Disclaimer: Xena:Warrior Princess is a trademark of Renaissance Pictures. Story mine, main characters not. A little risquÈ.
© February 1997 Charmer
The tired innkeeper sighed loudly and stuck his fingers and thumbs into six empty ale mugs, lifting them expertly off the table. On seeing his blatant hint ignored yet again by the table's three occupants, he turned and marched back to his bar, letting the mugs thud noisily onto its pitted wooden surface. He scowled. Some people just didn't know when to quit.
Behind him the conversation continued unabated. If it could be called a conversation. Much of their chatter seemed to be composed of guffaws and giggling, and more than a few bawdy references which would have had the whole inn pricking up their ears to listen in - if anyone else had been left around to hear it. All the other patrons had drifted away, either to their own homes or to the common sleeping room upstairs. These three that were left had been sitting at their table for four hours all told, ordering one round of drinks after another. The innkeeper didn't mind the money, but he was well past ready to turn in himself. If it had been anyone else he would have sent them packing by now...
The big man with the prominent biceps was looking rather tousled. His fair hair fell over his eyes, and he leant back in his chair in a manner best described as expansive, booted feet stretched out under and beyond the confines of the small table. His large smile was a virtual permanent fixture by now, and he gestured widely with the hand that gripped a full mug of fresh ale.
'Not groans...' he was saying in a deep, slightly slurred voice, '...moans...'
'There's a difference?' the smaller man asked, with a grin that looked almost idiotic. His hair was shorter and blonder than his companion's but not much neater.
'Between groaning and moaning?'
The big man nodded sagely. 'Ah yes, my friend. A moan is more... languid.'
The woman seated between them giggled fiercely, her green eyes fixed on the mug in front of her. She hadn't been keeping up with the men's drinking, but relative to her small frame she'd probably consumed as much alcohol as they had.
The small blonde man turned to her. 'Is that right, d'you think? I mean...' His eyes unfocused briefly, then found her again. 'I dunno, sounds the same to me.'
'The same as who?' the big man interjected.
The small man frowned, then got his grin back. 'Um... no, the same as a groan...'
'What?' The woman looked quizzical and turned her red-blonde head to her right, instantly finding her face only a couple of inches from the idiotic grin.
The small man met her gaze, but only just. 'I mean, a groan's the same as a moan... isn't it?' He frowned again and took another drink.
The woman shook her head in an exaggerated manner and pointed to the big man on her left. 'No no, he's right. A moan is more... more...'
'Languid,' the big man repeated.
'Languid!' She turned round to him briefly, raising a finger. 'Good word!'
'You're welcome.' She faced the small man again. 'And definitely more intimate.'
The big man's smile spread slowly at this. 'Yeah, more intimate...'
'And,' the woman added purposefully, and now more sombrely, 'she... moans.'
The innkeeper rolled his eyes as yet another violent flurry of giggling erupted from the table in the corner. He turned away and started to wipe down the bar for the third time that night.
'You know,' the young woman announced suddenly, addressing the big man again, 'I've just noticed - when you giggle like that your voice goes up two octaves.'
The small man burst into fresh laughter while the big man glared at the redhead between them, his attempt to look offended failing utterly.
'I don't giggle.'
'Yes you do!' she insisted. 'Now she doesn't giggle like that. Oh no.' She shook her head seriously. 'Not macho enough for her.'
The big man's ineffective glare faded quickly. 'No, but she sure can moan...'
All three creased up again. The little table trembled between them as they struggled for self-control. The small man was the first to recover, clutching at the pendant that hung from his neck.
'But hey, talk about a control fixation...'
The woman gasped sharply. 'Oh, I know...' She shook her head, eyes suddenly wide. 'Whew!'
The big man chuckled deeper in his throat. 'Well, I kind of liked that...'
The faces of the other two cracked yet again. Their shaking, silent laughter threatened to spill ale over a table already sticky with the frothy liquid. The woman found it particularly difficult to steady the mug which she had just raised to her lips.
'Gods!' she eventually choked through the irony, 'I can't imagine why.'
The small man collapsed forward in response. He gripped the edge of the table with one hand and elbowed her in the ribs.
'Because it's not like us two could do much about it if we wanted!' he finished, his voice ascending at the end into a strangled squeak. His head fell forward onto the table and his shoulders quaked helplessly. The big man and the young woman fought for their own composure.
It took some time but all three eventually righted themselves and took a few more sips of ale to calm down. They stared vacantly into the empty space in front of them for a few moments, getting their breath back noisily. Eventually the woman wiped some glistening moisture from the corner of her eye and gave a wistful sigh.
'But it's the little things...' she resumed, her gaze hazy. 'You know, the little, subconscious things...'
'The way the corner of her mouth creeps up when she's trying not to smile...' The big man nodded with nostalgia.
'The sweet things...' the woman went on dreamily.
'The way her toes get so ticklish...' the small man said.
'The romantic things...' the woman continued with a sigh.
'The way she pouts when you tease her...' the big man observed.
The woman's eyes turned smoky all of a sudden and her pretty face acquired an expression of pure lust.
'And the way she moans...'
On hearing the repetition of that particular word the innkeeper dropped his head in his hands. By now he was sat on the far side of his empty bar, his elbows perched on a surface which hadn't seen this much polish in months. He closed his eyes and groaned to himself, resigned to waiting it out.
As the fits of hilarity began to subside yet again the woman put down her drink and raised her hands.
'Okay, okay, I got it - listen...' After a brief hesitation she let out a low, suggestive moan.
The men on either side of her corpsed helplessly.
'Wait, wait!' The small man shook his blonde head, still giggling. 'That was way too short!'
'And not deep enough,' the big man confirmed.
'All right, listen again...' The woman prepared herself once more. After a suitable dramatic pause she uttered another low, throaty moan - lengthy and unmistakably erotic. Once again it proved to be everyone's undoing.
'That's brilliant!' the small man howled. 'You've got her perfect! Just at that moment when-'
'When her toes curl under-' the big man bellowed.
'And she screws up her eyes real tight-' the small man wailed.
'And comes crashing down all over you!' the woman finally hooted, weeping with mirth.
The three drinkers were lost in helpless laughter for at least half a minute before they realised that they weren't alone in their corner. The big man noticed first when he tried to lift his head to drain his mug and found himself staring into a fourth pair of eyes, beautiful and icy blue. He gulped audibly on the dregs and shoved back his unruly hair self-consciously.
'Oh. Hello Xena.'
The small man and the woman stiffened and looked up, suddenly taking in the statuesque figure which had apparently materialised on the other side of the table. A magnificent warrior glared down at them, her dark hair thick about her shoulders, her expression unreadable except in its sobriety. Their giggling subsided rather quickly.
Xena glanced at the big man.
'Hello Hercules,' she acknowledged coldly. Her gaze flickered across to the small man. 'Iolaus,' she said quietly. Then her eyes came to rest on the young woman in the centre, narrowing almost imperceptibly. 'Gabrielle.'
The inn grew uncharacteristically quiet. Iolaus managed to return her greeting with his drunken, idiotic smile.
Gabrielle's jaw dropped a little. 'Oh, hi there Xena. Didn't hear you come in.'
Xena smiled faintly in response. There was more than a hint of danger about it.
'Still up, you three? I didn't expect you to be awake when I got back. What can you have found to talk about all this time?'
Hercules suddenly found something fascinating in the bottom of his mug and started a long, dedicated battle to remove it with his thumb. Iolaus' grin took on the texture of concrete. Gabrielle swallowed noticeably.
'Well, you know...' she began, flashing a nervous smile.
'Stories!' Iolaus found his voice quickly. 'Gabrielle's been telling us some really interesting stories...' He trailed off as the double meaning of his words dawned on him. Gabrielle turned to glare at him.
Iolaus winced under her annoyance and tried again. 'Well I mean, not just Gabrielle, we've all been talking, we've all got stories...'
His babbling ceased abruptly. Iolaus sank in his chair, looking like he was more than prepared to lay claim to the hole he was digging for them. Gabrielle closed her eyes.
Xena pursed her lips.
She glanced at Hercules again but the big man's gaze and thumb were still glued to the empty mug. She adjusted her stance and set her jaw.
'Well I'm sure you'll all be pleased to hear that the blacksmith's going to survive,' she snorted.
'Oh.' Gabrielle's eyes widened innocently. 'You patched him up okay?'
'He at least will live to see the morning.' Xena's look was as steely as her reply. Gabrielle discovered that she couldn't meet it. A few moments of verbal silence followed, during which Iolaus found himself tapping a rhythmless beat on the table with his fingers.
Xena turned to Hercules again.
'I had a word with the innkeeper earlier. There's a small room at the back which he's reserved for me and Gabrielle. You boys will have to make do with the common room upstairs.'
Hercules managed to look up. 'That'll do us just fine,' he agreed readily.
'Good. We'll be off early in the morning-'
'How early?' Gabrielle interrupted.
Xena ignored her and continued to address Hercules. 'So you'll have to wake up in time if you want to see us off.'
Hercules put down his mug and managed to look almost nonchalant.
'We'll be around to say goodbye,' he said with unusual bravado, then turned to Iolaus. 'Let's turn in.'
Iolaus nodded his rapid relief and both men stood up. Iolaus swayed a little and steadied himself against his chair before following in his friend's wake.
The men's boots sounded heavy and uneven as they disappeared up the wooden stairs.
Xena regarded Gabrielle coolly, waiting.
'I haven't finished my drink,' Gabrielle said weakly.
'You're not usually this thirsty.'
Gabrielle pushed the half empty mug away carefully and slid herself sideways, pausing briefly on the chair which Hercules had just vacated as she struggled to escape the confines of the corner table. A loose thread from her skirt caught on a splinter and several embarrassed moments followed as she tried to unhitch it. In the end she simply snapped the thread off.
Xena picked up one of the candles and put her hand on the young woman's arm to steady her as she stood up.
'I can walk, Xena.'
'Seems that's not all you're capable of.'
Gabrielle grimaced and headed for the back room, determined to keep to a straight line and avoiding the innkeeper's eyes like the plague.
Xena followed close behind, pausing at the bar.
'They still owe you anything?' she asked.
'Just for the last round,' the man said wearily.
Xena fished in a pouch at her waist with her free hand and put a couple of coins on the bar before disappearing through the rear door.
'Thanks,' the innkeeper said after her.
He was tired, but he barely managed to keep the amusement from cracking his features before she was gone.
* * *
Gabrielle stood with her back to the door, leaning against the solid wood. She watched as Xena removed her armour methodically on the other side of the small room. There was only just enough space for a pallet within the dark walls and nothing to put their gear on but the floor. The candle flickered forlornly on the dry earth in a corner.
Gabrielle licked her lips. 'Are you mad at me?'
Xena glanced in her direction. Her face seemed a little softer in the dim light.
'No.' She placed her scabbard carefully against the wall.
Gabrielle inhaled deeply. 'It's just that you look a bit... ruffled.'
Xena raised an eyebrow at her but said nothing. Gabrielle thought she caught the hint of a smirk tugging at the corner of Xena's mouth. At least she hoped she did.
'Okay,' Gabrielle admitted, rocking forward, 'maybe not ruffled. It's a bit hard to tell with you sometimes.'
This time Xena did smile at her. 'Don't panic, Gabrielle,' she drawled.
Gabrielle's face broke into a smile too and she edged closer. Xena's armour was stacked neatly now and the tall woman stood in her leather tunic, her presence dominating the small room. Gabrielle looked up into her fine features and her smile melted into a sheepish grin.
'We had a bit to drink...' she giggled.
Xena faced her and caught her waist suddenly, her eyes narrowing into Gabrielle's girlish expression. The young woman faltered slightly.
'Are you sure you're not angry?' she blinked up at the warrior.
Xena's jaw clenched tightly and the candlelit sapphire of her eyes burned into Gabrielle like two small furnaces.
'Angry?' she whispered. There was humour in that soft voice, but her tone had an edge to it. Something of a threat, or perhaps a promise...
Gabrielle trembled as she felt Xena's hands move to her wrists, grasp them securely and gently push her arms behind her back. The warrior used the movement to pull her in close, and Gabrielle found herself pressed helplessly against smooth leather-clad muscles.
'Let's see,' Xena said in a low voice, 'when Hercules and Iolaus surface tomorrow, I'll probably run them both through with my sword...' She looked suddenly hungry, 'But I think that fate's too good for you.'
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows. 'What do you mean?'
Xena's incredibly white teeth flashed in the candlelight. 'Too quick. Too painless.'
Xena stepped backwards against the pallet and sat down smoothly, pulling the smaller woman with her so that Gabrielle was forced to sit in her lap, her knees on the blanket astride Xena's thighs.
Gabrielle giggled uncertainly. 'Uh oh, you are angry...'
Xena shook her head. 'No no no,' she reassured quickly. Xena adjusted her grip behind Gabrielle's back so that both Gabrielle's wrists were clasped in one strong hand. 'How could I be angry after what you've just given me?'
Gabrielle squirmed in this new, delicious captivity.
'Given you?' Her grin was puzzled. 'Xena, what have I given you?'
A warm chuckle escaped Xena's throat, and with her now free hand she began to trace the outline of Gabrielle's breast beneath her shirt.
'Why, Gabrielle,' Xena's eyes glittered with teasing affection, 'just the excuse I need to torment you all night...'
End (as if)
This story is continued in "Turning Tables"
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