Xena climbed up to Timon's fort, dressed in men's clothing, her hair pulled back and under a hood. As she approached the path leading to the fort's entrance, a sentry stepped out from the shadows underneath a large tree. Xena had spotted him several paces back, but she let herself look startled.
"Ho, traveller!" called the sentry. "Didn't mean to startle you, but strangers aren't allowed here."
"I understand," said Xena in a deeper voice, "I'm just pretty jumpy since I heard. I expect all of you are too."
"Heard what?" asked the sentry.
"You mean you haven't heard?" asked Xena in mock surprise. "I was surprised there was only one guard posted, but if you haven't gotten the news yet, that would explain it."
"What news, by Ares!" exclaimed the sentry.
Xena moved closer, so she could whisper. "Rumor has it that Callisto has gotten out of the lava where she was trapped. They say she's already gotten an army together." Xena grunted knowingly, "no surprise that. They say she has it in for Ares because he didn't help her in her last encounter with Xena. She's planning to trash his temples and wipe out any armies pledged to him."
"Cal-listo?" asked the sentry extremely nervously.
"Yeah. I was a warrior of Ares myself, but I'm clearing out of here. Like to live a few more years, y'know?"
"I . . . know," muttered the sentry.
"Ares' strength be with you," said Xena as she moved off, then muttered softly, but pitched loud enough for the sentry to hear, "you'll need it, friend."
Xena kept moving up the path, then cut into the woods and doubled back toward the fort. She was pleased to see the sentry's spot vacant. She leapt into a tall tree, and climbed high enough to get a good vantage point, without being seen herself. Soon enough a trio of men slipped surreptitiously out of the fort on foot and headed toward the villages below. A while later, a couple of men on horseback emerged from the main gate, which was unguarded, the guards there having been the first to hear the sentry's news. They rode off, soon followed by more of Timon's warriors, some on foot, some riding, leaving the fort in small, fearful, silent groups. Tsk tsk, thought Xena to herself, poor discipline. Standards are slipping. Ares will apparently take anyone's support these days. She settled in more comfortably in her perch. After a couple of hours, the number of warriors leaving had reduced Timon's army to a negligible number. The village of Thea was in no danger. It was time to get Gabrielle out of there; Xena had no doubt but that the dungeon guards had remained, deep inside the fort and farther away from the spread of rumor.
Xena silently approached the entrance of the fort, staying in the lengthening shadows. No one obstructed her entry. She raced across the courtyard, then flattened herself against a wall. Still no one around. She rid herself of the hooded and cumbersome cloak she had borrowed, as disguise no longer served any purpose. She figured the dungeons would be underground, and soon found a stairway leading down. Halfway down the winding stair, she heard steps coming up. A guard. With almost supernatural swiftness she stepped out of the shadows, clapped one hand on the man's mouth, and drove a fist into his stomach. As he collapsed, she whipped off his helmet and delivered a solid blow to the back of his head. The man slipped unconscious to the ground, and Xena muttered, under her breath, "Sorry. I don't envy you the headache you'll wake up with."
The bottom step opened into a corridor. As she followed it, she heard voices behind a heavy wooden door. She positioned herself behind the door, sword in hand, and listened.
" . . . What do you mean they're all gone?"
"I'm sorry, my lord. The others have all left. I heard some of the men saying something about Callisto coming with an army."
"May they be damned to Tartarus!" exclaimed the first voice, which had to belong to Timon.
Another voice spoke up, "What should we do?"
Xena took that as her cue. She yanked open the door and leapt in with a war cry: "Yi-yi-yi-yi-YAH!" Six men leapt to their feet, swords drawn. As Xena began battling, she noticed the room was ringed with small barred cells, one of which contained Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had had a fair amount of peace and quiet to reminisce, when a small contingent of guards had entered the room. "We're supposed to keep an eye on yuh," one growled. A while later, Timon had come down to check on her. While he chatted with his guards, another man had come clattering down the stairs with the report that most of the fort was empty. Must be Xena's doing, she thought to herself.
Moments later, she saw Xena burst into the room, sword flashing. She was wearing men's pants and a loose shirt. Gabrielle berated herself for thinking about how attractive Xena looked; this really wasn't the time. As one of the guards ran toward Xena, she swung out with her free arm, knocking him flat. She spun around, catching the next guard with a flying kick to the jaw. With a war cry, Xena ran up the wall and did a backwards flip, landing over the table in the middle of the room, near Gabrielle's cell. She whirled, driving her elbow into the stomach of the guard charging her. With the impact, a ring of keys flew off his belt, and Xena neatly caught it and hooked it on her belt. With another war cry and another flip, she landed on the heavy wooden table. She jumped in the air, kicking two guards at once. Timon's sword flashed toward Xena's feet, but she easily jumped up, avoiding the swing. She leapt off the table, and began fighting with him in earnest.
"Behind you, Xena!" yelled Gabrielle. Not bothering to look, Xena swung her arm in a wide arc, as she spun around, her fist connecting with a guard's face.
"You are thwarting the will of Ares!" yelled Timon as he pressed closer.
"It's rather a hobby of mine," replied Xena, her eyes flashing. With a quick blow, she had disarmed Timon. "NOW! All of you! Get out of here, all the way out, before I start hurting people!" Timon took one more step toward her, then found himself on his back, a sword pointing at his neck. "I meant that," said Xena with a quiet menace.
She stepped back, allowing him to stand up. "You heard the warrior princess--what are you waiting for?" yelled Timon, knowing he was defeated. He and the guards scrambled up the stairs and out of the fort. Somehow the wrath of Ares seemed a remote threat compared to an angry Xena.
As soon as they fled, a twirl of light announced the arrival of Ares. "Gabrielle!" yelled Xena and tossed her the keys. While Gabrielle unlocked her cell, Xena turned to face the god of war.
Ares drew his sword, and Xena countered it. As their swords clashed, Xena said, "I passed your little test, Ares. You lost."
"Not so fast, Xena!" snarled Ares.
He turned toward Gabrielle, waiting in the doorway of the cell.
"Why don't you pick on someone your own size, Ares? Your quarrel is with me," declared Xena.
"Yes . . . It . . .Is" returned the god. He turned back toward Xena, and she did a flip over his head, her "yi-yi-yi-yi!" echoing through the room. She lashed out with a foot, kicking him in the small of the back. He whirled around, and their swords came together with a clang.
"Your little trained minions weren't very good, Ares," taunted Xena between breaths. "Your standards are slipping, I see."
"It's hard to get good help these days," growled Ares, making a wide sweep with his sword, which Xena neatly ducked under, rolling, then leaping up and jumping on the table.
"And you need all the help you can get, Ares!" she snapped as she jumped in the air, kicking out and catching Ares squarely in the chest. He staggered, and Xena tore into him, sword flashing, as she drove him toward the wall. Cornered and furious, he raised his hand, about to discharge a lightning bolt, when Xena kicked him hard in the wrist.
He shook it furiously, while Xena pointed her sword at him. "All right, Xena, you win this time! But I tell you, that blonde's no good for you."
"Ares!" exclaimed Xena, "You will swear now to leave her alone! She's mine. Understand? Or I will trash every temple you have and decimate every army that follows you. Got it?" She had the point of the sword touching his chest. He tried to sweep it away with an irritated wave of the hand, and Xena, with almost superhuman speed, whipped it around and smacked Ares firmly in the side. "Swear . . .you'll . . . leave . . . Gabrielle . . . alone," Xena enunciated through clenched teeth.
Her eyes were full of fury, and Ares, hand pressed to his side, muttered, "I swear. But that doesn't mean I'm finished with you, Xena." He then vanished, denying Xena the last word. Shaking her head, and sheathing her sword, she joined Gabrielle.
"You OK?" she asked. Gabrielle nodded, and Xena pulled her into her arms for a long kiss.
"I love you, Xena," said Gabrielle. "But I worry about causing you more problems, being a burd- . . ."
"Don't," admonished Xena. "I need you. I can't live without you." She paused. "It frightens me that being with me makes you a target, but you're not a burden."
Gabrielle hugged her hard, saying, "Well, you're worth any amount of risk."
Xena nodded, then leaned her cheek on the top of Gabrielle's head. "It'll be fine as long as we face things together."
* * *
As they left the fort. retrieving Xena's clothes and armor from where she'd concealed them in the nearby woods, Xena said, "I know a really nice spot near here. I'd like to share it with you." Xena folded up the clothes she'd been wearing, tying them into a neat bundle with a sash. Gabrielle said that sounded like a great idea, and they set off along the path, holding hands. As they veered off onto a narrower path through the woods, Xena apologized, "I'm sorry about what I said back there about you being mine. I just wanted Ares to know I was serious."
"Don't apologize," said Gabrielle with a quiet grin and a blush. "I liked it. It kind of . . . gave me a shiver--that felt good."
"Is that so?" asked Xena thoughtfully, a crooked half-smile appearing at the corner of her mouth. They walked further in silence, hands clasped tightly. After a time, they emerged from the woods to a grassy area near where a clear and sparkling stream widened into a pool.
"Is this it, Xena?" asked Gabrielle; "it's beautiful."
"The water's surprisingly warm; there must be an underground hot spring" noted Xena, "and nobody ever comes here. I always used to think of this as my private spot."
"Sounds great!" said Gabrielle. Within moments, Gabrielle was helping Xena remove her armor, and they were pulling off their clothes and piling them under a tree. In the water, Xena gently pulled Gabrielle to her and kissed her, while her hands slid over the curves of her lover's body. She stroked up from Gabrielle's hips to her waist and up to her breasts, her fingertips lightly gliding over wet skin. Then she pulled Gabrielle to her again, so her hands could caress slippery buttocks and legs.
Gabrielle was almost wriggling with desire; she wanted more than those tantalizingly light touches, electrifying as they were. Xena seemed to treat her as an unimaginably precious and fragile object, and Gabrielle had a feeling that she was somehow holding back. When their lips parted, Gabrielle said "I love how you touch me, Xena--the way you take your time and bring every part of my body alive. But you don't have to be so gentle with me all the time; I'm not made of glass."
"Oh really?" asked Xena with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
"Really," answered Gabrielle firmly before suddenly splashing Xena hard and racing out of the water.
"Oh, you are in trouble now!" laughed Xena, waiting and giving Gabrielle a lead. As Gabrielle ran naked across the grass, Xena admired the muscles flexing in her buttocks. Nice, she thought to herself, then strode out of the water at a leisurely pace and loped easily across the grass, catching up to Gabrielle effortlessly and grabbing her.
Gabrielle squirmed, giggling, trying to escape. She was still wet and slippery, but Xena kept her grip, then suddenly picked Gabrielle up and slung her over her shoulder. "Is this what you want, Gabrielle?" she asked in a teasingly husky voice.
"I almost got away!" protested Gabrielle, changing the subject.
"Only because I was enjoying watching you run," replied Xena, depositing her blushing burden on the grass near the tree where their gear was stashed. "You have the cutest little dimple . . . right here" she added as she pinched Gabrielle's bottom.
Embarrassed by that remark and by her lover's hungry scrutiny, Gabrielle squirmed all the more, as Xena pulled her arms above her head and held them down. "You know, Gabrielle," she said silkily; "you don't seem to want to hold still, and I'd really like the use of both my hands." Before Gabrielle knew what was happening, Xena had embedded her chakram halfway in the ground above Gabrielle's head, and was tying her hands to it with the sash from her borrowed outfit. "That's better," said Xena with satisfaction.
Gabrielle tested the bonds; they were comfortable around her wrists, but she wasn't going anywhere unless she got up and pulled the chakram up with her. Fortunately, she wasn't interested in going anywhere. Xena bent down and kissed her hard, plunging her tongue deeply into Gabrielle's mouth. Gabrielle sucked on it just as hard, feeling both aroused by the light bonds and entirely safe in Xena's control.
Xena paused. "Gabrielle, are you sure you want this?"
"Yes, Xena. I do."
"You know that . . . "
" . . . if there's anything I don't want or don't like, I can tell you to stop," finished Gabrielle.
"Yeah. That's important," said Xena, and Gabrielle nodded.
Xena gazed at Gabrielle, a wicked glint in her eyes. "You know," she said, "I still owe you one after that Bacchaie bite you gave me." She bent down and sunk her teeth into Gabrielle's breast. Gabrielle noted that it was a spot that would be covered by her bodice. Xena's teeth pressed harder, and she began to suck on the soft flesh. Gabrielle tensed up momentarily, then melted against the soft grass, while the sensations pulsed straight from her breast to her center. Xena seemed to pause a moment in her ministrations, but when Gabrielle moaned in delight, she continued. "Do you like that?" she asked nodding toward the purpling bruise.
"Yes!" breathed Gabrielle.
Xena then proceeded to lavish rough attention on her lover's body, biting her way down Gabrielle's upper arms, teasing the sensitive skin; kissing Gabrielle hard, and biting on her full lower lip; sucking on her nipples and grazing them with her teeth; squeezing handfuls of breast and twirling the nipples between her fingers; nipping her way down Gabrielle's stomach; twisting the reddish curls around her finger and giving them light tugs; sinking her teeth into the swelling inner thighs and tracing tantalizing circles with her tongue. Gabrielle's breathing got faster and she writhed slightly in rhythm with Xena's touch. "Oh please, Xena, don't stop!" she cried.
"Well, I think it's your turn to do something for me," replied Xena coolly, while smiling down at Gabrielle with a warmth she couldn't hide.
"That's what I was hoping I'd hear," said the warrior. She maneuvered herself so her knees straddled her lover's face, lowering herself with exquisite control to the right spot. Gabrielle planted a kiss on her clitoris, then began drawing tight circles with her tongue. "Oh yes, Gabrielle! That's good! Harder, now!" Gabrielle obligingly lapped in broad strokes, and Xena whooped in climax. In a frenzy, she devoured her lover's mouth, tasting herself on Gabrielle's lips and tongue.
She settled herself between Gabrielle's parted legs, and casually spread Gabrielle's lips with a possessive confidence. She began teasing Gabrielle's throbbing clitoris with infuriatingly light touches. "You're pretty wet," Xena remarked. "You must be liking this."
"I am!" gasped Gabrielle. "Please . . . I want you to possess me . . . all the way . . . body and soul . . . inside and out."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, a dangerous gleam flashing in her eyes. "That can be arranged," she said quietly, and Gabrielle shivered all over from the electric caress of that voice. Xena rummaged in their travel bag, taking out a vial of the oil she and Gabrielle used for massaging sore muscles. As she poured some in her hand, she murmured in a low voice, "Gabrielle, I'm going to put my whole hand inside you, if you want it. I'll reach inside you, and hold you, and take all you can give me."
"Ohhh, yes, Xena!" sighed Gabrielle, feeling herself contract inside at Xena's words alone.
Xena slowly slid two fingers inside Gabrielle. She moved them in and out, smiling to herself when Gabrielle rocked her hips, wanting more. Xena added a third finger, and Gabrielle moaned, so Xena added a fourth, gently stretching the opening. With her other thumb, she stroked Gabrielle's clitoris, while Gabrielle writhed with desire. Then she brought her fingers and thumb together in a wedge and began slowly pushing inside.
"Oh, Xena, I need you!" cried Gabrielle.
"I need you, too, Gabrielle," replied Xena. "Don't you ever doubt that."
As she pressed farther, she noted, "This might hurt a bit. I'll be as gentle as I can."
"Just . . . don't . . . stop!" exclaimed Gabrielle, between breaths.
Xena used a finger to help stretch the opening, and then poured more oil on her hand. She eased her knuckles past the tight ring of muscle, her fingers curling into a fist inside. She didn't move, but asked, "Are you OK?"
"Oh, am I OK!" answered Gabrielle. "That feels amazing, Xena! You're all the way inside me. I feel like we're sealed together."
"We are," said Xena. She looked at her lover, her hands still tied above her head, her body filmed with a light sheen of sweat, her hair tangled and spread out across the grass, and her legs wide with a wrist disappearing inside her. "You're so beautiful, Gabrielle. And so tight around my hand. You're mine, aren't you? All mine."
"All yours," Gabrielle affirmed.
Xena began slowly rocking her hand inside Gabrielle, marvelling at the slippery heat that enclosed it. Her wrist was practically gripped by powerful muscles, and she was suffused with a feeling that that was where she belonged, that wherever she was with Gabrielle was home.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the sensations. Waves of pleasure crashed through her, the glorious pressure pulsing through her legs to her toes, and her stomach, and down her arms into her tingling fingers. "More, please!" she begged.
Xena began sliding her hand back and forth, and the feeling was so intense that Gabrielle exploded in a thrashing climax. As she began to relax, her body still slightly convulsing, Xena began carefully rotating her wrist slowly back and forth, while stroking her lover's clitoris firmly with her other thumb. Gabrielle arched her back and moaned, gasping, "So close . . . never felt so close to you . . . "
"I know," marvelled Xena. "I feel like I'm holding your heart in my hand."
"You ARE!" yelled Gabrielle, as another orgasm rushed through her. She contracted so violently she pushed Xena's hand out, and they both felt a momentary sense of loss at the breaking of the connection. But Xena quickly untied Gabrielle's hands and pulled her into her arms, and they clung together, Xena murmuring how much she loved Gabrielle, until Gabrielle, exhausted from her imprisonment, and from her recent exertions, fell asleep, her head pillowed on Xena's breast.
When she awoke from her doze, she noticed that Xena looked troubled. She was frowning slightly, a worried look on her face. "What's up?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena stroked a finger down Gabrielle's cheek. "I love you so much, Gabrielle. But I'm really afraid of giving into my desire to possess you, to bring out that side of myself with you. I worry . . . I'll take too much . . . swamp you somehow."
"Xena!" protested Gabrielle. "You have to trust me. You have to trust that I know what I want. Don't you think I'm strong enough to stay myself and belong to you? This is myself--I belong with you. I've known that from the start, even though I've made some huge mistakes along the way . . ."
"We both have," said Xena gently, with a rueful smile.
Gabrielle nodded; they were both thinking of Xena's temporary infatuation with Ulysses and Gabrielle's ill-fated marriage to Perdicus.
"Yes, we both have," said Gabrielle. "But that's history now. I'm sure we have plenty of mistakes to make in the future to worry about."
"Probably," laughed Xena.
"And I'm not going to stop thinking or lose myself in being yours. I'll still tell you when I disagree with you. We know we're not always going to have the same idea about what's the right thing to do, and I'm still going to speak up."
"I can't wait," remarked Xena, with a half-smile. "I'm kidding, Gabrielle. No, I won't always agree with you about what to do, but I need you to tell me anyway. You show me things I can't always see in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes my 'Destroyer of Nations' reflexes still get the better of me. I need you to show me there's another way, even if I don't always take it."
"Well," said Gabrielle. "What I'd like to show you now is more of just how much I want to give myself to you--and . . . what you did to me today--I'd like to do that to you some time. I love you, and I want to make you feel as good as you made me feel, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle, and I'm all yours as much as you're mine," said Xena, lying back, and offering herself up to her lover.
to XWP and HTLJ