Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Cyrene are property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; no copyright infringement is intended. The rest of the story and characters are my own, written for entertainment purposes and (unfortunately) for no profit whatsoever. If you are younger than 18 or this material is illegal where you live, then stop now, you naughty dickens, and read no further.
Subtext: Oh yeah, you betcha. This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women, even if they do take forever to get there. 🙂 If depictions of this nature disturb you, I’m not sure what you’re doing in the Xenaverse, but you’ll probably want to find another story.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my ex-partner, S, for support, helpful suggestions and over a decade of happiness. Thanks also to fellow bard Lyric, for her valuable input.
Note: This is a “first time” story, set sometime after the first two seasons of XWP. So no spoilers or violence at all, but lots of mushy stuff.
Worth Waiting For
It was getting worse, Gabrielle reflected. The tension between her and Xena was definitely building, and it couldn’t be explained away as one of the many conflicts they had survived in the past. It had started gradually, a snappish reply here, a spate of irritation there. They had both passed it off as the result of exhaustion, or the timing of their moon cycles. But over time it had subtly increased, a moodiness that would strike one or the other of them in turn, and once both of them at the same time, causing a blow-up after which they had not spoken to each other for two full days.
Gabrielle began to suspect that it had something to do with the fact that they spent virtually all of their time together…maybe they were starting to get on each other’s nerves. Finally, she suggested that perhaps a vacation was in order. To her surprise, Xena agreed immediately, underlining the seriousness of the situation. The bard proposed visiting the Amazon village, but Xena preferred to stay at her mother’s tavern. Eventually it was decided that they go their separate ways, with plans to meet in Amphipolis in five days time.
At first, the time apart seemed to solve the problem. Gabrielle enjoyed visiting with her friends, although she missed the company of her taciturn partner. Though she wasn’t one for idle conversation, Xena’s presence always made itself felt, and Gabrielle had grown accustomed to it. Rather than try to explain their unusual separation, she made up a story about Xena having to go alone to handle tricky negotiations with the centaurs. She found herself reluctant to confide in her friends, even Ephiny, since she didn’t fully understand the situation herself.
For her part, Xena missed the bard as well. Seeing Gabrielle’s normally sunny disposition deteriorate had disturbed her deeply, since she suspected herself to be the cause of it.
Maybe my darkness is finally getting to her, the warrior thought. After all, she’s not the kid I picked up in Poteidia, she’s grown into a young woman. A beautiful young woman, Xena conceded with a sigh. Maybe she’s grown tired of the constant battle of life on the road. Surely she must long for the things most women long for — a home, a family…a husband. They never discussed Perdicus and her tragically brief marriage, though Xena had tried on a couple of occasions to bring up the subject of companionship.
“I have you, who else do I need?” Gabrielle had replied cheerfully. “You’re a great companion. Although you are a little too active in the mornings and do tend to be hard on the cookware,” she teased.
No, I’m talking about a lover, Xena had wanted to say. But she found it impossible to voice in the face of her friend’s naiveté. And, to be honest, she had been relieved to hear that Gabrielle seemed perfectly satisfied with things as they were. But that had been several months ago, and things had since grown rocky.
Her days in Amphipolis settled into a lazy pattern. Wake early, exercise Argo, help gather food or repair things around the tavern, and eat the fine meals her mother prepared. In the late afternoon she would practice with her weapons, then have supper and a couple of glasses of port before turning in, her body pleasantly tired from the rigors of the day.
When Gabrielle arrived a few days later, they greeted each other with an eagerness that had been missing as of late. Both were relaxed and in good spirits, and for a couple of days it seemed as if things were back to the way it had been before the strange tension had taken over. Then came the night of the dance.
It was Cyrene’s idea. Several merchants and a traveling minstrel were boarding at the tavern, and she suggested a celebration in the village square. They would light a bonfire, slaughter a sheep, and have musicians play. The tavern’s guests readily agreed to participate, and the minstrel was persuaded to lend his talents in a song or two. Gabrielle agreed to tell a few stories as well, though she had to promise that there would be none about the Warrior Princess, as Xena hated to have her exploits regaled when she was in the audience.
The evening was a beautiful one, a gentle breeze springing up to cool the effects of the sun as it blazed down into the ocean. The sunset was particularly glorious, a riot of color in the cloud-streaked sky.
“Look,” said the minstrel Timon, pointing overhead, “the Muses have stolen the finest of Hera’s crimson and gold silk scarves, and they whirl madly in a dance for our pleasure.” With a laugh, he threw his head back for a pull from the wineskin.
“Well spoke!” Cyrene called back. “You are truly a poet, young Timon.” She leaned over the table where her daughter and Gabrielle were sitting, and addressed them in lowered tones. “The boy is quite talented, with a face as comely as his voice.”
“Oh, he’s handsome enough,” Xena agreed carelessly, eyeing the curling black hair and sparkling eyes. “But he doesn’t know much about the immortals if he thinks they dance for anyone’s pleasure but their own.”
“Umm,” Gabrielle murmured, agreeing with Cyrene’s, rather than Xena’s, comment. “I’m looking forward to hearing him sing a tale.”
Something in the bard’s voice made Xena look at her sharply. Gabrielle’s gaze was focused on the laughing young man, and a small smile lingered about her mouth. Xena’s brow rose as she considered this unexpected development.
While they ate, various storytellers stepped up to entertain. Gabrielle’s story about Artemis’ battle with the serpent woman Echidne drew many cheers from the crowd. They called her back again and again, until finally, she protested laughingly that she needed to quench her thirst. Xena handed her a mug of ale as she sat down at the table.
“You were inspired tonight, Gabrielle,” said the warrior with a smile. “Your story about Achilles was spell-binding. I think you do better when you stay away from stories with me in them.”
“Are you kidding? You provide my best material!” Gabrielle countered. “If you think the crowd liked those stories, wait till I tell them about the time you defeated Bacchus.”
“Don’t you dare,” Xena warned, with her best narrow-eyed glare. “You promised me to stay off the subject of the Warrior Princess tonight.”
Gabrielle merely smiled and sipped her ale.
“C’mon, Brie,” Xena’s tone changed, and lowered so that no one else could hear the pleading in it. “I’m on vacation!”
“All right,” Gabrielle agreed. “Since you ask so nicely.”
The warrior made a face at that, which had the bard laughing unexpectedly. It was nice to be back on the old footing, where they could tease one another and Xena showed a playful side that very few people got to see.
The sound of cheering drew their attention to the platform, where Timon was being urged by his friends to take the stage with his lute. He climbed up and smiled at the crowd, and at Gabrielle in particular.
“I will do my humble best, though it was not my choice to follow such a talented bard.” He bowed deeply to Gabrielle, who blushed and smiled back. “Since I cannot rival her in beauty, perhaps a comedy is called for.” And he launched into a bawdy tavern song about a drunken farmer and his long-suffering horse. His voice was a rich baritone, with just a touch of melancholy to balance the hilarity of the tale, and the audience laughed and cheered loudly.
Xena found herself chuckling as well — the boy really was quite talented. But from the corner of her eye she subtly watched her companion. Gabrielle was humming along with the song, her eyes glowing and her face flushed with pleasure. She looked happier than Xena had seen her in a long time.
When the song ended the audience called loudly for another, and then another after that. After the fifth song, Timon pleaded thirst and stepped down, as Gabrielle had done. Several men offered to buy him a drink, and he gladly accepted a tankard or two. A group of musicians got up to play, and soon tables were pushed back to make room for dancing. Children and younger couples jumped up to whirl merrily along with the music.
Gabrielle turned to Xena with a smile. “Are you going to dance?”
The warrior’s brow rose. “To this? Do I look drunk to you?”
Gabrielle laughed. “Well okay, how about when the music slows down?”
Xena shook her head. “My dancing days are behind me, Gabrielle. But you go ahead.”
Gabrielle smiled wistfully but shook her head. “No, I’d rather keep you company. Tell me what you’ve been doing while I was in the Amazon village.”
Xena opened her mouth to reply, but her attention was caught by an approaching figure. “Looks like you may get your dance after all, Gabrielle,” she said softly.
“What?” Gabrielle turned around in puzzlement, just in time to face the young minstrel, who sat down beside her.
“We were not introduced, but my name’s Timon,” he said with a smile. “I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your stories.”
“And I really enjoyed yours!” The bard exclaimed. “Where did you hear the one about Ajax and Hector’s battle? That was great!”
“In the court of King Priam,” he replied. “The servants were buzzing with the tale when I visited there last spring. Of course, I may have exaggerated a bit about the size of his weapons.”
“A bard’s privilege,” Gabrielle assured him. “I do it myself occasionally, for dramatic effect.”
“But not where Xena is concerned, I’m sure,” Timon said gallantly, inclining his head in her direction. “Everyone knows the Warrior Princess is certainly capable of the feats you describe.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Xena said dryly. “But that’s probably where Gabrielle exaggerates the most.”
“Come on, Xena, that’s not true,” Gabrielle protested. “You know those adventures really happened!”
“I was referring to your view of my ‘good side,'” Xena replied, before finishing off her cup of port in one swallow. “I think you’re alone in your opinion there.”
Gabrielle frowned, but Timon jumped in before she could reply.
“I don’t think that’s true,” he assured her. “I certainly believe that you’re as noble and courageous as Gabrielle says you are.”
“Ah, but you don’t know me, do you, Timon?” Xena replied without much expression.
The bard stared at her. There was an awkward silence before Timon cleared his throat and addressed Gabrielle diffidently. “I was, uh, wondering if you wanted to dance?”
“No, thank you,” Gabrielle began distractedly, but Xena interrupted.
“She would love to,” she answered the minstrel. “She was just saying how she wished she had someone to dance with.”
“Well, great!” Timon said happily. “Shall we?” He held out his arm to her.
“Yes, go ahead, Gabrielle,” Xena prodded. “I’ll be fine here.” As Gabrielle continued to frown in confusion, Xena gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I’m just going to sit here and rest. You let me know when you’re tired and we’ll walk back to the tavern, okay?”
Gabrielle nodded finally, and rose to take Timon’s arm. As she danced, Gabrielle’s mind was torn between following the movements and deciphering her friend’s strange behavior. It doesn’t make sense, she thought. One moment Xena acts as if she dislikes Timon, and the next she’s urging me to dance with him. She wondered if this signaled a return of the discord which had plagued them earlier. She hoped not. With a sigh, she turned her attention to her dance partner and tried to enjoy the music.
As Xena sat and watched them, she swore at herself silently. The wave of jealousy which had overcome her in Timon’s presence was disturbing. Especially since it made clear the source of her irritation these past few weeks — she was attracted to the bard. Her mind had been trying to find other excuses, but she could no longer deny it. She was going to have enough trouble trying to hide it.
Especially since that wolf pup is sniffing around her like she’s fresh kill, Xena thought with a mental growl, as she watched them execute an intricate maneuver and share a laugh at their success. Then she sighed. She was not being fair to Timon, and in truth he was a nice young man. Talented and polite and handsome…and Gabrielle seemed to like him. She forced herself to smile and wave at them as the bard cast a worried glance in her direction.
The attraction she felt for Gabrielle had been almost immediate, she now realized. She had been drawn to the girl from their first meeting, first as a friend, then gradually as something more. What had sparked the friction of the last few weeks was her increasing desire to act on that attraction. Xena was a woman of strong appetites, and it had been long time since she’d…eaten.
I need some kind of distraction, she thought. Maybe I can find a warlord to rout, or a village to save, or—
Xena was startled out of her thoughts as an attractive young woman sat down next to her. She hesitated, trying to place the vaguely familiar face.
“Mykale? Is that you?”
The woman nodded with a shy smile. “I didn’t know if you’d remember me. It’s been a long time since you left Amphipolis.”
“It must be,” Xena agreed, marveling. “You’ve certainly grown up!”
Tall and curvaceous, with long curling locks of auburn hair, Mykale bore little resemblance to the rowdy young tomboy Xena remembered from her youth. Only the large hazel eyes and mischievous grin were the same. Though several years younger, Mykale had followed Xena and Lyceus everywhere. Her father Phalinos, the village blacksmith, had lost his wife when Mykale was only ten, and his four children had run freely through the village much of the day. Xena had more or less “adopted” Mykale, whom she suspected had a crush on her brother.
“Have a drink with me?” Xena asked her now. At Mykale’s nod, she went over to where her mother had set up a counter to sell drinks. Returning to the table with a port for herself, and a glass of wine for Mykale, she leaned back again to survey the change time had wrought.
“Well, you’ve grown into a beauty,” Xena said appreciatively. “Phalinos must be proud.”
Mykale grinned. “Thank you, but I think I’m more a bane to my father than anything else. He wants to marry me off, but I haven’t been happy with any of the suitors he’s found so far.”
“Ah,” Xena nodded. “Well, it’s an important decision. You don’t want to rush something like that.”
“No,” Mykale agreed, taking a sip of her wine. “I’m just lucky he cares about how I feel. Most fathers will arrange a marriage without consulting their children at all.”
“Phalinos is a good man,” Xena agreed. “Though from what I know of you, you’d run off before letting yourself be promised to anyone you didn’t like.”
Mykale laughed. “Yes, you’re right about that. Remember the time you and Lyceus were going fishing, but were planning to leave me behind? I had to steal the oar before you’d agree that I could come along.”
“Yes, you ran off with the damn thing and wouldn’t tell us where it was. And what good’s a rowboat with only one oar?” She chuckled. “Little brat. What we should’ve done was dunk you in the lake till you confessed where you’d hidden it.”
“You wouldn’t have done that,” Mykale asserted. “You and Lyceus were always so good to me. I miss him,” she added somberly.
Xena closed her eyes briefly. “I do too,” she said quietly. Then she added in a teasing tone, “I always thought you had a crush on him, the way you followed us around everywhere.”
Mykale colored. “No, actually…I had a crush on his sister.”
It took a heartbeat to register, then Xena’s brows rose. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” she inquired lightly.
“Would you be interested if I was?” Mykale countered, meeting the warrior’s glance sidelong. “But it’s not hero worship any longer, you know. Those feelings have matured…as have I.”
“I can see that,” Xena murmured, an internal debate raging. Well, you wanted a distraction. Here one practically plops itself in your lap, so why the hesitation? Gabrielle is the reason, she was forced to admit. What would the bard think? Her eyes drifted back to the couple laughing among the throngs of dancers. Gabrielle’s busy with her own distraction, Xena decided. And she’d probably appreciate the improvement in my disposition, anyway.
“Well, what do you say?” Mykale lowered her hand to the tabletop, then reached out and ran a fingertip over Xena’s knuckles.
“I say ‘yes,'” Xena replied in a low voice. She finished her drink and put the cup down carefully. “I’ll be escorting Gabrielle back to the tavern soon, maybe you could meet me downstairs?”
“I would like that,” Mykale agreed.
Out in the square, Gabrielle stumbled against her partner in shock as she observed Mykale stroking Xena’s hand. She had assumed the beautiful young woman who had been keeping Xena company was a village friend. But that had not been a “just friends” gesture, especially with the flirtatious look that had accompanied it. No one touched the Warrior Princess without her permission, so Xena must’ve been willing. In fact, there was an enigmatic smile on her face as she nodded at something the woman was saying.
“Are you okay, Gabrielle?” Timon asked, reaching politely to hold her arm as she righted herself.
“Uh, I think I’m getting tired, Timon,” Gabrielle apologized. “Would you mind if we sat down?”
“Of course not!” He turned immediately and led her back toward the table. “I’m sorry, it was thoughtless of me. I was having so much fun, I lost track of time.”
“I was having fun, too,” Gabrielle assured him hastily. “I guess I must be out of shape, since I haven’t danced in so long.” That was an outright lie. She and Xena covered miles each day when they were on the road, and their frequent practice drills were a much harder workout than a few dances. But her sudden breathlessness gave the excuse some credence.
Xena looked up as the couple approached, noting Gabrielle’s high color. “Looks like you two were enjoying yourselves.”
“We were,” Gabrielle assured her in a slightly strained fashion. “Timon’s a very good dancer.” She looked inquiringly at the young woman who had taken her seat.
“This is Mykale,” Xena said easily. “Her father’s the blacksmith in Amphipolis, and she and Lyceus and I used to play together as children. This is Gabrielle, and Timon.”
“I used to tag along after you, you mean,” Mykale corrected with a laugh. “Hi, Gabrielle, I heard you performing earlier. You really know how to tell a story!”
“Thank you,” the bard replied stiffly.
“And Timon, I enjoyed your singing so much I’m thinking about taking up the lute,” Mykale added with a smile.
“You are too kind, my lady,” Timon said, bowing over her hand.
“I’m a little tired, Xena. Do you think we could go back to the tavern?” Gabrielle said abruptly.
“Of course, Gabrielle. Are you okay?” she asked in concern.
Three pairs of eyes focused on her suddenly, and Gabrielle felt unaccountably irritated. “I’m fine, Xena, don’t fuss! I’m just ready to turn in, that’s all.” Xena’s eyebrow arched, but she said nothing.
“Yes, it is getting a little late,” Timon said. “However, I do think I have one dance left in me. Mykale, would you do me the honor?”
“I would love to,” she agreed.
Xena and Gabrielle left them to their dancing. The road back to the tavern wasn’t very long, but Gabrielle was unusually silent as they walked. Her mind was struggling to digest what she’d seen. She knew that Xena had many lovers in her past, and somewhere underneath Gabrielle was aware that these had probably included women as well as men. But she had never really thought about it, about the implications for the here and now. The last time Xena was with someone was Marcus, and that was a long time ago, she realized. At least, that’s the last time I know of. And she didn’t even want me to know about that, so I pretended to be sleeping. I wonder if I’ve been cramping her style, she thought with a sudden pang.
“Gabrielle, is something bothering you?” Xena’s voice out of the darkness made her jump.
“No, I’m just tired,” she replied, praying that the warrior would let a subject drop, for once. No such luck.
“It’s not because Timon asked Mykale to dance, is it? I don’t think you have to worry.”
“Oh? He’s not Mykale’s type?” Maybe if he had electric blue eyes and a curvaceous figure like my partner here, he’d have more luck! Gabrielle found herself thinking jealously.
Xena could hear the tightness in the bard’s voice and paused before answering. “I’m not sure what her type is,” she replied carefully, “but Timon certainly seemed to be attracted to you.”
“Did he? That’s nice.” Now the bard’s voice sounded completely uninterested. Baffled, Xena shrugged her shoulders and decided to let it go. Perhaps Gabrielle was just tired, as she claimed. They arrived at the tavern and Xena gestured for Gabrielle to go on ahead up the stairs.
“I’m going to have a nightcap at the bar,” she explained. “I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well.”
“You are?” This was unexpected, but after pleading fatigue so many times, Gabrielle couldn’t very well invite herself along. They’d have to talk things over in the morning. “Okay…sleep well.”
But once changed and settled into bed, Gabrielle found herself too restless to sleep. After tossing and turning for awhile, she gave up and decided she had to talk to Xena tonight. She wrapped a cloak about her and opened her door, intending to head down to the tavern, when she heard someone coming up the stairs. Then she heard Xena’s low tones, and the soft answering laugh of another woman. Mykale?
Gabrielle shrank back into her room, closing the door silently and leaning against it. As the footsteps passed by, she opened the door and peeked out carefully, just in time to see the auburn-haired woman follow Xena into her room.
Gabrielle shut the door and walked back to her bed on suddenly unsteady legs. She remembered feeling this way once before — when she and the warrior had been sparring and Xena’s staff had swept her legs out from under her. She had landed flat on her back in the grass, the air whooshing from her lungs in one long exhalation, leaving her gasping like a fish on a bank. Xena was immediately contrite, and Gabrielle had learned an important lesson in blocking. And what was the lesson to be learned here? she wondered dazedly. That in spite of their supposed closeness, the warrior obviously still had some secrets from her. Why didn’t she let me know? I would’ve understood, Gabrielle told herself, somewhat unrealistically.
The remainder of the night was a mostly sleepless one for the poor bard. In her fevered imagination she could detect the soft laughter, heated murmurings, and cries of desire she was sure were coming from the room next door. When she did drift off, she dreamed of two naked bodies, one she knew very well, twined about one another in passion. She woke with a gasp, heart pounding and hair damp with perspiration.
She was wet in more than one place, she realized. And with a groan, finally figured out why. What’s wrong with me? I never thought about Xena in that way before, and now I can’t seem to think about anything else!
She had not become aware of her body’s sexual needs until after her marriage to Perdicus, but that small taste of pleasure awoke what was essentially a passionate nature. Since then, when circumstances permitted (which wasn’t often), she had tended to those needs herself, gradually learning which ministrations would lead to a physical release. It wasn’t the same as being held in Perdicus’ arms, although she hadn’t experienced the physical release with him. Not that it had mattered. She hadn’t even been aware of anything missing until he asked her about it. She had assured him the kissing and stroking and snuggling were more important to her, and it had been the truth. And he in turn had assured her that the other would come in time, as they learned more about each other. They had the rest of their lives, they thought.
It was this last memory that brought on the tears. It wasn’t the wild grief she had experienced during the first few days following her loss. These were tears of loneliness. Over the shock of finding out about Xena and Mykale. Over the days of tension between her and her best friend. Over the sudden longing she felt for the warrior that she had no idea what to do about. This crying was quiet, and short-lived, and a tremendous relief. She actually felt slightly better afterwards. Still, it was going to be a long night.
The next morning at breakfast Gabrielle’s unusual silence continued. She could feel Xena watching her, but could not think of anything to say. She had heard Mykale leaving Xena’s room before dawn, and was grateful to be spared the awkwardness of having to face her at the breakfast table. But then Xena wouldn’t have subjected her to that. She’s nothing if not considerate of my feelings, the bard reflected grimly.
“You okay, honey? You’re awfully quiet.” Xena’s mother, passing by with a bowl of gruel, stopped to place a hand on Gabrielle’s forehead, as if checking for fever.
Gabrielle forced a smile. “Yes, of course, Cyrene. I think the dancing last night wore me out.”
Cyrene laughed. “Oh yes, I saw you and that handsome minstrel having a good time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes looking for you later!” Then, noticing the scowl on her daughter’s face, “What’s wrong, Xena? Are we a little hung over this morning?”
“No, Mother, but thank you for your deep concern,” the warrior replied dryly. Cyrene laughed and ruffled her hair, the only one who could get away with such behavior.
After Cyrene left, the awkward silence returned. Eventually Xena had had enough, and she turned to Gabrielle.
“Shall we practice a few drills this morning?”
“I’m still a little tired,” Gabrielle began, but Xena interrupted.
“We won’t practice for long, just enough to loosen up a little. We haven’t had a chance to spar with each other since we were in Chalcidice. Please, Gabrielle?” The warrior smiled in the compelling way that the bard usually found irresistible. She was pleased to see it still worked, as her partner’s mouth tugged into a reluctant answering smile.
“All right. But none of those hard overhand blows. And no dumping me on my butt!”
“No rough stuff,” Xena promised. She felt a slight twinge of conscience. Gabrielle really did look weary, with circles under eyes which were slightly bloodshot. But somehow she had to draw the bard out of whatever strange mood she had fallen into, and physical activity was what she knew best. After breakfast they walked out to a clearing in the woods behind the tavern.
“It’ll be cooler,” Xena explained. “And more private.”
They started out slowly, and true to her word the warrior was careful not to push. In fact, it was Gabrielle who began to throw in some quick strikes, grinning to herself as she caught the flicker of surprise in her partner’s eyes. After the second attempt to crack the warrior’s skull, which Gabrielle knew would be easily parried, Xena pulled back and looked at her with a raised brow.
“Gabrielle, are you angry at me for something?” she asked.
The bard flushed. “No, of course not,” she said uncomfortably. “Sorry, I guess I just got carried away.”
“Let’s sit and rest awhile,” Xena suggested. She sank down on a rug she had laid out earlier, leaning back against a tree. Then she uncorked a waterskin and took a long pull. “Thirsty?” She held it out to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle took a drink, but did not settle next to the warrior. She paced the perimeter of the clearing with nervous energy, twirling her staff and reaching out to thump an occasional tree.
“I thought you were tired,” Xena said, watching her.
Gabrielle shrugged. “I guess the workout helped.”
“So you’re feeling better now?”
“Yes, I am, thanks,” she acknowledged. “The drill was a good idea.”
“Good. Then maybe you can sit down and we can talk about what’s bothering you.” Xena patted a spot on the rug next to her.
“I told you, Xena, nothing’s bothering me,” Gabrielle replied without meeting that sharp blue gaze. She took off on another circuit of the clearing, stopping to deliver a death blow to the midsection of a particularly large oak.
Xena waited until she returned. “Gabrielle,” she said patiently, “please sit down and talk to me.”
“Xena, there’s nothing to talk about—”
“Gabrielle,” the warrior’s tone was implacable, with an edge that the bard had learned to heed. “Sit down, please.” With a sigh, she seated herself on the edge of the rug, her back toward the warrior.
“Hey,” softly. “I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends,” Gabrielle assured her, staring at the ground.
“Then friends should share with each other,” Xena began, but broke off as Gabrielle rounded on her, green eyes blazing.
“Huh, that’s a good one, coming from you! That’s right, Princess, friends should share with each other. Friends should not be letting friends find out things on their own, making friends feel like fools!”
Xena’s stared in astonishment. Her lips twitched as she fought the urge to laugh.
“I’m glad you think it’s so funny!” The bard glared at her.
“No, no, I don’t,” she was quick to reassure her. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle, but I have no idea what you just said.”
“I know about you and Mykale, Xena.”
“Oh.” Xena flushed uncharacteristically. “That.”
“Yes, that. Why didn’t you say something? I had to find out the hard way!” Her own color rose at Xena’s narrow-eyed look. “I mean, I saw her go to your room,” she explained quickly.
“Gabrielle,” Xena said carefully, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But I don’t know what you expected me to say.”
“I’m not a child, Xena. I’m capable of understanding you might need companionship…” her eyes widened suddenly. “So that’s what you were trying to tell me!”
Xena frowned, not understanding the sudden leap in Gabrielle’s thoughts. “What was I trying to tell you?”
“When you were hinting about companionship several months ago! You were trying to tell me you wanted to find a…a…” her voice trailed off as she grew lost in thought. When she spoke again her eyes were questioning, and her voice was tentative. “Xena, when you brought the subject up back then, were you thinking about a woman? Or were you trying to tell me you wanted to find someone like Marcus?”
“Actually, I was thinking about Perdicus,” Xena said with a sigh.
“You wanted a lover like Perdicus?” Gabrielle’s voice squeaked in shock.
“Not for me, for you!” Xena resisted a desire to shake her young friend. “When I brought the subject up, I was worried about you missing out on having a husband and family!”
“Oh!” The bard’s eyes crinkled as she smiled suddenly. “You were worried about me? That’s very sweet, Xena.”
“Yes, well,” the warrior cleared her throat. “The life I lead is not the best one for a young girl.”
“I’m not a young girl,” Gabrielle corrected her firmly. “And I told you a long time ago I accepted all the consequences of our life together. Nothing has changed since then.”
“Are you sure?” The blue eyes were penetrating. “You haven’t seemed very happy as of late, Gabrielle.”
“Me? What about you?! You’ve been snapping my head off for weeks now! Hah, if only I’d known it was just sexual tension, I could have—” she broke off suddenly, her newfound awareness leading her into dangerous territory.
“Yes?” Xena’s voice was silky. “What could you have done, Gabrielle?”
“I could’ve helped you find someone,” she replied, fighting back a blush. “Of course, I understand if you want to travel with Mykale…” She was proud that she managed that without her voice cracking, but was nonplussed when Xena began to laugh.
“Travel with Mykale? I doubt that she would have any interest in that! She’s very happy living in Amphipolis. And I’m very happy with my traveling companion, thank you very much,” she said, her tone sincere.
Gabrielle’s sense of relief was so great, she dared not look at Xena, for fear of giving herself away. “That’s nice, but I just wanted you to know I would understand,” she said, pulling at the grass near her feet. There was silence for a moment, then the warrior’s hand covered her own as it worried at clump of chickweed.
“Gabrielle, look at me.” Xena’s voice was quiet but compelling.
The bard raised her eyes. Xena’s face was completely serious.
“I love traveling with you. I have no desire to spend a life on the road with anyone else.” Her lips quirked in sudden humor. “Besides, I doubt that anyone could put up with me the way you do.”
“But what about…” Gabrielle was unsure how to phrase it, but fortunately Xena understood.
“Mykale is an old friend, but what we shared was a night of pleasuring, nothing more,” she said.
“I see,” Gabrielle’s eyes fell back to the grass. “Then I suppose you have no objection if I were to do the same?”
There was a moment of silence. “Of course not,” Xena replied, though her voice was slightly strained. “Who did you— ah, the handsome minstrel, no doubt?”
“Yes, Timon is very attractive,” Gabrielle began, but she realized suddenly she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t use that nice young man that way. And it wasn’t what she really wanted. “No,” she said, and her shoulders slumped in sudden dejection. “No, I’m not interested in Timon.”
“Was there someone else? I never noticed.…in the Amazon village?” Xena’s voice grew sharp and Gabrielle looked at her with sudden interest. She briefly considered inventing a relationship, but quickly dismissed the thought. She’d be found out in no time, and the results would undoubtedly prove embarrassing. But there had been a hint of jealousy in Xena’s voice, and that gave her sudden courage.
“There is someone else I’m interested in, but I don’t know how to go about approaching this person,” Gabrielle admitted.
“I’ve found that being yourself is usually the wisest course,” Xena advised with a weary smile. “And for you that means straightforwardness. Just tell him…or her…how you feel.”
“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Xena, I…I think I’m attracted to you.”
The warrior, in the process of taking another drink from the waterskin, began immediately to choke. Gabrielle pounded on her back as she spurted water and coughed.
“What did you say?” she asked, when she could talk again.
“I said…I’m attracted to you.” In spite of her nervousness, Gabrielle had to laugh at the look on her partner’s face. “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Warrior Princess speechless before!”
“Gabrielle, this is no time to joke,” Xena said sternly.
“I’m not joking, Xena. I only realized it recently, but I really am attracted to you. Have you never thought about me in that way?”
The warrior rose abruptly and began gathering their things. “Gabrielle, I don’t think you know what you’re saying. Seeing me with Mykale—” she began. But Gabrielle stood up and grabbed hold of her arm.
“I know exactly what I’m saying. Seeing you with Mykale only brought it home to me. It’s the reason I’ve been so tense with you for the past few weeks! I bet it’s the same with you. Don’t you think it’s time we did something about it?”
“Let me get this straight,” Xena said. She met the bard’s eyes directly. “You say you’re attracted to me. You want us to have a physical relationship?”
Gabrielle colored, but held her gaze without flinching. “A night of pleasuring, nothing more?” she suggested lightly.
“Oh no, my friend,” Xena shook her head. “There could never be anything like that between us.”
Gabrielle’s heart sank. Before she could say another word, however, the warrior continued.
“If we slept together, it would definitely mean something.”
The bard’s mouth was suddenly dry, making it difficult to get the words out. “What do you mean?”
“You are my dearest friend. We share a bond beyond even those we share with our own families. If we made love,” Xena’s voice grew suddenly softer, “I’d want it to be special.”
Gabrielle smiled slowly. “So would I,” she agreed.
“Are you sure that’s what you want, Gabrielle? It will change our relationship forever, you realize.” The blue gaze was intense.
She knew a moment’s hesitation. Her friendship with Xena was one of the most important things in her life. Would it be put in jeopardy by this? I won’t let it, she decided. After all we’ve been through, we can survive anything. “I’m sure,” she said aloud. “Just tell me what I have to do.”
“Well, the first thing is to pick up your staff and follow me,” the warrior replied, her eyes twinkling. “I think we’re expected back at the tavern for lunch.”
“Oh. Well, that’s easy enough.” Gabrielle followed immediately, but she couldn’t help feeling a little let down. Perhaps some of it showed in her voice, because Xena stopped suddenly and turned back to face her. Putting her things down carefully, she reached out and took the bard into her arms. Gabrielle’s arms went around her waist automatically, and they stood silently for a moment.
“Let’s take this slow, okay?” the warrior asked quietly. “This is something special, and I don’t want to rush it.” She placed a kiss on the bard’s forehead.
Gabrielle sighed contentedly, enjoying the solid feel of Xena’s body against her as she always did when they hugged. This time, however, there was a feeling of happiness and expectation that filled her to bursting. “Okay,” she agreed, “we’ll take it slow.”
The rest of the day seemed to creep by for Gabrielle, but she was heartened when Xena approached her before dinner.
“There’s a hot spring not far from the edge of town, I was thinking we could visit it after supper,” she suggested. “Maybe have a nice long soak? Followed by a massage?”
“That sounds wonderful,” the bard agreed, eyes shining.
But it proved to be easier said than done. As Xena helped her mother clear off the table, she mentioned that she and Gabrielle were going to visit the spring.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Cyrene agreed. “Maybe we’ll join you.”
“You’ll join us?” her daughter echoed, somewhat hollowly.
“We?” Gabrielle asked, hiding her dismay.
“Yes,” Cyrene answered. “I saw Mykale in town today, and she mentioned she was coming over to visit this evening. She should be here any moment. She always works so hard helping Phalinos at the forge, I bet she’d love to bathe with us.”
“Yes, I bet she would,” Gabrielle agreed, her voice very even. As Cyrene left to get her things, she turned to her partner with a dangerous light in her green eyes. “Xena…”
The warrior held up her hands in supplication. “I had nothing to do with this, Gabrielle! I swear, I didn’t know she was coming. And we can’t really forbid my mother from coming along, much as I would like to,” she assured the bard in an undertone. “Unfortunately, it is a public bathing area.”
“No, I know,” Gabrielle agreed in frustration. “It’s just that this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“Believe me,” Xena said dryly, “this is nothing like what I had planned either.”
Mykale arrived at that moment, and enveloped Xena in a warm hug. To her credit, she hugged Gabrielle as well, though not quite so lingeringly. When Cyrene returned and informed her of their plans, Mykale’s face fell.
“I would love to go along,” she said. “But my moon cycle is upon me, and soaking in the spring is out, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Gabrielle sympathized, subduing her desire to celebrate.
Cyrene’s regret was more genuine. “That is too bad! Well, that’s okay, we won’t go either. I know we’d much rather visit with you.” She turned to Xena and Gabrielle. “We can go to the spring anytime, right?”
“Right,” her daughter agreed, her superb acting skills very much in evidence.
“We can sit in the tavern and talk instead. I’ll get some food and cider from the kitchen and….I know!” Cyrene announced excitedly. “We can play a game!”
“A game?” the three echoed in unison.
“We can play that game of Gabrielle’s, the one where you have to act things out. What do you call it, dear?”
“Uh, I don’t really have a name for it, Cyrene. I just call it, ‘Guess What I’m Doing?'”
“Hmm, we’ll have to help you think up a better one than that. Anyway, it’ll be fun, don’t you think?”
“A game where we act out what we’d like to be doing? Maybe you’re right, Cyrene. I like the sound of it already,” Mykale murmured, winking at the warrior across from her.
“That’s not exactly how it goes,” Gabrielle put in dryly.
Xena glanced at her mother quickly, but fortunately Cyrene remained unaware of the exchange. The look on Gabrielle’s face, however, assured her that the bard had certainly noticed.
“Why don’t you go into the tavern and sit down? I’ll get us some food and drink,” Cyrene instructed.
“I’ll help you,” Gabrielle offered quickly, heading toward the kitchen. As she passed Xena, the bard whispered into her partner’s ear. “You tell her, or I WILL.”
“I was just about to do that,” the warrior assured her hastily.
As Gabrielle loaded a tray with some fruit, she caught the sound of Mykale’s “With GABRIELLE?” and Xena’s shushing noises, coming from the tavern. That ought to take care of things, she thought with satisfaction. Coming back into the room, she could see that Mykale’s expression was a combination of surprise and amusement. When she met Gabrielle’s eyes the gaze turned faintly apologetic, and she gave a slight shrug of her shoulders, as if to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
Gabrielle smiled at them both reassuringly, and Xena breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like things would go smoothly after all.
“Poseidon attacking Athens!”
“It’s Ares fighting Diomedes!”
Cyrene shook her head at their guesses, puffing out her chest and pantomiming once more a chopping motion with her arms.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and Mykale in disbelief. “Are you kidding? It’s obviously Hercules’ Eighth Labor, where he frees the mares in Tirida!”
“That’s it!” Cyrene cried delightedly. “Finally! I thought you’d never guess it.”
Mykale frowned. “You mean that running you were doing wasn’t Ares fleeing back to Mt. Olympus?”
Xena cackled and elbowed her in the ribs. “Fleeing? Even I could see she chasing something rather than running away from it!”
Mykale elbowed her back derisively. “Hah, at least I got the Diomedes part right! You obviously got horses mixed up with waves!”
Xena looked disgusted. “That looked nothing like Hercules, Mother! Your gestures were much too god-like to be a mortal man.”
“But Hercules is part god,” Gabrielle pointed out reasonably, earning her an evil look from her partner. Thus began a very loud discussion, as each of the women argued her own point of view. Timon, passing by the tavern on his way up to his room, stuck his head in the door to see what the commotion was about. The sight that greeted him caused his eyes to widen.
“Er…is everything okay in here?” he asked tentatively.
Mykale’s face lighted up. “Timon! Perfect, you can help settle the argument!”
His look changed to one of alarm. “I’m not getting involved in any political discussions!” he said, starting to retreat.
That brought the welcome sound of laughter. “A wise man indeed,” Cyrene said, motioning him back into the room. “But join us anyway. You can play the game as well.”
“Play a game?” he asked doubtfully, but took a seat at the table.
“You may wish you had not given in to your curiosity,” Mykale teased him. Then a devious light appeared in her eye. “I know! What this game needs is more excitement. Now that there are five of us, we should act these things out in teams.”
“In teams?” Gabrielle repeated, puzzled.
“Yes, for instance, you and Xena could work together to act something out.”
Gabrielle’s face brightened at the thought. “Oh, I see. Okay, that might be fun!” She looked to the warrior for confirmation, but Xena’s eyes were narrowed as she looked at Mykale.
“What did you have in mind?” she asked suspiciously.
“We have to make this more challenging,” Mykale explained ingenuously. “So I’ll think up a scenario for you and Gabrielle to act out. And Cyrene and Timon have to guess what it is!”
“Oh, that sounds like fun!” Cyrene said with enthusiasm.
“I’m game,” Timon said agreeably, and Gabrielle groaned at his pun.
“Let’s try it, Xena,” the bard urged. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to playing it the old way.”
“Well, everyone else seems willing. What say you, warrior?” Mykale asked, with the tiniest hint of a challenge in her voice.
Xena’s instinct warned her against it, as she noted the dancing light in Mykale’s eyes. The girl was definitely up to something, and Xena suspected it was related to her earlier announcement. Though Mykale had been disappointed to hear of the warrior’s intentions regarding Gabrielle, her wishes for their happiness had been sincere. But Xena knew Mykale’s mischievous nature found the opportunities for teasing too hard to pass up.
“Very well,” the warrior agreed at last, unable to voice her suspicions but shooting Mykale a warning look. The girl ignored it as she beckoned the two of them closer.
“Okay,” she whispered, “you two get to act out the creation of Pandora. You’re Hephaestus,” she poked Xena’s abdomen with her finger, “and you’re Pandora.” She patted Gabrielle’s shoulder in friendly fashion. “I’ll help you out by playing Athena.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Xena whispered furiously.
Mykale’s expression was utterly innocent. “Why, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Yes, Xena, what’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked, puzzled.
The warrior opened her mouth to protest again, when Cyrene’s voice floated over to them. “Are we going to play, or not?”
Xena shrugged, giving in. “All right, whatever.”
Mykale clapped her hands in satisfaction. “Wonderful! Okay, we’re ready,” she called to their audience. She motioned for Gabrielle to lie down.
As the bard took her place on the floor, smoothing out her skirt self-consciously, a glimmer of uneasiness began to surface. She recalled now that Hephaestus had modeled Pandora from clay, and wondered if perhaps she had been too hasty in agreeing to this reenactment. But Xena was already limping in from the side in a fair imitation of the crippled smith god, so she had no choice but to play her part.
She closed her eyes to better portray the formless earth, but was very aware of the warrior kneeling over her. Then she felt Xena’s hands as they started at her head, running gently over her hair. Those hands continued down, barely touching her face, thumbs softly rubbing across her eyelids, fingers tweaking her nose and earlobes, as if forming her features from clay. She could not help smiling at Xena’s inventiveness, then felt those warm fingers tracing her upturned lips gently. A small shiver went through her.
“Uh, Zeus seducing Danae?” Timon asked, referring to the woman who was visited by the god in the form of a shower of gold, and who eventually bore Perseus.
“No, that’s not it,” Mykale put in gleefully.
Their comments reminded Gabrielle that they had an audience, and she tried to gain control over her thoughts. The warrior’s hands were now traveling down her neck, and then making kneading motions at her shoulders. They reached out to grasp her arms, and she could feel the warm strength in Xena’s fingers as they circled her limbs and squeezed gently. Past her elbows, down her forearms, massaging each finger out of clay in a way that Gabrielle found increasingly sensual. Then Xena’s hands started on her torso, and the bard could feel a sudden tension as she sensed the warrior’s palms over her breasts. Her eyes flew open, to encounter a gaze of such intense blue her breath was momentarily sucked away. Xena’s expression was unrevealing, but her eyes communicated that her imagination was taking the same path as Gabrielle’s. She continued down the bard’s abdomen, hands hovering just above the tensed flesh, a prickling awareness sparking back and forth between them. Gabrielle swallowed. Oh, this was definitely not a good idea.
“Is it, ‘Prometheus creating man’?” came Cyrene’s guess into the charged silence.
“No, not quite.” Mykale’s reply was slightly hoarse, and Gabrielle’s eyes flew to her face. The girl’s eyes were half-lidded, and her eyebrow quirked questioningly at the bard. Gabrielle could feel herself flush, and Mykale’s smile widened, as if she could sense the bard’s discomfiture.
As Xena’s hands moved down past her hips Gabrielle was able to release her breath in relief, but found herself suddenly biting back a moan as she felt them on the bare flesh of her upper thighs. The warrior continued leisurely down Gabrielle’s legs, pretending to mold them as she stroked, her own eyes narrowing as she fought to keep her breathing even. They both sighed inaudibly as the warrior finished her task and stood up.
“Very good, and now I must play my part,” Mykale said softly, ignoring the fact that there should’ve been no dialogue in the play they were enacting. She knelt at Gabrielle’s side, and the bard’s eyes widened as she realized “Athena’s” part was to breathe life into “Pandora.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw a small movement from Xena, as the warrior bit back her instinctual protest. Then she closed her eyes in nervousness as Mykale’s face came into view, the girl’s lips parting as she leaned down, preparing to press her mouth against the bard’s. Gabrielle felt the softest of breaths against her lips, and over the raging of blood in her ears dimly heard Timon’s triumphant cry.
“I know — it’s Hephaestus, Athena and Pandora!”
“You guessed it,” Xena agreed quickly, grabbing Mykale by the arm and pulling her upright so fast the younger woman nearly fell over. “Isn’t that right, Mykale?”
“He guessed it all right,” she agreed, breathing rather rapidly but meeting the warrior’s glare with an unrepentant grin.
Xena bent down to help Gabrielle to her feet. The bard struggled to regain her composure.
“Well, that was fun,” she said, smoothing back her hair and unable to meet anyone’s eyes. “What shall we do next?”
“Uh, it’s getting a little late for me, I should probably turn in,” Timon said, glancing from the grim set of Xena’s jaw, to Mykale’s smirk, to Gabrielle’s flustered expression. He was clearly confused by the interplay he could sense beneath the surface, but there was also something in his voice that made Gabrielle glance at him rather quickly. Sure enough, there was a slightly intrigued smile on his face, and she could feel the blood rising in her neck as he looked at her questioningly.
“Yes, perhaps we should all turn in,” Cyrene agreed, looking a bit uncomfortable as well.
“Oh, would you walk me home first?” Mykale asked, walking over to touch the minstrel’s arm entreatingly.
“Of course,” Timon agreed immediately, his eyes brightening as he took in the smile on her face. “Goodnight, everyone. Thank you for…an unusual game, Gabrielle.”
They watched in silence as Mykale and the minstrel left. “Just my luck, it’ll end up in a song,” Xena muttered under her breath.
Gabrielle thought it best to pretend she hadn’t heard.
The warrior woke up at her usual early hour and snuck into Gabrielle’s room to greet her the next morning. The green eyes lit up as soon as they realized who they were focusing on, and the bard found herself giggling at Xena’s expression.
“Well, that was a very interesting evening,” the warrior said dryly, settling on the edge of Gabrielle’s bed.
“Very,” the bard agreed demurely. “Your friend Mykale is incorrigible.”
“I’d like to wring her neck sometimes,” Xena grumbled.
Gabrielle struggled to sit up. “This is the first time we’ve had alone together since we agreed to be more than friends,” she said with a sigh.
“I know,” the warrior said with regret, enveloping her in a comforting hug. “I’m sorry that things aren’t going as smoothly as I would like, Gabrielle. But we can visit the spring tonight instead. This time we’ll just leave, and we won’t tell anyone where we’re going. Why don’t you get dressed, and we can discuss it over breakfast.”
“All right,” the bard agreed, returning the warrior’s hug gratefully. She hopped out of bed and they chatted as Gabrielle washed briefly from a pitcher of water on the nightstand. But as the bard began dressing, she sensed a sudden change in the atmosphere. She turned to look questioningly at her partner, her easy conversation trailing into silence as she noticed the expression on Xena’s face. There was a great deal of affection there, but the blue eyes also held a fire that Gabrielle had never before seen directed at her. She realized suddenly that her top was still undone, and Xena’s open appreciation of her body was a part of this new relationship that they had decided to explore.
“Oh…” The gasp left Gabrielle’s lips, as she felt her nipples tighten almost painfully with sudden awareness. It was the desire she had hoped to see one day on the warrior’s face, but it made her feel shy.
“I’m sorry.” Xena was suddenly before her, apologizing in a husky voice even as her long fingers reached to do up the laces of the bard’s top. “I didn’t mean to scare you, little one.”
Gabrielle glanced up. The blue eyes shining into hers were back to their usual warm and reassuring expression, and the hands tying her laces were nearly impersonal in their actions. She could almost believe she had imagined the passion seen earlier, except for her body’s still quivering response.
“You didn’t scare me…I think I scared me,” she admitted.
Xena reached up to grasp her chin, and looked searchingly into her eyes. Gabrielle let the love and trust she felt shine freely through, and her partner’s face relaxed into a smile.
“You make me very happy, you know that?” the warrior murmured.
“Ditto,” Gabrielle assured her. As she watched, that incredibly blue gaze warmed, regaining some of its fire as it traveled over her face. She licked lips grown suddenly dry, and watched as those eyes fastened on the tip of her tongue, then slowly traced the outline of her mouth. The intensity of that gaze grew molten, and Xena’s fingers released her chin to stroke slowly back through her hair, gently clasping the nape of her neck. The realization came to her that she was about to be kissed, and with it, an immediate increase in her heart rate. Xena’s head lowered toward her, blocking out the bright morning sun.
Gabrielle leaned forward instinctively, but Xena took her time. She knew Gabrielle had no previous experience with women, and she didn’t want the bard to regret any moment of it. So she moved closer inch by inch, giving her love every opportunity to back away. But Gabrielle’s eyes were already closed. She was feeling the warrior’s warm fingers at the back of her neck, the other hand steady around her waist. She was breathing in the scent that was uniquely Xena’s — the smell of the soap that she used on her leathers, the sunshine freshness of her silky hair, the tang of mint that she frequently chewed upon waking. Oh, please kiss me already! she thought, and gave a small sigh at the excruciating anticipation of it.
And then the warrior’s lips were against hers — incredibly soft, warm, and gentle. They left briefly to press against cheek, her chin, the tip of her nose. Then they were back, nibbling coaxingly at the fullness of her mouth, rubbing softness against softness until all of the nerve endings in her lips were tingling.
Xena patience was rewarded, as she felt the bard’s mouth relax and press against hers eagerly. She allowed the tip of her tongue out teasingly, and was gratified when the younger woman’s lips parted immediately in response. The kiss they shared was long, sweet, and thoroughly satisfying. When Gabrielle finally drew away, she felt as if her bones had been filled with warm jelly.
“Shall we go down to breakfast?” Xena suggested with a smile. “One hunger at a time, hmm?”
Speechless, the bard could only nod.
The day turned rainy, and Gabrielle spent much of it indoors. She tried to work on her scrolls, but would frequently find herself stopping to daydream. The kiss she and Xena had shared that morning was everything she had hoped it to be, an intimate promise of things to come.
For her part, the warrior busied herself with chores around the inn, tackling a couple of loose boards on the stairway which her mother had complained about. At midday she stopped to take a break, and through the doorway caught sight of her partner, who was sitting at a table near the bar. There was a look of concentration on Gabrielle’s face, her lips moving as she worked out a particular phrase in her mind. Then her brow cleared and she quickly jotted it down with her quill, an air of satisfaction coming over her when she was done. The familiarity of it tugged at the warrior’s heart, and a smile crept over her face at the sight.
The bard paused at that moment herself, letting the pleasant thoughts overtake her. She raised her eyes to meet the azure blue gaze of the very person inspiring those heat-generating thoughts. Xena quirked a brow at her, then dropped an eyelid in a playful wink. Gabrielle smiled, and to the warrior’s delight returned a wink that was definitely flirtatious.
Xena’s smile took on a wicked edge. She put down her hammer and headed toward the tavern with a purposeful air, enjoying the sudden widening of Gabrielle’s eyes as the bard wondered what her partner’s intent might be. Surely she wouldn’t do anything in a public place? Fortunately (or unfortunately, Gabrielle could not decide which), she was spared that knowledge by the appearance of Cyrene, who intercepted her daughter’s path into the tavern. She touched Xena’s arm in entreaty.
“I have a favor to ask of you,” she said with some hesitation. “Actually, it’s a favor of Gabrielle, but since she’s your friend, I wanted to know what you think.”
“A favor of Gabrielle? What kind of favor?” Xena frowned.
“Well, do you remember Soranus and Enyo?”
“Soranus is Toris’s friend, and Enyo’s his girlfriend, right?”
“Well, she’s his wife now. Actually, they got married right after you left Amphipolis, and they’ve been very happy together for several years now.”
“I’m glad for them,” she said somewhat impatiently. “But what does this have to do with Gabrielle?”
“Well, you see, they have six children…”
“Six! They’ve been busy, haven’t they?” Xena asked dryly.
“Yes, they’ve been very blessed. Enyo’s father Hylas can hardly contain himself. He’s forever boasting about his grandchildren, but I always point out how busy you and Toris are doing heroic deeds. Why, Enyo has nothing else to do all day but pop them out like piglets, whereas you—”
“Mother,” Xena’s voice held an edge. “You still haven’t said how this involves Gabrielle.”
“How what involves Gabrielle?” the bard asked from over Cyrene’s shoulder. “Hi! Sorry to interrupt, but I heard my name mentioned.”
They both turned to her, Cyrene sending her daughter an apologetic glance. “Hi, Gabrielle. I’m sorry, but I wanted Xena’s opinion before I asked a favor of you. A couple that we know has a son who made his first year. They want to celebrate with the traditional party, but they happened to hear that a famous bard was staying at the tavern, and well…”
“Mother, tell me you didn’t.”
“I didn’t promise anything, Xena! I just said I would ask if she were available—”
“You want me to tell some stories? Sure, I’d be happy to do it,” Gabrielle interrupted them cheerfully. “Although I’m hardly famous!”
“You’re very talented, Gabrielle, they’d be lucky to have you,” Xena said flatly. “But hold on. I don’t think my mother has told us everything, have you, Mom?”
Cyrene turned to Gabrielle with a tentative smile. “Well, you see, there will be a lot of children there…you may have to tell some of your stories to them as well.”
“No ‘may’ about it,” Xena contradicted her. “You’re probably being asked specifically to entertain those kids, Gabrielle.”
“That’s no problem, I like children,” Gabrielle assured her. “And I do have some stories suitable for them. When is this party?”
“Well, it’s this evening. But it’ll be right in the tavern downstairs.”
“This evening? Oh…” Gabrielle’s eyes sought Xena’s.
“Oh, did you have other plans? That’s okay. I told Hylas that he could hardly expect to hire a bard on such late notice,” Cyrene said, trying to hide her disappointment.
“No, I can do it. Xena and I were going to…uh…practice some wrestling techniques, but we can always do that another time.”
Cyrene brightened immediately. “Really? That’s wonderful, then! You girls ought to slow down on that physical training anyway. Too much of that stirs the blood up, you know.”
“Is that right?” Gabrielle asked faintly, fighting her rising color.
“Gabrielle, could I have a word with you?” Xena asked.
They stepped into the tavern, and the bard turned to her partner. “I’m sorry, Xena, I know we had plans this evening. But it means so much to your mother—”
The warrior held up her hand. “Gabrielle, I think it’s very generous of you to want to help out my mother, but you don’t owe her anything. It’s this stupid game of one-upmanship she has going with Hylas, and just because she has no grandchildren to boast of…”
“So she doesn’t know about Solon?”
“No, and she’s not going to!”
“All right, all right, don’t worry. I wasn’t going to say anything. But what would it hurt to do this little thing for her? We can meet later tonight after I come back, can’t we?”
Xena sighed. “Of course we can. That’s not the problem. I’m not sure you know what you’re getting yourself into here. I have a feeling there are going to be a LOT of children at that party, Gabrielle. Soranus and Enyo have six of their own, and that’s not counting their guests…”
Gabrielle patted her arm reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Xena. I’ll have them spellbound with my story-telling, and before they know it, the party will be over. I’m sure with all the kids there they won’t want it to go on till too late. You can even join us, if you want.”
“Me?” Xena pretended to shudder. “No thanks, I think I’ll go do something quieter…like take on Poseidon or tackle a giant.”
“Coward!” Gabrielle laughed. But she agreed to come up to Xena’s room after the party ended, so they could sneak off to the hot spring.
It was not long after sundown when Xena heard a knock at her door. Sounds of a rousing party, complete with the squeals of over-excited children, had been drifting up from the tavern below. But she had wisely kept her door shut, and worked on mending her leathers by the light of the fire. When she opened the door, she was shocked at the sight that greeted her.
She had been with Gabrielle through countless battles. She had pulled her from lakes and pits and swamps. She had watched her best friend turned into a Bacchae. She had even rescued her from Hades’ grasp. But she had never seen her looking so utterly exhausted, and with such a pitiful expression on her face, as she did then, leaning against the frame of Xena’s doorway.
“Gabrielle! Are you okay?” She reached for her drooping friend, leading her over to the bed to sit down.
“Xena, would you do me a favor? If I ever suggest doing something like that again, would you please knock me senseless?”
“What happened? Was it the children?”
The bard groaned and fell over on her side. Her voice was muffled by the bedclothes. “There were a DOZEN of them, Xena! Twelve children at the party, and most of them were under 5 years old!”
“Well, I did warn you—”
Gabrielle held up her hand and struggled to sit up. “Please…that’s not exactly comforting right now.”
“You’re right,” the warrior agreed, sitting next to her on the bed. “I’m sorry. So tell me what happened. Didn’t they like your stories?”
“Oh, they loved my stories,” Gabrielle assured her. “Couldn’t get enough. In fact, I had to repeat the one about the centaur FOUR times, they loved it so much. I was halfway through the third telling when Hylas suggested I take them outside, because the adults had probably enjoyed it sufficiently the first two times. So I took them into the yard and sat on a stool, while I had them sit around me on the grass.”
“That explains the flowers in your hair,” Xena murmured, removing a couple of daisies, as well as weeds and pieces of grass. “But…what’s this sticky stuff?”
“Honey,” Gabrielle said mournfully.
“Very funny. Soranus had the bright idea of giving the children figs dipped in honey as treats. When they wanted to weave flowers into my hair as I told my stories, I didn’t think there was any harm to it. I didn’t realize they might decide to weave anything they were holding into my hair as well!”
“Ugh,” Xena grimaced sympathetically. “Well, don’t worry, it’ll wash out easily enough. But you’re right, giving kids something that sticky is not exactly a good idea.”
“Not only that, do you realize how much energy a dozen children have?”
“A lot,” the warrior agreed.
“Well, can you imagine how much energy a dozen children who have stuffed themselves with honeyed figs have?!” She fell over again onto her side.
“My poor bard,” she said soothingly. “Never mind. We’ll put off the hot spring for another time, okay?”
Gabrielle cracked open one eye and looked at the warrior gratefully. “Could we? I’m afraid if we went tonight I would fall asleep on you,” she admitted.
“Of course, there’s no rush. Let me help you wash out your hair and get you into bed…Gabrielle, what happened to your skirt?”
“Satyros,” she croaked.
“Satyros. An aptly named little two-year-old with a head full of curls and big brown eyes that would melt stone. I turned around and caught him letting one of the goats chew on his tunic! By the time I stopped him, he was standing there with a hole the size of my fist in the middle of his tunic, his little belly button showing through. He giggled and said he was trying to feed ‘the big doggie.’ I couldn’t help laughing until he mentioned it was ‘just like mine.'”
“Yup. He had been feeding the back of my skirt to the goat. Luckily, she didn’t eat enough to compromise my reputation. Although when I went back in some farmer did make a joke about not realizing I was ‘that kind of bard’ and wondering when I’d get to the ‘bedtime stories.'” She sighed and let her eyelids win their battle to drift shut.
“Poor Gabrielle,” said Xena, reaching out to brush back the silky russet-tinted hair, careful to avoid the sticky clump at the back. The desire to grin came over her, and she bit her lip as she imagined how the afternoon must’ve tested the patience of the sweet-natured woman before her.
“It’s okay, you can laugh,” Gabrielle said, without opening her eyes. The warrior glanced at her guiltily, and saw the bard’s lips twitch. She gave in to her laughter, and was joined immediately by the younger woman. When they caught their breath a few minutes later, Gabrielle was looking somewhat more energized.
“C’mon, I’ll take you to your room.” Xena lifted her easily in her arms and carried her to the next room.
“Whoa! That’s not necessary, Xena! I can walk,” she protested, a little breathless from the strength of the arms holding her.
“Not necessary, but pleasurable,” the warrior replied, nibbling an earlobe briefly before placing her carefully on her feet.
She had Gabrielle sit in a chair near the table, then gently washed her hair in a bowl of lemon-scented water. She dried the silky tresses carefully before helping her weary friend change into a sleeping shift. Then she changed the water and used a washcloth to wipe Gabrielle’s face, arms, and legs, ending with her feet.
“I know what you need,” she said, as the young woman stood before her, swaying slightly in her weariness. She disappeared down the hall and returned carrying a large rocking chair that had been in Cyrene’s room. She positioned it in front of the fire that her mother had thoughtfully started when the sun was setting.
“What’s that for?” Gabrielle asked, eyeing the chair uncertainly.
“For this,” Xena replied, lifting her once again, and sitting down in the chair. She arranged them both so that Gabrielle was in her lap, her head comfortably against the warrior’s left shoulder. As she started to rock, she felt the bard stiffen slightly. “Relax,” she murmured.
“This is…I’ve never…I’m not too heavy?” she asked hesitantly.
“Like a feather,” Xena assured. “Relax.” A humming started low in her throat.
Gabrielle’s head lifted slightly in surprise at the sudden vibration under her ear, then she lay back down with a sigh. “Wow, I never knew that muscles could be so comfortable,” she said softly. She felt the warrior’s smile against her forehead where Xena’s lips were pressed, but the humming continued without interruption. Xena’s protectiveness always made her feel safe, but this nurturing side was something of a surprise. She felt utterly relaxed in the arms that held her.
The bard turned and pressed her lips against the warrior’s collarbone, then buried her face against Xena’s neck. She breathed deeply, enjoying the smell of her, the feeling of warm silky skin against her face. They were both in sleeping shifts, and through the thin material Gabrielle could feel the shifting of Xena’s muscles as she rocked the chair. Then, surprisingly, she became aware of conflicting feelings within. One was a yearning for unconsciousness, to drift into drowsiness and then into sleep. After the day she had endured, it was very tempting. The other was a stirring in her belly, a tendril of desire hidden within the warm languorousness that enveloped her. It sprung from the well of love and trust she felt for the woman that held her, and she decided to follow where it led.
She shifted slightly in Xena’s lap, aware of the powerful thighs moving beneath her, of the growing heat building along her skin wherever it pressed against the woman that held her. A wave of sensuousness spread slowly throughout her body, awakening all of her nerve endings. She buried her face once again in the warrior’s neck, then gave in to the sudden yearning to taste the soft skin under her lips.
Feeling the lips and tongue against her throat, Xena stopped rocking abruptly. “Gabrielle?” she asked incredulously.
“Mmm?” The bard pushed aside the shift that was blocking her progress, impatient suddenly to explore further. She nibbled at the exposed shoulder, sinking her teeth in lightly, thrilled at the shudder that followed.
“You’re not sleepy anymore, are you?” the warrior asked, a huskiness to her voice.
“I’m not sleepy anymore,” she agreed, her attention caught by the warm abundance of Xena’s breasts beneath her linen shift, their hard points attesting to the fact that the bard wasn’t the only one becoming aroused. She placed her palm over one of those breasts, and was gratified at the groan which followed.
“Gabrielle, you’re driving me crazy.”
The warrior growled and took hold of Gabrielle’s wrists, stopping her exploration. “Good, huh? We’ll see about that.” She claimed the bard’s lips in a long kiss. Though her original intent had been one of providing comfort to the young woman, fully expecting to her to drift off, Xena was perfectly willing to follow her lead. They exchanged kisses and caresses till they were both breathing rather hard, and Gabrielle was squirming in the warrior’s lap. Xena could feel the heat being generated by the young woman, whose firm buttocks and thighs were pressing against her groin, generating an answering heat.
“Hmm?” She let her fingertips begin a lazy ascent up Gabrielle’s calf as she nuzzled the sensitive skin at the base of the bard’s neck.
“Xena?” Gabrielle asked again, with slightly more urgency.
In answer, the warrior claimed her mouth once more, continuing to run her right hand up the bard’s smooth, tanned legs. She paused to trace slow circles at the backs of her knees, and then a little further up, on the extra-soft skin of her inner thigh. Gabrielle’s arms tightened around Xena’s neck, and her thighs parted invitingly. At that, the warrior withdrew her hand, sliding it around the bard’s outer thigh and pulling the woman even closer against her.
This effectively pinned Gabrielle’s legs together, and suddenly the bard was overwhelmingly aware of the heat at her center, and the throbbing caused by increased pressure on the moist folds within. Unconsciously, her hips began to undulate, thighs pressing against each other in an effort to ease the ache that was building between them. She groaned her frustration and broke away from the kiss. “Oh, don’t stop,” she pleaded.
“Now, are you sure you wouldn’t rather sleep?” Xena asked, perfectly aware of the havoc she was creating. “After all, it’s been a long day for you.”
Gabrielle movements stilled as she sat up in disbelief. “Are you joking?” she asked, hoping she had misheard.
“We could continue this later, when you’re more rested,” the warrior suggested.
As the bard struggled for the words to express her need, she caught the teasing glint in Xena’s eye. She suppressed the urge to tear off her partner’s sleeping shift as the combined relief and arousal flooded through her. “You put me off once more, Warrior Princess, and I’ll have to find someone who will be more accommodating,” she threatened softly.
Xena’s eyebrow rose. “Oh? Like who?”
“Timon, for one,” Gabrielle replied provokingly. “Then there was this woman back in the Amazon village, she—”
The bard broke off as Xena stood suddenly and carried her over to the bed. The warrior deposited her bundle carefully and knelt on the floor beside her. “It’s a good thing I’m going to be too busy to go out and challenge them to a duel,” she growled.
“Busy?” Gabrielle teased. “What are you going to be doing?”
“Loving you till you can’t breathe.”
The bard’s swallow was audible in the silence. “Oh,” she said weakly. “That.”
Xena’s grin gleamed briefly in the low light, before she became very serious. “You are sure about this, little one?”
“Love me, please,” was Gabrielle’s soft reply. “I think we’ve both waited long enough.”
Carefully, the warrior drew off both their shifts, tossing them on the end of the bed. She lay down on her side next to Gabrielle, propping her head up on one arm to study the younger woman’s body by the light of the fire.
“You are very beautiful, Gabrielle,” she murmured, and began again the slow tracing of her fingertips over the satin skin.
“You are too,” the bard replied huskily, for once able to look her fill of Xena’s naked body. She started at the warrior’s legs, marveling at the length of calf and thigh. Even relaxed, the powerful muscles were evident. Her eyes followed the line over slim hips and the dark triangle at the juncture of her thighs, up the muscular abdomen and to the lovely breasts with their dark rosy nipples. Over the shoulders and up the smooth throat, past the full mouth and chiseled cheekbones, into the warm ocean of her eyes, their blue darkened to cobalt in her arousal.
Such a beautiful woman, Gabrielle marveled. Intelligent, strong, and caring…and she’s about to make love to me. The thought struck her powerfully, and she shivered.
“Are you cold?” Xena’s whisper broke in on her thoughts, and she shook her head.
“No, I just need to feel you next to me.”
At that, the warrior gathered her in her arms, and the sensation of warm, smooth flesh all along her body made Gabrielle slightly dizzy. She reached up blindly with her mouth, and they shared a kiss that was delectable in its sweetness. There was no longer any teasing as Xena lay on top of her, resting her weight on her elbows, spreading Gabrielle’s legs and settling between them. Xena’s mouth on hers was by turns tender and possessive, her strong fingers caressing Gabrielle’s shoulders and tracing lines along her jaw and neck. They kissed again for many long, long moments, and the feel of Xena’s body on hers caused the throbbing ache to begin again.
Then Xena began a slow descent to Gabrielle’s breasts, raining kisses all the way. She gave a murmur of satisfaction at the stiffness of the pink buds atop them, nuzzling each in turn and taking them into her mouth. The bard moaned her pleasure as Xena began gently sucking at the sensitive peaks, bathing them with her tongue and giving soft nips with the edge of her teeth. She was tempted to spend awhile appreciating the bounty with which the gods had gifted Gabrielle, but the warm scent of the bard’s arousal was drifting up, signaling her readiness.
Xena slipped further down Gabrielle’s abdomen, aware of a slight tensing as she moved to gently part the bard’s thighs.
“Gabrielle?” she whispered.
“Yes?” Her voice betrayed a hint of nervousness, as well as desire.
“Relax, little one. I’m going to love you with my mouth.” She stroked the silky red-gold triangle reassuringly with her hand, allowing her thumb to press softly against the bundle of nerves nestled at the top of the bard’s cleft.
Gabrielle gasped at the contraction that followed, her back arching as her desire focused suddenly in one spot. The warrior lowered her head to just above the bard’s sex, its netherlips swollen and pursed as if waiting for a kiss. Xena obliged, pressing her own lips against them, groaning at the floodgates of moisture which were released. She vaguely heard Gabrielle’s “oh gods,” before she became totally enthralled, the scent and feel of the of the bard’s heated flesh overwhelming her senses. She reveled in her task, using her lips and tongue languorously, laving the slippery folds with long, loving strokes.
After many minutes of such attention, Xena paused in her ministrations. Gabrielle’s hips had begun a subtle thrusting, and her swollen sex resembled the beautiful wild orchids that grew along the cliffsides, their beguiling fragrance and hungry open mouths luring bees to pollen. Xena slipped her tongue into the bard, her own sex throbbing at the sound of Gabrielle’s helpless moan.
“Oh, please, Xena,” came the bard’s plea, and the warrior knew she was very close. She moved her tongue to the sensitive nub at the top of Gabrielle’s slit, stroking steadily, quickening gradually, and penetrating her gently with one long finger. Moments later the bard reached her pinnacle, issuing a sobbing cry, her hands dropping to hold the warrior’s head as her body trembled and her sheath clasped Xena’s finger in a rhythmic embrace. Xena held her as the spasms subsided, crawling up to nuzzle her neck and murmur words of affection in her ear.
“I never knew,” Gabrielle whispered at last, “how beautiful…I never imagined….what a gift it could be. Thank you, Xena.” She choked on the last few words as a tear formed and trickled down her cheek.
The warrior was speechless. She strongly felt the bard’s vulnerability at that moment, and it stirred her protective urge, as well as a touch of fear. Nothing in her past had prepared her for this. She had felt lust during physical unions many times. She had experienced triumph, boredom, even, occasionally, love. But nothing like the overwhelming tenderness that flooded through her unexpectedly at the sight of Gabrielle’s tears. She hugged the bard tight to her chest, trying to swallow the sudden lump in her throat.
“Xena?” The bard stirred in her arms, pulling back to peer into her face when there was no answer.
“I’m here, Gabrielle.” She cleared her throat self-consciously. “I just need a moment.”
“Of course, I’m sorry.” She lay her head against Xena’s breast, listening to the strong beat of her heart. Her body was still tingling slightly in the aftermath of such overwhelming physical pleasure, and the wave of sheer love that had accompanied it was a little daunting. The warrior’s silence now made her uncertain. “Xena, when you’re ready, I’d like to…um, pleasure you too.”
Xena heard the diffident tone and shook herself mentally. This was not the time to infect Gabrielle with her uncertainties. She rolled onto her back, grasping Gabrielle firmly by the hips and lifting the bard atop her. “Oh, I’m more than ready for you, my sweet.”
“Mmm,” Gabrielle wriggled against her in pleasure. “You feel so good, Xena. So soft and strong at the same time.”
“You feel pretty good yourself,” the warrior assured her.
“Now, I don’t have as much experience as you,” Gabrielle began.
“No?” Xena asked in mock surprise.
“So you’ll just have to let me know what you like,” she finished determinedly, ignoring the teasing.
“Kiss me, please?” the warrior asked.
Gabrielle complied, her fingers playing with the dark silky tresses that lay spread against the pillow. Xena’s hands stroked her up and down her back encouragingly, and the bard pulled back suddenly to gaze at the warrior with a gleam in her eye.
“I just realized…I don’t think I’ve ever had you at my mercy before.”
Xena’s eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to reply, but Gabrielle cut her off with a kiss. The bard’s hands moved to tangle in Xena’s hair, holding her head still as the kisses became more forceful. Her tongue explored passionately, then Gabrielle took the warrior’s lower lip between her teeth, giving it a gentle bite before pulling away. She was gratified at the groan that followed, and the way her buttocks were gripped in sudden passion.
She lifted herself slightly and slid slowly down the warrior’s body, allowing her breasts to caress the flesh beneath them, her nipples to brush over the dusky rose tips of Xena’s breasts on her way down. She watched in fascination as they immediately hardened and puckered.
“Ooo, you’re sensitive here, aren’t you?” she murmured in delight, but gave the warrior no time to answer before lowering her mouth over one quivering peak. She suckled gently, encouraged by the undulations of the body beneath her. After a few moments of suckling the other breast, Xena’s husky whisper drifted down to her.
“Touch me, Gabrielle.”
She lowered her hand to tangle in the dark curls between the warrior’s legs, gasping at the heat and wetness which greeted her. She slid her fingertips gently over the slick folds, loving the slipperiness and the way Xena pushed up against her hand. One finger inserted, and Gabrielle had to close her eyes at the sensation.
“Gods, Xena, you’re like…velvet,” she breathed.
“More, please.” Xena’s voice was urgent. Gabrielle introduced a second finger, then a third, using her thumb to lightly massage the knot of tissue at the top. She moved in and out slowly, glorying in the unbelievable warmth surrounding her, and the way Xena’s fingers gripped her shoulders in helpless abandon as she lingered between strokes. The warrior’s breathing grew ragged, and Gabrielle felt her own body responding. She was becoming aroused again, despite the magnitude of the climax she had experienced earlier. The area between her legs pulsed in tandem with the woman beneath her, as the warrior’s hips began bucking faster and faster. In her mind Gabrielle could picture the waves surging and cresting, an echo of the whirlpool that suckled at her fingers, and the blood pounding in her ears nearly drowned out the sound of Xena’s cry.
“Was it…okay?” They lay quietly, catching their breath after the lengthy lovemaking, and the bard winced to hear herself ask the age-old question.
Xena’s smile was tender. “My love, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had.”
“Oh,” Gabrielle felt the tears start in her eyes again. She tried to stifle it, but a small sob tore from her throat.
“Gabrielle! What is it?” The warrior looked alarmed.
“You called me…’my love,'” she choked out.
“I did? Well, yes, I guess I did.” She cleared her throat. “Why not? It’s how I feel.”
“You’ve never said that to me before,” Gabrielle said softly.
Xena’s brows knit. “I’ve told you I loved you before,” she said.
“Not that way,” Gabrielle said. “Even when you agreed to sleep with me, that wasn’t something you mentioned.”
The warrior felt a twinge of conscience. “Gabrielle—”
“No, it’s okay.” The bard held up a hand. “I mean, I didn’t expect it. I know that you love me as a friend.”
Xena sighed. She brushed back a strand of hair from Gabrielle’s cheek as she searched for the right words.
“I think I was attracted to you from the start,” she began at last in a low voice. “I admired your courage…and your persistence,” she added, remembering how tempted she was at times to send the young Gabrielle back to Poteidaia, for her own good. She saw the bard’s cheek curve in a smile, obviously knowing what Xena was referring to. “But I was a very different person back then, Gabrielle. I had…lost touch… with my humanity. And even if I had been aware of my feelings, I doubt that I would’ve acted on them. You were too good a child to be hanging around with an ex-warlord, let alone involved with one. Even now I’m not so sure—”
“Now wait a minute, Xena—” Gabrielle interrupted, but the warrior placed a finger against her lips, a plea to let her finish. Gabrielle subsided back into silence, but kissed the fingertip in response.
“Anyway,” Xena continued after a bit, “over the years my love for you developed in a different way. You were my best friend, someone whom I could trust with my life. And that’s what you did, you know. You gave me back my life. You took something that was…dark…and damaged…and through faith and the goodness that is everything about you, you made it into something whole. Something better than it was.”
Gabrielle could keep silent no longer. “Xena, everything that you are now, was always a part of you. The strength, determination, and caring heart that keeps you fighting for good, was always inside you.”
“Maybe, but it took you to bring it out,” the warrior replied. “In any case, our friendship was my anchor, and I didn’t really let myself think about anything else.”
“You sure didn’t,” Gabrielle murmured jealously, thinking about Marcus, and Ulysses, and a few others.
Xena chuckled. “And you certainly never gave any sign that you thought of anything else either,” she pointed out. “I thought I’d have to go back to being a warlord when you married Perdicus.”
Though the tone was light, Gabrielle could hear the pain behind the warrior’s jest. She hugged Xena remorsefully.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “As much as I loved him, my heart was breaking at the thought of leaving you, too. I really loved our life together. I just thought—” she broke off, uncertain how to finish, not wanting to cause further pain.
“I know,” Xena said softly. “A peaceful life, a chance to settle down. A loving husband, eventually some children. It’s only natural. It’s a life I still want for you, Gabrielle.”
“My life is with you,” the bard replied firmly. “I don’t know what things would’ve been like with Perdicus, but it was obviously not meant to be. I have no regrets, Xena.”
“Well, we’ll see,” was the warrior’s reply, and Gabrielle knew this particular discussion was not over. However, she had no desire to continue talking about it now. The fire was starting to burn down and Gabrielle felt her eyelids growing very heavy. She snuggled into Xena’s shoulder and let herself drift off, a smile on her lips as she looked forward to dreams of the future. And maybe someday, was her last thought, we’ll get to visit that damn hot spring!