Warning : This story raises the subject of physical relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. If thats not your particular beverage, you have been warned.
Gabrielle walked in silence behind the horse. Her mind drifted trying to find something to focus on. Focus on anything except the one thing she wanted to think about. She looked up to the rider on the horse. Strong, leather clad back, long black hair, the sight stirred something within Gabrielle. The very something she didn't want to think about.
"You're quiet back there," said Xena, turning to look at the bard walking behind her.
Gabrielle smiled up at the warrior. "If I talk too much, you complain. If I don't talk, you complain. I'll never figure you." Gabrielle was adept at hiding her feelings and appearing casual under the warrior's gaze, sometimes she really was, the times when she wasn't thinking about it.
Xena gently brought Argo to a stop. "Want to ride for a bit?"
"No, it's okay," said Gabrielle, shaking her head and walking on. Now was not the time to be that close to the warrior, pressed against her back, arms around her waist. 'Damn,' she thought. 'I must stop thinking like that.'
"I'll walk then," said Xena, and jumped lightly from the saddle. She took the horse's reins and fell into step beside Gabrielle.
The bard immediately felt the heat of the warrior's presence by her side. It was a heat she enjoyed, yet at the same time she was slightly fearful. Fearful that she might react to the heat and drive Xena from her life.
She stole a sideways glance at the warrior and caught her breath. Xena looked magnificent in profile.
Xena heard the gasp and turned to the bard. Gabrielle's face was flushed, but other than that she appeared all right. She was going to say something, but Xena enjoyed the silences. It didn't last. Before long Gabrielle started recounting a story. Xena walked and semi-listened, hopefully appearing interested enough to the bard.
"...And the king ordered his army charge...."
Xena frowned. The story was turning out to be a bit more violent than most of the bard's stories.
"...Blood filled the river staining the riverbank red where the tainted water flowed..."
'Sounds all too familiar,' Xena thought. It took a moment to realise Gabrielle had finished the story.
"What do you think? Any good?" asked Gabrielle, touching the warrior's elbow to get her attention.
Xena was brought out of her reverie by the question. "Hmm, yeah. Not bad."
"Not bad? But, not good?"
"It's different from your usual stories. All that fighting and bloodshed."
"I thought I'd tell a story to suit my audience. After all you're a warrior."
Xena nodded in agreement, she couldn't fault the logic in that.
They had stopped to eat an early lunch at the insistence of Gabrielle's stomach. Xena thought the bard must have hollow legs, given the amount she could eat. They had found a pleasant, shaded spot next to a river, and were now resting, allowing their meal to settle.
Xena was sitting, arms resting lightly on her knees watching a couple of ducks swimming back and forth looking for food.
Gabrielle was lying down beside Xena, studying the back of the warrior's head. The feelings the bard had for the dark, ex-warlord had started out as simple hero worship, moved on to friendship, and had now developed into love. The first two parts were easy; she knew Xena could deal with them. But the third part was the tricky bit.
Patterns of light through the trees danced on the back of Xena's head. Gabrielle watched them almost hypnotised, then reached out and touched the dark tresses.
Xena turned at the contact to see Gabrielle yawning and stretching.
"Oh, sorry," the bard apologised. "Tired."
"It's all that walking you do. You can ride when we go."
Gabrielle was going to object, but a part of her stopped the words coming out. She merely nodded an affirmative.
"Speaking of which," said the warrior, patting Gabrielle's outstretched leg. "We better get going."
Gabrielle grabbed her staff and used it and Xena's arm to haul herself to her feet. She released Xena's arm long enough for the warrior to mount Argo and reached out to be helped up. She was always amazed at Xena's strength, it felt like she flew into the saddle.
She slipped an arm around the warrior's waist, resisting the urge to stroke the leather clad abdomen.
The afternoon went too quickly for Gabrielle, she didn't want the ride to end. She sighed, partly from disappointment and partly from stiffness, as Xena helped her down from Argo.
"Can you set up camp while I catch something for supper?" the warrior asked, holding on to Gabrielle's arm to support the bard.
"Sure," nodded Gabrielle. She watched as Xena slipped easily into hunter mode and started searching for tracks. Only when she was out of sight did the bard start gathering wood for a fire. As she set about building the camp her thoughts constantly turned to her friend.
'She is my friend,' Gabrielle thought with realisation. 'I've seen the way she acts around other people. There is a difference in the way she acts towards me. She's more relaxed. She was distant in the beginning, but now she's comfortable with me. She doesn't seem so afraid to touch me as she used to, though I'm sure she's not aware of it. If only-'
Her thoughts were cut off by the return of the warrior carrying a rabbit.
"Here let me," said Gabrielle, taking the rabbit to skin it.
Xena settled down to sharpen her sword and chakram while Gabrielle prepared their meal.
"Is something wrong?" asked Xena. "Every time I look up you're staring at me."
"No," said Gabrielle.
Xena frowned at the terse, slightly guilty sounding, reply and the flush that was spreading over her friends cheeks.
Gabrielle laughed nervously. "You must be looking at me all the time to notice I'm looking at you." The bard watched as Xena considered the reply and decided to pre-empt her. "I was wondering if you'd done something different to your hair. It seems....different." She cringed inwardly at the lame excuse.
"No," replied Xena, shaking her head in puzzlement and returning to her task.
They ate in silence. Or to be more precise, Xena ate in silence while Gabrielle picked at hers.
"Something wrong with it?" inquired the warrior, nodding at Gabrielle's plate.
"What? Oh!" Gabrielle started slightly at the question. She looked down at her plate as if seeing it for the first time. "It's fine," she said, and put a piece of meat into her mouth. "Just thinking."
"What sort of stuff?"
"You won't be interested."
Gabrielle reached out and touched Xena's arm. For a brief moment she felt the warrior tense as if she didn't want to be touched. The tension soon disappeared to be replaced by a smile.
She's doing it again. I glance down at the hand holding my arm. Gabrielle is talking to me. It is a habit that I've observed in the bard on numerous occasions. She will reach out and touch the person she's talking to, to make a physical bond to complement the verbal bond.
Why is she so tactile? Does she know she does it?
I smile at her.
In the time that Gabrielle has been following me I have noticed it's not just when she's talking to me that she likes to have physical contact. It's almost like an addiction with her. When she's happy, she grabs; when she's sad, she hugs; when she's scared, she holds. In quiet moments - the few quiet moments - she will suddenly reach out and touch me. A touch on the arm, the shoulder, the back. Sometimes it will be to get my attention, sometimes it appears to be no more than an accident.
I'm scared to ask her why she does it.
That's funny, me, Xena, the Warrior Princess, the Destroyer of Nations, scared of a bard.
Though what exactly am I scared of?
In all my adult life I've been in control of who I've allowed to get close to me, physically and emotionally. A few have got quite close in the past, but none more so than Gabrielle; at least emotionally. I don't know if there will be a physical side to our relationship, I don't even know if she would want it. Gabrielle has got through my defences with ease, and all on her own.
There is a reason for this, I think. All the others knew the dangerous me. I could see it in their eyes, no matter how relaxed they or I were in each others company, it was always there. A hesitation in their affections for me, a hesitation that Gabrielle has never shown. The others didn't know if......when I was going to turn on them. They were right to be wary. How many still survive?
Gabrielle doesn't know the dangerous me. She may have caught glimpses of her, but I've managed to keep that part of me under control most of the time. Maybe that puts her more at risk? She's not prepared for it.
Yet we complement each other. Light and dark, protector and protected, tall and short, weak and strong. Though which of us is the stronger? This small bard from an obscure village has stood up to me without fear, where infamous, ruthless warlords have cowered in fear in front of me. And Im too scared to ask her a simple question.
Why is she here? Why is she with me? I need her, because she has everything I don't have; is everything Im not. What's in it for her?
"It makes you suffer and it makes you cry.....
It makes you humble and it makes you crawl
But it's all worthwhile
(They will continue to love you even if the rest of the world hates you)"
Hard As Love - Hogarth/Helmer
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