Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story iteslf are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the (c) copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent. Dec 22, 1997
THE BACK-UP PLAN
The sound of clanking faded slowly away, but instead of silence, Xena heard what she finally identified as teeth grinding together. Wiping away the smile that tugged at the corner of her mouth, she turned to the bard, eyebrow raised.
"What's the problem?" she asked innocently.
"Problem? What makes you think there's a problem," Gabrielle ground out. "I mean, why should there be? I just love having him hang his face an inch away from me, batting his eyes and cooing. It makes me feel all warm and cozy." She stalked towards her staff, lying on the ground by her bag.
Xena quelled a moment of panic. 'No way,' she told herself firmly. "Gabrielle, he doesn't mean any harm. It's just the way he is."
The bard whirled, and Xena stepped back a pace at the glare in her eyes. "Really? If he's so harmless, then why do you take off the minute we hear the sound of rattling metal? You stick around for a while and see how you like it!"
Xena considered that course of action for a split second, rejected it, and tried to placate her friend. After all, Joxer was gone. Until the next time, anyway. This crush thing could really get out of hand.
"I know he's kind of annoying, but he likes you, Gabrielle. It can get a bit tiresome, I'm sure, but..." she trailed off as Gabrielle stopped inches away and thrust her face up to Xena's.
"Annoying?" Gabrielle asked in a quiet voice. "Annoying, Xena? How would you like to be called 'Gabby' all the time? How would you like it if he treated *you* as if you'd taken one too many hits to the head? How would..." her voice rose in volume.
"All right, I get the picture." Xena stared into the green eyes. She was certainly getting a picture, but definitely not the one Gabrielle was talking about. "We'll just have to put up with it, that's all. He's not going to change, and he doesn't mean anything bad by calling you..." she paused to collect herself. She didn't dare laugh, this was obviously upsetting Gabrielle, although who knew why. Joxer wasn't all there, everybody could see it. "...Gabby. It's just a pet name."
Whoops, major miscalculation, the warrior thought as she was forced to retreat in the face of the bard's advance. A finger poked into her chest enforced virtually every word Gabrielle said.
"A *pet* name! You'd better not be suggesting that I'm any kind of pet, Xena! Believe me, you don't want to go there! And I hope you're not going to suggest that I be nice, because I've been nice, and trust me on this one, it hasn't worked!" Gabrielle's eyes were narrowed, and she was shouting again. Unfortunately, Xena had run out of room for further retreat, backed as she was against a tree.
"Gabrielle, really, this is unlike you. Nobody's asking you to marry him." Xena tried for a conciliatory tone, and failed miserably.
"Not yet," the bard said darkly. "Just *where* is it written that because he thinks he loves me, I'm supposed to automatically love him? This is really getting out of hand, Xena. How would you like it if I hung over you like that all the time?"
Xena smiled weakly. There were a number of responses she could make to that, but perhaps this wasn't the most fortuitous time. "Mmmm," she mumbled vaguely.
"Now, this is what I want you to do. The next time we see him, and there will be a next time, you'd better tell him to can it with the Gabby thing. I've told him, and he doesn't listen to me, he just gets that stupid smile on his face." The bard turned away after a final glare and poke.
"Fine," sighed Xena, glad the whole thing was over. "He just thinks it's endearing, I guess."
"Yeah? How would he like it if I called him Joxy all the time?" Gabrielle got a faraway look on her face, and her mouth curved into a smile that Xena could only catagorize as wicked. "Or I could call him...."
"I said I'd talk to him," the warrior said hastily. "It's just a name, but since you don't like it, I'll make sure he gets the point."
"Good." The bard looked thoughtfully at Xena, and grinned to herself. "I know you think I'm over-reacting, but I'm sick of it, Xe." She turned her attention to the bedrolls, missing Xena's double take, but knowing full well she was doing it.
Xena evaluated her options, picked up her saddle, and headed for Argo.
"Did you find him?" Gabrielle straightened from the bedroll she was laying out and rose to her feet as the warrior rode into their campsite.
Xena met her eyes and smiled brightly. Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, and she waited until Xena dismounted.
"Well?" The bard demanded.
"Nice to see you, too," Xena commented, and cravenly took refuge in a long drink from the waterskin. Gabrielle waited with forced patience.
"Just tell me, Xena."
The warrior led her over to the bedroll and tugged Gabrielle down to sit.
"I found him, and yes, I talked to him."
An uncomfortable silence followed.
"Did you tell him not to call me Gabby anymore? Not to hang over me like a Solstice gift anymore? Did you tell him what I would do to him? Did you explain that you were doing him a favor by telling him?" Gabrielle kept her tone even, despite the fact that she feared the worst.
Xena shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, I told him all that."
"And?" Gods, would Xena never get to the point?
"He cried, Gabrielle, he actually cried!" the warrior burst out. "Gods, I'd rather go into a battle stark naked than face that again! Everytime a tear hit his armour, it made this plinking sound. Gods," she groaned, rubbing a hand through disheveled hair. "People were staring at us, and one woman called me a heartless brute." She looked at the bard, blue eyes opened wide in a blatant plea for sympathy.
"But is he going to stop calling me that?" the bard asked remorselessly.
Xena dropped her head and looked down. The bard threw up her hands and scowled at the warrior.
"I know you think this is ridiculous, but I've had enough. Have you noticed how often he's turning up, lately? Every time he sees me, it's more bad poetry." The bard took a couple of deep breaths, and said in the tones she used when speaking to small children, "I've tried to explain things to him, but he just doesn't get it. That's why I asked you to do it. I thought he'd listen to you. But you failed."
Xena frowned. "I didn't exactly fail, Gabrielle, I just..."
"Failed," said the bard evenly, sweeping away Xena's protest. "So much for 'many skills'. Obviously, you didn't put too much effort into it." Her expression turned speculative. "You know what I think? I think you want Joxer around. I think you're finding this whole thing pretty funny, and I bet you'd get a real laugh out of it if he tried anything." Gabrielle gave a moment's thought to that, stifled a nasty word that Xena would no doubt be shocked to hear, and gazed at the stunned warrior with the suddenly beautific expression that Xena had learned to fear.
"Well, it doesn't really matter," Gabrielle said loftily, rising to her feet. "I have a back-up plan that'll take care of things once and for all." She bent to tug at the blanket that Xena was still sitting on. Xena collected her scattered thoughts and took the hint. She got off the blanket, and watched the calm-faced bard suspiciously.
"And that plan is?" prompted the warrior when nothing more was forthcoming. "You can't just go around killing people," she added, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
"I'm not going to kill him." Gabrielle said, and finished straightening the blanket. She headed towards Argo, the warrior trailing behind her.
Xena felt guilty. Gabrielle was right, she had been treating the whole thing pretty lightly, it just hadn't seemed like that big a deal. On the other hand, it had gone past annoying for the bard, and Xena had to admit, taking her own advice about patience was wearing pretty damn thin lately when it came to Joxer.
"Look, I'll talk to him again. I'm sorry, Gabrielle, it...."
"Don't bother, Xena. Like I said, I have a plan. Is he still in the village?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Xena said slowly. "Just what is your plan, anyway?"
Gabrielle smiled gently. "It's simple, really." The look on her face made Xena nervous.
"Yessss?" Xena encouraged. Gabrielle leaned against Argo.
"He isn't going to hang around, mooning over me, if he's certain he hasn't got a chance, right? He figures I'm unattached, and that's supposed to make me available for some reason. Well, suppose I'm not available? Pretty good, isn't it?" She gave the warrior a bright smile and turned to lift off the pack with the cookpot.
"Not available? What does that mean?" Xena asked uncertainly. Both eyebrows went up as the bard turned back to her with a pitying expression.
"He must have really rattled you," Gabrielle observed. "As in already taken, committed, hung up on someone, attached, in love. If Joxer believes that, I'm off the hook, and maybe he'll go find someone who's actually interested in him. All I have to do is prove it."
"That's the most ridiculous plan I've ever heard," Xena said incredulously.
"Really." said the bard icily. "And *you* did so well." She went towards the firepit, leaving the warrior staring after her.
Xena wasn't quite sure just how to handle this one. She'd had a hard enough time keeping herself from slugging Joxer whenever she'd seen him trying to peer down Gabrielle's top. She was pretty sure she'd have an even harder time not killing anyone else who did that, Gabrielle's idea or not.
"That's a bit cold, don't you think?" she asked, an edge of desperation in her voice. "Not to mention risky. All it's going to accomplish is getting Joxer killed. He's sure to do something stupid, like make a challenge."
Gabrielle snickered and looked up from the fire. "Oh, I don't think that's going to happen," she said lightly.
"Gabrielle, we're talking about Joxer!" the warrior cried out. "Of course he's going to challenge. He'll think his little Gabby has lost her mind or something, and he'll try and save you from making the biggest mistake of your life!" Xena found herself actually pacing.
"I don't think so, Xena, and would you please stop that? This'll work, trust me, ok?" The bard turned her attention to the now boiling water and reached for the dried meat.
"Just what am I supposed to be doing while you're being assaulted in some alley? Make sure Joxer's there to watch?" snapped the warrior.
Gabrielle smiled at Xena, her grin broadening at the frustrated look on the warrior's face. "I'm sure you can find someplace to assault me that's more comfortable than an alley, Xena."
The bard sat back on her heels and enjoyed Xena's expression. It wasn't very often that she got a chance to totally surprise the warrior, and she wanted to savour every second of it.
Xena stared at the bard, thinking of Ares. He must have hidden Gabrielle somewhere, and he was masquerading as her, because this was just too good to be true.
"Xena? Hellloooo in there," the bard waved a hand to draw Xena's attention.
"Gabrielle," the warrior swallowed, her throat feeling rather dry. "have you given any thought to this?"
The bard looked perplexed. "Of course. This is a sure thing, believe me. We've been travelling together for a couple of years, so it's not like you've suddenly popped out of nowhere. Second, half of Greece thinks we're lovers, and I'm sure Joxer's heard the stories, he just doesn't want to believe them. Third, no way will he challenge you. Fourth, who else could I possibly make this look real with, and fifth...this is partly your fault, so you can be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem." She looked at the warrior in satisfaction.
"My fault?" Xena asked. Somewhere there was a god laughing at her, she was sure of it.
"Yep." the bard gave the stew a stir and got up, dusting her hands off. "'Bloody Joxer' wanted to be your sidekick in the first place, after all."
Xena thought about possibilities for a moment or two. There were definitely a few pluses to be gained here, and she couldn't see any drawbacks, except that it was going to make things that much more difficult when Joxer finally got the hint and left.
She brought her mind back to their camp when the bard said her name. Gabrielle looked a bit uncertain, and the warrior lifted an eyebrow.
"You don't mind, do you? I don't really want to be passionately kissing some stranger and I thought since you'd probably...uh ...possibly had...um" the bard fumbled for the right word, hoping she wasn't blushing and sure that she was.
"Passionately kissing?" Xena asked, in a voice that sounded somewhat strangled to her own ears. She dropped to sit on the log by their fire. Torture, her life was torture.
"It has to look convincing," Gabrielle pointed out. Xena had a very odd expression on her face and the bard's heart sank. "It's all right, I'm sure there's someone in town who won't mind...."
"NO! No," Xena said hastily. "I'll do it, it wouldn't be safe to let some guy you don't even know kiss you, passionately or otherwise, just to get rid of Joxer." He'd enjoy it, and then I'd have to kill him, she added to herself.
The bard looked relieved. "Thanks, Xena, I really appreciate this." She patted the warrior's knee and got up to see to dinner.
"No problem," Xena muttered. While Gabrielle found the bowls, Xena tried to figure out just how she was going to passionately kiss the bard without actually passionately kissing her. Making it look convincing wasn't going to be a problem at all. She sent a worried look toward the bard, wondering how convincing Gabrielle was going to be.
She wasn't sure what she was more concerned about; Gabrielle not responding at all, or responding enthusiastically enough that Xena would forget herself. One of her favorite little fantasies started to play through her head, and she was taken off guard when the bard passed a bowl of stew under her nose.
Dinner was largely silent. Gabrielle was pre-occupied with her own thoughts, and Xena was trying hard not to think of anything. Everytime she looked at the bard, her eyes fixed on Gabrielle's lips, and the warrior started to imagine how soft they would feel against her own. She groaned to herself, and pushed some more stew around in her bowl.
"So, how are we going to do this?" asked the bard. She pushed the parchment aside, giving up on trying to concentrate on the story she was writing.
Xena looked up from her nightly sharpening ritual. "Well, I suppose we could just track him down, I'll pull you into my arms and kiss you senseless, and we'll hope he doesn't decide it's a group activity."
Gabrielle was glad she was sitting close to the fire. It's heat concealed the blush that sprang up from an image of Xena kissing her senseless.
"Pretty self-confident, aren't you?" she managed to ask. "You expect me to faint in your arms, or something?"
Xena had been enjoying an image of her own. "That would be good," she said. "He should get the hint, anyway." Hmmm, an unconscious bard, who could be carried in her arms out to Argo, a few extra stolen minutes to enjoy.
"And just how am I supposed to manage that?" Gabrielle asked. "I'm a bard, not an actor. Do I drape myself over your arm, or what? How do I know you won't be so overcome you'll drop me?"
Xena raised an elegant eyebrow. "Drop you? That's hardly likely. Draping yourself over my arm lends a certain artistic touch, don't you think? Better make it the left, you don't want to cut yourself on the chakram."
"Well, isn't that romantic," said the bard sarcastically. She gave the parchment a disgruntled look. Things were never this difficult in stories. Heroes swept the women of their dreams off their feet, passionate kisses were exchanged, heroines fainted, artistically or otherwise, into their heroes' arms, and everybody lived happily ever after. Except for the bards, who had to find a new way to say the same old thing over and over again, but that was part and parcel of the job description.
Xena looked nervously at the bard. Gods, now she wanted romance? This was going to be hard enough, and the only way she was going to stop herself from ravishing the bard on the spot was to at least attempt to keep it on a friends-help-each-other-out basis. The warrior's knees felt a bit shaky at the thought of actual romance.
"Sorry," the warrior looked apologetic. "How do you want to do this, then?" She brightened. Gabrielle was a bard, and a damn good one. She'd have an answer, she must have heard lots of stories about this sort of thing.
"I guess you should just...um...we should...embrace, and...kiss...each other."
"That's romantic?" asked Xena skeptically.
"Not really." The bard looked worried.
"What would you do if you were writing this as a story?" Xena asked. "Maybe that's how we should approach it." She hefted her sharpening stone.
"I'd let you kill him," Gabrielle replied absently. She got to her feet and paced back and forth in front of Xena. The warrior smiled at the familiar action. Gabrielle was back in bard mode.
"It's not just a kiss," Gabrielle thought out loud. "It's the whole package. You always stay pretty close to me anyway, so that's all right. Maybe a little nuzzle every now and then, and the odd hug. Then there's cuddling, and the looking deeply into each others' eyes thing." She turned to look expectantly at the warrior.
"Cuddling?" Xena asked bemusedly. "When is all this taking place, before or after I passionately kiss you?"
"I don't know! I'm not an expert at this, and I'm doing the best I can! If you don't cuddle, fine. We can forget that part." The bard glared.
"I can cuddle," said Xena defensively. "You might have a problem with nuzzling, though. You're kind of short."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "I guess that depends on what I'm nuzzling, doesn't it!" Her face flushed as she realized what she'd said, and Xena's eyes widened. There was a long moment where both of them stared fixedly at the fire.
Xena sighed and got up to hesitantly touch the bard on the shoulder.
"Sorry. I don't think you're short at all, you're just the right height."
Gabrielle turned and looked up at her. "I'm sorry, too. And I bet you're a great cuddler." They smiled at each other.
"I guess I'm a bit nervous," admitted the bard.
"You know, I think we're trying too hard. We're not storming a castle or anything," Xena replied reflectively.
"So we should just relax and go with the moment?" Gabrielle gave some thought to that. "You're right." She smiled up at bottomless blue eyes. "It's a few kisses, after all."
"Some hugs, a little cuddling," said Xena softly. She gazed down into the green eyes looking into hers.
"No reason to be nervous," offered the bard, very conscious of the fluttering in her stomach.
"None at all," agreed the warrior, wondering how much longer her knees were going to hold her up.
"'Cause we're friends, right?" the bard whispered, because Xena was certainly close enough to hear.
"Best friends," assured Xena, fascinated by the little pulse pounding in the bard's lips.
"So a kiss would just be..." Gabrielle wondered why she'd never noticed how long Xena's eyelashes were.
"Very friendly," the warrior's breath caught as the bard's lips parted ever so slightly.
Xena moved the tiny remaining distance to meet the bard, and lips brushed as gently as snowflakes on a windless day. Two small whimpers sounded over the crackle of the fire.
Gabrielle hoped Xena couldn't hear the way her heart was pounding, and the warrior was afraid her knees were about to betray her. Each hoping to distract the other, their lips touched again, lingering longer this time. When they pulled away slightly to stare into each others' eyes, Xena's heart was beating like a war drum, and the bard definitely needed some support.
Sliding her arms around the warrior's neck, Gabrielle found herself pressing against a particularly good area to nuzzle. Xena's arms reached around the bard's shoulders, a much better hugging position, in her opinion. Xena looked down as Gabrielle looked up, and both of them smiled at each other.
"Best friends kiss all the time," Gabrielle murmured, tightening her arms.
"But not like this," said Xena and bent to capture the bard's mouth for her own.
"Definitely not like that," agreed Gabrielle, trying to catch her breath.
"I don't think they nuzzle, either." Xena's voice was muffled against the bard's throat.
"Nuzzling was my idea." Gods, who'd have thought a tongue could be so soft.
"And it was a good one." Xena decided that Gabrielle's ear lobe might be as soft as her lips. Further comparison was called for.
"What was your idea?" the bard gasped out. She thought she might try some nuzzling herself. Probably Xena would enjoy it as much as she did.
"I don't think I...actually said." The warrior groaned out. Gabrielle was certainly giving new meaning to the word 'creativity'. The bard bit gently, and Xena's eyes widened. "Cuddling!"
"Mmmph?" Nuzzling was good, very good. Xena definitely enjoyed it as much as she did.
"Cuddling. Blan..." Gods, what was she doing? "...kets." Before the annoyed bard could protest the halt of an activity both of them seemed to be enjoying, Xena shifted and picked her up in her arms. Willing strength into trembling legs, she headed for their bedrolls. If she had to stand much longer, she'd be the one draped over Gabrielle's arm, and that would never do.
Gabrielle passed what little time there was by stroking the long dark hair that flowed over their shoulders. She was really developing an appreciation for Xena's tough warrior persona when she was gently settled on the bedroll. From the look in the warrior's eyes, there were other personas she was going to appreciate just as much.
Xena gratefully sank to her knees and laid the bard down as carefully as she could, and not a moment too soon. That look in Gabrielle's eyes had turned her insides to water. Lying on her side, she wrapped her arms around her bard, pulled her close, and let her senses fill with Gabrielle.
"What about Joxer?"
"Who?" Xena lifted her head briefly, the puzzled look on her face replaced by comprehension. "Now, Gabrielle?" she asked plaintively.
"What are we going to do about him?" the bard provided added encouragement by brushing little kisses all across the warrior's jaw and chin. She smiled as she felt the shudder run through Xena.
"I think we're already doing something about that. Passionate kisses, remember?" Xena was beginning to feel a bit desperate.
"Mmm. And cuddling." The warrior had the softest skin. And so much of it. Gabrielle hardly knew where to start. Xena didn't appear to care.
"After," Xena choked out. She cradled Gabrielle's face in her hands and proceeded to show a certain honey-haired bard, who was just the right height to fit perfectly against her, that she was definitely not in the best friend category.
Ambling through the woods could be dangerous if you weren't a skilled warrior, thought Joxer, avoiding a large root. He tripped over a smaller one, barely righting himself against a tree trunk, and wished it wasn't so dark. He could have sworn Gabby and Xena were out here somewhere, but where was their fire? It wasn't that late, he was hoping for a bit of dinner while he and Xena swopped war stories. He could see it now. Xena would ask his opinion, while Gabby looked on in admiration. Maybe she'd make a story or two about his exploits. That would be nice, and she could make some extra dinars. People always wanted to hear tales about mighty warriors.
Maybe she'd like to go for a walk. Woods were romantic, just not as much in the dark. He was sure that, given enough time, Gabby would come around. Girls loved heroes. They were so thrilled with a look or a kind word, some of them were quite overcome. He'd seen more than one turn and leave, they couldn't take it anymore. Gabby travelled with Xena, so it would take a little longer, but that was only to be expected. She was more used to adventure than most girls he knew.
He caught a small glow of fire light in the trees off to his left, so he headed that way, wondering what they might be having for dinner. He threaded his way through the trees, expecting Xena to jump out and yell boo in his ear any second.
Frowning slightly, Joxer thought about that. Xena always made a point of doing that sort of thing, no doubt to show him that she was alert to any threat to Gabby. So where was she? His eyebrows went up as he heard the sound of soft laughter, and moved a bit closer.
The fire looked to be almost out, and he squinted into the semi- darkness. Must have gone to bed early, he figured. If he looked closely, he could just make out the shapes on the far side of the fire, but there wasn't enough light to see clearly. There certainly wasn't any cooking pot on the fire, that much was plain.
Joxer sighed and headed back the way he'd come. Dinner was over, and they'd gone to bed. No point in hanging around. There was always tomorrow, though, and his pace picked up. Maybe he could talk the barmaid into a walk.
"I was right," the bard murmured. "You're a great cuddler." She snuggled into the warrior's shoulder and sighed happily.
Xena smiled up at the night sky, eyes closed and absently stroking the bard's back. "You're not so bad, yourself." Her smile broadened into a grin. "You have many skills."
The bard laughed. "I could say the same. In fact, I do." She turned her head, and looked up quizically. "Do you hear something out there?" She started to rise, only to be pulled back down by the long arms wrapped around her.
"It's just Joxer. He's leaving now." Xena said dismissively. She brushed her lips against the bard's forehead, and felt Gabrielle relax.
"Oh. He didn't see us...you know...did he?" Gabrielle was rapidly forgetting all about Joxer. Xena definitely had some skills the bard hadn't known about until earlier that evening.
"Nope. I thought you wanted him to know." Gabrielle's hair had an elusive scent that Xena couldn't quite pin down. It was having an odd effect on her, though, particularly her heart rate.
"Yeah, but not quite like that, if you see what I mean." Xena's skin was so soft, it begged to be touched and the bard wasn't one to deny a plea.
"Are you feeling relaxed, Gabrielle," Xena breathed into the bard's ear.
"A bit tense," Gabrielle whispered against the warrior's neck.
"Wanna cuddle?" teased Xena, biting gently on a soft ear lobe. She settled the bard in her arms, right where she wanted her.
"After," the bard said firmly.