SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII
House of Vettii - Pompeii
Gabrielle follwed the sound of Xena's footsteps as she hurried to catch up. She walked quickly along the edge of the garden following a path bathed in the shadows and light of the Pompeian moon. Coming upon the archway to the living quarters, she turned to enter, pausing a moment to listen for her partner.
The echoes of Xena's footfalls had ceased.
"Are you following me?" A low voice purred from an unexpected direction.
Gabrielle whirled around, gasping in surprise to find the warrior smiling at her from the shadow of a pillar.
"Xena!" the bard panted. "Don't do that!"
"Don't sneak up on me like that!"
Xena moved forward, out from the shadow and into the moonlight. "I wasn't sneaking up on you. I do believe it was YOU who was sneaking up on ME."
"I wasn't sneaking. I was just following."
Xena raised her brows. "Oh, well in that case, c'mon." She put her arm around her friend's shoulder.
"Where are we going?"
The warrior shrugged. "I dunno. For a walk through the garden ... if you want."
Gabrielle smiled up at her partner. "Good idea."
And they strolled along, following the garden's path.
"So, did you have a reason?" Xena asked, grinning at the path, the moon and her arm around the bard's shoulder.
"A reason for what?"
"For following me."
"Well, yeah. I wanted to talk to you." Gabrielle said, smiling at the moon, the garden and the warrior walking at her side.
Xena chuckled. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
Gabrielle shrugged. A walk in the moonlight through this beautiful atrium, with the scent of flowers ... and leather - what had she been so upset about?
The sound of Xena's soft laughter caused further distraction.
"Well, this is a first," the warrior teased. "A bard with nothing to say."
Gabrielle gave her a narrow look. "I have plenty to say. For example, exactly what are you up to?"
Xena replied with the most innocent of looks. "Why, whatever do you mean?"
"Don't give me that," Gabrielle retorted, salpping Xena in the stomach with the back of her hand. "You're up to something, I know it! C'mon, tell me what you did today!"
"You wanna know what I did today? Is that why you followed me?"
"No, that's not why I followed you ... Well, it's part of why I followed you ... Let's just say I have a few things on my mind and what you were up to today is one of them," Gabrielle said. The pangs of her earlier jealously were disappearing quickly as Xena's warm hand began to rub and squeeze her shoulder. "And distracting me is not going to make me forget the question."
Xena squinted up at the moon and smiled. It was not quite a half moon, but the night was clear and the full roundness was visible, the circle completed by a dark shadow.
"Oh, I didn't do much. I took your advice and went for a ride."
"No, on Vettii," Xena said, then noticed immediately that her partner was not finding that comment funny at all. She quickly added, "Of course on Argo."
"Where did you ... and Argo .. go?"
"For a ride in the woods."
"In the woods?" Gabrielle repeated and her mind filled with a different concern entirely. "Outside of the city?"
"Well, there aren't any woods inside of the city."
"You rode up on the mountain?"
"On Vesuvius?" For some reason the very thought of this filled the bard with terror.
Xena picked up on it immediately, "Does that make you nervous?"
The bard nodded. "A little."
Xena squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry. Nothing happened."
"Nothing? Did you hunt?"
"Nope. I kept an eye out, but didn't come across any game, really. Just went for a ride."
Gabrielle studied Xena's features carefully. She didn't know what she was searching for behind her partner's relaxed expression. After all, there was nothing unusual about going for a ride in the woods. Then why was her stomach fluttering?
"So, you didn't hunt. Just went for a ride?"
"Didn't come across anything unusual? Just trees and rocks and forrest type things?"
Xena laughed. "Yeah, just a ride through a beautiful forrest. What did you expect? Volcano monsters?"
"You never know with you," Gabrielle stated sincerely.
"True," Xena said with a chuckle. "To be honest, I don't know what I expected to find up there myself. I half thought I would discover an entrance to Hesphastus' foundry and find him bathed in fire and lava, forging weapons for the gods.”
"Thinking of stealing another chakram?" Gabrielle quipped.
"Why? Ya want one? I could go back ... " Xena said, pretending to turn away to head back to the mountain.
Gabrielle laughed aloud. "No thanks!" She grabbed onto the warrior's waist and pulled her back into place. "Besides, if I had a chakram, then I'd have to learn how to throw it. And why would I do want to do that, when I have you?"
"Oh, so you like to keep me around for my chakram-throwing skills, huh?"
"For that ... and for a few others."
Xena couldn't resist. "Well, ya know ... I have many ..."
Gabrielle reached around with her free hand and covered the warrior’s mouth. "Don't ruin the moment."
Xena peeled the bard's hand away and gave it a squeeze as she laughed.
For the second time that day, Gabrielle realized how much she had missed her partner's company.
"So, did you enjoy yourself on your ride?"
"Yeah, it felt great!" Xena confirmed, smiling down at her friend. "Vettii was right. The woods up there are beautiful. You would have loved it." She gave the bard's shoulder another gentle squeeze.
I doubt it, Gabrielle thought, but she was glad that Xena had enjoyed the ride. The tiny fluttering in her stomach slowly subsided and they turned a corner, passing through the shadow of a column. Xena made a strategic decision and turned them off the path, steering them into the heart of the garden.
They strolled along a gravel walkway between two meticulously groomed flower beds. Gabrielle let the sweet scent of night blooms fill her nostrils.
"Then what?" the bard asked, breaking the silence.
Xena took a moment to smell the flowers before responding. "Then what, what?"
"Then what did you do?"
Xena shrugged. "I took a bath."
"A bath?" Gabrielle looked up, frowning. Thoughts of Xena sharing a bath with Vettii filled her head.
"Yeah. I went to the Stabian Baths. It's a public bath for the uppity-ups here in Pompeii," Xena explained, picking a petal from a flower as they passed by. She sniffed it once and smiled at the aroma before handing it down to the bard. The gesture wiped any thoughts of Vettii out of the bard's mind.
"Too many people. I far prefer my baths private," Xena added, looking down at Gabrielle speculatively.
The bard recognized an offer when she heard one. "I could really go for a nice, hot, private bath right now. Do you think the Stabian Baths are open at this time of night?"
"I doubt it," Xena replied, stopping to stand by a trickling fountain. She turned to face Gabrielle. "But I happen to know where there is one," she said with a sly grin.
"Oh, really?" Gabrielle remarked, watching the moonlight dance in Xena's eyes.
"Yeah," Xena continued, gently wiping a stray strand of hair from the bard's cheek. "A nice, quiet, private bath. You interested?"
It was at times like this that Gabrielle lost all ability to speak. All of her bardly skills went flying to the moon as she stood there in the garden with Xena, praying to Artemis that all of her insecurities and doubts would finally be put to bed.
There were so many things she wanted to say.
"By the gods, I really need a bath, Xena," was what she said.
"So, do I," came the soft reply.
The warrior was so close, Gabrielle could feel the metal of Xena's breastplate as it lightly brushed against her. She could see so many emotions passing through Xena's mind right there in her eyes. How could she have ever had any doubt?
"Gabrielle?" Xena asked in a whisper.
The bard ran her hands up Xena's arms and over her shoulders, pulling her forward gently by the nape of her neck, to answer with a kiss.
"XENA?" Vettii's voice rang out in the darkness, completely disrupting the moment.
"XENA?" came the call again, this time much closer.
"Damn!" Xena cursed, backing away from the bard. "What do you think the penalty is for gutting a nobleman?"
Gabrielle snorted. "Nothing, if he's already dead." She wrapped her arms around her body and turned away from the warrior to face the fountain just as Vettii rounded the bend.
He spotted them.
"There you are," Vettii called, hurrying down the path as he lifted his robe to watch his footsteps. "I was hoping to catch you before you went to bed."
"You certainly did," the warrior commented wryly and crossed her arms.
Vettii looked up with uncertainty. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"No," Xena answered, slightly exasperated, "not anymore."
"Of course not," Vettii said to himself, shaking his head.
"Whadda ya want?" Xena asked, more than a bit perturbed.
Vettii smiled at the Warrior Princess. "Xena, I really need to talk with you about the Golden Ceres."
"It's none of my business."
"I know. It's just a silly festival to you, but it's very important to us. This entire situation could have far reaching consequences."
Xena shrugged. "It's a Pompeian tradition. I know nothing about it."
"I know. I know," Vettii said, imploringly. "But at the Forum tomorrow, Menander is going to accuse ME of stealing it. That is a serious accusation!"
"So," Xena said, "just tell them where you were today."
"I can't." Vettii cast his eyes to the ground. "Not without compromising a certain person's reputation."
Xena's eyes flashed in anger. "I am not going to lie for you and say you were with me ..."
"No. NO. No. That's not what I want. I wouldn't ask that of you," Vettii said, forcing a smile, secretly wishing that Xena had spent the afternoon with him. "I just want to talk with you, get some ideas on how to figure out what’s going on. If we can find the statue, then everything will be fine."
"And if you can't?"
"Then I have to come up with some kind of plan to prove my innocence."
Xena huffed and put her hands on her hips.
"Please, Xena, I'm begging you. An outsider's opinion on this would be invaluable. If anyone can help me, you can."
Xena turned to her partner, trusting the bard’s instincts above all others when it came to matters such as this one. Gabrielle had been listening to the entire conversation, even though she had been staring at the fountain.
She looked over her shoulder at Xena and shrugged. "He is asking for your help, Xena."
Xena huffed again.
Gabrielle walked over and touched her arm. "He's been very generous to us. I think you should help him, or at least put him on the right track."
"All right," Xena said, turning to face the man. "We'll talk. But make it quick, I have my own problems to take care of." She started to follow Vettii back along the path when she noticed that Gabrielle was not walking with them. "You're coming, right?" Xena asked, stopping to wait for the bard.
"No, I think I'll start that bath," Gabrielle replied, waving her along. "I'll keep the water warm," she added and smiled suggestively at her partner.
"I'll make it quick," the warrior promised and turned to follow Vettii back to the dining room.
"I'll be soaking in a nice, hot bath!" Gabrielle called after her.
She watched Xena nudge Vettii faster with a not so gentle shove to the back.
"Don't keep me waiting," she added with a sigh and looked up at the moon, imaging she could see it laughing at her.
Gabrielle tried. She really tried. The desire was there, and the resolve. She lowered herself into steamy waters and moaned at the touch of the heat on already highly aroused skin. All of her senses were tuned to a fine pitch in anticipation of her partner. She leaned back against the edge of the small marble pool, struck a sexy pose, closed her eyes and soaked in the heat, saving all her lascivious energy for Xena's arrival.
Hot water turned lukewarm and still she waited. She kept her eyes closed and maintained her sexy position, but her fingers began to tap on the cool marble edge.
When lukewarm water turned downright cold, Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked at her body. Her nipples were so hard, she could have tied a string from one to the other and shot an arrow. The bard sighed and lifted her shivering body out of the bath.
Taking a towel from a shelf, she wrapped it around herself and took one last look at the bathing facility. It was an intimate and romantic setting: a small, clean room decorated with frescoes of playful nymphs and nudes being chased by tiny, winged cupids. Sighing aloud, she reconciled herself to the fact she and Xena would have to take advantage of this cozy little hideaway in the rear of Vettii's villa on another night.
The moon was right to laugh. The hot bath had done nothing but soaked the urge right out of her. Now, after such a long day, all she felt was tired.
Gabrielle grabbed her clothes and walked back to her room to go to bed.
Gabrielle really tried. She really, really tried. She decided to resume the erotic position, this time on her bed, and await the arrival of her partner. Certainly, when Xena found the tub missing one bard and the water already cold, she would run - not walk - to the living quarters and join her here in bed.
But as the night hours passed and the air in the room grew chilly, the bard found it necessary to cover her deliciously naked body with a blanket. And when her head grew weary of leaning against the headboard, she snuggled down into the pillows.
It wasn't long before the one candle that Gabrielle had kept lit to provide the room with romantic ambience melted down into a puddle and the soft sounds of a bard snoring filled the quiet darkness.
Xena stood in the doorway and watched the slow rise and fall of Gabrielle's blanket-covered body. A half-smile graced the warrior's lips as she thought about removing her leathers and wrapping herself against and around soft, warm, sleepy bard skin - her favorite kind.
It was very late and she knew that waking Gabrielle now would only mean she would have to deal with a cranky bard in the morning. She sighed aloud, reconciling herself to the fact that she would be wrapping herself around Gabrielle another time.
Xena closed the door as quietly as she could and walked down the hall, back to her own room and to bed.
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