by Cousin Liz
1997 Jul 30

Chapter 09

Xena cinched the saddle securely to Argo, leading the horse out of the stable and around to where Gabrielle was waiting at the front of the inn. She knew that if they were going to reach their destination on time, they would have to pick up their pace. She finished packing their supplies on the war horse and turned towards Gabrielle. "Gab. I'd really appreciate it if you'd ride with me today."

"Xena. Is it really necessary? You know..." Gabrielle saw *that look* momentarily flash over the warrior's face, quickly to be replaced. 'Gods. She's trying so hard.' "You know," she continued, "I'd really love to ride with you." She threw her arms around Xena and gave her a big hug.

"Mind you, I'm not complaining, but what's this for?" Xena hugged her right back, lifting her up off her feet and enveloping her in powerful arms.

"For loving me."


Gabrielle clung to Xena atop Argo. She had found out by trial and error that if she buried her face into Xena's back and closed her eyes tightly, she almost didn't mind the ride. She simply imagined herself atop a horse with much shorter legs, though the mental picture she formed of riding behind the warrior princess on top of her childhood pony sent fits of giggling laughter through her body.

"Are you OK back there?"

"Yeah Xena, I'm fine." Gabrielle gave her a reassuring hug as her body still quivered with laughter. "Just taking my mind off the height."

Xena switched the reins to her right hand and held Gabrielle's hands securely against her with her left. "I've got you. You're not going anywhere." Gabrielle felt so safe, she eventually dozed off. On the other hand, the continuing friction between their bodies shot bolts of heat to the warrior's core. Xena mentally berated herself for agreeing to this trip. The timing couldn't be worse. 'Just when Gabrielle and I are beginning to take the first steps towards being together, we have to be headed *there*.' But Xena knew she wouldn't back out of a promise, even though it meant she would probably not get a chance to touch Gabrielle for the next few days.

After a few more miles, Xena saw the fork in the road. 'It would be so easy to take the left road.' She would just explain that something unavoidable came up. 'No one would dare question me, but a promise is a promise.' Xena urged Argo to the right, on to Poteidaia.


Xena never had much use for any of the gods. She preferred to live her life without their petty interferences, but that didn't stop her from praying to any who would listen to her that day. If she could just make it a little farther before Gabrielle stirred, she might be safe. 'Well, not safe, but at least it would be too late for me to turn around.' Xena knew that with Gabrielle's insistence, she might be willing to break that promise. And as much as she wanted an excuse, she had never broken one before, and didn't want to start now. Especially with Gabrielle's family.

'I owe you one.' Xena mentally thanked whichever god had heard her plea. The village of Poteidaia lay before her, and Gabrielle was still quietly snoring. Xena paused. She wasn't sure if she should wake Gabrielle now and prepare her, or continue on and let things fall where they may. She had her answer when in the distance, a young brunette began to wave her hands frantically and came running towards them. It was Gabrielle's younger sister, Lila.

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" Lila called out as she came running up to meet her sister.

"Lila?" Gabrielle mumbled into Xena's back.

Lila faltered as she got closer. She now had a better view of her sister. Gabrielle sat slumped against Xena, her arms resting loosely around that warrior. Xena's grasp of her sister's arms seemed to be the only thing keeping Gabrielle from falling to the ground. Lila shot a look through the warrior that she hoped conveyed the message; 'If *anything* is wrong with my sister, I'll kill you.'

Xena had seen that look numerous times in her past. She didn't let it phase her. "Gabrielle?" Xena shook the bard's arms, trying to wake her.

"Xena? Oooh, I must have been dreaming." Gabrielle squinted against the bright light of the afternoon sun. "I thought I heard Lila's..."

At the sound of her name from her sister's lips, Lila covered the rest of the ground between them. "Gabrielle! You're OK!"

"Lila?" Gabrielle opened her eyes against the bright light and turned in the direction of her sister's voice. "Is that you? What are you doing here?"

"I live here, stupid. What do you think I'm doing here?"

Gabrielle felt confused and just a little bit unsteady. She clung tightly to Xena, not sure if she was experiencing a very vivid dream or reality. 'This must be a dream. We can't be in Poteidaia.'

Lila stopped short of reaching out to Gabrielle. She saw the look on her sister's face. And mixed in with the confusion, she saw fear. Lila froze. Xena saw Lila's expression change. Still keeping a firm grasp on the bard, Xena twisted around in the saddle to look at her friend. Her love. "Gabrielle. Ga-bri-elle," Xena repeated, using the strength of her voice to make her friend look up at her. "Listen to me. Everything's OK. We're in Poteidaia."

"No! Xena! You promised! What did I do wrong?" Gabrielle became hysterical. "You can't leave me here!"

In an instant Xena had swung her leg over the front of Argo and dismounted, never letting go of Gabrielle. She deftly lowered her trembling companion from the saddle. After glancing quickly to Lila, Xena half-walked, half-carried the bard a short distance away. With her back to Lila, Xena supported Gabrielle under her arms as she lowered her head and talked quietly into the bard's right ear. "Gabrielle," Xena breathed softly. "You did nothing wrong. Nothing! And I am not leaving you here. I promise. Do you hear me? I love you." She slowly kissed Gabrielle's ear, letting her tongue softly tickle her ear lobe.

Gabrielle focused on the attention Xena was giving her ear. "Xeena!" A small smile splayed across her lips.

"Yeah Gab?"

"Quit that! We're in public! And if I'm hearing you right, my sister's right behind you," Gabrielle said under her breath. She was never more happy than she was right now that Xena had long hair, effectually hiding her roaming lips and tongue.

"Sure, if that's what you really want." Xena murmured as she nibbled again on her young friend's ear.

"I... I... Oh Gods Xena! Please..." Gabrielle was certain that if Xena had not had a firm grasp of her, she would have crumpled to the ground by now in a quivering mass of desire.

Xena was positive that through her careful ministrations Gabrielle was now assured that she was not going to leave her, ever.

"Xena? Why are we here?" She was still feeling a little uncertain. This was the last place she thought the warrior would want to visit. Especially the way her family treated her in the past.

"I received an invitation," Xena said matter-of-factly. Like she always got invitations from people who hated her. "And I knew how much you disliked it whenever I left you behind. So here we are."

Gabrielle's jaw dropped. She was glad Xena was still supporting her. "An invitation? From whom? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Yes. Your mother. Surprise!"

Gabrielle had to stop and match the answers up with the questions. She hated when Xena answered her in this fashion.

"My mother? She sent you an invitation? Why? And don't you answer me like that again," she added dryly. She knew Xena was well aware of what she was talking about.

"Well... in reality, the invitation was to the both of us," Xena admitted sheepishly. "And I have no idea why she sent for us. I guess you'll just have to ask her."

"Oh Gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed. She had forgotten that Lila was still standing there. "Lila!"

Lila's head jerked to attention. She had been standing there transfixed on the scene that was playing itself out in front of her ever since Xena had shot her that look. She hadn't been able to hear the conversation, but could tell that Gabrielle had settled down noticeably. "Brie?"

Gabrielle ran over to her sister and gave her a big hug. "Oh Lila. It's so good to see you."

Lila pulled out of the hug as a cloud covered her face. "Are you sure about that? It didn't seem like you were so happy to see me a minute ago."

Oh that. Well... you see... I was confused," Gabrielle stumbled over her words. Her mind was racing to come up with some kind of an excuse. "Xena told me we were going to Torone to see an old friend of hers. I'd been asleep for the last couple of hours of the ride and when I awoke and heard your voice, I thought it was all a dream." Gabrielle hoped her lame excuse would suffice. She didn't know how she could begin to explain her ranting about broken promises and being left here.

"But Brie -"

"Lila." The force with which Xena spoke that one word stopped Lila cold. "Don't you think your mother would want to know that Gabrielle is here." This sentence came out sounding more like a command to action than a question.

"Yes, Xena. Right away." Lila took off running. She found herself halfway home before she realized she had moved from her spot.

Xena covered the distance between Gabrielle and herself. "Oh, Xena. Thank you." Gabrielle watched as her sister retreated. "I didn't know what I was going to say to her." Xena bent over and whispered something in Gabrielle's left ear. "Xena!" She playfully swatted the warrior on her forearm. Xena grinned and began to apply the same ministrations to that ear that the other one received earlier. "Xena! Oh..."


Chapter 10

After Xena was sure that neither ear was lacking for attention, she proceeded to lead Argo and Gabrielle the rest of the way to Gabrielle's childhood home. "I'm going to stable Argo," she said, as she headed to the family's barn. "Why don't you go say hello to your parents."

Gabrielle knew how hard this had to be on Xena. Her parents blamed her for their little girl running off with Xena. 'Yeah. Like she ever had a chance to decide otherwise for me. She couldn't have shook me if she tried. And now, she's stuck with me,' she chuckled to herself. "I think I'll give you a hand," Gabrielle called out, as she followed Xena into the barn. Xena looked over her shoulder after having removed Argo's saddle and gave her friend a raised eyebrow in response. "I know, I know. I just can't help it," Gabrielle admitted. "I have no idea why they sent for us. And I guess I'm just a little scared." She thought for a minute, finally realizing there was one question she had forgotten to ask. "Why didn't you tell me we were coming here? Why the big ruse? Was that their doing?"

Xena began to brush Argo as she spoke. "At first I was going to tell you, but I knew that you'd spend the entire trip worrying about why we were summoned. It would have eaten away at you. And yet you would've still ended up coming. They're your family. I just wanted to spare you for as long as I could." Xena stopped brushing Argo and turned to her partner. They were alone, although Xena wasn't sure when somebody would be poking their head inside, wondering what was taking them so long. But right now, she just didn't care. She took Gabrielle in her arms and held her. Just quietly held her until she could feel her relax. "I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you." Gabrielle felt warm and safe. She was nestled into her own private cocoon where the outside world could never touch her. Here in her love's strong arms she was home. Really home. That last thought made Gabrielle suddenly jerk out of Xena's embrace. "What's the matter?!" Xena said, as she looked quickly about the barn trying to figure out what the source of Gabrielle's fear was.

"Gods Xena! What if Lila or Father had walked in on us? I'm... I'm just not ready to deal with that right now." Gabrielle looked apologetically at Xena, afraid she had hurt her feelings. "I'm sorry."

Xena picked up Argo's brush and continued where she had left off. "You have nothing to apologize for. I understand." But she didn't. 'Why can't her family simply be happy for her, instead of trying to mold her into something she'll never be. Gabrielle would whither and die if she had to stay here. She needs adventure and travel, meeting new people. And damn if I'm going to let anybody stand in her way.'

Gabrielle walked up and placed her hand on Xena's forearm, causing her to stop in mid-stroke. "Thank you," she said, looking up into Xena's gaze.

"Think nothing of it," Xena said lightly, trying to change the bard's mood as she gave her a little grin and a tousle of her strawberry blonde hair. Handing Gabrielle the brush she added, "Here. You said you'd give me a hand. Finish brushing Argo while I stow our gear." Gabrielle gave her a smirk, realizing that it was her own words that were now putting her to work.

Lila was waiting for them in the front yard when they emerged from the barn. "Well, I better get this over with," she whispered to Xena. She put her best smile on and turned to once again greet her sister. "Are they inside?"

"Mother is," replied Lila. "Father's away on business. He left a couple of days ago to take a load of merchandise to Athens. He won't be back for at least a week." Lila watched as relief washed over her sister's face. "I thought you'd appreciate that."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and then back to her sister with a puzzled look on her face. "Why did he summon us, if he knew he wasn't going to be here?"

"He's not the one who sent the invitation," Xena reminded her friend.

"I just figured -"

"Father has had this trip planned for months," Lila added.

"Then mother knew he wouldn't be here when we arrived. What in Hades is going on?"

"Why don't we go in and find out," Xena suggested. "You're not going to find the answers standing around out here." With this evidently simple answer to her questioning, Gabrielle followed Lila into the house, followed closely by a very reluctant warrior.

All of Gabrielle's old insecurities rushed back to her as she entered the house. Of wanting, needing more. Of feeling trapped, both in this house and in this town. Her breath caught in her throat threatening to burst her lungs, as she inhaled the familiar, stifling, choking, stale air. The essences of the independent woman and the Amazon Queen that she had evolved into quickly turned and fled out the door, and Gabrielle's shell was left with an insecure, desperate child. Lila had continued on to the kitchen, oblivious to the change overtaking Gabrielle.

Xena hesitated, noticing Gabrielle's slumped shoulders and drooped head as her young friend retreated into herself. '*This* is the better life I'd threatened to bring her back to?' Xena was alarmed at the effect the place had on Gabrielle. She recalled the dogged determination she was subjected to from the young girl from Poteidaia as she had tried vainly to rid herself of her newfound and unwelcome traveling companion. 'No wonder she was willing to defy a murdering warlord to escape from here.' Xena extended a tentative hand to Gabrielle, brushing along her arm and down to her fingers.

Gabrielle could feel herself tumbling out of control, reverting back into what she had fought so desperately to escape. She knew there was no use fighting this repressive feeling, and was about to resign herself to her fate when she felt a small glimmer of hope. She struggled against the insecurity, desperation, and hopelessness to frantically lunge at what she knew was her only chance of survival. Gabrielle seized at the lifeline before her and held on for dear life.

Xena grimaced in pain as the death grip Gabrielle now had on her hand was promising to dislocate a finger or two. She watched silently, waiting for Gabrielle to come back to her. "Are you OK?" she inquired softly, moving in front of her friend and effectively blocking the view from the kitchen. She didn't want Gabrielle's sister or mother to become alarmed at the look on her friend's face. "Gabrielle." Xena cupped her love's chin in her free hand and coaxed her head up. She was face to face with a stranger. Gone were Gabrielle's normally bright, sparkling green eyes and cheery smile. There was a storm brewing behind the dull gray-green eyes that looked at and past her. Her entire body was tense, and Xena could feel a slight tremor running through herself from the contact she had with the bard's hand and chin. She could see her struggling to regain control and used the only weapon she had at her disposal to help. Xena slowly bent over kissing Gabrielle and murmuring, "I love you."

"Xena? I uh... I feel a little light-headed." Xena caught Gabrielle as her knees began to buckle, and helped her to a nearby chair. She slumped forward, resting her forearms on her thighs.

"What happened?" Xena asked, as she knelt in front of Gabrielle placing a hand on her friend's shoulder to help stabilize her.

"I don't know. I... I remember having a hard time breathing. I started to panic, but I don't know why. Guess 'cause I couldn't get any air. The next thing I remember is... is feeling..." Gabrielle paused, trying to find the right words to convey her thoughts; but none would come. "... helpless, I guess. Then I felt something tangible, something solid. And I reached out for it, trying to find something... something real." Gabrielle looked down at her hand and realized she still had a hold of the warrior. She gave a little squeeze, realizing what that something was. "Next thing I know, you're kissing me in my parents living room." She looked up at Xena and gave her a small smile. "I'm sorry. It's just this place. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but sometimes I'm afraid of ending up back here, or someplace like it."

"Gabrielle. You just say the word, and we're out of here."

"Thanks, Xena... thanks." Gabrielle could feel a weight lift off her spirit, and knew a certain warrior princess was responsible. Xena let out a long sigh of relief, seeing the twinkle return to her friend's now green eyes.

Xena heard the back door to the house open and gave Gabrielle a little nudge as she stood and straightened, followed closely by Gabrielle. Hecuba entered the room, wiping her hands on the apron around her waist. Gabrielle had successfully wiped the last of the fog from her mind, and had donned her best daughterly smile. "Mother!" Gabrielle covered the distance between them and gave her mother a big hug.

Hecuba returned the hug, noticing the change in her daughter's physique. She was dismayed at the hardness that Gabrielle's body had acquired. 'She's not my little girl anymore,' she resigned to herself, as she looked past Gabrielle and caught Xena's eye. 'And I know whose fault that is.' Although she was grateful that Xena had been there to stop the warlord Draco's men from destroying their village and selling the women into slavery, she could never forgive Xena for the price it cost her. A daughter. "It's good to see you," she said, as she took a step back and regarded her daughter. "How have you been?"

Gabrielle stole a quick glance at her sister, trying to tell if Lila had mentioned anything to their mother about her arrival in Poteidaia. "Fine. We're both fine," Gabrielle replied, as she turned to acknowledge Xena.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." She gave a slight nod of welcome to Xena for her daughter's sake. Xena nodded back. 'I wonder if it's too soon to check on Argo,' she deliberated. She knew she was an unwelcome guest, and tried desperately to figure out a way to extricate herself from the scene. 'If I try that excuse now, Gabrielle will have me for lunch. Hmm, on second thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.' She felt a slight flush begin and fought to extinguish it. 'She's off limits,' Xena repeated to herself over and over. 'Gods. I think a cold swim is in order. A very, very cold swim.'

"Why did you send for us?" Gabrielle finally asked, not being able to wait for her mother to offer an explanation on her own.

"What!? Does a mother need a reason to want to see her daughter? It's been too long." Hecuba said all she was planning to say and deftly changed the subject. "I was in the garden picking vegetables for lunch. When Lila told me you were here, I picked extra. Come, let's eat." Hecuba took her daughter by the arm and led her into the kitchen.

Gabrielle looked over her shoulder and saw Xena hesitate. She was about to say something when she heard her sister. "C'mon Xena. Mother has vegetable soup warming, hot baked bread and fresh vegetables for salad. There's plenty."

Xena knew she couldn't refuse Gabrielle's sister and followed her into the kitchen. She sat on one of the two benches at the kitchen table and scooted over to the wall when Gabrielle came to sit beside her. Lila helped her mother serve the food and then sat across from Xena. Hecuba soon joined them. Xena leaned back against the wall and surveyed her prison. 'I'm trapped. There's no way out and I'm surrounded by three of them. It's amazing. How do they do it?' She tried to follow the conversation that was going on all about her, but couldn't. 'Hell, there's less confusion in war. Damn.' Xena remembered that as a civil gesture to Gabrielle's family, she had removed her weapons and armor when she was in the barn. 'I guess sharpening my blade right now wouldn't go over too well anyway.' Then she remembered the breast dagger she was discreetly carrying. 'I could always commit Hari-Kari. They probably wouldn't notice until dessert was over anyway.' Xena resigned herself to her fate as she ate her soup and tried to look mildly interested in the conversation, nodding from time to time hoping she appeared to be listening. Unfortunately for Xena, the last spoonful of soup she put in her mouth contained a pea. Which, as the Fates would have it, became lodged in her sinuses as she unsuccessfully attempted to snort it back out through her nose. "Aaaghh!! "

"Xena! What's happened? Are you OK?" Gabrielle pounded her on her back. Xena was happy the pea was gone, but really wished she hadn't swallowed it.

"Yeah... I'm fine." She took a swig of water, trying to alleviate the burning in her throat. "I guess it just went down the wrong way." Xena looked apologetically to Hecuba, but gave Lila a strange look. 'What am I supposed to say to her. Sorry Gabrielle, but I was a little preoccupied with your sister playing footsie with me. Nooo, I don't think that would have gone over too well as a conversation piece.' Xena pushed her bowl of soup away, realizing she was no longer hungry. 'What in Hades am I going to do? I gotta get -' Xena froze when she felt the top of a bare foot back on her booted foot, suggestively sliding back up her leg. Xena gulped, trying to show no outward signs of what was going on under the table. The foot moved up higher and was now brushing against her right knee. She remembered Lila had been barefoot since they first met earlier today, and wondered if this had been planned all along. Xena looked directly at Lila, who was ignoring her. She was deep into conversation with her mother and sister. Xena stole a quick glance to her right, wondering if Gabrielle would mind using the bread knife to put her out of her misery, when she caught the glint in the bard's eyes. And not just a glint, but a wicked, evil glint. Xena slowly leaned back and tried to nonchalantly peek under the table. And there it was. Gabrielle's left boot was sitting unoccupied under her seat, and her left leg was at an impossible angle with the rest of her body. 'Gods, that must hurt,' Xena surmised.

Gabrielle, realizing she had been caught, slid her foot around so her toes were now massaging the back of the warrior's leg. She turned to Xena and grinned openly, seeing the astonished look on her best friend. 'Soon to be ex-friend, when Xena gets done with me. Boy, will I pay for this, but she had such a dour look on her face, I had to do something!'

Unfortunately for Xena, the rest of the very long drawn out lunch proceeded in this same fashion. She was sure that by the time it was over, she would have successfully worn down the tops of her teeth. 'Paybacks are Tartarus, Gabrielle, paybacks are Tartarus.'


Chapter 11

When lunch was over, Hecuba shooshed everybody out of the kitchen, saying she wasn't going to be able to get anything done with them in the way. 'I just want five minutes, make that ten minutes alone with my tormentor,' Xena thought. 'Her family can have what's left of her.' Before she had a chance to usher the bard away, Gabrielle latched on to her sister's arm and began to make plans to spend the afternoon shopping. Xena realized round two of this battle also went to her friend, and decided to check out the nearby pond for that now much needed cold swim.

Gabrielle successfully avoided being alone with Xena for the rest of the day. She knew she'd have to relent eventually, but for now she was enjoying the look of frustration evident on the warrior's face. Xena was used to manipulating her surroundings to usually get what she wanted, but she had never been up against the likes of these three Poteidaian women before. After dinner, Xena excused herself saying she wanted to check on Argo. Lila left also, saying she wanted to get their room ready for tonight.

Gabrielle decided to help her mother, and offered to carry the bucket with the vegetable waste matter to the compost heap out back. As she was about to reenter the house, an arm shot out of the dark and snatched her into the bushes by the house. A large hand covered her mouth, making it impossible for her to scream for help. Try as she might, she could not break free from the person who had an iron grip on her from behind.

"Gabrielle," Xena said in a low, slightly menacing growl as she spun the bard around to meet her.


"Just what do you think you're up to, avoiding me all afternoon?" Xena husked in her best imitation of her commanding warrior princess voice. She bent down and gave Gabrielle a peck on the lips and a wry smile.

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I swear," Gabrielle meekly responded, trying to sound as submissive as possible without breaking out in laughter. 'Oh, she's so cute when she's trying to sound tough.' She returned Xena's kiss, wrapping her arms around her friend.

"I'm afraid I just don't believe you. I think I'm going to have to teach you a lesson." Xena bent over and let her teeth graze over one of Gabrielle's nipples through her halter. Gabrielle let out a small cry as she threw her head back and arched into the warrior's mouth.

"No Xena, please. I'll be good." She pushed herself further into Xena, feeling her love bury her face into her chest.

"Your actions will not go unpunished," Xena said with a mouthful of bard. She wrapped her right foot around Gabrielle's leg and rubbed sensuously up and down her calf, reminding her that she had not forgotten about lunch time. "I'll take care of you later," Xena promised, in a mock threatening tone.

"You're not going to use your whip again, are you?" Gabrielle implored.

Xena pulled out of Gabrielle's arms, an astonished look on her face. 'Where in Tartarus did she come up with that one?' She looked inquisitively at the bard. 'My whip?' she mouthed to Gabrielle. Her friend sheepishly shrugged her shoulders and grinned. "I make no promises," Xena said as she recovered from her shock at her friend's rather vivid imagination. "I guess it depends on how good you are." Xena ended the conversation with a long, quiet kiss and embrace.

Xena and Gabrielle thought they had been alone outside. Little did they know they had an audience. Lila.

Even though it had been two years since Gabrielle left, her family still kept her bed in the bedroom that she had shared with Lila. And Lila had gone to the room to make up Gabrielle's bed. She hadn't given much thought about where the warrior was going to sleep, but knew that she wanted her sister back in their room for old times' sake. She had the shutters to the window opened, and was preparing to air out Gabrielle's quilt when she inadvertently heard Gabrielle call out Xena's name.

Lila had no intention of eavesdropping, but when she heard that warrior address her sister in that threatening tone of voice, she froze. Then she heard her sister's timid response. Lila didn't believe her ears. 'Is this what it's really like? Why doesn't Brie -- Gods! She must be too scared to leave her.' Lila thought back to all those nights that she silently felt sorry for herself for not being the one to have the nerve to pick up and follow her heart.

Lila couldn't see them, but she could tell they were somewhere to the right of her window. When her sister let out a cry, she shoved her fist in her mouth, trying to stifle a scream. She wasn't sure what Xena would do if she found out she was listening, but she was frightened for her life. And for Gabrielle's. Lila remembered back to their earlier shopping spree. Away from the warrior, Lila had confronted Gabrielle about the couple of fading black and blue marks and bruises she noticed on her sister's arms. Gabrielle had simply dismissed them as being the results of a moment's inattentiveness on her part during staff practice with Xena. Lila was not so sure about her sister's excuses anymore. She also became concerned about any marks that could be hidden by clothing.

Lila had decided she was going to confront her sister, until she heard her plead with Xena not to use the whip. Again. 'I'll kill that son-of-a-bitch.' Lila tore herself from the window to look for something sharp.

Gabrielle reluctantly pulled herself from Xena's embrace. "C'mon, you. Let's go. It's almost time for bed." She tugged on her friend's arm, expecting Xena to follow.

Xena pulled back. "Listen, Gab. I think I'm going to sleep out in the barn with Argo tonight. You know how she gets when she's left alone in strange stables." She furnished Gabrielle with an apologetic eye.

"Xena! You're a guest here. You'll do no such thing."

"I don't think it would go over very well with your family if I bunked with you, do you?"

"Oh. Well... I know. I'll sleep with my sister and you can have my bed. It's settled."

"No. I appreciate the offer, but I really would prefer to sleep in the barn. Listen. There's plenty of fresh hay, and you know how I hate to be cooped up if I can avoid it."

"OK. OK. You win. At least let me give you some extra blankets before bed. The nights are starting to get chilly." Xena agreed, and they headed back inside.


'I wonder if any other room in this place gets any use,' Xena pondered, once again trapped at the kitchen table with the three women from Poteidaia. She had planned to beat a hasty retreat to the barn, but had been coerced into joining them for dessert. Gabrielle spent the better part of the night regaling her sister and mother with stories about her adventures with Xena. She was careful, though, to soft pedal any of the fighting she was directly involved in. She didn't want to give her family any more ammunition than they already had in their fight to get her to come back home. 'I really should have taken the other fork in the road when I had the chance,' thought Xena regrettably. 'I wouldn't wish this torture on Ares himself.' Xena took another swallow from her mug. 'Well, at least Hecuba serves good port,' she mused. While Xena kept strictly to the port, she watched as an entire loaf of nutbread had met its maker, and another one was soon to be sacrificed. 'It must be in the blood,' she guessed. Xena drained the last drops from her mug, only to have it quickly refilled by Gabrielle. 'If she keeps this up, I'll be spending the night right here under the table.' Xena had lost count on the number of mugs she had drained a few candle marks ago.

The warrior stole another quick glance at Lila. 'I better be careful. A few more of these,' Xena thought, as she brought the mug yet again to her lips, 'and I'm likely to simply reach over and poke her eyes out.' Xena was beginning to become unnerved. Lila had spent the entire evening furtively shooting nasty glares Xena's way, especially every time Gabrielle had jumped to refill her mug. 'What *is* that woman's problem?' Xena tried to recall what little conversation she'd had with Gabrielle's sister, wondering what had set her off. 'She seemed fine at lunch. Spent the entire time ignoring me.' Even after draining her current mug, Xena was still able to coherently decide that using the 'ole neck pinch on Lila was probably out. She would just wait and ask Gabrielle if she knew what was going on.

The moon was nearly overhead by the time the festivities were over in the kitchen. With an armload of blankets from Gabrielle, Xena trudged off to the barn, and Gabrielle and Lila headed to bed. Lila went out of her way to help Gabrielle get ready for bed. With her new knowledge of her sister's true relation with that warlord, Lila did her best to look for signs of abuse on her sister. "Lila. Really! I've been getting undressed by myself now for years," Gabrielle exclaimed, as she reclaimed ownership of her booted foot from her sister. "What's gotten into you?"

"I just thought you'd like some help. Figured you'd be tired after the long day you had," Lila answered, as she bent back down to remove the boot from her sister's foot. Gabrielle hesitated for a moment before relenting. 'I guess I can let her have her own way for the couple of days we'll be together. She always did like mothering me.' With her boots off, Gabrielle removed her top and was in the process of slipping off her skirt when Lila returned with a shift.

"Gabrielle!" Lila caught her breath as she stared at her sister's chest. "What, what in -"

Gabrielle grabbed the shift from her sister and quickly donned it, covering the now faint yellow and purplish bruising around her right nipple. 'Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I forgot all about that,' she berated herself.

Lila grabbed her sister by the shoulders. "Tell me. How did that happen?"

Gabrielle flinched as Lila's fingers dug into her flesh. 'What am I going to tell her? The truth? I was ravished by a six foot tall hunk of burning passion? Nooo. I don't really think I want to go there. Not with my sister,' Gabrielle decided, as she unconsciously shook her head no.


"It's nothing, really." She pulled herself from her sister's grasp and turned her back to the penetrating eyes.

"Nothing. You call that nothing?!"

"It's... it's embarrassing. Just drop it."

"Brie. I'm your sister."

Gabrielle turned to face her. "I know. That's why I thought you'd believe me when I told you it was nothing." She climbed into bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and rolled away from her sister; effectually ending the conversation.

Lila stood there a moment longer, the sight of her sister's chest burned into her memory. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but knew damn well who probably caused it. 'Why is she protecting her? What kind of hold does that murderous bitch have over my sister?' Lila crawled into her own bed and gingerly reached under her pillow, fingering the large butcher knife she had earlier liberated from the shed.

Lila waited until she heard steady rhythmic breathing emanating from her sister. Certain she was asleep, she removed the knife from its hiding place and crept from her bedroom. 'I can't let this go on any longer. Someone has got to stop her once and for all. And if Brie can't free herself from that warrior's clutches, I'll do it for her.' Lila left the warm confines of her house, and headed straight for the dragon's lair.


Chapter 12

Xena's senses snapped to attention as she focused on the faint creek of the barn door. No amount of port had ever dulled the natural instincts of the warrior within her. Made her a little mellow at times, but never rendered the warrior that was lurking just below the surface incapacitated. Xena was well aware of this. She had once tried to drown that part of herself, with no success. 'Gabrielle? It would be just like her to sneak in here. I guess she can't sleep either.' Xena smiled at the prospect of wrapping herself around her love and burying her face in the sweet smell of her soft hair.

Gabrielle rolled fitfully onto her other side, her hand reaching out to air. Even in her sleep, she could feel something missing. Her other half. Since that first night after the dance, she hadn't been without the warmth and protective comfort of those two powerful arms. Or the body they were attached to. Gabrielle woke with a start. "Xena?" 'Something's wrong.' As Gabrielle sat up, she noticed her sister missing. 'Now where could she be at this time of night?' With a nagging concern for Xena as well as her disappearing sister, Gabrielle grabbed a candle and headed for the barn.

The warrior instinctively took over and caught the approaching blade between her hands as it descended toward her heart. With a quick flick of her wrists, and a well placed foot to the stomach, Xena flipped the shadowy figure over her head and heard it land with a thud onto it's back. With lightening speed, she back flipped to land squarely on her attacker's chest, pinned both arms above the head and held them with her left hand, while she snatched the knife and pushed the blade slightly into the soft neck of the would be murderer.

"Xena?" Gabrielle softly called out as she entered the barn. She knew from past experience not to be within arms length when trying to rouse the warrior. It could easily be the last thing you ever did. Gabrielle tentatively moved further into the barn, and froze when the faint light of her candle reached Xena. Gabrielle's eyes widened as she saw Xena straddling a prone form, and gasped as she caught the reflection of the candlelight off the knife Xena had to their throat. "XENA!" She took another step forward, only to be halted by the look that she caught in Xena's menacing eyes as her head snapped around to greet her.

The warrior returned her attention to the stationary figure trapped below her. Not one sound had passed their lips since the sudden exhale of breath when they landed on their back. With the advantage of candlelight, Xena tried to distinguish her attacker. "Lila," Xena drawled, as her eyes narrowed to slits. She backed the blade off a little, but still kept it to her throat.

Up until now, Lila had not spoken a word. She felt the raw power and the ease with which the warrior wielded it, and was positive her reckless actions meant certain death. She lay motionless beneath the warlord, feeling the blade of the butcher knife shaving the non- existent hairs from her neck. At the sound of her sister's voice, Lila instinctively turned her head, only to be greeted by the prick of the knife point. She wisely turned back, too scared to allow the pleas for her sister to run and save herself to form in her throat.

"Lila?!" came the cry from Gabrielle, as she advanced on the pair. "XENA! What do you think you're doing?!"

Xena just sat there, acting like she always spent her nights sitting on her best friend's sister. "What does it look like I'm doing?" she asked nonchalantly.

"Well... uh... you really don't want to know." Gabrielle glanced at the knife and back to Xena. "Is that really necessary?"

"You'll have to ask her," Xena replied, as she nodded towards the head behind the blade. "She supplied it."

"What?" Gabrielle moved to stand behind Xena and leaned into her, allowing her arms to easily drape over the warrior's broad shoulders. She positioned the candle so its light fell directly on her sister. "So what gives?"

Lila watched uneasily as Gabrielle conformed herself to the warrior's back, forcing Xena to bear her weight. Lila's lips began to move, but nothing came out.

"Could you repeat that?" Xena asked, allowing a low growl to roll out. "I didn't quite catch it all."

"Stop that, Xena," exclaimed a flustered bard. She slapped Xena on the shoulder for effect.

Lila flinched as she witnessed her sister hit the warrior, and froze as she felt her neck brush against the razor sharp blade. Her eyes darted down frantically to the knife just out of range of her sight, and then pleadingly up to her sister.

"Xena. The knife," the bard admonished her friend. Xena removed the knife from Lila's throat, and with a small flick of her wrist, sent it careening into the far wall of the barn. Lila looked on dumbfounded as the warrior obeyed her sister. Her mind raced over the conversation she had overheard earlier between the two, and tried to make sense of it with regard to what she was now witness to. "Now Lila, for Zeus' sake! What has gotten into you?"

Her sister gulped hard and moistened her lips. She stole a quick look at the warrior, then looked directly at her sister and said, "I... I love you."

"And you decided to show me how much you love me by trying to kill my best friend?!" Gabrielle was incensed. "Of all the crazy -" Xena reached up with her free hand and squeezed the bard's hand. Gabrielle sucked in a lungful of air, and slowly let it out through pursed lips.

"She said she was going to hurt you." Lila sobbed. "I heard her."

Xena locked eyes with Lila, trying to comprehend what she just heard. 'Is she jealous that her sister escaped this life? Does she think I picked Gabrielle over her?' "I said no such thing."

'Those eyes.' Lila could feel her soul being laid open for the warrior's inspection. She didn't care. 'I'm not the one who pillaged towns. Murdered innocent people. Abuses sisters.' She glowered at Xena, hoping she would see the reflection of her cruelty.

"I don't know what you think you heard, but you've got it all wrong. Xena and I are... are..." Gabrielle stumbled over the last word and barely caught herself. She was about to say lovers. It sounded so natural. "... very good friends," she finished.

Lila tore her eyes from the warrior and fixed them on her sister. "Brie, you... you pleaded with her not to use the whip. Again." Tears came to her face as she looked at the shocked expression on her sister.. "A part of me died when I heard you beg." Lila's voice grew hard as she continued. "You risked your life to save me when Draco tried to take us as slaves. I owe you my life. I just wanted to help you to free yourself from *her*." She looked directly at Xena as she spit the last word out.

Silence hung in the night air as the two traveling companions took in this admission. Gabrielle grabbed Xena's shoulder for support as she felt her knees buckle. She landed on her butt with a small thud next to her sister. A shower of hay plumed in the air around her, and settled over the three women. Xena released her hold of Lila's wrists and rocked back onto her feet. She took a seat next to Gabrielle and regarded her seriously for a moment. When the bard's eyes met hers, the giggle fest began.

"Oh gods, Xena. What have we done?"

"We? You're the one who brought up whips!"

"I did... didn't I." Gabrielle started giggling harder, absently picking pieces of hay from various parts of Xena's anatomy.

Lila sat there rubbing her wrists, trying to get the circulation to return to her numb fingers. "Do you mind telling me what's so damn funny? How can you let her treat you like that?"

Gabrielle gulped down the last of her giggles, and dried her eyes with the back of her hand, realizing just what her sister must think of Xena. Leaning over, she cleared a spot on the barn floor of hay and placed the candle between them. Satisfied it was safe, she sat back and scooted closer to her best friend, pulling a large hand to her lap. Gabrielle interlaced their fingers and placed the palm of her free hand securely over this bond. Fortified in the strength that was flowing from Xena she turned to her sister. "Lila. What you overheard was... was all a joke. We were just kidding around with each other. We spend so much of our time around people who think that if they look at Xena the wrong way she'll kill them. If we don't make light of it once in a while it would really get to us. Honest." Gabrielle leaned into Xena, and nestled her head in the crook of her shoulder. She stared at her sister, trying to gauge her response.

Lila was about to concede her mistake when she remembered the bruising on her sister's body. "Well, if she didn't give you that... that..." She pointed accusingly to her sister's chest, unable to give voice to what she had seen. Lila saw the momentary flash of guilt that invaded the warrior's face. 'I knew it.' "How do you explain that one?"

Gabrielle reflexively tightened her grasp of Xena's hand, inadvertently digging her nails into the warrior's flesh. "I... I told you it was too embarrassing for me to speak about."

Xena nudged Gabrielle off her shoulder and turned to meet her eyes. "Embarrassing or not, I think your sister needs an explanation. Don't you?"

"I... ah... I guess you're right." Gabrielle looked down at her lap, studying their hands. 'This isn't exactly the way I pictured this moment. I don't know what I pictured, but not this.' She resigned herself to the task before her, and tried to figure a way to begin.

"We had been visiting the Amazons. They are proud of their skills with weaponry, and whenever we visit it seems it isn't long before I find myself participating in a friendly, informal challenge." Xena looked directly at Lila while she spoke, trying to do that 'Pull your audience into the story thing' that she had seen the bard do so many times. "During the latest challenge, we took turns shooting arrows right and left handed, attempting to split the arrow from our previous shot using the other hand. Well, the Amazon Queen here was feeling a little left out." Xena nodded in Gabrielle's direction.

You could've knocked her over with a feather. Gabrielle sat there in disbelief as she listened to the story unfold before her. 'Xena's telling a story? What's she doing? Where is she going with this?' Gabrielle was glad Xena still had a firm hold of her hand. The physical contact was the only thing that assured her that she was not dreaming. She glanced at her sister, realizing that Lila had been successfully drawn in.

"She's had some practice shooting right handed," continued Xena, "but never left handed. After the challenge was over, she insisted I give her lessons. I tried to talk her out of it. She was still trying to get the knack of doing it right handed. If you don't stand just right," Xena released Gabrielle's hand and demonstrated by twisting to her left and pretending to hold a bow and arrow in her hands, "you uh... get caught." She moved her left hand forward and showed where the trajectory of the releasing string would strike her on the breast. "And your sister, well... she's got a lot up there not to miss." Xena gave Gabrielle an embarrassed grin, and unconsciously sought out her hand.

"And I'm too pig headed to know when to give up," Gabrielle chimed in, finally realizing where the story was going.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Lila, I didn't even tell Xena at first. Not until she noticed me flinch. And then she had to drag it out of me. I just felt like such a fool to have done it to myself."

"Then she never..." Lila glanced quickly at Xena and back at her sister. "She never hurt you?"

"No Lila, NO!" Gabrielle released Xena's hand and gave the warrior a big hug. "She's too busy keeping me out of trouble." She gave Xena one last squeeze and turned to face her sister. "I'm sorry we frightened you. I had no idea we'd be overheard. Next time you get a fool notion in your head, come to me first." Gabrielle scooted forward and gave her sister a hug. "You better get back to the house before mother wakes and finds us both gone. I'll be along in a little while."

Lila began to leave when she stopped and turned to Xena. "I'm sorry. I almost killed you."

"Apology accepted. And Lila. Correction. You almost got yourself killed." Lila turned and silently left, realizing just how lucky she really was.

"So, what brings you out here in the middle of the night?" Xena stood and began to shake the hay from her bedroll which had been rather unceremoniously trampled on. She laid it out again and reclined her tall form onto it. Gabrielle finished brushing hay from her body, bent over, blew out the candle and joined her.

"I couldn't sleep without you," she sheepishly admitted, as she snuggled up to the warrior.

"Funny. I was having the same problem." Xena wrapped her arms and legs around the small form and rolled onto her back, bringing Gabrielle with her.

"Ummm." Gabrielle settled herself into a comfortable spot atop Xena. Her head was nestled under Xena's chin, and she could hear and feel the slow steady breathing coming from under her. The long muscular arms which held her secure were amazingly soft and warm against her skin. "I could stay like this forever," she murmured into the soft skin of Xena's upper arm.

"Don't you have to get back before Lila begins to worry?"

"In a bit. In a bit." Gabrielle reached behind herself and found the edge of the blanket. She gave a tug and pulled it up over them before settling back down into her favorite spot.


Chapter 13

Lila turned to the soft sound of approaching footsteps. "Where have you been all night? You had me worried sick." Gabrielle and Xena hesitated at the entrance to the bedroom before entering. "And look at you. You're dripping all over the place." Lila rushed to the trunk at the foot of her bed and removed two towels, tossing one to each woman. "Here. I don't know about you, but where I come from, we usually take our clothes off before we take a bath."

"Funny, very funny," scowled Gabrielle. "It's coming down in buckets out there." She lifted her foot to Xena, who held it against her thigh as she worked to loosen the laces and slip it off. "We didn't get two feet out of the barn before we were drenched." Gabrielle lifted her other foot to her friend, who successfully removed it from its soaked leather confines.

"You were there the whole night?" she asked Gabrielle, who had moved behind Xena and was toweling her friend's hair dry. Gabrielle paused as Xena removed her drenched tunic and proceeded to dry her back as her friend toweled herself off up front. "I... uh... I was waiting up for you," Lila continued, as she found herself staring at the warrior. Xena was never one to be shy about her body, and didn't give a second thought about getting undressed in front of Lila. Even in the gray stark light that found its way into the room from the storm outside, Xena was breathtaking. Though the warrior's leathers didn't leave much to the imagination, Lila was stunned by her natural beauty. 'Gods, she could have any man she wanted.' Lila thought about what it would be like to be able to pick and choose to her heart's desire. 'I wonder why she's content to travel with my sister?' Lila pictured herself married to a handsome young king, and living in a fairy tale castle in a far off land. She quickly snapped out of her reverie, embarrassed at her childish dreams.

Lila watched as Gabrielle, who had shirked off her skirt and halter, was busily drying her arms. "I hadn't planned on staying out all night," she lied to her sister. She turned her back to Xena, who began to vigorously towel her long tresses dry. "We had been talking, and I guess I fell asleep." Xena was drying off the bard's back when she inadvertently (on purpose) passed her hand over a rather sensitive spot on her friend's waist. "YEOW!" exclaimed Gabrielle, as she jumped at the unexpected tickle from the warrior. She swung her right hand back and connected a backhand blow to the playful warrior's stomach.

"Oomph." Xena doubled over in mock pain as she spun her wet towel into a tight spiral and let it snap, catching Gabrielle squarely on her butt.

"Xena!" the bard cried, as she bent to scoop up her discarded wet towel. Even though they were evenly armed, Gabrielle soon found herself outmatched. Xena advanced, and she found herself in retreat. Gabrielle used her last line of defense when she felt her sister behind her. She spun her shocked sister in front of her, and cowered behind her, using her as a shield. "You wouldn't dare hit my sister!" Gabrielle triumphantly proclaimed, knowing she had won.

"I wouldn't, would I?" the warrior slowly drawled, as her eyes narrowed to slits, and a feral smile spread across her face. She bent over until she was eye to eye with Lila, and grinned as she spun the towel into a tighter spiral.

"Xena?" gasped a horrified Lila, as the sight of the approaching naked warrior filled her eyes.

Xena stopped a few feet from her intended victim, and held the towel in both hands in front of her. Letting go with her right hand, she snapped the towel to her left, while taking a step in that direction. Gabrielle instinctively moved in the other direction and was caught off guard by the warrior's trick move. Xena had used the step to allow herself to pivot in front of Lila and end up on her right side, directly in front of the now exposed bard. Xena seized her and began to tickle her unmercifully, as the bard laughed and cried for her to stop as she fell to the floor trying to get away.

"Stop!... Xena!... No!... I can't!... Xena!... Please!..." Gabrielle could barely see straight, as tears ran down her face. She had her hands flailing about over her head in a useless attempt to ward off the warrior's advances. Xena got a few more tickles in before she finally relented. She grasped Gabrielle's hands and pulled her to her feet.

Gabrielle clutched at Xena's forearm for support as she stood bent over, trying to catch her breath. "You... are... *ruthless*," she gasped between lungfuls of air. "I'll get you... back. Somehow. Somewhere." She tilted her head up and caught the bemused smile on Xena's face. "Just you wait."

Lila quietly watched the exchange between them, and felt she was seeing the true relationship between the two friends. 'Maybe she's not so bad after all,' Lila pondered, as she witnessed Xena for the first time with her guard down. 'This must be the person my sister decided to befriend.'


Hecuba made short work of the breakfast dishes and then informed Gabrielle that she was leaving to go shopping in town.

"Ooo shopping! Wait up while I get my rain cape."

"No, Gabrielle. Lila is coming to help me." Hecuba fastened her cape and gave her young daughter a stern look. "You know very well that whenever the two of you accompanied me shopping, I never got anything done."

Gabrielle thought back to the few times her mother relented and allowed both daughters to go with her. They drove their mother crazy with their futile attempts to see and touch everything. "But mother. I'm not a child anymore."

"I know. And that's why I definitely don't want the both of you along. It was bad enough when you were children to get both of you to obey me at the same time. Now that you are an adult I have no authority over you. Anyway, it wouldn't be proper to leave Xena alone all morning. And I don't think she's the type that would enjoy spending an entire morning shopping."

Xena was about to come to Gabrielle's defense, but the look in Hecuba's eyes made her swallow her words. 'I'm not sure what she's up to, but I think I'll play along for now.'

Hecuba had her mind made up and nothing was going to change it. "While we're gone, maybe you could find the time to change the bed clothes. I realize you're an invited guest, but you're still my daughter. That is, if you still remember how to make a proper bed."

"Mother, I'm quite capable of making a proper bed. You taught me well."

"Oh. I didn't think you had much call for it anymore." Hecuba shot a quick look at Xena, which didn't go unnoticed by Gabrielle.

"Is there -" Xena stopped when all eyes turned to her. She was going to ask if Hecuba wanted something of her, but began having second thoughts about giving the woman an opening to tell her exactly where she'd like Xena to go, or what she'd like her to do when she got there. Not that Xena would have minded the confrontation, but she was doing her best to avoid one for Gabrielle's sake. 'Then again, someone like Hecuba never needed an opening.' "Is there something I can do?"

"Well, there is wood in the barn that needs splitting, if you've got a mind to do a little honest hard work."

"Mother," Lila exclaimed. Xena helps a lot of people now..." Gabrielle was surprised to hear her sister stand up for Xena.

"I've got a mind," responded Xena evenly.

"There's an extra cape to keep you dry and bags for carrying the wood by the back door," Lila explained, as she hurried to catch up to her mother who had already left.

"Aargh!" Gabrielle fumed. "She has a knack of calling me an adult to my face, and still treating me like a child!"

Xena walked over to where Gabrielle still stood by the window, watching her mother and Lila as they headed for town. She wrapped an arm around the front of her friend and rested her chin on the bard's shoulder, watching as the two women disappeared out of sight. "Your mother still sees you as the same person you were before you left. She hasn't had the opportunity to watch you grow and mature over the last two years... like I have."

Gabrielle wrapped her fingers around Xena's hand and gave a soft squeeze. "I guess you're right, but it still hurts."

Xena left to split the wood that was stored in the barn, and Gabrielle headed to her parent's room to make a proper bed.


Gabrielle was smoothing the last of the wrinkles from Lila's spread when she turned to find Xena relaxing on her bed. "Xena! I just made the bed."

"Mmm. And a mighty fine job you did. Very nice. Very nice." Xena sat with her arms folded comfortably behind her head, leaning up against the headboard. She stretched her long legs and crossed them at her ankles, settling herself comfortably on the fresh bed clothes.

"What do you think you're doing? Now I'll have to do it all over again."

"Oh, I was just wondering what it was like to be you. Your thoughts. Your dreams."

Gabrielle sat on the edge of her sister's bed, careful not to mess it up too much. "You know, I wasn't always so hard to wake up in the morning."

"Oh really," Xena said as her eyebrow raised in response to this piece of information. "I find that a little hard to believe."

Gabrielle continued, unfettered by her friend's lack of belief. "I used to wake up before the sun to have some time to spend with myself before chores. I'd lie there on the bed..." Gabrielle gestured toward Xena with a sweep of her arm, indicating the position the warrior now assumed, "... and dream of visiting far away places. Oh, and this isn't just a bed, it's a magical bed." Xena looked at her with wonderment. "Sometimes it was a wagon with strong sturdy steeds that carried me away in a cloud of dust. And sometimes it was a magical flying machine that soared above the hills and clouds and carried me to distant magical lands." Gabrielle looked down at her hands that were fidgeting in her lap. "Sounds kinda childish, doesn't it. I've never told this to anyone before, not even Lila."

"There's nothing wrong with dreaming. It can give you hope for the future."

"Yeah uh... I guess you're right." Silence fell between the two women as Gabrielle reflected back to a certain day nearly two years ago. "I thought I was going to have to be content to live my life in my dreams. And then I met you. You were everything I needed; an answer to my prayers. I knew that because of you, my dreams could become a reality."

Xena stared straight ahead, unable to face her friend. "Gabrielle, you better remove me from that pedestal before I fall. I didn't make your dreams come true. You did. It was all you. You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it."

Gabrielle thought about this for a moment. "Anything?"

Xena turned and looked directly at her. "Anything."

Gabrielle sat there and quietly drank in the vision before her. Even in a simple tunic, Xena was exquisite. She rose from Lila's bed and walked to the side of her bed, climbed up and knelt beside Xena, forcing her to look up at her. "I wonder if this bed has any magic left in it?"


Chapter 14

Gabrielle knelt there for what seemed like an eternity, staring into two azure pools of liquid. Trembling slightly, she finally gathered enough courage and hesitantly placed her hands on Xena's shoulders, bent down and gave the startled warrior a soft kiss. Xena wrapped her arms around the bard and pulled her in, returning the kiss. Her body quickly responded to Gabrielle's tender lips, the feel of her breasts lightly brushing hers, the touch of her hands as they caressed the back of her neck... Xena quickly realized where this was leading and brought her hands up between them. "Don't... start something... you don't..."

Gabrielle studied the warrior's face, and was now more certain than ever of what she wanted. She bent forward and reclaimed the warrior's lips. "Xena, sometimes you talk too much," she admonished, as she came up for air. She trailed kisses to Xena's left ear and down her neck to her collar bone, where she nipped at the flesh.

"Gabrielle... Your mother... Lila..." Xena fought to maintain rational thought.

"... will be gone all morning." She grinned at the warrior and playfully licked the tip of her nose. "We have the house to ourselves."

Xena halfheartedly tried to push the advancing bard away. "But what if they come back early?"

"I..." she kissed Xena's right eye, "don't..." she kissed the other, "care." She straddled Xena and looked directly into her eyes. "I love you." Gabrielle leaned forward and brushed a strand of hair out of Xena's eyes and let her hand trail down the warrior's cheek, over her jaw and down her long neck to the top of her chest. At this point she stopped her hand, becoming very self-conscious of the fact that she really didn't know how to love another woman.

'To hell with her family.' Xena took a deep breath and let the air out slowly, trying to reign in her quickly growing passion. She pulled Gabrielle into her arms and kissed her tenderly. Xena took her time with Gabrielle, allowing them to become comfortable with their new intimacy. Both women continued to exchange soft kisses, while their hands slowly continued to explore each other's bodies. Ever so gently, Xena ran the back of her hand down the front of Gabrielle's tunic. When the tips of her fingers lightly brushed over one of the bard's nipples, Gabrielle let out a whimpered moan and pulled Xena's mouth to hers. The warrior returned Gabrielle's passionate kiss, and then gently pushed her away and looked directly into her eyes. She smiled as she reached forward to untie the lace to Gabrielle's tunic.

"No." Gabrielle grasped her hands and firmly pushed them away. She sat up and began to blush as she slowly undid the lace while Xena watched, fixated on the creamy flesh that was beginning to reveal itself to her.

"Oh, yes. Please, Gabrielle. I want... I need... your breasts are so beautiful." Grasping the bottom of the tunic, Gabrielle slowly worked it up over her body. She was surprised that the simple cotton material felt like rough muslin against her now swollen, tender nipples. Their need to be taken drove her, and she quickly freed herself from her tunic and tossed it aside. Gabrielle bent forward and Xena scooted down a little, grasping her with both hands just above her waist and capturing a breast in her mouth.

"Ohhh... Xena!," Gabrielle grabbed the back of the warrior's head and ground her breast into Xena's mouth. "More..."

Gabrielle slid her hips forward and Xena could feel the hot wet trail she left on her thigh. " hot... ummm... so wet..." Xena slipped her arms around Gabrielle and pulled her in further, using the bed's headboard to brace herself. She rolled her tongue around the nipple, marveling at how quickly it became hard. Xena slowly pulled the breast out between her teeth and Gabrielle shrieked at the exquisite pain that simple procedure produced. Startled, Xena pushed Gabrielle away, afraid she had been too rough. "Are you OK? I didn't mean to hurt you."

"No Xena, no. You didn't hurt me. I need you... please..." She tried to push herself back into the warrior's mouth, but Xena had a firm hold around her upper ribcage and held her at bay. She leaned forward and placed feather light kisses in the valley of the bard's breasts, and slowly licked her way to the other breast. She flicked the tip of her tongue over it a couple of times, as Gabrielle groaned and tried to push herself into the warrior's mouth. Xena's hands held her back.

"Xena... please!" implored a frustrated bard. She wanted to feel herself inside her lover's mouth, and if she had her way, would have delighted in feeling her nipple on the back of Xena's throat.

"There's plenty of time for that. Like you said, we have all morning." Xena grinned as she returned to the task at hand, and continued to trail light kisses over Gabrielle's chest. Her companion whimpered as she felt shudder after shudder ripple through her unsatisfied flesh. "So sweet..." murmured Xena, as she slowly licked her way up the bard, where she sucked and nipped at the soft flesh of her neck. While never faltering from her ministrations, Xena rolled the young woman to her left and placed her gently on the bed beside her. She gave Gabrielle a quick kiss on the lips, before sitting up and releasing her body from the confines of her tunic.

Gabrielle watched as Xena's large breasts fell free and swayed before her eyes. Xena looked over and followed the bard's gaze to her chest and waved her hand in front of her lover's face, trying to break the spell her bosom held on her. "Gabrielle, snap out of it." Xena grinned at the surprised look on the bard's face when she realized she was caught staring.

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle sheepishly replied. "I guess I still can't get over the fact that this is real. I've dreamed... about us... together. I never thought my dreams would come true."

"I told you, you can do anything you want..."

"...if I put my mind to it."

Xena smiled broadly and bent down placing a soft kiss on Gabrielle's lips. As the kiss deepened, she slowly moved her body over the bard's, until she was completely covering the young woman. A low satisfying groan escaped the warrior's throat as she settled herself onto Gabrielle; the exquisite feel of the bard's naked body under hers.

As Xena's body enveloped her, Gabrielle was overwhelmed by a connection with Xena that was much more than physical. Instead of feeling trapped, she felt free and content. And it was more than physical contentment, it was somehow spiritual. For the first time in her life, she felt whole. Her soul was at peace. She brought her arms around Xena's back, and sliding her left arm down to Xena's hips, pulled the warrior into her. She returned Xena's kisses with a new urgency. Her entire body wanted, no needed, to feel possessed by this woman, who had already captured her heart and soul.

When Xena felt herself being pulled in she gave up trying to hold herself up on her elbows, and allowed her full weight to settle on the bard. She buried her left hand behind Gabrielle's neck and ran her right hand along the length of her love's side, wanting to memorize every inch of her body. When their mouths separated for a much needed moment of breath, Xena whispered, "I love you," over and over, even after Gabrielle reclaimed her mouth.

Many minutes later, Xena relunctantly rolled off Gabrielle and propped herself up on her left elbow. She allowed her gaze to take in all of her love, admiring the beauty of this lovely young woman. She bent over and allowed her lips to lightly graze across the bard's lips, while her right hand slowly explored the soft skin of her neck and left arm. Gabrielle buried her right hand in Xena's hair, twirling the long black mane between her fingers. Xena flicked her tongue across Gabrielle's lips and kissed her with more passion, while her hand worked its way over the bard's stomach and idly played with her belly button. She trailed her hand out to Gabrielle's hip and around back to firmly grasp her cheek and pull her love slightly towards her. Capturing Gabrielle's mouth, she could taste the soft moans as they escaped the bard as her hand worked its way down her outer thigh. Her tongue won entrance to Gabrielle's mouth as her hand caressed the soft skin of her thigh and moved in to separate her legs. Xena felt the bard's body tense and she stopped immediately, removing her hand from Gabrielle. She cupped the bard's face with her well callused hand and stroked her lips with her thumb. "I promise to take it slowly. If you are uncomfortable and you want me to stop at any time, just say the word."

Gabrielle looked confidently into her eyes. "I've never made love to a woman. Before I met the Amazons, I didn't even know two women could make love to each other. I... I still don't know what to expect... but I love you Xena, and I want you. I want you to love me fully."

Xena smiled and kissed her lightly on the lips, reassuring her that everything was going to be OK. She moved her hand back down to Gabrielle's thigh and slowly moved it between her legs. The bard tentatively allowed Xena access and the warrior caressed her friend's inner thigh, being careful to avoid her center. Gabrielle concentrated on Xena's hand as it left trails of burning flesh wherever it passed. Xena bent lower and suckled a breast, as her hand slid up the front of Gabrielle's right thigh and massaged her abdomen. Xena looked up from her feast to intently watch her lover's face as she allowed her hand to slowly move down and come to rest on the bard's center.

Gabrielle jumped a little but quickly recovered herself, smiling into the blue eyes that captured hers. "Ummm..." She caressed Xena's cheek with her hand.

Using the palm of her hand, Xena gently massaged her, allowing her time to adjust to somebody touching her there. She moved her finger to lightly cover Gabrielle's folds and felt how wet she was. "Is that for me?" she asked. Gabrielle gave her a quizzical look as Xena held up her finger and examined the glistening liquid. She moved back up to Gabrielle's head and applied feather light kisses to her face, while at the same time her hand returned to the bard's center and cupped her mound. She captured Gabrielle's mouth and her tongue began a thorough exploration as she slowly moved her middle finger between Gabrielle's hot wet folds and rested it on her love's clitoris. Gabrielle's body stiffened momentarily at this new sensation, before instinctively beginning to move against Xena's finger in a natural rhythm as old as time. Xena quickened her pace as Gabrielle began to thrust faster and faster against the warrior's hand. When Xena could tell that Gabrielle would not last much longer, she backed her off from the edge.

"XENA!" Gabrielle screamed, as she frantically grabbed at the warrior's arm, trying to force it back to her. "Wha -- what are you doing? Please!" she begged, looking bewildered as she tried to comprehend why Xena had stopped.

Xena silently moved her hand back in place, but just as Gabrielle was about to try to pick up from where they left off, the warrior slid her hand down a little further and rested the tip of her middle finger at Gabrielle's opening. She squeezed the bard's clitoris between her thumb and forefinger and then began to massage it with her thumb as she slowly inserted her finger deep inside.

Gabrielle's body arched and she found herself staring wide-eyed at the ceiling of her bedroom. 'My bedroom. I'm in my old bed... in my old room... in my parent's house... and Xena is...' All of Gabrielle's thoughts were swept away as her eyes widened and she gasped at the feeling of having Xena inside her. She never imagined she could feel her love in such an intimate way, filling her, possessing her. "Oh gods, Xena! Where have you been my whole life?" Xena grinned at this last statement, and at the prospect of things to come. Gabrielle's eyes glistened at this newfound revelation of what love with Xena could be like.

At first, Xena rested her finger within Gabrielle and then slowly slid it out and back in, and picked up the rhythm of Gabrielle's body as she began to thrust her hips to meet the warrior's embrace. Xena locked eyes with the bard, and watched intently as the frenzied motions of their connection burst forth and washed over her face. Her climax started as a low, guttural groan, and finally escaped the bard's lips as she screamed Xena's name, her body convulsing uncontrollably as she held the bed clothes in a death grip.

Xena covered Gabrielle with her body and held her close for a long time, keeping her hand between Gabrielle's legs and slowly massaging the aftermaths of her convulsions. She waited patiently as her young friend worked at recovering her composure. When Gabrielle's eyes opened again, the bard was greeted with a delighted twinkle of blue and an "I love you." Xena brought her right hand to her mouth and sensuously licked her fingers clean while gazing at a startled bard. She leaned down and with her tongue fully extended, licked Gabrielle's lips. Gabrielle could taste herself and marveled at the realization that she actually liked it, though none of her bardic skills would allow her to give voice to what it compared to. Gabrielle opened her mouth and captured Xena's tongue, sucking on it and wondering if Xena would taste the same.

Gabrielle remembered back to the night at the inn, and the fleeting chance she had to have one of Xena's breasts in her mouth. She chuckled to herself, remembering that at the time she had little choice in the matter seeing how she had been thwapped upside the head with it. She realized this was her chance and released Xena's tongue and looked her straight in the... chin. She could feel her throat muscles constricting and a lump forming in the back of her throat. Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. 'Why is this so difficult for me? Why can't I tell her what I want? I'm a bard!' Gabrielle suddenly started to feel very claustrophobic and put her hands on Xena's shoulders trying to push the warrior off her.

Xena saw the look of panic in Gabrielle's eyes and added to that the fact that the bard couldn't look her in the eye. 'Oh gods. What's the matter?' Xena cried to herself. 'I thought she wanted this... wanted me...' The warrior fought the urge to run and instead hurriedly rolled off Gabrielle and tried to give her some space.


"I'm sorry. I thought you wanted... I'm so sorry." Xena felt her whole world collapsing around her as she realized she had just lost the one true friend she ever had. She sat up and swung her feet to the ground.

"Xena!" Gabrielle's arm shot out and grasped the warrior's upper arm, forcing Xena to turn around and look at her. "Where do you think you're going?" Xena just stared at her. She had no answer to give. Gabrielle slid her hand down Xena's arm and clasped the warrior's hand. "Please. Come back to bed."

Xena saw the love and desire in her friend's eyes and a spark of hope flickered in her heart. "I thought you were having second thoughts... regretted what we -"

"No!" she stated emphatically. "Never." It's just that I..." Gabrielle started to blush deeply. She continued to hold Xena's hand and forced herself to meet her eyes. "Damn Xena. After what we just did; why am I still so embarrassed? She looked intently into her lover's eyes and pulled courage from the love she saw. "I want to make love to you, but I'm not sure how."

A long held breath escaped the warrior as Xena's mind registered the false alarm. She brought the bard's small hand to her lips kissing the palm gently. Xena slowly lay down on her back, giving her friend free access to her body. Gabrielle sat up and marveled at the beautiful woman before her. The bard brushed an errant lock of hair from Xena's face, allowing her hand to linger on the warrior's cheek. "By the gods, you're beautiful." She leaned over and kissed her tenderly on the lips, before sitting back up to admire her some more. Gabrielle worked at trying to grasp the concept that Xena was all hers, to do with as she pleased. She never saw the warrior in a position of such vulnerability, but when their eyes met, all she saw was the love that Xena held for her, and she was elated.

Placing her hand carefully on Xena's abdomen, she felt the muscles under her fingers ripple with her touch. Gabrielle slowly moved her hand over the soft skin, pausing to study her belly button. She looked to the warrior's face for any signs of disapproval, and was rewarded with a huge smile and a soft chuckle. Gabrielle trailed the back of her left index finger up from Xena's belly button, and could see as well as feel the shudder that her simple touch produced as she hesitantly encircled one of the warrior's large breasts.

Xena let out a ragged moan as she pulled the bard's free hand to her waiting mouth and licked and sucked on each finger with reckless abandon. She moaned into Gabrielle's palm as her friend found the nerve to roll and squeeze the tender nipple of Xena's right breast between her fingers. The warrior arched into the bard's inquisitive ministrations, while placing her hand behind Gabrielle's neck and coaxing her down to take the other breast in her mouth. "Gabrielle... please."

The bard paused as she poised herself above the now swollen and erect nipple and glanced into Xena's face. What she saw was a need that only she could fulfill. She turned back to the breast in question and experimentally touched it with her lips. She licked slowly around the outside of the nipple, and discovered she liked; no, relished the salty taste of Xena's flesh. While never losing track of what she was doing to the other breast, Gabrielle took her right hand and cupped the breast she had been licking, squeezing and kneading it between her fingers. With a firm hold, she brought the nipple up to meet her mouth. The bard raked her teeth over the now hard and puckered flesh and was rewarded for her actions as Xena convulsively arched herself up and used the hand she had behind the bard's head to drive her mouth firmly into her breast.

Gabrielle was soon applying herself fully to the enjoyable task at hand. She filled her mouth with the ripe flesh, struggling to get as much of it as she possibly could past her lips. Forgetting about the other breast, she used both hands to knead and work what little bit of flesh remained beyond her physical limitations to devour. Her eyes sparkled greedily as she realized that she was truly enjoying herself. She almost felt self-conscious that she was doing it more for herself than for Xena, until she stole a glance the warrior's way. Xena's eyes had just about rolled back in their sockets, and her right hand was planted firmly in her mouth while her left still held Gabrielle's head to her chest in a vice grip.

Gabrielle almost regrettably disengaged herself from the breast, until she spied the other neglected twin. "Umm... yummy!" She pounced on it with no hesitation.

"Oh gods," groaned the warrior from around the fist she was gnawing on. "I think I've created a monster!"

"Um hmm. Mmm..." mumbled a very busy bard, as she licked her newfound friend clean before claiming it as her own. She squeezed the breast with both hands, making the erect nipple stand up at attention. Next she flicked her tongue over the tip a few times before baring her teeth and capturing it tightly between her teeth. She bit down roughly, and was surprised to hear the warrior cry out for more. The bard alternated between biting and sucking until she could stand it no longer and attempted to consume the whole thing right there on the spot.

As much as she was enjoying herself, Gabrielle knew there were still new lands to conquer. She reluctantly pulled herself from her repast, confident that they would still be there if she decided to come back and play. She looked inquisitively into Xena's eyes. "Umm... how am I doing?" she quirked, as she licked her lips.

"I uh...uh..." Xena stammered, as she fought to regain control, "... not bad. For your first time."

Gabrielle started to frown until she caught the corner of Xena's mouth twitch and watched as her lip turned up slightly in the first hint of a grin. "Xena!" The bard hauled off and smacked the warrior in the stomach, which was practically useless, since it was like hitting a brick wall.

"Hey!" Xena broke out in laughter. "C'mere. I'll show you how well you've been doing." She wrapped her left hand around Gabrielle's head and pulled her to her waiting mouth, showering her lips, chin and neck with soft kisses. Her right hand sought out the bard's breast as the kisses quickly became deeper and urgent. Xena fought her rising need to flip the bard on her back and ravish her unmercifully, and broke her hold of the sensitive breast and breathed, "Give me your hand." She grasped the back of her friend's hand and placed it on her chest, covering it completely with her right hand.

Xena guided the bard's hand down and together they explored the warrior's body. They moved past her breasts to her abdomen, where Xena slowly moved Gabrielle's hand over each ripple of her taut stomach. She guided their hands to her right hip and around back, where Gabrielle took control and grabbed a handful of butt and began to pliantly knead. She dug her fingers into Xena's muscled backside, pulling the warrior to her and feeling their breasts collide and rub into each other.

The bard wrestled her mouth from the warrior's control and began to sensuously lick her way down Xena's neck. She paused at the small hollow, nipping at the soft flesh. She then proceeded to bite her way across Xena's right collarbone and down her arm as Xena took control of her hand and guided it down her thigh. Gabrielle could feel the well-honed muscle that resided just below the surface as she moved her hand with Xena's.

The warrior leaned over and raked her teeth over Gabrielle's earlobe, bringing the bard's mouth back up to meet hers. Xena's kisses were now more urgent, as she felt the heat from her molten juices scorching her thighs. She manipulated Gabrielle's hand over her thigh to the center of her heat source. Once there, she pushed the small hand against her mound, massaging the ache that was threatening to explode.

The bard tore herself from Xena's devouring mouth and sat up. The warrior used what little reserve she had left and released her grip of her friend's hand, allowing her the freedom to explore for herself. Gabrielle ran her fingers through the thick kinky hair of Xena's center, perplexed at how it contrasted to the hair on top of her head. Xena saw the bard's brows knit together as she worked on this new puzzle. Gabrielle reached over and fondled a lock of Xena's long hair, still continuing to lightly twirl her finger in the warrior's mound. "Xena? They're so different. Why?"

Xena wasn't sure how long she could hold an intelligent conversation with her friend, but knew the inquisitive nature of the bard. "I ah... I really don't know why. Some people are just that way."

Gabrielle pondered the response while still absently playing with Xena's center. "I just can't get over how different it feels."

"I -- hope -- you're having a -- good -- time," Xena said, through gritted teeth. Gabrielle turned and realized that Xena was sweating profusely and her eyes were glazed over. It was then she realized that what she was doing was having a profound effect on the warrior. Gabrielle immediately removed her hand and was surprised at the speed with which the warrior captured it and returned it to her center, trapping it under her hand.

Xena let out a long ragged breath as she implored, "Please. I don't think I can take much more." She moved Gabrielle's hand down between her legs, and the bard was astonished with how wet the warrior was. With Xena's guidance, Gabrielle worked her fingers into the warrior's folds and marveled at the texture and feel of Xena's slick center. Xena guided the bard's finger over her clitoris and her hips involuntarily bucked as she felt the soft skin of her lover's touch brush lightly over her nub. It was such a different feeling from the callused skin of her own fingers that she was used to. Using two fingers, Gabrielle hesitantly began to massage the warrior, eventually becoming bold enough to pinch and squeeze the swollen nub. Xena knew she couldn't take much more of this exquisite torture and needed to feel Gabrielle possess her. "Gabrielle... move your hand down -" Xena pushed the bard's hand further down, and positioned one of her fingers at her opening. "I... need to feel you... inside of me." Gabrielle slowly inserted her finger inside, very apprehensive of what she was doing. A loud moan escaped the warrior's mouth and her hips involuntarily lurched as she realized her young friend was touching the most private part of her body.

"Oh Xena, I'm sorry," Gabrielle cried as she quickly removed her finger. "Did I hurt you?"

"G -- Gab, eh -- everything's fine," Xena stammered as she tried her best to reassure her as she guided the bard's hand back to her need.

"Umm, you're so hot," murmured Gabrielle as she reinserted her finger deep within. She slowly brought her finger up and almost out and pushed it back down, curling the tip and exploring in all directions.

Xena hadn't expected what this naturally inquisitive nature of the bard would do to her, as her breath started to come in short ragged pants. "Gabrielle... put your thumb -- no -- over a little... AHHH!... YES!... right there..." Xena reached down and guided Gabrielle's thumb over her clitoris and the bard began to earnestly massage the now swollen nub as she continued to thrust her finger deep inside the warrior.

Release should have been imminent, but Xena fought it with every fiber of her being. This moment, feeling Gabrielle inside her, was one she had dreamed of for so long. A dream that up until a few days ago, she was certain would never be answered. Should never be answered. She knew she didn't deserve the love of this beautiful woman, but here they were, consummating their love for each other. And there could be no going back. Gabrielle was hers -- freely given, and she to her bard. Xena wanted this moment to last forever.

The tendons and cords of her arms rippled and popped as she dug her clenched fists into the blankets and used her forearms to hold her body aloft. Gabrielle could feel her own need rising anew, and laid her body along the length of the warrior, straddling her left thigh. She thrust her sex again and again against the warrior, keeping time with her strokes deep inside her partner. Xena's head flew back and she found herself staring at the ceiling, the feel of the bard's slick center coating her thigh almost too much to bear. Gabrielle dug the fingers of her free hand into the flesh of the warrior's upper back, and sunk her teeth into the flesh of Xena's left shoulder. She continued to pump her left hand harder and faster, determined to bring her lover over the top.

"Please... another... ," the warrior begged between breathes.

Gabrielle paused in mid-stroke. "I -- don't know what you want," she said frantically, looking at Xena for help.

Xena was no longer able to focus clearly. "Your finger... insert a second finger... PLEASE!"

"Ohhh..." Gabrielle was amazed at how easily Xena's body accepted so much of her. She quickly picked up on the rhythm of the warrior's bucking hips, and met them thrust for thrust as she continued to bury herself inside her love. "I wonder..." While never breaking contact with Xena's enlarged clitoris, Gabrielle brought both finger tips just to the opening of the warrior and deftly added a third before she plunged her hand down as far as it would go.

Xena's entire body thrust itself upward to meet this final assault on her senses. There was no holding back this time. Her body and Gabrielle had finally won out, as she knew they ultimately would. She stiffened as her inner muscles constricted tightly around the bard's fingers, not allowing her to reclaim them. With just a couple more frantic thrusts of her hips, the bard joined her lover. Gabrielle rolled completely on top of Xena's body, holding her close with her free hand and they rode this final wave together as a terrific orgasm rocked Xena to her core.

Xena's body finally went limp, and Gabrielle gently wrapped her arms around her love. Tranquility washed over her. Nothing could have prepared her for what she was feeling. She had known for some time that her feelings for Xena ran much deeper than friend, but she never knew she would be able to express these feelings in such an intimate way. To be able to give herself fully to Xena, and Xena to her.

Part 3 -(End)

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