Author: Sara
Story Title: Tribulations
Characters: Xena/Gabrielle, Xena/Gabrielle (Hope), Gabrielle (Hope)/Ephiny
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Xena and Gabrielle suffer another setback. Sequel to Trials.
This rating is for explicit f/f sex, bdsm and potentially non-consensual sex.

They don't belong to me. They are the sole property of MCA/Universal. I'm not making any money and no copyright infringement is intended.

There is sex in here (Yeah baby) both consensual and non-consensual. There is also bdsm. You know the rules, if you are under eighteen, begone villain. If this is illegal where you live, too bad.

Another disclaimer: Violence---well yes, I mean come on, Hope is in this story...jeez

This story is a sequel to Trials

Send the feedback to

For Meli and Jack.


by Sara

Tribulation (n). Def. 2 -- an experience that tests one's endurance, patience, or Faith

Chapter One

Xena awoke instantly knowing something was wrong. She couldn't see and when she tried to sit up, she found her hands tied above her head. The cool night air against her made the warrior realize she was also completely naked. Struggling against her bonds, she only managed to pull them tighter against her skin.

"I wouldn't do that," a familiar voice called. Xena lifted her head towards the voice coming from her right side. "It's about time you woke up. Tsk, tsk Xena, you sleep more soundly than you used to. Are you getting complacent in love?" Xena tugged at the straps making them pull even tighter against the flesh of her wrists.

"Gabrielle." Her name was spoken as a question.

The smaller woman moved closer to the bound warrior. "Why Xena, what ever is the matter? You seem...ill at ease." The statement was delivered in a taunting tone. The blonde leaned over and ran her forefinger from the tip of Xena's nose down the curve of her neck to the valley between her breasts. Xena gasped in response. She recognized the lust in her lover's voice and relaxed as she realized Gabrielle was playing a game. Xena grinned, 'This must be paybacks' and waited for the bard to begin.

Her captor stood directly above her. There was lust but also a calculating look in her green eyes. "There are rules that you had better follow or else there will be serious consequences to pay. Do you understand?" The voice now had a commanding tone that brooked no resistance. Xena nodded her acquiescence. "Good. Rule number one, don't make a sound. Rule number two, no moving unless I give you permission. Rule number three, you may not come until I say so. Got it?" Xena searched her bard's voice for a hint of playfulness, but there was none. She nodded again, but couldn't see her jailer give her a small smile, just the barest upturning of the corners of her mouth.

The blonde slowly discarded her clothing, revealing a slender, well-built body. Standing directly over Xena, she lowered herself so that she was straddling the warrior's hips. The pleasure at feeling her lover's body come in contact with hers made a small gasp escape from Xena's lips. In the blink of an eye, Xena felt the prick of a blade against the soft skin of her neck. "I told you not a sound." The words were spoken softly, but there was a dangerous tone that made Xena shiver. She felt the blade press up against her throat and run across it, leaving a thin red scratch. "Follow the rules. If you don't, I'll have to administer a more drastic punishment." Xena felt the cold steel removed from her flesh.

She repressed another gasp when she felt her companion's hips begin to rock back and forth, brushing their mounds against each other. The movement stopped after a moment and Xena felt strong hands roughly caress her breasts. The palms were ground against her already hardened nipples, causing the warrior to arch back, letting her captor know she wanted more. Her request was denied as the caress ended and her lover's hands were taken from her. Her jailer leaned down to whisper, "You are in no position to make demands. Remember Xena, I'm in charge here."

Xena felt lips, almost punishing in their pressure, ground against hers. A forceful tongue demanded entry and no sooner had Xena complied, when she was being totally possessed by her lover's mouth. Suddenly, the tongue was withdrawn and she felt teeth grip her bottom lip and bite down, hard enough to draw blood. Xena let out a squeak of pain and pulled her head back. Again, there was the cold bite of steel against her skin, this time at the valley between her breasts. "You just can't shut up can you?" Now her lover's voice was hard and cruel. The blade's point started at the top of the valley and cut a line down to Xena's midriff. The warrior gritted her teeth against the exquisite pain. She felt the point cut into her skin just enough to draw blood. Xena drew a sharp breath when she felt her captor's tongue tracing the newly inflicted wound. The assault didn't stop there as the tongue continued, inflicting a more sensuous kind of pain.

Her navel received a few wet strokes, causing a gush of wetness to pool heavily between her legs. Now teeth were nipping their way down to the beginning of dark curls. "Spread your legs for me." It was not a request and Xena spread her legs, waiting for more torture.

The blonde studied her captive. She was impressive, even more so because she was totally submissive. The little scratches she had given were oozing blood and the sight of it drove her wild. She looked down at the spread legs of her victim. The dark curls were glistening with moisture and the petite woman licked her lips in anticipation. She had been waiting for this for a long time.

Xena waited in silence. She was so aroused by the way her bard was acting. Gabrielle was never THIS wild, but she wasn't about to complain. Something was bothering her though. Gabrielle was drawing so much blood. The scratches really didn't hurt. It was just the fact of her lover being so violent was a little odd. All coherent thought fled as Xena felt her sex being kissed. She barely caught a sigh from escaping when she felt lips and then a tongue licking her pubic hair. She felt a groan vibrate against her body as the tongue pushed past the outer folds to lick the sensitive skin on the inside, tasting all the wetness there.

Xena's breathing was more labored as that tongue found her swollen clit and played with it, rubbing back and forth, then batting it hard with fierce strokes. The warrior tried to keep from pushing her hips forward to get more. The tongue was slid down and into the wet opening to push in deeper than she had ever felt Gabrielle go before. She couldn't contain the sharp intake of breath as she felt her muscles squeezing and throbbing around the stiff muscle that was moving in and out with fast strokes. Xena wanted nothing more than to arch her hips in rhythm with the appendage driving into her body. She heard a desire filled voice say, "Open your mouth and taste yourself."

Xena barely had time to comply when her captor's tongue was pushed into her mouth and she could taste her essence. So caught up in the sensations was she, that she did not feel three fingers slide into her, until they started moving in accord with the muscle being shoved into her mouth. The rhythm was hard and fast, quickly bringing Xena's body to the brink of climax. Her lover withdrew to say, "Not yet Xena, not yet. I want to hear you beg me. Tell me how much you want me." The pumping of her fingers did not slow.

"Gabrielle please," Xena panted, relieved to be able to voice her needs. "Harder, yes. Harder. Oh gods, yes." Her breath was coming in ragged gasps and her words were raw and filled with need. The blonde closed her eyes and reveled in the power she had over this woman. She was at her mercy, begging for her touch.

"Beg me. Tell me how bad you want me."

"I want you Gabrielle." Xena gasped through gritted teeth. "PLEASE...please Gabrielle," the warrior's voice was filled with a burning urgency.

"What is it you want Xena?" A mocking voice breathed in her ear while her fingers still continued their furious stroking.

The warrior tipped back her head and let out a scream. "OH GODS Gabrielle fuck me please." There was such pleading that the blonde couldn't help but give in and introduced a fourth finger into the tight passage. She brought her face down to the wetness and pushed her tongue past slick lips to find her swollen clit. She took the flesh into her mouth and sucked hard. The petite woman could tell her captive was near the brink of release. Leaving her feast, she pushed up the blindfold with her free hand to look into deep blue eyes. Eyes that were hazy with passion.

"Watch me Xena. Look at me," she commanded while increasing the speed of her fingers. Blue eyes fixed on green ones in mute appeal. With a smile, the blonde whispered, "You may come now." Another scream was torn from the warrior's lips as she felt her body spasm around the fingers still driving into her. She kept her eyes open, letting her soul mate see the love and pleasure wash over her in waves of release.

When the sensations subsided, Xena felt the fingers withdrawn and saw her captor lick each one clean of the moisture coating them. With the same fingers, her lover dipped them into her own wet opening and brought them to Xena's mouth. "Taste me." The warrior obediently opened her mouth and sucked each digit clean. The taste was tangy but sweet. Xena found she wanted more and asked a question with her eyes. The blonde smiled and asked teasingly, "More?"

Xena nodded as the smaller woman knelt over her face bringing what she desired most inches from her mouth. Xena waited, licking her lips in anticipation. "Do it," the harsh command was given and Xena gladly complied. She pushed her tongue into the slick folds and licked the sensitive nub. She grasped a bit with her teeth and pulled gently. More suckling and gentle nipping made the body above her push forward in a faster rhythm. Xena abandoned the sweet flesh to shove her tongue deep into the body of her lover. She felt two hands grab her head and push her deeper. There was no need for her to move in and out. The woman moaning above her was moving her hips, impaling herself against the stiff tongue embedded in her.

Soon Xena felt inner muscles pull and grab at her. The movements were becoming more frenzied as she gazed up at her lover. Her head was thrown back and her body was arching erotically. The only sounds were her ragged breathing as her climax came and she released a blood curdling scream when she was overcome with pure sensation.

When it was over, she moved and brought emerald eyes to look intently into blue ones. Xena felt her bonds loosened and brought her arms around her lover, pulling her close. "Wow that was...something else." She whispered.

"You liked it didn't you?" The tone was arrogant and satisfied.

"Yeah," Xena breathed, "I liked it. Remind me to torment you like that more often if it's going to drive you that wild."

"Again?" The sensual invitation was given and Xena felt her body rebel as weariness overtook her.

"Easy Gabrielle. What are you trying to do, kill me?"

"You'd die happy." The confident tone was back again.

"Yeah I would. Give me a bit and I promise, we'll go at it again. Get some rest love," Xena grinned wickedly at her bard, "you're going to need it." She gave her lover a gentle kiss and settled down to sleep. Her last thought was that there was something different about Gabrielle. Her weary body demanded sleep and soon no more thoughts filled Xena's mind.

Her companion waited until she was sure the warrior was asleep to slip away. With a flick of her fingers, she was instantly dressed and in a cave standing next to the only other occupant. "Hello Mother," Hope smiled maliciously. She looked down at a bound and gagged Gabrielle. "Guess who I've been doing," she said with a cruel smile playing on her lips. "You know your Xena is quite a good fuck. It's kind of incestuous I know but whew! She is insatiable. How can a mere mortal like you handle it?" Hope paused, "But enough about my sex life. Poor Xena, her best friend, her soul mate is about to break her heart. Imagine how she is going to feel when she finds out that you're cheating on her with the Regent Queen of the Amazons."

Gabrielle's eyes widened as she heard her daughter's evil plan. She struggled violently against the ties binding her hands. "Mmmrrph, mph, mmmprh."

Hope made a noise of disgust and loosened the gag. "What was that?" She asked sweetly.

"Why are you doing this Hope?" Gabrielle demanded.

Hope shrugged and said in a bored tone, "Cause I can and I want to see you suffer. Oh don't worry Mother. Daddy doesn't even know I'm here but a girl's got to have some fun. You had the opportunity to be a part of my life, but instead you wanted to be with Xena. When I'm done with her, she'll want nothing to do with you."

"I'll stop you Hope," Gabrielle vowed.

Hope smirked. "Sit tight Mommie dearest, the fun is just starting. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a horny warrior princess to attend to. You know, it is amazing the power you have over her. Maybe you aren't the goody goody I thought you were. There may be hope for you yet Mother." Hope disappeared leaving Gabrielle alone with fear growing inside her at a phenomenal rate.

"Please Xena," she whispered, "see through her deception."

Chapter Two

Xena looked at her companion. These last few days had been...extraordinary. She was seeing a new, more aggressive side of Gabrielle that she didn't think existed in her sweet, peace loving bard. She had been surprised when Gabrielle had suggested they visit the Amazons but had eagerly agreed because she missed her friends also. Now as they entered Amazon territory, Xena looked at her love only to see her deep in thought. She grabbed her arm. "Gabrielle?" The blonde turned with a question on her face. Xena looked at her with a puzzled frown. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah why?"

Xena shrugged. "We're in Amazon country now. Don't you think you ought to give the signal."

"Signal? Oh right, the signal."

Gabrielle sounded unsure and Xena started to say something when the guards swooped down from the trees and surrounded them. Xena raised her arms and her mate imitated.

"Xena!" Solari exclaimed and leaned in for a hug. "Gabrielle, I mean, Your Majesty, we are honored with your presence," and Solari knelt in submission in front of her queen.

"Cut the royal crap Sol," Xena chided. The warrior grinned and rose.

"C'mon. Wait until Ephiny sees you Gabrielle. Nice hair cut. Where's your staff?"

Before an answer could be given, Xena interrupted, "So anything going on that we should know about?"

Solari shook her head, "Nah, everything is peaceful and...good. Come on, it'll be dark soon."

The warrior princess nodded. Ephiny was a good ruler and a trusted friend. Gabrielle had done well to name her Regent. She was jolted out of her thoughts as she saw Ephiny walking toward them, with a smile on her lovely face.

"Xena, Gabrielle, it is so good to see you." Ephiny embraced the pair.

"Hey Ephiny, how's it goin'?" Xena asked with genuine warmth in her eyes.

"Things are good," the regent said proudly. Xena nodded her approval and gave the Regent a grin.

"Hey Xena," Solari called, "come to the practice field so I can kick your ass."

Xena smirked at the challenge and turned to look at her lover, raising an eyebrow in question.

"Go on, I need to talk to Ephiny."

The warrior nodded and gave her bard a wicked smile, promising ecstasy later. "Let's go and get your ass kicking over with." She yelled to Solari. Both women laughed and walked toward the practice field playfully shoving and tripping each other.

Ephiny looked at her Queen. "You needed to talk to me about something Gabrielle?"

The blonde nodded. "Not private." The regent nodded and led her friend to her private hut, unaware of the many eyes following them.

Ephiny entered the hut with Hope close behind. She turned and looked inquisitively at her friend. Something was very different about Gabrielle, although Ephiny couldn't quite put her finger on it. "How are things with you and Xena?" she asked politely.

"Not well Ephiny. Xena...I don't think...she loves me anymore." Hope delivered the statement in a pain filled voice.

"What?!" Ephiny could not believe her ears. "Not love you, are you going crazy?! I mean didn't you see the look she gave you before she left? Gods, the woman practically undressed you with her eyes right there in front of everyone. Now Gabrielle," Ephiny shook her head, "I'm sure Xena loves you. No doubt about it." Ephiny saw tears fill her friend's eyes and saw her sink to the bed, covering her face with her hands. Instantly, the regent was at her sobbing queen's side, hugging her and murmuring soothing words.

Hope turned her tear-stained face to look at Ephiny. "Ephiny, you've always been my friend. Why doesn't she want me anymore? Wouldn't you want me?" She said in a pathetic, sorrowful tone. Ephiny swallowed hard. This was dangerous ground she was treading on. If she admitted the truth, then yes she wanted Gabrielle with a lust unrivaled by anyone except Xena. Ephiny took a deep breath to steady her hormones and her racing heart.

"You are very beautiful and special Gabrielle. Anyone would be proud to claim you as theirs." There, that was a nice safe answer.

"Would you?" Hope pressed, sensing a weakness in the Regent. Ephiny was cornered. What could she say that wouldn't get her into trouble?

"Yes," she whispered. Before Ephiny had a chance to say anything more, Hope moved in for the kill, kissing the Regent full on the mouth. Ephiny groaned and closed her eyes, luxuriating in the taste of her queen's mouth. She sent her tongue forward to taste and tease and was caught up in the sensations, that she did not hear Xena come in.

She only knew that one moment she was thrusting her tongue into Gabrielle's mouth, then the wonderful sweetness was taken away. Ephiny opened her eyes to see her queen looking shocked and nervous. She turned her head to see what could be the source of distress only to see a very shocked warrior princess standing in the door.

Xena's face registered utter disbelief at the scene she had just witnessed. Soon anger changed the expression from clueless to murderous. Clenching her jaw, she turned on her heel and left the hut. Ephiny rose, suddenly sick to her stomach. She had just betrayed her two best friends. Slowly, she turned to face her queen. "Gabrielle...," she didn't even know where to begin.

"Xena and I need to talk Ephiny. See that no one follows us." Hiding her triumphant smile, Hope walked out into the cool evening.

Xena looked up at the stars and tried to calm her murderous temper. She had beaten Solari in record time and had been eager to be with Gabrielle again. A guard had directed her to Ephiny's private quarters. Xena closed her eyes as she remembered walking into Ephiny's hut to see her lover and the Regent in a passionate kiss. Her powers of speech had momentarily been lost as she took in the scene. Xena shook her head as a hot tear leaked out and slid down her cheek. Gabrielle had been kissing Ephiny. It didn't make any sense though. The thought of Gabrielle being unfaithful sent her temper sky rocketing again and Xena took several deep breaths to try to calm down.

"Xena," a familiar voice cut through the night air. Xena turned to see her lover standing behind her. She brought her face back to gaze into the night sky. "We need to talk."

Xena spun around to face the petite Amazon. "You're damn right we need to talk. I need, no, I deserve an explanation for what I just saw Gabrielle. NOW!" The warrior waited for her bard to explain her way out of this one.

"Lately, I've been thinking about you and me and I have come to some conclusions."

"Like what?" A feeling of dread was starting to overcome the anger in Xena.

"You know what I see when I look at you?"

"What Gabrielle?" Xena waited for a few moments.

"Darkness." The word was said in a cool, collected voice.


"You know, I'm trying to find the light in me and all you are is darkness. And you poison my light." Hope shrugged in a manner as if to say 'you know how it is.' "I need to be totally at peace and I just can't do that with you in my life." Xena felt as if someone had just knocked the wind out of her. She stared at the ground as Gabrielle's words sunk in. Hope paused and with a cruel smile said, "That is where Ephiny comes in. I mean let's be honest, you've always needed me. I've never needed you as much as you need me. So, I think you should leave."

"Leave?" Xena's head snapped up at this last statement. "You want me to leave you Gabrielle?"

Hope nodded and said callously, "Yes, just go. Really Xena, someone like you should be able to realize when someone doesn't want you anymore...and I don't." Hope turned a devious smile on the warrior princess. "Be happy for me."

Xena looked intently at the petite blonde standing before her. She whispered, "Gabrielle, you don't love me anymore? No, that's not true. I know you do Gabrielle, otherwise you never would have stuck with me after Rafa and Dahje." Xena narrowed her eyes as she saw no recognition cross her beloved's face. "You do remember don't you?" Something wasn't right.

"I remember Xena."

Xena took a deep breath. She had a sickening suspicion and she had to see whether or not it was true. "Yeah Rafa and Dahje. They married us and then nearly divorced us."

Hope nodded, "That's right."

Xena gritted her teeth. She grabbed her sword and pointed it at her companion's neck. "Wrong, but then if you were really Gabrielle, you would know that...Hope," she spat the last word.

Hope smiled a superior smile. "Well it took you long enough this time Xena."

"Where's Gabrielle?" Xena pressed the tip of her blade into Hope's neck. Hope looked at the sword with disdain and took a step back. She snapped her fingers and they were back at the cave where Gabrielle was being held captive.

"Oh Mother, there's someone here to see you."

Xena ran to Gabrielle and untied her. "Are you ok?" She asked as she ran her hands over the bard's body, checking for injuries.

Hope rolled her eyes. "Of course she's fine Xena. Now I want you to tell my mother who is better in bed. You did scream out her name, but you really liked what I was doing to you, and what I let you do to me." Hope turned to face a pale Gabrielle. "Think about it Mother. She should know your touch, your taste, your body. Right Xena?" Hope gave Xena a malicious look. The warrior had a look of absolute disgust and horror on her face as she realized that she had slept with one of her worst enemies.

"Stop it Hope, just stop it." Gabrielle said in a choked voice. She turned to look at Xena. "Tell me she's lying Xena," she pleaded.

Hope sighed contentedly and said, "Well, I'll leave you two to chat amongst yourselves." She vanished and left the pair alone in the cave.

Xena looked at Gabrielle with a pained expression on her face. "Gabrielle," she whispered and reached for her bard.

"Don't touch me," Gabrielle said softly, shying away from the warrior's touch.

"Gabrielle, please let me try and explain, " Xena reached for the bard again and grasped her arm only to have it jerked away again.

"DON'T TOUCH ME," Gabrielle screamed, pain evident in her voice. "Damn you Xena. Couldn't you feel it wasn't me? Don't you know my body well enough by now?"

"Let me explain," Xena begged.

Gabrielle gave a short, harsh laugh. "Tell me Xena, was she as good a fuck as she says you were?"

The warrior closed her eyes in anguish. There was nothing she could say to excuse her behavior.

"Tell me, how was she?" Gabrielle yelled when Xena didn't answer. She felt sick inside, sick and heartbroken. She wanted to pound something into the wall, like Xena's head.

"Let me explain Gabrielle PLEASE," Xena pleaded.

Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't want your explanations. I don't want your apologies," the bard took a deep breath, "and I don't want you Xena, not after this. I can't...there isn't anyway I can let this go."

Tears fell unheeded on Xena's face. "What do you want from me then?" she asked brokenly.

"Leave," Gabrielle's voice was bitter, "just go."

"Gabrielle please," Xena sobbed.

"JUST GO," she screamed. "Why don't you go fuck Hope? That's all you seem to be good at."

Her heart shattered, the warrior princess turned and walked out of the cave. Gabrielle watched her soul mate leave. The only sounds in the cave then were those of her sobs.

Chapter Three

"I've always loved you Gabrielle," Ephiny whispered in her lover's ear. She snuggled closer and reflected on the previous hours. A tear stained Gabrielle had run into her hut, crying and kissing her at the same time. The regent could only make out a few phrases when she had been asked to make love to her best friend. Weakness had won and Ephiny had taken her queen, loving her until they had climaxed with earth shattering force.

Now here she was, wrapped up with her dream. "I've needed you and wanted you for so long." The words came easy now that they had joined. The petite blonde raised her head to gaze into the regent's eyes.

"Why haven't you ever said anything before?"

Ephiny pondered the question. "Well, you were so in love with Xena and I didn't want to ruin our friendship, so I never said anything." She leaned over to nuzzle her lover's neck. "Does this mean I get to be your consort?" She gently breathed into a pink ear.

Ephiny never got an answer as a battle cry filled the air. Xena barged in the door and the regent bounded out of bed, shaking with outrage. "What is the meaning of this Xena? Guards, guards!!"

Xena gave her a slight grin. "Sorry, they're laying down on the job." She drew her sword and pointed it at the blonde on the bed.

Ephiny sputtered and moved defensively in front of her queen. "How dare you? Are you out of your mind?"

"Get away from her Ephiny," Xena snarled.

"Oh Xena, can't you just be happy for me?"

Ephiny grabbed her sword. "Don't do this Xena. Gabrielle has made her choice."

Xena looked from Ephiny to the petite woman on the bed, who arched her eyebrow at the warrior.

To Ephiny's surprise, Xena lowered her sword. "I need to talk to you Ephiny."

The regent gaped at the warrior. "You are in NO position to demand anything Xena, I-"

"NOW!!!" The warrior shouted.

Ephiny clenched her jaw and turned back to her lover. "I will return love." She threw on a robe and walked outside with Xena.

The blonde slammed her fist into the bed in frustration. "Damn Xena for ruining my plans." Suddenly, an idea crossed her mind and she smiled maliciously as she snapped her fingers and appeared next to a still weeping Gabrielle. "Oh Mother, do stop your sniveling. My work here is done. I'd really love to stay and see how you get out of this one, but I really must dash. Have fun picking up the pieces." With a snap of her fingers, Hope sent Gabrielle to Ephiny's hut, smack down on the bed. She allowed herself a smirk. "Let's see them come out of this one together." Laughing maniacally, Hope disappeared.

Gabrielle had barely gotten her bearings back when Xena and Ephiny rushed in with a group of Amazon warriors. Their swords were drawn and all aimed at her. Xena stared coldly down at the blonde on the bed. "Time to die Hope."

"No Xena wait, it's me Gabrielle."

Xena shook her head. "Nice try but I never make the same mistake twice." She gestured toward the Amazons and the group edged closer.

"No I can prove it Xena...Please."

"How?" Ephiny finally spoke up. She was still reeling from the fact that she had been seduced not by Gabrielle but by her evil daughter Hope.

"Don't ask questions Ephiny, just run her through," there was a cold hatred in Xena's eyes.

"Let me prove it to you please." Emerald eyes beseeched deep blue ones.

Xena gritted her teeth. She knew she should just run her through and be done with it, but something was holding her back. "Dammit. Convince me and fast or I'll reduce you to a crimson stain on the ground."

Gabrielle took a deep breath and very slowly reached inside her sari to withdraw a small leather pouch. "Remember Xena," she opened the bag and withdrew a small band of gold, "you gave this to me the day you became my consort. You made me a promise. For now, for tomorrow and for all eternity." Gabrielle whispered as tears fell from her eyes.

Xena stared at the ring. Slowly, she reached into her leather tunic to take out a larger band of gold. "Gabrielle?" She whispered with tears forming in her eyes. The bard slowly nodded. Xena stepped back and lowered her sword. With a small cry, she turned and ran out of the hut.

"Xena wait," Gabrielle called and made a move to follow her, but was detained by Ephiny.

"Let her go Gabrielle."

"I need to talk to her Ephiny."

The Regent shook her head. "Xena needs to be alone right now."

"Ephiny, get out of my way." Gabrielle ground out.

Ephiny looked down at the ground and said quietly, "I'm sorry. I can't do that."

"I am commanding you to get out of my way. Your queen is giving you a direct order Ephiny. Now move!"

The regent didn't budge. She brought her gaze to meet that of her queen's. After a long moment, Ephiny turned to the guards. "Sheathe your weapons. There needs to be a guard at all times at her door." When no one moved, the Regent lost her temper. "NOW!" The Amazons scrambled into action and soon only her and Gabrielle were left. "She needs to be alone and you need sleep Gabrielle."

The bard looked at her friend. "I am still ruler around here. I could charge you with treason for this Ephiny," she said softly.

Ephiny looked intently at her queen and then grinned crookedly. "Then charge me, but you'll have to do it tomorrow after you've had some rest. Goodnight Gabrielle. We'll talk tomorrow." With that, the Regent strolled out of the hut, leaving an outraged queen alone.

The toll of the day's events finally hit Gabrielle full force and it was many hours before she stopped crying and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Morning came and Ephiny peeked into the hut. Gabrielle was already up and waiting. "Come in Ephiny," she called. The Regent walked in, nervous to her queen's reactions to her words last night. Gabrielle sensed the discomfort in her friend and hastened to alleviate her fears. "Relax," she smiled, "you won't be on trial for treason any time soon."

Ephiny grinned. "Thanks. There's something we have to talk about." Gabrielle looked at her friend curiously. She was eager to find Xena and...and...well she didn't know what then, but she knew she had to find Xena first.

"Eph, can't this wait? I've got to find her."

The Regent shook her blonde head. "No Gabrielle, it concerns Xena, you, me, and my sleeping with your daughter." The bard's mouth dropped. Ephiny half smiled. "See, I told you we needed to talk. Sit down." Gabrielle slowly sank into a chair to listen to her friend's tale.

Chapter Four

Xena sat staring at the river lost in her thoughts when she heard a soft voice call her name.


The warrior closed her eyes as the voice washed over her like a gentle rain. 'Gods, this was going to hurt,' she thought. "You remember how you said all rivers eventually lead to the sea?" She didn't turn around.

"Yes," Gabrielle answered.

"Those rivers aren't always side by side."

A touch of fear crept into Gabrielle as she narrowed her eyes. "What are you saying Xena?"

The warrior princess took a deep breath. "I'm saying maybe...maybe we shouldn't travel together anymore. All we do is hurt each other and betray each other. All I do is hurt you physically and mentally. I take you for granted." Xena paused for a moment before shaking her head. "Hope was right about one thing. My darkness poisons your light. The only way to keep from hurting you is to stay away."

Gabrielle shook her head violently. "No, that is not the answer Xena. We've been through a lot worse before, we can get through this. I thought we had gotten past this thing you do to try and keep me safe. You belong to me and I belong to you and nothing will ever change that. Don't throw our love away because you feel you have to protect me."

The warrior watched the flow of the current for a moment. She put her head down. "Gabrielle, you are the most important person in my life. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you, but your safety is one of my biggest priorities. I love you and I cherish you but I won't let you get hurt because of me."

"Don't do this Xena please," Gabrielle begged.

The warrior sighed and gazed back out at the river. "I think you should stay with Ephiny, get settled and live a peaceful life here as Queen of the Amazons. I want you to find that peace you need so badly and I know you can't as long as I'm around. I...I have to figure some things out too. I don't know me anymore Gabrielle. I hurt you, betrayed you and last night I would have killed you," the warrior laughed harshly, "all there is in me is darkness."

"No Xena," Gabrielle said fiercely, "have faith in us."

The warrior shook her head sadly. "I haven't lost faith in you Gabrielle. I've lost faith in me and I can't drag you down with me. I don't want to leave you-"

"Then DON'T," the bard interrupted, "Xena, we'll figure something out together. You and me. We're a team remember?" She asked tearfully.

Xena looked down at the ground. This hurt so much, but she had to go. Quickly, she decided the fastest way to leave Gabrielle. She abruptly turned to face the teary eyed bard. "Look, I said I'm going and that's all there is to it. Don't you get it? I don't want to be with you anymore. It's over, it's finished," Xena growled and brushed past the stunned blonde.

"Stop." It wasn't a request. The warrior stopped and slowly turned to face the love of her life. "Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle asked in a broken voice.

Guilt flooded Xena and she was sorely tempted to run back and take Gabrielle in her arms and never let go. Instead, she shrugged indifferently and turned back around.

"XENA!" Gabrielle yelled. Before the warrior could turn, the bard was right beside her. "Let's go," she said defiantly.

The warrior clenched her hands and gritted her teeth. "No, you stay here," she ground out.

Two flames of emerald glared back at her. "No, you can't make me do anything. You don't own me Xena."

The two glared at each other, neither one backing down until Xena's anger faded and a look of pain crossed her face. "Don't make this any harder than it already is Gabrielle."

This only enraged the bard more. "What?! Do you expect me to give you my blessing or something! You want me to just step aside and let you walk out of my life?!?! I'm not going to make this easy for you Xena because I'm not letting you go without a fight."

"I'm doing this for you," Xena shot back defensively.

"Well I think you're doing it for you," Gabrielle accused. "You aren't thinking of us, only yourself." She shook her blonde head in disbelief. "I never would have thought you were a coward Xena. If you want to run, then fine...go. But you remember this," she pointed her finger at the warrior, "You're leaving me. You're walking out on us. YOU gave up." Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears and she turned away so that Xena wouldn't see her cry. The tears fell and a sobbed escaped from her mouth before she could silence it. Suddenly, strong arms encircled her and pressed her head against a strong chest.

"I'm sorry. Don't cry Gabrielle, I'm sorry." Xena whispered, tears threatening to spill over also.

"Please," Gabrielle begged, "don't leave me."

Xena closed her eyes as sorrow washed over her. "Gabrielle, you are my greatest treasure, my most cherished keepsake. My heart belongs to you and no one else. All you've given me is too precious for words. Nothing means more to me than the love we share. I love you and I always will."

Gabrielle had been listening to Xena's heartfelt words with hope, but something in her voice made her stiffen with fear. She pulled back to look into blue eyes filled with regret.
"You're still going to leave me aren't you?" She whispered, disbelieving.

The warrior dropped her gaze and refused to look at the bard. Still looking at the ground, she grasped Gabrielle's hand and opened it, palm up. She dropped a circle of gold into it and whispered, "I'm so sorry for everything." She closed the bard's hand and turned to walk away.

Gabrielle looked down at the band in her palm. She raised her head to see Xena walking away, again. "Xena don't leave me," she cried.

Xena heard the pained plea but hardened her heart and continued walking. The lonely road stretched ahead of her and she paralleled it to the rest of her life...lonely. She kept telling herself she did the right thing. She figured maybe if she said it long enough, she might actually start to believe it.

Gabrielle watched her warrior walk out of sight and out of her life. "I won't let you give up on us Xena," she whispered fiercely. "I'll restore your faith in our love. I swear it," she vowed softly. Gabrielle reached in her sari to bring out her own band of gold and laid it next to the larger one resting in her palm. Two perfect circles glittered and shimmered in the sunlight. The bard raised her head to gaze in the direction Xena had gone. She nodded, determined. "I swear it."

Continue on to the sequel Triumph

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