Disclaimer: The characters belong to other folks, who are (hopefully) far too rich and busy to care what any silly type folks at this email address might care to do with them. the following story contains sex, so if you're too young, too easily offended, or it's illegal where you are, you really shouldn't be here, and you certainly shouldn't be reading anything we've written.

LESSONS LEARNED: OR TEACH ME SOME MORE

By Pink Rabbit Productions

The steady sound of wood cracking against wood resonated across abroad clearing, repeating, and re-repeating as the waves bounced over the green grass and the surface of a large pond.

A butter colored mare stood at the edge of the water, placidly chewing the tempting greens that grew at the shoreline. Occasionally, she looked up and cast a doubtful eye on the two combatants, but past that, she paid little attention. Argo was used to this sort of thing.

Near the edge of the water, Gabrielle grunted heavily, barely aware of the sweat that streamed over her bare arms and legs. Her muscles throbbed in time with every clash between her staff and Xena's, but she ignored the pain, and struggled on.

Xena grinned, her expression a mix of pride and dry humor. Gabrielle was nothing if not tenacious. Her skills were improving daily, but she didn't have a chance in this little duel. Xena blocked a quick blow from her young friend, then attacked with a complex series of thrusts and parries. The bard was good, but not nearly as good as she'd bragged. Xena was teaching her an important lesson the hard way. Get overconfident, and it's all too easy to wind up dead.

Gabrielle blocked another succession of strokes, falling back under Xena's controlled onslaught. She knew her friend would never hurt her, but pride kept her fighting. Just once, she wanted to win.

That would teach her to boast about how good she was getting with her staff.

The wood staves met again, and Xena braced her feet, shoving hard. Gabrielle heard the slosh and felt water sneak through the stitching on her boots. Xena had driven her to the edge of the pond. By rights, the match was supposed to be over, but Gabrielle didn't feel like surrendering just yet. She redoubled her efforts, and somehow forced Xena back a half step.

The warrior slowed her attack, willing to let her friend surrender as they'd agreed.

Gabrielle solidified her grip on her staff and shook her head, breathing too hard to speak.

Xena lifted her eyebrow in silent question. "Are you sure about that?" she murmured at last.

Gabrielle didn't bother to answer, just went on the offensive. Xena dropped back a step, muscles flexing with the effort required to block the powerful blows. Her face screwed with concentration for a second. Her little bard was definitely getting better. If she wasn't careful, Gabrielle might just beat her, and that would not do at all. Not at all.

Xena braced her feet, and unleashed a fast moving fusillade of quick strikes guaranteed to drive the bard back into the water without ever coming close to hitting her.

Gabrielle tried to resist the influx of blows, but she was neither strong enough, nor fast enough. She lost ground, so absorbed in the battle that she didn't feel the water that swelled up around her boots, until it began to hamper her movements.

"Would you like to surrender, this time?" Xena offered.

Gabrielle almost gave in, but she couldn't quite let go that way. She shook her head.

"All right," the warrior allowed. The powerful muscles in her arms and shoulders bunched. Her own feet were well into the water, but her footing was still solid. Xena shoved with her staff.

Hard.

Gabrielle tried to brace herself, but she had scant defense against the steady application of pure force. She never had a chance.

The last thing she saw before she was swept off her feet, was Xena's wry grin. A heartbeat later, she felt the sharp sting across her back, as she back flopped and went under. By the time she came up, Xena had waded out to her side and was grinning down at her. Gabrielle flipped sodden bangs out of her eyes to glare up at the warrior.

Xena held out a hand. "That should teach you not to get cocky," she observed dryly.

Still sputtering, Gabrielle caught Xena's hand, and got her feet under her. Neatly braced, she had a sudden impulse. Had she thought about it, it would have occurred to her it was a dangerous one, but she wasn't thinking terribly clearly. She yanked on Xena's hand with all her strength, pushing off with her feet at the same time. She had a brief view of the warrior princess' surprised expression as she went flying, followed by a gratifyingly noisy splash as she hit the water somewhere in the distance. Gabrielle's mouth turned up in a satisfied smile, then rapidly melted into a look of pure panic as it occurred to her exactly what she'd done. She bounded to her feet, careless of the water running down bare skin in silver streamers. She spun just as Xena surfaced.

Water washed dark bangs into Xena's eyes, highlighting her crystal blue gaze.

Gabrielle instantly took a half step backward. "I--I...sorry..."she stammered hastily.

Xena rose from the water, careless of the streams running from her hair and armor. Her crystal cut eyes narrowed faintly as they landed on her companion with piercing intensity. "Very good," she muttered under her breath.

Gabrielle backed up another step. "I--I just...I didn't mean to," she babbled. It wasn't that she was afraid of her friend. Well, not exactly, but, then again... She was Xena after all. She could be intimidating even when she was in a good mood. And judging by her expression she was not in a good mood. An eyebrow climbed on her forehead as she glared at Gabrielle. "It-it just...happened."

Xena held up a hand, silencing her young friend. "Don't," she murmured, her low voice rumbling in her chest. She eyed her dripping gauntlets with a jaundiced look. "You wanted her to learn..." she muttered to herself. "Well, obviously, she did," she flicked her hands, spraying droplets like glittering diamonds. Finally, she straightened her shoulders in an effort to regain some lost dignity, and strode past a dumbstruck Gabrielle.

The bard retrieved her staff, and bounded after her friend. "I really am sorry," she apologized to Xena's retreating back.

Xena sighed disgustedly as she sloshed forward. "Don't be," she growled.

Half expecting an explosion, Gabrielle scarcely heard what the warrior had actually said. "It's just that you taught me to--"

"I said, don't be," Xena cut her off.

Gabrielle's shoulders relaxed, relieved that her friend wasn't going to kill her.

The warrior stepped onto the shore, stiffening slightly, and vainly trying to ignore the sucking sound emanating from her waterlogged boots. "I told you not to get cocky."

It took considerable effort on the bard's part not to giggle at the sight Xena cut as she peeled off her arm guards and set them on a nearby rock.

"Then I got cocky." She removed her sword and scabbard from her back, carefully slipping the blade free, before pouring a healthy stream of water from the leather scabbard. She set them both aside with a disgusted sigh.

This time Gabrielle did snicker.

And earned a dirty look for her efforts. "I'm glad you think this is funny," Xena grumbled. She carefully removed her armor. "I hate wet armor." She sat down on a nearby rock, heaving a long-suffering sigh when her leathers made an inglorious squishing sound. "But I hate wet leather more." She leaned over to fumble with her bootlaces.

Despite her best efforts, Gabrielle giggled again. She pushed her wet bangs out of her eyes, and stumbled onto shore to lean on her staff. Even looking vaguely reminiscent of a drowned circe, Xena was gorgeous. A soft smile touched the young woman's mouth as her mind turned to another sort of sport. She winked and flashed a suggestive smile. "I could help you take it off."

Xena looked up from her boot. "Don't push it," she warned, then ducked her head, and finished peeling off the calf hugging leather, before tipping it upside down to drain a stream of water out. She spread the leather behind her on the sun-warmed granite, then turned back to worry with the other boot. She blinked in surprise as she realized that Gabrielle had stepped forward and was kneeling in front of her. Dark brows rose in a combination of curiosity and mild disapproval. "You wanted something?" she drawled.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Who me?" She questioned innocently. "I just wanted to help you with your boots."

"Boot," Xena corrected wryly. "There's only one left."

"Mmm." Graceful fingers slid up Xena's leather clad calf.

"You really are in a mood to push your luck," the warrior observed dryly.

Gabrielle only smiled and began loosing the tight laces that ran up the front of the boot. Occasionally, she let her fingers brush against the soft skin just above the edge of the boot, smiling triumphantly as tight muscles trembled in response. "Sorry about that," she apologized mock seriously.

"Sure you are," Xena exhaled with a touch of sarcasm. She was used to Gabrielle's innocent routine. In truth, she found it somewhat arousing. Curious to see where the bard was headed with this little game, she leaned back on her hands.

"Always." Gabrielle finished with the laces, and slowly peeled the sodden boot off. She couldn't hold back a grin as she tipped the water out, but she managed not to giggle. Finally, she rose gracefully, and spread it on a rock to dry.

Xena waited, tracking the younger woman's movements by listening to the soft fall of her footsteps. The taut muscles in her shoulders barely flexed when Gabrielle's hands landed on them. "I really do hate wet leather," she repeated, but this time there was a richly suggestive note to the comment.

"Of course you do," the bard agreed, fingers already moving to unhook the shoulder straps of her corselet. "It's nasty." She brushed her fingers over bare shoulders, teasing soft skin and hard muscle, before moving on to the laces at the back. "Cold." She leaned down to kiss the back of Xena's neck. "Uncomfortable."

"That's right," Xena agreed, rolling her shoulders to facilitate Gabrielle's efforts to push the dripping leather lower on her body. The bard broke contact, for a moment, then returned, hands sliding inside supple corselet to force it lower. The warrior shuddered a moment later, when Gabrielle leaned against her back, bared breasts molding against her shoulderblades. The bard had used the brief second away to strip off her blouse. Hands made strong by wielding a heavy staff, measured the breadth of her shoulders before sliding down her chest to cup full breasts. Xena lounged back against the bard. "Nice as it is, I don't think that will get my clothes off any faster."

Gabrielle ignored the hint, and continued her leisurely explorations as she leaned forward to nibble lightly on her ear.

"And I still hate wet leather," the warrior prompted.

The bard lifted her head, sighing softly. There were days Xena's self control was more than a little annoying. "Right...leather," she exhaled blearily, sliding her hands down until they encountered the wet mass bunched around her lover's waist. "I suppose we do have to do something about that." She shook her head in an effort to clear her thoughts. Whenever she got close to Xena, reason and logic seemed to go right out the window. "Um...you need to stand up," she decided out loud.

Xena glanced back over her shoulder, her expression serious. "Are you sure?" she inquired politely.

Gabrielle pushed lightly on her shoulder, urging the warrior to her feet with the muttered command, "Up."

Once she was standing, Xena folded her arms across her chest, and turned to face the bard. "Well?" she drawled. "Aren't you going to finish?"

The bard scrambled forward, hitting her knees in front of the warrior princess. "Finish. Right." She looked up, eyes shining brightly with desire. "I'm very good at finishing things." She lifted her hands to curl them into Xena's corselet, tugging it down, and past the S curve of her hips with firm strength. The warrior stepped free of the offending article of clothing, watching silently while Gabrielle spread it next to her boots. She closed in on the bard before she could straighten away from the boulder, wrapping strong arms around her torso. "I'm feeling much better, but you..."she brushed a light hand over the top of Gabrielle's dripping skirt, teasing her abdominal muscles in the process. "Seem awfully overdressed for the occasion."

Gabrielle leaned back into the strong arms holding her, moaning softly when she felt the edge of her lover's teeth against her throat. "Feel free to do something about it," she exhaled, shivering gently at the sensations that accompanied the slow slide of battle roughened hands over her upper body. Involved in the pleasant thrill of flesh on flesh, she didn't notice when Xena freed her skirt, and tossed it aside, until a long boned hand slid down to cup her sex. The bard gasped, bracing her hands against the rough surface of the boulder to keep from falling flat on her face. Xena knew exactly how to touch her to make the blood run hot in her veins. Finally, the teasing fingers ambled upward, drawing wet patterns on her belly, before circling higher. "You have beautiful breasts," Xena sighed, weighing the firm mounds, as she pressed a soft kiss to the point of Gabrielle's shoulder.

The bard shuddered in her arms.

"Perfectly shaped, warm, firm..." She urged the smaller woman around, then slipped one hand behind her back, and the other under her knees.

"Xena?" the bard gasped in shock as she was lifted off her feet. She automatically wrapped her arms around the strong column of the warrior's neck.

"Shhh," Xena hushed. "I'm going to do something you really need."

Gabrielle frowned suspiciously as she stared into Xena's sky blue eyes. "Something I..." she started to say, then abruptly realized where Xena was headed. They were only a few feet from the edge of the water. "What are you..." she yelped, clinging that much tighter to the warrior's neck.

Xena stepped into the lake until the water swirled up around her calves, a broad grin curving her lips. "I told you not to get cocky," she reminded Gabrielle.

"You wouldn't."

Xena flashed perfect white teeth in a broad grin. "Yes," she disagreed cheerfully. "I would." And tossed Gabrielle. The bard hit the water with a noisy splash, and went under, right where the bank dropped steeply.

A hint of a frown creased the warrior's brow when her lover didn't come up immediately. She waited a moment.

Still no sign of Gabrielle.

Pulse suddenly hammering faster in her chest, Xena scrambled forward, worried she might have hit her head on a rock, or something else, equally bad, when she hit the water. It didn't occur to her to suspect another cause for the missing bard until she reached the point where Gabrielle went under, and a pair of strong arms wrapped around her lower legs. Xena realized, in the brief instant that she felt Gabrielle start to lift, that she'd done exactly what she'd warned her lover against doing.

Twice.

She'd gotten cocky.

She tried to twist to regain her footing, but Gabrielle had a good hold on her legs, and she was a lot stronger now, than she had been when she first left Poteidaia. Xena tumbled into the water, grabbing a breath of air as she went under. She was going to kill her lover when she came up. Gabrielle didn't try to hold onto her legs, and the warrior spun in the water, quickly getting her feet under her. By the time she came up, the bard was grinning down at her through streamers of dripping red hair.

"You said something about not getting cocky?" she teased.

"You," the warrior growled, and lunged forward with a husky laugh. Okay, so she wasn't going to kill Gabrielle, but a severe soaking was definitely in order.

Gabrielle met her splashing charge with a giggle, and the two tumbled into the water, wrestling with childish abandon, each determined to get the upper hand. Xena could have easily beaten the smaller woman, if she'd used her full strength, but she was having too much fun, and getting a grip on a naked, wet, squirming Gabrielle was harder than it sounded. Every time she almost had the bard, she slipped free with a laugh, and ducked under the water. The wrestling went on for long minutes, until they were both breathing hard, as much from laughter as exertion.

In the course of the battle, they wound up near the edge of the water, and Gabrielle tackled solidly into the taller woman, thudding against solid muscle. Normally, the warrior would have had no problem dealing with the maneuver, but she stumbled over a rock when she tried to shift her weight, and they both went tumbling onto the beach, half in and half out of the water, Gabrielle on top, Xena on the bottom. Recognizing her good fortune, the bard instantly latched her hands onto the warrior's wrists, pinning them to the sand. "I win," she proclaimed happily.

One dark eyebrow rose in polite disbelief, and Xena flexed her shoulder muscles just enough to remind Gabrielle that she could easily throw her off. "Name just one reason why I should let you," she drawled with cool humor.

Gabrielle's grin melded into a sensual smile. The position put them into close contact from breast to mid thigh, and all want to play suddenly drained away, to be replaced by far different desires. She slowly leaned down to taste the point of Xena's chin, whispering huskily. "Because," She trailed her lips along the curve of the warrior's jaw. "I got the first fall."

"Hmmph," Xena grumbled, but laughter threaded through her voice. "I tripped on a rock. You just happened to land on top."

Gabrielle shrugged. "You've always taught me to take advantage of any lucky breaks," she reminded Xena, then dropped her lips lower to taste the jut of Xena's collarbone.

Xena didn't look very thrilled by the reminder, though she was privately proud of her prot�g�. "I suppose I have," she allowed almost regretfully. Despite the disapproval in her voice, she tipped her head back, opening more of her throat to the bard's questing mouth.

Gabrielle pushed up on her hands to stare down at Xena, taking in the elegant beauty of her features. Sunlight poured down from above, turning the water droplets sprinkled across her face to diamonds and warming chilled skin. Growing up in Poteidaia, Gabrielle had never dreamt of being so happy, or so much in love. "Look at it this way," she suggested at last. "You taught me everything I know, so any victory of mine, is a victory of yours." She dropped her mouth to taste the hollow at the base of Xena's throat. Her skin was chill, and sweet under the roughness of the bard's darting tongue. The supple warmth was a heady feast, drawing her attention steadily lower in the quest for more pleasure. "Besides, do you really want to go back to fighting, and stop what we're doing now?" As if to punctuate the teasing question, she fluttered her lips over Xena's upper chest.

The warrior groaned softly, arching into the caress. "You have a point," she gasped. They'd already delayed making love long enough. The last thing she wanted to do was postpone it again.

Gabrielle chuckled softly, shifting her hands from Xena's wrists to cool, wet sand. She ducked her head, spilling her hair over the warrior's torso in wet strands of cold silk that contrasted with the caressing warmth of her mouth. The sharp counterpoint of sensations sent shivers of pure pleasure down Xena's spine and made the surface of her skin tingle with heightened awareness. "Who taught you that?" she groaned.

The bard laughed softly, the sound muffled against damp skin. "You did...remember...where we camped seaside, near Apollonia?"

Xena let out a pleased sigh as Gabrielle's lips wandered along the easy curve of her ribs. "That's right." She'd made love to the bard right at the edge of the water, forgetting that the tide was rising. In the end, they'd gotten wet, but the pleasure had been that much richer for it. The bard cupped a handful of water in her palm, sprinkling it over Xena's midsection, before following the moving rivulets with the point of her tongue. Soft wet hair fanned out over the warrior's breasts and belly, and she slipped her fingers through the silk strands. The warrior let out a ragged breath, muscles shuddering under the sliding path of sensation. Gabrielle might be relatively new to the pleasures of the flesh, but she was a fast learner.

Gentle waves lapped up over Xena's calves and thighs, the chill water dancing over bronzed flesh, and dark curls, while Gabrielle carefully outlined perfectly delineated stomach muscles in gentle kisses. The warrior dug her teeth into her lower lip, content to let the bard lead the way for once, while she tenderly brushed red-gold hair. She loved everything about Gabrielle's hair, the feel, the smell, the color, even the taste. Gabrielle worked steadily lower, finally pressing light kisses to the tops of Xena's thigh between the splash of the waves.

"Gabrielle," Xena whispered her name with driving intensity, wanting to feel that teasing warmth on more intimate flesh.

The bard chuckled softly, sliding her hands over water slicked skin, as she leaned forward to give her lover what she'd asked for. The first erotic brush of her tongue was like an electric spark, burning like a wildfire across sensitive nerve endings. A moment later, a rough gasp was torn from Xena's throat and she clawed strong fingers into thick hair, as Gabrielle broke the caress, the warmth of her mouth replaced by a wash of cold water. "By the Gods," Xena hissed through tightly clenched teeth. "Please." The icy cold should have killed her passion, but instead, it served to heighten the tangled jumble of need coursing through her veins. Gabrielle's mouth returned with voracious intensity, teasing, tasting, drawing soft cries with knowing skill. As she continued the heady lovemaking with her mouth, she slid one hand up Xena's side, tracing the line of her ribs, before molding a firm breast in her palm. She smoothed her other hand down a muscular leg, following the line of taut sinews to the inner thigh. Teasing fingers slipped higher, circling and threatening to press deeper, only to draw back when Xena thrust her hips upward in open invitation.

"Not yet," the bard denied her as she pulled away, again letting a rush of clear water wash over her lover.

Powerful thews knotted just beneath the flesh, and Xena's back bowed, teeth digging into her lower lips with the influx of need. She nearly screamed a moment later, when Gabrielle gave her what she was silently pleading for. Xena was almost there when she felt the bard start to pull back. This time she was ready for the flowing cold, but she still let out a low cry, lost in an exploding concert of ice and fire.

Suddenly, Gabrielle's mouth was back, hungry and unrelenting. She gave no quarter as she drove her lover towards the final pinnacle, her mouth and hand driving in sharp counterpoint, until she saw passion twist Xena's features, and heard the ragged groans that signaled her climax. Passion threw already taut cords into sharp relief, while warm, internal muscles rippled around Gabrielle's fingers. The bard kept up the hard driving rhythm, keeping Xena perched in the heat of orgasm, until finally, the warrior pushed her away with a low groan.

"No...more," Xena panted, her head falling back to the sand. She let her hands drop to her sides, collapsing in a limp heap as she fought to drag much needed air into her lungs. A soft smile touched her lips a moment later when Gabrielle slid up the length of her body to feather light kisses over her closed eyelids. "You win that round," Xena sighed happily, and lifted her hands to slide them up Gabrielle's narrow back.

She got a low chuckle by way of reply, before the bard responded tartly. "I didn't think it was a competition."

One crystal blue eye opened to peer up at Gabrielle with slightly unfocused intensity. "Wasn't it?" Xena drawled. Muscles abruptly flexed with controlled power, and she tumbled the bard onto her back, moving over her with a teasing grin. She ducked her head to share a languid kiss, her voice little more than a soft murmur when their lips parted. "Not that I'm complaining. If I'd known losing a match was that much fun, I'd have done it sooner."

Gabrielle tickled her fingers up her lover's ribs. "I could have just told you, but I thought this would be more fun."

Xena laughed low in her chest. "I've always responded better to example than words." She dropped a light kiss onto the smaller woman's nose. "But, right now, I think we should probably dry off...." Her voice dropped to a low, suggestive whisper. "And warm up again."

"Promises, promises," Gabrielle exhaled as she watched Xena rise gracefully to her feet. Their hands met a moment later, when the warrior reached back down to draw her to her feet.

"Oh, I always keep my promises," Xena assured her, as she tugged Gabrielle back toward their blankets, where they sat near the glowing coals that remained from their lunch fire. The warrior urged to lover to sit on the heavy granite boulder where their clothes were still drying, and knelt before her. Crystal blue eyes lifted to the sky, noting the hint of rose that spread across the western horizon.

"Xena?" Gabrielle questioned, struggling to ignore the humming in her veins. Making love to the warrior had built her own needs to a fever pitch without satisfying them, and, while some of that had cooled, the blood was still running hot and heavy in her veins.

"Soon," her lover soothed, and dropped a light kiss on her lips before she rose, and moved to crouch by the fire.

Gabrielle drank in the stunning sight as the warrior princess stirred the coals, then added wood until a fresh blaze danced cheerfully. Every movement emphasized graceful play of bone and sinew across her back, while flames and the setting sun seemed to gild smooth skin. Shivering with tightly wound, the bard drew her legs up, wrapping her arms around them to rest her chin on her knees.

Xena continued to stir the flames, but she glanced back, her eyes briefly touching on the red streaked sky, before they moved on to her lover." How long does it take the sun to set?" she questioned conversationally.

Gabrielle frowned, caught by surprise. It was an odd question, and Xena was far more likely to know the answer than she was. "I...uh...I don't know..." she mumbled. Her brain was on things other than timing the local sunset.

Xena nodded, and slowly rose, turning away from the glow of the fire. "Guess," she breathed.

Gabrielle shrugged, barely able to keep her mind on the question as she watched Xena draw near, and slowly kneel down before her. "I...uh...this time of year...maybe a half a candlemark."

"Hmmm," Xena murmured and gently tugged the bard's feet back to the ground. She knew Gabrielle hadn't climaxed while they were making love, and that the need had to be driving her crazy. She leaned forward to drop alight kiss on her right knee. "A person could go mad in that amount of time," she commented, trailing her lips up the bard's inner thigh.

Gabrielle fell back on her hands with a soft gasp. "Yes," she groaned. "They could."

Xena's mouth skated around soft hair, and softer flesh, moving to lightly lick her muscled abdomen. She tasted the bard's low groan of disappointment, and allowed herself a faint smile as she continued to work her way upward. Small strong hands fitted themselves to the width of Xena's shoulders, massaging the powerful muscles there in an effort to share the rich pleasure burning between them.

"I...need..." she gasped, her voice rich with sensual hunger. Xena's mouth was everywhere, relighting the fires of need, and driving her half mad with raw desire.

"I know," the warrior whispered against her breasts, then slid up and reclaimed full lips, tasting the sweetness of Gabrielle's breath. Her mouth moved on, fluttering delicate kisses over the bard's cheeks and into the soft hair at her temple. "Soon," she promised. Tender fingers slipped between Gabrielle's thighs, and she nearly came right then and there. "Not yet," Xena murmured against her ear as she pulled her hand away. She rose, slowly feathering kisses along the line of her collarbone, then slipped around Gabrielle, lips just brushing the very point of her shoulder, before moving on. She climbed onto warm granite behind the bard, gently pushing her as she bent down to outline the sharp rise of a shoulderblade with her teeth. Kneeling behind her lover, Xena, trailed her fingers down the taper of Gabrielle's back. Her eyes lifted again, touching on the spreading red haze coloring the sky overhead. "After the sun sets," she whispered near her ear.

The bard twisted to peer up at the taller woman. "That's a longtime away," she whimpered.

Xena laughed softly, and began massaging Gabrielle's back with slow, tender strength, feeling the gentle shudders that shook the girl. Carefully sweeping pale red hair to one side, Xena leaned forward, painting erotic patterns over her nape, and upper back with the tip of her tongue. She slipped her hands over the outer edge of her arms, teasing, and swirling down, until she twined her fingers with Gabrielle's. When she finally lifted her lips from the bard's narrow back, it was only to lift her hand, and trail kisses over the corded tendons and sharp points of her knuckles. "So beautiful," she sighed. "Strong--"

"I'm not strong," the bard disagreed before her lover could say anymore.

Xena shook her head, thinking of the courage she'd seen in the younger woman so many times. "You...are the strongest person I know," she said decisively. She pressed her cheek into the curve of Gabrielle's neck, breathing in the scent of her skin and hair. "You're everything I've ever wanted." She released the loose hold on her hands, and slid around so that she was kneeling before the bard again, ducking her head to press soft lips against a smooth inner thigh. "More than I have any right to ask for." Pale eyes lifted to meet Gabrielle's, and she lifted warm hands to brush callused fingers over warm curves.

Overhead, violent reds muted into gentle violets as darkness began to fall. The fire at Xena's back continued to blaze, warming the night air and turning Gabrielle's hair a bright, glowing shade of copper.

"You ready?" the warrior questioned huskily.

Gabrielle swallowed hard, and nodded. "More than ready," she admitted, her voice trembling faintly. She didn't think she could take much more.

Xena chuckled softly, her warm breath washing across a velvety inner thigh. "I guess it's time to do something about that," she sighed. She trailed kisses as soft as baby's breath along her inner leg following the natural path of the tight cording. Warm air wafted across pale gold hair. Gabrielle leaned back on her hands when she might have collapsed.

Chuckling low in her throat, Xena leaned forward to gently taste and tease.. The movements of her lips and tongue were languorous, exploring the depths of Gabrielle's sex. "Sweet," she exhaled against smooth skin, then slid up the length of her lover's body until they were nose to nose, and her hands were braced on rough granite on either side of Gabrielle's hips. "Put your arms around my neck," she instructed huskily.

The bard's arms rose, and she draped them around the strong column of her lover's neck. They shared a hungry kiss, then Xena gently tugged her away from the support of the stone seat to sink down to the blankets they shared. Gabrielle slipped her fingers into dark silk hair, pressing Xena downward with the whispered plea, "Now."

The warrior didn't try to delay things any longer. She slid down the length of Gabrielle's body, pausing occasionally to press her lips to soft skin, until she lay between the spread of her thighs. Her warm breath fanned across swollen flesh, drawing a low moan of need that melted into a soft whimper as her lips followed the same path. Gabrielle was sweet against her tongue, and Xena pressed deeper, intensifying the hungry contact. Pale red-gold hair fanned across the blankets as Gabrielle tipped her head back, low moans of pleasure emanating from her chest, driving Xena to increase the heady stimulation. She needed this passion that raged between them, the intimacy of flesh on flesh and the taste of her lover on her tongue.

Overhead, stars twinkled in a darkening sky, but the two lovers didn't notice. They were far too lost in each other.

Gabrielle dug her fingers into Xena's dark hair, muscles pulling taut as sensation sang along sensitive nerve endings. The pleasure tumbled on for long minutes, but she couldn't hold out for long. Finally, a hot wildfire sang along her nerve endings, leading to a violent climax that sent ragged spasms through rigid muscles. Her pinnacle stretched into ages, burning behind tightly closed eyelids, until Gabrielle could barely breathe. Finally, Xena slid up over her young lover, stretching out alongside her to share a long kiss with the bard, letting her lover taste herself.

"So good," the girl exhaled against Xena's mouth.

"Yes...you are," the warrior agreed, and licked her lips.

Gabrielle brushed a gentle finger along Xena's cheekbone. "That's not what I meant," she murmured through a shy smile.

Xena leaned her head on one hand, and reached out with the other to paint erotic designs on soft skin. "I know," she admitted. "But, it's still true."

"You're incorrigible," the bard groaned, and rolled into the protection of her body, cuddling close as she felt a pleasant wave of lassitude washed over her.

"I'm known for that." Xena curved a hand to the younger woman's head, threading her fingers into cool silk hair as she feathered light kisses over the bard's temple. "Thank you for...loving...me..." she whispered hesitantly.

A lazy smile curved Gabrielle's mouth, and she peered up through eyes that glittered with the depth of her emotions. "I do love you, you know?" she sighed.

Tired and thoroughly satiated, Xena wrapped an arm around her lover. "I know," she admitted. "But it's so good to hear you say it."

Gabrielle rested her chin lightly on the warrior's chest. "I love you," she whispered through a smile. "I love you. I love you. I love you..."she babbled happily, then dropped a light kiss over her sternum before resting her cheek against the warm pillow of her breasts. "How's that?"

Xena's low laugh rumbled through the night. "Just keep saying it," she chuckled. "Because I will never get tired of hearing it."

In the sky far above, bright stars glittered against near-black velvet, while a young woman's voice carried into the darkness.

"I love you, I love you, I love you...."

THE END

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