Gabrielle, do you really think that one more death, "on my hands" as you put it, will make any difference into my fate? That his worthless life will push me over some edge or something?"

Gabrielle started to answer when Xena added softly. "Do you really have any idea of the number of people I have either killed myself or ordered my armies to kill?" Not to mention the other crimes I' ve committed...all the lives I've destroyed in ways that were far worse than murder.

Gabrielle looked into her partner eyes, "I have a pretty good idea, Xena," she answered quietly. "But you're on the right side now. For every day you do something good and for every day you don't go back to that life, it makes a difference." She could tell that Xena was getting ready to protest. "No, you listen to me, Xena." she said seriously. "You are one of the "good guys" now. Killing someone in battle to save your life or someone else's is one thing, but calmly walking up to that man over there and slitting his throat is murder."

"Who said I was calm?" Although her outward appearance was very controlled, she was still seething inside.

Gabrielle ignored her comment. She wasn't going to let Xena distract her from what she needed to say. "Many years from now, whenever we get to the other side, I want you there with me. This life will never be long enough for us, Xena. I...I want to spend eternity with you." Her eyes were glistening. "I love you...and I need to be with you." Just the thought of being separated shook her into the very depths of her being.

Xena moved over and put her arms around Gabrielle. Xena couldn't tell Gabrielle that regardless of the bard's wishes, she could never make up for the misery and pain that she had brought to so many. She hugged the bard close but carefully so as not to jar her ribs. "Love you too," she said softly. She wished she could truly tell Gabrielle the depth of her love, but some feelings were still hard for her to express. Xena had no past experience of a love this deep, this strong, or this encompassing.

After a moment, Xena pulled back slightly so she could look at her lover's face. "We'll do this your way."

Gabrielle smiled at her and then leaned over meaning to give Xena a quick kiss. Their lips just barely touched together when she felt Xena's arms pulling her closer, the kiss swiftly

deepening until Xena forced her tongue into Gabrielle's mouth. Xena begin to probe that sweet mouth deeper, as just the taste of Gabrielle ignited the hunger that still raked her body. For a moment Xena was overcome with a burning passion that threatened to overpower her. She didn't realize how tightly she was holding Gabrielle until the pressure on the damaged ribs caused her partner to twitch in pain.

Xena immediately pulled back, her heart racing again, her breathing heavy. Damn! What's with me today? She felt a tingling on her knee where Deshia had touched her that was spreading throughout her body once more. She couldn't believe how aroused she was. She looked into Gabrielle's face seeing both anger and hurt feelings although the bard was trying to mask it.

Gabrielle stared at Xena confused. I'm almost raped and she wants to make love? Her lips throbbed where Xena had kissed her, already sore from the man's arm band that he had mashed against her mouth. What is going on with her?

Xena laid her hand over the younger woman's wrist. "Gabrielle, I...," she whispered softly before trailing off.

"It's okay." She could feel Xena trembling. She was very concerned with the warrior's actions. Xena was definitely not herself tonight.

"Maybe you better get some sleep," Xena said as she rose to her feet. "Think I'll go check on Argo." She wanted to put some distance between Gabrielle and herself until she could regain her control.

"Xena, are you okay?" Gabrielle had noticed the flush to her lover's face and saw her visibly shiver. She attributed it to the attack on herself, but now she wasn't sure.

"Yeah..." she paused, shook her head slightly, and let out a deep breath. "No...not really," she admitted in a ragged voice.

Gabrielle just stared at Xena a moment stunned. The warrior never admitted to anything that might be considered a weakness, be it physical or emotional pain, sickness, fear, nothing. Thank the Gods, that the woman could finally let down the barriers for her partner. Gabrielle held her hand out. "Please sit down and talk to me."

Xena took her hand and did sit back down although the urge to flee was very strong. She gazed into Gabrielle's face feeling so guilty for not preventing the attack. She started to say something, then stopped. Then started again, "When...I saw the bastard on top of you...I felt as if someone had torn open my soul, Gabrielle. It's my fault. Damnit, I shoulda been here!"

"Xena, there is no way that you can be with me all the time. It's not your fault. Didn't you just tell me that the fault lies in people like that man over there?"

Xena shrugged thinking to herself that regardless of that, it was her responsibility to protect Gabrielle.

When Xena didn't say anything else, the bard took the opportunity to try another approach to get her talking. "Why don't you tell me about your trip into town."

Xena didn't say anything for what seemed like forever, and Gabrielle could see her beginning to put up walls. "Please...for me."

How could she refuse when Gabrielle asked like that? "Okay," she muttered quietly. She paused trying to get her thoughts in order. She was having a hard time concentrating on what happened before Deshia showed up. "Well, I picked up the spices you wanted...and then looked around for a new knife. It was all about the same. There was only one expert craftsman but he wasn't open yet. His wife was having their first baby and he wouldn't leave her side." She shook her head in disgust. "As if she needed him there. He was a basket case." Xena rolled her eyes, "Men are useless when women have babies."

"And I take it that you tried to encourage him into opening his shop?"

"Well, you know how much I love to wait on someone."

Gabrielle couldn't help but smile knowing Xena's patience was extremely limited. "You must have had to restrain yourself from dragging him out of there by his head."

"I went to his home in the back of the shop and tried to get him to leave, but every time he would get a few feet away from her, she cried...and then he cried."

"I'm surprised you didn't just break in and get a knife and leave the dinars."

Xena made a face. "Well, I was going to, but the metalsmith had his little nephew...probably around six years old, guarding his shop, and when I started to go in, he cried."

That got a chuckle out of Gabrielle. She knew that Xena was a sucker for little boys since they always reminded her of Solan. Although, he wasn't that little any more.

"So what did you do?" the bard prodded.

"I sat down with the boy, and helped him guard the shop, what else?" She even managed a slight smile thinking about him. "He was a cute kid." She had taught him a couple of sleight of hand tricks in palming dinars, although his small hands weren't large enough to do the tricks justice yet. "Eventually his uncle came and I got a good deal." She slid the new dagger out of her boot and showed Gabrielle.

"Looks like good detail work," she commented. "So is that when you started back?"

She hesitated a moment. "Well, not exactly. I stopped and picked up the food hoping to surprise you."

"Which you did, by the way. And a nice surprise at that."

"Anyway, that's when I ran into...a warrior I used to know." She dropped her eyes a moment.

Something about the way Xena looked made Gabrielle's stomach tighten. "Well, tell me about him," she said softly.

"Her name is Deshia," she answered suppressing a shiver by just thinking about her. She glanced back to Gabrielle. "I knew her from around three or four years ago. She was one of my warriors."

"What was she like?"

Xena fidgeted a little not liking where this conversation was going. "She was like me Gabrielle...a ruthless, bloodthirsty killer."

"Stop it, Xena. That's not all you were."

She looked away, remembering that savage part of Deshia as well as herself. Deshia had loved to use a knife to kill. She liked to feel the hot blood of her victims pumping out of them. "We were quite a pair."

"You two were...close?"

"Close?" she thought about that a moment. "Close?" she repeated again. "I guess you could say that." Xena stopped, unwilling to talk more about that time.

The bard was really curious about what the relationship between Deshia and Xena had been, but the warrior obviously wasn't ready to share that yet. "So what does she look like? Describe her."

Xena was careful to keep her face masked thinking about Deshia. She's something else, but I don't think I better tell you that. "Taller than I am, long black eyes...long legs." She trailed off, staring past Gabrielle her mind in a turmoil.

Gabrielle was beginning to feel something stirring inside her. Am I jealous? Yeah, I am. Worried? Yeah, a lot. There's a lot more to this Deshia, maybe more than even Lao Ma. Gods, what if she still cares for this warrior? She was almost afraid to ask, but did so anyway. "So...what did you do after running into her?"

"Went to the local tavern to have a drink."

The bard waited a moment to see if Xena was going to elaborate, but instead she picked up Gabrielle's top and began to sew it again. Okay, do I prod her, or just let it go? Part of her thought it best not to push Xena, but she wanted to know if there was something to worry about.

"Did you catch up on old times?" she tried to make her voice sound casual, but she knew it didn't come out that way.

"No, we don't really talk much," Xena answered a little impatiently.

What exactly does that mean? Gabrielle started to ask, and then even though she could tell that Xena was beginning to get irritated, she did ask, "What do you mean by that?"

"It means I had a drink and left. What do you think it means?" Xena's voice was curt and her eyes flashed with anger.

Gabrielle dropped her gaze. Oh this is great, now she's angry with me. "Xena, I didn't mean to pry. I guess I'm just a little curious."

Xena laid down the repaired garment, and put away the needle and thread. She looked over at her lover knowing and deeply regretting that she had hurt her feelings again. She should be helping Gabrielle, not making matters worse. She took a deep breath before answering, making sure she spoke softly and calmly so as not to worry Gabrielle any further. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know, but...not tonight...please?"

"I'm here, Xena, whenever you're ready." She smiled a little shyly seeing the love that was clearly showing in Xena's eyes for her now instead of the impatience of a moment ago.

Xena leaned over and kissed Gabrielle tenderly and covered her with an extra blanket. Gabrielle murmured "Good Night" and watched Xena walk over to check the prisoner again knowing that Xena would probably do that several times before morning. Gabrielle looked up at the stars. She wasn't sure at this point if she could sleep at all. Something happened today, more than just having a drink with an ex-lover. It had to or Xena wouldn't have been so evasive. What if ex-lover no longer applied? What if Xena and Deshia had...?

She shook her head. No, Xena wouldn't have done that. She simply wouldn't sneak around on her. If the day ever came that Xena wanted to be with someone else, Xena would be up front and tell her. But, what if she was going to and then couldn't because Gabrielle had been attacked? The bard sighed heavily. All these what if's could drive a person crazy. She was just worrying for nothing. She tried to push all the doubts away and concentrate on sleeping.

Xena walked into the forest where she could watch the camp, but still have a little distance between herself and Gabrielle. She was so edgy. She needed to regain control. Lao Ma had taught Xena methods for dealing with her emotions. She had never used them much before meeting Gabrielle and having a true need to learn to channel her anger and energy. She began to focus on herself, her breathing, her body, while slowly beginning the mental exercises as Lao Ma had instructed her.

After about an hour, she felt much more in control although she had developed a nagging headache. She checked the perimeter and the prisoner. Everything seemed to be in order. The woods were filled with normal night sounds, crickets, an owl or two, the faint rustling of small rodents searching for food and the high pitched squeaks of bats swooping through the air snatching up insects. Standing still for a moment Xena took a deep breath filling her lungs with the cool air and caught the scent of the evening dew clinging to the soil. Joining her lover, she took off her armor, laid her weapons close by and fell into a restless sleep.


Close to dawn, there was a subtle change in the forest. So subtle, that most humans would not notice, but Xena was not most humans. Her eyes immediately flew open. All senses alert, she listened to the sounds within the forest. Someone was sneaking into camp. It was one person moving slowly, although not toward her and Gabrielle, but toward the prisoner. Whoever it was, they were keeping within the edge of the trees, stealthily creeping toward the bound captive.

The fire had burned out except for a few embers, which helped to conceal Xena's movement. She slowly pushed up on one arm, sliding the other over to gently shake Gabrielle's shoulder. The bard came awake almost instantly having traveled with Xena long enough to know not to speak or move when woken until Xena gave her a sign.

Xena held up one finger and gave a slight nod to indicate where the intruder was. She slid her sword out of the scabbard without the slightest noise and silently crept around the camp coming up behind the person. She caught the faint glint of reflected moonlight from a sword and instantly did a somersault over the intruder to land between the rapist and them.

Both raised their swords to attack, but immediately recognized each other.



They stared at each other and slowly lowered their swords, although kept their stance ready. "I thought you were going south," Xena said in an accusing tone. "Something about visiting an aunt?"

"Yeah. I got there, but Aunt Elizabeth was dead!" She pointed her sword at the man. "That bastard raped and killed her! And now that I've found him, he's mine!"

"Well, you're going to have to stand in line!" Xena retorted angrily. "First turn at him is Mine!"

Deshia raised her sword slightly considering whether she wanted to try to go through Xena, then relaxed her posture lowering her sword again. "I don't want to fight you Xena."

"Smart move." Xena bristled. "And just how do you know it was him?"

"My cousin saw what happened. He gave me a description. Found out that his name is Gregon and he's wanted for rapes all over the southern area." She sheathed her sword into the scabbard on her back. "So I followed him here."

Both warriors turned their heads as Gabrielle approached the pair fastening her top. As Gabrielle got close enough to get a good look at the warrior, her heart sank. Gods, she's beautiful. "You followed him here in the dark?" asked the bard.

Deshia looked Gabrielle up and down a moment. "Well, it wasn't hard. I just followed the trail of victims. And, just who in Tartarus are you?"

Not giving the bard a chance to reply, Xena answered curtly, "Her name is Gabrielle and she's my friend."

Deshia looked from Xena to Gabrielle pointedly staring at her injuries. She turned back to the warrior. "Still like rough sex, huh Xena?" she asked. Her voice dripped with contempt.

"Xena didn't do this!" Gabrielle retorted incensed.

"Then who did?"

"He did." Gabrielle answered with a nod toward the prisoner.

Deshia turned toward Xena. "You mean he raped your friend and you didn't kill him?"

"He didn't rape her. I stopped him."

She seemed to be mulling over that remark, then sneered. "Oh, now I get it. You're planning a long slow death. So what are you going to do? Crucify him? Break all his bones? We could take turns cutting off body parts until he bleeds to death like we did that Roman soldier we interrogated that time."

Xena stared at Deshia without answering remembering that period in her life. Deshia and her had been two of a kind. She didn't want Gabrielle to ever hear about the things she had done back then.

Gabrielle waited to see if Xena was going to answer, but Xena seemed to be lost in her thoughts. "We're taking him to be tried by the Amazons."

"Amazons? You got to be kidding!" She looked from Gabrielle to Xena. "Do you need someone else to do your killing for you now, Xena?"

"Do you want to find out?" Xena asked her eyes flashing with menace.

Gabrielle watched the byplay between the two warriors. There was so much tension between them you could almost cut it. She spoke up to make a diversion. "We're taking him there because I asked Xena too. I'm the Queen of the Amazons."

"Some Amazon," Deshia said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Thought they were supposed to be warriors?"

"That's enough Deshia!" Xena commanded furiously.

"Look, I didn't track this pig, just to let you take him off on a tour."

"Are you going to stop me?" Xena asked, her voice a low menacing growl. She stepped closer to the warrior, but stopped when she felt the heat from Deshia's body. The desire that started at that tavern was still lingering, Their eyes locked, and Xena had an overpowering urge to either grab Deshia and kiss her or knock her across the clearing.

Deshia recognized that look, and smirked. "No, Xena, I'm not crazy. I'm not going to fight you over that piece of trash. I'm sure that there are other things we could do." She glanced over at Gabrielle who was watching the two of them with a worried frown. "Get lost slag."

Xena sprang and hit Deshia in the face with her fist knocking her backward on the ground. "Don't you ever say anything like that to her again."

The dark haired warrior pushed herself up slightly on one hand and with the other she wiped a trickle of blood off her lip. She stared up at Xena with a sad smile on her face. "Some things never change. That was always your answer to every thing, huh Xena?" She shook her head slightly. "Guess I should expect that from you."

Xena turned away from Deshia resting her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. Why here? Why now? Of all the people I could have run into, why did it have to be her?

Gabrielle was not blind. There was definitely something going on here besides just running into an old lover. And that remark about rough sex was disturbing. Xena had never discussed her past sexual activities. Was that something she enjoyed?

Xena turned back to the warrior who was sitting where she fell with her legs drawn up, elbows sitting on her knees staring at the ground.

Deshia looked up surprised as Xena held out a hand to help her. She hesitated a moment, then reached out slowly to clasp her arm. Xena pulled her up and immediately let loose of her. Touching Deshia was dangerous. They stared at each other both lost in the past.

Deshia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'd like to travel with you. I, I need to see him get what he deserves."

"I don't need your help." Xena's jaw tightened with barely controlled anger.

"I know that. But you taught me all about vengeance, didn't you Xena? Look, I'll either travel with you or follow you. But, either way, I'm coming."

Xena knew she'd rather have Deshia where she could keep an eye on her. She was about as trustworthy as a hydra. "All right," Xena answered in clipped tones. "But you better stay out of my way."

"No problem," the tall warrior growled. "I'll get my horse." She turned and gave Gabrielle another once over. As she walked past the bard, she gave her a wink and strode off through the forest.

Gabrielle watched her a moment then turned back to Xena. "Some of these old friends of yours..."

"She's not a friend!" Xena snapped. She saw a flicker of pain in her partner's eyes and immediately regretted her harsh words. She stepped up closer to Gabrielle and laid her hand on the bard's shoulder. "I didn't mean to bite your head off," she said softly.

Gabrielle could feel the tension radiating from her body. She was wound up so tight. "You and her seem to have some issues."

Xena sighed and dropped her eyes momentarily and then gazed into her partner's troubled face. "Deshia...has a way of bringing out a part of me that...that I don't like."

"If you don't want her with us, why don't you tell her to go?" Gabrielle asked softly.

Xena stared toward the forest where Deshia disappeared. Yeah, why don't I tell her to go? Why not just avoid the problems I know she'll cause? She didn't want to look too deeply into the reason. But, she knew Gabrielle was waiting for an answer. "Because I owe her." That was certainly true, but not the whole reason. She looked back at the bard angry at herself for evading the question.

Gabrielle knew there was a lot more that Xena wasn't saying. "I'd like to hear about that."

They glanced over as they heard Deshia approaching. "Later. Okay?" Xena asked wanting to drop it for now. She gave Gabrielle her full attention looking carefully at the cuts on her face. "How are you feeling?"

The change of subject was apparent to Gabrielle, but now wasn't the time to pursue more information. "Sore," she replied honestly, "But I'll be okay to travel."

"Are you sure? We can always wait another day if you need it."

"No, really Xena. I'll be fine." She gave the prisoner a glance. "I'm anxious to get this over with." And I sure don't want Deshia around any longer than necessary.

The warrior tied her horse to a log and joined the pair. She stood across from Xena with her arms crossed over her chest looking bored.

It had gotten lighter as the sun begin to come out, and the bard noticed that Deshia was wearing two silver earrings. One was a fierce looking miniature dragon with rubies for eyes, and as Deshia turned her head, Gabrielle saw the other one clearly. Her breath caught as she recognized it immediately. The earring had been covered by Deshia's dark hair before. It was a small silver dagger, with a green hilt that matched Deshia's eyes perfectly. But on the handle there was also a distinctive black X. Xena had one just like it. She hadn't seen Xena wearing it for a couple of years, but knew that she still carried it. She had asked Xena about it not long after she had starting traveling with the warrior. Xena had said it was a reminder of who she had been and who she could be again if she wasn't very careful. As Deshia moved her head, Gabrielle also saw a scar of an X crudely carved into the skin below her ear. She tried to keep her face from showing the shock she felt.

Xena recognized the earring also and the X, and glanced toward Gabrielle who was looking at Deshia and then her. Damn, Gabrielle must think I'm...just what I am...a brutal, vicious excuse for a human being. What else could she think?

Deshia caught the body language between the two of them and had to stop herself from laughing out loud. "Okay, Xena, what's the plan?" she asked.

Xena was glad for the question. At least it provided a distraction. "We're heading out after we eat. It's a two day ride to Amazon territory." They all turned as they heard Gregon making muffled sounds through his gag.

Xena stepped up to him, knelt and took off his blindfold. She slid her knife out of her boot and laid the cold blade against his throat. She smiled coldly, her eyes like ice. "Now, I'm going to take off the gag, but you better think long and hard before you speak. You say the wrong thing and I swear I'll cut tongue out."

Gabrielle watched the prisoner stare at Xena and then Deshia. One of his eyes was swollen shut and both were black and blue. She could see the pain reflected in his open eye, and the fear. Gregon's gaze turned toward her and for just a moment, he glared at her with pure hatred. She wondered briefly why he would hate her, but it was probably because she got away.

Gregon's blood ran cold in his veins as he locked eyes with Deshia. He knew he had royally screwed up, but hoped to be able to salvage himself before she killed him. She was the coldest bitch he had ever known. But even so, he needed to talk to Deshia alone and soon. The drug had worn off and he was in agony from the injuries inflicted by the Warrior Princess. Once more he looked at Xena and nodded his head that he understood.

Xena loosened the strip of cloth and pulled the blood soaked gag out tossing it on the ground. She slid the knife back in the sheath as she stood.

"Wa..." he asked glancing from one to the other. His jaw and lips were so badly swollen, he could barely speak. In fact, most of his face was swollen and covered with bruises and scrapes giving him a monstrous appearance. None of the arrogance that he showed last night was visible now. He was as meek as a lamb.

"I'll get the water," offered Gabrielle as she turned and walked back toward the campfire.

"Why bother?" Deshia called after her. "Dead men don't need water." She stepped up closer to the man. "Look at me you piece of filth!"

He stared up at her warily.

"You've raped the last female you're ever going to touch. The Amazons are going to cut you up in little pieces and feed you to their dogs." She kicked him between the legs, enjoying the sudden intake of breath and loud moan that followed. She started to kick him again.

"That's enough Deshia," commanded Xena. Then she added with a slight quirk of her mouth. "Believe me, he's plenty sore there already."

Deshia turned to Xena and grinned. "Now that's the Xena I know."

Gabrielle joined them with the water bag glancing from one warrior to the other. Gregon was going to be lucky to survive two days with them.

Xena took the waterbag and stooped down beside the man. She squirted some of the water on his face bringing him around, then had to squirt the water in his mouth as he couldn't open it but a crack. She noted with satisfaction the bruising along his abdomen where the shirt was torn off, and hoped his ribs hurt much worse than Gabrielle's.

Xena untied him, jerked him to his feet and escorted him a few yards away for a nature call. He could barely stand, so she sort of supported him and dragged him along. His injured hand was twice the size of his other one, and he appeared to be in a lot of pain which suited Xena just fine. The next two days were going to be the most miserable days of his life if she had anything to do with it. Of course with Deshia there, she knew it would be a long two days. When he had finished, she took him over and set him down by the tree again. It was obvious he wasn't able to run off.

"Do you want me to get the healing kit?" Gabrielle asked as Gregon fell over on his side moaning in pain.

"He can wait until after we eat. Right now I'm starved." She walked over to get her armor. "Why don't you get breakfast ready while I saddle Argo."

"Sure." Gabrielle put some water on for tea and begin to organize their things. Deshia decided to stick around and antagonize the bard. She sat down and glanced back to make sure Xena wasn't in earshot. She began to stare at Gabrielle rudely. Gabrielle soon got tired of being watched. "Would you like to tell me why you're staring at me?"

"Sorry, I was just trying to figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

"You and Xena."

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"Well, you're not exactly Xena's type."

"Oh, and just what is Xena's type?"


The bard stared at her a moment and shook her head. "Not anymore."

Deshia gave her a smug smile. "Don't be too sure of that. Has she told where she was yesterday?"

Gabrielle glared at her, then grabbed the water bags and stalked toward the stream. She wanted to wipe that infuriating smirk off Deshia's face. It's not true. It can't be true. Could it? It was true that things hadn't been going well between Xena and her for months. It had taken a lot out of both her and Xena to repair their relationship after Britannia, Hope's birth and then China. In fact, they were both still working on it. Now this new problem of Deshia was all they needed.

The warrior had to stop herself from chuckling out loud as she watched the bard stomp off. Oh, this is going to be fun. It looks like Gabrielle has some doubts, and that's all the opening I need.

She looked down and saw the three cups that Gabrielle had gotten out for tea sitting on a stump near the fire. Making a quick decision, she walked over to her horse and got a small bag of herbs out of her saddlebags. Knowing that a taste and smell could always bring back memories, she began to make some tea from her own special blend. She looked around quickly making sure no one was looking and took a small bottle out of a pouch hanging from her leathers. I should have put it in a hot drink to begin with. Callisto said it was more potent that way. Carefully, she poured a few drops into Xena's cup, not too much though. She had obviously put too much into the port at the tavern yesterday, because Xena only took one swallow and noticed the taste. Had Xena drank the entire mug, there was no way she could have resisted the lust and fury the drug caused. Xena would have given in to her desires with Deshia and might have slaughtered half the village while she was at it, and dear old Gabrielle would be dead now as planned.

Deshia had the tea ready when Xena came back into camp, and watched as Xena sniffed the air when she caught the familiar aroma. Deshia brought the cup over and handed it to the Warrior Princess who put it under her nose and breathed in deeply. "Mmmmmm." Xena took a few sips of the hot liquid. "That's good. I haven't had any of this since..." She trailed off, suddenly remembering it was their last day together.

"Since you betrayed me?" Deshia finished.

"I think you have that backwards, don't you?"

"No, I don't. I never betrayed you Xena. I betrayed Darphus and that pig deserved it." She glanced away a moment as the memories crashed down on her, and then gazed back at Xena. "If you really believed that I betrayed you, you would have killed me on the spot. But, I would never have endangered you and you know it." Then she added softly, "How could you...have done that to me?"

"Because I needed Darphus," Xena answered callously.

Deshia finished Xena's sentence, her voice a whisper, " didn't need me." She tried to keep her face from showing how much that hurt her, but she couldn't. So much time had past, but it was as if it were yesterday. She turned her head slightly, her eyes bright, and she couldn't stop one lone tear from running down. Damn, why does it still hurt so much?

Xena stared at her a moment stunned. She had never seen Deshia cry. Even after all that had happened between them, Deshia had never cried. It hurt to see it. Why can't I tell her I'm sorry? Am I still afraid to let out some of the old secrets I've buried away? She reached over and laid her hand on Deshia's cheek and gently wiped the tear away.

That one small act of tenderness startled Deshia. Xena had never been tender with her. Oh occasionally, there were tiny peeks into another facet of Xena's personality, but this was something new. It put Deshia off balance. For a moment, she forgot the burning need for vengeance. Almost unconsciously, she covered Xena's hand with her own while gazing into the azure eyes seeing no sign of the cold, domineering warlord of so long ago.

Xena felt as if she were being pulled into a deep chasm. Suddenly, there was only Deshia, nothing else existed. The vulnerable need emanating from Deshia's deep green eyes captured Xena's, holding them, chasing away coherent thoughts. Her body was raked by a sizzling hunger. Xena felt as if all the moisture within her flowed between her legs to drench her center while her mouth went completely dry. She moved her other hand forgetting for a moment that she held a cup of hot tea and spilled some. The hot liquid burned her fingers breaking the spell that was engulfing her as she dropped the cup.

She jerked her hand out of Deshia's and stepped backwards not even realizing what she was doing. Along with the lust, the overpowering urge to strike out at someone began to build within her. Her body started to tremble. Damn, what is happening to me?

She turned and as she looked up, she saw Gabrielle walking toward her from the path to the stream. The expression on her face told Xena that she hadn't missed anything. The bard wasn't as proficient as Xena in masking her feelings. Gabrielle looked angry and hurt from a situation she didn't understand. Xena knew she couldn't cope with her partner's feelings now, not in the condition she was in. She took off toward the forest needing to find some outlet for her rage until she could trust herself around anyone else.

Gabrielle watched Xena stride off into the woods. She knew her lover's body so well, that every movement of that rigid posture spoke volumes. The bard wanted to go after her, to demand to know what was going on, but confronting Xena now could only make matters worse. Later, they would have to talk. She trudged over to the campfire and slumped down beside a tree stump staring into the flames.

The bard was a little startled as Deshia came over and stooped down beside her. She brought Gabrielle a cup of the hot tea, but without the added drug.

"Gabrielle, I made you some tea." She handed the cup to her. "Look, I'm sorry I upset you." She dropped her gaze and then laid her hand on Gabrielle's arm. "Xena...well, she makes me a little crazy sometimes." She opened her mouth as if to say something else, then just shrugged. "Anyway, I really am sorry."

Gabrielle gave her a nod. "Thanks, Deshia." She took a small sip and then smiled at the tall warrior. "This is good." It had a fruity taste, but was mixed with a nutty cinnamon flavor. It was very unique. "What kind of herbs do you use?"

Deshia gave her a warm smile. She knew how to turn on the charm when she wanted to. "Now that is a family secret. My Aunt Elizabeth created this."

"Was that the Aunt that Gregon killed?"

Deshia's face took on a dark look. "Yeah. She was a good person. I stayed with her off and on after my 10th birthday till I was about 12. She didn't deserve to die that way." She hoped she sounded convincing since her Aunt was doing just fine the last time she heard from her a few years ago.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thanks, Gabrielle." She gave her a genuine smile. She was beginning to see what Xena saw in the younger woman. She was beautiful, and without that hard, battle worn edge that so many of the women both Deshia and Xena were more familiar with. She almost regretted that the bard was going to have to die. Oh well, if I don't kill her, Xena would eventually anyway.

That was one of the first things she learned after she started traveling with the Warrior Princess. Many of the "special" lovers--those Xena considered hers only--were killed by her own hand. It was too late when Deshia discovered that. She had fallen in love with Xena almost from the moment she met her.

They set in a companionable silence drinking their tea for a few minutes, but ever so often, Gabrielle turned to look for Xena wondering where she was. Argo was saddled and waiting, and Xena always liked to get an early start on any journey. She was getting very worried. Finally, she decided to find her. She walked for a few minutes through the forest until she caught a flicker of sunlight reflected off a whirling sword. Following a path of sorts led her to a small clearing where Xena was working through a series of sword drills. Gabrielle always found it fascinating to watch

her as she moved so quickly her body was almost a blur. She leaned against a tree waiting until Xena finished.

The warrior took her final flourish through the last pattern and returned her sword to the scabbard while staring at the bard. She was feeling so angry. All through her drills, she had visions of past battles, conquests and a thirst for blood and death. Seeing Gabrielle suddenly appear confused her. The bard was not a part of the past. Why did I come out here? She looked around the clearing. She couldn't remember, but it didn't seem to be important anymore. All she felt at the moment was lust and rage, emotions she knew well. She turned back to face Gabrielle, while her eyes slowly traveled up and down the younger woman's body. I think you'll do nicely. She might as well use the bard. She was here after all.

Gabrielle watched Xena very aware that her friend was not herself at the moment. Her eyes were half lidded and had a wild, feral gleam in them. She slowly advanced toward Gabrielle almost like a stalking panther. Gabrielle felt a shiver of fear mixed with arousal flash through her body. She noticed the warrior clenching and unclenching her fists. She somehow found her voice. "Hey. You okay?"

Just looking at the bard sent shivers through Xena. She wanted to take her, now, the way she used to take Deshia. She knew Gabrielle's body so well, had made love to her often, but now she wanted more. She wanted to hear the bard moaning in pain as well as pleasure. She stalked her gathering up all the intimidation and power she used countless times on her victims when she was a warlord.

Gabrielle couldn't suppress tendrils of fear traveling through her. Xena's change in persona was that of the Destroyer of Nations. She had seen that side of Xena before, when the Horde attacked, when Ares had used her "father" to enrage her, and other times she wished she could forget. That Xena frightened her. She started to take a step backward, but the tree was blocking her escape.

Xena pounced suddenly pinning Gabrielle against the tree, one hand on either side of the bard while moving herself to within a hair's breath of the smaller woman's body.

"Xena..." the bard began.

The warrior's movements were so quick that Gabrielle found herself on the ground with Xena on top before she even realized she was moving. She could feel the hot breath of the warrior against her throat, a sound almost like a low growl emitting from her. There was no recognition in those wild eyes. She needed to reach through the warrior's dark side. "Xena, it's me. It's Gabrielle."

There was a small part of the warrior that was aware of what was happening, but unable to resist the urging of the drug that demanded taking this victim. The drug demanded pain, blood, death. It was as if she was watching herself from a distance. She grabbed Gabrielle's wrists with her hands pushing them above the bard's head and cruelly pinned them with her own. She pressed her lips against the smaller woman harshly, brutally kissing her, forcing her tongue into that sweet mouth, taking what she wanted. She ran her mouth along the bard's throat, biting hard bringing a whimper of pain from her partner.

The warrior pushed her knee between Gabrielle's thigh's roughly, and with more than human strength, she pushed Gabrielle's wrists together and held them with one hand. Her free hand reached down and slid her knife out of her boot.

"Xena, please don't do this." Gabrielle was more afraid of how it would effect Xena if she hurt her, than she was for herself. She was afraid that Xena would slip deeper into that warlord persona and never come back. "What are you going to do with the knife?" For an instant, she thought she saw a flicker of confusion in the warrior's eyes as she looked at the knife in her hand. But the moment was gone and those deep blue eyes became cold as ice.

That slip let the bard know that Xena was still in there, she just needed to pull her back quickly. "You promised you would never hurt me Xena." she spoke softly, trying to appear as calm as she could. "I love you. If you want me, I'm here. You don't have to force me."

The warrior took a deep ragged breath, eyes blinking, while a hard shudder shook her body. "Gab...Gabrielle?" Her hand released their harsh grip and she raised herself off the young woman.

"Yes, it's me. It's me."

"Oh, no," Xena moaned as she realized what she was doing. She rolled over on her back, eyes closed, as she still fought herself. Her body was shaking, and she was afraid for a moment she would be physically sick from what she had almost done. She felt a warm hand touch her cheek.

"Xena, I'm here. It's going to be okay."

Xena couldn't even look at her partner. She fought to keep from emptying her stomach, suddenly remembering times before that she had almost hurt this incredibly courageous woman. She remembered who was behind those incidents. Ares! It had to be Ares! She jumped to her feet drawing her sword, startling Gabrielle who rolled in the opposite direction and quickly stood.

"What is it? Xena, what's wrong?"

"Gabrielle, get back to camp!" She turned looking all around trying to feel the God of Wars' presence. "Ares! Come on, Ares! I know this is your doing!" She turned seeing that Gabrielle hadn't moved. "GO!" she commanded as she felt the fury burning through her.

The bard glanced around looking for the God, not sure if Xena really felt him or if this was just part of whatever delusion she was having. She trusted Xena's instincts, however, so she quickly left glancing back occasionally.

"All right, come on, Ares," Xena called, her voice a silky growl. She felt the hairs all along her body twitch, and turned quickly to see him standing behind her with a smirk plastered on his face.

"Hey! I like this change in you, Xena." He sauntered up to her grinning. "But, why'd you stop? You got me all hot and bothered and then just left me cold."

Xena swung her sword furious at his taunting words. "I almost hurt her!"

"I know and I was in there cheering you on."

She lunged at him, but he easily caught her sword blade in his hand and held it tightly. "Now, now, why are you wasting all this energy on me? Wouldn't you rather slice up Deshia or that irritating blonde?"

The warrior stopped trying to pull her sword back, and as she did, Ares released his grip. She just glared at him a moment. "I know why you're doing this, and it won't work. I'm not coming back to you."

Areas raised his arms slightly and then pointed at himself with his thumbs. "Me? You think I've been behind this wonderful change in you?"

"I know it."

He dropped his arms. "Well, you're wrong. I haven't done anything to you." He paused a moment letting her think about his words. "Don't try to blame this on me. All you feel, all the lust and anger are coming from within you." He stared at her, confident that he was going to get her back. Deshia and Callisto may have thought up the plan on their own, but he would end up the winner. "I think you know the truth. Just admit it. You want that life back!"

She sheathed her sword, feeling inside that he was telling the truth. His ego being what it was, he would have wanted to take the credit if he had planned this. From his reaction, she didn't believe that he was responsible. But if it wasn't him, then perhaps he was right about her. Maybe she could never break from her evil nature. Maybe Deshia just reminded her of that. She shrugged. "You might just be right, Ares. There is a part of me that does want it back."

"That's my girl," he said with a wide grin. "Now, after you finish off those sheep back there," he motioned toward the campsite. "Call me. I'll give you an Army that will follow you anywhere." With a sparkling light, he disappeared leave Xena on her own.

The warrior took a few deep breaths, then slowly walked toward the campsite determined that Ares would not come out on the winning side.


Gabrielle heard Xena approaching and looked over to see the warrior come to a halt near the fire. Their eyes locked for a moment before Xena glanced away. But, it had only taken a moment for the bard to see the haunted look in her lover's eyes. Gabrielle quickly closed the distance between them and laid her hand on Xena's arm just above her bracer.

Xena looked down at her arm refusing to react to the impulse of knocking Gabrielle's hand off. The worst of the rage had subsided, but she was still holding on by a thread.

"So, is Ares up to his usual tricks?" Gabrielle could feel the tremors in the muscled arm under her fingers.

"Not sure," Xena answered as she glanced around. Deshia was bringing Gregon over to the fire. His loud moaning was getting on Xena's last nerve.

The bard turned to watch the prisoner also. "Xena, you really need to treat him. He needs to have his hand and fingers tended to."

Xena's face took on a closed angry appearance. "No!" She moved slightly so Gabrielle's hand slid off her arm. "I'm not helping that bastard!"

Gabrielle wasn't going to back down. "Xena, I've seen you help men who have tried to kill me and you both. This is no different."

"It is different!" she retorted while glaring at the prisoner.

"Why? Because he tried to rape me?"

"Yes!" The warrior turned away from the bard not wanting to continue the conversation.

Gabrielle positioned her body so she was in front of Xena again. "Xena, this is not like you. He isn't the first person who's tried to rape me and he won't be the last. That's never stopped you from patching them up before."

"I'm not wasting my time on filth like that anymore."

"Fine. I'll do it myself."

"You get anywhere near him and I'll kill him."

"Xena, what's wrong. You haven't been yourself since you returned from town yesterday." She watched her partner's face hoping she would reconsider.

"Drop it, Gabrielle." Xena glanced over and noted that Deshia and Gregon were both listening to her and the bard.

"Xena..." the younger woman started.

"I SAID DROP IT!" She turned her back and stalked over to sit down unwilling to continue in front of an audience.

Breakfast turned out to be a memorable meal. They divided the sausage, rolls and fish cakes from the night before. Gregon tried to suck in a bite of fish and gasped at the spasms of pain that radiated throughout his jaw and head. Deshia impatiently jerked the fish cake out of his good hand and tossed it away swearing about wasting good food. The bard suspected that his jaw was either broken or dislocated, or perhaps both. Gabrielle wasn't going to say anything more about his injuries now, but would try again later.

The bard sat in silence forcing down a cold breakfast. There was nothing wrong with the food, but she had no appetite at all. She had been around Xena and old lovers before, both male and female. It seemed Xena had a lot of them, but this was the first time since her and Xena had been lovers that she had felt so threatened, with the exception of Lao Ma. Xena was acting very strange. Why did she let Deshia travel with them? That wasn't like her at all. Although, neither was her reaction to Hope or the way she had deserted her to go to Chin.

Xena ate a small portion of food. She wasn't hungry either, but knew she needed the energy to keep her body going. As hard as she tried not to, her eyes keep straying to Deshia who was sitting across from Gabrielle. Why was she feeling so drawn to the warrior? She loved Gabrielle, that hadn't changed. She hadn't thought of Deshia in a long time. Yet, it seemed as if there was a connection from herself to Deshia that was being pulled tight. Was it because there was so much unfinished business between them? Or was it her conscience because of what she had done to Deshia? She was feeling a little calmer now and was able to concentrate better.

After everyone was done eating, Xena told Deshia to take Gregon over by the horses so she could change the dressing on Gabrielle's bite wound. Once they were alone, Xena carefully took off the old bandage and cleaned the area thoroughly.

Gabrielle sat quietly through the cleaning. Xena was very gentle and seemed to be more like herself. The warrior's impatience and temper were once more under control, but Gabrielle was hesitant to say anything worried that she would just set Xena off again.

After putting on a clean poultice, Xena also checked her friend's ribs. They were still sore, but were actually healing very well. She took her time, though, and tried to show through her actions what she found unable to say. Once she was satisfied that the bard was truly okay, she stooped down in front of her to fasten the ties on the green top.

Xena gazed into Gabrielle's beautiful green eyes wishing for a moment that she had the bard's skill with words. Again using actions instead of words, she tilted her head and kissed her partner softly. She pulled back slowly. "Do you need anything for pain?"

Gabrielle felt her eyes fill with moisture relieved that Xena was making an attempt to try and reassure her. She shook her head no and Xena packed up her kit nodding toward the horses.

"You ready?"

"Yes," Gabrielle answered relieved to see "her" warrior returning. Xena's behavior reminded Gabrielle of the madness that the Furies had inflicted on the warrior. Still, this was different. Xena had moments of true lunacy back then before she turned the tables on Ares. This time she was alternating between the warlord Xena and her Xena.

They broke camp quickly. Xena tied Gregon's hands in front of him callous to the cries of agony, and put him on Argo. Gabrielle wanted to walk figuring it would be less painful than bouncing up and down on a horse. Xena and Deshia both started out by walking too. They set off for the east.

They traveled in silence except for the moaning and groaning of Gregon. Riding on the horse with his bruised and aching genitals was a torment for him. Not that Xena and Deshia cared. Gabrielle said something to them about having him walk instead and both of them looked at her like she was crazy.

After a couple of hours, Xena called a halt. The drug had burned itself out of her system and with a clearer head, she could no long ignore the injured prisoner. She also noticed the bard holding her arm against her ribs to protect them from jarring as she walked. It was time to get out her kit and her healing skills.

Gabrielle walked over to a grassy area near some trees and gingerly sat down leaning her back on a stump. "Uhhhh," she grunted as she jarred her bruised ribs. She glanced over to the horses as she heard loud voices. She couldn't make out the words, but the warriors were arguing about something. She watched as Deshia pulled Gregon off Argo roughly and dumped him on the ground. She left him there sprawled on the grass and sauntered over toward the bard.

"Damn it, Deshia. I said get him down, not throw him down," Xena growled.

"Fuck him," she answered without looking back.

Xena knelt down beside the groaning man and began to treat his injuries.

Deshia set down in front of Gabrielle and leaned back slightly while she closed her eyes letting the sun shine into her face. "Nice day, isn't it?"

Gabrielle snorted. Nice day? "I've seen better."

Deshia didn't reply for a few minutes, then made a point of looking Gabrielle over with a leering smile. "You're pretty nice too," she commented as Gabrielle returned her stare. "Xena has good taste. Of course, I guess you know all about her taste." She paused a moment waiting to see if Gabrielle would rise to the bait.

When it was obvious that the bard was not going to play along, she asked, "So, how long have you and Xena been together?"

Gabrielle could be civil to Deshia as long as she was civil to her, so she decided to answer that question. "About three years."

"Been lovers that long?"

Well, so much for being civil. "That's none of your business."

"Look, it's obvious that you're in love with her."

"So?" Gabrielle asked warily.

The warrior lowered her voice, "So has she hurt you yet?"

"Of course not! She would never hurt me."

"Don't kid yourself, Blondie." She glanced around noting that Xena was still working on Gregon.

"My name is GABRIELLE, not Blondie," she answered with all the authority of an Amazon Queen. "If you want to address me, at least have the courtesy to use my name."

Deshia gazed at her a moment. So, the lamb has teeth. "Okay, Gabrielle it is." She grinned slightly. "You don't like me much, do you?"

"I don't know you, Deshia, but a person is generally treated the way they treat others. You haven't given me much to like about you."

"I'm not looking to make friends. I don't need friends. They'll stab you in the back quicker than an enemy will."

"What about Xena? Isn't she your friend?"

"Friend? The Ice Bitch?" she asked harshly. "She's nobody's friend!"

"Wrong. She's my friend."

"You're awfully naive for an Amazon." She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see that Xena was about finished. She decided to walk over and make certain that Gregon didn't switch sides. Before getting up she leaned over to Gabrielle "If she's your "friend" then why was she screwing me yesterday?"

Gabrielle didn't bother to answer. There was no point. She looked away as the tall warrior left.

Xena felt Deshia's presence as she walked up near her. She had finished with Gregon's fingers and hand, then helped him take something for the pain. After he had managed to swallow a few squirts of water, the warrior wrapped his jaw as best she could. The jaw was broke and dislocated and had to be very painful. She gave him as many herbs as she could and still be safe so there wasn't a lot more she could do for him.

"Xena, I could save us all a lot of trouble. Why don't you let me finish off this bastard?"

"No. I said I'd take him to the Amazons and that's what I'm gonna do."

"Waste of time, if you ask me." Deshia said as she started walking toward the woods.

"Where are you going?" Xena asked suspiciously.

"I'm going to take a nature call." Deshia stopped and turned to Xena with a grin. "Want to come and help?"

Xena gave her a disgusted look and after grabbing the waterbag, went to join her partner. She sat down beside Gabrielle who was looking off in the direction that Deshia took. "You okay?"

"I don't think I'll miss her when she leaves." Gabrielle answered.

"She bothering you?" Xena asked then took a long swallow of water.

"Not exactly." She could see by Xena's expression that she was concerned. "It's nothing, Xena."

"You say the word and she's gone, Gabrielle." She handed the bard the waterbag.

Gabrielle smiled slightly relieved to hear Xena say that. "No, that's not necessary, but thanks."

Xena held out a small pouch of powered drug. "Here, hold out your palm."

Gabrielle complied and watched as Xena poured a small mound of the powder out. She glanced up. "This is going to taste bad, isn't it?"

"Yep, but it will help the pain you're feeling."

"And how do you know I need it?"

"Oh, just one of my many skills," she answered with a tired smile.

Gabrielle smiled back, then looked down at the powder with a grimace. "Okay, here goes." She poured the drug into her mouth and took a few long swallows of water to wash it down. "Blahhh, that was awful."

Xena grinned at her and tied the pouch to her leathers.

They both looked over at the prisoner who was trying to get up. Gabrielle watched with concern as he stood up shakily. "Thank you for helping him, Xena. It was the right thing to do."

"If you say so," Xena answered wryly.

Gabrielle gazed over at the warrior. "You've been pretty quiet since we started out today.

"Just thinking," Xena answered. "Did you drink any of the tea that Deshia made this morning?"

"Yeah, I had a cup. It was very good."

"Did you feel any different afterward?"

"Different? No, not that I noticed. Why? Do you think Deshia put something in it?

"Don't know, but just to be safe, don't drink anything else she gives you." She looked up and saw that Deshia had returned and stopped by Gregon. Xena was watching them intently.

"So you don't trust her?" Gabrielle asked.

"No, not at all." She turned toward the bard. "And don't you trust her either."

"Do you think she and Gregon are working together?"

"It seems like a big coincidence that she turns up after you're attacked." They both observed the tall warrior get her waterbag from her saddle and take a long drink. The man appeared to be trying to communicate with her, but she hung her bag back on the saddle, then swung around and caught him with an elbow in the chest knocking him down.

"Gregon, I'm going to put a vial in your good hand," Deshia whispered as she leaned down. "It's something to help with the pain. I'll set you free tonight." She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him up slightly to cut off Xena's view. "Don't let Xena find that vial or I swear I'll skin you alive." She put the vial in his hand and pushed him back roughly. She took her horse's reins along with Argo's and walked closer to Xena and the bard.

She smiled at Gabrielle and spoke in an overly sweet voice, "Oh Gabrielle, your boyfriend needs a drink of water."

"Funny, but he seems more your type," the bard answered flippantly.

"Oh, that's cute, but you see, I don't like men. Give me a woman," she looked back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle, "or two any day."

Gabrielle could tell that Xena was tensing up again. She also knew that Deshia must be able to read her too. Why did she bait her like that?

"Wouldn't be the first time we shared, huh Xena?" She laughed at Gabrielle's expression. "What's the matter, didn't you know Xena likes threesomes? And you look like one tasty little morsel."

Xena leaped up and grabbed Deshia by the front of her armor and slammed her backward into a tree. "Whatever you and I did has nothing to do with the present. Gabrielle's mine and if you touch her...I'll kill you."

Xena's voice was chilling, and Gabrielle felt the hairs on her neck rise. There was no doubt in her mind that Xena would carry out that promise.

Deshia rubbed the back of her head where it impacted with the tree. "Oh that's perfect, Xena. You'd kill me, but you let that bastard Gregon live! And I wasn't talking about raping her. That's more your style, isn't it?"

Rape? Gabrielle heard the words, but couldn't understand why Deshia would say that. It couldn't be true. But as she looked at Xena's face, she knew that it had hit home. Xena appeared to have been deeply affected by what she said.

"You know what I can't figure out?" Deshia continued, "That you two have been together for so long without Gabrielle really knowing you. Or what you're capable of." She looked over at the bard. "Do you know how many of Xena's lovers died at her own hands?"

"I've met a lot of them and they looked very alive to me."

"No, you just met a lot of people she fucked around with. That's just about anyone she knows. I'm talking about her "special" lovers."

"Deshia, is there a point to this conversation?" Xena interrupted.

Deshia glanced over at Gabrielle then back to Xena. She wasn't certain how much longer she could continue the charade. Being around Xena hurt too much. "Can we talk...alone for a moment?" she asked.

Without taking her eyes off Deshia, Xena told Gabrielle to start walking ahead.

Gabrielle hesitated a moment, and Xena turned her head and said angrily, "Do it!"

The bard didn't like being spoken to that way especially in front of Deshia, but she obeyed knowing that Xena was already upset. She shook her head furious that she was being treated like a kid. As she started walking, she muttered, loud enough to be heard, "Whatever, Xena."

Xena waited a minute or two, then crossed her arms. "What?" she asked tersely.

"Xena, I don't want to fight with you."

"A little late for that, don't you think? And what's that garbage about "threesomes"? We tried that once when we were both drunk and neither one of us liked it."

"Yeah, I know." She shrugged. "But I gotta tell you...she's beautiful." She gave Xena a half smile. "She's definitely different from the type you usually go after."

Xena stepped up closer to Deshia. "Don't try to come between us again, or else." Her voice left no doubt that there would be grave repercussions to pay.

"I didn't know you were serious about her or I wouldn't have mentioned sharing her." She looked toward the road where Gabrielle had gone and then back to Xena. "She must be something special."

Xena looked toward the road too. "She is." She glanced back to Deshia. "And as far as you and I go, it's over! You got that?"

After all these years, Xena could still cause Deshia's stomach to tie up in knots and make her heart ache with sadness. Regardless of how much she wanted to hurt Xena, she couldn't stop the pain just being around her brought. She stepped up closer to Xena. "After the trial is over, we'll probably never see each other again. I...Why, do you hate me so much?" She tried hard to mask her feelings, but she just couldn't.

Xena could see the pain in Deshia's eyes. She felt the anger melting away. The last thing she wanted was to hurt this woman anymore than she already had. "Deshia," she spoke softly. " I don't hate you. I hate what we were. I hate the person I was back then." She sighed looking away a moment. There was so much she could never say to this warrior, so many things she could never make amends for. Why couldn't she just tell Deshia that she regretted what she did to her? That it haunted her for years afterward. The sad thing was that Deshia had been right about a lot of things, including Darphus, but Xena wouldn't listen to her. "Believe me, Deshia, I never hated you."

The stared at each other, both wanting to say more, but neither able to rehash their past now. Deshia broke the silence. "I'm sorry I upset, Gabrielle."

"Tell her, not me."

Deshia nodded and wiped her palms on her leathers.

Xena asked, "You ready to go?" After a nod from the tall warrior, Xena hoped maybe they could travel with no more problems now. She realized then that she no longer felt any desire for Deshia. At least that problem seemed to be solved. "Come on, let's drag Gregon's carcass up and get moving."

They caught up with Gabrielle quickly and Deshia made a point to apologize and was even able to make it sound sincere.

Gabrielle gazed at the tall warrior a moment wondering if she really meant what she said. She decided to take a chance. "Okay, apology accepted." She looked over to Xena, who was securing a rope that she put around Gregon to keep him on Argo. Without a word, Xena motioned Deshia forward and dropped slightly behind so she could keep an eye on the warrior.

They traveled in an uneasy silence for a few candlemarks keeping a steady pace. Xena stopped briefly once to get three apples out of her saddlebags and gave one to Gabrielle and Deshia. Gregon was barely conscious due to the combination of herbs that Xena and Deshia had given him.

Deshia took the last bite out of the crispy apple and gave the core to her horse. I think it's time to shake things up a little. "Sooo, Gabrielle," she drawled. "How did you like Britannia?"

Britannia? Gabrielle felt the blood drain from her face and her stomach tense as she stopped dead in her tracks and spun to face the tall warrior. "What do you know about Britannia?" She looked from Deshia to Xena, but saw that Xena looked as surprised as she did.

"I was just wondering how you enjoyed meeting Boadicea?" She glanced from Xena to Gabrielle. "Is there a problem?" she asked with an innocent smile. Oh yeah, got you there, didn't I?"

Xena answered with a hard glint in her eye. "Let's just say it wasn't what we expected. Why? What do you know about it?"

"Oh," she replied nonchalantly, "I was there. It's a shame we missed each other. "I've spent most of the last two years with Boadicea."

Xena raised her right eyebrow. "Funny, she didn't mention you."

"Why would she?" she asked coldly. "It's not as if you and I are friends, now is it?" She walked on leaving Gabrielle and Xena sharing a look between them. Gabrielle opened her mouth to say something, but Xena shook her head warning the bard now was not the time.

Xena watched as the bard resumed walking. So Deshia was in Britannia. Was that another coincidence? She glanced up at Gregon, but he was out of it. His eyes were glazed over. That's strange. I didn't think I gave him that much of the herb. But, he's probably better off. She begin to follow after Deshia and the bard with a slight tug on Argo's reins. As she thought about Britannia, a cold rage begin seeping into her. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at Deshia. If I find out that you had anything to do with Gabrielle being at that temple, I'll make you pay in ways you can't even imagine.

Deshia knew from the expression on Gabrielle's face that she had really hit a nerve. Boadicea told Deshia that something had happened to Gabrielle in a temple just before her battle with Caesar. She didn't know exactly what, only that Xena had to leave right away to take Gabrielle back to Greece.

The rest of the day passed without any more revelations. They had to switch Gregon to Deshia's horse to give Argo a break. Deshia actually made an effort to lighten up the mood with her singing. She entertained them with several different songs, some in different languages. She sang a ballad, some rousing fighting songs, and a couple of really dirty tavern songs that got all three women chuckling, but the last song stood out from all the rest. It was a hauntingly beautiful love song about two women. Gabrielle had never heard it before and could not help but notice the similarities between the two women and herself and Xena. One was blond "with locks the color of the morning sun". The other had "black hair the color of midnight sky." One lived in the dark of night, the other in the brightness of day. The song told of their trials and efforts to overcome all obstacles to live together in one world, but sadly, were never able to. It ended by both of them committing suicide so they could be together on the other side.

Shortly after the last verse, Xena climbed on Argo and announced she was going to ride ahead to check out a familiar campsite. Although in truth, she needed some space between herself and Deshia. That song had brought back so many memories. There had been some good times in the beginning of their relationship. Deshia had been very special, although the Warrior Princess couldn't accept the love that Deshia had for her. She only thought of the warrior as one of her best conquests.

As Xena rode away, Gabrielle took the opportunity to talk to the talented warrior. "Deshia, you have a beautiful voice."

Deshia smiled at Gabrielle. "Thanks. I enjoy it, although I rarely sing in front of others. I used to sing a lot around Xena. She seemed to like it."

"I can understand why."

Deshia seemed to be lost in the past a moment. "Sometimes it was the only way to calm her down." She shook her head as if to come back to the present.

"I've never heard that last song before. It was beautiful, but so sad."

"Yeah, I know. It was Xena's favorite song. I suggested to her that I change the words so it ends happily, but she didn't want that."

"Could you teach me the words? I'd loved to write them down."

"Sure, why not?"

After a few minutes of walking, Deshia said, "Gabrielle, can I ask you something?"

Gabrielle was immediately on guard, but Deshia did ask. "Yes."

"Do you trust Xena?"

"Of course I do."

"Well, maybe you better open your eyes. I trusted her once too, and I nearly died for it. Then yesterday when we ran into each other she came on to me. Go figure."

"Deshia, why are you telling me this?" Gabrielle asked exasperated. "And why do you think I would believe you?"

"I'm telling you the truth. And I'm doing it because I don't want to see Xena destroy one more woman's life." She stopped a moment when she saw Xena up ahead. "The only person she cares about is herself."

"Look, I don't believe you. And you don't know Xena now. She's changed from the person she used to be."

"She hasn't changed that much. And, I can guarantee if she's not getting the kind of sex she needs from you, then she's damn sure getting it somewhere!"

"That's enough, Deshia! I don't want to discuss Xena with you anymore!" She spun around and strode ahead, then turned with a jerk. "I know what you're trying to do, and it's not going to work. I trust Xena with my life every day. Do you really think I wouldn't trust her with my heart?"

Gabrielle started walking ahead. The rational part of her knew that Deshia was just trying to drive a wedge between her and Xena, but the jealous part was worried. She had seen the way Xena looked at Deshia earlier that day. And she had seen Xena aroused enough to recognize that emotion in her, and she knew for sure, that Xena wanted Deshia on some level.

As Xena rode Argo up to Gabrielle, she could sense something was wrong. One look at Gabrielle's face was enough to know that Deshia had said something to her. Damn, I shouldn't have left them alone. I should have taken Gabrielle with me.

The bard looked up at her and asked softly, "Xena, can I ride with you the rest of the way?"

"Of course, Gabrielle." She jumped off Argo and put her arms together to make some leverage for Gabrielle so it would be easier to mount the horse and wouldn't put much pressure on her abused body. Once the bard was on, Xena climbed on behind her. She laid her head against the bard's soft hair. It smelled so good, and she loved to feel the reddish gold hair against her cheek. "Are you okay?"

Gabrielle didn't answer for a moment, then softly whispered, "We need to talk, Xena. Soon."

Xena pulled the bard closer to her, "I know," was all she said. She was worried about what would happen once she told Gabrielle the story behind her and Deshia. Would Gabrielle still love her? Would she be afraid of her? She kissed the bard's neck, her breath warm against Gabrielle's skin, inhaling her sweet scent.


They stopped a few minutes later to make camp at a site Xena and Gabrielle had camped before. There was a clearing close to a stream surrounded by trees and flowers. It was an ideal stopping point.

Xena tied Gregon to a nearby tree. He was moaning constantly again from the pain of his jaw and hand. Xena decided it was better from him to sleep for awhile, so she gave him more of the herbs she mixed. Deshia left to do some hunting for supper which gave Xena and Gabrielle some much needed privacy. They set up camp together with Gabrielle making a fire from wood that Xena gathered.

Xena sat down and indicated for Gabrielle to sit also. "You've been pretty quiet for the past few hours, Gabrielle."

The bard gazed into her lover's face, her worried blue eyes meeting hers. "Xena, I want to ask you something...and I want your word you'll tell me the truth." She paused a moment. "Whether it hurts me or not."

"I won't lie to you, Gabrielle." Even if it means losing you.

"I want to know...if I satisfy you...when we make love?"

Xena was stunned a moment. That was not the question she was expecting. "Yes, Gabrielle. What..." She was momentarily lost for words. "Why would you think..." She stopped, shook her head a moment. "Because I've never told you how I felt," she answered herself. And because you've seen the desire I had for Deshia.

"Gabrielle... I'm not good expressing my feelings." She looked away a moment and made a face, then looked back. "What I mean is, I don't have a problem with hate, rage, you know, that sort of thing." She dropped her gaze a moment. "But," she looked back up into those worried green eyes. " very hard for me to words, and...I'm sorry that... I've never told you just how much you mean to me." She reached over and put her hand over her partner's. "Making love with's...the most wonderful experience of my life. I've never...never given all of myself to anyone but you. I always held back...afraid to let myself be vulnerable, afraid to give my heart completely." She moved over and knelt in front of Gabrielle, putting her arms around her and holding her close. "You...push away all the darkness."

Gabrielle hugged her as tightly as she could. She couldn't hold back the tears of happiness that ran from her eyes. "I've been so scared you'd leave me for Deshia."

"Oh Gabrielle," she almost moaned. "Never."

"Aren't you in love with her?" she barely whispered.

"No. I've never loved her." Now wait a minute, you just promised to tell her the truth. That wasn't the complete truth. Xena slowly pulled back to look at the bard. "That's not exactly true. I did care for Deshia...a lot. I guess I did love her. But I...I couldn't deal with it." She laughed bitterly. "No, not me. I didn't want anything to do with love. I twisted those feelings up in me. Turned it to anger," she voice dropped to a whisper, "to cruelty." She stopped, and sat back, elbows on her knees staring into the campfire.

"Xena, tell me about Deshia. How did you meet her?"

"I'm not sure you really want to hear about that. It's not exactly pleasant."

"Please. I'd like to know."

Xena kind of sighed and her eyes got a far away look in them. "I remember the first time I saw her. I'd been scouting out the villages around Athens recruiting replacements for my army, and I went into a tavern where I knew I could find men of the breed I wanted. You know the type, ruthless cutthroats that would stab their own sister in the back..."

Xena walked into the crowded noisy tavern, surprised to see so many people at such a late hour. She quickly surveyed the room, discounting the barmaids, whores, farmers, men too old or frail to fight, when she spotted a tall female warrior standing at the end of the bar. She was staring at five men sitting at a table near the wall on the opposite end of the bar. They looked like the sort of warrior that Xena wanted. They were loud, arrogant, mean looking fighters. Xena picked out the one she thought was their leader. She had a lot of experience doing that, and as a rule, she was never wrong. There were also three scruffy looking warriors leaning at the bar that could be possible candidates.

Xena sat down at a table against the wall so she could observe the people for a few minutes. Her gaze traveled back to the tall warrior. She had long, curly, black hair, a hard lean body, and those legs! Long, well muscled, not an ounce of extra meat on her. Xena observed that her skin was deeply tan to a hue much like her own, and then Xena noticed her hands. They were larger than hers, naturally as the woman was an inch or two taller. She had long, slim fingers that she was slowly running up and down her mug of ale. Xena envisioned those hands sliding over her body. The way she was watching the men, made Xena wonder if she was looking for someone to share a bed for the night. She was just getting ready to go over and introduce herself, when the woman walked around the bar toward the warriors.

She strode up to them stopping near the table. When she spoke, her deep sultry voice carried across the bar. "All right now, which one of you bastards wants to die first?" The men looked up and started laughing. The closest one put his hand over his crotch and squeezed himself. "Don't you mean which one of us wants to fuck you first?"

With lighting speed almost too fast to see, she drew her sword leaned in and decapitated him pulling back slightly as she held her bloody sword in front of her. The warrior's head fell on the table and rowed on the floor, while blood sprayed over the entire table from the dead warrior's neck. The remaining men jumped up and drew their swords. Most of the patrons dashed to the far side of the tavern, or ran out the door.

The warrior closest to her wiped blood from his face, and demanded. "Why'd you do that? What's your problem, bitch?"

"You!" she lunged in and pulled back quickly as he countered her move. She spun swinging her sword around and almost cut him in half. He died instantly and crashed to the floor.

The other men began to move out to fight her while she stood there with a cold smile on her face. "Do you remember a little village on the border near Parculos? Where you and a few other cowards decided to destroy the inn? The woman who ran that inn was my mother, and the two young girls you raped and killed were my sisters. Would you like to know what happened to the rest of the animals who helped you that night?" She watched their faces, their guilt clearly showing. "They're all dead. I killed them all, some very slowly. You three are all that's left."

The men looked at each other and leader yelled, "Kill that bitch. Now!"

The other two came at her at the same time. She laughed twirling her sword in her hand, looking every bit as eager to fight as the Warrior Princess normally did. She was holding her own against the two burly warriors with no problem at all. It was obvious that she was just playing with them. She was very well skilled, maybe even as good as the Warrior Princess herself.

One of the three warriors at the bar drew his sword. "Let's get her. We'll teach her what women were made for." His two buddies were in for the fun too, so Xena decided it was time for her to get in on the action. She jumped on the table and somersaulted over the men to land in front of them. She looked over her shoulder at the dark haired warrior. "Mind if I play too?"

"You can have them. But these other three are mine!"

Xena drew her sword smiling at the men. "Well, boys, looks like you're going to die tonight." One of the men rushed at her, and she casually blocked his thrust, spun and kicked his sword out of his hand. As he gaped at her, she plunged her sword in his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor. The other two came at her at the same time. She blocked both of them, swinging her sword back and forth between them, driving them backwards. One tripped over the sword of his dead buddy. Xena hacked open his chest and as he fell, she swung her sword at the other men's legs, cutting one off just below the knee. She spun and sliced into his neck with a killing stroke.

Her eyes gleamed with pleasure. This was what she lived for - the excitement of the battle. She turned to see how the other warrior fared. She had killed two of the men, but the one Xena had pegged as the leader was still standing, fear in his eyes.

"You son-of-a-bitch!" the warrior cursed. "You're the one who killed my mother. And, you're going to die slowly."

She parried, thrust and swung around knocking him backward with a powerful kick.

He was thrown up against the wall, but quickly recovered and charged at her. She waited till the last moment and ducked and caught him in the head with her elbow. As he tried to shake off the effects of that hard hit, she again stunned him with a spinning leg kick. He fell against the table and she quickly brought her sword down cutting off the fingers on his sword hand. He screamed in agony and she grabbed his other arm pinning it to the table and chopped off those fingers too. He dropped to his knees roaring in pain.

She turned around to see who it was who had helped her, only to star into sparkling sapphire eyes. She slowly ran her eyes up and down Xena's body obviously liking what she saw. "Thanks for the help," she said as she sheathed her sword.

"My pleasure." Xena wiped her blade down on one of the dead warriors and put in back into it's sheath.

"I'm Deshia," the warrior said as she held out her arm.

The Warrior Princess clasped her arm. "Xena."

"Xena? The Xena?"

"Well, I'm the only one I know."

Deshia turned as she heard the mutilated warrior slump to the floor unconscious. "Oh, I almost forgot." She reached down and grabbed the front of his armor and started dragging him toward the door. Then she stopped and glanced back. "Want to come along for some fun?"

"What are you going to do?"

"Kill this bastard...a little at a time."

Xena grinned, "Count me in."

Once outside, Deshia and Xena picked up the injured warrior and slung him across Deshia's horse. The warrior jumped up behind him and waited as Xena mounted her horse. They rode a ways out of the village leaving the road to stop beside the river. There was a full moon tonight and the moonlight sparkled off the water illuminating the area.

Xena watched as Deshia pushed the man off her horse and jumped down. Xena found she liked watching her. She had the grace of a panther. In fact, she found Deshia to be fascinating. Xena climbed down off her horse too and took the reins of both horses and led them away from the immediate area and tied them to a tree. She didn't want them to get spooked at the smell of blood. And she had a feeling that there might be plenty of that.

She walked toward Deshia who she discovered was watching her. Deshia had one hand casually resting on her hip. As Xena got closer, Deshia said, "I've heard a lot about you. Is it all true?"

"Probably," Xena answered with a half smile. "Like what have you heard?"

"Oh, you know, evil, blood-thirsty...dominating," she smirked. "Stuff like that."

Xena stepped up closer. "All true," she purred.

"Good," Deshia whispered. "You and I have a lot in common."

The moonlight sparkled in Deshia's incredible green eyes. Xena had never seen eyes so mesmerizing. Her hair was long and very sexy, in fact, everything about Deshia exuded a raw sex appeal that filled Xena's senses.

"Mmmmm, just looking at you makes me want to just kill this animal quickly, but I can't do that. He needs to pay for his crimes."

Xena glanced down at him. "I heard you say he killed your mother and sisters?"

"Yeah, well, actually my half-sisters. I didn't really know them, but he did kill my mother. She was an innkeeper, a widow twice over."

Xena wondered at the coincidence that her own mother was an innkeeper. "What happened to your father?"

"That worthless bastard?" she snorted. "I killed him! Him and my uncle both."

"Why?" Xena couldn't help but ask.

"Why?" she repeated. "Little things, like them raping me when I was 8 years old. Like using me for a punching bag when they were bored. Like..." she stopped. "What difference does it make? I killed them on my tenth birthday." She laughed bitterly. "A birthday present for me. It was really easy. I just waited until they both passed out from drinking and I slit their throats."

"And your mother?"

"She threw me out of the house. I've been on my own since then."

"Then why are you..."

"Why am I getting revenge? Because I should have been the one to kill her, not them."

"I get it," Xena answered. "What have you got in mind for our fingerless friend?"

"Why don't you help me strip him. I think I'll start by cutting off some of his useless parts first," she said with a laugh.

"By the Gods, Xena," exclaimed Gabrielle. "You two tortured him to death?" She shuddered. "Did you really help?"

"Yeah, some. I mostly just watched. But, she didn't do anything I haven't, Gabrielle." She looked away, then her eyes met the bard's. "There's not much I haven't done. I was a real bastard then." She dropped her gaze. "Still am," she added softly.

"No! You're not, Xena," Gabrielle protested. "You're not the same person you were then."

"That part of me is still here. Not buried as deep as I thought."

"That may be true, but you control it. You don't let it control you now. That's the difference." She paused a moment until Xena made eye contact. "You're not alone now either. I'm here to help you, so don't shut me out. If you're having control problems, I need to know."

"I haven't had for awhile, that is until yesterday."

"Yesterday when you got back or yesterday when you ran into Deshia?"

"Both," she answered softly. "But it started with Deshia."

"Started?" She studied Xena's eyes as she felt her stomach tighten. "Did you and her..."

"No! Gabrielle, I would never do that to you." She glanced away a moment. "But...I did kiss her."

'Kiss? Okay you can handle this, don't get angry or she'll clam up on you.' "And this, ummm, desire you had for not, uh, not based on just sex, right?"

'If I tell her the truth will she leave me? She should know. Deserves to know.'

"That's right." She waited a moment gauging Gabrielle's reaction, then added, "It's more about power, dominating the other."

"Have you ever wanted that...with me, Xena?"

"NO!" She shook her head. "I told you that what we have is different, totally different." She looked away, a haunted look in her eyes. She was remembering what happened that morning when she almost took Gabrielle. "But, I'm afraid that if I ever did lose control..." She stopped unable to finish.

Gabrielle reached over and laid her hand on the warrior's knee. "Xena, I don't for a minute believe that you could ever hurt me. You stopped this morning when I asked you to." She smiled nervously, blushed a little. "I mean, we've both been pretty aggressive at times, we've scratched or bitten each other, but...uh..I've...well, I've only been with you...and the one night with Perdicus which doesn't really count. And, um, so I've never had that much experience, but if, uh, you need more, I'll do whatever you want."

Xena couldn't help but smile at Gabrielle's desire to please her and at the bard's nativity in just what she was offering to do. "You already do everything I want or need."

"Well, then why do you want her?" Gabrielle couldn't keep the anger from her voice. It hurt too much.

"I honestly don't know." Xena replied. "When I saw her at the market place, I was surprised to see her, but I didn't feel anything like what I did in that tavern."

"What about now?"

"No, I don't feel that need now."

Gabrielle took a deep breath releasing it slowly. "Xena, I think you better tell me more about you and Deshia. I need to understand your relationship to her. What happened know, she finally killed that man?"

"Are you sure you want to know, Gabrielle?"

She nodded, "Yes."

"No, I don't think I..."

"Xena, please. Tell me."

With a frown, the warrior starred into the flames from the campfire. "When he finally died, Deshia....."

Xena was leaning against a tree watching as Deshia tossed what was left of the killer's body down. The tall warrior had definitely gone for overkill with the murderer, continuing to slice away at him long after he was dead. Xena almost said something to her, but then who was she to condemn anyone else? If someone did the same thing to her mother, she would probably do worse.

Deshia stood there a moment with a look of almost pure ecstasy, then locked eyes with Xena's and sauntered over to her. She was holding the knife in her hand, and she was splattered with blood. The Warrior Princess was very aware of the weapon, and was more than prepared to defend herself if it came to that, but she didn't think Deshia meant to use it on her.

Xena could see that Deshia was breathing hard, obviously very aroused. She could feel her own pulse quicken and shivered with anticipation of having that body.

Deshia could read the undisguised lust in Xena's hungry eyes. "Does a little blood bother you?" she asked in a sultry voice as she indicated her leathers and hands.

"No," Xena answered, her voice a low growl. "Don't bother cleaning up. You'll just get dirty again." She smiled wickedly.

Deshia laughed. "Ooooh, down and dirty, huh?" She looked Xena up and down slowly. "We'll just have to see who ends up on the bottom getting dirty."

Xena's right eyebrow raised at Deshia's arrogance. "What are you planning on doing with the knife?"

Deshia smiled seductively, "I love to play with a cold hard blade myself." She held it up moving it slowly in front of Xena. "Maybe I'll use it to brand you later." She threw the knife a few feet away where it stuck in the ground. "Well, Warrior Princess, I'm going to take you now."

That challenge was all Xena needed. "Oh, you think that, do you? You got it reversed. I'm taking you. Get rid of your scabbard and sword."

"I don't take orders," Deshia answered smugly. "Take off yours."

"Why don't we take them off at the same time?" Xena compromised.

"Okay," Deshia agreed as she began to undo the clasp.

Both scabbards and swords were tossed to the side. "Armor?" Deshia asked.

Xena liked this game of seduction. Both wanted to be in control, however, both wanted to get to the fun without it taking all night. Soon armor clanked to the ground to join the weapons.

Deshia said, "I could always grab that knife and cut off your leathers."

Xena chuckled, "You'll never get that knife before me. You might as well give up now."

"You don't seem to understand. I don't give...I take!" Deshia stated as she made a leap for the knife. Xena grabbed her by the shoulder, but was pulled down with the powerful warrior. Xena landed on her shoulder and rolled over on her back with the taller woman on top. Each locked on to the other's wrists as both warriors twisted and pushed trying to gain an advantage. Xena was surprised at Deshia's strength. It was a near match of her own making the battle truly a contest of wills. Deshia put her leg in between Xena's knees and pushed her thigh up to rub against Xena's inflamed center only to discover Xena's underpants already wet with her hot juices.

Xena rolled Deshia over, pinning her underneath. Now she used her leg to push her knee up between Deshia's thighs bringing a low moan from the dark haired warrior. Xena laughed, the sound coming from deep in her throat. Deshia used her long legs to wrap around Xena's and again rolled the Warrior Princess over on her back. Both warriors were excited by the struggle, as their bodies rubbed and ground together.

Xena kicked and shoved and threw Deshia off her as she grabbed the warrior and pushed her backwards to the ground again. She moved up the taller warrior's thighs, rubbing her succulent wetness on her. Xena grabbed Deshia's wrists in hers and pinned them to the ground above Deshia's head. "Give it up, Deshia. You can't win."

Deshia reached deep within herself and found the power to resist, throwing Xena off slightly. Then before Xena could compensate, she tossed the Warrior Princess off.

Xena fell beside the knife and seized it bringing it up against Deshia's chest. "Hold it! Now...I can cut off those leathers, or you can take them off for me. Which is it going to be?" Xena felt the lust building in her, her heart beat faster, her face flushed from the excitement with a need to triumph.

Deshia was breathing hard, her eyes clearly showing her rising passion but not willing to concede. "Guess you're going to have to cut them off."

The Warrior Princess slid the knife down and under first one strap and then the other, and stuck the knife back in the ground where she could reach it. She leaned down quickly and crushed her lips to Deshia's. Xena plunged her tongue into Deshia's mouth where it fought with hers, tasting, sucking, as both warriors tried to take control. Their bodies rubbed against the other, blood now covering Xena's leathers also.

Deshia wrapped her leg around Xena's and with all her strength pushed Xena over where she was on top. Her full, firm breasts were bobbing above the Warrior Princess having broken free of her cut leathers. For a moment, Xena quit struggling and the momentum brought one of Deshia's breasts close to her face where she seized the full hard nipple in her mouth, biting down on it slightly. She heard Deshia take in a deep breath as her grasp on Xena loosened.

Xena quickly took the advantage and lunged clutching both of Deshia's wrists and rolled again putting herself on top. She used her incredible power to push both Deshia's hands above her head once more. "I'm not stopping. I'm taking you one way or another."

Deshia struggled in earnest finding for the first time since she was a child that someone was overpowering her. "No," she snarled breathlessly. "I can't just give in." Her eyes met Xena's. "I haven't been taken since I was 10 years old."

Xena gazed down on her understanding her meaning. She drew on her more than mortal strength and pushed Deshia's wrists together and held them with one hand as she snatched the knife up and held it to Deshia's throat. "Yield!" Her voice was deep, the warrior lust raging inside her, urging her on. "Yield to me Deshia or I swear I'll use it."

Deshia stared up looking very much like a cat caught in a trap. Xena's eyes were hooded with a flaming passion. The tall warrior tried again to break Xena's iron grip on her wrists, but to no avail.

Xena pushed the knife against Deshia's throat, a thin line of blood seeping from a shallow cut. She leaned down, her breath against Deshia's lips. "Say it, Deshia."

The warrior knew she had met her match. With both reluctance and excitement, she whispered, "I yield Warrior Princess."

Xena tossed the knife down and crushed her lips to her conquest. Her tongue demanded entrance between the soft lips, and Deshia opened not only her mouth, but her soul to the conquering warlord.

Xena savored the sweet taste of victory as her body craved the feel of skin on skin. She raised up. "Undo my straps," she ordered panting. Her willing warrior unhooked the garment and Xena pulled the leathers off flinging them to the ground. She got off Deshia telling her to strip off her clothes which the taller woman did quickly. Xena deposed of her underpants as she gazed at the beautiful body laying beside her.

She leaned over and captured one of the large dark nipples sucking greedily. Then her teeth nipped at the bud. She could feel Deshia shudder, her body trembling. Xena bit down harder bringing a gasp as an intense need flamed deep within Deshia. Xena bit, sucked and licked the large firm breasts, first one then the other. She was on fire, driven by the wild warrior lust within her. She placed her hand on Deshia's thigh sliding it up almost to the wet center, but instead circling, brushing through the thick black hair and again close to the heart of her flaming desire. She laughed as Deshia moved her hips trying to bring Xena's hand against her. Xena pressed herself down on Deshia's body "You know what I want to hear."

"Xena," Deshia whispered roughly not wanting to comply, but her body needed more. "Please," she finally gasped.

"Please, what?" asked Xena with a wicked grin.

"Damn you," Deshia growled, not wanting to comply.

"You wanted to play rough, remember? You lost, this is MY game now." She slid her fingers up through the moist hair, going just around Deshia's center. The tall warrior rotated her hips trying to bring herself into contact with the teasing fingers.

"What do you want, Deshia?" She put her finger just below the curly hair and barely rubbed the outer lips causing Deshia to jump slightly and try to press her body upwards. "Ask me nicely and I might do it." She laughed deep in her throat and for a moment, Deshia was filled with rage and tried again to push Xena off her. Xena was not going to allow that to happen as she again grabbed Deshia hands in an iron grip and pushed them above her head.

The renewed struggle just excited Xena more and she took Deshia's nipple in her lips again and sucked hungrily nipping with her teeth occasionally. The tall warrior's desire won out and she quit fighting. Xena glanced up seeing in Deshia's eyes that the battle had been won now and forever.

"Please, Xena, please put your fingers in me," she pleaded gasping. There was a part of her that was humiliated to submit, but her desire for the Warrior Princess was too great to be ignored. There was something within herself that needed Xena and that only responded to Xena. She was captured, body and soul.

Xena pressed her lips against Deshia's kissing her brutally and she slid her fingers against the wet swollen lips feeling the heat waiting her there. She pressed her palm against that wetness firmly, then begin to rub, sliding her hand up and down the outer lips as Deshia moaned, her lips parted, eyes closed. Xena broke off the kiss and used her fingers to circle the engorged bud. "Look at me," she ordered as her need raged.

Deshia starred into those dark sapphire eyes as Xena plunged two fingers up inside bringing a loud gasp as the strong fingers worked furiously within that silken inferno. Deshia tossed her head side to side wanting, needing a release. Then Xena withdrew eliciting almost a whimper from her captive. Deshia watched as Xena brought the fingers up to her mouth sucking them in to taste her sweet honey. The essence gave Xena an almost frantic need to be satisfied. "Deshia bring your thigh up against me." Xena leaned back down, rubbing herself against the muscled thigh and Xena again picked up the knife. She put it to the skin just under Deshia's right ear and stuck the tip of the knife in slowly carving an X in the skin deep enough to make a permanent brand. Deshia cried out in pain, but soon shuddered as the pain only increased her desire. The knife was tossed away as Xena put her lips to the cut flesh and began to lick. Her fingers again entered Deshia as they plunged in deeper, thrusting harder making Deshia moan louder and louder. The taste of Deshia's blood drove Xena crazy and she pressed herself against that hard thigh sliding up and down. Deshia suddenly clenched up and cried out with her climax, more intense and powerful that any she had ever known. Her entire body was shaking with her release as a thousand points of light danced behind her eyelids.

Xena groaned loudly her body quivering, her completion bursting into a super nova sending tremors throughout every inch of her body. She collapsed on Deshia trying to catch her breath. She had never experienced anything close to matching what she just felt and she was savoring every last second of it. She whispered into Deshia's ear, "You're mine."

"Yes, Xena, all yours."

Xena's voice trailed off. She glanced up from the flames of the fire and caught Gabrielle's gaze.

"Was it always like that between the two of you?" she asked quietly.

Xena frowned slightly as she looked away a moment. "Yes and no. I didn't have to make her submit each time. Once was enough to establish who was in charge. After that, it was what ever I wanted." She renewed the eye contact. "I mean I've tried just about every variety of sex act there is at least once. It never really meant anything to me...blood lust...warrior lust, it was all the same."

"With Deshia, though, I enjoyed having that power over her. She was a predator, like me. For years she was in control of every situation, never took orders from anyone. And then, I conquered her...and like everything else I did, I took it to excess. She learned to like pain, and I got real good at inflicting it. She took everything I dished out."

"Because she loved you?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"Because she loved me," Xena nodded. She snorted and shook her head. "And, I still don't understand why. I've never treated anyone as badly as I did her."

"What happened, Xena?"

"That was the beginning of the end. Since I was the commander, whoever I chose as my current favorite gained power through me. No one would touch my lovers if they wanted to live. Deshia knew that and she started making lots of enemies. When she told you that she didn't like men, that was an understatement. She hates men, all men. It's the only reason she never had a large army of her own. She lead female warriors, usually not more than 30 or so at a time. If she had allowed men in, she would have ended up killing them herself. My men understood that quickly and they didn't trust her.

I told you about what happened after the HORDE trapped my Army. I lost a lot of warriors and I needed to replace them quickly. Darphus came to me and offered to join with his troops. I didn't like him, but it did solve my immediate replacement needs. But, oh boy, Deshia and Darphus were like oil and water. They were constantly at each other's throat."

"I'd never had problems like that before. I didn't tolerate anyone making trouble including any of my lovers. I either banished them or killed them. But, I couldn't bring myself to do that to her. I sent Darphus with about half the men to the north to take several small villages because I knew it would keep them away for a few weeks. I hoped that I could get Deshia straightened out with him out of the way. I decided at the last minute to keep Darphus's men with me and send my loyal soldiers with him. I wanted some time to train them and try to win their loyalty. That was a big mistake. Deshia sent someone into Athens and alerted the militia to Darphus's mission and he was attacked. All my soldiers died but him except for Theodorus. Darphus found out from someone he knew in the militia that it was Deshia who betrayed them, and he demanded that I turn her over to him to kill."

She rubbed her fingers through her long dark hair and shook her head slightly. "She pushed me into a corner. I had to do something. If I didn't, they would have all turned on me. The irony is they did later anyway."

She stopped flooded with the memories of that last day with Deshia. She had tried so hard to put all that out of her mind.

"What did you do?"

Xena started to speak, then paused as her emotions threatened to overcome her. She still couldn't believe that she had betrayed Deshia so heartlessly. She swallowed hard, a lump suddenly blocking her throat.

Gabrielle moved over beside her and put her arm around her waist. "Xena, you don't have to tell me anymore." She could feel Xena trembling.

The warrior turned to gaze into her eyes. "I...need to tell you. You deserve to know."

Gabrielle rubbed her partner's back gently. "Okay. I'm here."

Xena turned toward the fire not really seeing the flickering flames, and speaking quietly. "I made a bargain with Darphus to keep her alive. I convinced him that what I had in mind would be worse than death to her." She barely whispered, "And it was."

Xena sat leaning at a table studying some maps when Darphus burst through the front of her tent. Theodorus was with him and both were dirty, had blood on their leathers and appeared to have been in a battle for their lives.

"Darphus?" Xena jumped up quickly. "What happened?"

"What happened?" he repeated loudly. "Why don't you ask that bitch behind you?" he hollered furiously.

Xena could sense Deshia moving closer and could feel the tension coming from behind her.

Darphus drew his sword, his eyes filled with hatred. "You're going to die, you fucking bitch," he snarled as he pointed his sword at the tall warrior.

"I asked you what happened," Xena repeated in an ominously soft voice.

"She set us up! The Athenian guard was waiting for us." He drew in a breath, so angry he could barely talk. "They're all dead. Every last one but the two of us."

"What? My men? Dead?" Her eyes turned to ice and her whole body went numb. Most of the men who went with Darphus had served with her for years. She had trained them into the best warriors she had ever known.

"That bitch betrayed you!" he yelled as he waved his sword at Deshia. His other hand was clenched tightly. He wanted to tear her apart with his bare hands.

Deshia voice came over Xena's shoulder. "He's lying. He fucked up and wants someone to blame."

"I'm going to cut your heart out!" Darphus raged as he lunged toward the tall warrior.

"Shut up! Both of you." Xena drew her sword quickly and stepped between them. "Darphus so help me, if my men died due to your carelessness..."

"I've got proof. Theodorus!" he indicated for the man beside him to step up.

The young man tossed a bloody sack on the table. "It's true, Xena. You know I wouldn't lie to you."

Xena knew that Theodorus was telling what he thought was the truth. He was completely infatuated with her. Xena laid her sword on the table and grabbed the bag and opened it. She drew out the head of Merlea, who was Deshia's lieutenant from her former Army. She was one of the warriors who followed Deshia when she joined Xena's army.

"We captured one of the guard and he told us that they knew we were there because Deshia sent Merlea to warn them. We tracked her down in Athens."

Suddenly, it all fell into place. Xena had seen Deshia and Merlea talking near the edge of camp two days earlier before Merlea left. Deshia told her she had sent Merlea to scout out another village that Deshia thought would be an easy target. She tossed the head down.

She turned slowly and her eyes captured Deshia's. Her body went cold. She knew instantly that Darphus was telling the truth. 'She betrayed me. Betrayed. Again.' She closed her eyes a moment while the pain surged through her. Her stomach tied in knots. 'They're all alike...Caesar, Borias, Deshia.'

"Get out Darphus," she said in a cold, flat voice as the anger surged through her body.

"No! You turn that bitch over to me now!"

With barely controlled rage, she spun around quickly. "I said get out! You too," she motioned to Theodorus.

"She's mine, Xena. I want that cunt turned over to me and my men or else."

"Don't threaten me Darphus. This is my army not yours. Now wait outside."

She watched as Darphus strode out stiffly. She gritted her teeth, feeling the rage building inside her. 'They're all alike. Men, didn't matter.' Deshia was the one person she thought she could rely on not to betray her. Deshia didn't want her Army and Xena knew that Deshia loved her. But, she betrayed her anyway.

Deshia moved up behind her and put her hands on Xena's shoulders. Xena turned around and her fist connected solidly with Deshia's jaw which knocked her backward on the ground. Xena's eyes narrowed dangerously. She reached down and grabbed the warrior by the front of her leathers jerking her up.

"Why, Deshia? Just tell me why."

"Xena, he's going to betray you. He wants your men."

"What men? You stupid bitch! I sent most of MY men with him."

"I didn't know. I sent Merlea out before you decided to keep his men here. I didn't know until the next day."

Xena backhanded her hard across the face, once, twice and then pushed her back on the ground. Deshia wasn't even trying to defend herself.

Xena slowly died inside as she starred at the woman before her. She could hear the men outside yelling and ranting. Darphus had gotten them all stirred up. He now controlled three fourths of the warriors while her men lay dead, killed because of Deshia. She drew her dagger out of her boot and reached down and again grabbed Deshia by the front of her leathers while she brought the knife up to her throat. The same throat that clearly showed a reddish bruise from their passionate sexual encounter only hours before.

Deshia knew that there was no saving herself at that point. Xena's eyes said it all...fury, pain and betrayal. She had heard Darphus planning to kill Xena three days earlier, and had set up the ambush to save Xena, but she would never believe her now. At this point, death would be a blessing. Living without Xena would be worse.

"I did it for you," she whispered, her voice filled with emotion. "He wanted your Army and the fame of killing you."

"You think I don't know that he wanted my Army? That's what they all want, but he would never have had the balls to try it before." She gripped the knife tighter ready to slash open Deshia's throat. But, as much as she knew that Deshia's betrayal called for death, she couldn't do it. Deshia had saved her life in battle, but more than that, Xena truly cared for the warrior, more than she could ever admit. She flung her backwards on the ground again and shoved the knife back in the sheath.

She glanced toward the front of her tent as the voices outside grew louder. She turned back to Deshia. "Give me your sword," she ordered in an icy voice.

Deshia jumped up. "No Xena! You can't turn me over to Darphus."

"I can do anything I want to!" she snapped, her jaw clenching.

Deshia drew her sword quickly, but not to give away. "If you want me dead, then you do it," she said angrily. "It's not like I mean anything to you anyway."

Xena shook her head impatiently. "I'm going to try and save your worthless hide. Now give me your weapons so I can go out there and stop them before they burn the tent down."

Deshia glanced toward the tent opening, then handed over her weapons trusting Xena to try and defuse the riot outside. Xena started walking toward the front, then turned to look back. "Stay here. Don't you dare come outside now or I'll gut you myself."

Xena stepped outside to mayhem. The men were hollering for Deshia's blood. The three remaining women who came with Deshia and Merlea were standing nearby ready to help defend if Darphus stormed the tent. Xena pointed Deshia's sword toward them. "You have a choice to make. Either you ride out now alive or I let them at you."

Sera, a young Amazon, with red hair glared at Xena. "Where's Deshia. Did you kill her?" she asked with fury in her voice. She never did like Xena and had warned Deshia to leave her.

Xena threw Deshia's weapons down in front of them. Her eyes narrowed and her jaw tightened. "What do you think?"

Sera looked at the weapons, then turned to glance at her companions. They may have hated Xena, but they weren't foolish enough to fight her. All three hurried to get their mounts and get out while they could. Xena's reputation for killing her lovers was well known. None of them wanted to die with their former leader.

Xena watched to make sure they weren't stopped, then turned to the men who had quieted down some to find out what was going on. "All of you break it up and go back to what you were doing." She motioned for Darphus to join her. They walked slightly away from everyone else so they wouldn't be overheard. "Is she dead?" snarled Darphus.

Xena looked behind her at the men who were still standing where they were. "I said to break it up!" she hissed. Most of the soldiers looked from Xena to Darphus to see what he wanted.

"Stand down," he rasped. "For now," he added as he looked back at Xena, the implied threat hanging in the air.

Xena sneered at him daring him to make a move on her.

"I asked you if the bitch was dead," he repeated insolently.

"No," she answered, but quickly added. "I've got a deal for you. You want to make her pay...well so do I, but killing her would be too easy and wouldn't give you as much pleasure as what I have in mind."

"You're not going soft, are you Xena?" he taunted. "The men will never stand for that bitch staying alive, and neither with I!"

"Not to worry, Darphus, she won't be riding out of here." Xena planned to take Deshia out after dark and make certain that she never returned. How she hadn't figured out yet, but she would later.

"Now, Darphus, let me tell you what I have planned," she said with a cruel smile.

Xena stopped for a moment remembering what happened next. She glanced over at Gabrielle. "I went back inside and I lied to her...told her that I bribed Darphus to get the men calmed down. Then, I forced her to lay down and tied her to the bed. She thought I was going give my own method of punishment. But, instead I...I let Darphus rape her...while I watched."

"Oh Gods, Xena," the bard whispered. Xena had told her all about Darphus and she knew that he was little more than an animal. She looked at Xena as their eyes met again, but Gabrielle looked away. She was having a hard time connecting this Xena to that other Xena. It was almost as if there were two separate beings.

Xena closed her eyes wishing she could blot out the memories. She could still see the look on Deshia's face when she realized what Xena was doing. "I think a part of me died that day. It changed something inside me. That's when everything started unraveling, including me. My plan to destroy Hercules was what I hoped would make everything okay again."

She glanced back up at Gabrielle who still had not said anything. She wished she knew what Gabrielle was thinking. She was afraid that the bard would lose whatever respect she had for her. Would this change the way Gabrielle felt about her? The silence stretched becoming more unbearable. Finally, Xena whispered, "Say something, Gabrielle."

The bard glanced back at Xena. "I...It's just.. I can't even imagine you doing that to someone who loved you." Her eyes were bright with moisture, wanting to cry for Deshia.

Xena felt her stomach tighten as she caught the look in Gabrielle's eyes. Suddenly she just had to get away. She felt like she was losing something precious. She got up and started to walk somewhere, anywhere.

"Xena!" Gabrielle jumped up and ran over to her grabbing her arm. "Wait."

Xena stopped but didn't turn around, so Gabrielle stepped in front of her. She put her hand on Xena's face gently. "Look at me," her tone serious.

Xena dropped her head, but still didn't look at the bard. "Xena, please, look at me."

Finally her partner gazed into Gabrielle's worried eyes. "I want you to listen to me. There is nothing that you have done that will ever change the way I feel about you." She took both of Xena's hands in hers. "I love you. All of you! You can tell my anything, and it will never make me love you any less."

Xena wrapped her arms around her partner pulling her into a tight embrace. Gods, I don't deserve you, she thought to herself. She pulled back a little so she could have eye contact with Gabrielle. "I can still see her eyes...the way she looked at me. I'll regret what I did until the day I die."

"Did you tell her that?"

"No, of course not. I told you I was a bastard. I cut her loose and told her that I was going to take her out later away from the camp over the back of my horse so it would appear she was dead. I told her that I would kill her on sight if I ever saw her again." I would have too, if only to make certain I never had to face her again.

Raped and then threatened with her life...Gods, what Deshia must have felt. "Have you ever told her you were sorry?"

Xena's answer was soft, barely whispered. "No."

"Did she leave like you ordered her to?"

"No, she just laid there staring at me. Didn't say anything. I couldn't stand it." Just thinking about those accusing eyes cut through her. "I went outside to organize the men for a raid and she came after me." Xena shook her head. "She really flipped out. Came after me with a knife she found inside. I couldn't just defend myself, not with my men watching." She closed her eyes a moment "I...I beat her half to death. I know how far I can take it before I kill someone with my bare hands. I took her almost there, then put her on my horse and took her a few miles away and left her in a forest. I was worried that Darphus would find her and finish what I started. I rode to a farm not far away and paid the farmer and his wife 100 dinars to pretend they found her and take care of her. I threatened that if she died, I would come back and kill them and their family. That was the last time I saw her until yesterday."

"So you didn't even know she was alive?"

"No I didn't. Shortly after that, I sent Darphus to recruit more men, and I went after Iolaus to get to Hercules. You know the rest of that story."

"Xena, you should talk to Deshia. Tell her how you feel."

"Talking is not something we did much of, Gabrielle. You know me, how long did it get you to get me to talk more than a few words? It's too late for that."

"Xena, it's never too late to tell her you're sorry. You owe her that."

"She wouldn't believe me."

"Then do it for yourself, Xena."

Xena gazed down into the bard's face once more feeling incredibly fortunate to have the love of someone as infinitely precious as Gabrielle. Even after all the terrible things she had done, that she could be blessed with such happiness. She kissed Gabrielle tenderly, sliding her arms around her again, pulling her closer. Maybe the bard was right. Maybe she should talk to Deshia.

They held each other for awhile, then Gabrielle pulled back slightly. "You know what?"


"I need a bath."

Xena smiled slightly. "Is that your way of saying I need one too?"

"Well, they're always more fun when taken together."

Xena kissed her forehead gently. "Okay, let's go check out that stream."


They had just finished washing and were sitting on a large rock in the shallows, where the water came up to their waists, when Xena heard Deshia approaching. Even after all this time, she could still recognize the warrior's footfalls. "Deshia's back."

Just about that time, she came walking down the path from the camp, and she had blood over most of her upper body and leathers. Gabrielle called to her, "Deshia, are you okay?"

She shrugged, "It's not mine. I got a deer, and the damned thing bled all over me."

"Well, we should be eating good tonight," Xena commented.

"Just don't expect me to cook," Deshia said. "And I know you're not cooking, Xena. Soooo, I guess you get the honors, Gabrielle."

"I don't mind. I do most of the cooking anyway."

"Hope you two don't mind if I join you, but I'm a mess," said Deshia as she started taking off her boots. Soon her braces and armor followed.

Gabrielle tried not to watch her, but she was right in their line of vision. She glanced over at Xena who was looking very uncomfortable. Soon Gabrielle knew why. As Deshia finished undressing, she walked over near them and the bard was shocked to see the scars on the warrior's body. There was a large X on her right buttock, and another smaller X on her left breast. Several other scars were scattered over her hips, back and just about anywhere that was normally covered by her clothing. Gabrielle didn't know if they were from injuries received in battle or from Xena.

Gabrielle slipped her arm into the water and took Xena's hand in hers. She wanted to reassure Xena that she meant what she said.

Deshia glanced over at Gabrielle and noticed how she was trying to avoid looking at her. "Don't worry, Gabrielle, I'm used to being starred at. It's not as if I could hide them, huh, Xena?" she asked looking at the warrior.

Xena looked her in the eye. "You never complained at the time, now did you?"

"Would it have made any difference if I had?"

Xena shrugged. "No, probably not."

"At least you're being honest," Deshia answered. "Besides, it's over and done with.

Now let's have some fun. Xena, let's see if you're as good a swimmer as you used to be. See that big rock out there," she pointed toward the other side, almost to the shore. "I'll race you to it."

"You'll lose," Xena answer with a half grin.

"Well, I think I'll go start cooking some venison while you two fight the water," the bard said with a smile. She turned to her partner and whispered in Xena's ear. "Talk to her. She deserves to hear that you're sorry."

Xena gave her partner a look that conveyed her thanks. Here she was buck naked with an old lover and Gabrielle wasn't worried. She was just going off to cook for them.

As Gabrielle stepped out on the shore, Deshia nodded at Xena, and made a motion to dive in. Xena immediately dove off the rock and was several strokes away before she realized that Deshia wasn't beside her. She stopped and turned, treading water to stay afloat. What she saw made her stomach clench. Deshia was standing on shore holding Gabrielle up against her, a knife to her throat.

"You're slipping, Warrior Princess," she taunted. "The old Xena wouldn't have fallen for that."

Xena could see that Gabrielle wasn't even trying to get away. She was totally limp in Deshia's grasp. "What have you done to her?" she demanded.

"Oh, don't worry, I just used a pressure point to put her body to sleep. But, she's quite aware of what's happening, aren't you my pretty?" She put her head down and kissed Gabrielle on her ear. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Xena moving toward shore. "That's far enough! Remember I know your skills. You come any closer and I'll slit her throat. And don't think that I don't know your chakram is over by the rock you two were sitting on. You would never have gone out there without a weapon."

"What do you want, Deshia?"

"What do I want? she laughed bitterly. "I want my fucking life back, Xena!"


"Oh that's just like you. You destroy everything you touch, and then move on with no thought to the mess you left behind."

"Deshia, what I did to you was terrible. I..."

"Shut Up!" the warrior demanded. "I don't want to hear any lies from you. You've never been sorry for anything you've done! You use people, Xena, then either kill them or leave them wishing they were dead."

Xena had inched slowly forward until she was standing in the water up to her shoulders, instead of treading water. Deshia had the advantage though. There was no way Xena could get to her before she killed Gabrielle. Deshia was also right about the chakram - it was under the water on the rock where she had been sitting. Damn, I shouldn't have let my guard down. Me and my ego...she knew I couldn't ignore a challenge.

"Callisto is another woman that wished you had killed her. You sure ruined her life! Did you ever wonder how she learned to use the chakram, Xena?" She laughed at Xena's expression. "Yeah, I taught her. I taught her everything I knew about you. Except pressure points. I needed to keep some type of advantage over her."

"I didn't know you knew them."

"Well, I watched you often enough. It's not that hard if you have enough strength. I practiced on any of your warriors or Darphus's warriors I could find. And I was real careful that I killed anyone who knew who I was. It was trial and error, but lots of fun."

Xena had wondered how Callisto got to be so proficient in using her chakram. She knew though that if a warrior was quick and smart enough, they could learn it. "You didn't teach Callisto well enough, Deshia, because I stopped her."

"That's because she was a lunatic! Her hatred for you drove her nuts! Oh, and don't get jealous. I never slept with her."


"Shut Up, Xena!" she yelled furiously. "You're going to listen to me for a change. I'm in command now, not you."

Xena saw a thin trickle of blood on Gabrielle's throat where Deshia had applied a slight pressure. She forced herself to remain calm and quiet.

"You want to know how many women I've slept with since you?" She looked away a moment, then back to Xena. "None. I haven't been able to..." she stopped a moment trying to collect herself. "I spent my life in control after leaving home until I met you. You tore down all my defenses, Xena. Changed me. I didn't even know who I was...." She took a deep breath as she swallowed the lump in her throat. "It was weeks before I was healed physically from that beating you gave me. But my heart....well, I never found all the pieces to it."

Xena dropped her gaze and looked away for a moment. The guilt for what she had done to Deshia was eating away at her. She couldn't undo it now. But Gabrielle shouldn't have to suffer for the evil she did. Her eyes met Deshia's again. Xena knew the only chance Gabrielle had was to keep Deshia talking while she inched forward. She was still too far away to leap close to Deshia in time. "That blood on you, let me guess. Gregon?"

"Fraid so. He sort of lost his head." She moved slightly repositioning Gabrielle against her as she rubbed her breasts against Gabrielle's hair. "Now there was a piece of trash. He was supposed to have raped dear little Gabrielle and killed her before you got back, but the stupid bastard fell asleep and didn't get started early enough. And then you didn't drink all of your port to get enough of the drugs I put in your drink down. Now, that was a surprise. A little bitter port wouldn't have stopped you from drinking before."

"I don't drink as much as I used to."

"Why...because it makes you meaner than you normally are anyway?"

"Something like that."

"Well, well, so Gabrielle, dear, you've never been around Xena when she's drunk, huh? Now there's a rare treat. Someone usually ended up dead or used as a punching bag. But then, that's what your lovers were for, right Xena?"

Xena didn't answer. She starred into Gabrielle's eyes wondering for a moment what would have happened if they had cross paths years ago. Gabrielle could have been another victim of hers. She forced that thought away, and looked at Deshia. "So, I felt so drawn to you because of a drug? But, I don't know of any drugs that will do that and cause so much anger."

"You're not supposed to know. It's a God thing. It works on both desire and rage. It could make someone as gentle as Gabrielle do any number of unspeakable things. Haven't you ever wondered why some kind and gentle villager suddenly went berserk and raped and killed his family? No doubt some God was bored and wanted a little entertainment. And..." she paused a moment her eyes hard. "I've got enough here to turn your lover into a homicidal manic." She showed Xena a small bottle she had in her other hand. "Maybe I'll give it to her and let her loose on a bunch of pathetic villagers. Maybe in Amphipolis."

"Let Gabrielle go," Xena pleaded. "It's me you want."

"Oh yeah, like I'm really going to lose the only hold I have on you." She shook her head. "Callisto was planning on drugging you herself. But, she had a way of totally losing it around you. She couldn't keep her head straight long enough to really carry out her plans."

"Where did Callisto get the herbs?"

"From one of the Gods. She never told me, but I suspect it was Ares." And if you move one more inch, I'm going to start carving on your little green-eyed lover."

"Deshia, if you hurt her, I'll..."

'You'll WHAT? What more could you possibly do to me? Hurt me? Been there, felt that. Have me raped? Who could be worse than Darphus?. Kill me? That would be a blessing."

"Don't hurt Gabrielle. I'm the one that betrayed you."

"Oh, so you're finally admitting that?"

"Yes, and I regret what I did to you. I regretted it the moment he touched you."

"But you didn't stop him, did you?"she asked her voice breaking. "You just stood there and...and watched." Her eyes were bright with moisture. "How could you just watch?"

"I was afraid to leave you alone with him," Xena confessed, her voice also full of emotion. "I didn't want him to kill you."

"Damn you, Xena! I gave up everything for you. Did everything you ever wanted, but it didn't mean anything to you. I was just another conquest. Someone else to use until you got tired of me." She paused a moment. "Isn't that right, Xena?

Isn't it?" she yelled.

"Yes," Xena answered. "But I did care about you..."

"Oh give me a break! Tell that to someone who might believe it. Like Gabrielle here." She pulled the bard closer. "You've sure got her fooled. But, someday you'll turn on her. You know it, I know it, and somewhere down deep, Gabrielle knows it."

"Will you let her go, Deshia?"

"What are you willing to do to keep me from killing her?"


"Yeah, well then why don't you beg for her life. You know what I want to hear," she said mocking Xena.

"Please, Deshia. Please don't hurt her."


"Because she doesn't deserve to pay for what I did. And...because I love her."

"That's all I ever wanted from you, Xena," she said softly. "Just to hear you say you cared." She sniffed, unable to stop the tears from falling. "You know the really pathetic thing? I still love you." She shook her head. "Doesn't say much for me, does it? I hate myself for being so weak." She wiped her face roughly. "I...I was never stupid enough to believe that you loved me...but I thought that you...felt something for me. Darphus was worse than an animal. I haven't felt clean since he touched me. Damn you, Xena, I wish to the Gods you had killed me." She took the knife away from Gabrielle's throat and used two fingers to poke her spine releasing the paralysis on her body. Deshia then pushed the bard hard knocking her a few feet away.

"I can't hurt her. Not her fault that she's blind to what you are." She wiped tears off her face again impatiently. "I guess you won again, Xena. I can't live like this anymore." She turned the knife around and held it with both hands pointed at her abdomen.

"Deshia NO!" yelled Xena watching in horror as Deshia plunged the knife deep within her body. Xena bent her knees and flipped out of the water into the shallows, quickly closing the distance. Just as she reached Deshia, the warrior fell into her arms.

Xena cradled her body and dropped to her knees. She instinctively assessed the position of the knife and knew that there was nothing she could do to save the warrior. Her life's blood was pouring out of the wound. "Oh Gods." She held the dying warrior in her arms. "Deshia, I...I am so sorry for what I did to you."

"I...wish I...could believe that," she answered gasping.

Xena looked away a moment, then back down into those pain-filled eyes unable to speak for a moment.

"Xena...don't Gabrielle...what you did to me and the others. She...she deserves better."

"I won't," Xena answered, her voice rough with barely held emotions. She felt her eyes blurring with unshed tears.

Deshia knew then that Xena was telling the truth. She could see it in her face and eyes. As the breath was leaving her body, she breathed. "I love you, Xena."

Xena brushed the dark curls off Deshia's face and leaned down to kiss her tenderly as she pulled her into a tight embrace. "I do love you Deshia," she whispered just before the warrior closed her eyes for the last time. Xena sat for a moment just holding her as Gabrielle sat beside Xena and put her arms around both the warriors.


Gabrielle stood with Xena holding her hand as they watched the flames of the funeral pyre. Her eyes and nose were itching from the smoke of the burning wood mixed with the burning flesh as it consumed the body to ashes. The odor was something that she never got used to. She glanced over at her partner knowing that Xena was profoundly affected by the death of Deshia. Would there never be an end to the consequences of Xena's past life?

The bard gently tugged on Xena's arm. "Would you like to be alone?"

The warrior looked at her and gave a shaky smile and nodded. She squeezed Gabrielle's hand before letting loose, then looked up watching the smoke and ashes reaching up into the night sky. So many memories from that life before Gabrielle seemed to be crushing down on her shoulders. It was a weight that she would never lose. There was no way she could do enough good to compensate for so many years of death and destruction.

She watched the stars twinkling through the haze of the smoke. "Deshia," she said softly. "I don't know if you can hear me, but..." She paused a moment, her voice hoarse. "I am sorry. Please forgive me." As hard as she tried, she couldn't get the picture of Deshia tied down out of her mind. The look of betrayal and the hurt in Deshia's eyes cut through Xena again. This time she could not stop some tears from trailing down her cheeks. She lowered her head and sat down on a tree stump to stay with the fire until the body was completely burned.

Gabrielle waited back at the camp. To pass the time, she tidied up some, got the sleep rolls out and their blankets and spread them out making a soft bed. She knew that Xena had to be exhausted, although she would hardly admit it. Gabrielle glanced over toward the stream where she could see the light and flames of the still burning pyre thinking it would probably be a while before Xena came back.

With a shake of her head, she let out a long sigh. What an awful couple of days these had been. But then, they were just more of the same lately. First that awful trip to Britannia that led to Dahak and Hope. She couldn't suppress a shudder remembering that cursed temple and being over that altar. She let herself wonder again what had happened to Hope. Did someone find her? Was she well and happy? Thinking of Hope, though, made her remember Xena tracking her down to kill the baby.

No, no I'm not going to think about that. I need to get past that. But past that was China.

China. Just the name of that country sent a wave of pain through her. Xena deserting her at the worst time of her life for another woman. Then Gabrielle betraying Xena to that monster Ming T'ien. And now Deshia. We've only been back from China for a month and already more weight has been dumped on Xena's shoulders. Gods, when will this end?

Just when it seemed Xena and her were getting a little closer to what they once had. They had made love again for the first time in months just two nights before Deshia appeared.

Now would they take a few steps forward or backward? Xena had mentioned wanting to visit Solan, so maybe now might be a good time. She would talk to Xena about that tomorrow.

To pass the time, she gathered up more firewood and built up the campfire. She was hungry, but knew that she couldn't eat with that smell drifting over her. She laid down on the blanket to rest for a few minutes, not intending to sleep, but despite her good intentions, the stress caught up with her and she drifted off.

Unknown to the bard, Xena was also thinking of the recent past. She was having that same old argument with herself. Should I leave Gabrielle to protect her from the dangers that I bring to her, especially from me? Or should I stay with her to help keep my own sanity? One thing I know for sure...I can't live without her.

It was a couple of hours later, when Gabrielle felt Xena slipping down beside her waking her gently. She blinked looking into the naked vulnerability in her troubled blue eyes. "Are you okay, Xena?"

Just looking at Gabrielle gave Xena the answer to that question. She wrapped her arms around the young woman and drew her in for a hug that reached into her soul and helped soothe the doubts away. "As long as I have you Gabrielle, then I'm okay."

Gabrielle felt her partner trembling slightly which still worried her, but the reassuring words were like a balm to her raw emotions. She snuggled as close to Xena as possible breathing in the exotic aroma of her friend, lover, protector, and soulmate. All these words and more still did not describe what Xena was to her. She whispered softly, "I love you."

Xena kissed the top of her head and pulled back slightly. She ran her fingertips gently down the bard's smooth cheek. The cuts were healing well, although there were still bruises on the fair skin of her beautiful face. She gently slid her finger under her chin tilting her head up so she could gaze into the brilliant green eyes. With tenderness, she kissed the bard's lips very softly. Right now more than anything, she needed to reaffirm that this part of her life was still there. All the good things she knew and felt revolved around her partner. Gabrielle's love was worth everything she had ever gone through.

"Gabrielle...I need you." she breathed softly.

"I need you." Just three little words, but they meant every thing to Gabrielle. Xena had never said that to her before. She knew it wasn't sex Xena needed - it was the intimacy of the love they shared. She heard the deep emotion in her partner's voice, and watched as Xena's lips slowly descended down to hers...felt that soft mouth touching hers as Xena kissed her gently. The warrior's body leaned over the smaller woman and pressed against her tenderly. Xena knew the ribs were still sore, so she was very careful not to hurt the bard. The kiss deepened, with Gabrielle opening her mouth feeling Xena's tongue slipping in to taste hers. The tongues met, entwined in a sensuous dance; then Gabrielle followed Xena's out and into the warrior's mouth. She felt the kiss ignite the passion in every part of her body as they melted together.

Xena was engulfed in the sweet taste that was uniquely Gabrielle. There was nothing like it. Her senses were filled with the gentle bard's love and acceptance of Xena and all that she was. She started kissing the soft skin along the hollow of Gabrielle's throat, feeling her pulse quickening.

The bard felt Xena's tender kisses brushing along her face to her ear bringing shivers throughout her body. Then, slowly licking, nibbling and kissing over to the other ear. Gabrielle's breathing was deepening as her body responded to the wonderful sensations.

She felt Xena loosening the ties on her top, expertly untying them with one hand. She pulled herself up slightly so Xena could slip it off carefully so she didn't pull on the bandage covering the bite wound. The skirt soon followed and Xena slid her underpants off and tossed them aside. Xena's leathers and underclothes were quickly discarded also.

Their warm bodies meshed creating a burning fire everywhere they touched. The bard pressed her lips to the pulse point on Xena's throat, kissing her along the same path that Xena followed from one ear to another. Then, she applied a slight pressure to get Xena to roll over on her back with Gabrielle on top. "I love you," Xena breathed into the bard's ear.

Gabrielle leaned over and captured Xena's mouth running her tongue along the soft lips, then gently she pulled on the bottom lip with her teeth. She felt Xena chuckle softly. "What's this need you have to bite?" she whispered into Gabrielle's ear.

Gabrielle gazed down at Xena with a warm smile on her face. "I guess I get so hungry for you, that I just want to eat you all up."

"Mmmmmmmm, please do," Xena purred back.

Their mouths met again, this time opening so their tongues could taste the other. Xena slid her tongue along the velvety hotness of Gabrielle's mouth feeling a shudder running all the way to her center. She felt Gabrielle fingertips touching her along the inside of her arms lightly tickling her bringing goosebumps to her fevered skin.

The bard began kissing Xena's throat, then sucking gently, not to make any marks, just to feel the texture of the skin. With her teeth, she nibbled bringing another soft chuckle from Xena. Gabrielle's kisses now were trailing across Xena's collarbone, then down slowly as her tongue darted out for a taste here and there along the way until her tongue slowly circled around Xena's hard nipple. Gabrielle could feel Xena's breathing increasing, hear her heart beating faster. She flicked her tongue back and forth across the bud teasing it. Then her lips fastened on it, sucking first gently, then harder, alternating between biting gently, until she heard Xena moaning softly. She left that nipple as her mouth tasted the pathway to the other breast which ached for her lips.

Gabrielle's hand was busy sliding along Xena's abdomen and sides touching sensitive areas on the warrior that she knew so well. Her fingertips inflamed Xena's body as they trailed the skin making the warrior quiver. Gabrielle pulled back up and leaned in for another deep passionate kiss and slowly sucked Xena's tongue into her mouth. Her hand covered Xena's right breast while caressing the nipple with her fingers. Xena slid her hands down and cupped Gabrielle's buttocks while arching her hips to rub herself against the bard.

Xena reveled in the feel of the bard lying on top of her. No one kissed like her, no one tasted like her. If anyone asked her what paradise was like, it would be this moment, this feeling. Gabrielle's gentle love healed the dark wounds in Xena's soul and chased away the pain of the last couple of days.

She felt the bard taste her way down her body with a lick here, a kiss there, softly nibbling at Xena's skin. She blew warm air into her belly button and continued further down. A deep shudder ran through Xena's body as Gabrielle blew gently through the dark curly hair rubbing her cheeks along the line of hair until the tip of her tongue touched the swollen bud. Xena almost jumped as she felt her muscles contract causing another soft moan to be released.

Gabrielle slid her hand down to Xena's knee and slowly back up the inside of her thigh. Then she cupped the hot softness with her hand, as Xena arched her body trying to press herself against the bard's palm. But Gabrielle moved the hand and traveled back down the inside of the other thigh. Soon her hand was replaced by her lips kissing the soft insides of Xena's legs, once again coming closer to the center of Xena's rising passion. She used her tongue to open her, savoring the sweet honey waiting her there.

"Gabrielle, ahhhh, that feels good," Xena said huskily. She placed her hand on Gabrielle's head as she arched her body, moving with the rhythm of Gabrielle's tongue. She felt the bard slide two fingers inside her moving into a faster rhythm as Xena's breathing became deeper and more erratic. The warrior's excitement was rising to a fiery peak. The bard used her mouth and fingers expertly to send Xena over the edge, as the warrior moaned loudly, her body racked by shudders as she climaxed. Her eyes were moist from the emotional release which reached deep within her filling her heart with Gabrielle's tender love.

The bard looked up from her delightful position between Xena's legs and used the dark curly hair to wipe off the excess juices as she moved up into Xena's arms. She gently kissed each of Xena's eyes whispering words of endearment. She then melted laying half on and half off her warrior with her head on the strong shoulder perfectly content.

Xena caught the aroma of herself on her partner. "Mmmmm." She turned her head and captured Gabrielle's lips in a deep loving kiss. "Did I ever tell you how much I love tasting myself on you?" she purred.

"Ohhhh, once or twice," Gabrielle answered with a chuckle. It was more like every time, but it was a running joke between them.

Xena was sliding her fingertips back and forth across Gabrielle's arm. "I think it's your turn."

"Tomorrow," Gabrielle said softly. "I don't want you to move now. I just want to feel your body next to mine."

Xena kissed her forehead gently. "Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?"

"For falling in love with me."

"No, I think I need to thank you."

"For what?

"For accepting my love."

The warrior kissed her again tenderly, a smile on her face as she drifted off to sleep.


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