Conversation by Campfire: Part 1

by CN Winters

 

Disclaimers: The characters in this fan fiction are not mine. They belong to MCA/Universal/USA Studios and about a dozen other folks who I’m sure are making tons upon tons of money – unfortunately I am not one of them. This little tale contains adult themes and language and involves (you guessed) a love tale of two women.

Authors Note: I loved the chemistry Gabby had with the wacko Najara. There was something more than meets the script and I thought I’d write about it. Hope you enjoy it.

A Conversation by Campfire

By CN Winters

"What’s wrong Gabrielle?"

The softly spoken question roared in the bard’s ears. The chirping of crickets and the hoot of a near by owl drowned in the sea of Xena’s voice. Gabrielle was well aware of what was wrong. How to voice her thoughts was another matter all together.

"Just thinking about today and what you said to Najara."

Her tone had a weakness, a defeated quality about it that piqued the warrior’s curiosity. Her dark eyebrow shot up into her bangs in question.

"I said a lot of things to that wacko," Xena grinned. "Anything in particular?"

"Yes," Gabrielle answered slowly, picking a place to begin. She decided paraphrasing the warrior was the best solution. "If you couldn’t have me then no one was gonna have me . . . It sounded . . . real. Like you really meant it."

Xena felt the uneasiness settle over the bard as she watched her companion fidget on her bedroll. "Gabrielle I swore that I would never, ever raise a hand against you again," Xena said moving to take a seat next to the bard. Guilt still plagued Xena over the events that transpired after her son’s death. It wasn’t Gabrielle’s fault. If anything it was Xena’s fault – her treatment of Gabrielle, perhaps her treatment toward Hope on some level. Ether way, she mishandled the situation and wondered if she’d be paying for it with the rest of her life. Not because of anything the bard would say or do. Gabrielle knew how to let bygones be bygones. It was strictly Xena’s own conscious never letting her soul rest over what she had done.

"I know." The bard grinned, despite her growing discomfort with the conversation. "And although all logic and reason tells me I shouldn’t believe you, I do . . .It’s just . . ."

"What?" the warrior asked impatiently. She wasn’t angry just concerned that the bard was so troubled. What did she do that was so terrible that the bard looked like a shaking leaf in an autumn breeze?

"It’s as if . . .you OWN me sometimes. I feel like I have to ‘seek your approval’ on the things I do or say. With Najara I didn’t feel that way. Najara said I should choose my own path in life; do what’s right for me."

"Najara said huh?" the warrior grumbled. "You realize you’re taking advice from a crazy woman. Najara is a nutcase Gabrielle."

Gabrielle grinned trying to stay neutral. She was overzealous and passionate but she wouldn’t call her a nutcase. Besides Najara brought up a point that Gabrielle had trouble dismissing. Xena killed all the time in battle. Najara killed evil people – were they all that different? Was Xena better than she was? Those questions and many more plagued Gabrielle all night long.

"She might have changed Xena. I might have changed her ways."

"What are you saying? You wanted to stay with her?" Xena couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This couldn’t be true. What kind of spell did this witch Najara put on her? She and Gabrielle had three years together. Suddenly she was just willing to drop everything to reform some freak.

Gabrielle didn’t offer an immediate reply but since Xena had brought it up . . .

"I considered it," she answered softly.

Xena moved to her feet. For some reason the throb in her mouth grew stronger. The compress she’d been using was now as warm as her rising temper. "Oh for Zeus’ sake you sound like she was a lover or something."

When Gabrielle looked away and took a sudden interest in the fray of her bedroll, Xena realized that her off-handed comment might just be dead-on accurate. "Oh I can’t believe it!" Xena said throwing the towel down to the ground with a thrash. Gabrielle winced at Xena’s reaction but she wasn’t about to back down.

"What’s not to believe?" Gabrielle said, finally looking up, almost challenging the warrior. The bard was quite sincere in letting Xena know all if that’s what she truly wanted. The arrangement she and Xena had was beginning to reach a breaking point now. She could feel it in her bones. It would strike hard and fast like a virus but unlike stomach flu the ill feeling would follow her for the rest of her life. She’d never be free of the ache that would be left within her as a result of Xena’s void.

Xena took a moment and sized up the bard. "You!" Xena answered, the hostility rising in her voice. "How could you?!"

"Now who sounds like the lover Xena?" the bard taunted. "You have no say in who I’m intimate with."

Xena knew that was true. She had no ‘ties’ to the bard but damn it that didn’t matter. Couldn’t Gabrielle see? Was she that blind to the truth? Najara was no good for her – or anyone for that matter. The woman was a timebomb waiting to go off. One day the Jinn would tell her Gabrielle had to go and the bard would end up on the warrior end of Najara’s sword and it wouldn’t be pretty. Couldn’t Gabrielle understand that?

The warrior began to pace. "Well tell me this, did you hop right into her bedroll as soon as I left or did you wait a couple of hours first?"

For all her many skills Xena didn’t see the blow coming. Gabrielle leaped up with lightening speed and smacked the warrior across the cheek with her open palm. Both women stood in shock for a moment unsure that the event had just happened. Then the pain set in – both to Xena’s jaw and Gabrielle’s hand.

"Oh Gods Xena . . .I . . . I’m sorry." Without waiting for a response Gabrielle ran into the woods and out of the firelight.

Xena felt rooted. The pain wasn’t helping her temperament any and she knew it was best to let the bard go until they both had the chance to cool down. Gabrielle’s words replayed in her mind, burning her to the core. The disbelief began to lull as she went over the conversation in her mind repeatedly. She had taken Najara as a lover . Xena accepted that fact. . But why . . .

Deep down and after much soul searching alone in the roaring firelight she knew why. Not long after they meet in Poteidaia and began traveling, Gabrielle confessed that she was physically attracted to Xena. The warrior however convinced her it was just hero worship. By the Gods, Gabrielle was at least ten years her junior. Not that aged mattered much to Xena in the past. She had lovers Gabrielle’s age in the past, some even younger. But that was the old Xena – not the new one. And the new one refused to give into the pleasures of the flesh with someone so young, so impressional as Gabrielle. Being ever the understanding person that she was, Gabrielle accepted this fact and their partnership flourished in spite of the bard’s attraction.

And the longer Xena thought about the events of the last few days she realized why Gabrielle’s relationship with Najara bothered her so. First and foremost the woman was a wacko, Xena decided. Najara was a bonafide lunatic. Second, somewhere along the way Gabrielle had grown up . . . And although she didn’t admit it, the warrior had fallen deeply in love with her. The sting in Xena’s mouth returned as she thought of how Najara made her loose a good chewing tooth. But the greater sting Najara delivered was to her heart, knowing that Najara got to share an intimacy with the bard that she never did . . . and with the way things were looking now . . .never would.

Xena had to return to the river. She figured that was where Gabrielle had gone to be alone but the warrior didn’t have much choice. She had to rewet her compress to keep the swelling of her mouth down. With a heavy sigh she picked up the rag and headed downstream.

Just as she thought, Gabrielle was sitting by the waters edge on a large boulder. The moonlight reflected off the bard’s hair as Xena examined her in silence. Gone now was the ‘baby fat’ around the bards cheeks and mid-section. Her silhouette looked firmer, higher than in years past. But more than that it was the way the bard sat that revealed the most. She wasn’t sitting head down; shoulders slumped as Xena expected. Not at all. Her chin was up; her body square. The girl was a woman now.

Gabrielle sat upon the boulder remembering her prior night with Najara. It had happened quite innocently at first. The bard woke up to find an empty space beside her. It took a moment but she remembered that Xena was leaving that night to prepare for the capture of Maraut the slaver.

She decided to take a walk down by the pond where she and Najara had spent the afternoon talking about swans and life and what path is the best in life. That’s where she saw Najara deep in thought – perhaps praying to the Jinn. Gabrielle was going to give Najara her solitude but just as she turned her back to leave she heard her name called out.

"I didn’t want to disturb you," Gabrielle explained as the two women walked toward each other.

"Not at all," Najara smiled. "I love your company. Come . . .Sit with me at the waters edge."

Najara’s arm casually intertwined with Gabrielle; their hands locking together as they moved to the grassy edge. Even after they sat Najara kept her hold on the bard, not wanting to lose the feel of the lovely woman beside her. A light breeze was coming from the east that tasseled Najara’s short locks. Gabrielle couldn’t help but admire the woman’s beauty. She radiated even in the darkness of night.

"Beautiful night tonight isn’t it?" Najara remarked taking a deep breath and blowing it out softly. "You know, that’s why I do the things I do. Fight for the innocents I mean . . . All people should be as fortunate as we are right now. Often people take simple things like a cool evening breeze and a lovely view for granted. Those people today, the ones we saved . . . they will be able to enjoy more evenings like the one we’re enjoying now . . . It makes you feel good to have done good . . .Wouldn’t you agree?"

"Absolutely," Gabrielle answered confidently. "Sometimes I wish . . .Well, it doesn’t matter what I wish."

Najara’s content expression switched to one of concern. "Come now . . . You can tell me. What do you wish?"

Gabrielle was the one to take a deep breath this time. It wasn’t the enjoyment of the nature around them however. It was the unsettling feeling sliding over her spirit. "I wish Xena could be more like you," she admitted.

Najara chuckled and smiled, "I’m sorry Gabrielle. I don’t mean to make light of your feelings. Far from it. I just wondered what is it about me that you wish for Xena."

"Lots of things – like the way you take time to see the world around you. And the way you open yourself so freely to those villagers today . . . And the way you look at me, like you’re looking at me now," Gabrielle answered, turning a light shade of red at the last statement.

"Am I that transparent Gabrielle?" Najara chuckled. "And here I thought I was doing well to hide my attraction to you."

Gabrielle knew she had to pick her words carefully. She didn’t want to give Najara the idea that she wasn’t interested in her. But she didn’t know where her life and loyalties resided either. "So you are attracted to me?" the bard asked, looking out across the water. She didn’t dare meet Najara’s eyes. That could be her undoing. That idea however fell to the wayside as Najara captured her chin with two fingers, leading her head back to lock eyes.

"Very much so," Najara answered. She placed the most delicate of kisses on Gabrielle’s lips before pulling back to see the green of the bards eyes turn a deeper shade of emerald. "You’re a beautiful woman," the warrior insisted. "Not only of body but of spirit too. That’s a rare find Gabrielle. Xena’s lucky to have you . . . all of you," Najara added for emphasis.

Now it was Gabrielle’s turn to chuckle. "Xena doesn’t have ‘all of me’. She’s my best friend and I don’t mean to trivialize it when I say that’s all but . . . ‘that’s all’. We’ve never been lovers, we probably never will."

"That’s unfortunate," Najara sighed. "For Xena that is."

Najara’s eyes washed over the bard and Gabrielle could feel her temperature rise a few degrees as a result. Gabrielle’s earlier embarrassment disappeared under the scrutiny of Najara’s lustful gaze upon her. The heat that radiated from Najara at the moment was making the bard moist all over her body, some places more than others.

"If I offered myself to you," Gabrielle said confidently. "Would you want me?"

"Yes."

There was no pause between question and answer. And Najara’s answer was spoken with such conviction that Gabrielle knew it to be true.

"Would you take me?"

The words sounded breathless and sultry. There was also a certain ache to the words that pulled at Najara’s center. Once more her answer was fast, firm and sincere.

"Yes."

Gabrielle’s confidence along with her libido was now soaring as she moved closer.

"Now?"

Najara had no doubt. She was just given permission to Gabrielle’s treasures.

"Oh yes."

Years of bottled up passion rushed forth as Gabrielle claimed Najara’s lips. The bard tugged on the short blond locks of Najara’s hair, egging her on further, faster. As their lips fought for control, Najara worked the laces free on Gabrielle’s halter-top and bosom wrap until the bard’s breast sprang free. Only then did Najara pull back.

She studied the bard who was bathed in the moonlight. Never had Najara seen such a more beautiful sight – the gorgeous, exposed woman lay before her open, ready and willing. Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell rapidly as she tried to catch her breath. Najara took the short pause to rise to her feet, pulling her clothes from her body. Her eyes never left Gabrielle and the bard felt like the woman could see inside her soul.

"So much desire," Najara whispered as she returned to straddle herself over the bard’s right thigh. "and just waiting for release."

Gabrielle’s head fell back against the grass as Najara first worked her lips and tongue along her neck. Najara had a desire of her own that was getting harder to control. Xena wasn’t coming back and the bard was now hers . . .hers forever. And in being such Najara had the overwhelming urge to ‘brand her’. Her lips gathered the skin just above Gabrielle’s breast and sucked with incredible force, causing the bard to moan out in pain and in pleasure, the impression of their desire evident upon the bard’s skin.

In response Gabrielle’s nails found Najara’s back. The warrior howled passionately at Gabrielle’s enthusiasm. Perhaps Gabrielle wasn’t the only one being branded. The more Gabrielle’s hands touched her, the more Najara realized she had lost her heart. Gabrielle was the one. The only one for her. And vice versa. No one would ever love Gabrielle as deeply as she did. No one would ever treat her as well. No one would ever protect her and love her and cherish her like she did. Gabrielle might be hers now thanks to Xena’s departure. But in truth, Gabrielle could say the same for her. The bard ruled her . . . especially now.

"Oh Gods yes," Gabrielle moaned as she felt Najara’s mouth envelop her taunt nipples, sucking and flicking the sensitive skin, shooting a jolt straight to her throbbing, wet sex. Gabrielle’s hands took control and captured Najara’s breasts. Her fingers twisting and tugging the alert points until the warrior quivered and shook.

"Please," the warrior begged, taking the bards hand from her breast, leading them to her center. Najara did the same, starting to stroke the bard firm and purposely. Gabrielle built the same rhythm that Najara was doing, as both women grew wetter by the second. "Yeah that’s it," Najara coached and coaxed. Gabrielle watched the blonde beauty above her – the way her eyes were closed, the way her tongue licked her lips repeatedly, the way her hips bucked repeatedly against her soaked finger tips. Najara was desperate for her touch. The grunts Najara made with each thrust ignited Gabrielle’s desire even more. As a result the bards touch became harder. Gabrielle realized, she had to be inside Najara. She had to feel that energy when she exploded.

With two swift fingers Gabrielle entered Najara forcefully. But still it wasn’t quite enough for Gabrielle’s explosive desire.

"Is that what you want?" Gabrielle taunted with sexiness in her voice Najara had yet to hear. "My fingers inside you. Is that what you want? Answer me!"

Najara’s eyes shot open. Where had this assertive vixen come from? She wasn’t complaining – not at all. In fact it was a pleasant surprise to an already surprising evening.

Najara moved in closer, her hips still keeping time with Gabrielle’s prodding fingers. Her eyes locked with Gabrielle’s; their bodies swayed in time with each other. "Oh yeah. This is what I want." Najara answered. With that she too forced her fingers into the bards dripping sex. Gabrielle’s back arched in response. "See how good that feels Gabrielle?" Najara teased in a sexy gasp. "Feel it Gabrielle. Feel it. Feel it." Najara repeated the term over and over. And not just for Gabrielle’s benefit. The bard was doing a good job of making her feel it as well.

When she felt her fingers become captured by the bard and a quake escaping from deep within her lover, Najara knew she met her goal. Moments later Gabrielle felt the quiver deep within her lover as well. They collapsed in each other’s arms, with large grins and quiet, giddy chuckles. The sound of Najara’s orgasm still echoed in her ears tonight . . . but suddenly that wasn’t the only sound she heard.

Gabrielle turned around sharply, staff at the ready – just as she had taught her. Pride washed over Xena as she watched her best friend silently. She realized that the little girl she met in Poteidaia was gone and in her place was a well round, not to mention, quite beautiful woman.

"Xena? Is that you?"

Xena had the skill to sneak up on the most attentive, fearsome warlords in the land. But Gabrielle could always seem to sense her. Perhaps Gabrielle was right all those years ago. Perhaps it wasn’t hero worship. Perhaps she did find the other half of her soul.

"Yes Gabrielle," the warrior answered, starting down the path again. "It’s me. I’ll leave you alone if you want but I had to wet the cloth again. The herbs aren’t helping too much."

Xena went to her task in silence and heard the bard behind her. "Well that’s because you didn’t mix it strong enough like I told you." In the bard’s voice, Xena could hear the confident smirk that followed the comment.

Xena had a grin of her own when she turned and faced the smiling bard. "Yeah I know. I should listen to you more often huh? I should have listened to you years ago when . . ."

Xena felt like kicking herself. She couldn’t finish the sentence for fear of . . .What? Xena wasn’t sure what she feared. All she knew was the bravest, most noble warrior in all of Greece suddenly felt very exposed; very raw. She couldn’t open her mouth to show her heart.

"When what?" the bard prompted with a gentle teasing nature.

"When you said you loved me," Xena finished in a rush. She found the toe of her boot digging into the sand, unable to make eye contact with the bard. She noticed the bard had moved from the rock and was heading toward her, but Xena still couldn’t will her eyes to make contact.

Gabrielle got within feet of the warrior and she too took a sudden interest in Xena’s shoes.

"Why?" she whispered. Gabrielle felt that it was the most important question she had asked, or ever would ask, in her entire life. Her present, her future, her very life depended on the answer.

"Can I ask what you saw in her? I mean Najara. What was the appeal?" Xena physically held her breath until she heard Gabrielle’s voice. But even then her breathing came in short little spurts, her nerves playing havoc on her respiratory system and her heart.

Gabrielle took a deep breath. She wanted answers from Xena but if having to answer some questions first meant getting to the truth so be it.

"She had it all Xena. She fought for mankind. She had amazing skills – the way she caught that arrow. Men who were once evil admired her. Caring women loved her. And children adored her the way that she adored them. She was the greatest sight I’d ever seen – next to you . . .Difference was . . . she wanted me . . . She was willing to fight to the death for me and against the ‘warrior princess’ no less."

The last comment brought Xena’s eyes up to Gabrielle. "I’d die for you too," Xena replied.

"Yes you fought as well Xena. This is true . . . But you were each fighting for different reasons. You wanted to stop someone you thought was evil. She was fighting to keep her lover." The sound of the word ‘lover’ from Gabrielle’s lips conjured up a sour taste in Xena’s mouth that she couldn’t explain. "However," Gabrielle continued. "In the end I knew I couldn’t stay with her . . . I couldn’t leave you. I might never share with you what I shared with Najara but I still loved you."

Xena felt helpless as she watched the bard tear up. The warrior’s limbs had turned to jelly almost instantly. She wanted to comfort the bard and hold her but she couldn’t move. Once more the brave and noble warrior was rooted perfectly still.

"I’ll always love you but . . . I thought I could find happiness with Najara. A happiness I’d never have with you," Gabrielle continued as she choked down her emotions.

"You COULD find that happiness with me," Xena said feeling a lump rise to her throat.

Gabrielle had to chuckle in spite of her misery. "It’s not that easy," she answered.

"Well why not?" Xena pondered aloud, truly confused.

"Why not?!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "You know why. I’m nothing more than a child to you. Some puppy love sick kid. I’ll never be a woman in your eyes Xena and that’s what I need. Someone who will see me for what I truly am . . . Najara saw that."

Xena groaned. That name AGAIN. Damn it! Was that name going to haunt her for the rest of her life?

"Now what is it?" Gabrielle asked getting irritated.

"Najara," Xena growled. "She’s got it all over me doesn’t she. She’s a better warrior, a better friend and probably a better lover too."

"I didn’t know it was a competition," Gabrielle answered.

"Well you weren’t paying much attention. Perhaps you were focusing on her other ‘attributes’," Xena answered snidely.

They were going to get back into it again. Gabrielle could feel it and that’s not what she wanted to do. Not again. It was over. It was done. And what was done couldn’t be undone. Gabrielle asked the only question she had left.

"Why does any of that matter to you Xena?"

She was blind. That question made Xena wonder even more. Blind, deaf and perhaps dumb. "Why do you think?" Xena retorted.

"No. I’m not accepting any more questions as answers. I asked a question. I want an answer . . . Why?"

The bard didn’t add more. She waited patiently for Xena’s response.

The warrior paused a few moments and turned her back, walking toward the camp again. "This is stupid."

"Who would have thought such a gallant warrior could be so, so scarred," Gabrielle observed aloud, going back to her rock.

Xena stopped in her tracks. "What did you say?" she accused.

"You heard me," Gabrielle egged. "For someone who’s supposed to be mighty you’re very spookable."

"Excuse me?!" Xena said walking back over. "I’m not scared I just think this conversation is pointless."

Gabrielle released a short sigh and nodded her head. "So I see . . . My heart and the state I’m in at the moment is pointless . . . Nice to see you care Xena."

"That is not what I meant," Xena argued. "It’s not and you know it."

"I don’t know anything anymore," Gabrielle said jumping down from the rock to land directly in front of Xena. Her small finger shot up into Xena’s face. "The fact I made love to Najara is none of your business. You didn’t love me. You never will and I accepted that. But I stayed because the friendship I found with you was so special I didn’t want to walk away . . . But now Xena . . .Now I don’t think I have a choice. I have to walk away. I have to leave."

Xena watched Gabrielle swiftly make her way back to camp and was soon on her heels. As the bard loaded up her satchel with her belongs the warrior knew she had to stop her. If she lost Gabrielle she’d lose her world. And besides didn’t they now want the same thing? Didn’t they want to be together?

"Please don’t go," Xena whispered making the bard stop. Gabrielle had never heard the warrior plea in such a fashion. The painful sound in Xena’s voice halted all movement.

"I can’t stay," Gabrielle said beginning to sob. "The Gods know I want to but I can’t. I can’t keep living like this. It hurts too much. And that’s not your fault Xena. It’s mine. It’s mine for wanting more than you can give me."

Xena rushed to Gabrielle’s side and took her by both arms. "What do you want?"

Gabrielle wiped the tears from her cheeks and managed a meager grin. "I want it all."

Xena didn’t answer but she didn’t let the bard slip through her grasp. Gabrielle made another attempt to move but Xena wouldn’t budge.

"Please let me go," Gabrielle whispered.

"Never."

One hand released the bard’s arm only to cup her chin, drawing her head up.

"Don’t do this," Gabrielle warned. "Don’t play games with me."

"Who’s playing games?" Xena answered, the warrior’s fingers caressed the smooth skin she found there. It felt like it was the first time she had ever touched Gabrielle’s skin. In a manner of speaking, it was. Never before did she allow herself the luxury of enjoying the silky flesh of her bard. HER bard, she loved the way that sounded.

The warrior started to descend for a kiss but the bard leaned back. "You don’t know what you’re doing," the bard argued.

"I know exactly what I’m doing," Xena countered, letting go of the bard and taking a step back. Gabrielle stayed stationary as she watched the warrior removed her chakram, bracers and gauntlets. "I’m giving you all."

Gabrielle licked her lips subconsciously as the warrior rid her body of the leathers that covered her well-toned body. "I’m afraid," the bard trembled.

Xena moved closer in only her shift, recapturing the bard’s arms. "Of me?" the warrior asked softly.

"Of us . . . What if you decide we’re better off as friends? What if you consider me still a girl after all? What if-

Xena placed a finger across the bard’s mouth. "Stop speculating," she commanded softly. "You asked what’s in my heart; why I should have listened to you years ago. . . It’s because I always loved the person you were Gabrielle – always – and if I had confessed my heart sooner, then maybe this whole week would have been avoided. You’d be my lover . . . and I’d still have my best chewing tooth," the warrior chuckled.

Gabrielle joined in. Leave it to Xena to find a way to ease the tension – even though the joke was about her misfortune. The sly smile that Xena had grown to love showed brightly on Gabrielle’s face. "Does that mean that you’re lack of molars is now my fault as well?"

Xena posed in thought, scratching her chin. "You know, I think it might. But let’s not argue about it. I can think of much more pleasant things I’d love to be doing." Gabrielle tensed at the words and Xena recoiled a bit. "You okay?" she asked, giving Gabrielle a little space.

"Yeah I just . . . I wanna take things slow Xena. I wanna do this right. With all that’s happened this week I’m not sure I’m up to . . . making love to you yet . . .. It’s not that I don’t want to. Really it’s not. BELIEVE ME it’s not," the bard grinned as her hands made an invisible brush over the warrior’s curves without actually touching. "I just –

"Wanna get familiar with each other on a new level . . .Slowly . . ."

"Yeah," Gabrielle smiled. "That’s it exactly – nice and easy."

"Sounds wonderful to me," Xena answered. "Besides, I can’t say I’m feeling at my peak tonight. I’d like to have my mouth in proper working order. Don’t want you thinking you made a mistake now," the warrior teased, her blue eyes sparkling mischievously.

"Never," Gabrielle answered sincerely. She knew the warrior was joking but she wanted her intentions to be known perfectly clear. "Can I kiss you?" the bard asked tentatively.

"You don’t need to ask," Xena answered.

"Well I just worried about the tooth thing. I didn’t want to hurt you."

"Well," Xena considered in afterthought, "maybe you should kiss me real light then."

With a delicate softness Xena had never felt before Gabrielle stroked her cheek, almost hypnotizing her by the movement. Because before she knew it Xena herself was leaning down to meet the bards lips. The feeling was lush, delicious. Xena could very well melt into this woman’s arms. Her mind congratulated herself – not this girl but this woman’s arms. Oh yes, Gabrielle had become a woman now. There was no doubt about it. A timid girl could never kiss with such slow, delicate passion.

When they pulled away they slowly locked eyes. Xena’s blood was racing so quick she wondered if she might explode from the inside out. Gabrielle for her part didn’t look too sturdy herself. Xena smiled as a thought occurred to her.

"What is it?" Gabrielle asked once she saw the playful grin. "Did you like that?"

"Very much my bard," Xena answered. "Perhaps too much. You’re causing wicked thoughts to run through my mind and not a single one of them is nice and easy," she chuckled. She put her arm around the bard’s shoulder protectively and led her to the bedrolls. "Come on, we’ve got to go to sleep or I won’t be able to keep my promise."

Gabrielle snuggled into the warrior’s shoulder, growing more comfortable and more tired than she thought she was. She lazily stroked the warrior stomach and whispered soft endearments. She made sure that Najara’s name was not mentioned. Her life now was with Xena. That was all that mattered.

And late that evening as the fire lay dying the bard whispered something she’d wanted to whisper for years.

"I love you Xena."

The sound was different. The tone was different. The intention was different than any other time she’d uttered it before.

"I love you too Gabrielle."

Xena could hear it. Her voice had changed as well.

TBC . . .