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CHAPTER THREE

Lesbian Works For Gabrielle

Atthis showed them to their room. A cottage with whitewashed walls, it caught the light of the little island in the most amazing way. It seemed to fill the room; as if the light itself was a boarder, an entity one breaks bread with, toasts with, converses to.

Gabrielle flopped onto the bed. Nothing fancy, but quaint like the rest of the place. Xena kept pacing around the room. Atthis returned with some clothing that she laid next to Gabrielle on the bed.

"What’s this?" Xena asked, her lip curled in distaste.

"Sappho thought you might like some cooler rags. The days here can get pretty steamy—humid, ya know." Atthis fingered the lightweight cloth to make her point.

"Well, she’s wrong. We’re just fine." Xena’s voice lowered a notch.

Gabrielle laughed lightly, covering the warrior’s tone. "These are lovely, really. Tell Sappho thank you."

Atthis backed out of the room, unsure whether to be alarmed by Xena’s threatening tone, or soothed by Gabrielle’s easy manner.

Xena gave the bard an amazed look once Atthis was gone.

"I know, I know, I’ve been going against the warrior’s wishes. But just once, Xena, I would like you to try and relax. There are no warlords here. We’re not in danger. That’s the point. That’s why we came here, isn’t it? I say we go with the flow." Gabrielle stopped short, never having used that phrase before.

Xena raised an eyebrow.

"What I mean is we should just hang, er...I mean chill...uh, I mean, you know," Gabrielle stammered.

Gabrielle swung her head from side to side, shook her shoulders and bobbed her head, grooving in what could only be some sort of funky dance. "Just mellow out, warrior babe."

"What?"

Gabrielle stilled her body. What was she doing? She pressed a hand to her forehead, a strange fuzzy sensation there. But then her stomach growled. "Uh, I’m famished. Let’s just…get dressed."

Minutes later, Gabrielle appeared in a soft blue dress very similar to the one Sappho and the other women wore. Sleeveless, it gathered at the waist with a gold cord and fell in elegant layers at the neckline (which plunged in both the front and the back) and at the waist and hip, down to the floor where her feet donned a pair of fine leather sandals.

"What do you think?" She asked Xena.

Working on reshaping the board near the window light, Xena turned, her smile lopsided as she surveyed the new Gabrielle. "Very Lesbian."

"Ya think? Yeah," Gabrielle turned this way and that, checking out the quality of the material, "not bad."

Hmm, Lesbian works for Gabrielle. She turned her attention back to the board.

Gabrielle waited, hands on hips, observing Xena work. "Aren’t you getting dressed? It’s almost time to go."

"I told you, I’m comfortable just like this."

"Xena, I hate to mention this, but normally, when you stick out like a sore thumb it’s to your advantage. In this particular instance, it’s not."

"And why’s that?"

"There’s no one here to impress or intimidate. You’re supposed to be taking time off from the whole kicking butt thing. So, I think you might want to try and blend in more. Besides, you promised me you would relax."

Xena looked up, a spark in the cool blue eyes. "Is that what you think? I want to impress and intimidate?"

"Well," Gabrielle half stammered, but decided to hold her ground. Somewhat. "You may not intend it, but it happens." Gabrielle walked over to her, as she did, Xena stood up and moved past her. "Xena, I’m sorry—"

Xena picked up the dress laid out for her, the sandals as well. "I’ll be out in a minute."

She emerged in a light lavender dress of similar material to Gabrielle’s, though Xena’s fell off the shoulders. Xena, forever the warrior, planted her feet apart, hands on hips and looked disapproving and amused at the same time. Gabrielle was perched on the wave rider, and from the looks of it, was imagining herself on a giant swell. She didn’t notice Xena standing there as her body teetered back and forth dramatically.

Xena knew how wacky the bard could be, but since they arrived she had been a little stranger than usual. Xena supposed they really did need this time away from their normal lives, if this was any indication. Xena was lost in this thought when Gabrielle spotted her, straightening up and looking suddenly sober.

Gabrielle took in Xena from head to toe. "Gods, Xena. You look beautiful."

Xena felt a slow blush crawl up her neck to her cheeks. "Let’s go. We don’t want to miss another one of those snappy songs."

On the walk over Gabrielle took a sidelong glance at Xena. The woman seemed as stoic as ever. If possible, her feelings were even more hidden than before. Before...before it all happened. "Xena," she stopped the warrior from walking by placing a hand on her arm. "I know I’m pushing you. If you really don’t want to go, I understand. I’m sorry I’ve been so, well, pushy. I just want us back to normal." Those damn tears came back. "I know there are answers that we’re both seeking. That there’s no forgoing this journey, but I’m afraid...of, of losing you."

At the sight of Gabrielle’s tears, Xena melted. The barrier between them lessened and she took Gabrielle into her arms, whispering fiercely into her blonde hair, "I won’t let that happen." Xena took Gabrielle by the shoulders and looked down at her. "This will work itself out. No matter what happens, I want you to know—"

A rustling in the bushes brought Xena into a defensive posture.

Emerging with a stumbling gait and several pieces of foliage stuck to him, was Joxer. "There you are! Do you know what I had to do to find you? Aickk..."

Xena put the pinch on him. He fell to his knees, tongue sticking out of his mouth, eyes rolled back in his head, as he fell face first into the dirt.

"What?" Gabrielle asked desperately, pulling Xena back to her as the warrior left the gasping Joxer not far from their feet. "What do you want me to know?"

Xena looked caught, and for a moment Gabrielle wondered if the moment had passed.

But Xena’s eyes narrowed in resolve before softening and pleading with Gabrielle. "That I love you." She rested her palm on Gabrielle’s cheek.

Gabrielle draped her hand over Xena’s arm, a comfortable gesture that both women were used to. But this time was different because Xena looked at the hand resting there and before she could tell herself not to, before she could call up any old anger or fear, she ducked down and softly kissed Gabrielle’s fingers, like a slow exhale of air.

Gabrielle’s breath caught and her stomach turned upside down. She watched Xena’s face, her eyes closed as her lips stayed in contact with the bard’s fingers. The warrior’s cheek was so soft and smooth looking that Gabrielle couldn’t remove her eyes. Taking a step forward, she rested her own cheek against that soft spot that she coveted. She moved her skin gently against Xena’s, relishing the feel. Her eyes closed, then opened half-mast, feeling something like a great release, a need, an urge she bore for so long that the relief was beyond description.

At the touch, Gabrielle breathed out the tiniest moan, but it was right into Xena’s ear. Xena pressed into the cheek next to hers, pressed sideways until her lips touched Gabrielle’s. Unable to move too quickly, still taking in what was happening, she moved her lips ever so slightly over the smaller woman’s mouth, circling them like she was waiting for the right moment to swoop down on such lovely, tasty prey. But Gabrielle’s shallow breathing, the catch in her throat, caught Xena’s ear once more and her heart beat so fast she could no longer resist the urge. She wanted to swallow Gabrielle whole.

The kiss was so deep, so hard, so sudden, that there was nothing for either to do but receive the blow. Hanging on to each other for support, bracing their legs against the ground for balance, they remained upright longer than either of them suspected they could. When neither could take anymore, Xena pulled back licking and biting Gabrielle’s lips.

Gabrielle’s tongue slid back into the warrior’s, gliding over the beautiful white teeth, unable to leave the woman’s warm mouth but knowing her legs wouldn’t hold her up much longer. Then she remembered something they had both forgotten. Hating to do it, she pulled her lips from Xena. "Joxer."

"What?" Xena breathed out and kissed Gabrielle again, hating the feel of Gabrielle’s mouth leaving her own.

"The pinch, you put the—"

"Oh." Xena looked sideways at Joxer lying unmoving on the ground without ever letting her lips leave Gabrielle’s. "Oops."

"Why ‘oops’?" Gabrielle moved her hands to Xena’s neck, pulling her closer.

"It’s been too long." Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s waist and pulled the bard’s body tightly against her own. The touch of their bodies under the thin fabric was like they were wearing nothing at all.

Gabrielle groaned. "You mean he’s dead?"

"’Fraid so." Xena’s hands wandered from Gabrielle’s waist into her soft blonde hair, pulling her head back for another deep kiss.

"That’s really not so good," Gabrielle gasped as the kiss ended and Xena’s hands found their way to the front of her dress, holding a soft breast in each hand. "I mean, we have to do something."

"Mmm," Xena groaned back, loving the feel of Gabrielle’s body under her fingers. "I’ll see what I can do."

Reluctantly, Xena pulled away from the bard, though it was almost an impossible task when she saw Gabrielle’s flushed cheeks and swollen lips. She reversed the pinch and punched Joxer in the chest a few times while managing never to take her eyes off of the very aroused bard.

Joxer gasped, sputtered and eventually began to breathe again. Then his eyes crossed and he passed out once more.

Gabrielle looked concerned. "Is he dead?"

Xena felt his pulse. "Naw, he might have some brain damage though. We’ll have to wait until he’s conscious to see how much."

Gabrielle held out a hand and Xena took it, letting it pull her into Gabrielle’s embrace. The bard buried her face in warm brown skin.

"Hey! What happened? Oh yeah, I’ve been looking for you two. Do you know how hard it was to find you?" Joxer sat up, looking for all the world like his normal self. "Oh! Is it a group hug?"

Joxer stood and ventured toward them only to have the warrior’s fist swing upward, knocking him out again, her other arm still wrapped tightly around Gabrielle. They were just about to resume from where they left off when there was more rustling from the bushes and Atthis appeared.

"There you are. Sup’s on," she said, noting the two’s embrace.

"We’ll be right there." Gabrielle blushed and smiled; assuring the woman their current activity wouldn’t make them late.

"Would it be possible to get him on the next boat out of here?" Xena inquired of Atthis, gesturing to the unconscious Joxer.

Atthis took a step forward and peered down at the strange looking specimen with a repulsed look. "Knarly. Yeah, that shouldn’t be a prob. I’ll have someone dispose—I mean, dump him on a fishing boat."

"Thanks," Xena said sincerely. She was beginning to like the tall wave rider.

"Better get a move on. Don’t want to keep the babe-a-licious one waiting too long." Atthis sauntered off ahead of them, her gait long and loose like she hadn’t a care in the world.

"Babe-a-licious?" Gabrielle’s eyebrow’s raised with her smile. Xena shrugged and ran a thumb along Gabrielle’s lower lip, sobering the bard up quickly. "How are we going to get through this dinner?"

"We could always back out," Xena playfully suggested, though her eyes were serious.

Gabrielle thought about it. Really thought about it. But eventually sighed. "It wouldn’t be right. We’re her guests."

"Then I guess we’ll just have to find a way to get through it."

Gabrielle studied her. "You’re going to give me a hard time, aren’t you?"

Xena feigned surprise, an innocent hand to her chest as she silently mouthed the word, Me?

"Just remember two can play at that game," Gabrielle warned her, poking the taller woman in the chest.

Xena grabbed the offending hand and held it as they walked the rest of the way to Sappho’s dinner.

Aphrodite and Cupid appeared as the two women walk away, hand in hand, staring moony-eyed at each other.

"You don’t think your little spell on the short one has influenced this?" Cupid asked his mother.

"No, the babes are way into each other, always have been. They were already lovers when all this bummer shit came down. I just needed to get them somewhere where they could re-ignite all that passion brimming just under the surface. A little Aphrodite perfume on the little blonde’s head and the chicky-babe knew to come here." Aphrodite patted her hair, pleased with herself.

"I think it might have been a little too much. Did you see how she was...." Cupid danced around, imitating what Gabrielle had done earlier. A groovy little dance.

"It’ll wear off. It was just a booster spell. Besides, part of it’s not me, dorkus, it’s the island. Remember, Sappho, Greece’s greatest poet worships moi. So I enchant the island. It allows the natives to loosen up a bit. Seems fair."

"So what am I doing here?"

Aphrodite wrinkled her nose. "Just a little job. Let’s jam." She dematerializeed in a wake of glitter.

Cupid rolled his eyes. "So flashy." 

* * * * * *

A dining area with long wooden tables connected into a "U" was being prepared inside an alcove of trees. Dozens of young women milled about as they took their seats under a pale twilight sky. The waves could be heard in the distance as the full moon began its rise over the dark sea.

Xena and Gabrielle were seated across from Sappho and Atthis. As dinner progressed Sappho made small talk with those around her, clearly the capable host. Finally, she turned her full attention to the two women across from her. "We have all heard of your travels: the Warrior Princess and her Bard." She smiled a cunning, mischievous smile.

Gabrielle was surprised. "You’ve known who we were all along?"

"Well, this one," the poet said, gesturing to Xena, "doesn’t dress the part of a maiden."

The women near them laughed good-naturedly. Xena, in an uncharacteristically high mood due to Gabrielle’s hand on her thigh, smiled.

"So bard, will you tell us a story?" Sappho asked.

Gabrielle blushed slightly, shyer than usual because of the famous writer across from her. "I’m not sure. I mean, you’re Sappho. I’m going to tell you a story?"

The women nearby chuckled at a point well made.

"Oh, I have a feeling you are quite the story-teller," Sappho countered. "Am I right, Xena?"

"Oh yeah, she’s good." Xena’s implication was clear to all those around them and there was laughter once more.

Gabrielle pinched Xena’s thigh.

"I mean it," Xena said seriously. "She’s very good at what she does."

More, hardier laughter.

"No, I mean...." Xena realized there was no getting out of this hole. A supreme rarity, two blushes in one day.

"Tell us a story, Gabrielle," Sappho asked again.

This time, Gabrielle realized to turn down the request would be rude. She took a deep breath and considered what story to tell. Maybe it was her mood, but she chose to tell the story of Xena’s death and her return from the underworld.

The women sat in rapt attention. A different kind of audience than the bard was used to, for she was used to captivating her audience, but the work put into doing so was always on her part. In this situation, the women gathered were reverent in their listening, so honored in this land was the artistry of story and poem. So, Gabrielle told the story as she normally would, but she need not raise her voice over the typical disturbances: the drunken man, the newcomer, the din of those not interested in a tale. And because of that, she was able to give her all to the story with a measure of enhanced dignity and pride never afforded her before. The stage given her here in Sappho’s home illuminated for her the respect and honor due her profession.

"Now Valaska, that’s another story for another time." Gabrielle ended her tale with the return of Xena to the living.

There was enthusiastic applause all around.

Sappho lifted her wineglass in salute to the young bard. "To Gabrielle. For tonight:

Someone honored me, giving me the secret of their craft."*

Everyone drank to Gabrielle’s ability. To the muse.

Xena sat back in her chair, her wine in one hand, her other arm draped over the back of Gabrielle’s chair. Gabrielle’s telling of the tale moved her. Especially the part about how Gabrielle felt when she lost the warrior.

There was a general call from the rest of the young women to hear a song from Sappho as they all moved away from the tables and the candlelight and settled themselves under the moon and stars, sitting on the grass or under the trees. The night was now fully upon them, the full moon gave off more than enough light to sing and dance and laugh by.

As they were about to move the gathering, Aphrodite and Cupid appeared, hidden to the mortals, though Xena glanced around her, a strange sensation crawling up her spine.

"See the two babes over there?" Aphrodite asked Cupid. There were two women at the end of one of the tables talking politely to one another. "I need ya to shoot ‘em with the one-eyed-bird. She loves her, her loves she, yadda, yadda. They’re both praying to me like a couple of banshees and nothing’s happening. These Lesbians—I swear it takes a pantheon of Goddesses to get them together! I enchant the whole island and they’re still ships passing in the night. It’s like they enjoy the torture. So, you know what to do, right? I have to split, got another gig, I can’t stay on this island forever." Aphrodite waved a finger at the two women, sending some magic their way.

"What about those two?" Cupid gestured in Xena and Gabrielle’s direction.

"They’re fine, remember the smooch?"

"Actually, I meant the other two."

"Sappho and Atthis?" Aphrodite shoved a hand against Cupid’s chest. "That’s my poet—hands off! No one messes with her except me. Besides she’s got no prob with the babes. She and Atthis will happen when the time’s right. She’s still getting over Gongyla. Don’t want the rebound thing happening. Gotta jam. Later." Aphrodite disappeared in a poof of glitter-gold.

Cupid swiftly retrieved his bow and drew an arrow, proceeding to shoot the two at the end of the table. Already in love, the arrows simply served to strengthen their resolve and each reached out to take the other’s hand.

About to leave, he took a second look at Sappho and Atthis. He drew his bow and took aim at Atthis, just as he let go, a servant girl walked between him and his view of the target, the tray she was carrying barely deflecting the arrow. Startled by what could happen with such a goof up, he strained to see around the passing servant and where his arrow had landed. But all was well. It was protruding out of Atthis and dematerialized a second later. And Atthis was still looking at the poet. It was well done, a bull’s eye. "Rad." He smiled to himself; he still knew how to mess with his sis, and vanished.

What really happened:

The arrow deflected off of the servant girl’s tray, grazed Gabrielle’s arm and landed in Atthis. As it scraped along Gabrielle’s skin she was busy going over their recent travels with Sappho, explaining how they had recently been to Chin and Rome, when suddenly she discovered that there was something about the poet she found most intoxicating.

As the arrow found its mark in Atthis, she was just asking Xena about the wave riding board and if she had a chance to work on it. As Xena talked about angles and fins, Atthis instantly fell madly, deeply, insatiably in love with the tall dark warrior, only moments before Sappho spoke to her, turning her head and regarding the poet she thought she had been falling in love with.

* * * * * * 

Sappho, lyric poet, lyre in hand, sang to Aphrodite as the women who sat under a starry sky listened to the magic all around them: the waves of the ocean, the slight breeze in the tree tops, the poetry of Sappho.

Gabrielle sat near Xena under a tree, her body keenly aware of the woman at her side, yet as she listened to Sappho, she was strangely drawn to her. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t found the poet attractive. The darkness of her hair, her skin, and her eyes, all had a rather sexy, zestful appeal. And her majestic ways were quite appealing the way they blended with her earnestness and her other rather earthy qualities. But Gabrielle had certainly not thought of her in that way upon their first meeting. What changed? At the same time, her pull to Xena was just as strong, perhaps more so, because right at that moment the things she wanted to do to the warrior would make a wanton whore blush! It was driving her crazy. It was like she was the string on Sappho’s lyre, tightened to the point of breaking, each pluck of the string vibrating like wildfire through her taut body. She could barely contain herself. If this evening didn’t end soon, she was afraid she would make a public spectacle.

"Are you alright?" Xena asked, leaning close, too close, to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle’s fingers entangled in Xena’s hair and brought the warrior’s lips to hers. She hungrily pressed her mouth against Xena’s then pushed her down and climbed on top of her.

Xena grabbed a hold of Gabrielle and sat them both upright. Her skin was burning with the touch of the bard, but she knew—as in ‘warrior knew’—that something was not right. The hair on the back of her neck bristled. "What’s going on, Gabrielle?"

"What’s going on is, if I don’t get out of here—if we don’t get out of here soon and end my misery, I’m going to burst!" On the last word her voice raised loud enough to turn a few heads their way.

Xena sort of half smiled, letting the other women know everything was okay. Though she didn’t feel that way. She saw Atthis and Sappho speaking then. Atthis departed abruptly and Sappho looked wounded. "Something’s up," she said to herself.

Gabrielle caught the warrior’s mumbling but chose to ignore it in favor of tracing a finger up Xena’s bare arm. She kissed Xena’s neck, making her way to an earlobe.

It was all Xena could do not to give in. In fact, she had to quench at least some of the fire in herself. She took Gabrielle abruptly to her and kissed her deeply, running her hands from the bard’s waist to her hair, then gently holding Gabrielle’s face, and after a rather prolonged kiss, pulled away and looked the beautiful blonde in the eyes. What Xena saw there was not smoldering desire, but a raging inferno. There wasn’t going to be much hope of intact dignity if she didn’t get Gabrielle out of there—quick.

"Xena?" A voice came from above them.

"Hmm?" Xena couldn’t take her eyes from Gabrielle.

"I have to talk to you," Atthis stated. She seemed desperate about some urgent matter.

Xena looked at the tall blonde and wondered what could make the usually cool, aloof woman so uptight and unsettled. She sensed the tension in Gabrielle’s body and knew there was no time for talk. "It’ll have to wait."

"No!" Atthis started towards her, a hand reached out to touch Xena’s shoulder, but then stopped short. Atthis drew the hand back and caressed it like it was a wild animal she was trying to calm. "It can’t wait."

"Is someone in danger?" Xena asked.

"No," Atthis admitted.

"Is anything in danger? Are lives at stake?"

"Well, no." Atthis shuffled her feet.

Xena rose and brought Gabrielle into a standing position with her. Gabrielle had barely moved since their kiss and her worry over the bard brought out her next sentence in a low growl, "Then it’ll have to wait." She held eye contact with Atthis, one eyebrow cocked, closing the subject.

Atthis, whose heart had not stopped pounding since Xena’s first words to her, was practically dizzy with want, but her survival instincts got the better of her and she stepped aside to let the two pass.

Gabrielle followed Xena, her mind, her eyes, her feet, all focused on the warrior. Nothing else existed except as a fuzzy outline. She could barely function. Never had she been like this before. So heightened was her arousal that her body was shutting down, becoming inert. And she was right to be concerned; the next thing that went was her legs. "I can’t, Xena," she was barely able to whisper. "You have to...." she trailed off, wrapping her arms around the warrior’s neck, pressing her face there and praying for some release from the torture her body was in.

Xena swept her up off the ground and into her arms. There, Gabrielle curled inward, her vulnerability now sheltered by the warrior.

Atthis watched them leave, making their way down the path that would lead to their cottage, to the bed they would make love in, and the tall anguished blonde nearly bit her lip in two. She could taste the little bit of blood that she drew. Closing her eyes she tried to will away the madness that was driving her. Somewhere, at the edges of the obsession, beyond the burning, she knew something wasn’t right.

"I don’t want it to be like this." Gabrielle’s breathing was coming in shallow gasps against Xena’s neck.

Xena was making the time between them and their room move as quickly as possible. As much as she had wanted the bard once again in her arms, now she was also concerned. Something, there was no doubt, was definitely wrong. Every fiber in her being told her there was something unseen in action. It was the same thing that alerted her to Ares. And she had felt the odd feeling earlier in the day as well. But this didn’t feel like Ares—where was the pay off?

"Don’t worry, Gabrielle. I’ve got you. We’re almost there."

The young blonde’s breathing was now ragged against her chest. She could feel her own pulse quicken in response. It was as though Gabrielle radiated a heat that pulsed, was actually alive. Her own body, so in tune with Gabrielle’s, responded to it in spite of herself. But neither did she want their first time together again, to be—this way. She had to think of something, some way to stop herself from reacting to the bard’s arousal. How in Hades was she going to do that? After all they had been through, all she wanted in the world was to be with Gabrielle again. And now this! Was it some kind of joke being played on them? Xena’s eyes narrowed at the thought of a vengeful god. She picked up her pace, thinking she might know how to get to the bottom of this fiasco.

She carried Gabrielle through the door and made her way to the bed, then realizing their dilemma, made a U-turn and headed back for the small table and chair. But as she tried to sit Gabrielle down, she could see that the smaller woman could barely sit up. She slumped against Xena. Sighing in resignation and cursing the fates, she carried Gabrielle to the bed. The bard’s body was so heavy with inertia that Xena was carried forward and nearly on top of her as she laid Gabrielle down. And Gabrielle took advantage in what small way she could, touching her lips to the warrior’s.

Xena wanted to pull away but it was too much to ask. She let herself be pulled into Gabrielle’s spinning world. Like a sweet madness, she felt the bard’s fever infect her. She couldn’t control anything anymore. All she wanted was to be carried down that same lost river Gabrielle was floating down, needing to be her companion even in this spell that Xena now knew they were both caught in.

"I can’t wait..." Gabrielle could barely speak. "It has to be now, Xena. Please." She tried to pull the tall dark beauty to her, but was unable to be as forceful as her will desired.

She needn’t have bothered because Xena knew too well what she needed to release her from the paralysis. Her hand, the one she always knew as so gentle with Gabrielle when they had made love in the past, instead, roughly forced the blonde’s tender thighs apart, pushed aside the thin material there and entered her with direct force, moving hard against swollen, velvety flesh. Gabrielle was so wet and open that Xena needed to quickly compensate with additional fingers, each time she did so, bringing a small cry from the woman beneath her. Within minutes the bard was pulling the warrior closer to her and grinding into Xena’s palm, feeling their bodies under the thin, soft fabric of the dresses they each wore. The exquisite feel of Xena’s breasts touching her, like finger tips lightly trailing across her own breasts, was all it took to take her over to the other side.

It went on and on until Gabrielle thought she would pass out. Each wave would recede and another would build, each inevitably crashing against Xena’s hand. Finally, truly fearing she was near passing out, she placed her hands on Xena’s so she could catch her breath. But the woman above her was unwilling to leave the warm, soft space her fingers had found.

Gabrielle laughed lightly in Xena’s ear. "Gods. I didn’t know it was possible to do that so many times and live through it."

Xena smiled down into Gabrielle’s eyes. "I love you, still ... ya know?"

"I know." Gabrielle touched Xena’s cheek. "I love you."

"I didn’t know if you still would."

"I know," Gabrielle said with a small grin. "But I do."

"Why didn’t you tell me?"

"The time was never right."

"And it is now?"

Gabrielle paused, considered, and ended up gently chuckling. "I don’t think I had a choice."

Xena removed herself from Gabrielle. The bard caught her breath in surprise at the sudden loss of Xena’s presence within her. "Where are you going?" She watched the warrior sit up and swing her legs over the side of the bed, her back to Gabrielle. From behind all that dark hair, Gabrielle heard a mumble, "Was afraid of that."

"What?" Gabrielle sat up and reached out to bring Xena back to her.

Xena’s eyes clouded but she shook her head. There would be time for her emotions later. Right now she had to find out what, or who, was behind all of this. After fixing her expression to a neutral one, she faced Gabrielle again. "I don’t have time to explain, but something’s happened to you."

Gabrielle reached out for the dark woman sitting beside her. "Nothing’s happened to me except you."

"Shhh." Xena caught the hands that touched her face and kissed the wrists softly. Gabrielle’s breath caught and she could feel the cycle beginning again, until Xena pressed the bard’s hands into her lap and held them there. "Promise me you’ll stay here until I get back. Don’t go anywhere; don’t let anyone in, just stay put. I’ll be back as soon as I can."

The blonde eyebrows drew downward. "But why? Xena, not now. How can you leave now?"

"I don’t want to leave, Gabrielle, but I need to. If I don’t, then I won’t know if what’s going on here is real."

Gabrielle gave Xena a puzzled look that slowly melted into annoyance. "How can you say that?"

"Please," Xena reached for the escaping blonde and pulled her back, "Gabrielle, just trust me. Will you?"

And there was that word again. And even with all that she felt at that moment, every ounce of her being ready to devour the woman in front of her as if she were her only source of sustenance, she still could not completely be sure if she trusted her. Not after all that had happened. It was that thought that allowed Gabrielle to let Xena go. She dropped her arms and watched as Xena backed away from her and stood at the foot of the bed.

Gabrielle knew the look. Xena was aware, had a sneaking suspicion as to what was going on in the bard’s mind. Both of them knew—they were too in sync not to recognize—their recent pattern of uniting and breaking up had been going on since Chin. And far beyond that time. With each subsequent event adding to the discord, until they were being pulled and pushed like the ocean coming in and going out against the shore. And Gabrielle knew, sooner or later, the pattern would need to end. Would it end on their unity? Or on their breaking? She knew they both held their breath over this life-sustaining question.

"I’ll be back before you know it." Xena smiled, but it was quickly enough placed behind her stoic mask. The warrior had become, once again, all business. The bard watched her move with deliberate action, firm and steady even in the light-colored dress she wore. She picked up her leather on the way out the door. She turned one last time. "Gabrielle?"

"Yeah?"

"I do love you."

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Not Again Not Again

Xena made her way back to the party, donning her leather and armor as she went. Though much of a party, it wasn’t. Most had left, though there were a few women still sitting in the clearing. But Sappho sat a ways away on a flat rock looking out over the sea. The warrior spotted her from a distance and as she made her way closer to the poet, she could sense something in the woman’s posture that was troubling: a sadness, or perhaps it was a loneliness. Xena was just about to formulate a hypothesis when a form jumped out at her, and without thinking she simply responded by jerking her body quickly to the right, causing the flying form to go past her rather than landing upon her.

It was Atthis.

Xena looked perplexed at the tall blonde wave rider. "Atthis? What are you doing?"

Atthis looked up at Xena so strangely, so different from how Xena recalled her being earlier, that she was convinced someone else must be behind her receiving this odd stare. She turned around, but she was alone. "What’s gotten into you?"

Atthis held out her hand and Xena helped her up. Atthis took the warrior forcefully into her arms. Xena barely kept the woman from her by leaning back as far as possible. Finally, deciding the polite approach wasn’t working; she hooked her leg behind the other woman’s and sat her back down with a thump.

"Xena," Atthis started, then was stumped, "I-I-I..." she couldn’t seem to make the words come, as if she sensed something was wrong with them even as she felt compelled to speak them. "I love you, Xena. I’m yours. Completely yours. Just, please, put me out of my misery."

"Not again," Xena murmured.

Now she knew something was wrong. Atthis didn’t love her. If Xena was right, she sensed it were Sappho and Atthis who were in love. "What makes you think you love me?"

"I don’t know," Atthis realized, even as she said it. "I just do. I can feel it in every part of my being." She ran her hands up the warrior princess’ leather boot and sighed.

"When?"

"Mmmm ... what?"

"When did you suddenly realize you loved me?"

Now both hands were around Xena’s leg and making their way up her thigh. "I guess it was at dinner. I looked across at you and I just knew."

"Dinner, huh?" Xena slapped the wave rider’s hand as it maneuvered its way under her leather skirt. The woman was no more distracting to her than a mosquito needing to be shooed, though, Xena admitted she was attractive. But somewhere, in the recesses of her soul she knew it was Gabrielle who held her heart and every other part of her as well. Because of that, life without Gabrielle would be a lonely one. This woman—no other person—stood a chance.

"Come on," Xena grabbed Atthis by the arm and pulled her up. "We’re going to talk to Sappho."

"No!" Atthis dug her heels in and Xena was surprised at how strong she was. Nearly Xena’s height, she was muscular and clearly in good shape.

"Why not?" Xena squinted at her. Now maybe she would get to the bottom of this.

"I just...I can’t. It’s too confusing."

"Come on." Xena dragged the wave rider forward, but the blonde twirled around, faced Xena and looked her dead in the eye. "No!" Atthis was firm. "Please, I can’t."

Xena sighed and let go of the woman’s arm. "Stay here, as in ‘don’t move.’ I’ll be right back."

Atthis nodded, rubbing her arm where Xena had held her.

Xena eyed her before making her way over to Sappho who was still sitting on the rock, her back to them as she looked out upon the moonlit sea.

"Sappho?" Xena spoke softly as she approached the poet, so as not to alarm her.

But Sappho’s face, as she turned, was naked, clearly not expecting any company. Xena could see the melancholy etched upon her features.

"Oh, Xena," Sappho started, composing herself immediately. "How are you? Is everything all right?"

"Everything’s fine," Xena said gently, realizing the woman was hurting, yet was still gracious enough to concern herself with Xena’s well-being. The poet was growing on her, sappy songs, or not. "But I think there’s something going on. Gabrielle’s acting strange. And Atthis—"

"Yes, Atthis is acting strange too," Sappho finished Xena’s sentence.

Xena sat down next to her. "Your relationship with Aphrodite is well known. Do you think—"

Again Sappho finished Xena’s thoughts. "No, no, I’m sure of it. Don’t bother asking twice. I couldn’t be more sure." Sappho stood, walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down at the rocks and surf below.

"What makes you so sure?" Xena realized she was doing exactly what Sappho asked her not to.

The poet turned with a smile for the warrior. "Couldn’t resist? It’s okay; it’s your nature. All I meant is that I’m quite sure about Aphrodite’s innocence in this matter. Our relationship is honorable and trustworthy. I have her word she would never interfere with me," Sappho paused, a look thrown over her shoulder at Xena, "unless, of course, I wished it."

Xena walked over to Sappho. She wanted to see deep into the women’s eyes for her next question. "And did you wish it?"

"No." Sappho let the warrior inspect her, opened herself up so Xena could see into her soul.

Xena relaxed after that. She could see that Sappho was as much a pawn in all of this as the rest of them. "Well, someone’s up to," Xena’s eyes flickered, "what about Cupid? What’s your connection with him?"

"Hmm, tenuous, only through Aphrodite. But you don’t understand. I’m favored by Aphrodite, no god would dare—"

"Oh, wouldn’t they? One thing I know about the gods is that they agree on little and get along even less. I think whatever happened, happened at dinner. That’s when.... " Xena paused because she wasn’t sure how to proceed.

"Yes, when Atthis noticed you," Sappho said with a sad smile, as if she begrudged Xena little, though it clearly pained her. "What makes you think it’s not genuine? I mean, my dear, you have looked in a mirror recently, haven’t you? You’re not exactly without merit."

Xena gave Sappho her stern look, the one usually reserved for warlords or Gabrielle when she was being annoying. "You know perfectly well that Atthis is not in love with me."

"Well," Sappho granted, "it would seem to be a little sudden. I really thought we were headed... well, there’s no need to go into that. What can we do now? Even if it was the handiwork of a god?"

"You need to call Aphrodite. Tell her what’s happened and that you need her to champion you."

"Champion?"

"Yes, I’m hoping that will work. If she’s as possessive about you as legend has it, then she should do all the footwork for us. Right now, we need to get Atthis and Gabrielle into closed quarters until all this is over with."

"Gabrielle? So she’s been affected the same as Atthis?"

"I think so."

"Who has she fallen for?"

Xena looked away from the poet’s dark intense eyes. "I don’t know. Yet."

"Then how can you be so sure she’s enchanted?"

"Just a feeling. We better go." Xena turned back the way she came and Sappho fell into step beside her. The warrior had not expected to feel so uncomfortable by the poet’s frank gazes and questions. The woman was really very unsettling when it came right down to it, like she could see beyond the flesh and bones and into the hearts of those around her.

"I was under the impression that you and Gabrielle were romantically involved?" Sappho added, almost as an after thought.

Xena hesitated before answering. Were they? She felt the kiss they shared was honest enough. But was it? How long had Gabrielle been under this spell? Xena didn’t know how to answer the question so she chose not to answer it at all. The poet at her side must have understood because they continued down the path in silence.

When they came to the spot where Xena had left Atthis, the wave rider was gone. "I was afraid of this," Xena said, as she scanned the area. "She’s aware enough about what’s going on to be troubled by it. She doesn’t want to hurt you but she can’t control her feelings, or her actions, for that matter. I’ll find her and get her into a safe place while you call Aphrodite."

"Do you think that you looking for her is the best idea?"

Xena put a comforting hand on the poet’s shoulder. She was the same height as Gabrielle. Strange that two such strong women, their presence so powerful, could occupy such slight frames. "Don’t worry, I’m clearheaded, and I don’t think there’s much chance of someone taking advantage of me."

Sappho smiled and turned to go, but before she did, she asked—again—almost as an afterthought, "Tell me, Xena, for my own piece of mind...you do love Gabrielle, don’t you?"

Xena struggled with the disclosure, but she knew the poet already knew anyway. "Yes," came the simple truth.

Sappho’s shoulders sagged with some relief and she turned towards the temple of Aphrodite. The warrior headed in the opposite direction, in search of the wave rider that Sappho loved.

 * * * * * *

A square, with a garden, trees, benches for the young women to sit on as they discussed art and learned at Sappho’s side, was nestled between the living areas on two sides, a long ceremonial hall, and finally Aphrodite’s temple.

Xena had been unable to find Atthis, so doubled back for the square, hoping to find her in that area. She was getting edgy about leaving Gabrielle alone and so was getting a bit testy with the wave rider. Most of the women were asleep, as night was getting longer. There was still a good night’s sleep left until morning and Xena hurriedly strode along the path until she came to the square. She decided to check Atthis’ room first, though she found it unlikely the woman would be there. She would have to wake someone up for directions. As she entered the first living area a shadowy figure moved from behind the trees, the moonlight catching her blonde hair.

Gabrielle looked up at the full moon and the clouds that passed over her. The moonlight was fading. "Xena!" She called in an urgent whisper. "Xena!" Unsure which direction the warrior had headed, she started towards Aphrodite’s temple.

Atthis watched the bard cross the square from behind the protective covering of thick foliage. Her heart was pounding and she could feel a fine film of sweat on her upper lip. She sprinted across the square and into the same living area Xena had entered.

Sappho was placing an offering on Aphrodite’s altar when Gabrielle burst through the double doors. Usually more reverent, the bard wasn’t in a mood for proprieties. "Sappho—thank the Gods! Have you seen Xena?" Gabrielle asked, not lessening her swift pace until she stood directly in front of the poet.

"Gabrielle," was all Sappho managed to say before Gabrielle’s eyes glazed over, her eyes scooping up the sight of poet from head to toe. And not believing what she was doing, even as she did it, she took Sappho’s face in her hands and with a decisiveness and speed that surprised them both, the small blonde kissed the small dark-haired woman for all she was worth.

So stunned was Sappho, that she could only stand there like she was being run over by a stampede of wild animals. And, in fact, in Gabrielle’s enthusiasm, she lost her sense of balance, landing them both on the temple floor. And what was worse, to Sappho’s surprise, she could feel her own body responding to the attractive bard.

Her weakness for comely blondes was well known.

 * * * * * *

Xena was just about to knock on a door and wake someone up when she caught sight of the tall blonde watching her from the end of a long hallway. Atthis, knowing she had been caught, ran down the hallway and leaped out of an open window. Xena, stifling her war cry (not wanting to wake the sleeping Lesbians), somersaulted through the window after her. Once out of the building and under the night sky, Xena could sense the woman nearby.

"Atthis? Come on out. Something’s happened to you, that’s why you’re feeling this way. It’s not you. We need to get you in a safe place until we can get everything back to normal." Xena spoke to the bushes and trees, all the while listening for the tiniest movement.

Atthis listened to Xena, but all she heard was ‘safe place,’ which in her fevered state meant confinement. Just the thought of it sent her mind screaming, which in turn activated the rest of her body. She ran from the bushes toward Aphrodite’s temple.

Xena sighed and shook her head before going after the tall blonde who was proving to be more slippery and agile than most warlords—their style to stand and fight. This Atthis was like a sudden breeze, there and gone. Xena found herself admiring the wave rider. Though chasing her was getting tedious. It was time to end this game playing.

As soon as Atthis ran through the open door of the temple, her eyes caught the distressing sight. The small blonde bard on top of the poet. And she raged. For even though her love for Xena was intense, nearly painful, her love for Sappho had not diminished. She roared. Gabrielle and Sappho looked up in astonishment just as Atthis raced toward them, her fury written on her face. Gabrielle, staff-less but having learned a thing or two from watching Xena, rolled onto her back, and as the wave rider approached, pushed out her legs catching Atthis in the midriff, sending her flying through the air and landing with a crash on Aphrodite’s altar—offerings flying everywhere. The bard hopped to her feet, ran to the nearest window and disappeared into the night.

Xena entered the temple, just missing Gabrielle’s breakneck departure. In less than a second, she had Atthis by the neck and pulled to her feet. "There you are. Up you go. What happened here?"

Sappho was still on the ground, everything had happened so fast. "I was about to call for Aphrodite when Gabrielle—"

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle was here?" Xena’s voice was urgent, even as it lowered in cadence.

Atthis spoke then, her face stained with tears. "I caught them here, together."

Xena looked from Atthis to Sappho, her eyes as dangerous as a wild animal’s. It alarmed Sappho, so much so, that she found it hard to explain. "Xena, it’s not what you think."

"Why don’t you enlighten me." Xena’s voice was even lower, if that was possible, her body tensed.

"It isn’t her, it’s the enchantment," Sappho said, the poet’s eyes pleading with Xena to understand.

"They were on the floor kissing when I came in," Atthis added.

Xena glared at the Sappho, knowing she was sending fear down the woman’s spine. "And I suppose you just couldn’t help yourself?"

"It happened so fast. I—it isn’t what you think, Xena. You’re wrong. I love Atthis." She looked at the at the tall lean blonde, but she was holding onto the warrior, her eyes closed, forehead pressed into Xena’s arm. A clear expression of pain on her face.

"Is that right?" Xena asked and took Atthis by the chin, tilting her head up so that the wave rider looked back, her eyes pleading for help. Xena brought the woman’s mouth to hers...slowly. Torturously slow, she kissed Atthis, until her body began to writhe under the penetrating kiss. But the torture wasn’t meant for the wave rider.

"Stop it." Sappho’s voice was cold and hard.

Xena removed her lips from Atthis and cut her eyes at the poet. The poor wave rider was now in a state similar to Gabrielle’s earlier.

"You made your point," Sappho said flatly. "Gabrielle left through that window. I suggest you find her before harm comes her way."

Xena sat Atthis gently on the floor. She was in a bad way and slumped against the altar. Xena looked up at Sappho. "She needs your help. It won’t be the way you wanted it, the way you envisioned it. But then we don’t always get what we want, do we?"

Sappho made her way over to Atthis and cradled the blonde’s head in her lap. The poet looked up at the warrior. "I’m sorry, Xena."

Xena said nothing in return but rather made her way to the window with one backwards glance. "You still need to call Aphrodite, but you better take care of her first."

Sappho nodded and watched Xena take off into the night, after the small blonde bard she obviously loved.

 * * * * * *

Gabrielle could hear the blood as it made its way from her heart down to her legs, through her aching lungs and up to her ears where it rivaled the pounding of the waves against the sheer cliff below. Her lungs felt like they would burst, she had ran so fast and so hard. Now that she was far enough away, out among the jutting cliffs, she stooped over to catch her breath. In front of her a lone tree. She made her way over to it. It was situated near the edge of the steep cliff; below the surf-ravaged wall of rock.

Tears stung her eyes in the same way the air stung her lungs. She could feel the mist from the turbulent water below settle on her skin, creating a second layer of dampness that coated her perspiration. She leaned against the tree and then turned and hit it twice, one hand, then the other, in open-palmed frustration. She held the tree then, like a lover she had wronged, holding her cheek desperately against it as a single tear slid down her flush cheek. "What am I doing? What’s wrong with me?"

"Would it be me you’re talking to?" A voice answered her, clear as a bell in the dark. And not too far away.

Gabrielle swung around, every fiber alive with alarm. Fear igniting her protective impulses. She readied herself for a fight even without her staff.

"Easy, love," a woman said, as she appeared from the darkness and looked at Gabrielle with compassion and interest.

"Who are you?"

"I’m Gongyla. And who are you? Besides a lovely blonde out for a moonlight stroll?"

"Gabrielle." The bard wiped her eyes. "I’m sorry, is this your spot? I’ll go."

"No!" Gongyla stretched out an arm to keep Gabrielle from leaving, but stopped short of actually touching her. "I like the company, if it pleases you?"

Gabrielle could feel warmth radiate from the woman, and for once the driving desire was gone from her blood. This woman didn’t seem to command Gabrielle’s passion like Xena, and strangely, Sappho. Gabrielle shook the thought of the poet, and the impulsive kiss, from her head. "I’d like to stay, but...I’m, I need to get back. I have a friend who needs me."

The bard smiled politely and was about to turn away, when the other woman, clutching at the straws that would keep Gabrielle there, said, "Is that what you're crying was about?"

Gabrielle nearly teared up again at the thought of her misery being seen by this stranger. "No," was all she could manage.

"I’m prying," Gongyla said. "But sometimes it’s the stranger who can see your deadliest enemy hidden in the trees. To them it’s like a perfect black outline. To you it will only be camouflage and deceit."

Gabrielle watched the woman step closer. She was clearly dressed in what most of the women from the island wore. She was nearly breathtaking in her beauty, though hardly a conventional one. Everything about her was wrong: her hair curly to the point of unruliness; a small bump on her nose; her lips exaggerated in their fullness; even her eyes seemed too large, somehow. But taken all together, these ‘wrong parts’ made the most perfectly divine whole. The woman was a goddess to rival Aphrodite herself. Not that Gabrielle found the goddess of love more beautiful than, say, Xena.

"Are you real? Are you a goddess?" Gabrielle asked.

"No," Gongyla looked down at the earth, humbled, "I am in no way a goddess." She looked out beyond the cliff at the sea. "Have you heard the story of this place?"

"No." Despite herself, Gabrielle was unable to resist the temptation of a story. She took a step toward the woman and looked out at the distance with her, as if the story was out there to be seen.

"You’re a bard, it should interest you."

Gabrielle looked up, surprised. "You have me at a disadvantage."

"Not at all." Gongyla smiled sweetly. "I hear things, that’s all.... Anyway, the story goes that those in heartache come here to this cliff, the Rock of Desperation, to throw themselves into the sea. Here, it is rumored, is where the heartache can end."

"You mean with death?"

"Perhaps," Gongyla shrugged, "or with life. It is said that if a person survives the fall that their heartache will come to a sudden end."

"Is it true?" Gabrielle asked, assuming the woman would know.

Gongyla smiled sadly. "I’ve heard there are people who survived, and that the legend is true, their burden was lifted. But as for the dead? Can the dead really let go of their suffering? If a person were foolish enough to throw herself off this cliff, it would be in her best interest to pray for her life. Death is a long misery for the heartbroken."

Just as Gabrielle was going to ask how she could possibly know that, there was the sound of fast approaching footsteps. She turned to see Xena emerging from the trees and standing not ten feet away, her face a mask of frustration and concern.

"Xena," Gabrielle started and turned to introduce Gongyla. But she was gone.

 * * * * * *

"You don’t believe me," Gabrielle stated.

"Why wouldn’t I believe you?" Xena countered, scanning all the markings along the trail, trying to find their way back to the cottage.

"She was there and then you showed up and she was gone—just like that! I mean, Xena, she couldn’t have been mortal." Gabrielle considered the stoic warrior at her side. "Or else. Xena, have you ever considered you scare people off?"

Xena gave Gabrielle a sideways glance. "Maybe she wasn’t mortal."

"Okay." Gabrielle stopped walking and laid a hand on Xena’s arm, getting her to stop as well. "You know something you’re not telling me."

"I’m not sure what’s going on, but there are definitely other forces at work. The gods? Which gods?" She shrugged. "That’s another matter."

"So, are you saying you think she was a goddess?"

"No goddess I’ve ever heard of."

Gabrielle stumbled and Xena took her up in her arms. Gabrielle could feel her head swimming and could no longer keep her eyes open. She leaned into Xena, resting her cheek against the warrior’s neck and fell fast asleep.

 * * * * * *

Sappho held Atthis to her. They lay on Sappho’s bed, with Atthis’ head resting in the poet’s lap. The sweat on the tall blonde’s brow, the immobility that struck down the otherwise vibrant, active woman, made it clear just how devastating this love sickness was—how serious.

The small dark woman smoothed the hair back from Atthis’ forehead, as blue eyes looked up at brown ones, a pleading there that couldn’t be mistaken. But Sappho wondered, could she take Atthis to her in this way? Her conscience tore at her—was this right? Would Atthis awake from this madness feeling she had been taken advantage of? Then her dark blue eyes and eyebrows—straw colored—drew together. Her lips trembled.

And Sappho decided. Laying Atthis out on the bed, she undressed her and quickly discarded her own gown. Atthis could do little more than watch with frenzied eyes; the rest of her seemed to be in a sort of paralysis. Sappho laid down next to her, then settled herself onto the long body, the feel of the skin on hers like a burn. And she imagined a wildflower on fire. That was Atthis. Her Atthis.

She placed delicate lips on the woman below her, gently opening her mouth, and Atthis received it like a life giving procedure. It was as though the poet had blown life back into the wave rider, as she was able to move her arms around Sappho’s waist with more strength than she thought she possessed.

"Save me," Atthis whispered.

"I love you," came the reply.

And when it was over, both women held the other, not moving. Holding from the inside as well as the outside.

"Again," whispered Atthis. "This time slower." And she rolled over onto the poet.

Continue to Chapters 5-7 (the conclusion)

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