Disclaimers: Not much plot here, just a bit of fluff and wishful thinking on my part. Definitely subtext is maintext, but nothing explicit. Just a surprisingly talkative warrior and an insecure bard spending the night in an inn.
Xena stretched out on the bed and watched the ritual unfold across the room. Water basin on the left side of the table, hair comb on the right, reflecting glass in the center, linen towel on her lap now Gabrielle was ready. Left hand stirred the rose-infused water and then both hands splashed the cool liquid on the bards features. Two pats on each side of the face with the linen to dry it off. Then, while watching her reflection, twenty-three strokes to the left side of her hair, and then twenty-three to the right. Now, Gabrielle could come to bed. She blew out the candles, first left, then right, as Xena predicted, and then walked over the bed, smoothing out the fabric of her nightshirt from the waist down.
A wry look, "Why twenty-three?"
"What?" she asked, as she crawled into her usual spot against the warrior, settling her head down on a surprisingly comfortable shoulder. "Twenty-three what?"
"Twenty-three strokes to your hair." Xena said as she touched the red-gold strands against her shoulder.
"I dont know what youre talking about." For reasons even Gabrielle didnt fully understand, she felt unexpectedly shy.
Xena felt the hesitancy in her best friend, "Gabrielle?"
She didnt want to answer, just wanted to go to sleep. To make her point, she closed and then opened her eyes to regard her partner. "Huh?"
Xena snorted out a laugh, "Ares tail, nothing. Come on, you cant fool me."
"Im not fooling you." Why am I being this way? Gabrielle thought desperately.
"Okay " Xena decided to try another tack. "I like the rose water. It smells nice." To make her point, she leaned in and took a breath of Gabrielle. "I like these little amenities youve added to your routine." She watched and saw something change slightly in the green eyes she loved. Xena kissed the tip of her nose and tightened her arm around her.
"Do you?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Oh yes. I love everything about you, my bard."
Hmm we have a problem here. "Yeah," came the lazy reply, as if she were dropping the subject. She was deliberately silent for a few minutes, and only the sound of their matched breathing filled the room. Xena could still feel the tension in Gabrielle and felt her own frustration in banishing it. Come on, she told herself, you signed on for this if the worst thing that ever happens is she is sometimes emotional, you could never repay her for what she puts up with you. Resolved, Xena asked, "Do you have a lucky number?"
"Lucky number?" This really threw Gabrielle for a loop, she had no idea what Xena was talking about or why. "I dont know that Ive thought about it."
"Hmm I bet its twenty-three. Am I right?"
Why are you asking me this? To make fun of me? Gabrielles thoughts screamed. "I dont know," her voice was flat.
"Twenty-three, it is then."
Xena rolled on her side and propped her head up with her left hand. With her right hand, she stroked Gabrielles cheek tenderly, ignoring the flinch under her touch. "The top twenty-three reasons why I love you. Lets see, number one the smell of roses on your throat." Another deep breath and a pleased smile from the warrior.
"Two, the fact that you take time to make rose water to put on before you join me in bed." Gotcha, Xena thought at Gabrielles expression, didnt think I put two and two together, did you?
"Three, the fact that you choose to stay with me for no understandable reason.
"Four, the fact that you would argue that point with me until you were blue in the face. And have.
"Five, the look you have in your eyes whenever you look at me.
"Six, the way your stories touch a part of my heart that nothing else can.
"Seven, the sound of your voice anytime."
She really means to do twenty-three, Gabrielle realized, as Xena kept on, with no sign of hesitation. The knot in her stomach began to loosen.
"Eight, the way you say my name.
"Nine, your touch anywhere."
Ah, this is working, Xena realized when Gabrielle reached out and touched her chest, letting her hand rest lightly above Xenas heart.
"Ten, the way you see pictures in the stars when we sleep outside together.
"Eleven, the way your laughter spills over my heart and fills it up.
"Twelve, the fact that you can inspire an old war horse like me to sound a little like a poet when talking about you," said Xena with a self-deprecating grin.
"Thirteen, how your eyes change colors with your moods."
Gabrielle blinked and wondered what color they were now. What color is ashamed to be insecure? "Xena," she said softly, "I "
Xena placed a finger on the bards lips, "Not right now, love, Im on a roll. Lets see, where was I? Fourteen, how you cuddle up against me at night." Xena used the opportunity to move closer to the bard, so that only a hairbreadth separated them.
"Fifteen, the fact that I can always count on your honesty.
"Sixteen, your courage.
"Seventeen, because you would rather talk than fight.
"Eighteen, the curve of your neck just because." To make her point, she leaned over and nuzzled the hollow she enjoyed, leaving it with a kiss.
"Nineteen, your lips that must have once been touched by the nectar of the gods." Even in the remaining firelight, Xena could make out Gabrielles blush.
"Twenty, your eyes that see only the good. Even in me."
"Twenty-one, your smile.
"Twenty-two, your gentleness.
"Twenty-three, because you can tell me anything and it will never change how I feel about you."
"Wow," Gabrielle breathed. Her fingertips moved against the cotton over Xenas heart.
"Now, what is bothering you?" Xenas voice was low rumble, signaling her intensity to her partner.
Gabrielle shook her head, and the firelight highlighted the red in her hair giving the effect of sparks arcing across her features. "Nothing, Im just stupid."
"Hardly." Xenas fingers traced Gabrielles shape from her calf to her shoulder. Her blue eyes followed the path she was making with an easy confidence.
And Gabrielles heart clutched again. "How many other peoples habits have you memorized?" she blurted out, before her courage could fail her.
Xenas hand retracted immediately.
And the bard wished she had thought of a better way to ask her question. Even in the darkness, Gabrielle could see the wounded look which went from the blue eyes to the shoulders and beyond, directly to her heart.
"Xena, Im sorry," she whispered, grabbing at Xenas hand and pulling it against her.
Xenas hand, while on her, remained cool and formal. "No, its a fair question. Probably something we should have discussed a long time ago, actually."
"I dont want to talk about it."
Xena chuckled, although Gabrielle knew it was void of any merriment. "Yes, you do, my love, or you wouldnt have said it. You know me well. You know that I have used every available weapon I have to win. There were times when my body was my weapon. I have slept with many for the purposes of power and influence. Men, women, if they wanted me and I could get something in return so be it. No harm done, right? Or so I thought. Never noticed that each time took a little bit of my soul away. There were a few that I felt I loved. But that always meant that they did something for me that I needed. Marcus, Borias, Lao Ma.
"I never realized then that getting wasnt enough. That I had to give in order to be made whole. That type of logic struck me as absurd at first. It didnt make sense that someone could give themselves away and be the better for it. Then someone taught me that it could."
Gabrielle nodded, "Lao Ma."
"No she tried, but I never heard her. Theres only been one voice that has gotten through to me."
"You, Gabrielle. You. You have taught me by your example. Two years of chasing after me, never leaving me, though you had every reason to turn away. My silence didnt frighten you. My moods. My bloodlust. Nothing moved you. You stayed because you chose to stay. You loved, because you chose to love. You gave, because you chose to give. Not because I gave you any reason to."
"Thats not true, Xena." If one you knew all the things you have done for me. How I am no longer afraid of shadows because of you.
"Yes, it is, my bard. So, when I first realized this, I began to watch you more closely. I wanted to memorize every detail of you, so that you could become a part of my being, so that some of your light could come into my darkness. I notice everything about you. Everything." She paused deliberately, and finished in a quiet rumble, "And I couldnt tell you even one detail about anyone elses bedtime preparations."
A log popped in the fireplace and the resulting flare allowed Gabrielle to see the tears running down Xenas cheeks. And her heart reached out to the woman she thought would never speak more than a few words to her. And now I hold her deepest thoughts in my hands. "I love you, Xena, heart and soul." Carefully, she began to wipe away the warriors salty tears. "And forgive me, my love," she whispered.
"For what?" Xenas voice was thick with emotion.
"For being insecure with you. Because, you truly have done nothing to let me justify that emotion."
She shrugged, "I dont tell you enough of what you need to hear, I know."
It was Gabrielles turn to place her fingers on her partners lips. "Yes, you do. Maybe not with words, but with your eyes and with all the little things you do for me. Never once asking for thanks or comment. Im afraid though, love, that Im still very much a little girl from Potadeia. A girl who is so scared of never being anything to anyone that she gets jealous and insecure."
"Youre everything to me, Gabrielle. And youre not a little girl anymore." Xenas voice held a trace of lightness again, and the hopeful gleam in her eye was distinct to Gabrielle.
"No, thank the gods." She leaned in and kissed Xenas lips, thinking that the nectar was shared between the two of them as babies. "Now, my love, what is your lucky number?"
Xena grinned, grateful and relieved that this time had passed. I really thought I might blow it, that I would say something wrong. And yet I think were better than before. Giddy with relief, she rolled her eyes and then replied, "Two hundred forty-seven."
Gabrielle burst out laughing, relief surging through her as well. "Two hundred and forty-seven? Hmm. Good. Because I was planning on giving you a kiss for every one. So " her lips brushed Xenas jawline " one." Then moved to her chin. "Two." And then the hollow of her throat. "Three." She heard a contented sigh issue from Xena. This emboldened her, "Four," she whispered, as her lips covered the warriors.
Xenas strong arms folded around her and the kiss progressed to a mutual exploration. It was only when the need for air was great that they broke off. Gabrielle chuckled, "Five "
Before she could kiss her again, Xena leaned her head back and growled, "Enough with the counting, bard. Ill make sure you give them all."
A light nip to her lower lip answered her, "Im relying on it."
And somehow, amid the laughter, their lips found each other again.
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