Violence: None at all.
Timeline: Right around the middle of season 5.
Sex: This story depicts an emotional love story between two women. If you don't like the idea of two women together, you probably shouldn't read this story. Just to clarify. The story has NO explicit sex scenes. It does contain a description of light/romantic touching, kissing- but no explicit sex.
Summary: On a cold winter's night, Xena is close to a breaking point regarding her romantic feelings towards Gabrielle. Clueless at first, Gabrielle slowly understands, then coaxes, Xena to let go of her fears and self-depreciation, and opens up to Gabrielle.
Angst: Xena's got some serious angst! She works it out. Don't worry. Seriously. No sweat. (some sweat)
“Snow in Crete,” a muffled cry of a joy was sounded from the city square. “Snow! Why, it hasn't snowed in years!”
Gabrielle listened intently to the bells ringing, the laughter of the children, the pace of the people walking in the street. She tried to close her eyes and focus on the sound of the actual snow falling to the ground. Xena had been teaching her to listen; Xena would have known. Xena made a bargain with a farm owner on the outskirts of the city for a place to stay for the night, a barn, that had room for either two people—or one horse. And, so, she tightened the fur around her, resting her chin and nose in it as the flurries of snow fell on her head. She'd never seen snow before. It wasn't as cold as she thought it would be. It disappeared as soon as it set on the ground. Gabrielle purchased a few extra blankets for a few extra dinars at the market, to Xena's dismay—she wanted to use the money for a saddle patch for Argo—but Gabrielle insisted. There is going to be a storm of snow in in Crete, she said, and Xena nodded at her, her half-smile marking this time indignation. Sore loser, Gabrielle muttered under her breath when the snow started falling. She tried to persuade Xena to find a different barn, or just a tavern, anything but to sleep outside in the snow. But, she only tried once. She knew better by now. There was no chance of making a fire, so she and Xena sat back to back in a clearing in the woods. Soon enough, she heard the familiar sound of Xena sharpening her sword. She'd never admit it, but the sound gave her chills, like nails on ungrained wood. It was Xena's meditation, as she understood it. Her scrolls would have gotten wet, and so she was left with nothing to do.
“Let's tell a story,” Gabrielle suggested. She turned her head slightly only to catch the end of Xena's eye roll, hear her breath, and her return to the sword.
“Very well,” Gabrielle coughed. “In a time of ancient Gods…warlords, and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She…was Xena. A mighty warrior princess forged in the heat of battle; of power; of passi—”
“That's tropey. You should change it,” she heard Xena's low voice. It was lower than usual because Xena had a bad cold, which she would never admit to, so Gabrielle snuck zinc essence into her food. It was like that always, and Gabrielle used to never give it a second thought, but the falling snow and her lack of assignments brought her to think about it again.
“Tropey?” Gabrielle chuckled. “Excuse me?”
“I wasn't forged in the heat of anything. I was ruined in it. And I ain't no hero. Don't put that in your story. Got it?”
Gabrielle fell silent. Xena had been acting differently for the past few days, and if she weren't who she is, Gabrielle would just think it had to do with the cold. But she is who she is, and she knew something was wrong. Xena taught her enough strategy to know that downright asking her if she were alright would be the best way to get her to withdraw. She gets like this around Solan's birthday, Gabrielle thought, but Solan was born on the night of the warmest evening of the year, when the wheat shone gold and the sun did, too. Gabrielle sighed. Her neck hurt. Her entire body hurt, actually. She leaned further back, putting more of her weight on Xena and resting her turned head on the fur, but the taller woman jerked suddenly, rising up, the monotone rhythm of her sharpened sword disappearing completely. Of course, she had no need for any blankets, so Gabrielle had them all. Wrapped up in a pile of them, she could hardly make out Xena's form in the dark.
“What's wrong?” Gabrielle got up swiftly, reaching for her staff. She didn't hear a sword draw from Xena, nor the chakram being taken from its place—Xena had been teaching her to listen—and the dark covered everything.
“Nothing,” She heard Xena say.
“Nothing, or nothing that I'm going to be involved in?”
She could hear Xena's breath. Her training had been successful. A few moments passed by as Xena stood, arms crossed, away from their makeshift bed.
There was still cheering in the streets even though the snow fall itself lasted about ten minutes, and Gabrielle didn't have to turn around to see Xena's sneer.
“Well,” Gabrielle said. “That's how it starts.”
Xena bit her lip. Gabrielle liked when she did that. She didn't know why, exactly, but she did. Whenever they were in battle or danger, she thought about it, it flashed through her mind. There were other things, too. She had hoped Xena would ask her to press a pressure point on her face because of her cold, but no such luck. Why was she looking forward to that? Xena had soft and smooth skin and she liked touching it. She was almost surprised by the thought, but then again, she wasn't at all.
“You should change it,” Xena retorted. “You're a good writer, but that's not how the story starts.”
“It's how my story starts,” Gabrielle answered. She was about to say something else, but Xena caught a swift breath, the remains of it hanging in the air around her mouth even as she walked away.
“I kept dry firewood by Argo,” she flatly said as she walked towards the barn. “There's a dry clearing here. The hides will keep us from getting w—it'll keep us dry.” She hastened her steps.
Gabrielle was about to say, you're welcome, but Xena was gone. Was her gait even longer recently? Her detachment even stronger? Gabrielle knew to trust her instincts. She'd learned that from Xena, as well, and Xena said she had better instincts than her own, best instincts that she had ever seen, and that she should listen to them completely. She thought of this afternoon—a storm in Crete? She didn't really think so, but she thought she might add it to a scroll, and it seemed a pretty title, Snow in Crete, and Gabrielle thought she might write a small vignette about two lovers in the sudden Crete storm, finding shelter together and in one another, and in her mind she cast herself as Xena as the leads, as she always did, and the thought suddenly scared her, too, and she straightened her shoulders. Something is odd, she thought. She closed her eyes and listened.
The barn wasn't very far away. Xena's leather made a squeaky voice when she moved. She concentrated as hard as she could, and felt her shoulders relax. She was listening for Argo, counting breaths like Xena taught her, but got lost in thought. Without the light bothering her fantasy, in her mind the snow is fierce and violent, whipping the faces of the two lovers who are holding hands against the storm. They desperately seek for shelter, and when none can be found, they stand in each other's embrace, pressing foreheads together, letting the burning cold wind pass in the temporary gaps between their mouths. In her mind's eye there was a height difference between them, and their lips looked familiar, and under the torn clothes, light blue and pink to match the freezing cold, it was her form and Xena's who were the lovers, and she felt her body shiver and a rush go to her cheeks as she inadvertently smiled, opening her eyes abruptly, without the countdown Xena had taught her.
This she was used to, already, but she felt it was a necessity. One cannot write a story without imagining its existence in the world—and who was in her world but Xena? The thought of the lovers in the snow stayed etched in her mind, lips nearing lips, and she thought again that she'd like to touch Xena's face—to help her with her cold—and maybe her lips.
The thought didn't frighten her. It wasn't new. She'd imagined stories more detailed than that with Xena and herself cast in the leading roles. Much more detailed. Sometimes the imagination of them was so clear, the vividness stopped her in her tracks, and she had to take a deep breath to keep moving. One time the breath was so sharp, that despite her protests, Xena rubbed a salve down her sternum that day to lighten her tight chest, eyes cast down with their regular concern. And then her hands shook, so Gabrielle learned in to them further, and she noticed Xena's gaze was glued to the floor.
The paces were back. Xena, tall Xena in her leather suit, carrying wood, dry wood. They'd start a fire and cook and sleep and tomorrow they'd continue going and she'd learn more things and eventually know to hear a flurry of snow hitting the ground. Xena passed behind her and went to the other side of her—where her back was—preparing the clearing so no wet soil was there, and stacking up the wood. Gabrielle's brows furrowed. Pulling at the layers around her, she turned around, edging near the fire while sitting, her ankles and core pulling her forward a few steps' distance. She started talking at Xena, but Xena seemed invested in the fire. Gabrielle eventually relented, massaging her own neck.
Gabrielle felt the nighttime upon her. She released her torso from the binds of her laced top, cracking her neck towards Xena just as the brunette looked up again. It felt nice to take it off and let the cool air wash over her skin, pushing her short blonde hair forward almost completely, covering her face. She patted it out of the way and smiled.
“This…should be fine,” Xena said. “The ground is—already drying. Argo, is okay,” she muttered.
Gabrielle took in her form—tall and slender, her legs and arms were exposed, and even though she knew not to argue, the visible shaking in Xena's body coaxed her into grabbing a blanket and standing up. Xena's mouth was open, and her eyes switched between the ground and Gabrielle's face at some kind of maddened pace. As soon as Gabrielle neared her, Xena took a step back, as if she were a frightened dog; Gabrielle cocked her head to the side, clutching at the blanket in her hand.
Xena was full-fledged shaking now—she was also maybe before but Gabrielle hadn't noticed—and her breath hitched.
“I think we need to put a blanket around you.”
Xena stared into her eyes. She knew that look. A blue look that knew the importance of all it saw, so blue it made her own breath hitch sometimes; but the taller woman was—was it fear? Gabrielle narrowed her eyes in confusion.
“Xena?” she repeated.
“No, I'm okay,” Xena managed. Judging by her voice, she wasn't. She slowly dropped to her knees to make a structure of the firewood, and her long fingers were shaking as she built it branch by branch, creating a triangle with the thickest log below, Gabrielle knew the story. She'd rather watch Xena from her unchanged position, standing up, wrapped in blankets, a few meters between the women. Listen to your instincts, Xena had told her, she remembered, and she would have been worried of health or something else, but her instincts told her not to; they also told her not to take too many steps closer to Xena. Slightly shocked, she slowly sat down, her gaze centered towards Xena.
A feeling came over Gabrielle—she called it the Story Feeling—and she pictured her story lovers in the snow and dunked her head. She felt like she understood something—but not exactly what. Up until this point she'd been sat in the same place, though she turned herself around, knees drawn to her chest, eyes watching Xena's every move. When Xena's teeth started to chatter, she stood up abruptly, and Xena took another step back.
“Xena?” Gabrielle muttered. “Xena, you're shaking. Why are you—”
Her breath heavy in the air, Xena walked backwards.
“What is going on? Xena!” Gabrielle asked. Her voice sounded more desperate than she thought it might, because she knew Xena wasn't walking backwards for fear or for cold, but she still asked, “Are you—are you scared of me?”
Xena took a deep breath in. Her gaze softened suddenly. It reminded Gabrielle of when she had one of her flashbacks, when her eyes got so wide she seemed like a terrified little girl, and all Gabrielle wanted to do was to wrap her up and make sure she knew everything will be okay.
“Scared?” Xena asked. Her voice was broken, and for whatever reason, Gabrielle wasn't surprised. She was surprised at her lack of surprise, though, and for a moment thought—are we in a story? And, like she did when was a little girl, said, well, if we are, we are in the best place in the world there is to be.
“No,” Xena said. Her body was rigid, teeth chattering despite all her attempts to stop them from doing so. She looked like she was struggling to take in air, and a flash went through Gabrielle's mind of undoing the leather dress she was wearing, placing a hand on her chest to ease her breathing. She was used to these kinds of swift visions or daydreams, they were short and showed flesh and blush and made her feel like it was hard to sleep or walk. They were coming much closer together, she thought.
“Xena.” Gabrielle reached her hand forward carefully, the blanket dangling from her grip. Xena had made the distance between them too far to even pass that, so Gabrielle tossed the blanket towards Xena, who seemed to hardly notice it, even though it slid past her elbow and waist.
“Did you see something? Is it—” She hated to say it. “Is it the vision thing? Xena?”
Xena opened her mouth to take in more air. Her chest was heaving, seemingly constricted. Now the thought of undoing her leather became more of a concern than a fantasy. Her gaze was fixed to Gabrielle's suddenly.
“Xena,” Gabrielle said quietly. With gentle motions, she closed the distance between them. “Are you having a hard time breathing?”
Xena nodded slowly, but she seemed somehow defeated when she did, and didn't move further away when Gabrielle was by her side. She looked so tired, Gabrielle thought.
“That's alright, that's okay,” Gabrielle said. She reached her hand to rest carefully on Xena's waist. “We can undo this. It's too tight. Maybe it's the col—”
A tear rolled down Xena's cheek, and Gabrielle wiped it away with her thumb.
“Hey, what—” Xena took a second to lean into Gabrielle's hand. Gabrielle felt it, all the warmth and kindness that Xena was, in her small hand, almost her entire weight. But suddenly, Xena began walking backwards.
“I have to—I have to go for a walk,” Xena tried. Her voice was barely audible.
“I have to go take a walk, I'll be right back,” Xena said. Teeth chattering and all, she ran a distance ahead, a shocked Gabrielle following her. She couldn't be struggling for air if she was running like that. When she turned, Gabrielle knew there'd be no finding her, and that they'd go around in circles all night if she didn't sit and wait. The sense of deeper understanding filled her more thoroughly. She thought that she'd like to kiss Xena. The thought came and went and did not matter to her. She let her mind wade past the stories or realities she wished and saw and was suddenly unafraid, sitting back by the fire structure. She lit it, absentmindedly, having mastered the art years prior—Xena had been teaching her—and when the fire was raging, she sat heavily at its side, wrapped in fur and cloth.
Xena ran, and she could run more, but something in the back of her mind told her to stop. The searing pain she felt coursing through her that she could usually get rid of by shining her sword, or punching a tree, or kicking and screaming—that's what she did when her past caught up to her, when the visions of the men she ruthlessly killed came to haunt her, she fought them again, careful not to kill this time, careful to apologize. But this was different—her thoughts had caught up with her.
She closed her eyes. The air was cold, but not too cold. At the very least, it was not why she was shaking. Closing her eyes was futile; she saw Gabrielle again, so she opened her eyes, looking up.
“What am I doing?” she asked. Her breaths left small clouds in the air, and she felt as though she had run and run and run. She was so dizzy, and so tired, and when she knew for certain and saw no one was around, she let herself fall to her knees, leaning forward on her palms while she tried desperately to steady her breath. Her thoughts, not spirits of dead men but a pounding spirit of one very alive women, hurt her head.
“No,” she said to herself. “No.” She bit down on her lip, hard, “You could never,” she whispered. “Just don't, just stop it.”
Gabrielle was on her mind. She had golden hair and the field she was standing in was dyed in such deep blues and greens that she could have sworn it was a painting. A series of thoughts hit her—the vision, the lava pit, Gabrielle breathing again in her arms, the vision again, and the haunting thought of her touch.
“No. No.” Gathering herself and rising to her feet was difficult, which was new to her. Her mind was reeling and she couldn't get enough air in her lungs—an asthma attack? She tried to assess the situation, check for pain in other parts of her body. A few moments later, her jaw resumed its regular rigid position, no more teeth chattering. She took in a deep breath and turned around, headed back to the fire, knowing Gabrielle was there, warm, all wrapped up.
“There are things that cannot be,” she whispered, and her voice left a haze in the air, and she watched it disappear, and started walking, trusting her legs to carry her despite her pain for the umpteenth time—and they did—until she heard the soft crackling of the firewood, smelling smoke.
The air was clean and dry enough for Gabrielle to write, and she was suddenly filled with ideas. She wrote of things she never knew herself, never tried, but did not hold back, the sheer force of the stories filling her head never scaring her—the opposite. She longed for something, she needed Xena to come back, she had to tell her something, but she wasn't sure what. She'd know when she saw her, she resolved, and continued writing—of flesh and blush, of listening, of soft and harsh touches that pressed upon her as if they were happening as she was writing them down.
She jumped to her feet when Xena returned. She seemed fine again, her face held high, no marks of tears in her eyes, her breath seemingly even.
Gabrielle couldn't think of anything to say. Her thoughts were blurry.
“That's not…where you ran from,” she pointed at the woods.
“I never camp in a place with less than three getaways,” Xena replied. Something was shaky in her voice—or was it? The air had turned warmer. A blanket was covering Gabrielle's body, and Xena's darting gaze returned—to the fire, to the tree, to her, to the ground—that was the only clue that something had happened at all.
“Do you feel better?” Gabrielle sat up. The blanket slid down, and Xena caught her breath.
“Yeah. Yes. I'm sorry, I was—”
She stood silent. Gabrielle got up, placing the blanket around her shoulder. Xena was standing next to a tree. She backed away until she was flush against it, and Gabrielle flush against her.
“Running from your thoughts?” Gabrielle offered.
Xena looked up.
“Something like that.”
“I wrote a few stories. A few, just in this time,” she smiled softly.
Xena's hands grasped the tree bark so hard that it broke.
“That's good,” Xena said. Gabrielle's voice was sweet and warm. It never failed to melt her fears.
“Yeah, I was all of a sudden filled with this understanding,” Gabrielle chuckled, “But I don't know what it is, exactly, what I—”
Lulled by Gabrielle's voice, Xena allowed herself to look down at the young woman. And just like she always has, she was glowing with kindness and goodness. And Xena was transfixed. Suddenly they were quiet together. The distance between them—what was left of it—closed as if on its own. Xena's breath hitched in her throat again.
“Why are you breathing so heavily?” Gabrielle whispered.
“It's hot,” Xena replied. Her eyes pierced right past any defenses Gabrielle might have had, if she had any. Sometimes she wished she could turn Xena's gaze onto herself.
“It was snowing,” Gabrielle said softly. She reached a slow hand, and after what seemed like forever, tucked Xena's dark hair behind her ear. The brunette almost recoiled back, her knees weak.
“Why'd you run?”
Xena didn't answer. Her heart was pounding too fast. She had to remind herself she couldn't do this, and had it in her head to turn, tend to the fire, but she couldn't—as if she was spellbound, she stood in place. Gabrielle realized what she'd wanted to say, it seemed. She reached her hand forward again, this time resting it on Xena's face.
“Why are you running?”
Xena found strength to shake her head. “I don't know what—”
“Stop.” Gabrielle took a step closer. The distance between them was no more. Their bodies flush against one another, there was undeniable heat radiating softly between them into one another. Gabrielle blinked. Xena's eyes were filled with terror, or desire, or both, and Gabrielle focused on them with the sight of an all-knowing narrator, her head rising to touch Xena's chin. Her motions were slow and deliberate. She knew what she was doing to Xena. She felt the heat radiating off her, small changes in her expression. She noticed her lick her lips. She decided she also wanted to lick Xena's lips.
“You're scared of me?”
“Scared?” Xena tried. Her voice was sounded as if she was on the verge of tears, but her body was rigid. “No,” she echoed her sentiment from before. Liar, she berated herself. This girl has more courage in her than you've ever had in your whole life.
“Liar,” Gabrielle strangely echoed her emotions out loud. Xena shook her head, opening her mouth to say something, anything, but her breath caught in her throat, and she hung her head to her chest, closing her eyes.
Gabrielle reached out another hand towards Xena. She stroked her lips and her cheekbone, bruised from a fight the previous day, and spread her palm down Xena's chest, moving it to where the neckline of her leather gown ended.
“What is it?” She whispered to Xena. The taller woman tried either to move or talk but couldn't. Gabrielle moved her body closer to her. Her right hand was stroking Xena's face, and Xena leaned into it, even though she told herself she wouldn't, that she can't. Her desire for comfort broke and betrayed her and she rested her head in Gabrielle's hand, her eyes watering again at the sheer peace such a movement brought her. Gabrielle stood on her tiptoes. Xena caught herself a minute after, freeing herself from behind Gabrielle and from the tree.
“What is it?” She asked again. Xena straightened her head, away from Gabrielle's hand, but Gabrielle simply followed, and Xena was powerless to resist.
“I can't…” Xena shook her head. “We can't, no.”
“Tell me,” Gabrielle insisted. Her mouth was almost on Xena's neck.
“No,” Xena shook. Gabrielle trapped Xena between her and the tree again. It wasn't difficult. Xena was rigid but she moved where Gabrielle wanted her to move. Every time she touched her, she felt her resist the temptation of simply leaning into the blonde woman's grip. She'd hoped she'd surrender. Eventually.
“I've been thinking of this for a very long time, Xena,” Gabrielle said. Xena wanted to fold herself into pieces, to yell, me too! Me too, ever since I saw you in that village, ever since I saw you tell a story, she wanted to scream, every time you touch me I lose my mind, she wanted to say, every time, every time you speak the world is a little better. But she kept completely quiet.
Gabrielle lowered one hand and traced it down Xena's long arm, until she found her hand. Xena's fingers were freezing cold, and spread against the tree bark, and Gabrielle drew little letters on them with her index finger.
“Tell me,” Gabrielle focused her gaze on Xena's eyes. It was quiet. The fire was crackling, but the wind made no noise. Time passed, but it seemed as if it wasn't. Xena's hand slowly relaxed, her fingers weaving into Gabrielle's.
“I thought…I think…”
Gabrielle let her left arm roam. She flipped Xena's dark hair back from her chest to her shoulder. Every small move she made, made Xena bite her lip. To silence herself? Gabrielle thought. She brought her lips closer to Xena's collarbone. She let her lips graze the skin there, surprisingly soft, and Xena couldn't help a tormented whimper. Xena pushed back until she could no longer move, and raised her face.
“I—Gabrielle, I thought, I also thought, I wanted this…No, I didn't, I was, I also thought of this—”
“Tell me,” Gabrielle repeated again. Xena's hair smelled of sandalwood and fresh, clean air. She nuzzled Xena's neck, up to her mouth.
“I also thought about you,” Xena managed.
“Of what?” Gabrielle said more than asked.
Xena wanted to say something big—she had prepared a speech for the unlikely scenario this would happen—that of course Gabrielle was an incredibly attractive woman and thinking of this was only natural but really when it came down to it, it was silly, just silly, because when you get personal, you lose focus, and she opened and closed her mouth a few times, unable to speak, and then, as if the words escaped on their own, said:
“Of how much I'd like to kiss you.”
Her mouth hung open in shock of what she had said. It was so little of she wanted to, so much more of what she was at all allowed to say. Gabrielle cupped her face with one hand and led her down to a kiss. They'd kissed before. But not like this. Xena couldn't keep her hands from circling Gabrielle's body, pulling her closer, and moving her hand to support her head as she deepened the kiss. It felt like when she was home, like when she was a little girl and got lost in the woods and her mother found her, and her thoughts knocked but she couldn't stop, running her hand down Gabrielle's body; but then a flash of something made her stop. She turned her head right, tilting it down, and Gabrielle thought she had never looked more beautiful.
“We can't,” Xena whispered. Gabrielle's arm was at the small of her back. Even the warrior princess couldn't part with that feeling of comfort.
“Stop it,” Gabrielle turned Xena's head back with her index finger on Xena's chin. The brunette turned her head again, but Gabrielle lowered her hands on top of Xena's, placing both at her sides.
“Gabrielle,” she muttered. They kissed again, more deeply this time, and Gabrielle seemingly predicted Xena's knees buckling under her. They fell or sat or moved unto the fur on the ground, Xena on her back, Gabrielle looming over her. Gabrielle kissed Xena's neck and shoulders. She hadn't realized how badly she had wanted to do so. Now that she could, she savored every moment, moving with a force unknown to her, with purpose she did not know. When she kissed Xena on her mouth again, the brunette lifted her torso to follow Gabrielle's mouth, and they were sitting, eyes and hands and mouths tangled, and Xena was shaking, and frozen in place, and her eyes were cast downward. Gabrielle leaned forward, but Xena managed to find her footing and got up.
“I can't,” Xena said. She did blink, and a single tear fell down her face. “We can't do this.”
Gabrielle smiled. “We already are.” She got up to meet Xena's height as best she could. “You thought about how much you wanted to kiss me?” Gabrielle said in a sing-song voice, and Xena should have really said, no, no, that was a slip, a mistake, let's get to bed, it's late—
“Yes,” Xena answered instead in her low voice.
“And what else?”
Xena looked to her sides and then up, shaking her head again, and then again.
“Not that—I knew we couldn't, that we can't, we would never and could never do this—”
“We already have been,” Gabrielle chuckled.
“Listen to me,” Xena closed her eyes. “Anyone who's precious to me—”
“Becomes a target?” Gabrielle chuckled. “It's too late for that.”
“And you've thought of me?” Gabrielle asked again.
By the gods, Xena thought. Had she thought of her. Every moment of every day, to the point where her heart may well have been beating in Gabrielle's chest.
“Kissing? And—” Gabrielle pulled at the fabric on her shoulder. “Undressing? Me?”
Gabrielle blushed a little, but her voice was resolute.
“Yes,” Xena mustered her courage. “Yes. All the time. But I knew we'd never—”
“Am I precious to you?” Gabrielle suddenly asked. Xena blinked twice at the odd question.
“The most precious thing to me,” Xena whispered. “In the world. The only thing that matters.”
“Do you love me?” Gabrielle asked. She seemed earnest in asking. Xena took a deep breath.
“Yes. I love you. More than anything in the whole world—” she closed her eyes. “More than I've ever loved anyone or anything else.”
Gabrielle took a step back so they weren't touching, and nodded. Xena felt bereft at the sudden lack of touch, she felt almost angry, but she wouldn't let her body move forward. Gabrielle cupped her face and turned it so she was looking directly at her.
“Are you in love with me?”
Xena was quiet. Her eyes widened, but she didn't move her head away from Gabrielle's hands; she just stood, wide-eyed and frozen, and all she could think of was to shake her head no, pressing her palms back again the tree, the gods knew that it was not because she wasn't in love with her—she was madly, deeply, feverishly in love with her, and had been for years—but because she didn't know what to say, or do, this couldn't be happening, she whispered, and then louder:
“This can't be happening.”
Xena's face was still held by Gabrielle's warm hands.
“No?” Gabrielle asked gently. “No? You're not?” She repeated her question.
Xena stopped shaking her head. Now she was just looking at Gabrielle.
It took a minute until Xena finally managed to take in air.
“Someone like me has no right to say that to someone like you.”
Gabrielle's eyes widened. “What?”
“I don't deserve—” she backed herself up closer to the tree. “After what I had done. Gabrielle,” she returned to her familiar tone. “Listen to me—I can't—”
“No, you listen to me,” Gabrielle hissed. Her mouth was closer and her hands were at her sides. “Do you think I'm here as your sidekick? That I take orders from you and stay still?”
“No!” Xena rushed to answer. “No, of course not—no! I need yo—” She stopped herself. Moving away from the tree, she exhaled painfully, but finished her sentence. “I need you.”
Xena knew the answer. But stayed silent. They were standing in front of each other, the fire between them.
“To fight, Xena? To keep you company? To be your helper? To fight?”
“To live.” Xena said. Her voice was barely audible, and she hung her head to her chest and then brought a swift, long arm to her eyes, ostensibly wiping away tears. Gabrielle stood silently, shifting her weight from one leg to another.
“To live,” Xena repeated. If it was going to be said, then let it be said. She won't lie to the one person she loves this much. Won't tell her tales of personal obligation and lost focus. She'll be brave, she decided. She'll tell her.
“To live, I need you to live,” she kept her quiet tone equal. “I couldn't live without…I can't live without you.” Xena lifted her head. Were her eyes tear stained? “I'd…”
“I'd die,” Xena finished her sentence. She cast her gaze downwards, almost sheepishly.
“You are—” Gabrielle walked towards her, around the fire. She reached forward and stroked Xena's hair, and Xena maybe wanted to move, or maybe not, but she didn't.
“You are. You are—in love with me.”
“Yes,” Xena said. She suddenly jerked away from Gabrielle's touch. Then she felt like something that was there was missing, and she moved back closer, and put her own hands into Gabrielle's hair, stroking it softly with her long fingers. It felt so good to touch her that it was beginning to outweigh any other decision or idea. Talk about getting personal.
“Since when,” Gabrielle demanded.
“Are you in love with me?” Xena said all of a sudden, so quickly you could almost miss it. “Am I precious to you? Do you love me? Are you in love with me?”
“Since when,” Gabrielle repeated, whispering. She pressed her forehead to Xena's and their breaths mixed in the night's air.
“Since I first saw you. Since the first time I touched you. But I knew it could never be. It cannot. You are far too good—”
“Yes,” Gabrielle answered belatedly, spreading small kisses on Xena's forehead. Xena leaned into her despite every warning sign inside her. They were all quiet now anyway, and Gabrielle—her Gabrielle—was close. This couldn't be happening, she thought, but it is. It is.
“You're more precious to me than anything in the world. I love you more than any love I've known. And I'm in love with you—” Gabrielle turned Xena's face to level with hers, waiting for her to open her eyes. “And have been since you picked me up on Argo, since you showed me your heart, at the village,” she whispered. It was important to her that, no matter what, Xena heard the words. “I've thought and wrote about it. It's been so long that I don't remember when I wasn't. Yes. I'm in love with you,” she said. She nodded, coaxing Xena to nod along with her. “Yes,” she said again.
Silence filled the air. Xena and Gabrielle had no distance between them, and every now and then one of them would surrender and rest her face in the other woman's hair, kiss her hand. Xena eventually took both of Gabrielle's hands, and breathed in deeply before saying:
“But I also know that you believe in the greater good.”
“Love is the definition of the greater good—” Gabrielle smiled. Xena stopped her.
“And you are made of light, and kindness, and wisdom, and I'm not.”
“A person like me couldn't expect someone like you to—”
“To love them? But I already do,” Gabrielle sounded frustrated.
“It's not—it can't be, because you'll get hurt. I will hurt you.”
Gabrielle shook her head.
“I'll hurt you, just like I hurt everyone else,” Xena whispered. “It's bad enough that I dragged you into the battlefield with me. A monster like me—”
“No!” Gabrielle stopped her, resolutely. Even Xena was frightened by the might of it.
“Don't say—don't call the woman I love a monster.”
Xena couldn't help it. She swallowed her tears, grabbing Gabrielle into a tight embrace, upset at any fabric or even skin between them, running her nose down Gabrielle's neck.
“I am,” Xena said. Her voice came out high and broken, a cry. Gabrielle felt like someone had cut her. “Which is why this can't happen. If I got to be with you, it'd be selfish, but if I hurt you, by the gods, Gabrielle—”
“Stop it,” Gabrielle hissed again. She closed her eyes. “Stop. Stop.” She stood away from Xena and jerked away Xena's hands from her arms. “You're always telling me how I changed your life. How it was different before you knew me, how I gave you purpose, and light,” Gabrielle said. Xena nodded.
“You did. You do. But I can't expect—”
“We're already here,” Gabrielle said softly. “We've been here for years. Can't you see?” She shook her head. “You're saying no? You're saying no to this?” She thought for a moment. Xena tried again to hold her and again Gabrielle pushed her away, waiting for her answer.
“No,” Gabrielle whispered when Xena didn't. “There are things that must be,” she looked up. Shocked, Xena looked up as well. When she looked back down, Gabrielle was finally closer, her fingers reaching for Xena's long black hair.
“I changed your path? You changed mine, as well. I see you, you know,” Gabrielle sniffled. “Every day. Fighting with the spirits you murdered, ten strokes of the lash at who you were, the old Xena, punishing her every day, with denial, and with heartbreak.”
She paused. Xena shook her head, and then bowed it. Gabrielle stood back.
“But you said she's dead.”
“She is,” Xena muttered through her teeth.
“Then how is she being punished? How is she dead,” Gabrielle whispered, “If you keep punishing her?” she demanded.
All Xena wanted to do was to put her arms around Gabrielle. She'd never admit that her tender heart couldn't even take a sigh of pain from Gabrielle, let alone suffering, without breaking on its own.
“She's dead. But I'm—” Xena waited. She took courage from all of her journeys, from her battle techniques, from her strategic knowledge. Every drop of bravery she could find. “She's dead. But she left the people she hurt with me. And that's why I'm afraid. That I will hurt you. That she would come back—”
“So, kill her!” Gabrielle raised her voice. Her voice echoed around the forest. “Kill her, because I choose you. And you can't see how loved you are, can you?”
Xena stood still.
Xena shook her head. Gabrielle moved into her arms finally and Xena breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't like not holding Gabrielle when the blonde woman was in distress.
“Xena,” Gabrielle shook her head, “I changed your path? You changed mine,” she repeated, “You taught me how to be fearless. You taught me how to be forgiving. You taught me how to live in the most complex sense of the word. You taught me what beauty is—” Gabrielle stopped, pressing her forehead to Xena's. “Not the kind I write, the kind I have right by me. This is already happening, can't you see?” She pleaded again. Her soft strokes upon Xena's face lulled the taller woman, and she let herself be held and handled by Gabrielle, who sat her down, wrapped her arms around her. “This has been happening this whole time. Bury the old Xena. Because I choose…” She turned Xena's face towards her. Her eyes were closed, and when they opened, Gabrielle could have sworn she was seeing her blue eyes for the first time, “Because I choose you. And you don't get a say,” she shook her head, “Not this time, and neither does she. Maybe that's your lot. You'll have to resign to living with happiness—” Gabrielle stopped suddenly. “If — if I would make you happy.”
Xena was still. If? What would she do? She was not going to act in front of the person who meant most to her in the world. Old Xena didn't deserve Gabrielle. Old Xena didn't deserve anything, or anyone, but—
Gabrielle took in a crying breath and Xena hushed her with a hug. That's not who she is now, not who she is when she's with Gabrielle. Confusion compounded her but she knew the last of her resistance was gone, or almost gone. She kissed Gabrielle softly, just a peck, and laughed.
“You're the only thing in the world that makes me happy,” Xena said, “And my only happiness in this entire world.” She started shaking her head. “Which is why I can't—”
“Which is why you have to,” Gabrielle said. Her voice reminded Xena of her own when she was convicted of a truth. The two women pressed their foreheads together again.
“I know who you are. I'm not afraid,” Gabrielle whispered. Xena had nothing in her to say no, that she can't. Her stubbornness usually lasted, but in the face of Gabrielle, and her touch, and her kisses—her kisses, she is kissing Gabrielle; this can't be happening, she repeated in her mind—but her resolve dissolved into nothing.
“If you push this away, she wins,” Gabrielle said.
Xena was quiet. She and Gabrielle were rocking back and forth slightly, Xena noticed, and she pressed her head harder against Gabrielle's, who kissed her forehead.
“You have to learn how to live with the fact that you have this now,” Gabrielle smiled, and a tear rolled down her cheek, and then she shrugged. “That's her worst punishment.”
Xena smiled. Her eyes were closed, and she did not want to open them. She sprinkled kisses on Gabrielle's face until her mouth found the other woman's and then she kissed her, unlocking the grip their legs had on one another to lower herself to the ground, back so Gabrielle hovered above her. The blonde nodded.
“I still—” Xena started.
“No,” Gabrielle whispered, dipping down to kiss Xena's chest. “Do you want this?”
She took in Gabrielle. Stunning Gabrielle, with her blond hair shorter now. Her blue-green eyes and her golden haze of beauty, and goodness. Did she want this? She wanted nothing else. She had no other wishes, nothing she could even think of, and she kept staring at Gabrielle, who was lowering her kisses, and her mouth looked impossible to resist and again she wanted to say, of course I do but I still think and there are reasons you don't know before I met you, you can't just erase—but again her mouth failed her, or saved her, and she whispered, passionately as Gabrielle started undoing her leather dress.
Gabrielle looked up at her, and then down to where she was before, rolling the dress off Xena's shoulders first, then lower down her abdomen.
“Yes?” Was Gabrielle saying? Or asking?
“Yes,” Xena breathed heavily. She let herself be handled. For whatever reason, her reasons and reasons and list of reasons were no more, disappeared in Gabrielle's reasoning, in her kisses. In time. In good deeds. “Yes,” she repeated, almost whimpering.
“I've studied the stars and talked with philosophers,” Gabrielle whispered into Xena's mouth as she took off her leather dress completely, and smiled, returning to her lowered position.
“I could be of great value to you,” she said, and Xena smiled when she saw Gabrielle's smile disappear, her sharp intake of breath at what she had discovered under the leather. Slowly, almost with a reverent deliberation, she placed her hand on the bare skin.
“Take me with you?” Xena whispered back to Gabrielle. The blonde woman's mouth was agape, her eyes transfixed to the skin she had just revealed, the treasure she'd just unearthed. She couldn't gather her thoughts, so she ran her hand a little further down and a little further up each time.
Xena kissed Gabrielle's head. She closed, and then opened her eyes. She was still there. Gabrielle was still there. She heard her, taking hitched breaths at every inch of skin she finally got to touch.
“You're stunning!” Gabrielle shook her head. “You're—you're stunning.” Gabrielle lowered her head to explore Xena's body with kisses, seemingly still in disbelief over the beauty she'd just discovered. Xena stroked her hair, letting her move freely as she wished, lavishing in her kisses.
“Please take me with you,” Xena whispered. She felt Gabrielle's warm breath on her inner thigh, and a smile spread on her face. “I want so badly to be like you. ”
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